Jamie stands at the opposite end of the barn, a lopsided grin tugging up at one corner of his mouth as he watches Claire fiddling with something at her workstation. The bench at the back of the barn was never supposed to be a permanent place for her to work—cutting and drying her herbs, mixing them with oils, and making healing tonics—but in the year since they'd returned to Lallybroch, that little space had become her refuge.
He'd promised her a better space, one that was all her own. But before he knew it, she'd had herbs tied up and hanging from the top shelves, little glass bottles lining the middle one. The boys often ran in and out while she was working—their nephew, wee Jamie, often tangling himself in her skirt—and she seemed to enjoy the bustle of the barn. So, instead, he'd carved a door into the backside of it and just outside, they planted a little garden so she had some of her essential herbs readily available to her whenever she needed them.
As the weather warmed, Claire spent an increasing amount of time between the barn and garden, tending to it and nurturing her plants, lost in her own little world. She seemed happy there—content in a way that he'd never seen her before—and he teased her that she'd grow roots in her wee garden if she could…
"I thought I might find ye here," he says, clearing his throat and taking a few steps into the barn, waiting for her to turn around before continuing. "When I woke up and ye weren't there, I worried. Then, I remembered…"
His voice trails off as she wipes her hands on her apron, offering a meek smile that never reaches her eyes. "I didn't mean to worry you." She takes a breath as she moves toward him. "I couldn't sleep."
"Aye," he murmurs, holding out his hand to her and drawing her near. His arm folds around her shoulders and his head rests atop hers as he draws in a breath, finding comfort in her embrace.
He knew today would be difficult, but still, when he awoke he was unprepared for how fresh the wound felt as if it had happened only yesterday and not a year before.
For a time, the ache in his chest had been unbearable.
Everytime he closed his eyes, he saw Claire, collapsing in the woods and crying out his name, her eyes filled with fear as she clutched her pregnant stomach. He could almost feel the cold stone floor of his cell at the Bastille as he sat there, uselessly, left to wonder what had happened to his wife and child.
Sometimes he drifted off, thinking of them—thinking of his return to them. He pictured himself peeking into their chamber to find Claire nursing the child, beaming as she looked up at him. He pictured her holding out her hand to him, inviting him to join in on the sweet, intimate moment. He'd felt tears well in his eyes as he imagined what the child looked like—Claire's eyes, his red hair. M' annsachd, he'd whisper as he delicately touched his fingers to the head of their child.
Even then, deep down, he knew that the child hadn't survived—he couldn't bear to even consider the possibility that Claire hadn't either. And weeks later, when he returned home from the Bastille to find Claire there, broken and alone, he'd felt so guilty over the relief he felt.
But his relief was short-lived and soon gave way to grief.
He never set eyes on his daughter, and he'd never held her in his arms. Claire had endured her birth and death alone. He'd missed it all—but that didn't stop him from feeling the loss of her.
Mother Hildegarde had buried her in the churchyard behind L'Hopital des Anges and they'd purchased a simple stone for her—Faith Fraser, it read, along with a single date to mark the day of both her birth and death. When the stone was placed, they'd visited their daughter and he'd brought her the Saint Andrew the Apostle spoon from his mother's set—the patron saint of Scotland to look out for her in a foreign land.
Not long after, he and Claire set sail for Scotland to return home and they clung to one another as they watched France disappear from view—and in a way, it felt like they were losing her all over again.
Time and distance helped to fill the ache, but it never fully went away. On most days, they didn't speak of the daughter they'd lost, keeping her memory tucked away as they attempted to move forward. He felt guilty about that sometimes, and he knew that Claire did, too—and every now and then that overwhelming feeling of loss would creep up on them and catch them off guard, reminding them that no matter what, those painful memories were all they had left of her.
"Today would've been her birthday," Claire murmurs, her voice just above a whisper as though telling a secret, "her first birthday."
"Aye, Sassenach, it would've been."
She pulls back just enough to look at him and opens her palm. "Primrose seeds," she says. "They're calming." He nods, remembering that she makes them into a tea sometimes for Jenny when Maggie gets fussy. "I was thinking we could plant them."
He nods. The flower is native to Scotland, and for as long as he can remember, he's watched them spring up along the riverbed as soon as the weather turned warm. "When I was a wee lad I used to pick them for my mother," he muses. "They always bloom this time of year."
Claire's eyes cast down. "It's too late to plant them. We'll likely miss their bloom this year," she says, her voice soft as she draws in a breath and looks back up at him. "But they're perennials, they'll bloom again next year." A tentative smile pulls on her lips. "In May."
"For her birthday."
Jamie feels his throat tighten as he reaches for Claire's free hand, drawing her back to him. "I think that's a fine idea," he whispers as he leans his forehead against hers, his eyes closing in an attempt to keep his tears at bay. "Something to remember her by."
Claire nods and pulls away, taking him by the hand and leading him to her workstation. Wordlessly, he watches her—watching the way she carefully drops the seeds into a little pouch, slowly tying together the drawstrings before depositing them into her apron and selecting the tools they'll need for planting, her fingers feather light. He's always been struck by the tenderness of her touch—the way she could tend to a wound without inflicting more pain, the way she'd monitor and observe her patients, and even the way she tended to her little garden, fluffing and sprucing the plants, snipping and gathering them, watering them and weeding. It was all done with the utmost care.
When they were in France, she'd confessed her worries about being a good mother. Her eyes were wide and full of worry as she admitted that knowing how to care for a child wasn't at all the same as being a mother, she didn't even have an example to follow, her own mother having passed on when she was so young. But he'd never shared that worry and did his best to reassure her—moments like this one proved that he was right.
Claire's fingers curl around his as she leads him into the garden; there's already a little space that she's cleared near the fence. He smiles down at the little stones separating it from the rest and he wonders how early she awoke—it was only now barely past eight.
"Ye should 'av woken me," he murmurs. "I'd have helped."
"I know," she says, not looking at him. "I just… needed some time on my own." Her eyes shift up and his throat tightens at the sight of her tears. "It's a poor substitute—"
"I dinna agree," he tells her, shaking his head and offering her hand a little squeeze. "It's a beautiful tribute to our daughter."
A faint smile tugs up from the corner of her mouth, but she makes no reply. Instead, she crouches down by the flower bed and digs her hands into the soils. For a moment, he just stands there, watching as she pulls the pouch of seeds from her apron, sprinkling a few into the hole. Drawing in a breath, he kneels beside her, reaching out and covering it up—and again, she smiles, but this time there's something other than sadness in it.
Together, they plant the rest of the seeds, filling up the little bed and watering it—and then, when the work is done, he feels a rush of emotion. His daughter will never bloom, but the flowers will in her honor.
Claire's arm slides across his shoulders and her head falls against his, and for a while, they just sit quietly together, lost in their own thoughts.
"What do you think she'd have been like?"
Jamie considers it for a moment. "Ah, she'd have been a clever wee thing," he muses, a soft laugh rising into his voice. "I always picture her with yer eyes—blue like the sea—"
"And your red hair."
Turning, he presses a kiss to her hair, once more breathing her in. For as much as the loss of their daughter still stung, there was something comforting about being together as they were now—finding ways to honor her and let her live on, remembering the hopes and dreams they had for her, and grieving what would never be. There was a part of him that was well aware that time would dull the ache, that eventually there would be a day when he didn't think of what he'd lost; but he was just as aware that there would always be some days, like this one, that were harder than the rest, and he found himself glad that on those days he and Claire could turn to one another for comfort.
