Chapter 1: On the Other Side of Time
You could smell it from a mile away. The warm, smoky scent of whisky. Even when I was a child, the smell of it was a comforting thing to me. It made me think of Uncle Lamb, sitting in the parlor with his cigar, a newspaper, and a finger or two of whisky. I remembered the first burn of it when he offered me a sip after I showed curiosity at eight years old. The hot toddies he made for me when I was ill.
Now, the smell made me think of Scotland, of cold castles made warm by merriment, of riotous Highlanders and ribald stories, and most of all, a devastatingly handsome redhead with smiling blue eyes and a beguiling smile.
That devastatingly handsome redhead was no less so now in his fifties than he was as a twenty-something stableboy with a price on his head. As I approached the whisky still, I watched as he bent over his work, red-faced and sweating, the muscles in his shoulders flexing in full view thanks to his having abandoned his shirt. Normally he wouldn’t do such a thing save for the privacy of our bedroom, too uncomfortable showing his scarred back, but he was at ease here in Fraser’s Ridge. Even if someone other than me, or Murtagh wandered up, I didn’t think he minded so much anymore.
And just as well, because if anything, he was even more devastatingly handsome now than he was back when we first met...and that was saying something.
Jamie looked up as I approached, smiling widely. “Afternoon, Sassenach.”
Smiling back, I shook my head. “I’m afraid you’re too late for that. It’s well into evening.”
Jamie blinked then peered up at the darkening sky where it was shielded by trees. “So it is. Apologies, Sassenach, th’ time got awa’ from us.”
I turned to Murtagh, and propped my hands on my hips. “It’s your job to be sure he’s home by supper, you know,” I teased him.
Murtagh glowered at me, but I knew him well enough by now that I knew the difference between his usual grump, and his playful one that tended to be aimed at me more than anyone else.
“Hmph. It ceased being my job when ye marrit him, lass.”
“You go on,” Jamie said to Murtagh. “I’ll finish up here.”
“Jamie,” I said in exasperation. “It’s getting late. Can’t you do this tomorrow?”
“Ye ken I’ll no rest wi’ a job unfinished. I’ll only be a wee bit longer.”
“Well, come on,” Murtagh said. “It’ll go faster wi’ the two of us.”
“No, you go,” Jamie insisted. “I’d rather Claire have an escort anyway. There’ve been painters about.”
Murtagh sighed and put down his tools. “ Fine . But if ye’re not home by th’ time Claire’s finished setting th’ table, I’m comin’ and draggin’ ye by the ear.”
“Aye, a ghoistidh,” Jamie said, grinning.
While I didn’t doubt that there were mountain lions around, or that Jamie worried about them, I knew that he’d said that mostly to convince Murtagh to go, and I didn’t dispute him because no matter that Murtagh was healthy and fit, he was still pushing seventy.
Looping my arm through his, I started us back toward the house. “He seems to really enjoy this, doesn’t he?” I asked.
Murtagh smiled, putting his free hand over mine where it rested on his arm. “Aye. Th’ lad is finally home, after all this time. It does a heart good tae see it.”
“Mine too,” I agreed, leaning my head on his shoulder. In the back of my mind was the constant thought of the coming war, like a looming storm cloud, but I didn’t say what I knew we both were thinking. Sometimes it was simply better to live in the moment.
“And it’s good tae see you so settled and happy as well,” he continued. “I dinna ken what those years away were for you, but I ken you and Jamie enough tae ken that neither of ye could have been fully satisfied wi’out the other.”
“Quite right,” I said. “It wasn’t...easy,” I continued, wondering how much Jamie had told his godfather of the twenty years I spent back in my own time. “Nothing like what you or Jamie endured, though. I was happy raising Brianna, of course, and becoming a doctor was a dream come true. But it was all so...hollow, without Jamie.”
“And your first husband?” he asked. “Randall?”
I nodded, answering the question he was tip-toeing around. “Yes, I went back to him. Jamie made me promise that I would. And even though being a single mother in my time wouldn’t have been as devastating as it would be now, it would have been very difficult, and he was willing to accept and raise Brianna as his own...and he did. He was a good father to her.”
“But what about you ?”
I shrugged. “I tried, I really did. Frank he...none of what happened was his fault. He loved me, and I did love him, too. Just...not the way I should have, and it wore on us after a time. By the time Brianna was eight we were husband and wife in name only. He fell in love with someone else, and I threw myself into my work to ignore how unhappy I was. I regret that, now, because it impacted my relationship with Bree.”
“Ye seem close now.”
I smiled. “Yes. In the end, I think it was more the fact that I was lying to her that made me distance myself from her, even more than work. Once I could be fully honest with her about who she was, and who I am, that wall came down. I’m so happy she’s here, even though I worry for her something dreadful.”
Murtagh nodded, and helped me step over a fallen tree. “Aye, I ken ye are, but she’s a strong lass, like you.”
We walked along quietly as the shadows grew longer, until he looked at me with another question written on his face. “Whatever happened tae Frank?”
“He died,” I said. “Several years ago. He was leaving me, finally, but he wanted to take Brianna with him to England, and we fought. He had a car accident...a...like a carriage, you see.”
“Car...” he mumbled, before turning outraged. “He was going a tae divorce ye?! And leave ye in shame?”
I chuckled. “Again, divorce there doesn’t hold quite the same weight as it does here. I was perfectly happy to give him the divorce, just not Brianna.”
“Hmph. He was good tae ye, at least?”
“Oh, yes. He was a good provider, and at least tried to be a good husband. He always was...before. But I think part of it…” I trailed off and bit my lower lip.
“I’ve never mentioned this to Jamie. He knows...well...he knows that Frank bore a family resemblance to Black Jack. What I didn’t tell him was how very striking that resemblance was, or how when I first returned, I could barely see Frank at all without seeing his fucking ancestor.”
“Christ,” Murtagh breathed. “Can I at least say I’m glad that particular family tree is gone? Or...or did he have children?”
I shook my head. “No, Frank couldn’t have children. And yes, you’re perfectly entitled to feel that way. Be careful, the ground here is slick.”
At the hill leading to the house, the recent rain had washed part of it away, leaving muddy inclines that could sneak up on you if you weren’t careful. I picked up my skirts, wary of having to clean the hems again . Jamie would take the longer way down on Gideon, but at our rate, he could have finished at the still and beat us home.
“What’s for supper?” Murtagh asked, releasing my arm so that I could proceed him down the hill.
“Good ol’ bangers and mash,” I said, with a cheeky grin over my shoulder. “And I’ll have you know I…”
I didn’t get to finish what I was saying, as suddenly the ground slid out from under me and I went tumbling down the hill, scrambling for purchase as my body ricocheted off rocks and sticks before landing with a hard thump that turned the world black.
My head felt like it was going to split apart into two. It was even worse than the hangover I got after playing a drinking game with some of the other nurses during the war...and won.
I tried to open my eyes, but my vision swam and it was nauseating, so I shut them again.
“Christ! Are ye alright, lass?!”
I frowned at the sound of the unfamiliar voice, until suddenly it all came rushing back to me in a sickening wave.
Driving along the roads of Scotland with Frank.
Watching the women dance around the stones.
Going back to the stones alone...hearing that strange hum...touching them...then waking up in a nightmare with a man who looks just like Frank...but who tried to rape me.
I’d been saved from rape but immediately bashed in the head by an erstwhile savior, who was currently trying to shake me awake.
When I opened my eyes this time, my vision was clear, and my “savior’s” face was inches from mine.
“Get away from me!” I screamed, shoving him back and scrambling backward.
“Claire, it’s me!” he exclaimed.
I paused, staring at him in alarm. “How...how do you know my name?”
I looked around, confused. How long had I been unconscious? It had been morning last I remembered, and now it was nearly night, and he seemed to have taken me to another location.
“I must be dreaming,” I muttered.
“Come on, lass,” the man said, reaching for me. “We’d best let Marsali take a keek at ye, I think ye’ve hit your heid.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you until you tell me who you are, where I am, and why the hell do you know my name?!”
He stared at me in obvious concern, and something that almost looked like heartbreak, which only served to confuse and alarm me more. It was dark, and I could only make out his basic features, but I definitely knew him for the man who’d saved me.
“Claire,” he said lowly. “It’s me, Murtagh. Don’t ye know me?”
“No, I don’t!” I pushed myself to my feet, wincing and holding my head as I did so. “Why did you have to hit me?”
“I didn’a hit ye! Ye fell, ye daft wee thing! Why th’ devil would I hit ye?!”
Gritting my teeth, I took a step closer. “Listen, I don’t know what sort of game you’re at. If I’ve stumbled into some sort of...of...I don’t know, cult commune, I’m sorry, and I’m very grateful to you for your help before but my husband will be looking for me and he will not be happy to learn what you’ve done.”
“Aye, I ken he’ll be looking for ye,” he said. “And he’ll no’ be happy that I let ye fall, but I promise ye lass, I’d never hurt ye.”
His utter sincerity caught me a little off guard, but I tried to stand firm. “You know where my husband is?”
“Aye,” he said patiently, pointing over my shoulder. “Judging by Gideon o’er there, he’s beat us home. Ye were out for several minutes.”
I turned around to see a large house sitting in a clearing beside a stream. I was wary, no matter how warm and cheery it looked, but even if this...this Murtagh was lying, perhaps there was a telephone inside I could call for help with.
I knew even as I thought it though, that there was no phone. Besides there being nothing in the way of phone or power lines, there were no cars, and no road. Just horses, and a wagon.
I refused to believe what my mind was whispering to me.
“You say my husband is inside?” I asked cautiously.
“Aye, and he will be coming looking soon. Let’s go.”
He took my arm, but this time there was no suggestion as to where we were going as he led me firmly toward the house. I decided it was probably in my best interest to go along.
When we stepped through the front door, we were greeted by a warm, homey place, with a roaring fire, herbs and flowers hanging from the ceiling, and the smell of something cooking that had my mouth watering even despite my nausea.
A tall... very tall man came around the corner, looking concerned. He was older, in his late forties perhaps, but handsome, and looked strong as an ox. He had light red hair tied back in a ponytail and clothes that looked straight out of a storybook.
“What th’ devil,” he murmured, rushing to my side and taking me by the arms. I flinched back in fear, but he didn’t hold me tightly, just looked me over where I was covered from head to foot in mud. “What’s happened to ye?”
“She fell,” Murtagh answered for me, which was a good thing, because I found to my disconcertment that I’d been struck a bit speechless by this other man’s intensely blue eyes. “She’s taken a bump tae th’ heid, and I think it’s rattled her brain a bit. She’s acting like she doesn’a ken me.”
“I don’t ... ken him,” I said, giving myself a mental shake. “And I didn’t fall! He struck me on the back of my head and knocked me out!”
The redheaded gentleman reared back, his face scrunching up. “Murtagh? Striking you ? Sassenach, he’d no sooner lay a hand on ye than th’ White Sow would grow wings and fly, ye ken that.”
Finally snapping out of my slight daze, I broke out of his arms and took a large step back. “I don’t know that! I don’t know him and I don’t know you!” I whirled back on Murtagh. “You told me my husband was here!”
“Claire, I’m right here,” the redhead said, grabbing my arms again. “Ye’re scaring me, mo nighean donn!”
“Get your goddamned hands off me, you brute!” I exclaimed, resisting succumbing to panic. “I don’t know who the hell you are, but you’re not my husband!”
“Murtagh,” he said lowly, releasing me. “Go get Marsali. Now.”
He took a few steps back, giving me space. I didn’t feel particularly threatened by him, despite his enormous size and obvious strength. The worry in his eyes though...the uncanny feeling that he knew me...that was bloody well terrifying. That it seemed like I was somehow back in time was only the beginning of the strangeness around me and I had no idea what to do.
“Dinna be scairt, lass,” he said softly. “No one here will harm ye. My daughter-in-law is learning tae be a healer, and she’s becoming a fine one.”
“I’m not hurt,” I said, regardless of the pounding in my head.
“Something isn’a right, Sassenach, as ye canna seem tae remember how ye came tae be here.”
“I know how,” I said hotly. “Your father, or friend, or whoever he is struck me in the head and brought me here! I didn’t do anything wrong! That bastard attacked me !”
“Who?” he asked urgently, his eyes flashing. “Who attacked ye?”
I took a step back, a little startled by his intensity. “A...a redcoat. A man by the name of Randall.”
This time it was he who took a step back, staring at me in horror. “ What ?”
A rush of dizziness went through me, and he noticed, because he took my arm and led me gently to a chair.
“Easy, lass,” he murmured. “D’ye feel as ye might be sick?”
“No,” I lied, but he swiftly grabbed a wooden bucket from near the fireplace and set it near me.
Concussion , my mind informed me. A traumatic brain injury which causes temporary loss of function in the higher centers of the brain.
“Aye, I’ve had a concussion myself, lass.”
I blinked up at him, neither aware that I’d spoken aloud, or even how I came to know so much about concussions. Sure, I’d dealt with my share in the war...but in my mind was an image of a concussed brain and I didn’t remember ever seeing that before.
“Symptoms include headache, nausea, loss of consciousness and…” I winced with a particularly sharp pain. “Amnesia.”
A thunderous sound had me jumping to my feet in fear before the front door of the house flew open and a sea of people filed in. I found myself semi hiding behind the red headed man like a fool.
There were two men, in addition to Murtagh, several children, and two young women.
“I didn’a tell ye tae bring th’ whole ridge,” the redheaded man muttered between his teeth.
Murtagh snorted. “They were all at Fergus’s when I got there, did ye think I could stop them?”
“Da?” said a pretty redheaded woman, very clearly the large man’s daughter as she was virtually a carbon copy of him. “Murtagh told us…”
“Aye,” he broke in quickly. “We’ve a visitor…”
“Visitor?” she said, looking around him. “Mama, are you alright?”
I felt my stomach drop to somewhere around my toes when the woman made eye-contact with me .
“Mama?” I whispered.
A petite blonde woman approached me confidently, taking my face in her hands. “Where did ye hit your head, Ma? D’ye feel sick?”
I pushed away from her, scrambling to get away. Mama? Ma? By God, these women were around my own age! “What is wrong with you people?” I asked, hating how my voice trembled. “You...you must have mistaken me for someone else!”
“Milady, what are you talking about?” Asked one of the two men, a slender, dark-haired man with an unusual French accent. “We are your family!”
“Stop it!” I screamed, backing myself into a wall. “I don’t fucking know who any of you are! Now, I want to be taken back to where that bloody old man found me right this instant!”
“Aye, Mistress,” the redheaded man said softly. “It’ll be as ye say…”
“Da,” his daughter said reproachfully. “There’s obviously something wrong with her!”
“Aye,” he snapped at her. “She’s been frightened, and she’s lost. None of us are helping by crowding th’ poor lass,” he turned to me, and his expression was so gentle, I couldn’t help but be soothed by it. “It’s late now, we canna go anywhere tonight. But perhaps if ye tell us your husband’s name, I can get word tae him?”
I avoided looking at everyone else by keeping my eyes on him, somehow feeling like I could trust him, if no one else. “Frank,” I said, but I knew, deep inside, that there was no way they could possibly get word to him. Those stones had sent me...somewhere, and I needed get back now.
“Oh my God...” the redheaded woman gasped. “She doesn’t remember!”
“Remember what?! ” I cried, growing panicked again.
“It’s alright, lass,” the man murmured, approaching me as carefully as one might a startled horse. “As I said, you’re safe here. Dinna fash, we’ll get ye back to your husband. I swear tae ye.”
“But Grandpere,” piped up a little boy from the French man’s side. “ You’re her husband!”
Someone scolded the child, but I didn’t hear anything else before, once again, the world went black.
Chapter 2: The Face in the Mirror
Despite the family’s hopes, Claire’s memory does not return overnight, so Jamie tries to tell her who she is.
