There was a time when death didn’t scare Brianna.
It seemed so long ago now, like a million years in the past. When Daddy died, she thought she would never feel pain like that ever again — it was like a piece of her heart had been ripped out of her chest in cold blood. She remembered all the screaming, crying and sobbing until she finally collapsed from exhaustion later that night. Finding Roger hanging in the tree wasn’t exactly like that. Brianna didn’t scream, she didn’t even cry at first. All she did was stare in disbelief, feeling out of air, like that rope was around her own neck. Both deaths had been really sudden, out of nowhere. She was afraid that Roger could get hurt in the battlefield, but she could never imagine his end would be like that.
Roger’s death felt very similar to Daddy’s in many ways. The solitude she felt, the void both men had left in her life… the only two people who seemed to ever really love her unconditionally. When she lost Daddy, he was her whole world. She knew damn well he had a mistress and that he wanted to marry that other woman, but before the night he died, when he asked Bree to come to England with him, she always thought she was the most important thing in his life. Years after, when she finally learned the truth, she understood Mama loved her, too, in her own way, in the midst of all her suffering. But before that, when she thought that her mother didn’t care about her, when she felt abandoned by Claire, thinking there was something wrong with her because that would explain why her own mother seemed so distant… she still had her father who adored her and made her feel special.
Roger also made her feel special. That was probably the main reason why she fell in love with him in the first place, or at least thought she was in love. No one else had looked at her like that before, and she thought no one else would see her the way Roger did. And certainly no one else would understand her struggles, because she couldn’t just explain the story of her time-traveling mother to anyone, and Roger knew. Maybe, if she had stayed in her own time, eventually she would have fallen out of love or find someone else. But how could she say no to a man who had followed her for two hundred years? She didn’t have a choice but to stay with him.
This thought scared her sometimes. She thought about it when they were handfasting, she even thought of it — full of guilt — on her wedding day. Was she really getting married for love, like she always wanted to? She loved him, yes. But what she and Roger had was nowhere near what Mama and Da had, she was very aware of that. Was it enough for her to settle?
It didn’t matter anymore. He was gone, and she didn’t know what to do.
“Governor Tryon has granted you 5,000 acres in the backcountry,” Da announced, after he finished reading the letter Lord John had brought.
“What? Why?” she asked, pulling the piece of paper from her father’s hands.
“Compensation,” he answered.
“Or perhaps he thinks he can buy your forgiveness,” Mama pointed out.
“And what will I do with 5,000 acres?”
“It won’t undo what has happened with Roger,” Lord John spoke, after an uncomfortable amount of time in silence, and his eyes finally met hers, “but it’s a valuable tract of land.”
“Tryon can keep his land,” she snapped, irritated. “I don’t need land, I need my husband back.”
It felt almost childish to say that out loud, but Brianna was used to letting words escape her mouth before she could actually think about them. Without waiting for a response, she decided to leave the room to get some fresh air and be alone with her thoughts.
She didn’t feel ashamed of herself for admitting she needed her husband, even if it wasn’t for the reasons her parents and everyone else might think. She was grieving, yes, but that need had nothing to do with missing Roger — hell, that was the least of her problems. She needed him because she had Jemmy, and in this century a woman was nothing more than a mother or a man’s wife. How could she raise a child in a time when her skills and education meant nothing? In a place and time where she had no value at all?
But how could she take Jemmy back, if he could even travel through the stones? A single mother’s life wasn’t much easier in the 1970’s, and besides Uncle Joe, she had no one to support her and her son there.
She rested her arms on the railing, taking deep breaths as she heard someone’s steps behind her. Turning around, she smiled in relief, seeing it was John. In a way she couldn’t explain, his presence alone had the ability to make her safe.
“Something that always made me feel as though I had the wisdom of the heavens in the palm of my hand,” he started as she realized he was holding something in his hands. “The astrolabe is, in many ways, a model of the universe. An instrument you can use to find your position, whether on land or at sea. You can even use it to tell the time.”
“To find our place in the world,” she affirmed.
“Perhaps we should start with something small,” he agreed, smiling, as she took the device from him.
“How about telling the time?” For the first time in a while, that made her giggle with excitement. She was a science girl, and that object was one great creation of ancient engineering.
“So, if the sun was there,” she held the astrolabe, pointing it at the sun as she remembered reading somewhere about the device years ago. “that would mean… five thirty.” She read the approximate degree that seemed to be equivalent to the time. Although she had seen technology at its finest back home and in university, she couldn’t help but be marveled by that brilliant invention.
“Five thirty five,” his voice sounded very close as he teased her, in almost a whisper next to her ear. She couldn’t help but smile.
“Well, I guess we don’t have all the answers,” Brianna said simply.
“No,” John agreed. “Sometimes we must have patience.”
“Thank you, John." She stared at the astrolabe in her hands, still feeling John’s gaze upon her.
“You can keep it,” he said after a few minutes in silence. Brianna had received a few instruments and equipment from him alongside his letters in the past months, as John seemed to take her career as an inventor very seriously, but receiving that gift in person seemed even better. “And Brianna… you can talk to me, you know.”
A strange sensation burned in her gut, like a mixture of happiness and sadness at the same time. Could John be the person that would know how she felt? She doubted it.
Her mother had also lost a spouse, but Claire’s situation was completely different from Brianna’s. She was a successful surgeon with a grown daughter when Frank died. Besides the fact that they were no longer a couple in every way that mattered, Claire also didn’t have to worry about any of the things that were disturbing Brianna in that moment.
“This pain you’re feeling…” John continued, and she raised her head to look at him again. “It will pass. He will always be missed, but it will get easier, eventually.”
