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the best by far is you

Chapter Text

For all the things my hands have held
The best by far is you

"Cecilia and the satellite"  


Her consciousness surfaced slowly and, like waking from a bad dream, her body reacted before her mind could catch up. Her eyes scanned the wood tester above her ‒ but this was not her bed ‒ and then the small statue of the Virgin Mary, placed nearby, it seemed, to offer an added measure of protection. Or comfort, perhaps. 

Comfort. 

Her hands slid slowly down her front, falling to a belly that was not familiar. Had lost its firmness. Her breath quickened, tears already sprouting in her eyes as the knowing clicked back into place. 

Jamie. Black Jack Randall. The woods. The baby. 

She pressed on her stomach, which was a foreign and soft bulge. She had lost the firmness. Had lost the baby that was inside. She sat up abruptly and even though there was pain, she couldn’t care about that now. 

“Where is my baby?” She called out and searched for herself and then, more urgently, “Wh-where is my baby ?” 

“Chère Madame.” 

Frantically, her eyes sought out the fast-approaching Mother Hildegarde, who swooped in with gentle hands to ease her back into bed, speaking softly to her. “You must not trouble yourself. You must save your strength.” 

“Where’s my baby?” Her whole body was shaking. “Where’s my baby? I want my baby!”

The panic escalated so quickly, Claire could hardly register the gentle words urging her to stay put, to rest, because every fiber of her being called out for the child that had been ripped from her and she could not muster any ounce of sanity until - 

“She’s right here, Madame.” 

Those four words strung together amidst their attempts to settle her, finally grounded Claire and her gaze swept beyond Mother Hildegarde to the small bundle in one of the sisters’ arms. 

“My baby…?” 

“Oui Madame.” Mother Hildegarde sighed and motioned for the sister to approach. She will not rest until she sees, Claire heard her say in French. To Claire, she murmured, “She’s very small and weak. She will not make it, Madame. But you should hold her and rest.” 

“Give her to me.” She held her hands out for her child, bundled up in white linen so that she couldn’t see anything of the babe until they placed her in Claire’s arms. “Oh…” she breathed, pulling the baby to her chest. Wisps of bright copper hair peaked out from the blanket above a tiny, pale face. Her eyes were closed but slanted a bit - like Jamie’s, she thought at once. “Hello, my love.” She cradled the baby’s head with one hand and leaned down ever so gently to press a kiss to her forehead. 

She was tiny. Born weeks too early. Claire’s mind spun out on possibilities for the many challenges this baby might face as a result of her premature birth. Most pressing to Claire was the lungs that she knew hadn’t fully developed. Just keeping the baby breathing would be a task. 

“I baptized her and gave her a name.” 

Claire’s head snapped up to the Mother. “What?” 

The older woman’s eyes were kind and glistening with tears. “You must understand… if she does not make it, I wanted to be sure she was baptized and could be buried in hallowed ground. We were not sure when you would wake.” 

Claire glanced down at the baby to find her eyes were open, barely, and squinting into the light. Despite everything that her logical brain was screaming at her to focus on, she smiled through a fresh wave of tears. This baby was hers and Jamie’s and oh, she was beautiful. 

“Faith.” 

The word hung in the air between them and it took a moment to understand that Mother Hildegarde was telling Claire the baby’s name. Faith. 

“Faith Fraser,” Claire echoed, finding one tiny, perfect fist and bringing it to her lips for a kiss. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” 

Claire pulled the baby even closer and relaxed back against the headboard with her. Despite her swaddling, Faith’s little cheek rested against Claire’s collarbone and the babe seemed to relax at once with that contact. Claire’s eyes fluttered shut and her lips pressed a gentle kiss to Faith’s head and she stayed there, breathing the girl in, feeling her warmth. Her panicked heart rate finally began to slow. 

She wasn’t oblivious to their audience, but it didn’t matter to her that the sisters fluttered about like an anxious flock of birds. They all existed in holy silence as mother and child met for the first time. 

Calmed now and feeling as though the tilted chaos she had awakened to had suddenly righted itself, Claire looked down at her child and gave in to the sudden and consuming instincts to protect this little life. She held Faith’s small form in one arm and pulled at her shift to expose one breast and situated the babe to feed. 

“No, no, Madame.” Mother Hildegarde’s gentle hand was on her arm. “You need your strength.” Claire knew she meant for this moment to be a goodbye. Any lifesaving efforts, such as trying to breastfeed, would all be for naught. Or maybe she meant to save Claire from the physical discomfort that would only heighten the emotional pain if she proceeded and then soon didn’t have a baby to feed. 

“No,” Claire growled with a ferocity that was new. “She does. She needs my strength. She needs everything I can give her.”  

Tiny as she was, little Faith was rooting around at Claire’s breast. Instinct kicked in for both of them. “There’s a good girl.” Claire watched her try to latch on, struggling with the mechanics of it all, trying to suckle and swallow. “Don’t forget to breathe.” She traced the outline of Faith’s scrunched up face with one finger. Her poor, tiny girl. She fell asleep quickly at Claire’s breast with hardly anything, but it was a start. Claire’s body was responding and changing, centering around this new little life. 

She was delirious with joy when her gaze met Mother Hildegarde’s again. Well, perhaps also delirious from the touch of fever. And the good Mother watched the two of them with a heavy heart, uncertain if one or both would pull through, but praying without ceasing that a miracle might transpire here before her very eyes and allow both of them to live. 



“Ma chère.” 

Claire’s eyelids fluttered open and her gaze rested on Mother Hildegarde where she stood above her. Her body burned with fever but Claire couldn’t get warm, shaking with chills and laboring even to breathe. Mother Hildegarde mopped her forehead and murmured a prayer in French. When Claire spoke, it was a labored effort. “Where is Faith?” 

“Still with us, Madame, but the same. And you… your fever is very high and it has been several days.” 

It was then that someone joined them, introduced to Claire as Father Laurentin, to perform an unction of the sick. The stricken face of Mother Hildegarde was enough indication of how dire Claire’s situation must be. She reached for Mother Hildegarde’s hand, finding comfort in the woman’s presence. But not enough.  

“I need my husband…” 

She was battling an infection while trying to bring their baby into health and she so desperately needed Jamie here with her.  

“I’m sorry, ma chère. There’s been no word.” 

“Please…” Claire rasped. “Write to Jamie’s sister… if I don’t make it… and Faith does…”

She knew the baby’s outlook was only as good as her own, if not worse, but Mother Hildegarde’s chosen name for this child had so perfectly summed up Claire’s heart in the matter. Despite Mother Hildegarde’s constant tempering of expectations, she had faith the baby would live, felt it in her very bones to be true.  

Bones that now rattled with ache and chill… oh, she knew what it was that plagued her and there was nothing she could do in this century. She allowed Father Laurentin to continue, knowing she very well might not make it. But her baby might… she held onto that belief with everything she had. 



“Madame, let me take her so you can rest.” 

“No.” Claire’s voice was cool, firm, but her arms tightened around little Faith just the same. “I’m fine now. So she stays with me.” After the bizarre and miraculous night where Master Raymond visited Claire, the fever had lifted and only Claire knew why. He had healed her, removing the festering piece of placenta from within her and setting her back on a path to the living. And so she ate every bit of food they brought her and poured everything she had back into caring for Faith. When she rested, it was with Faith beside her in the bed, though Claire scarcely slept now since discovering that Faith slept best when she was laid on her mother’s chest. Faith’s breathing would even out and in those late hours of sleeplessness, what restored Claire more than sleep was the tiny, quick puffs of air caressing her skin. Every breath was sacred and promising. They would not be separated now that Claire could manage it. And anyone, even the well-meaning sisters, who tried to get between Claire and the baby… well, they had only to glimpse the flash of protective fury in Claire’s eyes to know they shouldn’t argue. The best place for Faith Fraser now was in her mother’s care. 

A miracle, Mother Hildegarde declared it. Claire was inclined to agree, given how unlikely it was that tiny Faith should’ve lived without the proper care she needed while her mother had crept dangerously close to leaving this earth. 

But Faith had lived through the worst of Claire’s infection, against all odds, and Claire was determined now to see this little one grow and flourish. 

“You already have a glorious, pink flush to your skin,” Claire murmured to the baby, stroking her delicate skin. “And Mama won’t leave you now, I promise.” Faith’s gaze held steady on Claire while she talked. “God, you are so beautiful. If only your father -” Claire’s throat constricted and hot tears burned her eyes. 

Jamie. 

She spent every waking minute with her thoughts on Faith because she could not face her feelings towards Jamie. There was fury for his selfishness and all that he had so brazenly disregarded when he went forward with the duel. Anguish over what she had had to endure alone because of him. The pain he had caused her was nothing she had ever felt before. She hated him and in the same breath, she wanted him here more than anything in the world. It felt wrong to hold their child close and love her so immensely and know that Jamie knew nothing of her. At first believing it was his shame that kept him away, Louise had brought news a few weeks after Faith’s birth that Jamie had been arrested for dueling. What must he feel, locked away without any contact? It pained her to think of him there, despite every other emotion warring within her. But Faith needed her more right now and she couldn’t ignore that. 

Get Faith well first. Then bring Jamie home. She didn’t know how she would accomplish this, but it was the solemn vow that grounded her. 



Claire had recovered well enough from the birth and resulting infection, but Faith was still taking small steps in growing strong. And so today, Claire had gotten dressed and curled up near one of the windows with the baby, basking in the warmth of the sunlight that filtered through, hoping it would do Faith some good, too. Weeks had passed and though no one spoke of it, the atmosphere around them was lighter. Mother Hildegarde no longer hovered grimly about them, instead appearing throughout the day with a smile.  

“M-Milady?” A timid voice called to her, disrupting her thoughts. 

Her gaze sought the owner of the voice and finding the darling boy in front of her, she moved to embrace him at once. “Fergus!” 

He had seemed uncertain until she responded and then he threw his arms around her waist and clung to her. With one hand, she secured Faith and with the other, she clutched Fergus’s head to her chest. “We heard you were over the worst of it. Please, Milady.” He cried. “Please come home.” 

His words twisted a knife in her gut. Of course she had needed to recover and see to Faith’s well-being, but hadn’t she also effectively abandoned this boy on the heels of Jamie’s arrest? “Fergus, I’m so sorry.” He drew back to look at her and she wiped at his tears. “Of course I’ll come home.” 

He relaxed under her words and though they had sent word to the house about baby Faith, he had not yet met her and his gaze swung curiously to the bundle in Claire’s arm. “This is Faith?” 

“Yes.” She smiled, shifting Faith so Fergus could see her better. “This is Faith, small but mighty.” Fergus smiled softly and placed a handful of flowers on top of her. 

“For you, Milady, and for le petit bébé.” 

“Thank you.” She drew him to her side, one arm looped around his shoulders. Oh, she had missed this boy in a way she wouldn’t have thought possible all those months ago when Jamie brought him into their home. “Let’s go tell Mother Hildegarde that we are ready to bring Faith home.” 

 

In all truth, Claire knew she had overstayed her welcome at L'Hôpital des Anges. Faith was not out of the woods yet but she didn’t need to be tended to there when Claire could so easily provide the same care at home. When the carriage pulled up in front of the great house and Claire entered at last with Faith in one arm, she knew she had stayed away to avoid this moment. Coming home without Jamie and having to face the reality of his imprisonment. The staff bustled around her and cooed over the babe and the joy and relief in all of them was palpable. But Claire could not be here with all of them, with the triumphant arrival of Faith, and not feel torn apart inside. Somewhere in the Bastille, her husband was alone and whatever she was feeling now towards him, she couldn’t live with his imprisonment.   

Chapter Text

“He’s just arrived, Milady,” Suzette announced. 

“Good.” Claire cradled Faith’s head in the palm of her hand, marveling at how she’d grown. The date of when Claire had expected to give birth to Faith had come and gone a month ago already and every day since, she felt a little more sure of that this small girl was staying put. “Thank you, Suzette.” 

“Do you ever tire of holding her?” The maid asked suddenly. “I could ‒” 

Claire waved a dismissive hand. She knew they must all think her to be insane. But after living through those long, agonizing weeks at the start, coupled with her medical knowledge, Claire was nothing short of vigilant over small Faith even as she’d begun to grow and gain weight. She hardly slept anymore, too anxious that Faith might forget to keep breathing in the night if Claire wasn’t there to pay attention. And in this century, there was little else that could be done for babies like Faith. So, yes, maybe she was insane over this miracle girl. She certainly wouldn’t deny the paranoia. But they had gotten this far, she and Faith, and Claire saw no reason to change their ways now. 

“And today is a big day, my love,” Claire murmured to the baby. She tried to keep her voice light, keep the moment light, but her heart was racing at the thought of Jamie. “Shall we go introduce you to your father?” She sauntered slowly with the baby out of the room. It had been three months since Jamie’s arrest and Faith’s traumatic birth. Three months of her life that he had missed, not even knowing her fate. Three months in the Bastille… 

Claire shivered and shifted Faith onto her shoulder, supporting her head with one hand. She needed Jamie like she needed her next breath and ‒

She reached the threshold right before the stairs and there he was, trudging slowly up the steps with heavy feet. His face was obscured from her, downcast and covered by his unkempt red curls and a beard that had grown in his absence.  

Broken. 

His very spine seemed to crack under the weight of his grief and her own heart sunk low in her chest. And any anger that she thought she still held for him, she couldn’t seem to find in her heart to hold onto in that moment. Here was a man who had suffered for his actions ‒ and she knew now something she didn’t know on that day, which was the horror inflicted on Fergus and Jamie’s justified rage as a result. 

“Jamie,” she called softly, tears already spilling down her face. “Look up.” 

He froze in place on the steps, halfway to her, and seemed to gather his courage to face her. 

“Please look up.” She begged. “I have someone special for you to meet.” 

His breath shuddered out of him and his whole body shook, overcome with the hope ‒ the utter joy ‒ that she was dangling in front of him and at last ‒ at last ‒ his gaze swung up to her and then immediately rested on the babe in her arms, whole and alive and breathing. “God in heaven!” 

He moved at stunning speed to close the distance between them and then his embrace was fierce, causing her to stagger backward for a moment, but he had her. He absolutely had her. With one arm, she clung to him and could finally breathe again, even with his crushing embrace. Faith was her heart, but Jamie was her home and she’d been listless and unmoored without her home for too long now. 

He spoke a prayer into the crook of her neck, so low and fervent that she didn’t quite catch most of it, but she didn’t need to. She knew well enough what he must be feeling. He sealed his words with a kiss there and when he drew back, his breathtaking smile greeted her. “Sassenach.” He kissed her, slow and hesitant and achingly tender, mixed with salty tears. His forehead came to rest against hers. “Ye dinna ken how scared I was that I lost ye. You and the bairn.” And with the mention of their child, he stared in wonder at the little girl in Claire’s arms. “Oh she’s beautiful.” His hand hovered just above Faith’s cap of red hair, like he wanted to touch her but was afraid to find she might not be real. “I saw you collapse, Claire. I was so sure ‒” He broke off with a shake of his head, his jaw quivering.  

“It’s alright,” she promised. “We’re alright.” With one arm looped around his waist, she guided him into the next room. She’d had the foresight to ask the staff for privacy and they had obliged, making themselves scarce. 

Jamie needed a bath, a haircut and shave, and quite a few good meals by the looks of him, but Claire wanted a moment first as a family. Jamie deserved that. After directing him into a seat, she settled next to him and passed their child into his waiting arms. “This is your daughter, Faith Fraser.” 

He exhaled a sound, somewhere between a cry and a laugh, and settled the babe quite easily into the crook of his arm. Again, his hand hovered over little Faith and suddenly she realized his hesitation. His hands, like the rest of him, were filthy and neither had thought to allow him to clean himself first. “She’s so beautiful, I’m scairt to touch her,” he said. “Like I’ll ruin her somehow.” 

“Jamie, no.” She squeezed his arm. “Don’t talk like that. She’s here. And she’s ours.” 

“Thank the Lord for that,” he murmured, lifting the babe with trembling hands so he could kiss her sweet face. “Most beautiful babe I’ve ever seen. She looks like you, Sassenach. Except the red hair of course.” 

Claire felt something stir within at that familiar nickname and she drew a deep breath, let it out with a sigh. To have him back and now this, to share in the joy and love of the child they’d made… 

“I think she looks more like you,” she murmured. “Those eyes…” 

“Ye named her Faith, then?” He didn’t sound hurt, only confused, but Claire simply shook her head. 

“No, actually, Mother Hildegarde baptized her as soon as she was born and christened her Faith. She came too early and she was so small. No one thought she would make it and, well, Mother Hildegarde wanted to be sure.” While she spoke these words, Jamie’s gaze was on their daughter. His fingers held one tiny, perfect fist until it unfurled and then Faith’s hand held on to his finger. He brought her fingers to his lips and kissed them reverently. 

“Good,” he husked. “I did have others names in my mind for a wee lass but I canna be upset with the Mother for what she did.” 

“You’re more forgiving than I.” Claire admitted. “At first, I was angry that she would take that choice from me ‒ from us.” She stroked Faith’s feather-soft cheek and was rewarded with a coo and a half-smile from the babe. “But the name suits her and I’m loath to admit I think it was always meant to be her name. How fitting that what I needed to get through those first few weeks was Faith.” 

“Aye,” Jamie whispered, but his expression clouded over. “She almost died, then.” He said quietly, not meeting her gaze. 

Claire swallowed roughly. “Maybe you’d like to eat something first. Or get cleaned up. We don’t have to ‒” 

“I would like to know everything, Sassenach. It is better to know than to wonder. And I’ve had naught but the worst thoughts to keep me company these last few months.”

“Oh, Jamie. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She shuddered. “I tried to send word as soon as I could, but they wouldn’t let anyone in to see you. Wouldn’t even ‒”

“It’s alright, Sassenach,” he told her, but his voice was hollow and his gaze still ducked from hers. “We’re here now. And I would like to know what I missed.” 

The story spilled out of her in fits and starts, incoherent at times and not altogether well told. But she told him everything, as best she could. Told him of Faith’s birth and her unlikely chance at life. Of her own fever and the night with Master Raymond where it all turned around. When Fergus came to see her and bring her and the baby home. And when she found him crying in his room late at night and learned the truth of that day in May. 

Jamie’s head snapped up at this. It was dangerous territory between them, something Claire knew when she let that last part slip. But they would have to have it out, sooner or later. “So ye know. Ye know why I couldna let Randall go unpunished for what he did to the wee lad.” As he spoke, he cradled Faith protectively to his chest. 

“Yes, I know why,” Claire said stiffly.     

“But I still broke my promise to you. And I put you and our bairn at risk.” His voice was terse but when he mentioned their child, Claire watched him brush his thumb delicately over her tiny fingers. He was trembling next to her. 

Claire stood abruptly and walked forward by a few paces, no real destination in mind. Just needed space to be able to breathe. Her back was to Jamie, her arms folded across her chest like she was physically holding herself together. 

“Do ye hate me for it, Claire?” 

“I did. I did hate you for it.” She turned slightly, staring at him where he still sat cradling their child. “I was alone. And I thought Faith was going to die. Christ, Jamie, I thought I was going to die. I needed you then more than I ever have before. And I couldn’t understand how vengeance was more important to you than your wife and child.” 

Jamie shuddered and wept quietly, his gaze locked on the baby. It was all too much and he almost missed when Claire collapsed to her knees. 

“Claire!” He sprang up off the couch and knelt next to her. “Claire. I’m sorry. Mo chridhe, please…” 

Her whole body was wracked with sobs, but she didn’t resist when he pulled her to his chest and cradled her head against him, next to Faith, who had startled from the ordeal and began to fuss. 

They stayed together as a pathetic, tangled, weeping mass. They had their child, but that didn’t erase the pain. 

“I d-don’t hate you anymore. I see you now w-with Faith and I know you would protect her. You were trying to defend Fergus and....” Claire took a shaky breath. “It was my  fault, not yours.”

“What?” 

“It was me who asked the impossible of you. It was me who put Frank before our family. It was me... who followed you to the woods.” 

Jamie clutched Claire to him a little tighter. “Frank was your family, too.” 

Claire pushed away from him so she could look him in the eye. “But he’s not here. And at what cost to protect him? We could’ve lost our daughter.” She was crumbling again under the weight of her guilt and she tried to hold back a fresh onslaught of tears. “If I had lost Faith, I could never ‒” She pitched forward into his shoulder, unable to finish her thought or hold the sobs at bay any longer. 

“Claire. No.” He held her fast. “She’s right here, mo chridhe. Here. Hold her in yer arms. She’s here.” Faith was nearly inconsolable when she was passed into her mother’s arms, but Claire gathered her close and bounced her a little, burying her nose in the baby’s neck, and Faith began to quiet down. And in turn, Claire felt her own breathing slow and even out.  

“I knew you would be a wonderful mother, Sassenach.” 

Claire turned her head to find his gaze again. “How can you think that now? Don’t you hate me?” 

He let out a half-hearted chuckle. “I could never hate you. And I dinna blame you for any of what’s happened these last few months. You didna make those choices knowing what would come of them.” He reached out to stroke Faith’s fuzzy head of hair. “Ye would protect her first, too. Seems that’s all that matters now that she’s here.” 

Claire let herself be drawn back into his arms, her head pillowed on his chest and their child tucked safely between them. “It’s not just the two of us now.” Jamie whispered against her hair. “And thank god for that.” 

She wanted that to be it. To have reached some semblance of equal footing again with Jamie. To be able to move forward together and find what was next for them, as a family. But that wasn’t all and Claire’s stomach began to twist itself into knots over what she must say.

“There’s something else?” Jamie said, startling her. More of a statement than a question. He always could read her like an open book. Claire took a deep breath and gathered the courage for what was next.  

“I slept with the king to buy your freedom.” She couldn’t see his gaze or how he received these words but she felt the shudder that ran through his body. She stiffened, prepared for his jealous anger, but instead, after a moment of silence, she felt his chin rest on top of her head. 

“Ye did it to save my life,” he said in a tight voice. “Just like I gave myself to Randall to save you.” 

She let go of the breath she’d been holding and nodded against him. His fingers captured her chin and forced her to look up at him, at the quiet fury he was barely keeping in check. “You are still mine, Claire.”

She managed a nod before his lips claimed hers, his kiss a little more bruising than before. He held her flush against him and only loosened his grip when Faith interjected with a small squeak. They broke apart, foreheads touching lightly.

“What’s wrong?” 

“Oh, she’s probably hungry. I should feed her.” Claire rested a hand tenderly on his face that had grown gaunt. “And you should eat. I’ll have one of the servants bring you some food.”

She stood on shaky legs and tried to steady her breathing. Her heart couldn’t seem to slow itself after the tears and the panic and then the sharp, sudden want for Jamie that his kiss had left her with. But the baby was making her own demands known and she couldn’t ignore that. 

 


 

“Will I do, Sassenach?” 

She glanced up to see Jamie again ‒ her Jamie ‒ entering the parlor. His hair had been washed and his beard shaved. He wore a freshly cleaned shirt and his kilt and though the clothing hung a little more loosely on his large frame, she knew it wasn’t a permanent state. With a little bit of care and better food, she’d have him filled out once again.  

“I suppose you’ll do,” she teased from her spot on the chaise, weighed down by a sleeping Faith in her lap. Jamie went to her and joined her on the chaise. “Now that you don’t look like a caveman, have you seen Fergus?” 

Jamie grinned. “Aye, just came from seeing the lad.” 

“He blames himself, you know,” Claire said softly. “For your arrest. Did you‒?”

“Aye.” Jamie’s smile dimmed a bit. “We had a long talk, though I’m no’ sure he’s entirely convinced yet.”

His gaze rested on Faith and they let the matter of Fergus go for now. It would take time with him and they would have that to give now that Jamie was home. “Do you want to hold her?” Claire asked suddenly, moving to transfer the baby into his arms before he could respond. She paused when she saw him hesitate. 

“It’s only that she looks so peaceful in your arms, Sassenach.”  

“... and earlier today we made her cry with our… emotional reunion?” Claire guessed. 

“You were the only thing that calmed her. I can see how ye are with her.” He smiled at her with devastating sweetness. “A wonderful mother.” He repeated his earlier sentiment, stealing one of her hands to bring to his lips for a kiss. “As I knew ye would be, mo nighean donn.” 

Claire leaned in to kiss him for his words, for his unwavering belief in her, and before pulling away, she carefully slipped Faith into Jamie’s arms. “It’s true that Faith and I have built a bond, but she’s yours, too, Jamie. She’s just as much yours as mine. And I have a feeling it won’t take the two of you very long to catch up.” 

He held Faith so delicately and though Claire had seen him many times with wee Jamie and Maggie, nothing quite prepared her for seeing her large Highlander cradling the child they’d made together. Blood of their blood and bone of their bone. And despite the terrifying experience around Faith’s birth, some baser instinct within Claire already wanted to do it all over again, creating life and placing it in Jamie’s capable hands just to see the besotted look in his eyes now with Faith. Oh, hell, if this feeling lingered, he just might convince her to try for twelve children. Seeing Jamie take up the mantle of fatherhood so proudly and willingly and knowing she was the one to give that to him… it was intoxicating in its own right. 

She was so focused on Jamie that she didn’t notice Murtagh had slipped quietly into the doorway. He had arrived back from Portugal only a few days before and oh, what a time that was for Claire to fill in the gaps for him. He had been expecting news of the baby by then, but not of Jamie’s arrest and surely not the details of how Faith’s life began.

But she saw him now gazing at the three of them on the chaise with his own look of contentment and knew this morning had also righted the world for Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser to have Jamie back under this roof with them. 

She touched Jamie’s shoulder lightly and gestured to the silent Scotsman in the doorway. 

“A ghoistidh,” Jamie called to him and Murtagh entered, taking the seat across from his godson. “Ye didna encounter any trouble in Portugal then?” 

“No,” Murtagh said. “For once, our plan went off wi’out a hitch.”

Jamie smiled wryly at that. Of course there’d been a few hitches leading up to the final plan to steal the wine from St. Germain and sell it off. “Well, it’s done then.” Murtagh nodded, but Jamie’s gaze had dropped to the tiny foot he held in his hand, thumb gently running over each toe. Counting them. “His Highness won’t be able to secure any funding after this. After he bragged about this last business arrangement to anyone that would listen, no one will want to risk supporting him.” He found Faith’s other foot and began the same process of counting her toes silently. “I canna think of anything more we could do for now. I would expect His Highness will have severely limited options to move forward.” 

Murtagh exchanged a look with Claire and Jamie caught it. 

“What?” 

Claire took a deep breath. There was still much to tell him ‒ everything that happened with Louis and the Comte ‒ but Murtagh was with them now and she’d hoped to be alone the next time they broached the subject. “The conditions of your release include us leaving France as soon as it can be arranged.” She held his arm where Faith was cradled. “We can leave this whole mess with Charles behind. We can go home. To Scotland.” 

Jamie shook his head, a little disbelieving. “I’m still a wanted man there.” 

Claire ducked from his gaze and studied Faith in her father’s arms. She wasn’t proud of what she’d done with the King, but it had all been for this; Jamie was returned to them and Faith had her father at last. “Louis is arranging a pardon for you there as well.” He looked a bit stunned by this, but Claire only shrugged. “What can I say? He’d like us gone and sooner rather than later. I think we’ve made enough of an impression as Jacobite sympathizers in Paris.”

Jamie made that Scottish noise low in his throat and returned his gaze to the sleeping baby, absorbing this information. His face gave nothing away on the matter of Louis or Charles or the opportunity to return to Scotland, but at last he sighed and reached for Claire’s hand and kissed it. “Then I should be glad to bring this wee lass home.” He met Murtagh’s gaze and added wryly, “If ye can bear to part wi’ Paris.” 

Murtagh grunted. “I’d be happy to board the next ship out tomorrow,” he muttered. 

“No,” Jamie sighed. “Not that soon, though I’d like that as well. We’ll send for Jared and stay until he can return.”

They lapsed into a silence, the promise of Scotland on each of their minds. At length, Murtagh rose and left them, bowing his head lightly to Jamie with the ghost of a smile on his lips when he glanced at Faith. 

When he was gone, Jamie exhaled a light chuckle. “My godfather is right fond of you, wee Faith.”

Claire shot him a doubtful look. “How can you tell? He’s never so much as gone near the baby since he’s returned.” She’d grown to love the grouchy Scotsman and she trusted him almost as much as she did Jamie, but she had trouble picturing Murtagh in any of Jamie’s childhood recountings of him. And with the way he groused about Fergus, she doubted he cared much for the company of small children, generally. 

But Jamie only smiled softly and said, “Oh, I can tell. He may no’ say much on the subject, but aye, he likes her just fine.” 

“Not upset that we didn’t have a boy?” She asked, meaning Murtagh but seeing at once when he whipped his head look at her that he thought she meant him. Nevertheless, it wasn’t as though the thought hadn’t crossed her mind, a quiet wondering she never thought she’d have the courage to ask him. 

“No,” he said at once before she could clarify. “No, I am proud, Sassenach.” His voice was firm and his gaze bore right through her with its intensity. “Proud and happy and terrified and ‒” He took a deep breath and then quickly dispelled it. “So in love with the wee thing, I could burst. I woke this morning grieving again for a child I thought dead. A child I thought I’d never know. And the thought of having to face you...” He swallowed roughly and with his thumb, he gently brushed away the stray tears that spilled down Claire’s cheeks. “Do ye not know what it means for me to find her here, alive and whole?” His own tears were spilling silently down his face but he let them go, focusing instead on Claire. “Mo chridhe, I’m so in awe of it all. I can’t be sure this is no’ a dream.” 

He was still weighed down by the sleeping baby, unable to move, but Claire drew his head to her chest and held him there, her mouth pressed firmly into his hair to keep from crying out. His free arm snaked around her waist and held tight enough to bruise. 

“Not a dream, Jamie,” she said at last. “I promise.” Eventually, his grip relaxed, but she still held him to her. “It is a lot, isn’t it? It’s a lot to find out in one day. Jamie, I’m‒” 

“Claire.” He cut her off firmly. “I think between the two of us, we’ve apologized enough to cover it all, don’t you?” 

She let her breath out slowly, the apology she’d been about to make dying on her tongue. “I… well, I almost just apologized for almost apologizing again.” Jamie exhaled a laugh against her and she tucked her chin to kiss his head. “What do you need?” She murmured. 

He lifted his head and kissed her. His forehead came to rest against hers while he drew a steadying breath. “Nothing that isna already in my arms, Sassenach. I have you and we have the bairn. That’s enough. I can handle all the rest that comes.”

Chapter Text

By evening, the strangeness of the day had begun to fade and after supper, Jamie and Claire retired to their room with the baby, wanting to bask in the newness of being a family. 

“Look at her wee toenails, Sassenach.” They were all three in bed. Claire had propped herself up against the headboard to feed Faith and Jamie had stretched himself out on his side, taking up the entire length of the bed. His head was propped up in one hand, watching the two of them with unabashed curiosity and a desire not to be parted with them for anything. When one of Faith’s feet kicked itself free of the blanket she was swaddled in, Jamie had captured it. “I’ve never seen anything so small in my life.” 

Claire smiled softly at the quiet awe in his voice and watched him lean forward to kiss the bottom of the little foot he held. Faith’s eyes darted up to Claire and her forehead creased with concentration. “What was that, Faith? Does Da have your foot?” 

Jamie made a soft sound of surprise beside her and she turned to see him staring back at her with his heart in his eyes. “Da,” he repeated and exhaled a smile, clearly proud as a stallion. “I hadna yet thought about it as such. I’m someone’s da.” 

She reached for his hand and squeezed it, at a loss for words to sum up how it felt to share this with him. To Jamie, there was a vast difference between fathering a child and being a da. The latter carried infinitely more weight but was something tender and fulfilling, too ‒ cracked his heart wide open with a new love and all that it came with, joy and fear alike.      

Faith was blinking slowly at Claire’s breast and her suckling slowed until it ceased altogether. Claire traced the shell of Faith’s ear and the slope of her rounded cheek. She knew Jamie’s gaze was on them, but she welcomed his presence in the intimate moment. “We’re pretty good at this, aren’t we?” She spoke softly, her eyes never leaving Faith. 

“What? Raising a bairn? A little too soon to tell, don't ye think?”  

She turned to him with a coy smile. “No…” She leaned over into his space and kissed his lips very softly before pulling back. “Making a baby.” 

“Aye, I’d say we are, Sassenach.” He returned her smile, looking equal parts pleased with himself for the result of their work and also ready to act on any request to see if they still knew what they were doing in that regard. 

She rose slowly from the bed, sauntering the few steps to the little cot near the foot of the bed. The baby was a warm weight in her arms, almost too soothing to give up, but Claire caught Jamie’s gaze as she adjusted her hold on Faith and felt the first flutter of anticipation for what the night held for the two of them. 

She recalled a conversation with Jamie, early in her pregnancy, on what to expect after the baby was born. How her body would need time to heal. She thought it best that he have time to adjust his expectations - whatever they might be - for life after having a baby. But fate had had other ideas and their circumstances imposed an involuntary three months apart. Whatever worry Claire might’ve had before, there was only now the all-consuming desire to bask in Jamie’s love.    

She set the baby down to sleep. And, keeping her gaze locked on Jamie, she pulled at the ties of her shift and slid the fabric easily down past her shoulders until it pooled at her feet. 

“Claire…” Jamie husked and seemed to lose all power of speech after one utterance of her name. Satisfaction flooded Claire’s veins, seeing the reaction she could still have on her husband. 

“Your turn.” She smiled. 

He sat up and made quick work of his shirt by the time Claire reached his side of the bed. She stood between his knees and snaked one hand under his kilt where he was half-hard already. “God, I’ve missed this.” She managed before his mouth was on her and he came alive under her touch. His hands were warm and heavy on her hips, pulling her in closer. 

She lost herself in the pull of his love and the feel of his wandering hands, only coming back up for air when his hand gripped her wrist and stilled her movements there.  

Christ.” He breathed heavily. “I havena gone this long without ye since…” He shook his head, not wanting to ruin the moment by speaking of his long recovery from Wentworth. It felt like ages ago now, but once that aspect of their marriage had been restored, it had reared to life with fervor. So Claire thought she might understand the ferocity of his desire tonight when he added, “I dinna want this to end too soon.” It was the same way for her, as well.  

He stood only long enough to shove his kilt to the floor and then his hands were holding her flush against him as he fell backwards onto the bed, taking her with him. She let out a shriek of surprise and then his hand muffled her resulting giggles. “Dinna. Wake. The baby.” But even in his warning, she saw his eyes alight with joy, holding back his own laughter. She glanced quickly towards the cot, but Faith hadn’t stirred.  

He flipped them then so his body was draped over hers, a delicious weight she’d never grow tired of, and his lips began to explore her.

“Is this alright?” His mouth hovered above her breast and she shivered in anticipation. He waited for her permission, acknowledging too that this was a part of her he must now share. 

“Yes,” Claire said breathlessly. “She’s already had ‒” She gasped as his lips closed around one nipple. Her fingers threaded through his ruddy curls and held him tight. His mouth was gentle on her and it seemed at once to Claire a more intimate act than feeding her child. 

He hummed with her still in his mouth and it sent shock waves straight to her core. “You taste sweet, Sassenach,” he murmured.

“Your daughter favors that side, too. You’ll have to do the same to the other or you’ll leave me lopsided from the two of you.” 

Jamie grinned wolfishly at his task. “If you insist.” One of his hands snaked down between them and brushed against her center. “I suppose I can be persuaded.” His mouth found her other breast while his fingers teased at her entrance and it wasn’t long before he had her writhing under him. 

“Jamie, please…” She still had one hand cradling his head and tried to steer him upwards, seeking his mouth. 

He obliged, pulling her into a searing kiss that stole her breath. Her legs hooked around him, trying to get him where she wanted him. Jamie chuckled at her eagerness. “Not just yet, mo nighean donn. I intend to take my time with you tonight.” His lips found a pulse point on her neck and left a kiss there that would surely leave a mark. “Learn your body all over again.” 

Christ,” she whined as his lips traveled down from her neck. 

He paused in his trek when he reached her stomach. Claire squirmed and grasped at his shoulders, trying to move him farther up or down her body, it didn’t really matter which. But he held her fast and bent his head to kiss her softly padded belly where the skin was criss-crossed with stretch marks. And he kissed and kissed and kissed, touching each mark lightly, ignoring Claire’s obvious attempts to move him. 

“Jamie.” There was an odd hitch in her voice that caused him to look up at her. Her gaze pleaded with him, but she wouldn’t voice it out loud. 

“What is it?” 

“Not there,” she said at last, tugging helplessly at his hair to move him away. His brows furrowed in confusion and then his expression flooded with guilt. 

“Does it hurt? Am I hurting ye?” 

“No. Jamie ‒ God, no .” She broke off on a sigh and her fingers that had been tugging at his curls now tenderly raked through them. “But it doesn’t… I’m not…”

“You’re not what?” He prodded, dropping another kiss to her belly while he waited her out. 

“Well, I’m still a little thick around the middle,” she said briskly. “And the marks will fade with time, but they won’t go away.” 

He dropped his forehead suddenly and so forcefully onto her stomach, muttering something she couldn’t catch and his shoulders shook to the point that she realized he was stifling laughter. 

“I don’t see how this is funny,” she said hotly. 

“Christ, Sassenach.” He lifted his head now that his cover was blown. “I’m no’ meaning to laugh at ye. It’s just,” His eyes danced with merriment but Claire was still shooting daggers at him with hers. “Have ye seen my back?” 

“That’s different!” 

“Oh, aye?” 

“Yes,” she hissed. 

“How is it different, my Sassenach?” 

“You know how.” Her voice had dropped to a murmur and he knew she didn’t have an argument, just wanted him to stop fighting her on this. He let out a sigh, but didn’t move from his spot. 

“Aye. I know. My scars are the result of a wicked person, Claire, but ye’ve never looked at them with pity. And for that, I love you.” His palm moved to rest heavy on her stomach. “Ye carried my child here until she could be born and for that, I owe you my soul. You will always be beautiful to me, including these reminders on your body of the child ye gave me.” 

Claire’s lower lip quivered only slightly and she looked away from him, blinking fast. He exhaled a smile and turned his face to rest his cheek against her warm skin. The sense of urgency between them had quelled but he waited for Claire’s bidding to continue. After a moment, he felt her fingers gently toying with his curls again. He lifted his head to find her gaze again. “Will ye let me continue cherishing you, Sassenach? Every part of you?” 

Her hand framed his face and he leaned into it, turning slightly to kiss her palm. “Yes, Jamie,” she whispered.        

“Good.” He grinned. “Because so long as we are in agreement over how beautiful I find this particular part of ye,” He pressed another kiss to her belly, just below the naval. “I dinna feel the need to spend much more time here when there’s another part of ye that I’ve been neglecting.” He dipped his head lower still, spurred on by the sounds of encouragement coming from his wife, and with his hands and mouth, he brought her to the peak of her pleasure.          

She was boneless when he finally crawled back up her body and kissed her. “Are ye still alive, Sassenach?” He teased and she could manage only a small huff of a laugh. She could feel him, hot and heavy against her thigh.

“Need you, Jamie,” she whined.  

There was a dull ache when he entered her and her breath snagged in her throat. “I’m fine.” She assured him, rising up to capture his lips in a kiss. Her hands dug into the flesh of his back. “I just need you to move.” 

He took her slowly at first, with assurances of his love whispered in her ear, and as their mutual pleasure built, he unleashed what he’d thus far kept in-check, taking a punishing pace on Claire’s body. But she met him with each sharp thrust, bucking wildly and trying somehow to bring him impossibly closer. 

“You are mine,” he gritted out, nearing his finish and sending her tumbling towards her own. “My wife, my heart, my soul.”




She drifted off at some point, comforted by Jamie’s solid warmth once more, and startled awake in a panic before she could say why. 

Outside, it was dark, but a low fire still cast a warm glow on the room. A low murmur reached her ear, a voice that she connected as Jamie’s and she rolled over to find him. Jamie sat up in their bed, bare-chested and with small Faith pillowed there. “I didna mean to wake ye, Sassenach,” he whispered apologetically. His eyes were alight with joy in a way she’d only seen glimpses of before, when his hands had rested on her swollen belly once upon a time and he spoke to their child within. “But this wean here couldn’t sleep.” He craned his neck to the side to try and see the baby’s face. Faith’s eyes were now closed, which came as no surprise to Claire. Falling asleep on Jamie’s chest was easy for her, too. 

“It’s alright.” She propped herself up and laid her head against his shoulder. She reached out to smooth down Faith’s fuzzy head of hair, which stuck up in all directions. “I would sit up all night holding her like this, when we were still at L'Hôpital des Anges. It was the only thing that kept me sane, watching her breathe and feeling it on my skin. Knowing she was still with me. I thought if I fell asleep, she might pass without my noticing.” She swallowed past the lump in her throat and her eyes suddenly burned, but she blinked fast to push the tears away. It had been her fear, yes, but she’d never put it into words for another person before.  

Jamie’s hand ran slow circles along the baby’s back and even though Claire could see how much Faith had grown since birth, Jamie’s palm absolutely dwarfed the baby. She was so tiny in his hands, but he held her with the utmost care. 

“Is she going to be alright, Claire?” He asked her suddenly. “Truly?” 

“If you had seen her when she was born…” She stopped suddenly. Of course he hadn’t. He would never get that time back and that pained them both. Claire pressed a kiss to his shoulder, gathering herself first before she spoke again. “She might always be a little fragile, but I believe she’ll be alright. Truly.” 

His hand cupped the baby’s head, holding her to him. A silent tear slid down his face and Claire wiped at it with the back of her fingers. “I was so scared of everything that could happen to her ‒ to you ‒ while ye carried her, but I didna realize… I’m more scared now that she’s here and I’ve held her and I canna control what happens to her.” 

Claire nodded, her gaze on their little one. “I don’t think that feeling will ever go away. I feel it, too.” She caressed his face lightly, tracing his jawline and the scratch of his skin where stubble was already sprouting from his shaved face. Reminding herself that this was real and he was home. If the roles were reversed, Jamie would have laid his heart out before her and spoken words over her that would have had her weeping, but nothing eloquent or sufficient came to mind that Claire could voice to sum up everything her heart was feeling, seeing Jamie again. Having him returned to her. A lump rose in her throat. After everything they’d been through in torturous, separated circumstances, she needed him to know they were okay. Maybe they weren’t fully back to themselves and it would take some time to get there, but she still needed him more than anything else in life. “Jamie,” she whispered, and her raspy voice had his instant attention. “I-I love you.” 

“Mo nighean donn.” He tilted her face up for a kiss that was achingly tender. Claire relaxed under his touch. They were okay. “I love you, too.” 

She rested her head against his shoulder and felt the pull to sleep once more ‒ a luxury that had evaded her for months, but here, with Jamie and Faith both alive and right next to her…

“I ken she’s already been baptized,” Jamie spoke suddenly, rousing Claire once more. “But I dinna think her name is only Faith,” he announced. Claire stretched sleepily and looked up at him, quirking an eyebrow at this. She was less inclined to believe that the baby’s baptized name held any sort of finality ‒ after all, it was a birth certificate that mattered in her time ‒ but Jamie didn’t think like she did in this regard. Typically not, at least. 

Claire shrugged. “She wasn’t christened with any middle names, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give her one or tw‒” 

“Elizabeth,” Jamie interjected. Claire’s gaze softened and she noticed how the tips of his ears turned pink. “Tis what I wanted to name her, if we had a wee lass. Elizabeth.” He repeated the name softly, almost wistful.   

They hadn’t discussed names after their first disastrous attempt, figuring they’d know the right name when their child was here. The irony of that now, Claire thought.

Still, Jamie was right; her name didn’t only have to be Faith. “I like that,” she said at last.  “Faith Elizabeth Fr‒” 

“‒ Janet Beauchamp Fraser,” Jamie finished. 

Claire sat up and stared at him. “How long have you been thinking about this?” 

Jamie feigned pondering her question. “Och, I may have thought it up in pass‒”

“Jamie!” Claire shook her head. He’d wanted to name their daughter Elizabeth Janet Beauchamp Fraser for longer than he was admitting, it was only now that they would be tacking “Faith” in front of all that. 

Jamie grinned broadly. “I needed to keep my mind off of being sick while on the Christabel. The bairn was a small bit of happiness I could turn to.” His gaze dropped to the baby still sleeping comfortably on his chest, which afforded Claire the chance to process this without his eyes on her. He tucked his chin and pressed a kiss to the crown of Faith’s head. 

This sweet, beautiful man. “My whole pregnancy, you’ve had this picked out for a daughter.” 

Jamie’s grin turned sheepish. “I didna think it would be a lass, but for some reason, I found those names easier to choose. You’re not opposed to the name, then?” He finally thought to check. Claire chuckled softly, realizing she had contributed nothing to Faith’s name. But all she could focus on was the image of Jamie trying to find his way back after the events of Wentworth and the small bit of happiness their baby brought even then. Something for his mind to escape to.

“No, I’m not opposed,” she said at last. “Far from it.” 

“Not too much for the wee lass, ye think?” He checked one last time, studying the aforementioned wee lass still snoozing on his chest.  

“No, I think she’ll grow into the name eventually,” Claire teased, forcing a bit of humor into the last thing she wanted to make light of. But it was also true; Faith would grow and these early weeks and months wouldn’t define her whole life. “She won’t always be this tiny.” 

She smiled suddenly. “Thank god it wasn’t a boy. Dalhousie?” 

“Much better than Lambert, Sassenach,” he shot back readily, causing laughter to ripple out from her. At the sound, Faith startled in her sleep, causing both parents to freeze and watch the baby’s stiffened arms slowly relax again. The baby grunted and made a face, but her eyes stayed closed and with a sigh, Faith settled back and slept on, as if nothing had happened.  

Neither parent so much as breathed until it was clear Faith was still out. 

“Does she sleep well?” Jamie wanted to know.

Claire drew in a deep breath. “She sleeps. Not always well. I’m surprised I didn’t fully wake her just now.” 

“Well, if she’s sleeping now, maybe we shouldna disturb her.” He rose slowly from his position and stood, all the while keeping tiny Faith secured. Claire registered the look on his face and oh, she knew that feeling well; the knowing that she should put the baby down, but not wanting to let Faith go, even for sleep. 

Jamie lowered the babe slowly into the small cot and stilled for a moment, holding his breath to see if Faith would stir. “How are you already so good at that?” Claire whispered. He flashed her a grin, a tad prideful and she wouldn’t fault him for it. She knew he would be absolutely perfect at this and her heart squeezed at finally being able to see Jamie as a father. Now it was her turn to feel a flush of pride in her husband and their child and the little family they made together. 

“Come back to bed.”  

Jamie strode back around the bed and crawled over until he loomed above Claire, crowding her space with the solid wall of his chest. “Missed me already, did ye?”

Her hand fisted in the soft curls at the back of his neck and pulled him down to her. “Always, Jamie.”         




Jamie! Jamie, I’m here. It’s just a dream.” 

He startled awake and tightly gripped the hand that had rested gently on his chest only moments before. Claire. It was Claire. 

His body had broken out in a cold sweat and the last vestiges of his dream still felt present in his state of waking. “The bairn?” He said tersely. “Do we have a bairn?” 

“She’s right over there. She’s sleeping. Jamie!” 

Her hands grasped ineffectively for a hold of him, but he pushed out of bed too fast and determinedly to be stopped. In the dark, he skirted around the corner of the bed until he reached the bassinet where the baby slept. 

He laid one hand very gently on top of the baby and felt the shallow but steady rise and fall of her chest. His breath left him in a rush and knelt next to the bassinet, staring through the dark at the unmistakable outline of the warm little body under his palm. The floor beneath his knees was cold and unforgiving but he paid no attention. His fingers found one tiny clasped fist and held it delicately as Faith’s fingers unfurled and grasped onto his pointer finger in her sleep. A simple reflex, but one that slowed his heartbeat from its erratic racing. This was real. It had to be. 

“Jamie,” Claire called softly after a moment. “Come back to bed.” 

He shook his head. “Not yet, mo nighean donn.” When she didn’t respond or lie down, he spoke again. “Go back to sleep. I’m sorry I woke ye.”  

His sight had adjusted to the dark and he could make out Claire’s dark head of hair lowering to her pillow without another word, but whether or not she’d be able to sleep again was anyone’s guess. 



She lay there in the dark listening to Jamie’s muted whispering, so soft when it reached her ears that she couldn’t tell if he was speaking English or Gaelic, only that the words were meant for the sleep-deaf ears of their baby. Do we have a bairn?  That was what he’d asked her, waking from the grips of his nightmare. She pulled the blankets up to her chin and turned further into her pillow, seeking her own comfort from knowing what this time apart had done to him.    

At length, she gave up trying to sleep without him and tiptoed over to where he now sat in a chair by the fire that had long since gone out. The bassinet had been moved with him and one hand rested in there alongside the baby. Claire sighed at the sight of them and moved to sit in Jamie’s lap. His skin was cold and sweaty under her touch, despite that it was August and the room felt rather warm. She burrowed in and his hand found purchase at her hip, holding her steady in his lap against him. He tucked her head under his chin and her eyes slid shut. 

She wasn’t sure how long they stayed like this, Jamie holding tight to both her and the baby, but she noticed the room began to lighten ever so slightly with the promise of sunrise on its way.

 

 

“He isna dead, Claire.” Jamie startled her with his voice. Neither had spoken since she came and found him by the fireplace. 

“What? Who?”

“Randall.” Jamie sighed. “I struck him with my blade, but he isna dead.” 

“I… I know that,” Claire said, but with a question in her tone ‒ why was Jamie bringing this up? “Did you dream‒”

“He willna ever father a child, though.” He felt Claire stiffen in his arms and he let out a shuddering sigh. His wife pulled away and he let her go, feeling his own shame roiling through his gut. “And that is my doing. I’m sorry, Claire.” 

“Jesus.” Claire stepped away only to spin on her heels, staring down at him in horror. “What have you done?” She uttered. “Jamie, you’ve ‒ you’ve killed Frank!” 

He rolled his jaw tensely and faced her. “It wasna my intention, Claire. I wasna thinking of Frank when I was facing Randall.” 

"You bloody -" Her voice dropped to a whisper, remembering that their child slept not two feet from her. “I need…” Her hands scrubbed over her tired face and when she pulled them away, he thought he saw her linger on the simple gold band still adorning her left hand. “I need a moment!” She reached for her silk robe and sped out of the room. 

He watched her go, his own mind turning over the implications of his actions where Randall was concerned. Would Frank just cease to exist? He had noticed the gold ring still on Claire’s finger when he returned yesterday morning and he couldn’t make sense of this anymore than he could the workings of the stones at Craigh na Dun. He left Claire to her own puzzling and her own grieving, too, knowing he owed her this space and so much more. 

A soft whimper interrupted his thoughts and he looked down into the bassinet to see Faith’s arms flapping in the air. “Oh, awake at last, are ye?” He lifted her carefully and settled her in the crook of his arm, but she wasn’t satisfied with this and her whimpers turned into a squall. “Are you cold, a nighean? If you’re hungry, I canna help with that.” 

He retrieved his plaid from the other side of the room and managed to drape it about them both when he resettled on the sofa with his knees drawn up and Faith sitting up against his thighs. He hadn’t yet seen her so alert and he noticed for the first time that the blues of her eyes echoed Claire’s. The baby cooed and her eyebrows rose, wrinkling her forehead. “Talking to me already? You’re a canny lass.” He lifted her then and pulled her close to his face, overcome with the urge to kiss her soft cheeks. He pulled back only a little, to see her face again. She blinked at him and cooed with an almost-smile. “And a bonny lass, too.” He smiled and kissed her once more before sitting her up again on his stomach. 

“I’m verra sorry I wasna there when you were born,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry to have missed a single day of your life, let alone three months.” Jamie sighed and despite what he’d just shared, a small smile tugged at his lips. Faith watched him with keen interest and listened to his voice. “I do love you, Faith. And I always will. As your da, I may not always have the world to give ye, as ye deserve, but I will give ye everything I have, like I promised to yer mam when we wed. I’ve already given you my name and you were born into this family, this clan. And if the need should ever arise, I will surely protect you. Make no mistake about that, Faith Fraser.” He paused in his speech, flooded with thoughts of how he might be called upon to fulfill this promise. “God, yer such a wee thing. I’m scairt to even let ye out of my sight.” 

Faith cooed at this, contributing to the conversation. Her lips curled ever so slightly with another hint of a smile. “But I’ve given ye one thing already that beats them all. And that’s yer mam. But ye ken already that she’s special, don’t ye?” He lifted the baby again and kissed Faith’s wrinkled forehead and then her nose. Her little fists flapped in the air. “I dinna ken how I got so lucky with her, Faith. Truly. She’s my heart. As are you, a nighean. Ye dinna ken how precious you are to me.” 

Faith grew louder in her vocalization and Jamie paused, letting her echo sounds back to him. His heart and soul resided in her tiny, fragile frame and the love he felt for her was without measure. “I promise ye one thing, a leannan. Yer mam will keep you safe from sickness and injury and the like. Of that I have no doubt. And I will protect you from all the rest.”

He didn’t hear Claire’s return to the room but he sensed her presence moments before her fingers curled in his hair at the nape of his neck. He glanced up to find her eyes red from crying and her glass face warring with emotions. Guilt was there where it shouldn’t be, for he had been the one to injure Randall and the fault for snuffing out Frank’s existence rested solely on Jamie’s shoulders.  

“What’s done is done. But when we return to Scotland, there will be no more of seeking out Randall. You’ve already stolen the life of the first man I loved ‒ an innocent man in all of this. Wiped out an entire line of descendants in one stroke. Let that be enough for your revenge and let’s walk away from this mess.” 

He stole her hand from where it rested on his shoulder and brought it to his lips, kissing the silver ring on her finger. His own ring. “I promise there will be no more of this.” His arm snaked around her and pulled her closer until his head rested against her stomach and her fingers raked through his curls and held him there against her. 

If he had caused her to lose her child, he would’ve lost Claire, too. And the fear of that, of what he was so close to ruining in a moment of anger, made his promise an easy one. He would protect Claire and Faith always and if Randall was ever foolish enough to come after them, Jamie would see to his end. That was plain enough. But perhaps Claire was right that his revenge on the likes of Randall had already been taken. The man could not father a child nor could he seek his own revolting pleasure any more. And there was some comfort and justice in that. And further still, for the sake of love, Jamie was not so foolish to run after vengeance now when there was something greater right before him. “I have no life but you, Claire,” he said at last. “I canna lose you.” 

Her hands stilled in his hair. “Is that what you dreamed of last night?” 

He drew a sobering breath and let it out slowly. “Aye. I was in the Bastille again but Randall was there. Not as a prisoner or even a guard. Just… taunting me. Reminding me that I’d killed our bairn that day in the woods and you’d never forgive me for it. Which would’ve been your right.” 

She tipped his face up until he looked her in the eye. “You won’t ever lose me,” she said firmly. 

He glossed a smile over his face. “Nay, Sassenach, there’s no risk of that anymore.” He moved to carefully lift Faith up for a kiss once more before passing her up into Claire’s arms. “You and I will live forever now.”

Chapter Text

September 1744

“She’s a right beautiful bairn.” Jenny bounced wee Faith gently in her arms. She hadn't stopped smiling since they arrived back at Lallybroch nearly an hour ago with the newest addition to their family. “Ye did good, Claire.” 

Claire leaned her head back against Jamie where they stood by the hearth, watching Jenny, Ian, and their nephew and niece become acquainted with their daughter. Claire eyed Maggie where she was being bounced on her father’s knee and marveled at how she’d grown from the newborn Claire had last seen to the hearty and cherubic girl of ten months now, all dark hair and eyes, rosy cheeks and baby fat rolls.  

Her thoughts were interrupted by Faith’s sudden sneezing fit and Claire immediately propelled herself forward, only to feel herself pulled back sharply to Jamie’s chest, his arms going around her waist. “She’s alright, Claire.” He whispered in her ear as he effectively anchored her in place. She tried to slow her racing heart and relax into Jamie’s grip. None of the Murrays noticed, in part because of the truth of Jamie’s words; Faith was alright and keeping her family members utterly captivated with her as her sneezing ceased. Even though she looked now like any other infant, albeit smaller for her age, Claire would never forget the shock of how impossibly tiny Faith was when they placed her in Claire’s arms. “She’s alright.” Claire whispered, more to herself than in acknowledgement of Jamie. Still, she felt the press of his lips at her temple in reassurance and savored this moment with their family finally restored at Lallybroch and Jamie home at last without worry of a price on his head. 

A joyous shout from the courtyard caught Claire’s attention and she peered out the window to see Fergus and Rabbie already forming a fast friendship. Her heart warmed at the sight. Little Rabbie MacNab would always have a soft spot in Claire’s heart, who she remembered all too vividly bearing the marks of abuse on his small body left by his no-good father. He belonged here at the farmhouse, where he would be treated with dignity and kindness. And, watching his scrappy, Parisian playfellow, Claire came to the same conclusion about Fergus; he deserved a childhood in the safety of Lallybroch, where he wouldn’t be starved or neglected or abused. No, those once love-starved boys deserved so much more than the difficulties they’d already overcome. 

“Jamie, look,” Claire said softly, sharing the scene with him. He caught sight of Fergus and Rabbie and chuckled. 

“Weel, there’s trouble if ever I saw it.” 

“I think it’s sweet.” 

“Aye, well, ye didna ken me and Ian at that age.” 

She laughed at this. “Yes but I’ve heard plenty of stories.” She leaned back in his arms and turned to kiss his cheek. “And a child should have a best friend, shouldn’t he?” 

“I’ll no’ disagree with ye there, Sassenach.” 

They swayed together in place, both gazes returning to the Murray family before them. Jenny held the baby up to wee Jamie’s face so he could give her a kiss, as he’d asked. When she resettled the baby in the crook of her arm, Jenny’s gaze caught Claire’s. “I told ye, didn’t I?” She said with a particular gleam in her eyes. “I told ye you’d have one of yer own soon enough.” 

Claire smiled softly at the memory, sitting on the steps outside of Lallybroch with Jenny, sharing their delight over Maggie, their worry over Jamie and Ian. It was the moment Claire knew what it must be like to have a sister’s love and she found herself swallowing thickly now with the wave of emotions tied up in that day. “And Faith was already there when you said it, I just didn’t know it yet.” 

The real surprise of their return had been finding Jenny already five months gone into her third pregnancy. She’d smiled coyly when Jamie and Claire noticed and said she’d thought it’d be better news in person.

“But… Christ, wee Maggie’s only ten‒” 

Claire had cut Jamie’s comment off with a loud “We’re so excited for you!”, and that had been that, although she caught Jamie giving Ian an incredulous look on their way inside. 

It did rather make Claire’s head spin at the thought. Two babies only fifteen months apart. And here at Lallybroch now, Faith would be sandwiched between them in age. Oh, they were about to have their hands full... 

Jenny was certain it was a boy, a little playmate for wee Jamie, but she’d said the same thing about Maggie and Claire felt no pull one way or another. Because it would be wonderful, either way. She never had any of this growing up. Only her parents for a bit and then it was just her and Uncle Lamb. But Faith would never know what that was like. She’d have her aunt and uncle and, if their growing brood was any indication of the future, an abundance of cousins to keep her company. Not to mention Murtagh and Fergus and… 

Claire leaned back in Jamie’s arms and tilted up to kiss his jaw where a bit of stubble already scratched at her lips. Yes, maybe someday… another baby or two. Not twelve, she thought wryly, but three sounded reasonable enough. 

 

 

The rhythm of life at Lallybroch felt all too soothing after the double lives they’d lived in Paris and here, in Jamie’s ancestral estate, a wall came down in both of them, knowing there wasn’t anyone here they needed to guard themselves from. 

“The next Quarter Day is in a few weeks. It’ll be good tae have Jamie here to oversee the books for that. And o’ course to help Ian and the rest of the men with the potato crop soon.” Jenny shook out a sheet before hanging it on the clothesline. Claire and Jamie had fallen right into step with the daily goings on and Jenny wasted no time expecting them to keep up. 

Claire eyed the potato field apprehensively. It had been on her recommendation, after all, that Jenny and Ian had planted a whole crop that had never once been native to this region and if it didn’t yield a good bounty for them, she may have set them up to fare even worse in the coming famine.  

“Ye ken Mrs. Crook could help wi’ wee Faith ‒ mind her throughout the day as she does wi’ my bairns. Ye dinna always need to do it all yerself.” 

At Jenny’s words, Claire’s hands fell instinctively to Faith’s little form bundled up in a wrap secured to Claire’s body. Snug and sleepy after her last feeding, Faith hadn’t made a peep since they stepped outside to do the laundry. “I know,” Claire said softly. “But I don’t mind having her with me.” She peered under the cloth to see Faith had indeed fallen asleep and the sight of her baby’s sleeping face had some unnamed relief washing through her. 

“Jamie told me how it was,” Jenny said carefully. She tugged a large sark of Ian’s into place on the clothesline and arranged it neatly. “Told me how sickly Faith was when she was born. I ken that’s why ye worry over her so much.” 

Claire gave Jenny a small smile in acknowledgement of her words and reached for the next article to hang on the line. “Did you feel that way when wee Jamie was born?” 

“Oh, aye. I did worry over him. Ye always do over the first one, I think. No matter if they’re healthy or no’. But he was an easy bairn, even if the delivery was long. I dinna ken what it’s like, what ye went through with Faith, but the most scairt I’ve ever been was with my Maggie, when she wouldn’t come and well… ye ken, ye were there for that.” 

“Yes,” Claire settled one hand on Faith as she worked, unnecessary as it was with the baby secured well. “I don’t think either of us will forget that any time soon.”

“These bairns like to make their entrance memorable, that’s for sure.” Jenny caught her gaze and smiled warmly. “Ye’re doing just fine, Claire. I’ve never seen my brother so happy. To have a bairn of his own… well, it does him good to be a father and it does my heart good to see it.” 

“Thank you, Jenny. About‒ about Quarter Day and the harvest and… all of it really, I don’t‒ that is‒” Claire took a deep breath, tried to smile as she fumbled through this. Jenny watched her expectantly, pausing in her work. “The first time Jamie brought me here, we thought it would be for good, but you and I got off on a bumpy start and I felt then that I needed to rise to the challenge of being Lady Broch Turach, but now…” Claire gave a small shrug. “I can admit I don’t know anything still about running a house such as this, but I want to learn. And I don’t want to step on your toes, either, when you’ve run this place so flawlessly. I mean, this is your home and you’ve‒”    

“Tis your home, too,” Jenny interrupted, though not unkindly and stating this so matter-of-factly. Claire hesitated, always caught a little off-guard by Jenny Fraser Murray. “I didna ken what to make of ye when Jamie first brought ye home,” she added with a tinge of reluctance in her voice and Claire knew that was about as close as she might get to an apology for how their relationship started. “But ye’re a good woman, Claire. Ye love my brother, that’s plain as day. And ye’ve given him something that has made him whole.” Her gaze flicked down to the outline of Faith and she flashed Claire a quick smile. “I’m happy to share this place with ye,” she said at last, rescuing Claire from the request she’d been struggling to get out.  

Claire exhaled a smile and felt her roots burrow a little deeper into the soil.


October 1744

“Big day, Faith,” Claire said sweetly to her baby, despite the apprehensive flutters in her stomach. “I think your uncle and da are going to harvest the potatoes.” She settled five-month-old Faith in the middle of the large bed. Freshly cleaned and diapered, Faith was happy as a lark, cooing loudly back at Claire to find her own voice in their conversation. 

“Say your prayers that it’s the best crop of potatoes ever yielded, little darling. Because if not, it’s Mama’s reputation that’s on the line.” Claire tugged open a drawer where they kept all of Faith’s items, tiny and delicate enough that her dresses, nightgowns, stockings, bonnets, and blankets only filled the one drawer. Her hands stilled in their rummage through the wardrobe, falling to a soft pair of warm, brown stockings Claire hadn’t seen before. She picked one up and turned it over delicately. They were clearly hand-knit and meant for Faith, surreptitiously placed among her clothing and blankets. 

“Here, darling, these look nice and warm.” Claire turned to where she’d left Faith lying on the mattress. The baby hadn’t yet mastered rolling over, but Jenny had advised Claire to savor these moments while they lasted before Faith was completely mobile and would require constant supervision. “Looks like your auntie made these for you.” She slid one onto Faith’s foot and up her leg. “And a perfect fit, too,” she carried on for the reward of another happy coo from the baby, all too content to be part of a conversation. 

She dressed Faith in enough layers to keep out the Autumn chill and still grabbed a wool blanket for good measure. “And last but not least…” Claire slipped a white bonnet onto Faith’s head, a little dismayed to cover up the silky, copper strands of Faith’s downy-like hair. She paused, leaning over her babe, who stared up at her and kicked her legs when Claire returned her gaze. 

A memory came to her then, unbidden, of a conversation in this very room that occurred almost a year ago now; her confession to Jamie of her once held belief that they could never have children. The evidence to the contrary now lay before her, face breaking open into a smile that reverberated through the baby’s whole body, little arms and legs flailing, and Claire felt suddenly overwhelmed. Their wee girl, a fulfillment of so many dreams. She had healed Claire’s heart just by existing.

So Claire scooped her up, pressing kisses to the baby’s feather-soft cheek. “I could smother you with kisses and it’d never be enough,” she admitted to the baby, feeling a few tears spill quietly down her face. “I love you so much.” She knew she couldn’t just sit with these feelings, with this miracle baby in her arms, or she’d never make it out of the room today. So she wiped her tears and pressed another kiss to Faith’s brow for good measure. “Let’s go find Da, alright?” 

 

     

They found Jamie with Ian and Fergus and a few of the men standing at the base of the potato field. Fergus stood at Jamie’s elbow and hung on every word of what appeared to be a discussion of timing for when to harvest the potatoes. It had never been done before at Lallybroch and being a root vegetable, it was anyone’s guess as to when the plant might be ready. 

Jamie was the first to notice her approaching and he broke away from the group to meet her, smiling broadly. 

“What’s the verdict?” She asked as he stole Faith from her. She missed the solid weight of the girl, but Jamie with their babe was a sight she never tired of. 

Jamie sighed in response to her question and gave Faith a hearty kiss on the cheek before answering. “Ian is consulting his book. It isna exactly clear though.” 

She slipped an arm around his waist and stood flush against his side, savoring his warmth and the way he blocked the wind for her. He shifted Faith high against his chest, her weight supported on one of his arms. In the transfer, her blanket began to unbundle from around her and her little feet kicked out the bottom, clad in her stockings and soft slippers. Jamie’s fingers tugged the blanket down and around her feet without looking, though Claire noticed he stopped when he felt the baby’s stockings and tilted his head to the side to try and catch a glimpse of them. He looked rather pleased and Claire wondered if he knew who the mysterious gifter was.

“I think Jenny made those,” she said. “They look handmade, at least, and I only just found them today among Faith’s things.” When she glanced up at Jamie, he was giving her an odd look. “What?” 

“Jenny didna make those. I did.”  

Claire worked hard to school her surprise at this, but her glass face probably showed this all too clearly to her husband. “You know how to knit?” 

Now it was Jamie’s turn to look mildly surprised, though he hid it well and finally gave her a soft, gracious smile. “Every man, woman, and child old enough to hold the needles can knit, Sassenach. Dinna tell me no one kens how to clickit in your time.”

“Well, no, people still knit where I’m from. I just... never learned. Would‒ would you teach me?” She asked, a little embarrassed. A full smile bloomed on Jamie’s face and he leaned down to press a kiss to her forehead before he answered her. 

“Aye, I’ll teach ye.” He straightened, looking again very pleased. “It’ll be a good time to learn when we’re inside for the long winter.” 

Claire’s eyes dropped to the little brown stocking peeking out slightly from under the blanket. She toyed with the fabric gently. “They’re beautifully made, Jamie. And they fit her perfectly.” She cocked her head up at him. “When on earth did you have time to make these?”

He ducked from her glance and bounced the baby in his arms. “Weel ye ken as well as I that this lass doesna sleep much since we subjected her to sea travel, a frightfully long wagon ride to Lallybroch, and then a new home.” 

“It was a lot all at once,” Claire agreed, eyeing him curiously. They hadn’t had close to a good night’s sleep since Paris, but it was still too fresh in both of their minds how lucky they were to even have a baby keeping them up at night for them to mind the sleeplessness too much. 

“And ye ken of course that she willna fall asleep unless you or I hold her.” 

Claire chewed her lip and nodded. She knew it was unusual in her time at least to be so wrapped up in a child. But what would surely be labeled as “coddling” then felt anything but that here, especially in an era where infant mortality was dreadfully high. Still, somehow the virtues of another time occasionally plagued Claire, making her second guess if 20th century parents and experts really understood what it meant to know the child of your heart was alive and well and crying out to be held and only the comfort of your embrace could soothe them. In that moment, it didn’t feel like she and Jamie were doing anything but loving their child. 

“Well,” Jamie continued. “Lately when it’s my turn wi’ the lass, I know she’ll sleep as long as I hold her and if I put her down too soon, she’ll wake all over again. So I started bringing the knitting needles out when I settle in the chair wi’ her. Gives me something to do while I wait for her to sleep soundly enough.” 

Claire could see it suddenly, her husband sitting up in the middle of the night with the baby asleep on his shoulder, passed out from the warmth that he could so easily envelop her in, while he knit her a pair of stockings. Christ, he probably held it up to her tiny legs to compare while he worked and that would explain why they fit Faith like a glove. The thought made her want to weep for all the love she felt for him and all the tenderness and care he bestowed upon her and their babe. 

He must’ve read it all there in her face because Jamie smiled suddenly and bent to kiss her.

“Does it bother your hand at all?” She thought with sudden concern. It had been the better part of a year since his right hand had been mutilated and though he’d made great lengths in his recovery, it wasn’t completely painless and Claire feared it might always bother him.

“No, Sassenach, it doesna hurt. My fingers do get a bit stiff if I hold the needle too long, but it doesna hurt.” She realized her brows must still be furrowed in concern because he bent and kissed her there as if to soothe her. “Besides, it gets awful cold here in the winter and Faith is so wee. What kind of Da would I be if I didna provide her with warm enough clothes?” 

He seemed to think this all perfectly reasonable and nodded sharply in the direction of the men to indicate that they should return to them, putting any talk of his knitting habits to rest for now. 

He moved with surety to rejoin the men, Faith still tucked in one arm. His free hand came to rest automatically on Fergus’s thin shoulder when he reached the group and Claire didn’t miss the look of awe on Fergus’s face that this simple act gave him.             

Ian still held open his book, A Scientific Treatise on Methods of Farming, by Sir Walter O’Bannion Reilly, and was busy skimming pages. He smiled grimly at Jamie and shook his head. 

“Ah,” Jamie muttered. “A whole book on the scientific farming of potatoes and no mention of how ye tell when the bloody things are ready to eat.” 

Ian snapped the book shut and let it rest against his side. Fergus glanced between the two of them and finally spoke up. “Why don’t you just dig one up and see?” He asked. 

Jamie stared at Fergus for a moment. His mouth gaped open until he suddenly snapped it shut and clapped Fergus affectionately on the shoulder. Jamie then carefully transferred Faith back into Claire’s arms and went to fetch a pitchfork from its place against the fence. The men pushed in behind him ‒ as did Claire, holding her breath all the while ‒ as Jamie chose a flourishing vine near the edge of the field and dug the pitchfork in near the root. 

He pushed the handle down and away, uprooting the vine in one swift motion. More bodies pushed in, staring curiously at the dirt-caked potatoes clinging to the roots. Ian fell to his knees with surprising ease for one wooden leg and began to loosen the dirt around the potatoes, spouting enough shouts of excitement over the results of his labor that the breath Claire had been holding left her in a rush of relief. 

Her gaze met Jamie’s and a smile bloomed just for him. Their work in Paris may have been a bitter disappointment, but maybe this… yes, maybe this work they could do. 

 

 

They called for a feast with the tenants of Lallybroch to celebrate the wealth of their new potato crop. In no time at all, Jenny had orchestrated their outdoor supper, roasting the potatoes and, at Fergus’s suggestion, supplying them with a heaping of fresh butter. 

Their new Highland cuisine was met with first suspicion and then varying tastes for it once the roasted potatoes had been given a chance. But none of that could steal away Claire’s joy, knowing what was to come. And if the famine did come, no one would thumb their nose at these potatoes then. These folks would be safe.  

The evening was chilly but windless and as the sun began its slow crawl toward the horizon, the fire was built up to a roaring blaze that they all naturally flocked to. 

Claire had gone into the farmhouse to feed and change Faith and returned to their party as it was growing darker. The firelight cast an orange glow on the faces of those gathered around. 

“Auntie!” Wee Jamie screamed when he saw her, running out to meet her. She saw only the dark outline of him moving in the grass.

“Yes, love?” 

But wee Jamie only held out his hand to escort her back to the fire. She anchored Faith on one hip and reached for the little boy’s hand. 

“You are just like your namesake, aren’t you? Such a gentleman.” 

The boy caught his uncle’s gaze from where he sat in the grass, sandwiched between Fergus and Ian. Jamie nodded approvingly and the young boy shot a beaming smile up at Claire. 

“I want to hold the baby,” the boy said, before Claire had even reached a spot on the grass. 

“You can, just wait and I’ll help you.” She carefully lowered herself to a spot near the fire and stretched her legs out in front of her, adjusting her skirt with one hand as she did. Wee Jamie was waiting, gently stamping his feet in the grass next to her. “Come here, you,” She said finally and helped him into her lap. Faith was bundled up in a thick blanket so it made it easy to pass the bundle of her into little Jamie’s lap. Claire clasped her hands in front around the both of them and sighed contently. 

The fire was warm and the company of their tenants created a rousing atmosphere with stories and laughter and even some singing. Claire fell into rapt silence, becoming an observer to it all. 

But Faith began to fuss, even with Claire helping to bounce her and wee Jamie in her lap. “I’m done holding her,” Jamie said suddenly, his little arms slithering out from under Faith. 

“Alright, alright, hold on.” Claire’s one-handed grip on Faith tightened and she pulled the baby off of Jamie’s lap. But the boy had no desire to leave his auntie’s lap, effectively pinning her in place as he leaned his head back against her chest and yawned. 

She caught her husband’s approach from the corner of her eye and watched as he crouched down next to her, pressing a kiss to her head. “I’ll walk wi’ her, Sassenach, and see if that will calm her. You’ve got your hands full wi’ our nephew.” 

“That I do,” she agreed. When he lifted Faith from her arm, she brushed his shoulder gently before he rose to his feet. Freed of one small body occupying her lap, she slid her hands under the boy’s armpits and re-centered young Jamie in her lap and folded her legs in. He curled in, his head pillowed against her chest, and her arms went about his small form to secure him there. “Better?” She teased him affectionately. 

“Yes, Auntie,” he answered in all seriousness. She exhaled a quiet laugh and dropped a kiss to his hair, which smelled of campfire smoke. She could see he was watching the fire, hypnotized by the flames and likely to fall asleep on her before too long, and he was a comforting weight in her arms, anchoring her to the ground. 

“You know,” she said lightly. “I rather like having you as my nephew.” 

Wee Jamie tipped his head up and smiled mischievously, like she’d let him in on a secret. “I like ye, Auntie Claire,” he said plainly. 

“Good, I’m glad.” She smiled. “Lay your head, sweet boy. I know you’re tired.” 

She rocked slightly with him and glanced about, happy to see the tenants all enjoying themselves but looking for their laird in particular. She spotted him a little ways back from the fire, standing in place with Faith in his arms, but Fergus was with them, too, popping out from behind Jamie’s back to make a face at Faith every few seconds. It was eighteenth century peek-a-boo but Claire doubted they called it that. She did watch the three of them, though, and wonder how far back that game had endured through the centuries. 

Jamie smiled broadly and jounced Faith slightly every time Fergus popped around at his elbow. She couldn’t see Faith’s reaction to this, but if Jamie’s and Fergus’s faces were any indication, their girl was far from fussy now. Claire’s gaze lingered on the bright face of Fergus, playing sweetly with the babe. He had blossomed at Lallybroch in the month that they’d been back, growing accustomed to a quiet, country life with ease. He played with Rabbie and helped with the horses and always, always shadowed every step of Jamie’s. 

She had noticed, too, a marked change in how Jamie interacted with the boy since he returned to them a few months ago. There was an added protectiveness over Fergus and no short amount of affection for him. Yes, the mark of fatherhood on Jamie Fraser was evident for anyone to see and it extended far beyond Faith.   

Jamie caught her gaze suddenly and her stomach fluttered. She gave him a smile and hoped to convey in it how much she loved this moment in time with him.  

 

  

The sun was setting low in the sky, burning deep orange at the horizon with streaks of pink and purple fading up to the blue. Jamie had gone searching for his wife and found Claire in the garden and laced their fingers together before walking out toward the nearest field behind the farmhouse. He didn’t say a word, but she thought she knew he was leading her out on a sunset walk. The evening was too beautiful to waste and the desire simply to be in each other’s company hadn’t dimmed in their year and a half of marriage. The baby was napping inside the farmhouse and under the care of her auntie for the time being. They ambled along through the heather, their strides fairly matched, and Claire tucked herself a little closer to him when the breeze picked up. 

He dropped her hand in favor then of tucking her under one arm and her own went around his waist and squeezed him. It wasn’t a position that lent itself well to walking side-by-side, but they’d reached the small crest of a hill and paused against the fencing to stare out at the setting sun casting golden light on the whole estate of Lallybroch. 

“So beautiful, it should be a painting.” Claire finally broke the spell of silence. Jamie made a sound of agreement. She looked up at him but his gaze was on the scene before them. The angle of light cut across his strong features, made him look more like the viking than usual, strong and tall and proud, observing his kingdom. He looked content, too, not just today, but every day since they’d come back to Scotland. To his home. Jamie was laird here and that was no small thing to him, Claire knew. A laird and soldier, husband and father… he carried his responsibility without question or hesitation and it wasn’t any wonder why so many people trusted him and relied on him. What was a wonder to Claire was that he was only twenty-three. 

Jamie cast a glance down suddenly and she felt her cheeks grow warm at being caught. Claire ducked and kissed his shoulder softly but found him still waiting her out when she  glanced back up at him. His fingers were at her temple suddenly, tucking a few wayward wisps of hair behind her ear before tilting her chin up further. “Ye do look so bonny this evening, Sassenach,” he said with a smile before he stole a kiss from her. “What’s troubling you?” 

She let out a mirthless chuckle. “How do you always do that?” 

“Ye canna hide anything from me with your face,” he teased her. 

“I was just thinking… if… if we didn’t succeed in Paris and the rising still begins‒”

“We willna have any part of it,” Jamie cut in firmly. His arm around her tightened instinctively. “I wish… God, I wish I kent for sure that we’d changed things from how ye remember them in your time. I dinna want the slaughter of my countrymen. But if it does come, I mean to keep us all safe and away from it.” 

Claire sighed and tucked herself against him, feeling an odd swirl of relief and dread at the same time. They did what they could, but so much of what she knew of history felt too powerful for them to steer on their own. “You seem happy here at Lallybroch… are you?” She asked suddenly, pulling back to look up at him. 

“Happy to stay here, ye mean?” Jamie clarified and did a sweep of the land. “Well, it’s home, Sassenach. And I’m the laird so I should be here, but…” He cocked an eyebrow at her curiously. “It’s not an exciting life. It can’t offer ye the society of Paris or the large surgeries you’ve worked in.”

“I could do well without the society of Paris,” she said dryly. “And it’s… it’s different than what I’ve known before, but there is work for me here. God knows you injure yourself enough to keep me busy no matter where we are. I’m sure between you and all the tenant families here, I’ll have my hands full.” 

“And ye’ll have your wee garden,” he added, referring to the stretch of ground that he’d recently marked out for her to be able to plant her wee herbs, come Spring. 

“I will.” She reached up on tiptoes to kiss him along his jaw, feeling the scratch of stubble on her lips. “And I am Lady Broch Turach, after all. This is my place, too.” 

“Aye, it is.” She caught his all-too-pleased look before his kiss was pushing every other thought out of her mind and there was only Jamie in her arms and on her lips. 

She startled when he held her by the waist and lifted her up onto the fence post as though she weighed nothing. “Jamie!” Unperturbed by her outcry, he stepped between her thighs and cupped her face in his hands. She had to hold fast to him to keep herself steady. “Jamie. We’re on a hill. Any one of your tenants could step out of their home and see us up here.” 

“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” he teased with a smile. “I dinna intend to let anyone see ye in any matter of indecency. Least of all our tenants, my Lady Broch Turach.” He kissed her then, a dizzying distraction to any argument she might’ve made. “It’s only that ye look so beautiful out here wi’ the sun in your brown hair.” He paused and then smiled softly. “Mo nighean donn,” he added for emphasis. His brown-haired lass. “Aye, ye look like you belong here. Like you’ve always been a part of this place, somehow. And I just needed to kiss you for it.”

She felt a sudden lump in her throat at his words and, forgetting her previous self-consciousness, pulled him back in, needing to kiss him for it. 

Chapter Text

With January came the wet, hacking coughs that settled deep in the lungs, runny noses, and fevers that spread quickly through each Highland home. Lallybroch was not spared from this; however, Claire had been and, to her relief, so had Jenny. At eight months pregnant, Jenny had enough to contend with and she seemed to get by on sheer willpower alone. Jenny simply couldn’t afford to come down with a fever and her immune system seemed to quite agree.

The sickness swept through in waves, but when the children all came down with it, the nights dragged on longer than most. 

“His fever is very slight, Jenny, and we’ll keep an eye on him.” Wee Jamie was cradled in his mother’s overcrowded lap, curling his slight form around her round belly. Jenny held his head to her chest and dropped a kiss to his dark hair. With fourteen-month-old Maggie balanced on her hip, Claire reached for the goose grease that she had brought with her. “Open up his nightgown. I’m going to rub some of this on his chest. It’ll help him breathe better through the night.”

Jenny pulled at the neck of the gown and pushed the shirt off of one shoulder for Jamie while Claire scooped a bit of the goose grease onto her fingers and rubbed it onto the small boy’s chest. He sat lethargically while they administered this, but he began to whine when the smell hit him. Jenny began at once to comfort him in gentle, Gaelic words and Claire dropped a kiss to his cheek as she finished. “All done,” she told him. To Jenny, she smiled encouragingly. “Just keep them both hydrated‒ that is, make sure they’re getting plenty to drink. Either the tea I brought up or water. I’ll make sure Mrs. Crook has plenty of broth made up for tomorrow, too. And besides that, they just need their rest.” She looked to Maggie, resting her head placidly on Claire’s shoulder. But when she shifted her hold, Maggie clung to her with rousing ferocity, lest she try to put the girl down. 

“Och, Maggie, dinna throw a fit,” Jenny chided softly. She was in the process of shifting Jamie from her lap to the middle of the bed, where he would sleep for the night. Ian, one of the first to come down with the cold, was already asleep and absolutely useless to Jenny in his current fevered state. 

Her arms were free only for a moment before she was taking Maggie from Claire. “You too, mo chridhe.” Jenny murmured, tugging the baby’s nightgown out of the way for Claire. 

