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Haste ye Back

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The highlanders said she had the sight. 

Claire wasn’t sure what better she could call the intense knowing that rose within her at the most random of times. But in this particular moment, clutching Jamie’s sporran with shaking hands alone in the middle of the Laird’s room, she was overcome by the most horrible certainty that he was in danger.

It had been less than a half an hour since she had said goodbye to him, tangling her fingers in his red locks, the light from the window illuminating him in a soft halo. The words “haste ye back, or else”— her words— echoed in her ears, and the feeling of his kiss still tingled on her lips. She let go of the sporran and reached a hand up to touch them, as if to ground herself in that reality and the feel of him.

She had bid him goodbye with all the usual dismay at parting from him, wishing she could be forever in his arms, keeping him safe as much as he kept her safe. Then she had gone to check on Jenny as her husband and the Watch left, and found her sister-in-law comfortably chatting with the midwife. Exhausted, she had gone back to her room. That was when she had discovered Jamie had left his sporran behind.

She cursed to herself as she reached down to grab it, muttering about his carelessness. The moment her fingertips met the smooth material, a wave of sickness crashed over her. It was so powerful that it nearly sent her to her knees. She couldn’t see anything, not like a vision, but she knew with every fiber of her being that a tragedy was coming. Jamie was walking into a trap.

Blood was roaring in her ears and panic seized her. She stayed frozen for a long moment, holding the sporran to her chest as if it was Jamie himself, and then suddenly snapped out of the swirling thoughts that threatened to consume her.

Pull it together, Beauchamp. They can’t be too far ahead of you. You will not let this happen.

But let what happen? She hadn’t the faintest idea of what exactly the trap was or what tragedy was coming— she didn’t even know where it would happen for heaven’s sake— all she knew for sure was that she had to warn her husband.

She sprung into action, and the next few moments went by in a blur. She hurtled to Jenny’s room, burst through the door, and demanded a map of the terrain. Jenny, taking in her wild behavior and frantic eyes, didn’t even stop to question her. She just drew a rough map of the route, explaining to Claire as she drew, and then shoved it into her hands all before the next contraction hit her. Claire gave her hand a reassuring squeeze and promised to bring the men home safely. Jenny gave her a nod, nothing more, and Claire was off.

She was mounting a horse before she knew it, Jamie’s sporran tied around her waist. With a swift kick, the horse tore from the stable yard, and Claire was off.

She rode at first at a breakneck speed, the trees whipping past her as bouts of green. It was all she could do to hold onto the reins. The sense of urgency was mounting, the unease resting in the pit of her stomach like a stone.

But it wasn’t long before she realized that she was in danger of getting hopelessly lost. She slowed the horse reluctantly and grabbed the crude map from her sporran. She looked down at it and gritted her teeth. She’s be damned if the Scottish countryside was what killed her husband.

With relative confidence in her path, and even more confidence in her ability to track a large and careless party like the Watch, she continued on. She rode quickly in hopes of catching them before it was too late.

Her brain recalled the moment of goodbye, playing it over and over again in her head.

“Or else what?” Jamie had said to her, a cheeky smirk forming at the corner of that lovely wide mouth.

“Or else...” she had replied, grabbing handfuls of the soft hair at the nape of his neck, “I will follow you. I will drag you back by your thick, red curls. And you won’t like it one bit.”

“No, Sassenach,” his voice was low, and expression an odd mix of humor and complete graveness, “I’m sure I wouldn’t.”

The irony of that exchange wasn’t lost upon her as she rode after him. She gritted her teeth, damping down the frustration and unease.

It started to rain then, a miserable Scottish drizzle that left her cold and wet within minutes. She tried to look on the bright side. The mud would likely allow her to track the hoof-prints much more easily.

Sure enough, after a little while, Claire came upon the very marked muddy indents of a large party. She couldn’t be that far behind then!

She spurred the horse on and let the wind and rain pelt against her face in a reassuring way that meant progress.

Nevertheless, the minutes ticked on at a torturous pace. The closer she got to catching them (at least she assumed she was catching up), the more the hairs stood up at the back of her neck. She longed to be back home at Lallybroch, standing by the hearth with Jamie’s arms wrapped around her.

She was startled out of her imagination by the awareness of a sound ahead of her. Men’s voices! The wind carried the sound just right so she caught the faintest bit of laughter and what were likely crude jokes.

She slammed her heel into the horse’s side and took off in a wild gallop, a mixture of relief and fear swirling inside her.

“Jamie!” She was yelling at the top of her lungs, “Jamie!”

She caught sight of them just as the party was entering a ravine. There was an old bridge there, covered in moss and nearly overrun by the wilderness, and she saw them cross underneath it and then halt.

It had stopped raining then, and when she shouted, “Jamie!” again, she must have been close enough to be heard, because several heads in the back of the party swiveled to face her.

She reached them in a second, slowing her horse, still shouting for her husband. Cursing under her breath, she pushed her horse through the men at the back of the party without a care for their protests.

“Jamie!” That was all she seemed to be capable of saying. She look around desperately for the broad shoulders and mop of red hair.

“Claire? What the devil are you doing here?” Came his voice.

She reached nearly the front of the party, and her heart sang in relief as she caught sight of him, seated right in front of her on his horse.

“Jamie, thank Christ. Listen to me, it’s a trap-“

CRACK!

***

The sound of a gunshot rang through the air, piercing the stillness of the ravine before she had even gotten the words out.

Every muscle in Jamie’s body tensed on instinct before his brain registered what it was. A shot. 