Brianna stared at the man in front of her. No, their situations could not be more different. He had a title, he was wealthy, and for whatever the reasons he had married his late wife — even if he was capable of performing his husbandly duties, as he had assured her — she knew his preferences were directed to the other gender.
“Did you ever love her?”, she wanted to know.
The question seemed to take him by surprise. John blinked a few times, his lips parted as he seemed to search for the right words.
“I… yes, I did.” He finally answered, and Brianna looked at him suspiciously. She hoped he knew she wouldn’t judge him if he had said otherwise, but she wanted honesty. “You could say our marriage was… unconventional, but she was my companion, and the only mother my son ever knew. Isobel was my friend, and I cherished the person she was. I miss her, still.”
There were so many things Brianna wanted to know but would not ask him. Lord John remained a mystery to her in many ways, even if in her heart she somehow felt like they had known each other for many years.
“Then I believe you,” she decided. “I suppose it will get easier.”
John nodded with a satisfied smile.
Although she had told Jemmy he would not see his Daddy again because he had to leave to go to a “very special place”, Brianna knew that her son didn’t understand that completely. There wasn’t an easy way to explain death to a one year old child, and even though she didn’t want Jemmy to forget about his father, she also desperately needed for him to stop asking questions about where Roger was.
Every time she would try to tell him that Daddy could not come back, Jemmy would burst out crying and she would feel on the edge of tears herself. She had to swallow her own pain to try to find a way to make her son feel better. He seemed especially restless when he wanted to sleep but would insist on having Roger around to sing a lullaby for him.
“I’m sorry, sweetie, but Daddy can’t come,” Brianna said, using all of her strength to keep the tears away, while she caressed Jemmy’s hair.
“Want Dad-dee,” the boy seemed to plead, sniffling against her neck.
Feeling like her heart had been shattered into a million pieces inside her chest, she sighed and forced herself to smile.
“I know you do,” she whispered. “But Mommy’s here, okay? What do you want me to sing for you? Clementine?”
Jemmy was still sobbing when he nodded. Brianna put him in the armchair, feeling her own arms and back sore from carrying him. He was growing up way too fast and even Mama had commented on how he seemed big for his age. She didn’t want to think that the time would come when she wouldn’t be able to carry her little boy, or even worse, he wouldn’t need or want her to anymore, but her body made sure to remind her how much more difficult that task was getting.
“Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine,” she started to sing. “You were lost and gone forever, dreadful sorrow, Clementine.”
Brianna always thought that song was too melancholic and even morbid for a child, but for a reason she could never explain, it seemed to be Jemmy’s favorite. She kept humming the lyrics that told the story of the girl who had drowned to death to the boy whose father also could not breathe when he died. Her voice threatened to break, but she continued to sing. Jemmy seemed calmer, completely oblivious to the tangible pain in his mother's tone. His innocence was a blessing that she desperately needed in that moment.
“Dohn?” Jemmy stared at the door and Brianna immediately turned around in a start, surprised to see the man’s figure leaning against the doorjamb. After being caught, he had the decency to look ashamed and disconcerted, but before Brianna could ask him what he was doing there, she realized something else.
“Jemmy, what did you say?” she asked, and then turned to John, grinning. “I had no idea he knew your name!”
That seemed to surprise Lord John as well. Blushing, he opened a smile. “Why, I’m honoured,” he said, and waved to Jemmy. “Hello there, little man. How are you?”
“Dad-dee gone,” Jemmy answered, simply as that.
A shiver ran down Brianna's spine and before she could stop herself, her gaze met John's. He looked at her condescendingly and asked in a very formal and polite tone:
“May I come in?”
“Of course,” Brianna nodded, rubbing the back of her hand on her cheek to wipe away a tear that had insisted on escaping against her will. John pulled one chair to sit next to them and she finally let out, “So? What are you doing here?”
“Oh,” he mumbled. “Well… I was going to pass by and check on you both, but then I did not want to interrupt and… and I was surprised to hear what a great singer you are.”
“Please,” she rolled her eyes, “I’m no singer. But I have to, it’s Jemmy’s favorite song and the only way to make him go to sleep. He needs his afternoon nap and, um, he lost the parent who was supposed to sing for him, so…,” she shrugged.
John put his hand over her shoulder. His touch startled her at first, but brought over a comforting sensation right after. “You’re doing very well,” he assured her. She smiled shyly. “That’s an interesting song, by the way. Where is it from?”
“Oh, it’s just…,” she tried to think of a way she could tell him that song would be written in over a hundred years in the future without sounding like a lunatic, “... just a traditional American song, I suppose. My mother used to sing it for me when I was little.”
He couldn’t argue with that. Brianna kept on singing, noticing that Jemmy’s eyelids seemed to get heavier and heavier. She ran her fingers through her son’s hair while chanting when, suddenly, John started to sing along with her. Obviously, he didn’t know much of the lyrics besides the chorus, but his voice continued to harmonize with Bree’s. She had no idea he had such a beautiful voice — but, again, there was so much she didn’t know about him.
When Jemmy fell asleep, he offered to carry him to the crib. Brianna declined, telling him not to worry and did it herself. She still felt his eyes on her while she held her child and put him on the small mattress, and she wasn’t sure of how she felt about that sensation of being watched. After covering Jemmy with a blanket, she turned around to find John exactly in the same way he had been, tense, and his sad blue eyes tried to say something Bree could not understand.
“How long are you staying?” she asked, almost in a whisper.
“I’m not quite sure,” he replied shortly after. “I might leave soon. I just…I suppose I just wanted to make sure you would be alright.”