Two years and a lifetime ago, Claire thinks, as she stares at her reflection in the mirror, ignoring the stacks of unpacked boxes around her.
In a way, today had snuck up on her.
For the most part, she's done everything she could to keep her former life tucked away. She didn't talk about it and she didn't think about it; it was the promise she made to Frank.
But it was an impossible promise to keep.
There were a thousand little things that reminded her of the life she left behind. Sometimes it was a voice, other times a scent or a modern convenience she'd sorely missed; but more times than not, it was nothing at all. She didn't need a reason to think of Jamie or their life together, they just came to her despite her best efforts—and whenever they came, they consumed her.
Of course she'd been aware that this day would come—it was marked on the calendar, after all—and yet, she was unprepared for the rush of emotion she felt as soon as her eyes had opened.
She'd gone through the day in a fog, lost in her head and doing what she could to pretend that today was somehow unremarkable, that it had as much or as little meaning as any other day—and that was a feat in which she'd failed miserably.
Though it didn't seem to matter. Frank didn't notice.
Of course, it wasn't fair to blame Frank for what he didn't know—for what she'd chosen not to tell him.
To Frank, their life was perfect—they were a young couple with a second chance, embarking on the American Dream. He had a new, prestigious job with a fancy office, a new house in a nice neighborhood, and the child he'd always hoped for on the way. Last night, they'd spent their first night in their new house. To him they were at the start of something new and exciting—and from the outside looking in, it truly did seem perfect. No one saw her inner turmoil and even if she tried to share it, she couldn't imagine that anyone would believe her, much less find her story sympathetic. So, she kept it in and put on a smile, maintaining the carefully constructed facade.
But today, she couldn't manage it. She'd been quiet throughout breakfast, unable to even listen as Frank prattled on about his new colleagues and the summer course he'd picked up—and when he'd finally said her name, presumably after posing a question, she'd only nodded, offering a tight and nearly pained smile before casting her eyes back down to her untouched plate.
And then, for whatever reason, he mentioned France.
She'd looked up suddenly, staring at him as if he'd said something offensive as she thought of the abandoned grave of her daughter—unvisited and all but forgotten. Her throat tightened as she pictured the stone sunken into the earth, the grass grown up around it, and her name faded with time.
"Have I said something wrong?"
Frank blinked at her, truly confused, and when he reached for her hand, she pulled it back. She tried to smile, making an off handed remark about pregnancy hormones—a flimsy excuse that her husband easily bought.
"What was that about France?" she asked, putting on a smile as she swallowed the hard lump in her throat.
Frank brightened, launching into a retelling of the story he'd just told about one of the subjects he'd stumbled upon while looking into something else.
"And you know," he said, pausing to sip his coffee. "If I'm right and this turns into something, maybe next summer the three of us could go."
"Go," she repeated slowly, "Go… to France?"
"Yes, I know you always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, and the archives there would be—"
"No," she says sharply, her tone surprising even her. "I don't want to go to France."
Her eyes pressed closed and she drew in a breath, remembering the cobblestone streets filled with carriages and carts, markets and fine houses, and the long-gone friends and acquaintances she'd had there. She thought of the beautiful house Jamie's cousin had allowed them to stay in and the magnificent gardens and interiors of Versailles—everything dripped with beauty and charm, a thin veil over the misery that marked their time there.
"I don't want to go to France," she says again, opening her eyes and looking at Frank. "You can, if you want, but I won't go."
"No," she says, her voice cutting in and raising over his. "After everything that happened there—"
His brow furrows. "You mean the war? Because all that's cleaned up by now. It's really extraordinary how much—"
"No," she interjects again, her voice falling short as soon she has his attention. "I just… don't want to go anymore."
She looks away. She can't explain it, not now, not today.
"Claire, what aren't you telling me? What's wrong?"
"That's obviously not true."
"Frank, I can't—"
"It's him, isn't it?" Frank says, his tone turning harsher. "You're thinking of him."
She looks back, her jaw tightening and her gaze hardening. It's not lost on her that this has all been difficult for Frank—from her disappearance to truly losing her to another man to her sudden reappearance and the true, but far-fetched story she told to explain it all—none of it was easy.
Yet he'd taken it all in stride, believing her and loving her enough to set it aside. She had no right to resent him or to keep him at an arm's length, but she did—she couldn't help it.
Her feelings for Jamie hadn't subsided—it'd only been a month, after all—but Frank seemed to think that they should. She couldn't mention him nor could she grieve the loss of him. Jamie Fraser and the life she lived with him was supposed to be behind her, not to be mentioned, only forgotten. And it wasn't unreasonable that he'd expect it of her, after all, it was a condition that she agreed to.
She told herself that it'd get easier to manage with time—that she could find ways to privately honor and remember him, all the while moving on and building a new life with Frank.
But on days like today, she couldn't see how any of that was possible. She'd been a fool for thinking she could.
It occurred to her to just tell him, blurt everything out—from her joy at discovering her pregnancy to the absolute devastating grief she'd felt when the daughter she'd carried had been stillborn. She thought of telling him how she'd cried for her baby, how she'd held her and rocked her, how she'd memorized every detail of her. She considered telling him about how she'd been named and where she was buried, how her heart still ached for the tiny girl she and Jamie had to leave behind, and how, though she'd barely been able to admit it to herself, she feared the child she now carried would meet the same fate as her first.
She wasn't sure how Frank would react—with anger the way he did whenever Jamie crept into their conversations or perhaps with the empathy she knew that he was capable of—but she was equally unsure of how she would react. Even if Frank could offer her a degree of comfort, it wasn't his comfort that she wanted. So, instead of letting him in, she pushed him away.
"I'm going for a walk."
"I just… need some air."
Frank called after her again and again, but it was no use. She barely heard him.
She spent the late morning wandering around a nearby park. There was a path that led into a little wooded area, and she found herself walking it again and again, her eyes closed as she imagined herself in another world.
This is what Mrs. Graham had meant when she warned against chasing ghosts, she realized—but despite that realization, she couldn't bear to return to reality.
Instead, she pictured Jamie there with her, their two-year old daughter holding onto their hands as they slowly made their way to the sandbox. She imagined Jamie's arm around her shoulder as she sat on the bench watching as Faith built a castle and laughing along with her as she knocked it down. She imagined Jamie scooping up the little girl and hoisting her up onto his shoulders as they returned to the path, enjoying the warm spring air. She imagined Faith chasing butterflies and tumbling down to the gravel path, and she imagined herself crouching down to kiss her daughter's palms and knees to assure her that she was alright—and when her tears dried, they took her home for cake and presents.
As she'd climbed up the front steps and opened the door, she felt a pang of guilt as she thought of Frank. She needed to apologize, she decided. And as she kept reminding herself, Frank couldn't be blamed for what he didn't know, and he certainly shouldn't be blamed for what she chose to keep hidden.
But instead of finding her husband, she found a note. Frank had gone into his office; his books and other things from Oxford had finally arrived.
Claire spent the rest of the day unpacking, deciding to start with Frank's home office space. She spent the rest of the afternoon lining the bookshelves with Frank's personal collection of books and setting up his desk the way she knew he liked to keep it. When she was done, she went up to their bedroom, opening the boxes at random. By the end of it, her dressing table was arranged and their clothes hung in the closet. Their wedding picture rested atop the dresser and Frank's toiletries found a new home in the medicine cabinet. By early evening, she was exhausted, falling back on the couch and kicking up her feet, deciding that whenever Frank came home they'd order burgers and fries from the diner on the corner—American fare to mark the start of their American lives.
