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Better to Have Loved and Lost

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Claire self-consciously rubbed the back of her neck, as if to hide her palms from Mrs. Graham’s pondering gaze. Something about what she’d said, the way she said it…it had her feeling quite uneasy. She’d never put any stock in superstition, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that Mrs. Graham’s words had a ring of prophecy.

Frank and the Reverend were going on about some Duke of Sandringham and his possible connections to Frank’s ancestor and the Jacobite cause. Claire could hardly hear them over the ringing in her ears.

The Reverend made a loud clattering noise at the china cabinet, and just as Mrs. Graham opened her mouth to scold him, there was a faint knocking.

“Is that the front door?” the Reverend said.

“Aye, must be. I’ll go see about that.” She paused in the doorway to add: “Stand away before ye do some permanent damage.”

Claire chuckled as the woman shuffled off. Frank took a few steps toward the table, grinning ear to ear. “I think we’re getting somewhere at last.”

“I’m really glad to hear it.” She smiled sweetly, pushing herself up out of her chair. “But I think I shall take my leave.

“Oh, so soon?” the Reverend said.

“Yes, I feel a bath is in order.”

“Aye, of course. Well, I hope you’ll join us for Samhain tomorrow night,” the Reverend said warmly.

“What, the pagan festival?” Claire, teased, leaning on the back of her chair with a hand on her hip. “Reverend Wakefield, you do astonish me.”

He chuckled at himself. “I love a good ghost story as much as the next fellow.”

Claire laughed softly, crossing around the table to kiss Frank goodbye. “Take your time darling, but do try to get home before the storm breaks.” She cupped his neck and leaned in, but was stopped.

“Mrs. Randall?”

Claire peered around Frank toward the doorway, seeing Mrs. Graham had returned.

“What is it?”

“There’s someone here to see you,” Mrs. Graham said.

“To see me?” Claire took her hands off of Frank and stepped around him toward Mrs. Graham, her brow furrowing.

“Aye, a young woman. Didna say what she wanted.”

Frank gave her a pensive look, and she shrugged lightly. “I suppose I should see what she wants, then.” Claire straightened her jacket and followed Mrs. Graham out of the kitchen and through the hallway.

Standing near the front door was a tall, beautiful girl with a wild mane of bright copper hair. She couldn’t have been older than seventeen or eighteen. Her ears stuck out through her curls just a little. Her eyes were slanted like a cat, but it was their color that truly caught her off guard.

They're exactly the same as mine.

“Um…hello,” Claire said uneasily. “Can I help you with something?”

Despite her size, the girl seemed to shrink right before her eyes. “Ye’re Claire Randall, then?” Her voice was small and timid, not at all matching her queenly elegance.

“Yes. Do I know you?” Claire peered at her through narrowed eyes.

The girl swallowed and started wringing her hands. “Nae, ye don’t. And I dinna ken you either, though I feel as if I do.”

“What do you mean…?” Claire took a few steps closer.

“Could we…is there somewhere we could sit?” the girl stammered.

“Um, yes…follow me.”

Claire led her into the parlor, unsure why she was leading this stranger further inside without a second thought. There was something familiar about her, and she supposed she should at least allow her to explain herself. They entered the parlor, and Claire gestured for the girl to sit. They both sat on opposite couches, facing each other.

“I’m…I’m sorry if this is a bit strange, Mistress,” the girl began. “I ken yer name and such because…my father,” she cleared her throat again, always fidgeting. “Ye saved him. In the war.”

Oh.

“He told me that he was at death’s door when a healer — a-a nurse fought tooth and nail to save him.” She peered up at her with those unsettlingly familiar eyes and wet her lips. “Claire Randall.”

“Oh…well…I’m glad that he’s alright.” Claire was touched beyond description that this girl seemingly traveled far and wide to find the nurse who saved her father. “I saved a lot of men…what is his name?”

“James,” she said sweetly, smiling crookedly. “James Malcolm.”

Claire’s brow furrowed, and she wracked her brain to try to remember.

“I’m sorry, I don’t seem to remember.”

“That’s alright, I didna expect ye to,” she said quickly. “Ye’ve saved…hundreds of lives, I’m sure. Ye’re a braw woman I’ve been told.” She self consciously pushed a stray curl out of her face, taking care to keep her ears covered even as she did. “I just…I had to tell ye I’m grateful. He’s all I have left in the world, my father. We lost my mam when I was born.”

