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Finding Claire

Chapter Text


It was Emerson who’d said that once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. For the life of me, I couldn’t recall the decision that had led me here.

Autumn was a beautiful time of year in the Scottish Highlands. The more vibrant tones of the sparse foliage contrasted against the craggy peaks that jutted toward the heavens, and the mountains seemed to tower over us at dizzying heights as we traveled the winding roads through each valley and pass. Of course, that visual effect was moderately dependent upon the presence of the sun, which was rather rare in the Highlands, especially as winter crept closer. Equally rare were my moments of peace these last five years or so.

After spending the better part of those years in a near-constant atmosphere of chaos, I’d craved peace and silence even more than I’d longed for my husband’s embrace. Life, it seemed, had an odd way of granting wishes.

“And that peak, there, is Cocknammon Rock. Because it looks like a cock’s tail, you see. It commands the high ground from every direction, so in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the army often used it to ambush Scottish rebels and brigands,” Frank narrated as we passed the landmark.

It was indeed a rather eye-catching convergence of earth and rock, starkly juxtaposed against the azure sky, but I’d have thought a company of redcoats should’ve been rather conspicuous on the barren hilltop.

Rather than listen to the radio or engage in conversation with me, my husband had been keeping a running commentary on everything we passed that had any historical significance. I absorbed every word in silence, acknowledging him with the occasional nod and mentally filing the information away in case he should question me on it later.

I did my damndest to keep a straight face despite my inward disapproval of the Scots having been ambushed while traveling across their own lands. There were many aspects of England’s history that made me mildly embarrassed to call myself British, and the treatment of the Scottish people was high on that list. As he droned on about the sorts of people the British army had dutifully apprehended, I kept my hands clasped tightly in my lap and ignored the stiffness in my spine. Spending hours at a time in such close quarters with Frank took a toll on my muscles.

A little over six years ago, we’d gotten married and enjoyed a very brief honeymoon in the Highlands, and when he’d announced we would be going back, I’d foolishly thought he was being romantic. I should have known better. His choice of destination had been solely due to the local resources available to support his research into his family tree, specifically the branch of it that had flourished against the backdrop of the Jacobite rebellion.

We’d taken the train up to Edinburgh, but the last leg of the journey to Inverness was a meandering route through the countryside by car. Frank seemed determined to cram as much Highland experience as possible into our two-week stay. I tilted my head cautiously to ease the tension in my neck and forced myself to focus on the next point of interest in Frank’s guided tour.

“We’ll return in a day or two for a closer look,” he assured me as we passed the battlefield on Culloden moor. “Perhaps I could unwittingly stand upon the same patch of earth where my ancestor fell.”

Though I certainly had no desire to do any such thing, I nodded my outward approval of the plan and of the ancestor who was holding Frank’s interest at the moment. Jonathan Wolverton Randall had been an eighteenth-century British officer who had died in battle at the end of the last Jacobite rebellion.

Too bad the man managed to have a child before his untimely end.

I hastily turned my head toward the window to hide my face, lest Frank see the thought displayed there. My features were constantly betraying me, revealing nearly everything that should be private and sacred. It was a flaw that had brought me more than a little pain in recent months.

When we finally reached the city of Inverness, Frank’s pedantic lecture on Highland historical landmarks transitioned into a verbal compendium of Scottish customs pertaining to religious and pagan rituals. Blood on the lintels for Samhain, he explained, was just one of the odd traditions they still kept about their homes, even from the time they were constructed. From burying an offering of sorts in the foundation to pissing on the gatepost to ward off malicious spirits… On and on it went.

I listened to every word with a diligence to rival the most prodigious of scholars and let not a single syllable pass my lips.

Frank used to appreciate that I was educated and intelligent. It was what had first drawn us together when he’d approached my uncle in the course of his academic research. We’d spent long hours in spirited debate over various topics, and he had praised both my character and my courage when I’d joined the British Army as a war nurse.

The bloody fucking war.

We’d seen each other a grand total of ten days during the five years the war had kept us apart, and I hadn’t been prepared for the consequences to our relationship. I’d heard dozens of stories about men who’d seen the horrors of combat and never been the same again. To the best of my knowledge, Frank had never been out of the Intelligence offices, much less on the front lines, but the war had bloody well changed him, nevertheless. Or perhaps it was simply easier for me to blame the war for the turn our marriage had taken. In my heart, I knew there had been troubling signs I’d missed or ignored in the beginning, and my anger toward myself was growing stronger by the day.

I chanced a peek at him as he focused on maneuvering the car down a steep incline. He still looked like the man I’d married, with his lithe, athletic build and aristocratically handsome features. But his hazel eyes had lost their warmth, and the mouth I’d once thought to be soft and sensitive was now pinched with disdain.

His personality had suffered a far more devastating change. The post-war version of my husband seemed to take any show of my intellect or autonomy as a personal affront to his manhood. Since our reunion six months ago, Frank had gone to great lengths to groom me into the sort of wife he wanted: obedient, faithful, and silent. He now felt he’d let me have too much independence by allowing me to join the army, apparently forgetting I hadn’t asked his permission in the first place. The fact that I’d seen the horrors of battle in a way Frank had not was emasculating, or so his peers had pointed out on more than one occasion.

Now that the war was over, he was determined to see that I knew my ‘proper place.’

My head was aching by the time Frank pulled our hired car to a stop outside of a quaint little inn on the high street. I took a much-needed breath of fresh mountain air as I stepped onto the sidewalk. The autumn chill centered me somewhat, but I didn’t dare allow myself to relax. Schooling my expression into the placid, contented smile I was expected to wear in public, I followed my husband across the cobbled street and into the gray stone-and-mortar building that served as Mrs. Baird’s Bed and Breakfast.

Mrs. Baird, it transpired, was an affable, middle-aged woman who welcomed us with the eager smile of an innkeeper who’d struggled with the temporary collapse of the tourism industry. As I stood quietly behind him, Frank signed the register and paid the fee for our room, ignoring my presence completely and making small talk about the upcoming Samhain festivities. Mrs. Baird seemed pleasantly surprised to hear an Englishman speak so knowledgeably about Scottish customs and history.

“Are ye a professor, then, Mr. Randall?”

“Soon to be, yes. I’ve just accepted a post at Oxford.”

“Ah, so this is a last holiday before settling down to work-a-day life again,” she surmised, shooting a smile in my direction in a courteous attempt to include me in the conversation.

Frank made no such effort.

“Something like that,” he replied. “I’m in the Highlands to do some genealogical research while I still have the flexibility in my schedule.”

Mrs. Baird offered a hum and a smile of polite interest, but her solicitous gaze flickered to me a few more times. I gave her a slight nod before lowering my chin in embarrassment. I could only imagine what the woman must have been thinking--the same thing I myself would’ve been thinking in her place. I’d have been concerned for any woman, stranger or not, who looked the way I did.

I would’ve studied the woman’s face as Mrs. Baird was now studying mine, and I’d probably have been able to make out the fading bruise that couldn’t quite be concealed by cosmetics and a strategic hairstyle. I would’ve noted the way her prim and perfect clothing mocked her defeated posture and the way she endeavored to stand just beyond the reach of her husband’s arm...

My eyes met Mrs. Baird’s again for the briefest of moments, and something within me clenched at the familiar hint of pity in her expression. The poor lady would likely be feeling a great deal more of that if her ears were as curious and probing as her eyes.

To my relief, Mrs. Baird was suddenly more eager to dispense with the cordialities, and she bustled us about the place, guiding us through the dining room, a small parlor, the main lavatory, and finally to our room. I couldn’t bring myself to look at her again as she left me alone with my husband.

Once the door was shut, Frank moved to the window and recommenced his monologue. Jesus. H. Roosevelt Christ, the man did enjoy the sound of his own voice. The effort it took to keep from rolling my eyes was exhausting.

Nonetheless, I listened intently as I did a quick evaluation of the charming little room. It was clean and tastefully furnished, even if the busy floral wallpaper did make me a bit claustrophobic. Whoever had come up with the notion that printed flowers on the wall made one feel less confined had probably never spent much time outdoors.

I wasted no time in seeing to the unpacking, dutifully transferring each of Frank’s suits from his luggage to the small closet and smoothing the wrinkles from them as best I could without an iron. I stowed most of my own clothing in the polished mahogany bureau, careful not to turn my back to him. But he didn’t so much as glance my direction as he laid out his plans for our time in the Highlands.

In addition to visiting as many historical sites as possible, he also intended to spend time combing through local archives and making some acquaintances at the pub just down the street. He’d already been in contact with one of the local vicars, a Reverend Wakefield, who was rumored to have a collection of Highland historical documents and artifacts to rival a small museum.

I flinched as Frank turned suddenly away from the window and appraised the neatness of his row of suits, giving them a satisfied nod. He crossed the room to where I stood, and I tensed involuntarily. But he merely pressed his lips to my forehead in a cursory fashion and turned his attention to his various notebooks.

It was the closest thing to praise or gratitude I was likely to ever get from him, and I no longer bothered to hope for more.

We took our supper in the pub that evening, and the jolly atmosphere couldn’t quite penetrate my ever-present cloak of anxiety. I was once again ignored by my husband in favor of the company of strangers, but I felt relieved rather than offended by his rudeness. I poked dispassionately at my plate of herring, which was the most economic regional source of protein at present, and stifled every wry comment that entered my mind about the monotony of the meal. After surviving years on war rations and the rubbish the army had pretended was food, I could certainly survive a couple weeks’ worth of herring.

We did indeed meet the Reverend Reginald Wakefield as well as a few other men who shared Frank’s interest in the Jacobite rebellions. Or more specifically, ‘the Forty-Five,’ for it had begun in 1745. At first, however, they seemed slightly reluctant to entertain much in the way of discussion with him, and when I heard someone mutter, ‘Sassenachs,’ in our direction, I assumed their hesitation was due to the blatant English-ness that seemed to hover about Frank. It was similar to the way the tobacco smoke clung to so many of the other patrons. The acrid scent of it had begun to make my eyes sting, but I kept silent about it. And about everything else, for that matter.

I knew full well that I was really only there to keep up appearances. Parading me about like a hunting trophy elevated his status among other men, but that didn’t mean he enjoyed my company. If Frank could have kept me stashed at the inn for the whole trip without stirring gossip, he’d have done precisely that. Nevertheless, I kept my guard up and my ears open, paying careful attention to the conversations around me in the event that Frank wanted me to repeat something back to him later. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

“Ye look a wee bit scunnered, lassie. Might I buy ye a drink whilst your man is occupied?”

I turned toward the voice and found a man of about Frank’s age smiling congenially at me from the next table. He was fair-haired with a moderately freckled complexion and an easy-going demeanor. My muscles tensed warily, seeing the flirtatious gleam in his green eyes.

“I’m sorry… Scunnered?” I inquired, endeavoring to maintain the same tranquil smile I’d given everyone else. The man looked only mildly surprised by my accent.

“Och, bored, I should say. I dinna think I’ve seen ye speak a word to anyone since ye came in.”

My smile became somewhat apologetic as I acknowledged his observation with a slight tilt of my head toward my distracted spouse. “Thank you for the offer, but I fear I must decline.”

Fortunately, the man caught my subtle glance in Frank’s direction and didn’t press the matter, turning back to his companions with a shrug. I released the breath I’d been holding and was relieved that Frank hadn’t seemed to notice my momentary distraction. Still, the man’s words echoed in my mind as the evening went on.

Experience had taught me to speak no more than absolutely necessary, as that was typically how I got myself into trouble. Heaven forbid I voiced an opinion contrary to my husband or to society’s expectations. I might have even let slip some rather unladylike cursing. Some all-but-lost part of me chuckled weakly at the thought. Frank used to find that sort of behavior amusing.

But he wasn’t that man anymore.

Hours later, I found myself lying in the metal-framed bed at the inn, watching the shadows dance on the ceiling overhead. Floating on a sizable quantity of whisky, Frank had been just sober enough to require a fulfillment of my ‘wifely duties’ before he’d passed out. He was slumbering quietly next to me now, but I still couldn’t bring myself to relax completely in his presence, conscious or not.

For months now, every instinct I possessed had been telling me to leave him, to run as far from him as possible and never turn back. I knew he could sense it, as he rarely let me out of his sight for long enough to form any plan of escape, much less execute one. At this point, my only hope was that his new position at Oxford would force him to leave me alone in our flat during the day. I would be expected to see to the housekeeping and, Frank hoped, childrearing while he was out.

Since our reunion, he’d been particularly voracious in his efforts to start a family, as though impregnating me would salvage the masculinity he believed he’d lost by ‘allowing’ me to go to war. Each time my courses made their reappearance, Frank had taken a savage sort of pleasure in blaming me for the deficiency, and I invariably ended up with a new bruise or two.

Nevertheless, I thanked God each time I recognized the familiar cramping of my womb, feeling nothing but gratitude for my body’s apparent refusal to conceive.

It wasn’t that I objected to the concept of motherhood on principle, but the idea of bringing a baby into this situation was abhorrent on multiple levels. A child would irrevocably tie me to Frank, which was the last thing I wanted. Nor could I bear the thought that he might someday raise a hand to our child as he so frequently raised them to me these days. I knew my cycle well enough to know when to avoid intercourse, but Frank didn’t always allow my abstinence. Claiming illness or simply saying no did not deter him.

A sudden gust of wind interrupted my contemplations, drawing my gaze toward the darkened window pane. A handful of autumn leaves rustled briefly against the glass before the wind swept them away, and I felt an intense desire to be among them. What might it be like to simply drift away from all I knew and abandon the travesty my life had become?

It was a sweet dream, though likely an impossible one.

My chest tightened with longing as I tried to imagine, for what must have been the hundredth time, how I might be able to escape him. People disappeared all the time, but logically speaking, they did disappear to somewhere. Where could I go? Would he ever stop looking for me? I glanced involuntarily at Frank’s face where it rested upon the pillow next to mine, and my blood chilled all the way to my toes.

His dark eyes were open and fixed upon me, and his cold expression was just shy of a sneer. It was as though he knew precisely what I’d just been thinking. Perhaps he did. More than one person had delighted in telling me how ridiculously easy I was to read. Our gazes held for an endless moment, and my body was stiff with fear, utterly exposed and vulnerable.

It wasn’t until his hand moved slowly upward to cup my throat that I began to tremble in earnest.

He applied no pressure, and his expression never wavered, save for a slight twist of his lips. He allowed his thumb to trace my jaw in a way that would have looked casual to anyone watching, but I could feel the threat his touch implied. I closed my eyes, silently begging him to stop. To transform back into the kind, affectionate man I’d married. And to my surprise, his hand vanished. Apparently, he’d intended nothing more than to frighten me… to remind me of my place. I lay awake and shaking with silent tears long after Frank had rolled over and gone back to sleep.

Stand down, Beauchamp. That kind of thinking will get you killed.

A/N: This is my first time dipping my toes into this fandom, so please be gentle. Most of my other works can be found here. And my original novels are here. This story will be cross-posted on my wordpress site and, as always, will be updated regularly until the end. I usually update 2-3 times a week, depending on the length of the chapters and reader interest. All kudos and comments are much appreciated! <3

Chapter Text

We spent our first few days in the Highlands touring the historical sites that were within easy driving distance. Mercurial as ever, Frank’s mood had been almost pleasant, and he was entirely in his element. When he wasn’t waxing poetic about the lost Highlander way of life and the thrilling adventures his ancestor must have had, he was encouraging me to use the miniature excursions to indulge in my new hobby. 

He’d suggested I take up botany as a means of occupying my hands and mind after the end of the war, and as I’d quickly learned during the first few weeks of our reunion, a suggestion from Frank was never merely that. It was an instruction. A command. And one I had best follow if I knew what was good for me.

To my surprise, however, I’d grown to enjoy the hobby, particularly when it came to studying the medicinal herbs and their various uses. I built upon the knowledge I’d gained as a nurse in the field, which made it feel more like an indulgence and less like a mandate from my husband. It also felt good to have my hands in the dirt again, to feel the slow and infinitesimal stirrings of life at my fingertips. The sensation reminded me of Uncle Lamb, a merry smile on his face as he sifted through sand or soil in search of ancient artifacts. 

Dr. Quentin Lambert Beauchamp had been my father’s only brother and the only parent I could truly remember. He’d traveled the world as a renowned archaeologist, and after my parents had died when I was five, I’d gone with him. We’d lived in tents, mud huts, and caves, constantly moving from one archaeological site to the next. But despite my unconventional upbringing and the lack of a stable place to call home, I’d always known I was loved.

Unfortunately, Uncle Lamb had been my last living relative, aside from Frank and his family, which left me in an impossible position now. I was alone in the world with no hope of a home, save the one Frank had promised.

“This article I found doesn’t say much about the family who lived here during the Forty-Five,” Frank mused aloud, reclaiming my attention as he glanced critically at what remained of Castle Leoch. “Just says they emigrated to Canada shortly after the Rising, but apparently, some other branch of the family took up residence and lived here until the mid-nineteenth century.” 


We’d visited a number of historical sites, some fastidiously kept in their proper condition and others left to ruin. Castle Leoch was of the latter classification, and as we stepped cautiously through its crumbling stone rooms and corridors, Frank maintained his scholarly oratory on all things antiquated and lost. 

He spoke as though he were addressing someone completely ignorant of European history and culture. Having been raised as I was, I found my husband’s snide superiority more than a little irritating, but I endeavored to keep my features polite and detached, never missing my cue to speak when he expected some sort of engagement from me. 

Provoking him was never a good idea--yet another lesson I’d learned early on in the days of our reunion. I was fairly certain my ribs hadn’t remodeled properly after the worst of the incidents. And so, I bit my tongue, swallowed my sarcasm, and endured.

I had survived a war. I could survive this too.



One afternoon about mid-way through our holiday, if one could really call it that, we were greeted on the doorstep of the Reverend Wakefield’s home by his housekeeper, Mrs. Graham. She wore a beaming smile and chattered amiably as she guided us through the manse. It was a stately sort of home, with dark wood paneled walls, high coffered ceilings, and wide archways. Mrs. Graham’s pride in her work was evident in her posture, as it was clear she was quite competent at her job.

When we reached the reverend’s study, however, I found myself blinking in astonishment at the overwhelming clutter of the room. The tales of the vicar’s extensive collection of documents and memorabilia had not been exaggerated. There were precious tomes and artifacts kept in glass cases, shelves upon shelves of books, and loose paper… well, everywhere. A closer inspection of the nearest pile revealed much of it to be scraps bearing his personal notations, but I also spotted multiple sheaves of parchment among the mess.

“Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Randall, come in!” the reverend called to us from across the room. He wore a genial smile that suited his clerical collar and wire-rimmed spectacles. “I’ve compiled as much as I could on short notice, but there are just so many documents. Still, I feel confident we’ll track down your Black Jack Randall .”

He said the last with a chuckle, and Frank echoed it jovially. The two of them promptly went to work, scouring old army dispatches and logbooks. I chose a cushy armchair near the window and sat in dutiful silence, one part of my mind naming the plants I could see in the garden while the other listened to the conversation with obligatory interest.

My husband had an odd sort of hero worship about his seven-times great-grandfather, Jonathan Wolverton Randall. Perhaps it was that they shared the same middle name or that they had both served in the British military, but Frank had latched onto this particular branch of his family tree with startling enthusiasm. He also seemed determined to gloss over the more objectionable aspects of his ancestor’s character.

“You know, the accounts of his activities vary to such a degree that it’s possible some of his misdeeds were expunged from the final record or simply dismissed without investigation,” the reverend ventured. 

Frank snorted and shook his head in obvious derision. Oh dear, I sighed inwardly. I had a feeling poor Reverend Wakefield would soon discover just how biased Frank was, for all his being a professor of history. The man spoke of little else lately. At this point, I could probably have passed a graduate level exam on both Black Jack Randall and the rebellion he’d fought against. 

“Getting a record expunged was no easy feat, even in those days. More likely the complaints against him were fabricated or exaggerated,” Frank replied with disdain. “It’s no secret the British were wildly unpopular amongst the Scots.”

“Well, if he’d had a friend of significantly higher rank, either in the military or in the noble hierarchy of the day… Perhaps the duke who recommended him so highly. He was reputed to be deeply involved in Scottish politics--”

“Sandringham was a suspected Jacobite himself, so--”

“Beg pardon, gentlemen,” Mrs. Graham interrupted politely from the doorway. She was carrying a large and heavily laden silver tea tray, which I supposed explained why we hadn’t heard a knock. I rose to help her, but she waved me away with a smile and a shake of her head, already halfway across the room to the coffee table. “I’ve brought a few biscuits and some tea for ye both, but I thought perhaps Mrs. Randall would like to join me in the kitchen.”

Her smile was warm and gracious, and I brightened instantly. I opened my mouth to accept her invitation, almost forgetting to look to Frank for permission. He pursed his lips in annoyance but nodded stiffly. 

“Thank you, Mrs. Graham, that would be lovely,” I replied, moving to follow her from the room.

But as I passed Frank on my way out, he grasped my wrist tightly, jerking me toward him as subtly as he could manage. All traces of my previous smile melted from my face as he leaned closer.

“Behave yourself.”

The words were spoken in a near-whisper, but not so quietly that our hosts hadn’t heard them. I nodded mutely, my cheeks flaming in humiliation. The reverend cleared his throat uncomfortably, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at him as Mrs. Graham and I left the room.

I kept my eyes lowered until we reached the tidy, sunlit kitchen, but Mrs. Graham’s exclamation of chagrin drew my attention. There was a small, black-haired boy standing on the tips of his toes to reach for the biscuit tin on the counter, and she shooed him away good-naturedly.

“Och, ye’ll ruin your dinner, lad. Off with ye, now.” 

The boy giggled and scampered past me on his way to the door, and I glanced after him curiously. Mrs. Graham busied herself with our tea as she answered my unspoken question, keeping her back to me for a few moments. She seemed to be giving me time to compose myself after being embarrassed by my husband, and I sighed in gratitude.

“That was Roger. His mother was the reverend’s niece. She died in the Blitz, and her husband’s plane went down over the channel not long before.”

“It’s kind of the reverend to take him in,” I murmured, thinking of my uncle, who’d died in the Blitz as well. “The war made a lot of orphans.”

“Aye,” she sighed. 

When I finally worked up the nerve to meet her gaze, I saw nothing but empathy and kindness in her expression, and I knew it was for me as well as young Roger. Mrs. Graham filled my cup with Oolong, something that had been nearly impossible to procure during the war. I sipped it slowly, savoring the familiar flavor. It reminded me of another time, another life… another me.

“It’s the best for the readings, ye know. That Earl Grey gave me a terrible time of it. Leaves fall apart so fast, it’s hard to tell anything at all.”

“You read tea leaves?” I asked, mystified and a little amused. 

With her neat, iron-grey perm, pearl choker, and prim dress, Mrs. Graham seemed about as far as one could get from the popular conception of the gypsy fortune-teller. Her answering smile was bright and somewhat conspiratorial.

“I certainly do, my dear. Learned from my grandmother on the Murray side, who learned from her grandmother on the McNabb side. Drink up, and we’ll see what ye have there.”

My smile was hesitant and stiff from lack of use, but I finished my tea obediently and handed her the cup. She tilted and rolled it in her hands for a long while, catching the light at different angles and staring down into the thing with a puzzled crease between her brows. 

“That’s one of the stranger ones I’ve seen. Full of contradictions. A curved leaf to signify a journey, but it’s crossed with a broken one, which means staying put. And there are several strangers, to be sure, but if I read the leaves aright, one of them’s your husband.”

Perhaps there was more accuracy to tasseography than I’d thought, because my husband certainly was a stranger to me. Of course, I couldn’t very well voice that particular thought, but Mrs. Graham didn’t seem to notice my loss for words. Her brow was still furrowed when she reached her hand toward me.

“Let’s see your palm, dear.” 

I was more cautious this time as I complied with her request and found myself holding my breath for her verdict. Her warm, bony hands were strong but gentle as she traced the lines of my palm as though following a map. A rather confusing map, judging by her lingering frown.

“You’ve got me quite nervous,” I admitted. “Is my fate so terrible, then?”

“Och, no,” she reassured me. “Ye needn’t be troubled, dear. And in any case, ‘tis only the seed of your fate that’s in your hand. The lines change, ye know. They may be quite different at another point in your life.”

“I didn’t realize that.”

“Indeed. The lines of your palm show what ye are, so it’s natural that they change just as ye should change throughout your life. Your hand shows quite a lot of change already, especially for one so young. That would likely be the war, I’d reckon.”

I hummed quietly, wondering what truth lay in that. Was it the war that had changed me, or was it that the life I’d come home to was so very different than the one I’d left? I’d been forced to change by necessity, compartmentalizing myself into neat--and quite separate--little boxes. Uncle Lamb’s free-spirited niece, the army’s skilled and confident veteran nurse, and Frank’s subdued wife. At some point, I’d lost sight of which me was the real one.

“What do you see, then?” I asked, nodding to my still-open palm. Mrs. Graham’s forehead wrinkled again as she tilted her head from side to side, seeming to weigh her words carefully.

“Well, the large thumb wouldn’t change much--means you’re of strong mind and will. And this here,” she paused to indicate the fleshy mound at the base of my thumb with a twitch of her thin lips, “means you’re a... passionate woman.”

I flushed slightly but said nothing as she went on.

“The lines are certainly in a pattern I’ve not seen before, though. The life-line’s strong, which indicates good health, but it’s more… fragmented than I usually see. Your marriage line’s divided, which isn’t unusual. Means two marriages. But most divided lines are broken. Yours is… forked.”

Two marriages … A thrill of hope rose in my chest before I could quash it. Did that mean I might escape Frank after all? Mrs. Graham chattered on about the lines of heart and head, but I couldn’t force my mind past the question of the forked marriage line. Hope was a dangerous thing, and I seized upon a talisman of practicality. It can’t possibly be accurate, because if I ever did manage to get away from Frank, getting married again is the last thing I’d do.  

“Mr. Randall seems quite the diligent historian,” Mrs. Graham noted, reclaiming my attention with a change of subject. “The reverend is similar in that way, like a dog with a bone once he sets himself to it. How do ye occupy yourself while your husband is so deep in his research?”

I faltered at the unexpected question, having gotten out of the habit of talking about myself.

“Oh… Lately, I’ve been studying botany, particularly plants and herbs that have medicinal uses.”

“Och, so ye have an interest in medicine, then?”

“Yes,” I replied. This time, the smile felt even stranger on my face because, for once, it was genuine. “I was a nurse in the army, first at Pembroke Hospital and then near the front at Amiens.”

Mrs. Graham straightened a little in her seat, her keen eyes glinting with an interest that was no longer merely polite.

“Hmm. Might I ask your maiden name, dear?”

“Beauchamp,” I answered, my confusion growing when her eyes widened perceptibly at my response. But before I could inquire as to what was troubling her or if the name was familiar, her expression had returned to normal, and she changed the subject again.

“Have you and your husband taken in any of the historical sites hereabouts?”

“Yes, the battlefield memorial at Culloden, Beaufort Castle, a few places in Beauly, Castle Leoch…”

“And have ye been out to the stone circle at Craigh na Dun?” she pressed. I shook my head, still a bit mystified.

“It’s a henge of some sort?” I guessed. Frank and I had visited Stonehenge before the war, and he’d thoroughly enjoyed himself.

“Aye, I mention it because it’s a good place to find a variety of plants that might interest ye, and I’m sure Mr. Randall would find the history of the place engaging as well.”

I agreed, privately wondering how best to present the idea to my husband without provoking his unpredictable temper. He’d never allow me to go alone, but since there was something to interest him as well, perhaps being forced to accompany him everywhere might work in my favor this time.

Shortly thereafter, Frank ushered me back to the car, having bid the reverend and Mrs. Graham a polite farewell. I watched him surreptitiously from the passenger seat and tried to judge his state of mind. He seemed to be in good humor after an afternoon of scholarly pursuit, so I decided to take my chances.

“Mrs. Graham mentioned another historical site that might interest you.” I kept my voice soft and unimposing, and Frank responded with a sort of grunt that implied curiosity. “A circle of standing stones at a place called Craigh na Dun. It sounded like a henge of some sort.”

To my relief, Frank’s features brightened with excitement, and I allowed myself to relax a little.

“Wonderful! I’ll ask ‘round for directions at the pub later.”

I responded with a nod and listened as he told me the things he’d found in Reverend Wakefield’s archive, some of which had apparently been ‘borrowed’ from the historical society for the occasion of Frank’s visit. If it were anyone but Frank telling me about it, I’d have laughed out loud at the notion of the sweet old vicar absconding with eighteenth century army dispatches.



Our evening passed in much the same way as the last few--herring and ale at the pub, replete with tedious conversations about history and lore with various accommodating strangers. After a few hours, my head was beginning to ache from the chaos and volume of so many jumbled voices, and my body was stiff from being tensed with anxiety for so long. I worked up the courage to ask for reprieve, certain Frank wouldn’t hurt me in front of witnesses.

By some stroke of providence, he was sufficiently distracted by his discussion with a local solicitor and dismissed me with an impatient, “Fine.” I shrugged off my embarrassment at being treated like an errant child in front of a pub full of strangers and decided to simply be grateful. 

It was a short walk back to the inn, and the brisk October air was refreshing after the stifled atmosphere of the pub. The wind had an invigorating effect, filling me with a strange new energy despite my fatigue. It was welcome but eerie, especially when my scalp began to tingle with intuition. I couldn’t have said what drew my eyes down the darkened street or what I expected to see there, but the complete and utter emptiness of the road and sidewalks felt wrong somehow. 

I heard distant thunder a few seconds later, and the first few droplets of rain were pattering onto the cobbled street as I reached Mrs. Baird’s. I let myself into our room quietly and made sure to set out everything Frank would need for his evening ablutions before attending to my own. Our hostess had advised me earlier in the week as to where I could find candles and matches, and I set those out as a precautionary measure against power failure. Electricity outages had been so commonplace during the war that people had grown accustomed to keeping such provisions close at hand.

A flicker of lightning interrupted the darkness beyond the window, followed soon thereafter by a clap of thunder. I sighed ruefully, considering what walking back in a thunderstorm was likely to do for my husband’s disposition. I decided the least I could do was set a fire blazing in the hearth, and once that was finished, I changed into my nightgown.

As I readied myself for bed, my thoughts meandered into the past. I missed the man Frank Randall used to be. Or at least, I missed the man I’d thought he was. He’d been so gentle and affectionate during our courtship and in the early days of our marriage. The war had changed him greatly, but… I sometimes wondered if perhaps this new Frank had been there all along and I’d simply been too naive to recognize the warning signs. 

The war had changed me too, of course, but not in that way. I’d spent those years longing for him and the life he’d promised me, dreaming of the day we could finally be together again. Now, as I recalled the feel of his hand around my throat, the dream felt more like a nightmare.

Pushing my troubled thoughts to the back of my mind, I focused on the task at hand--namely, trying to manage my thoroughly un manageable hair. My brown curls were knotted and starting to frizz, reacting to the electricity in the air. The bristled brush was ideal for short, straight hair, like Frank’s, but it was entirely the wrong tool for trying to tame my unruly mop. The damn thing nearly got stuck in my hair at one point, and I yanked it free in agitation.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”

I released a sigh of defeat at my own reflection, then glanced at the water basin speculatively. I’d filled the ewer from the tap in the lavatory, but I knew Frank preferred the water to be fresh. My eyes fell upon another solution, and in a moment of inspiration, I picked up the glass bottle of L’Heure Bleu from atop the vanity. 

It had once been Frank’s favorite perfume, and as I used a little to smooth the wayward hairs into place, I sent up a silent prayer that the scent might appeal to him. Perhaps he would be gentle with me tonight, as he’d been before the war.

Scarcely a full minute after I finished with my hair, the electricity failed and plunged the room into semi-darkness. I quickly lit a few candles from the flames crackling in the grate and moved to the window. With the heavy rain obscuring the view, I could see only my own firelit reflection, but all thoughts of the storm or power failure fled my mind in the next few seconds.

Five stomping footsteps outside the door were my only warning, and my stomach knotted fearfully as Frank burst into the room, his eyes wild with rage. He slammed the door behind him, muffling the sound of Mrs. Baird’s exclamations of concern. I backed away from him instinctively, but it was futile. He was across the room in two seconds, gripping the tops of my arms and breathing heavily into my face. The mingled scents of smoke and hops were nauseating.

“Do you know what I just saw?” he demanded, jerking me roughly. I managed to shake my head in the negative. “A man, out in the street. Looking up at this window. At you. Watching you brush your hair.”

I struggled to find the correct response, anything that would calm him. But I had no idea how a voyeuristic stranger in the street could possibly be my fault. Frank didn’t care for my stuttering and shook me again.

“Think I can’t smell that perfume?!” he shouted, his face inches from mine and blurred through my tears. “Were you planning to sneak off and meet him before I returned? Who was he?!”

“I don’t know!” I cried, but his grip on my arms only tightened.

“You lying slut. He was someone you fucked while we were apart, wasn’t he?! Tell me!”

“I swear… I don’t know what you’re talking about. I… I wore the perfume for you!”

I staggered as he released me abruptly, and I had no time to recover my balance or shield my face when his arm drew back. A hot burst of pain radiated down my cheek and neck as my head snapped hard to the right. I didn’t see the second slap coming, nor the fist to my gut that followed.

The floor rose up to meet me as I fell hard and curled inward, winded and coughing. My lungs ached for oxygen, my vision darkening with black spots. There was a rustling sound I recognized all too well, and my coughs became sobs as I braced myself for what was coming next.

Frank had removed his pants and thrown his body weight on top of me, as though expecting me to struggle. But I didn’t bother. Of course, I had fought hard the first few times he’d subdued me this way, but that had only brought me more pain. 

This time, I didn’t fight back or beg him to stop. I gazed toward the fire and let my eyes drift out of focus, seeing nothing but dancing colors. I couldn’t quite ignore his angry invasion of my body or the hateful words he growled into my ear, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever. In fact, experience had taught me that the more I submitted, the faster he would finish.

When at last he withdrew and rose to his feet, I curled onto my side, still watching the dancing flames in the hearth. He didn’t wait for me to get up but silently stepped away toward the bed. His body had been damp from the rain, and now mine was as well. It chilled my skin almost as much as his abuse had chilled my blood, but I didn’t dare move closer to the fire. Instead, I welcomed the cold, praying that numbness would follow. 

A moment later, I was startled when one of the pillows hit my back.

“You’ll sleep there. A faithless whore has no place in my bed.”

I said nothing.
Saw nothing.
Felt nothing.



The following day was a long one.

I woke when the noisy bed springs signaled that Frank was getting up, and when he left the room to bathe, I reluctantly began to survey my injuries. Without moving at all, I knew my headache was likely to persist throughout the day. But the tender flesh of my lips was intact, and none of my teeth felt loose, which I hoped boded well for the face I would soon inspect in the mirror. I moved cautiously, first taking a few deep breaths to assess my ribs for pain from fractures. So far, so good.

My joints and muscles ached as I rose slowly from the floor, but that was to be expected after having been there all night. I held my breath as I reached the small mirror over the vanity. To my surprise, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. My stomach was tender but unmarked, and my face was more red than anything else. I recalled that Frank had slapped me with an open palm as opposed to a fist this time. 

Still, it was a little more than what my cosmetics could be expected to cover, and I fretted over the attention it might draw. It would be enough to stir gossip but not enough to warrant anyone’s intervention. That much, I knew from experience, as even our physician had responded with an apologetic shrug.

It was a family matter.

This sort of thing happened all the time, and people tended to avoid interfering, even when children were involved. For all the progress society had made toward feminine equality in my lifetime, what happened to a woman behind closed doors was believed to be of no one’s concern but her husband’s.

I cleaned myself up as quickly and thoroughly as I could manage without fresh water. When Frank reentered the room a short while later, he was clearly still angry. His angled jaw was clenched tightly, and he sent the occasional glare in my direction as he finished dressing. Wary of provoking another outburst, I waited for him to speak.

“I instructed Mrs. Baird that we would be taking breakfast in our room. She’ll be up with a tray shortly,” he eventually announced, breaking the tense silence. “You’re not to speak to her.”

He moved closer to where I stood frozen in fear, and I couldn’t help but flinch as he brought his hand to my chin, gently tilting it upward. He appraised the mark on my face with barely concealed pride and satisfaction, and I shuddered in disgust. 

Who the bloody hell is this man?

“Since you’re indisposed today, you’ll be staying in the room while I’m out.”

My heart beat slightly faster at the prospect of having time to myself, but I merely nodded, not daring to meet his eyes lest he see the hope in mine. 

“Use the lavatory now, while Mrs. Baird is occupied.”

I quickly gathered my things and did as he instructed. I felt slightly better once clean, but the bathroom was better lit and the mirror of higher quality, causing me to flinch once again when I saw my own reflection. I’d looked worse, but I’d sure as hell looked better too. 

The bruised, defeated person in the mirror couldn’t possibly have been me. Not this thin, stoop-shouldered woman who looked like a strong wind might erase her from existence. Her brown eyes should’ve been bright with energy. Her lips should’ve been curved upward in a perpetual smile of optimism.

Ashamed of myself, I averted my eyes from the mirror and finished my business quickly. Fortunately, I made it back to the room before Mrs. Baird, and I kept my back to her as Frank accepted our breakfast tray. I focused on the view of the street below, wondering if there had truly been a man watching me through the window. Or had it simply been some figment of paranoia and too much drink?

“My wife is feeling unwell today and is not to be disturbed,” I heard Frank inform the proprietress. “I’ll be back later to check on her myself.”

“Y-Yes, sir. As ye say.” The poor woman stammered her meek acceptance of his ruling and made a hasty retreat, leaving me alone with my husband again.

I ate sparingly, hoping to ration what I’d gathered would be my only meal for the day. Frank, however, ate his meal with relish and behaved as though I were either invisible or nonexistent. He emptied his plate quickly and finished getting dressed, striding purposefully from the room without a word as to where he was going or when he might return.

Only when I heard the lock engage and his feet descend the stairs did I finally allow myself to relax.

I quickly tidied the mess he’d left behind and straightened the bedclothes before easing my aching body onto the mattress. I’d gone without the comfort of a bed many times throughout my life, by virtue of being stationed near the front or simply by way of being Lambert Beauchamp’s niece. But I hated Frank all the more for demeaning me that way, as though his violence hadn’t dishonored me thoroughly enough. It was yet another indication that he was no longer the man I’d married.

Having slept rather poorly on my small space of hardwood, I napped periodically throughout the day. When I was awake, my mind spun in repetitive cycles of uncertainty and contemplation. How had it come to this? After all my plans and dreams for my future, the reality of what my life had become was jarring by contrast. At some point, I’d lost the ability to recognize myself amidst the chaos, and that angered me all the more. I’d never been the kind of woman who cowered in the shadow of a man’s anger, but that was somehow precisely what I’d become.

Sickened with myself, I rolled onto my side and stared blindly through the windows at the gray Highland sky, my mind grasping for a way to bring an end to this madness. A dozen scenarios flickered through my mind like images on a broken film reel, each one colorless and incomplete. Consulting a lawyer and filing for divorce… Fabricating a disappearance or even my own death… 

I could flee to the Continent, perhaps. Change my name and trust in the post-war chaos to simply swallow me up and allow me to start anew…

I’d never truly had a home, so leaving England wasn’t all that difficult to imagine. But this would be so much more than that. This would be leaving myself behind.

Or had I already done that?



Frank didn’t return to the inn until nearly dawn, and if the smell of smoke on his clothing and alcohol on his breath was any indication, it was safe to say he’d spent the majority of the night at the pub. He nudged me awake with a bit too much force, causing me to jerk violently in surprise. My sore abdomen didn’t thank me for my overreaction, and I winced as I tried to sit up.

“Lez go. Need t’ get ta th’ stows,” Frank slurred.


He repeated the jumbled words again, and this time I could decipher enough of them to take his meaning.

“The stones? You mean Craigh na Dun?”

“Yeah. You drive.”



I slipped out of bed and dressed quickly, watching him sway on his feet as he searched for something in his suitcase. Drunk as he was, I was surprised he could see anything at all, and I almost said as much when he pulled out of one of his many notebooks. He looked like he wanted to vomit on the damn thing.

“Shouldn’t we perhaps wait until later today? When we’ll be able to see everything properly?”

“No, I wanna see th’ witches.”

Witches? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. 

He had me even more confused at this point, but I didn’t want to press my luck by arguing with him or asking for an explanation. A drunk Frank was unreasonable at the best of times and violent at the worst.

The stupor of fatigue was easing from my body as I helped Frank out to our hired car. Fortunately, some helpful new acquaintance had written down the directions, and my husband shoved them into my hand without explanation. The neat handwriting did make me feel marginally better about the outing, since whoever had given Frank the directions had probably not been intoxicated.

It was a bit difficult in the dark, but I managed to get us there in relatively short order. Getting Frank up the hill, on the other hand, took nearly as long as the drive from Inverness. It was steep and strewn with rocks of all sizes, each lying in wait to trip the inebriated fool trying to navigate them. 

When we finally reached the top, I took a deep breath and glanced around at the monoliths that rose, dark and imposing, from the ground. They were small in size compared to the ones we’d seen at Stonehenge, but they were no less impressive. Frank stumbled dazedly around the middle of the circle, touching a few of the stones as he went. I kept my distance until the wind carried the sound of voices to my ears, and I managed to tug my husband behind a large boulder just as the strangers reached the summit.

It was a group of rather oddly dressed women. The ‘witches,’ I presumed. They defied the chilly night air in gauzy white dresses that left much of their arms and legs bare, but each garment had a hood that obscured most of their faces. I was already shivering with the cold, but something about the silent way they moved made my skin tingle with new awareness.

Then, they began to dance.

I was utterly transfixed by their movements, which seemed to be perfectly choreographed around the placement of each standing stone. The flowing white linen of their garments danced with them, as though the wind itself was playing a conscious part in the spectacle.

As they made another turn to the east, I felt an odd buzzing sensation in my head. Or was it in the stones around us? An unpleasant wave of dizziness swept over me as well, and I took a deep breath to clear my head. The women twirled toward the center of the circle and came to a stop just as the rays of the rising sun struck the tallest of the stones there. My eyes widened with recognition when the leader of the dancers turned in my direction. 

It was Mrs. Graham.

She looked younger in her druid dress and far more like the free-spirited gypsy I’d met yesterday. She wasn’t looking at me, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that she knew I was there. It had been she who’d told me about the stones in the first place and encouraged me to visit. Though, of course, most tourists wouldn’t have chosen dawn as an optimal time for sightseeing. The women chatted amiably amongst themselves as they left, descending the hill in the opposite direction from whence Frank and I had come. 

Once the coast was clear, I nudged Frank cautiously, and he rose from our hiding place with a grunt. It was a miracle he hadn’t given us away. I watched him stagger drunkenly around the stone circle, running his hands over each one as though searching for something. He’d behaved in a similar way when we’d visited Stonehenge, so I didn’t question his behavior.

Instead, I let my eyes roam the ground beneath the stones, spotting several plants I’d have loved to add to my collection of specimens. I hadn’t even thought to grab any of my botany materials on our way out of the room, and I lamented the missed opportunity. 

I scrutinized Frank’s movements with a practiced eye. If he were to lose consciousness, I couldn’t possibly have moved him back to the car on my own. He was sorely in need of a bed, and I wasn’t in the best shape myself. Whether it was due to the abrupt and early awakening or the bizarre buzzing in my head, I longed to lay down and close my eyes.

It took some coaxing, but I managed to maneuver my husband back down the hill to the car. He slept on the way to Mrs. Baird’s, rousing just long enough to move up to our room before promptly passing out on the bed.

Our hostess eyed me with no small measure of concern as I ate breakfast downstairs a short while later, having done the best I could to make myself presentable. Still, the slight redness and swelling on my cheekbone couldn’t be completely obscured by my curly hair, and I knew she had to be drawing her own conclusions on the matter. I found myself both relieved and disappointed that she neglected to say a word about it as I thanked her for the meal and carried a tray up for Frank.

I passed a few hours in the armchair, dozing off and on with my little book of herb illustrations open on my lap. The blue flowers I’d spotted near the stones were troubling me, as I couldn’t quite match them with an illustration from the book. 

By midday, I was faced with the question of going out for a bit of lunch or continuing to wait for Frank to rouse himself. He’d been all but dead to the world for more than five hours. In fact, if I weren’t able to see him breathing, I might assume he really was dead. A tiny, spiteful part of me sighed with longing for that, and I felt instantly ashamed. 

No matter what he’d done to me, I could never have truly wished him harm. 

I eventually gave in to the temptation to go out and buy something for lunch, but even the scent of the food failed to rouse my husband. As the afternoon wore on, I felt compelled to give over to another temptation.

The stones.

I wanted to go back to Craigh na Dun to collect the mysterious blue flower, but I knew that if I waited to ask Frank’s permission, he’d deny me. My gaze flickered to the clock, and I calculated the risk. I’d seen him like this before. It would likely be another three hours or more before he opened his eyes.

He’d never know I was gone…

I couldn’t have said if it was madness or desperation that sped my movements as I donned a clean dress and tended to my hair and cosmetics. Perhaps both. And as my fingertips brushed the doorknob, I felt a thrill of excitement and fear. What might he do if he woke to find me gone with no explanation at all?

I penned a quick note with a trembling hand, explaining where I’d gone and promising to be back before tea time.



The expansive beauty of the Highlands gave me new life. I could have spent years on that hilltop, drinking in the rain and sunshine until I grew roots into the rugged, ancient earth. It was as though the freedom I’d been craving was just at my fingertips, and I had only to reach out and take it. The craggy, snow-topped peaks dotting the landscape made deep valleys of shadow and mist, and I longed to vanish into that darkness. To simply disappear…

I’d marked the sun upon my arrival and fastened my jeweled watch around my wrist for a reason. I knew better than to linger overlong when I’d left the inn without Frank’s knowledge or consent. 

But the flowers held my attention far better than thoughts of my husband ever had. The unknown blue flowers had been promptly identified, but I found over a dozen other plants I’d only seen in illustrations. I was thoroughly in my element, my chest filled with a buoyancy that was the nearest thing to happiness I’d felt in months.

Only when a handful of knotgrass escaped my grasp did I notice how much the wind had picked up, and as I glanced around me, I realized the odd humming I’d heard that morning was emanating from the largest stone. It stood in the center of the circle, buzzing as though there were a hive of angry bees somewhere inside it. I had thought I’d imagined the noise or simply had an intense headache, but this was no auditory hallucination. Between the buzzing and the blustering wind, I didn’t hear the slamming of a car door from the bottom of the hill.

But I certainly heard the unchecked fury in my husband’s voice as he took long strides toward me.

“Who the hell do you think you are, leaving like…”

He continued to scream at me, but his words were lost in the persistent buzzing. It had grown louder than his voice, disorienting and almost deafening. I looked away from him toward the largest stone, bewildered by the noise, but my attention snapped back to Frank when I felt the pain in my arms.

His fingers dug into the fresh bruises already peppering my skin from his last assault, and I cried out in pain. My inability to comprehend the silent movements of his mouth frustrated him, and he began to shake me in earnest, eventually becoming so irritated that he struck me hard across the face.

The pain did nothing to wake me from the nightmare, and my feet moved of their own volition, obeying the instinct to flee. I somehow managed to detach myself from his grasp and scrambled away from him. But in the next instant, I didn’t truly know whether I was running from my husband or toward the stone. 

Disoriented and pulled by some unknown magnetism, I extended my arms toward the tallest stone, seeking the reassurance of something solid…



Frank Randall stood in the middle of the stone circle, mouth agape with shock and disbelief as he stared at the empty patch of earth in front of him. The same space his wife had occupied mere seconds ago. His eyes darted reflexively around him, searching. 

Was he still drunk? Or merely dreaming? 

He rounded the largest stone, certain he’d find her standing on the other side, but there was nothing. And when he called out for her, screaming her name so loudly it reverberated back to him on the gentle breeze… Nothing. Cautiously, he reached out to touch the stone with both palms, just as she had done.


Frank spent the next half hour at Craigh na Dun, alternating between brief searches fueled by his still-potent anger and periods of rest in which he merely waited for his wife to reappear. By the time he finally started down the hill toward the car he’d borrowed from Mrs. Baird, an odd sort of numbness had settled into his limbs as well as his mind.

His wife wasn’t coming back.

He left the hired car behind and returned to the inn, his mind continuously working over the problem at hand. He’d eventually have to report her missing, but there was no way in hell he could tell anyone what he’d seen. Who would’ve believed him anyway? If Frank hadn’t watched her vanish before his very eyes, he would have assumed she’d simply left him, and that’s precisely what he would tell the authorities. No doubt, that was the conclusion everyone else would draw anyway.

She’d been thinking about it for months, he knew. She had gotten a little better at schooling her expressions lately, but not good enough. Her desire to leave him was to be expected, of course. He’d driven her to it. But even as he acknowledged that fact in his own mind, he couldn’t summon any remorse for his actions. 

The war had changed his wife, and he cursed the day he ever gave her his blessing to join the army. She’d forced him to find new methods of dealing with her, pushing him beyond the limits of his self-control time and again. 

The following day, he took a taxi out to Craigh na Dun to retrieve the hired car and then went back to check out of the inn. Once he’d returned the car to the depot in Edinburgh, he boarded a southbound train, saying not a word to anyone about his missing wife.

Chapter Text

The air was screaming. 

Except there was no air. Not even in my lungs. The earth had vanished from beneath my feet, leaving me untethered, without even the anchor of gravity to aid me. I was being simultaneously compressed and torn apart, and the only thing I knew to be real was the screaming. A million souls cried out in fear, and my mind screamed with them.

It was a feeling of such elemental terror that I lost all sense of my own existence. It could have been years or merely seconds, for the passage of time meant nothing in that horrifying state of non-being.

When at last the screaming stopped and I became aware of anything else at all, it was the pain that found me first. I felt as though I’d been pulled apart at the molecular level only to be pieced back together again, and rather haphazardly at that. Even with my eyes open, it took me a few moments to recognize the shadows swaying overhead as tree branches. I was flat on my back, my brain battling waves of dizziness and nausea. When I recalled the existence of my limbs and their purposes, I rolled myself over and began to wretch into the grass, clutching my aching head.

Bits and pieces of memory trickled back to me as I took in my surroundings. The stones were still there, standing as tall and proud as they’d done for centuries. But the buzzing sound was gone, and the howling wind had calmed to a gentle breeze. Everything seemed quite normal. 

And I was alone.

Frank’s absence was unnerving, especially as the memory of the encounter sharpened in my mind. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened. He hit me… I gingerly touched my cheek and judged the tenderness there to have been substantially amplified by his backhanded blow. Had I stumbled and fallen? Struck my head upon the stone and lost consciousness? 

A surge of adrenaline coursed through my veins, fueled by the shock of my experience as well as fear of my husband. I fought my still-blurred vision to scan the immediate area. For all I knew, Frank would reappear at any moment to haul me back to the car. I shuddered at the thought of  the punishment I would face when we got back to the inn. Leaving without his permission had been reckless and stupid of me.

I tried to stand, but my body hadn’t quite recovered, so I settled for crawling on my hands and knees to the nearest of the outer stones. Resting against it, I took in my surroundings more carefully. Everything seemed oddly peaceful, contradicting the chaos I’d just endured. 

Realizing I had no idea how long I’d been unconscious, I checked my watch for the time, only to find it missing. In its place was a tender, red spot that looked and felt like some sort of burn. The pain of it had apparently been overshadowed by everything else, though my cheek was starting to hurt a bit more now, a throbbing reminder of Frank’s temper. My older bruises were sore as well.

As I waited, listening for Frank’s return, my senses began to register new oddities that only added to my confusion. The air was warmer by several degrees, and the sky was cloudier with the promise of rain. The trees looked smaller, younger. Their leaves were green with new life rather than withering into shades of autumn. My eyes darted to the flowers I’d been collecting, but they were gone. A completely different array of vegetation grew around the stones now, with several flowers I recognized to be those that blossomed in spring.

It made no sense, and when I finally summoned the courage to stagger to my feet and toward the edge of the hilltop to look for Frank, I was met with another inexplicable sight. There was no vehicle at the bottom of the slope. Nor was there a road.

What the bloody hell…

The foreign emptiness of the landscape sent a chill of unease through my body, unnerving me to the point that I almost wanted to call out to Frank, if only to reassure myself that I wasn’t alone.

The first gunshot sent another shockwave of adrenaline through my blood. I fought the urge to duck and cover, resisting a wartime instinct I knew was no longer necessary even as more gunshots rang out in succession. The unmistakable sounds of human conflict reached me from the other side of the hill, and I cautiously made my way toward them. My legs, exposed by the short hem of my cotton dress, stung with multiple scratches from the undergrowth of a young wood. Had there been such brambles before?

I could hear the rapid footsteps of multiple people, accompanied by the clamour of gear bouncing against running bodies. A handful of male Scottish voices shouted in Gaelic, but none sounded familiar. Perhaps Frank is with them...

But that thought faded quickly when I caught my first glimpse of the owners of those voices. They were wearing kilted plaids and racing across a small clearing some fifty yards away. One of the men cried something else in Gaelic and turned to fire a pistol at their pursuers. My eyes widened further as they fell upon half a dozen men in red uniform coats and what looked to be buckskin breeches, waving bayoneted muskets and shouting in my own native tongue and accent.

I watched the skirmish between the two parties with bemused astonishment. It was like a dream in which the dreamer knows the events aren’t real. It couldn’t be real. And yet, it was happening. I could even smell the gunpowder from their weapons. A rational person might assume these men to be actors filming a period drama of some sort, but I could think of no reason such individuals would be firing live ammunition.

I glanced around furtively for a better place to take cover, but before I could take a step in any direction, a familiar hand covered my mouth. Its counterpart gripped my arm from behind, and I squeaked in surprise as he spoke a low warning into my ear.

“Quiet, now.”

The fingers of both hands pressed painfully into my already-bruised flesh as he pulled me against his body and held me there. His arm encircled my waist like a band of iron, squeezing the same part of my abdomen he’d punched only two nights ago. Needing oxygen, I twisted my face away from his hand and belatedly caught his strange scent. 

“Frank, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--” My voice faltered as he released me abruptly and spun me to face him. I staggered backward a few steps, shocked by his appearance. 

The man wore the same British army uniform as the other men I’d seen in the clearing, though with adornments that indicated higher rank. His hair was darker and long enough to be gathered at the nape of his neck, but he wore my husband’s face and spoke with his voice. I nearly asked what he was playing at but swallowed the words when I spotted a few small differences in his features. The shape of his eyes was a little different, and his mouth was thinner. A weight settled in my stomach as I shook my head in confusion.

“You’re not Frank.”

“No, madam, I am not.” He kept his eyes on me as he made an ironic sort of bow and said, “I am Jonathan Wolverton Randall, Esquire. Captain of His Majesty’s Eighth Dragoons, at your service.”

For one thunderstruck moment, I thought perhaps he was Frank after all, putting on a rather elaborate joke. But I dismissed the thought almost as quickly as I’d conjured it. The version of my husband who joked and laughed had been lost in the war, and the man standing in front of me appeared to be quite serious. 

And if he truly was who he’d said he was...

I was overcome by another wave of dizziness, and I deliberately pushed the profound implications to the back of my mind. Captain Randall--or whoever he was--apparently took my momentary silence as a stalling tactic.

“And who might you be?” he asked with a raised brow. I replied hesitantly, realizing I couldn’t very well tell him my surname was Randall.

“Claire Beauchamp.” 

“Hmm. And who is Frank?”

“My husband. He’ll be looking for me. I should go…”

As I spoke, he began to close the distance between us slowly, his eyes roaming my body as though he were memorizing every inch of it. I flinched away from him and took a cautious step backward. My reaction seemed to amuse him. His eyes narrowed, and his lips curled in a cruel and familiar way. 

My breath caught at the similarity between this man and my husband. They could have passed for twins, regardless of how many generations might separate the two. That thought sent another quiver of unease to my stomach, and I glanced reflexively up the hill toward the stone circle, now obscured by trees. 

Is it really possible?

Randall brought a hand to my chin, his touch startling me. I trembled as he turned my head to the side, examining my face just as Frank had done yesterday. I was belatedly but excruciatingly aware of my disheveled appearance, only now realizing how much damage the brambles had done to my white cotton dress. He released my chin but didn’t step back.

“And what, pray tell, does your husband do?”

“He’s a teacher. At Oxford,” I stammered, watching his sardonic smile widen. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, why did I say that? 

“Oxford, is it? Mrs. Frank Beauchamp, the teacher’s wife…” He chuckled, leaning closer. “No, I don’t think so. You don’t look at all like anyone’s wife. You look like a whore who’s been handled a bit too roughly.” Randall eyed the bruise on my cheek and sneered. “I hope they paid you well for that damage. Though, if it was one of the Scots, I’d wager they didn’t. If playing the victim is a specialty of yours, I’d be interested in judging your skills for myself.”

His other hand moved purposefully to the front of his breeches, and I shrank away from him.

“I’m not a whore!”

Randall’s expression made it perfectly clear he didn’t believe me. This man might not have been Frank, but my instincts objected to him just as strongly, if not more so. I tried to retreat again, but he shadowed my steps too quickly. 

My pulse sped frantically as his arms locked around me. He pushed me to the ground, crushing my body beneath his and making it impossible to breathe, much less protest. I managed one short gasp before he kissed me savagely, ignoring my flailing resistance. My arms were restricted, and my nails found no purchase through his scarlet uniform.

When he finally lifted his head, he was breathing heavily, and I could feel his erection pressing into my leg. I sobbed at the realization that I was about to be raped, this time by a man who was so much like Frank that my mind could no longer distinguish the difference.

“Quite nice,” he complimented, sounding amused. “I’m afraid I don’t have the time to see to you properly, but perhaps just a quick--” Something heavy clunked against the back of Randall’s head, and his body collapsed against me. 

I didn’t suffer long under his weight, however. Only a moment later, he was pushed off of me, and I found myself staring up at one of the kilted men I’d seen earlier. He was a short but sturdy-looking Scotsman, with a thick beard that had gone too long without a wash. I was too stunned to speak as he extended a hand to help me to my feet.

“Up ye get, lass. Come, now.”

My eyes flitted between the redcoat captain and the unkempt Highlander, quickly deciding to trust the latter on account of his timely intervention and the kindness I hoped I’d heard in his voice. With a steadying breath, I took his hand and didn’t argue as he led me further down the hill and away from the unconscious form of Black Jack Randall.

A/N: As this was a bit shorter than my usual chapters, the next one will go up tomorrow, and it's quite a bit longer. Who's ready for Jamie? :)

Chapter Text

May 1743

James Fraser had been damned near ready to kiss the ground when the ship finally docked in Scotland. 

Between one thing and another, he’d spent more than three of the past four years in France, and this had been his sixth sea voyage. Though the journey only ever lasted a week or two at most, he’d never been able to keep a sound stomach while aboard ship. He would’ve been quite happy to never set foot on another ship in his life.

He’d been met on the coast of his homeland by a surprisingly large group of MacKenzie men, with his uncle at the head of the party. The sight of Dougal MacKenzie’s shrewd expression made Jamie’s skin prickle with suspicion. He’d just returned from a lengthy convalescence at the monastery of St. Anne de Beaupre, following an unfortunate encounter with an axe, and even now, he couldn’t be certain the weapon hadn’t been wielded by his own uncle.

It had been a comfort to have his godfather with him throughout his recovery and especially now that they were back amongst MacKenzie men. Not that he didn’t trust them. They were his mother’s kin, and his uncles had agreed to let him hide under a pseudonym at Leoch for the foreseeable future. But Jamie’s guard was up when it came to Dougal, and the men followed his uncle’s command without question.

Jamie was startled from his musings by a nudge from his right, and he glanced that way to see his godfather riding alongside him. Murtagh’s brow was raised quizzically as he assessed Jamie’s face.

“What’s wrong, a bhalaich? Have ye no’ got yer land-legs back yet?”

Jamie snorted humorlessly. “I must have, for I certainly never gained any sort of sea-legs to begin with.”

“Then why do ye look like yer fixin’ to heave yer lunch all o’er the saddle?”

Jamie hastily schooled his expression. Truth be told, he did still feel a bit nauseous, but he didn’t fancy everyone else knowing it.

“I’m fit as I can be, considerin’ the situation, a goistidh.” 

The men surrounding them, kin though they might be, were no doubt listening with eager ears, so he didn’t elaborate. But Murtagh already knew the way of things. These men were escorting Jamie to Leoch now, where he would bide for who knew how long as Jamie MacTavish, despite the fact that most of the castle’s inhabitants knew his true name.

“‘Tis better than livin’ rough wi’ the outcasts again. And ye ken ye’ll be able to go home eventually.”

Jamie wasn’t prepared to wager on that but decided not to argue. He’d been away from his home for nearly four years, and not a day had passed that he hadn’t longed to see it again. His godfather’s presence had been his only comfort.

Except for the dreams.

The one he’d had the night before had been odd, to say the least, but no stranger than the others he’d been having of late. Ever since Jamie had taken that axe to the back of his head, he’d been plagued--or perhaps blessed--by visions of a beautiful lass with curly brown hair and eyes the color of whisky. He had no notion of who the woman might be, but in his dreams, he could hear her voice and see her face as clearly as though she were standing before him.

What struck him more than anything, though, was how the dreams made him feel. Most of the time, when he woke from them, he was filled with a sense of peace and happiness. Her presence felt like the safety of home.

True, Jamie didn’t always understand the dreams. The woman was often in odd surroundings and dressed in strange clothing. Sometimes, she wore a soft smile as she gathered herbs or readied herself for bed. In other dreams, she seemed forlorn, as though the weight and worries of the whole world pressed down upon her slender shoulders. 

And then, there were the dreams like the one he’d had last night. He’d seen her that way more than once, frozen with fear or sobbing in pain, and he always felt an intense desire to protect her. But last night’s dream had shaken him more than any of the others because he’d recognized the man terrorizing her.

Randall had looked a bit different, wearing odd clothing and a much shorter hairstyle, but the vitriol in his expression had been the same. Jamie had been almost desperate to put himself between Randall and his victim, but neither had even acknowledged his presence. He’d woken just as Randall’s palm had connected with the woman’s cheek, and it had taken Jamie several long minutes to slow his racing heart.

Even now, as he rode through the comfortingly familiar Highland landscape, he was unable to dismiss the dream as a mere figment of his imagination. It had felt just as real and tangible as the rugged mountain peaks and misty lochs.

Distraction from his troubled thoughts came in the form of a stramash with a dragoon of redcoats. No Highlander with any measure of pride would’ve backed down from a fight with the British, but the MacKenzies were well and truly outnumbered. The two parties exchanged a few shots before the Scots saw fit to scurry off in favor of fighting another day, and only one among them had sustained injury.

“Crìosd Uile-chumhachdach,” Jamie cursed fervently, wincing in pain as the strongest of his cousins hoisted him from the ground.

“Aye, seems I end up carryin’ ye about for some reason or other everytime I see ye. Least yer heid’s in one piece this time,” Rupert said with a grunt. 

Jamie grumbled in response, inwardly cursing the redcoat private who’d managed to knock him off his horse. Though to be fair, the man’s distraction was probably the only thing that had kept him from doing more damage. Jamie had been fortunate to catch the butt of the man’s musket, as opposed to the bayonet, and the impact had unseated him. As a result, his shoulder was now grotesquely disjointed. The pain was nearly blinding as Rupert all but carried him away from the fighting.

