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the best by far is you

Chapter Text

For all the things my hands have held
The best by far is you

"Cecilia and the satellite"  


Her consciousness surfaced slowly and, like waking from a bad dream, her body reacted before her mind could catch up. Her eyes scanned the wood tester above her ‒ but this was not her bed ‒ and then the small statue of the Virgin Mary, placed nearby, it seemed, to offer an added measure of protection. Or comfort, perhaps. 

Comfort. 

Her hands slid slowly down her front, falling to a belly that was not familiar. Had lost its firmness. Her breath quickened, tears already sprouting in her eyes as the knowing clicked back into place. 

Jamie. Black Jack Randall. The woods. The baby. 

She pressed on her stomach, which was a foreign and soft bulge. She had lost the firmness. Had lost the baby that was inside. She sat up abruptly and even though there was pain, she couldn’t care about that now. 

“Where is my baby?” She called out and searched for herself and then, more urgently, “Wh-where is my baby ?” 

“Chère Madame.” 

Frantically, her eyes sought out the fast-approaching Mother Hildegarde, who swooped in with gentle hands to ease her back into bed, speaking softly to her. “You must not trouble yourself. You must save your strength.” 

“Where’s my baby?” Her whole body was shaking. “Where’s my baby? I want my baby!”

The panic escalated so quickly, Claire could hardly register the gentle words urging her to stay put, to rest, because every fiber of her being called out for the child that had been ripped from her and she could not muster any ounce of sanity until - 

“She’s right here, Madame.” 

Those four words strung together amidst their attempts to settle her, finally grounded Claire and her gaze swept beyond Mother Hildegarde to the small bundle in one of the sisters’ arms. 

“My baby…?” 

“Oui Madame.” Mother Hildegarde sighed and motioned for the sister to approach. She will not rest until she sees, Claire heard her say in French. To Claire, she murmured, “She’s very small and weak. She will not make it, Madame. But you should hold her and rest.” 

“Give her to me.” She held her hands out for her child, bundled up in white linen so that she couldn’t see anything of the babe until they placed her in Claire’s arms. “Oh…” she breathed, pulling the baby to her chest. Wisps of bright copper hair peaked out from the blanket above a tiny, pale face. Her eyes were closed but slanted a bit - like Jamie’s, she thought at once. “Hello, my love.” She cradled the baby’s head with one hand and leaned down ever so gently to press a kiss to her forehead. 

She was tiny. Born weeks too early. Claire’s mind spun out on possibilities for the many challenges this baby might face as a result of her premature birth. Most pressing to Claire was the lungs that she knew hadn’t fully developed. Just keeping the baby breathing would be a task. 

“I baptized her and gave her a name.” 

Claire’s head snapped up to the Mother. “What?” 

The older woman’s eyes were kind and glistening with tears. “You must understand… if she does not make it, I wanted to be sure she was baptized and could be buried in hallowed ground. We were not sure when you would wake.” 

Claire glanced down at the baby to find her eyes were open, barely, and squinting into the light. Despite everything that her logical brain was screaming at her to focus on, she smiled through a fresh wave of tears. This baby was hers and Jamie’s and oh, she was beautiful. 

“Faith.” 

The word hung in the air between them and it took a moment to understand that Mother Hildegarde was telling Claire the baby’s name. Faith. 

“Faith Fraser,” Claire echoed, finding one tiny, perfect fist and bringing it to her lips for a kiss. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” 

Claire pulled the baby even closer and relaxed back against the headboard with her. Despite her swaddling, Faith’s little cheek rested against Claire’s collarbone and the babe seemed to relax at once with that contact. Claire’s eyes fluttered shut and her lips pressed a gentle kiss to Faith’s head and she stayed there, breathing the girl in, feeling her warmth. Her panicked heart rate finally began to slow. 

She wasn’t oblivious to their audience, but it didn’t matter to her that the sisters fluttered about like an anxious flock of birds. They all existed in holy silence as mother and child met for the first time. 

Calmed now and feeling as though the tilted chaos she had awakened to had suddenly righted itself, Claire looked down at her child and gave in to the sudden and consuming instincts to protect this little life. She held Faith’s small form in one arm and pulled at her shift to expose one breast and situated the babe to feed. 

“No, no, Madame.” Mother Hildegarde’s gentle hand was on her arm. “You need your strength.” Claire knew she meant for this moment to be a goodbye. Any lifesaving efforts, such as trying to breastfeed, would all be for naught. Or maybe she meant to save Claire from the physical discomfort that would only heighten the emotional pain if she proceeded and then soon didn’t have a baby to feed. 

“No,” Claire growled with a ferocity that was new. “She does. She needs my strength. She needs everything I can give her.”  

Tiny as she was, little Faith was rooting around at Claire’s breast. Instinct kicked in for both of them. “There’s a good girl.” Claire watched her try to latch on, struggling with the mechanics of it all, trying to suckle and swallow. “Don’t forget to breathe.” She traced the outline of Faith’s scrunched up face with one finger. Her poor, tiny girl. She fell asleep quickly at Claire’s breast with hardly anything, but it was a start. Claire’s body was responding and changing, centering around this new little life. 

She was delirious with joy when her gaze met Mother Hildegarde’s again. Well, perhaps also delirious from the touch of fever. And the good Mother watched the two of them with a heavy heart, uncertain if one or both would pull through, but praying without ceasing that a miracle might transpire here before her very eyes and allow both of them to live. 



“Ma chère.” 

Claire’s eyelids fluttered open and her gaze rested on Mother Hildegarde where she stood above her. Her body burned with fever but Claire couldn’t get warm, shaking with chills and laboring even to breathe. Mother Hildegarde mopped her forehead and murmured a prayer in French. When Claire spoke, it was a labored effort. “Where is Faith?” 

“Still with us, Madame, but the same. And you… your fever is very high and it has been several days.” 

It was then that someone joined them, introduced to Claire as Father Laurentin, to perform an unction of the sick. The stricken face of Mother Hildegarde was enough indication of how dire Claire’s situation must be. She reached for Mother Hildegarde’s hand, finding comfort in the woman’s presence. But not enough.  

“I need my husband…” 

She was battling an infection while trying to bring their baby into health and she so desperately needed Jamie here with her.  

“I’m sorry, ma chère. There’s been no word.” 

“Please…” Claire rasped. “Write to Jamie’s sister… if I don’t make it… and Faith does…”

She knew the baby’s outlook was only as good as her own, if not worse, but Mother Hildegarde’s chosen name for this child had so perfectly summed up Claire’s heart in the matter. Despite Mother Hildegarde’s constant tempering of expectations, she had faith the baby would live, felt it in her very bones to be true.  

Bones that now rattled with ache and chill… oh, she knew what it was that plagued her and there was nothing she could do in this century. She allowed Father Laurentin to continue, knowing she very well might not make it. But her baby might… she held onto that belief with everything she had. 



“Madame, let me take her so you can rest.” 

“No.” Claire’s voice was cool, firm, but her arms tightened around little Faith just the same. “I’m fine now. So she stays with me.” After the bizarre and miraculous night where Master Raymond visited Claire, the fever had lifted and only Claire knew why. He had healed her, removing the festering piece of placenta from within her and setting her back on a path to the living. And so she ate every bit of food they brought her and poured everything she had back into caring for Faith. When she rested, it was with Faith beside her in the bed, though Claire scarcely slept now since discovering that Faith slept best when she was laid on her mother’s chest. Faith’s breathing would even out and in those late hours of sleeplessness, what restored Claire more than sleep was the tiny, quick puffs of air caressing her skin. Every breath was sacred and promising. They would not be separated now that Claire could manage it. And anyone, even the well-meaning sisters, who tried to get between Claire and the baby… well, they had only to glimpse the flash of protective fury in Claire’s eyes to know they shouldn’t argue. The best place for Faith Fraser now was in her mother’s care. 

A miracle, Mother Hildegarde declared it. Claire was inclined to agree, given how unlikely it was that tiny Faith should’ve lived without the proper care she needed while her mother had crept dangerously close to leaving this earth. 

But Faith had lived through the worst of Claire’s infection, against all odds, and Claire was determined now to see this little one grow and flourish. 

“You already have a glorious, pink flush to your skin,” Claire murmured to the baby, stroking her delicate skin. “And Mama won’t leave you now, I promise.” Faith’s gaze held steady on Claire while she talked. “God, you are so beautiful. If only your father -” Claire’s throat constricted and hot tears burned her eyes. 

Jamie. 

She spent every waking minute with her thoughts on Faith because she could not face her feelings towards Jamie. There was fury for his selfishness and all that he had so brazenly disregarded when he went forward with the duel. Anguish over what she had had to endure alone because of him. The pain he had caused her was nothing she had ever felt before. She hated him and in the same breath, she wanted him here more than anything in the world. It felt wrong to hold their child close and love her so immensely and know that Jamie knew nothing of her. At first believing it was his shame that kept him away, Louise had brought news a few weeks after Faith’s birth that Jamie had been arrested for dueling. What must he feel, locked away without any contact? It pained her to think of him there, despite every other emotion warring within her. But Faith needed her more right now and she couldn’t ignore that. 

Get Faith well first. Then bring Jamie home. She didn’t know how she would accomplish this, but it was the solemn vow that grounded her. 



Claire had recovered well enough from the birth and resulting infection, but Faith was still taking small steps in growing strong. And so today, Claire had gotten dressed and curled up near one of the windows with the baby, basking in the warmth of the sunlight that filtered through, hoping it would do Faith some good, too. Weeks had passed and though no one spoke of it, the atmosphere around them was lighter. Mother Hildegarde no longer hovered grimly about them, instead appearing throughout the day with a smile.  

“M-Milady?” A timid voice called to her, disrupting her thoughts. 

Her gaze sought the owner of the voice and finding the darling boy in front of her, she moved to embrace him at once. “Fergus!” 

He had seemed uncertain until she responded and then he threw his arms around her waist and clung to her. With one hand, she secured Faith and with the other, she clutched Fergus’s head to her chest. “We heard you were over the worst of it. Please, Milady.” He cried. “Please come home.” 

His words twisted a knife in her gut. Of course she had needed to recover and see to Faith’s well-being, but hadn’t she also effectively abandoned this boy on the heels of Jamie’s arrest? “Fergus, I’m so sorry.” He drew back to look at her and she wiped at his tears. “Of course I’ll come home.” 

He relaxed under her words and though they had sent word to the house about baby Faith, he had not yet met her and his gaze swung curiously to the bundle in Claire’s arm. “This is Faith?” 

“Yes.” She smiled, shifting Faith so Fergus could see her better. “This is Faith, small but mighty.” Fergus smiled softly and placed a handful of flowers on top of her. 

“For you, Milady, and for le petit bébé.” 

“Thank you.” She drew him to her side, one arm looped around his shoulders. Oh, she had missed this boy in a way she wouldn’t have thought possible all those months ago when Jamie brought him into their home. “Let’s go tell Mother Hildegarde that we are ready to bring Faith home.” 

 

In all truth, Claire knew she had overstayed her welcome at L'Hôpital des Anges. Faith was not out of the woods yet but she didn’t need to be tended to there when Claire could so easily provide the same care at home. When the carriage pulled up in front of the great house and Claire entered at last with Faith in one arm, she knew she had stayed away to avoid this moment. Coming home without Jamie and having to face the reality of his imprisonment. The staff bustled around her and cooed over the babe and the joy and relief in all of them was palpable. But Claire could not be here with all of them, with the triumphant arrival of Faith, and not feel torn apart inside. Somewhere in the Bastille, her husband was alone and whatever she was feeling now towards him, she couldn’t live with his imprisonment.   

Chapter Text

“He’s just arrived, Milady,” Suzette announced. 

“Good.” Claire cradled Faith’s head in the palm of her hand, marveling at how she’d grown. The date of when Claire had expected to give birth to Faith had come and gone a month ago already and every day since, she felt a little more sure of that this small girl was staying put. “Thank you, Suzette.” 

“Do you ever tire of holding her?” The maid asked suddenly. “I could ‒” 

Claire waved a dismissive hand. She knew they must all think her to be insane. But after living through those long, agonizing weeks at the start, coupled with her medical knowledge, Claire was nothing short of vigilant over small Faith even as she’d begun to grow and gain weight. She hardly slept anymore, too anxious that Faith might forget to keep breathing in the night if Claire wasn’t there to pay attention. And in this century, there was little else that could be done for babies like Faith. So, yes, maybe she was insane over this miracle girl. She certainly wouldn’t deny the paranoia. But they had gotten this far, she and Faith, and Claire saw no reason to change their ways now. 

“And today is a big day, my love,” Claire murmured to the baby. She tried to keep her voice light, keep the moment light, but her heart was racing at the thought of Jamie. “Shall we go introduce you to your father?” She sauntered slowly with the baby out of the room. It had been three months since Jamie’s arrest and Faith’s traumatic birth. Three months of her life that he had missed, not even knowing her fate. Three months in the Bastille… 

Claire shivered and shifted Faith onto her shoulder, supporting her head with one hand. She needed Jamie like she needed her next breath and ‒

She reached the threshold right before the stairs and there he was, trudging slowly up the steps with heavy feet. His face was obscured from her, downcast and covered by his unkempt red curls and a beard that had grown in his absence.  

Broken. 

His very spine seemed to crack under the weight of his grief and her own heart sunk low in her chest. And any anger that she thought she still held for him, she couldn’t seem to find in her heart to hold onto in that moment. Here was a man who had suffered for his actions ‒ and she knew now something she didn’t know on that day, which was the horror inflicted on Fergus and Jamie’s justified rage as a result. 

“Jamie,” she called softly, tears already spilling down her face. “Look up.” 

He froze in place on the steps, halfway to her, and seemed to gather his courage to face her. 

“Please look up.” She begged. “I have someone special for you to meet.” 

His breath shuddered out of him and his whole body shook, overcome with the hope ‒ the utter joy ‒ that she was dangling in front of him and at last ‒ at last ‒ his gaze swung up to her and then immediately rested on the babe in her arms, whole and alive and breathing. “God in heaven!” 

He moved at stunning speed to close the distance between them and then his embrace was fierce, causing her to stagger backward for a moment, but he had her. He absolutely had her. With one arm, she clung to him and could finally breathe again, even with his crushing embrace. Faith was her heart, but Jamie was her home and she’d been listless and unmoored without her home for too long now. 

He spoke a prayer into the crook of her neck, so low and fervent that she didn’t quite catch most of it, but she didn’t need to. She knew well enough what he must be feeling. He sealed his words with a kiss there and when he drew back, his breathtaking smile greeted her. “Sassenach.” He kissed her, slow and hesitant and achingly tender, mixed with salty tears. His forehead came to rest against hers. “Ye dinna ken how scared I was that I lost ye. You and the bairn.” And with the mention of their child, he stared in wonder at the little girl in Claire’s arms. “Oh she’s beautiful.” His hand hovered just above Faith’s cap of red hair, like he wanted to touch her but was afraid to find she might not be real. “I saw you collapse, Claire. I was so sure ‒” He broke off with a shake of his head, his jaw quivering.  

“It’s alright,” she promised. “We’re alright.” With one arm looped around his waist, she guided him into the next room. She’d had the foresight to ask the staff for privacy and they had obliged, making themselves scarce. 

Jamie needed a bath, a haircut and shave, and quite a few good meals by the looks of him, but Claire wanted a moment first as a family. Jamie deserved that. After directing him into a seat, she settled next to him and passed their child into his waiting arms. “This is your daughter, Faith Fraser.” 

He exhaled a sound, somewhere between a cry and a laugh, and settled the babe quite easily into the crook of his arm. Again, his hand hovered over little Faith and suddenly she realized his hesitation. His hands, like the rest of him, were filthy and neither had thought to allow him to clean himself first. “She’s so beautiful, I’m scairt to touch her,” he said. “Like I’ll ruin her somehow.” 

“Jamie, no.” She squeezed his arm. “Don’t talk like that. She’s here. And she’s ours.” 

“Thank the Lord for that,” he murmured, lifting the babe with trembling hands so he could kiss her sweet face. “Most beautiful babe I’ve ever seen. She looks like you, Sassenach. Except the red hair of course.” 

Claire felt something stir within at that familiar nickname and she drew a deep breath, let it out with a sigh. To have him back and now this, to share in the joy and love of the child they’d made… 

“I think she looks more like you,” she murmured. “Those eyes…” 

“Ye named her Faith, then?” He didn’t sound hurt, only confused, but Claire simply shook her head. 

“No, actually, Mother Hildegarde baptized her as soon as she was born and christened her Faith. She came too early and she was so small. No one thought she would make it and, well, Mother Hildegarde wanted to be sure.” While she spoke these words, Jamie’s gaze was on their daughter. His fingers held one tiny, perfect fist until it unfurled and then Faith’s hand held on to his finger. He brought her fingers to his lips and kissed them reverently. 

“Good,” he husked. “I did have others names in my mind for a wee lass but I canna be upset with the Mother for what she did.” 

“You’re more forgiving than I.” Claire admitted. “At first, I was angry that she would take that choice from me ‒ from us.” She stroked Faith’s feather-soft cheek and was rewarded with a coo and a half-smile from the babe. “But the name suits her and I’m loath to admit I think it was always meant to be her name. How fitting that what I needed to get through those first few weeks was Faith.” 

“Aye,” Jamie whispered, but his expression clouded over. “She almost died, then.” He said quietly, not meeting her gaze. 

Claire swallowed roughly. “Maybe you’d like to eat something first. Or get cleaned up. We don’t have to ‒” 

“I would like to know everything, Sassenach. It is better to know than to wonder. And I’ve had naught but the worst thoughts to keep me company these last few months.”

“Oh, Jamie. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She shuddered. “I tried to send word as soon as I could, but they wouldn’t let anyone in to see you. Wouldn’t even ‒”

“It’s alright, Sassenach,” he told her, but his voice was hollow and his gaze still ducked from hers. “We’re here now. And I would like to know what I missed.” 

The story spilled out of her in fits and starts, incoherent at times and not altogether well told. But she told him everything, as best she could. Told him of Faith’s birth and her unlikely chance at life. Of her own fever and the night with Master Raymond where it all turned around. When Fergus came to see her and bring her and the baby home. And when she found him crying in his room late at night and learned the truth of that day in May. 

Jamie’s head snapped up at this. It was dangerous territory between them, something Claire knew when she let that last part slip. But they would have to have it out, sooner or later. “So ye know. Ye know why I couldna let Randall go unpunished for what he did to the wee lad.” As he spoke, he cradled Faith protectively to his chest. 

“Yes, I know why,” Claire said stiffly.     

“But I still broke my promise to you. And I put you and our bairn at risk.” His voice was terse but when he mentioned their child, Claire watched him brush his thumb delicately over her tiny fingers. He was trembling next to her. 

Claire stood abruptly and walked forward by a few paces, no real destination in mind. Just needed space to be able to breathe. Her back was to Jamie, her arms folded across her chest like she was physically holding herself together. 

“Do ye hate me for it, Claire?” 

“I did. I did hate you for it.” She turned slightly, staring at him where he still sat cradling their child. “I was alone. And I thought Faith was going to die. Christ, Jamie, I thought I was going to die. I needed you then more than I ever have before. And I couldn’t understand how vengeance was more important to you than your wife and child.” 

Jamie shuddered and wept quietly, his gaze locked on the baby. It was all too much and he almost missed when Claire collapsed to her knees. 

“Claire!” He sprang up off the couch and knelt next to her. “Claire. I’m sorry. Mo chridhe, please…” 

Her whole body was wracked with sobs, but she didn’t resist when he pulled her to his chest and cradled her head against him, next to Faith, who had startled from the ordeal and began to fuss. 

They stayed together as a pathetic, tangled, weeping mass. They had their child, but that didn’t erase the pain. 

“I d-don’t hate you anymore. I see you now w-with Faith and I know you would protect her. You were trying to defend Fergus and....” Claire took a shaky breath. “It was my  fault, not yours.”

“What?” 

“It was me who asked the impossible of you. It was me who put Frank before our family. It was me... who followed you to the woods.” 

Jamie clutched Claire to him a little tighter. “Frank was your family, too.” 

Claire pushed away from him so she could look him in the eye. “But he’s not here. And at what cost to protect him? We could’ve lost our daughter.” She was crumbling again under the weight of her guilt and she tried to hold back a fresh onslaught of tears. “If I had lost Faith, I could never ‒” She pitched forward into his shoulder, unable to finish her thought or hold the sobs at bay any longer. 

“Claire. No.” He held her fast. “She’s right here, mo chridhe. Here. Hold her in yer arms. She’s here.” Faith was nearly inconsolable when she was passed into her mother’s arms, but Claire gathered her close and bounced her a little, burying her nose in the baby’s neck, and Faith began to quiet down. And in turn, Claire felt her own breathing slow and even out.  

“I knew you would be a wonderful mother, Sassenach.” 

Claire turned her head to find his gaze again. “How can you think that now? Don’t you hate me?” 

He let out a half-hearted chuckle. “I could never hate you. And I dinna blame you for any of what’s happened these last few months. You didna make those choices knowing what would come of them.” He reached out to stroke Faith’s fuzzy head of hair. “Ye would protect her first, too. Seems that’s all that matters now that she’s here.” 

Claire let herself be drawn back into his arms, her head pillowed on his chest and their child tucked safely between them. “It’s not just the two of us now.” Jamie whispered against her hair. “And thank god for that.” 

She wanted that to be it. To have reached some semblance of equal footing again with Jamie. To be able to move forward together and find what was next for them, as a family. But that wasn’t all and Claire’s stomach began to twist itself into knots over what she must say.

“There’s something else?” Jamie said, startling her. More of a statement than a question. He always could read her like an open book. Claire took a deep breath and gathered the courage for what was next.  

“I slept with the king to buy your freedom.” She couldn’t see his gaze or how he received these words but she felt the shudder that ran through his body. She stiffened, prepared for his jealous anger, but instead, after a moment of silence, she felt his chin rest on top of her head. 

“Ye did it to save my life,” he said in a tight voice. “Just like I gave myself to Randall to save you.” 

She let go of the breath she’d been holding and nodded against him. His fingers captured her chin and forced her to look up at him, at the quiet fury he was barely keeping in check. “You are still mine, Claire.”

She managed a nod before his lips claimed hers, his kiss a little more bruising than before. He held her flush against him and only loosened his grip when Faith interjected with a small squeak. They broke apart, foreheads touching lightly.

“What’s wrong?” 

“Oh, she’s probably hungry. I should feed her.” Claire rested a hand tenderly on his face that had grown gaunt. “And you should eat. I’ll have one of the servants bring you some food.”

She stood on shaky legs and tried to steady her breathing. Her heart couldn’t seem to slow itself after the tears and the panic and then the sharp, sudden want for Jamie that his kiss had left her with. But the baby was making her own demands known and she couldn’t ignore that. 

 


 

“Will I do, Sassenach?” 

She glanced up to see Jamie again ‒ her Jamie ‒ entering the parlor. His hair had been washed and his beard shaved. He wore a freshly cleaned shirt and his kilt and though the clothing hung a little more loosely on his large frame, she knew it wasn’t a permanent state. With a little bit of care and better food, she’d have him filled out once again.  

“I suppose you’ll do,” she teased from her spot on the chaise, weighed down by a sleeping Faith in her lap. Jamie went to her and joined her on the chaise. “Now that you don’t look like a caveman, have you seen Fergus?” 

Jamie grinned. “Aye, just came from seeing the lad.” 

“He blames himself, you know,” Claire said softly. “For your arrest. Did you‒?”

“Aye.” Jamie’s smile dimmed a bit. “We had a long talk, though I’m no’ sure he’s entirely convinced yet.”

His gaze rested on Faith and they let the matter of Fergus go for now. It would take time with him and they would have that to give now that Jamie was home. “Do you want to hold her?” Claire asked suddenly, moving to transfer the baby into his arms before he could respond. She paused when she saw him hesitate. 

“It’s only that she looks so peaceful in your arms, Sassenach.”  

“... and earlier today we made her cry with our… emotional reunion?” Claire guessed. 

“You were the only thing that calmed her. I can see how ye are with her.” He smiled at her with devastating sweetness. “A wonderful mother.” He repeated his earlier sentiment, stealing one of her hands to bring to his lips for a kiss. “As I knew ye would be, mo nighean donn.” 

Claire leaned in to kiss him for his words, for his unwavering belief in her, and before pulling away, she carefully slipped Faith into Jamie’s arms. “It’s true that Faith and I have built a bond, but she’s yours, too, Jamie. She’s just as much yours as mine. And I have a feeling it won’t take the two of you very long to catch up.” 

He held Faith so delicately and though Claire had seen him many times with wee Jamie and Maggie, nothing quite prepared her for seeing her large Highlander cradling the child they’d made together. Blood of their blood and bone of their bone. And despite the terrifying experience around Faith’s birth, some baser instinct within Claire already wanted to do it all over again, creating life and placing it in Jamie’s capable hands just to see the besotted look in his eyes now with Faith. Oh, hell, if this feeling lingered, he just might convince her to try for twelve children. Seeing Jamie take up the mantle of fatherhood so proudly and willingly and knowing she was the one to give that to him… it was intoxicating in its own right. 

She was so focused on Jamie that she didn’t notice Murtagh had slipped quietly into the doorway. He had arrived back from Portugal only a few days before and oh, what a time that was for Claire to fill in the gaps for him. He had been expecting news of the baby by then, but not of Jamie’s arrest and surely not the details of how Faith’s life began.

But she saw him now gazing at the three of them on the chaise with his own look of contentment and knew this morning had also righted the world for Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser to have Jamie back under this roof with them. 

She touched Jamie’s shoulder lightly and gestured to the silent Scotsman in the doorway. 

“A ghoistidh,” Jamie called to him and Murtagh entered, taking the seat across from his godson. “Ye didna encounter any trouble in Portugal then?” 

“No,” Murtagh said. “For once, our plan went off wi’out a hitch.”

Jamie smiled wryly at that. Of course there’d been a few hitches leading up to the final plan to steal the wine from St. Germain and sell it off. “Well, it’s done then.” Murtagh nodded, but Jamie’s gaze had dropped to the tiny foot he held in his hand, thumb gently running over each toe. Counting them. “His Highness won’t be able to secure any funding after this. After he bragged about this last business arrangement to anyone that would listen, no one will want to risk supporting him.” He found Faith’s other foot and began the same process of counting her toes silently. “I canna think of anything more we could do for now. I would expect His Highness will have severely limited options to move forward.” 

Murtagh exchanged a look with Claire and Jamie caught it. 

“What?” 

Claire took a deep breath. There was still much to tell him ‒ everything that happened with Louis and the Comte ‒ but Murtagh was with them now and she’d hoped to be alone the next time they broached the subject. “The conditions of your release include us leaving France as soon as it can be arranged.” She held his arm where Faith was cradled. “We can leave this whole mess with Charles behind. We can go home. To Scotland.” 

Jamie shook his head, a little disbelieving. “I’m still a wanted man there.” 

Claire ducked from his gaze and studied Faith in her father’s arms. She wasn’t proud of what she’d done with the King, but it had all been for this; Jamie was returned to them and Faith had her father at last. “Louis is arranging a pardon for you there as well.” He looked a bit stunned by this, but Claire only shrugged. “What can I say? He’d like us gone and sooner rather than later. I think we’ve made enough of an impression as Jacobite sympathizers in Paris.”

Jamie made that Scottish noise low in his throat and returned his gaze to the sleeping baby, absorbing this information. His face gave nothing away on the matter of Louis or Charles or the opportunity to return to Scotland, but at last he sighed and reached for Claire’s hand and kissed it. “Then I should be glad to bring this wee lass home.” He met Murtagh’s gaze and added wryly, “If ye can bear to part wi’ Paris.” 

Murtagh grunted. “I’d be happy to board the next ship out tomorrow,” he muttered. 

“No,” Jamie sighed. “Not that soon, though I’d like that as well. We’ll send for Jared and stay until he can return.”

They lapsed into a silence, the promise of Scotland on each of their minds. At length, Murtagh rose and left them, bowing his head lightly to Jamie with the ghost of a smile on his lips when he glanced at Faith. 

When he was gone, Jamie exhaled a light chuckle. “My godfather is right fond of you, wee Faith.”

Claire shot him a doubtful look. “How can you tell? He’s never so much as gone near the baby since he’s returned.” She’d grown to love the grouchy Scotsman and she trusted him almost as much as she did Jamie, but she had trouble picturing Murtagh in any of Jamie’s childhood recountings of him. And with the way he groused about Fergus, she doubted he cared much for the company of small children, generally. 

But Jamie only smiled softly and said, “Oh, I can tell. He may no’ say much on the subject, but aye, he likes her just fine.” 

“Not upset that we didn’t have a boy?” She asked, meaning Murtagh but seeing at once when he whipped his head look at her that he thought she meant him. Nevertheless, it wasn’t as though the thought hadn’t crossed her mind, a quiet wondering she never thought she’d have the courage to ask him. 

“No,” he said at once before she could clarify. “No, I am proud, Sassenach.” His voice was firm and his gaze bore right through her with its intensity. “Proud and happy and terrified and ‒” He took a deep breath and then quickly dispelled it. “So in love with the wee thing, I could burst. I woke this morning grieving again for a child I thought dead. A child I thought I’d never know. And the thought of having to face you...” He swallowed roughly and with his thumb, he gently brushed away the stray tears that spilled down Claire’s cheeks. “Do ye not know what it means for me to find her here, alive and whole?” His own tears were spilling silently down his face but he let them go, focusing instead on Claire. “Mo chridhe, I’m so in awe of it all. I can’t be sure this is no’ a dream.” 

He was still weighed down by the sleeping baby, unable to move, but Claire drew his head to her chest and held him there, her mouth pressed firmly into his hair to keep from crying out. His free arm snaked around her waist and held tight enough to bruise. 

“Not a dream, Jamie,” she said at last. “I promise.” Eventually, his grip relaxed, but she still held him to her. “It is a lot, isn’t it? It’s a lot to find out in one day. Jamie, I’m‒” 

“Claire.” He cut her off firmly. “I think between the two of us, we’ve apologized enough to cover it all, don’t you?” 

She let her breath out slowly, the apology she’d been about to make dying on her tongue. “I… well, I almost just apologized for almost apologizing again.” Jamie exhaled a laugh against her and she tucked her chin to kiss his head. “What do you need?” She murmured. 

He lifted his head and kissed her. His forehead came to rest against hers while he drew a steadying breath. “Nothing that isna already in my arms, Sassenach. I have you and we have the bairn. That’s enough. I can handle all the rest that comes.”

Chapter Text

By evening, the strangeness of the day had begun to fade and after supper, Jamie and Claire retired to their room with the baby, wanting to bask in the newness of being a family. 

“Look at her wee toenails, Sassenach.” They were all three in bed. Claire had propped herself up against the headboard to feed Faith and Jamie had stretched himself out on his side, taking up the entire length of the bed. His head was propped up in one hand, watching the two of them with unabashed curiosity and a desire not to be parted with them for anything. When one of Faith’s feet kicked itself free of the blanket she was swaddled in, Jamie had captured it. “I’ve never seen anything so small in my life.” 

Claire smiled softly at the quiet awe in his voice and watched him lean forward to kiss the bottom of the little foot he held. Faith’s eyes darted up to Claire and her forehead creased with concentration. “What was that, Faith? Does Da have your foot?” 

Jamie made a soft sound of surprise beside her and she turned to see him staring back at her with his heart in his eyes. “Da,” he repeated and exhaled a smile, clearly proud as a stallion. “I hadna yet thought about it as such. I’m someone’s da.” 

She reached for his hand and squeezed it, at a loss for words to sum up how it felt to share this with him. To Jamie, there was a vast difference between fathering a child and being a da. The latter carried infinitely more weight but was something tender and fulfilling, too ‒ cracked his heart wide open with a new love and all that it came with, joy and fear alike.      

Faith was blinking slowly at Claire’s breast and her suckling slowed until it ceased altogether. Claire traced the shell of Faith’s ear and the slope of her rounded cheek. She knew Jamie’s gaze was on them, but she welcomed his presence in the intimate moment. “We’re pretty good at this, aren’t we?” She spoke softly, her eyes never leaving Faith. 

“What? Raising a bairn? A little too soon to tell, don't ye think?”  

She turned to him with a coy smile. “No…” She leaned over into his space and kissed his lips very softly before pulling back. “Making a baby.” 

“Aye, I’d say we are, Sassenach.” He returned her smile, looking equal parts pleased with himself for the result of their work and also ready to act on any request to see if they still knew what they were doing in that regard. 

She rose slowly from the bed, sauntering the few steps to the little cot near the foot of the bed. The baby was a warm weight in her arms, almost too soothing to give up, but Claire caught Jamie’s gaze as she adjusted her hold on Faith and felt the first flutter of anticipation for what the night held for the two of them. 

She recalled a conversation with Jamie, early in her pregnancy, on what to expect after the baby was born. How her body would need time to heal. She thought it best that he have time to adjust his expectations - whatever they might be - for life after having a baby. But fate had had other ideas and their circumstances imposed an involuntary three months apart. Whatever worry Claire might’ve had before, there was only now the all-consuming desire to bask in Jamie’s love.    

She set the baby down to sleep. And, keeping her gaze locked on Jamie, she pulled at the ties of her shift and slid the fabric easily down past her shoulders until it pooled at her feet. 

“Claire…” Jamie husked and seemed to lose all power of speech after one utterance of her name. Satisfaction flooded Claire’s veins, seeing the reaction she could still have on her husband. 

“Your turn.” She smiled. 

He sat up and made quick work of his shirt by the time Claire reached his side of the bed. She stood between his knees and snaked one hand under his kilt where he was half-hard already. “God, I’ve missed this.” She managed before his mouth was on her and he came alive under her touch. His hands were warm and heavy on her hips, pulling her in closer. 

She lost herself in the pull of his love and the feel of his wandering hands, only coming back up for air when his hand gripped her wrist and stilled her movements there.  

Christ.” He breathed heavily. “I havena gone this long without ye since…” He shook his head, not wanting to ruin the moment by speaking of his long recovery from Wentworth. It felt like ages ago now, but once that aspect of their marriage had been restored, it had reared to life with fervor. So Claire thought she might understand the ferocity of his desire tonight when he added, “I dinna want this to end too soon.” It was the same way for her, as well.  

He stood only long enough to shove his kilt to the floor and then his hands were holding her flush against him as he fell backwards onto the bed, taking her with him. She let out a shriek of surprise and then his hand muffled her resulting giggles. “Dinna. Wake. The baby.” But even in his warning, she saw his eyes alight with joy, holding back his own laughter. She glanced quickly towards the cot, but Faith hadn’t stirred.  

He flipped them then so his body was draped over hers, a delicious weight she’d never grow tired of, and his lips began to explore her.

“Is this alright?” His mouth hovered above her breast and she shivered in anticipation. He waited for her permission, acknowledging too that this was a part of her he must now share. 

“Yes,” Claire said breathlessly. “She’s already had ‒” She gasped as his lips closed around one nipple. Her fingers threaded through his ruddy curls and held him tight. His mouth was gentle on her and it seemed at once to Claire a more intimate act than feeding her child. 

He hummed with her still in his mouth and it sent shock waves straight to her core. “You taste sweet, Sassenach,” he murmured.

“Your daughter favors that side, too. You’ll have to do the same to the other or you’ll leave me lopsided from the two of you.” 

Jamie grinned wolfishly at his task. “If you insist.” One of his hands snaked down between them and brushed against her center. “I suppose I can be persuaded.” His mouth found her other breast while his fingers teased at her entrance and it wasn’t long before he had her writhing under him. 

“Jamie, please…” She still had one hand cradling his head and tried to steer him upwards, seeking his mouth. 

He obliged, pulling her into a searing kiss that stole her breath. Her legs hooked around him, trying to get him where she wanted him. Jamie chuckled at her eagerness. “Not just yet, mo nighean donn. I intend to take my time with you tonight.” His lips found a pulse point on her neck and left a kiss there that would surely leave a mark. “Learn your body all over again.” 

Christ,” she whined as his lips traveled down from her neck. 

He paused in his trek when he reached her stomach. Claire squirmed and grasped at his shoulders, trying to move him farther up or down her body, it didn’t really matter which. But he held her fast and bent his head to kiss her softly padded belly where the skin was criss-crossed with stretch marks. And he kissed and kissed and kissed, touching each mark lightly, ignoring Claire’s obvious attempts to move him. 

“Jamie.” There was an odd hitch in her voice that caused him to look up at her. Her gaze pleaded with him, but she wouldn’t voice it out loud. 

“What is it?” 

“Not there,” she said at last, tugging helplessly at his hair to move him away. His brows furrowed in confusion and then his expression flooded with guilt. 

“Does it hurt? Am I hurting ye?” 

“No. Jamie ‒ God, no .” She broke off on a sigh and her fingers that had been tugging at his curls now tenderly raked through them. “But it doesn’t… I’m not…”

“You’re not what?” He prodded, dropping another kiss to her belly while he waited her out. 

“Well, I’m still a little thick around the middle,” she said briskly. “And the marks will fade with time, but they won’t go away.” 

He dropped his forehead suddenly and so forcefully onto her stomach, muttering something she couldn’t catch and his shoulders shook to the point that she realized he was stifling laughter. 

“I don’t see how this is funny,” she said hotly. 

“Christ, Sassenach.” He lifted his head now that his cover was blown. “I’m no’ meaning to laugh at ye. It’s just,” His eyes danced with merriment but Claire was still shooting daggers at him with hers. “Have ye seen my back?” 

“That’s different!” 

“Oh, aye?” 

“Yes,” she hissed. 

“How is it different, my Sassenach?” 

“You know how.” Her voice had dropped to a murmur and he knew she didn’t have an argument, just wanted him to stop fighting her on this. He let out a sigh, but didn’t move from his spot. 

“Aye. I know. My scars are the result of a wicked person, Claire, but ye’ve never looked at them with pity. And for that, I love you.” His palm moved to rest heavy on her stomach. “Ye carried my child here until she could be born and for that, I owe you my soul. You will always be beautiful to me, including these reminders on your body of the child ye gave me.” 

Claire’s lower lip quivered only slightly and she looked away from him, blinking fast. He exhaled a smile and turned his face to rest his cheek against her warm skin. The sense of urgency between them had quelled but he waited for Claire’s bidding to continue. After a moment, he felt her fingers gently toying with his curls again. He lifted his head to find her gaze again. “Will ye let me continue cherishing you, Sassenach? Every part of you?” 

Her hand framed his face and he leaned into it, turning slightly to kiss her palm. “Yes, Jamie,” she whispered.        

“Good.” He grinned. “Because so long as we are in agreement over how beautiful I find this particular part of ye,” He pressed another kiss to her belly, just below the naval. “I dinna feel the need to spend much more time here when there’s another part of ye that I’ve been neglecting.” He dipped his head lower still, spurred on by the sounds of encouragement coming from his wife, and with his hands and mouth, he brought her to the peak of her pleasure.          

She was boneless when he finally crawled back up her body and kissed her. “Are ye still alive, Sassenach?” He teased and she could manage only a small huff of a laugh. She could feel him, hot and heavy against her thigh.

“Need you, Jamie,” she whined.  

There was a dull ache when he entered her and her breath snagged in her throat. “I’m fine.” She assured him, rising up to capture his lips in a kiss. Her hands dug into the flesh of his back. “I just need you to move.” 

He took her slowly at first, with assurances of his love whispered in her ear, and as their mutual pleasure built, he unleashed what he’d thus far kept in-check, taking a punishing pace on Claire’s body. But she met him with each sharp thrust, bucking wildly and trying somehow to bring him impossibly closer. 

“You are mine,” he gritted out, nearing his finish and sending her tumbling towards her own. “My wife, my heart, my soul.”




She drifted off at some point, comforted by Jamie’s solid warmth once more, and startled awake in a panic before she could say why. 

Outside, it was dark, but a low fire still cast a warm glow on the room. A low murmur reached her ear, a voice that she connected as Jamie’s and she rolled over to find him. Jamie sat up in their bed, bare-chested and with small Faith pillowed there. “I didna mean to wake ye, Sassenach,” he whispered apologetically. His eyes were alight with joy in a way she’d only seen glimpses of before, when his hands had rested on her swollen belly once upon a time and he spoke to their child within. “But this wean here couldn’t sleep.” He craned his neck to the side to try and see the baby’s face. Faith’s eyes were now closed, which came as no surprise to Claire. Falling asleep on Jamie’s chest was easy for her, too. 

“It’s alright.” She propped herself up and laid her head against his shoulder. She reached out to smooth down Faith’s fuzzy head of hair, which stuck up in all directions. “I would sit up all night holding her like this, when we were still at L'Hôpital des Anges. It was the only thing that kept me sane, watching her breathe and feeling it on my skin. Knowing she was still with me. I thought if I fell asleep, she might pass without my noticing.” She swallowed past the lump in her throat and her eyes suddenly burned, but she blinked fast to push the tears away. It had been her fear, yes, but she’d never put it into words for another person before.  

Jamie’s hand ran slow circles along the baby’s back and even though Claire could see how much Faith had grown since birth, Jamie’s palm absolutely dwarfed the baby. She was so tiny in his hands, but he held her with the utmost care. 

“Is she going to be alright, Claire?” He asked her suddenly. “Truly?” 

“If you had seen her when she was born…” She stopped suddenly. Of course he hadn’t. He would never get that time back and that pained them both. Claire pressed a kiss to his shoulder, gathering herself first before she spoke again. “She might always be a little fragile, but I believe she’ll be alright. Truly.” 

His hand cupped the baby’s head, holding her to him. A silent tear slid down his face and Claire wiped at it with the back of her fingers. “I was so scared of everything that could happen to her ‒ to you ‒ while ye carried her, but I didna realize… I’m more scared now that she’s here and I’ve held her and I canna control what happens to her.” 

Claire nodded, her gaze on their little one. “I don’t think that feeling will ever go away. I feel it, too.” She caressed his face lightly, tracing his jawline and the scratch of his skin where stubble was already sprouting from his shaved face. Reminding herself that this was real and he was home. If the roles were reversed, Jamie would have laid his heart out before her and spoken words over her that would have had her weeping, but nothing eloquent or sufficient came to mind that Claire could voice to sum up everything her heart was feeling, seeing Jamie again. Having him returned to her. A lump rose in her throat. After everything they’d been through in torturous, separated circumstances, she needed him to know they were okay. Maybe they weren’t fully back to themselves and it would take some time to get there, but she still needed him more than anything else in life. “Jamie,” she whispered, and her raspy voice had his instant attention. “I-I love you.” 

“Mo nighean donn.” He tilted her face up for a kiss that was achingly tender. Claire relaxed under his touch. They were okay. “I love you, too.” 

She rested her head against his shoulder and felt the pull to sleep once more ‒ a luxury that had evaded her for months, but here, with Jamie and Faith both alive and right next to her…

“I ken she’s already been baptized,” Jamie spoke suddenly, rousing Claire once more. “But I dinna think her name is only Faith,” he announced. Claire stretched sleepily and looked up at him, quirking an eyebrow at this. She was less inclined to believe that the baby’s baptized name held any sort of finality ‒ after all, it was a birth certificate that mattered in her time ‒ but Jamie didn’t think like she did in this regard. Typically not, at least. 

Claire shrugged. “She wasn’t christened with any middle names, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give her one or tw‒” 

“Elizabeth,” Jamie interjected. Claire’s gaze softened and she noticed how the tips of his ears turned pink. “Tis what I wanted to name her, if we had a wee lass. Elizabeth.” He repeated the name softly, almost wistful.   

They hadn’t discussed names after their first disastrous attempt, figuring they’d know the right name when their child was here. The irony of that now, Claire thought.

Still, Jamie was right; her name didn’t only have to be Faith. “I like that,” she said at last.  “Faith Elizabeth Fr‒” 

“‒ Janet Beauchamp Fraser,” Jamie finished. 

Claire sat up and stared at him. “How long have you been thinking about this?” 

Jamie feigned pondering her question. “Och, I may have thought it up in pass‒”

“Jamie!” Claire shook her head. He’d wanted to name their daughter Elizabeth Janet Beauchamp Fraser for longer than he was admitting, it was only now that they would be tacking “Faith” in front of all that. 

Jamie grinned broadly. “I needed to keep my mind off of being sick while on the Christabel. The bairn was a small bit of happiness I could turn to.” His gaze dropped to the baby still sleeping comfortably on his chest, which afforded Claire the chance to process this without his eyes on her. He tucked his chin and pressed a kiss to the crown of Faith’s head. 

This sweet, beautiful man. “My whole pregnancy, you’ve had this picked out for a daughter.” 

Jamie’s grin turned sheepish. “I didna think it would be a lass, but for some reason, I found those names easier to choose. You’re not opposed to the name, then?” He finally thought to check. Claire chuckled softly, realizing she had contributed nothing to Faith’s name. But all she could focus on was the image of Jamie trying to find his way back after the events of Wentworth and the small bit of happiness their baby brought even then. Something for his mind to escape to.

“No, I’m not opposed,” she said at last. “Far from it.” 

“Not too much for the wee lass, ye think?” He checked one last time, studying the aforementioned wee lass still snoozing on his chest.  

“No, I think she’ll grow into the name eventually,” Claire teased, forcing a bit of humor into the last thing she wanted to make light of. But it was also true; Faith would grow and these early weeks and months wouldn’t define her whole life. “She won’t always be this tiny.” 

She smiled suddenly. “Thank god it wasn’t a boy. Dalhousie?” 

“Much better than Lambert, Sassenach,” he shot back readily, causing laughter to ripple out from her. At the sound, Faith startled in her sleep, causing both parents to freeze and watch the baby’s stiffened arms slowly relax again. The baby grunted and made a face, but her eyes stayed closed and with a sigh, Faith settled back and slept on, as if nothing had happened.  

Neither parent so much as breathed until it was clear Faith was still out. 

“Does she sleep well?” Jamie wanted to know.

Claire drew in a deep breath. “She sleeps. Not always well. I’m surprised I didn’t fully wake her just now.” 

“Well, if she’s sleeping now, maybe we shouldna disturb her.” He rose slowly from his position and stood, all the while keeping tiny Faith secured. Claire registered the look on his face and oh, she knew that feeling well; the knowing that she should put the baby down, but not wanting to let Faith go, even for sleep. 

Jamie lowered the babe slowly into the small cot and stilled for a moment, holding his breath to see if Faith would stir. “How are you already so good at that?” Claire whispered. He flashed her a grin, a tad prideful and she wouldn’t fault him for it. She knew he would be absolutely perfect at this and her heart squeezed at finally being able to see Jamie as a father. Now it was her turn to feel a flush of pride in her husband and their child and the little family they made together. 

“Come back to bed.”  

Jamie strode back around the bed and crawled over until he loomed above Claire, crowding her space with the solid wall of his chest. “Missed me already, did ye?”

Her hand fisted in the soft curls at the back of his neck and pulled him down to her. “Always, Jamie.”         




Jamie! Jamie, I’m here. It’s just a dream.” 

He startled awake and tightly gripped the hand that had rested gently on his chest only moments before. Claire. It was Claire. 

His body had broken out in a cold sweat and the last vestiges of his dream still felt present in his state of waking. “The bairn?” He said tersely. “Do we have a bairn?” 

“She’s right over there. She’s sleeping. Jamie!” 

Her hands grasped ineffectively for a hold of him, but he pushed out of bed too fast and determinedly to be stopped. In the dark, he skirted around the corner of the bed until he reached the bassinet where the baby slept. 

He laid one hand very gently on top of the baby and felt the shallow but steady rise and fall of her chest. His breath left him in a rush and knelt next to the bassinet, staring through the dark at the unmistakable outline of the warm little body under his palm. The floor beneath his knees was cold and unforgiving but he paid no attention. His fingers found one tiny clasped fist and held it delicately as Faith’s fingers unfurled and grasped onto his pointer finger in her sleep. A simple reflex, but one that slowed his heartbeat from its erratic racing. This was real. It had to be. 

“Jamie,” Claire called softly after a moment. “Come back to bed.” 

He shook his head. “Not yet, mo nighean donn.” When she didn’t respond or lie down, he spoke again. “Go back to sleep. I’m sorry I woke ye.”  

His sight had adjusted to the dark and he could make out Claire’s dark head of hair lowering to her pillow without another word, but whether or not she’d be able to sleep again was anyone’s guess. 



She lay there in the dark listening to Jamie’s muted whispering, so soft when it reached her ears that she couldn’t tell if he was speaking English or Gaelic, only that the words were meant for the sleep-deaf ears of their baby. Do we have a bairn?  That was what he’d asked her, waking from the grips of his nightmare. She pulled the blankets up to her chin and turned further into her pillow, seeking her own comfort from knowing what this time apart had done to him.    

At length, she gave up trying to sleep without him and tiptoed over to where he now sat in a chair by the fire that had long since gone out. The bassinet had been moved with him and one hand rested in there alongside the baby. Claire sighed at the sight of them and moved to sit in Jamie’s lap. His skin was cold and sweaty under her touch, despite that it was August and the room felt rather warm. She burrowed in and his hand found purchase at her hip, holding her steady in his lap against him. He tucked her head under his chin and her eyes slid shut. 

She wasn’t sure how long they stayed like this, Jamie holding tight to both her and the baby, but she noticed the room began to lighten ever so slightly with the promise of sunrise on its way.

 

 

“He isna dead, Claire.” Jamie startled her with his voice. Neither had spoken since she came and found him by the fireplace. 

“What? Who?”

“Randall.” Jamie sighed. “I struck him with my blade, but he isna dead.” 

“I… I know that,” Claire said, but with a question in her tone ‒ why was Jamie bringing this up? “Did you dream‒”

“He willna ever father a child, though.” He felt Claire stiffen in his arms and he let out a shuddering sigh. His wife pulled away and he let her go, feeling his own shame roiling through his gut. “And that is my doing. I’m sorry, Claire.” 

“Jesus.” Claire stepped away only to spin on her heels, staring down at him in horror. “What have you done?” She uttered. “Jamie, you’ve ‒ you’ve killed Frank!” 

He rolled his jaw tensely and faced her. “It wasna my intention, Claire. I wasna thinking of Frank when I was facing Randall.” 

"You bloody -" Her voice dropped to a whisper, remembering that their child slept not two feet from her. “I need…” Her hands scrubbed over her tired face and when she pulled them away, he thought he saw her linger on the simple gold band still adorning her left hand. “I need a moment!” She reached for her silk robe and sped out of the room. 

He watched her go, his own mind turning over the implications of his actions where Randall was concerned. Would Frank just cease to exist? He had noticed the gold ring still on Claire’s finger when he returned yesterday morning and he couldn’t make sense of this anymore than he could the workings of the stones at Craigh na Dun. He left Claire to her own puzzling and her own grieving, too, knowing he owed her this space and so much more. 

A soft whimper interrupted his thoughts and he looked down into the bassinet to see Faith’s arms flapping in the air. “Oh, awake at last, are ye?” He lifted her carefully and settled her in the crook of his arm, but she wasn’t satisfied with this and her whimpers turned into a squall. “Are you cold, a nighean? If you’re hungry, I canna help with that.” 

He retrieved his plaid from the other side of the room and managed to drape it about them both when he resettled on the sofa with his knees drawn up and Faith sitting up against his thighs. He hadn’t yet seen her so alert and he noticed for the first time that the blues of her eyes echoed Claire’s. The baby cooed and her eyebrows rose, wrinkling her forehead. “Talking to me already? You’re a canny lass.” He lifted her then and pulled her close to his face, overcome with the urge to kiss her soft cheeks. He pulled back only a little, to see her face again. She blinked at him and cooed with an almost-smile. “And a bonny lass, too.” He smiled and kissed her once more before sitting her up again on his stomach. 

“I’m verra sorry I wasna there when you were born,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry to have missed a single day of your life, let alone three months.” Jamie sighed and despite what he’d just shared, a small smile tugged at his lips. Faith watched him with keen interest and listened to his voice. “I do love you, Faith. And I always will. As your da, I may not always have the world to give ye, as ye deserve, but I will give ye everything I have, like I promised to yer mam when we wed. I’ve already given you my name and you were born into this family, this clan. And if the need should ever arise, I will surely protect you. Make no mistake about that, Faith Fraser.” He paused in his speech, flooded with thoughts of how he might be called upon to fulfill this promise. “God, yer such a wee thing. I’m scairt to even let ye out of my sight.” 

Faith cooed at this, contributing to the conversation. Her lips curled ever so slightly with another hint of a smile. “But I’ve given ye one thing already that beats them all. And that’s yer mam. But ye ken already that she’s special, don’t ye?” He lifted the baby again and kissed Faith’s wrinkled forehead and then her nose. Her little fists flapped in the air. “I dinna ken how I got so lucky with her, Faith. Truly. She’s my heart. As are you, a nighean. Ye dinna ken how precious you are to me.” 

Faith grew louder in her vocalization and Jamie paused, letting her echo sounds back to him. His heart and soul resided in her tiny, fragile frame and the love he felt for her was without measure. “I promise ye one thing, a leannan. Yer mam will keep you safe from sickness and injury and the like. Of that I have no doubt. And I will protect you from all the rest.”