She snorted. “You said it yourself it would get easier,” she observed, “that I needed to have patience. Don’t you trust your own words?” she teased, crossing her arms and raising one eyebrow.
It was his turn to grin, coyly. “I do,” he confirmed, “and I know you and the child will be perfectly fine. But I can’t help but worry about you, Brianna. It doesn’t seem to be something I have any control over.”
Brianna held his gaze for as long as she could without feeling awkward, but John’s look was so intense... it seemed to cause something in her that she couldn’t quite identify.
“Thank you again,” she said, turning her eyes to the ground for a brief moment. “We’re fine, and we will get better, but it’s nice to have a friend.”
“I apologize if I was too bold,” he apologized, “it was not my intention.”
“Not at all. You’re welcome here any time,” and then she added, smirking, “although I am sure you must have other much more important things to do.”
This made him chuckle.
“While this may be true,” he said, “you have also become very important to me. Don’t underestimate yourself.”
The days went by, turning into weeks that turned into months that passed as quick as the winds during a storm. Time didn’t forgive anyone, it didn’t spare anyone. Brianna watched as her son grew up right before her eyes while she felt helpless. While she felt like she wasn’t a good enough mother for him.
The last thing she wanted to do was feel bad for herself. She hated to think those things, to feel that way. She was angry at everything, and when she remembered hearing about the five stages of grief back in Boston, she wondered if she would ever leave the stage of anger. She was mad at Roger for dying, for making her feel scared every day for Jemmy and herself. She knew her parents would always provide for Jemmy, even though that should be her responsibility. Brianna was perfectly capable of that, and still, society would not allow her to fulfill her role for another two centuries at least. This made her mad at everyone else.
John seemed invested in supporting her career as an inventor from afar. His letters would always arrive with tools, instruments or any other article that caught his eye and made him think of her. He also sent Jemmy some small gifts that Brianna called “educational toys”, old-fashioned versions of the ones she had as a child — John liked the term so much he started sending them more often, along with letters that explained exactly how the toys worked, followed by some teasing such as but you probably already knew that, being the clever girl you are.
Brianna liked this version of him — the slightly sarcastic, laid-back side of a lord, a side he didn’t show to many people, as far as she was concerned. He treated her as his equal, as his friend, and this made her immensely happy during a time of her life that every little glimpse of happiness meant so much. Finding joy in small things again made her happy.
Getting to make the syringe that saved her Da’s life — after all that awful, terrifying horror was over — made her happy. She felt like she had finally found her purpose in that time. Her creations could help her mother save lives, and the two of them were closer than they had ever been in her whole life.
And then Stephen Bonnet came.
And she was trapped inside her worst nightmare.
For a terrible moment, Brianna was scared she would not escape. She was scared he would kill her, that she wouldn’t make it, but the idea of leaving Jemmy an orphan was too unbearable. Even if she had to use all of her remaining strength, she would go back to her son.
When her family and John rescued her at the beach, all she wanted to do was to hide and cry, to crawl into a hole and stay there forever. She hated that that monster made her feel like ripping her skin open just to be rid of everything that remained of him in her body, like her mind would forever be haunted by the one who had stolen a part of her soul.
But never again she would live in fear.
John, alongside Da, made sure that Bonnet would be sentenced to death. When Brianna told him what she wanted to do, he remained still for a while, just nodding to agree a few seconds later. It was not the first time she asked him to help her get the closure she needed. This time, though, John understood. She didn’t need any advice or for him to try to change her mind.
Sentenced to drowning. It was almost ironic that Bonnet had always been right about his worst fear. He certainly deserved that fate, but Brianna would end things in her own way. Justice would be made by her own hands.
It was a clean shot to the forehead. She never missed it. It was also instantly effective — she could have made him suffer, maybe she should have let him agonize and bleed to death, but she just could not stand to know he was alive. She couldn’t bear to have that demon breathing the same air as she did for even another second.
“You did the right thing,” John said beside her. He insisted on accompanying her into the woods, and remained by her side during the whole thing, watching her take deep breaths and prepare herself to aim. He did not try to stop her, nor did he question why she had done it. His supportive silence was very appreciated, even if she didn’t feel strong enough to talk about it. Somehow, she hoped he knew.
He put his hand on her back, in a gentle and reassuring way. Still, she felt tense. She just wanted to erase the past couple days of her mind completely.
“No one will ever hurt you again,” John promised in a firm but caring voice. “Even if I have to make sure of it myself.”
Brianna did not answer. She just handed him the rifle and walked away.
The world seemed to turn upside down when Jemmy heard the stone right before it cracked.
If Roger were alive, everything would be so different. That didn’t confirm that Jem was his biological son, obviously, since Jamie couldn’t travel through the stones and Brianna could. Perhaps the chances were greater, but Brianna wasn’t sure if that mattered anymore. Was she strong enough to go back to Boston and raise her boy alone? Was that even the right decision?
Claire was convinced Brianna and Jemmy had to leave. She wasn’t wrong to point out that there were things that even she and Jamie couldn’t protect them from. It was a dangerous century for women, Jemmy was vulnerable to a bunch of illnesses and their resources were limited… and, of course, there was a war coming. Nothing could stop that, not even their failed attempts to change history.
Brianna had overcome many things. If she could overcome losing Daddy as a teenager then losing her mother in her early twenties. If she could overcome the fact that she was one of the few women in her class and that many people didn’t take her seriously as an engineer just because she wasn’t a man. If she could overcome the terrible trauma she had been through, escape from her abuser and kill him… then there was nothing she couldn’t do. She could raise her son by herself in her own time.