A tiny croft near a faerie hill was to be their shelter, at least until nightfall. The woman who resided there hadn’t had much choice but to let them in, and she’d retreated to a darkened corner as nearly a dozen large and still rather bloodthirsty MacKenzies filled her small home. Jamie paid her no mind, but despite his immense pain, he noted the absence of his godfather.

“Where’s Murtagh?” he asked as Rupert led him to a stool near the hearth. It was Angus who answered.

“He’ll be along. Got separated near the dun, but he was holdin’ his own jus’ fine.”

Jamie nodded and tried to slow his breathing, squeezing his eyes shut against the searing pain in his shoulder. It was going to have to be mended before he could ride again, assuming his uncle was not inclined to simply leave him behind.

No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than Dougal appeared before him, crouching down to examine his shoulder with an expression most would take for empathy. Jamie knew better. While Dougal wasn’t a heartless man, his priorities were strict, and Jamie’s welfare ranked fairly low on the list. Before either man could say a word, however, a late arrival had Dougal standing upright to focus on the doorway.

“What is it ye have there, Murtagh?”

The sound of Murtagh’s voice made Jamie relax as much as he was able, but while he heard the words his godfather spoke, they didn’t register through the pain. Rupert followed Dougal away from the fire, leaving Jamie to stare after them and realize that whatever Murtagh had found now had the attention of every man in the cabin. He felt only relief at not being scrutinized in his suffering, and he gave little thought to the words being exchanged in a mixture of English and Gaelic.

But when he heard her speak, a tingling current rippled over his skin. Mo Dhia!

“Claire… Claire Beauchamp.”

Even through the haze of pain, Jamie knew her voice. He’d heard it countless times in his dreams. Indeed, if not for the fact that dreams didn’t usually hurt this much, he’d have thought he was dreaming once again. 

“Beauchamp?” Dougal inquired, choosing the French pronunciation as opposed to the Anglicized version Claire had used. “A French name, surely?”


“Where did ye find this lass?” his uncle asked, this time apparently addressing Murtagh. 

Jamie’s ears pricked in alarm at his godfather’s reference to Randall, and he craned his neck to see her, peering through the circle of men. His heart clenched when he caught his first glimpse of her. She was in a wretched state, but he had no doubt she was the same beautiful woman who’d been gracing his dreams for months. Claire trembled with cold and undoubtedly fear as she stood amidst a dozen leering men in naught but her shift.

“They were havin’ words, ye could say. There seemed to be some question as to whether the lady was or was not a whore,” Murtagh explained. Claire’s eyes were wide and seemed unable to stay fixed on anyone.

“I’m not.”

“Aye, and she told Randall the same. But he seemed rather inclined to put the question to the test.”

Jamie’s already-simmering anger grew a little hotter. He knew both Murtagh and Randall well enough to infer his godfather’s meaning, and his eyes swept over Claire’s body again. Her white shift was thin and torn in several places, most notably at the hem, where it was now short enough to leave everything below her knees exposed. The only other face he could see clearly was Dougal’s, and Jamie had no trouble recognizing his uncle’s notorious lust.

“We could put her to the test as well,” Rupert commented, stepping toward Claire with a hand at his belt buckle. 

A few of the others snickered in appreciation of the idea, and Jamie tried to stand, determined to intervene. The man nearest to him noticed his efforts and promptly put a stop to them, pushing him back onto the stool. The pain intensified, but he still caught the tail end of Dougal’s response in Gaelic.

“If anyone puts her to the test, it’ll be me.” The words were met with a chorus of laughter even as his uncle added, this time in English, “We dinna have the time for it anyway.”

“Looks like someone’s already beat him to the task and were nane too gentle about it,” he heard someone mutter in Gaelic. 

Jamie’s heart ached at the thought. Had she been violated?

“We’ll puzzle it out later,” Dougal said, his head turning back toward his nephew. “We’ve a good distance to go tonight, and Jamie canna ride like that.”

Most of the men shifted their attention to Jamie, and the mysterious Claire was now gazing at him as well. Though he hadn’t truly expected her to recognize him, he couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed when her expression showed only confusion, fear, and concern. He didn’t look away from her as Dougal and the others discussed what was to be done for his shoulder, nor did he argue against having it mended by Rupert as opposed to a physician. It would hurt like the blazes of hell, but once it was fixed, he’d be better able to protect the woman.

Rupert took hold of Jamie’s wrist and braced himself to put his full strength into forcing the joint back into place. Jamie instinctively held his breath and closed his eyes.

“Stop!” Claire’s interruption was met with a startled silence as every head turned toward her. She looked nearly as surprised herself but stepped forward hesitantly. “You’ll break his arm if you do it like that.”

Dougal glowered at her suspiciously for a moment before stepping out of her path. The rest of them followed suit, and before Jamie could blink, she was standing right in front of him, her gaze fixed on his injury.

“You have to get the bone of the upper arm at the proper angle before you push it back into the joint,” she explained in a slightly stronger voice, bending over to examine him.

The firelight and her closer proximity revealed a shadow on her cheekbone that shouldn’t have been there, and he longed to reach out and soothe the pain of it. Its ugliness did nothing to diminish her beauty. When her fingers prodded gently at his shoulder and arm, he grunted reflexively but didn’t take his eyes off her face, fascinated by the emotions he saw playing there.

“I’m sorry,” she said, still not quite meeting his gaze as she manipulated his arm into position. “This is the worst of it.”

Jamie groaned loudly as the tiny Sassenach lass put all of her strength into the task, and if not for the pain, he’d have laughed at the image of someone so much smaller than him trying to wrestle his arm back into joint. With a loud crunching pop and a strangled Gaelic curse, the job was done, and their audience exchanged murmurs of surprise and approval.

“It doesna hurt anymore!” 

She finally raised her eyes to his as she replied, “It will.”

He’d gone short of breath during ‘the worst of it,’ and Jamie now noticed he wasn’t the only one panting with exertion. Claire’s features had shifted subtly as well, as though she were putting on a show of authority and confidence to conceal her fear. He could see the facade for what it was, but he chose to play along when she lapsed into a string of instructions.

“It will be tender for a few days. You mustn’t extend the joint at all for at least that long. When you do use it again, go very slowly and stop at once if it begins to hurt. You should use warm compresses on it daily…” Claire’s voice trailed off, and her bravado faltered when she noticed the stunned silence of the onlookers.

“Aye, I’ll be careful,” Jamie vowed, drawing her eyes back to his. 

This time, his breath caught for an entirely different reason. Even the residual ache in his shoulder couldn’t overshadow the connection he felt as something invisible seemed to pass between them. And although he couldn’t have explained why or how, he knew with unparalleled certainty that his dreams had been leading him to her.

Claire was the first to look away, but it reassured him somewhat to see that she, too, was flustered. She declared to the group that she would need something with which to fashion a sling, and after a tense moment, Angus begrudgingly surrendered his belt. Securing Jamie’s arm properly required her to lean quite close to him, looping the belt around his neck and unwittingly giving him an indecent view down the front of her shift. 

Jamie felt his face redden even as another part of his brain marveled at his cock’s ability to stand at attention under such circumstances. He caught Murtagh’s snicker and shifted guiltily in his chair, determinedly looking anywhere but at the innocent lass now checking his flushed skin for fever. 

When Claire finished her task and took a few steps back, Jamie’s head cleared enough to realize his uncle had already made up his mind about what was to be done with the ‘Sassenach wench.’ Dougal spoke Gaelic to a few of the other men, and a quick glance at Claire’s face told Jamie she didn’t understand a word of it.

“I willna mind havin’ more than jus’ whisky to keep me warm on the long ride,” Dougal commented, eyeing the woman with appreciative speculation. Jamie suppressed a growl.

“She can ride wi’ me, Uncle. I may need help wi’ the horse, since I’ve only the one good hand.”

Dougal turned to frown at his interruption, but he seemed unable to produce a reasonable argument. He strode away, muttering under his breath, and signaled to the rest of the men that it was time to be on their way. Jamie smirked and looked back at Claire, who had watched their exchange in bewilderment.

“You’re to come with us, Mistress Beauchamp,” Jamie explained gently. “You and I can share a horse.”

“Come with you?”

“Aye. We canna leave ye here alone.”

“No, I… I don’t even know you, and…” She faltered, confusion and fear evident in her features. Her mind appeared to be working so rapidly he could almost see the thoughts etched on her face, and he knew instinctively that she was trying to come up with an alternative.

“Ye canna stay here. If the redcoats find ye, they’ll take ye straight back to Randall.”

Claire went startlingly pale, making the bruise on her cheek all the more conspicuous. He thought for a moment she might faint, and he longed to put her at ease. The black-hearted bastard would never lay a hand on her again.

“Jamie,” Murtagh interrupted, leaning through the open doorway. “Dougal’s ready to be off. Best get yer arse in the saddle, lad.”

“Aye, a goistidh.”

Jamie extended his good arm toward Claire, and she eyed it warily before slipping her hand into his. Her fingers were slender and strong, but they were also cold as ice, a condition not likely to be improved by her lack of garments and the damp chill of the night air. Jamie led her to his horse and started to ask if she needed help to mount it, but his uncle was a step ahead of him.

“Jamie, get yerself up,” he commanded, grasping Claire’s elbow as though she were a skittish colt that might flee at any moment. Jamie saw her flinch almost violently at Dougal’s touch, and she seemed to shrink beneath the man’s dark gaze. “Ye can hold the reins if Jamie canna manage it one-handed, but take care to keep close to the rest of us. Ye try to do differently, and I’ll cut yer throat. D’ye understand me?”

Claire nodded shakily and stumbled backward when Dougal released her. Jamie gritted his teeth at his uncle’s threat.

“That wasna necessary.”

“See that it isna. Dinna let her out o’ yer sight.” With that, Dougal gave her a hand up into the saddle and stomped off, his expression sour. 

“Dinna mind him, lass,” Jamie murmured. “He just doesna like the English much, ye ken?”

She didn’t answer, though he thought perhaps it was because she was shaking too hard to speak. Jamie struggled to pull the plaid forward to cover them both, but it was rather difficult to accomplish with one hand. To his surprise, she looked back at him with a concerned expression.

“You’re going to hurt yourself again. What are you doing?”

“Tryin’ to get my plaid loose to cover ye. You’re shakin’ so hard, you’re makin’ my teeth rattle,” Jamie teased. He’d heard a hint of the confidence she’d shown in the cabin resurface in her voice, and he liked it.

“Oh,” she said apologetically, helping him free the length of wool and wrap it around their bodies. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Claire held the plaid in place while he slipped his good arm around her waist to pull her closer, reassuring himself that the gesture was merely to keep them both warm. They rode in silence for a little while, and although her tremors had eased a little, her back was still straight as a ramrod against his chest. If the poor thing were any more anxious, her wee bones might snap wi’ the stress. He was appreciating her warmth, though, and he wished his right arm were free to wrap around her as well.

Once most of the men had ridden a short way ahead of them, Jamie leaned closer to whisper a question into her ear. The question that had been on his tongue since the moment he’d laid eyes on her.

“Do ye ken who I am, lass?”

Startled by his words, Claire turned back to give him a questioning look and accidentally bumped his shoulder.

“Sorry,” she murmured when he winced. She kept her voice as low as well and replied, “I don’t really know anyone in Scotland.”

He made a quiet sound of acknowledgment, once again disappointed but unsurprised. As easy as she was to read, he’d surely have seen any trace of recognition on her face back in the croft. And now that Jamie had the presence of mind to give the matter due consideration, he recalled that she’d never actually looked at him or spoken to him in the dreams. He’d only been watching and listening as she’d moved about through strange surroundings. Claire had never once seemed aware of his presence, whether she’d been reading, gathering plants, or cowering in the shadow of the man who had looked so disturbingly familiar. 

“Is that Cocknammon Rock?”

Jamie was caught off guard by her question and followed Claire’s gaze upward through the trees. The oddly shaped rock formation was only just visible against the violet sky.

“Aye,” he replied, repeating the name in Gaelic almost absentmindedly.

“But didn’t… I mean, don’t the English use it for ambushes? If there’s a patrol nearby…”

Jamie stiffened, tightening his hold on her instinctively as he scanned their surroundings with a wary eye.

“Aye, ‘twould be a good place for one, right enough.”

He urged his mount ahead until they were alongside his uncle, speaking Gaelic this time to convey Claire’s warning. Had he not been so distracted by the potential threat from the redcoats, he might have been more aware of the one in Dougal’s eyes when they immediately fixed upon Claire. Jamie realized a second too late that he should have chosen his words with more care and left the lass out of it. 

“And jus’ how is it ye ken anythin’ about a redcoat ambush?” Dougal asked, his tone mild but dangerous. Jamie felt Claire tremble against him and flexed his arm around her waist to reassure her.

“I don’t know for certain, but it’s a good place for an ambush. I just heard they might--”

Where did ye hear?”

“In… in town. I overheard someone mention it.”

She was a horrible liar, and Jamie wasn’t the only one who saw through her. The suspicion in Dougal’s eyes didn’t fade, but he promptly turned from them and signaled the men to be on their guard. Glancing back at Jamie, he muttered an instruction in Gaelic.

“Leave the Sassenach here. Better she’s out o’ the way if there’s trouble. We’ll come back for her after.”

Jamie pursed his lips in disapproval at the idea of leaving Claire alone and defenseless, but he couldn’t deny his uncle’s logic. It would’ve been hard enough to fight one-handed and near impossible to do so with her sharing his saddle. The softness of her round arse between his thighs would’ve been enough distraction to get him killed.

“I need ye to hide yourself, mistress. I’ll let ye down here. Find a place to take cover and stay there until I come back for ye. Do ye understand, lass?” Claire met his gaze briefly as she nodded, and his brow furrowed at the mixture of calculation and fear he saw in her eyes. “You’ll be alright. Jus’ stay low.”

He let her off the horse as gently as possible, having realized by now that she likely had bruises in places he couldn’t see. She didn’t land as gently as he’d hoped, but as he looked behind him on his way to join his kinsmen, he was pleased to see she’d followed his instruction.

They were set upon by redcoats not five minutes later, but Claire’s warning gave the Scots the upperhand. Unfortunately, Jamie was cornered by more enemies than he could take on with only one hand, and he felt a musket ball tear through the muscle of his right shoulder, the same one so recently mended by the Sassenach lass. His blood now mixed with that of the redcoat who’d shot him, but the latter hadn’t escaped with his life. 

The additional pain from the new wound was muted by Jamie’s urgency to find Claire and see that she was safe. He quickly told Murtagh where he was going and galloped back to the place he’d left her, keeping his eyes peeled for a glimpse of her white shift.

But she was gone.

Jamie dismounted with a low Gaelic curse, hobbling the horse before taking off in the direction Claire had gone. Even in the low light of early dawn, her tracks were easy to follow. She was clearly inexperienced when it came to moving through the forest undetected. When at last he came upon her a few minutes later, his muscles relaxed significantly. She appeared to be unharmed, save for a few fresh scratches on her arms and legs. 

Her eyes were apparently not so well-adjusted to the darkness as his, because she startled as though she didn’t recognize him and turned to run in the other direction. Jamie reached out to take hold of her arm, preventing her escape, and she cried out in fright.

“Dinna fash, Sassenach. ‘Tis only me.”

Her panicked breathing slowed a little, but she didn’t cease her efforts to pull away from him.

“Let me go.”

“‘Fraid I canna do that. Ye must come with us, lass.” 

“I’m not going with you!” she nearly shouted, wincing as she continued to tug at the arm he held. He loosened his grip slightly, but not enough for her to break free.

“Yes, you are,” Jamie decreed, unconsciously adapting a tone he’d often heard his father use. “Tis too dangerous for ye to be out here alone. You’ll come along, now.”

“And what if I don’t? Will you cut my throat?”

Her challenge surprised him, as did the flicker of defiance he could see in her eyes. It wasn’t as strong as the fear, but it was there. Despite the pain he was in, he nearly smiled. Jamie stepped closer until their faces were less than a foot apart.

“No… But ye dinna look that heavy. If ye won’t walk, I shall pick you up and sling ye over my shoulder. Do ye want me to do that?”

He watched in fascination as her features betrayed her thoughts. Shock and disbelief played in her eyes as they took in his new injury, and there was no small amount of fear as she appeared to be weighing her odds of escape. But there was a glimmer of anger there as well, as though she was fighting the urge to tell him to go to the devil and stomp off into the darkness on her own. Jamie found himself chuckling at that and released her arm. To his relief, she didn’t attempt to run again.

“Shall we?” he asked in exaggerated formality, extending his good arm toward his horse. Claire sighed in apparent resignation and began to walk beside him.

“I’m only complying because you’ll injure yourself further if you try to do something so idiotic. Looks like you’ve been misusing that shoulder.” She’d now taken the tone of a chastising nun, and Jamie grinned in good humor. 

“Nay, pay it no mind, lass. This lot isna my blood,” he assured her, glancing down at the soaked fabric of his sark. “Well, no’ much of it, anyway.”

Claire looked unconvinced but didn’t argue further as they mounted his horse again and rejoined the MacKenzies. The men were in good spirits, having enjoyed the scuffle immensely, and they passed around a flask of whisky in celebration. Claire refused it, but Jamie pushed it into her hands anyway.

“Best have a wee nip. It willna fill your belly, but ‘twill make ye forget you’re hungry.”

With a sigh, she accepted the flask and tipped it cautiously into her mouth, her head consequently bumping his wound in the process. Jamie drew in a breath with a hiss of pain, and she immediately turned her focus to his injury.

“You should let me have another look at that shoulder. I told you not to move the joint, and you’ve probably torn the muscle now,” she admonished him, her voice still quivering slightly with anxiety.

Jamie gave a dismissive grunt and adjusted her position so that her head fit perfectly beneath his chin. Her body was so small in comparison to his that he felt compelled to wrap himself around her and shield her from whatever danger might come for her next.

“‘Tis no’ so bad. Ye can fix me up again when we get where we’re going.”

Claire looked up at him dubiously but made no reply, evidently deciding silence was all the response he deserved. He didn’t mind that. It was enough to have her there, real and solid in a way she’d never been in his dreams.

As they continued to ride, however, he felt a growing sense of disconnection. The sounds of the forest around them reached his ears as though from a great distance, and his face began to tingle with numbness. 

He heard her shout something as he felt himself slipping from the horse, but the darkness swallowed him before he hit the ground.

Jamie came to with a string of Gaelic curses and a searing pain in his right shoulder. A very irate Mistress Beauchamp hovered over him with a flask of whisky poised over his gunshot wound. 

“I’m alright,” he bleated. “Just a wee bit dizzy is all.”

“You’re not alright. You were shot. Lie still.”

He stared up at her in bemusement, wondering if he’d gone daft. He had a bizarre urge to laugh at her flustered expression as she tried to determine how much of the blood soaking his shirt belonged to him. Lord, but she was beautiful. She was exhausted, hungry, bruised, and traumatized, but he’d never seen any woman more lovely. 

Even if she was scolding him like a lad in need of a thrashing.

“What sort of idiot gets himself shot and doesn’t even stop to take care of it? Couldn’t you tell how badly you were bleeding? You’re lucky you’re not dead…” 

She paused long enough to stagger to her feet, tearing a strip of linen from her shift before he could stop her. At this rate, she’d be stark naked by the time they reached Leoch. Claire knelt again to press the cloth to his wound, muttering curses under her breath as she attempted to pass the bandage beneath his arm and tie it into place.

“Oh, you goddamned bloody bastard…” 

Jamie grinned up at her, bewitched into silence by this paradox of a woman. Her words had been scarcely louder than a whisper, but he hadn’t been the only one to hear them.

“Ne’er heard a woman use such language in all my life,” Dougal commented blandly. Angus had apparently heard her as well and was quick to voice his own opinion.

“Yer husband should tan yer hide for ye, woman.”

Claire stopped breathing, and her hands began to shake as she struggled to tie the bandage. Jamie stifled a curse of his own, wanting very much to pummel his cousin for that remark. He hated the fear it had put in her eyes.

“Ye can all get back on your horses,” he told them irritably. “We’ll be along in a moment.”

To his relief, the men traipsed off with a few more muttered condemnations in Gaelic, leaving only Murtagh behind. Jamie inclined his head to indicate he could go as well and waited until his godfather had stepped away before he addressed Claire.

“Ye dinna need to be afraid, Sassenach.” Claire met his gaze, and he winced at the vulnerability that shone in her eyes. “No one will hurt you. I swear it.”

For a long moment, she merely stared back at him, as though trying to ascertain his trustworthiness. Finally, she gave a stiff nod of acknowledgment, but the anxiety didn’t leave her face. Once she’d finished with his shoulder, she stood and extended her hand to help him up.

“Next time you get shot, don’t be a fool. Tell me.”

“Och, aye.” Jamie gave a pained chuckle. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

It was fortunate, perhaps, that Jamie’s pain kept him awake, for less than fifteen minutes after they’d climbed back onto the horse, Claire’s stamina gave out. Her body was completely relaxed against his now, and he kept his good arm tight around her waist. Her head lolled against his chest, occasionally thumping a little too close to his wound, but he didn’t care. It helped him stay awake, though having her arse nestled perfectly against his groin helped as well.

Claire was awake by the time they reached Leoch roughly five hours later, though the day was dreich and the light not much better. The familiar castle loomed ahead of them, its stone walls high and thick. Jamie sensed her renewed anxiety with the return of the stiffness in her posture, and the change made him frown. He much preferred the feel of her soft, relaxed form, trusting him more in her sleep than she seemed capable of doing while conscious.

“This is Castle Leoch?” she asked, speaking so low that he knew the question was meant only for him. He replied in kind.

“Aye. Ye ken of it?”

Jamie peered around to see her face, half shielded by a curtain of damp, dark curls. Her eyes were wide as they took everything in, from the smoking chimneys to the handful of pedestrians that were gawking back at her. 

Claire’s entire body was trembling now, and he assumed she was feeling self-conscious for her lack of proper clothing. He secured the plaid a little more carefully around them, but there was nothing to be done for her bare calves. Her pale skin seemed to shine like a beacon against the darker coat of the horse, and his urge to guard her modesty intensified. If the men around them didn’t stop eyeing her like she was the newest trollop at a brothel, Jamie was likely to do something he’d regret. The sooner he could get her inside, the better it would be for both of them.

“Yes… I’ve heard of it,” she finally answered. He said nothing but didn’t miss the disbelief in her tone, as though she didn’t trust her own eyes.

Once they were through the gate and into the courtyard, the men dismounted and scattered in various directions, seeking either their breakfasts or their beds. Murtagh appeared next to Jamie’s horse and helped Claire to the ground, where she stood shivering with cold and worry. 

The kindly housekeeper was shooing some of the men toward the kitchen, but she was startled by the sight of Claire. She looked askance at Jamie, who made quick introductions.

“Claire Beauchamp, Mrs. FitzGibbons,” he announced, nodding his head between them before addressing Mrs. Fitz. “Murtagh found her yesterday… in quite a state of distress. We couldna verra well leave her alone, so Dougal said we must bring her along with us.”

He hoped the older woman could glean enough from his expression and Claire’s appearance to understand what he didn’t wish to say outright. To his relief, she cottoned on quickly and began to usher Claire inside to find her suitable attire and lodgings.

“Wait, please!” Claire resisted. “I forgot Jamie.”

“Why, he can fend for ‘imself, lass. He kens his way about.”

“But he’s hurt. He was shot last night, and I didn’t have time to clean the wound or dress it properly. It needs tended now, before it gets infected.”

“Infected?” Mrs. Fitz parroted the word, looking bewildered. Jamie watched Claire’s expression closely and saw again the look of rapid calculation before she replied.

“I mean… inflamed. With swelling and fever.”

“Aye, Mistress Beauchamp is a fine healer,” he spoke up, trying to lend her a little credibility. As an Englishwoman, she’d need more than most.

“I ken what ye mean, lass. But do ye mean to say ye know what to do for that? Are ye a charmer, then?”

Claire must’ve had a better sense of Mrs. Fitz than Jamie had realized, because she shook her head slightly and kept her tone polite as she replied.

“Nothing blasphemous, madam. It’s medicine, not magic.”

Mrs. Fitz regarded her with surprise and a glimmer of respect. “Aye, well… Let’s get ye both inside, then.”

Once Mrs. Fitz had gathered the medicinals Claire requested and led them to an empty bedchamber, she left to see to her duties. Jamie was surprised to find himself quite alone with Claire, but he supposed the housekeeper had assumed him too injured to misbehave.

He watched in silence as Claire dropped long strips of linen into a pot of boiling water and laid out the supplies she’d been given, touching each as though learning the feel of them for the first time. As her long fingers skimmed over each item, something reflective caught the firelight, drawing his gaze to her left hand. His heart sank.

It was a wedding ring.

Jamie stared at it, a million questions buzzing in his brain. The exhaustion of the long ride and the pain of his wound faded to the background in the face of this new information. Where was her husband? Should he not have been protecting her from the likes of Randall? Surely, no man could marry a woman who looked like Claire and not realize how closely she would need to be guarded…

Claire was murmuring to herself as she made her preparations, and by the time Jamie had decided how to broach the subject, the boiled bandages were nearly dry.

“Mistress,” he began cautiously, waiting until she glanced up at him before continuing. “I didna want to ask while the other men were about, but… Did Randall hurt ye?”

She flinched at the question but seemed to collect herself quickly.

“Not too badly.”

“He didna give ye the bruise on your face, then?” Jamie asked, frowning when she lowered her chin in apparent shame.

He reached out, slowly so as not to startle her again, and gently tilted her face toward him. His smile of reassurance and understanding eased a little of the stress from her features.

“Yes, it was Randall. Or perhaps the fall I took while running from him.”

Jamie’s noncommittal grunt made her blink curiously, but he was focused on her injuries. The bruise on her face wasn’t the only one she had, though it was only now, with better light from the hearth, that he could really see the others. There were marks on her arms as well, exposed by the torn and tattered shift she was wearing. 

Anger churned in his gut, and he allowed himself a brief moment to imagine the vengeance he might bring down upon the blackguard if granted the chance. Judging by the extent of her bruises, there was a bit more to her story than she’d let on, but he didn’t question her on it. He doubted she’d have told him the full truth of it. Jamie sighed, wondering how long it would take Claire to feel safe again.

“You’re lucky to have come away wi’ only a few bruises, given the man’s nature.”

“You know him? Captain Randall?”

His brow quirked at her emphasis of the word ‘captain,’ but he let it go. He breathed an, “aye,” and gestured to his back. It was already half uncovered by his loosened shirt, though her hastily tied bandage concealed a portion of his scars. The darkness had no doubt concealed the rest, but there would be no hiding them from her now.

Claire followed his movement and stood to untie the bandage, preparing to clean it properly. She helped Jamie maneuver out of the shirt and let out a low gasp when she got her first unobstructed view of his back.

“The redcoats. Flogged me twice within the space of a week. ‘Spect they’d ha’ done it twice in one day, were they no’ afraid of killin’ me. No joy in floggin’ a dead man.”

“Joy?” she echoed in bewilderment. Jamie grunted again, this time in rueful humor.

“Well, if Randall wasna precisely joyous, he was at least verra pleased with himself.”

He felt more than saw her hands tremble again, and he didn’t miss her whispered curse when she dropped the cloth she’d been using to clean his wounds. Claire apologized for her clumsiness, looking flustered as she lamented the need to boil the cloth again and moved back to the hearth to do so. Jamie watched her with a hint of a smile. Said cloth would now need time to dry before she could use it again, which gave him more time alone with her.

“Why were you flogged?”

“Och, ‘twas at Fort William, ye ken. I tried to escape, so the first hundred lashes were for that. And since I’d tried to flee with a bannock in my pocket, the second hundred were for theft.”

Claire’s face went a shade paler, and her eyes flickered back to his scars. Later, when he was alone, Jamie would wonder why he’d told her so much. More, in fact, than he’d told anyone about Randall’s actions, even Murtagh. It took no more than a few quiet questions from Mistress Beauchamp to have him spilling even the most appalling details, including the offer Randall had made him, just hours before his second trip to the whipping post.

His life had been perfectly ordinary before the day Randall and some of his men had come to Lallybroch to collect on the estate levy. But with his father away and no one else to protect his older sister’s honor, the duty had fallen to him. Interfering with Randall’s intent to rape Jenny had seen him first skelped and then arrested for obstruction.

“Was your sister…?” Claire couldn’t quite articulate the question, but Jamie understood her meaning well enough.

“She went with him,” he replied, the shame of it heating his cheeks even after four years. “I dinna ken what happened after that. Randall knocked me unconscious, and I didna wake until we were well on the way to Fort William.”

Jamie couldn’t have said what possessed him to keep talking, but the connection he’d begun to form in his dreams had loosened his tongue. To finally speak the full truth of it gave him a sense of freedom and eased his pain almost as much as the willow bark concoction she was administering.

“He wanted you to… That is, h-he tried to…”

“Aye. He wanted my body the way…” Jamie cleared his throat, searching for the right words. “The way he wanted yours yesterday. At least, that’s what Murtagh thought Randall was about when he came upon ye.”

Memories danced like ghosts in her whisky-brown eyes, and Jamie cautiously reached for her hand, drawing her gaze back to his face. She’d been in the process of securing a new bandage around his shoulder, but her movements stilled when their eyes met. 

“Thank ye, Sassenach. Truly. I meant what I told Mrs. Fitz. Ye’re a fine healer, with a good touch.” He was pleased when she murmured a shy acknowledgment of his gratitude, and as his gaze fell once again to her wedding band, he added, “Your husband’s a lucky man.”

It was as though his words had torn the heart from her chest, and he watched in horror as her face crumpled with grief. Her bonny eyes were full of tears, and she tried to hide her face, sniffling quietly.

“What is it, mistress? What’ve I said?” 

Claire shook her head mutely, apparently unable to speak.

“Is he…” Jamie grappled for a word less painful than ‘dead.’ “Is he not alive, then?”

“No,” she whispered, wiping her eyes furiously. “He’s not alive.”

He was heartbroken for her obvious grief, but another part of him was more than a little relieved at her widowed status. Jamie admonished himself for such a heartless thought and reached for Claire, clumsily settling her onto his lap with his one good arm. He was pleased that she was allowing him to hold her, though she was still stiff and trembling against him. Jamie stroked her back and crooned to her in words he was glad she couldn’t understand. After a few moments, she lifted her head from his shoulder, her bruised and tear-streaked face mere inches from his.

“I’m sorry, I… I haven’t any Gaelic.”

He smiled, having gathered as much. “Dinna fash, lass. I only said that everythin’ would be alright.”

Jamie raised his hand to brush her curls away from her face, but his hand froze when she flinched reflexively. His lips tightened, realizing her reaction was that of a woman who had too recently found herself on the receiving end of a fist.

“Ye need no’ be afraid of me, Sassenach. No harm will come to you, as long as I’m with you.” He spoke clearly and didn’t look away from her eyes, watching her thoughts at play there. It was clear she wanted very badly to trust him, and he wanted it too.

“And when you’re not with me?”

“Aye, well… Just remember that you’re English in a place where that’s no’ usually a good thing to be. And do your best to steer clear of Dougal,” he said firmly. “He can be ruthless in his aims, and at the moment, he aims to have you. I dinna think he much cares whether you’re willin’ or not, so you’d best be on your guard. Dinna let him get ye alone at any time, and stay close to me whenever possible.”

Claire looked stricken, and Jamie regretted being the one to add to her fears. He stroked her back again, hoping to soothe her.

“Where will you be?”

“I’m no’ sure yet where I’ll be sleeping, but most days, ye should find me at the stables. And if ye canna find me, find Murtagh. I trust him wi’ my life and everythin’ I hold dear.”

The implication of his words hung heavily in the air between them, but his heart wouldn’t allow him to take it back. Their gazes held a moment longer, and this time, Jamie was the first to look away, momentarily overwhelmed by his feelings for her.

Get out before ye do somethin’ stupid, he told himself.

With that, he helped her off his lap and grabbed his discarded shirt. It would need mended and thoroughly washed before he could wear it again. Claire fussed over him for another moment as she helped him to cover his back with his plaid.

“That dressing will need changed tomorrow,” she warned, the note of authority returning to her tone. 

Odd that she only sounds that way when she’s focused on my wee scratches.

“Then, I’ll see ye tomorrow, Mistress Beauchamp. And thank ye again.”

To his surprise, Claire attempted a smile that looked quite genuine, if pained by the bruise on her cheek. It must have been aching something fierce, so he nodded toward the willow bark tea he’d not quite finished.

“Perhaps ye should take a bit of that for yourself before ye go to sleep.”

Claire glanced at it and nodded, awkwardly bidding him goodnight. Or good morning, as it were.

Jamie took a deep breath to steady himself after the door had closed between them, and once he’d collected his wits as well as he could manage, he set off to find Mrs. Fitz. She directed him to the room he’d had the last time he’d stayed at Leoch as a lad of sixteen. It hadn’t changed much, save for the fresh linens and a stack of clean clothes on the bed. Changing his garments with one good arm was no easy feat, and he was utterly exhausted by the time he finally lay down. 

His thoughts were full of Claire. Sorcha. Her name in the Gaelidh suited her perfectly, for she was indeed a light that had comforted him in the darkest of times. But how was it possible that she’d stepped out of his dreams and come to stand before him? What manner of creature could do such a thing? Enter a man’s dreams and capture his heart before she’d even truly touched him? 

The word witch echoed in his mind, unbidden, and he immediately discarded it. Claire could never do harm to anyone, of that he was sure. Even in her spot of temper, when she’d cursed at him like an ill-mannered shrew, she’d kept a gentle touch and been wary of his injuries.

Perhaps she was an auld one. A timeless energy compressed into a single, ethereal being, with magic surrounding her the way the morning mists clung to the heather…

Jamie snorted at his own fanciful thoughts and closed his eyes to sleep, saying a quick prayer that his Sorcha would visit his dreams once more.

A/N: Whew, this was a long one. I have to say, it took me a while to really get into Jamie's 'voice,' so to speak, but I came to love writing him. <3 Can't wait to hear your thoughts! And thank you all for the wonderful feedback and warm welcome to the fandom! 

Chapter Text

As the oak door clunked into place, I turned and leaned heavily against it. My mind was teeming with too much information to process with any semblance of composure. How could anyone maintain their sanity when everything around them defied natural law? 

Because it simply wasn’t possible to travel through time. That was a scientific fact.

But the pragmatic scientist Uncle Lamb had raised had been mentally cataloguing the evidence since the moment I’d regained consciousness in the middle of that stone circle, and now that I finally had a moment alone, the weight of my observations came crashing down upon me. I wrapped my stiff arms around my torso and tried to breathe steadily even as another round of tremors overtook me. My eyes darted around the bedchamber, trying to compare its rustic luxury with the abandoned ruin Castle Leoch had been when last I’d seen it. Or when I would see it in the future...

Fuck. I don’t even know what year it is.

I forced myself to stand and move toward the fireplace, hoping the warmth would help. Perhaps I’d be able to think more clearly if half my attention wasn’t focused on being so cold. It occurred to me that I might actually be better suited to cope with this turn of events than many women of my time. Between Frank and Uncle Lamb, I’d spent most of my life with one foot rooted in the past, and I had a general idea of how life worked in this century.

The early eighteenth century, to be a bit more precise. The presence of Captain Randall told me I was in a time prior to 1746, for that was--or would be--the year of his death. I couldn’t recall his age at the time of his death or the number of years he’d been stationed in Scotland prior to it. But I at least knew the Forty-Five hadn’t happened yet.

In my mind, Randall’s features blurred with those of my husband, and my thoughts turned to Frank. He hadn’t followed me backward in time, and that gave me some measure of comfort, however small. Even if his ancestor shared the same sort of darkness, I wasn’t married to him

Had Frank simply watched me vanish into thin air? The irony of it was almost comical. For months, I’d been trying to come up with a way to escape my husband, and I’d somehow managed to do it completely by accident. He hadn’t seemed to hear the stones buzzing, which led me to believe he wasn’t susceptible to their… magic? 

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. I’ll be burned as a witch before the week is out.

There was no shortage of danger here, on the other side of those stones. Most of the men I’d encountered thus far might’ve been as bad as Frank or worse. But what choice did I have other than to stay here? Trying to return to my time wasn’t an option, and I had nowhere else to go. And if I was staying, I needed a cover story. A damned good one. 

My body ached with the need for sleep and comfort, but I knew if I were to lay down on the welcoming bed, I’d be unconscious almost immediately. So, I stayed near the fire, tidying up the leftover mess of medicinals as my exhausted mind worked through the problem.

Tomorrow, or perhaps sooner, I would be expected to explain who I was and where I came from. Frank had once told me about the art of fabricating a convincing backstory, and I knew I needed to stick to the facts as much as possible.

Presenting myself as a widow would allow me more freedom as a woman in this time period. And it wasn’t likely anyone would’ve believed a woman of my age had remained unmarried anyway. Neither would they have believed I’d been traveling alone, so my husband’s death needed to be a recent event. Perhaps he’d taken ill very suddenly or been injured somehow… I supposed the how wasn’t so important at the moment. Damn near anything could kill you in this century. 

After his death, a woman of this time would have sought refuge with a family member, and I decided the fictional relatives would need to be Frank’s rather than mine. My lack of detailed knowledge about them would therefore be more excusable. I would’ve been expected to know more about my own family, and I didn’t trust myself to be able to keep track of such an intricate fabrication. Ironically, my mother’s maiden name had been Moriston, which was a Scottish surname. But I simply didn’t know enough about the Moristons of this century to incorporate them into the lie.

It will have to be the Beauchamps, I decided, my mind immediately settling upon the historical background of that branch of my family. Assuming I was correct in general about the current year, the Beauchamps hadn’t made it to England just yet and were still in France. They held a barony and an estate near Compiegne somewhere. I couldn’t recall the name of the estate, but perhaps that was a detail best left unspoken. If I gave these MacKenzies too much information, they might well go poking holes in my story.

I decided to follow my new friend’s advice and partake in a little of the pain remedy I’d given him, sipping the tea slowly as I mentally assembled the rest of my ‘facts.’ I would say Frank died in… Edinburgh? Going with the partial truth that he’d been a teacher, we might have been visiting the university there for the purposes of his research. I doubted anyone here would expect me to know much about his scholarly business. 

After he died, I hired a manservant for protection and left for France to join Frank’s relatives there, I mentally rehearsed. We were set upon by highwaymen, and… I paused, fighting weariness. Would they have called them that? Bandits? Thieves? Yes, thieves. The servant was killed, leaving me on my own until Captain Randall happened upon me. He tried to rape me, which explains my sorry state of appearance and also happens to be true… Then, one of the Scots came to my aid.

Simple enough.

With a heavy sigh, I stood and moved to the bed, feeling slightly more confident about matters. The thought of those MacKenzie men had me replaying the events of our encounter in my mind, and as I drifted to sleep in the surprisingly comfortable bed, I thought of Jamie.

If he hadn’t been injured, his size alone would’ve made me wary. He was well over six feet tall, and his frame was proportionate to his height. The difference in our sizes had made me feel like a child, especially when I’d awoken to find his arm around my waist and my head against his chest. The musculature I’d seen while mending his shoulder was impressive and should have terrified me after everything I’d been through just in the past twenty-four hours. 

But there was nothing intimidating about that smile, and I was startled to feel my own lips curling upward at the memory of it. He’d called me a Sassenach with such warmth and, dare I say, affection in his tone, that the insult had sounded like a term of endearment. 

He’d had a strange and unexpected effect upon me. His story had resonated with me in ways I didn’t fully understand, and my heart had swelled with compassion for the pain he’d suffered at the hands of the British. I found it reassuring that someone could go through such hardships and still be able to smile like that, to be gentle and calm. 

He’d said I needn’t be afraid when he was with me, and to my utter astonishment, I believed him. After living in a heightened state of fear for so long, it wasn’t possible to lower my defenses entirely, but Jamie did make it easier to relax. His presence was comforting, and his embrace had made me feel safe for the first time in years. I’d begun to trust him already, and I hoped I would have the chance to get to know him better. 

If I was to stay in this place--in this time--I would need a friend.

When next I opened my eyes, it took me several moments to get my bearings. There was a stone ceiling overhead and a lumpy mattress beneath me, and the voice that had awoken me was unfamiliar. The woman sounded friendly and had a thick Scottish accent. 


I instinctively searched for Frank, as his presence or absence would dictate my behavior. But as my eyes settled upon the unfamiliar trappings of an eighteenth century bedchamber, my new reality hit me with full force.

It hadn’t been a dream. And the stout woman now urging me out of the warm bed and into a tub of cool water was no figment of my imagination. Mrs. Fitzgibbons, I vaguely recalled, who had kindly invited me to call her Mrs. Fitz.

As she helped me out of my ruined twentieth-century dress, I flushed with embarrassment over what must’ve looked--to anyone of this time--like scandalous undergarments. I mumbled an explanation about them being from France and found that the French reputation for the risque was already well-established. Mrs. Fitz set the brassiere and underwear aside with a ginger wariness that almost made me laugh. I made a mental note to burn them at the first opportunity.

“Och, the God-forsaken redcoats left ye in quite a state.” She clucked her tongue at the sight of the bruises decorating my arms, face, and ribcage. “Ye’d think they’d have been a mite more respectful toward one of their own.”

I hummed in agreement and, for lack of a better idea, spoke the first thing that came to mind.

“I find that few men behave respectfully toward a woman they believe to be defenseless.”

“Aye, ‘tis sometimes the way of things. But ye’re safe here, lass. Ye’re a guest here and have the protection of the MacKenzie clan. The laird will be wantin’ to speak wi’ ye as soon as ye’ve broken yer fast, so we must make ye presentable, ye ken.”

I managed a nod as she bustled me through a cold bath and into a set of borrowed clothing. There were layers upon layers, it seemed, and I tried to pay attention to how they were assembled. Mrs. Fitz encouraged me to eat from the tray she’d brought with her while she tried to do something with my hair, which was yet another thing I would need to learn. 

The bannocks were pleasantly warm, and the porridge was better than what the army had passed off as ‘oatmeal’ during the war. It gave me hope that tonight’s dinner might offer something more appetizing than herring.

When at last I’d been deemed presentable, I moved hesitantly toward the long looking glass. The weight of the skirts would take some getting used to, as would the constriction of the stays. But to my surprise, I wasn’t at all discomfited by my own reflection. In fact, the me that stared back seemed somehow more familiar than the version I’d seen in the mirror at Mrs. Baird’s. I was still bruised, but my eyes had more life in them. I was still anxious and afraid, but it didn’t radiate from every inch of me as it had before. My hair was as impossible as it had ever been, but that familiarity was a comfort rather than an annoyance.

“Come along wi’ ye. We shouldna keep the MacKenzie waiting.”

In contrast to the rather damp and gloomy aesthetic of the castle’s torchlit corridors, the laird’s study had a warm glow about it, owing to the large hearth and the gothic windows. Mrs. Fitz advised me that her employer would join me shortly and left me alone in the room without another word. I got the impression the poor woman was always hustling from one task to the next in the hours between dawn and dusk, and I hoped she was compensated well for her services.

I glanced cautiously around the room, hoping to get a sense of this Laird of Leoch. He had almost as many books as Reverend Wakefield, though these were much better organized. There was a chess board set up near one of the windows, and the large desk was strewn with various bits of parchment and correspondence.

I inched closer to the untidy desk, hoping someone had written a date on one of the papers. A letter near the top of the mess gave me my answer.

April 20, 1743.

1743… Less than three years before the Rising. 

I didn’t have time to ponder it further, for the door swung open only a few seconds later. I quickly straightened and turned to face the newcomer. As I sank into a curtsy, my eyes swept the full length of the man, noting the condition of his legs with surprise. They were bowed outward at the knee, the calves shrunken and wasted. I’d seen illustrations of such a condition, but I couldn’t recall the name of what ailed him.

The laird was a handsome man, large enough in his torso and shoulders that he should’ve towered over me, as his brother did. But his condition made his height only slightly greater than my own. I now understood the sanctuary-like quality of his self-constructed study, for I doubted he felt comfortable in the outer world.

“Mistress Beauchamp, I presume,” he greeted me cordially. “I am Colum mac Campbell MacKenzie, laird of this castle. My brother tells me he… encountered you… some distance from here. And in some apparent distress.”

“Yes. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” I replied, keeping my eyes fixed on his face and trying to ignore the slight upward twitch of his lips. I had a fairly good idea of the unflattering description he’d been given. “Your clansmen came to my aid after an unfortunate encounter with a particular British captain. I believe you’re familiar with him. Jack Randall?”


The word came out as a grim sigh, and Colum made his way around the desk to sit in the well-upholstered chair. He gestured an invitation for me to take the seat opposite him, and I perched nervously on the edge of it, waiting for him to say more. I’d decided to let him lead the conversation in the hope that it would prevent me from bungling my cover story.

“Might I ask how it is ye came to be there, mistress? Alone and so far from any town or village?”

I swallowed thickly and endeavored to maintain the persona of the submissive wife I’d perfected during my last few months with Frank. I delivered the background story I’d concocted, keeping my details sparse. My husband, a teacher at Oxford, had died after being thrown from a horse and suffering a broken neck, leaving me alone in Scotland with no real acquaintance or connection. I’d been bound for Inverness, where I’d intended to book passage to France.

“Ah. Ye have relatives there, I take it?”

“My husband did, yes. Near Compiegne. The noble branch of the family probably has no knowledge of me, as my husband’s relatives are from a less distinguished side of the family,” I explained with a tiny smile. “They don’t know me yet either, but unfortunately, my own kin are deceased and... I’ve nowhere else to go.”

That much was certainly true. I tried to maintain eye contact and keep my expression bland, but I’d always been notoriously inept at deception. I waited in silence for Colum’s measured response, unable to tell if he had swallowed my fabricated tale or not. 

“The thieves ye mentioned didna leave ye with any of your possessions, I gather?”

“No. I do realize I’m imposing on your hospitality, and I shall only do so until I can make other arrangements.”

“Och, no. You’re quite welcome here, Mistress Beauchamp. Especially if you’re willing to impart your services as a healer.” His brows went up at that, as did mine. “We’ve been without a healer since our last one passed away a few months ago. If ye would consider staying on as our resident healer, I would provide room and board, as well as a small quarterly stipend. I could advance ye enough to replace your stolen personal items, of course.”

Colum MacKenzie smiled as though he expected me to leap with joy at the offer he was extending. As it was, I felt rather stunned by the unexpected opportunity, and I disliked being put on the spot. I knew I couldn’t think clearly enough to give the matter due consideration, so I settled for what I hoped was a gracious smile as I answered him.

“I’m afraid you’ve taken me quite by surprise with your generous offer, sir. I’d like to sleep on it and discuss it with you tomorrow, if that’s alright with you.”

Colum’s eyes twinkled a bit at what I belatedly realized was an odd choice of phrase for the time, but he seemed to discern my meaning and nodded his approval.

“Aye, ‘twill bide until the morrow. In the meantime, Mrs. Fitz can see to anything ye might need, and I shall see ye at dinner this evening.”

I recognized the dismissal as well as the fact that my presence at dinner was a requirement rather than a request. But I forced a polite smile nonetheless and gave him another curtsy before leaving the room.

The winding staircase that descended from the laird’s study was steep, and I felt a little clumsy in my layered petticoats as I tried to navigate the path back to my assigned bedchamber. Once I had gained the privacy of my room, I released a sigh and, once again, contemplated my circumstances as I leaned against the heavy door.

The opportunity to stay at Leoch was nothing to scoff at, but I was reluctant to agree to the laird’s terms without at least taking the time to think it through. It was a relatively safe place, I reasoned, even if I did have to be wary of some of the people. But that would be the case anywhere I went. A woman alone in this era, with no husband or family to protect her, was inherently vulnerable. I would be fair game, so to speak, to just about any man who sought to force his attentions upon me. 

Murtagh’s timely intervention with Black Jack Randall was a prime example of the cultural norms. This society dictated that a man of honor had a duty to protect a woman, even if she wasn’t his kin. It also explained Jamie’s apparently instinctive protectiveness toward me and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the laird’s lukewarm reception of a Sassenach stranger into his home. I had no doubt that if I’d been a man, they’d have left me to fend for myself back at Craigh na Dun.

It seemed that staying at Castle Leoch was my best option at this juncture. I would have food and shelter here, and it wasn’t like I had any better prospects awaiting me elsewhere. Perhaps I could even earn money this way, I mused inwardly. There was a village nearby, and I thought I could potentially offer my services there as well. With enough time, I might even be able to save enough money to open a little medical practice. Maybe in Inverness or Glasgow. Or perhaps even in England, where my accent wouldn’t immediately mark me as a suspicious character…

By the time I found myself in the hall and seated at the high table for dinner, I had my answer ready for Colum. But I nearly changed my mind when I noticed Dougal’s behavior. I had been seated between the two brothers, and the younger man stared openly at my breasts. Thanks to the stays and the style of the time, they were on display more than I would’ve liked. I fought the urge to cover my exposed cleavage and leave the table. 

Maybe this is a bad idea…

But then, my nervous gaze fell upon a familiar head of red hair. Jamie was watching me from the middle of one of the long tables, and when our eyes met, he gave me an encouraging smile. My stomach did an odd little flip as I smiled back.

I could do this.

“My laird, I believe I’ve given the matter due consideration, and I would be honored to accept the position as resident healer at Leoch.” 

Those within earshot, including Colum’s wife, Letitia, raised their glasses to me in welcome. Colum’s smile was genuine, but I didn’t miss the shrewd calculation that never seemed to leave his eyes. I also caught the significant glance he gave his brother, who I belatedly noticed had not toasted along with the others. Dougal kept his expression guarded as Colum and Letitia asked me a few questions about my past, mostly following up on the story I’d told Colum earlier. 

“My condolences on your husband’s death, Mistress Beauchamp,” Letitia offered kindly. I nodded in thanks. “Ye still look quite young, if I may say. How long were ye wed?”

“About six years.”

“Did ye no’ have any bairns, then?”

“No, we… We weren’t blessed with children.” And thank the good Lord for that.

Fortunately, Lady MacKenzie seemed to pick up on my discomfort and dropped the subject, allowing me a few minutes of silence to collect myself. I decided I would have to come up with a few details about Frank that could be safely shared with the people of this time. I certainly couldn’t tell anyone we’d been separated by a war that hadn’t happened yet. 

Or that he was likely just as sadistic and twisted as his ancestor.

As soon as I could politely manage it, I excused myself to return to my room, thanking my hosts for their kindness and hospitality. As an employee rather than a guest from this point forward, I presumed my place would be at one of the long tables with the rest of the MacKenzie clan.

I’d made it less than half the distance to my room when I felt a strong hand at my elbow, yanking me backward until my shoulders hit the cool stone wall. I’d been almost constantly on alert since I’d come through the stones, but Dougal had managed to catch me by surprise nevertheless. He braced his arms on either side of my body and leaned his head close enough to mine that I could smell the heavy scent of wine on his breath.

I was frozen but for a slight trembling, and I couldn’t bring myself to look directly at him. I didn’t know him well enough to determine the best course of action, so I tried to give him no reaction at all.

“I’m impressed, Mistress Beauchamp.” His voice was low and dangerous, and my pulse quickened with the memory of what that tone had usually meant when Frank had used it. “Ye’ve gone from whore to healer in less than two days.”

My head shot upward to find him eyeing me with a mixture of lust and suspicion.

“I’m not a whore.”

“Ye should stop sayin’ that, lass. A spy who poses as a whore is far less likely to draw suspicion than one who poses as a healer. Especially a woman.”

I blinked in shock, baffled that he would think such a thing. The idea that I might’ve been a prostitute wasn’t completely without merit, from their perspective at least. But a spy? It was ludicrous. And I hated that I found myself shrinking in his presence, just as I’d done with Frank. Dougal had yet to truly hurt me, but he still had the power to make me feel weak.

“I’m not a spy either,” I insisted with as much confidence as I could muster. He sneered at my efforts.

“Ye’re more than ye claim, of that I’ve nae doubt. And I will have the truth,” he warned, bringing his large hand to my waist. “One way or another.”

I was frozen again, bracing myself for whatever he might do next and trying desperately to come up with the words he needed to hear. I’d say whatever it took to convince him I wasn’t worth his trouble. 

“Gu leoir!”

Though I didn’t understand the words, I recognized Jamie’s voice immediately, and I glanced in that direction. He was striding purposefully toward us with anger simmering in his blue eyes.

“Stay out of it, lad,” Dougal grumbled. He backed off slightly and moved his hand from my waist to the hilt of his dagger. “This is none o’ yer affair.”

“Mistress Beauchamp is the laird’s guest. I dinna reckon he’ll thank ye for harassin’ her.”

To my infinite relief, Jamie shouldered his way between me and Dougal, effectively sheltering me between the wall of stone behind me and the wall of muscle that was his broad torso. More words were exchanged, but these were in Gaelic. There was no mistaking the threatening tone, however.

Dougal finally relented with a grunt of disgust and retreated down the passageway in irritation. Only when he’d rounded the corner and vanished from sight did I finally allow myself to relax a little. Jamie had turned to face me and brought his hand up to brush his fingertips along my cheek. I shuddered again, though not with fear.

“I apologize for my uncle’s behavior, mistress. I’d blame his poor manners on drink, but he’s no’ verra pleasant sober either.”

My skin tingled beneath his touch, and I almost lamented when he pulled his hand away, ending the strange intimacy that had sparked briefly between us. 

“Thank you for stepping in, Mr…” I paused, flummoxed. “Do you know… I don’t believe anyone ever told me your full name.”

“Och, it’s uh… MacTavish. But ye can call me Jamie.” He was gracing me with that warm smile of his, and I was distracted by it for long enough that he cleared his throat awkwardly before adding, “I’d be happy to escort ye safely back to your room.”

“I’d appreciate it. Though, I suppose I’ll have to do something about Dougal if I’m to stay here. The laird asked me to stay on as the castle’s resident healer.”

“You’re staying, then?” he asked, his smile even brighter as I nodded and took his proffered arm. “That’s good! There will always be a need for someone with your abilities.”

“Oh? And are you planning to injure yourself often?” 

His face reddened at my light teasing, as though he’d been considering just that. 

“Well… Probably no’ on purpose.” Jamie’s eyes gleamed with mischief, enhancing his apparently effortless charm. Embarrassed to realize I was staring again, I nodded pointedly at his bandaged shoulder as we reached my bedchamber.

“That dressing will need changed tomorrow at the latest. Should I come to tend you at the stables? Mrs. Fitz mentioned there was a surgery, but I haven’t been shown where it is yet,” I explained, feeling suddenly much more poised and confident as I shifted my attention to medicine.

“Aye, Sassenach, that’ll do. I’ll bid ye goodnight, then.”

“Goodnight, Jamie.”

I watched him disappear back down the corridor before I entered my room and locked the door securely behind me. Rolling my neck and shoulders to ease the ache in them, I set about removing my complicated assembly of skirts and stays. I despised the residual tension that never quite left my muscles, a constant reminder of the meek, shrinking creature I had become. Every time I cowered in the presence of a male threat, I was left feeling utterly infuriated and disgusted with myself, but it was difficult to fight the instinct to make myself silent and small.

The only time I ever seemed to channel any of the strength and composure I’d learned during the war was when I was tending an injury or ailment. If I were to survive in eighteenth-century Scotland, I would need to be the brave, capable woman I’d been before my time with Frank. But even as the thought formed in my mind, the memory of Dougal’s dark and determined expression soured my stomach. 

Apparently, forgetting my past would be easier said than done.

The following day, Mrs. Fitz armed me with a basket of food and fresh linens before giving me directions to Leoch’s stables. I enjoyed the short walk across the meadow in the spring sunshine. Everything was beginning to bloom, and the air was fresh and invigorating, as though Scotland itself was breathing new life into me. That afternoon, I would be working the castle’s herb garden, and I was eagerly anticipating the chance to get my hands in the dirt again.

The stables were larger than I’d expected, given that there had been nothing left of them in my time. They appeared to be well-kept, and the horses looked healthy and strong. Jamie’s ginger curls made him easy to spot, and I watched him work with a young mare for several minutes. 

From a physician’s perspective, it was troubling to see him already back to work so soon after a serious injury, but he did appear to be cautious in his movements. He spoke soft, Gaelic words to the anxious horse, much as he’d done with me as he’d cradled me on his lap, and my cheeks flushed slightly at the memory.

“Good day to ye, Mistress Beauchamp,” he greeted me with a smile as soon as he noticed me. My own smile felt stiff on my face, but I tried my best to reciprocate.

“Hello. I’ve brought some fresh bandages for that shoulder and something to eat as well. Mrs. Fitz said you missed breakfast.”

Jamie nodded in thanks and turned to address the stable master, known to all as Old Alec. I assumed there was a younger namesake around somewhere. The two men traded words back and forth in Gaelic, and I frowned at once again feeling like an outsider. After a few minutes, Old Alec headed toward the castle, giving me a polite nod in parting.

“This way,” Jamie said, directing me toward a partially sheltered area of the stable. 

He towered over me again as he walked beside me, and I couldn’t help the nervous tension in my muscles. Fortunately, he seemed too distracted to notice. His eyes scanned our surroundings, and I realized he was making sure we had privacy. A nearby pile of hay looked as though it could provide seating of a sort, but I remained on my feet for the moment. 

We exchanged a few pleasantries about the beautiful day and the quality of last night’s slumber as he shed his shirt and the makeshift sling. I unwrapped the bandage and examined the wound with a practiced eye.

“It looks good. No signs of infection, but I want to keep an eye on it. It needs to be cleaned and rebandaged daily. I’ve brought some pain remedies as well.”

“Och, I’ll bide,” Jamie waved the offer aside, and I rolled my eyes at his stubbornness. He certainly wasn’t the first wounded man I’d tended who saw pain relievers as a threat to his masculinity.

“You’ll take some this evening to help you sleep,” I declared in the toughest Nurse Beauchamp tone I could summon. His blue eyes sparkled with mirth as I handed him the ingredients for an analgesic tea.

“Ye ken, ye can be quite high-handed when ye want to be, Sassenach.” 

I stiffened defensively as our gazes held, but I still found only warmth and humor in his eyes. 

“Well, there’s no need to make light of your pain on my account,” I replied, forcing myself to relax. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“You’ve seen the state of my back,” he chuckled. “A wee musket ball and a slipped joint are no’ likely to compare.”

I glanced reflexively at his back and relented with a sigh.

“The reasons you were flogged are nothing to be ashamed of either. Is that why you wanted privacy? You don’t want anyone to know what happened?”

Jamie made a noise from his throat that seemed to be a common mode of communication amongst the Scots. It could indicate agreement or denial, irritation or amusement. Fortunately, he elaborated with actual words.

“They all know, I expect. But knowin’ and seein’ are two different things, ye ken?”

I nodded thoughtfully. I’d known, of course, that the British Empire had a long history of brutality when it came to meting out justice. But none of the illustrations in my history books could possibly have conveyed the reality of it. My stomach clenched as I studied the horrible scars on his back, now more visible than the last time I’d seen them.

“You don’t mind me seeing them?”

He appeared to consider the matter for a moment before turning his head to smile at me.

“No, I suppose not. Canna really explain why it’s different wi’ you. My own uncle… Dougal… He was there when it happened, and I did most of my recoverin’ at his home. I dinna think he can look at me anymore without thinkin’ of my back.”

“Dougal was there… At Fort William?”

“Aye. It was his men who got me out, ye ken.” He paused to put on his shirt since I’d finished with the bandage, and I helped him maneuver his injured arm. “Grateful as I am that they did, I wish they hadna kicked up such ruckus as we left. A redcoat was killed.”

“You’d been flogged twice by that point?”

“Aye, ‘twas but a few days after the second time. I was too weak to do more than hang onto the horse, so I dinna really remember much of it. More like an old dream now, but… there it is. And here I am, with a price on my head for it.”

“For escaping?”

“For murderin’ the redcoat. Ten pounds sterling. A farmer’s whole year in these parts.”

I stayed silent and thoughtful as I handed him the neatly wrapped bread and cheese Mrs. Fitz had tucked into the basket. I’d assumed Jamie lived and worked at Leoch by choice, but that didn’t appear to be the case. He was in hiding. And we had more in common than I’d thought.

“I take it your name isn’t actually…?”

“No,” he smiled again, looking slightly abashed. “Well, my Christian name is James. But my family name isna MacTavish.”

“Not MacKenzie either.”

“No, Dougal and Colum are my uncles on my mother’s side. The pseudonym seems a bit silly to me, to tell the truth. I spent some time here when I was sixteen, and I doubt I’ve changed so much that people dinna recognize me. But most of them dinna ken I’ve a price on my head.”

“Now, I know,” I replied softly, watching him devour the rest of his portion and offering him what was left of my own. “Why did you tell me?”

“You asked.”

But I hadn’t, not really. He’d volunteered the information as though he were simply making polite conversation. 

“But you didn’t have to tell me. You could’ve lied or…”

“I suppose I could’ve. Didna think of that. Decided to trust ye instead.”

Jamie said the words with a crooked smile that was friendly and more than a little flirtatious. He’d put a slight emphasis on the word trust, and my thoughts had tripped over it for a moment. 

“Why? You barely know me.”

“I know enough,” he shrugged, brushing the crumbs from his hands. “And maybe I’m hopin’ someday you’ll return the favor, aye?”

Before I could process the full implication of his words, we were interrupted by Old Alec, who insisted Jamie get back to work. The two exchanged some Gaelic banter before Jamie turned back to me with an apologetic smile. 

“I’d best be back to work.” He stood and then helped me to my feet. I brushed the hay from my skirts, feeling awkward. “Thank ye for the food and the…”

He gestured to his injured shoulder, and I nodded, smiling despite the nervous fluttering in my stomach.

“Of course. It’ll need changed again tomorrow, but I should be setting up in the surgery by then. Mrs. Fitz showed me where it was this morning.”

“Aye, I remember where it is. I’ll come find ye tomorrow, then.”

He looked like he wanted to say more, but Alec called out for him again from inside one of the stalls. Jamie sighed and bade me farewell, and I made my way back to the castle, distracted by my thoughts as I walked.

I was flattered by Jamie’s trust, especially knowing the risk he’d taken. I was English and therefore considered a suspicious character by the people of Leoch. Guarded glances and whispers reached me nearly every time I entered a room, and Jamie seemed to be the only person who hadn’t reacted that way. 

I wished more than anything that I could return his honesty. It would’ve been an immense relief to talk to someone about everything that had happened. Not only about the strange way I’d come to be here, but everything that had led me to those stones. 

Would Jamie have found fault in my deception if he’d known the reason for it? Somehow, I didn’t think so. But I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t tell anyone. They would’ve thought me mad. Or possessed. Or a witch. The potential consequences of sharing my secrets were terrifying.

I was nearly to the courtyard when I realized I was being followed. It was a tingle in my scalp that led me to check my periphery, and I was startled to see someone walking so close. Every time I glanced at him, he looked away as though trying to make it look like he was simply bound in the same direction, but my instincts told me otherwise. He was short, with a wiry build and a head slightly too large for his body. I recognized him from the raiding party, but I couldn’t recall his name. Nor could I remember if he had been one of the ones making lewd jokes and leering at me.