“There we go, big girl.” 

More clingy than anything else at the moment, Maggie took the goose grease better than her brother so long as someone held her. With her clean hand, Claire felt the girl’s forehead again. “I don’t even think she has a fever, but we’ll watch her, too.” She grabbed a clean cloth from the tray and wiped off her hand. She cocked her head at Jenny still sitting up on the side of the bed with one child squished in her lap against the very round presence of her bairn soon to come. How she made it all look effortless... 

The door opened suddenly and Jamie stood in the doorway, clad in his nightshirt and his tartan thrown around his shoulders. In one arm was Faith, her head peeking up from the tartan that had been wrapped around her too, so Claire was immediately struck by the matching heads of red hair waiting in the doorway. Hers, her heart sang. 

“You’re supposed to be resting” was how Claire greeted him. His gaze shifted from Claire to Jenny to the sick, fussy children and the lump of Ian under the covers before settling back on Claire. 

“Is everything alright?” She asked.  

“Aye.” Jamie managed to say before a spasm of coughing overtook him. He had turned his head away from Faith and coughed into his fist. As much as Claire would berate him for being out of bed, she felt a flush of pride that her instructions on not spreading a cough were sinking in with at least one person. “I just wasna sure where you disappeared to. Ye need anything?”   

Claire looked to Jenny before responding, her brows raised in silent questioning. 

“Go on,” Jenny said. “Take care of that clot-heid brother o’ mine.” Claire chuckled, her gaze swinging up to Jamie, who looked dead on his feet even as he offered his assistance. “I thank ye, Claire, for all yer help. We’ll be fine for the night.” 

“If you need anything, you let me know. Don’t overdo it. You are growing a whole ‘nother human in there.”  

She met Jamie in the doorway and turned with him to leave, settling into step next to him. She felt his arm ‒ and thus his tartan ‒ wrap around her shoulders, taking her under his wing like a baby bird. She studied his flushed face and bright eyes as they walked. Still fevered. “How do you feel?”

“I’ve felt worse.” His voice sounded strained, and he had to clear his throat after speaking.  

“Not exactly a ringing endorsement, either.” Her gaze shifted to her baby on Jamie’s opposite side. Glassy-eyed and with a nose running like a faucet, Faith wasn’t faring much better. Claire’s heart squeezed at the pitiful sight of her and, as much as she cared for every other member of this household, seeing signs that Faith had come down with the same virus made her feel like a failure for not being able to protect her from this. 

When their eyes met, the baby seemed to register her presence for the first time and suddenly Faith was reaching across Jamie for her, a tired cry slipping out from her. “Come here, little love.” Claire reached for her, aided in the transfer by Jamie. Faith’s little arms went around her neck immediately, tiny fingers grasping at Claire’s loose curls and taking hold. She pressed a firm kiss to the baby’s temple and sighed heavily. 

“I was making some tea for you downstairs before I ended up helping Jenny with the little ones,” she explained to Jamie when they reached the threshold of their room. “Get into bed, I’ll be back in a moment.” 

“Ye do like barking orders this evening, Sassenach,” he said with a slight twitch of his mouth.   

“You wouldn’t listen otherwise if I made it a mere suggestion,” she shot back lightly, stepping out from under his arm and missing the closeness it had afforded them. But she realized then how warm he was in contrast with the cool air of the hallway. She reached up to touch his forehead and the skin was burning under her cold fingers. He sighed and turned his head further into her hand. Sweet man. He must’ve been more miserable than he was letting on and he still came to check on her when she hadn’t returned. Or perhaps he’d wanted her and hadn’t been able to say it. “I’ll be right back,” she repeated, this time in promise, and reached out to caress his back when he turned away. 

When she did make it back up to their room, she found that Fergus had abandoned his pallet by the fire, crawled into bed next to Jamie, and fallen asleep. Her gaze met Jamie’s and they shared a smile over the dear sleeping boy. 

With Faith still on one hip, she handed Jamie a cup of tea. “Finish that, if you can, before you go to sleep.” 

He was propped up slightly against the headboard so he could drink it. “What about you, mo nighean donn?” 

She knew what he was asking and her gaze drifted to the baby in her arms. “She’s my last charge for the night. If she sleeps, I sleep.” 

Claire grabbed a clean handkerchief and tried to wipe Faith’s nose, which had begun to run again, but the baby turned her head away and howled. “I know. I’m sorry.” Claire managed on the second attempt to get most of it, but some snot smeared sideways onto the baby’s cheek. “I’m not trying to rub your poor little nose raw, I promise.” Faith still dodged the handkerchief, but Claire got the last of it. “There, all done.” 

She pressed a kiss to Faith’s forehead and rested her cheek there a moment longer, feeling no corresponding fever as the others had. She let out another sigh. Perhaps only a matter of time for poor Faith, or perhaps she would be spared from the worst of it. 

“Ye want me to try wi’ her?” Jamie croaked. She shot him a look, wondering if he realized how absolutely miserable he sounded just from his voice. As if on cue, he succumbed to another coughing fit. The last few days had been hell trying to get him to care for himself when so much of who he was revolved around caring for his family and trying to muddle through. The temptation to hand Faith over to Jamie was strong, knowing his warmth even when he wasn’t burning with fever would often soothe the girl to sleep. 

“Not this time.” She smiled appreciatively. “But thank you, love.”

An hour passed for Claire in the company of one stubborn, fussy, miserable little girl. When it came time for Faith’s night feeding and she settled into her arms to feed, Claire hoped there was something within her that could keep Faith strong and healthy; that there was some vital piece of immunity she could share with Faith to help defend her against anything that her immune system might battle. As Faith latched on, Claire studied her slight form in the dim candlelight. Her thumb traced over the shell of Faith’s ear, which still stuck out a little. Perhaps her ears always would, but it made Claire smile nonetheless to see the delicate point to Faith’s ears. She hoped her girl would grow up to love that part of herself, too, someday. 

Faith sniffled and squirmed restlessly, struggling to feed and breathe in comfort, and Claire looked around for the handkerchief, unsure of where she’d left it. This was no serene moment tonight. She swiped the handkerchief from the end table and wiped the baby’s nose again, knowing it didn’t do much to clear it out for her to breathe better, but at least it kept her clean and dry. “I’m so sorry you aren’t feeling well, lovey,” she murmured. “It won’t last. You’ll feel better soon.” 

Her thumb smoothed over the wrinkled brow of Faith’s scowl, trying to ease the tension from the baby’s face. It was only a bad cold ‒ Claire knew that. Still, it was one thing to know that cold viruses were a part of life and quite another thing entirely to watch the tiny one that she’d birthed succumb to it. And it wasn’t only this cold that weighed heavily on Claire but the knowledge of the immunizations that existed in her time that Faith wouldn’t have access to, wee fragile thing that she already was. The risks were so much higher here, but Claire would try her damndest to keep Faith safe and healthy with what knowledge she had of the spread of diseases and how to combat them. 

“Such lovely thoughts to have before bed, hmm?” She muttered to the baby, pulling Faith up onto her shoulder once she’d finished and let out a loud belch. She swayed slightly, her cheek pressed to Faith’s, and savored the seconds of calm before rising from her chair to attempt getting some sleep with her tired little one.         

She settled Faith on top of the covers with her own blanket and grabbed a spare pillow to wedge between Fergus and Faith so he wouldn’t roll over her in his sleep. They hadn’t slept four to a bed before and it was a tight fit, but Claire couldn’t bear to move Fergus from where he slept so soundly cuddled against Jamie. And Faith would scream if Claire tried to place her in her cot tonight, she just knew it. No, they all needed the comfort of each other in their current state.  

So she slipped under the covers and curled around the baby, acting more or less as a barrier from the edge of the bed. Fergus had rolled over from before and now faced her and the baby with his back snug against Jamie’s side. He breathed through his mouth on account of his stuffy nose.  

Claire tugged the blankets up higher about his shoulders and, as she had with everyone in this house, pressed her hand to his forehead, checking his temperature as best she could. He felt quite warm but not alarmingly so. That was good, Claire thought, studying the sweet face that was slack in his sleep. 

Who had cared for him before this when he got sick? Or wiped his nose when he was too small to do it himself? Claire swallowed roughly at the thought, knowing the hard truth was no one in particular. He passed through many hands at Maison Elise, but he had said himself that he never knew which, if any, of the girls there was his mother. Although Claire was unfathomably grateful that they had found him, the indignation that he should have gone so long without someone caring for him until Jamie brought him home would never be quelled for her. 

She smoothed a hand over his brown curls, wanting to give him comfort in some way for the years of hurt she couldn’t heal for him. He’d recently told them he turned ten years old. He told them a few days after the fact, like an afterthought, and they had scrambled to make a celebration of it for him. And Claire had mentally kicked herself for not even inquiring sooner about his birthday. He had been with them for almost a year now and she was only recently made aware that this boy’s birthday fell on New Year’s Day. 

A New Year’s baby. Shouldn’t his birth have brought with it all kinds of hope and promise for the future? 

He deserved not just a home, but a family. 

Her hand stilled where it rested on his head. 

“Mo nighean donn?” Jamie whispered suddenly, his gaze lingering with concern. She startled slightly, unaware of his watchful eye until just then.   

“Fergus…” She began, dropping her gaze to the sleeping boy in question before sliding back up to meet Jamie’s open, curious eyes. Perhaps it wasn’t the time for this, but Jamie was awake just now and she felt a certain boldness in talking with him in the dark. “He’s… ours, isn’t he? You feel that way, too, don’t you?” 

What she’d meant to say but couldn’t quite articulate was that her love for Faith had been immediate and all-consuming when she learned of the baby’s presence within her, adapting only in the way it naturally did when Faith was born and her child was real, a whole person to be loved for who she was and no longer an abstract nudge from within. Claire’s love for Fergus, however, had softly snuck up on her, growing steadily from their plotting work in Paris to these quiet days at Lallybroch. And yet, she had reached a point where the love of both of them became inextricable from who she was as a mother. Without her realizing it, Fergus had gone from Jamie’s wee pickpocketing shadow to simply… theirs. 

“Aye,” Jamie whispered at once and Claire released the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “Aye, I do. He is.” 

His hand reached for hers, their fingers meeting on the pillow just above the boy’s head. 

“I canna say when it changed.” Jamie’s voice rumbled in the dark. 

“No, I can’t say either,” Claire agreed. “But it did.” 

“Aye.” 

Claire’s thumb stroked the back of Jamie’s hand gently and the warmth of him could be felt even in that slight touch. “Sleep, if you can.” She pulled their entwined fingers to her and kissed his knuckles. “You need your rest.” 

“You too,” he said, his voice gravelly from his cold and weariness. “You’ll wear yerself out, mo nighean donn, if ye dinna take yer own rest.” 

She sighed, acknowledging the truth of his words. “I will,” she agreed. “If these little ones let me.” Her gaze dropped to Faith, who wasn’t fussing for the time being. Still, Claire couldn’t seem to put to rest the part of her that needed to watch Faith breathe just to know she still could. Her fingers untangled from Jamie’s and her hand came to rest on Faith’s tummy, feeling her steady breaths under her palm. Claire’s eyes slid shut and she sighed.  

 


It was a cold, brisk evening in February when the third Murray child decided to make their entrance into the world. Jamie was sent to town to fetch the midwife, a task that he took with grave seriousness and no short amount of hastening. So it was quite a shock for him to enter Lallybroch with Mrs. Martins, the midwife, and be greeted by a frazzled Claire bearing the news that he had a new niece. 

“You canna be serious.” 

But Claire still donned an apron that bore the messy evidence to her story and her face, which never could lie to him, spoke volumes of the whirlwind hour she’d just experienced. “You can go upstairs and see for yourself if you don’t believe me.” 

As if roused by the conversation, the loud squall of a newborn drifted down to them. Mrs. Martins made a loud harrumph and turned back to the wagon, not bothering to come all the way in. 

“Is she serious?” Claire whispered furiously in her wake and that was enough to break the nervous tension in the room. Jamie let out a surprised bark of a laugh and when he’d caught his breath, he shook his head in disbelief. 

“And Jenny and the bairn are fine?” He checked. 

“They’re absolutely perfect. Ian is with them now.” Claire assured him. She noticed then that her apron was still on and began to remove it. “Baby was just ready, I guess. I’ve never seen labor progress that fast before.” Jamie held out his hand to her and she took it, letting him pull her to his side and gently kiss her forehead. She felt the tension in his body ebbing away as her news sunk in. 

“Thank you, mo ghraidh.” 

“I really didn’t do much this time. Just caught the baby. Jenny hardly even had to push!” Claire squeezed him around his middle. “I think the adrenaline is finally wearing off for me.” 

“The what?” He blanched at her. She was in fine form just now, thrumming with energy and talking breathlessly. 

“Nevermind.” She rose up on her tiptoes and kissed him. “Should we go meet our newest niece?” 

“Lead the way, Sassenach.”

“Wait.” She froze. “Mrs. Martins!” 

“Ah Christ,” Jamie muttered under his breath. “I’ll send Rabbie wi’ her now to drive the wagon back.” He broke away from her then, moving toward the door to the courtyard, and all the while he shook his head.



Late that night, lying in bed together after a rather celebratory round of lovemaking, Claire rested her head on Jamie’s chest and dosed contently. Jamie’s fingers played with Claire’s curls and she felt only the bliss of that moment with him. “Sassenach, how does it work after…” He pattered off, seeming to still be working out the question in his mind. 

“How does what work after what?” Claire asked, her eyes still closed. 

“After a bairn, when do your courses start again?” She looked up to find him staring up at the ceiling, his brows furrowed together in puzzlement. “Ye’ve not had yers since Faith, but Kitty would’ve been conceived when Maggie was only six months of age. And Ian said he tried to avoid getting Jenny with child so soon after Maggie, but ye’ve never…” This time, he did meet her gaze, a wry smile in place. “Well, ye’ve never made me sleep elsewhere, Sassenach. And wi’out yer courses, how will we ken when ye might be able to carry another bairn?” 

Claire breathed in deep and rested her chin on his chest, staring up at his beautiful, puzzled face. “I’m not quite sure. I think it varies, but I know when a woman breastfeeds, that often will delay her courses.” Her fingers traced his jaw and she smiled at the small sigh this drew from him. “Nature’s way of giving women a break, I suppose.” She laughed. Jamie exhaled a soft laugh, too.

“Aye, I suppose. Though it didna work too well for Jenny and she’s not the first woman I’ve known to have bairns within a year of each other.”

“Yes, well, as I said, it varies.”   

She was surprised to feel an ache for another baby after holding Katherine in her arms tonight. Faith was still so young, still a baby herself, and Claire didn’t really want another one right away but… someday.   

“Is it possible to get ye with child before your first course would start?” Jamie asked suddenly, still turning over the workings of the female reproductive system in his mind.

“I… yes, actually. I think that would be possible.” She quirked a brow at him. “You are something of a marvel, James Fraser.” 

He returned her look of astonishment. “Because I ken how to have a bairn? I’ll remind ye, Sassenach, that we’ve already succeeded there once and it was no’ by accident or ignorance.”

She smiled wryly. “No, more than that. Because you want to know how my body works. You need to know. I doubt many husbands care to know the details, especially around their wives’ courses.”  

He hummed. “I happen to find your body to be a verra…” His hand snaked down from where it had rested on her lower back. “Interesting. Subject.” He punctuated each word with a smack to her ass, causing her to jump, and then kneaded the flesh. “God ye have such a round arse,” he said, as if she’d somehow sidetracked him from their conversation with it. 

She stretched herself upwards so she could capture his mouth with her own. “What do you say we explore this subject a little further tonight, then?” 

“Ye dinna need to ask me twice.” 

Chapter Text

Claire woke slowly, her eyes blinking open in the soft, early morning light. She was greeted by a rare sight: a still-sleeping Jamie beside her. Her lips curled gently as she stretched languidly and exhaled. Her gaze settled on him laying on his back, one arm tucked toward his head, which was tilted in her direction. She felt the urge to touch him, to rake her fingers through those ruddy curls or trace the strong lines of his face. 

A sudden awareness of their baby came to mind and Claire lifted her head to check the far corner of the room. Faith had started sleeping a little later than she had before, giving Claire and Jamie a few extra moments of peace most mornings. Still, as Faith grew and developed, so did Claire’s discomfort with having Faith in the room whenever she and Jamie were… intimate with one another, even with Jamie’s insistence that “she doesna ken what we’re doing.” So Faith’s cradle, which had first lived at the foot of their bed when they returned to Lallybroch, had slowly migrated farther and farther away until it stood in one of the corners opposite their bed, physically as far away as they could put it without banishing the baby from their room. 

She couldn’t ignore nature’s call and stole out of bed as quietly as possible to use the chamber pot, not wishing to wake Jamie if it could be avoided and also needing desperately for the baby to sleep if Claire was to have any time with her husband this morning. With business taken care of, she crept back into bed, watching Faith’s crib carefully for any signs of movement. 

With confirmation that the baby was still asleep, Claire decided to make use of the time afforded them. Her gaze raked over Jamie, naked save for the bed sheet draped low across his hips and one leg, the other having kicked itself free in the night. She took a moment to ponder exactly how she’d like to wake him before gently sliding the sheet off of him and kissing her way down his body. He hovered on the precipice between sleep and wakefulness, issuing a few sleepy gasps and moans as Claire waited for his mind to catch up with the sensations his body was experiencing.

She left a wet, open-mouthed kiss on his inner thigh and he let out a delicious whine in response. “Claire!” He choked on her name, eyes flying open to find her between his thighs, one hand now pumping his cock. 

“Happy birthday, darling.” He was hot and heavy in her hand and she licked from base to tip, swirling her tongue around the head when she reached it. He gasped again and the sound fed her own growing arousal. 

“Please,” he breathed out, his face already contorting from the sweet torture she was giving him. It hadn’t taken much time at all to make him erect and she felt her own flush of pride. She took as much of him in her mouth as she could manage, and his strangled moan had her very blood thrumming with want for him. His hand came to rest on her head and his fingers tangled in her curls, but he didn’t use force. He never did when she took him this way. No, it was more of a caressing instinct he couldn’t seem to help, not knowing what else to do with his hands when she wasn’t easily within reach, but he still felt the need to touch her. 

She hummed around the hard length of him as her mouth continued to work in tandem with her hand, feeling that he was close already. 

“No. Mo ghraidh,” he grit out suddenly. “I want ye.” 

She ignored him, redoubling her efforts, wanting this more somehow because of his pleas. He was always so generous in giving her pleasure, but she found it just as addicting to reciprocate and watch him fall apart. And especially today, she wanted him to know how loved he was. 

He let out a strangled moan, barely keeping quiet, and poured himself into her ready mouth. “Oh Christ. Claire.” 

He was trying to catch his breath and shaking his head at her gently as she milked the last of his climax from him. “I wanted ye,” he said again. “Take yer‒” His hand gestured vaguely towards her and she bit her lower lip to keep from laughing at him in this state. “Take yer shift off.” 

She had moved to sit on her knees at the foot of the bed and now she wouldn’t hold back her teasing smile. “I think you might still need a moment, soldier.” But she still pulled her arms through and pushed the fabric of her shift up and over her head, letting it fly carelessly off the side of the bed. Jamie held one hand out to her and she felt her heart squeeze at the simple act. She took it and let him guide her body back up to his, draped over him with nothing between them. “Happy birthday,” she said again, this time before a kiss to his lips. “I’m very glad you were born.” 

His hand traced the path of her spine gently and he sighed. “I’ll thank ye properly in just a moment, Sassenach, but it is verra nice to hold ye.” 

“There’s no need to thank m‒”

His fingers slicked very suddenly through her folds and she gasped at the unexpected contact. “I canna verra well leave ye wanting like this.” He kissed her forehead very tenderly, in contrast to the sharp arousal he was fueling in her with the work of his fingers. 

“Today is supposed to be about you,” she protested weakly, hating how her breathless voice betrayed how she really felt on the matter. “What you ‒ oh God ‒ what you want.” 

He flipped their bodies so he was no on top, and she couldn’t hold back a moan as he tweaked one nipple in his own path down her body. He situated himself lower on the bed, making his plans very clear to her. “Trust me, mo ghraidh.” His eyes twinkled devilishly at her from between her thighs and that alone was enough to steal her breath away. “This is what I want.”  

It was always like this with Jamie, thrilling and all-consuming and absolute bliss. He knew the map of her body with practiced ease and still drove her to heights that surprised her. And after he’d evened the score and found his way home in her, after they’d found their rhythm together in a dance they knew well, she found shelter in his arms for a few quiet moments in the afterglow. 

“Christ, Sassenach,” he breathed out. 

“Yes?” She giggled. His fingers were gently running the length of her arm, erupting goosebumps along her skin in their wake. 

 “I ken you and Jenny have festivities planned for later in the day, but…” She felt the slight shake of his head against her. “I dinna think I care what happens for the rest of the day now.” 

Claire let out a full laugh, forgetting for a moment that their baby was still asleep in the room with them. “Is that so?” She squeezed him tight around the middle, absurdly pleased with herself to hear him say that. “I’m glad your birthday started off on a positive note, though I doubt Jenny will appreciate those exact sentiments.”

“Aye, we’ll keep that just between the two of us, hmm?” She could hear the smile in his voice and had her own responding smile at the absurdity of their conversation. 

Mamamama.” 

Her head popped up at the sound of Faith’s babbling. “Someone’s awake.” Her gaze found Jamie, savoring the very last moments of their time together and how breathtakingly happy he looked right then and there. “At least Baby Girl had the decency to wait until we were finished.” 

“Aye,” Jamie laughed. “Her timing is a gift in itself today.” 

She began to pull away and sit up, but Jamie held her fast and leaned up to kiss her. “Let me get her. It’s my birthday, after all.” 

She laid there, a little stunned and completely in love with him, as he threw on a pair of breeks and went to fetch the baby. His voice reached a soft, high pitch as he greeted Faith and gathered her up against his chest. Not for the first time, Claire struggled to tear her eyes away from the sight that Jamie and Faith made before her. She loved the sudden thought that these two would always share a birthday month. Her May-born loves. 

“I dinna think we can dawdle much longer, Sassenach.” 

He interrupted her thoughts and she sat up with a resigned sigh, knowing he was right. It was his birthday but it was also early May and planting season had begun. There was a great deal to do for everyone at Lallybroch, and a feast in Jamie’s honor tonight to look forward to.  

As much as she tried to stretch these moments out and make them last, the work couldn’t wait. Not to mention that Murtagh’s teasing never let up whenever they were the last ones down for breakfast in the morning. With those in mind, Claire rolled out of bed and began to dress. By the time they did make it down to breakfast, Jamie was swarmed by Fergus and the Murray children, and on account of it being Jamie’s birthday, Murtagh only rolled his eyes at them and held his tongue.      



 

Nearly two weeks later, a soft thump landed on Jamie’s chest and woke him suddenly from his sleep. He breathed in sharply and raised his head, taking in the sight of a half-awake Faith before him. Her hard head was resting on his chest and her little feet were digging into the mattress to try and propel herself further onto him, leaving her diapered rump wagging in the air. She did all this with her eyes screwed shut against the morning light and her head trying to burrow into him. 

“What are ye trying to do, wee lass?” He laughed. Faith grunted and squirmed, trying to get comfortable. Upset that she even had to be awake and trying her damndest to rectify that, it seemed. “Ye dinna like mornings much, do ye?” Jamie helped scoot the baby up so that she was draped over him. She let out a big yawn and looked to be almost asleep already. “Just like yer mam.” 

His gaze flicked over to his wife and found his comment had gone unnoticed by her. If any two souls ever loved an unhurried morning to sleep as late as they liked, they were his lasses. But while the baby was working at falling back to sleep, Jamie had been woken in the process. It wasn’t as easy for him to drift back to sleep once the sun was up and the day could begin. It also wasn’t the first time Faith had done this since she had become too mobile to be left in her wee crib. They only needed to see Faith pull herself up and flip herself out and over the shallow wall of her cradle one time before they decided to bring her into their bed at night ‒ a decision they knew was safest, but had thus far taken some adjusting to.

But this day was special and the weight of the baby keeping him in bed was exactly how he would have this morning go. 

Jamie sat up slowly, scooching back against the headboard. He cradled Faith against him and shifted her head up onto his shoulder once he was upright. He felt her sleepy huff against his skin. His precious, wee bairn. His and Claire’s.  

His hand still cradled the back of Faith’s head and the other helped steady her fidgety body as her legs kicked and wiggled for a moment longer. At last, she settled in against him and he turned his face into her little head where it rested on his shoulder and kissed her hair. 

Tha gaol agam ort, a chuisle.” He kissed her hair again, unable to help himself. She was warm and snug against him. “I do love you. Happy birthday, my wee lass. I canna believe‒” He swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat as he was confronted with memories of this day last year. The day he believed he had lost Claire and their baby. 

But the baby in his arms was very much alive, against all odds. And though he’d had a late start in being a part of Faith’s life, he had never let a day pass since then without telling her every morning that he loved her, and praying protection over her sleeping form every night. And he dedicated his time in between just trying to be worthy enough for the life he’d been given with Claire and the family they were building together. He didn’t often allow his mind to drift to those first three months for the sake of the dark memories that haunted that time for him. But with his child’s birthday came a natural desire to reflect and look back.

“No, I truly canna believe you’re still here some days. Ye’re a strong wee thing, that’s for sure.” He rubbed her back in slow circles, feeling the baby go completely lax with sleep. “I’ll never forget the first time I held you. Ye were the smallest bairn I’d ever seen. So delicate and pale. I was so scared of losing you still, even though you’d survived that long already. Ye broke my heart open wi’ how much I loved you, a leannan.” 

He became aware of Claire’s waking presence before her hand reached out blindly for him, her head still buried in her pillow. She caught his thigh and, not expecting that to be level with her, lifted her head to squint at him in the morning light. He watched her take in the sight of him and Faith, and caught her sleepy smile before her head dropped back to the pillow. His hand left the baby in favor of brushing aside the wild curls that had fallen over Claire’s face and obscured her from him. She hummed at his touch and he smiled widely, though neither of his lasses noticed. His touch lingered on Claire, tracing the slope of her cheek until she abruptly captured his hand with her eyes still closed and brought it to her lips for a kiss. 

He couldn’t reflect on the beauty of Faith’s life without the immediate swell of gratitude for Claire. She had changed his life so completely and set it on a path he never dared to dream of. 

“Good morning, my beautiful wife.” 

He was rewarded with another sleepy smile from Claire as she stretched like a cat and propped herself up on one elbow. 

“What does that look mean, Sassenach?” 

She startled slightly as he called her out and she scooched closer so she could join them. Her arm slung around his waist just below Faith’s little feet and her head came to rest on his shoulder. “I was remembering that first night you came home and waking up to find you sitting up like this with Faith asleep on your chest.” She turned her face into his shoulder, as she had done that night as well, and kissed him there softly. 

“She was frightfully small then.” 

“Yes, she was,” Claire agreed. She reached out and covered his hand with her own, both of them now resting on Faith’s back. Jamie let out a sigh as something eased in his chest. He pressed a kiss to Claire’s temple and then met her gaze when she tilted her face up to him. They didn’t speak further on the subject. They didn’t need to. The fear and the gratitude and the absolutely overwhelming love for Faith that Jamie felt was echoed in his wife’s eyes. They’d almost lost Faith once and there wasn’t a day of her sweet life that they didn’t feel exceedingly grateful to still have her with them. 

Perhaps it was the sound of both parents’ voices that woke Faith from her brief sleep. After a moment, Jamie and Claire, with their palms still resting on her back, felt her breathe in deeply and then let the air out in a long, slow sigh. Her head popped up from Jamie’s shoulder, one hand rubbing furiously at one still-closed eye. 

“Well, good morning.” Claire’s voice had a soft lilt to it, and Jamie tore his eyes away from the baby to see the radiant smile on her face. “Happy birthday, my darling girl.” 

 She leaned over Jamie and kissed Faith’s round cheek, still flushed from sleep. Jamie felt his breath snag at the sight. It didn’t matter that it was a moment he’d been privileged to see a million times over; he never loved anything more than bearing witness to the bond between Claire and the child they’d created together, the living testament of their love. 

Faith leaned sideways, chasing after Claire with her lips almost in a pout and her face tilted up expectantly.

“Ye want tae give a kiss, a leannan?” Jamie asked softly. 

Claire pressed a kiss to Faith’s pouty mouth, coming away with a bright smile. “What about for Da? Does he get a kiss, too?” 

Faith turned immediately to Jamie at that suggestion and jutted her lower lip out in the only way she had sorted out how to give a kiss. He obliged that sweet, upturned face with a kiss and then ducked his head to mockingly nibble at her neck. She let out a burst of giggles and squirmed away, her shoulder pressed up to her ear in reflex.         

“You love your da, don’t you?” Claire gently stroked Faith’s cheek.

Jamie felt his heart fit to burst at his wife’s words and Faith’s bright-eyed gaze back at him at the mention of “da”. It was the strangest, most wonderful feeling ‒ to love this child with everything that he had and to then realize, as she grew, that she loved him, too.    

“Ah Dhia,” he murmured reverently. “Ye dinna ken how much I love you, M'annsachd.”



 

The long summer seemed to stretch out endlessly for the Frasers and Murrays. Their days were spent in the more relaxed work between planting and harvest seasons, checking crops and tending to the animals. Rain and sunshine came in waves though neither one seemed to last too long, creating a feeling of hopeful anticipation for the year’s crops. Another good year could only help them in the coming famine, and Claire devoted as much time as she could to finding ways to stock up their storage with any food that could be preserved. 

Their nights were spent in the lasting sunlight, letting the children run wild outside after dinner. They would return indoors only when it grew dark and then pass the time in each other’s company in the parlor. Many of those nights involved a battle of wills between two wee girls in particular over the coveted spot in Jamie’s lap; for Maggie loved her Uncle Jamie dearly, and wee Faith went green with envy anytime one of her cousins was doted on by her da. Never mind that there was room aplenty and certainly enough love on Jamie’s part for both of them.

“Ye’ll have tae learn tae share, Faith,” Jenny would tease her. “Someday, ye might no’ be the only apple of yer father’s eye.”    

It wasn’t uncommon for the nights to end with one or more of the wee bairns getting carried up the steps to bed, passed out on one of their parents’ shoulders. And so the summer passed in such a fashion, creating treasured memories of their time together as the bairns grew, the crops began to flourish, and the promise of a good harvest was on the horizon. 

One August day, the post came to Lallybroch, bringing a letter to Claire from Louise. She had kept up a slow but steady correspondence with her Paris friend, and the shared connection between them over their first babies became the overwhelming subject in their letters. Though it took a great deal of time, the fact that any letters at all could find their way to the remote estate of Lallybroch was always something of a marvel to Claire. 

She tore open the latest letter and began to read its contents. Louise had had a baby boy before the end of last year and filled her letters to Claire with accounts of baby Henri. She made no mention of the baby’s father ‒ and Claire never asked about him in any of her replies. 

From her spot at the dining room table, she read through the letter and didn’t quite register the sound that floated in from the parlor. When she did, Claire realized she was hearing an old, familiar melody but with French words put to it. Fergus’s sweet voice sang them softly and she followed the sound to find him seated on the sofa with Faith in his lap. He sat her on his knees facing him and bounced her lightly to the rhythm of the nursery song.

 

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,

Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?

Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!

Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

 

Faith’s pudgy hands clapped together as he sang and bounced her gently, her whole face lit up with a smile. 

“Fergus, where did you learn that?” 

His head snapped up, looking a bit self-conscious at being caught singing to Faith, and he shrugged one shoulder as he answered. “The ladies at Maison Elise taught it to me.” 

“It’s lovely. And Faith seems to like it, too.” Claire smiled at him encouragingly. She didn’t tell him that she knew the English version, that she’d heard it herself as a small child. No telling what the song’s origins were or how to explain how she knew it if Fergus should ask. But she was surprised to hear it in this time and liked the thought that Faith would learn the nursery song, too, with the help of Fergus. “Continuez à lui parler en français. Un jour, elle pourra répondre.” 

Her French wasn’t nearly as strong as Jamie’s, but Fergus smiled just the same at her encouragement and nodded. “Oui, milady, I will have her speaking en français in no time!” 

Faith began to wiggle herself out of Fergus’s grasp, trying to get down from his lap and stand. At fifteen months, she wasn’t hitting certain developmental milestones as fast as her cousins had, but there was no denying that Faith Fraser had an independent streak. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t yet taken her first steps without assistance, Faith was still quite capable of scurrying about, either by crawling or holding onto hands or furniture for support in walking. 

Fergus knew this well and once Faith had slinked to the floor, he held tightly to the girl’s hands and helped her steady herself. 

“She’s getting better at that.” Claire smiled at the pair that they made. Faith looked up at the sound of her mother’s voice and steered in that direction, making Claire’s heart swell. “Are you coming to see me, lovey?” 

 Claire crouched down to Faith’s level and watched as her daughter smiled and let go of one hand to reach toward her. She couldn’t tell how she knew, but she called out suddenly for Jamie in the other room to come quick. “She’s going to walk!” 

Fergus kept one hand in Faith’s grasp as she staggered towards Claire, still reaching for her, until the girl slowly released Fergus’s hand. Claire held her breath as Faith toddled on uncertain steps once... twice... three steps forward on her own, closing the gap between them. 

“You did it!” Claire squealed. Faith’s hands slapped on her mother’s covered knees as a steadying touchpoint and the little girl’s face broke open with a proud grin, showing off her baby teeth stacked two each on top and bottom. 

She was just about to call for Jamie again, certain they could get Faith to try once more, when she heard Jamie cry out in a string of Gaelic words completely unfamiliar to her. But it was his tone that sent a sensation like ice water shooting down her spine. She plucked Faith from her spot on the floor and saw the same panic she was battling reflected in Fergus’s young eyes. 

“Come on.” She grabbed his hand and rounded into the dining room with both children to find Jamie by the window, rigid as a statue, with a letter clenched in his hand. Murtagh, Ian, and Jenny were frozen in place by his sudden outburst and none of them seemed capable of speaking.  

“What is it? What’s happened?” 

She broke Jamie out of his trance and he turned to face her. His eyes held a despair she hadn’t seen in him before and felt her heart sink in her chest. He held out the letter to her and as she began to read the account from Jared, Jamie summarized it in twelve short words. 

“We failed. Prince Charles has landed in Scotland. We’re going to war.”  

Murtagh made a sharp noise of disgust and Claire barely registered an outcry from Jenny, but she couldn’t focus on the others at that moment. The letter was still in her now-trembling hand and Claire’s eyes fell upon Jamie’s name signed in another’s hand.  

“He forged your signature!”

Her gaze, wide-eyed with horror, flicked up to meet Jamie’s. His jaw was set and he looked like he might go berserk at the slightest touch. “Aye. He did.” His tone was clipped. “And anyone on that list is considered a traitor to the crown.”  

We’re going to war.  

Claire realized with sinking dread that Jamie hadn’t meant just Scotland as a whole, but Lallybroch as well.    

Chapter Text

As the news of the declaration with Jamie’s forged signature settled in, the very air within the house became too stifling. Jamie stepped out during a somber lull in conversation, everyone trying to process what it would mean. He walked without a destination in mind, coming to rest atop a hill and clear his head, make a plan. He heard the rustle of Claire’s skirts and the slosh of her steps on wet ground before he glanced behind to greet her.  

“It’s all coming to pass, isn’t it? The Jacobite rising, Culloden, the clearances...” Her gaze swept out over the spread of Lallybroch land before them. “The destruction of all of this,” she said bitterly.  

The silent acknowledgment of their failure roiled in his gut. They’d done everything they could, and yet…

“So it would seem.” 

Claire moved to sit on the fallen tree before him. “We could go to Ireland,” she pleaded desperately, “or the colonies.” 

“Wi’ a small bairn in tow? Fergus might tolerate it, but it’d be a terribly hard life to subject both o’ them to. And what of Ian and Jenny? Our nieces, nephew, cousins?”

“We can bring them with us.”

“All o’ them?” He smiled sadly at the thought. At the impossibility of it all. His heart ached at the sight of her unbridled fear, etched there in her face for him to see. But they must consider everyone that would be impacted by their decision before they made it. Because no matter what, there was no easy answer. “And what of our tenants? Leave them to the‒ the mercy of the British butchers if Culloden is lost?” 

“Your name on that document brands you as a traitor to the British. And you will be hung as one if they catch you. We can’t stay.” Her gaze was fierce and unflinching. He knew she saw the horrors of this history playing out before her, but with names and faces now to put to the images of this war. His name, in particular. His face. That was her burden of such knowledge.

“We know what will happen if the Jacobites lose the war. But… but what if  they win?”

“They don’t. It’s the verdict of history.”

“Have you given up trying to change the future then, Sassenach?”  

“Well, after Paris, haven’t you?” 

“Aye, Paris was bitter disappointment. But you can change the future. You’ve proven that. Tammas Baxter lives because of you. Paris was spared an outbreak of smallpox because of you.” He knelt in front of her and covered her cold hands with his own, infusing warmth there with his touch. “And Louise de Rohan bore Charles Stuart’s bairn because of you. And we have a bairn who was born in this time, so sickly and small, and she is still alive because of you. She’s our proof that you and I belong as one, that you were meant to be in this time though you were born nearly two hundred years from now.” 

Claire shook her head at him slightly. He knew. This was no small thing to try and change. “You want to fight for Prince Charles?”

“I want to fight for our family. And for Scotland.” He rose to his feet, watching Claire carefully for her reaction. “What happens next will impact Faith’s future and if we dinna have a hand in trying to steer it the right way… if we dinna even try…” He shook his head. “I canna see any other way. Can you?”

“Not one that we could live with,” she said at last. He let out a resigned sigh at that. “They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

“Well, I dinna ken who they are, Sassenach.” He’d noticed the few tears that had spilled down her face and gently brushed them away. Pulling her to her feet, his hands settled firmly on her hips. “But I’ll wager they have never traveled through time.”    

Their foreheads met briefly before he pressed a kiss to hers and pulled her in closer, holding her tight. “I ken I’m asking the impossible of you, mo nighean donn.” When she squeezed him tighter, he knew she understood he wasn’t talking about their mission, but of Faith. “She’ll be safe here wi’ family that loves her.” He kissed her shoulder through the layers of her dress and wrap. “Until we can return to her.”  

 

 

 

The news spread quickly through Lallybroch. The men began to prepare, and their peaceful summer came to an abrupt end. The farmhouse thrummed with activity, and equipment and provisions piled in the hallways and corners of rooms as they packed and took stock. 

It was all happening so fast. The letter had arrived only days ago and Claire, Jamie, and the men would all head out tomorrow morning. Claire found Fergus standing at the edge of the parlor watching Jamie and Murtagh as they packed some crates at the dining table, plotting out loud with each other the whole time. 

She felt a sharp twinge at the thought of Fergus being separated from Jamie for any length of time. The boy’s back was to her, his expression thus obscured from her, but she was certain he must be measuring the moments as she was while they were all still here together. 

She came up behind him and looped her arms around his shoulders, pulling him back against her. He went willingly as he sighed and leaned his head back against her shoulder. He’d gotten so tall. When had that happened?

“No matter what comes, you know this is your family, don’t you? That you belong with us?” She and Jamie had spent yesterday with Jenny and Ian, discussing care for the children and the contingency plans no parent ever wanted to make. But they had Fergus and Faith, and it would’ve been irresponsible not to consider all the alternatives and what they would mean for them.

Fergus’s hands came up to hold onto her arms where they were clasped around him. “I know.” His tone was unreadable, but then they were all feeling a maelstrom of emotions these last few days. 

She pressed a loud, smacking kiss to his cheek, not caring if it embarrassed him. “Good. Because we love you.” Since Faith, those words slipped out more frequently for her children ‒ an intentional effort on her part. She never wanted there to be any doubt for them, especially with war looming ahead of them. Claire kissed his cheek again, felt him exhale a small laugh this time. “I love you.” 

“I know, Milady. Je vous aime aussi.” 

She squeezed him tight for a moment, burying her face in his curls. Words jumped to her tongue but she swallowed them back, not wanting to lay such a burden on his young shoulders. But they echoed in her mind just the same, a silent wish made to the universe and any higher power that might help.  

If something happens to us, would you make sure Faith knows, too?   



 

“No!” Faith cried, fat tears rolling down her flushed face. She tried to roll off the chair away from Jamie, escaping from the linen clout he was trying to fasten around her. 

“Faith. Mo nighean. Please.” He caught her around her waist and hauled her back, but she kicked her legs wildly and screeched. He forgot about the clout for a moment and pulled her to his chest. “What’s wrong? You’re breaking my heart, Faith. I hate tae see ye so.” 

“Is she alright?” Claire called out from their bed. 

“She’s no’ hurt,” he assured her quickly. “Just upset about something.” 

Faith stopped fighting him, but she still cried into his ear, loud wails accompanied by the hot tears soaking into his shoulder. She had worked herself up to the point that her whole body felt hot and sweaty from her effort, even through the thin fabric of her nightgown. 

“Na gabh dragh. Tha mi an seo,” he murmured gently against her sweaty head. Don’t worry. I’m here. Forgoing on the fresh clout for the moment, he stood and grabbed his plaid to wrap around them. He met Claire’s gaze where she was still sitting up in bed. “It’s alright, Sassenach. Go back to sleep. I’ll walk wi’ her until she calms down.” 

She seemed loath to accept his suggestion and he didn’t blame her. Their hours with Faith were numbered before their departure in the morning and neither one wanted those hours to go to waste. 

Even sleep seemed a fickle thing to do when that time could be spent memorizing every detail of their baby. The fine, silky strands of her copper hair just long enough now that it had begun to curl around her ears and at the nape of her neck. The way her nose crinkled when she laughed. The way her smile showed off four perfect, tiny teeth. Her eyes with electric blue towards the center and that darker ring of blue around the edges, just like Claire. The more she grew and lost the round features of infancy, the more Jamie saw of his wife in her.  

He reached the doorway and glanced back, seeing Claire’s reluctant collapse back against her pillow.

“Tha gaol agam ort, a Creideamh,” he murmured as he walked the length of the upper hallway with Faith, not hearing the stir of any other members of the house. He thought of Jenny and Ian with their wee bairns requiring so much of them at these stages, and how they would have to be the ones to soothe Faith on the nights she couldn’t sleep. How would Faith handle that? What would she understand of why he and Claire weren’t there for her? 

Faith’s fervent cries filled the otherwise silent house, echoing through the open space above the parlor as he carried her down the stairs. 

“Dinna weep, mo chridhe. Here, let’s tend to the fire, aye? Before it goes out.” 

Faith hiccuped and fell into a rhythmic cry, having cried too hard to get her breathing under control. From her perch on Jamie’s knee, she seemed entranced by the fire as he tended to it. 

“There, mo nighean, it’s alright.” His thumb wiped at her wet cheeks and then he used the edge of his plaid to wipe her nose. “My bonny wee lass.” He leaned in to kiss her cheek, which broke the spell. Her little hands reached up and grabbed hold of his shirt at the collar, trying to get closer to him, and her whining started again. 

“Oh, there now.” He stood and held Faith flush against him, her head resting over his heart. “Dinna weep. I’m here. I’ve got you.” 

When he realized it was his closeness she wanted, he abandoned his plan to walk the quiet, empty rooms of Lallybroch and instead settled there on the sofa with her. “Ye ken somehow, aye? Ye’re a smart lass, and ye can tell something is changing.” He sighed heavily, his hand moving in slow circles over Faith’s back. “That’s alright. I’ve been meaning to talk to ye about it.” 

Her dimpled hand rested on the other side of his chest and he reached for it, brought it to his lips for a kiss. “Ye see, yer mam and I are leaving for Beauly in the morning and from there, onward toward Crieff. Ye dinna ken where either of those places are, I suppose. But all that will matter to ye is that we’re no’ here.” He breathed in sharply, fighting the urge to cry, though one rogue tear spilled down his cheek. “I need ye to ken that you are loved beyond measure. Our flesh and blood. Heart and soul.” He swallowed roughly and bent to kiss the top of Faith’s head, needing a moment. 

“Everything yer mam and I do is for you and Fergus. For your futures. That’s why we’re going, but make no mistake, our hearts stay behind with you.” 

Faith snuffled quietly, still overtaken every now and then by a powerful hiccup, but she was otherwise silent as Jamie spoke, listening to his voice. 

He drew in a measured breath and let it out slow. “I‒” He swallowed roughly again. “I dinna like tae think about it, but I ken you’ll understand this when ye have yer own bairns someday… Ye canna help but think about all that could go wrong. And I dinna plan to not return to ye, ken? But some things ye canna plan for. And just in case…” His hand had come to rest over her head, holding her there, and kissed her hair again. “I want to tell ye some things, in case I’m‒ in case I’m no’ around to tell ye later. 

“First, mind yer aunt Jenny while we’re away. I ken you and Uncle Ian get along just fine, so I’m no’ worried there, but ye have the Fraser temper, I’m sorry to say. Ye might want to butt heids wi’ her, but she is your aunt and ye must mind her. She can be tough, but she loves ye. 

“This next bit willna be a concern o’ yours for a long time, but it is verra important: dinna ever let a man hold yer heart if he’s no’ worthy of it. He should treasure you, Faith, and respect you. Should admire yer mind and yer heart more than yer beauty. Oh lord.” He pressed his thumb and index finger hard against his closed eyes. “Please, please, dinna fall in love wi’ some clot-heid idiot. I couldna take it. A good man, Faith, aye? D’ye promise?” 

She hadn’t fallen asleep, but she didn’t respond either. He softly stroked her hair. “Aye,” he murmured. “I want a love for you as great as the love I have wi’ yer mam.” He sighed deeply. “I hope to god I’m here to judge him, whoever that man is, but if I’m no’ here, I want yer uncle Ian to give his blessing before ye wed. He’s… he’s the best man I ken, Ian is. And a good da. So he’ll be a good judge for ye. Fergus, too. I suppose by then, Fergus would be auld enough to give his blessing. Aye, now that I think of it, ye need both their blessings or no marriage, Faith.” He considered this for a moment and then added, “Murtagh, too, if he’s still around when the time comes. Aye, if a man can earn the blessing of those three, I shall no’ worry overmuch about it, for I’ll ken he must be a good man after all.  

“And yer mam… I wish I didna need her to come wi’ me. Truly. But she taught me long ago ‒ before ye were even born ‒ that bad things happen when we’re apart. She kens the future and what will come of this war. That’s vital information.” His fingers gently tucked her red, wispy curls behind her ear. “And you and I both ken what a fine healer she is, aye? Neither of us would be here wi’out her. 

“But even though I’m taking her wi’ me, I swear on the cross of our Lord Jesus that I will see her safely home to you. I dinna ken what’s to come, but I ken I willna let anything happen to her. She needs ye and you need her, aye? So I ken all of this that I’ve said to you will be relayed even if I’m gone, because she’ll be here and she knows my heart. 

“You’re so like her already, Faith. I ken you will be smart and brave and so kind.” He chuckled suddenly, despite himself. “Maybe ye’ll be a healer, too? Though it doesna matter what ye do, Faith, I’ll always be so proud I could burst. Aye, I’ve been trying to reconcile the fact that I‒” He cleared his throat and felt the burn of tears once again. “Christ,” he muttered hoarsely. “That I might no’ see ye grow up. I might no’ see what you become, but even as ye are now, so small… just a bairn still… I love ye for who ye are, Faith. 

“I dinna want tae leave ye,” he reminded the baby. “I say all o’ this just in case it’s needed. And I need ye tae ken that if… if I dinna return, if all that remains of me is the life of you that I helped bring into this world…” He kissed her head and then rested his cheek there. “Then I should be well pleased with my time on this earth.”    

He heard a sound like a choked whine, but it came from above them. His eyes flew up and there was Claire at the wooden banister, watching them with one hand clamped over her mouth to cover the sobs that shook her. Oh, his wife. His heart. How long had she listened to his goodbye? 

He secured Faith against him and was off the sofa and up the stairs as fast as he could manage. She was crumbling right in front of him and he pulled her to him. She cried into his chest once his arms were about her, no longer able to keep the sobs at bay. He held them both, Faith half-sandwiched between them. 

He'd only heard those gut-wrenching sobs from Claire a few times in his life, and they made his stomach drop. “Claire,” he choked out, his mouth pressed tightly against her skull. There was another option. One they’d refused to discuss. “You could stay.” 

She sobbed harder and shook her head. 

No. They both knew she couldn’t stay. It didn’t mean it wasn’t tearing their very hearts out of their chests in the process. 

“I don’t want to lose this,” she uttered between sobs. 

Faith howled into Jamie’s chest, upset further by the sight of her mother’s distress.  

He breathed in sharply, holding both pieces of his heart tight against him, already feeling torn to shreds. He didn’t have an answer for their problem or a balm for the pain. All he had at that moment was a silent, fervent prayer: Lord, that they would both be kept safe...  



 

With the morning came their brave faces back in place once more. Claire kept Faith anchored on her hip as they said their goodbyes to the Murray children inside and then as they oversaw the last of their things packed into the wagon for Murtagh to bring to Kingussie. 

None of it felt quite real to Claire, like a bad dream she just couldn’t wake from. That she would have to part with her daughter for an indeterminate amount of time was unthinkable. 

She kept Faith in her arms, refusing to let her down even when the baby signaled that she wanted to walk on her own. She bounced her until the fidgeting stopped and Faith settled again. 

And as they stood in the courtyard, horses saddled and wagon packed and final goodbyes being given, Claire felt the panic clawing its way up her throat. She strode a few steps away from the others and shifted Faith in front of her so she could look at her. She knew she must say something, but nothing seemed sufficient.

 The sun caught in Faith’s bright copper hair, shining a brilliant gold and red. “Forgot to grab your bonnet,” she muttered stupidly, her hand smoothing over the girl’s silky hair. Her eyes met Faith’s, a mirror copy of her own. Claire drew in a sharp breath and let it out slow. 

“It’s not fair to you. Your da and I are the ones who know and love you best.” Once the words were out, she felt the crushing weight of them and couldn’t say more. Instead, she kissed Faith’s forehead, her snubbed nose, her round cheek, her neck which was sticky with sweat. She buried her nose there, the scent so familiar and only definable as belonging to Faith. 

She felt her girl’s head turn and rest against her shoulder. Little fingers curled around the fabric of Claire’s wrap where it bunched at her neck and held on tight. Faith was content at last to be in her mother’s arms now that they were just about leaving. A tear spilled down Claire’s nose and onto the shoulder of her daughter’s dress. 

She didn’t have Jamie’s easy way of showing her heart through speech, but she loved this child with everything that was in her and words didn’t seem to cover the breadth of that love. Not even by half. So she hoped to convey to her baby in these last moments, in the caressing touches, that Faith was the axis on which her whole world spun. She could do anything ‒ even brave this time apart ‒ if it meant her girl would have a future.  

She spotted Ian after a time, waiting to say goodbye to her. He gave her a sad smile and after they’d embraced, he made no move to take Faith from her. They exchanged a few words and watched Jenny and Jamie say their goodbye to each other. 

“Just where do ye think ye’re going?” Murtagh’s voice rang out sharply in the courtyard and Claire turned to see the object of his question ‒ Fergus, on his own mule, packed and ready to go. 

“Well, with Milord,” Fergus said, as if this was obvious. 

“You’re too young to fight, laddie.” Ian chuckled at him. “Ye’ll bide here wi’ us.” 

“That’s right,” Jenny added, her hands on her hips as she walked towards him with the others. “We’re charged with your care and safekeeping ‘til Milord returns.” 

“But I belong with you.” The boy implored to Claire, ignoring Ian and Jenny. “Is that not what you told me, Milady? That I will always have a home with you?” 

Those certainly had been her words, but it was a cruel trick to twist those on her now. She was already drowning and hadn’t even said her goodbye to him yet.

“Yes, of course,” Claire began gently. “But sometimes it’s‒”

“He’s right.” Jamie cut in. Claire turned baffled eyes on her husband. This was a ten-year-old they were talking about, was it not? “His place is no’ here without us, nor in France on his own.” 

Fergus looked very pleased atop his mule as Jamie addressed him, doling out his orders. His own little soldier. Claire adjusted her hold on Faith, her arms feeling the fatigue of carrying her for so long. She hardly had time to process that Jamie was bringing their ten-year-old to war before the moment she’d been dreading had finally arrived.

“It’s time, sister dear.” Jenny was at her side, one hand on Faith’s back and the other on Claire’s. 

No. Not yet.

Her arms held tight to Faith, unwilling to relinquish her just yet. Though when would she ever be ready? 

“I ken, Claire.” Jenny’s voice was soft, in a tone usually reserved for comforting her children. “I ken. I’m so sorry.” 

She nodded curtly at Jenny to show that she understood before burying her face in Faith’s neck again. Her heart felt like it was being squeezed in a vice grip. But she didn’t cry. She wouldn’t. Not after she’d scared Faith half to death last night with her hysterical sobbing. 

Claire turned around, struck with the sudden, horrible thought that she’d hogged Faith all morning from her father and here they were, about to leave, and he hadn’t so much as held her once yet. He was watching her, of course, from his spot where their horses were saddled and waiting. His look conveyed only a deep tenderness and understanding towards her pain. Their pain. No exchange of words was needed; she could surrender Faith to Jamie and no one else. Otherwise, she’d never leave here. In a few strides, he had closed the distance between them and kissed her temple. 

“Take yer time, mo ghraidh,” he murmured. 

But they didn’t have time. Not really.

Her eyes slammed shut, fighting off the pressure of hot tears springing to her eyes. With Jamie right in front of her to bolster her, she drew in a steadying breath. She opened her eyes for one last, long look at her daughter.  “Oh, my beautiful girl,” she breathed out. Her finger traced the soft outline of her baby’s face and the shell of her ear. “It’s not goodbye forever, just for now. I love you.” She sealed her words with one more kiss to Faith’s cheek and quickly transferred the girl to Jamie’s waiting arms. 

She met his gaze only for a moment. He gave her a tight smile and a short nod, and she left him to his goodbye. Wiping furiously at the tracks of her tears, she strode half-blindly towards her horse and there she remained, petting his neck, until she felt Jamie again at her side. 

But before he helped her onto her horse, he took her in his arms. His embrace was strong and fierce, and it held her together when she thought she might fall apart. A comforting touch before the long ride ahead of them. 

Then the moment ended and Jamie helped her mount the horse before quickly springing up into the saddle of his own. She gave him a quick nod in answer to his silent question and they rode off through the gates of Lallybroch, Claire never looking back. 

Chapter Text

Late August 1745

Jacobite army encampment, near Kingussie

“Mo nighean donn?”

It was his voice that yanked her sharply back to him. He could see it in her eyes, how they went from vacant and far away to truly seeing him for the first time. He’d watched her crumble beside the wagon, out in the open here where the men were training, but her mind hadn’t been here. For several days now, he hadn’t known what it was to have his wife present with him. 

Claire.” He pulled her up into a sitting position from where she still laid on the damp, cold ground and wrapped her in his arms. His heart ached for how he couldn’t seem to reach her, even now as he held her. When the distance in her eyes appeared, he thought at first that it must be Faith ‒ that missing their baby was taking its toll. 

She had assured him she was fine, brushed off his concerns the handful of times he brought it up. Kept moving, as was expected in this place. 

But seeing her sink to the ground and curl in on herself for no visible reason made him damn sure that she wasn’t fine

“Tell me,” he uttered hoarsely. Her hands grasped tightly to him, holding his arms about her. And it was like this, with her back pressed to his chest and the wind whipping around them, that she started to tell him about the war she’d already fought in France, the men she’d met as eager young soldiers, and the ways she saw so many of them lost to the world. 

At some point, he brought both of them to their feet, not wanting the dampness of the ground to sink into them. And she started to tell him about two American soldiers in particular, about one night that she could never forget, as hard as she tried. 

When it was over, the haunted look in her eyes still lingered. He tried to assure her it wasn’t her fault, but he watched her carry on as if she hadn’t heard him.  

“I should have tried to get him.” 

“If you had, you would be dead,” he said firmly. His hands squeezed at her upper arms subconsciously to feel her very much alive and real under his palms. 

“I know that. Because I told myself the same thing right after it happened. And I just… closed the door on that night and walked away. I haven’t looked back ever since until now.” Her eyes were seeing him again, but the darkness of that night was still trying to push in on her, he could see. Christ, he hated that such darkness had ever touched the pure light of her. “Now I look at Ross and Kincaid and all the others… being turned into soldiers, being trained, putting up a brave front. All I can hear is Max Lucas crying out for his mother in the dead of night. And for two years, I’ve tried to stop this war from coming. Now that it’s here, I’m not sure I’m ready to go to war again.”

“You don’t have to.” His words came swiftly in a response that had been building since she started to describe that night on the side of the road. Since she first started to withdraw from him, if he was being honest. Shame sank heavy in his gut that he had brought her here, that because of him she was reliving the horrors of another war. “You fought your war.  We’ll fight this one without you. I’ll have Ross and Fergus take you home to Lallybroch.”

No.”

“Claire‒”  

“I can’t do that either. Listen to me, if I‒ if I go back, then it will just be like lying in that ditch again, helpless and powerless to move like a dragonfly in amber, except this time it will be worse. Because I’ll know that the people out there dying alone are people I know. People I love. I can’t do that, Jamie. I won’t lie in that ditch again. I can’t be helpless and alone ever again. Do you hear me?” 

“I hear ye.” He breathed out, slow and steady. His fierce lass... “I promise, whatever happens, you’ll never be alone again.”

“I’m going to hold you to that, James Fraser.” 

Despite it all, he felt the tug of a small smile at his lips. “You have my word, Claire Fraser.” He kissed her then, soft and with the promise of his words, and he held her tight, too, not caring if his men were watching. 

“Jamie,” she said so quietly, he almost didn’t catch it. He felt her straighten up in his arms, steeling herself, but as she drew back to look at him, her hands came to rest gently on his chest. His hold on her lower back never loosened. After all she’d just said, he couldn’t possibly let go of her. 

She kept her gaze on the collar of his coat where her fingers were worrying the fabric between them, smoothing it out, tugging it into place. Buying time while her head sorted out the right words. He could see it all there in her face. 

“Don’t offer me the chance to go home again. Not even one more time. I meant what I said… I can’t be helpless like that again. But I‒” Her lip trembled and she tucked it between her teeth. 

“I won’t,” he promised. His hands slid up her spine and pressed her close, meeting no resistance as she burrowed back into his embrace. “I’m sorry.” 

He felt the shudder of her cry against him and bent to kiss her neck. The temptation ‒ the physical ache in his chest ‒ to abandon all this and to hold Faith again was overwhelming for him. He couldn’t imagine how it was for Claire. No, he wouldn’t dangle that in front of her. It had been cruel of him in the first place to offer that. 

“What d’ye think she’s doing right now?”  

She eased back only enough so she could look at him. Her eyes were watery with unshed tears and the depth of longing there was almost enough to bring him to his knees. This was killing her, this time apart. Out of instinct, he kissed her forehead and felt her lean into it, taking his comfort to soothe the empty arms where their baby should be. 

“I’ve been trying to imagine how she spends her days at home.” He nuzzled in against her temple. “I ken she misses us, but I like tae think she’s still happy wi’ Jenny and Ian and her cousins.” 

They hadn’t talked like this, not in the past several weeks since they left Lallybroch. The subject of Faith was a wound too raw and exposed to touch at first, but she’d never been far from either of their minds. And as soon as Jamie had broached the subject, he felt the sharp jab to the open wound, still too tender, but he needed to speak of her, and with the only other person who loved Faith as much as he did.  

“It’s mid-day,” Claire surprised him by uttering softly, opening herself up to a conversation. “And it’s gorgeous out, even with the wind. I bet she’s outside with Maggie. They’d be… well, it’s almost harvest season. I’m sure the girls would try and get involved somehow, though it would probably result in them getting in the way and needing to be removed.”

“She is a verra curious lass.” He chuckled lightly. “Aye, I can see it plain as day. Our stubborn wee thing. Mind the time she was starting to pull herself up and stand, and she saw the basket of clean laundry that Jenny had just pulled off the line?” 

He couldn’t see her face still, but he felt the soft exhale of what he knew to be a laugh, pained though it was. “She didn’t know that the basket wouldn’t hold her weight,” Claire replied. “She and the fresh linens tumbled over into the dirt when the basket tipped. She was so quick, I didn’t notice until it was happening.” 

The memory was so achingly normal and he clung to it. They’d lived the life of their dreams once and if they could make it through this war, Jamie knew what would be waiting for them when they returned.           

 


September 21, 1745

Jacobite army encampment, near Prestonpans

Claire never knew a greater feeling of relief than she did that day, watching Jamie burst into the cottage where they’d set up a field hospital. He’d never looked more alive to her in that moment, never felt stronger or steadier under her touch than when he wrapped her up in a tight hug. They’d won ‒ as she knew they would ‒ but that fixed number of 30 casualties had hung over her head like a dark cloud. They had won, but more importantly to her, this battle hadn’t claimed her husband or Murtagh or‒

Fergus.

She slipped out his grasp when he told her to look outside. Squinting against the sudden light, it took her a moment to find him. Sitting there, still as a statue, he looked perfectly fine. 

“Fergus! Oh, you wretch!” She pulled him into her arms, relief and concern and disappointment all coursing through her. “What do you mean by sneaking off like that? I should box your ears until your head rattles,” she threatened, but only held him tighter.  

“Milady,” he said very softly while she eased back to look at him. She cupped his face gently in her hands, fighting back tears at how close she’d come to losing him, unable to put to bed the worst thoughts that kept her company while she waited for news. 

“Do you have any idea‒” She broke off abruptly to stop the cry that threatened to break loose. “I’m already separated from one child, you can’t just risk your life like that, Fergus!” She held his face a little firmer, gave it the slightest shake as though it might allow him to absorb her words better, to understand what he’d put her through. “I can’t lose you!” 

Her chest was heaving from her outburst and Fergus only stared down at her, completely dazed and teary-eyed. The relief of finding him alive was short-lived as alarm over his appearance and demeanor quickly took over. “Say something. Are you alright?” 

“I… I killed an English soldier, Milady.” 

Her eyes went wide with horror at his revelation. “Don’t tell me that.” 

“I think I killed him,” he amended, rather calmly. Shock, she noted in some part of her brain. “He-he fell down. I had a knife. I struck him.” 

“Oh, god, Fergus.” She clutched his head against her, wanting to erase that moment for him. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” Sorry for the memory that would surely stay with him for his whole life. Sorry that he was anywhere near this hell of a war at all. 

She jumped suddenly, realizing she hadn’t actually checked him for injuries yet. “You aren’t injured, are you?” 

“No,” he said softly but she ignored him, turning him by the shoulders and looking him over for any apparent wounds. “I’m just… tired. Very, very tired.” 

She felt the pressure of tears building up in her eyes and pulled Fergus’s head back under her chin, tucked safely against her. The fear that had gnawed away at her all evening and into the morning finally began to dissipate. He was here. He was safe. They’d deal with the rest later. “Come with me. I’ll get you some food and somewhere to sleep.” 



It felt as natural as breathing for Claire as she fell into the fast-paced rigor of triaging in a war zone. She was proud of her small band of women, all of them mothers or wives who had followed their men and refused to sit by the wayside. None of them had major experience in dealing with the casualties of war, but they’d followed her lead and when the injured came streaming into their small cottage-turned-field-hospital, they’d risen to the challenge. 

By late-afternoon, they’d cleared out those with minor injuries who had been properly tended to. Though after Angus, Claire had insisted on personally giving each man a thorough physical exam before letting them exit, which had left some of them waiting if a more serious patient took a turn for the worse.  

When her mind finally swam to the surface, escaping the chaos of hemorrhaging wounds and shredded limbs, it was growing dark outside. Jamie, whose urine had come back clean and who was thus allowed to leave the cottage, had returned to her. She wasn’t sure how long he had waited, sitting patiently near the front door and keeping an eye on her, but when she finally had a moment to breathe, she found his tired gaze and ached to leave all this behind and be with him, to have the comfort of his warm embrace.   

Instead, she sequestered Jamie to a quiet corner of their field hospital and sat him down next to the pallet where Fergus slept. She brought a basin of warm water and a clean cloth and after wetting it, she proceeded to wipe at the blood and dirt caked to his face. Blood that had been there since the early morning.

“Can’t believe you were stepped on by a fucking horse today and you’re just fine, bruises not withstanding. Do you know how lucky you are?”

He chuckled mirthlessly at this and watched her carefully. “It wasna a very pleasant experience, all the same.”

“Yes, well, next time… try not to throw yourself into the path of a trampling horse, thank you very much. I’d like to avoid tempting fate again.”

“I’ll do my best, Sassenach.” 

She sighed and swiped at his cheek, a little softer this time. 

“Have ye had anything tae eat?” He asked. 

“Oh, um…” Her brows wrinkled together as she thought about it. “Not since you brought me some bannocks and fruit earlier, whenever that was.” 

He looked displeased with that answer and she knew a proper meal was in her near future, however it could be scrounged up within their camp. She wouldn’t turn it away, not with how she suddenly felt her stomach’s empty quaking at the mention of food. “Bring something for Fergus, too. He’s slept the day away and I’m sure he’ll be hungry when he wakes.” 

At the mention of their boy, Jamie’s gaze flicked down to the sleeping ten-year-old. His jaw clenched under her fingers as she finished wiping his face clean. After the relief of finding Fergus just outside, physically unharmed, she hadn’t let herself dwell on the horror of his words ‒ hadn’t had the time to dwell on them, honestly. But now, each word felt like a punch in the gut as they ran through her mind once more. 

He fell down… I had a knife… I struck him.

She breathed in sharply and blinked quickly, trying to stave off the rush of tears she felt building behind her eyes. “What are we going to do about Fergus?” She whispered in a tight voice. “Do you think he’ll try to fight again?”

He stole the wet cloth from her and dipped it into the bowl of water. With one hand holding her chin steady, he brushed at the skin of her forehead just below her hairline. From her fingertips up to her elbows, she had scrubbed herself clean several times today, but she hadn’t looked at her reflection once since well before the battle and wondered now just how much blood was there. 

“The only reason I let him come along is because I knew if we told him tae stay and he didna want to, he would’ve tried to find his way to us on his own, stubborn wee fool that he is.” She had wondered… from the moment he had allowed Fergus to join them, she had wondered why. Jamie was seldom careless and certainly never in regards to those he loved. But his assessment of Fergus rang true, especially with the day’s events in mind. “I thought if we brought him along on our terms, we could keep him safe.” His jaw clenched again and he didn’t continue right away. He tilted her chin to the side as he found a spot just below her ear that needed cleaning.   

“No, I dinna think he’ll fight again, Claire,” he said at last. “He’s had his taste of war and the romance of it always dies once ye’ve had to see it up close. I’ll talk wi’ him tomorrow.” His gaze swung back to her and he smiled gently, though it was tinged with sadness. “Make sure he kens I dinna appreciate how he made us worry.” 

He then dabbed gently at a spot on her neck and she realized she knew when that one had occurred. It was Angus’s blood on her neck. 

Thirty casualties sounded like nothing when only focusing on the number. She knew it was an impressive feat, an unlikely victory that stunned and impressed even in her time. But of those thirty had been Angus and Kincaid, men that she knew well. Of those thirty, she’d been at the sides of more than half of them as they slipped from this world. She could put names and faces to that number now and when she thought of the possibility of facing Culloden, of the thousands of losses— 

“Dinna go there, Sassenach,” Jamie said softly. 

She blinked slowly, puzzled. 

“Whatever dark thought ye’re havin’...” His thumb brushed over her wrinkled brow, trying to smooth out the worry there. “Dinna let it linger.”    

Despite his attempt to soothe her, she felt the toll of the day finally catching up. Her brave front was beginning to crumble and without any resistance, she found herself gathered into Jamie’s lap like a child. He tucked her head under his chin and murmured a soft string of Gaelic words, as comforting to her as his touch was, even if she didn’t understand it all.  

“What do you think she’s doing right now?” Her voice wobbled as she asked the question that had become something of game between them, a way to escape from the horrors around them if only for a moment, and think about one of the very best things to ever happen to them, tucked away safely at Lallybroch. But it was a stupid time to ask, she realized, because it was night and there was only one answer. Still, Jamie hummed softly and rested his head against hers. 

“I think she’s dreaming of our family, Sassenach, and she kens that she is loved.”

 


January 1, 1746

In retreat, near the Scottish Border

The Prince’s army had been encamped in the north of England when their wave of victory finally crested and broke. Retreat would be their next step. For Jamie, that moment also marked the first buckle of doubt in his previously unflagging belief that he and Claire would be successful in their own cause. 

That string of victories followed by the decision to retreat had happened exactly as Claire had recounted to him. His strongest chance at changing the outcome slipped right through his fingers when he was unsuccessful in rousing the others to join the Prince’s call and march on London.  

As punishment for his insubordination, a new directive was issued to him: to lead his men ahead of Charles’ retreating army and prepare provisions for them in Inverness. 

 

 

They left within a day of the order, their small band of Lallybroch men skirting quickly but carefully back toward Scotland with no small amount of fear that they would encounter English forces on their way. No one spoke of it. But it wasn’t far from anyone’s mind, on enemy soil and woefully outnumbered in most encounters with the British so far. 

That encounter with the British came about a week later. The first of their journey’s delays started with Claire being taken to Belmont by British forces. And with Jamie and Murtagh’s retrieval of Claire came the second delay: returning Mary Hawkins to her family’s estate. They had decided altogether to set Mary up in the nearest town to her estate and hire a lady’s maid there to return with her in the morning to her family and avoid causing any further scandal for poor Mary by being escorted home by none other than Red Jamie. 

By the time they reunited with their men in Keswick and marched for the border, Dougal greeted them with news that they had actually fallen behind the rest of their retreating army.  

 

 

Claire lost track of their days by the second week. There was nothing to mark where one week ended and the next began. Not for a while at least. But because she was traveling with Scotsmen, it didn’t escape any of their notice when Hogmanay arrived while they were still on the road, back on Scottish soil at last. 

It was nothing like the way that Claire and Jamie had marked the holiday just one year prior, in the comfort of their home, alight with a naive hopefulness for what was ahead and an appreciation for what the year prior had given them. 

Instead, there was the passing of whisky around an open fire in the woods. Rupert’s long-winding stories told in his lilting, pleasant voice. A few toasts to the new year, led by one James Fraser after a small amount of cajoling. The small party stayed together well into the night, though no one could say with exact certainty when one year bled into the next.

But the feelings of joy and expectation never quite saturated the group as it had for many in every year prior.  

In the harsh light of the morning on the first of January, nothing about the year felt shiny and new, brimming with hope. 

Despite the ruckus that was made around the fire the night before, nobody made a sound at daybreak, lest it draw unwanted attention from possible nearby soldiers. 

Jamie built a small fire near their tent for warmth and Claire and Fergus flocked to it, pressed so close together that Fergus was practically in her lap. They waited for their breakfast while rubbing the sleep from their eyes and stifling yawns. It was cold enough to see their breath linger in the air, but they created their own pocket of warmth between them and the fire.

She turned and pressed a kiss into Fergus’s curls, her heart a bit heavy. “Happy birthday, Fergus dear.” 

“You remembered?” He sounded delighted by this and she felt a wave of tenderness and protectiveness for him. He deserved so much more than whatever they could give him today. 

“What would you like for your birthday?” She asked. “Keep in mind this will have to wait until we return home.” 

Jamie added a log to the fire and caught her eye, a curious glance there for her to see. Yes, they never did plan for themselves past this bloody war, but Fergus was only a boy ‒ he was their boy ‒ and he deserved the hope of something on the horizon. She shrugged one shoulder at Jamie. He gave her a tight-lipped smile in return. They’d make it work, somehow. 

Fergus, on the other hand, pondered Claire’s question very seriously, oblivious to their nonverbal back-and-forth. “A horse,” he said at last. 

“What?” 

“My own horse. To have at Lallybroch when we return. I want Milord to pick it, though.” His gaze flew to Jamie and to his credit, there was nothing amiss in Jamie’s expression as those words landed.

“A horse, ye say?” A teasing glint shone in Jamie’s eyes as he moved toward them to squat down on the other side of Fergus. “Rather stubborn creatures sometimes and an awful lot o’ work. Ye sure ye dinna want something more manageable, like a pig? Or mebbe a dog?” 

No,” Fergus laughed and Claire wanted to bottle the sound, save it for later. “I want a horse. I’m certain, Milord. And you will pick the best one for me.” 

Jamie grinned broadly at him and ruffled his hair affectionately. “Aye, I ken ye’re sure, mon fils. And ye’ll get yer own horse someday, I promise.” 

Murtagh appeared, moving quietly through the trees, and walked toward their small campfire. He held something behind his back and as he reached them, he stopped in front of Fergus and dangled a fresh-caught rabbit. “How’s that for a breakfast feast, hmm?” 

“Thank you, Murtagh.” Fergus beamed up at him.

“Well done, Murtagh,” Claire added. Jamie stood and clapped him on the back. To all of this, Murtagh grunted softly and moved off to skin and cook the rabbit, apparently flustered from all the praise.

They fed him rabbit for his birthday, which he relished, and never once acted as though there should’ve been a better alternative. As they packed up camp and headed out, Jamie made a show of telling all of the men during the march that the day was Fergus’s eleventh birthday. 

His very presence created a lightness among them. But it wasn’t until that day, trudging against the bitter January wind with hardly anything in their bellies, that she saw how beloved he was by the men. How they welcomed the chance to return that joy to him for his birthday. 

When everything else felt cold and hopeless, Fergus had helped to ease the burden of war just by being present with them, a child who was still brave enough to wish for better things despite their dire circumstances. 

And at the same time, it was its own kind of torture for Claire to have Fergus there. While she ached to see Faith again and hold her, she knew in her very marrow that her daughter was safe from the dangers they faced. And though Fergus had never again stepped onto a battlefield since Prestonpans, there had still been a number of close calls during the war, not to mention the very real risks of starvation and sickness. The fear that something should happen to him… that he might be taken from them…

“Sassenach?” 

She startled out of her reverie and forced a tight smile ‒ for no one’s benefit. Jamie always saw right through that. “Don’t mind me. It seems I can’t help but think about the worst, even on a good day. I’m fine, Jamie.” 

“We’ll reach Edinburgh in a few days. It’ll be easier once ye’ve had a night’s rest in a real bed and have eaten to yer heart’s content.” He smiled at her, a touch sadly, and she knew he didn’t believe that to be a balm for her heartache, but it was all he had to offer. 

“I’m sure you’re right.” It was all she could offer in return, to pretend that if her basic human needs were met, then surely the slow and painful breaking of her soul would stop.     

 


February 25, 1746

In retreat, north of Edinburgh

They’d reunited with the rest of the Jacobite army in Edinburgh and it was there that they held their claim over the city until Cumberland and his men laid siege on Edinburgh. From there, the Jacobite army pushed further north, eyeing Inverness once more as refuge. But for Claire and Jamie, it felt like surrendering themselves to the verdict of history, for every step toward Inverness in the name of retreat felt like a step toward the Battle of Culloden, powerless to stop the trajectory of events. 



“What d’ye think she’s doing right now?” 

Claire’s footsteps faltered in their pace against Jamie’s. “I don’t know.” Her voice was soft, almost drowned out by the rustle of movement around them and the clomping of horse hooves. “It’s been months, Jamie… maybe she’s running to meet her cousins for breakfast instead of walking, talking to them in short sentences with words she didn’t know before we left.” She stopped in her tracks, causing Jamie to cease as well. “I know she’s safe. But I can’t picture how she spends her days anymore, because I can hardly picture her. Has she changed so much since we left? She’s growing every day and we’re‒ we’re missing it.” She swallowed roughly, heart in her eyes. “So I don’t know what she’s doing right now. I can’t even guess.” 

 

It was the last time the question was asked by either of them. 



They stopped at the nearest tavern for the night, the temperature too cold to brave making camp under the stars. They had scraps for their dinner, for it was all they could afford with dwindling supplies and funds. Six months at war was taking its toll in more ways than one, but the most pressing to Jamie was the gaunt frames of Claire and Fergus. 

“Come warm me up,” Claire called to him from under a pile of threadbare blankets as he built up the fire in their room. “And where did Fergus run off to?” She asked suddenly. 

“The lad wanted tae stay up wi’ the men a little longer.” He caught her soft snort as he moved toward the bed.

“Are you sure he’s alright in their company?” 

“Aye, he’s Murtagh’s charge for tonight. If they get too rowdy, Murtagh will send him up to bed.” He crawled under the covers and gasped suddenly when Claire’s icy hands slipped under his nightshirt and pressed against his back, trying to draw him in towards her. “Christ, ye’re freezing, lass.” 

“Mhmm.” 

He sank down beside her and felt the tip of her cold nose nuzzling in at his neck. “My puir lass,” he started to tease her, only to gasp again at her cold hands drifting lower on his back. “I ken what ye have in mind. Ye better warm those wandering hands first or it willna have the effect ye’re hoping for.” 

“Oh really?” 

Christ, the teasing lilt of her voice already had his blood rushing south. He yelped and jerked away from her when he felt those icy fingers wrapped around his cock. 

Claire laughed and withdrew her hand from him. “See? That was exactly the effect I was hoping for.”

“Ye’re a wicked woman, Claire Fraser,” he growled at her, though his own smile peeked through. 

“What are you going to do about it?” She murmured, looking up at him through hooded eyes. He drew himself up over her, seeing the look of pleased anticipation cross her face. She tugged the blankets back up over his shoulders, keeping them cocooned with what warmth they’d managed to create. 

“Well,” he dipped down and stole a kiss from her. “I dinna see that I have any other choice but tae warm ye up myself.”        

She sighed happily at the prospect, her mouth chasing up after his. “I think that’s a very wise choice.”

She was light and warmth for him in the middle of a godforsaken war. And for as much as he wanted to lose himself in her, the reminders of their circumstances were never-ending, constantly plucking at their shared joy. The bed that was not their own, the raucous sounds of the tavern below them, the hunger pangs in their bellies from never quite having their fill to eat… small as they were, those things chipped away at him. 

“Jamie,” she called to him, in the midst of their lovemaking, when she must’ve felt the change in him, the drift of his mind away from their connection. Her voice was the only siren song that could reach him. “Come back to me. Back to us.” 

He dropped his head to the juncture between her neck and shoulder and shuddered a sigh there. Her fingers curled into his hair at the nape of his neck, held him there. 

He wanted more for her. He wanted her to have plenty where everything was sparse ‒ food, warmth, shelter, safety, love. Instead, she was half-starved of all of those. She was his light when everything else was darkness ‒ his sorcha ‒ and he couldn’t even feed her well enough that the notch of each of her ribs wasn’t visible to the naked eye. Seemingly all he could do for her was to love her, keep her warm, keep her safe… and even that didn’t feel like enough. He didn’t feel like enough.   

In the afterglow, he held her, their foreheads touching, their exhales mingling. She curled into him, still seeking his heat. “Are ye warm enough, mo ghraidh?” 

She hummed an affirmative and her fingers came to rest alongside his jaw, gently framing his face. They were warm to the touch. He turned his head into the heat of her palm and kissed her there. 

“Good,” he sighed. 

At some point in the night, he fell asleep curled around her, his knees following the bend of hers, his arm holding her protectively. His body was so entwined with hers that he woke promptly from the slight shake of her shoulders.  

“Mo nighean donn?” 

The room had grown dark and the sounds below them had fallen to a dull rumble. So even though Claire tried to muffle her cries, the stillness of the room gave her away. 

Claire,” he whispered tightly, trying to sit up, to see her better, but she held fast to his arm that wrapped around her, keeping him in place. “What’s wrong?” 

“Don’t…” she cried. “Just hold me.” 

He was powerless to deny her that one simple request and settled back in behind her, holding tight. “Was it a dream?” 

Claire shook her head. “No… I just‒” He felt the sharp, shuddering breath she drew in. “I miss her.” 

With that, her stronghold broke and the tears came, after months of quietly grieving the separation.            

“I’m sorry I took ye from her.” He said softly into the stillness of the night, when her tears had ceased and the room had grown quiet again. He wasn’t even sure if she was still awake until she tilted her head back to look at him. 

“You didn’t.” She said firmly, though there were still tears in her voice. “If I blame anyone, it’s Prince Charles. Not you.” 

He huffed a cheerless laugh and fell silent, his thumb wiping at her tears. “Still. Ye are a brave wee thing. My Sassenach.” His inhale was sharp and bracing for the words he knew he needed to get out. “You could’ve stayed. At Lallybroch. Would ye? If I had insisted, would ye have stayed with Faith?” 

“No.” Claire whispered hoarsely. Her arms tightened around him reflexively. “My place is here with you. I couldn’t have stayed, knowing what I know of the rising. And knowing what I know of war from a healer’s perspective.” She rolled onto her back so she could look up at him. “And I couldn’t have lived with not being with you. Never knowing if you were safe… it would’ve eaten me alive.” She snuffled quietly. “It does all make me sound like a rather terrible mother, though, doesn’t it?” She tried to pass it off with a laugh, but her lip quivered and Jamie was quick to cover her body with his own. 

“No, Claire, never. I’m sorry I posed the question. ‘Twas foolish of me. I’m sorry.” He kissed her hair and felt her clinging to him. “My place is with you, too, and I couldna be where you aren’t,” he assured her. “But I promise ye, Claire, I’ll see you and our lass safe and back together. No matter what comes.” 

She turned back on her side and he curled around her, his body again molded to the slope of hers, engulfing her. His arms stayed secure around her and she sighed and relaxed back against him. 

“I’ll see ye safe.” He repeated, holding tight to Claire and, unknowingly, the small spark of life they’d created between them.

 

Chapter Text

April 16, 1746

Culloden House

 

Jamie gripped her elbow hard as he rushed her out of the house, away from Rupert, from Dougal’s dead body… it had all happened so fast…

And the inevitable had truly been just that ‒ nothing she or Jamie could succeed at stopping, though they’d given everything to that cause for the better part of a year now. The Battle of Culloden would begin this very morning.

“Jamie!” 

Both of their heads whipped up at the sound, seeing Murtagh flying towards them on horseback like the devil himself was on his tail. 

“Where has he been?” Claire wondered out loud, but Jamie only released his hold of her and ran for his godfather. She knew only that Murtagh had been acting on an order for this godforsaken war and hadn’t seen him for a few days. As he came into view, Claire noted the odd bulk around his torso and before her brain had any time to process, Murtagh had pulled the horse to a stop and immediately lifted a small, red-headed toddler from under his cloak.

Claire’s breath caught in her throat. 

Faith. 

Jamie was there, ready to grab her from Murtagh, and Claire watched in disbelief as he lowered Faith into his embrace, kissing her cheek as he did. 

The wind-tossed curls were much longer on her ‒ had barely been long enough to curl when last she saw her ‒ but the small, scared face peeking over Jamie’s shoulder at Claire was unmistakably her child’s. 

She had hardly swallowed this realization before Jamie had turned towards her. In a few long strides, he was in front of her and whether Jamie initiated it or she did, whether he had any intention of handing over Faith or not, Claire found herself clutching Faith’s head to her shoulder, her other hand anchoring the little body to her own. Her baby. She turned her face into the crook of Faith’s neck, spilling tears and kisses onto her skin. 

