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Where Amorous Kisses Dwell

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He was dying, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Fergus had first noticed him getting abundantly tired while they were out working with the horses. He’d even teased him about being exhausted from excessive nighttime activities. But these were not symptoms of exertion. In fact, he had hardly been exerting himself at all, and still, he suffering from night sweats that soaked the sheets all the way to the mattress.

They were likely symptoms of some kind of cancer. Lymphoma was my best guess, though without proper lab work and scans I couldn’t be sure. 

I would’ve diagnosed him sooner if he hadn’t been such a bloody Scot about his discomfort and told me something...not that it would’ve helped.

I checked the swollen lymph nodes in his neck once again, hoping they had magically shrunk down to a normal size, but that was a foolish hope. He was resting now, fatigued as he always was. 

“I’m so sorry, darling,” I whispered, holding his fevered hand, lifeless in his unconsciousness. 

“Grannie!” squealed wee Jamie, my grandson toddling into the room, arms wide for balance.

I stood quickly, swooping him up and carrying him away. “James Alexander Colin Fraser MacGregor, you must use your indoor voice when your father is sleeping.”

“Da’s sick,” he said severely.

“You’re right. He is sick. We must let him rest quietly.

“Jamie, dinna go jumping on yer Da!” called Faith, gracefully sweeping into the cottage, my three-month-old namesake secured to her chest with a large wrap.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got him,” I said, shutting the door to Colin’s room, but as soon as the words were out of my mouth, the little heathen was squirming out of my arms to go find his favorite toy sword his grandfather had whittled for him for Hogmanay. 

“Hello, my Sunshine.” I kissed Faith’s cheek. “I didn’t expect you home for another hour, at least.”

She just shrugged, eyes red and swollen. I had come over early in the morning to give her and the children a break from caretaking Colin. They’d gone to Lallybroch to see the family, but apparently, that didn’t last long. Faith just couldn’t stay away when her husband was so ill. 

“We finally have a bit of sunshine,” I said. “It would do you and the children good to be outdoors.”

Faith removed baby Claire from her wrap and handed her over to me, taking a moment to stretch her back. The walk to her cottage from Lallybroch wasn’t very far, but the poor woman was carrying the weight of two young children and a dying husband on her back. 

Not for the first time in the past couple of months did I wish Jamie was home. Faith could’ve really used her father. But he was away with a few of our other children, first to Paris, then to London. He was due back home any day now.

“Would you like me to take the children to Lallybroch?” I asked. “Give you a little room to breathe? Our housekeeper Leana just had a baby; she could nurse the little one if you—”

“No, Mama,” she cut me off. “I could use the distraction, and I want us all close to Colin...just in case.”

I looked down at my golden-eyed granddaughter in my arms, the only one in the family that looked more like me than Jamie. I kissed her little nose and hugged her close to my chest. “Do you want me to stay? I’d love to spend more time with my little ones.”

“I’m all right, Mama. I’m sure ye have plenty of work waiting for ye at home wi’ Da being gone for so long.”

“Nonsense. Lallybroch is in Fergus’s capable hands.”

“Mama,” she said seriously, “I’m fine.”

“Alright then. I’ll go, but I’m coming back to check on all four of you tomorrow.” I handed little Claire back to her mother and kissed them both goodbye. 

When I turned to wee Jamie, he held up his wooden sword and tried fending off my kisses with heroic swings of his blade, just like his grandda taught him. “Come here you little Scot!” I snatched him up and rained kisses down all over his cheeks as he erupted in a fit of giggles.

We were interrupted by Faith’s somber tone. “Mama, d’ye think...Is there something in the future that could save him? A medicine like yer penicillin?”

I froze, giving wee Jamie a chance to strike me smartly on the head with his wooden sword. I set him down, rubbing the tender spot and turning to her with a look of pained sympathy. 

Faith was fingering a large sapphire she wore embedded on a gold chain around her neck. A gift from her father. The blood in my veins went cold as ice.

“What Colin has is likely cancer,” I said sharp and clear. “In the 1940s, they were treating such things with radiation and possibly some chemicals, but…”

“But what?”

“The treatments often did more damage than good, and the tools to treat it are enormous. They can’t be brought through the stones.”

“But, Mama—”

“No, Faith! Even if we could somehow get the treatments here, they won’t do any good.”

“How do ye know?”

“Because I was a bloody nurse, that’s how.”

“So, ye’ve seen this before? This was the kind of patient ye treated when ye worked at the hospital?”

“Well no, but I have seen this before. I do know quite a bit about it. I had a friend, you see. She was a nurse in the army. Shortly after the war, she was diagnosed with cancer in her lymphatic system. She came to my hospital once to talk to the oncologists about possible treatments. They told her the average life expectancy after diagnosis was five years, and that was with radiation.”

“Five years? If it could give us more time—”

“Five years for those diagnosed early on! Colin is already far more progressed than she was. Even if that weren’t the case, he can’t travel through time.”

“But I could go for him and bring the radiation here.”

“The machines are so big, they would hardly fit in your house, much less through a bloody stone circle.”

Tears welled up in her eyes as she tried to find yet another argument. As her mind raced, I clenched my fists in fear that she might take off straight away to the stones, regardless of the dangers of disrupting space and time.

But reason finally prevailed. She collapsed down into a chair, eyes staring far away, as though she was coming to grips once again with her husband’s death. 

“A foolish hope,” she whispered, her voice weak. “I was just thinking of how my niece and nephew came to save me, and I wanted to do the same for him.”

“Look, if there was a way I could save him, I would do it. Even if that meant going back. I just don’t think it’s possible. And you can’t bloody well leave baby Claire and wee Jamie here without their mother, so don’t get any ideas.”

A silent sob quaked through her body and tears fell. “It just feels so helpless, ye ken. I can travel through time, but it’s bloody useless. If I canna save the ones I love, what is it even worth?”

“Oh darling, I know just what you mean. And I’m so sorry.”

“No, ye don’t!” she snapped.

“Yes, I do,” I whispered. I knew all too well.

“Oh, Mama. I’m sorry. I ken ye know better than anyone.” She looked ashamed of herself. “Ye lost yer husband? Frank?”

I nodded.

“And yer weans?”

I nodded again.

“I dinna ken how ye survived it.”

“I survived losing Frank, because I was meant to find your father. And I survived the babies, because I had you and your brothers and sisters who needed me.” I kissed her forehead. “And you’ll survive this because of them.” I nodded to her children.

“I ken I must do what’s best for the bairns. And I will. I swear it. It’s just that...sometimes I think…”

“What?”

She looked up at me, eyes blurred with tears. “D’ye think maybe Death is following me, Mama? D’ye think it wants payment for the life ye saved? I wasna meant to be here, perhaps—”

“Absolutely not. That’s not how things like this work. Colin would be exactly where he is right now even if you were gone. Instead, you’ve given him a happy life, a beautiful family, and a great love. So chase such foolish notions from your mind.” 

Her eyes dropped to the baby in my arms and then to the toddler at my feet. “D’ye think this is something that could be passed down to the children?”

“I really don’t know enough about it to make any reasonable kind of guess. There is some speculation that certain cancers may be heritable, while others are not.”

She inhaled deeply, shuddering, the air getting stuck in her throat. 

“They’re strong and healthy now, my darling. And they likely can travel through time. Take heart. They’ll need their mother when their father is gone.”

She nodded, reaching out to grasp my hand. “And I have you...and the family.”

“We’re here for you, my Sunshine. And your father will be home soon.”

She breathed a little easier at the mention of Jamie. He couldn’t fight off Colin's cancer, but his solid presence was always so comforting.

I left them with a heaviness of heart, not only for Faith and the children, but for myself. I loved Colin. He’d been a wonderful son-in-law and was as much a part of our family as our own children.

The cold wind blew noisily in my ears and bit at my nose as I walked home on the long dirt road. My thoughts raced with every step, consuming my attention more so than the beautiful scenery around me.

It was strange how you could mourn someone before they were gone. But I supposed Colin was already gone, in many respects. Though he still had some humor when he was awake, he seemed to have lost his sharpness of mind and his quiet strength that were an integral part of his personality. And he didn’t look like himself any longer. He was pale and emaciated...weak and frail. He’d never been like that before.

A shiver went through my body at the thought of having to watch Jamie fall ill like that one day. I knew it wouldn’t come for many years, but a sick fear gripped me at having to live any part of my life without him.

As I walked around a bend in the road, I pulled off the golden necklace I always wore that displayed a large citrine gem. It was warm to the touch, even in the cold weather. One day, I would use a gem like this to leave my life here with my family and go on to save Jamie in his youth.  

I understood what Faith meant when she said it sometimes felt as though Death was following her, like we were defying the natural order of things with our family’s existence. I would never let her know that I shared the same fears, but they were always there, a dark shadow in my mind, hiding in the corners even on my brightest of days.

I was so engrossed in my thoughts, I didn’t notice a large stone in the road. “Fuck!” I yelled, as I fell forward, necklace flying out of my hands and into the brush on the side of the road. My palms stung with fresh cuts, and my knees ached where bruises were likely to show in a day or so. 

Getting old is not for the faint of heart, I thought, as I forced myself up, body disrupted by the jolt of impact more than it would’ve been twenty years ago.

I looked around for my necklace as I dusted myself off. Jamie was bloody obsessed with keeping gemstones in the hands of his time-travelling family. He wanted us to have them at the ready if ever a need should arise. The thought of enduring his irritated grumbling if he found out that I’d lost the necklace had me getting down on my freshly injured hands and knees to poke through a dog rose shrub and all it’s bloody thorns.

You’d think a gold necklace would be easy to find in the wilderness, but the shadows cast by the trees and shrubs muted whatever glitter might help find the bloody thing.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” I cursed, as my cold knuckle scratched against a particularly vicious thorn. “If I had my shovel, I’d dig you out by the root and turn you into mulch, you bastard.”

A quiet chuckle sounded behind me—one I’d recognize anywhere. I looked over my shoulder and saw my husband grinning down at me, a hand on his chin, admiring the sight before him.

“When I thought of all the ways ye’d welcome me home, Sassenach, I must say, this one didna cross my mind.”

“I dropped something.”

“Is that so?” He bent down behind me, evil intentions in his eyes. His hands came down to rest on the sides of my arse. “Your bum is the greatest thing about you.

I snorted. “Is that so?”

“It’s Shakespeare, Sassenach. Ye always love it when I recite ye the bard’s verse.”

“Shakespeare?”

“Aye. Measure For Measure, act 2, scene 1.”

I laughed, making said bum bounce in his hands.

“Ye want more poetry, lass?” he started lifting my skirts, hands seeking soft, wobbly flesh. “Methought I was enamored of an ass.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”

“Aye,” he groaned, ducking his head down.

“Don’t you dare!” I yelled, pulling away. “We’re on the side of the road where anyone can see!”

“No one’s around. Dinna Fash.” He bent his head again.

“But I’m filthy. It’s been hours since I bathed.”

He snorted. I knew he didn’t care, but I most certainly did. Peering over my shoulder, I saw him grab the flask that was attached to his belt and pop open the lid. 

Jamie!” I said, scandalized. “You are not going to pour whisky on my—OH GOD! It’s fucking cold!”

“I’ll warm ye up in a bit,” he said, wiping down the line of my buttocks with a handkerchief. “It’s been months of famine, Sassenach. Let me feast before the bairns descend, aye?”

I just sighed in resignation and wiggled my bum, feeling no less deprived than him in his absence. If truth be told, we likely wouldn’t have any time alone again until later in the evening, and I certainly couldn’t wait until then.

I expected his soft lips on my skin or his gentle tongue tracing the curve of my buttocks. What I didn’t expect was for him to bite my arse like a bloody horse in heat!

I let off a yelp as he licked sweetly over the injured buttock. Just as I was relaxed again, he moved over and bit the other side. “James Fraser!” I swung a hand back behind me, connecting with his all too hard head.

He laughed, full of mischief, licking and kissing down to more tender places.

“Oh,” I moaned, “now that’s nice.”

His tongue grazed the center of my buttocks, warm breath heating my skin. Jamie groaned as he licked over my arsehole, hands sinking deep in the fat of my bum, splitting me wide apart.

My nerves were heighted being outside where any passersby could see, though the trees and shrubs on the side of the road did provide us with some bit of cover. Making love to my husband outdoors had always been my favorite pastime, I just usually preferred the only witnesses be fluttering songbirds and the occasional deer.

“Ye ken ye like it, Sassenach,” he growled against my arse. “Knowing anyone could walk by and see yer husband defile ye.”

I thought of sweet old Mistress Kerr, the tavern owner in Broch Mordha, walking by and having an apoplexy at the sight of her beloved Laird’s face buried in his Lady’s backside. Or perhaps a patrolling redcoat getting confirmation of what complete barbarians the Scots were, bringing our filthy bedroom activities to the roadside.

For some reason, it made me all the more needy. 

Jamie’s tongue was inside my arse as he slipped a finger down to my quim. “Bloody hell!” I yelled. There was nothing, nothing like being touched so intimately by a man who’d spent half his life devoted to knowing my pleasure. 

His fingers were perfect—long, graceful, and fucking skilled. He rubbed over me, sliding them back and forth over my clitoris like he was playing a harp—I was certainly making plenty of noise at his touch, though unlikely to be anything the angels might sing to.

My fingers dug into the cold earth as my body tensed, fighting for orgasm. But I didn’t come until Jamie was good and ready, speeding his fingers back and forth until I was crying out his name.

He didn’t wait for my orgasm to stop. He yanked down his breeks, found purchase on my hips, and shoved his cock inside. “Deo gratias!” he groaned, holding my arse against him as he felt the last of my climax squeeze around him.

My arms grew weak, and I barely had the strength to hold my face off the ground, but he had only just begun. He pulled back and hammered in, knocking the breath from my lungs. His hips let loose their aggression after months of separation. His knees were between mine, pinching my skin against the dirt as his muscular thighs slapped against my own. 

God, I’d missed the grunting sounds he let loose when seeking climax. I’d missed the feel of his hands on that soft, meaty part of my hips, gripping tight to pull me repeatedly against him. I’d missed the shuddering that rocked through my body when his cock battered my cervix. And I’d missed his triumphant growl whenever I clamped down around him, the fluid of my own pleasure audibly sloshing with every thrust. But most of all, I’d missed his arms curling around me, squeezing my body to his chest as he came, stuttering my name with holy reverence. 

We both collapsed onto our sides, not moving our bodies otherwise. The closest I’d ever come to being any good at meditation was when we lay recovering, listening to our combined breath as our hearts slowed to a soft, languid pace.

For the first time in months, I felt completely at peace. 

“Welcome home, Soldier,” I sighed.

He reached down and groped my bottom. “Welcome, ass.”

“More Shakespeare?”

“Aye. Twelfth Night, though dinna ask me what scene; I can hardly recall my own name at the moment.”

“I think I miss Catallus.”

“Do ye, now?” He turned me over and met my eyes, smiling happily. “Ye want a thousand kisses, Sassenach?”

“Yes. After you’ve washed your face and mouth.”

He chuckled, loosening my bodice and pulling free my breasts. “Then let amorous kisses dwell, on our lips, begin and tell…” he recited, bending to kiss over my nipple.

“Dwell on our lips?” I interrupted.  “Those aren’t exactly my lips.”

“Give me a minute to get my legs working again, and I’ll go wash up for them.”

“Tired, are you? Worn out after only one time?”

“After being on the road for a week, following months of rushing around to get my business done before spring? Aye. I’m worn out. ” He rolled onto his back, trying to relax. 

Ifrinn!” he shouted, jumping up on his knees. 

“What? What is it?” 

He rubbed his bottom while his eyes scanned the ground for the violent offender.

He reached down to pick up a branch dog rose, complete with thorns and all. Tangled on one of the little vines was a small golden chain. 

“My necklace! You found it.” I grabbed it cheerfully, and pulled it back over my head. 

Mmphm,” he grumbled, pulling up his trousers.

He helped me up to my feet, and in return, I assisted with sanitizing his face and mouth. After he spit out the last of the whisky, he asked, “May I kiss my wife now? Or d’ye want me to soak in a barrel of spirits for a few days first?”

I grabbed him by the collar and pulled his lips down to mine. I was never so happy as when in Jamie’s arms. 

“God, I missed ye, mo ghràidh.

I kissed him slowly, body and mind finally content in this little stolen moment together, away from the demands awaiting us at home. He had the most delectable bottom lip that my own lips loved to cling to as we parted.

All too soon, the curiosity of our time apart got the better of us, so he led me back to the road where his wagon was waiting, and we began to fill each other in on the last few months.

“How did you sneak up on me?” I asked as he assisted me into the wagon’s long seat.

“I saw ye walking up the path from Faith’s cottage. The wind was blowing in my direction, so ye couldna hear me come upon ye. When I turned round the bend back there, I meant to surprise ye, but then I noticed ye’d fallen down, so I rushed o’er.”

“I had a lot on my mind.”

“Oh?” He climbed up onto the seat beside me and set the horses off toward Lallybroch.