He didn’t hear Claire’s return to the room but he sensed her presence moments before her fingers curled in his hair at the nape of his neck. He glanced up to find her eyes red from crying and her glass face warring with emotions. Guilt was there where it shouldn’t be, for he had been the one to injure Randall and the fault for snuffing out Frank’s existence rested solely on Jamie’s shoulders.  

“What’s done is done. But when we return to Scotland, there will be no more of seeking out Randall. You’ve already stolen the life of the first man I loved ‒ an innocent man in all of this. Wiped out an entire line of descendants in one stroke. Let that be enough for your revenge and let’s walk away from this mess.” 

He stole her hand from where it rested on his shoulder and brought it to his lips, kissing the silver ring on her finger. His own ring. “I promise there will be no more of this.” His arm snaked around her and pulled her closer until his head rested against her stomach and her fingers raked through his curls and held him there against her. 

If he had caused her to lose her child, he would’ve lost Claire, too. And the fear of that, of what he was so close to ruining in a moment of anger, made his promise an easy one. He would protect Claire and Faith always and if Randall was ever foolish enough to come after them, Jamie would see to his end. That was plain enough. But perhaps Claire was right that his revenge on the likes of Randall had already been taken. The man could not father a child nor could he seek his own revolting pleasure any more. And there was some comfort and justice in that. And further still, for the sake of love, Jamie was not so foolish to run after vengeance now when there was something greater right before him. “I have no life but you, Claire,” he said at last. “I canna lose you.” 

Her hands stilled in his hair. “Is that what you dreamed of last night?” 

He drew a sobering breath and let it out slowly. “Aye. I was in the Bastille again but Randall was there. Not as a prisoner or even a guard. Just… taunting me. Reminding me that I’d killed our bairn that day in the woods and you’d never forgive me for it. Which would’ve been your right.” 

She tipped his face up until he looked her in the eye. “You won’t ever lose me,” she said firmly. 

He glossed a smile over his face. “Nay, Sassenach, there’s no risk of that anymore.” He moved to carefully lift Faith up for a kiss once more before passing her up into Claire’s arms. “You and I will live forever now.”

Chapter Text

September 1744

“She’s a right beautiful bairn.” Jenny bounced wee Faith gently in her arms. She hadn't stopped smiling since they arrived back at Lallybroch nearly an hour ago with the newest addition to their family. “Ye did good, Claire.” 

Claire leaned her head back against Jamie where they stood by the hearth, watching Jenny, Ian, and their nephew and niece become acquainted with their daughter. Claire eyed Maggie where she was being bounced on her father’s knee and marveled at how she’d grown from the newborn Claire had last seen to the hearty and cherubic girl of ten months now, all dark hair and eyes, rosy cheeks and baby fat rolls.  

Her thoughts were interrupted by Faith’s sudden sneezing fit and Claire immediately propelled herself forward, only to feel herself pulled back sharply to Jamie’s chest, his arms going around her waist. “She’s alright, Claire.” He whispered in her ear as he effectively anchored her in place. She tried to slow her racing heart and relax into Jamie’s grip. None of the Murrays noticed, in part because of the truth of Jamie’s words; Faith was alright and keeping her family members utterly captivated with her as her sneezing ceased. Even though she looked now like any other infant, albeit smaller for her age, Claire would never forget the shock of how impossibly tiny Faith was when they placed her in Claire’s arms. “She’s alright.” Claire whispered, more to herself than in acknowledgement of Jamie. Still, she felt the press of his lips at her temple in reassurance and savored this moment with their family finally restored at Lallybroch and Jamie home at last without worry of a price on his head. 

A joyous shout from the courtyard caught Claire’s attention and she peered out the window to see Fergus and Rabbie already forming a fast friendship. Her heart warmed at the sight. Little Rabbie MacNab would always have a soft spot in Claire’s heart, who she remembered all too vividly bearing the marks of abuse on his small body left by his no-good father. He belonged here at the farmhouse, where he would be treated with dignity and kindness. And, watching his scrappy, Parisian playfellow, Claire came to the same conclusion about Fergus; he deserved a childhood in the safety of Lallybroch, where he wouldn’t be starved or neglected or abused. No, those once love-starved boys deserved so much more than the difficulties they’d already overcome. 

“Jamie, look,” Claire said softly, sharing the scene with him. He caught sight of Fergus and Rabbie and chuckled. 

“Weel, there’s trouble if ever I saw it.” 

“I think it’s sweet.” 

“Aye, well, ye didna ken me and Ian at that age.” 

She laughed at this. “Yes but I’ve heard plenty of stories.” She leaned back in his arms and turned to kiss his cheek. “And a child should have a best friend, shouldn’t he?” 

“I’ll no’ disagree with ye there, Sassenach.” 

They swayed together in place, both gazes returning to the Murray family before them. Jenny held the baby up to wee Jamie’s face so he could give her a kiss, as he’d asked. When she resettled the baby in the crook of her arm, Jenny’s gaze caught Claire’s. “I told ye, didn’t I?” She said with a particular gleam in her eyes. “I told ye you’d have one of yer own soon enough.” 

Claire smiled softly at the memory, sitting on the steps outside of Lallybroch with Jenny, sharing their delight over Maggie, their worry over Jamie and Ian. It was the moment Claire knew what it must be like to have a sister’s love and she found herself swallowing thickly now with the wave of emotions tied up in that day. “And Faith was already there when you said it, I just didn’t know it yet.” 

The real surprise of their return had been finding Jenny already five months gone into her third pregnancy. She’d smiled coyly when Jamie and Claire noticed and said she’d thought it’d be better news in person.

“But… Christ, wee Maggie’s only ten‒” 

Claire had cut Jamie’s comment off with a loud “We’re so excited for you!”, and that had been that, although she caught Jamie giving Ian an incredulous look on their way inside. 

It did rather make Claire’s head spin at the thought. Two babies only fifteen months apart. And here at Lallybroch now, Faith would be sandwiched between them in age. Oh, they were about to have their hands full... 

Jenny was certain it was a boy, a little playmate for wee Jamie, but she’d said the same thing about Maggie and Claire felt no pull one way or another. Because it would be wonderful, either way. She never had any of this growing up. Only her parents for a bit and then it was just her and Uncle Lamb. But Faith would never know what that was like. She’d have her aunt and uncle and, if their growing brood was any indication of the future, an abundance of cousins to keep her company. Not to mention Murtagh and Fergus and… 

Claire leaned back in Jamie’s arms and tilted up to kiss his jaw where a bit of stubble already scratched at her lips. Yes, maybe someday… another baby or two. Not twelve, she thought wryly, but three sounded reasonable enough. 

 

 

The rhythm of life at Lallybroch felt all too soothing after the double lives they’d lived in Paris and here, in Jamie’s ancestral estate, a wall came down in both of them, knowing there wasn’t anyone here they needed to guard themselves from. 

“The next Quarter Day is in a few weeks. It’ll be good tae have Jamie here to oversee the books for that. And o’ course to help Ian and the rest of the men with the potato crop soon.” Jenny shook out a sheet before hanging it on the clothesline. Claire and Jamie had fallen right into step with the daily goings on and Jenny wasted no time expecting them to keep up. 

Claire eyed the potato field apprehensively. It had been on her recommendation, after all, that Jenny and Ian had planted a whole crop that had never once been native to this region and if it didn’t yield a good bounty for them, she may have set them up to fare even worse in the coming famine.  

“Ye ken Mrs. Crook could help wi’ wee Faith ‒ mind her throughout the day as she does wi’ my bairns. Ye dinna always need to do it all yerself.” 

At Jenny’s words, Claire’s hands fell instinctively to Faith’s little form bundled up in a wrap secured to Claire’s body. Snug and sleepy after her last feeding, Faith hadn’t made a peep since they stepped outside to do the laundry. “I know,” Claire said softly. “But I don’t mind having her with me.” She peered under the cloth to see Faith had indeed fallen asleep and the sight of her baby’s sleeping face had some unnamed relief washing through her. 

“Jamie told me how it was,” Jenny said carefully. She tugged a large sark of Ian’s into place on the clothesline and arranged it neatly. “Told me how sickly Faith was when she was born. I ken that’s why ye worry over her so much.” 

Claire gave Jenny a small smile in acknowledgement of her words and reached for the next article to hang on the line. “Did you feel that way when wee Jamie was born?” 

“Oh, aye. I did worry over him. Ye always do over the first one, I think. No matter if they’re healthy or no’. But he was an easy bairn, even if the delivery was long. I dinna ken what it’s like, what ye went through with Faith, but the most scairt I’ve ever been was with my Maggie, when she wouldn’t come and well… ye ken, ye were there for that.” 

“Yes,” Claire settled one hand on Faith as she worked, unnecessary as it was with the baby secured well. “I don’t think either of us will forget that any time soon.”

“These bairns like to make their entrance memorable, that’s for sure.” Jenny caught her gaze and smiled warmly. “Ye’re doing just fine, Claire. I’ve never seen my brother so happy. To have a bairn of his own… well, it does him good to be a father and it does my heart good to see it.” 

“Thank you, Jenny. About‒ about Quarter Day and the harvest and… all of it really, I don’t‒ that is‒” Claire took a deep breath, tried to smile as she fumbled through this. Jenny watched her expectantly, pausing in her work. “The first time Jamie brought me here, we thought it would be for good, but you and I got off on a bumpy start and I felt then that I needed to rise to the challenge of being Lady Broch Turach, but now…” Claire gave a small shrug. “I can admit I don’t know anything still about running a house such as this, but I want to learn. And I don’t want to step on your toes, either, when you’ve run this place so flawlessly. I mean, this is your home and you’ve‒”    

“Tis your home, too,” Jenny interrupted, though not unkindly and stating this so matter-of-factly. Claire hesitated, always caught a little off-guard by Jenny Fraser Murray. “I didna ken what to make of ye when Jamie first brought ye home,” she added with a tinge of reluctance in her voice and Claire knew that was about as close as she might get to an apology for how their relationship started. “But ye’re a good woman, Claire. Ye love my brother, that’s plain as day. And ye’ve given him something that has made him whole.” Her gaze flicked down to the outline of Faith and she flashed Claire a quick smile. “I’m happy to share this place with ye,” she said at last, rescuing Claire from the request she’d been struggling to get out.  

Claire exhaled a smile and felt her roots burrow a little deeper into the soil.


October 1744

“Big day, Faith,” Claire said sweetly to her baby, despite the apprehensive flutters in her stomach. “I think your uncle and da are going to harvest the potatoes.” She settled five-month-old Faith in the middle of the large bed. Freshly cleaned and diapered, Faith was happy as a lark, cooing loudly back at Claire to find her own voice in their conversation. 

“Say your prayers that it’s the best crop of potatoes ever yielded, little darling. Because if not, it’s Mama’s reputation that’s on the line.” Claire tugged open a drawer where they kept all of Faith’s items, tiny and delicate enough that her dresses, nightgowns, stockings, bonnets, and blankets only filled the one drawer. Her hands stilled in their rummage through the wardrobe, falling to a soft pair of warm, brown stockings Claire hadn’t seen before. She picked one up and turned it over delicately. They were clearly hand-knit and meant for Faith, surreptitiously placed among her clothing and blankets. 

“Here, darling, these look nice and warm.” Claire turned to where she’d left Faith lying on the mattress. The baby hadn’t yet mastered rolling over, but Jenny had advised Claire to savor these moments while they lasted before Faith was completely mobile and would require constant supervision. “Looks like your auntie made these for you.” She slid one onto Faith’s foot and up her leg. “And a perfect fit, too,” she carried on for the reward of another happy coo from the baby, all too content to be part of a conversation. 

She dressed Faith in enough layers to keep out the Autumn chill and still grabbed a wool blanket for good measure. “And last but not least…” Claire slipped a white bonnet onto Faith’s head, a little dismayed to cover up the silky, copper strands of Faith’s downy-like hair. She paused, leaning over her babe, who stared up at her and kicked her legs when Claire returned her gaze. 

A memory came to her then, unbidden, of a conversation in this very room that occurred almost a year ago now; her confession to Jamie of her once held belief that they could never have children. The evidence to the contrary now lay before her, face breaking open into a smile that reverberated through the baby’s whole body, little arms and legs flailing, and Claire felt suddenly overwhelmed. Their wee girl, a fulfillment of so many dreams. She had healed Claire’s heart just by existing.

So Claire scooped her up, pressing kisses to the baby’s feather-soft cheek. “I could smother you with kisses and it’d never be enough,” she admitted to the baby, feeling a few tears spill quietly down her face. “I love you so much.” She knew she couldn’t just sit with these feelings, with this miracle baby in her arms, or she’d never make it out of the room today. So she wiped her tears and pressed another kiss to Faith’s brow for good measure. “Let’s go find Da, alright?” 

 

     

They found Jamie with Ian and Fergus and a few of the men standing at the base of the potato field. Fergus stood at Jamie’s elbow and hung on every word of what appeared to be a discussion of timing for when to harvest the potatoes. It had never been done before at Lallybroch and being a root vegetable, it was anyone’s guess as to when the plant might be ready. 

Jamie was the first to notice her approaching and he broke away from the group to meet her, smiling broadly. 

“What’s the verdict?” She asked as he stole Faith from her. She missed the solid weight of the girl, but Jamie with their babe was a sight she never tired of. 

Jamie sighed in response to her question and gave Faith a hearty kiss on the cheek before answering. “Ian is consulting his book. It isna exactly clear though.” 

She slipped an arm around his waist and stood flush against his side, savoring his warmth and the way he blocked the wind for her. He shifted Faith high against his chest, her weight supported on one of his arms. In the transfer, her blanket began to unbundle from around her and her little feet kicked out the bottom, clad in her stockings and soft slippers. Jamie’s fingers tugged the blanket down and around her feet without looking, though Claire noticed he stopped when he felt the baby’s stockings and tilted his head to the side to try and catch a glimpse of them. He looked rather pleased and Claire wondered if he knew who the mysterious gifter was.

“I think Jenny made those,” she said. “They look handmade, at least, and I only just found them today among Faith’s things.” When she glanced up at Jamie, he was giving her an odd look. “What?” 

“Jenny didna make those. I did.”  

Claire worked hard to school her surprise at this, but her glass face probably showed this all too clearly to her husband. “You know how to knit?” 

Now it was Jamie’s turn to look mildly surprised, though he hid it well and finally gave her a soft, gracious smile. “Every man, woman, and child old enough to hold the needles can knit, Sassenach. Dinna tell me no one kens how to clickit in your time.”

“Well, no, people still knit where I’m from. I just... never learned. Would‒ would you teach me?” She asked, a little embarrassed. A full smile bloomed on Jamie’s face and he leaned down to press a kiss to her forehead before he answered her. 

“Aye, I’ll teach ye.” He straightened, looking again very pleased. “It’ll be a good time to learn when we’re inside for the long winter.” 

Claire’s eyes dropped to the little brown stocking peeking out slightly from under the blanket. She toyed with the fabric gently. “They’re beautifully made, Jamie. And they fit her perfectly.” She cocked her head up at him. “When on earth did you have time to make these?”

He ducked from her glance and bounced the baby in his arms. “Weel ye ken as well as I that this lass doesna sleep much since we subjected her to sea travel, a frightfully long wagon ride to Lallybroch, and then a new home.” 

“It was a lot all at once,” Claire agreed, eyeing him curiously. They hadn’t had close to a good night’s sleep since Paris, but it was still too fresh in both of their minds how lucky they were to even have a baby keeping them up at night for them to mind the sleeplessness too much. 

“And ye ken of course that she willna fall asleep unless you or I hold her.” 

Claire chewed her lip and nodded. She knew it was unusual in her time at least to be so wrapped up in a child. But what would surely be labeled as “coddling” then felt anything but that here, especially in an era where infant mortality was dreadfully high. Still, somehow the virtues of another time occasionally plagued Claire, making her second guess if 20th century parents and experts really understood what it meant to know the child of your heart was alive and well and crying out to be held and only the comfort of your embrace could soothe them. In that moment, it didn’t feel like she and Jamie were doing anything but loving their child. 

“Well,” Jamie continued. “Lately when it’s my turn wi’ the lass, I know she’ll sleep as long as I hold her and if I put her down too soon, she’ll wake all over again. So I started bringing the knitting needles out when I settle in the chair wi’ her. Gives me something to do while I wait for her to sleep soundly enough.” 

Claire could see it suddenly, her husband sitting up in the middle of the night with the baby asleep on his shoulder, passed out from the warmth that he could so easily envelop her in, while he knit her a pair of stockings. Christ, he probably held it up to her tiny legs to compare while he worked and that would explain why they fit Faith like a glove. The thought made her want to weep for all the love she felt for him and all the tenderness and care he bestowed upon her and their babe. 

He must’ve read it all there in her face because Jamie smiled suddenly and bent to kiss her.

“Does it bother your hand at all?” She thought with sudden concern. It had been the better part of a year since his right hand had been mutilated and though he’d made great lengths in his recovery, it wasn’t completely painless and Claire feared it might always bother him.

“No, Sassenach, it doesna hurt. My fingers do get a bit stiff if I hold the needle too long, but it doesna hurt.” She realized her brows must still be furrowed in concern because he bent and kissed her there as if to soothe her. “Besides, it gets awful cold here in the winter and Faith is so wee. What kind of Da would I be if I didna provide her with warm enough clothes?” 

He seemed to think this all perfectly reasonable and nodded sharply in the direction of the men to indicate that they should return to them, putting any talk of his knitting habits to rest for now. 

He moved with surety to rejoin the men, Faith still tucked in one arm. His free hand came to rest automatically on Fergus’s thin shoulder when he reached the group and Claire didn’t miss the look of awe on Fergus’s face that this simple act gave him.             

Ian still held open his book, A Scientific Treatise on Methods of Farming, by Sir Walter O’Bannion Reilly, and was busy skimming pages. He smiled grimly at Jamie and shook his head. 

“Ah,” Jamie muttered. “A whole book on the scientific farming of potatoes and no mention of how ye tell when the bloody things are ready to eat.” 

Ian snapped the book shut and let it rest against his side. Fergus glanced between the two of them and finally spoke up. “Why don’t you just dig one up and see?” He asked. 

Jamie stared at Fergus for a moment. His mouth gaped open until he suddenly snapped it shut and clapped Fergus affectionately on the shoulder. Jamie then carefully transferred Faith back into Claire’s arms and went to fetch a pitchfork from its place against the fence. The men pushed in behind him ‒ as did Claire, holding her breath all the while ‒ as Jamie chose a flourishing vine near the edge of the field and dug the pitchfork in near the root. 

He pushed the handle down and away, uprooting the vine in one swift motion. More bodies pushed in, staring curiously at the dirt-caked potatoes clinging to the roots. Ian fell to his knees with surprising ease for one wooden leg and began to loosen the dirt around the potatoes, spouting enough shouts of excitement over the results of his labor that the breath Claire had been holding left her in a rush of relief. 

Her gaze met Jamie’s and a smile bloomed just for him. Their work in Paris may have been a bitter disappointment, but maybe this… yes, maybe this work they could do. 

 

 

They called for a feast with the tenants of Lallybroch to celebrate the wealth of their new potato crop. In no time at all, Jenny had orchestrated their outdoor supper, roasting the potatoes and, at Fergus’s suggestion, supplying them with a heaping of fresh butter. 

Their new Highland cuisine was met with first suspicion and then varying tastes for it once the roasted potatoes had been given a chance. But none of that could steal away Claire’s joy, knowing what was to come. And if the famine did come, no one would thumb their nose at these potatoes then. These folks would be safe.  

The evening was chilly but windless and as the sun began its slow crawl toward the horizon, the fire was built up to a roaring blaze that they all naturally flocked to. 

Claire had gone into the farmhouse to feed and change Faith and returned to their party as it was growing darker. The firelight cast an orange glow on the faces of those gathered around. 

“Auntie!” Wee Jamie screamed when he saw her, running out to meet her. She saw only the dark outline of him moving in the grass.

“Yes, love?” 

But wee Jamie only held out his hand to escort her back to the fire. She anchored Faith on one hip and reached for the little boy’s hand. 

“You are just like your namesake, aren’t you? Such a gentleman.” 

The boy caught his uncle’s gaze from where he sat in the grass, sandwiched between Fergus and Ian. Jamie nodded approvingly and the young boy shot a beaming smile up at Claire. 

“I want to hold the baby,” the boy said, before Claire had even reached a spot on the grass. 

“You can, just wait and I’ll help you.” She carefully lowered herself to a spot near the fire and stretched her legs out in front of her, adjusting her skirt with one hand as she did. Wee Jamie was waiting, gently stamping his feet in the grass next to her. “Come here, you,” She said finally and helped him into her lap. Faith was bundled up in a thick blanket so it made it easy to pass the bundle of her into little Jamie’s lap. Claire clasped her hands in front around the both of them and sighed contently. 

The fire was warm and the company of their tenants created a rousing atmosphere with stories and laughter and even some singing. Claire fell into rapt silence, becoming an observer to it all. 

But Faith began to fuss, even with Claire helping to bounce her and wee Jamie in her lap. “I’m done holding her,” Jamie said suddenly, his little arms slithering out from under Faith. 

“Alright, alright, hold on.” Claire’s one-handed grip on Faith tightened and she pulled the baby off of Jamie’s lap. But the boy had no desire to leave his auntie’s lap, effectively pinning her in place as he leaned his head back against her chest and yawned. 

She caught her husband’s approach from the corner of her eye and watched as he crouched down next to her, pressing a kiss to her head. “I’ll walk wi’ her, Sassenach, and see if that will calm her. You’ve got your hands full wi’ our nephew.” 

“That I do,” she agreed. When he lifted Faith from her arm, she brushed his shoulder gently before he rose to his feet. Freed of one small body occupying her lap, she slid her hands under the boy’s armpits and re-centered young Jamie in her lap and folded her legs in. He curled in, his head pillowed against her chest, and her arms went about his small form to secure him there. “Better?” She teased him affectionately. 

“Yes, Auntie,” he answered in all seriousness. She exhaled a quiet laugh and dropped a kiss to his hair, which smelled of campfire smoke. She could see he was watching the fire, hypnotized by the flames and likely to fall asleep on her before too long, and he was a comforting weight in her arms, anchoring her to the ground. 

“You know,” she said lightly. “I rather like having you as my nephew.” 

Wee Jamie tipped his head up and smiled mischievously, like she’d let him in on a secret. “I like ye, Auntie Claire,” he said plainly. 

“Good, I’m glad.” She smiled. “Lay your head, sweet boy. I know you’re tired.” 

She rocked slightly with him and glanced about, happy to see the tenants all enjoying themselves but looking for their laird in particular. She spotted him a little ways back from the fire, standing in place with Faith in his arms, but Fergus was with them, too, popping out from behind Jamie’s back to make a face at Faith every few seconds. It was eighteenth century peek-a-boo but Claire doubted they called it that. She did watch the three of them, though, and wonder how far back that game had endured through the centuries. 

Jamie smiled broadly and jounced Faith slightly every time Fergus popped around at his elbow. She couldn’t see Faith’s reaction to this, but if Jamie’s and Fergus’s faces were any indication, their girl was far from fussy now. Claire’s gaze lingered on the bright face of Fergus, playing sweetly with the babe. He had blossomed at Lallybroch in the month that they’d been back, growing accustomed to a quiet, country life with ease. He played with Rabbie and helped with the horses and always, always shadowed every step of Jamie’s. 

She had noticed, too, a marked change in how Jamie interacted with the boy since he returned to them a few months ago. There was an added protectiveness over Fergus and no short amount of affection for him. Yes, the mark of fatherhood on Jamie Fraser was evident for anyone to see and it extended far beyond Faith.   

Jamie caught her gaze suddenly and her stomach fluttered. She gave him a smile and hoped to convey in it how much she loved this moment in time with him.  

 

  

The sun was setting low in the sky, burning deep orange at the horizon with streaks of pink and purple fading up to the blue. Jamie had gone searching for his wife and found Claire in the garden and laced their fingers together before walking out toward the nearest field behind the farmhouse. He didn’t say a word, but she thought she knew he was leading her out on a sunset walk. The evening was too beautiful to waste and the desire simply to be in each other’s company hadn’t dimmed in their year and a half of marriage. The baby was napping inside the farmhouse and under the care of her auntie for the time being. They ambled along through the heather, their strides fairly matched, and Claire tucked herself a little closer to him when the breeze picked up. 

He dropped her hand in favor then of tucking her under one arm and her own went around his waist and squeezed him. It wasn’t a position that lent itself well to walking side-by-side, but they’d reached the small crest of a hill and paused against the fencing to stare out at the setting sun casting golden light on the whole estate of Lallybroch. 

“So beautiful, it should be a painting.” Claire finally broke the spell of silence. Jamie made a sound of agreement. She looked up at him but his gaze was on the scene before them. The angle of light cut across his strong features, made him look more like the viking than usual, strong and tall and proud, observing his kingdom. He looked content, too, not just today, but every day since they’d come back to Scotland. To his home. Jamie was laird here and that was no small thing to him, Claire knew. A laird and soldier, husband and father… he carried his responsibility without question or hesitation and it wasn’t any wonder why so many people trusted him and relied on him. What was a wonder to Claire was that he was only twenty-three. 

Jamie cast a glance down suddenly and she felt her cheeks grow warm at being caught. Claire ducked and kissed his shoulder softly but found him still waiting her out when she  glanced back up at him. His fingers were at her temple suddenly, tucking a few wayward wisps of hair behind her ear before tilting her chin up further. “Ye do look so bonny this evening, Sassenach,” he said with a smile before he stole a kiss from her. “What’s troubling you?” 

She let out a mirthless chuckle. “How do you always do that?” 

“Ye canna hide anything from me with your face,” he teased her. 

“I was just thinking… if… if we didn’t succeed in Paris and the rising still begins‒”

“We willna have any part of it,” Jamie cut in firmly. His arm around her tightened instinctively. “I wish… God, I wish I kent for sure that we’d changed things from how ye remember them in your time. I dinna want the slaughter of my countrymen. But if it does come, I mean to keep us all safe and away from it.” 

Claire sighed and tucked herself against him, feeling an odd swirl of relief and dread at the same time. They did what they could, but so much of what she knew of history felt too powerful for them to steer on their own. “You seem happy here at Lallybroch… are you?” She asked suddenly, pulling back to look up at him. 

“Happy to stay here, ye mean?” Jamie clarified and did a sweep of the land. “Well, it’s home, Sassenach. And I’m the laird so I should be here, but…” He cocked an eyebrow at her curiously. “It’s not an exciting life. It can’t offer ye the society of Paris or the large surgeries you’ve worked in.”

“I could do well without the society of Paris,” she said dryly. “And it’s… it’s different than what I’ve known before, but there is work for me here. God knows you injure yourself enough to keep me busy no matter where we are. I’m sure between you and all the tenant families here, I’ll have my hands full.” 

“And ye’ll have your wee garden,” he added, referring to the stretch of ground that he’d recently marked out for her to be able to plant her wee herbs, come Spring. 

“I will.” She reached up on tiptoes to kiss him along his jaw, feeling the scratch of stubble on her lips. “And I am Lady Broch Turach, after all. This is my place, too.” 

“Aye, it is.” She caught his all-too-pleased look before his kiss was pushing every other thought out of her mind and there was only Jamie in her arms and on her lips. 

She startled when he held her by the waist and lifted her up onto the fence post as though she weighed nothing. “Jamie!” Unperturbed by her outcry, he stepped between her thighs and cupped her face in his hands. She had to hold fast to him to keep herself steady. “Jamie. We’re on a hill. Any one of your tenants could step out of their home and see us up here.” 

“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” he teased with a smile. “I dinna intend to let anyone see ye in any matter of indecency. Least of all our tenants, my Lady Broch Turach.” He kissed her then, a dizzying distraction to any argument she might’ve made. “It’s only that ye look so beautiful out here wi’ the sun in your brown hair.” He paused and then smiled softly. “Mo nighean donn,” he added for emphasis. His brown-haired lass. “Aye, ye look like you belong here. Like you’ve always been a part of this place, somehow. And I just needed to kiss you for it.”

She felt a sudden lump in her throat at his words and, forgetting her previous self-consciousness, pulled him back in, needing to kiss him for it. 

Chapter Text

With January came the wet, hacking coughs that settled deep in the lungs, runny noses, and fevers that spread quickly through each Highland home. Lallybroch was not spared from this; however, Claire had been and, to her relief, so had Jenny. At eight months pregnant, Jenny had enough to contend with and she seemed to get by on sheer willpower alone. Jenny simply couldn’t afford to come down with a fever and her immune system seemed to quite agree.

The sickness swept through in waves, but when the children all came down with it, the nights dragged on longer than most. 

“His fever is very slight, Jenny, and we’ll keep an eye on him.” Wee Jamie was cradled in his mother’s overcrowded lap, curling his slight form around her round belly. Jenny held his head to her chest and dropped a kiss to his dark hair. With fourteen-month-old Maggie balanced on her hip, Claire reached for the goose grease that she had brought with her. “Open up his nightgown. I’m going to rub some of this on his chest. It’ll help him breathe better through the night.”

Jenny pulled at the neck of the gown and pushed the shirt off of one shoulder for Jamie while Claire scooped a bit of the goose grease onto her fingers and rubbed it onto the small boy’s chest. He sat lethargically while they administered this, but he began to whine when the smell hit him. Jenny began at once to comfort him in gentle, Gaelic words and Claire dropped a kiss to his cheek as she finished. “All done,” she told him. To Jenny, she smiled encouragingly. “Just keep them both hydrated‒ that is, make sure they’re getting plenty to drink. Either the tea I brought up or water. I’ll make sure Mrs. Crook has plenty of broth made up for tomorrow, too. And besides that, they just need their rest.” She looked to Maggie, resting her head placidly on Claire’s shoulder. But when she shifted her hold, Maggie clung to her with rousing ferocity, lest she try to put the girl down. 

“Och, Maggie, dinna throw a fit,” Jenny chided softly. She was in the process of shifting Jamie from her lap to the middle of the bed, where he would sleep for the night. Ian, one of the first to come down with the cold, was already asleep and absolutely useless to Jenny in his current fevered state. 

Her arms were free only for a moment before she was taking Maggie from Claire. “You too, mo chridhe.” Jenny murmured, tugging the baby’s nightgown out of the way for Claire. 

“There we go, big girl.” 

More clingy than anything else at the moment, Maggie took the goose grease better than her brother so long as someone held her. With her clean hand, Claire felt the girl’s forehead again. “I don’t even think she has a fever, but we’ll watch her, too.” She grabbed a clean cloth from the tray and wiped off her hand. She cocked her head at Jenny still sitting up on the side of the bed with one child squished in her lap against the very round presence of her bairn soon to come. How she made it all look effortless... 

The door opened suddenly and Jamie stood in the doorway, clad in his nightshirt and his tartan thrown around his shoulders. In one arm was Faith, her head peeking up from the tartan that had been wrapped around her too, so Claire was immediately struck by the matching heads of red hair waiting in the doorway. Hers, her heart sang. 

“You’re supposed to be resting” was how Claire greeted him. His gaze shifted from Claire to Jenny to the sick, fussy children and the lump of Ian under the covers before settling back on Claire. 

“Is everything alright?” She asked.  

“Aye.” Jamie managed to say before a spasm of coughing overtook him. He had turned his head away from Faith and coughed into his fist. As much as Claire would berate him for being out of bed, she felt a flush of pride that her instructions on not spreading a cough were sinking in with at least one person. “I just wasna sure where you disappeared to. Ye need anything?”   

Claire looked to Jenny before responding, her brows raised in silent questioning. 

“Go on,” Jenny said. “Take care of that clot-heid brother o’ mine.” Claire chuckled, her gaze swinging up to Jamie, who looked dead on his feet even as he offered his assistance. “I thank ye, Claire, for all yer help. We’ll be fine for the night.” 

“If you need anything, you let me know. Don’t overdo it. You are growing a whole ‘nother human in there.”  

She met Jamie in the doorway and turned with him to leave, settling into step next to him. She felt his arm ‒ and thus his tartan ‒ wrap around her shoulders, taking her under his wing like a baby bird. She studied his flushed face and bright eyes as they walked. Still fevered. “How do you feel?”

“I’ve felt worse.” His voice sounded strained, and he had to clear his throat after speaking.  

“Not exactly a ringing endorsement, either.” Her gaze shifted to her baby on Jamie’s opposite side. Glassy-eyed and with a nose running like a faucet, Faith wasn’t faring much better. Claire’s heart squeezed at the pitiful sight of her and, as much as she cared for every other member of this household, seeing signs that Faith had come down with the same virus made her feel like a failure for not being able to protect her from this. 

When their eyes met, the baby seemed to register her presence for the first time and suddenly Faith was reaching across Jamie for her, a tired cry slipping out from her. “Come here, little love.” Claire reached for her, aided in the transfer by Jamie. Faith’s little arms went around her neck immediately, tiny fingers grasping at Claire’s loose curls and taking hold. She pressed a firm kiss to the baby’s temple and sighed heavily. 

“I was making some tea for you downstairs before I ended up helping Jenny with the little ones,” she explained to Jamie when they reached the threshold of their room. “Get into bed, I’ll be back in a moment.” 

“Ye do like barking orders this evening, Sassenach,” he said with a slight twitch of his mouth.   

“You wouldn’t listen otherwise if I made it a mere suggestion,” she shot back lightly, stepping out from under his arm and missing the closeness it had afforded them. But she realized then how warm he was in contrast with the cool air of the hallway. She reached up to touch his forehead and the skin was burning under her cold fingers. He sighed and turned his head further into her hand. Sweet man. He must’ve been more miserable than he was letting on and he still came to check on her when she hadn’t returned. Or perhaps he’d wanted her and hadn’t been able to say it. “I’ll be right back,” she repeated, this time in promise, and reached out to caress his back when he turned away. 

When she did make it back up to their room, she found that Fergus had abandoned his pallet by the fire, crawled into bed next to Jamie, and fallen asleep. Her gaze met Jamie’s and they shared a smile over the dear sleeping boy. 

With Faith still on one hip, she handed Jamie a cup of tea. “Finish that, if you can, before you go to sleep.” 

He was propped up slightly against the headboard so he could drink it. “What about you, mo nighean donn?” 

She knew what he was asking and her gaze drifted to the baby in her arms. “She’s my last charge for the night. If she sleeps, I sleep.” 

Claire grabbed a clean handkerchief and tried to wipe Faith’s nose, which had begun to run again, but the baby turned her head away and howled. “I know. I’m sorry.” Claire managed on the second attempt to get most of it, but some snot smeared sideways onto the baby’s cheek. “I’m not trying to rub your poor little nose raw, I promise.” Faith still dodged the handkerchief, but Claire got the last of it. “There, all done.” 

She pressed a kiss to Faith’s forehead and rested her cheek there a moment longer, feeling no corresponding fever as the others had. She let out another sigh. Perhaps only a matter of time for poor Faith, or perhaps she would be spared from the worst of it. 

“Ye want me to try wi’ her?” Jamie croaked. She shot him a look, wondering if he realized how absolutely miserable he sounded just from his voice. As if on cue, he succumbed to another coughing fit. The last few days had been hell trying to get him to care for himself when so much of who he was revolved around caring for his family and trying to muddle through. The temptation to hand Faith over to Jamie was strong, knowing his warmth even when he wasn’t burning with fever would often soothe the girl to sleep. 

“Not this time.” She smiled appreciatively. “But thank you, love.”

An hour passed for Claire in the company of one stubborn, fussy, miserable little girl. When it came time for Faith’s night feeding and she settled into her arms to feed, Claire hoped there was something within her that could keep Faith strong and healthy; that there was some vital piece of immunity she could share with Faith to help defend her against anything that her immune system might battle. As Faith latched on, Claire studied her slight form in the dim candlelight. Her thumb traced over the shell of Faith’s ear, which still stuck out a little. Perhaps her ears always would, but it made Claire smile nonetheless to see the delicate point to Faith’s ears. She hoped her girl would grow up to love that part of herself, too, someday. 

Faith sniffled and squirmed restlessly, struggling to feed and breathe in comfort, and Claire looked around for the handkerchief, unsure of where she’d left it. This was no serene moment tonight. She swiped the handkerchief from the end table and wiped the baby’s nose again, knowing it didn’t do much to clear it out for her to breathe better, but at least it kept her clean and dry. “I’m so sorry you aren’t feeling well, lovey,” she murmured. “It won’t last. You’ll feel better soon.” 

Her thumb smoothed over the wrinkled brow of Faith’s scowl, trying to ease the tension from the baby’s face. It was only a bad cold ‒ Claire knew that. Still, it was one thing to know that cold viruses were a part of life and quite another thing entirely to watch the tiny one that she’d birthed succumb to it. And it wasn’t only this cold that weighed heavily on Claire but the knowledge of the immunizations that existed in her time that Faith wouldn’t have access to, wee fragile thing that she already was. The risks were so much higher here, but Claire would try her damndest to keep Faith safe and healthy with what knowledge she had of the spread of diseases and how to combat them. 

“Such lovely thoughts to have before bed, hmm?” She muttered to the baby, pulling Faith up onto her shoulder once she’d finished and let out a loud belch. She swayed slightly, her cheek pressed to Faith’s, and savored the seconds of calm before rising from her chair to attempt getting some sleep with her tired little one.         

She settled Faith on top of the covers with her own blanket and grabbed a spare pillow to wedge between Fergus and Faith so he wouldn’t roll over her in his sleep. They hadn’t slept four to a bed before and it was a tight fit, but Claire couldn’t bear to move Fergus from where he slept so soundly cuddled against Jamie. And Faith would scream if Claire tried to place her in her cot tonight, she just knew it. No, they all needed the comfort of each other in their current state.  

So she slipped under the covers and curled around the baby, acting more or less as a barrier from the edge of the bed. Fergus had rolled over from before and now faced her and the baby with his back snug against Jamie’s side. He breathed through his mouth on account of his stuffy nose.  

Claire tugged the blankets up higher about his shoulders and, as she had with everyone in this house, pressed her hand to his forehead, checking his temperature as best she could. He felt quite warm but not alarmingly so. That was good, Claire thought, studying the sweet face that was slack in his sleep. 

Who had cared for him before this when he got sick? Or wiped his nose when he was too small to do it himself? Claire swallowed roughly at the thought, knowing the hard truth was no one in particular. He passed through many hands at Maison Elise, but he had said himself that he never knew which, if any, of the girls there was his mother. Although Claire was unfathomably grateful that they had found him, the indignation that he should have gone so long without someone caring for him until Jamie brought him home would never be quelled for her. 

She smoothed a hand over his brown curls, wanting to give him comfort in some way for the years of hurt she couldn’t heal for him. He’d recently told them he turned ten years old. He told them a few days after the fact, like an afterthought, and they had scrambled to make a celebration of it for him. And Claire had mentally kicked herself for not even inquiring sooner about his birthday. He had been with them for almost a year now and she was only recently made aware that this boy’s birthday fell on New Year’s Day. 

A New Year’s baby. Shouldn’t his birth have brought with it all kinds of hope and promise for the future? 

He deserved not just a home, but a family. 

Her hand stilled where it rested on his head. 

“Mo nighean donn?” Jamie whispered suddenly, his gaze lingering with concern. She startled slightly, unaware of his watchful eye until just then.   

“Fergus…” She began, dropping her gaze to the sleeping boy in question before sliding back up to meet Jamie’s open, curious eyes. Perhaps it wasn’t the time for this, but Jamie was awake just now and she felt a certain boldness in talking with him in the dark. “He’s… ours, isn’t he? You feel that way, too, don’t you?” 

What she’d meant to say but couldn’t quite articulate was that her love for Faith had been immediate and all-consuming when she learned of the baby’s presence within her, adapting only in the way it naturally did when Faith was born and her child was real, a whole person to be loved for who she was and no longer an abstract nudge from within. Claire’s love for Fergus, however, had softly snuck up on her, growing steadily from their plotting work in Paris to these quiet days at Lallybroch. And yet, she had reached a point where the love of both of them became inextricable from who she was as a mother. Without her realizing it, Fergus had gone from Jamie’s wee pickpocketing shadow to simply… theirs. 

“Aye,” Jamie whispered at once and Claire released the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “Aye, I do. He is.” 

His hand reached for hers, their fingers meeting on the pillow just above the boy’s head. 

“I canna say when it changed.” Jamie’s voice rumbled in the dark. 

“No, I can’t say either,” Claire agreed. “But it did.” 

“Aye.” 

Claire’s thumb stroked the back of Jamie’s hand gently and the warmth of him could be felt even in that slight touch. “Sleep, if you can.” She pulled their entwined fingers to her and kissed his knuckles. “You need your rest.” 

“You too,” he said, his voice gravelly from his cold and weariness. “You’ll wear yerself out, mo nighean donn, if ye dinna take yer own rest.” 

She sighed, acknowledging the truth of his words. “I will,” she agreed. “If these little ones let me.” Her gaze dropped to Faith, who wasn’t fussing for the time being. Still, Claire couldn’t seem to put to rest the part of her that needed to watch Faith breathe just to know she still could. Her fingers untangled from Jamie’s and her hand came to rest on Faith’s tummy, feeling her steady breaths under her palm. Claire’s eyes slid shut and she sighed.  

 


It was a cold, brisk evening in February when the third Murray child decided to make their entrance into the world. Jamie was sent to town to fetch the midwife, a task that he took with grave seriousness and no short amount of hastening. So it was quite a shock for him to enter Lallybroch with Mrs. Martins, the midwife, and be greeted by a frazzled Claire bearing the news that he had a new niece. 

“You canna be serious.” 

But Claire still donned an apron that bore the messy evidence to her story and her face, which never could lie to him, spoke volumes of the whirlwind hour she’d just experienced. “You can go upstairs and see for yourself if you don’t believe me.” 

As if roused by the conversation, the loud squall of a newborn drifted down to them. Mrs. Martins made a loud harrumph and turned back to the wagon, not bothering to come all the way in. 

“Is she serious?” Claire whispered furiously in her wake and that was enough to break the nervous tension in the room. Jamie let out a surprised bark of a laugh and when he’d caught his breath, he shook his head in disbelief. 

“And Jenny and the bairn are fine?” He checked. 

“They’re absolutely perfect. Ian is with them now.” Claire assured him. She noticed then that her apron was still on and began to remove it. “Baby was just ready, I guess. I’ve never seen labor progress that fast before.” Jamie held out his hand to her and she took it, letting him pull her to his side and gently kiss her forehead. She felt the tension in his body ebbing away as her news sunk in. 

“Thank you, mo ghraidh.” 

“I really didn’t do much this time. Just caught the baby. Jenny hardly even had to push!” Claire squeezed him around his middle. “I think the adrenaline is finally wearing off for me.” 

“The what?” He blanched at her. She was in fine form just now, thrumming with energy and talking breathlessly. 

“Nevermind.” She rose up on her tiptoes and kissed him. “Should we go meet our newest niece?” 

“Lead the way, Sassenach.”

“Wait.” She froze. “Mrs. Martins!” 

“Ah Christ,” Jamie muttered under his breath. “I’ll send Rabbie wi’ her now to drive the wagon back.” He broke away from her then, moving toward the door to the courtyard, and all the while he shook his head.



Late that night, lying in bed together after a rather celebratory round of lovemaking, Claire rested her head on Jamie’s chest and dosed contently. Jamie’s fingers played with Claire’s curls and she felt only the bliss of that moment with him. “Sassenach, how does it work after…” He pattered off, seeming to still be working out the question in his mind. 

“How does what work after what?” Claire asked, her eyes still closed. 

“After a bairn, when do your courses start again?” She looked up to find him staring up at the ceiling, his brows furrowed together in puzzlement. “Ye’ve not had yers since Faith, but Kitty would’ve been conceived when Maggie was only six months of age. And Ian said he tried to avoid getting Jenny with child so soon after Maggie, but ye’ve never…” This time, he did meet her gaze, a wry smile in place. “Well, ye’ve never made me sleep elsewhere, Sassenach. And wi’out yer courses, how will we ken when ye might be able to carry another bairn?” 

Claire breathed in deep and rested her chin on his chest, staring up at his beautiful, puzzled face. “I’m not quite sure. I think it varies, but I know when a woman breastfeeds, that often will delay her courses.” Her fingers traced his jaw and she smiled at the small sigh this drew from him. “Nature’s way of giving women a break, I suppose.” She laughed. Jamie exhaled a soft laugh, too.

“Aye, I suppose. Though it didna work too well for Jenny and she’s not the first woman I’ve known to have bairns within a year of each other.”

“Yes, well, as I said, it varies.”   

She was surprised to feel an ache for another baby after holding Katherine in her arms tonight. Faith was still so young, still a baby herself, and Claire didn’t really want another one right away but… someday.   

“Is it possible to get ye with child before your first course would start?” Jamie asked suddenly, still turning over the workings of the female reproductive system in his mind.

“I… yes, actually. I think that would be possible.” She quirked a brow at him. “You are something of a marvel, James Fraser.” 

He returned her look of astonishment. “Because I ken how to have a bairn? I’ll remind ye, Sassenach, that we’ve already succeeded there once and it was no’ by accident or ignorance.”

She smiled wryly. “No, more than that. Because you want to know how my body works. You need to know. I doubt many husbands care to know the details, especially around their wives’ courses.”  

He hummed. “I happen to find your body to be a verra…” His hand snaked down from where it had rested on her lower back. “Interesting. Subject.” He punctuated each word with a smack to her ass, causing her to jump, and then kneaded the flesh. “God ye have such a round arse,” he said, as if she’d somehow sidetracked him from their conversation with it. 

She stretched herself upwards so she could capture his mouth with her own. “What do you say we explore this subject a little further tonight, then?” 

“Ye dinna need to ask me twice.” 

Chapter Text

Claire woke slowly, her eyes blinking open in the soft, early morning light. She was greeted by a rare sight: a still-sleeping Jamie beside her. Her lips curled gently as she stretched languidly and exhaled. Her gaze settled on him laying on his back, one arm tucked toward his head, which was tilted in her direction. She felt the urge to touch him, to rake her fingers through those ruddy curls or trace the strong lines of his face. 

A sudden awareness of their baby came to mind and Claire lifted her head to check the far corner of the room. Faith had started sleeping a little later than she had before, giving Claire and Jamie a few extra moments of peace most mornings. Still, as Faith grew and developed, so did Claire’s discomfort with having Faith in the room whenever she and Jamie were… intimate with one another, even with Jamie’s insistence that “she doesna ken what we’re doing.” So Faith’s cradle, which had first lived at the foot of their bed when they returned to Lallybroch, had slowly migrated farther and farther away until it stood in one of the corners opposite their bed, physically as far away as they could put it without banishing the baby from their room. 

She couldn’t ignore nature’s call and stole out of bed as quietly as possible to use the chamber pot, not wishing to wake Jamie if it could be avoided and also needing desperately for the baby to sleep if Claire was to have any time with her husband this morning. With business taken care of, she crept back into bed, watching Faith’s crib carefully for any signs of movement. 

With confirmation that the baby was still asleep, Claire decided to make use of the time afforded them. Her gaze raked over Jamie, naked save for the bed sheet draped low across his hips and one leg, the other having kicked itself free in the night. She took a moment to ponder exactly how she’d like to wake him before gently sliding the sheet off of him and kissing her way down his body. He hovered on the precipice between sleep and wakefulness, issuing a few sleepy gasps and moans as Claire waited for his mind to catch up with the sensations his body was experiencing.

She left a wet, open-mouthed kiss on his inner thigh and he let out a delicious whine in response. “Claire!” He choked on her name, eyes flying open to find her between his thighs, one hand now pumping his cock. 

“Happy birthday, darling.” He was hot and heavy in her hand and she licked from base to tip, swirling her tongue around the head when she reached it. He gasped again and the sound fed her own growing arousal. 

“Please,” he breathed out, his face already contorting from the sweet torture she was giving him. It hadn’t taken much time at all to make him erect and she felt her own flush of pride. She took as much of him in her mouth as she could manage, and his strangled moan had her very blood thrumming with want for him. His hand came to rest on her head and his fingers tangled in her curls, but he didn’t use force. He never did when she took him this way. No, it was more of a caressing instinct he couldn’t seem to help, not knowing what else to do with his hands when she wasn’t easily within reach, but he still felt the need to touch her. 

She hummed around the hard length of him as her mouth continued to work in tandem with her hand, feeling that he was close already. 

“No. Mo ghraidh,” he grit out suddenly. “I want ye.” 

She ignored him, redoubling her efforts, wanting this more somehow because of his pleas. He was always so generous in giving her pleasure, but she found it just as addicting to reciprocate and watch him fall apart. And especially today, she wanted him to know how loved he was. 

He let out a strangled moan, barely keeping quiet, and poured himself into her ready mouth. “Oh Christ. Claire.” 

He was trying to catch his breath and shaking his head at her gently as she milked the last of his climax from him. “I wanted ye,” he said again. “Take yer‒” His hand gestured vaguely towards her and she bit her lower lip to keep from laughing at him in this state. “Take yer shift off.” 

She had moved to sit on her knees at the foot of the bed and now she wouldn’t hold back her teasing smile. “I think you might still need a moment, soldier.” But she still pulled her arms through and pushed the fabric of her shift up and over her head, letting it fly carelessly off the side of the bed. Jamie held one hand out to her and she felt her heart squeeze at the simple act. She took it and let him guide her body back up to his, draped over him with nothing between them. “Happy birthday,” she said again, this time before a kiss to his lips. “I’m very glad you were born.” 

His hand traced the path of her spine gently and he sighed. “I’ll thank ye properly in just a moment, Sassenach, but it is verra nice to hold ye.” 

“There’s no need to thank m‒”

His fingers slicked very suddenly through her folds and she gasped at the unexpected contact. “I canna verra well leave ye wanting like this.” He kissed her forehead very tenderly, in contrast to the sharp arousal he was fueling in her with the work of his fingers. 

“Today is supposed to be about you,” she protested weakly, hating how her breathless voice betrayed how she really felt on the matter. “What you ‒ oh God ‒ what you want.” 

He flipped their bodies so he was no on top, and she couldn’t hold back a moan as he tweaked one nipple in his own path down her body. He situated himself lower on the bed, making his plans very clear to her. “Trust me, mo ghraidh.” His eyes twinkled devilishly at her from between her thighs and that alone was enough to steal her breath away. “This is what I want.”  

It was always like this with Jamie, thrilling and all-consuming and absolute bliss. He knew the map of her body with practiced ease and still drove her to heights that surprised her. And after he’d evened the score and found his way home in her, after they’d found their rhythm together in a dance they knew well, she found shelter in his arms for a few quiet moments in the afterglow. 

“Christ, Sassenach,” he breathed out. 

“Yes?” She giggled. His fingers were gently running the length of her arm, erupting goosebumps along her skin in their wake. 

 “I ken you and Jenny have festivities planned for later in the day, but…” She felt the slight shake of his head against her. “I dinna think I care what happens for the rest of the day now.” 

Claire let out a full laugh, forgetting for a moment that their baby was still asleep in the room with them. “Is that so?” She squeezed him tight around the middle, absurdly pleased with herself to hear him say that. “I’m glad your birthday started off on a positive note, though I doubt Jenny will appreciate those exact sentiments.”

“Aye, we’ll keep that just between the two of us, hmm?” She could hear the smile in his voice and had her own responding smile at the absurdity of their conversation. 

Mamamama.” 

Her head popped up at the sound of Faith’s babbling. “Someone’s awake.” Her gaze found Jamie, savoring the very last moments of their time together and how breathtakingly happy he looked right then and there. “At least Baby Girl had the decency to wait until we were finished.” 

“Aye,” Jamie laughed. “Her timing is a gift in itself today.” 

She began to pull away and sit up, but Jamie held her fast and leaned up to kiss her. “Let me get her. It’s my birthday, after all.” 

She laid there, a little stunned and completely in love with him, as he threw on a pair of breeks and went to fetch the baby. His voice reached a soft, high pitch as he greeted Faith and gathered her up against his chest. Not for the first time, Claire struggled to tear her eyes away from the sight that Jamie and Faith made before her. She loved the sudden thought that these two would always share a birthday month. Her May-born loves. 

“I dinna think we can dawdle much longer, Sassenach.” 

He interrupted her thoughts and she sat up with a resigned sigh, knowing he was right. It was his birthday but it was also early May and planting season had begun. There was a great deal to do for everyone at Lallybroch, and a feast in Jamie’s honor tonight to look forward to.  

As much as she tried to stretch these moments out and make them last, the work couldn’t wait. Not to mention that Murtagh’s teasing never let up whenever they were the last ones down for breakfast in the morning. With those in mind, Claire rolled out of bed and began to dress. By the time they did make it down to breakfast, Jamie was swarmed by Fergus and the Murray children, and on account of it being Jamie’s birthday, Murtagh only rolled his eyes at them and held his tongue.      



