Claire was pacing up and down in the drawing room; it was giving John Grey a headache.
“My dear, he may not be here for at least an hour yet, will you not rest?”
“Rest? Are you joking?” she said, staring out of the window. “I haven’t seen my husband in six years, and he’s on his way, how am I meant to rest?!”
John sighed loudly.
“You’re wearing holes in my very fine carpets. I only just had them shipped and laid.”
“Who cares about bloody carpets?” she snapped. John looked at her, eyes wide. She came and sat down, slumping heavily in the seat opposite him, a mildly guilty look on her face. “Sorry.”
John smiled at her.
“It’s all right. No harm done. I just wish you’d sit still for a moment. My nerves are almost as shot as yours, I think.”
Claire closed her eyes and leaned back.
“I didn’t sleep well. I kept thinking about everything, over and over.” She opened her eyes, looking at him with that direct stare John sometimes found rather disconcerting. “Have I done the right thing, John? What if he no longer wants me? What if he’s moved on?”
“Oh, come come, my dear, he will be overjoyed to see you. You know he will.”
“Perhaps you should have told him.” Her brow was furrowed with worry, and she began gnawing at her thumb nail. “I should have written. We should have given him some idea I was here!”
“You cannot relay information such as that in a letter.”
In fact, John wasn’t entirely sure about that, and had wondered himself what Jamie’s reaction would be. Did part of him wish that Jamie would turn his back on his wife and daughter, and tell them to go back to wherever they came from? It shamed him to admit that perhaps a very small part of him did. John had his own suspicions about her story, how she had believed Jamie dead and travelled to France to stay with relatives. There were many things that didn’t make sense. She had such a strange manner about her. But one thing was for sure, she loved Jamie a great deal, that alone was clear. And while John had deep feelings for Jamie himself, he had to do what he felt was right. Jamie would make his own decisions.
Anyway, strangely, he’d grown rather fond of Claire, as well as her beautiful young daughter, who was so much like a young female version of Jamie, that there was no doubt who’d sired her.
The door bell rang, and the two of them jumped, being suddenly jolted out of their quiet thoughts.
“Is it him?” Claire asked immediately, and John got up and quickly went to the window to check.
“I think perhaps so.”
The door opened, and a servant stepped into the room.
“A Mr. Mackenzie is here for you, my Lord.”
“I will see him in the hall first,” John said. He looked at Claire, who was fiddling with her dress and hair.
“Oh God, do I look all right?” she asked.
John brushed down his coat and fixed his stock. He resisted the temptation to ask her the exact same question.
“Lovely. I shan’t be a moment.”
He gave her a nod, and she nodded back. The excitement and worry was written clearly on her face. Will he have me? her eyes said. Will he love me still?
He closed the door, and stepped into the entrance hall.
Jamie was standing there, bonnet in hand. He was looking well; dressed simply, of course, but Jamie could somehow manage to make the most basic of clothes look elegant. He was freshly shaven and clean, his red hair tied back neatly. John sighed, and stepped forward, offering out his hand. The tall Scot smiled and took it, giving a quick firm shake, before pulling him in and hugging him. John winced and had to resist the urge to cough as Jamie patted him hard on the back.
“It’s good to see ye, Major.”
“Yes, yes, you too. How was the journey?”
“Good.” He found himself momentarily lost for words. How was he going to tell him? He stepped from foot to foot, leaving Jamie standing there, waiting. “Ah, well… Hmm.”
“You said you needed to see me,” Jamie said, his face suddenly concerned, picking up on John’s awkwardness. “Is it my place at Helwater? Do I need to move from there? You’ve been a good friend to me, John, if I need to be transferred back to prison or away with my men, I understand.”
“Oh no, Lord no, not that,” John responded quickly. “Hmm, well, you see, there’s someone who wishes to, rather, someone who….”
“For God’s sake, man, will ye spit it out?”
John knew there was nothing else for it, he’d just have to show him. For Jamie wouldn’t believe it anyway, until he saw her with his own eyes.
“This way, if you please.”
He turned and gestured with his arm, and Jamie followed him down the hall. At the door to the drawing room, he turned and looked at his friend. Perhaps nothing would ever be the same again between them, from this moment on. Would they remain friends? Would he ever even see Jamie again? He turned the handle.
“In here. There’s someone here to see you.”
Jamie’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion, but he stepped inside.
“A Dhia,” was all he said, before collapsing.
He had stepped into the room, completely at a loss as to what the strange secrecy was all about, but he trusted John. Perhaps it was one of his men, come back from the Colonies? Jenny or Ian? Someone with a message from Lallybroch?
Instead, there in John’s drawing room, was Claire. Claire. She was dressed in a green gown with cream lace, and her hair was pinned up, with brown curls framing her face. Her pale skin glowed in the sunlight coming in through the window. He thought for a moment it was a picture of her, but then she moved, her hand suddenly covering her mouth. It had only taken a second or two to take all this in, and then everything had gone black.