“I’m so sorry,” Claire said, her heart aching for this stranger, sensitive young thing that she was.

“We mean…a lot to each other. My Da and me. So when I heard how much ye did fer him, I had to find ye. Ye’ve made a great deal possible fer him. Fer me. Fer us. Ye…ye saved both of us, really.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Claire said. “This is…overwhelming.”

“Ye dinna have to say anything. Just…just seeing ye, how kind ye are, that’s enough.”

Claire felt her heart constrict. The girl had tears in her eyes, and the tip of her nose was turning red.

“Are you…are you alright…” Claire said, leaning forward where she sat.

“Aye, I’m sorry.” She sniffled, swiping at her tears in embarrassment. “I dinna mean to trouble ye. I…I can go.”

“No,” Claire said quickly, perhaps too quickly. “No, you don’t have to. Especially not like that.” Claire produced a handkerchief and crossed the room to hand it to her, sitting on the couch beside her.

“Thank ye, Mistress.” She took the handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes.

“Are you…are you sure we haven’t met?” Claire said, studying her carefully. “You seem so familiar to me.”

“I’m sure. I’ve only ever heard about ye.”

Claire bit her lip in thought. “You must resemble your father, then. That must be it.”

Fresh tears trickled out of her whisky colored eyes, and she dabbed at them with the handkerchief. “Aye. I do.”

Claire smiled. “I must have his face in my memory even if I can’t remember the specifics about his case.”

The girl gave a tiny nod. “I’m his spitting image. All aside from my eyes.”

Her eyes.

Claire’s pulse quickened for reasons unknown to her.

The girl adjusted her hair again to hide one of the ears that broke free of the curls.

“Why do you do that?” Claire said suddenly. “Hide your ears with your hair like that?”

“Oh.” She smiled sheepishly. “They’re…funny, is all.” She fidgeted with the handkerchief. “The way they stick out.”

Without thinking, Claire reached out and took a thick, copper curl between her fingers and pushed it behind her ear. She had no idea what compelled her to do it, nor what compelled her to say the next thing that came out of her mouth:

“I think they’re beautiful.”

The girl’s chin trembled fiercely, and she rapidly dabbed at her eyes again. “D’ye…d’ye really think so…?”

Claire was taken aback by her response, so she just nodded, letting her hands fall limply into her lap.

The girl let out a shuddery laugh, more tears leaking out as she did. “Th-thank ye, M…Mistress.”

For a moment, Claire was certain she was going to say something else, not “Mistress.” What, she did not know.

Her mind was racing; there was something strange happening here, something beyond her comprehension.

And then she scolded herself.

She’s just a lonely young girl, an insecure one, at that. She just wants to show you gratitude.

“Are you…alone? Or is your father with you?” Claire asked gently.

“Nae, he couldna make the journey,” she said sniffling. “But he’s alright. Thanks to you.”

Claire smiled. “You’ve told me your father’s name, but you haven’t told me yours.”

Her amber eyes swam with something that Claire could only describe as turmoil.

God…those eyes…

“My name is Faith, Mistress.” She straightened a bit as she said it, that regal manner Claire had first picked up on returning. “Faith Malcolm.”

——

My eyes fluttered open, and the first thing I was aware of was the churning of my stomach. I clutched my head and sat up, taking in my surroundings.

The black-rock road was gone, as were the cars .

Breathing deeply, I gathered my skirts and stood up, making my way down the hill, away from the stones.

It didn’t take long before I came upon Da’s camp. The plan had been that he would send me off and camp right near the stones to await my return, so that he could take me to Lallybroch in the safety of his protection. He heard a twig snap beneath my feet and whirled around, his eyes immediately softening as they landed on me.

I hadn’t realized that there were tears welling up in my eyes until the sight of him brought a tiny sob from my mouth, and we ran the rest of the way to each other, crashing together.

“Thank Christ…” he muttered into my hair, rocking me back and forth. “ Mo nighean ruaidh …” He kissed my head fervently, whispering more Gaelic into my curls.

I relished his warm embrace for a moment, allowing both of our broken hearts to mend one another.

“Well…?” He broke the silence first, pulling me away so he could look into my eyes. “Did ye find her?”