It felt so centering to have Faith in her arms after eight months without her, that Claire didn’t even wonder why she was there with them for three solid minutes. 

But Murtagh dismounted his horse and men were filing into lines nearby and the reminder of where they were and what was about to happen hit her like a punch in the gut. 

“Jamie?” She asked urgently, her unspoken question already there in her eyes. 

“I’m getting us out of here, mo nighean donn.” He murmured, though his tone was just as urgent, and she felt relief flood her veins. In the three years that she’d known him, he’d never let her down in this regard ‒ he always had a plan. They were going to run. And they’d be safe, he’d see to it. She had no doubt of it. 

“Come along,” he said gently, tucking her in against his side, sheltering her and Faith as he led them back inside. Fergus was waiting in the doorway, and Murtagh was close on their heels. 

Everything that unfolded next happened in rapid sequence. Jamie filled Murtagh in on the news of Dougal. A deed of sasine appeared to transfer the title of Lallybroch from Jamie to his nephew. Claire took all of this in while in a half-daze with Faith anchored on her hip. 

Faith was bigger, heavier, Claire noted. And her wide, terrified gaze jumped from Jamie to Murtagh and back to Claire, with no ounce of recognition there. They’d been gone too long. She’d already forgotten them. 

Claire swallowed back the bile that rose suddenly in her throat. She felt lightheaded from the nausea, with no idea if it was the pregnancy she was scared to acknowledge, or the fact that she had become a stranger to her child that made her physically ill. 

She breathed in slowly to steady herself and shifted Faith higher in her arms to kiss her round cheek, the urge to soothe her being stronger than any other impulse. 

“Claire.” 

Murtagh held out the quill to her and gestured to the deed. He held the parchment flat while she shifted Faith to her left arm, took the quill, and signed as a witness to the loss of the only home she’d ever known. A tear slipped from her cheek and fell perfectly over her last name, blending with the still-wet ink and obscuring the name altogether. 

The dazed feeling returned, making her unable to process the moment as it unfolded around her, but she became suddenly aware that Jamie meant to send Fergus to Lallybroch with the deed.

“You can’t.” Her voice came out soft at first. 

But Fergus was holding the deed already and Jamie gave him final instructions as if he hadn’t heard her. 

Jamie.” The bite in her tone came out clearly and all three of them turned to look at her. “You can’t send him alone to Lallybroch. He needs to come with us.” 

The flicker of self-doubt in Jamie’s eyes was just that ‒ a flicker, there and gone suddenly. In its place was a dogged determination that almost frightened her. “Claire, his safest place will be Lallybroch.” As he spoke to her, his hands came to rest affectionately on Fergus’s slim shoulders. “He’s our son, but he doesna look like you or me, nor does he talk like a Scotsman. And that will save him, along with Jenny and Ian’s guardianship of him. Lallybroch is safest for Fergus but not for Faith. Please.” 

She heard in that one word a multitude of pleas ‒ to trust him, to allow this plan to unfold, to have faith that this wasn’t a rash decision, but one he’d agonized over if it came to it. She knew his heart, trusted him with her life and yes, the children’s too, but the idea of sending Fergus alone felt wrong. But everything about their situation felt wrong now and Claire didn’t know what to do. 

“Go and say your goodbye,” Jamie murmured softly to Fergus, without waiting for her response. 

It struck her then as impossibly cruel that as soon as she had one child restored to her, she must part with the other. She grabbed Fergus with her free arm and pulled him into a tight hug.

“I love you. Be careful.” She kissed his head and swallowed back a cry. “Be careful for me, Fergus. I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you,” she pleaded with him, knowing how dreadfully cavalier he could be with his own young life. She felt him nod against her shoulder and mutter something in French there, but she didn’t catch it. She did notice the way Jamie stiffened in front of her. God, none of this was easy. How had they arrived here, on this day, at this moment, after all they’d done to try and stop this bloody war? 

And then Fergus was gone, slipping out of the house with the deed tucked down the front of his shirt. Although he’d grown a great deal taller since she’d first met him, he suddenly looked so dreadfully small there, against the backdrop of war.  

“Stay here, mo ghraidh,” Jamie murmured before he and Murtagh slipped out, too.   

She watched them only for a moment, standing together outside and bracing against the strong wind, before her gaze was inexorably drawn back to Faith. 

Faith, who was unnervingly quiet and still in her arms. She kept looking around at the unfamiliar scenery, never quite at ease. 

Claire’s hand brushed over Faith’s baby-fine curls and the girl’s eyes snapped back to her. She’d never forget the way her daughter’s gaze held only uncertainty and panic when it met hers. Claire forced a wobbly smile and felt a few tears spill down her cheeks unwarranted. Several words leapt to her tongue ‒ I love you, my heart has longed to be reunited with you, I’m so sorry I failed for months to stop all this and return to you ‒ but she bit them all back. What good would it do? Faith didn’t know her anymore. So she drew in a deep, fortifying breath and let it out, collecting herself and firming up her smile. “It’s all going to be alright, darling,” she said with certainty. Her words lacked the familiarity of her love for Faith, but they were honest and assuring, which is what Faith needed from her. At least, it was what Claire felt she needed from her. It would take time, she acknowledged, before Faith would rebuild that old attachment with her, and for Claire to learn how Faith had grown. 

And after all they’d put her through, Faith was owed that time to relearn who they were to her, in however long it took.   

“Claire?” Jamie stood in the doorway watching the two of them with an odd look on his face. “It’s time. We must go.” 

She went with him without question. He helped her onto the horse and handed Faith up to her before hiking himself up into the saddle in front of her. She did her best to create room for Faith in between them without squishing her. Faith’s eyes sought hers out again, her little face pinched tight with worry, but she never said a word, though Claire was sure she must know how to speak by now, even just a little. “It’s going to be alright,” she repeated softly. 

“Hold her tight, Claire.”

They rode swiftly away and the faint feeling of nausea returned. She focused on breathing steadily, a feat not easily reached while riding horseback, and her grip on Faith was as tight as she could manage without hurting the girl. 

Because of this, she missed what direction they were headed for most of the duration of the ride. It wasn’t until those unmistakable stones came into view that all of Jamie’s plans clicked into place.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She screamed at his back. 

He didn’t answer, only kicked his heels into the horse harder. They reached the foot of the hill and Jamie slid down and turned expectantly to Claire to help her down, his face set in an unreadable expression. 

“Jamie,” she snapped. “Get back on the fucking horse! We’re not doing this.” 

“Yes, we are. Now, hand me Faith and I’ll help ye down.” 

She studied him, holding Faith firm in her grasp, and only relinquished her when she realized she could never talk sense into him while he was stubbornly fighting her to get off the horse. But when her feet touched the ground, she stole Faith back and shoved him hard in the chest with one hand. “Idiot!”

But she staggered on the uneven ground with the toddler that was becoming heavier in her arms by the minute, and Jamie was there in an instant to steady her. 

“Claire.” His voice cracked on her name ‒ a pained note. “Please.” She shook her head at him firmly. 

“No, we’re not doing this. I can’t just leave you. I won’t.” 

He reached out and cradled her cheek in his warm palm. She could see now the struggle for control in him. His jaw was set tensely but his eyes gave away the depths of his pain amidst the tenderness that she always found there. “Aye,” he said shakily. “Ye will leave. For her.” His gaze shifted to Faith and his hand came to rest lightly on her back. His touch was hesitant and she was reminded at once of the moment he first saw their baby. 

She’s so beautiful, I’m scairt to touch her...

Her stomach churned again. No, this couldn’t be the answer. “We can run away, all of us. Sail to France or the colonies or… or anywhere, Jamie, it doesn’t matter.” 

“The ports are closed and Red Jamie hasna got a chance in hell of escaping undetected ‒ wanted by the British and my kinsmen alike for being a traitor. I’m already a dead man, Claire. And I choose the battlefield. But before then, I will see ye and Faith safe, like I promised.” He grabbed her hand and turned, trying to lead her up the hill, but she yanked herself free of his grasp. 

“I can’t go back.” She was vaguely aware of the tears on her face, though she couldn’t say when they had begun. “And how dare you orchestrate this… taking Faith from Lallybroch and bringing her here, trying to force my hand.” 

“For god’s sake, do ye no’ see how it is? I canna protect ye both in this time. I must send ye back to yer time, to a man who can care for ye. And I couldna risk Faith’s life, leaving her here alone, never knowing if she would get recognized as my child. No, she must go with ye, for I canna bear for you two to be parted.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead, at once disarming her of anger with his tenderness. 

“Jamie,” she began feebly, unsure of what to say. His forehead came to rest against hers. 

She suddenly felt the pressure of his palm on her stomach and she gasped involuntarily, a soft little sound. Her eyes flew to him and he nodded. “I ken, Sassenach. And I canna let ye stay in your condition with all that could go wrong.” 

Her hand covered his over her still-flat belly. “You can’t know that. It’s much too soon.”

“No, Sassenach, you have not been a day late in your courses in all the time since ye first took me to yer bed, but it’s been two months now. The only other time that has happened was with this wean here.” 

“You kept track? In the middle of this bloody war, you kept track?” 

“Aye,” he murmured. “How long have you known?” 

Her lip quivered. “Not long,” she admitted honestly.  

“This child,” He cupped Faith’s head in his hand, thumb softly stroking her hair. “And this one,” He looked briefly at their hands still resting over her belly. “These two are all that will be left of me. Ever. So I beg of you, Claire, let me send you safely home, you and the bairns.” 

There was a desperate edge to his voice that she had never heard before and everything within her fought against it. “But you are my home.” 

“And you are mine, but this home is lost. So you and the bairns must go to a safe place. Let me see my family safe before I die, Claire. Please.”    

She was too startled by his unflinchingly honest words to fight him as he started to lead her up the hill. But when they crested the hill and the familiar buzzing sound filled her ears once more, she lost whatever progress she’d made. It was again unfathomable, what he was asking of her. 

“I’m not ready, Jamie. I’m not ready.” Her hand fisted in the fabric of his coat. Faith peered up at her mother with visible signs of distress, though she remained silent. “Come with us,” she said frantically. “Come with us through the stones.” Claire grabbed his hand and placed it on Faith’s back. “She needs you,” she whispered, tears slipping down her face. “I need you. I can’t leave, Jamie. Not without you.” 

“We both know I can’t,” he said patiently. 

“You could try.” Her pleading had turned desperate, pathetic, but she grasped for anything that might fix what he was trying to do. “You hear it, right? The buzzing?” 

“I don’t hear anything, Claire.” His voice was soft and placating, and yet it made her want to weep even further because he wouldn’t agree to try. Still, when he strode over toward the stones, her mind only half-registered what he was saying. His hand reached out toward the stone and her breath caught in her throat, hoping against all hope. 

His palm touched the stone and‒

Nothing. 

And even though they both knew, it killed something inside of her to see confirmation of it and, watching as his face fell, she knew it broke him, too… that final outstanding hope dashed.   

“My destiny lies on Culloden Moor. But I’ll find you. I promise. If I have to endure 200 years of purgatory, 200 years wi’out you,” He advanced on her, closing the distance between them. “Then that is my punishment that I have earned for my crimes.” His hand gently brushed her cheek. “For I have lied, killed, stolen, betrayed, and broken trust.” Jamie’s arm snaked around her waist and pulled her flush against him, Faith half-sandwiched between them like the night before they left Lallybroch all those months ago. “But when I stand before God, I’ll have one thing to say to weigh against all the rest.” He leaned in and kissed her, half-smiling. “‘Lord, ye gave me a rare woman.’” His next kiss came with more urgency and she gave into it. “‘And God, I loved her well!’”  

When he kissed her for a third time, she kept her eyes open, even while they were watery with tears, because she couldn’t bear the thought of forgetting what it felt like, tasted like, looked like to be loved by him so completely. 

Her hand came up to trace his brow and the lines of his face when he finally pulled away, memorizing the feel of him under her touch. She knew now that he’d been planning this for days, that if the moment came, he would be ready to pull the trigger and send them away. It must’ve been why he woke her in the middle of the night, from the dead of sleep, to love her one last time. She half-wished he’d given her the same understanding of that moment, the last time she would lie in his arms. 

In the distance, cannon fire boomed and startled all three of them. Jamie instinctively rubbed Faith’s back, trying to give her comfort. She had looked over Claire’s shoulder in the direction of the blast but now she turned and glanced hesitantly up at Jamie. Faith suddenly wormed around fitfully in Claire’s arms, trying to get down. 

“Do you want to‒” She looked at Jamie, the rest of the words caught in her throat. Goodbye felt too permanent and painful to acknowledge out loud. 

Jamie lifted her from Claire’s arms and held Faith close, one last time. His hand cupped the back of her head against his shoulder. “I already said everything ye need tae know, wee lass.” He pressed a kiss to her hair. “Back when ye kent who I was to ye. So I’ll only say this now: I love ye, Faith.” His voice broke on her name, tears flowing freely now. “You have made my life whole.” 

Struggling with her own composure, Claire reached into her pocket and pulled out the bit of amber that she’d carried with her for almost the entirety of her marriage to Jamie. She had her wedding ring, lovingly made from the key to Lallybroch, but the sudden need overtook her to make sure he had something, too, a token of their love. “Our wedding gift from Hugh Monroe. You keep it with you,” she murmured, pressing it into his palm. “Blood of my blood.”

“And bone of my bone,” he answered readily, his voice tight. 

“As long as we both shall live,” she whispered before leaning up on her toes to kiss him again.

He nodded, dropping the amber into his sporran. “Here,” he kissed Faith with one last, lingering squeeze before handing her back to Claire. Then he slipped a ring from his finger and placed it onto one of hers, just above her wedding ring. “This belonged to my father. Give it to the bairn when he’s old enough.” He dug into his sporran and produced a necklace Claire had never seen before, a simple piece with a modest gemstone. He slipped it over Faith’s head and smiled slightly. “Something to remember where ye came from, a chuisle.” He sealed his words with a final kiss to her forehead, fresh tears making silent tracks down his face. Faith remained unnervingly quiet, but her dimpled hand grasped the gemstone and studied it with piqued interest. 

More cannon fire sounded in the distance and the urgency of the moment returned to them. “It’s time,” he murmured hoarsely.

Claire felt a sob building at the back of her throat, a wild, desperate thing, but she swallowed it back. She couldn’t move, but he gathered her close, holding both of them in his arms, and began to walk her backwards toward the center stone. She held his gaze, trying to keep hold of the moment. Even in a time of absolute pain, she could see the depths of his love for her there in his eyes. “I love you,” she whispered. Had she said it enough to him? Did he understand how much? “I love you,” she said again, louder this time, and nearly choked with her tears. She knew they were close to the stone, could feel the indescribable pull of it. Oh God, it was almost time. 

“And I you.” 

She was trembling when he kissed her softly, their tears mingling with it. He nodded and turned her in his arms, but his touch never left her as she faced the stone. His hand held hers and Faith’s as he guided them forward, reaching out. 

She was shaking, holding tight to Faith with one arm, and only partially aware of Jamie whispering goodbye to them before turning his face into her curls one last time. 

And then her hand felt the cold press of the stone once more.     

 




She woke slowly, blinking awake in the shade of a tall stone. Her head swam, jumbled from before, and she laid there for several heartbeats before she remembered.

“Faith?” She bolted upright and felt another wave of dizziness hit her. But glancing around the grassy hilltop gave no sign of her daughter. How long had she been unconscious? How far could Faith have gone in that time? 

Claire scrambled to her feet and steadied herself, still feeling as though the world was spinning. “Faith!” 

She made a quick circle around the center stone, staring down the hill and through the trees, but there was no sign of anyone else. Claire was alone. 

She spun and stared at the center stone, as if it could give her answers. There was no buzzing sound anymore. What once had felt alive from within it no longer called to her. 

Panic clawed its way up her throat and she screamed her daughter’s name once more, looking about desperately, but there was no response. Her breathing quickened and she strode toward the stone. Where was her baby?  “I wasn’t ready, you bloody bastard!” Her hands slapped against the stone, but this time, nothing happened. She sank to her knees at the foot of the stone, the cold reality hitting her anew. “I need my baby! Jamie!” She broke with the utterance of his name and collapsed in on herself, heartbroken and grieved and very, very much alone.

 




Jamie watched, disbelieving, as Faith tumbled seemingly from mid-air and landed at the foot of the stone, unleashing a scream as though she’d been hurt. 

His body reacted before his mind could catch up, gathering Faith into his arms at once to try and calm her. His heart beat erratically in his chest. Even as he held her, he didn’t want to believe it to be true.

It hadn’t worked. Faith couldn’t travel through the stones.

Cumberland’s troops would ravage the Highlands as Claire had said, flocking out from the very battlefield Jamie had stupidly brought his child to. Oh god, his child… with her bright burn of red hair that matched his own. He was a dead man... and she was indisputably his own if they were found together. 

He let out an unearthly howl at the stone, clutching Faith tightly to him. She should be two hundred years away from him now, in the safety of Claire’s embrace. “ Ye were supposed to take her!” He screamed, his eyes boring into the rock. Why hadn’t it worked? 

Faith shrieked at the top of her lungs, a painful pitch that rattled Jamie’s brain in his skull. She kicked her legs frantically against him and pushed on his chest to try and get away, which only made his grip on her tighten. 

“I’m sorry. Oh God. Mo chridhe, I’m sorry. Tha thu sàbhailte.” Jamie murmured.  

And then he heard it.

The scuffle of soldiers nearby and British voices approaching them. 

Chapter Text

“Mama?” 

Her eyes drifted open from sleep by the sound of Faith’s voice, soft and baby-like. Claire grunted tiredly, but nevertheless drank in the sight of the baby girl sitting up in bed by her pillow. “What are you doing here?” She asked. A smile bloomed on Claire’s face as she took in the sleep-tousled curls and Faith’s flushed cheeks, one marked with a deep red line from where she’d slept on it.   

Faith didn’t answer her question ‒ Claire didn’t expect her to ‒ but she did respond with a soft smile of her own, slow and languid. Claire rolled from her side to her back as Faith leaned forward and gathered the girl up on top of her chest. Her head rested just above Claire’s nightgown, her cheek pillowed against her mother’s skin. She yawned then and seemed to melt into her on the exhale, her eyes drifting shut. 

“This is your spot, isn’t it?” Claire turned to kiss the girl’s forehead. “Since the day you were born.” How many times had they laid like this, and felt all was right with the world in that moment? Too numerous to count. 

Faith’s fingers curled around the edge of Claire’s nightgown and she looked up to catch Claire’s gaze. “Hello, lovey,” she murmured. Her fingers gently teased Faith’s wild curls away from her face. 

“‘llo, Mama,” Faith echoed and then hummed as Claire continued to play with her hair, never breaking eye contact, though her eyes crinkled with joy. 

My whole heart. 

“Faith, I lov‒”      



Her breath came in a stuttering gasp, eyes flying open in the dark. She reached over and found only the edge of her hospital bed. 

She was alone.  

Her body curled in on itself while she clutched a pillow to her chest and smothered her sobs there. 

The weight of her grief settled in around her as the last vestiges of her dream fell away, and her new reality became starkly clear. 

She was alone in 1948 ‒ a time in which everyone she loved was undoubtedly dead. And without Jamie, Faith, and Fergus… without Murtagh and the Murrays… with only dreams and memories to haunt her, she wished she could curl up and die right there in that bed. 

She wanted it ‒ wanted death to come swift and easy, to bring her at once to whatever came next, where Jamie promised he would be waiting for her. Where he would find her.

But there was no impulse to act on this wish and in some rational corner of her mind still functioning, she knew there was only one thing standing in her way, keeping her tethered to this world. 

The baby. 

Part of all that would be left of Jamie. Of their life together.  

But even while she would live for the baby, she couldn’t think of it growing inside her without the sharp twist of a knife in her gut. 

Her arm muscles ached from the hour she had carried Faith. Had that only just happened that morning? Her mind felt foggy from the drug-induced sleep but her body wouldn’t let her forget. One hour after eight months apart and then… 

She clutched the pillow tighter, and the howl that tore from her throat didn’t even sound human.

One hour after eight months apart and then never again would she hold Faith in her arms.

Only in her dreams…   

 


 

On her second day in the hospital, Frank arrived. Seeing his face again was jarring, both in how it grounded her in this time, and made her blood run cold at its uncanny resemblance to another face that still haunted her. 

“I’m so glad you’re back,” Frank said in a tight whisper. He reached for her hand and eased himself carefully into the seat at her bedside. She was dumbstruck at seeing him and could hardly manage to look him in the eye, but when she did, there was no anger or hurt staring back at her. Only his love, his broken heart over the missing years, and his widespread relief to find her once more ‒ though these feelings were likely to change when she told him the truth.

“I’m pregnant.” The words slipped out into the space between them and Claire studied his face, watching for any hint of the quiet anger she knew he could possess. Better to rip the band-aid off than try to hide her condition. 

“I know,” he said softly. “I spoke with your doctors.” His gaze dropped to where he still held her hand and he squeezed it gently, collecting himself. He was rattled by the news, she could see, even as he tried to present a calm front. “Darling, I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but I’m here now. We’ll get through this.” 

His meaning snapped into place with stunning clarity and Claire’s breath left her in a rush. “I‒ I wasn’t attacked or… or held captive.” Her hand withdrew from his grasp and settled protectively over her still-flat stomach. “This baby isn’t‒” 

“It’s alright. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything,” he cut in quickly to quiet her and gave her a stiff smile. But she saw the flash of doubt in his eyes all the same. He didn’t believe her. “We don’t have to talk about the particulars just now. None of that matters, anyhow. I won’t leave you.”

She recognized the old habit in him of skirting around the uncomfortable ‒ and this was certainly uncomfortable ‒ but his assumption sat like molten hot lead in her stomach and her face suddenly felt flushed. 

“Really, I’m sorry to have upset you, Claire,” he said quickly before she could broach any sort of explanation. “God, I’m just so relieved to see you.” He cleared his throat, glassy-eyed. “I’ve been in contact with Reverend Wakefield. He was thrilled to hear about you and he’s prepared some rooms for us to stay there while you convalesce.”

She let the matter of her pregnancy go for now. It would take hours to tell him the truth of it, and even then he might find her to be insane by the end. And the mention of Reverend Wakefield lit a spark in her ‒ he had a library’s worth of resources and also‒ 

“Is Mrs. Graham still in his employ?” 

“Mrs. Graham?” Frank looked mildly perplexed. “I didn’t ask, but I would assume so...” 

 


 

He could see the change in her right away ‒ like a light had gone out from within. She kept to herself that first week, spoke only in an exchange of pleasantries. Even though she was there ‒ she was actually physically there with him after three years  ‒  she seemed a different person entirely. 

At first, Frank thought it must be the shock of returning, but as the days passed at the Wakefield residence and Claire remained distant, it seemed whatever she experienced while she was gone had altered her forever. 

Beyond the mention of her pregnancy, he had no notion of where she’d been or what had happened to her, but a picture was beginning to build in his mind’s eye. She hadn’t been physically harmed, according to her doctors, but she had been malnourished, perhaps from neglect. And someone had gotten his wife with child. Frank breathed in sharply. He thought that bit of news would sink in, but a knot was still in his stomach. With signs pointing towards her mistreatment, he couldn’t imagine that Claire had run off with someone, that she would’ve chosen to leave him, but… 

But there had been that moment when he told her he knew about the baby. Something in her eyes had flashed before him and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had encountered the very edges of a mother’s protective fury for her child. It had stunned him and truthfully unnerved him a little. Not that she would already care for the little thing ‒ they had both longed for a child for years ‒ but that he should be the one on the outside. If she’d been attacked… what would cause her to want to shield the baby from him? He’d already assured her that he would stand by her, but somehow that statement felt like it had done more damage with Claire.   

Frank turned toward the windows in Reverend Wakefield’s study and watched for a moment as Claire sat out in the garden, her head bent over a book. 

The Battle of Culloden. Somehow that had become an obsession of hers since her return and he couldn’t make sense of it if he tried. 

…What the hell had happened to her?    

 


 

Claire registered Mrs. Graham’s presence as the afternoon tea was brought out to her, but she didn’t look up from the pages of her book to greet her. As the kindly housekeeper set a cup of tea on the table, Mrs. Graham suddenly broke the silence. 

“Och, lass, you’ll only create nightmares for yourself poring over those accounts.” 

Claire finally met her gaze and swallowed thickly. “There might be clues in here, or even an account of the two of them if I’m lucky. I’d rather know what happened to them. It’s not knowing that keeps me up at night.” 

Mrs. Graham smiled pityingly at her. “Aye…”

“There were wanted posters for him put up all over England and Scotland during the rising, you know. Not just for him ‒ all famous traitors to the crown who were involved in the rising ‒ but… he’s the only one I can’t seem to find any mention of after Culloden. If the British cared enough to make him a traitor, to… to vilify him as they did, you’d think they would’ve looked for him. You’d think someone would’ve bothered to write that down. It’s not like ‘Butcher Cumberland’ to let grievances go.” 

Mrs. Graham took a seat next to Claire. “Ye told me that ye didn’t think Faith traveled at all‒” 

“I mean, I don’t know for sure and I’ve never traveled with someone before, but… I can’t describe it, but there was a moment in the in-between and I was alone. I don’t think she traveled at all, but I can’t even know that for sure.” 

“Still,” Mrs. Graham patted her hand. “Ye would ken better than I. And if she didn’t travel, then she was with Jamie. Maybe the two of them got away safely.” 

“I want that to be what happened,” she rasped, her eyes burning with tears. “God, I want them to have survived it. But I begged him to run with us and he wouldn’t. He said he was doomed to die one way or another and he wouldn’t risk us. I know he would give his life to protect her. I know he would do everything to keep her safe. But these men?” She waved the book in her hands ‒ an account of Cumberland and his troops in The Rising and immediately afterwards. “Pages and pages of how they slaughtered the Jacobites and destroyed the Highland way of life. I don’t need to read every account to know what little disregard they would have for my daughter’s life if she and Jamie encountered them.” 

Hot tears were spilling down her face, and when Mrs. Graham sniffled softly beside her, she found the older woman softly crying as well. “I canna imagine what it’s like for ye. But I worry that this is consuming ye, my dear. And what’ll that do to the bairn ye’re carrying?”  

Claire swallowed roughly and her tear-clouded vision dropped to the book in her lap. How could she not be consumed by this?        

“You have children, don’t you, Mrs. Graham?” Her voice wobbled as she asked the question. 

“Och, aye,” Mrs. Graham replied awkwardly. “My husband and I had three bairns together.” 

“And if you lost one… if you were separated from one and you had no idea what became of them, could you just put that to bed? Would it be enough for you to love the next child as though you’d never known the first?” 

Her words were spoken softly but they had a scalding effect and Mrs. Graham drew in a deep breath. “No,” she said at last. “No, I dinna think I could let it go.” 

“I know they’re both long dead by now. I know. But I need to know if they were killed that day or shortly after or if… if Faith was able to grow up… if Jamie lived and was able to raise her.” Claire’s arm folded tightly across her chest, holding herself together. “I didn’t… didn’t tell her goodbye,” she admitted in a hoarse whisper and Mrs. Graham made a soft sound at that. Her hand suddenly brushed back Claire’s curls in the first display of motherly tenderness Claire could recall receiving from someone in a long time. “I… I only told her it would be alright. Those were my last words to her. Even when we left her at Lallybroch, I… Jamie said his goodbye to her but I never thought I’d lose her forever. I heard him promise her that he would make sure we were reunited someday and…” She shrugged one shoulder helplessly. “It was Jamie so I believed him. I told her…” Her chin quivered before her face disappeared behind her hands. “I told her it was only goodbye for now, not forever. I lied to her. I left her.” 

Since she’d arrived here, she’d kept her crying confined to her room at night, but here with Mrs. Graham, her resolve crumbled and a sob broke free. 

“Oh, my dear.” Claire was pulled rather gently by the shoulders and gathered against Mrs. Graham, who stroked her hair and murmured softly. 

“I’m her mother and I never said goodbye or told her again how much I loved her,” she cried. “The least I can do is find out what happened to her and‒ and make sure she isn’t forgotten. Maybe in some way, she’ll know. That I looked for her and that I loved her.”

“My poor dear,” Mrs. Graham murmured above her, seemingly at a loss for what else to say. Claire held her arms tight about her, the only physical comfort she’d known in days. 

“I know it’s hard now and I don’t pretend to know what ye’ve been through.” She gave Claire a small, fortifying squeeze. “But in time… I’m glad ye’ll have this bairn. It doesn’t mean ye won’t miss them, but ye won’t be alone. And ye’ll have a piece of them with ye. This new bairn won’t be exactly like yer Faith, nor will he or she replace her in yer heart, but ye’ll notice things about yer second born ‒ how she’s different from Faith, how she’s alike ‒ and that will keep Faith alive, too. Hold onto that, aye? When the days are hard, hold onto that.”   

“I don’t know what to do,” she admitted in a choked whisper, and felt Mrs. Graham stiffen. 

“What do ye mean, dear?” 

She pulled away slightly, still sniffling, and Mrs. Graham held her hand, as if knowing she still needed a soothing touch. “I can’t‒” Claire shook her head slightly. “I can’t move on from them. I can’t stop looking until I know. But…” she breathed in deep and exhaled shakily. “I‒ I haven’t figured out what comes after that. I can’t think about the baby just yet. I wish…God, I wish everything else would just hold until I knew. That time would just hold for me.” 

Mrs. Graham smiled sadly and patted her hand, seeming to digest her words. “Ye don’t have to figure anything out just yet,” she said at last. 

“Thank you,” Claire murmured. “For everything.”      

 


 

“Reverend?” 

Reggie Wakefield looked up from his letter to find Claire Randall before him with a small stack of his own books clutched to her chest. He made a sound of startled joy at the sight of her and motioned for her to join him at the table. “I haven’t seen anyone so interested in my collection in such a long time, Mrs. Randall. Does my heart good to see ye enjoying them.” 

In truth, he had spoken with Frank at length about her curious obsession, but as odd as it was, he wouldn’t dream of voicing any of those concerns to such a kindly and elusive woman as Claire Randall.  

“Have ye found everything ye needed, then?” 

“Actually, I…” She stopped herself suddenly and smiled politely at him, hesitant. “Well, first, thank you for being so kind to allow me to go through your collection. I did wonder if you had any other books that perhaps I hadn’t looked at yet.”

“Well…” He scratched at his jaw absentmindedly as he thought about it. “I believe I gave ye every book on the subject of the Battle of Culloden and its aftermath. The rest would focus on the earlier risings and what preceded the ‘45, ye ken.”  

“I see,” she said softly, sounding very sad to him. 

“But I’ll have another look, just to be sure. Perhaps I missed one or two books that could be of use to ye.”

“Thank you,” she breathed, full of relief, and a stunning smile followed shortly. She was an odd sort since she’d returned, but it was plain to see that she was hurting and even if he didn’t understand it, Reggie felt inclined to help the poor young woman however he could. There were rumors ‒ nasty rumors ‒ flying about town since she turned up last week, including scandalous speculation around her condition. He’d done what he could to put those to bed, to address his opinion on the matter by opening his home to the Randalls. And while he hadn’t a single clue as to her whereabouts for three years, the more time he spent with Mrs. Randall, the more indignant he grew over the gossip that swirled around her. It was all so uncalled for. 

He was so caught up in this reflection that he didn’t register what Mrs. Randall had said to him. “Sorry, my dear. What did you say?” 

Oddly, her face flushed and she looked as though she might not repeat it. But she surprised him by blurting out, “Did the British kill any children after Culloden?”

His brows reached his hairline and he struggled to answer.

“I know they showed little mercy to those who fought on the Jacobite side,” she added quickly. “But I’m wondering if there’s anything about how they would’ve treated family members of known Jacobites… like perhaps their children?” 

He drew in a slow breath and prepared his answer, but his gaze caught hers at the last moment, and he saw something there that stopped him in his tracks: a deep pain and desperate hope mingled together. “Why don’t I help you look into this, hmm? We can work on this together.”

She seemed taken aback by this offer at first, but smiled again. “Thank you, Reverend. That’s very kind of you.” She looked down, her fingers tracing the corner of one of the books. “Can I… can I actually ask for your help in trying to find someone who lived during that time?” 

“Oh, of course, of course,” he chuckled. That was something he could do for her. 

“I’ve been trying to find some record of her. Her name is‒ was …” She hesitated for a moment, needing to collect herself. Something about her reaction had his hairs standing on end. “Her name was Faith Fraser. She may have been called Faith Murray, if... well, I don’t know for sure if they would’ve raised her. Or…” She straightened suddenly. “Or if she married… I wouldn’t know her name at all.” She seemed to sink under the weight of this realization and Reggie took pity on her. 

“We’ll start with what you know,” he added kindly, patting her hand. “Even a marriage record should have her maiden name.” 

“Yes,” Claire said rather distantly. “Yes, good.” 

“Do you know whenabouts she would’ve been born?” He prodded gently, trying to engage her as a distant look had crossed her face since the mention of marriage. She drew in a deep breath and began to answer him.  

“May 12, 1744. She was born in Paris but her family moved back to Scotland before the end of the year. She lived on the family’s estate called Broch Turach for a time, though it was sometimes referred to as Lallybroch.”

“Yes, I know the one‒”

“Ownership of Lallybroch was changed over to her cousin, James Murray, dated in 1745, but his parents would’ve managed it until he came of age. That’s Ian and Janet Murray,” she rattled off easily. “The Murrays also‒” She swallowed roughly, struggling to get the rest of it out. “If her father died or was taken away, I believe the Murrays would’ve raised Faith. Her father was James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser and he was a known Jacobite...” She glanced out the window suddenly, focusing on the trio of birds flitting about a nearby tree. “He didn’t fight in Culloden, but he would’ve been near there at the time of the battle and I’d… well, I’d like to find out about both of them, you see, but James Fraser is quite a common name then and I’ve been struggling in my research to find him. I’m hoping if we can find Faith… we can find Jamie, too.” Mrs. Randall looked back suddenly to catch his curious gaze. “Is that enough to start?” 

“Oh. Oh, yes, my dear. That should do,” he said swiftly. “Tell me,” he began cautiously, measuring his next words. “Why are we looking into Faith Fraser? Who is she to you?” 

A strange expression crossed her face, making the well-intentioned Reverend regret his mere curiosity. 

“Who is she to me?” She echoed his question in a hoarse whisper. “She’s everything.” Her eyes were glistening with tears and he couldn’t begin to explain how odd this whole conversation was. “So I need everything that you can find about her and Jamie. Please.”

“Aye, Mrs. Randall. I’ll do my best.” He smiled weakly to ease the tension but she never caught his eye.  

 


 

Frank thought that with time, the Claire he once knew would return to him, even in just small glimmers. But days passed and she remained committed to the routine she’d developed here early on; she kept to herself, taking breakfast in her own room, and when she did appear in the sitting room or garden or the study, it was always still with those damn books. 

She pored over them constantly and prowled the bookshelves for titles she may have missed. She avoided conversations at meals, her eyes downcast at her plate, though the Reverend carried on cheerfully with him at every supper as if none of this was strange. 

Claire had taken Mrs. Graham into her confidence early on, sequestering the housekeeper into Claire’s room for hours that first day they arrived. Since then, she was the only person Claire really talked to. 

Until recently, at least. 

Somehow, Frank was on the outside from his own wife while Reverend Wakefield and Mrs. Graham ‒ two people who had been strangers to Claire a few years ago ‒ were brought into her circle of trust. 

Worst of all, the Reverend wouldn’t discuss with him what it was that he was working on with Claire, skirting his questions and assuring him it was only a little history project, not unlike their own when Frank had first visited him. 

 She wouldn’t even talk to him outside of pleasantries when they saw each other, and he was torn between wanting to wait for her to initiate, and wanting to look beyond this time at the Wakefield house and live their lives again.

Because whatever the hell was happening here, it wasn’t really living. 

“Claire?” He rapped lightly on her door and waited for a response. “It’s Frank.” 

After supper, he’d had a dram with Reggie, which had turned into two drams and then three, and now his head swirled a little even as he rested his forehead against the door jam. 

This was the antithesis of Reggie’s advice ‒ give her time, man, it hasn’t even been two weeks ‒ but his feet seemed to lead him to her door of their own volition. 

When he heard Claire’s soft “come in?”, his heart leapt to his throat and he hesitated. He wasn’t even sure what he meant to say to her; he only knew he wanted her to tell him something .  

He pushed in and found her in one of the two chairs by the fireplace in her room, and she was tucking loose sheets of paper into a book and setting it aside. For some reason, the fact that she was still studying up on Culloden into the night made him inexplicably annoyed. 

She looked up at him curiously, no doubt wondering why he was here.

Why was he here

He had composed this conversation so many times in his head over the last several days, wanting to initiate it more with each passing day… needing to know but also wanting to be delicate with this new Claire, as everyone had been telling him. And then there was some small part of him that didn’t want to know at all. 

But the whisky had loosened his tongue and he found himself blurting out the words without much tact to them at all. “Where the hell have you been, Claire?”

 


 

She felt her stomach drop at his question ‒ though really, she shouldn’t have been surprised. At some point, she would need to tell him, but the very thought of telling him the truth sent her heart rate skyrocketing. Mrs. Graham had been someone Claire could trust, but to almost anyone else, she knew her story sounded insane. If she hadn’t lived it herself, she might not have believed it to be true. 

“I’m sorry,” Frank said quickly when she froze, waving his arm a little too wildly. So he was tipsy, then… “I‒ I don’t want to pressure you to talk if you’re not ready. I‒”

“Have a seat, Frank.” 

He shuffled over to the chair opposite her and sat with folded hands in front of his face, elbows propped on his knees. “I really didn’t mean to… the truth is, Claire, I don’t care where you were or what happened. I’m just so relieved to have you back. But… I feel like there’s this wall between us now and I just want you back. I want our life back.” 

She breathed in slowly and dropped her gaze, a little ashamed that her own desire didn’t echo his. Maybe it would be better if he knew, even if he judged her. Even if he didn’t believe her. At least then there would be nothing to hide and she could accept whatever his feelings were once the truth was out in the open

“I’ll tell you,” she said softly. “I’ll tell you everything but please let me tell it all at once and have it over with before you ask any questions.” 

She slid her gaze back to his and found his expression to be unreadable, but he swallowed roughly and agreed. 

 

 

She talked for hours, pausing every now and then to drink so her throat wouldn’t dry out, and when she finished, the sky outside her room was streaked with the first soft pink lines of daybreak. 

She had stuttered over the last moments of her time in 1746… of her goodbye with Jamie and waking up alone without Faith. 

While she talked, Frank kept his promise and only listened, sometimes in the chair with his gaze on the fire, which he tended to all through the night, and other times he paced the short length of her bedroom. He was pacing at the time that she finished her story and a heavy silence fell between them like the drop of a curtain. 

 Having said the words out loud again for the second time, Claire suddenly wished she could be alone, feeling the grief tsunami on the periphery, about to sweep through her again. God, she ached for them in a way she didn’t know was possible. 

But Frank was still in the room with her, quiet in a way that meant he was still sifting through his thoughts. At last, he scrubbed a hand over his face and sighed. 

“So that’s what you’ve been doing with your history books and Reverend Wakefield… You’ve been looking for him.” 

“And for Faith. For both of them, yes.” 

“What happens if you find a record of them?” 

“Then I’ll… I’ll know what happened to them.” 

“That’s it?” 

“Yes,” she said hotly. “I just want to know what happened to them.” 

“You won’t try to go back?” 

Oh

She breathed in sharply. “I hadn’t thought about it,” she lied, feeling the color rise to her cheeks. The whole point of this had been to tell him the truth. “I don’t know if I can travel again,” she added, which was the honest truth. “It’s… it’s hard to describe. But it feels like it takes something from you each time and the screaming‒” 

“Screaming?” Frank looked curious now, his interest in this unknown finally piqued. 

But the remembrance of it had a shiver running through Claire. “I can hear the voices of those who haven’t made it through and were lost to the stones.” Even with all that they’d talked about overnight, that statement might have been the strangest thing she’d uttered yet. 

His expression turned equal parts horrified and fascinated and then faded all together with a short nod of his head. “Hmm,” was all he had to say to that. He strode over to his chair and seated himself across from her. She got the distinct impression that he was entertained by the idea but wouldn’t put any stock in what she had just described. 

“And what if… you don’t find any record of them?” He asked carefully. 

“Are you asking that because you don’t believe any of this or because‒”

“Claire, I’m asking…” He cut her off and then took a deep breath, choosing his next words. “I’m asking because someone needs to. You spend every waking moment with your head bent over one of these books or writing your notes or discussing with the Reverend where to look next. How long will you keep going if nothing turns up? How long will you make me wait before we can actually start our life together again?” He had started off cool and collected, but had turned frantic with his pleading by the end. “I just got you back,” he added. “Have you any idea what it’s been like for me, Claire? Having you ripped away without a trace and never knowing what happened to you? And all the while, everyone was telling me that you’d up and run off with another man!” 

Stunned by his outburst, it took her a moment to speak. “I’m sorry, Frank. Truly. I didn’t intend for it to happen and I wish there was some way I could’ve told you I was alright while I was gone. That I was safe.”

“But you didn’t wish to come back to me,” he said bitterly. It was petty, even for Frank, but neither of them had slept yet, she reminded herself. 

“I had a child.” She was patient but unapologetic in pointing that out. Frank wouldn’t meet her eye. “I had a whole family with Jamie. And Jamie was‒”

The love of my life.

She swallowed back those words. There were other ways to phrase it, especially considering her audience. “I loved him very much. I didn’t plan for it and I’m sorry for the ways this has hurt you, Frank, but I can’t change what happened.” 

“But you are here now, Claire, and you’re with me.” He finally met her gaze again. “And I’m grateful for that. For a second chance. I only worry for you with how… how consumed you are with this.”

“Well, at what point did you stop looking for me, Frank? What’s the magical number of days before it’s acceptable to move on?” 

He recoiled as if she’d slapped him in the face, and she felt a small pang of regret for those words. Somehow, he still possessed the ability to provoke something juvenile in the way she responded to him, and she hated that. “I never‒ Claire, that was different, and I never stopped hoping you would return! But I did have to go back to work at some point, and in your case… Christ, you never talk about the baby but it will be here in a matter of months so perhaps we should start.”

The mention of the baby struck a nerve that lately everyone had been poking and prodding ‒ as if this baby existed on its own. As if it wasn’t made by her and Jamie on a cold February night, seeking warmth and solace in each other. And for Claire, any thought of the baby came with thoughts of her first baby. They couldn’t exist separately in her mind. “Until you know what it’s like to bring a child into this world and have her quite literally ripped from your arms, you don’t get to tell me when to stop looking. Faith is this baby’s sister and that doesn’t go away when the baby is born.”

To his credit, Frank looked properly chastised by her words. “Claire,” he began softly and then took her hand gently between his own. “I only mean to say that you might never find them, and I worry what that will do to you if you keep at this pace of searching. And what will you do when the baby is here? Drag him along to the library with you?”

“I’m not sure that’s any of your concern,” she snapped.

His hold on her hand tightened. “Not any of my concern,” he scoffed quietly. “No, why would that concern me? You’re only my wife.” 

She leaned back from him, pulling her hand free with her, but was startled to see tears in his eyes accompanying the bite of his voice. 

“Do you even believe me about any of this?” 

“Does it matter if I do?” He countered. “You’re back with me now and‒” 

“Yes, and pregnant with Jamie’s child.”

“I know. But he isn’t here with you, is he?” If he was intending to hurt her, his words hit their mark. “And besides, I… Look, I know this child isn’t mine, but I want to raise it with you.” 

“You do?” 

“Yes.” He was more adamant than she expected. “I’ve had a lot of time to think since you’ve come back and that’s all I want for us now ‒ to raise a family together.”  

She tried to picture it, this life he was so insistent that he wanted with her. How would Frank handle a baby? How would he handle teething and sleepless nights and‒ 

Instead, what flooded her mind were the images and memories of her life before: Jamie taking turns with her on the rough nights with Faith. Carrying her in the crook of one elbow as he strolled about the grounds of Lallybroch with Ian. Telling her stories at night, during the long winter months and well before she could even comprehend what he was saying. She was enraptured with his voice, though. Claire remembered that so clearly, how Faith would stare up at him while he talked, studying his face with keen interest and cooing softly every now and then. Jamie would pause at every sound she made and smile, making up some interpretation of her noises to add Faith’s opinion of the story. Och, aye, ye’re right. Wasna verra nice, was it?  

She fell more in love with Jamie, seeing him as a father ‒ a role he was born for and something so integral to who he was at his core. 

Could she… have that with Frank? Could she just raise a child with him, all the while being haunted by the memories of Jamie and Faith at every turn? Would Frank even love a child that wasn’t his, after years of insisting he couldn’t? 

To her horror, tears spilled down her cheeks and she wiped at them furiously. “I think it’s too soon to have this conversation. I’m‒ I’m sorry.”

He let out a resigned sigh, as if he expected this, and stood. “Get some rest. We’ll talk more about this another time.” He made for the door and paused, giving her one more look back. “And Claire?” She met his gaze, hoping the fresh wave of grief wasn’t too plainly obvious on her face. “At some point ‒ and soon ‒ you have to start living again.” 

The sound of the door shutting behind him echoed hollowly through the room, and his last words to her hung in the stale air. 

Her hand found its way to her belly, which felt slightly curved now under her palm. For weeks, she’d been living with the knowledge of this baby’s existence but hadn’t allowed herself to think beyond what would happen when it was born ‒ not in the way that she had when she carried Faith and couldn’t stop imagining what it would be like to hold her child.

She hadn’t had a thought like that once yet with this baby and the guilt wormed its way in amongst the myriad of emotions she was drowning in. 

“I do love you,” she found herself whispering. “And I promise I will take care of you.” She felt a little silly, talking to the baby… but who else could she share her thoughts with? “It feels like my heart is missing, and I just need a little more time to get used to that. And we have that, don’t we? Despite what everyone wants to tell me, I understand time better than most. When you arrive, I’ll be ready for you. And I’ll love you enough for me and Jamie both.”

Chapter Text

Strange, the things she remembered of this place, now that she’d returned. When Mrs. Graham had proposed a trip into town to run some errands, Claire had agreed ‒ in part at her and Frank’s insistence that some time away from the house would be good for her. But it wasn’t until she saw the storefront window with the name etched over the glass ‒ Farrells General Store ‒ that she remembered it.

The blue vase. 

And oh, how she’d longed to own it. To have a home to bring it to.

She faltered in her steps alongside Mrs. Graham, studying the display. 

“Are ye alright, dear?” 

The vase wasn’t there in the display. The image of it was so clear in her mind’s eye, she would’ve known it when she saw it.

“Fine,” she murmured in answer to Mrs. Graham. “I’m fine.”

They went inside and began ticking items off the list. It didn’t escape Claire’s notice how the other women in the store gave her a wide berth and no shortage of stares. If Mrs. Graham noticed, she ignored them well. 

When Mrs. Graham rounded a corner into the next aisle, she let out a surprised chuckle. As Claire followed her, she noticed that they’d wandered into the baby things. Mrs. Graham held up a box with a printed image on the front of some sort of baby seat. “My daughter has one o’ these for my grandson. Ye sling part of it o’er the sofa and then the bairn can sit it in like so.” 

Claire eyed the contraption dubiously. “Somehow, I doubt it keeps them contained. Faith could’ve wiggled her way out of that easily before she was a year old, I’d bet.” 

Mrs. Graham nodded and slipped the box back onto the shelf. “Never had anything like that for my bairns and we managed just fine,” she agreed with a warm smile. “But perhaps ye might find something useful here for the bairn. Oh, like these!” 

Before Claire could protest, Mrs. Graham had placed a small package in her hands. She looked down and felt the sting of tears almost instantaneously. 

A small bundle of baby spoons, shiny and new.

Her mind was suddenly back at Lallybroch, watching fifteen-month-old Faith smear parritch around her mouth as she fed herself. The spoon in her hand was much too large for her, which accounted for most of the mess she made. An apostle spoon. Next to Faith, Jamie had grinned proudly as he watched her, and across from Faith, Jenny made a comment that those spoons were a family heirloom and usually reserved for special occasions, not for everyday use. But Claire had laughed along with Jamie as Jenny rolled her eyes and added, “Ye’ll have more sense with the next one, I hope.” 

Claire swallowed roughly at the sudden remembrance and studied the baby spoons in her hands. She tried to picture the time when they might be of use, in a modern kitchen with her child seated in a high chair. She could see pudgy hands slapping the tray in front of them, waiting to be fed. But her mind couldn’t see past the small moment and even in her own imaginings, the room felt foreign and cold to her. There would be no teasing auntie there, no boisterous cousins to light up the room and draw out a laugh, no proud da, no older siblings to keep up with. Would Frank be there with her? She had no idea. And where would she live? How would they survive? These were all things she needed to figure out, but continued to push to the back of her mind. 

She breathed in gingerly and handed the spoons back to Mrs. Graham. “It’s a little early still to buy baby things,” she murmured. “I wouldn’t want to tempt fate.”

She strode forward down the aisle, her eyes trained ahead of her and, mercifully, Mrs. Graham didn’t immediately follow her. 

Arms folded tight across her chest, she walked without purpose. Her eyes fell to a collection of hand-carved animals and other decorative trinkets displayed neatly on a shelf ahead of her. She slowed as she reached them, looking over each carved animal until she froze in her steps altogether. Her hand reached out and carefully grasped the tallest one on the end and brought it close to study it. 

It was a wooden horse figurine, about the size of her shoe, and it inexplicably bore a striking resemblance to Jamie’s horse, Donas. 

Which reminded Claire at once of her mischievous boy and that cold January morning they spent around the campfire. He’d asked for a horse of his own for his birthday and they’d promised him one…

She clutched the wooden horse to her chest as a few rogue tears spilled down her cheeks. Thoughts of Fergus always came with a sharp pang of regret for how they’d parted ways. She’d thought… when she’d hugged him goodbye, before she knew Jamie’s plan, she’d hoped their goodbye wasn’t final. A part of her had already been scheming a way to bring Fergus safely to them, wherever they ran to. 

But two hundred years separated them now. What plagued her was never knowing if he made it safely back to Lallybroch, never knowing what became of him or who looked after him. 

Her vision burned with a fresh wave of tears and she sniffled softly, acutely aware of her surroundings but incapable of stopping the tears now. 

Fergus was her and Jamie’s son… but they’d never really used the language to call him so. They called him theirs and they said together they were all a family, but they never used the one word for all that he meant to them. 

Their son. 

And they let him continue to call them Milady and Milord, though he was no longer in their service. Their journey with Fergus looked different than it had with Faith, certainly. It was a slower realization of what he was to them, but she and Jamie both knew long before Culloden that he wasn’t just some child pickpocket. And indeed, they’d loved him and treated him as their own… but why hadn’t they sat down with Fergus and told him how they felt? This question haunted Claire, and she was powerless in her time to do anything about it. 

She’d let her son travel back to Lallybroch alone, in the middle of a war. She’d left him behind without the chance of ever really saying goodbye ‒ she’d done that to both of her children and it ate away at her. 

Her thumb traced over the rigid carving of the horse’s mane. She’d had no way to look for Fergus so far, though she’d tried. His name before they met him was only Claudel, and even though she’d asked the reverend to look for the name Fergus in connection with Jamie, Faith, or the Murrays, she knew it was unlikely to find a record of a boy without a family name.

God damnit, why had they danced around that conversation? There had been a small part of her that feared maybe Fergus hadn’t felt the same way. That he wouldn’t want to take their name and call them his parents. A fragile, insecure part of her that had balked at opening herself up to her child’s rejection. But after the war… after all that they’d been through as a family, she felt foolish for ever letting those fears take root. 

 “What have ye got there?” Mrs. Graham’s voice startled Claire out of her reveries and she jumped, wiping furiously at the tear tracks on her face. She felt the older woman’s hand gently touch her arm. “Did ye find something for the bairn after all?”  

Claire’s gaze dropped down to the wooden horse still in her hand. Not for the baby, but for Fergus. “Yes,” she said softly. She had no way of fulfilling her promise to him with a real horse, but in purchasing the horse figurine, she felt as though she had righted a wrong somehow. That she’d still kept her word as best she could and found him a horse, and she would keep it with her in remembrance of him for as long as she lived. 

As she and Mrs. Graham left the store with their purchases, Claire chanced a look back at the display window, empty of the vase she’d longed for three years ago. She knew now that it wasn’t a vase that made a place home ‒ sometimes, home wasn’t even a place.

And she wouldn’t know what to do with that vase, anyhow. Her home was lost to her on the morning of Culloden.  

 


 

She took her tea in the sitting room that day and little Roger joined her, proudly showing off his model aeroplanes and telling Claire how his father had been a fighter pilot during the war.

“Oh really?” Claire smiled at him. 

Young Roger shrugged one shoulder. “That’s what Father tells me,” he said by way of explanation, and Claire knew he now referred to Reverend Wakefield and not his biological father. 

“Well, he sounds like he must’ve been a real hero.” 

Roger smiled shyly and ducked from Claire’s gaze, going back to playing with his toy aeroplanes. 

“Ah, there you are, Mrs. Randall.” The reverend’s voice came from the doorway. “I was wondering if I might join you for a moment.”  

Claire nodded as the reverend moved into the room. Mrs. Graham poked her head in and spotted Roger. “I have biscuits in the kitchen, Roger, if ye’ll come with me.”

The boy jumped up without needing further prompting. 

“He’s such a little dear.” Claire smiled fondly as Roger followed Mrs. Graham into the kitchen. 

“Yes.” The reverend agreed easily. “I was nervous, of course, when I first brought him in. I didn’t know a thing about raising a child!” The old man laughed at this and then sighed happily, his gaze on the doorway young Roger had just disappeared through. “But he’s a good lad. It’s a shame what happened with his parents, but if it had to happen, I’m glad he’s here with me.” 

“Does he remember his parents?” Claire asked, recalling Roger’s comment about his father. 

The reverend’s smile dimmed and he considered Claire’s question thoughtfully. “No, not really. He was so small when they died. He used to cry for them when he first arrived, but now I think he’s quite forgotten them altogether. And that is a shame, too. It’s not fair when they’re that little and ‒ oh! My dear, I’m so sorry. I’ve upset you. I beg your pardon.” 

“No. No, it’s quite alright.” Claire startled, unsure what the reverend had seen in her face to make him react so. She was, of course, thinking of Faith and the impossibility of being remembered by her girl… “I asked, after all. And I‒ well, I lost my parents very young as well, so I know how it is. But I suppose I hoped for Roger’s sake, he might remember.” 

The reverend reached out and patted her hand kindly, a gesture Claire was beginning to recognize as one to comfort when he didn’t know what to say. She understood that; there was a lot Claire couldn’t say, and her behavior since returning to this time had been a bit… well, odd. The reverend handled it better than she expected.

“Have you found anything?” Claire tried to keep her voice even, but she suspected this was why he’d wanted to join her for tea and her curiosity was eating her alive. 

“As a matter of fact… no,” he said gently. She felt her heart sink to her stomach as the reverend began to outline for her the different connections he had reached out to and places he had searched. He had been thorough. All for naught. “I can search further, but at least from a… a local standpoint, if you will, there’s just no record of a Faith Fraser matching the details ye provided. Nor of James Fraser, I’m afraid.” 

  Her hands were tightly clasped in her lap so that her knuckles turned white. When she spoke, her voice shook, though she could do nothing about it. “And you- you looked into Lallybroch, right? That was his family’s estate. There must be something there…”

He smiled sadly at her. “I did, Mrs. Randall. I contacted the current owners of the estate and I also combed through the estate’s history myself. I’m very sorry, I wasn’t able to find anything.” 

“Did you‒” She felt the sob rising in her throat and shook her head slightly. A blush crept up her neck at how unhinged she must appear to the reverend, but the next thought was painful to put into words. To speak of Jamie as dead and buried in the ground. “There’s a cemetery on the grounds, a very old one… he should’ve… did you check the cemetery?” 

“I checked the burial records myself,” he assured her.

“And…” She took in a slow, sobering breath. “Did you find anything about Fergus? I know he was sent ho‒ sent to Lallybroch after the rising. H-he was supposed to stay there with the Murray family.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she hoped he wouldn’t press her for details of how she knew this. 

But the reverend only shook his head. “I’m very sorry this search has proved to be fruitless. I know you’re very… invested. Are they ancestors of yours?” 

At a loss for how else to answer, Claire muttered the words, “Something like that, yes. They’re… they’re family.” 

“Well… I have a friend in Edinburgh who’s a historian. I can see if he has additional resources we can exploit, hm?” 

Claire forced a smile. “Thank you, Reverend. That’s very kind of you.”   

 


 

She excused herself after tea, the reverend’s words echoing in her mind as she took to the stairs and headed for her room. 

No sign of either of them. 

Although she’d failed on her own to find them, hearing the reverend say he found nothing hit her harder than she could put into words. Left her reeling. 

She’d put all her hope in that man, knowing he had on his side the knowledge of the area. He knew where to look, who to contact. He had a better shot than Claire and he still came back empty-handed.

She curled up slowly on the bed, feeling a wave of nausea pass through her. She had been so sick with Faith, especially in the beginning. And Jamie… well, Jamie had been trying to find his way back to her after Wentworth, but even when he couldn’t touch her, he’d tried to care for her through her morning sickness, as best he could. 

Claire breathed in long and slow, hoping the nausea would pass if she stayed still enough. As she laid there, she missed Jamie in an acute way. Missed his quick smile and good nature, missed the way his eyes followed her adoringly ‒ or sometimes suggestively ‒ whenever they were in a room together, missed the feeling of safety that his solid, physical presence afforded her. He’d loved her wholly, completely, even when they hurt each other. More than anything at the moment, she missed being able to talk to him, because he had long ago become the person she could share anything with. 

I talk to you as I talk to my own soul, he’d said once. 

She wanted to throttle him for sending her through the stones, but just the same, her heart simply ached to have him back, to feel his touch and be held by him. 

Her mind swirled with thoughts of the children and of Jamie, of Frank and 1948 and the life she was supposed to sort out here. If she could have it, one conversation with Jamie might put her racing thoughts to bed.   

What should I do, Jamie?

She knew quite well what he would want for her ‒ someone to care for her and the baby ‒ but Frank had said it himself the night that they’d talked: there was a wall between them now. And it hadn’t been just the matter of telling Frank the truth. Even after she’d laid the whole truth out for him, there was no going back to how it had been before. How they had been before.  

Because before Jamie, she hadn’t known what it was to be cherished by someone. And it felt wrong to try and continue on in a life with Frank, even while he was willing. Through no fault of anyone, the two of them simply weren’t the right fit anymore. 

At least, that was what her heart told her. Her head reminded her that legally they were still married in this time and she had no means at the moment of providing for her child. What she wanted and what she should do were constantly at war with each other in the days since she’d told Frank the truth. Yet even as they remained at a standstill, he showed no signs of wanting to call it quits. 

So which would you choose, Jamie? Head or heart?     

She thought of Lallybroch again and the cemetery. She couldn’t imagine him as gone, but the fact remained that in her time, he would be long since dead. But however he had died, his body hadn’t found its final resting place at his home, and the notion was agonizing to Claire. Was it because they never found his body? Was that why she couldn’t find him? The thoughts popped intrusively into her head and she turned her face into her pillow, wanting to scream. 

Claire swung her feet out of bed and propelled herself swiftly into the small washroom adjoined to her room, her stomach finally choosing to toss up the remnants of her afternoon tea. 

When the heaving finally stopped, she sank back into the wall, her head hitting it with a soft thunk. She had broken out in a sweat and now felt cold and clammy as she waited to see if her stomach would turn again or if it was truly done. 

There was no way to mark the passage of time as she sat there on the bathroom floor, but a thought came to her in the stillness of the waiting; no one was coming to check on her. She would be fine ‒ it was only a bout of morning sickness and expected in this stage of her condition ‒ but through every experience here, whether she was surrounded by others or not, she’d never felt so alone in all her life. 

And as her hope for finding her family dimmed ‒ hope that had been the only thing sustaining her ‒ all she was left with in its place was an overwhelming grief for the love she had had and then lost. 

 


 

“Ah there you are,” Frank greeted her once she’d made her way downstairs in the early evening. “I wondered where you’d gone off to.” 

“I was resting. Wasn’t feeling well.” Claire glanced at the spread of papers on the small table beside Frank. “What’s all this?” 

“I was reviewing some things from our last trip up here. Reggie reminded me that I’d left some files here after your disappearance.” 

Her eyes fell across a copy of his family tree that he’d drawn up for Reggie’s use, and the name Jonathan Wolverton Randall jumped out at her. “Are you still looking into this?” She asked, her voice more accusatory than she’d meant. Frank looked a little startled. “I mean, are you still looking into him?” 

He started to gather up the papers as he spoke, his tone brisk with her. “Not necessarily, no. Though he is my ancestor and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to know where you come from. Doesn’t mean I have to approve of everything he’s done.” 

She hadn’t told him the details of what Randall had done to Jamie. She’d made it clear how perverted and vile he was, but what had happened to Jamie was her husband’s story and she was protective of that. The same went for Fergus. So even while she wanted to rage at Frank, because this business with Randall was so personal to her, she reminded herself that he didn’t have the full picture. And yet… he did have some of the picture, still.

“I told you how he physically attacked me and nearly raped me twice.”

“Well, that would be exactly what I don’t approve of.” He then held his hand up placatingly before she could respond. “I’m not even digging back into this, Claire, I promise. I’m only seeing what I should take with me.” 

“I see,” she said evenly, anger still bubbling below the surface. “Wait, take with you? Where are you going?” 

“I simply mean we won’t be here forever.” He watched her curiously. “We won’t, will we, Claire?” 

“I hadn’t really put a timeline on our stay, but no… certainly not forever.” 

Frank smiled slightly. “Good. Because it’s been nearly two weeks. We really should talk about what’s next for us.” 

She folded her arms tight across her chest, wishing this conversation could’ve been avoided. “I still think‒” 

“You need more time,” Frank cut in. “Yes, I’ve gathered that. I don’t mean to pressure you, Claire, but as you said, we can’t stay here forever. And I have my work to think of. At some point, I’ll need to get back to that. I need a way of supporting us, especially with the baby coming. And you’re usually so god damn practical about these things. You see where I’m coming from, don’t you?” 

“I do see where you’re coming from. I do. But practicality goes out the window when your child is missing, so I don’t think you see where I’m coming from.” 

“But do you need to be here to look for her?” He asked gently. “Could we not return to Oxford or go to Boston and still search?” 

“Boston?” 

Frank straightened the papers in his hand on the tabletop. “I was offered a position to teach at Harvard. I was going to turn it down, but now I’m considering it.” His gaze returned to hers, hopeful and hesitant all at once. “It might be nice to have a fresh start. Put this whole bloody business behind us and go where no one knows us.” 

“Yes, but… Boston? That’s… that’s a big decision.” 

“Well, we have some time to think about it. Not a lot, but some.” 

Panic crowded in and made it difficult for Claire to breathe. It was all too much to even consider and yet she was running out of time before decisions would need to be made for her life here. 

She breathed in deep and her gaze fell once more to the documents and notebooks before Frank. She read a name and a date, but it took a moment for her brain to register their meaning and more importantly, the error in what she was seeing. 

“Wait.” Her hand grabbed Frank’s arm as he was about to shuffle the paper away. “Wait, that’s… that’s wrong. Th-the date is wrong.” 

“What?” He looked at her like she’d grown a second head. 

“Black Jack Randall died at the Battle of Culloden. On April 16, 1746.” She stared hard at him, waiting for him to agree with her, but found his befuddled gaze instead. 

“Ah…” he said after a stretch, as something seemed to dawn on him. “I thought you would remember, but of course, that bit we discovered after… after I’d left to go meet with Reggie that day and you went to go look for the flower.” 

“What are you talking about?” 

“Well, you’re right that everything we’ve found for Jonathan Randall had said he died during the Battle of Culloden, except for one letter that we found that seemed to suggest he survived the battle but was wounded and disappeared, dying a short time later under curious circumstances. It seems as though his death was attributed to the battle, though I don’t know if it was to cover up what really happened or simply because it was an easier answer if they didn’t know the date of death.” 

A chill ran down Claire’s spine. “No. No, he’s supposed to be dead already.” Dead and gone and out of their lives forever. That’s what she swore to Jamie. 

“... he is dead, Claire. Just a few days later than we originally thought.”  

“Pardon the interruption.” They both jumped at the sound of Mrs. Graham’s voice. “Och, sorry to startle ye, dears. I was only coming to say supper is ready.” 

Claire’s stomach churned at the mere mention of food. “I’m terribly sorry, but I think I need some fresh air. I’ll only be gone a moment.” 

“Claire, are you sure that’s‒” 

“I’m just going for a fucking walk, Frank!” She snapped and then turned wide eyes on Mrs. Graham and Frank both. “I’m sorry, I know I’m being terribly rude. I just need a moment. Forgive me.” She turned and fled before another word could be said on the matter.   

 


 

The walk did little to clear her head, but the solitude allowed her to at least not worry about the expectations and thoughts of the other inhabitants of the house. 

The Boston news had rattled her more than she cared to admit. It meant she couldn’t live in this limbo much longer. She’d have to make up her mind about Frank, and then make up her mind about Boston. 

And the news about Black Jack Randall… that had kicked open a door to her family’s trauma and left her quaking. If he hadn’t died on the battlefield… 

Claire pressed the heels of her palms hard against her eyes and breathed in sharply, trying not to cry out with the panic that thrashed about inside her chest.

That man had a disturbed obsession with her husband and he’s been in the same vicinity as Jamie and Faith, on the same day. Oh god, if he found them…

She braced both hands on the fencing that ran along one side of the path, and let out a shaky breath. “You’re going to drive yourself mad,” she muttered to herself. “You have no proof they even crossed paths. And Jamie wouldn’t let anything happen to Faith.”

 

 

By the time she’d made it back to the Wakefield home, she’d missed supper and Mrs. Graham offered to send up a tray to her. There was no sign of Frank or the reverend, which was a relief to Claire. She had walked aimlessly until the spiraling panic within her had settled a bit, but she still wasn’t up for company. 

So when Mrs. Graham brought up a tray of food for her and then sat in the opposite chair by the fire, Claire scrambled for the kindest way to ask to be left alone. 

But the housekeeper had an odd look about her that stopped Claire in her tracks. 

Mrs. Graham leaned forward a little in her seat. “That dance ye saw on Samhain a few years ago… before ye went through the stones?” Claire nodded dumbly, not sure where this was going. “I’ve been doing that for years. Keeping old traditions alive, ye ken. I grew up hearing all the stories of faeries and druids and the like. I never knew firsthand of the power of the stones, but I always believed it to be true. All the stories my grandmother told me… I never once doubted them.” 

She paused in her storytelling and reached for Claire’s hand, giving it a light squeeze. “I can see the weight that ye’re carrying since ye returned and ye’ve told me all that ye left behind. And I suppose… I wanted ye to know that Beltane is in a few days.” 

Claire blinked, unable to connect the last thing Mrs. Graham said with anything of relevance. 

“And according to the old ballads, Beltane is another time of year when ye might… travel. If ye like.” 

“Oh…” Claire murmured, at a loss for more words. “I‒ that’s‒” 

“I’m only saying that if ye were considering it, there are only certain times of year when that’s possible. And…” Mrs. Graham pulled something from her pocket with her free hand and turned Claire’s palm upward with the other, depositing a small gemstone ring there. “If ye do go, ye’ll need a gemstone to protect ye.” 

“Mrs. Graham,” Claire breathed out in a rush, staring wide-eyed at the ring in her hand. “I can’t‒ I can’t accept this. I‒” She felt suddenly dizzy, but Mrs. Graham carried on, oblivious to the way Claire’s mind was reeling.  

“I want ye to have it. If ye mean to go, even if it’s not on Beltane, ye’ll need it to travel safely. I wouldn’t have ye risking the journey without it.” 

“I don’t know what to say, other than ‘thank you,’” Claire said softly. “But even that feels insufficient. I...” She felt the sting of tears in her eyes. “I haven’t given up on finding Jamie and Faith. And if I can find record of them alive, I mean to go back.” Her heart tripped in rhythm with admitting those words out loud, unburdening herself of a secret hope she’d carried. Claire’s gaze flew to Mrs. Graham and found the older woman smiling softly.  

“I thought ye might. That’s why I’ve been… perhaps a bit forward tonight. It’s only, I wasna sure ye’d know about the gemstones.” 

“I did wonder,” Claire admitted. “The first time, I’d been wearing a watch and when I woke up in 1743, the small, embedded jewel was missing from it. And the second time, Jamie had given me his father’s ring for me to give to the baby someday.” A few tears spilled down her cheeks. She still had the ring, but the loss of the stone it had held still troubled her. It had been something precious to Jamie, something to give their child. 

“Och, no more tears tonight. I would’ve thought you’d cried yerself dry by now,” Mrs. Graham fussed over her. “Ye said so yerself… there’s still hope. And now,” she smiled again. “A way home, too.”            

“You’re right.” She wiped at her face. “I’m just… overtired, I think.” 

“I’m not surprised. Growing a bairn is hard work. I’ll let ye finish eating and rest.” 

And with that, Mrs. Graham slipped quietly out of the room, but the reverberations of her short visit lingered with Claire. She studied the jewelry still held in her palm. 

She could go home… if she could find it. 

But for the first time since she woke up in this time, the possibility seemed much stronger than she ever dared hope. Mrs. Graham had given her necessary means by which to return, and it would protect her and the baby.

Claire sat bolt upright in her chair. The baby

If she didn’t find Jamie and Faith before the baby was born… she’d lose her chance to return. Claire didn’t understand what determined if a person could travel through the stones, but she knew that she’d been able to travel through them twice while Jamie and Faith had not. 

She shuddered at the thought of trying with an infant. If they hadn’t been in such dire circumstances the morning of Culloden, she might’ve even questioned trying to bring Faith. 

The baby would be here, come November. She hadn’t yet allowed herself to imagine fully the life of this child once he or she arrived. It was only a precious small thing now, not even noticeable under loose-fitted clothes. But Claire faced the real possibility of raising her child here without the rest of their family. Delivering her baby in this time was undoubtedly and dramatically safer… but once the baby was here to stay, so was Claire. There could be no going back with a child that couldn’t travel, and under no circumstances would she leave this child alone. 

… But she might never find her family in this time. And if that was the case and Faith grew up, she would’ve spent her whole life never knowing her mother. Claire had so few memories of her own parents and had wondered on occasion if they had loved her, and if they had loved her, she had wondered what it felt like to know that without a shadow of a doubt. 

She never wanted Faith to have to wonder as she did. 

And Fergus would remember her, surely, but would her memory be a curse to him, for having loved him and left him behind?    

Beltane was in three days. Jamie’s birthday. 

Claire toyed with the ring in her hand. 

Head… or heart?

Chapter Text

The 1st of May

Three days hadn’t been much time to plan, but she had planned carefully with what time she had, and with only Mrs. Graham to help her. Once the option had been laid out before her, she knew what to do. If she couldn’t find her family in the 20th century, might it be easier to return and search from there? 

Mrs. Graham drove her in the early hours of the morning, just before dawn. Claire waited, watching the dance of the druids from her same hiding spot three years ago, only this time she was prepared. Her dress had been sequestered out to Mrs. Graham’s car and Claire had changed in the near-dark when they arrived, too scared to try and sneak out of the house with it on. Claire felt a tinge of regret for how she was leaving things with Frank ‒ a letter left out for him, explaining where she’d gone and why ‒ but the need to find her family overpowered that regret. 

It had been a brief goodbye and when Claire thanked the older woman for all she’d done, she still felt as though it wasn’t enough to convey her gratitude.

“I’ll look for ye,” Mrs. Graham had winked. “I dinna ken how, but I’ll try. Now, go and find yer wee lass, my dear.”     

The journey through the stones was as awful as her recent memory of it and when she came to on the grass, she laid there for several minutes, waiting for the world to settle. 

But it hadn’t felt real, on top of that hill, that she was back in Jamie’s time again. And the fifteen days she’d spent in 1948 had seemed to last a whole lot longer than that. 

Even when she’d gathered herself up and trekked into Inverness, seeing once again the horses and muddy paths for roads and other signs that confirmed she’d made it back, the listless feeling never quelled. 

She hadn’t been able to bring much with her, but she’d planned for her way home, and that included valuables intended for bartering. With that, she’d secured herself a horse and made for Lallybroch. 

It was a day’s ride from Inverness. She knew the way by now and if the horse didn’t fail on her, she could make it before nightfall. 

The hopeful wish rose in her chest like a soap bubble that they might all be at Lallybroch, in hiding. Or that perhaps Jamie had managed to sneak Faith back, safe and sound, and that Jenny and Ian would know where to find Jamie.  

Maybe they’d taken on different names and that was why Claire hadn’t been able to find them. But the possibility that they might all be there waiting for her was almost too much for her heart to hold, a real possibility and almost within reach if she could just make it home. 






The days were long this time of year, and by the time Claire crested over a hill and saw Lallybroch in sight, she knew it was late in the evening, well-past supper even though the sun still hung low at the horizon, casting the estate in a golden glow. 

She was tired and beyond hungry, having burned through her small stash of food a few hours ago, but seeing the stone farmhouse again banished any nagging physical needs from her mind for the moment. 

She urged her horse forward, closing the distance as fast as she could, until she crossed under the stone archway and slid off of the horse, her feet landing on Lallybroch soil. 

Milady!” 

She heard Fergus before she saw him flying towards her as fast as his feet could manage. Her throat constricted with a sudden, choked cry, and she stumbled forward to meet him. 

He made it home

Fergus collided with her, head hitting her breastbone, and she staggered on unsteady feet, clutching him to her. 

They collapsed onto the ground, still holding each other, as the relief of finding the other alive overwhelmed them both to the point of tears. Fergus began to speak, muffling his words against her shoulder as he cried, and some part of her brain registered he was speaking in French, though she couldn’t in that moment understand a word of it. For the first time since she’d returned through the stones… it felt real

Real and wonderful and wholly overwhelming. She squeezed Fergus tighter.  

There was a flurry of movement beyond them that followed. A door opened somewhere and footfall followed it. 

“It’s Claire!”

More footsteps, frantic voices. 

Her face was buried in Fergus’s curls until she felt someone drop down beside her, and she looked up to lock eyes with Jenny. 

The question formed on her tongue ‒ are they here? ‒ and instead, what escaped her lips was a single, anguished cry. Because in Jenny’s eyes, she saw the same thinly-veiled hope for answers reflected back at her. 

Jamie and Faith weren’t here. They hadn’t been here at all. 

Something seemed to break inside Jenny as she registered Claire’s own disappointment. “Are ye alone then, Claire?”

“Yes.” Her voice cracked on the single word. Fergus’s arms constricted around her waist.  

She was vaguely aware of Ian’s presence and the children being pulled back inside by Mrs. Crook, but her focus had stayed on the way Fergus still clung to her in that moment,  and she realized that all of them here had been as in the dark as she was these last few weeks. 

“Come on, then.” Jenny’s hand was at her elbow, trying to pull Claire to her feet. “Fergus, you too. Come on.” 

The desperate wave of panic was returning as the shock of being at Lallybroch again subsided. Claire turned back to Jenny, hoping this was all just a strange dream. “...nothing?” She asked. 

Jenny looked just as lost, shaking her head. “What happened, Claire?” 

It was at that moment that Claire registered the presence of another, just joining them. 

Murtagh, who had been the last one to see all three of them on that day. Who had been instrumental in Jamie’s plan and fetched Faith from Lallybroch a few days before. Who had been the last person besides Claire to talk to Jamie and who knew more than anyone else here the truth of Claire’s history. 

He must’ve known, whether Jamie told him or not, what the plan was for Claire and Faith that day. Because he looked rightly horrified and confused as he stared at Claire. “Where’s Faith? Is Jamie alright?”

She felt something snap inside her and went almost feral with anger. In a swift move that shocked everyone in attendance, Claire rose up and struck Murtagh across the face.  “WHERE THE HELL IS MY BABY?” She screamed, only vaguely aware of someone’s arms around her waist, pulling her back, and Jenny’s sharp voice in her ear. “You stole her from the safety of this home, from her family, and ferried her away to a fucking battlefield! She’s missing because of it. Because of you!” 

Murtagh only stood to his full height, shoulders squared, and didn’t retaliate. “I did only as Jamie asked,” he said evenly, but there was a look of hurt in his eyes that cut Claire down before anything else could be said.   

She crumbled then, struck dizzy from her outburst, from exhaustion and hunger. “Claire!” Jenny reached for her, but it was Murtagh who was able to save her from falling. She held tight to him like a lifeline as everything swayed about her. 

“Oh, lass...” He said suddenly and full of pity. Claire didn’t look up right away, too focused on trying not to faint, but she felt that everyone’s attention had slowly shifted back to Murtagh. 

“What is it?” Jenny asked. 

Murtagh didn’t answer Jenny directly, but waited until Claire’s gaze met his again and asked, “Ye’re wi’ child again, aren’t ye?” 

The courtyard, which had only moments before been filled with shouting, was now quiet enough to hear a leaf fall.  

“She looks dead on her feet, mebbe we should bring her inside and let her rest.” 

It was Ian who spoke up, and the rest seemed to come to the same conclusion that while each of them was dying to press questions, emotions running hot, perhaps it was best to let the dust settle around Claire’s sudden reappearance first. 

And so Rabbie was called to bring Claire’s horse into the stables while Claire was brought inside. Jenny sent one of the servants to put together a fresh plate of food. 

Murtagh stayed by her side and as the others got a few steps ahead of them, Claire froze in her steps in the hallway, unable to quell the immediate regret for how she’d treated him. “Murtagh, I’m so terribly sorry. I‒” 

He made a dismissive sound low in the throat. “Dinna fash about that now,” he said as he led her on to the dining hall. 






Supper for Claire was a quiet affair. Though wee Jamie had greeted her enthusiastically, the girls had given her shy, blank stares, not unlike Faith had when Claire saw her again, and Jenny had asked Mrs. Crook to put the children to bed soon after. 

So it was only their solemn group of five, spread out around the table, watching Claire eat while occasionally Ian tried to lighten the mood with bits of conversation that had nothing to do with anything. 

Jenny seemed to thrum with a nervous energy the longer they sat, and when Claire had at last finished eating, Jenny took a deep breath and spoke up. “I’ve no’ had a day of peace since Murtagh showed up here and said he was taking Faith to Jamie. And I need to know how it came to be that it’s you showing up on our doorstep expecting Jamie and Faith to be here.” 

Claire reached for Jenny’s hand and squeezed it. “I will tell you what happened.” Her gaze swung to Murtagh, the only other person in the room who knew her story. He nodded once in agreement. Yes, they should know, too. “But there’s a lot more to it than just what happened on the day of Culloden and we’ll need somewhere private for all of us to talk.”

 “Me too, Milady?” 

“Yes.” Claire gave him a small smile. “This concerns you, too.” 

Jenny sequestered them to the study and closed the door behind them. No servants in the room or even in earshot, just Claire and four sets of eager eyes. Claire settled on the sofa, Fergus at her side, and Jenny took an armchair adjacent to them. Murtagh stood by the small hearth and after tending to the fire, Ian took a seat near Jenny. 

“Murtagh knows most of what I’m about to share. Jamie and I told him when we were in Paris, before Faith was born…” 

And so she launched into her story, which got a little easier to share with each retelling, though it looked different this time. They knew of her life once she’d arrived here so there was no need to relive most of those moments, they needed only to know how she came to be here and why she knew things that hadn’t yet come to pass.

They were quiet listeners and Claire tried not to read into their range of expressions while she spoke. She just needed to get it all out. On occasion, her gaze slid over to Murtagh and found his presence reassuring. She already had one person in the room who believed her, and that made it easier to push ahead.  

And then she told them of Culloden and why Jamie had risked bringing Faith to Culloden Moor that day. She told them about what happened that morning on the hill, and waking up alone on the other side. She shared about the two weeks she spent in 1948 trying desperately to find them and how she made the decision to come back. 

“Faith couldn’t come with me when I left here. And as we searched and nothing came of it, I couldn’t bear not knowing what became of them. I started to fear that if I stayed and had the baby… well what if he or she couldn’t travel either, like Faith? And once I had that thought, I knew I needed to act quickly. Mrs. Graham had provided the means for me to travel through the stones again, and I thought if I couldn’t find them in the future, perhaps I could find some trace of them here.” 

The room fell quiet when she had finished. She studied the three faces around her, but found their expressions unreadable. At last, Jenny broke the silence by turning to Murtagh. “And ye believe all this to be true?” she asked. 

Murtagh gave a solemn nod. “Jamie believed it. That was enough for me. And he wouldna have sent me to fetch Faith from here if it was only a story. That I believe.” 

“I know it’s a lot to swallow,” Claire added. “It’s alright if you can’t accept it or if you need more time to sort through it.”  

Ian surprised her by being the first to respond. “I’ve known Jamie all my life, and I know you, Claire. It’s hard to fathom being from another time, but if you say it’s true, I believe you.” 

She felt the vice grip of fear around her heart loosen just a bit at her brother-in-law’s words. These folks gathered in this room with her weren’t just Jamie’s family, but her own. Her gaze flitted to Jenny and she held her breath, waiting. 

“Well, I ken fine well ye wouldna choose to be separated from Faith,” Jenny said plainly. “O’ course I believe ye, but why didna ye just tell us before?” 

She let out a surprised chuckle, not really finding the situation funny so much as she needed the release of her pent-up nervous energy. “We only told Murtagh because he was about to actively partake in an effort to sabotage a war that hadn’t started yet. After I was tried for witchcraft, Jamie was protective about who we told, not as a matter of trust for who we told, but more so that he only wanted to tell if it was absolutely necessary to do so.” 

 A lull settled over them again, each absorbing what they’d heard and what it meant. 

“I canna understand‒ Of all the pig-heided things my brother has done, this may be the worst,” Jenny said at length.  

“Jenny,” Ian said gently. 

“No. I mean it. What on God’s green earth possessed him to drag his own wee bairn to a battlefield and‒ and to try and send her and Claire away? As if that was the only choice he had?” 

“He thought he was doomed to die, no matter what happened that day, with the British hunting him,” Claire explained softly, though the more they discussed Jamie’s plan, the more she hated it. But regardless of her thoughts on the matter, there was no denying the strength of Jamie’s love for others, or the lengths he would go to protect his family. 

“Aye, he meant to fight in the battle. Meant to die. Told me so himself when last we spoke,” Murtagh chimed in. “So when we had no word on whether he’d survived or been captured, I assumed he had succeeded in seeing ye and the lass to safety and then in fighting… ‘til it was done. But seeing you here, Claire… does make me wonder what happened to them and why we havena seen them.” 

“What exactly did he tell you?” Claire asked suddenly. “The last time you spoke, before we left for the stones, I saw you two talking.” 