His next coherent thought was for Claire, and his head whipped over toward her.

She was ducked down, eyes wide in panic and fixed on him. Around them, there were shouts from the men on both sides and the neighs of scared horses. 

Jamie didn’t have time to get to her before the sound of the second shot rang out.

What happened next likely took only a matter of seconds, but to Jamie, the scene was burned into his mind was such acute clarity and detail that it felt like hours.

The bullet caught his wife in the side, tearing through her dress and the soft flesh just below her ribs. Jamie caught the confusion painted on her face in that split second when it hit her.

The impact sent her backward, disappearing off the back of her horse in a blur of skirts.

Jamie was screaming her name, his lungs burning with the force of it, but he couldn’t hear anything above the roar of his ears.

Jamie was off his horse in a second and running madly toward her without any fear for the chaos happening around him. More shots were ringing out now, coming from both sides, and Jamie caught the familiar sight of stark red out of the corner of his eye. He had just enough thought to spare to curse the redcoats before his attention fixed on his wife lying prone on the ground.

A bullet whizzed past his shoulder just as he was dropping to his knees beside her. He threw himself over her, his body forming a shield, and he squeezed his eyes shut and waited for a bullet to hit him. Part of him wished it would, so he could just lay down next to her and they could go on to the next life together.

But no shot came. The action was concentrated well above them. The sounds of fighting and yelling men faded out as Jamie raised up a little on his elbows and took in the state of his wife.

There was a rapidly forming pool of blood blossoming from the wound on her side. The red looked so bright that it seemed unreal, and Jamie was well familiar with blood. Her eyes were open but glassy; he wasn’t sure if she could even see him. Her breathing was rapid and skin already pale.

Fear gripped Jamie’s heart with its icy talons so tightly he couldn’t breathe for a moment. His ears were still roaring, heart thudding in his chest, and all he knew was that he had to get her to safety. He would be damned if she died here— because of him.

Damnit, lass, ye shouldna have been here!

“Claire,” Jamie called her name and reached out a hand to gently shake her shoulder, “Claire!”

His wife’s head jerked suddenly, and her glassy eyes focused on him. “I’m alright,” she said.

But she wasn’t alright.

“I need ye to hold on, alright, mo nighean donn? I’m goin’ t’ get ye out of this place.”

She gave him a nod, which was all the time he had to spare. He murmured an apology under his breath and then took her into his arms, winding an arm under her leg and back and hugged her body against him, praying that he could get her out of this mess.

With his body hunched protectively over the small form in his arms, he stood quickly and, without wasting a single moment, began a mad dash toward the mouth of the ravine.

Gunshots rang out behind them, and Jamie half expected the searing impact of a bullet piercing his flesh. He ran over scattered bodies of watch members and redcoats alike, staying close to the side of the ravine walls.

“Halt!” Came a sudden shout from above, followed by the clearly audible click of a musket cocking.

Jamie skidded to a halt. He had been caught, and he didn’t want to be shot point blank. With a sick feeling in his stomach, he looked up to the redcoat standing above him on the ridge looking down, gun trained to his head.

“Please. She isna a part of this,” the words left Jamie’s mouth before he had even decided to speak them. Claire’s rapidly growing bloodstain was evident to the man, and she was limp in Jamie’s arms except for her hand that was clutched tightly in the material of his shirt. He prayed the sight of his beautiful Sassenach in such a state might be enough to bring the man to pity and save both their lives.

The Redcoat narrowed his eyes, not moving a muscle.

“Please. She’ll die,” Jamie’s voice was low. The words physically pained him to speak, because he wasn’t actually sure whether it was just for convincing the man or whether it was the truth.

Jamie watched the internal conflict play on the soldier’s face. His eyes flicked down to Claire, then back to Jamie.

Finally, after what felt like hours of standing so still he thought he might never move again, the Redcoat lowered his gun. He gave a stiff nod, and then he disappeared into the trees.

Jamie didn’t waste a second. He took off, holding Claire against him chest and running as fast as he could away from that damned place.

She let out little whimpers as he ran, the movement clearly causing her pain. Jamie’s heart broke at the sounds, but there was nothing he could do to make it better— he had to get her to safety.

He cursed himself for not snagging a horse. But in all the chaos, the animals had bolted in all direction, so even if he had thought of it, he likely would not have been able to. Now, he was left with nothing but his wife and his body. But that was enough. If he could escape with her life, that would be enough.

He glanced at down at her. Her eyes were squeezed shut in pain, knuckles white where they gripped his shirt. He noticed with a start that she was shaking against him.

“Sassenach?” He asked delicately, slowing his pace to a walk.

She opened her eyes and weakly lifted her chin to look up at him.

“I’m fine, Jamie,” she insisted. But her voice was soft, completely unconvincing.

He could have cried. His strong, brave Sassenach. He had never met a lass as braw as his wife.

“Aye, ye’ll be just fine, mo ghrádh,” he told her. He instinctively held her closer, trying to convince himself as much as her.

“How...” she started, but trailed off a little, eyelids fluttering. Jamie watched her swallow. “How bad is it?”

“It’s no’ bad, a leannan,” he lied through his teeth, “none so bad.”

Really, it was bad. The bloodstain covered her whole side now. Jamie clenched his teeth. He needed to staunch the bleeding, but they couldn’t afford to stop yet. There could still be Redcoats about. He adjusted her a little in his arms, pressing his hand against her side. The feeling of her blood coating his hand made his breath catch in his throat. Nevertheless, he pressed hard.

Claire gasped, the sound tearing Jamie’s heart in two.