“Aye, Da. I did.” I swallowed thickly, and Da brushed the tears off my cheeks with his gentle thumbs. “She…she is everything ye ever said she was.”

He let out a breathy chuckle, tears spilling down his cheeks now as well. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she…?”

“Aye.” I nodded. “And she…she smelled like herbs, like ye always said, and she’s sae kind, and…her eyes, Da. They really are just like mine.”

He squeezed his eyes shut, resting his hands on my shoulders. His face was contorted with pain, the veins popping out. My heart felt like it was being cut open. I stroked his stubbled cheeks, and his forehead, as if I could rub those creases, years of grief, out of his face.

“I’m…I’m sorry, a leannan …” he stammered, his voice tight and pained. “To hear ye speak of her so true…to ken that ye’ve…that ye truly met her…” His eyes opened, and the world of pain that I saw made me want to shrivel up. “It’s…almost too much to bear.”

“I ken,” I whispered. “I almost…called her Ma…so many times…” I sniffled, and Da’s grip on me tightened again. “It was so strange…I never knew what she looked like, no’ really, and I never called somebody Ma in my whole life…but being wi’ her I just…I knew. It felt right to call her that. Ye ken?”

“Aye, I ken, mo ghraidh .” He kissed my forehead with trembling lips, cradling my head in his hands.

“I was burning inside wi’ the need to tell her the truth.” I shook my head. “She believed me, I think. She was none the wiser that I wasna telling the whole truth. But then when I…I watched her at the stones…I…”

“What is it, Faith?” He tucked a curl behind my ear, just like she had.

It almost made me burst into tears again.

“I…I almost stopped her,” I admitted. “I ken ye told me I couldna change anything, that she had to go through or bad things would happen, but…It hurt sae much to just let her go…knowing that she…that I would…”

“Hush now, mo chridhe .” He pressed my head into his chest and held me close. “D’ye no’ ken how much she wanted ye, Faith? Have I never told ye that she thought she was barren before we were wed?”

“No…you never told me that…” I muttered into his jacket.

“Aye. She wept in my arms, grieving fer the children we wouldna have. And then when she found out about you, our wee miracle, Christ…she was sae happy, Faith. Ye couldna imagine.” His hand rubbed soothing circles into my back, and I felt myself relaxing into him. “If ye told her at the stone that she’d bring a child into the world if she touched it, even if it meant it’d kill her, I believe she’d still do it.”

“How…how can you say that…?” I pulled my head off of him to look in his eyes. “How could she want to…to die…? Just so I’d be born…?”

“Ah, m'annsachd . Someday when ye’re a mother, ye’ll understand. She gave her life for ye then, and I ken she’d do it again if given the choice. Because that’s yer Ma. Selfless, wi’ too much love in her heart.” He wiped my tears away again. 

“And as fer me, Faith.” His face grew stern, and he held my head firmly in his hands, fingers resting on the back of my neck. “Those two years I had wi’ yer mother is something I wouldna trade fer anything. I’d rather my own life be cut short than live to a ripe old age wi’out ever having known her. And you, my beautiful, precious girl. I would be nothing wi’out ye. Nothing,” he whispered fiercely, his voice tightening again. “If I had to choose between meeting and losing yer mother so I could have ye, or never knowing her at all, and you never being brought into the world…the choice is easy, mo chridhe .”

I fiercely bit down on my lip, willing my eyes to stop watering, my hands to stop trembling. I exhaled with something resembling a laugh.

“She…she called me beautiful,” I said, the words tasting sacred in my mouth, as if speaking them into the world would erase their existence of truth.

“Of course she did.” He gently stroked my wet cheek, offering the tiniest of smiles.

“My ears…” I let myself laugh again. “She thinks they’re beautiful, too.”

“Aye, she’s right.” He chuckled softly.

“And she…oh, Da…” My voice tightened again. “She…she held me. Only once because I was a stranger to her, of course, but…” I bit my lip again, losing the battle with my tears. “I felt sae safe wi’ her, in her arms like that…like I…belonged there…”

“Because ye do, a leannan .” He pressed me into him again, squeezing me fiercely. “God made ye to fit in her arms, whether she kent it at the time or no’.”