I'm sorry was the first thing they both said as Frank entered the house. He carried with him a small bag and as he sat down beside her, he explained it was a peace offering. She smiled as she accepted it, her chest tightening as she discovered he'd bought her a book of baby names.
"I thought we could start talking about names," he says, his voice cautious. "I've marked a few that I like—some for boys, some for girls—maybe we could go through them or you could mark some."
She'd nodded, remembering her promise to Jamie to name their child after his father. "I will," she said, trying her damndest to stay in the present moment.
Grinning, Frank opened the book. "Girl names are first in this edition," he explained, opening to a tabbed page. "I'm not very picky, but I think I'm partial to more traditional names."
Looking down at the page, she saw that the name Elizabeth—her middle name—was underlined, and she finds herself smiling.
"The ones I truly dislike are the ones with religious sentiments attached—Charity, Hope, Faith—those sort."
Everything about the moment changes. Her jaw and shoulders tensed. She reminded herself he didn't mean it the way it sounded to her—he couldn't have, he had no way of knowing what the name Faith meant to her.
"I'm going to go take a shower," she said, her voice quiet but clipped as she stood, leaving him puzzled.
Now, she sat at her dressing table, tears stinging in her eyes, wanting nothing more than to go back in time and change something—anything that'd have changed her daughter's fate.
Blinking back her tears, she turned off the lamp and got into bed, her hair still wet and her nightgown clinging to her, wanting nothing more than for this day to be behind her, but fully knowing that it never truly would be.
Sitting up, Jamie looks around. It's not yet dawn, but a new day has begun.
The twelfth of May, he thinks to himself, the day he's been dreading sent the onset of spring.
Sometimes, he could put it out of his mind—it wasn't hard to lose track of time, living the way that he was in a little cave tucked away in the woods near Lallybroch. He'd been here for nearly a year, having left Lallybroch as soon as he was well enough. After Culloden, his nearly lifeless body had been brought back to his family home. In his delirium, he imagined it was Claire who nursed him back to health, but in reality, it was his sister. He wondered, sometimes, had he known the truth, if he'd have had the will to survive—often, he doubts it.
The realization that he lived, however, came with a price.
He was supposed to die at Culloden. That was why he sent Claire and their unborn child through the stones—and as he watched her disappear that day and rode off toward the battlefield to meet his own fate, he remembered thinking that this was a fitting end to their story. Claire and the new bairn would be safe and well in the twentieth century, living a life that he could never fully imagine, and he would be reunited with their first born. Someday, he believed, they'd all be together, but until then, both he and Claire would have a small piece of the other.
In his heart, he knew that it wasn't entirely fair to say that he was alone now. He had a family—Jenny and Ian, Ferugs, two nephews and a niece. He had more than many, but he couldn't take comfort in them. Instead, he pushed them away, keeping them at arm's length. In part, it was due to his own pain and grief, but it was also to protect them. Having him around would eventually draw undesired attention from the Redcoats who were still on a warpath to unearth Jacobite sympathizers—what would happen to his family if the British ever discovered them housing him, a man who not only fought in the rebellion, but a man who'd led it?
Still, he managed to keep himself busy most days, hunting and tending to the estate, helping Jenny and Ian manage it however he could. He spent time with Fergus and his nephew and nieces, and he tried to be present for family dinners, holidays, and birthdays—but he never stayed too long as his own comfort wasn't worth the cost they'd pay. Instead, he simply went through all the motions of life without actually living, amazed that somehow his life had been both spared and taken…
Getting up, he goes outside, sitting down on the cool earth and looking up at the trees, listening as they rustle above and staring up at the still-dark morning sky as his breath clouds out in front of him.
Today was not most days.
Today would have been his daughter's second birthday.
Jenny told him the wound would one day heal, that one day, he wouldn't feel the loss so deeply. He'd nodded and thanked her for the advice, and in his heart, he knew that his sister was likely right. As a boy, he didn't think anything could sting as badly as the deaths of his mother and brother; then, came the guilt he felt upon his father's death. In each instance, time had dulled that pain.
This pain, however, was different from the start—and each time he mourned the wee lass he'd never even met, it was unlike the time before. When he and Claire first lost her, they grieved her together. He held onto his wife, taking solace in the fact that he hadn't lost her, too, and the year before, he and Claire spent the morning in her garden, planting primroses in their daughter's memory. Now, he didn't even have Claire.
Swallowing hard, he draws in a breath, slowly and deliberately releasing it before drawing in another.
When they'd held each other and planted those seeds, there'd been a degree of comfort in it. They could not visit Faith's grave, but they'd always have that garden. He remembers the way Claire's head fell to his shoulder, how he'd pulled her close, how they'd cried together, and in that moment, he'd felt so grateful that they still had each other to lean on and to love.
But this year, he didn't have Claire, and the wound suddenly felt new and fresh—this year, he'd have to survive the day without her.
Sometimes, he pictured them both still with him.
Claire visibly pregnant with Faith toddling behind her as she helped Jenny hang the washing or worked in her garden, snipping herbs and bringing them to her workstation in the barn. He imagined Faith sitting on her lap as she told her fairy stories from another time, not realizing that the magical world her mother spoke of would be one that existed two hundred years past the present. He imagined singing songs to her in Gaelic—the same ones his mother had sung to him—and tucking her in to sleep. He'd linger at her bed side, watching as his wee lass slept, wondering if anything ever existed on this earth as perfect as she.
Other times when he went to Lallybroch, he'd catch a glimpse of Robbie and Fergus playing with wee Jamie, Maggie toddling behind them, eager to be a part of their games. He'd often picture Faith alongside her, happily joining hands with the older children as they sang Ring a Ring 'o Roses and when it was time for them to "all fall down," he imagined his wee lass laughing out, her little voice rising over the others as she tumbled to the ground.
In every dream he had of Faith, she was always the same—Claire's blue eye and his red hair. She was curious and brave, but not quite yet steady on her feet and her wild, curly hair going in all directions. At two-years old, he imagines the sort of wonder that would fill those blue eyes, how she'd closely watch the older children, mimicking their actions and happy for their attention, much like his own sister was at that age.
A hard lump settled in his throat as he pictured himself taking Faith by the hand and leading her up the stairs, taking her to see Claire and the new bairn. He'd lift her up and gently and settle her at the side of her mother, smiling as she peaked over the edge of the blanket to see the face of her new brother or sister. He'd sit down, too, his fingers linked through Claire's, beaming with pride as he looked over his family, watching as Claire smiled at their daughter and asked her what she thought her new sibling should be called.
This rising sun snaps him back into the present and he shivers, cold and alone.
Rising to his feet, he starts on the path toward Lallybroch.
Since his return, he'd avoided Claire's workstation. When he told Jenny that Claire was gone and never coming back, she'd done him the favor of cleaning it up. She was careful, though, moving what was useful to the house and boxing up the things she didn't understand, only discarding a few small things. The garden, though, remained. Still, he avoided it; the memories and Claire and Faith cut too deeply.
But when he arrived, just as daylight was breaking, he found that the fence around the back of the barn where the garden had been had fallen, the herbs were smashed into the mud, and no primroses were in bloom.
"The Redcoats came through about two weeks ago." Jamie turns to see Jenny standing on the opposite side of the garden, in the doorway that connects it to the barn. "Those bastards trampled everything."
His eyes are filled with tears and he offers a curt nod. "Aye, I see."
