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Memories of Nobody

Chapter Text

 

There were two things on Jamie Fraser’s mind at present: what his sister could possibly be making for dinner, and the fact that he was an inch away from losing his job at the distillery he worked at. No matter what he did, no matter how carefully he chose his words and actions, he couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble. Colum and Dougal MacKenzie, younger brothers to Jamie’s late mother, Ellen, had only tolerated Jamie’s antics because he was their favorite sister’s only son. Not to mention, the only one in the MacKenzie bloodline capable of running the business after they were gone. But that rope was slowly being unraveled as time went on.

As master mechanic for the big distillery machinery at Leoch Distillery Inc., it was Jamie’s responsibility to ensure everything ran smoothly. He was in charge of directing which men fixed what machines on any given day. Twice his actions had led to machine breaking that didn’t need to be fixed at all, and broken machines that were neglected to cause injury to someone on the distilling floor.

This latest visit to the CEO’s offices involved his cousin Rupert. One of their four main distilling barrels’ heating element mistakenly needed to be replaced, per Jamie’s misguided orders, but because it was fully functional, Rupert got a face full of hot steam, resulting in burns to his eyes. He was rushed to hospital and was expected to be okay, but had Jamie been paying attention to his own orders, it never would have happened.

“I’ve grown weary of yer careless actions, Jamie,” Colum said calmly but sternly from the chair behind a grand oak desk. “Yer cousin coulda been killed today ‘cuz o’ yer foolishness.”

Jamie couldn’t even look at his uncle; he was right. And the only reason why he even still had a job at all, wasn’t because he was Ellen MacKenzie’s only living son, but because despite his shortcomings, no one else in the company had the qualifications he did. No one could replace him. Assuming Uncle Colum wasn’t already searching.

His other uncle, Dougal, standing behind Colum, decided to speak up. “Jamie...yer a good lad, wi’ a big heart...but something’s not right here.”

Jamie looked up at this, startled. Usually, Colum was the calm one, and Dougal was bursting at the seams to shout someone’s head off. This was a strange role reversal if Jamie had ever seen one.

Dougal stepped out from behind the desk, towards Jamie, and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Whatever is buggin ye, it’s clearly interferin’ wi’ yer work. Ye’ve never been this accident prone. Why, ye’ve had the highest safety marks in the company’s history! But this last month...”

Jamie didn’t need either uncle to say anything. As if he needed to be reminded of his failures.

“I suggest ye go home and find yerself, boy,” Colum said with an air of spiteful reproach. “Gather yer wits about ye. Or else.”

“Aye, uncle,” was all Jamie could say before he started slowly making his way back towards his locker to change out of his work jumpsuit, gather his belongings, clock out, and make the three mile walk back to the farmland known as Lallybroch, his childhood home.

---

He didn’t usually walk home; normally Jenny, his older sister, would come by with the van to pick him up. Or her husband Ian would swing by in his truck on his way home from the local grocer he ran and they’d stop at the pub for a bite and a brew. But neither of them were waiting for him outside the distillery. Usually, that meant they were busy, and he would have to walk home.

It wasn’t too terribly far from Lallybroch. In fact, you could see the towering tops of the factory on the outskirts of Broch Mordha, the village just beyond the border of the farm. But Jamie took one look at the dark swirl of blackish gray clouds in the sky and wished he could still sprint like he did in school. It was going to start pouring down rain any moment, and all he had to hand was his trusty brown sherpa-lined corduroy jacket. Great for the harsh winters of Scotland, but did nothing but weigh him down when it rained.

Despite the threat of rain, he didn’t hear the first clap of thunder rolling in the distance until he was close enough to Lallybroch to see the top of the main house. A four-story castle-like tower house of white stone built by Jamie’s 16th-century ancestors, it shadows many landmarks around Broch Mordha. The farmlands had been subjected to many English threats to Scottish welfare, but survived and stayed in the Fraser family. When his father Brian died unexpectedly from a stroke three years prior, his will had stated that it was up to him and Jenny to decide who gained control of the sprawling estate. Jamie, as the only son left, their older brother having died when they were children, knew Jenny and Ian were expecting their second child at the time, and bequeathed the property and all its contents to them. Jenny was so taken aback by the gesture, that she balked at his mention of “finding a place elsewhere.”

“You will be doing no such thing, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser! Not while there’s breath in my body, I willna banish ye! Ye’ll stay wi’ us.” Jenny’s voice echoed in the back of his mind as Lallybroch became more visible beyond the trees. The woods that surrounded the property were vast and easy to get lost in if you didn’t know your way; a great deterrent for would-be criminals trespassing on the property.

And if Jamie hadn’t been paying attention to where he was going, he would have tripped over it and eaten dirt faster than he could spell his own name.

A shoe lay in the boggy wooded area. A woman’s clearly, given the size and shape, a loafer perhaps? Jamie crouched down, and reached out to pick it up. Peering at it, he noticed that the shoe was too big to fit his sister’s feet. And, besides the women he knew from work, he couldn’t think of any other woman who it could possibly belong to. And even if he could, why would any of them be out here, of all places?

Looking out, his heart stopped at the sight.

A young woman with thick wavy brown hair in a filthy, tattered dress laid sprawled out on the ground, limp as a rag doll.

His heart lurched at the sight as he scrambled towards her. As he got closer, he could hear moans of pain. Well that’s something good, he thought, at least she was alive.

“Mistress?” Jamie called out to the woman. But it was as if she couldn’t hear him. He called out again, louder this time. She jumped into a sitting position and scooted as far away from him as she could, a hand pressed hard over her heaving chest. “I’m sorry, lass, I didna mean tae frighten ye. Is this yers?”

He tentatively held the shoe out to her, and she snatched it back, trying and failing to put it on without untying the laces.

“Are ye hurt, ma’am?” Jamie asked cautiously, trying to get closer to her without startling her further. “I can call fer help if ye need it. My lands are just that way.” He pointed in the direction of Lallybroch, hoping the friendliness in his voice and calm stance were showing her he meant no harm.

She said nothing, just eyed him in suspicious contempt.

Jamie managed to get close enough to crouch back down, and looked her in the eyes. Sherry, warm whisky, aged to perfection. He couldn’t place an exact name on the colors, but those were the best descriptions he could come up with. “What is yer name?”

For the first time, emotion shown on the woman’s face. And it broke Jamie’s heart to pieces.

“I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

 

“Ye don’t know?”

It took his brain a moment to comprehend what the woman had said. He had asked her what her name was, and she claimed she didn’t know. How could someone not know what their own name was?

The woman just replied with an apprehensive shake of the head.

Realizing standing outdoors with the anticipation of a harsh, impending rainstorm was not going to help either of them, Jamie made up his mind.

“Weel, there’s a right nasty storm headin’ this way. My home isna far from here. Why don’t ye come wi’ me lass. My sister and brother in law are home, we can help get ye somewhere safe, maybe feed-”

Something must have snapped within the woman because at the mention of her going with him, she bolted faster than a lightning strike down the path in the opposite direction as he came. 

“WAIT!” Jamie called out as he shot after her. He had been a phenomenal track runner in high school, but that wasn’t his reality presently. While he could still run a mile in under ten minutes when he put his mind to it, this woman was clearly faster than anyone he’d ever met. Before he could think about pushing himself into a sprint like he was fifteen and running the 100-meter dash again, she was long gone.

“What the devil?” Jamie said to no one, his breathing an erratic coughing fit as his heart rate descended to even, slow beats. Hands on his hips, he glared after the woman’s suspected escape route. Thunder rolled across the sky again, louder than before. He squinted up into the vast and growing black, and was met with a big fat raindrop in the eye.

He jerked, cried out, and rubbed at his eye. He cursed the sky in Gàidhlig, but there was no help for it. The mystery woman was gone, and he hoped she was making her way out of the coming thunderstorm. Jamie knew if he didn’t move soon enough, he would be soaked himself. He did not want to deal with Jenny berating him for catching a chill.

He shrugged, tightened his coat around his middle, and finished his walk home.

---

“Ye canna be blamin’ yerself fer this, Jamie,'' Jenny said between bites of the rabbit stew in her bowl. “Bad things just happen sometimes, ye ken that weel!”

“Aye,” Jamie agreed, but his heart wasn’t into it. Nor was his wame agreeing with his dinner, which was unusual by itself. The Murrays, consisting of Jenny, her husband Ian, and their three children: wee Jamie, Maggie and Kitty, were all clustered around Jamie at the dinner table, feasting on the Fraser family recipe of rabbit stew, homemade dumplings, with a whole cranberry pie waiting for them as dessert. 

Jamie had come home just in time for the rain to dump all over Lallybroch. Jenny had welcomed him home in her usual fashion ( “I ken yer no’ walkin’ around the house in yer muddy boots, James Fraser! I just cleaned these bloody floors!” ) patted Ian on the back, and allowed their weans to tackle him to the ground like the giant he was to them. The smell wafting from the kitchen attracted him instantly. He made his way towards it and kissed his sister on the cheek upon entering as she was preparing the dumplings that would cook in with the stew.

“What’s wrong, a ghraidh, are ye ill?” Jenny said the second she finally looked up at him. Jamie could always mask his true feelings, but his sister knew him almost as well as he knew himself. It wouldn’t work.

“Dinna fash, a leannan, ” he said with the most convincing smile he could muster, planting a soft kiss on the forehead. “Did ye need something o’ me while ye prepare supper?” Jenny had shooed him out of the kitchen at that, but as soon as he heard the banging around upstairs, knew where his duties laid.

“Ye look a wee peaked, Jamie,” Ian noted, drawing Jamie back to the present. Jamie took a small bite of his stew as Ian continued,“are ye sure yer no’ coming down wi’ something?”

“No,” Jamie replied, taking another forced bite of food. This was one of his favorite meals, and yet it all tasted like mush to him. He pushed his bowl back. “I’m sorry Jenny. I dinna seem tae have much of a wame tae eat tonight.”

He felt the looks of alarm Jenny and Ian exchanged even if he hadn’t seen them.

“I was plannin’ on takin’ Jenny tae the cinema tonight,” Ian said tentatively, eyeing Jamie as if he were a child on the verge of a meltdown, “ye promised ye’d cared fer the weans. If yer no’ up fer it, we can always go another time-”

“No, no, that isna necessary,” Jamie replied hastily, smiling at his brother in law. “When was the last time ye went out, just ye twa? Go. Enjoy yerselves. I’ll bide, and the weans willna be any trouble.”

“Are ye sure-” Jenny was about to ask, but Jamie’s rigid look of “ do it or I’ll make ye” was enough to settle the matter. An hour later, dressed for the evening, Jamie was watching his sister and brother in law drive away from the house in Ian’s truck, the rain loudly pelting down the rooftop.

In truth, despite his day at work, he always looked forward to spending time with his sister’s children. No matter what chaos went on in his life, their innocence and joyous nature were always a balm to his battered soul, a soothing tonic on his troubled heart. He enjoyed talking with them, sharing in their growing spirit, and nurturing their imaginations. 

He told Jenny and Ian he would tend to the kitchen, and he made a game out of it with the older bairns. After an hour and a half, the kitchen was cleaner than a whistle, and he allowed them a half hour of supervised television programming. Kitty was still under a year old, so he cuddled her to his chest while her older siblings danced and sang along to the telly program. Bath time was a riotous occasion, and he had to give his sister saint status for managing to somehow bathe all three kids at once, several times a week! By the end of it, his clothes were soaked, his hair had soap suds in it, and he had been laughing so much alongside them that his cheeks and mouth physically ached with the strain.

He read the bairns a story, and he told another story in Gàidhlig. While Jenny, Ian, and himself had all spoken Gàidhlig as a first language growing up, he knew they were far too busy to sit down and give the weans a proper lesson. So, he took up the mantle himself. Every night it was feasible, he would teach wee Jamie and Maggie a new word or phrase in the Gàidhlig and make sure they had it committed to memory as they fell asleep.

Lessons done, and the bairns all fast asleep, Jamie makes his way downstairs to pour himself a dram and pick up the toys left in the living room. He’s tempted to fish out the wooden box that held Ian’s fine imported tobacco with an assortment of pipes. He turns down Ian’s offer to share a pipe with him every time, doing his best to stay away from such harmful substances. But the day he has had prompts him to indulge, just this once. He knew how to keep it from being a habit.

Living room restored, and his dram in hand, Jamie finds Ian’s stash and stuffs a pinch of it in one of Ian’s lower quality pipes, tasting the scent of its full flavor. He steps out onto the awning of the house, towards the opposite side of where the children’s bedroom windows are. This awful practice is the last thing he wants his nieces and nephew to witness.

He lights the pipe, puffs on it a few times, then takes in a small amount of the bold flavored smoke into his lungs, blowing it out slowly. Jamie knows Ian has a personal preference of tobacco imported from either Nicaguaga or Honduras, but the off chance he sampled something from North Carolina and the man was obsessed. Ian now only imports from the United States.

He was about to bring the pipe back to his lips when a dark shape crossed his peripheral vision. He held his breath, his heartbeat kicking up a notch. When nothing happened, he exhaled, shrugged, and took another drag off the pipe. Or, tried to. Again, he brought the device back towards his face, but when he heard a dull thud on the earth, the sound of tree limbs and loose branches crunching in the process, all thoughts or desires of enjoying a smoke evaporated. He put the pipe out, shaking the loose tobacco out of it.

In the space of a few seconds, he put the pipe away, grabbed the baseball bat his sister kept for home defense and a flashlight, and made his way out towards the location of the sound. Beyond the clearing surrounding the house, there was nothing, so Jamie waded through the forest of trees to see what was amiss. He felt something under his boot before he saw it.

Or, her.

“Christ, I’ll be damned!” He breathed.

It was his mystery woman from earlier, sprawled out once again on the expanse of dirty forest floor. Only this time, turning her over, shaking her, and calling out loudly enough to wake the bairns did nothing to arouse her from unconsciousness. He would have thought her dead, but he felt a quick pulse bumping against the fingers he pressed into her neck. He could count the individual ribs showing clearly through her dress, which was dirtier now than it was before. Each breath she took was audible as well, like she could get in enough air. How long had she been out here, trying to survive in the elements? When was the last time she had anything to eat? And where in God’s name did she come from?

Jamie knew he needed to bring her inside, but if he laid her as dirty as she was on the couch, Jenny would throttle him no matter his intentions. He left her on the ground just long enough to drape an old sheet across the longest of the three couches in the living room.

“Hopefully Jenny willna be too cross wi’ me,” he thought as he made his way back outside. The rain was heavy in the air once more, an ominous warning. He gathered the woman in his arms, one supporting her upper back, the other cradling her legs at the knees. Her head rested awkwardly against his collarbone, her breath ticking the space between his shoulder and skin inside his shirt. She was dead weight for sure, but she didn’t weigh as much as she possibly could have. For some unknown reason, that scared him.

Definitely starved the puir wee thing, Jamie thought as he gingerly carried his bounty, bridal style, into the house. He genially deposited this beautiful burden (and now with sufficient lighting, Jamie could indeed confirm that she was beautiful) on the couch, and went to light a fire in the hearth.

He tentatively checked her over for any obvious injuries. Upon finding nothing warranting a call to 999, he slipped her filthy shoes off (and yes, she did retain both of them this time) and placed them close to the fire on a towel. He attempted to rouse her one more time, but to no avail. Laying a worn tartan blanket over her, Jamie’s biggest hope that night was that the woman didn’t expire on him before Jenny and Ian came home.

On top of his uncles’ ire, and his clear failure at living right now, the last thing he needed was to be accused of killing anyone.

Chapter Text

 

Jamie was in the process of making tea in the kitchen when a clattering stramash caught his attention.

She’s awake.

He rushed out and found his mystery woman fumbling to get out of the blankets like she was being strangled. Her wheezes of distress could probably be heard outside, were anyone out there.

Jamie knew if he didn’t try and stop her, she would end up right back where she started. On the streets, cold, hungry, and mostly likely dead.

“Calm yerself lass,” he attempted to say, but she grew more agitated by the moment. He did not want to wake the children, but he also did not want to scare the poor lass away for the second time today. Why couldn’t things just be simple for once?

Eventually, it dawned on Jamie that gentle and kind were not going to work here. The woman was going to hurt herself if she kept on.

He grabbed her arms by the wrists and pinned them high above her head on the couch, crushing as much of his body weight against her as he could without inflicting injury.

The look of fury in his eyes apparently did something because the instant she looked into them, she was stunned into silent stillness.

“I ken yer afeared,” Jamie hissed dangerously, “but there will be a wrath like ye’ve never seen before if ye wake any o’ the three children sleeping upstairs.”

