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Strength

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Strength:

The mood in the house was somber, everyone tiptoeing around, trying not to disturb the couple.

Jamie had ushered the gaggle of children out into the yard to play, knowing that Marsali and Fergus needed time to heal, to be alone.

It happened this morning, so suddenly that Claire barely had time to grab her medical kit and get from the big house to theirs. A miscarriage.

It was Marsali's fourth pregnancy, another blessing to fill the ridge, but at almost seven months, the baby couldn't hold on any longer.

Fergus told them hours ago that Marsali had awoken suddenly with shooting pains in her stomach, a pain Claire knew all too well.

She'd helped Marsali deliver the lifeless child, the anguished cries of her pseudo-daughter filling the air, causing Claire's own set of tears to flow down her cheeks as she brought the baby into the world.

She'd let Marsali hold her, another beautiful baby girl, singing and crying over the perfect little babe just as Claire had done with Faith.

After an hour, Marsali, far stronger than Claire could ever imagine being, took a deep breath, nodded her head, and allowed Jamie to take the baby from her arms.

He and Fergus had carried the tiny child out to the yard and up the hill, burying her alongside Murtagh.

When they'd arrived back and washed up, Fergus had taken Claire's place beside his wife, allowing Claire time to slip out of the room. She and Jamie had spent the remainder of the day distracting their grandchildren with games and stories, letting their parents grieve.

Claire sighs, pulling herself from thoughts of the morning and looking toward the shut door. She knows exactly what Marsali is going through right now. She'd been there over twenty years ago, but the pain never truly went away.

Looking toward Jamie, she pats his chest and smiles small before tapping on the wooden door. She twists the handle, the door creaking in its frame as she pushes it open slowly.

Claire peeks her head in, spotting Fergus beside the bed still, rubbing Marsali's back and whispering softly to her, just as he'd been doing for the past four hours.

They both look toward Claire, Marsali's eyes pained, almost unseeing, before she closes them again, a tear rolling down her cheek.

Claire steps toward the couple, a hand reaching out to rub circles against her son's back. She leans down, pressing a kiss to his curly hair, memories of an eleven year old boy in Paris filling her senses. "Can I have a moment with her?"

"Oui, Milady," Fergus responds, standing and pressing a kiss to Claire's cheek, his own stray tear landing on her cheek as he pulls away. He wipes under his eyes, then tells Marsali he'll be right outside, kissing her cheek as well and makes his exit.

Claire stands there a moment, watching the young blonde pretending her hardest to sleep, to block out the world around her. She remembers that as well, knowing sleep was the only escape from the horrors of reality.

Tentatively, Claire walks to the other side of the bed, slipping her shoes off and sliding into bed, the mattress creaking and dipping as she does.

Marsali hesitates, Claire can feel it in the way she goes to move but stops. She must decide differently, however, because she turns on her other side to face her mother-in-law, those blue eyes glancing up at Claire before closing again. Her brow cinches, and Claire knows she's holding back tears.

Marsali scoots a little closer, more in the middle of the bed now, and Claire reaches out, taking her hand and linking their fingers.

At the gesture, Marsali's lip trembles, traitorous tears spilling free onto her cheeks. She's trying to be strong, Claire can tell, but she whispers, "It's okay to cry, Marsali. It doesn't make you weak."

The young woman's eyes open again, glossy this time, and she sighs. "I ken. But if I let th' grief consume me like tha', I dinna ken if I'll ever recover."

Claire sighs, her blue eyes sliding shut, memories of a time so long ago trying to break through the walls in her mind she's had up for decades.

Before she can respond, there's a tap on the door, and Bree's head pops in, peering at them.

Claire looks to Marsali, who gives her an almost imperceptible nod, and Claire waves Brianna into the room.

She slips into the bed as well on Marsali's other side, cocooning the grieving mother in the middle of them.

Thoughts of Paris, and a duel, and the worst day of Claire's life flood her mind. It's a time she so rarely talks about—Bree has never heard the story, not even when she told her daughter all about her past with Jamie. But she knows it must be shared, Marsali must know that she can continue to live life despite the loss of her child.

