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Prodigal Son

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May 1779

Jamie glanced out the dingy window of their small rented room in Wilmington. "We should head out soon, Sassenach. We dinna want Ian and Jenny waitin' on us. They willna ken where tae go."

In April, a letter had come from Jenny announcing that she and Ian would be setting sail for the Colonies and expected to arrive in Wilmington the first week of May. Jamie was thrilled with the news and immediately dispatched a letter to both Fergus and Ian, urging them to come to the Ridge, if not to stay, then at least for a visit.

Aileen had been recovering steadily and insisted that Claire and Jamie make the trip to Wilmington to fetch them. Hilde was happy to help with Kellina and care for baby Alexandra.

Claire groaned and rolled over in the bed. "Jamie, we’ve got plenty of time. Come back to bed." She reached her hand out to him in a vain effort to draw him back to her. She loved having her house be the family's home base, but it made time for just the two of them a rare commodity.

They'd arrived in Wilmington two days before and had already taken full advantage of the lack of children and grandchildren running about. The bigger issue was that she was incredibly nervous about seeing Jenny for the first time in thirty years. Though Jenny had written Jamie frequently and offered her congratulations on all of his good fortunes, she had not directly mentioned Claire or asked about her. If Jenny was holding some sort of grudge against her, things could quickly become unpleasant at Fraser’s Ridge.

Jamie did walk back to the bed, but he picked up Claire’s hand and kissed the knuckles. “Ye ken there’s nothing I like better than being in bed wi’ ye, but we canna be late.”

Claire sighed and threw the covers off. She let Jamie pull her upright. "What if she hates me?" she asked.

Jamie's eyes softened. He leaned down and kissed Claire on top of her head. "She doesna hate ye, Sassenach. I'm sure she'll just be happy tae see ye, and if we need to, we'll tell her the truth of it.”

Claire squeezed his hand and nodded. “I love you. I don’t know if I say it enough, or if I could ever say it enough to make up for all the time we lost, but I do love you.”

“I love ye, too, Sassenach. Even if ye dinna say it, ye show me every day.”

“Any chance I could get a day off today?” she teased.

Jamie stood and pulled her off the bed, slapping her on the bottom when she was on her feet. “Not a chance.”

***

Claire clung to Jamie’s arm as they watched the ship come into the harbor. It was a bright, clear spring day, and she had to shield her eyes from the sun with her free hand. The breeze floated in off the water gently, but it insistently pulled tendrils of her hair out of the bun she’d so carefully pulled together. She cringed at the memory of Jenny’s hair — brown like hers, but pin-straight, never a hair out of place.

Jamie watched intently as the passengers disembarked, his eyes roaming over the crowd back and forth until he spotted them. “There they are Claire!” He was shouting with excitement, and Claire felt a pang of guilt about giving him a hard time earlier. After not seeing them together for so long, Claire had forgotten how much love there was between the Murrays and Jamie. She just hoped that love would extend to her as well.

She stood on her tiptoes and looked where Jamie was pointing. Sure enough, a tall man was limping slowly down the dock with a petite woman on his arm. It was hard to tell who was supporting who.

When they finally reached Jamie and Claire, Jenny threw her arms around her brother, squealing with joy as Jamie lifted her up and spun her around. Ian glanced shyly at Claire. “Christ, ye’re a sight for sore eyes,” he said in his painfully soft, earnest way.

Claire became undone at the gentle look in his eyes, and she threw her arms around him. So many years had gone by during which she’d pushed her grief down, unable to feel the sheer gravity of all she had lost on Culloden Moor. Seeing Ian, her confidante, the one she could always trust to commiserate with her when being amongst the Fraser siblings, was just too much. She loved him like a brother and was all at once confronted with the lack of him in her life.

“Dinna cry, lass,” he cooed, rubbing her back as she sobbed into his shoulder. His voice was raspier than the last time she’d heard it, and as her cries subsided, she could hear a rattling through his body with every breath.

“Oh, Ian.” She pulled back a little and put her hands on his cheeks. “Are you not well?”

