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Wounded Pride

Chapter Text

“She had a right to know,” Jenny said as soon as Jamie was near enough to hear her.

“Dinna talk to me,” he huffed pushing past her and into the house. He had been walking the fields for hours trying to think of what he ought to do, what he could possibly say to Claire. He was furious with his sister for orchestrating the confrontation and with himself for not having told Claire the truth sooner. Secrets but not lies. That was what they’d promised to one another when they wed and he had been lying to himself every time he had shied away from telling her about Laoghaire.

“She’s left,” Jenny said as she followed him through to the hall. She tried not to flinch when he whirled on her. “She didna want to stay after what ye did.”

“What I did? It wasna yer place, Jenny!” he yelled.

“She had a right to know,” Jenny reiterated.

“Aye, and I had a right to be the one to tell her. Dammit Janet, ye just canna keep yer nose out of what doesna concern ye,” Jamie’s anger shifted beneath the surface, finding fresh heat in a pocket of resentment. “If it weren’t for yer interference four years ago, I’d never have married Laoghaire in the first place and wouldna be in this mess at all. Now…” He choked on his fury. “Now because of you I’ve lost Claire again. You think ye ken what it’s been like for me all these years but ye don’t. Even when Ian was in prison, ye at least kent where he was and had reason to hope he’d come back to ye.”

Though she hadn’t flinched earlier, Jenny did flinch at her brother’s use of her full name and regret began to seep in.

“I’m sorry, brother,” she said quietly. “Ye’re right—it wasna my place to take action so. I should have told ye you were being a daft fool no to tell Claire the truth and left ye to do as ye would on yer own.”

Jamie was unable to speak but nodded his agreement.

Uncertain what she might do to atone for her role in things, Jenny looked around the room as though the answer might be found there. “She can’t have gone too far—Claire that is. She was on foot so if ye take a horse I’m sure ye can catch her up and explain to her how all this mess is my fault. So long as the two of ye can be civil and no—”

“No,” Jamie interrupted with quiet but firm resignation. “She didna want to stay and it’s her right to go. I’ll no chase her down and beg her… And I shouldna have blamed ye like that. Ye do ken how to push me to things but when it comes down to it the decision to marry Laoghaire was mine… and it was mine to keep it from Claire.”

Jenny looked up to see the strain in her brother as he fought to keep his freshly reopened grief at bay. She caught him in her arms and held him before he could crumble, succumbing to tears herself in the process.

“I ken this is likely no a time ye’re going to be keen on listening to my advice,” Jenny said, moving to pull back and look up into her brother’s face, “but dinna be so stubborn about this. She came to find ye after all this time… Dinna let yer pride prevent ye from being with her again. Go after her and at least make an effort.”

Jamie blinked and his jaw twitched. He shook his head, doubtful but unable to speak either refusal or concession.

“You should listen to her,” Claire said from the doorway, startling the siblings. She smiled weakly, her face streaked from her earlier tears, which had mixed with the dust from the road.

Jamie sputtered at the sight of her and crossed in three steps to take her in his arms, his sobs shaking them both.

Jenny slipped discreetly away towards the kitchen. She met her youngest son on her way there, took him by the shoulders, and turned him right back around shooing him through the door ahead of her.

“I made it to the upper edge of the valley and couldn’t bear to keep going,” Claire told Jamie, her chin hooked over his shoulder, her cheek pressed to his neck. His arms were strong on top of hers so she couldn’t have broken free from his grip but she didn’t want to be anywhere else; she pressed her palms flat against his back and pulled herself into his chest. “I couldn’t take the step that would put Lallybroch out of sight so I stood there staring back down the road and hoping I’d see you coming after me. I knew you were too stubborn for that and told myself I should keep going but still couldn’t go. I finally realized how stupid I was being and turned back.”

Jamie’s sobs had calmed—one of the last tremblings might even have been a chuckle. His grip loosened and she was able to pull one of her arms free to raise her hand and cup his cheek, her thumb wiping at the wetness that had caught in the stubble along his jaw.

“I’m sorry. I was surprised and jealous—still am, though I know I’ve no right to be. I should have been more understanding as far as the situation I put you in by just showing up like that. There’s been enough in our way already without us hindering ourselves. I gave up everything to find you and be with you—I can give up a bit of pride as well,” she said quietly before asking, “Can you?”

Jamie smiled and nodded. “Aye. I’ll give anything ye ask of me, Sassenach, and Lord knows I’ve pride enough to spare.” She grinned up at him and pulled him down to kiss her, his hold on her warm, strong, and sure.

She sighed when they broke apart.

“I suppose the next step is figuring out what to do about Laoghaire—not that I’m eager to hear it…” Claire couldn’t conceal her discomfort from her tone. Redness rose in Jamie like the mercury rising in a thermometer as water prepares to boil. “Perhaps it will be best if we go for a walk while we discuss it,” she suggested reaching out her hand and taking his.

Some of the tension left his shoulders and he nodded, giving her hand a self-assuring squeeze.

The afternoon was warm given the time of year but the sun was already advancing down in the western horizon.

“I’m not familiar with the legalities of a situation like this,” Claire began after they had passed through the yard and into one of the fields. The harvest was well under way and much of the soil had been turned over in the pursuit of potatoes. She wondered whether there had been further feasts like the one they’d shared in that one blissful year between the tragedies of Paris and the disastrous march toward Culloden.

