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Taken

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“There was a crashing in the brush behind me. Someone had seen me rush from the cottage. I dashed aside the tears and scrabbled upward, groping on all fours as the ground grew steeper. I was in the clear space now, the shelf of granite I remembered. The small dogwood growing out of the cliff was there, and the tumble of small boulders.

I stopped at the edge of the stone circle, looking down, trying desperately to see what was happening. How many soldiers had come to the cottage? Could Jamie break free of them and reach his hobbled horse below? Without it, he would never reach Culloden in time.

All at once, the brush below me parted with a flash of red. An English soldier. I turned, ran gasping across the turf of the circle…”

Excerpt From: Gabaldon, Diana. “Outlander.” Chapter 46.

...and threw myself toward the cleft in the rock. Every hair on my body stood on end, charged with the electricity vibrating off the stones. I began to fall as the sound of unearthly screaming filled my ears, drowning out the clash of swords behind me. Through the shrieking void I faintly heard Jamie's desperate cry. "Run, Claire! Run!"

But just as I tumbled into the chaos, as every molecule of my body began to split apart, an iron grip wrapped around my wrist and yanked me back. Gravity found its center, and I landed on my knees on the hard, rocky soil at the foot of the stone.

For a single moment, I thought Jamie had pulled me back. But my relief transmuted into fear when my arm was twisted painfully behind my back. I craned my neck to see the pale, shocked face of the the redcoat soldier who had pursued me up the hill. He frantically began to drag me away from the stone circle, terror spurring him on. He couldn’t catch his breath, muttering disbelievingly, "What the devil was that? You were... I don't..." I felt visceral fear in the trembling of his body, despite his iron grip. His eyes were wide and frightened as he gawked at me and the stones. He must have seen me begin to disappear before he grabbed me, just as Jamie once had.

The screaming of the stones faded into a loud hum as he pushed me down the hill. I spotted Jamie far below us, the hilt of his sword locked with that of another redcoat. My husband towered over the other man by a head, and he was using his superior strength to push the smaller man to his knees. Fast approaching from the side, though, were three more soldiers. "Jamie, to your right!" I yelled out in warning.

"Shut your mouth!" my captor snapped, punching me in the jaw. I lost sight of Jamie as my head snapped back. The redcoat stumbled slightly as I tried to yank myself free, but he managed to keep his balance by shoving me roughly to the ground and planting his heavy boot in my side, twisting my right arm higher up my back. Pain shot down the limb. Any further and he would break it. With my free left hand I groped for the dirk hidden in my skirts. I could feel it digging into my right thigh, but planted face-first into the dirt as I was, could not reach it. All I was able to grasp was a small, sharp rock jabbing me in the side.

His voice steadied itself in anger. "Hold still, unholy witch! Or do you want me to use my blade?" He placed his hand on his hilt in illustration.

"Go to Hell!" I spat back as I tried to wriggle out of his grasp.

At the sound of my curse, Jamie shouted out in alarm. "Claire? Claire! You must..." The phrase ended in a grunt as he brought his sword up to block a blow from a new opponent. He kicked the man back with a foot planted to his midsection.

Jamie held his broadsword in his left hand, his dirk in his right. Three redcoats stood round him, swords drawn. Two of the men were nearly identical in appearance, both of middling height and stringy brown hair, likely brothers, or even twins. One of these had engaged Jamie. The third was taller, and fair. The first man to arrive lay still on the ground several feet away, blood pouring from a fatal neck wound. Jamie used his long reach to his advantage, whirling in a dangerous arc, slashing his sword to keep the soldiers at bay. One of the brothers reached for the pistol at his waist, but he was too close. Jamie lunged at him before he could raise it high enough to aim, nearly taking the hand off at the wrist. His brother yelled his name as blood sprayed from the severed radial artery. “Joseph!”

My attacker looked toward the sound of their screams, and I felt his grip loosen infinitesimally. I swung my left fist into his calf, jabbing the rock into the soft flesh just above his boot. It wasn't sharp enough to do any real damage, but he was startled enough that I was able to free my wrist. With my right hand I grabbed the dirk from the folds of my skirt, and I rammed it into his other leg, pain lancing down my shoulder with the motion.

He stumbled back, howling, but did not fall. I saw what he meant to do, and I scrambled forward along the ground for the knife still embedded in his calf. But my injured right shoulder could not bear my weight and collapsed under me. The soldier ruthlessly yanked out the blade and threw it behind him, where it clattered against the rocks. "Bloody witch! You'll pay for this!"

His sword hissed as he pulled it from its sheath. From below, Jamie spotted the shining metal and screamed my name, drawing the attention of his opponents up to us. Jamie started to run toward me, futile though it was. He was much too far. The redcoat looming over me raised the sword high. Jamie would never reach me before he ran me through.

But before he could bring it down, a voice stopped him. “Halt! Take her alive! She’s wanted for questioning.” The tall, fair soldier pointed at Jamie. “This is Red Jamie, so she must be his wife!”

Jamie had been right. He was too conspicuous, his great size and bright red hair were too well known. They knew exactly who he was. He rushed up toward us, but his pursuers were too close. One of the brothers cut off his progress with a wide slash across his back. Joseph, the wounded infantryman, stood slightly to the side, fumbling at his waist for his sword. As Jamie whirled around, I saw blood blossoming across his shirt. Terror cut off the scream threatening to fly from my throat.

Jamie seemed to hardly notice the wound. He parried with his dirk, managing to deflect his attacker’s sword away from his throat. With his left hand, he thrust his broadsword toward the redcoat’s chest, but the other man fell just out of reach, tripping over a fallen log and directly into his brother, knocking the pistol to the ground. Jamie took advantage of their distraction to aim a savage blow to the base of the soldier’s sword, sending it flying. Before the redcoat could bring his own pistol up, Jamie drove his broadsword between the man’s ribs and into his heart.

Behind him, Joseph caught the falling body. “Isaac! Isaac! You barbarian bastard!” he screamed, cradling his brother to his chest as their blood mixed together and seeped to the ground. “What have you done? What have you done? Isaac! Isaac!”

The yellow-haired soldier circled around Jamie, barely glancing up the hill at us. He pulled his gun from his hip with one hand, and with the other, gripped his sword. Indeed, other than Jamie, he seemed to be the only one with all his wits and weapons about him. He kept his eyes on the Scot who had killed two of his friends, but his words were aimed at the man standing above me. He trained his gun directly at Jamie. “Take her back to the Corporal. He’ll find out everything she knows. I’ll take care of this one.”

“But Richard, don’t they want to question him, too?” my captor questioned as he wrapped a length of rope around my wrists, binding them painfully together behind my back. I thrashed and bucked against him, to no avail.

“Red Jamie here isn’t going to let us take him alive, I don’t think. They’ll be happy enough when we bring them his head, and we’ll still find out everything she knows. We’ll split his bounty between us.”

Rage, despair, and terror were written on Jamie’s face as he started up at me, trying to figure how how to free me. He snarled, “I willna let ye take her. Let my wife go, else I’ll send ye straight to Hell with yer friends. Let her go!”

Richard shrewdly narrowed his eyes at Jamie. I could see him contemplating the possibilities. He cocked the gun. “You don’t have much a choice about the matter, though, do you?”

“I dinna need a choice! I will die, aye, but I will take all o’ ye with me when I go!”

Richard’s lips thinned into a wide grin. Something clicked into place, and squared his shoulders. “If that’s how you feel, I think I’ll make you suffer for the short time you have left. I’ve changed my mind,” he yelled. “Slit her throat. I want him to watch her die.”

I felt myself being yanked up and back by my hair. My neck was bared to Jamie’s eyes, but I could not see his. All I could see were the flashing pupils and the filthy teeth of the man above me, and the dark clouds far above his head. The sharp edge of his dagger pressed into my throat, opening a thin laceration. “Gladly,” he leered.

“Stop! Stop!” Jamie screamed. “She’s done nothing to ye! Dinna touch her! Claire!”

“Then drop your weapons!” Richard demanded. “Drop them now, or she dies! Drop your weapons, and come with us peacefully. There’s a certain Captain who would like a word with you, I believe. Come with us, and she will live to see the morning. But one wrong move, and you’re both dead!”

The thought of Jamie unarmed sent fear through my heart, but it was a chance. If we were captured, we might have the chance to escape. Certainly our chances were better than they would be with a blade severing my carotid artery and a bullet through Jamie’s heart. I heard his dirk and broadsword clatter to the ground.

“On your knees,” Richard ordered. And up the hill he yelled, “Take her. Take her to the Corporal. He’ll pass her along to the Captain.”