“Aye,” Murtagh said softly. “He instructed me to gather up the men from Lallybroch and lead them home, away from the battlefield. He said it wouldna be hard to escape in the chaos o’ the morning. And he was right about that, all the men did make it home safely…”

 

Murtagh walked with Jamie out into the bitter cold of that spring morning, watching Fergus’s back as he slipped away without notice. 

“Gather the Frasers of Lallybroch together and get them out of here. There’ll be pell-mell on the moor wi’ troops and horses moving to and fro. Nobody will try and stop you wi’ the British in sight and the battle about to begin. Tell them the order comes from me, and they’ll follow without question. Lead them off the moor and away from the battle. Set them on the road to Lallybroch and home.”

“Are ye sure?” Murtagh asked.  

“Aye. This battle is already lost. No matter how righteous, it was doomed from the start. We’ve done all we could, but now it’s over. I’ll not have my kin die for nothing.”

“And what are you to do?”

“I’ll take Claire and Faith to safety, and then I’ll turn back. Back to Culloden, and fight ‘til it’s done.”

 “I’ll guide yer men to safety and set them on the path home. But ken this: when ye return, I’ll be waiting here to fight by yer side.” 

“No. No, I said I’ll not have ye dying for nothing.”

“I won’t be. I’ll be dying with you.”

“No,” Jamie shook his head. “No, ye willna be dying at all because ye willna return to the battle.” 

“Have ye forgotten the oath I swore to yer mother? Ye’re like a son to me, a balaich…” The words slipped out before Murtagh could refrain and his eyes widened slightly. An admission he’d never made, but something he’d always felt about Jamie. His godson nodded curtly, seeming to struggle for a moment with this unshakable front he presented. “I‒ I canna leave ye.”

“I ken, a ghoistidh.” Jamie’s voice was low, almost drowned out by the ruckus around them. He clapped Murtagh on the shoulder and his gaze swung over to where he had last seen Fergus. “But Fergus is a son to me, as I am to you, and with what’s about to happen, I canna give him my protection as I would like to. I’ve had to make peace wi’ the choices I made in this war, and I’m no’ afraid to die, but Fergus is only a lad. Please… lead my son home. Swear an oath to me as ye did to my mother that you will watch his back always, for as long as you live. Ye kept me safe until I became a man and then ye fought beside me, no matter the consequences, no matter what trouble I dragged ye into. I wouldna have Claire in my life if not for you, a ghoistidh, and now that we’re here, I need to see that my family will be safe.”

 

“I didna want to leave him,” Murtagh said quietly. “I’d spent the better part of his life defending him. But I couldna deny his request either, if it was to be the last thing he ever asked of me.” He smirked slightly, finding Fergus’s gaze in that moment. “Ye didna realize ye were stuck wi’ me, did ye?” he said wryly. “I’m bound to protect you by an oath now, my laddie.”

Claire looked over at Fergus and saw he was close to tears. Her arm went about his shoulders, drawing him against her side. 

“He was protecting you too, then,” Claire spoke up, her gaze flitting back to Murtagh. “If you were protecting Fergus, you couldn’t be on the battlefield.” 

“Aye,” he murmured. “Stubborn lad had it all worked out.”

“Except for the part where the fool wanted tae sacrifice himself on the battlefield,” Jenny fumed. “And where is he now ? If Faith didna go through the stones with ye, and he was left with her at Craigh na Dun, why in god’s name didn’t he just come home?” 

Claire drew in a deep breath. “Well, I… I did tell him what would happen in the Highlands if the British won the battle and put down the rebellion. Perhaps he felt there was a safer option. Perhaps he knew this would be the first place the Redcoats would look for him.” 

“Oh, aye, they’ve been here already. But we could’ve hid him. We could’ve kept him safe.” 

“They’ve been here?” 

“Aye, about a week ago.” 

She felt as though a weight had lifted off her shoulders at those words. “Then he got away with Faith. He did it. If the Redcoats are looking for him, it means they don’t have him.” 

“Yes, but where?” Jenny asked again.    

“Aye, that’s the question,” Murtagh agreed. 

“We’ll need to puzzle it out, but I doubt we’ll come to an answer tonight,” Ian spoke up. 

Jenny looked exhausted and at the same time, too worked up to sleep, and Claire knew her sister-in-law had lost as much sleep as she had these last few weeks, plagued with not knowing what became of her family. Still, there was nothing they could do at this very moment, as Ian had pointed out. 

“I had one of the maids freshen up your room,” Jenny said suddenly and Claire startled. 

“Not our… not the Laird’s room?” She saw the flash of confusion in Jenny’s eyes as she spoke. “I only mean that I don’t think I can sleep in there by myself.”  

She felt silly admitting that, but Jenny’s gaze softened and she gave a quick nod. “I’ll have another room prepared.” 

Ian and Murtagh had both cleared out the study, sensing all the talk was done for the evening, but Fergus lingered at Claire’s side as Jenny dismissed herself to make arrangements for Claire’s room for the night. 

Claire turned to Fergus and brushed a hand gently over his curls. “How are you holding up? Do you… do you have any questions for me? About what I shared earlier? About where I’m from?”

Fergus only shook his head, and Claire understood ‒ it was a bit much to drop in everyone’s laps tonight ‒ but she wished for some sort of insight into what he was thinking. 

She studied his profile as he stared ahead at the fire. “I… I have something for you.”  She dug into her pocket and wriggled out the wooden horse, the rigid legs catching in the fabric of her skirt until it was free. “I saw this after I went back to my time, and I thought of you.” She held it out to him and watched as he took it into his hands and studied it, just as she had when she found it. 

“Donas,” Fergus said softly. 

She felt the tug of a smile and the burn of tears at the same time. Had it only been mere days ago where she’d carried the fear of never seeing him again? “I thought so, too.” 

“This is mine?” He checked. 

“Yes, that’s for you.” 

She worried that he might find it juvenile, but he smiled then, ever so slightly. “Thank you, Milady.” His gaze fell back to the toy horse. “He reminds me of Milord’s sawny snake.” 

“I hadn’t even thought of that. Well… I didn’t carve it myself but now you have something of your own like sawny snake.” 

Fergus swallowed roughly as his thumbs moved over the smooth carving of the horse. She heard him hiccup slightly as he tried to stifle a cry. 

“Come here,” she murmured, pulling him into her arms and tucking his head under her chin. “I miss him, too.” 

“It’s not only that,” he said quietly. 

“Then what? You can tell me.” 

“I didn’t know if I would see you again. Murtagh told me you and Faith had gone away.” 

She squeezed him tighter and felt her throat clog with emotion. “I missed you. Every day.” 

“And Milord…” Fergus continued, his voice shaky. “Milord didn’t want me with him. H-h-he doesn’t trust me.” 

She pulled back just far enough to look him in the eye. “No, that’s not true, Fergus.” 

He stood abruptly and hurled the wooden horse as hard as he could at the floor. Something splintered off from it and the piece skittered across the floor. “Yes it is!” He screamed. “Whenever Milord would have to leave you, he always put me in charge of your care. He trusted me. Now he- he sends me away!” 

“Fergus,” Claire whispered tightly. He stood rigidly with his chest still heaving and she reached a hand tentatively for his, expecting that he might pull away. But with his outburst over, Fergus’s anger seemed to give way to the grief it had tried to mask, and he burst into tears and gripped Claire’s hand. “Come here,” she cried. “Oh, I’m so sorry, darling.”

She pulled him back down next to her on the sofa and cradled his head against her shoulder. There were things she wanted to say to him ‒ things she realized in her time apart and also wanted to have Jamie present for when they were said. But Fergus was suffering under choices they’d made for him and some clarity was needed. 

“It’s not because he didn’t trust you with protecting me and Faith,” she murmured as she stroked his hair. “I know my story earlier might sound hard to believe, but every word of it was true. And if… if we knew if you could travel through the stones, I have no doubt Jamie would’ve tried to send you with us. And if we knew Faith couldn’t travel, we would’ve thought of something else. It was a mistake, Fergus. One we’re all having to live with now, and you’re allowed to feel upset and hurt about it. You are. But it wasn’t because Jamie didn’t trust you or didn’t want you with him.” 

“Then why?” Fergus’s voice was flat when he spoke, still choked with tears. Claire breathed in soberly and took his face in her hands so she could look him in the eye again. 

“Well, it’s like Murtagh said earlier ‒ Jamie thought he would die at Culloden and he wanted to ensure every member of his family was safe before he did so. He loves you, Fergus, and he wanted you to be protected here, at his home… as his son.” 

Fergus set his jaw, but Claire still caught the slight quiver of his lip before he spoke. “I’m not a baby. I don’t need protection.” 

She drew in a breath, her mind scrambling for the right words.  

“And I’ve never been apart from Milord, except when Faith was born,” he added. The crux of his pain was in the separation from Jamie, and no matter how well-intentioned the decision was, there would be no erasing that sorrow for Fergus. 

Claire sighed heavily and leaned in to kiss his forehead. “You’re not a baby, you’re right. But even Jamie has needed protecting from time to time. It doesn’t mean you’re weak when you have someone protecting you, Fergus; it means you’re loved.” 

His brows furrowed together and he looked away, a few more tears spilling silently down his cheeks. “Will he come back?” 

“I don’t know that he will come back, if he thinks it’s safer for everyone if he stays hidden,” Claire told him honestly. “But we’re going to look for them. And we’re going to find them, Fergus. We will.” 

“I’m coming with you?” 

She framed his face in her hands and wiped at the tear tracks with her thumbs. “From now on, we stick together.” She caught the flicker of movement in the doorway and looked up to find Murtagh hanging back. “Though we’ll have to bring Murtagh with us,” she added wryly, smiling at him. “On account of his oath to Jamie.” 

Fergus glanced over his shoulder and nodded once. “I suppose you can make yourself useful.” 

“Oh, aye?” Murtagh took that as an invitation to enter and gave Fergus’s head a playful push into the back of the sofa. “I suppose so.” 

He bent down and retrieved the small horse and handed it over to Fergus, who accepted it with a sudden flush in his cheeks, his smile disappearing. 

“I broke one of his legs,” he pointed out regretfully. 

“Dinna fash, I can fix it,” Murtagh said easily, scouring the floor for the missing piece, and upon finding it, he asked for the horse back, to see what could be done about it tomorrow. 

“It’ll be alright, Fergus,” Claire said gently, hoping he understood she meant more than just the toy horse.

“I know, Milady.” 

“Good,” she exhaled, feeling the smallest tug of a smile at her lips.   






Jenny reappeared to tell Claire which room she’d be staying in and to usher both her and Fergus up to bed. Claire gave in easily, feeling bone-weary after the emotional toll of the day, but she’d said goodnight to Jenny at the top of the stairs so she might have a moment alone. 

She then stood at the threshold of the bedroom that had belonged to her and Jamie ‒ off and on ‒ over the course of almost 3 years. Altogether, their time here likely only amounted to a year or so, but some of their most precious memories lived in these walls. From their earlier days here, married only a few months and learning what it was to give their heart and soul to another, to their days as a small family, navigating parenthood and building the life they thought they would always have here.

Even though she wouldn’t sleep there tonight ‒ she’d meant what she said to Jenny ‒ some part of her had a morbid need to still see the room before she could sleep.  

She pushed into the room and sat on the edge of the bed, running her fingers over the bedding. She’d committed a serious mistake in the days leading up to this one and on her hours-long horseback ride through the spread of land that she knew so well: she’d allowed herself to imagine a homecoming. 

Claire had pictured rushing into the farmhouse and finding Jamie there in the parlor, and how it would feel to behold him once more and feel his strong embrace, to hear his voice and cradle his face in her hands before she kissed him senseless. 

And then there would be Faith to take into her arms and hold close to her heart and promise to never let go of her again. 

She had let herself hope that if she could only make the journey ‒ travel 200 hundred years through time and then 25 miles through the Highlands ‒ then maybe they might just be here waiting for her, and she would at last be able to breathe. 

As she sat there on the bed, Claire felt the pressure of tears building behind her eyes. The piercing blow amidst all of this sorrow was that it was Jamie’s birthday. Last year had been sweet and brimming with joy, and the soft memories of it seemed to belong to a different person entirely after the year she had lived. 

What was he doing now, wherever he had ended up? She had no way to tell him that she had come back to this time, to their first home. Wherever he was, he would still think of her as lost to him forever, unless she found him. 

“You promised you would find me,” she found herself murmuring into the silent room. “Even if it took 200 years. But we’ve gone and turned everything on its head now, haven’t we?” Her eyes glanced about the dark room and settled on Faith’s old cradle, still tucked away in the corner, now collecting dust. “Neither one of us is where we’re supposed to be, but considering that means you’re still alive somewhere, I’ll take it. Keep her safe, love. I’ll keep looking…” Her hand slipped down to rest over the barely noticeable swell of the child she carried. “No matter how long it takes. Even if I’m having to carry this one around with me. And I’ll have help, with Murtagh and Fergus with me.” 

She stood slowly and slipped quietly from the room, pausing to turn back at the threshold for one last look before closing the door on that room and what had been a wonderful chapter in their life together. 

It wasn’t done, their life together ‒ she refused to believe it was ‒ but with the deed of sasine and the hunt ahead of them for Jamie and Faith, she was keenly aware that the dreams of being Laird and Lady of Lallybroch had died that morning of the Battle of Culloden. What came next would be a different life than they had envisioned, but if she could find them… 

Her hand rested over the door to the Laird’s room in a parting gesture. 

If she could find Jamie and Faith, she’d gladly embrace the sorting out of new dreams. But saying goodbye to this one so unexpectedly left a hole in her already-battered heart. 

Chapter Text

April 16, 1746

Jamie watched, disbelieving, as Faith tumbled seemingly from mid-air and landed at the foot of the stone, unleashing a scream at the top of her lungs as though she’d been hurt. 

His body reacted before his mind could catch up, gathering Faith into his arms at once to try and calm her. His heart beat erratically in his chest. Even as he held her, he didn’t want to believe it to be true.

It hadn’t worked. Faith couldn’t travel through the stones.

Cumberland’s troops would ravage the Highlands as Claire had said, flocking out from the very battlefield Jamie had stupidly brought his child to. Oh god, his child… with her bright burn of red hair that matched his own. He was a dead man... and she was indisputably his own if they were found together. 

He let out an unearthly howl at the stone, clutching Faith tightly to him. She should be two hundred years away from him now, in the safety of Claire’s embrace. “Ye were supposed to take her!” He screamed, his eyes boring into the rock. Why hadn’t it worked? 

Faith shrieked at the top of her lungs, a painful pitch that rattled Jamie’s brain in his skull. She kicked her legs frantically against him and pushed on his chest to try and get away, which only made his grip on her tighten. 

“I’m sorry. Oh God. Mo chridhe, I’m sorry. Tha thu sàbhailte,” Jamie murmured.  

And then he heard it.

The scuffle of soldiers nearby and British voices approaching them.  

Faith,” he whispered sharply, feeling as though his heart was going to jump right out of his chest. “Shhhh, mo chridhe, please.” His hand slipped over Faith’s wee mouth, careful not to block her nose, while he strode to the other side of the stones, away from the direction he and Claire had come from. 

They would’ve seen his horse, undoubtedly. 

Faith’s screams dropped to a pitiful whimper against his hand and when he glanced down, he saw her eyes were wide with fear. “Christ, I’m sorry, lass.”

“--heard a child, sounded like from up there.” 

There wasn’t time to think, only to act. 

He slipped around the farthest stone to stand just outside the stone circle and crouched down to set Faith there in the grass. “Mo chridhe, ye canna leave this spot and ye canna make a sound. Not until I fetch ye. D’ye understand? Stay put and stay quiet.”  

Wide, unblinking eyes stared up at him. Faith was silent, but like the calm before a storm, like she could break out in screams again at any moment.

There wasn’t time for anything else, though. He could hear the men approaching and he had to leave Faith there in the hope that she would listen. Jamie crossed to the stone directly opposite where he’d hid Faith and pressed his back against it, facing the center. He drew his sword slowly, being careful to contain the sound. From what he could tell, there weren’t many men approaching ‒ two, maybe three soldiers by the sound of it ‒ but whether they were patrolling or deserting, they weren’t likely to show mercy to him either way. Especially if they recognized him.

He was poised and ready, keeping his breathing steady even while his heartbeat thrummed in his ears. One was close, approaching from the other side of the stone he stood against.

Movement ahead of him caught his eye and he stood transfixed as Faith braced her palms on the grass just beyond the edge of the stone and leaned her head around to look back at him.    

No

Panic flooded his veins. She met his gaze and he shook his head abruptly in warning. Her eyes flickered over somewhere beyond him and his blood ran cold. 

“Christ, there is a baby up here.” 

A voice, just a few steps behind him. Faith retreated back behind the stone with a small cry, but it was too late. 

She was spotted. And they were out of time. 

The first man to walk past the stone hadn’t even seen him coming. Jamie struck the side of his head hard and fast with the butt of his sword and watched the man drop like a stone. One man down. 

He turned and advanced on the other soldier, who had in his haste not bothered with his musket and instead drew his sword.  

“What the devil are you playing at?” The man spat, and Jamie considered for a moment what a strange thing this was to happen upon, a Highlander warrior and a small child on a desolate hill. “Wait, you’re‒” 

The moment turned into a clash of steel, no longer having the luxury of considering anything other than that he had been recognized and he was the only thing standing between this enemy and his child. 

The struggle to overpower the other was brief, fueled by the protective fury of a parent whose child was in danger. Jamie came away from the fight alive ‒ victorious ‒ because he had to be. There was no alternative for him. 

The second soldier lay sprawled in the grass, partway down the hill, his eyes open but unfocused.

Jamie wiped the blood from his sword before sheathing it. When he looked towards the stone where Faith hid, there was no sign of her watching, no sound from her anymore. He swallowed roughly and moved on suddenly shaky legs towards where he’d left her. “It’s me, mo chridhe,” he called out softly just before he reached the stone. 

She was sitting up against the stone and flinched when he came into sight.

He dropped slowly to one knee before her and fought the overwhelming urge to grab her and run. “Ye did good, lass,” he murmured. “I ken you’re scared but we’re safe.” For now, he thought. “And I will keep you safe. But we have to go.”

He held his hands open to the small child. “C’mon. We have to get away from here.” 

The sounds from a not-so-distant battlefield still thundered in the air and it felt like an eternity that Jamie waited until Faith raised her arms up toward him, giving him permission. He picked her up and stood, holding her tight for one moment with the back of her head cupped in his hand. The panic that had risen from their encounter with the British soldiers finally began to dissipate as he felt her little arms twine around his neck. God… they were alright.

“We have to go,” he repeated, and turned to press a kiss to the side of Faith’s head. 

But go where? 

He’d had days to fine tune the plan that had been brewing in his mind over the course of this war. A final failsafe if they couldn’t avoid Culloden. And everything went according to plan except for Faith, unraveling the final part completely. 

He turned and began to walk back toward his horse, keeping Faith carefully shielded from seeing the bodies of the two men, when he noticed his plaid there in the grass near the center stone. 

Claire. 

It was his plaid, but more often than not, it had been wrapped around her shoulders for added warmth. It must’ve fallen at some point during their goodbye. 

He crouched down and grabbed it, holding it tight to his chest with his free arm. Faith’s head lifted off his shoulder and looked at him curiously. He realized then that he had been inhaling the scent of it, the faint lingering smell of Claire still on it. 

“Here,” he said gently, tucking part of it under her arm. “It’s soft and it’ll keep you warm.” 

For the first time since he’d seen Faith again, the tension between her eyebrows relaxed and her fingers began to play with the fabric of his plaid. “There ye go.” 

He made his way down the hill toward Donas, eyes scanning for any other signs of movement. But besides their chance encounter with those soldiers, they were entirely alone. 

Once at the foot of the hill, he wrapped his plaid around his chest, leaving room for Faith to sit comfortably in the cocoon it made for her. With her secured, he swung up carefully onto Donas and glanced down to check that Faith was alright. Her head was pillowed against his chest, and she stared out at their surroundings. Though he was sure she was still terrified from the recent events up on that hill, she’d fallen silent once more. 

He checked again that the plaid was holding her securely so that his hands were free to hold the reigns. Then he kicked his heels into the horse’s sides and urged him forward at a brisk pace, a direction already in mind. The Highlands would be no place for the child of Red Jamie, that he knew. He’d considered turning towards Lallybroch, towards where his men were surely marching, but only for a brief moment. Nae, he’d ruled out anywhere that was familiar to him for the sake of his child’s safety. The Highlands would be crawling with British soldiers ‒ and for years to come, if Claire was correct. 

There was an eerie calmness around them as he rode away from Craigh na Dun and away from Culloden. Taking that in, Jamie felt assured in his belief that the Lallybroch Frasers would be able to slip away undetected and head home. For the moment, the epicenter of conflict was Culloden Moor and he was keenly aware of his own brief window of time to move about undetected. 

He would head for Inverness first and gather supplies. Plot his next course. Move south from there.

A thought came to mind then of a potential ally residing in town. He turned the thought over in his mind as they rode. Yes… that could be beneficial.  

As they approached the town of Inverness, he slowed the horse’s pace, keeping an eye out for Redcoats or any other apparent threat. But while the chaos of war was raging not far from this place, the remaining inhabitants of Inverness were only those uninvolved in the fighting. 

He dismounted and tied Donas to a post before unbundling Faith and shifting her weight to the crook of his arm. 

Despite how sparsely populated the town seemed to be, Jamie still hurried inside with Faith, wanting to limit their exposure. They slipped through the quiet hall and up the stairs, pausing in front of a door. 

He pounded on the door and waited, hearing the sure sounds of someone stirring on the other side. The door swung open and he met the gaze of one wide-eyed Mary Hawkins Randall. 

“Please let us in. I need yer help.” 

 


 

“I don’t understand. Where’s Claire?” Mary interrupted his poor attempt at filling her in on the situation with the one question that landed like a punch in the gut. Mary looked puzzled and too distracted by the fact that if he was here with his child, his wife should be here with them. 

He inhaled sharply, his mind grappling for the words. He hadn’t said it out loud yet, hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on it when Faith’s life was in danger. “She’s… she’s gone.” 

“Gone?” Mary’s voice rose to a high-pitched whisper. Her hand covered her mouth as his meaning took root. She shook her head at him, tears glistening in her eyes. 

Aye, for those Claire left behind, she was lost to them forever. 

Faced with Mary’s display of shocked grief, he felt suddenly that the air in the room was too stifling, that the room was too small somehow. He rose from his chair, needing to move ‒ as if that might keep the grief from touching him as it did Mary. 

“I‒ I can’t believe it. Sh‒she‒she can’t be gone,” Mary sputtered before dropping her head into her hands and crying softly. 

He turned and watched her before his gaze swung curiously over to Faith where she had sequestered herself with Mary’s hairbrush and comb and was busy playing with her own hair. Faith paused at the sound and looked towards Mary, her eyes round with concern. Brows furrowed together again.    

Moved by the need to set Faith’s young mind at ease, he went for a glass and poured a bit of wine for Mary. She looked up when he approached and accepted it gratefully, and he took a deep breath before he dove into the reason he was here. 

“Ye must’ve seen the broadsheets by now. Ye ken I’m wanted by the British crown for treason. So I canna turn back home. I intend to flee, but the less my face is seen around here, the better. I ken people here are no’ too loyal to the British crown, but times are hard and that reward money is verra tempting. Now I’ll need some supplies before Faith and I can leave, but it would help us greatly if you could gather those for us.” 

He waited, but Mary’s gaze stared through the floor, her expression pinched with emotion, and didn’t immediately respond. 

“Could ye help us, Mary?” he asked gently. 

 She nodded, looking away as she wiped at a tear that spilled quietly down her cheek. “Yes, I‒” He noticed that her hands were clasped so tightly around the glass of wine that her knuckles were bone white. “I can help.”

 


 

With Mary running out for him to gather a few items, he found parchment and a quill and quickly began to write a letter for home. They would think he had died, if Murtagh shared his plan with them, which Jamie was quite sure he would. And they would think Claire and Faith were both gone, even if they didn’t know the details. But if the British realized he wasn’t numbered among the casualties of Culloden, then they would go stirring up trouble at Lallybroch and Jamie wanted the chance to set the record straight. 

At least… as best he could, with what he could share. 

He also couldn’t count it outside the realm of possibility that the letter might be intercepted before it reached its destination, and so he sat quietly for a while, puzzling out his message. 

At length, he began to write, his words scratched onto the parchment in a mix of French and Gaelic as he tried to assure his family that he was alive through coded phrases.

Tha mo sorcha air falbhm, he wrote. And then stilled in his progress. Read the words back over and inhaled sharply as the finality of his words hit him. 

My light is gone.

He could at that moment hear something clatter to the floor as Faith unabashedly explored Mary’s rented room. A timely reminder that he wasn’t alone, that there was one very important reason for why he wasn’t bleeding out on a battlefield right about now.   

Mais j'ai toujours la foi, he added. But I still have faith.

Jamie finished the letter, including his recommendation at the end that Jenny should burn the letter after it was read. He folded up and sealed the letter and then rose from the small desk to find Faith had managed to unlatch Mary’s trunk. She held it open above her head with one hand while the other dug through Mary’s dresses. 

“A leannan, leave Mary’s things alone,” he chided gently.  

“No.” 

His brows shot to his hairline, but Faith didn’t even check to see how her refusal was accepted. She grunted suddenly, but he realized it was not in response to him, but due to her struggle to keep the trunk open while only having one hand to explore the treasures within.  

“I can see that lid is heavy, lass. Ye’ll hurt yerself if ye’re no’ careful.”

“I careful.” Her words also came out in a grunt.  

Jamie sighed, reminded once more exactly whose child she was.    

He crossed quickly to where she stood and grabbed hold of the lid. “Faith,” he called to her softly, waiting until her eyes met his. “Would ye like to come wi’ me…” he flashed the letter with its bright red wax seal, “and help me deliver this?” 

Faith stepped forward, hands outstretched for the letter, and Jamie grinned triumphantly. 

 


 

When Mary returned, Jamie had already arranged a room for him and Faith for the night and left the letter with the proprietor of the boarding house ‒ the man had already seen him and Faith upon entering the building so it hadn’t seemed an added risk to take. 

Jamie helped Mary with the bundles and listened as she summarized what she’d been able to obtain from his list. Most importantly had been a change of clothes for him that wasn’t his Fraser kilt and plaid. Mary had been able to find enough ready made that looked as though it would fit well enough, and a few items for Faith as well. Since it wasn’t much altogether for both him and Faith, Mary had purchased some fabric, too. 

Jamie smiled tightly at this, wondering if she understood that it would be just him and Faith on the run and there wouldn’t be much time for making clothing. Well, it had been a nice thought on Mary’s part. 

“And I found this…” Mary unraveled a small, hooded cloak and held it out to Jamie. “Looked to be about Faith’s size.” 

He took the garment from her, rubbing over the soft fabric with his thumbs. It was a soft brown color and the cloth was heavy and warm. The hood, he noted, could help obscure her red hair. “Faith, come see what Mistress Mary bought ye.” 

Curious, Faith wandered over and her eyes lit up when she saw the cloak. Jamie fastened it around her shoulders when she drew near and lifted the hood up over her wee head. She peered up at him from under the hood, bright blue eyes dancing with joy. She looked remarkably like Claire when she was happy ‒ and that thought came to Jamie with a bittersweet sting. 

Faith’s hands came up to touch the top of the hood and she smiled. “Mine!” She crowed suddenly and raced away to the other side of the room. 

Jamie huffed in surprise, his eyebrows raised. He looked sideways at Mary and offered reluctantly, “She, uh, she has two wee cousins near her age ‒ both lassies. She’s used to anything and everything being fair game among them, I suppose.”   

“It’s alright.”

Mary handed over the last parcel, smaller than the others. 

“Ye were able to find everything?” 

“Yes, it’s all there.” She stared at him dubiously for a moment. “And you’re sure it’ll work?” 

“Weel, I’ve never tried it, but I did listen to my wife when she described the wonders of certain plants to naturally dye yer hair.” He looked to Faith where she was twirling in her cape, making the edges flair out. “And the best chance we have is to make Red Jamie not so recognizable, aye? So it’s worth trying.”  

“And what about Faith? Will you‒”

“No,” Jamie said quickly, his gaze still glued to his child. “No, we have bonnets she can wear now, but I canna…” He wasn’t sure he could put it into words, the wrongness that he felt at the thought of dyeing Faith’s hair. She was… she was something that came from him and Claire, perfect in that combination that made her uniquely Faith and also completely theirs. Made from their flesh and bone. And Claire had loved her red hair… he couldn’t stomach the thought of trying to alter Faith in that way. 

They worked quickly to prepare the dye and then Mary helped him apply it to his hair. 

“How long does it last?” She asked as she worked. 

“Dinna ken. I’ll bring what’s left with us and will likely have to restock as we go.” 

He looked over to see Faith watching them curiously as he transformed his hair from red to black. He smiled at her, but she only cocked her head to the side in response.  

The time spent here while Mary had run out for them had been much needed. It allowed Jamie to think ahead, plan their next steps, and anticipate the risks. And in that time, an idea had taken shape. “Mary,” he began, unable to see her where she stood behind him. “How long do ye intend to stay here?” 

“Oh,” she said softly, like she hadn’t really considered the question before he asked it. Perhaps she hadn’t. Her beloved had died only a few days ago, he reminded himself. “Well, I‒ I suppose that depends on… John.” There was an odd waver to her voice when she said his name, and he wondered if there had been any further interaction between the two after poor Mary had been tied to him in marriage, only to watch the man turn around and beat her dead lover. 

Jamie took a deep breath. He felt an odd sense of duty towards Mary. Though Murtagh laid vengeance at her feet for what happened in Paris, it seemed as though the poor girl had endured more pain and bad luck than was owed to one so young ‒ and many of those challenges could be tied back to the time they were all in Paris. “I dinna ken how to tell ye this, Mary, but I didna want ye to have to wait on this news.” 

He felt her hands still over his hair. “What are you talking about? What news?”

“About yer husband.” He twisted in his chair to look back at her. Claire had told him over and over of Randall’s death at Culloden. If they truly couldn’t change the outcome of the war, it stood to reason that by now, Randall was already dead. But he couldn’t exactly explain how he knew that to Mary. “He rejoined his regiment after Alex’s death, aye?” Mary nodded. “There was an accident this morning. A musket that was fired unintendedly within the camp. Randall was struck… he didna survive. The army will likely attribute his death to the battle to cover the accident.” 

Mary was white as a ghost, dumbfounded and silent. 

“Do ye understand, Mary? He’s gone.” 

He canna hurt ye now.  

Her brows furrowed together and she sucked in a deep breath. “H-h-he’s gone,” she repeated.  

Jamie thought he saw a flicker of relief on her face before she turned her gaze curiously back to him. 

“How do you know this?” 

“Word spreads quickly in a war,” he said evenly. “Especially when a captain is struck down by one of his own. It might be some time before the army informs kin of their losses though, so I thought ye deserved to know, seeing how this changes things for ye.”

“Changes things?” 

“As Randall’s widow, ye are entitled to some things ‒ his officer’s pension for one ‒ so ye’re not without a means to get by. But ye also have no cause to stay in Inverness, away from everyone ye know.” 

“I… I could go home.” 

“Aye, ye could.” He watched her closely as the news settled in. She seemed to warm to the idea of going home ‒ or perhaps simply leaving this place. “I have a proposition for ye, though. Faith and I will be traveling south to Edinburgh.” 

“B-but Edinburgh is‒” 

“Aye. The British overtook it months ago. No doubt they still have troops there to hold it. But if I recall, ye have some family there, do ye no’?” 

“Yes. An aunt. But‒”

“Travel with us to Edinburgh. I will escort ye there safely and deliver ye to yer aunt. In return, yer presence with us makes us less conspicuous. No one will bat an eye at a young couple wi’ a child.” 

Mary breathed in slowly, seeming to consider this. “It still seems an awful risk to you.”

“Anywhere I go from here is a risk.” 

“You won’t stay in Edinburgh, surely?” 

“No. But it’s a large city and much easier to hide in a well-populated place like that. We’ll lay low, wait for the ports to open back up.” Jamie smiled ruefully. “And then at first chance… I’m getting my daughter out of Scotland.”  

“Where will you go?”

“Doesna really matter to me where we end up. I only want Faith to be able to grow up without threat to her safety just because she’s mine. And… and without her mother to care for her, I’ll be damned if she loses her father, too.”       

Mary glanced over to where Faith sat quietly playing, still wearing her cloak. “I’ll go with you to Edinburgh,” she said at last. Her gaze swung back to Jamie and she smiled sadly as she added, “For Claire.”  

 


 

With his distinct red hair successfully colored black and arrangements made for Mary to join them in the morning for their departure, Jamie and Faith gathered their things from Mary’s room and retreated to their own. 

He watched Faith’s sluggish steps beside him and determined that the first thing he would do tonight was get wee Faith ready for bed.  

Though she had seemed to take much of the day in stride since arriving at the boarding house, her eyes grew wide when Jamie mentioned sleep. 

“Auntie Jenny?” Faith asked him, her voice rising to a pitch that told him tears would soon follow. 

He stood there mutely, not wanting to answer her. What could he say to make her understand? They were far from home and couldn’t go back.  

“She’s no’ here, a leannan. Tis only me.” 

“My Maggie?” She pleaded hopefully. 

Regret sliced through him, swift and painful. He hadn’t meant to cause her harm like this. “No, lass. I’m sorry.” 

Like a burst in a dam, Faith’s screams were sudden and forceful. She backed herself against the side of the bed, away from Jamie.     

He took a few steps toward her, intent on trying to soothe her the way he always had when she was a bairn, but Faith’s cries rose in pitch and volume when he moved closer. He froze, watching helplessly as tears poured down his daughter’s flushed face.

No!” She screamed at him, bracing herself against the side of the bed. Her next words came out in a rush, blending with her loud cry, but he didn’t need to understand her to know that she wanted her Auntie Jenny, wanted to be at home. He kept the distance between them, but squatted down to her level. 

“Faith…” 

The word had barely left his mouth when Faith quickly scaled the bed and launched herself face down into the bedding. Her cries were muffled into the blankets as she stayed there, stretched out in a prone position in the center of the bed, but she continued to wail and scream to the point that Jamie was scared to go near her, lest he upset her further. 

So instead, he retreated to a chair and sat with his elbows resting on his knees, his fingers interlaced together and bracing against his chin, and listened as Faith’s muffled sobs continued to fill the room.

He wanted nothing more than to go to her, but he’d resigned himself to the fact that he was a stranger to her, responsible for her being plucked from her home and the loved ones that she knew. 

His hands scrubbed over his face before he leaned back in his chair, his gaze resting on Faith. They were safe at the moment. He’d managed to get her away from Culloden unscathed and keep his promise of safety. 

But he had no earthly idea how to help her now. 

He felt as unsure of himself as he had when he came back from the Bastille and found out his child had survived and lived three months without him. He’d felt like an intruder on her life then, already so bonded with Claire… 

Oh God… Claire.

She would’ve known exactly how to reach Faith. Was it only that morning when he’d watched the two of them together? Had seen how even with the months apart from her, caring for Faith seemed as natural to Claire as breathing?

 It had taken every ounce of strength to push thoughts of Claire out of his head today, to not dwell on the implications of what happened at the stones. There were a few times it had struck him that she was truly gone, but each time, he pushed it down. Because there was Faith to focus on and to protect, and their future to plan for. 

But now… seeing his wee child in agony, he could hardly bear the weight of it all. Faith should be two hundred years away from this time, in the comfort of her mother’s embrace, in a place where she would be safe. He recalled how she had looked earlier, her wee face peering out at him from the other side of the stone this morning, and dropped his face into his hands. 

She could’ve been killed…

Lord, it was all wrong. A cold, dank feeling settled around his heart at the thought of what this meant for Claire. He hadn’t allowed himself to imagine what she must be feeling, arriving back in her time without their girl. 

A sob tore from his throat, and he gasped painfully for his next breath. How many times in the last several months had he held his wife in a poor attempt to soothe her empty arms? And now he’d sent her away from Faith forever. Though it hadn’t been his intention, he couldn’t think of a single other act of cruelty towards Claire that would measure up to the magnitude of what he’d done. 

Oh God, I’m sorry,” he cried out, feeling a wrenching pain in his chest. “I’m so sorry, Claire!”    

He must’ve been louder than he thought because he drew Faith’s attention. She turned her head to the side, still sobbing, and her gaze sought him out. He locked eyes with her and felt something tumble in his chest. Faith looked distraught and confused, and the urge to hold her came back with riotous force. 

And he thought of how ashamed Claire might be if she knew he was sitting with his guilt instead of holding their child, squandering the time with Faith that Claire didn’t have. 

His next breath was shaky. He wiped at his face as he rose to his feet and approached the bed. Faith didn’t move or react this time and he slid his hands under her shoulders to lift her off the bed. Her crying didn’t cease in the transfer, but she did curl in at his neck in a way that made him think she wasn’t so sorry to be stuck with him after all. 

“There, m'annsachd. Shhhh…” 

Her cries became more rhythmic, interrupted like clockwork by hiccupping gasps to force herself to breath in. She was winding down, at least. He spoke gently over her in Gaelic, knowing it was what she would’ve heard at home with Jenny and Ian. Something familiar and comforting, he hoped. 

He wasn’t sure how long he paced the short confines of their room with her. She had grown considerably since the last time he’d done this, but there was something inexplicably comforting for him when he felt her fingers curl around his shirt collar and hold on, the same thing she used to do as a wee babe. “I do love ye, Faith.” He rested his cheek against the top of her head. “So much… it feels like my heart could burst open from it.” 

Faith’s cries had waned to half-hearted whimpers that only surged in volume when he shifted her weight to his other arm. She doesna want me to put her down, he realized. 

“Dinna fash, a leannan,” he crooned. “I’m here. I’ve got ye.” 

He felt her heave a sigh against his neck and it triggered his own, releasing some of the night’s tension from his body. “I’m so sorry, lass. God, am I ever sorry…” The words slipped out on the heels of his sigh, so quick he barely registered that he’d spoken them aloud to her. But once formed, the words opened up the cavernous well of apology and regret inside him, and he had the sudden need to unburden himself. Even if she didn’t understand the weight of what had happened, the extent of the loss he’d caused her. 

“I- I broke my promise to ye. And that is unforgivable. I swore that I would see yer mam safely returned to ye and instead I’ve… I’ve split ye apart. Christ. A leannan, she loves ye so much ‒ more than her own life ‒ and ye have no idea. I’ve deprived ye of that. I canna begin to say how sorry I am. How ashamed I am.” Tears were spilling quickly down his face, but he managed to go on speaking, his voice husky with emotion. “I dinna think I can live wi’out her. She… she was my heart.” His hand moved in slow circles along Faith’s back and realized suddenly that she’d fallen quiet ‒ not asleep, but no longer crying or whimpering. 

“But I will live every day keeping you safe from harm and… and reminding ye that ye had the most wonderful mother. That is my new promise to you. That is what I owe to Claire. I will tell ye everything about her, so ye can know her in some small way. ” He turned and pressed a kiss to her temple and then felt the gentle pat of her hand on his cheek in response. He exhaled a smile. “Still such a sweet wee thing. I ken ye’re scared and lost and I dinna blame ye a bit. But we’ll be alright. Dinna fash yerself, a leannan. Lay yer head and rest. I’ll guard ye while ye dream.” 

Lord, that I might be enough… and oh Lord, that they would be safe, Claire and the child… 

Chapter Text

May 1746

In the light of morning, Claire woke in a strange room, in a bed she’d never slept in before last night. And yet her hand still reached for the pillow next to her as her consciousness slowly surfaced. Of course he wasn’t there. They’d never shared this bed, but being back at Lallybroch meant that his presence haunted this place at every turn. It felt wrong that she was here in his family’s home and Jamie wasn’t.  

When she trekked downstairs in the mornings now, she half-expected to see him in the parlor with his arms full with the babies, or at the breakfast table in discussion with Ian and Murtagh.

And of course, any giggle or peep out of her young nieces had Claire’s gaze following the sound, knowing full well she wouldn’t find Faith at the source but still helpless to stop the impulse to check. 

Her logical mind knew they wouldn’t be here, but the places in her mind that were filled with Jamie and Faith could not reconcile this. So much of Lallybroch was painted with memories of them. 

Her one comfort in all of this was Fergus. 

Fergus, who stayed by her side and in his own way told her he would do as Jamie had asked of him many times before; he would look after Claire. 

And Fergus, who was only 11 and still reeling from the loss of Jamie, was in dire need of his own looking after. He was hers to take care of, to mother, to protect. 

So when Ian told him after breakfast one day to get ready for a trip to Broch Morda for supplies, Fergus was hesitant to leave. 

“You can go, Fergus. It’s alright.” 

“No, Milady. I will stay.”

“Fergus,” her tone softened. “I will still be here when you come back. I promise. I’m not going anywhere without you.” She could see his resolve weakening at that so she gave him a quick side-hug and released him with, “Go on then. Go with your uncle.” 

It didn’t strike her until they had left, what she had said. Ian had smiled at her, a little curiously, and left with Fergus, one hand on the boy’s shoulder. 

“Uncle, hmm?” had been how Jenny announced that she had noticed, too. 

She found Jenny’s gaze. “Well, he is, technically… isn’t he?” 

“Och, aye,” Jenny agreed easily. “We kenned before the war that he was yours, when ye and Jamie asked us to… to raise both him and Faith, should anything happen. Ye’ve jest never said it like that, calling Ian his uncle.” 

“There’s a lot that we should’ve said sooner with Fergus.” She swallowed roughly, fighting the urge to cry. The rest remained unspoken ‒ the fear that, with Jamie at least, they might’ve missed a chance to correct this. 

 

 

The rhythm of life at Lallybroch didn’t cease with Claire’s return, though she found herself unsure of her place in it now. Lady Broch Turach no longer, she watched as Jenny ran the house. 

She had been eager to help still, but Jenny had insisted she rest for a few days after her recent journey and in light of her condition.  

Which is how Claire found herself trying to make herself less of a stranger to her small nieces and nephew.

Wee Jamie still held some small spark of recognition for his auntie, and his joy over her return warmed her to the backbone. Little Maggie was reticent and shy around Claire, needing some time and space to make up her mind about her. But fifteen-month-old Kitty, as the youngest of the household, had never known the luxury of having either of her parents’ undivided attention and had grown used to being passed from one set of arms to the next. As such, she’d never been a clingy child and in contrast to her older sister, Kitty warmed up to her Auntie Claire very fast.    

By mid-afternoon, she’d crawled into Claire’s lap and fallen asleep. That was how Mrs. Crook found the two of them when she came to collect the girls for their nap.

“D’ye want me to take her, Mistress?” 

“No.” Claire’s arms tightened ever so slightly around Kitty’s small form. “I’m alright with her. Thank you.” 

Jenny flitted about throughout the day, never quite sitting still, but she paused when she found Claire and Kitty there in the parlor. “That didna take long,” she said warmly, her gaze flicking down to sweet Kitty. 

“She’s quite the character now.” 

“Aye, since she learnt tae speak, she’s kept us laughing.” 

Claire exhaled a soft laugh, her gaze inexorably drawn back to the sleeping girl in her arms. She felt Jenny sink into the seat next to her, and drew in a deep breath. 

“What’s she like now?” Claire asked, her voice trembling as she managed to get the words out. Her eyes flicked up to Jenny to see if she understood that she wasn’t asking about Kitty.

Jenny made a soft, pitying sound and took her time considering how to answer.

“She’s a terribly smart wee thing,” Jenny said at length and despite how Jenny’s words made her ache, Claire also felt the pull of a proud smile. “Always keepin’ me on my toes, that one. And she was always the one in charge, despite Maggie being six months older.  

“And still as stubborn as ever, if no’ more. Took an age tae get her tae sleep wi’out needing to be held.”

Claire’s smile faltered, her thoughts flooded with the nights spent holding Faith in her arms, walking the length of the upper hallway until she fell asleep. She supposed Faith had been a bit of a difficult baby in that regard ‒ she never could fall right to sleep if they laid her down in her cradle. But Faith was their first baby and they’d been too wrapped up in her to try and change that nighttime routine with her. 

Jenny studied her expression. “Ye ken I was the same way with my wee Jamie. Lad never so much as touched the ground until he was well o’er a year. But with all the bairns, I‒” 

“Oh, Jenny, no. I’m not upset or judging you. With all the little ones, you couldn’t possibly…” 

“She only started going to sleep on her own when we let her share a bed with Maggie,” Jenny added.    

“Really?”

“Aye, they were always together when they were awake so we put her in wi’ Maggie one night and then she was happy as a lark.” 

Claire’s gaze dropped again to small Kitty. “They must miss her,” she said softly. “As I’m sure she misses them.” 

“She’s still such a wee darling,” Jenny said after a moment, and Claire felt her heart constrict. “She was always the last one out of bed every morning, but she’d look for me first when she woke, aye? After weeks of that, I… I never felt like my morning really started until after she’d run and found me... given me a hug. I miss that. I miss her‒

She didn’t miss the way Jenny turned away slightly, surreptitiously wiping at her tears. Claire swallowed past the sudden lump on her throat as a heavy silence followed.      

“Ken she’s yer bairn, Claire, but after months of…” Jenny’s eyes were watery but she blinked back more tears and straightened. Claire watched her physically steel herself against the pain. 

“She was yours, during that time. I know that,” Claire whispered tightly, fighting her own rush of tears. For Jenny’s loss. For Faith’s. For her own. “You and Ian were prepared to raise her if… if Jamie and I didn’t make it back. I can never thank you enough.” 

“I’ll accept no thanks for it. She’s blood.” 

“I didn’t mean…” Claire reached for Jenny’s hand, surprised to feel Jenny’s tight squeeze in response. It was hard for both of them, unimaginably so. 

“I wanted ye both to come back for her. I’m no’ saying‒”

“No, of course not,” Claire said firmly. “I only meant that it… it was a comfort to me when we were gone, knowing she was here. Knowing she was loved. Jamie and I couldn’t have entrusted her to anyone else.” 

“I wasna in the house when Murtagh came and fetched her,” Jenny said suddenly, her voice suddenly wooden. “I found out a short while later. Mrs. Crook made a fuss of it but she didn’t stop him.” Her gaze met Claire’s and she saw the pain lurking behind Jenny’s stubborn resolve. “But if it had been me, Claire, he never would’ve gone one step away from here wi’ that child. And I jest keep thinking if I had been here to stop him, mebbe none o’ this would’ve happened. Mebbe Jamie would’ve had tae figure out a different plan if Faith never arrived. And surely ye wouldna have agreed to go anywhere wi’out her.”

“Jenny…” Claire sighed. “I have replayed that day over and over in my mind, wondering how I could’ve changed the outcome. But at the end of the day, it’s wasted energy. Because there’s nothing either of us could do now to change what’s happened. I know you know that.”     

She squeezed Jenny’s hand a little tighter. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” 

“Neither did ye.” 

Jenny’s words surprised her and she let out a humorless laugh. “Not so sure about that‒”

Claire,” Jenny chided sharply. “Ye didna ken what would happen ‒ and how could ye? Would ye have gone if ye had?”

“No, but I‒” 

“Are ye really goin’ tae argue wi’ me o’er the same thing ye just told me no’ to punish myself about?” 

Her mouth snapped shut, no counterargument coming to mind. She’d meant what she said ‒ Jenny should carry no guilt for that day. That didn’t mean the choice of going through the stones that day didn’t weigh heavily on Claire’s conscience. But Jenny was bound and determined to make the same argument on her behalf, she could see.     

“How far along are ye?” Jenny asked when their conversation stalled. 

“Eleven weeks or so. Still so much that can go wrong.” The last sentence came out in a rush. Jenny’s hand held tight to her own, an unspoken understanding passing between them. “In fact, I‒ well, besides when I came through that morning, I haven’t felt sick once and I worry… what if that…” 

“Have ye bled at all?” Jenny cut in, not unkindly but to the point. 

“N-no, but it would take some time still before my body‒” She couldn’t finish the sentence, but Jenny squeezed her hand, seeming to understand. 

“Were ye sick when you went through back tae yer time?” 

“Sick as a dog the entire time I was there. That’s how it had been when I was pregnant with Faith.” 

She hadn’t realized she was crying until Jenny’s hand gently brushed the tears from her face. She hadn’t realized how much she needed to talk to someone about this until the words were spilling out to Jenny, no longer festering under her skin. 

“I’ve been so focused on finding Jamie and Faith the last few weeks that I’ve barely even thought about the baby, but I‒ oh god, I couldn’t bear to lose it !” 

The sobs came then and she was pulled sideways into Jenny’s arms and held there. Kitty stirred but didn’t wake, stretching sleepily in her new position.     

“Dinna talk like that, Claire.” Jenny’s voice was soft and soothing but laced with concern. “Until we ken otherwise, this bairn is jest fine. It’s no use tae spend yer time worrying when it might jest be yer sickness easing up.” 

Rationally, Claire knew this could be the reason… her morning sickness letting up as she approached her second trimester.  

“Ye willna be alone, Claire,” Jenny startled her by speaking right to the heart of her fear, the part she couldn’t possibly put into words without breaking. “No matter what happens to the bairn or to Jamie or Faith. Ye hear me?”

Jamie had said those same words to her once and though she would never quite be whole if she lost any of them, she knew Jamie was still right. He’d seen to it that she had a family who could carry her through even the unthinkable. 

Her free hand came up to grasp Jenny’s arm where it was holding tightly to her. “I hear you.”

 


 

“Milady!” 

“Jenny! Claire!” 

Fergus and Ian’s voices announced their return from Broch Morda late in the day and had both Jenny and Claire hastening out to meet them. 

“What’s happened?” Jenny demanded. 

“There’s a letter for you!” Fergus jumped down from the wagon before Ian had even slowed the horses to full stop. 

“Careful!” Claire scolded, but it was lost on Ian’s next words. 

“Jest have a look at the handwriting.” 

Fergus handed the letter over to Jenny, to whom it was addressed, and Claire had to restrain herself from snatching it from Jenny’s fingers when she caught sight of the familiar, fine penmanship that belonged to her husband. 

 “Jamie…” 

Jenny tore open the letter abruptly and unfolded it while Claire arranged herself at Jenny’s shoulder, peering over at the contents of it. Not a word of it was in English and bits of the Gaelic was lost on Claire. 

“What does it say?” Fergus asked impatiently, but Claire and Jenny were both too engrossed to respond. Instead, Claire slipped an arm around his shoulders and tucked him against her side. 

“That word there ‒ what does that mean?” She pointed. 

Jenny gave her a sideways glance. “Sorcha? It’s… well, it’s you, Claire. It’s yer name in Gàidhlig. He’s written that you’ve gone. That he’s lost ye.” 

She didn’t need a translator for the next sentence written in French. One word jumped out at her and suddenly her vision blurred with tears. It was clear he was trying to be careful; he’d referred to their child as faith, a belief. But he had her. 

There was no way to tell him of her return but somehow just the confirmation that Jamie and Faith were alive and together at the time he’d written gave Claire a sweeping sense of relief.   

“They’re alright,” she breathed out. 

“Where are they?” Fergus asked. 

“He doesna say.” Jenny sighed. 

“Where are they headed?” 

It might’ve been quicker to hand Fergus the letter and let him see for himself, but instead, Jenny scanned it again, as though trying to extract some further message from it. “He doesna say,” she repeated, with no effort to hide her disappointment. 

“He’s being cautious. Especially because of Faith. And he wouldn’t want to put any of your lives in jeopardy by disclosing his plans.”

“But…” Fergus began and then hesitated. When Claire glanced down at him, she could see the concern etched into his expression. His gaze slid up to meet hers. “How will we find them if we don’t know where he is or where he’s going?” 

Claire breathed in deeply. An excellent question, she thought, and one she had no answer to. “Don’t you worry. We’ll… we’ll keep looking.” 

 

 

They went inside, but the contents of the letter stayed top of mind for all as they tried to move about their day. Ian read the letter for himself and then Murtagh read it when he joined them before dinner. In the evening, they gathered in the parlor, and Jamie’s letter ended up in Claire’s hands while the discussion of Jamie and Faith’s whereabouts unfolded around them. 

“He could’ve gone to Leoch.” 

Claire pulled a face at that suggestion from Murtagh. “Surely not after Colum’s death and‒” her gaze broke away to wee Jamie and she couldn’t get the words out of how it had ended with Dougal in front of the little ones. 

“Aye, with both brothers gone, the role of clan chieftain will pass to wee Hamish. Doubt he’d give Jamie much trouble, wee runt that he is. No one there would ken what happened wi’ Dougal MacKenzie. And Jamie does have people there who would be loyal to him and give him shelter if he asked for it.” 

Claire considered it, but only for a moment. “No, he wouldn’t risk it. Colum wanted to remain neutral but Dougal fought in the rebellion with his men and there’s no telling how the British will interpret Clan MacKenzie’s loyalty. Especially in the immediate aftermath, they work tirelessly to squash any trace of rebellion. Besides, if anyone knows of Jamie’s ties to the MacKenzie clan, it would be the next place the Redcoats would look after here.” 

Murtagh only grunted, still considering. 

“I ken how he feels about Lord Lovat, but maybe…” Ian trailed off, staring at Claire. “Have I missed something, Claire?”   

She breathed in briskly. “This hadn’t felt relevant when I shared my story with you all, but… Lord Lovat will be executed as a traitor by the British for his involvement in the rising. There was a… Well. Let’s just say I knew of this before Culloden, but I found confirmation of Lord Lovat’s execution when I returned to my time, while I looked for Jamie. And Jamie knows about his grandfather’s death, too. He won’t bring Faith there, even if they are family.” 

Jenny took the news of her grandsire in stride while Ian cleared his throat awkwardly, not sure how to move on from that piece of news. 

“More likely he’ll go where no one kens him,” Murtagh said softly, his gaze on the fire. “If he canna turn to family without risk involved.” 

Claire didn’t miss the way Fergus’s face fell at this pronouncement. He had picked a spot on the floor, away from everyone else and closer to the fire, but his attention to their conversation was completely present. 

She’d never seen him so morose before, but she understood perfectly why he felt so hopeless ‒ it was a daily battle of her own not to give in to the feeling. 

“Fergus, come sit by me,” she called to him. 

He went without any resistance and sunk into the spot next to her on the sofa. Claire pulled him closer and his head leaned against her shoulder. “It’ll be alright, love,” she murmured quietly. 

“Can I see this?” he asked, ignoring her comment. 

“Yes, of course.” With a sad smile, she handed over the letter to him and then let her attention drift back to the conversation at hand. 

Fergus pored over the contents of the letter and, like everyone else, found nothing new to glean from it. Clearly frustrated, he began to fidget with the letter, using the weight of the wax seal on one end to flip the paper back and forth, open and then folded shut.

Claire watched him, unable to ignore the movement from the corner of her eye. Something clicked in her brain and her hand shot out, stopping Fergus. The red wax seal faced up to both of them and Fergus glanced curiously at Claire. 

“I’ve seen this seal before.” 

She said it quietly enough that none of the others heard it ‒ she’d said it mostly to herself but Fergus had caught it, too. 

Where have I seen this seal before?” 

Fergus took a deep breath, his whole demeanor shifting. “Is it not Milord’s?” 

“No, it’s not his. But it’s familiar, somehow…” 

“If you remember, it could help us find them, non?”        

She frowned slightly at it. “Perhaps. If I remember.” 

 


 

That night she dreamt of the World War, of being back in the field hospitals tending to wounded soldiers. But she was looking for someone in particular as she checked the cots of the wounded. Suddenly, someone tugged on her arm and she turned, finding Mary Hawkins at her side, clad in the same dress she’d worn that day at the apothecary in Inverness.   

“Please, Claire, you have to help him!” Claire could see Alex Randall suddenly, laid out on a cot just behind Mary. A nurse was pulling a sheet over his head, already gone. “He’s dying!” 

“I’m sorry, Mary. There’s nothing I can do.” There was an urgency, an almost physical push for Claire to leave that she couldn’t define. “I have to find my husband.” 

Claire woke with a start and laid very still in the dark room. For a moment, her mind struggled to place that room, and which year she resided in. She curled up on her side and breathed in deeply, the details of her dream already starting to fade. But seeing Mary, someone from this time, plopped into the middle of 1943 was hard to forget. And the powerlessness she’d felt of being unable to cure poor Alex…

Her eyes flew open again and stared through the darkness.  

She had seen the seal before. Three weeks ago on Alex Randall’s desk. 



“Randall?” Murtagh scowled. 

Alex Randall, yes.” Claire handed the letter to him. “During one of the times I tended to him in Inverness, I wrote out a list for Mary of what she could give Alex to keep him comfortable and help him rest. The seal was there. He must’ve recently written a letter ‒ or Mary.” 

“And ye’re sure? Ye ken it’s the same as this one and no’ just because ye dreamed it?” 

Claire, on some level, understood his skepticism, but she leveled an irritated gaze at him for that remark all the same. “Yes, I’m sure.”    

“What the devil would Jamie be doing wi’ a dead man’s seal? Wi’ a Randall’s seal?” 

“Not Alex,” Claire murmured, noticing the sounds of little ones up in the hallway. It wouldn’t be long before the family joined them. “But what about Mary?”

Murtagh gave a soft grunt, considering this. 

“She would’ve still been in Inverness,” Claire pressed. “And Jamie knew this. What if he stopped there first after the stones?”

Murtagh looked doubtful of that possibility but he didn’t say anything. 

“How else would Jamie have used this seal, hmm?” She pressed the issue, feeling for the first time a sense of hope. They had a direction, at least. They knew where to start. If Mary was still in Inverness, they had someone to question who likely saw Jamie and Faith after Culloden.

“Suppose we head for Inverness and we’re wrong about the seal. What then?” 

Claire gave a helpless shrug. “We don’t have anything else to go on. If not Inverness, where else would we look that wouldn’t be a complete guess?”   

 


 

In 4 days’ time, they were packing up from Lallybroch to head for Inverness. 

For Claire, that meant grabbing what she would need for the journey, but also what she could bring should she find Jamie and Faith. When they’d left from Lallybroch the last time, there were plenty of their things they’d left behind, like Jamie’s mother’s pearls that he’d given to Claire on their wedding night. 

She packed her maternity stays she’d worn in Paris, uncertain of where she’d be when the need arose for them again. She stilled in her packing at that thought. She had no idea where she’d be when the baby came, either, and that thought was terrifying. Digging into a chest in the Laird’s room, she unearthed some of Faith’s clothing from when she was a tiny baby. They’d packed them away last year ‒ was it only last year? ‒ with the unspoken hope between her and Jamie that they’d have a reason to use them again someday. 

Her fingers toyed with the fabric of one simple white nightgown. These were such imperfect circumstances to bring a baby into, but then again… Faith had entered the world amidst equally imperfect circumstances. Claire knew she could do it, if she had to… raise the baby on her own. But oh, the thought of this baby never knowing Jamie or Faith broke her heart clean in two. 

A light rap on the door startled Claire and she turned to see Jenny with a few of Faith’s things ‒ her doll, a blanket, and the wooden box that Claire knew held 12 apostle spoons. 

“Are you sure about that one?” She gestured to the box. “I know that’s a family heirloom.” 

“It was Faith’s christening gift. It should be returned to Faith.”    

Claire smiled faintly, bolstered slightly by Jenny’s unwavering belief that wherever this journey ended, Faith and Jamie would be there. 



 

“All set, then?” Claire poked her head into Fergus’s room. The boy was finishing up packing his things neatly into his pack as Jamie had shown him. He’d been different the last few days, since she’d remembered about the seal. Since they had a direction in mind to begin. Hope had returned for him and no shortage of determination as well. 

“Oui, Milady. Just about.” 

His wooden swords leaned against the wall in one corner. He’d already decided that those would go to wee Jamie, that they were too bulky to bring along and that he was too old for them now anyway. 

But Claire felt a soft swell of relief to see him tucking his carved horse into his bag to take with him. He was growing up much too quickly, but he hadn’t outgrown her and for that, she was grateful.    

“Are you sad to leave this behind? It’s been your room for a while.” 

Fergus glanced over the room and gave a small shrug. “It’s only a room.”

She thought of all the places they’d lived over the two years that Fergus had been with them ‒ Jared’s place, Lallybroch, drafty cottages and flimsy tents dotted all along Scotland and England. They’d given him an upbringing not unlike what she’d had with her Uncle Lamb, and with it, an untethered understanding of home. 

“You’re right, it’s only a room.” 

She reached an arm out to him as he slung his pack over his shoulder, and they walked out of the room together with his shoulder tucked into her side. 

 

 

“Ye have everything then?” 

“Think so.” 

Claire looked up from adjusting her saddlebag with last-minute provisions and saw Jenny standing there, arms folded across her chest.  

She’d said her goodbyes to wee Jamie, Maggie, and Kitty already, which was harder for a second time, having felt as though she’d only gotten to know them again just to leave them, never knowing when ‒ or even if ‒ she might see them next.

Murtagh and Fergus were securing the last of the packs to Murtagh’s horse so she and Jenny had a moment to themselves. 

“I feel like we just did this, saying our goodbyes,” Claire said ruefully. 

Jenny pulled her into a tight hug. “Aye, weel, the two o’ ye never can seem to stay out o’ trouble.” 

She gave Jenny a squeeze before releasing her. 

“Take care of yerself, sister. And I don’t jest mean because o’ the bairn. Though…” her hand came to rest on Claire’s stomach over the layers of her skirts. “Do take care o’ this one as well.” 

“I will. And I’ll send word as soon as I know anything. I promise.” 

Jenny smiled appreciatively at that, though Claire knew in this century, it would take weeks if not months for the news to arrive. It hardly felt right in these circumstances to leave their family waiting that long without word, but they didn’t know anything different than the snail’s pace of correspondence. 

“If I find them‒”

When ye find them,” Jenny corrected her. The only time she’d even hinted at the possibility of losing Jamie and Faith had been that day in the parlor, and only to assure Claire that they would support her.  

“When I do … it will still be a while that the British occupy the Highlands. I don’t know when it will be safe to return to Lallybroch, but it might not be for a long while.” 

“I ken that.” Jenny’s expression was strong and unshakable but Claire knew… the reality of what stretched out before them even if they found Jamie quickly still meant that the Murrays might not see them for years. Might not see them ever again, even. “Dinna bring them home if it’s no’ safe. We understand.” 

Claire nodded. It didn’t mean it wouldn’t hurt like hell to be apart. She pulled Jenny back in for a last hug, murmuring a quiet apology against her shoulder, and hoping that Jenny knew that she understood what Jenny was losing, too. What she’d already lost. Faith had lived under Lallybroch’s roof since she was four months old. And for eight months, she’d been entrusted solely to Jenny and Ian. It wasn’t just Jenny’s only remaining brother that was missing, likely not to return any time soon, but the niece who was also a little more than that.   

“She’ll know about how you felt about her morning greetings,” Claire found herself saying. “I’ll tell her everything about her life here, including what you shared with me from the last several months. She’ll know it all, I promise.” 

Murtagh and Fergus were hovering awkwardly nearby, having loaded everything onto the two horses they were taking ‒ Murtagh’s and the horse Claire had bought in Inverness. She released Jenny in time to see Ian making his way out to say goodbye to them. 

“C’mere, lad,” Jenny beckoned Fergus to her. “Come say goodbye to yer auntie then.” 

Claire turned to Ian, at a loss for what to say. He smiled at her, a touch sadly, and pulled her into a hug. “Take care o’ yer Fraser, aye?” 

She felt her vision burn with tears, remembering how they’d parted last year. “I will,” she said, her voice raspy. “And you take care of yours. Take extra good care of her, please.” 

Ian’s response was to squeeze her tighter. She sighed and finally released him, seeing that Jenny was laying into Murtagh what seemed to be instructions for looking out for her and Fergus. Murtagh appeared less than thrilled, but wisely only grunted in acknowledgement. 

When everyone had said their goodbyes, it was time to leave. Claire turned to Fergus and tilted her head in the direction of the horses. “Your choice. You can ride with me or with Murtagh.” 

“I will start the journey with Murtagh,” Fergus said decidedly. “And when he gets too grumpy, I will ride with you, Milady.” 

His words broke the heavy feeling in their group as laughter rippled out. 

“I dinna have to let ye ride wi’ me,” Murtagh fired back, though his eyes danced with merriment as he mounted his horse and extended a hand to Fergus to help him up. 

Ian offered Claire a hand as she mounted her horse. She turned to Murtagh and Fergus. “Ready?” 

Murtagh gave a curt nod, and Fergus from his perch behind Murtagh gave Claire a determined nod of his own. Claire gave her horse a firm kick and they were off. 

This time, when they cleared the gates, Claire looked back. She wanted to remember seeing Jenny and Ian by the front steps waving goodbye, and how Lallybroch looked in the early May light with the rest of the world all green around it. For as long as she lived, if she never saw it again, it would live always in her memory just like this. The first place that felt like home.  

But it’s only a place, she reminded herself. Though she couldn’t find it within herself to feel completely as Fergus did, as she might’ve when she were younger. Lallybroch was home for a while. And the Murrays were family. 

But home would be if‒ no, when… home would be when she found Jamie and Faith, with Fergus and Murtagh with them, and their little family wouldn’t be separated for the first time since last August. Home would be back together again. 

Jamie and Faith were out there somewhere. All they had to do was find them.    

Chapter Text

April 17, 1746

Jamie straightened his shirt and tied the stock at his neck. The new shirt didn’t fit him exactly, tight in the arms and chest, but it would have to do. He caught a glimpse of himself in the small mirror sitting atop the bureau and the sight of his dark locks still gave him a shock. Even less of a shock but still noticeable to him was the sight of his clean-shaven face. He looked rather boyish and perhaps that was for the best, as much as he hated the look. He’d have to keep up with the shaving as diligently as he did with the natural hair dye.

“A leannan, are ye ready to go?”

He turned to see Faith perk up at those words. She wore a simple gown that Mary had managed to find the day before, and he’d helped Faith with her stockings and shoes only a few minutes ago but noticed one foot was already shoe-less. “Faith, where is yer shoe?”

She looked about the room, as if it had only occurred to her then that one was missing. “Dinna ken.”

He found it quickly, just on the floor by the side of the bed, and knelt in front of Faith to slip it back on her wee foot. He felt her hands come to rest on his shoulders to steady herself while she stood momentarily on one foot. It was a small moment ‒ just the act of helping this wee lass with her shoe ‒ but his heart squeezed all the same, for the simple trust she had in him to help her. Their heads were bent right next to each other’s so once he’d straightened her shoe, he lifted his head and gave her cheek a kiss.

She smiled and stamped her foot down excitedly.

“Aye, ye ready tae go now?” He laughed, pushing one stubborn red curl off her forehead and back behind her bonnet. “There. Now ye’re ready.”

 

They left from Inverness in a coach bound for Edinburgh, having discussed the plan with Mary the night before. Unsure of what to do with Donas, Jamie had arranged to have him hitched to the back of the coach.

They were jounced along in the coach as the wheels turned over the rough terrain of the main road from Inverness. Jamie had forgotten how it felt, having not stepped foot in a carriage since Paris. Faith wasn’t too keen on it, either, since all the jostling about meant that she couldn’t move around. Instead, she was stuck in Jamie’s lap or on the seat next to him.

Mary sat across from them and stared out the window. When the coach lurched suddenly, she grabbed her belly subconsciously.

Jamie had almost forgotten in his haste to make a new plan yesterday: she carried Alex Randall’s child ‒ more than that, she carried within her the start of a line that ended 200 years from now, with the man Jamie had just returned Claire to.

It was an odd realization, and though he held no ill feelings towards Mary, he did inwardly curse the twisted, tangled ties between his family and the Randalls.

On a particularly rough bump, Mary grabbed her belly and this time caught Jamie’s eye and quickly looked away, her face aflame.

Oh, aye, he wasn’t supposed to know about the baby. She wasn’t supposed to have a baby to think of yet, having only married Randall less than a week ago.

“Claire told me ye were wi’ child,” he offered, his tone purposefully light. She visibly relaxed at those words but didn’t say anything. Perhaps she’d assumed he would have judged her harshly for the child that was clearly conceived out of wedlock, but she’d never understand the necessity of this baby’s life to Jamie, how the child was part of the pattern that brought Claire into his life, that ensured there would be someone to care for her back in her time.

“I’m glad ye’ll have a piece of him with ye.”

Mary smiled sadly, her gaze flickering to Faith with a knowing look. His piece of Claire. She looked out the window again, glassy-eyed, and he inwardly chided himself for even bringing the baby up. After all… she’d lost her love less than a week ago. One look at Mary Hawkins Randall was all it took to see she was barely hanging on.

 

There was a shout from the front of the carriage and a sudden lurch as the horses began to slow. They were stopping.

“S-s-soldiers,” Mary uttered, catching sight of something out the window.

He grabbed hold of Faith and swiftly moved to the other side of the carriage, taking the seat beside Mary. “Hold her,” he said quietly, passing Faith into Mary’s lap. “And dinna be afraid,” he added, noting her ghostly pallor. “We’ll be alright.”

He didn’t have the benefit of hiding his dirk in the folds of his kilt, but he drew it from its sheath and obscured it from view under the folds of Mary’s dress where it fanned out onto the seat between them.

They could hear voices ahead of them and it seemed an eternity that they waited for the Redcoats to finish addressing the coachman.

Finally, a soldier appeared through the windows and flung open the carriage door on the side closest to Jamie.

Jamie felt Mary flinch at his side. Ah Dhia...

“Mister and Mistress Mayfield?”

“Y-yes,” Mary answered after a moment. The name had been her suggestion ‒ her mother’s family’s name ‒ and it had sounded English enough to Jamie.

The man’s gaze flicked briefly between Jamie and Mary before addressing Jamie again. “Coachman says you are traveling to Edinburgh.”

“Y-y-yes, that’s c-c-c-correct.”

The soldier shot Mary an exasperated look before he swung his gaze curiously back to Jamie, who kept his expression neutral but tightened his grip on the blade.

“Do you always let your woman speak for you, sir?”

“H-he can-can-can’t s-s-s-speak‒”

Each stutter of Mary’s tongue was painful as she struggled to get the words out under the gaze of the increasingly irritated soldier. “Right, and neither can you from the sounds of it,” he muttered. The man eyed Jamie with obvious doubtfulness and turned suddenly, disappearing from the carriage doorway. The murmured voices of the soldier speaking with another filtered in through the open carriage, but Jamie couldn’t make out what they were saying.

He rolled his jaw tensely, and glanced at Mary, trying to give reassurance with only a look, but Mary kept her head down, her attention turned to Faith.

The soldier returned a moment later, his comrade standing at his shoulder, and asked a few more questions about who they were, where they were going, why they were here, and why Jamie couldn’t speak. Each question was answered painstakingly by Mary, whose stutter became more pronounced under the soldiers’ obvious frustration.

They had prepared for an encounter such as this, but it stretched out painfully and stirred up an anxious feeling in his gut. Jamie was tensed and ready, watchful of the soldiers. He had no idea if there were more with them, ahead of the carriage and blocked from his line of sight.

Faith squirmed in Mary’s lap suddenly, trying to slide to the floor, but Mary gripped her tight. “N-n-n-not just yet,” she said softly to the girl.

Faith whined and fired back a quick “no” of her own, and Jamie felt his pulse thrumming in his ears. She hadn’t spoken much, but she did have a distinct Highland lilt to her voice that could be heard if she spoke further.

Mary began to look panicked, struggling to control Faith in front of the soldiers, and Jamie released his hold of the dirk in favor of plucking Faith from Mary’s grasp. He bounced the toddler on his knee and silently prayed to God she would keep still and silent.

“Is that red hair that she has?”

Jamie felt all the breath leave his lungs at the soldier’s words. In all the movement, that wayward curl had slipped free from Faith’s bonnet and fallen across her forehead.

“M-m-m-m-my m-m-m-m‒” Mary tried to jump in with an explanation.

Christ,” the soldier swore under his breath. “Haven’t got all day to listen to this half-wit,” he turned and said to his companion, though all of them heard loud and clear. Mary made a choked sound at Jamie’s side, but he wouldn’t tear his eyes off of the soldiers.

The man turned back to them with a keen glance between Jamie, Mary, and Faith. Finally, his gaze settled on Jamie and he addressed him, “You sure that child is yours?”

The man smirked then, seeing he’d ruffled Jamie’s feathers, and Jamie’s hand tightened possessively around Faith. “You’re free to go, but I’ll warn you to be careful in these parts. Highlanders will kill you on sight if they know you’re English. Absolute barbarians, they are. Best of luck on your journey.”

And with that, the soldier closed the carriage door and signaled to the coachman that they could leave. The carriage jolted forward and Mary exhaled shakily. “That was b-bloody close,” she said in a tight whisper, and Jamie’s gaze snapped to her in surprise at hearing her curse.

“Ye did well, Mary. I’m only sorry ye had to deal with them at all. Are ye alright?”

Her hands were clasped so tight in her lap that her knuckles were bone-white. “Yes.”

After a moment, she added, “It gets worse w-when I’m upset. My s-st-stutter.”

“Aye, I figured as much. It’s understandable. And it doesna mean ye’re half-witted. Ye canna believe him.”

Mary nodded slightly at this and her gaze shifted out the window. He took that opportunity to move back over to the seat across from her, giving her space.

“And you, a leannan,” he murmured to Faith, adjusting her in his arms to try and encourage her to rest her head. Lord, he had thought for a moment there that they would’ve been found out. His racing heart still hadn’t settled. “Lay yer head, lass. Rest, if ye can.”

She curled in at his neck and sighed heavily. Only a few minutes later, she was asleep.

 

The coach stopped at dusk at a tavern along the way. They had been riding in the carriage since they left Inverness that morning and had stopped very few times to stretch their legs and relieve themselves.

Jamie’s body felt stiff and achy as he stepped out of the carriage with Faith in one arm and turned to help Mary down.

The coachman told them what time they would be leaving in the morning and then they were on their own. The tavern was half-populated and not much to look at, but it was warm and there was a hot meal ready for them when they asked.

It wasn’t the same one he’d visited with Claire, when the weather had turned too cold and his troops had taken shelter indoors, so he wasn’t sure why he’d thought of it ‒ and her ‒ as he took in his surroundings.

I miss her…

He could hear her pained voice from that night as clear as a bell, and the guilt and grief stormed his chest once more. And, God, did he miss Claire more than anything else.

 

Their room for the night was nicer than he expected ‒ though after eight months at war, Jamie might’ve easily been impressed with a field to sleep in, out under the stars. There was a bed as well as chairs by the fireplace ‒ all looking a little worse for wear but still acceptable. Along one wall was a door which led into a small washroom with an empty tub, a chamber pot, and a small pitcher and basin for washing.

“Spot by the hearth is fine enough for me and Faith tonight,” Jamie said decidedly.

Mary glanced toward the bed. “Faith could share with m-me, I don’t mind.”

He smiled gently at that. “Tis verra kind of ye. But I want to be the one that cares for her, since…” His gaze dropped to Faith, still in his arms, and he struggled to get the words out ‒ that Claire was truly gone. “Since I’m all she has left. And if she wakes, I want tae be there.”

Mary nodded at that and murmured something about cleaning up before disappearing into the back washroom.

Faith appeared to be leached of energy from the full day of traveling and hardly put up a fight when Jamie slipped her out of her travel clothes and into a nightgown. “There, isna that better?”

She rubbed one eye with the back of her hand and sighed, refusing to answer. She’d been chatty at supper but had hardly made a peep since they’d been shown to their room.

“My puir wean,” he chuckled lightly. “Ye look half-asleep on yer feet. Let’s wash up and then ye can rest, mo chridhe.”

He helped her wash up and then splashed his own face and neck with water to wipe away the grit and grime of the day. Mary had already settled in bed for the night so he guided Faith over by the fire where Mary had sensibly provided a pillow and one of the blankets from the bed for them, on top of the thick rug that was already laid there.

In consideration of Mary, Jamie had only removed his waistcoat and stock, and untucked his sark for sleep. He stretched out on the floor and encouraged Faith to lay down. She paced around him before flopping down at his side and letting her head fall on his chest. He rubbed a hand over her back lightly.

“How about a story, lass?” He didn’t wait for Faith’s response, already committed to telling her, but Faith curled up on his chest and seemed ready to listen all the same. “I promised ye I’d tell ye about yer mam.”

My mam…” Faith echoed softly, tiredly, and his heart clenched to hear her say it.

“Aye, that’s right. Yer mam loves ye so much, a leannan.” He ran his fingers gently over her short wispy curls.

He thought of the moment earlier with the soldiers and a nameless fear he couldn’t identify then.

“Faith,” he said suddenly, “Ye ken… ye ken I’m yer da, aye?” He’d never said it, not in the two days since Murtagh had brought her back into his life and fate had conspired to keep her there with him. She lifted her head and looked at him. “I’m yer da,” he repeated softly, feeling oddly nervous and vulnerable.

Faith dropped her head back onto his chest and was overtaken by a big yawn, nuzzling into Jamie on the exhale. Somehow that was enough. Yes, she knew.

He told her everything he could of the moment he met Claire, mindful that Mary might still be awake and listening, and everything that happened in their early days of friendship at Leoch and falling in love with her. Faith didn’t last long into the tale before sleep claimed her.

At some point before falling asleep, she had shifted so that her whole body was laid along his torso, her head pillowed up by his shoulder.

His hand settled on her back so that he would feel if she started to roll off.

“Used tae be so wee I could hold all of ye in one hand,” he murmured to his sleeping child. “Ye’re so grown, Faith. Hadna realized all that I missed.” He swallowed thickly, feeling a maelstrom of emotion in his chest. “I didna wish tae separate ye both ‒ you ken that. But I… I dinna take it for granted, a nighean… that I get tae be the one that’s wi’ ye now.”

 


 

A loud thud startled him from sleep and he sat up swiftly, clutching Faith as he did, but of course she was roused, too.

His first realization was that it hadn’t grown dark in the room ‒ the fire was still blazing in the hearth ‒ so he must not have been asleep for too long.

His second realization was that the sound had come from someone busting the door of their room open.

Standing there in the open doorway was a ghost of Jamie’s past. Someone Claire had promised would die yesterday, on the battlefield of Culloden.

Mary scrambled out of bed with a scream, landing on the side away from the door, as Jamie stood to his feet. Black Jack Randall took that time to wander into the room and close the door behind him.

“You both look rather shocked. Hmm? Didn’t expect that I’d come after you?”

“Y-y-y-you died…” Mary looked from Randall to Jamie.

“Mary,” Jamie said evenly, never breaking eye contact with Randall, “take her into the other room.”

He’d shifted towards her so Mary could grab Faith. Not needing further coaxing, Mary and Faith disappeared into the back room.

“I must say, for as much of a fuss as you’ve made over your beloved wife before, it was surprising to learn you’d taken mine away right under my nose.” Randall’s tone was dripping with disdain, his eyes ablaze with maddening fury.

Jamie stepped carefully back towards the fire, towards where he’d left his blade within reach while he’d slept. His mind was still reeling and he wasn’t up for Randall’s mind games.

Nevertheless, Randall pressed on, looking half-crazed as he came more into the light. “What happened, Fraser? Your wife realized she couldn’t actually forgive you? Couldn’t even bear to take your child with her when she left?”

Jamie saw red at those words, could hear his own pulse echoing in his ears. “Ye willna speak of my wife or my child ever again.”

Randall was advancing on him, armed with his own sword.

“Did ye no’ even fight in the battle then?” Jamie asked, trying to distract him. Claire said he would die there, and yet…

Randall bristled at the insinuation. “I fought,” he spat. It was then Jamie noticed the slight gash on the side of Randall’s head. The blood had crusted over, no longer bleeding, but the wound was there. “But where were you? Hmm? Fleeing the battle and stealing Mary away. That’s my brother’s child she’s carrying!”

 


 

Mary latched the door as soon as it shut, plunging her and Faith into complete darkness. There were no windows and she hadn’t thought to grab a candle. But the latch on the other door hadn’t stopped him from breaking into their room tonight, she realized. Shifting Faith to one hip, she began to feel about the small room for any sort of weapon. Her choices were severely limited and she’d started to search for something heavy in lieu of dangerous when her fingers felt Jamie’s straight razor. That would have to do.

She set Faith down in the farthest corner from the door. Grumpy and confused, the small child began to whimper. “D-d-don’t cry, Faith.” Mary flipped open the blade and went to stand in front of Faith. Just then, she heard John’s voice raise and his words sent a chill down her spine ‒ That’s my brother’s child she’s carrying.

Her free hand went to her curved belly ‒ her last piece of Alex. She couldn’t shake the image of John on the day she’d had to marry him, the day she lost Alex. The way he’d acted… the way his voice raised now. She wouldn’t let him near her child. She couldn’t.

She was vaguely aware of Faith’s small hands grabbing fistfulls of her robe to hold onto her. A sweet innocent child, and the only thing between her and the man Mary most feared was Mary herself.

Something loud crashed outside the room, and she could no longer hear any voices. Only the sounds of a scuffle. She reached behind her and stroked Faith’s hair, hoping to soothe the child, but unable to turn from the door. She held the razor in hand in case it was needed.

It felt like an eternity in that small room before it grew uncomfortably quiet. No sounds from out there.

Until someone tried the door and Mary nearly jumped out of her skin, pressing Faith further behind her.

“Mary? It’s me. Ye can unlock the door but dinna let Faith out here yet.”

“Is-is he‒?”

“Gone. That is, I need to move the… the body.”

Relief swamped her and she let out the breath she’d been holding.

“Are ye alright in there?”

“Yes. We’re b-both fine.” She closed the straight razor with shaking hands and placed it back by the water pitcher.

“Good. I’ll let ye ken when it’s safe tae come out.”

 


 

Jamie stood in the center of the room, looking down at Randall’s lifeless body. And though it had been Randall that came after him, a death at Jamie’s own hands was still a death on his conscience. A stain on his already dark soul. But he’d do it again in a heartbeat to protect any member of his family, and so he felt absolved of this sin through that divine responsibility alone.

It wasn’t very late in the night ‒ all three of them had been too tired after supper to stay up and went to sleep early, and Randall had found them not long after. He could still hear the indistinct voices and movement from the first floor of the tavern below, so others were still up.

So he couldn’t bring the body out of the room without notice.

And he wouldn’t dare leave it in the room where it could be found the next morning and endanger Mary and Faith if anyone sought after them.

Window it is, then.

He unlatched the window and pushed it open, peering out to see what lay below. The window faced the back of the tavern by where the horses were tied, but directly below the window was nothing but ground. Beyond the small stable was a stretch of trees and, yes, he’d have to be careful, but he could go around back and move the body out toward those trees. No one would be any wiser and it might be a few days at least before anyone found Randall.

 


 

“Mary?” He called out, trying the door to the back room and finding it unlatched this time.

“Here,” she said quietly, her voice enveloped in darkness. He held a candle out towards the sound and saw her seated in the corner with Faith curled up in her lap.

“Is she asleep?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’ve… taken care of it, but I’ll need yer help cleaning up. Be best if Faith didna see it.”

He set the candle down and carefully gathered Faith before helping Mary to her feet.

The room was in disarray but the greatest concern at the moment was the small pool of blood on the floor.