"I saved some of the flowers. I ken how much they meant to ye." He looks up, watching as Jenny offers him a tight smile. "C'mon, brother, I'll show ye where we replanted them."
Nodding, he follows Jenny to their parents gravesites, and together they stand in silence, admiring the way the primroses frame the twin gravestones—and as he stands there, he finds the smallest degree of comfort in the notion that Faith isn't alone, but with her grandparents in a world much better than this one.
It's been a long time since she's thought of the little garden she grew at Lallybroch.
She carefully selected each and every herb she planted there, selecting things that weren't easily accessible in the nearby woods. She and Jenny spent hours picking the seeds from a catalog and filling out the request form, and as she waited for their arrival, she took it upon herself to create a little workstation in the barn. Jamie had promised to build a proper workspace for her at the start of spring, but she hadn't wanted to wait, and though the sentiment was sweet, she didn't want a place that was apart from the rest.
For the first time in her life, she had a family and she wanted to be near them.
So, she decided one cold, wintery day that the barn would be the perfect spot, and once she claimed it, no one told her that she shouldn't have.
Looking out the kitchen window, she looks at the tiny patch of garden in the backyard, just a small bed along the fence behind the playset Brianna no longer plays on. She'd built the bed herself one day while a toddler aged Brianna napped on a blanket in the sun with a big hat practically covering her entire body. That same day, once Bree woke up, they'd gone to buy seeds. She'd picked out some that had medicinal uses, others that could be used in food, and then she let Bree pick out a few that would eventually bloom into colorful, pretty plants. When they got home, they planted them and for the rest of the summer, they lovingly labored over their plants, taking delight as they bloomed and flourished.
The second spring, she'd added another bed on the adjacent to the first, and again, she and Bree picked their seeds—that time primrose was one that she selected.
It'd been a long time since Brianna helped her in the garden, replacing her interest in gardening with whatever Frank was doing at any given moment. They went camping and he taught her to shoot and chop wood, they went on "digs" at the beach, returning with sea glass and shells, and by this point, they'd been to every historical site in Boston at least once. Of course, that made sense. Someone had to entertain Bree while she studied, and despite how it might sometimes seem to him, she wasn't jealous of the bond Frank and Bree had; on the contrary, she was glad that Frank loved her daughter as his own and had become the father he always promised he would be—but it didn't help her to feel any less lonely, even in their company.
Especially on days like this one.
Over the years, May twelfth had gotten easier; but no matter what, she always found herself full of sadness and nostalgia, yearning for what had never been. This year would have marked her tenth birthday—a milestone she and Frank were already planning to celebrate with a big party for Bree.
Looking out into the backyard, she envisions herself preparing for a party, fanning out plastic tablecloths over two picnic tables—one for Faith and her friends, the other for the presents that they'd bring. There's a birthday banner hanging on the back fence, a few lawn games set up just waiting to be played, and balloons are everywhere.
When she's done, she imagines her daughters—both of them, together—assessing her handiwork and nearly squirming with excitement over what promises to be a happy and fun day for everyone.
She imagines Jamie there, too.
She knows that he could never have come with her; he never heard the stones like she did and never felt their pull. She wonders if Faith had lived if she would have heard them—if she hadn't, there was no way she'd ever have returned to her own time. She'd have stayed and grieved for the husband she'd lost in battle, taking comfort in the likeness of him she saw in their children, glad to have two tiny pieces of him.
Brianna was so like him—in her looks and temperament—and whenever she imagined Faith, she imagined a girl who would've been much like Bree. She imagines her daughters growing up at Lallybroch alongside Jenny and Ian's children with Fergus as their protector.
When they lived in France, Jamie had taught Fergus how to ride, and by the time they made it back to Scotland, it was as if the boy had been riding his whole life. She thinks of him reaching her girls, just as Jamie taught him—Faith being slightly older would have had an edge over her little sister and that was certainly something Bree would've never stood for. She smiles wistfully to herself, thinking of how such a thing would've made her miss Jamie—thinking of how proud he'd be to see his girls riding and caring for their horses, how they'd stand together in a loose embrace, watching as their daughters raced, the younger trying to best the older.
And, if for some reason, Faith had been able to hear the stones calling to her, she wonders how Frank would've felt about her presence in their lives. Would he have been so eager to take her back? Surely, he couldn't have placed the same conditions on a child that he'd placed upon her—and though she'd have been too little to remember Jamie in the long term, she'd surely have missed her father from the start and she doubts she'd have been able to agree to put his memory to rest.
That didn't matter though.
None of the what-ifs did—though some of them made her smile.
Once more, she looks to the backyard, picturing Faith and Bree again—this time, they were spread out on a blanket near the garden, giggling together as they told each other secrets.
Taking a breath, Claire looks away from the window and around the kitchen.
Everything around her was quiet and still—such a contrast from her daydreams.
And in a way, she's glad.
Frank and Bree had long planned a trip to one of the local museums to see a new exhibit on Paul Revere's famous ride. She remembered seeing the date on the tickets as Frank bragged about using his connections to see it before it actually opened, and she watched as Bree circled the date on the calendar.
May twelfth, she'd circled with a thick red marker.
To her and to Frank, it was an ordinary day bearing no meaning other than that it was a Saturday—and this year, an ideal day for a museum trip. They hadn't asked her to go—weekend or not, she usually worked. She didn't yet have the seniority to request the more desirable shifts and was perpetually on-call; but once Frank and Bree had made their plans, she put in a request for the day off.
Reaching for her gardening gloves and the watering can that awaited her by the back door, she steps out onto the tiny porch, smiling gently as she looks around the yard. A lifetime ago, she and Jamie had planted primroses in her garden at Lallybroch as a tribute to their daughter, flowers that would grow year after year in honor of the daughter who never would—and that tradition was something she quietly continued on her own.
The first time she planted them, she planted them with Bree, carving out a little section in her garden. Now, that tiny section expanded all the way down the fence. Primroses bloomed in pots on the back and front porches, they surrounded the tree outside near the front entrance, and they hung in planters along the fence. All throughout the spring and summer, she'd clip them and place them around the house, and when the flowers fell out of season, she clipped them and hung them to dry in the pantry, making teas and oils and potpourri. And in doing so—in surrounding herself with primrose—she kept Faith with her always.
Neither Frank nor Bree understood why she did it, and she never took the time to explain it. On the day Bree was born, Frank learned about her first pregnancy. But she didn't tell him about it directly; instead, she'd blurted it out when asked a question by a doctor who didn't know the personal details of her medical history. Afterward, Frank didn't ask; she assumed that he didn't want to know—and she feared that if he did, he'd want to stifle Faith's memory just as he'd wanted to do to Jamie's. For a time, that thought had made her bitter; but now, she saw it differently.
Kneeling down, she took a breath, feeling a bit emotional.
The day before she'd gone to the florist and bought a flat of primroses. After Frank and Bree left for their museum trip, she'd gone out to the backyard to retrieve them from the shed and find a place for them—and eventually she settled on a spot just beneath the kitchen window. Years ago, she'd built a bed and rehomed her herbs there and now she'd be moving them to the front clustering them closer together—they were more accessible this way, she'd say, if ever asked—and then in the newly created space, she'd plant her primroses as she did every year on the twelfth of May.
For hours she worked, digging up her herbs and replanting them, then carefully taking the primroses from the flat, and lining them up so they stood against the brick of the house.
"Mama! Mama, look what I got!"
Her breath catches—for a split second she imagined that Faith was calling her instead of Bree—but no sooner than she turns to face her eight-year old daughter, she puts on a warm smile. "What is it?"