He saw the muscles of her throat work quickly as she swallowed. His chest was pressed hard against hers, and he felt her take a deep breath. The tension in her body slackened slightly.

“D’ye understand me, lass?” He pleaded, enforcing his stance on remaining calm. She nodded, and he settled back. He released his hold on her wrists as she relaxed more visibly. “Would ye like some tea? I was about tae power up the kettle when ye woke.”

The woman contemplated his words for a moment, then nodded in acknowledgement. Fifteen minutes later saw Jamie carrying two cups of tea.

“Thank you,” the woman said, clearly giving away that she was English.

“Ahh, so yer English,” Jamie mused with the hint of a smile.

“Yes,” she said, taking a cautious sip of her tea. He could hear her moan in delight. “Oh, this is wonderful, sir. I can’t remember the last time I had a good cup of Oolong.”

“Among other things,” Jamie replied, but cursed himself as the bitter words left his lips. He didn’t want to scare her away.

“I suppose so,” she muttered curtly. She looked at him, then looked away with a small smile on her face. “I guess this means you want to know my whole life story now, right?”

“As much as ye can remember,” Jamie mused, setting his now empty cup on the table in front of him. “I mean, I think I’m entitled tae ken a wee bit, aye? Despite not knowing who ye are or where ye came from, sassenach that ye are, I still took ye into my home, away from the cold and wet of Scotland, even gave ye a blanket. I dinna often voice what I want in life, but in this case...”

Her lovely face was an open book; he could see how his words, and the emphasis he placed on them, influenced the expressions on her face. By the time he was done talking, Jamie could see that she couldn’t help but agree.

“You are right about that,” she surmised finally, “ sassenach that I am.” She eyed him with suspicion. “I might not remember my own name, but I do know what that word means.”

Letting his guard down, Jamie conceded. “I ken the Gàidhlig word for ‘English Person’ is something of an insult ‘round these parts, but I promise ye...I didna mean it as such. If I offended ye, lass...I’m sorry.”

Her look of doubt relaxed. “I supposed you didn’t really mean it that way...otherwise...why would you rescue a woman just to insult her later on?”

“Aye,” Jamie acknowledged. “Verra true. So...mistress...what can ye tell me of yerself?”

She took a long, steadying breath before replying, “I am not sure how I ended up in that woods outside your home, sir, but anything that I experienced or knew before that point is lost to me.” She looked down at herself, and wrinkled her nose in apparent disgust. “My clothes are filthy, as were my shoes. You gave me one that had fallen off. Perhaps...I was running from someone? Or, dare I say, something?”

Jamie chewed on that for a tick. “Aye, ‘tis possible...” He brought back the mental images of finding her just beyond the reaches of Lallybroch, cold to the touch and covered in the forest’s grime. He would have tripped over that shoe and eaten dirt himself had he not been paying attention. She could have been running, fearing for her life and not caring where she was going. Her shoelace could have unraveled itself as she traversed the winding forests and thick trees, and one of the roots that were thicker than Jamie’s forearm could have caught it, throwing her off her trail. The shoe pops off her foot, she goes flying across the way, most likely hitting her head along the way.

But, if that were the case, and hitting her head is the cause of her supposed amnesia, why doesn’t she have any marks along her hairline? Jamie checked, doing his best not to admire the soft texture of her bonny brown locks, and found no obvious signs of injury. That didn’t mean something wasn’t wrong with her head, but if she can’t even remember her own name-

“Sir?”

Jamie blinked, and looked up. Now it was his turn to look confused.

“Eh?”

“I asked you what your name was...”

“Oh,” Jamie laughed nervously, “sorry, lass. My name is-”

“James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser!”

Iffrin.

Both the woman and Jamie jumped at the sound of Jenny’s hushed but serious tone of voice. She and Ian were standing in the doorway, mouths agape at both of them.

“How many times do I have tae tell ye?!” Jenny looked like she was making a beeline for their mysterious house guest, and Jamie moved to try and shield her from his sister, but Jenny just got right in Jamie’s face, glaring up at him, and pointed a wicked finger at the floor. “If ye canna remove yer boots ‘afore ye track mud throughout the house, then ye can sleep outside!”

A breath Jamie didn’t know he had been holding released itself from his lungs, and he all but laughed.

“Aye, yer right, a piuthar, ” Jamie huffed nervously, “I’m right sorry. I’ll clean it up this instant.”

Jenny nodded, grunting a derisive Scottish noise. She was about to move to do... something , whatever it was Jamie would never know, when she finally noticed the woman sitting on the couch.

“Oh,” Jenny emitted softly, “and who is this?” All signs of murderous intent towards her brother evaporated, replaced with a tender, motherly sense of duty. “And how is it ye’ve come to be so filthy?”

“We’ve been trying to puzzle that out,” Jamie said, with some reservation. If the woman had been at all afraid of Jamie, she would definitely run when she got a full measure of Janet Fraser Murray.

“I apologize for any disruption I’ve caused your household,” the woman replied calmly.

“Och, a sassenach,” Jenny said with an air of factuality that it almost sounded like an insult.

“Janet,” Jamie warned slowly. Jenny rolled her eyes at him.

“So,” Ian finally made his presence known, coming to sit down across from the woman. “Welcome tae Lallybroch. Where do you come from, lass?”

The woman’s face fell. Jamie suspected she was getting tired of being asked questions she didn’t know the answers to.

Jamie took the initiative here, and explained the woman’s predicament. Jenny and Ian would occasionally look to her for confirmation on whatever Jamie was saying, and by the time he was done, looks of sympathy and concern were etched onto their faces.

“Weel,” Ian said after a few moment’s silence to process, “ye canna be verra weel goin’ back out in the world. It’s dangerous.”

“Oh but,” the woman protested, “I’ve already trespassed upon your hospitality enough, I’m sure I could-”

“My husband’s right, lass,” Jenny interrupted, “it’s dangerous enough fer a woman wi’ all her faculties in mind...but someone who canna even recall her own name? Nae. I canna in good conscience let ye leave. Ye’ll be safer here. And we’ve plenty o’ room.”

“But I-” she attempted to plead her case, but ultimately gave up. Jamie suspected she realized the sense in their words.

“Jamie,” Jenny said, “what say ye? Yer the one who brought her here...”

Jamie recognized how this might look to the woman. He turned to face her. “I ken this probably feels like we’re takin’ over yer life choices, but my sister is right. It isna safe fer ye tae leave. I can keep ye safe. We ,” he gestured between himself, his sister and brother in law, “can keep ye safe. But yer gonna have tae give us a wee bit o’ yer trust.”

The woman made wary eye contact with each of them. Jamie held his breath.

“Alright,” the woman sighed, clearly resigned to her fate. While Jenny and Ian were going on about how she will love it here and where she will sleep, Jamie’s heart was dancing a jig inside his chest.

He couldn’t explain it, but something was telling him this woman and the mystery surrounding her was so much more than a simple need for protection.

Chapter Text

 

As Jenny began to give Claire a tour of Lallybroch, Jamie was finally able to breathe easier. The look on his face was not lost on Ian.

“Okay, spill,” Ian said with a sly grin on his face. He jabbed a thumb in the direction of where the ladies went off. “Where’d the sassenach really come from?”

“Ye think I’m lyin’?” Jamie gaped. “What could I possibly gain from that? Besides havin’ my arse scalped by Jenny?”

Ian laughed. “I dinda think yer lying, but there’s something about her that...weel, it doesna sit right wi’ me. And I canna think, despite her best efforts to hide it, Jenny will sleep well o’er it.”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “Everything I told ye is as true as my parents’ grave up the hill. I didna think she’d come back after she ran off this afternoon. I figured my red hair and muckled size gave her a fright.”

“Ach, ye’d scare unsuspecting bairns ‘afore ye scare a man, or woman, grown.” Ian stretched and yawned. “All I’m sayin’, Jamie, is keep yer eye out fer this one. The lass is welcome here as long as she needs. I dinna see Jenny going back on that classic Fraser hospitality. But be wary, man.”

Ian got up and headed towards the Laird’s room on the top floor. Jamie continued to sit there for as long as it took his mind to quiet down. An hour later, he still wasn’t able to think coherently, so he determined it was time for bed. He folded the blankets the sassenach used and laid them along the back of the sofa. 

With a huge yawn, he made his way to the second floor where his room was. When he approached the door, he heard the bathroom door opening behind him. His mystery woman’s hair was a riotous mess of wet curls and she was wearing one of the many sleeping gowns Jenny owned.

She was even more beautiful than before.

“All’s well, then?” Jamie asked.

The woman nodded. “I can’t thank you and your family enough for your kindness.”

“My father would be turning in his grave if we didna help those in need, especially when they come right to our door,” Jamie said with a sheepish grin. He scratched the back of his head in a nervous attempt not to look her in the eyes.

“Your sister has been especially kind. It seems she’s prepared to loan me her entire wardrobe if need be.”

“Och, weel, my sister is a homemaker here. It’s just her and the younger bairns when Ian and I go off tae work.” 

Something bounced on the inside of Jamie’s stomach. Iffrin. He couldn’t call out of work for this. And even if he could, he didn’t know how he would have explained it. 

“Where do you work? If I may ask,” the woman inquired, closing the bathroom door.

“Leoch Distillery Inc. Which reminds me...” he took a deep breath before going on. “I work full time. Which means come seven in the morning, I’ll be gone.”

The woman looked momentarily fearful, but the expression was about as fleeting as a heartbeat. “I understand,” was all she said.

“I’ll be home round suppertime. I’m sure Jenny will tell ye the same, but yer no’ prisoner here. As much as we worry o’er yer safety, ye can come and go as ye please. Yer welcome tae our hearth and pantries. If ye need anything while ye stay, or would like some o’ yer own clothes, have Jenny text me and I can see about acquiring things for ye.”

Jamie really didn’t know why he was going out of his way to make sure she stayed. Especially since, if it really became necessary, Jamie had just offered to go purchase knickers for the lass. He kept his face an unreadable stone but the heat crept up his chest and neck at the thought of being caught in a women’s intimates shop. Or whatever they’re called, he told himself grudgingly. Maybe he was afraid she would run off and get hurt again. The police could trace her back to Lallybroch and then he and his family would have to answer some hard questions, right? They would be completely innocent in the matter if it really happened. But he’d rather avoid any attention drawn to himself or his family. His uncles were already gunning for his dismissal. Or, on the other hand, there was a part of him that desired more than anything to get to know her better. She was a mystery wrapped up in a shroud of faerie dust it seemed. He was attracted to the rarity of her. He didn’t just want to know her name. He wanted to know everything.

“Thank you once again for your kindness. All of you.” Her voice snapped him out of his reverie. She made to step past him and go to the room Jenny had apparently set up for her. It was two doors down from his own. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Sassenach.”

---

The following morning, the nameless woman awoke with the crowing of the roosters in the distance. For a split second, she couldn’t remember where she was. Then, she heard voices from the first floor.

“Make sure ye pick up some milk and bread from the market on yer way home. We’re nearly out and Ian will be working too late tae being it home himself.”

“Aye, I’ll see tae it, Janet.”

The splatter of excitable children’s voices filled the air as the woman got out of bed, stretched, and reached for the robe Jenny had left her.

“Ye be good fer yer Mam, aye?”

“Aye, Uncle Jamie, we will!” At least two high pitched squeals elicited from wherever Jamie and Jenny stood. By the time the woman had finally made herself look presentable enough to be in the presence of children and strangers, he was gone.

“Good morn’ tae ye, mistress!” Jenny had said to her as she entered the kitchen. “There’s coffee brewin’ o’er there,” she pointed to one of the counters to her left, “and fresh pancakes on the table. Plenty o’ butter and honey tae go ‘round. Oh, and I’ve cooked sausage tae go wi’ it. Eat up!”

The woman did as she was told, and Jenny was certain she would be calling Jamie later to pick up more food.

“Ye’ve quite an appetite, lass.” Jenny said after the woman cleaned her third helping of cakes and sausages. She watched the woman politely burp into her square of linen, dab the corner of her mouth, and clean up a small orange juice spill on the table. “And ye’ve clearly got table manners. No’ to say that ye wouldna be welcomed if ye didna! Just used tae seeing a house full o’ men and bairns who act like they’ve never cleaned themselves ‘afore.”

The woman laughed. “It’s nice to know I haven’t forgotten some things.”

Jenny sobered a bit at that. “I ken ye canna remember much, but that doesna matter here. My brother wasna lying. Yer welcome here as long as ye need. If ye do remember anything, dinna hesitate tae let someone know, aye?”

The woman nodded and drained her coffee cup. Declining a refill, she decided to go outside and explore the courtyard. It was much smaller than she had realized. Probably because it was pitch black outside and she was terrified.

As she rounded the corner, the faint smell of something sweet and aromatic caught her nose. And in sight of the back door was a rose bush that stretched taller than herself.

A tall woman with hair the color of fire and eyes of an impending storm knelt down in the dirt, pruning the bush.

“Ach! There ye are, lass!” the woman called out to her. “Can ye find Brian and have him bring me a cup o’ water? I’m right dying out here.”

“I can go get it for you, Ellen, it’s no trouble.”

“Aye that’s very fine. Thank ye, Claire. Ye’ve such a kind heart.”

“Mistress?!”

Jenny was sitting just above her head. When did she decide to lay down? In the dirt? Outside?!

“Mistress, are ye alright? Do ye need an ambulance? I can call fer it right-”

“Claire.”

That stopped the woman dead in her tracks. “What did ye say?”

The mystery woman looked her directly in the face, any trace of humor gone. “I think I remember my name. It’s Claire.”

---

Jamie was thankful that Colum and Dougal weren’t at the distillery today. While Rupert was back at work and didn’t begrudge him for the accident that landed him in A&E, he knew his uncles would not pass up a chance to rub it in his face. Rupert also didn’t look too bad either; you could hardly tell he had been burned in the first place.

It was lunchtime and the company had ordered catering for all the men. Everyone had gathered for a quick bite. Jamie sat with a few of the men in his charge as well as other distillery employees. Each was minding their own, until a few of them were looking at something on Angus Mhor’s phone.

“She’s a bonny lass, indeed,” Angus chuckled.

“Aye, she’s also supposedly marrit, ye clotheid,” Rupert grunted, taking a large bite of the roast beef and cheese sub he had in his hand.

Supposedly, ” Angus mocked. “Doesna mean she couldna be perusin’ the local stock.”

“Aye, ye’d be along wi’ the stock of coos in the pastures!” Rupert and the guy next to him roared with laughter. Angus took a bit of the lettuce that was in his sub and threw it at Rupert.

“What are ye twa on about now?” Jamie growled, suddenly wishing he had chosen to eat outside. It would have been more peaceful.

“Och, ye hadna heard, Jamie?” Rupert inquired. He plucked the phone from Angus’ hands and slid across the table towards Jamie. “I only heard about it while at hospital. ‘Twas on the news on the wee telly in the exam room.”

Jamie almost choked on the bite of food he had just taken, his heart plummeting to his toes, as he read the article’s big, bold headline:

FORMER SOCIALITE TURNED ASYLUM PATIENT ESCAPED

His heart starts to race when he sees a picture of the patient in question and it looks identical to the mystery woman currently being sheltered at Lallybroch.

“Iffrin,” Jamie mutters to himself. “What have I gotten meself into?”

Chapter Text

 

Jamie was beside himself with uncertainty and anguish as he locked himself into one of the private offices the distillery boasted to start feverishly searching for more information on the mystery woman at his house. He had wanted to know everything about her, craved the information like he was starved of oxygen, but finding out this way wasn’t what he had in mind.

Jamie had no idea what had come over him. He couldn’t explain this...connection he had with this lass. Beyond the fact that she was beautiful, in every aspect that could be imagined, there was this magnetic pull from her that Jamie couldn’t ignore. He wondered if this was usual between a man and a woman; he had had a few girlfriends over the years. Annalise de Marillac, Mary MacNab, even the dreaded Laoghaire MacKenzie. That last one, to his eventual detriment, had turned serious enough for him to consider whether or not marriage was in their future. 

None of them, however, could currently compare to the emotions that coursed through his body when he even so much as thought about the brown haired Sassenach. Whatever this was between them, it was different. He honed in on it like a beacon as he set his mind to find out more about her.

He had asked Angus to text him the article they had been looking at. Colum and Dougal weren’t here to tell him to get back to work, and what repairs and inspections that needed to get done were already completed, so he had nothing better to do. Besides, he needed the money, and he wasn’t about to clock out before five no matter the reason.