Jamie set Faith down on the bed for the time being. She curled up into a ball on top of the covers and sighed, never fully waking. He thanked his lucky stars that she had been spared from any further distress on this evening, and with any further luck, she wouldn’t even remember this night in years to come.

His hand smoothed over Faith’s curls. He’d never wanted a bastard such as Randall to even lay eyes on her, but the one comfort to him was that he’d taken Randall out of this world with his own two hands shortly after.

He thought of Fergus then, too, and his throat constricted. He wanted to tell the lad that the monster no longer drew breath, that he had seen to it himself that they would never be tormented by Randall again.

Mary’s gasp pulled him from his thoughts. “You’re injured!”

He looked down at his right arm where a bright red stain had soaked through his white shirt. “Aye,” he acknowledged, tilting his head toward the fire where a kettle was boiling strips of fabric. “That’s what the clean bandages are for.”

Mary took this in stride, and he remembered that she’d spent plenty of time volunteering with Claire at the hospital in Paris. She’d probably heard stranger things than boiling rags from his wife.

“We should take care of that first, before the room. And you’ll need to clean that shirt.”

He was surprised at first to see she meant to help him, but reckoned he couldn’t tie a bandage around his own arm one-handed.

“Aye,” he agreed, digging out his flask of whiskey. “Wash it out with this first.”

He peeled off his shirt and was able to see how deep the gash in his arm went. Claire might’ve stitched it up, but they didn’t have Claire here with them. Only a moment later did he consider how his being shirtless might’ve made Mary uncomfortable ‒ he recalled the way Claire first spoke of her in Paris, as an innocent, naive girl ‒ but she went about cleaning his wound with a detached professionalism, no longer scandalized by the sight of a half-naked man. Still only a young lass at seventeen, but the years since had changed her from that first introduction.

“She’d be furious at me, if she could see me now,” Jamie offered up in the silence.

Mary snorted softly at that, her brows relaxing slightly from their furrowed concentration. He peeked over at Faith where she was still curled up on top of the bed. “I worry…” he began and then stopped, deciding it was perhaps not something Mary would want to discuss just yet.

“What?” she prodded, pausing in her work.

“I worry that I canna keep Claire alive for her. Even telling her stories… it’s no’ the same as having memories. Faith will ken as much about her mother as I can tell her, but it’s no’ the same as knowing a person, knowing what they’d say tae ye. I ken exactly the look Claire would have for me, the way she’d scold me. Faith willna have that same knowledge.”

Mary didn’t respond, but she sighed heavily and he knew. It was the same for her. In the months to come, she would bear a child that would never know his father.

“But we do what we can, I suppose,” Jamie said quietly. He was growing used to her quietness and filling in the silences.

Mary pressed a large bandage over the wound when she was done and tied it as tight as she could manage.

“Thank ye,” he said and stood, going to wash his shirt in the back room.

She made a small sound, both alarmed and horrified, and he realized he’d turned his back to her, giving her full view of his scars.

He turned, finding her looking away now as though she hadn’t seen. But the shock was there on her face. The pity. His skin prickled. “It was Randall,” he said tersely, and turned and left.

 

Jamie emerged from the back room later, having cleaned the blood from his shirt as best he could, to find Mary straightening the room. “You t-told me he died b-before the battle…”

His stomach twisted into knots. So it was time for that conversation. Only he couldn’t tell her the truth of the matter. “I thought… I thought he had died. I didna mean to mislead ye, I promise.”

Her hands fiddled with a rag, twisting and folding it and unringing it. “How did he-he find us?”

Jamie sighed, piecing together what made sense from what little Randall had shared. “Seems he returned tae the boarding house some time after we left. Must’ve learnt about the coach and followed after it.”

She appeared visibly shaken ‒ and he couldn’t say he blamed her ‒ but she nodded at that and went back to cleaning up the room.

They worked in silence until the room had been returned to its former state.

“I thought he was a kind man, when I first met him,” Mary said suddenly, as if the words needed to get out. She sunk into the closest chair and Jamie took the other. “H-he was so kind to Alex and he paid for everything once Alex couldn’t work any longer.”

“Ye had no reason to believe otherwise.”

And ye likely dinna ken the whole truth of him still, he thought.

“N-not until it was too late. I saw the way he talked to Claire, and-and when Alex died, how he‒” Mary shook her head abruptly, no doubt reliving the moment.

“I’m sorry for what ye went through, lass,” he said earnestly, though it only added to his relief that the nightmare had ended for more than just his own family.

“When he showed up h-here, I thought… that was it. If he got to me, I’d never get away again. I hid in that room with Faith and your straight razor in case he got through, but I‒” Mary swallowed roughly. “Well. A lot of good that would’ve done, anyway,” she said wryly.

“Ye’re verra brave, Mary. More brave than ye get credit for. I canna forget what ye did tae that bastard at Bellmont last winter ‒ and rightly so. I wouldna want to cross ye while ye wielded a blade.”

Mary let out a surprised laugh at that. “Yes, a terrifying prospect,” she joked.

“I mean it. I’m proud tae call ye my friend. And I thank ye for protecting Faith as ye did, truly. I ken what you’re risking tae help us.”

She smiled awkwardly, and seemed to struggle for a response. He got the impression then that she wasn’t used to such praise. That was the thing he was starting to see clearly about Mary ‒ everyone underestimated her on account of her stutter, her size, her reserved nature. Foolish, really, considering that she’d had strength enough to face one of her attackers and bravery to look a British soldier in the eye and lie to him while sitting next to Red Jamie.

“Well,” he added with some finality in his tone, “It’s gotten rather late and we’ve another long day of traveling ahead of us. I’ll leave ye to yer rest.”

Mary murmured her agreement, both of them feeling the weight of the day in that moment. He gathered Faith from Mary’s bed and carried her over to their spot by the hearth.

Jamie settled Faith on the floor, her head on the pillow, and gently arranged himself next to her, laying on his uninjured side. His arm slung across her protectively, sheltering her, and he pressed a kiss to the crown of her head.

His last thought before sleep, as it had been the night before, was of Claire. I’ll see that our lass is safe, Sassenach. No matter what comes.

Chapter Text

There were three things Claire was keenly aware of in that moment. First, that they were weeks behind Jamie and the gap of time seemed to stretch out ahead of them like the horizon ‒ something they’d never quite reach. The second was the gentle weight of Fergus’s head resting against her shoulder blade while he held loosely to her as their horse kept pace just behind Murtagh’s. She hated to move Fergus, and to stall their progress in closing the gap, but the third thing she was aware of was her bladder getting squished ‒ yet again ‒ as her body tried to accommodate its steadily growing inhabitant.

“Wait!” she called ahead to Murtagh as she started to slow her horse’s pace. Murtagh’s head whipped back frantically, but seeing no present sign of danger, there was a flash of irritation on his face ‒ but only for a moment. He slowed to a stop.

“I’ll be quick.”

Fergus slipped off the horse first and grabbed the reins so Claire could dismount. She did hurry, but the frequent breaks surely weren’t helping them catch up.

Inverness had been a bitter disappointment, to learn that Jamie and Faith had left the very next morning after Culloden and taken Mary with them. They were chasing after ghosts, not knowing the plan or final destination. The matron of the boarding house had only been able to give them the direction that the carriage left in, and from there, their search party stopped at every village, small town, and tavern along the way to inquire if a coach had passed through about 3 weeks ago.

The faint thrill of confirming Claire’s suspicion that Jamie had gone to Inverness first had quickly waned as they cobbled together some sort of trajectory to follow.

Only days before, in their trek through the war-torn Highlands, they’d caught on to the coach’s trail, with confirmed sightings of it that matched the time it should have passed through.

Still… as hard as it was to chase after Jamie and Faith, weeks behind them, they did so knowing that by all indications, Jamie and Faith were still alive and free, traveling under a guise with Mary Hawkins. That kept them pushing forward.

They started to build a map in their minds, comparing the direction the coach was traveling with potential destinations on the other side of that. Like Aberdeen or Dundee, or perhaps even further, into Perth or Edinburgh or Glasgow. And though Mary traveled with them… surely they wouldn’t cross into England…

“There’s a village no more’n half a day’s ride,” Murtagh said as Claire mounted her horse again and held steady while Fergus clamored up behind her. “We should aim tae make it there before dark. See if there’s anyone in town we can talk tae.”

Claire nodded briskly. “I’m sure we can manage that.” She glanced over her shoulder at Fergus. “All set?”

“Oui.”

“Then lead the way, Murtagh.”

 

 

And amidst all of this was a fourth awareness, ever-present since she’d opened her eyes that morning. Something never far from her mind and that kept her heart heavy even as they chased desperately after her husband and child.

This day was Faith’s second birthday. And Claire was missing it.

 

 

“Ye’d swear th’ whole village was blind…” Murtagh groused, mostly to himself. Then his gaze locked with Fergus’s and this time he directed his next words to the boy. “No’ a single intelligent person anywhere to be found.”

He proceeded to prepare the fresh-caught game for their dinner, not expecting a reply. Fergus stayed silent and swung his gaze over to Claire, checking her reaction.

She smiled slightly, all that she could muster in the moment.

“Where will we go now?” Fergus asked her.

“We’ll still keep pressing southward along the most likely route they would be traveling.” She tried to look more confident in that plan, but caught Murtagh’s frown and figured it hadn’t been too reassuring to Fergus. “Not the first place we’ve stopped without getting answers,” she added as a reminder.

“I suppose,” was all Fergus said to that. He’d built a fire and stacked the wood how Claire had taught him, so that a new log would feed into the fire once the one before it had turned to ash.

They’d made it to the village well before dark and after their rather unsuccessful encounter with the locals, they’d had time to head out to the woods and set up camp. With limited funds that they weren’t sure how far would need to be stretched, they rarely ate in town or stayed at a tavern for the night.

When the food had been cooked over the fire, Claire divided up the portions, giving Murtagh the largest. He tore off some of the meat from his portion and pushed it back into Claire’s hands. “Ye dinna eat enough,” he said in response to her bewilderment.

They ate the bird and some of the potatoes Jenny had provided.

“It’s Faith’s birthday,” Claire said softly over the crackle of the fire. “She’s two.”

Her statement was met with resounding silence from Murtagh and Fergus, except for the soft Scottish harrumph from the older man that she couldn’t quite interpret.

She wasn’t sure what she expected out of telling them, other than it felt wrong to let the day pass without acknowledging it in some way.

Fergus wiped one greasy hand on his pants and reached into his bag propped next to him. He fished out his wooden horse and set it to stand in the grass between him and Claire while he chewed. “Sometimes we have to wait for things, Milady,” he said kindly ‒ sagely, even ‒ while talking around the mouthful of food.

She locked eyes with him and felt her vision swim with tears when he nodded encouragingly. They’d asked him to wait when it was his birthday ‒ smack dab in the middle of a war ‒ and he was still waiting. Still believing that his wish would come to fruition ‒ that it would be Jamie who picked out the horse for him. And in order for that to happen, Fergus had to believe that they would be reunited.

“We will see le petit again.”

“Yes, we will,” she murmured in agreement.

And she did believe that. It was only… she was desperate to find them and had hoped to be reunited with them swiftly. But the reality was setting in… of how long and how far they might be searching still.

And all the while, Claire was missing more days, more moments in her daughter’s life that she’d never get back. How many days had she already lost… and how many more would be swallowed up in the time it took to find her?

 

 

That night, Claire couldn’t sleep. She gave up after a while of lying there in the dark, listening to the soft crackling of a dying fire and the rustling of the wind through the trees, and finally pulled herself into a seated position facing the fire instead.

She caught Murtagh’s gaze across the fire instantly. “Not you too?”

“Aye,” he sighed.

“What’s keeping you up, then?” she asked, mostly so he wouldn’t ask her first.

He paused, linking his fingers together over his propped up knees. “Was thinking o’ the wee lass,” Murtagh admitted hesitantly, and Claire felt an instant pang in her heart. “The last time I saw her… and better times, too. Before the rising. At Lallybroch.”

She smiled against the urge to cry ‒ lately, she seemed on the verge of tears at any moment, the cause of which could never be determined between her raging pregnancy hormones or the pain of separation from Jamie and Faith. More than likely, it was some tangled-up knot of both things, she reasoned.

“She is a canny wee lass, and sae bonny and sweet.”

She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Murtagh cared for Faith ‒ had seen firsthand at Lallybroch how the baby could draw a smile out of the dour old man better than anyone else ‒ but she’d never heard him articulate it so.

And god, it hurt like nothing else ever had ‒ missing Faith and knowing she had other loved ones who were missing her just the same.

Murtagh breathed in deep, and let his breath out slowly, his gaze on the dwindling flames. “I’m only sorry and heartsick for my role in all this… that I played a part in why ye canna see yer lass now, on the anniversary o’ her birth.”

She felt her throat constrict and shook her head. How many rounds of the blame game had she played for herself? “No, Murtagh… I’m sorry,” she managed in a hoarse whisper. “For what I said when I came back. For striking you. I don’t blame you for any of this. I was terrified and angry that they weren’t back at Lallybroch like I’d hoped, and I took it out on you.” She thought of her conversation with Jenny, and the words they’d repeated to each other in reassurance, in absolution. “None of us knew. None of us chose this outcome.”

She stared across at his hardened face, the lines of it appearing sharper in the fading light of the fire. He didn’t speak, and she wondered if that meant he wouldn’t accept her words for himself.

“Please forgive me?”

“Och,” he said immediately. “There’s nothing tae forgive, lass.”

They fell quiet for a moment, each absorbed in their own thoughts. Had her words made any difference, or did he still blame himself even if she didn’t?

 


 

There was a strange sense that they were merely retracing steps they’d already taken during the rising. That’s how it felt to Claire at least as they entered Kingussie, near where they had started training Jamie’s men back in August of last year.

They walked into Kingussie on account of Murtagh’s horse needing a new shoe. Upon arriving, Claire handed Murtagh a few coins for the blacksmith and considered out loud how much food she should purchase to replenish their stock.

It was then they all seemed to take notice of a handful of Redcoats exiting the tavern.

“Fergus, stay close to me,” Claire instructed as they parted with Murtagh.

She’d thought Fergus was right behind her as she walked through the small market and picked out some grains and vegetables to pair with the fish or meat that Murtagh usually provided for their meals.

She turned a corner and nearly knocked Fergus over. “Oh. Where have you been?” She set her basket down and her hands went instantly to her hips.

Fergus shook his head as if to indicate that was of little importance.

“Here, Milady.” He reached for her hand and dropped several coins into it.

Her eyes went wide with shock. “Fergus!”

He turned defensive at her tone, seeing she wasn’t exactly pleased. “I will not let you starve! And there is le bébé as well. I heard Murtagh say you need to eat well enough so it can grow.”

“Yes, but do you understand that there are very real consequences to stealing if you are caught?” she snapped at him in a harsh whisper. There was a flash of indignation in his eyes at that.

“I will not get caught.”

She grabbed him by the shoulder and tugged him over to a more secluded spot away from the market stalls.

“You might! There’s always the risk and ‒ for Christ’s sake, Fergus, there are British soldiers right here in town!”

“Where do you think I found those coins?”

She was horrified at what he’d just admitted, with the sudden urge to sequester him out of town immediately, should any of the Redcoats realized what had been done.

“Milord would not have doubted me,” he added accusingly, clearly in response to whatever he’d read in her face.

She recoiled from his words. “It’s not a matter of doubt, I‒”

There was a flicker of movement in her periphery and when she glanced over, what she found made her blood run cold.

Murtagh, on the other side of town from them, surrounded by the soldiers.

Fergus’s head whipped around and Claire had barely enough time to slip a hand over his mouth and hold him back with the other arm before he did something truly stupid.

Don’t, Fergus,” she pleaded in a desperate whisper as he struggled to break free and rush toward Murtagh. “He’ll be alright. Don’t provoke them. He knows what to do.”

You’ll get yourself killed…

All the while, her heart thundered in her chest, and she hoped that what she’d said would remain true; Murtagh was a stubborn Scot through and through, but he wasn’t stupid. He was outnumbered five to one. Should these soldiers happen to have rosters of Jacobite soldiers, they wouldn’t find Murtagh’s name on it. Jamie had had the foresight to keep Murtagh and the Lallybroch men off of any records during the war.

And with a month having passed since the battle, Murtagh had put away his kilts at Claire’s insistence and now wore breeks. He didn’t look the part of a Jacobite soldier and there was no way these men could prove that Murtagh had fought.

Unless one of them recognized him…

Claire tried to steady her breathing and when she felt as though Fergus had gained some semblance of self-control, she let her hand fall away from his mouth, but still held him anchored in place beside her.

They watched the exchange between Murtagh and the soldiers but were too far away to catch what was being said.

But she took in the way the soldiers acted, the glances they shared, the way they held themselves tall and proud.

And the way Murtagh had to shrink in their presence.

The Redcoats were the recent victors, having put down the Jacobite rebellion. And to them, that meant they could assert their superiority over the people of Scotland as they saw fit.

Finally, the soldiers appeared to be ready to move on, some of them shifting their weight from one foot to the other and beginning to turn and break off from the group.

But one soldier still spoke to Murtagh until suddenly and unexpectedly, Claire and Fergus watched as he spat in Murtagh’s face.

Fergus flinched with his whole body. Claire subconsciously tightened her hold on him and something between a cry and a sound of disgust slipped out of her.

The soldiers moved away then, nothing escalating from them, but it was the sight of Murtagh standing tall and refusing to wipe his face in front of them that finally broke Claire.

There had been no reason for it; the man had spit on Murtagh simply because he could. Because he knew Murtagh wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

And to watch helplessly while these men degraded Murtagh left her with an emblazoned fury building in her chest. They weren’t better than him. And she knew if it wasn’t for Fergus right beside her just then, she would’ve been tempted to do something about it herself.

But she wouldn’t risk her boy. And Murtagh wouldn’t want that either.

Fergus himself was seething at her side and she had to tug him away and turn him so she could look him in the eye.

“I will slit their throats,” he said with such conviction that she was stunned into silence for several beats.

“Look, I’m angry too,” she assured him. “But Murtagh is alright‒”

“They had no right to‒” “I know. I agree with you.”

“They should still pay for what they did.”

She drew in a deep breath and fished out the coins from her skirt pocket. “Let this be your revenge, hmm?”

Fergus seethed in front of her, sorting through his thoughts. “I wish I had waited to rob them until now,” he said finally. “I would have taken much more from them. Bastards.”

With that, she realized they’d reached a resolution, and with a heavy sigh, she placed one hand gently on the back of his neck to tug his head forward into the cradle of her chest. He went willingly, his slight arms snaking around her waist to hold tight. “It’d be much harder to look for Jamie and Faith if we’re on the run from the Redcoats,” she said softly, hoping this idea above all else might take root with Fergus. He was so god damn cavalier sometimes, he had no idea how often he’d scared the living daylights out of her by doing something careless and risky.

Fergus sighed heavily, still vibrating with frustration. “I know, Milady.”

They waited for Murtagh to find them, having come to some unspoken understanding not to bring up what happened with the soldiers or admit that they had witnessed it. When Murtagh did join them, he was terse and itching to move on from Kingussie as swiftly as could be arranged, which Claire didn’t begrudge him for.

Murtagh’s horse had been giving a new horseshoe and Claire had enlisted Fergus’s help in gathering a few more necessities to augment their dwindling supply. But there was usually another reason they spent time in each village before they could move on and Claire hesitantly pointed that out.

“Dinna need to ask around. I already learnt all we need to know.”

“Someone here saw Jamie and Faith?” she asked, feeling a little breathless. Fergus perked up at this.

“No’ exactly. But the blacksmith had a lot tae say about a certain devilish black beast he had the misfortune o’ re-shoeing a few weeks ago.”

“Donas!” Fergus said brightly.

“Aye.” He smiled slightly as he grabbed Fergus’s shoulder and gave him a playful shake. “So we’re on th’ right path, aye? Dinna fash, laddie.”

“Let’s not linger about then,” Claire said decidedly.

 

 

She could tell there was something else going on with Murtagh, but chalked it up to the encounter with the Redcoats.

They’d ridden for as long as they could after leaving Kingussie before stopping for the night. Their evening passed in a similar fashion as it did every other night, with the one exception that Murtagh had found a moment when Fergus was out of earshot to ask Claire to wait up after the boy fell asleep.

Once he had, Murtagh jumped into his news without preamble.

“Black Jack Randall is dead.”

Her stomach dropped.

“What?” Her gaze flew to the outline of Fergus’s slumbering form under his blanket. He didn’t stir.

Of course she knew that bit of information. She hadn’t forgotten Frank’s discovery that Randall seemed to have died away from the battlefield, within a few days of it. The thought that he’d gotten to Jamie and Faith had haunted her, but she knew by the time she had traveled back here ‒ by the time she had learned the news even ‒ it would have been too late to do anything about it.

“How‒”

“Redcoats,” Murtagh muttered. “That’s why they stopped me.”

“I knew he was dead,” Claire admitted. “But the soldiers told you that?”

“Aye and there’s a bit more. They found his body at a tavern just outside Carrbridge.”

Carrbridge. They had gone through there as well, spoken with the owner of the tavern who confirmed that a carriage had passed through there. Said nothing of a dead body, though. Murtagh said as much and Claire shrugged.

“Suppose that might be bad for business. What else did you learn about this?”

“No’ much, but they are looking for whoever killed him. That’s why they stopped me to ask about my whereabouts, where I was from.” He absently tossed a leaf into the fire and watched it burn up. “The good news is they dinna seem to have connected it tae Jamie.”

Neither of them had said it, but both of them knew. It had to be Jamie.

“Well, I guess that’s something,” Claire agreed. “Did they‒ I don’t suppose it would matter to the soldiers but… no one else was hurt?”

Murtagh’s gaze locked onto hers and he smiled sympathetically. “Didna say. But we do know they came through Kingussie afterwards. Blacksmith confirmed as much.”

A cold feeling had crept in and Claire hated to put it into words. “He said he saw the horse. He didn’t say anything about Jamie or Faith, did he?”

“He did say there was a rather large man who helped him wi’ Donas. I didna press for details, but I’m sure that was Jamie.”

That she could believe… but what of Faith?

“He wouldna have kept going if Faith was lost,” Murtagh said bluntly. “What reason would he have?”

“Well, Mary was still with him. I imagine he wouldn’t just abandon her to the wilds of Scotland to fend for herself, she being an Englishwoman after all.”

Murtagh grunted softly at that. “Ye’re tired, a nighean,” he said gruffly, in a way that Claire knew to mean that he cared. “Get some sleep.”

She smiled half-heartedly at that ‒ and did stretch out on her spot near the fire for the night. But sleep evaded her, as it so often had on this journey.

Even if Faith survived… had she been hurt? Had Jamie? And had she been scared, in whatever events unfolded when they encountered Black Jack Randall?

Claire had told herself so many times that they must’ve slipped away from the British ‒ and thus Randall ‒ as her way of coping with the unknown. But now… to know that he had found them… sought them out, even…

Until they found them and she could see for herself that they were alright, she wouldn’t have a moment of peace.

 


 

One day, a storm caught them unawares. Their last touchpoint to civilization was a day’s ride behind them, and they’d started their travel early that morning, when the clouds were only an unassuming, white canopy above them.

But then the sky darkened and thunder rumbled ominously in the distance, and by the time they were scrambling towards the trees, they’d already been caught in the torrential downpour of rain.

Fergus argued for the cause to keep going, even through the storm, but Claire was firm in stating the risks that that would pose, such as hypothermia and pneumonia. Murtagh was more concerned about the risk of mudslides with the horses, but the two of them were at least united in the cause to wait out the storm.

That was how they found themselves wedged tightly under a small shelter they’d constructed, huddled in a line in front of a small fire at the edge of the shelter.

Yet another delay in their journey.

She glanced down at Fergus and saw his face drawn tight with concern. Slipping an arm around his shoulders, she tugged him even closer to her. “You know, in my time… there are horseless carriages called automobiles. What I wouldn’t give to have one of those right now…”

Fergus’s brows furrowed as he considered this. “How do they move without a horse?”

“They’re motorized. They have something called an engine that makes them run. And they can go even faster than a horse.”

She passed the time describing everything she could of a modern car to Fergus, and then moved on to tanks, trains, bicycles, and aeroplanes. Much like Jamie, the concept of flying through the sky fascinated Fergus.

And once she’d run out of modes of transportation to describe, she fell quiet and let Fergus (and Murtagh, she assumed) ponder these oddities of the future.

“It sounds so grand, Milady,” he said at length, leaning his head back against her shoulder. The rain lessened some, but was still steadily coming down.

“Hmm,” she murmured softly. “Maybe some things in comparison to this time might seem that way…”

But she’d seen the ugliness of the World War in her time, and she’d found beauty in this time, considered to be crude and uncivilized in comparison.

“Do you miss it at all?”

“No,” she said easily. “Although… the hot baths, yes. Especially now.”

Fergus pulled a face at that. “You can take hot baths in this time, Milady…” he said slowly, and she bit her lip to keep from laughing at him explaining that to her.

“Yes, I know, but it’s not nearly as much work in my time. Just turn on the faucet and it’s already hot.”

“... faucet? And how is it already hot?”

“Before ye begin tae explain that one, I think my heid’s already done in wi’ everything else ye’ve given me to consider,” Murtagh interjected suddenly.

“We can leave indoor plumbing for another day,” Claire agreed with a laugh.

 


 

They had reached a long stretch of wild country with little in the way of civilization. A land they had traversed before, twice during the rising. And along with their trek through the remote Highlands wilderness was an impending sense of dread. What if they missed a checkpoint or overshot Jamie’s path? Could somewhere within this deserted expanse of land be where he would choose to hide out from the British?

They were steering towards the village of Kenmore, Murtagh having decided that was the most likely stop on the journey. And since he’d been right about Jamie’s instinct to flee to the north two years ago, Claire was inclined to trust his judgement on this. Especially since he knew the landscape of this place much better than she did.

The nights had become the only moments on this journey when Claire and Murtagh could speak without Fergus being awake and present for the conversation.

Not every night. But enough that it had become something of a routine more often than not.

“Strange, isn’t it?” Claire began one night when the howl of the wind coming down from the mountain kept her from sleep. “That we’ve found ourselves at this again… searching for weeks but never quite finding him.”

Murtagh grunted in acknowledgement, a cheerless smile in place. “Och, aye. Canna forget that silly tune you sang during that time even if I tried.”

“What? The one you taught me?”

“Nay, lass,” He fired back indignantly. “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

She laughed as the memory resurfaced. “I sang that to you once.”

“Aye,” he said sourly, “And it stuck.”

“Hmm, my apologies for all you’ve apparently suffered as a result. I happen to like that one.”

“Weel, it never would ha’ worked for our purposes,” he said as one last hit against her song.

The wind whipped through their camp again and Claire pulled her thick shawl tighter about her. With the wind, the mood shifted, bringing them back to their reality. They were hungry, tired, cold, on what seemed like an endless journey. Their small moment of joy dissipated, as if carried away on the harsh wind itself.

“What if we never find him?” Claire uttered the words just above a whisper. “He has no idea we’re looking for him.”

She had no doubt that if Jamie Fraser wanted to disappear into the night without a trace, he could do it. And what would stop him?

The difference between this time and before was that Jamie had been looking for a way to return to her. Now, he believed her gone.

“Found him once before,” Murtagh reminded her.

“Yes. Captured. I’m less worried about that this time, though.”

“Then what?”

Claire shrugged, trying to appear more unaffected by her fears. “He has Faith with him. He thinks I’m gone. He knows the Redcoats will either kill him or imprison him if they find him… so he’d make sure they couldn’t be found, right? By anyone.”

Murtagh made that Scottish sound at the back of his throat and didn’t say anything else.

“And Fergus…” She drew in a shaky breath. “Well, I just worry. He loves Jamie so much… and I don’t know‒” She thought of that day in Kingussie, how he’d said Jamie would never doubt him. “If it’s just me that Fergus has… what if that’s not… enough?”

Claire.” Murtagh said her name in such a way that it felt as though he was gently chiding her. “The lad loves ye.”

Her throat clogged with emotion and she wiped gingerly at the silent tears that spilled down her cheeks.

Murtagh sighed heavily. “Ye didna see him. After Culloden. When I came back wi’ the news that Jamie would stay to fight… there was still a hope, ken? That Jamie could survive the battle. We waited for news o’ him for days and days. But ye and Faith were gone for good ‒ that’s what we kent at the time. For two weeks, Fergus grieved ye. Ye’re his family too. He doesna just want Jamie back… he needs ye both, ken.”

She nodded solemnly, still too choked up to speak as fresh tears clouded her eyes. He did something then he hadn’t yet in any of their late-night conversations; she watched as he stood and made his way over to her side of the fire, plopping down next to her. His arm went about her shoulders and gave her a gentle squeeze.

“S’alright, a nighean.”

She leaned her head against his shoulder, feeling more emotions in that moment than she could put into words, but taking comfort in Murtagh’s support and steadfast loyalty while everything else in her life felt shaky at best.

“I’m glad you’re here, searching with us.”

“Aye. I’m glad ye came back,” he said with tenderness in his voice. “And we’ll find Jamie and wee Faith. Dinna fash yerself.”

 


 

They were just departing from Sterling when the choice had to be made. Before them laid two potential paths with no indication of which one the carriage had traveled.

Should they go west towards Glasgow? Or East along the river towards Edinburgh?

Jamie’s end goal was still hazy to them, but they were fairly sure by now that he wouldn’t proceed much farther south than either of those cities.

“The lowlands were largely on the side of the British, so either place is risky,” Claire pointed out.

“Aye,” Murtagh sneered, none too pleased to have left the Highlands either way. “But Glasgow wasna a point of conflict during the rising. Edinburgh is likely still crawling with Redcoats since they recaptured it months ago.”

Claire considered this, wondering what Jamie would choose. What would be safer for Faith. “So Glasgow?”

“Glasgow,” Murtagh agreed.

 

 

“And how fast can they go, again?” Fergus’s curiosity had circled back around to the topic of cars, and Claire indulged him, having little else to pass the time while they traveled.

“There were some cars that could travel 80 miles per hour.”

Eighty?” She knew he couldn’t really grasp it, having never traveled that fast before, but the number was very high. Much faster than they could manage on horseback.

“Oh, yes. Dangerously fast.” She couldn’t explain what prompted her next words, perhaps born out of her desire to protect those she could while struggling with the separation from Jamie and Faith. “They can be terribly dangerous. That’s how my parents were killed when I was young. A car accident.”

Fergus was quiet for a moment and she wished he wasn’t seated behind her so she could see his face.

“I did not know that, Milady,” he said softly, with an undercurrent of compassionate understanding she didn’t expect most eleven-year-olds possessed. His arms gave her waist a gentle squeeze and she patted his hands where they rested overlapping on her stomach.

“Didn’t seem relevant exactly when I was giving everyone the truth of the stones and where I’d come from. But yes, I should’ve told you. I lost them when I was five. After that, I went to stay with Uncle Lamb.”

She caught the slight chuckle from Fergus. Yes, those stories he had heard, some even before the truth of her origins, though those were always carefully constructed. He’d heard a few more on this journey and always delighted in them.

“I didn’t realize you were a girl then. With Uncle Lamb,” Fergus admitted and then, after some consideration, added, “I can’t imagine you as a child, Milady.”

“What, this whole time you thought I was an adult in all my stories with Uncle Lamb?”

“Yes,” he admitted with a laugh.

“I guess that makes sense. I always had trouble picturing my parents as younger than I would’ve known them. My Uncle Lamb too, for that matter.”

Their conversation lapsed in a comfortable sort of way. There was an intimacy in their shared experience and though Murtagh was only a few feet ahead of them, he felt miles away from their small bubble. And what Murtagh shared about Fergus’s grief was never very far from her mind.

“I used to play a game when I was little. After my parents died and I went to live with my uncle. I would pretend that they were out there in the world somewhere, still alive, and they would come get me eventually. It felt easier sometimes, if I could just pretend that I was waiting on them.”

“I used to play a game,” Fergus began quietly and Claire strained to listen, “that I had ended up at Maison Elise by mistake and my parents were looking for me all that time. I would imagine what it would be like to have them show up and take me away, to a home.”

“What was it like? What did you imagine?”

“It was one of those big houses that I would pass on my walks through Le Marais. Of course I’d never been inside a house that grand until Milord brought me to Monsieur Jared’s house. That house was more beautiful than any of my imaginings.”

She felt his head come to rest against her back again. “Of course, by then I did not need to imagine such things anymore.”

Her heart leapt to her throat and she gave another reassuring squeeze of his hands within her own.

 


 

They’d lost the trail.

By now, they’d learned to not give up if they came up empty at the first and second stops, but by their sixth time coming up empty, the doubt began to set in.

“Do we double back?” Claire asked. “Head for Edinburgh?”

In some part of her brain, the question rolled around that maybe this had been Jamie’s plan all along. For weeks, she’d feared reaching a point where any trace of them simply vanished.

Murtagh seemed to catch that look of despair in her eyes. “We head back to our last confirmed sighting. Go from there.”

Back to Sterling. From his spot behind Murtagh, Claire watched as Fergus’s face fell at the realization of the time they’d wasted since choosing Glasgow.

 


 

Fergus’s bedding was angled in such a way that when he curled up for the night, his head rested close to Claire’s.

“You’re quiet tonight,” she said softly to him, propping her head up on one hand. She studied his young face, glowing orange from the light of their campfire. “Are you feeling alright? You’re not sick, are you?”

“Oui, Milady, I am just tired.” He said all of this half-heartedly and without taking his gaze from the fire.

She reached out and brushed a hand over his messy curls. His eyes slid shut and he sighed. She thought of all he’d gone through in the last month and a half, from war to loss and disappearances of loved ones, to having one returned to him unexpectedly. And again she thought of his grief ‒ it struck a chord deep within her that she wasn’t soon to forget ‒ and wondered if Fergus was already bracing for some sort of loss with Jamie.

And that thought broke her heart clean in two. Because she couldn’t protect him from the hurt if anything did happen to Jamie, or if they failed to find him.

“Look at me, love.”

She waited until he had listened and tilted his head back to look at her. “I know we’ve been at this for a while. I’m tired, too. That’s alright.” She kept brushing back his curls from his forehead as she spoke. “And I know I can’t make any guarantees, but for what it’s worth, I believe we’ll find them. But no matter what, you have me. You have Murtagh. The baby, too, eventually,” she said with slight laughter in her voice. She was rewarded with a small smile out of Fergus.

“You have me, too, Milady. No matter what happens.”

She leaned across and kissed the top of his head. “It’ll be alright, love. Try and get some sleep.”

 

 

Claire laid there in the dark looking up at the stars, long after Murtagh’s snores had begun and Fergus went still and quiet. Her thoughts swirling around Jamie and Faith, the heavy fears of losing them or never finding them, the worry over Fergus and how he was faring‒

She breathed in sharply and one hand flew to her stomach, though there was nothing to be felt under its palm. But there had been a quickening in her belly ‒ the first movement she’d felt of this baby from within.

“Oh…” she breathed out. Tears sprouted in her eyes and spilled over gently. She was scared to move in that moment, like she might startle the small thing somehow. It was so quick, she wondered if she had imagined it. But no, she knew that feeling from when she’d carried Faith. “Hello, you little darling,” she whispered into the night. “I’ve been so worried about you.”

Her hand rubbed slow circles over the firm, small bump. “Thank you for letting me know you’re still there.”

 


 

Claire knew it was coming ‒ had remembered well enough from when she’d traveled through here with the Jacobite army ‒ and careened to the side in her saddle, trying to see around the bend.

Yes ‒ there it was!

“Fergus,” she called out, pulling her horse up alongside Murtagh’s. He looked at her, bewildered, and she grinned. “Look up ahead.”

Though they’d lost time in misjudging Jamie’s next steps, they had eventually caught the trail again after starting fresh from Sterling. Now, they were quite certain that Jamie and Faith were in‒

“Edinburgh!” Fergus exclaimed as the first sights of the city came into view. His gaze flew back to Claire’s. “We’re almost home, Milady!”

She felt her vision burn with tears and had to face forward to keep from crumbling as Fergus’s words landed.

This place had never been home to them, but Jamie and Faith had… and they were almost home again.

Chapter Text

Edinburgh

June 1746

Edinburgh proved difficult to search. One lone carriage was hardly something of note for residents of Edinburgh, and that besides, Claire was quite certain this was where that particular journey had ended. They had no way of knowing where in the city Jamie and Faith would’ve gone once they’d arrived. So they checked every tavern, inn, and boarding house they could find, hoping they weren’t too late, that Jamie and Faith hadn’t moved on to some other place.

It was once again the horse, of all things, that gave them hope.

They were walking through a bustling market when Fergus stopped so abruptly in front of Claire that she nearly knocked him over. “Fergus, what are you‒”

His gaze was frozen on something ahead. “It’s Donas, Milady.”

“What?”

He didn't wait another second and surged forward into the crowd, leaving Claire and Murtagh to scramble after him. When they caught up to him, they were both brought almost nose-to-nose with a black horse that was unmistakable to them.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” Claire whispered tightly, eyes widening at the sight before her. Donas was tucked back into a stall just off the busy street, but his head swung curiously over the wooden gate.

She glanced about, trying to get her bearings. If Donas was here, then‒

“Get back!”

The three of them startled at the sharp voice, Claire’s hand flying to Fergus’s shoulder as if that could shield him. Off to their right, a man had appeared ‒ a blacksmith by trade if his gritty, grimy appearance was any indication. “Unless ye want tae lose a hand. That beast is the devil’s own.”

Donas reared back suddenly, as if he understood and took offense. Claire was used to the horse’s attitude, but his timing always was something else, she thought. The blacksmith only took this as confirmation of what he’d just said, nodding sharply toward the horse with wide-eyed suspicion.

“See? He kens it.”

“That is not‒” Fergus began. Claire squeezed his shoulder.

“Please, can you tell us where we might find the owner of this horse?”

The blacksmith’s gaze shifted over the three of them, considering. Finally, he folded his arms over his chest and leveled a withering gaze at Claire. “Ye’re lookin’ at ‘im.”

“What?” She balked. Her gaze flew back to Donas, looking him over more discerningly. It had to be him. Then…?

“When did you acquire him?”

“I dinna see why ye need tae know.”

It was clear the man was growing tired of them, but before Claire could respond, Murtagh had fired back a reply. “I dinna see what harm there is in answering the lass.”

The blacksmith hardly concealed his annoyance but threw his hands up in defeat. “If it’ll make ye leave. A man brought him ‘round last week and sold him to me‒”

Claire felt her breath leave her lungs in a rush. A week ago. They’d never been this close before. A light, buoyant feeling filled her.

“‒ under false pretenses, mind. Tha’ horse was docile as a wee lamb when he brought ‘im here. Soon as he’s gone, I was dealing wi’ a demon.”

“Maybe you should‒”

Whatever Fergus was about to say, Claire was certain it wouldn’t have been flattering. And she needed more from this conversation still.

“Last question and then we’re out of your hair.” She felt an odd flutter in her stomach at the thought of what answers they might be able to walk away with. “What can you tell me about the man who sold you the horse?”

 


 

They’d come to stay so long in Edinburgh that Faith’s understanding of “home” was beginning to solidify around the place they’d resided there: Mary’s aunt’s house. And while the streets were still crawling with soldiers, Jamie had gone so long without incident or recognition that the wariness was fading each time he stepped outside.

Mary's aunt had been hospitable in opening her home to Jamie and Faith when they arrived with Mary, though Jamie got the distinct impression that she wasn't exactly thrilled with this arrangement, given that she knew he was a Scot.

Still, it was a safe haven while they waited for sea passage to open up again.

Jamie entered the house, lugging his bundle of purchases, and was almost immediately greeted by Faith's high-pitch squeal from the other room. He paused, wondering if it was a squeal of excitement or some sort of fit.

There was a bustle of movement up ahead from the parlor and then Faith tumbled out into the hallway, tripping on the hem of her dress. It was new to her, an old dress belonging to one of Mary's cousins, and they were adjusting it for Faith.

"Da!"

Happy squeal, then.

He grinned broadly and dropped to one knee as Faith toddled over to him, nearly tripping again as she reached him. "Did ye behave for yer Auntie Mary, then?"

She didn't respond to him, only looped her slight arms around his neck and started to hang from him, giggling all the while.

"Alright then, ye wee fiend," he laughed, scooping her up as he moved to stand.

By now, Mary had appeared at the threshold and greeted him before they all moved into the parlor. Jamie noted that none of the other inhabitants of the house were in the room and breathed a sigh of relief. He was abundantly grateful to be able to keep Faith sheltered here, but he had no great desire for the company of near strangers ‒ especially those who looked down their nose at him.

“I’ve had a letter from my father,” Mary announced.

“Aye?”

“He’s sending my younger brother to escort me back to my father’s estate.”

Jamie nodded at that, though he wasn’t sure how he should feel. “And how did he take yer news?”

“Oh quite well,” Mary said swiftly. “I knew he would. Of course he wishes I wasn’t so recently widowed, since he’ll have to make arrangements for me to be married again. But there’s no shame in being widowed and with child.”

Jamie took a deep breath, ready to dive in on that comment, but thought better of interfering in her family matters and bit his tongue instead.

“Find everything you were looking for?” Mary asked.

“Oh aye.” Jamie pulled out the fresh ginger he’d purchased. There had been a number of items he’d needed to prepare for the upcoming voyage, but none quite so important as the very thing he held up for Mary to see. “For my seasickness,” he explained and then grinned ruefully. “Canna seem to so much as set foot on a ship wi’out getting sick.”

“Is it bad?”

“It’s no’ a pretty sight, I’m sure.”

“What will you do with Faith?”

Jamie’s gaze dropped to Faith in his lap and he swallowed roughly. “I dinna have much choice but to pray the ginger tea keeps me standing. I canna afford to get sick.”

Mary fell silent at that, her hands fidgeting restlessly in her lap.

But he knew even without her saying it that it was a foolish endeavor. He knew how sick he became on sea voyages and without anyone else with them, he ran the risk of becoming too sick to care for his child. But what other choice did he have?

“I could go with you.”

Mary’s words were spoken so softly, he almost didn’t catch them. His head snapped up and he stared at her. “You canna be serious.”

“Of course I’m serious!”

“It’s‒ I mean no offense to ye, Mary. It’s only… well, yer brother is already on his way and‒”

“That’s not a problem. I’ll just leave word here with my aunt telling him where we’ve gone. He can follow after and escort me back, same as he intended before.”

“That hardly seems fair to him. How old is the lad?”

Mary hesitated briefly. “George is fifteen, he’s old enough.”

Jamie swore under his breath. “We dinna even know where we’re headed yet. Could be as far as the colonies. And even if ye did accompany us on the journey and instructed yer wee brother to follow us… by time he arrives, ye willna be fit to make the journey again wi’ the bairn coming. You’ll have to have the baby in another country, alone.”

“I’ll be alone no matter where I am,” Mary pointed out and Jamie immediately regretted his words. “Doesn’t matter if I’m in Italy or France, the colonies or my father’s estate.”

Jamie sighed. “I still dinna like the idea. Ye’re finally safe here and under no obligation to help us further. I’m already indebted to ye for getting us this far. No, I couldna ask that of ye.”

“Good thing you didn’t ask then.” Mary straightened her spine. “And it’s… it’s me who’s indebted to you. If you hadn’t come to Inverness, I’d still be‒”

Jamie raised a hand in silent pleading. After all they’d been through since he’d knocked on her door in Inverness, there simply was no keeping score of how they’d aided one another. And he valued her friendship too highly to think of it as mere transactions.

He sighed loudly, hating the idea but seeing that determined look in Mary’s eye.

“Besides,” Mary added, “I’m not really doing this for you.”

He smiled cheerlessly, once again turning his gaze back to the red-headed toddler in his lap. For Claire, she’d said at the start. And it had never escaped his notice just how much Mary risked to repay Claire’s kindness, her friendship. “Well, I thank ye for it. Truly. Ye’re a good friend, Mary Hawkins.”

 

 

The evenings were always bittersweet in Edinburgh. It meant putting Faith to bed, a small routine that they’d carved out no matter where they were, and a time that Jamie always treasured. And it also meant once his child was asleep that there was nothing to preoccupy his mind, to keep his anguished thoughts at bay.

But before then, his complete attention was always on Faith.

“C’mere, lass.”

He scooped her up and headed toward the nursery where Faith slept. He felt her head rest heavy on his shoulder as they went, and her small hand patted his opposite shoulder gently.

He was helping her change into her nightgown when she sneezed. Three times in quick succession.

“Something tickling yer nose, a nighean?” he said lightly, though his hand went to her forehead and tried to gauge her temperature. Felt normal, but there was a small voice in the back of his mind ‒ Claire’s voice ‒ reminding him that unless the fever was very high, it was often hard to discern if someone had a fever by merely feeling for it.

Faith rubbed her nose with the back of her pudgy hand and looked up at him with glassy eyes. “Christ, I hope ye’re not sick.”

He took her wee face in his hands and pressed a kiss to her hairline, then rested his cheek there for a moment. She felt a little warm, but did that mean…?

Faith’s little hands wormed their way between them and pushed his face away. “No’ sick.”

He chuckled and pulled back, startled by her boldness, her certainty. A pint-sized force of nature, even if she was ‒ perhaps ‒ feeling under the weather.

But God in Heaven! He wished Claire was here for this. For all of it with Faith, but especially this. She would know better than him what to do if Faith got sick.

“Ye ready for bed then?”

She shook her head vehemently. “No’ yet, Da.”

“Not yet?”

Again, she shook her head, this time with a hint of a smile on her face. The more she learned to talk, the better she became at delaying her dreaded bedtime. She burst into a flood of speech ‒ not much of which was intelligible to Jamie, but she had something to say nonetheless ‒ which ended promptly with the word “story.”

“Ah. Ye’ll be wanting yer bedtime story then, is tha’ it?”

A curt nod from Faith.

“Aye, I can oblige ye there, mo chridhe.”

He stood and watched Faith scurry over to the small bed that was all her own. As was their nightly ritual, he situated Faith off to one side and pulled the covers up for her before carefully easing his six-foot-four frame onto the comically small bed, curled onto his side with his feet hanging over the ledge. A gentle breeze could’ve knocked him backwards off of the bed, but this was what he’d done the first night in this strange house when Faith had been too scared to sleep alone. Now, she slept well enough so long as he was there to tuck her in, give her a story. Once she was asleep, he would move her more towards the center of the bed before he left and retired to his own room.

“What story would ye like tonight, a nighean?”

“My mam?”

He exhaled a laugh. They were always about Faith’s mam. Even while he worried that Faith would never truly know Claire, it couldn’t stop him from wanting to talk about her to Faith. To help her understand the magnitude of Claire’s love for her, and that it wasn’t Claire’s fault that she wasn’t here now with Faith.

“Aye, I can tell ye about yer mam,” Jamie agreed softly. He started as he always did ‒ with a memory of Claire, whatever came to him in the moment. And he’d simply talk for as long as Faith needed, weaving one memory into another until he noticed her eyelids getting heavy, her breathing slowing to a steady rhythm.

“Ken yer mother was verra canny,” he prefaced his next story, slipping subconsciously into past-tense when he spoke of Claire. “What she didna ken about healing could fit in a shoe. After the Battle of Prestonpans, I was so weary and hurting ‒ got stepped on by a horse that day, ye ken, and och yer mam was furious wi’ me ‒ but I came back into the cottage to watch her, tending to the injured men. She was tireless and so determined…”

When Faith was finally out, he reached over and felt her forehead again, battling a sinking feeling that Faith truly was coming down with an illness. She’d been sniffling and sneezing, but that could be nothing. Or it could be the first sign of something more.

A Dhia…”

He ached for Claire every minute of the day ‒ needed her like the very breath in his lungs ‒ but he’d never felt so wretchedly helpless without her until this moment. What would he do if Faith became sick?

Panic squeezed his heart in a vice grip. She was all he had now. Faith, still so wee and fragile, was the only thing keeping Jamie from careening off into the dark. And suddenly, he wasn’t even sure he could do this on his own.

He wanted to steal away back to the stones with Faith, to find some way to fix this. She should be with Claire ‒ she should’ve always been with Claire ‒ and it wasn’t right that they had been separated. That Faith couldn’t travel like her mother could.

Since he was a lad, he had a habit of speaking to his departed brother, Willie. Since Willie had been the oldest, he rightly should’ve been laird. So much of Jamie’s life growing up had been the result of Willie’s death. Honors that would normally befall the oldest son passed to Jamie instead, like fostering with his Uncle Dougal or continuing his studies in Paris. This had always been front of mind for Jamie, and when faced with a decision as Laird, he found it only respectful of Willie’s memory to ask his older brother’s thoughts on choices that should’ve been his to make.

Aye, the dead had a way of living with Jamie. He hadn’t only talked to Willie, but to the plovers along the shore, which legend said carried the souls of young mothers lost in childbirth. And he’d done this for years before he lost his da, but never once in the time since Brian Fraser’s death had he spoken to his father.

But suddenly, he found himself longing to pour his heart out to his departed father, in conversations he’d been too hesitant to have with the weight of Jamie’s misplaced guilt over Brian’s death. Suddenly, more than anything, he ached for one last conversation with his da.

“How did ye do it, Athair?” he whispered in the still room the question that had been plaguing him. He was intimately familiar with the pain his father would’ve suffered when his mam died. “How did you keep on living wi’out yer heart?”

The answer was there before him in the sleeping form of Faith. His father had survived for his and Jenny’s sakes, carried them through their grief and gave them hope. And though it felt impossible, though everything within him screamed that this wasn’t how it was supposed to be, Jamie would do the same for Faith as his father did for him. “I ken now the pain ye were trying to hide, Athair. But ye raised me and Jenny well despite it all. Help me do the same.”

His hand gently brushed over Faith’s wispy curls as he then addressed his sleeping child. “I’ve told ye plenty about yer mam, but nothing of my mam and da. We’ll need tae remedy that. Another time.”

He breathed in deep and then sighed heavily. “My da only ever kent me as a lad. Sometimes I wonder… if he saw me as I am today, would he be proud of me now? Would he approve of who I’ve become? And would I be much different from who I was before... or would he still recognize me as his son?”

His thumb softly stroked at her hair just above her temple before tucking a few wayward locks behind one tiny ear. “But I look at ye, Faith, and… there’s nothing ye could do that would ever change how I love ye. How I’m bursting at the seams with pride o’er ye. And that’s one thing I ken my da would’ve been very proud of,” he shifted slowly and pressed a kiss to Faith’s head before he finally stood, “My bairns.”

 


 

It had been a week since they’d found Donas and they still didn’t have a crumb of information for where Jamie and Faith might be.

“Would it have been better to wait at Lallybroch in case he sent word? Before we went trampling across the country in search of him…” Claire wondered aloud.

“That would have taken months to wait for news to arrive.” Murtagh eyed her protruding belly, just starting to appear noticeable to others under all her layers of clothing. “Ye dinna have that kind of time to wait around.”

Claire sighed. “Aren’t we just waiting here, until we find a trace of him? Doesn’t feel much different.”

Murtagh didn’t reply, just made that Scottish sound low in the throat and eased into a chair.

There was a boyish shout from outside and Claire’s gaze flickered over to the window. Fergus was out in the street with another boy, playing some sort of game. She’d told him to go run some energy off after he’d been driving her up a wall all afternoon within the cramped confines of their rented room. They’d had no lead on Jamie even after finding Donas and that had hit Fergus hard. But even worse had been walking away without the horse that Fergus had loved so dearly ‒ all the time wondering why Jamie had sold him in the first place.

“What if they’re already gone from here? How long do we wait ‒ how long can we wait before the money is gone?”

They’d had no collateral of their own to offer up for the horse and even though they had some money ‒ money that they’d carefully skimped and saved during their journey before arriving in Edinburgh ‒ it wouldn’t last forever.

Murtagh grunted softly again. He’d heard her, he just didn’t have an answer.

Claire had even tried offering her services as a healer here when they first arrived. But Edinburgh was a bustling Lowland city, not a remote Highland village, and where those small populations would flock to Claire, the people of Edinburgh turned their nose up at her ‒ a strange woman they had no cause to trust or even to need in a large city such as this. So even the small hope of word getting out to Jamie of a Sassenach woman healer had quickly been dashed.

Her gaze sought out Fergus again and her heart sank in her chest. She wasn’t sure how much more disappointment they could shoulder before it became all too much. Or how much longer they could search before the only obvious solution was to turn home for Lallybroch.

Her hand fell to her belly. Murtagh was right about that at least. They didn’t have all that much time before there would be a baby to consider as well.

 


 

The ports had reopened in Edinburgh ‒ but not without British control over what came in and out of the harbor. The sale of Donas helped provide enough to book passage on a ship, but they’d had to be careful in arranging it. Jamie had begun to notice the new broadsheets going up around Edinburgh and among them, one for Red Jamie. No doubt as the dust from Culloden began to settle, his disappearance hadn’t gone completely unnoticed.

He had followed the captain of a cargo ship recently docked in Edinburgh into a tavern one night. The captain ‒ a Scot through and through ‒ and Jamie swapped tales over drinks well into the night and only once he was sure the good captain had been plied with enough drink to make him amiable did he bring up the request to book passage with him.

“Ye dinna even ken where we’re going,” the captain laughed, his cheeks ruddy from drink.

Jamie laughed too, though he realized he’d made a misstep. That it might sound more suspicious now than if he’d learned of the destination first. Instead he tried to play it off as being cavalier. “Tell ye the truth… it doesna really matter where ye’re going, so long as it’s away from here.”

The captain chuckled and shook his head. They negotiated the price and sealed the deal there at that tavern table. “Write yer names down for me. I’ll have them added to the ship’s manifest. We sail in three days. Dinna be late.”

“And where are we sailing for?” Jamie finally asked.

“Och I thought it didna matter!” The captain roared with laughter again and Jamie reminded himself he couldn’t strike the captain that was giving him a way out of Scotland.

The captain stood to his feet, a bit wobbly at first try. Jamie thought of Mary and how she planned to leave a letter for her brother to be able to follow. How could he follow if he didn’t know where they went?

He opened his mouth to speak, but the captain clapped him hard on the shoulder and said, “Le Havre, man. We’re only going so far as Le Havre.”

 

 

In three days’ time, Jamie, Mary, and Faith were at the docks ‒ Jamie with his hair recently dyed black to cover his roots and Faith with her red hair tucked under a bonnet and then the hood of her cape as a precaution.

They would need to be allowed past by the Redcoat checking the ship’s manifest, the only hurdle standing between them and freedom. And having spoken with the captain that night in the tavern, they couldn’t fall back on their old gimmick of Jamie-as-a-mute. But this was a calculated risk he knew he would take, hoping that the time and miles between here and Culloden would be enough to shed any suspicion that he might be Red Jamie.

“Name?”

He met the eye of the Redcoat staring him down. “Alexandre Beauchamp,” he said evenly, letting a little bit of his admittedly imperfect French accent bleed into his thick Highlander dialect in hopes that it would at least confuse him. Off the surprised look from the man, he added with an easy smile, “I get that look a lot. My father was a Frenchman but my mother a Scot. Ye can see for yerself which side I favored in looks.” He could hide the red hair, but the towering height, the build of a man descended from Vikings… that could not be so easily hidden.

“And your companions?”

“My daughter, Faith Beauchamp, and Mary Hawkins.”

The man’s gaze flicked between Jamie and Mary, and though Jamie’s heart felt as though it might beat right out of his chest, this conversation was flowing exactly as he’d anticipated. They were almost through.

“And your relation to Mistress Hawkins?”

“My late wife’s sister. She’s accompanying me to care for my child.” It wasn’t terribly far from the truth ‒ and it was a necessity now to be able to explain why Faith called her Auntie Mary.

“And your reason for journeying to Le Havre?”

“My father’s family is there. My grandfather is in poor health and I must return.”

The Redcoat looked him in the eye again and Jamie knew what question came next. “And are you a Jacobite or have you ever aided the Jacobites in any way, Mr. Beauchamp?”

“No.” He was met with a look of vague suspicion and he mustered every ounce of easy confidence into next words. “I am not nor have I ever been a Jacobite, or a Jacobite sympathizer for that matter. And I never aided their cause in any way. I am loyal to the crown.”

The Redcoat quirked one eyebrow at that and Jamie felt his stomach twisting into knots. “They all say that… now.”

But with a quick jerk of his head, the Redcoat dismissed them. Jamie blinked, stunned for a moment that it had been that easy. Because even without proof… the Redcoats could have treated him any way they wanted. That was their claim as victors. They didn’t need a reason to not let him through and that had been the one variable Jamie couldn’t have planned for ‒ the mercy of a Redcoat.

He shifted Faith to one arm and moved past the man, ushering Mary ahead of him up the gangway to the ship.

“Sir! Wait.”

He froze, hearing the Redcoat’s voice ring out. Mary stopped too and whirled around to look back at him. His hold on Faith tightened and he turned slowly.

The Redcoat stared at him curiously.

Jamie forced a smile. “Have I forgotten something?”

“As a matter of fact…” the man held out his hand. In his palm was Sawny, which Jamie had given to Faith to keep her occupied. She must’ve dropped it.

“Ah. I thank ye, Corporal.” He grabbed Sawny and handed it back to Faith. “I would’ve had a verra unhappy child on my hands had that been left behind.”

He wasted no time waiting for a response and turned with Faith to head back up the gangway where Mary still stood. “Let’s go,” he uttered under his breath when they reached her. The sooner they could be at sea, the safer he would feel.

 

 

What he hadn’t expected to feel was the loss.

He held Faith in his arms as he stood by the railing and watched Edinburgh fade farther and farther away. Watched his homeland fade away, knowing they’d likely never return.

Christ,” he muttered, blinking fast against the unexpected sting of tears.

Faith stretched her arm out in front of her, towards land, and waved.

“Ye saying goodbye, a leannan?”

“G’bye,” she echoed in a soft, song-like voice.

Ah but he would do it all again in a heartbeat for her, no matter the cost. It was always for her, for her wellbeing and chance at a happy life.

She grinned up at him ‒ not a trace of sickness, though they’d dealt with the sneezing and runny nose for a few days before she was back to her usual self. “Ken you’re mine, a nighean, but ye dinna have to rub my nose in it that yer stomach is as hearty as a sailor’s,” he teased her before moving below deck, where Mary was waiting. His stomach was already rolling and it was only a matter of time…

 


 

July 1746

Claire was writing a letter to Jenny ‒ an update without much news, but she still wanted to keep Jenny apprised ‒ when Murtagh burst into the room, startling her violently.

“Jesus Christ!”

Without giving her much time to recover, he dove breathlessly into the reason for his unsettling arrival.

“I just spoke with a deckhand down at the docks, just come back from Le Havre.” Murtagh’s eyes were aglow and Claire tried to temper the hope buoying in her chest. “He said he remembers someone that looked like Jamie who booked passage on the ship last time they came through here. Said he was sick as a dog the whole trip… and he had a wee lass with him.”

Claire was trembling and her simple question came out in a frantic whisper. “When?”

Murtagh smiled broadly, his chest still heaving as he tried to get the words out without stopping for a breath. “Just last month. They’re in France, a nighean. We found them.”

She hardly recalled how she went from sitting at the desk to being wrapped up in an almost painful hug from Murtagh, shouting with joy to keep herself from bursting into tears.

“What’s going on?”

She pulled away from Murtagh to see Fergus enter the room, concern etched into his face.

“What happened?” he asked.

Claire couldn’t keep the smile from her face even as her vision misted over with tears. Not just for her joy of being reunited with Jamie and Faith, but for Fergus’s as well. “Murtagh found them, love. We’re going home!”

When Fergus ran to embrace her, she nearly stumbled backwards from the impact of it. She cupped the back of his head and held him tight, rocking slightly.

“We’re going home.”

 


 

“D’ye have everything then, Mary?”

“I believe so.”

Jamie turned to help Mary up into the carriage. Upon arriving in France, they’d gone first to Jamie’s Uncle Alexander at the Abbey of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, that being the closest and safest place to turn to. Jamie and Faith meant to stay on at the abbey a bit longer, but Mary needed to return to Paris, to her aunt and uncle who would welcome her into their home until her younger brother arrived.

“Wait. No. I did forget something in my room.” Mary turned and stepped down from the carriage. “I’ll be right back,” she yelled over her shoulder.

“It’s alright, lass. We have time.”

“Jamie!”

He turned to find his uncle exiting the abbey, making a path towards him. “Aye?”

“We’re expecting a delivery to the abbey today. Could you help them unload when it arrives?”

“Aye of course.”

It wasn’t long after his uncle had left him that he noticed the wagon jolting down the dirt road towards the abbey.

Nobody saw what spooked the horse pulling the wagon as it neared the carriage.

It happened too fast, the one horse trying to buck itself free of the wagon, and the team of horses hitched to the carriage panicking as a result.

One moment, Jamie was standing beside a carriage and the next, he was flat on his back with a searing pain in his leg and a crushing weight pinning his body down.

And then it all went black.

Chapter Text

It was half a day’s journey from the port in Le Havre to the Abbey of Ste. Anne de Beaupré. They stayed one night in a tavern before arranging a coach to take them to the abbey. Though the impulse to head straight for Paris to Jared’s home was strong, the abbey was another consideration they couldn’t rule out ‒ and the closest location upon arriving in France.

 

The carriage rolled to a stop in front of the abbey and the three of them stepped out into the bright sunshine. They approached the abbey with only the faintest flicker of hope. Months on this trail had left them anxious enough not to get their hopes up too soon.

The exterior and grounds of the abbey were lovely ‒ a 12th century Romanesque structure with a large garden that was carefully tended to. Claire’s gaze was inexorably drawn to it as they walked up the path leading to the abbey.

And then she glimpsed a flash of red-gold hair in the sunshine from up ahead in the gardens.

Her breath caught in her throat as her feet refused to move any further. Absently, she registered that Murtagh and Fergus had stilled beside her, puzzled.

Ahead of them, a small red-headed toddler registered the presence of three new visitors and boldly went out to greet them.

Claire’s vision burned with tears. She won’t remember, she reminded herself. And just the same, it didn’t matter. After all those months, Faith was right there in front of her, and she didn’t care if she had her work cut out for her still in winning her child’s heart back.

Her feet moved then of their own volition, unsteady at first and then picking up the pace to close the distance. Claire dropped to her knees as gracefully as she could in her condition and pulled Faith abruptly into her arms as soon as she was within reach.

Oh, my baby. Oh God. I’m so sorry.” The words spilled out of her in a rush and then it was like a dam breaking open. She clung to Faith and wept.

Claire had her. At last. Faith was alive and real and heavy in Claire’s lap.

She felt the girl squirming in her grasp, her little hands pushing against Claire’s chest, and reluctantly, she let her go. Fergus was at her side, she realized, and he gripped her by the elbow to try and help her to her feet. They managed, a bit awkwardly.

It was only then that she noticed who Faith was with ‒ and who Murtagh was helping ease onto a stone bench after she looked about ready to faint.

“Y-y-y-you’re dead…”

Claire’s gaze flicked over to Murtagh briefly. In all their time searching, they hadn’t given much thought to how they would explain this to Mary ‒ or anyone else who wasn’t Jamie for that matter.

“Whoa, lass!”

The sight of Mary beginning to hyperventilate snapped Claire out of her thoughts. “Easy now. You’re alright.”

She was aware of Faith trying to burrow behind Mary’s skirts, but couldn’t give that her full attention just then. Murtagh stepped aside to let Claire in next to her. “Easy now. Cup your hands together over your mouth and nose and breathe into them. There you go. Try and breathe slowly.”

Faith moved to lean against Mary’s knees, watching anxiously. Claire stifled the impulse to reach for her. God, this was all going so poorly…

“I d-don’t… understand,” Mary said between labored breaths. But she was calming down and a little color was returning to her cheeks, Claire noted.

“I can imagine it’s quite a shock, and I’m sorry for that.” She rubbed Mary’s back lightly. It helped her own nervous state to be able to focus on helping someone else. “It’s a long story, but we’ll tell you it all later. Where’s Jamie? Is he inside?”

“Oh God,” Mary uttered suddenly and she looked as though she might be sick. “Oh I wish you had been here even a day earlier.”

She felt her stomach lurch at Mary’s words and wondered if she would be sick. “What do you mean? Where is Jamie?”

Mary began to tremble. “Th-th-there was an a-accident…”

 

They had started towards the abbey with Mary leading them, but in their panicked haste, Claire and Murtagh quickly overtook her. Mary shouted directions at them, but it didn’t matter. Once inside, it only took one frantic request to the first monk they ran into before they were brought to Jamie’s room.

Seeing her husband bruised and bandaged, unconscious, Claire didn’t realize at first that she was physically leaning on Murtagh for support, holding tightly to his arm. It was a different time, a different abbey, and yet her mind made the connection to just after Wentworth, when she almost lost him. She felt dizzy and weak.

“What‒” Her gaze took in the leg wrapped in splints and soaked through with dried blood. Whatever had happened, his leg seemed to bear the brunt of it, though the rest of him was covered in scrapes and bruises as well.

One of the brothers had followed them in and was explaining softly in French what had happened and how Jamie was faring. In all the commotion, they attracted a few more residents of the abbey, who filtered into the small room.

She caught enough to understand Jamie had developed an infection, most likely from his leg. Her stomach roiled and her hand came to press high on her pregnant belly out of habit, though it did nothing to help.

It was then her eyes fell to a cut on the inside of his forearm, too perfectly placed and neatly cut to be a coincidence. Still, her mind rebelled against the idea. No, they couldn’t have…

“You bled him!”

Stillness descended on the room following her outburst. She finally tore her gaze away from Jamie to look at the monks for explanation, to Mary who was trembling in the back.

ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL HIM?”

Just as quickly as the room had fallen silent, it roared back to life with voices raised and overlapping ‒ each person trying to explain or justify or placate. Above them all was Claire, unable to contain her horror. “--already weakened from the accident and trying to fight off an infection and you bled him!”

She was vaguely aware of Murtagh’s tug on her arm, but it wasn’t until he screamed for the rest of them to be quiet that she paid him any attention. Her gaze flew to him, but he wasn’t watching her. And that’s when she heard the hushed, gravely voice of her husband, straining to be heard above the noise.

She caught his fevered gaze and felt her heart tumble in her chest.

“Sassenach?”

 

Murtagh quietly cleared the room, though in the moment, Claire hardly noticed this kind act.

Claire’s words clogged in her throat but she moved closer to the bed and sat carefully on the edge, taking Jamie’s hand carefully in her own. His skin felt hot to the touch.

“Am I‒ I…” He struggled between labored breaths and his eyes fluttered shut but he seemed to muster the energy to force them open again and find her. “Am I dying then?”

The implication of his words hit her hard, and she shook her head vehemently, feeling silent tears spill down her cheeks. “This isn’t a hallucination. I’m real. I’m here.”

He smiled weakly, his eyes drifting shut again.

God, to find him after all this time and to find him like this…

Murtagh cleared his throat as he re-entered the room. “Ye can save him, Claire.”

It wasn’t a question, but she heard the need for reassurance.

“I’m damn well going to try,” she said as much for her own benefit as for Murtagh’s, but her voice wobbled even as she tried to sound confident. She squeezed Jamie’s hand and brought it to her lips. “I can make a poultice for his infection,” she said with a bit more authority. “And maybe a tea.”

She brushed the hair back from his forehead ‒ faded dark locks with his natural red coming in at the roots. They’d caught on that he had dyed his hair through some of the descriptions they’d heard of him along the way. He must’ve stopped worrying about it once they reached France. He looked ridiculous and she wanted to be able to tease him about it, to see the way his ears turned pink when she did and hear his laugh. Later, she told herself. Get him well.

She pushed herself to her feet and went to examine his leg. Whoever had tended to it had done well ‒ the gash across his thigh had been stitched by a steady hand, and though the wound had become infected, that might not have been avoided even under Claire’s care.

But the bloodletting…

Indignation still fizzled in her veins. He’d already lost some blood from the accident, from the looks of it. And of all the things they could’ve tried to help him once infection set in, this was the worst.

“Where are the children?” she asked suddenly.

“Mary has them.”

“Did Faith see me‒”

Scream like a lunatic at everyone within earshot?

“Nay,” Murtagh said quickly. “She wasna in the room.”

Claire nodded at that. She knew the ground she was on with Faith was shaky at best. And the last thing she wanted was to give Faith any reason to fear her.

“Madame?”

She followed the sound to its source ‒ a frail, kindly-looking monk in the doorway that Claire got the distinct impression was sent in as an intermediary. But behind him stood a stocky figure with black hair and familiar slanted eyes. Jamie’s uncle, Alexander Fraser. Though she’d heard about him, they’d never met even during her time in France two years ago.

“You must be Claire,” he said. His voice had a strange dialect that Claire knew at once to be the result of a born and bred Highlander living so many of his adult years in France. “I must admit it is a shock to meet you at last, given that Jamie told us you were dead.”

“A misunderstanding,” she supplied lamely.

Un miracle,” said the quiet monk with a kind smile, and Claire decided that she liked him very much, even if he was sent in to placate her.

Abbot Alexander nodded to the man. “This is Brother Thomas. He can assist you with Jamie and bring you anything you need.” His eyes darkened as he added, “It was a terrible shock, what happened. We all want Jamie to be well again.”

She knew this was as close to an apology for the bloodletting as she would get. And that whoever’s call it had been would never be revealed to her. “Thank you, Abbot. I shall be very happy to have Brother Thomas’s assistance.”

 


 

Jamie heard her voice again, and felt his whole body orient toward the sound. Softer this time. Hushed. Bleary-eyed, he looked about and found her right there within reach, though he dared not try to touch her in case doing so would somehow banish the vision of her. No matter ‒ he hardly felt strong enough to turn his head let alone lift his hand.

“Am I dying?” he asked again.

“Not if I have anything to say about that,” she shot back at him, eyes snapping up at his in challenge. He smirked at this, weakly. Even as he neared the end, this part of his soul that Claire occupied and materialized before him was just as fierce and unrelenting as the real woman.

“Do you hear me, James Fraser?” she spoke again, gripping him by the chin as he fought to stay awake. “You do not have my permission to die.”

“Aye, lass…” He couldn’t manage more than that before darkness crept in once more.

 


 

Some time in the evening, Brother Thomas came around with supper for Claire and made her sit and eat. When he tried to encourage her to leave the room for a break and go see the others though, she resisted the idea.

After how she’d found Jamie, she sure as hell wasn’t leaving him unattended.

But at the moment, he was resting and there was nothing immediate that she could do for him ‒ and Brother Thomas swore he wouldn’t leave Jamie until she came back.

With enough prodding and reassurance, Claire left Jamie’s bedside in search of the rest of her family.

She found them in a small library and stood in the doorway watching them. Mary was sitting with them, one hand resting on her rounded belly. She still looked pale and drawn with worry, the poor thing.

And Murtagh had Faith on his knee, bouncing her slightly and talking in a low voice to her. Claire felt her throat clog with emotion, watching the two of them. She knew what that moment meant for Murtagh, having been the one to bring Faith to Culloden three months ago, to hold her again and see Faith’s family restored to her.

Claire stayed frozen in the doorway, a voyeur to this moment, never fully part of it. She had a visceral desire to walk right over to Murtagh and pluck Faith from his lap, to hold her close in her own arms again ‒ oh god, even to look at her and know she was real ‒ and yet that desire was overpowered by one thought that kept Claire in check. That whisper of doubt in her ear telling her that she’d already screwed up. She’d startled Faith out in the gardens and now what did the girl think of her?

She felt the baby kick and her hand went automatically to the spot. Hadn’t been that long ago that Faith was just a little nudge felt from within and now they were nearly strangers to each other.

Fergus noticed her first and raced to her side. “How is Milord?” he asked in a whisper, and she realized her hesitation to join them had come off as being the bearer of bad news.

“He’s alright.” She pulled him to her side and gave him a squeeze. “He’s still fighting.”

“Can I see him?”

She drew in a steep breath, choosing her words carefully. “Well, he’s resting right now, darling. Maybe tomorrow, alright?”

He gave her a half-hearted smile, but she knew she had crushed him. Of course he wanted to see Jamie, but if… if he saw him while he was fevered and weak, heard Jamie’s talk of dying… no, she didn’t want that for Fergus.

He slipped away from her and went to join the others. Claire watched as he bent down to talk to Faith and then as she jumped down from Murtagh’s knee to take Fergus’s hand. Claire’s hand came up to press just below her collarbone where it felt like her heart was splitting open at the seams. To see them together again and slipping easily back into a rapport with each other, as children often did without much difficulty… Her children ‒ Hers and Jamie’s ‒ together again.

The ache was still there for the time that was lost with Faith, the guilt over any unintended pain she’d caused her wee girl. But there was something tender and hopeful in knowing she’d returned Murtagh and Fergus to Faith’s life. They both loved her so, and Faith would know that soon enough. Claire held both things, the hurt and the hope, as she watched Fergus and Faith.

Murtagh saw her then, still standing in the doorway. “Come sit down,” he called out.

She pushed away from the doorway and went in.

 

It was later in the night when Murtagh came to check on her and Jamie. With Brother Thomas’s help, she’d made a poultice for Jamie’s leg and also managed a few times to get Jamie to drink some tea for his fever and pain. He slept fitfully, tossing and turning, and the fever hadn’t broken. Every time he spoke to her, it never felt like she was speaking to the real Jamie.

“Take another break,” Murtagh insisted gruffly. “I’m no’ sure all this pacing is good for the bairn.”

Her hand smoothed over the bump. She’d forgotten how everyone treated her as though she was made of glass as soon as the baby was visible. “Baby’s fine. I’m fine.”

Murtagh pulled a face at that and grunted, which she ignored.

“Ye’ve hardly gone near the lass since we’ve been here.” He said this bluntly, and Claire blinked quickly against the burn of oncoming tears. She’d hoped no one had noticed. “She’s awake still, wi’ Mary. Go an’ put the lass tae bed, Claire. I’ll sit wi’ Jamie.”

She chewed the inside of her lip, considering. With Jamie, she knew how to care for him ‒ a little too well, the damn fool. But Faith…

“And if anyone tries tae bleed him, it’ll be the last thing they ever do.”

She chuckled softly at this and her heart swelled with affection for the old grump that loved them all better than they deserved. “Thank you, Murtagh.”

He grunted and dropped into the chair at Jamie’s bedside.

“And where’s Fergus?”

“They gave him a room and he’s gone tae bed.”

“Thank you,” she said again, patting his shoulder as she moved past him, “for everything today. I didn’t expect… well, it’s been a shock, with Jamie. I couldn’t have managed without you.”

Without looking at her, he reached up and squeezed her hand where it rested on his shoulder. “Get some rest, a nighean.”

“I won’t be able to sleep. I’ll be back in an hour or two.”

“Alright,” Murtagh said with a resigned sigh. “Go and see Faith then and dinna hurry back. I’ll find ye if anything happens.”

She slipped quietly out into the hall and turned a corner leading to more sleeping quarters. She knew where Mary’s room was, but she went first in search of Fergus. He was still awake when she found him.

“Your own room, hmm?” She sat on the other small bed across from his, looking about the room. “Haven’t had that luxury in a while.”

Fergus’s mouth twitched slightly, like he was trying not to smile. “If you’re scared, just say so and you can stay in here, Milady. Nothing to be ashamed of.”

She grabbed the pillow on the spare bed and flung it at his head, relishing the sound of his laugh as he ducked and covered his head. Cheeky little arse

But when his head poked back up, the moment of teasing had passed. She stood and dropped a kiss to the top of his head. “Just wanted to see you before you went to sleep. Have sweet dreams, love.”

“Goodnight, Milady.”

He caught her hand as she was turning away, and gave it a tight squeeze.

“I love you, my boy,” she murmured.

“I know. je t'aime aussi.”

 

Mary’s door was open and there they were by the fireplace, Mary sitting in one chair and Faith leaning against the other one. She had something small in her hand, some kind of toy, and alternated between moving it along the seat of the chair and turning to talk to Mary.

Faith glanced up and noticed her. Claire forced a smile and took that opportunity to enter the room.

“Claire! Oh, come sit. Here, Faith, let’s make room.”

Faith shuffled backwards until she bumped into Mary’s knees, staring curiously up at Claire as she took the other seat.

Mary asked about Jamie and she gave her the same update she’d given Murtagh and Fergus and any one of the monks who had poked their head into Jamie’s room to ask about him.

“I am sorry for startling you earlier,” Claire added. “I hope it wasn’t… well, I hope you’re feeling alright now.”

Mary exhaled a smile. “You’re actually the second person I’ve thought was dead to show up out of the blue, and both of those instances happened in the last few months…” Mary shook her head at that, and Claire realized with sinking dread that it had been Jack Randall she referred to. She’d all but forgotten… but no, she could see now that Mary didn’t want to discuss that. “Come to that, both times the message came from Jamie that you and‒ and‒”

“It was a terrible misunderstanding,” she said quickly. Firmly. “Jamie had no idea I was… alive.” Still had no idea, really.

Claire took a deep breath, unsure what Jamie might’ve told Mary already. “We knew that we couldn’t win. We knew if we fought the Redcoats in our current state, there was no way the Jacobites would be victorious. So we had Murtagh bring Faith to us and we were going to run. But there was… some confusion on that day. It was chaotic and we were desperate to get out of there. But I got separated from Jamie and Faith. And I think Jamie thought I was taken by the Redcoats and killed. He didn’t lie to you intentionally. He just didn’t know the truth.”

Mary’s gaze drifted towards the fire, still shaking her head slightly, though Claire got the impression it was more to do with the improbability of all that had occurred than any sort of ill feelings. And Claire didn’t blame her one bit.

“I’m glad you’re alright,” Mary added shyly. “And that you’re here.” Her hand dropped gently to Faith’s head, stroking her soft red curls in a familiar way. Her gaze flew to Claire suddenly, eyes wide. “Oh I’m so stupid! You’re here for Faith! Of course you are. And here I am chattering away with you.”

“No, no it’s alright,” Claire said swiftly. She had come here for Faith, but… “I did want the chance to speak with you, too. To explain.”

Mary breathed a sigh of relief but she still smiled politely and moved to stand. “She’s slept in here since the accident. You’re welcome to stay in here as well. But I’ll‒ well, I’ll make myself scarce for a bit. Give you two some time together.”

She moved a bit slowly, her much smaller frame balancing a larger belly than Claire, but Mary extricated herself from the room as swiftly as possible, closing the door behind her.

And then it was only Claire and Faith.

With the sound of the door closing, Faith seemed to realize then that no one she knew was with her. Just Claire. Just this odd woman who had wept hysterically at the sight of her earlier today. Claire had already been preparing herself for this ‒ No more tears. Not from herself, at least. She wouldn’t scare Faith again.

Faith stood stock still by the chair Mary had vacated, no longer wide-eyed with curiosity. Instead, she seemed to search the room for something familiar. She made a beeline for the door, which she wasn’t tall enough to open.

“Lovey, it’s alright…” Claire moved to her feet, but hesitated to take a step further. But when she stood, she drew Faith’s gaze and felt something wrench in her chest. The panic in the tiny girl was palpable. “I know you’re frightened and you don’t remember me, but I’m‒”

Faith’s expression pinched with worry and she breathed in deep, and it made Claire pause.

“Want my da,” Faith croaked in her little voice, and then her face scrunched up and she began to howl.

Claire moved in an instant to scoop the girl up. She held Faith close while she cried, the small girl’s body resting above the swell of the baby.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered so quietly that she knew Faith couldn’t hear it over her own wailing. “I’m so sorry. I’ll never leave you again. I promise.” She slowly paced the small room and rubbed circles on Faith’s back, just as she used to when Faith was a baby.

Faith’s howling didn’t let up, that stubborn streak making itself known. But the longer it went on, Faith crying in her arms and allowing Claire to comfort her, the less her tiny girl felt like a stranger to Claire. How many nights in Faith’s life had been spent just like this?

And eventually, her cries became more of a whimper and then ceased altogether.

Her head popped up from Claire’s shoulder with a red face still streaked with tears and her brows still creased together. “Want da,” she tried again, her lips forming a pout.

Claire’s fingers caressed the sweet face, wiping at the tears. It broke her heart that she couldn’t just bring her to him. “He’s still here, but he’s sleeping. You’ll see him as soon as he’s better, I promise.”

“No,” Faith whined half-heartedly. Claire swayed in place with Faith and watched her yawn and then shiver slightly and burrow into Claire’s warmth.

“Shall we sit by the fire?”

“Aye.” Faith murmured, succumbing to another yawn.

“Here,” Claire grabbed a woolen shawl and draped around them both, and sat in one of the chairs by the fire. Faith sat up straight once she was in Claire’s lap, glancing about again. Her gaze turned back to Claire.

“Wha’s yer name?” Faith asked in her sweet little voice. Her head cocked to the side in a familiar way and Claire felt the sting of tears but blinked them away swiftly.

“I’m your mama,” Claire said, feeling her heart clench at saying those words. She delicately traced the sweet face that she longed to smother with kisses, wiping at the last of Faith’s tears and brushing curls off her sweaty forehead. Faith’s brows furrowed together again and Claire wondered what she made of that, what she could understand of the word at the tender age of two.

“My mam?”

Claire made a slight sound, caught between a laugh and a cry. “Yes. Yours. I carried you inside me for several months while you grew. And when you were born, I held you close and I couldn’t believe that you were mine. My baby.”

“Baby.” Faith pointed to her rounded belly and Claire exhaled a soft, surprised laugh at this.

“Well, yes, there is one in there, but I meant you. You were a baby in my belly once, too.” She brushed Faith’s curls back out of her face again and cupped the back of her head to pull her forward, meeting no resistance from the girl. Faith’s head rested on her mother’s chest, a little awkwardly draped over the baby bump. Claire sighed. She was already running out of room in her lap and a desperate feeling gripped her, that she needed to rebuild her relationship with Faith before the next one arrived. “I would hold you here and let you hear my heartbeat as a newborn baby, the same sound you heard from within when I carried you. And you knew who I was from that sound.” Faith stayed quiet and relaxed under Claire’s hands as they cradled her head and slowly rubbed her back. “My baby.”

She wasn’t sure at what point Faith drifted off to sleep, but she stayed in that chair with her girl curled up on her chest much longer than she needed to. She felt Faith’s exhales of breath caressing her skin once more, no longer the quick little puffs from when she was first born, but deeper now. This was how they had started out, the two of them, and this was how they were finding their way back. Claire’s arms went about Faith’s still form, anchoring her there, and she pressed a kiss to the crown of her head, lingering there to breathe her in and know she was real. The tears did come then, spilling fast down her face. She shook slightly with choked-back sobs but didn’t make a sound.

Barely three months ago, Claire had been in 1948 with Frank. It seemed like another lifetime ago ‒ and Culloden with Jamie and Faith, another lifetime before that. She’d searched for months and now that she had this girl back in her arms again, she’d never let her go.

“Faith Elizabeth Janet Beauchamp Fraser,” she addressed her sleeping child slowly, pronouncing each name distinctly as Jamie had done with his own name when he first told her. “I don’t know what your future holds, but I promise to do everything in my power to see you living a long and happy life. And I know you don’t know me anymore, but you will. You’ll always have me from this moment on. I traveled 200 years just to find you… I’m not likely to let anything else stand in the way. And you won’t ever lose me.” Her lower lip trembled and a few rogue tears spilled onto Faith’s head. “You and me, Faith,” Claire rasped, resting her cheek on top of Faith’s head. “We’ll be alright. I’m here. I love you.”