"It's a little horse!"
"Paul Revere's horse," Frank explains, coming up behind their daughter and placing his hands on her shoulders. "She found him in the gift shop after… oh… maybe an hour?"
Bree giggles. "When you twist this," she says, showing Claire a little spot on the horse's hip, "he gallops!"
"How fun," Claire says, pulling herself up. "Something tells me that that horse isn't the only thing you got from the gift shop."
This time, it's Frank who laughs, confirming her suspicions, rubbing awkwardly at his neck.
"But this horse is my favorite thing."
"Come on, then," Claire says, hooking her arm around Bree and tightly hugging her into side before letting her go. "Go get the rest of it to show me, and you can tell me all about your day."
Nodding, Bree runs back into the house and Claire shakes her head as she watches through the window, watching as Bree lifts a large paper bag that's stamped with the museum's logo from the couch—a bag that's seemingly too heavy for her to run with.
"You spoil her," she muses.
But Frank doesn't smile as she expects him to. "Did you have the day off?"
"And you just… gardened all day? You just… lost yourself in your own little world."
There's an edge to his voice like he's annoyed with her.
"Well, it's not exactly like I could've tagged along with you and Bree. You only had two tickets."
"It's just… you never take a day off just to spend with Brianna."
Her jaw tenses at the implication and she offers a curt nod. "I don't get many opportunities for days off."
Frank doesn't have time for a response. The back door opens and Bree hauls her new treasures down to the grass where her parents stand—and that's when she notices the new flowers.
"You planted more primroses, Mama!" Bree exclaims, dropping her bag down and continuing on to smell them. "They're pretty."
"And Scottish, if I remember correctly."
She looks at Frank. "Yes. They are."
"I think they smell nice," Bree adds, not picking up on the tension that's settled between her parents.
"Well I'm glad you do because they're my favorite flower," Claire replies, deciding to ignore Frank as she falls to her knees in front of Bree, grabbing her and pulling her into her lap as she tickles her sides—and when Bree laughs out, she closes her eyes, imagining that both her daughters are laughing in her arms.
The little village outside of Helwater's gates is unextraordinary.
There wasn't much to it, and it made the village outside of Castle Leoch look like an epicenter of business. There were a few shops and market stands, a tavern and a blacksmith—but the best thing about the village was it's distance from Helwater. Even on horseback, a trip there and back could easily take a full day—and for this trip, he intended exactly that.
Tomorrow, Geneva Dunsany was set to marry the Earl of Ellesmere and preparations for the event were underway. No one could be spared, everyone was playing their part to ensure the day went off without a hitch. Garlands hung on the staircases and a whole room had been cleared out for the event, the usual furniture replaced with linen covered chairs. The dining room had been cleaned from top to bottom, the good china place settings brought out and already set in place, and even he and the other groomsmen were brought in from the stables to help shine the silver.
Though it wasn't his place to be doing so—he wasn't a footman and rarely even entered the house—he was glad for the extra work, glad for the distraction. Though he wasn't keen on being anywhere near the bride-to-be, he was less keen on being alone with his thoughts as they made poor company on days like this.
It wasn't lost on him that today would've been Faith's tenth birthday, and when he awoke that morning and went to the stables to do his usual morning chores, he couldn't help but imagine himself at Lallybroch with Faith at his side, ready to help him tend to the horses.
He imagined at ten, she'd have been a skilled rider who enjoyed the stables as much as he always had. By this point, he'd have taught her how to properly saddle her horse on her own and brush its hair after a long ride—and unlike the young English lasses who visited Helwater, his daughter would not ride side-saddle.
"Mackenzie—Mackenzie, I'm glad you haven't started on the silver," Lord Dunsany called. "I'm in need of a favor."
Jamie looks up to see the older man coming toward him, a box tucked under his arm. "Aye, I dinna start."
"The heel on my wife's shoe has cracked." Lord Dunsany opened the box. "There, you see, along the edge. It wobbles when she walks on it now."
Jamie nods. "She canna wear another pair?"
Lord Dunsany shook his head and rolled his eyes. "No, she says she can't and these must go to the cobbler in the village and be ready by tomorrow."
Jamie hesitates, but nods nonetheless, accepting the box and tucking it under his own arm.
"I'm sorry to ask this of you, Mackenzie, but—"
Lord Dusany's voice comes to a halt as he looks past Jamie, his expression softening. Instinctively, Jamie turns, stiffening at her sight of Geneva Dunsany, the Lord's eldest daughter and someone he hoped to stay as far away from as possible.
Only a few nights before, he'd been summoned to her room. He hadn't wanted to go—he had no interest in Geneva Dunsany—but he hadn't had much of a choice. For as long as he'd known her, she'd been manipulative, always ensuring that she got her way—and giving her position, she was not used to not getting it. When she propositioned him—come to her bed and lay with her or be found out and be sent back to prison—he tried to refuse her; but in the end, as always, Geneva got what she wanted. In exchange for the promise of keeping the limited freedom he had, he spent the night with her—kissing her and touching her in a way he'd never wanted to—and when it was done, he left with a feeling of dread.
"Mackenzie," she says, her voice piquing with surprise. "How lucky I am to find you here."
"Is that so, my lady?"
"Yes, I was thinking of taking a walk. I'd like you to accompany me."
"Geneva," Lord Dunsany says, taking a step toward her. "I'm sure you have other things—"
"No. I haven't. I've nothing to do until tomorrow, and today I want to enjoy my last day of freedom." Her eyes shift to Jamie, and he shifts uncomfortably. "And I want to go on a walk with Mackenzie."
Jamie feels his entire body stiffen as he looks between father and daughter—not today, he thinks to himself, of all days, not this one—and relief washes over him as Lord Dunsany explains that he's just requested Jamie run a time-sensitive errand for her mother.
Waving the box, he offers a tight smile and a false apology as he steps past them both, not giving Geneva the chance to change her father's mind.
Before long, he's off on the long, familiar trail, surrounded by nothing more than flat countryside—and in spite of that and in spite of what he previously feared, he finds his thoughts are such miserable company.
In many ways, the things that once had been unbearable—memories of Claire and their life together, the various ways their lives together could've gone had circumstances been different, what it would've been like to raise their children together—was more of a tolerable ache and sometimes, oddly enough, even a comfort. His time at Ardsmuir Prison shifted his perspective. Those memories and unreachable dreams rocked him to sleep, allowing him to forget his shackles and chains, forget the gnawing hunger he felt and the sounds of rats and dripping water that somehow elevated as soon as nightfall came.
Now, on his ride into the village, he finds himself slipping into an old, familiar daydream, imagining Claire and their children riding with him. He holds Faith against his chest, letting her hold the reins and drive the horse. At ten, she can ride on her own, but he's not comfortable letting her do that on long journeys nor would it be fair to her sister who isn't yet as confident as her and who would have to ride with their mother anyway. In his daydream, he thinks of himself looking over at Claire, the two of them exchanging content smiles as their daughters chatter on between themselves.
More times than not, he envisioned the second child Claire had given him to be a girl. He pictured her with his red hair and her mother's face—and both girls were thick as thieves, precocious as he and as smart as Claire—and every time he thought of his other daughter, he felt a pang of hurt, wishing he knew her name. The day she left, Claire promised to name the child after his father; but Brian was no name for a wee lass and he couldn't think of a feminine version of it that would suit a bairn. So, instead, he thought of her as Ellen, after her grandmother.