So much thanks for the awesome reaction to chapter one! This fic is almost finished, so you can expect regular updates!
When I came to again, I was tucked up in a large, admittedly comfortable bed.
“Take it easy,” someone murmured when I tried to sit up. “Just lie still a moment, till things quit spinning, aye?”
It was the blonde woman from downstairs, and she was dabbing my brow with a cool, damp cloth.
“Are you the...the healer, he spoke of?” I asked.
“Aye,” she said, smiling. “Or...I’m training tae be, anyway. But my teacher is th’ finest there is, and she tells me I’ve been learning well. And if she were here, she’d tell ye that ye have a concussion, and that ye need tae rest, and take things slow.”
“She’d be right,” I admitted ruefully. I could do myself serious damage by getting myself too worked up. “What is your name?”
She gave me a pinched look, though she tried to hide it. “Marsali. And...and what’s yours?”
“You all seem to know already,” I huffed. “Would you care to explain to me how that is?”
“Now, dinna get riled up again,” Marsali said firmly. “I ken ye’re expecting answers, and ye’ll have them, but only when you’re feeling well.”
I nodded, unable to ignore her commanding tone, nor the pounding in my skull. “At least answer me this...that man downstairs, the older one...what that boy said…”
“I apologize for my son,” she broke in. “He’s got a bit of an overactive imagination. And that man downstairs is my husband’s father, Jamie. He asked if he could come up and talk tae ye when ye awoke, if ye didn’a mind?”
I shook my head. Something about that man settled my nerves, and talking to him sounded like a good idea. He seemed the sort who could, and would get things done. Besides, he was quite obviously the leader, or at least patriarch of this place. “I don’t mind.”
“I’ll go fetch him,” she said, smiling. “Ye lay back and rest, in the meantime.”
“I will. Thank you, Marsali.”
I looked around the bedroom after she left, taking stock of my surroundings. A burning fire, but no electric lights. A basin and pitcher, but no running water. No matter how much my logical mind rebelled against the very idea, I couldn’t deny the fact that those stones sent me to someplace that was not my own time. The best thing I could do was to keep calm, keep my head down, and try to get back to the stones as soon as I could.
The huge boots beside the door, and the generally masculine smell to the room suggested that this was his room. Jamie’s. But there was a vanity table full of perfumes and various old-fashioned articles for a woman’s toilette, and I remembered again what that child said, and felt a new wave of nausea roll through me at the thought. The boy must have been mistaken. They all were. Perhaps Jamie had a wife who died, and I reminded them of her? It was an eerie thought on its own, but the only one I could think of that made any sense.
Following a light tap on the door, the man himself peeked inside.
“May I come in?” he asked.
“It’s your home, isn’t it?” I asked. “And your room, I take it?”
“Aye,” he said. “But you’re...a welcome guest, Sassenach.”
“Why do you call me that? I was told that it wasn’t complimentary.”
He smiled, and I marveled how it made him look almost boyish in a way, no matter that he had to be twice my age.
“Apologies, Mistress,” he said. “I dinna mean it that way. How are ye feeling? Marsali said ye must take it easy.”
I nodded. “I’m fine, really. Do...do you think you can take me back to where Murtagh found me?” I swallowed, having been attempting to come up with a plausible reason for why I was out there to start with. “I was supposed to be meeting my husband’s relatives, you see. They’re going to be so worried.”
He nodded, stepping inside to sit at the foot of the bed, but keeping himself a respectable distance. “Aye, Mistress. We’ll leave at first light, so long as ye’re fit for travel. Ye have my word. Sleep, now. I swear tae ye, no one here will harm ye. You’re safe.”
Despite everything, I found that I believed him, and I felt my eyes grow heavy.
“D’ye need anything?” he asked.
“I’m a little cold,” I admitted. I also knew that I should probably be awakened every few hours to check my condition, but didn’t say so, since I doubted that there was anything these people could do to help me without a modern hospital. Maybe I would simply wake up in my own time, and this will all have been some sort of mad concussed dream?
“Here,” from the foot of the bed, he unfolded a woolen plaid blanket of some sort. He spread it out over me, then tucked it up under my chin. “There. Go tae sleep, lass. I’ll be near, if ye need me.”
I gave him a weak smile in thanks, and then closed my eyes, hoping that by tomorrow, I’d be with Frank again.
“Poke her, Jemmy.”
“Tae see if she wakes up!”
“YOU poke her!”
I kept my eyes closed, fighting off a smile, hearing the two children bicker over who should waken me up. Well, it wasn’t a dream, after all.
“I’ll go get Joan. She’ll do it.”
I heard one of them tiptoe a little closer, and chose that moment to let my eyes fly open.
The two little boys shrieked and leapt back.
“What are ye two wee gomerals doing?!” Jamie snapped, appearing in the doorway.
“We wanted to see if she still didn’t ‘member us!” the older of the two said.
“Out,” Jamie ordered, firmly but not without a deep affection for the two, and they scampered away. He looked at me then, his blue eyes piercing and appraising. “How are ye feeling, Claire?”
“Better,” I said, sitting up. “It’s light...you...you promised you would take me back?”
To my suprise, Jamie looked as if my answer broke his heart. “Sassenach...ye really dinna remember?”
“Remember what ?” I asked in exasperation, throwing back the covers and climbing out of bed. I was wearing nothing but a thin, white gown, not my own dress, and I wondered who changed me. I rather hoped it was Marsali. It was practically transparent, and feeling exposed, I snatched up the plaid blanket and wrapped it around my shoulders.
“I don’t know you,” I said. “But you somehow know me, and I would appreciate an explanation why !”
“I’d hoped ye be back tae yourself in th’ morning,” he said, almost to himself. “Sassenach, I do know ye. I know ye better than I know myself. Ye’ve lost some o’ your memory, somehow. Ye called it amnesia . Brianna said th’ blow to your heid has done it. But ye must try and remember!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about! Now please, you promised that you would take me back so that I can get back to my husband!”
“I am your husband!” he roared, and I cringed back in fear, my heart pounding. His demeanor changed instantly to something softer, and he took a stumbling step back, as if horrified with himself. “I canna take ye where ye want tae go because we’re in North Carolina, no’ Scotland,” he said quietly. “And ye canna go back to your time because that time has passed ! It’s been nigh on thirty years, Claire!”
“No!” I cried, backing away. “You don’t know what you’re talking about! And you are not my husband!”
“I am your husband,” he growled. “And ye are my wife!”
He grabbed my right hand, bringing it up between us. “I gave ye this ring. I’ve known ye, body and soul, and loved ye for years.”
I snatched my hand away, ignoring the silver band, and checking my left hand in a panic that my real wedding band was still there. It was. “You’re lying,” I said, cursing the tears rolling down my cheeks. “So you know my name, and you put a ring on my finger while I slept. You don’t know me!”
When I backed away this time, he followed, entering my space in a way he hadn’t before. It was intimidating, and yet I still felt quite certain that he wouldn’t really hurt me.
“Your name is Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser ,” he said, each name slow and deliberate. “Ye were born in 1918 tae Henry and Julia Beauchamp.”
“Stop it!” I commanded.
“They were kill’t when ye were five, and ye were raised by your Uncle Lambert. Ye were a combat nurse in the Second World War.”
I shook my head. “Anyone could find that out…” but how could they? I wasn’t in my own time...or was I?
He reached out and touched my cheek. “Ye’ve a wee birthmark in th’ shape of a bird, on th’ inside of your left thigh.”
I reared back in disgust. So he had been the one to dress me! The pervert! “Why do you know that?!”
“I ken because I’ve kissed it, more times than I can count. Ye didn’a even ken it was there yourself until ye were told by...by th’ first man ye ever laid with. A lad by th’ name of Jeremy, when ye were no’ but seventeen. Ye were surprised, and ye tried to look for yourself, curling yourself into a wee ball while th’ lad sat there wanting, and ye were so embarrassed that ye did that, after.”
I felt the breath rush out of me, shaken with disbelief. He could have found out my history somehow, and disturbingly enough he could have looked at my body while I slept and saw the birthmark...but I’d never told anyone that story about Jeremy and myself...not even Frank. He knew that I wasn’t a virgin when I married him, but he wanted no part in hearing about it. And the truth was, I felt like he would have laughed at me anyway.
“Please stop,” I whimpered, feeling dizzy again.
He took my face in his hands, holding me firmly, but gently. “Try tae remember, Claire.”
I shook my head. “It can’t be true. The stones did this...I...I have to try and go back! I have to try ! I love my husband!”
Jamie looked as thought I’d stabbed him, and his face crumbled. “I’d do anything for ye, Sassenach, but I canna do that. Frank isn’a there, lass. You’re no’ twenty-seven years old, either. Look …” he turned me toward the mirror, and I gasped at what I saw.
It was me...but not quite. My hair was longer, and turning gray on top. My face was full of lines that weren’t there before, and as I threw off the blanket and ran my hands down my body, I could feel undeniable changes in my stomach, my hips.
“W...what’s happened to me?”
“Nothing, mo nieghan donn . Nothing but thirty years, and a life. A life spent in hardship, pain…” he touched a scar on the side of my nose, faded to a dark line, but still recent. “...but also joy, and love…” his fingertip brushed the corner of my eyes, where unfamiliar laugh lines had developed.
It felt like staring into a funhouse mirror. I could see that it was me, but it didn’t feel like it. Jamie caught the tears rolling from my eyes on his thumb.
“Ye carried a child,” he continued, resting his large hand over my stomach. “Ye bear th’ marks o’ that, as well. And ye fed her at your breast.”
He cupped me there, and I gasped at the intimate contact, unable to deny that my own breasts were a different size and shape than they should have been. But his touch was too much, and I turned and pushed him away.
“How did this happen?” I cried.
“Ye dinna remember , Sassenach,” he insisted. “I ken you’re scairt, and I’m sorry mo cridhe , but ye must try and believe me.”
I shook my head. “I can’t . I do remember...vividly, going through the stones. I left my husband just yesterday . It wouldn’t be that clear in my mind if what you’re saying is true.”
I regretted how heartsick he looked, I truly did, but the fact of the matter was that I felt nothing for this man besides general appreciation and, if I was being completely honest with myself, base attraction.
“I’m sorry…” I whispered.
He stared at me a moment more, then backed away. “It’s alright. Ye dinna have tae be sorry, lass. Why don’t ye...why don’t ye get dressed. There’re clothes for ye there in th’ wardrobe. Marsali’ll want tae have a look at ye. There’s a medical clinic just downstairs when you’re ready, and I reckon Lizzie has breakfast on.”
Jamie walked out without another word, and I was left feeling wretched and utterly confused.
I spun back to the mirror, tapping it to try and determine if it was some sort of trick. But I knew it wasn’t. I could feel the wrinkles on my face, could see the weathering of my hands. I stripped off the gown and looked down, gasping to see pale, nearly invisible white lines on my stomach.
A child , he’d said. I’d been too overwhelmed to really pay attention in the moment but now my world was reeling. A child ? How in God’s name could I forget my child ? The proof of her was there, on my skin.
I remembered the pretty redheaded woman downstairs, heard her call me Mama . She was around the same age as I felt , but somehow she was my daughter?
I stared at my face again in my reflection. What if I could get back to Frank, but not back to the way I was? Would he still want me, an old woman? Almost old enough to be his mother?
It dawned on me that I was standing there, naked, and there was good chance of any of the multitude of household inhabitants coming in, so I went to the wardrobe that Jamie had indicated and opened it, frowning to see a neat row of 18th century dresses hanging besides a man’s shirts, and coats.
Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ...what now?
Chapter 3: How to Wear a Corset
Brianna comforts Jamie as the reality of what has happened to Claire comes crashing down, and Claire makes a decision.
Brianna watched Jamie walk down the steps, his face drawn and pale.
“Da?” she called, her voice shaking, fearing the worst. “Mama, is she…”
“She doesn’a remember,” he said, and after a brief second of being relieved that Claire was more or less alright, Brianna hurried to his side, hating how flat and emotionless he sounded and worrying that he might faint. She knew he hadn’t slept a wink the night before.
“She thinks she’s back t’the time when she first came through th’ stones. She wants nothing tae do wi’ me. Nothing more than tae go home. Go back...tae Frank.”
“Oh, Da…” she whispered, putting a hand on his arm. When his face began to crumble, she wrapped her arms around his waist and he enveloped her at once in his embrace, leaning enough of his weight against her that if she hadn’t been as tall and strong as she was, she likely would have buckled.
“She looks at me like I’m a stranger,” he said into her hair, and she could feel the way he breathed heavily to try and keep from crying, but she felt tears hit the side of her neck. “No love in her eyes at all. No’ even when we first met had her eyes been so...empty.”
“She’ll get better,” Brianna said firmly. “Once her brain heals, it’ll come back.”
“Will it?” he pulled away, going to where Claire had herbs hanging over the fireplace. “I was hurt when I was a lad, ken,” he pulled the ribbon out of his hair and lifted it up in the back, showing Brianna a thin line where hair had never grown back. “An axe tae th’ head. I lost memory of a period of time just before it happened, and I never got it back.”
“An axe to the head and a bump on a rock are two different things, Da,” Brianna said. “And I may not know much about medicine but I do know that especially when it comes to the brain, no two injuries are the same. We just have to give her time. It’ll come back to her.”
The look he gave her then was dark. “And if it doesn’a?”
Brianna smiled at him, trying to remain optimistic, for his sake. “Well, she fell in love with you once before. What makes you think it wouldn’t happen again?”
Her words had the desired result, and Jamie returned her smile tentatively.
There was a thump from upstairs, and they exchanged a look. “I told her tae get dressed,” Jamie said. “Ye dinna suppose she’s trying tae escape?”
“No,” Brianna said. “But you did just tell a woman with no memory of anything but the 20th century to put a gown on, and I know from experience that I should probably go see if she needs help. What should we tell her?”
“No sense lying tae her,” Jamie sighed. “I already tried tae tell her th’ truth, and she didn’a take it well. Perhaps just take it slow and easy from now on, dinna overwhelm her,” he looked at her sharply. “And do not tell her that Frank is dead, d’ye understand?”
She frowned. If he wanted them to be honest, why hide something as important as that?
“It would only hurt her,” Jamie said as way of explanation. “Right now he’s th’ only home she knows, and she’s scairt enough as it is wi’out us taking that away from her.”
Brianna’s heart melted. She knew how much hearing Claire say she wanted to go back to Frank must kill Jamie, but in his mind, his feelings came second to Claire’s, always.
As much as Brianna loved Frank, she knew that that was one major difference between the two men.
“Ye best go,” Jamie said, staring up the stairway again. “I’ll be in th’ barn, if ye need me.”
Brianna nodded and turned to go, then paused, standing on tiptoe to kiss her father’s cheek. “I love you, Da.”
It was something she did not often say, but it was clear that it was something he needed to hear just then.
“And I love you, m’annsachd,” he said softly, brushing her cheek with the tip of his finger.
Brianna mounted the stairs and peeked cautiously into her parents’ bedroom. Her mother was there by the bed, wearing her shift, and holding up a bum roll with a look of utter disdain on her face.
Brianna couldn’t help but chuckle, and Claire looked up sharply. “Who’s there?” she called out, and Brianna’s heart clenched at the fear in her voice. She sounded so young, and lost.
“Just me,” Brianna said, stepping into the room. “I just came to see if you need any help dressing. I know it’s one thing to see stuff like this in movies, it's another to actually wear it all!”
“I’ll say,” Claire mumbled, tossing the bum roll on the bed. “I...I’m sorry...I didn’t get your name.”
Brianna smiled, trying to hide how much it hurt to see the lack of recognition in her mother’s eyes. Even in times that they’d been at odds, Claire had never looked at her with anything but love. She could only imagine how her father must be feeling. “It’s Brianna,” she said. “Here, start with the corset.”
