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The Milestone

Lallybroch, February 1747

“What took ye so long?”

Jamie shrugged out of his heavy overcoat and hung it on the peg in the front hallway. Gratefully he took the warm mug of mulled cider from Jenny’s patient hands.

“It took forever to find that one stubborn coo,” he sighed, sipping, loosening the tightness in his throat. “Silly thing was just fine sitting in the hollow and didna want to budge.”

“Mmphmm. Sounds like someone else I know.”

Jamie gave his sister a dirty look, but wisely said nothing, finishing his cider, enjoying the warmth slowly spreading through his frozen limbs.

“Is Claire upstairs already?”

“Aye. Bree was fussy at dinner – gave Claire a devil of a time.”

“That’s only because she missed her Da.” Jamie drained the mug and handed it back to Jenny, already stepping down the hallway and toward the staircase.

“You owe her one!” Jenny shouted behind him.

Jamie rolled his shoulders and rubbed his hands together, taking the steps two at a time, impatient to see his girls. Four steps down the landing – and he gently eased open the bedroom door.

Claire, tired but radiant, sat on the bed, nursing their five-month-old daughter. She looked up as Jamie entered and bolted the door, and raised an eyebrow in a silent question.

“I ken it’s late. But I’m here now.” He kicked off his boots and padded across the room, stockings whispering on the worn wood floorboards. He stretched on the bed, nestling against Claire’s side, resting his head on her shoulder, watching his daughter’s bright blue eyes as she ate.

“Greedy wee fiend,” he remarked after a long while.

“Of course she settles down once you’re here,” Claire sighed, shifting a bit as Jamie wrapped one arm around her lower back, bringing his other hand to cup Brianna’s impossibly tiny head in his palm. “She fussed all afternoon. Wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t stay still. Cried if I left her.”

“I’m sorry I wasna here.” His thumb stroked Brianna’s red fuzz. “I wouldna have left ye alone, ye ken that, only – ”

“Oh, I don’t blame you,” she interrupted. “The ground is too frozen for Ian to manage on his leg, and Murtagh and Fergus won’t be back at least until tomorrow. Of course you had to see to it.”

“Still – ye havena had enough time to yerself, since the lass was born. Ye need space.”

Brianna pulled away, and Claire effortlessly shifted her to the other side. “It’s all right – truly. I mean that. You know it always slows down during the winter – not nearly as many patients to see. Being with her – spending time with her – it’s the most important thing.”

Jamie kissed her shoulder. “It is. That’s why – weel. It may sound a bit daft, but I’m afraid if I’m no’ wi’ her, then somehow I’ll miss something.”

“Nonsense. We’ll have a lifetime of memories with her.”

He sat up a bit straighter, then – still carefully cradling Brianna’s head – and with his free hand, tilted Claire’s chin, meeting her lips for a long kiss.

“I’m so verra grateful that I will, mo nighean donn,” he breathed against her mouth. “To be wi’ ye – to have her – to have our life…Christ, it’s worth every damn year of the pardon.”

Brianna chose that moment to stop eating, and Claire deftly handed her to Jamie to be burped as she re-tied the front laces of her shift. Jamie found one of the seemingly dozens of cloths they used to burp her, and kissed his daughter’s wee forehead before settling her against his shoulder, gently tapping her back.

After a few moments it was all done, and he gently lay Brianna in the center of the bed. Claire had left the bed and rummaged through their bureau, quickly returning with the whisky decanter and two glasses.

“I thought ye said ye couldna drink while ye nurse the lass?”

“She won’t eat again tonight,” Claire explained as she handed him his glass, undid the stopper, and poured him a glass. “I’ve a bit left over, but that’s yours if you want it.”

His eyes bugged a bit, but he said nothing, watching her pour her own glass. She set the decanter on the bedside table and sat beside him on the bed, one eye on Brianna – happily waving her limbs at the ceiling.

“To our daughters,” he said softly, clinking his glass against hers.

Claire’s chin quivered just a bit, but she smiled so broadly, and sipped her whisky.

For a very long moment they just looked at each other. Silently his free hand found hers. So happy to be here, in this moment – and also considering, even for a fleeting moment, what could have been…

A soft rustle at the center of the bed – and then Brianna cooed.

In unison, her parents shifted their gaze, to see –

“Oh, darling! You turned over all by yourself!”

Claire handed her whisky to Jamie, scooping up their smiling daughter, peppering her ruddy cheeks with tiny kisses.

“Did she?” His face split in a stupid grin. “Is that good?”

“It’s very good. She’s met another of her milestones.” Claire brought Bree to her shoulder, tucking the blanket closer around her middle. “Of course, this means that we need to construct pillow forts to keep her in place – if we’re not careful, she’ll roll right off the bed.”

Jamie set the two glasses on the floor beside the bed. “I suppose that means she’ll be chasing her cousins around the house before we know it.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Claire paused, thinking. “As much as I want her to grow up – I want her to be like this forever. I don’t care how silly that sounds.”

“It isna silly at all.” Now he wrapped his arms around them both, kissing Bree’s ears. “This is the life we never thought we would have. Of course ye want to enjoy every moment of it.”

“I do, Jamie. I hope you know that.”

Bree bounced against Claire’s shoulder. She smiled. Jamie’s heart burst.

“I do, my own. I do.”