 

Nearly two weeks later, a soft thump landed on Jamie’s chest and woke him suddenly from his sleep. He breathed in sharply and raised his head, taking in the sight of a half-awake Faith before him. Her hard head was resting on his chest and her little feet were digging into the mattress to try and propel herself further onto him, leaving her diapered rump wagging in the air. She did all this with her eyes screwed shut against the morning light and her head trying to burrow into him. 

“What are ye trying to do, wee lass?” He laughed. Faith grunted and squirmed, trying to get comfortable. Upset that she even had to be awake and trying her damndest to rectify that, it seemed. “Ye dinna like mornings much, do ye?” Jamie helped scoot the baby up so that she was draped over him. She let out a big yawn and looked to be almost asleep already. “Just like yer mam.” 

His gaze flicked over to his wife and found his comment had gone unnoticed by her. If any two souls ever loved an unhurried morning to sleep as late as they liked, they were his lasses. But while the baby was working at falling back to sleep, Jamie had been woken in the process. It wasn’t as easy for him to drift back to sleep once the sun was up and the day could begin. It also wasn’t the first time Faith had done this since she had become too mobile to be left in her wee crib. They only needed to see Faith pull herself up and flip herself out and over the shallow wall of her cradle one time before they decided to bring her into their bed at night ‒ a decision they knew was safest, but had thus far taken some adjusting to.

But this day was special and the weight of the baby keeping him in bed was exactly how he would have this morning go. 

Jamie sat up slowly, scooching back against the headboard. He cradled Faith against him and shifted her head up onto his shoulder once he was upright. He felt her sleepy huff against his skin. His precious, wee bairn. His and Claire’s.  

His hand still cradled the back of Faith’s head and the other helped steady her fidgety body as her legs kicked and wiggled for a moment longer. At last, she settled in against him and he turned his face into her little head where it rested on his shoulder and kissed her hair. 

Tha gaol agam ort, a chuisle.” He kissed her hair again, unable to help himself. She was warm and snug against him. “I do love you. Happy birthday, my wee lass. I canna believe‒” He swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat as he was confronted with memories of this day last year. The day he believed he had lost Claire and their baby. 

But the baby in his arms was very much alive, against all odds. And though he’d had a late start in being a part of Faith’s life, he had never let a day pass since then without telling her every morning that he loved her, and praying protection over her sleeping form every night. And he dedicated his time in between just trying to be worthy enough for the life he’d been given with Claire and the family they were building together. He didn’t often allow his mind to drift to those first three months for the sake of the dark memories that haunted that time for him. But with his child’s birthday came a natural desire to reflect and look back.

“No, I truly canna believe you’re still here some days. Ye’re a strong wee thing, that’s for sure.” He rubbed her back in slow circles, feeling the baby go completely lax with sleep. “I’ll never forget the first time I held you. Ye were the smallest bairn I’d ever seen. So delicate and pale. I was so scared of losing you still, even though you’d survived that long already. Ye broke my heart open wi’ how much I loved you, a leannan.” 

He became aware of Claire’s waking presence before her hand reached out blindly for him, her head still buried in her pillow. She caught his thigh and, not expecting that to be level with her, lifted her head to squint at him in the morning light. He watched her take in the sight of him and Faith, and caught her sleepy smile before her head dropped back to the pillow. His hand left the baby in favor of brushing aside the wild curls that had fallen over Claire’s face and obscured her from him. She hummed at his touch and he smiled widely, though neither of his lasses noticed. His touch lingered on Claire, tracing the slope of her cheek until she abruptly captured his hand with her eyes still closed and brought it to her lips for a kiss. 

He couldn’t reflect on the beauty of Faith’s life without the immediate swell of gratitude for Claire. She had changed his life so completely and set it on a path he never dared to dream of. 

“Good morning, my beautiful wife.” 

He was rewarded with another sleepy smile from Claire as she stretched like a cat and propped herself up on one elbow. 

“What does that look mean, Sassenach?” 

She startled slightly as he called her out and she scooched closer so she could join them. Her arm slung around his waist just below Faith’s little feet and her head came to rest on his shoulder. “I was remembering that first night you came home and waking up to find you sitting up like this with Faith asleep on your chest.” She turned her face into his shoulder, as she had done that night as well, and kissed him there softly. 

“She was frightfully small then.” 

“Yes, she was,” Claire agreed. She reached out and covered his hand with her own, both of them now resting on Faith’s back. Jamie let out a sigh as something eased in his chest. He pressed a kiss to Claire’s temple and then met her gaze when she tilted her face up to him. They didn’t speak further on the subject. They didn’t need to. The fear and the gratitude and the absolutely overwhelming love for Faith that Jamie felt was echoed in his wife’s eyes. They’d almost lost Faith once and there wasn’t a day of her sweet life that they didn’t feel exceedingly grateful to still have her with them. 

Perhaps it was the sound of both parents’ voices that woke Faith from her brief sleep. After a moment, Jamie and Claire, with their palms still resting on her back, felt her breathe in deeply and then let the air out in a long, slow sigh. Her head popped up from Jamie’s shoulder, one hand rubbing furiously at one still-closed eye. 

“Well, good morning.” Claire’s voice had a soft lilt to it, and Jamie tore his eyes away from the baby to see the radiant smile on her face. “Happy birthday, my darling girl.” 

 She leaned over Jamie and kissed Faith’s round cheek, still flushed from sleep. Jamie felt his breath snag at the sight. It didn’t matter that it was a moment he’d been privileged to see a million times over; he never loved anything more than bearing witness to the bond between Claire and the child they’d created together, the living testament of their love. 

Faith leaned sideways, chasing after Claire with her lips almost in a pout and her face tilted up expectantly.

“Ye want tae give a kiss, a leannan?” Jamie asked softly. 

Claire pressed a kiss to Faith’s pouty mouth, coming away with a bright smile. “What about for Da? Does he get a kiss, too?” 

Faith turned immediately to Jamie at that suggestion and jutted her lower lip out in the only way she had sorted out how to give a kiss. He obliged that sweet, upturned face with a kiss and then ducked his head to mockingly nibble at her neck. She let out a burst of giggles and squirmed away, her shoulder pressed up to her ear in reflex.         

“You love your da, don’t you?” Claire gently stroked Faith’s cheek.

Jamie felt his heart fit to burst at his wife’s words and Faith’s bright-eyed gaze back at him at the mention of “da”. It was the strangest, most wonderful feeling ‒ to love this child with everything that he had and to then realize, as she grew, that she loved him, too.    

“Ah Dhia,” he murmured reverently. “Ye dinna ken how much I love you, M'annsachd.”



 

The long summer seemed to stretch out endlessly for the Frasers and Murrays. Their days were spent in the more relaxed work between planting and harvest seasons, checking crops and tending to the animals. Rain and sunshine came in waves though neither one seemed to last too long, creating a feeling of hopeful anticipation for the year’s crops. Another good year could only help them in the coming famine, and Claire devoted as much time as she could to finding ways to stock up their storage with any food that could be preserved. 

Their nights were spent in the lasting sunlight, letting the children run wild outside after dinner. They would return indoors only when it grew dark and then pass the time in each other’s company in the parlor. Many of those nights involved a battle of wills between two wee girls in particular over the coveted spot in Jamie’s lap; for Maggie loved her Uncle Jamie dearly, and wee Faith went green with envy anytime one of her cousins was doted on by her da. Never mind that there was room aplenty and certainly enough love on Jamie’s part for both of them.

“Ye’ll have tae learn tae share, Faith,” Jenny would tease her. “Someday, ye might no’ be the only apple of yer father’s eye.”    

It wasn’t uncommon for the nights to end with one or more of the wee bairns getting carried up the steps to bed, passed out on one of their parents’ shoulders. And so the summer passed in such a fashion, creating treasured memories of their time together as the bairns grew, the crops began to flourish, and the promise of a good harvest was on the horizon. 

One August day, the post came to Lallybroch, bringing a letter to Claire from Louise. She had kept up a slow but steady correspondence with her Paris friend, and the shared connection between them over their first babies became the overwhelming subject in their letters. Though it took a great deal of time, the fact that any letters at all could find their way to the remote estate of Lallybroch was always something of a marvel to Claire. 

She tore open the latest letter and began to read its contents. Louise had had a baby boy before the end of last year and filled her letters to Claire with accounts of baby Henri. She made no mention of the baby’s father ‒ and Claire never asked about him in any of her replies. 

From her spot at the dining room table, she read through the letter and didn’t quite register the sound that floated in from the parlor. When she did, Claire realized she was hearing an old, familiar melody but with French words put to it. Fergus’s sweet voice sang them softly and she followed the sound to find him seated on the sofa with Faith in his lap. He sat her on his knees facing him and bounced her lightly to the rhythm of the nursery song.

 

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,

Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?

Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!

Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

 

Faith’s pudgy hands clapped together as he sang and bounced her gently, her whole face lit up with a smile. 

“Fergus, where did you learn that?” 

His head snapped up, looking a bit self-conscious at being caught singing to Faith, and he shrugged one shoulder as he answered. “The ladies at Maison Elise taught it to me.” 

“It’s lovely. And Faith seems to like it, too.” Claire smiled at him encouragingly. She didn’t tell him that she knew the English version, that she’d heard it herself as a small child. No telling what the song’s origins were or how to explain how she knew it if Fergus should ask. But she was surprised to hear it in this time and liked the thought that Faith would learn the nursery song, too, with the help of Fergus. “Continuez à lui parler en français. Un jour, elle pourra répondre.” 

Her French wasn’t nearly as strong as Jamie’s, but Fergus smiled just the same at her encouragement and nodded. “Oui, milady, I will have her speaking en français in no time!” 

Faith began to wiggle herself out of Fergus’s grasp, trying to get down from his lap and stand. At fifteen months, she wasn’t hitting certain developmental milestones as fast as her cousins had, but there was no denying that Faith Fraser had an independent streak. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t yet taken her first steps without assistance, Faith was still quite capable of scurrying about, either by crawling or holding onto hands or furniture for support in walking. 

Fergus knew this well and once Faith had slinked to the floor, he held tightly to the girl’s hands and helped her steady herself. 

“She’s getting better at that.” Claire smiled at the pair that they made. Faith looked up at the sound of her mother’s voice and steered in that direction, making Claire’s heart swell. “Are you coming to see me, lovey?” 

 Claire crouched down to Faith’s level and watched as her daughter smiled and let go of one hand to reach toward her. She couldn’t tell how she knew, but she called out suddenly for Jamie in the other room to come quick. “She’s going to walk!” 

Fergus kept one hand in Faith’s grasp as she staggered towards Claire, still reaching for her, until the girl slowly released Fergus’s hand. Claire held her breath as Faith toddled on uncertain steps once... twice... three steps forward on her own, closing the gap between them. 

“You did it!” Claire squealed. Faith’s hands slapped on her mother’s covered knees as a steadying touchpoint and the little girl’s face broke open with a proud grin, showing off her baby teeth stacked two each on top and bottom. 

She was just about to call for Jamie again, certain they could get Faith to try once more, when she heard Jamie cry out in a string of Gaelic words completely unfamiliar to her. But it was his tone that sent a sensation like ice water shooting down her spine. She plucked Faith from her spot on the floor and saw the same panic she was battling reflected in Fergus’s young eyes. 

“Come on.” She grabbed his hand and rounded into the dining room with both children to find Jamie by the window, rigid as a statue, with a letter clenched in his hand. Murtagh, Ian, and Jenny were frozen in place by his sudden outburst and none of them seemed capable of speaking.  

“What is it? What’s happened?” 

She broke Jamie out of his trance and he turned to face her. His eyes held a despair she hadn’t seen in him before and felt her heart sink in her chest. He held out the letter to her and as she began to read the account from Jared, Jamie summarized it in twelve short words. 

“We failed. Prince Charles has landed in Scotland. We’re going to war.”  

Murtagh made a sharp noise of disgust and Claire barely registered an outcry from Jenny, but she couldn’t focus on the others at that moment. The letter was still in her now-trembling hand and Claire’s eyes fell upon Jamie’s name signed in another’s hand.  

“He forged your signature!”

Her gaze, wide-eyed with horror, flicked up to meet Jamie’s. His jaw was set and he looked like he might go berserk at the slightest touch. “Aye. He did.” His tone was clipped. “And anyone on that list is considered a traitor to the crown.”  

We’re going to war.  

Claire realized with sinking dread that Jamie hadn’t meant just Scotland as a whole, but Lallybroch as well.    

Chapter Text

As the news of the declaration with Jamie’s forged signature settled in, the very air within the house became too stifling. Jamie stepped out during a somber lull in conversation, everyone trying to process what it would mean. He walked without a destination in mind, coming to rest atop a hill and clear his head, make a plan. He heard the rustle of Claire’s skirts and the slosh of her steps on wet ground before he glanced behind to greet her.  

“It’s all coming to pass, isn’t it? The Jacobite rising, Culloden, the clearances...” Her gaze swept out over the spread of Lallybroch land before them. “The destruction of all of this,” she said bitterly.  

The silent acknowledgment of their failure roiled in his gut. They’d done everything they could, and yet…

“So it would seem.” 

Claire moved to sit on the fallen tree before him. “We could go to Ireland,” she pleaded desperately, “or the colonies.” 

“Wi’ a small bairn in tow? Fergus might tolerate it, but it’d be a terribly hard life to subject both o’ them to. And what of Ian and Jenny? Our nieces, nephew, cousins?”

“We can bring them with us.”

“All o’ them?” He smiled sadly at the thought. At the impossibility of it all. His heart ached at the sight of her unbridled fear, etched there in her face for him to see. But they must consider everyone that would be impacted by their decision before they made it. Because no matter what, there was no easy answer. “And what of our tenants? Leave them to the‒ the mercy of the British butchers if Culloden is lost?” 

“Your name on that document brands you as a traitor to the British. And you will be hung as one if they catch you. We can’t stay.” Her gaze was fierce and unflinching. He knew she saw the horrors of this history playing out before her, but with names and faces now to put to the images of this war. His name, in particular. His face. That was her burden of such knowledge.

“We know what will happen if the Jacobites lose the war. But… but what if  they win?”

“They don’t. It’s the verdict of history.”

“Have you given up trying to change the future then, Sassenach?”  

“Well, after Paris, haven’t you?” 

“Aye, Paris was bitter disappointment. But you can change the future. You’ve proven that. Tammas Baxter lives because of you. Paris was spared an outbreak of smallpox because of you.” He knelt in front of her and covered her cold hands with his own, infusing warmth there with his touch. “And Louise de Rohan bore Charles Stuart’s bairn because of you. And we have a bairn who was born in this time, so sickly and small, and she is still alive because of you. She’s our proof that you and I belong as one, that you were meant to be in this time though you were born nearly two hundred years from now.” 

Claire shook her head at him slightly. He knew. This was no small thing to try and change. “You want to fight for Prince Charles?”

“I want to fight for our family. And for Scotland.” He rose to his feet, watching Claire carefully for her reaction. “What happens next will impact Faith’s future and if we dinna have a hand in trying to steer it the right way… if we dinna even try…” He shook his head. “I canna see any other way. Can you?”

“Not one that we could live with,” she said at last. He let out a resigned sigh at that. “They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

“Well, I dinna ken who they are, Sassenach.” He’d noticed the few tears that had spilled down her face and gently brushed them away. Pulling her to her feet, his hands settled firmly on her hips. “But I’ll wager they have never traveled through time.”    

Their foreheads met briefly before he pressed a kiss to hers and pulled her in closer, holding her tight. “I ken I’m asking the impossible of you, mo nighean donn.” When she squeezed him tighter, he knew she understood he wasn’t talking about their mission, but of Faith. “She’ll be safe here wi’ family that loves her.” He kissed her shoulder through the layers of her dress and wrap. “Until we can return to her.”  

 

 

 

The news spread quickly through Lallybroch. The men began to prepare, and their peaceful summer came to an abrupt end. The farmhouse thrummed with activity, and equipment and provisions piled in the hallways and corners of rooms as they packed and took stock. 

It was all happening so fast. The letter had arrived only days ago and Claire, Jamie, and the men would all head out tomorrow morning. Claire found Fergus standing at the edge of the parlor watching Jamie and Murtagh as they packed some crates at the dining table, plotting out loud with each other the whole time. 

She felt a sharp twinge at the thought of Fergus being separated from Jamie for any length of time. The boy’s back was to her, his expression thus obscured from her, but she was certain he must be measuring the moments as she was while they were all still here together. 

She came up behind him and looped her arms around his shoulders, pulling him back against her. He went willingly as he sighed and leaned his head back against her shoulder. He’d gotten so tall. When had that happened?

“No matter what comes, you know this is your family, don’t you? That you belong with us?” She and Jamie had spent yesterday with Jenny and Ian, discussing care for the children and the contingency plans no parent ever wanted to make. But they had Fergus and Faith, and it would’ve been irresponsible not to consider all the alternatives and what they would mean for them.

Fergus’s hands came up to hold onto her arms where they were clasped around him. “I know.” His tone was unreadable, but then they were all feeling a maelstrom of emotions these last few days. 

She pressed a loud, smacking kiss to his cheek, not caring if it embarrassed him. “Good. Because we love you.” Since Faith, those words slipped out more frequently for her children ‒ an intentional effort on her part. She never wanted there to be any doubt for them, especially with war looming ahead of them. Claire kissed his cheek again, felt him exhale a small laugh this time. “I love you.” 

“I know, Milady. Je t'aime aussi.” 

She squeezed him tight for a moment, burying her face in his curls. Words jumped to her tongue but she swallowed them back, not wanting to lay such a burden on his young shoulders. But they echoed in her mind just the same, a silent wish made to the universe and any higher power that might help.  

If something happens to us, would you make sure Faith knows, too?   



 

“No!” Faith cried, fat tears rolling down her flushed face. She tried to roll off the chair away from Jamie, escaping from the linen clout he was trying to fasten around her. 

“Faith. Mo nighean. Please.” He caught her around her waist and hauled her back, but she kicked her legs wildly and screeched. He forgot about the clout for a moment and pulled her to his chest. “What’s wrong? You’re breaking my heart, Faith. I hate tae see ye so.” 

“Is she alright?” Claire called out from their bed. 

“She’s no’ hurt,” he assured her quickly. “Just upset about something.” 

Faith stopped fighting him, but she still cried into his ear, loud wails accompanied by the hot tears soaking into his shoulder. She had worked herself up to the point that her whole body felt hot and sweaty from her effort, even through the thin fabric of her nightgown. 

“Na gabh dragh. Tha mi an seo,” he murmured gently against her sweaty head. Don’t worry. I’m here. Forgoing on the fresh clout for the moment, he stood and grabbed his plaid to wrap around them. He met Claire’s gaze where she was still sitting up in bed. “It’s alright, Sassenach. Go back to sleep. I’ll walk wi’ her until she calms down.” 

She seemed loath to accept his suggestion and he didn’t blame her. Their hours with Faith were numbered before their departure in the morning and neither one wanted those hours to go to waste. 

Even sleep seemed a fickle thing to do when that time could be spent memorizing every detail of their baby. The fine, silky strands of her copper hair just long enough now that it had begun to curl around her ears and at the nape of her neck. The way her nose crinkled when she laughed. The way her smile showed off four perfect, tiny teeth. Her eyes with electric blue towards the center and that darker ring of blue around the edges, just like Claire. The more she grew and lost the round features of infancy, the more Jamie saw of his wife in her.  

He reached the doorway and glanced back, seeing Claire’s reluctant collapse back against her pillow.

“Tha gaol agam ort, a Creideamh,” he murmured as he walked the length of the upper hallway with Faith, not hearing the stir of any other members of the house. He thought of Jenny and Ian with their wee bairns requiring so much of them at these stages, and how they would have to be the ones to soothe Faith on the nights she couldn’t sleep. How would Faith handle that? What would she understand of why he and Claire weren’t there for her? 

Faith’s fervent cries filled the otherwise silent house, echoing through the open space above the parlor as he carried her down the stairs. 

“Dinna weep, mo chridhe. Here, let’s tend to the fire, aye? Before it goes out.” 

Faith hiccuped and fell into a rhythmic cry, having cried too hard to get her breathing under control. From her perch on Jamie’s knee, she seemed entranced by the fire as he tended to it. 

“There, mo nighean, it’s alright.” His thumb wiped at her wet cheeks and then he used the edge of his plaid to wipe her nose. “My bonny wee lass.” He leaned in to kiss her cheek, which broke the spell. Her little hands reached up and grabbed hold of his shirt at the collar, trying to get closer to him, and her whining started again. 

“Oh, there now.” He stood and held Faith flush against him, her head resting over his heart. “Dinna weep. I’m here. I’ve got you.” 

When he realized it was his closeness she wanted, he abandoned his plan to walk the quiet, empty rooms of Lallybroch and instead settled there on the sofa with her. “Ye ken somehow, aye? Ye’re a smart lass, and ye can tell something is changing.” He sighed heavily, his hand moving in slow circles over Faith’s back. “That’s alright. I’ve been meaning to talk to ye about it.” 

Her dimpled hand rested on the other side of his chest and he reached for it, brought it to his lips for a kiss. “Ye see, yer mam and I are leaving for Beauly in the morning and from there, onward toward Crieff. Ye dinna ken where either of those places are, I suppose. But all that will matter to ye is that we’re no’ here.” He breathed in sharply, fighting the urge to cry, though one rogue tear spilled down his cheek. “I need ye to ken that you are loved beyond measure. Our flesh and blood. Heart and soul.” He swallowed roughly and bent to kiss the top of Faith’s head, needing a moment. 

“Everything yer mam and I do is for you and Fergus. For your futures. That’s why we’re going, but make no mistake, our hearts stay behind with you.” 

Faith snuffled quietly, still overtaken every now and then by a powerful hiccup, but she was otherwise silent as Jamie spoke, listening to his voice. 

He drew in a measured breath and let it out slow. “I‒” He swallowed roughly again. “I dinna like tae think about it, but I ken you’ll understand this when ye have yer own bairns someday… Ye canna help but think about all that could go wrong. And I dinna plan to not return to ye, ken? But some things ye canna plan for. And just in case…” His hand had come to rest over her head, holding her there, and kissed her hair again. “I want to tell ye some things, in case I’m‒ in case I’m no’ around to tell ye later. 

“First, mind yer aunt Jenny while we’re away. I ken you and Uncle Ian get along just fine, so I’m no’ worried there, but ye have the Fraser temper, I’m sorry to say. Ye might want to butt heids wi’ her, but she is your aunt and ye must mind her. She can be tough, but she loves ye. 

“This next bit willna be a concern o’ yours for a long time, but it is verra important: dinna ever let a man hold yer heart if he’s no’ worthy of it. He should treasure you, Faith, and respect you. Should admire yer mind and yer heart more than yer beauty. Oh lord.” He pressed his thumb and index finger hard against his closed eyes. “Please, please, dinna fall in love wi’ some clot-heid idiot. I couldna take it. A good man, Faith, aye? D’ye promise?” 

She hadn’t fallen asleep, but she didn’t respond either. He softly stroked her hair. “Aye,” he murmured. “I want a love for you as great as the love I have wi’ yer mam.” He sighed deeply. “I hope to god I’m here to judge him, whoever that man is, but if I’m no’ here, I want yer uncle Ian to give his blessing before ye wed. He’s… he’s the best man I ken, Ian is. And a good da. So he’ll be a good judge for ye. Fergus, too. I suppose by then, Fergus would be auld enough to give his blessing. Aye, now that I think of it, ye need both their blessings or no marriage, Faith.” He considered this for a moment and then added, “Murtagh, too, if he’s still around when the time comes. Aye, if a man can earn the blessing of those three, I shall no’ worry overmuch about it, for I’ll ken he must be a good man after all.  

“And yer mam… I wish I didna need her to come wi’ me. Truly. But she taught me long ago ‒ before ye were even born ‒ that bad things happen when we’re apart. She kens the future and what will come of this war. That’s vital information.” His fingers gently tucked her red, wispy curls behind her ear. “And you and I both ken what a fine healer she is, aye? Neither of us would be here wi’out her. 

“But even though I’m taking her wi’ me, I swear on the cross of our Lord Jesus that I will see her safely home to you. I dinna ken what’s to come, but I ken I willna let anything happen to her. She needs ye and you need her, aye? So I ken all of this that I’ve said to you will be relayed even if I’m gone, because she’ll be here and she knows my heart. 

“You’re so like her already, Faith. I ken you will be smart and brave and so kind.” He chuckled suddenly, despite himself. “Maybe ye’ll be a healer, too? Though it doesna matter what ye do, Faith, I’ll always be so proud I could burst. Aye, I’ve been trying to reconcile the fact that I‒” He cleared his throat and felt the burn of tears once again. “Christ,” he muttered hoarsely. “That I might no’ see ye grow up. I might no’ see what you become, but even as ye are now, so small… just a bairn still… I love ye for who ye are, Faith. 

“I dinna want tae leave ye,” he reminded the baby. “I say all o’ this just in case it’s needed. And I need ye tae ken that if… if I dinna return, if all that remains of me is the life of you that I helped bring into this world…” He kissed her head and then rested his cheek there. “Then I should be well pleased with my time on this earth.”    

He heard a sound like a choked whine, but it came from above them. His eyes flew up and there was Claire at the wooden banister, watching them with one hand clamped over her mouth to cover the sobs that shook her. Oh, his wife. His heart. How long had she listened to his goodbye? 

He secured Faith against him and was off the sofa and up the stairs as fast as he could manage. She was crumbling right in front of him and he pulled her to him. She cried into his chest once his arms were about her, no longer able to keep the sobs at bay. He held them both, Faith half-sandwiched between them. 

He'd only heard those gut-wrenching sobs from Claire a few times in his life, and they made his stomach drop. “Claire,” he choked out, his mouth pressed tightly against her skull. There was another option. One they’d refused to discuss. “You could stay.” 

She sobbed harder and shook her head. 

No. They both knew she couldn’t stay. It didn’t mean it wasn’t tearing their very hearts out of their chests in the process. 

“I don’t want to lose this,” she uttered between sobs. 

Faith howled into Jamie’s chest, upset further by the sight of her mother’s distress.  

He breathed in sharply, holding both pieces of his heart tight against him, already feeling torn to shreds. He didn’t have an answer for their problem or a balm for the pain. All he had at that moment was a silent, fervent prayer: Lord, that they would both be kept safe...  



 

With the morning came their brave faces back in place once more. Claire kept Faith anchored on her hip as they said their goodbyes to the Murray children inside and then as they oversaw the last of their things packed into the wagon for Murtagh to bring to Kingussie. 

None of it felt quite real to Claire, like a bad dream she just couldn’t wake from. That she would have to part with her daughter for an indeterminate amount of time was unthinkable. 

She kept Faith in her arms, refusing to let her down even when the baby signaled that she wanted to walk on her own. She bounced her until the fidgeting stopped and Faith settled again. 

And as they stood in the courtyard, horses saddled and wagon packed and final goodbyes being given, Claire felt the panic clawing its way up her throat. She strode a few steps away from the others and shifted Faith in front of her so she could look at her. She knew she must say something, but nothing seemed sufficient.

 The sun caught in Faith’s bright copper hair, shining a brilliant gold and red. “Forgot to grab your bonnet,” she muttered stupidly, her hand smoothing over the girl’s silky hair. Her eyes met Faith’s, a mirror copy of her own. Claire drew in a sharp breath and let it out slow. 

“It’s not fair to you. Your da and I are the ones who know and love you best.” Once the words were out, she felt the crushing weight of them and couldn’t say more. Instead, she kissed Faith’s forehead, her snubbed nose, her round cheek, her neck which was sticky with sweat. She buried her nose there, the scent so familiar and only definable as belonging to Faith. 

She felt her girl’s head turn and rest against her shoulder. Little fingers curled around the fabric of Claire’s wrap where it bunched at her neck and held on tight. Faith was content at last to be in her mother’s arms now that they were just about leaving. A tear spilled down Claire’s nose and onto the shoulder of her daughter’s dress. 

She didn’t have Jamie’s easy way of showing her heart through speech, but she loved this child with everything that was in her and words didn’t seem to cover the breadth of that love. Not even by half. So she hoped to convey to her baby in these last moments, in the caressing touches, that Faith was the axis on which her whole world spun. She could do anything ‒ even brave this time apart ‒ if it meant her girl would have a future.  

She spotted Ian after a time, waiting to say goodbye to her. He gave her a sad smile and after they’d embraced, he made no move to take Faith from her. They exchanged a few words and watched Jenny and Jamie say their goodbye to each other. 

“Just where do ye think ye’re going?” Murtagh’s voice rang out sharply in the courtyard and Claire turned to see the object of his question ‒ Fergus, on his own mule, packed and ready to go. 

“Well, with Milord,” Fergus said, as if this was obvious. 

“You’re too young to fight, laddie.” Ian chuckled at him. “Ye’ll bide here wi’ us.” 

“That’s right,” Jenny added, her hands on her hips as she walked towards him with the others. “We’re charged with your care and safekeeping ‘til Milord returns.” 

“But I belong with you.” The boy implored to Claire, ignoring Ian and Jenny. “Is that not what you told me, Milady? That I will always have a home with you?” 

Those certainly had been her words, but it was a cruel trick to twist those on her now. She was already drowning and hadn’t even said her goodbye to him yet.

“Yes, of course,” Claire began gently. “But sometimes it’s‒”

“He’s right.” Jamie cut in. Claire turned baffled eyes on her husband. This was a ten-year-old they were talking about, was it not? “His place is no’ here without us, nor in France on his own.” 

Fergus looked very pleased atop his mule as Jamie addressed him, doling out his orders. His own little soldier. Claire adjusted her hold on Faith, her arms feeling the fatigue of carrying her for so long. She hardly had time to process that Jamie was bringing their ten-year-old to war before the moment she’d been dreading had finally arrived.

“It’s time, sister dear.” Jenny was at her side, one hand on Faith’s back and the other on Claire’s. 

No. Not yet.

Her arms held tight to Faith, unwilling to relinquish her just yet. Though when would she ever be ready? 

“I ken, Claire.” Jenny’s voice was soft, in a tone usually reserved for comforting her children. “I ken. I’m so sorry.” 

She nodded curtly at Jenny to show that she understood before burying her face in Faith’s neck again. Her heart felt like it was being squeezed in a vice grip. But she didn’t cry. She wouldn’t. Not after she’d scared Faith half to death last night with her hysterical sobbing. 

Claire turned around, struck with the sudden, horrible thought that she’d hogged Faith all morning from her father and here they were, about to leave, and he hadn’t so much as held her once yet. He was watching her, of course, from his spot where their horses were saddled and waiting. His look conveyed only a deep tenderness and understanding towards her pain. Their pain. No exchange of words was needed; she could surrender Faith to Jamie and no one else. Otherwise, she’d never leave here. In a few strides, he had closed the distance between them and kissed her temple. 

“Take yer time, mo ghraidh,” he murmured. 

But they didn’t have time. Not really.

Her eyes slammed shut, fighting off the pressure of hot tears springing to her eyes. With Jamie right in front of her to bolster her, she drew in a steadying breath. She opened her eyes for one last, long look at her daughter.  “Oh, my beautiful girl,” she breathed out. Her finger traced the soft outline of her baby’s face and the shell of her ear. “It’s not goodbye forever, just for now. I love you.” She sealed her words with one more kiss to Faith’s cheek and quickly transferred the girl to Jamie’s waiting arms. 

She met his gaze only for a moment. He gave her a tight smile and a short nod, and she left him to his goodbye. Wiping furiously at the tracks of her tears, she strode half-blindly towards her horse and there she remained, petting his neck, until she felt Jamie again at her side. 

But before he helped her onto her horse, he took her in his arms. His embrace was strong and fierce, and it held her together when she thought she might fall apart. A comforting touch before the long ride ahead of them. 

Then the moment ended and Jamie helped her mount the horse before quickly springing up into the saddle of his own. She gave him a quick nod in answer to his silent question and they rode off through the gates of Lallybroch, Claire never looking back. 

Chapter Text

Late August 1745

Jacobite army encampment, near Kingussie

“Mo nighean donn?”

It was his voice that yanked her sharply back to him. He could see it in her eyes, how they went from vacant and far away to truly seeing him for the first time. He’d watched her crumble beside the wagon, out in the open here where the men were training, but her mind hadn’t been here. For several days now, he hadn’t known what it was to have his wife present with him. 

Claire.” He pulled her up into a sitting position from where she still laid on the damp, cold ground and wrapped her in his arms. His heart ached for how he couldn’t seem to reach her, even now as he held her. When the distance in her eyes appeared, he thought at first that it must be Faith ‒ that missing their baby was taking its toll. 

She had assured him she was fine, brushed off his concerns the handful of times he brought it up. Kept moving, as was expected in this place. 

But seeing her sink to the ground and curl in on herself for no visible reason made him damn sure that she wasn’t fine

“Tell me,” he uttered hoarsely. Her hands grasped tightly to him, holding his arms about her. And it was like this, with her back pressed to his chest and the wind whipping around them, that she started to tell him about the war she’d already fought in France, the men she’d met as eager young soldiers, and the ways she saw so many of them lost to the world. 

At some point, he brought both of them to their feet, not wanting the dampness of the ground to sink into them. And she started to tell him about two American soldiers in particular, about one night that she could never forget, as hard as she tried. 

When it was over, the haunted look in her eyes still lingered. He tried to assure her it wasn’t her fault, but he watched her carry on as if she hadn’t heard him.  

“I should have tried to get him.” 

“If you had, you would be dead,” he said firmly. His hands squeezed at her upper arms subconsciously to feel her very much alive and real under his palms. 

“I know that. Because I told myself the same thing right after it happened. And I just… closed the door on that night and walked away. I haven’t looked back ever since until now.” Her eyes were seeing him again, but the darkness of that night was still trying to push in on her, he could see. Christ, he hated that such darkness had ever touched the pure light of her. “Now I look at Ross and Kincaid and all the others… being turned into soldiers, being trained, putting up a brave front. All I can hear is Max Lucas crying out for his mother in the dead of night. And for two years, I’ve tried to stop this war from coming. Now that it’s here, I’m not sure I’m ready to go to war again.”

“You don’t have to.” His words came swiftly in a response that had been building since she started to describe that night on the side of the road. Since she first started to withdraw from him, if he was being honest. Shame sank heavy in his gut that he had brought her here, that because of him she was reliving the horrors of another war. “You fought your war.  We’ll fight this one without you. I’ll have Ross and Fergus take you home to Lallybroch.”

No.”

“Claire‒”  

“I can’t do that either. Listen to me, if I‒ if I go back, then it will just be like lying in that ditch again, helpless and powerless to move like a dragonfly in amber, except this time it will be worse. Because I’ll know that the people out there dying alone are people I know. People I love. I can’t do that, Jamie. I won’t lie in that ditch again. I can’t be helpless and alone ever again. Do you hear me?” 

“I hear ye.” He breathed out, slow and steady. His fierce lass... “I promise, whatever happens, you’ll never be alone again.”

“I’m going to hold you to that, James Fraser.” 

Despite it all, he felt the tug of a small smile at his lips. “You have my word, Claire Fraser.” He kissed her then, soft and with the promise of his words, and he held her tight, too, not caring if his men were watching. 

“Jamie,” she said so quietly, he almost didn’t catch it. He felt her straighten up in his arms, steeling herself, but as she drew back to look at him, her hands came to rest gently on his chest. His hold on her lower back never loosened. After all she’d just said, he couldn’t possibly let go of her. 

She kept her gaze on the collar of his coat where her fingers were worrying the fabric between them, smoothing it out, tugging it into place. Buying time while her head sorted out the right words. He could see it all there in her face. 

“Don’t offer me the chance to go home again. Not even one more time. I meant what I said… I can’t be helpless like that again. But I‒” Her lip trembled and she tucked it between her teeth. 

“I won’t,” he promised. His hands slid up her spine and pressed her close, meeting no resistance as she burrowed back into his embrace. “I’m sorry.” 

He felt the shudder of her cry against him and bent to kiss her neck. The temptation ‒ the physical ache in his chest ‒ to abandon all this and to hold Faith again was overwhelming for him. He couldn’t imagine how it was for Claire. No, he wouldn’t dangle that in front of her. It had been cruel of him in the first place to offer that. 

“What d’ye think she’s doing right now?”  

She eased back only enough so she could look at him. Her eyes were watery with unshed tears and the depth of longing there was almost enough to bring him to his knees. This was killing her, this time apart. Out of instinct, he kissed her forehead and felt her lean into it, taking his comfort to soothe the empty arms where their baby should be. 

“I’ve been trying to imagine how she spends her days at home.” He nuzzled in against her temple. “I ken she misses us, but I like tae think she’s still happy wi’ Jenny and Ian and her cousins.” 

They hadn’t talked like this, not in the past several weeks since they left Lallybroch. The subject of Faith was a wound too raw and exposed to touch at first, but she’d never been far from either of their minds. And as soon as Jamie had broached the subject, he felt the sharp jab to the open wound, still too tender, but he needed to speak of her, and with the only other person who loved Faith as much as he did.  

“It’s mid-day,” Claire surprised him by uttering softly, opening herself up to a conversation. “And it’s gorgeous out, even with the wind. I bet she’s outside with Maggie. They’d be… well, it’s almost harvest season. I’m sure the girls would try and get involved somehow, though it would probably result in them getting in the way and needing to be removed.”

“She is a verra curious lass.” He chuckled lightly. “Aye, I can see it plain as day. Our stubborn wee thing. Mind the time she was starting to pull herself up and stand, and she saw the basket of clean laundry that Jenny had just pulled off the line?” 

He couldn’t see her face still, but he felt the soft exhale of what he knew to be a laugh, pained though it was. “She didn’t know that the basket wouldn’t hold her weight,” Claire replied. “She and the fresh linens tumbled over into the dirt when the basket tipped. She was so quick, I didn’t notice until it was happening.” 

The memory was so achingly normal and he clung to it. They’d lived the life of their dreams once and if they could make it through this war, Jamie knew what would be waiting for them when they returned.           

 


September 21, 1745

Jacobite army encampment, near Prestonpans

Claire never knew a greater feeling of relief than she did that day, watching Jamie burst into the cottage where they’d set up a field hospital. He’d never looked more alive to her in that moment, never felt stronger or steadier under her touch than when he wrapped her up in a tight hug. They’d won ‒ as she knew they would ‒ but that fixed number of 30 casualties had hung over her head like a dark cloud. They had won, but more importantly to her, this battle hadn’t claimed her husband or Murtagh or‒

Fergus.

She slipped out his grasp when he told her to look outside. Squinting against the sudden light, it took her a moment to find him. Sitting there, still as a statue, he looked perfectly fine. 

“Fergus! Oh, you wretch!” She pulled him into her arms, relief and concern and disappointment all coursing through her. “What do you mean by sneaking off like that? I should box your ears until your head rattles,” she threatened, but only held him tighter.  

“Milady,” he said very softly while she eased back to look at him. She cupped his face gently in her hands, fighting back tears at how close she’d come to losing him, unable to put to bed the worst thoughts that kept her company while she waited for news. 

“Do you have any idea‒” She broke off abruptly to stop the cry that threatened to break loose. “I’m already separated from one child, you can’t just risk your life like that, Fergus!” She held his face a little firmer, gave it the slightest shake as though it might allow him to absorb her words better, to understand what he’d put her through. “I can’t lose you!” 

Her chest was heaving from her outburst and Fergus only stared down at her, completely dazed and teary-eyed. The relief of finding him alive was short-lived as alarm over his appearance and demeanor quickly took over. “Say something. Are you alright?” 

“I… I killed an English soldier, Milady.” 

Her eyes went wide with horror at his revelation. “Don’t tell me that.” 

“I think I killed him,” he amended, rather calmly. Shock, she noted in some part of her brain. “He-he fell down. I had a knife. I struck him.” 

“Oh, god, Fergus.” She clutched his head against her, wanting to erase that moment for him. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” Sorry for the memory that would surely stay with him for his whole life. Sorry that he was anywhere near this hell of a war at all. 

She jumped suddenly, realizing she hadn’t actually checked him for injuries yet. “You aren’t injured, are you?” 

“No,” he said softly but she ignored him, turning him by the shoulders and looking him over for any apparent wounds. “I’m just… tired. Very, very tired.” 

She felt the pressure of tears building up in her eyes and pulled Fergus’s head back under her chin, tucked safely against her. The fear that had gnawed away at her all evening and into the morning finally began to dissipate. He was here. He was safe. They’d deal with the rest later. “Come with me. I’ll get you some food and somewhere to sleep.” 



It felt as natural as breathing for Claire as she fell into the fast-paced rigor of triaging in a war zone. She was proud of her small band of women, all of them mothers or wives who had followed their men and refused to sit by the wayside. None of them had major experience in dealing with the casualties of war, but they’d followed her lead and when the injured came streaming into their small cottage-turned-field-hospital, they’d risen to the challenge. 

By late-afternoon, they’d cleared out those with minor injuries who had been properly tended to. Though after Angus, Claire had insisted on personally giving each man a thorough physical exam before letting them exit, which had left some of them waiting if a more serious patient took a turn for the worse.  

When her mind finally swam to the surface, escaping the chaos of hemorrhaging wounds and shredded limbs, it was growing dark outside. Jamie, whose urine had come back clean and who was thus allowed to leave the cottage, had returned to her. She wasn’t sure how long he had waited, sitting patiently near the front door and keeping an eye on her, but when she finally had a moment to breathe, she found his tired gaze and ached to leave all this behind and be with him, to have the comfort of his warm embrace.   

Instead, she sequestered Jamie to a quiet corner of their field hospital and sat him down next to the pallet where Fergus slept. She brought a basin of warm water and a clean cloth and after wetting it, she proceeded to wipe at the blood and dirt caked to his face. Blood that had been there since the early morning.

“Can’t believe you were stepped on by a fucking horse today and you’re just fine, bruises not withstanding. Do you know how lucky you are?”

He chuckled mirthlessly at this and watched her carefully. “It wasna a very pleasant experience, all the same.”

“Yes, well, next time… try not to throw yourself into the path of a trampling horse, thank you very much. I’d like to avoid tempting fate again.”

“I’ll do my best, Sassenach.” 

She sighed and swiped at his cheek, a little softer this time. 

“Have ye had anything tae eat?” He asked. 

“Oh, um…” Her brows wrinkled together as she thought about it. “Not since you brought me some bannocks and fruit earlier, whenever that was.” 

He looked displeased with that answer and she knew a proper meal was in her near future, however it could be scrounged up within their camp. She wouldn’t turn it away, not with how she suddenly felt her stomach’s empty quaking at the mention of food. “Bring something for Fergus, too. He’s slept the day away and I’m sure he’ll be hungry when he wakes.” 

At the mention of their boy, Jamie’s gaze flicked down to the sleeping ten-year-old. His jaw clenched under her fingers as she finished wiping his face clean. After the relief of finding Fergus just outside, physically unharmed, she hadn’t let herself dwell on the horror of his words ‒ hadn’t had the time to dwell on them, honestly. But now, each word felt like a punch in the gut as they ran through her mind once more. 

He fell down… I had a knife… I struck him.

She breathed in sharply and blinked quickly, trying to stave off the rush of tears she felt building behind her eyes. “What are we going to do about Fergus?” She whispered in a tight voice. “Do you think he’ll try to fight again?”

He stole the wet cloth from her and dipped it into the bowl of water. With one hand holding her chin steady, he brushed at the skin of her forehead just below her hairline. From her fingertips up to her elbows, she had scrubbed herself clean several times today, but she hadn’t looked at her reflection once since well before the battle and wondered now just how much blood was there. 

“The only reason I let him come along is because I knew if we told him tae stay and he didna want to, he would’ve tried to find his way to us on his own, stubborn wee fool that he is.” She had wondered… from the moment he had allowed Fergus to join them, she had wondered why. Jamie was seldom careless and certainly never in regards to those he loved. But his assessment of Fergus rang true, especially with the day’s events in mind. “I thought if we brought him along on our terms, we could keep him safe.” His jaw clenched again and he didn’t continue right away. He tilted her chin to the side as he found a spot just below her ear that needed cleaning.   

“No, I dinna think he’ll fight again, Claire,” he said at last. “He’s had his taste of war and the romance of it always dies once ye’ve had to see it up close. I’ll talk wi’ him tomorrow.” His gaze swung back to her and he smiled gently, though it was tinged with sadness. “Make sure he kens I dinna appreciate how he made us worry.” 

He then dabbed gently at a spot on her neck and she realized she knew when that one had occurred. It was Angus’s blood on her neck. 

Thirty casualties sounded like nothing when only focusing on the number. She knew it was an impressive feat, an unlikely victory that stunned and impressed even in her time. But of those thirty had been Angus and Kincaid, men that she knew well. Of those thirty, she’d been at the sides of more than half of them as they slipped from this world. She could put names and faces to that number now and when she thought of the possibility of facing Culloden, of the thousands of losses— 

“Dinna go there, Sassenach,” Jamie said softly. 

She blinked slowly, puzzled. 

“Whatever dark thought ye’re havin’...” His thumb brushed over her wrinkled brow, trying to smooth out the worry there. “Dinna let it linger.”    

Despite his attempt to soothe her, she felt the toll of the day finally catching up. Her brave front was beginning to crumble and without any resistance, she found herself gathered into Jamie’s lap like a child. He tucked her head under his chin and murmured a soft string of Gaelic words, as comforting to her as his touch was, even if she didn’t understand it all.  

“What do you think she’s doing right now?” Her voice wobbled as she asked the question that had become something of game between them, a way to escape from the horrors around them if only for a moment, and think about one of the very best things to ever happen to them, tucked away safely at Lallybroch. But it was a stupid time to ask, she realized, because it was night and there was only one answer. Still, Jamie hummed softly and rested his head against hers. 

“I think she’s dreaming of our family, Sassenach, and she kens that she is loved.”

 


January 1, 1746

In retreat, near the Scottish Border

The Prince’s army had been encamped in the north of England when their wave of victory finally crested and broke. Retreat would be their next step. For Jamie, that moment also marked the first buckle of doubt in his previously unflagging belief that he and Claire would be successful in their own cause. 

That string of victories followed by the decision to retreat had happened exactly as Claire had recounted to him. His strongest chance at changing the outcome slipped right through his fingers when he was unsuccessful in rousing the others to join the Prince’s call and march on London.  

As punishment for his insubordination, a new directive was issued to him: to lead his men ahead of Charles’ retreating army and prepare provisions for them in Inverness. 

 

 

They left within a day of the order, their small band of Lallybroch men skirting quickly but carefully back toward Scotland with no small amount of fear that they would encounter English forces on their way. No one spoke of it. But it wasn’t far from anyone’s mind, on enemy soil and woefully outnumbered in most encounters with the British so far. 

That encounter with the British came about a week later. The first of their journey’s delays started with Claire being taken to Belmont by British forces. And with Jamie and Murtagh’s retrieval of Claire came the second delay: returning Mary Hawkins to her family’s estate. They had decided altogether to set Mary up in the nearest town to her estate and hire a lady’s maid there to return with her in the morning to her family and avoid causing any further scandal for poor Mary by being escorted home by none other than Red Jamie. 

By the time they reunited with their men in Keswick and marched for the border, Dougal greeted them with news that they had actually fallen behind the rest of their retreating army.  

 

 

Claire lost track of their days by the second week. There was nothing to mark where one week ended and the next began. Not for a while at least. But because she was traveling with Scotsmen, it didn’t escape any of their notice when Hogmanay arrived while they were still on the road, back on Scottish soil at last. 

It was nothing like the way that Claire and Jamie had marked the holiday just one year prior, in the comfort of their home, alight with a naive hopefulness for what was ahead and an appreciation for what the year prior had given them. 

Instead, there was the passing of whisky around an open fire in the woods. Rupert’s long-winding stories told in his lilting, pleasant voice. A few toasts to the new year, led by one James Fraser after a small amount of cajoling. The small party stayed together well into the night, though no one could say with exact certainty when one year bled into the next.

But the feelings of joy and expectation never quite saturated the group as it had for many in every year prior.  

In the harsh light of the morning on the first of January, nothing about the year felt shiny and new, brimming with hope. 

Despite the ruckus that was made around the fire the night before, nobody made a sound at daybreak, lest it draw unwanted attention from possible nearby soldiers. 

Jamie built a small fire near their tent for warmth and Claire and Fergus flocked to it, pressed so close together that Fergus was practically in her lap. They waited for their breakfast while rubbing the sleep from their eyes and stifling yawns. It was cold enough to see their breath linger in the air, but they created their own pocket of warmth between them and the fire.

She turned and pressed a kiss into Fergus’s curls, her heart a bit heavy. “Happy birthday, Fergus dear.” 

“You remembered?” He sounded delighted by this and she felt a wave of tenderness and protectiveness for him. He deserved so much more than whatever they could give him today. 

“What would you like for your birthday?” She asked. “Keep in mind this will have to wait until we return home.” 

Jamie added a log to the fire and caught her eye, a curious glance there for her to see. Yes, they never did plan for themselves past this bloody war, but Fergus was only a boy ‒ he was their boy ‒ and he deserved the hope of something on the horizon. She shrugged one shoulder at Jamie. He gave her a tight-lipped smile in return. They’d make it work, somehow. 

Fergus, on the other hand, pondered Claire’s question very seriously, oblivious to their nonverbal back-and-forth. “A horse,” he said at last. 

“What?” 

“My own horse. To have at Lallybroch when we return. I want Milord to pick it, though.” His gaze flew to Jamie and to his credit, there was nothing amiss in Jamie’s expression as those words landed.

“A horse, ye say?” A teasing glint shone in Jamie’s eyes as he moved toward them to squat down on the other side of Fergus. “Rather stubborn creatures sometimes and an awful lot o’ work. Ye sure ye dinna want something more manageable, like a pig? Or mebbe a dog?” 

No,” Fergus laughed and Claire wanted to bottle the sound, save it for later. “I want a horse. I’m certain, Milord. And you will pick the best one for me.” 

Jamie grinned broadly at him and ruffled his hair affectionately. “Aye, I ken ye’re sure, mon fils. And ye’ll get yer own horse someday, I promise.” 

Murtagh appeared, moving quietly through the trees, and walked toward their small campfire. He held something behind his back and as he reached them, he stopped in front of Fergus and dangled a fresh-caught rabbit. “How’s that for a breakfast feast, hmm?” 

“Thank you, Murtagh.” Fergus beamed up at him.

“Well done, Murtagh,” Claire added. Jamie stood and clapped him on the back. To all of this, Murtagh grunted softly and moved off to skin and cook the rabbit, apparently flustered from all the praise.

They fed him rabbit for his birthday, which he relished, and never once acted as though there should’ve been a better alternative. As they packed up camp and headed out, Jamie made a show of telling all of the men during the march that the day was Fergus’s eleventh birthday. 

His very presence created a lightness among them. But it wasn’t until that day, trudging against the bitter January wind with hardly anything in their bellies, that she saw how beloved he was by the men. How they welcomed the chance to return that joy to him for his birthday. 

When everything else felt cold and hopeless, Fergus had helped to ease the burden of war just by being present with them, a child who was still brave enough to wish for better things despite their dire circumstances. 

And at the same time, it was its own kind of torture for Claire to have Fergus there. While she ached to see Faith again and hold her, she knew in her very marrow that her daughter was safe from the dangers they faced. And though Fergus had never again stepped onto a battlefield since Prestonpans, there had still been a number of close calls during the war, not to mention the very real risks of starvation and sickness. The fear that something should happen to him… that he might be taken from them…

“Sassenach?” 

She startled out of her reverie and forced a tight smile ‒ for no one’s benefit. Jamie always saw right through that. “Don’t mind me. It seems I can’t help but think about the worst, even on a good day. I’m fine, Jamie.” 

“We’ll reach Edinburgh in a few days. It’ll be easier once ye’ve had a night’s rest in a real bed and have eaten to yer heart’s content.” He smiled at her, a touch sadly, and she knew he didn’t believe that to be a balm for her heartache, but it was all he had to offer. 

“I’m sure you’re right.” It was all she could offer in return, to pretend that if her basic human needs were met, then surely the slow and painful breaking of her soul would stop.     

 


February 25, 1746

In retreat, north of Edinburgh

They’d reunited with the rest of the Jacobite army in Edinburgh and it was there that they held their claim over the city until Cumberland and his men laid siege on Edinburgh. From there, the Jacobite army pushed further north, eyeing Inverness once more as refuge. But for Claire and Jamie, it felt like surrendering themselves to the verdict of history, for every step toward Inverness in the name of retreat felt like a step toward the Battle of Culloden, powerless to stop the trajectory of events. 



“What d’ye think she’s doing right now?” 

Claire’s footsteps faltered in their pace against Jamie’s. “I don’t know.” Her voice was soft, almost drowned out by the rustle of movement around them and the clomping of horse hooves. “It’s been months, Jamie… maybe she’s running to meet her cousins for breakfast instead of walking, talking to them in short sentences with words she didn’t know before we left.” She stopped in her tracks, causing Jamie to cease as well. “I know she’s safe. But I can’t picture how she spends her days anymore, because I can hardly picture her. Has she changed so much since we left? She’s growing every day and we’re‒ we’re missing it.” She swallowed roughly, heart in her eyes. “So I don’t know what she’s doing right now. I can’t even guess.” 