“You don’t like whisky,” John pointed out when Brianna poured him another glass of the drink. He had come for another visit to check on her and talk to her father about matters that weren’t of her concern, so she thought that was a good opportunity to say goodbye to him.
The fact that he said that made her laugh. It wasn’t a question, but an affirmation. She wondered how much he knew just by watching her.
Could he have figured out that she was different?
“Don’t tell my father,” she answered with a smile.
John smiled too. “What would you rather drink?” he wanted to know.
Brianna thought for a while, even though she immediately knew the answer. “Coca-cola,” she answered. “It’s a… um, sort of sweet, sparkling drink. Like champagne, you know? But it’s not alcoholic, and we drink it cold.”
John frowned. “How come have I never heard of this?”
“Well, you can’t really find it here.” It was not a lie. “But my, it goes great with cheeseburgers. I would give anything to have one now. And French fries… I mean, deep fried strips of potatoes.” She almost laughed at herself. Was she really talking about fast food with an English lord in the 18th century?
“And do you have all of this in France? Where, I gather, you were born and raised.”
Brianna almost choked when she stared at him. His look dared her to lie, and that was when she had her answer.
Somehow, he knew.
“I suppose we’re past the need to have secrets,” she sighed. “I’m an American, born and raised in Boston. But you knew I was a barbarian already, didn’t you?”
He laughed.“That does go some distance toward explaining many things about you. But if I may ask...”
“Yes, of course my father knows,” she needed to control the impulse to roll her eyes. “We just thought that people would not ask many questions if we told them my mother had fled to France instead. It’s… complicated.”
“John,” she closed her eyes for a brief moment, with an urge to change the subject. “The reason why I invited you here is… there is something else I wanted to tell you. Jemmy and I will be leaving soon.”
An expression of complete confusion came over his face.
“Leaving? Where to?”
“Boston. But we...” she bit her lip. She felt it again, that pain on her chest that accompanied every thought about going away and leaving that life she learned to love behind and, most importantly, the people she loved as well. “We will be gone for good. I won’t… I don’t think I’ll ever see you again.”
“What in God’s name are you saying?” he sounded completely outraged. “You and the child are leaving alone for what? And we shall not meet ever again? Why is that?”
“You wouldn’t understand. It’s too difficult to explain...”
“Try me,” he demanded, in an almost desperate tone, as low as they were keeping the conversation since Jemmy was already asleep.
“I just want you to know that we will be fine. And although I cannot tell you the reasons why I won’t be able to see you again, and believe me, I wish I could, I hope you know that I’ll miss you.”
Brianna stared at him. John certainly looked confused. Hurt, even. She had found in him a friend and a confidant over the past couple years, but she knew there were things even he wouldn’t understand — matters of time-traveling, especially.
“I just realized,” she observed, quickly trying to lighten the mood, “that I never apologized properly for what I did to you back then.” Noticing his bewildered look, she let out a chuckle, feeling embarrassed of herself. “You know, for trying to blackmail you into marrying me? That was probably one of the worst things that I ever did. I would never expose you, and I was completely out of my head when I threatened you. I was desperate...”
It was his time to laugh. “Don’t you think I already knew that? I always did. You said it yourself, you would do what you must for the sake of your child, but I knew at that very moment it was an empty threat. You were only trying to get what you wanted, but you would not expose me. There’s no evil inside of you for you to do that.”
She let out a breath, feeling relieved. “Thank God you knew.”
“I worried about you then, and I don’t think it will ever stop,” John said. His blue eyes were full of concern and something else. She wasn’t sure what it was. “And I would have protected you, you know. It would have been my pleasure to raise the child if your parents hadn’t brought Roger back.”
Brianna smiled. Maybe it was easier for him to say now, since he was clearly relieved when their engagement was called off, but she still appreciated his words.
“Is it strange that I knew that on the same day I met you?” she wondered out loud. “You seemed like my only hope of someone that could truly care about me and my child someday. Even if… even if it would be an unrequired, unconventional union. I knew you would be good for us,” she admitted, feeling her cheeks heating up.
John stared at her in the same way he had done many times before. She recognized the affection glowing in his eyes and in his smile, and she felt… special.
“You dazzled me from the beginning,” he told her. Brianna frowned, confused. Was he being serious? “Mind you, you also threatened and offended me just hours later,” he observed, making her laugh with shame once again, “but it was fascinating to look at you and see someone so... complex. You weren’t just strong willed and ill-tempered, you were also sad and scared, and that broke my heart. How could I ever leave you alone?”
She felt the tears in her eyes and blinked them away, concentrating hard to not let her voice break. “I was scared. It felt like chaos had been following me everywhere I went. For once in my life, I just wanted to feel loved and to have someone to take care of me. Not that I needed it, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. But I wanted it, and I still do. With Roger gone…” she interrupted herself to laugh without humor. “Back then, I could never really imagine what would come for him and for us.”
John got up from the chair and moved it closer to her, so they could be side by side. He reached out to her hand and held it, squeezing it in a protective way.
“Brianna. Tell me, please. Why are you leaving?”
“Things are different now,” she murmured, forcing a smile that was supposed to be reassuring. “I don’t have to stick around anymore. I can’t explain it all, but Jemmy will be safe with me. I won’t have to remarry for his sake. We won’t need anyone else.”
“So why do you say you’ll be gone for good? Is someone else forcing you to do this?” he insisted.
They stared at each other in silence. She held his gaze for as long as she could and turned her eyes to the fireplace that lit up the room on that cold night. Would he think she was crazy? Was there any slight chance he would believe her?
“Do you believe in the supernatural?” she asked softly. “God. Angels, demons. Miracles. Things you can’t explain?”