Jamie switched on the aging desktop computer before him and waited the few eternities it took for it to fully boot up. He logged in, brought up a search engine, and typed in “asylum patient escape.” That didn’t bring up anything relevant, or recent, so he tried “escaped mental patient UK.” Again, that brought up nothing. Frustrated, he pulled up the original article on his phone, and found a name.

Claire Beauchamp Randall.

His heart thudded as he typed in the name, and a wealth of articles and information came up, including a Wikipedia page.

“A dhia,” Jamie breathed as a picture of Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall came up. She had a regalia about her that would put Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family to shame. There was an old-world beauty about the woman that just isn’t seen or appreciated in today’s world of smartphones, social media and artificial goodwill towards men. He felt his heart knocked against his ribs uncomfortably at the sight of her. A stark contrast to the broken looking mystery woman at Lallybroch currently. While Wikipedia wasn’t the most reliable source when it came to information, it was as good a place to start as any. So, Jamie read on.

“Claire Randall was a London socialite and best known as the daughter of philanthropic super couple Henry and Julia Beauchamp, as well as niece of world renowned archeologist Quentin Lambert Beauchamp, older brother to Henry. Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp was born on October 20, 1985…”

Jamie’s heart sunk as he skimmed through the page and it kept referring to Claire in the past tense. Like she was deceased. Though, there was no date of death given at the top. There were a few things that Jamie was able to take away from the Wikipedia page. Claire lost her parents at the age of five, and her uncle took her in as his ward. The beautiful lass was about five months younger than him, so they were the same age. And her aristocratic status only increased when she married a young Oxford historian and ametuer archeologist named Frank Randall at the age of nineteen. So young, probably very impressionable too. One would think such a union would make a young lass, who was accustomed to wealth and abundant opportunity, the happiest on earth. Two sentences into reading about their marriage told Jamie otherwise. And had his blood boiling. 

He started a new search for Franklin Wolverton Randall. And the amount of tabloid articles that came up about him and Claire were enough to make Jamie sick.

SOCIALITES WED IN POPULAR SCOTTISH VINEYARD! LAVISH WEDDING GUEST LIST AND CATERING MENU LEAKED!

HONEYMOON BLISS: SOCIALITE RANDALLS SPOTTED IN LUSHFUL EMBRACE ON ITALIAN COAST

HIDDEN TRUTHS: WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON AT THE RANDALL RESIDENCE

TURMOIL IN PARADISE: FRANK RANDALL SPOTTED LEAVING PUB ACCOMPANIED BY WOMAN OTHER THAN CLAIRE

FRANK AND CLAIRE AT IT AGAIN WITH PUBLIC ROW AT THE HIDE!

CLAIRE GIVES FRANK ULTIMATUM: HER OR HIS HARLOTS!

BRUISED WITH LOVE: WHY DOES CLAIRE RANDALL STAY WITH FRANK?

It took everything Jamie had not to dash out of the distillery and run all the way back to Lallybroch and give who he suspected was Claire Randall the biggest hug his body would allow. The amount of awful things she has had to go through all while being watched by the paparazzi and media had to hold the weight of the world on her shoulders. Before he could do that, the article Angus originally showed him and the lads populated, and he clicked the link to read it in full.

Claire Randall, the socialite daughter of the late philanthropic Henry and Julia Beauchamp and niece to late world renowned archaeologist Quentin L. Beauchamp, could normally be seen shopping around London with an entourage of bodyguards and paparazzi following the click of her designer heels, or indulging in activities that only the wealthy could afford. But in the last several months, there has been no sight of the young woman. All of her social media accounts have been silent, her last tweet being seven months old, and no Instagram or Snapchat activity in almost a year. Though rumor and speculation are rampant around the internet, it has been suggested in a more serious manner than her husband, the notorious womanizer Frank Randall, may have had something to do with this…

Jamie couldn’t read any further, the information made his ire surge. But he didn’t really need to. He had enough information to go home and confront the mystery woman.

No. Not “mystery woman.” Claire.

Claire.

Sorcha.

The Gàidhlig translation of her name made Jamie smile. He spent the rest of his time at work digging for more information, but eventually all the articles and research began to repeat itself. He was about to give up, when he came across a document via a public records website. Clicking the link, his eyes lit up as his heart skipped a painful beat.

Death Certificate of one Claire Elizabeth Randall declared legally dead on…

Jamie swallowed. This changed everything.

Chapter Text

 

Jamie clocked out at five o’clock without barely an acknowledgement to his colleagues, and raced home. He had printed out several articles that would prove the case he was about to make to not only Claire, but his sister and brother in law. They probably weren’t going to believe him even with physical evidence, but he had to try.

Claire had been legally declared dead by her husband Frank about a year ago, two or three years (give or take) after she had seemingly disappeared from public life. He was able to also look up and confirm that Claire had indeed been committed to the local insane asylum around the time she disappeared, also by Frank. Jamie didn’t know why the media hadn’t reported on that anytime after her removal from society. They had done such a good job tripping over themselves to paint Claire into some rich ditzy harlot, smearing the good Beauchamp name. Or, so far as Jamie could surmise; there wasn’t a single bit of bad press about any of the Beauchamps. A story like this would have had the paps foaming at the mouth to exclusively report on it. So, why the silence? Frank or someone representing him could have paid them off. Or maybe Jamie managed to find the information in a way the paps couldn't? Nae, that didna seem likely, he thought. If paps want to know about it, they’ll find a way.

All that nonsense aside, despite his best efforts, Jamie could not find any stated reasons why Claire was in this predicament in the first place. Medical information, such as examinations or test results, and the reasons for being declared dead, were officially sealed. In fact, the space on the death certificate where a cause of death would be listed was conveniently blacked out.

Papers clutch tightly in his hands, he opened the front door and stepped into the main house, and was met with a rather disheveled Jenny.

“Jamie!” she called out to him before he could ask what was amiss. “Ye willna believe what happened! The woman! I dinna ken how or what happened, but she remembered her name! It’s-”

“Claire,” Jamie finished for her. If he had had his camera ready, he would have taken a picture of Jenny’s face. It was very rare to shock Janet Fraser Murray into a stupor that made her resemble a fish on dry land, opening and closing her mouth like she was gasping for breath. Jamie brought the printed documents out and showed them to her. “There was talk at Leoch’s today. Apparently our mystery guest is rather popular.”

Jamie watched for a moment as Jenny scanned the papers, her eyes remaining the size of saucers as she read. But as Jenny handed the papers back to Jamie, he didn’t wait for her to speak as he went looking for the Sassenach.

She was sitting in the parlor, with a cup of tea in her hand and a children’s television program on. Maggie and Kitty were quietly enjoying the colorful cartoon characters as they sung the alphabet song to their audience. When Jamie entered the room, the young girls ran up to hug his legs.

“Nunky!” Maggie squeaked. Kitty made mewling noises in much the same adorable fashion. 

It always warmed Jamie’s heart to see his sister’s children, and how they addressed him was just too adorable for words. But he needed to be serious.

“Go and see yer Mam, a leannan, ” Jamie said softly as he picked up wee Kitty and led Maggie out of the parlor by the hand. “I need tae talk tae our guest, aye?”

“Aye!” Maggie agreed as Jamie placed the crawling Kitty on the ground and her sister led her away.

Jamie stepped back into the parlor and closed the doors behind him. He turned around, and faced Lallybroch’s guest.

“Jenny told me ye ken yer name now,” he said humorlessly.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s Claire.”

“Anything else?” He didn't mean to sound as cold as he did. Most Scots didn’t trust the English as far as they could throw them. But he didn’t want to be this way with this woman. That magnetic pull between them was a warding force against anything negative he could possibly feel.

“Sadly no.” Claire said, her eyes cast down to his feet. She set her tea cup aside and stood. “I was...I was over by the rose bush, beside the house?”

Jamie’s mood lightened a bit. “Aye...they were Mam’s pride and joy...”

“Was...was her name Ellen by chance?”

Jamie’s heart all but stopped in his chest and the breath he was about to take caught in his throat.

It took all his composure to ask, “h-how d’ye ken that?”

“I, erm...I blacked out when I saw the roses...and there was a woman. Very tall, with red hair like yours. She asked me to go find someone named Brian for some water...I offered to do it for her, and I called her Ellen. She knew me...she knew my name, and told me I had a kind heart...”

At that, Jamie had to sit down lest he faint himself. This must have alarmed Claire for she sat down next to him, concerned etched onto her fair, fine features.

“Are you alright?” She asked.

“B-Brian...was my father...” Jamie breathed through pursed lips. Why was the room suddenly devoid of oxygen? He felt he couldn't get a breath in to save his life. “And aye...I ken Ellen. She was my mother...they...they both passed many years ago...” he looked her dead in the eyes. “Like yer own parents. Claire.”

Claire blinked gradually at this, as if slowly processing what she’d just been told. Before she could say anything more, Jamie handed her the documents.

“At work, there was talk about ye...or a woman fitting yer description...who conveniently has the same name as ye,” Jamie watched as Claire poured over the printed data. “Does any of this sound or look familiar?”

It was several minutes of Claire quietly perused the reports. But in the end, she shook her head.

“I’m afraid not...though that is my face. Kind of hard to deny that...who is that man there with me? He’s in almost all of these photos.”

“A man named Frank Randall,” Jamie said through clenched teeth. Was he becoming jealous of a man he didn’t know? “Your husband.”

Dismay drew Claire’s brows together. “My-my husband? That can’t be right. Of everything that’s happened, I think I would remember if I was bloody married.

“Weel, considering ye canna recall yer own parents’ death, I think it’s safe tae say that anything is possible...”

She appeared to chew on that for a bit. Then her eyes flashed at him in warning. “If I’m married, then how did I end up in the forest outside Lallybroch? Did this husband dump me there?”

Jamie sighed. “I dinna ken. But what has me worrit is the fact that ye went from out and about all the time wi’ the paper trailin’ yer every move, and then nothing. Yer husband had ye declared deid around-”

“Hold on...” she interrupted, stoic. “I-I’m dead?”

“On paper ye are, aye,” Jamie pointed out the death certificate. “Though, it doesna say why or how. That bit o’ information I couldna find online.”

Jamie was slowly starting to realize that Claire had a glass face. Anything she was feeling, clearly shown and it made her rather easy to read. A concerned look flitted across her face, like a realization had just dawn on her. “So...I was living in an...God, an insane asylum, ” she spoke the words as if they were venomous. Jamie didn’t blame her. “For the last year, I was there...and somehow I got out...or, escaped, rather...but how could I be living at a facility intended for people who are a danger to themselves if I’m technically not alive?”

The fact that she was looking to Jamie for the answers made his bones liquify. But he didn’t know anymore than she did.

“That is one of the many questions I have, at least,” Jamie finally answered after a moment. “However...whether ye are dead or alive, and-” he reached out and grasped the side of her wrist with two fingers. The pulse beneath them was lively and quick. “-ye clearly arena dead...ye escaped a place where its residents arena meant tae leave. Ever. So, nae doubt someone will be lookin’ fer ye.”

“Do you think I’m in danger?” Claire asked, but her features changed again. “Wait...do you think I am the danger?”

The pleading in her eyes made Jamie want to hide her away from the world, shield her with his body and soul, but instead he just stared at her hard. He let his own face become transparent for a moment so she could see there would be no doubt to his words.

“If I thought ye meant anyone here harm, ye’d already be gone, Sassenach.” While he was serious with his words, the humor in his voice was evident. For the first time, Claire smiled genuinely at him, and it felt like the world suddenly became a brighter place.

Sorcha, indeed. 

“Nae,” Jamie went on, “I dinna think yer a threat tae anyone at Lallybroch. Nor Broch Mordha. But I do think that whoever might be lookin’ fer ye now might no’ have sae honorable intentions. If these articles hold any truth to them,” Jamie gestured to the papers, “I think we can expect Frank tae come sniffin’ about Lallybroch.”

Claire looked down at the papers that had her picture alongside the likeness of Frank Randall. She wrinkled her nose in distaste. Jamie didn’t blame her. Just from the sight of the photos, Mr. Randall didn’t look like someone you would want as a friend, let alone a spouse.

All this acknowledged, Jamie knew what he needed to do. But how to go about it?

“I’m going to ring a relative of mine. He might be able tae help.”

Jamie held out his hand to Claire.

“D’ye trust me, Claire?”

Claire looked like she wanted to hesitate, but took his hand into hers and gave it a small squeeze.

“With my life.”

---

An hour later, one Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser, godfather to Jamie and Jenny, walked through the doors of Lallybroch and sat down with Jamie and Claire. Jamie had already explained Claire’s circumstances in great detail before Murtagh decided it was best to see this situation unfold in person.

Murtagh swept a low bow before Claire, and shook her hand lightly. “Yer servant, madam.”

Jamie could see the blush rising from her shoulder and up her neck, and suppressed the urge to laugh.

“Now,” Murtagh announced as the three of them sat down in the parlor, having declined any refreshments offered by Jamie. “There are a few things. Firstly, I recognize the name Randall, but no’ Beauchamp, so my apologies tae ye fer that, mistress. Randall, however, is rather infamous in the Highlands. Frank and his brothers Jonathan and Alexander spent a good amount of time and money acquiring real estate around Scotland. Nobody ever kent their intentions fer the lands, but everyone felt it wasna good. They would dangle large sums of money and speak honeyed words to convince the good Scottish people tae give up their lands, but would be kent tae resort to threats and extortion when that didna work. Most didna buy into their nonsense, threats aside. The Scottish dinna take too kindly to anyone bossin’ them around, let along a couple of sassenachs, if ye pardon my meanin’, mistress.”

 Claire nodded at him, indicating she took no offense. Murtagh went on.

“The poor sods who did eventually give into the brothers’ demands were legally robbed of their property, the contracts they signed having hidden clauses in them that made it legal for them not to be paid a red cent. They canna challenge it in court, seeing as they signed the papers themselves. And there isna law forbidding such clauses, sadly. So, Scots are losing their homes and livelihoods while the Randalls live in filthy richness.”

“That’s barbarous!” Claire exclaimed, and Jamie could feel the anger as if it radiated from her skin. “I can’t believe I married someone like that.”

“I dinna think anyone would blame ye there, lassie,” Murtagh explained further. “The men have a way wi’ charm and charisma. Ye probably wouldna been able tae tell how devious they were from appearances alone. Dinna fash. Now, Jamie.”

Murtagh turns to face his godson.

“Aye?”

“Ye said ye believe Claire here is in danger. What gives ye that impression, lad?”

Jamie looked at Claire, who was looking at him through curious eyes. Almost as if she wanted to know what he truly thought of her.

“Who else could have put Claire in the asylum than the man who is suspected of taking her away and havin’ her declared dead in the first place? There has tae be a motive behind it all, no? Why go through the trouble of keeping her alive, having her dead on paper, when he could have killed her outright?”

From the corner of Jamie’s eye, he saw Claire startle at his words. It hadn’t been his intention, but he needed to drive the point home.

“If she’s no’ there at the asylum now, he’s gonna be lookin’ fer her, and he’ll be no’ best pleased wi’ her away. He could verra weel track her down and do something tae her. So, aye, Claire,” Jamie now turned to face her, and he wanted nothing more than to kiss her, “I think yer in grave danger. And I believe we, us Frasers, can keep ye safe. Ye said ye trusted me wi’ yer life. D’ye really mean that?”

Claire studied him for a moment. “I do.”

“Then,” Murtagh said with finality, “I think that settles the matter for now. Claire should remain here until things can be sorted out. She shouldna leave Lallybroch unless it’s tae move her to a safer place. If she needs anything, we’ve gotta network o’ people we trust that can take care o’ her. Now, best go find Jenny, lad. My belly’s crying out fer some o’ her rabbit stew.”

Chapter Text

 

“Faith! Brianna! Fergus! Come down, breakfast is ready!”

“Da! Faithie willna lemme borrow her new socks!”

“Then respect her wishes and wear yer own, a leannan!”

“But Da!”

“You heard your father, Bree. Besides, I just bought each of you new socks to go with your new uniforms last week. Where are yours?”

“Prolly in the wash wi’ the other clothes covered in muck.”

“FERGUS!”

“Now, son, dinna be antagonizin’ yer sister.”

“Jamie, you need to get going. You’ll be late for work again...”

“CLAIRE!”

Jamie found her at the bottom of the stairs, sprawled out with the broken glass and escaped liquid of a pitcher scattered around her. She didn’t appear to be bleeding or hurt, but rousing her was becoming harder. This was the 4th time in the last week that she had been found unconscious somewhere around the house. At least this time, she didn’t hit her head on anything.