“No, you first. How’s my little man? And Bree? And Young Ian?”

“They were all just fine, last I saw them. Eager to be rid of me.”

“I doubt that.”

Jamie snorted. “When we arrived in Paris, puir Jared was nursing a headache from the night before from too much drink—”

“Jared had a hangover? He must be getting old.”

“Aye. Happens to the best of us. Anyhow, he was regaling us wi’ tales of a new brothel that just opened where he’s doing much of his business, and I could see Young Ian’s eyes glittering wi’ hope and possibilities.”

“Oh God. Jenny will kill us if he ends up getting a whore pregnant or dying of syphilis.”

“Aye. I suppose it’s none so terrible she and Ian moved to Fraser’s Ridge. An ocean separating us might keep her wrath at bay.”

“Do you think it was a good idea to leave him there? He’s still quite young and—”

“Come now, Sassenach. He’s fourteen. Ye ken he needs his education, and the lad has an adventurous spirit.”

It was my turn to snort. “Yes, I recall all too well how adventurous the lad is.” 

It would be a long time before I’d ever forget everything that had happened with that adventurous young man all those years ago. Those events had resulted in him living in Scotland with us rather than North Carolina with his parents. But that was a story to ruminate on some other day.

“He’ll come to us if he needs us,” Jamie reassured me, “and Jared will keep an eye on him in the meantime.”

“You mean the Jared who was nursing a hangover and regaling him with tales of the latest brothel? That Jared?”

Mmphm.” 

I shook my head. I wouldn’t win this argument. And Jamie had obtained Jenny and Ian’s permission to send him to university in Paris, so I suppose my opinion mattered little. Still, Ian was like a son to me. We’d had him in our custody since he was such a little boy.

“Brianna sends her love,” Jamie continued on. Our daughter was staying in Paris with my friend Louise so she could learn to paint with the masters. Only her love of the arts could pull her away from her breeks in Scotland and shove her into grand panniers in the salons of Paris.

“I know. I’ve already received a letter from her.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. She sent it just after you left for London. She’s enamored with all she’s learning, though has little patience for Louise and her parties. She did say Ian was behaving himself, but you know she’d say that even if he wasn’t.”

“Aye.”

“And what about Willie? How is my little darling?” I tried to hide the fact that my eyes were misting over at the thought of our baby boy being away from home for the first time. 

“He’s more than alright, Sassenach. Ye ken he’s in safe hands.”

I took a deep, steadying breath. “Yes, but you know he’s getting to that age. It’s going to happen soon, Jamie.”

“Which is exactly why he needs to start spending more time away from us, Claire. Ye ken he canna do what he must if he’s a scairt wee bairn.”

I still didn’t like the idea. “Couldn’t we send someone else back in time to do it for him? A future grandchild or something?”

“And risk it all going wrong? No. It’ll be fine, lass. Ye ken it will. You were there.”

“You’re right, I was there, and it was bloody dangerous. And he’s only a child.”

“He’s ready. I’ve made sure of it. And dinna fash. They’re staying in England. His godfather assured me he has no business in Scotland until summer. It likely won’t happen for another year or two, at least.”

Though his words were of some comfort, I still hated the idea of my son being out of my sight.

“Settle yer mind, Sassenach. He’s fine. He promised he’d write ye everyday before laying down to bed.”

I snorted, knowing how unlikely that was to happen. Jamie chuckled with me and hugged me close to his side. We could see the broch in the distance, and I felt Jamie’s chest swell with the comfort of coming home after a long time away.

“I’ve told ye about Bree, Willie, and Ian. Now, tell me, how are the rest of my bairns?” he asked. “And the tenants?”

I didn’t yet know how to tell him about Colin, so I started first with the other children. “Fergus has been taking care of the tenants. He’s doing a wonderful job.”

“Of course he is.”

“And Marsali is better at keeping house than I ever was.” Jamie snorted all too heartily for my taste. “The twins, well, you know them. They pop in and out as they please, usually dragging a boar or deer in with them.”

Jamie shook his head in irritation. “I told them to be looking out for their Ma while I was gone, but I see they’ve been letting ye traipse about the countryside on yer own. Who kens what may have happened if a stray Scot happened upon ye on the roadside, lass.” He blinked at me with a mischievous smirk.

I bumped his shoulder and continued filling him in. “They’ve been talking about building themselves a cottage.”

Jamie nodded. “They’re a bit young yet, but they’re ready for one—feral wee beasts that they are. Perhaps we’ll get started on it this summer.”

“Actually, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”

“No?”

I sighed, gathering my courage to have the dreaded conversation. “There may be a cottage freeing up soon.”

Jamie looked down at me, narrowing his eyes. 

“I think sometime in the next few months, maybe longer, Faith and her children will be coming to live with us at Lallybroch.”

He tensed at the heartbreak in my voice. “Why?” His voice was like gravel.

“It’s Colin.” I shook my head and took a deep breath. “He’s unwell.”

Jamie stopped the horses and turned to face me. “Unwell? Can ye no’ fix him?”

My eyes moistened and my chin quivered. All I could do was shake my head.

“And we canna save him wi’ the stones somehow?”

I shook my head again, and the tears fell.

“Oh Christ. How’s our lass?”

“Not good. She loves him so dearly.”

Jamie pulled me close, holding me tight the way I’d needed for months. Tears seemed to fall so easily in his arms, and I let them flow freely for the first time since I realized we’d be losing a son-in-law.

When my sobs subsided, he kissed my forehead and tucked me into his side once more. “We’ll do what we can for them, even if that only means prayer.”

He reached for the reins and got the horses moving again. There was a shaky urgency in his embrace that told me he was eager to go see Faith. “How are the weans? Wee Jamie and Claire?”

“Healthy. Happy. Oblivious as only children can be.”

“Oblivious? I’m sure they sense something is wrong.”

He was probably right. Children could often be more observant than their parents. We sat quietly together for some time, leaning on each other, drawing strength.

“And how’s my wee Lizzie? Did she miss her Da?”

“Of course she did. She’s made friends with the children of the new tenants just beyond the orchard.”

“Children? They’re hardly children, Sassenach. They’re teenagers, as ye say. And their father is a bloody Englishman.”

I smiled despite my tears. I didn’t want to tell him that one of the bloody Englishman’s teenagers had taken a clear liking to our daughter. Lizzie was more than a little enamored with the lad as well. I’d save it for a better time.

He sighed with relief as we rode up to the house, giving me a squeeze and kissing my temple. He helped me down from the wagon and escorted me inside, wanting to see the children before unloading the empty whisky barrels he’d brought from Paris.

The house was surprisingly quiet with so many of our children away from home or working outside. There was no one in the parlor or the dining room, so I dragged Jamie to the kitchen to get him something to eat.

“Da!” yelled Marsali, eyes wide. She rushed over quickly to greet him with a hug.

“It’s fine to see ye, lass.” He hugged her close and kissed her head. 

“Welcome home, Papa,” said Fergus, smiling bright. His cheeks were a bit red; perhaps he was spending too much time in the sun.

Jamie released Marsali and embraced our eldest. “How’s everything, laddie? Are we ready for the planting?”

Oui. We’re just waiting for the ground to thaw.”

“Claire tells me ye both did well taking care of Lallybroch while I was gone?”

Oui, Papa.

“Good man.”

“They were wonderful, darling,” I said. “Both are more capable of running this household entirely on their own.”

“Little makes a man as happy as knowing his sons and daughters are growing into fine young men and women,” Jamie patted Fergus on the back. “And the twa of ye working so well together—as brothers and sisters aught—is a comfort when I have to be away.”

“He’s hardly my brother,” snapped Marsali.

“Pardon?” I said, surprised by her tone.

She shrugged and returned to the counter to sharpen a blade. There was a raw piece of venison in front of her that I assumed was meant to be our dinner. “Fergus and I are not brother and sister. We share no blood.”

“Aye,” said Jamie, “but ye share the same parents and the same family.”

“Perhaps. But I was only a wean when he went off to university. And then he spent most of my life running spirits for ye between Edinburgh and Paris. He’s only been home a few years, and we’ve both been grown that whole time.”

“Marsali,” Fergus chided, “Papa is only pleased we can work together to help the family. I’m sure a thank you would suffice.”

“Aye, and I am only reminding him that you and I are not siblings.” She smiled at him without any joy in her eyes.

Jamie looked at me with utter confusion, hoping I could shine a light on whatever that was, but I was just as dumbfounded as him.

“Come, Papa,” said Fergus. “Let me help you unload the wagon. Did Jared have the good brandy barrels this time?”

“Aye,” said Jamie, eyes still narrowed on our son.

“Marvelous. I’ve cleared some space in the shed…” Fergus led Jamie away to the front door, thoughts of food apparently forgotten.

Marsali was busy with her knife and the venison, and she clearly wasn’t in the mood for further conversation, so I took the opportunity to steal away upstairs to wash myself down after our roadside activities.

As I cleaned myself up, I looked out the window to find Jamie and Fergus. The stable boys and farm hands had gotten wind of Jamie’s return, and people were beginning to filter into the courtyard to greet their Laird. I sighed contentedly, Lallybroch once again beginning to feel much more like home.

 


 

Immediately after the work was done, Jamie and rode out to visit Faith and the grandchildren. He came back home a few hours later, visibly exhausted and a little on edge. He would’ve done well to just go upstairs and sleep for a good day and a half, but he was hungry and insisted on having dinner with the remaining children.

He had brought back a good amount of wine from his business with Jared, and we drank it lazily as we finished our supper and caught up with the children. Jamie asked a dozen questions to Jo and Kezzie about their winter hunts, and Fergus filled Jamie in on the latest redcoat promoted to captain of the local dragoons.

Marsali had little to say to anyone at the table, which was unusual for her. I noticed her get up more than once to use the privy during the course of dinner, and she was looking rather gray in the dim candlelight. 

Lizzie, on the other hand, was chattering away, as was her nature, sharing all about her day with her new friends on the other side of the orchard. “And then I helped dig up the dirt for a kailyard no’ far from the stream so they wouldna have to walk a great distance for water if we dinna get much rain this summer.”

“We’re in Scotland, Lizzie,” said Jo. “When do we ever ‘not get much rain’?”

Mmphm,” she grunted, flipping her hair and rolling her eyes.

“Well, that’s a fine thing to help our new tenants wi’ their kailyard,” said Jamie, “but did ye help yer Ma wi’ hers while I was gone?”

Lizzie flushed red and smiled sheepishly. 

“I expect my kailyard is far less interesting than the new tenants’,” I laughed, feeling the warmth of the wine on my cheeks, “considering there are no handsome young sassenach boys to help with the tilling.”

“What d’ye mean?” Jamie sat up straighter and narrowed his eyes on his daughter. I covered my mouth, realizing I’d yet to tell him about Lizzie’s little crush.

Mama!” said Lizzie, shrinking into her seat and hiding her face with a hand at her brow.

“Is that wee laddie bothering ye, lass? What’s his name? Fitzwilliam?” he said with disdain.

“He’s no’ bothering me, Da. Please leave him alone.”

Mmphm. Would ye rather no’ spend some time wi’ a good Scottish family? I ken the MacLeods can be a bit rambunctious, but they come from decent stock, and their lad Duncan seems a friendly sort.”

“Da! He’s thirteen years old!”

“Aye, and ye’re fifteen.”

Dhia. Mama, may I be excused?”

“Yes, darling. Clean up your plate and check on the goats before you retire.”

Lizzie stood up in a mortified huff, grabbed her dishes, and left for the kitchen. 

Jamie took a sharp bite of his bannock and chewed like he was the goat that needed feeding—an angry goat at that. I was pretty sure I heard him grumble, “Fitzwilliam,” under his breath.

“You do remember Lizzie’s mother is also a sassenach, darling?” I said, trying to hide my smile.

“He’s at least seventeen and has no business around my daughter.”

“Jamie, she’s fifteen. She’s going to be showing interest in young men, and considering you fell in love with a sassenach, I’d suppose she wouldn’t think it was such a terrible thing to do the same.”

Love?”  

I just sighed and poured him another drink. 

“Pardon me,” said Marsali, getting up from the table quickly and rushing outside.

Jamie’s eyes went wide as he watched her leave the room. “What the bloody hell has gotten into the women in this family?”

I put my napkin down and began to follow her out, but Fergus stopped me. “I’ll go check on her, Maman. Rest your feet. She told me earlier she ate some bad cheese.”

We were left at the table with only the twins for company, both of whom were scarfing down their third helping. They didn’t ask to be excused, but they took their plates and rushed off to the kitchen and out the back door when they were done.

Jamie sat looking at the large empty dining table with his mouth open in shock. I took a long sip of wine as he exclaimed, “Nine children! We have nine bloody children and not one of them can sit through a whole meal.”

“Faith and Brianna would if they were here. Though I can’t say the same for Ian or Willie.”

“We live in a madhouse.” He gulped down his entire glass.

I grabbed his hand and chuckled. “Well, I’m pleased to have you home. I was tired of being exasperated with this lot all by myself.”

He brought my hand to his lips and kissed my knuckles, thoughts still racing behind his narrowed brow. Despite his grouchy expression, my eyes—influenced no doubt by the delicious wine—gazed at my gorgeous husband who seemed to be glimmering beautifully in the soft candlelight. I could almost see the moment when he noticed how strongly his presence was affecting me.

“Come, lass. If the Lord and our children have blessedly given us a moment alone, let’s no’ waste it staring at their empty seats.”

I smiled giddily. “I’ll clean up the table and meet you upstairs when I’m done?”

“No.” He stood and helped me to my feet. He bent down and lifted me over his shoulder, calling out for our housekeeper to take care of the mess we were leaving behind.

“Jamie!” I yelled, laughing foolishly. “Put me down!”

“I ken exactly where I’m gonna put ye, Sassenach.” He marched me out of the dining room and into the parlor. 

Just as he was about to traverse up the stairs and to our room, Fergus came running into the house, calling for his parents. “Maman! Papa! Viens vite ici!” 

Jamie turned around to face him—which meant my arse was somewhere in the vicinity of his face as he was addressing our son. “Put me down!” I yelled, smacking his bum.

He gently set me on the floor, keeping his hands around my waist until I was steady on my feet. "What is it?"

“Come,” said Fergus. “You must see for yourself.”

Jamie and I looked at each other, both bewildered, before following Fergus outside. It was already dark, the sun having recently disappeared behind the mountains in the skyline. Kezzie and Jo were both holding lanterns to illuminate the scene.

“What’s going on? Who’s here?” I asked, holding Jamie’s arm as we made our way down the steps. It appeared we had an unexpected visitor arrive in a wagon.

“Jock?” said Jamie. “To what do we owe the pleasure?” 

The old Highlander was in his wagon, staring down at a basket in the middle of his cargo. The object seemed to be holding the rapt attention of Lizzie, Marsali, and the rest of our children. 

“What is it?” I asked.

A small, infant’s cry answered my question.

“A baby?!” I instantly climbed up on the wagon and peered down at the little one bundled up in a basket. It had dark hair and lovely olive skin. 

But the greatest shock wasn’t that a strange child had been brought to our house unexpectedly in the night. No, what floored me most was that in the child’s hands was an object in which I was intimately familiar.

“Brianna’s pearls!” I bent down to get the baby, pulling the pearls from its grasp, fearful it would break the necklace and choke on the little pieces. “But who does this child belong to?”

Jock just nodded to a lumpy blanket in the corner of the wagon. It was so dark, it took my eyes a moment to realize it was covering a body—a dead body by the smell of it. 

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!”

Chapter Text

Brianna was resting on a large chair in the parlor at Lallybroch. She had fallen asleep reading a thick, heavy book, and it lay open on her lap. A shawl was wrapped around her shoulders, and a hint of Ellen’s pearls glimmered, disappearing beneath her shift. 

At the sound of a baby crying, her eyes snapped open and she jumped to her feet, the book on her lap falling to the floor. She hastily picked it up and set it aside before moving toward the sound. 

Though it was difficult to see in the dark, a portrait of Ellen MacKenzie hung at the landing—the one that was displayed at Leoch before the castle’s destruction. Brianna continued down the Hall of Spoons, as the family liked to call it, with portraits of all eleven children—even the lost ones—lining the walls. 

But there was one more portrait at the end of the hall than there should have been. It was of a baby. A bonnie wee lassie of a few months old, holding a string of pearls.

And suddenly, the baby began moving in the portrait. She was thrashing about, crying, and wailing. Brianna jumped back, startled.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” she said, with the accent of an Englishwoman. 

 


 

Jamie jolted awake and shook his head, looking around the room for the source of disruption. Claire was up and grumbling, wrapping the bonnie wee bairn in her arms, bouncing her up and down, eyes half-closed in exhaustion.

“Did'ye say something, Sassenach?”

“Just some midnight blasphemy. Go back to sleep.”

Jamie sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. He didn’t feel like sleeping after his dream of Brianna and the portrait. He lit a candle to make it easier for Claire to see.

The baby kept on crying. 