But his uninvited presence made my heart race with panic. 

I quickened my steps, breathing heavily by the time I reached the door to the kitchens, and I felt more than saw my shadow keeping pace with me. Without a second glance for the man or anyone else I passed, I made my way to the surgery, which was a few corridors past the large kitchen. Once I’d latched the door securely between me and the rest of the castle’s inhabitants, I let out a shaky breath and tried to calm down. 

Steady on, Beauchamp.

Pressing my hand to my abdomen, I mentally replayed what I’d seen. Though I was certain the man had been following me, he had at least been attempting to be somewhat covert about it. He’d been close enough to pull me out of sight if he’d wanted to do me harm, but he hadn’t. He’d merely been watching. 

But why? Had he been watching me to further his own interests or someone else’s?

If I’d had to guess, I would’ve assumed Dougal to be the person most likely to want to keep tabs on me. He’d accused me of being a spy last night, and if he truly believed that, he’d probably have deemed it prudent to observe me as much as possible. 

My mind went back to Frank’s seemingly endless verbal history lessons, and I found myself wishing he’d droned on a bit less about the British and more about the Scots. Particularly the years leading up to the Rising. At this point in the proceedings, I knew most of the Jacobite movement had been taking place in private settings and abroad, particularly in France…

France. Where I told Colum my relatives were. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. I cursed my own short-sightedness. Why hadn’t I just said they were in England? Or anywhere else? 

And on whose behalf did Dougal think I was spying? When he’d made his rather drunken accusation, I’d thought he’d merely been making assumptions because of my accent and my sudden appearance in the Highlands. I had shown up out of virtually thin air, after all. Or stone, in this case. But I now realized the explanation I’d fabricated for Colum had probably only fed Dougal’s suspicion.

The French, so far as the Scots knew in 1743, would be in support of the Jacobites, though I knew France would end up offering too little support when the time came. In any case, it meant that Dougal was most likely trying to determine whose side I was on. As for his loyalties, I could only presume that a Catholic Highlander would side with the Jacobites.

I took another deep breath to steady myself and tried to shake off the remainder of my anxiety. There was work to be done and daylight being wasted. And there was really nothing I could do about my Scottish shadow. So long as he didn’t actually touch me, I supposed it didn’t matter if he followed me around. There was nothing to report, after all. I wasn’t a spy and didn’t intend to take any part in the Rising. My time at Leoch would be spent working as a healer and saving money to eventually strike out on my own. 

I had no desire to get caught up in another war.

A/N: Thank you for reading and reviewing! <3

Chapter Text

“They’re arguin’ over a cow.” 

Jamie whispered the words with a grin, translating the Gaelic conversation for me as we watched two older gentlemen bickering in front of a congregation of MacKenzies. I couldn’t help but smile at the absurdity of it, and I very much wanted to ask what on earth the cow had done to inspire such hostility between the two men. I kept silent, though, since Jamie and I had already been shushed twice by the cantankerous elderly woman in front of us.

Everyone seemed to refer to the formal gathering as simply, ‘The Hall.’ It was held, as one might easily deduce, in Leoch’s large dining hall. Thanks to Jamie’s helpful translations, I had quickly ascertained that it was the designated time during which the laird would hear his clan’s grievances. Colum acted as a mediator and judge, handing down penalties or punishments and smoothing ruffled feathers with easy humor.

It all seemed relatively straightforward and mundane until a haggard-looking woman pulled a skinny boy into the middle of the hall. The boy was perhaps ten or twelve, though he appeared to be malnourished. There were tears streaked over his dirty cheeks, and the woman, who I assumed to be his mother, was holding him by the ear as she made her case to the MacKenzie.

“What’s she saying?” I asked, glancing at Jamie to gauge his reaction. His handsome features were tense with disapproval, but his slanted blue eyes showed resignation.

“She was widowed recently and left with a litter of bairns to raise on her own. Says the lad is disrespectful and shirks his chores. He’s the eldest, so I’d reckon he’s tryin’ to take over for his father. She says his negligence led to one of their horses gettin’ away.”

“He’s just a child,” I murmured, frowning in consternation at the woman. “He can’t possibly be expected to do as much as a grown man.”


Jamie’s expression was a mixture of sympathy and regret, but he said nothing further as the conversation between Colum and the woman continued. Eventually, the laird nodded with a look similar to the one his nephew was wearing, and the boy’s silent tears became sobs of fear.

“What’s happening?”

“She asked Colum to have the lad punished, since his father isna here to do it.”

“Punished how?”

“The strap.”

I watched with wide eyes as two men took hold of the boy’s arms and a third began to remove a thick leather belt. My heart pounded as I realized the child would be beaten by a man several times his weight and strength. And in front of an audience, no less.

My feet propelled me forward of their own volition, and I shrugged out of Jamie’s grasp as he attempted to pull me back. The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.

“Stop! This is barbaric!”

The crowd fell silent, and I felt dozens of eyes upon me as I looked back and forth from the boy’s mother to the laird. My heart thundered in my chest, but I fought the instinct to make myself less conspicuous. Colum surveyed me with speculation, but it was Dougal who answered, sneering at me from his place at the laird’s right hand.

“This is none o’ yer affair, mistress.”

“He’s a child. He shouldn’t be expected to do the work of a grown man.”

“Are ye volunteerin’ to take the lad’s punishment, then?”

I blinked in shock at Dougal’s words, momentarily flummoxed. I hadn’t realized such a thing was even an option. My eyes moved to the man with the belt, who was now watching me with a rather blank expression. I quickly assessed him to be larger than Frank, but there wasn’t a hint of anger in his features. I’d taken a belt more than once and knew how much it hurt. But Frank had wielded his belt with rage and hatred, and I doubted this experience would compare, as it was more of a perfunctory sort of thing. Still, the boy certainly didn’t deserve it.

I tried to rein in my nerves as I took a deep breath and turned back to the raised dais, where both MacKenzies brothers were frowning at me in irritation.

“Yes. I’ll take--”

“Stadadh a-nis!”

Jamie strode purposefully into the center of the room and stood between his uncles and me. My view was completely obscured by his broad shoulders, and the difference in our statures once again had me feeling like a child. He continued to speak Gaelic as he addressed the laird, his voice strong and clear. 

I peered around him, trying to decipher some meaning from their facial expressions, but it was futile. Colum appeared to be deliberating something, and Dougal’s eyes glinted with amusement. The crowd seemed to be waiting for the laird’s verdict.

“Seumas Ruadh.”

The hushed murmurs of the assembled clansmen indicated some significance I didn’t understand, and Jamie’s promptly turned to face me. His hand gripped my elbow as he pulled me to stand with the other observers, pausing only to remove his sling and shove it into my hands.

“What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

“Stay here and dinna say another word,” he instructed. Though his eyes held a warning, his tone lacked heat, and it felt like a reassurance rather than a rebuke.

I frowned after him as he returned to the center of the floor, noticing that the woman and her son had moved away, as had the two men who’d intended to restrain the boy. Now, it was only Jamie and the third man, who was no longer holding his belt. Rupert, I thought, suddenly recalling his name. 

There were a few more Gaelic words exchanged before Jamie gave him a nod. Rupert responded with a jovial grin and swung his fist hard into Jamie’s face.

“Why did you do that?”

Jamie and I were alone in my newly appointed surgery, and he sat on one of the wooden tables, wincing as I repaired the fresh damage to his shoulder. A broken nose hadn’t been enough to appease Dougal--he’d refrained from putting an end to the beating until Rupert had hit Jamie’s recent injury and knocked him to the ground. Colum had kept silent as well, and Jamie had smiled through the whole damn thing.

Stubborn bloody Scot…

“Och, ‘twas just… Ye were right. The lad’s punishment would no’ have been fair.” He didn’t quite meet my eyes as he elaborated, “Losin’ a parent knocks a child’s world off its axis for a time. ‘Twill right itself, sure enough, but it takes a wee while, ken? Been less than six months since the lad’s father passed, and a child canna be expected to adjust so quickly.”

There was conviction and experience in his voice, and it was enough to slow my movements briefly. He’d mentioned his father having passed a few years ago, but I assumed he’d lost his mother at some point as well. 

“Well, you’re certainly right about that. But you didn’t speak up until after I’d tried to stop it.”

Jamie pursed his lips and looked away, perhaps in embarrassment.

“Ye didna realize what ye were gettin’ into. Ye could only understand bits and pieces of what was bein’ said… No’ only that, but they would’ve exposed your bare back and skelped ye in front of everyone. It would’ve shamed ye. I couldna bear to let it happen to ye at all, much less be forced to watch it.”

“That’s why you let that ape punch you,” I surmised with a sigh, feeling humbled but no less frustrated with him for volunteering to take a beating. “So you could keep your shirt on.”


“You’re a stubborn bloody Scot,” I muttered. Jamie grinned at me despite his swollen face.


A laugh threatened to bubble up from my chest, and my lips quirked as I returned to the task of rebandaging his shoulder. It had been healing well, but this would undoubtedly be a painful setback. His broken noise and busted lip weren’t likely to help matters.

“I’m afraid to say you’ll probably feel worse tomorrow. I’ll give you some more cherry bark for the pain, and I might have some valerian root to help you sleep.”

“Nay, dinna fash, Sassenach. A wee dram before bed, and I’ll be right as rain.”

I nibbled my bottom lip and eyed him dubiously, but I had to admit a good strong drink would probably help him more than anything I had on hand at the moment. The former healer’s supply cupboards were woefully bare. 

As I helped him back into his shirt and sling, I deliberated over my next words.

“Thank you for what you did. It was reckless, but… I suppose I’d be a hypocrite to condemn you for that,” I admitted with a nervous smile. Jamie made that enigmatic Scottish noise and waited with a patient expression, somehow knowing I had more to say. “Since I’ve decided to stay here, I’ve come to the realization that I’ll need to learn Gaelic properly. I’ve only been here a week, and I’m already frustrated by the language barrier. Would you… be willing to help me with that?”

Jamie’s brows went up briefly in apparent surprise, and his battered lips curved upward as well.

“Aye, of course. I’d be honored.”

“Thank you. I’d also ask that you don’t tell anyone about it. I don’t wish to draw more attention to myself than necessary, and I think that having even the slightest advantage over Dougal would make me feel a little safer.”

“I canna fault ye there,” he replied, his dislike of his uncle evident in his tone. “If he kent ye could understand him, he’d be more careful wi’ his words. Knowin’ his true intentions might well help ye protect yourself. Visit me in the stables as often as ye can. We can share the midday meal there, and since most of the others take lunch in the hall, we’ll have privacy.”

My answering smile felt surprisingly natural, and for a moment, I felt almost like the old Claire. The one who could sit comfortably with an attractive man and return his flirtation with ease. But my words still came out in a shy whisper.

“Thank you.”

“Tapadh leat,” he corrected with a twinkle in his blue eyes. I repeated the words obediently and was rewarded with a broad smile. “Good. Until tomorrow, then, Sassenach.”

“Goodnight,” I replied with a nod.

I followed him to the door of the surgery and watched him retreat down the corridor before releasing the breath I’d been holding.

Private lunches with Jamie… No problem.

June in the Highlands was breathtakingly beautiful. Everything was lush and green, save for the first blooms of purple heather and the azure sky. Having experienced summer in various parts of the world, I could safely say I preferred the momentarily temperate weather of Scotland.

In the few weeks since I’d come through the stones, Jamie and I had spent a great deal of time together. When I wasn’t seeing patients in the surgery or gathering herbs and such in the gardens, I was often at the stables. I watched Jamie work with the horses, sometimes bringing my small medical journal and quill, as it was much easier to write outside than in the candlelit gloom of the surgery. I documented the patients I’d treated and the methods used, cataloging the various medicinals and their purposes. Working as a healer had proved to be a fulfilling occupation and one far more enjoyable in this century, without the constant stress of the war.

Being near Jamie was reassuring, particularly in light of the advice he’d given me on my first day at Leoch--that I would always be safe in his presence. I’d taken that promise to heart and was pleased to find myself slowly gaining more confidence in my new surroundings, alien though they may have been.

Amidst the elementary Gaelic lessons and light flirtation, Jamie had been revealing himself in bits and pieces. He’d shared some of his favorite childhood memories, most of which had taken place during the summer, when the days were so long that night was almost nonexistent and a boy could have endless hours of adventure. But it was the stories of his more recent past that had my interest today.

“So, you’ve spent more than three of the past four years in France, but you went back and forth three separate times?” I asked with a frown, mentally organizing the details he’d shared. 

Not only had Jamie studied at the university in Paris, but he’d also served as a mercenary for a time. His most recent trip, however, had been for the purpose of an extended convalescence. 

“Aye. And after six sea voyages, my wame will be happy to never board ship again.”

“Why didn’t you just stay there? Especially after the second time, since you knew you couldn’t go home? Or this last time, for that matter? If it were me, I probably would’ve taken the axe to the skull as a sign that perhaps I wasn’t meant to be in Scotland.”

His eyes gleamed as though they guarded a secret, and he canted his head with a smile. 

“I might have agreed with ye until recently. But I’m certain now I was right to come back. Scotland will always be home, ken?”

I hummed quietly in response, feeling as though I’d missed something. My thoughts had snagged on the medical points of the conversation, however, and I brought the discussion back to them.

“So, is that why your hair is a bit shorter than most of the others’? The axe?”

“Aye.” Jamie turned his face away from me and parted his hair so that I could see the scar. I reached out to prod it gingerly. “The monks at the abbey damn near scalped me to tend the wound.”

I withdrew my hand as he turned back, but my eyes were still fixed on his hair. It was softer than I had expected, and it really was the most entrancing shade of red. A ray of summer sunlight had caught the ginger curls, making him all the more attractive. 

When our eyes met, I realized I’d been caught staring. His smile was as warm as always, and now the warmth in my cheeks matched it. I quickly returned my attention to the Gaelic words he’d been teaching me before we’d gotten distracted by tales of head trauma and hospitable monks.

Jamie had taught me some of the questions I might ask an ill or injured person, but I was still learning how to understand the hypothetical responses they might give. Differences in dialect and the patient’s level of education only complicated matters further. I’d been fully immersed in foreign cultures many times in my life and had managed to pick up a functional vocabulary in most situations, so I didn’t doubt my ability to do so again. But as with any worthwhile goal, it would take time.

So, I tried not to feel too disappointed when Old Alec interrupted us a short while later and I failed to understand a single word he said. Jamie looked at me with an expression of academic expectation, and I shrugged hopelessly.

“He wants you to get back to work?” I guessed. Jamie laughed heartily and nodded, helping me to my feet.

“Aye, that wasna quite how he put it, but it sounded more polite comin’ from you.” 

That evening found me in the hall, trying--and failing--not to stare at my new Scottish friend. Well… my only Scottish friend, truth be told.

The voices of a dozen or so MacKenzies buzzed around me, but very few of them spoke English. Once it had been widely established that I had no grasp of Gaelic, it became the most common way for the castle’s inhabitants to exclude me, unless they were in need of my healing services. Despite having been at Leoch for a month, I still felt every bit the Sassenach and suspected I always would.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t at all bothered by Jamie’s use of the term. The warm, affectionate tone of his voice ensured that the word could never be mistaken as an insult when it came from his lips. Although I’d long since given him permission to call me Claire, he rarely did so. It was ‘Sassenach’ or, when others were around, ‘Mistress Beauchamp.’

He’d yet to tell me his real name, but I knew I had no right to be offended by his reluctance. I’d told him precious little about myself, and what few truths I had divulged had been laced with falsehoods. Jamie didn’t seem to hold that against me, however. There was a subtle gleam in his eye that told me he was fully aware of every lie, big or small. But instead of hounding me for the truth buried beneath those lies, he merely accepted them as though he were patiently waiting for the day he earned my complete trust.

At the moment, trusting anyone more than I currently trusted Jamie seemed impossible. My muscles still ached every day from being constantly on alert, particularly around the numerous men in the castle. It had taken weeks before I’d felt brave enough to take the evening meals in the hall with everyone else, since the alcohol flowed more freely at the end of the day. But once they’d more or less adjusted to my quiet presence, they tended to ignore me. That was how I preferred it. 

Tonight, I lingered a bit longer than usual in the dining hall, slowly picking through my portion of rabbit stew and observing the people around me in much the same way I’d watched my uncle analyze a new artifact or culture. Despite the language barrier, I had slowly begun to learn the habits of these Highlanders. It would take a long time, perhaps years, to grasp the minutiae of their culture, but I was determined to learn enough to blend in at the very least. Perhaps one day, I might even be considered one of them.

I was startled from my inner musings and flinched rather violently when a large man settled into the empty space next to me on the long bench. Jamie held up his empty hand to show he meant no harm, and I relaxed at the sight of him. We exchanged apologetic smiles.

“Ye looked a bit lonely over here,” he said by way of a greeting. He shifted on the bench, and I was momentarily intrigued by the way he could take up nearly twice the amount of space I was occupying and still fail to intimidate me. 

“Well,” I replied, glancing at those who remained in the hall, “I’d imagine that’s what they all want me to feel, but after the last few days, I don’t mind the solitude.”

Jamie had the grace to look uncomfortable at my assessment of the way the others were treating me, leading me to assume I’d been correct.

“Dinna fash about them. They’ll come ‘round in their own time. Most of them.”

I had my doubts on that point but decided not to argue. 

The MacKenzie clan had held a large and formal Gathering at Leoch, and although the last of the visiting tenants had departed with their families yesterday, the aura of Highland pride still seemed to permeate the castle. It was making it all the more difficult to bridge the gap that separated me from them.

“Have ye recovered from all the excitement of the Gathering, then?”

“Yes, I think so,” I answered, forcing a smile. “Thank you.”

I knew what he was really asking. It had been an eventful few days, particularly for me, and I was still recovering from the stress. There had been more patients to see, a boar hunt fatality, and a veritable legion of drunk men. A group of them had accosted me and been sent scurrying by none other than Dougal, who had then tried to get his own hands up my skirts.

My cries of protest had been answered by Jamie, who’d laid his uncle out rather poetically with a dirk hilt to the back of the head. He’d not only seen me safely back to my chambers but had apparently stood watch in the corridor outside, sleeping on the stone floor all night. I’d unintentionally tripped over him the following morning.

“My shadows seem to have recovered from their whisky hangovers,” I commented, redirecting the conversation slightly.

“Ye mean Rupert and Angus?”

“Yes. It took me a while to be certain they were merely watching and reporting back to someone. Dougal, I assume.”

“Aye, most likely. They’ve no’ touched ye?” Jamie’s voice held a quiet warning that made me smile despite my nerves.

“No. They don’t even speak to me, really.”

“Good,” he sighed, looking appeased. “They’re no’ likely to hurt a lass. They might make an inappropriate joke now and again, but they’re all bluster. I’ve never known either of them to force himself on a woman.”

By now, I knew Jamie well enough to understand that he was truly concerned for my welfare, and I was touched by it. He seemed to be the only person in this time--or any time--who was able to put me at ease. There was a connection between us that seemed to grow stronger each day, as thrilling as it was unexpected.

He felt it too. 

I’d frequently caught him watching me with more than a hint of male appreciation, but unlike the other men in the castle, Jamie didn’t frighten me. It didn’t take a genius to guess what might be on his mind when he gazed at me with such warmth. And perhaps, if I were any other woman, I might do more to encourage him. But after finally gaining my freedom, despite the odd circumstances, I wasn’t about to put myself at the mercy of another man. 

Jamie would no doubt be looking to settle down soon, and I didn’t ever want to get married again. It would’ve been unfair of me, therefore, to string him along and give him false hope. Unfair and wrong

But no sooner had that thought taken shape in my mind than he caught my eye and gave me that easy, charming smile, and I couldn’t help but return it.


A/N: I doubt anyone will be disappointed by the distinct lack of Laoghaire in this story. I hate her, lol. Thanks for reading and reviewing! <3

Chapter Text

The hall was crowded and buzzing with excitement, and the noise was beginning to make Jamie anxious. It was nothing compared to the raucous atmosphere of the Gathering, but any public appearance by the bard was enough to draw the people from Cranesmuir and the outlying crofts. Despite having lost his ear for music after his last head injury, he found himself looking forward to Gwyllyn’s performance--or rather, to sharing it with a certain Sassenach.

“And the youngest o’ my granddaughters was wed no’ long before ye came back,” Mrs. Fitz chattered amiably beside him. “I dinna ken if ye recall Laoghaire. She was but a wee thing when ye were here as a lad. She and her new husband moved to Thurso right after the wedding…”

Jamie nodded politely, feigning interest as he watched for Claire. He’d reserved the seat next to him and was prepared to shove Mrs. Fitz out of the way if need be. As he surveyed the large room again, he cursed under his breath, noticing Dougal was keeping a watchful eye as well.

When at last she appeared in the archway, he stood to catch her attention and beckoned her over, pleased at her expression of relief when she spotted him.

“Is it always this crowded?” she asked once they were seated.

“Aye, come hell or high water. Gwyllyn is well-known throughout the Highlands, and Colum pays handsomely to keep him on at Leoch. He’s been here as long as I can recall.”

“Singing for his supper, as it were.”

“Just so,” he chuckled at her wit.

The performance was a mixture of Welsh and Gaelic, which was the excuse Jamie had given for ensuring she sat next to him. He whispered translations here and there, but for the most part, he simply watched her enjoy the music. Her bonny brown eyes had a wistful look about them, as though her mind was a thousand miles away.

“It’s so beautiful,” she breathed as the fourth song began. “Even if I haven’t a clue what he’s saying.”

“This one is about a woman who was taken by the faeries for a time, on the eve of Samhain…”

“Taken?” Claire echoed with a crease in her brow, sitting up straighter. “Can you translate it?”

Jamie wondered at her sudden interest, but he obliged, watching her features as he spoke.

“I am the wife of the Laird of Balnain.
The folk have stolen me over again.
I stood upon the hill, and the wind did rise,
And the sound of thunder rolled across the land.

I placed my hands upon the tallest stone
And traveled to a far, distant land,
Where I lived for a time among strangers,
Who became lovers and friends.

But one day, I saw the moon come out,
And the wind rose once more.
So, I touched the stones and traveled back
And took up again with the man I had left behind.”

His own thoughts had grown a bit whimsical as he translated the verses, so the anxiety in Claire’s voice hit him like a deluge of cold water.

“She went back through the stones?”

“Aye, she did. They always do.”

“Always?” Her eyes were wide with alarm and--if he weren’t mistaken--fear. “Do the women always have to go back or is it only if they touch the stones a second time?”

“I… I dinna ken,” he admitted, surprised and confused by the change in her demeanor. “‘Tis just a story, Sassenach. There are nigh a dozen like it. ‘Tis always ‘two hundred years ago,’ and ‘the Wee Folk in their duns,’ and such. ‘Tis nothin’ to fret over.”

But his calming words seemed to have the opposite effect on her. Her breathing had become labored, and she was muttering words he couldn’t quite decipher. Two? Or To? To… what?

“But did they have to go to the stones in order to return?” 

Claire was not to be deterred, and he could do nothing but humor her for the moment, mindful of not causing a scene.

“Well… As I said, I dinna ken. But I suppose if the story were true, it would stand to reason a traveler would have to repeat whatever actions brought her there in the first place.”

Her eyes brightened with a hope that bordered on desperation, and Jamie couldn’t make sense of it.

“So, as long as she doesn’t go near the stones again… she stays?”

“That seems logical. Or as logical as one can expect from a faery tale, aye?” He offered her a smile and attempted to soothe her again with a joke. “Though, there are quite a few faery hills ‘round these parts. Might be tricky to avoid them all.”

She didn’t reply and certainly didn’t look amused by his jest. Her whisky eyes had grown distant again, as though she was contemplating a very serious problem and couldn’t make heads or tales of it.

“Are ye alright, Claire?”

His use of her given name broke through her distraction, and she nodded shakily, her dark curls quivering against the pale skin of her neck.

“I think I’d like to retire for the evening, if you don’t mind. I’m sorry.”

“No’ at all. Come, I’ll walk ye back.”

Though he was disappointed to see the night come to an early end, he couldn’t help but agree that it was for the best. There was a haunted sort of expression on her beautiful face, and he didn’t like it.

Tomorrow, he vowed silently as he bade her goodnight and headed to his own bedchamber. Tomorrow, he would see her smile again.

No matter how many times Jamie relived the evening in his mind, he couldn’t make sense of Claire’s strange behavior. Though that was nothing new, he supposed. He’d never known anyone quite like her. She confounded him in many ways but attracted him in so many more. 

The instinct to protect her, or simply to be near her, was something visceral. It thrummed in his veins with every heartbeat, and never in his life had he felt anything so profound and compelling. There was only one explanation, and he didn’t shy away from it.

He loved her. 

Not in the covetous, infatuated way he’d occasionally fantasized about a woman in the past… Well, not only in that way, he amended silently. He lusted after her with a ferocity that made him understand why the Church had declared it a sin, but he felt so much more for her than simple desire. 

He needed Claire near him and was plagued by anxiety when they were apart. The mere sight of her could make him forget his many troubles, even if only for the short time he was in her presence. 

Were his situation any different, he’d have already brought up the subject of marriage. Lord knew, she needed a husband and a protector, and the thought of any other man filling that role made his chest feel hollow. 

But why would she ever choose him? How could he possibly ask her to share in his misfortunes?

Jamie was a wanted man with no shortage of enemies. He’d been relying on the MacKenzies’ good will and discretion, but he knew full well it wasn’t an arrangement that could last forever. Sooner or later, he would have to go home or try to make a new one elsewhere. What of Claire, then? What kind of life could he offer her, save one of constant worry and struggle? What lass would willingly bind herself to an outlaw?

She’s such a skittish wee thing, he mused, staring up at the bed canopy and seeing her face instead. When she’d first arrived, she’d borne the marks of whatever violence had befallen her, and until those bruises had faded, they’d been the first things a person noticed about her. But there was so much more to her than that. 

Claire might have been bruised, but she was far from broken.

There was a fire within her, and sometimes Jamie felt as though he were the only one who could truly see it. Well, he smirked, me and any other ‘stubborn bloody Scot’ with an injury to be tended. That was when her inner strength seemed to rise up out of her, settling around her like a cloak to hide her fear. He’d seen his sister, Jenny, do the same thing all his life.

As the summer dim darkened the windows further, Jamie fell into an uneasy sleep, and Claire followed him from his waking thoughts to his dreams. He’d only dreamed of her a few times since meeting her in the flesh, and now the visions had taken on a notably different quality. Not only had she seemed happier, but her attire had been quite normal and her surroundings had been familiar. Once, she’d been watching the clouds with him in the meadow near the stables, both of them on their backs as though they were children. That dream had filled Jamie with a peace and comfort he had always associated with being home.

But there was nothing innocent about tonight’s dream. 

They were in her surgery, and Claire’s shy smile transformed into one of seduction. He brought his mouth down upon hers, too aroused to let another second pass without touching her. She felt warm and soft beneath his large hands, and her lips kept pace with his. Her fingers began to grasp at the hem of his kilt, and he followed her lead, pulling up the hem of her skirt. 

Claire whispered a plea against his lips, and he thrust into her with a lust that bordered on savagery. She tilted her head back in pleasure, leaning on one of the sturdy tables for support as he took her. 

And as with all the best dreams, he woke at the crucial moment with her name on his tongue.

Mhac na galla.

“I’m still no’ convinced she’s no’ a spy.”

Jamie rolled his eyes at Dougal, and Colum was quick to pick up on it. He chuckled from behind the large desk in his study.

“Ye disagree, I take it?”

“Aye, I do. Claire’s past may no’ be as simple as she’d have everyone believe, but she’s a terrible liar. No one in their right mind would make her a spy. She damn near has every thought painted on her face,” Jamie replied. Dougal scoffed in derision.

“Ye’re too distracted by that bonny face to see the truth. I’ll admit I’ve no’ yet worked out her true intentions, but I ken she’s more than she appears.”

“Ye mean you’ve no’ yet been able to intimidate her into lettin’ ye into her bed,” Jamie countered, practically growling as he fumed at his uncle’s smug expression.

“Enough,” Colum interjected, but Dougal pressed on.

“I’ll be takin’ the Sassenach along wi’ the rent party. We’ll need a healer on the road, and mayhap seein’ a bit of why the English are so unpopular in Scotland might align her sympathies with ours.”

“Does Mistress Beauchamp no’ have a say in the matter?” Jamie argued.

“Frankly, no. She was hired for her healin’ services, and that’s what she’ll be providing. But I ken how ye fancy her, so ye’ll be pleased to hear ye’re comin’ along as well. We’ll need yer skills wi’ the horses. And yer sword, should it come to that,” he added begrudgingly. 

Colum seemed to deliberate briefly but gave his consent and dismissed them both scarcely a minute later. Jamie stomped from the room, ignoring the snickering laugh of his least favorite uncle.

Horses and swords, indeed, he thought wryly. He hadn’t been at all fooled by Dougal’s words. It was the scars on Jamie’s back that made him valuable to Dougal. What better way to align the sympathies of the common folk with those of Dougal’s Jacobite cause than to parade Jamie about like a fool. But he said nothing and didn’t intend to argue the point again.

If Claire was going on the road with the rent party, he was damned well going with her.

A/N: Next chapter will go up tomorrow since this one was short! Thanks for reading and reviewing!

Chapter Text

In the six weeks since I’d come through the stones, I had slowly begun to rebuild the confidence Frank had stolen from me. The old me was nearer to the surface these days, and I no longer felt as though the strength I’d adopted upon my initial arrival was a complete sham. The cold shoulders and snide remarks hadn’t dissipated much, but it was a little easier to ignore them now. Though, that wasn’t to say I always did. The return of my natural assertiveness was sometimes accompanied by the smart mouth I was pleased to discover I hadn’t lost.

But damn if I wasn’t still frightened of Dougal MacKenzie.

My instincts had identified him as a predator from our very first encounter, and every time he tried to corner me, I reverted to the trembling coward I’d been when I first fell through the stones. Jamie had been doing his best to thwart his uncle’s advances, of course. His timely interventions and steadfast protection were probably the only reasons Dougal hadn’t yet managed to force himself on me. But I knew my luck couldn’t hold out forever. It was likely just a matter of time before he got what he wanted.

And so, when Dougal had smugly informed me that I would be traveling with a large party of MacKenzie men to collect rent payments from the laird’s more distant tenants, I’d felt a glimmer of hope. With any luck, I could perhaps orchestrate some kind of escape while we were on the road.

By the end of the first day, however, that hope was all but extinguished, and the anxiety I’d begun to tamp down since my passage through the stones was returning in full force. Our caravan of horses and wagons was indeed a large one, and our progress was slow. We rode in twos and threes through a dense morning fog that seemed to muffle the thud of the horses’ hooves and the creaking of wagon wheels. I could occasionally hear calls from the front or rear of the line, though the conversations of those nearer to me were fragmented and lost in murmurs. It gave one the sensation of riding through a mist full of ghosts.

Even after the midday sun had eradicated the fog, my uneasiness persisted. As my place generally fell somewhere in the middle of the party, flanked by one or two large, armed men, it was almost impossible not to feel cornered and uncomfortable.

At Leoch, despite Dougal and his spies, I’d had at least a modicum of security. I’d had a private bedchamber with a locking door and the near-constant presence of other women to stand as a buffer between me and any man who might’ve sought to take advantage. And where those two safeties had failed, Jamie had been there to put himself between me and his uncle’s lechery. 

Now, however, I was surrounded by men at all times, some of them the very ones who had joked about testing my skills as a prostitute. They shared amusing stories and chanted bawdy songs as we rode, and most had a flask of whisky on them at all times. There was no predicting their behavior. The journey was expected to last several weeks, and I would rarely have the opportunity to sleep with a roof over my head, much less in a room with a locking door. Jamie’s presence among the men was my only true comfort, but I knew he wouldn’t be able to stay near me all the time...

You’re here to do a job, Beauchamp. Focus on that.

My fingers clenched around the reins of my horse, and I took a slow, deep breath to center myself, drawing yet again from my experiences on the front. I’d had the courage to sew wounds and amputate limbs even as shots were fired around me and bombers flew overhead, and I knew I could survive this too. 

If anything, the camaraderie amongst these men reminded me of the bond shared by the soldiers I’d treated during the war. As a Sassenach, I wasn’t included in their companionable banter now, but I made the connection nevertheless. It was a relief to find that I hadn’t entirely lost that Claire, as I’d once feared. Frank may have done a number on my psyche, but he hadn’t been able to break me completely. 

And it’s not all bad, I mused as I took in my surroundings on the second afternoon of the journey. Once the morning fog dissipated, I had an opportunity to see the Scottish countryside in a way I hadn’t in my own time. The land was just as ruggedly beautiful two hundred years hence, but I hadn’t been at liberty to truly enjoy it while I’d toured the area with Frank. 

The Highlands were captivating with their craggy peaks, misty forests, and dark lochs. They held an innate sort of magic that made it easy to understand why it was a land of so many legends and superstitions. Even the firm grip of Christianity couldn’t completely squeeze out the pagan tradition, and I found it comforting to know that much of it would still thrive two centuries from now. 

As my thoughts centered on that other time, my time, I was surprised to realize how rarely I’d thought about it in the past few weeks. I did miss the modern conveniences, indoor plumbing being at the top of the list, but acclimating to life in this century had been easier than I’d expected. Though, the corset certainly took some getting used to, I thought wryly, shifting in the saddle and flexing my spine a little. 

When my mare tossed her head in irritation at my fidgeting, another modern convenience came to mind, and I found myself missing it immensely. ‘The road,’ as Dougal had called it, was really nothing more than an unpredictable network of well-worn dirt paths, and sometimes our party veered away from those as well. 

I recalled from my history lessons that General Wade had directed construction of Roman-style roads and bridges to link the garrison and larger cities, but these Scots didn’t always make use of them. A conscious effort to avoid redcoats, I presumed. Nothing would be paved until the turn of the twentieth century, but in all fairness, I doubted my arse would be any less saddle-sore with asphalt beneath us.

“Och, mind yer horse, lass.”

The admonishment came from Murtagh, who’d been riding near me more often than not since we’d left Leoch. My temperamental mount had ventured close enough to take a nip at his leg, and I mumbled an apology. 

I had gradually come to enjoy Murtagh’s company, though initially, I’d been confused as to why he was traveling with us. I’d gathered it was in part because he was bound to Jamie and in part because of his skill with a sword. What I didn’t understand was why he always seemed to be hovering around me.

“You know, Dougal is already having me watched by Angus and Rupert. I can’t possibly be doing anything suspicious enough to warrant three shadows,” I said testily.

Murtagh responded with that damned Scottish grunt, which in this case seemed to indicate dissent.

“'Tis no’ at Dougal’s request that I’m keepin’ an eye on ye.”

His quiet reply had me tensing in alarm for a moment until I remembered what I already knew about him. Jack Randall would most certainly have raped me that day at Craigh na Dun were it not for Murtagh, and his interference had proved him to be honorable. And Jamie trusts him.

“Jamie asked you to stay close?”

Murtagh gave a nod and another grunt. It was fairly obvious he wasn’t too pleased with the assignment, but I couldn’t recall him ever looking pleased about anything that wasn’t on a plate or in a mug.

I was momentarily torn between frustration at Jamie’s high-handedness and gratitude for his efforts in keeping me safe. The old me would’ve tossed her hair and insisted I could look after myself, but I didn’t have that luxury here. Jamie’s request wasn’t at all the same as Dougal ordering his minions to spy on me for him. He had thought only for my well-being--and with good cause. 

“Thank you,” I murmured, just loud enough that only he could hear.

Murtagh muttered something in Gaelic that I didn’t quite follow, but I was sure I caught the words for pain and arse. Those were ‘healer words,’ as Jamie and I had classified them. Though, I couldn’t be certain which of us was the bigger pain in Murtagh’s arse at present.

As the rent party progressed from one tiny settlement to the next, I had an opportunity to observe new facets of 18th-century life that I hadn’t seen at Castle Leoch. Things worked much differently in a small village as opposed to a castle, and I assumed the same could be said of larger cities. If, by some chance, I were able to get away from Leoch and the MacKenzies sooner rather than later, a city sounded like an ideal destination.

Healers are always in demand… Better access to medicinals, so I wouldn’t have to grow everything myself. Easier to blend in. It would be nice to have a permanent home…

“I ken ye well enough by now to know whatever you’re thinkin’ is probably a bad idea.”

At some point in my woolgathering, Jamie had exchanged places with Murtagh, and I frowned in bewilderment at his comment. 

“You don’t even know what I was thinking,” I argued, mildly offended.

“Ye were thinkin’ about running. Ye had the same look on your face more than once during the Gathering.”

My mouth fell open in shock at his accuracy. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. Was I really that transparent? Or was Jamie simply that adept at reading people? He took my silence as confirmation and continued in a low tone I had to lean forward to hear.

“I was worried ye might try to make a run for it while everyone was drunk and distracted, especially since Dougal’s been pesterin’ ye so.”

“The thought crossed my mind,” I admitted begrudgingly. He managed to look both satisfied and dismayed at my words. “But I noticed there were extra guards posted everywhere during the Gathering. I’m sure someone would’ve stopped me.”

“Aye, they would. The patrol has been doubled during Gatherings ever since my mam took advantage of everyone’s distraction by runnin’ off with my father.” His smile was infectious and put me at ease regardless of my present circumstances.

“Your parents ran off together? I take it their families didn’t approve of their marriage?”

“Aye, they caused quite the stir. ‘Twas in my grandsire’s days as laird. He was content to let my mother wed for love, but Colum and Dougal disagreed. Wanted to marry her off to some MacDonald or other. But when my father and his cousin, Murtagh, came to Leoch for the Gathering, he fell under my mother’s spell right from the beginning. Well, they both did, truth be told.”

I chuckled at the image of the surly and stoic Murtagh pining after his mate’s girl. Jamie had a knack for telling stories, and I was a little surprised I hadn’t heard this one yet. Lord knows we’d spent many an afternoon in conversations like this.

“Your father’s family didn’t approve either?”

“Och, no. Well, ‘twas just that my grandsires didna really get on. But my parents snuck off during the Gathering and were handfast with Murtagh to witness. A handfastin’ is a sort of temporary marriage, ye ken. Valid for a year and a day, but my older brother was well on the way before that point. My parents stayed hidden in a small croft until my mother was wi’ child, and their families had no choice but to accept it.”

“Hmm… Well, maybe I’m just not as brave as they were.”

“Nay, Sassenach.” The shift in his tone drew my gaze to his face, and his eyes seemed to blaze with intent. “You’re every bit as brave. Just no’ so reckless.”

I gave him an awkward smile and shrugged self-consciously. 

“Whether during the Gathering or on the road, I doubt running away would solve anything. It’s not like I have anywhere else to go. And the world is full of people who make your uncle look like a saint. At least for now… Dougal is the devil I know, so to speak. And I’m sure someone would’ve come after me anyway. It’s not as though I can blend in.”

“Aye. I’m glad ye didna run, Claire. I’d have come after ye for sure.”

I let the subject drop but wondered at the odd effect Jamie’s words had upon me. Were he anyone else, I might have been afraid of him for saying something like that, but for reasons passing understanding, it didn’t bother me at all. If anything, it made me feel… better. Jamie’s protectiveness was somehow comfortable rather than stifling, and he managed to do what no one but Uncle Lamb had ever done.

He made me feel safe.

For the first few days, we simply moved from one cluster of huts to the next. Dougal and the MacKenzie solicitor, Ned Gowan, set up a makeshift table upon which to conduct business, and they collected the tenants’ rent in the form of coin or tradeable goods and livestock. It was a relaxed affair, with a great deal less formality than anything I’d seen in the Hall at Leoch. 

Some of the women I encountered were more polite than those who worked at Leoch, and I was occasionally invited into a cottage for cider and conversation. It was the only time the men of the rent party didn’t seem compelled to keep me under surveillance, so I enjoyed the brief respite while I could.

The first time we came upon a settlement large enough to support a proper tavern, the evening activities took a surprising turn. We spent most of the afternoon in the taproom, with Dougal holding court over a meal of salt beef and sour ale as the villagers drifted in to socialize. I sat quietly in the corner, trying to stay out of the way and enjoying my reprieve from horseback. My mind wandered idly, and the blended conversations of those around me faded to obscurity. 

Only when one of the men gave a loud, shrill whistle did I realize that the room had grown quite crowded. They all fell silent as Dougal stood and began to speak. He addressed them in Gaelic, with the same genial tone I’d heard him use each time another group of tenants had lined up to pay their rent. But what began as a friendly speech turned swiftly into a blustering tirade. Thanks to Jamie’s lessons, I was able to catch the simple bits and pieces, like water, son, and of course, Sassenach. But the angrier Dougal became, the less I understood. 

As such, I wasn’t at all prepared for what happened next. He approached his nephew from behind and ripped Jamie’s shirt open to reveal his scarred back. A collective gasp of shock filled the room, and one of the women actually swooned. Others made the sign of the cross and shook their heads in dismay. 

I was equally stunned, though my disdain was reserved for Dougal’s behavior rather than his nephew’s shame. Jamie had been so vigilant about his privacy, going out of his way to ensure that no one ever got a good look at his back. To have that privacy violated this way--by his own uncle, no less--was heartbreaking.

My cheeks felt hot with anger as my eyes snapped to Jamie’s face. He was hunched over his table, unmoving and unblinking, as though nothing had happened. The only outward sign of his fury was the muscle ticking near his jaw. I scanned the room for Murtagh but didn’t see him, and the only man I recognized at Jamie’s table was Rupert, who was gawking as much as the rest of them.

I had a strong urge to rush across the room and shield Jamie from the enthralled stares of Dougal’s audience, but my legs had turned to lead. With another string of Gaelic words I didn’t comprehend, Dougal slammed a pewter plate onto a table in front of the solicitor. Although his glower didn’t recede, he still managed to look rather satisfied as he stepped back to allow several people to approach with their coin.

What the bloody hell is this?

He’d already collected rent payments that had put hardships on many of these people, but this proceeding felt like something else. Ned took no notes or names as one man after another tossed their coins onto the plate, so I had to wonder where this money was intended to go. To Colum and the clan? Or to Dougal’s own pockets?

After a few moments, Jamie drew my gaze again when he pushed to his feet and stomped from the building, the tatters of his sark fluttering in his wake. I rose quickly to follow him, but it took me a bit longer to navigate through the throng of people, most of whom had now risen to their feet to pay their own monetary tribute. By the time I stepped out into the chilly night air, Jamie was nowhere to be seen. 

I assumed he’d gone to walk off his anger. As much as I would’ve liked to do the same, I didn’t need anyone to tell me that venturing off on my own in the dark was a bad idea. Instead, I opted to wait, leaning heavily against the exterior wall of the tavern and trying to calm myself. I watched anxiously for Jamie to materialize out of the twilight darkness that lay beyond the reach of the lanterns from inside.

More than one of the tavern’s patrons gave me a shifty look as they trickled out of the building and departed for their homes. If I’d needed any further indication that Dougal’s speech had been in protest of the English, those suspicious, hateful glares would have been proof enough. I kept my expression neutral until the target of my ire finally emerged.

I was trembling with anxiety and anger, and for the first time in a long while, the latter emotion fueled my actions. Dougal hadn’t noticed me, so I raised my voice loudly enough to get his attention.

“I thought it was the Watch who profited from frightening people.” His head jerked toward me, but I ignored the glint of malice in his eyes and went on, “Or does stirring up fear of the English suit your purposes as well?” He took long strides toward me, and I forced myself not to shrink away from him this time.

“And just what purposes are ye accusin’ me of having?”

“Lining your own pockets, I can only assume. Was it not enough that you took--”

Dougal gripped my elbow and yanked me roughly around the corner of the building. Away from curious eyes, he pushed me hard against a wall and trapped me there, his hands clamped around my elbows to pin them to the wall behind me. He towered over me as he brought his face within inches of mine. The courage that had driven me to confront him was fading rapidly as my heart rate skyrocketed. 

“Ye’d do well to stick to yer healing, lass. Unless ye’d like me to provide ye with other duties.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

Though I couldn’t see him very well, I could feel his breath on my neck and chest, as though he were leaning closer to inhale my scent. I was trying very hard not to inhale his.

“‘Tis but a matter of time. I could force ye, but I dinna particularly enjoy rape. And ye’ll be better off if it doesna come to that.”

“Leave her be!”

I swayed as Dougal’s hands released my arms abruptly, and my view was suddenly obscured by a different set of broad shoulders. I could feel the scraps of fabric that hung from Jamie’s large frame as he once again put himself between me and his uncle. The tightness in my chest began to ease.

“Lay a hand on her against her will, and ye’ll find my blade in your back, kin or no,” Jamie growled. I peered over his shoulder to see Dougal roll his eyes before refocusing them upon me.

“I’m a patient man, to a point. Ye’d be wise no’ to keep me waitin’ much longer.”

Dougal turned and stalked away, and Jamie moved as though to follow him. I reached out to grab his arm, shaking my head when he turned to face me.

“Let him go. Nothing good will come of another confrontation, especially after what he did earlier.” My voice was quiet, and the tremor in it had not quite faded. Jamie sighed and took my hand.

“I’m sorry if he frightened ye. He’s got no right to speak to ye that way. What on earth are ye doing out here alone?”

“Looking for you. I can’t believe what he did in there. Did you know what he was planning?”

Jamie grunted irritably.

“I had a feelin’ he had some kind of spectacle in mind, but I didna ken exactly what he meant to do until it was done.” 

With a sigh, he ushered me back around to the front of the tavern but stopped short of going back inside. The light from the windows revealed the rather alarming state of his hands, however, and I gasped in dismay. 

“Did you get in a fight?” I asked, lifting one of his large hands to inspect the damage. Jamie snorted quietly.

“No’ unless ye think the trees fought back. I just… needed to hit something.”

I pursed my lips, commiserating with his state of mind. It was all too easy to recall the many times Frank had shamed me in front of others, though his methods had been different. I shook my head as I examined Jamie’s bloodied knuckles.

“You’d better let me see to them.”

“Dinna fash, Sassenach. I’ll bide. I’ve certainly had worse.”

I looked up to see his rueful smile and relented with a sigh.

“Then at least let me mend your shirt. For protecting me from Dougal again... It’s the least I can do.” His smile widened, making my heart feel a bit lighter.

“Aye, but only if I can keep ye company while ye do.”

I grinned back and motioned him inside. The taproom was now mostly deserted, and the few who remained averted their gazes immediately, either too scandalized to look at Jamie or too offended to look at me. We made quite the pair.

“I suppose you’re right. It could be worse. You haven’t been beaten or stabbed or shot today.”

“Nay, Sassenach,” he chuckled. “Not today.”

The next few days were fairly uneventful, despite the palpable tension between Jamie and his uncle. Everyone else seemed content to ignore it, so I tried to do so as well. Though, I was fairly certain I would never feel at ease around Dougal.

We’d been camping under the stars each night, and I’d noticed Jamie’s tendency to sleep as near to me as propriety allowed. I wondered whether he knew how much his presence affected me. It was a paradox of sorts, filling me with a girlish nervousness that was not unpleasant and yet still easing my fears enough to grant a decent night’s sleep. Or at least as decent as one might achieve while sleeping on the ground.

Jamie motioned me aside one morning as we rolled our blankets, and when I drew near enough, he handed me a small dagger. His blue eyes were furtive and shy as he waited for me to accept it.

“I want ye to carry this, lass. It’s a sgian dubh.”

“A ‘black knife?’” I asked, confused. He smiled in approval of my literal translation.

“Aye, but in this case, the ‘dubh’ means ‘hidden.’ The same way black can mean ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous,’ ye ken?”

I frowned doubtfully as I took the dagger, surprised by how light it was. But it still felt foreign in my hand.

“Right… But I don’t know if I could actually use it on anyone.”

“I’ll show ye how. Dinna fash, it’s no’ so hard as ye think. I canna be near ye all the time, and I’ll feel a wee bit better if I ken you’ve got a weapon.”

I smiled softly at his concern and thoughtfulness, nodding my agreement with the plan. Perhaps he was right. A weapon might make me feel better too. 

“Does Dougal know?”

“I didna bother to ask his approval. And frankly, I dinna much care what he thinks. Ye dinna need to hide it from him. ‘Tis dangerous to be travelin’ as such, and everyone should be armed, includin’ you. He canna argue that.”

Jamie gave me a quick lesson in self-defense--namely, where to stick a person and where not to, depending on one’s goals. My overall mood lifted significantly as I gained more confidence with the small dagger, and we passed more than one evening thusly as the rent party continued their slow progress through the MacKenzie lands.

Each time we happened upon a tavern or a large enough gathering of tenants, Dougal repeated his performance, and I watched the solicitor stow the acquired donations in a separate bag from the one that held the rents. Jamie’s scars were Exhibit A each time Dougal gave his speech, and I’d begun to worry that we might need to barter for more thread to keep his shirt mended.

But after we’d come across the crucified bodies of two Scottish ‘traitors,’ the local townsfolk didn’t need to see Jamie’s back in order to shout their anger over the barbaric behavior of the English. This time, I heard the right combination of words from my growing Gaelic vocabulary that I was able to decipher the true motivation behind Dougal’s crowd provoking and money collecting. 

This was about the Rising.

A large portion of the Jacobite army had been funded with Scottish gold, probably through donations like this. I searched my memory for the name Dougal MacKenzie in one of Frank’s impromptu lectures, but I couldn’t recall him mentioning anyone of that surname. Surely, if Dougal would go on to become someone historically notable, Frank would have mentioned it when we visited the ruin of Castle Leoch… but perhaps not. Thousands of Highlanders would sacrifice their lives for the ill-fated Jacobite cause. Many of these MacKenzies had already thrown their cap in for the fight.

Could I warn them? Would it make any difference? Or would I become an 18th-century Cassandra, doomed to have my warnings ignored and later used against me? Cassandra’s end had been murder… Not the brightest of prospects, that.

Another barrage of shouting pulled me from my thoughts and encouraged me to take my leave for the night. The proprietor had seen fit to provide me with a room, as I was the only woman traveling with the party. It was small and sparsely furnished, but the fire in the hearth made it warm and welcoming. After weeks of sleeping on the ground, having a bed and a bit of privacy felt like the height of luxury.

It was a relief to be able to lie down in only my shift, but sleep refused to come easily. I tossed and turned for nearly an hour before I noticed an odd rustling noise just outside the door. The taproom downstairs was still full of drunk Scots, so I’d bolted the door against any unwanted company, but a good strong kick would probably have been enough to break the damn thing. My nerves got the better of me as the rustling and thumping persisted, and I crept toward the door with my sgian dubh at the ready.

I didn’t know what I’d been expecting. Perhaps Dougal, throwing caution to the wind and attempting to force himself upon me despite the number of witnesses. Or maybe Rupert or Angus, propped against the door to make sure I didn’t flee during the night. What I hadn’t counted on finding was the large, prone form of Jamie, stretched across the floor in front of the doorway.

“What the devil are you doing?” I demanded, my voice hushed but agitated. 

He rose to his feet and adjusted his clothing with an expression that was almost embarrassed. It was a look I hadn’t often seen on him, and my irritation faded at the sight of it.

“Sleeping, mistress. Or tryin’ to.”

“Sleeping here?” I glanced down to see his plaid balled into a pillow-like shape on the floor. “Why?”

“Och, 'tis just… The taproom’s full of men half gone wi’ drink. I was worried some of them might be of a mind to… Well, I didna think you’d appreciate such…” He trailed off in his nervousness, but I understood immediately what he meant, having had the same concern myself.

“You’re right, of course. I doubt any of them are feeling very kindly towards an Englishwoman, particularly after Dougal’s rousing speech.” I rolled my eyes at the last, and Jamie gave a Scottish noise of what seemed to be agreement. “I’m sorry if I stepped on you.”

“No harm done. And I’m pleased to see ye lookin’ after yourself,” he replied, nodding toward the dagger in my hand. He made as though to resume his previous position on the floor, but I held out my empty hand to stop him.

“You can’t sleep out here. At least come inside where it’s warm.”

“Sleep in your room with ye?” He sounded quite scandalized at the suggestion. “I couldna do that. Your reputation would be ruined.”

“My reputation? But you’ve slept under the stars with me for the last two weeks. You and ten other men.”

“That isna the same at all. Ye may be a widow, but you’re a young one. You’ll be wanting to remarry at some point, and a good reputation will be necessary if you’re to find someone suitable.”

“I have no desire to remarry,” I scoffed, inwardly objecting to the idea that I needed a husband. Jamie was frowning at me with something brewing in his eyes that I couldn’t quite identify. His tone was cautious when he spoke again.

“Why is it ye find the idea so objectionable?”

“I… I didn’t enjoy it the first time and don’t intend to put myself in that situation again,” I replied with a shrug. “Now, if you won’t sleep in here, at least let me give you my blanket. Or is that too scandalous as well?”

Jamie accepted the blanket with a reserved smile, and I said goodnight, bolting the door between us once again. Maybe that will help preserve my reputation, I thought with a roll of my eyes. I’d understood his point, and the rules of society weren’t so very different in my time. But having spent the past eight weeks as an Englishwoman in the Highlands, not to mention in the wrong century, I was at a loss to see how my reputation could get any worse. Most people already assumed the worst.

I was also still mildly offended that a second marriage was deemed to be a foregone conclusion. I had no intention of doing any such thing. My thoughts gravitated toward Frank, trying to consider our marriage objectively. It had been well enough at first, but the man I’d returned to after the war had been one I didn’t recognize. The day he’d thrown the first punch was the day my love for him had died.

How could I possibly trust any man enough to marry again?

A/N: Thank you all so much for the wonderful feedback and support! The next few chapters will involve some big changes and important discussions, so stay tuned. :)

On a side note, can anyone direct me to a fanfic-friendly Outlander group on social media? I know there's some stuff on Tumblr, but that platform is hard to follow sometimes. Is there anything on Facebook? The ones I've encountered there seem to treat fanfiction like it's a dirty word. I get why, but I'd really like to interact with my readers more. Filling the comments up with my own replies feels like a cheap way to boost my stats, lol. Anyway, if you know of one, drop it in the comments or PM me, pretty please!

Thanks for reading! <3

Chapter Text

Jamie gritted his teeth as he listened to his uncle converse with Ned Gowan. A few of the others had gathered around them as well, but Jamie seemed to be the only one struggling to keep his temper in check as Dougal described the events of the day.

They’d known there were redcoats about, so Jamie had stayed out of sight while the men had collected the rents from the village they’d visited that morning. He’d asked Murtagh to keep an eye on Claire, but she’d managed to find herself in a spot of trouble nonetheless. Despite having had plenty to keep him busy, Dougal had found time to impose his presence upon Claire yet again. Murtagh later admitted he hadn’t been near enough to intervene, but he’d heard her raise her voice to tell him off. 

Unfortunately, one of the redcoats had heard her as well, and her accent had compelled him to come to her aid.

What followed thereafter was known only to Dougal and Claire, since the lieutenant had insisted she accompany his patrol to the inn in Brockton to meet with his commander. Dougal had gone along under the pretense of Claire being a guest of the MacKenzie clan and thereby under his protection. 

Jamie listened to Dougal’s account with poorly concealed anger.

“The commander’s a brigadier general. Lord Thomas something-or-other. He was holdin’ court with a table of officers in one o’ the upstairs rooms. The arrogant wee smout insulted me half a dozen times, but he didna seem to have trouble recallin’ his manners when speakin’ to the lass. So, I took myself down to the taproom to wait until they’d finished their business.”

Disapproval and frustration blazed in Jamie’s gut. Dougal should never have left her in such company, as was abundantly clear by the events that had followed.

“They’d been up there maybe twenty minutes when a wounded man was brought into the inn. His mates laid him out on a table in the dining room, and o’ course, once Mistress Beauchamp got wind o’ the situation, she pushed her way into the middle of it. I dinna ken what gets into the lass when she sets herself to her healing, but… Well, ye’ve all seen how she gets.”

“Orders men about like a proper general, she does,” Murtagh chimed in. 

“Aye, she does,” Jamie agreed. The mental image would’ve made him smile under better circumstances. “And they all obeyed, I take it?”

“Every last one,” Dougal replied. “The poor lout lost his arm, and she helped hold him down while the doctor took it. Ne’er seen a woman act like that. And I wasna the only one who noticed,” he added, looking directly at his nephew. “Captain Randall had gotten there not ten minutes ahead of the injured man and watched the whole scene from the balcony o’erhead. Unfortunately, I didna realize until too late that the other officers had left. Her behavior and whatever else she’d said upstairs made him suspicious, I reckon. Now, he’s determined to finish questioning her.”

Jamie’s fingers twitched with the desire to wrap them around Randall’s throat. 

“Did Randall hurt her?”

“Aye,” Dougal answered, looking genuinely sorry for it. “Handled her roughly, though I wasna there to see all of it. She was on the floor when I came into the room. If I had to guess by the way she was winded and curled in on herself, I’d say the bastard and one of his men were takin’ turns kickin’ her.”

Jamie’s fury mounted, and he had to step away from the group so as not to lash out at his uncle. As much as he’d have liked to thrash Dougal for letting Claire come to harm, that wasn’t the most important thing at the moment. He wanted to go to her, to care for her the way she’d cared for him each time he’d been injured. But there was more to Dougal’s tale, and he had only been half-listening. As he resumed his place among the men, it was Ned who spoke.

“As an English citizen, she’s required by law to present herself at Fort William as Randall commanded. Defying his orders has the potential to end verra badly. Someone would need to take responsibility for seeing that Mistress Beauchamp remains hidden. Dougal can report back that she escaped and that her whereabouts are unknown. Randall might insist on searching Leoch for her, but she could easily be hidden elsewhere.”

“There’ll be no redcoats nosing around Castle Leoch while there’s a breath left in my body,” Dougal muttered, wincing at the very idea of it. Ned nodded as though he’d expected the warchieftan to say precisely that.

“The alternative and, if I may say, the tidiest solution to the whole mess is to turn her into a Scot by way of marriage. If she’s no longer English, Randall cannot legally compel her to submit to questioning. She’d probably still need to be kept hidden for a time, but it would all blow over. She’ll need to marry someone.”

“I’ll do it.”

Jamie’s quick and confident response drew everyone’s heads toward him with various expressions of amusement and incredulity. Murtagh said nothing but looked as though he were trying very hard not to smile as he shook his head in resignation. Jamie focused on Dougal, whose gray eyes were narrowed in shrewd calculation. 

“What are ye on about, lad?”

“I’ll marry her,” Jamie reiterated. “I’m no’ promised to anyone, and she’d have to hide from the redcoats for a time either way. And it serves your purpose as well. You’ll never need to worry about my claim to the MacKenzie title if I’ve got an English wife.”

Dougal looked suspicious and a little caught off guard to have that particular point stated so boldly in front of the others.

“Aye, that’s true enough. And dinna think it had no’ occurred to me already. But why would ye be willin’ to give up such an opportunity?”

“I’ve never wanted it in the first place.”

“Ye could change your mind. Ye’re willin’ to throw it away for a taste o’ the Sassenach wench?” he taunted. Jamie flinched as his temper flared again. “I’ve seen the way the two o’ ye look at each other, but I doubt ye need marry the wench jus’ to bed her.”

Jamie took two steps forward, his eyes hard as he leveled a glare at his uncle.

“That’ll be the las’ time ye ever speak of her that way. I’ll no’ stand for it once she’s my wife.”

“And ye’re sure she’ll have ye, then?” Dougal challenged, sneering in genuine amusement. “What if she says no?”

“Then she’ll at least ha’ been given a choice in the matter. Ye canna force her.”

Dougal pursed his lips, never taking his eyes off his nephew as he considered it. Finally, he gave a shrug that looked more casual than it was, and his tone was noticeably colder.

“If she turns ye down, it’ll be my bed she’s warmin’ and me who hides her, whether it be her will or not. I’ll no’ be givin’ her to the redcoats either way. It hardly matters now whether she’s a spy or not. She still kens too much.”

The dense forest surrounded us on all sides of the makeshift campsite. The summer foliage was so fragrant I could sometimes detect it over the various other odors of woodsmoke, roasting fish, and unwashed male. I sat alone on a fallen log someone had seen fit to pull near the fire, which blazed brilliantly before my unfocused eyes. The conversations that buzzed about me were a muted mixture of English and Gaelic, but I heard and saw nothing. 

Instead, I recalled the day’s events with the relative detachment of a third-party observer. Someone whose life had not been forever altered, once again, by a man named Randall.

How had it come to this?

That morning, when Dougal had forgotten his manners for the umpteenth time, I had actually managed to raise my voice to deny him what he wanted. For once, I hadn’t relied on Jamie or anyone else to interfere on my behalf, and I’d experienced an enjoyable moment of pride in myself.

But it had backfired in the most spectacular way one might imagine. My accent had unexpectedly summoned a young redcoat to my aid, and while I’d recognized Lieutenant Foster’s intentions to be honorable, I’d had absolutely no desire to entangle myself with the British Army again. As usual, fate seemed determined to make a fool of me. It wasn’t enough that I’d escaped one sadistic Randall, but I now needed a way to escape another who was even more brutal.

The things he’d told me during the brief but terrifying time I’d spent alone with him had curdled the blood in my veins. Those familiar eyes had softened almost romantically as he’d described what it had been like to flay Jamie’s skin from his back, and even now, I found the urge to vomit rather difficult to resist. 

Had Frank harbored the same degree of dark depravity? He’d certainly seemed to enjoy brutalizing me, much as his ancestor had done today. Black Jack had even gone so far as to invite another soldier to abuse me in kind, and their rough treatment of my body had left me bruised and sore.

“Have you ever kicked a woman, Corporal? It’s very freeing…”

Had Frank felt the same way? Hunching my shoulders against the persistent memories, I forced my thoughts in a different direction. 

The one good thing to have come of all this was that Dougal seemed to have finally given up on the idea of my being a spy. After we’d left the inn, he’d coaxed me to drink a bit of foul-smelling water from some supposedly enchanted spring, convinced I couldn’t possibly lie to him once I’d done so. The man was a fool, and I’d very nearly told him so. Dougal’s acceptance of my cover story had not diminished his desire for my body, but I’d managed to evade him… for the time being.

There was still the matter of Captain Randall, however, and I knew his command that I be brought to Fort William for ‘questioning’ had presented a serious problem for me as well as the MacKenzies. As Dougal had put it--I’d seen and heard too much for my own good. I could put myself in Randall’s hands and at his mercy, or I could accept the protection of a Scot.

I was vaguely aware of a shifting of the log beneath me that indicated someone had sat next to me, and my peripheral sight recognized the large body and ginger locks of Jamie MacTavish. ...Or whatever his last name is. But I continued to stare blindly at the fire, taking stock of the few choices left to me. 

Accept a man’s protection and stay hidden, either as Jamie’s wife or Dougal’s mistress, or surrender myself to the British Army. The latter was out of the question, of course, and the idea of becoming Dougal’s whore was absurd. Even if I were willing to consider it, I expected his dedication to protecting me would end when his interest waned. 

And Jamie…

I sighed, peering up at him from the corner of my eye. He was stoic and silent, but I could feel his gaze upon me. The thought of marrying again scared the hell out of me, but I had to admit that I did like Jamie very much. And I certainly found him attractive, having fantasized about him on more than one occasion. I’d imagined the two of us eventually coming together as lovers if the circumstances ever permitted it. I trusted him more than anyone else I’d met since coming through the stones, but the prospect of marrying anyone again was still difficult to accept.