“I dinna ken much either,” Jamie admitted. “I ken our marriage predates… so I think it would invalidate the other…” He sighed. “But it wansa Laoghaire’s fault I wasna free and it certainly isna fair to her lasses to lose what means I provided to support them.”

Claire swallowed past a lump in her throat. “The girls… you feel they’re your responsibility?”

“Aye,” Jamie answered quickly. “They’re no my blood but they were what made living there bearable—for a time, at least. They needed a father and I tried to be one to them. But when things between me and Laoghaire… Well, it reached a point I feared my being there was more harm than good so I went to Edinburgh and sent them money. There’s Laoghaire’s wounded pride to consider, all right, but that’s just appearances; it’s the money she’ll truly be hurtin’ for.”

“Money that you don’t exactly have anymore,” Claire pointed out, “what with the shop destroyed. It isn’t safe for you to engage in some of your more profitable illicit activities just now either—I won’t have you risking being caught and hanged.” She emphasized her point by leaning into his arm and gripping it with her free hand, pulling him off balance so that he had to stop and turn to face her. “Do you hear me? No more of your smuggling just now. We’ll figure out some other way to get whatever money you need to feel you’ve done right by her.”

Jamie’s mouth twitched into a dissatisfied smile. He reached up and brushed a curl behind Claire’s ear. “I dinna ken I’ll ever feel I’ve done right by her… or you in this whole mess. But… ye do forgive me for it?”

“If you can forgive me for how I reacted.”

“Aye,” he responded, this time with a genuine smile, his finger tracing the line of her jaw and lifting her chin. “I dinna think there’s anything ye could do that I couldna forgive.” His lips brushed hers.

“I’m going to hold you to that,” she told him, tugging his arm again to turn them back around toward the house.

“Dreamin’ up ways to try my resolve already, are ye?”

“Would serve you right if I was.”

“Ach weel, I suppose the next step is to fetch Ned and have him poke through the legalities of this mess.”

“Ned? Gowan? He’s still… I mean… I would have thought…” Claire stuttered.

Jamie chuckled. “He’s still among the living, Sassenach. Made quite the name for himself too, arguing against the Crown’s confiscating various properties in the Highlands by claiming their owners were Jacobites whether they were or no. This legal knot is precisely the kind of chore he enjoys. Whether we’ll enjoy him going on about it is less certain.”

As they approached the main yard Fergus and Jenny hurried over.

“I swear to ye, brother, I dinna ken what she’s doing here,” Jenny preemptively stated.

Jamie turned to Fergus for further information.

“Ian spotted Laoghaire approaching with Marsali and Joan.”

Ifrinn!” Jamie exclaimed hastening his stride. Claire hurried after him. “Claire, ye ought to go back to the house with Fergus and Jenny.”

All of them began making objections to his suggestion at once.

“I’m not leaving your side.”

“This is partly my doing and I’ll tell that woman to go once and for all.”

“I can be of assistance, milord, I am certain.”

Jamie waved them off as Laoghaire marched forward purposefully. Marsali and Joan hung back a few paces, eyeing their mother with a bit of fear—Marsali looked desperately to Fergus and clutched Joan to her side.

“Did I no tell ye to go on back to Balriggan?” Jamie called to Laoghaire, his displeasure fuming.

“Aye, ye did,” she snapped, “And so I went—as a good and obedient wife should—but ye said nothing of coming back again, now did ye.”

“There’s naught either of us can do just now, Laoghaire,” he told her, fighting for civility and composure. “I’ll send for Ned Gowan tomorrow and in a few days he’ll be here and we can settle things between us.”

“Ye intend to shame me then.” Her voice wavered, pleading for reconsideration even as she aimed for disgusted resignation. “Ye intend to abandon me and leave my bairns to starve while ye take up wi’ yer whore again.”

Jamie glared at her and stood straighter, cutting an imposing figure that had Laoghaire cowering, clutching her skirts. “Ye’ll no talk of Claire like that—not afore me. I’ve no intention of letting anyone starve but I’ll no have ye disrespecting Claire like that. Ye kent well how I felt when we wed—”

“I did not!” Laoghaire protested. “I needed a man, it’s true, but I believed ye loved me as I love you. Aye, I do still love ye, James Fraser—though I dare say ye dinna deserve it.”

They were in each other’s faces, the others scattered around them all giving the feuding couple a wide berth.

“Ye may be right,” Jamie’s voice dropped, “I likely dinna deserve it—from you or from Claire. But from you, at least, I never sought it nor do I want it now.” Laoghaire flinched and paled; tears welled in her eyes. “I’ll see ye’re provided for,” Jamie insisted, taking a step back; his tone and posture softened a little, “for the lasses’ sakes and because it’s the honorable thing to do but—”

“The honorable thing? Ye mean to do the honorable thing?” Laoghaire scoffed. “Ye wouldna ken the honorable thing if it smacked ye in the face. Ye mean to choose that woman when she’s no children to provide for, no property to tend, while I have both—”

“She may no need me,” Jamie cut in, distracted briefly as Claire breathed his name from her spot along the circle’s perimeter. He glanced over his shoulder at her tender expression, her need for him evident in her warm eyes. He smiled at her and continued to hold her gaze as he finished addressing Laoghaire. “But I need her.”

Marsali flinched, curling her body towards her sister as their mother raised her hands from her skirt.

She was holding a pistol and aiming it at Jamie.