So after a few moments of silence, Claire softly admits, "I know how you feel, Marsali. I've been right where you are," as she reaches out to tuck a strand of blond hair behind the woman's ear.

Bree's head pokes up from over Marsali's shoulder, a look of confusion painted on her face.

"Mama? What do you mean?"

Smiling softly, apologetically, Claire takes a deep, calming breath. Her eyes flick up to the ceiling as she fights her own set of tears, forcing down the emotions she's trained herself to put in the back of her mind for two decades. "I lost my first child," she tells them, voice cracking. "In much the same way as you, Marsali."

Marsali's eyes finally open again, peering curiously at Claire. And so she begins, telling her daughters the story of finding out she was pregnant less than a year into her marriage with Jamie, how excited they were, how she felt frustrated each time a new Parisian dress didn't fit.

"I spent so much time having new dresses brought to the house, always huffing and puffing like a spoiled brat when they couldn't get them to fit around my waist."

She chuckles wrly at the memory, knowing that if she could go back in time, she'd embrace each dress that didn't fit, savoring the way her child was growing so steadily.

"I was almost seven months along, too," she recounts, voice growing solemn as she nears the heartbreaking conclusion of her story. "I found out Jamie had gone to duel Black Jack Randall," she pauses, clearing her throat, "found out why he went."

She isn't sure how much Fergus has shared with Marsali of that time in his life, so she doesn't say more, but instead says, "I got there, my stomach was cramping the whole time, but I ignored it."

Her eyes close on instinct, her mind flashing back to that day in the woods as her hand lands on her flat stomach. "There was so much blood," she confesses, telling them of the pain she tried to blindly ignore and the wonderful servants who helped her to the hospital just as Jamie was arrested.

Biting her lip, she blinks back tears, not wanting to upset Marsali anymore than she already is. When she looks over, though, both girls are wide-eyed, watching as Claire tells them one of her darkest secrets, both their eyes glassy with emotion.

"I pushed, and pushed, cursing Jamie the entire time for not being there," she grins somberly, despite herself, taking another soothing breath. She reaches over, running her fingers through Marsali's matted hair. "But in the end, it wasn't enough. My baby was gone."

Unexpected tears fill her eyes with those words, a sentence she hasn't said aloud in so so long. She won't burden her girls with the knowledge of how she woke up, crying for, "my baby, my baby," only to be told the truth. Instead, she clears her throat again and glosses over the details, saying, "The nun, Mother Hildegard, brought her to me. I sang to her, and refused to let go."

Marsali must recognize the similarities to her own situation because her eyes squeeze shut, and she takes a shuddering breath as she nods her head in understanding.

Bree reaches over Marsali's middle at that, taking Claire's hand. She looks up at her daughter, shaking her head to reassure her that it's okay. "I named her Faith," she whispers, a lump forming in her throat. "She's buried in Paris, and it pains me every single day that she isn't in Scotland with the rest of the family, or here on the ridge with us, but I know that she's been resting peacefully for over twenty years now."

With that, she looks up and sees that Marsali and Bree are both silently crying. Claire's own tears slip free, and she admits on a shaky breath, "It will always hurt, Marsali, but you are strong. Stronger than anyone I know. You can grieve, you can be sad, and that's alright. But," and as if God himself were listening in on the conversation, Germain and Joan's laughter, along with little Felicity's gurgles of delight, filter in through the window, "you have a beautiful family that loves you, and you will be alright." She scoots down in the bed, wrapping an arm around Marsali's middle as Bree does the same, all their arms linked together now. Her nose nudges against Marsali's cheek, adding after a peck to her cheek, "You will hurt, but you will heal. And we will all be here to help you."

Marsali's warm tears fall onto her cheeks, rolling down onto her neck as she nods at Claire's words.

"I'm sae tired," is all the young woman has the strength to say, and her eyes close.

Claire looks to Bree, and without needing words, they both lay their heads on either side of Marsali's, closing their eyes as well.

A few moments pass, the only sounds to be heard are the children outside and the men's shuffling about in the living room, before Marsali's quiet voice fills the room. "I'm sorry, Claire, that ye went through that all on yer own. Ye're the strongest woman I ken."