He wanted to be mad at her. Every fiber of his being was cursing her for coming after him. She shouldn’t have been here. If she had just stayed put...

Damn her for never staying put.

But the situation was far too grave to allow time for that train of thought. As much as he wanted to yell and scream and curse her for her foolishness, she needed him now.

She was shaking harder, trembling like a leaf against his chest. He looked down to see her eyelids were fluttering.

“Claire?”

“Jamie,” She breathed his name in response.

“Ye’ll stay wi’ me, aye lass?” his voice trembled a little. 

“Of course,” she replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. But her half closed eyes seemed to stare at nothing, and something about her breathy tone struck him as odd.

Jamie took a look around, but decided he couldn’t risk stopping yet. He needed to put more distance between them and the redcoats. Then he could tend to Claire.

When he looked down at her again, her face had grown impossibly paler, and her eyes had shut, the lashes startlingly dark against the porcelain of her cheeks.

“Claire,” his voice held a note of urgency as icy panic rushed through his veins.

She opened her eyes and looked up at him. The whiskey depths were clouded and distant.

“What’s wrong, Jamie?” She asked, sounding confused.

“You hafta keep your eyes open, lass,” his voice was gentle but firm.

Her eyes fluttered closed and then opened again as she struggled to obey. She was drifting. Jamie knew they feeling well— that tempting pull of darkness, of oblivion. The swirling cloud that made reality drift farther away.

But he wouldn’t let her go.

“Sassenach!” 

“What’s going on?” She asked in a small, breathy voice. Confusion mixed with pain on her glass face.

Ifrinn . Jamie could feel her slipping away from him as tangibly as water from between cupped fingers.

“I dinna ken,” his brain struggled for the word he’d heard her use before. “I think ye’re in shock, mo ghrádh, ye need to stay awake. Talk to me?”

He wasn’t sure that she heard him. Her eyes fell shut.

He wouldn’t, couldn’t let her slip away.

“Sassenach, eyes open,” he ordered, putting on his most authoritative voice. She hated to be ordered around. Usually such a thing would make her do the exact opposite out of sheer stubbornness. Perhaps he should have ordered her to close her eyes instead.

Even so, she complied, looking up at him but clearly unseeing. Her head was rested again his chest, and body boneless except for the shaking that racked her. Jamie was nearly trembling along with her as the fear rose in his chest.

He had to keep her awake. He didn’t really know exactly what was happening to her, but every part of him screamed in urgency.

“Do ye remember when we first met?” He asked her.

She took a moment to answer— every second of silence making the lump in Jamie’s throat grow. Finally, she murmured, “you dislocated your shoulder.”

Jamie nearly laughed out loud. It was so like her to say that first. He recalled her fierceness in treating him that night, prim English accent chiding the men for his foolishness, and he prayed for that kind of strength for her now. 

“Aye, that’s right. Tell me the story, Sassenach,” he promoted with a tone of gentleness that surprised even him.

A shiver went down the length of her body. “It was... cold. Raining. You-- put your plaid around me,” her voice came out whispy and hoarse, but she was awake, thank Christ.

Jamie felt the slightest bit of warmth in his chest at the memory of that night. She had been shaking so hard, like she was shaking in that moment, only under such different circumstances. The press of her body against him had been intoxicating, exhilarating with the wanting her. But now, she was bleeding out underneath his finger tips.

He forced his lips to move in reply, trying to sound nonchalant despite the cold fear coursing through his veins. “Aye, I did. But ye fought me on it. What else?”

She didn’t respond. She seemed to struggle through the fog of her mind for a moment, fighting unconsciousness desperately as it dragged her down.

“Sassenach. Please, answer me lass,” his voice broke as he pleaded with her.

But her eyes remained closed, her face impossibly still. 

No, no, no.

“Claire. Stay wi’ me,” he called to her with everything inside him, praying wordlessly to God to not take her from him.

He stopped dead in his tracks, dropped to his knees, and laid her on the ground. He tore of his coat with a ferocity only a man staring into the depths of his worst nightmare could. He draped it over her and then placed his hands on her cheeks.

“Sassenach! Dinna leave me,” he cried. He was barely aware of the hot tears running down his cheeks.

He shook her, desperation clouding his mind. This couldn’t be happening. If she lost consciousness now, Jamie didn’t think she’d ever wake up again. And he wouldn’t— couldn’t — face a life without her.

“God,” he looked up to the sky, “dinna take her from me.” His heart cried out to his creator, asking the only thing of which he was capable.

He looked back down at his beloved. “Please,” he whispered, “Sassenach, dinna give up on me now.”

His hand was still pressed to her side, holding on to her as if he could hold her together with simply his touch.

She was incredibly still, breathing shallow and uneven.

As he stared down at his wife, Jamie was overcome by complete and utter helplessness. He leaned down and pressed his face against her shoulder, praying with everything inside him and whispering her name over and over.

“Please. Ye canna leave me now,” he choked out.

His heart nearly stopped when he felt the tentative touch of small fingers curling in his hair. He jerked up to find beautiful whisky eyes open and meeting his.

“Who said I was going anywhere?” She breathed, with the faintest hint of a smile.

“Oh thank Christ,” the words tumbled from Jamie like water over stones in a brook, “Ifrinn, lass, I thought I’d lost ye.”

Her hand moved downward to smooth over his cheek before it fell to rest on her stomach. “You... can’t get rid of me that easily.”

He smiled through the tears that poured down his cheeks, hand coming up to stroke her face tenderly. “Dinna fash, Sassenach. Everything will be jus’ fine.”