 

It was the last time the question was asked by either of them. 



They stopped at the nearest tavern for the night, the temperature too cold to brave making camp under the stars. They had scraps for their dinner, for it was all they could afford with dwindling supplies and funds. Six months at war was taking its toll in more ways than one, but the most pressing to Jamie was the gaunt frames of Claire and Fergus. 

“Come warm me up,” Claire called to him from under a pile of threadbare blankets as he built up the fire in their room. “And where did Fergus run off to?” She asked suddenly. 

“The lad wanted tae stay up wi’ the men a little longer.” He caught her soft snort as he moved toward the bed.

“Are you sure he’s alright in their company?” 

“Aye, he’s Murtagh’s charge for tonight. If they get too rowdy, Murtagh will send him up to bed.” He crawled under the covers and gasped suddenly when Claire’s icy hands slipped under his nightshirt and pressed against his back, trying to draw him in towards her. “Christ, ye’re freezing, lass.” 

“Mhmm.” 

He sank down beside her and felt the tip of her cold nose nuzzling in at his neck. “My puir lass,” he started to tease her, only to gasp again at her cold hands drifting lower on his back. “I ken what ye have in mind. Ye better warm those wandering hands first or it willna have the effect ye’re hoping for.” 

“Oh really?” 

Christ, the teasing lilt of her voice already had his blood rushing south. He yelped and jerked away from her when he felt those icy fingers wrapped around his cock. 

Claire laughed and withdrew her hand from him. “See? That was exactly the effect I was hoping for.”

“Ye’re a wicked woman, Claire Fraser,” he growled at her, though his own smile peeked through. 

“What are you going to do about it?” She murmured, looking up at him through hooded eyes. He drew himself up over her, seeing the look of pleased anticipation cross her face. She tugged the blankets back up over his shoulders, keeping them cocooned with what warmth they’d managed to create. 

“Well,” he dipped down and stole a kiss from her. “I dinna see that I have any other choice but tae warm ye up myself.”        

She sighed happily at the prospect, her mouth chasing up after his. “I think that’s a very wise choice.”

She was light and warmth for him in the middle of a godforsaken war. And for as much as he wanted to lose himself in her, the reminders of their circumstances were never-ending, constantly plucking at their shared joy. The bed that was not their own, the raucous sounds of the tavern below them, the hunger pangs in their bellies from never quite having their fill to eat… small as they were, those things chipped away at him. 

“Jamie,” she called to him, in the midst of their lovemaking, when she must’ve felt the change in him, the drift of his mind away from their connection. Her voice was the only siren song that could reach him. “Come back to me. Back to us.” 

He dropped his head to the juncture between her neck and shoulder and shuddered a sigh there. Her fingers curled into his hair at the nape of his neck, held him there. 

He wanted more for her. He wanted her to have plenty where everything was sparse ‒ food, warmth, shelter, safety, love. Instead, she was half-starved of all of those. She was his light when everything else was darkness ‒ his sorcha ‒ and he couldn’t even feed her well enough that the notch of each of her ribs wasn’t visible to the naked eye. Seemingly all he could do for her was to love her, keep her warm, keep her safe… and even that didn’t feel like enough. He didn’t feel like enough.   

In the afterglow, he held her, their foreheads touching, their exhales mingling. She curled into him, still seeking his heat. “Are ye warm enough, mo ghraidh?” 

She hummed an affirmative and her fingers came to rest alongside his jaw, gently framing his face. They were warm to the touch. He turned his head into the heat of her palm and kissed her there. 

“Good,” he sighed. 

At some point in the night, he fell asleep curled around her, his knees following the bend of hers, his arm holding her protectively. His body was so entwined with hers that he woke promptly from the slight shake of her shoulders.  

“Mo nighean donn?” 

The room had grown dark and the sounds below them had fallen to a dull rumble. So even though Claire tried to muffle her cries, the stillness of the room gave her away. 

Claire,” he whispered tightly, trying to sit up, to see her better, but she held fast to his arm that wrapped around her, keeping him in place. “What’s wrong?” 

“Don’t…” she cried. “Just hold me.” 

He was powerless to deny her that one simple request and settled back in behind her, holding tight. “Was it a dream?” 

Claire shook her head. “No… I just‒” He felt the sharp, shuddering breath she drew in. “I miss her.” 

With that, her stronghold broke and the tears came, after months of quietly grieving the separation.            

“I’m sorry I took ye from her.” He said softly into the stillness of the night, when her tears had ceased and the room had grown quiet again. He wasn’t even sure if she was still awake until she tilted her head back to look at him. 

“You didn’t.” She said firmly, though there were still tears in her voice. “If I blame anyone, it’s Prince Charles. Not you.” 

He huffed a cheerless laugh and fell silent, his thumb wiping at her tears. “Still. Ye are a brave wee thing. My Sassenach.” His inhale was sharp and bracing for the words he knew he needed to get out. “You could’ve stayed. At Lallybroch. Would ye? If I had insisted, would ye have stayed with Faith?” 

“No.” Claire whispered hoarsely. Her arms tightened around him reflexively. “My place is here with you. I couldn’t have stayed, knowing what I know of the rising. And knowing what I know of war from a healer’s perspective.” She rolled onto her back so she could look up at him. “And I couldn’t have lived with not being with you. Never knowing if you were safe… it would’ve eaten me alive.” She snuffled quietly. “It does all make me sound like a rather terrible mother, though, doesn’t it?” She tried to pass it off with a laugh, but her lip quivered and Jamie was quick to cover her body with his own. 

“No, Claire, never. I’m sorry I posed the question. ‘Twas foolish of me. I’m sorry.” He kissed her hair and felt her clinging to him. “My place is with you, too, and I couldna be where you aren’t,” he assured her. “But I promise ye, Claire, I’ll see you and our lass safe and back together. No matter what comes.” 

She turned back on her side and he curled around her, his body again molded to the slope of hers, engulfing her. His arms stayed secure around her and she sighed and relaxed back against him. 

“I’ll see ye safe.” He repeated, holding tight to Claire and, unknowingly, the small spark of life they’d created between them.

 

Chapter Text

April 16, 1746

Culloden House

 

Jamie gripped her elbow hard as he rushed her out of the house, away from Rupert, from Dougal’s dead body… it had all happened so fast…

And the inevitable had truly been just that ‒ nothing she or Jamie could succeed at stopping, though they’d given everything to that cause for the better part of a year now. The Battle of Culloden would begin this very morning.

“Jamie!” 

Both of their heads whipped up at the sound, seeing Murtagh flying towards them on horseback like the devil himself was on his tail. 

“Where has he been?” Claire wondered out loud, but Jamie only released his hold of her and ran for his godfather. She knew only that Murtagh had been acting on an order for this godforsaken war and hadn’t seen him for a few days. As he came into view, Claire noted the odd bulk around his torso and before her brain had any time to process, Murtagh had pulled the horse to a stop and immediately lifted a small, red-headed toddler from under his cloak.

Claire’s breath caught in her throat. 

Faith. 

Jamie was there, ready to grab her from Murtagh, and Claire watched in disbelief as he lowered Faith into his embrace, kissing her cheek as he did. 

The wind-tossed curls were much longer on her ‒ had barely been long enough to curl when last she saw her ‒ but the small, scared face peeking over Jamie’s shoulder at Claire was unmistakably her child’s. 

She had hardly swallowed this realization before Jamie had turned towards her. In a few long strides, he was in front of her and whether Jamie initiated it or she did, whether he had any intention of handing over Faith or not, Claire found herself clutching Faith’s head to her shoulder, her other hand anchoring the little body to her own. Her baby. She turned her face into the crook of Faith’s neck, spilling tears and kisses onto her skin. 

It felt so centering to have Faith in her arms after eight months without her, that Claire didn’t even wonder why she was there with them for three solid minutes. 

But Murtagh dismounted his horse and men were filing into lines nearby and the reminder of where they were and what was about to happen hit her like a punch in the gut. 

“Jamie?” She asked urgently, her unspoken question already there in her eyes. 

“I’m getting us out of here, mo nighean donn.” He murmured, though his tone was just as urgent, and she felt relief flood her veins. In the three years that she’d known him, he’d never let her down in this regard ‒ he always had a plan. They were going to run. And they’d be safe, he’d see to it. She had no doubt of it. 

“Come along,” he said gently, tucking her in against his side, sheltering her and Faith as he led them back inside. Fergus was waiting in the doorway, and Murtagh was close on their heels. 

Everything that unfolded next happened in rapid sequence. Jamie filled Murtagh in on the news of Dougal. A deed of sasine appeared to transfer the title of Lallybroch from Jamie to his nephew. Claire took all of this in while in a half-daze with Faith anchored on her hip. 

Faith was bigger, heavier, Claire noted. And her wide, terrified gaze jumped from Jamie to Murtagh and back to Claire, with no ounce of recognition there. They’d been gone too long. She’d already forgotten them. 

Claire swallowed back the bile that rose suddenly in her throat. She felt lightheaded from the nausea, with no idea if it was the pregnancy she was scared to acknowledge, or the fact that she had become a stranger to her child that made her physically ill. 

She breathed in slowly to steady herself and shifted Faith higher in her arms to kiss her round cheek, the urge to soothe her being stronger than any other impulse. 

“Claire.” 

Murtagh held out the quill to her and gestured to the deed. He held the parchment flat while she shifted Faith to her left arm, took the quill, and signed as a witness to the loss of the only home she’d ever known. A tear slipped from her cheek and fell perfectly over her last name, blending with the still-wet ink and obscuring the name altogether. 

The dazed feeling returned, making her unable to process the moment as it unfolded around her, but she became suddenly aware that Jamie meant to send Fergus to Lallybroch with the deed.

“You can’t.” Her voice came out soft at first. 

But Fergus was holding the deed already and Jamie gave him final instructions as if he hadn’t heard her. 

Jamie.” The bite in her tone came out clearly and all three of them turned to look at her. “You can’t send him alone to Lallybroch. He needs to come with us.” 

The flicker of self-doubt in Jamie’s eyes was just that ‒ a flicker, there and gone suddenly. In its place was a dogged determination that almost frightened her. “Claire, his safest place will be Lallybroch.” As he spoke to her, his hands came to rest affectionately on Fergus’s slim shoulders. “He’s our son, but he doesna look like you or me, nor does he talk like a Scotsman. And that will save him, along with Jenny and Ian’s guardianship of him. Lallybroch is safest for Fergus but not for Faith. Please.” 

She heard in that one word a multitude of pleas ‒ to trust him, to allow this plan to unfold, to have faith that this wasn’t a rash decision, but one he’d agonized over if it came to it. She knew his heart, trusted him with her life and yes, the children’s too, but the idea of sending Fergus alone felt wrong. But everything about their situation felt wrong now and Claire didn’t know what to do. 

“Go and say your goodbye,” Jamie murmured softly to Fergus, without waiting for her response. 

It struck her then as impossibly cruel that as soon as she had one child restored to her, she must part with the other. She grabbed Fergus with her free arm and pulled him into a tight hug.

“I love you. Be careful.” She kissed his head and swallowed back a cry. “Be careful for me, Fergus. I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you,” she pleaded with him, knowing how dreadfully cavalier he could be with his own young life. She felt him nod against her shoulder and mutter something in French there, but she didn’t catch it. She did notice the way Jamie stiffened in front of her. God, none of this was easy. How had they arrived here, on this day, at this moment, after all they’d done to try and stop this bloody war? 

And then Fergus was gone, slipping out of the house with the deed tucked down the front of his shirt. Although he’d grown a great deal taller since she’d first met him, he suddenly looked so dreadfully small there, against the backdrop of war.  

“Stay here, mo ghraidh,” Jamie murmured before he and Murtagh slipped out, too.   

She watched them only for a moment, standing together outside and bracing against the strong wind, before her gaze was inexorably drawn back to Faith. 

Faith, who was unnervingly quiet and still in her arms. She kept looking around at the unfamiliar scenery, never quite at ease. 

Claire’s hand brushed over Faith’s baby-fine curls and the girl’s eyes snapped back to her. She’d never forget the way her daughter’s gaze held only uncertainty and panic when it met hers. Claire forced a wobbly smile and felt a few tears spill down her cheeks unwarranted. Several words leapt to her tongue ‒ I love you, my heart has longed to be reunited with you, I’m so sorry I failed for months to stop all this and return to you ‒ but she bit them all back. What good would it do? Faith didn’t know her anymore. So she drew in a deep, fortifying breath and let it out, collecting herself and firming up her smile. “It’s all going to be alright, darling,” she said with certainty. Her words lacked the familiarity of her love for Faith, but they were honest and assuring, which is what Faith needed from her. At least, it was what Claire felt she needed from her. It would take time, she acknowledged, before Faith would rebuild that old attachment with her, and for Claire to learn how Faith had grown. 

And after all they’d put her through, Faith was owed that time to relearn who they were to her, in however long it took.   

“Claire?” Jamie stood in the doorway watching the two of them with an odd look on his face. “It’s time. We must go.” 

She went with him without question. He helped her onto the horse and handed Faith up to her before hiking himself up into the saddle in front of her. She did her best to create room for Faith in between them without squishing her. Faith’s eyes sought hers out again, her little face pinched tight with worry, but she never said a word, though Claire was sure she must know how to speak by now, even just a little. “It’s going to be alright,” she repeated softly. 

“Hold her tight, Claire.”

They rode swiftly away and the faint feeling of nausea returned. She focused on breathing steadily, a feat not easily reached while riding horseback, and her grip on Faith was as tight as she could manage without hurting the girl. 

Because of this, she missed what direction they were headed for most of the duration of the ride. It wasn’t until those unmistakable stones came into view that all of Jamie’s plans clicked into place.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She screamed at his back. 

He didn’t answer, only kicked his heels into the horse harder. They reached the foot of the hill and Jamie slid down and turned expectantly to Claire to help her down, his face set in an unreadable expression. 

“Jamie,” she snapped. “Get back on the fucking horse! We’re not doing this.” 

“Yes, we are. Now, hand me Faith and I’ll help ye down.” 

She studied him, holding Faith firm in her grasp, and only relinquished her when she realized she could never talk sense into him while he was stubbornly fighting her to get off the horse. But when her feet touched the ground, she stole Faith back and shoved him hard in the chest with one hand. “Idiot!”

But she staggered on the uneven ground with the toddler that was becoming heavier in her arms by the minute, and Jamie was there in an instant to steady her. 

“Claire.” His voice cracked on her name ‒ a pained note. “Please.” She shook her head at him firmly. 

“No, we’re not doing this. I can’t just leave you. I won’t.” 

He reached out and cradled her cheek in his warm palm. She could see now the struggle for control in him. His jaw was set tensely but his eyes gave away the depths of his pain amidst the tenderness that she always found there. “Aye,” he said shakily. “Ye will leave. For her.” His gaze shifted to Faith and his hand came to rest lightly on her back. His touch was hesitant and she was reminded at once of the moment he first saw their baby. 

She’s so beautiful, I’m scairt to touch her...

Her stomach churned again. No, this couldn’t be the answer. “We can run away, all of us. Sail to France or the colonies or… or anywhere, Jamie, it doesn’t matter.” 

“The ports are closed and Red Jamie hasna got a chance in hell of escaping undetected ‒ wanted by the British and my kinsmen alike for being a traitor. I’m already a dead man, Claire. And I choose the battlefield. But before then, I will see ye and Faith safe, like I promised.” He grabbed her hand and turned, trying to lead her up the hill, but she yanked herself free of his grasp. 

“I can’t go back.” She was vaguely aware of the tears on her face, though she couldn’t say when they had begun. “And how dare you orchestrate this… taking Faith from Lallybroch and bringing her here, trying to force my hand.” 

“For god’s sake, do ye no’ see how it is? I canna protect ye both in this time. I must send ye back to yer time, to a man who can care for ye. And I couldna risk Faith’s life, leaving her here alone, never knowing if she would get recognized as my child. No, she must go with ye, for I canna bear for you two to be parted.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead, at once disarming her of anger with his tenderness. 

“Jamie,” she began feebly, unsure of what to say. His forehead came to rest against hers. 

She suddenly felt the pressure of his palm on her stomach and she gasped involuntarily, a soft little sound. Her eyes flew to him and he nodded. “I ken, Sassenach. And I canna let ye stay in your condition with all that could go wrong.” 

Her hand covered his over her still-flat belly. “You can’t know that. It’s much too soon.”

“No, Sassenach, you have not been a day late in your courses in all the time since ye first took me to yer bed, but it’s been two months now. The only other time that has happened was with this wean here.” 

“You kept track? In the middle of this bloody war, you kept track?” 

“Aye,” he murmured. “How long have you known?” 

Her lip quivered. “Not long,” she admitted honestly.  

“This child,” He cupped Faith’s head in his hand, thumb softly stroking her hair. “And this one,” He looked briefly at their hands still resting over her belly. “These two are all that will be left of me. Ever. So I beg of you, Claire, let me send you safely home, you and the bairns.” 

There was a desperate edge to his voice that she had never heard before and everything within her fought against it. “But you are my home.” 

“And you are mine, but this home is lost. So you and the bairns must go to a safe place. Let me see my family safe before I die, Claire. Please.”    

She was too startled by his unflinchingly honest words to fight him as he started to lead her up the hill. But when they crested the hill and the familiar buzzing sound filled her ears once more, she lost whatever progress she’d made. It was again unfathomable, what he was asking of her. 

“I’m not ready, Jamie. I’m not ready.” Her hand fisted in the fabric of his coat. Faith peered up at her mother with visible signs of distress, though she remained silent. “Come with us,” she said frantically. “Come with us through the stones.” Claire grabbed his hand and placed it on Faith’s back. “She needs you,” she whispered, tears slipping down her face. “I need you. I can’t leave, Jamie. Not without you.” 

“We both know I can’t,” he said patiently. 

“You could try.” Her pleading had turned desperate, pathetic, but she grasped for anything that might fix what he was trying to do. “You hear it, right? The buzzing?” 

“I don’t hear anything, Claire.” His voice was soft and placating, and yet it made her want to weep even further because he wouldn’t agree to try. Still, when he strode over toward the stones, her mind only half-registered what he was saying. His hand reached out toward the stone and her breath caught in her throat, hoping against all hope. 

His palm touched the stone and‒

Nothing. 

And even though they both knew, it killed something inside of her to see confirmation of it and, watching as his face fell, she knew it broke him, too… that final outstanding hope dashed.   

“My destiny lies on Culloden Moor. But I’ll find you. I promise. If I have to endure 200 years of purgatory, 200 years wi’out you,” He advanced on her, closing the distance between them. “Then that is my punishment that I have earned for my crimes.” His hand gently brushed her cheek. “For I have lied, killed, stolen, betrayed, and broken trust.” Jamie’s arm snaked around her waist and pulled her flush against him, Faith half-sandwiched between them like the night before they left Lallybroch all those months ago. “But when I stand before God, I’ll have one thing to say to weigh against all the rest.” He leaned in and kissed her, half-smiling. “‘Lord, ye gave me a rare woman.’” His next kiss came with more urgency and she gave into it. “‘And God, I loved her well!’”  

When he kissed her for a third time, she kept her eyes open, even while they were watery with tears, because she couldn’t bear the thought of forgetting what it felt like, tasted like, looked like to be loved by him so completely. 

Her hand came up to trace his brow and the lines of his face when he finally pulled away, memorizing the feel of him under her touch. She knew now that he’d been planning this for days, that if the moment came, he would be ready to pull the trigger and send them away. It must’ve been why he woke her in the middle of the night, from the dead of sleep, to love her one last time. She half-wished he’d given her the same understanding of that moment, the last time she would lie in his arms. 

In the distance, cannon fire boomed and startled all three of them. Jamie instinctively rubbed Faith’s back, trying to give her comfort. She had looked over Claire’s shoulder in the direction of the blast but now she turned and glanced hesitantly up at Jamie. Faith suddenly wormed around fitfully in Claire’s arms, trying to get down. 

“Do you want to‒” She looked at Jamie, the rest of the words caught in her throat. Goodbye felt too permanent and painful to acknowledge out loud. 

Jamie lifted her from Claire’s arms and held Faith close, one last time. His hand cupped the back of her head against his shoulder. “I already said everything ye need tae know, wee lass.” He pressed a kiss to her hair. “Back when ye kent who I was to ye. So I’ll only say this now: I love ye, Faith.” His voice broke on her name, tears flowing freely now. “You have made my life whole.” 

Struggling with her own composure, Claire reached into her pocket and pulled out the bit of amber that she’d carried with her for almost the entirety of her marriage to Jamie. She had her wedding ring, lovingly made from the key to Lallybroch, but the sudden need overtook her to make sure he had something, too, a token of their love. “Our wedding gift from Hugh Monroe. You keep it with you,” she murmured, pressing it into his palm. “Blood of my blood.”

“And bone of my bone,” he answered readily, his voice tight. 

“As long as we both shall live,” she whispered before leaning up on her toes to kiss him again.

He nodded, dropping the amber into his sporran. “Here,” he kissed Faith with one last, lingering squeeze before handing her back to Claire. Then he slipped a ring from his finger and placed it onto one of hers, just above her wedding ring. “This belonged to my father. Give it to the bairn when he’s old enough.” He dug into his sporran and produced a necklace Claire had never seen before, a simple piece with a modest gemstone. He slipped it over Faith’s head and smiled slightly. “Something to remember where ye came from, a chuisle.” He sealed his words with a final kiss to her forehead, fresh tears making silent tracks down his face. Faith remained unnervingly quiet, but her dimpled hand grasped the gemstone and studied it with piqued interest. 

More cannon fire sounded in the distance and the urgency of the moment returned to them. “It’s time,” he murmured hoarsely.

Claire felt a sob building at the back of her throat, a wild, desperate thing, but she swallowed it back. She couldn’t move, but he gathered her close, holding both of them in his arms, and began to walk her backwards toward the center stone. She held his gaze, trying to keep hold of the moment. Even in a time of absolute pain, she could see the depths of his love for her there in his eyes. “I love you,” she whispered. Had she said it enough to him? Did he understand how much? “I love you,” she said again, louder this time, and nearly choked with her tears. She knew they were close to the stone, could feel the indescribable pull of it. Oh God, it was almost time. 

“And I you.” 

She was trembling when he kissed her softly, their tears mingling with it. He nodded and turned her in his arms, but his touch never left her as she faced the stone. His hand held hers and Faith’s as he guided them forward, reaching out. 

She was shaking, holding tight to Faith with one arm, and only partially aware of Jamie whispering goodbye to them before turning his face into her curls one last time. 

And then her hand felt the cold press of the stone once more.     

 




She woke slowly, blinking awake in the shade of a tall stone. Her head swam, jumbled from before, and she laid there for several heartbeats before she remembered.

“Faith?” She bolted upright and felt another wave of dizziness hit her. But glancing around the grassy hilltop gave no sign of her daughter. How long had she been unconscious? How far could Faith have gone in that time? 

Claire scrambled to her feet and steadied herself, still feeling as though the world was spinning. “Faith!” 

She made a quick circle around the center stone, staring down the hill and through the trees, but there was no sign of anyone else. Claire was alone. 

She spun and stared at the center stone, as if it could give her answers. There was no buzzing sound anymore. What once had felt alive from within it no longer called to her. 

Panic clawed its way up her throat and she screamed her daughter’s name once more, looking about desperately, but there was no response. Her breathing quickened and she strode toward the stone. Where was her baby?  “I wasn’t ready, you bloody bastard!” Her hands slapped against the stone, but this time, nothing happened. She sank to her knees at the foot of the stone, the cold reality hitting her anew. “I need my baby! Jamie!” She broke with the utterance of his name and collapsed in on herself, heartbroken and grieved and very, very much alone.

 




Jamie watched, disbelieving, as Faith tumbled seemingly from mid-air and landed at the foot of the stone, unleashing a scream as though she’d been hurt. 

His body reacted before his mind could catch up, gathering Faith into his arms at once to try and calm her. His heart beat erratically in his chest. Even as he held her, he didn’t want to believe it to be true.

It hadn’t worked. Faith couldn’t travel through the stones.

Cumberland’s troops would ravage the Highlands as Claire had said, flocking out from the very battlefield Jamie had stupidly brought his child to. Oh god, his child… with her bright burn of red hair that matched his own. He was a dead man... and she was indisputably his own if they were found together. 

He let out an unearthly howl at the stone, clutching Faith tightly to him. She should be two hundred years away from him now, in the safety of Claire’s embrace. “ Ye were supposed to take her!” He screamed, his eyes boring into the rock. Why hadn’t it worked? 

Faith shrieked at the top of her lungs, a painful pitch that rattled Jamie’s brain in his skull. She kicked her legs frantically against him and pushed on his chest to try and get away, which only made his grip on her tighten. 

“I’m sorry. Oh God. Mo chridhe, I’m sorry. Tha thu sàbhailte.” Jamie murmured.  

And then he heard it.

The scuffle of soldiers nearby and British voices approaching them. 

Chapter Text

“Mama?” 

Her eyes drifted open from sleep by the sound of Faith’s voice, soft and baby-like. Claire grunted tiredly, but nevertheless drank in the sight of the baby girl sitting up in bed by her pillow. “What are you doing here?” She asked. A smile bloomed on Claire’s face as she took in the sleep-tousled curls and Faith’s flushed cheeks, one marked with a deep red line from where she’d slept on it.   

Faith didn’t answer her question ‒ Claire didn’t expect her to ‒ but she did respond with a soft smile of her own, slow and languid. Claire rolled from her side to her back as Faith leaned forward and gathered the girl up on top of her chest. Her head rested just above Claire’s nightgown, her cheek pillowed against her mother’s skin. She yawned then and seemed to melt into her on the exhale, her eyes drifting shut. 

“This is your spot, isn’t it?” Claire turned to kiss the girl’s forehead. “Since the day you were born.” How many times had they laid like this, and felt all was right with the world in that moment? Too numerous to count. 

Faith’s fingers curled around the edge of Claire’s nightgown and she looked up to catch Claire’s gaze. “Hello, lovey,” she murmured. Her fingers gently teased Faith’s wild curls away from her face. 

“‘llo, Mama,” Faith echoed and then hummed as Claire continued to play with her hair, never breaking eye contact, though her eyes crinkled with joy. 

My whole heart. 

“Faith, I lov‒”      



Her breath came in a stuttering gasp, eyes flying open in the dark. She reached over and found only the edge of her hospital bed. 

She was alone.  

Her body curled in on itself while she clutched a pillow to her chest and smothered her sobs there. 

The weight of her grief settled in around her as the last vestiges of her dream fell away, and her new reality became starkly clear. 

She was alone in 1948 ‒ a time in which everyone she loved was undoubtedly dead. And without Jamie, Faith, and Fergus… without Murtagh and the Murrays… with only dreams and memories to haunt her, she wished she could curl up and die right there in that bed. 

She wanted it ‒ wanted death to come swift and easy, to bring her at once to whatever came next, where Jamie promised he would be waiting for her. Where he would find her.

But there was no impulse to act on this wish and in some rational corner of her mind still functioning, she knew there was only one thing standing in her way, keeping her tethered to this world. 

The baby. 

Part of all that would be left of Jamie. Of their life together.  

But even while she would live for the baby, she couldn’t think of it growing inside her without the sharp twist of a knife in her gut. 

Her arm muscles ached from the hour she had carried Faith. Had that only just happened that morning? Her mind felt foggy from the drug-induced sleep but her body wouldn’t let her forget. One hour after eight months apart and then… 

She clutched the pillow tighter, and the howl that tore from her throat didn’t even sound human.

One hour after eight months apart and then never again would she hold Faith in her arms.

Only in her dreams…   

 


 

On her second day in the hospital, Frank arrived. Seeing his face again was jarring, both in how it grounded her in this time, and made her blood run cold at its uncanny resemblance to another face that still haunted her. 

“I’m so glad you’re back,” Frank said in a tight whisper. He reached for her hand and eased himself carefully into the seat at her bedside. She was dumbstruck at seeing him and could hardly manage to look him in the eye, but when she did, there was no anger or hurt staring back at her. Only his love, his broken heart over the missing years, and his widespread relief to find her once more ‒ though these feelings were likely to change when she told him the truth.

“I’m pregnant.” The words slipped out into the space between them and Claire studied his face, watching for any hint of the quiet anger she knew he could possess. Better to rip the band-aid off than try to hide her condition. 

“I know,” he said softly. “I spoke with your doctors.” His gaze dropped to where he still held her hand and he squeezed it gently, collecting himself. He was rattled by the news, she could see, even as he tried to present a calm front. “Darling, I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but I’m here now. We’ll get through this.” 

His meaning snapped into place with stunning clarity and Claire’s breath left her in a rush. “I‒ I wasn’t attacked or… or held captive.” Her hand withdrew from his grasp and settled protectively over her still-flat stomach. “This baby isn’t‒” 

“It’s alright. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything,” he cut in quickly to quiet her and gave her a stiff smile. But she saw the flash of doubt in his eyes all the same. He didn’t believe her. “We don’t have to talk about the particulars just now. None of that matters, anyhow. I won’t leave you.”

She recognized the old habit in him of skirting around the uncomfortable ‒ and this was certainly uncomfortable ‒ but his assumption sat like molten hot lead in her stomach and her face suddenly felt flushed. 

“Really, I’m sorry to have upset you, Claire,” he said quickly before she could broach any sort of explanation. “God, I’m just so relieved to see you.” He cleared his throat, glassy-eyed. “I’ve been in contact with Reverend Wakefield. He was thrilled to hear about you and he’s prepared some rooms for us to stay there while you convalesce.”

She let the matter of her pregnancy go for now. It would take hours to tell him the truth of it, and even then he might find her to be insane by the end. And the mention of Reverend Wakefield lit a spark in her ‒ he had a library’s worth of resources and also‒ 

“Is Mrs. Graham still in his employ?” 

“Mrs. Graham?” Frank looked mildly perplexed. “I didn’t ask, but I would assume so...” 

 


 

He could see the change in her right away ‒ like a light had gone out from within. She kept to herself that first week, spoke only in an exchange of pleasantries. Even though she was there ‒ she was actually physically there with him after three years  ‒  she seemed a different person entirely. 

At first, Frank thought it must be the shock of returning, but as the days passed at the Wakefield residence and Claire remained distant, it seemed whatever she experienced while she was gone had altered her forever. 

Beyond the mention of her pregnancy, he had no notion of where she’d been or what had happened to her, but a picture was beginning to build in his mind’s eye. She hadn’t been physically harmed, according to her doctors, but she had been malnourished, perhaps from neglect. And someone had gotten his wife with child. Frank breathed in sharply. He thought that bit of news would sink in, but a knot was still in his stomach. With signs pointing towards her mistreatment, he couldn’t imagine that Claire had run off with someone, that she would’ve chosen to leave him, but… 

But there had been that moment when he told her he knew about the baby. Something in her eyes had flashed before him and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had encountered the very edges of a mother’s protective fury for her child. It had stunned him and truthfully unnerved him a little. Not that she would already care for the little thing ‒ they had both longed for a child for years ‒ but that he should be the one on the outside. If she’d been attacked… what would cause her to want to shield the baby from him? He’d already assured her that he would stand by her, but somehow that statement felt like it had done more damage with Claire.   

Frank turned toward the windows in Reverend Wakefield’s study and watched for a moment as Claire sat out in the garden, her head bent over a book. 

The Battle of Culloden. Somehow that had become an obsession of hers since her return and he couldn’t make sense of it if he tried. 

…What the hell had happened to her?    

 


 

Claire registered Mrs. Graham’s presence as the afternoon tea was brought out to her, but she didn’t look up from the pages of her book to greet her. As the kindly housekeeper set a cup of tea on the table, Mrs. Graham suddenly broke the silence. 

“Och, lass, you’ll only create nightmares for yourself poring over those accounts.” 

Claire finally met her gaze and swallowed thickly. “There might be clues in here, or even an account of the two of them if I’m lucky. I’d rather know what happened to them. It’s not knowing that keeps me up at night.” 

Mrs. Graham smiled pityingly at her. “Aye…”

“There were wanted posters for him put up all over England and Scotland during the rising, you know. Not just for him ‒ all famous traitors to the crown who were involved in the rising ‒ but… he’s the only one I can’t seem to find any mention of after Culloden. If the British cared enough to make him a traitor, to… to vilify him as they did, you’d think they would’ve looked for him. You’d think someone would’ve bothered to write that down. It’s not like ‘Butcher Cumberland’ to let grievances go.” 

Mrs. Graham took a seat next to Claire. “Ye told me that ye didn’t think Faith traveled at all‒” 

“I mean, I don’t know for sure and I’ve never traveled with someone before, but… I can’t describe it, but there was a moment in the in-between and I was alone. I don’t think she traveled at all, but I can’t even know that for sure.” 

“Still,” Mrs. Graham patted her hand. “Ye would ken better than I. And if she didn’t travel, then she was with Jamie. Maybe the two of them got away safely.” 

“I want that to be what happened,” she rasped, her eyes burning with tears. “God, I want them to have survived it. But I begged him to run with us and he wouldn’t. He said he was doomed to die one way or another and he wouldn’t risk us. I know he would give his life to protect her. I know he would do everything to keep her safe. But these men?” She waved the book in her hands ‒ an account of Cumberland and his troops in The Rising and immediately afterwards. “Pages and pages of how they slaughtered the Jacobites and destroyed the Highland way of life. I don’t need to read every account to know what little disregard they would have for my daughter’s life if she and Jamie encountered them.” 

Hot tears were spilling down her face, and when Mrs. Graham sniffled softly beside her, she found the older woman softly crying as well. “I canna imagine what it’s like for ye. But I worry that this is consuming ye, my dear. And what’ll that do to the bairn ye’re carrying?”  

Claire swallowed roughly and her tear-clouded vision dropped to the book in her lap. How could she not be consumed by this?        

“You have children, don’t you, Mrs. Graham?” Her voice wobbled as she asked the question. 

“Och, aye,” Mrs. Graham replied awkwardly. “My husband and I had three bairns together.” 

“And if you lost one… if you were separated from one and you had no idea what became of them, could you just put that to bed? Would it be enough for you to love the next child as though you’d never known the first?” 

Her words were spoken softly but they had a scalding effect and Mrs. Graham drew in a deep breath. “No,” she said at last. “No, I dinna think I could let it go.” 

“I know they’re both long dead by now. I know. But I need to know if they were killed that day or shortly after or if… if Faith was able to grow up… if Jamie lived and was able to raise her.” Claire’s arm folded tightly across her chest, holding herself together. “I didn’t… didn’t tell her goodbye,” she admitted in a hoarse whisper and Mrs. Graham made a soft sound at that. Her hand suddenly brushed back Claire’s curls in the first display of motherly tenderness Claire could recall receiving from someone in a long time. “I… I only told her it would be alright. Those were my last words to her. Even when we left her at Lallybroch, I… Jamie said his goodbye to her but I never thought I’d lose her forever. I heard him promise her that he would make sure we were reunited someday and…” She shrugged one shoulder helplessly. “It was Jamie so I believed him. I told her…” Her chin quivered before her face disappeared behind her hands. “I told her it was only goodbye for now, not forever. I lied to her. I left her.” 

Since she’d arrived here, she’d kept her crying confined to her room at night, but here with Mrs. Graham, her resolve crumbled and a sob broke free. 

“Oh, my dear.” Claire was pulled rather gently by the shoulders and gathered against Mrs. Graham, who stroked her hair and murmured softly. 

“I’m her mother and I never said goodbye or told her again how much I loved her,” she cried. “The least I can do is find out what happened to her and‒ and make sure she isn’t forgotten. Maybe in some way, she’ll know. That I looked for her and that I loved her.”

“My poor dear,” Mrs. Graham murmured above her, seemingly at a loss for what else to say. Claire held her arms tight about her, the only physical comfort she’d known in days. 

“I know it’s hard now and I don’t pretend to know what ye’ve been through.” She gave Claire a small, fortifying squeeze. “But in time… I’m glad ye’ll have this bairn. It doesn’t mean ye won’t miss them, but ye won’t be alone. And ye’ll have a piece of them with ye. This new bairn won’t be exactly like yer Faith, nor will he or she replace her in yer heart, but ye’ll notice things about yer second born ‒ how she’s different from Faith, how she’s alike ‒ and that will keep Faith alive, too. Hold onto that, aye? When the days are hard, hold onto that.”   

“I don’t know what to do,” she admitted in a choked whisper, and felt Mrs. Graham stiffen. 

“What do ye mean, dear?” 

She pulled away slightly, still sniffling, and Mrs. Graham held her hand, as if knowing she still needed a soothing touch. “I can’t‒” Claire shook her head slightly. “I can’t move on from them. I can’t stop looking until I know. But…” she breathed in deep and exhaled shakily. “I‒ I haven’t figured out what comes after that. I can’t think about the baby just yet. I wish…God, I wish everything else would just hold until I knew. That time would just hold for me.” 

Mrs. Graham smiled sadly and patted her hand, seeming to digest her words. “Ye don’t have to figure anything out just yet,” she said at last. 

“Thank you,” Claire murmured. “For everything.”      

 


 

“Reverend?” 

Reggie Wakefield looked up from his letter to find Claire Randall before him with a small stack of his own books clutched to her chest. He made a sound of startled joy at the sight of her and motioned for her to join him at the table. “I haven’t seen anyone so interested in my collection in such a long time, Mrs. Randall. Does my heart good to see ye enjoying them.” 

In truth, he had spoken with Frank at length about her curious obsession, but as odd as it was, he wouldn’t dream of voicing any of those concerns to such a kindly and elusive woman as Claire Randall.  

“Have ye found everything ye needed, then?” 

“Actually, I…” She stopped herself suddenly and smiled politely at him, hesitant. “Well, first, thank you for being so kind to allow me to go through your collection. I did wonder if you had any other books that perhaps I hadn’t looked at yet.”

“Well…” He scratched at his jaw absentmindedly as he thought about it. “I believe I gave ye every book on the subject of the Battle of Culloden and its aftermath. The rest would focus on the earlier risings and what preceded the ‘45, ye ken.”  

“I see,” she said softly, sounding very sad to him. 

“But I’ll have another look, just to be sure. Perhaps I missed one or two books that could be of use to ye.”

“Thank you,” she breathed, full of relief, and a stunning smile followed shortly. She was an odd sort since she’d returned, but it was plain to see that she was hurting and even if he didn’t understand it, Reggie felt inclined to help the poor young woman however he could. There were rumors ‒ nasty rumors ‒ flying about town since she turned up last week, including scandalous speculation around her condition. He’d done what he could to put those to bed, to address his opinion on the matter by opening his home to the Randalls. And while he hadn’t a single clue as to her whereabouts for three years, the more time he spent with Mrs. Randall, the more indignant he grew over the gossip that swirled around her. It was all so uncalled for. 

He was so caught up in this reflection that he didn’t register what Mrs. Randall had said to him. “Sorry, my dear. What did you say?” 

Oddly, her face flushed and she looked as though she might not repeat it. But she surprised him by blurting out, “Did the British kill any children after Culloden?”

His brows reached his hairline and he struggled to answer.

“I know they showed little mercy to those who fought on the Jacobite side,” she added quickly. “But I’m wondering if there’s anything about how they would’ve treated family members of known Jacobites… like perhaps their children?” 

He drew in a slow breath and prepared his answer, but his gaze caught hers at the last moment, and he saw something there that stopped him in his tracks: a deep pain and desperate hope mingled together. “Why don’t I help you look into this, hmm? We can work on this together.”

She seemed taken aback by this offer at first, but smiled again. “Thank you, Reverend. That’s very kind of you.” She looked down, her fingers tracing the corner of one of the books. “Can I… can I actually ask for your help in trying to find someone who lived during that time?” 

“Oh, of course, of course,” he chuckled. That was something he could do for her. 

“I’ve been trying to find some record of her. Her name is‒ was …” She hesitated for a moment, needing to collect herself. Something about her reaction had his hairs standing on end. “Her name was Faith Fraser. She may have been called Faith Murray, if... well, I don’t know for sure if they would’ve raised her. Or…” She straightened suddenly. “Or if she married… I wouldn’t know her name at all.” She seemed to sink under the weight of this realization and Reggie took pity on her. 

“We’ll start with what you know,” he added kindly, patting her hand. “Even a marriage record should have her maiden name.” 

“Yes,” Claire said rather distantly. “Yes, good.” 

“Do you know whenabouts she would’ve been born?” He prodded gently, trying to engage her as a distant look had crossed her face since the mention of marriage. She drew in a deep breath and began to answer him.  

“May 12, 1744. She was born in Paris but her family moved back to Scotland before the end of the year. She lived on the family’s estate called Broch Turach for a time, though it was sometimes referred to as Lallybroch.”

“Yes, I know the one‒”

“Ownership of Lallybroch was changed over to her cousin, James Murray, dated in 1745, but his parents would’ve managed it until he came of age. That’s Ian and Janet Murray,” she rattled off easily. “The Murrays also‒” She swallowed roughly, struggling to get the rest of it out. “If her father died or was taken away, I believe the Murrays would’ve raised Faith. Her father was James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser and he was a known Jacobite...” She glanced out the window suddenly, focusing on the trio of birds flitting about a nearby tree. “He didn’t fight in Culloden, but he would’ve been near there at the time of the battle and I’d… well, I’d like to find out about both of them, you see, but James Fraser is quite a common name then and I’ve been struggling in my research to find him. I’m hoping if we can find Faith… we can find Jamie, too.” Mrs. Randall looked back suddenly to catch his curious gaze. “Is that enough to start?” 

“Oh. Oh, yes, my dear. That should do,” he said swiftly. “Tell me,” he began cautiously, measuring his next words. “Why are we looking into Faith Fraser? Who is she to you?” 

A strange expression crossed her face, making the well-intentioned Reverend regret his mere curiosity. 

“Who is she to me?” She echoed his question in a hoarse whisper. “She’s everything.” Her eyes were glistening with tears and he couldn’t begin to explain how odd this whole conversation was. “So I need everything that you can find about her and Jamie. Please.”

“Aye, Mrs. Randall. I’ll do my best.” He smiled weakly to ease the tension but she never caught his eye.  

 


 

Frank thought that with time, the Claire he once knew would return to him, even in just small glimmers. But days passed and she remained committed to the routine she’d developed here early on; she kept to herself, taking breakfast in her own room, and when she did appear in the sitting room or garden or the study, it was always still with those damn books. 

She pored over them constantly and prowled the bookshelves for titles she may have missed. She avoided conversations at meals, her eyes downcast at her plate, though the Reverend carried on cheerfully with him at every supper as if none of this was strange. 

Claire had taken Mrs. Graham into her confidence early on, sequestering the housekeeper into Claire’s room for hours that first day they arrived. Since then, she was the only person Claire really talked to. 

Until recently, at least. 

Somehow, Frank was on the outside from his own wife while Reverend Wakefield and Mrs. Graham ‒ two people who had been strangers to Claire a few years ago ‒ were brought into her circle of trust. 

Worst of all, the Reverend wouldn’t discuss with him what it was that he was working on with Claire, skirting his questions and assuring him it was only a little history project, not unlike their own when Frank had first visited him. 

 She wouldn’t even talk to him outside of pleasantries when they saw each other, and he was torn between wanting to wait for her to initiate, and wanting to look beyond this time at the Wakefield house and live their lives again.

Because whatever the hell was happening here, it wasn’t really living. 

“Claire?” He rapped lightly on her door and waited for a response. “It’s Frank.” 

After supper, he’d had a dram with Reggie, which had turned into two drams and then three, and now his head swirled a little even as he rested his forehead against the door jam. 

This was the antithesis of Reggie’s advice ‒ give her time, man, it hasn’t even been two weeks ‒ but his feet seemed to lead him to her door of their own volition. 

When he heard Claire’s soft “come in?”, his heart leapt to his throat and he hesitated. He wasn’t even sure what he meant to say to her; he only knew he wanted her to tell him something .  

He pushed in and found her in one of the two chairs by the fireplace in her room, and she was tucking loose sheets of paper into a book and setting it aside. For some reason, the fact that she was still studying up on Culloden into the night made him inexplicably annoyed. 

She looked up at him curiously, no doubt wondering why he was here.

Why was he here

He had composed this conversation so many times in his head over the last several days, wanting to initiate it more with each passing day… needing to know but also wanting to be delicate with this new Claire, as everyone had been telling him. And then there was some small part of him that didn’t want to know at all. 

But the whisky had loosened his tongue and he found himself blurting out the words without much tact to them at all. “Where the hell have you been, Claire?”

 


 

She felt her stomach drop at his question ‒ though really, she shouldn’t have been surprised. At some point, she would need to tell him, but the very thought of telling him the truth sent her heart rate skyrocketing. Mrs. Graham had been someone Claire could trust, but to almost anyone else, she knew her story sounded insane. If she hadn’t lived it herself, she might not have believed it to be true. 

“I’m sorry,” Frank said quickly when she froze, waving his arm a little too wildly. So he was tipsy, then… “I‒ I don’t want to pressure you to talk if you’re not ready. I‒”

“Have a seat, Frank.” 

He shuffled over to the chair opposite her and sat with folded hands in front of his face, elbows propped on his knees. “I really didn’t mean to… the truth is, Claire, I don’t care where you were or what happened. I’m just so relieved to have you back. But… I feel like there’s this wall between us now and I just want you back. I want our life back.” 

She breathed in slowly and dropped her gaze, a little ashamed that her own desire didn’t echo his. Maybe it would be better if he knew, even if he judged her. Even if he didn’t believe her. At least then there would be nothing to hide and she could accept whatever his feelings were once the truth was out in the open

“I’ll tell you,” she said softly. “I’ll tell you everything but please let me tell it all at once and have it over with before you ask any questions.” 

She slid her gaze back to his and found his expression to be unreadable, but he swallowed roughly and agreed. 

 

 

She talked for hours, pausing every now and then to drink so her throat wouldn’t dry out, and when she finished, the sky outside her room was streaked with the first soft pink lines of daybreak. 

She had stuttered over the last moments of her time in 1746… of her goodbye with Jamie and waking up alone without Faith. 

While she talked, Frank kept his promise and only listened, sometimes in the chair with his gaze on the fire, which he tended to all through the night, and other times he paced the short length of her bedroom. He was pacing at the time that she finished her story and a heavy silence fell between them like the drop of a curtain. 

 Having said the words out loud again for the second time, Claire suddenly wished she could be alone, feeling the grief tsunami on the periphery, about to sweep through her again. God, she ached for them in a way she didn’t know was possible. 

But Frank was still in the room with her, quiet in a way that meant he was still sifting through his thoughts. At last, he scrubbed a hand over his face and sighed. 

“So that’s what you’ve been doing with your history books and Reverend Wakefield… You’ve been looking for him.” 

“And for Faith. For both of them, yes.” 

“What happens if you find a record of them?” 

“Then I’ll… I’ll know what happened to them.” 

“That’s it?” 

“Yes,” she said hotly. “I just want to know what happened to them.” 

“You won’t try to go back?” 

Oh

She breathed in sharply. “I hadn’t thought about it,” she lied, feeling the color rise to her cheeks. The whole point of this had been to tell him the truth. “I don’t know if I can travel again,” she added, which was the honest truth. “It’s… it’s hard to describe. But it feels like it takes something from you each time and the screaming‒” 

“Screaming?” Frank looked curious now, his interest in this unknown finally piqued. 

But the remembrance of it had a shiver running through Claire. “I can hear the voices of those who haven’t made it through and were lost to the stones.” Even with all that they’d talked about overnight, that statement might have been the strangest thing she’d uttered yet. 

His expression turned equal parts horrified and fascinated and then faded all together with a short nod of his head. “Hmm,” was all he had to say to that. He strode over to his chair and seated himself across from her. She got the distinct impression that he was entertained by the idea but wouldn’t put any stock in what she had just described. 

“And what if… you don’t find any record of them?” He asked carefully. 

“Are you asking that because you don’t believe any of this or because‒”

“Claire, I’m asking…” He cut her off and then took a deep breath, choosing his next words. “I’m asking because someone needs to. You spend every waking moment with your head bent over one of these books or writing your notes or discussing with the Reverend where to look next. How long will you keep going if nothing turns up? How long will you make me wait before we can actually start our life together again?” He had started off cool and collected, but had turned frantic with his pleading by the end. “I just got you back,” he added. “Have you any idea what it’s been like for me, Claire? Having you ripped away without a trace and never knowing what happened to you? And all the while, everyone was telling me that you’d up and run off with another man!” 

Stunned by his outburst, it took her a moment to speak. “I’m sorry, Frank. Truly. I didn’t intend for it to happen and I wish there was some way I could’ve told you I was alright while I was gone. That I was safe.”

“But you didn’t wish to come back to me,” he said bitterly. It was petty, even for Frank, but neither of them had slept yet, she reminded herself. 

“I had a child.” She was patient but unapologetic in pointing that out. Frank wouldn’t meet her eye. “I had a whole family with Jamie. And Jamie was‒”

The love of my life.

She swallowed back those words. There were other ways to phrase it, especially considering her audience. “I loved him very much. I didn’t plan for it and I’m sorry for the ways this has hurt you, Frank, but I can’t change what happened.” 

“But you are here now, Claire, and you’re with me.” He finally met her gaze again. “And I’m grateful for that. For a second chance. I only worry for you with how… how consumed you are with this.”

“Well, at what point did you stop looking for me, Frank? What’s the magical number of days before it’s acceptable to move on?” 

He recoiled as if she’d slapped him in the face, and she felt a small pang of regret for those words. Somehow, he still possessed the ability to provoke something juvenile in the way she responded to him, and she hated that. “I never‒ Claire, that was different, and I never stopped hoping you would return! But I did have to go back to work at some point, and in your case… Christ, you never talk about the baby but it will be here in a matter of months so perhaps we should start.”

The mention of the baby struck a nerve that lately everyone had been poking and prodding ‒ as if this baby existed on its own. As if it wasn’t made by her and Jamie on a cold February night, seeking warmth and solace in each other. And for Claire, any thought of the baby came with thoughts of her first baby. They couldn’t exist separately in her mind. “Until you know what it’s like to bring a child into this world and have her quite literally ripped from your arms, you don’t get to tell me when to stop looking. Faith is this baby’s sister and that doesn’t go away when the baby is born.”

To his credit, Frank looked properly chastised by her words. “Claire,” he began softly and then took her hand gently between his own. “I only mean to say that you might never find them, and I worry what that will do to you if you keep at this pace of searching. And what will you do when the baby is here? Drag him along to the library with you?”

“I’m not sure that’s any of your concern,” she snapped.

His hold on her hand tightened. “Not any of my concern,” he scoffed quietly. “No, why would that concern me? You’re only my wife.” 

She leaned back from him, pulling her hand free with her, but was startled to see tears in his eyes accompanying the bite of his voice. 

“Do you even believe me about any of this?” 

“Does it matter if I do?” He countered. “You’re back with me now and‒” 

“Yes, and pregnant with Jamie’s child.”

“I know. But he isn’t here with you, is he?” If he was intending to hurt her, his words hit their mark. “And besides, I… Look, I know this child isn’t mine, but I want to raise it with you.” 

“You do?” 

“Yes.” He was more adamant than she expected. “I’ve had a lot of time to think since you’ve come back and that’s all I want for us now ‒ to raise a family together.”  

She tried to picture it, this life he was so insistent that he wanted with her. How would Frank handle a baby? How would he handle teething and sleepless nights and‒ 

Instead, what flooded her mind were the images and memories of her life before: Jamie taking turns with her on the rough nights with Faith. Carrying her in the crook of one elbow as he strolled about the grounds of Lallybroch with Ian. Telling her stories at night, during the long winter months and well before she could even comprehend what he was saying. She was enraptured with his voice, though. Claire remembered that so clearly, how Faith would stare up at him while he talked, studying his face with keen interest and cooing softly every now and then. Jamie would pause at every sound she made and smile, making up some interpretation of her noises to add Faith’s opinion of the story. Och, aye, ye’re right. Wasna verra nice, was it?  

She fell more in love with Jamie, seeing him as a father ‒ a role he was born for and something so integral to who he was at his core. 

Could she… have that with Frank? Could she just raise a child with him, all the while being haunted by the memories of Jamie and Faith at every turn? Would Frank even love a child that wasn’t his, after years of insisting he couldn’t? 

To her horror, tears spilled down her cheeks and she wiped at them furiously. “I think it’s too soon to have this conversation. I’m‒ I’m sorry.”

He let out a resigned sigh, as if he expected this, and stood. “Get some rest. We’ll talk more about this another time.” He made for the door and paused, giving her one more look back. “And Claire?” She met his gaze, hoping the fresh wave of grief wasn’t too plainly obvious on her face. “At some point ‒ and soon ‒ you have to start living again.” 

The sound of the door shutting behind him echoed hollowly through the room, and his last words to her hung in the stale air. 

Her hand found its way to her belly, which felt slightly curved now under her palm. For weeks, she’d been living with the knowledge of this baby’s existence but hadn’t allowed herself to think beyond what would happen when it was born ‒ not in the way that she had when she carried Faith and couldn’t stop imagining what it would be like to hold her child.