“She’s hungry,” Jamie offered. “We’ll have to wake up Leana.”

“I know, the poor dear. As if her own baby doesn’t keep her awake most of the night already.”

“You were a wet nurse for a time too. D’ye recall?”

Claire nodded and would’ve smiled if she wasn’t so tired, and when she stroked the baby’s cheek, Jamie could see she was transported back to a time long ago, holding an entirely different bairn.

“I didn’t think we’d ever have a baby again,” she whispered.

“Claire,” he spoke cautiously, “we dinna ken a thing about this child. She may already have a family.”

She deflated a little. “I suppose you’re right.” 

A soft knock sounded at the door. It was already open, and their housekeeper was peering in with her kind, sleepy eyes. “Is the wean hungry? Shall I feed her?”

Claire passed the child over and watched them leave to the room where Leana was staying the night. It was fortunate they had a housekeeper who was still nursing one of her own; otherwise, they’d have to rely on Faith to do so, and the poor lass had so much to deal with already.

Looking tired and defeated, Claire closed the door before slinking back to bed and collapsing face down on her pillow. Her voice was unintelligible when she spoke, muffled by layers of linen and feathers.

Jamie pulled at her pillow, turning her head so her mouth was uncovered. “Come again?”

“We’re going to have to go to Paris, aren’t we?” she repeated.

“Why in God’s name would we do that?”

“The pearls. Brianna wouldn’t give those pearls away without reason. Something must’ve happened.”

“Let’s no’ assume the worst. Louise or Young Ian would ha’ informed us if there was a problem.”

“Perhaps. But if Brianna is all right, why wouldn’t she send a letter with the woman and child to explain why she gave them her pearls and had them come here?”

“I dinna ken. Mebbe she has done just that, but the courier was delayed. Or perhaps she didna realize the necklace was taken and doesna even ken who the woman is.”

Was,” Claire corrected. “Brianna is not that oblivious to be completely unaware that a family heirloom was stolen from her possession. Don’t you find this whole situation strange?”

“Of course, I do. Even my dreams are disturbed, but it would be reckless to up and rush off to Paris—after I just got back, mind ye—when Colin is dying, the planting will be starting soon, and there’s no indication Brianna is in any danger.”

Claire cringed. “You’re right. We can’t leave Faith and Colin right now. And that woman could’ve gotten those pearls by any number of means.”

“I hear ye saying the words, Sassenach, but yer tone tells me ye’re not convinced.”

“I’m just worried. We have three children away from home right now, and a dead body just appeared at our front door holding one of Bree’s possessions.”

Jamie scooted closer, taking his wife in his arms. “The woman and her bairn seem harmless enough. Jock said he found them on the side of the road to Lallybroch, and ye said yerself that the poor lass didna look as though she was murdered or harmed. She was thin and sickly. Perhaps Brianna told her what a fine healer ye were and sent her here with the pearls so ye’d care for her, but she died before she got here.”

“I didn’t do an autopsy, Jamie. I just had a cursory glance at the body in the candlelight. I don’t know with certainty whether she was sick or not.”

“Then what is it ye think we should do? Shall we set off for Paris in the morning?”

She swallowed hard and shook her head. “I suppose the situation doesn’t quite call for such a journey,” she conceded. 

Yet Jamie could intuit how uncomfortable she was with just waiting around for word on their daughter’s welfare. In truth, he felt a similar discomfort. “We could send Fergus.”

“Don’t you need him for the planting?”

Mmphm. We’ll make do. I can have him run a shipment for Jared on his way back for some extra coin.”

“We don’t need extra money right now.” Claire looked up at him. “You’d only be sending him to calm my nerves.”

“I like yer nerves to be calm.” He kissed her nose and gave it a nuzzle. “It keeps ye from cursing at night and waking me up.”

She cuffed his shoulder, but her eyes were grateful. 

“Brianna’s alright, Claire. Fergus will only confirm it.”

She seemed heartened by his affirmation and leaned forward to kiss him. Their lips lingered together, offering reassurances of peace. It was nothing more than a kiss of comfort, but he felt his body stir as it always did when their mouths met. 

He’d been away from her for months, selling spirits in brothels, taverns, and inns with no lack of women showing more than a little interest. He was never tempted, not in the slightest. In fact, he spent much of his time comparing them to Claire and contemplating all the ways they were found wanting. 

His hands confirmed their memory of his wife’s perfection, of the dramatic curve from her waist to her hips, all soft flesh that was somehow a few degrees cooler than his own body. Her chilly fingers danced across his neck, raising gooseflesh on his skin.

“I missed you, Jamie. I missed this.” She held him, kissing him softly, no need to rush when she’d promised him a lifetime. 

Their eyes met as they kissed, hers the dark color of heather honey in the candlelight. He could see in her depths the same contentment he always felt when they were together, the shared bliss of two becoming one. It was there even when dead bodies arrived at their doorstep or worry over their children consumed them.

“I swear ye were crafted for me, my Sassenach. Every piece of ye is perfect for my hands.” He slid them up and down her back, tangling in her hair one moment, then descending to grasp her bottom the next.

“Jamie…” she whispered for no reason but to say his name. He traced a finger over her mouth, her lips softening under his touch. 

“I wonder sometimes if God sat there in heaven, knowing just what I’d love most in this world, and made me a gift I’d never be able to repay.”

“Or maybe,” she said, eyes lit with humor, “He made me as I am, and then He addled your brain to find me appealing.”

Jamie snorted. “If that be so, then I’m pleased He addled yer brains as well, otherwise I’d be a sad and lonely fool, my only love gone some two hundred years hence.”

“I could never leave you...not until it’s time to find you again.”

He hoped that would be so, but he also knew how unpredictable the future could be. His eyes dropped to her necklace and the citrine gem that lay on her breast—a reminder that her presence in his life was a gift, not a certainty. 

He averted his eyes from the stone to avoid the panic that always rose up at the thought of life without Claire. It was like staring at the sun, crippling and damaging to ruminate on for too long. Instead, he shifted his gaze back to her eyes and held her body a little tighter. She was there with him at that moment, and the lingering imprints of the burning sunlight were no longer overwhelming, only quiet reminders to cherish what time they had together.

He kissed her again, feeling whole only when their lips touched. 

“When we were young,” he whispered, “a part of me worrit that one day, ye might tire of me, that ye might grow so accustomed to my kisses that ye no longer craved them.”

“Foolish man.”

“Aye,” he kissed her again. “This is home for you and for me—where amorous kisses dwell.” And he brought his lips home again. 

 


 

Some time later, long after the baby was returned to her cradle at Claire’s side, in the dark moments just before dawn, Jamie heard his eldest daughter scream his name.

“Faith?!” He woke with a start, jumping to his feet. The dogs were barking like mad, sure to wake up the whole house.

“Jamie?” said Claire. “What is it?”

“Da!” Faith’s voice called in a desperate panic from outside.

Jamie threw on his trousers and shoes, grabbed his weapons, and rushed downstairs. He burst through the front door and found his daughter dismounting her horse. She was wearing nothing but her shift and a baby tied to her chest. Wee Jamie whined as she brought him down off the horse, an arm hooked around his belly.

“Faith!” Jamie rushed over, taking his grandson in his arms. The puir laddie was freezing cold. “What the Devil is going on?”

“Come, Da! Get Donas quickly! We have to go back!”

“What’s happened?” he demanded, wrapping his body around his grandson to warm him.

“Colin tried to stop them, but he’s so weak. He’ll be killed, Da!”

“Someone’s after Colin? Was it the Campbells?” And then Jamie noticed a cut on her throat, blood dripping down and soaking into her shift. “Ye’re hurt!”

“I’m fine. I dinna ken who it was. Colin fought him off so I could get the children out, but we have to go back!” They turned their heads to find Claire coming outside with the crying orphan in her arms. “Mama! Ye must come. Colin could be hurt!” 

“What’s happened?”

As Faith filled her mother in, Fergus rushed outside, his sword in one hand and a pistol in the other. Marsali followed behind, wrapped in a long cloak. 

“Come.” Jamie pulled Faith forward, giving his grandchildren to a bewildered Marsali. “Get them inside and warmed by the fire. Claire, take the wean to Leana. Dress quickly and bring yer medicines and our cloaks. Fergus, help me wi’ the horses!” 

Jamie noticed two heads of dark hair peeking out from the front door. “Jo, Kezzie, get yer blades and bows and mind the family while we’re gone!”

In an instant, everyone dispersed, save Marsali who handed over her cloak to Faith before taking the children inside. It took mere minutes for everyone to do as he commanded, though to Faith, it must’ve seemed an eternity.

“How many are there, lass?” Jamie asked Faith as he helped Claire into her saddle.

“I dinna ken. I was in bed, and I woke wi’ a blade at my throat and a man cursing and threatening us all. Colin fought him off, sent me to get the bairns away. But he’s weak, Da! And the man was so strong.”

Jamie swung a leg over Donas. “D’ye ken who he was? Did’ye recognize him?”

“No. ’Twas too dark.” 

Jamie looked at their riding party—himself, Claire, Faith, and Fergus. They were armed so bloody fiercely, they’d never see the light of day again if a redcoat caught them. The pistol alone would cost them dearly, and Jamie prayed they’d have no cause to fire it.

He took the lead with Fergus at his right hand. He didn’t like Claire and Faith coming along with them, but he knew it would be pointless and a waste of time to try to keep them away.

It was a dark night, clouds covering the stars, but the dawn light would soon begin filtering through. Jamie and Donas traveled as much by memory as sight, and everyone else followed behind.

It was a quick ride, Faith preferring to live close to her parents. The cottage was dark, and there was no indication anyone was still inside.

“Stay with the women,” Jamie instructed Fergus. He dismounted Donas and pulled out his sword and dirk. He moved quickly and quietly to the door, peering in, listening for sounds of footsteps or heavy breathing. 

There was nothing. 

It was a small cottage, and there were few places to hide. Every possession in the house was upended or tossed around. It was clear in only a moment that the attackers were long gone. 

When he went into the room, he found a body on the floor. “Colin!”

He ensured there was no one else there before he went to his son-in-law’s side. “Claire!” he called, knowing there was nothing she could do; the sheer amount of blood pooling on the floor told him Colin had long been dead.

Footsteps thundered through the house, and Faith screamed when she saw her husband. Jamie stood, taking his daughter in his arms and pulling her aside so Claire could see to Colin. Fergus came in with a candle as Claire inspected the body. 

“Oh God,” said Faith, seeing the scope of the damage. “No! No. Colin, no.”

She threw herself on her husband’s body, crying his name and cursing God. Claire lifted her eyes to Jamie and shook her head—there was nothing she could do to save him.

 


 

“Where’s Faith?” Jamie asked, voice cracking. He had spent the morning trying to find tracks left behind by the attackers, but it was like they were bloody ghosts, disappearing into the mist.

“She’s with Beau,” said Claire, sitting by the fire with the wee orphan babe in her arms. Marsali sat wi’ Faith’s children, trying to keep the wee laddie from throwing his stockings in the fire. Claire wiped away moisture from her tear-stained cheeks. “She asked us for some space.” 

Jamie bent down to kiss his wife’s temple, lips lingering longer than intended. He bloody hated seeing her in pain. She leaned against his mouth, a hand moving up to stroke his cheek. 

With Colin’s loss so close, he couldn’t help but be grateful she was still with him. He kissed her once more and rubbed the baby’s tiny head before making his way out to the barn.

Jamie found Faith with Beau, her auld Heiland coo, just outside the barn. Beau was lying on the ground, chewing noisily on a vine, while Faith leaned against his side, staring blankly off into the distance.

“Faith?” Jamie said softly.

“Did’ye find them?”

“No,” he said, heart full of shame. “But I willna give up.”

“You think it was the Campbells?”

“It could ha’ been...if they found out he was a MacGregor.”

“The man who woke me,” Faith put a hand to the cut on her throat where she’d yet to clean off the dried blood, “he said was going to take everything from us that we took from him.”

Her chin quivered as she looked up at her father. “Colin was a peaceful man, Da. He didna take anything from anyone. Who would want to harm our family?”

He sat down next to Faith, Beau grumbling a bit when he leaned against him with the pommel of his sword pressing into the cow’s belly. 

Jamie put an arm around his daughter and kissed her head. “Generations old blood feuds between clans dinna make sense to those of us who’ve taken no part in it—if that’s even what this was.”

“No one kent he was a MacGregor, save the people in this family. And I dinna believe anyone here would betray us.”

“I’m inclined to agree wi’ ye, lass.”

Faith buried her face in her father’s chest and let loose a sob. “I thought we’d have more time. Maybe months yet. He shouldna have died like this.”

“Oh, mo ghrian, ye’re right that it wasna fair he was taken so soon,” Jamie lifted her chin to look into her sunburst eyes, “but ken this, a man like Colin would see it as a good death, a worthy death, protecting his wife and bairns wi’ his last breath. He saved ye, a nighean, and yer children. There is no more honorable cause than that.”

“What if it was Mama?” she sobbed. “Could ye do it, Da? Could ye go on wi’out her.”

Though his first thought was a resounding, “No," Jamie lied through his teeth. He lied so well that by the end of his breath, he almost believed it. “I’d go on because you and the bairns would need me to.”

He cupped her face in his hands and wiped away the downpour of tears with his thumbs. “Ye kent yer time wi’ him was short when ye discovered he was sick. He was suffering, lass. He’s no’ in pain anymore. A small consolation, but true, nonetheless.”

“But...all I wanted was more time. Like Mama gave you.”

“I ken.” He wiped away more tears. “And I swear by my love for you, I’ll lay justice at yer feet. I dinna ken when or how, but I will find those that did this and ensure they answer to God for this crime.”

Tears soaked his shirt when she buried herself in his arms again. Jamie stroked her hair, whispering quietly as her body quaked with sobs. There was nothing as helpless as a father who could do so little to comfort his child in pain.

When she’d cried herself hoarse, and her eyes were drained of tears, she sat up and stroked the long mane of Beau’s thick ginger hair. He’d been with her since she was a wean, her constant companion throughout her life. Jamie never had the heart to slaughter the beast, even during the famine, because he couldn’t bear his daughter’s tears.

“I should get back to the children,” she sniffed. “Wee Jamie must be worrit sick.”

“Marsali is wi’ him. Dinna fash. If anyone kens what it’s like to lose a parent so young, it’s her.” Jamie stood up and held out a hand to bring Faith to her feet.

He inspected the cut on her neck that had long since dried. “Let yer mother clean the wound for ye, lass. I dinna want ye falling ill.”

She shrugged as if it hardly mattered to her either way.

“Did they take yer necklace?” he asked, noticing her gem was gone.

“Aye. Ripped it right off my neck.”

They’d taken all the family heirlooms too. There was little of value left in the cottage, save perhaps a few trinkets and clothes. Jamie would have to find her a wee chain to have another gem mounted on it. Perhaps the black diamond he had hidden away in his study...as dark as Colin’s hair.

Faith gave Beau one last scratch between the horns before pulling herself away. Jamie put an arm around her and led her back to the house. He brought her into the parlor where Claire and Marsali were still with the children. 

“Sassenach? Would ye mind mending the lass’s wound?”

“Oh, of course.” Claire popped up, relieved to be able to do something for her daughter. Jamie took the wean from her arms and sat down next to Faith.

“Who’s bairn is that?” she asked, letting wee Jamie crawl up on her lap.

“I dinna ken,” said Jamie. “Jock found this lassie and her mother on the side of the road to Lallybroch. The woman was dead and the baby lay squirming in her arms. Jock brought them to the house because they had Brianna’s pearls in their possession.”

“Bree’s pearls? Did she send the woman here to see Ma?”

“I think it likely. Only, they didna make it in time.”

“The puir dear, losing her ma.” Faith looked sadly down at the child, her own raw grief threatening to overwhelm her again. “Ye have someone to feed her?”

“Aye. Leana is taking care of it.”

Faith nodded, eyes rimmed with red. Jamie handed her his handkerchief when he saw the tears spilling over once again. She wiped them away and kissed wee Jamie on his temple, breathing the laddie in, as though trying to find some trace of his father.

Jamie looked down at the orphan in his arms, wondering if there was anyone out there to grieve for the child’s mother. With everything that had happened with Faith, he didn’t get a chance to speak with Fergus about going to Paris to check on Brianna. At that very moment, Fergus was at Faith’s cottage, packing away all her things to bring over to Lallybroch.

The more he thought about it, the more he realized sending Fergus away with a threat so close to home would be a puir idea. He needed the lad to run the farm should Jamie find some indication of who killed Colin, and he couldn’t leave the family unprotected—as adept as Jo and Kezzie were with blades and bows, they were far too young and unreliable to defend the whole house on their own.

Claire came back with her medicine box and some hot tea, busying herself with caring for Faith. With his daughter in good hands, he stepped away with wee Bonnie in his arms and went to his study for a moment to clear his head, bringing a candle with him for a small task.