Claire saw the movement and turned pale the fear on her face causing Jamie to spin and face Laoghaire.

“What in God’s name do ye think ye’re doing?” he exclaimed. “Put it down. I’ve told ye I’ll find a way to pay ye for the wrong I’ve done ye—that I’ll be sure ye’re provided for—”

“Ye’re really choosin’ her?” Laoghaire’s voice was a disbelieving squeak as tears gathered in her eyes and redness flooded her cheeks.

Jamie slowly shifted one arm forward, reaching towards the pistol—it was one he had left at Balriggan, loaded and ready should Laoghaire need it to protect the house and the girls; his other arm he raised out at his side—an indication that he would handle the situation unassisted.

“Jamie.” By simply stating his name, it was clear she was urging him to be cautious. Laoghaire’s eyes flitted from Jamie to Claire, her anger flared, and the barrel of the pistol shifted.

The shot was louder than any of the screams—Jamie’s scream of protest, Claire’s scream of pain, Marsali and Joan’s screams of fear—but the screams lingered after the echoing shot faded away.

Jamie spun to see Claire clutch her upper right arm with her left hand as blood squeezed through her pale fingers and dripped to stain the ground. He whirled and caught her as she leaned forward, still crying from the pain even as she applied pressure to her wound—or perhaps because she applied pressure to her wound.

“Claire! No, no, no, no, no,” Jamie muttered, laying her on the ground gently. “Please, God, no. Claire?”

She writhed and wouldn’t take her hand from her arm, sucking her breath in sharply through gritted teeth as she fought to control her cries.

Laoghaire stood stunned, her hand and arm stinging from the pistol’s recoil. She stared at Jamie, crouched over Claire, his hands hovering above her afraid to touch her and hurt her further but desperate to find something to do—he would always choose her.

She dropped the pistol to the ground and cleared her throat—had her throat swollen because of the smoke? why was it so difficult to swallow?

“Come along Joan, Marsali,” she said hoarsely, turning to her daughters.

Marsali was clutched to Fergus with her own arms around Joan. Both girls stared at their mother with mingled fear and disgust. Fergus glared.

Laoghaire panicked, turned, and fled.

Jenny’s attention darted between Fergus and the two girls, Laoghaire’s disappearing figure, and Claire in agony on the ground with Jamie slowly falling to pieces beside her. She didn’t know what to attend to first—someone had to stop Laoghaire but the girls should be led inside and Claire—

“Jenny!” Jamie’s pleading cry cut through her daze.

She blinked and fell to her knees on Claire’s other side prying her fingers off her upper arm to assess the wound. Each little poke elicited a gasp from Claire.

“D’ye have a knife, brother?” Jenny asked, pulling at the seams of Claire’s sleeve. “I canna see the wound properly but I dinna think she’s bleeding o’ermuch—could be a through wound…”

Claire shook her head on the ground as Jamie pulled out a small blade for Jenny then held Claire still by her shoulders.

It took some effort to get the blade to slice down the length of the sleeve—the sleeve of her shift underneath split easier, the fabric thinner and more worn. Jenny pulled the flaps of fabric apart to examine the blood-smeared skin below. She lifted Claire’s arm, feeling for the exit wound.

Claire grit her teeth and shook her head. “It didn’t go through,” she finally managed to utter. “I think it struck the bone—might have broken it.” She struggled to raise her head and see the damage herself but Jamie ran his hand along her forehead and stuttered through something meant to be soothing. She locked eyes with him. “Is it spurting? I feel chilled… but I can’t tell if it’s shock or if it’s… How much blood am I loosing?”

Jamie looked over at the wound. Jenny was ripping strips of cloth from one of her petticoats and folding it to cover the wound while they moved Claire indoors. Jamie winced at the sight but it wasn’t a dangerous amount of blood. Claire turned her head to look again and sighed with relief.

“It didn’t hit any arteries—that’s good,” she tried to reassure Jamie.

“What happened?” Ian cried as he came upon the scene.

“Laoghaire shot Claire,” Jamie explained curtly.

“I thought I heard a shot but Fergus brought those two lasses into the house…”

The younger Ian was soon upon the scene as well.

“We need to get her inside,” Jenny declared.

Jamie carried Claire to the house where a space on the sofa had been cleared and a low table brought over that her arm could rest upon.

“You’ll need to dig the ball out,” Claire instructed through chattering teeth. She was pale and covered with a sheen of sweat—she was in shock.

“Get her a blanket,” Jamie begged of his nephew. Young Ian nodded and scurried off as Jenny appeared with a number of supplies from the kitchen and stillroom that might be put to use in mending Claire’s arm. Jamie put a hand on Jenny’s arm before she could set the tray down. “Have those been boiled?”

“Aye, I remember how Claire likes things done,” Jenny tried not to snap. “Hold her down.”

“A splint… it’ll need to be… splinted after…” Claire murmured.

Jenny set about wiping the caked blood from around the wound as young Ian returned with a blanket. Jamie drew it over Claire as the elder Ian handed him a flask with whiskey.

“Drink this, mo nighean donn,” Jamie urged her, holding it to her lips. She coughed on it at first but he got her to drink most of the flask—enough for her teeth to stop their chattering, at least.

“Ian,” Jenny addressed her youngest son. He was staring at Claire with abject terror on his face. “Ye heard what yer auntie said about needing a splint. Go out and see what ye can find for that—good and straight now, aye?”