She hadn’t had a thought like that once yet with this baby and the guilt wormed its way in amongst the myriad of emotions she was drowning in. 

“I do love you,” she found herself whispering. “And I promise I will take care of you.” She felt a little silly, talking to the baby… but who else could she share her thoughts with? “It feels like my heart is missing, and I just need a little more time to get used to that. And we have that, don’t we? Despite what everyone wants to tell me, I understand time better than most. When you arrive, I’ll be ready for you. And I’ll love you enough for me and Jamie both.”

Chapter Text

Strange, the things she remembered of this place, now that she’d returned. When Mrs. Graham had proposed a trip into town to run some errands, Claire had agreed ‒ in part at her and Frank’s insistence that some time away from the house would be good for her. But it wasn’t until she saw the storefront window with the name etched over the glass ‒ Farrells General Store ‒ that she remembered it.

The blue vase. 

And oh, how she’d longed to own it. To have a home to bring it to.

She faltered in her steps alongside Mrs. Graham, studying the display. 

“Are ye alright, dear?” 

The vase wasn’t there in the display. The image of it was so clear in her mind’s eye, she would’ve known it when she saw it.

“Fine,” she murmured in answer to Mrs. Graham. “I’m fine.”

They went inside and began ticking items off the list. It didn’t escape Claire’s notice how the other women in the store gave her a wide berth and no shortage of stares. If Mrs. Graham noticed, she ignored them well. 

When Mrs. Graham rounded a corner into the next aisle, she let out a surprised chuckle. As Claire followed her, she noticed that they’d wandered into the baby things. Mrs. Graham held up a box with a printed image on the front of some sort of baby seat. “My daughter has one o’ these for my grandson. Ye sling part of it o’er the sofa and then the bairn can sit it in like so.” 

Claire eyed the contraption dubiously. “Somehow, I doubt it keeps them contained. Faith could’ve wiggled her way out of that easily before she was a year old, I’d bet.” 

Mrs. Graham nodded and slipped the box back onto the shelf. “Never had anything like that for my bairns and we managed just fine,” she agreed with a warm smile. “But perhaps ye might find something useful here for the bairn. Oh, like these!” 

Before Claire could protest, Mrs. Graham had placed a small package in her hands. She looked down and felt the sting of tears almost instantaneously. 

A small bundle of baby spoons, shiny and new.

Her mind was suddenly back at Lallybroch, watching fifteen-month-old Faith smear parritch around her mouth as she fed herself. The spoon in her hand was much too large for her, which accounted for most of the mess she made. An apostle spoon. Next to Faith, Jamie had grinned proudly as he watched her, and across from Faith, Jenny made a comment that those spoons were a family heirloom and usually reserved for special occasions, not for everyday use. But Claire had laughed along with Jamie as Jenny rolled her eyes and added, “Ye’ll have more sense with the next one, I hope.” 

Claire swallowed roughly at the sudden remembrance and studied the baby spoons in her hands. She tried to picture the time when they might be of use, in a modern kitchen with her child seated in a high chair. She could see pudgy hands slapping the tray in front of them, waiting to be fed. But her mind couldn’t see past the small moment and even in her own imaginings, the room felt foreign and cold to her. There would be no teasing auntie there, no boisterous cousins to light up the room and draw out a laugh, no proud da, no older siblings to keep up with. Would Frank be there with her? She had no idea. And where would she live? How would they survive? These were all things she needed to figure out, but continued to push to the back of her mind. 

She breathed in gingerly and handed the spoons back to Mrs. Graham. “It’s a little early still to buy baby things,” she murmured. “I wouldn’t want to tempt fate.”

She strode forward down the aisle, her eyes trained ahead of her and, mercifully, Mrs. Graham didn’t immediately follow her. 

Arms folded tight across her chest, she walked without purpose. Her eyes fell to a collection of hand-carved animals and other decorative trinkets displayed neatly on a shelf ahead of her. She slowed as she reached them, looking over each carved animal until she froze in her steps altogether. Her hand reached out and carefully grasped the tallest one on the end and brought it close to study it. 

It was a wooden horse figurine, about the size of her shoe, and it inexplicably bore a striking resemblance to Jamie’s horse, Donas. 

Which reminded Claire at once of her mischievous boy and that cold January morning they spent around the campfire. He’d asked for a horse of his own for his birthday and they’d promised him one…

She clutched the wooden horse to her chest as a few rogue tears spilled down her cheeks. Thoughts of Fergus always came with a sharp pang of regret for how they’d parted ways. She’d thought… when she’d hugged him goodbye, before she knew Jamie’s plan, she’d hoped their goodbye wasn’t final. A part of her had already been scheming a way to bring Fergus safely to them, wherever they ran to. 

But two hundred years separated them now. What plagued her was never knowing if he made it safely back to Lallybroch, never knowing what became of him or who looked after him. 

Her vision burned with a fresh wave of tears and she sniffled softly, acutely aware of her surroundings but incapable of stopping the tears now. 

Fergus was her and Jamie’s son… but they’d never really used the language to call him so. They called him theirs and they said together they were all a family, but they never used the one word for all that he meant to them. 

Their son. 

And they let him continue to call them Milady and Milord, though he was no longer in their service. Their journey with Fergus looked different than it had with Faith, certainly. It was a slower realization of what he was to them, but she and Jamie both knew long before Culloden that he wasn’t just some child pickpocket. And indeed, they’d loved him and treated him as their own… but why hadn’t they sat down with Fergus and told him how they felt? This question haunted Claire, and she was powerless in her time to do anything about it. 

She’d let her son travel back to Lallybroch alone, in the middle of a war. She’d left him behind without the chance of ever really saying goodbye ‒ she’d done that to both of her children and it ate away at her. 

Her thumb traced over the rigid carving of the horse’s mane. She’d had no way to look for Fergus so far, though she’d tried. His name before they met him was only Claudel, and even though she’d asked the reverend to look for the name Fergus in connection with Jamie, Faith, or the Murrays, she knew it was unlikely to find a record of a boy without a family name.

God damnit, why had they danced around that conversation? There had been a small part of her that feared maybe Fergus hadn’t felt the same way. That he wouldn’t want to take their name and call them his parents. A fragile, insecure part of her that had balked at opening herself up to her child’s rejection. But after the war… after all that they’d been through as a family, she felt foolish for ever letting those fears take root. 

 “What have ye got there?” Mrs. Graham’s voice startled Claire out of her reveries and she jumped, wiping furiously at the tear tracks on her face. She felt the older woman’s hand gently touch her arm. “Did ye find something for the bairn after all?”  

Claire’s gaze dropped down to the wooden horse still in her hand. Not for the baby, but for Fergus. “Yes,” she said softly. She had no way of fulfilling her promise to him with a real horse, but in purchasing the horse figurine, she felt as though she had righted a wrong somehow. That she’d still kept her word as best she could and found him a horse, and she would keep it with her in remembrance of him for as long as she lived. 

As she and Mrs. Graham left the store with their purchases, Claire chanced a look back at the display window, empty of the vase she’d longed for three years ago. She knew now that it wasn’t a vase that made a place home ‒ sometimes, home wasn’t even a place.

And she wouldn’t know what to do with that vase, anyhow. Her home was lost to her on the morning of Culloden.  

 


 

She took her tea in the sitting room that day and little Roger joined her, proudly showing off his model aeroplanes and telling Claire how his father had been a fighter pilot during the war.

“Oh really?” Claire smiled at him. 

Young Roger shrugged one shoulder. “That’s what Father tells me,” he said by way of explanation, and Claire knew he now referred to Reverend Wakefield and not his biological father. 

“Well, he sounds like he must’ve been a real hero.” 

Roger smiled shyly and ducked from Claire’s gaze, going back to playing with his toy aeroplanes. 

“Ah, there you are, Mrs. Randall.” The reverend’s voice came from the doorway. “I was wondering if I might join you for a moment.”  

Claire nodded as the reverend moved into the room. Mrs. Graham poked her head in and spotted Roger. “I have biscuits in the kitchen, Roger, if ye’ll come with me.”

The boy jumped up without needing further prompting. 

“He’s such a little dear.” Claire smiled fondly as Roger followed Mrs. Graham into the kitchen. 

“Yes.” The reverend agreed easily. “I was nervous, of course, when I first brought him in. I didn’t know a thing about raising a child!” The old man laughed at this and then sighed happily, his gaze on the doorway young Roger had just disappeared through. “But he’s a good lad. It’s a shame what happened with his parents, but if it had to happen, I’m glad he’s here with me.” 

“Does he remember his parents?” Claire asked, recalling Roger’s comment about his father. 

The reverend’s smile dimmed and he considered Claire’s question thoughtfully. “No, not really. He was so small when they died. He used to cry for them when he first arrived, but now I think he’s quite forgotten them altogether. And that is a shame, too. It’s not fair when they’re that little and ‒ oh! My dear, I’m so sorry. I’ve upset you. I beg your pardon.” 

“No. No, it’s quite alright.” Claire startled, unsure what the reverend had seen in her face to make him react so. She was, of course, thinking of Faith and the impossibility of being remembered by her girl… “I asked, after all. And I‒ well, I lost my parents very young as well, so I know how it is. But I suppose I hoped for Roger’s sake, he might remember.” 

The reverend reached out and patted her hand kindly, a gesture Claire was beginning to recognize as one to comfort when he didn’t know what to say. She understood that; there was a lot Claire couldn’t say, and her behavior since returning to this time had been a bit… well, odd. The reverend handled it better than she expected.

“Have you found anything?” Claire tried to keep her voice even, but she suspected this was why he’d wanted to join her for tea and her curiosity was eating her alive. 

“As a matter of fact… no,” he said gently. She felt her heart sink to her stomach as the reverend began to outline for her the different connections he had reached out to and places he had searched. He had been thorough. All for naught. “I can search further, but at least from a… a local standpoint, if you will, there’s just no record of a Faith Fraser matching the details ye provided. Nor of James Fraser, I’m afraid.” 

  Her hands were tightly clasped in her lap so that her knuckles turned white. When she spoke, her voice shook, though she could do nothing about it. “And you- you looked into Lallybroch, right? That was his family’s estate. There must be something there…”

He smiled sadly at her. “I did, Mrs. Randall. I contacted the current owners of the estate and I also combed through the estate’s history myself. I’m very sorry, I wasn’t able to find anything.” 

“Did you‒” She felt the sob rising in her throat and shook her head slightly. A blush crept up her neck at how unhinged she must appear to the reverend, but the next thought was painful to put into words. To speak of Jamie as dead and buried in the ground. “There’s a cemetery on the grounds, a very old one… he should’ve… did you check the cemetery?” 

“I checked the burial records myself,” he assured her.

“And…” She took in a slow, sobering breath. “Did you find anything about Fergus? I know he was sent ho‒ sent to Lallybroch after the rising. H-he was supposed to stay there with the Murray family.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she hoped he wouldn’t press her for details of how she knew this. 

But the reverend only shook his head. “I’m very sorry this search has proved to be fruitless. I know you’re very… invested. Are they ancestors of yours?” 

At a loss for how else to answer, Claire muttered the words, “Something like that, yes. They’re… they’re family.” 

“Well… I have a friend in Edinburgh who’s a historian. I can see if he has additional resources we can exploit, hm?” 

Claire forced a smile. “Thank you, Reverend. That’s very kind of you.”   

 


 

She excused herself after tea, the reverend’s words echoing in her mind as she took to the stairs and headed for her room. 

No sign of either of them. 

Although she’d failed on her own to find them, hearing the reverend say he found nothing hit her harder than she could put into words. Left her reeling. 

She’d put all her hope in that man, knowing he had on his side the knowledge of the area. He knew where to look, who to contact. He had a better shot than Claire and he still came back empty-handed.

She curled up slowly on the bed, feeling a wave of nausea pass through her. She had been so sick with Faith, especially in the beginning. And Jamie… well, Jamie had been trying to find his way back to her after Wentworth, but even when he couldn’t touch her, he’d tried to care for her through her morning sickness, as best he could. 

Claire breathed in long and slow, hoping the nausea would pass if she stayed still enough. As she laid there, she missed Jamie in an acute way. Missed his quick smile and good nature, missed the way his eyes followed her adoringly ‒ or sometimes suggestively ‒ whenever they were in a room together, missed the feeling of safety that his solid, physical presence afforded her. He’d loved her wholly, completely, even when they hurt each other. More than anything at the moment, she missed being able to talk to him, because he had long ago become the person she could share anything with. 

I talk to you as I talk to my own soul, he’d said once. 

She wanted to throttle him for sending her through the stones, but just the same, her heart simply ached to have him back, to feel his touch and be held by him. 

Her mind swirled with thoughts of the children and of Jamie, of Frank and 1948 and the life she was supposed to sort out here. If she could have it, one conversation with Jamie might put her racing thoughts to bed.   

What should I do, Jamie?

She knew quite well what he would want for her ‒ someone to care for her and the baby ‒ but Frank had said it himself the night that they’d talked: there was a wall between them now. And it hadn’t been just the matter of telling Frank the truth. Even after she’d laid the whole truth out for him, there was no going back to how it had been before. How they had been before.  

Because before Jamie, she hadn’t known what it was to be cherished by someone. And it felt wrong to try and continue on in a life with Frank, even while he was willing. Through no fault of anyone, the two of them simply weren’t the right fit anymore. 

At least, that was what her heart told her. Her head reminded her that legally they were still married in this time and she had no means at the moment of providing for her child. What she wanted and what she should do were constantly at war with each other in the days since she’d told Frank the truth. Yet even as they remained at a standstill, he showed no signs of wanting to call it quits. 

So which would you choose, Jamie? Head or heart?     

She thought of Lallybroch again and the cemetery. She couldn’t imagine him as gone, but the fact remained that in her time, he would be long since dead. But however he had died, his body hadn’t found its final resting place at his home, and the notion was agonizing to Claire. Was it because they never found his body? Was that why she couldn’t find him? The thoughts popped intrusively into her head and she turned her face into her pillow, wanting to scream. 

Claire swung her feet out of bed and propelled herself swiftly into the small washroom adjoined to her room, her stomach finally choosing to toss up the remnants of her afternoon tea. 

When the heaving finally stopped, she sank back into the wall, her head hitting it with a soft thunk. She had broken out in a sweat and now felt cold and clammy as she waited to see if her stomach would turn again or if it was truly done. 

There was no way to mark the passage of time as she sat there on the bathroom floor, but a thought came to her in the stillness of the waiting; no one was coming to check on her. She would be fine ‒ it was only a bout of morning sickness and expected in this stage of her condition ‒ but through every experience here, whether she was surrounded by others or not, she’d never felt so alone in all her life. 

And as her hope for finding her family dimmed ‒ hope that had been the only thing sustaining her ‒ all she was left with in its place was an overwhelming grief for the love she had had and then lost. 

 


 

“Ah there you are,” Frank greeted her once she’d made her way downstairs in the early evening. “I wondered where you’d gone off to.” 

“I was resting. Wasn’t feeling well.” Claire glanced at the spread of papers on the small table beside Frank. “What’s all this?” 

“I was reviewing some things from our last trip up here. Reggie reminded me that I’d left some files here after your disappearance.” 

Her eyes fell across a copy of his family tree that he’d drawn up for Reggie’s use, and the name Jonathan Wolverton Randall jumped out at her. “Are you still looking into this?” She asked, her voice more accusatory than she’d meant. Frank looked a little startled. “I mean, are you still looking into him?” 

He started to gather up the papers as he spoke, his tone brisk with her. “Not necessarily, no. Though he is my ancestor and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to know where you come from. Doesn’t mean I have to approve of everything he’s done.” 

She hadn’t told him the details of what Randall had done to Jamie. She’d made it clear how perverted and vile he was, but what had happened to Jamie was her husband’s story and she was protective of that. The same went for Fergus. So even while she wanted to rage at Frank, because this business with Randall was so personal to her, she reminded herself that he didn’t have the full picture. And yet… he did have some of the picture, still.

“I told you how he physically attacked me and nearly raped me twice.”

“Well, that would be exactly what I don’t approve of.” He then held his hand up placatingly before she could respond. “I’m not even digging back into this, Claire, I promise. I’m only seeing what I should take with me.” 

“I see,” she said evenly, anger still bubbling below the surface. “Wait, take with you? Where are you going?” 

“I simply mean we won’t be here forever.” He watched her curiously. “We won’t, will we, Claire?” 

“I hadn’t really put a timeline on our stay, but no… certainly not forever.” 

Frank smiled slightly. “Good. Because it’s been nearly two weeks. We really should talk about what’s next for us.” 

She folded her arms tight across her chest, wishing this conversation could’ve been avoided. “I still think‒” 

“You need more time,” Frank cut in. “Yes, I’ve gathered that. I don’t mean to pressure you, Claire, but as you said, we can’t stay here forever. And I have my work to think of. At some point, I’ll need to get back to that. I need a way of supporting us, especially with the baby coming. And you’re usually so god damn practical about these things. You see where I’m coming from, don’t you?” 

“I do see where you’re coming from. I do. But practicality goes out the window when your child is missing, so I don’t think you see where I’m coming from.” 

“But do you need to be here to look for her?” He asked gently. “Could we not return to Oxford or go to Boston and still search?” 

“Boston?” 

Frank straightened the papers in his hand on the tabletop. “I was offered a position to teach at Harvard. I was going to turn it down, but now I’m considering it.” His gaze returned to hers, hopeful and hesitant all at once. “It might be nice to have a fresh start. Put this whole bloody business behind us and go where no one knows us.” 

“Yes, but… Boston? That’s… that’s a big decision.” 

“Well, we have some time to think about it. Not a lot, but some.” 

Panic crowded in and made it difficult for Claire to breathe. It was all too much to even consider and yet she was running out of time before decisions would need to be made for her life here. 

She breathed in deep and her gaze fell once more to the documents and notebooks before Frank. She read a name and a date, but it took a moment for her brain to register their meaning and more importantly, the error in what she was seeing. 

“Wait.” Her hand grabbed Frank’s arm as he was about to shuffle the paper away. “Wait, that’s… that’s wrong. Th-the date is wrong.” 

“What?” He looked at her like she’d grown a second head. 

“Black Jack Randall died at the Battle of Culloden. On April 16, 1746.” She stared hard at him, waiting for him to agree with her, but found his befuddled gaze instead. 

“Ah…” he said after a stretch, as something seemed to dawn on him. “I thought you would remember, but of course, that bit we discovered after… after I’d left to go meet with Reggie that day and you went to go look for the flower.” 

“What are you talking about?” 

“Well, you’re right that everything we’ve found for Jonathan Randall had said he died during the Battle of Culloden, except for one letter that we found that seemed to suggest he survived the battle but was wounded and disappeared, dying a short time later under curious circumstances. It seems as though his death was attributed to the battle, though I don’t know if it was to cover up what really happened or simply because it was an easier answer if they didn’t know the date of death.” 

A chill ran down Claire’s spine. “No. No, he’s supposed to be dead already.” Dead and gone and out of their lives forever. That’s what she swore to Jamie. 

“... he is dead, Claire. Just a few days later than we originally thought.”  

“Pardon the interruption.” They both jumped at the sound of Mrs. Graham’s voice. “Och, sorry to startle ye, dears. I was only coming to say supper is ready.” 

Claire’s stomach churned at the mere mention of food. “I’m terribly sorry, but I think I need some fresh air. I’ll only be gone a moment.” 

“Claire, are you sure that’s‒” 

“I’m just going for a fucking walk, Frank!” She snapped and then turned wide eyes on Mrs. Graham and Frank both. “I’m sorry, I know I’m being terribly rude. I just need a moment. Forgive me.” She turned and fled before another word could be said on the matter.   

 


 

The walk did little to clear her head, but the solitude allowed her to at least not worry about the expectations and thoughts of the other inhabitants of the house. 

The Boston news had rattled her more than she cared to admit. It meant she couldn’t live in this limbo much longer. She’d have to make up her mind about Frank, and then make up her mind about Boston. 

And the news about Black Jack Randall… that had kicked open a door to her family’s trauma and left her quaking. If he hadn’t died on the battlefield… 

Claire pressed the heels of her palms hard against her eyes and breathed in sharply, trying not to cry out with the panic that thrashed about inside her chest.

That man had a disturbed obsession with her husband and he’s been in the same vicinity as Jamie and Faith, on the same day. Oh god, if he found them…

She braced both hands on the fencing that ran along one side of the path, and let out a shaky breath. “You’re going to drive yourself mad,” she muttered to herself. “You have no proof they even crossed paths. And Jamie wouldn’t let anything happen to Faith.”

 

 

By the time she’d made it back to the Wakefield home, she’d missed supper and Mrs. Graham offered to send up a tray to her. There was no sign of Frank or the reverend, which was a relief to Claire. She had walked aimlessly until the spiraling panic within her had settled a bit, but she still wasn’t up for company. 

So when Mrs. Graham brought up a tray of food for her and then sat in the opposite chair by the fire, Claire scrambled for the kindest way to ask to be left alone. 

But the housekeeper had an odd look about her that stopped Claire in her tracks. 

Mrs. Graham leaned forward a little in her seat. “That dance ye saw on Samhain a few years ago… before ye went through the stones?” Claire nodded dumbly, not sure where this was going. “I’ve been doing that for years. Keeping old traditions alive, ye ken. I grew up hearing all the stories of faeries and druids and the like. I never knew firsthand of the power of the stones, but I always believed it to be true. All the stories my grandmother told me… I never once doubted them.” 

She paused in her storytelling and reached for Claire’s hand, giving it a light squeeze. “I can see the weight that ye’re carrying since ye returned and ye’ve told me all that ye left behind. And I suppose… I wanted ye to know that Beltane is in a few days.” 

Claire blinked, unable to connect the last thing Mrs. Graham said with anything of relevance. 

“And according to the old ballads, Beltane is another time of year when ye might… travel. If ye like.” 

“Oh…” Claire murmured, at a loss for more words. “I‒ that’s‒” 

“I’m only saying that if ye were considering it, there are only certain times of year when that’s possible. And…” Mrs. Graham pulled something from her pocket with her free hand and turned Claire’s palm upward with the other, depositing a small gemstone ring there. “If ye do go, ye’ll need a gemstone to protect ye.” 

“Mrs. Graham,” Claire breathed out in a rush, staring wide-eyed at the ring in her hand. “I can’t‒ I can’t accept this. I‒” She felt suddenly dizzy, but Mrs. Graham carried on, oblivious to the way Claire’s mind was reeling.  

“I want ye to have it. If ye mean to go, even if it’s not on Beltane, ye’ll need it to travel safely. I wouldn’t have ye risking the journey without it.” 

“I don’t know what to say, other than ‘thank you,’” Claire said softly. “But even that feels insufficient. I...” She felt the sting of tears in her eyes. “I haven’t given up on finding Jamie and Faith. And if I can find record of them alive, I mean to go back.” Her heart tripped in rhythm with admitting those words out loud, unburdening herself of a secret hope she’d carried. Claire’s gaze flew to Mrs. Graham and found the older woman smiling softly.  

“I thought ye might. That’s why I’ve been… perhaps a bit forward tonight. It’s only, I wasna sure ye’d know about the gemstones.” 

“I did wonder,” Claire admitted. “The first time, I’d been wearing a watch and when I woke up in 1743, the small, embedded jewel was missing from it. And the second time, Jamie had given me his father’s ring for me to give to the baby someday.” A few tears spilled down her cheeks. She still had the ring, but the loss of the stone it had held still troubled her. It had been something precious to Jamie, something to give their child. 

“Och, no more tears tonight. I would’ve thought you’d cried yerself dry by now,” Mrs. Graham fussed over her. “Ye said so yerself… there’s still hope. And now,” she smiled again. “A way home, too.”            

“You’re right.” She wiped at her face. “I’m just… overtired, I think.” 

“I’m not surprised. Growing a bairn is hard work. I’ll let ye finish eating and rest.” 

And with that, Mrs. Graham slipped quietly out of the room, but the reverberations of her short visit lingered with Claire. She studied the jewelry still held in her palm. 

She could go home… if she could find it. 

But for the first time since she woke up in this time, the possibility seemed much stronger than she ever dared hope. Mrs. Graham had given her necessary means by which to return, and it would protect her and the baby.

Claire sat bolt upright in her chair. The baby

If she didn’t find Jamie and Faith before the baby was born… she’d lose her chance to return. Claire didn’t understand what determined if a person could travel through the stones, but she knew that she’d been able to travel through them twice while Jamie and Faith had not. 

She shuddered at the thought of trying with an infant. If they hadn’t been in such dire circumstances the morning of Culloden, she might’ve even questioned trying to bring Faith. 

The baby would be here, come November. She hadn’t yet allowed herself to imagine fully the life of this child once he or she arrived. It was only a precious small thing now, not even noticeable under loose-fitted clothes. But Claire faced the real possibility of raising her child here without the rest of their family. Delivering her baby in this time was undoubtedly and dramatically safer… but once the baby was here to stay, so was Claire. There could be no going back with a child that couldn’t travel, and under no circumstances would she leave this child alone. 

… But she might never find her family in this time. And if that was the case and Faith grew up, she would’ve spent her whole life never knowing her mother. Claire had so few memories of her own parents and had wondered on occasion if they had loved her, and if they had loved her, she had wondered what it felt like to know that without a shadow of a doubt. 

She never wanted Faith to have to wonder as she did. 

And Fergus would remember her, surely, but would her memory be a curse to him, for having loved him and left him behind?    

Beltane was in three days. Jamie’s birthday. 

Claire toyed with the ring in her hand. 

Head… or heart?

Chapter Text

The 1st of May

Three days hadn’t been much time to plan, but she had planned carefully with what time she had, and with only Mrs. Graham to help her. Once the option had been laid out before her, she knew what to do. If she couldn’t find her family in the 20th century, might it be easier to return and search from there? 

Mrs. Graham drove her in the early hours of the morning, just before dawn. Claire waited, watching the dance of the druids from her same hiding spot three years ago, only this time she was prepared. Her dress had been sequestered out to Mrs. Graham’s car and Claire had changed in the near-dark when they arrived, too scared to try and sneak out of the house with it on. Claire felt a tinge of regret for how she was leaving things with Frank ‒ a letter left out for him, explaining where she’d gone and why ‒ but the need to find her family overpowered that regret. 

It had been a brief goodbye and when Claire thanked the older woman for all she’d done, she still felt as though it wasn’t enough to convey her gratitude.

“I’ll look for ye,” Mrs. Graham had winked. “I dinna ken how, but I’ll try. Now, go and find yer wee lass, my dear.”     

The journey through the stones was as awful as her recent memory of it and when she came to on the grass, she laid there for several minutes, waiting for the world to settle. 

But it hadn’t felt real, on top of that hill, that she was back in Jamie’s time again. And the fifteen days she’d spent in 1948 had seemed to last a whole lot longer than that. 

Even when she’d gathered herself up and trekked into Inverness, seeing once again the horses and muddy paths for roads and other signs that confirmed she’d made it back, the listless feeling never quelled. 

She hadn’t been able to bring much with her, but she’d planned for her way home, and that included valuables intended for bartering. With that, she’d secured herself a horse and made for Lallybroch. 

It was a day’s ride from Inverness. She knew the way by now and if the horse didn’t fail on her, she could make it before nightfall. 

The hopeful wish rose in her chest like a soap bubble that they might all be at Lallybroch, in hiding. Or that perhaps Jamie had managed to sneak Faith back, safe and sound, and that Jenny and Ian would know where to find Jamie.  

Maybe they’d taken on different names and that was why Claire hadn’t been able to find them. But the possibility that they might all be there waiting for her was almost too much for her heart to hold, a real possibility and almost within reach if she could just make it home. 






The days were long this time of year, and by the time Claire crested over a hill and saw Lallybroch in sight, she knew it was late in the evening, well-past supper even though the sun still hung low at the horizon, casting the estate in a golden glow. 

She was tired and beyond hungry, having burned through her small stash of food a few hours ago, but seeing the stone farmhouse again banished any nagging physical needs from her mind for the moment. 

She urged her horse forward, closing the distance as fast as she could, until she crossed under the stone archway and slid off of the horse, her feet landing on Lallybroch soil. 

Milady!” 

She heard Fergus before she saw him flying towards her as fast as his feet could manage. Her throat constricted with a sudden, choked cry, and she stumbled forward to meet him. 

He made it home

Fergus collided with her, head hitting her breastbone, and she staggered on unsteady feet, clutching him to her. 

They collapsed onto the ground, still holding each other, as the relief of finding the other alive overwhelmed them both to the point of tears. Fergus began to speak, muffling his words against her shoulder as he cried, and some part of her brain registered he was speaking in French, though she couldn’t in that moment understand a word of it. For the first time since she’d returned through the stones… it felt real

Real and wonderful and wholly overwhelming. She squeezed Fergus tighter.  

There was a flurry of movement beyond them that followed. A door opened somewhere and footfall followed it. 

“It’s Claire!”

More footsteps, frantic voices. 

Her face was buried in Fergus’s curls until she felt someone drop down beside her, and she looked up to lock eyes with Jenny. 

The question formed on her tongue ‒ are they here? ‒ and instead, what escaped her lips was a single, anguished cry. Because in Jenny’s eyes, she saw the same thinly-veiled hope for answers reflected back at her. 

Jamie and Faith weren’t here. They hadn’t been here at all. 

Something seemed to break inside Jenny as she registered Claire’s own disappointment. “Are ye alone then, Claire?”

“Yes.” Her voice cracked on the single word. Fergus’s arms constricted around her waist.  

She was vaguely aware of Ian’s presence and the children being pulled back inside by Mrs. Crook, but her focus had stayed on the way Fergus still clung to her in that moment,  and she realized that all of them here had been as in the dark as she was these last few weeks. 

“Come on, then.” Jenny’s hand was at her elbow, trying to pull Claire to her feet. “Fergus, you too. Come on.” 

The desperate wave of panic was returning as the shock of being at Lallybroch again subsided. Claire turned back to Jenny, hoping this was all just a strange dream. “...nothing?” She asked. 

Jenny looked just as lost, shaking her head. “What happened, Claire?” 

It was at that moment that Claire registered the presence of another, just joining them. 

Murtagh, who had been the last one to see all three of them on that day. Who had been instrumental in Jamie’s plan and fetched Faith from Lallybroch a few days before. Who had been the last person besides Claire to talk to Jamie and who knew more than anyone else here the truth of Claire’s history. 

He must’ve known, whether Jamie told him or not, what the plan was for Claire and Faith that day. Because he looked rightly horrified and confused as he stared at Claire. “Where’s Faith? Is Jamie alright?”

She felt something snap inside her and went almost feral with anger. In a swift move that shocked everyone in attendance, Claire rose up and struck Murtagh across the face.  “WHERE THE HELL IS MY BABY?” She screamed, only vaguely aware of someone’s arms around her waist, pulling her back, and Jenny’s sharp voice in her ear. “You stole her from the safety of this home, from her family, and ferried her away to a fucking battlefield! She’s missing because of it. Because of you!” 

Murtagh only stood to his full height, shoulders squared, and didn’t retaliate. “I did only as Jamie asked,” he said evenly, but there was a look of hurt in his eyes that cut Claire down before anything else could be said.   

She crumbled then, struck dizzy from her outburst, from exhaustion and hunger. “Claire!” Jenny reached for her, but it was Murtagh who was able to save her from falling. She held tight to him like a lifeline as everything swayed about her. 

“Oh, lass...” He said suddenly and full of pity. Claire didn’t look up right away, too focused on trying not to faint, but she felt that everyone’s attention had slowly shifted back to Murtagh. 

“What is it?” Jenny asked. 

Murtagh didn’t answer Jenny directly, but waited until Claire’s gaze met his again and asked, “Ye’re wi’ child again, aren’t ye?” 

The courtyard, which had only moments before been filled with shouting, was now quiet enough to hear a leaf fall.  

“She looks dead on her feet, mebbe we should bring her inside and let her rest.” 

It was Ian who spoke up, and the rest seemed to come to the same conclusion that while each of them was dying to press questions, emotions running hot, perhaps it was best to let the dust settle around Claire’s sudden reappearance first. 

And so Rabbie was called to bring Claire’s horse into the stables while Claire was brought inside. Jenny sent one of the servants to put together a fresh plate of food. 

Murtagh stayed by her side and as the others got a few steps ahead of them, Claire froze in her steps in the hallway, unable to quell the immediate regret for how she’d treated him. “Murtagh, I’m so terribly sorry. I‒” 

He made a dismissive sound low in the throat. “Dinna fash about that now,” he said as he led her on to the dining hall. 






Supper for Claire was a quiet affair. Though wee Jamie had greeted her enthusiastically, the girls had given her shy, blank stares, not unlike Faith had when Claire saw her again, and Jenny had asked Mrs. Crook to put the children to bed soon after. 

So it was only their solemn group of five, spread out around the table, watching Claire eat while occasionally Ian tried to lighten the mood with bits of conversation that had nothing to do with anything. 

Jenny seemed to thrum with a nervous energy the longer they sat, and when Claire had at last finished eating, Jenny took a deep breath and spoke up. “I’ve no’ had a day of peace since Murtagh showed up here and said he was taking Faith to Jamie. And I need to know how it came to be that it’s you showing up on our doorstep expecting Jamie and Faith to be here.” 

Claire reached for Jenny’s hand and squeezed it. “I will tell you what happened.” Her gaze swung to Murtagh, the only other person in the room who knew her story. He nodded once in agreement. Yes, they should know, too. “But there’s a lot more to it than just what happened on the day of Culloden and we’ll need somewhere private for all of us to talk.”

 “Me too, Milady?” 

“Yes.” Claire gave him a small smile. “This concerns you, too.” 

Jenny sequestered them to the study and closed the door behind them. No servants in the room or even in earshot, just Claire and four sets of eager eyes. Claire settled on the sofa, Fergus at her side, and Jenny took an armchair adjacent to them. Murtagh stood by the small hearth and after tending to the fire, Ian took a seat near Jenny. 

“Murtagh knows most of what I’m about to share. Jamie and I told him when we were in Paris, before Faith was born…” 

And so she launched into her story, which got a little easier to share with each retelling, though it looked different this time. They knew of her life once she’d arrived here so there was no need to relive most of those moments, they needed only to know how she came to be here and why she knew things that hadn’t yet come to pass.

They were quiet listeners and Claire tried not to read into their range of expressions while she spoke. She just needed to get it all out. On occasion, her gaze slid over to Murtagh and found his presence reassuring. She already had one person in the room who believed her, and that made it easier to push ahead.  

And then she told them of Culloden and why Jamie had risked bringing Faith to Culloden Moor that day. She told them about what happened that morning on the hill, and waking up alone on the other side. She shared about the two weeks she spent in 1948 trying desperately to find them and how she made the decision to come back. 

“Faith couldn’t come with me when I left here. And as we searched and nothing came of it, I couldn’t bear not knowing what became of them. I started to fear that if I stayed and had the baby… well what if he or she couldn’t travel either, like Faith? And once I had that thought, I knew I needed to act quickly. Mrs. Graham had provided the means for me to travel through the stones again, and I thought if I couldn’t find them in the future, perhaps I could find some trace of them here.” 

The room fell quiet when she had finished. She studied the three faces around her, but found their expressions unreadable. At last, Jenny broke the silence by turning to Murtagh. “And ye believe all this to be true?” she asked. 

Murtagh gave a solemn nod. “Jamie believed it. That was enough for me. And he wouldna have sent me to fetch Faith from here if it was only a story. That I believe.” 

“I know it’s a lot to swallow,” Claire added. “It’s alright if you can’t accept it or if you need more time to sort through it.”  

Ian surprised her by being the first to respond. “I’ve known Jamie all my life, and I know you, Claire. It’s hard to fathom being from another time, but if you say it’s true, I believe you.” 

She felt the vice grip of fear around her heart loosen just a bit at her brother-in-law’s words. These folks gathered in this room with her weren’t just Jamie’s family, but her own. Her gaze flitted to Jenny and she held her breath, waiting. 

“Well, I ken fine well ye wouldna choose to be separated from Faith,” Jenny said plainly. “O’ course I believe ye, but why didna ye just tell us before?” 

She let out a surprised chuckle, not really finding the situation funny so much as she needed the release of her pent-up nervous energy. “We only told Murtagh because he was about to actively partake in an effort to sabotage a war that hadn’t started yet. After I was tried for witchcraft, Jamie was protective about who we told, not as a matter of trust for who we told, but more so that he only wanted to tell if it was absolutely necessary to do so.” 

 A lull settled over them again, each absorbing what they’d heard and what it meant. 

“I canna understand‒ Of all the pig-heided things my brother has done, this may be the worst,” Jenny said at length.  

“Jenny,” Ian said gently. 

“No. I mean it. What on God’s green earth possessed him to drag his own wee bairn to a battlefield and‒ and to try and send her and Claire away? As if that was the only choice he had?” 

“He thought he was doomed to die, no matter what happened that day, with the British hunting him,” Claire explained softly, though the more they discussed Jamie’s plan, the more she hated it. But regardless of her thoughts on the matter, there was no denying the strength of Jamie’s love for others, or the lengths he would go to protect his family. 

“Aye, he meant to fight in the battle. Meant to die. Told me so himself when last we spoke,” Murtagh chimed in. “So when we had no word on whether he’d survived or been captured, I assumed he had succeeded in seeing ye and the lass to safety and then in fighting… ‘til it was done. But seeing you here, Claire… does make me wonder what happened to them and why we havena seen them.” 

“What exactly did he tell you?” Claire asked suddenly. “The last time you spoke, before we left for the stones, I saw you two talking.” 

“Aye,” Murtagh said softly. “He instructed me to gather up the men from Lallybroch and lead them home, away from the battlefield. He said it wouldna be hard to escape in the chaos o’ the morning. And he was right about that, all the men did make it home safely…”

 

Murtagh walked with Jamie out into the bitter cold of that spring morning, watching Fergus’s back as he slipped away without notice. 

“Gather the Frasers of Lallybroch together and get them out of here. There’ll be pell-mell on the moor wi’ troops and horses moving to and fro. Nobody will try and stop you wi’ the British in sight and the battle about to begin. Tell them the order comes from me, and they’ll follow without question. Lead them off the moor and away from the battle. Set them on the road to Lallybroch and home.”

“Are ye sure?” Murtagh asked.  

“Aye. This battle is already lost. No matter how righteous, it was doomed from the start. We’ve done all we could, but now it’s over. I’ll not have my kin die for nothing.”

“And what are you to do?”

“I’ll take Claire and Faith to safety, and then I’ll turn back. Back to Culloden, and fight ‘til it’s done.”

 “I’ll guide yer men to safety and set them on the path home. But ken this: when ye return, I’ll be waiting here to fight by yer side.” 

“No. No, I said I’ll not have ye dying for nothing.”

“I won’t be. I’ll be dying with you.”

“No,” Jamie shook his head. “No, ye willna be dying at all because ye willna return to the battle.” 

“Have ye forgotten the oath I swore to yer mother? Ye’re like a son to me, a balaich…” The words slipped out before Murtagh could refrain and his eyes widened slightly. An admission he’d never made, but something he’d always felt about Jamie. His godson nodded curtly, seeming to struggle for a moment with this unshakable front he presented. “I‒ I canna leave ye.”

“I ken, a ghoistidh.” Jamie’s voice was low, almost drowned out by the ruckus around them. He clapped Murtagh on the shoulder and his gaze swung over to where he had last seen Fergus. “But Fergus is a son to me, as I am to you, and with what’s about to happen, I canna give him my protection as I would like to. I’ve had to make peace wi’ the choices I made in this war, and I’m no’ afraid to die, but Fergus is only a lad. Please… lead my son home. Swear an oath to me as ye did to my mother that you will watch his back always, for as long as you live. Ye kept me safe until I became a man and then ye fought beside me, no matter the consequences, no matter what trouble I dragged ye into. I wouldna have Claire in my life if not for you, a ghoistidh, and now that we’re here, I need to see that my family will be safe.”

 

“I didna want to leave him,” Murtagh said quietly. “I’d spent the better part of his life defending him. But I couldna deny his request either, if it was to be the last thing he ever asked of me.” He smirked slightly, finding Fergus’s gaze in that moment. “Ye didna realize ye were stuck wi’ me, did ye?” he said wryly. “I’m bound to protect you by an oath now, my laddie.”

Claire looked over at Fergus and saw he was close to tears. Her arm went about his shoulders, drawing him against her side. 

“He was protecting you too, then,” Claire spoke up, her gaze flitting back to Murtagh. “If you were protecting Fergus, you couldn’t be on the battlefield.” 

“Aye,” he murmured. “Stubborn lad had it all worked out.”

“Except for the part where the fool wanted tae sacrifice himself on the battlefield,” Jenny fumed. “And where is he now ? If Faith didna go through the stones with ye, and he was left with her at Craigh na Dun, why in god’s name didn’t he just come home?” 

Claire drew in a deep breath. “Well, I… I did tell him what would happen in the Highlands if the British won the battle and put down the rebellion. Perhaps he felt there was a safer option. Perhaps he knew this would be the first place the Redcoats would look for him.” 

“Oh, aye, they’ve been here already. But we could’ve hid him. We could’ve kept him safe.” 

“They’ve been here?” 

“Aye, about a week ago.” 

She felt as though a weight had lifted off her shoulders at those words. “Then he got away with Faith. He did it. If the Redcoats are looking for him, it means they don’t have him.” 

“Yes, but where?” Jenny asked again.    

“Aye, that’s the question,” Murtagh agreed. 

“We’ll need to puzzle it out, but I doubt we’ll come to an answer tonight,” Ian spoke up. 

Jenny looked exhausted and at the same time, too worked up to sleep, and Claire knew her sister-in-law had lost as much sleep as she had these last few weeks, plagued with not knowing what became of her family. Still, there was nothing they could do at this very moment, as Ian had pointed out. 

“I had one of the maids freshen up your room,” Jenny said suddenly and Claire startled. 

“Not our… not the Laird’s room?” She saw the flash of confusion in Jenny’s eyes as she spoke. “I only mean that I don’t think I can sleep in there by myself.”  

She felt silly admitting that, but Jenny’s gaze softened and she gave a quick nod. “I’ll have another room prepared.” 

Ian and Murtagh had both cleared out the study, sensing all the talk was done for the evening, but Fergus lingered at Claire’s side as Jenny dismissed herself to make arrangements for Claire’s room for the night. 

Claire turned to Fergus and brushed a hand gently over his curls. “How are you holding up? Do you… do you have any questions for me? About what I shared earlier? About where I’m from?”

Fergus only shook his head, and Claire understood ‒ it was a bit much to drop in everyone’s laps tonight ‒ but she wished for some sort of insight into what he was thinking. 

She studied his profile as he stared ahead at the fire. “I… I have something for you.”  She dug into her pocket and wriggled out the wooden horse, the rigid legs catching in the fabric of her skirt until it was free. “I saw this after I went back to my time, and I thought of you.” She held it out to him and watched as he took it into his hands and studied it, just as she had when she found it. 

“Donas,” Fergus said softly. 

She felt the tug of a smile and the burn of tears at the same time. Had it only been mere days ago where she’d carried the fear of never seeing him again? “I thought so, too.” 

“This is mine?” He checked. 

“Yes, that’s for you.” 

She worried that he might find it juvenile, but he smiled then, ever so slightly. “Thank you, Milady.” His gaze fell back to the toy horse. “He reminds me of Milord’s sawny snake.” 

“I hadn’t even thought of that. Well… I didn’t carve it myself but now you have something of your own like sawny snake.” 

Fergus swallowed roughly as his thumbs moved over the smooth carving of the horse. She heard him hiccup slightly as he tried to stifle a cry. 

“Come here,” she murmured, pulling him into her arms and tucking his head under her chin. “I miss him, too.” 

“It’s not only that,” he said quietly. 

“Then what? You can tell me.” 

“I didn’t know if I would see you again. Murtagh told me you and Faith had gone away.” 

She squeezed him tighter and felt her throat clog with emotion. “I missed you. Every day.” 

“And Milord…” Fergus continued, his voice shaky. “Milord didn’t want me with him. H-h-he doesn’t trust me.” 

She pulled back just far enough to look him in the eye. “No, that’s not true, Fergus.” 

He stood abruptly and hurled the wooden horse as hard as he could at the floor. Something splintered off from it and the piece skittered across the floor. “Yes it is!” He screamed. “Whenever Milord would have to leave you, he always put me in charge of your care. He trusted me. Now he- he sends me away!” 

“Fergus,” Claire whispered tightly. He stood rigidly with his chest still heaving and she reached a hand tentatively for his, expecting that he might pull away. But with his outburst over, Fergus’s anger seemed to give way to the grief it had tried to mask, and he burst into tears and gripped Claire’s hand. “Come here,” she cried. “Oh, I’m so sorry, darling.”

She pulled him back down next to her on the sofa and cradled his head against her shoulder. There were things she wanted to say to him ‒ things she realized in her time apart and also wanted to have Jamie present for when they were said. But Fergus was suffering under choices they’d made for him and some clarity was needed. 

“It’s not because he didn’t trust you with protecting me and Faith,” she murmured as she stroked his hair. “I know my story earlier might sound hard to believe, but every word of it was true. And if… if we knew if you could travel through the stones, I have no doubt Jamie would’ve tried to send you with us. And if we knew Faith couldn’t travel, we would’ve thought of something else. It was a mistake, Fergus. One we’re all having to live with now, and you’re allowed to feel upset and hurt about it. You are. But it wasn’t because Jamie didn’t trust you or didn’t want you with him.” 

“Then why?” Fergus’s voice was flat when he spoke, still choked with tears. Claire breathed in soberly and took his face in her hands so she could look him in the eye again. 

“Well, it’s like Murtagh said earlier ‒ Jamie thought he would die at Culloden and he wanted to ensure every member of his family was safe before he did so. He loves you, Fergus, and he wanted you to be protected here, at his home… as his son.” 

Fergus set his jaw, but Claire still caught the slight quiver of his lip before he spoke. “I’m not a baby. I don’t need protection.” 

She drew in a breath, her mind scrambling for the right words.  

“And I’ve never been apart from Milord, except when Faith was born,” he added. The crux of his pain was in the separation from Jamie, and no matter how well-intentioned the decision was, there would be no erasing that sorrow for Fergus. 

Claire sighed heavily and leaned in to kiss his forehead. “You’re not a baby, you’re right. But even Jamie has needed protecting from time to time. It doesn’t mean you’re weak when you have someone protecting you, Fergus; it means you’re loved.” 

His brows furrowed together and he looked away, a few more tears spilling silently down his cheeks. “Will he come back?” 

“I don’t know that he will come back, if he thinks it’s safer for everyone if he stays hidden,” Claire told him honestly. “But we’re going to look for them. And we’re going to find them, Fergus. We will.” 

“I’m coming with you?” 

She framed his face in her hands and wiped at the tear tracks with her thumbs. “From now on, we stick together.” She caught the flicker of movement in the doorway and looked up to find Murtagh hanging back. “Though we’ll have to bring Murtagh with us,” she added wryly, smiling at him. “On account of his oath to Jamie.” 

Fergus glanced over his shoulder and nodded once. “I suppose you can make yourself useful.” 

“Oh, aye?” Murtagh took that as an invitation to enter and gave Fergus’s head a playful push into the back of the sofa. “I suppose so.” 

He bent down and retrieved the small horse and handed it over to Fergus, who accepted it with a sudden flush in his cheeks, his smile disappearing. 

“I broke one of his legs,” he pointed out regretfully. 

“Dinna fash, I can fix it,” Murtagh said easily, scouring the floor for the missing piece, and upon finding it, he asked for the horse back, to see what could be done about it tomorrow. 

“It’ll be alright, Fergus,” Claire said gently, hoping he understood she meant more than just the toy horse.

“I know, Milady.” 

“Good,” she exhaled, feeling the smallest tug of a smile at her lips.   






Jenny reappeared to tell Claire which room she’d be staying in and to usher both her and Fergus up to bed. Claire gave in easily, feeling bone-weary after the emotional toll of the day, but she’d said goodnight to Jenny at the top of the stairs so she might have a moment alone. 

She then stood at the threshold of the bedroom that had belonged to her and Jamie ‒ off and on ‒ over the course of almost 3 years. Altogether, their time here likely only amounted to a year or so, but some of their most precious memories lived in these walls. From their earlier days here, married only a few months and learning what it was to give their heart and soul to another, to their days as a small family, navigating parenthood and building the life they thought they would always have here.

Even though she wouldn’t sleep there tonight ‒ she’d meant what she said to Jenny ‒ some part of her had a morbid need to still see the room before she could sleep.  

She pushed into the room and sat on the edge of the bed, running her fingers over the bedding. She’d committed a serious mistake in the days leading up to this one and on her hours-long horseback ride through the spread of land that she knew so well: she’d allowed herself to imagine a homecoming. 

Claire had pictured rushing into the farmhouse and finding Jamie there in the parlor, and how it would feel to behold him once more and feel his strong embrace, to hear his voice and cradle his face in her hands before she kissed him senseless. 

And then there would be Faith to take into her arms and hold close to her heart and promise to never let go of her again. 

She had let herself hope that if she could only make the journey ‒ travel 200 hundred years through time and then 25 miles through the Highlands ‒ then maybe they might just be here waiting for her, and she would at last be able to breathe. 

As she sat there on the bed, Claire felt the pressure of tears building behind her eyes. The piercing blow amidst all of this sorrow was that it was Jamie’s birthday. Last year had been sweet and brimming with joy, and the soft memories of it seemed to belong to a different person entirely after the year she had lived. 

What was he doing now, wherever he had ended up? She had no way to tell him that she had come back to this time, to their first home. Wherever he was, he would still think of her as lost to him forever, unless she found him. 

“You promised you would find me,” she found herself murmuring into the silent room. “Even if it took 200 years. But we’ve gone and turned everything on its head now, haven’t we?” Her eyes glanced about the dark room and settled on Faith’s old cradle, still tucked away in the corner, now collecting dust. “Neither one of us is where we’re supposed to be, but considering that means you’re still alive somewhere, I’ll take it. Keep her safe, love. I’ll keep looking…” Her hand slipped down to rest over the barely noticeable swell of the child she carried. “No matter how long it takes. Even if I’m having to carry this one around with me. And I’ll have help, with Murtagh and Fergus with me.” 

She stood slowly and slipped quietly from the room, pausing to turn back at the threshold for one last look before closing the door on that room and what had been a wonderful chapter in their life together. 

It wasn’t done, their life together ‒ she refused to believe it was ‒ but with the deed of sasine and the hunt ahead of them for Jamie and Faith, she was keenly aware that the dreams of being Laird and Lady of Lallybroch had died that morning of the Battle of Culloden. What came next would be a different life than they had envisioned, but if she could find them… 

Her hand rested over the door to the Laird’s room in a parting gesture. 

If she could find Jamie and Faith, she’d gladly embrace the sorting out of new dreams. But saying goodbye to this one so unexpectedly left a hole in her already-battered heart. 

Chapter Text

April 16, 1746

Jamie watched, disbelieving, as Faith tumbled seemingly from mid-air and landed at the foot of the stone, unleashing a scream at the top of her lungs as though she’d been hurt. 

His body reacted before his mind could catch up, gathering Faith into his arms at once to try and calm her. His heart beat erratically in his chest. Even as he held her, he didn’t want to believe it to be true.

It hadn’t worked. Faith couldn’t travel through the stones.

Cumberland’s troops would ravage the Highlands as Claire had said, flocking out from the very battlefield Jamie had stupidly brought his child to. Oh god, his child… with her bright burn of red hair that matched his own. He was a dead man... and she was indisputably his own if they were found together. 

He let out an unearthly howl at the stone, clutching Faith tightly to him. She should be two hundred years away from him now, in the safety of Claire’s embrace. “Ye were supposed to take her!” He screamed, his eyes boring into the rock. Why hadn’t it worked? 

Faith shrieked at the top of her lungs, a painful pitch that rattled Jamie’s brain in his skull. She kicked her legs frantically against him and pushed on his chest to try and get away, which only made his grip on her tighten. 

“I’m sorry. Oh God. Mo chridhe, I’m sorry. Tha thu sàbhailte,” Jamie murmured.  

And then he heard it.

The scuffle of soldiers nearby and British voices approaching them.  

Faith,” he whispered sharply, feeling as though his heart was going to jump right out of his chest. “Shhhh, mo chridhe, please.” His hand slipped over Faith’s wee mouth, careful not to block her nose, while he strode to the other side of the stones, away from the direction he and Claire had come from. 

They would’ve seen his horse, undoubtedly. 

Faith’s screams dropped to a pitiful whimper against his hand and when he glanced down, he saw her eyes were wide with fear. “Christ, I’m sorry, lass.”

“--heard a child, sounded like from up there.” 

There wasn’t time to think, only to act. 

He slipped around the farthest stone to stand just outside the stone circle and crouched down to set Faith there in the grass. “Mo chridhe, ye canna leave this spot and ye canna make a sound. Not until I fetch ye. D’ye understand? Stay put and stay quiet.”  