I’d seen enough of 18th-century life to understand that women were treated like property. The idea of it rankled, and some of my distaste must have shown in my expression, because Jamie chose that moment to break the silence.

“Are ye in pain, lass?” 

I was, but I shook my head to deny it anyway. He didn’t look convinced.

“Ye look like you’re contemplatin’ a walk to the gallows, Sassenach. Is the idea of marryin’ me so offensive, then?”

My gaze snapped to his face and found his expression guarded, but it was clear enough his feelings were hurt. I hurried to correct his misconception.

“No, not at all. It’s not you. It’s just… marriage in general, I suppose. I told you the other day that I hadn’t planned to ever marry again.”


“No. I have no desire to be treated as anyone’s property. My very nature rebels against the thought of it.”

“Ah.” Jamie’s expression cleared as he processed my words. “It wouldna be like that between us, Claire. Ye make it sound as though ye see yourself as chattel to be traded about. Some may treat their wives as such--I’ll no’ argue that. But I’ve never been that kind of man. I was raised to believe a wife was somethin’ to be respected and treasured. She would be precious and… sacred. I would protect ye as such, always.”

My heart fluttered at his words, and I could see the honesty in his eyes. I’d never heard a man speak like that, either in my time or his. But I was confused by how badly he seemed to want this. I hadn’t expected that, despite the attraction I’d felt between us since the first time we’d touched. It was enough to make me light-headed at times, though I’d done my best to pretend I hadn’t felt it. 

But surely, there had to be someone better suited for him. Someone born in the same century, for a start.

“Is there... no one else you wanted?”

“Nay,” he smiled shyly. “I’m no’ promised, if that’s what ye mean. The price on my head makes it unlikely any man would want me for his daughter, ye ken.”

I can hardly hold that against him, I thought with a nod. Before it was all said and done, I would likely have a price on my head as well. But there was one particular cultural divide that kept circling in my mind.

“And it doesn’t bother you that I’m… not a virgin?”

His grin was wider, but the nervousness had not entirely left his expression.

“No. So long as it doesna bother you that I am. I reckon one of us ought to know what they’re doing.”

I could feel my jaw slacken and my cheeks fill with color, but my thoughts had gone haywire. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. No wonder he’d been so scandalized over potential threats to my reputation. Jamie’s handsome face held my gaze as he smirked in amusement at my reaction and waited patiently for me to collect my wits. I nodded vaguely and made a conscious effort to oblige him. There was much more to be said, because my prior failed marriage wasn’t the only reason I was hesitant.

“I’ll marry you, but there’s something you should know first. And maybe once you know it, you won’t be so keen to help me,” I warned him, ignoring his frown of confusion and squaring my shoulders. “I just think you deserve to know what you’re getting into.”

Jamie’s brow creased in bewilderment as he watched Claire glance cautiously around them. He looked as well, seeing that most of the men had moved off to find places to sleep. She seemed to conclude that they had sufficient privacy for whatever revelation was to follow, and the thought made him all the more confused. If discussion of his lack of sexual experience wasn’t reason enough for seclusion and hushed voices, he was almost afraid of what she might say next.

“Do you remember the song you translated for me when the bard sang at Leoch? The Woman of Balnain?”

“Aye. Ye reacted strangely to the lyrics.”

“Yes, with good reason…”

Jamie listened intently, scrutinizing her features as she explained what had happened to her. Through some sort of magic or divine intervention, she had fallen through time itself, traveling nearly two hundred years into the past. It was a profound concept to wrap his mind around, and it set his formal education at odds with the teachings of his Highlander childhood. 

Her husband, it turned out, was indeed not alive. Because he hadn’t been born yet. She carefully skirted around the subject of the man and the life she’d left behind, and he was left with so many questions. But there would be time to ask them. Decades, he hoped.

He focused his attention on Claire instead, reading her as one might read a treasured book. Her tone was hesitant, but not in the usual way he’d come to associate with her poor attempts at deception. Not only was she meeting his gaze earnestly, but her whisky eyes were pleading with him to believe her.

She was telling the truth.

They’d spent long hours in conversation since she’d first come to Leoch, and he knew she was a skeptical person by nature. It was one of many things they had in common. Jamie was certain she wouldn’t have even suggested something like this if she didn’t truly believe it. He thought back on the many odd things she’d said, the things she knew, the air of awkwardness she had when it came to everyday matters… And he believed her. It made as much sense as any such story possibly could. 

And then, there were his dreams to take into account. The fact that she’d been able to enter his dreams at all seemed proof enough that Claire was different. Not a faerie, but certainly a wonder not of this world. She was an Old One, perhaps. But no matter what she was, Claire both needed and deserved his protection even more than he’d initially realized. If others discovered what she was, she would be in far greater danger.

With this new information, the puzzle-like quality of those dreams began to resolve itself, lending additional credibility to her tale. He recalled the strange images with new perception--the odd clothing she’d sometimes worn, the otherworldliness of her surroundings… He had been seeing her as she was in her time.

He smiled as he said the words aloud.

“I believe ye, Sassenach.”

Claire sagged in relief, and he couldn’t resist the urge to lean forward and press his lips to her forehead. She heaved a sigh that sounded both weary and grateful.

“I didn’t realize how badly I needed to tell someone.”

“I can imagine. And ye… ye dinna want to go back?”

“No!” she said fervently. 

He frowned a little at the intensity of her objection, recalling how alarmed she’d been at the idea of the women traveling back to their own lands. He didn’t quite know what to make of it, but that would have to be a conversation for another day. Jamie longed to tell her of his dreams, for surely the magic that brought her here couldn’t have been so different from that which had allowed him to know her before they’d met. But that, too, would have to wait until they had more time. For now, there was something more important she needed to know.

“Thank ye for trustin’ me enough to tell me the truth. I willna tell a soul,” he promised. “‘Tis safer for both of us that way. And I’ve some things to share with ye as well. No’ quite so fantastic as time travel, but…”

Claire sat up to look him in the eye, and his heart skipped erratically at the way the firelight bathed her fine skin with warmth. She was breathtakingly beautiful, and her typically guarded expression was now open and genuine.

“And here I thought you’d nearly exhausted your store of secrets,” she teased quietly, mirroring his smile. He huffed a quick laugh and shook his head.

“Nay, I’m afraid not. But the most important thing ye should know is… My name is James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. I’m Laird Broch Tuarach of Lallybroch. And you will be my lady.”

A/N: Ah, the wedding is upon us! My beta and I have a running joke that I almost never fail to get my characters in bed by chapter ten. And wouldn't you know it, that's exactly where they'll find themselves next chapter. I swear it's not intentional, lol. As always, thank you for your readership and your feedback! <3

Oh, and if you're on tumblr, this is me. I added a wee sneak peek of the opening for chapter ten. :)

Chapter Text

They’d purchased my wedding gown from a prostitute. It was nearly as absurd as the notion of the wedding itself, and the surreality of the whole thing was having an odd effect upon me. There was a lightness in my belly that only increased when Ned and Murtagh hurriedly assured me that the dress had never actually been worn by said strumpet.

It took me a good five minutes to stop laughing.

Jamie and I were to be wed by a priest who had been paid handsomely to perform the ceremony without the requisite reading of the bans. Our wedding night would be spent at an inn, where at least a dozen men would no doubt be listening avidly from the taproom below. And my wedding finery had been appropriated from a nearby brothel. 

There was little to be done about any of it, save to laugh, cry, or get foxed. I’d sworn to myself there would be no weeping today, and I’d declined the bottle of whisky the innkeeper’s wife had offered. While a sizable dram probably would’ve eased my nerves, I wanted to remain as sharp-witted as possible.

Once I’d been bathed and put together, I had to admit the end result was quite nice. The dress was a low-necked, heavy satin gown the color of fresh cream. Its bodice, belled sleeves, and brown velvet overskirt were ruched with lace and finely embroidered. I felt half-buried in petticoats, but the overall effect was lovely as the many layers swished fascinatingly about my feet. 

It was the most done-up I’d been since the Gathering at Leoch. The woman who’d helped style my hair had tucked sprigs of white aster flowers into the arrangement and actually managed to tame my unruly curls. I made a mental note to ask how the feat had been accomplished. 

The men in the taproom were silent as monks when I descended the stairs, though some of their expressions betrayed thoughts that were far from holy. I forced my shoulders back and my chin up, ignoring Dougal’s proffered arm in favor of Murtagh’s.

“Ye look verra fine, lass,” he managed gruffly. The rarity of such words from Murtagh, simple though they may have been, made me smile.

“Thank you.”

I still felt conspicuous as we exited the inn and stepped into the summer sunlight, but all concerns over my own appearance gave way to distraction the moment I saw my intended. Any Highlander in full regalia was an impressive sight, no matter how old or ill-favored the man might’ve been. But the tall, handsome Scot who would soon be my husband was utterly breathtaking.

His starched lawn shirt was the finest and cleanest I’d ever seen him wear, and the thought made me smile softly. What struck me most, however, was his tartan, which draped gracefully from his left shoulder and was caught by a silver-studded sword belt. The pleats continued their sweep to his calves, clad neatly in woolen hose. The MacKenzies’ plaids were a rather sedate blend of green, white, and blue, and Jamie’s tartan blazed among them in brilliant crimson and black. 

Fraser colors, I realized as I took in his proud posture and stride. Jamie was well over six feet tall and now made use of every inch of it as he walked toward me. He didn’t strut, for such nonsense was unnecessary. His mere presence was enough to draw the eyes and admiration of all. 

This was a man who would never truly blend in. From his flaming red hair to his long, muscular body, he’d been built to stand out. And now he stood in front of me with eyes that sparkled with mischief as he swept downward into an impeccably graceful bow.

Jamie grinned at my slack-jawed expression, clearly pleased to have impressed me. I was gratified to see an equal degree of admiration in his blue eyes as they took in my appearance, and I was slightly startled to realize I’d seen that look on his face before. It was reminiscent of the way he’d stared at me the first night we’d met, despite the pain he’d been in at the time. He’d watched me as though doubting his own eyes, with an awestruck expression that had bordered on reverence.

“Ye honor me, mistress,” he said hoarsely before making a visible effort to swallow his emotion. “There’s just one thing I would add.”

He then drew a long string of pearls from his sporran and stepped forward to fasten them around my neck. My brows lifted in surprise and curiosity as I looked down to examine them.

“They’re only Scotch pearls,” Jamie explained. “But they look bonny on ye. They belonged to my mother… and now they belong to my wife.”

“Thank you.” 

I touched the necklace reflexively as my pulse fluttered beneath it. Jamie smiled and clasped my hand, bringing it to his lips before tucking it into the crook of his arm.

I’m holding up quite well, I thought, all things considered. After escaping an abusive husband and swearing to myself I’d never marry again, I now found myself doing precisely that. Moreover, it was an arranged marriage to a man I’d known less than two months. Yet, here I was, strolling with my groom in our wedding clothes as though the whole situation were completely normal. 

I can do this… I can do this…

But my feigned confidence flew out the window when I saw the church. I can’t do this. My feet turned to lead weights, and the boned bodice of my borrowed gown seemed to constrict around my ribs, limiting me to quick, shallow breaths.

Six years ago--or rather, two hundred years from now--I had married Frank Randall in this very church. It had been antiquated and full of old-world charm that day, but now it was so new that the timbers still creaked as they settled.

Was this fate having its way with me again? Was it a sign from God that I should put a stop to this mad scheme? If God was indeed behind this, He had a very sick sense of humor. My first marriage had begun on completely different terms than it had ended. Would this one go sour as well? Were Jamie and I doomed before we even took our vows? Would he change with the years as Frank had done?

The increased pressure of Jamie’s hand upon my bloodless fingers reclaimed my attention, drawing my eyes up to his. They were softened with kindness and warmed with a sincerity I’d never once seen in Frank’s. Why had I never realized it back then?

Steady on, Beauchamp. Jamie is not Frank… Jamie is not Frank.

My breaths came more easily as I calmed myself and forced my feet forward.  The venue wasn’t important. It was the marriage that mattered, not the wedding.

At the entrance of the chapel, I paused briefly to slip Frank’s ring into my snug bodice, sighing with immeasurable relief to have its weight off my finger. I’d decided to hold onto if for now, if only because the gold had value, but I would never wear it again. I looked up to find Jamie watching my actions with curiosity and concern, and I could tell he wanted to say something. But this wasn’t the time. I shook my head and gave him a tremulous smile, and he returned it before we made our way up the aisle to stand before the priest.

My knees began to feel a bit less wobbly as the proceedings began. The ceremony was one I’d heard often enough in my own time, for even two hundred years hence, the words were more or less the same. The bonding and Gaelic vows were a surprise, however.

Dougal’s swiftly delivered cut to my wrist made me gasp, but before I could react further, he’d done the same to Jamie and pressed our wrists together. Our fingers wrapped around each other’s forearms while Dougal bound them together with a length of cloth.

“Repeat the words after me,” Jamie instructed quietly, his eyes encouraging.

As he recited the vow for me to repeat, I was reminded of our Gaelic lessons, and we shared a secretive smile. I was thrilled to find I could actually follow most of it, since it involved several of our ‘healing words.’ I’d learned blood, bone, and body early on. 

The kiss wasn’t nearly as awkward as I’d feared. In fact, it was quite pleasant, and I found myself leaning into him instinctively. If anything, it was too brief to suit me. I flushed at that thought as well as the one that followed… Tonight was our wedding night.

The cheers and encouragement from the MacKenzie clansmen filled the chapel as the kiss lingered, and Jamie and I parted nervously. As though he could sense what I needed, he wrapped an arm around me to draw me close, enfolding me into his solid warmth. 


The walk back to the inn was short, and we found a modest wedding feast of wine, bread, and roast beef awaiting us. I was surprised at my own hunger, and Jamie commented on it as well.

“Did no one offer ye food earlier?” Since my mouth was full, he went on, “As I’ve said, I’ve no’ a lot to offer a wife just now, but I do promise I’ll keep ye fed.”

“They did offer, but I was too nervous to eat,” I replied once I’d swallowed my roast beef.

“Ah. That bad, was it?”

I smiled at the uncertainty in his handsome features and shook my head.

“It’s not you. I’ll explain… later.” I glanced pointedly to the stairway that led to what would be our bridal chamber, and Jamie nodded in comprehension. In the meantime… “What did the Gaelic words mean? It was a blood vow of sorts?”

“Aye,” he confirmed, looking slightly embarrassed again. He took my hand and adjusted the makeshift bandage he’d tied over the cut on my wrist and spoke the words in English this time. “‘Ye are Blood of my Blood and Bone of my Bone. I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One. I give ye my Spirit, ‘til our Life shall be Done.’”

There was a sweet sort of ache in my chest as I absorbed the meaning of the words. I heard the sincerity in his voice just now, as well as in the chapel when he’d spoken the sentiment in his native language. He believed it and fully intended to live by those words.

Something passed between us as we sat with our hands clasped, staring at each other. It was an understanding of sorts, an emotion neither of us could yet name. And for the first time since coming through the stones, I didn’t feel alone at all.

Having finished my meal first, I headed upstairs, studiously ignoring the enthusiastic jeering of the men, but when I closed the heavy wooden door of my--our--designated bedchamber, I found myself at a loss for what to do next. Was it proper to start the process of undressing? Women’s clothing in this century was complicated and took a while to remove even with help. And I assumed Jamie would have no experience with the task. That thought gave way to another...

He was a virgin. 

Bloody hell, what on earth was I to do? How were we to begin? I’d never deflowered anyone before, and I’d been with no one but Frank in over eight years. 

My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door opening, and Jamie entered the room. He seemed to read the worry in my expression before I could push the thoughts of Frank from my mind, but his soft smile was reassuring.

“I dinna intend to pounce upon ye, Sassenach. Ye need no’ be afraid of me.”

“I didn’t think you would,” I replied, managing to return the smile. “I’ve never been afraid of you.”

As I spoke the words, I was a little startled to realize they were completely true. Despite the remarkable difference in our statures, despite his quick temper and unquestionable ability to do physical harm… I’d never truly feared him.

Jamie reached out cautiously to take my hand, leading me to the bed and encouraging me to sit next to him.

“Ye were thinkin’ about your husband.”

His words startled me, and I nearly jerked my hands away in shock. 


“Earlier today and jus’ now,” he explained patiently. “You’re verra easy to read, Claire. And besides, it makes sense you’d be thinkin’ of him today. I’d never want ye to feel as though ye canna speak of him to me.”

“I… I don’t like to talk about him.”

“I ken that already.” His voice was as gentle as though he were addressing a skittish colt. “You’ve barely mentioned him in all the time we’ve spent talkin’ about this and that. Is… Was he no’ a good man, Claire?”

I fought the stinging in my eyes as I shook my head minutely.

“I thought he was, in the beginning. But he changed. It was a difficult marriage.”

Jamie pursed his lips thoughtfully, and I wished I could read him as easily as he could apparently read me.

“I’ve no desire to make ye relive that by speakin’ of it. But should ye ever feel ye need to talk about it, I’ll always be willin’ to listen.”

“Thank you,” I replied with quiet relief. I could still feel the gold ring pressing against my skin inside my bodice, and I gave him a nervous smile as I reached into the crevice between my breasts to retrieve it. “Would you hold onto this for me?”

He blinked in surprise but took the ring obligingly, examining the engraving on the inside.

“I’ve only been wearing it because being perceived as married or widowed provided me with a little protection. I don’t need it anymore. Honestly, it’s a relief to be free of it.”

And of him, I added silently. 

“Are ye sure ye want to keep it at all, then?” Jamie asked, a shadow crossing his features as he frowned down at the thing. 

“I’d love to chuck the thing into the nearest loch, but the gold still has value. We can always sell it if we need to.”

“Aye.” He nodded with half-smile and slipped the ring into his sporran. “I’m sorry I didna have time to get ye a ring, but I’ll correct that before we’re back on the road. The blacksmith in town is workin’ on something suitable, but it wasna ready in time.”

“It’s alright.”

Jamie rested his hand cautiously against my cheek, and his breath faltered perceptibly. 

“I want my ring on your finger, Claire. Ye were right to hang onto the other for safety’s sake, and ye need mine now. ‘Twill declare to the world that ye have a husband and a protector.”

I leaned into his palm slightly but couldn’t quite meet his gaze as I asked, “Is that why you agreed to marry me? To protect me from Jack Randall?”

“To protect ye from anyone who would harm ye. Even my own kin, if it comes to that.”

“Do you think it will come to that?” I asked, trembling slightly at the memory of Dougal’s forceful touch. Jamie shook his head with a sigh.

“I dinna ken. And that alone makes me ashamed to call him my uncle. He meant to have ye if ye refused to marry. But whether it be from Dougal or Randall, I will keep ye safe. Ye have my name, my family, my clan… and if necessary, the protection of my body as well. No one will lay hands on ye again, while I live.”

I was humbled by his words and didn’t doubt his sincerity for a second. ‘The protection of his body…’ It was no empty promise or romantic pledge. His wide shoulders, muscled torso, and the graceful ferocity with which he wielded his sword conveyed that he was both capable and honest in his intent. He knew the price of such commitment and would willingly guard my safety at the cost of his own.

“Thank you,” I whispered, mirroring his position as I raised my hand to rest gently against his cheek.

His eyes flickered downward to my lips, and my heart skipped as I saw the hunger and longing he was trying to tamp down. We sat like that for a long moment, suspended on the precipice of a kiss that would change everything. It was almost as though he was waiting for me, and that suspicion was confirmed when I finally touched my lips to his.

The contact was light at first, but it deepened quickly. After only a few soft brushes of my lips, he took the lead, cradling my jaw as his mouth plundered mine. By the time he withdrew, I was lightheaded and stunned.

“Where did you learn to kiss like that?”

“Said I was a virgin,” he grinned mischievously. “No’ a monk.”

I laughed lightly, and we kissed again, learning the feel of each other as our hands began the slow process of undressing. He stood and pulled me to my feet with him, setting to work on my laces and layers. His progress was interrupted multiple times by more heated kisses, and when he pulled me against him, I could feel his hardness. I also recognized the ache and wetness at my center as my desire matched his. When at last I stood before him in nothing but my skin, he gazed at me with worship in his eyes.

“Fair’s fair… Your turn,” I said, feeling self-conscious at his obvious admiration. 

Jamie smiled again and nodded, tugging his plaid free from its fastenings with a practiced hand. I’d seen him without his shirt many times, and only a blind woman would’ve been able to ignore his fine physique. The lower half of his body was equally impressive, and the ache between my legs throbbed with longing.

He lifted me seemingly without effort and laid me carefully onto the bed, hovering over me. I could sense the restraint in his tensed muscles and realized he was holding back for my sake. It was as though he knew I needed to take things slowly, and I was grateful for it, especially since my most recent sexual experiences had been anything but pleasant. 

I’d almost forgotten how much pleasure could be derived from a simple touch. His coarse hands passed over nearly every inch of me--twice. Sometimes his lips followed in their wake, and he seemed to be making mental notes of what made me gasp and squirm beneath him. When I’d finally reached my limit, I reached down to take him in hand, and he emitted a groan from deep in his chest.

“Now,” I breathed.

The moment he entered me was as close to perfect as it could possibly be with a taproom full of rowdy, drunken Highlanders below us. But even the ruckus of their bawdy Gaelic songs faded to obscurity when Jamie and I came together as husband and wife.

I reached my climax with surprising speed, unable to stifle my cries of pleasure as I clenched around him. The sensation proved to be too much for him, and he followed me over the edge mere seconds later. It was over quickly, but I didn’t feel a shred of disappointment for it, knowing full well we would be enjoying one another again before sleep finally took us.

Jamie collapsed onto the bed next to me and promptly folded me into his embrace, pressing his lips to my forehead over and over. We lay together until we’d both caught our breath, and when I finally glanced up at his face, he wore a very satisfied smile. 

“I didna ken a woman could… That is to say…”

“Orgasm,” I supplied with a chuckle, amused at the wonder of discovery in his tone.

“Aye. Does it happen every time?”

“Only if the man is a very good lover.”

He hummed proudly and adjusted our positions so that we lay on our sides. One of his arms was snaked beneath my neck to curl around my shoulders, while his opposite hand traced the contours of my body in fascination.

“I’ve spent so much time watchin’ ye. More than ye probably realize,” he admitted a bit shyly. “I’ve seen ye calm and quiet, feisty and angry, weary and frightened. I’ve watched ye in the rain, in the sunlight, by candlelight, and by another light I canna even name. I thought I kent how beautiful ye were… But to see ye find pleasure in my arms, to shudder beneath my touch and surrender your body to me… There are no’ words to describe it. I feel I should apologize for my own appearance. I ken my scars may displease ye.”

“No,” I said quickly, my throat tight with emotion at his high praise. I brought my own hand around to his back and caressed his ravaged skin. “I don’t feel that way at all. To see them and touch them… It makes my heart ache for your pain, but I don’t find them displeasing.”

It was the truth. If anything, his scars were almost comforting. They were proof of his strength, proof that he was a survivor and a fighter. They didn’t detract in any way from the long, graceful bones and curved muscles that formed his body. 

“You are beautifully made, James Fraser,” I whispered, still touching him as I met his eyes. He smiled but shook his head a little and let his hand wander as well.

“I’m pleased ye think so, even if I dinna agree.”

A few minutes passed in silence, and I was spellbound by the sight of his face as he studied my body. When I could no longer keep quiet, I let my hand drift to his buttocks and gave them a teasing pinch. His eyes snapped to my face in surprise.

“Have you never seen a naked woman before?”

“Aye,” he admitted with a smile. “But not one so close. And not one that’s mine.”

I smiled too as his words truly settled in my mind. His. I was his. And to my amazement, that thought didn’t frighten me at all. 

As the hours wore on, we made love several more times, each interlude as enjoyable as the last. While Jamie was an apt pupil and eager to learn, he didn’t need nearly as much guidance as I’d expected. I was shocked by the intensity of our lovemaking, and not only because of his inexperience.

Even in the early days of my marriage to Frank, the sex had never been this satisfying. And in the later days, well… Frank had been too focused on either punishment or procreation to give a moment’s thought as to whether or not I’d been ready for him. Or if I’d even wanted him at all. It had been rape, toward the end. There was really no other way to describe it.

I had gotten to know and trust Jamie well enough over these last two months to know that he would be a gentleman at the very least. But I hadn’t expected him to be so considerate. Or to be so focused on my happiness that the mere act of pleasuring me would bring him pleasure as well.

The intimacy I felt lying here with him now was a balm to my battered heart, and I’d certainly never expected to feel so… passionate. It was a revelation to realize, at my age and especially after Frank, that I was still a sensual person. Or was it just that Jamie had brought it out of me?

Our conversation waxed and waned between interludes, and he told me a bit more about his family and his life before we’d met. I’d already known him to be a natural storyteller, able to ensnare my attention with such vivid descriptions that I could truly see the events in my mind’s eye, despite my limited knowledge of life in this century.

And for the first time, I was able to reciprocate with stories of my own. 

“I always called him Uncle Lamb, but his name was Quentin Lambert. He raised me after my parents died in a car accident. I was five.” At Jamie’s furrowed brow, I added, “Oh, a car is a bit like a carriage without horses. I wish I could explain how it runs, but to be honest, I don’t really know much about it. At least not in words that would make sense to you. There just isn’t a context…”

How did one explain the concept of a machine when such a thing hadn’t yet been invented?

“‘Tis alright, Sassenach. ‘Tis no’ the first time you’ve said somethin’ that didna make a lick of sense.”

“I’m afraid it probably won’t be the last,” I replied, returning his smile as I continued. “Ironically enough, I too spent time in France during a war. I was a nurse in the British Army, stationed near the front in Amiens. Though, at least the British and the French were fighting on the same side in my time.”

“Hard to imagine such a thing. The French and the Scots have both profited from having England as a common enemy for centuries.”

I hummed in agreement, realizing I wouldn’t live to see the eventual alliance of Britain and France. And while France and Scotland may have shared the benefits of a common enemy more than once, the losses had usually weighed more heavily on the Scots than the French.

“That war… my war, I suppose you could say… It was quite different from anything you could really imagine. The scale of it alone was…” I trailed off, lacking the words to do justice to the carnage I’d seen and the sheer volume of lives lost in the second World War.

“Ye were a nurse, ye said?” Jamie asked, touching my cheek to reclaim my attention. “Ye tended the wounded men fresh from battle?”


There were dozens of questions swirling in his eyes, but he kept silent, apparently deciding not to press the issue for now. Instead he kissed me again, possessing my lips in a manner that was confident and almost leisurely. I took advantage of his relaxation and rose to straddle him, and his eyes widened in surprise. I watched him from above as I sank onto his length, unable to help the smirk on my face.

If I was to be his, I would make damn sure he knew he was mine.

Jamie had lost count of how many times he’d made love to his wife, but it was enough to make him dread ever having to stop. In a way, he felt as though his whole life had been leading him to this day. To her

He’d been stunned by her beauty when he’d first caught sight of her in her wedding finery. It had been like watching a ray of sunlight appear through the thick Highland mist. He had no idea where they’d managed to find a dress on such short notice, but Claire had worn it as though it had been made specifically for her. 

For his part, he’d spent the day in nervous anticipation, repeatedly turning down offers of whisky that had been pushed toward him in either celebration or concern. He had wanted his mind clear so that he might commit every second of the day to memory--arguing with Dougal over the advisability of wearing his own colors, bartering with the blacksmith to commission a suitable ring… And at last, hearing his bride repeat the oath that would bind her to him for the rest of their lives.

He couldn’t bring himself to stop touching her, and he very nearly whined at the loss when she rose from the bed and donned her shift.

“I’m hungry. I’ll go down and see if there’s anything left,” Claire announced.

Jamie sat up quickly when she began to move toward the door.

“Ye canna go down there in naught but your shift, Sassenach!” He practically leapt out of bed and put on his own shirt while she watched him with a bemused expression.

“It’s quiet now. I’m sure they’ve all gone.”

“I wouldna be surprised if more than one are half dead wi’ drink by now, probably too drunk to find their way out the door. Weddin’ night or no, you’d be too great a temptation for any man to resist. I’ll go.”

Claire relented with a sigh and waved him out of the room. 

The taproom was indeed silent and relatively dark, save for the light from the dying fire. Jamie found a clean plate and foraged through the remains of the meal for some bread, cheese, and a few pieces of fruit. The men had all but picked it clean, however, so it took longer than it would have otherwise. When at last he turned back to the stairs, he was startled by a familiar voice.

“Dinna think ye’ve thanked me properly. For findin’ ye somewhere better to stick yer cock than the fillies in the stable.”

Jamie ignored the insult and met his uncle’s glare warily.

“I do thank you. Truly.” 

He meant it. Dougal couldn’t possibly realize the incredible gift he’d given his nephew. The older man grunted irritably and took a long drink from his flask before he spoke again.

“I’m just back from seein’ Captain Randall. I shared with him the happy news that Mistress Beauchamp is no longer at his beck and call.”

“What did he say?”

“Nothin’ worth repeating. Obviously, I didna mention ye by name. Jus’ that she married the laird’s nephew.”

“But will he let it go, do ye think?”

“I doubt he’ll bother chasin’ after one stray Sassenach, no matter how bonny. And he’s got better sense than to rile Colum.”

Jamie relaxed slightly, hoping Dougal was right. Randall’s bad side was a troublesome place to be. 

“Thank you for handlin’ the matter. And for seein’ to the wedding arrangements,” he added, though he knew Dougal had done very little in the way of arranging anything. “As unfortunate as the circumstances are, I’ve more reason than anyone to be thankful to have such a woman as Claire for my wife.”

Dougal gave an inelegant snort.

“Ye’d best keep yer wife satisfied, lest she decide one man isna enough for her. If she looks to sample other pleasures, I’ll be all too willin’ to oblige.”

“Ye’ll no’ speak another word in disrespect of my wife,” Jamie growled, his hand moving toward the place his dirk should’ve been. As it was, he’d come down in only his sark and now regretted it. “I’ve warned ye once already, and this will be the last one ye get. Keep your eyes, hands, and words to yourself, uncle.”

His foot was on the second stair when Dougal replied, apparently determined to have the last word.

“I’ll no’ touch her again out o’ respect for yer mother, lad. But the woman may have more value than ye realize. The cause is bigger than any of us, and ye ken that well.”

Jamie rolled his eyes and continued up the stairs, slamming the bedchamber door shut without another word to his uncle. Claire frowned at the change in his mood and wrapped his plaid around her as she crossed the room.

“What’s wrong?”

He sighed and relayed the conversation he’d had with his uncle, his frustration easing a bit when she reached out cautiously to stroke his arm. She was nervous, and he knew it was his temper that made her so. He’d seen her react that way on several other occasions, whether it was his anger she witnessed or someone else’s.

“Thank you for defending me. Though, I don’t know what on earth Dougal thinks I could do for his cause,” she said wryly. “It’s doomed before it’s even begun.”

“Do ye mean ye ken what’s to happen to the lot of them?” he frowned, momentarily sidetracked by her comment. Claire sighed wearily.

“Yes, but that’s a much longer conversation. And not something I want to discuss on our wedding night.”

“Aye,” he relented with a tiny smile. “Well, as I was saying… I’ve heard Dougal mutterin’ to Ned often enough to piece together his stance on the matter. He thinks your accent and fluency in French, combined with the fact that you’re a woman, would make ye an ideal spy for the Jacobites.”

“You must be joking.”

“Wish I were. See, by his logic, ye may now be a Scot by name, but ye reveal yourself as a Sassenach every time ye open your mouth. But ‘tis only a Scot that would be put off by it, ye ken? Someone else might hear ye and feel… at ease. Comfortable enough, perhaps, to divulge more than they should.”

“That’s absurd,” she sighed in disgust. “I’ll admit that I can see how someone might believe that, but I’d make a terrible spy.” Jamie relaxed enough to chuckle, and he caressed her cheek softly.

“Aye, that ye would. Ye wear every thought on your face, Sassenach. I’d wager ye could scarcely lie to save your own life.” 

He watched as a shadow fell over her features, her eyes filling with regret. He chucked her chin lightly, running his thumb over her lips until she met his eyes again.

“‘Tis no’ a bad thing, mo ghraidh. Inconvenient, maybe, all things considered. But I wouldna have it any other way. And when it’s necessary, I’ll do the lyin’ for ye.”

Claire smiled and kissed the fingertip against her lips before daringly pulling it into her mouth. Jamie’s breath caught in his chest, and he was ready for her in another heartbeat. By the time they finally collapsed into slumber, they’d all but forgotten the existence of any force that might threaten their burgeoning happiness.

The business of the rent party couldn’t be delayed for long. So it was that I found myself being helped into my saddle by my very bold husband of two days who saw it as an opportunity to appreciate my backside properly. One of the men noticed and called him out for it, which the rest of them found to be uproariously humorous. Jamie had the good grace to look abashed, but the mischievous twinkle in his eye never diminished.

Over the following few days, we slept and took our meals well away from the others in an effort to make the most of every second of privacy we could get. When we weren’t making love, we were talking. I told him as much as I could about life in the twentieth century, describing everything from the technology to the politics and beyond. He asked endless questions, not only about the world I’d come from but about my childhood and my life in 1945.

I avoided the subject of Frank quite pointedly, for reasons that were not entirely selfish. Of course, I had no desire to think of the man, much less speak of him. But I didn’t know how to tell Jamie that I’d been married to a descendent of the man who had all but ruined his life. 

Part of me feared that he might come to hate me or find me unattractive if he knew my first husband had been nearly identical to Black Jack Randall, but my biggest fear was that Jamie might not be able to reconcile having married a woman named Randall. He’d had enough strife and torment in his young life, and I couldn’t bring myself to make it worse. Fortunately, he seemed to understand that Frank was a sore subject and avoided asking about him directly.

It wasn’t until the third day, as he admired the intricate design of my new silver wedding band, that Jamie finally got around to telling me about his dreams. We’d bedded down in a small tent some ways away from the men, and once the mutual sexual distraction had been resolved, he stunned me with the revelation that he had dreamed about me before we’d met. 

It didn’t even occur to me not to believe him. If time travel was possible, why not this? And while I didn’t know everything about him yet, I knew he would never lie to me.

“Is that what you meant the other night about the light you couldn’t describe?” I asked, recalling his previous words. Jamie nodded and stroked my bare thigh appreciatively.

“Aye. When ye told me about electricity the other day, I realized that must be what ye meant. The light was brighter, almost like daylight, but… not. The things around ye were odd too. And the clothes. While I was in the dream, I never seemed to notice what ye were wearing, but when I thought back, I realized ye never were covered properly.”

We shared a laugh at that.

“Yes, the shift I was wearing when we met was actually a dress. A bit out of season, perhaps, but quite respectable for the time.”

Jamie made a disgruntled sound. “Then, I suppose ‘tis a good thing we’re married in my time and no’ yours. I’d go mad tryin’ to ignore the men covetin’ what’s mine.” I rolled my eyes, but he merely kissed the tip of my nose and went on, “To be honest, I could rarely make much sense of the dreams. But what I remember most is the way they made me feel. Peaceful, happy, safe… I thought ye an angel and never dared hope ye might be real.”

“That’s why you asked if I knew you,” I mused, shaking my head with wonder over what he must have been thinking the night we met near Craigh na Dun. “You recognized me then.”

“Aye. I was captivated. Woulda thought I was dreamin’ again were it no’ for the pain. But I kent when ye touched me that ye were real. And I wanted ye from the first. Especially on that long ride to Leoch, wi’ your head thumping against my chest and that lovely round arse wedged between my thighs.”

His hand slid upward from my thigh and gave said arse a healthy squeeze. I chuckled and squiremed out of his grasp.

“I’m beginning to think you only married me for my arse.”

“It’s certainly an added benefit,” Jamie admitted with a grin. He stopped groping me and wrapped me in his arms more securely, brushing a curl away from my face. “I wanted ye from the first, Sassenach. But I loved ye that first day at Leoch, when ye cried in my arms.”

My breath caught at his unexpected declaration, but he didn’t wait for me to return it.

“Or maybe before,” he said with a sigh of contentment. “Maybe I loved ye before I’d even looked upon ye wi’ my waking eyes.”

Unable to come up with words that would do justice to the emotions that had risen like a tidal wave within me, I let my actions do the speaking instead. His kisses were addictive, as I’d already learned, and hungry mouths were soon followed by wandering hands.

Some time later, I found myself watching Jamie as he slept, cataloguing his handsome features and slowly coming to terms with the things he’d made me feel. He’d changed my perspective--and indeed my life--so much just in the space of a few days. 

I had resigned myself to a solitary life in a place that was quite foreign to me. Due to my heritage, not to mention my gender, I was doomed to always have my loyalties and credibility questioned, to always be the target of suspicion and resentment. But it was a price I’d been more than willing to pay for my freedom. All of it was preferable to going back to Frank.

Trusting a man enough to risk my heart had seemed an impossible feat.The Scots weren’t the only ones for whom trust was a difficult concept. That I would struggle to trust others was perfectly natural, given the circumstances. But when it came to men, I wasn’t even sure I could trust myself. My judgment had clearly been rather poor in regards to Frank, and the last thing I wanted was to make the same mistake again.

Of course, I’d never once considered the prospect of an arranged marriage, and if it had been anyone but Jamie, I would have made a run for it. But he seemed to have an innate ability to make me feel safe despite everything that had happened.

I still didn’t know what to make of the idea that his dreams had apparently led him to me. Was fate at work in everything? Did our choices truly mean so little? I’d never put much stock in the notion of predestination, but it was hard to deny the possibility, knowing what I knew now. 

It made me feel good, though, reassured somehow that despite the unconventional way Jamie and I had been brought together, it was possible I was always meant to be his wife. 

Careful not to rouse him, I bent to press my lips to his brow and whispered softly into the darkness.

“I love you too.”

His mouth curved upward in his sleep.

A/N: Whew, LOTS happening in this chapter! Hope you enjoyed it!

Chapter Text

There were intermittent mists of rain as Jamie and I found a somewhat secluded place to share our lunch, but I didn’t mind the damp. The company and the picturesque view more than made up for it.

As Jamie stretched out his spare plaid as a picnic blanket, I took a moment to appreciate the scenery. I had a feeling I’d never get used to the heart-stopping beauty of the Highlands, even if I spent the rest of my life here. Of course, I was likely to do exactly that, having married a Scottish laird, displaced though he might have been at the moment. There were difficult times ahead, though, and important conversations yet to be had.

I sat down and arranged my skirts in a manner that was becoming second-nature. When I glanced at Jamie, I found him watching me with a soft smile. I smiled back but fidgeted a little under his gaze.


“Nothing,” he replied, his grin widening. He leaned over to kiss me lightly, and we got caught up in the moment, not separating until the need for oxygen demanded it. “Sorry. I dinna seem able to resist ye.”

“I know what you mean.”

We’d been married just shy of a week, and the intensity of our lovemaking seemed to increase every time he took me in his arms--which was often. The residual soreness in my muscles could no longer be attributed to prolonged anxiety. This ache was a good one.

“Is it… usual? What it is between us, I mean. Is it like that for everyone?”

I smiled at his question and the fact that our thoughts had traveled the same path.

“No, I don’t think so. I’ve been thinking about that, actually. I’ve certainly never felt this way before. I wasn’t sure I was… capable of it,” I admitted. Jamie looked hesitant.

“Because of Frank?”

I couldn’t help my slight flinch at his name. It happened every time my words or thoughts strayed too near the subject of Frank, and I was sure Jamie had noticed. I took a deep breath and pushed the feeling away once more, focusing on Jamie.

“Not just him…” I paused, collecting my thoughts and memories. “One of the girls who worked with me at the hospital in Pembroke had a sweetheart who would come to visit while he was on leave. He surprised her once, and they shared a rather impressive kiss in front of a whole ward of patients and staff.

“Our superior tried to tell them off, but there was no stopping them. It nearly reached the point of indecency before they finally let up. And I remember feeling like I couldn’t stop watching them. Because I’d never felt that strongly about anyone. I’d been…” I faltered as I tried to phrase it in a way Jamie would understand. “...courted by a man before I met Frank. It didn’t last long, and there was really no passion there.”

“No’ with Frank either, then?” he inquired, looking a bit smug.

“No. He and I hadn’t spent much time together because of the war, but even as newlyweds, there was never much of a spark between us. And every time I thought about my friend and her man, I wondered if perhaps I just wasn’t made for that kind of thing.”

“So… ye were wrong about that?”

I noted his smirk and grinned back, a little embarrassed.

“It would seem so.”

We ate in silence for a few moments as my thoughts shifted from my twentieth century life to the one I’d started to build here. I still marveled over the strange turn my life had taken, but I couldn’t help but feel this was exactly where I was meant to be. I wasn’t sure if my foresight would be a gift or a curse, but I knew there were things I needed to share with Jamie.

“You’ve asked me a lot about my time, but I’m surprised you haven’t asked about what I know of this time.”

“I didna want to push ye,” he replied, offering me the last of the bread. I declined and watched him pop it into his mouth. “I’d reckon some would want to take advantage of someone like you. Someone who knows the future. I dinna ever want to make ye feel you’ve been used in such a way.”

“I appreciate that.” I smiled, touched by his thoughtfulness. “There are things you do need to know, though. It’s hardly right for me to keep it from you, now that our lives are… entwined.”

“Aye. Ye mentioned the Jacobite cause the other day. Do ye ken what’s to come of it?”

“Unfortunately, yes…”

I went on to explain what I knew of the years leading up to the Forty-Five and the major events I could recall. The Scots would have a few victories, but it wouldn’t be enough. Everything would come to a head on Culloden Moor in 1746.

“And the English win?”

“Yes. And after that… Scotland will never be the same again. The English will do all in their power to strip the Scots of everything that makes them who they are. They’ll ban the wearing of tartans and the Gaelic language. They’ll make it a crime to own a firearm, a family plaid, a book in Gaelic… Those clans who wish to keep their lands will be forced to swear oaths of loyalty to the king, and those who refuse or are implicated in the Rising will lose everything. They’ll burn property, steal food and livestock, imprison or execute rebels…”

Jamie was visibly shaken, and I paused for a few moments to allow him to collect himself.

“I’ve been meaning to ask… Are you of any relation to the Frasers of Lovat?”

“Aye,” he sighed, still distracted and overwhelmed. “Their land shares a border wi’ the MacKenzie land. The current Lord Lovat is my grandsire.”

“Simon? The one they call the Old Fox?” I pressed, and his eyes narrowed in surprise.


“Are you close to him?”

“No’ at all,” he scoffed. “My father was estranged from most of his family, my grandsire in particular. Why do ye ask?”

“Well… He’ll be rather notorious for his role in the Rising, and… he’ll be among those executed for treason in London.” The reluctant admission made me wince, and Jamie was visibly troubled. “I’m sorry.”

“Nay, ‘tis alright. I ken better than to try to convince the old codger to change his course. But is there nothin’ we can do to stop any of the rest of it? Culloden… The things ye say will come to pass in the years after?”

I sighed, having anticipated this line of thought. 

“I’ve been giving that a fair bit of thought, ever since I realized I’d gone back in time. I really have no desire to be caught up in another war. But unfortunately, I don’t think it would be possible to change an event that involves so many people. It’s one thing for me to heal a sick person who would have died otherwise, but something of this scale…”

“Aye, s’pose that makes sense. Can we no’ warn people of what’s to come? At least, the ones who would take us seriously?”

“Yes, I think so. Though, I wouldn’t advise telling them how we came by the information.”

Jamie’s lips quirked up at that, and seeing the return of his smile lifted my mood as well.

“I can just imagine my sister’s reaction to such a tale. Still, we could see to it that the men from Lallybroch stay out of the fighting.”

“Yes. They should also start planting crops that can be stored for longer periods. After the Rising, there will be a famine. Food will be scarce even without the redcoats raiding the estates. They should save as much gold as possible too… I’m sure there are many things they can do to prepare.”

“Aye, mo nighean donn. We have some time yet to come up wi’ a plan.”

He leaned over to kiss me again, but I didn’t let myself get swept up in him this time.

“What does that mean? What you called me just now.”

“Mo nighean donn… my brown-haired lass,” he grinned, touching my wayward curls affectionately. My hair had always been something of pain in my rear, but the open admiration in his eyes almost made me feel guilty for the years I’d spent despising it.

“And the others? I’ve heard you say ‘mo chridhe,’ which I gather means heart, though not in the literal sense. And ‘mo ghraidh’ is…?”

“My love.”

Our gazes held for a long moment, and my throat was tight with emotion. I knew with absolute certainty he’d called me that the very day we’d met. Jamie was so remarkably open and honest about his feelings toward me that I was often overwhelmed by his devotion. I’d thought the men of this time would be less inclined to show that sort of vulnerability, but I had to admit that he would’ve been an oddity in my time as well. 

Perhaps that was just Jamie.

When we rejoined the rent party a short while later, Dougal pulled Jamie aside. I busied myself in checking my saddle bags and tucking Jamie’s spare plaid away into one of them. Dougal didn’t bother to keep his voice down or speak Gaelic to exclude me, however, so I couldn’t help but hear the conversation.

“While ye were off swivin’ the Sassenach, some acquaintances happened to pass near enough for a wee chat. Said there’s a redcoat deserter ridin’ wi’ the Watch now, an Irishman called Horrocks. He was at Fort William when the lads busted ye out, and he saw what happened wi’ the dead officer.”

Surprise and hope flickered in Jamie’s expression, but his tone was wary.

“Who were the acquaintances? And how would they ken anything about it?”

“Couple o’ the MacLean lads passin’ through. They crossed paths wi’ the Watch and camped wi’ them last night. The Watch is still near enough we can probably catch up wi’ them to get Horrocks alone for a chat.”

“Aye. ‘Tis worth a try,” Jamie agreed.

I frowned in dismay, the urge to speak against this plan warring with my preference to avoid Dougal at all costs. 

“Jamie,” I said tentatively, drawing their attention. “When we crossed paths with the Watch last week, you stayed out of sight. Murtagh said the price on your head was too tempting for them. Why on earth would you risk that now?”

I recalled all too well the cries of the crofter’s family when the Watch had set fire to their home and stolen what little food they had. They were a group of Scottish vigilantes who preyed upon their fellow countrymen under the pretense of taking payment to keep them safe from the redcoats. Those who couldn’t spare money or goods paid the price in harsher ways to set an example. The MacKenzies, in some respects, were no better and had interacted with them just long enough to take their cut for the family’s rent. 

It was yet another example of the difference between knowing and seeing, as Jamie had once pointed out. I’d known the history of such cultures that, in my time, were considered primitive, but witnessing such atrocities made it real in a way no history book could.

“Dinna fash, mo ghraidh,” he replied, pulling me toward him to put his arm around my shoulders. The contact was reassuring with Dougal’s close proximity, but it did nothing to assuage my concerns for his plan. 

“You could be riding into a trap. How do you know these MacLeans aren’t trying to draw you out for a share of the bounty?”

“I ken the danger, and I’ll no’ be goin’ alone. If there’s a fight, we’ll manage. Ye needn’t worry for your own safety either. Ye’ll stay behind wi’ one of the lads.”

“No, we should stay together.”

“Ye’d only slow us down, woman,” Dougal replied with a derisive snort. He ignored my glare and addressed Jamie, “Young Willie can stay wi’ her. The lad can handle himself if there’s trouble.”

“Aye, he’s a good lad. I’ll no’ risk your safety, Claire. And we willna be gone long, in any case. Perhaps a few hours.”

Dougal ambled off with a grunt, most likely annoyed at my unladylike interjection into men’s affairs. Fortunately, Jamie didn’t seem to share his uncle’s disapproval. He drew me into a light embrace and kissed my forehead.

“Dinna fret over it, Sassenach. But ye must stay wi’ Willie, d’ye understand? I canna be distracted wi’ worry for your safety.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be worried for yours.”

“I can handle the risk, and ‘tis one I must take,” he said, smiling down at me. “If there’s even the slightest chance I could clear my name, it means we could go home to Lallybroch. I could take my place as laird and have my lady at my side to face what’s coming.”

I sighed and allowed myself to sink into him a little. He was right, and I knew it. But I didn’t have to like it.

We made our way to a forested area near a large clearing where I was to wait with Willie, and Jamie’s expression was tense as he helped me off my horse.

“Promise me you’ll be here when I return.”

“Promise you’ll come back,” I answered stubbornly.

“Aye, I promise. And do you?”


Jamie smiled and left me with a kiss, and I watched him and the rest of the party disappear down the path with a sense of foreboding. Stubborn bloody Scot...

Willie was sixteen and, from what I’d deduced by observation, had a sweet nature. He lacked the blood-thirstiness of his elders as well as the intensity of their hatred for the English. He was quiet, but I quickly realized that had more to do with shyness than some aversion to my company. This was his first time traveling with the rent party, and I knew he’d been taking plenty of teasing from the older clansmen. 

Once Willie opened up, he was quite charming. He was the eldest of four and the only boy, and his father was unable to work due to poor health. The care of his mother and sisters was left to him, and Colum had been generous enough to employ him as a watchman despite his youth. His open admiration for his laird and love for his family made him quite likeable.

“I think I’ll stretch my legs a bit,” I announced, rising from the fallen log we’d been using as a bench.

“Aye,” Willie agreed. He looked a bit flustered. “If ye dinna mind, mistress, I’ll jus’ be takin’ care of some… personal business.”

“Of course,” I waved him off. 

Hopefully, the boy’s innate sensitivity would remind him to go downwind.

As I walked a short distance toward the edge of the woods, I focused my attention on the ground, pausing here and there to collect what useful herbs I recognized. I was pleased to find several that flourished best in the wild and weren’t to be found anywhere near Castle Leoch. I’d been gradually filling my saddle bags with them over the course of our journey.

I was less than ten yards from the fallen log when my attention was drawn to the sound of horses approaching, and I instinctively looked for Jamie. But my blood ran cold at the sight of scarlet uniforms. They were riding through the clearing ahead, and I realized too late that their trajectory would bring them too close.

I dropped to the ground, flattening myself to the earth amongst the bushes and brambles, but a sharp whistle from the leader brought the horses to a halt. Peeking up through the foliage, I watched as two of the men dismounted and stomped toward me, hauling me up by my elbows despite my protests.

“I recognize this one. The captain’s been looking for her. Best bring her with us.”

“No! I’m a Scottish citizen under a clan’s protection,” I gasped, struggling against the large masculine hands that were wrapped around my biceps like manacles.

“You don’t sound like a Scot,” one of them muttered with disdain. “The captain will sort it out.”

In seemingly no time at all, my hands and feet were bound, and they’d tied a rag around my head to gag me. They all but tossed me into their wagon and set off again, talking casually amongst themselves as though they hadn’t just abducted me. Fear and adrenaline surged within me, but I fought it, breathing as deeply as I could manage through my nose. 

There could be only one ‘captain’ who knew of me and would want me arrested on sight, which meant we were likely bound for Fort William. The long ride would give me time to prepare myself. My sgian dubh was strapped to my right calf, but there was no way to retrieve it unnoticed. 

And even if I managed to cut myself free, they’d likely catch me and take my only weapon. Have to wait for the right moment...

Once I’d gotten proper control of my instinctual responses, I spent the hours recalling everything Frank had ever said about Jonathan Wolverton Randall. Black Jack would no doubt expect to frighten and overpower me as he had at Craigh na Dun and in Brockton, but he was to be sorely disappointed. He’d caught me off guard both times, and my history with his descendant had colored my reactions. I was determined not to give him that satisfaction again.

This time, I would be ready for him.


Willie’s voice was edged with panic and had Jamie’s head snapping toward him on instinct. The boy was riding toward them at top speed, nearly trampling Angus as he came to a stop. He ignored Angus’s cursing and didn’t bother to dismount.

“What is it? Where’s Claire?!”

“Redcoats,” he gasped, breathless from the hard ride. “I only stepped away for minute to take a pish, and she must ha’ wandered off. But I came runnin’ back when I heard her screaming. They took her.”

Jamie had sprung into action at the word redcoats and was already on his horse. His heart hammered in his chest, and it was difficult to draw breath.

“Did they say where they were takin’ her?”

“Nay, but I heard the word captain. They seemed to ken who she was.”

“They’ll be takin’ the lass to Fort William, then,” Murtagh deduced, swinging up into his saddle.

Without another word, the three men set off with the rest of the rent party following soon after. It was more than a day’s ride to Fort William, and Jamie spent nearly every second of it riddled with fear at the thought of losing Claire. 

He knew Randall to be a sadistic man with no moral reservations when it came to inflicting harm on others. If the deserter he’d spoken to was to be believed, it had been Randall who had killed his own man and subsequently accused Jamie of the murder. A man who would kill his own countryman in cold blood would show little or no restraint toward a woman who had as good as declared herself his enemy by marrying a Scot.

Eventually, his uncle caught up with him and drew the party to a halt. They paused only long enough to formulate a plan to extract Claire from the fort. They would have to wait for nightfall, but fortunately, it would already be twilight by the time they got there.

“It would be in everyone’s best interest not to kill anyone,” Ned warned somberly. “The last thing we need is a repeat of past events.”

“Best no’ to alert the entire fort as well,” Dougal agreed, eyeing the rescue party volunteers with a frown. “Ye’re to slip in, get the lass, and slip out.”

Jamie groaned at the thought of breaking into an English fort with an empty pistol, but he agreed with both points. He watched as the rest of the men parted with their ammunition as well, surprised by how many of them were willing to take the risk of entering the fort at all. It seemed Claire had made more allies than she’d realized.

He forced his emotions to the back of his mind, hiding the weakness of his fear beneath a cloak of bravery and determination. He silently vowed to get her back, no matter what it took.

Even if the cost was his own life.

The office of the garrison commander was larger than I’d expected and felt more like a gentleman’s study than the utilitarian surroundings I’d come to associate with the British Army in my time. Since my captors had dragged me into the room and bound me to one of the chairs designated for visitors, my view was somewhat limited. I could see the desk, however, which was so well-organized that I was reminded of Frank and his tidy row of suits.

The room was empty when I’d arrived and remained so for nearly ten minutes, once my captors had seen to my restraints. The summer sky outside the open window was as dark as it would ever be in the Highlands, but there were more than enough candles lit. 

I heard the door open behind me, followed by muffled footsteps upon the heavy rug. Though I couldn’t see him at first, the prickling on the back of my neck made me tilt my chin upward in defiance as he came into view.

“We meet again, Mrs. Beauchamp.”

I said nothing, glaring back at him with cold disdain. His resemblance to Frank had unnerved me in the past, but now, it somehow gave me strength. Jack Randall would not see even one more moment of weakness from me. 

“Or is it Mrs. MacKenzie? Tell me, which role are you playing now? Protesting whore? Competent healer? Helpless English widow? Traitorous Scottish wife?”

“As you like,” I replied with a sardonic shrug, ignoring the pull of the ropes around my wrists. Randall sneered, lounging in his chair across the desk in a casual manner that was probably meant to put others at ease. Instead, he looked like a predator eyeing his next meal.

“What I would like is for you to tell me why Dougal MacKenzie would consider you of such value that he would rather adopt you as one of his own than allow me to question you.”

“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Is that so?”

Again, I didn’t reply, suppressing a shudder as his eyes raked over my body.

“Madam, you need to understand your position. In this, our third encounter, I fully intend to discover both your true nature and the secrets you hold, by any means necessary.” 

His genteel accent couldn’t conceal the threat in his words, but I didn’t flinch, hoping beyond hope that Reverend Wakefield had been right in his suspicions.

“Perhaps you should ask the Duke of Sandringham.”

I was relieved and even somewhat amused when Randall blanched conspicuously at the name. He cleared his throat and collected himself, rising from his seat in what I assumed was an attempt to maintain the high ground. He clasped his hands behind his back and appeared to shift his weight idly, taking a slow step in my direction.

“What do you know of the duke?”

“I know he’s been covering for your repetitive and appalling breeches of conduct. There are, after all, any number of nasty rumors that seem to follow wherever you go. But that’s not my concern.”

“And precisely what is your concern?” he hissed, his composure cracking. I scoffed and rolled my eyes for good measure.

“Must you be so obtuse? Is it not clear by now that we’re both under the employ of the same man?”

“That’s impossible. He would’ve told me.”

“Because he tells you all his secrets?” I parried, forcing a chuckle. “You must be a very special officer indeed.”

Randall glowered thoughtfully at me for a moment and began to pace the length of his office in slow, measured strides. Each time he passed beyond my field of vision, I tensed a little more, but I forced myself to breathe evenly. If I could convince him that he and I were on the same side, perhaps he might even let me go.

“Then MacKenzie lied? You didn’t marry a Scot?”

“Of course I did. As a soldier, you should hardly be new to the concept of making sacrifices for king and country. Some of us prefer to gain information without torturing people.”

He snorted and let his gaze linger on my body again, eyes full of speculation and anger. The latter emotion was slowly overshadowing any amusement he’d found in my words, and I spotted a familiar twitch near his jaw. A genetic trait, apparently.

“You know, of course, that there’s no way to verify your story without contacting the duke. Even then, he may not be willing to put such information in a letter or give me a straight answer on the matter. Just what other sacrifices are you willing to make, madam?”

I needed no clarification of his words, but he seemed intent to elaborate anyway. He leaned over me, his hands braced on my forearms where they rested against the chair.

“For you, it could mean weeks in a cell. Perhaps with regular,” he bent his head to smell my hair, “visitors to make use of you for their entertainment.”

I steeled myself again, refusing to even avert my eyes from his sneering face. I was tired of running, of fighting, of living in near-constant fear. This man fed on the terror of others, but he would get no more from me. 

Frank had kept me in a cage of fear and pain, trapped by the knowledge that I was truly alone in the world. The standing stones may have set me free, but it was Jamie who’d become my sanctuary. Jack Randall was his tormentor even more than he was mine, and I faced him now with unflinching courage.

He hovered over me, his aristocratic brow wrinkled in confusion as he searched in vain for the fear he’d come to expect from me. His anger mounted visibly, and he drew a dagger from his hip, settling the blade just below my jaw.

“Or perhaps I should just kill you now and save us both the trouble.”

“Perhaps you should stop behaving like a spoiled little boy playing with his food,” I spat back, my pulse thundering in my ears. “If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with."

A/N: Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it and Happy Friday to everyone else. :) I know this is a minor cliffhanger, so I'll update again in a couple days. As you can see, there will be no espionage to try to change the future and all that. This Claire is a bit smarter, or perhaps just more realistic. What do we think of her progress in this chapter?

Chapter Text

Jamie perched on the edge of the battlement and strained to hear the voices emanating from the open window below. By some miracle, he’d managed to find her in the massive fort, thanks to the directions Rupert had coerced at gunpoint from one of the guards.

Randall sounded much the same as usual, though with significantly more anger than he’d ever directed at Jamie. But what left him breathless was Claire. Until he heard her speak, he’d assumed she was too terrified to respond to Randall’s taunts. When he finally heard her voice, it almost didn’t sound like her at all. He’d never heard her speak with such venom.

“Perhaps you should stop behaving like a spoiled little boy playing with his food. If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with.”

Jamie didn’t waste another second, dropping neatly onto the window ledge and aiming his pistol at Randall. A hot coil of rage unfurled in his gut when he saw the man holding a blade to Claire’s neck.

“I’ll thank ye to take your hands off my wife,” he snarled.

“Good God,” Randall laughed in genuine shock. He repositioned himself behind the chair, and Jamie took note of the rope binding her there. “MacKenzie neglected to mention you married the stripe-backed thief. How’s my handiwork looking these days?”

Jamie ignored the taunt and spared a glance at Claire’s face. In the split second before he’d interrupted Randall’s threats, she had looked determined and fierce. But that expression had given way to terror and relief when their eyes had met. Her facade had crumbled to show her fear, but Randall was too focused on Jamie to notice.

“Lay that pistol on the desk,” he commanded. When Jamie didn’t move, Randall pressed the knife harder against Claire’s neck. “I will slit her throat, I swear to God.”

Contemplating his enemy shrewdly, Jamie lowered the gun and moved to place it on the desk. As he’d expected, Randall promptly picked it up and aimed it at Jamie’s head.

“That wasn’t too hard. Step back. Do it.”

“Go, Jamie,” Claire whimpered, her eyes closed as though the sight of him would break her resolve. “Get out of here. Go.”

Randall laughed again and moved the knife from her throat to the front of her bodice.

“But perhaps he’d prefer to watch, madam. Or shall he join us?”

Jamie stared him down with a challenge in his eyes that he knew Randall would find impertinent, and the latter once again reacted predictably. When Jamie was within arm’s reach, Randall squeezed the trigger. The fizzled thud of a failed ignition revealed the lack of ammunition, and Jamie took advantage of the soldier’s momentary shock. 

A solid left hook sent the man careening backward, and the second impact of his head on the floor rendered him unconscious. Claire gasped in shock, twisting around to look at Randall and then back to Jamie, who was already slicing through the ropes at her wrists and ankles.

“You bluffed your way in with an empty pistol?”

Jamie captured her lips roughly, pouring his relief, worry, and frustration into the kiss. She stiffened in surprise but quickly melted against him. A tiny sob escaped her when they parted.

“Ned said no’ to kill anyone, so I had all the weapons unloaded,” he explained belatedly, taking her hand and pulling her toward the door. “This way.”

Jamie glanced back at Randall, briefly deliberating whether or not to simply end his life there and then. He’d never taken pleasure in killing a man and had only done so in battle. But this was war, was it not? Jamie sighed and kept moving. As satisfying as it would’ve been to plunge his blade into the monster’s heart, there was no honor in killing an unarmed man. And their best chance of escape was to simply leave. 

Get in, get Claire, get out.

He led the way down a set of stone steps, his dirk in one hand and Claire’s hand in the other. Two guards were quickly and quietly incapacitated along the way. However, those who had volunteered to join the rescue mission had apparently decided a diversion was needed, and everyone fled the fort amidst deafening explosions and shouts of alarm.

When they reached the rendezvous point, Dougal glowered at his nephew in disapproval, but the other men seemed to be in high spirits. Jamie settled Claire in front of him on his own horse for the ride to a nearby inn. Wary of being tracked by the redcoats, the party doubled back and left false trails multiple times, so it was nearly five hours before they reached the inn.

Claire remained silent the whole way.

“Sassenach,” Jamie murmured low into her ear. “Are ye alright? Are ye hurt?”

A slight shake of her head was all the response she gave, and he couldn’t even be certain the movement had been intentional. Her tiny body had been trembling against him from the moment he’d held her in Randall’s office, as though his kiss had broken a spell. The fierce lass who had met Randall’s threats with a sharp tongue of her own had vanished like mist.

Her silence left Jamie to stew in his own thoughts. He hated feeling like he couldn’t reach her, and his mind spun in search of the cause. Did the bastard have time to hurt her before I got there? The thought made his heart clench with dread. He’d gotten to her as quickly as possible, but what if he hadn’t been fast enough? What if one of the other redcoats had put their hands on her even before they’d taken her to Randall?

The questions were a maelstrom in his head, but there was no opportunity to voice them, surrounded as they were by jolly but weary--and nosy--MacKenzies. He took a deep breath to steady himself and focused on the feel of her in his arms. She was alive and safe now. They could sort the rest out later.