The whole time he rode into the village, he thought of them with him—and when he dropped Lady Dunsany's shoe off at the cobbler, he spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the village and imagining what his family might be doing.
He and Claire would walk together holding hands and the girls would run off ahead of them, looking at the different wares for sale, eventually ending up a little cart where flowers are being sold. Claire would join them and allow them each to buy a few—and when they'd both finally made their selections, she'd string them through their braided hair. All the while he'd stand back and watch, beaming as any proud father would.
The sound of two men shouting outside of the tavern brings him back to the present, his heart still aching at the loss of what he never really had. From the corner of his eye, he watches as a little girl hides behind her father, and he smiles sadly, a wave of irrational jealousy washing over him as the man tucks his young daughter under his arm, pulling her away from the scene.
For a moment, he just stands there, rooted in place as he watches them—watching as the lass looks up at her father, feeling safe and protected by his embrace. Neither of his daughters—assuming that he even had two—would ever look at him that way. His jaw tightens, struck by the sudden burst of reality.
He watches as the man leads his daughter to the flower cart, his throat tightening as he watches them pick out a small bouquet. The woman behind the cart hands the flowers to the girl, and he watches as she leans into them, breathing in their scent before smiling up at her father and taking his hand.
Jamie keeps his eyes on them until they round a corner—and when they do, he finds belated tears welling in his eyes.
He takes a step forward, but finds it difficult, each step just as labored as the first. Finally, though he reaches the cart, offering a weak smile as he surveys the flowers—and when his eyes settle on a bucket of primroses, he feels a sudden surge of emotion, his eyes misting with tears.
Reaching for one, he plucks it up—thinking of Lallybroch, of Claire, and of Faith.
"I don't always have these," the woman tells him. "But I found a wild patch near an old abandoned farm house—and, well, I figured it wouldn't hurt anyone if I took them."
"No, it dinna." Plucking one up, he smells it. "These remind me of my daughter," he hears himself say.
"You've a daughter," the woman says, brightening. "How old?"
"Ten," he replies without thinking. "Today's her birthday."
"Then take it," the woman says, "as a gift for the birthday girl."
Jamie nods—he doesn't have the heart to tell her that he can't do that, that his daughter didn't live to celebrate her tenth birthday, that she hadn't even lived to celebrate her first. So, instead, he thanks her and carries on, eventually finding himself at the tavern with a glass of whiskey in front of him.
Twirling the flower's stem between his fingers, he stares down at it, deciding to let it dry out the way the Claire used to do—that way he could have just the tiniest piece of both of them.
And in spite of himself, he smiles at the thought.
Claire stands on the sidewalk looking into the window of a storefront, watching as two young men hang a banner on a display—big bubble letters are pink and purple spell out Birthday Girl—and though the banner and display are very clearly designed for a small child, she can't help but think of her own birthday girl on what would have been her sixteenth birthday.
"Mama?" Brianna calls from just a few feet away. "Mama, what's wrong? Why'd you stop?"
Putting on a smile, Claire turns to her daughter. "Oh, I just… something caught my eye."
Following her gaze, Bree looks to the window display, her brows arching up. "You are not getting that for my birthday. I'm not five."
"I know. It just… made me a little nostalgic."
For a moment, neither says anything, and through the window, she can see Bree rocking impatiently on her heels. Today was one of the rare days that it was just the two of them. Frank was at a conference in New York and Brianna needed a dress for her Eighth Grade Farewell Dance—an event she'd tried not to mention simply so she didn't have to explain that a boy had asked her to go with him. But somehow, Claire had managed to coax it out of her over breakfast that morning, and suddenly, they found themselves downtown in search of the perfect dress.
And what a search it was.
They'd been to two stores and determined one thing: their opinions of what a "perfect" dress for a fourteen year old girl looked like were vastly different.
Finally, they reach the next store—a department store instead of a boutique that promises more selection and the hope of common ground. As she and Brianna make their way to the girls section, Brianna stops at a dress, smiling as she pulls it off the rack, holding it up against herself, and before she can say anything, Claire's eyes widen.
"That's a shirt, Bree."
Bree sighs, her eyes rolling as she hangs the dress back on the rack. "It's a dress and you know it."
"You're fourteen and going to a school dance, not twenty-four and going to a nightclub." She smiles as Bree's arms fold. She won't admit that she actually likes the dress—plum was always a great color on Bree and gold details made her eyes sparkle—and if Bree were a shorter girl, she wouldn't hesitate. But Brianna was tall for her age and she could see the dress would rest mid-thigh and that was while she was standing still. "Come on. I'm sure we'll find something you like and something that's appropriate in the girls section."
"This isn't the eighteenth century, Mama. We're not going to find anything that covers me head to toe."
Claire blinks—if this were the eighteenth century no matter what dress Bree chose, her chest would be popping out of it. But she doesn't tell her that. Instead, she slides her arms around her daughter's shoulders, turning her toward the girls section.
Twenty minutes later, Bree and an armful of dresses head into the fitting room while Claire hovers nearby, scanning the racks of costume jewelry, looking for something Bree might like.
"What about this one?"
Claire's head turns, but instead of seeing her daughter emerging, she sees another girl her age. She does a little twirl and the lime green skirt fans out around her legs. Another girl, a spitting image of her only slightly older sister, rises from one of the cushy chairs outside of the fitting room, giggling as she approaches.
"I like it! That's such a good color on you."
"Yeah, spin again." The older girl stands back, crossing her arms as she assesses the dress again, this time narrowing her eyes a bit more critically. "You should borrow my white belt to wear with it. That'll really dress it up, I think."
The younger girl stops, her brows arching in surprise. "Can I borrow your white kitten heels, then, too?"
"I guess so," the older girl replies, grinning. "It is your first dance after all."
Claire smiles as she watches the exchange, watching as the younger girl's eyes light up at the approval of her older sister. It's obvious that they're close—and as she watches them, she can't help but think of her own daughters, and how they might've been together.
There have been so many times over the years when she's thought of them together, thought of how Bree's life would be different had she grown up with the older sister she was meant to have.
Since the time she could walk, Bree had been in constant search of a playmate. Of course, she and Frank were happy to oblige—they'd both attended their fair share of tea parties, both wearing feather boas and tiaras—but they could never quite participate in the same way that another child would have been able to.
The way another child should have been able to.
She imagines her two girls playing dress up—wearing her heels and some of her costume jewelry—with matching little hair cuts. She pictures them laughing and posing together for silly Polaroid pictures.
When Bree entered middle school, Faith would've been a veteran eighth grader, ready to show her the ropes. Instead of taking Frank with her to teach her how to open her locker and help her decorate it, she'd have had a sister to help with that. She imagines them staying up all night on the last day of summer, painting their nails and planning outfits, and giggling about boys.
And now, she imagines a sixteen-year old Faith helping her little sister find the perfect dress for her very first dance—an absolute trade up from a mother who thought every dress was either too short, too tight or too grown up.
"Mama," Bree calls, "Before I come out, I just want you to know that I really, really like this dress."
She swallows hard, suddenly aware of the tears brimming in her eyes. Quickly, she blinks them back, her gaze momentarily following the pair of sisters to the jewelry rack, to pick out a string of beads to match the dress—and for an all too brief moment, she imagines her own daughters in their place.
"Let's see it then," she says, looking toward the fitting rooms and holding her breath—and when Bree emerges, her initial thought is that once more, the dress is too short, sitting at the midway point of her thigh.
But Bree is beaming as she stands there in the emerald green dress—and really she does look beautiful in it, beautiful and so grown up. With one quick glance at the pair of sisters trying on long strings of beads, she draws in a breath. "I think it's perfect."