Claire slid the corset over her arms and Brianna tied the laces for her, pulling them snugly but not so tightly that she couldn’t easily move. Claire had shown Brianna herself when Brianna first arrived, how to wear the undergarment comfortably.
“What is this place?” Claire asked. “He...Jamie...told me that we’re not in Scotland.”
Brianna shook her head. “No. We’re in North Carolina, a place called Fraser’s Ridge.”
“And we’re not...in the twentieth century...are we?”
It wasn’t really a question, but Brianna thought that Claire just needed to hear someone say it. “No. It’s 1772.”
Claire backed away from her and sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. “This feels like a nightmare.”
Brianna sat down beside her, hesitating briefly before putting her hand on Claire’s shoulder. “I know. I can only imagine how frightening this must be.”
“He said...that you...you’re…”
“Just...think of me as your friend for now,” Brianna broke in. “It might be easier that way.”
The smile Claire gave her then was genuine. “Thank you, Brianna.”
“Now, come on,” Brianna patted her leg and stood, suddenly feeling strangely maternal toward her own mother. “Let’s get you dressed so we can see if the boys left us anything for breakfast.”
It was a little easier to talk to Brianna, than Jamie. Though she still had that look in her eyes, like she was waiting for me to just be different , I didn’t feel quite so conflicted with her. It was easy enough to pretend she was a friend and not...something else.
I followed her cautiously downstairs, keeping an eye out for Jamie, or Murtagh.
There was a girl in the kitchen who I hadn’t seen before. She turned to me with an easy smile. “Oh! Good morning, Mistress! Care for some parritch?”
“This is Lizzie,” Brianna explained. “She works for us, but she’s also part of the family.”
“Nice to meet you, Lizzie,” I said politely, pretending not to notice the look the two girls shared.
“After we eat, we’ll go see Marsali. She’s over in the surgery,” Brianna said.
“Marsali,” I repeated, trying to remember the faces from the night before, but it was all a little fuzzy. “And her husband is…”
“That’s me, Milady,” said the tall, dark-haired man from the night before as he swanned into the kitchen, snatching a piece of bacon from the counter and giving a winning smile to Lizzie who swatted at him with a spoon
“That’s my brother, Fergus,” Brianna said.
“Why do you call me that?” I asked him. “Am I not…” I trailed off, uncertain if I really wanted to hear the answer. Jamie had said I had a child . I supposed this Fergus could easily be a stepson, though he didn’t look a thing like Jamie the way Brianna did.
“You’ve always been Milady to me,” Fergus said simply, grinning cheekily, but offered no other explanation and I didn’t ask for one.
After we ate, I followed Brianna to side-building where inside was a rather remarkable medical facility, considering the time I was apparently in, and how far away we seemed to be from a city. It was clean, well-lit, and arranged in a comfortable, organized manner.
But Marsali wasn’t there, so Brianna turned to me suddenly, her eyes wide. “Oh God, Did Da tell you?”
“Tell me what?” I asked, alarmed.
“Marsali doesn’t know anything about time travel,” she said. “Or Fergus, or Lizzie, or anyone but you and me, Da, Murtagh, as well as my husband, and my cousin, Ian.”
“Upstairs,” I said. “You said something about movies. Are you…”
“I’m like you,” she said with a smile. “I grew up in the twentieth century. So did my husband, Roger.”
“But you’re all here now?”
“Well, yeah. We made a choice.”
The same pair of rascals who woke me up that morning came barreling in, with Marsali hot on their tails. “Germain!” she snapped. “What have I told ye?! No runnin’ in th’ surgery!”
“Sorry, Maman ,” the older of the two boys said contritely.
The younger of the two, a sweet-looking little thing with strawberry blonde hair, skipped up to me with an angelic smile. “Granny!” he exclaimed, throwing his arms around my thighs.
I gasped, taking an involuntary step away, regretting it at once when his little face fell in confusion.
“Jemmy,” Brianna sighed, picking the child up. “I’m sorry,” she said to me. “He’s too young to understand.”
“What’s-a matter, Granny?” he asked, his lower lip quivering.
It was the lip that broke me, and I hurried forward, taking the boy from Brianna’s arms. “I’m so sorry...um...Jemmy? Is it?” I said, holding him a bit awkwardly. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d held a small child...if I ever had held one his age. “You surprised me, that’s all.”
Jemmy’s arms wound around my neck, squeezing tight. I felt another set of little arms, and looked down to see the other boy, Germain, hugging my waist. “Are you feeling better, Grandmama ? Do you remember me?”
“Of course I do,” I lied, stroking his hair. “How could I ever forget you?”
“Alright, you two,” Marsali said. “Grandmama is still feeling poorly, so let’s leave her be.”
I put Jemmy down and Germain took his hand and together they ran out.
“Thank you for doing that,” Brianna said, rubbing the back of her neck.
“Aye,” Marsali agreed. “I tried tae explain to Germain what happened, but he’s only six, ken.”
I shook my head. “Of course. It...it isn’t their fault. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt them deliberately.”
“We know, Ma...Claire,” Brianna said, looking away as she caught herself.
I didn’t say anything. Pretending for innocent children was one thing, but it was just too much to think that these grown women saw me as a mother. I certainly didn’t feel like anyone’s mother.
I sat on the cot while Marsali peered at my eyes with a contraption that used a mirror and a lantern for light.
“I’ve looked through all your books,” she said. “But they dinna say anything about memory loss.”
“ My books?” I looked around at the surgery, something dawning on me. “You said you had a teacher…”
Marsali smiled. “Oh, aye, best there is.”
“Me?” I asked, surprised, looking to Brianna. “I’m just a combat nurse.”
Brianna grinned. “You’re a doctor. A surgeon. And now you’re the healer, in these parts.”
“Good lord,” I murmured, feeling absurdly proud, even though it felt like we were discussing someone else’s accomplishments, and not my own. “I sure hope nobody comes in needing surgery right now .”
“You and me both,” Marsali said. “What is the last thing you remember before blacking out?”
I sighed and rolled my eyes, prepared to repeat the story. “I was…” I cut my eyes over to Brianna. “On a holiday in Scotland with my husband. I left on my own to explore, and I became...lost. That’s when I ran into a redcoat by the name of Jonathan Randall. He...attacked me…”
I remembered him, his face inches from my own, looking so unsettlingly like Frank, but Frank had never worn an expression of such evil on his face. I could still feel his hands on my body, yanking up my dress.
But then...I felt something else... other hands. Grabbing me, hitting me, prying my legs apart...
“Easy,” Brianna said softly, putting her hand on my back, making me jump, and I realized that I’d started to hyperventilate. “Black Jack can’t hurt you now.”
“I know that,” I said, a bit shortly, then shook my head to clear it. “That man, Murtagh, he, well I guess he saved me, but then he knocked me out.”
Marsali snorted. “I’m sorry Claire, but Murtagh? Hit you ? That man adores you.”
“No, Marsali, that all happened,” Brianna said. “At least, that’s what they told me,” she looked over at me. “But, you understand, all that happened decades ago, right?”
I stared down at my hands, first my left, with its gold band, then my right, with its silver one. When I moved the silver band a little up my finger, I could see the distinct lines where my skin had tanned around it while the skin beneath it had remained bright white. “It doesn’t feel that way.”
“I know it doesn’t,” she whispered. “But you have a life here, a good one. A family who loves you. And...and a husband who adores you.”
“I had a husband,” I said firmly. “What happened?”
Brianna sighed. “Maybe we should take it one step at a time, huh?”
I glanced at Marsali, wondering if Brianna’s tight-lippedness was because of her, and so I let the matter drop, for the moment.
If it had truly been some thirty years since last I remembered, and the evidence of such was becoming more and more difficult to ignore, I was afraid to even contemplate why I hadn’t returned to Frank.
Had I been unable? But how did that explain Brianna being from the future?
I had a million questions, and no answers, and it was all giving me a headache.
“I think th’ best thing ye can do is rest,” Marsali said. “Give yourself time tae heal.”
“Marsali is right,” Brianna said. “Why don’t you go on back up to bed? I’ll bring you up some lunch later.”
I did feel incredibly tired, and my head would not stop pounding, so I didn’t argue.
I decided on my way back up that my best course of action for the time being would be to keep my head down, and go along with what my gracious “hosts” said to do, at least until I was feeling well enough to set out on my own.
I couldn’t deny that I had somehow, incredibly, traveled through time. It was written on my very body. But if that was true, then the reverse must also be true, and it was possible to go back ...or...rather forward to where I came from. I had to believe that it was possible, or risk going truly mad.
The very moment I found a way, I would return home, to Frank.
Chapter 4: All’s Fair
As Claire recovers physically from her concussion, she struggles with what to do, while Jamie must make a decision to give up, or fight for his beloved.
It was incredible, the sheer number of people who came in and out of this house on a regular basis.
After sleeping off and on for two days, I awoke the one morning feeling much more myself. Not the self they wanted me to be; I still had absolutely no memory of the events that transpired between Murtagh saving me from Black Jack and now, but at least I felt better.
I hadn’t seen Jamie again, told by Brianna and Marsali that he was out working on his whisky still, but I rather thought that he was avoiding me.
The young women and I agreed that it was best for all considered to keep my memory loss a secret from the multitude of neighbors who I was informed tended to pop in and out unexpectedly. The house was evidently a main hub for the area, and Jamie not only the patriarch of the family, but head of the entire community.
“Mornin’, Mistress Fraser.”
It took a pointed look from Brianna to be reminded that the woman was in fact speaking to me .
“Good morning,” I greeted back with a smile that I hoped was convincing.
“I saw that Adso by my barn yesterday,” she said. “Quite a little hunter he is, isn’t he?”
“Oh, y...yes,” I agreed, wracking my brain to remember which of the little boys running about was Adso . Was it the dark haired one? “And quite tall for his age, as well!” I ventured.
The woman gave me the most perplexed look, telling me at once that I’d somehow gotten it wrong.
Marsali let out a rather forced laugh and took the woman by the arm, leading her away and whispering something to her in the process. The woman glanced at me over her shoulder, her expression turning sympathetic. If they weren’t telling people about my memory loss, what was Marsali saying?
“Adso is your cat ,” Brianna said under her breath near my ear.
“Oh,” I said, realizing how stupid I must have sounded.
“Let’s see,” she continued, looking around. “Clarence is your mule, the White Sow is a horrible, enormous pig that no one has managed to kill yet, Joe is your favorite goat. You named him after your best friend from our time because you insisted that it looked like him for some reason, and that real Joe would have found it funny.”
“I don’t have a best friend named Joe in my time,” I pointed out.
Brianna smiled. “You did, you just don’t remember that part.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, shaking my head. “If you and I are both from the future, how are you that man’s daughter if he’s not? Did he travel as well?”
“No, Da can’t travel,” she said. “Of the people here, only you, Roger, Jemmy, and I can. You went back...you had to, when you were pregnant with me. You thought Da had died, but when you found out that he hadn’t, you returned to stay. Roger and I followed you, more or less.”
What she was saying made no sense to me. I chose to come back?
“What about Frank?” I asked.
Brianna bit her lower lip, and her eyes looked pained, which immediately set me on edge.
“What. About. Frank?” I demanded again. “Tell me what happened to him!”
“Mama,” Brianna whispered, trying to hush me as she looked around at the people who were milling about the yard, but I didn’t care.
“Don’t call me that!” I snapped. “You will tell me at once what you know of him!”
She was prevented from saying anything at all when there was suddenly something huge and furry standing between us.
I leap back with an involuntary scream at the unexpected sight of a large wolf. It turned on me, ears perked, and hefted itself to his hind legs, lunging for me.
I had the sudden, invasive image of a number of wolves, surrounding me, teeth gnashing, and I turned to run, only to collide right into Jamie.
“Claire,” he said, worry lining his eyes as he gripped my forearms, then murmured something in another language. “It’s alright, Sassenach, he’ll no’ hurt ye!”
“Auntie, what’s wrong?”
I broke away from Jamie, whirling toward the unfamiliar voice. Someone who I could only suppose was an American Indian stood before me, but with an oddly Scottish accent. The wolf, suddenly not looking so threatening, sat placidly at his side. “Tis only Rollo,” the young man continued. “He was happy tae see ye, is all.”
“It’s alright, Ian,” Brianna said, touching his arm. “Da, maybe you should take Claire inside.”
“Aye,” Jamie agreed, gently taking me by the arm.
I was aware by then that all the milling about and busyness of the people in the yard had ceased, and all eyes were on me. All with that same uncomfortable look of pity that the woman had worn when Marsali spoke to her.
I followed Jamie inside silently, eager to escape the oppressive stares.
“Why were they looking at me like that?”
Jamie led me to the kitchen, then turned and smiled, though it was forced and weak. “Ye just screamed at th’ sight o’ poor Rollo, lass. And everyone kens that th’ one person beside Ian that Rollo is devoted to, is you.”
I shook my head. “No. They were all staring at me like they weren’t surprised by my outburst. What, have I done something like that before? Am I just mad, is that it?”
I certainly felt mad, and it wasn’t a feeling that I liked at all. I wanted nothing more than to return home, to my own time, to my own place, and to my own husband.
“No, you’re no’ mad,” Jamie said firmly. “Ye’ve been through a lot, lately, before th’ wee bump tae your head. We all have.”
I crossed my arms, rubbing them. “That wolf startled me is all,” I said, feeling strangely defensive. “I suddenly had the strangest feeling of being surrounded by them.”
“Christ,” he breathed. “That was...that was so long ago, I’d all but forgotten.”
I frowned at him. “What?”
Jamie grimaced. “‘Twas many years ago. I was...well, I was in need of rescue, we’ll put it that way. And in th’ course of you rescuing me, you were attacked by a pack o’ wolves. I wasn’a there, o’ course, and it was some time later that ye even told me about it. Ye fought them off, wi’ no’ but your hands and rocks and branches. Rollo did make ye uncomfortable when Ian first got him, but ye’ve grown fond o’ him.”
I shivered, though I wasn’t cold. I somehow knew what Jamie said to be true, even though I couldn’t actually remember it happening.
And Jamie, regardless of my discomfort, looked downright pleased .
“Those memories, they’re still in your mind. Ye haven’a lost them all.”
“I’m not so sure I want them,” I said honestly, crossing my arms. Jamie made a gesture like he was going to embrace me, but when I took a step back, he caught himself and aborted the motion immediately, taking a step back himself and placing his hands behind his back.
“Canna say I ken how ye feel,” he said lowly. “I do have certain memories of my own I wouldn’a mind being rid of forever, but I wouldn’a trade th’ good memories for them. Because th’ good mean so much more, perhaps in part, because of th’ bad.”
“And what if that choice was taken from you?” I challenged.
Jamie thought on that a moment, looking away before meeting my eyes again. “I think...I think I would try tae make new ones.”
I watched as he walked away, thinking about his words.
But it was easy for him to say, because he had all of his memories. Did he really expect me to just continue on and make do, when none of this even seemed real to me?
If all of this was real, and I had lived decades since last I remembered, Jamie and the rest of these people knew me as someone completely different than who I was now. In my mind, if not my body, I was twenty-six years old. Not a mature older woman married to an 18th century Scotsman with a gaggle of children and grandchildren running about. That wasn’t my life. It belonged to someone else.
And it wouldn’t be fair to any of us for me to try and pretend.
Jamie brought the axe down on the log, splitting it easily, though his arms were beginning to shake with the effort. The pile of firewood behind him was enough to fuel the still for a year, but he couldn’t seem to stop.
“Going to build yourself a cabin up here?”
Jamie swung the axe again, then looked up, seeing Roger approach.
“Might as well,” Roger continued. “Seems like ye live up here, now.”