The blade lifted away, but not without deliberately nicking me along the jaw. “No trouble now, you understand?” His breath was hot and stale on my face. “You’re going to do exactly what I say, or you’ll find out exactly what I can do to you without actually killing you.”

His threat barely registered. I was too preoccupied with the scene below. As I was dragged away, I saw Jamie kneeling on the ground, his eyes hopelessly locked on mine. “Mo chridhe,” he cried. “I will find you!”

Joseph carefully moved to the side, out of the firing line of Richard’s pistol. The infuriated man ignored what remained of his bleeding wrist and hissed, “You will not. You will never see her again. You will never see anything again!” He glared at Richard. “He is mine. Do you understand? Mine to kill. My justice. My brother lies dead, and this brute took him. I will take his life in return!”

“No! No!” I screamed frantically, but they weren’t even looking at us. “That’s not what you said! He’s done exactly as you asked!” The soldier whistled, and a large gelding trotted toward us.

My terror rose as my captor bound my ankles together and hauled me over his shoulder. I twisted around, barely catching a glimpse of Jamie, still staring after me. His hands were folded behind his head in resignation. I knew he spared no thought for his fate. Mine was all that mattered to him now. But his was all that mattered to me. As I was carried off, I could hear snatches of an argument. Joseph wanted to kill him now, and increasingly, Richard seemed inclined to let him. Jamie’s bounty was equal dead or alive, and he would be much less trouble if he were dead. I screamed useless protests into the wind, but no one listened.

We crested the hill. Soon Jamie would be entirely out of sight.

To my horror, the last thing I saw before I was tossed gracelessly onto the back of the horse, my head bouncing off its flank on one side, my legs bumping together on the other, was Richard handing his pistol to Joseph. I struggled wildly, trying to throw myself off the steed, or at least twist around to see what was happening to Jamie. I managed to kick my captor’s ear before he grew angry and brought the butt of his pistol down across my temple.

Pain radiated through my skull, but in desperation, I rolled my shoulder backward and tossed myself off the horse. As I fell, I spotted Joseph raising the pistol to the back of Jamie’s head.

My scream was cut off by another sharp blow against my skull. As my vision faded into a tunnel, and sight faded into a pinprick, I heard a single report echoing through the hills. My last thought before losing consciousness was that all was lost. It did not matter whether I would wake again.

The pistol pointed at Jamie’s head had been fired.

Chapter Text

Jamie's gut twisted at the sound of Claire's screams fading into the distance, but he forced himself to focus on the two remaining redcoats. As long as he could still hear her, she breathed. She was alive and held their bairn within her. Therefore he too must live, must survive long enough to free her and see them safe. He would do her no good as a corpse, though Joseph was bent on turning him into one as soon as possible.

The furious infantryman stood behind him and slightly to his right, shaking with grief and pain. His left hand hung at an unnatural angle, barely connected to his arm, blood spurting rhythmically onto the ground. Rather than see to the deadly wound, he used his good arm to aim his shaking sword at Jamie’s neck.

“Let me bind that,” Richard said. “Otherwise you won't last long enough to kill him, let alone to collect the bounty with me.”

Joseph shook his head, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Then I'll do it now, and gladly, and it will be the last thing I ever do.” He pressed the sharp point into Jamie’s flesh.

But Richard grabbed his injured hand, and he drew back with a cry. “I'm not telling your mother that both her sons are gone, man! I won't lose three of you today, not to this bloody traitor. See here.” Keeping his flintlock pistol trained on Jamie, he sheathed his own sword and guided Jacob’s sword into its scabbard, and finally pressed his pistol into Jacob’s hand. “Hold this on him, and shoot him in the head if he blinks at you the wrong way.” Swiftly he pulled a cloth from his pocket and tried to wrap it around the gaping wound.

At that moment, Claire’s remote cry suddenly choked off. Jamie’s heart nearly stopped. What had just happened? The bastard hadn't cut her throat, had he? He wouldn't, not when she was more valuable alive than dead. She knew secrets, many of them. Names. Dates. Locations. Treachery, all. Surely that was worth keeping her alive, at least until the battle was won and the rebellion snuffed out? But did the redcoat know that? Had he any reason to believe that a woman would possess any knowledge worth stealing? Would he trouble himself to transport a traitor, a violent one at that, considering the blood soaking his breeks, without the promise of any reward? The price lay upon Jamie’s head, not his wife’s. Or would he cut her down the moment she became too troublesome? He prayed to God that it had not happened already. He strained to catch sight of them through the trees, but they were already gone.

Behind him, Joseph grunted in pain. Jamie held his breath and waited for his moment. Swiftly he scanned the ground for anything he could use. His broadsword and dirk had been kicked aside, and they lay well out of reach. They even discovered the small sgian dubh he kept in his boot. Richard had tucked into his own belt. Jamie meant to get it back, and soon, for it was the very same blade that he had just used to carve his initial into Claire’s hand. The matching “C” throbbed reassuringly on his own palm.

Then his eyes landed on the dead body stretched out beside him. The man’s sword was discarded in the grass, but it was too far away. He would not reach it before Jacob shot him. The pistol? It had fallen somewhere under the body. If he lunged, he might find it. But could he wrest it free, cock it, and turn around with enough time to aim before he was killed? Unlikely. Then he spotted a telltale shape in the man’s boot, just inches away. Yes, that was it.

Jamie bent his head, crumpling forward and letting out a choked sob of his wife's name. Despite his movement, no shot flew at his head. Good. They were too preoccupied by their attempts to staunch the flow of blood from Joseph's wound, and they didn’t realize what he was doing. He certainly sounded genuine enough, as his despair over Claire was entirely real.

“It isn’t enough,” Richard told Joseph. “I can’t stop it with this.”

Jamie suspected they were no longer watching him so closely and slowly lowered his hands onto his thighs, affecting a position of defeat, but actually curling into readiness.

The injured brother asked in trepidation, “What do you mean to do?”

The answer was clipped. “Heat. We need to fire a blade.”

When Joseph began to protest, Jamie took advantage of his distraction. He grabbed the small dagger from the dead man’s boot and jammed it backward into Joseph’s foot, slicing straight through the leather and lodging into bone.

With a strangled cry, Joseph dropped the pistol straight into Jamie’s waiting hand. In one smooth motion, he brought it up, cocked it, and fired into Richard’s chest. Jamie rose to his feet just as Joseph’s fist smashed into his nose, sending blood coursing down his lip. With Jamie momentarily dizzy, Joseph yanked the sword from his scabbard and swiped it in an arc toward Jamie’s arm. Jamie turned just in time to block it with the barrel of the pistol and threw a vicious punch into Joseph’s freshly dressed wrist. The sword slipped from his hand, and as he doubled over, Jamie slammed his elbow into the other man’s face. His opponent slumped onto the body of his brother. Beside them, Richard lay gasping, clutching at his chest in futility.

Jamie didn’t hesitate. He grabbed the nearest sword and finished off both men with efficient slashes to their throats. He considered their swift deaths to be mercy.  

Quickly he reclaimed his weapons and stripped the bodies of theirs, slipping a second dagger into his other boot, tucking two of their flintlocks into his belt, and adding ammunition to his sporran. The rest he strapped to his horse, should he have need of them later, and mounted, turning the horse in the direction that Claire had disappeared.

He wished he had sent Fergus off to Lallybroch on a different horse so that Donas should be here beneath him. Devil he may be, but he was fast. This one was steady and reliable in a fight, but not made for racing. He dug in his heels and pushed him as swiftly as he would go.

Now that the acute danger had passed, his emotions began to overtake him. Terror first, for Claire’s fate. But underlying his fear at her capture was guilt. Not only had he failed to protect her, but it was his fault that she didn't make it through the stones in time. He had been so desperate to possess her one final time, unable to face the void of a future, no matter how short, without her, that he had pushed her against the wall and wasted precious seconds rutting at her like an animal. It had taken only seconds, but seconds would have made the difference. Had he not given in to his base need, she would be safe right now.

