Claire rustled through her wooden jewelry box in search of the matching silver tassel that currently hung from her left lobe. Jamie had carved the intricate piece for her last Yuletide, as he clung to the name even as Bree and Roger managed to convince everyone else that Christmas was much cheerier in tone. And American at that. Jemmy and Mandy said the word with such delight that it swept the Ridge with a vigor that couldn't be stopped even by the stubbornest of Scots. Jamie's Scottish noise at the first call of, "Happy Christmas," forced a giggle that was quite embarrassing for a woman her age, she'd remembered thinking. Claire decided to keep it to herself that it was the more European greeting at least.
A smile graced her lips at the memory as she picked up something she'd put away long ago instead. Swirls of heady emotions wiped away the fondness as the recollection of finding the small, iron ring under her daughter's pillow and the revelations it brought to light, had her stowing away the piece that she'd clung to for over twenty years. How could something so small and unassuming have her swaying on her feet? Claire was grateful for the cool, evening breeze that washed away the heat of midday and settled her mind, bringing her back to the present. It was almost time to light the candles and with the change of seasons, the Big House was cast in shadows by the end of her work day and their dinner was often painted in blazing sunset colours. Jamie often came in from the stable or the fields with a shriek after stubbing his toe or grumbling about how his eyesight was bad enough with the help of the sun. Claire sighed, grateful for the crisp air and the dimming light signaling the end of a day well spent and a night to come surrounded by those she loved.
There was a time when she grieved being parted with this ring in her palm but her eyes slid to the silver woven on her finger now that warmed her finger like Jamie's arms. It had been replaced by something brighter and lighter, her husband assured her when she'd stashed the circle of metal away to be forgotten about until now. But this was her first wedding ring; to Jamie, anyway. A part of a place they'd planned to call home even if fate decided otherwise. It was part of Jamie's home and of his childhood. Not only was the ring a part of Lallybroch, but of the Frasers who lived there. Claire couldn't help but think of the father-in-law she'd never meet, who's sweat, blood and tears molded the stone walls in faraway Scotland or the woman with the flyaway, red hair who was destined to lose two children before she too was taken before her time.
The ring was cool to the touch against her well-worn callouses as she reached over the notch like her husband had done so many times when it was at home on her finger. Claire didn't know she was humming in indecision until a grunt pulled her from her thoughts.
"Have ye no' more patients for the day, Sassenach?"
The corner of her husband's mouth quirked up in the tiniest of smiles as he gazed with amusement and curiosity. He looked as vibrant with energy as he had when she first met him whenever he did that. Definitely not old enough to have so many children and grand children running around vying for his attention at every turn.
"Not quite. Just attempting an afternoon pause like you've been asking me, remember? Stopping for tea, was it? We don't need any more fussing over a single fainting spell." She tried to keep her eyes from rolling in case it stirred his protectiveness into making her quit for the day entirely. Maybe she would forget breakfast or a glass of water in her surgery from time to time but it didn't used to have such a dramatic effect. Aging was the devil itself.
Jamie knew better than push the issue further and pressed his lips together in compliance even as his brows shot through their roof and then some. The man couldn't help himself. He stepped into their bedroom and looked over her shoulder with interest, "Wha' have ye got there?" As soon as he saw it clutched tightly between the tips of her fingers in both hands, he sighed with a mixture of conflicting emotions she understood well. "Ah…"
Claire smiled quickly and without much depth. "I hate to say that I'd almost forgotten about it. I… I'm sorry, Jamie." She didn't know what else to say as her eyes searched his for guidance.
"Dinna fash about it, mo chridhe. Mebbe it's… time tae—" But he didn't go on or couldn't, perhaps, which was strange. Jamie was a man who chose not to speak at all if he didn't know exactly what to say. Instead his large palm warmed a path up her spine in a dizzying comfort. Their eyes met and wordlessly agreed that neither of them quite knew how to address this tiny piece of their past that had once meant so much to them both.
Enough of this. Huffing in a way that made her a Fraser, Claire lifted the ring in her grip and offered it to her husband. "It's part of Lallybroch and belongs with the Frasers. There's nothing more to it. Maybe… Jenny might appreciate it as a token?" It was the first thing to come to mind even if it didn't feel quite right.
Jamie agreed with a shake of his head and surprising disapproval, "No. She kens the story o' Bonnet and saw it on yer finger when we were first marriett. No, there must be somethin' else."
...of course! "Jamie…" Turning to face him with a sparkle in her eye and a relieved smile pulling at her lips, Claire wondered why she hadn't thought of it sooner. "It should go to William." Her husband's face dropped at the announcement probably due to so many years of pain and secrecy behind the simplicity of that name. But he recovered quickly as his mouth opened, considering the thought.