Wide, unblinking eyes stared up at him. Faith was silent, but like the calm before a storm, like she could break out in screams again at any moment.

There wasn’t time for anything else, though. He could hear the men approaching and he had to leave Faith there in the hope that she would listen. Jamie crossed to the stone directly opposite where he’d hid Faith and pressed his back against it, facing the center. He drew his sword slowly, being careful to contain the sound. From what he could tell, there weren’t many men approaching ‒ two, maybe three soldiers by the sound of it ‒ but whether they were patrolling or deserting, they weren’t likely to show mercy to him either way. Especially if they recognized him.

He was poised and ready, keeping his breathing steady even while his heartbeat thrummed in his ears. One was close, approaching from the other side of the stone he stood against.

Movement ahead of him caught his eye and he stood transfixed as Faith braced her palms on the grass just beyond the edge of the stone and leaned her head around to look back at him.    

No

Panic flooded his veins. She met his gaze and he shook his head abruptly in warning. Her eyes flickered over somewhere beyond him and his blood ran cold. 

“Christ, there is a baby up here.” 

A voice, just a few steps behind him. Faith retreated back behind the stone with a small cry, but it was too late. 

She was spotted. And they were out of time. 

The first man to walk past the stone hadn’t even seen him coming. Jamie struck the side of his head hard and fast with the butt of his sword and watched the man drop like a stone. One man down. 

He turned and advanced on the other soldier, who had in his haste not bothered with his musket and instead drew his sword.  

“What the devil are you playing at?” The man spat, and Jamie considered for a moment what a strange thing this was to happen upon, a Highlander warrior and a small child on a desolate hill. “Wait, you’re‒” 

The moment turned into a clash of steel, no longer having the luxury of considering anything other than that he had been recognized and he was the only thing standing between this enemy and his child. 

The struggle to overpower the other was brief, fueled by the protective fury of a parent whose child was in danger. Jamie came away from the fight alive ‒ victorious ‒ because he had to be. There was no alternative for him. 

The second soldier lay sprawled in the grass, partway down the hill, his eyes open but unfocused.

Jamie wiped the blood from his sword before sheathing it. When he looked towards the stone where Faith hid, there was no sign of her watching, no sound from her anymore. He swallowed roughly and moved on suddenly shaky legs towards where he’d left her. “It’s me, mo chridhe,” he called out softly just before he reached the stone. 

She was sitting up against the stone and flinched when he came into sight.

He dropped slowly to one knee before her and fought the overwhelming urge to grab her and run. “Ye did good, lass,” he murmured. “I ken you’re scared but we’re safe.” For now, he thought. “And I will keep you safe. But we have to go.”

He held his hands open to the small child. “C’mon. We have to get away from here.” 

The sounds from a not-so-distant battlefield still thundered in the air and it felt like an eternity that Jamie waited until Faith raised her arms up toward him, giving him permission. He picked her up and stood, holding her tight for one moment with the back of her head cupped in his hand. The panic that had risen from their encounter with the British soldiers finally began to dissipate as he felt her little arms twine around his neck. God… they were alright.

“We have to go,” he repeated, and turned to press a kiss to the side of Faith’s head. 

But go where? 

He’d had days to fine tune the plan that had been brewing in his mind over the course of this war. A final failsafe if they couldn’t avoid Culloden. And everything went according to plan except for Faith, unraveling the final part completely. 

He turned and began to walk back toward his horse, keeping Faith carefully shielded from seeing the bodies of the two men, when he noticed his plaid there in the grass near the center stone. 

Claire. 

It was his plaid, but more often than not, it had been wrapped around her shoulders for added warmth. It must’ve fallen at some point during their goodbye. 

He crouched down and grabbed it, holding it tight to his chest with his free arm. Faith’s head lifted off his shoulder and looked at him curiously. He realized then that he had been inhaling the scent of it, the faint lingering smell of Claire still on it. 

“Here,” he said gently, tucking part of it under her arm. “It’s soft and it’ll keep you warm.” 

For the first time since he’d seen Faith again, the tension between her eyebrows relaxed and her fingers began to play with the fabric of his plaid. “There ye go.” 

He made his way down the hill toward Donas, eyes scanning for any other signs of movement. But besides their chance encounter with those soldiers, they were entirely alone. 

Once at the foot of the hill, he wrapped his plaid around his chest, leaving room for Faith to sit comfortably in the cocoon it made for her. With her secured, he swung up carefully onto Donas and glanced down to check that Faith was alright. Her head was pillowed against his chest, and she stared out at their surroundings. Though he was sure she was still terrified from the recent events up on that hill, she’d fallen silent once more. 

He checked again that the plaid was holding her securely so that his hands were free to hold the reigns. Then he kicked his heels into the horse’s sides and urged him forward at a brisk pace, a direction already in mind. The Highlands would be no place for the child of Red Jamie, that he knew. He’d considered turning towards Lallybroch, towards where his men were surely marching, but only for a brief moment. Nae, he’d ruled out anywhere that was familiar to him for the sake of his child’s safety. The Highlands would be crawling with British soldiers ‒ and for years to come, if Claire was correct. 

There was an eerie calmness around them as he rode away from Craigh na Dun and away from Culloden. Taking that in, Jamie felt assured in his belief that the Lallybroch Frasers would be able to slip away undetected and head home. For the moment, the epicenter of conflict was Culloden Moor and he was keenly aware of his own brief window of time to move about undetected. 

He would head for Inverness first and gather supplies. Plot his next course. Move south from there.

A thought came to mind then of a potential ally residing in town. He turned the thought over in his mind as they rode. Yes… that could be beneficial.  

As they approached the town of Inverness, he slowed the horse’s pace, keeping an eye out for Redcoats or any other apparent threat. But while the chaos of war was raging not far from this place, the remaining inhabitants of Inverness were only those uninvolved in the fighting. 

He dismounted and tied Donas to a post before unbundling Faith and shifting her weight to the crook of his arm. 

Despite how sparsely populated the town seemed to be, Jamie still hurried inside with Faith, wanting to limit their exposure. They slipped through the quiet hall and up the stairs, pausing in front of a door. 

He pounded on the door and waited, hearing the sure sounds of someone stirring on the other side. The door swung open and he met the gaze of one wide-eyed Mary Hawkins Randall. 

“Please let us in. I need yer help.” 

 


 

“I don’t understand. Where’s Claire?” Mary interrupted his poor attempt at filling her in on the situation with the one question that landed like a punch in the gut. Mary looked puzzled and too distracted by the fact that if he was here with his child, his wife should be here with them. 

He inhaled sharply, his mind grappling for the words. He hadn’t said it out loud yet, hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on it when Faith’s life was in danger. “She’s… she’s gone.” 

“Gone?” Mary’s voice rose to a high-pitched whisper. Her hand covered her mouth as his meaning took root. She shook her head at him, tears glistening in her eyes. 

Aye, for those Claire left behind, she was lost to them forever. 

Faced with Mary’s display of shocked grief, he felt suddenly that the air in the room was too stifling, that the room was too small somehow. He rose from his chair, needing to move ‒ as if that might keep the grief from touching him as it did Mary. 

“I‒ I can’t believe it. Sh‒she‒she can’t be gone,” Mary sputtered before dropping her head into her hands and crying softly. 

He turned and watched her before his gaze swung curiously over to Faith where she had sequestered herself with Mary’s hairbrush and comb and was busy playing with her own hair. Faith paused at the sound and looked towards Mary, her eyes round with concern. Brows furrowed together again.    

Moved by the need to set Faith’s young mind at ease, he went for a glass and poured a bit of wine for Mary. She looked up when he approached and accepted it gratefully, and he took a deep breath before he dove into the reason he was here. 

“Ye must’ve seen the broadsheets by now. Ye ken I’m wanted by the British crown for treason. So I canna turn back home. I intend to flee, but the less my face is seen around here, the better. I ken people here are no’ too loyal to the British crown, but times are hard and that reward money is verra tempting. Now I’ll need some supplies before Faith and I can leave, but it would help us greatly if you could gather those for us.” 

He waited, but Mary’s gaze stared through the floor, her expression pinched with emotion, and didn’t immediately respond. 

“Could ye help us, Mary?” he asked gently. 

 She nodded, looking away as she wiped at a tear that spilled quietly down her cheek. “Yes, I‒” He noticed that her hands were clasped so tightly around the glass of wine that her knuckles were bone white. “I can help.”

 


 

With Mary running out for him to gather a few items, he found parchment and a quill and quickly began to write a letter for home. They would think he had died, if Murtagh shared his plan with them, which Jamie was quite sure he would. And they would think Claire and Faith were both gone, even if they didn’t know the details. But if the British realized he wasn’t numbered among the casualties of Culloden, then they would go stirring up trouble at Lallybroch and Jamie wanted the chance to set the record straight. 

At least… as best he could, with what he could share. 

He also couldn’t count it outside the realm of possibility that the letter might be intercepted before it reached its destination, and so he sat quietly for a while, puzzling out his message. 

At length, he began to write, his words scratched onto the parchment in a mix of French and Gaelic as he tried to assure his family that he was alive through coded phrases.

Tha mo sorcha air falbhm, he wrote. And then stilled in his progress. Read the words back over and inhaled sharply as the finality of his words hit him. 

My light is gone.

He could at that moment hear something clatter to the floor as Faith unabashedly explored Mary’s rented room. A timely reminder that he wasn’t alone, that there was one very important reason for why he wasn’t bleeding out on a battlefield right about now.   

Mais j'ai toujours la foi, he added. But I still have faith.

Jamie finished the letter, including his recommendation at the end that Jenny should burn the letter after it was read. He folded up and sealed the letter and then rose from the small desk to find Faith had managed to unlatch Mary’s trunk. She held it open above her head with one hand while the other dug through Mary’s dresses. 

“A leannan, leave Mary’s things alone,” he chided gently.  

“No.” 

His brows shot to his hairline, but Faith didn’t even check to see how her refusal was accepted. She grunted suddenly, but he realized it was not in response to him, but due to her struggle to keep the trunk open while only having one hand to explore the treasures within.  

“I can see that lid is heavy, lass. Ye’ll hurt yerself if ye’re no’ careful.”

“I careful.” Her words also came out in a grunt.  

Jamie sighed, reminded once more exactly whose child she was.    

He crossed quickly to where she stood and grabbed hold of the lid. “Faith,” he called to her softly, waiting until her eyes met his. “Would ye like to come wi’ me…” he flashed the letter with its bright red wax seal, “and help me deliver this?” 

Faith stepped forward, hands outstretched for the letter, and Jamie grinned triumphantly. 

 


 

When Mary returned, Jamie had already arranged a room for him and Faith for the night and left the letter with the proprietor of the boarding house ‒ the man had already seen him and Faith upon entering the building so it hadn’t seemed an added risk to take. 

Jamie helped Mary with the bundles and listened as she summarized what she’d been able to obtain from his list. Most importantly had been a change of clothes for him that wasn’t his Fraser kilt and plaid. Mary had been able to find enough ready made that looked as though it would fit well enough, and a few items for Faith as well. Since it wasn’t much altogether for both him and Faith, Mary had purchased some fabric, too. 

Jamie smiled tightly at this, wondering if she understood that it would be just him and Faith on the run and there wouldn’t be much time for making clothing. Well, it had been a nice thought on Mary’s part. 

“And I found this…” Mary unraveled a small, hooded cloak and held it out to Jamie. “Looked to be about Faith’s size.” 

He took the garment from her, rubbing over the soft fabric with his thumbs. It was a soft brown color and the cloth was heavy and warm. The hood, he noted, could help obscure her red hair. “Faith, come see what Mistress Mary bought ye.” 

Curious, Faith wandered over and her eyes lit up when she saw the cloak. Jamie fastened it around her shoulders when she drew near and lifted the hood up over her wee head. She peered up at him from under the hood, bright blue eyes dancing with joy. She looked remarkably like Claire when she was happy ‒ and that thought came to Jamie with a bittersweet sting. 

Faith’s hands came up to touch the top of the hood and she smiled. “Mine!” She crowed suddenly and raced away to the other side of the room. 

Jamie huffed in surprise, his eyebrows raised. He looked sideways at Mary and offered reluctantly, “She, uh, she has two wee cousins near her age ‒ both lassies. She’s used to anything and everything being fair game among them, I suppose.”   

“It’s alright.”

Mary handed over the last parcel, smaller than the others. 

“Ye were able to find everything?” 

“Yes, it’s all there.” She stared at him dubiously for a moment. “And you’re sure it’ll work?” 

“Weel, I’ve never tried it, but I did listen to my wife when she described the wonders of certain plants to naturally dye yer hair.” He looked to Faith where she was twirling in her cape, making the edges flair out. “And the best chance we have is to make Red Jamie not so recognizable, aye? So it’s worth trying.”  

“And what about Faith? Will you‒”

“No,” Jamie said quickly, his gaze still glued to his child. “No, we have bonnets she can wear now, but I canna…” He wasn’t sure he could put it into words, the wrongness that he felt at the thought of dyeing Faith’s hair. She was… she was something that came from him and Claire, perfect in that combination that made her uniquely Faith and also completely theirs. Made from their flesh and bone. And Claire had loved her red hair… he couldn’t stomach the thought of trying to alter Faith in that way. 

They worked quickly to prepare the dye and then Mary helped him apply it to his hair. 

“How long does it last?” She asked as she worked. 

“Dinna ken. I’ll bring what’s left with us and will likely have to restock as we go.” 

He looked over to see Faith watching them curiously as he transformed his hair from red to black. He smiled at her, but she only cocked her head to the side in response.  

The time spent here while Mary had run out for them had been much needed. It allowed Jamie to think ahead, plan their next steps, and anticipate the risks. And in that time, an idea had taken shape. “Mary,” he began, unable to see her where she stood behind him. “How long do ye intend to stay here?” 

“Oh,” she said softly, like she hadn’t really considered the question before he asked it. Perhaps she hadn’t. Her beloved had died only a few days ago, he reminded himself. “Well, I‒ I suppose that depends on… John.” There was an odd waver to her voice when she said his name, and he wondered if there had been any further interaction between the two after poor Mary had been tied to him in marriage, only to watch the man turn around and beat her dead lover. 

Jamie took a deep breath. He felt an odd sense of duty towards Mary. Though Murtagh laid vengeance at her feet for what happened in Paris, it seemed as though the poor girl had endured more pain and bad luck than was owed to one so young ‒ and many of those challenges could be tied back to the time they were all in Paris. “I dinna ken how to tell ye this, Mary, but I didna want ye to have to wait on this news.” 

He felt her hands still over his hair. “What are you talking about? What news?”

“About yer husband.” He twisted in his chair to look back at her. Claire had told him over and over of Randall’s death at Culloden. If they truly couldn’t change the outcome of the war, it stood to reason that by now, Randall was already dead. But he couldn’t exactly explain how he knew that to Mary. “He rejoined his regiment after Alex’s death, aye?” Mary nodded. “There was an accident this morning. A musket that was fired unintendedly within the camp. Randall was struck… he didna survive. The army will likely attribute his death to the battle to cover the accident.” 

Mary was white as a ghost, dumbfounded and silent. 

“Do ye understand, Mary? He’s gone.” 

He canna hurt ye now.  

Her brows furrowed together and she sucked in a deep breath. “H-h-he’s gone,” she repeated.  

Jamie thought he saw a flicker of relief on her face before she turned her gaze curiously back to him. 

“How do you know this?” 

“Word spreads quickly in a war,” he said evenly. “Especially when a captain is struck down by one of his own. It might be some time before the army informs kin of their losses though, so I thought ye deserved to know, seeing how this changes things for ye.”

“Changes things?” 

“As Randall’s widow, ye are entitled to some things ‒ his officer’s pension for one ‒ so ye’re not without a means to get by. But ye also have no cause to stay in Inverness, away from everyone ye know.” 

“I… I could go home.” 

“Aye, ye could.” He watched her closely as the news settled in. She seemed to warm to the idea of going home ‒ or perhaps simply leaving this place. “I have a proposition for ye, though. Faith and I will be traveling south to Edinburgh.” 

“B-but Edinburgh is‒” 

“Aye. The British overtook it months ago. No doubt they still have troops there to hold it. But if I recall, ye have some family there, do ye no’?” 

“Yes. An aunt. But‒”

“Travel with us to Edinburgh. I will escort ye there safely and deliver ye to yer aunt. In return, yer presence with us makes us less conspicuous. No one will bat an eye at a young couple wi’ a child.” 

Mary breathed in slowly, seeming to consider this. “It still seems an awful risk to you.”

“Anywhere I go from here is a risk.” 

“You won’t stay in Edinburgh, surely?” 

“No. But it’s a large city and much easier to hide in a well-populated place like that. We’ll lay low, wait for the ports to open back up.” Jamie smiled ruefully. “And then at first chance… I’m getting my daughter out of Scotland.”  

“Where will you go?”

“Doesna really matter to me where we end up. I only want Faith to be able to grow up without threat to her safety just because she’s mine. And… and without her mother to care for her, I’ll be damned if she loses her father, too.”       

Mary glanced over to where Faith sat quietly playing, still wearing her cloak. “I’ll go with you to Edinburgh,” she said at last. Her gaze swung back to Jamie and she smiled sadly as she added, “For Claire.”  

 


 

With his distinct red hair successfully colored black and arrangements made for Mary to join them in the morning for their departure, Jamie and Faith gathered their things from Mary’s room and retreated to their own. 

He watched Faith’s sluggish steps beside him and determined that the first thing he would do tonight was get wee Faith ready for bed.  

Though she had seemed to take much of the day in stride since arriving at the boarding house, her eyes grew wide when Jamie mentioned sleep. 

“Auntie Jenny?” Faith asked him, her voice rising to a pitch that told him tears would soon follow. 

He stood there mutely, not wanting to answer her. What could he say to make her understand? They were far from home and couldn’t go back.  

“She’s no’ here, a leannan. Tis only me.” 

“My Maggie?” She pleaded hopefully. 

Regret sliced through him, swift and painful. He hadn’t meant to cause her harm like this. “No, lass. I’m sorry.” 

Like a burst in a dam, Faith’s screams were sudden and forceful. She backed herself against the side of the bed, away from Jamie.     

He took a few steps toward her, intent on trying to soothe her the way he always had when she was a bairn, but Faith’s cries rose in pitch and volume when he moved closer. He froze, watching helplessly as tears poured down his daughter’s flushed face.

No!” She screamed at him, bracing herself against the side of the bed. Her next words came out in a rush, blending with her loud cry, but he didn’t need to understand her to know that she wanted her Auntie Jenny, wanted to be at home. He kept the distance between them, but squatted down to her level. 

“Faith…” 

The word had barely left his mouth when Faith quickly scaled the bed and launched herself face down into the bedding. Her cries were muffled into the blankets as she stayed there, stretched out in a prone position in the center of the bed, but she continued to wail and scream to the point that Jamie was scared to go near her, lest he upset her further. 

So instead, he retreated to a chair and sat with his elbows resting on his knees, his fingers interlaced together and bracing against his chin, and listened as Faith’s muffled sobs continued to fill the room.

He wanted nothing more than to go to her, but he’d resigned himself to the fact that he was a stranger to her, responsible for her being plucked from her home and the loved ones that she knew. 

His hands scrubbed over his face before he leaned back in his chair, his gaze resting on Faith. They were safe at the moment. He’d managed to get her away from Culloden unscathed and keep his promise of safety. 

But he had no earthly idea how to help her now. 

He felt as unsure of himself as he had when he came back from the Bastille and found out his child had survived and lived three months without him. He’d felt like an intruder on her life then, already so bonded with Claire… 

Oh God… Claire.

She would’ve known exactly how to reach Faith. Was it only that morning when he’d watched the two of them together? Had seen how even with the months apart from her, caring for Faith seemed as natural to Claire as breathing?

 It had taken every ounce of strength to push thoughts of Claire out of his head today, to not dwell on the implications of what happened at the stones. There were a few times it had struck him that she was truly gone, but each time, he pushed it down. Because there was Faith to focus on and to protect, and their future to plan for. 

But now… seeing his wee child in agony, he could hardly bear the weight of it all. Faith should be two hundred years away from this time, in the comfort of her mother’s embrace, in a place where she would be safe. He recalled how she had looked earlier, her wee face peering out at him from the other side of the stone this morning, and dropped his face into his hands. 

She could’ve been killed…

Lord, it was all wrong. A cold, dank feeling settled around his heart at the thought of what this meant for Claire. He hadn’t allowed himself to imagine what she must be feeling, arriving back in her time without their girl. 

A sob tore from his throat, and he gasped painfully for his next breath. How many times in the last several months had he held his wife in a poor attempt to soothe her empty arms? And now he’d sent her away from Faith forever. Though it hadn’t been his intention, he couldn’t think of a single other act of cruelty towards Claire that would measure up to the magnitude of what he’d done. 

Oh God, I’m sorry,” he cried out, feeling a wrenching pain in his chest. “I’m so sorry, Claire!”    

He must’ve been louder than he thought because he drew Faith’s attention. She turned her head to the side, still sobbing, and her gaze sought him out. He locked eyes with her and felt something tumble in his chest. Faith looked distraught and confused, and the urge to hold her came back with riotous force. 

And he thought of how ashamed Claire might be if she knew he was sitting with his guilt instead of holding their child, squandering the time with Faith that Claire didn’t have. 

His next breath was shaky. He wiped at his face as he rose to his feet and approached the bed. Faith didn’t move or react this time and he slid his hands under her shoulders to lift her off the bed. Her crying didn’t cease in the transfer, but she did curl in at his neck in a way that made him think she wasn’t so sorry to be stuck with him after all. 

“There, m'annsachd. Shhhh…” 

Her cries became more rhythmic, interrupted like clockwork by hiccupping gasps to force herself to breath in. She was winding down, at least. He spoke gently over her in Gaelic, knowing it was what she would’ve heard at home with Jenny and Ian. Something familiar and comforting, he hoped. 

He wasn’t sure how long he paced the short confines of their room with her. She had grown considerably since the last time he’d done this, but there was something inexplicably comforting for him when he felt her fingers curl around his shirt collar and hold on, the same thing she used to do as a wee babe. “I do love ye, Faith.” He rested his cheek against the top of her head. “So much… it feels like my heart could burst open from it.” 

Faith’s cries had waned to half-hearted whimpers that only surged in volume when he shifted her weight to his other arm. She doesna want me to put her down, he realized. 

“Dinna fash, a leannan,” he crooned. “I’m here. I’ve got ye.” 

He felt her heave a sigh against his neck and it triggered his own, releasing some of the night’s tension from his body. “I’m so sorry, lass. God, am I ever sorry…” The words slipped out on the heels of his sigh, so quick he barely registered that he’d spoken them aloud to her. But once formed, the words opened up the cavernous well of apology and regret inside him, and he had the sudden need to unburden himself. Even if she didn’t understand the weight of what had happened, the extent of the loss he’d caused her. 

“I- I broke my promise to ye. And that is unforgivable. I swore that I would see yer mam safely returned to ye and instead I’ve… I’ve split ye apart. Christ. A leannan, she loves ye so much ‒ more than her own life ‒ and ye have no idea. I’ve deprived ye of that. I canna begin to say how sorry I am. How ashamed I am.” Tears were spilling quickly down his face, but he managed to go on speaking, his voice husky with emotion. “I dinna think I can live wi’out her. She… she was my heart.” His hand moved in slow circles along Faith’s back and realized suddenly that she’d fallen quiet ‒ not asleep, but no longer crying or whimpering. 

“But I will live every day keeping you safe from harm and… and reminding ye that ye had the most wonderful mother. That is my new promise to you. That is what I owe to Claire. I will tell ye everything about her, so ye can know her in some small way. ” He turned and pressed a kiss to her temple and then felt the gentle pat of her hand on his cheek in response. He exhaled a smile. “Still such a sweet wee thing. I ken ye’re scared and lost and I dinna blame ye a bit. But we’ll be alright. Dinna fash yerself, a leannan. Lay yer head and rest. I’ll guard ye while ye dream.” 

Lord, that I might be enough… and oh Lord, that they would be safe, Claire and the child… 

Chapter Text

May 1746

In the light of morning, Claire woke in a strange room, in a bed she’d never slept in before last night. And yet her hand still reached for the pillow next to her as her consciousness slowly surfaced. Of course he wasn’t there. They’d never shared this bed, but being back at Lallybroch meant that his presence haunted this place at every turn. It felt wrong that she was here in his family’s home and Jamie wasn’t.  

When she trekked downstairs in the mornings now, she half-expected to see him in the parlor with his arms full with the babies, or at the breakfast table in discussion with Ian and Murtagh.

And of course, any giggle or peep out of her young nieces had Claire’s gaze following the sound, knowing full well she wouldn’t find Faith at the source but still helpless to stop the impulse to check. 

Her logical mind knew they wouldn’t be here, but the places in her mind that were filled with Jamie and Faith could not reconcile this. So much of Lallybroch was painted with memories of them. 

Her one comfort in all of this was Fergus. 

Fergus, who stayed by her side and in his own way told her he would do as Jamie had asked of him many times before; he would look after Claire. 

And Fergus, who was only 11 and still reeling from the loss of Jamie, was in dire need of his own looking after. He was hers to take care of, to mother, to protect. 

So when Ian told him after breakfast one day to get ready for a trip to Broch Morda for supplies, Fergus was hesitant to leave. 

“You can go, Fergus. It’s alright.” 

“No, Milady. I will stay.”

“Fergus,” her tone softened. “I will still be here when you come back. I promise. I’m not going anywhere without you.” She could see his resolve weakening at that so she gave him a quick side-hug and released him with, “Go on then. Go with your uncle.” 

It didn’t strike her until they had left, what she had said. Ian had smiled at her, a little curiously, and left with Fergus, one hand on the boy’s shoulder. 

“Uncle, hmm?” had been how Jenny announced that she had noticed, too. 

She found Jenny’s gaze. “Well, he is, technically… isn’t he?” 

“Och, aye,” Jenny agreed easily. “We kenned before the war that he was yours, when ye and Jamie asked us to… to raise both him and Faith, should anything happen. Ye’ve jest never said it like that, calling Ian his uncle.” 

“There’s a lot that we should’ve said sooner with Fergus.” She swallowed roughly, fighting the urge to cry. The rest remained unspoken ‒ the fear that, with Jamie at least, they might’ve missed a chance to correct this. 

 

 

The rhythm of life at Lallybroch didn’t cease with Claire’s return, though she found herself unsure of her place in it now. Lady Broch Turach no longer, she watched as Jenny ran the house. 

She had been eager to help still, but Jenny had insisted she rest for a few days after her recent journey and in light of her condition.  

Which is how Claire found herself trying to make herself less of a stranger to her small nieces and nephew.

Wee Jamie still held some small spark of recognition for his auntie, and his joy over her return warmed her to the backbone. Little Maggie was reticent and shy around Claire, needing some time and space to make up her mind about her. But fifteen-month-old Kitty, as the youngest of the household, had never known the luxury of having either of her parents’ undivided attention and had grown used to being passed from one set of arms to the next. As such, she’d never been a clingy child and in contrast to her older sister, Kitty warmed up to her Auntie Claire very fast.    

By mid-afternoon, she’d crawled into Claire’s lap and fallen asleep. That was how Mrs. Crook found the two of them when she came to collect the girls for their nap.

“D’ye want me to take her, Mistress?” 

“No.” Claire’s arms tightened ever so slightly around Kitty’s small form. “I’m alright with her. Thank you.” 

Jenny flitted about throughout the day, never quite sitting still, but she paused when she found Claire and Kitty there in the parlor. “That didna take long,” she said warmly, her gaze flicking down to sweet Kitty. 

“She’s quite the character now.” 

“Aye, since she learnt tae speak, she’s kept us laughing.” 

Claire exhaled a soft laugh, her gaze inexorably drawn back to the sleeping girl in her arms. She felt Jenny sink into the seat next to her, and drew in a deep breath. 

“What’s she like now?” Claire asked, her voice trembling as she managed to get the words out. Her eyes flicked up to Jenny to see if she understood that she wasn’t asking about Kitty.

Jenny made a soft, pitying sound and took her time considering how to answer.

“She’s a terribly smart wee thing,” Jenny said at length and despite how Jenny’s words made her ache, Claire also felt the pull of a proud smile. “Always keepin’ me on my toes, that one. And she was always the one in charge, despite Maggie being six months older.  

“And still as stubborn as ever, if no’ more. Took an age tae get her tae sleep wi’out needing to be held.”

Claire’s smile faltered, her thoughts flooded with the nights spent holding Faith in her arms, walking the length of the upper hallway until she fell asleep. She supposed Faith had been a bit of a difficult baby in that regard ‒ she never could fall right to sleep if they laid her down in her cradle. But Faith was their first baby and they’d been too wrapped up in her to try and change that nighttime routine with her. 

Jenny studied her expression. “Ye ken I was the same way with my wee Jamie. Lad never so much as touched the ground until he was well o’er a year. But with all the bairns, I‒” 

“Oh, Jenny, no. I’m not upset or judging you. With all the little ones, you couldn’t possibly…” 

“She only started going to sleep on her own when we let her share a bed with Maggie,” Jenny added.    

“Really?”

“Aye, they were always together when they were awake so we put her in wi’ Maggie one night and then she was happy as a lark.” 

Claire’s gaze dropped again to small Kitty. “They must miss her,” she said softly. “As I’m sure she misses them.” 

“She’s still such a wee darling,” Jenny said after a moment, and Claire felt her heart constrict. “She was always the last one out of bed every morning, but she’d look for me first when she woke, aye? After weeks of that, I… I never felt like my morning really started until after she’d run and found me... given me a hug. I miss that. I miss her‒

She didn’t miss the way Jenny turned away slightly, surreptitiously wiping at her tears. Claire swallowed past the sudden lump on her throat as a heavy silence followed.      

“Ken she’s yer bairn, Claire, but after months of…” Jenny’s eyes were watery but she blinked back more tears and straightened. Claire watched her physically steel herself against the pain. 

“She was yours, during that time. I know that,” Claire whispered tightly, fighting her own rush of tears. For Jenny’s loss. For Faith’s. For her own. “You and Ian were prepared to raise her if… if Jamie and I didn’t make it back. I can never thank you enough.” 

“I’ll accept no thanks for it. She’s blood.” 

“I didn’t mean…” Claire reached for Jenny’s hand, surprised to feel Jenny’s tight squeeze in response. It was hard for both of them, unimaginably so. 

“I wanted ye both to come back for her. I’m no’ saying‒”

“No, of course not,” Claire said firmly. “I only meant that it… it was a comfort to me when we were gone, knowing she was here. Knowing she was loved. Jamie and I couldn’t have entrusted her to anyone else.” 

“I wasna in the house when Murtagh came and fetched her,” Jenny said suddenly, her voice suddenly wooden. “I found out a short while later. Mrs. Crook made a fuss of it but she didn’t stop him.” Her gaze met Claire’s and she saw the pain lurking behind Jenny’s stubborn resolve. “But if it had been me, Claire, he never would’ve gone one step away from here wi’ that child. And I jest keep thinking if I had been here to stop him, mebbe none o’ this would’ve happened. Mebbe Jamie would’ve had tae figure out a different plan if Faith never arrived. And surely ye wouldna have agreed to go anywhere wi’out her.”

“Jenny…” Claire sighed. “I have replayed that day over and over in my mind, wondering how I could’ve changed the outcome. But at the end of the day, it’s wasted energy. Because there’s nothing either of us could do now to change what’s happened. I know you know that.”     

She squeezed Jenny’s hand a little tighter. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” 

“Neither did ye.” 

Jenny’s words surprised her and she let out a humorless laugh. “Not so sure about that‒”

Claire,” Jenny chided sharply. “Ye didna ken what would happen ‒ and how could ye? Would ye have gone if ye had?”

“No, but I‒” 

“Are ye really goin’ tae argue wi’ me o’er the same thing ye just told me no’ to punish myself about?” 

Her mouth snapped shut, no counterargument coming to mind. She’d meant what she said ‒ Jenny should carry no guilt for that day. That didn’t mean the choice of going through the stones that day didn’t weigh heavily on Claire’s conscience. But Jenny was bound and determined to make the same argument on her behalf, she could see.     

“How far along are ye?” Jenny asked when their conversation stalled. 

“Eleven weeks or so. Still so much that can go wrong.” The last sentence came out in a rush. Jenny’s hand held tight to her own, an unspoken understanding passing between them. “In fact, I‒ well, besides when I came through that morning, I haven’t felt sick once and I worry… what if that…” 

“Have ye bled at all?” Jenny cut in, not unkindly but to the point. 

“N-no, but it would take some time still before my body‒” She couldn’t finish the sentence, but Jenny squeezed her hand, seeming to understand. 

“Were ye sick when you went through back tae yer time?” 

“Sick as a dog the entire time I was there. That’s how it had been when I was pregnant with Faith.” 

She hadn’t realized she was crying until Jenny’s hand gently brushed the tears from her face. She hadn’t realized how much she needed to talk to someone about this until the words were spilling out to Jenny, no longer festering under her skin. 

“I’ve been so focused on finding Jamie and Faith the last few weeks that I’ve barely even thought about the baby, but I‒ oh god, I couldn’t bear to lose it !” 

The sobs came then and she was pulled sideways into Jenny’s arms and held there. Kitty stirred but didn’t wake, stretching sleepily in her new position.     

“Dinna talk like that, Claire.” Jenny’s voice was soft and soothing but laced with concern. “Until we ken otherwise, this bairn is jest fine. It’s no use tae spend yer time worrying when it might jest be yer sickness easing up.” 

Rationally, Claire knew this could be the reason… her morning sickness letting up as she approached her second trimester.  

“Ye willna be alone, Claire,” Jenny startled her by speaking right to the heart of her fear, the part she couldn’t possibly put into words without breaking. “No matter what happens to the bairn or to Jamie or Faith. Ye hear me?”

Jamie had said those same words to her once and though she would never quite be whole if she lost any of them, she knew Jamie was still right. He’d seen to it that she had a family who could carry her through even the unthinkable. 

Her free hand came up to grasp Jenny’s arm where it was holding tightly to her. “I hear you.”

 


 

“Milady!” 

“Jenny! Claire!” 

Fergus and Ian’s voices announced their return from Broch Morda late in the day and had both Jenny and Claire hastening out to meet them. 

“What’s happened?” Jenny demanded. 

“There’s a letter for you!” Fergus jumped down from the wagon before Ian had even slowed the horses to full stop. 

“Careful!” Claire scolded, but it was lost on Ian’s next words. 

“Jest have a look at the handwriting.” 

Fergus handed the letter over to Jenny, to whom it was addressed, and Claire had to restrain herself from snatching it from Jenny’s fingers when she caught sight of the familiar, fine penmanship that belonged to her husband. 

 “Jamie…” 

Jenny tore open the letter abruptly and unfolded it while Claire arranged herself at Jenny’s shoulder, peering over at the contents of it. Not a word of it was in English and bits of the Gaelic was lost on Claire. 

“What does it say?” Fergus asked impatiently, but Claire and Jenny were both too engrossed to respond. Instead, Claire slipped an arm around his shoulders and tucked him against her side. 

“That word there ‒ what does that mean?” She pointed. 

Jenny gave her a sideways glance. “Sorcha? It’s… well, it’s you, Claire. It’s yer name in Gàidhlig. He’s written that you’ve gone. That he’s lost ye.” 

She didn’t need a translator for the next sentence written in French. One word jumped out at her and suddenly her vision blurred with tears. It was clear he was trying to be careful; he’d referred to their child as faith, a belief. But he had her. 

There was no way to tell him of her return but somehow just the confirmation that Jamie and Faith were alive and together at the time he’d written gave Claire a sweeping sense of relief.   

“They’re alright,” she breathed out. 

“Where are they?” Fergus asked. 

“He doesna say.” Jenny sighed. 

“Where are they headed?” 

It might’ve been quicker to hand Fergus the letter and let him see for himself, but instead, Jenny scanned it again, as though trying to extract some further message from it. “He doesna say,” she repeated, with no effort to hide her disappointment. 

“He’s being cautious. Especially because of Faith. And he wouldn’t want to put any of your lives in jeopardy by disclosing his plans.”

“But…” Fergus began and then hesitated. When Claire glanced down at him, she could see the concern etched into his expression. His gaze slid up to meet hers. “How will we find them if we don’t know where he is or where he’s going?” 

Claire breathed in deeply. An excellent question, she thought, and one she had no answer to. “Don’t you worry. We’ll… we’ll keep looking.” 

 

 

They went inside, but the contents of the letter stayed top of mind for all as they tried to move about their day. Ian read the letter for himself and then Murtagh read it when he joined them before dinner. In the evening, they gathered in the parlor, and Jamie’s letter ended up in Claire’s hands while the discussion of Jamie and Faith’s whereabouts unfolded around them. 

“He could’ve gone to Leoch.” 

Claire pulled a face at that suggestion from Murtagh. “Surely not after Colum’s death and‒” her gaze broke away to wee Jamie and she couldn’t get the words out of how it had ended with Dougal in front of the little ones. 

“Aye, with both brothers gone, the role of clan chieftain will pass to wee Hamish. Doubt he’d give Jamie much trouble, wee runt that he is. No one there would ken what happened wi’ Dougal MacKenzie. And Jamie does have people there who would be loyal to him and give him shelter if he asked for it.” 

Claire considered it, but only for a moment. “No, he wouldn’t risk it. Colum wanted to remain neutral but Dougal fought in the rebellion with his men and there’s no telling how the British will interpret Clan MacKenzie’s loyalty. Especially in the immediate aftermath, they work tirelessly to squash any trace of rebellion. Besides, if anyone knows of Jamie’s ties to the MacKenzie clan, it would be the next place the Redcoats would look after here.” 

Murtagh only grunted, still considering. 

“I ken how he feels about Lord Lovat, but maybe…” Ian trailed off, staring at Claire. “Have I missed something, Claire?”   

She breathed in briskly. “This hadn’t felt relevant when I shared my story with you all, but… Lord Lovat will be executed as a traitor by the British for his involvement in the rising. There was a… Well. Let’s just say I knew of this before Culloden, but I found confirmation of Lord Lovat’s execution when I returned to my time, while I looked for Jamie. And Jamie knows about his grandfather’s death, too. He won’t bring Faith there, even if they are family.” 

Jenny took the news of her grandsire in stride while Ian cleared his throat awkwardly, not sure how to move on from that piece of news. 

“More likely he’ll go where no one kens him,” Murtagh said softly, his gaze on the fire. “If he canna turn to family without risk involved.” 

Claire didn’t miss the way Fergus’s face fell at this pronouncement. He had picked a spot on the floor, away from everyone else and closer to the fire, but his attention to their conversation was completely present. 

She’d never seen him so morose before, but she understood perfectly why he felt so hopeless ‒ it was a daily battle of her own not to give in to the feeling. 

“Fergus, come sit by me,” she called to him. 

He went without any resistance and sunk into the spot next to her on the sofa. Claire pulled him closer and his head leaned against her shoulder. “It’ll be alright, love,” she murmured quietly. 

“Can I see this?” he asked, ignoring her comment. 

“Yes, of course.” With a sad smile, she handed over the letter to him and then let her attention drift back to the conversation at hand. 

Fergus pored over the contents of the letter and, like everyone else, found nothing new to glean from it. Clearly frustrated, he began to fidget with the letter, using the weight of the wax seal on one end to flip the paper back and forth, open and then folded shut.

Claire watched him, unable to ignore the movement from the corner of her eye. Something clicked in her brain and her hand shot out, stopping Fergus. The red wax seal faced up to both of them and Fergus glanced curiously at Claire. 

“I’ve seen this seal before.” 

She said it quietly enough that none of the others heard it ‒ she’d said it mostly to herself but Fergus had caught it, too. 

Where have I seen this seal before?” 

Fergus took a deep breath, his whole demeanor shifting. “Is it not Milord’s?” 

“No, it’s not his. But it’s familiar, somehow…” 

“If you remember, it could help us find them, non?”        

She frowned slightly at it. “Perhaps. If I remember.” 

 


 

That night she dreamt of the World War, of being back in the field hospitals tending to wounded soldiers. But she was looking for someone in particular as she checked the cots of the wounded. Suddenly, someone tugged on her arm and she turned, finding Mary Hawkins at her side, clad in the same dress she’d worn that day at the apothecary in Inverness.   

“Please, Claire, you have to help him!” Claire could see Alex Randall suddenly, laid out on a cot just behind Mary. A nurse was pulling a sheet over his head, already gone. “He’s dying!” 

“I’m sorry, Mary. There’s nothing I can do.” There was an urgency, an almost physical push for Claire to leave that she couldn’t define. “I have to find my husband.” 

Claire woke with a start and laid very still in the dark room. For a moment, her mind struggled to place that room, and which year she resided in. She curled up on her side and breathed in deeply, the details of her dream already starting to fade. But seeing Mary, someone from this time, plopped into the middle of 1943 was hard to forget. And the powerlessness she’d felt of being unable to cure poor Alex…

Her eyes flew open again and stared through the darkness.  

She had seen the seal before. Three weeks ago on Alex Randall’s desk. 



“Randall?” Murtagh scowled. 

Alex Randall, yes.” Claire handed the letter to him. “During one of the times I tended to him in Inverness, I wrote out a list for Mary of what she could give Alex to keep him comfortable and help him rest. The seal was there. He must’ve recently written a letter ‒ or Mary.” 

“And ye’re sure? Ye ken it’s the same as this one and no’ just because ye dreamed it?” 

Claire, on some level, understood his skepticism, but she leveled an irritated gaze at him for that remark all the same. “Yes, I’m sure.”    

“What the devil would Jamie be doing wi’ a dead man’s seal? Wi’ a Randall’s seal?” 

“Not Alex,” Claire murmured, noticing the sounds of little ones up in the hallway. It wouldn’t be long before the family joined them. “But what about Mary?”

Murtagh gave a soft grunt, considering this. 

“She would’ve still been in Inverness,” Claire pressed. “And Jamie knew this. What if he stopped there first after the stones?”

Murtagh looked doubtful of that possibility but he didn’t say anything. 

“How else would Jamie have used this seal, hmm?” She pressed the issue, feeling for the first time a sense of hope. They had a direction, at least. They knew where to start. If Mary was still in Inverness, they had someone to question who likely saw Jamie and Faith after Culloden.

“Suppose we head for Inverness and we’re wrong about the seal. What then?” 

Claire gave a helpless shrug. “We don’t have anything else to go on. If not Inverness, where else would we look that wouldn’t be a complete guess?”   

 


 

In 4 days’ time, they were packing up from Lallybroch to head for Inverness. 

For Claire, that meant grabbing what she would need for the journey, but also what she could bring should she find Jamie and Faith. When they’d left from Lallybroch the last time, there were plenty of their things they’d left behind, like Jamie’s mother’s pearls that he’d given to Claire on their wedding night. 

She packed her maternity stays she’d worn in Paris, uncertain of where she’d be when the need arose for them again. She stilled in her packing at that thought. She had no idea where she’d be when the baby came, either, and that thought was terrifying. Digging into a chest in the Laird’s room, she unearthed some of Faith’s clothing from when she was a tiny baby. They’d packed them away last year ‒ was it only last year? ‒ with the unspoken hope between her and Jamie that they’d have a reason to use them again someday. 

Her fingers toyed with the fabric of one simple white nightgown. These were such imperfect circumstances to bring a baby into, but then again… Faith had entered the world amidst equally imperfect circumstances. Claire knew she could do it, if she had to… raise the baby on her own. But oh, the thought of this baby never knowing Jamie or Faith broke her heart clean in two. 

A light rap on the door startled Claire and she turned to see Jenny with a few of Faith’s things ‒ her doll, a blanket, and the wooden box that Claire knew held 12 apostle spoons. 

“Are you sure about that one?” She gestured to the box. “I know that’s a family heirloom.” 

“It was Faith’s christening gift. It should be returned to Faith.”    

Claire smiled faintly, bolstered slightly by Jenny’s unwavering belief that wherever this journey ended, Faith and Jamie would be there. 



 

“All set, then?” Claire poked her head into Fergus’s room. The boy was finishing up packing his things neatly into his pack as Jamie had shown him. He’d been different the last few days, since she’d remembered about the seal. Since they had a direction in mind to begin. Hope had returned for him and no shortage of determination as well. 

“Oui, Milady. Just about.” 

His wooden swords leaned against the wall in one corner. He’d already decided that those would go to wee Jamie, that they were too bulky to bring along and that he was too old for them now anyway. 

But Claire felt a soft swell of relief to see him tucking his carved horse into his bag to take with him. He was growing up much too quickly, but he hadn’t outgrown her and for that, she was grateful.    

“Are you sad to leave this behind? It’s been your room for a while.” 

Fergus glanced over the room and gave a small shrug. “It’s only a room.”

She thought of all the places they’d lived over the two years that Fergus had been with them ‒ Jared’s place, Lallybroch, drafty cottages and flimsy tents dotted all along Scotland and England. They’d given him an upbringing not unlike what she’d had with her Uncle Lamb, and with it, an untethered understanding of home. 

“You’re right, it’s only a room.” 

She reached an arm out to him as he slung his pack over his shoulder, and they walked out of the room together with his shoulder tucked into her side. 

 

 

“Ye have everything then?” 

“Think so.” 

Claire looked up from adjusting her saddlebag with last-minute provisions and saw Jenny standing there, arms folded across her chest.  

She’d said her goodbyes to wee Jamie, Maggie, and Kitty already, which was harder for a second time, having felt as though she’d only gotten to know them again just to leave them, never knowing when ‒ or even if ‒ she might see them next.

Murtagh and Fergus were securing the last of the packs to Murtagh’s horse so she and Jenny had a moment to themselves. 

“I feel like we just did this, saying our goodbyes,” Claire said ruefully. 

Jenny pulled her into a tight hug. “Aye, weel, the two o’ ye never can seem to stay out o’ trouble.” 

She gave Jenny a squeeze before releasing her. 

“Take care of yerself, sister. And I don’t jest mean because o’ the bairn. Though…” her hand came to rest on Claire’s stomach over the layers of her skirts. “Do take care o’ this one as well.” 

“I will. And I’ll send word as soon as I know anything. I promise.” 

Jenny smiled appreciatively at that, though Claire knew in this century, it would take weeks if not months for the news to arrive. It hardly felt right in these circumstances to leave their family waiting that long without word, but they didn’t know anything different than the snail’s pace of correspondence. 

“If I find them‒”

When ye find them,” Jenny corrected her. The only time she’d even hinted at the possibility of losing Jamie and Faith had been that day in the parlor, and only to assure Claire that they would support her.  

“When I do … it will still be a while that the British occupy the Highlands. I don’t know when it will be safe to return to Lallybroch, but it might not be for a long while.” 

“I ken that.” Jenny’s expression was strong and unshakable but Claire knew… the reality of what stretched out before them even if they found Jamie quickly still meant that the Murrays might not see them for years. Might not see them ever again, even. “Dinna bring them home if it’s no’ safe. We understand.” 

Claire nodded. It didn’t mean it wouldn’t hurt like hell to be apart. She pulled Jenny back in for a last hug, murmuring a quiet apology against her shoulder, and hoping that Jenny knew that she understood what Jenny was losing, too. What she’d already lost. Faith had lived under Lallybroch’s roof since she was four months old. And for eight months, she’d been entrusted solely to Jenny and Ian. It wasn’t just Jenny’s only remaining brother that was missing, likely not to return any time soon, but the niece who was also a little more than that.   

“She’ll know about how you felt about her morning greetings,” Claire found herself saying. “I’ll tell her everything about her life here, including what you shared with me from the last several months. She’ll know it all, I promise.” 

Murtagh and Fergus were hovering awkwardly nearby, having loaded everything onto the two horses they were taking ‒ Murtagh’s and the horse Claire had bought in Inverness. She released Jenny in time to see Ian making his way out to say goodbye to them. 

“C’mere, lad,” Jenny beckoned Fergus to her. “Come say goodbye to yer auntie then.” 

Claire turned to Ian, at a loss for what to say. He smiled at her, a touch sadly, and pulled her into a hug. “Take care o’ yer Fraser, aye?” 

She felt her vision burn with tears, remembering how they’d parted last year. “I will,” she said, her voice raspy. “And you take care of yours. Take extra good care of her, please.” 

Ian’s response was to squeeze her tighter. She sighed and finally released him, seeing that Jenny was laying into Murtagh what seemed to be instructions for looking out for her and Fergus. Murtagh appeared less than thrilled, but wisely only grunted in acknowledgement. 

When everyone had said their goodbyes, it was time to leave. Claire turned to Fergus and tilted her head in the direction of the horses. “Your choice. You can ride with me or with Murtagh.” 

“I will start the journey with Murtagh,” Fergus said decidedly. “And when he gets too grumpy, I will ride with you, Milady.” 

His words broke the heavy feeling in their group as laughter rippled out. 

“I dinna have to let ye ride wi’ me,” Murtagh fired back, though his eyes danced with merriment as he mounted his horse and extended a hand to Fergus to help him up. 

Ian offered Claire a hand as she mounted her horse. She turned to Murtagh and Fergus. “Ready?” 

Murtagh gave a curt nod, and Fergus from his perch behind Murtagh gave Claire a determined nod of his own. Claire gave her horse a firm kick and they were off. 

This time, when they cleared the gates, Claire looked back. She wanted to remember seeing Jenny and Ian by the front steps waving goodbye, and how Lallybroch looked in the early May light with the rest of the world all green around it. For as long as she lived, if she never saw it again, it would live always in her memory just like this. The first place that felt like home.  

But it’s only a place, she reminded herself. Though she couldn’t find it within herself to feel completely as Fergus did, as she might’ve when she were younger. Lallybroch was home for a while. And the Murrays were family. 

But home would be if‒ no, when… home would be when she found Jamie and Faith, with Fergus and Murtagh with them, and their little family wouldn’t be separated for the first time since last August. Home would be back together again. 

Jamie and Faith were out there somewhere. All they had to do was find them.    

Chapter Text

April 17, 1746

Jamie straightened his shirt and tied the stock at his neck. The new shirt didn’t fit him exactly, tight in the arms and chest, but it would have to do. He caught a glimpse of himself in the small mirror sitting atop the bureau and the sight of his dark locks still gave him a shock. Even less of a shock but still noticeable to him was the sight of his clean-shaven face. He looked rather boyish and perhaps that was for the best, as much as he hated the look. He’d have to keep up with the shaving as diligently as he did with the natural hair dye.

“A leannan, are ye ready to go?”

He turned to see Faith perk up at those words. She wore a simple gown that Mary had managed to find the day before, and he’d helped Faith with her stockings and shoes only a few minutes ago but noticed one foot was already shoe-less. “Faith, where is yer shoe?”

She looked about the room, as if it had only occurred to her then that one was missing. “Dinna ken.”

He found it quickly, just on the floor by the side of the bed, and knelt in front of Faith to slip it back on her wee foot. He felt her hands come to rest on his shoulders to steady herself while she stood momentarily on one foot. It was a small moment ‒ just the act of helping this wee lass with her shoe ‒ but his heart squeezed all the same, for the simple trust she had in him to help her. Their heads were bent right next to each other’s so once he’d straightened her shoe, he lifted his head and gave her cheek a kiss.

She smiled and stamped her foot down excitedly.

“Aye, ye ready tae go now?” He laughed, pushing one stubborn red curl off her forehead and back behind her bonnet. “There. Now ye’re ready.”

 

They left from Inverness in a coach bound for Edinburgh, having discussed the plan with Mary the night before. Unsure of what to do with Donas, Jamie had arranged to have him hitched to the back of the coach.

They were jounced along in the coach as the wheels turned over the rough terrain of the main road from Inverness. Jamie had forgotten how it felt, having not stepped foot in a carriage since Paris. Faith wasn’t too keen on it, either, since all the jostling about meant that she couldn’t move around. Instead, she was stuck in Jamie’s lap or on the seat next to him.

Mary sat across from them and stared out the window. When the coach lurched suddenly, she grabbed her belly subconsciously.

Jamie had almost forgotten in his haste to make a new plan yesterday: she carried Alex Randall’s child ‒ more than that, she carried within her the start of a line that ended 200 years from now, with the man Jamie had just returned Claire to.

It was an odd realization, and though he held no ill feelings towards Mary, he did inwardly curse the twisted, tangled ties between his family and the Randalls.

On a particularly rough bump, Mary grabbed her belly and this time caught Jamie’s eye and quickly looked away, her face aflame.

Oh, aye, he wasn’t supposed to know about the baby. She wasn’t supposed to have a baby to think of yet, having only married Randall less than a week ago.

“Claire told me ye were wi’ child,” he offered, his tone purposefully light. She visibly relaxed at those words but didn’t say anything. Perhaps she’d assumed he would have judged her harshly for the child that was clearly conceived out of wedlock, but she’d never understand the necessity of this baby’s life to Jamie, how the child was part of the pattern that brought Claire into his life, that ensured there would be someone to care for her back in her time.

“I’m glad ye’ll have a piece of him with ye.”