He went to sit down at his desk, removing his sword and dirk from his belt and setting them down in front of him. He stared at the weapons, both beautifully made. They’d done their master well over the last eighteen years, though he’d had to keep them hidden away from the English since Culloden, there was still plenty of use for them in the shadows.

“Ye’ve still got purpose, auld friends,” he told the blades, longing for the day when he’d no longer have to use them again.

He opened the top drawer to his desk and pulled out a little wax candle in a small jar. He used the other candle to light it and sat back, allowing the fire to do its job and reveal the candle’s secret deep inside.

As he waited for the wax to melt, he looked over some letters Claire had placed on his desk while he was away. Most were of business, but one was from Jocasta, another from Jenny, and the last was from Brianna, giving them word of her simultaneous exasperation at staying with Louise in Paris and joy of learning from the masters. She reported Ian was doing well, and they visited each other regularly. She asked her mother for word on all the family's health at Lallybroch and an update on wee Willie in London.

By the time Jamie read through them all, the wax had melted enough so that he could pour the wax out of the little jar and fish out the little back diamond it was hiding inside.

“There ye are,” he whispered, so as not to wake the baby. He did his best to wipe off the wax one-handed. He set the jewel on his desk, where it glittered in the light streaming in from the window. He tried to think of how he could get it made into a necklace quickly for Faith. He didn’t like any of his time-traveling children without gems for long.

Wee Bonnie squeaked in his arm, and he looked down to find her awake. She was staring at him with wide, curious eyes. They were a murky, cloudy color that many babies seemed to carry their first few months of life.

He placed her on his chest, so they could get to know each other for a bit face to face. Bonnie was strong enough to lift her own head without wobbling very much.

Well met. Good morrow, ye bonnie wee thing.” 

He inhaled her scent of newborn babe, sour milk, and a bit of Claire. His hand steadied her as she squirmed around on her belly, reaching up for his face. She grabbed a hold of his bottom lip and yanked down. 

“Ye’ve a strong grip wi’ those tiny hands, aye?” he said, extricating his lip from her possession. “And verra sharp nails.”

He lifted her bitty fingers to inspect them. “Though she be but little, she is fierce. An impressive display of weaponry, indeed.” He’d have to ask Claire to cut them or file them down with one of her little tools.

“D’ye have anyone out there missing ye, lass?” With Colin’s death, the mystery of her appearance had been pushed aside. Jamie was honor-bound to seek vengeance for his daughter, and that would take precedence over finding the child’s family. She’d likely be with them for a good time yet.

He realized there was a chance that wee Bonnie wasn’t going anywhere at all. If there was no one else to take her in, he’d better grow accustomed to having a small child around once again. “I’m an auld man now. If ye plan on staying, would ye mind taking it easy on me? The other bairns give us quite enough trouble as it is. In fact, the last time I saw Young Ian in Paris, he—”

A knock at the door interrupted his one-sided conversation. “Some visitors have just arrived, my Laird,” said Leana.

“Who are they?”

“Only a few tenants, sir. Shall I take the wean?”

“Aye.” He stood and handed the baby off to the housekeeper. He left his blades on the desk, no need to wear them for nor conceal them from his own people. 

There were more than a few tenants that arrived. In fact, the front of his house was crowded with men on horseback, armed with shields, bows, and blades. 

“Jock?” Jamie asked. “What in God’s name is going on?”

“The men heard about Colin, my Laird. We figured ye’d be wanting to ride out and find those responsible, aye?”

“Aye.”

“As ye’ll no’ care to leave the family wi’out protection, some of us will go wi’ ye, and others will be taking it in turns to watch over the house, so ye can conduct yer business as ye see fit.”

“But ye have farms of yer own to tend to.”

“Aye. And we wouldna have them save for what ye did for us during the rebellion. Ye’ve sheltered and quartered us o’er the years, and ye can expect no less in return.”

Jamie was hit with an unexpected wave of emotion. He looked at the men surrounding him, some likely as hurt and angry over Colin’s death as himself, and his heart clenched. 

“I’m grateful to ye, Jock. I’m grateful to all of ye.”

He took a moment to compose himself, feeling overwhelmed with affection for his men. Then he went around and spoke to each one, offering gratitude as they gave their condolences.

He spent the rest of the afternoon with them, drinking whisky and planning their strategy—who would stay home with his family, and who would accompany him to see the Campbells. He had to be cautious while inquiring into the attack. If it was not actually related to the blood feud between clans, then Jamie would be putting his grandchildren at risk if he announced them to all of Scotland as MacGregors.

It would take a whole day to ride to Campbell lands and a day to return home, and God only knew how long they would stay there. Jamie would have to wait to leave until after seeing Colin properly buried.

When he told Claire of his intentions later that night in bed after they blew out their last candle, her head dropped back onto the pillow, and she sighed heavily. “Have you not been gone long enough?”

“What should I do? Let the bastards who killed Colin get away wi’ it? What would have happened to Faith and the children if Colin hadn’t given them enough time to leave? What if they come back?”

“Exactly. What if they come back and you’re off somewhere else?”

“I have men staying behind to guard the house.”

“But none of them are you. ” 

Jamie rolled over his wife, lying on top of her, and took her face in his hands so she was forced to look at him. “Would ye have me sit here and do nothing? How could I look my daughter in the eyes?”

Tears fell down Claire’s cheek. “I need you here. Faith’s not the only person who lost him, you know.”

He lowered his head, kissing her tears away, salty and warm on his lips. “I’m here now, Claire. I’m here.”

Her arms wrapped around him, pulling his weight down on her. He knew she wanted to feel the solidness of him, his heartbeat, his lungs. For he was doing the same with her.

He hadn’t planned on making love to his wife in their grief, but there was nothing more reassuring of her vitality than when he pushed inside her, feeling her breath change and her heart hammer beneath him.

Her legs locked around his waist, heels digging into his arse, urging him on. There could be no thoughts of death when life filled them so thoroughly.

He swallowed her cries when she came, smothering her sounds so they wouldn’t wake the baby or anyone else in the house, and he buried his face in her neck at his own climax, suddenly fine with meeting his own death if it was there in her arms.

They lay quietly, wrapped in each other’s embrace, sweaty bodies sticking to together as they cooled in the late winter air. Claire’s whispers were the first to break the silence. “I need my family home. You, Brianna, Ian, and Willie. I want everybody here.”

“I ken, mo ghràidh. But ye understand why I must go?”

“Yes, you bloody Scot. I know why. I know you.

He held her until long after she’d fallen asleep, thinking of how lucky they were to have each other. Though the truth was, it was something more than luck. By all rights, both he and Claire should be dead. It was only her time-traveling intervention in his youth that allowed for the possibility of this life.

Thoughts of all he would’ve missed out on had Claire not been there to save him made him grow restless in bed. A compulsion overtook him to check on all the children, especially Faith and the bairns. 

He carefully extricated himself from Claire’s sleeping grasp and slipped out of bed. He dressed quickly and silently stepped into the hall. 

A portrait of William greeted him across the hall from their door. He was the last of their bairns...or so Jamie had thought. The memory of the dream of wee Bonnie came to him, and he turned to a blank spot on the wall where the dream portrait had been. 

“Why have ye come to us, wee lassie?” he whispered. He wondered if Claire had a chance to examine the mother’s body and see if there was any indication of illness or foul play. In the fallout of Colin’s death, such things seemed trivial. 

Distant barking pulled him out of his thoughts and back to the present. The dogs were unaccustomed to men patrolling Lallybroch, and they would bark every time someone came close to the house. Just to be sure that all was well, Jamie turned to make his way downstairs.

As he rounded the corner in the hall, he caught a glimpse of blonde hair disappearing into Fergus’s room.

“Marsali?” he said soundlessly. He wondered why in God’s name she’d be going into Fergus’s room in the middle of the night.

He stepped quietly to the door, assuming she was seeking comfort from her brother after Colin’s death. Jamie ensured his feet didn’t make a sound so that he wouldn’t intrude on his children’s grief.

As he edged closer, Marsali could be heard crying, and he nearly turned away to give them space, but he stopped when he heard her say, “I dinna want to wait any longer! I want to tell them now!”

Je sais mon amour. Ma douce et belle fleur. But now is not the time. Think of Le Petit Soleil and her children.”

“We’ve waited long enough, and in a few months, Ma and Da will notice my great belly. The only reason they dinna ken already is because Ma was busy tending to Colin and Da's been gone.”

“I know. I know. Viens ma femme. Let us wait until Faith sees her husband buried before we share our... startling news.”

Ma femme?” Jamie whispered to himself in absolute disbelief. There was no way on earth…

“D'ye no’ think Da will be happy for us?” asked Marsali.

“I’m sure he will...after he grows accustomed to the idea.”

There was silence for a long moment, until Marsali made a moaning sound that Jamie never thought to consider she was capable of. Shaking with shock, fear, and betrayal, he tried to open the door but met resistance from the lock. Rage from the deception had him kicking open the door to find Marsali in Fergus’s embrace, wearing nothing but her shift—a small bulge at her belly was more telling of their secret than their lips sealed together. 

Fergus’s eyes went wide, and he shrank back in fear, but Marsali was ready for confrontation. She puffed out her chest to meet her father's ire head on. “I ken what it looks like, Da—”

“What it looks like?” Jamie repeated, voice deceptively calm, hands balled up into fists. “What it looks like is my son has been deceiving me under my own roof wi’ my daughter.” Jamie eyed Fergus’s delicate French bones, wondering how well they would hold up to his Scottish fists.

“He is not my brother!” insisted Marsali. “We’ve no blood between us. We have every right to—”

“He has no right to bed my child in my home! And he kens it! Sneaking about in the dead of night wi’ evil intentions!”

“Dinna speak ill of his intentions! We’re marrit, damn you! I’ll be having his bairn at the end of summer.”

“MARRIT?!” Jamie roared, trying to get to Fergus, but Marsali stood in his way.

“Milord, please,” said Fergus. “If ye’ll just let me explain—”

“Ye can explain to my bloody fists!” Jamie jumped, reaching for Fergus, but the quick wee Frenchman darted around him and out the door.

Family could be heard rising from their beds and coming out into the halls, blocking Jamie’s way to his eldest son. “What’s going on?” asked Lizzie, sleepily. 

“Da found out about Fergus and Marsali,” said Kezzie.

“You all knew?!” Jamie rounded on the children.

“Everyone kens,” said Jo.

“Well, I didn’t know!” said Claire, coming down the hall with a crying baby.

More cries could be heard from Faith’s room where the weans were being roused by the racket. Even the dogs were going mad, barking up a storm outdoors. Jamie's fit of rage was too great to care about any of it.

“Please, Milord,” said Fergus, as Jamie stalked forward down the stairs, Fergus backing up in retreat. “We were handfast while you were gone. I wanted to wait, but I was a coward—”

“Too right ye wee wicked wee frog!”

“—and knew you wouldn’t allow it.”

“Of course, I wouldna allow it! Ye’re my bloody children!”

“She’s having my child, and I’m afraid I cannot allow to you kill me and leave my wife widowed and my mon bébé fatherless.”

“Oh, laddie, I have no intention of killing ye,” said Jamie, following Fergus as he made his way outside. “Ye’ll do right by my wee lassie, marry her in a kirk, and make promises before God—”

“Of course, Papa.

“—but no’ until after I give ye a bit of the Laird’s justice.” Jamie leapt forward, grabbing Fergus by the shirt and raising a fist to strike him.

“Jamie!” called Claire.

“Go inside, Sassenach! Ye’ll no’ care to see this.”

“Jamie, the barn!” Claire said. “It’s on fire!”

“What?” Jamie’s head turned to see the barn had indeed caught fire. Shaking his head to clear his rage, he turned around to count the heads of his family as they were streaming outside: Claire, Fergus, Marsali, Bonnie, Jo, Kezzie, Lizzie, and Faith with a bairn in each arm. Even Leana and her own wean came out to observe the commotion. They were all there in front of him...all safe.

“Beau!” cried Faith, running forward with a look of utter horror in her eyes. “No! No! I canna lose him too!”

Jamie thought she was about to run right into the burning barn with her children in her arms. He reluctantly turned to Fergus. “Make sure she keeps away from the fire!”

Oui, Papa!” Fergus bounded over to Faith holding her back as Jamie ran for the barn, Jo and Kezzie on his tail. 

The building was made of brick, but the roof of wood, and it was almost all aflame. Jamie could tell the hay inside was likely ablaze before they even opened the door.  Beau could be heard on the other side, frantic to get out. Jamie ordered Jo and Kezzie back as he opened the door, fearful a gust of wind would meet the fire and turn the blaze on his sons. 

When the door came open, the cow shot out along with several of his brethren and the auld, useless mule. Jamie peered in to see if any animals were left behind and was shocked to find a man and two dogs laying dangerously close to the fire.

“Oh Christ! Jock!”

Jamie took a deep breath and shot inside to save his auld friend. He noticed Jo and Kezzie followed behind, each one grabbing one of the unconscious dogs. They pulled them all out to safety before the roof came crumbling down.

Claire ran to his side, checking Jock for a pulse and seeing if he was still breathing. “He’s alive,” she said, relieved, “but just barely.” She began peeling off his clothes to check his body for burns.

As she did so, Jamie wondered what his dogs were doing in the barn with Jock to begin with...and how the bloody fire got started…

“Jamie!” said Claire, ripping open Jock’s shirt to reveal a stab wound to the belly.

Jamie stood up and scanned the area, counting family members, making sure everyone was still safe. Someone had attacked Jock and the dogs, his guards who were meant to alert Jamie if an intruder was coming, then locked them up in the barn and set it on fire.

“If they didna want me to know they were coming, why would they set the bloody barn on fire?” he asked himself. “A diversion?” He reached for his sword and dirk at his waist, but found nothing but an empty belt holding up his breeks. Then he remembered he’d left them inside on his desk earlier that day.

“Everyone stay here in the light of the fire!” he called. “Someone’s in the house!”

Jamie turned back, running inside to get his weapons. He moved quickly, rushing to his study where he knew the blades lay. 

It was dark in the house, the only light streaming in from the fire at the barn, but he moved with ease by memory alone. When he reached his study, it was lit by a small, flickering candle—one no one in his family would've a chance to light. He scanned the room, and his stomach clenched. Someone had wreaked havoc on his desk, papers scattered around, drawers upended, and worst of all, his blades were gone.

Chapter Text

“What do they want from us?” I asked. The sun had just risen, and the morning light was shining through the windows, illuminating the mess in the study. 

Jamie’s fists were tightly clenched, and a vein pulsed in his forehead. “I dinna ken,” he whispered, “but they took more than just my blades. A few of the gems are missing. The black diamond I planned to give Faith...and some others.”

“And all the ones embedded in your sword.”

“Aye. Those too.”

“Do you think it’s the same people who attacked Faith and Colin?”

He shrugged. “It would seem so. This looks just as her cottage did.”

“They didn’t find the box, did they?”

Jamie shook his head, knowing I was referring to the box of my time-traveling secrets. “That’s too well hidden.” 

He sighed heavily and began sorting through the mess on the floor. I bent down to assist.

“How’s Jock?” he asked.

“He’ll be fine. They missed all his major organs, and the burns are minimal.”

“Did he say anything?”

“Not much. Only that he didn’t see who attacked him; they came from behind.”

“Cowards.”

We worked quietly for a time. Jamie put the drawers back into his desk and organized their contents while I made a pile of his correspondence. I handed over the letters as he sat down in his chair. 

“Are we safe?” I asked.

He nodded. “I have more tenants standing guard.”

“And the other children? First Faith, then us? Who's next?”

“I dinna ken, but I’m hoping their distance will provide them safety.”

Jamie picked up the pile of letters and looked them over.

“Should we send Fergus to bring Brianna and Ian home? And should we notify L—”

“It’s missing,” Jamie interrupted me.

“What?”

“Brianna’s letter. It’s missing. Is it on the floor somewhere?”

Jamie stood and looked around, but we had tidied things up well enough. I knew what letter he was talking about, because I was the one who had put it on his desk for him to read in the first place. Panic shot through me when I thought of everything my daughter had written in that letter.

“Jamie!” I said, as he began lifting and moving furniture to find it, “that letter detailed exactly where our children are staying.”

His eyes met mine, full of fear. “I ken.”

“No,” I shook my head. “No.”

He reached for his sword at his belt, but found nothing there.

“We have to go get them.”

“Aye.” He nodded, mind racing behind a pair of worried eyes. “We’ll need to leave the house and family well-guarded. They canna come wi’ us.”

“Will they be safe?”

“God, I hope so, but what other choice do we have?”

“They got through our guards once already.”

“Then we’ll add more men.”

“All right. Where should we go first? London? To get Willie”

“No. Paris. Willie is in safe hands, but Brianna and Ian are vulnerable…”

“Jamie…” I grabbed my husband’s arm. “Willie...You don’t think it’s time now, do you?”

He looked at me with significance, but didn’t answer. He didn’t know. Neither did I.

“Then we should go to London first!”