When at last they reached the inn, Jamie was relieved to see that Claire’s expression was no longer so vacant. Now, it showed confusion as she belatedly realized that the others were pointedly ignoring her presence. Under normal circumstances, he was sure she would’ve been frustrated with their avoidance. She might have even chastised them aloud for their deplorable manners. But tonight, she simply ignored them right back, picking at her food with a terrible distance in her whisky eyes.

Murtagh watched the pair in concern, and when Claire rose from the table without a word to anyone, he put a hand on his godson’s arm to stop him from following on her heels.

“Give her a moment, lad. She’s probably just feelin’ guilty.”

“Ye think so?” Jamie eased back into his seat, still frowning at his wife’s retreating form.

“Aye. And rightly so. She put the men’s lives at risk, and she kens it well. Best no’ go easy on her. She’ll feel better after she kens she’s paid for it.”

Jamie grunted thoughtfully as he considered it. She’d disobeyed his instruction to wait for him and stay with Wllie, and the small transgression might well have had far more disastrous consequences. He’d not thought to punish her, for she seemed adequately subdued and remorseful already. 

But Murtagh had made a good point. A proper punishment would ease her guilt, as he knew well from personal experience. With a grim nod to his godfather, he headed for the stairs, tracing Claire’s path to the room the innkeeper had assigned them.

She was across the small room in front of the hearth, facing away from him as she undressed. Jamie slipped inside and closed the door quickly for the sake of her privacy. He watched her strip down to her chemise, dreading what he needed to do. He hadn’t anticipated needing to fulfill this particular marital obligation so soon.

“Claire…” He kept his tone soft as he approached her, and she sniffled quietly, avoiding his gaze. “Were ye hurt, mo ghraidh? Did any of them… violate you?”

“No,” she whispered. 

Jamie sighed in relief and took a few more steps forward, coming to stand in front of her. He held her gently by her upper arms and pressed a kiss to her forehead. She was still trembling, her arms wrapped around herself as though she were afraid she might shake herself apart.

“Thank God for that.” 

He released her and backed away slightly, nudging her chin upward so he could see her eyes. They were shimmering with tears, and the sight made his chest ache almost as much as the thought of what was to come.

“Can we just go to bed, please?” she murmured. Jamie sighed in regret.

“No’ just yet. I’m afraid we’ve a matter still to settle between us before we sleep tonight.” He pursed his lips at her visible confusion. “I told ye to stay hidden. If you’d done so, none of this would’ve happened. Now the British will be after you as much as me, and Randall… ‘Tis personal with him, ye ken? He’ll no’ let this go without retaliation.”

“I… I’m sorry,” Claire stuttered, but with her brow still wrinkled in confusion, it sounded more like a reflex than an apology.

“Aye. If it were just me you’d hurt by it, I wouldna say more about it. But your actions put all the men in jeopardy. Such a thing canna go unpunished, lass. Best just get on with it.” His hands removed his belt as he spoke, and her eyes followed the movement.

She began to back away from him, shock and betrayal etched clearly in her features. Her tiny frame was once again shaking so violently that her words came out in fragmented whimpers.

“N-No… No…”

“‘Twill be over quickly, and you’ll feel better for it, Claire.”

But when he took a step toward her, she stumbled back until she reached the paneled wall behind her. Her breath came in loud, rapid sobs, and she transformed before his eyes into the petrified woman he’d once seen in a dream. She shrank to the floor, wedging herself into the corner with her arms over her head. It was as though she were trying to make herself as small as possible, and the sight tore at his heart. Jamie was frozen and slack-jawed with shock to see her so afraid. 

Of him. She was terrified of him.

His dinner threatened to rise in his throat, and he dropped the belt along with all intentions of punishing her. He crept toward her slowly, wanting to weep at the sight of his own wife cowering in his shadow. 

“There, now, mo chridhe. Easy, now…” He kept his tone low and calm, inching toward her as though she were a wounded animal. “I willna hurt ye, Sorcha. Never. ‘S alright, mo nighean donn…”

The soft Gaelic words quieted her own panicked murmuring, but she still struggled to breathe. Jamie felt a tear slip over his cheek as he crouched on the floor in front of her.

“Please look at me, Sassenach. You’re tearing my guts out. I canna stand the thought of ye being afraid of me.” 

No doubt more than one of the men would think him too weak to handle his own wife, but he didn’t care. He vowed then and there never to take any action that brought her pain. Ever.

After a few minutes of gentle soothing, Claire slowly began to regain control, and when she finally looked up at him, her cheeks were flushed and streaked with tears. He reached out cautiously to caress her hair, wincing when she flinched beneath his hand.

“Shhh, now. I’m so sorry, Claire. I didna mean to frighten ye. Please dinna be afraid of me, Sassenach. I canna bear it.”

Her trembling eased minutely, and her eyes were shimmering with tears and remorse. She concentrated on regulating her breathing for a few moments before she managed to speak.

“We haven’t talked very much about… about Frank.”

“Aye,” he sighed, keeping his movements slow as he shifted to sit next to her against the wall. “You’ve only said ‘twas a difficult marriage and that he was no’ a kind man.”

“That was putting it mildly. He beat me. Usually with his fists, but sometimes his belt too. Or his feet. Or whatever was nearby.”

Jamie had to swallow back the bile this time as he processed her words, spoken so softly but with all the weight of a cannonball straight to his gut. Images from his darker dreams, particularly the one from the night before they’d met, replayed in his mind. But he pushed the thoughts away in disgust. 

“Look at me, Claire.” He waited until she’d turned to meet his gaze and said, “I promise ye here and now that I will never treat ye that way. I’ll never raise a hand to ye for punishment or any other reason. And I pray ye ken I’d never strike ye in anger.”

“Then why, Jamie? Why were you going to… to whip me?” Her voice broke with a violent shudder, and he sighed in regret.

“I’ll explain. But perhaps we can get off the floor first?” 

He coaxed her with a warm but watery smile, and she relaxed a bit more, allowing him to help her to her feet. He wanted to hold her and was relieved when she allowed it. Once they were settled on the edge of the bed, he tucked her head beneath his chin and stroked her back.

“‘Tis a man’s duty to see to the discipline of those in his charge, ye ken? Whether it’s his wife, his child, or even other men, if he’s their leader. I think maybe things are… easier… in your time. But here, a simple mistake can have catastrophic consequences. And sometimes words are no’ enough to truly teach a lesson. It helps with the guilt as well, to know you’ve paid for your mistake and learnt the lesson properly.”

Claire stiffened palpably in his embrace and looked up at him in bewilderment.

“But I don’t feel guilty, and there’s nothing to be taught here. I didn’t get myself captured on purpose or because I was being careless. Willie had gone to relieve himself, and I got up to stretch my legs, but I didn’t leave.”

“How did the redcoats see ye, then?” He hoped it didn’t sound like an accusation, but the picture she was painting didn’t match that which Willie had given.

“I stayed where I was until I saw them, and then I tried to hide. They still spotted me, though, and I struggled, but... There were at least six of them, Jamie. What more could I have done?”

Jamie went rigid with anger, and when he saw the flicker of anxiety in her eyes, he hurried to make it clear that he wasn’t angry with her.

“Seems I owe ye an even bigger apology, Sassenach. As does Willie, for that wasna quite the way he told it. He made it sound as though you’d wandered off on your own.” He hugged her tighter to his chest and buried his face in her curls. “I would ha’ punished ye for no reason if your fear had no’ stopped me. I saw the look in your eyes… It would ha’ broken us if I’d done what I intended.”

“Well… When did Willie say that?”

“Right after ye were taken.”

Claire nodded and allowed herself to relax against him once more, the last of her tremors finally easing.

“Don’t do anything rash. Talk to him about it tomorrow. He’s a sweet boy. Maybe he was just anxious and frightened. Anyone can choose the wrong words at a time like that.”

“Aye, I’ll speak to him,” Jamie muttered, still irate. “But if he lies about the way of things, he’ll live to regret it.”

“Let’s let it go for now,” she replied with a slight wince. He watched as she drew herself up slightly, pleased to see a hint of the strength he loved. “I know things like discipline are different in this time, but I don’t care. Even if I truly do something wrong, it can never be corrected with violence. You have to promise me that, Jamie. It can’t be like that between us. I can’t ever live like that again. I won’t.”

Jamie nodded solemnly, more than willing to give the reassurance she needed. She had his loyalty above all others, and there was nothing he wouldn’t do to prove it.

“Do ye recall the oath of loyalty they took at the Gathering?”

“The one you evaded?” she answered with a weary smile that lightened his heart. 

“Aye.” He reached for his dirk and maneuvered his large frame to kneel on the floor in front of her, smiling as her confused eyes met his. He turned the handle of the dirk toward her with the blade pointing directly to his heart. “I swear on the Cross of my Lord Jesus and by the holy iron which I hold, that I give ye my fealty and pledge ye my loyalty. If ever my hand is raised in rebellion against ye, I ask that this holy iron may pierce my heart.”


“I dinna ever want ye to look at me like… like that again, Claire. But things are different here, as ye say. Ye must tell me what ye would have me do instead.”

“Talk to me. Be completely honest. Brutally so, if need be. But never violent.”

“Aye, I can live wi’ that,” he breathed, putting the dirk aside and taking her hands in his. “I swear it. Brutal honesty.”

“And I swear the same. I’ll never lie to you, and I’ll never betray you. I may not always be able to tell you everything, but when I do tell you something, it will be the truth.”

“I promise that as well. There’s room for secrets, perhaps. But no’ lies.”

“Not lies.”

Jamie rose from the floor and moved back to the bed, this time stretching out on the mattress with his wife gathered against his broad chest. He held her in silence for a few minutes, contemplating everything that had passed. Until an hour ago, he’d thought the most terrifying sight he’d ever beheld was his wife tied to a chair and at the mercy of a man he despised. But the way she’d looked at him with such terror and betrayal in her eyes had gutted him.

“Sassenach…” She hummed in response, her fingers playing with the spattering of ginger hair on his chest. “I heard your words to Randall jus’ before I came through the window. Did ye mean it? Were ye really ready to die?”

Part of him was afraid to hear her answer, but the fist around his heart unclenched when it came.

“No. But I’d long since made up my mind that I would never live that way again. And I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing just how much he terrified me. I’ve given him too much of that already, mostly because of Frank. I… I never told you that they’re related.”

“Randall and your… and Frank?” he asked with a frown, refusing to call the man her husband.

“Yes. Beauchamp is my maiden name, but of course, I could hardly tell anyone here that my name was Claire Randall. Frank is Jack’s direct descendant. His genealogical research is what brought us to Scotland in the first place. They look so alike that they could pass as brothers. When I first met Black Jack, I thought he was Frank. And tonight…” She paused to take a shuddering breath, and a new hint of steel could be heard in her voice. “Just once, I wanted to be brave as I looked up at that face. I wanted him to know his threats were pointless because I didn’t fear him. Or even death itself.”

Jamie’s arms constricted around her almost to the point that she couldn’t draw a breath, and his heart pounded beneath her cheek. He’d assumed it was his imagination that had fixed the face of his enemy on the man who had terrorized the woman in his dreams. Fear for her safety and loathing for the men who had hurt her blazed within him.

“Dinna ever do that again, Claire. I canna bear the thought of losing you. Ye have to keep fighting. Keep surviving.” He tilted her chin up and got a little lost in her amber eyes. “And I’ll be right there, fighting next to ye. But ye must promise me you’ll never give up, no matter what you’re facing.”

“I promise,” she whispered, clasping his hand. He nodded his thanks and relaxed again.

“And one more?”


“Swear you’ll never leave.”

Claire’s smile was tempered by teary eyes. 

“I swear it. Even if I did, you’d find me,” she reminded him. Jamie’s blue eyes were kind but solemn.

“Aye. I would.”

A/N: I really loved writing this chapter. It was such an important moment for them and their relationship. While I understand the reasoning behind the canon punishment scene, it's not at all appropriate for my characters. As several of you pointed out, this Claire wouldn't have been able to cope, and I think if canon Claire had reacted this way, canon Jamie wouldn't have done it. Hope you enjoyed this one! We'll be venturing into almost entirely AU territory soon. :)

Chapter Text

Fight or flight.

Discovered by a Polish physiologist near the turn of the twentieth century, adrenaline was the first and arguably the most important hormone to be identified in the human body. In a stressful, exciting, or dangerous situation, adrenaline was the body’s primal response. It could send a person scurrying for safety or give them the strength to defeat the threat.

While stationed near the front during the war, I had once found myself a little too near an enemy attack. I’d been the lone survivor when the team of Americans who’d been charged with my safety were wiped out by Nazis. In that instance, adrenaline had caused me to flee, seeking shelter in a ditch for over twelve hours before an ally found me. 

The doctor who’d treated me afterward had explained that my high adrenaline level had sent my brain into shock, both physically and psychologically. Even now, I recalled very little of the days that had followed. 

Adrenaline, the doctor had said, could be a tricky son of a bitch.

I’d had the opposite reaction numerous times throughout my military service, of course. I had been well-known amongst my peers to have a cool head and a steady hand when things got chaotic… only to come home and find myself being pushed into that state of shock multiple times by Frank. All in all, my track record was highly unreliable.

So, even I was slightly surprised when, with this latest threat to my life, the handy but unpredictable hormone had strengthened me. I’d been imbued with new courage and more than a little recklessness as I’d stared into the face of my tormentor and called his bluff. But my bluster had popped like a soap bubble when I’d realized Jamie’s life was in danger as well.

He’d handled Black Jack with admirable cunning and skill, and my ensuing relief had sent my adrenaline levels spiralling. I’d been dimly aware of my surroundings during our escape from the fort, but I wasn’t truly conscious of anything until someone had put a plate of food in front of me.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t had nearly enough time to recover before Jamie had approached me with his belt in hand. My mind had flashed back to images of Frank, angrily tugging his belt free from his pants. And for the briefest of moments, it wasn’t Jamie I saw before me. It was Frank, coming toward me with his fists balled and ready to strike.

I knew in my heart that Jamie had been right about the catastrophic effect his intended actions would’ve had on our relationship. It had been an incredibly close call. As I lay spooned against his slumbering form the next morning, I made a silent vow to be more open with him about my past. The poor man could hardly be expected to read my mind, and he’d certainly earned my trust.

All too soon, we were gulping down a hot Scottish breakfast and preparing to leave the inn. The party would collect the last of the rents today and head back to Leoch, and the prospect of going home seemed to have put the men in a good mood. 

Though they were no longer ignoring me outright, I noticed many of them keeping their distance. Since I also caught a few of them eyeing my backside in speculation, I could only assume they were operating under the assumption that I’d done wrong and been properly reprimanded by my husband. Part of me wanted to scream at the injustice and humiliation of it, but I held my tongue.

Interestingly, it was Jamie who made a point to set them straight. After a private and intense-looking conversation with Dougal and Willie, he came to help me onto my horse, getting a handful of my arse without even bothering to be sly about it. My head whipped toward him so quickly I nearly lost my balance altogether, but he steadied me with a hand at my waist. His devious grin stretched wide across his face, and he shrugged unapologetically.

“Couldna help m’self.”

Three or four of the men laughed, which in turn made me blush and laugh along with them. I hadn’t truly registered the lingering tension until our laughter had broken it. 

“You never can. Seems you’re always looking for an excuse to have your hands on my arse. Following me up hills or stairs, helping me on or off a horse…”

“Aye, well, I’ve been dreamin’ about your arse since the day I met ye, mo nighean donn,” he admitted boldly, the laughter around us increasing in volume.

“Ah, yes. On another long ride to Leoch.”

“Aye, but now ‘tis mine. ‘Tis but a pity ye have your own mount this time.”

Rupert made a crack in Gaelic that was spoken too quickly for me to follow, but I gathered it had something to do with an altogether different kind of mounting. Murtagh, Ned, and Angus were cackling along with him, and I rolled my eyes good-naturedly.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Willie had been close enough to hear the exchange as well, but he wasn’t sharing our laughter. I frowned in concern, wondering what had come of his discussion with Jamie. Willie looked slightly downcast, and I remembered what Jamie had said about insubordinate men being punished for wrongdoings. Hopefully, things hadn’t gone that far, but if they had, there was nothing I could do about it now. I was just glad the others had given up on the silent treatment. Many of them had warmed up to me over the course of the journey, and it had been jarring to temporarily find myself on the receiving end of so many cold shoulders once again.

“I must say, I’m glad to see ye in good spirits today, lass. And unharmed, of course.”

I turned to see Ned, who had pulled his horse alongside mine, trading places with Murtagh for a little while. I had slightly mixed feelings toward the elderly gentleman. He had a kind and genial disposition, but he was obviously quite close to Dougal, who would never have my trust.

“Thank you,” I replied with what I hoped was a polite smile. “Do you suppose the British consider me an outlaw now as well? Since I escaped custody by way of an assault on the fort’s commander?”

“Among other things, from what I hear,” he chuckled. “But no, I dinna think you need worry much over it.”

“Really? Even with several soldiers being injured and structural damage from whatever explosions the men set off…”

“Well, I’m no’ saying they’ll be pleased wi’ the situation, my dear. But you must remember there was no legal justification for your arrest in the first place, and to the best of our knowledge, there was no loss of life. That makes your situation quite a bit different from your husband’s. No’ to mention that no soldier will want to admit that a woman being held for questioning was able to escape Fort William successfully.”

“Right. So, they’ll just… let it go?”

“Officially, yes, I’d imagine so. Though I certainly canna predict anythin’ Captain Randall might do. I’d wager he’ll be dressed down for the incident, and that willna help his temper.”

I hummed noncommittally, not bothering to voice my suspicion that Randall was more likely to lay the blame at someone else’s feet and avoid censure altogether. Part of me almost hoped for that, since I’d certainly done more than enough to anger him as it was.

To my immense surprise, our return to Castle Leoch was met with a hall full of cheering Highlanders, all of whom appeared to be looking at Jamie and I. Mrs. Fitz clapped exuberantly and beamed with open affection, welcoming us home. My cheeks warmed with self-conscious pleasure, and Jamie thanked everyone graciously. The laird and his wife were at the front of the crowd, and Letitia was the first to speak.

“Congratulations to ye both! I look forward to hearing all about your nuptials. It’s been some time since we’ve had a wedding here.”

“Thank you.” I smiled, curtsying respectfully.

“My profound good wishes for a long and happy marriage, Lady Broch Tuarach,” Colum added with a tight smile. His words were cordial enough, but his tone was cool.

Before either my husband or I could say a word, he took Letitia’s hand and led her from the room. I blinked in surprise at Colum’s pointed exclusion of his nephew as well as the fact that he’d dispensed with the ‘MacTavish’ ruse. Had it been only for my sake that they’d bothered with an alias at all?

Once the crowd had dispersed in various directions, Mrs. Fitz advised Jamie that his bedchamber had been fixed up for the two of us. I followed him through the maze of corridors, wondering at my chances of being able to get a bath in before dinner. We’d stopped here and there to wash in streams and ponds, of course, but I hadn’t had a proper bath since the wedding. I still wasn’t entirely accustomed to the hygiene habits of this century, and according to Mrs. Fitz, I bathed more than anyone else she knew. It was an eccentricity I embraced quite happily.

Jamie had only a few moments to glance around our room before he was summoned to Colum’s study. He squeezed my hand with a guarded expression.

“I’ve a feelin’ my uncle isna best pleased wi’ me.”

“For marrying a Sassenach?”

“Aye. But dinna fash. ‘Twill blow over soon enough, I reckon.” He bent to kiss the frown from my lips, winking as he strode toward the door. “We’ll eat in here tonight. ‘Tis already been too long since I’ve had ye all to myself.”

Jamie was only mildly surprised to find that he wasn’t the only target of Colum’s ire upon their return to Leoch. He waited in silence as the elder brother challenged the younger. It seemed young Willie had informed his laird of the gold collected for the Jacobites, and Colum was practically spitting with anger as his brother reluctantly handed it over. Ned stood slightly behind Dougal, looking like a lad caught with his father’s whisky, while Dougal merely glowered at his brother, his arms crossed in petulance.

“Did neither of ye think that one among the rent party would remain loyal to his laird?” Colum demanded, glaring back and forth between them.

Jamie had to agree that Willie had been absolutely right to tell Colum what was happening on his own land. He had indeed spoken to the lad about the finer details of Claire’s abduction, and Willie had freely admitted he’d been careless with his words. He’d apologized after retelling the story with more detail, and the account had matched Claire’s. The lad’s honesty was the only reason he hadn’t been skelped that very day.

“‘Twas no secret, brother,” Dougal answered. “We never concealed from anyone tha’ we were raisin’ money to restore the rightful king to his throne. That, I might remind ye, is a cause more important than any clan or man.”

“Is that so? Well, this clan remains under the charge of this man. It is still my pleasure to choose what causes are supported, and clan MacKenzie’s welfare comes before any king or country.”

Dougal’s temper flared, and he took a step toward Colum’s desk, his voice beginning to shake with emotion as he spoke.

“I’ve proven my loyalty to ye time and again. I’ve collected yer rents. I’ve fought yer battles. I’ve protected yer person. For love of Christ, I’ve even assured yer bloodline!” The room was utterly silent at the proclamation, and he took a brief moment to collect himself. “Now, I think that such fealty is worth a mere bag of gold, don’t you?”

The others held their breath as Colum stared at him in cold fury.

“Leave my sight.”

“I shall try to calm his distemper,” Ned promised in a humble tone. Colum turned his glare on his solicitor.

“Either that, or I will calm it for him.”

Ned bowed and left the room without another word. Jamie waited patiently to be addressed, still somewhat shocked by Dougal’s rash remarks. The whispers of wee Hamish’s true paternity were nothing he hadn’t heard before, but to hear it confirmed so openly was unnerving. 

All too soon, Colum’s fiery gaze was fixed upon him.

“And you, nephew. Is Clan MacKenzie going to have to answer for your little raid on Fort William?”

“Nay, uncle. Any repercussions will land solely upon me. Captain Randall will make sure of that.”

“S’pose we’ll see. I certainly hope your Sassenach bride is worth the trouble.” Jamie opened his mouth to defend Claire, but Colum held up a hand to silence him. “Nay. I opened my home to ye as sanctuary from the British. I gave ye my food, my hospitality, and even when ye didna present yourself to pledge fealty at the Gathering, I continued to grant ye quarter and protection. And how am I recompensed?”


“Ye marry a Sassenach, knowing well enough that none in the clan will support ye now as my successor.”

“I meant no such betrayal. But ‘tis just as well, for I’d no’ have accepted that honor in any case. I’m a Fraser, and I’d never walk away from that.”

Colum grunted irritably at his comment but let the matter drop, gesturing to invite Jamie to sit across from him. He jutted his chin toward the leather pouch on his desk, heavy with his tenants’ contributions to the Jacobite cause.

“To hear Willie tell it, Dougal damn near trotted ye ‘round the tavern rooms like a prize hog for slaughter.”

“More like a whore for rent.” Jamie muttered, slightly mollified when his uncle winced in empathy.

“Then you’ve a right to voice your opinion on the matter. If you were laird here, how would ye handle this?”

Jamie’s brows shot up in surprise at the question. It was a small reminder of what he’d always admired about his uncle. Though he was as canny and sly as any other MacKenzie, Colum did at least strive for fairness when it came to his responsibilities as laird. He put his people first, even at personal cost.

He pursed his lips, recalling everything Claire had told him about the struggles to come. At the time, he’d been more focused on his own responsibilities to Lallybroch, but now it seemed he might have the opportunity to warn his mother’s kin as well. Though, perhaps with more subtlety than he planned to use on his sister.

“Were it my decision… I’d let Dougal play the rebel for now. He’ll do it anyway, and it’s best he no’ do it behind your back. When--or if--the time comes, I’ve no doubt Dougal will fight as well. But I would keep as many of the MacKenzie men out of it as I could manage. The Jacobites have failed in the past, and this isna likely to end differently, no matter who else might support the cause or what Dougal thinks he kens about the bonny prince.”

“You’d forbid the men to fight?”

“Were I in a position to save their lives by doing so, aye.”

Colum was pensive and silent for a time, and Jamie waited for him to collect his thoughts, hoping he hadn’t said too much. He had to tread carefully with his warnings. To use information his uncle didn’t already know to be true would arouse his suspicion and perhaps lead him to discredit the advice altogether.

“All that is true enough… But the men are no’ so easily controlled. They follow strength. They see Dougal as their warchieftan, and many would follow him into battle with or without my approval,” he acknowledged begrudgingly. “If I outright forbid them to fight, what’s to stop the clan from breaking into factions? Those loyal to me and those to my brother?”

Jamie sighed, not quite willing to say aloud that such a schism was already at hand.

“Aye, but those loyal to Dougal will likely die alongside him on the battlefield. If they make the choice to fight, then they must accept the consequences. And as their rightful laird, you’ll ha’ done all ye can for them, uncle.”

Colum hummed thoughtfully, though not in agreement. Jamie knew it would take far more than a few encouraging words to ease Colum’s guilt.

“I would’ve expected ye to take Dougal’s side. Certainly, if anyone had good reason to rise up against the British, it’s you,” he pointed out. Jamie gave a half-amused grunt, and his lips quirked as his thoughts went to his wife.

“In another time, another life, perhaps I might’ve done. But I’ve no’ the luxury of acting solely in my own interests now.”

His uncle watched him for a long moment before finally allowing a smile, his eyes glinting with something that looked like pride.

“Aye, ‘tis so. Then, it seems clearin’ your name ought be your first priority, so ye may take your young bride home to Lallybroch.”

“Aye,” Jamie agreed, leaning forward in his seat. “We met a redcoat deserter who claimed to ha’ been there that night and seen what happened. He said ‘twas Randall himself who shot the soldier.”

“The sound of that man’s name is startin’ to burn a hole in my gut,” Colum grumbled. “But we’re soon to have a guest at Leoch who might be able to appeal to the king on your behalf. Certainly, it wouldna be the first complaint lodged regarding Captain Randall.”

“Though probably the first to accuse him of murder. Or of murderin’ a redcoat, in any case. Who’s this guest?”

“The Duke of Sandringham.” He chuckled when his nephew cringed involuntarily at the name. “Aye, ye’d do well to guard your hindquarters whilst the man is here. He is… fond of you. But perhaps fond enough to help.”

“Even if it means standin’ against a redcoat officer?”

“I dinna ken, but ‘tis worth the trouble to ask.”

“Perhaps, but do ye no’ think my more recent actions at the fort will play badly in an investigation?”

“Aye, ‘tis a risk. But the British did arrest a Scottish citizen without cause and detained her illegally, during which time the lady was treated poorly, if I understood Willie correctly.” At Jamie’s nod, he continued, “Ye can gloss over the manner of her departure from the fort, and the British will likely let it be. I canna see them publicly admitting that a handful of Highlanders managed to spirit away yet another prisoner.”

“I hope you’re right. But either way, I intend to get Claire away from Leoch as soon as possible. Dougal canna seem to keep his mouth shut or his hands to himself where she’s concerned. He frightens her, and I canna allow it to continue. I did my best to stand between them before, but I’m her husband now. ‘Tis my duty to see that she feels safe.”

“I canna fault ye for wanting to keep her away from him,” Colum replied, visibly troubled by his brother’s behavior. 

“The fool still thinks Claire would make a good spy, so long as she reports back to him.”

His uncle shook his head to dismiss the absurd notion. “Where will ye go? Would ye risk Lallybroch?”

“I’m no’ sure yet, but I’ll let ye know when I reach a decision.”

“Hmm. ‘Tis a great deal of mischief the lass’s presence has caused already. Ye dinna regret marryin’ her?” Colum teased, his eyes glinting with humor. Jamie laughed and stood to leave.

“Nay, uncle. No’ in the slightest.”

When he returned to what was now the bedchamber he shared with his wife, he found her reclining in an oak bathtub in front of the fire. He groaned with longing, though whether his desire was more for his wife or the prospect of a bath, he wasn’t sure. Claire twisted her neck to look at him as he moved closer, shedding his clothing as he went.

A glance about the room revealed a few minor changes to accommodate another person. The linens were of better quality, most notably so on the be, and a privacy screen had been added. Though to place such a device between him and his wife seemed absurd.

“Is there room for one more, my Lady Broch Tuarach?”

“I suppose there must be, since you’re already half-undressed,” she replied with a smirk, staring appreciatively at his physique. She scooted forward for him to slip into the tub behind her, then leaned back against his chest with a sigh. “How did it go? Was Colum angry?”

“Furious, though no’ so much wi’ me as wi’ Dougal.” Jamie gave her a brief summary of the conversation as he moved the soapy sponge over her chest from behind.

“So, Dougal has as good as declared for the Jacobites. How many will fight with him?”

“Too many.”

Claire released a sigh of regret and softly quoted, “‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’

“‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country,’” he translated. “The Roman poet, Horace, I believe?”

“Originally, yes. Your grandfather will recite those words too, just before he’s beheaded.”

“Damned fool.”

“Yes. The whole lot of them. Not that there aren’t ideas worth fighting for, and not that patriotism itself is foolhardy… But they could’ve chosen a worthier cause than that of Charles Stuart.”

“Aye. And ‘tis those left behind who will suffer the most. Includin’ Dougal’s own son, apparently,” Jamie added, still stunned at his uncle’s willingness to admit it aloud.

“I’ve wondered about that, actually. I even mistook Hamish for his son at first.”

“Och, there’s been no shortage of rumors about it since the lad was born. After so many years without an heir, most of the clan assumed Colum’s health was the cause. I suspected Dougal had a hand in it at the time, especially when wee Hamish came out lookin’ so much like Dougal’s youngest daughter had as a bairn. But I never expected him to come right out and say it without a hint of shame.”

“How did Colum react?”

“Well, he wasna surprised. I reckon he was as composed as a man can be under those circumstances. He’s a strong man and one who unfailingly puts the welfare of the clan above his own happiness. He must ha’ realized he was unable to sire children, but the clan needed an heir.”

“So, he gave his wife over to his brother?”

“And counted upon the number of Dougal’s bastards, aye.” Jamie canted his head to look at his own wife, admiring the way the firelight seemed to make her perfect skin glow. “I canna begin to imagine the weight of such a choice. And I canna help but wonder if it’s a pain he carries still.”

“The strength of his character is admirable,” Claire agreed. “Why didn’t your father send you to foster with him when you were sixteen, rather than Dougal? Surely, Colum would’ve been the better influence.”

“‘Twas likely Colum’s affliction that made the decision in the end. Colum couldna teach me anythin’ I hadna learned from my father, save a proficiency at chess.”

“But Dougal could?”

“Aye, well… My father was a good man--honest and fair with his tenants, hard-working, diplomatic… He could wield a sword well enough when the need arose, but few would’ve called him a warrior, ye ken?”

“And that’s what he wanted you to be?” she asked, trailing her fingers over the bulge of his upper arm.

“I dinna ken. Think he’d ha’ settled for happy.”

“I wish I could’ve met him.” She turned slightly to press her lips to his jaw, and Jamie smiled in agreement.


They got lost in each other for a little while, kissing and touching until the bath water had lost its warmth entirely. Mrs. Fitz sent up a tray with their dinner, and they shared it on a rug in front of the hearth once the tub had been carried out. It wasn’t until they were halfway through their meal that he recalled another part of his conversation with Colum. 

“Oh, I meant to tell ye earlier… My uncle has invited the Duke of Sandringham for another visit. He comes to stay once a year or so, and he took a likin’ to me when I was here last time. Colum thinks he might be convinced to--” Jamie’s eyes had been fixed on the meat he was cutting, but when he caught sight of Claire’s stricken expression, he stopped mid-sentence. “What’s wrong, Sassenach?”

“Did… Did you say Sandringham?”

“Aye, he has a long-standing friendship wi’ the MacKenzies. Comes to Scotland for the hunting.”

“He’s friends with Colum?”

“Well, more so wi’ Dougal, but…” 

Claire rose to her feet and began to pace the length of the room, muttering something under her breath that he couldn’t quite follow. He merely watched for a few moments, but when she only grew more flustered, he stood and intercepted her.

“What’s wrong? Do ye ken the man?”

“I know of him, yes, but only because Frank was so bloody obsessed with the Forty-Five.” Jamie frowned at the mention of Frank but waited for her to elaborate. “He had a colleague who believed that it was Sandringham who concealed many of Randall’s misdeeds, which allowed him to remain stationed in Scotland for much longer than he should’ve been. He was a suspected Jacobite as well, and if he’s friends with Dougal, I’ll wager those allegations are spot on.”

“Sandringham’s English. He’s playing both sides, then?”

“Yes. And a man like that is only truly loyal to one person.”

“Aye,” Jamie retorted darkly. “Himself. But do ye no’ think it worthwhile to try?”

“An ally of Jack Randall can never be your friend. It’s best not to get entangled with Sandringham or anyone else who sells their allegiances so easily. I wouldn’t trust him with anything, least of all something as important as your good name.”

He sighed in frustration but relented with a nod. He’d been foolish enough to have hope when Colum had made the suggestion, but he couldn’t fault Claire’s logic. There was every chance he only stood to further complicate his situation by involving a man like that.

“What are we to do, then? I’ll no’ bide here while Dougal waits for his opportunity to get ye alone. He said he wouldna touch ye again, but he lost my trust long ago. I want to go home, Claire. I want to be able to cross my own land freely.”

She stroked his cheek in sympathy and pulled him toward the bed. Despite his frustration, he found it remarkably easy to settle into her embrace, kissing the satiny skin over her heart. She responded by threading her fingers through his curls, and he shuddered slightly at the contact, his manhood stirring despite the gravity of the conversation.

“We won’t give up, but Jamie… Whether we clear your name or not, it will be hard for you to truly be free in the Highlands any time soon. I’ve told you what’s coming with the Rising and the difficult years that will follow. It may be a few years off, but we have to make the most of that time. To prepare in every possible way.”

He made a noise of acknowledgment in the back of his throat and pulled his head back to look into her eyes properly. His lips parted to ask if she regretted marrying him, but she surprised him with a kiss. Once again, they were swept up in each other, and by the time they resurfaced, the fire had all but died. They lay flat on their backs, breathing heavily as they recovered, and Jamie’s thoughts wandered slowly back to the subject at hand.

“Perhaps we’re too close to the problem to see the solution, mo ghraidh.”

Claire rolled onto her side to look at him, her typically wild hair pushing to new levels of chaos. He grinned at it fondly.

“The problem of the price on your head?"

“Aye. I think perhaps ‘tis time I accepted that Scotland isna safe for me. Or for you, now that you’re my wife.” 

“You’re suggesting we leave Scotland? And go where?” she asked, and her brow wrinkled in a way he was beginning to adore. 

“Well… What do ye ken about the state of things in Paris?”

A/N: So, they're off to Paris quite a bit earlier than in canon. No witch trial, no Wentworth. We'll have a bit of a time jump with the next chapter, as well as some other changes to canon. Thanks for reading and reviewing! I absolutely love reading your comments. Every single one of them makes me smile! <3

Chapter Text

October 1, 1743

My Dearest Jenny,

I know I must begin by offering my sincerest apologies for the way I’ve left you to wonder after my wellbeing for so long. I could give you endless excuses, of course, for there have been any number of moments I might have reached out to you before now. But the root of the trouble is my own shame. Shame that I could not protect you, our home, or even myself. Shame that I must have sat down to write this letter dozens of times and yet failed to send you a single word of comfort. I know you’ll likely want to box my ears and worse when you see me again, and I promise you’ll have the chance. Unfortunately, I don’t yet know when that day might come.

I wish I could pour the whole convoluted tale of the past four years of my life into these pages, but I doubt you would believe some of it, even were I able to say the words aloud. I’m sure you’re already aware of the price on my head, since the British would have searched for me at Lallybroch. The charge is false, and I’ve sought refuge in France while I endeavor to resolve the matter. For now, I need to know you’re safe and well, which is part of the reason Murtagh will be delivering this letter personally. He expects your interrogation, but I hope you’ll at least have the mercy to see he’s fed and watered first.

Murtagh brings news on many matters, but the one that will likely come as the biggest surprise to you is that of my recent marriage. Her name is Claire, and I hope you will come to accept her as family, for her I love her very deeply. She’s kind and brave, smart as a whip, a gifted healer, and a Sassenach. I pray you do not allow prejudice to cloud your judgment when at last the two of you meet in person. Although our marriage was a quick and unexpected turn of events, I believe our love is precisely what Mam and Da always wanted us to find. 

Due to a set of circumstances so bizarre and dangerous I dare not put them to paper, I find myself in possession of useful knowledge pertaining to some events that shall soon come to pass. Scotland will suffer greatly during and after these events, and I fear we can do nothing to stop their coming. We can only prepare. Murtagh knows of the request I am about to make of you, and I hope the honesty in his eyes, along with my words, will be proof enough for you. I know the story he’ll tell will sound like insanity, but I pray you still trust my word enough to heed my warning and follow my advice. I want Lallybroch to be ready, that we might spare as many lives as possible. 

I shall give you more information in future letters, but for now (odd as it may sound), I want you to save every ounce of gold you can spare and hide it away. Make use of Da’s hiding places, but build new ones as well. At least one of these spaces should be large enough for a man or two. Perhaps a priest’s hole, of a sort. To keep the existence of these hiding places secret, I beg you to destroy this letter promptly. You should look also to the planting of heartier crops, such as potatoes and yams. They will flourish in Scottish soil, and the yield is greater than wheat. They can be stored for longer periods as well. I know you’re not fond of change, sister, but Lallybroch must adapt if it is to survive what’s to come. 

I fully expect a letter from you soon, no doubt full of questions and demands. I’ll answer to every one of them, but for now, please trust me. Speak to Murtagh of your doubts so that he might ease them, for there are a great many lives depending on your cooperation. You can send a reply back with him, and any future letters can be sent to Cousin Jared’s home in Paris. 

Now that I’ve likely shocked you to your bones with this letter, I pray God it finds you well, safe, and happy. I’m terribly sorry I cannot be there to tell you everything myself, and I vow to make amends for that and the many other ways I’ve failed you. I love you, Jenny. God keep you safe and whole until we’re together again.


I smiled sadly at the parchment Murtagh would be delivering to Jamie’s sister and looked up to see my husband eyeing me nervously from the window in his cousin’s study. His expression reminded me of one a boy might wear when expecting a reprimand from his elders.

“Your sister must be quite the paragon of Scottish pride and stubbornness for you to be so intimidated at the prospect of writing to her,” I teased gently, standing from the settee and crossing the room to hand the letter back. He took it with a reluctant smile.

“Aye, she is at that. I dinna envy those with poor enough luck to be nearby when she reads this. She’ll either be fainting wi’ shock or spitting and shrieking wi’ anger. Murtagh will probably get the worst of it, but he can handle her.”

“Who else will be with her?”

“I’m no’ sure,” Jamie admitted guiltily. “Ian Murray, I hope. Ian was like a brother to us and would’ve done what he could to take care of Jenny in my absence. Well, in everyone’s absence. Perhaps that’s what bothers me most. I’ve had a difficult few years, aye, but I nearly always had someone at my side, be it Murtagh or Jared… or even Dougal. 

“Jenny had the tenants, but her family was either dead or exiled. And if Dougal spoke true, she had a child out of wedlock as well. I dinna ken if that was rumor or fact, but either way… She was alone.”

I sighed at the pain in his voice and laid a hand on his arm to console him.

“Why did you wait so long? Surely, you could’ve somehow let her know you were alive and safe. Were you truly that ashamed?” I asked, nodding toward the letter in his hand.

“Aye. My actions led to our father’s death, and I couldna protect her from any of it. No’ what happened before or what came after. I failed as a son and a brother.”

“That’s nonsense,” I huffed. “There’s nothing more you could’ve done to stop what those soldiers wanted to do to Jenny.”

“It wasna only that. She had to bury our father alone, had to look after the estate all by herself for years because I was too cowardly and weak to--”

“That’s enough of that kind of talk, James Fraser.” My stern interruption silenced him, and I was sure he’d heard the frustration lacing my tone. “You did the best you could under the circumstances, and if anyone is to blame, it’s Black Jack Bloody Randall. You’re not weak or a failure, and I don’t want to hear you talk about yourself that way.”

More often of late, I’d found myself speaking my thoughts with remarkably little hesitation or concern over how they might be received. But where most men of this era would be put off by such freely--and in my case, often colorfully--expressed opinions, Jamie seemed to relish in them. Even now, there was a glint of pride in his eyes as he surrendered to my brief tirade.

“I’m verra sorry, Sassenach,” he replied with an affectionate smile. “I’ll endeavor to remember that.”

“See that you do.”

We were each leaning forward as though drawn by the gravity of the other, and my gaze dropped to his lips. Unfortunately, the moment was interrupted as a pointed throat-clearing sounded from the doorway, and we both turned to see Murtagh striding into the room with his usual expression of surly resignation.

A few days ago, the three of us had spent nearly two hours in this room, and Jamie and I had let Murtagh in on the secret of my origins. We’d started with the old ballads about the standing stones and ended with the hardship the Scots would soon be facing. The poor man had been stunned, of course, and even a little angry with Jamie for not having told him sooner.

“‘Tis utter madness, a bhalaich,” he’d muttered grumpily before heaving a sigh of resignation. “But if ye can believe it, I s’pose I can as well. I trust yer judgment. And you…” Murtagh had turned to stare at me for a long moment as though he were seeing me for the first time. “The day I found ye on the faerie hill is the day ye traveled?”

“Yes. Only minutes after, in fact.”

“Hmphf. Ye didna waste time findin’ trouble, lass. How is it that ye… Ye hold the knowledge o’ what’s to come for the next two hundred years. How can ye bear the weight of it?”

I’d been taken aback by his question as well as the insight behind it, never having known Murtagh to be particularly sensitive to such things.

“Well… To me, it’s simply history. It’s no different than how you would look at the two hundred years that came before now.”

“Perhaps, but does it no’ frighten ye? To ken what ye ken?”

“Sometimes,” I’d admitted. “But I suppose I’m more frightened by what I can’t see coming.”

Murtagh was anxious to head back to Scotland on his own, having no particular fondness for Paris. He’d come along only to see us settled in Jared Fraser’s household and help to strategize the clearing of Jamie’s name. It was likely to be at least a couple of months before we saw Murtagh again.

In addition to delivering the letter to Jenny and checking on the state of affairs at Lallybroch, he would be attempting to contact a man named Adam Foster, a friend of Jamie’s from his time at school in Paris. Foster was the heir to a small estate in Northumberland and had connections that might prove useful when it came to unearthing valuable information about Jack Randall. At this point, we were looking for anything and everything that could give us leverage against the man.

Murtagh had departed with a hug for Jamie and even a familial kiss on the cheek for me, and once I was alone again with my husband, I voiced my curiosity about his old school friend.

“Do you really think he’ll be able to help?”

“I certainly hope so. At the moment, Adam’s the best chance I’ve got. I reckon he’ll want to start wi’ Sandringham, since we already suspect he and Randall are in some kind of collaboration together. ‘Tis the best lead we have at the moment.”

I hummed softly and saw his lips quirk in amusement. He’d pointed out that I hummed in much the same way I often accused the Scots of making grunting noises that could hold a variety of meanings.

“How exactly did you become friends with an English lord?” I lifted one brow teasingly, and he laughed out loud.

“He’s no’ a lord and willna inherit a title, Sassenach. Only land and a few tenants. He’s about my age and came to study in Paris because his mother is French, ye see. She wanted him to spend some time wi’ her kin and so on. Northumberland shares a border wi’ Scotland, of course, and Adam has some Scots in his family as well. Even a few Jacobites among them, if I recall, so Adam holds no prejudice against the Scots.”

Jamie went on to explain that he and Adam had bonded over their mutual dislike for their theology professor. The man had been quite open about his prejudice against the French Jewish community and refused to allow discussion of anything that didn’t have the Pope’s stamp of approval.

“I canna say I’ve ever felt hatred for anyone simply because they didna share my beliefs. The whole notion of such a thing is ridiculous, for if I’d been born into a Jewish family, I’d no doubt be just as convinced that the Jews have the right ideas and ‘tis the Christians who have it wrong. I wasna but eighteen at the time, and even then, I understood that logic. What sense did it make to despise someone for the life they were born into?”

“I know exactly what you mean,” I replied sadly. “The Jewish people have a long history of oppression and suffering, and I’m sorry to say it still continues in my time.”

My eyes unfocused for a moment as I contemplated the mass genocide Hitler had perpetrated against the European and Russian Jews. As of the time I’d gone through the stones, there hadn’t been much information made public about what had happened, but I’d read more than one of Frank’s intelligence reports on the matter. The description of what the liberating armies had found were unspeakably horrifying.

Jamie squeezed my hand to reclaim my attention, and I pursed my lips apologetically.

“I’ll never understand how human beings can treat one another with such cruelty and hatred.”

“Aye. I hardly think the Almighty would approve of the atrocities committed in His name. That was one of the many things Adam and I agreed upon. We remained friends during our time at school and have exchanged letters a few times in the years since. He understands I canna go home, but he doesna ken the full story. Or at least, he didna ken it until recently. If he’s home now, he’ll have gotten the letter I sent before we left Scotland.”

“And he’ll be able to investigate Randall or Sandringham without drawing suspicion? Randall is from Sussex, and I believe Sandringham’s primary estate is in that area as well. Northumberland is on the opposite end of the country.”

“Aye, I ken. But he still travels back and forth to France, so makin’ a stop in that area might no’ be too much trouble. And if nothin’ else, perhaps one of his connections will have some information. Adam’s near enough the only Sassenach I trust. ‘Cept you,” he added with a grin, leaning forward to brush his lips over mine.

“Hmm,” I sighed, enjoying the kiss before looking up at him with a grin of my own. “Well, this Sassenach is hungry. And as I recall, you did promise to keep me fed.”

Jamie and I enjoyed a quiet dinner in Jared’s elegant dining room, the conversation turning to slightly more mundane topics. 

He’d been working with Jared in his wine business, mostly in a clerical capacity, but he’d had success in making a sale or two when the occasion arose. His cousin had seized upon the idea of enlisting my help in the marketing of his product. By hosting dinners and allowing the guests to sample the wine before they purchased, sales tended to be much better. As Jared had no wife and no knack for such entertainments, the duties of hostess were left to me. In exchange, he’d opened his home to us and provided the material trappings we would need in order to mingle with the French aristocracy.

As Jamie and I had agreed before coming to France, he’d been keeping well away from anything to do with the Rising. Not the easiest thing to do when his cousin was a professed Jacobite himself. Many of Jared’s acquaintances were of the same ilk, so it was tricky at times. Jamie had wasted no time in proclaiming himself to be a neutral party, not inclined to support or denounce either side. 

“I stay out of politics as best I can, cousin,” he’d told Jared upon our arrival. “Personally, I dinna believe my lot in life will be altered by havin’ a different royal arse sittin’ on the throne.”

It had been clear that Jared had hoped for a different response to his question about Jamie’s loyalties, but he didn’t seem to hold it against him. For Jared and his compatriots, being a Jacobite was something to be proud of, which I supposed was all well and good when they didn’t live in a place where such a thing could get them hanged.

Since arriving in Paris over two months ago, Jamie and I had formed a nightly habit of spending long hours in conversation even after our meal was finished. For two people with such different backgrounds, we got on extraordinarily well. We tended to continue our discussions well into the night or at least until activities of a more intimate nature took over. 

Tonight, unfortunately, our routine was disturbed by an unexpected arrival. Jamie and I looked up to see one of the servants hovering in the doorway.

“Pardonnez-moi, monsieur et madame. There is someone here to see you, madame. A young boy. He is in the foyer.”

“Thank you, Suzette.”

As I strode from the dining room, I glanced at the nearby clock with a frown, for it was well past the appropriate hour for callers. I nodded in approval when Jamie followed only a few paces behind me. I could think of only one boy who knew where I lived and wouldn’t care about propriety. If he’d gotten himself into trouble, Jamie’s presence would be helpful.

Sure enough, when I rounded the corner, I saw the apothecary’s young apprentice shuffling his feet anxiously across the parquet floor. Though he spoke some English, I addressed him in his native language, knowing Jamie would have no trouble keeping up.

“Claudel? Are you alright?” 

I looked him over quickly, noting the urgency in his large brown eyes. His dark curls were even messier than mine, and his cherubic face was flushed as though he’d run the whole way here.

“Oui, milady! But you must come! Master Raymond sent me for you.” 

“Now? What’s happened?” 

“Someone is gravely injured. A gentleman, but the man will not tell anyone his name,” he explained. His accent was thick, but he enunciated each word with practiced skill.

“If it’s serious, he should go to L’hopital.”

“Oui, maitre said the same, but the man refused to go.”

Sighing in resignation, I sent Suzette up to the bedroom to retrieve my medicine kit and winced apologetically toward Jamie.

“I’m sure it won’t talk long.”

“I’m going with ye, Sassenach. ‘Tis no’ safe for ye to be out alone at this hour, even in the carriage.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” 

As we donned our cloaks, I made the introductions, though Jamie had heard a little about Claudel already. I’d been spending most of my free time at the apothecary since shortly after our arrival in Paris. The proprietor and I had taken an instant liking to one another, and he’d insisted I put my healing skills to work. He’d been allowing me to treat patients in the parlor above his shop, and it felt wonderful to be of use, doing what I loved. To my surprise, it hadn’t taken long to gain a positive reputation among the locals.

To call Master Raymond an odd man was a bit of an understatement, but I found his company to be pleasantly comfortable and intriguing. We had spent many an hour conversing over herbal remedies, botany, zoology, and even archaeology. He was knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects, but what interested me the most were his occasional cryptic comments about things of a historical nature.

“I’m fascinated by things… not of this time,” he’d once said, assessing me with a peculiar gleam in his eyes. A tingle of intuition had beckoned me to ask if he knew anything about time travel, but I still hadn’t worked up the courage to do so.

When the coachman pulled the carriage into the courtyard, we all climbed in. I sat next to my husband with a bemused smile for the loquacious boy on the opposite seat. Claudel was full of questions for Jamie, mostly about his home in Scotland and, to my horror, how agreeable Jamie might be to letting him sample some of Jared’s wine. 

“Pour mon maître, bien sûr.”

Jamie had met the old apothecary only once since Claire had begun spending time in his shop, but he recognized the man immediately when they arrived. Raymond’s frog-like countenance slackened in relief, and he greeted them with a grateful bow.

“I beg your pardon for troubling you at this hour, Madonna. The man was conscious when he and his escort arrived, but he refused to be directed to L’hopital. His companion insisted I send for you.”

“Companion?” Claire frowned as she shrugged out of her cloak and traded it for an apron she kept on a hook near the storeroom. 

“A young woman. They’ve given no names, but their dress is that of nobility. He’s on the cot in the storeroom, but she’s in my study,” Raymond explained, gesturing to the polished door concealing his private office. 

“You said he was conscious. Did you give him something?”

“I’m decocting a good dose of chelidonium, but he fainted not long after they arrived. From the pain, I presume. He has an open fracture to his left arm.” The adults in the room winced in commiseration. “I staunched the bleeding, but I fear setting bones is not one of my particular talents.”

Claire turned to Jamie, but he held up a hand of reassurance.

“Take your time, mo ghraidh. The lad and I will wait outside.”

“That’s a good idea. Thank you.”

He smiled at the gratitude in her eyes as he ushered young Claudel back out the door. She’d have an easier time of it without the lad underfoot. Jamie had heard about him from Claire, but she’d never mentioned the boy’s open adoration for her. If Claudel were ten years older, he’d likely be trying to charm his way under her skirts. As it was, he seemed to be more interested in the sort of approval and praise a mother might give a son.

“Have ye worked here long, lad?”

“A few years, milord. Maitre Raymond is interesting and very kind. I lived at Maison Elise, and he visited to help heal one of the girls. I assisted him, and he offered to make me his apprentice.”

“Maison Elise?” Jamie inquired.

“It is a brothel.”

“Ah. Ye were born there, I take it?”

“Oui. My mother died giving birth to me. I lived there until I was eight, when I met Raymond. Now, I sleep in one of the storerooms, and he always makes sure I have enough to eat. He is very kind. And milady, too. She is the smartest woman in the world!”

“Aye, that she is, lad,” Jamie chuckled. 

Claudel was an engaging child with an infectious smile, and despite Jamie’s lack of experience with children, he found himself warming to the lad quickly. The two of them leaned against the stone facade of the shop, Claudel mimicking Jamie’s pose.

“Was it your mother who named ye Claudel?”

“I do not know,” the boy shrugged. “I never asked Madame Elise. I do not have a surname because no one knew my mother’s last name. I was not the only child at the brothel, but the others were usually sent to an orphanage. The girls took a liking to me, though.”

Jamie absorbed the information with a mixture of admiration and pity for the boy. At only ten years old, he’d seen more of the world’s ugliness than any child should. Though Jamie had never visited a brothel himself, he’d heard more than enough stories. Claudel’s comment that he hadn’t been the only child there implied that he and the other children were employed by the brothel as well as sheltered by it. The thought made his heart ache for the boy, and Jamie felt his respect for Master Raymond increase.

Any man who could find space in his life for someone like Claudel was a man of honor. And anyone who held his Sassenach in such high esteem would always have his approval.

Despite Claudel’s earlier description of the injured man as a gentleman, I was taken aback by the patient’s fine clothing. Jared had graciously funded new aristocratic wardrobes for both me and Jamie, but this stranger’s attire was ostentatious enough for the royal court. 

Of course, the garish colors and meticulously detailed trimming were quite ruined by all the blood, which had flowed not only from his fractured arm but from his head as well. The man’s powdered white wig had come off, revealing unkempt, sand-colored hair that was also matted with blood. I wondered at his age, noting his slight stature and complete lack of facial hair. He couldn’t have been much older than twenty, if that. 

I assessed the head wound first, checking his pupillary responses and determining that it wasn’t as serious as the blood loss from the compound fracture. Fortunately, the man remained unconscious as I set the fracture, cleaned and closed the wound, and splinted the arm to a length of wood. I then returned my attention to the head wound, which would require a few stitches as well.

The patient regained consciousness as I was approaching him with a needle and thread, and he jerked violently away from me. His boyish features were twisted in pain and confusion, and he uttered a rather impressive string of curses in three languages I recognized. 

“Easy, now, monsieur. I need you to stay calm,” I implored, my hands on his shoulders to steady him. The last thing I needed was for him to fall onto the arm I’d just set. His bleary eyes focused upon me with some effort.

“My apologies, madame.”

“It’s alright. I’m a healer. I’ve taken care of your arm, but I need to see to your head wound. It needs a few stitches.”

He regarded me with a bewildered expression and was clearly in a great deal of pain. Raymond appeared at my side with a tonic for that, but I picked up on the familiar color and scent of the liquid and knew it would likely put the injured man to sleep. I shook my head and asked him to hold off a moment.

“Sir, can you tell me how you were injured?”

“That’s my business,” he groaned, his words slurring. I rolled my eyes and gave him a stern frown.

“You needn’t fear for your privacy. I simply need to know how the injuries occurred so that I may tend them properly.”

“I… I fell from a second-story balcony,” he admitted reluctantly. 

If he weren’t so pale from the blood loss, I was sure he’d have blushed. It was a wonder his injuries weren’t more severe, and I assessed his eyes again to check that he was truly lucid.

“Can you tell me what day it is?”

“Tuesday. Or perhaps Wednesday now.”

“Very nearly,” I replied, passing a candlestick back and forth in front of his face as I watched his pupils. “Who is the current pope?”

“Benedict the Fourteenth.”

“And your name?”

“Charles Edward Stuart.”

I faltered and locked eyes with Raymond, who looked only slightly less surprised than I felt. He shrugged helplessly, and my attention reverted to the patient. I sincerely hoped the man was delirious with pain, because the last thing I wanted was for my path--or my husband’s--to become entwined with that of Bonny Prince Charlie. 

I watched him shrewdly for a moment and determined that he did indeed seem to be lucid. Before I could think better of it, I employed one of Jamie’s favorite Gaelic curses under my breath. The phrase drew a chuckle from Raymond and a curious frown from the patient.

“Are you Scottish, madame?” Charles asked, grunting through his pain.

“Yes, Your Grace, by marriage. My name is Claire Fraser. I apologize for my poor manners, but I need to ask a few more questions.” I paused for him to give a slight nod. “How old are you?”

“Two and twenty.”

“Are you experiencing any dizziness or lightheadedness?”


“Is your vision blurred?”


“Any nausea?”


I continued through my list of questions, having long since adapted the routine for this century. The people of this time had no notion of food or drug allergies and did not typically concern themselves with moderating their alcohol intake.

Once I’d administered Raymond’s decoction for pain relief, the prince slipped into unconsciousness once again, and I made quick work of closing and bandaging his head wound. I stood, trembling slightly with anxiety and began to tidy up the bloodied linens. Raymond waved me away.

“I’ll take care of this, Madonna. Thank you for your assistance.”

I nodded shakily and left the room, intent on finding Jamie. 

There was a finely dressed woman pacing the floor of the shop, apparently having abandoned the seclusion of Raymond’s study. She turned toward me with an anxious expression, and even in the relative darkness, I could tell she was a beautiful young woman. She too was dressed in the opulent style of the French court, but her gown was less absurd than some I’d seen on other ladies of the aristocracy.

“Is he alright? I could not stand to be in the room while he was bleeding everywhere and with his bone sticking out like that and--”

“He’s resting now, but he’ll recover in time,” I assured her, startled when the flustered creature rushed forward to embrace me.

“Thank you! Oh, forgive me…” She backed away and dropped into a curtsy. “I am Louise de la Tour de Rohan.”

“Claire Fraser,” I replied, mirroring her movement. 

“Ah. My servant told me we would find a healer here and the young boy went to fetch you. You are English, yes? He called you a lady…” Louise trailed off awkwardly, eyeing my simple but elegant dress as though silently estimating my rank. 

Bloody hell.

“Yes, I’m Lady Broch Tuarach. My husband is a Scottish laird.” To my dismay, her features lit up with curiosity.

“How did you come to be a healer? And in a place such as this?”

“It’s a long story. Your… friend. He told me he was injured in a fall from a balcony?”

“Oui. Mine, I’m afraid,” she sighed, pressing her hand to her bosom theatrically. “I trust you will not repeat the information as gossip. Charles’ position is precarious, as is my own.”

“Of course. As a physician, privacy and discretion are two things I take very seriously.”

I gave her a brief explanation of the man’s injuries and instructions for his continued care, though I very much doubted she would be the one sitting by his bedside. As Charles Stuart was most certainly not this woman’s husband, I could only assume he’d found himself tumbling from her balcony under rather scandalous circumstances.

Typically, I would’ve offered to provide follow-up care myself or at least see him safely to a more permanent bed, but I wanted to get myself and my husband away from the prince sooner rather than later. He could follow up with his personal physician if the need arose.

Louise thanked me again, and I made my escape, finding Jamie and Claudel outside. We bid the boy a quick farewell before he scampered back inside, no doubt keen to be involved in the drama. Jamie helped me into the carriage and maintained his hold on my hand as we began to move.

“What is it, Sassenach? Are ye well?”

“Yes, I’ll be fine,” I sighed, not surprised that he’d picked up on my anxiety.

“Were ye able to treat the man’s wounds?”

“Yes… But you’ll never believe who he was.”

A/N: Lots going on in this one! I actually hadn't intended to include BPC in this story at all, but as I was outlining that last scene, he just slipped right in there. I liked it, so I kept it. As for the rest, those of you wondering who the hell Adam Foster is haven't lost your minds. He's an original character. And since Jamie has zero intention of frequenting any brothels, I needed to bring Fergus (Claudel) in by other means. Hope you enjoyed it!

Chapter Text

As shocking as it had been to come face to face with Charles Stuart, finding Louise de la Tour in Jared’s drawing room several days later was almost equally surprising. She greeted me with the warmth of an old friend, and I covered my awkwardness with a nervous smile.

“I hope you don’t mind the call, Lady Broch Tuarach. I simply wished to thank you properly for your help as well as your discretion.”

“Not at all. And please, call me Claire.”

“Then you must call me Louise. Such an interesting way to make an acquaintance, wouldn’t you say?” she asked with a girlish giggle. My answering smile felt more natural.

“Indeed. I hope your friend is recovering well.”

“My lover is doing quite well, though like most men when they are injured or sick, he does carry on so.” We shared a chuckle, and my curiosity got the better of me.

“If I may ask… How did he come to fall from your balcony?”

“We were enjoying each other’s company, and my husband came home early. Fortunately, the fool was quite gone with drink and noticed nothing, even when I left for several hours to take Charles to the apothecary. When I got home, my husband hadn’t moved from where I left him, so I doubt he suspects anything. He’s too absorbed in his own affaires de coeur to pay any thought to mine.”

She waved a hand almost flippantly as though to dismiss her husband’s infidelity as easily as she did her own. Still, as the conversation moved to other topics, I found myself relaxing in her presence. Louise, for all her poor life choices and aristocratic flamboyance, was a likeable woman, and the two of us got along surprisingly well. 

“I am hosting a small dinner party next Wednesday, Claire, and I insist you come! Your husband as well, if you like. And if not,” she added with a devious grin, “I shall be happy to introduce you to several handsome gentlemen in his absence.”

“Uh, no, I’m sure Jamie would prefer we attend together, as would I. I’ll speak to him about it, but I’m sure we can arrange to be there.”


Louise wrote her address on a piece of parchment and flounced out of the townhouse shortly thereafter, her bright floral dress dancing in her wake. I heaved a sigh as I watched her go, wondering what Jamie would think of her invitation. 

“‘Tis no’ a bad idea, Sassenach,” he said with a shrug later that evening. 

We were changing for bed, and he watched me with heavy-lidded eyes as I exchanged my chemise for a satin nightgown the couturière had insisted I purchase. At the time, I’d thought it a bit frivolous, but I had to admit that I enjoyed Jamie’s open appreciation of the garment, particularly as it never seemed to stay on my body for long.

“I did think that perhaps making more acquaintances in Paris might lead to new avenues for clearing your name.”

“Aye. And if nothin’ else, I might sell a few casks of wine.”

I smiled in agreement and bent to retrieve my discarded clothing from the floor, but an unexpected wave of nausea protested the movement. I stilled and pressed the back of my hand to my mouth for a moment as I waited for it to pass. I’d yet to determine what it was about my diet that my stomach had recently decided to take issue with, as the mild queasiness seemed to trouble me no matter what I ate.

“Are ye alright, mo nighean donn?” Jamie’s gaze was more shrewd now as he moved to help me.

“Yes, just a little sick to my stomach. It’s sure to pass soon.”

He took the garments from my hand and tossed them over the back of the chaise. I let him tuck me into bed, but I didn’t miss the slight twinkle in his eyes or the smile playing at his mouth.

“What are you smirking about? I didn’t find your seasickness amusing.”

“Och, no, ‘tis only... Can ye no’ think of anythin’ that might be troublin’ your wame?”

“I don’t think so,” I frowned, puzzled. “I’m certain I haven’t come into contact with any patients who were suffering from nausea or vomiting. Apart from the prince and his concussion, of course. And the woman--”

The proverbial gears in my mind ground to a halt and then spun wildly out of control. Only yesterday, I’d counseled a woman who was in the early stages of pregnancy, advising her on the best remedies for morning sickness.

“It can’t be,” I murmured, my eyes widening as they snapped back to my husband’s smiling face. “What’s the date?”