She gave him a weak smile, eyes closing a bit before opening again. “I’m not the one ‘fashing’, you were doing enough for the both of us.”

Jamie’s heart sang in relief at her lighthearted tone, even if it did come out feeble. 

But they weren’t out of the woods yet. Claire’s wound was still dripping blood, forming a puddle where she lay, and her breathing was much too shallow.

He reached down to take her hand in his and brought it up to press his lips against the soft skin for a long moment, ignoring the blood that coated their fingers. With his other hand, he smoothed her hair away from her face.

“I hafta slow the bleedin’ now. Can ye stand it, mo ghrádh?” He asked.

“I’ll do,” she said with only the slightest tremble in her voice.

Jamie reached down and lifted his coat off her side, cringing at the sight of fresh blood pouring from the jagged wound. The bullet had gone clean through- thank Christ— and had hit her on the very further part of her side. Slightly to the right and it would have missed her.

Remembering the numerous times he had watched Claire tend to the men, Jamie reached for the whiskey hanging from his belt. He opened it slowly, and with a cringe of sympathy, poured a generous amount on her wound.

The cry that was torn from her lungs would haunt him forever. She shook with the pain, teeth gritted and panting even minutes after he had stopped.

“I’m sorry, mo nighean donn,” he breathed, feeling her pain as if it was his own, turning his muscles into mush. How the hell did Claire do this? 

Without waiting another moment, Jamie reached down and tore the edge of his shirt off into a crude bandage. One must work with what he has. He pressed a patch of it against her side, and then wrapped a longer strip all the way around her midsection. He tied it as tightly as he could, trying to steel himself against Claire’s barely stifled cries of pain.

“There. That wasna so bad, aye? Ye get to feel a bit of what ye’re always doin’ to me,” he tried to joke.

She gave him a tired smile. “You make a good nurse, Jamie.”

Instinctively, he leaned down and pressed his lips to her forehead. He found it cold and clammy, but hoped the gesture was reassuring. “No, my Sassenach, I think I make a verra poor healer. I’ll leave that to you, aye?”

His hands still hadn’t stopped shaking. 

When he pulled back, her eyes met his, and he could read the fear in those golden depths. It broke his heart to see her like this, his strong lass, so vulnerable. She looked at him like he was the only thing in the world. He vowed to himself that he would spend his every breath trying to do all he could for her.

She blinked up at him and took a shuddering breath.

“What the hell are we going to do now, Jamie?” She asked. He could tell she was trying to be nonchalant but failing.

He looked around, suddenly confronted by the question. He hadn’t even thought that far. The last minutes had been consumed so completely by just trying to keep her from going into shock that he hadn’t even considered anything beyond the immediate crisis. Now, they were alone in the woods, his wife bleeding out with every passing second. He had no idea what to do next. 

But he wouldn’t voice any of that.

“Now, a nighean, I’m goin’ to get ye home. Can ye stand for me to move ye again?” He asked softly.

At the question, fear and pain flared in her eyes. She squeezed them shut for a second, as if she couldn’t bare to face it.

Finally, after a moment of listening to the gentle rustle of wind in the leaves, she spoke. Her voice was choked with stifled pain. “Will you... would you hold me for a second first. Just a second?”

Jamie nearly wept at her plea, the lump in his throat stifling the airflow to his lungs.

“Of course, mo ghrádh. Anythin’ ye ask, it’s yours.”

He gathered her into his arms as if she was the most precious thing in the world— which she was. His Sassenach meant more to him than life, more to him than anything. And as he lifted her upper body to hold her in his arms, the little cry of pain— that he caused— nearly broke him all over again.

“Hush, it’s alright, lass,” he whispered, pressing a kiss to the top of her head, her beautiful brown curls somehow still soft against his lips.

He brushed the loose hair back from her face and then cupped her cheek. It was so small in his hand, so soft. He could scarcely imagine how an angel like this could be marred by such violence.

Both of her arms were tucked to her chest, pressed between their bodies. Jamie wished they weren’t there so he could feel her heartbeat against his chest. But she seemed comfortable, just resting against the solid weight of his body.

God she was tiny. She somehow seemed smaller now than she ever had. Jamie was a big man— his hands could wrap around her entire waist. But usually when he held her, she had such vivacity, such a presence that made her feel bigger somehow. Now, in her vulnerability, body melted against him, completely reliant on his strength, she seemed so much smaller.

Jamie realized suddenly that he was speaking to her. A stream of soft Gaelic reassurances was falling from his lips.

You’ll be just fine. I’m here with you, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll see you safe, no matter what. I love you.

It seemed to comfort her. She likely didn’t have a clue what he was saying (Claire’s grasp of Gaelic was novice on a good day, let alone when she was fighting for her life), but her breathing had evened and deepened a little, and Jamie thought he caught the barest hint of a smile on the edge of her lips.

Even so, he decided to switch to English. He needed to make sure she knew .

But before he got the chance, Claire was speaking.

“I love you, Jamie,” her voice was soft but very clear, “I... I don’t say it enough. But I do. You... know that, right?”

Her heavy-lidded eyes looked up with him with a raw, earnest look.

“Aye, I do,” Jamie gave her a warm smile, letting his fingers trace over forehead, thumb swiping over her brow fondly. “And ye ken that ye’re my verra heart and soul, mo ghrádh?”

She gave him a half smile as her eyes fell closed. “Sometimes I don’t know what I did to deserve you.” The words came out soft; Jamie wasn’t sure if she actually had intended to say them aloud.