“No, Claire. If it is time, we canna interfere. We ken everything will be alright wi’ Willie. And remember, Brianna only said in that letter that he was in London. She didna specify who he was with nor where they were staying. If someone is after our family, we must see to those at greater risk first. We must go to Paris. We’ll send a message to London to warn them of the danger.”

“But, Jamie, he’s so small. What if these bastards are coming after our son this minute?”

“It doesna matter. We must see to Brianna and Ian first.”

“How could you say that?”

“Claire, ye ken Willie must do his duty by this family!” Jamie snapped. “I dinna like it any more than you, but it must be done!”

He took a breath to compose himself. “Trust that if this was too dangerous for him, we would have changed it. We would have sent back Jemmy or wee Jamie or one of the grandchildren to ensure he was all right. He will be fine, mo nighean donn. More than fine, and ye ken it.

“But—"

“I had a dream, Claire,” he said, as though that was a logical basis for decision-making. 

“What?”

“I dreamt of our lass. Of Brianna. It was a strange dream, unlike any I’ve had since…since…”

“Since the last time you dreamt of Willie?”

“Aye. We’re meant to go to Paris first. I can feel it.”

It went against every instinct I had as a mother, but I nodded, knowing Brianna and Ian were at greater risk on their own than Willie was with his godfather...and knowing Willie had a job he must do when the time was right—a job his father had been preparing him for his whole life—and knowing that if any of my children were hurt by these madmen, that my future self would do all in my power to prevent a catastrophe from happening like this again. Jamie was right. I had to trust in him and in our future selves—they had yet to let us down before.

“When do we leave?”

“Within the hour.” Jamie pulled me into his arms, enveloping me in his strong, steady embrace. “We’ll bring our family home, Claire. All of them.”

“You do realize that means we’ll be leaving Lallybroch in the hands of the younger Mr. and Mrs. Fraser?”

Jamie flinched like I had just hit him in the gut and began releasing a steady stream of mumbling curses. 

“I suppose I can’t blame them,” I said. “It’s not as though we set a better example.”

“It’s no’ the same thing, and ye ken it.”

“Exactly. Fergus and Marsali knew each other longer than a week before handfasting. Though unexpected, it does make a good deal of sense. They’ve always been special to each other.”

“Mmphm. He’s lucky I dinna have the time to throttle him.”

“There will be plenty of time when we get back. As long as they both shall live.”

“Pack quickly, Sassenach, if ye dinna want to delay our departure for the sake of patching up our son.”

 


 

The logistics of getting to Paris were absurdly straightforward when unburdened with excess travel companions and cargo. The only problems we faced were those related to Jamie’s unrelenting and dramatic form of seasickness.

“Do me a favor, Sassenach,” he said, gripping the rail as we watched Scotland fade away. “Put a coin in my mouth, aye?”

“Whatever for?”

“As payment to the captain. He’s no doubt Charon, ferrying us o’er the Styx. I should like to keep my feet on solid ground for eternity, aye? Preferably wi’ you by my side.”

“You’re not dying, Jamie. You’re sailing...on a very calm day, I might add.”

His retching over the side told me exactly what he thought of my assertion. He didn’t stop vomiting until long after we arrived in France. It took nearly an hour of his feet planted firmly on French soil for him to feel steady enough to put anything in his mouth. I attempted to settle his stomach with all manner of teas—ginger, lemon, peppermint—to little effect. I was in desperate need of replenishing my winter stores by the time we were through, and made a mental note to find time to stop at that apothecary where I first met Amanda. 

As soon as Jamie’s stomach could manage a horse, we rode directly to Paris, eager to find Brianna and Ian. Jared was as welcoming as ever, surprised to see Jamie back so soon. A maniacal glimmer appeared in the old merchant’s eyes when his gaze locked on my husband. Jamie was no doubt a walking livre as far as Jared was concerned.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” said Jared, all but rubbing his hands together with greedy excitement.

“We’re here to retrieve Ian and Brianna,” Jamie got right to the point. “We suffered an attack at Lallybroch. Faith’s husband was killed, and we’re concerned they may set their sights on the rest of the children.”

“Colin? But why?”

“We’re uncertain, which only adds to our urgency.”

“Aye. Weel, Ian isna here at present. He’s been out the last two days.”

“Two days?” I said, dreading the answer to Jamie’s follow up question. Either we arrived too late, or Ian was getting up to his own mischief.

“Where is he?”

Jared’s mouth twitched, confirming my second suspicion. “He’s taken a liking to the new brothel.”

“And where is he getting the money to spend days at a time in a brothel?” Jamie snapped.

“I asked him that myself.” In Jared’s defense, he really did appear to be attempting to inhibit his smile. “Apparently, he’s a good hand at cards and has gotten lucky more than once with a roll of the dice.”

“Dicing?!” Jamie was utterly appalled.

“Aye. I advised him to stick to cards, but ye ken how young men can be.” Jared just shrugged as though taking up temporary residence in a brothel by means of gambling was a rite of passage. “Why don’t you both freshen up before retrieving Brianna from the Princesse, and I shall send a lad to retrieve young Ian.”

No doubt picking up on Jamie’s ire, Jared made a hasty retreat, sending in a housekeeper to show us to our room. I changed out of my gown and into one of my old robes à la française while Jamie traded his wool for silk. We were out the door within the hour, making our way down to Louise’s place three houses down.

“Claire, mon amie! C'est merveilleux de vous revoir!” Louise exclaimed when we were presented, rushing over to embrace me. “Et toi, Seigneur Fraser.” She bowed politely to Jamie.

“Louise, we’re so sorry for dropping in unannounced,” I said without preamble, “but we must see Brianna. Is she having her lessons today?”

“What on earth do you mean? Brianna is not here.”

“Well, where is she? If you could just give us directions, we must retrieve her straight away. I’m afraid she may actually be in imminent danger.”

“Claire,” Louise was looking at me as though I was out of my mind, “you sent me a letter yourself, summoning your daughter home shortly after her arrival. Your nephew, Ian Murray, brought the letter and escorted her to Scotland. I received word from you last week that she arrived safely.”

I looked at Jamie in horror, then turned back to Louise. “I never wrote any such letters.”

“Of course, you did.” She moved to a desk in the corner of the room and rifled through a drawer until she found what she was looking for. “It has the Fraser crest, and it is written in your hand.”

Jamie took the letters, examining them front and back. “God, Claire.” He rolled his eyes, handing them over.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! Brianna Ellen! She forged my hand!”

“Aye,” Jamie grumbled.

No one else in Paris was so intimately familiar with my script while simultaneously possessing the MacKenzie talent with a quill.

“Why would she do such a thing?”

“I dinna ken,” said Jamie, looking livid, “but I intend to find out.”

 


 

Jared’s servant returned empty-handed, informed by the madame of the brothel that she was not at all disposed to sharing the identities of her patrons, nor would she interrupt any activities that had been paid for in advance. Consequently, we were uncertain if Ian was even in the establishment, and had no idea of when he’d be returning home.

“I’ll have to go myself,” said Jamie, squaring his shoulders like a bloody martyr.

“And do what? Intimidate the madame into giving you information on her clientele?”

“Intimidation? No. That wasna my plan.”

“Charm then?”

“No.” He patted his sporran where he kept his money. “I intend to buy a bit of time at the establishment and see if the wee fool is still there.”

“All right, then,” I turned to make for the carriage.

Jamie grabbed my arm, pulling me back around. “And where d’ye think ye’re going?”

“To buy a whore. Where else?”

“Claire—”

“If you think I’m going to sit around like I did all those years ago while you nose around a brothel when my children’s lives are at stake, you’ve got another thing coming.”

“Sassenach, I canna bring my wife into a brothel! I do business in this city—”

“Then sneak me in the back! If we’ve learned anything about this particular madame, her discretion has a price.”

Jamie towered over me, giving me a look that would intimidate a grown man. But I wasn’t a man. I was his bloody wife, and I could give even better than I got.

His eyes held no humor as he took in my resolve, but his mouth twitched, and I knew he was holding back a smile. I pulled my arm away and turned for the door, knowing I’d receive no further opposition.

I waited for Jamie in the courtyard as the groomsmen readied our carriage. His footsteps were quiet, barely audible, as he came up behind me. He stood as close as he could without touching.

I found it strange that he was neither standing beside me nor inspecting the horses like he normally would. Even in the direst of circumstances, he always ensured that our mounts were reliable.

I peered at him over my shoulder, but he just shook his head ever so slightly, a look of deep concentration in his eyes. So long as he was allowing me to go with him, it didn’t really matter what was crawling up his arse. I just shrugged and turned forward, determined to drag Young Ian home by his ear.

When the carriage was ready, Jamie pressed forward, reaching awkwardly around to provide a hand to assist me inside. I accepted it and stepped up, settling into the cushioned seat. Jamie followed directly behind me, crowding my space until the door was closed and he was seated in front of me.

“What is going on with you?” I asked, a little exasperated.

Jamie just shook his head and peered out the window, grumbling in Gaelic something about a stubborn, hard-headed woman. I was about to protest, but I noticed his hand adjusting himself in his trousers. 

“Have a fondness for stubborn women, do you?” I smirked.

“No,” he said sharply. “I do not. But I enjoy the thought of subduing them when the time is right.” His words gave me a shiver that I had no business feeling under these difficult circumstances.

The carriage jolted forward at a rapid pace, but still, it wasn’t fast enough.

“Shall we take heart that Brianna is missing of her own free will and not because of more nefarious reasons?”

“If it eases yer mind, aye.”

“But it doesn’t ease yours?”

He shook his head. “She forged the letter, aye, but it doesna mean she’s no in trouble. Why would she be keeping secrets from us—nay, not secrets—willfully deceiving us, if she wasna doing something of which we wouldna approve?”

“She’s always been so bloody headstrong.”

Jamie grunted in a way that was clearly meant to blame me, as though his head wasn’t solid bone from neurocranium to cervical vertebrae.  I rolled my eyes and huffed loud enough for him to know my own thoughts on her hereditary disposition.

The brothel was only a short distance away. Jamie forced me to wait in the carriage behind the building until he made the arrangements with the madame for me to join him. When he opened the carriage door to assist me down, his disapproving glare was almost humorously juxtaposed by the madame’s knowing smirk. When my feet hit the ground, he hardly attempted to steady me before snatching at the hood of my cloak and pulling it forcefully over my head.

I was led, nearly blindly, into the back of the brothel and up a flight of stairs. An appalling mix of woodsmoke, stale sweat, and rose oil hung in the air as Jamie dragged me, pinned to his side, to a room at the end of a long, curving hall.

I pulled off my cloak, genuinely worried about asphyxiation, and regained my eyesight just as the madame wished us a pleasant afternoon and closed the door behind us. 

“Bonjour, monsieur et madame,” said a sultry voice from the other end of the room. My head snapped around and took in a very attractive, half-naked woman, nearly half my bloody age, seductively reclined on a large bed nearly the size of ours at Lallybroch. The frame was large and sturdy, clearly meant for the pleasure of more than two people at a time.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”

Jamie gave a rumbling chuckle and whispered, “Is this what ye had in mind, Sassenach?”

I elbowed him in the liver and kept my curse of “blast you” to myself.

Her eyes locked on mine and she lifted her brow in question. “Is this your first time?”

I turned to Jamie, but he just raised his brow at me and waited for my answer. “Indeed. It is.” I smiled politely and pinched him to bloody do something. The look he gave me told me he could think of a few things he’d like to do at the moment. 

I pinched him all the harder.

“If ye’d give me a moment,” he said, extricating himself from my grip. “I think I must excuse myself to use the necessary.” 

“There’s one just there,” said the woman on the bed, pointing to a cabinet that held the chamber pot.

“I’m afraid I couldna do so here and have it interfere wi’ our…fine afternoon.”

I grabbed his arm and whispered, “Where are you going?”

“To find Ian. Keep the lass occupied, hm?” he smirked. He kissed my temple and left without another word. 

I tried not to grind my teeth. That bastard took a little too much joy in leaving me in this position.

When I turned back to face the woman, her shift had slipped—not quite accidentally, I was sure—off her shoulder.

“So,” I said, smiling stiffly, “I suppose we’ll just wait for him to return. Why don’t you tell me about yourself in the meantime?”

She looked at me as though I had just sprouted another head. I supposed it was rare that a customer purchased her time and used it for the sake of conversation. She finally let off a seductive giggle and shrugged before sitting up straight and patting the bed next to her for me to settle in for the conversation.

“Where would you like me to begin?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Your family, I suppose.”

 


 

“Sassenach?” Jamie said with a tone of surprise when he walked into the room a quarter of an hour later and took in the scene in front of him. I had Céline’s face in my hands, her chin turned up to me, and was inspecting every inch of her mouth.

“It’ll need to be extracted,” I told her, eyeing the decayed tooth. “I’m afraid I may not be in town long enough to do it myself, but perhaps you could find a physician at the L'Hôpital des Anges that would be willing.”

“Sassenach?” Jamie said more seriously. “It’s Ian. Come.”

I snapped my head around. His tone was dead serious and full of concern. “You found him?”

“Aye. He’s no’ in a good way.”

I reached into my purse and pulled out a few extra coins to leave for Céline. She was pleasant company in our short time together, and I truly hoped she’d get that tooth extracted. “Pardon us,” I said, “and thank you for your time.”

We left without another word. Jamie grabbed ahold of my arm and pulled me roughly down the hall and up another flight of stairs. I felt the urgency in his grip, and my heart stuttered as he directed me to a room on the third floor.

“He’s in here.” 

The door was open, and as I rushed in, I was hit by the scent of burnt maple syrup with flowery overtones. Smoke filled the air, and my eyes watered with discomfort. The windows were blessedly thrown open, though likely only done so recently by Jamie upon finding Ian. 

Our nephew lay on the bed in a clear state of substance-induced unconsciousness. “Ian!” I rushed forward and took his vitals. They were slow, but not alarmingly so. 

“Opium,” I informed Jamie. 

“I ken. Will he be all right?”

“He should be fine, though he’ll likely be out for some time.”

“Let me know when he’s well enough for me to box his bloody ears.”

“Can you carry him down to the carriage?”

“Aye.” Jamie lifted him with ease and brought him down the two flights of stairs. The madame rushed over when she saw us moving toward the backdoor, but cowered away at Jamie's venomous glare. 

I pulled open the door for him, letting in the blinding light of the warm afternoon sun. Paris streets rarely smelled as fresh as the roads near Lallybroch, but after spending time in a brothel, the regular scents of the city were more than welcoming—arses and armpits, as a dear friend once said.

Jamie laid Young Ian down on the seat across from us in the carriage. We both sat staring at him on the ride to Jared’s, stewing in an overwhelming mix of parental concern, guilt, and exasperation. 

“What in God’s name am I supposed to tell Jenny?” asked Jamie.

“I suggest you make him write that particular letter.”

“Aye.” 

“Although, I suppose we should discover exactly what happened to get him in this state before we condemn him to that fate.”

Jamie snorted. “I warned him about frequenting brothels before I left. He kent better. Not to mention, he was the one who escorted Brianna from Louise’s house, aye? He has much to account for, our wee laddie.”

At that moment, our wee laddie was slumped over, snoring loudly over the clomping hooves of the carriage and sounds of the city, looking as though he hadn’t a care in the world. By the narrowing of Jamie’s brow, I knew this peace of Ian’s would be short-lived.

“What if…” Jamie’s voice trailed off.

“What?”

“It’s nothing. I’m sure I’m wrong.”

“Tell me.”

“I was just wondering, what if this state we found him in had something to do wi’ all that happened at Lallybroch? And Brianna’s disappearance, as well.”

My gut clenched tightly. “Do you think it’s possible?”

“It seems unlikely, but I canna help but wonder.”

Our eyes met, and I saw my fear reflected back. “Christ, Jamie. What the bloody hell is going on?”

He only shook his head and turned his eyes back on Ian, as perplexed and terrified as ever.

 


 

There was little we could do for Ian, aside from allowing him to sleep off the drugs in his system and see to his comfort. Jared’s staff was more than capable of tending to him in his soporous state, so rather than sit around and stare at the boy, grinding my teeth in helpless frustration, I decided to take the opportunity to replenish my ever-diminishing supply of herbs and medicines at the apothecary. Jamie would not hear of me traveling alone anywhere further than the privy, so he tagged along as my escort.

“If you think that after this,” I said, taking Jamie’s offered hand and stepping down to the cobblestone street, “I’m going to allow William to come study in Paris before he turns forty, you’re sadly mistaken.”

“Willie has far more sense as a lad than Young Ian ever had as a man.”

“Ian is not a man.”

“Aye, he is, Sassenach. In this time, and in this place, he is a man. A foolish one, he may be, but no less a man.” He led me into the apothecary as we continued our conversation. “Fergus received his education in Paris at the same age as Ian, and look how well he turned out.”

“You mean the young man who just married our daughter without informing us or asking our permission?”

Jamie grunted. “Touché.”

It took a moment for our eyes to adjust in the dark, cluttered shop. We seemed to be the only customers there. Even the proprietor was nowhere to be found—he was probably somewhere in the back, managing inventory. 