Worse yet, beneath the fury and the terror and the guilt, he was ashamed to be relieved. Relieved that she had not disappeared through the stones. Relieved that she was in the hands of the enemy, a stranger who had stuck her, who had held his blade against her lovely, long throat and drawn blood, who might do any kind of violence toward her. Relieved because no matter how much danger she was in, Claire remained in his world, in his time. Had she fallen through the stones, she would be safe. But though she would be safe, he would never see her again. Never again look into her whiskey eyes, nor see them blaze with passion or fury. Never again touch her graceful curves, nor trace the thin veins through her fine opal skin. Never again press his mouth against her sweet smile, nor pull rich laughter from her throat. Never again parry with her brilliant mind, nor enjoy her quick wit. Never again hold her close, nor lose himself in the sanctity of her body. Never again hear her blissful cries in his ear as he moved inside her, nor reach the peaks of pleasure with her. Never feel the movement of their bairn in her belly, nor cradle their child in his arms. All might still be lost to him. But when the redcoat pulled her back, he unwittingly gave Jamie a chance, a chance to keep that which, in this world and the next, was most precious to him. Had she gone through the stones, his heart, his hope, his soul, his entire future would have been lost.

Once before he had tried to send her away, and it had been the hardest thing he had ever done. Since then, his boundless love for her, his aching need of her, had only grown. Now he had but one choice. He had vowed to her that he would find her, and find her he would.




Chapter Text

A thick layer of clouds rolled across the sky, blotting out the moon and stars. Jamie's pursuit was hidden by darkness, but likewise his search was hampered as well. He couldn't see them, but their horse’s hooves left welts in the muddy ground. But for a few wrong turns which he quickly corrected, he was able to follow. They had a head start, but he wasn't very far behind, and their horse was burdened with two riders.

Briefly, the clouds parted, and a shaft of moonlight spilled onto the field. He was lucky to spy them at the edge of the open plain, only yards from disappearing into the cover of the forest. His chest clenched at the sight. Claire was bonelessly slumped over the horse’s haunches and clearly would have fallen off were she not tied down. The ropes were sure to leave painful burns on her delicate skin. Jamie gritted his teeth. If he rescued her… No, when he rescued her, he would kiss them all away, one by one.

He carefully took note of the spot where they entered the woods and spurred his steed toward it. There was no road cut through the trees, nor even a well-trodden path. The trail was not at all obvious. Dead leaves covered the forest floor, cushioning it against obvious tracks. He might have lost them altogether were it not for a torn scrap of her dress clinging to a blackthorn shrub. He gripped tightly it in his fist as he thought of her being treated so callously, her long limbs crashing against each branch, her soft skin scraping against every thorn. For every mark left on her flesh, he would give her captor a matching wound before taking final vengeance on the man.

Farther in, he saw a yellow light bobbing between the thick trees. He dismounted and tied up his horse, not wanting to give his own position away, and silently crept forward, dirk and broadsword drawn. But the pair of redcoats he spotted were arguing with each other over a whore, and did not have Claire, so he wasted no time engaging them. He returned for his horse and continued on. Soon he realized that the area was crawling with English infantry. He easily avoided a pair of drunken soldiers who were sharing a bottle under a large oak, as well as a group of lads, the oldest of whom was yet unable to grow a beard, each loudly bragging about likely fabricated exploits with girls in their home villages. Then he was nearly caught by a pair of riflemen hunting a startled hare for their supper. Only the darkness and a tangled maze of apple trees kept their bullets from finding their mark. After that, he was forced to slow his progress to favor stealth over speed, and by the time he was certain he was not being pursued, he had no idea where Claire had been taken, nor how to find her.

When he saw the lights in the distance, though, and smelled the mingling scents of woodsmoke and freshly dug latrines, he knew where he was. In an open field sat row upon row of neatly ordered tents and campfires. At least two full English regiments were camped on the far side of the wood, and somewhere amidst the mass of English soldiers, was his wife.

XxxxX

Jamie did his best to circle the camp from the cover of the woods, trying to spy any sign of Claire. But the camp was large, and he could only see the periphery, which told him nothing. How was he to gain entry, let alone find her and spirit her away? An attempt to rescue her from the middle of the English army was more likely to get her killed than simply leaving her where she was.

When he had nearly reached the edge of the forest, the unmistakable sound of clashing swords gave him pause. He carefully crept forward to see the only thing that could have paused his search for Claire: Murtagh stood alone against three redcoats, his dirk locked against a British saber on his left, and wielding his claymore against a bayonet on his right.

The man standing farthest back spotted Jamie as he ran forward, broadsword drawn, but his warning cry wasn’t quick enough for his friend. Jamie ran through the man with the saber before his opponent realized what was going on, and he made quick work of the sentry, who ran over to help. Without the aid of his fellows, the man with the bayonet stood no chance against Murtagh.

Wiping his brow, Jamie demanded to know, “What’re ye doing here, man?”

“I should ask you the same! I’m here to find you,” Murtagh answered, cleaning his blade. “Ye took too long, lad. I knew you wouldna abandon the men, not even for Claire. I gathered them, just as ye asked, but when ye didna come back…”

Jamie pointed toward the camp, his voice shaking, and told as much as he could. For a single moment, his godfather's normally stern face shifted, showing his dismay. In his own way, he loved Claire too. “They have her. The English, they took her. It’s my fault. I wanted her too much. If I hadna been sae greedy, she would be safe!”

Murtagh shook his head. “Nay, there’s nowhere safe, not here, not anymore. It was brave o’ you to try, but…”

“There was a place for her!” Jamie interrupted. “She would have been safe, were it no for me. But I wasna strong enough to face a future wi’out her, so they took her!”

Murtagh grabbed him by the shoulders. “But she lives? Does she live, lad?”

Jamie took a deep breath. “Aye. Last I saw her, she lived. She was hurt. The redcoat bashed her upon the head and knocked her out, but aye.”

“Brave lassie. And they took her here?” Murtagh peered toward the camp, though they could see none of it from their position deep in the woods. “D’ye know where they have her? Did you see?”

“No. But she must be here. They were headed this way, and there’s nothing else here. They said something about passing her on to a Colonel, and then along to a Captain, for questioning.”

Murtagh nodded. “Then here she’ll be, so we’ll find her. How d’ye mean to free her?”

“I will go to her. If I have to, I will kill every man who stands between me and her! I will find her. I swear it!”

“Dinna be daft! Ye can hardly take two steps before running into a redcoat. Even if ye trade yer kilt for these redcoat clothes, yer voice and yer hair and yer height will give you away. And ye canna just stroll through the camp callin’ out her name! Then, e’en if ye find her, she’ll be under guard, if no’ in the middle of bein’ interrogated. Do ye really think ye can kill every man standing within fifty feet of her? Say that works. How d’ye plan to get her out? Carry her out like a blushing bride?” At Jamie’s desolate silence, the older man squinted at him, quickly assessing his intent to enter the camp alone. “Nay. Ye canna do it on yer own. You'll need my help, and should it come down to a fight in the middle of a regimental camp, more than mine alone. Else all three of us will lie dead here, and no one left to lead the men into battle.”

Jamie exploded. “I canna be in both places at once, Murtagh! I am ready to die today, but no before I free my wife. I willna leave her to them. For all I know, the Captain they mean to leave her to is Randall!”

Murtagh put a hand on his arm. “We willna leave her to the English. I promise ye that, lad. Listen here. You go to Culloden Moor. Find the Lallybroch men on the field, and bring them here. Whatever happened with Dougal, it willna matter until the battle is done. Tell them you will lead yer own men to the front line, and they willna question you coming this way, for we can hardly get closer to the English than this. Once the fighting begins, the camp will near empty. We can go for her then. I will wait here and see what I can see about yer wife. And if ye dinna return, I swear on your mother’s soul, I will see her free before I die.”

Jamie hated to ride away from Claire, but he knew Murtagh was right. He had an obligation, not only to his men, but to their wives and children back home. He could not abandon them all to die alone on the field without their Laird. If he returned to lead them, he would not be questioned, not when they were riding toward the English camp, rather than away from it. If Murtagh went, there was little reason to think they would be allowed to follow him back, not when Broch Tuarach was missing, and wanted for murder.

XxxxX

He reached Culloden Moor quickly, then slowed his horse. Perhaps it was the raw determination written on his face, or the grim, steady pace at which he rode past, or simply the desolation and hunger of the remaining Scots. Or perhaps it was simple luck. But no one, not even the MacKenzies, stopped to take him into custody. Word of Dougal’s death had reached the field, but the Clans were too preoccupied with the possibility of their own impending doom to bother with his.

It felt like he wasted precious, invaluable time searching for his men, but in reality, he reached them less than an hour after he had left Murtagh. He led them back toward the English camp, saying that they would take position at the front lines. But once they breached the wood, he told them that this was his last day as their Laird. He would fall that day, either to an English sword or, if he somehow survived, by the noose for the murder of the War Chief of Clan MacKenzie, whom he had killed in defense of their Lady. He told them that the Lady Broch Tuarach had the sight, and she knew that the Clans would fall that day, and that Dougal had killed her for the knowledge. She had done everything she could to change the course of fate, but it was not within her power. To stay at Culloden was death, or, once the battle was lost, treason. But though she could not save the Clans, she wished to save them. They could melt into the trees, one by one, and turn for home. The night still lay thick about them. Some may be caught, but some could find their way back. Some would see their families again. They were free to leave that very second.