His face would have been funny if the subject wasn’t so serious, and if she weren’t feeling so scared of what he would think. “I hope you don’t think I am a heretic for saying this, but there are many things that I struggle to believe and understand. But I suppose that is the reason why one needs faith.”
Bree smiled sadly. “Yes. You see… for better or worse, I care about what you think of me. And you may need to have some faith in me now. Just don’t say I am mad, alright?” She took a deep breath again and her body tensed up. “I don’t belong here, in this time.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I came from the future.”
She expected him to say something, but not even his face gave away anything he was thinking after she said it with all the words. Might as well dig my dignity’s grave, she thought.
“My mother did, too. And please don’t say she’s a witch, you’re smarter than that. And Roger too, actually. We don’t know what it is about us that gave us this… ability or whatever you want to call it, but there was this ancient circle of stones back in Scotland that were part of something powerful enough to bring us here.”
John listened to everything in silence. She had no idea if he was judging her mental state or the veracity of her words, so she added:
“I have no reason to lie to you.”
“I know,” he answered. “That is the only reason why I am trying to understand something that doesn’t make any sense. If you had to trick me into a lie for whatever reason, you would have told me a more believable one.”
Despite feeling a little hurt, Brianna grinned. “Precisely. You don’t have to believe me, though,” she said. “It won’t make a difference in the truth, I suppose. All that matters is that you know I’ll miss you when we’re gone.”
“Perhaps if it was anyone else, I would never believe this absurdity,” he pointed out, and she couldn’t help but laugh. “But you… you certainly are your mother’s daughter. If there is anyone I’ve ever met that could bend even time to their will, it is you. And I dare say some part of me that has nothing to do with reason or logic probably already knew there was something magical about you. You have it in your veins.”
Brianna did not answer. She marveled at the possibility of him believing her, something she hadn’t even considered, but before she could say anything, John did the last thing she could ever imagine him doing He leaned towards her and kissed her on the lips.
She was too shocked to kiss him back, so she remained still as a statue, wide eyed as he moved away from her. Despite the poorly lit room, she could see his face blushing.
“So with women, too?” she whispered, knowing damn well she had asked the exact same thing when he said he would teach her to play with fire, whatever the hell that meant, when she first proposed to him. He never gave her a clear answer and Brianna wasn’t a hypocrite to pretend she never thought about what could have happened if Roger had not come back and she ended up marrying Lord John. He was an attractive man, there was no point in ignoring that, and pondering about it seemed harmless, as she thought he would never desire her. But would he take her to bed just to teach her a lesson? Or would he eventually enjoy it — even worse, would she? He was so much older than she was and certainly had many more experiences than she could ever guess. What could she possibly have to offer him in a marriage?
Well, now she knew.
“It’s not very common,” he admitted, and his face lit by the fire seemed to take on an even darker shade of red. “I thought it didn’t make a difference in what… what I am.”
She couldn’t help but feel bad for him. She remembered the pride parades she had seen back in the 1960’s. John didn’t have any of these things to reassure him, and most people back in the 18th century would not understand him either. She hated that he seemed confused, like he couldn’t acknowledge the fact that while he clearly had a preference for men, he could also want to lay with a woman and that there was nothing wrong with that.
“At first I thought it was the resemblance… you know how much you look like him,” he sounded ashamed of himself and Brianna grimaced. She couldn’t really blame him, could she? “But time passed, and I got to know you more, and it… this… it didn’t stop. And it made me realize that I would never want you for any other reason than you and you only. When we first met, I thought I cared deeply for you because of him and that was probably true. However, I look at you now and… you, Brianna, are all that I can see.”
She bit her lip, trying not to think too much about what she was going to do next. Without holding back the impulse for once, she held his face and kissed him.
It felt different than any other kiss she had before. Maybe it was the strange aura of forbiddance, the feeling they should not be doing that, but she didn’t try to guess what it was anymore. She let her mind get foggy as her tongue parted his lips, asking permission to deepen the kiss. He tasted like whisky and she suddenly felt the urge to get drunk on him.
“Do you want me?” she wanted to know, her lips still brushing his. “I mean… do you want this?”
“Yes,” he almost pleaded in a whisper. “Very much so.”
They pulled each other closer at the same time, as if in a wave of desperation to have each other at that moment. It was his time to hold her face between his hands in a way that felt like possession and reverence at the same time. Brianna grabbed him by the shirt, by the vest, eager to feel the heat of his skin against hers after sleeping in the cold loneliness for so long.
“We just have to be quiet, so we don’t wake Jemmy up, okay?” she asked, pulling her face away from his. He frowned slightly at the sound of that unknown expression but nodded to agree. She could see lust in his dark, pupil-dilated eyes.
John followed her as she got up from the table, standing behind her as she made sure the door was locked and the windows were closed. She led him to the bedroom, their fingers barely touching but still consumed by some kind of electricity every time they met.
Her arms were around his neck and she was on tiptoes as soon as they reached the bedroom. John’s grip on her waist was firm as they kissed again, but his hands were soon exploring the curves of her body as if he needed to memorize each part of her with his hands. His lips were so soft, but his tongue savoring her mouth sent a warmth through all of her body, seeming to burn between her legs. She didn’t want to wait anymore. Her hurried hands unbuttoned his vest impatiently, and his crooked smile against her lips told her he liked the rush.
Brianna was trying to get rid of his pants at the same time John started to take off her dress. The task of clothing removal seemed way more complex when they couldn’t keep their hands or their mouths off each other, but it felt so good she didn’t want to stop. She feared either one of them could regret it and give up before they had really started, because now things would never go back to the way they used to be before between them. There was no use in denying it, she wanted him too, and he knew that. After feeling numb for all these months, about to drown in her own sorrow, he had awakened a part of her she thought she had lost forever.