Claire seemed only half conscious now. He could tell she was struggling, battling the pain and fatigue and the urge to give up. His momentary bubble of peace shattered, and the icy fear seeped back into his blood.

“Sassenach, promise me ye’ll no’ leave me. Aye?”

Her eyes opened at this, glassy and baleful. “I’m trying,” she whispered.

She let her head fall back against his shoulder, rubbing her face against him it in the slightest. Jamie’s eyes were drawn down to her side, where blood was already sleeping through the bandages. He knew they needed to move— he needed to get her medical attention— but he didn’t yet have the heart to disturb her.

After a long moment, she spoke again. Her eyes were closed and voice feather light as she whispered, “I’m scared.”

“Ye’ll be jus’ fine, mo chridhe. I’m right here, and I’ll no’ let anythin’ happen to ye. I’m goin’ t’ see ye home safe, mo nighean donn. Do ye hear me?”

“Yes,” she whispered, never opening her eyes, “it’s just that you’ve run the whole gambit of nicknames, and it’s really hard to keep my eyes open, so I know things are bad.”

“Aye, I suppose I have,” he traced a line down her face and then brought his whole hand to cup it again. “Are ye in pain, a nighean?”

Her reply was just a barely audible breath of “yes.” Christ, she must be really bad to say that, his fierce, stubborn Sassenach.

“It breaks my heart to ask this of ye, but we hafta keep movin.’ I need to get ye to a physician, a leannan. We cannae afford to rest here any longer.”

She didn’t respond, but a wince flashed over her pale face, and then it was followed by a small nod. Jamie wavered for a second, doubting whether moving her, subjecting her to more pain, was the best course of action. But they couldn’t stay here. She needed help, and fast.

Reluctantly, he released one of his arms to slide it underneath her legs. He lifted her with the upmost care not to jostle her more than was strictly necessary. As he stood, she clung to him with a surprising force, holding on as if he was her lifeline while adrift at sea. He pulled her ever closer.

Jamie began to walk through the forest with long, purposeful strides. He went as fast as he could manage without running. His world was narrowed down to a point, attention fixed on his wife, so it was a chore to have to remain aware of his surroundings. The woods were quiet except for the rustling of the trees in the wind and soft pitter-patter of a light drizzle. There were no sounds of redcoats nearby, nor any members of the Watch. Just his footsteps. 

The weight of the relative silence was almost defeating— peace mocking the present panic coursing through his veins. The day seemed unnaturally normal, which was an affront to Jamie whose entire world was crumbling with every shallow breath his wife took in his arms.

“Ye’re doin’ great, a leannan,” he told her quietly.

“Jamie,” she called his name with a note of such desperation for him to make everything better, “I don’t think I am.”

“Dinna speak like that, Sassenach,” he chided gently, “ye are doin’ a braw job. Just keep those bonny eyes open and I’ll do the rest, aye?”

“Okay,” she whispered.

Thunder rolled ominously in the distance, a precursor to what could be disaster. Jamie prayed to whatever god was listening that he could get Claire safe before the storm hit.

He quickened his pace, but remained vigilant to the roots and snares in the path.

“Jamie”— God, the way she said his name...- “Jamie, please, distract me.”

Jamie searched his brain for anything to talk to her about. But he came up hopelessly empty, save the one thing that had been nagging at him ever since he heard her shout his name back at the ravine.

“Sassenach,” he started in a hesitant, low voice, “can ye tell me what ye were doin’ there in the first place?”

“I had to come after you,” she whispered, hazy eyes fixed on some random spot in the distance, “I knew.”

“What did you know, Sorcha?” He asked, perplexed.

“I touched your sporran. You left it,” her voice was breathy, and Jamie didn’t feel at all comfortable with how disjointed her answers were.

“Sassenach, I dinna understand. What did you know?”

“Something terrible was going to happen.”

The answer made a shiver of dread run down Jamie’s spine. “Ye kent somethin’ bad was goin’ t’ happen so ye threw yerself in the middle of it? Damn it, lass. Why would ye do such a thing?” The anger boiling up in Jamie came spilling out. He knew it wasn’t really anger, but fear. Nonetheless, he couldn’t seem to stop it.

To you, Jamie. I knew something bad was going to happen to you. I couldn’t just let you die,” her words came out in a gasp, quickly, as if she was desperate for him to know the truth.

But the truth did nothing to help his rapidly forming guilt complex. Emotions were swirling madly inside of Jamie— fear for her life, anger at her for risking it, rage at God for letting this happen, and perhaps above all, hatred at himself for not protecting her. It was his job, his job and no one else’s, to ensure she was safe, and yet he was the reason she had been there. He couldn’t protect his family from the Watch, so he was forced to join them on a mission he knew would end badly one way or another. But he had never imagined this. He blamed himself for his wife getting shot more than he could ever blame her.

And Jamie realized rather suddenly that he hadn’t answered her since he was spiraling down this hole.

Claire had reached up to grab the open v collar of his shirt, her chilled fingers brushing the bare skin of his chest.

“Jamie,” she said, a hint of urgency in her voice, “please don’t be angry with me. I can’t bare it just now.”

“Hush, hush, a nighean. I’m sorry, I’m no’ angry with ye. I’m angry with myself for letting this happen. And I’m verra scared.” He leaned down a bit to press a kiss to her forehead, then another to her brow, frantic to reassure her.

He realized with a zing of dread that it was damp with sweat.

She still looked a little upset, her pain-fogged mind reeling from his bout of anger. Christ, he shouldn’t have let it out. She was in no condition to be burdened with anything.