"Aye… if he wanted it. Somethin' of a home he didna ken. May never but… this ." The idea melted sharp cheekbones into a tender smile the longer it stayed with him as he wound his arm around her waist and squeezed. Jamie finally nodded. "Aye."
It looked to Claire like he wanted to say more, letting all his thoughts pass through an epic tale across his face instead of hiding them like he'd always done so well. And she knew there would be more; more questions or doubts but in the end, Jamie only smiled and pressed his firm lips to her cheek before closing the small piece of iron in his long fingers and leaving her to her midday rest.
His steps were heavier than usual, making the muscles in his thighs rumble underneath the skin uncomfortably. It wasn't quite black but the sun had set and it was only a matter of time before their land was coated in dark night. Jamie liked this time, it was still and quieter with the families of tenants safe in their homes and only the sound of insects in the breeze as company. He was almost used to the sense of peace that washed over him even as the snap of a twig under his foot alerted his ears and his eyes followed each unfamiliar shadow. The colours stood out even in the hazy light, rustling in the wind like a rushing burn full of brilliant yellows and reds. If he squinted long enough and breathed in slow, Jamie could be back in Scotland again before warrants and redcoats and pamphlets alike.
Jamie felt it again, the unsteady walk of his long legs holding up wide shoulders as he approached the place John had told him he would find their son. Only the roll of the filly's lip-trill sent a wave of serenity over his figure until he almost felt like himself again. The stables were quaint as William had once told him and Claire had explained later that she wasn't sure if he'd meant that complimentary or not. Even if he hadn't, it seemed to be the place he liked the most on the Ridge since his more regular visits. It sent a burst to his heart like a ray from the sun itself to think he might have had a hand in young Willie's discovery of a great passion. Jamie clicked his tongue and hushed a nearby exuberance from a young mare before falling into the rhythm of fairly nonsensical Gaelic that fell from his lips in a horse's presence.
"Oh," Willie turned to him with a pleasant look that almost smiled. His chestnut curls pulled against the restraint of the ribbon trying to contain them. "I heard you before I saw you. I'll never understand how you do that."
"I dinna ken why. Ye seem to have mastered it yerself." The quirk of his own lips must have matched his son's if he believed those who saw them together.
Willie shrugged and they continued to speak without having to look at each other much. It seemed to be easier that way for now.
"I don't know about that but… I was never a mercenary or an outlaw, for that matter. I'm sure every step was cautious for a time." A wave rolled across his familiar features, like he didn't quite understand the words coming from his own mouth. The elder Fraser couldn't help but sympathize.
"Aye." The pause in the air was heavy but not with discontent like it had been for so long. Just with the unfortunate air of the unknown. Something that would only take time to remedy.
Maybe a token could help. "Willie, I—I'm sorry, William. Ye're a man now an' I should address ye so."
The grin only perked up one side of his mouth but was still brilliant. "Do I have to be? I know I've said differently in the past but I'd rather be Willie if that's the case."
"Aye. If ye've learnt that much then ye must be."
No longer his sweet lad, his little lord, mo mhac or the other array of nicknames he called his son and kept to himself over the years. Years filled with the quiet fantasy of taking Willam home with him that day at Helwater instead of hearing him cry out for Mac as he refused to turn back. It was silly and Jamie knew it wasn't ever meant to be. There was no dream he could conjure up that ever suited the life his son deserved. Not with him. Not without Claire. Instead, Jamie had made sure his son would have a life and family that was worthy of him even if that family turned out only to be one, Lord John Grey. They would never have a life at his home together but William James, the wee papist, could have this .
Jamie gripped the cool iron in his palm and willed the heat from skin and bones of generations of Frasers and Mackenzie's to slowly infuse into the wee thing. If he was going to give a token to the boy then he wanted it to feel hot and heavy in his hand. Near burning his Scottish heritage into his soul, never to forget it no matter what was coming to tear them apart again. Jamie found himself struggling to find the words to express such a thing to his son; a boy he didn't deserve and barely knew. Even as his blood called out to him with every cock of his head, every shrug of his wide shoulders and every glint in those slanted eyes that he saw in the mirror every morning. It was just like John had said all those years ago.
William was leaning against the furthest stall, patting and stroking Jamie's favourite beast before he continued to brush through its mane. The sight of his son in reverence of something that he, himself loved had a persistence welling up in his eyes and Jamie had to look away briefly to will the annoyance away. When he looked back, Willie was staring, curiously, waiting for the elder Fraser to share his reasons for his visit to the stables in the first place. The words clogged his throat before he extended his forearm and opened his palm to reveal the iron ring. William glanced at it, confused but gave his father the time he needed to find the words.