I inhaled deeply, taking in the pungent scents of dried flowers and herbs before continuing on. “God only knows what Fergus got up to while he was attending university on his own. How do we know he wasn’t doing the exact same thing as Ian?”

“Ian doesna understand danger the same way Fergus does. He doesna think things through. Willie, on the other hand, is a strong-minded and well-disciplined lad. Ye canna compare them, lass.”

“I can, and I will,” I asserted, gathering what herbs and medicines I needed and handing them over to Jamie to help carry. Jamie must’ve noticed the kid-in-a-candy-shop look in my eyes and didn’t attempt to continue our discussion any further. Instead, he astutely changed the subject.

“What is with all these crates and boxes?” he asked. “D’ye think the shop is moving?”

I turned around to find Jamie inspecting a stack of boxes on the other side of the shop. They were full to the brim of product while the shelves behind them were nearly empty.

“I hope it’s not moving very far. This is the best apothecary in Paris!”

“Where is the wee man?” Jamie asked, looking around for Master Raymond. “Ye dinna think something has happened to him since our last visit?”

“I certainly hope not.” But I was already beginning to worry. 

“Dinna fash for him, Sassenach. Ye’ve enough on yer mind as it is. Get what ye came for and we’ll leave some coin behind.”

Though I couldn’t stop myself from worrying, there was little to be done about it with everything else we had going on at the moment. I collected all I could manage without Master Raymond’s expert consultation and brought it up to the counter for the reckoning. 

I was searching for a piece of parchment and a quill so I might scratch down a note for Master Raymond to leave with my payment when a loud crashing noise sounded from the wall behind the counter. Both our heads snapped around at the disruption, and Jamie rushed forward to investigate.

“There’s a door here, Sassenach.” He moved to the back wall, which did indeed seem to have a secret door to a back room. Already slightly ajar, he pushed it open and stepped cautiously through. 

Monsieur!” said Jamie, rushing forward.

I followed behind to find the old man had fallen off his ladder, and a mess of parchment and documents had crashed to the ground, littering the floor.

“Oh, Maître Raymond. Are you all right?” I rushed to his side to begin a cursory examination.

“I’m fine. I’m fine. Nothing hurts more than my pride.” He attempted to stand up, but whimpered pathetically and gave up the attempt. “Save, perhaps, my ankle.”

“Here, let me tend to it for you.” There was no blood and there luckily didn’t appear to be any breaks. He reported that it rolled and popped on impact with the ground, so it was like a sprain. As I bandaged him up, Jamie did what he could to tidy up the room, collecting papers and trinkets that had fallen and placing them in an empty box on the table.

“Please, leave those be, monsieur,” said Raymond when he noticed what Jamie was doing. “My assistant will tend to the mess when she returns from a delivery.”

“Nonsense,” said Jamie, continuing anyway.

“I insist—Aie! That hurts.”

“Sorry,” I said, “but it should be wrapped tight to prevent swelling.”

“Believe me, it will be healed swiftly, and I will be back on my feet before the end of the day.”

“I’m sure you know a few remedies for pain…”

“Indeed, I do.”

“...but I don’t think it wise to push yourself too quickly. You need rest. Would you like me to prepare some willow bark tea?”

“No. I assure you; my assistant can manage.” He patted my hand gently, but became distracted once again by Jamie. “Please, Monsieur Fraser. I must insist on having my assistant sort through those documents. We will be leaving the country shortly, and they must be packed away in an orderly fashion.”

Jamie didn’t respond. He was silently bent over a pile of papers, clearly distracted by something he’d found.

“You’re leaving?” I asked, heart breaking at the thought of my favorite apothecary closing its doors. This was the place I’d first met Mandy, and I grieved at the thought of never being able to come back again or bring her here and show her around after she was born. “Where are you going?”

“The greatest city in the world,” he smiled, his voice carrying a bit of song with it.

“Oh? What city is that?”

“New York.”

Jamie snorted, turning around and coming to join us.

“You scoff,” I said, “but New York will be quite a city one day.” Remembering Raymond was listening to us talk, I blushed and added, “At least, it has the potential to be.”

“History is happening in Manhattan,” said Raymond, “and I have a desire to see it play out.”

If only he knew just how right he was. 

I shared a glance with Jamie, eager to tell him more about the future of the American Colonies as soon as we left the shop. I expected him to smile sweetly, indulgently, as he usually was when I rambled on about the future, but I noticed a stiffness in his brow—no, in his whole countenance—that I found more than a little concerning. I was about to ask him what was the matter, but he shook his head ever so slightly to stop me.

“Hmm,” Raymond said, watching us with a soft smile on his face.

“Apologies for my distraction,” I said, turning my attention back to his ankle.

“Not at all.” 

“It’s important that you rest your foot and keep it elevated as much as possible. If you can find some ice or something cold, you may want to apply it for twenty minutes at a time off and on the joint for the first day to prevent swelling. Take care of it, and there shouldn’t be any permanent damage.”

“I wouldn’t expect so. Thank you, madame, for your diligent care.”

“It’s my pleasure.”

He smiled up at me softly. “You take pleasure in healing, do you not?”

I nodded, smiling.

Raymond’s eyes became unfocused, as though he was seeing something that wasn’t there. “He surrounds you, you know. He holds you close. Works from within you.”

“Pardon?” For a moment I thought he was talking about Jamie, but that didn’t make sense. “Who?”

“Your God, madame.

“God?” said Jamie, surprised. 

“Mmhm.”

“I didna think ye much of a religious man.”

“I prefer to think of myself as quite spiritual.”

Mmphm,” Jamie grunted. I was very curious what thoughts were currently spinning around in my husband’s brain, for clearly, there were many. 

“Are you finished, madame? I think I hear my assistant back from her delivery. Would you mind sending her to tend to me after you complete your transaction?”

“Of course.” I stood up, strangely reluctant to leave for some reason, and not just to continue our enigmatic conversation. I couldn’t explain it, seeing as I hardly knew the man. It just felt as though we had some sort of unfinished business, and I didn’t want to part quite yet. It was senseless, I knew, and Jamie and I really did need to get back to Ian so we could talk with him as soon as he was conscious again. 

“Jamie, could you assist Master Raymond onto that chair over there? He’ll be far more comfortable there than the floor.”

“Aye.” Jamie bent down and lifted the small, old man with ease, then set him on the chair as instructed. 

“It was a pleasure seeing you again, Maître Raymond. I hope this will not be the last time.”

“You never know what the future has in store.” He bowed his head in farewell.

Jamie gave a polite bow in return and escorted me back into the main room. He was unusually stiff and quiet while I paid for my supplies, and said nothing as I informed Raymond’s assistant of her employer’s current state. He didn’t speak at all as he escorted me out the door and back to Jared’s carriage.

“What’s going on with you?” I asked as we took our seats across from each other. “Are you worried about Ian and Brianna?”

“Of course, I am.”

“But there’s something more? Something Raymond said?”

“Aye. A few things.”

“The stuff about God?”

“I must admit, it was strange to hear the man speak of God when that whole back room was filled with pagan statues and artifacts from all over the world.”

“I hardly noticed.”

“I ken. Ye were too busy mending his foot.”

I shrugged. I had a habit of getting engrossed in my work, more so when it was a patient I held a particular fondness for.

“He had papers strewn about, detailing theories on alchemy and the like.”

“Perhaps he’d got the right idea. Did you notice the man has hardly aged in all the years we’ve known him?”

“Aye, weel, neither have you, lass, and ye havena taken to witchcraft to do so…at least, that I’m aware of.”

“Oh, shut it.” I smacked his arm.

“Did ye get all ye needed from him, Sassenach?”

“I did.” I looked inside my purse where I placed all my herbs and medicines. I felt the warm pleasure that often came with collecting a heap of goods from one’s favorite shop.

“Good, because I’m none so sure we’d be welcomed back if ye needed anything more.”

“What on earth do you mean?”

Jamie took a deep breath and looked at me with a gravely concerned expression.

“Jamie?”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out what appeared to be an old letter, burnt and frayed around the edges, and a battered, leather-bound journal.

“What are those?”

“I nicked them from the wee frog’s papers.” He handed the journal over and nodded for me to take a look.

I opened it gently, the spine weak from age and overuse, and the first thing I noticed was the quality of paper. It wasn’t like the thicker, heavier parchment I’d grown accustomed to in his century, but thin and yellowed with age, containing red and blue lines common in notebooks from the 1940s. 

My heart was already racing madly, knowing I held a piece of the future in my hands, but it jumped clear out of my chest when I read the words of the first sentence clearly written in ballpoint pen—an invention that wouldn’t come to pass for another hundred years, at least. 

“People disappear all the time.” I looked up at my husband in shock. “Jamie? Why does this look like my handwriting?”

“And this is mine.” He held up the old, battered parchment still in his hand. “A letter from me to Ian dated 1743. Just before I went back to Scotland to meet you for the first time. Except…in this letter, I talk about how I had already met ye, Sassenach, years before ye came through the stones.”

“1743? Jamie. This journal is dated 1947. I came through the stones to meet you in 1946.”

He nodded. “At some point, ye must’ve gone back.”

“Are you sure I wrote this? What if it was just someone with handwriting similar to mine? Brianna, perhaps?”

“Read a bit more, Claire. Ye spoke of how Dougal found ye at the stones. He brought ye to Lallybroch to meet me. I didna get a chance to read much, but I have no doubt it was written by yer hand.”

I rifled through the pages and read another passage:


I’d never seen a more impressive sight in my entire life.

His eyes scanned the room with an indifferent expression, stopping for a moment on his uncle, then once again on me.  I felt trapped in his gaze, hypnotized, unable to pull away.  

I could barely hear his sister’s voice over the buzzing in my ears.  “May I present to you our Laird Lallybroch: James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.”


I looked up at him, eyes wide, and he nodded. Then he bent his head over his letter and read a few lines:

 
I wish ye could ha’ seen her, brother, in her dress a soft cream with pale blue flowers embroidered along the hem, nothing like the flashy French styles they wear here at court, more like what we might see back home if a woman could afford the finery.

God she was lovely. I gave myself to her that night, and I canna bring myself to regret it.


“My wedding dress?” I asked. Not the one I wore when we were handfasted, but the grander one Jenny had made me for our ceremony in the church.

He nodded. “I think it must be.”

Tears had begun forming in my eyes, though I wasn’t exactly sure why. “What do you think this all means?”

“Ye’ve been circling through time, Sassenach, leaving notes for yerself, making our lives better and better with each life. I think, maybe, these are records of times past, when things didna go to plan.”

“How is that possible? And why would Master Raymond, of all people, be in possession of these accounts of our history?”

“I dinna ken, but I dinna think he wanted us to have them.” He reached over and grabbed my hand, bringing it up to his lips in tender reassurance. “We have much to consider, mo ghràidh. Let’s get back to Ian and read these along the way. Perhaps they hold answers to some of our questions.”

I looked down at the journal and his letter, eager and terrified to know what was inside and how we came to have this glorious life with each other and our family.

Chapter Text

“How much longer d’ye think he’ll sleep?” asked Jamie.

“I’m not sure. It depends on a number of different variables.” Claire was looking tired, and no wonder, having to care for Colin and Faith alone for months, grieving her son-in-law, managing Jamie’s sea-induced infirmities, and now caring for young Ian. 

“Ye need rest, Sassenach. Ye look as though ye might fall over.”

“So do you. But I can’t imagine we’ll get much in the way of sleep until we’ve finished reading the journal and the letter.”

Mmphm.” He desperately wanted to finish them too. “Come.” He took her hand and led her out of Ian’s room, down the hall, and to their own. 

Knowing she couldn’t be comfortable in her stays, he helped her out of all her ridiculous layers, leaving only the soft, thin shift behind. He settled himself onto the large sofa and pulled her on his lap to finish reading. She curled up against him, sighing in comfort and exhaustion.

“Where were we?” She yawned, flipping to the right page and picking up where they left off in the carriage:



Jamie stared at his hand, realizing I had just carved a “C” into his flesh. He laughed with a surprised warmth at the possessiveness of the gesture. 

“Here.” I rinsed my palm and the knife with whisky before handing it over to him. “Go on…”

 

Claire read all the way through the journal, stopping only for a bite of food, a sip of whisky, and a quick use of the chamber pot. Even then, the sun had set by the time she’d finished. Her eyes were heavy as she reached the last few sentences.

 

…Mrs. Graham bent down and kissed my temple. “Ye’ll be wi’ him again soon, Claire. He’s waiting for ye.”

I closed my eyes and pictured his blue eyes and flaming hair. “I’m counting on it.”



“That’s the last of my entries,” Claire turned the page, “but it looks like someone added a few more of their own.”

They looked over the handwriting that was eerily familiar to them both, and they knew before laying eyes on the signature who had finished the journal for her. “Faith?”

Claire turned to Jamie and saw the tears silently streaming down his cheeks. It had been an emotional journey reading her first-hand account of falling in love under entirely different circumstances, of making a child, of losing their home and family…of losing each other. 

“What does she sa—say?” he asked, voice cracking.

Claire read aloud as best as she could, even though it sounded as though her throat might close in. She read of how Faith grew up without her parents. How the lass discovered Claire’s secret. How she made her plan to go back through time, enlisting another woman to help her through the stones to fix the damage done before it ever came to pass. How she realized that if Murtagh wasn’t there to stop Jamie from saving Claire instead of Dougal, that there was a chance all might work itself out in the end.

“But things didna work out perfectly, despite Faith’s efforts,” said Jamie. He raised the letter in his hand. “Faith may have saved us then, but she died when ye gave birth to her instead.”

They knew this from Mandy and Jemmy, of course, but it was confirmed in his letter. “This speaks of ye coming to save me at the abbey after ye lost yer husband in a duel and yer daughter in childbirth.”

She sucked in a breath and a few tears fell as she spoke. “I recall how close I was to losing you both in this lifetime. I couldn’t imagine going on and living without you then.”

“Aye.”

Their eyes met, red and swollen, the wounds of reading about losing each other fresh and raw in their hearts. He reached around her waist and squeezed her to his body, wanting the reassuring solidity of her to settle his lingering fears. 

She kissed him, seeking her own comfort. 

“It’s all right,” he told himself as much as Claire. “Everything is fine now.”

Claire didn’t seem convinced. “If that journal has shown me anything, Jamie, it’s that a single decision, only one change, can alter our future in extraordinary ways. This life we have is not guaranteed.”

“Perhaps not, but ye ken what is certain?”

“What?”

“You and me, every time. No matter what happens around us—if we’re deceived, betrayed, hurt, or separated—we will always find our way back to each other once again. Even death canna keep ye from me, my Sassenach.”

She kissed him, lips lingering, acknowledging the profundity of the sentiment. She then rested her head against the curve of his neck. “Read me your letter, darling. I want to hear more of your love for me.”

He did as she asked, reciting words written in his own hand of how a young Jamie met a widowed Claire at the abbey. How he followed her to a small cottage in the French countryside and fell madly in love until she left him so that he could start his life anew with his own version of his wife.

“What do you think happened when you found me at the stones that time?” she asked.

“I could imagine I may have terrified ye wi’ the intensity of my passion.”

She smiled sweetly. “It feels so long ago, Jamie, that we met by the stones for the first time.”

“For what we thought was the first time.” He lifted her chin to see her whisky eyes, to let her know the passion and the truth behind his words. “My love for ye has always felt eternal, as though it was always there, waiting for me to find it…to find you.

“It’s both terrifying and a comfort to know what has been in the past. It gives me hope for what will continue to be in the future.”

As was their wont, their hearts’ passion craved the joining of their bodies, and as exhausted as they were, they could not rest until their need was sated. Jamie stood with Claire in his arms and carried her to bed. 

As he stripped down, he was mindful of the way his whole body ached to surround her, to be buried inside her. If they two were one, as the priest had said, then she was the most precious part of himself—the best part of himself—and he wanted to fuse their bodies together to be whole. He’d told her long ago that she made him better; he hadn’t known the magnitude of that notion at the time, but it was even more true now than it was when they first met.

The letter written by a past version of himself detailed the agony of what it felt like to lose her, and that version had only known her for a summer. As Jamie covered Claire’s body with his own and sunk into her hot, wet quim, he thought of how horrifying it would be to lose her after nearly two decades of building a life together. After eleven children, a bloody war, death, illness, and time travel. 

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t survive losing her now. He wouldn’t.

He kissed her madly, as though that might keep her alive and well and with him forever. As though it might anchor her to the eighteenth century and away from those godforsaken stones. It was easy to fall into the trap of thinking they’d never part until the last days of their long, happy lives, but Raymond and his records of their previous existences crushed those expectations with a swift and painful blow.

He could see in Claire’s troubled eyes that the same fears were consuming her. His own anguish sometimes seemed inevitable, but hers was always unacceptable. If he could battle away her torment, one swing of a sword at a time, he would do so happily until the end of his days.

For now, he didn’t have his sword, but he had his lips, and Claire responded to those just fine. He kissed her deeply, trying to help her to forget the pain by distracting with pleasure. And soon, his distractions worked not only on her, but on himself, as well. 