“The fourth of October.” As I searched my memory for the date of my last menstrual cycle, Jamie moved one hand to rest on my waist, pulling me toward him on the bed. As though reading my mind, he said, “You’ve not had your courses in six weeks, mo chridhe.”

“But I…”

My ears felt suddenly full, as though stuffed with heavy cotton, and a chill settled over my skin. After a moment, Jamie seemed to grow nervous, and his smile faltered.

“Are ye alright? Are ye no’ happy?”

The question broke through my shock. My answering smile was so wide my cheeks ached, and my eyes stung with unshed tears.

“Of course I am! I just didn’t think…”


“I thought I might be barren. Because I was never able to conceive with…” Jamie’s eyes darkened perceptibly at my skirted mention of Frank. “Sorry.”

“Nay, ‘tis alright. No’ that I wouldna like verra much to kill the man wi’ my bare hands, but I rarely think of him lately. You’ve changed so much since ye got away from him, since the day we met… I almost wouldna believe ye to be the same person, had I not been here to witness it myself. But did ye no’ think perhaps it wasna you who was barren?”

“That would’ve served him right,” I snorted, my smile returning as I laid my hand over his. Over our baby. 

“Or perhaps God was simply biding his time because He kent ye belonged to me.”

My grin widened, and I leaned in to kiss him deeply. He cradled me in his arms, moving his fingers through my hair as a hum of contentment resonated from his chest. If I didn’t know better, I might’ve thought he was purring.

“Are you happy?”

“Of course, mo ghraidh. I suspected it last week, but I didna want to get your hopes up by suggesting it, in case I was mistaken.”

“It’s still very early,” I agreed warily. “Perhaps we should hold off on our celebrations until I’m further along.”

“If ye like, though I dinna think ‘tis necessary. But one thing is certain, in light of this development.”

“What’s that?”

“I must redouble my efforts to secure a pardon. Lallybroch will be our son’s birthright, and I’d no’ have him displaced because of his father’s actions.” 

“You did nothing wrong,” I reminded him with a sad smile. “Any honorable man with your courage would’ve acted precisely as you did if his sister were threatened. Your only crime was getting on the wrong side of Jack Randall, and that’s hardly your fault.”

“Aye, well, it comes to the same thing. I’ll no’ let either of ye down, Sassenach.”

His eyes were intense as they locked with mine, and I stroked his stubbled cheek, thinking of the paths that had brought us here as well as the one that lay ahead. He was the light that had brought me out of the darkness, and I’d never stop being thankful for his presence in my life. 

“I love you, Jamie.”

“And I you, mo chridhe.”

“Let’s let tomorrow sort itself out, shall we? I want to focus on today.”

“Aye,” he grinned, kissing me soundly as his free hand moved toward the hem of my nightgown. “But tonight, I intend to make love to my wife until she begs for mercy.”

And he proceeded to do just that.

The following Wednesday found us in Louise de la Tour’s stately drawing room, surrounded by the dozen or so men and women she had deemed worthy of an invitation to her ‘small’ dinner party. 

Though I’d been forced to host a few informal gatherings for Jared’s merchant clientele, it hadn’t quite prepared me for rubbing elbows with the upper echelons of Parisian nobility. Even in a relatively modest setting such as this, being in their presence was overwhelming. They congregated in little clusters of tittering conversation and vibrant colors, reminding me forcibly of noisy tropical birds.

I lost track of the names quickly, and as the evening wore on, I began to mentally refer to them according to their appearances. A bit uncharitable of me, I’ll admit, but it kept my mind off my uneasy stomach and the ridiculous creatures eyeing my husband. 

The woman with the absurd number of feather plumes cascading from the back of her hair was dubbed Madame Peacock. I gathered she was married to Walrus Face, an unfortunate gentleman who seemed to carry much of his excess padding in jowls that sagged to his collarbone.

There was an ostentatious young man whose visage was so over-powdered that he brought back memories of a mime I’d once spotted in the Paris of my own time. Monsieur Mime was an outrageous flirt, but despite being a bachelor of marrying age, he focused only on the married ladies amongst the group. The eligible women might as well have been invisible to him. I might have expected Jamie to be put off by some of his comments, but his mannerisms were so exaggerated and effeminate that I began to suspect Monsieur Mime may not even have been attracted to women. His theatrics were a bit wearisome and irritating after a while, but I couldn’t help feeling empathy for his circumstances. It was undoubtedly a difficult existence.

Yet another of the ladies shared Monsieur Mime’s ineptitude with cosmetics, but this one had rouged her cheeks so darkly they were nearly the color of raw steak. Beef Cheeks seemed to dislike me on sight, and she made no effort to conceal her feelings.

“Do you not think it unbecoming of a woman to behave like a man?”

Her challenging remark was spoken quite loudly across the dinner table, and several conversations around me came to an abrupt stop. I fought the urge to glance at the gawking audience and instead maintained a cool gaze at the woman. Louise had introduced me as a healer and explained that we’d crossed paths at a local apothecary. It had been I who had explained that I often treated patients there in my spare time, and I was now wishing I’d simply kept my mouth shut.

“I’m not entirely sure to what you’re referring, madame,” I replied evenly. Beef Cheeks sneered.

“It is highly improper for a lady of noble birth to demean herself by associating with the common people. A lady ought be concerned with more refined matters, such as managing her household and providing her husband with heirs.”

“I believe that if one has the ability to help, then one also has the duty. I can assure you I’ve never felt demeaned in the slightest by helping others.”

“But how can you possibly be qualified to help them? They should see a doctor if they are sick, not a woman pretending to be one,” she scoffed, turning her focus on Jamie. “Laird Broch Tuarach, do you not object to your wife’s behavior?”

Jamie gripped my hand tightly beneath the table as though he could feel my anger burning hotter by the second.

“On the contrary, madame, I am quite proud of my wife’s intellect as well as her healing skills,” he answered succinctly. His tone discouraged contradiction, but Beef Cheeks ignored it.

Skills, indeed. Some would call it witchcraft.”

Perhaps a better name for her would be Bitter Bitch.

The atmosphere around the table had chilled perceptibly at her comment. It was a dangerous implication in France, just as it had been in Scotland. The people here did not harbor the same fear-driven mob mentality, but the French king had gone to great lengths to purge his city of the occult. Louise cleared her throat awkwardly and hurried to smooth things over.

“Well, if Lady Broch Tuarach is a witch, then she is a benevolent one. La Dame Blanche, oui?”

My smile felt stiff on my face as the others in the party seized upon the term and praised both my assumed abilities and Louise’s cleverness for having introduced them to such an interesting person as myself. Monsieur Mime found it particularly enchanting, and this time, Jamie did feel the need to extract me from the painted man’s grasp.

When at last we were in the carriage and headed home, I allowed myself to relax slightly. My muscles ached with the prolonged tension and the unforgiving nature of a corset.

“Of all the ridiculous nonsense,” I huffed, glaring out the window. “If that nasty woman hadn’t been out of my arm’s reach, I’d probably have assaulted her.”

“Why do ye think I was holdin’ your hand so tight, Sassenach? Her face was red enough already.”

“Yes.” I laughed at the reminder and immediately felt lighter. “I was mentally referring to her as Beef Cheeks.” 

Jamie’s booming laugh joined my own, and we shared a few moments of mirth at the horrid woman’s expense. He eventually wrapped his arm around my shoulders and drew me against his side, kissing the top of my head as our laughter faded.

“I canna believe the nerve of the woman. ‘Tis dangerous to say such a thing, even in jest, and ye ken she was serious about it.”

“I know. I’m not sure Louise helped matters.”

“La Dame Blanche,” he murmured with a quiet Scottish noise. “Meant to be a compliment to ye, I’m sure, but I’ll wager she didna do ye any favors.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ… You know, after I realized I’d fallen through time, I worried about being accused of witchcraft. Some things that are thought to be magic here are merely science in my time. But I didn’t think I’d have to worry about it so much after we left Scotland.”

“Aye, the Scots are a superstitious lot.”

“In my time as well, but no one gets burned at the stake for being on the wrong end of someone’s superstitions.”

“Well, I’m afraid that even in France, things can get out of hand when folks are scared. But I’ll keep ye safe.” He paused to kiss my hair again, inhaling my scent greedily. “Are ye feelin’ well, though? Ye looked a wee bit green at times.”

“Just a wee bit,” I mimicked his accent with a grin. “All that perfume and powder. It’s like I can smell everything these days, and none of it smells particularly good. Unfortunately, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.”

Jamie crooned soft Gaelic words of comfort that no longer sounded foreign to my ears. Despite having left Scotland, I hadn’t given up my efforts to learn the language. I closed my eyes and let his presence soothe me as the carriage rocked over the cobbled streets.

“Tha gaol agam ort, mo Sorcha,” he whispered, and I smiled against his chest.

“I love you too.”

A/N: As you can see, I went with showverse Louise rather than bookverse Louise. I needed her to be the type to overshare and overstep. At least I don't have her parading around with her honeypot hanging out. lol. Thank you for reading!

Chapter Text

Much to my disbelief and dismay, the weeks following Louise’s dinner party saw more than one aristocrat waltzing into the apothecary in search of La Dame Blanche. The reputation I’d begun to build prior to meeting Louise had expanded immensely, thanks to the clever nickname and the nature of gossip. No matter how many times I denied any skills or knowledge beyond that of the medicinal, neither the name nor the attached notoriety seemed likely to disappear.

“Take care, Madonna, and tread carefully,” Master Raymond warned me one afternoon near the end of October. “While the king encourages scientific pursuits, he has a strong dislike of heresy.”

“Science as deemed appropriate by the Church, then,” I grumbled with a discreet roll of my eyes.

“I’m afraid so. I myself have been forced from the city more than once by the gens d’armes. I would so hate to see you caught up in a situation you cannot escape.”

“I’ll be careful, but I highly doubt the king will ever know my name, much less have cause to believe me a witch,” I assured him, hoping to ease the worry lines from his forehead. “I couldn’t possibly be worth the king’s time.”

Raymond looked unconvinced, but he sighed in resignation and let the matter go, turning the discussion to professional matters. We worked amicably, grinding and storing herbs to replenish his supplies that had been depleted over the course of business the previous day. Conversations with Raymond tended to flow easily, each of us sharing our knowledge with the other and theorizing new methods of medicine.

The entry bell tinkled as the door swung inward, revealing a rosy-cheeked Claudel. He was all but strutting with pride as he crossed the shop and held out a scroll of parchment.

“A message from milord,” he beamed. 

My answering smile widened as I spotted the white aster bloom bound to the scroll with ribbon. Had he remembered that it was identical to the ones I’d worn in my hair on our wedding day? Most men wouldn’t have even noticed such a trivial thing, but Jamie probably had. The man missed nothing.

“Thank you, Claudel.”

Fergus, milady.”

“Fergus?” I echoed, frowning slightly in confusion.

“Oui. Milord and I agreed that Claudel was too flowery for a man, so from now on, I shall be called Fergus. Milord says a strong, Scottish name will help me grow into a strong man, like him.”

The boy’s grin was brighter than I’d ever seen it, and I couldn’t help but smile back, amused by his obvious hero worship of my husband as well as the name change. 

“Well, in that case… Thank you, Fergus.

Leave it to Jamie to give the charming French boy a Scottish name. I chuckled and unfurled the scroll as I watched him skip behind the counter and into the storeroom. 

“Your husband will be a good influence on the boy,” Raymond commented with a smile of his own.

“Or they’ll only get into worse mischief as a team.”

Jamie’s missive turned out to be a warning not to worry over his absence when I returned to the townhouse in a few hours time. His rather cryptic words indicated he was meeting someone who might be able to ‘help our investigation along,’ and I scoffed lightly at the instruction not to worry or wait up for his return. I would do both regardless of what he said, and he knew that perfectly well. It wasn’t likely to be dangerous, but I did wish Murtagh were here to accompany him. I had a strong suspicion my husband’s godfather had saved his life more than once over the last few years.

Two hours and five patients later, Jared’s coachman arrived to take me home, and I bade a quick farewell to my friends.

“Did Jamie not take the carriage to his meeting, Fernand?” I asked as the coachman assisted me up the step.

“Oui, madame, but he sent me to retrieve you and see you safely home. I am then to return and wait for his business to be concluded.”

“Good, thank you.”

I toyed with the idea of insisting Fernand take me with him to wait for Jamie, but even the relative safety and privacy of the carriage might not have been enough protection if the destination was in a rough part of town. I’d never hear the end of it from Jamie for taking a risk like that, especially now that I was pregnant.

The evening passed in slow silence. Since Jared was, as usual, attending a social engagement of some sort, I opted to eat dinner upstairs rather than alone in the dining room. I ate sparingly, taking bites here and there between updating my journal with the day’s patient records and watching the minutes tick by on the clock. Though I would soon be nearing the end of my first trimester, my appetite was still rather poor, and I’d found that smaller and more frequent meals tended to help a little.

It was after ten when Jamie finally returned, and I was relieved to see he looked perfectly well. He sighed in disapproval to see me still awake.

“S’pose I didna really expect ye to listen when I told ye no’ to wait up.”

“Smart man. What happened? Who were you meeting?”

He chuckled and began to talk as he undressed, kicking off his shoes near the wardrobe.

“Adam was finally able to pass along some new information about Randall.”

“He came to Paris?”

“Nay, but he sent someone he trusts to be discreet. Here,” he paused, fishing a few pieces of paper from the pocket of his waistcoat before discarding it as well. “Lot of information, so I thought it best to write down what I could. We’ll need to keep the notes somewhere safe.”

He handed me the pages, and I skimmed through his elegantly penned transcription as he continued.

“Seems the Randall and Marleybone families have been loosely connected for several generations, due to a marriage made in the last century to a lesser Marleybone son. Ironically enough, since the current duke is childless and likely to remain so, the title will pass to someone in that branch of the family.”

“Meaning the next Duke of Sandringham will have Randall blood,” I surmised, my eyes widening at the potential implications, both present and future.

“Aye, though Black Jack isna closely related enough to profit much from it, other than perhaps to boost his social status.”

“Not to mention his ego.”

“I dinna doubt it. The Randalls themselves are landed gentry, but certainly no’ in the same class as Sandringham.”

“Hmm,” I hummed vaguely, allowing my eyes to unfocus as I searched my memory. “I don’t recall the name Marleybone anywhere in Frank’s family tree, but it’s not as though I had the thing completely memorized. And for the most part, he only focused his research on direct ancestors… Actually, I’d venture to say Frank had no idea of the connection.”

“If Sandringham’s known as a Jacobite in your time, perhaps he didna want to acknowledge the connection,” Jamie suggested, his tone reverting to its usual surliness when the subject of Frank arose. Still, he seemed to understand that part of my healing process involved talking a little about my past, and he didn’t discourage me.

“Maybe. But he did like to prattle on about titles and legacies, though there wasn’t much worth bragging about in his own genealogy. A knighthood here and there and a baronetcy that would’ve passed to him eventually. Do you know… Now that I think about it that way, I wonder if the potential he saw in my lineage might have meant more to him than I did. I might even go so far as to believe that was his true motive for wanting to marry me.”

“What do ye mean?”

“There’s a barony on my father’s side that passed to Uncle Lamb. I was his last living relative when he died in the war, so the title would’ve come to me once things were sorted. Had I not vanished into thin air, of course,” I added with a smile. Jamie climbed into bed and reclined against the headboard, watching me with troubled eyes.

“Ye think that’s all ye were to him?”

“Seems to be enough for a lot of people in this day and age, though marriages in my time usually involved more romance. He used to talk about how wonderful it would be when our child would be heir to both an English and a French title. Ironically enough, that branch of the Beauchamp family resides not far from here, though I know nothing of its current members.”

Jamie absorbed it all with a crease between his brows. He took my hand in his and brought it to his lips.

“As if I needed another reason to despise Frank Randall. I dinna understand how anyone could know someone like you and yet place so little value on ye. You’re a gift, Claire.”

I smiled and leaned over to kiss him lightly, saying yet another silent prayer of thanks for him.

“Anyway. What I do know is that Sandringham is or will be a suspected Jacobite, and he’ll die before the Battle of Culloden under mysterious circumstances.”

“Aye, well… I’m no’ sure yet which side Sandringham is playin’ or if ‘tis merely his own, but he definitely has some manner of arrangement with Jack Randall. Adam found proof of that.”


“Aye. Seems Randall found himself in a fair bit of trouble no’ long after he purchased his commission. His disciplinary record--which is suspiciously short, all things considered--mentioned that his honor had been championed by a family friend and faithful servant of the king.”


“It appears he had some hand in Randall’s assignment to Fort William,” he said with a grim nod. I took a moment to process that.

“If that’s the case, I’d wager that as far as the army is concerned, Randall was reprimanded by being assigned to a rather distasteful duty.”

“Distasteful?” he echoed dubiously. “Bein’ given command of an entire fort is distasteful?”

“It is when the fort is in Scotland. Anyone but Randall might have seen it as a reprimand as well, but I imagine he was actually quite pleased with it. It gives him plenty of opportunities to vent his cruelty upon the locals.” Jamie growled deeply at that but didn’t disagree. “How did Adam manage to get his hands on Randall’s disciplinary record?”

“Turns out Adam’s younger brother is stationed at Fort William,” he replied, his irritation giving way to a snort of laughter. I stiffened in surprise and belated recognition.

“Wait… Is his first name Jeremy? Lieutenant Jeremy Foster?”

“Aye,” Jamie frowned. “Ye ken the man?”

“He’s the redcoat officer who caught Dougal harassing me and insisted on taking me to Brockton to meet with Lord Thomas.”

His eyes widened in alarm.

“The day Randall hurt you?!” I nodded, a little baffled by his reaction. He looked ready to bound to his feet and storm out the door. “Dougal said Randall called in a younger soldier to… to help him beat you. Was it Jeremy?”

“No, no,” I corrected him quickly. “No, that was a Corporal Hawkins. By that time, Lieutenant Foster had left the inn with Lord Thomas.”

Jamie relaxed with a sigh, though his residual anger over the events of that day was slow to wane. He rubbed my still-flat belly, apparently needing to ease the ghost of the pain inflicted there or simply to connect with our child. I wove my fingers through his hair in an effort to soothe him.

“Jeremy seemed like a good man. He was genuinely concerned for my welfare and wanted to ensure I was safe. He couldn’t have known what would happen. Randall wasn’t even there when we first arrived.”

“But now he serves under the man at Fort William.”

“Yes, but he can hardly be blamed for that misfortune. Maybe he’ll be able to attest to Randall’s bad behavior. Did he steal the records?”

“I dinna ken for sure. Adam would no’ have admitted such a thing, but it was… subtly implied.”

I hummed thoughtfully for a moment before musing aloud over Sandringham’s motive for wanting Black Jack Randall in the Highlands. 

“What would Sandringham have to gain that’s worth the risk he’s taking by aligning himself with someone like Randall?”

“Depends on whose side he’s really on, Sassenach. I’ve heard him express Jacobite sentiments during his past visit to Leoch. He got Dougal good and riled one evening. Thought my uncle was going to call the clan to war right then and there.”

“So, Sandringham was trying to stir up rebellion among the clans. Sounds to me like he’s playing both sides against the middle.”

“Aye. Bends one knee to King George only to bend the other to the Stuarts. ‘Twas no’ only the MacKenzies who played host to him during his visits. He was acquainted with several prominent clans, last I heard.”

“Including the Frasers of Lovat?”

“I wouldna be surprised. He’ll find support for the Jacobite cause there. As ye said, my grandsire will be up to his neck in treason and eventually lose the head that rests upon it.”

I winced at the mental image but nodded in agreement, following the line of thought to the next step.

“And with Randall in Scotland, Sandringham has a perfectly placed employee. Not only does Randall give the locals even more reason to hate the redcoats, but he’s no doubt reporting back to Sandringham about the political developments. They have a symbiotic relationship, but that doesn’t mean either of them are harmless on their own.”

“Aye. I’ve been trying to decide where we go from here. The information we have isna damning enough to lay any accusations against Randall.”

“So, you think the best way to clear your name is to discredit your accuser?”

“Well, if that deserter is to be believed, Randall himself killed my supposed victim. I’d thought of finding someone else to sponsor a petition of complaint against him, but I dinna think that will be enough against Sandringham’s influence. The British courts have shown time and again that they care verra little about the welfare of the Scots. Nay, ‘twill have to be bigger than Randall’s misdeeds against Scottish subjects. But if I could prove him guilty of treason against the Crown…”

“By virtue of being in Sandringham’s employ? To do that, you’d need to prove Sandringham is a traitor too.”

“Aye, I ken it wouldna be easy,” he admitted with a slight wince. I shook my head, not liking the direction his logic had taken him.

“But going after Sandringham means we’ll be getting closer to the rebellion. I still think we should keep our distance.”

“I ken, Sassenach, but… Adam thinks Sandringham may be coming to Paris soon or might even be here already. If I can get proof of his treachery and Randall’s, I could trade the information for a pardon.”

I sighed ruefully at the earnest expression on his face and couldn’t bring myself to kill the hope in his eyes. 

“We’ll talk about it more tomorrow. It’s late.”

Unfortunately, my mind continued to work through the problem long after Jamie fell asleep. His arms encircled me from behind, and I could feel his steady breaths tickling the bare skin of my shoulder where my nightgown had slipped. But the feeling of safety I always found in his arms wasn’t enough to lull me to sleep tonight. Instead, I continued to ponder the situation.

I remembered Reverend Wakefield saying the duke had died mysteriously right before Culloden, but try as I might, I couldn’t recall any other details he and Frank might have discussed about the man. It was some small comfort to know that by spring of 1746, both of these troublesome men would be dead, since Jack Randall’s life would be snuffed out right alongside the Jacobite rebellion.

Did that mean we were better off simply biding our time? Or did we need to solve the puzzle before then? If we tried to interfere, would we inadvertently change the course of history?

Surely not… I still believed my theory about that to be correct--we wouldn’t be able to change something as significant as the Rising. There were too many elements at play, too many people involved. 

But if one or two key players, namely Sandringham and Randall, were removed from the equation, would the final death toll perhaps be a bit smaller on both sides? Were we morally obligated to try, even if we believed it to be a lost cause?

My hand settled against my lower abdomen, where our child was growing, and I sighed in consternation. In all honesty, I found it a bit odd that this current state of upheaval bothered me so much. I should’ve been accustomed to it by now, since upheaval had been a constant factor in my life for as long as I could remember. Whether I was traveling the world with Uncle Lamb, the British Army, or James Fraser, I’d never had one specific place that felt like home. It hadn’t bothered me then…

But I hadn’t been a mother then, either. Now, there was more to consider than just myself and my husband. I wanted to give our child the stability I never had. He or she would need a home and a sense of security in their future. But the means by which that security might be achieved were unclear.

“Sleep, mo ghraidh,” Jamie quietly urged, his voice startling me from my thoughts. “Ye need your rest, especially now.”

“I know. Preoccupied, I guess.”

“Mmm, that so? Perhaps I should take your mind off your troubles, then?” 

His large hand swept lower over my body, and I smiled into the darkness, opening to his touch. He made love to me with a slow passion, as though he were pouring his very soul into each kiss and caress. My body sang for him, responding as easily as an instrument in the hands of a skilled musician, and we reached our climax as one.

I was asleep before he even pulled away.

A/N: Some details regarding the family histories of the Beauchamps and Randalls were taken from the Outlandish Companion books. Other details, such as the history between Sandringham and Black Jack, were inferred and embellished to suit my purposes. I've not read all of the novellas, so I apologize if I've contradicted some crucial part of canon. Thanks for reading!

Chapter Text

Without the means to take any sort of effective action against Randall or Sandringham at that time, Jamie decided to wait for more information. By the middle of November, Jared had been forced to relocate temporarily to Le Havre, needing to oversee his shipping interests when one of his managers died unexpectedly of smallpox. He’d left the Parisian business affairs to Jamie, hinting that he might end up retiring sooner rather than later now that he had someone capable of managing things in his absence. 

One chilly morning, Claire was struggling with a particularly rough bit of nausea, and Jamie had insisted upon staying with her until it passed. He watched in concern as she finished half a cup of tea only to surrender it all to the chamber pot a few minutes later.

“‘Tis been about three months, mo nighean donn. I thought ye said this would likely pass by now?”

“I know what I said,” she grumbled, wiping her mouth. “Most of the time, it does. Some women never have a moment’s sickness, while others suffer with it for the whole nine months.”

“There’s nothing to be done? Perhaps a different kind of tea?”

“I don’t know. I’ll try again in a little while. Maybe a little toast?”


He ordered their breakfast be sent upstairs, stipulating that they leave the sausage off his plate. The scent of it wasn’t likely to help his wife’s predicament. As happy as he was about the bairn, he hated seeing her this way.

To Jamie’s surprise, there was a packet of letters resting next to the silverware, and he tensed immediately when he recognized his sister’s handwriting.

“What is it?” Claire asked, watching his expression freeze in place. 

“Post from Scotland.”

She sat up a little too quickly and battled another wave of nausea as he carried the tray across the room. He laid it on the bed and held the packet nervously, running his fingers over the elegant script that she could tell had not been penned by Murtagh.

“Well, go on, then,” she encouraged.

Jamie took a breath and opened the packet, finding letters from both Jenny and Murtagh. He chose the latter, saving the more daunting message for last. Claire quirked a brow at his reluctance but said nothing as he began to read. Jamie translated the Gaelic aloud, since they had thus far been focusing their lessons more on speaking than reading or writing.

“He says my letter to Jenny unleashed quite the storm upon Lallybroch. She interrogated him for hours, stoppin’ only to let him get a decent night’s sleep and break his fast the next day before she started right back in again…” He paused, reading ahead a little, and his nervous expression gave way to one of joy. “She married Ian several years ago, and they have a son… Jamie.”

Claire beamed. “That’s wonderful!”

“Aye. He says she’s due to give Ian another bairn before the year is out too! Och, I canna…” he trailed off, his shoulders sagging in relief. “To know she’s well and that Lallybroch is thrivin’ even in my absence takes such a weight from my mind, Sassenach. I owed Ian a great deal already. My life, several times over. And now to learn he’s kept Jenny safe and taken care of Lallybroch as well…”

“I’m so glad to hear it. Surely, her letter won’t be so bad, then?”

Jamie chuckled and nodded, his smile making him seem years younger.

“Aye, I can handle the scoldin’ so long as she doesna hate me for leavin’ her.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t. She named her son after you--that has to be a good sign.”

“Maybe. She might ha’ thought me dead at the time. When Dougal told me she’d given birth to a bairn, he made it sound like the child was Randall’s bastard. I ken well enough what must’ve happened that day when he took her inside, but to hear that she suffered the pain of bearin’ the monster’s child afterward nearly gutted me. ‘Twas my duty to protect her, and I failed in every way.”

“Stop. We’ve been over this. You failed no one. Did Dougal know she’d married Ian? I mean, depending on when that happened, her son could easily be his.”

“I canna say for sure what Dougal did or didn’t ken at the time, but I know Ian. He woulda married her despite everythin’ to spare her the shame of it. I can make sense of Ian givin’ the lad his name, but I dinna understand why Jenny gave him mine.”

“Read her letter. Perhaps it will provide some answers,” she encouraged. 

Jamie nodded resolutely and unfolded the pages bearing Jenny’s handwriting. This one was in English, so he let Claire read over his shoulder.

Dearest Brother,

I would have posted this letter sooner, but in truth, I needed time to settle my thoughts and choose my words wisely. I would apologize for making you wait to hear from me, but you can hardly deny you deserved to wait much longer. Four years and no word, brother? I thought you were dead. Not only do I indeed want to box your ears, but you’ll be lucky if I don’t bedevil your supper when you get home.

I suppose Murtagh has informed you that the estate is doing well enough in your absence and that I married Ian Murray a few years back. You have a nephew who bears your name as well as your stubbornness, and I expect his new sibling will be arriving in a few weeks’ time. We’re all getting along just fine, so stop your fashing over things beyond your control.

Perhaps when you write back, you’ll be so kind as to tell me what the devil Murtagh is going on about, prophesizing some great famine we’ll only survive because we have plenty of potatoes, of all things. It sounds like a story concocted by a loon who’s had too much of Da’s whisky brew. But I told Murtagh, as I’m telling you now, that I trust you both. I’ll see it done.

I would also appreciate hearing more about your wife, since along with obtaining the Sight, you’ve suddenly developed a taste for Sassenach wenches. Or just one, in this case. As the deed is done and it’s clear by your letter that you’re quite besotted with her, I won’t waste good ink and paper complaining about it. But you can be assured I’ll have plenty of questions for this Claire when you finally do make it home. And you had damn well better make it home, James Fraser. I don’t care what we have to do or how long it takes. You’re the laird, and your place is here. 

I confess I’ve spent long hours staring down the road in the hope you would appear there, though I hadn’t even known if you were dead or alive. The relief I felt upon receiving your letter was so staggering that I’ve not the words to convey it properly. Now, I watch the road with true hope and a lighter heart, looking forward to the day you can finally come home to us. 

Love Always,


“While I’m not entirely sure what bedeviling someone’s supper entails, she doesn’t sound like a woman who’s been holding a grudge for four years.”

“Ye likely dinna want to ken what it entails, leastways no’ until your sickness passes. But you’re right--she sounds a great deal better than I expected. I’m proud of her and Ian both for keeping the estate in good order.”

“Well, from everything you’ve told me about Jenny, she seems to take a practical approach to just about everything.”

“Aye, and she’s stubborn as any other Fraser. When she sets her mind to something, she’ll see it done.”

Jamie reread her letter, feeling another surge of relief to know that Ian and Jenny were looking after his home. He knew Ian couldn’t be having an easy time of it, what with the loss of his leg some years ago, but Jenny would be taking care of him. Knowing they had one another set his mind at ease.

“She didna mention wee Jamie’s paternity,” he noted aloud. “No’ that she would put such a thing in writing, but even so… I dinna ken if she’d ever tell me, even if I did have the nerve to ask her outright.” Claire hummed quietly and stroked his back.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter. No matter who fathered him, he’s Jenny’s child too. He’s being raised by two good parents, and that’s what’s important.” 

But even as she spoke, he saw a shadow of doubt flicker in her whisky eyes, and he knew her thoughts had gone to Frank. Nature versus nurture, she called it. Had Frank’s abuses been a product of his upbringing and environment, or had Jack Randall’s darkness been passed down through his descendants? Jamie sighed and settled his hand over hers.

“In any case, there’s nothin’ anyone can do about it, so there’s no sense in worrying, aye?”

“Exactly. Hopefully there are things we can change, and it does sound like your sister is willing to heed your advice.”

“Aye,” he agreed with another smile as he went back to Murtagh’s letter. “That’s something, at least. Though, to be honest, I expected Murtagh to bring Jenny’s letter in person and report back on the state of things in Scotland. He made contact wi’ Adam, but he doesna say much more on the matter. His letter is cryptic enough to make me think he’s still workin’ to gather information, but I’m no’ sure what to make of that.”

“Perhaps he learned something that requires more investigation,” she replied, taking a cautious sip of tea and smiling when her stomach didn’t revolt.

Jamie’s brow furrowed in concern as he watched her climb carefully out of bed and move toward the wardrobe. He sighed when she removed one of her day gowns and began to wash.

“Can ye no’ stay home today, Sassenach? You’ve been ill.”

“I’m pregnant, not ill. And I’ll manage. I promised Louise I’d stop by on my way to the apothecary today.”

He grunted in disapproval but made no further complaint, knowing full well it would get him nowhere. But that was not to say he would’ve changed her even if he could. Her stubbornness seemed further proof that she was always meant to be a Fraser. Meant to be his.

It was but a week later when, thanks to Louise’s eager social influence, they received an official invitation to the French royal court. Jamie stared down at it with open confusion, not sure whether to feel flattered or wary.

“Is it really so shocking?” Claire asked, trying to read his expression. “You are a laird, even if you’re currently displaced. I thought relations between France and Scotland were good right now.”

“Aye, but such things are no’ even extended to every French lord, much less a visiting one from Scotland. I think it more likely this has to do with you. Did ye no’ say Louise told ye they were whisperin’ behind their fans about La Dame Blanche at court?”

She nibbled her bottom lip pensively, weighing their options and her own feelings, but before she could reply, Jamie’s thumb pulled her soft lip from between her teeth. He leaned in to brush his own lips against hers.

“Dinna fash, mo nighean donn. ‘Tis but an invitation--not a summons. We dinna have to go.”

“Maybe not. But perhaps we should.”

“If the reason we were invited is because the king wants to learn more about La Dame Blanche, then we’d best avoid it. Your friend Raymond wasna exaggeratin’ about the king’s distaste for heresy.”

“I’m not a heretic and certainly not a witch. If anything, I’m only wary of having to spend more time with aristocracy. I’d prefer not to be perceived as one of them.”

“Because of this revolution ye say is coming? I thought that was a good fifty years off.”

“It is, but Jamie… You’ve seen the horrid conditions the poor endure here, and all the while, the rich live in opulence and wilful ignorance. It’s reprehensible, and I can hardly stomach being around them at all.”

“Then, why do ye say we should go?”

“Because…” Her frown eased in resignation. “There’s a chance we could actually make a few useful connections who might help clear your name. Granted, we’d be more likely to find such a person amongst the English court, but since that’s not an option, this will have to do.”

Jamie hummed thoughtfully, reading the invitation again. He was slightly ashamed to say that such a thought hadn’t yet crossed his mind, since he’d been more focused on assessing potential threats to Claire. But he was forced to agree with her logic. Even if there was no one there who might be able to help directly, there could be people who might have valuable information or contacts they’d be willing to share. 

“Wary as I am of attracting too much attention, the potential benefits might just be worth the risk,” he admitted. “I just wish I could leave ye out of it. Ye shouldna have to take those risks upon yourself for my sake.”

“You’d do it for me,” she replied softly, slipping her arm around his waist. Jamie sighed and rested his chin atop her head.

“Aye. But ‘tis no’ only yourself you’re risking, Sassenach.”

“We’ll be fine. I’ll be careful.”

I held my breath in anticipation as I watched my husband’s expression. For once, I had almost no trouble deciphering his silent thoughts, for every one of them seemed to be projecting onto his face. Shock, admiration, lust, bewilderment, concern, anxiety… Is that what my ‘glass face’ looks like all the time? Pushing the thought away, I stepped hesitantly toward Jamie, the many skirts of my crimson court dress rustling in a whisp of expensive fabrics.

“That bad, is it?” I asked, mimicking the question he’d teased me with on our wedding day. It was enough to snap him out of the worst of his shock.

“‘Tis… You’re… Christ, Sassenach, I thought the plan was no’ to draw so much attention? I can see all the way to your third rib!”

“No, you can’t,” I scoffed, rolling my eyes but checking my low neckline reflexively.

The dress was indeed quite daring, and I was already regretting having allowed Louise to railroad me into it. The couturière had been equally enthusiastic about the gown, insisting that too few women had the shape and stature such a design was due. I could be as susceptible to flattery as anyone else, and the two of them had begged and pleaded until I’d given in. Now, I was beginning to wish I hadn’t. I’d never worn anything so revealing of my upper works, whether in this century or my own, and Jamie’s ambiguous reaction was weakening my confidence. 

“Yes, I can,” he insisted as he came to stand in front of me, his eyes still locked on my bosom. “Ifrinn, I can see down to your navel!”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“I promise ye I’m not. I’ve a good ten inches on ye, and the altitude affords quite the view!”

“Jamie, it’ll be fine. I’ve been assured I won’t stand out at all at court.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose, still eyeing me up and down. It was impossible to miss the possessive hunger he was trying to contain, and I couldn’t help but smile at that familiar danger in his eyes. Deciding this reaction was better than anxiety, I brought my hands to his hips and drew our bodies closer together.

“It’ll be alright. You’ll be with me all night to keep me safe. And when we get home, I’ll be more than happy to have your help undressing.”

The sound that emanated from his chest was more animal than human, and my body responded immediately. Since the last thing I needed was to spend the evening aching for him, I smiled and backed away, but he caught me by the waist and pulled me flush against him. The heavy fabric of his own lavish court ensemble was soft and fine against my bare skin. His head swooped down to capture my lips in a fierce kiss, scrambling my wits quite effectively.

“Dinna think I find ye anythin’ but irresistible, mo ghraidh. ‘Tis only that I worry how many men I’ll have to fend off of ye tonight. Promise me you’ll stay by my side.”

I nodded silently, a bit out of breath as I tried to collect myself. 

“And for God’s sake, stay away from the alcoves.”


“And ye need a fan. A big one. I dinna care if it goes with your dress or not.”

I chuckled and patted his cheek lovingly before digging the folded fan from my reticule. He eyed it dubiously as though deciding whether or not to take issue with the size of it, and I shook my head. The carriage was waiting for us in the courtyard, and poor Fernand had been standing at the open door throughout most of our conversation.

“Come on. Let’s get this over with.”

I’d visited the Palace of Versailles in my time, prior to the war. It had been a wonder then, and I found it to be equally amazing as our carriage took us through the processional around the long gravel drive. The impressive architecture and ornate gardens were breathtakingly beautiful, but as we entered the palace on foot, Versailles began to take my breath away in an altogether different manner.

The mingled scents of perfume, powder, body odor, and rich food had my stomach rolling. It was ten times worse than it had been at Louise’s dinner party, but I determinedly pushed the nausea to the back of my mind. It wouldn’t do to vomit all over my new dress. Though, I had to wonder if doing so could possibly draw more attention to it. Damn Louise for talking me into this. The various aromas were tickling my nose as well, and I hoped to God I didn’t sneeze. Wouldn’t that be a treat for everyone…

As Jamie and I circled the room with Louise and a few others we’d met previously, I heard more than one whisper of ‘La Dame Blanche,’ and I felt my cheeks grow warm under the collective stares of the French nobility. Oddly enough, no one seemed brave enough to say it openly to my face. Coupled with the reassuring presence of my husband at my side, it allowed me to maintain my composure. My head was held high, my smile was polite, and the contents of my stomach stayed put.

We’d been there nearly an hour when the king made his appearance.

Aside from my brief and unexpected encounter with Charles Stuart, I’d never met a celebrity of any sort. I’d never been one to lose my head over the goings-on of the rich and famous, but coming to face to face with a king was a bit different. I’d been raised in a monarchy, after all, despite my nomadic childhood. Meeting a royal was inherently exciting, no matter what one thought about their policies or personalities.

It was therefore a bit of a disappointment when I got my first glimpse of King Louis XV. For all the decadence with which he surrounded himself, he was not particularly attractive. His nose was slightly too long for his face, and his dark eyes were hooded in a way that made me suspect he was well on his way to being intoxicated. Like most of the men present, he wore a heavily powdered wig, and it did nothing to compliment his features. 

The king moved through the throng of bowing and curtsying nobles, nodding and exchanging a few words here and there with those he deemed worthy. His stride was stiff and overly elegant, as though the whole thing were some grand production. As he drew nearer, I was startled to find his gaze settling upon me, no doubt drawn by either Jamie’s towering stature or the vibrant color of my gown. I immediately sank into a deep curtsy and felt Jamie bow beside me.

“Majesty, may I present James Fraser and his wife Claire, Laird and Lady Broch Tuarach of Scotland.” The introduction came from an obsequious little man standing to the king’s left, and when I looked up, I found Louis still watching me intently.

“Welcome, Laird and Lady Broch Tuarach. It is always a pleasure to host our Scottish friends.”

“We are greatly honored, Your Majesty,” Jamie answered graciously, though I could feel a fresh surge of tension radiating from him.

“Then you may repay such honor by allowing me to escort your lovely wife to dinner this evening. I have heard many interesting things about you both.”

My smile faltered a little, but I remained calm, deferring to Jamie’s judgment. Angering or insulting the King of France would undoubtedly be worse than being forced to spend an hour in his company. Jamie seemed to come to the same conclusion, for he hesitated only a moment before bowing once more.

“Of course, Your Highness. And thank you.”

Either missing or ignoring Jamie’s notably cooler tone, Louis nodded regally and moved on to the next group of guests awaiting his attention. I released the breath I’d been holding when his dark eyes finally left me.

Jamie and I shared a look of trepidation, and I could tell he was gritting his teeth at the king’s behavior. Louise and the woman I recalled only as Madame Peacock from her dinner party were both in raptures over the attention I’d received.

“I told you that dress was perfect,” Louise giggled. Her friend nodded excitedly, sending her many plumes into a shimmy.

“Oui! After tonight, I should not be surprised if they call you La Dame Rouge!” 

My answering smile felt brittle, and I could think of nothing to contribute as they prattled on.

“I’m sorry,” Jamie whispered as soon as their attention was diverted elsewhere. “I could hardly have denied him, and I knew better than to try to include myself in the invitation.”

“I know. It’s not your fault. What if he brings up the rumors?”

“I’ve no doubt he will. Best stick to your story and dinna say anythin’ to make him suspicious.”

Right. No problem.

Dinner was an assault on nearly all of my senses, scent being the most vulnerable. The food probably smelled pleasant to the other guests, but the baby obviously disagreed. It took nearly every ounce of my self-control not to vomit all over the platter of poached truffles in front of me. I ate very little, focusing instead on the words of the man seated to my right.

The king was not addressing me at the moment, but as I observed him, I searched my memory for what little I knew of him. In truth, most European monarchs tended to blur together when viewed through the telescope of time. This one wouldn’t have quite the historical notoriety his successor would earn, but I knew the politics and corruption of his long reign would set the stage for the French Revolution that would occur in just forty-five years. 

I wasn’t sure when he would come to be known as Louis the Beloved, but I had a feeling it would be he himself who chose the name. He certainly seemed enamored with himself. And my cleavage.

I used his distraction to decide just what to say when given the opportunity to speak. Who knew when I might get another opportunity like this? Jamie needed someone with a great deal of influence to help clear his name. If Louis wouldn’t help, perhaps he would at least be willing to advise us on the matter. I was poised and ready when he eventually turned his full attention to me, but his words brought me up short.

“As I mentioned to your husband, I have heard much about you, Lady Broch Tuarach. You are becoming quite famous among my courtiers as a skilled healer. They call you La Dame Blanche… A white lady. A white witch.”

My breath caught, and the words I’d rehearsed promptly died in my throat. The king watched me with a veiled expression, speculative but also a little amused. Seeing my flustered state, he took pity on me and touched my forearm briefly.

“You need not fear, ma chère. I assure you, I know the difference between the light and the dark. A white witch is an infallible judge of truth and purity of heart. She sees the heart and soul of a man and cannot lie.”

I chuckled nervously and managed to summon a response this time.

“Well, that much is certainly true, Your Highness. I’ve always been dreadfully inept at lying. My husband says I have a glass face, so I generally find it best to simply be honest.”

“Such a quality is quite refreshing, especially in a woman,” the king replied, his thin lips stretching in an approving smile that revealed a mouthful of bad teeth. “I feel I am surrounded by falsehoods and flattery every day.”

“I can imagine how tiring that would be, but I’m certain not all of the flattery can be false.”

I realized a moment too late that my gracious smile and kind words were taken as an invitation for him to move even closer, and his face was scant twelve inches from my breasts. He made no effort to hide his appreciation of the view. I inched away from him as subtly as I could manage, my eyes flickering across the table to meet Jamie’s. His jaw was clenched in anger, and I stifled an apologetic wince. 

Damn this dress.

“How long do you and your husband plan to stay in Paris, chère madame?” the king inquired, reclaiming my attention. It was the best opening I was likely to get.

“I’m not sure at present. My husband has a title and property in Scotland, but we were forced to seek refuge with a relative in France when he was accused of a crime he couldn’t possibly have committed.”

“Go on,” he encouraged, intrigued and--for once--looking at my face.

I explained the circumstances of Jamie’s wrongful imprisonment, escape, and subsequent exile from his homeland, keeping the details just vague enough to maintain decorum.

“We’ve been seeking out ways to clear his name of the false charges or perhaps obtain a pardon, but relations between England and Scotland are as poor as they’ve ever been, I’m afraid. Since our home is not a safe place for us at the moment, a distant Fraser cousin granted us sanctuary in Paris.”

Louis looked thoughtful for several moments, and I expected him to ask more questions on the matter. Instead, he changed the subject.

“My attentions will soon be required elsewhere, but I look forward to further discussions on this matter… and others. I insist you return to court soon, Madame Fraser. With or without your husband,” he emphasized quietly. 

With a shock, I felt his hand seeking out my thigh amidst the folds of my gown, and the bile rose ominously in my throat. I swallowed it back and plastered a tremulous smile on my face.

“We would both be greatly honored, Your Majesty.”

To my immense relief, the king removed his hand with a satisfied smirk and rose to leave the table. I stood respectfully, as did everyone else in the room, but unlike most of the other guests, I didn’t return to my seat after the king departed. 

Not even daring to look at Jamie, I took a few trembling steps toward one of the glass-paned doors, which were already standing open to accommodate the heat of the crowd. The doors led to a wide terrace, and I sought refuge near the stone railing, inhaling great, gulping breaths of the cool night air.

Jamie didn’t take long to appear at my side, and I’d not quite regained my composure. In fact, I wasn’t altogether sure I shouldn’t just give over to the urge to vomit and have done with it. I’d likely feel better afterward.

“I think I may need to be sick,” I murmured. 

Jamie cursed quietly, his head whipping around in search of a discreet place for me to empty my stomach.

“Can ye wait until we make it back around front to the carriage, mo chridhe?”

“No…” I groaned, taking another deep breath. We’d have to take our leave of the king before we went, and who knew how long that might take? “It’s passing, just give me a moment.”

“Was it the food? Or is it the bairn makin’ ye ill again?” He touched his fingers to my flushed cheek in concern.

“That’s part of it, but…” 

I hesitated, glancing around us at the handful of other guests who were enjoying the fresh air as well. A few were looking at me in open speculation, the ladies among them not even bothering to use their fans to hide their gossiping now. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.

“The rest is better discussed at home. In private.”

Jamie followed my gaze and took my meaning with a nod, supporting more of my weight than was really proper as we made our way back inside.

It seemed to take an eternity to get out of the palace and another eon to reach Jared’s townhouse. When we’d made our farewells to the king, he had extended another invitation to the both of us, and Jamie had graciously accepted. I was almost certain he’d change his mind about going back to court ever again once I told him what the king had implied. 

Knowing the retelling would make me feel ill again, I insisted upon waiting until we got back to Jared’s. The rocking of the carriage was already undermining my control. Jamie kept my hand clasped within his, and I stared out the window as we rode, my mind in knots.

The king’s words had been harmless enough, but his proprietary touch had left me with no doubt of his expectations. Did I even have a choice in the matter? He was the king, and until his citizens rose up against his successor, his rule within France was absolute. He could do as he liked with me or any other woman; there was no recourse.

When at last we reached the townhouse, Jamie escorted me promptly up the stairs and dismissed Suzette with a wave. As he helped me out of the dress and into a fresh nightgown, I relayed my conversation with the king in as much detail as I dared.

“He touched ye?! Right there at the damned dinner table wi’ your husband sitting no’ a dozen feet away?”

“It was brief, but… yes. He made his intentions perfectly clear.”

My stomach rolled again, and Jamie lapsed into a string of Gaelic ranting and cursing. I didn’t bother trying to follow it, clutching the porcelain wash basin like a life preserver as he paced the floor angrily. After a few seconds, I heard him sigh and move to the cabinet that held my medicine box. He withdrew a small bottle of ginger root and rang for a servant, handing it out the door when they knocked.

“Use this to make a cup of tea wi’ a wee bit of sugar for her ladyship and bring it up directly.”

“Oui, monsieur,” I heard Marguerite reply before he closed the door.

“Thank you,” I said with a weak chuckle. “You’ve learned quickly.”

Jamie chuckled wryly, retrieving a clean handkerchief and soaking it with cool water from the ewer. He knelt to mop the damp cloth over my forehead.

“Believe it or not, I kent the remedy for a nervous stomach long before ye came along, Sassenach.”

After a few minutes, I let him help me onto the bed and settled myself against his chest, savoring the contentment I always found in his touch.

“What should we do?”

“Och,” he sighed ruefully. “I’ll admit, I hadna expected the king to pay us--or rather, you--such special attention. Though, when ye came downstairs in that dress, I probably should’ve realized it was inevitable.”

“I won’t disagree with you there. And I sure as hell won’t be letting Louise choose gowns for me again in the future. But Jamie, if there’s a chance the King of France could make it safe for us to return to Lallybroch…”

“Aye, we canna refuse his invitation back to court. And no’ just for that reason. If Scotland is closed to us forever, we may well need France as a refuge. ‘Twould be best if we didna anger its king. I heard some interestin’ things at dinner as well.”

“When you weren’t busy glaring at me?”

“It wasna you I was glarin’ at, Sassenach… but aye.” 

A knock at the door interrupted his grumbling, and he rose to answer it, accepting the tea tray from Marguerite before nudging the door shut with his foot. I watched with a soft smile as he spooned the provided sugar into the cup, not needing to be reminded of my preferences. I accepted it with a smile of gratitude and sipped it slowly as he continued.

“One of the gentlemen sittin’ near me caught my accent and asked where I was from. I said I was a laird in the Highlands, and we talked for a few minutes about Scotland, exchangin’ pleasantries and the like. He said he’d heard a rumor that the Stuart prince was in Paris. I admitted I’d heard it as well but said that was as much as I knew about it. The man happened to be the French Minister of Finance, a Monsieur Duverney, and he asked my opinion on the current political situation in Scotland. 

“I told him ‘tis much the same as it’s ever been--the only thing the clans can all agree upon is that they hate the English, and the English hate them right back. Duverney agreed, said he feared things would have to get worse before they got better, but wasn’t that ‘the usual way of things in times like this?’ I said it depends on who’s tellin’ the story.

“We had a laugh about that, and he dropped a few subtle hints that another attempt at a Stuart Restoration might be in the works. Even mentioned that there is, in fact, some English support for such a measure, though they dare no’ be so open about it there.”

“Did he give names?” I asked, sitting forward in interest.

“No’ at first. He said one such gentleman--an English duke, no less--professes a great interest in Scotland’s future welfare. Wi’ a little persuasion, he told me the man’s name.”


“Aye. I didna acknowledge any familiarity about the name. Just said I was pleased to hear there was at least one English noble with Scotland’s best interests at heart. Duverney said the man is in Paris now, as a matter of fact.”

“So Adam’s information was correct,” I sighed, absently rubbing the ache at my temple. “It makes sense, I suppose. The Jacobites are counting on Louis to help fund this little misadventure. Does that mean Sandringham will show up at the French court?”

“Most likely.”

I set my half-empty teacup on the bedside table, feeling only slightly better about the odds of my stomach staging a rebellion of its own. I regarded my husband pensively as he readied himself for bed, wishing his face were as easy to read as my own.

“What now, then? We can’t seek favor from the king without dancing attendance on him at court, but if our paths cross with Sandringham, we could get pulled into the chaos we know is coming. We’ve already risked it with Prince Charles,” I reminded him.

“Perhaps, but gettin’ closer to Sandringham might be the only way to prove he and Randall are traitors.”

“Getting too close to a traitor puts us at risk of being tarred with the same brush. It would be tantamount to forming a friendship with Benedict Arnold, knowing full well what would become of him.”

“Who?” Jamie frowned in confusion as he climbed into bed. I sighed again.

“Nevermind. I just think it would be safer to avoid the lot of them and wait it out.”

“Safer, perhaps, aye. But we already ken the British are going to win this war. So, either we get the matter resolved before the Rising or risk havin’ to start all over again afterward. We know Randall will die at Culloden, and I highly doubt there’s anythin’ that will convince the redcoats that one of their fallen heroes was a monster who murdered his own man. Even if they do accept it as fact, they’ll want to bury it and move on.”

I was silent as I considered his point, and I had to admit it was valid. If we waited and tried to discredit the reputation of a dead man, particularly a redcoat who could no longer defend himself, it was unlikely we’d succeed. And in that case, Jamie could be barred from his home indefinitely. 

“Alright, so… We go back to court and find out what we can about the duke.”

“Aye. If I can work out where he lives and how he communicates wi’ Randall, I’ll see about interceptin’ his letters. I’ll need proof of their treason in writing.”

“You’re going to steal his mail?”

“Aye,” he shrugged, as though it were a perfectly ordinary thing to do. Then, with a gleam in his eye, he added, “Do ye think wee Fergus is still skilled at pickin’ pockets?”

“Absolutely not, James Fraser. You are not going to pull a ten-year-old boy into this mess. It’s far too dangerous. You’ll just have to work it out on your own,” I huffed. “And in the meantime, I suppose I’ll work the other angle.”

“Other angle?”

“Getting the king’s help in obtaining a pardon.” My words put an immediate scowl on his face.

“Nay, I dinna like the idea of ye being anywhere near the lech again, especially after ye reacted so strongly to his… attentions. Do ye fear him as ye did Randall? I’ll no’ put ye in harm’s way for anythin’ and certainly no’ for the sake of a pardon that might never be granted.”

“No, my reaction had nothing to do with fear. Well… little to do with it, I should say. The man repulses me. There’s intimidation there too, but only because of the power he wields. He makes me anxious, but I’m not afraid of him.”

Jamie seemed to relax at that but still remained silent for a few moments before giving his reluctant approval of the plan.

“But you’re to tell me right away if the man does anythin’ to frighten or harm ye. And we’ll go together to court or no’ at all. I dinna want ye to find yourself alone with him.”

I tried to suppress a shudder, but Jamie felt it and tightened his arms about me, pressing his lips to the back of my head. He reached over me to douse the lamp so the only light in the room came from the hearth. I closed my eyes and breathed him in, letting the feeling of love and safety seep into my bones. Having a plan of action made me feel slightly better, even if the plan itself was risky. 

We would be walking between two fires, and I wasn’t sure how close we could get to the flames without being swallowed up by them.

A/N: Yes, that last line was a nod to a S5 episode because Droughtlander sucks ever so much. Thank God for fanfiction!

Chapter Text

Though I usually spent most days in the relative safety of Master Raymond’s apothecary, it was sometimes necessary to venture into other areas of the city. A week after my unnerving debut at the French court, I found myself carefully navigating the streets of Faubourg Saint-Antoine with Fergus. I was determined to check on a patient I’d treated last week, who’d suffered a rather nasty head wound.

As the ailing man resided in an area that was somewhat dangerous and Jamie had been unavailable, young Fergus had insisted upon playing the role of my protector. Despite his small stature, my dutiful escort had offered me his arm like a proper gentleman and all but strutted down Rue de Turenne at my side. More than once, I’d had to stifle a laugh at the aura of pride that surrounded him. 

While the journey to the patient’s home was uneventful, the same could not be said for our return to the apothecary. We were chatting amicably as we walked when an all-too-familiar figure stepped directly into our path. I froze in alarm at the unwelcome sight of Dougal MacKenzie.

“I spotted ye a ways back, but I wasna sure my eyes were no’ playin’ tricks on me.”

Fergus had apparently sensed my anxiety, for he immediately moved to stand in front of me, facing Dougal with a fierce and wary expression. Dougal lifted a curious brow in his direction but continued to address his words only to me.

“‘Tis a surprise to see ye in Paris, Lady Broch Tuarach,” he leered, tracing my silhouette with his eyes. “A verra pleasant surprise.”

I glared coldly back at him and pulled Fergus behind me, ignoring his huff of impatience over being treated like a child in need of my protection. He moved to stand beside me instead, latching onto the hand I’d placed over his chest and squeezing it in support. Dougal’s eyes crinkled in brief amusement, but his focus was quickly drawn to my other hand, which I’d unconsciously brought to my midsection. He gazed at me in open speculation, and I could easily guess the direction his thoughts had taken. But there would be time to ponder that later.

“I’m afraid I don’t find your presence to be the slightest bit pleasant, Mr. MacKenzie, nor do I have time for conversation today. Excuse us.”

I made to sweep past him, but he countered my movement with a smirk, effectively blocking my path. I trembled only slightly as I glowered at him, facing him with more confidence than I’d had on any of the occasions he’d caught me alone in the past.

“Ye’re a well-traveled lass. England, Scotland, and now France… Perhaps I was right about ye from the verra beginning. A woman bold enough to move about Paris without an escort might well dare any number o’ things.”

“Milady does--”

I squeezed Fergus’s hand abruptly to silence him, having no desire to spark Dougal’s curiosity further about him. The last thing I needed was Dougal snooping around the apothecary. But to my relief, he showed only amusement at the boy’s gallantry. I ignored Dougal’s veiled barb about my potential as a spy, refusing to show him even a hint of weakness.

“I’ll give your regards to your nephew. Good day, sir,” I said, pointedly neglecting to invite him to visit and thanking divine providence that Jared was a relative of Jamie’s father as opposed to his mother. 

Again, I attempted to move past Dougal, and again, he parried my steps.

“The two of ye are stayin’ wi’ Jared Fraser, are ye not? I’ve no’ seen the man in some time…”

I’d presumed Dougal was in Paris on a Jacobite errand, but it was only then that I recalled Jared was like-minded in his politics.

“Jared has temporarily relocated to Le Havre to oversee his business interests there. He has yet to announce his intent to return to Paris, but I’m sure you can find him at his warehouse near the docks.”

“Aye, perhaps I’ll do that. And jus’ what business brings ye to a neighborhood like this?” Dougal pressed, his shrewd gaze flickering to Fergus and then to my abdomen, which fortunately was still relatively flat and hidden by my dress.

“My business is none of yours, Mr. MacKenzie. Now, I’d appreciate it if you’d let us pass and kindly go fuck yourself.” 

I said the last three words in Gaelic, and the open shock on his face was immensely satisfying. Taking advantage of his momentary loss for words, I finally succeeded in pushing past him, keeping Fergus close to my side as we set off at a smart pace toward the apothecary. I didn’t release the air from my lungs until we were well out of Dougal’s sight and hearing.

“Are you well, milady? Who was that man?”

I belatedly realized I was still squeezing Fergus’s hand a bit too tightly and let go at once, putting an arm around his thin shoulders instead.

“Yes, I’m quite alright. That was Jamie’s uncle.”

“You do not like him,” he pronounced bluntly. “Is he a bad man?”

His brown eyes were wide with concern, and I gave him an answer that I hoped was both honest and reassuring.

“He… He can be. But everyone can be bad at times, right? You don’t need to worry about him. He was only visiting from Scotland, so I doubt we’ll ever see him again.”

Throughout the rest of the day, the man’s face lingered in Fergus’s mind, and as he recalled the way Claire had tried to protect him, his devotion to her grew stronger. He couldn’t remember any woman ever doing that for him, and it only made him love her more. Though, he wished she wouldn’t see him as a child in need of her protection. If anything, Fergus rather thought it was the other way around, and he was determined to keep her safe.

When Jamie arrived with their coach to take her home from the apothecary that afternoon, Fergus intercepted him outside.

“Milord, I must speak to you.”

Jamie’s smile of greeting fell as he took in the lad’s serious expression.

“What’s wrong, a bhalaich? Is Claire alright?”

“Oui, milord, she is safe. But there was a man today… Milady said he was your uncle.”

Alarmed, Jamie’s eyes went to the shop window, through which he could see his wife speaking to a woman over a small jar of some unknown substance. She appeared unharmed, but he didn’t need to ask Fergus for the man’s name. There could be only one of his uncles who would be in Paris right now.

“Was he here?”

“No. I escorted milady to Saint-Antoine to see the man from last week who fell from the scaffold.” 

He raised a hand to his scalp and pointed to the area where the man had suffered his injury. Jamie wanted to growl at his wife’s recklessness for venturing into such an area with only a young lad for protection, but he didn’t interrupt.

“He blocked our path on the way back here, and he wouldn’t let her pass.”

“Did he hurt her?” Jamie demanded, and Fergus shook his head adamantly.

“No, milord. I would never let him touch her.” His fierce tone made Jamie’s features soften. “Milady was very brave. She was afraid of him, but she did not show it. I thought you should know, in case he comes back.”

Jamie sighed and patted him on the shoulder.

“Thank ye for lookin’ after her, Fergus. Milady doesna always ken how to stay out of trouble. I’m verra grateful she has ye to keep her safe.”

Fergus stood a little taller and gave him a serious nod, earning a smile from Jamie as he moved to enter the shop.

To his surprise, Claire said nothing about her unfortunate encounter with Dougal when she greeted him. He waited patiently for her to gather her things, assuming she would bring it up once they were alone in the carriage, but as soon as they were seated next to one another, she asked about his day. 

“My day was far less eventful than yours, Sassenach. Do ye no’ have somethin’ to tell me?”

She narrowed her eyes briefly, then released a weary sigh that sounded like Fergus.

“I suppose you’re referring to Dougal. I was going to wait until after you’d had dinner and a drink.”

“Aye,” he murmured a bit darkly, recalling Fergus’s worried expression. “The lad said he intercepted ye in the street and wouldna let ye pass. Did he frighten ye?”

“No, I was just startled and annoyed. Not afraid. I am curious as to what he might be doing in Paris, though. He mentioned Jared, so I assume his visit has to do with the Jacobites.”

Jamie watched her features closely, seeing more than she probably intended him to see. He was fairly certain Fergus had the right measure of things when it came to Claire’s reaction to Dougal, but he opted not to contradict her. Instead he took her hand and brought it to his lips, allowing her to believe she’d fooled him successfully.

“Aye, I’ll reckon he’s pursuin’ the cause in much the same way he did on the road with the rent party. There are a number of supporters in France, and I’m sure he kens that the Scots canna fund the rebellion on their own.”

Claire hummed noncommittally. “Well, hopefully he doesn’t show up at home. I told him where he could find Jared. And then I told him to go fuck himself.” They shared a grin of satisfaction, and she added, “In Gaelic.”

He gave a shout of laughter, wrapping his arm around her slender shoulders and pressing his lips to her dark curls.

“Christ, I’d ha’ given anythin’ to see the bastard’s face. Serves him right. I’m proud of ye, Sassenach.” 

The words of praise didn’t seem to do justice to the overwhelming surge of pride and love he felt for her, and he hoped she could see it in his eyes. She’d come so far in just the short time he’d known her, and her strength never ceased to amaze him. Claire tilted her head upward to smile at him, and he captured her lips in a quick but fervent kiss.

“Och, mo ghraidh. We’ll make a proper Scot out of ye yet.”

Their second visit to the French royal court proved to be rather uneventful, as did the third. It wasn’t until their fourth visit, near the end of December, that things took an interesting turn. 

Jamie had stubbornly refused to go back at all until the gowns Louise had helped Claire select had been suitably altered at the neckline. Some would’ve called it pettiness, but if he’d had to spend another evening watching men ogle his wife’s breasts, there might well have been bloodshed. Claire was now four months gone with child, and her waist wasn’t the only part of her that had begun to grow. He had no intention of anyone but him enjoying her endowments.

Fortunately, Claire had managed to elude the king’s attentions during their more recent visits to court, as he had been well enough occupied in the company of other courtesans as well as that of his mistress. Jamie hoped Claire would be spared again that evening, but shortly after their arrival, it became clear that the king wouldn’t be their only source of anxiety at court.

“Jamie,” she whispered, gripping his forearm tightly. “Do you see…?”

He followed her stricken gaze to the far corner of the large, crowded room and felt the blood drain from his face. 


Not in a scarlet uniform this time, but dressed a bit plainly in a dark waistcoat and breeks. And yet… the longer Jamie stared at the wretched man, the more confused he felt. This man was smiling with a great deal more warmth than he’d ever seen on Jack Randall’s face.