Mary smiled sadly, her gaze flickering to Faith with a knowing look. His piece of Claire. She looked out the window again, glassy-eyed, and he inwardly chided himself for even bringing the baby up. After all… she’d lost her love less than a week ago. One look at Mary Hawkins Randall was all it took to see she was barely hanging on.

 

There was a shout from the front of the carriage and a sudden lurch as the horses began to slow. They were stopping.

“S-s-soldiers,” Mary uttered, catching sight of something out the window.

He grabbed hold of Faith and swiftly moved to the other side of the carriage, taking the seat beside Mary. “Hold her,” he said quietly, passing Faith into Mary’s lap. “And dinna be afraid,” he added, noting her ghostly pallor. “We’ll be alright.”

He didn’t have the benefit of hiding his dirk in the folds of his kilt, but he drew it from its sheath and obscured it from view under the folds of Mary’s dress where it fanned out onto the seat between them.

They could hear voices ahead of them and it seemed an eternity that they waited for the Redcoats to finish addressing the coachman.

Finally, a soldier appeared through the windows and flung open the carriage door on the side closest to Jamie.

Jamie felt Mary flinch at his side. Ah Dhia...

“Mister and Mistress Mayfield?”

“Y-yes,” Mary answered after a moment. The name had been her suggestion ‒ her mother’s family’s name ‒ and it had sounded English enough to Jamie.

The man’s gaze flicked briefly between Jamie and Mary before addressing Jamie again. “Coachman says you are traveling to Edinburgh.”

“Y-y-yes, that’s c-c-c-correct.”

The soldier shot Mary an exasperated look before he swung his gaze curiously back to Jamie, who kept his expression neutral but tightened his grip on the blade.

“Do you always let your woman speak for you, sir?”

“H-he can-can-can’t s-s-s-speak‒”

Each stutter of Mary’s tongue was painful as she struggled to get the words out under the gaze of the increasingly irritated soldier. “Right, and neither can you from the sounds of it,” he muttered. The man eyed Jamie with obvious doubtfulness and turned suddenly, disappearing from the carriage doorway. The murmured voices of the soldier speaking with another filtered in through the open carriage, but Jamie couldn’t make out what they were saying.

He rolled his jaw tensely, and glanced at Mary, trying to give reassurance with only a look, but Mary kept her head down, her attention turned to Faith.

The soldier returned a moment later, his comrade standing at his shoulder, and asked a few more questions about who they were, where they were going, why they were here, and why Jamie couldn’t speak. Each question was answered painstakingly by Mary, whose stutter became more pronounced under the soldiers’ obvious frustration.

They had prepared for an encounter such as this, but it stretched out painfully and stirred up an anxious feeling in his gut. Jamie was tensed and ready, watchful of the soldiers. He had no idea if there were more with them, ahead of the carriage and blocked from his line of sight.

Faith squirmed in Mary’s lap suddenly, trying to slide to the floor, but Mary gripped her tight. “N-n-n-not just yet,” she said softly to the girl.

Faith whined and fired back a quick “no” of her own, and Jamie felt his pulse thrumming in his ears. She hadn’t spoken much, but she did have a distinct Highland lilt to her voice that could be heard if she spoke further.

Mary began to look panicked, struggling to control Faith in front of the soldiers, and Jamie released his hold of the dirk in favor of plucking Faith from Mary’s grasp. He bounced the toddler on his knee and silently prayed to God she would keep still and silent.

“Is that red hair that she has?”

Jamie felt all the breath leave his lungs at the soldier’s words. In all the movement, that wayward curl had slipped free from Faith’s bonnet and fallen across her forehead.

“M-m-m-m-my m-m-m-m‒” Mary tried to jump in with an explanation.

Christ,” the soldier swore under his breath. “Haven’t got all day to listen to this half-wit,” he turned and said to his companion, though all of them heard loud and clear. Mary made a choked sound at Jamie’s side, but he wouldn’t tear his eyes off of the soldiers.

The man turned back to them with a keen glance between Jamie, Mary, and Faith. Finally, his gaze settled on Jamie and he addressed him, “You sure that child is yours?”

The man smirked then, seeing he’d ruffled Jamie’s feathers, and Jamie’s hand tightened possessively around Faith. “You’re free to go, but I’ll warn you to be careful in these parts. Highlanders will kill you on sight if they know you’re English. Absolute barbarians, they are. Best of luck on your journey.”

And with that, the soldier closed the carriage door and signaled to the coachman that they could leave. The carriage jolted forward and Mary exhaled shakily. “That was b-bloody close,” she said in a tight whisper, and Jamie’s gaze snapped to her in surprise at hearing her curse.

“Ye did well, Mary. I’m only sorry ye had to deal with them at all. Are ye alright?”

Her hands were clasped so tight in her lap that her knuckles were bone-white. “Yes.”

After a moment, she added, “It gets worse w-when I’m upset. My s-st-stutter.”

“Aye, I figured as much. It’s understandable. And it doesna mean ye’re half-witted. Ye canna believe him.”

Mary nodded slightly at this and her gaze shifted out the window. He took that opportunity to move back over to the seat across from her, giving her space.

“And you, a leannan,” he murmured to Faith, adjusting her in his arms to try and encourage her to rest her head. Lord, he had thought for a moment there that they would’ve been found out. His racing heart still hadn’t settled. “Lay yer head, lass. Rest, if ye can.”

She curled in at his neck and sighed heavily. Only a few minutes later, she was asleep.

 

The coach stopped at dusk at a tavern along the way. They had been riding in the carriage since they left Inverness that morning and had stopped very few times to stretch their legs and relieve themselves.

Jamie’s body felt stiff and achy as he stepped out of the carriage with Faith in one arm and turned to help Mary down.

The coachman told them what time they would be leaving in the morning and then they were on their own. The tavern was half-populated and not much to look at, but it was warm and there was a hot meal ready for them when they asked.

It wasn’t the same one he’d visited with Claire, when the weather had turned too cold and his troops had taken shelter indoors, so he wasn’t sure why he’d thought of it ‒ and her ‒ as he took in his surroundings.

I miss her…

He could hear her pained voice from that night as clear as a bell, and the guilt and grief stormed his chest once more. And, God, did he miss Claire more than anything else.

 

Their room for the night was nicer than he expected ‒ though after eight months at war, Jamie might’ve easily been impressed with a field to sleep in, out under the stars. There was a bed as well as chairs by the fireplace ‒ all looking a little worse for wear but still acceptable. Along one wall was a door which led into a small washroom with an empty tub, a chamber pot, and a small pitcher and basin for washing.

“Spot by the hearth is fine enough for me and Faith tonight,” Jamie said decidedly.

Mary glanced toward the bed. “Faith could share with m-me, I don’t mind.”

He smiled gently at that. “Tis verra kind of ye. But I want to be the one that cares for her, since…” His gaze dropped to Faith, still in his arms, and he struggled to get the words out ‒ that Claire was truly gone. “Since I’m all she has left. And if she wakes, I want tae be there.”

Mary nodded at that and murmured something about cleaning up before disappearing into the back washroom.

Faith appeared to be leached of energy from the full day of traveling and hardly put up a fight when Jamie slipped her out of her travel clothes and into a nightgown. “There, isna that better?”

She rubbed one eye with the back of her hand and sighed, refusing to answer. She’d been chatty at supper but had hardly made a peep since they’d been shown to their room.

“My puir wean,” he chuckled lightly. “Ye look half-asleep on yer feet. Let’s wash up and then ye can rest, mo chridhe.”

He helped her wash up and then splashed his own face and neck with water to wipe away the grit and grime of the day. Mary had already settled in bed for the night so he guided Faith over by the fire where Mary had sensibly provided a pillow and one of the blankets from the bed for them, on top of the thick rug that was already laid there.

In consideration of Mary, Jamie had only removed his waistcoat and stock, and untucked his sark for sleep. He stretched out on the floor and encouraged Faith to lay down. She paced around him before flopping down at his side and letting her head fall on his chest. He rubbed a hand over her back lightly.

“How about a story, lass?” He didn’t wait for Faith’s response, already committed to telling her, but Faith curled up on his chest and seemed ready to listen all the same. “I promised ye I’d tell ye about yer mam.”

My mam…” Faith echoed softly, tiredly, and his heart clenched to hear her say it.

“Aye, that’s right. Yer mam loves ye so much, a leannan.” He ran his fingers gently over her short wispy curls.

He thought of the moment earlier with the soldiers and a nameless fear he couldn’t identify then.

“Faith,” he said suddenly, “Ye ken… ye ken I’m yer da, aye?” He’d never said it, not in the two days since Murtagh had brought her back into his life and fate had conspired to keep her there with him. She lifted her head and looked at him. “I’m yer da,” he repeated softly, feeling oddly nervous and vulnerable.

Faith dropped her head back onto his chest and was overtaken by a big yawn, nuzzling into Jamie on the exhale. Somehow that was enough. Yes, she knew.

He told her everything he could of the moment he met Claire, mindful that Mary might still be awake and listening, and everything that happened in their early days of friendship at Leoch and falling in love with her. Faith didn’t last long into the tale before sleep claimed her.

At some point before falling asleep, she had shifted so that her whole body was laid along his torso, her head pillowed up by his shoulder.

His hand settled on her back so that he would feel if she started to roll off.

“Used tae be so wee I could hold all of ye in one hand,” he murmured to his sleeping child. “Ye’re so grown, Faith. Hadna realized all that I missed.” He swallowed thickly, feeling a maelstrom of emotion in his chest. “I didna wish tae separate ye both ‒ you ken that. But I… I dinna take it for granted, a nighean… that I get tae be the one that’s wi’ ye now.”

 


 

A loud thud startled him from sleep and he sat up swiftly, clutching Faith as he did, but of course she was roused, too.

His first realization was that it hadn’t grown dark in the room ‒ the fire was still blazing in the hearth ‒ so he must not have been asleep for too long.

His second realization was that the sound had come from someone busting the door of their room open.

Standing there in the open doorway was a ghost of Jamie’s past. Someone Claire had promised would die yesterday, on the battlefield of Culloden.

Mary scrambled out of bed with a scream, landing on the side away from the door, as Jamie stood to his feet. Black Jack Randall took that time to wander into the room and close the door behind him.

“You both look rather shocked. Hmm? Didn’t expect that I’d come after you?”

“Y-y-y-you died…” Mary looked from Randall to Jamie.

“Mary,” Jamie said evenly, never breaking eye contact with Randall, “take her into the other room.”

He’d shifted towards her so Mary could grab Faith. Not needing further coaxing, Mary and Faith disappeared into the back room.

“I must say, for as much of a fuss as you’ve made over your beloved wife before, it was surprising to learn you’d taken mine away right under my nose.” Randall’s tone was dripping with disdain, his eyes ablaze with maddening fury.

Jamie stepped carefully back towards the fire, towards where he’d left his blade within reach while he’d slept. His mind was still reeling and he wasn’t up for Randall’s mind games.

Nevertheless, Randall pressed on, looking half-crazed as he came more into the light. “What happened, Fraser? Your wife realized she couldn’t actually forgive you? Couldn’t even bear to take your child with her when she left?”

Jamie saw red at those words, could hear his own pulse echoing in his ears. “Ye willna speak of my wife or my child ever again.”

Randall was advancing on him, armed with his own sword.

“Did ye no’ even fight in the battle then?” Jamie asked, trying to distract him. Claire said he would die there, and yet…

Randall bristled at the insinuation. “I fought,” he spat. It was then Jamie noticed the slight gash on the side of Randall’s head. The blood had crusted over, no longer bleeding, but the wound was there. “But where were you? Hmm? Fleeing the battle and stealing Mary away. That’s my brother’s child she’s carrying!”

 


 

Mary latched the door as soon as it shut, plunging her and Faith into complete darkness. There were no windows and she hadn’t thought to grab a candle. But the latch on the other door hadn’t stopped him from breaking into their room tonight, she realized. Shifting Faith to one hip, she began to feel about the small room for any sort of weapon. Her choices were severely limited and she’d started to search for something heavy in lieu of dangerous when her fingers felt Jamie’s straight razor. That would have to do.

She set Faith down in the farthest corner from the door. Grumpy and confused, the small child began to whimper. “D-d-don’t cry, Faith.” Mary flipped open the blade and went to stand in front of Faith. Just then, she heard John’s voice raise and his words sent a chill down her spine ‒ That’s my brother’s child she’s carrying.

Her free hand went to her curved belly ‒ her last piece of Alex. She couldn’t shake the image of John on the day she’d had to marry him, the day she lost Alex. The way he’d acted… the way his voice raised now. She wouldn’t let him near her child. She couldn’t.

She was vaguely aware of Faith’s small hands grabbing fistfulls of her robe to hold onto her. A sweet innocent child, and the only thing between her and the man Mary most feared was Mary herself.

Something loud crashed outside the room, and she could no longer hear any voices. Only the sounds of a scuffle. She reached behind her and stroked Faith’s hair, hoping to soothe the child, but unable to turn from the door. She held the razor in hand in case it was needed.

It felt like an eternity in that small room before it grew uncomfortably quiet. No sounds from out there.

Until someone tried the door and Mary nearly jumped out of her skin, pressing Faith further behind her.

“Mary? It’s me. Ye can unlock the door but dinna let Faith out here yet.”

“Is-is he‒?”

“Gone. That is, I need to move the… the body.”

Relief swamped her and she let out the breath she’d been holding.

“Are ye alright in there?”

“Yes. We’re b-both fine.” She closed the straight razor with shaking hands and placed it back by the water pitcher.

“Good. I’ll let ye ken when it’s safe tae come out.”

 


 

Jamie stood in the center of the room, looking down at Randall’s lifeless body. And though it had been Randall that came after him, a death at Jamie’s own hands was still a death on his conscience. A stain on his already dark soul. But he’d do it again in a heartbeat to protect any member of his family, and so he felt absolved of this sin through that divine responsibility alone.

It wasn’t very late in the night ‒ all three of them had been too tired after supper to stay up and went to sleep early, and Randall had found them not long after. He could still hear the indistinct voices and movement from the first floor of the tavern below, so others were still up.

So he couldn’t bring the body out of the room without notice.

And he wouldn’t dare leave it in the room where it could be found the next morning and endanger Mary and Faith if anyone sought after them.

Window it is, then.

He unlatched the window and pushed it open, peering out to see what lay below. The window faced the back of the tavern by where the horses were tied, but directly below the window was nothing but ground. Beyond the small stable was a stretch of trees and, yes, he’d have to be careful, but he could go around back and move the body out toward those trees. No one would be any wiser and it might be a few days at least before anyone found Randall.

 


 

“Mary?” He called out, trying the door to the back room and finding it unlatched this time.

“Here,” she said quietly, her voice enveloped in darkness. He held a candle out towards the sound and saw her seated in the corner with Faith curled up in her lap.

“Is she asleep?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’ve… taken care of it, but I’ll need yer help cleaning up. Be best if Faith didna see it.”

He set the candle down and carefully gathered Faith before helping Mary to her feet.

The room was in disarray but the greatest concern at the moment was the small pool of blood on the floor.

Jamie set Faith down on the bed for the time being. She curled up into a ball on top of the covers and sighed, never fully waking. He thanked his lucky stars that she had been spared from any further distress on this evening, and with any further luck, she wouldn’t even remember this night in years to come.

His hand smoothed over Faith’s curls. He’d never wanted a bastard such as Randall to even lay eyes on her, but the one comfort to him was that he’d taken Randall out of this world with his own two hands shortly after.

He thought of Fergus then, too, and his throat constricted. He wanted to tell the lad that the monster no longer drew breath, that he had seen to it himself that they would never be tormented by Randall again.

Mary’s gasp pulled him from his thoughts. “You’re injured!”

He looked down at his right arm where a bright red stain had soaked through his white shirt. “Aye,” he acknowledged, tilting his head toward the fire where a kettle was boiling strips of fabric. “That’s what the clean bandages are for.”

Mary took this in stride, and he remembered that she’d spent plenty of time volunteering with Claire at the hospital in Paris. She’d probably heard stranger things than boiling rags from his wife.

“We should take care of that first, before the room. And you’ll need to clean that shirt.”

He was surprised at first to see she meant to help him, but reckoned he couldn’t tie a bandage around his own arm one-handed.

“Aye,” he agreed, digging out his flask of whiskey. “Wash it out with this first.”

He peeled off his shirt and was able to see how deep the gash in his arm went. Claire might’ve stitched it up, but they didn’t have Claire here with them. Only a moment later did he consider how his being shirtless might’ve made Mary uncomfortable ‒ he recalled the way Claire first spoke of her in Paris, as an innocent, naive girl ‒ but she went about cleaning his wound with a detached professionalism, no longer scandalized by the sight of a half-naked man. Still only a young lass at seventeen, but the years since had changed her from that first introduction.

“She’d be furious at me, if she could see me now,” Jamie offered up in the silence.

Mary snorted softly at that, her brows relaxing slightly from their furrowed concentration. He peeked over at Faith where she was still curled up on top of the bed. “I worry…” he began and then stopped, deciding it was perhaps not something Mary would want to discuss just yet.

“What?” she prodded, pausing in her work.

“I worry that I canna keep Claire alive for her. Even telling her stories… it’s no’ the same as having memories. Faith will ken as much about her mother as I can tell her, but it’s no’ the same as knowing a person, knowing what they’d say tae ye. I ken exactly the look Claire would have for me, the way she’d scold me. Faith willna have that same knowledge.”

Mary didn’t respond, but she sighed heavily and he knew. It was the same for her. In the months to come, she would bear a child that would never know his father.

“But we do what we can, I suppose,” Jamie said quietly. He was growing used to her quietness and filling in the silences.

Mary pressed a large bandage over the wound when she was done and tied it as tight as she could manage.

“Thank ye,” he said and stood, going to wash his shirt in the back room.

She made a small sound, both alarmed and horrified, and he realized he’d turned his back to her, giving her full view of his scars.

He turned, finding her looking away now as though she hadn’t seen. But the shock was there on her face. The pity. His skin prickled. “It was Randall,” he said tersely, and turned and left.

 

Jamie emerged from the back room later, having cleaned the blood from his shirt as best he could, to find Mary straightening the room. “You t-told me he died b-before the battle…”

His stomach twisted into knots. So it was time for that conversation. Only he couldn’t tell her the truth of the matter. “I thought… I thought he had died. I didna mean to mislead ye, I promise.”

Her hands fiddled with a rag, twisting and folding it and unringing it. “How did he-he find us?”

Jamie sighed, piecing together what made sense from what little Randall had shared. “Seems he returned tae the boarding house some time after we left. Must’ve learnt about the coach and followed after it.”

She appeared visibly shaken ‒ and he couldn’t say he blamed her ‒ but she nodded at that and went back to cleaning up the room.

They worked in silence until the room had been returned to its former state.

“I thought he was a kind man, when I first met him,” Mary said suddenly, as if the words needed to get out. She sunk into the closest chair and Jamie took the other. “H-he was so kind to Alex and he paid for everything once Alex couldn’t work any longer.”

“Ye had no reason to believe otherwise.”

And ye likely dinna ken the whole truth of him still, he thought.

“N-not until it was too late. I saw the way he talked to Claire, and-and when Alex died, how he‒” Mary shook her head abruptly, no doubt reliving the moment.

“I’m sorry for what ye went through, lass,” he said earnestly, though it only added to his relief that the nightmare had ended for more than just his own family.

“When he showed up h-here, I thought… that was it. If he got to me, I’d never get away again. I hid in that room with Faith and your straight razor in case he got through, but I‒” Mary swallowed roughly. “Well. A lot of good that would’ve done, anyway,” she said wryly.

“Ye’re verra brave, Mary. More brave than ye get credit for. I canna forget what ye did tae that bastard at Bellmont last winter ‒ and rightly so. I wouldna want to cross ye while ye wielded a blade.”

Mary let out a surprised laugh at that. “Yes, a terrifying prospect,” she joked.

“I mean it. I’m proud tae call ye my friend. And I thank ye for protecting Faith as ye did, truly. I ken what you’re risking tae help us.”

She smiled awkwardly, and seemed to struggle for a response. He got the impression then that she wasn’t used to such praise. That was the thing he was starting to see clearly about Mary ‒ everyone underestimated her on account of her stutter, her size, her reserved nature. Foolish, really, considering that she’d had strength enough to face one of her attackers and bravery to look a British soldier in the eye and lie to him while sitting next to Red Jamie.

“Well,” he added with some finality in his tone, “It’s gotten rather late and we’ve another long day of traveling ahead of us. I’ll leave ye to yer rest.”

Mary murmured her agreement, both of them feeling the weight of the day in that moment. He gathered Faith from Mary’s bed and carried her over to their spot by the hearth.

Jamie settled Faith on the floor, her head on the pillow, and gently arranged himself next to her, laying on his uninjured side. His arm slung across her protectively, sheltering her, and he pressed a kiss to the crown of her head.

His last thought before sleep, as it had been the night before, was of Claire. I’ll see that our lass is safe, Sassenach. No matter what comes.

Chapter Text

There were three things Claire was keenly aware of in that moment. First, that they were weeks behind Jamie and the gap of time seemed to stretch out ahead of them like the horizon ‒ something they’d never quite reach. The second was the gentle weight of Fergus’s head resting against her shoulder blade while he held loosely to her as their horse kept pace just behind Murtagh’s. She hated to move Fergus, and to stall their progress in closing the gap, but the third thing she was aware of was her bladder getting squished ‒ yet again ‒ as her body tried to accommodate its steadily growing inhabitant.

“Wait!” she called ahead to Murtagh as she started to slow her horse’s pace. Murtagh’s head whipped back frantically, but seeing no present sign of danger, there was a flash of irritation on his face ‒ but only for a moment. He slowed to a stop.

“I’ll be quick.”

Fergus slipped off the horse first and grabbed the reins so Claire could dismount. She did hurry, but the frequent breaks surely weren’t helping them catch up.

Inverness had been a bitter disappointment, to learn that Jamie and Faith had left the very next morning after Culloden and taken Mary with them. They were chasing after ghosts, not knowing the plan or final destination. The matron of the boarding house had only been able to give them the direction that the carriage left in, and from there, their search party stopped at every village, small town, and tavern along the way to inquire if a coach had passed through about 3 weeks ago.

The faint thrill of confirming Claire’s suspicion that Jamie had gone to Inverness first had quickly waned as they cobbled together some sort of trajectory to follow.

Only days before, in their trek through the war-torn Highlands, they’d caught on to the coach’s trail, with confirmed sightings of it that matched the time it should have passed through.

Still… as hard as it was to chase after Jamie and Faith, weeks behind them, they did so knowing that by all indications, Jamie and Faith were still alive and free, traveling under a guise with Mary Hawkins. That kept them pushing forward.

They started to build a map in their minds, comparing the direction the coach was traveling with potential destinations on the other side of that. Like Aberdeen or Dundee, or perhaps even further, into Perth or Edinburgh or Glasgow. And though Mary traveled with them… surely they wouldn’t cross into England…

“There’s a village no more’n half a day’s ride,” Murtagh said as Claire mounted her horse again and held steady while Fergus clamored up behind her. “We should aim tae make it there before dark. See if there’s anyone in town we can talk tae.”

Claire nodded briskly. “I’m sure we can manage that.” She glanced over her shoulder at Fergus. “All set?”

“Oui.”

“Then lead the way, Murtagh.”

 

 

And amidst all of this was a fourth awareness, ever-present since she’d opened her eyes that morning. Something never far from her mind and that kept her heart heavy even as they chased desperately after her husband and child.

This day was Faith’s second birthday. And Claire was missing it.

 

 

“Ye’d swear th’ whole village was blind…” Murtagh groused, mostly to himself. Then his gaze locked with Fergus’s and this time he directed his next words to the boy. “No’ a single intelligent person anywhere to be found.”

He proceeded to prepare the fresh-caught game for their dinner, not expecting a reply. Fergus stayed silent and swung his gaze over to Claire, checking her reaction.

She smiled slightly, all that she could muster in the moment.

“Where will we go now?” Fergus asked her.

“We’ll still keep pressing southward along the most likely route they would be traveling.” She tried to look more confident in that plan, but caught Murtagh’s frown and figured it hadn’t been too reassuring to Fergus. “Not the first place we’ve stopped without getting answers,” she added as a reminder.

“I suppose,” was all Fergus said to that. He’d built a fire and stacked the wood how Claire had taught him, so that a new log would feed into the fire once the one before it had turned to ash.

They’d made it to the village well before dark and after their rather unsuccessful encounter with the locals, they’d had time to head out to the woods and set up camp. With limited funds that they weren’t sure how far would need to be stretched, they rarely ate in town or stayed at a tavern for the night.

When the food had been cooked over the fire, Claire divided up the portions, giving Murtagh the largest. He tore off some of the meat from his portion and pushed it back into Claire’s hands. “Ye dinna eat enough,” he said in response to her bewilderment.

They ate the bird and some of the potatoes Jenny had provided.

“It’s Faith’s birthday,” Claire said softly over the crackle of the fire. “She’s two.”

Her statement was met with resounding silence from Murtagh and Fergus, except for the soft Scottish harrumph from the older man that she couldn’t quite interpret.

She wasn’t sure what she expected out of telling them, other than it felt wrong to let the day pass without acknowledging it in some way.

Fergus wiped one greasy hand on his pants and reached into his bag propped next to him. He fished out his wooden horse and set it to stand in the grass between him and Claire while he chewed. “Sometimes we have to wait for things, Milady,” he said kindly ‒ sagely, even ‒ while talking around the mouthful of food.

She locked eyes with him and felt her vision swim with tears when he nodded encouragingly. They’d asked him to wait when it was his birthday ‒ smack dab in the middle of a war ‒ and he was still waiting. Still believing that his wish would come to fruition ‒ that it would be Jamie who picked out the horse for him. And in order for that to happen, Fergus had to believe that they would be reunited.

“We will see le petit again.”

“Yes, we will,” she murmured in agreement.

And she did believe that. It was only… she was desperate to find them and had hoped to be reunited with them swiftly. But the reality was setting in… of how long and how far they might be searching still.

And all the while, Claire was missing more days, more moments in her daughter’s life that she’d never get back. How many days had she already lost… and how many more would be swallowed up in the time it took to find her?

 

 

That night, Claire couldn’t sleep. She gave up after a while of lying there in the dark, listening to the soft crackling of a dying fire and the rustling of the wind through the trees, and finally pulled herself into a seated position facing the fire instead.

She caught Murtagh’s gaze across the fire instantly. “Not you too?”

“Aye,” he sighed.

“What’s keeping you up, then?” she asked, mostly so he wouldn’t ask her first.

He paused, linking his fingers together over his propped up knees. “Was thinking o’ the wee lass,” Murtagh admitted hesitantly, and Claire felt an instant pang in her heart. “The last time I saw her… and better times, too. Before the rising. At Lallybroch.”

She smiled against the urge to cry ‒ lately, she seemed on the verge of tears at any moment, the cause of which could never be determined between her raging pregnancy hormones or the pain of separation from Jamie and Faith. More than likely, it was some tangled-up knot of both things, she reasoned.

“She is a canny wee lass, and sae bonny and sweet.”

She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Murtagh cared for Faith ‒ had seen firsthand at Lallybroch how the baby could draw a smile out of the dour old man better than anyone else ‒ but she’d never heard him articulate it so.

And god, it hurt like nothing else ever had ‒ missing Faith and knowing she had other loved ones who were missing her just the same.

Murtagh breathed in deep, and let his breath out slowly, his gaze on the dwindling flames. “I’m only sorry and heartsick for my role in all this… that I played a part in why ye canna see yer lass now, on the anniversary o’ her birth.”

She felt her throat constrict and shook her head. How many rounds of the blame game had she played for herself? “No, Murtagh… I’m sorry,” she managed in a hoarse whisper. “For what I said when I came back. For striking you. I don’t blame you for any of this. I was terrified and angry that they weren’t back at Lallybroch like I’d hoped, and I took it out on you.” She thought of her conversation with Jenny, and the words they’d repeated to each other in reassurance, in absolution. “None of us knew. None of us chose this outcome.”

She stared across at his hardened face, the lines of it appearing sharper in the fading light of the fire. He didn’t speak, and she wondered if that meant he wouldn’t accept her words for himself.

“Please forgive me?”

“Och,” he said immediately. “There’s nothing tae forgive, lass.”

They fell quiet for a moment, each absorbed in their own thoughts. Had her words made any difference, or did he still blame himself even if she didn’t?

 


 

There was a strange sense that they were merely retracing steps they’d already taken during the rising. That’s how it felt to Claire at least as they entered Kingussie, near where they had started training Jamie’s men back in August of last year.

They walked into Kingussie on account of Murtagh’s horse needing a new shoe. Upon arriving, Claire handed Murtagh a few coins for the blacksmith and considered out loud how much food she should purchase to replenish their stock.

It was then they all seemed to take notice of a handful of Redcoats exiting the tavern.

“Fergus, stay close to me,” Claire instructed as they parted with Murtagh.

She’d thought Fergus was right behind her as she walked through the small market and picked out some grains and vegetables to pair with the fish or meat that Murtagh usually provided for their meals.

She turned a corner and nearly knocked Fergus over. “Oh. Where have you been?” She set her basket down and her hands went instantly to her hips.

Fergus shook his head as if to indicate that was of little importance.

“Here, Milady.” He reached for her hand and dropped several coins into it.

Her eyes went wide with shock. “Fergus!”

He turned defensive at her tone, seeing she wasn’t exactly pleased. “I will not let you starve! And there is le bébé as well. I heard Murtagh say you need to eat well enough so it can grow.”

“Yes, but do you understand that there are very real consequences to stealing if you are caught?” she snapped at him in a harsh whisper. There was a flash of indignation in his eyes at that.

“I will not get caught.”

She grabbed him by the shoulder and tugged him over to a more secluded spot away from the market stalls.

“You might! There’s always the risk and ‒ for Christ’s sake, Fergus, there are British soldiers right here in town!”

“Where do you think I found those coins?”

She was horrified at what he’d just admitted, with the sudden urge to sequester him out of town immediately, should any of the Redcoats realized what had been done.

“Milord would not have doubted me,” he added accusingly, clearly in response to whatever he’d read in her face.

She recoiled from his words. “It’s not a matter of doubt, I‒”

There was a flicker of movement in her periphery and when she glanced over, what she found made her blood run cold.

Murtagh, on the other side of town from them, surrounded by the soldiers.

Fergus’s head whipped around and Claire had barely enough time to slip a hand over his mouth and hold him back with the other arm before he did something truly stupid.

Don’t, Fergus,” she pleaded in a desperate whisper as he struggled to break free and rush toward Murtagh. “He’ll be alright. Don’t provoke them. He knows what to do.”

You’ll get yourself killed…

All the while, her heart thundered in her chest, and she hoped that what she’d said would remain true; Murtagh was a stubborn Scot through and through, but he wasn’t stupid. He was outnumbered five to one. Should these soldiers happen to have rosters of Jacobite soldiers, they wouldn’t find Murtagh’s name on it. Jamie had had the foresight to keep Murtagh and the Lallybroch men off of any records during the war.

And with a month having passed since the battle, Murtagh had put away his kilts at Claire’s insistence and now wore breeks. He didn’t look the part of a Jacobite soldier and there was no way these men could prove that Murtagh had fought.

Unless one of them recognized him…

Claire tried to steady her breathing and when she felt as though Fergus had gained some semblance of self-control, she let her hand fall away from his mouth, but still held him anchored in place beside her.

They watched the exchange between Murtagh and the soldiers but were too far away to catch what was being said.

But she took in the way the soldiers acted, the glances they shared, the way they held themselves tall and proud.

And the way Murtagh had to shrink in their presence.

The Redcoats were the recent victors, having put down the Jacobite rebellion. And to them, that meant they could assert their superiority over the people of Scotland as they saw fit.

Finally, the soldiers appeared to be ready to move on, some of them shifting their weight from one foot to the other and beginning to turn and break off from the group.

But one soldier still spoke to Murtagh until suddenly and unexpectedly, Claire and Fergus watched as he spat in Murtagh’s face.

Fergus flinched with his whole body. Claire subconsciously tightened her hold on him and something between a cry and a sound of disgust slipped out of her.

The soldiers moved away then, nothing escalating from them, but it was the sight of Murtagh standing tall and refusing to wipe his face in front of them that finally broke Claire.

There had been no reason for it; the man had spit on Murtagh simply because he could. Because he knew Murtagh wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

And to watch helplessly while these men degraded Murtagh left her with an emblazoned fury building in her chest. They weren’t better than him. And she knew if it wasn’t for Fergus right beside her just then, she would’ve been tempted to do something about it herself.

But she wouldn’t risk her boy. And Murtagh wouldn’t want that either.

Fergus himself was seething at her side and she had to tug him away and turn him so she could look him in the eye.

“I will slit their throats,” he said with such conviction that she was stunned into silence for several beats.

“Look, I’m angry too,” she assured him. “But Murtagh is alright‒”

“They had no right to‒” “I know. I agree with you.”

“They should still pay for what they did.”

She drew in a deep breath and fished out the coins from her skirt pocket. “Let this be your revenge, hmm?”

Fergus seethed in front of her, sorting through his thoughts. “I wish I had waited to rob them until now,” he said finally. “I would have taken much more from them. Bastards.”

With that, she realized they’d reached a resolution, and with a heavy sigh, she placed one hand gently on the back of his neck to tug his head forward into the cradle of her chest. He went willingly, his slight arms snaking around her waist to hold tight. “It’d be much harder to look for Jamie and Faith if we’re on the run from the Redcoats,” she said softly, hoping this idea above all else might take root with Fergus. He was so god damn cavalier sometimes, he had no idea how often he’d scared the living daylights out of her by doing something careless and risky.

Fergus sighed heavily, still vibrating with frustration. “I know, Milady.”

They waited for Murtagh to find them, having come to some unspoken understanding not to bring up what happened with the soldiers or admit that they had witnessed it. When Murtagh did join them, he was terse and itching to move on from Kingussie as swiftly as could be arranged, which Claire didn’t begrudge him for.

Murtagh’s horse had been giving a new horseshoe and Claire had enlisted Fergus’s help in gathering a few more necessities to augment their dwindling supply. But there was usually another reason they spent time in each village before they could move on and Claire hesitantly pointed that out.

“Dinna need to ask around. I already learnt all we need to know.”

“Someone here saw Jamie and Faith?” she asked, feeling a little breathless. Fergus perked up at this.

“No’ exactly. But the blacksmith had a lot tae say about a certain devilish black beast he had the misfortune o’ re-shoeing a few weeks ago.”

“Donas!” Fergus said brightly.

“Aye.” He smiled slightly as he grabbed Fergus’s shoulder and gave him a playful shake. “So we’re on th’ right path, aye? Dinna fash, laddie.”

“Let’s not linger about then,” Claire said decidedly.

 

 

She could tell there was something else going on with Murtagh, but chalked it up to the encounter with the Redcoats.

They’d ridden for as long as they could after leaving Kingussie before stopping for the night. Their evening passed in a similar fashion as it did every other night, with the one exception that Murtagh had found a moment when Fergus was out of earshot to ask Claire to wait up after the boy fell asleep.

Once he had, Murtagh jumped into his news without preamble.

“Black Jack Randall is dead.”

Her stomach dropped.

“What?” Her gaze flew to the outline of Fergus’s slumbering form under his blanket. He didn’t stir.

Of course she knew that bit of information. She hadn’t forgotten Frank’s discovery that Randall seemed to have died away from the battlefield, within a few days of it. The thought that he’d gotten to Jamie and Faith had haunted her, but she knew by the time she had traveled back here ‒ by the time she had learned the news even ‒ it would have been too late to do anything about it.

“How‒”

“Redcoats,” Murtagh muttered. “That’s why they stopped me.”

“I knew he was dead,” Claire admitted. “But the soldiers told you that?”

“Aye and there’s a bit more. They found his body at a tavern just outside Carrbridge.”

Carrbridge. They had gone through there as well, spoken with the owner of the tavern who confirmed that a carriage had passed through there. Said nothing of a dead body, though. Murtagh said as much and Claire shrugged.

“Suppose that might be bad for business. What else did you learn about this?”

“No’ much, but they are looking for whoever killed him. That’s why they stopped me to ask about my whereabouts, where I was from.” He absently tossed a leaf into the fire and watched it burn up. “The good news is they dinna seem to have connected it tae Jamie.”

Neither of them had said it, but both of them knew. It had to be Jamie.

“Well, I guess that’s something,” Claire agreed. “Did they‒ I don’t suppose it would matter to the soldiers but… no one else was hurt?”

Murtagh’s gaze locked onto hers and he smiled sympathetically. “Didna say. But we do know they came through Kingussie afterwards. Blacksmith confirmed as much.”

A cold feeling had crept in and Claire hated to put it into words. “He said he saw the horse. He didn’t say anything about Jamie or Faith, did he?”

“He did say there was a rather large man who helped him wi’ Donas. I didna press for details, but I’m sure that was Jamie.”

That she could believe… but what of Faith?

“He wouldna have kept going if Faith was lost,” Murtagh said bluntly. “What reason would he have?”

“Well, Mary was still with him. I imagine he wouldn’t just abandon her to the wilds of Scotland to fend for herself, she being an Englishwoman after all.”

Murtagh grunted softly at that. “Ye’re tired, a nighean,” he said gruffly, in a way that Claire knew to mean that he cared. “Get some sleep.”

She smiled half-heartedly at that ‒ and did stretch out on her spot near the fire for the night. But sleep evaded her, as it so often had on this journey.

Even if Faith survived… had she been hurt? Had Jamie? And had she been scared, in whatever events unfolded when they encountered Black Jack Randall?

Claire had told herself so many times that they must’ve slipped away from the British ‒ and thus Randall ‒ as her way of coping with the unknown. But now… to know that he had found them… sought them out, even…

Until they found them and she could see for herself that they were alright, she wouldn’t have a moment of peace.

 


 

One day, a storm caught them unawares. Their last touchpoint to civilization was a day’s ride behind them, and they’d started their travel early that morning, when the clouds were only an unassuming, white canopy above them.

But then the sky darkened and thunder rumbled ominously in the distance, and by the time they were scrambling towards the trees, they’d already been caught in the torrential downpour of rain.

Fergus argued for the cause to keep going, even through the storm, but Claire was firm in stating the risks that that would pose, such as hypothermia and pneumonia. Murtagh was more concerned about the risk of mudslides with the horses, but the two of them were at least united in the cause to wait out the storm.

That was how they found themselves wedged tightly under a small shelter they’d constructed, huddled in a line in front of a small fire at the edge of the shelter.

Yet another delay in their journey.

She glanced down at Fergus and saw his face drawn tight with concern. Slipping an arm around his shoulders, she tugged him even closer to her. “You know, in my time… there are horseless carriages called automobiles. What I wouldn’t give to have one of those right now…”

Fergus’s brows furrowed as he considered this. “How do they move without a horse?”

“They’re motorized. They have something called an engine that makes them run. And they can go even faster than a horse.”

She passed the time describing everything she could of a modern car to Fergus, and then moved on to tanks, trains, bicycles, and aeroplanes. Much like Jamie, the concept of flying through the sky fascinated Fergus.

And once she’d run out of modes of transportation to describe, she fell quiet and let Fergus (and Murtagh, she assumed) ponder these oddities of the future.

“It sounds so grand, Milady,” he said at length, leaning his head back against her shoulder. The rain lessened some, but was still steadily coming down.

“Hmm,” she murmured softly. “Maybe some things in comparison to this time might seem that way…”

But she’d seen the ugliness of the World War in her time, and she’d found beauty in this time, considered to be crude and uncivilized in comparison.

“Do you miss it at all?”

“No,” she said easily. “Although… the hot baths, yes. Especially now.”

Fergus pulled a face at that. “You can take hot baths in this time, Milady…” he said slowly, and she bit her lip to keep from laughing at him explaining that to her.

“Yes, I know, but it’s not nearly as much work in my time. Just turn on the faucet and it’s already hot.”

“... faucet? And how is it already hot?”

“Before ye begin tae explain that one, I think my heid’s already done in wi’ everything else ye’ve given me to consider,” Murtagh interjected suddenly.

“We can leave indoor plumbing for another day,” Claire agreed with a laugh.

 


 

They had reached a long stretch of wild country with little in the way of civilization. A land they had traversed before, twice during the rising. And along with their trek through the remote Highlands wilderness was an impending sense of dread. What if they missed a checkpoint or overshot Jamie’s path? Could somewhere within this deserted expanse of land be where he would choose to hide out from the British?

They were steering towards the village of Kenmore, Murtagh having decided that was the most likely stop on the journey. And since he’d been right about Jamie’s instinct to flee to the north two years ago, Claire was inclined to trust his judgement on this. Especially since he knew the landscape of this place much better than she did.

The nights had become the only moments on this journey when Claire and Murtagh could speak without Fergus being awake and present for the conversation.

Not every night. But enough that it had become something of a routine more often than not.

“Strange, isn’t it?” Claire began one night when the howl of the wind coming down from the mountain kept her from sleep. “That we’ve found ourselves at this again… searching for weeks but never quite finding him.”

Murtagh grunted in acknowledgement, a cheerless smile in place. “Och, aye. Canna forget that silly tune you sang during that time even if I tried.”

“What? The one you taught me?”

“Nay, lass,” He fired back indignantly. “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

She laughed as the memory resurfaced. “I sang that to you once.”

“Aye,” he said sourly, “And it stuck.”

“Hmm, my apologies for all you’ve apparently suffered as a result. I happen to like that one.”

“Weel, it never would ha’ worked for our purposes,” he said as one last hit against her song.

The wind whipped through their camp again and Claire pulled her thick shawl tighter about her. With the wind, the mood shifted, bringing them back to their reality. They were hungry, tired, cold, on what seemed like an endless journey. Their small moment of joy dissipated, as if carried away on the harsh wind itself.

“What if we never find him?” Claire uttered the words just above a whisper. “He has no idea we’re looking for him.”

She had no doubt that if Jamie Fraser wanted to disappear into the night without a trace, he could do it. And what would stop him?

The difference between this time and before was that Jamie had been looking for a way to return to her. Now, he believed her gone.

“Found him once before,” Murtagh reminded her.

“Yes. Captured. I’m less worried about that this time, though.”

“Then what?”

Claire shrugged, trying to appear more unaffected by her fears. “He has Faith with him. He thinks I’m gone. He knows the Redcoats will either kill him or imprison him if they find him… so he’d make sure they couldn’t be found, right? By anyone.”

Murtagh made that Scottish sound at the back of his throat and didn’t say anything else.

“And Fergus…” She drew in a shaky breath. “Well, I just worry. He loves Jamie so much… and I don’t know‒” She thought of that day in Kingussie, how he’d said Jamie would never doubt him. “If it’s just me that Fergus has… what if that’s not… enough?”

Claire.” Murtagh said her name in such a way that it felt as though he was gently chiding her. “The lad loves ye.”

Her throat clogged with emotion and she wiped gingerly at the silent tears that spilled down her cheeks.

Murtagh sighed heavily. “Ye didna see him. After Culloden. When I came back wi’ the news that Jamie would stay to fight… there was still a hope, ken? That Jamie could survive the battle. We waited for news o’ him for days and days. But ye and Faith were gone for good ‒ that’s what we kent at the time. For two weeks, Fergus grieved ye. Ye’re his family too. He doesna just want Jamie back… he needs ye both, ken.”

She nodded solemnly, still too choked up to speak as fresh tears clouded her eyes. He did something then he hadn’t yet in any of their late-night conversations; she watched as he stood and made his way over to her side of the fire, plopping down next to her. His arm went about her shoulders and gave her a gentle squeeze.

“S’alright, a nighean.”

She leaned her head against his shoulder, feeling more emotions in that moment than she could put into words, but taking comfort in Murtagh’s support and steadfast loyalty while everything else in her life felt shaky at best.

“I’m glad you’re here, searching with us.”

“Aye. I’m glad ye came back,” he said with tenderness in his voice. “And we’ll find Jamie and wee Faith. Dinna fash yerself.”

 


 

They were just departing from Sterling when the choice had to be made. Before them laid two potential paths with no indication of which one the carriage had traveled.

Should they go west towards Glasgow? Or East along the river towards Edinburgh?

Jamie’s end goal was still hazy to them, but they were fairly sure by now that he wouldn’t proceed much farther south than either of those cities.

“The lowlands were largely on the side of the British, so either place is risky,” Claire pointed out.

“Aye,” Murtagh sneered, none too pleased to have left the Highlands either way. “But Glasgow wasna a point of conflict during the rising. Edinburgh is likely still crawling with Redcoats since they recaptured it months ago.”

Claire considered this, wondering what Jamie would choose. What would be safer for Faith. “So Glasgow?”

“Glasgow,” Murtagh agreed.

 

 

“And how fast can they go, again?” Fergus’s curiosity had circled back around to the topic of cars, and Claire indulged him, having little else to pass the time while they traveled.

“There were some cars that could travel 80 miles per hour.”

Eighty?” She knew he couldn’t really grasp it, having never traveled that fast before, but the number was very high. Much faster than they could manage on horseback.

“Oh, yes. Dangerously fast.” She couldn’t explain what prompted her next words, perhaps born out of her desire to protect those she could while struggling with the separation from Jamie and Faith. “They can be terribly dangerous. That’s how my parents were killed when I was young. A car accident.”

Fergus was quiet for a moment and she wished he wasn’t seated behind her so she could see his face.

“I did not know that, Milady,” he said softly, with an undercurrent of compassionate understanding she didn’t expect most eleven-year-olds possessed. His arms gave her waist a gentle squeeze and she patted his hands where they rested overlapping on her stomach.

“Didn’t seem relevant exactly when I was giving everyone the truth of the stones and where I’d come from. But yes, I should’ve told you. I lost them when I was five. After that, I went to stay with Uncle Lamb.”

She caught the slight chuckle from Fergus. Yes, those stories he had heard, some even before the truth of her origins, though those were always carefully constructed. He’d heard a few more on this journey and always delighted in them.

“I didn’t realize you were a girl then. With Uncle Lamb,” Fergus admitted and then, after some consideration, added, “I can’t imagine you as a child, Milady.”

“What, this whole time you thought I was an adult in all my stories with Uncle Lamb?”

“Yes,” he admitted with a laugh.

“I guess that makes sense. I always had trouble picturing my parents as younger than I would’ve known them. My Uncle Lamb too, for that matter.”

Their conversation lapsed in a comfortable sort of way. There was an intimacy in their shared experience and though Murtagh was only a few feet ahead of them, he felt miles away from their small bubble. And what Murtagh shared about Fergus’s grief was never very far from her mind.

“I used to play a game when I was little. After my parents died and I went to live with my uncle. I would pretend that they were out there in the world somewhere, still alive, and they would come get me eventually. It felt easier sometimes, if I could just pretend that I was waiting on them.”

“I used to play a game,” Fergus began quietly and Claire strained to listen, “that I had ended up at Maison Elise by mistake and my parents were looking for me all that time. I would imagine what it would be like to have them show up and take me away, to a home.”

“What was it like? What did you imagine?”

“It was one of those big houses that I would pass on my walks through Le Marais. Of course I’d never been inside a house that grand until Milord brought me to Monsieur Jared’s house. That house was more beautiful than any of my imaginings.”

She felt his head come to rest against her back again. “Of course, by then I did not need to imagine such things anymore.”

Her heart leapt to her throat and she gave another reassuring squeeze of his hands within her own.

 


 

They’d lost the trail.

By now, they’d learned to not give up if they came up empty at the first and second stops, but by their sixth time coming up empty, the doubt began to set in.

“Do we double back?” Claire asked. “Head for Edinburgh?”

In some part of her brain, the question rolled around that maybe this had been Jamie’s plan all along. For weeks, she’d feared reaching a point where any trace of them simply vanished.

Murtagh seemed to catch that look of despair in her eyes. “We head back to our last confirmed sighting. Go from there.”

Back to Sterling. From his spot behind Murtagh, Claire watched as Fergus’s face fell at the realization of the time they’d wasted since choosing Glasgow.

 


 

Fergus’s bedding was angled in such a way that when he curled up for the night, his head rested close to Claire’s.

“You’re quiet tonight,” she said softly to him, propping her head up on one hand. She studied his young face, glowing orange from the light of their campfire. “Are you feeling alright? You’re not sick, are you?”

“Oui, Milady, I am just tired.” He said all of this half-heartedly and without taking his gaze from the fire.

She reached out and brushed a hand over his messy curls. His eyes slid shut and he sighed. She thought of all he’d gone through in the last month and a half, from war to loss and disappearances of loved ones, to having one returned to him unexpectedly. And again she thought of his grief ‒ it struck a chord deep within her that she wasn’t soon to forget ‒ and wondered if Fergus was already bracing for some sort of loss with Jamie.

And that thought broke her heart clean in two. Because she couldn’t protect him from the hurt if anything did happen to Jamie, or if they failed to find him.

“Look at me, love.”

She waited until he had listened and tilted his head back to look at her. “I know we’ve been at this for a while. I’m tired, too. That’s alright.” She kept brushing back his curls from his forehead as she spoke. “And I know I can’t make any guarantees, but for what it’s worth, I believe we’ll find them. But no matter what, you have me. You have Murtagh. The baby, too, eventually,” she said with slight laughter in her voice. She was rewarded with a small smile out of Fergus.

“You have me, too, Milady. No matter what happens.”

She leaned across and kissed the top of his head. “It’ll be alright, love. Try and get some sleep.”

 

 

Claire laid there in the dark looking up at the stars, long after Murtagh’s snores had begun and Fergus went still and quiet. Her thoughts swirling around Jamie and Faith, the heavy fears of losing them or never finding them, the worry over Fergus and how he was faring‒

She breathed in sharply and one hand flew to her stomach, though there was nothing to be felt under its palm. But there had been a quickening in her belly ‒ the first movement she’d felt of this baby from within.

“Oh…” she breathed out. Tears sprouted in her eyes and spilled over gently. She was scared to move in that moment, like she might startle the small thing somehow. It was so quick, she wondered if she had imagined it. But no, she knew that feeling from when she’d carried Faith. “Hello, you little darling,” she whispered into the night. “I’ve been so worried about you.”

Her hand rubbed slow circles over the firm, small bump. “Thank you for letting me know you’re still there.”

 


 

Claire knew it was coming ‒ had remembered well enough from when she’d traveled through here with the Jacobite army ‒ and careened to the side in her saddle, trying to see around the bend.

Yes ‒ there it was!

“Fergus,” she called out, pulling her horse up alongside Murtagh’s. He looked at her, bewildered, and she grinned. “Look up ahead.”

Though they’d lost time in misjudging Jamie’s next steps, they had eventually caught the trail again after starting fresh from Sterling. Now, they were quite certain that Jamie and Faith were in‒

“Edinburgh!” Fergus exclaimed as the first sights of the city came into view. His gaze flew back to Claire’s. “We’re almost home, Milady!”

She felt her vision burn with tears and had to face forward to keep from crumbling as Fergus’s words landed.

This place had never been home to them, but Jamie and Faith had… and they were almost home again.

Chapter Text

Edinburgh

June 1746

Edinburgh proved difficult to search. One lone carriage was hardly something of note for residents of Edinburgh, and that besides, Claire was quite certain this was where that particular journey had ended. They had no way of knowing where in the city Jamie and Faith would’ve gone once they’d arrived. So they checked every tavern, inn, and boarding house they could find, hoping they weren’t too late, that Jamie and Faith hadn’t moved on to some other place.

It was once again the horse, of all things, that gave them hope.

They were walking through a bustling market when Fergus stopped so abruptly in front of Claire that she nearly knocked him over. “Fergus, what are you‒”

His gaze was frozen on something ahead. “It’s Donas, Milady.”

“What?”

He didn't wait another second and surged forward into the crowd, leaving Claire and Murtagh to scramble after him. When they caught up to him, they were both brought almost nose-to-nose with a black horse that was unmistakable to them.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” Claire whispered tightly, eyes widening at the sight before her. Donas was tucked back into a stall just off the busy street, but his head swung curiously over the wooden gate.

She glanced about, trying to get her bearings. If Donas was here, then‒

“Get back!”

The three of them startled at the sharp voice, Claire’s hand flying to Fergus’s shoulder as if that could shield him. Off to their right, a man had appeared ‒ a blacksmith by trade if his gritty, grimy appearance was any indication. “Unless ye want tae lose a hand. That beast is the devil’s own.”

Donas reared back suddenly, as if he understood and took offense. Claire was used to the horse’s attitude, but his timing always was something else, she thought. The blacksmith only took this as confirmation of what he’d just said, nodding sharply toward the horse with wide-eyed suspicion.

“See? He kens it.”

“That is not‒” Fergus began. Claire squeezed his shoulder.

“Please, can you tell us where we might find the owner of this horse?”

The blacksmith’s gaze shifted over the three of them, considering. Finally, he folded his arms over his chest and leveled a withering gaze at Claire. “Ye’re lookin’ at ‘im.”

“What?” She balked. Her gaze flew back to Donas, looking him over more discerningly. It had to be him. Then…?

“When did you acquire him?”

“I dinna see why ye need tae know.”

It was clear the man was growing tired of them, but before Claire could respond, Murtagh had fired back a reply. “I dinna see what harm there is in answering the lass.”