“Nothing a little fresh air won’t cure,” he tried to assure her. He stepped back and pulled a handkerchief out of his breeches, barking into it in a way that did not leave her feeling very confident in his own assessment.

Jamie walked over then and clapped Ian on the back, leaving Claire and Jenny facing each other with timid smiles on their faces. Jenny looked her up and down leaving Claire feeling naked and exposed. Finally, Jenny put her hands on her hips and declared, “Claire...ye’ve become an auld woman.”

All of the tension fell out of Claire’s shoulders as Jenny laughed at her own joke. “You have too,” she retorted. And then she was in Jenny’s warm embrace, coming apart at the seams again. All of the time she’d spent worrying that Jenny hated her would have been better spent preparing her heart for the reunion.

Eventually, she was rescued by Jamie’s strong arms. He held her firmly around the waist as they walked to fetch Jenny’s large trunk from the cargo. “I told ye, mo nighean donn. Ye had nothing tae worry about.”

“I’m worried about Ian’s health,” she murmured. Jenny and Ian trailed behind them as Claire helped Jamie carry the trunk to the wagon. Jamie, as always, carried most of the weight. “I’d like to do a full examination on him after we get them settled.”

“Aye,” Jamie nodded, looking straight ahead. “I kent his health had been poorly, but Jenny assured us in the letter that he was well enough to travel.”

“I’m sure the travel took a toll, and if he already wasn’t in great health…”

“I ken yer meaning, Sassenach. I’ll have a word wi’ him and make sure he doesna give ye a hard time about being examined.”

“I don’t expect that he will. I’m just worried about what I’m going to discover.”

Jenny and Ian had caught up to them at the wagon. Claire turned around and plastered a smile on her face. “Alright then, shall we head back to our rooms? We can wash up and then all have a meal together.”

Jenny reached out and grabbed Claire’s hand. “It will be a pleasure to share a table wi’ ye again, sister.”

Claire felt herself choking up again and turned quickly back to the wagon. When they were all settled in, Jamie clicked his tongue at the horses, and they were on their way.

***

After they’d all eaten a hot meal, Ian declared he was going up to his rooms to rest. Jamie and Claire exchanged a glance across the table, after which Jamie stood, stretching his legs. “Sister, will ye no’ walk with me so that I can show ye the city?”

Jenny glanced at Ian and then back at Jamie. “I dinna ken, a bráthair. I should probably stay back and make sure Ian gets settled in comfortably.”

“Don’t be silly, Jenny,” Claire interjected. “I can help Ian get settled. You go on with Jamie; you two have so much to catch up on.”

Jenny’s face was unconvinced, but Ian spoke up, settling the matter. “I’d like tae catch up wi’ Claire myself, Jenny. You go on.”

When the two siblings left the inn, Ian turned to Claire. “I kent ye’d want tae poke and prod at me as soon as ye could.”

Claire smiled warmly and put her hand on his arm. “I am worried about you Ian. And as I’ve just gotten you back in my life, I don’t intend to let you slip through my fingers just yet.”

“Ye always were a sweet lass,” Ian said, returning the smile.

Claire helped Ian up the stairs and into his room. He was breathless and wheezing loudly just from the short exertion.

“I’m going to turn around and let you strip down to your sark,” she instructed. “Then you can get in the bed and cover up with a blanket.”

“I always kent ye were a wild woman, Claire” Ian teased as she turned away. “But I didna ever think ye’d take advantage of an auld, sick man.”

Claire’s shoulders shook with laughter. “Oh, I’ve missed you, Ian.”

When he was settled in under the covers, Claire began her examination, starting with listening to his lungs and heart with her crude stethoscope. “How has your energy been, Ian? Have you been tiring easily?”

“Aye, I canna do anything around the farm anymore. Makes a man feel useless.”

Claire pressed into his abdomen with both her hands. “How has your appetite been?”

“No’ so good. I feel nauseous most of the time. Though Jenny keeps telling me I’m getting rounder in the middle.”

Claire smiled at him and then moved to the end of the bed to examine his leg and foot. “Have you been urinating more frequently?” she inquired.

Ian turned red, but he cleared his throat. “Aye, especially at night.”