Or they could come with him. Their Lady had been taken by the English. She would be questioned, tortured, and finally imprisoned or killed. Their Laird would free her or die in the attempt. If any would come with him, he would gladly have them.

Most turned reluctantly away and faded into the woods, one by one. He did not begrudge them their departures, for they had wives and children who needed them. But the Mitchells, cottars who had lived on Fraser land for countless generations, stood unmoving. Claire had healed Gavin’s youngest child and wife of a deadly illness, personally sitting by their beds through long nights and administering the herbs that broke their fevers. Moreover, by following her bizarre instructions of hygiene and quarantine, had prevented the spread of the disease amidst their families. “I go with you,” said Gavin. Gregor, his brother, and Aiden, his wife’s kinsman, followed wordlessly.

Murtagh was waiting exactly where he had left him, but instead of his well-worn kilt, bore the uniform of a redcoat. “I nearly killed ye where ye stand, man! What are you wearing?” Jamie demanded.

“Exactly what it looks like. Dinna fash. I took it from one of the men you helped me with earlier. I dinna think he’s bathed in a year, but it was worth it. I was able to find out where they have Claire.”

Jamie’s jaw dropped open. “How? Where?”

Murtagh’s eyes sparkled. “I put this on and walked through camp, that’s how. Carried this.” He held up a wine cask. “I stumbled ‘round, lookin’ slightly worse for wear. No one gave me a second glance.”

“But ye said I couldna’ just stroll through camp! What were ye thinking? Have ye lost yer mind?”

“Aye,” Murtagh answered smugly. “Perhaps I have. But Jamie, lad, you aren't the only one wants to see yon lassie’s smile again, do ye ken?”

“Where is she?” Gavin broke in.

Murtagh’s face turned grim again. “‘Tis just as we feared. She's being questioned by an officer. I saw them taking her to his tent.”

“How was she? Was she well? How did she look?” Jamie had to know.

“Weel,” Murtagh paused as he tried to figure out how much to say. “She was none too steady on her feet, ‘tis true. But she could walk. And the Captain, following the first great shock of it, he was a bit too pleased to see her. 'Twas Randall, ye ken.”

Jamie nearly screamed in rage. Randall was a monster, though a human one. That much he had seen over the dying body of Randall’s brother. But it was too much to hope that Black Jack would spare Claire for the memory of Alexander. Even if he possessed a shred of sympathy, which Jamie was certain he did not, too many of his fellow officers were nearby. This was war, and she was a traitor. They would be suspicious of any leniency he showed her. Moreover, Randall had held an unnatural fascination with Claire from the moment he saw her, and his obscene attraction to her only grew when he discovered she was Jamie’s. Surely he would now want to avenge himself on the wife of the man who had unmanned him? Though he no longer possessed the means with which to torture her in the exact manner he had tortured Jamie, Jamie had no doubt that he would be creative, thorough, and brutal in his interrogation of Claire. How he wished he had killed the man during their Paris duel, or even by Alexander’s deathbed, or better yet, when he found the man bent over his wife at Fort William. Today he would have no such restraint.

The men quickly devised a plan of rescue, and without hesitation, began to execute it. They had initially planned to wait until the camp emptied for battle, but Jamie would not wait. He would not leave Claire in Randall’s hands for one second longer than he had to. They stripped the two remaining English infantry of their uniforms, which Gavin and Aiden put on.

Jamie had spotted a poorly-guarded supply wagon on the road to camp. The five Scots moved silently toward it. One redcoat snored in its bed; another sat staring listlessly into a small watchfire. Aiden walked directly up to the fire, making as if to warm his hands, and Jamie crept up behind the man and snapped his neck before he knew what had happened. The Mitchell brothers disposed of the sleeping guard without even waking him. Now there were enough uniforms for all of them, ill fitting though they were. Aiden had travelled, and knew how to mimic an English voice, so he leapt into the wagon’s seat to drive it into camp, Murtagh sat beside him to show him the way. Jamie, Gavin, and Gregor hid themselves under a tarp in the bed of the wagon between sacks of barley and flour.

As he waited in the dark, bumping silently along the road, Jamie finally spared a thought for his uncle, his foster-father. Dougal had treated him like a son, had taught him to fight, and had helped shape him into a man. Yet deep in his bones, he had known for a long time that it would come to this. One of them would stand, or the other. Not both. It did not matter that he had no desire to become the MacKenzie. The title stood between them, and after that, Claire. Dougal’s desire for his wife had not escaped Jamie. Not only did Dougal not bother to hide it, but Jamie easily recognized the signs, reflected as they were in his own base desires. Even after she became Dougal’s kinswoman, his eyes followed her with unshielded lust, and his hands twitched with the desire to touch her whenever she walked by. Though Jamie did not want to admit it, knowledge of these things made it easier to kill his uncle.

Here was one more death, one more sin, to place on the scales of judgement on the day he would stand before God. And yet, since Dougal, he had killed seven more. And he would spill yet more blood before the sun rose. Was Dougal’s death worth more than the others? Was it worse to kill his kin than to kill a stranger? And was it worse to kill to save his wife’s life, or Murtagh’s, than it was to fulfill his oath to his King? One was murder, and the other treason. But would God consider either a sin? For to kill was to violate God’s commandment, yes. But it was to God that he had sworn an oath to protect of his wife, and to obey his King. So would God consider it a greater to sin to kill, or to break his oaths? There was no joy in the killings, but he did so without hesitation. He knew not what God would say, but Jamie held no guilt over the defense of his wife. He had meant it when he told her he would follow her even to Hell, were that where she was bound.

As it was, Jamie was certain he would, at the least, be sent to Purgatory for his crimes, whatever they were. For he did not expect to survive but for a few hours. Be it on the battlefield, or in the middle of the English camp, he expected to die. He prayed only that he would see Claire free before his life must end. Then he would stand in judgement before God, and were she safe, she and the bairn, he would accept whatever punishment he was given for his sins. His heart was set. He was ready. For he had lived his life according to his conscience, and he had already been rewarded with the greatest gift God could give a man. His Claire. He would gladly endure the years of Purgatory, long though they would be, were she someday to be returned to him once more.

Chapter Text

My skull throbbed with pain, and lights flashed before my eyes. I tried to pry them open, but my eyelids felt too heavy. I slowly floated to the surface of consciousness, feeling bone-deep soreness throughout my body. My skin stung as if fire-ants crawled over me. My shoulders felt stretched to the breaking point. My spine curved backward into an unnatural arch, tension radiating through all my limbs, which were pinned behind me. But none of this pain compared to the stabbing in my heart as I recalled my last memory of Jamie, kneeling in the grass below Craig Na Dun, pistol aimed at his head. The expression on his face was dismay, not for his own fate, but for mine. The sound of the shot still echoed in my ears. Was it possible that I would never see him again? Never look into his bright, dancing eyes? Never hear the rumble of his brogue? Never twine his fingers with mine? Never feel his large, gentle hands caressing my skin? He was such a huge, vital presence in the world. Nothing could fill the void he left behind. I wanted to sink into the ground, to fade out of this plane of existence. I didn’t want to exist in a world without Jamie Fraser.

Then I remembered what he had asked of me. I remembered the baby, the only thing that would be left of him. Gunshot or no, Jamie had meant to send me away, and I had meant to go. For the sake of the child, for the sake of his child, I had intended to walk away from my own heart, had meant to pass through the stones to live in a world where he had already been dead for over a century. I did this knowing that Jamie would not live to see the end of the day.

I had to be strong. I had to go on. So long as I carried his child within me, so long as some part of him remained in the universe, I must go on.

Despite my grief, my senses began to sharpen as I woke. The tears in my eyes caused the flashing lights under my eyelids to coalesce into a vague red hue. The stench of unwashed male filled my nostrils, mixed with smells of cooking fires and horses. I tried to stretch out and roll over before realizing that my wrists were still bound behind my back, as were my ankles. Two distinct and unfamiliar voices muttered angrily somewhere behind me. I opened my eyes in narrow slits, trying to figure out where I was without revealing that I had awoken. Well-worn, heavy canvas filled my vision. I lay on my left side, sharp pebbles digging into my hip and thigh. From what I could tell, I was on the ground in a poorly-lit military tent. No light filtered through the crack between the canvas wall and the ground, so it must still be night, though beyond that, I couldn’t tell how much time had passed.

