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The Sassenach Faerie

Chapter Text

The sun had not yet peaked over the grey monoliths up on the hill. The dark bathed the stones in muted tones of black and grey which camouflaged into the exact shade of the stones. There was a hint of smudged pink and orange across the sky like the dye was dipped into dirty shaving cream, a beautiful but very messy creation an enthusiastic toddler would spread onto paper. The grass was filled with splotches of purple and yellow, gorse, and heather. Claire desperately wanted to lay her hands on the Earth and feel it growing, the pulse of it thumping against her palms below and breathing in sync with the flutter of birds’ wings above. The ground beneath inclined from the flat steady ground to a more rigorous slope. Rocks now scattered the landscape and the toe of her shoe stumbled upon them more than once.

 

Claws sunk into the flesh of Claire’s upper arm, guiding her none too gently towards the summit of the hill. She was tired, hungry, and not least of all completely peeved at her aunt and the man she intended her to meet today. She was dressed in a plain white dress that flowed just below her knees. It was modest enough, without being too prudish, she thought. 

 

“I know you want to hand me off to some random man, like some cattle, but why must the exchange be here?”

 

Claire had been sequestered into a little room at Mrs. Baird’s bread-and-breakfast for almost two weeks now. Her aunt spoke no words to enlighten her niece about the reason for their stay. Aunt Elisa, for all intents and purposes, was Claire’s aunt. She had earned the title through her close friendship with Julia Beauchamp and had taken her place as Claire’s guardian after Uncle Lamb’s death. Her niece was at the end of her tether with Elisa, and even more so now that she had experienced a taste of freedom and independence nursing grotesque injuries in France during the war. Elisa had sunk her teeth into every move Claire made after she returned home when the war ended. She had almost thrown the cup of china that held her morning tea when Aunt Elisa admitted her true intentions. Though she did not enact any violence on her aunt that day, there had been a row that probably woke even the people in the next town over. 

 

“Quiet down Claire, you’ll know soon enough. Just know that what we’re doing is for your own good and the good of our people.”

 

She would have stopped for a moment for her perplexing emotions to take place but Elisa tightened her grip on her arm. Claire bit her cheek to stave off the tears that threatened to blur her eyes. She knew she would have five half-crescent wounds the next morning from where her skin broke. They reached the summit as her breaths quickened to bring in more oxygen. The buzzing of the earth below her feet was even more powerful at the top and the vibrations raced through her body and her heart hummed in harmony with them. 

 

She froze at the sight of the man who was her intended. The iron sword he held carefully with gloved hands made her blood run cold. She stretched her back reflexively as if to check that it was still unmolested. 

 

“You cannot be serious.” She recognised him.

 

Frank Randall. The distinct lines that surrounded his mouth and the small brown eyes that looked as if they were cursed in a constant squint stared unwaveringly into her soul. He was one of Uncle Lamb’s acquaintances. Their spheres of academia often coincided and they formed an amicable understanding to share advice and help in research over the years. The man who stood before Claire was smartly dressed. He was handsome in an academic sort of way, lean and not too terribly short. Her Uncle Lamb had kept her far away from the man during his visits. It was a relief too, not to hear them drone on and on about his famous ancestor. Besides, he had made his intentions clear, and though eighteen in years she had quite a few years until she was full grown at twenty-five. 

 

“I’ll not marry this man. He’s so.. so old . I don’t even want to be married yet.” 

 

“Claire bear, he is only fourteen years your senior. And those years are hardly anything given how many hundreds you will live together. When I was your age I was already married and with child.” 

 

“I don’t care what you were doing this is my life.”

 

“And I’ve let you stray too far in it! I should’ve never allowed you to continue as a nurse in the war efforts. Do you know what could’ve happened if you’d been caught?”

 

“I used what skills any normal human possessed. And so what if I used my skills to heal people! Is that such a crime?”

 

“Claire, you reached the age of majority two years ago and besides, he’s a professor. You’ll live quite comfortably with him. Don’t you want to be happy? Have children of your own?”

 

“Of course I want that, but not with him.” She sneered. “Mum always said I would know who I would marry. That the love we would have would be far stronger than any power I could ever possess.” She looked to the side to the man dressed sensibly in a brown suit. “And I certainly don’t feel that right now.”

 

“At least talk to him, Claire. You don’t necessarily love someone the moment you meet them. It takes time.”

 

“Fine.” Her foot hesitantly tested the soft grass before her. “But I’ll never give up my wings for any man.”

 

His eyes trailed down to her toes and up, stopping at uncomfortable intervals until he finally reached her eyes. She crossed her arms over her chest protectively and cleared her throat. 

 

“You can put that sword away sir.” She tried to imbue a sense of authority into her wavering voice.

 

“Of course, darling. I shall hope that you call me Frank.” He sheathed the sword into its scabbard and gently let it fall to the grass with a quiet thud. 

 

His hand grasped hers and the leather covering it was smooth and supple. It allowed no direct contact with Frank’s own skin which was a small blessing. They weaved through the outer ring of the stones, almost mimicking the twirls and turns of the druids who were likely here just hours ago, without the flare of long flowing garments and torches to carry. She had spied upon a ritual of theirs ten years ago with her uncle. The chants and lithe movements of the women almost drew her to join them, as if her place was amongst them. Now, she had gotten closer to the stones than she ever had before, and the humming called out to the blood in her body. Her head was heavy with bees buzzing about inside of it and she was transfixed to the cleft of the centre stone. Randall squeezed her wrist, bringing her out of her reverie. 

 

“What?” She could still hear life course through the earth where she stood and it was hard to focus on anything else.

 

“Darling, your aunt and I discussed this very thoroughly. I think I can make you quite happy and you need not worry about any expense. Our children will be successful. I know you would make me a very happy man, Claire. I knew that since I laid eyes on you as a girl when you visited with your uncle. You know our kind is dying off..”

 

“Mhmm.” Her gaze was still transfixed on the centre stone. “Do you not hear that?” 

 

“Hear what Claire?”

 

“The buzzing.” It filled her entire chest, her entire soul. 

 

“Claire sweetheart, this better not be a distraction from this handfast. It will happen today.” Aunt Elisa chimed in and now held the iron sword intended to cut off the wings from her niece’s back. 

 

“Get that bloody thing away from me!” She wrenched her hand from his tight grip at which the action twisted her skin and she bit her lip to lessen the pain.

 

“Claire, darling you know it’s tradition.” He moved closer to her and she took a step back. “Our faerie women have given up their wings since the beginning of time.”

 

She kept her front in view of both her aunt and the man before her, her back the furthest possible distance from them. The centre stone was a mere five feet away now. She slowly backed up to it, as if she were a fish on a line, baited by the thrum of seemingly live stones. She stretched her neck back towards the destination behind her. The stone stood at about twice her height, and through all the noise and disturbance it caused, stayed completely still as rocks were wont to do. It proudly shot out of the ground beneath it as if it had grown as the plants surrounding it. 

 

She recalled the stories her uncle told her, the only words she remembered her father saying. About those who heard the earth call to them, carrying them away to the faerie kingdom where time stood still. Humans swept away with just a touch to the stone. But she was hardly human and the faerie kingdom was long gone as its inhabitants slowly died off. It might not have ever even existed, except for in rhyme and song. 

 

“Give me your name Mr. Randall. We’ll need to know each other's in full for the handfasting after all.” 

 

“Franklin Wolverton Randall.” His chest puffed with pride, faerie’s from the moment of their birth were always taught there was power in a name. “Wolverton to honour my ancestor Captain Jonathan Wolverton Randall of His Majesty’s Eighth Dragoons.” 

 

Her Uncle Lamb had spoken quite frequently about the ties said captain had with a duke during his visit, though she couldn’t recall the duke’s name just then. They scrounged the archive's contents together with the reverend in his manse in Inverness. It was a month before the world turned to death, destruction, and depression caused by a war that engulfed the entire globe. It had halted their research and soon her Uncle’s Lambs death had ended it with a finality that Claire was surprised Frank was in Inverness. 

 

Claire tentatively stretched her palms behind her in search of the rough surface of the stone. It was only an inch away from them and she could feel the pulsing of the stones as if they had a heartbeat themselves. The wind rose, whipping her curly hair into an even more unmanageable mess and made the fabric of her white dress beat furiously against her legs. The rumble of thunder passed loudly through her chest and she felt invigorated by the power of the storm that gathered around and within her. 

 

“Well then. Franklin. Wolverton. Randall. I pray you will forever remain barren.” She hissed. 

 

His brows rose in curiosity and then anger. He raised his flat palm, angling it above her cheek. The impact never made its mark as she fell back through the cleft of the stone. His eyes widened at the sight of her body fading and the deathlike pallor etched upon her face. Her eyes glazed over until it was only white. And then, she was gone. 


Claire became nothing, floating in darkness. She had no body, no name. The only tangible thing to guide her was the screams of the damned clawing to grab purchase of her. Their anguish filled her mind until there was no room for anything else. Then light tingled within her chest, where she supposed her soul resided. The light was accompanied by a voice she felt to the very marrow of her bones. The sound wasn’t audible but it filled her very being. The was no cadence, no pitch, no indication it belonged to anyone but she felt as though she possessed the soul that it called only to her. Hers. She followed the pull and traversed the planes of nothingness within the stones. The words echoed through her fuzzled brain. Mo nighean donn.

Chapter Text

 Claire’s head split in two as though an elephant had crushed it while she slept. Bile rose in her mouth and what little energy she had was spent turning on her side and heaving the morning’s meal from her stomach. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and searched for evidence of Aunt Elisa’s or Randall’s presence. She sighed in relief at the feel of her wings tucked safely within her dress, pressed against the skin of her back. She stretched her back and they fluttered slightly in response. She could tuck them into the skin of her back, a grotesque detail which had her uncle gagging at the thought, but it felt far more comfortable for her to wear them proudly outside of her skin. 

They were little more than decoration, but Claire was proud of that part of her. She’d often stand in front of the mirror as sunbeams filtered through the windows to land on their iridescent form, mesmerized by the way they seemed to almost shimmer. Growing up with her very human uncle didn’t afford her the intimate knowledge of her own nature. He raised her as best as he could, an eternal bachelor travelling all over the globe with a child in tow. He didn’t fault her for what she was, but he never embraced it either, helping her hide her wings when necessary in public. She was thankful for her newfound aunt for the abbreviated education she should have had growing up, but she also couldn’t deny that she much preferred the way her uncle treated her. 

Now, Claire was completely alone, save birdsong and the wind that rushed over the tall grasses on the hill and valley below. No parents, no uncle, no aunt to speak of. Her head swivelled to take in the stone circles before her. The pounding in her head subsided slightly and the nausea she felt before passed once she relieved herself of her stomach’s contents. Had she travelled to the infamous Faerie Kingdom from her uncle and father’s stories? There was only one way for her to know. She stumbled in such a manner down the hill to the road below that a passerby might think her a drunkard. She meandered at the foot of the hill but found grass where the road stood minutes before. Nothing felt special or magical about where she was, except for the general thrum and thrill whenever she was deep in nature. 

Claire was pulled from her musings at the sound of a musket. Her heart fluttered like a hummingbird’s wings and she looked through the trees. Dirty men in kilts passed through her vision. They shouted cries in Gàidhlig, the language her aunt had tried to teach her but failed to stick. Men in red uniforms made haste to chaste after the kilted men. One spotted her and raised his weapon. Another shot rang close to her and the bullet landed near her feet. She scrambled away from the range of the uncaring gun. Claire had no idea what was happening but the live ammunition clued to her that this definitely was not a reenactment troupe. 

A twig stuck out from the ground and struck her shin, causing her to tumble downwards on a slight incline. The gurgle of water reached her ears and grew in volume. She had fixed herself upright and found her bearings at the edge of the stream. A man knelt to cup his hands in the refreshing stream that ran swiftly over the small pebbles of the bottom. His long hair was held back by a leather strip. Claire made to walk away from the man but her movements alerted him to her presence. He pivoted his body to face hers and snarled at the sight of her. Her blood ran cold at the sight of the man she had just left minutes ago. Had he gone through the stones after her? He rose in a lithe movement towards her. He scrutinised her thin dress and the brown loafers on her feet. She scrutinised his outfit as well, the deep scarlet of his coat and the black tricorn that sat gently upon his head. 

“What the bloody hell are you wearing?” He wielded the same iron sword intended to wound her by the stones. 

“I may ask the same of you madam. In nothing but a shift but very fine shoes.” He took another deliberate step towards her.  “I wouldn’t think the Scots so daft to leave their whore roaming about.” 

In closer inspection, his skin held a deeper tan than Frank’s and the hair that ran down his back was a darker shade of brown. The lines on Frank’s face that were created from smiling were etched from something darker on his doppelganger. This wasn’t Frank. 

“I am most certainly not a whore! Just who are you?” 

“I am Captain Jonathan Randall of His Majesty’s Eighth Dragoons. And who might you be madam?”

“Well fuck.” 

Claire turned to run but he was quicker. He pinned her shoulders to the ground and a lock of brown that had escaped confinement dangled free in front of his face. His dark brown eyes roamed the exposed skin that her dress didn’t cover. His hips on hers and his dirty fingernails on her shoulders trapped her on the muddy ground. Leaves, dirt, and even some small twigs now decorated the mess that was now her hair. Claire squirmed under his weight which only inspired him to tighten his grip on her.    

“Get off me you bastard!” 

“The skin of a lady. But the language of a whore. I’m sure the brutes who own you won’t mind sharing.”   

He lowered his face to hers. His mouth reeked as if he hadn’t cleaned them in weeks, which was most likely the truth. Dirt caked every inch of his skin and sweat clung to his brow. When his lips finally made contact, Claire bit him and kneed between his legs. He recoiled and raised his hand to the blood drawn on his bottom lip. She managed to roll him off her in his surprised stupor. 

“You bitch!” 

He wrenched her wrist into his grasp but suddenly his eyes rolled into the back of his head. His body made a large thump and his head sprang back with the movement. A man who was covered in brown rags and even more filth than Randall stood before. He stood a couple inches shorter than her but his body was covered in coarse linings of muscles. He gestured for her to follow. She was apprehensive, he could easily be as inclined to violence and rape as Randall, or he could be even worse. 

“And who the hell are you?” 

He answered her query with an “mmmphm.”

He grasped her forearm and she had no choice but to follow. He sorely needed a bath, and a fleeting thought of pushing him into the stream made her smirk. He shoved that dream down along with her body and she fell into a pile of gorse bushes. He too fell with the momentum required with the action and was crushing her. 

“Get your hands off of me!”

He muffled her demands with the heel of her hands which she in turn bit. She heard faraway voices and footsteps following the searching men. Claire saw flashes of red amongst the yellow of the gorse. The scruffy man’s hand searched around blindly for an object before it brushed against a branch. He brought it down against the back of her head forcefully and she drifted into a half sleep. 

She awakened to the grumblings and stench of her rescuer. She was situated on a saddle, near the pommel and the man kept a respectable distance behind her. Her body adapted to the rise and fall of the horse’s back, being carried by the powerful legs of the beast. 

“Where are we going?”

“Hmph.”

“Will you not answer me?”

“Mmmphm.”

Claire soon lost patience with the man and ceased her questioning. They came upon a small stone cottage. The windows held the reflections of a large blaze inside and candles dotted the room. He held out his hand to guide her off of the horse and grabbed her waist. He guided her inside with the pressure of his hand on her back. The wood door creaked loudly on its hinges and the inhabitants of the cottage all whipped their gaze to the entrance. Conversation ceased. The men sized her up appreciatively like a piece of meat flaming over a fire. She felt vulnerable, as if she was displayed only in her underwear before them. 

“What have ye brought us Murtagh?” A heavily bearded man with balding hair passed the attention from her to him. 

“A sassenach wench by the speech o’ her, Dougal.” 

“Where’d ye find the lass?” The bearded man’s voice emanated authority and the other men in the room appeared to follow him as leader. 

“At the foot o’ Craigh na Dun. She was havin’ words with a certain captain of dragoons wi’ whom I chanced to be acquent’,” he added, with a significant lift of his eyebrows. “There seemed to be some question as to whether the lady was or was not a whore.”

“I see. And what was the lady’s position in this discussion?”

Murtagh opened his mouth with an amused expression. Before he could respond Claire cleared her throat to articulate her thoughts on the matter. 

“I am most certainly not.” 

“We could always put it to the test.” A short and portly man suggested with a wiggle of his eyebrows.

A bath would do tremendous wonders for all the men in this cottage, she thought. 

“No thank you.” She mumbled so her words would fall too softly to hear. 

“Rupert, haud yer wheesht.” He paused to study Claire once more. “We dinna hold wi’ rape, and we no have time fer that.” 

Slowly, and very carefully, Claire’s wings slipped from the safety of her dress and tucked gently underneath her skin. She grimaced only slightly, unused to the feel of it. The muscles were weak, like reusing fingers after festering in a cast for months on end. The only abnormal appearance of her was the slight bumps by her shoulder blades. Dougal gripped her arm and shook her slightly, pulling her attention back to his words. 

“Yer name lass.” 

“Claire.” She couldn’t outright lie but she didn’t want to give her real name either. “Claire… Moriston.” 

It was her mother’s maiden name, one her parents debated giving her as a second middle name, but decided an infant of her tiny size shouldn’t be subject to so many names. Growing up Claire learned that she wasn’t able to lie, not out of some moral held firmly within her beliefs but because her tongue tied whenever she tried to force the words out. She thought it was an innate skill of all people, that all were truthful, until a girl made fun of her curls one day and she ran crying to her uncle. He told her the girl didn’t know what she was speaking about, he told the truth about lying. That was the day he sat her down and explained exactly how she was… different. She had learned to dance around the truth for almost thirty years now.

“Moriston ye say?”

“That is what I said.” Her voice dripped in a sarcastic tone. 

“Ye hail from Leòdhas then?”

“Not necessarily.”

“What do ye say Murtagh. Is the lady a whore as our good friend Randall supposes?” 

“Nay, I’ve no idea what she is but I’d bet she’s no whore. Hardly old enough to be well in the business just yet.” 

“Aye well we’ll put our heids together and putter it out after we’re on our way. We’ve a good distance to go and have to sort out Jamie here before he can manage to ride.” 

A low murmur of conversation settled over them and some of the men shifted their attention to the young man hunched over by the fireplace. The man rocked slightly back and forth in pain and he clutched his opposite shoulder. It rose unnaturally in a hump away from the rest of his body. Claire moved closer to the small circle that gathered around him. They removed the plaid that stubbornly stuck to his shoulder with the blood from a fresh wound. A moustached man prodded the deep furrow where blood freely ran down his chest. He concentrated on the man’s grotesquely angled shoulder joint again. 

The leader of the group took up a stance to ready himself before the red-haired man. He gripped his soldier and studied the disjointure. 

“Out o’ joint, poor bugger.” 

“Stop. Let me.” Claire pushed her way through the crowd to stand in front of the injured man.

“Get ye away lass, dinna want ye fainting o’er the lad.”

“I’m a nurse.”  The men’s attention snapped to her bosom, though her patient tried his best to look away from what was right in front of his face. “A combat nurse? A surgeon of sorts.” 

“Aye, so yer a healer then lass.” 

“Yes, had I not said as much?” 

He grumbled at her comment but allowed her to inspect her new patient. The young man gritted his teeth in pain and finally lifted his eyes from the floor. His gaze held hers with an intensity that forced her to look elsewhere to his wound. His shirt was ripped and his chest was exposed. Tufts of soft copper hair sprung from his chest. Blood clung to them and clumped up the individual hairs. She had the sudden urge to reach out and feel the strength of the muscles that held his chest up proudly, but pushed it away as quickly as it came. 

“Whatever injured you went straight through and it’s clean, the blood is still running free.” 

“A musket ball lass. Fell wi’ my hand out and got knocked off my saddle and crunch!” 

“Well, what on earth possessed you to take a musket ball to the shoulder?” She teased.

“I dinna think I had much say in the matter.” 

“Well whether you did or not I’ll need some fresh bandages and something to disinfect the wound.” 

“Disinfect?” Piped a voice belonging to the moustached man. 

“You know, cleanse the wound to stave off germs. Prevent fever and pain. Do you have Iodine? Merthiolate?” Each question was answered with a bewildered expression from the men. “Alcohol?” 

“Oh aye lass, that we have.” A leather flask was thrust into her hands. “As fer bandages…” 

A woman, who Claire hadn’t noticed until her movement caught in her eye, rummaged through a trunk in the opposite corner of the dimly lit cottage. She dressed strangely in large swaths of skirts and a bodice held tightly together with laces. She pulled out rags and scraps of fabric. She scurried about to give Dougal the rags intended as bandages and he passed them on to Claire. She scrunched her nose at them. They were far from sterile. She stripped some fabric from the hem of her slip, to be placed closest to the wound. 

Claire looked down at her patient as she took his wrist and elbow to leverage herself for the job of popping his joint back into place. He took a sip from the alcohol in her hands. 

“This is the worst part.” He nodded and took another hefty swig. 

She pulled from inside her whatever strength she could grab purchase of and twisted his arm in such an angle until she heard the telltale pop! as his joints and muscles met together in their proper position. 

“Tang Dhia! It doesna hurt anymore!” His lips stretched into a child-like grin. 

“It will. You musn’t extend the joint for two or three days; when you do-”

“Hurry up lass wi’ yer bandages we dinna have time fer ‘disenfectin’. Jamie lad ye’ll ride wi’ the Sassenach. Dinna waste time wi’ all yer bletherin’.” Dougal’s voice boomed through the cottage as the men gathered their possessions and trickled out of the door. 

Claire could feel the telltale signs of the beginnings of infection. His body wasn’t feverish, just a natural warmth that seemed to be typical territory with his body. His cheeks held no flush. But Claire sensed and knew that if she didn’t help him in a way only she could, he would be miserable for the next few days, and with fever no less. The thought of this man suffering bothered her more than it should for a nurse and her patient. She grabbed the strips of her dress and the flask of alcohol. 

She poured some of the liquid over her hand. He winced when she poured some over his chest as well. Claire reached her hand out tentatively to his wound. Her fingers tingled, like they often felt when they had fallen asleep. Her brows furrowed in focus, not having healed anyone in this manner for years. She felt a surge through her body, not unlike the humming of the stones she had left behind. But this felt different. It flowed between their bodies, mixing as if their very souls were entwined. The moment the connection made itself known she had drawn away and his wound was no longer infected. Jamie’s wide eyes betrayed a look of shock while he tried to slacken his face into an irreproachable mask. Claire felt her eyes droop slightly, drowsy on the feel of power and the closeness of his body. She fumbled with her makeshift bandages and ripped part of his shirt off for a temporary sling. 

“If ye so much think o’ leaving, I’ll slit yer throat meself lass.” 

She was soon hoisted up into a saddle in front of him. Her legs were wedged tightly between his and his good arm rested gently on her stomach to grip the reins. He struggled until they both got his plaid lose from the broach that confined it. She cuddled further back into him, using the cold as an excuse. He was a blaze of heat in the cold drizzle surrounding them. 

She was nodding off, drained from her earlier ministrations to the man who was intimately sat behind her, when they reached a familiar outcropping of rocks. Something tugged at her brain about them, but her Uncle Lamb had filled her mind with many obscure details in their travels. A ricochet of a gunshot snapped her body into a rigid stance and heart beating wildly within her chest. All hell broke loose and men shouted in Gàidhlig. Jamie grabbed a hold of her waist and dumped her body unceremoniously into a gorse bush to join the adrenaline filled madness of the battle. Jamie returned, covered in blood and beaming at their victory. He gathered her again, ignoring her concerns for his health. The men’s boisterous laughter increased as whisky was passed around. Jamie happily clutched the leather to his lips and offered her some. The laughter and conversation soon died down but the men returned to their journey with high spirits. 

The last streaks of dusk faded away into an obscure black. Claire leaned back into the solid mass behind her but tensed at the queasy feeling that took over her body. She traced her mind from muscle, to skin, to organs in the gut. She turned around to glare at her patient and struggled to stay upright in her position on the horse. She felt a fleeting pierce in her chest and her head filled with cotton. 

“You’ve been stabbed you bloody fool. Why did you not tell me? Or do you prefer falling off the saddle and bonking your big fat head on the ground?”

“Nay lass pay it no mind. But a wee scratch in the stramash.” 

Claire swivelled her legs to one side of the horse’s body and plunked to the ground with an exaggerated grunt of frustration. The band of men and their horses halted. Dougal swiftly hopped down from his perch on the horse. His left hand gripped harder onto the hilt of his dirk. 

“Did ye no hear my warning lass. I’ll slit yer throat right where ye are.” 

“The god-damned fool got himself injured again. I’m surprised he’s not collapsing unconscious right now.”

Jamie carefully extracted himself from their shared horse, slow with only one usable arm. He grabbed for his dirk as well but suddenly the complexion in his face turned an ashen grey. For a man of his height, he fell gracefully to the soft grass beneath him. His face fell near his horse’s hindquarters and Murtagh had the good sense to lead the horse gently away. He quickly woke when Claire pinched between his thumb and forefinger. She was soon pressing her knees to his shoulders to hold him still. She inspected the mess he made of her previous work and pressed more of her clean dress to the scratching post that was now his chest. There was no longer a lingering trace of infection, an apprehension in his body to lie in wait for a battle inside. 

“You fucking stubborn headed Scot. You could’ve saved us all this trouble if you had just told me when you first got stabbed. And a bayonet, of course you had to go run through one of those, probably rusty and covered in blood too. Now I’ll have to check for signs of concussion.” 

“Yer husband should tan yer hide woman. Father Bain says ‘Let a woman be silent-”

“Well Father Bain can shove it up his bloody arse and you can too for all I care.” Claire turned to her patient. “Now if you so much as move one inch I’ll throttle you.” 

“Threats, is it now? And to think I shared my drink wi’ ye.”  

“If you don’t shut up I’ll hurt you. Now, what is your name?”

“Jamie MacTavish. Why do ye need to know lass?” 

The name didn’t roll naturally off of his tongue. She had spent many years of her life keeping the truth of things, that she could recognise the signs of a lie. They had a certain taste to them. Well, she supposed, she had her secrets too. 

“I’m searching for signs of a concussion, confusion being one of them. And what is the year?” 

“The year of our lord seventeen-hundred and forty-three.” 

Her heart froze at that. She didn’t have time to think on anything as events of the day rushed by and she was stolen from one danger to the next. She knew this land was different, that she had left the only life she had known behind at those stone circles but she didn’t know just how it was different. None of the men near them refuted his words. To hear spoken confirmation of it stunned her. 

“Come on lass. We must away.” 

“Well you seem to have no signs of concussion.” She hadn’t sensed anything wrong other than his new wound to the chest. “Just watch your head and be very careful with your arm. I mean it.” 

She reached her hand out to guide him from the ground. He stood tall in front of her, a man of impressive height and broad shoulders. He lowered his gaze to hers and spoke with sincerity. 

“Thank ye Sassenach, truly.”  

Chapter Text

The grey foreboding stones of a keep sprung up into view. They had ridden hard for almost five hours since Jamie’s graceful collapse in the woods and Claire’s subsequent chastisement of the man. A mist clung heavily to the air, sticking to clothes and skin, anything that dared show its face outside. Claire’s hair soon frizzed into a poof of brown. The horses sauntered through the gate which fit comfortably two wagons side by side. Their shared horse stumbled over a rock in the muddy courtyard, causing Claire’s head to thump abruptly against her companion’s injured shoulder. He hissed in pain and tightened his grip around her waist. This only aided in joining their two bodies even closer together. The evidence of their closeness soon appeared but neither made mention of it. They were the last to travel through the gate.

The men all dismounted, eager for a warm meal and a large stock of whisky. Jamie followed them in dismounting and reached to help Claire down. His touch lingered slightly but the sight of a woman in homespun skirts pulled him away. Claire’s heart fell at the loss of his touch. The woman warmly greeted the other men of the recently arrived party, electing to give some hugs and kisses on the cheek. When she came upon Claire, her eyes roamed the expanse of her dress, or rather the lack of it in the old matron’s eyes. An old man and some young boys spirited the horses away to the stables.

“And who have we here?”

“Mistress Moriston. Dougal said we must bring her along. Mistress Fitzgibbons.”

“Oh aye. Well come lass let’s get ye some broth that will fill you up and into some clothes that are a bit, well a bit more.”

“Wait I must check Mr. MacTavish’s shoulder.” Mrs. Fitzgibbons was shocked at her accent but hid it well.

“Are ye alright lad?”

“I’m braw. Tis’ just a wee scratch she speaks of.”

“I’d hardly consider a disjointed shoulder, musket shot, and a bayonet stabbed through you that. Even so, ‘wee scratches’, even ones as small as a papercut can be infected and lead to fever and inflammation.”

“So are ye saying ye ken what to do for it lass? Are ye a Beaton then? A charmer.”

“Something like that.”

“Come lass, we’ll get ye a room where ye can tend to our Jamie lad.”

Through tunnels, winding staircases, and wandering hallways, Mrs. Fitzgibbons led them to the room Claire would stay. Claire instructed the woman on the supplies she would need to tend to Jamie on their way. Mrs. Fitz bustled in and out of the room to quickly deliver the supplies. Claire had water boiling and placed strips of cotton into the pot. Mrs. Fitz brought a salve of garlic, ramsons, and comfrey to add to the bandages and white willow bark to boil into a tea for the pain.

“Thank you Mrs. Fitzgibbons.”

“Och, think nothing of it lass. And my friends all call me Mrs. Fitz, you may also. Ye may rest for a wee bit after tending to yer lad, and then I’ll get ye ready to see himself.”

The pair smiled warmly at the doorway and the older woman took her leave. Claire turned back into the room where Jamie had just relieved himself of his sark, exposing his bare chest. The shadows of the fire danced and licked across his skin. Claire fumbled slightly with the bandages in the pot and looked into the fire to distract herself from the man that sat mere inches away from her.

She cleared her throat. “I’ll have to take off your old bandages and replace them with these.”

She gently pulled back the bandages from his skin, not wanting to pull the healing flesh off of him as well. The wound was fresh but the blood did not drip down his breast any longer. She unwound the makeshift sling strapping his arm to his side and returned to the pot in the fireplace. Her hands expertly spread a thin layer of the poultice onto the strips of cloth. She laid them out to dry off to a more manageable dampness. The alcohol stood at the foot of Jamie’s stool. She liberally applied the substance onto her hands and forearms and doctored his shoulder and chest with the same treatment. She returned to the cloths that lay on her makeshift workspace.

Jamie’s eyes followed her movements and took her in fully. He was rewarded with the view of her entire body, not just the sight of her backside and hair, though he loved that sight with equal fervor. She never met his gaze as she continued her ministrations until her fingers skimmed across his broad chest and she softly placed the clean bandages to his wounds. When she tied the bandages snuggly in place with a longer strip, she noticed the scars on his back. In some places they were deep furrows and raised ridges, only something applied with the utmost fury and inhumanity, and others they were shallower and less raised but laid down with the same intensity as the others. Her hands dropped one of the long strips intended to wrap around his body but she caught it nimbly between her fingers before it fell to the floor. She hesitantly grazed the tip of her forefinger across the dead flesh of his back. The sudden urge to kiss the scars along his back reached out to Claire with greedy hands. She wanted to kiss away the pain and memories, and heal the scars with her body.

“Captain Randall. One hundred lashes upon one hundred lashes within a week's time. They’d have done it twice if it would no kill me. No joy in flogging a dead man.”

“I shouldn’t think anyone would do such a thing for joy.”

“Well if he was no joyous in the matter, he was at least verra pleased with himself. There’s a devil in that man I wouldna want any man, woman, or child to see again.”

He continued to weave the grisly tale. Details painting the true nature of Jonathan Randall came forth. He had earned the nickname ‘Black Jack’ many times over with his heinous crimes to the Scottish people. His soul was tarnished black. Jamie spoke of the shame and pain attached to that fateful day when the captain paid a visit to his home. He spoke of his torment at seeing his sister in the arms of that bastard and his shame at her possible fate and his failure. At the end of his story, Claire wound a cloth around his waist and arm to strap it to the side of him. She instructed him none too gently about not using his shoulder until she saw him again and tracked the muscles’ progress.

“I thank ye, Claire. Ye have a healing touch.” She snorted at that observation.

The events of the previous days caught up with her. She was almost delirious with the racing thoughts in her mind. She hardly had time to think on her predicament as she was spirited away from one location to the next. Her Aunt Elisa was gone, not even alive yet. Though she did help force her into the situation she was in currently, her aunt still was the last connection to her mother and people. Not only was she out of time and a Sassenach in Scotland, but she was also far away from anyone like her, faerie or those that heard the call of the stones alike. She had felt a certain kinship with her Aunt Elisa. She taught her many invaluable things within the few short years as her ward like how her healing arts, how her mother was as a girl, and other intricacies that came with the nature of being a faerie. She missed so many modern conveniences. She longed for a bath to rid her of all the stink that clouded the group of men and had rubbed off on her. How easy it would be to turn the tap for fresh hot water to clean her hands and a toilet. She had lived rough with her uncle in certain places on the globe, but hot water had become a luxury that Claire had become so accustomed to and was a part of her nightly routine.

Tears sprang to her eyes and blurred her vision. Separated from her aunt, she was crying over hot showers of all things. Jamie sensed her apparent distress. He pulled her into him with his good shoulder. His broad arm engulfed her small frame within his body. She imagined she looked like a tiny kitten wrapped up in its mother compared to his monstrous size. Claire felt his strong steady heartbeat against her ear. Gàidhlig floated into her ear and Jamie swayed them both on the stool. She hiccuped and gulped down the choking feeling in her throat. His hands smoothed her hair and he tucked a stray curl back behind her ear. Claire’s heart fluttered and her body flushed with the heat of their intimate embrace. Her tears mixed into the hair on his chest and she pulled away from him before her quiet laments could turn into snotty wails.

What I wouldn’t give for a hot bath translated into.“I’m sorry it’s just, the last of my family I have ever known is now lost to me. Forever.”

He reached a hand to her face. “Ye need not be scairt of me. Nor of anyone here, so long as I’m with ye.”

He bent to grab the shirt he had carelessly strewn about the floor earlier and carefully slipped it over his body. That fluid movement had Claire wanting to see the same action again but in reverse. As a healer though, she had to scold her patient for his recklessness.

“What did I just tell you, Mister MacTavish?” Claire proffered the finished cup of tea that was now cold and he accepted with a nod of thanks.

“Strange I canna recall Sassenach.”

“Has anyone told you you’re a very poor listener?”

“Nay, only you lass. Though you expect a lot from me, no moving my shoulder for months on end I shall become despondent and I’ll be in your personal care for years.” He gulped down the white willow bark tea. “Ye should get some food in ye lass. Fill yer belly wi’ this broth.”

She split the broth Mrs. Fitz had cleverly secreted in amongst the cloth and herbs. Jamie refused at first but caved in to Claire’s constant pleas. They both wolfed down the hearty meal within seconds and shyly smiled at each other. Her eyes darted from the objects within the room and never landed on the one thing pressed so near to her that she could feel the heat radiate off of his body without touching. He stood from the stool and she followed suit. He straightened a quilt onto the other fabrics on the bed and patted the material.

“Get ye some sleep lass. I’m sure someone shall wish to speak wi’ ye come morning.”

“Thank you, Mister MacTavish.”

“Aye, thank ye as well mistress, for all your tendings of my wee scratches.”

He hesitated before walking through the doorway. He softly shut the wooden door behind him and made his way to the stables to help Auld Alec. Claire sighed as she fell back against the bed. The homemade mattress made of most likely feathers and straw was not as comfortable as the beds of her time, but it cradled her body softly into itself. It was better than some of the hard dirt floors that she had slept upon when travelling and better than some of the cots given to her during the war. Exhaustion racked her body and had her eyes closing within seconds. There was no time to worry about her messy dress and muddy skin as she sunk further into the mattress.

***

“Wake ye up mistress!” Claire groaned and turned onto her other side under the warmth of the quilts. “Ye’ve slept through all evening yesterday and through breakfast this morn’! If ye dinna get up and ready ye’ll miss the noon meal as weel.”

She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and stretched her arms and back from the lingering fatigue felt in her limbs. Mrs. Fitz had a tub ready for her and was waiting expectantly. Claire nervously stepped out of her dress into her undergarments. Mrs. Fitz eyed her scandalous garments and gestured for her to take those off as well.

“It’s French.” The comment did not alleviate Mrs. Fitz concerns.

Mrs. Fitz gathered water from the bath into a pewter and poured it down Claire’s back. She shivered as the coolness raised gooseflesh across her body. Her teeth chattered and she hugged her arms into her naked body.

“If ye had waken up earlier mistress, the water would ha’ been nice and warm.”

Claire nodded and let Mrs. Fitz continue to bathe her. She marvelled at her smooth mark-free skin but said nothing of the raised bumps along her back near her shoulders. Mrs. Fitz supplied her a clean shift, stockings, and a cotton skirt. Claire followed as Mrs. Fitz laced her stays and then tied pockets and a bum roll across her waist. She then finished with some outer skirts and tucked in a fichu under her stomacher. The stays and dress held her body straight as she stood. If nothing else, this trip through the stones would improve her posture at least. Mrs. Fitz finished by pinning Claire’s curls up onto her head. She looked in the mirror and reflected back was an elegant woman in dark greens and browns.

Claire would soon have to do this on her own. She analysed each movement involved in dressing herself. She was sure she would be able to do it in time with no problem, but it would take a while for her muscle memory to adapt from zippers and fewer layers.

Mrs. Fitz ushered her through the halls to another winding staircase. The stairs opened to a door at the top of the tower. Mrs. Fitz announced her presence and left. A man was standing near a cage full of different breeds of birds. A crow squawked for his attention. Claire took in the appearance of the man. His long grey hair was held together behind his back and his body was built His legs were twisted and mangled and he gave her a moment to collect her reaction. Toulouse-Lautrec. She curtsied. That seemed like the proper thing to do in front of a Laird.

“I welcome ye, mistress. My name is Colum ban Campbell MacKenzie, laird of this castle. I understand my brother encountered you some distance from here.”

“Yes, upon which he kidnapped me and took me here.”

“Mistress Moriston, yer name I presume?”

“You presume correct sir.”

“My brother says ye were found in some apparent, er, distress, in naught but yer shift. But what I could ask is how an English lady such as yerself found herself in such circumstances in the first place.”

“I was travelling with my Aunt Elisa through Inverness to meet her intended. It was there I was accosted by Randall and was relieved of my clothes. He took it upon his mind that I should be his bride, and when I refused, he assaulted me. One of your men found me in time and stopped him. Allow me to extend my gratitude towards him.”

“Aye be that as it may be, ye’ll have me believe a Captain of His Majesty’s army would behave himself as such, for no reason?”

“Is there ever a reason for such actions? I hear many of the men in His Majesty’s army do in fact boast about such behaviour.”

“I’m sorry fer the poor choice of words on my part, mistress, but do ye mean to say ye disprove of their actions which reflect the king himself. Are ye no an English lass, under yer English king?”

“I am a healer, though yes from Oxfordshire originally. I’ve not spent more than a few years at most there. I grew up all over the world really, and my uncle aided in my studies. I assure you, my loyalties lie with my healing, wherever that entails.”

“Aye and seeing ye ken how to tend to injuries like our Jamie’s, and our late healer Beaton passed no six months ago, I’d think ye fit to visit the surgery. Mrs. Fitz can make it to yer liking.”

“You wish me to heal? Here in the castle?”

“Mrs. Fitz is up to her ears with the running of things in the castle, a healer would help relieve that pressure and we’re in sore need of one with experience.” Colum paused in thought. “Do your people hail from Leòdhas? Wi’ yer name being Moriston.”

“I am not sure. My parents died when I was at the tender age of five. My uncle and aunt rarely spoke of them.”

“Well perhaps we can find some o’ yer kin, and make provisions for ye to live wi’ them.”

“I thank you for your hospitality.”

“Och, tis naught. My wife has kin from the Isles, a few Moristons.”

Colum walked her to the door and nodded in goodbye. Claire stood under the doorway and curtsied to him again. She took no further steps.

“I believe a regime of massage and salves would be beneficial for your legs, sir.”

“Aye, the late Beaton did as much. I’ll have Mrs. Fitz send fer ye again within the fortnight.”

“Thank you.” She curtsied again and flew down the winding stairs of the tower.

***

It was the noontime meal when Claire entered the hall. Chatter decreased and heads turned at the new castle resident. She searched the faces of those dining for a fire of red hair. She spotted red, but it was a young lass of no more than ten, and her hair was paler, more blonde within it. Claire found Mrs. Fitz bustling about the serving table and stopped her.

“Do you know where I may find Mister MacTavish? I would like to check his shoulder.”

“Oh aye Jamie’s in the stables wi’ Auld Alec, training the colts and youngins.”

“Thank you Mrs. Fitz. Is there some way I can bring food out to him?”

Mrs. Fitz busied herself with putting together a basket of bread, goat cheese, and some dried venison. Claire snuck in some radishes, the only vegetable on the table, for variety. Two apples sat in the basket as well.

“Thank you for all your help and kindness Mrs. Fitz, truly.”

“Think nothing of it lass, I’ve been doing this for years, but I’ll no admit to how many of them just yet. I’ll send some girls down to the surgery to clean it up for ye, and once ye go down yerself I’ll help wi’ the sorting and such.”

Claire left the hall and smiled at the sunshine on her skin. It had been days of being cooped up in the bed-in-breakfast in Inverness and then hours of riding in the freezing rain. The walk to the stables was brisk. Claire hummed to herself, missing the sounds of radio and record players.

“There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. Tomorrow, just you wait and see.” The melody drifted through the air.

“Ye singing for the horses lass?” Jamie smiled as he turned the horse around the paddock. “Dinna give them too much entertainment Sassenach wi’ that lovely voice o’ yers or they’ll become dandies who laze about and will be up the arse of the French king in no time.”

“No, I just came to feed the horses’ servant.” She held up the basket. “Though if you’re so opposed to ‘that lovely voice of mine’ I shall take up the meal with one of the horses instead.”

“Nay lass, ye dinna want to be dining wi’ Donas. He has no manners, and chews verra loudly close to yer ear when ye try an’ sleep.”

“I think I’ll take my chances with him.”

“I dinna think so. What have ye brought lass?”

“Some cheese, bread, venison, apples and radishes. You should really put in a good word to Mrs. Fitz about the benefits of fruits and vegetables in a diet.”

Jamie led the horse to the stall and topped up the hay. They soon settled on a patch of soft ground and hay, far from the stink of horse. Claire spreads out the cloth containing the food and places each item gently on the ground. Jamie reaches for a piece of cheese but Claire stops him. She grabs the bread and rips it into four pieces. She sandwiches the cheese and venison within the pieces and offers one to Jamie.

“Here. A sandwich.”

“A sandwich?”

“Yes, pretty much any food you can think of between two pieces of bread. Nut butter and jam, slices of ham and cheese, sometimes just even butter and bread.”

“Well it’s no so terrible as some things I’ve eaten. Once I had to bide on nothing for days on end and thought if the cows could munch away on grass maybe I could too.” He brought the blade of glass he was twirling between his fingers to his lips and bit a piece. “It’s no verra filling.”

Claire took a bite of her own. “Mmm tastes like nothing.”

They both spat out the grass. Claire reached for one of the apples and smiled as Jamie’s hand brushed against her own. He stilled his hand atop hers in the basket and she made no move to push him away.

“One might ask why you were out eating grass, not that I didn’t have my fair share as a young child.”

“It was when I was wi’ a group raiding cattle and we’d no have a hearty meal for months, lucky if we had broth most nights.”

“Why were you stealing cattle?”