She covered him again with the blanket and turned to put away her medical instruments carefully, stalling as she mustered the courage to tell Ian what her findings were. It was clear to her that he was suffering from congestive heart failure, known as dropsy in the eighteenth century. In the twentieth century, even with advances in medications and treatments, it was a death sentence.

Finally, she pulled up a chair next to him and took his hand in hers. “I believe that you are suffering from dropsy. It’s a condition of the heart and it explains all of your symptoms, including the swelling in your leg and abdomen.”

“Dropsy, aye? No cure for that then.” He gave Claire a weak smile but his voice was resigned. “I kent it must be, but Jenny insisted. ‘We just have tae get ye tae America tae see Claire,’ she kept saying. I tried tae refuse, told her tae let me die peacefully in my own bed, but ye ken Jenny. The next thing I kent I was being dragged onto a ship headed for Wilmington.”

Claire took his hand in hers and examined the rough calluses of years of hard work. Ian had fought in a war, lost his leg, dealt with countless indignities from the English, kept Lallybroch running all those years. He’d raised six children of his own, buried one. He’d fostered Fergus and Rabbie MacNab and Lord only knew how many others. He was a good man, and he didn’t deserve to die drowning in his own fluids before he had a chance to reap the rewards of his hard life.

“I may be able to help you, Ian. We’ll have to wait until we get back to Fraser’s Ridge. You’ll have to trust me, and I can’t make any promises. But I will do everything I can to help you prolong your life if that’s what you want.”

Ian squeezed her hand as tears dripped down the sides of his face. “Aye, Claire. I do want that. Very much.”

***

The trip back to Fraser’s Ridge took longer than usual, with Ian needing more rest than Claire and Jamie were accustomed to. They took advantage of the time together, though, getting to know each other again. It brought back fond memories of the last time they had all been together, at Lallybroch before Jamie and Claire had set off with the bonny Prince’s army. Jenny, of course, had many questions about Claire’s life in the ensuing thirty years which she did her best to answer as close to the truth as possible. She had been in Boston; she’d married again; her husband had raised Brianna as his own, thinking Jamie dead.

They arrived back to the Ridge only to find the typical, everyday chaos that was the lifeblood of their little clan. Fergus and Marsali had arrived with the hell kittens and their newest child, a bonny lass named Joelle. They’d taken up residence in their old cabin, where John had been staying with Germain, Henri-Christian, and Tadgh. Henri-Christian stayed with his parents. Germain, however, insisted that there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the cabin and insisted on moving into John’s cabin until larger, more permanent accommodations could be made for the ever-growing family. Tadgh joined William and Aileen when they vacated the Big House with Kellina to make room for Jenny and Ian’s arrival.

Jamie and Claire managed to fend off visitors the first night even though Jenny was eager to meet everybody. The trip had been hard on Ian, and Jenny conceded that it was better left for the morning. Besides, her youngest niece was keeping her well enough occupied.

When Jenny had first laid eyes on Alexandra, she’d given Jamie a confused look. “Our daughter,” Jamie told her, scooping her up so that Jenny could be face to face with the little girl. “Alexandra Fraser. We call her Allie. Sometimes I call her Sawny."

Allie smiled her big, drooling, half-toothless grin at Jenny, immediately stealing her Auntie's heart forever. Jenny reached her arms out hopefully. Allie gave Jamie an unsure smile, and he leaned into her ear and whispered something in Gaelic. She giggled and then launched herself forward into Jenny’s arms. “Oh, Jamie, she’s so bonny,” Jenny said. “I’m so happy ye finally get tae raise a bairn with Claire.”

The next morning started the parade of visitors. The Murrays were reunited with Murtagh; they had not seen him since before Culloden either. They met all of Fergus and Marsali’s children for the first time and were introduced to Lord John.

When Brianna burst into the cabin with Lizzie and the twins, Jenny stopped dead in her tracks, gripping the back of a chair for support. “Mary, Michael, and Bride, it’s as if my own mother rose from the dead.” Towering over her Aunt, Brianna embraced Jenny energetically. When they pulled away, Jenny was wiping tears from her eyes. “What are ye all looking at?” She waved her hand at everyone. “Can an auld woman no’ cry a few tears over her brother’s oldest child wi’out the lot of ye gapin’ at me like ye’re tryin’ tae catch flies.”