He watched her climax with the joy and accomplishment that always came with pleasing her well, then he set his pace to find his own peak. Still coming, she took his nipple in her mouth and suckled in the way that drove him mad. He refused to take his lips from hers when he came, grunting, groaning, and breathing fast and shallow into her mouth.

Just as Jamie was beginning to consider—as he often did in the euphoric aftermath of lying with his wife—that making love was a spiritual endeavor, Claire let out a breathless giggle beneath his lips. When he inquired as to the nature of her sudden good humor, her response indicated that their thoughts were not very far apart. 

“I was just thinking of Master Raymond’s words to me earlier when he was talking about God. He said God surrounded me…held me close…worked from within me. I was only wondering if Raymond was in possession of the Sight and mistook you for a deity.”

Jamie laughed heartily enough that he had to roll off Claire or risk suffocating her. The movement had him effectively slipping out of her quim and disqualifying him as the Almighty by the wee Frenchman’s standards.

He gathered his wife in his arms and pulled her back against his chest, her fat bum settling in the curve of his thighs. He inhaled her hair, letting it pleasantly tickle his nose. “I’m most certainly not God, Sassenach, but I am ever grateful that His will so often aligns wi’ my own.”

“Do you really think it does?”

“Of course, I do.” He squeezed her tightly. “He brought me you.”

“Did He?”

“If not God, then who?”

She was quiet for some time, but Jamie could nearly hear her thinking. He nuzzled into her neck and stroked her arm until she was ready to speak.

“Faith asked me something after Colin died, and I must say, it wasn’t the first time I considered the notion.”

“What?”

“What if…” Claire didn’t turn around to look at him while she spoke; she just stayed burrowed in his embrace. “What if all this we’re doing, all we’ve already done, is working in opposition to God’s will?”

“I dinna ken yer meaning.”

“Me, the children, the grandchildren, running back and forth through time to serve our own ends…” She took a deep, steadying breath. “What if God wanted it to end for us the way it did in that first journal? What if we’re taking a life we were never meant to have in the first place?”

“No.” He spoke before he even considered her question, acutely resistant to the mere thought of God unleashing that sort of torment on him intentionally. “We were married in the house of the Lord—”

“Months after being handfasted.”

“It doesna matter. It’s binding. And d’ye no’ recall that in yer journal o’er there, we werena handfasted, at all, the very first time we wed, but went straight to a church.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“We have the blessings of the church on our union. Our children have all been baptized in the name of God. He gave our family this gift of traveling through time, and we’ve only used it out of necessity. No’ wi’ intention to harm.”

“Faith thinks Death is following her, and that’s why Colin grew ill.”

“And what do you think about that?”

“The nurse in me knows that Colin would’ve died no matter if Faith was in his life or not, but there’s another part of me that wonders if we’re perverting God’s will, creating an endless cycle of life and love for our family that was never meant to be.”

“As I said before, Sassenach, if there was one thing this day has proven to me is that you and I were always meant to be…in any version of our existence. And I canna imagine a beneficent God would object to what we share and what we’ve done to make it so.”

He squeezed her tight and kissed her bare shoulder, and he could feel the tension drain from her body as her worries seemed—at least temporarily—put to rest. “I suppose there’s no way for us to know with any certainty, and even if there was, I would choose this life with you and our family no matter the infernal consequences.”

“I would brave an eternity in Hell to taste a whisper of yer kiss, my love.” He spoke the words with a tone of soft humor to allay her fears, but he meant every word down to the marrow of his bones. “For a lifetime by yer side, an eternal battle wi’ Lucifer would be a trifling consequence, indeed.”

“Would it really be Hell if we were both there together?”

He thought to make a joke that yes, it would be Hell if Lucifer made Jamie’s cock lame and unable to please his wife, but that wasn’t the slightest bit true. Even without the pleasures of the flesh, the presence of her soul would make it more a Paradise than any so-called Heaven without her.

You are my Paradise, Claire.”

With his reassurances, she was finally at peace enough to settle down and stop her racing thoughts. Eventually, exhaustion overtook her, and she slipped into a quiet slumber. 

Jamie felt the pull of sleep tugging at his own eyelids even though it was still quite early in the evening. It had been weeks since he’d slept the whole night through. His body was aching and was pathetically still recovering from that damnable trip across the sea. And it didn’t help that his family and tenants were still under attack.

With nothing he could productively do at the moment, save for waiting for Ian to sleep off the effects of the opium, he allowed himself to drift off and find his dreams alongside his wife.

 


 

Brianna was at Lallybroch again, this time in daylight. She was holding a bundle of blankets in her arms that turned out to be wrapped around a tiny wean. Brianna cooed to the bonnie wee thing as it stared up at her, blinking sweetly. 

“Brianna?” A man was walking down the stairs, sadness and worry lining his young eyes. “She wants to talk to ye about the child. Have ye made up yer mind?”

“I canna do it, Roger. Ye dinna ken what it’s like. She’ll be safer here.”

“Ye’re certain?”

“I canna risk it. What if it doesna work?” Brianna looked down at the baby and stroked her cheek. “For her sake, it canna be done.”

The man glanced upstairs with heartbreak in his eyes. “She’ll be devastated.”

“She doesna understand.”

“Maybe she does, but it’s worth the risk for love and family.”

Brianna shook her head. “I couldna live wi’ myself if something went wrong. I willna do it.”

The man just shrugged in acceptance and stepped out of the way for Brianna to make her way up the stairs with the baby in her arms and a look of determination in her eyes.

 


 

“Brianna!” Jamie woke up with a feeling of dread. It was just a dream, but his heart was racing like the scene had played out right in this very room. He didn’t know why such a simple dream worried him so much, but it did. He had to take a moment to gather himself before getting out of bed. 

He realized a bit belatedly that Claire was no longer in his arms. She must’ve awoken and gone to check on Ian. It spoke to the level of his own exhaustion that he didn’t stir when Claire slipped out of bed. He’d always been a much lighter sleeper than she ever was.

Wondering if Ian was up and ready for his interrogation, Jamie rose out of bed and dressed himself. The sun had yet to rise, but Jamie could hear Jared’s staff distantly moving about the house. He didn’t smell breakfast cooking quite yet, but he was sure the smell of freshly baked bread would reach his nose shortly. 

He found Claire and Ian in the parlor. By the scent of the herbs that hung in the air, he knew that Claire had already brewed the lad one of her teas. He seemed awake and alert, though his eyes were intent on avoiding Jamie.

“Good morning, darling,” said Claire, rising to greet him.

Madainn mhath, mo nighean donn.” He brushed his lips across her temple, still feeling a particular tenderness for her that had been magnified by the journal and letter the night before.

Whether hearing it in his tone or feeling it in his touch, she sighed happily and melted into him for a few precious moments.

“What has he told ye?” Jamie mumbled in her ear.

“That Brianna is safe, as far as he knows. He wanted to wait for you to tell us the rest.”

“All right then.” Jamie led Claire over to sit with him across from Ian. “Out wi’ it, lad. Tell me everything. What the bloody hell were ye doing in that brothel? Why were ye incapacitated on opium? And where in God’s name is our daughter?”

Ian looked around, as though hoping to find courage somewhere else in the room to draw from. Defeated in his attempts at finding an ally, he cast his eyes down to look at Jamie’s feet. “Weel, first of all, Uncle, ye ken very well what I was doing in that brothel, and it wouldna be right to make me say so in front of Auntie Claire.”

Jamie snorted with derision.

“As for the opium,” Ian blushed ashamedly, “I didna ken what it was. I thought the whore was lighting incense.”

“Spiritual, was it?” Jamie’s voice dripped with sarcasm. 

Ian, however, nodded seriously. “Aye.”

“And Brianna?”

It seemed as though Ian was losing his nerve, but a dangerously low growl from Jamie's chest had the words spilling quickly from Ian's lips. “She went back to Scotland to find the standing stones. She wanted to travel to the future.”

Jamie thought of his dream of Brianna at Lallybroch and realized why it disconcerted him so…the lass was wearing garments the likes of which he’d never seen before. And he was certain that the Lallybroch in his dreams was not the one currently filled with his family, but one from a time in which he knew absolutely nothing of, and his daughter was a long way from home.

Chapter Text


“What?!” Jamie snapped, standing abruptly and towering over Ian.

I was immediately flooded with memories of the chaos of the stones, an unseeable force twisting, pulling, and pounding on every atom of my body—the mind-numbing insanity of traveling through time. No matter that decades had gone by, my body felt the horrid sensations as though it was only yesterday.

I must’ve made an alarming sound, because Jamie’s head snapped around, and he rested a comforting hand on my shoulder. 

“I’m…all right,” I assured him. “I’m fine.”

Ian was looking a little too relieved at Jamie’s distraction, and was clearly wondering if he had any chance in hell of escaping if he ran quickly. Being that he stayed put, he must’ve come to the conclusion that he wouldn’t get far.

With his hand still steadying me, Jamie turned back to Ian. “Out wi’ it.”

Ian looked at me one last time, possibly hoping I might make more sounds of discomfort in the service of his reprieve. When none came, he went on. “Brianna came up wi’ the plan before we left Lallybroch. She wrote a stack of letters and gave them to Lizzy so that Lizzy could make it seem as though Bree never left Paris. Lizzy was also meant to intercept any letters la princesse might write to ye, or you to her, in the meantime.”

“Why on earth would Elizabeth agree to do that?”

Ian looked as though he might turn green at the thought of informing on his cousins. 

“Ian!” demanded Jamie.

“Brianna caught her kissing the sassenach lad in the stables. She threatened to tell if Lizzie didna help.”

Jamie blurted out a stream of Gaelic curses as his grip on my shoulder tightened painfully. I squeaked in protest, and he released me, but didn’t lose his stride in describing how he meant to use the wee English bastard's entrails to make a new set of reins for his horse when he got home.

“And…” I interrupted, “what was your role in all this?”

“I delivered Brianna's forged letter from you to la princesse, then I escorted Bree to Le Havre and arranged her passage to Scotland.”

“Through where?”

“Inverness.”

“Close to the stones,” I said.

“Why?” Jamie demanded. “Why did she do this?”

Ian shrugged. “I think it best she speak for herself—”

Jamie silenced him with a lethal look.

“She wanted to see the world, Uncle. To see the future. Brianna is no’ like Faith, ye ken. She didna want to settle down and have a load of bairns wi’out knowing what was out there. She kent it was likely that yer grandchildren that came to save Faith—Jemmy and Amanda—would be her bairns, and she wanted to live a bit and see some things before she was tied to clouts and laundry and nursing and schooling and such, keeping her home forever. And honestly, I canna say I blame her. If I had yer gift, Auntie Claire, I would’ve gone wi’ her.”

“Thank God for small mercies.”

“Did she say when she planned to come back?” asked Jamie.

Ian shrugged. “Hard to say. If things went poorly, she meant to come back right away. If they went well, she thought she’d stay and enjoy it for a while.”

“I dreamt of her at Lallybroch,” said Jamie. “Do ye ken if she planned to go there?”

“Aye. She hoped if Lallybroch was still in the family, that they might ken about the stones as such and take her in.”

“Oh, dear God,” I groaned, knowing the future was not the place to go raving about magical stones. The girl would end up in an asylum. “I have to go get her, Jamie. I have to—”

“No!” Jamie snapped. “Ye’ll be staying put. With all that’s happened wi’ Colin, she’s probably safer there than here, and we must track down Willie and find the bastards who’ve done this.”

“What’s happened to Colin?” asked Ian.

“He’s dead, lad.” Jamie’s tone was sharp. “Murdered. All while ye were helping my daughter run wild through Paris, Scotland, and the bloody future!

“I’m sorry, Uncle Jamie. I didna ken—”

“No, laddie, ye never do! Not since ye were a wean and ye stowed away on that bloody boat and ended up back in my custody. Ye dinna think things through!”

Ian’s long, lanky frame was collapsing in on itself under Jamie’s scolding.

“We expected to come here and see ye committed to yer studies and Brianna training wi’ the masters, and instead, we find our daughter magically gone and you lifeless on opium after a days’ long stay in a brothel! What if the murderer found ye there? There was naught ye could’ve done to protect yerself!”

“I didna ken about the opium, Uncle! It was the whore that did it.”

“Why would a whore force opium on you if that’s not what you paid for?” I asked.

“To get the lad to give over all his winnings,” Jamie snapped. 

Ian snorted. “I have them all right here.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a very full coin purse. “I had to pay the madam a wee bit, but the only thing the whore cared to have was my ring.”

Ian looked down at his hand where his ruby ring once resided. His finger was notably bare.

When Jamie spoke, his voice was low and dangerous. “Ye gave away the gemstone that ye were meant to wear in the event one yer cousins were in need of it?”

“She thought it bonnie, Uncle,” Ian tried to explain. “And I have enough winnings to replace it. She was insistent she take the gem.”

Why?” I stood up, gripping Jamie’s arm. “Why would a whore turn down perfectly good coin and demand a gemstone instead? Why would she drug our nephew without telling him?”

Jamie’s eyes widened as my suspicions sunk in. His head snapped around back to Ian. “Tell us about the whore, lad.”

“Weel, she had fair hair and lovely green eyes. She was a bit aulder than what I would’ve usually chosen, but she was quite insistent.” Ian’s eyes lit up at the memory. 

“Was there anything else about her ye found unusual?”

“As I said, she liked the incense and teas and such. And she liked to hear me talk. She asked all manner of questions about me, and my life, and my home. About Scotland and Lallybroch. About the family.”

Jamie and I turned to each other, mouths dropping open and fear surging into our hearts.

“What did ye tell her about the family?”

“It’s hard to recall.” He rubbed his eyes. “Everything feels a bit cloudy.”

“Try!”

“I think she was curious about all the children ye’ve taken in, which ones were yers to begin with, and which ones ye adopted as yer own. And she wanted to ken where everyone is now, seeing as how we’re all spread out.”

“Did ye tell her about Brianna and Willie? Did ye tell her where they are?”

Ian cringed back at Jamie’s tone. “I dinna recall, Uncle. I dinna believe so! Certainly not the truth about Brianna, and Willie…I dinna ken. Perhaps I may have said he was in London.”

“The whore. What was her name?”

“Melisande. Why? Ye canna think she meant me or the family any harm? She could’ve done damage to me if she wanted to while I was asleep.”

“No’ if it wasna you she was after, and no’ if she didna want to be caught and arrested, ye wee fool!” Jamie turned swiftly and left to our room. I instructed Ian to stay put and followed after Jamie. 

I found him belting on his sporran and retrieving his coat. “You’re going to find this Melisande?”

“Aye. Though I doubt she’s still there.”

“Unless she was just a whore.”

Jamie looked at me, unimpressed. I shrugged, knowing it was a fool’s hope.

“I should ha’ listened to ye, a nighean,” Jamie grumbled grudgingly. “Ian wasna ready to be on his own.”

“Neither was Brianna, apparently. The truth of the matter is that the children are growing up and are making their own choices now. All we can try to do is mitigate the damage of their foolishness.”

Mmphm.” Jamie kissed me on my cheek and spoke over his shoulder as he made his way out the door. “Dinna let him out of yer sight!”

 


 

I went back to find Ian with his head in his hands and tears falling down his cheeks. I sat next to him with a comforting hand on his back. He really was too bloody young to be considered a man, regardless of this century’s stance on the matter. I was pleased Jamie was finally able to admit that. Perhaps I’d have more luck with keeping Willie home a few extra years before he got sent away to receive his education.

“I’m sae sorry, Auntie. I didna mean to put anyone in danger.”

“I know you didn’t.” Though I didn’t tell him it was “okay.” He knew better. “We don’t make rules or have expectations for you children because we’re being miserable or controlling. They truly are for your own good.”

“I ken, Auntie. I ken. I just…I just ken what it's like to want to do something so badly, that consequences be damned, so I had sympathy for Brianna.” He looked up at me, eyes red and swollen. “Tell me about Colin. What happened? How’s Faith? And the bairns?”

I sighed heavily before telling him all we knew. 

“So, right now, someone may be after Willie?”

I nodded.

“And I might’ve helped lead them there?”

 “London is an awfully big place,” I attempted to console him, “and he’s well cared for.”

“Ye sent a message to warn them of the danger?”

“We sent it before we left Lallybroch. As soon as Jamie gets back, we’ll be leaving for London to retrieve him.” I stood up, pulling Ian to his feet. “Come, darling. You’d better get packing. We mustn’t dawdle.”

Ian nodded, seeming to find heart in having something to do while we awaited Jamie’s return. 

I, on the other hand, had nothing to fill my time. Impatience began getting the better of me as mere minutes passed by. We’d brought little, so I had nothing to pack. There was always something to be done when I was at home and near my garden or surgery, but there was nothing here to keep my hands and thoughts busy.

Idle hands never allowed for a peaceful mind. 

There was no way in hell I’d be able to sit still and wait for however long it might take for Jamie to return. Yet, there was something I could do in the meantime to make myself useful. Something that had been weighing heavily on my mind since we arrived home the night before.