 

She didn’t want to move for fear of waking Faith ‒ and in doing so, of ruining the moment of being able to hold her baby to her chest ‒ but she couldn’t stay there all night. She needed to check in on Jamie.

So she stood slowly, carefully, and readjusted Faith to rest her head high up on Claire’s shoulder. The girl breathed in sharply during the move, but turned her head into Claire’s neck and let out a sleepy sigh, settling back in.

Faith’s bottom rested just above the swell of the baby, which was almost protruding far enough to sit Faith on top of it, but not quite. “I really will have my hands full in a few months, won’t I?”

Claire sauntered quietly down the hall with Faith and turned into Jamie’s room to find not only Murtagh where she had left him, but Fergus, who had joined him too.

He must’ve snuck in as soon as she went to see Faith, since he was already sound asleep in a chair near the foot of the bed. Murtagh caught her eye as she entered and merely shrugged. “Didna see any harm in letting him stay. Jamie’s been out since ye left.”

“It’s alright.”

She reached over and brushed Fergus’s curls back from his forehead before shifting Faith’s weight higher in her arms. Despite wanting to keep the children from seeing Jamie in a distressing state, she felt strengthened by their presence and by Murtagh’s. They were whole, finally. And as long as Jamie stayed strong, they would remain so.

 


 

“Jamie?”

Claire’s voice called to him, and he whined. What punishment was this? He had fought so hard these last few months to give Faith the best life he could, to accept his future as just a father but no longer a husband. And while he was torn between fighting to stay for Faith or give in and be at peace... be with Claire… it felt as though the spirit of Claire was urging him to stay put. Stay with Faith.

“Jamie, don’t give up on me.” Her voice was pinched with worry. “Not now that I’ve got you back.”

But he didn’t know that he was strong enough to keep fighting.

Oh, lass, dinna be pained on my account, he wanted to say, i’ll be wi’ ye soon. But no words came out.

 


 

The gardens provided an escape during the day as well as allowing for Fergus and Faith to run off some of their energy. Even though she’d been slow to walk at first for her age, Faith was quite steady on her feet now and Fergus made a game of chase with her, running at a slow pace to keep her after him. Every now and then, he’d slow down enough to let her catch him and flop dramatically onto the grass, which never failed to make Faith burst into laughter.

It was a short-lived escape from their worry, and inevitably for Claire, something would happen between Fergus and Faith that made her wish Jamie were present to witness it. They’d already lost so much time…

 

“Want my da!” Faith declared as she sped ahead to Jamie’s room before anyone could stop her. Claire huffed and picked up her pace as best she could.

“See? Da’s sleeping. We have to be quiet.”

Faith stood beside the bed, and her tiny frame shook. She was close to tears, Claire could tell. Nothing about the situation made sense to Faith, and she didn’t need to verbalize her distress for everyone else to know it was deeply upsetting to not have Jamie awake and alert.

“How about some cuddles for Da? You have to be careful of his leg but you can go up here by his shoulder and cuddle with him, if you want.”

It was nearing Faith’s nap time anyway, from what Mary had said. Faith didn’t need further invitation and started to scramble up the side of the bed.

“Easy, love,” Claire laughed, jumping in to help situate Faith to the other side of the bed where there was more room. She moved Jamie’s arm away from his body, creating space for Faith to curl against his side. “There we go. Rest your eyes, sweet girl.”

 

Jamie muttered softly and shifted in his sleep. Claire reached over and felt his forehead. He was sweaty and didn’t feel too terribly warm, which was promising. Claire tried to keep her hope tempered.

“Fergus, do you know where they keep the herbs for making tea? Could you run and grab me some more?”

Fergus shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I do not know, Milady,” he said regretfully. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.”

She sighed. Brother Thomas wasn’t around and neither was Mary, but she wanted to make Jamie a fresh cup of tea and see if he would drink some of it the next time he roused.

Faith was still knocked out against Jamie’s shoulder and it was only Claire and Fergus awake in the room. “Come with me. I’ll show you so you know for next time. It won’t take long.”

 


 

Jamie opened his eyes and felt like he was waking for the first time after a very strange dream. Tired and still weak, but his head felt clear. No more chills or aches through his whole body. No, just a dull pain in his thigh when he twitched his leg. He felt too warm and tried to kick his uninjured leg free from the blankets.

The fever was gone and he let out a sigh that was only partly relief. If the fever had left him… then so had Claire.

He became slowly aware of a small, warm weight on his right shoulder and looked to see a head full of wispy, red curls that could only belong to Faith. His arm tightened around her as best as he could and he turned to press a kiss to the crown of her head. “Deo gratias…” He whispered hoarsely into her hair, holding the only remaining testament that he had of his and Claire’s love. I’m sae sorry I almost left ye, a nighean...

She slumbered on, undisturbed by this even as Jamie’s hand came to rest on her head in supplication and he offered up a plea for this child’s safety and a humble request that if he should have to live the rest of his years on this earth without his wife, that he might still live to see this child of theirs grow up…

“Oh thank god!”

He stiffened at the sound of his wife’s voice, knowing it meant he was not as well as he thought, if he was still hearing her. But even as he wouldn’t turn his head to look towards her voice, he was aware that he and Faith were not alone. Out of the corner of his eye, a figure filled the entryway and in his peripheral vision, his sight told him it was Claire. But his head knew better. It wasn’t her. It couldn’t be her.

Then she drew near and her hands framed his face. His eyelids slammed shut in disbelief, pushing tears down his cheeks. “Thank god!” she said again in a tight whisper.

“Claire?” His voice came out ragged. Her hands gently held his face and turned him towards her. His eyes fluttered open and there she was, smiling down at him through her own tears. He breathed in sharply and could only stare because she would always be the most beautiful sight to his eyes ‒ And a sight he thought he would never see again. “How‒”

She leaned down and kissed him, tentatively at first but feeling him respond, she let the kiss unfold, lingering for what seemed like a blissful eternity until she pulled away, leaving them both panting softly. He reached up and touched her, tracing the outline of her face.

She was trembling terribly, almost on the verge of crying, as her eyes slid shut at his touch, and she let out a shuddering sigh. “I thought you were going to die on me.”

His heart felt as though it were trying to march right through his ribcage, it was hammering so fiercely. “I thought… I thought you were a dream. I canna believe ye’re real.”

He shook his head then as the truth set in. “Ye came all the way to France?” He was aghast, still shaken by the very presence of her. She smiled through a fresh wave of tears.

“I came two hundred years and all the way to France,” her hand reached tentatively for Faith, hovering just above the girl’s head before gently making contact, “Just to find you two.”

There was a soft scuffle of feet and Claire glanced over her shoulder, smiling brilliantly. “And I didn’t come alone, Jamie.”

“Milord!”

He’d hardly processed her words before Fergus was there, flinging himself haphazardly at Jamie. Fergus’s head buried itself in Jamie’s chest, and Jamie clutched him close, feeling a sudden, sharp sob tear from his throat. Oh God, his son.

His vision clouded over, but not before he’d noticed his godfather standing in the doorway. One arm tightened around Faith while the other held Fergus to him, and his resolve not to openly weep like a baby finally crumbled.

He had believed for so long now that his family as he once knew it was lost for good… and to have them returned to him in one instant, he felt a brief flicker of doubt. That this was nothing more than a fevered dream, to have everything his heart desired.

But he could feel the weight still of Faith leaning on his shoulder, awake now and sitting up from the sudden bursts of noise around her. He could feel where Fergus held a fistful of his shirt in a clenched fist, refusing to let go, and where the boy's tears were soaking through the fabric to Jamie’s chest. And he could feel Claire’s delicate hand brushing his hair back from his face, the softest touch but unmistakably real, before she framed his face again and kissed him, first on his lips and then peppering soft kisses across his face like she needed to cover every inch of him with her love.

And it was everything and all too much.

His family was here. And they were real. Deo gratias.

Chapter Text

“‒And so I stole coins from those filthy bast‒”

Fergus. Watch your tongue.”

Jamie worked hard to suppress his smile as Fergus shot Claire a look that clearly said she’d taken the wind out his sails with her chiding ‒ right at the height of his story. Claire was none the wiser, having hardly looked up from her work to scold Fergus.

“Mind that Faith is listening too, aye?” Jamie added.

Fergus sighed but gave a small nod of agreement before continuing with his story. Faith, while no doubt listening, gave no indication that she was aware of the conversation happening around her. Instead, she was busy trying to climb all over Jamie while he was sitting up in bed.

Not that Jamie minded one bit. He had Faith in his arms and Fergus nearby, talking a mile a minute about his journey from Lallybroch to France. Claire was preparing clean bandages to change the dressing on Jamie’s wound and Murtagh was tucked out of the way, sitting contently in a chair, completely at peace with the world. Jamie had everything he needed right there.

Claire turned and their eyes met. His breath left him in a rush. She was here with him, smiling softly when she found him watching her, and some part of him worried he would wake up any moment and find this all to be a dream.

She came around to the side of his bed and his hand reached out to touch the rounded bump where their bairn was growing healthy and strong.

God, the bairn…

He’d missed the evidence of it in the immediate aftermath of realizing that Claire was very much real and here with him. But when his senses fully returned to him, the proof of Claire’s pregnancy was obvious. And then came the sweeping sense of relief that nothing had happened to her, that she was still with child. On top of everything else he’d gained back, the promise of another bairn felt too good to be true.

Claire paused and let one hand cover Jamie’s. They shared a smile and his heart leapt to his throat. Every look, every slight touch was much-needed reassurance and they were both basking in it.

“Baby’s pretty quiet just now but you should be able to feel her moving soon.”

“Her?”

Claire shrugged almost shyly, and her gaze dropped. “Just… just a feeling. I don’t know. Or ‘him’. Could very likely be a boy.”

He felt the urge to share something but dismissed it — that he’d dreamt of the bairn while Claire was gone, more than once. A nameless child, about a year of age, and he never knew if it was a boy or a girl, only that it was his and Claire’s. But it had felt like a gift at the time, the only way he might know their next child.

Now, his thumb caressed the baby bump through Claire’s layers of skirts. It still hadn’t quite sunken in yet… all that was restored to him.

Jamie inhaled sharply as Faith’s knee suddenly dug into his shoulder, hitting a bruise he didn’t realize he had.

“Faith! Get down.”

Where she thought she was going from Jamie’s shoulders was anyone’s guess, but she still disliked being pulled down by Claire and set back on her feet on the bed. She reached for Jamie and buried her face in the crook of his neck.

“S’alright, a leannan,” Jamie murmured into her hair. His gaze met Claire’s, seeing a flicker of something there whenever the attention in the room shifted to Faith. But she smoothed it over with a slight, tense smile and finally began to remove the bandages around his thigh. She had a light touch, but Jamie still tensed up out of anticipation. He’d already accidentally twitched his leg and caused a flare-up of pain.

Claire’s work also drew Faith’s attention and he noticed the way the toddler’s brows furrowed in concern. He forced himself to relax his features and smile. “Yer ma’s just fixing me up so I’ll be good as new verra soon.”

That earned him a pointed look from Claire. “Your infection is clearing up, but the leg will take a little longer to heal.”

Despite the seriousness of her tone and the way she looked mildly upset with him, Jamie felt the small tug of a grin, real this time. He’d missed her scolding as much as anything else. His fierce Sassenach. “Alright, mebbe not verra soon then.”

It struck Jamie that it was suddenly very quiet. He turned to see Fergus still sitting cross-legged on the bed, watching them with an unreadable expression on his face. His heart sank. “I’m sorry, lad, we interrupted you. Go on.”

“Actually, Milord, I wanted to ask you if Milady ever told you about cars from her time. Because if so, I won’t recount that part of our journey.”

Jamie’s eyes widened in surprise and sought out Claire’s. She kept her head down, focused on her work, but cleared her throat awkwardly. “Fergus, darling, we can leave out the discussions of cars this time.”

Fergus continued on without any hesitation, and Claire’s gaze raised to meet his then. “We’ll talk later?” she whispered.

 


 

“So… Fergus knows.”

Claire met his gaze and gave a slight shrug, feigning nonchalance though he could see very well that she was nervous.

Murtagh had volunteered to take Fergus and Faith out for some exercise ‒ Mary had made herself scarce of late ‒ and Jamie couldn’t go anywhere on account of his leg. So it was suddenly just to the two of them, for the first time since the morning of Culloden.

And perhaps there were more pressing matters to discuss first, but the notion that an eleven-year-old lad carried such a secret was still rattling around in Jamie’s brain, leaving him unsettled.

“I suppose now’s as good a time as any to have that conversation.” She pulled up the chair at his bedside and sat down.

“I ken ye had yer reasons, Sassenach, but he’s only a lad and to trust him with something so…” Jamie let the sentence hang, floundering helplessly with all he wanted to say. He reached for her hand and held it tight, still needing any chance to touch her and know she was real. “After Cranesmuir, when ye told me, I kent the weight of such a secret. And while we had tae tell Murtagh and he believed ye, it was still a risk we took. I canna risk yer life like that again, mo ghraidh.”

Claire pursed her lips. “Then you’re not going to like what I have to say.”

“What d’ye mean?”

“Fergus knows… and so do Jenny and Ian.”

Claire.”

He felt the rush of anger fizzling through his veins and he wanted to move ‒ to get up, to pace, to expel some of this urge to fight ‒ but his leg kept him immobile. Claire’s hand was already pressed placatingly to his chest, as if in warning that he better not move.

“Jamie, it was my choice.”

“Oh aye, and I suppose my thoughts on the matter meant nothing to ye since I wasna around.”

“Of course they matter to me, but you weren’t there and‒”

The crack of her voice rattled his resolve to stay angry.

“You weren’t there,” she said again, a little steadier this time but it still cut him to the core. “And neither was Faith. And I was left to fill in the blanks for our family. There were things that happened when I went back to my time and I needed to be able to talk about that. And it was my choice and I wanted to tell them, Jamie. Do you understand what it’s been like to keep that part of myself cut off from the people that I’ve come to love? Jenny and Ian… well they didn’t understand it, not unlike you at first, but they still believed me. And for the first time in a long time, I felt… I felt like myself. I could be here in this time with you and our family, and I could still hold all the pieces of myself and share about my life before.”

Claire,” he said her name again with a resigned sigh. His hand covered her own where it still rested over his heart and brought it to his lips, kissing her palm. “Mo ghraidh, if anything ever happened to ye because of someone knowing what ye are…”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me. I’m not saying there isn’t a risk ‒ I know there is. But not with our loved ones.”

The notion still left his stomach churning at the thought, but the damage was done. Jenny, Ian, and Fergus already knew. “Aye, well, I’d still like tae have a wee talk wi’ the lad. Make sure he kens the seriousness of being trusted wi’ something so important.”

Claire smiled softly, but it didn’t reach her eyes.

“What is it?”

She drew in a deep breath, steadying herself. “I’m not trying to suggest that I don’t think it’s a weighty decision. It is. And Fergus should know that.”

“But?”

“But it also brought us closer in a way I didn’t realize it could. I trusted him with something big. And I think he understands that. We were able to talk freely ‒ about cars, yes, but my childhood too, and my parents and Uncle Lamb. And I want… I want that with Faith, someday. I want to tell her and the baby when they’re old enough to understand.”

His head fell back against the headboard with a dull thud. “Sassenach…”

“How would you feel if your parents kept something like that from you for your whole life?”

“I would feel nothing if I never kent about it.”

Claire rolled her eyes.

“Fergus already knows,” she reminded him. “And it wouldn’t be any time soon with Faith and the baby, obviously.”

He scrubbed a hand over his face and sighed. “It’s no’ that I particularly want tae keep this from them,” he admitted. His thumb traced over the knuckles of Claire’s hand and brushed over the metal ring seated there on one finger. His ring, made from the key to his home. “But it feels terribly reckless tae trust bairns wi’ a secret that could bring harm tae ye in the wrong hands. And I never want tae be reckless wi’ yer life, mo nighean donn. Ever.”

“I know that,” she said with a sigh. Her other hand came up to trace along his jaw, back and forth ‒ a touch so achingly familiar to him that he couldn’t help but be soothed by it. He exhaled heavily, feeling like putty in her hands.

“What if Faith remembers?” Claire added softly. “How else would I explain my absence to her?”

“We could think of something‒”

“But I don’t want to lie.”

He saw the desperate look that overtook her, the tears that filled her eyes and threatened to spill over. Oh, Claire. “C’mere.” He reached for her, fingers tangling in the mess of curls at the nape of her neck as he tugged her close, tucking her head under his chin.

“She already has enough cause to hate me,” she murmured tearfully, half-muffled into his chest. His eyes slammed shut, pushing a tear down his cheek.

“No, Sassenach, she could never hate ye.” He pressed a kiss to her hair. He had known in his heart that tearing them apart, even unintentionally, would destroy Claire. Had carried the guilt from that moment every day for three months. But it was another thing entirely to finally bear witness to the damage he’d done; the hell she’d gone through just to get them back and even still, the work of reconciling lay before them. All because of him.

“I hadna thought that Faith… she’s so like ye, Claire. Past those red curls, she has yer smile, yer kindness, yer mind. And Lord, is she stubborn. She’s yer bairn through and through. It never crossed my mind that she wouldna be able to travel like you. I never would ha‒” He broke off, finding himself too choked up to speak further, his eyes stinging with tears. He swallowed thickly and managed to utter in a tight voice, “Can ye ever forgive me, Claire?”

She pulled back then, watery eyes meeting his own. “I was upset ‒ heartbroken, really. Everything happened so fast at the stones and I was angry with you for forcing me to go. For trying to send both of us away from you.” Her chin quivered slightly and she took a moment to collect herself. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead to hers.

“I know you, James Fraser,” she murmured into the space between them. His heart clenched at her words and his hand found its way to the nape of her neck again, holding onto her, feeling the steady thrum of her pulse just beneath the delicate skin there. His true north whenever he was lost. “There were times in the last few months that I wanted to throttle you, but I never once thought any of this was your intention to hurt me.”

He shook his head against her, unintentionally bumping noses with her. “No, but I still did, didn’t I?” He pulled back only slightly so that he could look her in the eye, their faces merely inches from each other.

She never could hide what she was thinking and he was counting on that this time. Of course he’d hurt her. Beyond anything imaginable, no doubt. And he couldn’t bear it, but that was his penance ‒ to face the extent to which he’d hurt her.

“Just promise me something?” she dodged his question with one of her own. “You can’t ever try and send me away again ‒ even if it’s not through the stones, you can’t‒

“No, never. I won’t.” He sealed his promise with a kiss. “Christ, I couldna bear it, either.”

There was a slight rap on the door and they pulled back from each other only slightly, both struggling to shift away from the heaviness of the moment.

“Come in.”

It was Brother Thomas bringing Jamie’s supper into the room and asking Claire if she wanted to have her supper brought in as well, or if she’d like to join the others.

“Ye should go, mo nighean donn.”

She glanced back at him, slightly surprised.

“Ye shouldna be stuck in this room all day on account of me.”

Her brows furrowed together in concern. “Are you in any pain? I could make you some tea.”

“Nah,” he lied, capturing her hand and bringing it to his lips for a kiss. “Only a little tired. Go and kiss the bairns for me, Sassenach, and enjoy some real company.”

She quirked an eyebrow at that, but still moved to stand. “You should get some rest. I’ll be back to check on you after supper. And we’ll… we’ll talk. About‒”

“Aye,” he said softly, understanding. There was still so much that hadn’t been said between them. So much left to share. “We have time now.”

 


 

Claire found him asleep in his bed when she returned, and was pleased by this. She knew his leg was bothering him but he never let on whenever there was company, stubborn man that he was. His wound should heal up wonderfully, so long as he didn’t push himself, but it would take time. With the emotional upheaval of their arrival, she was afraid he was already pushing himself to be present with them despite how tired and in pain he was.

Supper had been a lighthearted affair, with the children drawing smiles and laughter out of them. Mary had joined them, though she seemed a little withdrawn. And Fergus had of course wanted to return to see Milord after supper, but Claire wanted to protect the little bit of peace that Jamie needed. Instead, she reminded him that they had time ‒ they had the rest of forever together as a family ‒ and he could visit with Jamie in the morning.

 

She tried to be quiet as she prepared tea for him, but just as she was letting it steep, she turned and saw Jamie’s head tilted towards her, watching her from bed.

“Hi,” she whispered, heart melting under the warmth of his gaze.

He held his hand out to her and she crossed the room to take it between her own.

“Wanted to be sure you were no’ a dream,” he said with a sleepy half-smile. She returned his smile and also felt his forehead. No, no fever. Just in the place between sleep and waking. She leaned down and kissed him, savoring the simple joy in that, before she sat carefully on the edge of the bed.

“If in your dreams, I’m always making you tea, then I’m a little disappointed in your imagination.”

He barked a laugh at that, the first she’d heard in what felt like forever. “Weel,” he drew their clasped hands towards him and kissed the back of her hand with a reverence that made her heart ache, “I happen tae like watching ye do yer healing, Sassenach. Just the sight of ye fills my heart wi’ joy.”

She smiled through the urge to cry. “God. You can’t say things like that to your pregnant wife. You’ll turn me into a blubbering mess.”

He looked more pleased than chastised, the beginnings of a smile tugging at the corner of his lips ‒ though she suspected that had more to do with the reminder that she carried their child. “Hmm. No, we canna have that, Sassenach.”

She shook her head at him and moved to stand. “I made you some willow bark tea. Should help with the pain.”

It was while she was setting the cup of tea next to him on the bedside table that the unmistakable screams of a disgruntled toddler could be heard from down the hall.

“What on earth?”

The sound grew louder very quickly and by the time Claire swung the door open, there was a harried-looking Murtagh passing Faith into her arms.

“Mary tried tae put her tae bed and…” Murtagh gestured vaguely to Faith in the throes of a meltdown.

“It’s alright, just‒” Claire nodded in Jamie’s direction and Murtagh went without needing further instruction to help Jamie sit up.

She looked down at the wailing child in her arms, red-faced and sweaty with tears spilling down her cheeks. “Oh, lovey…”

Murtagh stepped away and then Faith caught sight of her father. Claire tightened her hold on the girl as she practically tumbled out of Claire’s arms reaching for Jamie.

“Are you alright to take her?” she asked him. A stupid question, really. They had no other option to calm Faith down and they all knew it. Still, Jamie nodded and reached for her.

Faith buried her face into the crook of Jamie’s neck and howled.

Shhhhh a nighean. Na gabh dragh. Tha mi an seo.”

Claire felt her own racing heart slowing down with Jamie’s soothing words to Faith ‒ Gaelic words she knew by heart now: Don’t worry. I am here.

She turned back to face Murtagh, her empty arms now folded tight across her chest. “Thank you for bringing her. For all your help over the last few days. It’s been…”

Words failed her in trying to sum it up, and instead she shrugged her shoulders. “Well,” she gestured to her injured husband trying to console their screaming child. “You know.”

“Aye,” Murtagh sighed softly, brows raised. “I do ken.”

She thought suddenly of Fergus and the look on his face when she told him after supper that Jamie needed to rest. And now here they were with Faith…

It felt as though she were being pulled in all directions at once and failing everyone spectacularly.

Murtagh reached out and gave her elbow a gentle squeeze. “I’ll look in on the lad tonight.”

Her chin quivered but she smiled and tried to keep it together at least until Murtagh was out of the room. She didn’t know how they would’ve managed without Murtagh and Mary the last few days. “Thank you. For always looking out for him, but especially now.”

Murtagh awkwardly brushed off her words, never one to take compliments, and bid her goodnight before slipping out of the room.

Faith’s screaming had lessened to hiccuping sobs as she struggled to get her breathing under control again. Jamie rubbed slow circles on her back and continued to speak his soft-spoken words of comfort. It was so reminiscent of the difficult nights in Faith’s infancy when she wouldn’t sleep, and Claire wanted nothing more than to settle there in bed beside Jamie and cuddle Faith between them.

Instead, she came around to the other side of the bed and sat there at the foot of it, watching Jamie gently coax Faith out of her stormy mood. Soon enough, that tear-stained face was smiling and Claire watched as Jamie lifted Faith and gently plopped her onto the space next to him on the bed. Faith burst into laughter, bordering on hysterical in her post-meltdown, overtired haze, and pushed herself unsteadily to her feet and launched herself at Jamie. “Again!”

Without any reason, Claire thought very suddenly of Frank... of their conversation when she’d told him the truth. He’d wanted a life with her again, one they could bring her baby into and raise together. But even when given a little time to sit with that idea, her heart had rebelled against it. She’d only ever wanted this ‒ a second chance at raising this family with Jamie.

“Careful!” Claire gasped, heart in her throat as Jamie narrowly avoided a kick to his injured leg and hefted a squirming toddler higher up against his chest.

“Frow me!”

“Throw ye? I didna throw ye. I dropped ye, ye daft wee thing.”

“Aye, again,” Faith agreed, the distinction completely lost on her as much as Jamie’s teasing.

“Aye, one more time‒”

“And be careful of Da’s leg,” Claire interjected.

“‒ and then it’s time for bed, a leannan.” He shifted Faith’s weight onto his hands and winked at Claire in reassurance, and once more plopped her onto the soft bedding. “There, that’s all for tonight.”

Faith stood and wobbled and leaned into Jamie’s shoulder. Claire fought every single urge to grab Faith away from the injured side of Jamie. Toddlers were about as aware of their surroundings as someone who was falling-down drunk. “No’ yet,” she said to Jamie.

“No’ ready for bed yet?” he said in a voice that was clearly playing along with some sort of game Claire wasn’t accustomed to. Meanwhile, he plucked Faith from his side and situated her to sit on his opposite leg. “What should we do wi’ ourselves then?”

“A story,” Faith insisted, leaning her head back against Jamie’s chest to look up at him with pleading eyes.

“Ye want a story?” Jamie teased her, as if it was the most outrageous thing to ask for. Claire was simply transfixed by them. It felt… it felt like home, trying to settle their wild one for bed. She could almost forget that she’d become a stranger to her daughter, being able to witness how easy it was between Jamie and their girl. Could almost imagine a time when it might be like that with her and Faith in the future.

Faith nodded curtly. “Uh-hm. Story.”

Jamie’s gaze was brimming with joy as it met Claire’s. He smiled as he asked, “And what kind of story for tonight?”

“My mam!” Faith cheered immediately.

Her heart leapt at those words and she looked from Faith back to Jamie, silently questioning. Jamie’s expression turned tender, almost sheepish, before he went back to addressing Faith. “Yer mam is right over there, a nighean.”

And then Faith’s gaze was on her, wide-eyed and curious, and Claire’s heart tumbled in her chest.

“Perhaps she could tell ye a story tonight.” Jamie patted the spot next to him at the head of the bed. “C’mon up here, Sassenach.”

Her gaze flickered hesitantly to Faith. “Would you like that? If I told you a story?”

Faith nodded shyly, hiding a smile behind one fist. And that was all it took to send Claire’s heart soaring. She blinked quickly against the sting of tears and offered Faith a wobbly smile in return. “Well, alright then,” she said thickly. “It’s a deal. But Da has to be able to drink his tea so that he starts to feel better.” She stood and moved to the head of the bed, taking the pillow on that side and shoving it more towards the center before she sat down, leaning against the headboard. “And that means you should lay your head here,” she tapped the pillow now situated between her and Jamie, with just enough space for their wee girl to lay down.

“Aye,” Jamie murmured, lifting Faith up for a sound kiss to her cheek before gently setting her down between them. “Time tae lay quietly and listen, lass.”

Faith didn’t need any further prompting and lay curled on her side, face nuzzling into the pillow. This was routine for her, Claire realized, and Jamie’s words from moments before suddenly took on new meaning.

“Jamie…” she breathed out, looking up at him. He had his cup of tea finally, gulping it down since it had cooled considerably. She noticed then how his expression was pinched ‒ he was in pain and struggling even to hide it now.

“What is it, Sassenach? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. It’ll keep. Just… what do I tell her?”

He smiled gently then. “Ye could tell her anything, mo chridhe. About yer life before ye came here or about yer parents, perhaps.” His expression turned serious before he added, “you were right, ye should be able to share those things wi’ yer bairns. And when she’s older and will understand, ye should tell her again. The whole truth.”

Her heart swelled at his words. She glanced down to find Faith watching them before succumbing to a yawn. “Alright, sweet girl…” Her fingers began to play with Faith’s silky hair and the girl’s eyes drifted shut. Claire’s smile grew. “How about the time I first went to Egypt with my uncle?”

 


 

“My god…” Claire whispered, full of awe, as she watched Faith sleep. “She is… exhausting.”

Jamie shook with quiet laughter, rubbing a hand over his tired face. He’d slid down so he could lay flat on the bed while Claire had told her story. “I thought she’d never go to sleep,” he whispered back.

She looked at him then, half-asleep himself next to her. “You should sleep. I’ll put her in Fergus’s room for tonight. There’s an extra bed.”

Claire slid one arm under Faith’s neck and hooked the other under her knees and very carefully lifted the sleeping girl. Faith hardly stirred.

“Sassenach?”

She was halfway to the door when Jamie’s voice made her pause and look back. “What’s wrong?”

“Ye’ll come back… won’t ye?”

“I…”

Her brain was slow to connect the dots, but after a beat, she realized he meant for her to sleep in here with him. “I can’t. Your leg. I’ll‒ you know how I move in my sleep. I’d be just as bad as Faith when she was jumping all over the bed.”

“I can move tae th’ other side. So my wounded leg is on the edge.”

“But…” She had no real argument, other than her tired brain trying to make the point that that was her side of the bed. But no, that made more sense from a recovery standpoint. Easier to access and clean the wound, harder for Faith to accidentally bump into it.

“Just tae sleep, Sassenach,” Jamie added when she didn’t respond right away. “I only want tae have ye here wi’ me.”

In case he woke up again and didn’t know what was real…

“I’ve missed ye.”

God, she missed him too… and hated the way his injury seemed to keep a physical barrier between them even when they just wanted to hold each other. “Alright, I’ll come back.”

It was a short walk down the hallway to Fergus’s room and she entered quietly, finding the room already dark and the boy fast asleep. With some difficulty, she got Faith tucked under the blankets of the spare bed without waking her.

Relieved, she brushed Faith’s hair back from her forehead and pressed a kiss there. “I love you.”

She stepped across the room to Fergus’s bed and bent down to kiss him goodnight. “I love you so much. And I’m sorry…” She felt her throat clog with emotion and shook her head. Between tending to Jamie and the nature of a two-year-old to demand everyone’s attention at every second, that hadn’t left much time for dear Fergus to receive the same love and care. “We’re going to figure it all out, I promise.”

 

Claire used a sheet to slide Jamie to the other side of the bed ‒ “Learned that one in my nursing days” ‒ and then began the arduous task of shedding all of her layers of clothing. Once down to just her shift, she breathed a sigh of relief and went to take down her hair next. Everything from her back to her ankles hurt and while she didn’t feel particularly desirable in that moment, she was aware of Jamie’s soft gaze on her, watching the entire process. “Enjoying the show?” she asked coyly.

He smiled at that, but something wistful lingered in his gaze. “Wishing I could help ye,” he admitted.

She set her hair pins down, feeling her own slight tug of longing for that. “Glad to hear it,” she teased. “Because soon enough, I’ll be as big as a house and unable to put on my own stockings.”

Jamie’s brows raised. “Or take them off?”

She exhaled a soft laugh. “Yes, I’ll need help with that, too.”

By the time she slid under the blankets and scooted towards Jamie, she almost wept with relief. “Is this alright?” she asked as her head rested against his chest, her eyes already slipping closed. Jamie had one arm secured around her, and she felt the press of his kiss against her hair in answer. Her hand wandered absently across his chest and along his side, relishing the feel of him, warm and solid and real beneath her fingers, as the sound of his steady breathing filled her ears.

This was a different sort of intimacy, to need someone there with you in order to fall asleep, and Claire felt that nebulous thing that had been off-kilter in her world suddenly right itself. Her heart and soul were finally back where they belonged.

“You told her about me, didn’t you?” The words slipped out as she recalled her realization from earlier when Faith had asked for a story.

“Aye,” Jamie murmured right away, his voice rough. “Almost every night since Culloden. She didna ken who I was by then, nor you… so I shared my memories of ye with her. Told her how much ye loved her e’en when ye couldna be here wi’ us.”

She turned her face into his chest and kissed him there over his nightshirt, leaving a few stray tears in the fabric as well. “Thank you.”

“Oh, Claire.” She felt another kiss to her hair. “She does love ye, I ken. And it didna take verra long for her to accept me again as her da. It willna take long for ye, either. I swear it.”

She simply nodded against him, at a loss for words.

Stillness settled around them and she felt the deliriously wonderful pull towards sleep, only to have that interrupted moments later.

“Jamie? Give me your hand.”

She guided his hand to a spot low on her belly and pressed firmly. Soon, she felt the gentle, answering nudge from within. “There she is. Feel that?”

“Aye,” his voice cracked and a quiet sound caught between a laugh and cry followed suit. “There she is,” he echoed, awe-filled. “Blood of my blood and bone of my bone.”

She tilted her head back and kissed the scratchy stubble along his jaw, his cheek, until he turned to meet her with a shared kiss, born out of wonder and longing and a love that was so much bigger than the two of them.

“‘Til our life is done… Jamie, it’s so far from done. There’s so much‒”

She had more to say, more in her heart to share, but Jamie’s lips cut her off and she found she didn’t need to say those things out loud to be perfectly understood by him.

Chapter Text

The days passed in relative peace, for which they were all grateful, giving them time to form a new daily rhythm. Jamie’s recovery reached the difficult stretch between having his energy back and the pain dulled, but still needing to take it easy on the leg. It was a stage Claire was all too familiar with and had anticipated, knowing his mood would sour and keeping any limitations in place with him would become an uphill battle ‒ and it was an uphill battle of late. But there were also moments with Fergus and Faith that kept them grounded in what was most important to them ‒ an ongoing march towards restoration of their family.

Jamie and Fergus, for all their time lost, slipped easily back into their familiar rapport as Fergus took it upon himself to keep Jamie entertained while he was bedridden. And then when the days became harder to fill up with entertainment, Jamie turned his focus to Fergus’s sorely neglected education, which had fallen by the wayside when they left Lallybroch and joined the Jacobites.

Claire was repacking her medical bag ‒ she’d had to start over at Lallybroch, having lost the one she brought along during the rising ‒ when she felt the slight tug on her skirts. It hadn’t escaped her notice that that was how Faith got her attention, as though she was still reconciling that the woman before her and the mam from her stories were one and the same. She never addressed Claire by any sort of name.

She looked down and noticed the bundle of bandages in Faith’s hand. “Oh thank you, darling. I missed those, didn’t I?”

She held her hand out, but Faith clutched them to her chest and shook her head. “No, for me!”

“For you?”

Faith nodded and sat down abruptly at Claire’s feet. She rubbed one dimpled hand over her leg. “Need help,” she said, holding up the bandages.

Claire slowly eased herself down, knowing her knees would be killing her later. “You need your leg wrapped like Da?”

“Aye.”

“Alright,” Claire smiled and took the bandages from Faith. She’d have to clean them again but she didn’t mind. She took a small strip of bandage and began to wrap it over Faith’s stocking on one leg, cherishing this little moment to be invited into Faith’s world. She tied it off loosely and smiled at the girl. “There we go! All patched up, my love.”

Faith scrambled to her feet ‒ much quicker than Claire managed ‒ and ran excitedly to show Jamie.

“Wonderful, a leannan. Ken yer mam is a verra fine healer, aye?” Jamie attempted his wink at Claire. “She’ll have ye feeling better in no time.”

Claire rolled her eyes. “You Frasers certainly keep me busy at that,” she said, intending to tease them, but affection colored her tone. That Faith had come to her wanting help, even in a make-believe sense, had her on cloud nine and she wasn’t sure she’d ever come back down.

“Faith, would you like to help Mama out in the gardens?” She asked, pressing her luck. She held out her hand and watched as Faith took it without hesitation.

Her heart leapt to her throat and before they exited the room together, she managed one look back at Jamie, finding all the tenderness and joy she felt shining in his eyes as well.

 


 

“Your stitches are healing nicely. Inflammation has gone down.”

“So when can I walk?”

Claire lifted one eyebrow rather pointedly. She was keeping him moving as much as she could without him putting weight on the one leg, but his own focus was solely on standing on his own and walking out of here. She wanted that, too, but her cautious approach left her feeling pitted against him when in actuality, their goal was the same.

“Your body is building up scar tissue. Even after the wound itself is healed, the muscle underneath might still hurt you for much longer. We’re going to move slowly or else we risk reinjury.

She didn’t miss the way his jaw tensed. Her hand reached out and covered his own, giving it a fortifying squeeze. “There’s no rush,” she added gently. “We’re all here together and we have time.”

“Aye, there is a rush. I canna walk tae the stables wi’ Fergus or pull Faith out o’ harm’s way when she’s getting into something she shouldna. Ye’re left caring fer me in yer condition and… Christ, if anyone came for us, I couldna protect any of ye. And ye’re mine tae protect, all of ye, and I canna do it from this bed.” His hand covered her belly. “And the bairn, Sassenach…”

“Jamie,” she took his face gently between her hands and made him look up at her. “I promise you you’ll be walking well before the baby is born. I’m asking for weeks, not months.”

“Not to mention,” he went on, as if he hadn’t heard her, but his voice was softer. Still pressed with urgency, but like he was pleading with her now. “Mary was supposed to already be in Paris wi’ her family. We canna put that off much longer.”

Claire cocked her head at that. “Why? What’s happening in Paris?”

“It was part of the arrangement for accompanying me and Faith tae France. Her wee brother was being sent to fetch her in Edinburgh and we directed him to head for Paris instead. She’s supposed tae be staying at her uncle’s estate until her brother arrives to take her home. O’ course she’s too far along now to leave for England before the baby is born, but she kent that was likely to happen when she made the choice.”

Claire absorbed this information. “I don’t care for that uncle, after what happened the last time we were in Paris… the way he treated Mary like it was her fault she was attacked, like he was ashamed of her…”

“Dinna care for him either, but it was Mary’s decision. It’s what she wants.”

“Is it?”

Jamie shrugged. “I owe her my life, mine and Faith’s. And so whatever Mary decides, I will try tae make happen. Even if I dinna understand it.”

She sighed and gave him a weak smile. She’d only heard bits and pieces of their journey but it was enough to know the great lengths Mary had gone to in order to help them to the safe haven of France. All in honor of her, Jamie had said. And she didn’t know how she would ever repay Mary, either, but as Jamie had put it… whatever she chose, they would try to make it happen.

“Jamie… as fast as I can, I will get you walking. But you have to trust me.”

His expression softened at her words. “I do trust ye, mo nighean donn. Wi’ my life.”

 


 

“Murtagh? I wonder if I might have a word with you.”

Claire caught him just before he went in to sit with Jamie, both of the children already making a ruckus in the room which indicated that Jamie might need reinforcements soon. “Just for a quick moment,” she added.

“Aye, lass, what is it? What's wrong?”

“Nothing's wrong. But I would like your help with something. Jamie is... bound and determined to be walking‒”

“Canna say that surprises me.”

“Nor me. But I worry about him pushing himself before he’s healed and I wonder if you might be able to help me in making him a cane. Something just to help him at the start.”

Murtagh smiled ruefully and sighed. “He’ll hate that.”

“Yes I know he will. But I’m hoping he’ll hate it less than not walking at all.”

Murtagh made an indistinguishable sound and glanced into the room. “Aye. I’ll get it done.”

Claire exhaled a smile and squeezed his arm affectionately. “Thank you, Murtagh. And… good luck with the children, they’re in fine form this evening.” She slipped past him, a teasing and unrepentant smile on her lips.

“Where are ye off to then?”

“Going to spend some time with our friend Mary,” she called over her shoulder.

 

 

Mary was surprised to find Claire dropping by her room for a visit, but with only a little bit of coaxing, Claire had her arm looped through Mary’s as they headed out down toward the sea, to walk along shore on a warm Summer evening.

The salt-sea air was invigorating and as they walked, Claire noticed some of the tension leave Mary’s shoulders. They talked at first about nothing of consequence, finding their footing both in the sand and with each other.

Mary, brave and strong, widowed and on the brink of motherhood at seventeen, was not the same girl Claire had befriended in Paris over two years ago, but she was still a friend Claire meant to keep.

“Mary… is everything alright?” Claire asked gently, sneaking a glance at the young woman beside her, but making a concerted effort not to stare. “I hope you know that we‒ Jamie and I, we both think so highly of you. But we’ve both noticed you seemed a little… well, not yourself lately. And I just wanted to‒” She left her sentence hanging when she glanced back at the girl and noticed tears in Mary’s eyes. “Mary?”

The younger woman shook her head, keeping her gaze forward as she furiously blinked back tears. “No, it’s‒ I‒” Her arm pulled away from Claire’s grasp and they both stopped in their tracks. “I don’t want you to h-hate me or misunderstand.”

Claire shook her head, wanting to reach out and comfort Mary and also wanting not to spook her away. “You can tell me. Whatever it is, I won’t hate you…”

Mary was wringing her hands together and her chin was quivering, and before Claire even knew what she was doing, she had her arms around Mary, tucking her head against her shoulder. The dam burst then, and Mary was clinging to her while the wind carried away the sound of her cries.

“It’s alright…” Claire said gently, baffled and concerned, and hoped that her words would remain true. “Here, let’s sit for a moment.” She guided Mary over to one of the large rocks near the base of the hill and they sat in silence for a while, looking out at the sea.

“It’s… it’s Alex, you see,” Mary said cautiously, so quietly at first that Claire moved closer to hear her. Whether it was conscious or not, Claire watched Mary’s hands cradle her round belly where Alex’s baby grew. “Jamie and Faith showed up at my doorstep just days after Alex had d-died and then we were…” Mary swallowed roughly. “We were running for so long until we reached the abbey and then I… I felt like it all caught up with me. Like it wasn’t real before. Like he wasn’t really g-g-gone.”

“I’m so sorry,” Claire murmured, her throat tight with emotion. “Of course you would be feeling all of that now, finally in a safe place.”

She waited as the silence lengthened between them, Mary’s hand clasped in her own. Waited for the words that would explain why Mary was afraid.

“You were my friend first,” Mary began at last, her voice tight but clear. The words were there now, ready to come out. “I’d hardly ever spent time with Jamie and certainly not without you there. Until…” she let the sentence hang, and they were both able to fill in the blanks well enough. “And he was so… hollow without you, Claire. And I knew. I knew what that felt like because I’d just lost Alex.”

She squeezed Mary’s hand in comfort, but her own heart was aching at the picture Mary painted. Mary breathed in deep and when she spoke again, her words came out in a rush. “And I joined them at first because I… I was so stunned by the news that you were gone too and so saddened and‒ and as we traveled, I found a friend in Jamie, too, a friend who was experiencing the same kind of loss… the same pain that felt like it might swallow me whole some days. And it helped in a way, to know I wasn’t the only person in the world feeling that way.”

There was a brief moment of stillness and suddenly Claire knew the words Mary was scared to say. And her heart sank.

“Then I came back. And you had to watch your friend reunite with the spouse he thought was gone.”

Mary’s eyes grew wide and she was trembling again. “I was thrilled once I got over the shock. You were my friend first and you were alive, and I knew what that meant to Jamie and to little Faith and I was overjoyed, for all of you. Please understand that. But I‒ I‒” Her lip quivered and silent tears spilled down her cheeks. “I was still alone.”

“Oh, Mary…” she breathed out, pulling her friend into her embrace. Mary shuddered violently and began to weep, and Claire held on. “Alex was wonderful and kind and I saw how much he loved you. I’m so sorry for your loss. It isn’t fair.” She rested her cheek on top of Mary's head and sighed. “And I understand… It’s‒ of course you’re grieving, and my return created some… complicated feelings.”

“I‒ I was never upset,” Mary was quick to clarify. “Never upset that you returned. Only… only wishing that Alex could’ve…”

She squeezed the girl a little tighter. “I can understand that.”

Mary relaxed against her, no doubt weary from carrying those feelings for so long, and hopefully the force of Mary’s exhale was in part at least to relief. Claire squeezed her again,

The wind picked up as the sun dipped lower on the horizon and suddenly it felt too cold to sit in one place. “Should we walk a little more?”

They strolled a little farther in companionable silence and when the wind felt as though it could topple them over, they turned back towards the abbey.

“Jamie says we’re overdue to escort you to your uncle’s residence in Paris but that you’ll likely stay there until the baby is born.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

Claire took a deep breath and let it out slow. “You’re not alone, Mary‒ that is, you have me and Jamie. And I’d like‒ if you want me there when the time comes… when the baby’s born, I’ll be there.”

Mary’s head shot up to look at her. “Promise?” she begged.

“I promise.”

 


 

Jamie tore his gaze away from his book at the sound of a dull thud, followed by a whispered, “fuck!”

“What the devil are ye doing, Claire?”

She had both a water pitcher and ceramic basin in her arms, which she had accidentally bumped against the door on her way in, almost sloshing water on the floor. It was late and their room at the abbey was lit only from the soft glow of candlelight. She had taken her hair down and relieved herself of her stays, though she’d thrown a shawl over her shift before she left on her errand. And they were also alone at last, having carried the bairns off to bed not long ago. Well, Claire and Murtagh had carried them…

“You, darling husband, are starting to look like you could use a shave,” she said with a smile and a teasing glint in her eye, shuffling with her arms full to set the water and basin on the end table near his side of the bed.

“I can shave myself. Dinna need your help for everything, ye ken.” As soon as the words left his mouth, he knew how he sounded ‒ like a petulant child ‒ and by the way Claire arched one brow at him, she wasn’t going to back down when he acted childish. She never did. “I’m sorry,” he said before she could respond. And then, “I jest dinna like being a burden to ye is all.”

“You’re not.” She sat on the edge of the bed and started to pour water into the basin before getting her hands wet. “And maybe I even like the opportunity to care for you in small ways, every now and then.”

He melted like candle wax under her touch, gentle and sure, as she lathered soap into his short beard.

“I thought ye said ye liked how the bristles felt against yer lips and yer skin.”

“I did,” she agreed and the soft lilt of her voice and the way she smiled at him in remembrance of that conversation days ago had his breath leaving him in a rush. “But it’s no longer stubble. I’m starting to forget what your face looks like underneath it all.”

He snorted at that exaggeration, and she took a firm hold of his chin, brandishing a straight razor in the other hand with all the natural confidence of a surgeon.

“Now keep still, I don’t want to nick you.”

They ceased to speak and he could focus on nothing else but the nearness of her and the rather intimate nature of letting her shave his face. The slow, careful scrape of the blade against his skin was almost soothing under her ministrations. She’d never done this before for him, he realized. He’d never let her, more accurately. When his hand had been mangled almost three years ago, he simply stubbornly learned to use the other hand to shave ‒ and not without a few nicks of his skin to show for it.

He was a damn fool sometimes.

His hand fell to her thigh, the closest part of her he could reach without interfering, and traced lazy, slow circles there through the thin fabric of her shift. He was a fool sometimes but he did cherish her with everything that was in him ‒ the best parts of his life came from her, from her love of him, and he never forgot that.

“What are you smirking about?” she asked suddenly, and he startled, not realizing he had been. Or that he had been staring at her. It was only that he had been studying the fierce concentration in her expression while she worked.

“I love ye, Sassenach,” he said in between swipes of the blade against his skin when she was busy cleaning it. “And I missed bein’ able to say that. I never want to stop.”

She stilled, almost like this was a revelation, and then leaned in and kissed him. A soft, warm kiss in response to his words and when she pulled back, there was a tiny bit of soap just above her lip. He swiped it away with his thumb.

“I love you, too,” she murmured with a smile, and his heart went all soft in his chest.

 

 

“There,” she said proudly once she was done, tossing aside the towel cloth that she’d cleaned him off with. And then his face was in her hands as she pulled him close. “And there you are again,” she breathed out before giving him a warm, wet kiss that left him aching for more of her. Claire’s lips trailed along his cheek and jaw next. “I like how this feels, too,” she breathed out against his skin. “All smooth and soft.”

Claire.”

He was positively thrumming with need for her, but they hadn’t… she’d been so worried about his injury, they’d been putting it off, but he didn’t care if he never walked again, he just needed this. Right here. With her.

He didn’t need to say more ‒ the way he spoke her name said plenty ‒ but the words still spilled out of him nonetheless, “I want ye, mo ghraidh. Canna be near ye and not want ye. Will ye‒ will ye have me then?”

 


 

She stilled in his arms, trying to cut through the dense haze of desire that clouded her mind. She’d almost quite forgotten that feeling, being drunk on Jamie’s touch. “Your leg…”

“I dinna need my leg for this.”

She inhaled slowly, trying to decide if she should respond to that particular statement. She did want this, just as badly as he did, but… “I don’t want to injure you further.”

He shook his head as he pulled her closer. “You won’t,” he said easily and sealed his words with a kiss. “Nothing hurts when ye love me, Sassenach.”

She swallowed thickly, suddenly aware of the warm weight of his hands bracketing her hips. Holding her close. Waiting for her signal, one way or the other.

“You’re sure?” she checked one last time, breathless.

“Aye,” he breathed against her lips before covering her mouth with his own. And with that, all other thoughts were pushed out of her head.

Jamie was impatient, tugging at the laces tied at the top of her shift while his mouth moved with hers, hungry and insistent. When the fabric was dragged down her arms and pooled at her waist, she pulled away from him and stood, letting it fall to the floor. For a moment, she felt a well of insecurity spring up. He hadn’t seen her naked since before she started showing and now, nearing the end of her second trimester, her body felt less like her own, growing and shifting to accommodate the baby. She felt huge and she still had a ways to go yet.

Christ,” Jamie breathed out, his voice low. His gaze was hungry and a little awed, and under the weight of his stare, she felt her skin prickle with heat. “Ye’re so beautiful, Sassenach, round wi’ our child…”

She swallowed past the sudden lump in her throat and took the hand that he extended to her, letting him pull her back in, and straddled him carefully. He wasn’t lying to her; he had quickly divested himself of his sark when she stood and his own arousal was clearly evident.

A dhia,” he murmured reverently before ducking his head to latch onto the stiff peak of her nipple. They were so much more sensitive than she remembered and she cried out, her fingers threaded into his hair to hold him there.

His arm wrapped around her, holding her in a vice grip, and she lost herself in the feel of his body beneath her and the way his mouth was already steering her towards oblivion ‒ only to feel his free hand snaking between them and she shuddered in anticipation, her hips bucking of their own volition.

This was at once as familiar and tender as it was a blaze that consumed her. She pulled at the hair at the nape of his neck until his head tilted back, questioning ‒ she needed his mouth on hers, swallowing his groan of approval.

His fingers were a steady tease at her entrance and her bundle of nerves and she gasped in between their hungry kisses. “I missed those wee noises,” he growled. “Christ.”

She shook her head, breathing heavy, but couldn’t conjure a response with words.

“Sit up, Sassenach,” he said suddenly, guiding her to hold her weight up above him on her knees while he started to slide down the bed until he was on his back. Right. For a minute there, she’d completely forgotten he was injured.

She shuffled back with him, moving to take him into her without much preamble, but Jamie stopped her. “Not yet. Up here.” He tugged her by the hips ‒ which were quickly disappearing with her ever-expanding belly ‒ upwards until she finally understood.

“Jamie,” she said sharply, one hand cradling the swell of the baby. “No. I will smother you,” she said half-seriously, trying to deter him. They’d never done that while she was pregnant with Faith ‒ not with him pinned under her at least.

“Oh aye? D’ye promise?” He grinned lasciviously, and she felt her resistance dim as desire filled its place. “If that were the case, I would die a verra happy man, Sassenach.”

“You’re shameless, James Fraser.” But her sharp tongue was undermined by her breathless voice, and while her body positively thrummed with anticipation, it was her heart tumbling in her chest that made her mindful of the moment, of the way Jamie’s eyes were alight with joy for the first time since… God, since before they left Lallybroch, a year ago now. She wanted to bask in that light, and remember what it felt like to love each other when they were so sure of their forever.

Their whole world was turned on end and she had no notion of where they would go from here, but she was so sure of Jamie. She never had any doubt of where she was headed when Jamie was with her.

“Let me love ye, mo ghraidh,” Jamie murmured, his hands steady and sure as they guided her up, up, up his body. And this time, she gave no resistance. “I have lost time to make up for, and I mean to make good on it.”

She let him love her, his name breaking on a cry from her lips as she fell apart, and a little later, she poured all that love back to him as she sat astride him, moving with him, together as one.

 

 

“Does your leg hurt at all?”

The candles in the room had burned low and a few had gone out. Jamie was still stretched out on his back, naked and deliciously warm, and Claire was curled against him, a leg thrown over his uninjured one, an arm draped over his chest.

Jamie laughed softly at her question. “Aye, it does.”

She smacked his chest lightly, but without any real threat. If the pain was unbearable, he wouldn’t be smiling.

His hand covered her own and brought it up to his lips, kissing her palm before settling it back over his heart. She had missed that too ‒ the quiet intimacy in the wake of their coupling, and while they’d had many days together since reuniting, it only now felt like there were no more walls between them.

She let her fingers wander along his body, not looking to stoke any flames but merely to commit him to memory, to revel again in knowing him. They skated across his shoulder and down the arm opposite her, but slowed when she felt the raised bump of a new scar. She knew the one without looking; she’d seen it enough times when caring for him, always left wondering when and how it had happened, but she never asked.

Emboldened by their reconnection, Claire didn’t shy away this time. Her fingers traced gently over the still-pink scar before she raised her head to look at him. “How?”

A shadow crossed his face as he gave the answer. “Randall.”

Even knowing the man was already dead didn’t stop her stomach from churning at that one word. That one man… she could count the scars on Jamie’s body that weren’t inflicted by him so much faster than the ones that were.

“S’alright, mo ghraidh,” he murmured, pulling her closer until she rested part of her weight on top of him and buried her face in his neck. “Tis just another scar ‒ and this one’s no’ so bad, comparatively speaking.”

She forced air out through her nose, not sure if she was trying to laugh or to scoff.

“Ah, dinna fash yerself, Sassenach,” he said gently. His hand was tracing up and down her spine in an attempt to sooth her. It was partly working. “It’s over and done with.”

She knew that, but it didn’t take much to bring her back to the moment of seeing Jamie bloodied and broken after he was rescued from Wentworth, barely hanging on, and then watching him pull away from her at the abbey. She shivered involuntarily and Jamie’s hold on her tightened.

“I knew he didn’t die at Culloden ‒ I learned that when I went back. I saw the date of death next to his name and I didn’t want to believe it. I was so far away, too far away to warn you, and the only thing I could think about was that he would find you and Faith, and you would just be gone and I’d never find‒”

The words had spilled out of her until she choked on a sob.

Nach gabh u do shocair, a ghraidh. Oh Claire. S’alright now, we’re here. He canna hurt anyone else.”

“Faith?!” Claire pushed herself up abruptly.

No. Mo chridhe, he never even got near her. I swear it.”

His warm hand cupped the back of her head and drew her back down to him, and she went without resistance, letting out another shaky breath.

Maybe this was why they hadn’t rushed to share what had transpired on their respective journeys. She found she didn’t really want to know, didn’t even want to imagine that Black Jack Randall had been anywhere near her husband and one of their children.

Nonetheless, Jamie told her ‒ to put her mind at ease more than anything else, she’d guess ‒ how Randall had found them and how Jamie had gotten the scar during the exchange of taking Randall’s life. How Faith was tucked away in another room with Mary and never saw a thing.

And slowly, she felt her heart rate settle.

“I didna ken,” Jamie sighed, pressing a kiss to her hair, “that you were carrying this fear for so long. Since ye went back. Didna ken that ye knew about his death. Is that… is that why ye came back?”

She turned her face into his neck, bombarded by memories of those few weeks she spent in 1948. Desperate and grieving and out of her mind with worry. Jamie knew nothing of that time; she hadn’t wanted to talk about it.

“No,” she said eventually. “That wasn’t all of it. Or even the main reason.”

His fingers had moved to tracing lazy circles on her naked shoulder. “Did…” he made a sound at the back of his throat. “Did Frank no’ take ye back?”

Oh.

That was a whole other conversation… and one it seemed they needed to have.

She propped herself up on one elbow to see him. “He did. He took me back, but… Jamie, when I woke up on the other side of the stones completely alone, my whole life was over. If I didn’t have the baby, I‒” She swallowed roughly and didn’t miss the way Jamie’s hold on her tightened. “I didn’t want to keep going. I didn’t want to be back in that time. Frank took me back and even in the short time that I was there, he came around to the idea of raising the baby. He wanted that, in the end. But I… he wanted to move on, start our life over again, but I couldn’t stop searching for you and Faith. So I had a friend who helped me and we looked through every book on Culloden and the rising, he searched through local church and estate records. But there was nothing. You never turned up.”

She dropped a kiss to his warm chest and rested her cheek there. “Of course, we never got around to looking outside of Scotland, but it’s very obvious to me now why I couldn’t find you. But during that time, I was going mad with thoughts of what might’ve happened to you.”

She told him about Mrs. Graham, of her steadfast support and how she provided the means with which to return through the stones, and about Claire’s conversation with Frank one night where she shared the truth with him.

And she told him about the little boy, Roger, an ever-present reminder of her own youth growing up with only knowledge of her parents’ love in the abstract. And about the day in the general store with the baby spoons and thoughts of Faith, the wooden horse and the devastating sense of loss for Fergus.

And when she did speak of Fergus, she felt the tension in his body coil up. “I never should ha’ sent him back to Lallybroch that day. I thought…”

“Murtagh told us about the promise he made to you, to watch over him. You thought… you thought you would die and you were trying to keep him safe if that happened. I know that.”

“Aye but does the lad?”

They both fell silent, unable to answer that. Claire breathed in deep, letting the steady thrum of Jamie’s heartbeat flood her ears.

“The only comfort tae me was knowing he would be safe, that Murtagh would protect him as he had protected me, and that Jenny would‒” he inhaled sharply, bracingly. “Jenny would love him as one of her own, as she’d promised me. I held on tae that but it ne’er truly soothed the ache o’ missing him. Or the regret… in leaving him behind.”

Jamie sighed heavily and turned to kiss the crown of her head. “But then ye came back to me and ye brought Fergus back to me as well. Despite how I’d scattered our family in all directions, ye brought us all back. As long as I live, I’ll never forget that.”

She didn’t have words for the feelings that evoked so she turned into his neck and laid a kiss there. The worst was behind them, thank god, but the work still lay ahead. She propped herself up on one elbow so she could look at him. One hand reached out to trace along his jaw as she collected her thoughts, and Jamie, knowing her, waited it out.

“Do you know what the hardest part was when I was still in the future, searching for all of you? I could try and look for you and Faith at least. I had the information to search. But how was I supposed to look for Fergus? We don’t even know if he was given a full name and even if he was, he’s not that child anymore. He’s not Claudel. He’s… he’s our Fergus. But he still calls us ‘Milady’ and ‘Milord’ like he’s in our service and the line got blurred early on but we never… Jamie, we never told him.”

Jamie was quiet, and Claire only paused long enough to take a breath before the rest of her words bubbled up to the surface.

“He doesn’t know how we feel about him ‒ he can’t know ‒ if we never say it. I mean, you said it, back at Culloden. You called him our son. But ever since then…” she trailed off and then sighed.

“He does ken,” Jamie said softly. And off her confused stare, he added, “when ye said goodbye tae him that day, ye asked him tae be careful fer yer sake. Did ye no’ hear his response?”

She shook her head, scrambling to remember. No, he had said something but in French and muffled into her shoulder so she never caught it, but Jamie had been standing right there, too.

“He said, ‘for my mother’s sake, I will.’”

“Oh…” Tears stung her eyes and she blinked quickly, tearing her gaze away from Jamie. “So he does know,” she said in a shaky voice, more for herself than Jamie, and any small lingering insecurity that Fergus didn’t reciprocate that feeling of being family was finally banished from her mind. They should’ve said it all much earlier… but he did know. And he felt the same.

“I know nothing would change ‒ we already love him as our own ‒ but I wondered if we might somehow make it official.”

“What d’ye mean?”

“In my time there’s a formalized legal process to adopt a child, but things are different here and I don’t think that process is in place yet. I don’t know what we can do.”

“I could find an esquire here if ye like,” Jame spoke without needing much time to consider. “Have him draw up a formal declaration and what have ye. But… I was also thinking about the baby and what we’ll do once she’s born and ye ken… I dinna even know if Fergus was ever baptised. And if he’s willing, I thought… well, I thought we could have him baptized and give him our name. If he’ll have us.”

Tears sprang to her eyes again, but with that was a sudden warmth blooming in her chest. “That’s‒” her breath hitched, holding back the well of emotion, “Yes, I think that’s perfect.”

His hand that had settled low on her back suddenly migrated up towards her shoulder blades, gently pressing down until she heeded his unspoken request and draped herself half-over his chest again. He was warm and solid beneath her, and now that she had him back, she never wanted to take this comfort in him for granted.

Claire breathed in deeply and on the exhale, she felt as though she was sinking right into him, melding with him completely.

His fingers were tracing nonsensical patterns up and down her spine again, and she felt the flutters of the baby wiggling from within.

“What did ye tell him when ye left?”

Jamie’s voice roused her from her state of bliss and her mind struggled to keep up.

“Oh. Frank, you mean?”

“Aye,” he murmured. She breathed in sharply, trying to stay alert.

“I didn’t tell him I was leaving. I… well, I left a letter for him, explaining why I had gone back. I’m still not sure he even believes me about the stones, but I felt that I owed him the truth. I wanted him to understand.”

“What did yer letter say?” he asked softly. Claire sighed and nuzzled in at his neck, chasing that feeling of melting into him completely.

“The truth, as delicately as I could put it. I said that I couldn’t live without knowing what happened to you, to our family. And that I was sorry to have caused such a mess in returning to him only to leave again, but… well I didn’t know how to explain it to him without hurting him, how I had loved him before but now, with you…”

She pulled back to look at Jamie, eyes brimming with tears again, and before he could say anything, she was kissing him soundly.

“I ken, Sassenach,” he murmured against her lips. “I dinna doubt how ye love me.” He kissed her back in reassurance, and the knot in her chest loosened.

“I came back for you,” she emphasized, worried that he didn’t see that with all these questions of her return. “I came back for our family. There was a chance and I had to take it. I don’t regret that. But I still feel like a coward for writing a letter. I just didn’t know how to face him when I didn’t think he’d ever truly understand.”

As she spoke, she fiddled with the gold band on her left ring finger. “I suppose I ought to take this one off,” she said quietly with a touch of sorrow in her tone. “I meant to leave it with the letter for Frank, but I forgot. And now I don’t know what to do.”

“Claire,” Jamie rasped, and she felt her chin quiver in response to his compassion. She didn’t deserve it. “Oh, Claire. I’m so sorry.”

“What on earth are you sorry for?”

“For putting ye in that position in the first place.” He was adamant and sincere, but Claire shook her head at those words. They could only go so many rounds over what happened at Culloden and it already felt as though they’d each said their piece. That was behind them. And while she didn’t love the thought that he had sent them all away with the intention that he should die, she’d have to be blind not to see that everything Jamie did since becoming a father was with the safety and wellbeing of his loved ones at the forefront. “And I suppose… when I sent ye back to yer time, I never thought ye’d have to come back for me. Ye’re no’ a coward, Claire. I’m only sorry that I caused ye this grief.”

She hovered over him, both of her hands gently framing his face. “No, that’s not it. It’s not grief. And I don’t regret a single thing in coming back. I want to be here. I want to be with you more than anything.”

She realized she was trembling at the same time that Jamie did. He reached for her, pressing a kiss to her forehead and lingering there. “It’s your oath, then, is it?” He asked. His fingers toyed with her curls while she nodded against him. The relief of being understood flooded her. Yes, that had been what she was trying to say.

“When I made the choice to stay that first time at the stones, I thought as long as I stayed in this time with you, I wasn’t… that I couldn’t be…”

“Aye, lass, I know.”

She relaxed into him with a sigh.

“But going back to that time and seeing Frank again, I knew I couldn’t pretend anymore. I‒ I care about him. But I don’t love him. Not in the way I love you. And I chose you, Jamie.” She tilted her head up to look at him, tears brimming in her eyes. “I chose you a hundred times over and I won’t ever regret it.” She took his hand and pressed it to the swell of their baby. “I love our life together. I love our children. I can’t regret that and I don’t.” His gaze was seering into hers, a deep pool of blue. She tore her eyes away from him and leaned back, bringing her left hand into view as she slipped the gold band off her finger ‒ and registered the slight sound of a gasp from Jamie.

She left the comfort of his arms and dropped the ring onto the bedside table. When her gaze slid back to his, she saw the look of dumbfounded awe on his face. “I choose you,” she repeated slowly, unsure how to deal with the way he looked at her like she’d just gifted him the moon. “I’ve always chosen you‒”

Two things happened in tandem; his hand grabbed hold of her arm, tugging her back, and Jamie surged upwards to capture her mouth in a kiss. Stole the breath right out of her lungs with the unexpected force of it, but she leaned into him, wrapping her arms around his neck.

“Ye dinna have to,” he whispered into the small space between them, and her heart squeezed in response. “I’d… I’d never ask ye to, if that’s not‒”

“No, I know.” She sighed. She did know ‒ he’d never once made her feel like wearing Frank’s ring was in any way a strain on their own marriage, and for that, she loved him all the more. “It… it doesn’t feel right to keep wearing it. Now that I’ve closed the door on that part of my life. On that marriage.”

She breathed in deep and let it out slow, the finality of the decision settling deep in her bones with a sense of peace. Her hands came up to frame Jamie’s face. They were still so close that their noses bumped. “My whole heart is here, in this time. And it would’ve stayed here even if I didn’t, even if I’d tried to carve out some sort of life in the future.”

He kissed her again with a tenderness that made her heart ache, languid and slow, like they had all the time in the world.

And they did, she reminded herself as her stomach fluttered. They did.

A small twinge of guilt struck her that she couldn’t quite shake off and Jamie noticed. “Am I… terrible?”

“What?”

“It’s only that I feel so happy, and yet I must’ve hurt Frank when I left. And, well, I don’t feel great about that…”

“You are not terrible,” he said firmly. “It’s as ye said before, Sassenach; The love was gone between the two of ye. Maybe Frank couldna say it, but I’m sure it had changed for him, too.” He pressed a kiss to her nose, so sweet and quick and in such contrast to the tone of their conversation. But when he spoke again, his voice was a little more pensive than before. “Maybe going back even for a brief time had its small blessings. He might no’ believe the truth and he might be upset for a bit, but ye’ve given him answers. And closure. Your lives were linked for a time but now Frank can live his wi’out being plagued by the unknown. He can move on now too, and wi’out any guilt of wondering if ye were out there waiting for him.”

She met his gaze as that small twinge ebbed away, almost gone. “Suppose you could be right about that.”

He smiled softly and his eyes slid shut with a contented sigh when her fingers tangled in his hair.

I wish you well, was her final thought on the matter as she closed the door for good on her life before with Frank, and a wealth of happiness all your own as rich as I’ve found.

And with Jamie in her arms, stealing kisses from her that left her breathless, she chased that happiness of her own without any regret.

 


 

Her sleep was fitful and much too short, but that was their fault for how long they laid awake, sharing all that they did with each other. The first thing Claire became aware of as she woke was the slight stretches and tumbling of the baby. Her heavy eyelids remained firmly shut against the first rays of morning light, but her hand fell to the firm bump in acknowledgement of the little one’s presence.

Hello, you darling little thing. Mama loves you, but Mama also loves sleep…

And yet the mornings had become the one time of day where thoughts of the baby had Claire’s complete attention ‒ a quiet moment for just the two of them before the chaos of the day claimed her focus. She rubbed at the spot the baby kicked and hummed sleepily.

Then she heard the sleepy snuffle from a body right beside her that did not sound remotely like Jamie. Her eyes cracked open to find two curly mops ‒ one red, one brown ‒ wedged between her and Jamie on their barely-two-person bed.

She vaguely recalled being roused from sleep at one point during the night, prodded by small hands and feet as the busy little body settled in next to her.

Jamie slept on his back ‒ and never ever moved from that position ‒ and now Fergus was sleeping with his back flush to Jamie’s side, his head in the hollow of Jamie’s shoulder, and his arms twined around Jamie’s arm as one might cuddle a beloved stuffed toy. Or had Jamie curled one arm around Fergus first to settle him?

It was one of those moments that she desperately wished she had a camera to preserve the memory.

Oh a camera, she thought. Fergus would love to know about those. She’d have to remember to tell him when he woke.

Her gaze settled on Faith, sleeping on her stomach between Fergus and Claire, her face half smashed into the bedding. It wasn’t that big of a surprise to find Faith here. According to Jamie, she suffered from the occasional nightmare ever since Culloden, but Claire had yet to see the result of one.

Slowly, ever so carefully, she reached out and gently brushed the mess of short curls away from her daughter’s face. Sweet baby

And just as carefully, she inched closer and pressed a soft kiss to Faith’s forehead. When she eased back, studying the sleeping faces before her, a lump rose in her throat.

Her whole world here in this bed.

She wanted to hunker down with them and never leave, to keep them all safe with the children tucked protectively between her and Jamie.

The baby stirred again and she wondered how they would manage with one more in the mix, with her and Jamie outnumbered. There was a piece of her that worried she couldn't do it, couldn’t love all three children as they deserved when there was a new baby, so fragile and needy, and these two before her who had endured so much in the last year ‒ more than any child should have to.

She rested her head next to Faith’s and with a sigh, pressed a kiss to the crown of her head.

But damn if she wasn’t grateful for every opportunity to try and love these children as much as they deserved…

Faith stirred slowly, brows cinched together as if already upset with the thought of waking up. One pudgy hand rubbed over her still-closed eyes and Claire waited to see if Faith would wake or sink back into sleep.

Then her eyes opened and found Claire’s immediately, and she felt her breath snag in her throat. “Good morning, beautiful girl.”

Faith let out a sleepy grunt and shifted closer, her small arm reaching up past Claire’s neck until she felt the tangle of little fingers in her curls. And then on a sigh, Faith’s eyes drifted shut, her forehead now pressed hard against Claire’s and her knees tucked just above Claire’s belly, and the both of them breathing the same air.

Claire couldn’t move ‒ and she didn’t want to. Soon enough, Faith would be fully awake and they would have to leave this bed and face the day. And each day, they made progress with each other, slowly laying a new foundation as a family, but this tiny moment they shared felt weighty and monumental. Tears filled her eyes and threatened to spill over at the feeling of Faith still rubbing the strands of Claire’s hair between her little fingers.

It was an old impulse, something Faith used to do when falling asleep in Claire’s arms as a baby. And the feeling of it flooded Claire with memories of before, at Lallybroch. Had it sparked anything in Faith? Or was it purely instinctive on her part?

Did she know not just that Claire was her mother ‒ her mam, as Jamie had taught her ‒ but also what that meant?

Claire held her baby close and breathed out a sigh of contentment. No, she likely didn’t know, but that was Claire’s job to show her. And damn if she wasn’t grateful for the chance.

 


 

“Put your weight on your good leg to start.”

Claire stood on one side of Jamie where he sat on the edge of the bed, Murtagh on the other side of him. The walking cane leaned against the bedside table, ready if needed, but first Jamie needed to be able to stand.

“Ready?”

In one swift moment, Jamie was upright and standing and crowding Claire’s space. He loomed over her, holding tight to her arm, and she’d almost quite forgotten what it felt like to stand so close to him, breathing the same air. There was a spark in his eyes as he peered down at her. He looked ‒ and felt ‒ strong and capable, the old Jamie right beneath her fingertips.

“Alright, alright, dinna put all yer weight on yer pregnant wife.” Murtagh’s voice cut through, his presence quite forgotten until that moment.

Claire exhaled a smile.

“Aye,” Jamie agreed, his own smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “So,” he straightened up, possessing all the confidence of the world in that moment. His gaze shifted between her and Murtagh. “When do we leave for Paris?”

Chapter Text

“Where will we go?” Claire had asked him as their plans to bring Mary to Paris began to take shape.

In truth, he hadn’t planned to leave the abbey the first time Mary was set to leave. Not for a little while, at least. He would have needed time to sort out what life would look like next for just Faith and him. But now… they both wanted Claire a little closer to civilization when the baby came.

Not to mention, Fergus scandalized the monks on a near daily basis with the talk that came out of his mouth. Jamie was surprised their family hadn’t been driven from the abbey yet.

“Dinna see we have any other choice but seek shelter with Jared for a time,” Jamie sighed. They had hardly any money between them and while he had once easily lived out in the wild, penniless and hiding from the law, he had bairns now to consider. “We can send Murtagh on ahead of us to let Jared know we’re coming.”

He watched Claire’s careful intake of breath while she absorbed his words. “Will we be safe? Being in that… that circle again?”

“Aye, I pondered that as well. Jared can be discreet, as can his staff. If we don’t tell anyone ‒ if we don’t see anyone‒”

“We’d have to never leave the house,” Claire pointed out.

Jamie sighed. It was still a risk, but what other choice was there? “It’s a very large house, at least. We’d have more space than we do here. And just until the bairn comes, then we can move on.”

Move on to where, they had no idea yet. But that was a problem for another day. They needed momentary stability first.

“No contact with anyone else we knew from Paris,” Claire said, and Jamie realized that was her condition for agreement. “Besides Mary, obviously.”

“Aye,” Jamie agreed.

She took a deep breath and let it out slow. “And you believe Jared will agree? That he’ll take in the whole lot of us and keep quiet?”

“He will,” he said confidently. “Not without something in return, I suspect, but aye, he will agree. Tis very likely he’ll want my involvement in his business again, and that’s only fair if he’s sheltering us. But as long as I’m able to remain out of sight, I dinna mind making that deal with him.” His gaze sought out Claire’s again. “Would ye mind that, Claire? Could ye live with it? Just for a time…”

Her expression grew pensive and her thoughts no doubt turned to the children and the baby she was growing, as his thoughts often did. “Yes, just for a time. Until the baby is born.”

 


 

Murtagh left a few days ahead of them as planned to make arrangements with Jared. And when the time came for them to leave the abbey, they piled into a coach bound for Paris. Mary was seated next to Claire for the journey while Jamie sat across from them with the children, his cane leaning against the wall of the carriage.

Mary, despite the brave face she put on, was showing signs of anxiousness the closer they drew to the city. She’d shared with Claire a few days prior how worried she was for the kind of reception she’d receive from her uncle and aunt. Widowed and pregnant and hiding the truth of the baby’s father. Would they even believe she’d been married in the first place? Mary feared they wouldn’t.

It had sparked a thought in Claire that she’d been unable to shake, and so as they were jostled along in the carriage, she dug into her pocket for the small token she hoped would alleviate some of Mary’s fears. “Here,” she murmured, slipping Frank’s gold wedding ring into Mary’s hand. “This is for you.”

Mary’s brows furrowed in confusion as she stared at the ring. “But… this is… I‒ I couldn’t.”

“I want you to have it. It will help, won’t it?”

Mary’s eyes were watery when they lifted to meet Claire’s gaze. “Are you certain?”

“Yes,” she said easily and gave the young woman a soft smile. “I’m very certain. You need a ring and this one… this one was meant for you, I think.” She couldn’t tell Mary why that was, but for Claire, there was a rightness in Frank Randall’s ring going to his ancestor to keep her safe, even if they both never knew it.

Mary slipped the ring onto her finger ‒ a little loose but manageable ‒ and her hands settled in her lap without any of their nervous fidgeting as before.

 

 

When the carriage pulled up in front of the estate of Silas Hawkins, Claire’s stomach dropped in nervous dread. Mary, however, didn’t hesitate to jump out when the coachman opened the door. Claire threw a frazzled glance at Jamie and followed after Mary, not sure what to expect.

But then the front door flew open and it wasn’t Mary’s uncle coming to greet them, but a young, gangly boy with Mary’s eyes, and Claire felt her nerves settle. Her brother had made it. Mary wouldn’t be alone here.

He called her name and nearly tumbled down the steps in his haste to reach his sister, and Claire watched the two siblings embrace, feeling a lump rise in her throat. The affection between them was visible, as was the boy’s concern and relief at having her home. Mary made brief introductions, introducing her brother to Claire as George Hawkins. Mary herself was quite petite and George at fifteen was a bit taller than her, but still had a slight frame that Claire surmised was characteristic of their family.

Mary’s things were taken down from the coach and hauled off into the house, and her brother waited nearby to go in with her.

“All set then?” Claire asked.

Mary nodded. She seemed more at peace with her brother’s presence and Claire was glad for that. She pulled the young woman into a hug.

“We’ll be around to visit soon, then. And you know where to find us if you need to get away for a bit.”

 


 

“Ach, no ye don’t, wee lassie.” Murtagh scooped up Faith and walked back into the upstairs sitting room. One of the servants had the presence of mind to close the door behind them without being asked.

Down!” Faith bellowed, wriggling like a fish to try and escape Murtagh’s grasp. “I want down!”

“Faith, you have to stay in here,” Claire said for the umpteenth time, her voice low and soft against the muffled hubbub of the dinner party downstairs.

Jamie was in the process of guiding her towards the sofa, hobbling a little with his cane, and felt her turn towards Murtagh as if to assist him. “Sassenach, would ye sit down and rest? Ye’ve been on yer feet all day.” For his fussing, he received a sharp look from his wife.

“I’m pregnant, not an invalid. You shouldn’t be on your feet either.”

Murtagh set Faith down and stood with his back to the door, her only point of escape, and folded his arms across his chest. “We’ve told ye, you canna go out there while there’s the dinner party,” he explained reasonably, as if the two-year-old would accept this.

Jamie sighed, feeling like a caged animal himself. Of course Jared would be hosting a large party of guests on their second night back in Paris. They’d hardly settled in and already were struggling to live in hiding with the children.

Claire grabbed Jamie’s arm without a word and sunk into the sofa. He let out another sigh, this time of relief.

Jared had graciously opened his home to them and assured them both he and his staff could harbor them safely, but it became quite clear that Jared also didn’t intend to stop living as he had before they arrived. This meant they were confined to an upper wing of the house that Jared had prepared for them ‒ a string of bedrooms, one of which had a smaller adjoining room that was being converted into a makeshift nursery, and a sitting room.

Fergus sat sideways in one of the lounge chairs, his feet dangling over one arm of it with a book open and propped up against his thighs. His attention left the book in favor of seeing what Faith was doing. He leaned backwards over the opposite arm, head upside-down, and reached his arms out into the air. “Viens à moi, ma petite chérie,” he beckoned. Faith turned from her stand-off with Murtagh, spotted him, and ran right for him, grinning wildly all the way.

Jamie watched as Fergus caught Faith around the middle and, with surprising strength, managed to flip her up and over him and the arm of the chair so that she landed in his lap in a fit of giggles.

“Be careful,” Claire reminded them as the book fell to the floor, no longer occupying Fergus’s attention. Their joy was contagious, and soon Jamie felt the tension of the day ebbing from his shoulders as he sunk into the space next to Claire. He leaned in and pressed a kiss to her temple and felt her melt into his side.

Murtagh also seemed to think the risk of Faith’s escape had diminished and eased himself into a chair with a sigh. Every now and then, the sounds of the dinner party would filter up through the walls, and Jamie realized that as long as they could keep the children quiet and contained on nights like these, Jared continuing to live as though nothing had changed would likely work in their favor. After all, it made it seem as though Jared had nothing to hide.

“I wonder how many of the guests downstairs we would know,” Claire mused.

Murtagh grunted, making no effort to hide his distaste of their former Paris acquaintances.

“It wasn’t all bad, the first time we were here,” Claire said quietly after a moment, turning into Jamie’s side. He realized those words were for him, not Murtagh, and glanced down at her upturned face resting near his shoulder.

“In a pensive mood tonight, mo nighean donn?” He leaned down and kissed her, just because he could. Just because she was there.

She exhaled with a wry smile. “I suppose.”

He wrapped an arm around her and kissed her again, quick and chaste, mindful that they weren’t really alone. “It wasn’t all bad but there was precious little that was good about it,” he replied.

“Yes, but we got those two out of it,” she nodded towards the chair where Fergus was still entertaining Faith. “And they are everything.”

“Aye,” he agreed easily, kissing her forehead, and then glanced back at the bairns to see that they had an audience. Faith was watching them intently and then Fergus turned to see what she was staring at.

“What?” Claire prompted, her voice tired so it came out sounding exceedingly British.

They were only cuddled up on the sofa together, but Faith had been developing a keen awareness of not only Claire but Claire’s relationship to Jamie as well. And lately, unfortunately, a jealous streak had emerged in Faith.

With a sigh, he watched Faith scramble down from the chair and toddle over to him, arms outstretched. “C’mere, ye wee trouble-maker,” he said as he hauled Faith into his lap and settled back next to Claire again. “Keepin’ everyone in a tizzy while we’re trying to enjoy a quiet evening, huh?”

Faith kneeled on his good leg and reached up to hug him sweetly, her head thumping against his shoulder nearest Claire, and both parents saw through the thin guise that it was.

“Somebody looks like they’re getting tired,” Claire teased in a sing-song voice, her fingers gently brushing back Faith’s curls from her face. And despite how Faith had come over just to interrupt them and take his attention away from Claire, he watched his wife’s face light up with having Faith so near to her. Claire was breathtaking always, but the way she looked at their children with so much love in her damn near killed him every time to see it. What a privilege it was to witness something so beautiful. It left him humbled and awed.

His heart never stood a chance against Claire Beauchamp. And for all that she was just as stubborn as the two who made her, he knew Faith didn’t stand a chance either.

Claire leaned in and kissed Faith’s forehead, talking sweetly to her, and Jamie wasn’t a bit surprised when he felt Faith shift herself away from him, sliding into Claire’s lap instead. Nor did he blame her for wanting to bask in the light and warmth of Claire’s love a little more.

His breath snagged in his throat at the sight of them curled up together, Faith’s head pillowed on her mother’s chest, and he thanked his lucky stars that ‒ even in their current circumstances ‒ this was his life, here with them.

 


 

“How certain are ye that the wean is a lass?”

Claire snorted softly, stretched out on the bed while they stole a moment of peace during Faith’s nap. Murtagh had taken Fergus out to the stables for the afternoon and they were alone. “Anything’s possible. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I thought… I thought we might discuss names for either.” He smiled sheepishly, remembering what delicate territory this was the first time ‒ and they didn’t even get to name Faith in the end. Not her first name, at least. “Just in case.”

But a gentle smile tugged at Claire’s lips and he felt something ease in his chest.

“I’ve been thinking about that, too. What about Brian?” she suggested, one hand resting on the swell of her belly and the other tucked behind her head. She looked down at the bump tenderly as she spoke, as if it could give any hint of who was inside and whether the name spoken was the one it would bear.

Jamie smiled at the sight of her more than the suggested name, though it touched him deeply. “Aye, Sassenach, tis a fine name.”