It was also becoming harder to keep her from seeking proper medical care. It wasn’t to be cruel or neglectful. Jamie, as well as Murtagh, Ian and Jenny, were all worried that if they took her to hospital and someone contacted the authorities over the missing asylum patient, the entire point of protecting her would be null.

She slowly opened her eyes, her head resting in his lap.

“Alright there, Sassenach?” Jamie asked, the humor only present in his voice. She nodded and tried to sit up, only to have a wave of dizziness cause her to sway and lean back into Jamie. “Easy there, lass,” he soothed, his body keeping her in place, “canna have ye going down again, aye?”

After she regained her composure, (or, enough of it to function) the two of them started cleaning up the broken glass. Jamie swept up the shards into a dustpan that Claire was holding down. They walked over to a rubbish bin to dispose of the remnants. Silence enveloped them for a few moments longer before she said, “who are Faith, Brianna, and Fergus?”

Jamie mentally chewed on that for a bit before replying, “I dinna ken. Nobody ‘round here wi’ those names. Why?”

As if fearing his reaction, she just shook her head and kept quiet.

“I don’t know what’s happening to me, Jamie, but...all I know is that...I belong here… but I don’t belong here. ” She gestured around them with outstretched hands. “I can’t explain it properly for you to understand...I’m sure you think I’m raving mad, anyway...”

Jamie grinned down at her warmly. “No, I...believe ye, Sassenach.” He wrapped his hands around her upper arms, as if to keep her from drifting away. “I dinna understand it a bit. Not yet. But, I trust ye.” He then took her hands into his, and pointed them towards the center of her chest. “I trust yer word, yer heart. I trust there’s a truth between us.”

Claire looked up at Jamie, and he could see the formation of tears in the corners of her eyes. And he realized that this was the first time since he had found her that anyone had said these words. That she wasn’t lying, or at least perceived as insane. Jamie had no idea how much time had passed from the moment she was free from the asylum until he found her, but this had to be a big thing for her.

“So,” he said with finality, “whatever ye tell me...I will believe ye. And I willna let anyone else try to tell ye yer wrong, or that yer lying. I can see it in yer eyes...ye couldna lie yer way out o’ a paper sack.”

That got a laugh out of Claire, which made Jamie smile brighter.

“How could you possibly know?” Claire asked. “Jenny told me I have a glass face, and I can believe that but...what if I didn’t? How would you know if I was telling the truth? I could make it look like I was a bad liar, and could actually be a terrible person with intentions to cause you and your family harm...what then?”

Despite his best efforts not to, Jamie laughed.

“A few reasons come to mind. First off, ye do have a glass face, and it’s verra transparent. Ian and I were soldiers at one point, trained in intelligence. So, we’re verra good at spottin’ liars. Ye wouldna have lived this long, that’s fer sure. And fer another, even if that werena the case, if ye really meant us harm, ye’d hardly leave us alive long enough fer Ian and I tae go back to work, now would ye? And lastly, but probably the most important...faith.”

“Faith?”

“No’ the person ye spoke of earlier...just…” He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly through slightly pursed lips. “I have faith in ye, Claire. Faith that, despite yer efforts, yer in a bad way and in need of help. Ye wouldna come here o’ yer own volition if ye could help it. Circumstance brought ye tae Lallybroch. It kinda goes hand in hand with believin’ ye too. Canna verra weel have faith if I didna believe anything ye tell me, no?”

Claire looked at though she was about to reply, but her eyes rolled back into her head and she slumped to the floor in Jamie’s arms.

“You know I can’t cook to save my life, Brian.”

“Aye, Jamie tells me as much, but baking is like a math problem, no? Figurin’ out all the portions o’ ingredients tae get the desired outcome?”

“If it were that simple, Ellen would let me in the kitchen for more than just to pour myself a glass of wine!”

The old man with long, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail threw his head back and laughed with his whole body. And at that moment, he looked almost exactly like Jenny.

“Mam? Grandda?”

A young girl with bright red hair, bowed up with pigtails, and golden eyes approached.

“Yes, my darling?”

“Did it happen again?!” Jenny called out as she dashed towards Jamie, still crouched on the ground with Claire in his arms.

“Aye,” Jamie replied, not bothering to keep the concern from his voice. If he was being perfectly honest with himself, he was terrified. This was the longest Claire had been unconscious, and her second fainting spell within the last thirty minutes.

Murtagh and Ian came up from behind her as Jenny pushed Claire’s hair back to feel her forehead.

“This canna go on much longer, Jamie, and ye ken it,” Murtagh said as Jamie secured Claire further into his embrace and carried her towards the sofa. He laid her down as Murtagh acquired a blanket. “Whether we know what’s going on in her mind, she needs a doctor.”

“Da said I could have an iced lolly. Fergus and Bree too,” the girl said with a pleading look, as if to ensure neither adult would say no. “I came tae fetch them for us all. May we have some?”

“O’ course!” the man named Brian said cheerfully, “it’s a rare stifling day out today! Canna have ye weans goin’ wi’out something refreshin’ while yer enjoyin’ the weather!” 

The man reached into the freezer box and pulled out four colorful frozen treats in air-tight plastic wraps. He handed them to the girl with a pleasant smile.

“Enjoy, a leannan,” he kissed the top of her hair and she skipped outside, humming a happy tune as she went.

“Ye and Jamie are doin’ a braw job wi’ the bairns, Claire,” he said, pride filling his eyes. “I couldna be more proud tae be their grandsire.”

“Jamie if she doesna wake up in the next five minutes, I’m ringin’ fer emergency services,'' Jenny said with an edge to her voice. Jamie knew he wouldn’t be able to stop her if she did. Claire was breathing, but still unconscious. He hoped the others couldn’t see him shaking like a leaf with fear.

“Should probably call ‘em now,” Ian said. “How much longer are we tae let this go on ‘afore we decide she’s deserving of medical attention?” He looked at Jamie in an almost accusatory manner. Jamie didn’t take too kindly to that.

“I’m doin’ the best I can, mo charaid, ” Jamie said tartly, “or would ye rather she be turned over tae whatever authorities are lookin’ fer her?”

“Ye ken we’re just assuming she’s being hunted like a dog, a brathair, ” Jenny came back with her cell phone in her hands. She hadn’t dialed anyone, so Jamie relaxed somewhat. “One measly article was posted about her escape, and while it did weel in describing her, they never mentioned her by name. The general public willna be suspecting much.”

“It’s no’ the public I worry for,” Jamie hissed. “What happens if we take her tae hospital and they recognize her immediately? We canna protect her if she’s taken while we’re away from Lallybroch! We havena any proof we didna kidnap her ourselves!”

“Weel unless ye plan to marry her,” Ian interjected, “that canna really be helped. This wasna supposed tae be a long term problem. Even wi’out her memory, she has tae have family somewhere-”

“How would her family be lookin’ fer her if she’s declared dead?” Jenny retorted to her husband. “This, o’ course, is assuming all the papers Jamie found are legitimate.”

“We have more evidence suggesting they are than not, so let’s just leave it at that,” Murtagh said with certainty. “Ian’s right though, lad. Wi’ her legally being dead, while being committed, only a verra small handful of people will be out searching for her.”

“Hold on a second,” Jamie stopped all conversation. He gently slipped Claire’s head out from under his legs, replacing them with a nearby pillow, and went to find the printed documents. He came back with the death certificate and original news article announcing her escape. “If she’s been declared dead...and no one really kens about it...”

“Then who reported my escape?”

Everyone whirled around to see Claire slowly easing herself into a sitting position on the couch. She was massaging her temple, but she was more or less coherent. Jamie came to sit beside her.

“Aye. Who indeed. Are ye well, Sassenach?”

“Well enough, given the circumstances, thank you.” She smiled, and it sent Jamie’s heart into a dizzying fury. “But I have been listening somewhat over the last few minutes. You’re right. I can’t just go into any hospital without fear of being taken back to wherever it is I came from. But if I am actually supposed to be dead, which is an entirely different conversation for another time...who knew to report me missing? It’s almost like...” Claire blinked slowly, realization dawning on her and the others simultaneously.

“Someone wanted ye tae escape,” Jamie filled in. “And tae ensure ye kept yer mouth shut about bein’ dead-”

“They wiped my memory.”

The lot of them spent a good few minutes of silence processing that. Murtagh broke it first.

“Ye think someone on the inside o’ the facility did this tae Claire deliberately?”

“Aye I do,” Jamie replied, feeling some sense of elation that he could not explain.

“But why?” Jenny huffed with frustration. “Why go through all the trouble just tae ensure she doesna remember who she is? No offense tae ye, Claire, but who exactly is she that warrants such extreme action?”

“If the articles I brought have any truth tae them, and we have no reason tae think they’re not, Claire was born into wealth, power and fame. Her late parents were well known in the philanthropic community. Ye ken weel there’s plenty o’ people in this world who wouldna hesitate tae jump at the chance tae take advantage o’ such generosity.”

“And given what we ken about the Randalls,” Ian mentioned half-heartedly, but a light bulb went off in Jamie’s head. He was all but bursting with energy to solve this mystery.

“The Randalls! Murtagh, ye said they were kent tae takin’ land from the Scottish people by any nefarious means necessary? Who’s tae say they were exclusive tae the Scottish Highlands? Maybe they also had deals wi’ other wealthy people, or families. Maybe families as well off as the Beauchamps.”

“We can’t confirm any of that just now, however,” Claire sighed. “All of this is just suspicions. But, with probable cause. Someone knew something dangerous enough to want me out of the way. While we think this Frank Randall is involved, and we know he’s a right bastard-”

“Oh we ken verra weel he’s involved, lass, if ye’ll pardon my intrusion,” Murtagh interrupted, “putting all this together, I’d go sae far as tae say Frank is the one behind all of this.”

Silence fell over the room.

“There are many ways I could protect ye, Claire,” Jamie said, “but the best way I know how, is tae turn ye from an Englishwoman...to a Scot.”

Everyone stared up at him.

Claire furrowed her brows at him. “Meaning...”

Murtagh smirked. “Marriage.”

Claire balked at his words. “Marriage?!”

“It makes sense,” Ian chimed in. When Claire turned her outraged attention towards him, he held up his hands in mock surrender. “Old Scottish Law is a wee bit different from the rest of the UK. Legally, Claire Randall is dead. But, Claire Beauchamp doesna exist in the same context. Yer death certificate says ‘Claire Elizabeth Randall.’ That leaves ye legally unmarrit.”

“Aye,” Jenny said, sounding cheerful for the first time all day today. “It wouldna matter if yer marriage certificate says ye marrit Jamie today or the day after ye were legally declared dead, if anyone comes forward tae try and dispute the legitimacy, yer maiden name will save ye a lot of headaches. They canna claim yer dead when the names on the documents doesna match to the letter.”

“And,” Murtagh added in conclusion, “if ye were tae marry Jamie, no entity of authority from any nation can legally take ye against yer will. Even if there was probable cause that ye were some kind o’ criminal, or if they had a warrant, unless yer husband or laird gave permission, ye would be safe.”

“Even with a warrant?” Jamie could see the curiosity in Claire’s eyes as she spoke. “That seems like it would lead to outright lawlessness, even for Scots. No offense.”

“None taken,” Jamie smirked.

“Eh, it isna widely known, otherwise ye’d probably be right,” Murtagh winked at her.

By this point, Jenny had brought out freshly made tea and scones for everyone. With such a heavy conversation, it wasn’t any wonder it wasn’t asked for prior to now. Thirst and appetite satisfied, it was time for decisions.

“So...what’s it gonna be lass?” Murtagh asked Claire, and everyone turned their attention to her. “Now, I dinna need tae say it, but I will anway: we are offering this tae ye fer your own protection. We’re a motley lot o’ well-meaning Scots, and we genuinely care about ye, but yer no’ a prisoner. Ye dinna have tae do anything ye say if ye don’t want it. If ye wish tae leave, yer free tae go and one of us can take ye wherever ye wish. Just know that, once yer gone, unless ye decide tae come back, we canna help ye if yer no’ here.

“That said,” he took a breath and set his eyes somewhere in between Jamie and Claire, “if ye wish tae go through wi’ this, and wed Jamie here, I am a universally ordained minister. I can have papers drawn up and see ye both wed legally within the hour.”

Jamie’s heart beat faster with each passing second that Claire didn’t speak. He worried everyone could hear it. Logically, he couldn’t force her to do anything even if he had the power to. And given the kind of man he was, if she decided she didn’t want their help, he would gladly take her anywhere in the world.

But in his racing heart, he wanted nothing more than to call her his wife. To protect her with everything he had and more. He still didn’t know what this pull was, but he was letting it be his guide for the time being.

“May I have a moment to speak with Jamie alone, please?” Claire asked.

Everyone nodded or murmured in the affirmative, and left the potential future couple to speak privately.

Chapter Text

 

Jamie’s heartbeat reverberated swiftly throughout his entire body as he was left alone with the woman scheduled to become his wife within the hour. The pounding against his sternum was starting to make him feel a bit queasy. He cleared his throat.

“I suppose ye have questions?” He asked stupidly. O’ course she has questions, ye numpty! Ye just proposed marriage to her and we hardly know each other!

“I do,” Claire said slowly. She had stood and was now casually pacing the room, as if her fate didn’t rest in his hands. “I don’t mean to assume you’re not worthy. But...Jamie, let’s be realistic here. Surely a handsome young man such as yourself has suitors. Or, at least...isn’t there someone you want to marry? Someone you’re interested in?”

Jamie blinked, and almost laughed. “Am I promised, ye mean?”

Claire nodded, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, and he felt his face and neck grow hot.

“If I hadn’t known any better, I would have assumed you to already be settled. In fact, when you mentioned children sleeping upstairs the first night I came here, I assumed they were your own and not Jenny and Ian’s.”

This statement did not help his heart rate, which was now actively trying to kill him.

“Nae, lass,” Jamie finally admitted. “I’ve never had much prospect fer a wife. Aside from helping Jenny and the bairns from time to time, and the distillery, there’s no’ much else going on in my life that makes me marketable tae a lass.”

“I find that rather hard to believe,” Claire remarked dryly, but Jamie could see that she meant it. “Without sounding too pretentious, I think you have many qualities that a woman would find ‘marketable.’ If nothing else, you’re a kind and honorable man. I can tell you have a good heart, too.” Her smile was warm and comforting. Enough where he felt maybe, just maybe, he could be open and honest with her about things that had been on his mind.

“I’ve been in the same place since I was hardly more than a lad,” he began. “Never had a mind to do much else, and now I probably couldn’t even if I wanted to. And even after sae many years doing the same work, day in and day out, I’m still making rookie mistakes. At first they could be overlooked, summed up tae a bad day. But then people started getting hurt. The last one I made ended wi’ my colleague actually in hospital. 

“If I were anyone else,” he sighed as he kept talking, the last of what nerves he had ebbing away, “my uncles woulda sacked me weeks ago, but they ken I‘ve nowhere else tae go. This...” he took another breath to steady his emotions, and made a vague gesture towards his surroundings as if the objects in the sitting room represented everything in his life adequately, “this is what my life has amounted to...and I’ve always wondered if it was enough fer a lass...if I was enough tae provide fer one...”

Jamie hadn’t even noticed that Claire had gotten up and walked over towards him to hold his hand until he felt her touch. When he looked up, her smile was still as warm as before. Up close, her beauty was mesmerizing.

"I meant what I said, though," he said, meeting her eyes. They really were the color of aged whisky, and he knew he could drown in them if he wasn't careful. "If ye dinna want any of this, I'll personally take ye anywhere ye want to go. No harm will come tae ye. Ye have my word."

Claire looked up at him, gold meeting fathomless oceans of blue. "I don't want to go." The solid strength in her conviction matched the tone in her voice. "I want to stay with you, Jamie.” She took a breath. "There's something about this place, something I can't quite understand. It...I feel like I actually belong here...with you."

If he wasn’t nervous enough already, this was the final straw.  Hearing that Claire actually wanted to be with him almost made his heart stop.

"Then, I shall do my very best tae serve ye, and protect ye, as yer husband." He gestured towards the door of the parlor, his hand outstretched to her. "Shall we?"

---

Murtagh had apparently run home to grab his official minister garbs and documents while Jamie and Claire were talking. The bearded man looked rather dashing in his dress.

“So,” he said, inclining his head towards the couple, “are we havin’ ourselves a weddin’ today?”

Jamie looked at Claire, and they both smiled at one another.

“I believe so,” Claire answered. Jamie could hear some hesitation in Claire’s voice, but he knew it was nerves.  Christ, he was nervous too, but he was sure of his feelings.

“Aye, we’re ready,” Jame replied.

“D’ye need a bit to prepare?”

Jamie was about to say no, but his sister interjected.

