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The Way Back to You

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“Ye dinna think… after all these years?” Murtagh asked. But Jamie didn’t hear him. Jamie couldn’t hear anything over the blood pounding in his ears.

No. He didn’t think. Jamie prided himself on being logical. He was a soldier, a laird. He was not a man often led by passion alone.

Except when it came to Claire.

So no, Jamie didn’t think that his wife had returned after he’d lived with half a heart for almost ten years. But he did hope. Damn him, Jamie felt the familiar stirring of hope deep in his core. And it only grew from the moment Kerr mentioned La Dame Blanche to now when he was speaking with Murtagh.

There was only one thing Jamie could do. He had to check. He would never be able to move on unless he saw with his own eyes that it wasn’t his wife.

So Jamie bided his time and when the opportunity came to slip away, he took it with the help of his fellow inmates. Not for the first time, Jamie was grateful for the men that put their trust in him even though there was nothing he could give them in return.

The waiting was the hardest part. Jamie wasn’t sure when the guards would notice he was missing, or how long they would search for him afterwards. With any luck, they would be back at Ardsmuir before they noticed that Mac Dubh was gone. Still, Jamie waited at least an hour after he heard the last sounds of voices before he dared to come from his hiding spot. And after that, he waited until nightfall before he made any real progress towards the coast. He was distinctly aware that if Claire was there, every moment he delayed was another moment he kept her waiting, and there was only so long she could stay on the island in the cold. But if she was there and Jamie got recaptured, he wouldn’t be coming for her at all. Though it pained him, Jamie moved slowly to ensure he stayed hidden.

The only thing the long journey was good for was wondering. Wondering why Claire had come back (if she had come back). Why she’d chosen Selkie Island, why Kerr had been her messenger. Wondering how she expected him to come find her, how she knew he was alive in the first place. She must have either gone to Lallybroch or had found some clue in her own time.

Jamie couldn’t think about Claire in her own time, or what had happened to the bairn. Those were questions only Claire could answer, and Jamie was going to drive himself crazy if he let it consume him.

So he pushed himself hard when he could under the cover of darkness and he slept like the dead during the day until Selkie Island was finally in sight. He stared off at it for a moment, knowing that the only thing waiting for him on that island was heartbreak, but still hoping all the same. He had come this far, and there was no use delaying any longer. Jamie made his way down the rocky hill to the shore and swam.

Even if Claire was here, Jamie was sure he was going to freeze to death before he found her. He’d brought it on his own damned self, but the swim to the island was far colder than he’d been prepared for. He’d done it before, but Jamie no longer felt like a young man. After a decade of living in the wilderness and prison since he’d seen Claire, Jamie hardly felt like the same man she’d wed.

And apparently the person he was now wasn’t as good of a swimmer. Even if he survived the current, he was certain he’d catch his death with the temperature. Hypothermia? Is that what Claire had called it?

When he finally collapsed on the shore, Jamie figured either Claire would be there to heal him or she wouldn’t. In which case, Jamie didn’t think he’d want live anyways. It was a morbid thought after all he had done to survive the past decade. But Jamie didn’t think he’d survive the death of this small spark of hope. He hadn’t thought he was capable of that emotion anymore until it began to burn in him again.

The last time he’d felt it had been at Culloden when he’d said goodbye to her. Even as he cried and walked her backwards towards the stones, there was still a small part of Jamie that hoped Claire had lied to him. It was ridiculous, after all, falling through time. Despite the fact that Jamie trusted her with his life, that her glass face made her almost incapable of lying, he still hoped that she’d touch the stone and nothing would happen. Even as he’d thought it, he knew it was selfish. In a matter of hours, Jamie would be dead and he didn’t want Claire to have to fend for herself as the wife of a traitor. Jamie had no doubt she’d be taken care of if she went back to Lallybroch, but he wanted her to have a life that was more than surviving. A place she could be happy, have a husband, maybe even more children. But still, in that split second before she touched the stone, he begged god not to let her go.