The breath he didn't know he was holding, or for how long, escaped in a rasp before he opened his mouth to speak. "I gave this ring tae Claire on our weddin' day...but she wears somethin' different now, ye ken? A piece from my mother's silver candlesticks tha' makes a bonny sight on her wee finger." A fond smile stretched across his frowning face as the truth tumbled from dry lips. Jamie didn't know what he was explaining or why and let the words come instead of risking them disappearing for good.
"This one… this here ." Nothing else came for a moment as he looked down and considered what he held in his hand. "It was all I had at the time, ken. Which was no' much. Jus' the key tae Lallybroch… where yer Aunt Jenny lived almost all her life. Raised her bairns. Our family home, built by yer grandsire wi' his bare hands. Where my mother died, an' wee Robert… the three of them buriedt there still. An' my brother Willie, too." He chanced a look at the boy who seemed to be listening at least, as those dark, blue eyes darted from Jamie's face and then back to the piece in his hand. He didn't stay silent for long after accepting his son's quiet response.
"...An' Claire wore it every day for 24 years after tha'. It's a part of her too. As much as she's part of me… but it changed somehow." If William wanted to know how then Jamie would tell him but he couldn't help but refuse the thought that Stephen Bonnet had ruined the symbol forever. "She said ye should have it and… I think it's right. If ye might… want such a thing, o'course."
"A token from your home?" The quirk of his dark brow said it was purely inquisitive, Jamie knew in hindsight but it was enough for his insecurity to misinterpret in the moment.
"Aye," he shook his head and closed his palm to will away the impending flush, "A mere thought, I'll tell her—"
"No, I—" The boy's face dropped and his arm extended toward the elder Fraser almost as if he might stop him from walking away. Jamie was grateful that it wasn't just him grappling with the English language as his son stalled. William blew out a harsh breath, stubbornly before he continued. "I only meant I'll have to find a way to wear it. Not on my fourth finger, I think..."
He was focused on the ring, considering it thoughtfully until he gifted his father with a dazzling smile so full of mischief that he sent up a silent prayer to his poor mother who'd been the one on the receiving end of something similar so many times.
William, then pressed his lips together and silently asked for his father's patience with a glance as he dipped long, quick fingers into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out something else he'd thought had been lost to them. Cascading beads that hit the light radiating through the open door of the stables behind him were a vivid sight if only to see them in his son's possession again.
"Ye have it still?" Jamie only remembered it being hurled in his direction not that long ago by the same body standing in front of him now. If it had been forgotten, he'd imagined that to be part of the penance for his crimes and misdeeds.
"Mother Claire," Willie unclasped the rosary and reached out easily to take the iron ring from Jamie's palm. "She said she kept it safe until it came back into my possession."
Jamie hummed in acknowledgment and told himself to thank his wife for her foresight. The unexpected brush of foreign fingertips against his skin shocked the slightest of gasps from his lips as he watched his son examine the modest piece.
"Would it dishonour God to wear it like this? I'm afraid I wouldn't know either way."
He couldn't blame him. John was never one for faith. He already spent enough time running from the law that Jamie expected running from the almighty to be a bit much. And here was Willie, wearing his rosary with no idea how to use it.
"If it does, I wouldna mind. No' this time." It seemed to be the question he wanted answered if not directly asked. Willie strung the ring through the beads until it clinked next to the cross at the apex. A sound of communion, maybe. A silly thought by a silly old man but it was like hot soup for his restless soul. His son only smiled quickly and nodded to him in thanks, perhaps, before tucking the rosary back into the pocket of his waistcoat. There was silence finally but the tranquil kind as their breaths came out in unison for the first time. Jamie turned back to stroke the nose of his horse and Willie matched him there too.
It was the first time he'd had the courage to ask the question on his mind since his son had arrived, "Will ye be takin' yer leave wi' John then? I ken he has business in—"
"Do you want me to go?" The question was so abrupt and the slice of shock was so plain and pained that Jamie's balance was in danger as he turned towards his boy.
"No! I… no. Ye’re welcome here. Always. Ye dinna have tae worry yerself o'er John Grey's plans or naught. Ye could stay if ye thought ye might want that."
"I'd hate to leave Papa on his own. I don't know if I could, even if I wanted to—"
Jamie made a decision when he heard the uncertainty in William's voice. He wasn't the only one who worried about John. "Ye ken I love yer father, even when we're apart for… An' I ken ye've seen how I've treated him so and would doubt it."
Willie only paused with eyes narrowing and tongue racing the edge of his lower lip. Jamie felt like he was looking right through him at one point. There was suspicion there and he deserved every second of it. Willie's hand went to his hip as he looked away and nodded to himself before piercing his father with his matching blue eyes again. "I think a better question is does he know?"
Jamie's smile grew as he nodded, "Aye, I'm headed that way next."