He came round slowly, and upon waking he found himself rather confused about his surroundings. He was lying on the floor in a nicely furnished room. Someone was stroking his hair. His stock had been loosened. A strange memory came to him, perhaps it had been a dream, but he couldn’t quite place it. A picture, a beautiful painting… Claire!
He sat bolt upright and turned, and there she was, before him.
“That bad, is it?” she said.
His mouth opened and closed, and he found himself completely unable to form any words. It couldn’t be her, here, could it? He tentatively reached a hand out towards her, and barely brushed her temple with his fingertip.
“Am I dead?” he whispered. “This isn’t real.”
“You’re not dead,” she said. “I can barely believe it myself, but you’re really not.”
“It can’t be, you can’t… I dinna believe it.”
He took in every detail of her face, every curve of her features, every line and every shadow. It was her, his beautiful wife, yet she was different, very slightly, though he couldn’t say how.
Quite suddenly, a tear broke and trailed down her cheek, and his finger itched to touch her face again, but he was afraid that if he did, she might pop like a bubble and disappear entirely. Instead, it was Claire who reached out and touched his cheek. The effect was electrifying, and he shot backwards with a jolt.
“You’re real. You’re real.”
“I think so, yes.”
“This isn’t a dream?”
Claire laughed nervously, and her smile lit up her eyes, and Jamie’s own face reacted instinctively, smiling back.
He lunged forward suddenly, grabbing her with both hands, then wrapping his arms around her. He hugged her tightly against his chest, unable to comprehend the fact that it really was her he was touching.
“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, Jamie, you’re squeezing the bloody life out of me!”
He let go and pulled back to look at her.
“Christ, Sassenach, it really is you!”
“Yes, how many bloody-”
Her words were cut off by his lips on hers.
Claire opened her eyes and looked into the face of her husband. She could hardly believe it, here she was, with Jamie once again, and it was as if they had never been apart. He held her the same way, kissed her as he always had, looked at her with that same fire and passion that said ‘You are mine, and I am yours, if you will have me.’
He was holding her on his lap on the sofa, gripping her tightly around waist and thigh as though he intended on never letting her go. She herself had her arms around his neck, and was running her fingers through his now loose hair, enjoying the familiar scent and feel of him. She wanted to laugh and cry and scream all at once. She wanted to say so many things, things she had longed to say to him for so many years, but she couldn’t find the words. Not yet.
She laughed suddenly, a sort of nervous giggle that came out of nowhere, and he grinned at her.
“Is something funny, Sassenach? Am I strange to you now?”
“No, not at all,” she said, and she felt the tears welling. “Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“Oh, my Sassenach. Mo chridhe. I canna put into words how good it is to see ye.” He kissed her on the cheek, a solid, warm kiss close to her ear that sent delightful shivers through her. Then he pulled away to look at her, eyes wide. “The bairn. God, Claire, the child!”
“Brianna. Your daughter.”
“A daughter? I have a daughter?”
“She’s here, Jamie. She’s come with me.”
She felt his body stiffen, and saw his hand tremble visibly.
“Here? You brought her back, through the stones?”
“I couldn’t very well leave her behind, could I?”
“Christ, Claire, is she all right?”
“Yes. In fact, she seems to be happier than ever since we came back. It’s as if… well, it’s as if she’s comfortable here, like it’s her own time. Which in a way I suppose it is, sort of. She was never quite-”
“Where is she then?” Jamie said, cutting her off. “Does she know of me? Will she be here now?” He looked around, though it was surely obvious that she wasn’t in the room with them. She could feel the excitement and nervousness bubbling up in him.
“Yes, she knows. She wanted to see you more than anything. She’s the one who wanted to come back so soon. I said we should wait until she was a little older, I was so worried about us both coming through together! But she was having none of it, Jamie. She’s as stubborn as a mule. I was so scared for her, but she wasn’t afraid at all.” She got up off his lap and held out a hand to him. “Come on, come and meet your daughter.”
Jamie wasn’t sure whether he felt sick with excitement at meeting his daughter, or sick with anxiety at the prospect. What if she didna like him? What if she was afraid of him, and wanted to go back to her own time? What would they do then? Could she learn to love him? Would he manage to be a good father to her? A million thoughts ran through his mind, and each one made him more nervous than the last.
Claire led him by the hand, up the stairs. His fingers squeezed hers, perhaps a wee bit too hard, but she didn’t seem to mind. They stopped outside a door at the top of the stairs.
He took a deep breath.
“Do I look all right, Claire?”
She smiled at him, and smoothed a quick hand through his hair, before gently cupping his cheek and kissing him.