“I’ve a price on my head. Twas’ no much of a choice, while I was wi’ the group none could find me so easily. After Fort William, some men made to get me out and I could barely hold on to the horse as we fled. One of the soldiers was shot in the ordeal and I was charged wi’ his murder.” Jamie stroked the back of Claire’s hand absentmindedly.

“Is that why you share a false name? Does Colum know?”

“Aye, I should hope so him being my uncle and all.”

“But why would you tell me? I am a Sassenach after all.”

“That ye are Sassenach but I guess I have no choice but to trust ye now.” He squeezed her hand.

“How is your shoulder?”

“Tis fine Sassenach dinna fash o’er me.”

They passed their meal in companionable silence. They never severed the connection of their hands. Auld Alec arrived and berated Jamie on neglecting his duties and Claire took that as her cue to leave. She left to go prepare the surgery.

Many vials of expired herbs and ‘potions’ lined the cabinets of Beaton’s surgery. She spied many unconventional substances within. DUNG OF HORSE. CRUSHED SKULL. She set aside the useful herbs and transported the undesirable objects to have in a surgery into the crate by the door. The maids that Mrs. Fitz sent in earlier had cleared the surfaces of dust and the area was much more manageable without the grime and dirt. By the time she had finished organising, it was time for dinner in the hall.

She sat with Colum, Dougal, and their families. The two brothers plied her with drink: some of Colum’s Rhenish. They interrogated her under the guise of friendly chatter while Claire searched the hall for Jamie.

“I trust young Jamie is doing well under yer care. The lad has gone soft if only a wee scratch like that bothers him so.”

“Actually it’s just a standard to prevent infection, well wounds that fester and cause fever.”

“Och the lad can bide wi’ all that. Ye mentioned an aunt ye travelled wi’ to Inverness, why is she no wi’ her ward?”

“She’s no longer alive. I lost her in the attack.” In a sense it was the truth to Claire, Aunt Elisa didn’t exist yet. “And once again I thank your man Murtagh for helping me.”

“Well mistress, you have a place here amongst us as a healer for as long as it takes to find any of yer remaining kin.”

She excused herself and thanked him once again. Her eyes drooped with the weight of the alcohol coursing through her veins. She stumbled up to her room within the keep and locked the door behind her before slipping into bed.

She woke in the middle of the night covered in sweat. Glimpses of red hair and blue eyes faded from her memory. Her stomach filled with a dull ache and she slowly reached a hand down to her breast. The other hand pushed the hem of her shift up and around her waist. Her hand reached into the tuft of brown curls between her legs. She moved her hand over the nub her friend Eloise had told her about during her time in France. She had overheard many nurses during the war gossip about such things. She felt her wings flutter in anticipation within her skin and they slipped out, free of their temporary confinement. She continued to pull at her breast and trailed her fingers over her flesh before timidly entering one, and then two fingers. She imagined it was Jamie’s rough and large hand that stroked her and brought her to a satisfying release. Her actions left her gasping and wanting for more, the feel of his hands on her and the thought of him within her.

Across from the castle, at the stables in the hayloft, Jamie woke to the feel of the whisky-eyed lass. Her hips were flush with his and they kissed hungrily until each found their completion in each other. He was ashamed when he touched the inside of his legs where he spilt his seed in the night like he had when he was a boy of no more than three and ten. His thoughts dwelled on the curve of her hips and breasts. He longed to taste her, the flesh of her inner thighs and the scent between them that could only be described as hers.

They both returned to a peaceful slumber, unaware of the other’s longing.

Chapter Text

Claire woke to the pounding of her head and the door. The little rhenish she had, had found its retribution on her that morning with a splitting headache. She stretched her sore muscles and rose from the comfort of her blanket cocoon. She stumbled out of the bed, her foot tangled in one of the sheets and crashed to the floor. Shit. She opened the door a bit flustered, dressed in her shift and a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Mrs. Fitz beamed at her and brought in a clean shift and a tray filled with breakfast. A young girl who Mrs. Fitz introduced as her granddaughter ‘Laoghaire’ brought a fresh pewter of water for her to wash her face. 

They left her to change in privacy this time, which in hindsight was a miracle. The wings on top of her back fluttered loosely, free. She hadn’t dealt with them since the rare development of last night. As she went about her day, she wondered what Jamie would be doing. If he was feeding the horses, mucking up the stables, or training the younger horses and the difficult new arrival Donas. As she stitched up a man’s finger, reprimanded some kitchen maids on using butter on their burns, and pulled out plenty of splinters from the children that often were seen roughhousing in the courtyard, her mind drifted. Her mind conjured the feeling of his calloused hand dwarfing hers in the picnic basket. His joyful smile at noticing her near the paddock. Some of Claire’s herbs were emptying quickly. Mrs. Fitz pointed her to the gardens where she could stock up on some of the supplies in the surgery and she thanked the housekeeper. 

She ducked under a tree and plucked some of the wild garlic from under its shade. The basket she had carried was soon half-filled with the green leaves. She needed to stock up on more fennel, vervain, turmeric, and white willow bark, but she was unsure she could find some in the environment surrounding Leoch. She would have to ask Mrs. Fitz to accompany someone to a market nearby. She was bent over the trunk of the tree, where the branches forked when someone called to her and caused her to jerk her head into the hard wood. She smoothed the bump on her head and straightened up with her basket in hand. 

“Those’ll bring on yer bleeding, but too much and they can kill ye as well. Are ye wi’ child then?” 

 “Oh no! The gills of this fungi helps heal cuts when applied topically.”   

“Oh, so yer the new Sassenach healer up in the castle. I’m Mistress Duncan, the proctor’s wife. But ye can call me Geillis, or Geilie I suppose.” 

A woman in her early thirties stood before Claire. Her green eyes filled with humour and the delicate bones of her face stretched into a mischievous smirk. Her hair was fair, a sleek blonde approaching an almost white colour. 

“Claire Moriston.” 

“Ye see I help wi’ the women down in the village for those sort of things. If they have a child they dinna want, or a husband. They say I’m a witch.”

“Well, are you?” Geillis made a sound that was in between a hum and a snort.

“Well I brew potions in my wee pot, and cry out to the devil for help, covered in blood. But dinna worry that is only on special occasions, like when the rent is due, or I’ve a rock in my shoe.” This time Geillis did snort. 

“Well I can say for certain I don’t believe the hearsay, but there is a certain power held within the earth.” 

“Oh aye plenty of it. So are ye a witch as well then?” Claire felt no ill intent aimed at her from the women, but she did feel uneasy. 

“No, and neither are you.” Claire sensed Geillis was very human. 

“Well, ye seem settled on the matter. When were ye born lass?”

“I am twenty-seven years of age. I was born in October.” 

“Hmm. Ye look like ye canna be more than twenty.” Her eyebrow quirked. “You’d think a woman of your age would be married, or no less widowed by now.” 

“I am very young for my age.” 

“Still, I suppose ye shall get married soon if ye dinna wish to end up an old spinster. I see the wee fox cub has caught yer fancy though. Did ye bed him yet?” 

Claire flushed at her boldness. Usually, the inhabitants of the castle were hesitant to approach her, and if they did their talk would never be of such nature. The women probably thought the scandalous words would ruin them. 

“I- what? Geillis I-,” Claire stammered. 

“Oh, yer still clinging on to yer virtue. That seems a wee bit senseless as no one would expect ye to be at yer age. My husband Arthur paid no mind to the fact. Unless ye do want to marry the fox cub and flounder on yer wedding night of course.” 

“Well, I know men demand certain things. Are they often as disappointed as the women seem?”

“Well, the women dinna need to be disappointed if the men ken what to do. The men rarely complain about such matters as womenfolk do. But some do wish for ye to take them in the mouth which is more of a chore than anything.” 

“They like that?” 

“Oh aye they do. Though they’re none too keen to reciprocate. I’m glad Arthur is too focused on meting out discipline to the village to pay me mind. It’s a fine arrangement, I have the top floor where he cannot bother me and he’s gone most days.” Geillis paused. “Please tell me ye’ve at least kissed a lad.”

“Well yes, I’m not some sort of nun.” 

“Oh the scandal, a kiss.” Geillis opened her mouth in mock shock and covered her heart with her hand. “Come, Claire, ye simply must come wi’ me down to the village. We must talk more and I can tell the surgery needs supplies from all the disuse. Supplies ye canna find in the gardens.”

She wrapped her arm around Claire’s so they were linked at the elbow. They pulled away from the gardens to a small trail through the woods. Claire’s shadows Rupert and Angus did not follow. They stopped occasionally for Claire to forage more herbs along the way. When the dirt path changed to a one of stone, the pair noticed a crowd gathered around in the town square. A man broke free from the circle of people, with a hand pinched onto the ear of a young boy. He shoved the trembling boy into a building just off the centre of the square and slammed the door shut. 

“What’s happening?” Claire whispered.

“The boy was likely caught stealing, probably nicked a bannock. There always seems to be a tanner lad caught each week. They’re discussing it now for his punishment. May lose his hand, or if he’s lucky just an hour in the pillory.” Geillis ushered Claire into her house and quickly shut the door.

“That’s completely barbaric. The boy can’t be more than ten. A lost hand for a bannock? Is your husband not the proctor?” 

“I suppose I can persuade him to go easy on the lad. But one would think ye don’t have proper justice down in England.” 

“It is different- where I come from.”

Claire felt like an intruder watching Geillis seduce her husband. She stood in the corner as Geillis knelt down near his sittitng form and whispered to him. He was in clear distress from his abdominal pain. She handed him a vial and smiled. He took a swig before descending down the stairs to the chaos outside. 

“There. One hour in the pillory. Now ye must follow me Claire. I’ve abundance of the herbs and potions upstairs.” 

Claire searched through the vials in Geillis’ store room. She stopped occasionally to sniff a bottle or two. Geillis supplied extra cloth and vials for the herbs they acquired on the path in the woods. Her basket was soon overflowing with supplies and Geillis reached for a final bottle. 

“Here, Arthur buys me these perfumes each month and I’ve some to spare.” It smelled of lavender and a fresh earthy tone she couldn’t put her finger on. “Put yer basket down here Claire. I wish to show ye something.” 

The pair crammed into a small closet on the upper floor. It was lined with shelves of books and jars of mixed herbs and salves. Grimoire de Comte St. Germain caught Claire’s eyes and she brushed the spine of the book. Geillis busied herself with the shallow bowl that sat between them. She grabbed some liquids from the shelves and meticulously drained them into the bowl. 

“Here, drink this Claire.” 

“What in the world Geilie?” Claire choked on the liquid as it passed down her throat. 

“It’ll help ye see.” 

Geillis closed the door completely, shutting out the remaining light. She placed some candles around the bowl and struck a match. Geillis dramatically placed the match before her eyes and winked at Claire. The flame dipped on each of the candle wicks. She felt as though they were a couple children, sneaking away to mix mud pies and potions which their parents would scold them soon for. The candles gave off a strange cloud of smoke. Claire’s head was soon hard to hold up straight. Her vision clouded and her eyelids drooped. She felt a strange giddiness in her bones and her mind floated towards the ceiling. 

“Why are ye here Claire?”

“What?

“No why are ye here Claire? Now?”

“Huh? Geillis you wanted me to take some of your medicine supplies.” 

Claire looked down into the bowl and the dark surface drew her in. A young girl screeched in amusement as Claire chased her. Her little cherub cheeks lifted with a smile and she toddled around the field of heather. The girl turned back and her fiery curls bounced on her shoulders. The eyes that reflected back into Claire’s were her own colour, a shimmering topaz. She felt a swell of love towards the girl. 

“Mam! Ye canna catch me yer like a wee tortoise!”

“Did you not listen when your da and I told you about the tortoise and the hare?” 

“Aye, mama! But yer even slower than the tortoise!” 

The toddler giggled until her foot caught on a fallen log. She landed face-first into the dirt and sticks on the ground. The child started blubbering and snot collected down her nose. Her little wails broke Claire’s heart. 

“Oh, my baby girl. Oh, my Faith. What am I to do with you?” Claire rubbed circles on her tiny back. 

Claire gathered the girl into the crook of her arms. She fit perfectly there, like her arms were designed only for the purpose of holding her. She kissed all over her child’s body and cuddled her close to her chest. She felt a warm, familiar presence behind her but didn’t turn to look. Her focus was on the child in her arms. The strong arms wrapped around both her and the child and she settled back into them. 

“Did those kisses make it all better my little lamb?” 

Her sobs quieted and Claire felt the absence of her touch when she looked down. Her view changed from the sunny field to the darkened room. The shallow bowl greeted her and a tear rolled down her cheek into the water, creating a ripple across the surface.   

“Claire. Claire!” Slim hands gripped her shoulders tight. “Where the bloody hell did you go, Claire?” 

She hadn’t hidden herself before Geillis had she? That would bring up questions she couldn’t possibly answer. 

“I-” She smiled sadly and hugged her arms around herself tightly. “I don’t know.” 

They heard a crash from downstairs. It startled Claire and brought her out of her haze-like dream. She noticed the label of the bottle she had drunk from. Laudanum. An eighteenth-century form of an opiate. 

“That will surely be Arthur looking for his medicine. Come, before the absence of his precious medicines worsens his mood.” 

Geillis quickly put away all the vials and candles onto the shelves. She shoved the bowl into the corner by the wall with her foot. She nicked one of the full vials of crushed powder from the middle shelf. The door opened with a loud squeak and the hinge stuck slightly. They squeezed through the tight opening one by one and the influx of light assaulted their eyes. Claire blinked away the stupor and dumbly followed the proctor’s wife down to the first level of the house. The fair-haired woman nimbly picked through her supply for an empty glass and the bucket of water in by the doorway. She mixed the powder from up in her closet into the concoction and served it to her husband. He soon left to his own bed-chamber in the second level with a short greeting to Claire. 

She was still reeling from what she saw in that closet when she saw a crowd gathered around the wooden platform in the centre square. A boy squatted near the wooden pole of the pillory, his ear attached to it. 

“They would keep that poor boy out there for that long? It’s nearly nightfall surely they don’t mean to keep him there.” 

“Oh, the lad’s been free to leave for nigh on three hours. He just hasna the courage to rip his ear out o’ the pole.” 

“Rip it out? And they expect a poor child of his age to do that himself?” 

“Aye, it’s the way of things here Claire. The same way anywhere else, England as well.” 

“Well I grew up all over the world, seen many different ways to seek justice.” 

Geillis’ maid ambled into the room and curtsied. She shuffled from the doorway to allow a man to enter. His broad figure barely fit through the door frame and he smiled when he caught Claire’s gaze. 

“Mister MacTavish.” Geillis’ maid announced and quickly disappeared through the door. 

“Mistress Moriston, I came to escort ye back to the castle.” Jamie raised his arm out for her to take. 

“Of course, thank you.” She accepted his hand and he wrapped it around her elbow. 

“My dear friend ye simply must visit again soon. We can share all our secrets on the herbs and such.” 

“Yes, I shall. Thank you Geillis.” 

Claire sighed in relief when she exited the stuffy atmosphere of the home. The crisp air felt fresh before the stink of the town reached her nose. She scrunched her nose and looked towards the thinning crowd. The boy was still squatting by the pillory. He bit his lip to keep from crying and other village boys stood below with the rest of the jeering crowd. 

“We have to do something.” 

“Aye but he canna have help. He must rip it away himself or face the embarrassment of the town knowing he had help.” 

Claire took Jamie’s hand in between her own. She traced the path from his wrist to palm, to the edge of his forefinger. She stared up into his eyes and her breath caught. 

“Well, you have large sturdy hands. Do you think you could pull out the nail?” 

“Weel.” 

“Please, for me? I’ll even pretend to faint to save the boy embarrassment while you’re helping him.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him and almost felt like a little child, begging their parents for the last cookie. 

Claire climbed onto the platform behind Jamie and angled herself before the crowd. Jamie pretended to tease the boy and encouraged him to jerk his head away from the nail. Claire turned to the boy’s ear and touched it lightly. She felt no trace of infection or that the rust of the nail had any adverse effects on him. The only injury was the hole the nail made in the cartilage. She took her cue and allowed her body to go limp into the unsuspecting arms of the crowd. She closed her eyes and felt varying hands along her body, aiding her to stand. She pressed her hand to her forehead and walked off the fall. Jamie’s hands soon wrapped around her waist, supporting her body up as they apologised to the crowd. The boy was long gone and they made their way to Jamie’s horse. 

Jamie fastened Claire’s basket to the horse. His hands brushed against her waist, spanning the length of her stomach from hip to hip. She shivered and too soon the contact was lost as he hoisted her up and onto the saddle. She scooted forward so he could tuck in behind her. Jamie was unable to procure more than one horse for the ride down to Cranesmuir. How disappointing. 

The horse trotted slowly down the beaten path. The sun descended to streaks of pink and orange across the horizon and the dark of night crawled upon them. Claire settled her hand on his left thigh. He didn’t make a move to remove it. Neither of them acknowledged the intimacy of the action. She felt some familiarity to the way his arms held her, like a wisp of a dream. But it couldn’t be. What she saw was just a dream. 

***

The next day saw the inhabitants of Castle Leoch in the hall. The tables had been shoved to the walls and a platform was erected for a stately wooden chair. Colourful banners and tartans hung from the walls, leaving almost no sight of the stone beneath. Colum made his way to the platform beside his wife Letitia. He stood tall and proud and addressed the crowd before taking his seat. Letitia sat next to him on his right and their son took up residence on the floor beside his father. Dougal stood behind him along with a large giant. He stood well over twenty stones, but his cheery grin opposed his intimidating disposition.  

Mrs. Fitz stood near Claire. She had apprised her of the night’s purpose and remained close to act as translator for Claire. Through the course of the night, neighbours feuded about property, father’s and mother’s requested work for their maturing children, and many came to air their grievances about anything that smiled under the sun. Colum handled it all with an air of authority and grace. 

“Mistress Moriston.”  

She scuffled to the middle of the hall and curtsied before the Laird. He gestured for her to rise. Her hands became damp with sweat and her heart performed a staccato rhythm within her chest. Dougal stepped out from behind Colum’s seat and positioned himself beside Claire. He introduced her, and her purpose as healer in the keep and then the matter was settled. The nerves rolled off of her body and she released a sigh when she neared her spot by Mrs. Fitz. 

The young maid Mrs. Fitz had brought in the day before was dragged roughly into the hall by her father. He conversed in Gàidhlig with Colum and Mrs. Fitz choked out the words to her. 
“Whipped? For loose behaviour, that’s barbarous.” A collection of hushes aimed towards her answered her statement. 

“Stadadh a-nis.” The crowd turned towards Jamie. 

He sauntered over to the middle of the hall before Colum, a smug grin plastered onto his face. He bowed and smiled towards his uncle. The kitchen maid scurried into her grandmother’s arms. Jamie continued to converse with his uncle until the large man descended to the floor from the platform. The smirk never left Jamie’s face and he stood tall awaiting his punishment. 

“He chooses fists.”

“He’s still injured.” The words clung to the air like static. 

Claire turned her face away and balled her hands into fists. She bit her lip and furrowed her brows. Her stomach churned at the impact of fist on flesh. She flinched at each noise, not enough time to prepare inbetween. Some time had elapsed between blows and she thought it was safe to look up. The sight of him bloodied and bruised made her want to punch something while also curling into a ball and crying. One final blow landed on the injury on his chest and Claire cringed. Dougal signalled for the man to stop the beating and Jamie bowed once more with a smile still on his face. He left the hall and Claire followed. 

She found him near the wellhead outside dabbing at his wounds with his shirttail. His lips were swollen and blood fell from his mouth. She grabbed his chin, perhaps a little too aggressively to convey her anger. Her chilled fingers took away the pain from the bruises on his face and his lips tugged into a slight smile. Her hands hovered over his chest and she unbuttoned his jerkin and sark to see the musket and bayonet wound. They were slowly scabbing over nicely despite the battering they endured. She offered her kerchief to him. She was still debating on whether to heal him with the best of her ability or to let him flounder under his injuries with more natural remedies. She hated seeing him in pain but wanted him to understand his idiotic actions out of spite. 

“You bloody idiot. Why did you take that girl’s punishment? You could have reinjured your arm, you were pretty close to it too. If you weren’t already being beaten I would have done it myself.” 

He grabbed some of the water that sat on the rim of the well. He swished around the water in his mouth and spat out the mixture of water and blood. He continued the action several more times before simply pouring the water over his face. 

“Well I’m sore now but the lass would ha’ been sore much longer. Wi’ a lashing she would have been stripped in front of everyone and her shame shown fer all in the castle. It’s none so embarrassing fer me.” 

Mrs. Fitz bustled to them with a bucket of leeches. “I see ye’ve found your healer lad perhaps I won’t be needed here.” 

“No, Mrs. Fitz I’d like to know what you plan with those leeches.” 

Claire watched fascinated as the woman stuck the leeches to the purple swells of his bruises. Once they had their fill of his blood they unlatched with a light ‘pop’. They dropped into the bowl they arrived in, fattened to almost a fourth of their size with their recent meal. Mrs. Fitz supplied Jamie with some willow-bark and orris root and then St. John’s wort soaked in vinegar to stop the bleeding on the inside of his cheek and ease the pain of the cuts. Mrs. Fitz gathered up her medicines and leeches.   

“Thank ye kindly lad. Laoghaire’s my granddaughter ye ken.” A teary Mrs. Fitz took her leave and left the pair alone. 

“How do you feel?” 

Claire gently probed the bruise under his eye. The swelling had gone down and Claire could feel the rush of blood anxious to repair his body. 

“Fine, it’s only bruises lass. I’ll have to thank ye for all the physicking ye've done for me though. Ye must think me a clumsy dolt.” 

“Not clumsy, just reckless and definitely a dolt.” He grinned as well as he could with his split lip and her heart warmed at the sight. 


A movement of yellow caught her eye and she saw the young girl standing off to the side shyly. Her blue eyes focused on the injured man before her and her cheeks filled with colour. Jamie didn’t notice her presence and Laoghaire didn’t notice Claire’s gaze. 

“Well, it looks like someone wishes to speak with you. I will see you in the morning, Mister MacTavish?” 

“Nay lass, stay here and sit a bit.” 

Jamie helped lift her onto the edge of the well. His feet reached the ground where he sat but Claire’s dangled slightly. She swung her legs slightly and felt the warmth of his hand near hers on the stone surface. Laoghaire approached them timidly and looked towards their shoes when she finally spoke. 

“Thank ye, Jamie. ‘Twas a verra kind thing ye did fer me.” 

“Aye lass I would do it fer anyone.” Laoghaire’s smile flattened and she struggled with her next words. 

“Well I do wish I could repay ye for yer kindness somehow. Maybe someday ye can think of something?” She suggested with a quirk of her brow. 

“Mmphm.” 

Laoghaire stood before the pair on the well until she understood the unspoken dismissal. She nodded her head in goodbye before scurrying away back into the castle. Jamie’s hand overlapped Claire’s once they were alone. He caressed the skin on the back of her hand in a manner that had Claire’s veins humming.

“Well, I should escort ye to yer room Mistress Moriston.” Claire hummed approvingly in reply. 

He pushed himself off the stone. He reached out his hand to help Claire down. Their fingers were linked in the solitude outside of the castle. Once they were inside, surrounded by members of the hall, they severed their connection. He led her down circular stairwells and corridors until they reached the familiar wooden door of her room. 

“Goodnight Mistress Moriston.” He brought her knuckles up to his lips. 

“Goodnight Mister MacTavish.” 

Chapter Text

A week had passed since her gentle imprisonment at Castle Leoch. Colum summoned Claire to his study in the tower that morning. When she arrived, he was splayed in nothing but his shirt on a table off to the corner. She found a salve sitting prepared on the desk.

“Beaton would often massage my legs to relieve the pain of carrying them about.” 

“I think it would be beneficial to massage the base of your spine as well.” 

Claire scooped a generous amount of the salve into her fingertips and began her ministrations. The trembling muscles relaxed under her touch and Colum sighed in relief. After applying her ministrations to her patient, she instructed the proper foods for his diet and teas to ease his pain. 

“Thank ye mistress.”

Claire curtsied and backed out of the room. She walked down to the kitchens to find Mrs. Fitz to question the whereabouts of extra rags and belts. She left with a thanks to Mrs. Fitz with her prize in hand. 

***

Claire was curled into herself on the spare cot in her surgery. The room was stuffy and even more so with the water that boiled in the hearth. What she wouldn’t give for her modern conveniences today. Paracetamol, heating pads, cloths specifically designed for quick disposal, and chocolate. The thought of the decadent treat almost made Claire moan. It was hard to come by in this time, especially in a remote place like the highlands. She couldn’t remember the last time she even had it with the strict rationings in the war. 

Claire would sometimes laze in her surgery when the rush of patients lulled out to an even, and acceptable amount. That was if she wasn’t with Jamie at the stables. She felt guilt for not bringing him lunch today as she usually did, but she felt even worse thinking of stepping from the comfortable position she had just finally found. The extra yard of cloth she kept near the surgery table was tucked up into her stomach and between her legs, holding pressure against the pain and pitifully mimicking the heating pads of her home. She was actually thankful for the way her stays pushed into her womb and aided in relieving the pain there. Claire prayed the closed door was a sign for others not to intrude, to thwart off the kitchen maids who the blaze of the clay ovens seemed very interested in, or the young boys who roughed each other up every day.  

“Mistress Moriston?”   

“Mmm?” 

The dashing Highlander appeared in her full view now and his brows furrowed in concern. His eyes travelled around the surgery, landing on a pile of bloodied cloth by the fire. 

“Christ Claire, are ye alright? Did someone hurt ye?” Jamie flexed his fingers over the dirk in his belt subconsciously. 

Despite the pain that coiled inside of her, she laughed.

“Yes my dear friend Mother Nature.” She mumbled into the pillow. 

“What’s that lass?” Claire focused on where Jamie’s gaze fell and she flushed in embarrassment. 

“Oh god.” She meant to burn those earlier, not knowing exactly what women in this century did in her current circumstance, burning sounded like a good solution. 

Jamie knelt level to Claire’s cot and placed a tentative hand on her forehead. He reached for her hand and brought it gently up to his lips. The breath from his mouth as he kissed each knuckle and the presence of his strong warm hand on hers sent an unfamiliar sensation down to her stomach. He held her hand so delicately within his, she felt she might actually be made of glass herself. Claire thought it was endearing how concerned he had become. She only wondered how attentive he would be to his future wife every single month and smiled, any woman who would have him would be very lucky. 

“Well lass, yer no yet wi’ fever. I suppose you’ll be braw soon.” He took a moment to survey the pot boiling over the fire. “Do ye need help wi’ yer potions Sassenach? Would ye like me tae accompany ye in delivering yer wee medicines?” 

“Oh thanks for the kind offer Mister MacTavish, but I’ve no more patients to tend to. No, this tea is for me.” 

“Are you unwell Mistress Moriston?” 

“Oh not as unwell as any other woman could be I’d imagine.”

“Oh.” Jamie’s ears tinged with a pink colouring along with what Claire could see of his chest and face when the realisation dawned on him.

“Yes, oh.” Her cheeks flushed a darker shade of red. He didn’t make her feel ashamed of the fact but she couldn’t get over the years ingrained in her that it should be a shameful thing to speak of. “Don’t worry the symptoms will abate by tomorrow. You won’t miss your picnic maid for too long. Sorry I’ve put you out of a meal today.” 

“Tis no worry Sassenach, I went to the hall wi’ Auld Alec for a wee bite. Though his grumblings and company are no so fair as yers.” 

“I should hope not.” Claire fumbled through her skirts to her pockets. “Aha!” 

She squinted at the bottle in the low light the flames gave off to read its contents. The vial of white willow bark and vervain was nearly depleted, a mixture Mrs. Fitz had instructed helped ease the pains of many women in the castle. She would have to ask Mrs. Fitz where to restore her herbs and other supplies tomorrow.

“Mister MacTavish, if you wouldn’t mind taking the pot off to cool and strain it into a tea with this.” In his presence, she didn’t feel like she needed to raise a finger, or rather he wouldn’t possibly allow her to do so while his lungs still held air. 

“Aye, dinna lift a finger Mistress.“ He lowered a playful glare to her.

Claire had it in her mind to dramatically raise her right hand in the air before letting it flop back down on the cot as dead weight. She heard a sharp intake of breath from the man beside her. 

“What did I just tell ye Sassenach?”

“Strange, I don’t seem to recall.” She said with a smirk in her voice. 

“Yer a verra poor listener.” 

He began to fumble with the various herbs and water until he finally had the concoction in a cup, some dripping to the floor in the process. He smiled shyly when he offered the cup to her. He grabbed a clean cloth off of the table near her cot and swiped up the liquid from the stone floor. It was then they both realised the mud caked onto his boots and the trail he no doubt created when he traversed the distance from the door to the cot. Hay clung to his kilt and his starch linen shirt. She smelled the indistinguishable scent of horse manure and just the general scent of the outdoors and fresh air. 

“You’d make a horrid doctor sir. Couldn’t possibly tend to patients properly in such filthy conditions.” 

“It’s a good thing yer the one fixing people up, no me.”

“Aye.” Claire imitated his accent, very poorly. 

“Ye make a terrible Scot. Do ye need anything more Mistress Moriston?” 

How could Claire tell him that she wanted his body, curled up behind hers on the cot, and for him to wrap his arms around her waist to bring her back flush to the strong heat of his chest. To feel the soothing thud of his heartbeat through the layers of fabric against her body in time with hers. 

“What I need, Mister MacTavish is for you to stop using that shoulder of yours.” She slowly rose from the cot and reached for the collar of his shirt. “I meant it, I’ll bloody throttle you if you don’t take heed of my instructions.”

Her fingers nimbly untied the kerchief on his throat and began the work of opening his smock to peer at the bayonet wound. She hummed, delivering her ministrations. It had scabbed over nicely, no worrying drainage or bleeding. The muscles that had twisted when his shoulder was out of joint seemed to bruise over with a slight purple and yellow hue. 

“You’ll be good to take the bandages off in two days. But I don’t want to hear any word of you using your shoulder.” 

“Aye, or you’ll ‘bloody throttle me’.” His poor attempt at her accent rivalled her own pitiful one and she stifled a laugh. 

The two rose, Claire from her seat on the edge of the cot, and him from kneeling on the ground before her. 

“Will you be at the hall tonight?” Jamie nodded in response. 

Claire heard whispers from the kitchen maids that frequented her surgery about the impending arrival of Gwyllyn the bard who had become quite the celebrity at Castle Leoch. They were no doubt hustling about in the kitchens frantically to prepare for the feast and subsequent entertainment, too busy to come down to her surgery with trivial burns. She was thankful that none had disturbed her tonight but she would no doubt chastise those who did end up burned and injured and did not reach out to her for help tomorrow. What she wouldn’t give for an aloe plant at the castle. 

“I’ll find a good seat for ye Sassenach. Dinna fash.”

“Thank you. Goodbye Mister MacTavish.” He tugged her hand to his lips once more in farewell. 

“Goodbye Mistress Moriston.” 

As Jamie took his leave and quietly closed the door to the surgery, both grinned so widely it would be no wonder if their cheeks split apart. 

***


Claire took another sip from the glass in her hand and leaned closer towards Jamie, though they had practically been glued to one another already. The rhenish soothed her pain and encouraged her body to sit as close as possible to the man. Laoghaire sat nearby glowering at the pair. Jamie paid no attention to the poor lass. He translated the ballad of Tam Lin in Claire’s ear. He detailed the adventures of the young heroine in such a manner that she couldn’t even focus on Gwyllyn himself but only on the handsome scot beside her. The woman fell pregnant to a mortal man captured by the faeries and had to save her lover from the clutches of the malicious Faerie Queen. 

“My what a character this Faerie Queen must be. What would you do if you had yourself a faerie, Mister MacTavish?” She felt emboldened from the drink, or rather foolish. 

“Weel I’d no give it my name for one, and I’d probably take out my iron dirk and slay it right where it stood.” He demonstrated by jabbing the air in front of him. 

“And would you ever love one?” 

“Only if they’re as bonny and canty as ye Sassenach.” 

Claire ducked her face down in an attempt to shield the flush in her cheeks. She could blame it on the effects of the rhenish but they both knew better. The harp quieted. Gwyllyn’s voice faded and started up again as the hall was filled with a different song. Jamie’s lips brushed across her ear with the whispers of the song. 

“I am a woman of Balnain...I placed my hands upon the tallest stone and travelled to a far, distant land...So I touched the stones and travelled back to my own land.” Claire’s grip tightened on the glass of rhenish. 

“They-they return? Do they always return?” Her stomach turned.

“Aye, tis always so in the songs.”

“But I mean, do they have to? What if they knew there was no life in their own land? What if they were escaping a great horror?”

“I dinna ken Sassenach but I suppose no one forced them through back to their land. No one’s thought of the stories in that way.” 

Her anxiety subsided while her steady interest in the drink in front of her nose raised. More songs in Welsh, Irish, and Gàidhlig floated through the air. The room surrounding them was stuffy and humid with the heat of so many bodies pressed together in the space. She thought of asking Jamie to escort her on a walk for fresh air but instantly rejected the idea. She was almost done with her third glass when she offered him a sip. 

“How much of it have you had?” 

“It’s really good. I’ve had two-no three glasses.” Claire stuck out two and then three fingers to emphasise her point. “Are you implying that I’m intoxicated?”

“I’m only implying I’d be surprised if yer no, Sassenach. Most of Colum’s guests would be under the table after the first drink.” 

He gulped the rest of the glass and turned it to the blonde lass beside them. Claire couldn’t recall her name in her inebriated state. 

“Mistress these bandages are chafing me something fierce. Can you look at them for me?” Jamie said loudly for the benefit of those sitting nearby.  

Her brow rose in question, him having been tended to not even three hours before. 

They hadn’t made it even down the first hallway before he was shoving her into an alcove and pressing her against the wall. The rhenish loosened both her tongue and control of her hands as she frantically searched the outline of his body. His actions mirrored her frenzied searchings, if not more so, but he finally settled on grabbing a generous hold of her backside in each hand. Their lips were brushing together, practically touching, but neither initiated the closure of the final distance yet. 

“Ye have the roundest arse Sassenach.” He groaned against her lips. 

Her hands were now in his copper curls, tugging him closer to her. Jamie’s lips met hers in an almost bruising kiss. His tongue teased her bottom lip until her lips parted to allow him to explore her mouth deeper. Her breasts glided against his chest through the fabric of their clothes. She reached back to one of the hands firmly holding and fondling her ass and removed it to reach towards one of her breasts. He whined in protest, his hand deprived of its home momentarily, but moaned into her mouth as he greedily took her breast and traced around the nipple through her dress. They pulled apart to catch their breaths. Claire’s vision glazed over as she looked into his eyes. 

“Where did you learn to kiss like that?” 

“Believe it or not Sassenach, I’m no a monk.” 

“Well maybe I am. Father Moriston, your servant and God’s.” She giggled and he joined in with his own raucous laughter. “I’m guessing your dressings aren’t really bothering you considering I checked them not more than four hours ago.” 

Jamie’s lips collected into a boyish grin. In answer, he lowered his head towards hers once again. This kiss was less rushed, only seeking comfort and warmth. His thumb gently grazed against the flesh of her cheek and his hand cupped her jaw softly. His right arm still grabbed around her back to hold her close to him. She melted into his arms like putty. Claire placed her hands on his chest and felt the quick and strong beats coursing through his heart. They both pulled apart at a squeak from outside the alcove. There stood the young blonde girl Laoghaire. Jamie turned his neck awkwardly back to the source of the intrusion. His brow quirked at the sight of her and paid her no more mind than that small moment. His lips were back on Claire’s in less than an instant but what felt like an eternity for the two very needy individuals. 

“Jamie?” The voice that belonged to the rose coloured young girl quivered. 

“Get ye gone, lass.” He huffed in annoyance. 

“I was wanting Mistress Moriston’s help for a burn.” 

Claire gathered herself and smoothed her wild curls into a more manageable nest atop her head. She wiped her mouth and ran her hands down to fix the rucked up fabric of her skirts. 

“Of course, if you’ll just follow me down to the surgery.” 

“I’ll accompany ye two. Make sure ye make it down there safe.” 

“Thank you, Mister MacTavish.” 

Laoghaire took the lead. Jamie’s broad hand stretched out on the surface of Claire’s back as he guided her down to her surgery. She briefly wondered what else those strong hands were capable of. They reached the door and Laoghaire fidgeted with her pockets, not able to keep her gaze at one particular thing. Claire sensed her apprehension at Jamie’s presence.

“I’ll see you tomorrow at noontime, Mister MacTavish.” 

Jamie understood the subtle dismissal. “Sleep well Mistress Moriston.” He kissed Claire’s knuckles.

He was almost gone from the door when he added, “and ye as well lass,” as an afterthought. 

“I have some salve left, but not much. I’ll need to ask your grandmother for some more soon. Sit there and I’ll go boil some cloth for bandages.” 

“Nay Mistress, I came to ye seeking the help of a wise woman. I’ve no fresh burns on me today.” 

“So you’re not injured then?”

“Oh aye I’m braw. Well, I was hoping ye would help me wi’ a lad. A potion to open his heart to me.” 

“A potion?” 

“Aye, ye see usually girls go to the proctor’s wife in Cranesmuir for such things but I thought ye could help me instead.” 

“Well I don’t have any ‘potions’ so unless you’re ill or injured I’d advise you to leave.” 

“Please mistress. Ye see the lad is who I’m supposed to marry. I only wish for him to feel the same fer me.”

“Alright.” Claire knew the child wouldn’t stop her incessant pleas if she continued to refuse. 

Claire made her way to the pile of medicines waiting to be discarded. Her fingers glanced the tops of the vials until one caught her attention. DUNG OF HORSE seemed harmless enough. Another CRUSHED SKULL was mixed into the concoction and Claire placed it in a small clean vial. 

“Rub this on each of your toes, fingers, and between your legs at night and then rub this on his…” Laoghaire blanched at the suggestion. “His heart and forehead the next morning.” 

“Thank ye mistress.” Laoghaire’s expression changed to one of glee as she grabbed the vial and scurried out of the surgery. 

Claire fell exhausted, drunk on wine and perhaps on the stolen kisses in the alcove as well. She woke the next morning to a dream she couldn’t recall.  

 

Chapter Text

 Mrs. Fitz was prepared for Claire with a basket in hand when she entered the kitchens. During the past few weeks, Claire had fallen into a simple and predictable routine. She would spend her mornings in the surgery, awaiting any new patients or returning ones. Then she would take a break in the afternoon around noon to put together a basket of food for Jamie. They would spend the time talking about anything really or just spent the time in silence enjoying each other's company. Save the kiss in the alcove, no one knew about the true nature of their meetings at the stables. They were careful, never going past holding each other's hands. The Sassenach and the Laird’s nephew would surely raise some disruption within the castle and especially with the Laird himself. Sometimes Mrs. Fitz's knowing smile hinted she knew more than she let on, but she never mentioned anything as Claire arrived every day for a new picnic basket. 

Claire thanked Mrs. Fitz for the meal and confirmed her presence in the hall that night for the gathering. Mrs. Fitz had found a gown fit for the occasion within one of the many chests in Leoch and was adamant in seeing her dressed and polished herself. A maid, Laoghaire, rushed past Claire almost toppling the contents of her basket to the floor. All hands were busying themselves throughout the castle, in preparation for the gathering that night. Laoghaire turned back for a final look at Claire with red puffy eyes and a glare that would unnerve most people.

“Whatever’s wrong with the poor girl?” She asked her grandmother.

“A lad dinna return her feelings fer him I would guess. Poor lass, though she’ll be o’er him eventually.” 

 Claire grinned as Jamie sat down his tartan on the grass by the paddock. She triumphantly displayed the day’s wares on the material. Mrs. Fitz had collected some of the leftover mince pie from a couple days ago and Claire had added some cut carrots and beetroot into the mix to broaden the nutrients in the meal.

 “One would think it’s yer life’s mission to force greens down people’s throats.”

 “It’s beneficial for anyone’s health. Prevents scurvy and helps build immunity. Unless you prefer losing your teeth.” 

 “I do like my teeth verra much.” Jamie made an emphasis to take a large crunch out of the carrot. “Do ye never take a break from yer doctoring?”

 “If I did you’d be a poor sight to see. I don’t even know how you’ve survived this long. It seems each day brings one more injury to tend to with you.” 

 “Maybe I like the attention.” 

 “You don’t have to make an excuse to see me.” 

He traced circles on the back of her hand. The hand that wasn’t holding hers drummed against his thigh. He leaned towards her so their shoulders brushed. She glanced to his lips and then his eyes. She wet her bottom lip with her tongue and felt a cold streak down her spine at the intensity of his gaze. It was almost too much. She looked away and her cheeks filled with colour. The rhenish had given her courage the last time they kissed and that was severely lacking now. They both were completely sober. When she turned her head back towards him, his stare almost took the breath out of her lungs. He hooked a finger under her chin and angled her head up towards his. Their breath mingled in the air between.  

“A leisgean òglaich!” Auld Alec shouted. “Get back to work ye lecher.” 

"Be quiet a bhodach!"

They pulled away from each other but kept their fingers linked. The tips of Jamie’s ears flushed with red and he wore a sheepish grin. 

“I’ll be gone tonight Sassenach, be careful. The men will be clumsy and blind wi’ drink.” 

“Don’t worry, I don’t intend to stay long. But I'm needed for the senseless hunt tomorrow. Will you be there?” 

“No Sassenach, I dinna like killing fer the sport of it.”

“Just try not to get too injured while I’m away.” 

Jamie rose to his feet and pulled Claire up with him. He squeezed her hand before bringing it to his lips. 

“See ye soon Sassenach.” 

“Goodbye Jamie.” 

Mrs. Fitz had dressed her in a gown of muted brown and green tartan skirts and a brown jacket. The stomacher was detailed carefully with fine embroidery. Her hair was pinned neatly on top of her head and she refused the bonnet Mrs. Fitz insisted on. The line of men for the oath-taking discouraged Claire from staying too long. She slipped away to her room with her glass of whisky. 

***

The horse snorted and whipped its tail at the midges that swarmed around it. Men beat drums off in the distance and cried out encouragements to their prey. Claire tightened her grip on the lead when gunshot rang through the forest. A scuffle followed and a man ran breathless to her. He brought her to a man laying on the ground, trembling with pain. The boar’s tusk ripped through the flesh of his calf to his ankle. Claire quickly stemmed the bleeding and directed the man to be taken back to the castle where she could properly tend to him. 

Claire stumbled through the tall grasses surrounding the forest to the sounds of another hunter’s cries of distress. She navigated through the thin branches of younger trees sprouting up in a manner that it almost seemed someone had gone out of their way to weave them together. Branches snapped and leaves rustled from the undergrowth to her right. A large black boar with menacing tusks darted towards her. 

It stopped before her. It calmed its frenzied nature in her presence and snorted. 

“Hello there.” 

The boar snorted at Claire and cautiously spanned the distance between them. There was an intelligence in its eyes and a spark of recognition as well. As one would notice a limb attached to their body. 
 
“Run now, before they find you.” She whispered to the beast and its eyes blinked slowly. 

The anguished cries of one of the men reached their ears and spooked the animal. It bounded away as gracefully as an animal of its size could. The shot that rang out etched betrayal on the boar’s face, and it fell to the grass with a hollow thud. Dougal and two other men stood before the creature. The two men walked solemnly towards the boar and began the process of preparing it. One man continually looked back sceptically from his work to the retreating forms of Dougal and Claire.    