Jamie glared at his son-in-law. “I’m no’ in th’ mood for your preaching, Roger Mac,” he growled.
Roger took the axe from Jamie’s shaking and blistered hands and took up the job himself, doing a respectable job of it, Jamie had to admit. Especially considering that a few years ago, the lad could barely hold an axe.
“You really think avoiding her is going tae help?” Roger asked between swings.
“I’m no’ avoiding her,” Jamie said, even though he knew that to be a lie. “I’m giving her space.”
Indeed, he checked up on Claire often, though usually when she couldn’t see him. He slept in the guest bedroom, and made himself scarce before breakfast, only returning once the household had gone to bed.
The day before, when he’d gone down to the house to check on things, he’d heard her scream and it had sent a lance through his chest. He’d run to find her, only to discover he barely recognized this woman who was terrified of Rollo, indifferent to Brianna, and shied away from his touch.
Roger stopped, then set the axe down. “Jamie, look, I know how hard it must be…”
“No, ye dinna,” Jamie snapped. “Ye have no idea what it’s like tae have th’ love of your life taken from ye in an instant and replaced with someone that has th’ same face, but who wants nothing tae do with ye!”
Roger nodded, looking away. “No. You’re right, I don’t know. I can only imagine how I would feel, and it’s horrible. But Christ man, Claire needs you. She may not know it, but she does . So does th’ rest of your family, and th’ ridge.”
Jamie grimaced, turning away to mop at his sweating face with a rag. “Aye, I ken. It always has tae be me, doesn’t it? Well has it ever occurred tae ye that there are some things I canna do?”
Roger paused, blinking at him in genuine surprise. “No...it really hasn’t. I suppose that isn’t fair, is it?”
“Th’ only person who doesn’a expect me to be strong all of th’ time doesn’a exist right now,” Jamie hissed. “And I canna do it , Roger Mac. I canna look at her and see that emptiness when she looks back at me. I canna go tae her knowing she will pull away from my slightest touch as if I’m a stranger. I canna, knowing she loves someone else, no matter that she loves a ghost. I can do many things. I can bear much. But no’ that.”
“So you’re just going tae hide up here forever, is that it?” Roger asked. “Or at least until Claire’s memory returns? No mind that your daughter is hurting too, and maybe it would help ye tae hurt together , to try and reach Claire together ?”
“Are ye really going tae give up on her that easily?”
“No!” Jamie roared, clenching his fists, and Roger braced himself as if preparing for a hit.
“I could never give up on her,” Jamie continued more softly, feeling himself deflate.
Damn him, but the lad was right. He’d been hiding at the still, or in the barn, or really anywhere besides his own home where his own wife was. But as much as it hurt him to face her indifference, he knew it had to be nothing compared to the fear and anxiety living inside her.
“Besides,” Roger said, smiling a little. “She already fell in love with you once…”
Jamie managed a smile in return, the first in days. “Aye, your wife said th’ same thing.”
“And my wife is usually right. Just go tae her. Don’t pressure her tae remember, or to be th’ Claire we know her tae be. Treat her as ye did in th’ beginning . If ye can even remember that far back…”
Jamie reached out, cuffing Roger lightly on the back of the head. “Aye, I can. I remember it well.”
“Then there ye have it. Court her, woo her. Show her th’ man she fell in love with. Maybe her memories won’t return, but that doesn’a have tae mean your life together is over.”
“I hate tae admit it, but ye give good advice, Roger Mac.”
Roger smirked. “Dinna fash, I’ll remind ye that ye said that later.”
Jamie gulped as he rode up to the house, rubbing his sweaty palms on his knees and Christ , he felt like a green lad again, struck with nerves at the mere thought of being near the intimidating, yet intoxicating Mistress Beauchamp.
Oh, but he remembered those days well. He was a virgin whelp hiding at Leoch, and Claire was mysterious, brash, a little vulgar, more woman than he could even begin to know what to do with, and utterly confusing. And yet he’d been drawn to her like a moth to a flame, hopelessly in love from the very start, even if it had come much more slowly for her.
And so, it was a little similar to where they stood now. He was even more in love with her now than he’d been, and even more in awe. And Claire, she was just as brash and vulgar, just as confusing, just as woman as she’d been...but perhaps not quite as mysterious. Not to he who knew her very soul better than he knew his own.
Lizzie was on the front porch, sweeping, and smiled at his approach.
“Lizzie,” he greeted her. “D’ye ken where your mistress is?”
Lizzie’s smile broadened. “Aye, she’s in her surgery.”
Jamie patted her back in thanks and went toward the clinic, going slowly so as not to startle her.
Claire was at her wee desk, looking into her microscope. The sun filtering in through the dozens of vials and jars and whatnot in the windowsills created a rainbow of color that reflected off her brown and silver curls, and the breath caught in his throat at the sight.
Christ, but she was beautiful.
He cleared his throat, and she looked up sharply, then to his immense relief, seemed to relax slightly at the sight of him.
“What are ye looking at?” he asked.
She offered him a half-smile, and shrugged. “A plant sample that Marsali left.”
Jamie chuckled. “Weel, at least it’s just a plant, and no’ blood or pus or some other nefarious substance.”
Oh, braw , Fraser. Try tae impress th’ lass and ye talk about blood and pus. At least ye didn’a say sperm .
But Claire, to his delight, chuckled as well. “Sounds like something I would do.”
Jamie rocked back on his heels, mentally floundering for something else to say, or do.
“Ye...ye’ve been cooped up here for nigh on a week now. Would ye...would ye care tae get out for a wee bit? Just a walk around th’ grounds...nothing too strenuous.”
At first, it looked like Claire was going to say no, and Jamie’s heart sank, but then she thought on it, and nodded. “Actually, a walk sounds nice. I do feel a little stir-crazy.”
Resisting the urge to do something daft like cheer, Jamie firmly placed his hands behind his back, and nodded for her to proceed through the door. “After you...Mistress Beauchamp.”
Claire gave him an arch look, but smiled and walked out the door, and Jamie followed, like the eager young buck he’d once been, and supposed he’d never stopped being, not where she was concerned.
It filled me with a strange, somewhat self-absorbed sense of astonishment to take in everything I had supposedly built in the surgery.
Well, built was a relative term. According to Lizzie, Jamie had been the one to physically build the entire house, including the surgery, right down to my most precise requirements. From everything I knew of the past, women taking on the role of doctor was not any more permissible in the 18th century as it was in the 20th. The fact that Jamie was so encouraging of my practice was, quite honestly, impressive.
I didn’t enjoy hurting him. No more than I enjoyed hurting any of the members of this family I had supposedly acquired over the years. They’d all been so kind, and I knew without a doubt that my indifference was painful to them, but I had no way of manufacturing familial affection for them. I could pretend for the children, but the adults knew better.
Truth was, as sweet as I found them all, all I truly wanted was to go home and try to rekindle the marriage and life I once had.
What must Frank have thought, when I vanished suddenly all those years ago? Did he think me dead? Did he assume I’d left him for someone else? It had been brought up, just before my disappearance, the subject of ‘dalliances’ during the war.
I had to admit that I wondered if Frank’s insistence that it wouldn’t have mattered to him if I had dallied meant that he had been unfaithful, and he rather hoped I had been as well, to assuage his guilt.
Still, did I not owe it to him to try and work on our relationship? Had I not vowed to be loyal to him, and only him?
Then again...according to everyone in this household, I’d made a similar vow to someone else entirely.
I shook my head, trying not to think of Frank and Jamie at the same time, finding it horribly unfair to compare the two.
In the middle of the work table in the surgery was a microscope. It was incredibly well-made, and for the time it must have cost dear. I wondered where the ‘ me ’ that had existed all this time had gotten it.
There were some bits of plants and soil next to it, for what purpose I could only guess, but I was a bit at a loss for something to do, so I started to examine the samples.
It had been almost a week since my accident, and I was feeling back to normal save for occasional headaches, though no memories had managed to seep in. The other members of the household all had daily duties to attend to, so during the day I was left mostly to my own devices. I’d actually considered more than once just leaving, but where would I go? Scotland and the stones were an ocean away, and I refused to steal money from these people in an attempt to get myself there.
I must have gotten awfully absorbed in the samples I was looking at, because when I suddenly heard someone clearing their throat and I looked up, the sun had begun to shine through the window in shades of gold, telling me it was nearly sunset.
The man himself, Jamie, was standing in the doorway, filling up the entire space with his immense size. I hadn’t seen him since the day before, and that encounter with the pet wolf. Prior to that, I’d scarcely seen hide nor hair of him in days, and had to wonder where on earth he’d been, especially considering the fact that I’d taken up residence in his bedroom.
“What are ye looking at?” Jamie asked in a voice so quiet and soft, that it completely belayed his size, and the sheer power he carried with him.
My initial instinct was to murmur something that would grant me an easy escape, but damn me, I could not resist the obvious pains he was taking to be friendly and not overwhelm me. The poor man looked like he was shitting bricks standing there, like a teenaged boy picking up a girl for their first ever date, when all he was doing was making friendly conversation. Perhaps it would be better, in the long run, to dismiss him and not give him hope...but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“A plant sample that Marsali left,” was my answer at last. Simple, conversational.
“Weel, at least it’s just a plant, and no’ blood or pus or some other nefarious substance,” he said with a quirk of his lip, and I giggled despite myself.
“Sounds like something I would do,” I said honestly.
I watched in amusement as Jamie rocked on his heels, holding his hands firmly behind his back. This was a man I’d often heard referred to as Colonial . A man that all the other men on the Ridge spoke of in hushed tones of respect and reverence.
And this very man was positively terrified of me.
“Ye...ye’ve been cooped up here for nigh on a week now,” he pointed out. “Would ye...would ye care tae get out for a wee bit? Just a walk through th’ grounds...nothing too strenuous”
I thought on it. Doing anything to encourage him felt terribly unfair, and yet...Jamie had been nothing but kind and understanding to me since this whole fiasco began. As unfair as it felt to give him hope, it felt equally as unfair to spurn him. It wasn’t as though he were asking me to his bed or anything. He only wanted a walk.
I took a deep breath, praying I was doing the right thing. “Actually...a walk sounds nice. I do feel a little stir-crazy.”
It was like I’d told him that all the riches in the world were his, the way his face lit up. He immediately stood aside, giving me plenty of room to lead him through the door without overcrowding me.
“After you...Mistress Beauchamp,” he said, with an odd tone of voice that had me arching a brow at him speculatively.
Well, perhaps it wasn’t my best idea ever, but it made Jamie awfully happy, and I supposed that was the least I could do.
Chapter 5: Just a Mother Protecting Her Weans
Claire and Jamie take a walk. A few steps forward, a few steps back, a few steps...sideways?
It was a pleasant evening, warm but with a cool breeze coming down off the mountain.
“I can’t get over how quiet it is here,” I said. “No traffic, no airplanes…” I hesitated, looking over at him. “Erm, airplanes are…”
He chuckled. “I kn…” he paused then, and cleared his throat, placing his hands behind his back as we strolled along. “I...I mean, ye’ve mentioned them. Will ye tell me about them?”
I squinted at him speculatively, getting the distinct feeling he knew good and well what a plane was already. But I told him about them, anyway, and he listened attentively.
“So what made you leave Scotland and settle down here?” I asked.
He made a sound in the back of his throat, a mix between a hum and a grunt. “Th’ battle of Culloden, tae start with, and all that happened after. However, ‘twas chance that actually brought us here. My nephew, Ian, was kidnapped by slavers and we set out tae bring him home. We wound up in th’ New World, and decided tae stay.”
“Wow,” I murmured. “I do know a bit about the Battle of Culloden, how it changed the face of Scotland. My husband is a…” I trailed off, glancing at him, noticing how his jaw clenched. “Sorry,” I said.
He offered me a smile, though it might have been a tad forced. “Dinna fash. I never asked ye no’ tae speak of him.”
“Or to remove his ring?” I asked, holding up my hand.
“I’d never ask ye tae part wi’ anything that means somethin’ to you.”
I couldn’t help myself from wondering if Frank would say the same, if the situations were reversed. As soon as I realized that I highly doubted it, I forced it from my mind.
“Ah, here,” Jamie said suddenly, his voice lightening as he brushed his fingers over a mark in a tree. “These mark th’ boundaries of our land. We’ve a friendly enough relationship wi’ the local Indians, but we keep to our own land, tae be sure. Now come, there’s something I want tae show ye.”
I followed him up a steep hill, and then to a ledge which overlooked a breathtaking view of the valley and mountain range.
“This is what decided it for me,” he said. “That we would stay here, build our home here.”
“It’s beautiful,” I said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.”
He gave me a look which clearly said ‘ yes, you have,’ but to his credit he didn’t bother trying to remind me of it.
I found myself caught by his gaze again, not liking the way his eyes had the uncanny ability to seemingly peer into my soul. I shook it off.
We sat down on some rocks near the edge of the cliff, just looking out at the setting sun.
“Ah,” he breathed suddenly, bending over to pluck a flower from between the cracks in the stone, before offering it to me like a bashful little boy, no matter that the roots were still attached. “A dandelion,” he said in response to my perplexed look. “The erm, th’ roots, ken…”
“Oh!” I gasped, taking the flower from him. “You’re right! The roots can be made into a tea to cure stomach ailments and liver…” I trailed off. “Funny…I’ve been reading up on medicinal herbs lately, but I don’t remember reading that part. Did you already know?”
He smiled fondly. “Aye, only because ye told me so.”
I smiled back, taking the fuzzy white flower from him. “Do you remember everything I tell you? I don’t really get the impression that you’re all that interested in medicine.”
Jamie shrugged. “On th’ contrary. Th’ things you know about medicine and science and th’ future and everything else amaze me. Maybe I dinna have th’ passion for it you do, but I love listening tae ye talk about it.”
I could feel myself blushing, unsure how to even respond to that.
Jamie reached over, breaking the stem of the dandelion to separate the flower from the roots. “And...ye told me that if ye make a wish and blow away th’ seeds, your wish will come true.”
I chuckled. “Well, it’s just a silly superstition.”
“Ye’ve traveled through time, Sassenach. Perhaps some superstitions are true.”
I wasn’t really sure what superstition had to do with time travel, but I decided to humor him, closing my eyes to make a wish.
For a second, I hesitated. My stomach flipped, and I felt ridiculously nervous of what sort of wish to make on a silly flower.
Jamie held the dandelion out to me and I took a deep breath, managing to blow nearly all of the seeds away, and we watched them dance on the air all the way out over the ledge.
“What did ye wish for?” Jamie asked quietly.
“If I told you, it won’t come true.”
We were quiet for a time then, but I could feel Jamie’s eyes cutting over to me every other second.
“Alright, explain something to me,” I blurted, suddenly having a striking desire to keep the conversation going.
“There’s Brianna, I understand about her. But I don’t completely understand Fergus and Marsali? She calls you Daddy, but Fergus calls you Milord? And then there are those twins that I keep seeing. I guess what I’m asking is how many children do you actually have?”
Jamie laughed, and I smiled at the sound of it. He struck me as someone who didn’t laugh enough.
“We came into...possession of Fergus as a child,” Jamie explained. “He’s ours in love only. He married Marsali, th’ daughter of a woman I was once marrit to. Now, th’ Beardsley lads, weel, we look after them, is all, and Josiah hunts for th’ Ridge. They’re both just that wee bit in love wi ye, but I dinna mind it since it makes them protective, and I canna blame them anyway.”
I nodded as I fought off a smile, then wondered when he’d managed to be married to someone else, and why it gave me a queasy feeling. It was obviously an amicable situation, because Marsali had called me ‘Ma.’
“I...I do have another child,” Jamie continued, suddenly looking a bit uncomfortable. “A son, William. He’s eighteen now, but he doesn’a ken I’m his father. He’s a bastard.”