"Really? Do you, Mama?"
Claire nods. "I do."
"So I can get it?"
Again, Claire nods, imagining Faith standing beside her whispering that Bree has to have the dress. "Yes."
But instead of smiling, Bree's brow furrows. "Mama, are you okay?"
Mustering a smile, Claire nods. "Of course."
"Are you sure? You don't look it."
"I'm sure," Claire says. "I just—I was thinking—"
"You hate it, don't you?"
Bree shifts uncomfortably. "Then why are you looking at me like that?"
Claire sighs. She couldn't tell her, she couldn't explain why she was suddenly so upset—and if she did, it'd lead them all down a slippery slope.
"You're just… you're growing up too fast," Claire offers, shrugging her shoulders. "It seems like just yesterday you were… dressing up in my clothes and inviting me and your father for tea."
Bree nods and returns to the fitting room, looking unconvinced.
When Bree returns, Claire changes the subject to lunch—offering to take her to her favorite restaurant for a burger, fries and a shake. Bree smiles and nods, but she can tell that Claire is holding back, and for the rest of the afternoon, there's an odd tension between them.
Hours later, Claire sits alone at a table in the hospital cafeteria on the verge of tears, still in her scrubs and lost in her thoughts.
"I thought you had the day off, Lady Jane." She looks up to see Joe Abernathy standing before her, his smile warm and his eyes empathetic. "Rough surgery?"
"No," Claire says, shaking her head. "The patient's fine, already out of recovery and back in his room."
"Then what is it?" Joe asks, pulling out a chair and sitting down across from her, ready and willing to listen.
For so long now, he's been her closest confidant. From sharing notes and studying together in medical school to offering professional advice, Joe has constantly been someone she could turn to. He listened as she lamented about her situation with Frank and his wife regularly sent her dinners on the nights they both found themselves sleeping in an on-call room. He knew her better than anyone—in this century, at least—and she found it easy to open up to him, never revealing too much to give her away, but saying just enough to make herself feel less alone.
"Today is just… always a hard day for me," she says, slowly as if unsure—and then as Joe reaches out to give her hand a little squeeze, she releases a shaky breath and lets her eyes meet his. "About a year and a half before Brianna was born, I… I lost a baby," she says. "She was stillborn…"
Tears spill over her eyes as Joe holds her hand a bit tighter.
"Today would've been her sixteenth birthday…"
Jamie sits on the edge of his cot at the back of his print shop, his shoulders slumped forward and his elbows resting on his knees as he holds the small portrait of Willie in his palm. His fingers trace the edge of the gold frame as he stares down at the likeness of his son, frozen in the image at age six, bitterly wishing he had something similar with the likeness of his daughters.
Usually, he didn't like to dwell on what he didn't have—on all that he'd lost to time and unfortunate circumstances—but on some days that was easier said than done. On others, he found it impossible.
Today was one of those impossible days.
Today, Faith would've been sixteen—and he can't help but think about what she would've grown to be like.
Faith existed to him only in his heart and imagination. He'd never known her, never had the chance to even hold her. What he knew of her was relayed to him through Claire's own limited time with her. And yet, she was every bit as real to him as Willie was, every bit as real as the daughter he had growing up in another time, and he missed her all the same.
At sixteen, he imagines Faith would have grown tall and the wild red curls he imagined her to have as a child would've surely tamed—and he pictures her to be the spitting image of her mother, with just a few of his features thrown into the mix.
It seems so cruel that he'll never know for sure.
Pressing his eyes closed, he closes his fingers around the tiny portrait of his son, holding it in his fist as he wonders for the umpteenth time what happened and how it went so wrong, still, after all these years, unable to see how losing Faith had been a part of some divine, master plan.
He remembers the moment that Claire told him she was pregnant, remembering as if it were just yesterday. Her pregnancy seemed like such a gift—a gift to both of them, after all the heartache they'd endured, a reward for all that they'd overcome. And though the months that followed were difficult, the promise of a baby was like a soothing salve. He so clearly remembers lying in bed with Claire, his ear on her growing belly, rubbing and trying to coax out a kick as he murmured sweet nothings in Gaelic to the child. Each time that it actually worked, he'd look up at Claire, smiling brightly as he felt a surge or pride, feeling like the luckiest man on the earth.
Their time in France was marked with conflict—between them and the larger than life burden they'd placed upon their shoulders in trying to change the course of history—that they barely had time to make plans for the bairn's future. They hardly even spoke of names. But that didn't mean they both didn't dream of a life for their child, and now, looking back, he wonders if he'd simply let the rest go and focused on Claire and the bairn if things would have turned out differently—if the future that he dreamt of for his daughter would have ever become more than just a dream.
At the sound of the bell on the door, Jamie's eyes open and he looks sharply to the door, ready to call out that he's closed for the night—it's been a long day and normally while he encourages orders at any time, all he wants is to be alone. But instead of a stranger with an order, he sees Fergus enter.
Jamie offers him a tight smile as he rises from the bed to return Willie's portrait to the mantle.
"I… remember what today is, Milord," Fergus says, hoisting up a bottle of whiskey as he makes his way to the back of the shop. "And I thought you might be able to use this."
"Aye, thank you." Again, he musters a smile. "She'd have been sixteen today."
"Aye, Milord," Fergus murmurs, shifting a bit uncomfortably. "I… I remember how much I was looking forward to her birth. I didn't have any siblings of my own and—"
"Ye would 'av made a wonderful brother to her," Jamie says, remembering the way he always looked out for Claire, the way he saw himself as her protector. "I ken she'd 'av been a lucky wee lass."
Jamie sits down at the small table by the hearth, reaching for a corkscrew and he motions for Fergus to sit down. "I think of her sometimes," Fergus admits. "I always thought she'd look like Milady—the same eyes and face." Fergus grins a bit tentatively as he accepts a glass of whiskey. "And at sixteen, you'd been beating the lads off with sticks."
Jamie gives him a look—and for the first time all day, he laughs. "Aye."
"I'd have been right there with you, you know."
Sitting down across from Fergus, Jamie sips his own whiskey. "She'd probably 'av had my temper, and would've given us hell for it." He shakes his head and takes another, longer sip. "A temper'd be such a terrible thing for a lass to inherit from 'er da."
"That just means she'd have been able to handle herself," Fergus says, a smug smile curling up onto his lips. "And us when we stepped out of line."
Jamie nods. "Like 'er mother."
"I miss her—Milady, I mean," Fergus says, his smile fading. "After Culloden, I always thought she'd be back."
Jamie's eyes fall. He never told Fergus the truth about Claire, though it was evident how much losing her had hurt him. Claire was the closest thing to a mother Fergus had and he hated that he was the reason they were torn apart—that he couldn't send Fergus through the stones with her.
"It's so unfair," Ferugs adds. "To have lost them both."
Jamie's eyes cast down and he nods. "Aye," he says, his voice barely audible. "But then, I ken life rarely is."
Taking a breath, Fergus nods and takes a quick sip of his whiskey. "At least they're together."
Looking up, Jamie manages a nod, but is at a loss for words—and for a moment, a heavy silence falls between them, everything they're both not saying looming between them and turning the moment uncomfortable.
And then, Fergus breaks the silence.
"Do you ever regret your time in France, Milord?"
At that, Jamie looks up, remembering the day at Faith's grave when Claire asked him to take her home to Scotland, to put France and the heartache it wrought behind them. "No," he murmurs. "I dinna regret it."