Dougal led her to a sallow man laying on the forest floor, his life’s blood staining the ground around him. She grabbed for the cloth from the medicine bag hanging from her shoulder but stopped when she saw the gash across his abdomen. The layers of fat and tissue usually contained within the mesentery spilt out and sat on the intestines that were exposed to the cool summer air. She couldn’t reverse the damage done to his stomach, but she could take his pain. 

Dougal clung to his friend’s hand and spoke freely to the dying man. Her hand reached for Jordy’s free one and she willed the pain to leave him. She felt the piercing ache in her abdomen. Her leg numbed with pain. 

“There. No more pain.” 

Claire took a sharp intake of breath and held back the tears. No matter how many deaths she saw during the war, it wasn’t something she could easily get over. She was rushed from one patient to the next and never had time to fully process the departure of one’s soul. But now there was nothing but time. 

“What is your home like? I’m sure it’s beautiful.” 

“Oh aye, tis’ the bonniest place I know. Right on the loch.” His eyes glazed over in the memory. “The heather grows right beside the water.” 

His voice became a weak whisper and his breath caught in his throat. She felt the moment his body lost its warmth and in place of him was a vacant skeleton. She left Dougal and the other men to grieve in peace. Soon the hunt concluded and everyone returned to the castle with two bodies in tow. Claire stitched the man’s calf who was waiting for her in the surgery. 

Claire ate by Jamie in the hall that night. Silence stretched between the two and Jamie looked in concern towards her. The boar was proudly displayed on the table in the middle of the hall with an apple between its teeth. She refused the meat and instead elected to eat the simple bread, vegetables, and assortment of berries. When they were finished, Jamie led Claire down to her surgery and held her close to his chest. She crumbled under his embrace and wept. Her fists clutched at the fabric of his shirt. Her cheek pressed against the warmth in the crook between his neck and shoulder. Her curly hair tickled his nose and he brought up a hand to run through it. His shirt was soon soaked with her tears. She sniffled against his strong chest and he rubbed a soothing path up and down her back. The way he soothed her wasn’t unlike his manner towards the unnerved horses at the stables. 

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m crying.” 

“Do ye wish to tell me Sassenach? It’s easier to bear a burden when it’s shared.” 

“Jordy. I don’t know why his death has affected me so. I’ve seen death before, I’ve seen bodies pile to the point that there’s not even enough cloth to cover them. I’ve never had time to feel anything on the matter. But I took his pain, I felt him leave us.” 

“Hush, mo cridhe. I’ve you.” 

“What does that mean? Mo cridhe.” She nudged her head away from his shoulder and moved her glossy eyes to his. 

“Ah, tis nothing lass. Now, we should get ye to bed. I’m sure you’ll feel better come morning.” 

“Yes, you’re right.” 

Claire reached to wipe her tear-stained face but Jamie’s hand stopped her. He gently moved his thumb across her face. The fat tears clung to his finger and he smiled down at her. 

“May I kiss ye, Claire?” 

The answer caught in her throat as the door to the surgery slammed open. They quickly pulled apart and smoothed down the fabric of their clothes. Dougal entered without ceremony and took in the sight of the pair. He stood tall before Claire and eyed Jamie from the corner of his vision. 

“It’s good yer here too lad. Dinna need to make more than one conversation.” He picked up a vial on the table and inspected it. “I thank ye for what ye did for Jordy. It was kindly meant.”

“I did nothing really.” 

“Ye took away his pain for just even a second, let him see peace in his home in the final moments.” He paused. “Ye’ve seen men die before.” 

“Yes, I have.” He placed the vial back down on the table and stared at her. 

“Ye’ll accompany us in collecting the rents. I think it would be good to have a healer along wi’ us, the roads can be dangerous and we might be in need of yer physicking.” He glanced at Jamie. “And yer coming wi’ us as well lad.” 

Claire sighed in relief. Jamie’s presence was all that calmed her in her stay at Leoch. She couldn’t imagine being on the road with a party of only men, alone. She would go anywhere if Jamie was alongside her. 

“Aye. I supposed as much.” If Dougal hadn't required his presence, he would have gone anyway to see Claire safe.  

“Get ye ready, we leave at first light tomorrow.” 

Dougal swept out of the surgery. They were left alone once again and Jamie bolted the door behind his uncle for good measure.

“Yes.” 

“What lass?” 

“My answer. You asked if you could kiss me.”

He reached a hand gently to her face, cupping it. He took her lips into a sweet kiss. His lips were slow, wanting to treasure the feel of her against him. It would be difficult to find time alone with twenty other men around them. Claire’s smile was blissful as he leaned away from her. 

“It seems like we’re going on a road trip together.” 

“A road trip? I dinna think there will be many roads where we travel, maybe small beaten paths.”

“Nevermind.” 

She leaned back into him and smiled into the kiss. She felt safe in his arms. It felt right for the both of them. 

Chapter Text

Claire was none too happy about how the morning started. Her mood turned a complete one-eighty from the night before. She was giddy packing her things the night before in preparation for the coming rent party. The morning though was focused on keeping herself alive. Mrs. Fitz happily procured her some more rags and a cloth to act as a belt, and stuffed her horse full of supplies. Claire didn’t know how she would wash the blood out on the road though, or if she should just burn them. She snapped at all questions from the group of men and sat slumped upon her horse. Jamie mounted Donas beside her and opened his mouth to speak to her. 

 

“Don’t. even. say. it.”

 

“I wasna goin’ to say anything Sassenach except to wish ye good morning.” 

 

“Is it a good morning? I hardly think it is.” She grumbled.

 

“Well it is fer me. I’m leaving the stuffiness of Leoch behind and I’ve got my Sassenach beside me.” Claire’s heart flipped at his use of my.

 

“I’m sorry, my wrath isn’t aimed at you personally today.” 

 

“I hope it never will be. Are ye alright Sassenach? Ye look pale.” 

 

“I could make ye feel better lass.” Angus gestured to her with a thrust of his hips. 

 

“Fuck off Angus.” The men didn’t understand exactly what the word meant but they heard the venom behind it. 

 

Jamie leaned over on his horse towards her and whispered with a quirk of his brow. “Is it?” She glared at him. “I could make ye some willow bark tea wi’ yer wee bit of vervain if ye like?” 

 

The gesture was sweet and Claire felt awful about her reaction towards the man. She wanted nothing more than to sit by the cozy fire in her room and hoard mountains of food in there. She smiled apologetically at him. 

 

“That would be wonderful.” 

 

They travelled for the rest of the day, with short breaks to rest the horses and water them. The mountains peeked and fell around them as the scenery changed. They trudged through rolling hills of gorse and heather and through deeper inclines of brown and rich green patches of grass. Jamie was near the front with Dougal and the men started up an exuberant call back and forth in Gàidhlig. They chuckled at their failure to stay in tune, Jamie the loudest and certainly the most tone deaf of them all. She smiled and rolled her eyes at their behaviour. Once they stopped the horses the second time that day, the men shifted their places and a bespectacled man with small brown eyes took up beside her on the narrow path. 

 

“I’m Claire Moriston.” She smiled warmly. 

 

“Ned Gowan. Pleasure to meet you mistress.” His accent was softer and held less of the lilt that she had become accustomed to. 

 

“That’s a fine quill you have.” 

 

“Aye.” He patted the leather that held it. “Tis goose feather.” 

 

“One may ask what a man like yourself is doing taking up in these remote highlands.” 

 

“Ye see, I must confess to something of a taste for...adventure.” 

 

“Tired of your books already? A lawyer turned outlaw.” She looked at the gun strapped to him and quirked a brow.

 

They rode the rest of the stretch down the path in amicable conversation. He would share experiences with his practice and Claire would reciprocate, save the gruesome details of the job. 

 

The men settled down to sleep when they neared a juncture between the paths and a refreshing stream. The night was unusually cold for late May, and Claire shivered under her blanekt. Jamie walked quietly amongst the sleeping forms of the men. He held a tartan in his hand and offered it to Claire. 

 

“Here Sassenach, tis my spare. Yer shaking so hard my teeth are rattling from over here.” 

 

“Thank you. Jamie,” she hesitated, “will you stay here?”

 

He nodded and left towards his bedroll. He returned and plopped it on the ground near Claire’s. A little too far away for her liking. Claire curled up into the warmth of his tartan. She snuck sniffs of the fabric periodically in the night before she drifted off to sleep. She burrowed further and further into his chest in her unconscious state. Her leg naturally hitched itself over his hip and his hand rested gently on top of her breast. 

 

Luckily Jamie woke before dawn broke. The rest of the men were sound asleep near the fire and snores and farts resounded in the clearing. Jamie slowly realised the compromising state they were in and his body reacted to the embrace against his wish. 

 

He pulled away but she whimpered and snuggled closer so their hips were flushed together. She sighed contentedly. 

 

“Christ lass!” He shouted in a whisper. “Sassenach ye must get yer wee hands off of me. The men will soon wake.”  

 

Her brow furrowed and she ignored his request. She was content to stay where she was. The man assigned for sentry duty at that hour had his back turned away from the pair and leaned against an outcropping of rock. Jamie reluctantly maneuvered his way out of Claire’s hold but not before placing a gentle kiss to her forehead. 

 

“Madainn mhath, mo nighean donn.” He brushed a curl from her face as her eyes fluttered open. 

 

Her lips curled up into a smile as her mind slowly took in the sight above her. Jamie beamed down at the sight of her wild curls spread out beneath her and the sight of her light brown eyes gleaming gold in the light of the early sun. It had barely shown even an eighth of itself but it was slowly and surely rising over the horizon. 

 

“Well there are worse ways to be woken up.” She rubbed her forehead. “But what on earth Jamie, the sun isn’t even up?” 

 

“Aye, but the men will be around sniffing their noses soon. We canna be seen like this Sassenach.” 

 

“Why ever not?” 

 

“I canna risk yer reputation lass.” Jamie stood and rolled up his pallet and helped Claire with hers. 

 

“Oh my reputation.” She bit her lip to suppress a laugh. “We can’t risk that now can we?” 

 

The old notions that Jamie clung to were sweet in a way but also very aggravating. She was reminded constantly just how different her life was now in this time. If she had met him in her time, he might be less hesitant, but maybe even then he still would be just the same. But she wouldn’t change anything about him. 

 

“Nay lass, I willna. Tonight ye must sleep by the fire near the men, away from me.” 

 

“How is that better? Sleeping with twenty men.” 

 

“Hush Sassenach they’re rousing now.” 

 

Claire’s gaze followed Jamie’s ass as he sauntered over to the horses. He tied his bedroll, focusing his attention away from Claire as the other men woke and grumbled. Bannocks were passed around and pieces of rabbit as well. When it was Claire’s turn to fetch her breakfast, there was nothing left but bones on the rabbits they had hunted and half a soggy bannock. The men made conversation around the fire in Gàidhlig as Claire sat on a log a good distance from them. The jokes they did make in English, were lewd and pointed to her but she paid them no mind. It was the exclusion that bothered her, not the crudeness of their words. 

 

They soon mounted their horses as the sun was fully up and Jamie was in the middle. Claire hung around at the back, and it seemed Murtagh, her rescuer from the stones, was assigned to guard her today. They stopped midday for the men to fish at the nearby stream and to rest the horses. Some of the men started getting rowdy and soon Willie was caught up in the chaos under duress. They laughed and jeered at him and flipped him to his back more than once. 

 

Angus had his head tucked underneath him and rubbed it with his elbow. But soon Willie bucked him off of his back and Angus crouched before him. He gestured for the young man to come closer, and stretched his to hold his stick out as close to Willie’s chest as he could. 

 

Willie had enough and slapped Angus’ backside with the stick and grinned. 

 

“Watch yerself lad!” Angus rubbed his ass and pointed his own stick towards the boy. “Ye ken if I had a better stick, or better a sword ye’d be on ye arse right now laddie.” 

 

“The size of the weapon hardly matters, just the power behind its thrust. I’m sure you can attest to that Angus.” Rupert chortled at Claire’s words and soon the rest of the men joined in. 

 

Her reaction brought levity to their interactions with her, but she knew they still didn’t trust her fully. It was one step closer at least. She was still flanked by a guard constantly, be it Murtagh, Ned, Willie, or one of the men she did not know yet. Jamie was nowhere to be found, always avoiding her gaze, and she wondered if the time they shared at Leoch had meant nothing to him. If he simply was trying to let her down easy, maybe he would marry Mrs. Fitz, granddaughter, she was pretty enough. She looked to Jamie, who was laughing and cheerfully telling a story in Gàidhlig to the men around him. She instantly lowered her gaze to the ground and her cheeks flushed. He looked back to her then as well but was disappointed to see her gaze held elsewhere. 

 

The party soon came upon the first destination in their rent party. The small village they visited was desolate. There were no more than ten thatched houses, but the centre of the village was unoccupied. Dougal made his way to one of the larger cottages and knocked aggressively against its wooden door. 

 

“Get ye away! Dinna come in here lest ye suffer the same fate as we.” A weak voice shouted.

 

“Yer speaking to Dougal MacKenzie, war chief of Clan MacKenzie. I suggest ye allow us entry to yer home.” 

 

The wooden door unlatched, and a sturdy woman slowly opened it to the rent party. The colour of her face was pale but rashes dotted her face and blisters had begun to form on it. She gripped the doorframe for support and looked close to passing out. 

 

“Don’t get any closer!” Claire shouted. “Let me see to them, it seems there’s been an outbreak of smallpox here.” 

 

For once, the men didn’t protest Claire’s actions and allowed her to slip into the home. Her medical bag full of potions and herbs hung near her hip and the woman gave her a suspicious glance before thinking better of it. A Sassenach healer was the least of her worries. 

 

“A Sassenach?” It was more of a confirmation than a question.

 

“Yes, but I assure you, I mean your family no harm. I have experience healing. My name is Claire Moriston.” She hoped the family name would garner some trust. 

 

“Aye, I suppose ye can do no more harm at this hour. My name is Maisie, lass.” She gestured for Claire to follow her in. 

 

In the corner lied a deathly pale woman covered in only her shift. The chamberpot near her face was full of her vomit. Her body was layered with a sheen of sweat and there was a considerable bump raising from her abdomen. A young boy, no more than six, sat on a smaller cot and held his head between his legs. The older woman who opened the door sat on a chair, exhausted. 

 

“Are the others of this village affected?” 

 

“Aye, we were hit not a week ago, we tried to stay put but it dinna spare us. The Sinclair’s and MacKay’s all were struck but are braw now, I dinna know about the rest, they’re all cooped up.” 

 

“As long as you and this young man here get plenty of rest and fluids, you will be fine save a few scars.” The worst seemed over for those two and their lesions were on the way to healing.

 

“And my daughter?”

 

Claire looked at the sorrowful sight before her. She pressed the back of her hand to her forehead and felt for her pulse. It was barely there, and she was quickly fading. She would most certainly die and had at most a day, even with her intervention. But she could save the baby. The thought of butchering the frail woman stung her eyes. She had helped perform a cesarean only once before, pregnant women were few and far between on the battlefields, but they had the proper equipment then: penicillin. Claire pulled the woman’s mother off to the side out of the sight of the young boy and resting woman in the corner.

 

“I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do for her but pray.” 

 

“Oh my precious Iona, I dinna ken how I can raise wee Ewan wi’ out my husband and hers, and now wi’out my dear Iona.” 

 

She openly wept and her shoulders shook with the force of her sobs. 

 

Claire grabbed a cloth by the bucket of water 

 

“Iona, should it come to it, I may have to make an incision to deliver the baby.” 

 

“Mistress,” she grabbed Claire’s arm with the little strength she possessed, “I ken I’m no much long fer this world. But please, save my baby. Whatever it takes.” 

 

“How far along are you?” 

 

“Nigh on eight and thirty weeks.” 

 

“Let’s pray baby has not contracted the disease. I’m going to give you a medicine that will help the process along.” 

 

Jamie stood in the doorway and looked down at Claire. She noticed his gaze on her back and whipped around quickly. He started to walk over to her but Claire put up a hand to stop him.

 

“What are you doing in here! Get out! And let the men know not to touch anyone who has been infected in this village. Make camp far away.” 

 

“What about ye Sassenach? Surely ye dinna mean to risk yerself.”

 

“I’ll be fine. I can’t contract smallpox. Please, Jamie, you must not let the men into any of the cottages. And we need to be careful we don’t bring the disease to the next village.” She paused. “And wash your hands in alcohol thoroughly once you leave, Dougal too.” 

 

“As ye say, mistress.” He nodded solemnly and backed out through the door.

 

Claire spoke openly with the family and soon dusk fell upon them. It had been hours since she arrived and Ewan was passed out once again. Iona’s strength gradually lessened as time went by and she spoke words of love to her son and mother often. Ewan had gotten up eventually and sat by his mother’s side, his head bobbing up and down with sleep. 

 

Claire shuffled around the room to boil some water and cloths. She laid down the little boy in the cot and gave him some of the broth that hung above the fire. She poured some for the older woman who fell into sleep soon after along with the young boy. She turned back to Iona, whose chest stopped its rhythmic rise and fall. She gripped her wrist and felt the absence of her pulse. She had only left her side for a minute, but that was long enough for things to go south. She clasped her hands together on the woman’s chest and started compressions. She breathed into her mouth and repeated the process for four minutes. With no change, she began to rummage through her medicines for the set of knives left behind by Beaton, which looked more like the tools of a butcher. 

 

With the water boiled and the cloths cleaned, she prepared herself. Her mind detached itself and she smoothly went through the motions of the procedure. An incision there, and a cut to the tissue here. She removed the baby carefully and cut the umbilical cord with an unbiased snip. There were no signs of the infection on the baby’s soft skin and she turned to clean it. She returned back to the dead woman and stitched her skin back together. She washed her hands in alcohol once more and bundled the baby close to her. Its wails filled the small stone structure and Claire bounced it to the natural rhythm within. 

 

The matron woke after all the hassle to the sight of Claire crying to the shouts of the newborn. The sun was long gone and by the height of the candles, it must have been around five in the morning, close to sunrise but not quite yet. Ewan slept through all the commotion and continued to while his grandmother stirred. Claire stood as far away from them as possible and checked for any abnormalities in the baby almost every minute.  

 

“You have a granddaughter.” She choked out a smile. 

 

“And Iona?” Claire shook her head. “Let me see my granddaughter.”

 

“You can’t touch her. Not yet. I need to see you through your illness first. At this age, it would be fatal to her.” 

 

“Mistress, will she be alright?” 

 

“Yes, I’ll make sure of it. Is there a goat in this village, or another nursing mother? She’ll need to have a wet nurse soon.” 

 

“Aye, we have wee Haggis. She was a wedding gift for my Iona.” She wiped the tears from her eyes, careful of the rashes and bumps. “We ken a lass in the next town over who has just had a bairn.” 

 

“Does she have a name?” Claire looked down at the squirming girl.

 

“Iona Maisie Claire MacKenzie.”

 

“Cl-Claire?” 

 

“It seems fitting she should be named after the one who saved her.”  

 

More tears sprung to Claire’s eyes and she was speechless. She had been thanked numerous times in her nursing career, but never was a gesture like this given to her. 

 

“I-I, thank you.” The baby cried again and tried to root against Claire’s chest. “Where’s Haggis?” 

 

“She should be by the post on the north side o’ the house.” 

 

“Thank you, I promise she’ll be back in your arms once I know the sickness can’t spread from you or Ewan to her.” 

 

Claire wandered around the house and searched every corner outside. The post was there standing tall, but no sign of the animal or the lead containing it. She hurried back inside to the frustration of the baby in her arms.

 

“Maisie, what does Haggis look like?” 

 

“She’s brown wi’ wee spots of white and black. A heart-shaped white spot on her head. Why?” 

 

“I don’t see her by the post.” 

 

“Maybe ye should ask those men o’ yers.” Maisie seethed. 

 

“I’m more their prisoner than anything, but I’ll try my best to see your goat back to you Maisie, I promise.” 

 

She pulled young Iona closer to her chest and wrapped a shawl around her. She needed milk and soon. She followed the faint smell of the fire and its glow in the darkness. The pink streaks of the sun were peeking out from the tree branches but provided poor light. She stumbled upon the wagon that held the goat captive and unwrapped the lead from it. 

 

“Lass what’re ye doing?” The bald man stood tall before her with a hand on his dirk. 

 

“Bringing this goat back to her owner.”

 

“Ye’ll do no such thing. Give ‘er back.” 

 

“NO! They need this goat.” 

 

“Let it go lass.” Dougal squeezed her shoulders and she turned sharply out of his grasp. 

 

“Let it go?!” Claire was exasperated. “This child needs milk now , her mother is dead.” 

 

“Fine give ‘er a cup or two and then hand her off to a wet nurse on the next stop.” 

 

“No! She stays with her family, along with the goat.” 

 

The rest of the men stirred and their interest was pulled to the commotion. Claire noticed the concerned look Jamie gave her from the corner of her eye. He felt strange at the sight of Claire with a bairn in her arms; he wished it was theirs. Claire turned her shoulders more towards him to soak up his presence. Her stomach clenched sightly at the sight of him, with the baby on her chest. The next second, however, he was nowhere to be seen. 

 

“Are you alright Madam?” A voice spoke with the same cadence as hers. 

 

“She’s just fine.” 

 

She looked at the man in surprise. He was English, around twenty, and displayed an apron meant for blacksmithing. He appeared well; the smallpox had not touched him yet. 

 

“Best get yerself gone lad. This doesna concern a snivelling Sassenach such as yersel.”

 

Claire remained silent during the exchange and made progress towards the MacKenzie’s cottage. Dougal grabbed her shoulder and Claire bit her tongue to stop from crying out. There would be slight bruises there tomorrow. The Englishman was long gone. 

 

“You will give let me pass. And you will give this goat back to its owner. Dougal. MacKenzie. ” Claire anxiously worried if what her Aunt Elisa had told her was true about names. 

 

Dougal stumbled back, stunned. “Aye lass. Get going.”

 

“And I’ll take as long as I need to ensure this village’s health.” 

 

The next three days passed without any more strife from Dougal and the men and they spent the days hunting to stock up their provisions. Claire spent the days nursing Iona with goat’s milk and minding the village’s residents from a fair distance. Ewan and Maisie made a full recovery and Claire felt no lingering signs of the disease within them. She felt safe to finally let her grandmother hold her and take care of her. It was a bittersweet moment, the infant had grown on her in such a short amount of time and she would miss her, but she was happy she survived in the arms of her loved ones. She checked up on the village once again and was certain it would fare well. The only loss felt there was Iona, the baby’s mother. The tenants all brought their rents and bags of grains, a chicken, and some coin were added to the wagon and Ned’s leather pouch. 

 

“The village is healthy, and we’re safe not to spread the disease ourselves,” Claire informed Dougal. 

 

“We’ve spent too long in this miserable shitehole. Let’s get going.” Dougal shouted out and the men followed on their horses, life as usual again. “Dinna think I just let ye stray us behind. We needed the rents, and we couldna ‘ave them wi’ out letting the people tend to their ill. Ye’ll do well to remember who ye obey here lass.”  

 

Claire turned her face away and rode in silence. Her horse trodded alongside Dougal’s and he eyed her with suspicion. She was not to leave his side for the rest of the trip. No matter her good deeds, they would always view her as the Sassenach. She craned her head back towards where she knew Jamie was and was surprised to see him return the gaze. He didn’t look away and she felt her face burn where he looked. He glanced slightly at Dougal and his jaw clenched. He returned to her soon though and Claire never wanted to tear her eyes from Jamie. She was ripped out of her reverie when Dougal called to her. 

 

“What?”

 

“I said ye’ll remain here wi’ me lass, and ye’ll stay silent.” 

 

She nodded, acting demure in his presence and noticed Jamie had weaved his horse to be in front. He spoke to Dougal as an excuse but stole glances at her. They rode the paths, together, before night broke out. She smiled.

Chapter Text

Jamie had laid his pallet by the fire. Claire’s bedroll sat across from him, the fire a barrier. Somehow, when Jamie woke before the sun rose while the men still slept, her pallet was right next to his. 

 

“Claire.”

 

“Yes?” Claire smiled, acting innocent. 

 

“Christ, ye’ll be the death o’ me. Maybe I’ll truss you up to one o’ the horses if ye keep this up.” 

 

“Why, whatever do you mean?” 

 

They sat on their sides staring at each other. Jamie pulled away a couple inches, and then a couple more and grinned at her. The men were all still asleep and Angus snored like a warthog and Rupert’s nose whistled at each breath. Jamie and Claire were very fortunate to be flanked by the pair. Claire looked at the vision of Jamie propped up on his elbow. It reminded her of one of her first memories sleeping over at a friend’s as they struggled to stay awake the entire night, giggling as they tried not to wake her parents. She suppressed a giggle of her own.

 

“You’ve been avoiding me.” Claire propped herself on her elbow. “Well, trying to at least but I’d say you’ve made a rather poor go of it.” 

 

“When I’m wi’ ye, I’m scared I willna be able to stop.”

 

“Then don’t.” His face turned serious and he frowned. 

 

“No. I wish to court ye properly, when we’re back at Leoch. But only once I’m able to get the price off my head, if it’s possible. It’s no less than you deserve.” He tucked a curl back behind her ear. 

 

“That could be never.” She ran her knuckles against the stubble on his cheek. “But what if I don’t agree with your plans? What if I want you now?” 

 

“Ye wee besom. Surrounded by twenty men and we’re no even marrit.” He sighed into her touch. “No lass, I willna give ye the life of a beggar. But god do I want ye.”

 

“You haven’t made that abundantly clear recently.” 

 

“It’s much easier to protect yer reputation in hidden alcoves and yer wee surgery, from prying eyes o’ the fighting men. I can’t protect ye out here the way I wish.” 

 

“And that kitchen maid? Mrs. Fitz’s granddaughter was she? Was she not a prying eye?” She furrowed her brow, failing to remember much of the girl, her focus was on Jamie that night.

 

“She’s nothing more than a bairn. Sure, they gossip but the men and women of the castle pay them no mind.” Claire knew the girl to be harmless but The Crucible came to mind. 

 

Jamie leaned in to whisper in her ear. “A deal, Sassenach. You may place your pallet near mine whenever ye wish but ye must keep yer cold hands away from me, at least one, no two arm’s length away. We must make a respectable woman of ye.” 

 

Rupert shifted near them and paused his snoring. They watched with bated breath as he turned on his other side away from them. His snores split the air with a force that Claire was concerned about his nose and the other men’s ears. They were awake in the middle of the night which was now their custom. If Claire had to guess it was shortly after midnight. 

 

“Deal.” She bit her lip nervously. “Jamie, do you trust me? Do you think me an English spy?”

 

He snorted. “You couldna lie to save yer life Sassenach. Though I believe ye have secrets ye no wish to tell us, they may be secrets that all women wish to keep. But, I hope in time ye’ll give them to me freely.” 

 

“I’ll give you one.” Her lips buzzed and she felt emboldened by their closeness. “Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.” 

 

Jamie recoiled as if he’d been struck a blow to his lungs. “Are ye- are ye married lass?”

 

Claire giggled at his response. “No, whatever gave you that impression? You think I’d be so forward with you if I was? No, Moriston was my mother’s name. I know I can trust you with this, as you trusted me with yours about the price on your head.” Jamie was a good honest man and Claire could feel it deep in her bones. 

 

Their bodies gradually moved towards each other and Claire stroked the skin of Jamie’s arm that was free from the garments he wore to sleep. Most of the men wore the same filthy clothes day in and day out, foregoing baths and laundry days, but Jamie always appeared kempt and she had to admit he smelled rather nice. The smell of the outdoors, pine, fresh grass, and the strong existence of the earth clung to his very person and mixed with his body to make something that was distinctly him

 

“You smell nice.” 

 

Claire’s hands had a mind of their own and decided to be very adventurous that night. Her left hand rested over the rhythmic thumps of his heart over his chest. Her right began to trail from his elbow lower to his hand. She traced the muscles of his thigh and slowly inched towards his abdomen. He clasped her hand in his and placed it far away from him.  

 

“I meant it. Now it’ll be two yards or more Sassenach.” He tried to stay stern but the twitch of his mouth betrayed him. 

 

She sighed and rolled her back towards him. Much to her chagrin, she was met with Angus’s backside. With a few grumbles and expletives aimed towards Jamie, she settled into a fitful sleep. 

 

The next morning they made their way to another small hamlet. The tenants bustled about and were cheery for the most part. Dougal’s laughs boomed and his voice echoed through the crofts. He was lighthearted and slapped a few of the men’s shoulders as they arrived at the makeshift table Ned had erected. A stark contrast from the hell they had just left. Claire learned they were to board in the small inn that night and she relaxed her sore back. Dougal welcomed each tenant delivering their rent to the inn that night. She busied herself with a splinter and a rotten tooth until there were no more injured people in the village, or rather none willing to accept her help. 

 

She sat idle amongst a patch of wild grass and heather and placed her hands in the dirt. It was an unusually warm and clear summer day in Scotland. She tucked her feet underneath herself and listened. Birds continued their cries for their mate, the wind pushed and pulled the grass near her shoulders and a blade tickled her face, and she felt the unmistakable thrum of life flourishing around her. The midges steered clear of her, sensing her proclivity to slap if they were to bite. The reverberations of spring ebbed and flowed around her and she soon found herself humming along to the hidden melody. A strong and sure body rippled through the surroundings, harmonising with them. 

 

Jamie spotted Claire sitting content amongst the heather. There was a quality to her that was different today, her body almost took on a glowing nature. She was always beautiful to him but today she was positively radiant. Her face shined underneath the sun and she murmured contentedly. The heather near her bloomed in shades of white. 

 

“What’re ye doing lass?” 

 

“Oh-I.” She was broken out of her reverie. “Hello, Jamie.” 

 

She beamed up at him and stared at the plant near her foot and its rare colour. She plucked the flower from the ground and offered it to Jamie.

 

“May it bring you luck Jamie.” 

 

“Thank ye Sassenach. Ye ken the stories about white heather?”

 

“Well not really, would you tell me?” Claire pleaded. There was no way he could refuse her.

 

“Weel, long ago white heather was blessed by Malvina’s tears when her love Oscar died in a fierce battle. Her tears turned the heather white from her despair. She continued her laments until she decided no one should be as unfortunate as her again, that her tears would give blessings of fortune to all who stumbled upon the path o’ them. No blood is spilt wherever the white heather lays. They also say if ye find it there’s a faerie nearby. So be quiet, we mustn’t wake them.” He winked terribly, his left eye closing slightly against his will as he tried to close the right. 

 

The cadence and the deep rumble of his voice lulled her into a serenity as he regaled her with his fairytales. Most Highlanders had a way with storytelling, knowing where to put the correct emphasis on each part, but his was especially soothing to her soul. 

 

“No, we wouldn’t want that.” Claire could attest as a faerie herself that she was definitely not a morning person, and preferred to be unbothered during her rest. 

 

Jamie gingerly held the gift from Claire in his hands. He opened his sporran to gently place it amongst his rabbit foot and mother’s pearls. He wrapped it in a scrap of tartan and shut his sporran. He patted it gently and smiled at her. 

 

“We must get back to the inn now Sassenach. Ye’ve been wasting away in this field all day. I’d no be surprised if ye sprouted some heather from yer wee head jus’ now.” 

 

Claire looked towards the setting sun in the distance. “I suppose we must.” 

 

Jamie held out his hands to help hoist Claire off the ground. Her outer skirts were a bit damp from the dew of the morning and streaks of dirt splotched her clothes. She grinned sheepishly at Jamie as she dusted her skirts off with her hands. 

 

They passed by the bubbling of a shallow stream on their way to the inn. Claire desperately wanted a bath, one where she could immerse her entire body in the warmth of water instead of just freshening her face and chest every day and using pitchers when she could even manage a tub. She actually missed the uncomfortable washes Mrs. Fitz subjected her to at Leoch. Here the men either waded in the streams naked or scrunched their noses at the thought of parting with their caked layers of beloved dirt. She wasn’t afforded the privacy or confidence of the men and would most certainly not strip in front of any of them. She knew it was silly to think of, giving how much she had lost through the stones, but maybe she hyperfocused on baths to ignore the pang of leaving all else she knew behind. 

 

“God I need a bath.” It had only been a week since they departed Leoch, but that time stretched out like a lifetime in itself. “I’m going to wash in the stream, if the Great War Chief of Clan MacKenzie permits.” She rolled her eyes. 

 

“Just dinna take too long, he’s the whole town waiting.” 

 

The stream was tiny, only about three inches to the pebbly bottom. She scooped greedily at the refreshing water and scrubbed her hands and the dirt from her fingernails. The water glided down her face and the exposed skin of her chest. She was fully clothed but Jamie’s body was turned away from hers. She flashed a grin and smacked the water in his direction. She was disappointed to see only a few drops land on the back of his neck and clinging to the waves of his hair. He turned dramatically slow and levelled her with a glare. But there was a gleam in his eyes that Claire could see through and she laughed at him. He didn’t reach down towards the water in retaliation but straightened himself as he stood.

“Ye’ll pay fer that one day Sassenach.” He smiled and offered his hand to ease her off the ground. 

 

“One day? No set one so I can prepare?”

 

“Nay.”

 

“You wish to torment me with the anticipation?” 

 

“Aye, if yer constantly thinking o’ how I’ll take my revenge against ye, it’ll be a reminder to think o’ me.” The left side of his mouth curled up. 

 

Cheeky bastard. “Maybe you should wait forever then, for my sake and yours. But I don’t need that reminder to think of you.”

 

“Oh?” His lips tugged into a bright smile. “Well now that ye’ve drowned me Sassenach, we best get going.” 

 

The sun lowered in pink and orange splotches behind the surrounding trees, creating a patchwork of browns and greens and reds. The streaks painted the darkening sky and heralded the end of the day. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, and all other manner of furry creatures hunkered down for the night and nocturnal beasts roused. 

 

The atmosphere of the inn was a stark contrast to its fresh surroundings. The air was stuffy and humid. Men were half gone with drink and pushed their friends around the tables. Dougal chatted up some of the particularly rowdy men in the corner and clapped his hand on one of their backs. The patrons' attention snapped to a loud bang as the wooden door squeaked shut. Dougal glared at the pair and gestured for Jamie to sit on a bench near him. He signalled to the men near the back door to close it and a hush fell over the crowd. 

 

Men and women alike stared intently as he started his tirade in Gàidhlig. The crowd murmured agreement and shock at Dougal’s platitudes and sympathised as anger took over his body like a vise. His speech became increasingly impassioned and he moved his hands along with his words. He paused, spoke a sentence to the crowd, and then paused again before Jamie for dramatic effect. 

 

In one swift move, Dougal reached for the back of Jamie’s shirt and ripped it open. He began his attack and Claire picked up Sasannaich, and what sounded like Stewart from his speech. He was supporting a doomed cause and dragging Jamie into it with him. Jamie stood rigid on the seat. His muscles clenched tight over his back. His fists shook with a simmering rage as Dougal circled the room, adding coin to the leather pouch. If Claire touched his skin now she was sure it would sizzle from the heat of his anger. He made no move as the crowd thinned and soon it was only the men of the rent party that remained. Dougal reached to the floor to Jamie’s tattered shirt. 

 

“Be a good lass and mend it.” He threw it in her direction.

 

“Mend it yourself. In fact, why don’t you flay your own back for display? I’d be more than willing to lay the lashes myself to add more impact to it, Sassenach and all.” Claire imbued a sarcastic tone to her speech.

 

Dougal raised his hand to slap her. She prepared for the sting but it didn’t help. Tears sprang to her eyes and she bit her lip to focus the pain elsewhere. Jamie pushed back the bench he sat on and snapped up in front of Claire. 

 

“Ye foul bitch! Ye’ll mind yer tongue if ye dinna wish to part wi’ it.” He clutched the hilt of his dirk with white knuckles. 

 

She nodded, trying to look as demure as possible as she gazed at the floor. Before Jamie could do something drastic, Dougal stormed out of the inn and the men went awkwardly back to their business. They gathered their mugs of drink and sloshed them outside, leaving the two alone. Jamie knelt before her on the floor and softly raised a hand to her burning cheek. The imprint of a hand stood red on her skin and he seethed. His eyes softened when she looked down at him. 

 

“Are ye alright lass? Christ, I could kill him.”

 

“I’m sorry.” Her eyes were glassy. “They already didn’t trust me and now they hate me too.” 

 

“That was brave of ye lass to stand up to him, but ye shouldna. Ye only put yerself in more danger. I can fend fer myself.” 

 

“I know.” Jamie brushed a strand of hair from in front of her eye. “But if he had done the same to me would you have defended me?” 

 

“He’d be dead before he’d get a chance to touch yer clothes. I’m sorry he even touched ye now lass.” 

 

“You should punch something.” Jamie furrowed his brow at her words. “Give me your shirt, I’ll try to fix it.”

 

“No offence Sassenach, but I think ye should stick wi’ just stitching flesh.” 

 

She remembered the incident at Leoch where she failed to even mend a sock. Several dots on her fingers were battle scars of that experience days later. Her cheeks deepened into a darker shade than her fading injury. Jamie reached his thumb to wipe away a stray tear from her skin and lingered. Just as he leaned his body closer to hers, the men arrived back inebriated and boisterous with their bed rolls, and they swiftly pushed away from each other. Jamie cleared his throat and grabbed his shirt. He followed Claire out to the horses to untie their bed rolls as well. None of the men would take too kindly to an Englishwoman tonight, and he used that excuse to lay his pallet near the cot reserved for her in the spare room of the tavern. Though it wouldn’t raise suspicion for the most part, given they were packed like sardines into it, he still felt improper laying so close to her again. The wood floor was just as comfortable as the hard ground outside and the close quarters made Claire question why they couldn’t just spend the night under the stars as usual. About ten men squished in this room and ten in the other. 

 

The next morning held a tension between Claire and the other men, not unlike when she first began on this trek. Ned was hesitant around her at first but warmed as they spoke freely to each other again. Dougal either rode directly beside or behind Claire, to keep an eye on her at all times. Jamie kept his eye on both Dougal and Claire, ready to pounce at any sign of danger. Claire’s head swivelled back to Jamie when a flash of scarlet caught her eyes. He was out of sight and she sighed in relief. The redcoats halted in front of the rent party and the horses split like the red sea as a man trotted towards Claire’s horse. He stopped his horse perpendicular to hers, to be in front of both her and Dougal.

 

“Good morning, madame.” He tipped his tricorn and held it to his chest.

 

“Good morning sir.” The horses' tails flicked, sensing the disquiet between the groups. 

 

“I am Lieutenant Jeremy Foster and once again I am asking, do you require assistance.”

 

“She is jus-”

 

“I was speaking to the lady, madame if you would wish to join us, we may properly see you home.” 

 

“Thank you, but I can assure you, Lieutenant, I am a guest of the Clan MacKenzie.” She didn’t wish to stir anything up, especially when Jamie was probably hidden not far away. 

 

“Nonetheless, I am sure my commander shall wish to ascertain after your welfare madame.” 

 

“I’ll come wi’.” Dougal interjected.

 

“Very well.” 

 

Foster placed the tricorn back on his head and scanned the rent party thoroughly. He clicked for his horse to turn and his long brown hair swished behind him, tied behind his back. Claire urged her own horse behind him and Dougal reluctantly followed. He gave a look to Ned and Rupert before turning. His gaze burned a hole through the sea of red before him. Willie trailed behind them at a leisurely pace. They remained in silence on their journey to Brockton. Soldiers lined the stones of the town and Dougal clenched the reins of his horse. Claire wanted to smile at his obvious distress, but she knew she was in just as much danger. Even though they were English, her people, surely questions would arise that she would be unable to answer. 

 

The men flanked Claire as they led her inside the main building within the fort. Dougal stayed behind for some whisky at the small tavern held within its walls, and Willie stood guard outside of Brockton. She felt she could trust the Lieutenant, and she would be unmolested under his care, yet her stomach churned all the same. They reached a well ventilated room that let in its light from its numerous windows. Candles dotted the room and the table was set for one at the head. Of all the possibilities, the lifeless beady eyes stared back at her, as if his eyes could sneer. Lieutenant Jeremy Foster led her to Black Jack Randall.

Chapter Text

Foster bowed slowly before Randall “Captain Randall, I have escorted this English lady who is a guest of Clan MacKenzie, Miss Claire Moriston. Where is Lord Thomas now?” 

 

“He has been detained in London to go over some extra matters. He shall be here within a fortnight.” 

 

“Very well sir. I shall see a meal brought up for the lady and join you presently.”

 

He pulled out a chair for Claire and settled her across the table from Randall. He walked to the door where a soldier stood guard and ordered him to the kitchens. He returned swiftly with three trays and set one before Claire. They made polite conversation, but mostly Claire sat in silence, neglecting to comment on politics in their presence. If she had engaged, she would be unable to cover her words with a quick lie. Though she had learned how to manipulate the truth to a certain extent, giving only the vaguest of replies, it was painful to wrap her mind around. 

 

Claire delicately tucked into the meal of pheasant, wine, and a mix of roasted carrots and peas. She savoured the bites slowly. She couldn’t respond to an unwarranted question if her mouth was full and if she had finished chewing, the conversation thankfully flowed elsewhere. She took another sip of the wine before her and almost choked at the sudden crack of fire and gunpowder below. It wasn’t unlike the many nights spent huddled with other nurses, hearing the whizz of bombs falling carelessly to the earth, and hoping they were not its intended victim. Foster quickly shot out of his chair. The man who was guarding the door walked towards his superior and apprised him of the situation. 

 

“I am sorry but I must take my leave. Farewell, Miss Moriston.” He grabbed the worn leather tricorn off his hat once more and bowed to her. “I trust you will see to her in my absence, Captain Randall.” 

 

“Of course.” He waved him off. 

 

Claire pleaded desperately with her eyes for the man to not leave her with the despicable man across the table. He never did look back towards her however when he fled the room to check the commotion and see to the safety of his men and the fort. She shifted her focus back to the remaining man and tightly gripped the chalice almost relieved of the wine within. 

 

He stared blankly, bored at the inconvenience of another day of his droll existence in the remote highlands. Claire was reminded of one of the many discoveries she made with her uncle in their travels. Communities of prehistoric creatures, of a bottomless pit. The drowning hapless victims of the suffocating black, who struggled until their last breaths to be free of the suspension. Uncle Lamb had described the tar pits when they stumbled upon the bones of some woolly mammoths in Azerbaijan. The tar pits never relinquished their hold on the poor animals' fur and they either sank to their doom or starved. Those black eyes, the colour of the fathomless demise described by her uncle, festered in her soul and Claire started to sink.  

 

Claire couldn’t deny that there was an unnerving nature to this man, almost preternatural to the attitudes of most men. However different his disposition, he was nowhere near the nature of a faerie. Quite the opposite actually. This infallible hero that Frank was positive he traced his true faerie nature to, the one he boasted to her Uncle Lamb about was human. If Claire wasn’t trembling slightly in fear, she would smirk at the truth. 

 

“You never made mention of your unpleasant behaviour, Captain .” Her words dripped with disdain. 

 

“Nor you of your previous circumstances madame ,” he sneered, “Or lack thereof.”

 

“You appear very comfortable as a guest to Clan MacKenzie.” 

 

“They have treated me as one would expect of a guest.” 

 

“One would think your time with the barbarians would sway your…. loyalties. The war chief is very keen to pay heed to you.” 

 

“I am not sure what you mean sir.” 

 

“Surely no one would blame you, a woman, using your inclinations in procuring protection from such a man.” 

 

“That is a scurrilous charge! I am merely a guest and friend of the MacKenzies.” 

 

“But that you, an English lady lost in nought but her shift, would stumble upon the same men raiding cattle within MacKenzie lands near Inverness. It does not seem just a mere coincidence.” 

 

“Why can’t it be?”