The lad nodded and vanished.

“I’ll need a candle for light and for ye to hold it steady too,” Jenny requested of her husband as she ran her hands over the sharp knife and small tweezers for reassurance. When Ian returned there was nothing left but to begin. “Hold her down and keep her calm if ye can,” Jenny told Jamie firmly.

He put his weight on Claire’s shoulders, pinning her to the sofa’s cushions with his hands holding either side of her face with a firm but gentle touch. She couldn’t look at anything but him, which helped him in his resolve not to look either.

“I’ve got ye, mo chridhe,” he whispered. “I’m no letting ye go—never again, d’ye hear me.”

Claire pressed her eyes shut as Jenny settled to her task, opening the wound a little wider to allow herself easier access with the tweezers.

“I’ve found it,” she murmured, to herself as much as to anyone else. “I’ve just… got to get… a firm hold of it…”

Claire moaned and tried to draw away under Jamie’s hands but he held her in place.

“Nearly through,” he told her, stroking her hair with a shaking hand and tears in his throat. He switched to quiet Gaelic prayers and Claire tried gritting her teeth.

There was a dull ping as Jenny deposited the misshapen ball on a nearby plate. “There,” she said triumphantly before quickly switching the tweezers for a clean cloth soaked in watered down whiskey. Claire screamed as the alcohol burned through her arm. Jamie pressed his forehead to hers and kept her pinned in place.

Young Ian appeared with the thin but sturdy strips of wood he’d managed to compile. He remained pale and concerned as it sounded to him like Claire was being tortured.

“Go fetch some broth from Mrs. Crook in the kitchen,” Jenny immediately issued him another order that would take him out of the room. “And some bannocks too. Claire’ll need food to keep up her strength and to help wi’ all the whisky in her belly.”

With the hall to themselves again and the wound sufficiently disinfected, Jenny took up the needle and thread she had prepared for stitching the wound back together. Though she was more proficient with cloth, Jenny moved quickly and efficiently and soon Claire’s arm was mended and splinted.

“I canna feel a break wi’out poking at it a bit more but she seems to ken it’s there,” Jenny said quietly, tying the last bit of bandage off and sitting on her heels to brush the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. Her fingers were tacky with blood.

“Thank you,” Claire said weakly, the ordeal having drained her. “I… I’ll rest a bit now.”

“Have a bit of broth first,” Jamie urged, reaching for the bowl that had been brought from the kitchen.

Claire waved it off weakly with her good hand. “Later.”

Chapter Text

“I can get ye a drop or two of laudanum to ease the pain,” Jenny offered. “We’ve a wee bit saved for such times.”

Claire shook her head. “No… thank you. Willow bark tea should… do the trick… if you don’t mind…”

“Aye. I’ll see to it once I’ve finished clearing the mess,” Jenny promised gathering up the used supplies. She nodded to both Ians who followed her out leaving Jamie and Claire alone.

Claire offered Jamie a weak smile.

“Are you all right?” she asked, reaching for his cheek.

He caught it and brought it to his lips. “I’ll be all right when ye’re out of danger,” he told her, glancing down at her arm. As precise as Jenny’s work had been, the threat of infection remained.

“Are the girls being looked after?”

“Laoghaire’s lasses? Aye, I expect so. Fergus is sweet on Marsali so they’ll no want for anything while they’re here.”

“And Laoghaire? You don’t think she went back home again, do you?”

Jamie’s face went red with anger.

“We’ll be looking for her come morning—I doubt she’ll get far whichever direction she decides to flee. But we’ll find her and bring her to justice for what she’s done to ye.”

Jamie spoke with cold determination that sent a shiver through Claire. He noticed and tucked the blanket around her more, coaxing her into having a sip of the broth. Claire wasn’t sure she wanted to question Jamie too extensively on the subject of what he would consider justice.

When Jenny returned with the tea, she and Jamie helped Claire sit up long enough to help divest her of her bodice and extra skirts, leaving her in her shift and exchanging the hindering layers for warmer blankets.

“I’ll see if I can get this mended for ye,” Jenny offered.

“You don’t have to do that,” Claire objected, but when Jenny pressed further Claire conceded to letting the bodice go but told her to leave the skirts nearby. “There shouldn’t be anything wrong with them but a few spots of blood and I can certainly live with those. You’ve done more than enough already.”

“I think she’s trying to make it up to ye, Sassenach,” Jamie informed her as he readied himself for a night sleeping on the floor beside her. “She feels she’s to blame for what happened—and she’s no entirely wrong, if ye ask me.”

“Jamie,” Claire started to scold him but it became a yawn.

“Sleep now, mo nighean donn. I’ll be near to hand if ye need me.”

“No,” Claire protested and raised her hand to point to her skirts. “There’s something I need you to do first. One of my skirts has an extra pocket sewn into the lining. I need you to take out the kit that’s inside.”

Jamie frowned but set about searching. The frown lines in his forehead deepened when he opened it to see what was inside.

“What the devil is this?”

“I need you to take one of those pills and put it in one of the vials of water—try not to contaminate it with anything. Once it’s dissolved…” Claire struggled to push herself up but winced as it put pressure on her injured arm. Jamie brought the apparatus over to her. “Once it’s dissolved, you need to stick this in here and pull up here just to this mark and then inject it here,” she indicated her backside.

“And why d’ye want to be pokin’ yerself with such things, exactly?”