The men seemed to be discussing the fate of the rest of their company, and by the sound of it, none of their fellows had returned. The deeper voice said, “Then they should be back by now, shouldn’t they? Why didn’t you go back for them?”

“They had him on his knees, Colonel. They were about to execute him. I heard the shot. Jameson told me to get her back here to you, so I did as he said.”

“And you’re sure it was Red Jamie? You’re certain?”

He gave a noise of assent. “The man was exactly his likeness, the poster come to life. Although I suppose it’s possible there’s more than one Scot stands halfway past six foot, bright red mane, fights like the devil himself…”

“Then you should have known not to leave them alone. Something’s wrong. They should be back by now. Even accounting for a burial, they should be back by now. We don’t leave men behind, do we?”

“No, sir.” Then, reluctantly, “It’s just that they seemed to have the matter fully in hand.”

“Were either of them injured?”

The other man admitted, “Yes, sir. Joseph. The barbarian nearly took his hand off with his sword.”

A concerned grunt followed. “I don’t like it. He, at least, should be back by now. To seek medical attention. Did you see him fall? Red Jamie? Did you see his body?”

“Well no, sir…”

A surge of hope rose in my chest. Surely the remaining two redcoats would have returned after killing Jamie? Had he somehow managed to evade the bullet, or were they simply taking their time digging graves for those who had died? They wouldn’t, not with Joseph wounded as he was. Had they simply been accosted on their return? What had happened?

“At least you brought the woman. Pass her straight on to Randall. He’ll be right pleased to take her, though the pair of them would be better. I’d say we should question her ourselves, but you and I need to go back to the Ring and see about the others.”

There was an awkward pause as the young man prodded at my leg with his foot, trying to wake me so that he didn’t have to carry me. “D’you think what they say is true? About what Red Jamie did to him?”

“If it is, God help her. For Randall was already a mad bastard before the duel. If he can’t have his revenge on the Scot, he’ll take it out on his woman.”

Even this sickening news couldn’t dampen my spirits, not when there existed the possibility that Jamie still lived, even if only for a few more hours.

XxxxX

His eyes were sunken in his face, shadows deep beneath them. His dark hair was pulled back untidily by a ragged black ribbon. The bones in his face were prominent, as if his skin was stretched thin over his skull. His uniform, normally neatly pressed and immaculate, was haphazardly crumpled into a corner of his tent, and his shirt was stained with dirt. He looked malnourished and exhausted. He hadn't heard us come in, and was staring listlessly into the flame of his lantern when we entered. But his eyes brightened with a dark light when he saw me. “Mrs. Fraser! What a surprise.”

“We captured her today, sir. The Colonel told me you'd want to question her.”

Randall’s eyes flicked away from mine for a moment, but he looked behind me, not at the soldier who had brought me. “And Mr. Fraser?”

The young man hedged, “Ahh… He is not with us, sir.”

Randall’s brow quirked up. “I'm surprised he let you out of his sight, mistress. And on a night like tonight.”

“He did resist us. As did she. The others had him in hand when I left.”

Randall’s voice was quiet. “Did they now? Should I expect someone else to be along shortly to give report?”

An awkward cough followed. “The Colonel and I are returning to where I left them, at the ring of stones. Shall we bring you a report of our findings?”

Randall sighed heavily, rolling his eyes. “He's even more ignorant than he seems, isn't he?” This was directed at me. “Perhaps you can fill me in, Mrs. Fraser?” I stared at him as stonily as I could and did not reply. He deserved to know of neither my grief nor my newfound hope. When I did not answer, he asked the soldier, “Were they with his men? Were there others where you found them, by the stones?”

“They were alone. I don't know what they were doing there, sir. No one else seemed to be about.”

Quickly Randall determined that my escort knew nothing and sent him away. He told the sentry posted outside his tent not to enter under any circumstances, and then he turned to me.  “What were you doing out there? An odd place to be on any night. Even odder, today. Why the stones? What business did you have there?”

He didn’t really expect me to answer, and indeed, I didn’t. On any other day, I would have been terrified. In fact, I should have been terrified. But he had already done his worst to us, to Jamie and I, and we had endured. Tonight, I had already experienced enough heartache to last a lifetime. Now there was nothing he could do to me that would hurt more. A calm peace settled over me like a blanket, aided perhaps by my exhaustion. I had no energy left for fear. I raised my chin and looked him straight in the eye, smoothing my features into a placid mask, and said nothing.

He tried again. “What on earth were you doing? Rather a morbid place to visit before a battle. What’s up there? Your husband doesn't strike me as someone who prays to the old pagan gods, nor do you. Were you meeting someone?”

I did not answer.

Leaving me standing in the center of his tent, he approached, standing too close for comfort. After staring at me for long minutes, he reached out to touch a bruise on my temple, and I forced myself not to flinch, though the tip of a single finger barely grazed my skin. “You’ve had a rough go of it, haven’t you? Mmm.” I sensed, rather than felt, his hand skimming along my jaw and neck. “It hardly matters now, as the rebellion will be nothing but a bad memory by tomorrow, for there is no doubt in my mind that we will crush the Scots into the ground. But I really must know. Who are you, Mrs. Fraser? Who are you really?”

I glared at him, giving him nothing.

He sighed slowly, humming tunelessly. His voice was low and falsely seductive. The corner of his mouth quirked up, and very quietly, he murmured, “Whoever you are, you are a very beautiful woman, even now, even looking like this.” He tilted his head to indicate my disarray, and scanned up and down my body. “I can see why he was so taken with you.” He held still, hand hovering just next to my skin, but nothing touching, deliberately trying to unsettle me. I didn’t move. “From the first I met you, I knew there was something about you. It drew me to you. Such spirit. He saw the same thing, didn’t he?” He bent low enough that I could feel his breath in my ear. “What about you? What did you see in him? Did you see what I saw, the very first time I met him? Did you know what he was, from the very first moment? Because I did.”

When I didn’t blink, didn’t clench my fists or react in any way, he moved behind me, stopping when he saw my wrists bound behind my back. He ran his thumb along the coarse rope. “Ah. This is lovely. You are lovely, my dear. Are these too tight? They’ve left burns, haven’t they? They’ll be beautiful on you. I’ll see them later, when you’re ready. Such fine skin, so soft. I can almost see right through you.” Very delicately, he traced his finger up my arm. “The human body is so delicate, so fragile, yet simultaneously so powerful, so resilient. Mmm. I confess that I have always had a weakness. The marks one can make on skin, it’s simply marvelous. A better canvas I couldn’t ask for, nor better paint. Do you know all the colors of red found in human blood? Bright, dark, deep, light. Or the purple bloom of a bruise, more beautiful than any rose.” He placed his other hand on my jaw and tilted me back, as if to kiss me. “Have you noticed the way light reflects off tears? Prettier than diamonds. And you… You are so beautiful already. I can make you into a true work of art. You will be utterly breathtaking.” Now I could feel the heat of his mouth at the back of my neck, and hear the smile in his voice, the seductive tremor sounding disconcertingly like my first husband. Despite myself, I couldn’t help but shiver involuntarily.

This pleased him immensely, and he circled around to face me again with a distinctive gleam in his eye. “Did they search you?” he asked. “No matter. I wouldn’t trust that idiot to find his nose on his own face.” Randall grabbed me by the hips in an ugly imitation of a playful, intimate gesture, bringing me close to him, and ran his hands up and down my bodice in search of weapons or information secreted within my clothing. He discovered the pockets in my skirts, though there was nothing of note contained within. I held myself stiff under his examination.

When he knelt and pulled up my skirts, however, and ran his hands along my stockings to see if I had tucked anything into my garters, I made a mistake. Knowing how Jamie had unmanned him, and knowing that he would never again be able to torture anyone in the same way he had tortured Jamie, I smirked down at him. “Not much point in that anymore, is there?”

A flash of fury flashed across his face, and he pitched me backward onto the floor. “Bitch!”

I landed hard but wasn’t seriously injured, and as he loomed over me, I kicked at him and yelled, “I’m not afraid of you!”

He caught my flailing ankle in his fist and pushed it under him, straddling my knees to hold me still. “Then you’re a fool, because you damn well should be!” he retorted, and backhanded me across the face.

“You’re not man enough to be feared!” I spat back, blatantly eyeing the front of his breeches.