 

“You are either a dimwitted whore or an agent in league with the Jacobites, of that I’m certain.” 

 

“Well, I choose neither. I am simply Claire Moriston.”

 

“And are you, simply Claire Moriston, partial to the Highlander’s plight?” 

 

“I am partial to all life, sir. It is my duty as a healer to see to beggar and lord alike.”  

 

“In all of your days and nights with the men, you have not heard one word of Jacobite treason from you Scottish companions?” 

 

“They are simply here to exist, because it is where God landed them. And you whipped them savagely, if I recall one hundred lashes upon one hundred lashes in the span of a week.”  

 

“There is a beautiful sight to behold in a whipping post. An anticipation that lingers as each prisoner lines up for their punishment. Most have fresh, smooth skin, blank as a canvas.”

 

A greasy brown tendril slipped across his temple and Claire’s hands itched to pull on it. To pull out every last strand of that man’s hair and leave his head a patchwork of stinging skin. 

 

“That boy never begged. He forced me to strike with such force and to flay every inch of his back. My arm tired but still the boy would not budge. There was no skin left to brush my cat o’nine tails against. I lashed into skin, into blood, into bone. We were creating a masterpiece. An exquisite, bloody masterpiece.” Randall had a far away look in his eyes, as if his body were present but his mind floated far away from the present. “My only regret is I was unable to see it again.” 

 

Tears threatened to spill from Claire’s eyes and a bout of nausea roiled through her stomach. “You never will.” 

 

“Your compatriots tell you of this particular lashing? Did they mention the Stuart king in concert with such penalties?” Randall stood and ambled towards the other end of the table where Claire sat.

 

“I do not understand their tongue sir, so I am unable to discern their qualms, should they arise.”

 

“You have not heard one mention of the Bonnie Prince? Of his father across the water?” 

 

“As I have said-” Claire answered but looked on in shock at the boy with a mess of dark brown curls atop his head; she had seen them somewhere before.  

 

Without warning, Randall slugged a fist into Claire’s stomach. She keeled over onto the floor and grabbed around her abdomen. Her diaphragm struggled to keep up with the need of her lungs and she wheezed in a short breath. He noticed the slight swelling of her cheek forming a bruise and struck her there with the back of his hand. You fucking bastard , Claire wanted to voice her opinions but they died weakly on her tongue. 

 

“Corporal Hawkins!” The young boy of no more than sixteen appeared, flustered at Randall’s summons. “Miss Moriston and I require your assistance.” 

 

“Have you had the opportunity to kick a woman, Hawkins? They’re so soft.” Randall uttered with distaste at the sight on the ground before him. “Kick her.”

 

“Sir-”

 

Randall pulled back his foot and kicked at the small opening where Claire’s hands did not protect her abdomen. “Kick her.” 

 

The boy stood behind Claire’s back and kicked lightly. Randall glowered at his feeble attempt, so the boy tried again. His foot connected with the flesh of her side under her shoulder blade. Her wings crumpled in response underneath her skin to the bruising blow. Claire gasped and struggled to her hands and knees. The door opened with a bang and Dougal’s bald head glinted in the candlelight. For once, Claire was relieved at the sight of him. She spluttered once more as he brought her to a sitting position. Randall wiped his brow with a handkerchief and spit on the ground beside him. 

 

“You are interrupting an interrogation in the interest of the crown.” 

 

“This lady is under the protection of Clan MacKenzie, and ye are on lands o’ the MacKenzie.” Dougal’s fingers traced the handle of the sword strapped to his side.

 

“She is an English subject first and foremost.” 

 

“And I’m sure ye have dispensed wi’ yer questions o’ her safety. She will have assured ye that she is no’ being held prisoner by my brother, and must be returned to me for protection.”

 

“I am afraid further questions have arisen.” 

 

“Well, ye’ll no be asking them here, on MacKenzie land, unless ye want to start a war, on this day.” 

 

“Very well, be sure to deliver her to Fort William by Monday, the 18th of June.” 

 

She was sore and a little worse for the wear, but she knew there’d be no lasting damage. Once her head and lungs stopped reeling from the attack, she’d be able to breathe properly. She could already feel the telltale tingle of blood rushing to the blows and frantically healing her battered body. Dougal supported her outside of the fort to their horses. Claire paused to spit out blood from a cut in her cheek. Dougal hoisted her gently onto the horse, avoiding her bumps and bruises. 

 

“Where’s Willie?”

 

“I’ve sent Willie to settle the matter wi’ Ned.” 

 

She nodded her affirmation and settled herself into the horse. The jolts and bumps of the road sent stings to her stomach and back. Her knuckles gripped the reins tightly so they turned an aggressive white, void of colour. He led them to a patch of new forest growth and tied the horses down.

 

“Where are we going?”

 

“Down. Fer a wee nip.” 

 

Sure enough, Dougal split the branches to a small decline. Steps naturally formed to reach the bottom and the gurgle of water reached their ears. It smelled awful, like sulfur and some unnatural chemical. Claire leaned down to wash her face. She cupped some of the water to her mouth and drank eagerly. Her veins felt acidic from the lack of water and the cool intake of the liquid made her eyes close in relief. 

 

Dougal’s dirk was poised in his hand, ready to strike. “Are ye a spy fer the English?” 

 

“I am tired of these interrogations! I am plain Claire Moriston and nothing more!” 

 

Dougal flipped his dirk in a manoeuvre that had Claire’s heart halt but it was soon back into its scabbard. 

 

“Aye lass, there’s that matter settled then.”

 

“Just like that?” She scoffed. 

 

“St Ninian’s spring. The liar’s spring. Smells like the fumes o’ hell it does. If ye had proven to be untrue yer gizzard would have burnt out o’ yer throat.”

 

“So a magical spring has caused my word to be proven?”

 

“Fer a healer, I thought ye would have kent the powers of magic that lie beneath the spring. But, I have spoken wi’ Ned about Fort William. The only way we can keep ye out of the hands o’ that bastard, is to change ye being an Englishwoman. A Scot canna be compelled wi’out proof of a crime or the agreement of the Laird in the clan lands. Ye must marry.”  

 

“I assume you elected yourself for that position?”  

 

“No, I’ve a wife already, though if I didn’t ye surely would be wed to me.” 

 

“How romantic.” 

 

“No, young Jamie was eager enough. If ye dinna care fer him there’s Rupert. A widower wi’ a fair amount o’ land.” 

 

“No, no. Jamie will do fine.” He would more than do fine, Claire smiled. 

 

“Now we must get to the village wi’ the others, and prepare.”

 

The horses cantered to their destination. The inn was warm and larger than any others they had visited previously. Men guzzled down their drink of choice, beer, whisky, rum, and wine. Jamie was patiently waiting at one of the tables as Rupert and Angus guffawed. Jamie grinned at the satisfaction of his successful joke. His eyes beamed with delight as he took in the sight of Claire. 

 

“I want to speak with Jamie. Alone.”

 

“Very well, lass. Ye best be ready come tomorrow.” 

 

Claire neared Jamie’s table and smiled timidly. He reached out to grab her hand and settle her on the bench beside him. The innkeeper rushed them upstairs and announced she would arrive later with a meal. His thumb circled patterns on her palm and his eyes roamed over every inch of her skin. Her cheek had turned a pale yellowish-green. 

 

“Oh Claire, I should ha’ hid ye away wi’ me.” He lightly pressed Claire’s cheek and she winced. “That bastard shall never lay hands on ye again, I swear it.” 

 

“I’m fine Jamie, I just.” The contract trembled in her hand. “It’s not that I don’t want to marry you. I do, believe me I do. I just-” 

 

“Ye dinna wish to be wed this way, wi’ yer hand forced in the matter. I understand, but I’ll see we are marrit in a kirk, properly, in a way that I hope would make my mam proud. I’ll make sure of it.” 

 

“Is this what you want? I know I’ve said as much on the matter but-” He grabbed her chin and forced her gaze to land on him. 

 

“Claire, my life has been filled wi’ uncertainties. I’ve never kent where I wanted my life to lead, only that I must keep one foot going, running away from the price on my head. But this has brought me certainty. The one thing I shall always be sure about, is being yer husband.” 

 

Jamie cupped her neck where skin and hair met. He pulled her towards him and grinned. She smiled into the kiss and sighed. 

 

“Now ye best get ready Sassenach, It’s no customary fer the bride to see her groom the night before the wedding.” He tangled his fingers through her hair. “There is something I should tell ye before, lass.” 

 

“What, do you have another wife hidden somewhere?” She teased. 

 

“No. Well, it’s simply, well, I’m a virgin.” 

 

“Oh.” Claire floundered. “Well, that complicates things. Here I was hoping one of us would know what we were doing.” 

 

It wasn’t that Claire truly believed in the sanctity and purity of marriage, and she had plenty of opportunities to do so, but she changed differently than her peers. When her body and age awkwardly mismatched with everyone else’s. At twenty years of age, women her age were expected to be a well-placed wife, when really she appeared to be no more than fifteen or so. And Uncle Lamb doted on her more than most would, given he viewed her as a child longer than anyone else would be. 


He simply grinned at her bemused expression and squeezed her hand. He left her alone with the realisation in her room. Tomorrow it would be their room. The innkeeper readied her bed and fussed over her distressed state. Once she had insisted Claire eat some broth and tuck in, she left. Furs lined the sheets on the bed. Candles dotted the room and brightened the mantle. A fire raged near the bed and a table sat with two chairs in anticipation. At least there would be some semblance of familiarity tomorrow.

Chapter Text

 

Her wings were free underneath the cover of her shift. They rested gently against her skin and wrapped flat over each other so they lay on the opposite hip. She wanted to be herself fully on this day. The innkeeper’s wife and daughter fussed around her and ripped through her hair with a comb. The wife tutted at the unmanageable nest atop her head and arranged it into some semblance of order. With Claire’s hair tucked gently in an acceptable style for her wedding, the woman returned with a pile of silver and light grey fabric. The outer skirts and bodice were covered with delicate embroidery. The feathers made an illusion of falling against the light grey background. It must have taken days to sew for the desired effect. Her silhouette was changed with the aid of panniers instead of her usual bum roll so the skirts flared out around her hips dramatically. When the mother and daughter were finished dressing her, they left to inform the men that she was ready. 

 

She descended the stairs with the help of Rupert, with much protestation preceding his offer of help. He insisted and they began the procession from the inn to the church. She had been given flowers by Ned who relayed that they were from Jamie. Who else would have? Claire rolled her eyes and smiled. 

 

Her heart melted at the sight of white heather within the bouquet, the dried sprig of the plant that Jamie accepted for her. Her eyes moistened at the thought that he hadn't rid himself of it, but kept it within his sporran every day. 

 

The day was sunny, no clouds in sight and she smiled at their luck. A large form appeared from the shadows of the church. His beauty eclipsed her thoughts of the sun and its luck. He was always handsome, but now in the full splendour of his Highland regalia, she was unable to think. His jaw was smooth and his waves of red were coiffed back and his coat was a deep green velvet. The red, black, yellow, and blue hues of a new kilt draped against his shoulder and rested comfortably around his waist. Claire wondered briefly if the saying of men and their kilts would prove to be true.

 

He stopped short before her and bowed in a large sweeping gesture. His smile was contagious, though Claire was already beaming at the sight of him and the prospect of the matter before them, she would have melted at his smile.

 

“Yer servant, Ma’am.” 

 

He wrapped his large hands around hers. His eyes almost sparkled with the weight of his grin. A thought rose to Claire’s mind, and her face was apprehensive. 

 

“I can’t marry you.” His smile faltered and Claire quickly elaborated in response to the heartbreaking look on his face. “I don’t even know your name.” 

 

“It’s James. James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser.” His lips reached up into his ruddy curls. 

 

She reached her hand to the surface of the cold metal brooch holding the plaid to his shoulder. A stag stood proudly within the silver. 

 

“Je suis prest.” She lightly traced the words. “I am ready.” 

 

“Aye ‘tis my clan motto. Ours.” He grabbed a hand and slowly raised it to his face, savouring the feel of her soft skin against his lips and chin. 

 

He reached into his sporran and held a string of shiny pearls and clasped them to her neck. She looked down at the white beads. They were split occasionally by a ball of gold. 

 

“These were my mother’s. They’re verra precious to me, as are ye Claire.” She looked up at him with glossy eyes and touched her neck.

 

“Well, if ye two are quite finished, let’s get on wi’ it.” Dougal interjected. 

 

Jamie wrapped an arm around the small of her back. They walked side by side to the priest by the altar. He stood indifferent in his black habit. The ceremony commenced in Latin and English and they never took their eyes off of each other. 

 

“I take thee, Claire, to be my wife to love, honour, and protect. To have and to hold from this day forth, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘til death us do part.” 

 

Her words echoed his own and the priest waited expectantly. Jamie slid off a large metal circlet where a ruby nestled into the centre. The priest blessed the ring on the cover of a bible and returned it to Jamie. He gripped her cold fingers in his and placed the ruby on her right hand. The ring would have slid off if not for Jamie’s tight grip on her hands. His finger hooked underneath her chin and gently brought her lips to his. They instinctively moved toward each other and enthusiastic hollers and exclamations rang out in the church. 

 

They pulled apart dazed. The left corner of Jamie’s mouth lifted. Their hands separated as Dougal walked up to them. He pulled Jamie’s dirk out of its sheath and pressed down into his right wrist. Beads of blood followed the knife’s sharp iron edge. Dougal turned and reached across for Claire’s hand. 

 

She felt the sharp sting of the blade across her skin. She forced herself from voicing an audible hiss. This wound would take much longer to heal, a mortal wound, and it would remain, scarring her flesh. The iron burned down to her very bones. A vow not easily broken. Permanent.

 

Jamie squeezed his hand over her arm reassuringly. “Repeat the words after me.” 

 

The Gàidhlig flew freely from his lips and Claire stumbled more than once. They were the same words her parents had uttered for their wedding and her mother’s family before that. Following the words traditionally, was a clipping of the woman’s wings, to never be used again. Her mother never followed tradition in most aspects, including this regard. Neither would her daughter. Claire was glad of the mutual bloodletting. Their hands were quickly untied and the party bounded back to the inn. 

 

Whisky was freely served and shouts drowned out the fiddler's tune. Jamie fed her some of the roast, not allowing her to lift even a finger. He picked her up to the middle of the inn where others danced. They crossed arms and spun carelessly across the room to the reel playing. She had no idea the specifics of the dance but laughed and spun all the same. Their arms hooked and crossed as dance partners exchanged but their gazes were glued on each other, causing Claire to fumble once or twice. She was dizzy on high spirits and perhaps just a wee drop of whisky. For a moment she felt she was floating in Jamie’s arms, and perhaps she was. She had gotten close to the height of the ceiling and giddiness filled her at the freedom of her departure from the ground. The wings itched to flutter at her joy underneath her clothes. The rowdy crowd died down only slightly before Claire excused herself to the room. 

 

Claire cursed at her curls again as Jamie walked into the room. His fingers drummed a beat on the hilt of his sword. With her outer clothes gone, she was left in her stays, shift, and a linen skirt. 

 

“Let me help ye lass.” 

 

He stood behind her chair and focused intently on each pin and each curl of hair as it fell swiftly down from its hold. He stroked from the roots to the ends of her hair with the brush made of fine horsehair. 

 

Jamie soon set the brush down and replaced it with his hands. His fingers tugged through her curls. He deftly moved from the top of her head to her temples and behind her ears. He massaged lightly with the pads of his fingertips and her legs went weak with the inrush of pleasure. The sensitive skin of her scalp awakened and tingled at his touch. Her eyes rolled blissfully around and she let out a purr of contentment. The muscles of her back and neck loosened and she leaned back into his firm chest. 

 

“Tell me about your family.” 

 

“How many generations back?” He chuckled and his warm breath tickled her ear.

 

“Just your parents will do.” 

 

His hands continued their motions through her hair and Claire didn’t mind that his attention likely was tangling her curls once again. Her eyes closed into a stupor of contentment and her mind floated. His words grounded her slightly, like a child clinging to the string of a balloon. She was adrift, but never far away enough she couldn’t focus on the low voice and its rich and expressive timbre. He recanted the tale of his parents’ hasty escape and the life they led with their four bairns. She expressed her sorrow at his parents’ and siblings’ deaths. She reciprocated with a brief sentence on her parents and her Aunt Elisa. She had many more memories with her Uncle Lamb and gladly shared them at Claire’s eager face, looking almost like a cute begging puppy quirking its head to the side. Jamie never ceased his ministrations to her hair and it became almost unbearable for her, with a low constant hum running through her veins. 

 

She swivelled her head back towards him and took his lips greedily. She turned her body so her legs fell down the side of the chair and her spine twisted to meet him. The wooden rails of the chair separated them but Jamie quickly remedied that. Without breaking their connection, he manoeuvred around the chair and slid her into his arms. He placed them on the edge of the bed with her on his lap. Her legs were between his and she rotated her hips to align with his. She slowly moved up and down against Jamie’s thigh. The friction tightened her stomach and she sighed into his mouth. Claire could feel his eagerness as well through the fabrics of her skirt. Something crashed outside of the door. She groaned at the interruption. Voices were muffled by the sound of the door and Claire extricated herself from their tangle of limbs.  

 

The wood door slammed open to Rupert and Angus. Jamie covered their view of her with his body. They pulled apart and Claire spluttered into a fit of coughs and laughs. Jamie sprang up to his full height and tromped to the pair of voyeurs. 

 

“And just what are you doing?” Jamie seethed.

 

“Dougal sent us up to see if ye’d, uh… y’ken?” Rupert gestured. 

 

“They’ve still got their clothes on.”

 

“Get out.” Jamie reached for the handle of the door. 

 

“You can still do it wi’ yer clothes on.” 

 

“I know that but no’ on yer wedding night.” Angus rushed at the closing door. “I was just hoping to get a wee keek at her breasts.” 

 

“And they’re related to you?” Claire sent him a devilish grin. 

 

“Only Rupert. Distant cousin.” 

 

“Get back here, my hands don’t seem to be working properly to untie these laces.”

 

“Of course, my lady.” He gleamed.

 

Claire was down to her shift and reached for his belt. It slid with a thud to the ground and Jamie stepped out of his kilt. His eyes landed on her breasts with unwavering focus. He tentatively slipped his hand under the fabric of her shift and cupped her breast in his large hand. He squeezed her nipple between his fingers and her legs weakened at the barest of his touches. He reached down to the back of her thighs and wrapped them around his waist, eliciting shivers down her spine. He set her down at the edge of the bed like a fragile doll. He pulled her into his chest and licked her bottom lip. His hands massaged her chest with reverence. 

 

“Jamie, I want you.” 

 

“Are ye sure lass? I’ll see to ye, I dinna wish for ye to hurt. The men told me o’ how things shall be. That I should prepare ye properly.” 

 

“Prepare? How do you plan to do that?” She levelled him with a wolfish grin. “The only study on the subject matter I’ve been given was how to please you. Would you like me to take you in my mouth? Geillis told me that men like that sort of thing.” 

 

“Well, would it feel the same for you? Ye ken, the way to calm a skittish horse down and get them to know ye, ye rub yer oxter on their nose for them to smell.” He raised the shift over her waist. 

 

“Well I-“ 

 

Jamie pressed kisses down her stomach and finally reached his destination “Jamie! The smell-I” 

 

“I’ve been wanting to taste ye for quite some time, Sassenach. Allow me to indulge myself.”

 

Her legs spasmed at just the slightest touch to her inner thigh. He placed a kiss at almost every spare inch of the skin of her thigh. Her hips jerked helplessly against him. He held an arm across her abdomen to quiet them. 

 

“Christ, yer as wet as a waterweed.” His voice rumbled against her, sending shivers throughout her body. 

 

He inched closer and kissed the indent of where her thigh met her sex. He nuzzled her curls, creating a patchwork of auburns, golds, and dark browns. He hesitated, before gently placing his lips on her. He clumsily lapped at her and Claire laughed when he apologised for nipping her with his teeth. He paid attention to her whines and moans as he traversed. She gasped as he raised himself towards the nub of flesh designed for her pleasure and sucked hard. Her thighs pushed together against his head and trembled. He held her up on the bed and gripped her leg hard. She grasped his ears and pulled him up towards her. His erection trailed against her thigh and up to her stomach as his mouth kissed and licked up her abdomen to her neck and then her mouth. He opened his mouth for a searing kiss and propped himself on his elbows before her. 

 

“Oh god Jamie, I need you inside me.” She strained to whisper. 

 

“Are ye sure?”

 

“Yes.” She nodded and brought his forehead to hers. 

 

He brushed a curl away from her face. Her knees instinctively fell apart as he lined himself between her. He entered slowly and stretched the barrier of her skin. She winced and her toes curled against his back but the pain soon subsided and morphed into something else entirely. Her senses flooded with him and his with her. The wings of her back broke free from their place on her hips of their own accord and made friction with her shift and skin. He paused and pressed a gentle kiss to her sweaty forehead before continuing. Claire hiked her left leg further up his back, angling him at just the right spot. Their pelvic bones clashed at separate paces and Claire didn’t mind that he was practically crushing her. As their individual rhythms merged her cries grew louder. They met at each thrust without the weight of awkwardness that the first few moments held. She tightened around him and felt boneless as her body shattered with the intensity of their coupling. Jamie groaned out a cry as well and shuddered into her. He rolled off her to the side of the bed and they lay staring at each other. Their chests heaved with exertion and Claire was shaking slightly with the tremors racing through her body. 

 

“Christ lass, I’m sorry, I didna want to hurt ye.” His lips brushed against her forehead.

 

“You didn’t.” She was breathless. “Well it hurt a little at first, but luckily you made me forget it.” 

 

“Did ye like it.”

 

“Like it? That was- it was the best I’ve ever felt in my life.” 

 

He smiled proudly at her admission and reached his hand around her waist. He rolled her to her side so their chests pressed against each other. His hands grasped behind her legs and travelled upwards slowly until he was fondling her ass unashamedly. 

 

“Ye know, I didna think ye did it face-to-face. I thought it must be done the back way like horses ye ken. Well, before Murtagh discouraged me.” She snorted at his admission and swatted at his arm playfully.

 

“Murtagh?” He nodded. “Well maybe he shouldn’t have discouraged you, I think it’s more than a possibility. What other grand advice did he have for you?” 

 

“He said women generally dinna care for it.” 

 

“Pffft. Well, maybe he has no idea what he’s doing.” He grinned in agreement.

 

He brushed his hand through her hair. “Mo nighean donn.” Claire’s eyes flash open in surprise. 

 

She blanched and then gave him a watery smile. “Say that again.” 

 

“Mo nighean donn.” He smirked and ran her curl between his thumb and forefinger. 

 

With a ‘smack’ she placed a sloppy kiss on his cheek. His teeth flashed at her and he leaned in to rub his nose against hers.

 

“What does it mean?”

 

“My brown-haired lass.” 

 

She sniffled. Had he pulled her through the stones? Somehow, somewhere, she ended up here now in his arms. She felt safe. She felt home. She cuddled into his chest and placed her face into his skin. Tufts of soft golden-coloured and fair red hair lined his skin and she nuzzled further into him. He placed his nose into her hair. She hummed a noise of contentment. 

 

“What were the words? The blood vow.” She wanted to hear him say it again.

 

He elegantly spoke the Gàidhlig words and then translated. “Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone. I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One. I give ye my Spirit, ’til our Life shall be Done.”

 

She traced over the bandage on his wrist. He grabbed her wrist as well and placed a light kiss over the cut through the cloth. 

 

“There are things I wish to tell you. One day. But perhaps I can’t.” 

 

“There are things that I canna tell you either, at least not yet. I’ll not press you, ever, or insist on knowin’ things that are your own concern. I’ll ask nothing of ye that ye canna give me. But what I would ask of ye—when you do tell me something, let it be the truth. And I’ll promise ye the same. We have a respect between us. And I think that respect has maybe room for secrets, but not for lies. Do ye agree?” 

 

“Yes, I agree. I’ll give you honesty. I couldn’t give you anything less.”

 

She lifted her lips to kiss his temples, his brows, his cheeks, every square inch of his face that her lips could find possession of. Her stomach growled and she smiled sheepishly. 

 

“I’ll get ye some food. I dinna have much in the way o’ prospects but I promise I’ll always keep ye feed.” Claire started to sit up. “Dinna move one inch Sassenach.” 

 

The door opened to cheers and jests from the men below. Her cheeks reddened. How soundproof could these thin wooden walls be? Her eyes drooped at the energy required to stay awake for so long. The noises of the men below petered out and she snuggled further into the furs and linens strewn about the bed. Many of them had been pushed off the floor in their eagerness and she could see their pile of clothes by the foot of the bed. Her eyes closed and she was floating in the state between sleep and wakefulness when the door clicked closed again. 

 

Jamie placed the tray of food on the table and walked to the corner near the fire to add a log. He grabbed a cloth and dipped it into the pitcher of water on the vanity. He sauntered over to the side of the bed. He grabbed her by the back of her knee and pulled her to the edge. He slowly pulled the ties around her stockings and slid them down off her feet. 

 

“What are you-” His fingers trailed her leg as he dragged the wet cloth against her skin. “Oh.”

 

His touch burned her skin. Her breaths came short in anticipation as he inched his way closer. He squeezed some of the water out of the cloth, letting it drip down her leg to the floor. There was only a slight drop of dried blood on her leg. He wiped down the mix of them between her legs and gently pressed a kiss to the inside of each knee. She whimpered as she lost contact with him. 

 

“I have to feed ye mo cridhe. I did promise and yer nearly grumbling for yer next meal.” 

 

He moved smoothly to the table and brought the tray to the small stand near the bed. She grabbed a piece of cheese and tore off a bite to place in his mouth. He closed his lips around her finger and swallowed the food. Then he gave the same treatment to each finger, nibbling and sucking her fingertips. He lightly pressed kisses to her palm and grabbed some meat to shove into her face. She nearly choked at his aggressive approach and narrowed her eyes at his laughs. She grabbed some of the black pudding and smeared it under his nose. She yawned, covering her mouth against attack. He pushed her back down against the bed and stretched to place the tray on the stand. He stroked her forehead with his thumb. 

 

“Rest, mo bhean.” He pulled her hair off of her shoulder behind her back. “Tomorrow I shall take ye to the faerie pools near the moor. If we rise early and are lucky, we may just see one of the shimmering wee things.”

 

“Mmm. I’m sure they won’t appreciate your chipperness so early in the morning. We have three days alone, no need to lose sleep over it. If you wake me before noon you’re dead.” She mumbled into the pillow. 

 

They both struggled to keep their eyes open. Almost five hours had passed since they arrived in the room by the height of the candles. They wanted the moment to last forever. Claire turned to her other side and nestled her back to his chest. Her breathing steadied and she relaxed into his hold. Her wings fluttered slightly against his stomach in her shift, tickling him. He was perplexed but wrote it off as butterflies in his stomach over what they had done and what they would do for long after that. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pressed a kiss to her hair. 

 

“Oidhche mhath, mo nighean donn.”

Chapter Text

Claire woke up before dawn broke. Jamie lay on his back and a stray curl lay against his mouth. Air wheezed out of his nose in a faint snore and the red strand rose and fell in the air. She smiled at the sight before tucking the hair behind his ear. His face was relaxed and the usual crinkles of worry faded into an almost boyish face. Her knuckles grazed his cheek and a smile appeared. She snuggled further into the heat of his body. Her head laid on the crook of his neck and she lifted her knee to wrap her body against his. His left arm was under her body and he reached with his right in his sleep to grab her thigh. The thump of his heart sang out a lullaby that she followed into sleep.

 

Jamie woke as the first beams of the sun filtered through the window. He pressed a kiss to his wife’s cheek and tucked the sheets around her body. He folded the Fraser tartan from the floor and placed it fondly on the chaise. The Mackenzie colours were tucked into a corner, most likely brought in before the men left to collect rents in another village close by. He carefully laid the wool on the ground and pleated the fabric. He wound the belt around his waist and attached his sporran. His dirk and broadsword followed. Once he was ready, he bounded downstairs to grab some whisky, bread, and cheese. 

 

He stepped carefully back into the room, placing little pressure on the creaking floorboards below. Claire glowed in the sunlight, with her hair askew and a loose shift. 

 

“Mo calman geal.”  

 

Claire, true to herself, had made no effort to wake. She laid on her side, tucked in like a baby in the womb. The only thing missing was for her to suck her thumb. Her curls tangled everywhere. She nestled her nose into the cold spot where Jamie was before and cuddled the furs to her chest. Jamie kissed the corner of her mouth and smoothed back her hair. She reached blindly for him in her sluggish state. Her eyes finally fluttered to the touch of his hand on her cheek. She smiled and then turned onto her other side. He chuckled before rubbing her arm soothingly. She craned her neck back to face him and pecked his lips. He placed her travelling clothes beside the bed and put the tray of food on the stand near it. 

 

“I’m cold.” She patted the space by her on the bed. 

 

Jamie peppered her face with kisses. “Good morning, mo nighean donn.” 

 

“Come back to bed.” She groaned.

 

“It’s nearly noon Sassenach.” 

 

“So?” He chuckled.

 

“I promised I’d take ye to some wee pools near the inn. I ken this area has waterfalls and a stream near the moor. I canna do that if ye sleep ‘til the sun sets.” He sat on the edge of the bed with her. 

 

The morning light enhanced his vision from the dark low glow of candlelight. They could see each other easier under the sun rays that floated down on their bodies. At closer inspection, he could see a curl of gold and auburn amongst brown, the fine hairs on her face, and a crinkle in between a set of brows. His muscles tensed at the slight bruise still on her cheek. It had faded considerably but a faint yellow clung to her skin. His thumb lightly traced half circles over the bruise and his hand shook with restrained anger. 

 

She removed his hand and pressed gentle kisses to his knuckles. “It’s alright.”

 

He cleared his voice and looked into her eyes. She tried to look reassuring but the reminder brought up memories of her beating the previous day before. She shivered involuntarily even though she felt safe in that moment, with Jamie. 

 

“You are safe,” he said firmly. “You have my name and my family, my clan, and if necessary, the protection of my body as well. The man willna lay hands on ye again, while I live.”

 

How does one respond to a promise like that? Thank you was inadequate and I don’t want you to shed any blood for me or anyone felt improper in that moment. Instead, she just stared and held his hands in hers. He pushed her clothes onto the bed. He pulled her legs on top of his and began to roll her stockings up her legs, tying them the cotton strings. He patted her knee and picked her legs off of him and onto the floor. She continued piling on her other layers and much to her amusement he shoved a piece of bread and cheese into her mouth between each one. 

 

“Yer wee ‘sand witches’ Sassenach. Though only bread and cheese.” 

 

She leaned back into the headboard. “I’m not sure I can get out of bed. I feel like jello.” 

 

She tucked the pearls into the pockets tied around her waist. “I dinna ken what a jello is, but I’ll carry ye if it pleases you Sassenach.” 

 

“It seems you’ll always have to carry me then.” 

 

“If the lady insists.” 

 

He scooped her up into his arms and she squealed. He strode towards the door and opened it with his foot. The wood creaked under their combined weight and she squirmed in his grasp. She giggled as he struggled to manoeuvre both of their bodies through the tight doorway. 

 

“Okay, okay you’ve made your point, put me down.”

 

“This was yer idea mo ghràidh.” 

 

He sighed before setting her gingerly on her feet. He tucked her head underneath his chin and kissed her curls. His hand tugged her along behind him down the stairs, through the front door of the inn, and up a small slope outside. The flowers were in full bloom and grass flew in the warm gusts of wind. They followed the path of the stream upwards, among the ridge of the low mountain. The pair paused occasionally to let Claire catch her breath, and she was slightly annoyed that Jamie just soldiered on, unaffected by the rigour of their hike. The stream calmed and they were finally nearing their destination. They were near the peak of the mountain and she scanned the area below. No one was around for miles. 

 

The stream stopped at two perfect circles. The water trickled down the lip of the top pool into the flat bowl below. One was larger than the other with enough space for ten people and the other was a shallow offshoot of the other pool. Jamie placed an extra tartan near the larger of the two. Claire dipped her toe into the refreshing water and recoiled. It was freezing and she pulled her arms into herself in reflex. 

 

“Sassenach.” He hissed. “Tis a faerie pool. Yer meant to look no’ touch.” 

 

“Oh, I’m sure the faeries won’t mind. In fact, I think we should ask for their blessing. Did you ask? In your mind?” 

 

He closed his eyes and rubbed his temple with his knuckles in mock concentration. “Aye, they shall ken my every thought now.” 

 

“I can’t possibly imagine what you would be thinking about.” She plastered a smug smile on her face.

 

“Well, I wish for a long happy life for us and the bairns that God sees fit to bless us wi’.” Her heart melted and she blinked away the moisture in her eyes. 

 

She began unpinning and untying the layers of clothes until she was down to her shift. She placed her feet first, then down to her knees, and finally her thighs. She dipped quickly into the water and the splash overflowed towards Jamie. The water level ended just below her armpits. The light brown linen of her shift clung to her skin. It was an extra given to her by the innkeeper’s family. She felt the flow of the stream, like a pulsing, beating heart. The water was a bright blue, almost turquoise hue and rocks dotted the sides and bottom of it. She kicked off her toes to float slightly. Her arms supported her, moving back and forth like a fan. 

 

“Christ Sassenach ye’ll catch yer death in there.” He hesitantly dipped his foot into the bone-chilling water.

 

“It’s a good thing I have you as a furnace. Come warm me my Scot.”

 

Claire felt a tickle on her leg and saw a flash of iridescent blue under the water. It zipped away and down the waterfall with a plop into the rest of the stream. He flung his clothes next to Claire’s and tumbled into the water with a giant splash, completely naked. His head ducked below and followed the path of the fish with his eyes. Claire was getting concerned until his head popped back up a minute later, fish in hand. He threw it against a stone lining the pool before it could start gasping for breath. The fish was swiftly thrown by his tartan to be skinned and cooked later. 

 

Jamie waded through the water towards her and wrapped his arms around her back. They rested just on top of the curves. She had learned that her ass was something of a favourite body part to him. 

 

“Oh, you depraved man. You want to give the fish a show?” Claire said, looking down at his obviously naked form. 

 

“Surely I thought ye would enjoy it.” 

 

“Oh, I would say it was okay. Seeing you swim about and flounder in the water for a fish, naked as the day you were born. But perhaps I’m jealous the fish are even touching the same water as you.” 

 

“Pay them no mind lass, I’m sure the fish aren’t capable o’ thinking as ye do, let alone matching yer lecherous gaze.” 

 

He hugged her tight to his chest. Claire yelped as he forced both of them under. She spluttered as they surfaced the water, hair drenched. 

 

“Jamie!” 

 

“I thought ye liked yer baths Sassenach. Always complaining about them.” He flashed her a toothy grin. 

 

“Well now come here, I’m even colder.” 

 

She gripped his hand and placed it on her stomach. She backed into his chest and wiggled her ass into him. He pressed into her hard and grabbed her breast. She moved her hips up and down. His hips bucked into her back and she felt him firm against her.

 

“You incorrigible man. You’d think the cold would affect you, but you’re just as eager as ever.” She rolled her eyes and smiled. 

 

“How could I no, with a lass as bonny as ye right before me. And that incredibly round arse of yours tucked right between me.” 

 

“Let’s hope you don’t get frostbite down there.” 

 

He nipped at her ear. She moved further back into him as he squeezed her waist tight to his skin. Her body moulded into his. He lifted the hem of her shift and the extra fabric stuck above her waist. Claire dug her fingers into his hand as he continued his motions against her back, creating a pleasant friction and a warmth in her stomach. 

 

“Like the horses?” It was more of a snorted demand than a question. 

 

“Aye, ride ye I will.” 

 

His head leaned towards her neck. He sucked and licked the expanse of her skin. She grunted as he entered her. Her grunts turned into moans and cries as he slammed a punishing rhythm into her and she pushed back. She moved her hand to the bundle of nerves but Jamie quickly shoved it away and replaced it with his own large calloused hand. Her legs released their hold on the ground and Jamie was her only tether. Their bodies stood flushed in the cool water. His roaming hands brought heat to her backside and she was overwhelmed. On the edge between blistering heat and burning cold, on the precipice of complete bliss. He filled her completely and stretched muscles she had never felt the existence of before. With a cry, he spilt his seed into her and Claire followed. Her muscles tightened around him and his name tumbled out of her mouth in pants. Her legs shook in his hold and she slowly released the skin of his thighs from her fingernails. She caught her breath in his arms and he pressed a kiss to her forehead. He turned her chest back towards his without breaking their connection. She wrapped her legs around him instantly and ground her abdomen against his. Her head slumped into his shoulder. 

 

Claire felt a tickle near her foot and looked down at the shimmering pool. A curious fish nipped at her feet. It sprinted back when Jamie took a step back and almost made Claire kick the creature. Their slick foreheads stuck together. A hearty laugh burst from her lungs and she gripped harder onto Jamie’s shoulders. 

 

“Well, that was quite one voyeur fish.” 

 

He chuckled a deep belly laugh, one that echoed through Claire’s chest in a pleasant vibration. She greedily took a piece of skin from his neck, a part where she knew would be shown if he wasn’t wearing his kerchief, and sucked hard. 

 

Claire felt a shift. Her wings buzzed with a knowledge that her brain could not yet comprehend. They fluttered giddily underneath her shift as if telling each other a poorly kept secret between two gossiping school girls. Jamie carried them over to an outcropping of rock near the edge of the pool which acted perfectly as a bench. She slipped away from him and began to float on her back. Her skin soaked up the rays of sun that peeked through the grey clouds above. She closed her eyes and felt the relaxation spread from her chest in warm waves. Jamie trudged through the waist-level water into the deeper waters where Claire floated. His wife practically glimmered. 

 

He positioned himself next to her body and kicked himself up. His feet slowly fell down to the rocky bottom and he kicked back up again. His attempts moved the water around Claire in larger waves and she peeked an eye open to him. 

 

“You can’t float?” Her lips pulled into a lopsided grin. 

 

“I’m a braw swimmer, but I sink like a rock mo ghràidh if I’m no moving about.” 

 

“Must be that thick skull of yours. At least we know you’re not a witch.” Her toes tickled his leg.

 

She rolled over and laid on his chest while he struggled to float. She offered no assistance as he sank again and instead pushed his head down along with his lower body. He pulled her down and wrapped his arm around her waist like a vice. When they both broke the surface again he grabbed under her knees shoulders. A smug smile dotted the lines of his face and without warning, he threw her up into the air. She squealed and her heart plummeted, though it couldn’t have been more than a few feet that she rose in the sky. Her arms and legs flailed around in the air before she smacked back down to reality. They kicked and splashed at each other and more than once Jamie tugged her feet from under her and glided her body under the water. When they both started shivering as the excitement died down and the temperature of the pools finally got to them, they travelled to the patch of grass where their clothes lay. 

 

They dried themselves off on Jamie’s spare tartan. He started a fire nearby to cook the fish and keep them warm. His movements were graceful for a man of his impressive size. The muscle and height did not hinder him in any way, it just added more of him in the world. More of him to love. Much to Claire’s amusement, Jamie insisted on letting the sun dry him off before putting on any of his clothes untouched from the water. 

 

“I’m ravenous.” 

 

“Aye, the fish is about done, Sassenach. I promised I’d never let ye go hungry.”

 

He abandoned the fire as he turned back to her darkened eyes. Her usual dark gold hue became almost black. 

 

“Ye didna mean the fish did ye Sassenach?” He smirked. 

 

He crawled over to her, forgetting about their meal. He kneeled over her and his hands began roaming her body. She shoved his hands away and pushed his back to the ground with a knee to the chest. His hands reached for her breast but she pinned his fists on the dewy grass.

 

“No. Lie still.” 

 

She urgently pulled his mouth towards her and slid her tongue down his mouth. She pulled back gasping and travelled down to his neck. She continued a trail of biting and licking across his chest and abdomen. She kissed each mark gently after she was finished with that particular bit of his body. Her mouth and teeth tugged at his skin that was held taut over the muscles of his stomach. Her hands explored his thighs as her mouth moved closer and closer to the nest of red curls between them. She took him in her mouth and his hips rocked against her head. His fingers tugged her curls and held her in place and his other hand gripped the tartan beneath them. Her hands gripped tightly around his balls and she teased with a squeeze. 

 

“Christ Claire I canna-” 

 

He moved to pull away but Claire continued the slow bob of her head. His legs twitched and he groaned. He quickened the speed and thrust urgently into the warmth of her mouth. Claire traced circles near his knee and the inside of his thigh. She looked up from her job to the glazed eyes of her husband, deep in his pleasure. She sucked harder when his tip reached the back of her throat and he gasped. His rhythms juttered and a string of Gàidhlig flew out of his already open lips. His body trembled and he filled Claire’s throat with his taste. She swallowed greedily and pulled away with a ‘pop’ once his breathing became more regular. She swiped around her mouth with a bit of the tartan and returned to Jamie. He pulled her in for a tight kiss, tasting himself on her lips. Claire snuggled her head on his chest and he twirled her hair in his fingers. 

 

“What did you say?” 

 

Tha mi ‘n dùil sgàin mo cridhe . I thought my heart was going to burst.”

 

“Hmm.” She nuzzled further into the soft hair on his chest. 

 

Ifrinn! ” 

 

Jamie placed Claire to his side and sprung up, jolting Claire out of her daze. They both looked over towards the fire to the sharp sting of the burning fish. Jamie quickly pulled it away from the fire and blew on it. The skin was singed but luckily there were some uncharred parts. He grinned sheepishly as he cut into the burnt meat and divided it up. It didn’t go past Claire’s notice that he passed most of the unruined bits to her. Instead of refusing she let it slide. He greatly enjoyed making sure she was fed and happy.  

 

“We should get dressed, Sassenach. We canna afford any more distractions if we’re to return to the inn in time.” 

 

“I wouldn’t mind a night under the stars with you. Alone. Distractions.” She leaned in towards his lips and tapped her fingers on his chest. 

 

“I wouldna either, yer much finer company than the company of twenty farting men.” 

 

“How romantic.” She placed her hands over her heart and batted her eyes at him.

 

He reached for his sark and pulled it over his head. She pouted at him. The grass underneath the tartan broke free of its barrier and overflowed on the edges of the wool. It tickled her legs as a strong gust flew up the mountain. Gooseflesh broke out on her skin and she finally gave in to Jamie’s request. It was slow going putting on her clothes, Claire still felt lethargic after their quick coital bliss in the pool and then on the grass. If she was honest, she still felt sore from yesterday as well. 

 

“Do ye need me to dress ye?” Jamie stood fully clothed before her and she had just finished tying her stays.

 

“No, no. You just stand there for me to look at.” 

 

She drank in the sight before her. Jamie stood patiently smiling down at her. His sark was untucked from his coat and the white-collar ruffled freely against his chest. He caught Claire unashamedly peeking up his kilt more than once instead of finishing her task of dressing and mockingly gave her a stern look. It had been about ten minutes later when she lazily pinned her bodice in the front and giggled. Normally the task of dressing would take no more than three minutes for her: even less with help. She handed the damp plaid to Jamie and he flung it over his shoulder, fastening it with a brooch. They held hands as they made the descent down to the inn. 

 

“You know I think I should be carried after all you’ve put me through.” She teased. 

 

“If I recall, it was yer mouth that was all over me today.”

 

“Why-” She spluttered.  

 

Something whizzed past her ear and she glanced back to see the feathers of an arrow bend in the wind. Jamie pushed her behind his body and drew his dirk. He backed towards the arrow, forcing Claire to follow suit. She grabbed the nock and pulled it out of the ground to hand it to him. He laughed when it was in his hands and pulled her to his side. A man in rags popped out of an outcropping of rock. Jamie pulled him into a hug and patted his back before returning to Claire’s side. The man’s hands formed gestures and Claire inferred the questioning tone.