“They need more than that. Look at how they’re dressed!” Jenny made to shuffle Claire away from Jamie and Murtagh and towards a small powder room. “I dinna suppose anything I have fits ye properly, but we can at least do up yer hair fine, aye?”

While Jenny was fussing over Claire, lightly shoving in the direction of the back bedrooms, Murtagh looked over Jamie’s appearance with apprehension.

“I ken this is a hurry-up affair, a bhalaich ,” Murtagh mused, “but d’ye really mean tae wed in yer distillery clothes?”

As if he was suddenly aware of his own presence, Jamie looked down sheepishly and gave a breathy laugh. “I suppose not. I best go find my own wedding clothes, then.”

Jamie took the stairs two at a time until he was in his bedroom. Under the bed, beneath a loose floorboard, was a small storage compartment. It was as old as the house itself, built around the early 1700s, and it was mostly used after the Jacobite Rising of ‘45, when the Clearances were in full swing and Scottish families would hide their most precious belongings that they did not want seized or destroyed by the British. Here was where the family heirlooms that had been passed down since the supposed beginning of the Fraser Clan in the 14th century were safely kept.

As he reached in, his fingers ran over the familiar feel of his prized tartan. He got hold of the weathered fabric, pulled it out and shook it off. A fine mist of dust clouded his breathing space, and he sneezed. The idea of wearing something that caused an allergy attack made him laugh, but how could he not wear it on his wedding day? It was like being Scottish and not liking whisky or haggis! Next, he reached into the hole and pulled out the sporran that went with the kilt. It was the same ensemble his own father had worn when he married his mother. Hanging up in the closet was a crisp, white dress shirt to complete the ultimate Scottish bridegroom look. 

He laid the tartan down and began the methodical process of pleating it. Fold in a few inches, draw it close, smooth it out, rinse and repeat until there were enough pleats to give the kilt its signature shape. When he was done, he laid down and wrapped it around himself, securing it with a belt that had been slipped under the pleats. He stood and brought the remainder of the plaid up over to drape his shoulder. Thinking he was done, Jamie reached for the sporran and wrapped it around his waist to finish off the look.

After taking a glance at himself in the mirror, Jamie realized he had forgotten something. The Fraser Clan brooch. He picked it up and gently polished it along his shirt sleeve. He looked back into the mirror, as he fixed the brooch on his shoulder, where the kilt rose over. He reverently whispered the motto to himself… 

Je Suis Prêt.”

I am ready.

And, for the first time, he truly felt like he was. There was something unusual between him and Claire. He intended to explore it further. But first...a wedding needed to take place.

---

The ceremony itself took no more than twenty minutes, with Claire looking beautiful in one of Jenny’s nicer maternity dresses (no one dared to blame either woman considering Jenny was much smaller than Claire) and Jamie looking like royalty in his kilt, sporran and dress shirt. There was a small reception where everyone drank to the new couple’s health and happiness, but once the food was eaten and everyone was sated, Jamie and Claire migrated to the “Laird’s Room,” his parents’ old bedroom. Until that morning, it was Jenny and Ian’s room. All of Jamie’s earthly possessions, as well as what little Clarie had, had already been moved into there, and the Murray’s took up residence in another wing of the house.

There were moments within the walls of Lallybroch where the two of them were in close proximity to each other. He had held her in his arms, soothed her when she needed it, shared the burden of the supposed darkness inside her. But as Jamie closed the door to the Laird’s room behind them, it felt different. Things were different now. 

They stood unmoving in the silence, the air thickening around them as the seconds ticked by. The sensation that something elemental had changed among them prickled his skin with goosebumps. He couldn’t shake the feeling that, cursory and practical as this marriage had been, the invisible link between them became stronger, and he was even more in tune with her every breath and movement. Her heartbeat, strong and true, seemed to race beside his own. A breeze from the window played with her curls, and he swore he felt them over his own skin, across the room as she was and facing away.

Say something, his mind screamed at him. Something! Anything!

“I guess the wedding party is coming to a close,” Claire said, so softly that Jamie almost didn’t hear her.

“Aye,” Jamie replied, rather lamely. “They ken we’ll do our business in our own time. Thankful we’re no’ in the 18th century...they’d probably be camped outside the room until we’d made things...official...”

The word “official” hung between them like a cobweb in the corner of the ceiling. Jamie had sat down on the end of their bed by now, and was smoothing the aging quilt with one large hand. The mattress had been replaced a few times in his life, but the sheets, the quilts, the four-post bed frame itself, had been around long before he was born. His mother had given birth to him, and his siblings, in this very room. Jamie remembered how he would crawl into the bed between his parents when he was younger after a nightmare or during a particularly scary storm. Jenny had given birth to all of her children here too. His mother had died in this bed. He wondered what kind of memories and...things...he and Claire would get up to now that it was officially their marriage bed.

“Jamie,” Claire’s voice got his attention. He looked up, and was startled to see the look of absolute determination.

“Are ye alright, Sassenach?” Jamie asked, getting up to stand before her. He made a move to take her into his arms, ready to give whatever comfort she might need, but she stepped back a bit just before his arms could close in around her body.

“I...I want to thank you. For everything. I know this isn’t easy for you, marrying a stranger just to protect them.”

Jamie wanted to sit here and confess his whole heart to her, insisting that this was the easiest decision he had ever made as a man. And he’d do it all over again in a heartbeat if he knew the circumstances would yield better results. But it wasn’t his place to prove her wrong.

“I...I don’t think I’ve ever-well...what I mean is...I want to offer you...erm...my body...I offer myself to you...as payment for-”

“Holy mother of God, lass!” He gawked at her for a split second. He was fairly certain, of all the experience he has had with women, none of them had ever offered their body as, well, anything for anything .  If she wasn’t being so serious, he might have laughed. “Ye owe me nothing, Sassenach. I don’t ever want tae hear talk of that kind from ye, aye? My wife ye may be now, but we are equals here. I will never ask of ye something that ye canna give, or that I’m no’ willing tae give ye. Fair?”

The tears that slowly ebbed into the corners of her eyes shone in the waning natural light coming from the windows. She managed a tight grin, and nodded her head in acknowledgement.

“Well,” she said with a distinct air of finality. “I don’t see what else we could possibly do. Perhaps we should just call it an early night? Go to bed?”

Jamie gave her a quizzical look, one eyebrow raised in amusement.

“To bed? Or to sleep?”

The look of mischief in her eyes gave him all the answers he needed, but she still gave him a verbal one.

“Well...”

---

They passed the night in a slow daze of exploration and experimentation. There was no rush, no hurry to get it over with. Jamie just took his time in worshipping Claire’s body, naked and willing under (and over) him. As midnight came and went, Jamie discovered he rather liked having Claire use his chest as a pillow, his heart beating strong, slow and steady under her ear. He could feel it as he ran a hand through her wild brown curls.

He was on the verge of sleep, when Claire started to jerk and writhe. Jamie shouted in surprise, holding Claire as close to him as possible so she wouldn’t injure herself. She’d never convulsed like this before. Terrified, he tried to reach out for his undergarments while holding her, but it was no use. He was helpless until she calmed down. But for how long that would last…

“I want Mammy tae wake up, Da!”

“So do I, lad. So do I.”

“Why does she have that thing in her mouth?”

“It’s helping her breathe, a leannan. Dinna fash, she canna feel it.”

“Why is that machine making that noise?”

“Ye see the strange, squiggly lines there? That’s showing yer mam’s heart. See? It’s still beating. Strong and healthy. She’s still wi’ us.”

“But if she’s wi’ us, and she’s healthy, why will she no’ wake up now?”

“...I dinna ken.”

A cell phone rang. “Mam? Aye...we’re still here...nae, still no change...I dinna ken either...the doctors are certain her body is just healing...they willna tell me anything more...aye, please do. I think the sight of Claire is upsetting ‘em...tell Da I said thanks..I love ye too...”

“Was that Granny?"

“Aye. Yer Grandda is on his way here, he’ll take ye home.”

“When can Mam come home too?”

Silence once again enveloped the room.

Chapter Text

 

Jamie and Claire settled into some semblance of a routine following their abrupt wedding. Jamie returned to work and, while he was away during the day, Claire helped Jenny around the house as much as she could. When Jamie returned home, dinner would already be on the table, the family would gather to share the meal, and then Jamie and Claire would retire to their bedroom to continue getting to know one another.

“I ken ye have yer worries,” Jamie was telling her one night. They lay with their limbs tangled around each other, naked as jaybirds, the quilts keeping out the chill. “But there isna anything we can do about it.” 

“It’s just so disturbing,” Claire murmured into his chest, “the person speaking with the children...sounded too much like you to be a coincidence. He knew my name, Jamie. He said ‘Claire’. The content of the...vision...for lack of a better term...doesn’t scare me as much as I might be deathly ill or hospitalized in the future.”

Jamie chewed on that. Again. They’d been having this talk for the last several nights. The only good thing to come from this latest episode was that it hadn’t happened again. It had been three weeks since their wedding night. Three weeks since Claire fell into a most horrendous fit. Three weeks since the terrible vision of her in a hospital fighting for her life, and someone sounding like Jamie telling what sounded like his and Claire’s children that “Mammy will be fine.”

“Jamie,” Claire began, her voice just above a whisper, “what if...what if they get me? The authorities...”

Jamie’s heart skipped a beat. Not just from the notion of her suggestion, but the fact that he hadn’t thought of it first.

“Iffrin,” he cursed in Gàidhlig. As if to keep her safer, he tightened his grip around her, pressing her head closer to his heart. He felt it start to beat madly in his chest. “Put that out o’ yer mind, Sassenach. Dinna linger on it. As I said, we canna verra weel know fer certain, and we canna stop it in any case. So far, we havena even figured out the source of these...fits. We shouldna tarry on what we canna control.”

Jamie hoped Claire would understand that he wasn’t trying to brush this matter under the rug. He wished with all his being that he could make these problems go away. Wished he could be the one to banish all of Claire’s doubts, feelings, and worries into the void, leaving just her smiling, happy face in its place. Unfortunately, the real world wasn’t a faerie tale.

---

The following morning, as Jamie showered and got dressed for work, Claire was in the kitchen with Jenny. The fragrant aroma of honey & cranberries wafted upstairs, causing Jamie’s wame to audibly cry out in protest. He hurried his routine up and took two stairs at a time. He did not want to miss anything Claire was cooking. If her latest batch of baked goods were anything like the last ones she made, he might suggest the outlandish notion of her opening a bakery.

“Ooh, honeyed bannocks!” Jamie exclaimed as he walked into the kitchen. He grabbed a few of the breaded morsels and popped half of one into his mouth. He chewed slowly, savoring the delicacy of flour, egg, honey, dried cranberry and yeast. “Yer getting better at this, Sassenach. These are my favorite thus far.”

“She’s surprisingly a natural in the kitchen, Jamie,” Jenny called out as she pulled the third tray of baked goods from the oven. Being the more experienced baker, her scones featured orange, lemon and the juice from apricots and honeydew. Rare flavors to pair together, one might think, but they were a Fraser family specialty.

“I’m just learning from the best,” Claire smiled coyly. “It’s really nothing more than following simple directions.”

“Aye, ye say that, and then ye get people who somehow catch rice on fire while it’s in a pot o’ water,” Jamie mused dryly. The women laughed, and Claire edged up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. The grin that spread across his face raced the warmth spreading through his limbs. She followed him towards the door, handing him a thermos full of fresh coffee and his backpack that contained all his work tools.

“Haste ye back, soldier,” Claire muttered. That had become her word for him, owing to his prior military service.

She was his ‘Sassenach.’ He was her ‘soldier.’

“As ye say,” Jamie replied, and kissed her lips quick but deep. His own legs felt like jello as he made his way towards the car, staring down what should be a rather easy work day.

---

“Ah, there we go!” Rupert asserted with confidence as he poured a small amount of whisky into a test glass. He gingerly took a whiff of the amber-hued liquid, then tipped it back into his mouth to taste. A few seconds later, he grinned in relief. “Much better, lad. Replacing the refrigeration coil has done wonders fer the product. Yer uncles will be verra pleased.”

Jamie beamed, and accepted a test glass of his own. He could already smell the difference before he even brought the glass to his own lips. But the taste was better than he could have hoped for. No longer did the product have a hint of copper, or any kind of metal. And this was before the whisky had time to age. 

“Aye, very fine indeed. The sherry barrels will only enhance the flavor,” Jamie agreed. He salivated at the thought of sharing whisky of this quality with Claire in five years’ time. raising his glass to Rupert, Angus and Willie. “Sláinte mhath!”

“Sláinte mhath!” The men replied in unison. They drank a bit more in companionable silence. When Jamie brought his glass back down, his wedding band on his left hand caught a glint from the emerging sunlight through the massive bay windows of Leoch’s tasting room.

“I noticed yer wee ring, Jamie,” Willie mused, an impish grin on his face. “D’ye finally promise yerself tae a lassie?”

“More than that, a charaid,” Jamie delighted, warmth spreading through his body that wasn’t entirely to blame on the uncut whisky. “I got married.”

The men stared at him, gawking in utter astonishment. It made Jamie blanch for a moment. Was I that much of a bachelor that it isna believable?

“Marrit?!” Angus ogled. “When? How? And...to whom ?”

“Or ye could just congratulate the lucky fellow instead o’ treatin’ him like a science experiment, ye coof,” Rupert sighed curtly, then he reached a large hand out for Jamie to grasp, which he did. “‘Gratuations tae ye and yer new bride, lad. May ye have many happy years together.”

“Thank ye kindly,” Jamie replied, basking in his colleagues’ adulation. Willie and, eventually, Angus, also expressed their most genuine felicitations to him. And they went about their day.

---

It was about twenty minutes before home time when someone was calling out Jamie’s name. He had his head buried deep in the bowels of one of the distillery’s larger tanks used for brewing Leoch’s experimental wine-based cognac. He didn’t hear anything until the lad was almost inside the tank with him. It was Tamas Baxter, a distant cousin of a sort, that would stay at the distillery under the watchful eye of either Colum, Dougal, or one of the other various adults, so the lad would stay out of trouble while his mother was away at work.

“Jamie!” Tamas called for what seemed like the dozenth time, given how out of breath he sounded.

Jamie carefully emerged from the tank, wiped the sweat from his brow and grinned down at the boy. “Alright, wee Tamas? Ye sound like ye’ve run a marathon!”

Tamas ignored this comment; he took his impromptu job as messenger boy for Colum and Dougal more seriously than he probably should. He was naught but twelve? Eleven? Jamie didn’t know.

“Himself awaits ye in his office. Said he wanted tae speak wi’ ye about...recent events.”

The way the boy said ‘recent events’ definitely got Jamie’s attention. 

“Aye,” Jamie said, the smile slowly sliding off his face, replaced with a moderate scowl of concern. “Tell him I’m on my way. Just gotta close up this yon tank here.”

Tamas nodded and scurried off, his footsteps echoing on the grey concrete flooring until he turned the corner and was out of sight. Jamie cleaned his hands with his work rag, gathered up his tools and started making his way towards the offices on the third story. It was a long walk from where he was, so he took his time and pondered what his uncles could possibly want.

At first, he thought he was in trouble. It made sense; the last four or five times Uncle Colum or Uncle Dougal had called him up, it was because he mucked up somewhere in his work. But lately, he’d been on the straight and narrow to potentially earn a promotion. Maybe they were calling him in to give him a personal congratulations.

Or...maybe they had heard about his marriage to Claire and were calling him to congratulate him on that.

He didn’t know why they would care. When his mother wed his father, the marriage wasn’t amicable with either Clan Fraser or Clan MacKenzie. Jamie knew, despite his parents’ being long gone, his uncles resented their beloved elder sister for marrying a Fraser.

Despite all that, Jamie had never had any reason to doubt his uncles, or their motives. They had always been nothing but cordial towards him and his sister. They sent a gift basket for each time Jenny gave birth, sent various gifts and sentiments for birthdays and the like. Jenny felt as though if they were going to go through the trouble of spending money on them, they could put in the same effort of visiting them in person.

“It’s just how they are,” Jamie had told his sister.

“Weel, if they expect us tae return the notion in kind,” Jenny’d retorted, “they oughta’ come out here tae see the kind o’ people we are. Showing ye care about someone is more valuable than any gift basket they could send.”

As he walked up the final set of stairs that led directly to Colum’s office door, he shoved aside any misgivings he might have about his uncles. They’d always had his back; therefore, he trusted them. He knocked on the door.

“Come in,” he heard Dougal’s voice from the other side.

Oh, this should be interesting, Jamie mused internally as he pushed the solid oak door open.