“It’s no’ fair…” I blubbered, something I hadn’t let myself say aloud in my entire life. “It’s just…no’ fair…”

“I ken, mo chridhe …”

“I…I love her, Da…” I sobbed, clinging to him for dear life. “Part of me always did, before this, but it wasna something strong enough to truly hurt until I really felt what it was like to…to have my mother hold me…”

“Oh, my poor lass…”

“I love her, and I couldna even say it…”

“She loves you, she loves ye so much, Faith…And she kens how much ye love her. She kens. She’s known yer whole life.”

I couldn’t breathe for a long time. Da was patient; he held me close and he rocked me, even though I knew he was in as much pain as I was, if not more.

“Did ye…” he broke the silence after a while. “Did ye tell her…?”

I sniffled, and I looked up at him with watery eyes. Eyes that she gave me.

“Aye, Da. I said just as ye told me to.”

“Mistress?”

“Yes?”

“Before I go, would you mind if I…well my father, he wanted me to…”

She looked at my arms, hovering over my thighs, then back up at my face.

“Since he couldna,” I finished shakily.

“You want…to hug me?”

“Aye. If that’s alright.”

Confusion only clouded her eyes for a few seconds before she nodded without hesitation. She was the one that closed the space between us, that opened her arms, that pulled me in. I bit down so hard on my lip to stop myself from sobbing, I was sure I drew blood. I uneasily returned the embrace, wrapping my arms around her slim waist as her hands came to rest on my curls.

“He told me to tell ye…that he’ll never forget ye,” I whispered into her shoulder. “As long as he lives, and after.”

Da shuddered against me, and it made me shiver from head to toe.

“Thank ye…Faith…” He was really struggling to speak now, and I held on tighter. “Thank ye fer…fer telling her what I couldna.”

My tears soaked into his shirt.

“It means more than…I could ever say.”

After another long silence, I pulled away to look at him again.

“Ye ken how ye told me ye dinna have any portraits of her?” I said nervously. He nodded, his face still wet.

“I found this.” I reached into the satchel I was carrying, producing the folded piece of paper. “After she disappeared through the stones, they were everywhere. Her husband put them up, I think.”

I handed him the paper and watched with bated breath as he unfolded it.

Without warning, my tall, strong father collapsed to his knees like he could no longer hold himself up.

Eyes wide with panic, I dropped to the floor beside him, holding onto his shoulders. I raked my eyes over his face; he was unreadable. He was staring, unblinking, at Ma’s exact likeness.

“Da…?” I said, worried.

He ran trembling fingers down the length of her face. “ A Dhia …” he breathed, hardly audible. “She’s even more beautiful than my dreams can remember.”

I bit my lip again, nodding in agreement. “She is, Da.” I rubbed his back, resting my cheek on his shoulder, staring at her with him for longer than we cared to remember.

——

A new portrait hangs in the halls of Lallybroch.

Da and I pulled out the trunk of Ma’s clothing from Paris, something Da hadn’t touched as long as I lived. He knew the one he wanted before we even opened it. Yellow, to bring out her eyes.

It fit me just fine, aside from being a bit too short and a bit too narrow in the shoulders. But it would do.

I posed for Auntie Jenny, but I stopped her before she finished.

I wanted to be the one to recreate her face.

I spent hours and days going back and forth between the paper and the canvas, and I wouldn’t let Da see until it was finished. Auntie Jenny had painted her hair a color that we decided on together, using my own hair only for shape. But she hadn’t put any stray curls in her face. Da always talked about her stray curls, and I’d seen them myself.

The eyes were the easiest part. I just had to use a mirror.

Da fell to his knees again when I finally let him see it.

Now Ma has finally taken her rightful place on the wall, beside the portrait of me that Auntie Jenny did when I was fifteen. She’s holding flowers in a green field, and she’s smiling.

And she’s beautiful.

The paper-portrait from the future sits in a little frame now, and it lives beside Da’s bed. I was used to hearing him talk to her sometimes, at night when I walked by his door, but now when I peer in, he’s cupping the little frame in his large hands, really talking to her .

It makes me as happy as it does sad.

Sometimes, I find myself talking to her, too, holding a candle to the oil pastels of her face in the dead of night.

I never really did it before, but now that I’d seen her, smelled her, touched her, I felt like I had to.

Like I finally knew how Da felt all these years: to have loved her and lost her.