 

“Friend of yours?”

 

“Aye, Hugh. Hugh Munro.” He pointed to his ring finger and smiled proudly over to her. “Claire. My wife. Married but these two days.” 

 

The conversation continued with gestures and some input from Jamie to clue her into what was happening. They drank to Claire and Hugh pulled a rabbit from his belt and held it out to Jamie. Then Hugh fumbled around in his pockets and pulled out a rock of amber. The light shone through it revealing a small winged creature. He proffered the amber to Claire and she traced over the dragonfly with her thumb. 

 

“Wedding gift,” Jamie said for her benefit. 

 

“Oh, how kind. Thank you, this is beautiful.” She gleamed at Hugh. 

 

The conversation ended and Hugh offered his flask to the pair again. She pulled Hugh in for a kiss on the cheek before he could leave and smiled. He slinked away back down towards the outcroppings and disappeared behind a gorse bush. 

 

“There’s a chance, I can get the price lifted from my head. There’s a witness who can prove my innocence. Claims he was there during my escape from Fort William, saw who actually killed the sergeant.”

 

“And you can trust this man?”

 

“No, Horrocks is a redcoat deserter. But, if there’s a chance I can finally go home wi’ my bride, Claire Fraser, Lady of Lallybroch…” He smiled into a kiss. 

 

She pulled away and hummed into his lips. “Laird and Lady of Lallybroch. Now that’s not something I haven’t heard.” 

 

“Aye, I’m yer Laird and yer my Lady. I wish to take ye home Sassenach. Lallybroch is just as much yers as it is mine, and it would be all the better to return home wi’out a price on my head, my wife by my side.” 

 

“No matter what, even if we are unable to go back. I will always be with you. I just wish I could help. You always light up at the mention of Lallybroch.” 

 

“No Claire I dinna wish ye to help it’s too dangerous. No matter how much I wish to be back, I’ll no risk ye. It doesna pain me as much to think of anymore, because I have you.”

 

He crooked a finger under her chin and pulled her lips to his. He grabbed a generous amount of her rump before hoisting her over his shoulder. 

 

“Jamie!” She squealed. “Put me down!”

 

“Ye keep complaining fer me to carry ye Sassenach, and now ye wish to be set down. Murtagh was right about women. A fickle breed ye are.” 

 

“Well, you can tell Murtagh to kiss my arse.” She slapped at the only part of Jamie within reach, his arse. “I promise I can walk. I won’t complain anymore, my lips are sealed.” 

 

He plopped her onto the grass and not even within a few steps, she tripped. He bit his cheek from the force of his contained laughter and his ears flushed red. His hand was poised near her back as he stood by her side. Claire followed his gaze and narrowed her eyes at him. 

 

“Don’t you dare James Fraser.” 

 

Before she could block him with her hands, his hand made swift work of his plan. It slapped her ass lightly and then gripped the fabric of her skirts, pulling her tight to him.

 

“I’m shocked, appalled. That a gentleman, a Laird no less, like you would do such a thing.” 

 

“And you have a very bawdy mouth for a Lady. I can remember a few places it has been today.” 

 

“I’ll keep in mind never to put it there again.”

 

“Now Sassenach, let’s not be too hasty.” 

 

He threaded his fingers between hers and tugged her towards the small path back to the inn. It was a slight indentation in the grass where the dirt and plants surrounding had been trodden by wandering feet. They smiled, hand in hand as they passed underneath the threshold of the wooden structure. The innkeeper plied them with ale and haggis. They stole away to their room. Claire’s stomach fluttered. 

 

***

 

Two weeks later, the rent party stopped near a large body of deep water. The loch was refreshing against the slight heat of the summer day. Jamie was tending to one of the horse’s shoes and Claire was sent for some water. She carried the bucket and waded into the water where it stopped near her shins. She placed the full bucket off to the side on the shore and sighed at the cool water lapping at her feet. The days on the road were long and hard, and sitting on the back of a horse had taken its toll on her back and feet.

 

Claire spotted movement from the right of her eye and looked towards the large expanse of the rocky beach. A blur of silver popped into her vision. It eagerly bounced over to Claire and its blubber flew along with its movements. Two more grey speckled forms peeped out from behind their mother. Their heads bobbed as their bodies undulated over the pebbled shore. 

 

“Hello, mama.” The seal stopped before her with a curious look in her eyes. She noticed one of her babies trailed slowly behind the other and whimpered as it took a step. The adult nudged her with the sleek skin of her nose and her whiskers tickled Claire’s arm. She looked back at the baby, to Claire, and then back to her baby. “Oh no, is your baby hurt?” 

 

“Come here, little guy.” The baby did as instructed and cried when she touched its flipper. “I’m sorry. You’ll feel so much better in no time.” 

 

Claire focused on the open wound in front of her eyes. The flesh slowly stitched itself together and the only thing left on the seal was its quickly drying blood. The mother jumped towards her baby and rubbed her whiskers across his body. She approached Claire and hesitantly nuzzled her nose to her stomach, in what Claire assumed was their version of a hug. She patted her head and smiled. The two babies followed suit and clumsily hoisted themselves onto Claire’s skirts to press against her stomach. The pups were tiring from her attentions and turned back to the water. The mother glanced back at Claire before slipping back into the tumultuous waves of the loch. 

 

The bucket of water splashed by her and her head snapped back to a man standing before her. 

 

“Selkie.” His eyes were blown wide in fear and he knelt before Claire, clutching her skirts. “Oh please be merciful Mistress. I beseech thee dinna harm us.” 

 

“What are you doing? Get up.” She hissed. 

 

He trembled and pressed his face down farther to the hem of her dress. He was shaking from fear so bad that Claire wondered if he would shit himself. It would amuse her momentarily, but be rather a nuisance once the smell overwhelmed them. But, he looked like his faculties contained. 

 

“You foolish man, those were seals.” 

 

He crossed himself. The tremors never left his body and he scurried away back to the group. Claire was left bewildered beside the lake. She saw the streams glide just underneath the surface of the water. She could have sworn she saw a flipper wave at her.

Chapter Text

Turgid clouds puffed off in the distance, dropping against the dark greys behind it. The wind somersaulted into the grass and created waves in the barley and heather. The sticky air was a harbinger of the great storm to come. It did no favours to Claire’s mop of curls. They practically formed a giant poof of a bird's nest atop her head, no matter the great lengths she took to pin them down into a bun. Jamie and Claire were under the privacy of their tent when the first crack of the sky resounded through their camp. Rain beat hard against the canvas of the tent and wind whistled through the cracks in the fabric.

 

“It’ll be a great storm alright.” Jamie pulled the warmth of Claire’s back to his chest. “I wish I could find ye a proper inn. So yer wee feet dinna get wet and cold wi’ the wind.” 

 

“I’ve survived worse. In Egypt with my uncle, there was this great khamsin, a sandstorm, we were stuck in. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face and the small sand particles caught in my throat. Uncle Lamb sounded like a chicken that had just lost its head when he was searching for me amidst the clouds of dust. I thought his distress was rather funny being eight at the time, but he was clearly not happy with me. Made me go on latrine duty for the rest of the week.” She chuckled at the memory. 

 

“Yer poor uncle, stuck wi’ ye as a ward. He must have been a verra sturdy man to deal wi’ such a large hellion.” 

 

Claire elbowed him in the ribs but put more force behind it than intended as lightning split the sky and created an earth shattering vibration. The horses reared outside and struggled against their reins.

 

“Ye scared o’ the thunder Sassenach?” Jamie snorted. 

 

“No. But the horses most definitely are.”

 

Another crash shook the sky but the flash of light accompanying it came down close to the camp. The flash blinded Claire and Jamie peeked outside to see the crackle of a fire near the wagon and horses. The tree by them had split from the strike of lightning and sagged sadly towards the ground. Jamie leapt from the ground, startling Claire, and sprinted to the direction of the fire, in nothing but his sark. 

 

“Of course.” She rolled her eyes at her husband’s eagerness. 

 

Jamie tugged the reins of a dapple grey horse, who he thought was Ned Gowan’s, into his hands roughly. Brimstone had sprinted away from the wagon and her reins had snapped away. The other horses were fine, if not a little startled as the fire died down from the force of the rain and wind. He quickly mounted on the grey horse in search of his wife’s horse. The mare’s hooves splashed against the muddy puddles of the ground and Jamie’s eyes scanned for signs of the runaway horse. He finally spotted hoof prints under the dim light of the moon and stars peeking from the storm clouds. The rain pounded onto his back in torrents and water clung to his hair weighing it down across his face. 

 

Broken branches, frenzied prints, and shuffled bushes led him to the spooked horse. Brimstone gave no heed to his calm demeanour a flared her nostrils at the sight of him. He pulled the horse beneath his thighs into another sprint and ran her alongside the aged brown mare. Her breaths almost came out in pants from the exertion of escape and the grey mare easily kept up with her movements. In one swift move, Jamie jumped onto Brimstone’s bareback with the other reins still in hand and gripped her mane to stay on. He was steady until another crack of thunder spooked both of the horses and caused the grey mare to bump into Brimstone. She whinnied in protest and lost her balance, sending them both tumbling to the squishy mud path below. Brimstone landed on top of his body and crushed her hoof into Jamie’s stomach when she tried pulling her body up. A shooting pain stabbed through his ankle and stomach and he winced. He limped towards the grey horse who was waiting patiently for him and Brimstone. He mounted the horse and spewed out Gàidhlig curses as he tenderly raised his ankle to the other side of the saddle. 

 

He tied the horses back to the wagon and checked to see if the ropes were strong and secure before trudged back to his tent. His once slightly clean white linen was covered in mud, sticks, and grass. 

 

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” Claire took in the muddied appearance of her husband. “You idiot. You always have to be at the centre of trouble, don’t you? Do you ever even use that thick skull of yours before you jump into something? Chasing after a horse in the middle of a storm? You’re lucky it was no more than a hoof to the stomach and a sprained ankle.”

 

“Well, I dinna need to worry o’er much wi’ you here to physick me.”

 

“I have half a mind to never heal you again, but then you’d be dead. And much as you irritate me, I’d rather not plan a funeral.” He grinned widely at her but then winced as she deliberately put pressure on his stomach. “I want you to fill this. I need to see if there’s any blood in your urine.” She offered a cup.

 

He grumbled a silent complaint and turned to the corner.

 

“Sassenach, I canna have ye watching o’er me.”

 

“Well I’m not leaving, and if you want to face the storm out there again so be it.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not even looking. I’ll even cover my ears if you like.” 

 

Jamie grumbled what Claire was sure wasn’t a pleasant string of sentences in Gàidhlig in her direction. She dramatically covered her ears with her flat palms and shut her eyes tight. She turned her back away from him for good measure. After a minute, Jamie turned her shoulder and pulled one hand away from her ear. 

 

“Here, Sassenach. Though I dinna ken how ye’d like me much after seeing me pish into a bowl.” 

 

In the low light of a candle, she saw no troubling signs and returned the container to him to discard. 

 

“It all looks fine today, but I want to check again tomorrow morning. And I won’t take no for an answer.”

 

He was fine the next morning if a little sore. But the long days off of his foot in a saddle helped. Dougal was happy they had lost nothing from the storm last night, except maybe just more soggy bags to deal with. They were nearing the end of the long list of villages and crofts within MacKenzie soil. 

 

The rent party carefully tread on nearly untouched footpaths as they neared the white caps of Ben Nevis. It was a far distance away from where they were now, but they were still wary of redcoats sprawling around Fort William. Angus rushed off his horse and sprinted into the cover of the woods. Then Rabbie MacFletcher was struck by a sudden bout of vomiting. One by one the men fell ill to what Claire assumed was a foodborne pathogen. She soon followed the other men, just nauseous at the sight of raw rabbit and fish and one day heaving the contents of her stomach from atop her horse, too fatigued to stop and dismount. She was spared from the less favourable abdominal symptoms. Only slight nausea as she went about the day. But some of the men, whom she presumed ate some meat off of the same fish or venison, were hurling throughout the camp and making their way to privacy to relieve their stomachs out the other end. Luckily, her foolish husband was spared and Dougal, Ned, Rupert, and Murtagh saved face as well. Yet she couldn’t place the source of the illness, she had only ever eaten meat that Jamie handed her directly (he was adamant about always seeing her feed himself, in accordance with his promise) and he was unaffected by what afflicted the other men and herself. Maybe he was a carrier, but the food he gave Murtagh had no ill side effects and vice versa.

 

Jamie was sickeningly concerned about her. Maybe it was retribution for how she fussed over him after his injuries from Brimstone. He volunteered to grab anything, held her hand, refused to let her ride alone, and wiped her sweaty forehead and mouth when she was finished. She would get frustrated at his attention and then against her will keel over to dry heave near the grass. It definitely wasn’t her greatest moment when she woke up in the middle of the night laying on his chest and emptied her stomach onto his shirt. The rancid smell of the other men’s sickness ticked off her own and it became a vicious cycle. Of course , she rolled her eyes, Angus would recover first . She couldn’t administer her healing to the other sick in her own feeble state. She felt useless. Jamie refused to touch her despite her insistence it was okay, but then she thought about her humiliating bout of nausea on his chest and she acquiesced. His concern overrode the constant ache of his lust for her. 

 

With all the many times he had made love to her under the stars and in the spare rooms of inns, slowly and tenderly, fervently and hungry, she had never once taken off her shift in his presence. It broke her heart to keep it from him. He had bared his scars to her, his most vulnerable moment and she was a coward with her truth. She would have to tell him, and she didn’t want him to find out by accident, from any other source but her lips. 

 

One by one the other men recovered and she cursed her body for not keeping up with them. The constant queasiness filled her limbs with fatigue. Jamie had left with the other men after being informed of Horrocks’ presence nearby. He kissed her soundly and offered his small sgian dubh to her before parting. She reluctantly promised to stay put while he confronted the deserter. 

 

The stench of horses assaulted her nose. Willie had gone far away to relieve himself upon Claire’s adamant complaints of the wind and smell of it. She found out movement helped her roiling stomach slightly and decided to take a brisk walk, not too far away so Willie would still be able to see her. 

 

She didn’t get very far in her walk before she lost the contents of the meal she had before. Claire thought back on that meal, the rabbit had been a little raw, maybe Willie was experiencing the same effects of food poisoning as she was now, though he had been saved from the last round of sickness. He certainly had been gone a long time. She forced herself to focus on anything else besides that rabbit, to stave off any more bouts of the sickness. Gurgles of water reached her ear. She walked towards the water and turned to look back towards the direction of Willie. She was in sight of the horses and was confident a small walk would do no harm.

 

Will you forsake your house carpenter

and go along with me?

I'll take you to where the grass grows green,

to the banks of the salt, salt sea.

 

The song pulled her away. It drifted lightly in the air with its smooth tenor voice. The boy who sat before her could be no more than fifteen, but still he donned a coat of scarlet. He was lanky and stood just a few inches below her height, not yet hitting a proper growth spurt or maybe never having one in the future at all. The face was unmistakable, save fewer wrinkles and stress. It had been a face she looked upon many times through the small shoe box of pictures Uncle Lamb travelled with. And it was a hazy memory locked in her mind. The whiff of a cigarette, a flash of dark brown, the feel of weightlessness as her body was held aloft, and the intrigues of a far away faerie kingdom. Maybe her mind had concocted these false memories, but she always looked back on them fondly, real or not. 

 

“She pick-ed up her own wee babe. And kisses gave him three.” Her voice floated in the air as she finished the verse he was on. 

 

The boy flushed at being caught in his song. He turned from the tree he was haplessly carving into with a weak knife and approached her. 

 

“Mistress.” He tipped his tricorn towards her. 

 

Her hand reached out in muscle memory to shake his, before her mind caught up to the fact that that was a modern notion. He looked at her with a stupefied expression and brought her hand to his lips. Perhaps he was an ancestor who wore the same face as her father, just like Frank Randall wore that of Black Jack and their features were eerily similar. But he had the same crook to his nose that she asked her uncle about constantly when they went over the few pictures she had of her parents.

 

“Corporal Henry Beauchamp ma’am.” 

 

“Claire Fr-Moriston.” Her mind reeled at the name, and the familiar brown eyes. 

 

“Are you lost, madam? I would be more than willing to help you find your way. I know these woods can be confusing for a lady.” 

 

“Thank you for your kindness, sir, but I do believe I will have to decline. I was merely walking for some fresh air. My husband will be expecting me soon.” 

 

“Corporal Beauchamp!” His eyes widened at the booming voice. 

 

“Yes, sir?” The boy’s body straightened in front of his superior.

 

“Who is this lady under your custody?”

 

“This is Mistress Moriston.”

 

“Moriston? Randall will be looking for her alright.” The colour drained from her face. “Though I suppose she must go by MacKenzie or other now.” 

 

The man gripped her arm in a bruising hold. She struggled against him but he slapped her to the ground. Henry stared down at the sight with an open mouth. His mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for air and his thoughts jumbled into incomprehension to the point he stood silent and still. The man with terribly decaying teeth, a Lieutenant by the ranks on his coat, leaned down to contain the woman squirming on the ground.  

 

“Get off me, you sick bastard!” The man struggled to pin her arms away and slip the rope in his hand onto them. 

 

“Corporal Beauchamp, your assistance please.”

 

They pressed down on her body, Henry’s hold more gentle than the Lieutenant’s. He quickly slipped the rope on her wrists and they burned from the friction. They began to help her to her legs. Claire refused to help them in any way and made her body limp in their hold. They supported her completely and strained under the dead weight in their arms. She glared at the Lieutenant, hoping he’d squirm under her unwavering gaze. They wrestled to get her body tied to a nearby wagon. Henry and Claire were alone as the Lieutenant went to freshen up by the stream. Henry stood guard with a bayonet tucked under his arm.  

 

“Please Corporal, I beseech thee. I have done no wrong towards the crown. I simply seek to return to my husband. You must help me to Craigh na Dun , where I must meet my love. Have you ever been?”

 

“No, ma’am I cannot say I have had the pleasure.” 

 

“I’m sure you would think it’s lovely. You know it has a lovely buzz of bees to pull you into the centre cleft.” 

 

The situation was almost comical and Claire held back a laugh once or twice at the thought. Her hands were tied to the back of the wagon with rope and she was speaking with her father, a redcoat , who was years younger than her. But where they were taking her made even her bones shiver in fear and sobered her laughs to a line on her lips. 

 

The horses stomped, impatient to leave, and the Lieutenant jumped away from the stream to the back of the wagon. 

 

“That does sound lovely indeed. I am stationed in Inverness soon. I should like to visit.” 

 

“Well it is a wonderful place. Some people would say it’s magical even. A kingdom of faeries lies within the rocks.” 

 

“Shut it.” The Lieutenant shoved a rag into her mouth and she choked. 

 

Tears sprang to her eyes at the force behind the attack. Henry gave her a sullen look, but it was clear he did not wish to go against orders. She sat dejected as the wagon jolted her body across the rough road. Her legs and back hurt from the strain of holding herself up in such a position on the hardwood planks. Henry fixed an apologising look whenever he looked back at her. 

 

The stones of Fort William loomed over the wagon in shadows that signified despair and pain. As they passed through the gate, Claire’s eyes travelled the courtyard and landed on the whipping post. Her eyes watered and she forced back the imagined scenes of Jamie’s lashings. Men bustled about the fort in uniforms of red and blue, with tricorns atop their heads. She tucked her wings away in fear. There was not a single civilian in sight and Claire was glad she saw no preparations yet to punish anymore prisoners. 

 

The Lieutenant lifted her out of the wagon and tugged on the extra length of her rope, like he was dragging an irksome puppy along. They made their way up stone hallways and flights of stairs to the top of a tower. The window overlooked water below and he shoved her into the room. He forced her onto a wooden chair opposite Randall’s desk and ordered her to stay put. Her mind drifted to her living, breathing her father who was just inside the fort. So he had travelled through the stones then. Would he remember her? Would her appearance cause irreparable damage to her own future? Could she save him from his fate in that horrid car? Was it selfish to wish her own existence when she knew he would only have a couple years of it? Nonetheless, she hoped her nudges towards Craigh na Dun would pique his curiosity. She was still alive and well so perhaps he would travel forward in time to meet her mother, but to leave him to that fate. What about her uncle? He knew intricately the stories of the Faerie Kingdom her father had taught her. Would they travel together? Her head began to throb at the many uncertainties of her past and future. She had no idea what it all meant. Would she have to help her father further in his travel through the stones? If he didn’t go through would she still exist at all?

 

The queasiness from the food poisoning made an appearance again as her thoughts raced. She barely had time to think of what she would say to Randall, when he burst through the door. He pulled a decanter from one of the shelves along the stone. He poured two glasses and handed one to Claire. 

 

“Felicitations and congratulations on your recent marriage. Though I don’t particularly care whether you consider yourself an English Woman or a Scot… and apparently, neither do you. The interesting question is why Dougal MacKenzie considers you of such value, that he would rather adopt you as one of his own than allow me to question you?” 

 

“I am sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

 

“Really?”

 

They toasted to the king and Claire took a tentative sip from the intricate glass. 

 

“That is, of course, we speak of the same king.” 

 

“King George II? He is our sovereign, is he not?” 

 

“I am unsure your Jacobite friends would share such sentiments.” 

 

“I make no acquaintance with Jacobites, sir. And I assure you, we MacKenzies are all loyal subjects.” 

 

A dry laugh escaped his lips before they slipped back into a line of unfeeling. “Madam, you need to understand your position. In this hour, our third encounter, I fully intend by any means necessary to discover both your true nature and the secrets that you hold.”

 

“I am sure my nature holds up far better than yours. I do not flog innocent prisoners for amusement.” 

 

“I thought I had made it clear in our previous meeting that I consider the matter very serious indeed.”

 

“Well I am sure, loyal patriot that you are, you mean no further harm to befall any of His Majesty’s subjects.”

 

“That is when, of course, those subjects prove true to their country.”

 

“Have I proven untrue? I do not believe I have. But paranoid minds will see a needle as a sword.”

 

“Madam, your actions and circumstances have proved suspicious in the few encounters with which we have shared. You very well still may be a whore, but you have painted yourself as a spy many times. Before the night ends, I will learn the truth of it. ” 

 

“I have nothing that would interest you. Unless, of course, you wish me to tell you fairy tales.” 

 

He pushed her back to her feet. He silently walked her back into the wall of stone as a smile crept between the sharp lines of his face. Her heart raced and her fingers itched for the knife hidden in her sock. 

 

“You will not be silent for long, I assure you.” 

 

She made a dash for the door. She turned back and used the hands tied behind her back to grasp the handle. The door flung on its hinges when Randall caught up to his prisoner. Corporal Beauchamp stood guard outside and stared aghast into the room. 

 

“Please, please help me, Corporal Beauchamp.” She pleaded. 

 

Randall’s hand closed over her mouth. “We are investigating a treasonous plot against the king. Do not interrupt, no matter what you hear.” He spat.

 

Her father looked regrettably at her and closed the door tightly. Randall roughly pulled her shoulders and tore her from the doorway. He pushed her towards the table so she slumped over the wood surface. His hands groped underneath her skirts and she struggled under his hold. His fingers trailed along her bare skin and her body trembled in fear and disgust. His touch felt like bugs creeping along her skin and she wanted to desperately shake them off. He reached into her sock and swiftly pulled out the hidden dagger.

 

“My, my, the lady has claws.” He inspected the small blade with disapproval in the glint of candlelight and glanced it across the flesh of her throat. “You will come to regret your silence.” 

 

The moment he put his hand into his coat to hide away the dagger Claire saw her opportunity open up. She sprinted away from him and kicked a chair into his stomach. He keeled over, his lungs adjusting to the blow. 

 

“Help!” Her desperate screams pierced the fort. “Somebody help me!” 

 

Her head snapped as Randall grabbed a fistful of hair from the back of her neck. He shoved her body against the wall and her head slightly cracked against the hard surface. 

 

“Now you will tell me your name.” He deftly produced the dagger again from his coat. Your real name of course.” Then you can tell me everything that you know about…” The knife tugged against the ties of her bodice. “Dougal MacKenzie… his brother Colum…” Snap, “and the Jacobite rebellion.” Snap. 

 

She thought of anything else while he pressed against her. She distracted herself from thoughts of Randall, her father, and the MacKenzies. Her glass face was a terrible curse and she often wondered why she even needed it if she couldn’t lie in the first place. She focused on her hair. It had grown from the top of her shoulder to almost under her armpits in only two weeks. Oh god, her hair had grown . Randall broke the third loop of the lace over her stomacher and she wasn’t able to contain herself anymore. She emptied the bannocks and fish from her stomach onto Randall’s pristine red coat. He looked appalled and slapped her cheek instinctively. 

 

“Oh dear, I hope that won’t stain.” She weakly said with a laugh and wasn’t sure Randall could hear it. 

 

Her distress only seemed to encourage him more. He flicked his coat with her vomit off and flung it into the corner. He grabbed her stomacher and ripped it from her body. Her stays and shift were ripped as well and he bent her over the table once more. Her legs flailed helplessly back towards his body in an attempt to kick him. He traced her breast with the sharp tip of the dagger and her skin stung at the contact of the iron. He pulled his breeches down and lifted her skirts, preparing himself. 

 

Randall was interrupted by his task by the bang of the shutters against the window. He practically guffawed at the sight before him and forgot the woman before him. The only reminder was the tight grip on her hair and the knife wrapped close to her throat. 

 

“I’ll thank ye to take yer hands off my wife.” 

 

“Good god. You failed to mention you had married the stripe-backed thief. How’s my handiwork looking these days.” Jamie supported the gun with his forearm. 

 

“Verra well. Despite your effort.”

 

“I don’t suppose you’d… you’d show me.”

 

“Be the last thing ye ever saw.” He slowly climbed in through the window. 

 

“Well, only risk brings the possibility of reward-” 

 

Claire stamped her foot hard, thanking God when her foot made impact with the intended target. Her teeth sunk into Randall’s hand and he dropped the knife with a cry. He reached both for his balls and his hand, not knowing which to comfort first. Jamie crossed the room in one giant stride and smacked the butt of the pistol against Randall’s head. It ricocheted with a thunk and Randall slumped gracelessly to the floor, right by the sick covering his crumpled red uniform. Jamie grabbed a cloak and wrapped it around her body. Claire stole back her knife from the floor and Jamie pulled her away. He yanked her body across the many walls and outlooks of the fort and stopped on a wall overlooking the water. An explosion broke out in the yard below and Claire’s ears began to ring. Jamie grabbed her waist tight to him and began to climb the ledge. 

 

“You are sure that’s water?” She peered down at the tumultuous waters and fear seized her stomach. 

 

“Well, there’s only one way to find out.” 

 

They pushed off together into the frigid temperatures. The many clothes she wore weighed her down in the dark water. In the dark of the night, she didn’t know which was up and which was down. She frantically moved her arms around until they hit firm muscle. Jamie’s arm squeezed painfully around her arm and he directed both of their bodies above the drowning waters. She spluttered and water spewed from her throat as they stretched along the shore. Jamie pulled her in close as she shivered in her drenched clothes. Her eyes dropped after the adrenaline of escape faded away and her feet dragged behind her. Jamie huffed at her speed and without a word gripped under her knees and armpits to gather her against his chest. She felt bad. He had already rescued her from that bastard and most likely relived his days in that fort. The least she could do was help him by carrying her own body, but she failed to do even that. She cried into his shoulder and gripped his shirt in her hands. He was comfort. His body was safety.

Chapter Text

The horses trudged their brisk pace through muddied paths back home. They traversed the glen sequestered between the rise of Ben Nevis which was only illuminated by the light of the moon and stars. The peak had small clusters of snow that had been untouched by the nature of summer and the white glistened underneath the moon and reflected off into all directions surrounding the mountain. Only Rupert, Angus, Murtagh, and Willie were in present company, the rest Claire presumed didn’t wish to go through the ordeal of saving her. Claire went from wishing to snuggle as close as humanly, or rather inhumanly possible, to her husband behind her whose thighs squeezed possessively against her own, or to pull away in shame and uncertainty to whether the hot anger she felt through his hand that laid against her waist was aimed towards her or just a general ire towards the world.   

 

“Thank you, for saving me.” She offered up in the air for the men to hear.

 

For saving us. She was almost certain now. 

 

Jamie made a Scottish grunt into her hair, and she gave up trying to decipher whatever it was supposed to mean. The rest of the men ignored her. 

 

“I've never been here- Ben Nevis I mean. It’s beautiful in the moonlight.” Her voice quieted for just him to hear. 

 

“Mmphm.” 

 

“You know when my uncle and I went to Cairn Gorm, one of the sheep bit his knuckle when he offered a bannock. Still has a bit of flesh cut out from his middle finger. I wonder if we’ll find some here.” She forced out a dry chuckle, trying to place some levity to their situation.

 

He offered no response, no witty retort or cheeky comment. He was almost as quiet as the grumpy man beside them. There was a giant chasm between them, one not easily fixed. It wasn’t just their escape from Fort William but the truth Claire withheld from him. Even though he was none the wiser about her real self, Claire would always see the slight flash of hurt across his eyes when she pushed his hands away from the hem of her shift. It had all snowballed into this simmering tension between them. They couldn’t bear to not touch each other, but they didn’t speak freely to each other like they once had. 

 

Claire dozed occasionally on the horse, thumping her head back into her husband’s shoulder. When she became dead weight in Jamie’s arms, he smiled down at her despite his desire to remain serious and maintain the upset with the predicament she’d placed them in. His hands stroked through her curls of their own accord and she sighed in contentment in her sleep. His grip tightened around her stomach to hold her upright in the saddle. Claire had slept through dawn, which was quite difficult on the jolting back of a horse. They were well into their journey to join the rest of the rent party when they stopped by a stream. He nudged her awake and slipped off the horse with a naturalness that looked as if he was placed on a horse the minute his pink squirming newborn body met the world. Claire followed with help from Jamie and her feet met the ground gradually as he lingered his hold on her. 

 

She smiled shyly at him when her gaze met his eyes. He offered a small smile in return and plopped the reins into Murtagh’s awaiting hands. Jamie’s arm wrapped around Claire’s shoulder, guiding her into an outcropping of rock away from prying eyes.

 

“Yer alright? He dinna hurt ye?”

 

“No, he didn’t have time thanks to you.” She tucked some loose hair behind her ear. 

 

“I’m waiting fer ye to say anything. Anything that approaches an apology. Yer actions put all the mens’ lives in jeopardy.”

 

“Apologise? I was the one abducted. Do you think it was my idea of a lovely evening to stroll right into Black Jack Randall? You think that was somehow my fault?”

 

“Well aye, ‘tis yer fault.” 

 

“My fault? My fault!” She repeated the phrase in astonishment. 

 

“Aye if ye had stayed put where I ordered ye none o’ this would ha’ come to pass.” 

 

“But I did! I saw a redcoat, no more than a boy really, near the stream where I wanted to freshen up. I swear I was within sight of the horses, but I couldn’t stand the stench anymore. Why doesn’t Willie get trouble for wandering off to take a shit? And I don’t have to do anything you ‘order’ me to.” She was rambling now and she knew it. It seemed in stressful situations the truth just spewed out and she had no control over it. 

 

“Aye, ye do. Ye are my wife. And ye are to do as I say.” His jaw clenched in anger. 

 

“I don’t have to do a damn thing you say! I’m not your fucking property!” She hissed into his face and spittle almost flew out of her mouth. “And maybe if you weren’t off with that bastard Horrocks leaving me alone, you would have noticed there were redcoats nearby! I told you there’d be no danger in me coming along. If anyone’s to blame it’s you for leaving me behind! I’m not just something you can stick your cock into whenever you have the urge and then just discard later!” She shoved his chest and he gripped her wrists tightly, stilling her advance. 

 

“Ye foul-mouthed whore!” He had a sturdy grip on her shoulders and shook her lightly with restrained anger.  

 

Hot tears of anger slipped down her cheeks and she slapped his chest again as the insult tumbled off her tongue. “You- you bitch!” She bit her cheek to keep the bubbles of laughter inside her chest and it seemed Jamie was close to bursting into tears and laughter simultaneously. She had heard her aunt call her husband a bitch numerous times and there was always something humorous in seeing her do so. But now was not the time for humour. 

 

Jamie slumped down onto the edge of a bare rock propped on the ground. The moss cushioned her feet as she knelt beside him. The strain of the past few days caught up to him and his voice trembled as he spoke. 

 

“I came to ye, armed wi’ nothing but my bare hands and an empty pistol. But Christ, when ye screamed.” A tear raced down his face. “Yer tearing my guts out Claire.”

 

She wiped away the tear on his cheek with the pad of her thumb. She fell into his body and hugged him tight to her. 

 

“I’m sorry for what I said. Will you forgive me Jamie?” He wrapped his arm around her body and tucked her into him. 

 

“Forgiven.” He hooked a finger under her chin to bring her gaze level with his. “And I’m sorry fer what I said too lass, I was sore and said more than I meant. Will ye forgive me?” 

 

“Forgiven.” She murmured into his chest.

 

They stayed in that embrace forever, but that still didn’t seem like enough time. He kissed her head and slowly stretched his legs beneath him. They had become numb and tingly asleep under the weight of Claire’s body. She had fallen asleep, or rather she was pretending to be asleep in his arms and he smiled down at her. He rose with her in his arms and carried her to the horses without effort. Rupert and Angus had some bawdy jokes prepared but the glare from Murtagh quieted them down. 

 

“Come on a nighean.” He pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Up ye get Sassenach.” 

 

She grumbled but gave in to his request and slumped into the saddle. He was quick behind her and pulled her in close to him. 

 

“Ye ken yer in my arms a lot lass. Like a wee squirrel clinging to her mam. Ye’d think yer favourite place to sleep is here, and no’ in one of those soft feather beds.” 

 

“So be like a bed, they don’t ever speak. I can only tolerate you when your mouth is shut and unfortunately for me, that’s a rare occurrence.” 

 

“Come lay yer head lass. It’ll no be long.” 

 

When they approached the inn where the rent party resided for the night, Claire’s inputs were ignored completely and she felt ashamed. Even though she knew their indifference towards her wasn’t very logical in her time. She climbed the steps up to her room and untied her various layers of cotton and wool. She was down to her shift in the bed when Jamie made an appearance. 

 

“Come to bed Jamie.” Claire patted the sheets beside her and smiled. His wife was practically glowing. 

 

“Aye, but first there’s still a matter we must settle.” 

 

“What matter?” Claire thought they’d already aired all of their grievances by the stream. 

 

“Do ye realise how much ye put the men in jeopardy today Claire?” He flexed the leather of his belt, now free of the weight of a scabbard. “That all of us could have been killed?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I dinna think ye ken yet how a simple action can have verra dire consequences here. I think where yer from things were easier, somehow.” He crouched to the foot of the bed. “Now lass, lift up your shift.” 

 

“I said I was sorry.” 

 

Claire crawled further back towards the headboard, shielding her backside. 

 

“If it were only up to me, there’d be nothing more to think o’ the matter. But ye must keep in mind the other men as well. If it was one o’ the men who made such careless mistakes, they would have likely been whipped, or mebbe even hang-ed.” He took a hesitant step to cover the distance to the bed. “Now, let’s get on wi’ it.”

 

“I will not let you beat me!”

 

Claire rose from the safety of the bed and spied the narrow window across the room. Her long legs carried her towards the other side of the room in a desperate attempt for the window. When she reached the table, she threw a glass at him to slow his approach. He ducked and his grip tightened on the leather in his hand. 

 

“Oh, ye won’t? I dinna think you have much say in the matter.” 

 

“You brutish sadistic fucking bastard.” She fumbled behind her for the latch on the window. “You would beat a woman with child?” 

 

This was definitely not how she wished to tell him such news. It hadn’t even been two weeks yet but she knew. Could feel the change, like how she felt something abnormal when healing others, but that abnormality was within herself. When she could feel the telltale signs of a tumour forming within a patient’s body, but this one was filled with life and health and somehow had an aura of inexplicable joy surrounding it. No this was not a festering lump of malignant cells, far from it. And oddly enough, it was her hair growing rapidly, something her Aunt Elisa had crankily discussed once during her latest pregnancy, one of her many, that cemented her feelings on the matter. The window opened with a creak, letting a rush of unusually cool summer air. 

 

Jamie’s mask broke and his face betrayed the shock of her revelation. “Cl-“ 

 

She squeezed her body through the small square hole and fell so elegantly towards the ground that a passerby would think she was flying. If she hadn’t been what she was she would probably have fallen straight on her back and been paralysed. 

 

“CLAIRE.” She heard him shout.  

 

She ran through the pouring rain in soaked stockings. The plaid that wrapped around her offered her minimal shelter. The stables were empty save the rent party’s horses and there was a nice patch of hay under an overhang in the roof. It protected her from the deluge of the storm but not from the nipping winds and drafts within the stables. She imagined herself shrinking into herself, into a little cocoon of nothingness. Something Aunt Elisa had tried but oftentimes failed to teach her in the short time they were together was how to hide herself, glamouring men to see whatever she desired them to. The effort made her bones weary and she curled into a ball on the hay. A drunk man stumbled by the entrance of the stables, oblivious to her presence. He paused for a second before retching into one of the stalls and left. The horse, Brimstone, was none too pleased about his actions. 

 

“Claire what the devil. What are you doing out here freezing in naught but yer shift? You’ll catch yer death.” 

 

“Y-you can see me?” 

 

“Aye. Are ye daft lass yer sitting right before my eyes?” 

 

“Well, I may be daft, letting myself marry such a brutish bastard.” She glared at him and ran her gaze for any signs that he carried the same belt with him. 

 

“Claire I’ll no harm ye.” 

 

“Funny, I’ve heard that promise before. The protection of your body. You gave me your word. Or does that mean nothing to you, to honour your vows and your wife?” 

 

“If I knew ye had a bairn in ye I’d never-“ 

 

“Oh, so it’s only the baby that protects me from my husband. I would’ve thought I’d never come to harm from your hands but you’ve proven me wrong. I’d much rather you nail my head to the pillory, as an equal, than my husband beat me as if I were some child. And just so you know I won’t let you ever lay a hand on this child” Her hand protectively curved over her flat stomach. 

 

“Claire ye have to understand that the men expect to seek justice for yer actions against them. If the choice had been only about me, there’d be nothing more to say on the matter.” 

 

“Then have Dougal whip me in the square for all I care. Anyone but you.” Hot tears tracked down her cheeks and Jamie raised a hand to wipe them away. 

 

“No Claire, I’ll never let anyone harm ye, ever.” He pulled her to his chest. “Come here mo ghràidh, I’ll no let harm befall either of ye.” 

 

His hand joined hers over their child. He tucked his plaid around her body and gently kissed the curls at the top of her head. 

 

“You know she’s not even bigger than a poppy seed.” She hiccuped. “What does that one mean? Mo ghràidh?” 

 

“I’ll tell ye if ye agree to get out of this chill and have a filling meal. We must fatten ye up for the bairn.” 

 

“For the bairn’s sake? Or do you just want to plump up my arse to your liking?” 

 

“Sassenach, I’ll love yer arse no matter what, and if it grows as a consequence of the bairn I’d no be unhappy.” 

 

“Oh god, I’ll be a fat cow before long.” 

 

“Aye, I expect. With how ye eat I’m surprised ye no have already.” 

 

“James Fraser!” She slapped the hand that rested on top of hers. “You have a terrible appetite, much worse than mine. If I leave my plate for even a second I fear you’ll wolf it down. Now, you can carry your fat cow back to the inn.”

 

Jamie kept shoving her piece after piece of meat, cheese, and bread with pleading eyes, ‘for the bairn’ he’d say. Claire relented and noticed after that, Jamie had only taken about three bites of his own food. His eyes were always on hers, or her belly, or occasionally they’d shift up to her breasts with a smirk. She rolled her eyes at his eagerness and crossed the floor to the fire. She was shivering in her wet shift and knew she needed to change out of it soon. She bent down to the pile of stacked clothes near the bed and pulled out the pearls from her pocket. She held them up against the light of the fire in reverence before placing them on her neck. 

 

It was time , Claire thought. There would certainly be things that she couldn’t explain with this baby when the time would come and it was better to tell him sooner or later. And it tore her mind, body, and soul to keep a secret from him. Maybe she’d change their promise to no more lies and secrets. 

 

“Do you trust me?” She turned to face him. 

 

“Wi’ all my heart Claire. I trust that yer heart speaks true to me, as mine does for you.”

 

“I need to tell you something. Show you. Just know that I would never do anything to deliberately hurt someone, ever, especially you.” She bit her lip. “Take off your shirt, I want to look at you.”

 

“Oh aye, and here I thought you wanted to show me something.” His brow raised and he smirked.

 

He obliged her request though; he could never deny her. His hands deftly worked the cuffs of his sleeves. With a flourish, he tugged the material from the back of his neck and over his body. She circled his body and traced his skin. The curve of his thigh, the firm muscles of his abdomen, the trail of red under his belly button. The concave bit of flesh between his chest, and the unmistakable readiness of him for her. 

 

“Fair is fair. Take off yers as well.” 

 

Claire untied the top of her shift, agonizingly slow. Her lungs filled quickly from nerves and her natural reaction at the sight of his body. His hand reflexively cupped her breast between his fingers, like it was created just for the purpose of holding it. The cotton fabric skimmed her body as it gently fell off her shoulders and pooled on the ground. His eyes darkened at the sight of her bare skin and his throat tightened. His hand cupped her breast gently and she closed her eyes at the sensation. 

 

“Have you never seen a naked woman before?” 

 

“No one so close. And not one that’s mine-” 

 

Claire stretched her back and her wings slowly extricated themselves from their folded place on her hips and back. They opened with timid flutters and almost spasmed from their disuse. He let out a strangled cry and collapsed like a sack of grain.

 

“Ah Dhia!” His eyes flicked wildly across her skin and the shimmer of her back. “Claire what- are those- do ye?” 

 

Jamie was many things, but speechless usually was never one of them. He settled into the chaise with a thud and stared blankly at a point in the wall. 

 

“That bad is it?” She grabbed the hand not holding her breast. “You can touch them.” 

 

She turned around and he kept his grip on her. She guided the other hand slowly to her back and placed it on the space between her wings. His touch moved gradually to the beginnings of one of her wings. She shuddered when he lightly traced a line down one of the veins on the translucent material. She fought to catch her breath as he repeated the action, up and down, and turned to allow the other wing the same treatment. He was completely mesmerized by the sight of his wife before him, naked and baring all of herself to him now. 

 

“I was waiting, planning on telling you at the right moment. But there never really is one, is there? I guess you would call me a faerie, or even one of the wee folk.” She snorted. 

 

His wife was anything but wee and he lovingly patted her ‘round arse’ in response. He chortled at the thought of her buzzing around his ear like a bee, only a few inches tall. She would certainly tug on his ear and shout her displeasure into it, even at such a size. 

 

“Have ye put a spell on me? It quite feels like it. I was drawn to ye the first moment I laid eyes on ye.” She turned to place her hands on either side of his head and kneeled between his legs.

 

“I swear to you Jamie, I have never taken advantage of my nature with you. Nor would I know how to. When I gave you my true name and you yours, we became equals. So even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.” She paused. “There’s something else.”

 

“There’s more? Can ye no just be a faerie and be happy wi’ that?” He teased though he was clearly unnerved. 

 

She grasped the hand that had fallen away from her back and brought it to her arm. 

 

“It’s a vaccination mark. An inoculation. Though it won’t be introduced for years. I can walk through a room of sickness but it cannot touch me, like in that village with the pox.”