"But had you and Milady not come to France, perhaps the bairn would've lived."
Jamie just stares at him for a moment—that's a possibility he's considered more times than he can count in an effort to pinpoint what exactly had happened, what'd gone wrong during Claire's pregnancy to shift their daughter's fate. "Ye canna know that," he says finally.
"Perhaps not, but—"
"No," Jamie cuts in, shaking his head. "Before Faith, Claire dinna think she'd ever bear a bairn of 'er own. She dinna think it was possible and no matter how much we prayed for it, it dinna happen."
"Aye," Jamie says. "And you."
For a moment, Fergus just stares, and then a slow smile pulls up from the corners of his mouth. "Moi."
"Ye ken I love you as a son and Claire felt the same way about ye. No matter what happened in France, we dinna regret it because France gave ye to us."
He smiles as a memory flickers, remembering one night that he came in late to find Fergus and Claire curled up together on a chaise by the fire. Fergus' hand had been on her belly as though he'd been rubbing it and when Claire's eyes fluttered open, she groggily told him she was glad the new bairn would be surrounded by so much love. At that, her eyes fell to Fergus—she clearly meant the love of a brother.
They were supposed to be a family—he and Claire with Faith and Fergus, and of course, the bairn Claire had been carrying when she returned to her own time.
"But I do sometimes think of what might've happened had we managed to change things."
Fergus' brow furrows. He doesn't know the depths he and Claire went to to prevent Culloden, how they'd tried to change the course of history to give them all a real chance at a happy life. He hadn't dared speak of what might happen if they were successful, but he often thought of it—he and Claire and their children living happily and peacefully at Lallybroch. He imagines walking up to the house from the barn, watching as Claire rocked the new bairn in her arms and Fergus lifted a laughing Faith onto his shoulders. He imagines them all by the fire on cold winter nights—with Jenny, Ian, and their children there too—telling stories. He smiles at the thought of Faith in Fergus' lap, bright eyed and curious as she listens. And he thinks of how proud he'd been of them all—proud of the family he and Claire cobbled together against the odds.
And then, Jamie feels a rush of sadness as he draws another sip of whiskey—the odds were always against them and their dreams were never meant to be.
Claire's eyes flutter open and a groggy smile edges onto her lips.
In the months since she returned to his time, in the months since they'd returned to Lallybroch, their lives had been far from perfect. Her return wasn't at all what she expected, and there were days she wondered if it was all a mistake, that perhaps fate meant for them to stay apart and was trying to send her some sort of signal.
But then, there were always moments that told her she'd made the right choice.
Sometimes it was the way that he looked at her, grinning from across a room when he didn't think anyone was paying attention. Sometimes it was in the way he touched her, his hand brushing lightly against the small of her back as she passed through a doorway or how he'd reach for her at night, pulling her close to him before drifting off to sleep. And other times, it was merely a feeling—the feeling that she was home.
After twenty years apart, there'd been so much uncertainty. They weren't the same people they were when they separated and they'd lived a lifetime apart. And yet even after all those years apart, he was still so familiar to her and his presence brought to her a comfort she'd been lacking for so long.
As they settled back into a life together, as different as things were, she found in Jamie the same confidant and partner she'd left behind. Together, they put the pieces back together, and though some of them fit in different ways than they had before, they still fit.
Once more she had her friend and lover and a marriage based on a foundation of love and mutual respect. Once more she had someone at her side to experience life's ups and downs, someone who she could laugh and cry with, someone to spar with, and someone to grow old with.
And today, someone to mourn with.
"Good morning," he murmurs, his voice just more than a whisper. "I dinna mean to wake you."
"You didn't," Claire returns, yawning in spite of her words. "I was just… drifting in and out… not really sleeping."
She doesn't need to tell him she barely slept, that the coming day had her drowning in memories and her heart aching over what should have been.
She doesn't need to tell him because he knows; it's his reality, too.
"Aye, twenty two years later and this day is still hard."
"It's gotten easier," she admits, feeling a pang of guilt at her core. "It's still there, especially on days like today, but it's different now… the pain is different."
She smiles as Jamie's fingers strum up and down her arm. "Time will do that."
"I didn't believe that at first—"
"Nor did I."
"For so long I thought it was my fault—that I'd done something or should've realized something was wrong sooner or…" Her eyes shift up to meet his. "I was afraid you wouldn't be able to forgive me."
"There was nothing to forgive, Sassenach."
She nods, she knows that now, and in a way, she always has, but hearing him confirm it is a comfort.
"I used to think of her—of Faith—all of the time. May twelfth become sort of a personal day of reverence."
"Aye," Jamie murmurs, his fingers still stunning slowly up and down her arm. "'Twas the same for me, ye ken. She was always with me—just as you and Brianna were."
Claire smiles as a wistful little grin pulls onto his face.
"I used to imagine you all here wi' me, what our lives together would 'av been like."
"I used to do the same," she tells him. "I used to… plant primrose everywhere I could, too." She laughs, remembering how Bree used to tease her that one day she'd tear out the grass and replace it with patches of purple primroses. "I had them in planters and under windows, in pots on the porch, and then they were all over the house."
"Did they know?" Jamie asks, tentatively. "Did Frank and Brianna ken what those flowers meant to ye?"
Claire shakes her head. "I just… couldn't explain it." She swallows and draws in a breath, not quite sure of how to put her thoughts into words, how to explain why she never felt she could tell Frank about the daughter she'd lost. "In a way—maybe selfishly—I liked that she was just ours, that her memory was something just between you and me. It was the last little bit of us that I had that was just mine, that was… just ours. I wanted to hold onto it, even if it was painful."
Jamie draws her hand to his lips and presses a soft kiss to her palm. "Sometimes they felt like real memories."
Rolling away from her, he reaches into the drawer of the table beside the bed, pulling out a piece of parchment. "For a long time I kept this in my pocket," he says before turning back to her and unfolding the worn parchment to reveal a dried and pressed purple flower. "I bought it one day on her birthday."
"Primrose," she says, her voice catching at the back of her throat as she smiles and rubs her finger over the tiny flower.
"It made me think of Faith—and you." Jamie clears his throat. It's clear he's making an effort to keep his tears at bay. "I… I dried it out, like you showed me and—"
"Jamie," she whispers as she leans in to rest her forehead against his. "It's alright," she murmurs. "It's…"
Claire's voice trails off as her lips brush over his, soft and light. Her hand slides against his jaw as she breathes him in, her lips lingering over his for just a moment before she closes the gap between them. The kiss is soft and slow, their touches unassuming as they allow themselves to enjoy sweet comfort they've long missed.
Later that morning they find themselves at the workstation that Claire's reclaimed in the barn. At the onset of spring, she and Jamie replanted her garden with her favorite herbs, just as they had twenty-some years before. Together, they painted the fence and tended to the plants, and she taught him more about the medicines she used for common ailments—it'd been a step toward normalcy for them both. And today, they finished the project, tenderly transplanting some of the tiny primroses, moving them from the gravesites back to Claire's garden where they were always meant to be.
Letting out a shaky breath, Claire looks over the garden, smiling at the wispy purple flowers surrounded by fresh earth. She feels Jamie join her, stretching his arm around her shoulders and pulling her close in a soft embrace. He doesn't say anything and neither does she, but the silence between them isn't an uncomfortable one, and unlike that morning twenty-one years before when they'd first planted the primroses, the sentiment isn't mired down by their pain. Now the garden stands as a loving tribute and reverent reminder of their daughter's resiliency—and of theirs.