The blacksmith hardly concealed his annoyance but threw his hands up in defeat. “If it’ll make ye leave. A man brought him ‘round last week and sold him to me‒”

Claire felt her breath leave her lungs in a rush. A week ago. They’d never been this close before. A light, buoyant feeling filled her.

“‒ under false pretenses, mind. Tha’ horse was docile as a wee lamb when he brought ‘im here. Soon as he’s gone, I was dealing wi’ a demon.”

“Maybe you should‒”

Whatever Fergus was about to say, Claire was certain it wouldn’t have been flattering. And she needed more from this conversation still.

“Last question and then we’re out of your hair.” She felt an odd flutter in her stomach at the thought of what answers they might be able to walk away with. “What can you tell me about the man who sold you the horse?”

 


 

They’d come to stay so long in Edinburgh that Faith’s understanding of “home” was beginning to solidify around the place they’d resided there: Mary’s aunt’s house. And while the streets were still crawling with soldiers, Jamie had gone so long without incident or recognition that the wariness was fading each time he stepped outside.

Mary's aunt had been hospitable in opening her home to Jamie and Faith when they arrived with Mary, though Jamie got the distinct impression that she wasn't exactly thrilled with this arrangement, given that she knew he was a Scot.

Still, it was a safe haven while they waited for sea passage to open up again.

Jamie entered the house, lugging his bundle of purchases, and was almost immediately greeted by Faith's high-pitch squeal from the other room. He paused, wondering if it was a squeal of excitement or some sort of fit.

There was a bustle of movement up ahead from the parlor and then Faith tumbled out into the hallway, tripping on the hem of her dress. It was new to her, an old dress belonging to one of Mary's cousins, and they were adjusting it for Faith.

"Da!"

Happy squeal, then.

He grinned broadly and dropped to one knee as Faith toddled over to him, nearly tripping again as she reached him. "Did ye behave for yer Auntie Mary, then?"

She didn't respond to him, only looped her slight arms around his neck and started to hang from him, giggling all the while.

"Alright then, ye wee fiend," he laughed, scooping her up as he moved to stand.

By now, Mary had appeared at the threshold and greeted him before they all moved into the parlor. Jamie noted that none of the other inhabitants of the house were in the room and breathed a sigh of relief. He was abundantly grateful to be able to keep Faith sheltered here, but he had no great desire for the company of near strangers ‒ especially those who looked down their nose at him.

“I’ve had a letter from my father,” Mary announced.

“Aye?”

“He’s sending my younger brother to escort me back to my father’s estate.”

Jamie nodded at that, though he wasn’t sure how he should feel. “And how did he take yer news?”

“Oh quite well,” Mary said swiftly. “I knew he would. Of course he wishes I wasn’t so recently widowed, since he’ll have to make arrangements for me to be married again. But there’s no shame in being widowed and with child.”

Jamie took a deep breath, ready to dive in on that comment, but thought better of interfering in her family matters and bit his tongue instead.

“Find everything you were looking for?” Mary asked.

“Oh aye.” Jamie pulled out the fresh ginger he’d purchased. There had been a number of items he’d needed to prepare for the upcoming voyage, but none quite so important as the very thing he held up for Mary to see. “For my seasickness,” he explained and then grinned ruefully. “Canna seem to so much as set foot on a ship wi’out getting sick.”

“Is it bad?”

“It’s no’ a pretty sight, I’m sure.”

“What will you do with Faith?”

Jamie’s gaze dropped to Faith in his lap and he swallowed roughly. “I dinna have much choice but to pray the ginger tea keeps me standing. I canna afford to get sick.”

Mary fell silent at that, her hands fidgeting restlessly in her lap.

But he knew even without her saying it that it was a foolish endeavor. He knew how sick he became on sea voyages and without anyone else with them, he ran the risk of becoming too sick to care for his child. But what other choice did he have?

“I could go with you.”

Mary’s words were spoken so softly, he almost didn’t catch them. His head snapped up and he stared at her. “You canna be serious.”

“Of course I’m serious!”

“It’s‒ I mean no offense to ye, Mary. It’s only… well, yer brother is already on his way and‒”

“That’s not a problem. I’ll just leave word here with my aunt telling him where we’ve gone. He can follow after and escort me back, same as he intended before.”

“That hardly seems fair to him. How old is the lad?”

Mary hesitated briefly. “George is fifteen, he’s old enough.”

Jamie swore under his breath. “We dinna even know where we’re headed yet. Could be as far as the colonies. And even if ye did accompany us on the journey and instructed yer wee brother to follow us… by time he arrives, ye willna be fit to make the journey again wi’ the bairn coming. You’ll have to have the baby in another country, alone.”

“I’ll be alone no matter where I am,” Mary pointed out and Jamie immediately regretted his words. “Doesn’t matter if I’m in Italy or France, the colonies or my father’s estate.”

Jamie sighed. “I still dinna like the idea. Ye’re finally safe here and under no obligation to help us further. I’m already indebted to ye for getting us this far. No, I couldna ask that of ye.”

“Good thing you didn’t ask then.” Mary straightened her spine. “And it’s… it’s me who’s indebted to you. If you hadn’t come to Inverness, I’d still be‒”

Jamie raised a hand in silent pleading. After all they’d been through since he’d knocked on her door in Inverness, there simply was no keeping score of how they’d aided one another. And he valued her friendship too highly to think of it as mere transactions.

He sighed loudly, hating the idea but seeing that determined look in Mary’s eye.

“Besides,” Mary added, “I’m not really doing this for you.”

He smiled cheerlessly, once again turning his gaze back to the red-headed toddler in his lap. For Claire, she’d said at the start. And it had never escaped his notice just how much Mary risked to repay Claire’s kindness, her friendship. “Well, I thank ye for it. Truly. Ye’re a good friend, Mary Hawkins.”

 

 

The evenings were always bittersweet in Edinburgh. It meant putting Faith to bed, a small routine that they’d carved out no matter where they were, and a time that Jamie always treasured. And it also meant once his child was asleep that there was nothing to preoccupy his mind, to keep his anguished thoughts at bay.

But before then, his complete attention was always on Faith.

“C’mere, lass.”

He scooped her up and headed toward the nursery where Faith slept. He felt her head rest heavy on his shoulder as they went, and her small hand patted his opposite shoulder gently.

He was helping her change into her nightgown when she sneezed. Three times in quick succession.

“Something tickling yer nose, a nighean?” he said lightly, though his hand went to her forehead and tried to gauge her temperature. Felt normal, but there was a small voice in the back of his mind ‒ Claire’s voice ‒ reminding him that unless the fever was very high, it was often hard to discern if someone had a fever by merely feeling for it.

Faith rubbed her nose with the back of her pudgy hand and looked up at him with glassy eyes. “Christ, I hope ye’re not sick.”

He took her wee face in his hands and pressed a kiss to her hairline, then rested his cheek there for a moment. She felt a little warm, but did that mean…?

Faith’s little hands wormed their way between them and pushed his face away. “No’ sick.”

He chuckled and pulled back, startled by her boldness, her certainty. A pint-sized force of nature, even if she was ‒ perhaps ‒ feeling under the weather.

But God in Heaven! He wished Claire was here for this. For all of it with Faith, but especially this. She would know better than him what to do if Faith got sick.

“Ye ready for bed then?”

She shook her head vehemently. “No’ yet, Da.”

“Not yet?”

Again, she shook her head, this time with a hint of a smile on her face. The more she learned to talk, the better she became at delaying her dreaded bedtime. She burst into a flood of speech ‒ not much of which was intelligible to Jamie, but she had something to say nonetheless ‒ which ended promptly with the word “story.”

“Ah. Ye’ll be wanting yer bedtime story then, is tha’ it?”

A curt nod from Faith.

“Aye, I can oblige ye there, mo chridhe.”

He stood and watched Faith scurry over to the small bed that was all her own. As was their nightly ritual, he situated Faith off to one side and pulled the covers up for her before carefully easing his six-foot-four frame onto the comically small bed, curled onto his side with his feet hanging over the ledge. A gentle breeze could’ve knocked him backwards off of the bed, but this was what he’d done the first night in this strange house when Faith had been too scared to sleep alone. Now, she slept well enough so long as he was there to tuck her in, give her a story. Once she was asleep, he would move her more towards the center of the bed before he left and retired to his own room.

“What story would ye like tonight, a nighean?”

“My mam?”

He exhaled a laugh. They were always about Faith’s mam. Even while he worried that Faith would never truly know Claire, it couldn’t stop him from wanting to talk about her to Faith. To help her understand the magnitude of Claire’s love for her, and that it wasn’t Claire’s fault that she wasn’t here now with Faith.

“Aye, I can tell ye about yer mam,” Jamie agreed softly. He started as he always did ‒ with a memory of Claire, whatever came to him in the moment. And he’d simply talk for as long as Faith needed, weaving one memory into another until he noticed her eyelids getting heavy, her breathing slowing to a steady rhythm.

“Ken yer mother was verra canny,” he prefaced his next story, slipping subconsciously into past-tense when he spoke of Claire. “What she didna ken about healing could fit in a shoe. After the Battle of Prestonpans, I was so weary and hurting ‒ got stepped on by a horse that day, ye ken, and och yer mam was furious wi’ me ‒ but I came back into the cottage to watch her, tending to the injured men. She was tireless and so determined…”

When Faith was finally out, he reached over and felt her forehead again, battling a sinking feeling that Faith truly was coming down with an illness. She’d been sniffling and sneezing, but that could be nothing. Or it could be the first sign of something more.

A Dhia…”

He ached for Claire every minute of the day ‒ needed her like the very breath in his lungs ‒ but he’d never felt so wretchedly helpless without her until this moment. What would he do if Faith became sick?

Panic squeezed his heart in a vice grip. She was all he had now. Faith, still so wee and fragile, was the only thing keeping Jamie from careening off into the dark. And suddenly, he wasn’t even sure he could do this on his own.

He wanted to steal away back to the stones with Faith, to find some way to fix this. She should be with Claire ‒ she should’ve always been with Claire ‒ and it wasn’t right that they had been separated. That Faith couldn’t travel like her mother could.

Since he was a lad, he had a habit of speaking to his departed brother, Willie. Since Willie had been the oldest, he rightly should’ve been laird. So much of Jamie’s life growing up had been the result of Willie’s death. Honors that would normally befall the oldest son passed to Jamie instead, like fostering with his Uncle Dougal or continuing his studies in Paris. This had always been front of mind for Jamie, and when faced with a decision as Laird, he found it only respectful of Willie’s memory to ask his older brother’s thoughts on choices that should’ve been his to make.

Aye, the dead had a way of living with Jamie. He hadn’t only talked to Willie, but to the plovers along the shore, which legend said carried the souls of young mothers lost in childbirth. And he’d done this for years before he lost his da, but never once in the time since Brian Fraser’s death had he spoken to his father.

But suddenly, he found himself longing to pour his heart out to his departed father, in conversations he’d been too hesitant to have with the weight of Jamie’s misplaced guilt over Brian’s death. Suddenly, more than anything, he ached for one last conversation with his da.

“How did ye do it, Athair?” he whispered in the still room the question that had been plaguing him. He was intimately familiar with the pain his father would’ve suffered when his mam died. “How did you keep on living wi’out yer heart?”

The answer was there before him in the sleeping form of Faith. His father had survived for his and Jenny’s sakes, carried them through their grief and gave them hope. And though it felt impossible, though everything within him screamed that this wasn’t how it was supposed to be, Jamie would do the same for Faith as his father did for him. “I ken now the pain ye were trying to hide, Athair. But ye raised me and Jenny well despite it all. Help me do the same.”

His hand gently brushed over Faith’s wispy curls as he then addressed his sleeping child. “I’ve told ye plenty about yer mam, but nothing of my mam and da. We’ll need tae remedy that. Another time.”

He breathed in deep and then sighed heavily. “My da only ever kent me as a lad. Sometimes I wonder… if he saw me as I am today, would he be proud of me now? Would he approve of who I’ve become? And would I be much different from who I was before... or would he still recognize me as his son?”

His thumb softly stroked at her hair just above her temple before tucking a few wayward locks behind one tiny ear. “But I look at ye, Faith, and… there’s nothing ye could do that would ever change how I love ye. How I’m bursting at the seams with pride o’er ye. And that’s one thing I ken my da would’ve been very proud of,” he shifted slowly and pressed a kiss to Faith’s head before he finally stood, “My bairns.”

 


 

It had been a week since they’d found Donas and they still didn’t have a crumb of information for where Jamie and Faith might be.

“Would it have been better to wait at Lallybroch in case he sent word? Before we went trampling across the country in search of him…” Claire wondered aloud.

“That would have taken months to wait for news to arrive.” Murtagh eyed her protruding belly, just starting to appear noticeable to others under all her layers of clothing. “Ye dinna have that kind of time to wait around.”

Claire sighed. “Aren’t we just waiting here, until we find a trace of him? Doesn’t feel much different.”

Murtagh didn’t reply, just made that Scottish sound low in the throat and eased into a chair.

There was a boyish shout from outside and Claire’s gaze flickered over to the window. Fergus was out in the street with another boy, playing some sort of game. She’d told him to go run some energy off after he’d been driving her up a wall all afternoon within the cramped confines of their rented room. They’d had no lead on Jamie even after finding Donas and that had hit Fergus hard. But even worse had been walking away without the horse that Fergus had loved so dearly ‒ all the time wondering why Jamie had sold him in the first place.

“What if they’re already gone from here? How long do we wait ‒ how long can we wait before the money is gone?”

They’d had no collateral of their own to offer up for the horse and even though they had some money ‒ money that they’d carefully skimped and saved during their journey before arriving in Edinburgh ‒ it wouldn’t last forever.

Murtagh grunted softly again. He’d heard her, he just didn’t have an answer.

Claire had even tried offering her services as a healer here when they first arrived. But Edinburgh was a bustling Lowland city, not a remote Highland village, and where those small populations would flock to Claire, the people of Edinburgh turned their nose up at her ‒ a strange woman they had no cause to trust or even to need in a large city such as this. So even the small hope of word getting out to Jamie of a Sassenach woman healer had quickly been dashed.

Her gaze sought out Fergus again and her heart sank in her chest. She wasn’t sure how much more disappointment they could shoulder before it became all too much. Or how much longer they could search before the only obvious solution was to turn home for Lallybroch.

Her hand fell to her belly. Murtagh was right about that at least. They didn’t have all that much time before there would be a baby to consider as well.

 


 

The ports had reopened in Edinburgh ‒ but not without British control over what came in and out of the harbor. The sale of Donas helped provide enough to book passage on a ship, but they’d had to be careful in arranging it. Jamie had begun to notice the new broadsheets going up around Edinburgh and among them, one for Red Jamie. No doubt as the dust from Culloden began to settle, his disappearance hadn’t gone completely unnoticed.

He had followed the captain of a cargo ship recently docked in Edinburgh into a tavern one night. The captain ‒ a Scot through and through ‒ and Jamie swapped tales over drinks well into the night and only once he was sure the good captain had been plied with enough drink to make him amiable did he bring up the request to book passage with him.

“Ye dinna even ken where we’re going,” the captain laughed, his cheeks ruddy from drink.

Jamie laughed too, though he realized he’d made a misstep. That it might sound more suspicious now than if he’d learned of the destination first. Instead he tried to play it off as being cavalier. “Tell ye the truth… it doesna really matter where ye’re going, so long as it’s away from here.”

The captain chuckled and shook his head. They negotiated the price and sealed the deal there at that tavern table. “Write yer names down for me. I’ll have them added to the ship’s manifest. We sail in three days. Dinna be late.”

“And where are we sailing for?” Jamie finally asked.

“Och I thought it didna matter!” The captain roared with laughter again and Jamie reminded himself he couldn’t strike the captain that was giving him a way out of Scotland.

The captain stood to his feet, a bit wobbly at first try. Jamie thought of Mary and how she planned to leave a letter for her brother to be able to follow. How could he follow if he didn’t know where they went?

He opened his mouth to speak, but the captain clapped him hard on the shoulder and said, “Le Havre, man. We’re only going so far as Le Havre.”

 

 

In three days’ time, Jamie, Mary, and Faith were at the docks ‒ Jamie with his hair recently dyed black to cover his roots and Faith with her red hair tucked under a bonnet and then the hood of her cape as a precaution.

They would need to be allowed past by the Redcoat checking the ship’s manifest, the only hurdle standing between them and freedom. And having spoken with the captain that night in the tavern, they couldn’t fall back on their old gimmick of Jamie-as-a-mute. But this was a calculated risk he knew he would take, hoping that the time and miles between here and Culloden would be enough to shed any suspicion that he might be Red Jamie.

“Name?”

He met the eye of the Redcoat staring him down. “Alexandre Beauchamp,” he said evenly, letting a little bit of his admittedly imperfect French accent bleed into his thick Highlander dialect in hopes that it would at least confuse him. Off the surprised look from the man, he added with an easy smile, “I get that look a lot. My father was a Frenchman but my mother a Scot. Ye can see for yerself which side I favored in looks.” He could hide the red hair, but the towering height, the build of a man descended from Vikings… that could not be so easily hidden.

“And your companions?”

“My daughter, Faith Beauchamp, and Mary Hawkins.”

The man’s gaze flicked between Jamie and Mary, and though Jamie’s heart felt as though it might beat right out of his chest, this conversation was flowing exactly as he’d anticipated. They were almost through.

“And your relation to Mistress Hawkins?”

“My late wife’s sister. She’s accompanying me to care for my child.” It wasn’t terribly far from the truth ‒ and it was a necessity now to be able to explain why Faith called her Auntie Mary.

“And your reason for journeying to Le Havre?”

“My father’s family is there. My grandfather is in poor health and I must return.”

The Redcoat looked him in the eye again and Jamie knew what question came next. “And are you a Jacobite or have you ever aided the Jacobites in any way, Mr. Beauchamp?”

“No.” He was met with a look of vague suspicion and he mustered every ounce of easy confidence into next words. “I am not nor have I ever been a Jacobite, or a Jacobite sympathizer for that matter. And I never aided their cause in any way. I am loyal to the crown.”

The Redcoat quirked one eyebrow at that and Jamie felt his stomach twisting into knots. “They all say that… now.”

But with a quick jerk of his head, the Redcoat dismissed them. Jamie blinked, stunned for a moment that it had been that easy. Because even without proof… the Redcoats could have treated him any way they wanted. That was their claim as victors. They didn’t need a reason to not let him through and that had been the one variable Jamie couldn’t have planned for ‒ the mercy of a Redcoat.

He shifted Faith to one arm and moved past the man, ushering Mary ahead of him up the gangway to the ship.

“Sir! Wait.”

He froze, hearing the Redcoat’s voice ring out. Mary stopped too and whirled around to look back at him. His hold on Faith tightened and he turned slowly.

The Redcoat stared at him curiously.

Jamie forced a smile. “Have I forgotten something?”

“As a matter of fact…” the man held out his hand. In his palm was Sawny, which Jamie had given to Faith to keep her occupied. She must’ve dropped it.

“Ah. I thank ye, Corporal.” He grabbed Sawny and handed it back to Faith. “I would’ve had a verra unhappy child on my hands had that been left behind.”

He wasted no time waiting for a response and turned with Faith to head back up the gangway where Mary still stood. “Let’s go,” he uttered under his breath when they reached her. The sooner they could be at sea, the safer he would feel.

 

 

What he hadn’t expected to feel was the loss.

He held Faith in his arms as he stood by the railing and watched Edinburgh fade farther and farther away. Watched his homeland fade away, knowing they’d likely never return.

Christ,” he muttered, blinking fast against the unexpected sting of tears.

Faith stretched her arm out in front of her, towards land, and waved.

“Ye saying goodbye, a leannan?”

“G’bye,” she echoed in a soft, song-like voice.

Ah but he would do it all again in a heartbeat for her, no matter the cost. It was always for her, for her wellbeing and chance at a happy life.

She grinned up at him ‒ not a trace of sickness, though they’d dealt with the sneezing and runny nose for a few days before she was back to her usual self. “Ken you’re mine, a nighean, but ye dinna have to rub my nose in it that yer stomach is as hearty as a sailor’s,” he teased her before moving below deck, where Mary was waiting. His stomach was already rolling and it was only a matter of time…

 


 

July 1746

Claire was writing a letter to Jenny ‒ an update without much news, but she still wanted to keep Jenny apprised ‒ when Murtagh burst into the room, startling her violently.

“Jesus Christ!”

Without giving her much time to recover, he dove breathlessly into the reason for his unsettling arrival.

“I just spoke with a deckhand down at the docks, just come back from Le Havre.” Murtagh’s eyes were aglow and Claire tried to temper the hope buoying in her chest. “He said he remembers someone that looked like Jamie who booked passage on the ship last time they came through here. Said he was sick as a dog the whole trip… and he had a wee lass with him.”

Claire was trembling and her simple question came out in a frantic whisper. “When?”

Murtagh smiled broadly, his chest still heaving as he tried to get the words out without stopping for a breath. “Just last month. They’re in France, a nighean. We found them.”

She hardly recalled how she went from sitting at the desk to being wrapped up in an almost painful hug from Murtagh, shouting with joy to keep herself from bursting into tears.

“What’s going on?”

She pulled away from Murtagh to see Fergus enter the room, concern etched into his face.

“What happened?” he asked.

Claire couldn’t keep the smile from her face even as her vision misted over with tears. Not just for her joy of being reunited with Jamie and Faith, but for Fergus’s as well. “Murtagh found them, love. We’re going home!”

When Fergus ran to embrace her, she nearly stumbled backwards from the impact of it. She cupped the back of his head and held him tight, rocking slightly.

“We’re going home.”

 


 

“D’ye have everything then, Mary?”

“I believe so.”

Jamie turned to help Mary up into the carriage. Upon arriving in France, they’d gone first to Jamie’s Uncle Alexander at the Abbey of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, that being the closest and safest place to turn to. Jamie and Faith meant to stay on at the abbey a bit longer, but Mary needed to return to Paris, to her aunt and uncle who would welcome her into their home until her younger brother arrived.

“Wait. No. I did forget something in my room.” Mary turned and stepped down from the carriage. “I’ll be right back,” she yelled over her shoulder.

“It’s alright, lass. We have time.”

“Jamie!”

He turned to find his uncle exiting the abbey, making a path towards him. “Aye?”

“We’re expecting a delivery to the abbey today. Could you help them unload when it arrives?”

“Aye of course.”

It wasn’t long after his uncle had left him that he noticed the wagon jolting down the dirt road towards the abbey.

Nobody saw what spooked the horse pulling the wagon as it neared the carriage.

It happened too fast, the one horse trying to buck itself free of the wagon, and the team of horses hitched to the carriage panicking as a result.

One moment, Jamie was standing beside a carriage and the next, he was flat on his back with a searing pain in his leg and a crushing weight pinning his body down.

And then it all went black.

Chapter Text

It was half a day’s journey from the port in Le Havre to the Abbey of Ste. Anne de Beaupré. They stayed one night in a tavern before arranging a coach to take them to the abbey. Though the impulse to head straight for Paris to Jared’s home was strong, the abbey was another consideration they couldn’t rule out ‒ and the closest location upon arriving in France.

 

The carriage rolled to a stop in front of the abbey and the three of them stepped out into the bright sunshine. They approached the abbey with only the faintest flicker of hope. Months on this trail had left them anxious enough not to get their hopes up too soon.

The exterior and grounds of the abbey were lovely ‒ a 12th century Romanesque structure with a large garden that was carefully tended to. Claire’s gaze was inexorably drawn to it as they walked up the path leading to the abbey.

And then she glimpsed a flash of red-gold hair in the sunshine from up ahead in the gardens.

Her breath caught in her throat as her feet refused to move any further. Absently, she registered that Murtagh and Fergus had stilled beside her, puzzled.

Ahead of them, a small red-headed toddler registered the presence of three new visitors and boldly went out to greet them.

Claire’s vision burned with tears. She won’t remember, she reminded herself. And just the same, it didn’t matter. After all those months, Faith was right there in front of her, and she didn’t care if she had her work cut out for her still in winning her child’s heart back.

Her feet moved then of their own volition, unsteady at first and then picking up the pace to close the distance. Claire dropped to her knees as gracefully as she could in her condition and pulled Faith abruptly into her arms as soon as she was within reach.

Oh, my baby. Oh God. I’m so sorry.” The words spilled out of her in a rush and then it was like a dam breaking open. She clung to Faith and wept.

Claire had her. At last. Faith was alive and real and heavy in Claire’s lap.

She felt the girl squirming in her grasp, her little hands pushing against Claire’s chest, and reluctantly, she let her go. Fergus was at her side, she realized, and he gripped her by the elbow to try and help her to her feet. They managed, a bit awkwardly.

It was only then that she noticed who Faith was with ‒ and who Murtagh was helping ease onto a stone bench after she looked about ready to faint.

“Y-y-y-you’re dead…”

Claire’s gaze flicked over to Murtagh briefly. In all their time searching, they hadn’t given much thought to how they would explain this to Mary ‒ or anyone else who wasn’t Jamie for that matter.

“Whoa, lass!”

The sight of Mary beginning to hyperventilate snapped Claire out of her thoughts. “Easy now. You’re alright.”

She was aware of Faith trying to burrow behind Mary’s skirts, but couldn’t give that her full attention just then. Murtagh stepped aside to let Claire in next to her. “Easy now. Cup your hands together over your mouth and nose and breathe into them. There you go. Try and breathe slowly.”

Faith moved to lean against Mary’s knees, watching anxiously. Claire stifled the impulse to reach for her. God, this was all going so poorly…

“I d-don’t… understand,” Mary said between labored breaths. But she was calming down and a little color was returning to her cheeks, Claire noted.

“I can imagine it’s quite a shock, and I’m sorry for that.” She rubbed Mary’s back lightly. It helped her own nervous state to be able to focus on helping someone else. “It’s a long story, but we’ll tell you it all later. Where’s Jamie? Is he inside?”

“Oh God,” Mary uttered suddenly and she looked as though she might be sick. “Oh I wish you had been here even a day earlier.”

She felt her stomach lurch at Mary’s words and wondered if she would be sick. “What do you mean? Where is Jamie?”

Mary began to tremble. “Th-th-there was an a-accident…”

 

They had started towards the abbey with Mary leading them, but in their panicked haste, Claire and Murtagh quickly overtook her. Mary shouted directions at them, but it didn’t matter. Once inside, it only took one frantic request to the first monk they ran into before they were brought to Jamie’s room.

Seeing her husband bruised and bandaged, unconscious, Claire didn’t realize at first that she was physically leaning on Murtagh for support, holding tightly to his arm. It was a different time, a different abbey, and yet her mind made the connection to just after Wentworth, when she almost lost him. She felt dizzy and weak.

“What‒” Her gaze took in the leg wrapped in splints and soaked through with dried blood. Whatever had happened, his leg seemed to bear the brunt of it, though the rest of him was covered in scrapes and bruises as well.

One of the brothers had followed them in and was explaining softly in French what had happened and how Jamie was faring. In all the commotion, they attracted a few more residents of the abbey, who filtered into the small room.

She caught enough to understand Jamie had developed an infection, most likely from his leg. Her stomach roiled and her hand came to press high on her pregnant belly out of habit, though it did nothing to help.

It was then her eyes fell to a cut on the inside of his forearm, too perfectly placed and neatly cut to be a coincidence. Still, her mind rebelled against the idea. No, they couldn’t have…

“You bled him!”

Stillness descended on the room following her outburst. She finally tore her gaze away from Jamie to look at the monks for explanation, to Mary who was trembling in the back.

ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL HIM?”

Just as quickly as the room had fallen silent, it roared back to life with voices raised and overlapping ‒ each person trying to explain or justify or placate. Above them all was Claire, unable to contain her horror. “--already weakened from the accident and trying to fight off an infection and you bled him!”

She was vaguely aware of Murtagh’s tug on her arm, but it wasn’t until he screamed for the rest of them to be quiet that she paid him any attention. Her gaze flew to him, but he wasn’t watching her. And that’s when she heard the hushed, gravely voice of her husband, straining to be heard above the noise.

She caught his fevered gaze and felt her heart tumble in her chest.

“Sassenach?”

 

Murtagh quietly cleared the room, though in the moment, Claire hardly noticed this kind act.

Claire’s words clogged in her throat but she moved closer to the bed and sat carefully on the edge, taking Jamie’s hand carefully in her own. His skin felt hot to the touch.

“Am I‒ I…” He struggled between labored breaths and his eyes fluttered shut but he seemed to muster the energy to force them open again and find her. “Am I dying then?”

The implication of his words hit her hard, and she shook her head vehemently, feeling silent tears spill down her cheeks. “This isn’t a hallucination. I’m real. I’m here.”

He smiled weakly, his eyes drifting shut again.

God, to find him after all this time and to find him like this…

Murtagh cleared his throat as he re-entered the room. “Ye can save him, Claire.”

It wasn’t a question, but she heard the need for reassurance.

“I’m damn well going to try,” she said as much for her own benefit as for Murtagh’s, but her voice wobbled even as she tried to sound confident. She squeezed Jamie’s hand and brought it to her lips. “I can make a poultice for his infection,” she said with a bit more authority. “And maybe a tea.”

She brushed the hair back from his forehead ‒ faded dark locks with his natural red coming in at the roots. They’d caught on that he had dyed his hair through some of the descriptions they’d heard of him along the way. He must’ve stopped worrying about it once they reached France. He looked ridiculous and she wanted to be able to tease him about it, to see the way his ears turned pink when she did and hear his laugh. Later, she told herself. Get him well.

She pushed herself to her feet and went to examine his leg. Whoever had tended to it had done well ‒ the gash across his thigh had been stitched by a steady hand, and though the wound had become infected, that might not have been avoided even under Claire’s care.

But the bloodletting…

Indignation still fizzled in her veins. He’d already lost some blood from the accident, from the looks of it. And of all the things they could’ve tried to help him once infection set in, this was the worst.

“Where are the children?” she asked suddenly.

“Mary has them.”

“Did Faith see me‒”

Scream like a lunatic at everyone within earshot?

“Nay,” Murtagh said quickly. “She wasna in the room.”

Claire nodded at that. She knew the ground she was on with Faith was shaky at best. And the last thing she wanted was to give Faith any reason to fear her.

“Madame?”

She followed the sound to its source ‒ a frail, kindly-looking monk in the doorway that Claire got the distinct impression was sent in as an intermediary. But behind him stood a stocky figure with black hair and familiar slanted eyes. Jamie’s uncle, Alexander Fraser. Though she’d heard about him, they’d never met even during her time in France two years ago.

“You must be Claire,” he said. His voice had a strange dialect that Claire knew at once to be the result of a born and bred Highlander living so many of his adult years in France. “I must admit it is a shock to meet you at last, given that Jamie told us you were dead.”

“A misunderstanding,” she supplied lamely.

Un miracle,” said the quiet monk with a kind smile, and Claire decided that she liked him very much, even if he was sent in to placate her.

Abbot Alexander nodded to the man. “This is Brother Thomas. He can assist you with Jamie and bring you anything you need.” His eyes darkened as he added, “It was a terrible shock, what happened. We all want Jamie to be well again.”

She knew this was as close to an apology for the bloodletting as she would get. And that whoever’s call it had been would never be revealed to her. “Thank you, Abbot. I shall be very happy to have Brother Thomas’s assistance.”

 


 

Jamie heard her voice again, and felt his whole body orient toward the sound. Softer this time. Hushed. Bleary-eyed, he looked about and found her right there within reach, though he dared not try to touch her in case doing so would somehow banish the vision of her. No matter ‒ he hardly felt strong enough to turn his head let alone lift his hand.

“Am I dying?” he asked again.

“Not if I have anything to say about that,” she shot back at him, eyes snapping up at his in challenge. He smirked at this, weakly. Even as he neared the end, this part of his soul that Claire occupied and materialized before him was just as fierce and unrelenting as the real woman.

“Do you hear me, James Fraser?” she spoke again, gripping him by the chin as he fought to stay awake. “You do not have my permission to die.”

“Aye, lass…” He couldn’t manage more than that before darkness crept in once more.

 


 

Some time in the evening, Brother Thomas came around with supper for Claire and made her sit and eat. When he tried to encourage her to leave the room for a break and go see the others though, she resisted the idea.

After how she’d found Jamie, she sure as hell wasn’t leaving him unattended.

But at the moment, he was resting and there was nothing immediate that she could do for him ‒ and Brother Thomas swore he wouldn’t leave Jamie until she came back.

With enough prodding and reassurance, Claire left Jamie’s bedside in search of the rest of her family.

She found them in a small library and stood in the doorway watching them. Mary was sitting with them, one hand resting on her rounded belly. She still looked pale and drawn with worry, the poor thing.

And Murtagh had Faith on his knee, bouncing her slightly and talking in a low voice to her. Claire felt her throat clog with emotion, watching the two of them. She knew what that moment meant for Murtagh, having been the one to bring Faith to Culloden three months ago, to hold her again and see Faith’s family restored to her.

Claire stayed frozen in the doorway, a voyeur to this moment, never fully part of it. She had a visceral desire to walk right over to Murtagh and pluck Faith from his lap, to hold her close in her own arms again ‒ oh god, even to look at her and know she was real ‒ and yet that desire was overpowered by one thought that kept Claire in check. That whisper of doubt in her ear telling her that she’d already screwed up. She’d startled Faith out in the gardens and now what did the girl think of her?

She felt the baby kick and her hand went automatically to the spot. Hadn’t been that long ago that Faith was just a little nudge felt from within and now they were nearly strangers to each other.

Fergus noticed her first and raced to her side. “How is Milord?” he asked in a whisper, and she realized her hesitation to join them had come off as being the bearer of bad news.

“He’s alright.” She pulled him to her side and gave him a squeeze. “He’s still fighting.”

“Can I see him?”

She drew in a steep breath, choosing her words carefully. “Well, he’s resting right now, darling. Maybe tomorrow, alright?”

He gave her a half-hearted smile, but she knew she had crushed him. Of course he wanted to see Jamie, but if… if he saw him while he was fevered and weak, heard Jamie’s talk of dying… no, she didn’t want that for Fergus.

He slipped away from her and went to join the others. Claire watched as he bent down to talk to Faith and then as she jumped down from Murtagh’s knee to take Fergus’s hand. Claire’s hand came up to press just below her collarbone where it felt like her heart was splitting open at the seams. To see them together again and slipping easily back into a rapport with each other, as children often did without much difficulty… Her children ‒ Hers and Jamie’s ‒ together again.

The ache was still there for the time that was lost with Faith, the guilt over any unintended pain she’d caused her wee girl. But there was something tender and hopeful in knowing she’d returned Murtagh and Fergus to Faith’s life. They both loved her so, and Faith would know that soon enough. Claire held both things, the hurt and the hope, as she watched Fergus and Faith.

Murtagh saw her then, still standing in the doorway. “Come sit down,” he called out.

She pushed away from the doorway and went in.

 

It was later in the night when Murtagh came to check on her and Jamie. With Brother Thomas’s help, she’d made a poultice for Jamie’s leg and also managed a few times to get Jamie to drink some tea for his fever and pain. He slept fitfully, tossing and turning, and the fever hadn’t broken. Every time he spoke to her, it never felt like she was speaking to the real Jamie.

“Take another break,” Murtagh insisted gruffly. “I’m no’ sure all this pacing is good for the bairn.”

Her hand smoothed over the bump. She’d forgotten how everyone treated her as though she was made of glass as soon as the baby was visible. “Baby’s fine. I’m fine.”

Murtagh pulled a face at that and grunted, which she ignored.

“Ye’ve hardly gone near the lass since we’ve been here.” He said this bluntly, and Claire blinked quickly against the burn of oncoming tears. She’d hoped no one had noticed. “She’s awake still, wi’ Mary. Go an’ put the lass tae bed, Claire. I’ll sit wi’ Jamie.”

She chewed the inside of her lip, considering. With Jamie, she knew how to care for him ‒ a little too well, the damn fool. But Faith…

“And if anyone tries tae bleed him, it’ll be the last thing they ever do.”

She chuckled softly at this and her heart swelled with affection for the old grump that loved them all better than they deserved. “Thank you, Murtagh.”

He grunted and dropped into the chair at Jamie’s bedside.

“And where’s Fergus?”

“They gave him a room and he’s gone tae bed.”

“Thank you,” she said again, patting his shoulder as she moved past him, “for everything today. I didn’t expect… well, it’s been a shock, with Jamie. I couldn’t have managed without you.”

Without looking at her, he reached up and squeezed her hand where it rested on his shoulder. “Get some rest, a nighean.”

“I won’t be able to sleep. I’ll be back in an hour or two.”

“Alright,” Murtagh said with a resigned sigh. “Go and see Faith then and dinna hurry back. I’ll find ye if anything happens.”

She slipped quietly out into the hall and turned a corner leading to more sleeping quarters. She knew where Mary’s room was, but she went first in search of Fergus. He was still awake when she found him.

“Your own room, hmm?” She sat on the other small bed across from his, looking about the room. “Haven’t had that luxury in a while.”

Fergus’s mouth twitched slightly, like he was trying not to smile. “If you’re scared, just say so and you can stay in here, Milady. Nothing to be ashamed of.”

She grabbed the pillow on the spare bed and flung it at his head, relishing the sound of his laugh as he ducked and covered his head. Cheeky little arse

But when his head poked back up, the moment of teasing had passed. She stood and dropped a kiss to the top of his head. “Just wanted to see you before you went to sleep. Have sweet dreams, love.”

“Goodnight, Milady.”

He caught her hand as she was turning away, and gave it a tight squeeze.

“I love you, my boy,” she murmured.

“I know. je t'aime aussi.”

 

Mary’s door was open and there they were by the fireplace, Mary sitting in one chair and Faith leaning against the other one. She had something small in her hand, some kind of toy, and alternated between moving it along the seat of the chair and turning to talk to Mary.

Faith glanced up and noticed her. Claire forced a smile and took that opportunity to enter the room.

“Claire! Oh, come sit. Here, Faith, let’s make room.”

Faith shuffled backwards until she bumped into Mary’s knees, staring curiously up at Claire as she took the other seat.

Mary asked about Jamie and she gave her the same update she’d given Murtagh and Fergus and any one of the monks who had poked their head into Jamie’s room to ask about him.

“I am sorry for startling you earlier,” Claire added. “I hope it wasn’t… well, I hope you’re feeling alright now.”

Mary exhaled a smile. “You’re actually the second person I’ve thought was dead to show up out of the blue, and both of those instances happened in the last few months…” Mary shook her head at that, and Claire realized with sinking dread that it had been Jack Randall she referred to. She’d all but forgotten… but no, she could see now that Mary didn’t want to discuss that. “Come to that, both times the message came from Jamie that you and‒ and‒”

“It was a terrible misunderstanding,” she said quickly. Firmly. “Jamie had no idea I was… alive.” Still had no idea, really.

Claire took a deep breath, unsure what Jamie might’ve told Mary already. “We knew that we couldn’t win. We knew if we fought the Redcoats in our current state, there was no way the Jacobites would be victorious. So we had Murtagh bring Faith to us and we were going to run. But there was… some confusion on that day. It was chaotic and we were desperate to get out of there. But I got separated from Jamie and Faith. And I think Jamie thought I was taken by the Redcoats and killed. He didn’t lie to you intentionally. He just didn’t know the truth.”

Mary’s gaze drifted towards the fire, still shaking her head slightly, though Claire got the impression it was more to do with the improbability of all that had occurred than any sort of ill feelings. And Claire didn’t blame her one bit.

“I’m glad you’re alright,” Mary added shyly. “And that you’re here.” Her hand dropped gently to Faith’s head, stroking her soft red curls in a familiar way. Her gaze flew to Claire suddenly, eyes wide. “Oh I’m so stupid! You’re here for Faith! Of course you are. And here I am chattering away with you.”

“No, no it’s alright,” Claire said swiftly. She had come here for Faith, but… “I did want the chance to speak with you, too. To explain.”

Mary breathed a sigh of relief but she still smiled politely and moved to stand. “She’s slept in here since the accident. You’re welcome to stay in here as well. But I’ll‒ well, I’ll make myself scarce for a bit. Give you two some time together.”

She moved a bit slowly, her much smaller frame balancing a larger belly than Claire, but Mary extricated herself from the room as swiftly as possible, closing the door behind her.

And then it was only Claire and Faith.

With the sound of the door closing, Faith seemed to realize then that no one she knew was with her. Just Claire. Just this odd woman who had wept hysterically at the sight of her earlier today. Claire had already been preparing herself for this ‒ No more tears. Not from herself, at least. She wouldn’t scare Faith again.

Faith stood stock still by the chair Mary had vacated, no longer wide-eyed with curiosity. Instead, she seemed to search the room for something familiar. She made a beeline for the door, which she wasn’t tall enough to open.

“Lovey, it’s alright…” Claire moved to her feet, but hesitated to take a step further. But when she stood, she drew Faith’s gaze and felt something wrench in her chest. The panic in the tiny girl was palpable. “I know you’re frightened and you don’t remember me, but I’m‒”

Faith’s expression pinched with worry and she breathed in deep, and it made Claire pause.

“Want my da,” Faith croaked in her little voice, and then her face scrunched up and she began to howl.

Claire moved in an instant to scoop the girl up. She held Faith close while she cried, the small girl’s body resting above the swell of the baby.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered so quietly that she knew Faith couldn’t hear it over her own wailing. “I’m so sorry. I’ll never leave you again. I promise.” She slowly paced the small room and rubbed circles on Faith’s back, just as she used to when Faith was a baby.

Faith’s howling didn’t let up, that stubborn streak making itself known. But the longer it went on, Faith crying in her arms and allowing Claire to comfort her, the less her tiny girl felt like a stranger to Claire. How many nights in Faith’s life had been spent just like this?

And eventually, her cries became more of a whimper and then ceased altogether.

Her head popped up from Claire’s shoulder with a red face still streaked with tears and her brows still creased together. “Want da,” she tried again, her lips forming a pout.

Claire’s fingers caressed the sweet face, wiping at the tears. It broke her heart that she couldn’t just bring her to him. “He’s still here, but he’s sleeping. You’ll see him as soon as he’s better, I promise.”

“No,” Faith whined half-heartedly. Claire swayed in place with Faith and watched her yawn and then shiver slightly and burrow into Claire’s warmth.

“Shall we sit by the fire?”

“Aye.” Faith murmured, succumbing to another yawn.

“Here,” Claire grabbed a woolen shawl and draped around them both, and sat in one of the chairs by the fire. Faith sat up straight once she was in Claire’s lap, glancing about again. Her gaze turned back to Claire.

“Wha’s yer name?” Faith asked in her sweet little voice. Her head cocked to the side in a familiar way and Claire felt the sting of tears but blinked them away swiftly.

“I’m your mama,” Claire said, feeling her heart clench at saying those words. She delicately traced the sweet face that she longed to smother with kisses, wiping at the last of Faith’s tears and brushing curls off her sweaty forehead. Faith’s brows furrowed together again and Claire wondered what she made of that, what she could understand of the word at the tender age of two.

“My mam?”

Claire made a slight sound, caught between a laugh and a cry. “Yes. Yours. I carried you inside me for several months while you grew. And when you were born, I held you close and I couldn’t believe that you were mine. My baby.”

“Baby.” Faith pointed to her rounded belly and Claire exhaled a soft, surprised laugh at this.

“Well, yes, there is one in there, but I meant you. You were a baby in my belly once, too.” She brushed Faith’s curls back out of her face again and cupped the back of her head to pull her forward, meeting no resistance from the girl. Faith’s head rested on her mother’s chest, a little awkwardly draped over the baby bump. Claire sighed. She was already running out of room in her lap and a desperate feeling gripped her, that she needed to rebuild her relationship with Faith before the next one arrived. “I would hold you here and let you hear my heartbeat as a newborn baby, the same sound you heard from within when I carried you. And you knew who I was from that sound.” Faith stayed quiet and relaxed under Claire’s hands as they cradled her head and slowly rubbed her back. “My baby.”

She wasn’t sure at what point Faith drifted off to sleep, but she stayed in that chair with her girl curled up on her chest much longer than she needed to. She felt Faith’s exhales of breath caressing her skin once more, no longer the quick little puffs from when she was first born, but deeper now. This was how they had started out, the two of them, and this was how they were finding their way back. Claire’s arms went about Faith’s still form, anchoring her there, and she pressed a kiss to the crown of her head, lingering there to breathe her in and know she was real. The tears did come then, spilling fast down her face. She shook slightly with choked-back sobs but didn’t make a sound.

Barely three months ago, Claire had been in 1948 with Frank. It seemed like another lifetime ago ‒ and Culloden with Jamie and Faith, another lifetime before that. She’d searched for months and now that she had this girl back in her arms again, she’d never let her go.

“Faith Elizabeth Janet Beauchamp Fraser,” she addressed her sleeping child slowly, pronouncing each name distinctly as Jamie had done with his own name when he first told her. “I don’t know what your future holds, but I promise to do everything in my power to see you living a long and happy life. And I know you don’t know me anymore, but you will. You’ll always have me from this moment on. I traveled 200 years just to find you… I’m not likely to let anything else stand in the way. And you won’t ever lose me.” Her lower lip trembled and a few rogue tears spilled onto Faith’s head. “You and me, Faith,” Claire rasped, resting her cheek on top of Faith’s head. “We’ll be alright. I’m here. I love you.”

 

She didn’t want to move for fear of waking Faith ‒ and in doing so, of ruining the moment of being able to hold her baby to her chest ‒ but she couldn’t stay there all night. She needed to check in on Jamie.

So she stood slowly, carefully, and readjusted Faith to rest her head high up on Claire’s shoulder. The girl breathed in sharply during the move, but turned her head into Claire’s neck and let out a sleepy sigh, settling back in.

Faith’s bottom rested just above the swell of the baby, which was almost protruding far enough to sit Faith on top of it, but not quite. “I really will have my hands full in a few months, won’t I?”

Claire sauntered quietly down the hall with Faith and turned into Jamie’s room to find not only Murtagh where she had left him, but Fergus, who had joined him too.

He must’ve snuck in as soon as she went to see Faith, since he was already sound asleep in a chair near the foot of the bed. Murtagh caught her eye as she entered and merely shrugged. “Didna see any harm in letting him stay. Jamie’s been out since ye left.”

“It’s alright.”

She reached over and brushed Fergus’s curls back from his forehead before shifting Faith’s weight higher in her arms. Despite wanting to keep the children from seeing Jamie in a distressing state, she felt strengthened by their presence and by Murtagh’s. They were whole, finally. And as long as Jamie stayed strong, they would remain so.

 


 

“Jamie?”

Claire’s voice called to him, and he whined. What punishment was this? He had fought so hard these last few months to give Faith the best life he could, to accept his future as just a father but no longer a husband. And while he was torn between fighting to stay for Faith or give in and be at peace... be with Claire… it felt as though the spirit of Claire was urging him to stay put. Stay with Faith.

“Jamie, don’t give up on me.” Her voice was pinched with worry. “Not now that I’ve got you back.”

But he didn’t know that he was strong enough to keep fighting.

Oh, lass, dinna be pained on my account, he wanted to say, i’ll be wi’ ye soon. But no words came out.

 


 

The gardens provided an escape during the day as well as allowing for Fergus and Faith to run off some of their energy. Even though she’d been slow to walk at first for her age, Faith was quite steady on her feet now and Fergus made a game of chase with her, running at a slow pace to keep her after him. Every now and then, he’d slow down enough to let her catch him and flop dramatically onto the grass, which never failed to make Faith burst into laughter.

It was a short-lived escape from their worry, and inevitably for Claire, something would happen between Fergus and Faith that made her wish Jamie were present to witness it. They’d already lost so much time…

 

“Want my da!” Faith declared as she sped ahead to Jamie’s room before anyone could stop her. Claire huffed and picked up her pace as best she could.

“See? Da’s sleeping. We have to be quiet.”

Faith stood beside the bed, and her tiny frame shook. She was close to tears, Claire could tell. Nothing about the situation made sense to Faith, and she didn’t need to verbalize her distress for everyone else to know it was deeply upsetting to not have Jamie awake and alert.

“How about some cuddles for Da? You have to be careful of his leg but you can go up here by his shoulder and cuddle with him, if you want.”

It was nearing Faith’s nap time anyway, from what Mary had said. Faith didn’t need further invitation and started to scramble up the side of the bed.

“Easy, love,” Claire laughed, jumping in to help situate Faith to the other side of the bed where there was more room. She moved Jamie’s arm away from his body, creating space for Faith to curl against his side. “There we go. Rest your eyes, sweet girl.”

 

Jamie muttered softly and shifted in his sleep. Claire reached over and felt his forehead. He was sweaty and didn’t feel too terribly warm, which was promising. Claire tried to keep her hope tempered.

“Fergus, do you know where they keep the herbs for making tea? Could you run and grab me some more?”

Fergus shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I do not know, Milady,” he said regretfully. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.”

She sighed. Brother Thomas wasn’t around and neither was Mary, but she wanted to make Jamie a fresh cup of tea and see if he would drink some of it the next time he roused.

Faith was still knocked out against Jamie’s shoulder and it was only Claire and Fergus awake in the room. “Come with me. I’ll show you so you know for next time. It won’t take long.”

 


 

Jamie opened his eyes and felt like he was waking for the first time after a very strange dream. Tired and still weak, but his head felt clear. No more chills or aches through his whole body. No, just a dull pain in his thigh when he twitched his leg. He felt too warm and tried to kick his uninjured leg free from the blankets.

The fever was gone and he let out a sigh that was only partly relief. If the fever had left him… then so had Claire.

He became slowly aware of a small, warm weight on his right shoulder and looked to see a head full of wispy, red curls that could only belong to Faith. His arm tightened around her as best as he could and he turned to press a kiss to the crown of her head. “Deo gratias…” He whispered hoarsely into her hair, holding the only remaining testament that he had of his and Claire’s love. I’m sae sorry I almost left ye, a nighean...

She slumbered on, undisturbed by this even as Jamie’s hand came to rest on her head in supplication and he offered up a plea for this child’s safety and a humble request that if he should have to live the rest of his years on this earth without his wife, that he might still live to see this child of theirs grow up…

“Oh thank god!”

He stiffened at the sound of his wife’s voice, knowing it meant he was not as well as he thought, if he was still hearing her. But even as he wouldn’t turn his head to look towards her voice, he was aware that he and Faith were not alone. Out of the corner of his eye, a figure filled the entryway and in his peripheral vision, his sight told him it was Claire. But his head knew better. It wasn’t her. It couldn’t be her.

Then she drew near and her hands framed his face. His eyelids slammed shut in disbelief, pushing tears down his cheeks. “Thank god!” she said again in a tight whisper.

“Claire?” His voice came out ragged. Her hands gently held his face and turned him towards her. His eyes fluttered open and there she was, smiling down at him through her own tears. He breathed in sharply and could only stare because she would always be the most beautiful sight to his eyes ‒ And a sight he thought he would never see again. “How‒”

She leaned down and kissed him, tentatively at first but feeling him respond, she let the kiss unfold, lingering for what seemed like a blissful eternity until she pulled away, leaving them both panting softly. He reached up and touched her, tracing the outline of her face.

She was trembling terribly, almost on the verge of crying, as her eyes slid shut at his touch, and she let out a shuddering sigh. “I thought you were going to die on me.”

His heart felt as though it were trying to march right through his ribcage, it was hammering so fiercely. “I thought… I thought you were a dream. I canna believe ye’re real.”

He shook his head then as the truth set in. “Ye came all the way to France?” He was aghast, still shaken by the very presence of her. She smiled through a fresh wave of tears.

“I came two hundred years and all the way to France,” her hand reached tentatively for Faith, hovering just above the girl’s head before gently making contact, “Just to find you two.”

There was a soft scuffle of feet and Claire glanced over her shoulder, smiling brilliantly. “And I didn’t come alone, Jamie.”

“Milord!”

He’d hardly processed her words before Fergus was there, flinging himself haphazardly at Jamie. Fergus’s head buried itself in Jamie’s chest, and Jamie clutched him close, feeling a sudden, sharp sob tear from his throat. Oh God, his son.

His vision clouded over, but not before he’d noticed his godfather standing in the doorway. One arm tightened around Faith while the other held Fergus to him, and his resolve not to openly weep like a baby finally crumbled.

He had believed for so long now that his family as he once knew it was lost for good… and to have them returned to him in one instant, he felt a brief flicker of doubt. That this was nothing more than a fevered dream, to have everything his heart desired.

But he could feel the weight still of Faith leaning on his shoulder, awake now and sitting up from the sudden bursts of noise around her. He could feel where Fergus held a fistful of his shirt in a clenched fist, refusing to let go, and where the boy's tears were soaking through the fabric to Jamie’s chest. And he could feel Claire’s delicate hand brushing his hair back from his face, the softest touch but unmistakably real, before she framed his face again and kissed him, first on his lips and then peppering soft kisses across his face like she needed to cover every inch of him with her love.

And it was everything and all too much.

His family was here. And they were real. Deo gratias.