“Forget I said it, mo ghrádh, dinna fash, I didna mean it,” He said gently.

She nodded her head and relaxed back against him, eyes falling closed. He let out a breath of relief to see her seemingly no longer so disturbed.

They both fell silent, no more words coming to their minds. Jamie walked on, mentally counting the steps and daunted by the prospect of how many more were left. Lallybroch was still miles and miles away.

Jamie looked back down at Claire, whose eyes had fallen closed. He could almost simply pretend she was drowsy— having just woken up in their bed, clinging to him sleepily, unwilling to face the day. On those morning, her eyelids held the same heaviness, barely gripping consciousness. But no, this was much different. It wasn’t the comfort of sleep that pulled her down and away from him, but the dark fingers of unconsciousness and death.

“Mo chridhe? Open your eyes, lass,” his voice shook a little. 

She obeyed, but slowly, as if it was a monumental task. 

Suddenly, they widened in surprise, fixed on a place off to Jamie’s side. He instantly jerked his head to follow her gaze and froze when he caught sight of what she had seen.

A little ways away, between two bushes, was a horse. No, two horses!

Hugging Claire to his chest, Jamie ducked behind the nearest tree and pressed his back against it, hopefully blocking them from the rider, who was surely nearby.

Jamie’s mind reeled with what to do next. He needed to get a horse, that much was clear. But what about the potential dangers? Did he take Claire with him and bring her into what would surely become a fight? Or did he leave her here, and risk whoever was around stumbling upon her completely unprotected? He didn’t like the idea of leaving her vulnerable, but he knew for certain he couldn’t take her with him. Decision made, he looked around for a suitable place to leave her. 

“Sassenach,” he whispered, looking down at her with an apologetic expression, “I’m goin’ t’ get us a horse. Dinna move from this spot.” 

He carefully lowered her to the ground between two large shrubs that surrounded a nearby tree. Claire let out a little whimper as she was shifted, but Jamie settled her back against the tree. 

If it was at all possible, her face had blanched even further from the movement. She looked like she might pass out at any second, but she still raised her hand to catch Jamie’s face and whisper “be careful. Come back.” 

“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” he replied with extreme gentleness, “I’ll be back in a second. Jus’ promise me ye’ll stay awake, aye?” 

She nodded slightly, and her hand fell from Jamie’s face. But he wasn’t convinced. His heart leapt to his throat at the thought of him leaving and coming back to find her...

He refused to let that line of thought go any further. He had to do this. With a quick kiss to her forehead, he left his wife propped limp as a ragdoll against the trunk and ventured silently in the direction of the horses. 

He flitted from tree to tree, body tense and alert. He needed to figure out where the rider was. The horses were both tied to a tree. It wouldn’t be hard to untie one and take off with it. But, he would have to get back to Claire and get her to safety before the rider figured out. 

He was broken from his thoughts by a rustling sound up ahead. It seemed his question was answered for him. All he had was his knife tucked in his boot, so he reached down for it and clutched it in his hand. He was barely breathing, listening for any more sounds. 

He crept forward in a crouch, squinting. Suddenly, he caught a glimpse of a brown coat and disheveled dirty-blond hair. 

He took a deep breath, sent another prayer up to the heavens, and sprung forward in a run. 

He was on the man in a second, body pressed to his back and knife held against his throat. The man let out a yelp... a very familiar sound...

Jamie froze. He could have cried in relief, but ended up letting out a disbelieving laugh that came bubbling up from his chest. 

“Ian!” he exclaimed. He had completely forgotten about his brother-in-law’s presence once Claire had been shot and his world came crumbling down. 

He released his brother-in-law, who turned toward Jamie with a bewildered look. 

“Christ man, ye nearly slit my throat, and ye didna bother to see it was me?” He said in exasperation, but his look of frustration quickly morphed into a wide smile, and he pulled Jamie into a hug. “I lost ye in the fight. My horse went tearing out o’ there and me along wi’ it, and by the time I got back, ye were gone. I feared the redcoats had taken ye.” 

Jamie’s smile faded from his face. “I wish it was only that the redcoats had me,” he said, blood running cold at the mental image of his wife laying bleeding against the tree. 

“What?” Ian looked at him, brows knit together. 

“It’s Claire. She’s been shot. Ian, we have to hurry. I dinna ken how much time she has. I left her jus’ over there.” 

At Jamie’s words, Ian’s face went white. He gave a nod, and went to untie the horses. Jamie followed wordlessly, hands shaking so hard that his fingers fumbled with the knot. He finally managed it, and quickly led Ian to the clearing where he had left his wife. 

They found her lying with her eyes closed, and Jamie’s heart nearly stopped for a second. The image of her, side covered in bloody bandages and face impossibly pale and still, would be burned into his mind for the rest of his life. He heard Ian’s breath catch in his throat. 

He ran to her, kneeling beside her and hand hovering instinctively over her wound. 

“Sassenach?” he called to her quietly. He cradled her face in his hand, giving the smallest bit of a shake. 

Her eyes opened (much to Jamie’s relief), and fixed first on him and then over his shoulder on Ian. 

“Ian,” she let out a breath that was as close to an exclamation as she could get in her currently state. 

Ian came a few steps closer, but Jamie didn’t look at him. He just kept his eyes fixed on his wife. 

“Hello sister,” he said softly. 

Her eyes seemed to light up a bit at seeing him. 

“Take a wee bit of water, a leannan,” Jamie said, unhooking the canteen from his belt that he’d gotten from a saddle bag. He lifted it to her lips, which she obediently pressed to the canteen. He tilted it just in the slightest, and she managed to swallow a few mouthfuls before sputtering and coughing. Her face screwed up in pain, hand reflexively pressing to her wound. 