I frowned. “Oh…and did this happen... while we were…”
“Christ!” he broke in. “I’d never be unfaithful tae ye, Sassenach! It was after ye went back , ken, and I thought ye were gone from me forever.”
I held up my hands. “See...this is what I’m not understanding. If we have a daughter, how did she grow up in my time?”
Jamie sighed, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. “I wasn’a wanting tae burden ye wi’ th’ whole story just yet.”
“Well, no time like the present. I want to know.”
His jaw twitched again. “Ye were pregnant wi’ Bree on th’ eve of Culloden. I sent ye back tae your own time, so that ye’d be safe. We were...we were apart...for twenty years, ye thought me dead. But then...ye came back…” as he spoke his voice lowered, grew rough. “Ye promised ye would never leave me again.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, taking a step back. “I don’t remember any of this.”
Shaking my head, I looked back out at the mountains. “If I have my dates right, this place is on the cusp of a revolution.”
“Aye,” he said.
“I’ve already lived through one war, Jamie.”
Jamie sighed. “Ye’ve lived through more than one.”
I looked back at him, steeling myself against the pain in his eyes. “Tell me about Frank.”
“No! You’ve all tip-toed around it for long enough! Tell me about him!”
“He’s dead!” Jamie snapped. “Ye went back tae him. I made ye go back tae him, but ye didn’a love him anymore. He died , Claire, years before you came back.”
I took another step away. “You’re lying.”
Jamie’s eyes softened, and he tried to reach out to me. “I’m sorry…”
He touched my arm and I slapped it away. “Stop it! It doesn’t matter, if what you all say is true, those stones can send me to another time. I can just go back to wherever Frank is, and make things right!”
“They dinna work that way,” Jamie said firmly.
“What do you know of it?” I hissed, turning and storming away.
After a few moments, I heard him trying to catch up. “Sassenach... Claire ! You’re going th’ wrong way!”
I ignored him, plowing on through the woods aimlessly, just wanting to get away from him and his sad eyes and his words that terrified me.
Frank couldn’t be dead. He was all I had left. The only home I had away from this life that belonged to someone else.
I picked up my pace until I was running, hating how my knees protested the action in a way they never had before. When the sounds of his footsteps following me faded, I slowed to a stop, bracing a hand on a tree to catch my breath.
I’d gone deep into the woods, beyond Jamie’s land, and was probably horribly lost, but I didn’t really care. Being lost was how this all started, after all, and I felt no less so being in that house.
Sliding down the tree trunk, I sat down on the ground, letting my head thump back against the bark.
After a moment, I heard a rustling in the leaves ahead of me, and I tensed, unsure whether I feared a wild animal more, or Jamie.
But the only thing that appeared was a pair of fuzzy little kittens, bowing up their backs at the sight of me.
I smiled, despite myself. “Well, hello there,” I said. “Aren’t you...
I froze, realizing the two spotted felines were by no means housecats of any sort, and I realized that only a split second before their mother appeared from the brush, letting out an angry yowl.
I leapt to my feet, thinking I’d read somewhere that when faced with a mountain lion, the best course of action was to make yourself appear bigger.
The animal flinched back, but didn’t back down, hissing and swiping out at me with a massive paw.
“Alright,” I murmured softly. “I’m going...I’m going…”
I slid around the tree and tried to back away, but the mountain lion jerked forward, her ears planted to her head, as she swiped out again. If I attempted to run...I was a goner.
“Claire! Where are ye?!”
Both the cat and I flinched at the sound, before promptly returning to our standoff.
I swallowed thickly, my heart racing, taking another shaking step back as the cat advanced, growling warningly.
“Jamie!” I cried helplessly.
I could see Jamie from the corner of my eye, freezing at the scene before him. “Dinna move, Sassenach…” he said quietly, his rifle slowly rising.
As if knowing what was happening, the cat lunged to the left just as the rifle went off, and the bullet hit the ground. I closed my eyes as the animal leapt forward, resigning myself to the inevitable, but the piercing claws and crushing teeth never touched me.
Jamie was suddenly between us, faster than I believed anyone capable of, being knocked off his feet and into me by the force of the cat’s body.
I screamed as Jamie rolled on the ground with the mountain lion atop him, trying to protect his neck from her jaws.
“Run, Claire!” Jamie ground out.
Having no intention of leaving him, I snatched up his rifle, quickly discarding it when I realized I had no idea how to reload it. Instead, I ran around and managed to snatch up one of the babies, the quick action making it howl in fear.
The mother cat heard it, and turned immediately from Jamie to tear after me, instead. I gently tossed the cub away, rather hoping the mother would follow, but she didn’t, though before she could reach me, Jamie swung out with a large branch, catching the cat in the side and knocking her off her feet.
Jamie then grabbed my arm and jerked me behind him, holding the branch in one hand, and withdrawing a pistol with the other.
Looking dazed, the mountain lion stood and yowled at us, but then she hesitated, and Jamie cocked his gun.
There was a long, tense moment, as Jamie and I stared the powerful cat down, then at long last, she decided we weren’t worth it, and she turned to go, ushering her young ahead of her.
Jamie didn’t lower his gun, and for a second I thought he would shoot her anyway, but once she was out of sight, he uncocked it and put it away.
“Come,” he said roughly. “She might come back.”
“You didn’t kill her…” I said, my voice wavering a bit with tinges of hysteria.
“Just a mother protectin’ her weans,” Jamie said dismissively. “But let’s hurry and be gone before she comes back and doesn’a give me a choice.”
Jamie pulled me quickly back through the woods, and by the time we were back to where we started, we were both panting. He, more than me, surprisingly.
“Are we safe now?” I asked.
“Enough,” he said shortly, and it dawned on me that he must be angry with me. Though I supposed he had a good reason. “But we should get back.”
I nodded, but when I went to follow him, I noticed the tense way he was walking.
“Wait, are you...you’re hurt, aren’t you?”
“Just a wee scratch,” he said without looking back at me.
I jogged to get around him, blocking his path. “Stop! Where were you hurt? Let me see…”
With a huff, Jamie unbuttoned his coat, and I gasped to see that his shirt around the area of his collarbone was soaked with blood.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” I exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”
He scowled at me. “Well I was a wee bit preoccupied wi’ getting us tae safety! Marsali can take care of it, I’m sure.”
“Bloody hell, you might not make it that far if you keep bleeding like this! Now sit down.”
He didn’t move.
“That wasn’t a fucking suggestion! Sit down !”
I could have sworn that the corner of his lip quirked up as he moved to obey, but he could have only been grimacing in pain, so I let it go.
Kneeling before him, I helped him take off his heavy coat then unwound his stock and unbuttoned the neck of his shirt.
“It doesn’t look too deep,” I said, gently probing the oozing bite wound, an array of purple already discoloring the area around it. “And the bleeding is already slowing. It looks like your coat and stock prevented you from the worst of it, but any bite from an animal can become dangerously infected, and fast. I’ll need to clean it.”
“I’ve a flask o’ whisky in my coat pocket,” he said.
“Good enough,” I said, digging for the flask before lifting my skirt to tear a strip of cloth from my shift.
He grimaced as I poured the alcohol over the wound, but didn’t cry out or move away. I wadded the piece of my shift over the wound before wrapping his stock around it.
“That’ll hold until we get back,” I said, standing. “But I may need to stitch it.”
“As ye say,” he said softly, taking the hand I offered him and letting me help him to his feet.
I didn’t let go of his hand once we were both up, wanting to help keep him steady in case he got dizzy, but it was slow going back to his house.
When we reached the house, it was gone dark, and Ian was sitting on the front porch with Lizzie. They both leapt to their feet at the disheveled sight of us.
“Uncle! Are ye alright?!” Ian exclaimed.
“Just a wee run-in wi’ a mother painter,” Jamie said with a joviality that I didn’t think quite matched the situation.
“Should I fetch Marsali?” Lizzie asked uncertainly.
“No need,” I sighed, placing a hand on Jamie’s chest when he leaned a little too far to the right. “I can take care of it.”
Jamie and Ian exchanged an indecipherable look before Ian nodded and went to steer Lizzie back into the house. “Call out if ye need help,” he said.
I, in turn, steered Jamie to the surgery, hurriedly lighting every candle I could find.
“Take off your shirt,” I ordered as I went to the fireplace to light it, as well.
Jamie made that strange noise in his throat again, but obediently sat down on the cot in the center of the room and slowly removed his shirt.
I went to the table of herbs and medicines, regretting my earlier claim that I didn’t need Marsali. I knew a fair bit about using natural remedies, but I needed more time to examine everything and decide what was best.
“Will I need th’ penicillin?” Jamie asked.
“The…” I paused, turning to look at him. “Penicillin?” I wracked my brain. “Wait, no. Penicillin isn’t invented yet. Is it?”
Jamie chuckled. “Well, depends on who ye ask, I suppose. You’ve made some, and it’s worked in th’ past. Ye even had a wee syringe made, after your old one was broken.”
He nodded toward the table, and I followed his line of sight to where an honest-to-God syringe sat, surrounded by small vials containing a milky white liquid, labeled only with a “P.”
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I whispered.
After quickly sterilizing the needle, I prepared a dose, relieved to see that the syringe was already marked with appropriate dosages.
“You’ve had this before?” I asked him. “No reactions?”
“Aye,” he said. “And no.”
When I turned back to him, he heaved a long-suffering sigh and stood up, unbuckling his belt.
“You have done this before…” I chuckled, but it trailed off when he yanked down one side of his trousers, and I realized very suddenly that I could see the hair where it started on his remarkably defined chest all the way down to wear it grew thicker below his navel, and a glimpse of his manhood before he turned and offered me his thigh.
Was he really in his fifties?
Shaking myself and mentally calling myself ten kinds of fool, I sanitized his skin before injecting the penicillin, feeling his muscles clench and smirking at the sound of his grunt of pain.
“All big and tough when a mountain lion is going after you, but you flinch at a needle?” I asked him.
“Tease all ye want,” Jamie huffed, but I could tell there was no bite behind it. “I simply dinna understand why th’ cure has tae hurt so bad.”
He fastened his trousers but let his belt hang undone as he sat back on the cot, and I felt badly for making fun of him when I saw how pale he was.
“I’ll be quick,” I said quietly, gently cleaning the dried blood from his chest, able to feel his heart rate start to increase. “Relax, I don’t think it’ll need stitches after all,” I looked up at met his eyes. “Unless you would rather Marsali come in and give her opinion?”
Jamie smiled softly. “Nah. I trust ye, Sassenach. Memory, or no.”
I smiled back and went back to work, trying my best not to hurt him more than I had to.
“Thank you,” I said after a few moments of silence. “For saving me, I mean.”
“Dinna fash, lass,” he said. “It’s what we do. I save you, ye save me, and then ye heal all my wounds. Wasn’a what I had in mind for th’ evening though, gettin’ another needle in my arse, I mean.”
I smiled at him, finishing bandaging his wound. “I thought you’d be angry at me, for running off like that.”
He shrugged one shoulder. “Watching ye run headlong intae danger isn’a a favorite pastime of mine, but it’s one I’m used to, I wouldn’a have ye any other way, Sassenach.”
I looked at where my left hand was still resting on his chest, the gold ring glistening in the light. I remembered then what Jamie had told me, and all the grief and fear started to crowd in, and before I knew what was happening, I was sobbing in his arms.
He was whispering things into my hair, words I couldn’t understand.
“I’m sorry for th’ way I told you,” he murmured. “Frank was a good man, and he loved ye. Loved Brianna.”
His understanding only made me cry all the harder, and I pushed away from him, even though I didn’t want to.
“Why must you be so perfect?!” I demanded. “I know I’m hurting you, but I don’t know how to stop it! I don’t know how to pretend, I don’t know how to be who you want me to be!”
“Then don’t,” he said, framing my face in his large hands. “Just be you, mo cridhe. Ye’ve always been enough for me.”
I took a deep breath, accepting the spare bandage he handed me for a handkerchief. He put a finger underneath my chin and tilted my face back up to meet his.
“There is another stone circle,” he said. “It’s here, in North Carolina.”
I felt my jaw drop, unsure if I was more surprised by what he was telling me, or that he was telling me. “Is it far?” I asked.
“A few days ride,” I said, looking away. “But I’m verra sorry, lass. I willn’a take ye there, nor will anyone else here.”
I pulled away from him, frowning. “Then why are you telling me?”
Jamie met my eyes again. “Because ye deserve th’ truth, always. And th’ truth is that you told me that you think ye mightn’t survive another trip. That it got worse every time.”
I could see how that could be true, as the only trip in my memory was horrifying, to put it mildly.
“If it weren’t for that, I’d take ye myself, if it would make ye happy. It would certainly be safer, there. But not if it’ll risk your life.”
“So what do I do?” I asked flatly, feeling strangely numb.
“I canna answer that for ye, Sassenach,” he said.
I sucked in a breath through my nose, then looked at him again, seeing how pale he still was.
“You need to be in bed,” I told him briskly. “Why don’t you go sleep in your own room? I can sleep here in the surgery.”
He offered me a weak smile. “Thank ye, but I think I’d rather just take a lie-down here than making my way upstairs. Dinna fash, I’ll be braw by th’ morn.”
I nodded, then waited until he was actually in bed before fetching him some bread and dried meat from the kitchen, and something other than whisky to drink. Once he was asleep, I made my way up to bed, but I couldn’t rest, too many things rolling around in my brain, in addition to my worry about whether Jamie was keeping his temperature down.
In the end, I wound up in the sitting room, curled into a chair, so that I could easily get to the surgery to check on him, and rouse him long enough to give him another injection.
When I wasn’t doing that, I sat before the fire, staring blindly at the flames, cursing my own brain for betraying me so.
Chapter 6: A Crack in the Wall
A surprise outburst leads Claire to start reevaluating her actions.
Jamie was a fairly good patient, except for when it came time to get him the penicillin, then he growled and grumped at me so much that I couldn’t help but find it amusing...which only made him grouchier.
The penicillin, miraculously, did its job, and his wound never became infected. I marveled at the mysterious other me that was capable of producing it some 100 years before it would even be invented.
I was in the surgery, trying to become familiar with all of my potions and medicines, when Brianna came breezing in with her little one.
“Hello,” I greeted them.
“Hallo, Granny!” Jemmy chirped, hopping up on a stool beside me. “What are ye doing?”
“Trying to make heads or tails of all this,” I said, smiling at the charming little boy.
“I ken this one,” he said, pointing at a dark brown bottle marked Hemlock . “It’s poison. I’m no’ allowed tae touch it.”
“That’s right,” I said, picking it up and examining the label. “Though, really, you probably oughtn’t touch anything here. Should you?”
Jemmy shook his head. “No’m.”
“Jem, I saw Grandda out feeding the horses,” Brianna said. “Don’t you…”
Jemmy was off the stool and flying out the door before his mother could even complete her sentence, leaving us chuckling in his wake.
“Very fond of his Grandda, isn’t he?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” Brianna said, smiling. “They all just worship the ground he walks on. It’s Germain that has a particular affection for you, but everyone here adores you.”
I looked away, not knowing how to feel about that. Being so beloved by so many was of course a wonderful thing, but it felt wrong when I didn’t feel like I’d earned it.
“Da looks well,” Brianna continued. “Bite wound healing alright?”
I nodded. “Yes. He’s a rather indestructible one, isn’t he?”
Brianna laughed. “That he is. How are you feeling?”
“I haven’t remembered anything, if that’s what you’re asking.”
I hadn’t meant to sound so brusque, and Brianna reared away in hurt. “I wasn’t asking that,” she said softly.
Sighing, I went and sat across from her at the table. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap. This is all just so frustrating.”
“I know,” she said, reaching out and taking my hand. “Da said that he told you about Daddy. I’m sorry, we should have told you in the beginning. We were just afraid of hurting you more than you were already hurting.”