“Well this is so much easier the second time around,” she laughed, and his smile deepened. He moved from his seat at the writing desk to join her on the bed, propping himself up on one elbow facing her.

“And what if it’s another girl?” Claire asked pointedly, smiling with that knowing look of hers. Even he was starting to feel the inevitability that Claire would be right in this.

Jamie cocked his head, considering. His hand reached out to touch her rounded belly. “Maybe Ellen, after my mother?” he said softly. Claire’s answering smile was sweet and all the confirmation he needed.

“Though,” he began after a moment of reflection, “if we did agree, that means the babe would be named after one of my parents either way, and Faith has my sister’s name as well. I dinna wish to be selfish.” He fixed his gaze again on Claire. “What about your family, Sassenach? D’ye want to name the bairn after your mother?”

She lifted her hand to rake her fingers through his curls, and he leaned into her touch, sighing deeply. “Does that mean ‘yes’, Sassenach?”

“It means you’re very sweet. But… it’s different for me than for you.”

“Because ye canna remember them.” he supplied.

She gave him a sad smile and his heart clenched. “Yes. I can remember bits of the grief in the aftermath, which must’ve meant I loved them very much, but I can’t picture them anymore and I don’t know which hazy memories are mine and which are the stories that Uncle Lamb supplied for me to fill in the blanks.” Her hand returned to resting on top of the swell of her belly. “Maybe for a middle name, we could use my parents’ names, but if this little one ever asks about his or her name, I want you to be able to tell them about their namesake. I want them to hear those stories as I have from you. I wouldn’t be able to do that for them.” She was tracing delicate patterns against the taut skin of her belly, coming as close to caressing the little babe as she could, until Jamie pulled her sideways and gathered her against his chest rather abruptly.

“Not that I’m complaining…” She began, already relaxed against his arm. “But you could’ve just said you wanted to cuddle. I would’ve agreed.”

He huffed at her teasing and didn’t respond right away. His fingers played with her hair and her eyes drifted shut in the warm shelter of his arms, but his heart ached still as her words replayed in his mind.

“I was just sad for ye, mo ghraidh,” he admitted. “I dinna like the thought of ye all alone without a family. Without memories even.”

She looked up at him, her chin poking into his chest, and met his gaze. “But I do have a family. I had Uncle Lamb growing up. And before we even had children, you promised me your family. And I haven’t been wanting in that regard since I married you, Jamie Fraser. You’ve given me so much.”

He cupped her face in one hand and kissed her thoroughly, and when he pulled away, she rolled onto her back again, still close to him. He sighed heavily, his hand returning to her pregnant belly. The wonder of it all remained even this second time around, and he didn’t think he’d ever find this sacred work of Claire’s to be anything less than a miracle. “Wean will be here before we know it.”

Claire hummed in acknowledgement, her fingers raking along his scalp.

“I’m sorry, Sassenach,” he murmured and felt her hand freeze in his hair. “I wanted tae do this right if I ever got ye wi’ child again. Instead I… I missed so much… put ye through so much. Ye were cold and starving and then I sent ye through the stones‒”

“Hey,” Claire tugged on his hair and his jaw snapped shut. But her voice was gentle when she spoke to him, filled with a compassion he didn’t feel he deserved. “We’re both here now and that’s what matters. We can’t keep looking back. My biggest fear was never finding each other again, but we did. So no more regrets or apologies, alright?”

He swallowed thickly and nodded. “How about a promise then?” His fingers interlocked with hers over the firm bump of the baby before he lifted his gaze to hers. “You and the bairns, Sassenach… ye’re my life. When the time comes, I know I canna take yer pains away, but I… I won’t make past mistakes again. I promise I will be here.”

“I know you will.”

He breathed out a smile and leaned over to kiss his wife.

“Go,” she said after a moment, stifling a yawn. She shoved him playfully. “Go finish your letter to Jenny. We’re alright. And I want to nap.”

He smiled into one last kiss and let her kick him out of the bed, knowing the bairn was keeping her up most nights with all his tumbling about. He settled back in at the desk, a half-finished letter before him, and looked back to watch Claire curl onto her side, unaware of his gaze. Christ but she was an unwavering force to track him down and make their family whole again. And for her to say that he had given her so much… He’d never in his life stop trying to be worthy of her.

 


 

“Ready, Sassenach?”

The press of Jamie’s lips to her temple drew Claire out of her reverie and she inhaled deeply. “Je suis prest,” she said after a moment’s pause.

She saw the spark those words lit in his eyes and the nervous butterflies in her stomach were briefly quelled by the warm thought that followed: How it was fitting to say the Fraser Clan motto at that moment as they planned to officially grow their own wee Fraser clan tonight.

“Ready for what?” Fergus piped up from his spot on the sofa. Faith had already been put to bed and Murtagh knew to make himself scarce tonight, so it was only the three of them in their little sitting room.

Jamie met her gaze. If ever there was an entrance to the conversation, it was that one.

“We have something we want to discuss wi’ ye, lad.” Jamie retrieved the document from the lawyer he’d procured earlier that day. And, deciding to let the document speak for itself, Jamie laid the paper out on the small table where Claire sat. “Come have a look, Fergus,” he beckoned.

Fergus left the sofa and moved to the empty seat at the table, the paper in front of him. “What is this?”

Jamie eased into the seat between her and Fergus. “Read it, a balach,” he said gently.

Claire sat across from him, heart in her throat as she watched his eyes skim over the words. The boy’s brows furrowed in confusion and then his face went slack with surprise as realization dawned. “I don’t…” Fergus’s gaze flicked between her and Jamie. He swallowed. “I don’t understand,” he said with a sort of timidness that broke Claire’s heart, as if maybe he did understand completely but couldn’t believe it to be true.

Wordlessly, she reached across the table and took his hand in her own.

“I ken the document is a bit… formal. Tis meant to be a will of sorts. It recognizes you as our firstborn son and, when the time comes that Claire and I have passed, anything we have will fall under your care and responsibility to maintain or redistribute among your siblings.”

Tears pooled in Fergus’s eyes.

“But that won’t be a concern for a very, very long time if we can help it,” Claire added, squeezing his hand.

“Aye,” Jamie smiled. “No’ to mention, we dinna have anything for ye to inherit, being poor as church mice at the moment,” he joked, though Claire shot him a look for that one.

Fergus remained mute, his tear-filled gaze falling back to the paper as he sniffled softly.

Dread filled Claire’s stomach. They were doing this all wrong, weren’t they? Death and inheritance and all the burden of that to come wasn’t really the point.

“That paper… It's just a formality. It’s just protection to have in place.”

“But it’s…” Fergus began in a tight whisper. “I’m not… Shouldn’t Faith‒

Jamie rested a hand on the boy’s shoulder and his gaze snapped up to him, a pleading expression on his young face begging Jamie to understand him. “We dinna mean to make it sound like she and the bairn would be left out, only that you would be seen in the eyes of the law as just as much ours as Faith and the wean. And, weel, ye are the oldest then, there’s no way around that, so the brunt of the responsibility would fall to you.”

Fergus was up out of his seat faster than Claire could blink, his arms thrown around Jamie’s neck in a fierce hug. Her own vision blurred with tears and she blinked them away furiously.

“I will make you proud, Milord,” Fergus cried, muffled into Jamie’s shoulder. “I promise I will‒ I will be worthy of this someday.”

“Hey, no,” Claire butted in gently at the same time that Jamie said something in Gaelic that sounded rather like a chiding.

Fergus pulled back, his face streaked with tears, and Claire’s heart clenched at the sight of him.

“Ye’re already worthy of more than we can ever give ye, lad.”

“The point of all of this is that we wanted to make it clear ‒ to you and to anyone else ‒ just how we see you. We love you as our child. As our son. And we love you because you’re you, not because you did anything to earn it. You don’t owe us anything, and you don’t have to measure up.”

Fergus hiccuped and nodded, looking away to blink back a fresh wave of tears and wipe his nose with his sleeve. Jamie reached up and brushed the boy's tears away, his hand then coming to settle over Fergus’s heart. “S’alright, laddie.”

She felt her throat clog over the tenderness of that small gesture, of the way Jamie loved their boy so well, and she didn’t trust her voice enough to speak yet. Fergus stood rooted by Jamie’s chair, one arm still draped across his shoulders, as Jamie talked to him ‒ about nothing of importance at first, just to calm him down, and then carefully, he navigated the conversation back to the matter at hand.

“Ye ken we’ve already considered you a member of this family for a long time,” Jamie began gently.

“You’re already the most wonderful brother to Faith,” Claire added with a watery smile. “She’s always adored you.”

“And we’re both verra sorry it took this long to have this conversation wi’ ye. No matter what, we love ye always, mon fils, and after everything that has happened in the last year, we didna want to leave anything unsaid. So if…”

Jamie paused only momentarily, but it was the first sign of panic that she’d seen in him all night. He was usually so steady, but being a parent… loving a child of their own… that was a vulnerability unlike anything they’d ever experienced before. “Ye dinna have to, of course ‒ this would be yer choice ‒ but if ye wanted to take the name Fraser fer yer own, that’d be… I would be‒” his gaze broke away from Fergus, looking to Claire for strength. He smiled tightly, and when he spoke again, his voice was rough with emotion. “Verra proud.”

She glanced from Jamie up to Fergus to see how the boy received those words. His eyes had gone wide, his expression unreadable. “Truly?” he said at last, looking to Claire for confirmation.

“Yes, love,” she smiled through the urge to cry. “Yes.”

Jamie gave Fergus a tight squeeze, the two of them breaking into smiles that turned her heart into a puddle.

“Fergus Fraser,” Jamie said affectionately, “Ye bear the name of a true Scot now, aye?”

His words brought a moment of levity that they all welcomed. Fergus, no longer clinging to Jamie on the verge of tears, slid back into his own seat at the table, chest puffed up with pride.

“Fergus Fraser,” the boy repeated ‒ so quietly that Claire wondered if they were meant to hear it or if he was repeating it to himself.

“We’re all yours. We’re your family.”

“I know, Milady.”

The once affectionate term was suddenly jarring to Claire when spoken into that moment, in that conversation of who their family was. She breathed in deeply, her mind scrambling for the right words while her heart skittered nervously.

“Fergus, you could… that is, you also don’t have to call me that anymore, if you don’t want to.”

Fergus cocked his head at that and she noticed Jamie straighten up out of the corner of her eye, looking ready to step in. “Since ye dinna need to think of us as yer employers anymore, we’d prefer it if ye didna address us as such. If ye’re alright wi’ that.”

“What would I call you?”

Jamie cleared his throat. “Faith calls me Da,” he said delicately. “Would ye like to do the same, mon fils?”

Fergus’s eyes lit up, understanding now what they meant, and Claire felt her heart leap to her throat. “Truly, Milord?”

Jamie leveled his gaze at Fergus, but he let that one last “milord” go unchecked. “Truly.”

Fergus sat up a little straighter in his chair. “What if I called you Papa, instead?”

The corners of Jamie’s lips turned upwards and Claire knew him well enough to see the signs that he was holding back tears. “Would that make you happy?”

“Oui,” Fergus breathed out, practically bouncing in his chair.

“Then you can call me Papa, so long as it pleases ye.” Jamie’s gaze flicked to Claire, where she sat observing her two men, tears brimming in her eyes but not yet spilled over. “And what will ye call your mother, then?”

“Maman,” Fergus said at once, his eyes turning to Claire, soft with adoration.

“I would be incredibly hon‒” her voice cracked and her mouth snapped shut to stop the cry that threatened to escape. Her chin wobbled as a few rogue tears spilled down her cheeks. “Come here,” she managed in a tight voice, motioning for him to join her on that side of the table. He went without further prompting, leaning down to hug her. She kissed his cheek and tucked his head against her shoulder, held him there for a long moment before she was ready to let go. “Je t'aime, mon fils,” she murmured to him, loosening her hold. When he drew back, she noticed the tears on his face as well and the soft smile that sent her heart tumbling. Gently, her fingers brushed away the tears and then she held his dear face in her hands and drew him close to press a kiss to his forehead.

“Je t'aime, Maman.”

 

 

They sent him off to bed a little while later, and Claire stayed seated at the table, her hands cradling her ever-growing belly, while Jamie walked Fergus out to the hallway towards his room. She could hear Fergus’s excited chatter and knew he probably wouldn’t sleep any time soon. Still, there was a lightness in his voice that flooded Claire with gratitude. He’d embraced them wholeheartedly ‒ and even now as he spoke to Jamie, she didn’t miss how he took every opportunity to address him as “Papa.”

There was a sudden scuffle of feet and then the sound of one set of footsteps running back to the room. Fergus was returning for something.

She straightened in her seat, looking around the room for whatever he must’ve forgotten.

“Maman?” he called out from the doorway and she met his gaze. He had a funny expression on his face, seemingly anxious and happy all at once, and she felt she understood how that could be true.

“Yes, love?”

“Remember when we were riding together on our way to Edinburgh and I told you how I used to imagine that I ended up at Maison Elise by mistake and my parents were out there somewhere, trying to find me?”

Oh, Fergus.

Claire simply nodded, not trusting her voice as tears filled her eyes.

Fergus flashed her a smile, so bright and beautiful, and he looked younger in that moment than his eleven years ‒ like she was seeing a glimpse of that little boy who had lived in a dreamworld to survive.

“I know I said before that I used to wish my parents would come and rescue me from that place.” His gaze broke away from hers, suddenly shy, and she wanted to hold him to her heart again and never let go. “I’m glad it was you and Papa.”

Chapter Text

“Easy now, Sassenach. That’s it.”

Her skin prickled in irritation hearing Jamie talk to her in a soothing voice that she knew to be often reserved for horses, and the comparison to how big she felt at the moment flitted through her mind. Her jaw clenched as a few choice words leapt to her tongue, but she held them back, seeing as she was relying on his help getting out of the carriage. With her feet firmly planted on the ground, he pressed a sweet kiss to her temple and she felt a little of her irritation dispel.

And Jamie wasn’t the only one treating her carefully these days. As their family spilled out of the carriage, Fergus appeared at her side and she tucked him under her arm ‒ she found his constant hovering to be easier to take in stride ‒ and was reminded of how much he’d grown in the last year as he felt almost too tall to fit snugly under her arm like he used to.

Jamie had Faith in one arm, no longer needing the aid of a cane to walk, and Murtagh exited the carriage last, keeping a close eye on them as they turned altogether and headed for the charity hospital.

They were breaking their cardinal rule for living in Paris by visiting a place so central to their time here before, but as they doubted the sisters of L'Hopital des Anges would ever betray them, it had been an easy decision to return.

Stepping foot inside of the hospital felt like stepping back into a dream for Claire ‒ one that hadn’t been entirely pleasant. Everything looked the same as it had over two years ago when Claire was last here. Bouton was still there to greet them as they entered, barking madly at Jamie in particular.

“Away ye wee devil,” Jamie growled and shifted Faith higher up on his shoulder.

“A dog!” Faith pointed excitedly, unbothered by Bouton’s manner.

“Nay, lass, that thing can hardly be called a dog,” he muttered. “Now stop that, Faith. I willna set ye down while that vermin is‒”

“Madame?”

Claire turned from watching Faith struggle to get free of Jamie’s grasp to find her old friend standing before her in stunned disbelief. “Hello,” Claire smiled nervously.

Mother Hildegarde’s gaze swept from Claire to Jamie to the restless toddler in his arms and the older woman’s brows rose in surprise. “Quel miracle. I’ve thought of her often, but to see her again and so old now… She is in good health?”

“Yes,” Claire answered with a smile, her own gaze drawn to the girl in question. Faith was a slight thing ‒ and maybe always would be ‒ but she wasn’t so fragile anymore. “And keeping us on our toes every day.”

She could see the question lurking in Mother Hildegarde’s eyes as to why they had returned to Paris, but instead of asking that, she gestured to Claire’s rounded belly. “And I see you are to have another one. I hope you are in good health as well.”

“So far, yes, it’s been an easy pregnancy. And that’s actually why we’re here today. Or part of the reason,” her arm draped around Fergus’s shoulders and pulled him back to her side. “I wanted to ask if you and one of your midwives would help deliver the baby when it’s time. Maybe not your most experienced midwife,” Claire said delicately. Not someone who is stuck in their ways and won’t listen to me. “I have particular requests for the birth and I want someone who will listen. It’s… it’s why I want you there. Someone I can trust. And maybe a good midwife who doesn’t mind taking orders.”

Mother Hildegarde wasn’t cold exactly, but she did often wear a mask of seriousness. She nodded slightly with a faint smile on her face and Claire felt the knot of anxiety in her chest tug free. She would have at least one person in her corner during the birth, someone who had also been there through the horror of Faith’s birth.

“I have someone I could ask, one of the Sisters here. I believe she would do well.”

“Thank you,” Claire exhaled a smile and squeezed Fergus’s shoulder. “And the other reason we all came is because we’re wondering if you could arrange a baptism today. It’s for our son.”

 


 

“A toast,” Jared said brightly, glass raised to all of them seated around the dining table, “to Fergus Fraser.”

“Fergus Claudel Fraser,” Jamie amended, raising his own glass with a proud smile.

While he hadn’t been in attendance for the baptism, Jared had surprised them with hosting a dinner, just for the six of them, in Fergus’s honor. For all that they were in his debt, Claire had begun to worry that they asked too much of Jared in keeping them hidden. But in the warm glow of that dining room, with her gaze resting on Fergus’s beaming face, she was reminded of Jamie’s promise to her on their wedding day.

You have my name, my clan, my family

She had no way of knowing then how that promise would hold true. And while it was not for nothing in exchange that Jared sheltered them ‒ he was receiving Jamie’s assistance in business matters ‒ it wasn’t an even trade. She just hadn’t realized until this night how deeply the loyalty to family ran in Jared Fraser.

And Abbott Alexander too, come to that. He’d remained a rather aloof presence while they’d stayed at the abbey, but he’d been greatly concerned for Jamie after his injury and he’d kept them safe and well cared-for in the abbey for as long as they’d resided there.

Jamie had understood the weight of what he’d promised her that night, but she hadn’t. Not at first.

And as her gaze flitted between Fergus and Faith, both now bearing the name of Fraser, she felt some small bit of peace settle deep in her bones that she and Jamie could give them this ‒ the protection of family and a certain belonging she hadn’t had in the same way growing up.

Her gaze shifted to Jamie and she caught his eye, feeling the soft tug of a smile at her lips. No, she hadn’t had any idea back when she married him that this was where the road would lead them ‒ back then, she hadn’t thought that she would stay, given the choice. Now, their lives had never quite been so unsettled, their future unknown. And never so full, having their own wee Fraser clan with them.

She lifted her glass. “To Fergus Fraser.”

 


 

“Is that his foot?”

Claire shook her head. “That’s the top of his head. He’s stretched out sideways just now.” She moved his hand around the swell of her belly and pressed his fingers firmly over another spot. “There’s his foot.”

The baby pushed back against their hands and she saw the spark in Jamie’s eyes as he felt the kick. “Hallo, a chuisle.” He leaned over and kissed her belly through the thin fabric of her shift, over the spot where they’d felt the crown of the baby’s head. “It’s yer da,” he said fondly.

The echoes of conversations had at night while in bed, in this very house when it was Faith that she carried, drifted through her mind. It was hard not to draw parallels between then and now ‒ same place, same unbridled excitement to meet their baby ‒ but they hadn’t known then the horror of how Faith would come into their lives.

And now they couldn’t forget it if they tried.

“Should be dropping down into position soon enough.” Claire caressed her belly. “Until then, the stubborn little thing likes to lodge herself sideways while she still can.”

“That’s alright. You take yer time, wee ‘un,” he murmured to her belly, and her heart lurched at the underlying strain in his otherwise gentle tone. “Grow hearty an’ strong first before ye join us. We’ll bide until then.”

She exhaled shakily, choosing to look at her pregnant belly instead of her husband for fear of what she’d find there in his eyes. This was as far as she’d made it in her pregnancy with Faith and what came next with this child was unchartered territory ‒ she hoped and fervently prayed it would be the unchartered territory of a normal and safe labor.

Both of them startled at the sound of a door latch jiggling, but it became quickly apparent that it wasn’t their main bedroom door but the one that led to the adjoining nursery. Faith was too little to lift the latch but she could just barely touch the handle if she tried. When she couldn’t get through on her own, they heard her wailings through the door.

“Christ,” Jamie muttered under his breath. But he was up and out of bed faster than Claire could blink, opening the door for their distraught wee thing to join them. Faith toddled in, face flushed and already streaked with tears, and Jamie wasted no time in scooping her up. “Och, wha’s wrong, mo nighean?” His tone was affectionate and soothing, the soft voice he reserved just for his children. Faith’s head rested on his shoulder as he began to pace the room with her. “Ye canna do that in a few months time or ye’ll wake the bairn.”

Faith only sniffled and turned her face into Jamie’s neck.

“She has no idea what’s coming,” Claire shook her head. Jamie’s smile was bright even in the dim lighting of their room but she found it hard to match his joy in that moment. If she wasn’t worried about the birth, she was worried about Faith feeling cast aside once there was a baby in the picture or about Fergus feeling he was less important to them if his own needs at eleven years old weren’t as demanding of their time and attention as those of a toddler and a newborn. It felt as though they were in such a precarious spot with both children, with Fergus’s adoption being so new and Faith having to adapt to such drastic changes in such a short time.

“Ye ken, lass, I think yer mam could use some cheering up, too.”

She startled out of her thoughts to see Jamie’s perceptive gaze on her. He gave her a soft smile, but his own concern was poorly concealed from her. “Just… letting my thoughts get away from me.”

“What d’ye think, Faith?” he whispered conspiratorially to their girl, slowly sauntering towards Claire’s side of the bed. “Can we cheer her up?” Faith’s head popped up from his shoulder, eyes intent on finding Claire.

Instinctively, she sat up a little further in bed, unsure if Jamie was coming to pass Faith off to her or not.

“Gib her a kiss?”

Oh, darling girl

“Oh aye,” Jamie said brightly, “that should help. Ready?”

She watched him shift Faith sideways in his arms and held her out towards Claire, his large hand supporting Faith’s ribcage.

She stole a kiss from the sweet little face hovering in front of her and couldn’t hold back a smile.

“Again!” Faith crowed, face scrunched with pure joy and arms outstretched, and Claire wanted to freeze that moment forever. Instead, she accepted another kiss from tiny rosebud lips and felt Faith’s weight slowly sink onto her as Jamie gently draped her slight form over Claire’s chest and protruding belly.

“There’s my girl.” She kissed the crown of Faith’s head, sweaty from sleep, and wrapped her arms snug around her warm little body. Faith’s hand reached up and patted her cheek and Claire turned her head so she could press a kiss to the little palm before it withdrew. “You are such a loving girl, Faith Fraser, so kind and generous.”

Jamie crawled over her feet to his side of the bed and propped himself up on one elbow facing the two of them, his face almost level with Faith’s. “Aye, what a kind lass ye are, helping yer mam feel better.”

He leaned over and kissed Faith’s cheek, a loud smacking kiss that left the girl giggling and turned her face into Claire’s chest.

Two months ago, she’d held a sleeping Faith in her arms, practically a stranger to her then, and felt as though her whole world might crumble at any moment. If she could’ve given herself anything two months ago on that first, terrible day at the abbey, it would’ve been a glimpse of this: Jamie, alive and whole at her side, and Faith in her arms, wide awake and there of her own choosing. The three of them cocooned in their reclaimed intimacy they’d had as a family before the Rising.

Faith still hadn’t called her “Mama”, but that troubled Claire less and less these days. It would come. And the progress she’d made in rebuilding a relationship with Faith… It was enough.

“I love you, sweet Faith.”

Her miracle girl. Her everything. When the anxiety over the baby’s birth became too loud, she reminded herself that Faith, against all odds, was still here. And Claire was, too.

Faith’s hand rubbed up and down Claire’s arm like she was trying to soothe her still.

“Lub ye,” her wee girl said.

She met Jamie’s shining gaze in the dimness and oh, it was enough. It was more than enough.

 


 

Despite how she tried to keep her fears at bay, Claire was not, it turned out, safe from her subconscious.

In a dream that felt as real as the strong kicks from the baby within, she was back at the charity hospital. She felt a sharp twinge of pain in her belly as she moved down an aisle of patient beds. Her breath caught in her throat and she froze, knowing exactly what that pain meant: the baby was coming ‒ much too early.

And she was alone.

Entirely alone. No Jamie or Mary or Murtagh. None of the Sisters nor even Mother Hildegarde. The beds that were usually filled with the sick and wounded were vacant and untouched, and the cathedral was desolate, carrying the echoes of her screams, her pleas for someone to come help.

She couldn’t do this alone. Not again.

She doubled over with a contraction and that was when she noticed all of the blood pooling at her feet.

No,” she uttered in a hoarse cry. “No, no, no.”

Mother Hildegarde was there suddenly ‒ inexplicably ‒ and she gently held Claire by the elbow, keeping her steady. The older woman’s face was drawn with concern, the way it had been when Claire was burning with fever. Claire felt her heart lurch at the sight of her, at the hopelessness in her gaze. “I’m very sorry, Madame.”

Claire’s hands gravitated to her belly, wanting to shield the baby somehow from whatever Mother Hildegarde’s ominous news was, but her hands touched only the soft, doughy belly that remained after giving birth.

No.

The baby…?” Her voice cracked.

“There was nothing we could’ve done,” Mother Hildegarde was saying, but the walls were starting to close in on Claire, and Mother Hildegarde’s voice began to sound tinny and far away as she spoke.

“... She was… mort-né…”

 

 

Claire was only peripherally aware of being gathered against Jamie’s chest in the dark, his hands finding purchase at her back to keep her close, while his voice was soft and urgent in her ear. She was only vaguely aware of all this because as the last tendrils of her nightmare lost their hold on her, she felt the wrenching movement of stubborn life from within her and her breath left her lungs in a rush. Squished between her and Jamie, their baby was still very much alive.

Real as it had felt, it was all just a dream.

She grabbed a fistful of Jamie’s nightshirt and tucked her face into the hollow of his neck, his touch grounding her now as much as the baby’s movement had. This was real. “Don’t let me go. Not yet.”

His grip tightened in response and for whatever reason, that small act had tears pricking her eyes. His voice came into focus next, still murmuring in her ear, and his words left her feeling awash in safety. She’d loved him long enough to know when his Gaelic was spoken as a fervent prayer. Her hand cupped at his neck, her thumb running along the sharp line of his jaw, and she felt his rapid pulse under her palm.

Oh god, she’d scared him through it all.

Her face flushed with embarrassment ‒ it was only a dream after all, for all this fuss ‒ and she pulled back to look at him, her hand brushing his curls back out of his face.

“Is it the bairn?” he asked, his voice tight, before she had a chance to speak.

She swallowed thickly and shook her head.

“Then what’s troubling ye so, that ye’re crying out in yer sleep, a nighean?”

“It was just… just a silly dream. It was nothing.”

“Didna seem silly,” he pushed back, and she met his gaze in the dark. Not a dream, no. A nightmare. And how many of those had haunted his sleep in the time since she’d first slept beside him? She’d lost count.

She tucked her face into his neck again, accepting his comfort, but when faced with the task of putting words to what she’d seen, she fell silent. Instead, she let out a shaky breath and uttered quietly, “Everywhere I turn, there’s memories of… the first time. With Faith.”

Claire felt his heavy sigh more than heard it as one of his hands traced the path of her spine.

“Was it wrong tae bring ye back here?”

No immediate answer came to mind, the question having thrown her as much as the tinge of guilt in his voice. Tilting her face up, she kissed his neck in reassurance. “We had no choice.”

“There’s always a choice.”

“We made the best choice we could, then. All things considered.”

In case he meant to argue that, she framed his face in her hands and found his lips with her own in the dark. His kiss was warmth and safety, and she wanted nothing more in that moment than to lose herself in his touch as well. Her hand wandered down the front of his shirt.

“Claire…?”

“Please,” she whispered in answer to his unspoken question. If she closed her eyes again, she’d be back in that empty church hearing Mother Hildegarde’s words that her baby had died.

She swallowed roughly. “I need you.”

His only hesitation, she knew, was on account of her just waking from such a nightmare. He would be careful with her, but she didn’t want careful. She wanted ‒ needed ‒ more than anything to push every other thought out of her head until it was only Jamie. Only the two of them, there in the dark, with none of her fears or Jamie’s fretting over her.

His answer came in the touch of his hands, maneuvering her onto her back before rising up above her. Her growing belly kept him from covering her completely with his body as he might’ve done, but his hand found hers where she was grasping at the bedsheets and, lacing his fingers through hers, he held tight in reassurance. Her heart tumbled.

“I love you.”

Then it was only the two of them, there in the dark.

 


 

“Fergus laddie, where’s yer ma?”

Fergus looked up from the book he’d been struggling to read. His papa had insisted on it for his studies, carefully outlining each morning the work Fergus should do during the day, and he knew Papa would ask him about it this evening, but he found no small relief in putting the book down to answer Murtagh’s question.

His maman. It left a warm feeling in his chest still whenever they were referred to as his parents.

“In her room, I’m sure.”

Murtagh’s expression turned pensive and Fergus thought he might be weighing if what he wanted to speak to Maman about was worth disturbing her peace. Papa had shared with him in confidence that Maman hadn’t been sleeping well the last few nights because of the baby. Of course, Papa didn’t say it was because of the baby, but he well remembered how Maman had been when she carried Faith. But no matter the reason, Papa had asked that he take special care of Maman wherever he could. Protecting her peace was something Fergus could do.

The problem was he knew exactly why Murtagh was looking for his maman, and his instinct had been to call for her as well. Murtagh, tasked with keeping Faith occupied for an afternoon outside, stood there in the doorway to their upstairs parlor with a muddied and too-pleased Faith at his feet.

“Go an’ find her, aye? If she’s sleeping…”

“Then I won’t disturb her.” Fergus dropped his book on the table and got to his feet. “But if she’s not, I cannot wait to hear what she says when she sees the mess you let Faith make of herself.”

He ducked past Murtagh, who had given him a withering look and a retort that Maman would also be displeased with, and ran out into the hallway with a laugh. When he neared her and Papa’s room, the door was cracked open and he felt confident she would not be sleeping. “Maman?” he called ahead of his entrance.

She was up and walking, one hand on her rounded belly as she moved towards the doorway.

“Now do not panic when you see Faith, Maman…”

She eyed him warily at that. “Why would I panic when I see Faith?”

“I said not to panic!”

Fergus.”

He grinned wickedly, unable to help the teasing. “It’s nothing, it’s only‒”

Maman froze in place, her expression suddenly pinched as she gasped and reached a hand to steady herself against the wall.

“What is it? What’s wrong? Is it the baby?”

Her eyes had grown wide as she looked down at her other hand still cradling her belly. His heart tripped in rhythm.

“Maman?”

“It’s too soon. I can’t‒ I can’t do this again. It’s too soon.” Her voice was tight and so quiet he wasn’t sure if she was speaking to him directly.

“I don’t‒” he gulped and glanced out into the hallway ‒ for whom, he wasn’t sure, because no one was there. Maman was still braced against the wall, clutching at her belly, at the baby. I don’t know what to do. “Don’t… I’ll‒ I will go find Papa!”

He didn’t stand around to see how his maman responded and instead fled the room, nearly tripping over his own feet in his haste.

His maman. He couldn’t lose her.

“Papa!” he screamed, thundering down the big staircase. They weren’t supposed to go wandering through the house, not like before, and only could venture downstairs if accompanied by one of the adults, but Papa was already working downstairs with Jared just now. “Papa!”

He only made it so far on the first floor, rounding the corner into the hallway when he ran abruptly into the wall of his papa’s chest. Firm hands gripped him by the shoulders and steadied him, and he looked up into his father’s fierce, bewildered gaze. “What the devil‒?”

Fergus struggled to catch his breath, so out of sorts, and he finally managed, “It’s Maman… the baby…”

His papa was already brushing past him, taking the stairs two at a time, and Fergus was left to scramble up the steps after him, heart in his throat the whole way.

Chapter Text

“She’s not in labor.”

The physician’s pronouncement was rather anticlimactic, but still brought a flush of embarrassment to Claire’s face. She busied herself by straightening the folds of her skirts where she sat up in bed and hoped just once her feelings weren’t on display for all to see. The fact that the physician had said this to Jamie ‒ that he directed all of his comments to Jamie instead of her ‒ left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Between the nightmares and the flashbacks of Faith’s birth, the sudden feeling of false labor pains had sent her mind spiraling into panic. By the time she’d realized what was really happening, certain wheels were already in motion and she had been powerless to stop them, like the housemaid who had heard the commotion and fetched the physician who was a complete stranger to them.

Of course when she’d tried to explain to him that she wasn’t in active labor, that had fallen on deaf ears. Not just a stranger, but a condescending asshole…

Jamie, bless him, promptly escorted the man out as soon as he would leave, but there was still the feeling of all eyes on her as some of the house staff lingered in the room. Claire wanted to crawl right out of her skin and disappear. She’d had one moment of weakness where she let her fears get the better of her, and all this was the result.

The warm weight of Fergus’s head came to rest on her shoulder and she breathed in deeply. Her hand came up to hold him there, cradling his cheek. “It’s alright. I’m alright.”

He’d refused to leave the room after fetching Jamie and after it became clear there wasn’t a baby coming any time soon, he’d crawled onto the bed and seated himself next to her. “Did I cause this?”

“What?” She pulled away from him abruptly so she could look at him. “No,” she said, a bit more fiercely than she intended. “What on earth would make you think you caused any of this?”

His gaze broke away from hers. “I was teasing you. And then you…” He shrugged one shoulder helplessly.

“Oh, darling… no. It doesn’t work like that.” She pulled his head back down to her, tucked under her chin. The guilt for all he’d been through in the last hour sat heavy in her stomach. “I’m sorry that I scared you. I’m just a little…” She hesitated, not wanting to burden him with her answer.

“Papa said you haven’t been sleeping well lately,” he supplied, his tone conveying an understanding that to him, it should be the reason for her panic attack, and she decided to let that be answer enough for him.

“Yes, that’s true. I’m overtired.” She kissed his hair and let out a sigh. “But I love your teasing. So don’t you dare stop that, alright?”

“Alright, Maman.”

 


 

Jamie climbed the stairs with considerably less urgency than before, one step at a time, and lifted his head at the sound of a small voice that he knew well.

And froze on the steps.

Up ahead, Murtagh stood at the landing, gathering Faith into his arms from one of the housemaids who had taken her for a bath. She was in a clean dress now and her hair was still damp from her bath.

This was where he was standing before, the first time he caught sight of his daughter. His mighty, wee Faith. He’d thought he’d lost her then…

Jamie… look up…

“Jamie.”

He shook his head slightly, dispelling the memory, and continued his pace up the steps. Murtagh had spotted him. “It’s true? Claire and the bairn are fine?”

Fine. He turned the word over in his mind, unsure if that was how he would sum up the state of things. When he reached the top of the stairs, Faith was waiting for him to come within her reach and she leaned forward, small hands catching at the fabric of his shirt as she set about trying to shift herself into Jamie’s arms without a word.

“A Dhia,” Jamie muttered under his breath as he caught her, shifting her weight to his arm as she clung to him. She’d been doing that more and more of late, attaching herself to him or to Claire. As if she could sense the change that was coming. Or perhaps she was only sensing the pervasive worry that he and Claire couldn’t help feeling. Whatever the reason, he kissed her cheek, and the solid weight of her in his arms did his own heart good.

“Aye, the bairn isna coming just yet,” he answered his godfather. To Faith, he added, “should we go see yer ma, then?”

“Aye.”

He started down the hallway towards their room, feeling Murtagh’s hand clap his shoulder as the older man fell into step beside him. The bairn wasn’t coming… So why hadn’t the vice grip of panic around his heart loosened any?

He found Claire and Fergus just as he’d left them, sitting up in bed side-by-side, and as soon as he’d crossed the threshold into the room, Faith squirmed like mad to be put down. He obliged, watching as she ran as soon as her feet touched the floor.

Ran right to her ma.

Fergus pushed himself to his knees on the other side of Claire and reached over her to grab Faith’s hands and lift her up so that Claire wouldn’t have to lift a finger. It drew a sound of surprise from Claire, one hand gripped tightly to Fergus’s upper arm to stabilize him where he was leaning precariously over Claire’s belly, while the other hand tried to get underneath Faith so she wouldn’t fall backwards off the bed. The moment was over before anyone else could step in, both bairns having worked together and now curled up on each side of Claire.

Jamie’s heart lodged in his throat.

The center of their universe right there. The heart of their family. They couldn’t lose her. He’d tried once to live without her already and in those few months, he’d never known such grief ‒ and all the while he’d had the comfort of believing that wherever she was, she was safe. But if he lost her now ‒ truly lost her…

The panicky grip on his heart tightened.

 


 

A few more weeks passed without further incident ‒ the false labor pains continued sporadically throughout that time but never caused a panic again that it was the real thing. Boredom set in as the rhythm of their days inside Jared’s house began to blur together. They were safe inside, and they were slowly losing their minds.

Fergus’s attention to his studies began to wane as the boy increasingly spent his time staring longingly out the window at the city that used to be his playground, a wild and exciting thing.

And Faith… At nearly two and a half, Faith was losing patience with the boundaries of the house ‒ or downright ignoring them altogether ‒ and it was a daily battle to keep her in their designated rooms and out of trouble.

So when a message arrived from Mary requesting Claire to come right away, that the baby was on its way, excitement coursed through her. She left the sitting room and went to collect her medical kit and anything else she might need for an undetermined length of stay.

“Sassenach…”

Jamie filled the doorway to their room, wound tight as a drum. “Ye canna mean to go, surely.”

She stilled in her packing, gazing up at him. “I promised her I would,” she reminded him. “And why shouldn’t I go?”

“The bairn ‒ our bairn… Ye said so yerself that she could come early.”

She stuffed a change of clothes into her bag, not liking how he’d twisted her words. She’d said she was afraid of the baby coming early and that was hardly the same thing ‒ and unfair to use that fear against her just now. “Or she could come in another five weeks when she’s due.”

He made a choked sound of frustration.

“Jamie… I’m not in labor and I can’t just sit around here on the chance that I might go into early labor.” She leveled her gaze at him. “And Mary is all alone with that awful aunt and uncle of hers. She came all this way to help you and Faith, and… and I promised her, Jamie. I have to go to her.”

She watched him grapple with her words until he sighed loudly, a look of resolve on his face. “Aye,” he muttered, and relief spread through her. She was going one way or another, and she’d rather not argue the matter with Jamie before she left.

“But if ye’re going, I’m coming with.”

She turned wide eyes on him, his hand already raised in supplication. “I ken I canna be with ye in the room, but I’ll be damned if I leave ye alone in that house. And… weel, if our bairn does decide to come early, I promised you I would be there, did I not?”

“Alright,” she agreed. “I suppose Murtagh could manage with the children for a while.”

 

They arrived at the Hawkins estate within the hour and followed the housekeeper up the stairs. Jamie escorted Claire as far as Mary’s room and kissed her soundly at the door. “I willna be far if you should need me.”

“Firstborns tend to take their time. We might be a while…”

“I’ll be here.”

She kissed him once more for good measure and swept into Mary’s room. Her friend smiled widely at the sight of her and that was all the confirmation she needed to know she made the right choice in coming here, ignoring the less-than-warm expression of Mary’s aunt. There was a midwife with them instead of a physician, and Claire was swamped with relief, even if she didn’t know the woman.

She wasn’t ignorant of the risks posed to mothers, especially young mothers like Mary, but she also knew that Mary Hawkins lived to marry another and bring more children into the world. And while a sudden doubt crept up on her that maybe they had changed things this time, maybe Mary coming to France was never part of her fate, she took her friend’s hand and reminded herself she’d already tried to direct Mary’s fate in the way she believed it should go before. Some things in life ‒ like Mary and Alex’s love for each other ‒ were too inevitable to interfere with. Some fates were out of the hands of human beings even if they possessed knowledge of the future. Mary and her baby would pull through this. They had to.

 

“Well, that is quite understandable, you’ve had a rough time of it so far, haven’t you?” Claire murmured to the squalling baby in her arms who had, after a very long night, finally made his appearance as the first rays of sunlight came peeking through the windows. “Quite a lot of fuss, being born, isn’t it?”

He had been cleaned and fed and fallen asleep on his mother’s chest before he was whisked away by his great-aunt so he could be fawned over by all the members of the household.

Claire had stayed with Mary and saw her discomfort growing as the baby was out of sight and the sounds of his fussing filtered into the room. She remembered all too well that raw and ferocious feeling with a new baby. With a new-mama heart beating only for that tiny, helpless thing. So she’d followed the disgruntled sounds of the baby and stole him away from his relatives to return him to his mother, ignoring once again any looks from the likes of them. “There’s your mummy, sweet boy, all is well.”

She settled the baby back into Mary’s arms, smiling at the way he quieted immediately but a pout remained firmly in place. “He’s perfect, Mary. You did so well.”

Mary didn’t respond right away, peppering kisses over the baby’s head. “He is, isn’t he? Alex would be so proud.” Her voice wavered slightly but pride filled her tone too. “I’ve decided on his name,” she announced, gaze sliding over to Claire for the first time since her son entered the room. “Denys Alexander Randall.”

Claire smiled, sinking carefully into a seat beside Mary’s bed. “Beautiful.” She knew this ‒ or at least, she’d hoped this would all remain true, everything she knew of Mary and her son from before. Evidence that their lives being entwined with Mary’s hadn’t changed her fate for the worse.

“I’ve been thinking… about when we go back to England. My father has written. He’s… anxious to see me remarried, but…” Mary’s gaze had resettled over the baby, his body already going slack with sleep now that he was back with his mother. “It feels like nothing else really matters, now that he’s here.”

“No, nothing else does,” Claire agreed, thumb rubbing gently over the spot where she’d felt a kick.

“And… I hated Alex for it, for making me marry his brother, but now w-we… we have a place we can go, the baby and I. We have property and a pension and‒” She had a wild look in her eyes, and in that moment, no matter what happened next, Claire knew Mary would be alright. “And I don’t have to get married if I don’t want to.”

Claire felt the tug of a proud smile at her lips. “No, you don’t.”

Mary hid her own proud smile behind the baby’s head, pulled him close to kiss his dark hair. “I don’t know that I’ll ever find someone like Alex,” she admitted, almost regretfully, like she understood the choice of freedom might also mean loneliness.

“Maybe not exactly like Alex,” Claire began, thinking of the love she’d held for Frank before she grew to love Jamie, and how different those men and those loves were, “but I believe you’ll find someone who will love you and your son. And it becomes your choice, Mary, if you want to accept him into your life or not, the one you’re building now with your son.”

Mary smiled softly at that, a touch of sadness there but perhaps some hope as well.

“I really do believe that,” Claire said gently.

“Thank you,” Mary murmured. “For everything. For being here. I couldn’t have done this without you.”

That I very much doubt. But I’m glad I got to be here for you and to meet this little one. And if you’re quite alright now, I think we should take our leave. I believe Jamie has worn treadmarks into the carpets with all his pacing and he probably hasn’t slept a wink.”

“Well, and neither have you!” Mary pointed out. “Yes, go home, and kiss Faith for me.”

“I will,” she promised, feeling an acute yearning at the mention of her girl. “She’ll receive all the hugs and kisses from her Auntie Mary.”

 

They entered Jared’s house through the backdoor and trailed up the staircase there as the late morning sun was reaching higher into the sky. She hadn’t felt terribly sore or tired from the past day until she started climbing the steps, Jamie’s arm holding tight to her waist to keep her steady. Every part of her ached with each step. “I think I could sleep for a week.”

“We can head right to the bedroom if ye want to sleep, mo chridhe.”

“No, I want to see the children first. Then maybe take a bath. Then sleep.”

He exhaled a smile, nodding curtly at that order of events. “Aye, that can be arranged.”

They’d been gone barely more than a day, but the reception they received when they walked into their upstairs sitting room was warm and rapturous. Fergus jumped to his feet with a shout and raced to them, colliding with Jamie in a tight hug. Murtagh hefted Faith up from the floor and strode across the room to them while the girl cheered at the sight of Jamie and Claire in the doorway.

“Hello, my darling,” she crooned, intending to steal Faith from Murtagh as soon as she was close enough, but the toddler leaned forward, arms outstretched to Claire, and she took a few more steps to close the distance.

As she did, Faith let slip one word, clear as a bell, that sent Claire’s heart skipping a beat, “Mama!”

Oh,” she gasped, lifting Faith into her arms, practically perched on top of the baby. Faith’s slight arms twined around Claire’s neck and hugged her tight. Her breath left her in a rush as she cradled Faith’s head against her shoulder. “Oh, I missed you,” Claire uttered in a tight voice. Faith lifted her head and pressed a sloppy kiss to her cheek.

But when she looked at Claire, her little brows furrowed together in concern and her hand wiped at Claire’s cheek, rubbing in the tears Claire hadn’t realized she had shed. “You sad, Mama?”

“No.” Claire shook her head, smiling in spite of the way she felt like the dam holding back her tears might break at any moment. “I’m just very happy to see you. Hug me tight again.”

 

“I asked one o’ the maids tae draw a bath for ye, Sassenach.”

“Oh god, I’ve never loved you more.” She was nearly stripped down to her shift, shedding layers as quickly as she could, but her fingers plucked angrily at the knotted strings of her petticoat behind her back.

“Here,” Jamie came up behind her, batting her own hands out of the way. He pressed a sweet kiss to the nape of her neck, and she felt an involuntary shiver in its wake and a sharp want pooling low in her belly. She hardly had energy to stand at the moment, but amended her order of events in her head to be a bath, sleep, and then Jamie…

One last tug of the strings and the skirt was pushed past her belly and fell to her feet. “Thank you,” she murmured, making fast work now of the string at the top of her shift before that too was pulled past shoulders, chest, and belly until she was standing bare at last. Jamie crowded in at her back and she welcomed the feel of him, his hands sliding around her large belly.

And then gently, ever-so-carefully, his hands shifted lower on her belly until he was lifting the weight into his hands. She couldn’t stop the groan that slipped out as the ever-present weight was taken from her. She went limp with relief, leaning back into Jamie. “Fuck, that feels better than sex…”

Surprised laughter rumbled up from his chest and she relished the sound, so rare these days in the tense waiting. “I’ll try no’ to take that as an insult, a ghraidh.” He kissed her hair and adjusted his hold on her, and she felt some of the weight return to her spine.

“No, don’t stop!”

“I’m not,” he promised, and the weight lifted again. There was an odd note to his voice, a strain that she suspected was not entirely due to the weight he was holding in his arms. “I’d carry it all for ye, if I could.”

“I know.” She leaned her head back until it rested on Jamie’s shoulder. The irony was that she would carry his burdens for him if she could, just as quickly as he’d try to relieve her of hers. She would take from him the weight of the guilt and the worry he still carried from over two years ago, lift it from his shoulders as easily as he had lifted her belly’s weight from her spine. “If I don’t tell you enough,” she murmured and pressed a kiss to the line of his jaw, “you take the best care of me. You do.” Her hands came to rest over top of his, cradling the little life growing there. Only hers to carry for a little while longer yet.

 


 

He only slept as soundly as his wife did most nights.

As time crept into November, her own sleep became fitful and allusive as her belly swelled even larger with their child. He marveled at the sight of her and at their bairn, kicking strong in Claire’s belly, and his wife swore if she knew anything about their bairn yet, she knew the bairn was stubborn. The passing of time brought a mingled feeling of anxiousness for the birth that was fast approaching and the relief that they’d made it far enough along that Claire no longer feared for the bairn.

Now he only feared for her, his Sassenach. While she fought each night for a comfortable position that would allow her to fall asleep, he faced a different battle entirely; Dark dreams haunted his sleep. Dreams of having to live without her, or reliving memories of being back at Lallybroch, watching Murtagh approach him with the worst news of his life, only this time Murtagh broke the news to Jamie that it was Claire who had died, instead of his ma.

But on that particular night well into November, he didn’t wake when Claire did. When he finally startled awake in the dark, his eyes could just make out the shape of her sitting up against the headboard, her hands cradling her belly. She was breathing strangely.

“Sassenach?”

“You should go back to sleep, Jamie, it’s early still.”

He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, her words sinking in slowly. It was early, it was still completely dark in the room, but he thought maybe that wasn’t what she meant as his awareness dawned. “Claire. Are ye‒ Is the bairn coming?”

He sat up abruptly, not waiting for an answer.

“Not for hours yet at least,” Claire said in a rush. “The contractions are still very far apart.”

She was so sure, so level-headed, and he felt some of his panic ebb away, taking his strength from her.

“But… yes, I think the baby is finally on her way.”

For the first time, there was a touch of nervousness in her tone, a slight uncertainty. This was their second baby, but so much of this still felt unknown for both of them. “Like I said, you should sleep while‒”

“Claire, if ye think I’ll be able to sleep now, ye’re well and truly daft.”

She exhaled sharply, but he thought he detected the hint of a smile in it.

“Should I send for Mother Hildegarde?”

He was halfway out of bed, already planning to send for the woman, when her answer made him hesitate. “No, that can wait until morning.”

“Then should I‒”

“Just… sit with me, Jamie. Just for a bit.” He saw her extend a hand out to him and he took it, giving her a fortifying squeeze.

“Aye, I can do that.”

He settled back against the headboard next to her, their fingers still entwined. “Christ,” he sighed, bringing their clasped hands up to his lips, and kissed the back of her hand. “We might meet our bairn today.”

Chapter Text

There was nothing quite so excruciating as waiting on a bairn to arrive, Jamie thought. Time seemed to suspend itself in those dark, pre-dawn hours with Claire, waiting for the moment she would let him go and fetch Mother Hildegarde, and trying to distract her from the intermittent pains of labor until then.

Soft pink streaks of sunlight painted the horizon when a different bairn than the one they were waiting for toddled into their room from the adjoining nursery, rubbing sleep from her eyes. Faith had sorted out that if she simply stood on something ‒ a small chair or clothing chest ‒ she could reach the latch, and their days of privacy had abruptly ended, as would have their sleeping through the night if they weren’t already embarking on that journey of sleepless nights with the new bairn.

“Good morning, lovey.”

Claire sounded tired to his ears ‒ understandably ‒ but she still mustered a smile when he deposited Faith onto the bed and watched her crawl towards her mother.

“Baby’s coming, sweet Faith,” Claire murmured to her, brushing the curls away from her face. “You know what that means?” She smiled, tickling under Faith’s chin and getting no response. He wondered if Claire had recognized yet exactly who Faith got her morning temperament from. “You get to spend the day with Fergus and Murtagh, having all kinds of fun, and you might even get to sleep in Fergus’s room tonight. We’ll see how long your baby sibling takes to arrive.”

Faith grunted, never speaking much just after waking, and turned her face into Claire’s belly with a pout.

“But not just yet,” Claire added, her voice thick. “For now, you can stay right here with me.”

 

The whole house stirred to life as the sun rose, and news that Claire’s labor had started spread like wildfire through the halls. There was no shortage of housemaids on hand to attend to Claire ‒ a fact that left her flustered, though grateful, from all the attention.

Once the time had come, he hated to leave her, even briefly, but she insisted it would be hours yet, muttering about “only 4 centimeters,” and walked him out of the room. She was eerily calm if also ‒ understandably ‒ a good deal crabbit, and he took that all as a good sign.

But he also recalled his quick trip to fetch the midwife one night and coming home to the news that Jenny had birthed wee Kitty in the space of the journey. He shouted at the carriage driver to go faster and fussed impatiently at Mother Hildegarde with how long she idled within the hospital before they could leave.

He was gone no longer than an hour and still couldn’t help himself from racing up the stairs again, two at a time, and didn’t rest until he’d breezed into the room to find his wife still pregnant, standing over a large kettle by the fireplace with Faith clinging to her skirts.

“What are ye doing?”

“Sterilizing these instruments. If I do it myself, I know they’ll be clean later when they’re needed. One last thing for me to worry about.”

She didn’t sound particularly worried at that moment, but the crease in her brows tipped him off. The cool facade was slipping. He rubbed her back gently. “Mother Hildegarde and the midwife are here,” he offered comfortingly.

She peered around him but no one else had entered the room behind him. “Where did you leave them?”

“They’re…” he cleared his throat. “They’re coming up any second now.”

“Jamie, you’re sweating… and out of breath,” she said, almost pityingly.

“I’m fine. Are ye… everything is… good? Still?”

“Yes,” she said softly just as two mildly annoyed women entered the room. “We’re alright.”

Mother Hildegarde greeted Claire and introduced her to the young but ‒ thus far ‒ unflappable midwife named Marie, but they didn’t make it far into introductions before Fergus had wormed his way into the room.

“Maman?”

His voice rose above the others, pinched with concern, as he squeezed between Jamie and Claire. She lifted her hand in answer to his call, gently smoothing over his disheveled curls when he appeared at her side, giving him her attention without speaking.

“Murtagh said you were having the baby. I wanted to see you first before‒” he swallowed back whatever was meant to be said and shrugged one shoulder helplessly. Claire seemed to understand.

“That’s alright, we have a little time yet.”

Jamie scooped Faith up into his arms, and his gaze met Claire’s over Fergus’s head. What was it about the promise of the new bairn’s arrival that made them both want to shelter these two between them and keep the rest of the world out?

Claire turned back to Mother Hildegarde and the midwife to finish their conversation, Fergus tucked against her side, and then explained that she wanted a moment with the children before they were sent away.

“Claire? D’ye need to sit, mo nighean donn?”

Her face was pinched as she breathed out stiffly, rubbing a spot low on her belly. A contraction, she’d called them earlier. “That might be a good idea. I’ve been standing for a while.”

Fergus led her to a chair, and both he and Jamie offered her an arm for support as she eased into the chair.

“C’mere, you.” She gestured for Fergus to take the seat next to her, and he followed. Jamie stood watching them and took a few rocking steps back with Faith, giving Claire and Fergus their moment.

He kissed Faith’s soft cheek. “Last time that it’s just the two o’ ye here with us,” he mused quietly. “After today, ye’ll have tae make a little room in yer heart for another, you and Fergus both. Can ye do that, mo chridhe?”

“Umhmm,” Faith answered automatically.

“There’s a good lass.”

 


 

She didn’t say goodbye to Fergus or Faith, only kissed them each soundly on the cheek and told them to mind Murtagh, but the thought flickered through her mind just the same, cold and intrusive, as she watched Jamie leave the room with them; There was the possibility they’d just seen the last of her.

She breathed in sharply, noticing how that drew the eyes of Hildegarde and the midwife, and ran through her mental checklist again: sterilized instruments, clean water and fresh linens…

Jamie returned swiftly, looking every bit the anxious father, and the midwife smiled knowingly at Claire.

“You would think this was his first child by how he’s acting,” she said jokingly. “The way he rushed us out of the hospital.”

Marie spoke only in French and so Claire responded to her in the same tongue. “It’s his first birth,” she explained, though she noticed the way Marie’s brows furrowed at that. Claire shrugged, not wanting to explain further.

“We will take it from here, Monsieur Fraser,” Mother Hildegarde spoke up, extending her hand towards the door in dismissal. “Your wife is in good hands, I assure you.”

Jamie’s eyes grew round and he turned to Claire.

Not yet, a voice whispered through her mind. She wasn’t ready to be without him just yet. “He can stay.”

Three sets of eyes now looked in her direction, but her own gaze never left Jamie’s.

“I’m not giving birth right this second. He can stay.”

And before anyone could voice a response to that, she had Jamie help her to her feet. “I want to walk for a bit.”

Out into the hallway they went, Jamie’s arm looped around her back and their steps slowed to account for the weight of the baby. She felt Jamie press a kiss to her temple and her heart fluttered. The nervous energy was rolling off of him in waves, but he was here with her and that, it turned out, made all the difference.

“Are ye alright, mo ghraidh?” he asked again.

“I’m fine, just couldn’t sit still any longer. Walking should‒” She cut herself off as her stomach seized with another contraction and she let out a low groan. “Ow, that one hurt. Jesus Christ. Walking should help.”

“Doesna seem to be helping…”

She merely shook her head at that, dragging him along beside her. They wound through the upstairs hall and then turned around to loop back toward where they’d started.

“Fergus is scared I’m going to die.”

She’d waited until they were in a quiet corner of the hallway before unloading that. She felt Jamie’s hand tighten at her hip, but she couldn’t look up at his face while she rehashed her conversation with Fergus earlier. “He’s worried… Well, he remembers… with Faith… and he told me he remembers one of the young ladies at Maison Elise dying in childbirth, too.”

It had rattled her more than she cared to admit, hearing those words pour out of Fergus.

“And what did ye say to him?” Jamie asked, his voice tight.

“I told him not to worry, that I wasn’t going anywhere.” A foolish thing to promise ‒ there could be no certainty one way or the other. Still, she fixed her gaze on Jamie then, her spine steeled with conviction. “I’m not going anywhere,” she repeated steadily in promise to him.

His own gaze was fierce, and if loving someone enough was all it took to stay put, she’d never have had to worry. Jamie would’ve kept her safe by sheer force of will if such a thing were possible. “Aye, I ken ye’re not going anywhere,” he said stubbornly.

 

When Marie checked her progress late in the afternoon, she announced happily that Claire was further dilated and progressing well, that she expected things to move faster now. Claire sank back into her pillow with relief, more than ready for the pains to be over.

“Monsieur Fraser,” Mother Hildegarde addressed him, treading carefully. “I believe it is now time that you should step out of the room.”

This time, when Jamie’s gaze sought her out, she felt herself nodding. He’d been by her side constantly all day long, but he couldn’t walk with her through this next part. “It’s alright. It’s time, Jamie.”

He drew close to kiss her ‒ not goodbye, she told herself ‒ and she grabbed a fistful of his shirt to pull him back when she wasn’t ready to end it.

It won’t be the last, she reminded herself.

Mother Hildegarde walked with him to the door and Claire caught one last sight of him as he looked back, fingertips pressed to his lips where she’d left her parting kiss.

 


 

The worst part about waiting for a bairn was all the time it left one to their thoughts. To imagine all that could go wrong. Jamie slumped against the hallway wall directly outside their room and let his knees buckle, sliding down to the floor.

He remembered how it was for Ian the night Maggie was born, remembered plying his friend with whiskey and stories to keep the fear from eating Ian alive.

He scrubbed his hands over his face and pressed his palms into his eye sockets until he saw stars. His breath hitched and rattled. Oh god, he couldn’t take this…

 

Murtagh had discovered him first. By then, Claire’s pained cries were filtering through the door with some regularity, which Jamie understood to mean her contractions were coming faster. “Come on, lad,” he’d said with something akin to pity in his voice. “Let’s go have a drink downstairs.”

Downstairs, where the sounds of Claire’s agony couldn’t reach his ears. Jamie had lifted his chin and refused to budge.

Jared had come to him some time after that and offered him a glass of whiskey, already poured. “It’ll settle your nerves, if nothing else.”

He’d accepted the glass and taken a few strong sips. The midwife hadn’t said how much longer it would be, but every passing minute left him more worried than the last. What was taking so long? “Thank ye, cousin. But I’m no’ leaving if that’s what ye were sent to do.”

And Jared, having never once been in Jamie’s position, simply patted him on the shoulder and left him to the waiting.

 

“Da!”

His head popped up at the sound of Faith’s voice and her quick steps in time to see her lean against his propped-up knees, a beaming smile on her face. “A leannan…”

His gaze swung over to Murtagh, several steps behind her. “Aye well o’course she found ye; ye’re sitting out in the hallway for all to see.” Murtagh reached for Faith’s hand. “Come back wi’ me, a leannan.”

“No.” Faith squeezed between Jamie’s knees and reached for him, burrowing her hands in the folds of his shirt and holding tight. He wrapped her up in his arms, his tiny wee lass ‒ how could he deny her some small comfort?

“Och, well ye did find me, and now ye have me at yer mercy, Mighty Faith. What would ye have me do for ye?”

Her head popped up at that, the wheels of her mind turning and ‒ Christ, she did have her mother’s glass face, the precious wee thing. “Want a story, Da.”

“A story? Aye.” He leaned in close, their noses pressed together, and murmured to her, “I have it on good authority that Murtagh tells the best stories, and I’m sure he’d‒”

“No,” Faith said again, soft and small and heartbreakingly sad.

“A leannan…” he sighed helplessly.

A sound came from the room, low and drawn-out and anguished.

“Wha’sat?” Faith turned in his arms, head tilted towards the closed door. Her brows furrowed in concern.

“Alright, ye want a story?”

His diversion worked; Faith’s gaze snapped back to his and after a moment, she nodded slightly. “Aye, ye want a story about yer mam, I’m sure.”

“Mama,” she corrected him with a sharp nod. Between Claire and Fergus’s influence the last few months, Faith’s distinctive Highland speech was already softening as she also picked up new English and French words in turn.

He huffed at her, feeling the slight tug of a smile. “Aye,” he agreed. “Well, this is yer ma’s story but it’s also someone else’s. D’ye ken who I’m gonna tell ye about?”

Faith gave him a blank look; he buried his smile in her hair, pressing a soft kiss to her skull. “It’s yer story, too, Faith.”

Another muffled noise filtered through the door and Faith’s attention split from him again. Jamie stood to his feet and reached for Faith, swinging her up into his arms. “How about a wee walk while I tell ye yer story, aye?”

“Where’s Mama?”

“She’s having the baby, remember?” He tried to keep his voice light. “She’s still waiting on the bairn, though. But by the time ye wake up tomorrow, ye’ll have a new brother or sister. Won’t that be nice, a leannan?”

Faith shook her head, looking mildly alarmed at that reminder of a new sibling.

“Aye, well,” Jamie cleared his throat, feeling the urge to laugh for the first time all day. “Mebbe ye’ll feel differently once ye meet her. Or him.”

He looked at her as he paced down one end of the hallway, caught her staring back at him and it struck him then just how much she had grown in the months since they’d been reunited at Culloden. “Ye’re a big sister, Faith,” he murmured, a little disbelieving. “Almost. Seems just yesterday, ye were so small that I could lift ye in just one hand. D’ye ken that you were born early for a bairn? Smallest bairn yer ma had ever seen…”

He told her in smoothed-over details and through rose-colored lenses the story of her birth and start to life in the charity hospital with her mother. It was a tale he had thought he might tell her one day, back when he believed her only connection to her mother would be through the memories he shared of her with Faith. But it wasn’t his own memories from that day that he shared with her, and the guilt was hard to swallow even now that he had never laid eyes on Faith until she was three months old.

Faith didn’t seem to pick up on the fact that he was absent from the story, listening and interrupting him with her own sometimes nonsensical remarks. But she’d know one day.

“Yer ma loves ye so much, a leannan. We both do.” He was nearing the door to the sitting room again and Faith was heavy in his arms, nearing sleep.

Murtagh was ready, peeling Faith from his shoulder and promising her a warm glass of milk, so Jamie was able to slip back out of the room, closing the door behind him.

And returned to his vigil outside Claire’s door.

He spotted one of the housemaids coming around the corner bringing fresh towels and he stood transfixed when she swung the door open and he caught sight of Claire.

He registered absently that she was propped up on the bed with Mother Hildegarde by her side helping to support her and Marie sitting between her knees, but even at a glance, Claire’s pained and weary expression struck him swift and fierce to the heart. And at the sound of the door opening, her gaze has been drawn too, settling on him in an instant.

Past the point of caring what anyone else would say, his feet began to propel him forward into the room before the door closed again and he was kept outside.

He hadn’t been there when Faith was born and Claire had needed him more than ever; he wouldn’t make that mistake again.

“Monsieur Fraser‒”

In the end, he didn’t need to defend himself. Claire reached out her hand to him in quiet invitation and the other women fell silent.

“If you’re staying, make yourself useful then,” Mother Hildegarde said at last, moving away from Claire’s side. “She hardly has any strength left to push, and the baby is almost here. Help keep her upright. And don’t faint, no matter what happens.”

 


 

“Jamie?” Claire’s voice was scratchy from use, but she needed to talk to him. He’d settled in behind her, holding her up, and someone must’ve handed him a cool towel when she wasn’t looking, because he proceeded to mop her sweaty, heated face.

“Aye, mo chridhe, I’m here.”

“Talk to me?”

“About what?”

“Anything. I don’t care. Just‒”

She screamed, feeling like her body was being split apart at the seams. Marie was screaming over her sounds to push. It had to be over soon, she couldn’t take much more of this‒

“Faith came and visited me tonight while I was outside the room.” Jamie said quickly, as soon as she’d quieted. “I told her about the day she was born and how you healed her when she was so small‒” He made a choked sound and her vision blurred with tears. “Shouldna have lived,” he rasped, “but she did, didn’t she? That was you. Claire, ye heal everyone ye touch.” He buried his face into her curls, which were damp from her sweat and clinging to her face and neck. When he spoke again, his voice was hoarse, right in her ear. “She’s the most incredible wee lass and ye did that, Claire. Ye can do this again, a ghraidh. I’m right here. I willna leave ye.”

“I’m so tired.”

“I ken ye are, but ye’re strong.”

“The head is crowning,” the midwife spoke up in French. “Keep going.”

 

She saw the moment the baby slipped free from her and into the midwife’s waiting hands. Saw the startled exchange of glances between Marie and Mother Hildegarde. Felt her heart seize in her chest, her vision too obscured to see the baby completely but something felt wrong.

Something was wrong; there was no cry.

“What’s wrong?” Her voice was hoarse, almost gone, but the sharp bite of her whisper still reached both women. Words poured out of both of them in heady French, and it took a moment longer still for the meaning to land.

A caul. The baby had been born with a caul.

She understood just as the midwife carefully removed the layer of membrane from the baby’s face and it was then that an angry cry filled the air, setting her heart racing at the sound.

“Une autre fille.”

Another daughter.

“Give her to me!”

It was the desperate cry of a mother, but Hildegarde and Jamie would both understand the sharp edge of pain behind her pleading, and the midwife was completely unfazed by it, clipping the cord and passing the screaming, squirming, wonderfully-alive babe over to her mother.

She pulled the baby to her chest, still covered in the mess of birth, and watched the fierce little thing settle, her cries dropping to a whimper. “There you are,” she murmured, and then felt her vision cloud with tears again. There she was ‒ her little nudge, her desperate strand of hope when she’d needed something to cling to, to fight for. Her wild one who traveled with her through time and back again and stayed stubbornly alive in Claire’s belly.

The baby’s fist unfurled and flattened against Claire’s collarbone, one plump cheek squished onto Claire’s warm skin just above her heart — the heart that beat just for her, for Faith, for Fergus — and the baby whimpered again in what sounded to Claire like relief. There you are, I know you…

“I love you.”

She felt Jamie’s arms tighten around her and her head fell back against him, the relief hitting her like a tidal wave. They were shaking, she and Jamie, and her whole body was so spent from the birth that she didn’t even question it, too focused on the comforting weight of the babe on her chest, but when she heard Jamie’s sharp gasp in her ear, she realized‒

He was weeping.

Her hand reached up behind her head, cupping the back of his neck, and held tight. “I told you I wasn’t going anywhere,” she said, her voice husky from overuse and emotion.

She tilted her head to look at him and was met with a bruising kiss, salty with tears, that for all it’s fierceness had her heart softening in her chest. It scared her sometimes how deeply she loved him, but not in that moment. Not with a newly-born creation of their love right there in her arms, the tangible evidence of what a powerful thing it was between them. How could she be afraid of something so achingly beautiful?

 

Hildegarde began to gently palpate her belly as Marie prepared for the last step ‒ the delivery of the afterbirth. Claire hadn’t realized she was holding her breath, watching Mother Hildegarde and the midwife ensure the placenta was intact, that no piece had been left behind inside her to fester like it had with Faith’s near-fatal birth.

“Good, Madame,” Hildegarde said at last, and then moved to wash her hands. “You did very well.” Then with the slightest tug of a smile, she approached the top of the bed where Jamie still sat up behind Claire and the baby had been tucked into the front of Claire’s shift. “Shall we clean her up? See what color hair is hiding under the mess?”

She relinquished her hold on the baby to Hildegarde, but kept a keen eye on both women from her perch on the bed, seeing that good hygiene was being practiced in dealing with both her and the baby.

She watched, but she needn’t have worried. Both Hildegarde and Marie had followed her requests throughout the day without question, including frequent handwashing. There would’ve been little to do in case of a hemorrhage or serious complication with the birth, but fighting off infections was something she could have a hand in.

Marie spoke up again, and Claire tore her eyes away from the back of Mother Hildegarde to see the midwife watching her with a faint, pleased smile. She gestured then to the caul, laid half-forgotten on a towel at the foot of the bed, just as her words clicked in Claire’s mind ‒ It’s considered good fortune, you know.

Claire nodded, feeling her own small, pleased smile. Yes, she knew. It left a funny flutter in her chest though, at the implications within folklore of what it meant to be born with a caul. As a much younger woman, she wouldn’t have put much stock in any of that being true, but now, having traveled through time herself…

Jamie shifted slightly behind her and groaned. “My legs are cramping, Sassenach, I need to stand.”

Marie helped her sit up so Jamie could slide out from behind her ‒ and he almost buckled to the floor on unsteady legs.

“Careful!”

“M’fine,” he muttered, his ears pink with embarrassment. He had caught himself before he stumbled and gingerly shook and stamped the leg that had fallen asleep to return the feeling to it.

“Are you steady enough to hold your daughter, Monsieur Fraser?” Mother Hildegarde asked, lifting up the now neatly-wrapped bundle, from which came slight noises of protest against being cleaned.

Claire glanced at Jamie’s face, which had gone slack with awe at those words, and he nodded sharply. Hildegarde approached him and gently laid the baby in the crook of his arm. His adam's apple bobbed as he studied the tiny face, and his free hand moved to gently cup the back of her head. “Most beautiful babe I’ve ever seen.”

When his gaze finally tore away from the baby, he sought out Claire, his glassy eyes filled with reverence and a freshly-hatched love for the precious bundle in his arms. She felt her throat clog with emotion. She loved the way he loved their children, so fiercely from the start.

“You said the very same thing about Faith,” she teased him, trying to keep from crying, though her voice still rasped a bit. “I remember.”

Jamie huffed gently, smiling through it. “Aye and it was true both times.”

“Well then, let me have a proper look at her.”

He sat carefully on the edge of the bed at her side, the baby tucked in his elbow. Dark lashes fanned across her ruddy pink cheeks as the baby was already slipping into a shallow sleep from all the excitement. Claire reached out and brushed her fingertips over the shock of red hair, sticking out in all directions and gleaming golden in the candlelight now that it was clean. “You are so beautiful,” she murmured in agreement, resting her cheek on Jamie’s shoulder. “Red hair aside, though, she doesn’t look a bit like Faith.”

“Ye think so? I dinna ken about that…”

The rest of the world faded away until it was only the three of them, she and Jamie left to wonder what the future held for their child of good fortune, born with a caul.

 


 

The Year 1950

Inverness, Scotland

 

She hadn’t been listening closely to the Reverend’s side of the phone call ‒ she rarely did, given that most of his conversations with other amateur historians didn’t spark her interest ‒ but when he said the girl’s name, she almost dropped the full tray she’d brought out for his tea.

“...took me a while to find anything, but I ken this Faith Fraser meant a lot to Claire.”

Whatever Frank Randall had shared with Reverend Wakefield to explain Claire’s sudden disappearance two years ago, Mrs. Graham had never learned ‒ and Reggie never spoke of it to her. Still, it was odd to know Reggie had kept digging into the past as Claire had asked of him despite the fact that she clearly hadn’t communicated with him in years now.

She set the tray on the dining table and tried to appear not to be lingering while he chatted away with Frank. Had Frank asked him to keep looking? Or had Reggie merely wanted to share what he’d found with someone he felt might be able to pass the news on to Claire?

“She had mentioned a church in France where Faith Fraser might’ve been baptized, see,” the Reverend went on, “and it took a while to find a contact o’er there who could see if any records had been preserved. But I found her! Or rather, my acquaintance did. Not many of the church’s records from that century survived, but they found her entry, matching the date that Claire had given.”

She heard his tone change, upbeat with excitement, and she wondered if he was so naive to not understand the delicacy of the situation even without knowing who Jamie Fraser was to Claire. The puir man was simply too thrilled with his discovery.

“But that wasn’t all they found, and in fact, I was able to confirm the family’s whereabouts after the battle of Culloden, which I know had been of particular interest to Claire. See, when they located the record of Faith’s baptism from 1744, I asked them to look for anyone else mentioned with the name of Fraser around that time. It appears that the family returned to France after Culloden because in November of 1746, there was another daughter born to James and Claire Fraser, baptised months later at the same church.”

She was grateful that the reverend was half-turned from her as he chatted away on the telephone, for he never noticed the relief and joy that bit of news brought her. So Claire had found them then and had her baby in the safety of France.

And,” he went on cheerfully, obliviously, “a few months prior to that, an eleven-year-old boy was baptized also with the surname of Fraser. Now, I wouldn’t normally know the circumstances of a record with just that information, but Claire had asked me to look for a boy named Fergus who was taken in by the family, so it appears that he is accounted for in France as well‒”

She couldn’t help the relieved chuckle that slipped out, nor made any effort to conceal how wide her smile had grown. Well done, lass. You found your loved ones after all, didn’t you? Well done.

Chapter Text

Jamie didn’t know what hour of night it was when Claire was finally given a chance to rest, after having been helped into a clean nightgown while the bed was stripped. The baby was bundled up and sleeping soundly in her cradle, the exhaustion from the last 24 hours having caught up with both mother and babe. He paused at the door, gaze flickering between the slumbering forms of his wife and their wee lass, heart in his throat.

Some small part of him was scared to step outside this room, to leave them even for a moment, lest he find out that the last several hours were nothing more than a dream.

But somewhere down the hall, there was someone waiting up for word of the baby, and Jamie wasn’t so cruel as to make him wait until sunrise.

So he slipped out into the hallway, vacant but still dimly lit with candles along the wall. Not long ago, there had been a flurry of activity in these halls. After the birth, a maid had spread word to the rest of the household that a baby girl had been safely delivered, including ‒ Jamie was sure ‒ to wherever Jared and Murtagh had settled in to drink their whiskey in the tense silence of men unsure of what to do with themselves while a woman labored. And just shortly before Jamie’s trek, another housemaid had helped Mother Hildegarde and Marie to their guest chambers for the night. But even while it was quiet now and the rest of the household seemed to sleep, Jamie knew one person was still up, who had been missed while the joyous news was spread.

They would’ve assumed the children were sleeping, but having been the boy on the other side of this conversation, Jamie was intimately acquainted with the fear that kept a son from sleeping no matter the hour. The relief and gratitude and joy that he got to deliver different news to his own son was almost enough to bring him to his knees there in the hallway. That he should be so fortunate to still have all of them with him…

He opened the door to Fergus’s room and the soft light from the hallway spilled into the pitch black room. Two small bodies were under the covers but only one stirred and bolted upright, expectant of a visitor.

The light caught the tracks of tears on Fergus’s face, his expression already taut with worry. “Maman?” he croaked.

His word landed like a punch in the gut. Jamie should’ve come sooner, should’ve found a way here immediately to put this boy’s fears to rest.

“She's alright. Oh, a balach, it’s alright,” he murmured, moving into the room as Fergus drew his knees up to his chest and buried his face, the sound of his smothered cries filling the room a moment later.

“Dinna fash yerself, laddie.” He perched on the edge of the bed, reaching over to rub Fergus’s back. “Dinna weep, mon fils, it’s alright,” he murmured soothingly, even as he knew Fergus needed the release of those tears for all the time he’d sat here in the dark fearing the worst. He cried for the relief of it all.

“Can I see Maman?”

“Aye, of course ye can. She’s sleeping just now though and we shouldnae disturb her. She’ll want to see ye when she wakes, so how about in the morning?” And maybe Fergus, with his fears put to rest, could find a few hours of sleep himself. The boy nodded half-heartedly and wiped his face with his palm before resting his cheek on one of his knees with a sigh.

“Ye’ve another baby sister,” Jamie told him softly.

“Oh,” Fergus startled, as if he’d forgotten for a moment what all of this was about. “And she’s alright?”

“Aye, she’s bonny,” Jamie beamed, and the corners of Fergus’s mouth curved upward. “She cannae wait tae meet ye.” He smoothed down some of Fergus’s short, riotous curls. “She’s so very wee and all worn out from making her appearance, though, so she’s getting some much needed rest as well,” he added, hoping it would be enough to convince Fergus that he might as well get his own precious few hours of sleep in the meantime.

He tucked Fergus back under the covers, murmuring reminders that he had a papa and maman who loved him very much and two wee sisters now who adored him, and he would see all of them when he woke up. Jamie sealed his words with a kiss to the boy’s head. His gaze went beyond Fergus to where Faith was still curled up under the blankets, snoring softly. A lump rose in his throat.

The greatest joys of his life…

His eyes burned with tears as he turned and quietly left the room, shutting the door behind him. And when he slipped back into the room he shared with Claire, he found her and the babe exactly as he left them. His waking dream was completely undisturbed.

He did fall to his knees then, and on his tongue was a quick and reverent prayer of gratitude to the Almighty that this should be the life that he was given, the life that was restored to him.

 


 

They slept in fits and starts, fumbling through a once familiar rhythm but with a precious new life. Claire’s eyes squinted open against the early light of morning ‒ the realization that it was already morning had her sleep-addled brain rebelling against the thought ‒ and stared at the empty space in bed beside her.

Her first thought was the baby; she didn’t hear a thing, so why had she awoken?

She shifted in bed and felt every muscle in her body screaming at her in protest. God, it felt like she’d been hit by a car ‒ a thought she’d have to keep to herself when others asked her how she was feeling. Jamie had fetched the baby every time she woke during the night so that Claire wouldn’t have to get out of bed, but even with that consideration, she was still tired and sore all over. It was different than how it had gone with Faith, she realized. With Faith, it had been flashes of terror and a race to save them both. Hardly felt like the labor itself had lasted longer than a minute for all that Claire could remember of it. But with this baby, Claire had labored for almost a full day ‒ and both body and memory could remember every second of it.

Then she heard it ‒ the soft squeaking grunt of a newborn, not quite a cry. Her head lifted from the pillow and swiveled, but the baby wasn’t in her cradle. No, instead, her gaze settled on her bare-chested husband sitting up in a chair with the baby pillowed against him, hardly visible to Claire beneath her blanket. Jamie’s eyes were closed, his head resting on the back of the chair, and she would’ve thought he was asleep if not for the steady rhythm of his fingers gently tapping the baby’s back. He must’ve heard her movement as his eyes opened then and found hers.

A lump rose in her throat, for no other explanation than she couldn’t help the swell of affection for them both, the sight of them so perfect she could weep. “Why are you all the way over there?”

He smiled softly. “Didnae want to wake ye ‒ somehow ye slept through the bairn crying this time and I thought ye must need the rest then.”

“Well, I’m awake now.”

“Aye.”

He pressed a kiss to the short tufts of the baby’s red hair before shifting his hold on the baby as he stood and made his way to the bed. Claire stayed curled up on her side and tugged the baby closer when Jamie placed her in the center of the bed, pressed several soft kisses to the warm little face and felt the baby stirring from the confines of her blanket. Claire watched the baby’s uncoordinated movements ‒ trying, it seemed, to bring herself even closer to her mother. The baby grunted, head craning up toward Claire, her mouth rooting. Jamie was there too then, in their little cocoon of intimacy, his hand at Claire’s hip and his body bracketing the baby between them. And for all that she was sleepless and sore beyond belief, she wouldn’t have traded that moment, that little slice of heaven, for anything on God’s green earth.

“Babylove,” Claire murmured before kissing her round, rosy cheek. The girl’s eyes squinted open, a stormy blue as dark and deep as the sea. Claire felt rooted in place under that gaze. The backs of her fingers caressed the baby’s cheek. “Hello, sweet girl.”

They’d run the gamut on terms of endearment in the hours since their little one had arrived. Lovey, baby, darling, a leannan, mo chridhe, m'annsachd. All of those were whispered to her during the night, each time they were roused by her cries. They’d called her everything but her own name, since she didn’t yet have one.

“What are we going to call you?” Claire mused, kissing the baby’s wrinkled forehead. “Hmm?”

Her gaze flitted up to Jamie, trying to gauge his readiness for the conversation, but before either of them could follow that up, the silence was punctuated by the baby’s sudden squalling.

“Oh alright, breakfast time, is it?” she murmured to the angry little thing before her, and made quick work of resituating them on the bed and pushing her shift down and out of the way. The hungry little mouth latched on and the room fell quiet again.

“I’ll find us some breakfast too, aye?” Jamie pressed a kiss to her shoulder and threw a shirt on as an afterthought before exiting the room.

Claire’s fingertip traced the delicate shell of the baby’s ear while she fed, learning and memorizing the small details of her girl. She thought of her mother then, as she held her newest child, accompanied with a familiar bittersweet sting. Since becoming a mother herself, her thoughts often drifted to her in moments like this when Claire was so positively absorbed in the little thing she bore. Because it likely meant that once upon a time, her mother had held her just the same and felt the same consuming love. The thought was always a tender revelation of the love that she must have once known and forgotten, and a pang of longing for that love she had lost.

A push and pull.

She felt closer to her mother with having her own babies, and she’d never grieved the loss of her mother more than in this stage of her life.

And even while she knew that if her mother had lived, she wouldn’t have been here in 1746, Claire still wondered often what it might be like if she could’ve met Fergus and Faith and…

Claire sat up a little straighter. And murmured a name aloud. The baby grunted, which pulled a startled laugh out of Claire. “Is that your name, then?”

 

 

Jamie returned with a bounty of fruit, bits of cheese, and a few pastries from the kitchen. Her stomach began to grumble at the sight of food, revealing how ravenous she was. Foregoing any sense of propriety, he set the platter on the bed between them.

“God, I love you.”

He smiled broadly before popping a grape into his mouth and reaching for the baby. “Give her here, Sassenach.”

And I forgot what a baby hog you are,” she tried to tease him, but the affection in her tone bled through and revealed her honest thoughts on the matter. She’d still never met a man more perfectly suited to fatherhood than Jamie Fraser. Seeing him with their newest addition only deepened that conviction.

The baby was already half-asleep when she was settled against her father’s broad chest.

Jamie’s brows furrowed together. “A baby… hog?”

“No, not‒” she burst into laughter at his confusion and then groaned as her stomach muscles protested. “I wasn’t calling you a baby pig. It’s… if you hog something, it means you’re greedy about it. Keeping it all to yourself.”

“Ah.” His expression lightened. He settled back against the headboard with the baby, a touch of a smile on his lips. If anything, Claire would say he looked downright pleased with the suggestion.

With her hands free, Claire dug into the spread of food. Indeed, while the baby was content and asleep, they both began tucking food away before the next interruption.

“Were the children up?”

“If they are, I didnae see them. I’m sure they’ll be wearing Murtagh down tae come and see us soon enough though.”

Her heart squeezed at the thought ‒ she hadn’t seen them since early yesterday and as needed as this time was with just the three of them, she ached to have Fergus and Faith with them too.