He actually laughed out loud. "Oh, that is where you are wrong, my dear." He backhanded me again. I struggled to throw him off, but I had no leverage. His weight was too great, and my hands were restrained beneath me. I could do nothing but writhe ineffectually beneath him. "Your husband may have taken something from me, but I still know infinite ways to inflict pain. Didn't he tell you that? Didn't he tell you how I flogged his back until it lay completely open before me? Do you think I cannot do the same to you? I wonder, would that break you? Or are you made of the same stuff as your husband? Could you bear it?"

I wanted to scream at him, to curse and swear and yell at him to get off me. But I knew it would do nothing, or worse yet, please him. So instead I told him coldly, "I have been lashed. I am afraid that you will not get the pleasure of introducing me to that particular form of pain. It did not break me, and neither will you."

He paused for a moment, integrating this new information. "You forget, madam, that I have seen your skin across your back. It’s flawless, soft, smooth as polished marble. You have never been flogged in such a manner. But for your husband, I have never seen someone survive such a thrashing. It was a thing of true beauty. Should I give you matching scars? Wouldn’t that be lovely? You could be a matching set. Yes, that’s perfect! I can paint you like I painted him. He was remarkably immune to pain, you know. But everyone has a breaking point. Even him. Did he tell you what I did? Did he tell you what we shared?" He knew from the furious expression on my face that Jamie had. I struggled beneath him, to no avail. He placed one hand on my waist and slid it down over my skirts, cupping between my legs.

Unable to give any other resistance, I spat directly into his face. He was enraged. I feared he would pull away my clothing, but instead he grabbed my throat with his other hand and choked me, cutting off my airway until I began to lose consciousness.

But he wasn't ready to lose his audience, so he released my neck just before I blacked out. I coughed and choked as he continued his monologue. “Are you done? Actually, I hope not. Keep showing me your spirit! It makes the game so much more interesting. But where was I… Oh yes.” He smiled dreamily, losing himself in the memory. "I have never seen anything like it. Never known anyone quite like him. I thought he must pass out. After all, most people do. But he did not! And I was able to do things that I had only dreamed of. You saw his hand. You saw me beat him. That was only the beginning. It went on and on, you know. He took so much. But in the end, it wasn't the pain. Did you know that? That isn't what broke him. It was the pleasure. I took him to a place…" He struggled to find the words. "In the midst of all of it, I showed him what he could truly feel. What he was capable of. What I was capable of. Pure ecstasy. It was remarkable. We connected, he and I, in a way you can only imagine. And that is how I broke him."

I knew there was no point in saying anything, but I couldn't listen to any more. I couldn’t stand the smug, self-satisfied expression on his face. I exploded. "You did not break him! It isn't in your power, and it never will be. You think you shared something? You shared nothing! You're nothing but a bad dream! Jamie survived! He thrived! And that kills you! You know I'm telling you the truth. You have seen broken men. So have I. I have seen things that you, you cannot even begin to imagine. I’ve survived things you can’t even dream of. I've seen men maimed, ripped apart, destroyed in ways you can't even fathom, inside and out. I know the emptiness, the horror, the void in the eyes of a broken man. And I have looked into my husband's eyes, and that is not what I see. Even after you took him, even after everything you did, his eyes weren't empty or dead or broken. They are vital, and beautiful, and bright. If you thought you saw the light leave his eyes, it isn’t because you destroyed it! It isn’t because you broke him. It’s because he hid himself from you. He hid his light from you, because you did not deserve to look upon it. You wanted everything, but he refused to let you have it. He refused to show you. He refused to let you in, because he knows what you really are. He looked into your eyes, and he knew you for what you really are. He saw what I see in front of me right now. Your eyes are the dead ones! You are the one without a soul! The only broken man is you!"

This time he punched me hard in my cheekbone, my skull, my jaw, causing me to see stars. "Delude yourself if you want, Mrs. Fraser. Even if what you say is true, it hardly matters. Because one of two things is true tonight. Either he is already dead, and broken completely and beyond repair. Or somehow he survived. But even if that is the case, if he lives, I have right here in my hands the only thing I need to break him. I have you. And whether your husband is dead or alive, I will break you tonight. And if by some miracle, he finds you after I've had you, that will break him once and for all."

I knew he was right. There was nothing I could do or say to free myself, and worse yet, I had no way to discover Jamie’s fate. I could only try to survive. I didn’t want to. I hardly cared. I had already lost Jamie. I had already lost my heart. But the child... God willing, I would survive, I and the child.

But Jack Randall would not. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would not live to see tomorrow. I had seen it in Frank’s family tree. I had thought he would die on the field at Culloden, but perhaps, just perhaps, he would die here, with me. Perhaps even by my hand.

I stilled beneath him. “Perhaps. But you will not live to enjoy it, Jonathan Randall. Because today is the day you are fated to die. You can do anything you want to me. It won’t matter. It won’t save you. Nothing can save you now. By day’s end, your rotten black soul will burn in Hell!”

Randall grabbed my hair, yanked my head back, and collided into my mouth with a bruising kiss. Just as I recovered my wits enough to try to bite him, he pulled away and grinned madly at me. “If this is to be my last night on this earth, then I am glad, Mrs. Fraser, to spend it with you.”

He hastily began to undress me, using his dagger to cut the laces of my dress. As he exposed me, he told me that he would show me in detail what he had done to break Jamie, starting with the pleasure he could give me with his hand. I mocked him for not being able to take me like a man, but he pointed out an array of phallic objects at his disposal, and told me he would be creative in his use of my body. As he rucked up my skirts, knees pressed hard into my legs to keep me still, he promised to take me to the heights of pleasure before drowning me in pain.

But before he could do anything else, a voice outside interrupted him. “Evening, Private. We’ve brought the supplies the Captain requested, and a letter from the General.”

The guard outside the tent tried to dissuade the newcomers, since Randall had made it clear that we were to be not to be disturbed. But the other party insisted on delivering the missive personally. With a frustrated curse, Randall pushed off me and headed to the tent flap to send him away.

I heard a small rustling noise from the other side of the tent, and a rush of cold air washed over me. I turned to see the disturbance and nearly yelled out with shock at the sight of Jamie sneaking under the tent’s canvas wall. He wore a British uniform several sizes too small, but held his own sword and dirk. In the dim lamplight, his eyes appeared jet black, and they locked on mine.

He held his finger in front of his lips in a gesture of silence and crept behind Randall, who was holding open the tent flap and arguing with the guard and newcomer. The guard spotted Jamie behind Randall and raised his hand to point, saying, “Hey. Who is...”

The sentence was silenced by a dirk which suddenly appeared from behind him and opened his throat. As Randall lifted his dagger and spun around to see who was behind him, Aiden MacEwan pushed the dying guard through the entrance.

Randall’s jaw dropped open in an expression of mingled surprise, fear, and joy. “You!” as he recognized Jamie. He wanted to say more, but it was all he could do to raise his dagger to deflect Jamie’s sword from running him straight through. The broadsword skittered off the blade and locked with the hilt of the dagger, slicing a wound across Randall’s forearm.

Randall had no way of stopping Jamie’s dirk, however. He wasn't wearing his sword, which lay far out of reach. So when Jamie aimed his dirk at Randall’s center, Randall was forced to use his left hand to block the blade. The wound it created was a mirror image to the one he had given Jamie in Wentworth. He started to let out an agonized cry as steel pierced skin, muscle, and tendon, but his scream was immediately muzzled as Murtagh leapt into the room and clamped his right hand over Randall’s mouth and wrapped his left arm across his throat, choking it off.

Jamie leaned forward and smiled madly into the face of his foe. He whispered, “Do ye know, Captain, that I never thanked ye?”

Randall gawked up at Jamie, face turning red, eyes huge with pain and confusion, unable to move.

“I owe you a debt. Had you not tried to molest my wife when first ye saw her, I might ne’er have met her. ‘Twas your perversion that led my godfather to rescue her from ye and bring her to me. ‘Twas to flee from you that she married me. Strange, is it no? If not for you, I wouldna have the greatest gift of my life. I’d have never met my Claire, who is my heart, my soul.”

Randall’s mouth opened and his lips move as he tried to answer, but no air would pass. He began to thrash, but still, he could not break Murtagh’s grip, nor Jamie’s.

Carefully, deliberately, and softly, Jamie continued, “So though ye deserve to suffer slowly for yer great many sins, Jack Randall, though ye deserve a lash for every one you ever gave another, a burn for every one ye inflicted, though I ought to break each and every bone in yer body before ye go...” He forced the dirk up viciously, not bothering to free it first from Randall’s hand, and thus pinned the man’s palm to his chest as he drove the blade under the breastbone, deep into Randall’s heart. “In return for the goodness ye did me when ye sent me this woman, I grant ye a swift death.”