The space inside was enormous. It covered almost one entire corner of the distillery’s main floor plan. There were bookshelves that dotted the walls, a wee kitchenette in one corner, an elaborate lift opposite the kitchenette, and the center of the room showcased a six-foot-wide desk handcrafted of natural cherrywood. Colum had it custom made to accommodate the fact that he was wheelchair-bound. 

He had been diagnosed with Toulouse Lautrec Syndrome when he was a child, and never grew taller than four and a half feet as a result. When he graduated from college with two degrees in business management and started an apprenticeship under his father to one day take over the family business, he could no longer walk on his own, lest he shorten his already limited lifespan.

Dougal, on the other hand, was a strong, able-bodied man, only a few inches taller than Jamie’s own six-foot-four height, and was Colum’s legs, as well as his eyes, throughout the facility. He handled all of the manual labor portions of being owner and operator of Leoch’s Distillery Inc, and therefore held a good-sized share of ownership.

“Uncles,” Jamie greeted them. Dougal was standing behind Colum on his right. Both were eyeing him in a way Jamie could not identify.

“Ah!” Colum proclaimed with joy. “It’s the bridegroom!”

Well, that erased any lingering doubts Jamie had in his mind. They were calling upon him to congratulate him on his marriage.

“Aye,” Jamie said, with the ghost of a smile. He didn’t know why he suddenly felt uneasy about this. He hadn’t felt like his wame was churning in a washing machine when anyone else congratulated him that day. Surely it had nothing to do with his uncles, right? Or maybe it did.

Jamie noticed while both of them were smiling, Dougal’s back was ramrod straight, the muscles underneath his busy greying beard taught like a pulled bowstring. Despite not standing, Colum wasn’t much better. His own smile showed no teeth and was tighter than that of his brother’s. His cold, grey eyes held an eerily concentrated focus upon him. The air seemingly felt less dense, like it lacked the right amount of oxygen for him to breathe.

“So, nephew,” Colum inclined his head, not giving any more time to ponder, “who is the lucky lass? Anyone we know?”

Moment of truth. Short of Jenny, Ian, and Murtagh, no one else in the world knew who Claire was, let alone that Jamie was now her husband. And there was an even less likely chance that any harm could come from telling Colum and Dougal about her. Or so it seemed. Jamie’s blood raced through his veins like they were on F1 track, the corresponding heartbeats bounding in his head. Why was he so nervous?

“I doubt it,” Jamie eventually replied. “Her name’s Claire. Claire Beauchamp. She’s from Oxford, ken.”

“A Sassenach?” Colum raised an eyebrow at him, but Jamie couldn’t tell if it was out of judgement or a curious reaction. Like him, his uncles were very skilled at hiding how they really felt from their faces. “That’s very interesting indeed. Always thought ye’d be like yer mother, and marry someone from a...an unexpected clan...”

Now Jamie knew there was shade being thrown in his direction, and he let his own mask down for just a moment so they could see he didn’t approve of their tone. None of the men ever openly acknowledged the late Ellen MacKenzie Fraser aloud, so for her own brother to talk about her in such a manner...

“She is my clan now, Uncle. Lady Broch Tuarach.”

Jamie felt smug as he saw Dougal shift uncomfortably. Long ago, before the days of the Jacobite Rising, The MacKenzies and the Grants were trying to form an alliance so that they could take over the Frasers of Lovat’s clan lands. The plan was to have the eldest MacKenzie daughter wed one of the elder Grant sons, then the clans would be the most powerful in Scotland. Taking Lovat’s lands and having them become part of Clan MacKenzie-Grant would have been enough to hold power when the Rising finally happened. 

But as it happened, the MacKenzie daughter secretly wed one of the Fraser of Lovat’s sons and the Grants essentially disowned the MacKenzies for life. To this day, Grants do not associate with anyone from MacKenzie, whether from Leoch or not, if they can help it. Jamie was fairly certain he was a direct descendent of those MacKenzies because it mirrored his own parents’ story of how they came to be. But because of that, there had always been lingering tension between the MacKenzies of Leoch and the Frasers of Lovat.

If Jamie had married someone with no clan association, the lands that Lallybroch sat upon could be passed down to any children Jamie and his spouse had. And that, naturally, was a thumbtack in his uncles’ backsides.

“Aye, weel,” Colum mused, and he wheeled his way from his desk towards Jamie. He reached out his arms so Jamie could bend over and hug him. Colum smelled like freshly lit peat fires and barley. It was always a welcoming scent for the young Fraser. “Dougal and I extend our profound good wishes fer a long and happy marriage, nephew. Please send yer wife our felicitations, and expect a wee wedding present tae be sent in the post soon.'

Jamie stood from his back-aching hug with Colum and reached out to Dougal, who hugged him quickly but fiercely, patting him on the back with a genuine smile.

“Well done, lad,” Dougal said with enthusiasm. “I expect tae see some great nieces and nephews in the future, aye?”

Jamie laughed, the sense of dread momentarily forgotten in the spirit of jovial expressions. “Aye Uncle. Thank ye both. Truly.”

“We willna stop ye,” Colum said, checking his watch. “Blessed bride, we’ve kept ye longer than yer shift! Go on home tae yer bride, Jamie. See ye tomorrow.”

“See ye, Uncle!” Jamie called out as he walked out of the office and headed towards the break rooms on the first floor. 

As he left the room, his chest became lighter, breathing became easier, and his heart lifted at the thought of going home to Claire. He smiled to himself as he grabbed his gear and headed towards the car park.

“I guess my own thought got the better o’ me,” he said to no one as he slid into the driver seat of his car and drove to Lallybroch.

---

Colum and Dougal watched as the door swung close behind Jamie, neither of them taking their eyes off the back of his head. Neither spoke, barely dared to breathe audibly, until the young man’s footsteps could no longer be heard.

Slowly, Colum wheeled himself back towards his desk. Dougal pivoted to watch as he did so, rooted where he stood. Colum opened a drawer and withdrew a landline rotary telephone. He picked up the receiver, brought it to his face, and dialed a short series of numbers.

The dialing tone could be heard even though it was muted slightly.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Seconds ticked by as Colum waited for the recipient of his call to pick up.

Then, muffled voices sounded aloud, almost like they were on speakerphone.

“It’s about time, MacKenzie,” said the sharp, crisp British voice of a man. “I was starting to think you would chicken out.”

“It’s lovely tae hear from ye too, Randall.” Colum made direct, deliberate eye contact with his younger brother. Both of them smiled in a way that would have curdled milk. “We found yer lass.”

Chapter Text

 

Two Weeks Later

 

Domestic bliss. 

At least, that’s what Jamie recalled it being. He’d never had any real experience on the subject. What would have seemed monotonous to him months ago, brought him so much joy and contentment, he wondered how he ever needed anything else in his life.

It was the weekend, and a rare, warm, and sunny day in the Highlands. Naturally, everyone was taking advantage of it. While Claire was finally getting her hands dirty in the herb garden she and Jenny had started together, Jamie and Ian were sitting beside the old swimming pond behind Lallybroch, cold Leoch brews in their hands and conversing amongst themselves while the children splashed at each other.

He was so distracted by the seemingly endless peace that he didn’t notice that Jenny had gone inside the house to make lunch until she was standing on the ledge shouting, “Come and eat!”

There was a wooden picnic table, big enough to seat twelve people, already prepped with a tablecloth and laden with food and drink. Coldcut sandwiches with sharp cheddar cheese slices, baby spinach, and sugar-cured ham; bowls of mixed fruit salad, where the fruit came from the neighboring orchard; homemade caramelized onions and garlic hummus with fresh crisps; and enough fruit punch (both spiked for the adults, and plain for the bairns) to keep all of Broch Mordha quenched on this hot day.

“Ye sure we can eat all this, Jenny?” Jamie asked, but already knew the answer. If he couldn’t, Ian certainly could. “Seems a wee bit much.”

“Have ye ever see you eat, a bràthair? ” Jenny quipped, causing everyone to laugh, Jamie included.

Everyone tucked in and feasted to their hearts’ content. Jamie kept gazing back towards Claire, who was sitting across from him and engaged in an intense debate with wee Jamie and Maggie about whether the color purple was, in fact, a real color. He told himself he just wanted to make sure she was getting enough to eat, but he couldn’t deny himself the pleasure of watching her. The way her wavy hair glinted with the faintest shimmer of amber gold in the sunlight, how her smile made her whisky-colored eyes shine just that much brighter, how her laugh was just the most musical sound he had ever heard in his life.

He truly could not believe how lucky, blessed, and fortunate he was to have this woman, this goddess, as his wife.

Eventually, Claire took notice of him looking at her and she smiled at him.

“What is it?” She asked coyly.

“Nothing, Sassenach,” he replied. “Just...I’m sae glad you’re wi’ us...”

The words sounded so simple and mundane to his ears, but he meant it with all his heart, and hoped the feeling he had put into those words were felt. Not just now, but forever.

So long as we both shall live.

---

“I’d planned on workin’ late today, Sassenach,” Jamie told Claire the following Monday. He was pulling his work bag together by the front door as Claire stuffed leftover sandwiches and a thermos of unspiked fruit juice into his lunch box. “I hope ye dinna mind.”

“Oh, I think I can find plenty around here to occupy myself while you’re away,” Claire sighed with faux desperation, which caused Jamie to chuckle. “Jenny plans to go help Ian with the weekly inventory check at the store today, and if the weather holds, I plan to finally plant those strawberry plants in the garden. Though,” she stole a glance out the door, “those clouds hanging over the house look rather ominous and most certainly promise a storm.”

“Aye,” Jamie agreed grimly. “Dinna fash. Ye can always work on yer click-it skills.”

She shot him a dirty look, but then mirrored his smile. While Claire had become very good at knitting over the last few weeks, she hadn’t picked up on it quite as quickly or efficiently as the rest of the Fraser-Murray clan. Something everyone liked to occasionally poke fun at.

“Ho ho,” Claire mused, pushing him playfully towards his car. “Haste ye back, James Fraser. Or else.”

Jamie smirked deviously. “Or else what?”

Claire matched his smirk with a devilish one of her own. “Or else...I will follow you to the distillery...I will drag you back by your thick red curls...and you won’t like it one bit.”

Lust and hormones were raging through his body now. He rather liked the idea of Claire doing exactly that to him, whether she actually did or not.

“No...Sassenach,” Jamie replied, his voice thick with wanting, “I’m sure I wouldn’t.” He leaned in and kissed her with all the love, passion, and feeling his heart could muster. He gave her one last smile, got into his car, and drove off. He couldn’t wait to get back home this evening and show her more of his love.

---

“Glad that’s done with,” Jamie grunted, wiping the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief he kept in his back pocket. This particular fermentation tank, on the second floor, had been giving him trouble all day, and he was eager to get it back up and running before the day’s end. Finding the problem didn’t take long, but solving it and putting it back in service made him wish he had convinced his uncles to spring for a new one. But, frugal to their core, Dougal and Colum had insisted that the blasted bugger had more life in it and just needed to be repaired.

“If we replaced everything that was broken, why would we keep ye around, mister maintenance man?” Dougal had asked, with his usual air of pompous, overinflated self-importance.

“Och, ye’d still keep me around, Uncle,” Jamie had replied coolly, and not without his own crude tolerance, “unless yer suggesting ye now have my level of maintenance experience and plan tae maintain them all yerself. In which case, I’ll gladly put in my notice now. Save us all the trouble.”

Jamie hummed satisfactorily to himself, remembering how Dougal just shot him a dirty glare and walked away. This behavior was usually indicative that Dougal had been in the wrong, which he never handled very well.

At long last, the damned distillery tank roared to life and made the familiar noises that indicated it was once again fully operational. Jamie sent a word of thanks to God for the effort, patted the machine lightly, signifying a job well done, and made to gather his tools. His plan was to clock out, stop by the market to see if Jenny or Ian needed anything, and then head home and spend the evening in the sole company of his bride.

Plans rarely ever work out though. Jamie hadn’t seen or heard anyone behind him, preventing him from defending himself when he was struck by something hard and metal on the back of the head, and everything went black.

---

“Glad that’s done with,” Claire said to herself with satisfaction as she wiped dirty hands on her gardening apron. She took a moment to admire her handiwork. Two rows, six plants in each, eighteen inches apart; the strawberry plants should start to bear new fruit within a few weeks, provided she kept them watered properly. It was a much smaller plot than she wanted, but it would have to do with all the other herbs and flowers growing around the garden.

Thunder rolled in the distance, closer than she was comfortable with, and that told Claire it was time to head inside and start preparing for dinner. Jenny had said she wouldn't be back until close to supper anyway and had left a recipe for Claire to make in her place. She was so thankful her sister-in-law trusted her with such an important task and was eager to make them all proud, especially Jenny. She quickly rinsed her hands off in the bucket of clean water, staged just outside the garden for that exact purpose, and made her way towards the house.

Claire had almost no time to react before a scratchy, burlap sack was thrust over her head and sealed tightly around her throat. She shrieked like a banshee, thrashed and writhed, trying to fight off this unknown and unseen assailant, when she heard more footprints coming up the front entryway. 

Voices of angry men surrounded her. This did not deter her auditory distress. She cried out for someone, anyone, to help, but knew perfectly well she was the only one on the premises. What was going on? Who were these people?!

The assailants made quick work of her hands and feet, binding them up so she could not kick or hit. She was going purely by feel and sound at this point. Her vision was completely occluded by the sack.She strained her ears to listen further. Maybe what was being said would give her a clue as to who the attackers were?

“Call it in,” said a gruff, light English accent above her.

She made out the muffled sounds of someone reaching into a bag and pulling out a bulky object. The object made an electrical noise. A two-way radio?

“Sir,” another rough voice said, only this one was thick and Scottish. “We got her.”

Claire didn’t hear anything, from the supposed two-way radio, before something slammed down on her head, knocking her out.

---

Her head throbbed with each painful beat of her heart, or so it seemed. The room Claire was in was dark and cold, the floor filthy and grimy with God knew what. There were no lights on in this dank...prison cell? Holding room? Warehouse? It sure felt like a prison cell. She couldn’t see anything with it being so dark. Claire had to rely on her other senses. Her clothes felt heavier than before. Were they wet? She only hoped it was with rainwater and not blood, though given how battered and bruised she felt, she didn’t put much stock in that not being true. Her hands were bound behind her, but her legs were free. She tried to use the wall to stand up, but cried out in pain when she tried to push herself against the wall. The pain was excruciating, but nothing felt broken below the waist. Perhaps an ankle, or both, were sprained? Claire slid back down onto the floor without much grace. She tried to cry out, but her throat felt raw and sore. Had she been screaming that much? She couldn’t remember.

Random thoughts flooded through her mind. Did anyone know where she was? Jenny? Ian? Oh God... Jamie!

If Jamie came home and found her gone, no doubt he would be tearing the Scottish Highlands apart looking for her. But how long would that take? Wasn’t he still at work? He had to be. He wasn’t supposed to be home until well after supper. She knew Jenny and Ian would sound some kind of alarm when they came home from their supermarket and found her missing. But how long would that take? What time even was it, anyway? She had no sense of time or direction in here. She had to find a way out, no matter the cost.

Just when she was starting to contemplate her impromptu escape plan, the sounds of a solid metal door being unlocked and slowly swinging open sounded in her ears. It must have been the door to her cell, as the light that bled into the room blinded her so much, she had to tightly shut her eyes. She coughed slightly as the momentum of the door opening kicked up a lot of dust, and she inadvertently breathed it all in.

When her vision and lungs cleared, two tall figures stood in the doorway, their silhouettes shielding the light from her line of sight.

“Who are you?” She croaked, new pain erupting from her vocal cords. “Where am I?”

Neither person spoke. One of them stalked straight towards her, hand outstretched as he reached to grab her by the hair. She flailed her legs and managed to land a kick somewhere delicate and sensitive. Definitely a man, she thought cynically, for he groped between his legs and went down with a solid thud . The other man (yes, also a man, judging by the deep voice) growled in anger and kicked her legs back in. A fresh wave of dizzying pain precluded any further attempts of Claire defending herself. The second man grabbed her by the hair and dragged her into the light of a hallway, where the light was even more blinding.

Claire was dragged into another room, similar to the cell she was just in, and forced to sit in a rusty metal chair, where her hands were secured to its dingy back. A single flickering bulb swung precariously above her head. There were no other objects or people in the room so far as Claire could tell. For what felt like an eternity, but was probably just a few minutes, she was alone. Who were these people? What did they want with her?