“It’s medicine that will help prevent me catching a fever from this. Can’t do it myself and we have to take care to do it when no one’s around to see. Should be able to manage at least once every twenty-four hours—possibly twice if you wake early enough to administer a second injection before the household wakes—though it ought to be more often than that even.”

“Will it not hurt?” he asked pulling one of the syringes out and peering at the long, thin needle.

“Not as much as the infection would, now let’s hurry and get it over with.”

She went over the instructions a second time and watched as he completed each step. When the syringe was prepared, Claire reached down with her free hand and hiked up the hem of her shift, rolling and wincing to expose the swell of her buttocks.

Jamie ran a hand appreciatively over her arse before catching his lip between his teeth and sticking her with the needle. She groaned as he eased the plunger down and reached to rub at the injection site as soon as the needle was removed and set aside. A moment later Jamie’s hand moved hers aside and she felt his lips brush the spot—an action that set Claire trembling with laughter.

“Did you really just kiss my arse?” she inquired.

He grinned at her. “Ye’re lucky all I did was kiss it,” he informed her, taking a firmer grip of the anatomy in question. “It’s so plump I could sink my teeth into it.” He chomped his teeth together for Claire to see and was rewarded with more laughter. She winced as the movement jostled her arm and Jamie’s smile faded a bit. “I shouldna tease ye so. Ye need yer rest.”

“It’s not that bad,” Claire assured him. “The tea takes the edge off a bit.” She was aware of the fact that Jamie’s hand was still resting on her buttock—traveling a slow path from the dip at her tailbone over the soft flesh and up again to the protrusion of her hip, raising gooseflesh along the way. He retraced the circuit twice more with her eyes hypnotized by the movements. She shifted off of her side and onto her back, spreading her legs a bit as Jamie reached up and pulled the hem of her shift down a bit. “I seem to remember a night in the abbey in France,” she said quietly, watching him as he finished putting her syringe away. “You were in a lot of pain because of your hand but there was something that helped you forget that pain—even if it was just for a little while.”

Jamie set himself down on his nest of blankets and cushions next to her sofa. “Staring at yer arse like that does give me a cockstand, right enough, and I ken I’d rather be stickin’ ye with something other than that wee prick so I can only imagine what you’d prefer…" Claire snorted. "But I dinna want to be jostling yer arm just now.” He sat up to kiss her and run a hand over her cheek and forehead, discreetly checking for fever. “We’ll have to see how ye behave yerself tomorrow, Sassenach,” he concluded with his attempt at a wink.

Claire rolled her eyes and yawned, resigning herself to a long night with a throbbing arm.

To her surprise the next morning, it was the throbbing that ultimately lulled her into a deep sleep. She woke to find Jamie gone and Jenny seated beside her with a bit of mending in her lap.

“He’s gone to wash and shave,” Jenny informed her, setting the stocking and needle aside to press a hand to Claire’s face and neck before peeking at the bandages. “That’ll need to be changed but ye’re showing no signs of fever and aside from the bruising, I see no redness to worry about. How does it feel?”

“Heavy,” Claire said trying to lift the splinted arm off the table where it rested. It hovered an inch off the surface for only a few moments before the strain in her shoulder was too much and it crashed back down. She settled for wiggling her fingers. The movement of the muscles in her upper arm pulled at her stitches uncomfortably but she grit her teeth to touch her thumb to the tip of each finger in turn.

When Claire was through, Jenny shifted her seat and took Claire’s splinted arm into her lap to begin gently peeling the bandages away—dabbing at the stitched wound with another cloth soaked in watered down whisky—and wrapping it with fresh cloth and herbs.

“Thank you,” Claire said when Jenny had finished. “I know this sort of thing isn’t something you’re used to taking care of.”

Jenny shrugged. “Ye ken as well as I that we all must do things out of the ordinary when the need arises.” She started to turn away but stopped and pivoted back, her eyes closed as she gathered something within herself and sighed. “I’m sorry, Claire… for interfering and sending for Laoghaire in the first place. It wasn’t my place to do so and I can’t help wondering if she’d have… if she would have reacted the way she had were it handled differently.”

“She was never going to be pleased about it,” Claire pointed out.

Jenny’s mouth quirked in a fashion similar to Jamie’s. “I suppose not though I think there was a way to approach her that might ha’ prevented her going after ye wi’ that pistol.”

“I’m not entirely sure whether she came here looking to use it on me or Jamie,” Claire admitted, using the back of the sofa to pull herself upright. She rested her splinted arm awkwardly across her lap.

“I’m… I’m glad ye came back, Claire… not just yesterday…” Jenny said quietly. “I… really have missed ye.”

“I’ve missed you too, Jenny.”

“Can I ask ye… why… why didn’t ye come home when ye thought Jamie was gone? Why did ye no even send us word?” Twenty years of confusion and hurt found their way into Jenny’s voice and spilled over onto her cheeks. She self-consciously brushed the tears away but kept her breathing measured and even, clearing her throat.

“I wish I could have,” Claire said with enough sincerity to dismiss the subject of why she couldn’t. “I never meant to abandon the rest of you.”

“I suppose not and I ken well ye’d never willfully abandon Jamie anymore than he would,” Jenny admitted, setting aside the conundrum of how the confusion over life and death had come to pass. “I’ll fetch yer breakfast and a fresh cup of the willow bark tea to go wi’ it. Jamie should be back presently.”