He pressed a kiss to her forehead and then got up to see to the horses. He was anxious to get going, completely aware of the ticking clock. 

When he looked back a moment later, Ian was sitting down next to her. His hand was on her side, just under her breast and above her wound. The sight roused some deep emotion in Jamie, and he suddenly whirled around, growling, “dinna touch her!”

Ian’s hand jerked back, and he looked up at Jamie in surprise. 

He had no idea where that animosity had come from. Somehow, seeing her this vulnerable, this exposed, every fiber of his being wanted to protect her, and seeing another man’s hands on her had been simply too much. 

Ian seemed suddenly to understand, and stood and backed away from Jamie’s barely conscious wife. 

The smaller man instead walked over to one of the horses, who was already saddled and ready to go. 

“Shall I ride ahead and fetch a physician? I can travel much faster, so I’ll go to Broch Mordha for the surgeon and meet ye at Lallybroch, aye?” Ian suggested with a gentleness intended to placate Jamie’s irrational behavior. 

Jamie melted a bit at the words. “Aye, thank ye, Ian. I dinna ken what we would have done wi’out ye. I thank Christ that ye were here.” He gave Ian the faintest bit of a smile, letting his thanks be an apology as well. 

Ian gave him a nod, which spoke more than a thousand words. Acknowledgement, forgiveness, a promise to hurry. 

With that, Ian turned back toward Claire. 

“Sister, I’ll see ye at home, aye?” he said in a light tone. 

She opened glassy eyes to look at him and attempted to muster a smile. “See you soon,” she replied.

Ian mounted, and then Jamie a long look. Sparing a glance at Claire, he laid a hand on Jamie’s shoulder and said in a soft tone, “Ye’re doin’ a braw job, Jamie. Dinna lose hope. She’s a fighter, and so are you.”

Jamie could have broken down into tears. Ian’s words made him feel like a little boy again, helpless and barely able to keep everything together. But now Jamie was a man, and he was just as helpless, if not more. He was the one who had to protect his family. 

Eyes full of unshed tears, he gave Ian a nod.

With that, he was off, leaving Jamie and Claire alone in the clearing.

***

Claire felt herself slipping. The darkness below her seemed so tempting, so warm and blissfully numb. There was a weight dragging her slowly down toward the fog.

But above her was Jamie. He had told her over and over again to stay awake, pleaded with her to stay with him in a voice so raw with emotion and fear that it broke her heart. That was her one job, and here she was, barely obeying.

She had chosen to stay with him once already, when he was carrying her away from the fight and trying to keep her conscious. She had stood in a shaft of light, like a passageway, Jamie’s pleas and calls of her name echoing in her ears as she made the decision between life and death. She had turned back to him, determined to fight, and left the temptation of the next world behind. 

She wasn’t standing in that place now, but she had enough coherence to know that if she stopped fighting, she was gone.

She gathered what little strength she had and forced her eyes open, lids heavier than stones.

Jamie was knelt in front of her, brows knitted in anxious concern as he peered at her. He seemed to be talking, but she couldn’t make out any words.

She took a breath, pain flaring through her side, and suddenly her senses came back.

“-lass. Aye?” He was saying.

He cupped her cheek with a big hand, warm and so very gentle. Her head was so heavy, and she leaned her face against it gratefully.

“Claire?” He asked, eyes anxious and searching.

She felt bad for scaring him like that, but she was just so tired.

“Hmm?” She murmured, and was surprised to hear her voice come out as no more than a tiny, dazed sound.

His thumb caressed back and forth over her cheek, and she tried to focus on that instead of the agony in her side.

“I’m goin’ t’ lift ye up on the horse, aye? We hafta get out of here.”

Fear jolted through her at his words. She wasn’t certain she could stand it. The thought of riding made her want to sink into the darkness where there wouldn’t be so much pain.

Jamie must have read her features, because his face softened impossibly more. “I ken,” he whispered, “But ye can do this, Claire. Home is no’ so far now.”

She blinked, eyelids heavy, and imagined picking herself up by the bootstraps.

“Okay,” she whispered.

As Jamie reached down and gathered her into his arms, lifting her off the ground like she was nothing, she felt suddenly like a very small child. The thought made her heart ache, because she was as scared as a small child. She was completely reliant on Jamie-- on his strength-- more than just physically.

Claire held on to him as tightly as she could manage as he carried her across the clearing toward the horse.

He murmured an apology in her ear, and before her foggy brain could process that he had, he was laying her facedown over the horse like a saddle bag.

She let out a barley stifled cry as pain seared through her side, white hot and debilitating. The weight of her body pressed her down against the horse and put horrifying strain on her side. Her vision whited out, and she thought surely she would pass out.

But then, Jamie’s big hands were wrapping around her and lifting her up. She wasn’t sure if it was better or worse to be moving, but at least she wasn’t in that God-awful position anymore. Jamie, now mounted, was maneuvering her onto his lap, hugging her upper body tightly to his chest.

Claire’s breath was coming in ragged pants, the pain washing over her in waves now. But at least she could feel him, solid and warm against her, holding her secure. She felt hot tears leaking from the corners of her eyes, which were squeezed tightly shut.

“I’m sorry, lass,” Jamie’s voice was far away, but she could clearly make out the strain in it. 

She felt a kiss being pressed to the top of her head, but it was hard to focus on that sensation above the pain in her side.