“They’ll want to know what we’re naming her,” Claire said delicately before biting into a strawberry.

Jamie shot her a sideways glance. “Ye dinna like Ellen anymore?”

“No, it’s not that. It’s only… well, now that I’ve met her, she doesn’t seem like an Ellen to me ‒ though I think that would be a wonderful middle name,” Claire rushed to say.

“And… what did ye have in mind, Sassenach?”

She chewed on her lower lip. It was one thing to toss around baby names while she had been pregnant and quite another thing entirely now that there was a whole infant in Jamie’s arms that they were discussing. The decision felt much weightier now.

In her heart, she already knew this child’s name, but would Jamie agree? Could they settle on something if not?

“Brianna,” she said after a moment’s pause. “After your father?”

His gaze dropped to the baby as he swallowed roughly and didn’t immediately respond.

“I know we thought… Brian for a boy. But we… Well, we haven’t discussed if there will be more children first of all, but either way, we might not ever have a boy ‒ another boy,” she corrected swiftly, not wanting to imply that Fergus wasn’t theirs in every way that counted.

But Jamie shot her a quick smile. “I ken yer meaning, Sassenach.”

“You hate the name, don’t you?”

“No.” He spoke so quietly and there was something almost tender in his voice that halted her. “I dinna hate it. I… Well, I was touched by the idea.” He captured one tiny fist between two fingers and his face softened as the baby grasped onto him.

Brianna,” he tested it out, the Scottish burr making the name entirely his own. Claire had a vision then of a curly-haired toddler learning to speak, to say her own name ‒ and which way might their wee girl say it, like her mother or her father?

“We could call her Bree for short.”

She was only thinking out loud so Jamie’s abrupt reaction felt a bit uncalled for.

“We will not call her that.” He clutched the baby to his chest as if she’d insulted the little thing. “We cannae.”

She gaped at him. “Why ever not?”

“Because in Gàidhlig, that’s a… a disturbance.”

“... I see.”

“Aye.”

“Well, we won’t call her Bree then, but…” she shrugged. “I still like Brianna.”

Jamie shifted the baby’s weight into his hands so that her bottom was situated in one palm while the other cradled her head and shoulders, holding the baby up before him. Despite this movement, the baby slumbered on. “Brianna,” he tried again, his voice unbearably soft. His thumb rubbed in circles just above her ear.

“Brianna Ellen Julia Fraser,” Jamie said with an air of finality, though his gaze swung over to Claire, wordlessly seeking her approval.

Her heart warmed at the inclusion of her mother’s name. “It’s lovely.”

“Though… that’s three o’ her four grandparents she’s named after… ye dinna think yer father would be offended, do ye?”

“No, I don’t think he would. Besides, I think it would be cruel to try and squeeze Henrietta in there somewhere. That’s a terribly long name for such a small thing.”

“Aye, well, she’ll grow into it regardless.”

“Still,” Claire smiled softly at the squishy, pink face that was slack with sleep. “It suits her perfectly as it is. I wouldn’t change a thing, Jamie.”

“Ye hear that, m'annsachd?” Jamie spoke softly to the baby, who very evidently did not hear them. “Ye have a name.” Then he lifted her up to kiss her brow before settling the sleeping baby against his chest.

Claire leaned against his shoulder, sighing deeply. “Brianna,” she cooed over the baby, tracing the slope of one round cheek with her fingertip. “You are so loved.”

“She is a gift,” he whispered, a touch of awe in his voice. “From you to me.” He looked up from the baby and turned his head toward Claire, kissing her lightly. “And me to you.”

 

 

“Would he be proud, do you think?” she asked after a moment.

“My da?”

Claire nodded against him.

“How could he not be? Aye, he would be proud of all of them, I know it.” He leaned over and kissed the crown of her head. “As am I, Sassenach. So proud I could burst.”

 


 

“Mama!”

Faith was, unsurprisingly, the first one through the door, making a beeline for Claire where she sat by the fireplace.

Tears burned Claire’s eyes and she wasn’t sure she could entirely blame her hormones. She had simply missed them both. “Hello, lovey!” she beamed.

She had Brianna in her arms, swaddled up tightly in her blanket and sound asleep. Faith stepped between her skirt-covered knees, a frown forming on her sweet face as she discovered the baby. Claire’s brows rose at the sight of it and her gaze sought out Jamie. This had been one of their fears.

“Mama?” Faith turned her focus back to Claire and tried to reach for her. “Mama, you hold me?”

Jamie had reached them and gently stole Brianna from her arms so Claire could help Faith into her lap. The toddler knelt on Claire’s thigh and reached up to hug Claire around the neck. Even with Claire’s soft postpartum belly, there was considerably more room in her lap to hold Faith than there had been the day before. She turned and kissed Faith’s temple and rubbed a hand up and down her back.

“There we go,” she murmured. “I’m so happy to see you, my darling.”

“Maman,” Fergus announced his presence at her side before leaning down to press a kiss to her cheek.

She reached up and cupped his cheek. “Hello, son.”

It had been a few months, but his cheeks still went pink with delight whenever they called him that.

“Would ye like to hold yer wee sister first, mon fils? Have a seat then and I’ll give her to ye.”

“They both washed their hands first?” Claire checked, having sent Jamie out with specific instructions.

“Yes, yes, Maman.” Fergus sounded only mildly exasperated and his hands were clean, which was what mattered. Claire stifled a grin.

Murtagh had come with the children and he greeted Claire with a gentle hand on her shoulder and a nod before slinking off to find a chair for himself. They’d had a few more chairs brought into their bedroom since Claire had wanted to control who was around the baby and didn’t want to have this moment in one of the sitting rooms.

Jamie lowered Brianna into Fergus’s waiting arms, her head coming to rest in the crook of his elbow. Claire watched the boy’s face as he beheld his sister for the first time, his soft expression bringing tears back to her eyes.

Bonjour mon petit,” he cooed.

Jamie took the seat next to Fergus, watching the two of them with a proud glint in his eye.

“Have ye thought of a name for the wee lass?”

Jamie smiled at Claire before answering his godfather. “We’re going to call her Brianna, after my da. Her middle names are Ellen and Julia, after both of her grandmothers.

Murtagh made a soft sound of approval.

Faith at last loosened her tight hold on Claire and lifted her head to take in what was happening around her. She spotted Fergus with the baby now and her lower lip jutted out.

“Oh, sweet Faith…” Claire sighed, kissing her cheek. “You don’t have anything to worry about. Love doesn’t divide, it only grows.”

The girl didn’t look convinced as she curled back into her mother’s embrace. Claire buried a smile in Faith’s hair. “And we can just sit together for a little longer if you need to. That’s alright.”

They basked in each other’s company, their new family of five ‒ six, counting Murtagh. Even Faith’s reticence eventually melted away and she left Claire’s lap in favor of sidling up next to Fergus and giving the baby a curious once-over.

“That’s yer wee sister, lass,” Jamie said softly. She ran to him and was promptly scooped up. He bounced her happily on his knee, which delighted the girl, finally smiling again. “Her name is Brianna. Can you say that, a nighean?”

He paused the bouncing and watched her expectantly. “Can ye say Brianna?”

Faith became suddenly aware of everyone’s gaze on her and ducked her chin a little. “Bwee,” she practically whispered.

Jamie’s head shot up at that, and Murtagh buried a chuckle in his cup of tea.

“Do not,” Claire said evenly to her husband, “discourage our daughter over this. We’re in a delicate spot with her as it is.”

Jamie’s eyes blazed with everything he couldn’t say out loud. “But we cannae call her that. You agreed.”

Fergus, who hadn’t reacted to the conversation yet, lifted his head from the baby and spoke up. “Call her what? Bree?”

Faith slipped from Jamie’s lap and moved to stand in front of Fergus and Brianna again. She reached out tentatively and touched the baby’s fuzzy head. Her gaze sought out her father’s. “Bwee,” she repeated, with all the confidence that resided within her, and smiled proudly to herself.

A Dhia,” Jamie muttered under his breath.

“That’s very good, Faith,” Claire told her, since Jamie wasn’t about to. She was perhaps enjoying this more than she ought to, so she made sure to echo the baby’s full name to Faith before Jamie had steam coming out of his ears. “Yes, that’s your baby sister, Brianna.”

“I will not call my daughter a disturbance.”

“Fine, darling, but that’s the only way Faith can say her name. I’m not about to shame her for that. She’s trying.”

“Da?” Faith leaned against Jamie’s knees. His gaze fell to the little girl and all of his irritation melted away. He lifted her up and soundly kissed her cheek.

“I do love ye, Faith,” he said, with just a touch of resignation in his tone. “Christ, if anyone’s a disturbance in this family‒”

James Fraser,” Claire said threateningly, but Jamie’s eyes only sparkled with mischief.

“‒ it’s yer mother.”

 


 

The morning spent together as a family had been truly wonderful, Faith calling her newborn sister a disturbance notwithstanding, and yet Claire relished the small moments too when it was just her and the baby.

Feeding time became an escape from the chaos of their sequestered life in Jared’s home. Fergus and Faith were still restless and wild, and balancing out their daily life with a newborn was a task more daunting than Claire cared to admit.

But in the quiet, stolen moments of learning Brianna and how she needed to be cared for, their life didn’t seem so frenzied.

She cradled the tiny girl in her arms and rocked gently, remembering the treasured moment earlier that day when Fergus had held the baby, talking sweetly to her, while Faith had even ‒ unprompted ‒ given Brianna a kiss before scampering off.

A lump had risen in her throat when she witnessed the small moment between her three little loves, but she couldn’t explain the sharp edge of pain that had existed in that moment too.

Not until it was just her and the baby.

She shifted Brianna up onto her shoulder, kissing her soft, round cheek in the transfer. Tears were already clouding her vision as she felt the weight of that revelation: She’d come so close to missing out on this life. If Brianna had been born in 1948, she wouldn’t have had a protective and tender older brother or an older sister so close in age to grow up with.

Brianna wouldn’t have had any of them ‒ Jamie, Murtagh, Fergus, or Faith. Only Claire. And after seeing how they all fell in love with their baby, the magnitude of what they all would have been missing sent tears spilling silently down Claire’s cheeks. What Brianna would’ve been missing, too…

“It almost was just you and me. And I would’ve loved you for all who were missing from your life, but it wouldn’t have been enough. Oh, you are so loved, my darling girl, and by so many.”

 


 

The days passed in a dizzying blur as Claire and Jamie clobbered together a new normal ‒ and on even less sleep than they were getting before. The baby slept as well as could be expected for her age, but Faith gave them no reprieve from being woken a few more times a night, and between both girls, they were lucky to grab any uninterrupted hours of sleep themselves.

Brianna was a few weeks old when Mary brought her son to visit. It was the first time Claire and Mary had both of their babies with them ‒ and it would be the only time, as Mary announced her plans to return to England soon with her brother and son. They knew this was coming, and yet when it was time for the Frasers to say their goodbyes to Mary, Claire had a lump in her throat that made it impossible for her to say everything she wished Mary to know ‒ that regardless of what anyone else said, Mary was selfless and brave, that she’d saved Jamie and Faith more than once on their journey here and Claire was forever in her debt for it, and that she was a true friend but would be an even better mother to Denys. Instead, when it was her turn, Claire hugged Mary tight and said that she would miss her dearly but she would find a way to write to her.

 

 

Maybe it was the emotional toll of saying goodbye to a friend, or the string of relatively sleepless nights catching up with her, but Claire had never felt more at her wits’ end than she did then, just weeks after Brianna’s birth. She was grasping for some semblance of normalcy. So when dinner time rolled around and Brianna was fussy and Faith in a sour mood, she corralled everyone to the table in spite of it all.

Sitting around the table with Jamie, Murtagh, and Fergus was often the only stimulating part of her day of late, and she was loath to give that up even if both girls were grumpy. Claire had Brianna in one arm, bouncing her gently while she could try to eat with the other hand, but the baby’s discontented whimpers began to grow into angry cries. Fergus and Murtagh just stared at them a little helplessly and Claire felt a blush crawl up her neck.

Jamie was across the table from her, completely distracted with Faith, whom he’d seated next to himself and who was very stubbornly scowling at her plate as Jamie tried to coax her to eat.

Claire shifted Brianna up onto her shoulder and murmured a soft shushing sound into the girl’s ear. The little thing only scrunched up her body and howled in response. Well, there was no use trying to eat until the baby was calmed, but she’d been recently fed and changed and had napped solidly that afternoon, so Claire couldn’t scrounge up any immediately obvious reason for Brianna’s distress. Claire had hardly had a moment away from the girl except while she was napping and unless Brianna could sense how desperate Claire was just for the slightest break from the constant‒

“Maman?” Fergus spoke up, a note of concern in his voice. “Something is… seeping through Brianna’s gown at the back.”

The smell stung her nose just as Fergus pointed it out. “Oh, Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”

Jamie’s gaze snapped up to hers, then drifted to where the stain was surely visible, and he went slack-jawed for a moment.

What happened next seemed to play out in slow motion. Claire saw the shift in Faith’s attention ‒ no doubt in response to the shift of attention away from her ‒ and the girl seized the opportunity to reach one-handed for Jamie’s wine while he wasn’t likely to stop her. Her fingers caught on the rim of the glass and Claire inhaled sharply, the word of warning dying on her lips as Faith’s inelegant swipe for the glass caused it to tip towards herself.

Red wine soaked the white tablecloth between Jamie and Faith but most of it doused Faith’s lap. The girl’s eyes widened in alarm, and in the space of a heartbeat, both girls were crying.

And both girls were now in desperate need of a bath.

Claire stood abruptly from the table and fled the room with the baby, unable to tamp down the frustrated tears that filled her eyes.

Jamie followed after her with Faith and flagged down one of the maids to send up warm water for a bath. Claire already had Brianna stripped down to a clout and wiped the baby’s back with a damp cloth. Brianna’s whole body was flushed as she continued to writhe and scream. That fluttering, panicky feeling returned seeing Brianna in such a state, with nothing seeming to soothe her while they waited for the bath water. She couldn’t bear to hold the baby at arm’s length and so settled her in the crook of one arm.

“It’ll have to be Brianna first,” she said to Jamie over the sound of both children’s distress. Faith was mad over the spilled wine and also that hasty exit from the table, but she at least wasn’t sitting in filth the same way Brianna was. Claire heaved a sigh. “And we’ll need to change out the water of course, before Faith can have a bath.”

With little instruction given, the maids still seemed to have understood the situation and two separate small tubs were brought in and filled at the same time.

Claire soaked a few rags in the warm soapy water to clean the baby with while Jamie had to coax their suddenly contrary two-year-old into her own bath. And even while Brianna began to settle, soothed by the warm water, something felt like it was breaking inside Claire.

The tipping point turned out to be Faith, wrapped up in a towel and coming to lean against Claire’s legs while she finished swaddling Brianna. “Please,” Claire snapped, not even sure what she was asking for at that moment.

Jamie had gone into the nursery to grab a clean nightgown for Faith and now stilled in the doorway between the two rooms with the nightgown in hand. “Mo nighean donn?”

The realization that she’d snapped at Faith, who hadn't done anything except try to seek out a bit of comfort from her mother, settled in her stomach like molten lava. “I’m just… so tired.” Her voice cracked on the last word and she blinked furiously against the sting of tears. “And I feel like I never have a moment where one of them isn’t touching me. I’m never alone and I’m so tired and God, they’re both clean now but I still feel covered in grime and it’s… it’s constant. All of it.”

She met his gaze and whatever it meant, that look in his eyes, she felt suddenly like she’d said too much. “I love them, I love them so much,” she blabbered while Jamie crossed the room to her. And she’d meant it ‒ she loved them more than her own life and would give anything for their happiness, but some part of her felt like she was unraveling at the seams. “I’m just… tired,” she said lamely as Jamie reached for her and his arms were solidly around her. She shuddered into his shoulder but didn’t cry.

“S’alright, mo ghraidh,” he murmured and then pressed a soft kiss to her neck that sent shivers down her spine. Then suddenly, his embrace was gone as if he’d been startled, and her eyes fluttered open to find he’d pulled back completely, his hands hovering at her shoulders but not touching her.

Not touching her. She felt her eyes fill with tears again. She hadn’t minded the touch then, from him, but she couldn’t find the voice to tell him that.

He gathered the baby from her arms, and she realized the pinched expression on his face wasn’t any sort of judgment or fear of her reaction, but rather that same panicky helplessness that she’d been feeling since dinner. They loved these babies with everything they had but it didn’t mean their life wasn’t hard right now.

Jamie kissed her lips, soft and quick, in reassurance. “I’ll find one of the maids and ask them to fetch a bath for ye. And I’ll take the bairns. I’ll put them to bed while ye have yer bath, Sassenach, so take as long as ye need.”

Her throat clogged with emotion, but she nodded at him, glassy-eyed and grateful. Jamie held onto Brianna even as he only had one hand to help Faith wriggle into her nightgown.

She couldn’t say why that moment triggered the memory ‒ surely they’d had a thousand and one moments of learning since Faith was born ‒ but the words flitted through her mind just the same.

What if I’m terrible at it?

You will not be terrible. That I know… What ye don’t ken, ye’ll learn. We’ll learn.

Together.

Together.

Jamie was still crouched down helping Faith get her arms through her nightgown. Claire swallowed roughly, her hand reaching out to card through his hair. When he glanced up at her, she smiled at him and hoped to God that it conveyed everything she felt in that moment; There would never be anyone else that she would want to have her worst days with. No one else. Because no one made her feel as understood as Jamie did when she was pushed to her breaking point over baths and interrupted dinners.

With Faith properly attired, he scooped her up and stood, his arms full of their babies. She held his face briefly between her hands and kissed him.

“Enjoy yer bath, Sassenach,” he purred, and kissed her back soundly. And then he was gone, before either of the girls could try to worm their way into Claire’s arms, and she had the thing that had eluded her for weeks.

Quiet, blissful solitude.

 


 

“Och, Faith, be kind tae yer sister.” Jamie kissed the girl’s temple lightly, aware of her not-so-subtle shift towards the center of his chest, which would push Brianna to the side. “There’s room enough for the both o’ ye.”

After tracking down one of the housemaids, he’d walked into their family sitting room and found it vacant, Murtagh and Fergus having apparently finished eating and retired elsewhere. So Jamie had claimed one of the sofas, stretching out with the girls on his chest. Brianna and Faith both felt heavily relaxed in his arms and still warm from their baths, and he hoped that meant they would sleep well tonight. Brianna would wake to feed at some point, but even if only Faith slept through the night, it would likely mean the best sleep he or Claire had had in weeks.

“Da…” Faith sighed and reached her little arms around his neck. “We keepin’ her?”

“Aye.” He choked back his laugh, but only barely. “Yer sister stays.”

Brianna grunted sleepily against his chest, but was otherwise unconcerned by the conversation regarding her presence.

“Here, lass,” Jamie sighed and again tried to stop Faith from worming her way to the center of his chest and pushing Brianna off. With one arm, he awkwardly scooted her up a little higher than Brianna so Faith’s head rested on his shoulder. “There. See? I can hold ye both.” He rested his cheek on the top of her head and his eyes drifted shut. “I do love ye, Faith. Ye dinna need to worry o’er that.”

He felt Faith’s hand pat his cheek and his eyes drifted open from their brief rest. “Lub ye,” she said quietly.

“Brianna loves ye, too.”

Faith lifted her head so suddenly that it startled him, but the look of skepticism that she gave him nearly broke his control over his expression. Christ. She was not even three yet.

“Ye dinna believe me?” He managed to get out, his voice louder than he intended and bubbling with mirth. His chest was shaking so hard with stifled laughter, he was surprised Brianna wasn’t fussing about it. “Of course yer sister loves ye, Faith.”

It was an uphill battle some days to combat the jealousy Faith clearly felt towards the baby. It didn’t help that a brand new bairn wasn’t very interesting to a child of Faith’s age. Still, Jamie had hope that Faith might come around after a little more time.

He sighed and kissed the girl’s head. The jealousy made it harder on Claire too, since it meant that Brianna needed her mother more than anyone else and Faith looked for any opportunity to stake her claim on Claire. No wonder Claire was feeling pulled in all directions.

“Papa?” Fergus called out softly from the hallway, in search of Jamie.

“In here, mon fils.”

Fergus’s head popped into his line of vision, just above the sofa. “Murtagh said he saw you putting les petits to bed,” Fergus pointed out, one eyebrow cocked at Jamie.

“We’re getting there, lad.” He noticed then the book Fergus held loosely in one hand. “Did ye want to read together?”

“Not if you’re…” Fergus gestured to the girls. Jamie clocked the flickering disappointment on the boy’s face, there and gone in the space of a breath. At nearly 12, he was much better at hiding it than Faith, but Jamie wasn’t blind.

“I cannae hold the book, but I’m no’ too busy, lad. We’re no’ going anywhere for a wee bit anyway. What if ye read aloud tonight?”

Fergus only pondered the idea briefly before plopping down on the carpet in front of the sofa. His back pressed against the sofa, right up against where Jamie stretched out with the girls. Brianna was tucked in on the side against the backing, so Faith was situated on the side facing out. She turned her head outward to see her brother and buried her small hand in Fergus’s curly head of hair. Jamie reminded himself that these two had an inseparable bond and that would grow to include Brianna, in time.

Fergus began flipping through the pages in search of where Jamie had left off. With Faith not in any danger of rolling off, Jamie let go of her and draped his hand over the boy’s chest. He couldn’t tell if his son was pleased with the arrangement or only agreeing for Jamie’s sake.

“Fergus.”

“Oui?”

“I love ye, son.”

Fergus snorted softly and his head leaned back, hitting against Jamie’s rib cage. “I love you too, Papa.”

“I’m glad. Why did ye laugh?”

“I thought you were going to say something important,” Fergus teased.

“Oh, aye, of course.” He flicked Fergus’s ear as his hand withdrew, returning to holding Faith in place.

“Lay yer head, lass,” he murmured to her as Fergus began to read aloud.

 

 

He couldn’t say how long he laid there with both girls asleep on his chest, drinking in the moment. He had listened to Fergus reading aloud until the boy grew tired of it and had moved from the floor to sprawl out sideways in a chair, his legs dangling over an arm and his head resting on the other. Occasionally, they exchanged hushed words, but mostly they sat comfortably in the silence. Fergus was close to sleep, it looked like, and Jamie wouldn’t have minded catching some sleep as well. But before he had the motivation to rise and put the girls to bed, Jamie heard the soft scuffle of Claire’s feet in the hallway. She poked her head into the room.

“I thought you were putting the girls to bed,” she teased quietly, coming to rest against the arm of the sofa opposite him. She had a robe thrown over her nightgown and her hair was damp, leaving wet spots on the shoulders. But her expression looked brighter than when he’d left her, and his heart lifted at the sight. “Emphasis on their own beds.”

He only grinned in response and her answering smile was radiant even in the dimly lit room.

“That is what I said,” Fergus chimed in, with a resigned sigh. Jamie snorted softly.

“And you,” Claire’s gaze swung to Fergus, “should also be in bed.”

“I was helping,” Fergus said with an air of mischief. “And I’m not tired yet, Maman.”

“Really? You looked half-asleep when I came in here.”

Fergus glanced over to Jamie and sighed. “I suppose it has gotten late,” he said, as if coming to this conclusion on his own.

“I suppose so,” Jamie echoed wryly.

Claire stretched an arm out and snagged Fergus as he walked past her, pulling him into a hug. “Goodnight, young man.”

"Bonne nuit, Maman.”

“Have sweet dreams.”

When Fergus was gone, Claire’s gaze came back to Jamie, and softened as it rested on him.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you more relaxed than at this moment, Jamie Fraser.”

He breathed in deeply. “Aye. Well I have you, and all of our bairns ‒ and Murtagh, too. Ye’re my life and I dinna ken what I ever did to deserve it. To deserve this family.”

“Jamie…” He was weighed down — quite happily — by the two baby girls so Claire moved to kneel next to him, her hand brushing through his curls. He exhaled softly at her touch and leaned into her palm. “I’m proud to live this life with you,” she said just above a whisper, and gave him a watery smile. “Even when I feel like I’m losing my mind… Proud to raise this wee Fraser clan with you. Together.”

“Ah, Claire,” he sighed, and cradled her cheek in one hand. “I keep telling myself that Jenny and Ian have been doing this for longer than we have and they havenae gone entirely mad yet.”

“Not entirely,” Claire agreed with a soft laugh.

“I’m glad to see ye smiling again.”

“Hmm. I think I needed that more than I care to admit.”

“It’s alright.”

She leaned over and kissed him, sweet and lingering. “C’mon, let’s put the girls to bed.”

Claire scooped up Brianna and kissed her cheek. “There’s my Bree-baby,” she cooed as Brianna grunted and squeaked out a half-hearted, sleepy cry that was over before it could turn into something more. Almost immediately, the baby settled back to sleep on Claire’s shoulder without any real fuss. He pointedly ignored that Faith’s nickname for Brianna was catching on with others. He would never call his own daughter that, at least.

“You know, if Brianna had been born first, she would’ve given us unrealistic expectations for how well a baby can sleep.”

Jamie chuckled at this, carefully adjusting Faith before he stood — because she wasn’t a sound sleeper, as they knew well. “We might’ve gotten overzealous with a bairn that slept through the night and given her a sister rather quickly. Close in age, like Maggie and Kitty.” He stretched to his full height with Faith comfortably nestled in at his neck. “Lord, we would’ve been in o’er our heids then.”

As tired as he was, Jamie wanted this moment to stretch on forever, with the warm weight of Faith in his arms and with Claire’s eyes aglow in the firelight while she snuggled their youngest. She looked up at him with such tenderness and love, and he wasn’t sure what he’d ever done to deserve this woman’s heart or his three children that only existed in his life because of her. Wasn’t sure how she could look at him like that, like she was the lucky one, especially after the day she’d had.

“This right here, this family… it’s rather perfect how it is.” She stepped toward him, pushing up on her toes to kiss him, their arms bumping against each other where their girls were held safe and secure between them. “I wouldn’t change a single thing.”

 

 

It was dark in their room when he tiptoed back in from tucking Faith into her bed. Claire had had an easier task with Brianna, who rarely ever stirred when placing her in her cradle. He could make out the lump of his wife under the blankets as he stripped down to just his long shirt to join her. He did miss sleeping naked beside his wife, but the constant disruptions from both wee ones during the night made that a bit impractical.

A thought struck him just before climbing into bed, something he’d wanted to share with Claire much earlier, but the evening’s events hadn’t allowed for it. Should he wait? Ah, but he knew she wasn’t asleep yet and who knew when the girls would both cooperate again in their sleep schedules?

He crawled in and rested his chin on her shoulder.

“Sassenach?” he murmured, pressing a kiss just below her ear.

“Mhmm?”

“I have… a proposition for ye.”

“Oh?” It was impossible to miss the suggestive shift in her voice.

Jamie nipped at her ear, “No’ that kind of proposition, a nighean donn. Though maybe we can discuss that next, aye?” He teased, knowing she was still weeks away from her body being ready for that.

Jamie leaned back a bit onto his elbow, staring down at her face when she shifted underneath him, facing him.

Tucking a few wayward curls behind her ear, he said, “We agreed we would only stay here until Brianna was born and so I’ve been thinking about what’s next for us. And, if ye’re in agreement, I ken where we might go ‒ where we might live as a family, at least for a time.”

A smile slowly spread across her face, her eyes alight with promise. “Tell me.”

Chapter Text

“Do you think it’s strange,” Claire asked him while Brianna was tucked against her breast as she nursed, “that Murtagh hasn’t once held the baby?”

Her tone suggested that she did think it was strange, regardless of Jamie’s thoughts on the matter. “Och, I’ve told ye before, mo nighean, he’s scared o’ bairns when they’re that small. Thinks they’re too fragile and likely to fall apart in his arms.”

Claire’s brows furrowed together. “Well, sure, he didn’t go near Faith until she was at least seven months old, but I thought… I mean, he’s been wonderful with her ever since.”

“Aye, she’s no longer a wee babe now is she?”

Claire rolled her eyes. “So, he won’t go near Brianna until she’s hearty enough that he’s not scared to hold her? When she’s half a year old? Is that what you’re saying?”

He couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips. “Sassenach… he loves our bairns. He’d protect them with his life. Ye ken that well. And aye, someday when Brianna is hearty enough as ye say, I’m sure he’ll hold her, if that’s yer worry.”

She shook her head, exasperated by the notion, and glanced down at the baby in her arms. Brianna’s arms and legs flailed as soon as Claire looked at her, wriggling with joy. Jamie’s heart melted at the sight. Such a sweet wee thing, their Brianna.

Claire’s finger traced the contours of the babe’s soft, round face. “Well, that simply won’t do, will it, Bree?”

 


 

Claire cornered Murtagh with the baby while he was in the sitting room, lounging in one of the chairs and none the wiser to her scheming. Jamie sat nearby and watched the event unfold with nothing short of amusement, as Claire simply lowered the baby into Murtagh’s lap before there was an opportunity for the older man to escape.

Murtagh went rigid with fear, his arms stiff and awkward around the baby. “Nay‒ I‒ Claire!”

“Don’t make such a fuss. She’s sleeping.” Claire straightened, settling her hands on her hips, surveying the two unlikely companions with a smile. “There, see? Nothing to be afraid of.”

Murtagh looked as though he might argue that point, still holding Brianna with a delicateness as though she were a loaded pistol, poised to go off at any moment.

And with that, Claire spun and walked to the other side of the room to help Fergus with his lessons. Murtagh turned sharp eyes on Jamie. “What the devil is all this about, then?”

Jamie’s gaze flitted over to Claire but she wasn’t looking. He suspected she would be stealing glances this way, though. “I think,” he began softly, “that she worries ye won’t… bond with Brianna, if ye dinna hold her.”

Christ,” Murtagh muttered under his breath.

Jamie held a hand up placatingly to his godfather. “She sees how ye are wi’ Fergus and wee Faith, I think she just wants to make sure ye care the same way about the bairn, too.”

His godfather made a disgruntled sound. “If she thinks this is the way to do it…” he grumbled. “Fer Christ’s sake, of course I care about the bairn.”

“I ken that, but…” Jamie’s gaze dropped to the sleeping babe in Murtagh’s arms, so small and helpless, and his heart wrenched. He understood the deeper reason that Claire was so unsettled about Murtagh and the bairn. “Anything could happen, ye ken? We have three bairns now, and with all that happened in the last year, just trying to keep our family together… Claire cannae help thinking about the worst… what would happen to the wee ones if we weren’t‒” He swallowed roughly, shrugging a little. Claire wasn’t the only one who couldn’t help thinking about that. Any parent would.

“Aye, I ken yer meaning fine.” Murtagh looked down at the baby then too, still appearing stiff as a poker as he held her, but the older man’s expression softened. “Christ, though… did she think I would leave the bairn and keep the others?”

“I dinnae think she feels that way now, seeing as ye havenae tried to pass the baby off to me yet,” he said with a grin.

Murtagh grunted his displeasure. “I would if I wasnae so nervous she might roll out o’ my arms when I tried.”

Jamie huffed a laugh. “Ye’re doing fine, a ghoistidh. And while I have ye at my disposal,” he teased, earning another sharp look from Murtagh. “I’ve been meaning to ask ye… what yer plans are from here. If ye want to go back to Scotland or continue on wi’ us.”

Murtagh simply stared at him until Jamie was shifting in his seat under his gaze. “First Claire and now you? Och, ye wound me, Jamie.”

“I didnae want to presume. That’s why I asked.”

“I swore an oath that morning of Culloden, did I no’? I’m bound not only to the promise I made to yer mother, but to the promise I made to ye. To watch his back as well, aye?” Murtagh’s head jerked in the direction of Fergus. “Cannae very well do that from all the way in Scotland.”

Jamie’s smile was small but his godfather’s words pleased him more than he could say. “If ye’re sure. I could release ye from yer oath. I would have you go wherever ye want to, not where ye felt bound to. What is it that ye want?”

“I want this, a balach,” he shrugged his shoulders, the only gesturing he could accomplish with the baby still in his arms. “To honor my oaths and to see Ellen’s grandchildren grow.”

“Well, I wouldnae have begrudged ye if ye wished to return to Scotland, but I’m pleased to hear that, a ghoistidh. Now,” he said, glancing over towards Claire to see her turning back to Fergus as if she hadn’t been watching, “shall I take wee Brianna from ye or have ye grown comfortable wi’ a bairn at last?”

“Take the bairn, Jamie. For the love of god.”

 

 

“Are ye quite satisfied wi’ yer scheming, Sassenach?” Jamie teased her, handing Brianna over to her once they were alone. He pressed a swift kiss to Claire’s temple during the transition. “Ye damn near offended the man by suggesting he didnae love the babe.”

I never said that. You said that to him.”

Jamie huffed, the corners of his mouth twitching. “Aye, well it was implied.”

“I simply thought it was important that he had a chance to bond with her. Everyone else has.” Claire shrugged, hiding her own smile. “And it’s good to know… about what he said, about staying with us.”

He let out an exasperated laugh, shaking his head a little. “Aye, somehow we havenae driven him away yet.”

“Murtagh loves us,” Claire went on, ignoring his insinuating remark. “He’s family. Of course he wanted to stay.”

“Mhmm.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead this time. “He does love you, ye wee loon. Though next time, ye might just ask him if ye’re unsure how he feels about one of us.”

 


 

Winter quietly crept forward. Christmas was far more subdued than the one two years ago, when they had been at Lallybroch. Still, without any of the holiday trappings and rituals that Claire had introduced, it was far more joyous than just a year ago, when Claire, Jamie, Murtagh, and Fergus had been away from home and immersed in the ugliness of war.

And the approach of Hogmanay meant Fergus’s birthday, too. They welcomed the new year with joy, hopeful of what 1747 held for them, and they spent that first day of January heaping love onto their newly twelve-year-old and giving him all his favorite foods and a reminder that last year’s birthday promise hadn’t been forgotten.

Brianna began to sleep longer stretches through the night and to grow into a plump and rosy-cheeked baby. Her personality began to show itself in little glimpses, developing a happy disposition. Their days were filled with sweet baby smiles, which made the packing and preparations for their departure that much easier to endure.

 

 

“Ye are a fat wee piggy, aren’t ye?”

Jamie’s voice cut through the haze where Claire lingered in that precipice between sleep and waking, and while her eyes stayed closed, her alertness was roused by what he was saying.

“‒Gonna gobble ye all up,” he went on to the baby.

Her eyes fluttered open at the sound of Jamie pretending to gobble up Brianna and the baby’s happy cooing ‒ not quite a laugh, not yet, but so close to it. Cllaire rolled over carefully to see Jamie on his stomach, his elbows propping him up as Brianna lay before him, her small head cupped in his hands. The baby smiled up at him, her eyes bright, expectant. Claire watched as Jamie drew the moment out, taking a loud, exaggerated breath in and holding it as Brianna’s whole body started to wiggle in anticipation. A quick flash of a smile from Jamie was the only warning he gave and then he lowered his head to the baby’s belly again, continuing their game to the loud delight of wee Brianna.

A bright, bubbly sound came from the baby, and Jamie’s head snapped up to meet Claire’s gaze. His smile was broad and infectious, warmth spreading through her just to see it. “Did ye hear that?”

“You made her laugh,” she murmured, reaching out to brush her hand over Brianna’s fuzzy little head. “See if she’ll do it again.”

Jamie smiled down at the baby, still squirming happily over their game, and began tickling her belly again as he made the absurd pretense of gobbling the baby up. Brianna laughed again and Claire wanted to bottle the sound somehow, the lightness of it seeping into her bones and lifting her spirit. Their baby’s first laugh and the look on Jamie’s face when he heard it… she tried to commit every detail of the moment to heart.

“Da is pretty funny, isn’t he?” she said to the baby, but her gaze had strayed to Jamie. Her fingers scraped against the morning shadow along his jaw before he turned his face into her palm and pressed a kiss there.

His gaze lingered on her, and she knew he was also thinking back on their rekindled intimacy since the baby, and the stolen moment for just the two of them last night between putting little ones to sleep and late-night feedings and a toddler who refused to stay a whole night in her own bed. When he looked as happy as he did just now, like he wasn’t carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, she would’ve given anything for just another stolen moment with no babies in their bed.

There was a stirring of movement at her back and on instinct, her arm reached back to act as a guardrail to keep Faith from tumbling off the side of the bed. She’d crawled in next to Claire hours ago when it was still dark, but the joyous sounds of Jamie and Brianna must’ve woken her again.

She looked over her shoulder to see a wild mess of red curls and Faith’s sleepy pout. The toddler was overtaken by a yawn and leaned her head against Claire’s hip. “Wha’s funny?”

“Your da.” Claire smiled softly, pushing the hair back from Faith’s warm face. The girl’s eyes drifted to where Jamie still cradled Brianna before him, leaving a smacking kiss to the baby’s rosy cheeks. Brianna let out another happy shriek. And Faith, while she still succumbed to the occasional bout of jealousy, was not immune to the charms of a happy baby first thing in the morning. She practically rolled over Claire to wiggle into the small space between Claire and Jamie and snuggled close to the baby.

Madainn mhath, a leannan,” Jamie greeted her with a bright smile before giving Faith her own hearty kiss to her sleep-rosy cheek.

He was so good, Claire thought, watching his face light up with both of his girls. Just so good and loving and tender-hearted with their babies, and she fell more in love with him by the second. They had a lifetime before them of this and if they had a hundred years ‒ two hundred years ‒ together, it would still never be enough.

 


 

It was late in winter when they bid Jared farewell and left all of Paris behind them once more. They packed their things into a carriage and squeezed their family of six inside ‒ not ideal for a long journey, but they had all traveled under far more harrowing circumstances than that. But after days and days of traveling without room to move around and babies who were under-stimulated and energized, Claire began to reassess which was truly the most harrowing circumstance they’d endured so far.

They traveled further south still into France, and the views outside their carriage didn’t disappoint. They’d traded the majestic mountains of Scotland for the gently sloping valleys of France and while Jamie and Claire both longed to be back home, this new landscape was one they could easily love.

On the last day of their journey, the carriage slowed to a halt and Jamie sprung out of it first, holding the door open. “Here, my bairns, come see yer new home,” he beckoned Fergus and Faith, lifting the girl into his arms and helping Fergus out of the carriage, a hand coming to rest on the boy’s shoulder. “She’s no’ Lallybroch, but she’ll do, aye?”

Murtagh helped Claire to her feet while she stepped out with Brianna. Jamie’s strong arm went about her waist as she hopped out onto the ground. Brianna squinted against the bright sunlight and buried her face in Claire’s neck, but the rest of them looked upon their new home for the first time.

Home was now a modest vineyard and a house that indeed was not Lallybroch, but nothing to turn their noses up at. Claire took in the ivy that climbed the two-story brick cottage and rested her cheek on Brianna’s head with a contented sigh. Her gaze swung to Jamie and she gave him a tender smile. Yes, they could be happy here. They would be.

Jamie reached out and tucked behind her ear the curls that had fallen loose during the day’s ride. “And we’ll build ye a garden, Sassenach,” he said as if he’d already read her mind about the marvelous ivy twining up the outside of their house.

They’d been planning this move with Jared for months ‒ a mutually beneficial arrangement to have Jamie and Claire overseeing the vineyard and the wine-making while Jared branched out into selling his own wine to his impressive list of clientele that’d built from years as a reputable merchant. And while it wasn’t a vast estate that Jared had acquired for them to run, there was room for growth and Jamie had liked the prospect of working the land again ‒ tucked away in the south of France, where there wasn’t any threat to hide from. Where they could feel safe.

Jamie surveyed the house again with a faint smile, his free arm reaching out to tug Claire to him until they were pressed hip-to-hip. “Welcome home, Clan Fraser.”

Chapter Text

June 1750

His wife was still buried under the covers while Jamie moved about the room on quiet feet and got dressed in the soft light of dawn. He reached for his boots, the final article of dress, and caught sight of Claire’s hand rising out of the mess of blankets ‒ reaching out toward him in silent request.

He stopped in his tracks. Straightened back up.

“Don’t get up yet,” she said, her voice still heavy with sleep. “Stay in bed with me.”

His chest tightened and he let out a gentle sigh. “Aye.”

He crawled back onto the bed, fully-dressed save for his boots still, and molded his body against the curve of Claire’s. She let out a sleepy hum when he nuzzled into her wild hair and kissed the back of her neck. There was a time when he might’ve denied her request, felt the need to rush off to the responsibilities of farm life. But he knew now that all of that would keep ‒ for a little while at least ‒ but Claire and the bairns would not.

There was something in her touch, the way her hands clasped tightly over his, keeping his hold on her there, that told him her thoughts were running in tandem with his, reaching the same destination. He held her tighter still, turning his face into the crook of her neck and murmuring all that was in his heart to her, some bits in Gaelic but he thought she knew well enough now to understand his meaning if not the words themselves.

His eyes opened with the soft creak of their bedroom door opening. Of course, he could put off the work of the day for a bit, but the bairns didn’t always give them the same reprieve. “Sleep a little longer, Sassenach,” he whispered against her neck before leaving a parting kiss there. “I’ll get up wi’ her.”

When he rolled over and swung his feet out of bed, he caught sight of the impish wee lass in the doorway, bouncing on her toes already at the prospect of their recent morning routine together.

Dood morning,” she sung to him, her eyes alight with joy, as he swiftly pulled on his boots and ushered her back through the doorway.

He swung Brianna up into his arms and closed the door behind them. “Good morning, m'annsachd.”

He stepped across the hall and poked his head into the nursery, knowing he would find Faith under the blankets still. Brianna was their only early riser now.

He let Faith be and knocked on Fergus’s door to get him up and moving for the day. Brianna was a warm weight against his chest, waiting patiently until Jamie headed down the stairs with her to the kitchen. A fire had already been started in the hearth, letting Jamie know Murtagh was up and about.

“I can make the parritch, Papa?”

Papa. That was who he was to Fergus, and to Faith, he was simply Da, but Brianna was growing up hearing both names for Jamie and used them interchangeably. Jamie didn’t mind — she’d likely settle on one or the other eventually, and it had never really mattered what his children called him, only that they were his to raise and love and guide.

“Aye, we’ll make it together.” He kissed her soft cheek still flushed from her sleep, and moved about with only one hand free to start on breakfast. His wee Brianna encumbered the process more than helped, but no one else in the household possessed Brianna’s early morning cheerfulness ‒ besides perhaps himself, as Claire often pointed out in mild annoyance ‒ so he got on just fine with the lass as meal preparations were started.

Jamie finally set her down just as Murtagh walked in through the kitchen backdoor.

“Murtagh!” the wee thing cheered and ran to him, throwing her arms around his legs. It was the kind of reaction that would make one think she hadn’t seen her beloved Murtagh in ages. It had been only a matter of hours, most of which she’d slept through. The older man grinned and reached down to smooth her hair, still wild from her sleep. She turned her face and kissed his trouser-clad knee before letting him go.

“Come eat yer parritch, Brianna, and let poor Murtagh come inside.”

“Och, she’s fine,” Murtagh protested, but still herded Brianna towards the table.

With a certain knack for timing his entrance at the moment food was ready, Fergus stumbled out into the kitchen then, silent and sullen and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He sunk into a chair at the table and Jamie wordlessly passed him a bowl, smothering a rueful smile. They’d learned not to engage Fergus too heavily in the morning during this season of his youth.

Claire appeared too, dressed and hair up in place, though a weariness beyond physical exhaustion still lingered in her eyes. She bent to kiss the top of Fergus’s head and then joined them at the table.

There was only one Fraser missing, so Jamie headed up the stairs for the nursery.

“Up ye get, Faith.”

She was still sleeping, but she’d stay in bed all day if they let her. So he scooped her up and carried her down to the kitchen. She was getting older ‒ six already ‒ but Faith was still such a slight thing that Jamie didn't think twice about carrying her around as he always had.

He deposited a half-asleep Faith into the empty chair as Claire passed a bowl of parritch to the space in front of her before she could lay her head there. If it were only Fergus and Faith, breakfast might usually be a silent affair but Brianna thrived at that hour and held them all at court with her own chatter.

“An’ when the baby horse dets born‒”

“‒ it’s a foal, Brianna.”

Brianna gave a curt nod of acknowledgment but didn’t correct herself. “When he dets born, he will be so wee,” she held her hands up, close together, to demonstrate. “A wee baby.”

“No’ that small,” Murtagh said dryly.

“‒ and then he can be mine.” Brianna gave a slight shrug, as if this made perfect sense.

Fergus’s head shot up, his eyes ablaze. “No, he won’t. Delphine is my mare, her foal is mine as well.” His gaze shifted to Jamie. “Papa, you said so.”

Jamie held a hand up, placating. “Aye, I did. Brianna, why d’ye think the foal will be yers?”

Claire rubbed Brianna’s back as the little girl answered in her high-pitched voice, as if it should be obvious to everyone else, “He will be my size.”

His wife barely concealed a snort of laughter, her brows raised at Jamie, wondering how he planned to challenge that logic.

Faith’s brows furrowed together and Jamie knew the pecking order was about to be argued ‒ if anyone got a horse next, it should be Faith and she knew it.

“Christ, the foal hasnae even been born yet. It’s Fergus’s mare that’s foaling, so it’s his foal. Aye?”

Brianna ducked her chin towards her chest, pouting.

“Eat up, baby,” Claire said gently. “Got a big day ahead of us.”

She said that perhaps only to redirect Brianna ‒ there was nothing special about the day other than that spring was bleeding into summer and in addition to the vineyard, there was no shortage of work with tending to the animals and to Claire’s garden and yes, keeping a close eye on the mare about to give birth any day now.

Jamie shoveled in his last bites of food and rose from the table, giving a few instructions to Fergus for his responsibilities for the day as he cleared some of the dishes.

He caught the tail end of Claire’s corralling of the girls upstairs to help them dress for the day.

“Are you still my little baby?” Claire was saying to Brianna, drawing a giggle out of the girl for the first time since her dreams of owning the foal were dashed.

In contrast to their wee Faith, Brianna was a rather large child for three-and-a-half, hearty and long-limbed in that recognizable build of a MacKenzie. She’d be tall, they could already tell. Despite this, it never stopped Claire from hefting the girl onto her hip as she did now to head upstairs together.

Jamie paused and watched them, feeling his heart squeeze in his chest again. She was their baby still but lately she seemed to grow rapidly in her sleep and he wished she would slow down for his and Claire’s sakes ‒ wished all three of their children would slow down, really, but the ache was sharper with Brianna.

Because she was their youngest, he told himself, though he knew it wasn’t exactly that.

 


 

Jamie stepped out of the stall and peered through the open stable door down the path to the house for the umpteenth time to see if Claire had managed to fetch Fergus yet. Fergus’s mare was finally in labor and in addition to Jamie wanting an extra set of hands if needed, the mare was Fergus’s responsibility and the boy should be here for it.

The young man, rather. He was fifteen after all.

It was on this turn that he spotted his wife and son on their way to the barn. He leaned against a wooden post, watching them approach. They were hurrying, but there was something beyond a sense of urgency that was palpable between them even at a distance that made Jamie straighten up.

“... for the love of God, Fergus Fraser,” Claire’s voice finally reached him, “do not make me a grandmother at thirty-three.”

Jamie’s brows rose to his hairline. He was fairly certain this was not about the foal, and clocked the tension as Claire held onto the boy’s elbow as they walked ‒ nay, she was practically marching Fergus here. “Christ,” he muttered under his breath.

Oh, but that discussion would have to wait.

“Get in here, lad, it’s almost time.”

Fergus looked damn near relieved at that and tugged free of Claire’s hold to quicken his steps.

At fifteen, he’d grown tall and lanky in his build ‒ taller than Claire now ‒ but he’d filled out just a little as well in all his work on the vineyard. He was strong and steady, and Jamie wasn’t sure how he’d manage without the boy’s contributions once Fergus went away for his studies. His features were still fine-boned and handsome as they’d been in his youth, and it hadn’t escaped Jamie or Claire’s notice how many of the local farmers’ daughters were always trying to catch his eye. Nor did it escape Fergus’s notice, the wee scamp.

Christ, what had Claire seen?

He shook his head as Fergus rounded past him into the stall with his head ducking from Jamie’s gaze, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. When Claire slipped into the stall, she was practically simmering with anger.

But whatever it was she had come upon concerning Fergus, it had to be put out of all of their minds for the time as Delphine delivered her first foal. Jamie had witnessed any number of horses delivering a foal in his life ‒ inevitable with growing up on a farm ‒ but he never tired of seeing the new foal exploring their world for the first time, or the change that came over the mare, so proud and protective of the wild, stumbling little creature.

Delphine had been the first horse purchased for their farm, a promise fulfilled, and Fergus never loved anything else so much in the world as that horse. Except for maybe the new foal now, Jamie considered, watching the lad’s face soften as he watched the dear little thing.

Feeling a soft swell of affection for his own son, Jamie’s gaze sought out Claire’s to share the moment with her as well. It was a milestone for their lad, in a way; He was now the proud caretaker of Delphine and her little one.

But he caught something else in Claire’s eyes when she returned his gaze and his heart skittered. It was a brief flicker, there and gone in a blink, but after nearly seven years together, he knew every look on her face by heart. Knew her by heart.

She knew him, too. So perhaps that was why Claire’s gaze turned suddenly to Fergus and spoke up before Jamie could dwell on that look any further. “What will you call him then?”

“Tis a male so ye canna name this one after yer next favorite hoor from Maison Elise,” Jamie teased dryly, trying to shift the mood.

“He what?” Claire snapped. Her eyes narrowed at their son and her comments from earlier came rushing back to all of them. “Was Delphine the name of that brunette…” Her words stalled, not wanting to call the woman a whore in front of Fergus, but coming up short with another word for it.

Fergus’s ears burned bright red and he shot an accusing glance at Jamie. “I just liked the name,” he said hotly.

“Of course. Twas only teasing ye, lad.”

Fergus had never said Delphine the mare was named after one of the ladies from Maison Elise, but Jamie had remembered him talking about the young woman when they first brought him into their home.

“I think I will name him Marcel,” Fergus said softly, his gaze returned to the foal. Jamie felt the small tug of a smile.

“Young warrior, indeed. He’d have to be, if he’s tae survive the onslaught of yer sisters’ affections for him.”

That pulled a startled laugh out of the boy. The strange energy that had lingered from earlier began to dissipate.

Claire slipped past him out of the stall, unnervingly quiet, and so Jamie followed.

He stepped behind Claire as she washed her hands in the large water basin. She had several short, wispy curls that had slipped free from the pins and now curled around her neck, which was damp with sweat. He bent his head and kissed the juncture between her neck and shoulder and felt her shiver at the touch.

“Today reminded me of when ye helped me and Auld Alec deliver a foal at Castle Leoch. When we were first wed. D’ye remember?”

She leaned back against his chest and his arms went around her waist, securing her to him. “Hard to forget the first time I was called upon to be a midwife to a horse.”

“Aye,” he chuckled, “but what a bonny wee midwife ye were.” After a moment, he said, “What happened wi’ the lad, before ye came to the barn?”

Claire sighed and craned her neck to make sure Fergus was still distracted with the foal and out of earshot. “I found him by the chicken coop with his hands full of Minette Dupré.”

“And they were…?”

“Practically sucking each other's faces off right in front of me,” Claire muttered.

“What?”

“They were kissing.”

“Oh, is that all?”

It was the wrong thing to say. Claire pulled herself free of him and spun around, her anger surfacing in a blink.

“He also had his hands on her. He was feeling her up.”

“Was the lass distressed?”

Jamie!”

Christ, a nighean, it’s only that I heard ye say ye dinna want to be a grandmother yet, and so I thought‒” He gave an exasperated, helpless shrug. “I mean, it sounds as though they both still had their clothes on, aye?”

“Oh, and when has that ever been a problem for us?” Claire whispered sharply.

Dread settled in his stomach like molten hot lead. “Christ.” He scrubbed a hand over his face.

“My point is that they were alone together. Maybe they were only kissing when I found them, but if it had been another few minutes…”

“Aye, aye,” Jamie sighed. He had the full picture of it now.

Claire folded her arms tight across her chest, stewing in the feelings this conversation had revived. Her gaze cut across the barn to the young man completely unaware of how his mother wanted to throttle him at that moment.

“Talk to him again,” her voice was low, almost resigned. “He needs to be safe. But if you can’t get through to him, I have no qualms with describing to him in great, gory details how a syphilis infection progresses.”

Lord,” Jamie muttered, feeling an involuntary shudder go through him just at the thought. His hands gripped her upper arms and tugged her closer, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “I dinna think we’re there yet, Sassenach.”

 

 

After supper, he pulled Fergus aside to go for a walk, but he was surprised when the boy spoke first.

“You don’t have to give me the speech again. I know.”

“What is it that ye know then?”

“I know I cannot get a girl with my child unless I am prepared to marry her and be a father.”

He felt a sudden pang of grief at the heaviness in the boy’s tone. Aye, Fergus did know that. He’d never subject a child of his own blood to being cast off in the same way that he was. But Fergus was still too young to be a father, if he got himself into that situation.

“Aye. And yer mother and I dinna want ye to have to make that choice any time soon.”

“I wasn’t going to‒” Fergus broke off abruptly, his face red. When he spoke again, his voice was quieter. “There are other ways to…”

Ah, Christ.”

He was torn between feeling comforted that Fergus at least had enough sense not to get a lass pregnant out of wedlock, and feeling a strange sense of loss for Fergus’s innocence, a consequence of growing up where he did. Even still, there would be things Fergus wouldn’t know that might harm him. “Oh hell, maybe I should let yer mother talk to ye.”

Fergus’s eyes widened, but Jamie’s mind was already made up.

He sighed heavily. “It’s for yer own good, son.”

 


 

Claire never felt more like herself than when she had dirt under her fingernails and the sun on her face while dozens of flourishing, young plants kept her company. Her garden was a proud achievement, something cultivated from the work of her own hands over the last few years. Spring had been mild and as the season began to give way to summer, she was seeing the results of her labor thriving.

“You’re doing it all wrong, Brianna.”

At Faith’s sharp voice, Claire sat back on her heels and peered around the tomato bushes to see what was amiss. Her two red-headed hellions were less helpful when working together than if Claire had either one alone with her, but that was a facet of sisterhood that she and Jamie were having to learn as the girls grew.

Brianna growled, like the half-feral child that she was ‒ and, perhaps most of all, because it set Faith on edge.

“Mama!”

Claire sighed. “Bree, come help me weed over here. There’s a big one with your name on it.”

“She’s pulling up the flowers instead o’ the weeds,” Faith tattled. “The ones Auntie Jenny sent!”

Brianna stumbled out to the edge where Claire was working, trying and failing to look innocent. “I thought those were the weeds!”

Faith was already tenderly working to rescue some of the Queen Anne’s Lace that had suffered at the hands of Brianna ‒ thankfully, she didn’t appear to have gotten very far before Faith noticed. Claire watched her for a moment, a little stunned to see the careful way Faith dug room into the soil and set the roots back in and covered them gently. Claire had never taught her to do that, she must’ve learned from watching. “Alright there, Faith?”

“Yes, Mama,” she murmured, head still bent over her task. Some of them looked a little beyond hope, bent and broken from the tiny, careless toddler fists, but the damage was not extensive.

Claire sighed again.

It hadn’t been the best decision in retrospect to have both girls weeding near the one plant Claire relied on for contraception, but Faith was proving herself more and more to be a capable helper in tending to the garden.

She felt the sudden, warm weight on her shoulder and turned her head to kiss Brianna’s forehead, which was sticky with sweat. That little one, on the other hand…

That little one is only three and a half, Claire reminded herself. Wild and willful and unbearably sweet, Brianna certainly kept them on their toes. “Here, Bree, I need your help. See that weed there?”

“I will det it, Mama!” She scurried off immediately.

“Dig up the roots, remember. Don’t just pull it.”

“You will get it, Brianna. G-g-get,” Faith corrected her speech without looking up, her tone a little sharp with her younger sister. It stirred up within Claire an urge to defend her tiny troublemaker. She and Jamie and perhaps even Murtagh could help correct Brianna’s mispronunciations, but the poor wee thing often had Fergus and Faith correcting her too ‒ and not often out of kindness.

Siblings…

And to be perfectly honest, she found Brianna’s slight speech error to be rather endearing. She was already grieving the time when she would no longer greet them with dood morning each day.

“Be nice to your sister, Faith. You couldn’t pronounce your v’s for the longest time, but you eventually figured it out.”

Faith glanced up at that, scowling a little in the sun. “No I didn’t!”

“Yes,” Claire laughed. “You did. You used to say, ‘I lub you.’ It was adorable.”

Faith shrugged, not wanting to admit she was wrong. “I don’t remember that.”

Claire was a little startled to feel her eyes misting over at the implications of Faith’s words, but she blinked them swiftly to clear her vision. As long as she lived, she could never forget finding her little girl again after Culloden ‒ finding her and having Faith pull away from Claire’s embrace, because too much time had passed for her baby to possibly remember.

For so long, Claire had worried Faith would remember that season of their lives ‒ the uncomfortable growing pains of learning to be a family again, and the fact that Claire hadn’t always been there. She worried Faith might be hurt by that knowledge when she was old enough to question it. But instead, Faith could only recall bits and pieces of their lives before they came to the vineyard, and Claire, surprisingly, found herself a little grieved that she couldn’t share those memories with Faith without having to explain their significance.

Like the first time Faith had said ‘I lub ye’ and offered to ‘gib her a kiss’, or when it had finally clicked for Faith exactly who Claire was to her and she called her Mama once more. She had been so nervous over Faith remembering the hard moments that she hadn’t realized she might not remember those good ones, too.

At six years old, Faith understood that her parents had been away for a bit during the war, and that she lived at Lallybroch with her aunt, uncle, and cousins during that time, but she didn’t yet know that Claire had missed additional months of her life after the war, or how exactly her family came to live in France and not Scotland. They would tell her, someday, but for now, all she knew was this life with her family in the south of France, and that was something Claire and Jamie both wanted to protect for her for a little longer.

A chorus of excited cheers from the girls stole Claire’s attention. Brianna had spotted Jamie first, heading out from the barn right towards them, and both girls swiftly abandoned the garden work to make a dash for him.

Her gaze was inexorably drawn to their merry ruckus and she watched Jamie’s expression transform at the sight of the girls, grinning broadly. He dropped to one knee and scooped up Faith and then Bree before pushing to his feet, a girl in each arm.

It was a sight she’d never tire of. Three matching heads of auburn hair caught the summer sun and dazzled in their brilliance of red and gold. Oh, how she loved that both girls had his hair. And when the three of them were all together like that, looking like they belonged to one another, it almost seemed like the life she’d pictured for them when she realized she was pregnant with Faith ‒ that first delicate hope of a dream coming true. True, they weren’t raising their family on their own land, weren’t at Lallybroch, but this place was home enough and they were all together, which was all they really needed.

“It’s early still,” was how Claire greeted him, a smile tugging at her lips as she leaned against her garden gate. They hired extra hands for the planting and harvesting seasons and the making of wine, but had recently returned to the day-to-day of just their own family managing the vineyard. The busyness was starting to wane as they moved into summer but they still didn’t often reunite until supper. “I didn’t expect to see you yet.”

His smile turned a little smug before leaning in to kiss her, to the chorus of disgusted sounds from the wee ones. “Can a man no’ surprise his wife?”

“Surprise?”

“Aye. The lassies will stay wi’ Murtagh for the afternoon. You and I have plans.”

“Oh?” She wasn’t usually one for surprises but she wouldn’t deny that the prospect of an afternoon away from the little ones and the demands of farm life sent a slight thrill through her.

“I helped pack the basket!” Faith blurted out. She grinned then, quite proud, and Claire’s heart melted at the sight. Faith’s current smile was her favorite thing at the moment ‒ and one that was granted for only a short season of childhood ‒ with a wide gap at the front of her mouth where the two upper teeth had fallen out. It made Claire feel inexplicably tender to see it, well remembering when those very teeth had poked through her baby’s gums, and now they were gone, lost to childhood.

Christ. Ye’re a great one for secrets, aye?” Jamie huffed, but he pressed a sound kiss to Faith’s temple before setting the girls on their feet. “Go an’ find Murtagh before ye spoil anything else,” he teased.

“Can we go see the foal?”

“Aye, so long as Murtagh’s wi’ ye.”

Off the girls went, Faith throwing one excited, impish glance over her shoulder before they both disappeared around the side of the barn.

Claire took a step forward and found herself encircled in Jamie’s embrace. Her hands clasped at the back of his neck. “So this surprise…?”

Jamie pulled her flush against him and their bodies began to sway together. “Aye, I’m taking ye away for… what is it called in yer time, again?”

She thought of the basket Faith had mentioned. “A picnic?” she guessed.

“Aye,” his face brightened. “A picnic.”

 


 

Jamie was so thoroughly sated, he thought he might fall asleep right there in the shady hillside he’d scoped out for his and Claire’s outdoor picnic. The food was still untouched in the basket.

He tilted his head towards where Claire was stretched out next to him on top of his tartan, one hand tucked behind her head. They were both in a state of disheveled dress, not letting something as trivial as clothing stall them from taking full advantage of being alone in the quiet wilderness moments ago.

He thought of Claire’s words from a few days ago when she’d told him about finding Fergus alone with a lass, both fully clothed; And when has that ever been a problem for us?

When, indeed? She’d been right to be so alarmed then.

He propped himself up on one elbow and leaned over his wife. Her eyes snapped open when his head blocked the sunlight from her.

Ah Dhia, she was so stunning, it still knocked the wind out of him. And he never loved the sight of her more than after their frantic coupling that left them both thoroughly spent. Her breasts were spilling out the top of her dress where he had tugged at the laces and layers of fabric to try and free them. He ducked his head and kissed the top of one perfect breast.

“Seven years, and I still want ye as much as I did on our wedding day ‒ more than that now, I think. So much more.”

Seven…” Claire’s eyes widened. “It’s our anniversary today, isn’t it?”

“Aye,” he said with a laugh and leaned down to kiss her, a smile still tugging at his lips. “‘Tis.”

Her fingers slid up through his curls and held on as she deepened the kiss, left him panting and wanting for her even though he’d only just had her. “I forgot,” she murmured in between kisses.

He didn’t care. He truly didn’t. Claire was smiling brighter than she had in days, in weeks, and it filled a hollowness in his chest he hadn’t realized was there. Jamie kissed her again for good measure, soft and swift, and settled back onto the tartan next to her, his hand on her waist.

The winter had been unkind to them, in a number of ways. Wee Faith had fallen terribly ill ‒ and recovered, thank the Lord ‒ but she’d suffered through a lingering cough for weeks afterwards that seemed to rattle the whole frame of her, and it always drew Claire’s concerned gaze.

And while they were keeping themselves afloat here in France, they’d deduced from Ian’s letters that the tension with the Redcoats had flared up again in the fall ‒ and that weighed heavily on Jamie, knowing it was because of him and that he couldn’t fix it. They’d tried and failed on several attempts to sway Jenny and Ian towards joining them here in France, even if only for a few years. All for naught; his sister would never leave Lallybroch while there was breath in her lungs.

Then, deep in mid-winter came the news of Jenny and Ian’s loss ‒ a niece he and Claire would never meet but the loss shattered them just the same.

The news of Caitlin came so close on the heels of their own private grief from the beginning of winter. Hadn’t gone on long enough to tell Jenny and Ian about it, but Murtagh had known, and Fergus. They were close to telling the girls, but never got the chance.

Next to him, Claire stared up at the clouds, deep in thought. He fumbled for her hand and brought to it his lips, which drew her gaze to him. Christ but he wanted to protect her from every wicked and painful thing in this life. In the winter, he hadn’t been able to protect her from any of it, one hit after the other. And she’d tucked away every painful part of that season for the bairns’ sakes, so they’d never know their mam was hurting, would never be affected by it. She’d done that for them, but Jamie had seen right through her.

“Ye’ve been sad again lately, my sassenach, and I havenae kent how to ask ye about it, but… are ye thinking of the bairn?”

She blinked swiftly, those crystal blue eyes returning to the sky. “I thought I was fine, for a while there at least. But it’s June now, and I‒ I can’t help thinking we would probably have the baby by now, or be nearly ready to welcome one, if… if it had survived.”

The bairn had been a spark of joy they hadn’t planned for; After Brianna, they’d felt content in their wee Fraser clan, and Claire had managed with her wee herbs to limit the likelihood of falling pregnant again.

But it wasn’t foolproof ‒ short of abstaining altogether, nothing was foolproof and they weren’t willing to consider that. Still, when they’d realized Claire was with child again…

He leaned forward to press a kiss to her temple. Aye, it was a spark of joy and when that spark was snuffed out, it left them both reeling.

“I’m sorry,” she surprised him by saying. Her voice had gone soft. “I know I haven’t been‒ Well, you’ve been getting up and making breakfast for everyone and‒”

“I dinna mind it, Sassenach.” He leaned forward again and kissed her brow. “Truly. And I think Brianna would throw a fit if I stopped,” he laughed. His chest tightened at the sight of her own smile.

“Well.” She turned to look at him, her fingers traced along his jaw, unbearably soft. “Maybe you won’t need to do it every day then, at least.”

He captured her wandering hand, brought it to his lips to kiss those delicate, long fingers. “Oh aye, that might be best. I think Fergus would like something besides parritch every now and then.”

Claire hummed in amusement. “Yes, I do believe our son would like it if we embraced a bit more of his homeland, starting with the cuisine.”

Jamie tutted softly. “We may be in France but I’ll no’ let my bairns grow up wi’out a little bit of Scotland in their lives.”

He could see the way his words made her consider something. “It is strange… all of your children have been born in France.”

“Aye.” He’d thought of that too, after Brianna was born.

“Does it bother you? That we’re here instead of there?”

He knew it didn’t bother her ‒ she’d never lived anywhere long enough to grow roots and the thought always made his heart ache for her. Someday…

He let out a long sigh. “I willnae be dishonest and say I dinna miss it, Claire. I do. I always will. But I cannae see a way that we could’ve stayed and been safe. Can ye?”

She shook her head.

“It won’t be forever,” he said lightly, one hand tucked behind his head as he stared up at the sky. “Living in France, that is. But wherever else we go, it won’t be Scotland either. Well. Someday, I’ll build ye a surgery, too,” he added, changing course rather quickly on her.

“Oh really?”

“Aye.”

“And where would we put this surgery?”

“Oh not here,” he clarified. “But we won’t stay here, aye? That’s one of yer conditions.”

When he had first broached the subject of running the vineyard, Claire had agreed but not without the aforementioned conditions of her own. Staying in France in the short-term had been the smartest choice for them and there weren’t any immediate threats, but the French Revolution was coming, she’d told him, and they were smarter than to try and stop that from happening, if they were still around. But if they were still alive, they certainly didn’t want to be here for it.

So he did think about it, more often now than when they’d first settled here. “Fergus will be sixteen next year. Lad should be able to complete his education in Paris.”

Claire chewed on her bottom lip, absorbing Jamie’s words. She didn’t want him to go, that much was clear. Didn’t want him out of the nest, but that didn’t necessarily mean she wouldn’t let him go. Still, she was probably lamenting if Fergus would come back to them once he finished at university or go off on his own.

“I can see yer mind is years down the road, Sassenach.”

She huffed at that, turning her head to scowl at him half-jokingly. “Oh, is it?”

“Aye,” he said, but the smile he put on wasn’t entirely heartfelt. It would be hard for him too, of course, but they wouldn’t deprive Fergus of that opportunity he deserved.

Jamie stretched and sat up, reaching for the basket that his wee lassies had indeed helped him pack early that morning ‒ bannocks and cheese and fruits and a bit of smoked meat. He set the basket between them and when Claire didn’t sit up to join him, he popped a grape into her mouth.

“Oh thank you,” she said with exaggerated sweetness. “Are you going to feed me by hand the whole time?”

“If ye like.”

She hummed, considering, and still sat up. He suspected she was starting to feel as ravenous as he was.

While they ate, Claire broached the subject of where they would want to go after France. There was no urgency, no real deadline, but with talk of Fergus going to Paris next year and the reminder that France was never supposed to be forever, it felt natural in that moment, while celebrating their anniversary, to dream a little about the future together.

They batted around ideas, times that made sense for their family to relocate, what it would mean for the vineyard and for Jared ‒ all things that could be sorted out. They talked about everything except for the one hypothetical that was uppermost in both of their minds.

If Claire had another baby, that could… potentially alter any sort of timeline they established for themselves.

They hadn’t talked about it. Not yet. At first, the grief had felt too tender to consider another, and then they had thrown themselves headlong into the spring planting season, relishing how the work and the bairns made it hard to think about anything else.

Did Claire even want to try? Jamie hadn’t dared to ask her, having been the only witness to her grief over the babe and knowing how it had scraped his own heart raw to love the wee thing so much in those too-brief months and then to lose it.

But the wistful, faraway look on her face just then…

Jamie reached for her hand, running his thumb over her knuckles. Brought her back to him.

“Is it selfish to wish for more?” she finally asked. “The life we have is good, Jamie, it’s so good. I’m so grateful for all of it, and I wouldn’t wish for anything more, except…”

“Aye, I ken, a ghraidh. It’s no’ selfish ‒ at least, I dinna think it is.”

“Would you want to try again? Even with all the risks?”

Not just the risk that the pregnancy wouldn’t progress, but the risks to Claire’s health as well… even though Brianna’s birth had gone smoothly, the risks with any pregnancy had been part of why they’d decided to stop having children at first.

“I’ve no life but you, Claire,” he murmured, his fingers brushing gently over her curls that had come loose and framed her face. Her gaze softened at his words, at his touch. “But if ye wanted another bairn… I would have a dozen or so with ye, Sassenach, if ye truly wanted it.”

She snorted at that. “No. Not that many. Good grief. If you keep saying twelve, I’m going to have to assume at some point, you’re serious about that,” she teased him, her sharp gaze a strong indication of how she felt about that. “But… one more, maybe. If… if it happens.”

That was all that was said on the subject as they finished their food, both a little more subdued with the dream of what could be.

“Are you finished?” Claire asked him, nodding to the basket.

“What’s yer hurry, Sassenach? I told Murtagh he’s in charge of the lassies for the rest o’ the day.”

She smiled, grabbing the basket and practically flinging it behind her. “I didn’t ask because I want to leave.” Her hand pressed against the center of his chest and he followed her lead, leaning backwards until he was flat on his back on the ground again. Claire’s knees straddled his hips and the delicious weight of her covered him.

“Aye, that’s good, then. Because I plan to have ye a number of ways before we return.”

“Oh?” she laughed, and ground her hips against him. “What are these plans? How many ways?”

His hands slid around to her backside and began to knead her round arse. “Once for each year of marriage,” he quipped.

She laughed at that, and he joined in with her. “There’s that ambition I admire so much.”

“I do love ye,” he murmured and leaned up to kiss her. She held his face tenderly in her hands and hummed softly when his tongue sought entrance to her mouth, and he wondered not for the first time what he’d ever done right to get to spend all of his days with Claire Beauchamp in his arms.

Her hips were rolling against him at a torturous pace and his patience had just about run out. He needed to be inside of her. There was a flurry of coordinated movement between them, skirts and kilt tugged out of the way until Claire’s hand finally wrapped around him.

She rose up on her knees over him with his hard length in her hand and teasing the tip of it at her entrance. It took every ounce of restraint on his part not to drive up into her. She smiled coyly, like she knew what she was doing to him.

“I could stop,” she said suddenly, and he was damn near about to curse her for being a tease when through the haze of his lust-addled brain, he noticed a flicker of nervousness in her eyes. “If we want to try for another baby right away, I could stop taking my‒”

“Aye.” He felt the small tug of a smile at his lips as realization sunk in. They’d never done that before ‒ never honest to god tried for a bairn ‒ but he found that he liked the idea very much. “Aye, stop taking yer special tea, Sassenach, and let’s see what happens.”

She sunk down then, bringing the full length of him into her, and they both groaned. Her hands planted on his chest to steady herself, and he clutched at the outside of her thighs and held on for dear life as she rode him to oblivion.

 

 

“I want a wee lass with yer hair,” he admitted unabashedly, his fingers smoothing over said curls as he spoke.

“It could be a boy,” she reminded him. Her head was pillowed on his chest and he was delightfully warm and solid beneath her. She never wanted to move from this spot.

“Oh, aye, I suppose a boy wi’ yer hair would do.”

This time she laughed at him and shook her head, tilted her head up to kiss the underside of his jaw. “You’re ridiculous.”

“How so?” She could hear the grin in his voice.

“We don’t even know if there will be another baby, let alone what kind of hair they might have.”

He made a soft hum of a noise and his hand came up to cradle her cheek. “I have faith, Sassenach. And… I had dreams that there was a wee babe with dark hair.”

“What dreams? When?”

“After ye went through the stones… before ye came and found us here in France. I dreamt of them a few times. I thought… I thought it was Brianna, ye ken? Since ye were carrying her then. But then she was born and looked nothing like the child I’d seen in my dreams for all those weeks.”

His words left a funny flutter in her belly. Her fingers delicately traced the lines of his collarbone as she formed the next sentence. “Maybe it was only what you imagined Brianna might look like,” she said softly.

“Perhaps, Sassenach, but… it felt real.”

 


 

MAMA!”

Claire shaded the sun from her eyes as she followed the sound of Faith’s excited shriek. The wagon was jolting down the path to their home with Murtagh at the helm and Faith sitting ramrod straight at his side, waving one arm. They’d gone into the nearest town, fetching some supplies needed for the farm, but Murtagh also ‒ Claire didn’t doubt ‒ returned with some sort of sweets or small trinkets for the children.

Claire slowly stood to her feet, shaking dirt from the folds of her skirts and wiping her hands on her apron. The day had been perfectly lovely and she’d lost track of time, but evening was fast approaching and she should probably start on dinner while Murtagh and Jamie sorted the goods that they had returned with.

“Mama!”

Faith hopped down from the wagon, a bundle tucked close to her chest. Claire paused at the garden gate to wait for her daughter to catch up to her. Faith was running towards her, loose red curls flying wildly behind her.

“What did Murtagh get for you?”

The girl grinned broadly, showing off the gap where her two front teeth were missing, as her feet picked up the pace. “Not for me ‒ for all of us! Murtagh brought us letters!”

Claire felt a small thrill course through her. They hadn’t heard from Jenny and Ian since their devastating news in the winter ‒ hadn’t heard from anyone since then, come to that. Of course there were only a small number of people who even knew where to address a letter for them, but still…

She walked with Faith into the house, the girl barely containing her excitement. Any day when the post arrived was cause for excitement. Jamie had been in the barn and heard Murtagh’s approach and by the time Faith set the bundle down on the table, all of the Frasers were flocking into the room.

It was Jamie who unraveled their hoard, which had been put together for them by Jared. That was part of why letters could take so long to reach them ‒ everything passed through Jared’s residence first before being sent on to their vineyard, inconspicuously disguised as business between Jared and one Alexandre Beauchamp.

“Ye’ve a letter from Mary here, too, Sassenach.” He passed it to her and then cracked the seal on the largest envelope, disguised as a correspondence from his uncle but actually containing a number of smaller letters inside from Lallybroch.

“This one has yer name on it, Faith.”

Claire watched Jamie hand their girl her own letter, which Faith promptly snatched and immediately retreated to the parlor to read in peace. Claire caught Jamie’s gaze and shared a smile. Maggie and Faith had begun a correspondence as soon as they could both read and write, and it heartened both sets of parents to see their friendship flourish.

“Mary had her baby ‒ a girl this time,” Claire announced softly, skimming her friend’s letter. She felt Jamie’s gaze on her at that bit of news, but shrugged almost imperceptibly. Claire was fine. “They’re all doing well.”

There was only one letter this time from Jenny and Ian, and this one written in Jenny’s hand. Jamie silently skimmed the contents before he began reading it aloud to all of them, at the same time relenting to Brianna’s wordless demands to be held so she could try and read any of the small words that she knew for herself.

The letter was lengthy, filling them in on the state of Lallybroch, hinting at unrest with British troops still occupying the area, and giving an update on each of the Murray children. Jenny said little of her and Ian’s well-being, but hearing from them at all was encouraging to Claire.

Once read, the letters were tucked away until after supper when they all settled into the parlor for the evening. Faith apparently hadn’t finished hers and curled up next to Fergus to read it, stopping occasionally to point to a word and ask for Fergus’s help.

Brianna must’ve been worn out from the day because she crawled into Claire’s lap and hunkered down for the night, regaling Claire with the adventures of her day ‒ she was Jamie Fraser’s daughter alright, a storyteller by the time she could speak in full sentences. Claire listened to her, rocking them slightly.

Jamie got out the ink, quills, and parchment, and set up at the dining table instead of the study so Faith could join him. She was left-handed like Jamie and still developing her writing skills, so while Jamie drafted a letter to Jenny and Ian, he helped Faith with her spelling and how to hold the quill and not drag her hand through the wet ink on the page.

As soon as Faith had left his side, Fergus moved over to the sofa where Claire had claimed one end with Brianna. He stretched out along the remaining space on the sofa and laid his head in Claire’s lap next to Brianna, and began interjecting into her stories with his own contradicting remarks, just to tease her. It made Brianna giggle, even as she stubbornly argued with him, helplessly taking the bait.

Claire brushed a hand over Fergus’s curls. He wasn’t often this affectionate of late, unless it was around the little ones, like he was just then.

That was alright, Claire told herself. Her heart was full with having Bree and Fergus so close ‒ weighed down by them even and unable to move from that spot. There was nowhere else she’d rather be in that moment.

When Faith finished writing letters with Jamie, she wandered into the parlor in search of the others. Claire caught the flash of jealousy in Faith’s eyes upon seeing her siblings both cuddled up on the sofa with their mother.

That Faith was going to join them was obvious to Claire, but she upset the calm by running and landing on Fergus’s stomach and rolling into Claire’s side ‒ making space for herself and forcing them all to accept it.

Fergus’s yelp of surprise turned into a groan and he shoved her knees off of his chest.

Faith! Don’t hurt your brother like that!”

The smile vanished from the girl's face as she looked back at Fergus, silently assessing if he was indeed hurt.

At her obvious concern, Fergus huffed loudly. “I’m alright, ma petite chérie. This time,” he added, to discourage recurrence.

“You three are such trouble.” Claire thought it often, but hadn’t meant to say it out loud just then.

Moi?” Fergus squawked at her. “What have I done?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?” She laughed as she said it, but she knew from the way he quieted down that he was recalling the moment Claire had interrupted him and Minnette last week.

Faith settled into Claire’s side, absolved of all guilt and refusing to acknowledge that she was any sort of trouble. Her hands wrapped around Claire’s arm and she rested her head against her shoulder.

“What did you write to Maggie about?” Claire asked her.

“I told her about Marcel and my teeth that fell out and the verra mean chicken that almost got me last week.”

Fergus’s brows scrunched together. “What mean chicken?”

At mention of the chicken, Brianna was also roused and sat up a little straighter in Claire’s lap. “One o’ the white ones! She dot mad at us when me an’ Faith were collecting eggs!” She folded her chubby hand into a beak and pecked at Fergus’s shoulder. “Tried to bite us. Like that!”

Faith nodded solemnly. “Almost got Brianna, but I scared it away.”

“You did?” Claire hadn’t heard that part before. She brushed Faith’s flyaway curls away from her forehead and pressed a kiss there. “Thank you for looking out for your sister.”

“Not gonna let a dumb wee chicken get her, Mama…”

She buried her laugh in the crown of Faith’s head. “No. Of course not.” She knew it would always be like this between the three siblings; they might drive each other mad but nothing and no one else would hurt one of them if they could stop it. It was something Claire understood second-hand ‒ she’d seen it with Jamie and Jenny, and now with her own children, how they loved and fought so fiercely.

They’d be so good with a new baby sibling.

The thought came unbidden and Claire’s throat swelled with emotion. They would, especially at their ages now. Faith bossed Brianna around something fierce but she always looked out for her. And Fergus… he wouldn’t be with them for too much longer if he started his studies in the fall next year, but there was no one as protective of his siblings as Fergus. Claire didn’t think that would go away when he did, it just might look a little different. And their little Brianna… darling Bree could be a wonderful big sister, given the chance. And Claire already held these tender imaginings from before, and when the baby was gone, there was nowhere for those feelings to go.

Her heart still wanted it so badly, and she could see how a baby might simply slide right into their life here, like the final missing puzzle piece snapping into place. Could be held in the arms of one of these siblings while they were all snuggled so close on the sofa just now.

Her chest ached with want for that life.

If it happened again for them…

It could happen for them, she corrected herself, holding a little more tightly to hope.

 

 

By the time the girls should be getting ready for bed, they were both passed out in the parlor, having been lulled to sleep by Jamie and Murtagh’s tales. Jamie carried Brianna up the stairs while Fergus had gathered Faith into his arms. Claire followed behind them, and once Fergus had set Faith on her bed, Claire carefully peeled Faith’s outer layers from her until she was left in a light shift, good enough for a nightgown in this instance.

She kissed Faith’s cheek and tucked her under the covers, and turned to see Jamie press a kiss behind Brianna’s ear with practiced aim. The little girl’s birthmark was mostly covered by her hair now, but Jamie had kissed that spot so many times throughout her infancy, he could find it without the aid of sight.

They tiptoed out of the room with bated breath, and as soon as Claire closed the door behind them, she felt Jamie crowding her space in the dark hallway. Fergus had no doubt long since made himself scarce, so when she felt the touch of Jamie’s lips against her own, she leaned into the kiss.

“Ye looked so happy wi’ all yer bairns around ye tonight, Sassenach.”

She felt her eyes get misty, but the ache wasn’t quite so overwhelming now. More than anything, she felt immeasurably grateful for the three who had already made her a mother. Her hands curled at the back of his neck, and she found his gaze even in the dark. “They make me very happy. And so do you. And I know we’re going to try, but if… if this family is never more than what it is, it’s still so very perfect. And I just needed you to know that.”

“Mo nighean donn,” Jamie sighed, “Ye do break my heart with loving you.”

His next kiss was soft and lingered long enough that she forgot they were still in the hallway until she felt Jamie’s hands at her backside.

“I will love this life with ye no matter what happens,” he whispered. “But to be clear, I take my duties in this endeavor verra seriously. And I dinna think we’ll fail.”

She didn’t have a chance to respond ‒ in fact, she barely managed to smother a yelp of surprise when he suddenly lifted her off her feet. “Jesus Christ!”

“No’ quite, a nighean,” he chuckled as he walked them into their bedroom. Claire grabbed the edge of the door and swung it shut behind them.

 


 

Late Fall 1750

“That’s no’ yer usual tea, is it, Sassenach?”

She peered at him over the rim of her steaming mug and took a sip before answering. He was smiling at her. He knew ‒ of course he knew. Smug bastard.

“It’s not,” she answered primly. She hadn’t made any of that kind since their anniversary.

“What is it then?” He was already moving across the kitchen to her, his joy so obvious that it stole her breath away.

“It’s ginger tea,” she murmured, for he was close enough now to speak softly to him. She swallowed thickly when he pressed a kiss to her forehead and held his face there, notched so perfectly against her own, breathing the same air as her, waiting. “It’s good for morning sickness.”