Ian was sitting on the sofa nearby, and Bree went to him next, sitting next to him and taking his hands tenderly. “I’ve wished to meet you for so long. My mother has told me so many wonderful things about you.”

Last to arrive were William and Aileen, with Tadgh and Kellina. If Jenny had been shocked by Brianna, she nearly fainted at the sight of William. She looked back and forth between Jamie and him, shaking her head and blinking her eyes in disbelief. Claire grabbed a hold of Jenny’s elbow and leaned over to murmur, “Remarkable, isn’t it?”

“I canna believe I’m no’ looking at the same person." She was breathless but managed to straighten herself up and put her arms out to him. "Come here, mac peathar, if ye can bear tae hug yer Scottish Auntie."

William's face had been reserved, a skill that had been drilled into him his entire life, a way to mask his nerves in uncertain circumstances. He’d had no idea how his Aunt might react to her English nephew, but it was clear that any child of Jamie’s would be well-loved. He softened and bowed to her respectfully before allowing her to embrace him.

“Ye have no idea how often I prayed for Jamie tae have children, a family of his own,” Jenny sniffled into his chest. “And all this time, he had ye and yer sister.”

She pulled away from him and turned to Jamie, swatting him on the chest with the back of her hand. “I’ll never forgive ye for keeping them from me for so long, brother, letting me think that I didna have any nieces or nephews.”

Jamie didn’t bother to argue but instead simply pulled her close to him. “All is well, sister. All is well.”

***

Claire had to practically throw everybody out of the house after they’d eaten lunch. The exhaustion was showing on Jenny’s face, and Ian had fallen asleep sitting up, his head resting on the back of the sofa.

“I’d like to take him into my surgery to start the treatments,” Claire told Jamie in a hushed tone.

The night before, Claire had told Jamie in hushed tones that she wanted to see if she could help Ian the same way she had helped Aileen. Jamie told her he trusted her, but they both agreed that it was better not to give either of them too much information about what was happening.

Claire began brewing a tea that would hopefully put Ian to sleep so that she could do the work without rousing his suspicions or scaring him into an even earlier grave. Jamie helped Ian to the surgery and settled him on the bed. He then offered to take Jenny on a tour of the Ridge, which she reluctantly accepted.

When the house was finally quiet, Claire entered the surgery and locked the door behind her. While Ian drank the tea, she drew the curtains. She leaned on the counter and said a small prayer. “Are you ready?” she asked, turning to face Ian.

He was already asleep. Claire took a deep breath, placed her hands on Ian’s chest, and began to work.

***

Two Weeks Later

When Ian was starting to feel better, he volunteered to tend to the animals while William and Jamie worked on the construction of William’s house. It was easier work— climbing ladders had not been his strong suit in a long time— and he was happy to be outside breathing in the fresh forest air. He took a deep breath, appreciating the way the air filled his lungs, something he would have never thought to do five years ago.

He was just about to get back to mucking out the animals’ stalls when he heard a woman's voice shout from a distance. Without hesitation, he threw on his hat and picked up his rifle before hobbling as quickly as he could in the direction of the shouting.

Brianna and Lizzie were running toward the big house. "What's happening, lasses? Is there danger?"

Brianna gestured for Lizzie to continue to the house while she continued to close in on Ian. "Young Ian," she panted when she met up with him. "Young Ian and Rachel, coming up the trail.

He handed his rifle to Brianna without a word and took off in the direction she'd come from. Jenny made a beeline out of the house, ignoring him and heading straight down the trail in front of him.

By the time he reached them, Jenny already had Young Ian wrapped in her arms. "What have ye done tae yerself, running around looking like a savage?" she sobbed into his shoulder.

The woman, Rachel, was smiling at them from her horse. She was a handsome lass, dressed in plain clothes and riding her horse astride, the position making obvious her round belly. Ian Mor reached up a hand. "Can I help ye down, lass?"