Soon Jamie, Jenny, Ian, and Fergus had all gathered in the hall while Claire fought her way through breakfast with only one hand at her disposal. Jamie assisted as far as she would let him; this largely consisted of his being allowed to hold the bowl of parritch while Claire used her non-dominant left hand to catch globs of it on her spoon and feed herself.

“Someone must go search for Laoghaire,” Jamie finally voiced what they were all thinking. “Word must also be sent to Ned Gowan. When Laoghaire’s found, she can be held here until we consult with Ned on what we ought to do—legally,” Jamie emphasized, his full attention on Claire.

“What will be done with Marsali… and Joan?” Fergus asked.

“For now they will stay here as well. They’ve an uncle—Laoghaire’s brother—but until she is found… I don’t know that he wouldn’t work to help Laoghaire with this and until it can be proven otherwise, I don’t know that I trust the lasses wi’ him.”

“Would it really matter? He’s their blood after all,” Claire pointed out.

“Aye, but I’m their step-father—legally,” Jamie emphasized again. “Until Ned can draw up terms and a divorce wi’ Laoghaire be finalized, I’ve as much claim to responsibility for them as he would.”

Milord…” Fergus spoke up carefully. “With concern to Marsali… she and I… Well, milord, we wish—”

“I ken what ye wish and I ken Laoghaire didna approve of the pair of ye making a match for a good many reasons,” Jamie admitted. “I dinna agree with many of them myself but there is the matter of Marsali’s age—she’s too young to wed. If ye want to enter an engagement till she’s of age…”

Fergus heaved a sigh of disappointment. “I will tell her. Still, I do not think she will wish to go to live with her uncle should her mother be taken by the law.”

“What will happen to Laoghaire when she’s found?” Claire inquired, wiping at a bit of parritch on her chin.

“A charge could be made for attempted murder,” Ian said with a nod. “That she returned from Balriggan wi’ the pistol in hand suggests she had some intension to use it—whether it was on you or Jamie shouldna make much difference.”

“That she did violence against ye will make Ned’s job easier as far as setting aside the marriage,” Jenny speculated.

“Who can be spared for the search?” Jamie asked, bringing matters back to the task at hand. “And where ought they to start? Her brother’s house for one, and Balriggan as well…”

You ought to stay here at Lallybroch,” Jenny suggested to Jamie. “Ian can go to Balriggan and fetch the lasses some of their clothes and things to stay.”

“I will set out for Marsali’s uncle to inform him of the situation if he does not already know,” Fergus volunteered.

“All right. Jamie and Ian can round up a few of the tenants to go search the woods—be sure someone checks the cave,” Jamie advised. “She’ll ken its there though I dinna think she’d find it on her own. I’ll stay wi’ Claire and write to Ned.”

When everyone returned to Lallybroch that evening from their disparate endeavors, Laoghaire remained unfound.

Jamie’s brow furrowed as he sat at the table with Ian, Fergus, and young Jamie.

“D’ye think she’d have headed for Inverness?” young Jamie asked.

“Leoch or somewhere else on the MacKenzie lands would be my guess if she’s no gone to her brother,” the elder Jamie said with more certainty. “Those that are left may yet remember Claire and the trial at Cranesmuir—not to mention Laoghaire has more kin amongst them.”

“Ye dinna think she might’ve…” Ian inquired with a suggestive wavering of his head. “There’s lochs and streams aplenty round these parts.”

“I dinna think she has it in her to do something so… drastic,” Jamie said somberly, hoping he was right. “She’ll do what she can to find someone to shelter her and perhaps help her escape to France or the colonies.”

“And leave her daughters behind?” Claire interjected coming up behind Jamie. “I doubt it.”

“Ye ought to be abed,” Jamie scolded, moving to take her by the shoulders and turn her about only to remember her injured arm at the last moment. “Come, I’ll walk up wi’ ye.”

“You don’t think anything horrible has happened to her, do you?” Claire asked.

“For the lasses’ sakes, I hope not.”

As Jamie helped Claire into their bed upstairs, Claire asked, “Am I horrible for hoping she isn’t found?”

“Depends on what ye want to have happened to her, I suppose. But, aye—I’ll no deny it would be easier and certainly more agreeable no to have to face her again,” Jamie confessed.

It took a week for Jamie’s letter to reach Ned Gowan and for the elderly lawyer to appear in the yard at Lallybroch. Despite inquiries amongst the tenants, the folk in Broch Mordha, and even amongst the folk of villages further out, no sign was found of Laoghaire.

“I can draw up the agreement dissolving the marriage in absentia,” Ned told Jamie and Claire, “but there’s little that can be done about implementing it effectively in the woman’s continued absence. Ye’ve taken on her two daughters already so there’s the running and care of Balriggan to think on.”

“Marsali would be Laoghaire’s heir, no?” Jamie deferred to Ned. “Could the property be used as a dowry for the lass?”

Ned grinned. “If there’s a way to do so, I’ll find it,” he winked. “As to any charges that ye might wish to level against the second Mrs. Fraser should she return,” Ned said, setting aside the first pile of pages in favor of another, “I can take down statements from witnesses as to what transpired and file them with the proper authorities along with a report of the woman’s disappearance. Then, should she turn up, the necessities would be taken care of in a way that precludes the effect of Time on memories.”

“And if we choose not to press charges should she return?”

Claire’s question startled and clearly upset Jamie though he held his tongue.