“It’s not him,” Claire echoed his thoughts. “They must be related, but… it’s not him. The hair is lighter, and the eyes are different. He’s thinner too.”

Jamie exhaled slowly and catalogued the differences for himself. But when he allowed his eyes to venture away from the unknown Randall, he recognized the man standing next to him with perfect ease.



“Right next to him. And that’s Duverney he’s talkin’ to.”

They exchanged a significant glance, both knowing precisely why the two men would seek each other out.

“Perhaps we should go--”


He cursed under his breath at the jubilation in Sandringham’s voice. The man was often prone to theatrics that only grew more flamboyant when he had an audience. 

“Seems I’ve been spotted,” Jamie murmured. “No help for it, I’m afraid. Stay close to me, aye?”

Claire nodded and tried to keep her expression neutral as they wove through the crowd toward Sandringham and his small entourage. He was a large, solid man, clothed as ostentatiously as any of the young dandies among the court, despite being a good forty years their senior. His complexion had a weathered look about it, making his pale blue eyes rather striking. His wig was meticulously curled and longer than most men his age would have chosen to wear it, and his smile was a little too wide to be genuine. 

“Your Grace,” Jamie bowed, prompting his wife to curtsy at his side. “A pleasure to see you again. May I present my wife, Claire Fraser, Lady Broch Tuarach.”

“Indeed you may! I’d heard of marriage from your uncles, dear boy,” Sandringham beamed, surprising Claire with his tenor voice. “And I see the tales of her beauty were not exaggerated. A great pleasure to meet you, my dear. I am Clarence Marleybone the Third, Duke of Sandringham.”

Claire opened her mouth to respond with the customary niceties, but Sandringham went on as though too enamored of his own voice to allow interruption.

“I was terribly disappointed by your absence during my last trip to Scotland, Jamie. Upon my word, I positively lamented being unable to see you again. I certainly could have used your help ironing out a little disagreement with the MacDonald clan.”

“I fear I’d no’ have been much help to ye in any case,” Jamie replied with a feigned chuckle. “The MacDonalds are feuding wi’ just about every large clan in Scotland, including my own.”

Sandringham responded with an oily sort of smile, waving his hand in airy dismissal of the matter and smoothly changing the subject. He introduced Monsieur Duverney, who made an elegant bow in greeting but excused himself from the group not two minutes later. Claire’s eyes were drawn inexorably to the unknown Randall who stood just behind the duke.

“Ah, yes,” Sandringham announced belatedly, having followed Claire’s gaze. “I’m writing a book, you see, and I prefer to have someone nearby to make note of my numerous anecdotes and kernels of wisdom. They come to me at the oddest times, so my personal secretary travels with me, quill at the ready.”

“Alexander Randall,” the secretary spoke up. “A pleasure to meet you, Lord and Lady Broch Tuarach.”

As Jamie and Claire made the customary gestures, the man paused mid-bow to sneeze rather spectacularly. His handkerchief was pressed politely to his face, but Sandringham was quick to rebuke him nonetheless.

“I’ve told you repeatedly--if you must sneeze on someone, find a servant!”

“I apologize, Your Grace.” 

“Yes, well… At least have the courtesy to stand further off. I do beg pardon for his manners,” Sandringham added, directing the last remark to Jamie and Claire. He eyed her shrewdly for a moment before continuing, “I daresay you’ve both made the acquaintance of his older brother. Captain Jonathan Randall?”

Claire swayed slightly at the reminder that not only had she met Captain Randall more than once, but the last time they’d exchanged words, she had falsely boasted of a connection to the duke. Had Randall told him of the encounter? The man was hard to read, to say the least. On the surface, he seemed a jolly if somewhat ridiculous sort of person. But there was a hint of calculation in his eyes and a trace of cynicism in his smile.

“Aye, briefly,” Jamie replied, keeping a tight, supportive hold on Claire’s hand in the crook of his arm.

“You know Jonathan?” Alex smiled through hayfeverish eyes. “I shall have to mention you both in my next letter.” He looked as though he might say more, but his words were cut off by another sneeze, this time followed by a coughing fit that had him doubling over.

Claire frowned in concern and assessed him with a clinical eye. 

“Are you alright, sir?”

“Yes, your pardon, madam. It’s chronic, I’m afraid.”

“I see. Some althea officinalis should help soothe your throat,” she advised.

“Thank you, madam. I’ve tried so many remedies, but none of them seem to have a lasting effect.” His smile was kind, and Claire found it surprisingly easy to return, despite his resemblance to his brother. She felt Jamie relax at her side as well.

“Are you seeing a physician?”

“When I can, yes. It’s always worst in the winter months.”

“Do you experience difficulty breathing?”

“Frequently, I’m afraid.” He was beginning to look unnerved by her curiosity, but Claire merely nodded at his answer as though it were precisely the one she’d expected.

“I have a remedy that may ease the inflammation in your lungs, which should help you breathe. I’d be happy to send it to you if you’re interested.”

Jamie smiled proudly and couldn’t help but shake his head. No matter where they were, Claire never failed to find someone in need of her help. As the young Mr. Randall graciously accepted her offer, Sandringham watched her as though assembling a puzzle in his mind, and his features lit up with exaggerated excitement.

“Good heavens, my dear--could you possibly be this mysterious La Dame Blanche everyone at court has been whispering about?” 

His pale eyes glittered with intrigue, and Jamie was quick to answer.

“My wife is a gifted healer with a kind heart, Your Grace, but anythin’ else the gossips might be sayin’ is unfounded.” The statement was delivered with a cordial expression but a markedly more serious tone than he’d used previously. Sandringham waved off his attitude with another unctuous grin.

“Oh, it’s all in good fun. Court is always full of intrigue, and few people truly take anything to heart. Why, if I believed half the things I’ve heard about myself, I’d never show my face in polite society again.”

The smirk on his face implied that he found the whole thing vastly amusing, but there was a glint in his eye that had both Jamie and Claire tensing in discomfort. It was the look a man might give a troublesome mouse as it moved unwittingly toward the trap he’d set. Claire shuddered and squeezed Jamie’s arm again, signalling her desire to leave.

“I believe Louise is searchin’ for ye, mo chridhe,” he said inventively, nodding toward the opposite end of the room. “I’ll be along shortly. Since His Grace has spent time wi’ my relatives recently, I’d like to hear more about his visit.”

Claire departed with a grateful curtsy, failing to disguise her relief, and Jamie watched her go with a feeling of unease. As much as he knew Sandringham had made her uncomfortable, he hated being separated from her. 

Court could be a veritable nest of vipers, and the king was the worst of them all.

Less than an hour after escaping Sandringham’s company, I was fighting the urge to flee the palace altogether, and the worst of it was that I wasn’t even sure how I’d ended up in my latest predicament. I was on a relatively small section of the balcony, which had been cleverly designed to allow for seclusion from the larger terrace where I’d sought refuge on my first visit. 

Ironically, I now found myself alone with the very man who’d tested my resolve that first night.

It had been at least twenty minutes since I’d last spotted Jamie in the crush of people, and the king had seemed to sense my vulnerability like a bird of prey. Without giving me an opportunity to decline, he’d whisked me through a set of open glass doors and closed them securely behind us. At least thirty people had seen the whole thing transpire, and I had no doubt their tongues were already wagging merrily. With any luck, Jamie would catch wind of it sooner rather than later. But in the meantime…

“You are looking quite lovely this evening, ma chère madame,” the king crooned, capturing my hand to lift it to his lips. “I regret not being able to speak with you on your last visits to court.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” I breathed shakily. “I am honored by your favor.”

“Indeed. I have given some thought to your predicament since last we spoke.”

“My predicament?”

“Oui. Or perhaps I should say your husband’s predicament. I’ve not yet had an opportunity to converse with him on the matter, but I hoped perhaps you would be willing to oblige me.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. I’m certain he would be interested in hearing your thoughts as well. Perhaps he could join us.” I inched toward the glass doors, but he shook his head with a calculating smile, his eyes heavy-lidded and resting on my décolletage. 

“I would prefer to enjoy your beauty alone for the moment, madame.”

My thundering heart sent a rush of blood to my cheeks, and I hoped he took it to be a blush born from flattery as opposed to panic. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to expect an answer to his statement and went on.

“I have heard that, despite his heritage and Catholicism, your husband does not interest himself in the affairs of my Stuart cousin.”

“Your Majesty is well-informed. He prefers to stay out of politics as much as possible,” I answered politely, not quite sure what Louis wanted to hear.

“But does he not support a Stuart restoration to the throne of England?”

“He prefers to remain a neutral party. He believes the risk to the people of Scotland to be too great to justify another Jacobite rebellion.”

“And if such a rebellion were to take place, would he support the British?”

I hesitated, feeling completely out of my depth. The king was a difficult man to read when he wasn’t leering and flirting, and for the moment--thank God--he’d ceased to do both. I knew he would eventually send French gold to the aid of the Jacobites, but it would come too late to be of any real help. It was something historians in my day still speculated over--was the delay due to a desire to undermine Charles Stuart’s campaign or had something simply gone awry in the logistics? As I had no earthly idea what answer Louis desired from me, I steeled myself and went with the truth.

“I believe he would be inclined to favor the British. Despite their recent determination to hang him for murder,” I added with a dry smile. 

To my surprise, he chuckled and nodded his understanding, as though I’d said precisely what he’d expected. But his eyelids grew heavy again in a predatory manner I was beginning to recognize. A cool sensation ran the length of my spine as he leaned forward again, and his foul breath assailed me when he spoke.

“I believe it would be a relatively simple feat to arrange a pardon with King George. He would undoubtedly be interested in having a Scottish noble on his side should this Stuart rebellion come to fruition.”

I blinked in astonishment.

“Your Majesty would be willing to vouch for his loyalty?”

“Oui, ma chère. I would, of course, expect your gratitude for such a favor.”

The suggestive tone of his voice and the lust in his gaze left me with no question of his meaning. There was a heavy sensation in my chest, and my lungs struggled to expand properly. His devious smile drifted out of focus for a moment as a wave of dizziness overtook me, but I swallowed thickly and pushed through my anxiety.

“I am most grateful for your generosity, Your Majesty. My husband and I want nothing more than to be able to return home safely, and we would be forever in your debt.”

“Indeed you would,” he murmured, his heavy eyes locked on my lips. 

Oh, fuck.

The glass doors behind me swung open, and I turned in relief at the interruption. It was a palace servant, and he took only a moment to bow to his king before speaking in such rapid French that I only caught half of it. Something was apparently amiss with the queen.

“I apologize, Madame Fraser. I am needed elsewhere.” He lifted my hand to his lips once again. “I shall make inquiries into your husband’s predicament, and we shall discuss the matter when next we meet.”

My voice was tremulous as I sank into a curtsy.

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” 

The king released my hand, turning on his heel to stride through the doors. By the time I’d collected myself enough to return to the party, Jamie was nearly frantic with worry over my disappearance. I had no idea how long I’d been outside.

“Claire! Where’ve ye been? Are…” Jamie frowned, scrutinizing my face. I didn’t want to know what I looked like. His voice dropped in both pitch and volume. “What’s happened?”

“Take me home,” I murmured. 


Jamie bustled me out of the palace faster than I’d have thought possible, and we were back in the carriage in short order. My heavy cloak was secured around me, but I still burrowed into his side for warmth. I was nauseated again, my head full of questions and hypotheticals as I considered this new angle.

“Speak to me, mo ghraidh. What happened?”

“I’ll explain when we get back.”

“No, you’ll tell me now.”

“Please, Jamie… I’m trying not to be sick, and it’s hard enough to fight it in a moving carriage.”

He sighed in frustration but relented, resting his chin atop my head. I could feel the tension radiating from his large frame, but I buried my face against his chest anyway. I loved him so much my chest ached with it, and I’d often thought that there was nothing I wouldn’t have done for him. Even this

In fact, the more I considered it, the more I realized it was perhaps the simplest way to accomplish our goals. No covert operations to be executed, no entanglements with the rebellion… just a simple transaction. The thought made me sigh. As though something like this could ever be simple.

The ride home took longer than usual, giving me plenty of time to contemplate how best to paraphrase my conversation with the king. By the time we reached the townhouse, I felt reasonably sure I’d found the right combination of words to prevent my husband from tearing our bedroom apart in an overprotective rage.

I was wrong.

“I canna believe the nerve of the man! Bad enough he doesna respect his own marriage, but he goes about disrespectin’ everyone else’s!”

He then lapsed into a string of Gaelic cursing more prolific than any I’d ever heard pass his lips. Verbal blasphemy was something of an art form for the Scots, and my husband was a master of it. Still, his anger didn’t quite filter through my preoccupation, and I’d fallen silent after the initial retelling while he paced like an angry lion in a cage.

When he went silent as well, I looked up from my place on the edge of the bed to find him studying me with a stunned expression on his face.

“You’re actually considerin’ it,” he said, his tone full of disbelief and accusation. I winced guiltily, looking away as I replied.

“I… I didn’t immediately rule it out as an option. It seems to be the simplest way to get you home to Lallybroch, and I want that for you more than anything. I think… I think I could handle sacrificing my virtue just this once. How bad could it really be?” I rambled on, still refusing to look at him directly. “Surely, I’ve survived much worse from Frank. I’m already pregnant so I wouldn’t have to worry about that. Though, there is still the matter of sexually transmitted--”

“You’ll do no such thing!”

He’d crossed the room in three long strides to kneel in front of me, bringing his face almost level with mine. His large hands gripped my shoulders briefly before moving up to cradle my jaw. I still couldn’t quite look at him. His touch was gentle but still firm enough to force my gaze upward. His blue eyes were intense and shining with unshed tears.

“Christ, Sassenach, ye canna truly think I’d barter my own wife for a pardon. Ye mean more to me than Lallybroch, Claire.” I sagged in relief at his words and felt my own tears slip down my cheeks. “I dinna care if I have to spend the rest of my life away from Lallybroch so long as I get to spend it with you. My home is wherever you are. You and our bairns. Nothing else truly matters.”

I let my head fall forward slightly so that my forehead rested against his, and we both took a moment to savor the familiar intimacy of it. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you angry,” I told him softly. “And I don’t want you to think for one second that I’d ever want to be intimate with someone else. It’s just… you’ve done so much for me. I truly don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t been willing to marry me, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. I know how much you miss your home. Your sister... It’s not fair.”

“Och, mo chridhe. I have more than enough so long as I have you. And dinna think for a second that marryin’ ye was any kind of sacrifice. I loved ye long before that, and I’d have done far more in the name of keepin’ ye safe.

“Besides, ye ken I was never really meant to be laird in the first place” he reminded me gently. “I’m a second son. If Willie had lived, I’d likely have had to make my home somewhere else. In Scotland, most likely, but maybe not. And ye ken I’ve spent far more time in France these last four or five years than I have in Scotland. Who says we canna be perfectly happy in Paris? ‘Tis safe enough here, aye?”

“For a while, yes,” I nodded with a quiet sniffle, allowing him to wipe the moisture from my cheek. “The French will have a revolution in another forty-five years and no shortage of problems in the meantime. But yes… We could stay in France, assuming the king won’t be overly angry with me for refusing him. But what about Lallybroch, Jamie? If your people stay out of the Rising, they might survive the clearances with their lands intact, but you wouldn’t be there to help them.”

“Aye,” he sighed, looking rueful but resigned. “It would fall on Jenny and Ian, then. I trust them. If we’re no’ able to secure a pardon or clear my name by other means, I’ll transfer the deed to Jenny’s eldest son. Better that than lettin’ my uncle and grandsire fight over the land. Or rather my grandsire’s heir, I suppose.”

I nodded, remembering his Fraser grandfather’s eventual fate. I had no idea what would happen to Colum specifically, but I did recall a few of the details Frank had recited during our brief visit to Leoch in 1945. The MacKenzies would emigrate to Canada sometime after the Rising, and whoever came to live at Leoch in their place would leave it to ruin some fifty years before I first set foot there. 

I pushed the wandering thoughts from my mind and placed my hand on Jamie’s cheek, searching his eyes for his true feelings. There was determination there, certainly. Resignation, too. But it was the faint trace of sadness that made me sigh with regret.

“I hate the idea of you being exiled from your home forever. I agree with your plan for Lallybroch, but we should still do everything in our power to clear your name. By whatever means necessary.”

Not by tradin' favors wi' the king, Sassenach,” Jamie declared, pressing his lips to my forehead. “Lettin’ another man take ye to his bed is no’ a price I’m willin’ to pay.”

A/N: Lots going on! I couldn't resist another Dougal encounter to show you just how far Claire has come. And I know there was likely no Gaelic phrase in use for 'go fuck yourself' at that point in time, but I think she would've reasoned it out. And even if Dougal didn't know precisely what she said, her intent was more than clear. The king is and will continue to be a nasty piece of work. The more I researched about him, the more convinced I became that he was a jerk in real life too. Thanks for reading!

Chapter Text

“We haven’t really talked about names yet.”

I was seated on the padded stool at the vanity in our bedchamber, watching my husband through the reflection as I brushed my curls into submission. As he got ready for bed, he pulled off his breeks and tossed them into the laundry pile. He hadn’t been wearing his kilt as often since we’d come to Paris, and I found myself missing it more than I’d expected.

It had only been a few days since our eventful evening at court, and Jamie’s mood still hadn’t completely recovered. He’d kept me in bed for the entire following day, alternating between deep conversations, pleasant naps, and interludes of intense lovemaking. But no matter how much I attempted to distract him, his anger toward the king still bubbled beneath the surface. He’d thrown even more energy into his efforts to find other means to secure a pardon or a dismissal of the charges, determined that we not have a need to return to the French court ever again.

“Have ye thought of any?” he asked curiously, smiling at me through the mirror. 

“Some. But you Scots have more names than most people do, at least where I come from. I’m not sure when that practice will fall by the wayside.”

“Ah. That’s why ye only have the two Christian names, then?”

“Yes. That’s usually the standard, at least in most of Europe and America.”

“Hmm. Well, I’d like to name him after my father. That is, assuming Jenny’s new bairn didna already lay claim to the honor,” he added with a soft smile, coming to stand behind me and taking the brush from my hand. He set to work in slow, even strokes. “If ye keep torturin’ your hair, ye willna have any left one of these days.”

“Don’t think I’m in danger of that happening any time soon.” I frowned at my thick curls and quirked a brow at Jamie through the mirror. “You’ve still not heard any news from Jenny? She was due to deliver this month.”

“No’ yet. But letters travel slower in the winter months. Fewer ships crossin’ the channel. We dinna have your fancy flyin’ machines to carry our mail yet.”

“True. I like the name Brian for a boy, but what if it’s a girl? Maybe Brianna?”

“Brianna? What a horrible name for a wee lass.”

“No, it’s not,” I chuckled. “I like it. What about Ellen?” Jamie considered it for a moment before shaking his head. 

“‘Twould be fine for a second given name, but I like your mother’s name better.”

“Julia Ellen Fraser.”

“Well, if she’s to be a proper Scot, she’ll need at least two more names, but aye,” he grinned, leaning down to kiss the top of my head.

I stood and followed him across the room to our bed, dousing the candle on the bedside table before settling into his arms. 

“Speaking of proper Scottish names… Fergus was asking about you again today. I think you may soon outrank Raymond in status.” We shared a chuckle. “He’s all too happy to assist me when the need arises, but he spends most of his time around me talking about you.”

“I ken. He’s usually the first face I see when I pick ye up in the afternoons, and he’s always askin’ questions. The lad reminds me of myself when I was young, but in my case, ‘twas my older brother I always idolized.”

“Not your father?”

“Eventually, aye, since we’d lost William to smallpox before I’d reached Fergus’s age. But one of my earliest memories is watchin’ Willie in the yard with our da, training wi’ the sword. Fergus has asked me to teach him.”

I couldn’t help but frown at that, disliking the mental image of the sweet, impish boy with a sword in his hand. Couldn’t he simply have a normal childhood for a while? He’d seen and been through so much already during his early years in the brothel. 

But even as the thought crossed my mind, I realized that most boys of this era would’ve been instructed in such matters from a very early age. The memory of young Hamish MacKenzie engaging Dougal with a wooden sword floated to the surface of my thoughts, and my hand fell to my stomach instinctively. I pressed my fingers against the white linen of my shift, silently acknowledging the tiny bud of life growing within me. Would our son be forced to learn the ways of this world at such a tender age?

Jamie’s arms tightened around me, and one of his hands moved to cover mine. I smiled at the gesture, accepting the simple reminder that--no matter what happened--I wasn’t alone. 

“What put that troubled expression on your face, Sassenach?”

“Just wondering what life will be like for our child,” I replied honestly. “It’s difficult for me to grasp, even after being here nearly eight months. There are just some things that history books and archaeological studies cannot teach.”

Jamie smiled softly, his eyes twinkling with the quiet amusement he often showed when I mentioned anything from ‘my time.’

“That’s why ye have me, mo ghraidh. What is it ye want to know?”

“So many things I’m not even sure where to begin. I didn’t know anything about raising children in the twentieth century, and I don’t know any more about it in this one.”

“Well, I’ll admit I dinna ken much about children either. My only experience has been through observing my family’s tenants. I’ve no’ been around to see Jenny wi’ my nephew, but… Perhaps if we can get matters settled in time, we’ll be able to have the bairn at Lallybroch.”

I could see the fervent hope in his eyes as he spoke the words, and I sent up a silent prayer that his wish might come true. That fortune would favor us, just once more. He’d told me so much about his home and the people who worked his land that I, too, had a strong yearning to see the place.

“‘Twill be Hogmanay soon. Feasting, music, dancing. Some of the tenants and their families will gather in the main house and celebrate into the wee hours…” Jamie went on for several minutes about the First Foot tradition and the food Jenny would probably serve, assuming she’d been able to keep up the traditions. His hand caressed my growing belly as he added, “Perhaps this time next year, we’ll be there. With our wee bairn.”

“I hope so,” I whispered, my eyes stinging with suppressed emotion. We shared a smile and a kiss before Jamie spoke again.

“I might have some progress on that front soon. I ken ye only meant to help young Mr. Randall when ye offered to send him remedies, but it made gettin’ Sandringham’s address much easier. I managed to figure out which of his servants is trusted with his correspondence. That’s to say, his more sensitive correspondence.”

“You stalked his servants?” I asked, slightly alarmed.

“Aye, and it didna take long to sort out how things work. The one who carries the messages is called Danton. He passes them off to another, though the second man wasna the same person as the time before.”

“I doubt Sandringham would trust a great network of people with information that could prove him a traitor.”

“I agree. That’s why I reckon the messages are likely written in code. His direct correspondence with Randall and God kens how many others like him seems to go through that method. His communication wi’ the English court, however, goes directly through his housekeeper. She seems markedly less loyal to her employer than Mr. Danton and didna mind tellin’ me the reason.”

“You spoke to her?”

“Well, she spoke to Mr. Malcolm, a fellow Scot and the humble employee of a local wine merchant who agreed to give her a discount on the goods in exchange for a cursory glance at the outgoing mail.”

“That seems… too easy,” I said with a frown.

“Aye, I thought so too and would no’ have dared suggest such a thing had the woman no’ been the first to propose a trade of sorts. I’ll write up a receipt for the full cost of the wine, and she’ll pocket the difference after the discount is taken. Even then, I’d no’ have put much stock in her silence on the matter, since she could be bought so easily.

“But it seems Sandringham found her in Scotland and hired her for a pittance. His outstanding debts to her extended family only add insult to injury, so ye can imagine how the woman feels seein’ Sandringham promenading about in his Paris finery.”

I nodded, understanding the situation better now. It was just the sort of greedy arrogance that would eventually lead a number of the French aristocracy to the guillotine. Apparently, the behavior of the nobility on the other side of the Channel could be just as reprehensible.

“So, your gain from the arrangement is to read his mail before it’s sent off.”

“Aye. And if that means a slight delay here and there, Mrs. MacDonald will manage the confusion wi’ Sandringham’s secretary.”

“The secretary in question being Alex Randall.”

“Aye. I’m no’ yet certain how much he kens about his brother’s involvement in Sandringham’s scheming.”

I huffed a sardonic laugh.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the duke has both Randalls doing his dirty work. Though, I’ll admit, my first impression of Alex was quite different, apart from the physical similarities. He even reminded me a little of--” I stopped myself and shook my head dismissively, but Jamie wasn’t in the mood to let it go. I turned to look at his face and regretted the frown I’d put there.

“Of Frank?”

“Yes. The way he was when I first met him. He was mostly quiet. Very polite. Intelligent, but not boastful about it, as he became later on.”

Jamie made his usual Scottish noise but, for once, was not inclined to leave it at that.

“As much as I dinna like thinkin’ about the man, I must say I’m proud that you’re now able to talk about him without lookin’ ill.”

“Thank you. And I’m sorry for bringing him up. As for Alex… He seems a good sort, but I’ve been wrong before. Being Sandringham’s secretary, Alex would almost have to be involved, even if he doesn’t realize it.”

“Aye, Sassenach. Time will tell.”

He tilted my chin upward to kiss me goodnight, his lips lingering until one kiss turned into two… and then into five. He didn’t lift his head until I reached down to grasp his--


I laughed quietly against his lips.

“Such language, Mr. Malcolm.”

Jamie groaned and pushed himself against my hand, possessing my lips more fiercely. The pregnancy had made intimacy difficult for a while, but we were already well on our way to thoroughly enjoying my second trimester. When he reared back to look into my eyes, my breath caught at the open longing in his gaze.

“Are ye truly well enough? ‘Tis late, and I dinna want--”

I kissed him again and surprised him by pushing him onto his back, straddling his hips. His breath caught as he gazed up at me, the firelight making his blue eyes shimmer.

“Christ, you’re so beautiful, mo chridhe.  I’ll never get my fill of lookin’ at ye.”

“You’re one to talk,” I murmured, running my hands over the smooth plane of his chest.

His large hands gripped my hips, raising them to adjust our positions slightly before lowering me back onto him. I gasped as he filled me, and we quickly established our rhythm. 

As I watched him from above, I couldn’t help but agree with his sentiment--I’d never get my fill of looking at him either. In fact, the only reason I caught him staring at me so often was due to my own tendency to seek him out. We were drawn like magnets, and the pull had been strong enough even to pierce the veil of time.

By the time we lay still and breathless, the fire in the grate had begun to die, but neither of us seemed capable of rousing the energy to tend to it. I was more than warm enough in my husband’s arms as he caressed my skin in long, lazy strokes.

“Sometimes I still canna believe you’re mine.”

“Good thing I am,” I teased. “Lord knows what kind of trouble you’d have gotten into without me around.”

He barked a laugh and shook his head.

“I think you’ve got that the other way ‘round, Sassenach.”

“Absolutely not. I said no the first time you mentioned it, and I haven’t changed my mind.”

Jamie shrank only a little under his wife’s chastising scowl but didn’t back down. After two weeks of intercepting Sandringham’s outgoing letters and making copies of anything remotely relevant, he’d yet to get his hands on anything incriminating. Not that he’d expected to find much in the man’s usual correspondence. The real evidence would be in the pocket of his manservant, and Jamie had also been tracking Danton long enough to feel confident predicting his movements. Now, all he needed was a good pickpocket.

“Ye ken I’ll keep the lad safe, Claire. I’d no’ let any harm come to him.”

“Don’t make a promise you can’t possibly keep. Some things are out of your control.”

They had been arguing over the matter in muted voices since he’d arrived to take her home from the apothecary. Raymond was studiously ignoring them, but the gentle smile on his face told Jamie he could hear them perfectly well.

“I’ll no’ let him do anythin’ truly dangerous.”

Stealing is dangerous. I don’t even want to think about what could happen to him if he were caught. If he’s accused of theft, the authorities could do something barbaric to punish him. They could brand him or cut off his hand or--”

“I would not get caught milady!” Fergus interrupted, his brown eyes shining with excitement. Claire frowned at him, clearly not having realized he’d been near enough to eavesdrop. “I used to do it all the time, and no one ever caught me! I want to help milord.”

Jamie grinned in approval, and both boys gave her the adoring smiles they knew she found difficult to resist. But Claire shook her head.

“You don’t even know what you’d be stealing.”

“Letters,” he supplied promptly. Both adults looked at him in shock, Claire appalled and Jamie impressed. Fergus merely shrugged. “I listen all the time. When I am quiet enough, sometimes people forget I am in the room.”

Claire narrowed her eyes in confusion, and Jamie, too, failed to recall ever having talked about the letter-stealing scheme anywhere near the lad. Certainly not in enough detail that anyone would’ve been able to decipher the meaning of their words.

“Please let me help,” Fergus implored. “I have not forgotten my tricks.”

Claire sighed wearily, prompting a smile from her husband, who could see the fight had been won. She softened her voice and reached out to brush the lad’s curls out of his eyes.

“It could be dangerous, Fergus.”

“Not for me. I am brave, like you.” When she frowned in confusion, he elaborated, “Like when you stood up to the bad man in the street.”

Jamie smiled approvingly and placed a hand at the small of her back.

“Aye, lad, milady is verra brave indeed.”

She pursed her lips, glancing back and forth between the two of them for a few moments before finally relenting with a sigh. Fergus gave a yelp of triumph and sprung forward to wrap his arms around her waist. Claire hugged him back and shot her husband a glare of warning over the boy’s head that Jamie could easily translate as, ‘If you let him get hurt, I’ll never forgive you.’

He smiled to reassure her and watched her exit the room, leaving him alone in the apothecary’s storeroom with Fergus. 

“Alright, lad. Here’s what we need to do…”

I tried to distract myself by helping Master Raymond tidy up the front of the shop in preparation for the close of the business day. To my surprise, Fergus was apparently not the only one prone to eavesdropping.

“Try not to worry, Madonna. Your husband will keep the boy safe.” Before I could vent my lingering anxiety on the matter, he added, “Are you feeling well? You seem more fatigued than usual. Perhaps a day or two of rest at home…”

“Thank you, but I’m fine. It’s nothing a cup of tea and a good night’s rest won’t fix.”

“Of course,” Raymond chuckled. “The English and their tea.”

I laughed good-naturedly, easing my tension somewhat. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a comment like that. The French and American soldiers I’d treated during the war had cracked jokes about it regularly. One of the American chaps, coincidentally the very same one who’d coined my favorite expletive, had tried to hide my tea ration once. I’d retaliated by swiping his cup of coffee and holding it hostage until he’d returned my sad little tin of tea leaves.

I was still smiling at the memory of it when Jamie returned to the front of the shop.

“Are ye ready to go home, Sassenach?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Take tomorrow to rest, Madonna. Growing a babe is tiresome work. Raising one, even more so,” Raymond smiled, glancing pointedly at Fergus.

“I couldna agree more,” Jamie chimed with a grateful smile at the older man. “If it’s agreeable, Master Raymond, Fergus will be joining us for dinner tomorrow night and then sleeping in our guest room.”

The man’s black eyes gleamed with amusement as he nodded his assent and bade us goodnight.

A/N: The Scots actually had some pretty stringent naming customs, but since I quickly realized DG had completely ignored them, I decided I could too. Ditto the French's war on the continent and the king's life-threatening illness that took place around this time. ;) As always, thank you for reading and reviewing!

Chapter Text

“Did ye get it back in his pocket, lad?”

“Oui, milord. He did not even notice it was gone,” Fergus boasted, digging into his dinner with gusto. Jamie grinned and clapped the boy’s shoulder lightly.

“Well done.”

In the three weeks since Fergus had begun helping him, Jamie had been continuously impressed with the lad’s skill for thievery. While he wouldn’t normally have encouraged such behavior in a child, desperate times had called for desperate measures. 

To offset his guilt, Jamie had been spending more time with Fergus and encouraging better morals in other areas. The lad’s only positive male influence up to this point had been Master Raymond, and while Jamie knew him to be a good man, he wasn’t particularly approachable. As such, he encouraged Fergus to ask questions--not that the boy needed encouragement on that front. Jamie indulged him patiently, often pausing to consider how his father might have answered. In addition to a roundabout education on the world in general, they worked on Fergus’s manners, his English, and even a little Gaelic.

Jamie made quick work of copying the stolen letters so that Fergus could return them to the person who’d last handled them. Though such a feat was not always possible, they’d succeeded on most occasions. The handler likely assumed the missives had been temporarily misplaced and, so far as Jamie could tell, had not voiced any concern. Neither Sandringham nor Danton had made any effort to change their methods.

Once Fergus had been tucked into one of the guest bedrooms for the night, Claire found Jamie in their bedchamber, reading over the copied letters by the light of the fire. Unfortunately, they’d yet to learn a great deal, and Jamie’s disappointment was evident in his expression.

“Still nothing?” she asked, slipping a warm dressing gown over her shift.

“Och, no’ really. Bits and pieces of a larger puzzle, no’ enough to conclusively prove anything. I’d like to share what we have wi’ an expert of some sort, ye ken? Someone who could at least make sure we’ve decoded the letters correctly. But considerin’ the way we’re obtainin’ the letters and the potential information they might hold…”

“It’s too soon for anything like that, even if you knew someone able to help. It’s only been a few weeks,” she reminded him. He leaned back against the settee, and she came to stand behind him, rubbing his neck as she read the topmost letter over his shoulder. “We need to be more patient.”

“I ken,” he sighed. “I’m just so ready to be finished wi’ the whole mess. And I’d rather no’ be puttin’ Fergus up to this any longer than necessary.”

“Are you worried he’ll get caught?”

“No’ as much as I was at first. The lad’s a damned fine pickpocket.”

Claire hummed in her mysterious way that could mean so many things, and the sound made him smile in spite of his troubles. He set the letters aside and turned his head to nuzzle the curve of her abdomen, kissing it tenderly through the layers of fabric. Turning his body more fully, he reached around to pull her close and got an eager handful of her arse in the process.

He loved the way his bairn was changing her body. At just shy of five months gone with child, the swell of her womb was now more noticeable, though her couturière did have a knack for hiding it. But when she was relaxing at home without the confinement of her stays, her pregnancy was perfectly visible. Seeing her shape change to accommodate their child filled him with a sense of pride and satisfaction that was quite primal in nature, and he felt absolutely no shame in it.

“I hope my arse doesn’t get any bigger,” Claire quipped, chuckling at his antics. “You’ll never be able to stop touching it.”

“Aye, mo nighean donn.” Jamie grinned and moved one hand up to her breast. “And these have grown as well. I’ll be sure no’ to neglect them.”

His mouth followed his hands, and she moaned appreciatively. In another blink, he’d managed to lift her over the back of the sofa and onto his lap, kissing her soundly. 

His sexual appetite seemed to surpass even her second-trimester libido at times, and they had fallen into games of seduction that bordered on competition. At least, this time, they were alone in their room. They’d both lost count of the number of times they’d nearly been caught in compromising positions by the servants.

The most embarrassing of these incidents had involved Claire seducing her husband in the library and subsequently being splayed atop the desk while he’d made love to her with his mouth. One of the chambermaids had gotten an eyeful when she’d entered the room to clean. Marguerite had later surprised Claire by shrugging off her mortified apology, but Jamie had reacted with similar nonchalance. 

“‘Tis France, Sassenach.”

One particularly cold February afternoon, Claire was curled up with her husband on the plush sofa in the drawing room. They’d both taken a day away from their respective occupations and had spent hours simply enjoying each other’s company. Jamie had taken to telling the baby stories, thrilled beyond words to finally be able to feel the tiny movements of their child.

“‘Tis like the wings of a bird fluttering,” he marveled. Claire snorted quietly, running her fingers through his hair.

“It is now. I have a feeling I’ll be quite weary of being mauled from the inside long before the baby’s due.”

“Aye, he’ll be a braw lad.”

“Or lass.”

“Nay, I think ‘tis a lad this time.”

This time? And how many more times do you foresee?”

“Och, at least… five?”



Claire gazed incredulously at his boyishly hopeful expression and eventually shook her head, laughing. 

“Jesus. H. Roosevelt Christ, at this rate, I’ll be forty by the time we’re finished.”

“Well, I canna imagine wantin’ ye any less at forty than I do now, so I dinna think we’ll have a problem.”

Jamie grinned, leaning in to kiss her gently. As usual, one kiss led to other things, and his hand was wandering beneath her skirt when a familiar voice startled them from the doorway.

“And here I thought the two of ye would ha’ learned how to pry yourselves off one another by now.”

“Murtagh!” they said in unison, rising quickly to greet him. 

Claire’s altered center of gravity made the feat a little more difficult, so Jamie reached him first, pulling his godfather into a hearty embrace. 

“What’s kept ye all this time, a goistidh? We expected ye back over a month ago, even with the side trip to Northumbria.”

Murtagh responded with his trademark scowl that was a mixture of surliness and amusement.

“I’ll explain o’er a heavy dinner plate and a full mug of ale.” His eyes drifted to Claire, lightening with surprise and joy as he took in her expanded waist, and she cupped a hand below her belly to show it off.

“You left just before we realized I was pregnant,” she explained, accepting his congratulatory hug with a brilliant smile. 

“Aye, I mentioned it in my last letter to Jenny, but I s’pose it hasna reached her yet. Claire insisted we wait until the fourth month to share the news. The bairn should come sometime in June,” Jamie said, beaming with pride. Murtagh huffed a laugh.

“And no’ even a year after ye wed. Ye didna waste any time, lad.”

Jamie reddened slightly but shrugged, gesturing fondly toward his wife. “Who could blame me?”

“Och, lass, there’s no use for it,” Murtagh advised Claire, whose face had also gone pink. “Too much like his da. Best get used to it. But speakin’ o’ letters…” 

He reached into an inner pocket of his cloak and drew out a thick envelope bearing Jenny’s elegant penmanship. Jamie took it eagerly.

“Tapadh leat,” he breathed. “The new bairn is well?”

“Aye, that she is. Ye’ve a niece, lad. Margaret Ellen. And a right healthy set o’ lungs she’s got,” he added with a slight wince. “I’ve a letter from Adam Foster as well, but I should explain some things before ye read either one.”

“Well, it’s nearly time for dinner,” Claire announced. “I’ll go let the staff know we have a guest. Would you prefer a bath before or after?”

Jamie bit back a laugh, noting--as did Murtagh--that there was no question of if Murtagh would bathe but rather when. To his godson’s mild surprise, the older man didn’t argue.

“After will do, lass. Thank ye.”

By the time the three of them sat down to dinner some twenty minutes later, both Jamie and Claire were impatient to hear Murtagh’s news. 

“Ye’ve got more friends than ye might think, a bhalaich, but I didna want to get yer hopes up. Jenny and I agreed no’ to tell ye what we were doin’ until we were sure we had a strong ally,” he explained between bites of roasted beef.

“What ally?”

“The Duke of Argyll.”

Jamie was visibly shocked by his words, but Claire looked skeptical.

“Another duke? How do you know you can trust him?”

“Well, this one’s a Scot. Name’s Archibald Campbell. Distantly related through Jamie’s MacKenzie grandmother, Anne Grant. Anne’s mother was a Campbell.”

“Aye,” Jamie nodded thoughtfully. “Argyll has a good deal of power and influence, and no’ just because of his title. He helped found the Bank of Scotland nigh on twenty years ago, and I recall ye sayin’ it still exists in your time.”

Claire’s eyes widened at that, and she nodded as Jamie continued.

“Randall ‘imself acknowledged that the duke could’ve authorized my release from Fort William and spared me the second flogging. My father tried to pursue that course, but there wasna time to secure the clearance from Argyll.” He paused, turning back to his godfather. “So, the duke is willing to help, then?”

“Aye, wi’ a little help from Colum in the way of influence. Jenny submitted a testimony of Randall’s misconduct at Lallybroch. I gave my own accounting as a witness to several other incidents involving you as well as Claire, including the wee stramash I interrupted near Craigh na Dun.”

“And what happened in Brockton?” Jamie pressed.

“Aye, that too. Adam Foster convinced his redcoat brother to go on the record as well,” Murtagh revealed with a grin. “Took the lad quite a while to put it all on paper, as ye can imagine. And in secret, too. Argyll helped compile everything, along wi’ a few testimonies from various others who’ve suffered Randall’s mistreatment. See, we figured Colum had the right idea about a petition of complaint--just the wrong duke.”

“Argyll will present it to the king?”

“By now, I expect he’s already done so.”

Both Jamie and Claire were agape with shock, and Claire was the first to recover.

“Who were the others? How did you find them?”

“Well, I kent at least a few names, if not actual stories, of folks who had reason to report Randall. Ned Gowan helped me get written accounts of those incidents. By the time everythin’ was drawn together, ‘twas quite a stack o’ documents Argyll took to the king.”

“That’s…” Jamie was lost for words, staring at his godfather in amazement. “Christ, I canna believe Argyll never even crossed my mind.”

“‘Twas yer sister who suggested it. And Argyll said he intended to ask some leadin’ questions about Sandringham when he saw the king, maybe try to shed some doubt on the bastard’s loyalties.”

“Aye, for Sandringham to consciously and consistently support the despicable actions of a man like Randall, it ought to draw his own character into question. And add to that the fact that he’s now in Paris and has been seen in the company of Jacobite sympathizers and even the Pretender’s son…”

“Give a foolish man enough rope, and he’ll hang himself,” Claire murmured. The two men made simultaneous Scottish noises of agreement.

“Before I left Scotland, I heard Fort William had a new commander. Randall was given leave to return to England. Word has it, he’s been suspended from duty until an investigation is conducted.”

“I’m surprised information like that is commonly known, at least enough that you were able to hear it,” Claire mused. Murtagh responded with something between a grunt and a laugh.

“Even if Lieutenant Foster hadna shared that information with his brother, I could’ve heard it jus’ fine on my own. Soldiers talk, ‘specially when they’re relaxed. Whores talk too, and they’ll entertain anyone who can pay.”

“Oh… I suppose I should’ve thought of that.” She rolled her eyes a little, and Jamie gave her a warm smile.

“Aye, gossip spreads faster than plague in the Highlands.”

“Paris suffers the same affliction.” She took a sip of her wine, contemplating everything Murtagh had told them. “So, what do we do now? Just wait?”

“Aye, ‘tis wondrous news, of course, but I’d rather no’ get my hopes up. They’ve been dashed too many times to risk it again.”

“I ken, but Adam said ‘twas a good sign that Randall was relieved of duty indefinitely. Hopefully, ye’ll no’ have long to wait for the investigation to be conducted.”

Jamie nodded vaguely, still a bit flabbergasted by the lengths to which his family and friends had gone in their efforts to help him. His eyes stung with unshed tears as he thanked his godfather for everything.

“Even if it doesna work, it means the world to me to ken how hard ye tried to bring us home.”

The two men clasped hands, then stood to embrace briefly. Claire moved to hug Murtagh as well, but she wasn’t as successful at suppressing her tears of gratitude. The elder Scot shifted in discomfort.

“Och, ye dinna need to cry, lass.”

“It’s nothing,” she insisted, accepting a handkerchief from Jamie. “Just pregnancy hormones. They make me weep like a leaky faucet.”

Both men looked bewildered.

“What are hormones, Sassenach?”

“What’s a faucet?

“I ken that one!” Jamie said proudly. “Has to do wi’ pipes that bring water into the house from underground. But I dinna ken what it has to do with a bairn.”

Claire laughed through her tears and kissed his cheek. “Nevermind.”

Several hours later, Jamie and I lay in bed, wrapped up in each other and sated to near exhaustion. His fingertips danced along the length of my spine, and I stretched like a contented cat.

“I’ve made a few decisions,” he announced, watching me with heavy but adoring eyes. “I’ll continue to pursue the case against Randall and Sandringham by interceptin’ the duke’s mail, but I’ll no’ be requiring Fergus’s pickpocketing skills anymore. As much as I enjoy the lad’s company, I’ll no’ continue to put him in harm’s way for my own gains. The rewards are no’ worth the risk anyway.”

“Thank you,” I sighed, relieved. “I know he enjoys helping, but I worry constantly that he’ll get himself caught.”

“Aye. I’ll no’ be lettin’ the important people in my life put themselves at risk for my cause, and that goes for you especially. I’ll no’ have ye at the mercy of the king’s attentions ever again. We’ve been lucky he’s been away from Versailles since the new year, but I heard he returned from the country last week. I can only hope you’ll be out of his thoughts so long as ye remain out of his sight. If my name is cleared through Argyll’s efforts, we’ll no’ need to curry favor wi’ the King of France.”

I was in full agreement and didn’t even try to hide my relief at his declaration. The king’s absence for the holidays and a subsequent hunting excursion on one of the other royal estates had been a blessing. But the stress of the situation had lingered in the back of my mind since the last time we’d been at court.

“Thank God for that,” I whispered shakily. “I don’t know what would’ve happened if he’d… and if I said no or…”

“Hush, mo nighean donn. Ye dinna need to fret over it any longer. I’ll no’ let any harm come to you or the lad. I swear it.”

The confidence I could hear in his voice soothed me, and I kissed him in gratitude, savoring the feeling of peace and intimacy. Jamie’s arms were around me, his lips were on mine, and our baby was cradled safely between us. 

As always, he was my sanctuary.

I greeted the sunrise with a smile the following morning, marveling over how much better I felt now that my two largest sources of stress had been eliminated. I wouldn’t have to worry about Fergus being caught and branded a thief, and I could breathe easier knowing I’d never have to see King Louis again. 

We would have to send a message to court, of course, and I thought perhaps Louise would be the best person to deliver it. We could claim we were leaving Paris to travel or some such nonsense, and the king would simply have to focus his beastly attentions on someone who actually wanted them.

I was going about my morning, my mind preoccupied with the precise wording of the letter when Jared’s butler caught my attention from the open doorway of our bedchamber. He held a silver tray in his hand, upon which rested a scroll of parchment. As I moved toward him, a heaviness settled in the pit of my stomach, and the baby fluttered in apparent disapproval of my plummeting mood. I was near enough to see that the scroll bore the royal seal, and my hands trembled as I took hold of it.

It could be good news, I thought, striving for optimism.

“Thank you, Magnus,” I said belatedly.

Rather than open it, I went in search of Jamie and found him in the library, talking to Murtagh. His obvious alarm and concern when he spotted me made me wonder what I looked like, but I merely handed him the scroll. He frowned and cursed under his breath in Gaelic, drawing Murtagh’s curiosity as well. 

Jamie’s face was grim as he broke the seal and unfurled the letter, scanning its contents.

“The king summons ye to Versailles this afternoon. Alone.”

A/N: Murtagh's back! And not a moment too soon, it appears. Once again, I've drawn some of the family background from DG's canon and added details for my own purposes. Jamie's maternal grandmother was born a Grant, and from the way Colum introduced himself to Claire (adding the name Campbell before MacKenzie), I didn't think it was a stretch to connect her with that clan as well. That particular duke did indeed help found the Bank of Scotland in the early 18th century, and I know he was mentioned in S1 if not also in the first book. My Colum is slightly less of a bastard than in canon, but let's not forget that having the king read his name alongside a duke's is good for Colum and his clan. It's just another way to reaffirm his loyalty to the crown while sticking it to BJR.

We're headed back to Versailles next chapter! Thanks for reading and reviewing!

Chapter Text

I had collapsed into an upholstered chair near the hearth, and I stared at the floor in silence while Jamie and Murtagh argued over the best course of action. Jamie had apparently filled him in on our previous visits to Versailles, because Murtagh’s expression revealed only disgust and anger as he tried to talk Jamie into loading up the carriage that moment and heading for the coast. It was a futile exercise, and we all knew it. The king’s rule was absolute, and defying his orders wouldn’t end well for anyone. 

This is it, then, Beauchamp. Get on with it.

I stood, drawing the attention of both men, and Jamie had no difficulty reading the resignation in my eyes.

“Ye dinna have to go. We can leave the city.”

“And go where?” I challenged sadly. His jaw worked irritably as he failed to produce a possible destination. “There’s no choice in the matter. You know that.”

“Well, I’ll be damned if I let ye go to Versailles alone,” he growled.

“I’d wager he had a reason for excluding you from the invitation. He might be angry at you for defying him that way.”

“He can take his anger straight to the devil ‘imself--I’m coming with you.

“Jamie… If he’s obtained the pardon, we can go back to Scotland now, without having to wait for word from Argyll or anyone else.”

“But ye think the king will be expectin’ payment for the favor he’s done ye,” Murtagh said bitterly, and I nodded. Jamie gritted his teeth furiously.

“Would he go so far as to rape a noblewoman while her husband waits in the next room?”


“I don’t know,” I replied instead. 

“I’m coming with you,” Jamie repeated. “If they try to keep me out, I’ll insist on stayin’ with ye because the bairn has weakened your health. If there’s anythin’ royals take seriously, it’s heirs.”

“I’m comin’ as well, in case there be trouble,” Murtagh interjected.

“‘Tis a capital offense to draw a weapon in the king’s presence,” Jamie warned. 

“Be that as it may, I’ll no’ stay behind and leave the two of ye defenseless.”

I took a deep but faltering breath and left the room, heading upstairs to get ready. I dressed with caution, selecting the most modest gown I owned that was fashionable enough for court. Unfortunately, all of my court dresses had been designed to minimize my pregnancy. Would the king have perhaps been less amorous if I were heavier with child?

Jamie and Murtagh were ready to leave when I emerged from the bedroom, and we all climbed into the carriage together. My anxious nausea only intensified the closer we came to Versailles, but I managed not to succumb to it. Jamie squeezed my hand in solidarity, a thousand questions in his blue eyes. 

Would I refuse the king’s attentions? Would I try to fight? Would my protests make any difference?

When we were led into what appeared to be a more private area of the palace, I was both surprised and unnerved at the informality of the situation. The king was dressed more casually than I’d seen in the past, with his long brocade frock coat unbuttoned to reveal a white lawn shirt untucked from his breeches. His usual powdered wig was absent, revealing dark, shoulder-length hair that had been gathered with a ribbon at the nape of his neck.

To my immense relief, there were a handful of other people in the room as well. The king seemed to be in the process of reviewing a series of documents with the aid of several clerics and a minister I didn’t recognize. Murtagh had been required to remain in an antechamber, being unknown to the king and without an invitation, but Jamie had been permitted to accompany me. I felt slightly more optimistic upon realizing I wouldn’t be alone with the king after all.

That was, until I saw his face as he registered Jamie’s presence at my side. He didn’t look angry, but he was clearly displeased. My nerves crackled with the instinct to flee.

“Welcome, Lord and Lady Broch Tuarach. Thank you for arriving so promptly.”

“We are at your service, Your Majesty,” Jamie replied with a bow as I curtsied in silence. Louis waved off a palace servant attempting to refill his wine goblet and met my gaze with a playful smirk.

“Indeed you are, for I returned from Cheverny last week to learn from my ambassador that a pardon from King George will be forthcoming. The official documentation has not yet reached me, but I’ve been assured that copies will be delivered to your residence in Paris as well to your estate in Scotland and the British seat of authority nearby.”

“You have my most humble gratitude, Your Majesty. I am in your debt.”

I wasn’t the only one who noticed his pointed exclusion of me in his statements. The king hummed thoughtfully, his eyes still resting upon me. Without another word to Jamie, he rose from his seat and addressed me directly.

“Madame, perhaps you would oblige me by accompanying me into the solarium for a moment. I recall your interest in botany, and the ingenuity of the room allows a variety of plants to thrive there even in the winter months. I would very much like you to see it.”

Louis came toward us and extended his hand, leaving me with no choice but to curtsy and place my own hand in his grasp. 

“I would be honored, Your Highness,” I heard myself saying.

I cast a backward glance toward Jamie, who was fidgeting with anxiety, and allowed the king to lead me from the room. 

The solarium, it transpired, was just on the other side of an oak paneled door some thirty feet from where Jamie stood. It wasn’t nearly far enough from the others to grant any semblance of privacy, and I tried to reassure myself that Louis wouldn’t dare cross the line with so many people within earshot. The large room’s ceiling and exterior walls were paneled glass, leaving only one solid wall--the one that separated us from the rest of the king’s attendants. 

The one that concealed us from my husband’s eyes.

“Lovely, is it not?”

“Beautiful,” I replied honestly, examining the greenhouse-like room. 

The February sun was bright, and the windows kept out most of the chill, allowing the many potted flowers and foliage to remain green and full of life. There seemed to be specimens from various parts of the world, perhaps having been gifted to the king from some foreign dignitary or other. 

At any other time, I’d have wanted to survey everything with my typical keen interest, but herbs and medicinals were the farthest thing from my mind. My thoughts centered instead on the large hand enveloping mine and the uncomfortably close proximity of its owner.

“I would have preferred you to come to me alone, ma chère madame. Though, I suppose I can hardly blame your husband for wanting to keep such a treasure to himself.” He brought his free hand to stroke my cheek softly as he spoke, and I tried not to shudder beneath his touch.

“We are forever in your debt, Your Majesty. If there is any service my husband might be able to perform for you, you need only ask.”

“Ah, ma douce,” he chuckled. “It is not a service I would ask of your husband, but of you.”

As he moved closer, I stepped involuntarily backward, and he parried the movement. 

“It… It is my husband who has been granted the pardon, not me,” I replied, my heart racing. His eyes glittered with some unknown emotion, but his expression was almost bland.

“The only thing I require of your husband, madame, is his absence.”

“Then, we shall leave at once, Your Majesty.”

My quick movement must have taken him by surprise, because I had nearly made it to the door when he caught me. He pulled me toward him roughly and wrapped an arm around my waist, hauling me back toward the opposite glass wall. 

“We have danced around the point for long enough. Do you not agree, ma chere?”

I blinked up at him nervously and nodded, the baby kicking wildly within me at my rush of adrenaline.

“Yes. I apologize if I’ve not been clear in the past, Your Majesty, but I cannot do what you’re asking. Even if I weren’t carrying my husband’s heir, I couldn’t possibly surrender my virtue in such a way.”

The king’s expression had shifted to one of cold displeasure. I instinctively searched for a glimpse of Jamie, but the only person I could see was a palace guard who seemed determined not to look at us as he blocked the doorway. Louis reclaimed my attention by tightening his hold on my waist and lifting the other hand to cup my jaw. His foul breath assaulted me yet again as he spoke, all traces of humor gone.

“You think too highly of yourself, La Dame Blanche. I could have had you at any moment, but playing your little game amused me. I find, however, that my amusement has faded.”

Before I could so much as take another breath, I found myself trapped against the glass wall with his body pressing into me. His mouth crashed down upon mine, and I whimpered reflexively as he forced my lips apart. The bile rose in my throat, and just as I feared I might vomit into his mouth, he pulled away, releasing me abruptly. I staggered and fought the urge to retch. He’d more than made his point.

He didn’t only want my body. He wanted my submission.

The king straightened his posture and strode back toward the door in a manner that was almost casual. His tone, however, was anything but.

“It is dangerous to deny a king. You should exercise more caution in the future, Madonna. As should your husband and your… friends.”

He vanished through the doorway, his open frock coat flapping behind him.

I was frozen in place against the frigid glass, and my entire body began to feel numb. With a shaking hand pressed to my abdomen, I struggled to take deep, even breaths.


Jamie rushed to my side, and even in my frazzled state, I could tell he was on the verge of losing his self-control. 

“We need to leave. Now.”

I didn’t speak another word until we’d collected Murtagh and were alone in the carriage. The two of them had flanked me and escorted me from the palace as quickly as possible without actually running. Jamie hovered protectively at my side in the carriage, fussing over me like a mother hen until I finally waved his hands away.

“We need to get to the apothecary as quickly as possible.”

“Why?! Are ye ill?”

“No, I…” I paused to swallow another urge to vomit. “It’ll pass. But Raymond’s in danger. We need to warn him.”

“What are ye talkin’ about? Did the king touch you? Threaten you?”

I closed my eyes briefly and recapitulated my short encounter with the king, skipping over the kiss and focusing on his parting words.

“He called me Madonna. I don’t know how he knew…”

“Because you’re wi’ child?” Murtagh frowned, and I shook my head.

“No, that’s what Master Raymond calls me. I don’t know how the king could possibly know that, but the way he emphasized it… Raymond warned me about angering the king. He’s found himself on the wrong side of the gens d’armes in the past.”

“Aye, Sassenach, alright. We’ll go straight there to warn him. Calm down, mo ghraidh. Ye said stress isna good for the bairn.”

I nodded, still trembling as I tried to breathe more evenly. But when I looked back at Jamie, my breath caught in my throat again. His eyes were darkening with rage as they focused on my lips, and I touched them gingerly, wondering if they were bruising already. They were certainly sore.

“Did he…”

“Just once. He was… forceful. But that was the end of it. I’m alright.”

My husband growled low in his chest, his fists clenching and unclenching with impotent fury. There was nothing to be done about it, of course, but Jamie was as hotheaded as ever and perfectly within his rights to be angry. He’d feel better once he had the chance to hit something. To my surprise, Murtagh didn’t look much better. It was touching, even if his anger was on Jamie’s behalf more than my own.

The carriage was moving quickly, and I prayed fervently that Louis hadn’t been making a joke over something that had already happened. What if we were too late? Raymond had once told me he’d been forced to flee the city multiple times in the past. Now, he would have to do it again--because of me.

I could only hope he trusted me enough to heed my warning.

It was nearly twilight when we reached the apothecary, and Raymond had only just begun close up for the day. He greeted us with a smile that fell quickly when he got a better look at my face. Without preamble, I explained the situation as succinctly as I could manage, my eyes darting back and forth between the elderly man and the young boy who peeked out from the storeroom door.

“He was angry with me, and he all but named you in his warning. I truly think you’re in danger, and I’d feel much better if you made yourself scarce for a little while,” I told Raymond urgently.

“Aye,” Jamie concurred. “We dinna want ye payin’ the price for our miscalculations. We didna think it would come to threats, and we certainly didna predict anyone else being punished along with us.”

“You mustn’t blame yourselves,” Raymond smiled ruefully. “Especially you, Madonna. You did precisely as I would have expected because you’re a person of integrity.”

“Yes, but I still regret that I’ve caused you trouble. You’ve mentioned having been forced to seek refuge outside of the city in the past. Can you do that again?”

“Yes, it’s possible. And I agree with you that it’s necessary.”

With that, he sprung into action, moving around the little shop with surprising speed for his age. He locked the door against new customers and pulled the curtains over the windows. Jamie introduced Murtagh properly, and the two men exchanged hasty pleasantries. I began making a mental list of his inventory and calculating how much of it could travel, but Raymond’s next words distracted me from the task.

“I will leave, at least for a time. But I fear I cannot take the boy with me. There would be no guarantee of his safety.”

Fergus had been watching and listening in silence, and I turned to see his features contort with surprise and fear. Fortunately, my husband seemed to be reading my thoughts and spoke them aloud before I could.

“We’ll take Fergus home with us.”

“Of course we will,” I nodded. Fergus immediately relaxed into a smile and rushed forward to wrap his thin arms around my waist. “He’ll have a home with us for as long as he needs.”

Murtagh’s brows lifted in surprise, but he said nothing.

“I agree that would be for the best, my dear,” Raymond replied. “And I won’t be able to take much with me, so what’s left behind here is at your disposal. However, I would advise against returning here after tonight.”

I glanced around the shop, taking in the sheer volume of jars and bottles. In my panic, I hadn’t thought about what the closure of the apothecary would mean for me, but now a plan formed quickly in my mind. There really was but one option.

“Jamie, Murtagh, I need you to help Fergus. Pack as much as you can into the empty crates in the store room. Fergus knows what we’re most likely to need.”

“Need for what, milady?” Fergus finally spoke, the thrill of new adventure having lifted his spirits.

“To see patients at home. We’ll take as much as we can fit into the carriage.”

“At home, Sassenach?” Jamie echoed, startled and clearly not sold on the idea.

“We’ll discuss the details later. For now, we need to focus on saving what we can.”

Jamie sighed a weary, ‘Aye,’ and followed Fergus into the storeroom, Murtagh trailing in their wake. I could hear the boy giving them directions in rapid French with occasional spurts of English, but I took only a moment to watch them through the open doorway before turning back to Master Raymond. 

“What can I help you with? Is there somewhere we can send your things?”

“Thank you, but no. I always keep a valise packed for such emergencies.”

My brows rose slightly at that, but I’d learned that Raymond had a way of seeing and knowing more than he often let on. As though to confirm my silent assessment, he took my hand and gave me a kind, confident smile. 

“I am certain our paths will cross again someday, Madonna.” With a quick glance toward the storeroom--presumably to check for Fergus--he led me a few steps away from the door before continuing. “As I do not know when that day might be, I believe now is the time to give you certain information. 

“If the boy ever grows curious about his origins, I would suggest you and your husband begin with some quiet inquiries into the Beauchamp family of Trois Fletches. They lost a young woman to childbirth about ten years ago, but since the child was illegitimate, the circumstances were… well-concealed. The proprietress of the brothel where the woman died happened to remember the lady’s name and told me the story the day I took the boy on as my apprentice.”

My jaw slackened as I processed his words, aghast at the implications. Raymond gave me a knowing smile, and the twinkle in his eye seemed to communicate even more than his words. A dozen questions formed simultaneously in my mind, but I couldn’t seem to articulate a single one of them.

We were interrupted by a sudden pounding on the front door of the shop, and I flinched in alarm.

“Not to worry. He is a friend,” Raymond soothed, easily recognizing the man’s face as it pressed against the window pane. He moved quickly to admit the stranger.


“The gens d’armes are nearby, maître. I heard them mention your name.”

“Merci, mon ami. I am leaving shortly.”

The man wished him safe travels and nodded politely to me in farewell before leaving as quickly as he’d arrived. 

I was still in a daze from the proverbial bombshell Raymond had dropped on me as I watched him retrieve a small suitcase from a hidden compartment in the wall. I’d worked there nearly six months and had never even known of its existence. 

“I must leave now if I am to get out of the city safely. Until we meet again, Madonna.” He took my hand and held it tightly, and my coherency rallied slightly.

“Be careful. Send word when you’re safe, if you can.”

He nodded and bustled out the door, and I watched through the small-paned windows as he paused to bid farewell to Jamie and Fergus, who were loading crates into the carriage. Raymond then set off at a smart pace up the street, and I stepped outside just in time to see him vanish around the next street corner.

My mind was still reeling from the unexpected turn of events as we drove home with Fergus in tow, along with as much of Raymond’s useful inventory as we could fit in the carriage. As the smallest members of our party Fergus and I rode inside with the various crates and bundles, while Jamie and Murtagh took up positions on the footmen’s pedestals behind. 

Fergus chattered excitedly almost the whole way to the townhouse, but I had trouble summoning more than a few words in response, unable to take my eyes off him as Raymond’s words echoed in my mind.

When we reached the walled courtyard of Jared’s home, Jamie opened the door and helped me out of the overloaded carriage, but his first words were addressed to Magnus.

“I want someone to stand watch at each of the entrances for the rest of the night. I’m to be notified immediately if anyone comes asking for her ladyship or the lad.”

“Of course, my lord,” Magnus replied dutifully, though his expression was openly curious.

I frowned at Jamie in silent confusion, and he shrugged.

“For all we know, the king may be angry enough to send someone after ye, Sassenach. And the lad could be in danger as well, by association with either you or Raymond. I’m just bein’ cautious.”

A handful of servants had materialized near the door, and he instructed them to move the contents of the carriage into the house, preferably into a room on the main level that was rarely used.

“The front parlor will do,” I managed to say, slowly regaining my composure. As they hurried to obey, I ushered Fergus inside.

“You can head to the kitchen if you’re hungry, dear. If not, you can go up to the guest room you’ve been using. That will be your room, alright?”