Jamie yanked the dirk free, and Randall’s thick, hot blood spilled from his heart and onto the cold ground.

I hardly noticed when Randall slumped onto the ground, dead at Murtagh’s feet. I didn’t see Aiden roll the body of the guard into Randall’s blanket, or hear Gavin Mitchell poke his head inside to tell us we had to leave. All I saw was Jamie. All I saw was my husband, my heart, my love. I finally understood that he was real. And then I was in his arms.

“You’re alive,” I wept. I was shaking, and so was he. “You’re alive!”

“A dhia! Mo chridhe. My Claire. And so are you. Thank Holy God, so are you.”

“You found me,” I breathed.

He leaned back, moving to cup my face in his hands, and he kissed my hair, my brow, my cheeks, and finally my lips, his tears mingling with mine. “Aye, Sassenach. I found ye. Just as I promised ye I would.”

Surrounded as we were by the English army, though the Scots would fall to their doom that very day, and despite our status as traitors to the Crown and fugitives from the Clans, in this moment, all was right in the world. For it still held James Fraser, and we were together.

Chapter Text

Following Randall’s death, we disguised the bodies as Scots, wrapped them in blankets, and tossed them into the bed of the wagon on top of Jamie, who played the part of his own corpse. If anyone checked the bodies, we hoped they wouldn't look too closely at the one on the bottom. Gavin and Gregor marched me directly out of Randall’s tent, ropes looped around my wrists for show, and threw me behind them. I sat only inches from Jamie’s prone form and took advantage of his closeness to press my leg against him, eager for any kind of contact. The Mitchell brothers sat on either side of me, ostensibly to prevent my escape, while Aiden drove the wagon in the opposite direction from which they had come, taking care to avoid anyone who had seen them arrive.

I was terrified as we bumped and jostled our way out, certain that we would be caught at any moment. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest when suspicious sentries stopped us just as we were about to leave the clearing. They demanded to know where we were going at such an ungodly hour. I saw Jamie tighten his grip around his dirk, ready to rise from the dead and fight for my safety. But it wasn't necessary. With an impressively steady hand, Aiden handed them a letter we had forged, marked with Randall’s stolen seal, which explained that Randall had identified us as notorious Jacobite traitors. I was therefore bound for the Tolbooth. Aiden explained that the others had come along to dispose of the bodies, and they waved us along without a second thought.

As soon as we were out of sight, Aiden and the Mitchells recovered their plaids, took the horses in exchange for the favor they had done for me, and left for home. Jamie led me in the opposite direction, saying that they were safer without us. Being caught alongside the infamous Red Jamie would not go well for them. Murtagh and Jamie remained clad in their stolen British uniforms for safety, and I continued to play the part of their prisoner. Jamie held the rope around my wrists for show, which turned out to be prudent when we were spotted by a pair of officers making their way to the camp. The forged letter saved us once more.

After that, we met no one else. We spotted a few watch fires through the trees belonging to camp followers and stray soldiers, and carefully avoided them. The longer we went without being seen, the harder it became to keep up the charade of guard and prisoner. Jamie’s hand slipped from the rope and into mine. Eventually we recovered Jamie’s horse, which placidly grazed at the nearest available bush, unaware that anything of import had occurred. Murtagh mounted, posing as an officer, and Jamie led us away. I didn't question him at first, but as we moved through the woods, the tight set of his jaw and the trembling of his hands gave him away. He was taking me back to Craig Na Dun.

At my indignant protest, Jamie turned round to face me with unshed tears in his eyes. His voice was tight with sorrow. He insisted, “Ye still must go, lass. I canna keep ye safe here.” He tried to pull me along, but I refused.

I dug my heels into the forest floor yanked back on his hand. “I will not! You didn't just march into an English army camp and save me, only to send me away again! I won't go!”

Murtagh gestured angrily for us to be quiet. He whispered, “If you two canna be silent, we’ll all be dragged right back to that camp and strung up by our necks. We need to be as far from here as possible before the sun rises.”

Jamie nodded to Murtagh and stepped close to me, cupping my face in his hands. “I must see ye safe. What just happened will happen again, or worse, if ye stay. This is what life will be like from now on. I'm a traitor twice over, and I canna protect ye. If we had been just one minute later… It was too close. Much too close.” His face displayed the agony he felt at finding me under Randall, again. “Ah, Claire. I told ye once that I can bear my own pain, but I canna bear yours. You must go where it is safe.”

I grabbed his hands, squeezing them tightly. “I'm not leaving you! When I heard the shot, I thought you were dead… It was… It was…” I simply didn't possess the eloquence to express the depths of my despair. “That pain was utterly unbearable. I won't lose you again, and I absolutely will not walk away. Fate sent me to you for a reason. Otherwise, that redcoat wouldn't have stopped me from going back. With you I'm meant to be, and with you I'll stay.”

Before I could say more, Murtagh dismounted and interrupted us. “Lad, I didna question ye before, but now I must. If ye know somewhere safe for yer wife, lead the way, and quickly. But I canna see how leaving her anywhere by herself makes her safe. The men are headed home, and there is nothing more ye can do for them. So unless you've decided that your love for Prince Charlie is so great that you canna live without him, I suggest that we find this safe place, and we stay to guard yer wife. Now. Where is it?”

For once, Jamie was lost for words. What could he tell Murtagh that would make any sense? I decided to simply tell him the truth. “He wants to take me to Craig Na Dun.”

Murtagh looked utterly perplexed at this revelation. “The fairy stones? Why, in God’s name?”

“He wants to send me back to where I came from,” I said simply. “He doesn't plan to stay with me, because where I can go, he cannot follow.”

“Claire!” Jamie hissed. “What are ye doing?”

“Telling him. He helped save my life, and yours, more than once. I know you trust him. So do I. He deserves to know.” As quickly as I could, I told him an abridged version of how I had come to be here, and of my aborted attempt to return. At first he looked stunned, and then his face settled into the blank, unreadable mask I was used to.

After I finished, I waited in silence for his response. He stared off into the trees for a long time. Without looking at either of us, he finally said, “I dinna ken if ye’ve both gone soft in the head, or if ye think I have, but I'm going to pretend as if what ye say is true.” He turned to me. “If ye go, how do ye know that you'll end up back in your own time?”

I immediately saw where he was going, and said truthfully, “I don't. I have no way of knowing.”

“But ye ken the stories, Murtagh,” Jamie insisted. “In the tales, the travelers, they leave, but then they come back.”

“We don't know that. I could end up anywhere. I don't even know if I'd survive. Do you know what it is, to go through? Do the stories say so? It feels like being ripped apart, molecule by molecule, with no guarantee that I'll come back together on the other side. I could die. Or I could get trapped there. In between. When I passed through, I heard the screaming of the souls who are lost in that place, lost for all eternity.”

“What de ye mean by mole… Never mind.” Murtagh waved his hand in dismissal and glared at Jamie. “That's yer grand plan?  To send her into a great void?”

“I plan to send her to her own time! To safety! Ye didna tell me that, Claire. Why did ye no say so?”

I didn't have a good answer. “I didn't want to scare you. I didn't want you to be afraid.”

“Scare me? You dinna…”

“Quiet, both o’ ye!” Murtagh put a hand on each of our shoulders and stopped us from arguing. “Ye can fight later. Right now we must go. Jamie, lad, unless ye have a better idea than waiting by the stones and beggin’ the fairies to save us all, follow me.” He mounted and led the way.

Wordlessly we trailed behind him, clutching at each other. I could feel Jamie's uncertainty in the desperation of his grip. But something shifted in him as we walked. He turned to look at me from time to time, reassuring himself that I was really there. He remained silent so as to avoid drawing unnecessary attention, but I felt his conviction in his touch. He stroked my palm with gentle circles of his thumb. From time to time he raised my hands to his lips and kissed them. Eventually he stopped trembling, and so did I. By the time the sun cast its first rays of light across the sky, we had silently agreed that neither of us could survive without the other.

Though we were exhausted, we travelled through the day. We wanted to put as much distance as we could between us and the English army, so we had to flee while they were occupied with the slaughter of the Highland clans on Culloden Moor. We headed toward the deepest part of the primeval forest with the goal of losing ourselves in the wilderness until the army dispersed.

We only stopped in the evening when we could go on no longer. A massive, ancient oak with a large net of exposed roots, overgrown with moss, provided a natural shelter. Jamie sent me under its protection for a few hours rest. He insisted on taking the first watch, so Murtagh made a bed nearby under two fallen aspens.