 

“So are ye a witch then too?”

 

“No, I’m not a witch. Maybe you’ll think I am though. It’s not some sort of mystical evil brought from the devil.”

 

“But how? Ye seem so… human.”

 

“It’s not some complicated magic. The earth provides for me and I will provide for it in turn once I die and decay to nothing but bones. Why can birds fly? Why can some fish spring out into the air before falling back to their aquatic home? The mutual relative of our species, the neanderthals, died out but we survived. Who knows, maybe humans are descendants of the faeries, who lost all that made them interesting.” 

 

She poked fun at the idea. She had no idea what it meant either. It didn’t do well to contemplate these things further and come up frustrated with the unknown. She didn’t know how to introduce the concept of evolution to her husband either. She could never grasp it herself so how could she possibly explain. 

 

“I showed you this mark, because it’s common where I’m from. In my time I mean. I was born on October the 20th, 1918. I don’t know how but I fell through the stones on Craigh na Dun, which is when- well when I met you.”

 

“And ye’ve managed to hide these all this time?” His knuckles stroked her delicate wings and she shivered.

 

“Well, it’s not without some effort. Sometimes if I manage it, they tuck into my skin. Well, you know how caterpillars turn into goo in their chrysalis. I guess it’s sort of like that? And cats have claws that retract?” 

 

He caressed her flat stomach with trembling hands. “And the child? What of our bairn?”

 

“If it’s a boy, there’s a slim chance he’ll be a faerie as well, but with girls, it's almost a complete certainty. I’m not sure of the intricacies, I was never raised with an awareness of my… nature. Are you… disappointed?” 

 

“No disappointed. Confused. Overwhelmed. Mad wi’ joy.” 

 

“I know it’s a lot to take in. I’m sorry I’ve kept it from you. It killed me to do so.” 

 

She reached out her hand to his cheek and he flinched. He flashed an apologetic smile and returned to his stunned state. 

 

“I jes’ need some time to think. Alone.” 

 

“Of course. However long you need I’ll wait. Forever. I expect you’ll have more questions when you return. I promise to tell you anything you ask.”

 

His mouth kept its straight line and he nodded. He grabbed his coat roughly and sprinted back to the stables. Claire let out a breath at the sight of his retreating form. That could have been worse. But silence also meant no answer as well. She curled into herself on the bed and cried. She released all the hurt, pain, fear, and confusion of the past few days into the pillows until they were damp with her tears and snot. 

 

She had fallen asleep in her mess and curled up into herself in an attempt to replicate Jamie’s comforting arms. Time had passed and it was near the early hours of the morning, though the sun had not yet risen. Jamie returned and silently stripped off his wet clothes, smelling of horse and dewy grass. He added a log to the dwindling fire and climbed in behind Claire on the bed. She shifted into him and her wings fluttered against his stomach. The movement both equally amused him and very clearly aroused him. His skin burned red, from his tiny pinky toe to the small tips of his ears, in reaction to finally feeling her entire body against his, skin to skin. He pulled back a curl from her face and she groaned, pulling his arms tighter around her stomach. He traced a pattern from shoulder to elbow on the smooth skin of her arm and she stirred slightly at his touch.   

 

“Do ye wish to go back now Claire? To the stones?” 

 

“What?!” She shouted in a whisper. She was fully awake now.

 

“Now that ye have yer bairn, ye need no more of me.” 

 

“What on earth? Jamie, this baby is ours and I’d never dream of leaving you. That is, unless-” She gulped down the lump in her throat. “Unless you wish me to leave.” 

 

“No.” He gripped her arm tightly. “But I just thought-” He cleared his throat. “Weel, it’s told in the stories that faeries often steal children, because they dinna have much o’ their own. It’s silly but I thought ye might ha’ only wanted me fer the child.” 

 

She turned so their chests were flushed together. Her nipples hardened at the contact of his skin and the whorls of gold and red on his chest. “Jamie, I’m here for you . The baby is just another very happy coincidence. Do you really think I would abandon you now?”

 

“I ken yer heart Sassenach, I ken yer no like that and I believe what ye speak to me is true, that yer heart speaks to mine, but still it’s a lot to wrap my heid around.” 

 

Claire circled her fingers around the tufts of hair between his ribs and he sighed. “Did you know you called me here? Pulled me through the stones. I didn’t hear it, but I could feel it. Mo nighean donn . That’s what pulled me out of there and over to this side. I don’t know if I would have survived the trip without it. I was so happy when you called me that on our wedding night. I knew it had to mean something .” 

 

“I’m glad some other spirit dinna call ye to them in those stones.” His eyes wrinkled with mirth. “I like ye just fine. Mebbe I’ll keep ye, my own personal luck charm. My wee faerie. Though yer no’ so wee.”  He greedily squeezed the flesh of her backside in emphasis. 

 

Claire jabbed him in the ribs. “Hey, don’t go calling me fat James Fraser.” 

 

“No’ fat lass, jes’ sturdy.” He grinned. 

 

“And you don’t mind that I’m-?”

 

“No. I want ye Sassenach. Whoever, whatever ye are. I ken my Claire, she is verra important to me, a wee bit of extra flesh sprouting from her back doesna chase me away.” 

 

“Good.” She nuzzled into his sternum. 

 

“Mo nighean donn?” 

 

“Yes?” He could feel her lips tug into a smile against his skin. 

 

“Will ye tell me more? Tomorrow?”

 

“Of course, I’ll tell you anything.” She gave his hands a squeeze. Their hands were linked between their chests and one of his wandered down to her stomach. 

 

“Wi’ out the stench o’ Rupert and Angus of course. Ye’ll tell me far away from them. Would no’ be good fer the bairn.” 

 

She laughed and tears sprung into her eyes. “Jamie?”

 

“Aye lass?”

 

“What does mo ghràidh mean?” He kissed her forehead with a tenderness that made her want to cry, kiss him, run away, curl further into him, and claw through his chest to tuck herself away under its protection. 

 

“My love.”

Chapter Text

Fingers trailed from collarbone, the tip of a shoulder, down to floating ribs, to the intestines tucked safely within skin, muscle, and fat, and finally reached the soft tufts of copper and gold nestled neatly between the strong lines of thighs and abdomen in lazy curves. Jamie murmured to his love in Gàidhlig and placed his grip on her hips, joining them together in one flesh. They were in a field at Lallybroch, carefully hidden under the heather and long grasses of the farm. Bees buzzed lazily around and bumped off of Jamie’s bicep, disoriented. Their laughter quieted only when their mouths hungrily claimed each other and he pried the moans and gasps from her body into him. The sun shone off of her perfectly iridescent wings and the rays scattered around them in beams of colour. Her hands frantically moved along his body and pulled him closer into her, a space just below her heart. He fell down the deep caverns of her heart chambers and scratched for a grip in the unceasing fall. Her hands pulled into herself and yanked him out as gently as a babe with her dog’s stick playing fetch. But in place of his beloved’s fingers were claws. Grey, sharp, and angry. The tangy smell of metal stung his nose and his light eyelashes twisted away from each other. 

 

“Good, you're awake.” 

 

Claire’s legs straddled the outside of Jamie’s thighs. Her body pinned him to the stiff straw inside the mattress, completely naked. Her grip on his erection was uncomfortable and his eyes widened at the iron she wielded in her right hand, hovering unbearably close to the base of him. His heart squeezed in slight panic, a taut wire, pulled straight between two poles anticipating its final snap at any moment. 

 

“Christ Claire.” 

 

“Now I have some things to say to you. And I’d thought to consult this.” She patted the hardened length which had softened into the nest of curls in fear. “Since this is where men’s brains seem to reside.” 

 

“Lass, think carefully. It’s no’ just me that would suffer.” 

 

“Trust me, I can do without.” Her lips pulled up into a cocky grin. “I am speaking and I won’t be done for some time. So if you value yourself as much as I do I suggest you keep quiet.” His heart thudded dangerously against his sternum and he nodded sternly.

 

She loosened her grip on him slightly and he sighed out a breath of relief. But his eyes widened when she raised the dirk to her own chest, just above her heart. It nicked slightly at the unmarked expanse of her breast, and he felt illogically jealous towards the weapon for touching her skin. A drop of red welled up and followed down the curve of her breast. The iron burned deep within her bones but she shifted her focus back to her husband. She expertly twisted the hilt in her palm to turn towards the skin protecting Jamie’s heart and swiftly flicked the sharp edge down and up. The sharp sting subsided quickly with a hiss, the cut was only superficial and a very small one at that. It only allowed for a drop or two of blood. Claire snatched what little amount she could from her own wound and rubbed it against the small streak of red on his chest. She placed his hand over his heart and then dragged it up through the air to rest over hers. Their hearts and eyes connected; she began her admonishment. 

 

“Now swear to me, on our life’s blood and this iron, that you’ll never raise a hand to me or harm a hair on any of our children. Or I promise I will make you suffer. I may not kill you, but the rest of your days will be excruciatingly lonely and painful. Perhaps I’d start here.” Her hand trailed down his abdomen and stopped just short of where his hips connected into a v-like arrow. “And I’m warning you. James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser. A faerie’s promise is nothing to take lightly, it’s forever.” The dirk had travelled back down, its sharp cold edge teasing the tip of his sex to emphasise her point. 

 

“I swear to ye Claire, I’ll nay lay a hand to ye, ever, or our bairns.” 

 

He sat up from the sunken sheets, kneeling before his wife. She was displaced from her tight grip around him but he gently sat her up in front of him. He picked up the dirk that had fallen off to the side of the bed and pressed it in between his ribs, just below the now dry cut, over his thumping heart. 

 

I swear on the cross of my Lord Jesus, and by the holy iron which I hold, that I give ye my fealty and pledge ye my loyalty. If ever my hand is raised in rebellion against you again, then I ask that this holy iron may pierce my heart. ” 

 

She recognised some of the words from the gathering at Leoch. When men proudly gave their bodies and minds and laid them in front of their Laird. Something about having his body fully in control under her hands earlier made her ravenous. He was hers to toy with, to use as she wished. 

 

Her hands ripped away the iron without her mind’s permission and threw it. The blade scattered across the floor and twirled as it hit the base of the dying fireplace. She tugged at his shoulders and mashed her lips against his. Gooseflesh raised at his touch. Their teeth clunked together in the clumsy movement and their foreheads mushed together. Laughter rumbled through his deep chest and caused a pleasant friction against her breasts. Her wings, now free of cloth and any skin confines, fluttered erratically under Jamie’s attentions. He gripped the base of one like he would with her hair and splayed his other open hand on the indent just above her tailbone, pulling their flesh even closer together. Her wings tickled the back of his hands and he chuckled into her mouth. The shiny film in his hands bashed once more in his hands as he stroked along the edge. She groaned into his mouth and her fingers tightened against the base of his neck. 

 

The prickly hairs on his jaw delightfully scratched at her undisturbed skin. His mouth pulled apart and brushed softly over the apples of cheeks, the small slope of belly, the concavity between breasts, the small silver bolts on her hips resulting from her maturing and growing into herself, until he finally hovered over just above her own lips releasing short, hot breaths dancing across her cupid’s bow and causing the slight indentation above the plump pink integument to twitch. She began a steady rhythm towards a satisfying friction against his pubic bone, his length trapped between their bellies. 

 

“Please Jamie.” 

 

He closed the gap between them and his mouth devoured every inch of skin in front of him. His lips were particularly interested in the small space behind her ear and he tugged against the skin greedily. She squeaked when he began a rhythmic tracing of her wings with his calloused hand. With his greed satisfied for the moment, he pulled on her bottom lip and began massaging the soft flesh of her backside, resulting in another moan from her body that he loved so much. 

 

“Ye know I love these wings of yers. They tell me when yer going to make yer wee noises before they even happen.” Every word against her mouth brought a whimper from her in response. 

 

“One, I do not make ‘wee noises’.” She kissed the tip of his nose when he began to protest. “And two, I definitely do not need wings on you to tell.” She tugged at the skin protecting his carotid and felt the speeding thumps from his heart to his neck as she pulled out a groan from him. “Will you have me?” She murmured against his throat.

 

He choked out a strained “aye”. 

 

She gripped his wrists tightly within her own hands and raised them up above his head. Chest to chest, and hip to hip, she finally lowered herself onto him. Her body stretched to accommodate the familiarity of him once more and an indistinguishable grunt rose between them. Her stretched fingers flexed against the firm muscles on his chest. 

 

Claire’s body trembled and she bit at her lip at the sensation, but Jamie wasn’t finished with her yet. Her indecipherable murmurings were muffled by his chest as she latched her lips onto the small indent between his chest to ride out the waves within her body. She closed around him and slumped onto his chest, heart rapidly beating against his own. He swept the hair out of her face and onto her shoulder to pepper kisses across the skin of her clavicle and the curve between neck and shoulder. He continued a slow drawn out rhythm to prolong the bliss across her face. When she was well and truly putty against him he began to increase in speed again, gripping her hips as he moved her body that lay prone on top of him. 

 

“I can’t bear it Jamie, not again.” 

 

“Aye ye can lass, fer I love ye.” He let the words slip out before he could really think on them. She offered no reply except the continuous chant of her ‘wee noises’ he loved so much. “Now give me yer mouth Sassenach.” 

 

A resounding bang against the wooden door echoed through the room. The reverie between the pair never broke and Jamie laughed at the Gàidhlig that spewed through the cracks in the wood. Claire rocked harder against him, angling her body to hit the right spot. The noise from the intruder soon stopped as Jamie’s moan spilt across the room to the wooden barrier. His hips jerked against hers and he scooped his hands along her back to flip their position, careful of the wings on her back. He drove into her with fervour and she raised her heels to his scarred back. His hands gripped her backside, lifting her slightly off of the mattress and their hips met together again. The feel of him inside of her was almost too much to bear and it nearly sent her to the edge when he placed his mouth on her left breast and his teeth teased at her nipple. Licks, nips, and swirls sent shivers throughout her body. She tugged at his hair hard with one hand and she was sure the other would leave half-crescents on his arse. They clawed savagely at each other, to pull the other’s skin into their body, to mark, and to simply have a reminder that the other existed there at that moment. 

 

Her entire body tensed and pulled him even closer inside her. Her wings shuddered and all the muscles in her body twitched in preparation for release. Jamie was close as well and was waiting for her to join him. He released the nipple he was voraciously devouring in exchange for the hot breath that came in pants from her mouth to his tongue. He swallowed the pants of his name from her and smiled against her at the keens he could feel burst into his throat in sharp incoherent syllables. He echoed her when his own body stilled and his body crumpled down onto hers. He was crushing her but she liked the feel of him enveloping her completely. No thoughts came to her mind except for the present feel and taste of him; it was all that existed. She couldn't even remember her name. With a strangled cry they both reached completion and contentment in the other’s arms. He rolled off of her onto his side in a haze and pulled her back into his chest. His hand was placed on her breast just above her heart and he grinned at the rapid thuds against him. The other hand curved across her stomach and he nuzzled her hair. She sighed her contentment and traced circles along the golden hairs of his forearm braced against her. Her wings had calmed with her and lay limp between them. 

 

When they slowly were brought back to reality with their awareness of their own limbs and the surroundings of the room, Claire began to speak softly.  “Who knew holding you at knifepoint would get such a… rise out of you.”

 

“Out of me? Sassenach ye were practically crawling over me.” A pleased grin spread across his face. “To see ye so feral like a wee she-devil, yer wings stretched above me making emotions unheard of rouse within me... Sassenach I would verra much like to wake up like that e’ry morning, though wi’out the threats to my livelihood o’ course.” 

 

“Well naturally. I promise to never threaten you, but only if you’re not being a fool. So I doubt my promise will hold up for long.” 

 

Silence filled the room as they both came down from their post-coital high and revelled in the feel of each other’s skin. The clamour of the tavern below flew up the stairs and moved through the cracks of the floorboards and door. The barmaid must have been preparing the men’s meals below to break their fast. 

 

“Did you really mean it?” He nodded against her hair.

 

“I love ye Claire, wi’ all my heart.” 

 

She moved her body to face him so he could see the sincerity of the confession flash across her face with the steady tonality of her voice. Her hand cupped his cheek. “I love you, James Fraser.” 

 

They smiled and stared into each other’s eyes, content to just be, to soak in the truth of their words. Many thoughts crossed Claire’s mind, all about Jamie, and she was sure he could practically read her mind with her almost painful nature of truth. She could see his thoughts drift in his mind as well but he never broke his tender gaze away from her, until suddenly his eyes clouded over.  

 

His eyes widened and he sprung up from his laze. “Claire, is the bairn alright? Did I hurt him? I’m sorry I shouldna ha’ been so greedy.” His hand covered her small belly, which was almost curved inward from the fast of the night and early morning. 

 

“I seem to recall there were two greedy parties here. And she’s fine. I don’t think she minds. In fact, I don’t even think she has the capacity to process any of what we’ve done just yet. But,” she added with a smirk, “hopefully she is as generous in the future in giving us our privacy.” 

 

“So ye ken then, that the bairn’s a girl?” His head perked at the prospect. 

 

“No I don’t, but I just can’t imagine what I’d do with another you on my hands.” Her pinky curved over the hills of his upper lips which tugged into a smile and moved her finger with it.

 

“Who says the lass willna be like her da?” An impish grin appeared on his face. 

 

“Oh God help us if she is. And well-” She ducked her head down. 

 

“Go on lass.” He encouraged.

 

“Well it’s probably nothing, but I had a dream of her once. She was beautiful, and her little giggles filled my heart near to tears. She had your red hair. And I did feel a presence behind me in the dream but I wasn’t sure until recently, but I’d recognise the feeling anywhere.” 

 

“Dinna tell me ye dreamt of Rupert?” She snorted. 

 

“No, you bloody idiot, it was you.” She rolled her eyes and thought the matching grins on their faces made them look like a goofy pair. “I’d know the feeling of that giant body anywhere.” 

 

“And weel, no’ to mean I have some vast knowledge of the subject but, it’s only been weeks since ye took me to yer bed, and I ken women generally dinna know so soon.” 

 

“Well that is true I knew of her existence a lot earlier than humanly possible.” 

 

“How?”

 

“Well you know that night in the cottage with your shoulder-” She was cut off by a bang that shook the door and its hinges. 

 

“Ye greedy wee bastard! Couldna save some fer us too?” Angus’ voice spliced into the warmth of their small room. Rupert’s deep belly laugh accompanied his friend’s reply. “It’s after the sun, Dougal says we must be away now lad. I wouldna say I’d be too discontent to weasel the door off the hinges right noo’ meself though to wake yer lass up.”

 

“Hauld yer wheesht Angus. If ye did I’d no say I’d be disinclined to knock yer daft heid off of its hinges .” Jamie walked over towards the fireplace to pick up the dirk and place it back on his belt. It was certainly a sight to see, Jamie in his full naked glory and she wanted to pull him right back into bed. 

 

“Do they never go anywhere alone? They’re like Siamese twins those two.”

 

“Siamese?”

 

“Oh, well I guess the term hasn’t been used yet. But conjoined twins? It’s like they’re attached at the hip.” He nodded in understanding and searched the table to come up with only a bannock. 

 

“Here, have the bannock Sassenach, they likely spared no food fer us to break our fast today. Though I did get a few bites of a proper English meal so I’ll no complain.” He patted her backside. 

 

“Thank you.” She beamed at him and accepted the food, but tore off a small piece for him. 

 

He finally gave in to her pleading eyes and dramatically chewed the bite, opening his jaw wide and shutting it closed with a smack and she giggled at his reluctance. 

 

“Let’s get ye dressed lass, yer far too tempting fer me to focus right now. And I dinna want those fools tryin’ another time to knock down the door.” They both slid their shifts on. 

 

“I’ll tell you later then. About our baby, and well everything.” She tied the ribbon around her stockings and Jamie’s gaze lingered on the bit of bare flesh on her thigh. “Out of the presence of ‘Lard Bucket and Big Head’ of course.” She paused and placed a finger on her chin in mock contemplation. “You know, I think Brimstone may have a sore leg, I might have to ride with you today.” 

 

“Oh, that poor mare? Wi’ ye weighing her down tis no wonder she hasna broken down before.” He teased. 

 

“Fine I’ll take your beast and you can walk all the way back to Leoch.” 

 

“No, I think I’d like it jes’ fine if I were to share a horse wi’ ye. But o’ course if ye dinna wish to that’s fine ye can always ride wi’ Angus I’m sure he’d verra much enjoy the company.” Claire picked up his coat and threw it in his direction. 

 

“I’m riding with you, you ridiculous man.” Her eyes rolled and she shook her head.

 

Jamie pleated his kilt on the floor and Claire continued to pin and tie while chewing the remainders of her food. Their few things were safely put away into their pockets and into his sporran. The door creaked as he opened it and gestured for her to lead the way. She played with the flesh of her bottom lip.

 

“Jamie. I don’t want anyone to know about the baby until we’re certain she… well I want to keep her between us. I don’t want to share us with the world just yet.” 

 

His eyes crinkled gently with a smile at her request. “Aye, I understand what ye mean Sassenach. I dinna wish to share our miracle jes’ yet, especially no to the bawdy men downstairs.” 

 

“Are you sure? It seems men of this time hold a certain pride for… well when their wives quicken just after.” Her face reddened and he tilted her face up with a finger hooked under her chin. 

 

“I’m sure Sassenach, when ye wish and are ready to share, I’ll shout it out to the sky that the wife I love has blessed me wi’ bairn. But fer now, I find it thrilling to share such a thing only wi’ ye.” 

 

The boisterous laughter and overall chaos downstairs made an atmosphere similar to nights when townsmen were gone with drink and the innkeepers and barmaids were overwhelmed with their drunken attitudes. But now the sun was well up with no lingering shadows of the night. The dim lights of candles that would usually accompany hard slaps on the back of camaraderie and jovial shouts, were instead paired with the bright rays of the morning sun. The men should be sober at this hour but Claire and Jamie weren’t entirely sure that this was the case with the men of the rent party. They were still tight-lipped towards Claire but some were inclined to give a nod of acknowledgement to her. They weren’t sure if the men thought Jamie followed through on the punishment or if they knew the stramash upstairs led to nothing last night. They had to tread lightly. Claire traversed the narrow stairs behind Jamie.  

 

He gripped her elbow and leaned to whisper in her ear. “Let me handle this lass. I ken ye dinna usually hold yer tongue but jes’ trust me.” His arm snaked around her waist when they crossed the last of the floor to the men and he pulled her close. 

 

“I trust you, Jamie, with my life.”

Chapter Text

Jamie joked to the men in Gàidhlig, presumably about the night before and her believed punishment. They laughed at the small claw marks on his cheek from their altercation, and also the red mark created that morning on his neck not hidden by his shirt. In their minds, Claire and Jamie made up after his inflicted harm to her backside, so they could mend their fences with her as well. Apparently, their odd short commotion from upstairs followed by solemn silence didn’t raise any questions; women were to suffer in silence. Most of them had already experienced the strap on many occasions so their hide would be used to the mundanity of such a barbaric practice. Like the poor boy at the pillory. She felt pity for them and herself. She supposed she was one of them now. 

 

They readied the horses with bedrolls and leather pouches and secured the wagon full of rents. The morning was passed in companionable chatter and Jamie managed to sneak an apple for Claire from the stables after the men hogged all of the food that morning. 

 

He winked, or rather blinked conspiratorially at her. “Just pretend yer a wee bit sore on yer saddle lass and they willna be none the wiser.” 

 

“I don’t need to pretend.” She swatted away the hand that was reaching for her arse. The muscles of her thighs clenched subconsciously at the sore but pleasurable reminder of their morning tryst. “And even if I wished to, I couldn’t lie. Never have been able to lie, not even once.” 

 

“Even if ye could lass it would be written across that glass face o’ yers.” He bussed her cheek. 

 

The men all welcomed Claire openly after a few coarse jokes exchanged between the group at her expense and some from her lips as well. Luckily for them but unluckily for the horse, Brimstone actually had need of rest that day. Claire happily mounted Jamie’s horse with his help and he swiftly moved back behind her. She turned in his arms to kiss him and they were practically swallowing each other seconds later, causing Dougal to roll his eyes at the lovesick pair. 

 

It wasn’t a particularly cold day but the wind still bit sharply against skin at random intervals. So, Jamie bundled them up in a spare tartan and Claire snuggled back into his warmth. His hands wandered lower and lower until they finally gripped his target under the safety of the tartan. 

 

“Jamie…” Clair began to admonish.

 

“Aye, Mrs. Fraser. ” A rush of giddiness pierced her heart with warmth at the name. 

 

“It hasn’t escaped my notice that you’re quite fond of my arse at this particular moment.”

 

“Oh, aye, I verra much like to fondle ye Sassenach. And it’s no’ just this moment.” 

 

She wriggled in his grasp, putting pressure on a very sensitive place between his thighs. He stifled a groan by dragging his bottom lip into his teeth. 

 

“Why ye wee besom.” 

 

“Whatever’s the matter Mr. Fraser ?” 

 

“Ye ken fine well what yer doing to me lass.” She wriggled slightly away from his grasp to relieve the pressure. 

 

Claire twisted her neck back towards him. “You know we’re far behind the rest of the group. You can ask me whatever you want now. Well, maybe it will be easier if I tell you what I can think of then you ask your questions during. ” 

 

The men were all loudly partaking in a round of songs that came out more like drunken chants. They were celebrating their near return to Castle Leoch, which would be only a couple days more after one last stop. Jamie nodded into her hair for her to continue. 

 

He pressed a kiss to the top of her head and she continued. “Like I said earlier before ‘Lard Bucket and Big Head’ interrupted us was that at the cottage with your shoulder, well I healed it. And not in the way a normal physician of this time could. There was the beginning of an infection and I removed it. I have an innate nature to help speed the process of healing and kill off unwanted disease, it comes with the territory of a faerie. You know I can detect what’s generally wrong with a person like where it is and what it feels like inside or if there’s infection but not really any specifics. The nursing skills I picked up from the war, the second world war, that is, were a great help to me and I can make a diagnosis and determine whether my abilities are absolutely necessary with them. I don’t normally have enough energy to use my other abilities, it saps a lot of energy. And well, I felt a shift within myself, like when I detect a tumour in someone else’s body only it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t bad and I felt so joyous. I can’t put a word to the feeling, but I know she was alive in there.” Her eyes glossed over as her hand and his pressed against her stomach. “Her presence must have caused my need to heal in overdrive and caused me to feel so sick when my body was preparing to shelter her. I wasn’t raised with knowledge of my true self but my Aunt Elisa helped a fair bit after my Uncle Lamb passed. But this odd thing that I remembered from her during her sixth and final kid was that her hair grew wildly, almost six inches in a week.”

 

“Aye, mo nighean donn, I did notice yer curls changed a wee bit. When I ran my fingers through them there was always more and more, I jes’ thought ye stole some from a wee hedgehog and tied it to yer own.” He ribbed. “Can ye heal yerself then a leannan? Like ye did fer my wee scratches.” 

 

“No.” She ran her hand across the faint line on her wrist. “And I should remind you to keep me far from iron.” 

 

He shifted his dirk and sword away from her body to his back and she smiled at his earnestness. He strangled out, “does iron kill ye?”

 

“It burns and weakens me, but it can make any fatal wound on me if pierced through to the correct spot. It kills me as it can kill any other human. Some faeries even give up their wings to their prospective husbands by slicing through them with an iron sword.” Her body was now curled into his chest, both legs dangling from the right side of the horse. “I refused to when, well, my aunt wished me to marry a man at the top of Craigh na Dun.” 

 

“Marry? And I see ye dinna go through wi’ that as yer here in my arms.” He grinned down at her. 

 

“His name is-was- or will be I guess, Frank Wolverton,” she paused, “Randall.” 

 

His back tensed at the name and so did her body. “The sword he planned to use on me was the same exact one his ancestor threatened me with before your godfather saved me.” 

 

“I’ll have to thank him again, fer the gift of you.” He brushed her hair near her neck over her shoulder. 

 

“And this,” He spat out the name. “Frank. Did ye ken him well?” 

 

“No. I saw him with my uncle a few times, and he seemed to fancy me, but I was still a child then really. I was never going to go through with my aunt’s intentions, but when I saw his face I thought it must have been some cosmic joke played on me. I even cursed him before I touched the stones. ‘Franklin Wolverton Randall, I pray you will forever remain barren.’ And though I know that sort of thing, ‘magick’, doesn’t work, it satisfied me to no end to see his shocked face.”

 

“So ye canna lie, ye magicked me from a wee ‘infection’, and ye have wings to fly away wi’. There are worse things a person can be. I thank the lord in my prayers e’ry night that my wife doesna fart in her sleep.” She playfully shoved his shoulder. 

 

“I can begin doing that now if you’d prefer.” Her finger traced the open skin of his upper chest and neck. “Sorry to disappoint, but I can’t fly. Well, I can hover, float somewhat, like a chicken. Or an emu. How they flap their wings to go nowhere really.” His brows pulled in confusion at the unknown animal. “An emu is giant chicken really. Found in Australia.” She stopped explaining more, knowing it would only bring up more new concepts and places that would probably turn the conversation into an inexhaustible one ending on some random thing like how corndogs are made. “I could try to draw one for you but bear in mind it won’t be pretty. They have wings but rarely use them for flight. I don’t think mine were created with practicality in mind.” 

 

“Yer a chicken-emu then? My wee nesting hen?” He patted her bum in appreciation. 

 

“Have I put you off of me yet?” 

 

“No lass, I think I’ll keep ye for a wee while yet.” He placed his knuckles under her chin to bring up her eyes into his sincere gaze. “You are mine. ‘Til our life shall be done.” 

 

“And you are mine. Forever.” 

 

Speak of life, and forever, and time popped a question into Jamie’s mind. “How old are ye anyway Sassenach? I’d never thought to ask.” 

 

“Well, I’m twenty-seven.” He felt the coyish grin spring up on his chest. 

 

A strangled noise of shock escaped his throat. “No that I’m saying that ye’d be suddenly changed at such age. But I thought ye were only a few years younger than me, no’ any more than my age at most.” 

 

“Faeries don’t measure time so clinically and intensely like humans do. I could live forever, if I wanted or at least as close to it as possible.” Her finger continued its task of placing lazy circles against his skin. “I reached the age most faeries fully mature two years ago. So your estimation was probably correct.” 

 

“Ye say forever? Where will ye go when… weel when I canna be here fer ye mo cridhe?” 

 

“I will age and die with you.” She gave the simple answer, elaborating no further and he didn’t pry anymore about it. Most faeries who had taken up with a human lover had done so, and ended their lives swiftly with iron after their human’s death. 

 

He was very excited in his curiosity. Hours passed of her sharing her life which he gulped up in equal measures of interest, even just small stories of her childhood like when she hid in the catacombs of Paris once much to her uncle’s annoyance. He’d offer some of his own in turn, like the last embarrassing hiding he obtained at his father’s hands. 

 

***



Dougal glanced at Jamie across from him in the tavern. Claire and Jamie were hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder, and rubbing their noses together in a nauseating display of their newlywed status. They shared sips of whisky from Jamie’s cup and quietly laughed with each other. Dougal’s words tonight would not hold their gravity. He swigged a hearty gulp from the bladder, liquid courage for returning to his brother within a few days, and his lover. He slurred his words and stumbled on the floor sticky with drink. When he circled the room back to Jamie, Claire protectively curled her chest against Jamie’s back, which would appear like a lover’s embrace to most, but Dougal and Jamie knew exactly what message she was trying to convey. Jamie relented in her hold, knowing he’d never hear the end of it if he refused her aid in such a manner. Plus, he quite liked the way her lips brushed against his neck and shoulders. Dougal grumbled at the minuscule funds he had collected that night. Claire didn’t know whether to feel pity towards the cause and Dougal’s frustrations, or relief that the funds tonight were slight and that a man of Dougal’s character received no satisfaction. 

 

Jamie left with Murtagh to check on the horses and Claire was left eating the remainder of her haggis and turnips. Dougal returned from his pre-bedtime piss and turned in Claire’s direction. His hot breath wheezed onto Claire’s hair and shoulder and she turned around. No one else was around, the innkeeper had gone outside to check on her goats. 

 

“Oh, Dougal, just the man I wanted to see,” Claire said dryly. 

 

“Ye seem quite… content now wi’ young Jamie.” 

 

“Yes we are quite well, thank you.” She replied shortly. 

 

He leaned closer to her and the words whispered against her cheek hot with the yeasty scent of the alcohol he had drowned down earlier. He gripped her elbow tight. “Ye ken, now that our good lad Jamie has broken ye in, ye needn’t look far to sample other pleasures. Ye’ve done your duties fine well now but there’s more than that rutting stag in this world.” 

 

“I’m Jamie’s wife,” she hissed, “and if I were so inclined to be as unfaithful as you, well you’d be the last man on earth I’d seek.” 

 

Dougal grumbled incoherently and then spoke up. “Weel then, if it’s no on you to be…” he paused in thought, his brain muddled with alcohol, “quite generous to yer host, then perhaps yer husband shall extend such gratitudes in yer place. I have good need o’ that back o’ his.” He patted her back in demonstration and she shrunk away. 

 

“Do not,” she seethed, “touch my husband, especially his back, ever again.” 

 

He lurched towards her and gripped her shoulders in a bruising hold against the table’s edge. His mouth tasted like whisky and weeks of improper hygiene. It took all of Claire’s strength not to vomit on the impact. Her lips stood stiff as she squirmed her body under his unwanted attentions. Her hand rose in retaliation. A slap resounded in the tight walls of the tavern. Dougal raised his hand to his cheek and laughed. 

 

“Ye feisty wee bitch” 

 

He moved closer over her body so he was practically in her lap and continued his advance. Her hands gripped on the almost empty plate of haggis before her and she slammed it against his head. The impact ricocheted through her arm into her body and Dougal fell to the stained floor with a thud. He was snoring no more than a second later. The plate in her hand was cracked through the middle at the top but was no worse for the wear, even with the meeting with the thick skull on the floor below. She sighed before kneeling to the floor and turned his body onto its side. She couldn’t leave him to possibly choke on his own filth in this state of sleep, no matter how much the man had caused her strife. She was a nurse after all, committed to saving lives. Her arms were cold and shaking after she sat back down on the bench. 

 

Jamie walked in minutes later. He kicked the back of his uncle’s knee with his boot. He then glanced towards his wife who slumped against the bench in front of the table. A wooden plate sat before her with a split through its centre and he had an inkling of what occurred. His fingers clenched into fists at his side. 

 

“What happened mo ghràidh?” He knelt before her and turned her away from the table towards him. 

 

“Don’t Jamie, it’s no use causing more trouble.” His fingers enclosed over her small hands that were slightly shaky. 

 

“Sassenach if he touched ye I’ll slit his throat now, uncle or no. Jes’ tell me.” 

 

“He was drunk.” His hands tightened around hers. 

 

“Claire.” 

 

The innkeeper bustled in with a bucket of goat’s milk and eyed the trio. She nodded towards the inert form on the floor. “He’ll be paying fer that spot on the floor if he stays the night.” 

 

“Aye, I suppose he will. Verra generous of ye to offer.” 

 

“If he’s sick on the floor it’ll be more.” 

 

“Of course. Thank ye for taking him in fer the night.”

 

Jamie led Claire outside to their small tent and the men eventually dragged Dougal’s body back to camp. Jamie couldn’t help the pride in his chest at the injuries caused to his person by his wife. He held her sleeping shape close and inhaled the scent of her curls. He hummed his contentment and repeated his promise to always see to her, so her soul would know the words, as well as her mind, did. 

 

The next morning Claire situated herself behind Jamie on Brimstone. Coincidentally Jamie’s horse had a sore leg that day, just as hers had the day before. They were cresting a small hill when the horses slowed their pace. 

 

“Sassenach,” he commanded, “stay behind me and dinna look anywhere save my back.”

 

“But Jamie-”

 

“Do not look.” He hissed out each breath. 

 

But she didn’t need to look to understand the suffering. Agonising cries and groans travelled down the trail to their left. The anguish belonged to a man, hung upon crossed beams of wood, surrounded by his dead. Claire glanced a look at him, she wanted to see if he was strong enough to be saved by her healing. She immediately regretted it as the bile rose in her throat at the sight. She tightened her grip around Jamie’s waist as a wave of fatigue washed over her muscles. 

 

“Please. Please kill me.” His words were weak and died on his tongue. “Kill me.” 

 

“Cut him down,” Dougal commanded. “The rest too. They deserve a proper burial.” 

 

Despite Jamie’s protests, Claire rushed over to check over the survivor. Her heart stopped for moments before it returned to its natural beat at the close sight of the man. His wrists and feet were raw from being bound to the wooden x beside him and there were red welts across his bare skin where the crows must have pecked at. Worst of all, was the giant gash ripped across his chest forming the letter t. The symbol was etched into the skin with such carelessness that some parts had been run through, again and again, to create the straight lines in his chest through tough skin and muscle. The knife must have dulled through the process of marking all of them. Breaths rattled from his weak lungs and his eyes were glazed over. His heart strained under what little weight his emaciated body held. 

 

“I-I’m sorry.” Claire looked up to Dougal for a fleeting second then trained her eyes on her husband. “There’s nothing I can do.” 

 

“Save him ye useless Sassenach bitch!” Dougal was enraged and past his point of patience with the English. 

 

“Ye’ll no speak to my wife that way.” Jamie spat into his face.

 

He shoved Dougal away and tugged Claire from the grass to shelter behind his back. Jamie was beyond rage at that point. The words of his uncle’s before from his wife’s lips and his current threatening air made his blood run hot. Before he could draw his broadsword up to his uncle’s neck, Murtagh placed a firm hand over the hilt. He kept a good grip on his shoulders and Angus and Rupert crammed between uncle and nephew to ease the tensions. Godfather whispered Gàidhlig into his godson’s ear and he reluctantly released his grip on his sword, body still tensed in defence. 

 

“We’re going to find those bastards and we will damn them to hell,” Angus spoke with conviction and his knuckles whitened with the harsh grip on his dirk. 

 

A chorus of agreement and vitriol spat at the redcoats resounded around the group. Tears of anger rolled down Angus’ cheek and he squatted before the dying man. He pulled out his dirk before whispering a mixture of Latin and Gàidhlig over its blade and its victim below. With a kiss to its hilt, he drew the sharp edge quickly across his throat and over his carotid. A welt of red blossomed across the man’s neck and trickled down to his chest, the drops racing down the skin. The man gasped one last gurgle of blood until he slumped to the soft grass of the hill. 

 

The men quickly took up their task of gravedigging. Claire helped collect rocks from the surrounding area to form small cairns on the mounds of brown. Willie acted as priest for the ceremony, the only one to remember the catechisms Father Bain taught. Claire held Jamie close to her and the pallor of her face reflected the grim circumstance. She stumbled over a few of the prayers, both her ignorance of one of the languages and the other her rusty practice of the catholic faith. As Willie placed his final remarks and the men all crossed themselves, Claire rushed to a gorse bush and was sick. She felt Jamie’s presence behind her and he began rubbing her back to calm the waves within her stomach. She took his proffered hand and plodded back to the funeral. 

 

Dougal had fuel for his tirade that night. The occupants of the tavern generously opened their pockets to him in support of their idealised prince. He was much happier that night, though no less violent and angry. It was an odd sight to see the war rage within the man. But when the door snapped open to a spill of laughter, all traces of gaiety vanished from Dougal’s face and the varying faces of the tavern. The two men had mistakenly donned their red coats in their drunken state. The blonde man spluttered a laugh to his companion’s jest and they plopped their bodies down on a table to await service. Dougal, Angus, Rupert, and the rest of the men rose, even Ned Gowan with his small pistol. The patrons took their cue to leave and anxiety gripped the newcomers as the atmosphere changed to one of fury. Jamie gripped Claire tightly to him and led her out of the building to a small clearing outside amongst heather and tall grasses. 

 

It was only two men, none too many to raise battalions against the MacKenzies. Claire knew the truth of what one life meant in war, nothing, but they were quickly approaching one with their actions every day. She couldn’t be sure they were the bastards who had hung up the men and mutilated their bodies on the hill, but someone had to answer for those actions. Her mind screamed in compassion towards the human lives, the sanctity of life, but her soul’s scream reached a much higher volume in vengeance for the inhabitants of the Highlands and drowned out any other thought. For a fleeting second, her hands twitched in want to finish the task herself.    

 

The next morning, the redcoats sat beneath the shade of a tree, cradling their heads in their laps.

Chapter Text

The rent party spent the last two days towards Leoch in silence. Humour was sapped from their usual affable nature. Jamie returned back to his horse and Claire to hers. They couldn’t put the strain of carrying two people on one horse’s back for too long. The only time Claire spoke was to inquire about Ned’s sniffle and cough. She supplied him with thornapple in a pipe to soothe his lungs, and the only other interruption to the quietude besides the horses tail flicks and snorts was his perfunctory thanks. When the path widened, Jamie would move from behind Claire to grab her hand or to squeeze her thigh and whisper to discern if she was alright. 

 

Only when the slight hill and towering stones came into sight, did the men’s spirits raise slightly. They complained about their grumbling bellies and sighed in relief at the sight of Mrs. Fitz’ to welcome them back. This time, the matron pulled Claire into a hearty hug as well before pinching Jamie’s cheeks. It was a hard feat with his height, but still, she managed to tug him down and gather the skin between her fingers. Mrs. Fitz sent the men up to their old rooms and scrambled away to the kitchens to prepare them a meal. She returned to the courtyard, frazzled from the excitement of their arrival, confusion evident at the pair still standing there. 

 

Mrs. Fitz checked over Claire again more thoroughly. Her eyes scanned the sight of her with suspicion. She took in the glow of the young woman, the cheeks of her face were more rounded than the last time she saw her, but there was also a pallor of fatigue clinging to her skin. 

 

“Whatever’s wrong wi’ ye dear?” 

 

“She’s marrit to me, I’m afraid.” He joked. 

 

“Oh, puir lass indeed.” She smiled warmly. “Ye two can wait in the kitchens fer now. Ye’ll be wanting a different chamber then dears. I’ll have the ladies fix one right up.” 

 

***

Jamie left for a few hours to tend to the horses in the stables. He saw Claire to their room and a proper meal before kissing her goodbye and sternly suggested she get some rest. She wanted to argue against it but was sick in the chamberpot a few seconds later, the effect of days and days on the road, fatigue, and her first filling meal in weeks. He gave her a look as if to say ‘I told you so’ and then was off. 

 

When he returned after a very eventful day, it was far past sunset and his wife was curled up on their bed. Her chest rose and fell in even slow breaths. He pushed back a few curls to see her face fully and his heart swelled at the sight. Her breath hitched a few times in his presence and her body stirred.

 

“Claire?” 

 

“Mhmm.” She rolled over to face him.

 

“Did ye get enough rest mo ghràidh?”

 

“As well as I could manage. It would be a lot better if you were here.” She beckoned him to the warmth of the sheets. 

 

He undressed and folded his kilt and shirt neatly in a pile on one of the chairs by the fire. Jamie bounded over to the bed until a sharp pain stopped him short. A hiss left his lips and he looked down to the floor. Sticks, thorns, and a scrap of fabric jumbled together into the shape of a doll. He lifted it from under the bed to show Claire. 

 

“What is it, Jamie?”

 

“An ill-wish. It’s meant to bring harm and evil.”

 

“Who on earth would leave this?” He shifted the object to her hands and she cradled it gently to avoid any pricks. 

 

“Laoghaire.” He spat. “She was in the hall when she approached me. She seemed in a verra poor state at the announcement o’ our marriage. Her grandmother once told me how she always saw her granddaughter smitten in my presence.” He laughed. 

 

“Isn’t she your cousin? Her last name is MacKenzie after all.” 