I went quickly to find Jared in his study and exacted a promise from him to keep Ian in the house while Jamie and I were gone. Then, I finished dressing, borrowed one of Jared’s carriages, and made a hasty exit to ensure I returned home before Jamie ever even knew I’d left.

Jamie would likely be furious at me for leaving the house without him, but as soon as he obtained any possible information from that whore, then we’d be leaving for London. That meant that this was the only possible time I had to find answers to my other less pressing but equally significant questions—questions I feared would go unanswered for the rest of our lives if I didn’t act quickly.

Jared didn’t live far from Master Raymond’s apothecary. Thankfully, it was much closer to his house than the brothel. I didn’t wait for the carriage to stop to open the door. I nearly fell over when I stepped down and the horses jolted to an abrupt halt. I rushed forward through the passing foot traffic and entered the dark, familiar shop.

Except it was no longer familiar. The shelves were nearly bare, save for items here and there that seemed to be abandoned. There was no fire in the hearth, no candles on the countertops, no people anywhere to be found. I snaked my way through the dark to the hidden back room and found it in a similar condition as the front.

“No!” He was already gone…and with him were all the answers he carried.

Never would I convince Jamie to get on a ship to cross the Atlantic to find that man in New York, and there was no way in hell Jamie would let me go without him. A deep, sinking regret filled my heart that we might never know the truth of how Raymond came into possession of that letter and journal, nor would we ever know why it even mattered to him.

It was quite terrifying to know that a near stranger knew of our family’s ability to travel through time. I was very aware of how women were treated in this century if they were perceived to be in some way magical. Just one look at that journal I wrote in a previous lifetime showed that Geillis MacKenzie, apparently once known as both Gillian Edgars and Geillis Duncan, had faced ultimate consequences for being a time-traveling witch. She seemed to have found a way to avoid that fate in this lifetime, though I wasn’t sure her current fate was any better.

Resigned to the loss of information that Raymond held about our family, I returned back to the carriage and set off for home, all the while contemplating ways that we might somehow locate the man and find our answers. Perhaps Murtagh or one of the Murrays over in North Carolina might see fit to travel to New York for us, though Jamie would have to come up with some sort of cypher to communicate secret information in letters overseas.

I arrived back at Jared’s with plenty of time to spare Jamie any worry. In fact, Jamie took several hours longer to return than I had expected.

“She’s gone,” said Jamie upon his arrival. “I went to the brothel and she wasna there. I spent a good deal of time searching around other brothels and hunting down some of her regulars to see if I could gather information, but no one kent anything of significance.”

“Do you think Colin’s attackers put her up to this?”

Jamie shrugged as frustrated as I was. 

“I suppose we need to get going back to London, then? We shouldn’t waste any more time.”

“Aye, except…I was thinking, Sassenach.” He looked at me meaningfully. “I thought perhaps we could ask Jared to go to London in our stead. If Willie is there, Jared can ensure his safe return to Lallybroch. Ye ken he’ll be well protected.”

“What?! You can’t possibly think I’m leaving my son to—” 

He interrupted by making his voice somehow both loud and calming. “I think we should go to Aberdeen.”

“Aberdeen? Oh!” I gripped his arm to steady myself. “You do think it’s time, then? You think they left London?”

“I dinna ken. But if it’s not, then no harm will be done.”

“But if it is time and we do go to Aberdeen…”

“Aye. Then there’s a chance we can help him, protect him. The more I think about it, the more right it feels.”

As afraid as I was that we might miss him in London, we knew that Aberdeen was where he’d ultimately be attacked.

I nodded in agreement. “When do we leave?”

 


 

We set off immediately for Le Havre, arriving after nightfall. Jared couldn’t find us boats that would transport us from France to both England and Scotland until the morning, so we were forced to stay at a small inn before making the passage.

Jamie refused to eat any meals that night or the next morning, preferring only to hydrate in anticipation of our journey to Aberdeen. By the green pallor of his face, the mere thought of getting on a boat was triggering his seasickness. 

Jared, Ian, and I, on the other hand, ate a hearty breakfast before setting off, knowing the fare on boats to be quite questionable, and all of us lamenting the impending loss of fresh French food.

Jamie’s simultaneous hunger and queasiness made for an irritable travel companion, snapping and barking at anyone who came too close. Ian made himself scarce when we boarded the boat, wanting to distance himself from Jamie’s temper while his punishment was still as of yet undecided. I was forced to remain by Jamie’s side to ensure he didn’t throw himself overboard during a fit of melodramatics. 

Perhaps I was having sympathy kinetosis, because I soon found myself feeling a bit dizzy and nauseous after sailing away from the harbor.

“Ye’re looking a bit green yerself, Sassenach. I’ve never kent seasickness to be catching.”

“It’s not.”

“Are ye certain? Because ye look as though ye might—” Jamie cut himself off with gulp and loud hiss, as though desperately attempting to fight back his nausea. 

Watching him so close to vomiting rolled my stomach and made me audibly gag. I covered my mouth with my hand, as though it might stop my stomach from expelling my breakfast. That, in turn, made Jamie turn a colorless shade of grey, and he bent over the rail and found something in the depths of his belly to spew into the water.

“Oh, God,” I groaned and followed suit, except I had a greater supply of food in my stomach to feed the marine wildlife below.

“We’re quite a pair,” Jamie snorted as he sank to the deck, holding his head in his hands. 

I did my best to expel the stringy, acidic spittle hanging from my mouth before dropping down to the deck beside him. We leaned against each other, trying to catch our breath, but the fishy griminess of the air only made us gag further. 

“Stop kecking like that, Sassenach. Once you set off, I canna help but follow.”

“Like vomiting dominos.”

“The wee game wi’ the dotted tiles?”

“Never mind.” I didn’t have the energy to explain.

“Are ye sure ye’re all right? Have ye ever been sick like this on a boat before?”

“Only once.” I gripped Jamie’s arm as a large wave tipped the boat uncomfortably. “It was when Murtagh and I came to France to see you all those years ago. I was pregnant with Faith.”

Jamie’s head snapped up in shock, but the quick movement set off his sickness once again. He stood up and dry-heaved over the rail, having nothing left to spit up after not eating for nearly a whole day. I was not so fortunate. I stood and retched right next to him, the contents of my stomach splashing in the water below. The sound only made Jamie dry-heave all over again.

“Maybe I should move to the other side of the boat,” I offered reluctantly. “I don’t think we’re helping each other to stop vomiting.”

Mmphm.” Jamie pulled me against him as we sank back to the deck, letting me know he’d rather vomit with me than find a reprieve on his own. He stroked his hand up and down my arm, trying to comfort me even when he was so uncomfortable. “D’ye think ye might be wi’ child, Claire?”

“Oh…no. No. I should think not.” It would be very unlikely at my age to become pregnant even when actively trying. We were most certainly not actively trying. In fact, ever since William was born, I had been taking active measures to prevent pregnancy. Our hands were quite full enough without adding to the brood. 

Jamie had also been increasingly distressed with each of my pregnancies, particularly with our close call when having Faith, me giving birth in the wilderness to Brianna, and us losing little Robert when he was born too soon. Anytime I was with child, Jamie was tightly wound from conception to birth, only relaxing when both myself and our children were safe and happy in his arms.

“Perhaps I ate something funny at the inn,” I offered. Although, that seemed quite unlikely, given that Ian ate everything I did and seemed to be doing just fine. He was over on the other side of the boat, talking animatedly to the captain.

Jamie relaxed at my reassurances and kissed the top of my head. “We’ve done a great many things together since we wed, but this is a first.”

It was true. Only one of us was usually sick at a time, allowing for the other to hold back the infirm’s hair so as not to be covered in vomit. 

I expected my nausea to abate the closer we came to our destination, but it seemed to be quite as stubborn as Jamie’s notorious seasickness, if not worse. It became so debilitating that when we made it to Aberdeen, I began to question if what I was experiencing was even seasickness, at all. As Jamie grew steadier the longer his feet were on solid ground, I became dizzier, weaker, and more lethargic.

If I didn’t recover by morning, there was no possible way I could ride a horse across the countryside to find Willie without slowing Jamie down and putting everyone at risk. 

Since it was nearly dark and the moonlight would be hidden behind a thick layer of clouds and rain, further travel wasn’t an option until morning. We found a small inn to recuperate overnight. Within a few hours, Jamie’s stomach was settled enough to hold a spot of tea and a piece of bread, but if anything aside from a moan touched my lips, my small intestines rebelled against the intrusion and tied themselves in knots until all food and drink were once again far, far away.

Ian slept on a pallet on the floor while Jamie and I took the bed. Sleep came easy for all of us, exhausted as we were, but particularly for me with my lethargy. The only time I woke up was when my gut began to clench painfully and I had to rise up to retch into the bedpan next to me.

Every time this occurred, Jamie pulled my hair away from my face and rubbed my back sleepily. I’d collapse back on the bed, and he’d wrap me in his arms, hand stroking my belly as though not fully convinced I wasn’t carrying another of his children.

However, I knew it wasn’t pregnancy-induced nausea. Whenever I had morning sickness with a child, I usually felt much better after vomiting. Now, I only seemed to be feeling worse.

“I think I’ve caught some sort of bug. You’ll have to go on without me,” I said, fighting another wave of nausea at the thought of not being there for Willie. In truth, I was fearful that whatever I had was contagious, and Jamie might be in my position in a few days’ time. He needed to find Willie quickly, then get his arse back here so I could tend to him when I felt better.

“Aye,” Jamie agreed, sighing into my hair.  He was clearly loath to part from me, but little else could be done. “I shouldna be gone long. It’s only about half a day’s ride.”

“So, you’ll get there by noon, then return by sundown?”

“If all goes well. Aye.”

I ignored the twisting of my gut at the thought of things not going well.

“I’ll have young Ian stay and care for ye while I’m gone. He can brew yer teas and force some bread into yer belly.”

I nearly gagged at the mere thought of a bite of bread.

Jamie pulled me tight against him, his scruffy beard scratching the back of my neck pleasantly as he whispered calm, gentle words to help me find sleep. All things considered, it was a pleasant way to drift in and out of consciousness.

He woke me with a gentle kiss in the morning to let me know he was leaving.

“Hurry back, soldier,” I croaked out miserably. I felt his hand reach under my pillow, likely leaving a knife there for me, just in case. He’d been leaving weapons for me in my sleep whenever he had to leave for as long as I could remember. Always prepared, my husband.

“With luck, I’ll be back by nightfall.” He kissed my temple, and I drifted off to sleep once again.

 


 

It wasn’t until noon that my stomach settled enough to hold down a small cup of ginger tea, and a few hours more before I was able to force down a bite of bread. Ian had done his best to be an attentive caretaker for most of the day, but as expected for a lad suffering from a chronically restless spirit, as the hours passed by, so did his patience.

After bringing me a small dinner of milk and bread, he began pacing around the room, peering out the window at the goings-on in the darkening street below. Perhaps he’d been doing that all day, but I was so tired and groggy, I hardly noticed it. At present, the constant movement was making me motion sick all over again.

“Ian, darling, why don’t you go enjoy a meal downstairs.”

“I canna leave ye, Auntie. Uncle Jamie said…”

“You need to eat.”

“Aye, but…” 

I could see his fear of disappointing Jamie once again clear on his face, warring with his constantly ravenous appetite and his need for external stimulation.

“Get a bite to eat, and bring me back a loaf of bread.”

“As you wish, Auntie.” Going down in my service seemed to set his conflict at ease. He left quickly, pleased to have somewhere to release his abundance of energy. 

After he was gone, I forced myself to stand up, as shaky as I was, to use the chamber pot. I was pleased to be able to move around without instantly vomiting. 

I shuffled over to the window and cracked it open, craving fresh air in the warm, smoky room. The clouds had cleared throughout the day, and moonlight lit the cobblestone streets below.

It was getting late, and Jamie and Willie had yet to return. My nerves gripped my intestines painfully as I searched for a sign of my husband and son.

I would’ve stayed there all evening if I didn’t think it would make me vomit from sheer anxiety. Instead, I moved to my medicine box and found some mint leaves to chew on, then went back to lie down in bed.

I laid there quietly, telling myself over and over that Willie and Jamie would be safe and fine, and we’d all live happily together for many years to come. The mint leaves in my mouth and the affirmations in my head seemed to help settle some of the acid in my stomach. 

I kept my heavy eyelids closed when the door opened again, fearful of Ian’s restless energy setting off the illness once more. I hadn’t expected him to return so soon, and I tried not to be disappointed at his diligent care for me. 

His footsteps fell soft and quiet across the floor as he pulled a chair up next to my bed. I sighed deeply at the sweetness of his attention.

But the scent that reached my nose was not the stew, sweat, or ale I expected from my nephew, but one of sour herbs and deep, red wine. My eyes fluttered open and I saw not Ian, but a woman, sitting before me, pulling a stopper out of a small, glass vial. Her hair was fair, and her eyes were green…a set of eyes impossible to forget, even nearly two decades later.

“Geillis MacKenzie,” I whispered.

She smiled in her cloying way as her eyes met mine, she leaned forward, her face only a foot away, making me intentionally uncomfortable. “Ye remember me then, Mistress Fraser? We only met a few times; I thought for certain ye’d have forgotten me.”

There was little I could do in my current position to protect myself. “I thought you were dead…or in prison.”

“Indentured in America,” her eyes and face went stone cold. “For fifteen years.” Wild rage swirled beneath a thin veil of self-control, sending shivers down my spine. My body finally didn’t seem to care about vomiting anymore.

“It was you!” I tried sitting up, but a knife went to my throat. “You killed Colin! You’ve been after my family! You blame us for your indenture.”

She smiled sickly sweet again. “Ye think I care about a silly, little indenture? What’s fifteen years for a worthy cause? Nothing. No, Claire. I dinna care about the indenture. I care about yer husband murdering Dougal and sabotaging any chance we had at winning that war!” 

I startled at the sudden angry rise of her voice.

“Now,” she sat back and calmed herself down, holding up the vial in her other hand, “I will take from yer husband exactly what it was he stole from me. My spouse. My family. And my reason for fucking living!” 

She pressed the knife to my throat and raised the vial to my lips. “Open yer mouth, ye selfish, traitorous sassenach, so I can finish the job I started in Le Havre.”

“Le Havre?”

Geillis looked at me with wide eyes and snorted. “Ye didna realize ye were poisoned? Now, I ken ye’re a decent healer, so I’ll chock it up to distraction. I followed you and yer husband from Paris to Le Havre, then hid away on the ship here to Aberdeen in order to ensure that yer treasonous husband could witness the life leave yer body, the way I had to watch him to do the same to Dougal.”

“Paris? You were in Paris?”

Her filthy, arrogant smile had me recalling words young Ian had said in describing the whore who drugged him.  “...she had fair hair and lovely green eyes. She was a bit aulder than I would’ve normally chosen, but she was quite insistent….she liked the incense and teas and such. And she liked to hear me talk. She asked all manner of questions about me, and my life, and my home. About Scotland and Lallybroch. About the family.”

“Wait!” I grabbed her arm, nearly spilling the vial. She shoved the knife into my neck stopping me in my tracks. “You’ve been in Paris preying on Ian long before we arrived.”

She laughed as I began putting the pieces together.

“And Faith said it was a man who attacked her…”

“Aye, Claire. I wasna the only one yer husband took everything from that night.”

“Who?! Who, damn you?!”

By the narcissistic pride in her eyes, I knew the truth before she said a word. 

“I kent what ye were when ye used the penicillin on our prisoner back at Leoch. Dougal said yer husband had found ye there by the standing stones. Ye’re just like me.”

“You’re from the future too.” It wasn’t a question. I already knew from the journal.

“Aye. And just as yer bairns can travel through the stones like you…so can mine.”

“Little Buck?”

Gellis’s eyes flared bright. “So, there’s nowhere yer family can run and hide from us, Claire. Not the past. Not the present. And certainly not the future.”

I choked at the thought of Willie traveling through time on his own, running from a man who could follow him anywhere…or any time.

“Now, open yer mouth, and we’ll make yer death clean. We’d hate to get blood all over the sheets—”

The door opened with the unbothered carelessness of a teenager. Geillis snapped her head around to see who it was.

“Melisande?” said Ian in shock.

In Geillis’s distraction, I reached under my pillow and grabbed the knife Jamie had left behind for me, then swung it around with the inhuman might of a frightened mother. I sliced open her throat, blood spilling from her neck all over me and the bed.

Ian rushed forward and pulled her body away, letting her bleed out onto the floor.

“Are ye all right, Auntie Claire. Did she harm ye?”

“I’m fine.” I sat up, overcome by dizziness. I tried to steady myself with my head in my hands. “We must go. We have to get to Willie!”

“But Uncle Jamie—”

“I don’t think Willie is in Aberdeen.” I looked up grasping at my neck for the citrine gem Jamie had given me years ago. “You’ve got to help me get to Craigh na Dun!”