The horrid thought that this had something to do with her newfound family creeped into her mind. Was the Fraser-Murray clan somehow involved in some kind of illegal criminal organization, and now Claire was taken as some kind of ransom? Did Jamie owe someone money, and the refusal to pay would result in her demise? Did Ian really run a supermarket? Was the entire town of Broch Mordha in this organization? The crazy thoughts didn’t stop, and she wondered if she had a bigger head injury than she’d thought.

The door opened again, and a man she didn’t recognize walked in. He looked too well dressed to be hanging around a place like this. From what little dim, buzzing light was illuminating the place, Claire could see he was wearing a tailored, three-piece suit, and his shoes looked like they were shined five minutes before he arrived.

“So,” the man said, in a rather posh British accent. Not unlike her own. “You’re the infamous escaped mental ward patient.”

She kept her mouth shut. She didn’t want to be part of anything to do with...whatever this was.

“Cat got your tongue, I see,” the man chuckled, as if they were discussing the weather. “Very well, then. I have...other ways of making anyone talk.”

Her heart skipped a beat. Other ways?

---

On and on, the interrogation dragged.. Every time Claire said she didn’t know the answer to a question, someone hit her. It was a different hit each time, in a different place on her body, with a different object. But she wouldn’t budge. She refused to talk. She would not potentially incriminate herself by speaking to these monsters. No matter what.

“Fine, then,” the man in the suit spat, as if his words were made of pure acid, “Grab the cables. If we can’t beat the answers out of her, maybe we can shock them out.”

Gulp.

“I doubt that would do you any more good than you’ve already done, Reginald.”

Yet another voice she didn’t recognize joined the fray. More lights came on now, and Claire could see another tall man in the doorway. But he was holding something firmly between his fists.

No. Not something.

Someone.

Jamie.

The man unceremoniously dropped her unconscious husband at her bound feet.

She couldn’t help the cry that emerged from her demolished throat. She struggled some more as she tried to reach him.

“Jamie,” she whined. It was the first words she’d spoken since her abduction. She could see that he was still breathing, but it was alarmingly slow. He let out a painful moan as the man who dragged him in kicked at his kidneys.

“Damn,” the man said, “I thought he would be dead by now.”  

Her stomach clenched. If she had anything in there, it would be all over her feet by now.

“Now,” he turned his attention back to her. “My darling Claire. Let’s dispense with the dramatics and lies now, please? I know you know who you are, who I am, and why exactly you busted out of that vacation spot everyone keeps calling a ‘mental hospital’. The question is, why won’t you say anything? Are my brutes not being harsh enough with you?”

The part of her that wanted to keep silent was slipping away. What was the point now? She hadn’t expected Jamie to swoop in and save her like some hero from an action film. But now that he was here, bound and imprisoned as she was, any hope that either of them would walk out disappeared. 

So why stay quiet? Why let Randall steal from her the chance to fight back with the only weapon she had: her voice? Even if it amounted to nothing, it was better than remaining silent without even a clue what it was she was meant to be protecting. And even though her heart ached to think of Jamie here and in danger because of her, she drew strength from his presence. Laying unconscious at her feet, he made her feel more like herself than she had since being taken from the garden. Surer, and braver. 

Lifting her chin in defiance, she said, “You can’t beat information out that isn't there.” He was about to respond, but she cut him off. “But since I now know who is behind this ridiculous abduction attempt, let’s pretend for a moment that I do know who you are, and I am lying. Why? Why go through all this trouble for someone you supposedly wanted to keep locked away? What makes poor old me so valuable?”

That caught the man off guard. He blinked, and in that miniscule moment, he went from astonished to angry. He glared at her.

“Mr. Randall, sir,” the man in the three piece suit stopped him, placing a tentative hand on his arm. He tried to keep his tone at a whisper, but such a feat seemed beyond his capabilities. “We’ve done everything we could think of in the book. We’ve practically tortured this woman nearly to death. This is the first time she’s spoken since being taken from that damn farm! She’s no weakling, that’s for sure. Tread lightly.”

Claire was somehow reassured by this, and it hardened her resolve. Simultaneously, any anger the so-called Mr. Randall had vanished. He eyed her warily, and she just smiled genuinely. As if she had all the time in the world.

In reality, she did. Either they got whatever they wanted out of her, or they didn’t. All she knew was that she and Jamie were not leaving this warehouse alive.

Time, space, history...be damned. She certainly was.

“Well?” She called out with cool contempt. “I’m not getting any younger, Mister Randall.” She spoke his name with all the malice, boldness, and challenge she could muster. No man on this planet would ever make her feel anything less than the way Jamie made her feel. 

Worthy. Appreciated. Loved.

Love.

Mr. Randall, trying to still his obviously shaken resolve, just laughed.

“Oh, my dear, you always were a feisty one. Your precious Uncle Lamb even warned me about that before I married you.”

Her heart skipped another beat. Oh, God. This was him!

Frank Randall.

“Both you, your parents, and that miserable fool, Lambert, thought they were so clever. But nobody undercuts the Randall Brothers.”

Holy fucking shit. Her mind started racing. We were right.

Frank more or less described the scenario that Murtagh uncovered about the infamous Randall brothers. Only this time, he shared what she had to do with it. 

The Beauchamps owned one of the largest plots of land in the Highlands and it was used for their philanthropic endeavors. It had nice homes built for the poor and disadvantaged, several food kitchens and shops, a vast medical facility with a variety of specialties to accommodate their illnesses and injuries. The only thing that was asked in return was to “look out for your fellow neighbor, so nobody would ever go without their needs again.” A flourishing little hamlet for those who resided there.

Henry and Julia, and by extension Lambert, absolutely refused to give in to the Randalls’ demands, even sending their own lawyers after the men for harassment and unlawful trespassing. For months, it was battled in and out of court. Until one day, the Randall brothers abruptly backed off. The Beauchamps had thought they were safe.

“I will admit, I got cocky. Thought that if I married you, your inheritance and fortune would automatically become mine. But your parents were smarter than I realized. Made it so no one could claim what was rightfully yours, even if you were to wed. I underestimated them. Only upon the deaths of all three Beauchamps would the land be legally passed down, and with it all its control and habitations, to one Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.”

A tear ran down her cheek. He saw this and gave her a smirk that would have made the devil himself shiver. 

“I did what I had to do. It was easy, considering they all slept in the same house.”

Claire let out a sob louder than she meant to. “You’re a monster.”

“Maybe,” Frank snided, then shrugged. “But I always win. No matter what.”

Bright flashes of light started to dance before her eyes. Strange sounds flitted in and out of her head. People shouting her name, the sound of machines beeping and children crying. She grunted in pain, but tried to focus.

“Why put me in an insane asylum only to have me legally declared dead?” She gritted her teeth, for the pain was growing in intensity.

Frank once again shrugged, as if being asked his favorite flavor of tea. “It was the only way to keep the papers away from you. Lord knows you were their favorite toy.”

More flashes of light, getting brighter to the point of physical pain. She couldn’t hold it back for much longer. The voices were getting louder.

“Sassenach?!”

“Claire!”

“Mummy!”

“Mam!”

“But none of that matters now,” Frank said, oblivious to her current struggle. “Soon, you and your false husband will be dead, and I’ll finally take what is mine.”

If Claire had noticed that Frank had pulled out a gun, and then shot Jamie point blank in the head, she gave no indication. But the sound of the shot broke something inside her. The pain blinded her, as did the light, which completely clouded her vision.

Her screams shattered everything around her. The chains around her hands and feet. The metal walls all busted around her. The men that were once her captors disintegrated into a fine spray of mist, and Frank looked as though he was melting into his shoes.

The screams died away, and everything permanently went white.

---

“Claire? A nighean? Can ye hear me, Sassenach?”

A deep breath of what felt like relief exploded from her chest, and she tried to sit up.

“Careful now, mo chridhe. Ye dinna want tae strain yerself.”

She opened her eyes, and the scene before her nearly shocked her back into unconsciousness.

“Jamie?” Her voice was an uneasy croak, but she was able to speak. In fact, she was alive. “W-What?”

“Dinna fash yerself, a nighean! Ye are alive. Ye are whole. All is weel.”

Claire looked to the right of the hospital bed she was in, and saw-

“Ellen!” She exclaimed, though the action left her winded slightly.

“Aye, who else d’ye expect?” Ellen Fraser chuckled. “I sent yer parents and uncle home tae get some well needed rest.”

“My- oh...” was all she could say before laying back down. She took in her surroundings. Yep. Definitely a hospital room. “Where am I?”

“Raigmore Regional,” Jamie replied. “Ye scared me half tae death, Sassenach.”

He bent over and kissed her on the forehead. His touch was warm and soft, and his hands kept her anchored to Earth. “Dinna worry yerself, a ghràidh . I’m sure ye have questions. I’ll explain everything. But after ye eat yer dinner.”

Chapter Text

 

It was close to dinnertime. I realized I was starving, but too weak to leave the hospital bed. Not that I could in any case, for Jamie had told me that until I received a clean bill of health from my doctor, I was stuck here. Undeterred as always, he made a whispered phone call to his mother to inquire about our dinner. Within almost no time at all, Ellen had arrived with a home cooked meal fit for a king. Or, so I always believed. I was never much of a cook, and Ellen had no problem filling in with the skills that I lacked. I, of course, wanted her to stay. I felt like I hadn’t seen her in ages. But she declined, saying that we “needed time to catch up, just the two of us,” and took her leave.

I ate until I couldn’t possibly eat anymore. Stuffed pheasant with garlic and butter, steamed potatoes with more butter and no salt (my only real complaint), carrots, and a good sized helping of Ellen’s famous apple butter tart pie. I managed two bites of the pie before I put the fork down, pleasantly satisfied. Jamie, however, was all too happy to oblige, never one to let food go to waste. I guess that happens when you spend your childhood on a farm and living off the land.

“I expect ye have many questions,” Jamie said sarcastically. I wanted to slap him, but despite being well fed, I hadn’t the energy. So my best glare would have to suffice. It made him laugh. “It’s verra fine tae see ye smile again, mo nighean donn.

“You always did have very high expectations of me, I suppose,” I said, and failed to suppress a rather large yawn.

“We can wait until ye have more-”

“No, I’m alright,” I hurried to cut him off before he could finish. Not only did I want to know, I needed to know. How long have I been here? What happened? Did Frank put me here? But if he did...why was Jamie alive? And more than that, what the hell was Ellen Fraser herself doing here? “I need to know Jamie. It would be better for me to know now, no matter what state I’m in, rather than try to sleep without knowing.”

“Aye,” he said in a way that signified the end to that matter. “I can imagine.” He took a deep breath, and all traces of humor left his face. “What’s the last thing you remember, Sassenach?”

I took my time with thinking before answering, “I honestly don’t know.” I huffed an annoyed sigh, but sobered as I looked up at him. He was wearing a faded blue hoodie that read “Broch Mordha High School,” with an even more faded depiction of a rather discerning grizzly bear behind the lettering. His alma mater. Mine, too. And to date, really, that sweatshirt was the only cold weather article of clothing he owned. Being Scottish meant that he had a natural tendency to create extra body heat during the coldest parts of the year. Below that, I could see he was in pajama bottoms (Fraser plaid, another one of his favorites, I remembered), and a worn pair of gray house shoes. Our children would always affectionately call them his “Da shoes.” Something I knew Jamie took great pride in.

It was slowly coming back to me now. Not necessarily what happened to land me in the hospital, but my life in general. My career. My family. My children. Jamie. His family. The blurry visions of what life was like before now were becoming clearer. Everything that I felt I had just experienced was all a dream. It had to be! How else could I distinctly remember witnessing Frank Randall shoot Jamie in the head at point blank range, and yet he was sitting here healthy as a horse like it never happened?

Because it didn’t.

“I can hear ye thinking sae loudly, Claire, it’s interrupting my own thoughts,” Jamie mused, but he had a grin on his face. “D’ye want tae share wi’ the class?”

I rolled my eyes at his mimicry of an old history teacher of ours from Broch Mordha High School. Master Raymond, everyone called him. He was probably the best teacher we ever had in our days in school. Strong-minded, fiercely intelligent, but not unkind. Originally from France, he made a lot of students’ lives a bit brighter by being their teacher. A flashback of his funeral a few years after we’d all graduated flitted through my mind. He was sorely missed.

“I can’t really describe it in any other way than I had the strangest dream. It...” I took a deep breath, temporarily reliving it all again. “It all felt so real...”

Jamie’s thick auburn brows furrowed at this, and he leaned forward, perching his chin atop his hands.

I told him everything. Being an escaped asylum patient, how I came to Lallybroch, and the oddest sensation that I was living through Jamie’s perspective. The whole time, Jamie listened. Perhaps he didn’t understand it all, but he was a patron saint of patience. When I had finished, he sat back in his seat, as if he was taking it all in, one piece of a puzzle at a time.

“People that have been long gone in real life were alive, and well...the opposite was true,” I said, leaning back against the mountain of pillows on the hospital bed, sinking back with a sigh. These patient beds were a lot more comfortable than they looked. “Your parents, my parents, your brothers...they were gone, but Colum and Dougal were alive. And they ran Leoch Distillery together.”

Jamie laughed with his whole body at that. “Och, Christ! I bet they’d sell their souls to the devil to actually come back and take it from me, if they could.”

It was true. Both Jamie’s uncles, Colum and Dougal MacKenzie, had died in the years when we were first starting our family. Our eldest, Faith, was six months old when Dougal was killed by what was officially defined as “gross misadventure.” But to this day, the only people who knew what truly happened to him are Jamie and his mother. Being the head of the family after her own parents passed away, Ellen MacKenzie Fraser made certain her family’s legendary name would not be tarnished at the hands of her “misbegotten clotheid o’ a wee brother.”

Colum, on the other hand, had numerous health problems. For one, and this was true in my dream, he was confined to a wheelchair after his genetic bone dysplasia progressed too much. Add to the fact that he was a chronic alcoholic and heavy smoker, it was a wonder he lived as long as he did, passing just before our youngest child, Brianna, was born. I remember being very pregnant and miserable on that rainy day at the cemetery. His wife, Letitia, looked like she’d rather have been at a pub than burying her husband. Jamie and I knew his aunt did not have the happily ever after he and I did, and he reminded me as such after the services.

“Auntie Let didna much care for her husband as much as she let on. I ken she’s glad tae take the insurance money and move on wi’ her life.”

Before Colum died, though, Ellen made sure that Leoch Distillery was left in the most capable hands she knew. With Brian and Willie, Jamie’s older brother, running the farm at Lallybroch and Ellen, Jenny, and their youngest brother Rabbie managing the family grocery store to which said farm provided goods and produce, the distillery and all its control was left to Jamie when he was ready. 

Since taking over the business, the small whisky distillery had widely expanded their ventures. They now had international contracts, making and selling not only whisky, but rum, gin, and now he was looking into making cognac, something Brian expressed much excitement over. 

With Jamie essentially providing handsomely for our family, I could have chosen the cush life of a Highland housewife and stay at home mother. But juggling ballet lessons and PTA meetings just wasn’t something I was meant to do. I was meant to provide for people in other ways, and not just my family. So, when I mentioned to Jamie that I was interested in going into nursing, he told me to “pick a school” and he would pay for it.

Two and a half years after that, I found myself working at the very hospital where all three of my children were born.

My face went slack with horror as I started to remember. Jamie caught the look on my face and reached for my hand, taking it into his. They were just as large and soft and warm as I’d remembered them.

“It was touch and go for a long while,” he said softly, as if to keep his emotions at bay. “We...Christ, Claire, we didna ken if ye’d make it.”

I felt a tear start to bubble up in my eye, threatening to make its escape. “Tell me. I need to know. I...oh, Jamie, I can’t remember what happened!”

The tears won their battle, and I started to cry. Jamie did not hesitate to move me aside so he could lay beside me in the hospital bed, mindful of all the wires and tubes still attached to me. He held me close as I sobbed into his chest. I barely heard him whispering soft accolades in Gàidhlig, like I was one of the horses at Lallybroch spooked by a mouse. He smoothed my hair away from my face and dabbed at the corners of my eyes with a tissue.

“Yer safe now, mo chridhe, ” he cooed. “Nae harm will come tae ye.”

I looked up into his face, and I could see tears of his own threatening to make their own escape. I reached up with a fragile hand to wipe them away, and the pulse oximeter clip on my finger poked him in the eye accidentally. We both laughed softly at the flub.

“We dinna have tae do this now, Sassenach,” he said quietly. “Ye can rest if ye need it.”

I did need it. I felt so tired and drained from recent events that my bones cried out for respite. But I also knew myself. I would not rest peacefully until I knew the truth.

“I can rest after I know what happened to me. Jamie, please...” I wasn’t one to beg for anything, and I felt almost ashamed to do it now. But Jamie just smiled wearily at me.