 

“Verra distant relation. Why Dougal’s daughters are how I ken how to kiss after all.” Her eyes widened and she pulled her lips inside her mouth as it curved slightly. “Do ye mean to say cousins arena normally smitten in yer time?”

 

“It is highly discouraged. Would you like me to list all of the many, many reasons why it’s a terrible idea?” She giggled. 

 

“As much as I love yer lovely voice Sassenach, I dinna think I’m up for one of yer physicking tales. I’d rather yer mouth be preoccupied by something else.” A wolfish grin lighted his face. He leant in for a kiss but she swatted him away, almost dropping ill-wish in her hands. 

 

“Of course you would.” Her smile was infectious. “Besides your idiotic stunt when you took her punishment, what else did you do to goad the dense girl?” 

 

“She thinks I was her first kiss. Though I had no’ much say in the matter, when she jumped on me as flighty as a fledgling and ran away squealing to her friends. A bunch of snot-nosed bairns at the time that I didn’t much care for at six and ten. Too taken up by my own grand self.” He crawled into the bed.  

 

“I’d hardly say grand.” She rolled her eyes with a grin. “But the girl seems very infatuated with you. Did you let her down easily?”

 

“Aye.” He pressed against her and she softened into his kiss this time.  

 

“Well, we should burn this then. I know there’s no real evil behind it, besides the intent of the girl, but it makes my blood run cold at the sight.” 

 

Without speaking, he took the carefully crafted bundle and pitched it into the fire across the room. He was glad it hit its target because he didn’t wish to shift from his position under Claire to pick it up again. They watched satisfied as it joined the logs and quickly burned alongside them. 

 

“She’s naught but a bairn Sassenach. She’ll move o’er to some other unfortunate lad soon enough.” He promised and kissed the crown of her head. 

 

She turned and cuddled into his chest. His chin rested over the top of her head and he wrapped his arms around her bare stomach. He took her right hand in his and tightened his fist around the silver in his left hand. He kissed her shoulder softly and opened her hand, dropping the small circle into it. She turned in his arms to face him and her lip trembled. The weight of the silver in her hand pulled her mouth into an almost painful smile. 

 

“Will ye wear this lass? I ken it’s no’ much in the way o’ jewels, but I went to the silversmith straight away when we arrived. I want you to wear it, and when ye see it on yer wee hand ye’ll be reminded of me. Always.” 

 

“Oh, Jamie.” Tears pricked at the corner of her eyes as she stroked the small stubble of his cheek. “Of course I will.” She kissed him and tears fell down from her glossy eyes to his face. 

 

The silver was fashioned from an intricate design of tiny thistle blooms and a linked pattern of the Highland interlace. In one spot, there was a tiny pair of leaves off of the thistle that were formed into the shape of two swallowtail wings. Something was etched into the inside of the ring. 

 

“What does it say?” The words were out but she didn’t expect him to answer. She wanted to see for herself. “Da mi basia mille.” She looked over to the corner of the room where her clothes lay and within the pile were her embroidered pockets. The yellow amber sat safely within and she smiled at the memory. 

 

“Dein mille altera.” He finished. 

 

She looked into his sincere eyes, also glossed over with tears. She choked out. “You better start soon Fraser, that’s a lot to get through.” 

 

“And I’ll happily oblige ye.” He murmured into her lips and slipped the ring onto her slender finger. 

 

His eyes caught sight of the raised edges of a paper on the table near them. He squinted his eyes in the candlelight and strained to see the drawing. Some smudged charcoal covered the canvas that looked like random blobs of black. 

 

“Oh God, Jamie put that down!”

 

She tumbled over his legs to reach towards the image in his hands. He held it up in the air and flapped the thin material, taunting her. She gave up and stared at him with her arms crossed. 

 

“Yer a verra braw artist Sassenach.” His tone dripped in sarcasm. 

 

“You agreed we would never lie to each other, James Fraser. ” Her eyes narrowed.

 

“What is it meant to be?”

 

“An emu. I told you I’d try to explain what it is.”

 

“Oh aye, there he is.” He squinted at the page to search for any discernible form but didn’t find any. “Yer wee chicken.” 

 

“It isn’t finished. This one is just… a rough sketch. Good things take time, you know. There’s an artist in my time, Picasso, a painter of abstract art. Maybe I was using him for inspiration. You know it takes a very creative soul to make something like that.” She pointed to the creature on the page. 

 

“It’s verra lovely, I’ll treasure it always Sassenach.” He smirked and slowly nudged the piece away out of sight. 

 

His eyes glazed dramatically down at the page, then to Claire, and finally to the tendrils of fire across from them. She laughed at him and brought her head up to rest in the crook of his neck. He bent down and kissed the expanse of her skin. She counted along with him, but soon the task at hand was far too important than ensuring the correct number. The next morning, he gently folded the paper into fourths to fit in his sporran and closed it inside.  

 

***

 

After Claire rummaged through her stocks at Leoch, where everything had collected a fine layer of dust, she determined she was in need of a new supply. Geillis was unable to come, offering her apologies and information on her state of sickness through a letter. Mrs. Fitz had to travel to Inverness as well anyway for new fabrics and herbs for spice. It gave her an excuse to ‘stretch her old bones’. Jamie immediately offered to escort them, and Murtagh wasn’t too far behind. 

 

Mrs. Fitz was a force of nature with the merchants. She honeyed her words to some and sternly admonished, nearly at the volume of a yell, to the unruly ones who pitched the prices to an unreasonable amount. They profusely apologised and shamefully tucked in their tails at the presence of the commanding woman. Claire smiled and excused herself, with Jamie following. She wanted to pop into the small apothecary they had here, to find the medicines and herbs that weren’t readily available in Geillis’ home or the woods and gardens of Leoch. 

 

They spotted a lone redcoat purchasing some dried meat on the main road. His curls peaked out of his tricorn down in a ponytail. The lanky boy of fifteen cheerily thanked the merchant and went on to a table of apples. Jamie tightened his grip on Claire’s waist at the sight of scarlet and began leading her to an alley. She stopped suddenly and pressed her hand on his chest.

 

“Wait Jamie, that’s my father.” 

 

“Your… father?” The shock and confusion were evident on his face. 

 

“I met him, by a stream, before I was taken to Fort William. He’s a great deal younger than what I remembered him to be, but still, I recognised him.” 

 

“Why’d ye no tell me, lass?”

 

“I’m sorry, there has been a lot going on, I didn’t even know what it meant myself.”

 

“Still. If there’s one redcoat, there’s bound to be more. They fester like cockroaches in swarms. We should head back to Leoch now.” 

 

“We need to go to the stones first.” 

 

More redcoats joined Henry to purchase some goods. Jamie ducked further into the alley and pressed his back into the wall. He carefully peered back at the group of soldiers.

 

“Are you mad lass?”

 

“I have to do this. I don’t know how, but I know deep in my bones that this is the day he is meant to leave.” 

 

“We’re leaving. You expect me to let you loose with all these bastards sniffing around?” 

 

“He would never hurt me. I’m his daughter.”

 

“Aye lass but he doesn’t ken that. Neither do any of his ‘friends’.”

 

“I trust him, Jamie, and he can’t do much harm alone.” 

 

“Still, take this wi’ ye.” He pressed the small sgian dubh through her skirts and into the pocket full of coin. “But be careful yer wee fingers dinna touch the blade. And I’m going to keep an eye on ye, from a distance o’ course.” 

 

“You could come with us.”

 

“This place is crawling wi’ redcoats, and yer father is one o’ them. I would be dragged to the gallows if one of them even got a glimpse.”

 

“You can start your way back to Leoch, Murtagh will be here.” 

 

“I’ll no’ leave you Claire, ever. I’ll always keep ye in sight. I can’t promise to keep me in yer sight now though, or they’d see me as well.” 

 

“Thank you, Jamie.” He kissed her forehead and reluctantly let go of her hand so she could walk headfirst into danger. 

 

The streets had some buyers dotted around the tables. She swerved through the various clientele and meandered unassumingly through the cobblestone path. She pretended to be scavenging through her basket of herbs and clumsily ran into the lanky boy by the bread. 

 

“Oh Corporal Beauchamp! I am so sorry.” 

 

“Oh, hello Mistress…”

 

“MacTavish.” She supplied. “Or I was Morriston .” 

 

He bent to kiss her hand. “It is very fine seeing you again, Mistress MacTavish. I hear congratulations are in order.” He looked down at her right hand where the silver ring resided. 

 

“Thank you. Well, I am glad to have made your acquaintance once again sir.” 

 

“I- I'm very sorry for what transpired at Fort William. I was a coward, clearly, you meant no harm to anyone.”

 

“Thank you, Corporal, but I’m afraid even if you had intervened, it wouldn’t have changed things, only made it harder on two people instead of one. That Randall is a brute and would have done anything, immoral or not, to get what he desired.” 

 

“Were you harmed, ma’am? I don’t think I could ever forgive myself if that were the case.” 

 

“No, luckily Randall had it in his mind to release me soon after. It was all a very avoidable misunderstanding. I thank you for your kindness. What are you doing up in Inverness Corporal?” 

 

“I am to journey north further into the Highlands after my regiment is all accounted for in Inverness. I never forgot you know. Your interesting words about these standing stones. Something about your words rang a truth inside my soul. I was going to venture there myself before we move out in a fortnight. It all seemed too interesting to miss.” 

 

“Well what a brilliant idea, Corporal Beauchamp, if you would kindly escort me there, then we both can see this curiosity. My husband has been detained by a persistent Mrs. Fitz searching for bulks of cloth for the residents of Leoch. I would have wished to have visited Craigh na Dun if he were here, but nonetheless, I won’t let his absence deter me. You simply must come along with me sir.” She hooked her arm into the crook of his elbow. It was awkward, his body had not yet reached its last growth and the top of his head barely met her chin.

 

He opened his mouth to reject the plan but shut it. The persistence of the woman was very persuasive. What harm could come from a short hike?

 

Her mind was plagued with racing thoughts as she led him out of the small streets of Inverness. Would she cease to exist if their trip to the stones failed? Or worse would it suck her back through without her intent? But this felt right. Her limbs knew the direction to carry themselves and her mouth knew how to form itself into the words that her brain could not. Like the horses that wobbled on their knobbly knees hours after their birth without instruction. She needed no outside push to know what she was doing was the right order of things.

 

“Have you ever heard tale of the Faerie Kingdom, Corporal?”

 

“No ma’am, I can’t say that I have.” 

 

“Well, it’s a truly wonderful story. My father would tell me it before bed, and then my uncle took his place.”

 

“I’m sorry, did your father die, ma’am?”

 

“Yes, when I was only five, along with my mother. But he’s very much alive, in my heart.” She looked at the living, breathing man before her. 

 

Should she save him, and risk him never meeting her mother? Would she cease to exist from a small act such as never letting him hear the call of the stones in the first place? Back at Fort William, she only gave vague whisperings about the stones, but here she was guiding him directly to him. To his death. But she couldn’t just not exist. She looked down at her stomach and protectively curved a hand over it. She would do anything for her. 

 

Her voice strained as she began the story. “Once, there was a brave valiant knight, who stumbled upon his own Faerie Queen in the forest. Her home was within the stones, and it would be his as well. They called to him, and the bees buzzed excitedly at the return of their master…” 



She continued spinning the tale, word for word as it was told to her. They were at the bottom of the hill now as she was finishing up the ending. He trudged up the grass and held her up as her stamina waned. 

 

“They had their own very brave princess. She was the best parts of both of them. The golden-hued eyes of the faeries and the mess of curls from the knight. She was their own little treasure and the knight protected her valiantly. The knight would never regret leaving his old home, for, with his queen and princess, that’s where his true home was.” She left out the abridged part from her uncle. ‘And when the knight and queen couldn’t be with their little princess anymore, the knight of the Kingdom of Antiquity took their place to raise the smart beautiful young girl.’ 

 

They were near the outer edge of the stones now and Claire could feel the hum in her veins. She panicked and her arms flung around his shoulders. His body stiffened at the unexpected attention and he kept his arms awkwardly up in the air, careful not to touch anywhere I gentleman shouldn’t. Her face pressed into his shoulder and he cleared his throat at the closeness. As a gentleman, he would never let such impropriety occur. 

 

“I’m sorry, I just.” She wiped away the tears and he nodded his understanding. 

 

“Do you hear that?” He asked. 

 

“Hear what?” 

 

“The buzzing. It’s so strange.” 

 

The wind rose around them and snapped at the fragile stems of grass and flowers at the foot of the centre cleft of the stone. His body subconsciously inched its way to the middle, step by step. 

 

“It’s almost like something split this stone here. Could you imagine what could create such a thing?” He turned his neck to look back at her and offered a friendly smile.

 

“No idea. It could have been anything. An angry race of giants roaming the Highlands. My uncle told me all about them.” She briefly considered screaming at him to stay far away from the stone. 

 

“Well I’ve seen some giants here myself, but we call them Scots.” She laughed. “This is remarkable, truly. Thank you for making me privy to such a wonder.” He circled the middle stone and looked at the grass around it. “You know, It’s rather silly but I’ve always been interested in this sort of thing in my studies. I wanted to be a professor but I was needed here.”

 

His hand reached for the rough surface of stone. 

 

“Goodbye, daddy.” She sniffled. 

 

He was gone. 

 

Her body crumpled to the ground and sobs shook her body. To have him there and for him to just completely vanish. She couldn’t comprehend it. That was the last she would see of him, well the last her current self would. Minutes later, a large presence curled itself around her. He gathered her into his chest and the scent of him calmed her. His hand drew comforting circles on her back and he whispered softly in her ear. His breath tickled it and the tip twitched slightly. They stayed like that for a while, though Claire had no sense of time. He shifted her slightly when his legs began to numb under her weight. 

 

“Am I a terrible person? He’ll die and I just..” She gulped in a breath. 

 

“If ye are then I am too. For wanting ye to be wi’ me always. If his travel brings you to life, I’d send him through forever.” His knuckles grazed her face. “Let’s go home mo cridhe.”

Chapter Text

Jamie waited impatiently for his wife at the stables. It was near midday and he was in need of her healing touch. His face visibly brightened when he saw the mess of brown curls traipsing through the grass near the paddock. He pulled her in for a hungry kiss and then hissed when her hand brushed over his. Claire stepped away from her husband and assessed the damage, a slightly crooked pointer finger. She glared at him for his carelessness. 

 

“Dinna fash tis just a wee bit out o’ joint.”

 

“I can see that.” She took his hand into hers none too gently and a ‘pop’ resounded as the finger was put back into place. “You know you don’t have to fabricate some injury as occasion to see your wife.”

 

“It’s lovely to see ye too Sassenach. Ye look bonny.” He cupped her cheek with his uninjured hand and brushed over the smooth skin with his thumb. 

 

“And you look like a bird’s nest.” Her fingers sorted through the mud, sticks, and leaves tangled in his hair.

 

“I suppose ye’d like to roost on me then?” A boyish grin flashed across his face; he was clearly proud of his joke. 

 

“That was terrible.” She rolled her eyes but couldn’t stop the small tug of her lips. 

 

“As long as my terrible jokes make that bonny smile light up on yer face I’ll be making them til’ I’m an auld coot.” 

 

It had been a week since Claire had sent her father through the stones. She was mostly solemn and stern towards her patients and the residents who sat nearby the wedded pair at meals in the hall. She stopped crying after that first night in Jamie’s arms, and became numb to it. The sadness disappeared and transformed into the monster of guilt. She felt terrible that while she had a future of happiness and many years to come with Jamie, she had cut short her father’s to probably no more than ten years before disaster struck. Some days she felt happy and secure in her husband’s arms and her heart swelled with an almost painful love when he would caress her belly at night. She was relieved her father’s travel had occurred earlier on, so that she wouldn’t be tormented with what ifs. And then she would feel guilty for being relieved that it was all done and over with. Guilty for not being more distraught over her father. Jamie was glad to see the spark of humour return to her eyes. Claire loved him all the more for being so patient while she muddled over her conflicting thoughts. 

 

“And who is this handsome lad?” She brushed the snout of the black steed who had occupied Jamie’s attention before she arrived. 

 

“Donas.” Jamie gathered the straw in his hands to flick at the horse’s flank. “Dinna tell me ye prefer his company to mine. He’s the devil who did this to me.” He lifted his hand and frowned in mock pity for himself. 

 

She smiled at Jamie before returning her gaze to the horse. “Oh you poor thing, poor Donas. Do you want some carrots? I’ll have some bought just for you.”

 

“Dinna coddle the creature, Sassenach. He’s grown soft now and yer attentions will only make him more of a daft numpty.” 

 

She ignored his comments. “Yes, I know that brute of a Scot wants so much from you. You really do deserve a break hauling that big clot-heid around.”

 

“Oh he’s the one suffering? He threw me clear across the paddock before I calmed him.” 

 

“Oh really? And what were you doing that caused him to do such a thing?”

 

“Well Donas is like the devil himself, hence the name, and he willna let a soul ride him. But I’ve been persuading him to trust me.”

 

“It doesn’t seem like your persuasions are successful.” 

 

“Och, give it time Sassenach. He’ll love me in no time. Ye ken Brimstone and him are something of a pair themselves

 

“Well I’m going down to visit the fiscal’s wife. Perhaps I’d take this devil off your hands.” She pretended to grab the reins from his fingers.

 

“No way Sassenach. And ye’ll be taking Murtagh wi’ ye. Or Willie even.” 

 

Donas protested his master’s commands and nuzzled his snout into Claire’s shoulder with a snort. He eyed her with appreciation and almost instantly warmed up to the faerie’s presence. 

 

“Well Donas seems like a respectable enough horse to escort me.” 

 

“Sassenach. No. I dinna want ye to get hurt. Take Brimstone and Murtagh.” His tone shifted from playful to serious in an instant and she nodded in agreement. 

 

Jamie put Donas away into his stall and led Brimstone out of hers. He tugged the saddle and equipment needed to ride the horse out of a shelf and readied the mare for his wife’s short departure. He prepared another horse for his godfather and left Brimstone’s reins in Claire’s hand. Murtagh was soon in the doorway of the stables after Tammas Baxter ran like the wind to send word to him. Jamie placed a chaste kiss onto Claire’s lips before hoisting her up into the saddle and wishing her farewell. 

 

Claire spent the day conversing with Geillis over different methods and theories of medicines and herbs, while she took stock of all that Geillis had stored in her house. Arthur was unable to receive her properly and wasted away his day in bed. They stopped once to check on him and to give him medicine for his despair. The sheets around him were soaked in his sweat and he muttered incoherently to the ceiling. The foul stench of the room messed with Claire’s sensitive nose and she fought the urge to vomit in front of her friend. 

 

“Puir soul. I dinna think he’ll last much longer.” Something in Geillis’ tone made her blood run cold. 

 

“Excuse me.” Claire held the back of her hand to her mouth and rushed outside to be sick.

 

Geillis was right behind her and patted her back. “Oh, I ken how that can be. Puir lass.”

 

Claire finally took in the features of her friend. Her face was rounded slightly with a sort of radiance glowing off of her skin. Her stomach was hidden under the layers of skirts, but she had a feeling if she looked closely enough she could spot a small rise where the fabrics pleated. 

 

“Congratulations Geilie. Though I’m sorry your baby’s father doesn’t seem long for this world.”

 

“Oh Arthur? I havena lain wi’ that bastard in years, though I’ve convinced him it happened on a drunken night. The bairn doesna seem to be motivation enough for him to live. A tragedy, truly.”

 

Claire blanched. All of Arthur’s symptoms aligned with those of gradual attempts at poisoning. Her eyes scanned the table full of potions and herbs before her and landed on the culprit. Was she an accomplice now? And why was Geillis being so transparent with her? She certainly couldn’t tell anyone of what had transpired, save her husband. 

 

“Who’s the father then?”

 

“Dougal MacKenzie.” 

 

“Dougal?!” Claire nearly shouted in shock.

 

“Aye, and we will be marrit soon. Our son willna be a bastard.”

 

“But isn’t he already married? He said in no uncertain terms that he would have married me if he wasn’t already.” 

 

“Mhmph.” The high pitched noise was the only confirmation. The comment on his lascivious nature didn’t seem to phase Geillis. 

 

“Oh god.” 

 

“I trust ye’ll keep what I’ve said close to ye. It wouldna do any good for ye to go blethering as well, else what would anyone think o’ all yer visits here?” 

 

“Of course.” Claire was still stupefied by the revelation. 

 

“Here, my friend, it’s past dark and ye should return to the castle now.” She grabbed the basket of vials and plants off of the table and placed it into Claire’s hands with a peck on the cheek.

 

“Thank you. And once again, my condolences for your husband.” 

 

“We must do this again Claire. It’s been quite some time since I’ve had company of the female persuasion.” 

 

“Yes.” Claire stared blankly before her and descended the stairs to the cool breeze of the town square. 

 

Her head swiveled in search of Murtagh, but she found no trace. Brimstone was alone by the fence she was tied to and his horse was nowhere in sight. The moon and stars shone brightly with a dark blue haze down on her and she untied the reins from the post. It was still summer and nearing the end of August, but her breath still caught in billowy crystals in the air. She tightened her cloak close around her body and shivered slightly. With Brimstone’s saddle and bridle already secured, she placed her foot into the stirrup and pulled her body up onto the mare’s strong back. 

 

Brimstone trotted slowly through the narrow path in the forest. The horse and rider were nearing the stream near Leoch from the tell tale gurgles of water, when Claire heard a wail from inside the woods. The horse’s ears flicked back in recognition as well and she stomped her hind leg impatiently. Claire veered her horse off the path into the direction of the distressing sounds and swiftly jumped off the horse. The impact jolted her ankles but she walked it off. She hurried up the hill and the cries became louder. 

 

A tall tree stood before her, with a giant hollow near its trunk. Inside the hole, layed a small bundle of a crocheted blanket. The wails had turned into pitiful whimpers by the time Claire had reached the baby. She took the poor thing into the crook of her arms and felt the rattling breath stutter through its lungs. Her tears clung painfully to her face as the cold slowly froze them. The baby could live, with her help, though it would take a herculean effort to do so. Without it, he would most certainly die. Determined to keep him in the land of the living longer, she frantically searched his body for injury besides the battered lungs. The last of his breaths were slowly slipping out of his mouth. Her hand pressed over the small beat of his heart, and with a resolute nature, she placed her mouth over the almost lifeless body and breathed life into it. Her hands surged with warmth. She felt his lungs slowly expand and the damaged alveoli and epithelial cells healed one by one. As she traced the healthy cells from his trachea, down to the separate lobes of his lungs, her own energy waned while his gained. A full, diaphragm breath filled his body and his cries returned. She slumped against the tree in relief. Her hands slipped the baby underneath her cloak and placed him near the warmth of her skin. She didn’t realise she had nodded off with the baby contentedly snuggled to her chest until she felt a hand roughly shake her shoulder. 

 

“Christ lass yer shivering.”

 

“It’s so cold Jamie.” 

 

He wrapped his arms tighter around her waist. A head of blond hair peaked from the bundle she was holding. 

 

“C’mon, mo cridhe. We must get ye both to some warmth. Can ye get up.” Jamie felt the hot tears stain his shirt.

 

The voice was weak. “Please Jamie.” 

 

“What do ye need mo nighean?”

 

“Hold me.” She whimpered. 

 

Her hands tucked into the fabric dangling open on his chest and gripped feebly. Her hands shook. The blood inside of them had flown away, like the crows perched on the trees above and weighing them down with their considerable mass, wisping away what command she had over her own anatomy. 

 

“I had to Jamie. He was dying. Forgive me. I had to.” She mumbled incoherently before slumping in Jamie’s arms.

 

“Forgive ye fer what lass?”

 

The child wailed into his right shoulder. He reached a hand towards her clammy forehead and frantically rubbed her back.

 

“Claire, lass. Wake up, please mo nighean donn.” He kissed her curls and held both of them tight to his chest, sheltering their bodies from the cold. 

 

He steadied himself to carry them both back to his horse. It would be difficult to maneuver them both up onto Brimstone’s back, but he would move heaven and hell itself for the woman in his arms, a little thing like carrying her up onto the horse and keeping her steady with his strength seemed an inconsequential task to him. 

 

He gently moved the blanket up around her and hovered where their child lay. His hand trembled and he sent a silent prayer for his bairn, that his wife would have the strength to survive this ordeal. He brushed some stray curls away from her ear. She whimpered at his touch and his heart nearly shattered then.

 

“Oh, mo nigheann donn. Rest your head, I’ve you.” 

 

The night passed in a somber silence and Jamie watched over his wife closely, his only relief the comforting rise and fall of her chest. His eyes were red and burned from the lack of sleep but he didn’t dare even have a wink of sleep. One hand was always on her beating heart, and the other was always where their child lay safe within her. His eyes pricked with tears as his mind drifted to how lifeless his wife felt in his arms at that hill, but he shook his head; he would not entertain those thoughts. 

 

“Mo ghràidh, wake up. Ye canna lay in bed all day or the whole castle will be banging on the door for yer healing hands, though I’d let ye if ye wanted.” Claire laid stiff on the bed. 

 

“Claire?” He shook her with a mad fervor. He sat back against the headboard and gathered her in his arms. His lips peppered her face with gentle kisses and he rubbed his warm hands along her arms. Panic seized his heart and he wanted more than anything to be able to physically fight the weakness in her body himself. A duel he could do gladly for her, but he couldn’t save her from herself. Her body stirred and he exhaled a breath of relief, slumping back near her on the bed. 

 

“Jamie?” She croaked. 

 

“Oh thank Christ. Ye scared me, Sassenach. I thought ye were gone to me forever.” 

 

“I-I’m sorry.” 

 

“Is it the bairn? Is she alright?” Jamie placed his hand gently on the very slight bump that was beginning to show. Claire always said it just looked like she was constantly bloated though.  

 

“The baby’s okay. I-how long was I like that?” 

 

“Christ lass, long enough for me to go mad wi’ worry.”

 

“Jamie, I want you with me always. Please. Stay with me today.” Her grip was weak on his arm. 

 

She felt like a slug. That’s the only comparison her muddled brain could conjure. A useless pulp of blood and bone.

 

“Where is he?” 

 

“He’s wi’ Mrs. Fitz right now, dinna fash, mo ghràidh. We’ll see him safe.” He paused. “Something so wee made yer healing drain ye so?”

 

“Yes.” She didn’t have the energy to reply with more, so she just snuggled into his chest. 

 

“I want ye to stop yer work down in the surgery.”

 

“What?!” Those words gave her the energy to spring up and meet his gaze.

 

“Ye might be tempted again to do something like that. I do not want to ever see ye like that again.” 

 

“But Jamie-”

 

“No Claire.”

 

“What if when I do work in the surgery you come down with me? I’m sure you’d be able to stop any ‘temptation’ as you see fit.”

 

“Claire.”

 

“And what happened with that poor baby was a rare occurrence. Yes it drains me to heal sometimes but not at that level. I brought him back from the brink of death, that's very different.” 

 

“Ye can work for one month more, wi’ either Murtagh and me watching ye. But then, I don’t want ye to step foot there again.” 

 

“And your job at the stables?”

 

“Not as important as being yer husband. I’m sure my uncles will take pity on their poor nephew.” 

 

“Where’s the baby?” She was becoming delirious with fatigue, making her forget his previous statement regarding the boy. “I need to see him!” She panicked but her words came out as no more than a whisper, and her feeble attempts to crawl out of the bed only had her floundering on the sheets like a fish out of water. 

 

Jamie pulled her further into his chest and brushed through her hair with a soothing hand. “Shh. It’s alright mo cridhe. Rest now. When Mrs. Fitz comes ‘round again I’ll ask for him.” 

 

She calmed at his touch and settled into the curves of his body. Her breath evened out and she was asleep once again, tired just from that small interaction. Mrs. Fitz knocked on the door soon after and brought in a tray of stew and bread for them to eat once she woke again. Jamie asked about the child found on the hill and she hastened to find the maid who was nursing him with spare goat’s milk and flour. The wetnurse was away. Laoghaire grumbled when Mrs. Fitz took the babe from her hands, instead of allowing her to bring him up and see Jamie once more. She had been thinking of what a child of her and Jamie’s makeup would look like. Maybe he’d have blonde hair like hers, like the child she was holding. Mrs. Fitz brought the child, and the bottle in tow, along with the skein of strings made from wool and some knitting needles to their room. Jamie sat up against the headboard of the bed and tugged a sleeping Claire to his side. He brought up the needles and began his task, casting on the first stitch. 

 

Claire occasionally woke to drink, eat, and use the chamberpot. She was embarrassed when she had to rely on Jamie’s strength to even go to the bathroom. It had been three days that Claire stayed in this state and Jamie never left her side. He took out his frustrations on the small creature his hands were creating out of the yarn. The baby was never alone, he would be in either Claire's arms, or Jamie's, the wooden bassinet, or Mrs. Fitz's hands when she brought up her formula of goat's milk and flour. Jamie never left either of their sides, and the baby never left their room. He looked terrible, to say the least. When he did sleep it was fitful, and he woke up in fear that his wife had faded from him and he would squeeze her unconscious body closer to him, though that was practically impossible with how close their skin was flushed together already. Slowly, the colour of her cheeks began to return and she could stand steadily without shaking. She rose for more sustainable bouts of wakefulness and ate the entirety of her food. 

 

She was cheerful on the third day of their self-imposed vacation from the world, when loud knocks bounded off the wooden door to their room. Rushed Gàidhlig flew through the cracks in the varnished pine. Jamie was holding the baby and she nearly burst into tears at the sight. He became annoyed when the banging never ceased and slipped the infant into his wife’s arms. Jamie opened the door with such force it was a surprise that it didn’t fling off the hinges. 

 

He opened the door to see one of Colum’s servants determined to follow through on his orders. His eyes widened in fear at the tall man before him before he composed himself. Jamie smiled at his unease. 

 

“What do ye need?” 

 

“Himself requests yer presence. And Mrs. Fraser as well.” 

 

“Tell him Mrs. Fraser is unwell, and we’ll no be seeing him for some time.” 

 

“He requests it immediately, sir.” 

 

“Tell him Mrs. Fraser is unwell, and we’ll no be seeing him for some time.” His voice deepened, balancing on the edge of threat towards the short boy before him. 

 

“Verra well.” He rushed away from the door, flustered. 

 

Jamie resumed his seat on the bed next to Claire and put away the finished knit creature under the bed out of the line of sight of his wife’s prying eyes. Not even five minutes later, a fist banged against the door again, this time belonging to a stronger and larger hand. The door almost shook with the force and Murtagh called out for the door to be opened. Claire woke and began to shift off the bed but Jamie stopped her movements, tucking her further into the bed. He walked the short distance to the door and whispered under his breath to the intruder a few choice words that roughly translated to a ‘fuck off’ in Gàidhlig, and so much more. Murtagh was red in the face when Jamie finally released the lock on the door and let it swing open. 

 

“Are ye daft boy? Colum’s this close to throwing ye out. Do ye not know how much trouble ye and yer wife have gotten him into?” 

 

“Weel it’s nothing that time canna fix.” 

 

“Father Bain, and the parent’s of that changeling child are furious. The whole town’s behind them as well in support. Colum’s thinking of making ye leave MacKenzie lands, Jamie. Well, not you, but Claire.” 

 

Claire shrunk under the sheets, not ready for confrontation then. “Help me dress Jamie.” She didn’t need his help now that most of the energy she had spent was recovered, but she did like the idea of her husband touching her skin as he tugged on each layer. 

 

“Aye, Murtagh we’ll be out shortly.” 

 

“We’ll leave now Claire. Take Donas and Brimstone and be on our way.” He began tying the ribbons on her stockings. 

 

“And go where?”

 

“I’ve cousins in France. Or we could bide our time in Italy, where catholics have an easier time of it I hear.” He slipped over the last layer of her skirts and then pulled the bodice onto her. She pinned it together, ready to face whatever came their way. 

 

“What about him?” Claire held the baby tightly to her and he began rooting at her breast. She laughed but quickly shifted him out of reach from her breast, so his face was pressed against the top of her shoulder. 

 

“I’m sure Mrs. Fitz will find a good woman to care fer him.”

 

“If his parents are the ones angry, I don’t want to leave him. They could easily take him back. I can’t just give him back to the people who abandoned him to die. We just have to face the music. We’ve done nothing wrong.” 

 

“Aye, but if someone so much as thinks to threaten ye, we’re on our way.”  

 

“Fine, but we’ll bring him with us. He’s still healing.” She slung a knit shawl around her and secured him. He made no words of protest, he couldn’t stop her if he wanted to. 

 

His hand wrapped securely around her waist as they traversed the winding halls and staircases of Castle Leoch. His grip tightened whenever he felt her legs shake under her own weight. He offered to carry the infant in her arms, but she insisted she carry him. It seemed that night under the Faerie Hill had bonded her to him. 

 

They climbed the tower to Colum’s study and Jamie’s hand rapped against the firm oak. The birds in their cages chirped excitedly at the sight of newcomers, a faerie being one of them. Colum spied the large lump on her shoulder and regarded her with suspicion. He gestured for them to take a seat. 

 

“Uncle.” Jamie nodded shortly to him from across the desk. 

 

He nodded in acknowledgment and then turned his head towards Claire. “Mrs. Fraser.” 

 

“Ye can see nephew , there has been a lot o’ concern raised down in Crainsemur after certain incidents.” He looked pointedly at Claire again before he returned his attention to Jamie. “Not only has the fiscal died under rather mysterious circumstances, no less hours after yer bride was seen wi’ his wife, but she steals a babe from a faerie hill and ye slip away fer days on end.” 

 

“I am sorry, Mister MacKenzie, but I have been unwell.” 

 

“Well whatever’s wrong wi’ ye lass?”

 

“She had some o’ her own complications in saving the lad. The cold o’ the night caught her ill.” 

 

“Be that as it may, Father Bain tried to return the puir child to his inconsolable parents, only to find him locked away in yer room, clinging to the lad as if he had put some spell o’er ye, a faerie child. But the parents have hope that the changeling child was returned to the faeries and that bairn ye have in yer arms is theirs. They wish him back in their arms.” 

 

“He’s most certainly not a changeling child! His parents abandoned him on that hill, what did you expect, for me to let him just die there? I’ll never let them touch him again!” She brought her arms around him and hugged him to her body protectively. 

 

“Aye, I’d no let them have the puir lad back again. But yer interference has caused quite unneeded trouble in the town and now up here in Leoch. Did ye ken the redcoats are already increasing their presence nearby because o’ the stunt Dougal pulled while collecting rents?” Jamie stiffened at this admission, it would be infinitely harder for them to escape Leoch now. “I’m dealing wi’ the fool later, but now, ye and yer husband ha’ made a fine mess o’ things too.”

 

“What will ye do wi’ the lad?”

 

“I’ll keep him on as my own ward. Leticia will be glad to ha’ another wean under her care. She’s written fer a wetnurse from the next town over. But of course the parents were quite dismayed to hear it, and so was Father Bain that we would take in a devil child. They’re all conflicted down at Cranesmuir, and the rumours are seeping into Leoch as well. They dinna like that yer wife has ‘stolen the babe’ away.” 

 

“I’m sorry uncle, for whatever unreasonable reaction the townsfolk have had, but we have done nothing to warrant such a violent outcry. My wife has saved a life, she didn’t condemn it.”  

 

“Aye, yer just a small piece in the grander puzzle that these people’s outrage have targeted. But a target ye are nonetheless. Ye’ll be working o’ertime in the stables and an extra hand is needed tae butcher down in Cranesmuir. Ye’ll fill that role, wi’out complaint, and ye’ll punish yer wife accordingly. The bairn will be under Mrs. Fitz’s care now, until Leticia has readied a room fer him. Now get out o’ my sight, before I decide against my course o’ action.” His face softened slightly from the stern expression he wore during the verbal lashing. “Be careful, mac mo pheathar .” 

 

They carried themselves back to their room, and Claire choked on the sadness welling up within her. Jamie held her close as she cried into his shoulder. The boy was squished between them and he gazed up at Jamie’s eyes, giggling. He tugged a lock of Jamie’s hair, eliciting another bout of sobs from his wife and he rubbed circles on her back to soothe her. He cheered himself up over the sight of his wife with the thought that soon, it would be their own bairn held between them, and their hearts would be filled with joy, not grief. 

 

Mrs. Fitz arrived to spirit the infant away a couple hours after their visit with Colum. Claire held tightly to the little boy as Mrs. Fitz surveyed the room with an air of caution. She set down their meals on a tray and brought some more water in the ewer.  

 

“Promise me, he’ll be fine. That you’ll look after him. You’ll check up on him, even when he’s with Leticia.” 

 

“O’ course, may I hold him?” 

 

Claire kissed the tip of his nose and nodded. The tiny body slipped out of her fingers and into the matron’s capable hands. The departure was quick, like tearing off a bandaid. Her arms were empty and then instantly filled with the steady presence of her husband.

Chapter Text

 

The anger of the mob had simmered considerably within the two weeks that Jamie was put to work day and night as punishment for his wife’s miracle of saving a baby’s life. Claire voiced that if he was working so hard for something she had done that she ought to help him at least at the butcher’s, but he shut her down immediately. She wasn’t to step foot into Cranesmuir, not even with someone escorting her. Murtagh was always by her side if her husband was away working, or sometimes Willie, and if Jamie was exceedingly desperate sometimes he would enlist the help of Rupert or Angus. Claire hated being a prisoner inside the stone walls of Leoch, once again. 

 

One day, Jamie ran into the surgery and silently whisked his wife away after measuring her arm. A mare was having a difficult time delivering its foal, and apparently, Claire was the only other person in the castle, no one else. For hours, her arm strained to turn the breached horse inside of its mother, and her arm was crushed every time contractions rushed through the poor mare. At the safe delivery of the foal, and the fine health of the mother, Claire was rewarded a jet rosary for her efforts in saving Colum’s favourite horse. Jamie rewarded her under the sheets. 

 

After another taxing day spent in the stables and down in the town helping the butcher, Jamie crawled into bed with his wife. There wasn’t much to do these days for her, nor would she have the energy to, so she spent a majority of it napping. 

 

“Jamie, love you need a bath you absolutely reek.” She shoved her nose away from the general direction of her husband. 

 

“Such compliments you give me my Sassenach.” He pushed the pad of his finger lightly on the top of her nose with a smile. “I shall just have a swim in the stream by the stables then so yer wee nose and delicate senses willna be offended.”

 

A kitchen maid pressed her ear to their door and then dashed away once the hinges creaked open. 

 

Jamie stripped at the side of the stream. He laughed before plunging into the cold water, almost cold enough to freeze his balls off. The water wasn’t that deep, only reaching his belly button, so he had to squat slightly down to get the full effect of a bath. As his hands scrubbed and wandered against the expanse of his skin, his mind wandered to his wife. Her wee hands roaming his body and her naked skin pressed up against his. He wrapped his hand around his cock and stroked, imagining a slender pair of fingers replacing his own calloused ones. 

 

A shadow peeked out of the thick leaves of the surrounding bushes. The voyeur saw how very much ready for her he was, and licked her lips at the sight. Her father was close by, Dougal made sure of it. This could work. She pulled off the layers resting above her skin, and slipped in quietly, trying not to disturb the water too much. The swish of the water behind him alerted Jamie to a presence and he smiled softly, continuing his actions. 

 

“Claire? Would ye be kind enough tae finish fer me?” He smirked, never turning around to ruin the fun of it. 

 

A hand touched his back, and she tried her best not to be revolted by the scars. A shiver immediately went down Jamie’s spine at the unfamiliar touch. That was definitely not his wife. He quickly pulled his hand away from his softening erection and covered it with both of his hands to save himself some dignity. 

 

“No, Jamie. It’s me, Laoghaire.” 

 

“Dè an ifrinn a tha thu a ’dèanamh! Can’t ye see I’m naked lass!” 

 

“Aye,” she grinned, “and if ye’d only turn around ye’d see that I’m near it too.” 

 

He continued to mutter to himself in Gàidhlig while wading away from the temptress. His eyes were covered with one hand, and his balls the other, so he couldn’t see her zip in front of him and press her body into his. 

 

“How could ye Jamie? I waited fer ye to return.” Her voice cracked under the steady stream of tears.

 

“Ifrinn! Awa’ n bile yer heid ye mad strìopach !” 

 

He forcefully shoved her away and she slipped down into the water, gasping. Jamie retreated further to the other side of the stream. Laoghaire was relentless and followed him across, shedding her shift along the way. 

 

“Look at me, James Fraser. See our bairn growing strong inside me.” 

 

He did offer one glance to her stomach, to confirm her claim. The only truth of it was that she was indeed pregnant. It definitely was not his, and never would be. He quickly turned around and tried to purge his mind of the sight of her slightly stretched stomach. 

 

“Lass, get out, before ye can do more harm to yerself.” 

 

“Fraser!” A balding man bellowed with rage, emerging from the shadows of the trees. “Ye’ll no get away wi’ ruining my daughter ye bastard!” 

 

His sword flashed with a zing from its hilt on his belt and he raised it towards Jamie. Jamie heard the distinct click of a pistol and watched as the old man waded furiously towards him. In instinct, Jamie gripped the base of the pistol as it fired up into the sky. Shoving it out of the bald man’s hand, he threw it far into the water and let the current carry it away. He grappled with the man, careful of the sword he slashed through the air aiming for his skin. Finally, Jamie reached the pile of his clothes and pulled out the small dirk. 

 

He parried the blows of the unskilled man. What the bald man lacked in skill, however, he more than made up for in his fervorous passion for blood. Now, he was aiming lower, to cut off Claire’s favourite part of him. Jamie could stand many things, withstand many blows, but this he would not part with. 

 

Off to the side, Laoghaire quickly pulled clothes over her body to appear decent in front of her father. She watched dumbstruck as the two men clashed metal and were absorbed only by each other. Jamie didn’t even notice when he was about to step on her, and she cried out when she scrambled away. 

 

Another man sped through the covering of the woods, one with thinning blonde hair, to join Laoghaire’s father. “Tulach ard!” He roared. 

 

Caught between both men, it was difficult for Jamie to protect his naked skin from the scratch of their blades, but he managed. His body twisted and turned at each blow, and he returned each lunge with a maddening strike of his own. With one swift move, his dirk was inside the stiff flesh of a man’s heart cavity. The bald man slumped towards the muddied ground, the hilt sticking up from his body as a red stain pooled across the tartan pattern of his waistcoat. Laoghaire screamed and shoved Jamie away, inconsolable at the sight of her father. His body was unmoving, and instead, Laoghaire was the one to fall on her arse. 

 

The blonde man had recovered from his latest fall in the stramash and stumbled drunkenly towards Jamie. He held the tip of his broadsword towards Jamie’s chest but faltered once again from the exertion of their earlier encounters with the blades. It was clear Jamie was the more fit of the two. With one tap to his shoulder, he fell down again.  

 

Stad !” Jamie pushed the edge of his sword into the fabric of the man’s shirt. “Unless ye want to end up like this puir sop here.” 

 

The man squirmed under Jamie’s head but nodded up to him. He relinquished his hold on the blond, and soon he was crawling at the dirt to get a hold. His fingers clawed and pushed his body upright, and with a flash, he sprinted away. He spotted a woman with brown curly hair on the trail but scampered forward towards the village. She wouldn’t be much help. 

 

Claire took a leisurely pace down to the stream, clothed in nothing but her shift and a cloak wrapped around her. It was impossibly cold, and she was shivering. But, soon she would have her husband to warm her. She smiled, thinking of his hands on her skin in the water, and was reminded of a certain day in a faerie pool. She cupped her stomach, though there was only a slight swell, from some angles it still even looked flat. Eager to be in Jamie’s arms, she quickened her pace. 