As if he was reading her mind, John interrupted the kiss and held her face again…this time gently.
“Are you sure of this, my love?” he asked.
“What, are you already having second thoughts?” she snorted.
John’s smile in response was so sweet it made her heart beat faster.
“I’ve known how I feel for months now. But I would never, by any means, have you doing anything you do not want to. And I would never take advantage of you in a moment of vulnerability. I want to make myself vulnerable to you as well, if you’ll have me. But only if that is truly what you want.”
Brianna licked her lips, putting her hands over his that were now caressing her face. There was a reason she always felt safe with him, she knew he would always take care of her. Now, she wanted something more.
“Just take off my dress already, will you?”
They stared at each other for another moment of confirmation before his hands went down to finish what he had started. John untied the ribbon of her corset and started loosening the laces very slowly, and she could see in his face how much he enjoyed the teasing. As his fingers worked, she took a step forward in his direction, bringing her face to his and rubbing her cheek against his nose, followed by breathing on his neck. He smelled so good, like some kind of expensive woody perfume. It was like a drug, like exactly what she needed.
He took off his boots and pants and she pulled the shirt over his head as he put his hands on her again, making her dress fall to the floor. She took a step back, getting rid of the dress at her feet, to stare at him. The candlelit room made him look like he was made of gold.
“My God,” he whispered, watching her in awe, “look at you.”
Brianna could have said the same. John had a soldier’s body, slim but muscular in all the right places. She noticed the white scars spread over his chest and abdomen, something she would never have guessed he had, and she wanted to know every story behind them, touch them all, kiss them all. She took a deep breath as her eyes went down to his crotch, toned thighs and long legs. He was already hard for her, and she desperately wanted to touch him, feel the shape of him and have him inside of her.
John reached out and held her by the waist, pulling her close, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, moaning softly when she felt his hardness against her stomach. His hands went down exploring her curves as they kissed, cupping and grabbing her buttocks just before he gripped her thighs to carry her with her legs around his body. Blindly, he stumbled until he got to the edge of her bed where he sat, with Brianna on his lap.
She felt feverish as his hands cupped her heavy, swollen breasts. John seemed to want to memorize their shape, breathing in her chest and leaving a path of kisses in them.
“Is this alright?” he asked. Every coherent thought in her mind seemed to have turned into smoke, but she still managed to nod. She had stopped breastfeeding months ago, but they still felt sensitive and sore sometimes. As his mouth opened up and she felt John’s warm tongue sucking in one of her stiffened nipples, Brianna tilted her head backwards and moaned, moving suggestively in his lap to stimulate him. She felt how aroused she had made him, and it was so good how they seemed to fit into each other perfectly. John let out a groan as she rubbed herself against him, one of his hands holding her by the curls to kiss her again, hungrily, while the other touched her between her legs, his fingers discovering how wet she was.
“Wait, wait,” she interrupted the kiss, breathless. Even if he seemed drunk with lust and desire, John frowned. He definitely didn’t want to wait any longer. “I have never seen you with your hair down.”
He blinked a few times, confused, until he finally let out a chuckle, as if he couldn’t believe that was what she was thinking in that moment. Brianna bit her lower lip as she reached out to the black silk bow that tied his hair and loosened it. His dark brown hair fell around his face in shoulder length, framing his perfectly defined face. It was almost too much, looking at him like that. Like she couldn’t believe someone could look like that in real life, and much less that he was giving himself to her in the most intimate way anyone could.
“You’re beautiful,” she whispered, while her fingers slid down his sharp jaw.
Even if she could not see him blushing, she would still feel the heat of his face as she touched it with one of her hands, while the other reached out and closed around his erection. Brianna heard a low rumble in his throat as he put his hands on her hips again, guiding her as she started to roll forward, letting out a gasp as John filled her completely. It felt so unbelievably good she had to wrap her arms around his neck to steady herself, her breasts pressing against his chest as she moved into him harder and faster.
“Good God, Brianna,” it sounded like a growl, but also like a prayer. They were both panting, and she noticed the muscle in his jaw tightening as he stared at her for a moment, mesmerized, like he was ready to worship her, just before squeezing his eyes shut again. “You have no idea... how long I have wanted this.”
Listening to his hoarse voice in her ear made something inside her burn. Brianna pulled his face to hers and kissed him again as they found their rhythm, determined to savor that moment and make it last as long as she could handle before bursting into flames.
Brianna had had good sex before. Great sex, even. But nothing that could compare to that.
She had only been with one man in every way that mattered, so she had no idea how different it would be with someone else. It seemed like John had made her discover a whole new world within herself as they touched, as they kissed, as he took control and buried himself deep inside of her. Between the sheets, it felt rough and raw and passionate, like fire itself, knocking down all of her walls and everything she thought she knew about herself.
Moments later, Brianna could hear John’s heart still beating fast as her head leaned against his chest, with her legs intertwined with his and her fingertips tracing patterns softly on his abdomen, enjoying at the same time the feeling of his hand going up and down the curves of her body.
“I had almost forgotten how it feels,” he said. “Making love to someone you actually love.”
Brianna didn’t understand the meaning of these words completely until he turned his face to hers.
“I do love you, Brianna,” John spoke softly. “You know that, don’t you?”
She wasn’t really shocked — in fact, she was only surprised to realize the fluttering feeling in her stomach and the smile that appeared on her lips as naturally as she breathed.
“I love you, too,” she replied.