“That… should remain a possibility,” Ned hedged. “Would ye plan on using the threat of action as inducement to the woman—to encourage her to agree to whatever terms ye might lay out as to a settlement on the marriage issue?”

“That would be one possibility,” Claire nodded.

Ned gathered his pages. “I should have enough to start,” he told them pushing himself up from the table. “If ye’ll allow me the use of the study, I should be ready to begin taking statements this afternoon.”

“I’ll be sure to gather everyone who was there,” Jamie promised.

Ned stayed a week at Lallybroch, leaving behind extra copies of everything he drafted. The search for Laoghaire in the immediate area was abandoned. Claire had abandoned the splint in favor of a sling.

As they stood in the yard watching Ned depart, Jamie wrapped an arm around Claire, pulling her to him.

“We must try to begin planning again,” she told him. “We cannot let this incident with Laoghaire trap us in limbo. If we can scrape together the means, would you want to return to Edinburgh and reestablish the print shop?”

Jamie’s chest swelled as he drew in and held a deep breath before releasing it in a gust. “I did enjoy printing but I dinna ken whether uprooting Joan and Marsali again would be wise. Joan, in particular, is doing well here.”

“Not right away, then,” Claire allowed. “But I would imagine it will take some time to gather the funds and we’ll not want to leave until the winter is through, anyhow.”

“Well, when the weather warms a bit, there may be more money available to us,” Jamie hinted before launching into the tale of the French Gold.

The following spring as Jamie, Ian, Claire, and Jenny discussed plans to fetch another gemstone from the hidden cache, Marsali approached Claire with a confession—she was with child.

Jamie—after ranting and raving at Fergus for a bit—embraced the young man and set aside his condition that a wedding wait until Marsali was of age. They were wed from Lallybroch and—thanks to Ned Gowan’s dedication and innovation—ownership of Balriggan was transferred to the newlyweds. It was also decided that as Marsali’s time drew near, Joan would go to stay with her sister and brother-in-law, to help with the baby; if it proved an agreeable arrangement, it might be made a permanent one.

“Do you think Marsali minded?” Claire asked Jamie when they climbed into bed that night.

“Minded what?”

“That her mother wasn’t there today.”

“Perhaps… probably,” Jamie admitted. “Though, if she had been there, it likely would ha’ been to stop the wedding—not bear witness. If that wasna able to scare Laoghaire out of hiding—wherever she may be—I dinna ken what will.”

“You think she’s gone for good then?”

“Aye. I dinna think she’ll show her face anywhere near again. We have long memories in the Highlands, Sassenach. You know that. And folk don’t take kindly to such things as what she did.”

“The MacNab place is still a ruin,” Claire remarked, settling in against Jamie, her arm draped over his chest.

His fingers trailed up her bare arm to locate the knot of scar tissue.

“It’s taken some time but I pity Laoghaire,” Jamie mused drowsily. “Pity in a different way than when I wed her—for I did feel pity for her then, alone wi’ the two lasses like that. I lost it for a while, living with her and the ways she would try my patience… go after my attention… Then there was what she did to you—no, there was no room for pity then; only anger… and fear… and guilt.”


“For disappointing her… for being happy again when she could not… I canna help feeling that I ought to have found a way to make her happy—that was one of the things I was supposed to do as her husband and I couldna manage. Instead, what did I do? I hurt her more…”

“It wasn’t entirely your fault,” Claire insisted with a yawn. “Marriages involve two parties, after all.”

Jamie smiled and turned his head so that his lips reached Claire’s forehead. “Aye. And I wasna a whole party in that marriage—I ken that now more than ever. I dinna ken that Laoghaire ever had that—certainly no wi’ me. Wherever she is, she’s as much an outlaw as I was when I met ye at Leoch and that’s why I pity her now—whatever I might ha’ faced then, I at least had you there with me. I dinna think she’s likely to have anyone. It’s a fate I’d no wish on anyone.”

Chapter Text

If she’d had any doubts remaining, listening to him as he told her to leave, to go home––to go home so he could go back to that witch and explain, as if she didn’t deserve an explanation too––watching him turn his back on her and walk back to the house, his shirt askew and his breeks barely buttoned, had settled her opinion.

Jamie Fraser was a coward.

Laoghaire stomped around Balriggan fighting the impulse to throw something or break the furniture. None of that would do her any good; they were her things, not Jamie’s. She wanted to break something that belonged to him, wanted him to feel the hurt and anger she felt.

What had happened to the gallant young man who’d stood up for her in Leoch and taken a beating meant for her? He’d been meant for so much more than what he’d become and so had she. If he’d married her then, before that witch interfered, both their lives would have been better. He’d have become laird of the MacKenzies, she was sure of it; so many had lamented him throwing himself away on a Sassenach wench.

And she’d been married off to her father’s choice, though at the time, she hadn’t cared. Nothing mattered during that time when Jamie had been lost to her.

Laoghaire thought that they’d been given a second chance when Jenny Murray had invited her to Hogmanay and Jamie had been standing there... like he was waiting for her. Feeling his hands on her waist while they danced, seeing him smile and hearing him laugh… She’d been so sure. She knew that the war had changed him––it had changed a good many men––but he hadn’t been so bad as others and it all seemed well enough at first.

But he was a coward. Not the same kind of coward her second husband had been, but it turned out he was a coward all the same.

She should have seen it when he’d left for Edinburgh, when he couldn’t bring himself to look at her anymore. Why hadn’t she seen it?