I fell asleep the moment I lay down, but my rest was haunted with dreams of losing Jamie. Over and over again my mind re-created the events of the previous night, each time changing details, but every one ending in immeasurable loss. The first was more memory than dream, but in the end, Jamie did not manage to escape. I watched as he fell to the ground. Instead of waking from this nightmare, I fell directly into another. This time it was Randall who held the pistol to Jamie's head at the base of Craig Na Dun, rather than the foot soldier, and it was he who pulled the trigger that ended Jamie’s life. In the next version, I fell through the stones just as Jamie was being murdered, and the pain of my grief overwhelmed the pain of being torn apart in the space between. Somehow I still came together on the other side, but instead of falling back into the 20th century, I awoke in Randall’s tent. Now he held a dagger to Jamie's breast, and it was Jamie whose heart was pierced by the blade. In the distance I heard someone calling out to me, but I couldn’t understand them through the haze of my grief. I tried to throw myself over Jamie’s body as he fell, but strong arms restrained me.

“Claire, Sassenach, wake up. It’s me. I’m here.”

I wept and thrashed, trying to break free, until I recognized that the incomprehensible muttering in my ear was neither a demon nor a redcoat soldier, but my beloved husband murmuring comfort into my ear in the Gaidhlig. I rolled over, grasping at him. “Oh, Jamie. You’re here. Oh, God.”

“I’m here. Shhh. I promise, I’m here.”

My emotions were raw and exposed, disoriented as I still was. I buried my face in his shirt and sobbed, “I thought I’d lost you. I saw you dying, over and over. I couldn’t stop it.”

“But ye could, Sassench, and ye did. For I am here wi’ you now, and not lying cold upon Culloden Moor.” Gently he tipped my chin up to force me to look at him. I could hardly see anything in the darkness, but just enough starlight filtered down that I could see his eyes. It was just as I had told Randall several hours earlier. Jamie's eyes were vital, and beautiful, and bright.

I took a shuddering breath. “You’re real? You’re here and you’re real?”

He kissed me sweetly. “I should ask you the same, mo nighean donn. I have wondered many times if ye are real, or a waking dream, or an Auld One, a Fae. As for myself, I am sure I am real, and mortal, and here at your side.”

I dropped my head into the crook of his neck and closed my eyes, feeling him warm and solid under my hands. I thought of how close I had come to losing him, to leaving him, and I whispered fiercely, “We are both mortal, James Fraser. Someday one of us will leave this earth, and then the other. Until then, I will not be parted from you. You had better get used to me, because I’m not going anywhere. Do you hear me?”

His voice was solemn above me. “Aye, and though my mind tells me yet to send ye away, my heart bursts with joy to hear ye say so. The courage of a lioness, ye have, and the stubbornness of an ox.” He pressed kisses into my hair and pulled me tight against him, humming first in comfort, then with contentment, and finally with something more. His hands began to roam, one tangling in my hair, the other traveling up and down my back, and finally down to his favorite part of my anatomy. I looped my arms around him, tracing along his broad shoulders and the ridges of his scarred back, feeling stiffness in the hard muscles. It was then that I realized that the tension in his body wasn’t simply the consequence of the long day, nor a result of battles hard fought and dearly won. He wanted me desperately, as much as I suddenly wanted him. I responded with a pleased sigh and nuzzled happily at the sensitive hollow of his throat.

He rightfully took this for acquiescence and pulled my head back, descending on my willing mouth. At first, his lips were soft against mine, his hands gentle. Warmth settled in the pit of my stomach and spread out in tendrils through my limbs. I opened to him, and he pulled my leg over his hip, pressing himself against my center through our clothes. His kisses grew in intensity. He nipped at my lips with his teeth and sought entrance with his tongue. His fingers urgently sought my skin. Eager for more of him, I parted my lips to drink him in, and I swallowed his groan as the kiss deepened. Rather than sating us, each touch made us hungrier.

Jamie pushed me onto my back and kissed a path along my jaw and down my neck. As he snaked his tongue down between the destroyed laces of my bodice, I had the presence of mind to ask, “Where’s Murtagh?”

He took a nipple into his mouth and suckled hard, sending the question straight out of my brain. “Hunting.” Next his tongue snaked out for a tantalizing lick. “Setting snares.” This time he gave me a sharp bite that left me gasping. “He’ll be gone for hours. But this willna take that long. I need ye, Claire.”

And oh, how I needed him. I gladly welcomed him into my body, happy even for the slight pain as his girth stretched me, for he was worth any pain I might suffer to have him. The pain transmuted quickly into pleasure as he moved, and I gave myself over to it, and to him. As hips met, and hands, lips, tongues, and hearts, we banished the fear, the horror, and the grief of the day. We moved in synchronicity, trying to merge into one being, and for a few blissful moments, we succeeded.

I slept again, this time without nightmares.  

When I woke the second time, it was to Jamie’s solid heat already inside me. The blissful dream I had been having was, in fact, real. We lay on our sides, his large form protectively curled against my back, one hand wrapped around my breast, the other slipping between my legs. He had pulled my skirts up around my waist and tugged my leg back over his, opening me to him. I felt his teeth against the tender skin where my neck met my shoulder and I shivered at the delicious sensation. I reached my hand up to thread my fingers through his and moaned his name. “Jamie?”

His voice broke as he answered. “I’m sorry lass. Ohh...” He pressed into me, and I arched against him. “I know ye were sleepin’, but I had to have ye.”

“Don't be sorry,” I answered breathlessly, for I was not.

“Ye feel so good! Ahh…” His hand shifted to my hip so he could hold me still, and he explained, “I had a dream.” He shifted back a few inches, drawing a long sigh out of my throat. “Ye fell through the stones.” He thrust so deeply that I could feel his heartbeat inside me. “I lost ye, just as I meant to.” He retreated. I tried to push myself against him, but his grip prevented me. He was in total control. “And I lost myself.” With another snap of his hips, he gave me what I wanted. “I wandered.” And again. “Purgatory, it was.” I shuddered against him and sought for purchase with my fingers in the earth. “I was there a long time, searching for ye.” Deeper, this time. “And when I finally found ye…” This time I whimpered when he moved. “Yes, make that sound again!” he choked out. Then he made me. “Ye were with him!” His voice was agonized, and not only with lust. “Your belly…” I felt him strike against my womb. “...round with my child...” The briefest retreat. “And he took ye to his bed!” This time he slammed into me, sending shockwaves of bliss through my body. “My wife!” He rolled me onto my stomach, leaving me momentarily bereft. “He took ye right before me!” He parted my thighs with his knees and drove into me again. “I screamed, but ye didna hear me.” Jamie pressed me into the ground with his hands at my waist. “I tried to pull him off ye.” He bore down upon me, restrained fury making his body taut. “But my hands went right through, like air.” A tear fell on my bare shoulder. “All I could do was watch!”

“I’m here,” I gasped. “Jamie, I’m here.” I could hardly get the words out, but I needed him to know. I had chosen him, damn the consequences, and I would not leave. Even he couldn't force me to go. He loomed over me, pinned me helpless beneath him, and took what he wanted. I gave myself over gladly.

Jamie’s frenzy became mine, and when he pulled me back by my hair to turn my mouth to his, we devoured each other. His hips kept up their relentless rhythm all the while. He pounded into me, and I thrust back as best I could, meeting him desperately, wantonly. He moved inside me with an ancient, primal ferocity.

When he gritted out, “Ye are mine, Claire Fraser. Mine and no one else’s!” my body sang in agreement. Wave after wave overtook me, and finally overtook him. He clung to me and cried out to me, his anchor in a stormy, whirling universe, and I, in turn,  to him.

After, we held each other tenderly. He lay his head on my breast, and I ran my fingers through his hair. He buried his nose into my skin and breathed me in with long, shuddering breaths. “I should feel guilty for keeping ye here with me, mo ghraidh, but I canna bring myself to do it. I am selfish. I want ye with me always.” His hand moved reverently to cover my still-flat belly. “You and the bairn.”

I lay my hand over his, and together we held our child. I kissed his hair, and then I told him the only truth I knew. “We are both of us yours, Jamie. This is where we belong. With you, always.”

Lying there in the dark, in this space between the earth and the sky, in a time between my past and my own birth, I knew much of what was to come, and yet so little. We weren’t safe here, far from it. I didn’t know where we were going, nor how we would get there. Nothing was certain. Nowhere was safe. Yet my heart was at peace. I had everything I needed right here in my arms. As Jamie fell asleep against my heart, I lay awake and watched the moon rise between the roots of the tree, and I knew I was home.