But gone she had. And, somehow, Jamie had lived. It was a cruel, ironic twist of fate. Jamie knew he wouldn’t have been able to give Claire the life she deserved if she’d stayed, but it still would have been a life together. He was selfish enough to think that maybe Claire would be happy with that. Jamie knew he would have been. There was no love after Claire, that much he knew. She was his soul and he was her heart, and there would be nothing after her. Only missing her and praying for the child he’d never meet. Until he heard the words “La Dame Blanche” again.

Yes, coming all this way to find nothing would kill him. If not physically, it would kill his spirit. Jamie finally stood up and looked around the island. It wasn’t a large isle, but it had enough hidden alcoves that it would take a fair bit of time to search. He was equal parts nervous and ecstatic as he walked away from the shore.

“Claire!” Jamie called, his voice hoarse with the salt water he’d swallowed. He cleared his throat and tried again, “Claire!”

If Claire heard him, Jamie was sure she’d make herself known. For reasons only she knew, Claire had made him break out of prison and swim a mile in the frozen sea. She wouldn’t keep him waiting after all that, Jamie was sure of it.

Yet, Jamie continued to call for her. His heart, that he had lived so long without.

“Cla-” his call was cut off when he saw it. Or, rather, saw her.

A figure. A woman, standing with her back to him wearing naught but a shift and her curly mess of brown hair down around her shoulders.

“Claire?” Jamie managed to choke out. He saw her stiffen, but she didn’t turn around. It was either her in the flesh or his delusions were hitting a new high. Jamie couldn’t make himself take another step towards her, not until she turned around and confirmed that it was her. But she stayed still.

“Sassenach,” Jamie tried again, the nickname sounding strange on his tongue after so many years, “Please, Claire. Mo nighean donn.”

Finally, she did turn and Jamie let out a desperate noise that didn’t sound human. At first glance, she looked exactly the same, as if the years hadn’t even touched her. She had the same wild hair, the same kind and mischievous eyes, the same freckles that scattered along her cheekbones. But as Jamie continued to look at her, he saw the small changes. Her hair, once a dark chestnut brown, was starting to lighten at the roots. Did that promise grey hair in the future? Jamie hoped he’d be around to see it. There were fine lines at the corners of her eyes and one pronounced worry line between her brows. Her body had filled out a little. She was so slender when he’d met her, but her hips were wider now and her breasts, once small and pert, appeared to be heavier. Probably the result of nursing a baby.

Their baby. With Claire in front of him, he finally let himself think about the bairn.

If Claire was here, then where was the bairn?

That was the thought that finally spurred Jamie forward. First it was just one small, clumsy step. Then another until he was close enough to Claire to touch her if he wanted. But he couldn’t, he was still afraid of her evaporating before his very eyes. No, whatever Claire was here for, she was going to have to make the first move.

“Claire?” Jamie asked again. It was barely above a whisper. Claire’s eyes had drifted closed as he appraised her, and now they finally opened to see Jamie a mere foot in front of her.

“Jamie?” Claire murmured, as if she also couldn’t believe he was really there, and that was it. Jamie’s knees buckled and he would have hit the stone floor hard if Claire hadn’t been so close. Her arms locked around his waist and lowered him more gently to the ground. Claire’s hands remained on his shoulders as he gazed up at her, and that contact was the only thing holding him to consciousness. Hell, it was the only thing holding him to this earth.

“Why… Christ, Claire, How?” Jamie stammered. His thoughts were racing at a mile a minute and he couldn’t choose what to ask first. Claire seemed to understand and her hands moved from his shoulders to his hair. She drew him towards her until his head rested against her chest.

“Shh,” she soothed as if he was a bairn, “Shh, we have time. There’s the two of us now.” Jamie’s arms moved instinctively around her waist and he pulled himself as close to her as he could possibly get. It still wasn’t enough, but it was a start. He heard Claire make a small noise of surprise and maybe pain as he squeezed her harder, but Jamie couldn’t let her go. He released another broken sound as he felt Claire’s lips against the top of his head.

Claire was here. She was really here. And she was right. There would be time later for questions and explanations. Right now, Jamie was in her arms and no matter what happened, he didn’t think she’d ever let him go.