“Daddy…” I echoed. “Jamie said that I went back to Frank. He raised you?”
Brianna nodded. “Yeah. I didn’t even know that he wasn’t my real father until after he died, and you told me about Jamie, and the whole time-travel thing. I didn’t take it very well at first.”
“I can imagine why not,” I said dryly. “Frank and I...we never had any children of our own?”
“No, Daddy was unable to have children. I think that was part of the reason he was so willing to accept me as his own. That, and he loved you. He was a really great father. As much as I love Da, and glad as I am to be here now and know him, I’m not sorry that Frank was my dad.”
I nodded, blinking away tears. “But...Jamie said...he made me go back. So that means I wanted to be here, with him. And not Frank.”
Brianna sighed, chewing on her lip in hesitation.
“Just tell me,” I pleaded. “I’m trying to understand.”
Brianna reached out with her other hand, cradling mine between them. “You told me, before you came back, that Jamie was the love of your life. That you tried to resist your feelings for him, but you couldn’t. That it was the most powerful thing you’d ever felt. I believe you loved Daddy, but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t fully understand that until I saw it. Back home, with Frank...you were never whole. You just...existed. Maybe you weren’t exactly unhappy, but you were just...going through the motions. But here, with Jamie, you’re alive. This wall that you had built around you to protect yourself from the pain of losing him came down, and you became a different person. You and Da…it’s like you were born for one another.”
The tears I’d been fighting off began to fall, and I brushed them away with the back of my hand in annoyance. “It feels like you’re telling me a fairytale about someone else,” I cried.
Brianna let go of my hands, leaning back. “Does it though? Because I think you’re just scared , and you’re not letting yourself feel anything.”
“Of course I’m scared!” I exclaimed, lurching to my feet. “I’m petrified! My fucking body doesn’t even feel like my own! I look in the mirror, and I don’t see myself! It’s like I’ve been switched with someone else! I feel like I’ve lost control of everything and I feel guilty because Jamie misses his wife and you need your mother but she’s not here !”
“You’re right! I do need my mother!” Brianna cried. “But she is here! She’s just given up! That damned wall is back, and you don’t even want to try and knock it down!”
With that, Brianna stood and stormed out, and I picked up a book and slammed it back down in frustration.
Crossing my arms, I could feel the bite of metal in both my palms, and I unfolded my arms to look at my hands, at the dueling rings of gold and silver on each hand. In a pique of fury, I tore off the silver thistle ring and threw it, hearing it clang somewhere in the corner.
Almost instantly, my heart dropped into my stomach and I went scrambling after it, tears blinding my eyes as I frantically searched the floor.
“Claire? I saw Bree run out…lass! Are ye alright?”
I couldn’t even tell who had come in until Murtagh was kneeling beside me, laying a hesitant hand on my back.
“I didn’t mean it!” I cried hysterically, screamed almost.
“What? What didn’a ye mean, lass?”
“My ring! I lost my ring!”
Murtagh glanced down at my hands, then gently pushed me aside so that he could look, while I just sat there, sobbing like a child, babbling incoherently that I was sorry.
“Here,” he said, unearthing the ring from behind a potted plant and offering it to me. “Here it is, lass.”
I hurriedly put it back on, taking in deep gulps of air while Murtagh rubbed soothing circles on my back.
“Come wi’ me,” he said quietly once I’d calmed down a little, taking me by the arms and pulling me to my feet. “Let’s take a walk.”
Murtagh took me through the side of the house, presumably to avoid being seen by Jamie or anyone else, for which I was grateful. I could not have possibly been able to stand his worried eyes just then.
Murtagh said nothing as he led me into the hills, and the fresh air went a long way to making me feel less panicked and insane.
“I don’t know why I did that,” I said finally, my throat feeling raw.
“Did what, lass?”
“Why I threw my ring...or why I reacted that way when I couldn’t find it.”
He didn’t answer at first, instead led me to an overturned tree and sat down, patting the space beside him.
After I sat, he pointed up at an eagle flying overhead, and I watched it for a few minutes, soar easily through the air.
“I dinna ken why ye threw your ring,” Murtagh said at last. “I ‘spect ye were feeling frustrated, and overwhelmed. Ye do tend tae act before thinking, in your anger. Ye and Jamie are alike in that way. As for why ye panicked...weel, that ring means a great deal tae ye. I imagine that somewhere in your mind, ye ken that, even if ye canna remember it.”
I looked down at the ring, having never really paid much attention to the intricate detail. “Where did he get it?”
Murtagh chuckled. “Did ye notice th’ inside o’ th’ band, before ye tossed it awa’?”
I shook my head, then carefully slid the ring off again, holding it tightly in my fingers as I read the inscription there. “ Da mi basia mille. Give me a thousand kisses.”
“It isn’a th’ ring ye were marrit with,” Murtagh explained. “He had that one made from th’ key tae his family home, in Scotland. Several years ago, it was stolen from ye, and he had this one made in its place. He gave me his mother’s silver candlestick and asked me tae forge this for ye, wi’ that inscription.”
I gasped softly, marveling at the consideration Jamie had put into something as seemingly simple as a wedding band.
“D’ye ken how ye marrit?”
I looked at him. “No. All I know is I fell in love with him, despite my efforts not to.”
He chuckled again. “Weel, aye, that happened. Eventually. But no, he married ye, tae protect ye from that bastard, Black Jack Randall. Randall thought ye tae be a spy, and ordered ye tae go tae him for questioning. Th’ first round left ye badly beaten, and we all kent that if ye were returned tae him, ye mightn’t make it out. Jamie’s uncle worked it out that th’ best way tae protect ye was tae make ye a Scot by marriage, and he volunteered Jamie for it, being no’ but a green, virgin whelp at th’ time.”
I laughed wryly. “Well, I have to say, it makes me feel a little better to know that we were both forced into the marriage.”
Murtagh threw back his head, startling me by barking in laughter. “ Ye may have been wee bit forced, but Jamie sure as hell wasn’a. Th’ wee fool was gone for ye th’ moment he clapped eyes on ye, and ye there in that filthy shift I found ye in, ordering all th’ men about and cursing up a blue streak while ye tended tae Jamie’s dislocated shoulder. I thought ye were a shrew, Jamie thought ye were a miracle. I kent though, that ye cared for him by th’ time ye were marrit. I knew ye loved him when he was taken prisoner by Randall, and ye moved heaven and earth tae get him back. And then...after twenty long years apart, ye came back tae him. Ye wouldn’a have done that if ye didn’a love him.”
We were quiet a while, and then he leaned back, stretching his legs in front of him.
“Th’ way I see it,” he said. “Ye have three options. Ye can keep on as ye are, an angry, frightened wee mouse, living a half-life. Ye can leave, back through th’ stones, or somewhere else, and start over…”
“What’s the third option?”
He looked at me. “Ye can make it up in your mind tae start living again. I dinna ken if ye’ll ever get your memory back or no, but that doesn’a mean ye’ve died. There are people here who love ye, people ye can come tae love again if ye allow it. Ye have a home, and safety. Let go of your fear.”
“Letting go of fear is easier said than done,” I told him.
He smiled. “Oh aye, I ken. But ye’ve done it before. More’n once, I might add. Ye’re th’ bravest woman I ken, Claire. If ye can at least remember that , th’ rest will fall into place.”
Eventually, Murtagh returned to the house, but I stayed out, simply walking around the grounds, thinking, occasionally trying to make my brain remember something. Anything . But all that accomplished was to give me a headache, so I stopped.
I thought about Frank. I mourned him.
But then...I had to wonder. Would we have really made it, if I had never gone through those stones to start with? I’d married him as a girl, starry eyed and alight with new love. By the time the war was over, we were both drastically different people. We’d been trying to reclaim what we’d had, and maybe we would have eventually...but I hated that I wasn’t sure .
Before long, I was joined on my walk by Rollo, who’d simply appeared suddenly, without his master, and followed closely at my heels.
The anxiety I’d initially felt around the wolf had faded, and I found I rather enjoyed his silent, loyal company. I also had a very strong suspicion that he’d been sent out deliberately with a command to go find me, likely to steer me back if I wandered too far. But instead of feeling like a sheep, I rather felt sort of protected.
By the time we made our way back to the house, it was gathering evening, and no one was in the yard, suggesting that they’d gone inside for supper.
I entered the house slowly, tiptoeing toward the dining room, blocking Rollo from charging in and giving me away.
The family was just setting the table and starting to gather around it. Most of them smiled and chatted, but I saw the way Jamie kept staring anxiously out the window, and how Brianna sat sullenly beside her husband, who rubbed her shoulder comfortingly.
I bit my lower lip, feeling nervous about entering. Had Brianna told them about our argument? Had Murtagh told Jamie about what I did to his ring?
But finally, Rollo made the decision for me, getting around me and bounding to his master.
Jamie looked up sharply, finding me hiding in the doorway, and his shoulders slumped in relief.
“Milady!” Fergus exclaimed happily. “Finally! I’m starving !”
“Ye’re always starving,” Marsali teased. “Ye’re worse than your son!”
Fergus came to me, throwing his arm around my shoulder. “Settle a debate for us, will ye Milady? I want to grow a beard, like Roger Mac, but Marsali says I will look foolish, and Ian agrees. What do you say?” he tilted his chin toward me, turning it this way and that, as if to let me imagine a beard there.
I glanced around briefly. No one was tense, or awkward. Either they didn’t know about my outburst, or they didn’t care.
Turning my attention back to Fergus, I stroked his jaw with the back of my hand and chuckled. “Hm, well, it’s after five, and you’re smooth as silk. I say Marsali doesn’t have anything to worry about.”
For just a split second I worried Fergus would be offended by my rib, but he burst into laughter, along with the rest of the table.
Roger leapt out of his seat, pulling the chair at the corner out for me, between Brianna and Jamie. I sat, eyeing Brianna carefully, but she only smiled warmly, and offered me the bowl of potatoes, and I smiled back. From the other end of the table, Murtagh gave me an almost imperceptible nod.
“Here, Sassenach,” Jamie said, placing a piece of roast on my plate. “I made sure tae get th’ burnt edge for ye before Ian could snatch it up. I ken it’s your favorite.”
“It is my favorite,” I said softly.
I looked around again, watching the normal family conversations taking place. The palpable love and companionship as present at the table as the food.
And I thought...how the Claire that wasn’t me...had a rather good life. She was very lucky.
Chapter 7: Echoes of a Past
Claire experiences dreams that may be memories fighting to get through.
“Not so high and mighty now, are ye?”
Hands from all around grabbed at me, tearing my clothes, running along my skin like serpents.
“You ask me if there’ll come a time when I grow tired of you…”
The more I tried to get away, the more hands appeared, pulling me down…down...until I was underwater, unable to breathe. Unable to find the surface.
“ I like to be beside the sea…”
I didn’t even know I was screaming until I found myself awake, sitting up in bed, the echo of the sound still reverberating off the walls.
The door flew open and I flinched back violently in fear, my sleep-disoriented mind not recognizing Jamie for a split second.
When I did, I sobbed in relief. “Jamie?”
He was at my side in an instant, his hands fluttering nervously around me, as if unsure how to help me, or whether his touch would be welcomed. I helped him make the choice, leaning toward him, and he didn’t hesitate a moment longer to pull me into his arms.
“Shh...dinna cry, mo cridhe ,” he whispered into my hair, along with a few other words in what I presumed to be Gaelic, having heard him speak the musical language to Murtagh and Ian. My heart, he was saying, my mind translating the words without conscious thought. I am here, my own. My white dove .
“Ye’re safe, lass. T’was only a dream.”
I pressed into him, getting a handful of his shirt. “It didn’t feel like a dream,” I whimpered.
“D’ye want tae tell me of it? Sometimes talking about it helps it feel less real.”
I shook my head. “I...I don’t really know. It was just...a jumble of many things. There were...hands...touching me. They wouldn’t stop. And then...I was drowning...there was nothing but...emptiness. Like something had been taken from me, and I couldn’t get it back.”
Jamie’s arms tightened around me, his breath catching in his throat.
I pulled back a little, looking up at him. “It...wasn’t completely a dream, was it?”
Jamie gently pressed my head back to his shoulder, not answering.
The nightmare had been so vivid, so dark, I seriously wondered if it was worth regaining my memories if that would be included.
Maybe that was why I hadn’t...maybe I didn’t want them.
Jamie and I sat that way for a long while, but eventually I felt my eyes start to grow heavy, which was surprising since moments before I hadn’t thought I’d ever sleep again.
“Ye’re exhausted,” Jamie breathed, somehow able to tell I was nodding off without looking at me. When his arms unwound from around me, I felt bereft, that cold feeling from my nightmare beginning to wrap around me again. “Try tae sleep some more, Sassenach. If ye like, I can sit outside your door.”
I chuckled tiredly. “That’s silly. Why would you do that?”
He smirked. “No less than I’ve done before.”
“Can…” I swallowed. “Could you...stay? Or would it be too uncomfortable for you...considering…”
Jamie’s smirk turned into something softer. “I’ll stay as long as ye want me to, Sassenach.”
I scooted over to make it clear I meant for him to share the bed, though whether it was “ my” side of the bed or not, I didn’t know. But instead of immediately lying down, Jamie stood up, and I gulped when I realized he was casually removing his pants. His shirt went to his thighs though, hiding anything...delicate from view. Still, between his shirt and my thin nightdress, there wouldn’t be a whole lot separating us.
He crawled under the covers beside me, laying on his back and opening his arms invitingly, but letting me make the decision.
It felt cruel to take this kind of comfort from Jamie like this, when I had nothing to offer him in return, but I was so scared, and so tired, and being in Jamie’s arms had been the most at ease I’d felt in weeks. So I decided to be just a little bit selfish. Just for tonight.
I curled into him, my body somehow finding the perfect way to fit against his immediately. Except...something didn’t feel quite right…
With a low chuckle I almost felt more than heard, Jamie reached under the quilt and grabbed my knee, hiking my leg up to cover his thighs.
For a second I tensed, not at ease with this intimacy, or his forward behavior. But then...I realized how comfortable I was, so I let it go.
“Thank you,” I whispered, lulled by the sound of his heartbeat against my ear.
“Dinna fash,” he whispered back, pressing a light kiss to the top of my head. “I’ll always be here, Claire. For whatever ye need, in whatever manner ye need me. Always.”
I bit my lip, swallowing back tears, not knowing how to respond to such a selfless declaration. “I’m so tired, but I’m afraid to sleep.”
“If ye stir, I’ll know it,” he said. “And I’ll wake ye. I ken what it is tae be plagued by those sorts of nightmares.”
I looked up. “You do?”
“Aye,” he smiled, his nose wrinkling a little. “But it helps knowing I willn’a be all alone when I awaken.”
I smiled back, then rested my head again, tentatively wrapping my arm around his torso.
I did sleep, more soundly than I had since I’d awoken in this time. Or really...more soundly than I had in my memory since before the war. And I did not dream again.
The following morning was a little awkward. I slept until late into the morning, and it was clear that Jamie had been awake for hours, sitting up beside me reading a book, though I was still wrapped around him like a sloth.
But he made no comment about it, only smiled and bid me good morning.
When he stood, he went to the wardrobe, and I couldn’t stop myself from watching curiously.
I’d known that he’d been sneaking in and out of the bedroom periodically to fetch his clothing and belongings, but I’d never once encountered him in there. Now, he didn’t hesitate to find a clean shirt for the day and strip off the one he was wearing, heedless of my being there.
The instant surge of lust that ran through me was alarming in its intensity, but not that surprising.
At 50, Jamie Fraser was a remarkably well-built man. Chiseled muscles, not an ounce of fat, an impressively large...well...and yet he carried himself like a person completely unaffected by their own sexual appeal.