"Thank thee kindly," she replied, smiling warmly and taking his hand.

He helped her down from the horse. "Ian Murray. Ian Mor, that is," he introduced himself with a small bow.

She beamed at him. "Rachel Murray. And I'm so pleased to meet thee."

"As am I, lass," Ian Mor replied. Then, unable to stand for formalities any longer, he embraced her. "Welcome to the family."

Jenny finally tore herself away from Young Ian so that Ian Mor could take his turn embracing his son. "Da, ye seem in good health," Young Ian said, with surprise in his voice.

"Yer Auntie Claire," he answered, not needing to offer any further explanation.

"Alright all of ye," Jenny finally declared, wiping her eyes. "Let's head up to the house. It's near on lunchtime."

Young Ian sighed contentedly. "Aye, let's go." He took Rachel by the hand. "Doesn't it feel wonderful to finally be home?"

Mid-June 1779

On a clear, sunny day in June, William set down his tools just before the sun was directly above him in the sky. He and Jamie had been working every day from dawn until dusk on the new house for his growing family, but on that day, his one-year wedding anniversary, Jamie had insisted he take part of the day to spend time with Aileen.

When he arrived at their cabin, Aileen was ready to go with a packed picnic lunch; the children had already been dispatched to their Aunt Brianna’s house. William took the picnic basket on one arm, Aileen looped her arm through the other, and they headed off toward a small grove at the top of a hill that was a perfect picnic spot.

They ate bread spread with fresh goat cheese and vegetables plucked from Claire’s garden. William produced a small canteen filled with ale, and they shared the crisp, tart drink, letting it go right to their heads under the hot summer sun.

“I love you so much,” William told Aileen, rubbing his fingers along the delicate line of her jaw. She was breathtaking in the afternoon sunlight, her copper hair reflecting the bright rays of light. “When I think that I almost lost you…”

“Shhhh….” she told him, putting her finger to his lips. “Not today. Only happy things today.”

William laid her down in the grass and loosened her stays, pulling her breasts out so that he could caress and suckle them. His hand moved up her leg slowly, lifting her skirts as he went. It had been months since he’d had her like this, with no interruptions, no fear of a child waking up in the middle of their lovemaking. When he slid inside her, they both cried out in a mixture of surprise and relief.

When they were both sated, they laid together in a drowsy afternoon haze. “I thought I couldn’t love you any more than I did on our wedding day,” William murmured, “But that love was nothing compared to what I feel today.”

Eventually, they packed up the picnic and headed back toward their cabin. It wouldn’t be long before they were moved into their new home, a place that truly felt their own.

As their path met with the main trail running through Fraser’s Ridge, Aileen caught a small movement in the corner of her eye. She turned her head and saw a man heading toward them on the trail, the sun shining behind him causing him to appear as only a silhouette. William put his hands on the butts of his pistols and waited for the man to come close enough for them to see.

The man gave no friendly signal as he approached, and finally, William called out, “What business do you have here. Sir?”

“I’ve come to find my sister,” he called back, his voice a thick Scottish brogue.

Aileen gripped William’s hand when she heard the voice. It couldn’t be.

The trail sloped down just enough to reveal him. He was dressed in clothing that William was sure was meant to be appropriate for the time and place, yet somehow reminded him more of the clothing he had worn when he was in the twentieth century. On his head, he wore a tricorn hat, but William could see the copper hair underneath.

William turned to Aileen, who had gone pale as a ghost. “Who is —”

“James!” she cried, running to meet the man.

William followed after her, catching up just as Aileen threw herself into the man’s arms. “James! It’s really you? Oh, James, I thought I’d never see ye again.”

“It is me, sister,” the man replied. “Oh Christ, I hardly recognized ye, ye’ve grown up so.”

Aileen turned to William, tears streaming down her face. “William, it’s my brother James. James, this is my husband, William Fraser.”

“Ye married a Scot then?” James asked, extending a hand to William.

“Well, that’s a rather long story,” William replied, taking the offered hand and shaking it heartily. “Welcome, James. Welcome to Fraser’s Ridge.”