It was the truth in its purest form, and she didn’t really have to think before answering him. John had been someone she loved for a while now, even if she never cared to admit it to herself, as it didn’t really need saying. He was her best friend. How could she know one day she would feel more, want more?
It didn’t scare her, though. Loving him seemed so easy. So right.
Their lips brushed again and she felt him move under her, making her lay down on the mattress as he positioned himself on top of her, between her spread legs. The weight and warmth of his body was enough to make her forget anything else, but before he deepened the kiss, she held him by the shoulders to keep him away for a moment.
“Do you really believe me?” she asked. And he knew very well she wasn’t talking about her feelings, but her confession of belonging to a different time.
Brianna saw the struggle in John’s expression and she had her answer.
“I want to,” he finally said, after a few seconds in silence. He went back to lying by her side on the bed and she decided to sit, pulling the sheets to cover herself. It was not like she could blame him, but she couldn’t help but feel a little hurt and very self-conscious. “Bree…,” John reached out to hold her hand and she let him, trying to keep a neutral face that didn’t give away her disappointment, but he knew better. “Tell me. About the future.”
She let out a dry, humorless laugh.
“You really would not want to know if we hadn’t had sex, would you?”
“What?” he blinked, looking sincerely astonished. “I am simply trying to understand. Will you not let me?”
Maybe he was just trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, but there was also a small chance that he was trying to take a leap of faith.
Brianna sighed. “I was born in 1948,” she started. Turning her face to look at him, she saw his puzzled countenance as he did the math.
“Two centuries from now,” he observed, in an almost cold tone.
Was she asking too much of him? He had asked her in the first place, she was just being honest. But the thought of John believing her right away was as naive as it was hypocritical, since she hadn’t believed her mother in the first place, herself.
“Yes,” Brianna nodded. “There were two wars a few years before I was born, much greater than the one you already know is coming,” she said. “They are called World Wars. And they were probably the most horrendous thing that happened to mankind, but after the Second World War was over, things… got better.”
She wanted to tell him about cars and airplanes, skyscrapers and electricity; about the inventions of modernity, all the things that were part of her world. How could she do that without making it all sound like a delusional fairytale? She couldn’t simply ask him to imagine things when there was nothing he knew that could compare to what the future would look like.
“There isn’t much green in the cities, much like today, but they are more… organized. And cleaner. And safer. Whole cities can be lit up by electric light. We don’t need fire to heat our homes, and we even have machines to make the air colder during summer. There aren’t as many diseases as today, and people are immune to most of them through some kind of medication called vaccines. You will hear about them in a few decades.”
John’s face was still blank.
“There is so much more I want to tell you, it would be impossible to do it all in one night,” Brianna said, with a sad smile. “My world is very different. It would be unfair if I tried to make you imagine all the machines and inventions that are part of my life there. But it’s not only about things, people are different as well. Women are allowed to attend universities and work.”
“Like your mother,” John said.
“Like myself,” she added. “I’m an engineer. I graduated just before I came here.”
“This certainly does not surprise me,” he commented with a smirk, but then his expression softened into a sad one. “I can see why you would want to go back. Everything you said sounds quite too overwhelming for me to comprehend, but I understand that you feel that it’s… better for you.”
“Well, it may be in some ways, but it’s not like I won’t be losing anything. All I ever wanted was a big family, you know? Jemmy gets to have one here. But now it will be just me and him,” she murmured, gloomily. Thinking about this was still the worst part. “I have no one there.”
She felt his eyes on her, watching her as she turned her face to the ceiling. Don’t cry, she ordered herself. Not because it would make her weaker, but because she didn’t want to ruin that night — the best she had in a very long time. She didn’t want to stain the memory of that perfect moment of intimacy and pleasure with a man she loved, a man she would never forget.
And then his voice brought her attention back to it.
Brianna stared at him with a shocked expression.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“It makes sense,” he sat down and reached out to hold one of her hands. “We were betrothed once.”
“It’s not the same thing!” Brianna countered, still appalled. “John, I don’t want a marriage of convenience. I never did. I don’t need it to protect my child anymore, and this…,” she shook her head. “Can you imagine what my father would think of you?”
John looked up to the ceiling and sighed. She guessed that was probably his version of rolling his eyes. “This may come as a shock to you, but I don’t live every second of my life worrying about what Jamie Fraser would think of me.”
“Oh, please. You don’t fool me. You may not be in love with him anymore, but I’m not stupid. You love him, he’s one of your closest friends, and has been since way before I entered your life.”
After a few seconds of silence, he replied.
“If that’s your main concern...”
“My dear, please, let me finish,” he asked, exasperated. Blushing to the roots of her hair, Brianna pressed her lips together. “If you say yes, I shall assure your parents that I will do everything in my power to make you perfectly happy. They will not doubt my intentions or how I feel about you, I promise.”
“But still,” she insisted, frowning. “You wouldn’t ask me to marry you if you didn’t feel like I had no other choice, would you? But I do, John. You may not believe me, but this is not the only life I know.”
“I know you have a choice,” he let one of his hands caress her hair, putting a lock of her curls behind her ear. “What I am trying to say is you have more than one. I don’t doubt that… there might exist another reality where things are simpler for you. But if you choose this one… if you choose me, you do not have to give up this life. You will have your family, you will be protected, and I will make sure that you will have everything you need to fulfill your role of an engineer in this society.”
Suddenly her heart seemed to weigh a ton. He was offering her more than a marriage — but also a chance to have a full life there, close to all the people she loved, without giving up her dignity and her profession.
“And what you said before… you were wrong. I did think about asking your hand in marriage, soon after Roger died,” John admitted in a low tone, and Brianna gaped at him. “I thought that it could help ease your situation, but I knew you would not accept. Alas, here we are,” he added, with a coy smile. “However, things are not the same. I feel different. And I love you— I swear I do.”