She opened the door, and led him inside.
“Bree, darling, there’s someone here wants to meet you.”
Jamie was suddenly rendered completely frozen, it was as though all the breath left his body, and time stood still. His daughter was there, on the floor, playing with what seemed to be a very tatty doll, and she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen in his life. She looked up at him with big, bright blue eyes, and smiled. The sight of it made his heart clench, like someone was squeezing him from the inside.
“Brianna.” Claire held out a hand to her and the child took it, and stood. “This is your father.”
Jamie looked down at her. She had the beautiful, pale skin of her mother, and his own blue cat eyes. Fraser eyes. Her long hair was almost the same colour as his own. He had spent time, a lot of time, over the years, imagining what he or she might look like. It had pained him, sometimes, but he did it anyway. But never had he imagined anything so perfect.
He wiped a tear from under his eye, and slowly and carefully dropped to his knees in front of her.
“Brianna?” he said questioningly, casting a quick look at Claire. Brianna? What a name! “I’m verra, verra pleased to meet ye.”
“You look like me,” she said, in her soft Highland Scots accent, and Jamie grinned. He felt the urge to laugh, but he didn’t want to look like a complete mad loon in front of his daughter, and tried to contain it.
“Aye, that I do. I’m your father, after all.”
Bree cast a quick look at her mother, who smiled at her reassuringly.
“Da!” she exclaimed suddenly, and she flung herself at him, wrapping her small arms around his neck. Jamie took her in his arms, crying and laughing as he held her. Claire knelt beside them, and hugged them together, and Jamie thought he might die from the happiness.
“Will we live with you now, Da?” she said, pulling back from him after a moment. Her small fingers tugged at a lock of his hair, combing through it. Seemingly, she was just as amazed at meeting a giant, male version of her as he was at encountering a small, female version.
“Oh, well, aye. I mean, I hope so.” Jamie was momentarily brought back down to earth, and looked worriedly at Claire.
“You need to speak with John,” she said. “He thinks he can help.”
He gave her a quick nod. That could wait. Right now, all he wanted to do was be close to his wife and daughter. Nothing would part them from him again, he would make sure of that.
Claire couldn’t stop grinning, in fact, her cheeks were beginning to ache from it. She sat in the chair in Bree’s little makeshift nursery room, watching the two of them, both sitting cross-legged on the carpet, across from one another. She thought she could never top the sight of seeing him again, that large frame, the golden-red gleam of his hair, the slanted cat eyes, her Jamie. But seeing him with his daughter, watching the two of them chattering together, looking at each other with the same cautious, curious eyes, taking each other in obviously at one time, surreptitiously at others, both at once mesmerized and shy.
She couldn’t have asked for more. Bree was always confident, so sure of herself for a five year old. Smart and brave, with good instincts, she could read people and their emotions well, her mother most of all. She was adaptable, and always wanting to learn new things and see new places, traits which had proved particularly useful, after coming back through the stones. She had taken it all in her stride.
With Jamie, she’d wondered if Bree would shrink back a little. He was an intimidating presence at the best of times, and suddenly having him there, her father, who she had never known before… well, who knew how she might react? As it was, there had been no need to worry. They were quite obviously already in love.
“It’s a sporran, sort of,” Jamie was saying, removing what looked like a small leather pouch from his belt. “Ye’ll have seen a sporran before, will ye?”
“Not like that, though.”
“Aye, well, it’s no as good as my old one, but it does for holding wee bits and bobs when I want to carry them around.” He tugged at the leather string which kept it closed, and reached inside. “D'ye want to see?”
Bree nodded again, enthusiastically, and leaned closer.
He pulled out a number of small items, and Bree’s eyes widened with awe and delight at everything he showed her. She was particularly taken by the dried mole’s foot.
“What are the stones for?” she asked, when he pulled a number of them out.
“Well, there’s one each for those I love, ye see, so I can keep everyone with me, in a way.” He picked out the piece of rough amethyst and held it out for her to take. “This pretty one is for yer mother. There’s ones for my sister, your Auntie Jenny, and yer Uncle Ian, and cousins.”
“Cousins?” Bree exclaimed excitedly.
“Aye, ye’ll have five of them.”
Bree looked at her, grinning. She’d always wanted siblings and cousins, and it had broken Claire’s heart before to think that she likely never would enjoy such a thing. Now, the prospect of having five young cousins to play with was obviously making the journey that bit more worthwhile for her daughter.
There was of course still the possibility of having more children herself, a brother or sister for Brianna. Was it too much to ask, when she had already so much love in her life again? What a gift it would be for the both of them, though, Jamie being able to hold his own newborn babe in his hands, and Bree being the older sister she so longed to be.