 

“Jamie! Are you here? I had it in mind to come join you. You know, I have the almond butter that you loved so much on, well, and lavender soap with me.” A wolfish grin crawled across her face. “I’m sorry it took so long but this little one-.” 

 

Jamie clamped his hand over Claire’s mouth from behind, eliciting a scream that was muffled by his grip. She playfully shoved at him until her mind took in the entire scene before her. She glanced over to the shivering girl in her shift, hovering over a still body. 

 

“Oh God.” Claire promptly spilt her breakfast onto Jamie’s foot. 

 

“Claire, it’s alright.” He rubbed her back but kept her at arm's length. 

 

“You- it-.” Claire’s breath became shallow and she pulled her cloak tighter over her body. “Did you- did you kill him?” 

 

She inspected Jamie more closely. He was as naked as the day he was born and covered in thin lines of red from the fatal brawl. Blood clung to the hair of his chest, and dirt spotted all around his skin from when he rolled on the ground during the short battle. And now, thanks to her, his left foot was covered in her vomit. He was definitely not any cleaner after his wash in the stream, decidedly worse. Claire raced towards the edge of the water and grabbed his tartan, shoes, and shirt while he rinsed off once more. 

 

“Aye, he left me no choice, Claire.” 

 

Laoghaire finally gained composure over her own voice and hissed. “Ye bastard! I’ll never forgive ye for this Jamie Fraser, never.”  

 

“I dinna care fer yer forgiveness ye daft child! It’s ye who should be apologising lass! Yer the one that cost him his life and yer honour” 

 

Voices thundered throughout the woods and wife and husband shared a panicked look. 

 

“Jamie, let’s go. We should go.” 

 

He pulled her into his arms once his clothes were hastily placed onto his hips and shoulders. They left the wretched girl to wail over her father’s body and deal with the impending mob. 

 

***

 

“Ye couldn’t make better timing, the both of ye. Ye damned fools!” 

 

Both Jamie and Dougal sat solemnly in Colum’s study, though Jamie wasn’t sure what provoked his uncle’s ire towards Dougal today.

 

“Uncle-”

 

“No, ye be quiet James Fraser! And what’s this about fathering a bairn wi’ out yer wife?” 

 

“I have lain wi’ no one save my wife, that I can assure ye uncle.” 

 

“Well, the lass has certainly toted yer intimate relations sure enough. How else could she ken about the bullet wound on yer shoulder?” 

 

“I-”

 

“And ye- a bràithair, claiming the Mistress Duncan’s child as yer own! Not even a day after news of yer wife’s death!”

 

“I intend to marry the lass, brother.” 

 

“I dinna care what ye intend to do, brother , she’s killed her husband! And I’m no’ so sure ye havena killed yer wife, wi’ the way ye’ve handled those redcoats.” 

 

“I will marry Geillis Duncan, she carries my bairn, and I love her fer that.” Dougal kept his lips tight about the other child he had fathered. Colum didn't need to know the true parentage of Laoghaire's bairn just yet. 

 

“Love, love? No ye love sleeping wi’ the fiscal’s widow, and ye want Arthur Duncan’s child. Dinna speak more Dougal, I’m no through wi’ ye jes’ yet.” Colum turned back to his nephew. “And ye- the whole town wants ye hanged fer Samuel MacKenzie’s death. They’ve shamed his daughter and pelted her wi’ stones. Mrs. Fitz is nearly inconsolable about her fate, sent to a convent wi’ yer child.” He glared at Jamie. 

 

“Laoghaire’s consequences are her own. She brought that on herself. Though I feel sorry fer any grief I have caused Mrs. Fitz. And as fer Samuel MacKenzie, he left me no choice, neither he nor Baxter gave me one. I couldna save my life by sparing his.” 

 

“Baxter was witness tae the whole thing, her father as well. Baxter says ye were depraved at the sight o’ her in the water, and let her watch as ye touched yer vile cock.” Colum spat out. “Ye couldna pry yer hands off her naked body, and forced yerself on her.” 

 

“I dinna ever touch the lass, save tae discourage her. That child is a lying whore.” 

 

“Be that as it may, ye must marry the lass tae save her from further shame, fer the bairn.” 

 

“The child isna mine uncle!” Jamie roared. “And I have a wife.” 

 

“Well these remote highlands can be a treacherous place for one as delicate as an English

rose.”

 

“And what exactly, uncle, is that meant to mean? Because if yer threatening my wife, I’ll

make a threat o’ my own. If anyone dare lay a hand on her, I will cut that hand off and use it tae choke them from this earth straight tae hell.” 

 

“I canna guarantee her safety, but I willna actively seek tae harm the lass, nephew.” 

 

“We’re leaving then, uncle.” He spat out the last word. “Tonight.”

 

“Aye, ye and Dougal both.” He turned to his brother. “Ye must return tae yer home and see to the matters o’ yer wife’s funeral. Mistress Fraser will stay here.” His eyes returned to his nephew. 

 

“No, she goes wi’ me.”

 

“Do ye wish tae slip under the nose of a redcoat battalion wi’ yer wife?” Colum’s attention shifted once again to his brother. “It will be hard enough just wi’ the two o’ ye, because o’ yer foolishness ye clotheided nonce.” 

 

“Three, Murtagh will go.” 

 

“Aye, three, and I need yer wife in the surgery. Winter is a treacherous time. If ye take her wi’ ye, or if ye refuse tae go wi’ Dougal, I’ll let the soldiers posted jes’ outside Leoch ken a certain James Fraser is nearby.”

 

For the safety of his wife, he agreed. 

 

***

 

She tugged his red hair closer to her head. Her brown curls mix with his red waves. With deft hands, she pulled on one of Jamie’s strands and weaved it between her own, so their heads were attached by their hair. It was loose, only secured near the ends so they had room to move.  

 

“What’re ye doing mo cridhe?” He laughed at the outcome of his wife’s strange plait. 

 

“I wonder if she’ll have my hair, or yours, or a deep rich auburn mix of both.” 

 

“Maybe the bairn will surprise both of us and sprout a great garden of white.” She snorted and slapped his bare chest. 

 

Carefully, she untangled the mess that was their hair and nestled closer into Jamie. Her leg hiked over his thigh and their chests smushed together. 

 

She gazed into his crestfallen eyes and twirled the tuft of golden hair on his chest. “What did Colum say?” 

 

“The lass has been sent to a convent, says she’s carrying my child. I must go away wi’ Dougal fer a short time.” 

 

 “Oh my God, Jamie.” 

 

“Aye, I’ve sure mucked everything up. But yer going to stay here. I willna risk ye.”

 

“No, I'm coming with you.”

 

“Claire.” His weak voice betrayed the steady set of his face as he pressed against the barely noticeable swell of her abdomen. “Ye must stay here. There’s a battalion of redcoats just outside Leoch’s boundaries, demanding answers for the two dead soldiers. They wouldn’t hesitate to harm ye, or the bairn.” He spoke with shaky breaths when the first tear glistened on his cheek. “I’ll send fer ye when I ken it’s safe. Mrs. Fitz will see no harm will come to ye. Willie, Angus, and Rupert as weel.”

 

“Take Murtagh with you.” 

 

“O’ course, that old croon can never seem tae leave me alone.” 

 

Jamie reached under the bed, where his hands brushed over the soft knits of a round shape. He pulled it up with a grin and displayed it for his wife. A bunny, made with Jamie’s sure hands. Its nose was made from one of the spare buttons on the velvet coat of his highland regalia. Part of his tartan that he had ripped off into a small strip, was wrapped around the bunny’s neck like a collar. 

 

He placed the soft animal on the small swell. “Here my wean, you guard my rabbit while I’m away. Dinna give yer mam any more grief.”

 

 Claire wiped the tears and snot from her face. “You can knit?” 

 

“Aye, all the Fraser’s learnt to klinkit’ since we were bairns. I did it while ye were in bed for those few days after…” 

 

“It’s lovely.” She held the white and grey bunny over her stomach with trembling hands. 

 

She pulled out the jet black rosary from her pocket on the floor. “Take this with you, for luck.” 

 

“The feel of ye will be luck alone.” He grinned and slipped the small beads into his sporran. “But aye, I’ll keep it safe wi’ me, dinna fash.” 

 

Her arms gripped harder onto the expanse of his skin, imparting a last feel of his touch into her brain. Her hands roved over every peak and valley of his muscles, and the concavity between his breastbone and on his abdomen. Her eyes glistened with tears and Jamie stopped her movements, holding her hands gently within the warmth of his own. 

 

“Dinna weep mo cridhe, I’ll be back soon, and then, we’ll be one step closer to home. I hear Sandringham’s paying us a visit at Leoch soon. My uncle willna want Dougal and I missing fer that.” Her hand ran over the woolen fabric of the collar. 

 

“Will you teach me? When you get back?” She sniffled. 

 

“I’d like nothing more Sassenach.” Jamie smirked. “But now, sleep mo nighean donn, fer I wish to lie wi’ my wife in the morning before I leave.”

Chapter Text

Come back to me, James Fraser. 

 

Aye, as soon as I can. 

 

The words echoed through her mind, unfocused from her current task of spinning wool. It had been two weeks now. She had grown without him, finally, a little bump that couldn’t be mistaken for bloating. It was still hidden under her stays and skirts, but naked before the small mirror over their vanity, it was unmistakable. She placed the rabbit near her stomach every night and inhaled the lingering scent off of the tartan collar that could only belong to Jamie. 

 

For Claire, her days were spent in learning simple domestic tasks that Mrs. Fitz was appalled she didn’t know already. She had her slicing, dicing, mixing, mashing, and boiling in the kitchens. She had finally given up on the young woman when she had failed in the simplest task of watching over the stew, the water had somehow bubbled up over the pan within minutes, spewing out of the reach of the fire. The water scorched everything it touched. Claire was lucky she stumbled out of its way just in time, but the floors and walls weren’t quite so lucky, the circular stains embedded in the wood and stone proof. Mrs. Fitz finally stuck Claire to the task of spinning wool into yarn; it was simple enough. 

 

Now, Mrs. Fitz sat, asking for a lock of her hair out of all things. With a look of apprehension towards the matriarch, Claire handed a couple of strands over to her. What was the worst this woman could do with her hair? 

 

“Now, yer ring lass, I need that as weel.” Mrs. Fitz placed her palm up expectantly. 

 

Claire twisted it in circles on her finger, hesitant to part with it for even a second, and the woman across from her sensed this. 

 

“Dinna fash, a leannan, ‘tis only fer a second.” 

 

With a sigh, she slid it off and instantly felt strange. The lightness of her finger was foreign and her balance was off centre, even though it was only a few grams difference. The queer feeling continued as Mrs. Fitz wrapped her brown curls and some string together around the ring. 

 

“Now hold up yer hand lass.” Mrs. Fitz guided her movements. “Aye, jes’ like that.” 

 

She released the strange necklace up in the air, the ring swinging at the bottom like a pendulum, straight above her stomach and hand. It began to circle in place as Mrs. Fitz held the bit of string at the top and conducted her scrutiny. She let out an excited sound and quickly returned the ring to its proper place. 

 

“Och, ye’ll ha’ a braw lad in no time, a leannan.” She squeezed Claire’s arm softly and reached a hand to rest on her stomach. 

 

“How do you know already?” Claire pressed lightly into her abdomen. 

 

“I’ve been around long enough to ken when a woman is wi’ bairn, though I’ll no admit how long jes’ yet. Ye ha’ a glow to ye dear. And ye carry yerself as if ye ha’ a secret tucked inside ye that ye dinna want to share jes’ yet. I’d be blind not tae see.”

 

“Well, as much as I didn’t want to share it just yet, I’m glad you know Mrs. Fitz.”

 

“Ye canna keep things from me long in this castle.” She said with a twinkle in her eye.

 

“Well why do you think it's a boy?” 

 

“Ye see, ye hold the ring o’er yer stomach and if it swings straight back an’ forth it’ll be a lass but if it circles ‘round like it jes’ did it’ll be a lad.” Claire’s face fell in contemplation, and much as she didn’t want to admit it, a little bit of disappointment. “What’s wrong dear, yer husband will be quite pleased he sired a son so soon.”

 

“It’s nothing, I just, well I imagined she was a girl.” 

 

“Aye, wi’ the rate yer going I’m sure ye’ll get yer lass eventually.” Mrs. Fitz chuckled and Claire blushed, ducking her head. 

 

“Well I have noticed the surgery is low on herbs, would you care to talk a walk in the garden with me?” 

 

“O’ course, jes’ gi’ me a moment to prepare these old bones.” 

 

Claire hummed alongside Mrs. Fitz before the waning supply of garlic. Mrs. Fitz was right, she was glowing. With the happiness of just sharing and basking in the fact she wasn’t the only one at Leoch presently to have the knowledge of her little miracle. When she bent down to pluck off another perfect leaf, her body was suddenly thrown back and she felt dizzy from the whiplash. Rough gloves tightened over her arms and she squirmed under their grasp. 

 

“Dinna touch her!” Mrs. Fitz started thrashing at one of the men’s chests. “Let the woman go!”

 

“Mrs. Fitz!” 

 

“I said let the lass go! Yer going to regret touching her.” The matron grabbed a healthy amount of the man’s balls and tugged sharply down.

 

He howled and Claire was stumbling out of his grasp, only to be handled by a different pair of hands. 

 

“What on earth do you want?” Claire shouted. 

 

“Claire Fraser, yer under arrest fer witchcraft.”

 

“What?” Claire exclaimed, completely baffled by the charge. “Under whose orders?” 

 

“Ye’ll hear all about it at the trial.” 

 

“I most certainly will not!” 

 

They gagged her and dragged her across the field where Mrs. Fitz fought to catch up with them. But, they were both outnumbered and outmatched by the four strong guards surrounding Claire. The other inhabitants of the garden paid the dramatic scene no mind, or at least pretended to. It would be great gossip for the halls of Leoch. They shoved Claire into a cold metal cart and the door shut with a harsh bang. She kept far away from the walls and bars made of iron. 

 

“I’ll find Ned Gowan fer ye dear! He’ll ken jes’ what to do!” Mrs. Fitz screamed up at her through the iron bars. 

 

The ride to Cranesmuir was bumpy and more than once Claire clumsily hit her skin against the iron eliciting a hiss. Before grabbing Claire down from the mobile cage, they placed a sack over her head to disorient her. The grate of iron squeaked open on its hinges and they unceremoniously dumped her into the dark. She fell, for a second terrified at the weightlessness of the air surrounding her and not being able to tell the true distance below her. Her wings were useless, bound beneath her clothes. Her backside bore most of the brunt of the fall and she sat up rubbing her tailbone. She peered up through the slates above her. No one was around, and dusk had nearly fallen. 

 

She crawled to the corner where a smooth rock raised up from the ground. A sharp pang ran through her lungs and her throat tightened. The tears fell unbidden to the harsh and rugged stone beneath her and she curled further into herself, muttering apologies to her womb. The dull ache in her chest never left. Her skin erupted into gooseflesh and her muscles spasmed erratically, leaving her sore from the effort. She was just glad the Scottish weather had been kind enough to hold off on rain and snow for the past few days. If it hadn’t, the little hole in the ground wouldn’t only be cold and dark, but damp and dank as well, and most likely would have chilled her bones to death. The only company was the little scatters of claws scratching against the rough ground. 

 

Claire heard a clatter above her, like someone kicking rocks onto the cobblestone streets. “Jamie?” 

 

“Pssst. Claire. Eat this tae fill yer wame.” Someone whispered through the metal bars above her head. 

 

“Geillis!” Claire scrambled from the ground to reach up, but her friend pulled away. “Shhh!” The disembodied voice whispered a shout. “Are ye thick in the heid. They’ll hear ye.” She paused as if to listen around her. “Listen Claire, I’m sorry that’s all I could find fer ye now, but if they spot me we’ll both be doomed. I’ll try tae find the keys somewhere tomorrow night, jes’ hold on until then. Be careful Claire. I must go.” 

 

“Geillis wait! Can’t you just try to pry the lock off?” Claire snatched the bundle of food wrapped in cloth from the ground before the scurrying creatures around her could steal it away. 

 

“Claire I really must go. They say Ned Gowan’s been detained up wi’ some business up at Dougal’s estate, Colum sent him there not even two days ago. I’ve sent word tae yer friend Willie up at the castle, hopefully someone else can come tae yer aide. Now I really must go, I do hope I can see ye again in time.”

 

Claire screamed for her friend to wait, frantically pulling at the bars above her head not caring about the burns she acquired from the small action. Once again, she was utterly alone. Except for the rats of course. 

 

Her mind drifted to those in her position before. None of their lives had ended comfortably in bed at an old age. The trials in America specifically stuck to her mind. One of the men. They had smothered him with rocks, and he requested more as the torture affected his psyche. She wrapped her cloak tighter around her shivering frame, trying to hide further into herself. Maybe, if she tried hard enough, she would be able to turn into goo like a caterpillar and emerge from its chrysalis beautiful and transformed. But the thing that she would most likely end up as was ash in the wind, not goo safely protected within a cocoon. 

 

As the sun beamed straight into her face, shouts rose in volume around her. All calling for fire, for blood. Anger, ancient as time itself, hummed through their veins and it would not be easily satiated. A man roughly tugged on Claire’s arm, pulling her up the ladder and into ropes. They led her across the town square. The platform where she and Jamie had saved a boy from the pillory, was now being transformed for a different use. She gulped as more kindling was added to the pyre. The guards beside her prodded her forward and she stumbled slightly in their grasp. They were tired of her meandering steps and reached for her shoulders, carrying her the rest of the way. She writhed in their grips, her feet hovering just centimetres in the air. The crowd parted as they neared the kirk, allowing the men entrance. Men, women, and children alike shot withering glances at Claire as she passed through the doors and up to the small podium where the accused would stand. 

 

The examiners scrutinised the woman before them, dirtied and mussed up by her night sleeping on stiff earth. 

 

“As I understand, it was one Mistress Duncan ye had grievances against.” 

 

“She was about tae flee the coop wi’ her coven, when we caught her unawares in the garden. Satan whispered in her evil sister Mistress Duncan’s ear fer her to flee as weel. And when we caught this witch, the other had already taken wing wi’ her master. We thought, might as weel take the witch we can get tae.”

 

“Verra weel, and who is this.” 

 

“Mistress Moriston, from up at the castle.” 

 

“Mistress Fraser .” Claire hissed. 

 

The greying examiner banged his gavel to silence Claire. 

 

“The first witness, if ye please.” 

 

A man that looked familiar, but Claire couldn’t quite put her tongue on why exactly, stood and cleared his throat. He departed from the prong of people cut off from the rest of the crowd. She assumed this was the area designated to the witnesses. There were at least ten, and she recognised none of them. How could they accuse her of anything if they had never even seen her?

 

“Communing wi’ the selkies she was. I saw them three offer kisses to their mistress. They did her bidding and were off. She was transforming right before my verra eyes! She slithered back into the loch with her brood, in her most unnatural form.”

 

More and more outrageous lies tumbled from the lips of the ‘witnesses’ and Claire was silenced every time she tried to defend herself. She audibly laughed at one who said they had seen her take flight during a thunderstorm, three years ago . Their quarrels were most likely against Geillis Duncan herself, but they needed to use their fantasies on someone, and Claire was an easy target. One glimmering head, the last of the witnesses, rose from the peeved crowd. It was then she finally recognised the girl. 

 

Laoghaire MacKenzie partially reprieved from her sentence at the convent, walked up to the stand. Her hair was shorn and her scalp shined. Claire smiled smugly at her appearance, at the slight revenge. Bruises dotted her skin from where she had likely been pelted by stones. 

 

“She took advantage of my good nature and ignorance, and killed my father! And she ruined my good name! ” 

 

“What?” Claire screeched. “This is preposterous, if anything she’s the closest thing to a witch here!” 

 

“Silence from the accused!”

 

“Aye Mistress MacKenzie has done many a foul things through the years! Burn her as weel!” A woman shouted from the crowd. 

 

“If you have evidence of Mistress MacKenzie’s blasphemies, you may come forward, but please do remain silent until we have balanced all grievances against the first accused.”

 

“I do! Mistress MacKenzie stole Fiona MacBard’s hair in the middle of the night and left my shamed daughter! She was nearly killed fer trying to purge her bairn. Awful business indeed! That vile witch ruined her mind wi’ the devil!”

 

“We shall reconvene wi’ the evidence brought up against Mistress MacKenzie, once our witness has recounted her tale.” The examiner raised his hand to silence the crowd. “Mistress MacKenzie, if ye will.” 

 

“Oh, aye. Mistress Fraser ha’ sold me a potion tae open a lad’s heart up to me, the father o’ my child. It grieves me to be shame as thus, and she’s the one who caused it!”

 

“It was horse shit! And he’s most certainly not your bastard child’s father!”

 

“Silence yer foul tongue before we take it, woman!” A gavel banged against the hard wood of the judge’s bench. “Ye may continue, Mistress MacKenzie.” 

 

Laoghaire gave a curt nod. “Thank ye. Ye see, I was the one Jamie was meant tae marry, and Mistress Moriston, stole him away fae me. We were handfast, ye see, and that’s when I fell wi’ child.” Crocodile tears sprung in the challenger and Claire couldn’t take it anymore.

 

“He’s never even touched you before you foolish fucking child! And he wouldn’t even with a twenty-foot pole!”

 

“Silence!” The examiner levelled one last stern look towards Claire, words unnecessary to convey the fact that if another outburst occurred, serious actions would be taken against her. 

 

Claire held her tongue through the fabrications but let her eyes freely roll at each statement, each one more bold than the last. At last, Laoghaire sunk to the floor in her grief, hoping to garner some pity. 

 

Claire stifled a laugh at the sight of the girl. “Look at what Mistress Moriston has done tae me! Dinna laugh, she could hex any o’ ye sorry louts next! Wi’ her wicked spells, I was ruint in just a day’s time!”

 

“Thank ye, Mistress MacKenzie, fer yer invaluable knowledge.” The lanky examiner nodded to the guards at the door. “Now, ye’ll bide yer time fer yer trial in the Thieves Hole as weel, until we can continue wi’ yer own misdeeds after processing the first.” 

 

“What?” The girl screeched. 

 

“Silence.” The other bald examiner commanded. 

 

Laoghaire screeched and clawed at the men surrounding her, only worsening her case. The large oak doors slammed shut and for a moment, silence overtook the rows of pews in front of the podium that held Claire. 

 

For hours and hours, they harped on this newcomer, this Sassenach, and suddenly Laoghaire MacKenzie’s entrance was the furthest thing from their minds. It was exciting to gossip and participate in the scandal from the outside. Some popped up in the back of the kirk, offering their opinions and screams of hate. The one blame they could easily assign her was the ‘theft’ of the changeling child, and they ran with it. The mother broke down in tears in front of the court and all mothers around her comforted her in sympathy, shouting once again for Claire’s wicked frozen heart to be burned. 

 

It was no surprise when she was dumped into the Thieves Hole again after the long day of accusations, that a certain bald lass was huddled at the corner far away from the entrance of the confining walls. 

 

Laoghaire sat on the harsh stone burning holes into Claire with her gaze. When the half piece of bread tumbled from the opening in the ceiling, Claire greedily took it all for herself and let Laoghaire rot off in the corner to sulk. She wasn’t going to let that child take anything more from her. 

 

“You only have yourself to blame. You could have just stayed in that convent, you know.” Claire tucked further into herself on the ground. “I just hope for your child’s sake, that they wait to burn you until after it’s born. But I do hope you burn, Laoghaire MacKenzie. You will.” 

 

The sight of the girl suffering from the cold, fighting off rodents that crawled into her skirts, distracted Claire momentarily from her eventual fate. She couldn’t help the smug smile at the abysmal state of the girl that had doomed her. At night, her mind conjured the body of her husband, hot and flush against her own skin. He did nothing but hold her close to him. He placed her under his heart, protecting her under his own skin. The steady thump of his heart soothed her to sleep. 

 

Shouts awoke her again that morning. A drop of spittle fell from the sky and she looked up at the offending child that had committed the crime. He was no more than four and already filled with such hatred towards a stranger. Instead of dragging her back towards the kirk, they deposited her beside the lake where a crowd had already gathered. 

 

The guards, Pimple and Old Fart, their new nicknames in Claire’s mind, prodded her off of the ladder with a stick, and guided her rope towards the edge of the small lake. She already knew what they had planned for her. Either way, she would be damned. So here it was, to be drowned or burned. 

 

“Please, I’m with child!” 

 

“She lies to save herself! Her belly isna filled wi’ bairn! A slithering lying viper! I see no roundness! Skinny as a twig she is! Naught but skin and bone!”

 

“The devil’s spawn! She has lain wi’ her master Beelzebub! She comes wi’ the antichrist to ruin us!”

 

“The Selkies' mistress! She has their vile offspring!”

 

Even worse were the wrathful cries seeking her to be burned immediately to purge the evil inside her womb from the world.

 

A man with rotten teeth towered over her and slipped the rope over her thumb and foot. He bruised Claire’s shoulder in his grip and she bit her cheek to stave off the tears. 

 

“Get off me, you bastard!” 

 

“Hold yer vile tongue woman!” He slapped her, sending her tumbling down into the deep waters below. 

 

She immediately sank, unprepared by the sudden plunge and she spluttered under the surface. Her lungs burned with the effort and her body began thrashing around in a panic. Her heart raced against her chest and her hands slapped anything around her. The rope tugged against her and the waves lapped against her skin. She was up near the surface, but too far away to gulp in a breath of air. She lashed against her fate, sinking her nails when her hand finally had purchase of another living being. With a rush, she was on the wooden dock again, gasping and coughing out the water in her lungs. 

 

“Burn her!” 

 

“Burn the witch!” 

 

But she had sunk. She nearly died under the water, for the bastards’ poor excuse of proof. 

 

If she was going to die, no matter which way she tried to defend herself and twist their perspective, might as well go out with a bang. 

 

“Fuck you all! You’re going to burn in hell and God will damn you for eternity!” 

 

“Skelp her! And silence yer tongue fer the final time woman!” 

 

The back of her shirt was ripped open and her stays were splayed open. The chill of early autumn bit the sensitive skin of her back. She was tempted to release the wings tucked safely within her skin, it would relieve one of the pains coursing through her body, if only momentarily. But she wasn’t a coward. What was one more scar when the evidence of it would smoke up into the sky that day? 

 

One. 

 

She winced, her body taking in the foreign feel of the sharp leather against her smooth skin. 

 

Two. 

 

Her body shuddered again and she cried out. 

 

Three. Four. Five. Six.

 

She fell down on the grass, buckling under the pain weak and sobbing. The men, annoyed with her actions, tugged her body up once again. 

 

Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. 

 

The tension released from her trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles. Clinical. Detached. They would heal in time. The whip held no iron. But she didn’t have time. Her movements were mechanical as she took her final steps up the short rise to the wooden platform. She couldn’t remember the walk from the lake back to the town square. Somehow, the burn of iron from a sgian dubh cut into her hand. The one from Jamie during the rents, that she kept religiously in her left sock. 

 

“Mistress Fraser. Ye ha’ been condemned to burn fer witchcraft and yer blasphemies. Do ye wish a final word?” 

 

“Fuck you, fuck this century, and most of all fuck Laoghaire MacKenzie! As a matter of fact, I hope you all die of dysentery, or smallpox, or some other shitty disease from your lack of proper hygiene!” 

 

“Light the pyre!” 

 

Claire expertly cut the rope from around her hands, just as the kindling crackled beneath her feet. Next were her feet, but the flames licked her boots. Her hands trembled from the pressure and they were slick with sweat. 

 

The clop of a horse's hooves echoed through the square. 

 

“Stadadh a-nis!” 

 

Jamie leapt off of his horse and drew his sword. The crowd parted instantly at threat of death, but the guards weren’t given the same instinct of self-preservation. He ran them all through easily, focused only on one thing. A flash of jet black flew through the air and landed on her neck. She sighed in relief that the material contained no iron in its constitution. 

 

“Jamie!” Claire screamed and his heart fell at the sight. 

 

Her shaking hand finally cut through the last bit of rope and she fell into his arms. They were surrounded again and Jamie placed Claire behind him, as the fire raged on. She looked back at her fate, at the empty pyre and frowned. 

 

“Gi’ us back the woman!” 

 

“Nay, the first man forward, shall be the first one down!” He pulled out his dirk to add to his broadsword. 

 

“Burn ‘em all!” 

 

“Jet will burn a witch’s skin, no?” he demanded towards the judges. “Still more, I should think, would the cross of our Lord.” 

 

He lifted the rosary from her neck, to show smooth unmarked skin. Gasps rang through the crowd, but still, the examiners were hesitant. 

 

“Ye have no workings in this court! She has already been convicted!” 

 

“I swore an oath before the altar of God to protect this woman. And if you're tellin' me that ye consider your own authority to be greater than that of the Almighty, then I must inform ye that I'm not of that opinion, myself.” 

 

A shot rang out, narrowly missing the couple. Jamie stared back at Claire and she nodded her comprehension. 

 

“Ye ha’ harmed one of God’s own! An angel sent fae heaven! ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares’.” He repeated the verse for the sake of the dimwitted. “Fer ye ha’ entertained angels unawares, and ye ha’ failed yer God. Gi’ compassion tae neighbours and strangers alike, but ye dinna do any o’ God’s commands. It is ye who should be put on trial!” 

 

Translucent. Fine like lace. She had no idea if it would work. Gasps filled the town square and the villagers all crossed themselves. Her back stretched as her wings fluttered behind her. 

 

“An angel!” 

 

“Oh please forgive us.” A woman clasped her hands in prayer. 

 

Some even went as far as kissing the ground before her feet. But still, others begged the fire to continue, crazed for blood and ash. The distraction gave them an opening, and Jamie threw her on top of the horse and they sprinted away from the scene of terror. 

 

Claire glanced back, unable to keep her eyes off of the trail of grey smoke in the air. 

 

Everything had happened so fast, she had had no time to think. To reflect on the hell she was put through, and the hell she had almost been sent to as well. 

 

When they were more settled, Jamie gathered Claire into a more comfortable position on the horse and wrapped his tartan around the sight of her back, the angry scars that screamed at him. 

 

Murtagh was waiting for them, with a rabbit roasting over a low fire. He took in the grim sight and stayed put. Claire’s gaze never left the direction of the fire, though the smoke was far from sight now. Her neck swivelled like a compass to the north at each turn in the road when they were on the horse. She sat unblinking as Jamie tended to her wounds. 

 

“The bunny. I didn’t watch over it. Can you forgive me? Can you get the bunny?” She rambled on.

 

“Aye, the wean shall need her wee bunny.” 

 

Claire finally erupted into tears into her husband’s arms. He calmed her, with her favourite words in Gàidhlig, though they were only her favourite because Jamie said them. His muscles were still rigid with fury, but he did his best to hide it from his wife. She finally fell asleep, safe in his arms. Each individual whimper pierced Jamie’s heart. It broke his heart to slide out from under her hold, to leave her on the harsh grass and dirt covered by his tartan. 

 

He couldn’t look back on his broken, tattered faerie. For the strength for what he must do, he needed to remember her strong and whole. 

 

“Murtagh, watch over my wife.” They nodded to each other, a silent conversation passing between them. His godfather knew what Jamie must do.

Chapter Text

Willie spurred the horse further into a sprint. He could feel its muscles stretch and its lungs heave with the effort beneath his thighs. He clicked once more with his tongue to urge the creature faster on the beaten path. Focused on the destination before him, he almost missed the two riders he sprinted past. But, he pulled back sharply on the reins and twisted the horse around. Panting, Willie and the horse rode astride the two men. It seemed they were already making their way back to Leoch; his journey would be practically cut in half. 

 

“Willie? Is everything alright lad?” Jamie asked atop Donas. 

 

“Cranesmuir.” He paused to take more short breaths. “Mistress Fraser and another lass down in the village are on trial fer witchcraft as we speak.” 

 

“Who?” Jamie was speechless, so Dougal supplied the conversation. 

 

“Laoghaire MacKenzie. But they did try to catch Mistress Duncan without much success.” 

 

Dougal’s face held no surprise over the news, in fact his face held a knowing and reassurance at the message. In fact, his breath escaped in a sigh of relief when Geillis’ escape was confirmed. 

 

“Ye dinna seem surprised, uncle. ” Jamie’s jaw clenched.  

 

“Oh, what a tragic thing indeed, nephew. ” Dougal feigned shock and grief. “My condolences.” 

 

“She isna dead.” The words hissed through Jamie’s teeth.

 

“Aye, damn that bastard Colum MacKenzie.” His uncle shook his fist in the air.

 

“Are ye saying he had a part in this?”

 

“Weel, yer a bright lad nephew. We’re gone, Ned Gowan as weel. He dinna care o'er much fer yer wife. In fact, she was quite a hindrance tae him ye ken that.” 

 

“And, ye?” 

 

“What would I gain from such a thing? Except a nice fire tae warm me.”

 

Jamie roared and bone met with bone. He needed to express his rage somehow, and his uncle was the closest target. He didn’t notice the ache of the split skin on his knuckles, only smiled at the blooming red mark on his uncle’s cheek. Dougal’s body slumped off of his horse from the force of the blow. The sight would tide Jamie over until he felt his wife in his arms. 

 

He gripped the reins tightly in his hands. “I promise, if ye e’er see my face again, uncle , it will be the verra last one afore yer in the ground.” 

 

Revenge would have to wait; his wife needed him urgently. He could feel it deep in his bones, a call to his own blood and heart. He spurred his horse into a sprint and left both men behind dumbfounded. 

 

Jamie thought back on it. He should have run him through then and there. But, if he had, he may not have made it to Claire in time. One uncle would have to do. He was sure in his task once he had assured her safety in the presence of the only man he trusted: his godfather. Revenge would have to wait no more. 

 

Leticia had gone to her own quarters for the night. His uncle was alone, defenceless. Snores erupted from the form lying prostrate before him. The sheets swallowed his small frame. Jamie prodded his chest with the sharp tip of his dirk and dropped his uncle’s Dirk from his bedside table into his stiff sleeping hands.

 

“Stand uncle.” 

 

His uncle’s eyes opened dazedly in confusion. He gripped the cold metal in his hand and stared at the same weapon in his nephew’s hands. Realisation dawned on his face and he hid his fear under a commanding presence. Though how commanding he could look drowning in his bed, he still tried. 

 

“I willna raise iron against my own nephew. Especially when I ken I’ll lose such battle.” 

 

“What did I promise ye, uncle ?” Jamie spat out the term with such distaste, it was a wonder he held back on his intentions a moment longer. 

 

“If anyone dare lay a hand on her, ye would cut it off and use it tae choke them from this earth straight tae hell. I did no such thing, nephew. I ne’er touched a hair on yer wife’s head.”

 

“Aye and I kept that promise, I am a man o’ my word. But now I give another. If I see ye or my other bastard o’ an uncle again, ye willna be long fer this world. Fer ye nearly cost me my wife. My bairn. ” Colum’s eyes widened at the last bit of information.

 

“Nephew, I dinna ha’ anything to do wi’ that nonsense down in Cranesmuir, ye must believe me. And if I kent she was-” 

 

“Ye would what uncle? Kill her sooner?” 

 

“Jamie, listen, I’m-”

 

“Shut yer gab.” 

 

He squirmed like a beetle under Jamie’s boot. It was almost pitiful to see his once charming uncle with a sharp tongue brought to such lows. The one who stood before a room of all the MacKenzie fighting men, and demanded their fealty. But the boiling blood thrummed through his body, crying out for its kin to be free from its cage of flesh and he wouldn’t deny such requests today. 

 

“Ye are already crippled and I canna take yer manhood if there’s no’ much o’ one tae speak of. The only thing ye ha’ Colum mac Campbell MacKenzie, is that mouth o’ yers, and perhaps yer eyes as weel. I canna kill my uncle, not in cold blood, especially a defenceless man. I let ye live fer the sake o’ my mother’s blood. But …” He placed his knee on his uncle’s chest, angling the blade. “Ye speak too much uncle. Going ‘round circles in yer mind. Wagging yer tongue about things ye dinna ken. Keeping it tight shut when help is needed. Allow me tae remedy that.” With a swift swipe, Jamie tugged his uncle’s tongue out of his mouth and sliced it off.  

 

His chilling screams pierced the halls. His throat strangled under the new sensation of nothingness inside of it and the muscles at the base of his tongue twitched. With a flick, Jamie threw the offending tissue into the fire. It sizzled and hissed as the fire roared in anger. 

 

“And these eyes o’ yers, they saw sae much but dinna do anything. Since they ha’ failed ye grievously so, I dinna think ye’ll care o’er much fer them.”

 

With two sharp stabs, Jamie blinded his uncle. He quickly swiped his dirk against the fabric on his uncle’s bed, cleansing it of the viscous red liquid that clung to it. Jamie wiped himself clean of his uncle. 

 

He doesna deserve a swift end , Jamie thought, with the fate he had in store for my wife.

 

“Tell, Dougal, I canna wait tae see him again.”

 

He left his uncle to his agonising screams, slipping expertly through the halls of the castle like his mother and father had done years ago; a bunny had to be saved. 

 

***

 

“Jamie.” Claire whimpered into the ground. 

 

His scent was everywhere, surrounding her. But she was cold, left with nothing but that lingering sensation of touch and smell on the tartan. Her head pounded and she so badly wanted to scratch the burning on her back. “Jamie.” 

 

She was weightless, held above the world only by a familiar pair of strong hands. Shaking, she pulled in closer to him and inhaled. It was stronger than the small whisps she had to live on during those endless days without him, only a scrap on a small bunny. She collapsed into his arms and let him soothe her. 

 

“Aye, mo nighean donn, I’m right here.” 

 

Her short gasps followed by tears turned into quieted hiccups as she relaxed further into him. He slipped something between them and she felt the squishy sphere-like creature poke into her stomach. The feel of the bunny meant for their child renewed her tears. 

 

“Where’d you go?” She asked with a snotty face. 

 

“I couldna let Colum go unpunished.” She noticed the splatters of blood on his clothes and decided against questions for now. 

 

She nodded against his chest. Her hands wandered down his shirt, to the warmth of his sides and wrapped together around his back. The feel of his skin calmed her heart, relaxing her tense muscles. She snuggled into him as much as their clothes would allow. Claire wanted nothing more than to be pressed fully naked against his warm reassuring skin, but they had an audience, as evident by the clearing of a throat behind them at their intimacy. 

 

“So yer?” Murtagh cleared his throat. “It’s true then lass?” 

 

His eyes followed the path her wings cut in the air as she moved in Jamie’s arms. They peaked out of the arisaid wrapped loosely around her strapped back. 

 

“I suppose there’s no denying it.” She murmured into Jamie’s chest. 

 

She lowered the tartan out of the way of her back slightly, still careful of modesty in front of her husband’s godfather. Her head only turned slightly so she could keep Murtagh in her line of sight, without leaving the warmth of Jamie’s skin. 

 

“Oh, Christ.” His eyes widened as he realised his words. “Forgive me I dinna mean tae take the lord’s name in such a way. I swear it.” 

 

“Ifrinn!” He swore at his blunder again. How many times had he committed sin in front of her company?

 

Murtagh knelt before her, hands clasped together as if to beg. He wasn’t the religious sort, but he couldn’t deny the evidence before him. He didn’t even know the lord’s prayer, but he had some catching up to do now he supposed. Sometimes believing necessitated seeing. Claire wasn’t sure, but she heard Latin spew wildly from his chapped lips. 

 

“What on earth are you doing? Get up. You know what don’t. You look hilarious like that.” 

 

Jamie felt her grin against his skin and his chest rumbled with laughter. The rumble passed through her chest and body, leaving her with an overwhelming feeling of contentment and safety. She joined in with him, though she never parted her head from his skin.

 

“Do you think I’m some sort of angel, Murtagh?”

 

He would have offered an answer, but he had none. His mouth remained open in an ‘o’ and his eyes bugged out at each glance to the gossamer wings shimmering in the fresh dew and slight autumn dawn. 

 

“You of all people can attest to my horrible attitude and devotion. Me, an angel?” Breath streamed out in a harsh laugh out of her nose. “How often have I even attended mass?”

 

“Not often enough, I’ll make a proper catholic o’ ye yet Sassenach. Ye ken when yer singing sae properly in a church pew, all pious and-” Jamie pinched his favourite part of her and she playfully slapped at his bicep. She knew exactly where his thoughts were trailing off to. 

 

“Then what are ye lass?” 

 

“A faerie. Fair folk. Whatever you wish to call it.” 

 

Murtagh sat back against the damp grass, the wind knocked out of him as his mind processed the truth of her words. 

 

“So Craigh na Dun? Where I first found ye wi’ that bastard Randall?”

 

“Yes, that was when I arrived in, well this time .” 

 

She continued there, describing as best she could the events of the past few months, and answered all of Murtagh’s inquiries. Two fish roasted over the fire, ones that Jamie had caught in the nearby stream as Claire recanted her unimaginable tale. As the hours passed and it was nearly noon, Jamie stretched his legs from under Claire and his joints straightened with a pop. He shifted under her so she would replace him on the log, and he would be free to move about. Her heart raced at the loss of contact but she reassured herself by keeping her gaze on him. 

 

“We must be going.” 

 

They were only just barely outside the border of MacKenzie lands, and they still had more than a full day and a half to travel back home. 

 

“Where are we going?” 

 

“Home.” 

 

“Lallybroch?” 

 

“Aye. I’m sorry ye canna rest more mo ghràidh, but I have tae ken yer safe from the wrath o’ the MacKenzies.” 

 

“Just what did you do to them?” 

 

“Nothing that wasna deserved. But the absence o’ their fine physician will be sorely felt sure enough.” 

 

Jamie shook out the grass and dew from his tartan and bed roll. He rolled up the fabrics and placed them on Donas’ saddle while Claire sat on the mossy log and enjoyed the sight. She allowed Jamie to secure the arisaid with an extra belt of his around her without protest and deliver the medicines from her instructions to her back. After the task of packing everything away was done, he slipped his calloused hand back into its proper place, encompassing his wife’s hand. He too felt the panic of parting from her touch for even a second. Claire’s eyes passed over the poor state of his left hand and she pulled him down closer to her. 

 

“Jamie, these must hurt. Let me put something on them at least.” Claire brought up his hand to her lips and kissed the split and bruised skin of his knuckles. 

 

“No, I dinna need yer physicking jes’ yet, mo cridhe.” He leaned his forehead against hers and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. 

 

“Can I ride with you?”

 

“I’m surprised ye dinna prefer that old coot’s company.” He poked his thumb in the air in the direction of his godfather.

 

“Never.” Her forehead parted from his so she could meet his gaze. 

 

“I heard that ye wee heathens. Yer like bairns the two o’ ye.” Murtagh shook his head and grumbled as his hands worked the ties of his saddle. 

 

Hearty laughter filled Claire and Jamie’s chest and once their fit was done, mounted the beast before them. 

 

They sat together atop Donas, with Murtagh riding Brimstone. Murtagh proudly boasted how he had stolen the mare under the eyes of the stablehand at Dougal’s estate, saying it was the least Colum could do to gift them two horses after all of the strife. The horses clopped a steady pace to Lallybroch and the three shared a comfortable silence, not feeling awkward at the open air stretching around them. Jamie never let his hold of Claire go, and neither did she. They assured each other of the reality of their safety with each stroke of their arms. Brushing over the almost imperceptible bump of her stomach, Jamie vowed once again to protect both of the faeries in his arms to protect them forever and if he couldn’t, to damn to hell any who would bring them harm.

 

Claire let her body sag in his hold, trusting him completely. Her body, her soul, her heart she trusted him to safely tuck in his embrace and protect.