He turned before putting on his shirt, and I was distracted only briefly by his perfectly round arse before seeing the scarred wreckage of his back.
I must have gasped, because he looked sharply over his shoulder at me, then half-smiled in understanding. “Old wounds,” he explained. “Doesn’a hurt anymore.”
“What happened?” I asked, still leaning around to look, so he walked over to me, still holding his shirt, and I had to glance away before I wound up ogling his naked body, not that he appeared to notice or care.
He sat down on the bed, his back turned to me, and I scooted forward, reaching out to touch it lightly.
“Randall,” he said. “Black Jack, I mean. T’was a flogging.”
“Christ,” I whispered. I only had a brief recollection of the man, but from what I’d seen, he’d been awful. It was clear, from everything Jamie and Murtagh had been telling me, that he was more than that. He was a monster. The fact that he could be Frank’s twin made it that much more unsettling.
Jamie held his hand out for me, and it took me a moment to understand what he was doing, but then I realized he was showing it to me.
The two middle fingers were stiff and bent wrong, and neat scars ran across his whole hand. It had been badly broken a long time ago, so badly that I was surprised that he seemed to mostly have full use of it, and then surgically repaired.
“He did that, too?” I asked.
Jamie nodded. “Aye. But, ye fixed it. Had it no’ been for you, I’d have never used it again, if I even kept it at all. Randall he…” Jamie grimaced. “Th’ things he did tae me...well, I was in a dark place after. I didn’a want tae live. Ye brought me back. Ye always do.”
I smiled sadly. “Is that why you’re so...so selfless and understanding with me right now? Because you feel like you owe me? Because Jamie…”
“ What ?”
Of anything, the last thing I’d have expected from Jamie at that question was anger, but he lurched to his feet, turning to me with absolute fury in his eyes, and I scooted back in the bed, alarmed.
“Ye think I’m being kind tae ye because I’m indebted tae ye?” he demanded.
There shouldn’t have been anything terribly intimidating about a stark naked man, but Jamie managed it easily.
“I...I didn’t mean to imply…” I stammered.
“Aye, ye did! Christ, Claire, I ken ye dinna have your memory, but ye were never this daft .”
“How dare you!” I shot back, intimidation evaporating to be replaced by anger, and I rose up on my knees. “I know absolutely nothing about what our relationship is like except for what everyone tells me. You can’t blame me for trying to make sense of everything!”
“I dinna blame ye!” he explained. “But we’re all trying to help ye make sense of it. Ye just aren’a letting us!”
“I’m trying! You think this is easy?! But knowing something and feeling it are two completely different things! And you...you just act like everything is normal!”
Jamie laughed, but it was far from humorous. “Normal? Normal ? Ye can only say that because ye dinna remember what normal is. I’m trying tae be patient , Sassenach. No’ overwhelm ye. But d’ye really not see how this is killing me?! Tae see ye hurt, and no’ reach for ye. Tae see ye smile, and no’ kiss ye. Tae be close tae ye, to lie beside ye as I did last night, and no’ make love tae ye. I’m dying, Claire. I miss my wife! But I dinna ken what tae do…”
Jamie’s voice broke on the last words, his reddened eyes finally spilling the tears he’d been holding in.
“I don’t know what to do either,” I whispered, wishing I could do something, anything to comfort him, but not knowing what without making everything worse.
Jamie nodded, brushing the back of his hand roughly across his face. He then silently put on his clothes, and pulled his hair back into its ponytail, taking care with his preparation for the day, and then he left the room without a backward glance.
Jamie made sure to keep his steps level and not storm through the house so as not to alarm Lizzie, or anyone else who had already arrived for the day.
He wasn’t really angry, and certainly not at Claire. It wasn’t her fault. He was just scared . Her injury seemed to have taken something other than just her memories from her. His brave wee lass had never, not even in her darkest times, been this timid and unsure of herself. He could live with the fact that she may never remember their life together, but he couldn’t live with it if it meant she couldn’t love him anymore.
Making her angry had almost been a relief, because it had been the most emotion he’d seen out of her beside fear in weeks. He almost saw a wee bit of her old spark in her eyes, but he’d also been able to see distrust. Claire wasn’t positive that Jamie wouldn’t hurt her, and that hurt him, even more than her indifference.
Making his way straight out of the house, Jamie made his way to the barn. Once there, he headed straight for one of the supporting posts and punched it, as hard as he could, pain surging up his limb and exploding in his injured shoulder.
“Dinna ye think ye’re a bit old for that?” Murtagh asked, and Jamie turned to see him leaning against the barn door. He hadn’t even noticed that his godfather had followed him. “Ye dinna heal as quickly as ye once did, mind.”
Jamie didn’t answer him, only grabbed a pitchfork and started putting hay in the horses’ stalls. He could hear Claire’s wee magpie voice telling him not to go making his injury worse, and he choked back tears.
“What’s amiss, lad?” Murtagh asked. “Ye slept late today, and I Lizzie said it didn’a look like ye slept in th’ guest room when she went in tae collect laundry. We were all hoping it meant ye and Claire spent some time together.”
“She was having nightmares,” Jamie said. “Bits o’ memory.”
Murtagh blinked. “That’s good! Isn’a it?”
Jamie shook his head, stabbing the pitchfork too hard into the hay. “I thought so, at first. She asked me tae stay wi’ her, and slept in my arms. But then this morning...t’was my fault. I lost patience wi’ her, I should not have. Th’ nightmare frightened her, I think it’s made her push everything back even farther, and my anger made it worse,” he cleared his throat, trying to speak past the lump there. “I think I’m losing her, Murtagh.”
“Dinna say that,” Murtagh said, coming closer and putting a hand on his shoulder. “I spoke wi’ her yesterday. I think she wants tae try, she just doesn’a ken how, yet. I think it’s more than just mere memory, I think she’s lost a wee bit of herself .”
“I tried tae give her space,” Jamie said. “I tried courting her. And I tried tae treat her as I always have. I dinna ken what else tae do.”
“Ye just have tae trust that Claire’s love for ye is stronger than whatever wall she’s put up. D’ye believe that?”
Jamie nodded, offering his godfather a weak, watery smile. “Aye, I do.”
“Keep on as ye have,” Murtagh said. “Let her come tae you. She will.”
“I hope you’re right, a goistidhe. I dinna ken what I’ll do if ye’re not.”
Chapter 8: The First Fall
Claire slowly tries to open up
I felt wretched as I prepared for the day, having once again hurt the man who had done nothing but take care of me since I woke up.
The thing was, I did care about him, for all that I barely knew him. If I was meeting him under other circumstances; no Frank, no time travel, no memory loss, I would happily fall into a relationship with him...and just as happily fall into his bed.
But we were uneven. I couldn’t start a new relationship with a man who had a memory of a life being married for almost thirty years that I did not have. I couldn’t get to know someone who already knew everything about me. I would forever be wondering if he was missing the “old” me.
And there was the fact that my mind was still married to another man, even though I believed everything they told me about Frank. I knew he was gone, but regardless of how we apparently left our relationship, I couldn’t just move on like he’d never existed. I missed him.
With that thought, I felt an all new sympathy for this family who missed their wife, mother, aunt, friend. All the worse, that she was walking among them. They weren’t even given a chance to grieve, like I was.
There weren’t many people in the house when I went downstairs, but when I entered the surgery, Marsali and Fergus were there, their many children sitting on the floor playing with toys.
“G’morning,” Marsali said cheerfully. “Mr. Clement came in earlier complaining o’ stomach pains. I gave him a tincture, but told him tae come back if it persisted, so that ye might have a look at him.”
“Thank you,” I said. “But you did everything I could do.”
Marsali smiled, then went back to grinding herbs.
“How are you feeling today, Milady?” Fergus asked, sliding a mug of coffee across the workbench which I took gratefully.
“I’ve been better,” I admitted, then hesitated, eyeing him speculatively.
“You can talk to us, you know,” he said, smiling.
“That’s right,” Marsali agreed, coming to sit beside her husband. “More than being your children, we’re your friends.”
I took a deep breath, needing to talk to someone . “Jamie and I fought.”
Fergus chuckled. “You always fight.”
I frowned at him. “We do? Why, everyone else has led me to believe we have this picture-perfect marriage.”
This time, husband and wife both laughed.
“I’d say it’s about as perfect as it comes,” Marsali said. “But that’s not tae say ye never fight, or have heated words. Ye’re both people of hot tempers, Claire, and ye dinna hold back from one another.”
“But then you always make up,” Fergus said, smirking and waggling his eyebrows suggestively to indicate just what he meant by make up .
I blushed, unwillingly thinking of Jamie’s naked body while he yelled at me, and a little unnerved by the heated feeling that gave me.
Marsali smirked too, then looked at her husband. “Fergus and I have been taking our lessons from ye.”
I chuckled, glad to find myself at ease with these two. Unlike Jamie, or Brianna, I didn’t feel like they had any expectations of how I should feel about them, or else they weren’t bothered by the fact that I wasn’t who I should be. They seemed like people who just took things at face value, which I supposed made them quite suited for one another. Murtagh was like that too, but a part of me couldn’t quite forget being so afraid of him after my encounter with Black Jack, or the fact that he’d knocked me out.
“I just don’t know what to do,” I admitted, putting my face into my hands. “I feel like I’m only hurting Jamie the more we go on. Part of me wonders if he wouldn’t be better off if I left, so that he could find someone else. So that everyone could move on instead of having this...this ghost of a person living among them.
“Someone else?!” Marsali and Fergus exclaimed together, then Marsali put a calming hand on her husband’s arm.
“Ma...Claire...no one wants ye to do anything or be anywhere ye dinna want tae be, but if ye think leaving would help Jamie, or any of us, ye’re sorely mistaken. He might let ye go, because he loves ye, but he’ll never have another.”
I frowned, shrugging one shoulder. “Well why not? It’s not like I’m the only woman he’s ever been with. He has a son, and he was married to someone else. Your mother, Marsali, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Did you know about Milord’s son?” Fergus whispered urgently to Marsali.
“No,” Marsali rapidly whispered back. “But we can revisit that later.”
I winced, not having intended on revealing any of Jamie’s secrets.
“I dinna think ye have an understanding of Daddy’s marriage to my mother,” Marsali said, grimacing slightly. “He married her when his sister persuaded him to, thinking it would ease th’ heartbreak left by your absence. I learnt later he only did it because he had fondness for me and my wee sister. He never loved my mother, didn’a even like her. Come tae find out you and she hated one another, and she was awful tae ye when ye were both young. But Jamie was lost, anchorless, so he did it, thinking he’d make other people happy. But he and my mam were miserable. I could never have truly understood how miserable until I saw ye with Jamie. Saw how happy ye were together.”
Her words strangely echoed Brianna’s about me and Frank, and my with Jamie.
“I knew you long ago,” Fergus said, smiling. “Before you left.”
I smiled back. “Yes. Jamie told me that we took you in when you were a boy.”
“Aye. I was an orphan, living in a brothel in Paris. Milord hired me to work for him, but you, you treated me like your own almost from the start. I remember those days in Paris. You and Milord were having some problems, I knew that, but I also knew you loved one another with your whole selves. I had never seen anything like it in my life,” he turned to Marsali, taking her hand. “I strive every day to have that with Marsali,” he looked back at me. “He was never the same after you...went...to the stones...”
I blinked at him. “I thought you didn’t know about that?”
“Oh no, we know all about it. Don’t we Marsali?”
“Och aye,” Marsali agreed readily. “All about it. Dinna ken why everyone is so tight-lipped about where ye were for 20 years.”
“They just expected us to believe you would ever leave without a word.”
“According to Jamie I didn’t have much of a choice,” I said. “It was safer for Brianna and me in my own time.”
“Your own time ?” Fergus exclaimed.
“Are ye sure ye’re no’ a witch?” Marsali asked.
I gaped at them. “Why...you tricked me! You really don’t know about the stones!”
Fergus shook his head, unrepentant. “I’ve heard them mentioned in whispers, ever since I was a lad.”
I rolled my eyes, standing up. “Never mind. I’ll let Jamie deal with you two.”
Fergus got to his feet, and grabbed my hand. “In seriousness, Milady, I must ask something of you that I know no one else will, because they’re worried about you.”
I stared at him a moment, then nodded for him to continue.
“Tread carefully,” he said earnestly. “Milord is strong in all things, except in losing you. I do not think he would survive. I cannot watch him return to the shell he was before you returned.”
“I can’t pretend,” I said. “It’s not fair to him, and he...he knows me too well. He’ll know.”
“Aye,” Fergus agreed, suddenly pulling me into a hug. “But you can start by letting him in. Letting us in. He isn’t the only one who needs you, Maman .”
I wrapped my arms around him, somehow able to easily imagine him as a shaggy-haired little urchin with big, irresistible eyes.
I pulled back, giving him a smile and patting his cheek. “You are impossible .”
He grinned cheekily. “Aye, I am.”
Leaving Fergus and Marsali to excitedly whisper about all of the new information I had accidentally given them, I ventured outside to look for Jamie, but instead I found another redhead, busy pulling weeds in the garden.
I hadn’t seen much of her since our argument a few days prior, and I’d been meaning to get her alone so that I could apologize.
She looked up as I approached, but then went back to her weeding. “If you had your memory, you’d be furious at how the garden has been let go.”
I grimaced at the state of it. “You’re right, it looks awful. Is it mine, then?”
She chuckled. “Of course it is. Practically everything here is. Da has the still, and the stables. Everything else was made to your specifications.”
“I do recall developing a liking for botany,” I said, kneeling beside her. “I take it these aren’t vegetables?”
Brianna chuckled again. “No. Mrs. Bug has seen to it that the vegetables are looked after, but most people on the ridge won’t come within a hundred yards of this garden. You’ve made sure to make everyone aware that while these herbs can heal, they can also kill.”
“Well,” I said, starting to carefully remove the invasive weeds from around the delicate herbs. “I don’t have the memory of what all is what anymore. Will you teach me?”
Brianna looked up in surprise, then smiled. “Well, yes. I mean, I learned it all from you, of course. I’m afraid I didn’t take quite the interest you would have liked, but I remember what you told me. Be careful, that right there is Foxglove. It can be made into a medicine that helps heart conditions, but it’s a skin irritant. Wear these.”
I took the gloves she offered me, then thought about what Fergus had said. What everyone had said.
What would happen if I tried ?
“Thank you. If you have the time, and wouldn’t mind, I’d also like it if you told me a little more about you. Your childhood, what you’re interested in now...everything.”
She looked so happy about the request, I knew right then that I’d done the right thing. I also realized in that very moment just how very starved I was for information about her. Before, I believe I just wasn’t letting myself think much about the fact that I had a daughter that I knew nothing about. And then, she began shyly at first, and then with energy, to tell me about her shenanigans as a little girl, and as a teenager, how she was passionate about technology - both from our time, and this one - and creating, and building. Her eyes lit up as described the ideas she had for the Ridge, and then they filled with adoration as she told me all about Jemmy’s every new accomplishment and what it felt like to give birth to him and nurse him for the first time.
And then, as easily as I took my next breath, it happened. And it wasn’t nearly as frightening as my traitorous mind made me feel like it would be.
I fell in love.
I had just gotten into bed when there was a soft knock on the door. After I called for whoever it was to come in, Jamie peeked his head around the door sheepishly.
“Apologies, Sassenach,” he said, not quite meeting my eyes. “It would seem that Mrs. Bug placed my clean clothes in here instead of th’ guest room. May I come in?”
“Of course,” I said, watching him go to the wardrobe. “Jamie?”
He paused, not facing me. “Aye?”
I bit my lower lip, then fiddled with the quilt across my lap. “Would you...would you maybe like to stay a while?”
Jamie blinked in surprise, finally looking at me. “Oh...aye! Are...are ye feeling frightened?”