“And this one is yours, mo chridhe.” He handed her a round, shiny, pale pink stone, and she took it from him, smoothing her fingers over it’s warm, polished surface. “Ye see, ye were always with me, close by. Always.”
At some point, one of the servants had brought them some food and something to drink, and they all nibbled companionably. Jamie was impressed with Brianna’s appetite; it almost matched his own, quite a feat for a small, if slightly gangly, bairn of five years. He was thankful to John for leaving them alone to get acquainted. He had no idea how he would ever repay his friend for such a wondrous gift as this.
After eating, they had done little more talking, and he had found himself with his head in Claire’s lap, with Brianna curled up beside him, silently and methodically plaiting his hair into tiny braids. He held Claire’s hand and stroked her fingers, raising them to his lips every now and then to kiss her knuckles. He couldn’t remember ever being so happy. His wedding day, perhaps, but no, not even that. Nothing could compare to this; knowing that his prayers had been answered, that his wife and daughter were safe, and having them here beside him, when he hadn’t even dared to think it a possibility he would ever see them in this life.
“Ye’ve such pretty hair, Da,” Bree said, sitting up.
“Thank ye. So do you. In fact, yours is much prettier. It’ll no have bits of straw and cockle burrs in it, for one, I’ll bet.”
She began carefully undoing all the braids, frowning in concentration. After a while she gave up, and he felt her relax and fall asleep by his side. He carefully got up, picked her up and laid her on the small bed, covering her with his coat and pressing a kiss to her forehead, before sitting back down beside Claire.
“Tell me,” he said, and she did. She told him all about what happened after she went back through the stones. About Frank, about the birth, the naming of their daughter (which Jamie was still unsure of, but certainly warming to), and how she had raised her alone. She told him about Bree’s early years, her first words and steps, her likes and dislikes. She told him it all, right up to how Frank had contacted her with his research, and her decision to come back with Bree.
“It wasn’t an easy decision. I knew it could be dangerous. If it were just me, of course, I wouldn’t have had a second thought, but with Bree…”
“But ye came anyway,” Jamie said, his tone both thankful and disapproving, both at once.
“We had to, Jamie! Neither of us could just go on with life as normal. We belong with you.”
“Aye, and you both made it through alive, and I’m verra glad for it, Sassenach, but what if ye’d been hurt?”
“But we weren’t.”
Jamie rolled his eyes.
“I thought you were dead!” she blurted, her voice cracking with emotion. “Then I found out - Frank found out – that you survived. And every day I cried, knowing you were here, so far from me, but alive. I was so grateful that you had made it through the battle, but knowing I couldn’t go to you, it was horrible, Jamie!”
He put his arm around her and stroked her, shushing and trying to calm her, and she leaned into his shoulder.
“It must’ve been verra hard, I know. Ye were safe there, though, that was what mattered. I wouldne have had it another way. We did what was right, Claire.”
She sat up and pulled away from him.
“Do you not want us here? Do you want us to go back?”
“Go back? Good God, no!” Jamie said, grabbing her arm, squeezing. “Why would I want that?”
“You still want me, then?” she said shyly. “I mean, perhaps you’ve moved on.”
“Want ye? Want ye, Sassenach? Are ye mad?! I have wanted ye every single day since I first met ye, and these last six years I have wanted ye so much that I thought I should die from the need of it.” He looked over at his daughter, to check he had not awoken her, after raising his voice. He turned back to Claire, and gently stroked her chin with his knuckle. “My heart is still yours, just as it was. I will always be yours, Sassenach.”
“There’s no one else, then?”
“Of course there’s no one else,” he scoffed. His head cocked to one side questioningly. “And for you?”
“Well then,” he said, his shoulders relaxing again. “And ye still want me, too, I expect, since ye came back.”
“I expect you’re right, James Fraser.”
“Did ye really think I’d send ye away again?”
She shook her head.
“No, not really. But I couldn’t be sure, it’s been so long.”
“Too long, mo chridhe, and I have felt more ghost than man without ye, these last years. But ye are here now, and I feel a man whole again.” He squeezed her shoulder and kissed her hair. “And I thank ye for giving me such a beautiful daughter, Claire. Ye’ve done well. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to take care of her, and you.”
“We’re together now, a family.”
He looked over at his daughter, sleeping peacefully. His heart was still bursting with joy, just to see her.
“Will she love me, d'ye think?”
“Of course. How could she not?”
“Being a father to her, it’ll take some getting used to, but I’ll try hard as I can to be the father she deserves. It took me long enough to work out how to be a proper husband.”
“Oh, not that long, as I can remember.” Her head shifted from his shoulder, and she looked into his face with eyes which betrayed her thoughts, as they always did. The future was theirs, but what would it hold for them? “It will be all right, won’t it, Jamie?”
“Aye,” he said softly. “It will. Dinna be afraid, Sassenach. There’s the three of us now.”