“Aye, that’s a braw idea,” Jamie was saying into the phone at his desk at Leoch Distillery. He was in his office finalizing the contracts with a cognac vineyard in France and, until that point, had been speaking French. But he was so excited to get this new venture going that he slipped back into his native Scots. The man on the other line took a pause at this, and Jamie laughed with an apology. He continued the rest of the conversation in French. By the time he was hanging up, the elation was eating away at his marrow.

But that jubilation would be short-lived.

Everyone who worked at Leoch knew if they needed Jamie for anything, all they had to do was knock twice and then enter his office. He was known for being a very involved CEO and took great care in providing for his employees.

So when Rupert opened his door without knocking, Jamie knew something was wrong.

“Raigmore is on line two for ye, a charaid,” was all he said. Only one thing could put that look on Rupert MacKenzie’s face.

Claire was in trouble.

He nodded and picked up the phone, pressing the number two on the screen.

“James Fraser,” he said.

“Jamie,” came the timid voice of a woman he kent very well. Well enough to ken she never got timid.

“Geillis? What’s amiss, a nighean?” His heart was pounding now, the anxiety of something being so wrong with his wife that her best friend and godmother to their children was the one calling instead of Claire herself.

“I hate tae be the one tae teel ye this, a charaid,” Geillis started, and Jamie could tell she was distraught. Not much in life ruffled the feathers of Geillis Duncan. It was one of the reasons why she and Claire were so close. They were kindred spirits. “Claire is verra ill. We dinna ken exactly wi’ what, but she collapsed on the floor. She’s a verra high fever, chills, and she couldna breathe. I need ye here as soon as-”

“I’m leavin’ now,'' was all Jamie said before he slammed the phone down on the receiver, grabbed his coat, keys, and wallet, and made a mad dash for the exit. He stopped by the receptionist’s desk to let Mary Hawkins-Randall know he’d be gone for an unknown amount of time. When Mary tried to inquire, he just told her that he would let them know as soon as he did. And he left.

Geillis met him outside and directed him straight to Claire, glaring at anyone on his behalf who tried to stop them.

Claire looked so fragile and broken in the hospital bed, nothing like the strongly fierce and independent woman he’d fallen in love with all those years ago. Her pallor was almost a deadly shade of gray, motionless, so unlike her fiery constitution. She was already on a ventilator, with too many machines surrounding her for him to be comfortable. 

Whatever sounds were outside the room were drowned out by a ringing in his ears that seemed to grow louder and louder as the seconds ticked by. His breathing became shallow and quick, his vision blurring bit by bit. He felt dizzy and unsure of himself, as if he didn’t know where he was. Geillis put an arm on his arm to steady himself. He gripped it with one of his own. If it was too tight for her, she gave no indication.

“She started coughing really bad this morning, and it sounded like bronchitis at first, but she couldn’t stop, and she was gasping for breath by the end, and-” Geillis stopped herself, as if she was afraid to continue. “I and another nurse made sure she didn’t hit her head when she went down. I’m sae sorry, Jamie...I...we did everything, and-”

“Ye did weel, a leannan,” Jamie said, taking the slim redhead into his arms and planting a firm kiss on her temple. “I’m no' going back to work until she’s recovered. No matter what. I’ll need tae ring the office, but I got this.”

“D’ye need me tae call anyone? Yer mam? Da? What about the bairns? I can help.”

“If it’s no’ too much trouble, can ye call Jenny and let her know? I probably willna be home tonight.”

“Aye I can,” Geillis squeezed his hands, walked over to plant a gentle kiss to Claire’s forehead, then dashed off.

“It took three weeks fer ye tae come off the vent,” Jamie said, his eyes staring just beyond the room's small window, but I knew his vision wasn't looking at anything in here. I could believe it, though. I felt the raw rubbing of an intubation kit not only in my throat, but across the lower half of my face where it would have been secured. I knew from professional experience that long-term intubation can lead to dependency and weakening of the lungs, which is why they’re only used when they’re really needed. It’s also why most patients who require intubation and are very sick usually don’t survive. If I was that sick, then my recovery must be a miracle.

“Do the doctors know what really happened?” I asked hesitantly. The medical part of my mind was thinking “bronchitis isn’t that dangerous, surely, I’m too healthy for that,” but deep down I think I knew.

I hadn’t been feeling well in the weeks leading up to this, but I was working so hard and I kept putting off going to our family doctor. "Stubborn, as always," Jamie would say in a joking manner, but something I think it frustrated him. Had I been seen in a timely manner, maybe this could have been caught sooner and wouldn’t have led to such dramatic measures.

Of course, he could still read the thoughts on my face. “Ye had both bronchitis and pneumonia in both lungs, Sassenach,” Jamie said without preamble. “And ‘afore ye start cursin’ yerself for no being careful, don’t. Yer doctor was saying fer someone as healthy as ye are, this was a once in a lifetime chance of sheer bad luck. We couldna have kent it ‘aforehand. Ye’ve done nothing wrong.”

I had a feeling he was just saying that to ease my guilt, and while I knew better, it didn’t quite work. The guilt still ate at me. There were signs, had to be, and I ignored them. True, it was rare to have both illnesses simultaneously without some underlying or chronic medical condition causing it, but still. I left it at that though. As Ellen had said, I was alive. I was whole. All was well.

“The children?” I asked feebly, as if I was afraid of the answer. I needn't have worried, though.

“Braw, as always,” Jamie smiled at that. “They miss ye something fierce, though. Fergus has been beggin’ tae come and see ye, but Mam and I determined it wouldna help matters, seein’ ye in that state. Plus, this ward is filled wi’ the verra sick. Children aren’t allowed anyway.” I nodded, suddenly longing to have our children back in our arms.

Jamie’s mobile rang at this time, and he reached into his pocket to answer it. His face lit up once he saw who was calling.

“Hello, Mary! How are things, a nighean? ” Jamie said into the phone. I couldn’t hear exactly what she was saying, but she sounded frantic, and Jamie’s face went from happy to concerned in an instant. “Oh aye? Hang on, lemme find the remote.”

Jamie reached over to the bedside table to my left and opened the drawer. He pulled out the remote for the large flatscreen television mounted to the wall directly in front of me, clicked it on, and changed the channel to Channel 4.

“Christ, ye werena kidding, lass.” Jamie said in a low voice.

My heart all but stopped at the enlarged picture of Frank Randall on the screen. It appeared to be one of his many mugshots, his face looking more gaunt than mine felt with bruises and cuts all over his face. The newsperson speaking on the telly sounded grim, and it matched the headline bolded in large letters.

“Notorious Criminal Dead by Police Intervention”

“I ken ye and yer husband didna care fer the man, but I am sorry.” Jamie said into the phone. I heard him muttering something and then hanging up the phone, before he sat back down in his chair to stare at the man on the screen before us with me.

“I never understood what ye ever saw in him, Sassenach.” Jamie said without any hint of sarcasm or pleasure. “He was a wicked man.”

Indeed he was. Frank and I had dated briefly in high school. I thought the world of him, until I had found out that he had been shagging half my volleyball teammates behind my back. At that point, I had no idea that Jamie was already in love with me. Ever the patient man, after he’d found out about it, he’d waited until Frank was alone in one of the alleyways behind the school before he, his brother Willie, their cousin Rupert and friends Angus and Ian, all pummel Frank with threats ranging from disembowelment to public execution should he ever approach Claire Beauchamp again.

Naturally I didn’t find out about this row until after Jamie and I had married, where in our bridal chamber on a tropical island in the Bahamas, we had divulged all our secrets. But by that point, it hadn’t mattered. Disgraced from his own prestigious family, cut off from their wealth and positive influence, Frank had amassed an impressive criminal record and would spend the rest of his life either on the run from the law or in prison.

His latest escape attempt would turn out to be his last, it seemed. I couldn’t really bring myself to mourn, though my heart did go out to Jamie’s secretary and one of my own best friends, Mary Hawkins, and her husband Alex Randall, Frank’s younger brother. Alexander and Jonathan, Frank’s older brother, had become closer to the Frasers after Frank was out of the picture, both serving as godfathers to our children. Uncle Alex and Uncle Jack were revered at times more than Auntie Jenny and Uncle Ian, I thought with amusement. Who would have thought?

“He stopped being my problem a long time ago, Jamie,” I said with finality as he switched the telly off. “You made sure of that.”

He grinned at me. “Aye. I’ll never be sorry fer that. He broke yer heart. I couldna let it stand.”

I grinned back, and for the first time all day, I felt at peace. “Good thing you were there to mend it.”

Chapter Text

 

As it turned out, what should have been an additional day or two before being released from the hospital turned into another week. The morning of my scheduled discharge, I spiked a random fever, and the doctor wanted to ensure I was not about to relapse back into a coma. Despite my thorough annoyance, as a healthcare professional myself, I couldn’t bring myself to disagree with his assessments.

But, only one day after the fever broke did I finally go home, though it came sooner than I felt. Perhaps my sense of time was still a bit off. While I was grateful to be leaving, I knew it would be another week or so before I was cleared to return to work. I was determined to use that time to really rest, spend more time with Jamie and our children, even if in the back of my mind, I was itching to work again.

I didn’t have much time to dwell on it, though, because the moment I walked through the doors of our home, I was pleasantly surprised with a welcome home party attended by all our family. Both Jamie’s parents and my own were naturally in attendance, my mother kissing my cheek and my father gifting me with a bouquet of roses. Fergus was not as shy as our daughters, Faith and Brianna, were at tackling me to the ground and showering me with their love. He had prepared and recited an entire speech about how much he loved and had missed me in French. There wasn’t a dry eye left in the room when he was done, and I clung to him with the tightest hug I could muster, telling him how much I loved him in French myself. Ellen and Jenny had spent the day cooking enough food to feed all of Broch Mordha by the looks of it, while the men –– namely Brian, Willie, Rabbie and Ian –– spent the morning tidying up and minding the children. All eight of them, as Jenny and Ian’s own five rascals were in attendance, happy to be playing with their cousins.

The party went on throughout the afternoon and well into the evening, and by the time the final piece of dessert was served, everyone was tired, full, and ready to return to their own homes. I didn’t blame them one bit. Much as I loved and appreciated them all, I was relieved to watch them file out, family by family. I wanted some time with my children and Jamie, just the five of us.

That night, Ellen kept insisting Jamie needed to “tend tae his bride and bairns” and let her clean up the party mess. Jamie managed to convince her (with the help of his father and brothers) that the dishes and clutter could wait a bit longer. 

After successfully sending his parents home, Jamie and I read the children three bedtime stories. Two more than we usually did. We gave them all extra kisses and hugs, and spent a good ten minutes just staring at them, watching them sleep. I didn’t know how much I needed that until we closed the door to Brianna and Faith’s room and I burst into tears. Jamie had taken me into his arms and shushed me with his Gàidhlig blessings of calm and serenity just as he did when I woke up in the hospital. 

Over the coming days and weeks, life went on as if nothing had ever happened. The children went to school in the morning, and Jamie, still on an extended leave of absence, served me breakfast in bed. I tried to protest, saying I was perfectly capable of making my own porridge, but he would hear not a word of it. I spent the days either in the room Jamie had converted into a library reading by the window, or in the garden immersing myself in the feeling of dirt and growing things once again. 

Ellen, true to her nature, brought dinner over for us every night, but only stayed with us to eat one of those nights once. I was grateful. As much as I needed to go on living my life, I needed time with my family alone.

One week after being discharged from the hospital, I was granted clearance to return to work. I thought it would be strange coming back as a provider rather than a patient, but that feeling never came. I was in my professional element, after all. There wasn’t an elaborate welcome party waiting for me this time, but each of my colleagues took time to welcome me back and to remind me if I needed any help, they would be there.

Geillis was the loudest and most dramatic of my well-wishers, practically shoving me down to the ground with her fierce hugging skills. For a woman as slender as she was, she could really throw her weight around. Now that I was back at work, I truly felt my life was moving along in the rhythm I was accustomed to.

Except…there was one thing that hung in the back of my mind like an empty cobweb that I couldn’t reach.

Laying in bed one night with Jamie after we had made love, almost a full month since coming home, I was thinking on it again. My husband, observant as he was, noticed right away.

“Ye have that look in yer eye, Sassenach,” Jamie muttered into my shoulder, his hair long and tickling me across my face. “Something on yer mind...sixpence fer yer thoughts?”

I took a long, deep breath, and propped myself up on one elbow so I could look down at him. He was laying on his back, his chest a broad expanse of muscle with gold, auburn, and cinnamon hairs splattered across like someone had dropped a paintbrush across him. Adding to that was a healthy dusting of faded, weathered freckles. Jamie was the physical embodiment of a Greek god, toned and sculpted like a statue. And I would always be thankful I was the only woman privileged to share his bed. Though, if you asked him, he would say he was the lucky one. 

While I was propped up, his fingers still lazily circled my chest, my collarbones, and my jawline. As if he was tracing to memorize my features one last time. I pushed any thoughts of last anything firmly out. That wasn’t what this discussion was to be about.

“When I was in the coma,” I began, hesitating to think just how to put what I was thinking into verbal words. “My dream I told you about?” Jamie nodded. “Why do you think I was seeing everything from your point of view? I mean...it was about me...in my own head...but...I just can’t seem to figure it out. And it’s been bothering me more than I care to admit.”

I said that last line with an air of stubborn finality, as if it was not to be debated, and Jamie laughed. I noticed that while he laughed at my quip, he was taking this very seriously, for he paused to really consider it.

After a few minutes, he just smiled at me.

“What is it?” I asked, wondering if I should be worried or scared of his answer.

I needn’t be. I should’ve known that, when it comes to Jamie, worried or scared don't even exist.

“Ye ken,” he began, taking a shuddering breath of his own, “the greylag...when they mate, they do it fer life. When ye kill a grown one out huntin’, ye must wait for its mate will come tae mourn. And then ye must kill that one too. Otherwise, it will grieve itself tae death, calling through the skies fer the lost one.”

I stared at him for a moment, wondering where the hell he was going with this.

“When ye were sick, on the verge of death, when the doctors werena giving me any good news...I felt like one of those greylags...and I prayed...I dinna think I’ve prayed sae hard in all my life. Just begging God, ‘if ye care for me as yer humble servant, please...dinna take her yet...’ Eventually...I erm...”

He broke off. I knew what that meant…

“Jamie,” I said with an edge to my tone, “Jamie, what did you do?”

He swallowed, and I could see the strength it took in his throat. “Physically, I did nothing, but I never left yer side, Claire. There was times where I needed tae be closer tae ye, and I would sleep beside ye in yer bed, and cry over how cold and lifeless ye felt. I had tae be careful, ye ken...all the machines and tubes runnin’ all over ye...but I just held ye as close as I could and prayed God wouldna take ye from me, or the children...”

There was a phenomenon in the medical community. I had read studies about it during my nurses’ training. There was a correlation between the faithful who continuously prayed over their dying loved ones and how speedy their recovery was. I always found things related to the supernatural to be fascinating, but as a Catholic, there would always be a part of me that knew it was true.

Was that really it? Did Jamie simply pray for me to get better and I did? Did his ritualistic devotion to God and his beliefs play a part in my dreams? “As my weakened soul reached for his, and his distressed heart ached for mine, did we meet somewhere in the middle? Bringing him closer to me until I could return fully to him?”

Before I could voice these questions, his next words nearly dropped my jaw to the floor. 

“We will always find each other, mo nighean donn. I have always trusted that. We’re mated fer life. Being what I am –– a chief, a leader, a father, a son, or a brother, or what have ye –– is naught compared tae being yer husband.”

Tears started to blur my eyes a bit, the sting causing me to smile. Jamie was right, though. Whatever else was going on, or whatever unexplained cosmic phenomenon that bound us as one, that was the one constant that proved true each time. When he rear-ended another car on the motorway and his mobile smashed into the windshield, rendering it useless, he found another way to call me for a ride. When I accidentally took the wrong train and ended up in Spain rather than Paris, I borrowed someone’s phone to video chat to show him where I was, and he laughed as he paid for my return ticket home, meeting me at the train station in Inverness. We begin our day with each other, and we end up in each other’s arms. Why would me being sick and in hospital change that?

I was never alone while I was sick. He was with me. Physically, and spiritually. In my head, by my bed, and in my heart.

“We’re mated fer life, ye and I,” he repeated, and he took my face into his hands, and kissed me. “Nothing in this world can change that binding betwixt us.”

I didn’t say anything more before we both fell asleep in each other’s arms that night, and every night, for what I presumed would continue to be the long and happy life we both deserved. 

 

F I N