She felt herself starting to drift again, blackness twining into the edges of her consciousness. She forced her attention back to the present, to her husband, who was calling her name for what felt like the millionth time that day.

“Claire?”

She swallowed, and let out a strangled sound that was something like a pained “mmm?”

“Are ye ready?”

She forced her eyes open and looked up at him. His eyes were soft with worry and expression hesitant as he studied her. But the image of him swam a little in her foggy brain.

“I’ll manage,” she whispered.

“Ye’re so strong, a leannan,” he told her tenderly, “Ye’re doin’ so well.”

She closed her eyes again, but a bit of warmth spread in her chest at his praise.

Without wasting another second, Jamie clicked his tongue, and the horse was moving.

Claire had been expecting it to be bad, but not nearly this bad. Every step of the horse sent a jolt of pain through her. The impact of moving up and down was agony. Jamie’s arms were tight around her, trying to minimize the movement, but there was only so much he could do for her.

She felt like she was holding her breath, every part of her screaming for this to be over. There were tiny sounds coming from her, she realized, whimpers of agony that she couldn’t seem to contain.

Darkness threatened the edge of her vision again, but this time, the numbness seemed too good to pass up. She started to let go of her fragile grip on consciousness before she even realized she had made the decision.

Slowly, the pain and reality began to slip away, replaced by a hazy fog. Her body grew further and farther away. She was detached from everything.

“Sassenach?”

“I’m sorry,” she heard herself whisper, and meant it.

“No! Stay wi’ me, mo ghrádh,” his voice was so far away. It was frantic, but his urgency couldn’t touch her.

She sunk down further, mind repeating Jamie in an odd chorus. But as much as she hated to disobey when he was pleading with her like this, she couldn’t stand the pain of consciousness any more.

“Please, dinna give up on me.”

Was he crying? That gave her pause for the briefest moment, but she no longer had the strength to fight.

She let go of the last shred of consciousness and sunk into peaceful oblivion.

***

36 hours later

***

Jenny’s hand rubbed over Jamie’s hunched shoulders in long lines that were simultaneously soothing and maddening.

He was exhausted— physically, emotionally, spiritually. He felt as though he’d been through hell and back, which he had.

Claire had lost consciousness pretty quickly after he got her on the horse. No matter how much he begged and pleaded with her to stay awake, her body succumbed to the pain and she had gone utterly limp and still in his arms.

He had taken off in a mad gallop then, ears roaring in panic and praying with everything inside of him. The ride felt like it had lasted hours, he honestly couldn’t say how long it really was, but he had nearly wept when he caught sight of the faint shape of Lallybroch in the distance.

When he got into the dooryard, yelling for help with every bit of breath in his lungs, everyone rushed out to help, including Ian who had already arrived with the physician. Everything went in a blur as Claire was ripped away from him and brought to the table in the dining room.

Jenny kept him away from her, telling him he needed to let the Doctor work, but all Jamie had wanted to do was be at her side. She and Ian had held him back until he stopped struggling and simply collapsed on the floor, tears streaming down his face. Finally, Jenny had forced him to drink enough whiskey to make him pass out in a fitful sleep.

Now, Claire was lying unconscious in the bed a few rooms over, and Jamie sat on the couch, praying for all he was worth. He hadn’t stopped praying since the moment the bullet had pierced her.

Jenny was saying something. Jamie tried to focus back in on her.

“-said he did all he could. But he doesna ken if she’ll wake up. But Jamie, he said her heartbeat seemed strong, that’s good news.”

Jamie didn’t feel like talking. He didn’t even want to be out of her room, but Jenny kept insisting that he get a little air, even if that just meant going to the living room.

He shrugged off his sister’s touch, standing up from the settle.

“Jenny, please. I ken ye’re trying t’ help, but the only thing I want right now is to be wi’ her. I-“ the words stuck in the throat, and he blinked away tears.

“I ken, brother. Nothing can make it better save her wakin’ up,” she said gently.

That made the tears come in earnest, and large, wet drops fell down his cheeks. Jenny pulled him into a hug, somehow seeming so much bigger than she was, and Jamie folded himself down into her.

After a long second, he pulled back, swiping the back of his hand over his face and taking a deep breath.

Suddenly, Jenny’s eyes fixed on something over his shoulder, widening in disbelief.

“Jamie?” Came a soft voice.

He couldn’t believe it. He turned slowly to see Claire, clad only in her shift, leaning heavily against the wall.

“Sassenach!” He exclaimed, joy bursting from his chest at the sight of her, awake and alive.

He started toward her, and she pushed off from the wall and began stumbling toward him, arm wrapped protectively at her side. He had just reached her when her knees buckled and she collapsed into his waiting arms.

He caught her easily and held her against him. Slowly, he lowered her to the floor, cradling her body in his lap.

Her arms were wrapped around him, and she was smiling with a brightness that made his heart flip.

He was so overcome with relief and joy at the sight of her that he didn’t even consider chiding her for doing such a foolish thing as getting out of bed. He just leaned down and pressed kisses all over her face— her forehead, cheeks, jaw, nose, temples.

She smiled up at him, face drawn and tired, but there was a lightness in her eyes that he hadn’t seen in far too long.

“Thank Christ ye’re alright,” he breathed, “ye had me scarrit out of my mind, lass.”

She rested her head on his chest, hand tracing up and down his tricep.

“I’m alright, Jamie,” she said, “everything is going to be alright now.”

And as Jamie knelt on the floor of Lallybroch’s sitting room, cradling his entire world in his arms and looking at her smile, he knew that everything would indeed be just as she promised.