Light reflecting in the looking glass on the wall near her bed blinded her momentarily. She shifted her position so her head blocked the source of light at the window behind her. It caught her hair––still fair though her blonde locks were bleaching closer and closer to the dull white of old age––and lent her an angelic glow. She was a little thicker than she’d been in her youth, her curves more pronounced and soft, but she could still see the lovely lass she had been when she first loved Jamie Fraser.

That was it, really. She loved Jamie, even if he was a coward. Her love for him had blinded her to his flaws… but that didn’t mean she didn’t still want him. There had to be a way to fix him, to help him find his way back to the man he’d been when she first loved him.

And she was damned if she’d let that witch take him from her a second time.

She strode through the room to the front entryway calling for the girls.

“Marsali, Joanie, fetch yer cloaks back on,” she told them. She had to get a stool to stand on to reach the place behind a supporting beam where she’d hidden the pistol Jamie left her before heading to Edinburgh. It was heavy in her hand as she checked it over. He said he’d loaded it for her so all she had to do was cock the hammer back and fire.

She didn’t think it would be necessary but where that witch Claire was involved, it was better to be prepared. All she needed was to talk with Jamie and having this would ensure he listened to her. Once she reminded him of what he owed to her and the girls, he would come back to her and this time things between them would be different.

The walk back to Lallybroch didn’t seem to take as long or maybe it was the sense of purpose she felt driving her forward.

She spotted Ian in the distance as she approached and watched him turn away. As she and the girls finally reached the yard, Jamie was striding toward her with Claire, Jenny, and that whore’s son, Fergus trailing behind him.

With the gun clutched tight in her hand and hidden by her skirts, she stood her ground as Jamie’s angry voice reached her.

“Did I no tell ye to go on back to Balriggan?”

“Aye, ye did and so I went—as a good and obedient wife should—but ye said nothing of coming back again, now did ye.”

She knew she needed to send the girls off, to get the others to go back in the house and let her and Jamie talk things through on their own. However the sight of Claire standing just a few feet away had her palms sweating against the smooth wood of the pistol’s grip. Had she no shame? After having been caught in such a state, how could she bring herself to face any of them? And given the fury she’d heard from outside as Jamie went back inside to placate her, why was she even here?

The name of Ned Gowan jolted her back to focus. He was going to set her aside, to pretend that everything between them had never happened.

“Ye intend to shame me then. Ye intend to abandon me and leave my bairns to starve while ye take up wi’ yer whore again.”

Jamie’s rage soon brought him right to her face. It was the closest he’d been to her in months. She could feel the heat of him but it wasn’t the sheltering warmth she’d once imagined it to be. He burned as though he would consume her and leave her a pile of ash to be blown away, to vanish on the wind.

“Ye’ll no talk of Claire like that—not afore me. I’ve no intention of letting anyone starve but I’ll no have ye disrespecting Claire like that. Ye kent well how I felt when we wed—”

“I did not!” she exclaimed, her anger mingling with an ache in her chest. She didn’t want either of them to see her cry but especially not the witch. “I needed a man, it’s true, but I believed ye loved me as I love you. Aye, I do still love ye, James Fraser—though I dare say ye dinna deserve it,” she snapped.

“Ye may be right. I likely dinna deserve it,” he confessed. “From you or from Claire. But from you, at least, I never sought it nor do I want it now.”

It felt as though she’d been slapped right down to the stinging and watering of her eyes. Her grip on the pistol tightened and her finger slipped to the trigger, her thumb resting on the hammer.

He was a coward. He was standing there making excuses, saying he would do the honorable thing for her girls and acting like that would be enough. If he had any real honor…

“The honorable thing? Ye mean to do the honorable thing? Ye wouldna ken the honorable thing if it smacked ye in the face. Ye mean to choose that woman when she’s no children to provide for, no property to tend, while I have both—”

“She may no need me… but I need her.” He glanced over his shoulder at Claire.

Laoghaire was back at Leoch watching the pair of them together in the hall after they’d returned from collecting the Laird’s rents and announced they were married, watching Claire lean against Jamie’s shoulder as the bard played. Laoghaire was watching from the kitchen window as they laughed returning from the stables for dinner, Jamie’s arm around Claire’s shoulder and hers wrapped around his waist. Laoghaire was listening to one of the kitchen maids whose sister had been at the trial in Cransmuir and had seen Jamie force his way through the crowd to stand between Claire and her accusers, vanishing with her in the chaos and never returning to Leoch. Laoghaire was smiling as Jenny brought Jamie around the edge of the dancers to introduce them and remind Jamie that Laoghaire had been a friend of Claire’s back at Leoch. Laoghaire was holding Jamie’s hands as they stood with the priest only to hear Jenny gasp and murmur a quiet prayer before the ceremony was finished. Laoghaire was lying as still as she could beside Jamie so he wouldn’t know she was awake and could hear him whimpering Claire’s name into the pillow. Laoghaire was watching Jamie ride away with everything he’d need for Edinburgh in his saddlebags and a hollow promise that he would return to check on them as soon as he was settled. Laoghaire was standing in the doorway staring at a naked Claire writhing and panting in bed, her legs draped over the shoulders of Jamie's equally naked and aroused body so that only the flaming tendrils of his hair were visible from between her thighs.

Laoghaire cocked the hammer and raised the pistol, aiming for Jamie’s fiery hair.