Claire fights a smile, and simply cuddles into Marsali even further, her arm squeezing around her middle in confirmation that she was heard.

The three of them stay there, wrapped together, Claire drifting in and out of sleep for over an hour.

Claire awakens half an hour later with the sound of the front door slamming and Fergus scolding Germain for making so much noise.

Grinning, Claire gently sits up and looks over at her girls. Their arms are still wrapped around each other's, Marsali cuddled into Bree's embrace.

Reaching over, Claire smoothes the hair out of both of their faces and smiles down at them as if they were little girls tucked into bed after hearing a bedtime story.

She slides out of the bed gingerly, glancing one more time at the girls that have become more like sisters over the last few years.

Closing the door, Claire walks out of the room and smiles lovingly at Fergus, who is playing with the children in the living area.

She joins Jamie in the kitchen, who is waiting for her with a warm cup of tea. How he knew to have it warm at that exact time, she'll never know, but she's thankful for him nonetheless.

Taking a sip, she lets the warm liquid fill her belly before setting the cup on the table.

Her husband wraps his strong arms around her shoulders, pulling her close.

"Jamie," she breathes, her chest shaking against his.

"I ken," he murmurs, already knowing how she feels before she even needs to say anything. "I ken."

Looking up at him through her long lashes, she gives him a small smile. Jamie leans in, pressing his lips to hers. It's comforting and soft, and she's filled with an overwhelming love for him.

Talking about their past today, she supposes, brought out more memories than she was expecting, and she's filled with this deep-seated love for James Fraser. They've been through so much together, more than most couples, yet here they are, twenty-nine years later, still as madly in love as they were in their first few years.

She breaks the kiss, melting into his embrace as he peppers light pecks to her cheek, then the top of her head, his nose burying itself into her curls.

Tightening her arms around his middle, she pats his rear, smiling at the small grunt it pulls from him. "I love you," she says, looking up into his blue eyes.

"And I love you, Sassenach," he assures, kissing her lips once more. "Always."

They stay there, wrapped in each other's arms, swaying together in the kitchen, as their grand-bairns' laughter fills the home.

She sighs, knowing that no matter what heartbreak they went through, they healed together, just as she knows Fergus and Marsali will. Jamie has always been the one by her side, and in her heart, even when they were separated for so long. It was always him, and it will always be him, who is there for her. The truest love she's ever known.

And as Brianna slips out of the bedroom, she smiles over at her parents as Marsali follows slowly behind. The blonde woman pads softly over to her couch, taking Felicity from Fergus' arms and pressing a kiss to her husband's head, then her daughters.

Tears fill Claire's eyes as she watches Fergus pick up a hairbrush he must have brought with him earlier from their bedroom, slips his leg around Marsali's back and begins to gently brush her hair. It sends Claire right back to their Paris home, and a younger version of her son doing the same for her, and she smiles tearfully at the scene before turning toward Bree again.

"Mama, I had no idea," Bree says just above a whisper as she joins her parents in the kitchen. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"

Claire shrugs, admitting with a shake of her head, "It was too hard, and I never knew how to bring it up. I'm sorry, Bree."

Brianna shakes her head, assuring her she has nothing to apologize for, adding, "I'm sorry you went through that."

Shaking her head, Claire looks to Jamie, then Brianna, and smiles softly. She may always long for both of her daughters to be here with them, but this is her family, right here in this house, and she's thankful they can all be together.

Her eyes flit back over to Marsali and Fergus, and her smile widens.

Fergus sets the brush down, tucking a piece of hair behind his wife's ear before pulling her against him and pressing a kiss to her cheek before bopping Felicity on her round little nose.

Watching the scene before her causes Claire to tear up once more, and she feels Jamie's arms tighten around her. She doesn't need to look up to know he's crying as well.

They both know the pain that their son and his wife are experiencing, know what it'll be like for them to heal and feel normal again, but Claire knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that her children are stronger than anyone else, and they will survive.

Jamie leans in, pressing a kiss to the top of her head, and she knows no matter what happens, her family will be okay.

{**************************}

… Sorry about that lol. Please let me know what you thought!