Brianna felt weirdly emotional. She believed him, and even if they didn’t love each other enough to get married, she knew that one day it was very possible that she could love him like that. Perhaps he thought the same, and that was why he was willing to do that.
More than just to protect her. More than just to give her another option.
To grow old together. To share their lives.
“Can I think about it?” she finally whispered.
John grinned cheerfully. She could see it in his eyes that it was a genuine feeling.
“Of course,” he said softly. He lay down again and reached out his arm for her to do the same. She did and, as their bodies fit and she felt his arms closing around her, Brianna hid her face in John’s neck. “You can ask me anything you’d like about… about what kind of life you would have, in case you choose me. About the title and...”
She snorted. “I’m the one who came from the future, even if you doubt me. I know how it works, and I also know that you’re a British officer and there’s a war coming that your side won’t win. If you would like to ask some questions about that...”
John laughed, and she felt her stomach fluttering. His laugh was very soft and melodious, and she wondered how she hadn’t noticed it before.
“I will protect you, no matter what,” he affirmed, simply as that.
Brianna sighed. “And what about Jemmy?” she finally asked. “How do you feel about the idea of having another son?”
John went very still. Brianna could actually feel him become tense in her hug, and that made her immediately apprehensive. She moved away to stare at him, frowning, and realized that he was pale. More than that, he seemed scared.
“There is something you need to know, my love,” he whispered. “Before you make your decision. Something really important. And I wish I could be the one to tell you what it is, but… I cannot.”
A single conversation was all it took for Brianna to feel that something inside of her had changed forever.
She understood why John was strangely silent after that and why he had left before she woke up, leaving a note behind telling her to meet him at the Big House later. She understood why he felt guilty for not telling her himself, but she knew her father was the one who was supposed to tell her about William.
Her brother. She was mesmerized, shocked, happy and sad at the same time.
John was waiting for her on the porch. He had talked to her father earlier in that morning before she did, but Jamie’s behavior made her sure he had decided not to mention any prospects of a possible proposal — Brianna knew he would only talk to her parents if she accepted him first. She stared at him for a moment, smiling, the memories of the previous night making her flush, before she climbed the steps to join him.
“Your father told me you and Jemmy are going to Boston,” he said to her. Well, her parents didn’t know she had a reason to reconsider her destiny now. “If only it were that simple.”
“Yes,” she agreed. Maybe he wasn’t so skeptical about the time travelling matters, after all. Or he was just afraid to lose her. “But I just learned something that would make it even harder to leave… I have a brother.”
John stared at her, and she could see relief in his eyes. “I’m glad he has told you,” he smiled sincerely. “He’s very much like you… and both of you are very much like your father. Both in appearance and in disposition.”
A very wise choice of words, but Brianna was clever enough to understand. “So William has a temper, too, then?” she laughed.
“Yes, he does.” John confirmed, grinning. “But he possesses your kindness and courage. Jamie’s as well.”
Brianna realized his struggle. It would be strange enough to be the step-mother of her half-brother, but William had no idea of his true nature.
“Do you think he would…notice the resemblance?,” she asked, feeling a little unsettled. “If you and I...”
“I don’t know,” he sighed, and Brianna felt heartbroken. She realized how that made things infinitely more complicated for them. She would not be in a relationship with John if that meant putting William’s own identity at risk. She couldn’t.
But that didn’t change how she felt about him.
“I can never tell him about you,” John concluded, gloomily. “Not about you and I getting married, if that’s what you decide, but about you being his sister. I wish I could. But...”
“I know,” Brianna assured him. “My father explained. So that means we shouldn’t…,” she looked around, hoping they were indeed completely alone. Some things were probably better to remain a secret. “Maybe it’s better for us to not rely on your plan.”
“My offer remains,” John said, sounding quite determined. She couldn't help but gasp, softly. “We can find a way to make it work, if that’s what you decide. As for William knowing the truth… well, life is long. Perhaps someday.”
He hadn’t given up.
She didn't know if that meant he was out of his mind or just terribly stubborn. Or simply that he really wanted to marry her. Either way, she smiled. “Perhaps.”
He smiled too.
“I’ll be leaving myself, in two days’ time,” John announced. Brianna frowned, confused. “With my new manservant. Just for a while…enough time for you to think about your decision, I hope.”
Brianna blinked, surprised. “Taking him to England with you?”
“He can travel safely in the guise of my servant,” John explained. “When he sets foot on a British ship, he’ll be a free man.”
“It’s a good idea,” she told him. Even though she would miss him, even though she wished she could sleep in his arms again and again until she made her mind, she knew it would not be fair to him. And John had a noble mission, setting Ulysses free. She was glad.
“Your father thought of it,” he chuckled. Maybe if her father knew what they had done last night, he would have added a reminder for John not to come back. Brianna giggled at the thought. “He reminded me that I might need someone to play chess with on the long voyage to London.”
Of course. “I have heard that you’re quite the master of chess,” she chuckled, and seeing his lively smile, quickly added: “And a wonderful father.”
John’s expression softened. In that moment, Brianna realized that, in her heart, she already knew her answer for his proposal.
“My brother’s lucky to have you in his life… and so am I.”
I love you, she wanted to say. I think I love you even more now that I know about William. You’re the most noble, most selfless man I have ever met. I know you could make me happy, I have no doubts. If only it were that simple.
His smile told her that he knew.
“You really are impossible not to like,” he said and, taking a small step in her direction, he leaned discreetly to let her know with a whisper, “and I will wait for you.”