I shook my head, smiling. “No, I just...feel like company, I suppose. If you’re not too tired, of course.”
The smile he gave me could have lit up a pitch black room. He did look tired, but he shook it off eagerly. “No! I mean…I’m no’ tired at all. If ye aren’a ready tae sleep yet, I have some playing cards. Bree’s been teaching me poker. D’ye want tae play?”
“I’d love to!” I said, charmed by his boyish enthusiasm, and he quickly grabbed the deck off of his dresser and sat on the foot of the bed, dealing our hands.
We didn’t talk about our past, or my memory loss, or really anything of importance at all. We just played a game, and laughed, and frequently accused one another of cheating. I argued that I couldn’t cheat if I tried, since he could always seem to see through my poker face, whereas he was excellent at hiding his hand.
At some point, he produced some whisky, and I became pleasantly buzzed as Jamie took all of my imaginary money.
I got to see another side to Jamie that I hadn’t before. The side that was incredibly funny, a little bit childish, and hilariously competitive. After a little prompting he started telling me about his family. His parents, his sister and her husband, his leagues of nieces and nephews that Ian was only the youngest of. It was patently clear that he was a man who valued family over practically anything else.
He adored his grandchildren, had immense respect for Brianna and Marsali and all of the other women of the Ridge. He was well read and intelligent, yet he spoke as if I was the smartest person he knew.
To put it simply, he was nothing like I might expect an 18th century immigrant soldier to be like.
“Claire Elizabeth Fraser, quit trying tae count cards,” Jamie teasingly scolded.
“I’m not, James…” I trailed off. “Wait, do you have a middle name?”
Instead of looking disappointed that I didn’t know, Jamie looked up at me in delight and stuck out his hand.
“James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.”
I giggled and shook his hand. “My goodness. Pleased to meet you.”
He used his hold on my hand to pull me a little closer, speaking in low tones. “I dinna normally make acquaintances tae women in their boudoirs.”
The way he said boudoir in an exaggeratedly deep voice and with a roll of his tongue sent me into a fit of laughter that nearly had me doubling over, and if he didn’t just look so pleased to punch for having caused it.
When we both grew too tired to play, I scooted over in the bed, silently inviting him in. I did sleep better with him there, and he certainly didn’t seem to mind.
He put out the light and wrapped me up in his arms the way he did on that other night, sighing in contentment. When I tilted my head up, kissing his chin, it was completely unconscious, and a little drunken, more like muscle memory than a choice.
I froze, a little embarrassed, and after a few moments of silence, I heard Jamie whisper in my ear.
“May I kiss you back, Sassenach?”
I nodded, and his lips touched mine, so very lightly it may not have even happened at all.
Yet that barest touch sent a shock of…something through me that I could not name, and as sleepy as I had been a moment before, I lay awake for quite some time, evaluating the feeling.
“I love ye, Sassenach,” he whispered, so quietly he might have thought me already asleep.
I didn’t let him know that I heard it.
Chapter 9: The Ghosts That Come for Us
Claire begins to see herself living this life she doesn’t remember, but old ghosts won’t stay at bay.
“Catch me Grandmama!” Joan squealed, her little dress flying as she darted away, giggling madly.
I laughed as I made chase, still carrying little Félicité on my hip. Marsali sat on the porch steps, nursing her youngest, Henri Christian, with Germain sitting beside her, shelling peas.
Jamie had awoken before dawn that morning, (to my astonishment, considering the amount of whisky we’d had to drink the night before,) creeping carefully out of bed so as not to wake me. I did awaken, immediately wishing I’d pretended to be asleep because I’d wondered if he had wanted to sneak away from me, but he only smiled softly, kissed my cheek, and explained that Germain had just come in to tell him that one of the tenant’s fences had broken, resulting in the escape of several head of steer. So he, Murtagh, and Fergus were leaving to help gather them up, but Ian was remaining behind, along with the Bugs and the Beardsley twins.
I’d wanted to tell him haughtily that we didn’t need a man around at all times to take care of us, because I’d gradually been noticing that everyone was very careful about there being no less than one man in the house at all times, usually more than that. But I figured it was probably just an 18th century custom, and it wasn’t as if the men in this family were at all unpleasant, so I said nothing.
I couldn’t fall back asleep after Jamie left, so I got myself up and started on some of the morning chores that I’d observed done enough times by then that I figured I could do on my own. I even found that there came a bit of peace in feeding and milking the goats and gathering eggs in the quiet of the early dawn. It was such a normalcy that I didn’t think I’d ever really experienced, even before the war. How peculiar that such a feeling could come from being stuck 200 years away from my own time.
During that quiet work, I tried to imagine this as being my life from then on. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. Having a home and family had been all I’d ever wanted my whole life, I just could never have even entertained the notion of coming by it this way.
Eventually, Lizzie and Mrs. Bug were up and taking over the work, and Marsali arrived with her brood. The little girls had been shy around me, and I didn’t know if that was normal or not, since the boys were not. But once I let them know I wasn’t going to scream or cry or do anything else frightening like I had that I had that first night, they were both all too eager to play with me. And as I carried little Félicité around in my arms, it felt familiar. I wondered - hoped even - that it was because it was a sensation my body knew, even if my mind did not.
“Oh, you’re too fast,” I gasped, stumbling to a stop before I could trip over my gown. “I think I need a break, Joanie.”
Joan pouted, and earned a stern look from her mother. “Joan…” Marsali called warningly.
Joan quickly tucked her lower lip away then went to skip after the chickens.
“My goodness,” I breathed, sitting down on Marsali’s other side. “I don’t know how you manage with so many little ones.”
“Och, they make me want tae pull my hair out sometimes,” Marsali chuckled. “But I’d never not want tae have them.”
I frowned, situating Félicité more comfortably on my lap. “Have you ever said something like that to me before?”
Marsali looked up. “I dinna think so.”
I looked around at the steps leading to the door, then to the pathway where Jamie should soon return on, feeling the most intense de ja vu.
“Jemmy!” Germain exclaimed suddenly as Brianna, Roger, and their son appeared on that pathway. “ Maman , may I go play?”
“Ye haven’a finished wi’ th’ peas yet,” Marsali said.
“Oh, go on,” I told the boy. “And hand me the basket. I’ll finish up.”
Germain eagerly did just that, pausing once to give me a big wet kiss and then shot off the porch to meet Jemmy before the two of them ran off to no doubt make trouble.
As I pulled the basket closer, I paused, then winced. “I’m so sorry,” I said to Marsali. “I shouldn’t have undermined you like that.”
Marsali laughed. “Dinna fash. Daddy says it’s a grandmother’s right tae coddle a grandchild. No harm’ll come from getting a few extra minutes tae play before he’s too old tae want to.”
“Good morning,” Roger called out once he and Brianna were near enough. I smiled in greeting, but it fell when I noticed him cutting worried looks toward his wife, who in turn looked very pale.
I stood up, setting Félicité to sit next to her mother and met them, looking Brianna over in concern.
“Brianna...are you ill? You don’t look well.”
“I’m fine,” Brianna said, waving me off.
“She’s not fine,” Roger said. “She’s been feeling off all week. Easily tired, little appetite. She didn’a even keep down her breakfast this morning.”
“Well come on,” I said, taking her arm. “Let’s get you inside and out of the sun. Roger, be a dear, please, and finish shelling those peas.”
Roger nodded, leaving me in care of his wife, and I ushered her inside and to the kitchen where I poured her a glass of water from the pitcher.
“Here, you’re probably dehydrated.”
Brianna sipped delicately, saving me from having to remind her to drink slowly.
“I’m really fine,” she insisted. “Probably just a bug.”
I hummed, leaning against the counter and crossing my arms. “For a whole week? Bree…”
Brianna’s head shot up suddenly, the fatigued look on her face lifting slightly. “You haven’t called me Bree since...well…”
I smiled, but wouldn’t allow her to distract me. “Tell me what’s really going on,” I prompted.
Brianna sighed and rolled her eyes. “God, no memories and you still see right through me. I wanted to wait until I was sure before I told anyone, and with everything else going on…”
Smiling wider, I went and sat beside her, taking her hand. “You’re pregnant!”
Brianna smiled back and nodded. “Or at least, I’m pretty sure. I’m not that far along yet...but it feels the same as with Jem.”
“I wish I could say I know how you feel,” I said wryly.
“I know,” Brianna said, covering my hand with her free one. “I wish you could, too. Pregnancy is hard, but a lot of it is good, too. To say nothing of what you get at the end of it!”
I chuckled. “It’s so strange, you know? Knowing my body carried two children, feeling like the sensation is there, right at the edge of my mind, but it eludes me every time I reach for it.”
Brianna blinked at me. “Two? Did...did Da tell you about Faith?”
“Faith?” I asked, frowning.
I had said two children, hadn’t I? But so far as I was aware, Brianna was my only biological child.
“You’re my only child,” I said dazedly, staring out into nothing. “But it wasn’t always that way…was it?”
Brianna shook her head, squeezing my hand. “No. She came before me. Faith was stillborn, Mama.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. “I don’t remember.”
“Yes, you do! Or, at least, a part of you does!”
I opened my eyes and stared at her. “But I don’t! I don’t remember carrying her, or...or whether I got to see her! I need to remember her! She shouldn’t be forgotten…”
“You told me she had red hair,” Brianna said softly. “Like mine.”
“But I should remember her,” I repeated. “I should remember you . What sort of mother forgets her own children?”
“Come on, Mama, it isn’t like you chose to forget! You were hurt!”
“But my head is better,” I pointed out.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Brianna said firmly. “It might just take time.”
I shook my head, pushing away the feelings before they took over, as well as the fear that Brianna was wrong. “Listen to me, prattling on about myself when we should be celebrating you .”
Brianna smiled. “Thank you, but really, I would prefer to keep it between us for now. I haven’t even told Roger yet.”
“I won’t say anything,” I promised. “But you should really tell him. The poor man looked worried sick.”
Brianna chuckled. “Yeah, you’re right.”
We were quiet as I put some water on for tea, Brianna only remarking softly how it was a good thing Uncle Lamb raised me the way he did, so that cooking over an open fire wasn’t a foreign concept to me.
I smiled as I agreed, but inside, I was reeling.
I felt sick at the realization that in addition to forgetting Brianna, I’d also forgotten my other baby, who wasn’t even there for me to get to know. But no matter how hard I tried, those memories just would not come to me.
After Brianna was feeling better, we went back outside, and I watched her and Roger smile lovingly at one another, rather missing that sense of companionship.
It struck me then, the realization that the companion I missed was Jamie. Foolish of course, because I’d just seen him a few hours before, but I found myself wishing he’d hurry back.
“Someone’s here,” Marsali said, clutching Henri Christian and grabbing hold of Joan’s hand. To help her, I picked Félicité back up and we all watched as a group of men rode up to the house.
Roger went to meet them, waving in greeting, and I followed behind, just in case Mistress Fraser was required to be present for some reason.
Roger stopped dead however, his body going rigid, and it made me stop, as well. “What is it ye want?” he asked, his voice dripping with aggression, startling me, since he was normally so soft-spoken.
Fergus and Murtagh were with Jamie, but Ian, Josiah, and Mr. Bug soon came out of the house wielding rifles. I started backing away toward the house, wondering what in the hell was going on, some kind of feud I supposed, and figuring I probably needed to get Félicité away from it.
“We dinna come seeking trouble,” the leader of the small band said, something about his voice and accent sending ice-hot chills running down my spine.
I froze, every inch of my body succumbing to pure terror. I clutched the baby, perhaps too tightly, because she began to cry, but I couldn’t move.
“If ye seek no trouble, then ye best move on,” Ian said.
“My brother’s actions aren’a my own,” the man continued calmly. “But I thought ye may wish tae have news of th’ bairn ye left in Brownsville.”
“Mama…” Brianna whispered. I heard her, but I couldn’t react. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe .
The man turned his eyes on me, eyes that were disturbingly familiar. “Glad tae see ye well, Mistress.”
“Just tell us what ye’ve come tae say and move on , Mr. Brown.” Roger ordered.
Finally unfreezing, I took a step back, then another.
I didn’t hear whatever else Mr. Brown said, and soon they were gone, no gun lowered until they were well out of sight.
“Ma, they’re gone...let me take th’ baby...”
Félicité was screaming, arching away from me, but I couldn’t get my arms to loosen.
Then, a hand touched my arm and a scream ripped itself from my throat.
Félicité’s warm weight slipped from my grasp, but before I could be afraid that I’d dropped her, Marsali had taken her into her own arms, cuddling her close.
“I...I’m sorry…” I whispered, horrified. “Did I...did I hurt her?”
“She’s fine, Ma,” Marsali said, though I could see she was a little shaken.
“It’s Da,” Brianna said, relief evident in her voice.
I spun around to see Jamie dismounting and hurrying toward us with Fergus and Murtagh not far behind.
“We saw riders leaving,” Jamie said. “Is everything well?”
“It was the Brown’s,” Roger said lowly.
Jamie’s eyes went to me in an instant, somehow only frightening me more because of it. There was a reason everyone had been so tense. A reason I felt this way.
Who were they ?
Something snapped inside of me and I ran forward, throwing myself into Jamie’s arms, only then becoming aware that I was shaking violently.
“ Shh ,” he hushed me, holding me tightly, the string of whispered Gaelic that followed being a mixture of curses and reassurances.
I didn’t even remember being moved inside, whether I walked or was carried. I just knew that I blinked, and I was in my bedroom, curled into a fetal position in Jamie’s lap.
The lapse of awareness terrified me. Was I losing more memory?
“What’s wrong with me?” I murmured into Jamie’s shirt.
“Nothing, mo ghraidh ,” he said, sounding a little relieved that I was talking, though. “Ye’re safe.”
I pushed myself up into a sitting position, but didn’t try to leave his lap. “I know that...so...so what just happened ? Who were those men? Is that why you always leave me guarded? I thought it was because you were afraid I would run but...have I reacted that way to strangers before? Am I just mad?”
“You are not mad , Sassenach,” Jamie said firmly, brushing the hair out of my face. “And those men aren’a strangers. It isn’a them ye’re frightened of, though. They…I think it’s only that they remind ye of someone else, and since ye dinna have th’ memory to separate them, ye had a...panic attack. That’s what Bree called it.”
Jamie’s looked haunted as he stroked my hair some more, urging me to rest my head against him again.
“Ye were hurt,” he said, tightening his hold on me. “Badly. Ye were taken by a band of men, led by one of the Browns and…”
I knew what he was saying without him needing to say the words. “How many?” I asked, not sure if I even wanted to know the answer.
“I don’t know.”
After a while, I did get up, moving over to the far side of the sofa. Jamie let me go, resting his hands loosely on his knees. Even in my upset I recognized that he was keeping his posture carefully non-threatening. For all that the gesture was appreciated, it only made me wonder more about how many times this had happened to me, that he knew so well to give me space?
“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said at last, even though the admission tore at my heart. “I don’t think I want to remember, Jamie.”
Jamie nodded, not meeting my eyes. “Aye. I can understand that, truly. I still think th’ stones are too dangerous for ye...but we have gemstones and...if it’s really what ye want, I’ll take ye back. Frank willn’a be there, but your time is safer and...there will be nothing tae remind ye. Ye have friends there. Brianna says your home and money are still there.”
“I need to think,” I whispered.
Jamie nodded again, standing up. “I’ll go and make th’ arrangements. Whatever ye decide,” he looked at me then, and smiled, the heartbreak evident in his face. “I swore tae ye on our wedding night that I would protect ye wi’ my body if I needed to. I have done so, and I have failed tae do so as well. If th’ time has come that your mind needs protection, then I will do what it takes.”
Jamie walked out of the room, and I curled back up on the sofa, hugging my knees.
Every time I closed my eyes, I saw the faceless shapes of men as they violated me.