“Oui, milady! Thank you!” He gave me another exuberant hug and, predictably, sprinted toward the kitchen.

Still feeling a bit dazed, I found the first open chair in the dining room and all but fell into it, my hand moving automatically to my thickened waist. The flurry of activity continued around me, but for once, I didn’t get up to help. My body--not to mention my mind--needed a moment of rest.

When Fergus entered the room a few minutes later and sat next to me with a plate of food, I couldn’t help but smile. He ate with relish, practically devouring a piece of bread, a wedge of cheese, and a large portion of ham. His table manners still needed a little work, but the crumbs on his shirt only made my smile widen.

I found myself studying his features and searching for something familiar. Did he look like me? Or perhaps like my father or Uncle Lamb? I couldn’t remember my grandfather, but I’d seen a portrait once as a child. How many generations might separate me from Fergus? Had we gotten our dark, curly hair from the same ancestor?

Thanks to Uncle Lamb--and to a lesser extent, Frank--I knew a fair bit about my own genealogy. Not enough to have it memorized that far back, of course, but I knew the surnames, particularly on my father’s side, which had been Frank’s primary interest. Had the name Claudel Beauchamp been in my family tree somewhere?

To my own mild surprise, I felt absolutely no concern that I might be jeopardizing my own future by being a part of the boy’s life. If anything, the possibility that we might have been related by blood only strengthened my desire to take care of him.


Jamie came to kneel next to my chair, placing one hand on my belly and the other on the back of my neck. His eyes were cautious, and I smiled softly at him.

“I need to tell you something.”

Jamie frowned in concern as he assessed her. She was obviously in a bit of shock, but she didn’t look upset, as he’d been expecting. What with the king’s behavior today and now this upheaval… Jamie wanted to grab hold of his wife and lock them both in their bedchamber, so he assumed she was nearing the end of her tether as well. To shut out the world for a good twelve hours would’ve been a welcome reprieve from their troubles. Unfortunately, they couldn’t do that just yet.

Fergus finished his food just as the last of the crates and parcels from the apothecary were unloaded, but Jamie insisted they wait until the following day to start organizing them. He stood to accept a grateful hug from the boy and smiled down into his handsome face.

“Did you mean what you said to Master Raymond? That I will have a home with you?”

“Of course we meant it,” Claire smiled. She embraced Fergus again and kissed his forehead. “Head upstairs now. Suzette will give you something to sleep in and some water to wash.” He made a disgruntled face.


“Yes, wash. You’ll have a full bath tomorrow,” she decreed.

His parting smile was a little rueful, but he obeyed without argument.

“Come, mo nighan donn,” Jamie said, gesturing toward the stairs. “We’ll take our dinner upstairs tonight while we talk. Ye should rest.”

Claire smirked a little at his hovering but didn’t contradict him. He gave one of the kitchen maids instructions to bring a tray of food up when it was ready and then guided his wife upstairs. 

“You act like I’m going to collapse at any second.”

“Sorry,” he murmured. “S’pose I should ken by now that you’re a strong woman, but I canna help wantin’ to take care of ye.”

When at last they were alone, he held her in his arms for a long while, feeling the tension slowly easing from both their bodies. Claire eventually leaned her head back to give him a breathtaking smile, and he returned it in confusion.

“I thought you’d be upset about all this.”

“I should be,” she laughed. “But I’m not.”

He listened intently as she relayed the information Raymond had given her just before making his escape, and Jamie’s eyes widened at the familiar surname. He stared at her, struggling to process the far-reaching implications.

“Is it possible someone might come lookin’ for the lad?”

The light in Claire’s eyes dimmed slightly at the thought, but after a moment, she shook her head.

“I don’t think so. When I first got to know Raymond and Ferg--well, Claudel, Raymond said he’d found the boy in a brothel. His mother had been an aristocrat trying to escape the stigma of an illegitimate child, but she’d died giving birth. Only a few people, Raymond included, ever knew her identity. He didn’t name the woman at the time, so I didn’t think much of it. But I trust Raymond. If he says Fergus is a Beauchamp, I believe him.”

“But ye said he wasna the only one who kent where the lad came from, which means others might. And even if they dinna… If we ken who his people are, are we no’ honor bound to restore him to his family?”

He felt a little guilty as he watched her deflate a bit more, and he watched in silence as she considered it, her thoughts playing across her features as usual. Eventually, though, she shook her head again.

“If we’re right about him being a Beauchamp, then… he already is with his family. But even if he and I don’t truly share that connection, I feel responsible for him. I want him, Jamie. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the company of someone who shares my blood. It’s been six years since Uncle Lamb died, and…” She trailed off, swallowing back a ripple of grief. “It’s like Fergus fills a void I didn’t even know existed. And when the alternative would be handing him over to people we don’t truly know who would look down upon him for being born out of wedlock...”

“Aye,” Jamie nodded in surrender, gripping her upper arms lightly and pressing his lips to her forehead. “Aye, you’re right. At least if he’s with us, we’ll ken he’s loved.”

“And so will he.”

“Aye, mo chridhe.”

They embraced in silence for a moment before she spoke again.

“I’ve been trying to puzzle it out… whether or not he might be a direct ancestor. I don’t think he is, since he’s illegitimate, but when I consider the odds of finding him at all, it’s staggering. It reminds me of your dreams.”

“How so?” he asked softly, brushing his fingers through her curls.

“Your dreams led you to me. The stones led me to you. In my heart, I know I was always meant to be your wife,” she smiled. “And I think perhaps... Fergus was always meant to be our son.”

A/N: Whew, lots going on in this chapter! A good chunk of Fergus' origin story has been inferred from the main books, but since so much of Claire's genealogy has been left out of the companion books, I assume DG was trying to avoid spoilers. I'll do the same and for those who haven't read the later books, but I do have theories. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one! And just because Claire dodged a bullet with the king doesn't mean you should get comfortable. ;)

Chapter Text

It had been less than two weeks since my unfortunate encounter with the king and Master Raymond’s subsequent flight from Paris. 

To the best of our knowledge, Raymond had escaped the city unscathed. Though we’d not heard from him directly, neither had we heard anything about an arrest being made in connection to his shop. The gen d’armes had indeed visited the premises, but they’d apparently left it upon realizing their quarry had fled. Fortunately, they hadn’t damaged or stolen anything, and Jamie had since hired a few discreet men to board up the windows and secure the doors.

We’d been lucky in our own escape from the king’s clutches as well, though I still felt as though Louis was simply biding his time. He’d yet to contact us again, and we could only assume he was waiting for news of the pardon to reach him through his ambassador. Out of caution, we’d begun the process of finding alternative living arrangements, preferably in a smaller city where Jamie could still work for his cousin. It was unrealistic to believe we would be able to escape the king’s mandate forever. 

In the meantime, Jamie and I had been staying out of society to the best of our abilities. We’d avoided all court functions and as many social gatherings as possible. In fact, the only interaction either of us had had with anyone had been for the purposes of selling Jared’s wine or healing the sick.

I was now seeing patients almost daily at Jared’s townhouse, having repurposed the small front parlor as a makeshift surgery. As we couldn’t exactly post a sign at the apothecary to direct those seeking help, we’d been relying on Fergus to spread the word. He had the ability to blend into a crowd, but he was still recognizable by those who’d frequented the shop for my services. After a week or so, the word seemed to have traveled quickly enough.

I was constantly surprised at how well the household staff had adapted to the changes. When Jamie and I had first arrived in Paris, most of them had been rather inflexible when it came to the performance of their duties. We had since shaken their routines up quite a bit, and hardly any of them batted an eye when they’d been directed to set up the parlor for my healing purposes. It also hadn’t taken them long to adjust to the new procedures for visiting guests. A patient’s privacy was to be respected at all times, even if said patient was screaming in pain.

“Milady,” Fergus called, interrupting my musings.

“Come in, dear.” I smiled to see him hovering in one of the parlor’s doorways and waved him inside. “No one’s here at the moment.”

I’d established a rule that he was to wait for permission to enter the room, again for the sake of my patients’ privacy. Fergus had been immensely helpful, having assisted me with organization and simple tasks as well as finding a new place from which to procure supplies. His exuberance for lending a hand had been matched only by his hearty appetite. The boy never seemed to stop eating. While I knew Raymond had kept him well-fed, I suspected that being hungry for so much of his early life might have psychologically inflated his appetite. He’d certainly made fast friends with Jared’s cook.

“Madame Vionet said this came for you,” Fergus announced, handing me a scroll of parchment. 

“Thank you. What have you been up to this afternoon?”

He shrugged in an impish, nonchalant way that I was beginning to understand rarely held positive implications, but I merely shook my head and tousled his curly hair fondly.

Having him around all the time had been challenging but wonderfully fulfilling. After months of frequent visits to the apothecary, I’d grown accustomed to spending long hours in his company, so his boundless energy didn’t exhaust me as much as it might have otherwise. 

Instead, the challenge had come from my acceptance of my role as his mother. He’d told me once that I was the first woman who had ever truly cared about him and that he cared very much about me in return. Though he still called me ‘Milady,’ I hoped he would eventually be comfortable calling me some variant of Mother. Fergus seemed to have fit so neatly into our lives, as though he’d always been there. Now, I couldn’t imagine a future without him. 

“Is it from Milord?” he asked, pointing to the message in my hand. I examined the seal and shook my head. The letters AR had been stamped into the wax.

“I don’t think so. Jamie probably won’t be back until later this evening.”

He slumped in disappointment, and I gave him a conciliatory smile. His admiration for my husband had only increased when we’d taken him in. 

Jamie was still keeping busy handling Jared’s wine business, which had seen a boost in profits since he’d taken over operations in Paris. As he’d promised me, he had scaled back his efforts to intercept Sandringham’s mail--both the regular and the secret correspondence. Mrs. MacDonald had proven exceedingly capable in filtering out letters that would help our cause, and Jamie had given Murtagh the task of meeting her to exchange them.

“Might jus’ be the only time I’ve ever exchanged a pleasant word wi’ a MacDonald,” he’d jested.

Since we were still wary of retaliation from the king, Jamie had been trying to stay near me as much as possible. On the occasions he was forced to be away, Murtagh stood guard in his stead. And of course, Fergus was always here as well. He may have been small, but his devotion to me seemed absolute. Witnessing his dedication had set off my hormones more than once.

The letter Fergus had delivered was a relatively short one and had apparently been written with some difficulty. The penmanship was shaky, and several large splotches of ink littered the parchment. I checked the bottom for the signature first and narrowed my eyes.

Alexander Randall

I employed one of Jamie’s favorite curses under my breath as I read the message properly. The younger Mr. Randall had taken to his bed a few days ago and had been quite unwell since. He’d asked someone to track me down, since I’d ‘so kindly offered him useful advice when we were introduced.’ He was convalescing at the Parisian home of his employer and requested that I visit at my earliest convenience.

“What is wrong, milady? Milord says I should not say that word.”

I chuckled weakly and raised a brow in his direction.

“Been teaching you more Gaelic, has he?”

“Oui,” he grinned. “And Monsieur Murtagh too.”

“Ah. Then, I’d wager you already know your share of Gaelic profanities.”

“Oui. Like what you said to the bad man in the street. Falbh d--”

“Yes, I know what I said,” I interrupted him quickly. “Let’s not repeat it, alright? Can you go find Murtagh?” He nodded and all but sprinted out of the room, leaving me to shake my head in resignation. 

I felt torn as I reread the letter. On one hand, I most certainly did not want to set foot anywhere near the Duke of Sandringham. But on the other, I couldn’t very well hold Alex Randall accountable for his employer’s behavior. He had seemed a nice enough sort when we’d met at Versailles, and it was difficult to ignore my instinctive desire to help.

When Fergus reappeared a short time later with Murtagh in tow, I wordlessly handed him the letter. His thick brows drew together as he read.

“I dinna like it. Jamie wouldna want ye goin’ anywhere near the duke’s house.”

“Yes, well, Jamie isn’t here to be consulted. And even if he were, I’d still want to go.”

“Ye canna go alone, lass.”

“I know. That’s why I sent for you.”

“Why is it ye have to go at all? The man can surely afford to see a doctor,” he grumbled.

“I got the impression he’d seen more than one for his ailment, but it seems none of them have been of much help.”

“And ye think ye can help him when they couldna?”

“Milady is smarter than any doctor,” Fergus piped up helpfully, and Murtagh rolled his eyes.

“That may be, lad, but it doesna mean she has to put herself in harm’s way for a stranger.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s not like I’m going alone.”

Having made my decision, I moved about the room to gather some medicinals, packing them carefully into a lidded basket. Murtagh continued to mutter under his breath but didn’t bother to keep arguing with me over it. I intended to make my visit with Alex as brief as possible so as not to be under Sandringham’s roof any longer than necessary.

Fergus protested against being told to stay home, but I didn’t budge, sending him off to the kitchen to have a snack while he awaited our return. No doubt Madame Vionet would fuss over him and soothe his feelings with some sort of treat.

To my immense relief, the duke was out for a social engagement when we arrived, and his butler seemed to have been notified of my potential visit. He led us directly to a small bedchamber among the servants’ quarters, opening the door to reveal a wheezing Alex Randall. 

“Thank you, monsieur. Murtagh, you can wait in the hall. I won’t be long.”

The butler bowed and departed as Murtagh took up watch in the corridor. I closed the door quietly to grant Alex some privacy. 

“Madam,” he gasped between coughs, pressing his handkerchief firmly against his mouth. “Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Randall. Do lie back, please,” I instructed him. He’d been attempting to sit up, probably for the sake of propriety, but I placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and pushed him back toward the pillows.

“I apologize for… my forwardness… in--” he broke off into another fit of coughs, and I shook my head, easily deducing his intentions.

“There’s no need to apologize. I’m glad you reached out to me. I’d been wondering how you were fairing over the winter months. I’m sorry to see you’re feeling so poorly.”

I began my examination, having to shush his further attempts at apologies more than once. His lungs sounded utterly wretched, and he seemed to be fighting for every breath. His heart was working overtime as well, desperately pumping his meager supply of oxygen to his brain. He was thinner and paler than last I’d seen him, and exhaustion seemed to hover over him like a shroud. 

His prognosis was far from positive, even if he were to be hospitalized for constant treatment. He had pneumonia on top of a severe case of asthma, and from what I could gather, he’d been in poor health for most of his life.

I worked quickly to prepare his remedies, writing out instructions for each and administering the first rounds myself. Despite how poorly he felt, Alex was as pleasant and gracious as he’d been the night we’d met at Versailles. His eyes were warm with gratitude and kindness, making it easier to overlook his strong resemblance to other, less wholesome Randalls.

“Alright, I’ve written everything down for you. When you run out of what I’ve brought, you should be able to find fresh ingredients at an apothecary. And of course, I’ll be happy to come back and check on you if I’m able, but I’m not sure how much longer my husband and I will be in Paris.”

“Thank you again, Madam Fraser. You’ve been most kind.”

“You’re quite welcome,” I smiled, rising to my feet. “Try to rest as much as you can.”

He nodded dutifully and sank back into his pillows a bit more as I left the room. Murtagh stood at attention and escorted me down the corridor toward the front of the house at a brisk pace, clearly keen to make a quick exit.

A footman spotted us and held the front door open, but before we could pass through it, a man entered from outside. My steps and heart faltered in unison at the sight of his face.

Jack Randall.

The last time I’d had the misfortune to find myself in his presence, I’d at least had time to prepare myself. But this time, I’d had no such luxury. I forced my legs to keep moving, but the distance between myself and the door seemed only to lengthen. 

He hadn’t noticed me yet as he busied himself with handing his coat off to the butler. It was the first time I’d ever seen him out of uniform, and the effect was jarring. He looked as I might have expected Frank to look, were he to suddenly materialize in front of me, and the resemblance was doubled when Jack’s gaze finally landed upon me. His genteel mouth went slack with shock and anger, and the cold hatred in his gray eyes seemed to penetrate my very bones, turning my legs into immovable blocks of ice.

We stared at one another for what seemed like an eternity, but no one spoke. Murtagh was tense at my side, though I barely registered his presence. The longer I stared at Randall, the harder it was to focus my eyes. The world around me seemed to be vibrating, and I belatedly realized it was I who was shaking. 

But much like the last time I’d seen his face, it wasn’t fear that made me tremble. It was overwhelming rage.

The haze of anger was penetrated only by the force of Murtagh’s hands gripping my upper arms as he urged me out the door and down the front steps toward the carriage. Randall had been aghast and silent as we passed him, but I heard his shuffling footsteps follow us back through the door. He stopped on the top step, his expression one of fury and incredulity as he watched our carriage pull away.


I heard Jamie’s voice before the carriage had even come to a complete stop in the townhouse courtyard, and the door swung open almost immediately. His voice was anxious, but there was relief in his eyes.

“Christ, Sassenach, I was seconds away from mountin’ a horse and comin’ after ye. The lad said ye went to--” 

His relief seemed to evaporate when he caught sight of my face, and I vaguely wondered what I looked like. I was still quaking with shock and anger, keeping my mouth firmly shut as I accepted his help down the step. I moved past him without a word, desperate to get upstairs before I lost control of my temper and my stomach. Jamie looked to Murtagh for an explanation.

“She went and treated an ailin’ man and had nae trouble about it, but on the way out, we crossed paths wi’ Captain Randall.”

I heard Jamie curse vehemently, and he caught up with me a few seconds later, wrapping an arm around my waist to help me upstairs. My legs felt stiff as solid wood, and he took pity on me after noticing my slow progress. He swept me up into his arms and ascended the stairs to our bedroom, kicking the door shut behind us.

“‘Tis alright, mo ghraidh,” he murmured as he carried me to the bed.

Only when I felt the mattress beneath me and looked directly into his eyes did I allow myself to break down. Hot, angry tears streamed over my cheeks, and my stomach threatened to revolt against my last meal. Even the baby seemed to sense my emotional maelstrom, and I focused on the rapid fluttering in my womb to help me regain my composure in small increments. Jamie kept up his usual stream of soothing Gaelic, stroking my hair and cheeks as I wept. 

“I’m so sorry I wasna there with ye, Claire. I hate that bastard even more for makin’ ye so afraid.”

I wiped furiously at my eyes and shook my head.

“It wasn’t really fear,” I managed to say, taking a few more deep breaths. One of his hands moved to the swell of my abdomen, and he nodded for me to continue. “I froze for just a moment when I saw him, but it wasn’t fear. It’s not even fear right now. It’s anger, Jamie. Rage for the way he’s treated both of us and probably countless others. And it’s not just him. I’m furious with Frank.”

“Frank?” he echoed in confusion. “What has he to do wi’ this?”

“He made me like this!” I gestured agitatedly at my still-damp cheeks. “He turned me into this weak, pathetic person who quails at the sight of him. Or at someone who looks like him. I hate myself for letting him change me so much… I used to be fearless.” 

The last word came out as a whisper, and Jamie sighed, stroking my cheek again.

“Ye dinna give yourself enough credit, Sassenach. Ye are brave. One of the bravest women I’ve ever known. Frank may ha’ dampened your fire, but he didna even come close to snuffing it out. In just the time I’ve known ye, you’ve grown so much stronger. I’m so proud of ye, sometimes I feel I might burst with it.”

“Thank you for saying that,” I murmured. “I wish you could’ve known me before.”

“Well… Tell me about it, then. What were ye like? What makes ye think ye had more courage back then?” He moved next to me on the bed, settling against the headboard and holding his arms open for me. I crawled into his lap and gazed up at him.

“I went to war,” I began simply. “I was stationed near the front for months at a time. I’ve seen… horrible things. Borne witness to the ugly things men can do to one another in the name of power and conquest. It would’ve traumatized anyone, I suppose. But when I got home… I couldn’t even talk about it. I was left with all of that terror and despair, forced to bottle it up and bury it within me. 

“That fear never really went away. Because instead of returning to a loving husband and a safe home, I came back to that… purgatory of abuse and pain. And it infuriates me. That weak person who shrinks from danger and cowers in the shadows of powerful men is not who I am.”

Jamie was silent for a long moment, his arms tight around me as he rested his cheek against the top of my head.

“Ye can share those burdens wi’ me, mo chridhe. Let me help ye carry them so ye have the strength to let them go and become the person ye want to be.”

And so… I did. Finally.

It was difficult to put the devastation of my war in terms relative to his experiences. No other war in history had destroyed so much or cost so many lives. Entire cities bombed to rubble, whole communities executed for their religious beliefs or for standing on the wrong side of those in power… 

I searched my memory for a war he was likely to have studied.

“You’re familiar with the Thirty Years War?” When he nodded, I went on. “If I recall correctly, that war took somewhere around eight million lives. My war… Well, I don’t even know the total count, to be honest. Everyone was still picking up the pieces when I went through the stones, and no one knew the true death toll yet. But the last estimate I heard was over fifty million.”

Jamie was visibly stunned and horrified at the number, but I kept talking. I spoke for hours, explaining what I knew of the Holocaust, the nuclear bombs, the occupations, the sheer volume of human life lost… When I finally fell silent, his eyes were misty and his jaw was clenched. He held me so tightly I was starting to ache from the pressure, but I didn’t move.

“I canna even fathom the horror of it, Claire. And I certainly canna imagine what it must ha’ been like for ye to see such things. I once said that I thought ye came from a place where things were easier. I’m sorry for even thinkin’ it, mo ghraidh.”

“It’s alright.” I remembered him making the comment, but I hadn’t held it against him then and certainly didn’t now.

“I truly had no idea of the things you’d seen. No way I could’ve, of course, other than in the dreams. And I thank God for sparin’ me that. It would’ve been even more devastatin’ to see ye that way and no’ be able to help.”

“It’s enough that you would have helped if you could.”

We held each other in silence for a few minutes before he spoke again.

“Knowin' Randall is so close and no longer under protection of the redcoats makes it all the more temptin’ to run him through. The world would be better off without him.”

I couldn’t help but agree, but now that my mind was clearer, I had the sense to spot the obvious flaw in that plan. I wiggled free of his tight embrace and sat up to look into his eyes once more.

“Jamie, you can’t do that.” 

He blinked at me in surprise.

“You’re the last person I would’ve expected to say that. The man violated my sister and damn near did the same to my wife. How can ye expect me to jus’ stand aside and let the bastard go?”

“Because so far as we know--and we know quite a lot--Randall hasn’t fathered any children yet. Death will find him in two years on Culloden moor, and we can’t do anything to bring it about sooner than that.”


“Jack Randall is Frank’s ancestor, Jamie. And Frank is the only reason I was at Craigh na Dun or even in Scotland at all. If Frank doesn’t exist… I’ll never have found my way to you.”

He frowned skeptically at my logic.

“But ye already did. You’re here, right now, in my arms. Do ye think you’d just vanish, then?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ve already changed something and it wouldn’t matter. Or maybe the whole thing is a circle and this is the way it always happened. But we can’t take the risk. I won’t. It’s a miracle we found each other the way we did, and I won’t risk undoing it.”

“Aye,” he sighed, resting his forehead against mine for a moment. “Alright. I willna seek him out, no matter how much better ‘twould make me feel about everything. I may no’ agree wi’ your logic, but I’ll no’ risk being wrong about it. I couldna bear to lose ye, mo nighean donn.” He kissed me gently and rested his hand on my belly. “Thank God ye had Murtagh with ye. I dinna want to think about what might’ve happened had ye gone to Sandringham’s alone.”

I lowered my eyes and pursed my lips, feeling guilty. Despite my nerves, I probably would’ve done precisely that had Murtagh not been here, and it would’ve been foolish of me. Jamie touched my chin lightly, encouraging me to look up at him. As usual, he seemed to have no difficulty reading my expression and frowned in disapproval at the guilt he saw there.

“Ye ken, I’d feel much better about all of it if ye agreed no’ to make any more house calls.”

“Unfortunately, that’s part of the job. But I will promise never to go alone,” I offered in compromise. He sighed wearily.

“If I’m no’ available to escort ye, then ye must always take Murtagh. No’ Fergus. He’s a good lad, but he’s no’ strong enough to protect ye yet.”

“Agreed,” I replied promptly. His brows went up in surprise. “What? I can be compliant.”

“Aye, but no’ usually wi’ your clothes on, Sassenach.”

I laughed openly at that and felt my mood lift despite the circumstances. But then, Jamie had always had that power over me. 

He could brighten even my darkest nightmares.

A/N: Lots to unpack here! Can't wait to hear your thoughts. Of course, we know there's not really anything to worry about when it comes to negating Frank's existence, but neither Jamie nor Claire have that knowledge. Since canon Claire seemed to think she could erase Frank if Jack died before he was meant to, I opted to stick to that line of thought and take it a step further. In fact, I always wondered why Claire never pointed out that erasing Frank would effectively mean erasing herself from Jamie's timeline. That would've held a lot more weight with him and might have stayed his hand in Paris. But I suppose that wee bit of logic was sacrificed in favor of dramatic flair. ;) Thanks for reading and reviewing! Every single comment brightens my day!

Chapter Text

The walls were closing in on Jonathan Wolverton Randall.

It was truly astonishing--and infuriating--that one’s life could fall apart in such a short frame of time. Two months ago, he’d been sitting comfortably in command of the garrison at Fort William, his position insured by powerful friends and allies. He now regretted not making more of an effort to include the Duke of Argyll among them. The meddling bastard had taken a petition of complaint straight to the king on behalf of the Scottish people and of one Scot in particular--James Fraser, Laird Broch Tuarach.

Randall had been relieved of his duties as captain of dragoons until such time as the accusations could be investigated, and less than a month after his return to Sussex, he’d been notified of yet another impending blow to his career. It seemed the French ambassador, on orders from King Louis, had sought a pardon on behalf of the very same problematic Scot. If Randall’s sources were to be believed, pardon had been sought on the grounds that the charge had been falsified and that said laird was thought to be loyal to King George, unlike many of his Scottish contemporaries.

“It’s likely the pardon will be granted, sir,” the messenger had informed him. “Since it was you who charged the man with murder in the first place, I fear it may bring your honor under scrutiny.”

Randall had gritted his teeth at the man’s words. More scrutiny, he’d mentally corrected. Bad enough to have a duke accusing him of misdeeds, but to have the French king involve himself in the matter could prove to be disastrous for Randall.

To make matters even worse, the family solicitor had also informed him that someone had been prodding around in his personal business--specifically, his family’s connection to the Duke of Sandringham.

And just where was Sandringham in all this? Their communications had slowed significantly these last few months, and most of Randall’s letters had gone unanswered. Though there hadn’t really been time to correspond in detail about his suspension from duty, he’d begun to wonder if their messages were being intercepted or waylaid. There had to be an explanation for it. To suddenly find himself ignored by the man who had been his strongest ally was irritating as well as worrisome. If Randall hadn’t known better, he might’ve thought Sandringham was preparing to wash his hands of it--and of him--altogether.

The very idea of such a betrayal was infuriating. Not only had the duke seen to it that Randall’s entertainments had been overlooked, he’d outright encouraged such misdeeds. To go silent now, when Randall was in greatest need of his support, was unconscionable, particularly after everything else he had done in the duke’s service.

Sandringham was no longer holding up his end of their agreement. Randall had diligently and expediently reported upon the state of things in Scotland, from the warring of the clans to the relations between the Scots and the British Army. He’d been well-placed for such a task, and the duke himself had used his influence to secure him that placement.

After several incidents early on in his military career, Randall had found himself at risk of being imprisoned or even hanged for his transgressions, but Sandringham had intervened on his behalf and pled his case for a reassignment instead. Most of his peers would have winced in disgust at the idea of being stationed in Scotland, but Randall had embraced it. It was a filthy, barbarous country full of filthy, barbarous people, and the open disdain that existed on both sides had granted him a wealth of opportunities to indulge himself.

In return for the steady flow of information Randall had provided, the duke had helped to keep his official record clean and smoothed over his many misdeeds, either with his influence or simply with gold. Now, it all seemed to be falling apart, and Randall didn’t have to look far for the reason.

All had been well until he’d crossed paths with Claire Beauchamp. 

Claire Fraser now, if the Scots were to be believed. He’d once been rather fixated upon James Fraser, particularly after having had the privilege and pleasure of flogging him. But now, it was the man’s wife who held his primary interest. Shortly after her remarkable escape from Fort William, he’d written to the duke to inquire about her. Unfortunately, that had been one of the letters to which Sandringham had failed to reply, and he couldn’t help but wonder if the Fraser bitch had anything to do with the recent changes in his circumstances.

The strange convergence of their three lives--his, hers, and Fraser’s--was remarkable, to say the least. Randall wasn’t a man often given to fanciful thoughts, but the way their paths had crossed time and again was almost enough to convince him of the existence of fate. And if it were indeed fate that had brought them together in the past, it perhaps should not have been so shocking to see Madam Fraser once again.

For the second time since their initial meeting, she had managed to materialize in the last place Randall would’ve expected to find her. He hadn’t even known she was in France, but he’d just seen her leaving Sandringham’s home upon the very evening of his arrival.

The mere sight of her had triggered his quick temper as well as the vivid memory of the last time they’d exchanged words. Suspicion and anger had swelled like a tide within him, and if she’d stood there a moment longer, she would’ve suffered the consequences of it. Fortunately for her, the man escorting her had ferried her away, leaving Randall to shake with rage as he watched their carriage vanish into the darkness.

He hadn’t recognized her escort, but his kilt had identified his heritage easily enough. One Scot looked much like the rest, as far as Randall was concerned. But it hadn’t been Fraser. Was he in Paris as well? Had he found favor at the French court, prompting Louis to send his ambassador begging for a pardon?

Randall could think of only one other reason either of them would be here now. Hadn’t Fraser’s whore boasted that she, too, was in Sandringham’s employ? He’d been all but certain she was lying, particularly when the duke had ignored his inquiry, but now the possibility that she might have been telling the truth was almost terrifying. What had Sandringham told her about him? And if indeed she was working for him, why the hell hadn’t the duke warned him?

“Where is His Grace?” Randall asked the butler curtly, once he’d regained his composure enough to go back inside. The stout Frenchman bowed courteously.

“His Grace is out for the evening, Monsieur Randall, but your brother is in residence.”

Randall’s brows knitted in surprise at the information, knowing full well the duke usually required Alex to accompany him everywhere. Trying to shake off his residual anger, Randall followed the butler toward a bedchamber in the servants’ quarters, and he had to bite his tongue at the fact that his brother had been placed among the maids and footmen. Employee or not, Alex was gentry and didn’t belong there.

For a moment, all thoughts of the traitorous Madam Fraser were replaced by concern for his brother. Randall sighed in dismay at the sight of him. Alex looked downright dreadful. His hair, only half-secured by his club, hung limply around his unshaven face, and his complexion was sallow, with dark circles shadowing his brown eyes. 

Alex had always been sickly, plagued by breathing difficulties and chronic fatigue for as long as he could remember. As the two youngest of three sons, neither stood to inherit any wealth or title. In purchasing his officer’s commission, Jack had chosen the easiest means by which to distinguish himself. Alex had devoted himself to the Church of England, which should have afforded him a comfortable, simple life somewhere in the English countryside. But instead, their parents had boasted to Sandringham of Alex’s proficiency as a scribe, and the conniving old devil had promptly pressed Alex into service as his personal secretary. He clearly lacked the constitution for it.

Alex’s eyes opened upon hearing the door, and he smiled wearily at his brother.

“Well, this is unexpected,” he said by way of greeting, extending one hand outward. Jack took it and sat carefully on the edge of the bed. “Did His Grace know you were coming? He didn’t say anything.”

“I wrote to him before I left England, but it seems some of our letters may have gone astray. How long have you been ill? You didn’t mention it in your last letter.”

Jack’s tone was austere and chastising, but Alex recognized his concern. His breathing was still a bit labored, but Claire’s remedies had already eased his struggle considerably.

“I’m always under the weather this time of year, Johnny. You know that. Hardly seemed worth the ink to say so,” he grinned, pausing briefly to cough. “But you musn’t worry. The healer just left, and I have the utmost confidence in her skills.”

“The healer?” Jack echoed, thunderstruck. “Surely, you can’t mean the Fraser b--” He swallowed the profanity and instead called her, “Madam Fraser?”

Alex missed his near-faux pax and brightened with interest.

“You know the Lady Broch Tuarach, then? Her husband is a Scot, you know. I’ve only met him once, but he seemed a reasonably pleasant man. And Madam Fraser is the soul of kindness. Did you meet her in the course of your duties?”

Jack managed a vague nod but couldn’t summon a verbal response, and his renewed anger propelled him into motion, pacing the room in poorly veiled agitation. As Alex rambled on about Madam Fraser and her healing abilities, Jack’s mind was whirling. He’d always been careful not to involve Alex in his schemes and intrigues, but his suspicious mind had him questioning everything now.

If the Fraser bitch was truly working as a spy, what did she stand to gain from making Alex’s acquaintance? Or had the duke perhaps directed her to attend him? 

Her occupation as a healer was perhaps the only thing Randall knew for certain to be genuine. He’d witnessed her skills himself, though she had been unaware of his observation at the time. She’d been focused on her patient--a soldier whose arm had required amputation. It had been strange to watch her transformation from a terrified weakling to a skilled and competent healer. But only a short while later, she’d all but cowered in his presence. It had been then that he’d realized what an enigma she truly was, and their subsequent encounter at Fort William had left him with more questions than answers.

“I’m afraid there are matters requiring my attention,” he announced, taking advantage of one of Alex’s coughing fits in order to take his leave. “I’ll let you get some rest. You look to be sorely in need of it.”

“I won’t argue with that,” Alex replied with a tired smile. “I’ll be good as new tomorrow, you’ll see. These remedies are a wonder.”

“Yes, we’ll have a longer chat then. Might you have any idea when the duke will return?”

“He doesn’t often stay out past midnight unless he’s at court. Then, it’s at the king’s pleasure, of course. But I believe His Grace is merely at a dinner party this evening.”

Jack nodded and took his leave, bidding his brother a good night’s rest. He found his way to the library and decided to wait there for Sandringham’s return. A footman supplied him with a glass of wine, and he settled into a wingback chair near the hearth. The fire crackled merrily in the grate, contrasting his black mood. At least the Scots had gotten one thing right--the name Black Jack Randall suited him perfectly.

He glared into the glowing embers as he contemplated his next move. There had to be some way to restore the crumbling structure of his life. His commission, his reputation, his future… All of it was falling to ruin, and he suspected Claire Fraser was at the root of the problem.

He’d taken her for a whore at first, and he still wasn’t entirely sure he’d been wrong on that count. She’d posed as a proper English lady upon their next meeting, then as a Scotsman’s traitorous wife, and lastly, as a spy for Sandringham. Who was the real Claire Fraser? 

It was a puzzle he was determined to solve.

I glanced up from the work table in my makeshift surgery, pausing in the act of disinfecting the tools of my trade. Across the room, Fergus was working diligently to replenish the herbs and decoctions I’d used throughout the day. I watched him with a proud smile, impressed as always by how much he’d learned during his apprenticeship.

My thoughts flickered to Master Raymond, and I said a quick, silent prayer for his safety. We’d heard nothing from him since his departure over three weeks ago, and I knew Fergus had been worried about him as well.

With a sigh, I returned my full attention to my task, admiring one of the new scalpels I’d commissioned from the blacksmith. I knew my limits, of course, and certainly hadn’t attempted any complex surgical procedures. Even in my own time, I hadn’t been trained as a doctor. But the ‘fancy wee knives,’ as Jamie called them, were just the thing for draining abscesses and the simple removal of foreign objects.

In addition to my treasured new tools, I now had a steady supply of disinfectant. My clever husband and his godfather had built a small still and had managed to distill pure alcohol from some of Jared’s Jamaican rum. I had lately spent more than a few hours daydreaming about what other futuristic medical solutions we might be able to produce. 

What I wouldn’t give for an antacid tablet…

At nearly six months along, I wasn’t so heavy with child that I was particularly uncomfortable, save for the occasional disturbance of my sleep or equilibrium. Generally speaking, I was quite enjoying my pregnancy thus far. But the heartburn in the evenings was damn near unbearable at times. 

I seemed to recall an old wives’ tale about excessive heartburn being an indicator of how much hair the babe would have at birth. Though I wasn’t sure what would be deemed ‘excessive,’ I’d suffered enough that I was expecting this baby to be born with a full head of hair. Red hair, no doubt.

The thought brought a smile to my face that was still lingering a few moments later when Marguerite announced that a gentleman was waiting to see me and was in need of a healer.

“Thank you, Marguerite. This will be the last one for the day,” I replied. She nodded and turned to gesture a welcome to the unseen man.

I glanced back at Fergus to check that he’d remembered to leave the room through the other door, which led to the library. Some of the patients didn’t mind the boy’s presence, but for the sake of professionalism, I insisted on providing as much privacy as we could manage. As such, the servants knew to avoid the front parlor when the door was closed and had been instructed to knock only in cases of emergency.

Seeing that Fergus had indeed cleared the room, I turned back to greet my next patient with a smile, but I felt it slip from my face just as quickly.

Jack Randall stood in the doorway, smirking at me in that familiarly cruel, calculating way as he closed the door behind him. He took two paces toward me, and although the work table was between us, my hand instinctively gravitated toward my belly as a scream built in my throat.

Randall seemed to sense my intention and shook his head, opening his jacket to reveal a pistol secured at his waist. My pulse thundered in my ears as he drew the weapon almost lazily and aimed it directly at me. When he finally spoke, his voice was deceptively polite, but it chilled my blood nonetheless.

“Now, then, Madam Fraser. I think it’s time you and I came to an understanding.”

A/N: Hope you enjoyed the little glimpse into Randall's mind. Next up is the showdown at l'hopital de Claire. Who's ready? :) Thanks for reading and reviewing!

Chapter Text

For a moment, he merely watched me, observing me as a child might observe an insect they were about to squash. Randall’s gaze was searching, and I instinctively knew what he was looking for--what he expected to see in me. My spine straightened in defiance, and I forced my expression into one of calm neutrality. I had long since decided I would never again cower in this man’s presence.

My composure seemed to take him by surprise, but it didn’t put him off. If anything, his eyes glittered with interest as though I’d just raised the stakes of the game. No doubt, he thought my fear would taste that much sweeter when I finally surrendered to it, and I’d be damned if I gave him that satisfaction.

At the far end of the room, Randall began to pace slowly. He kept the pistol trained on me as he walked in an invisible line from left to right some ten feet in front of me. I suppressed a shudder as he seemed to transform before my eyes into the man who had beaten and nearly broken me. How many times had I watched Frank pace across a room with the very same expression on his face, musing over various topics with the unencumbered ease of a scholar? And like his descendant, Jack Randall spoke his thoughts aloud, almost as though I weren’t in the room at all.

“You can imagine how surprised I was to see you the other night,” he began, referring to the evening I’d visited his brother the week before. “I certainly hadn’t expected to find you in France, much less at the home of my dear friend.”

I held my silence, so he continued.

“Though, after I’d had a few minutes to consider it, I decided it wasn’t all that strange. You had mentioned the duke by name when last we spoke, after all. I hadn’t believed you then, but of course, I’ve been guilty of underestimating you on numerous occasions, have I not?”

I maintained my stony expression, and my voice was strong but cold when I replied.

“And yet, here you are.”

“Oh, not to worry,” he said with a smile, even as his eyes narrowed. “I have a better measure of my opponent now, madam. I shan’t be repeating my mistakes.”

I didn’t take the bait this time, silently watching his slow progress across the parquet floor. As he went on, he kept his voice low, presumably to avoid drawing the attention of the servants, but I could hear him with perfect clarity. And in truth, I preferred we not be interrupted as well, particularly by Fergus. My stomach recoiled at the thought of the eager young boy returning to the room now.

“I’m sure I needn’t tell you what the duke had to say about your claims to be in his service,  but his reassurances left me wondering just how you knew of my connection to him, madam. I confess, the question has troubled me greatly since we last met in Scotland. So much so that, after your rather dramatic departure from Fort William, I made inquiries into the academic societies in Oxfordshire.”

He paused, the pistol still leveled at my head as he waited for my response. I said nothing.

“Oddly enough, no one there had ever heard of a teacher by the name of Frank Beauchamp. That was your husband’s name, if I recall our first meeting correctly. Though, not six months later, you had yourself a new husband. That one, I knew personally. James Fraser…”

My lips tightened at the sound of Jamie’s name on the bastard’s lips, but I bit my tongue, biding my time. Like Frank, Jack Randall seemed rather fond of the sound of his own voice. 

“My history with your husband is no secret to you, nor indeed to anyone else, thanks to the Duke of Argyll and his petition of complaint.” The end of his sentence revealed his bitterness, and he had to look away for a moment to retain his composure. 

I took the opportunity to let my eyes flicker toward the steel medical instruments I’d just finished cleaning before his arrival. My hand inched toward them cautiously. Could I be quick enough to slip one into my sleeve without his notice?

Contemplating the consequences of not being quick enough sent another chill to my bones.

“But I digress,” he muttered, appearing not to have noticed my momentary distraction. “I admit, I could conceive of no other means by which you had come to be aware of either my activities or the duke’s, so the only explanation that made any sense was that you, too, were a spy. And if not for Sandringham, then for whom? The Jacobites? The Crown? The French king? The Pope himself?”

His tone was rhetorical, and his mannerisms were so similar to Frank’s that I could almost predict my opportunities to act. I managed to take hold of the nearest surgical knife, which fortunately was also the longest, with its blade roughly four inches long. When he glanced at the floor again, I pushed the instrument up my sleeve, my fingers numb with anxiety.

“The mystery of it all had me baffled for a time, but then, quite recently… I decided it didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re a titled heiress or the whore I originally took you to be. After today, the truth will be what I’ve made it.”

“Spoken like a true narcissist,” I said scathingly, finally breaking my silence. “Do you never tire of hearing yourself talk?”

Randall merely smirked and slowly began to move toward me. He kept the barrel of the pistol trained on me with his right hand as he used the other to pull a scroll of parchment from inside his jacket. He held it up with an expression of exceeding arrogance, as though he’d already won.

“No doubt you’re aware of Argyll’s petition to the king, given that your name appeared on it multiple times. Indeed, I was told it was my alleged behavior toward a genteel English lady that weighed most heavily in my superior’s decision to relieve me of my duties. Not the numerous and well-documented atrocities I visited upon various men and women in the Highlands. The honor of an Englishwoman has more value than anything a soldier might do to a Scot in the name of serving his king. As such, it became rather clear to me that the solution to the problem rested in you.”

“I’m honored.” He ignored my sarcasm and lifted the scroll.

“This document will remedy that.” Randall gestured with his head as well as the parchment to instruct me to join him on the opposite side of the table. I glanced at the gun, not willing to move any closer to him. “Do as you’re told.”

I sighed in tense resignation, realizing there could be no easy means of breaking the stalemate. Somehow, I forced my legs to move. I kept my right hand on my belly as I calculated how best to survive this confrontation and keep my baby safe. Fortunately, the voluminous folds of my gown provided cover for the weapon I’d stowed in my sleeve.

Randall’s eyes dropped to the tell-tale bulge of my abdomen, and his black eyes glittered again with amused interest. He couldn’t possibly have missed my obvious state of pregnancy when he’d seen me last week, but it was the first time he’d looked so openly at my midsection. 

I rounded the table to stand at his right, cringing inwardly as I drew nearer to the gun and praying he didn’t decide to transfer it to his other hand.

“Such a shame, that,” he said, still looking at my stomach. “I doubt pregnant women fare well in prison.”

I narrowed my eyes at his implication, and in answer, he unrolled the parchment for me to read, using two glass jars from my work table to weight the ends--groutweed in one and hellebore in the other. The first was used to treat hemorrhoids, and the second was good for purging. 


Randall’s movements were too quick to allow me to slip the knife from my sleeve, so I pretended to humor him, leaning forward to read the parchment. It appeared to be a legal document that, at first glance, looked not unlike the marriage contract I’d signed almost a year ago. The text had been painstakingly calligraphed in a similar fashion. 

It was difficult to process the actual words I was reading, what with my skin crawling at Randall’s close proximity and my mind grappling for a way out of this mess. He didn’t seem interested in waiting in silence for me to read, so I was spared the task of decoding the legal language.

“This is a written confession to acts of treason against His Majesty and against the English people. To summarize, it attests to your efforts to undermine the king’s authority in the Highlands and to further the Jacobite cause there as well as in France.”

My eyes were wide and incredulous as I stared at the paper.

“You can’t possibly prove anything of the sort because it’s not true.”

Randall sneered and adjusted his body, leaning closer as he wrapped his right arm around my shoulder to point the barrel of the gun to my temple. His left hand closed painfully around my upper arm, pulling me against him. Every muscle in my body clenched, and the baby fluttered nervously. I scarcely dared to breathe, lest my fear and my overwhelming disgust at his nearness trigger my gag reflex. The scent of lavender didn’t quite mask Randall’s body odor, and the combination was far from pleasant.

“That’s the beauty of a signed confession, madam,” he explained, his voice quieter now that he spoke directly into my ear. “I won’t need to prove it. Not only will it be enough to condemn you, but dear Jamie will be damned by association. A Scot and the husband of a traitor?” He hummed with dark amusement in a way that was all too familiar. “May as well string you up side by side.”

I forced my voice to remain steady as I slowly worked the knife from my sleeve, keeping my arm out of his line of sight.

“I fail to see how any of that would solve your problem. Your actions had consequences, as you should’ve expected all along. You can’t treat human beings like vermin and expect to get away with it.”

“You can when they’re traitors,” he snarled, his anger resurfacing. “And the Scots are vermin. Every loyal Englishman knows it, and the king is no exception. And Argyll, for all his airs and influence, is still a Scot.”

I couldn’t help but experience a brief flicker of victory when I felt his muscles stiffen with poorly contained fury, the cold metal against my temple shaking ever so slightly. His composure was breaking, and it gave me the strength to respond with equal ire.

“If you truly believed that, you wouldn’t be here. And if you knew a damned thing about loyalty, you’d never have thought for one second that I’d sign that ridiculou--”

We were both startled when the secondary door swung open, and my heart plummeted to my stomach. Fergus’s eyes were wide with shock as he took in the scene.


Randall pulled the gun away from my temple to aim it at Fergus.

Oh God, no…

With an inexplicable surge of strength, I drove the surgical blade upward into the thickest part of Randall’s outstretched arm, forcing the gun upward. By the grace of God, the pain caused him to drop the thing before he could fire, and it bounced off the table and onto the floor. He cried out but attempted to wrap his uninjured arm around my neck. 

My grip on the knife didn’t falter as I tugged it free from his upper arm and buried the blade once more, this time aiming over my right shoulder. It found purchase in his eye socket.

He screamed in pain and rage, blood spurting from the wound as he released me. He stumbled backward, but the handle of the knife was still clenched in my hand. I spun to face him, and he lifted both hands to cover his face. I didn’t waste another second before plunging the knife into his gut, directing the blade upward beneath his rib cage, just as Jamie had taught me so many months ago.

At last, he collapsed to the floor, and his screams became garbled by the blood in his throat. My grip on the knife was still painfully tight as I stared down at Randall in horror. Tremors of shock overtook me, and it was with a sense of detachment that I heard the main doors of the room burst open. 

Only then did I register Fergus’s shouts of alarm from one doorway and Murtagh’s looming presence in the other. Murtagh recovered first.

“Pipe down and lock that door, lad,” he instructed as he made to lock the main door as well. Fergus obeyed before rushing to my side, but Murtagh stopped him from getting too close. “Come now, lass. Let go o’ the blade. Ye did fine. ‘Tis over now.”

I relented to his coaxing, forcing my fingers to release my weapon. Once he’d moved it to a safer place, he retrieved the pistol from the floor as well, setting it on the table behind me. I processed all of it through my periphery, as my gaze was still locked upon the dying man on the floor. It seemed impossible to look away until I felt Fergus’s arms around my waist.

“Did he hurt you, Maman?” he demanded, his wide eyes shining with tears. I hugged him tightly, belatedly realizing that I was crying as well. Hearing him call me mother only made the tears flow faster.

“N-no. Are you alright?”

“Oui. I thought he would shoot you.”

I nodded, unable to say anything else. My gown was soaked with blood from the right shoulder and down the length of the sleeve, but I paid it little mind. My eyes had gravitated back to Randall.

Murtagh was crouching on the floor next to him, but I didn’t need him to tell me Randall was dead. I could see it perfectly well from where I stood. The crimson mess of his ruined eye had painted his face as well as much of his hair and the floor beneath him. A dark pool of blood was expanding beneath his arm and torso as well, and I could do little more than stare in disbelief.

I had done that.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I muttered weakly. 

My knees wobbled dangerously, and Fergus tried to steady me. Murtagh was suddenly standing before me, blocking my view of the dead man. His usual brogue seemed thicker somehow as he placed a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“Dinna fash, a leanan. The bastard needed killing, aye? Sit ye down while the lad and I see to the mess. Jamie’ll be home any minute now.”

I wanted to argue against Fergus being made to clean up such a gruesome scene, but I knew if I opened my mouth just then, they might well have been cleaning up vomit along with everything else. They guided me into a wooden chair a few steps away, and I sat obediently, staring at my trembling, bloodstained hands. I pressed my fingertips together, vaguely wondering why I couldn’t feel them. The numbness was in my legs too, and my body felt as though it had been dipped in icy water.

Shock. Yes, of course. And why not? I’d just killed a man…

I lost track of my own conscious thoughts for a little while as Fergus and Murtagh conversed in low tones, presumably discussing how to handle the matter without alerting the staff. Fergus slipped out of the room and returned a few minutes later with a bedsheet, and they began to wrap it around Randall’s body. The sound of the voices reached us through the door to the library, and I recognized Jamie’s among them.

“Go fetch him, lad,” Murtagh instructed. “Just put yer head through the door. Ye’ve got blood on ye.”

Fergus nodded and rushed to do as he was bid, his expression full of relief that milord was home to fix everything.

It seemed only seconds had passed before Jamie burst into the room. I tried unsuccessfully to stand, but he rushed forward to stay my movement. His wide eyes took quick stock of Randall’s body on the floor, but he was more concerned over the blood staining my dress and hands.

“Claire! Are ye hurt?” I could hear his panic and feel his hands shake as he examined me for the source of the blood. 

“No, it’s… It’s not my blood,” I replied with a sniffle. 

He hovered over me, murmuring in Gaelic as he kissed my forehead and wiped the blood from my skin. His hands went to my belly.

“And the bairn?”

“Fine. We’re both fine.”

Jamie sighed in relief and touched his forehead to mine, whispering a quick prayer of thanks before he rounded on his godfather.

“Murtagh, what in God’s name happened?!”

A/N: Can't believe this is almost done! Thanks for reading! <3

Chapter Text

I’d been unable to do more than watch as Fergus, Murtagh, and Jamie had cleaned up the mess in the parlor. Jamie had refused to let me help and had only left my side briefly to retrieve clean clothing from our bedchamber. By the time the boys had finished, it was well after sunset, and Fergus had taken up the post as my protector while Jamie and Murtagh left to dispose of Randall’s remains.

I forced myself to eat dinner with Fergus and was relieved that he hadn’t needed a reminder not to discuss the incident when others were around. Once we were alone, however, I encouraged him to voice his feelings.

“I’m sorry you had to see such a thing,” I told him quietly, feeling wretchedly guilty. Some mother I’m turning out to be…

“I was only worried for you and the bebe,” he assured me. “And it was only for a moment. Everything happened so quickly. You were magnifique! The way you stopped the bad man… You were so brave.” 

His eyes were bright with admiration, but I knew he’d been terrified. The instinct to call out to me as his maman had come from a place of fear. But to look at him now, one might think he’d found the whole thing enthralling.

“It’s alright if you were frightened. I certainly was. I hate that you had to see me… kill someone.”

“Well…” He phrased the word as Jamie did, making it sound more like weel, and it made me smile a little despite the weight of guilt on my conscience. “I was a little frightened. But it was not the first time I had seen someone die.”


“Oui. Once, at Maison Elise, two of the gentlemen got into a fight. It happened often, but that time, one of them killed the other with a knife. I helped the maids clean it up. It was even messier than the parlor--blood everywhere. Even on the ceiling!” he exclaimed with boyish enthusiasm. “And Murtagh was right. The bad man needed killing. You should not feel guilty. He wanted to hurt us.”

I was alarmed by his explanation but managed to nod in agreement.

“I’m just glad you’re alright.”

“And the bebe?”

“Yes, the baby’s fine too,” I assured him, smiling weakly.

Fergus insisted on staying with me in my bedchamber until Jamie returned, stating that I shouldn’t be alone after such a shock. But by the time my husband finally entered the room, Fergus had fallen asleep on the settee. Jamie smiled softly at the sight before focusing his attention on me.

He gathered me into his arms, again murmuring his Gaelic words of comfort and reassurance, and I willed myself not to break down. After a few moments, he kissed my forehead and gestured to his clothing, which were smudged with blood in a few places.

“I’ll need to get rid of these.”

Once he’d cleaned himself up and donned a nightshirt, he lifted Fergus into his arms and carried him to bed. Upon returning, he locked our door and put another log on the fire. Though I was feeling stronger now, I didn’t argue when he helped me into bed. He settled in beside me, and I immediately curled into his embrace, tucking my head under his chin. The baby was safely cradled against his body, and he rested a hand there, once again reciting a prayer of thanks.

“Tell me what happened, mo ghraidh,” he implored. “I only ken what Murtagh could tell me and what I could deduce from the parchment on the work table.”

“Oh, no,” I perked up in alarm, but Jamie pulled me back toward him gently, shaking his head. “Did you burn it?”

“Aye, of course. But it was ruined by the blood regardless.”

The memory of the white parchment stained red with blood and vitreous turned my stomach, but I breathed through the worst of it and began to explain the afternoon’s events, slowly detailing the manner in which Randall had gotten me alone and the conversation we’d held. Jamie listened in silence until I’d finished.

“Objectively speaking, ‘twas no’ a bad plan. At that point, he probably thought ‘twas the only way he had a prayer of hangin’ on to his commission. His mistake was underestimatin’ your instincts. I’m proud of ye, Claire. I wish wi’ all my heart that I’d been there to protect ye, but I’m certainly no’ sorry the bastard’s gone.”

Neither was I.

“What did you and Murtagh do with his body?”

“Dumped it in a slum no’ far from Sandringham’s neighborhood, in the opposite direction of here. Left him in an alleyway a few streets from a whorehouse, and ‘twill be clear enough what killed him. Knife fights are common in such places, and I doubt anyone will bother to ask questions.”

“Will they be able to identify him?” I asked with a grimace, recalling the gruesome sight of the man’s ruined face.

“Possibly, but I wouldna wager on it. We thought about changin’ his clothes, but that would’ve looked too suspicious. He wasna so well-dressed that anyone would think him out of place in an area like that. Leastways, no’ so close to a well-known brothel.”

“And the servants here?”

“Murtagh and I made sure no one saw us. ‘Tis lucky you’ve been practicin’ your healin’ here for long enough that the servants have gotten used to hearin’ people screamin’ in pain.”

“Not to mention knowing not to interrupt,” I added, having considered that stroke of luck earlier.

“Aye. Try no’ to worry, mo nighean donn. Ye were defendin’ yourself and the bairns. I’d no’ have wanted ye to do any different.”

I nodded stiffly, but despite Jamie’s reassurances, I was still struggling with the way things had happened. Regardless of my noble motives, I was still shocked to learn that I was capable of killing a man. When I thought back to the many men I’d watched die and the many I’d worked to save, it was even harder to rationalize. My thoughts twisted themselves into knots until I’d been silent for so long that Jamie leaned away and forced me to look up at him.

“Talk to me, mo chridhe.”

I took a deep, stuttering breath as I gathered my thoughts into something more coherent.

“Even when Frank was at his worst, I never thought of killing him.”

“Frank never never threatened your child,” he reminded me gently.

“Yes, but… But I did kill Frank, didn’t I? Him and every other descendant of Jack Randall?”

“I thought of that too,” he admitted with a sigh. “The moment I realized ‘twas Randall on the floor. And I remembered what ye said--that you’d no’ have come through the stones at all if no’ for Frank. I was afraid to leave ye because I thought ye might disappear.”

“Is that why you told Fergus to stay with me?”

“Aye, partly,” he smiled. “Ye needed each other, ye ken? He was frightened for ye as well. But I dinna think ye need worry about Frank. I checked my sporran, and your gold ring is still there. Same inscription on the inside.”

I frowned, considering the implications of it, and Jamie kissed the wrinkle that had formed between my brows.

“Does that mean that nothing I do can change the future?” I wondered aloud. “Or nothing that happens because I’m here will affect things in my time?”

“I dinna ken, Sassenach. It may be as simple as Frank’s research no’ being as perfect as he thought. Or perhaps the official record isna the true one.”

“No, Frank and Jack were biologically related. Of that much, I’m sure. No two men can look that much alike and not be related.”

“Hmph, well… In that case, I’d wager ‘tis somethin’ akin to what happened wi’ my cousin, Hamish. He’s known to all as Colum’s son and heir, and history will no doubt record him as such. But it wasna Colum who sired him.” He nodded when my eyes widened slightly in comprehension.

“Something similar might’ve happened in the Randall family.”

“Aye. Perhaps God simply made a correction somehow, or perhaps this is the way it always happened and ye just didna ken the truth of it in your time. But either way… Does it really matter?”

“No, I suppose it doesn’t. It’s just further proof that I was always meant to be here.” I smiled, pleased that it felt more natural now, and I relaxed further into his embrace. Jamie smiled too and kissed me softly.

“Aye, ye were. You’re here, mo Sorcha. And you’re safe.”

Jamie and I were enjoying a rare quiet afternoon together in the library.

I had come into the room to keep him company as he worked, but we’d soon found ourselves cuddling together on the padded sofa. I was reclining against one end with my legs over Jamie’s lap, and my eyes were closed as I enjoyed the relief of his strong fingers kneading my aching feet.

Jamie was telling a story in Gaelic and directing most of the words to my swollen stomach. I knew enough to follow the gist of what he was saying, but many of the finer points were lost on me. I supposed I’d need to keep at it, since our child would no doubt grow up speaking a mixture of both languages. The thought of trying to understand such a mixture when spoken by a toddler was a bit daunting.

I got lost in my thoughts for a few minutes, but my attention was snagged by a string of familiar words. He’d apparently worked his way around to The Woman of Balnain. 

“You’ll have to learn how to sing the ballad for the bairn, Sassenach,” he announced, having caught my smile. “I’ve no ear for music.” I chuckled.

“I’ll work on that. But maybe we should revise it a little. This woman of Balnain has no intention of ever going back.”

In the month since Randall’s death, I had continued my healing services, though under much stricter conditions. Either Murtagh, Fergus, or Jamie was always in the room with me unless I directed them to leave for the sake of the patient’s privacy. I’d had to force my mind back into my war nurse mentality just to set foot in the parlor again, but it had gotten easier after the first week or so. And the experience had certainly been less daunting than that of having to face Alex Randall again.

Jamie had only been partially correct in his estimation of the aftermath of Jack Randall’s death. It had indeed been attributed to an encounter with the wrong sort of person in the wrong part of town, but to Jamie’s surprise, the authorities had managed to determine Randall’s identity. Alex had told me about it the last time I’d tended him.

“It was just a coincidence, really. The blackguards took his valuables, but they left a small scrap of parchment in one of his pockets,” he’d explained sadly. “It was a missive of some sort from the duke, but they said most of the text was illegible.”

Alex’s voice had been pained with grief, and he’d gone on to inform me that he would be leaving soon to take his brother’s body back home to England. I hadn’t been able to help the moment of dizzying relief I’d felt upon hearing that, whilst in England, Alex planned to make an offer of marriage to his brother’s intended. The betrothal had been an arrangement between their two families, and Alex now felt honor-bound to see to Mary’s care. I recalled the name from Frank’s genealogy chart and knew Jamie must have been right about the circumstances correcting themselves.

In addition to that fortunate development, it seemed that Louis had finally decided to leave me be. I was far enough along in my pregnancy now to have lost the king’s interest as a conquest, especially since going to court in such a state was considered unfashionable. 

Raymond’s premises had been seized by the Crown and promptly auctioned off, and the profit from the sale seemed to have cooled the king’s ire toward me. There were also rumors circulating that Louis had recently been rather distracted with his new paramour. He’d excused Jamie and I from court indefinitely, which suited both of us perfectly well.

Jamie’s storytelling was interrupted by a knock on the library door, and it opened to reveal Magnus, who was holding a letter. Jamie rose to take it from him, thanking the butler as he retreated from the room. 

I turned my gaze back to my belly, mesmerized by the baby’s energetic movements. It was a miracle that even after everything we’d both survived, this little one seemed so strong. He or she would certainly need to be.

I was contemplating yet another trip to the privy when I registered the prolonged silence, and I glanced up to see if Jamie had left the room. He was still there, standing a few feet away with a dumbfounded expression on his face as he read the contents of the letter Magnus had delivered.

“What is it?” I asked, managing to stand with some difficulty. “Jamie?”

He didn’t respond as I closed the distance between us and came to stand by his side, gasping as I read the official-looking script. It was a letter from the ambassador who had lobbied for Jamie’s pardon. King George had apparently not seen fit to pardon him, but only because the charges had already been revoked.

James Fraser was once again considered a citizen in good standing with the British government. Enclosed with the ambassador’s message was another letter, which was addressed to Jamie and bore the British royal seal. 

I looked up at Jamie’s face, gripping his shoulder to bring him out of his daze. When his eyes finally met mine, they were bright with elation, and he pulled me into his arms, hugging me as tightly as my expansive waist would allow. I squeezed him back, and we both laughed with relief. His handsome features were alight with abundant and infectious joy.

“I can hardly believe it,” he breathed, looking back at the parchment in his hand. “Neither letter explains how it all came about, but I dinna imagine the English would want to share information about corruption in their ranks.”

“I’m sure you’re right. Perhaps Jenny will have heard from the Duke of Argyll or, more likely, through the grapevine of gossip in the Highlands,” I chuckled. 

Jamie grinned at the joke and didn’t argue with my assessment. With the way news traveled in the Highlands, it was likely his sister had known even before the ambassador’s letter had reached France.

“Should we wait, do ye think?” he asked, glancing pointedly at my stomach. “Is a sea voyage too dangerous for you and the bairn now? I’m no’ likely to be in a fit state to care for ye.”

I laughed, recalling our journey from Scotland to France and his body’s complete and utter rebellion to being at sea. 

“It would only be a week or two. And I think I’d prefer traveling while pregnant as opposed to traveling with an infant and a seasick husband.”

“Aye, I take your point,” he chortled. We read the letter again, and after a moment, I felt compelled to point out the other factor that might affect our travel plans.

“But Jamie… the Rising. I’m sure tensions are building even if the first battles are still a year away. It could be dangerous.”

“There’s always at least a wee bit of danger, mo ghraidh, but ye ken I’ll keep you and the bairn safe. Jenny and Ian, their weans, the tenants… I need to protect them too. ‘Tis my duty. I wouldna feel right about stayin’ here, safely away from the trouble, when I’m needed at home. I’ve been gone long enough.”

“I know,” I smiled softly. “I almost can’t believe it. After all this time and everything that’s happened… You can finally go home.”

Jamie grinned and kissed me with a fierceness that left me dizzy.

“Nay, Sassenach. We can go home.”

A/N: Only the epilogue left now! Thanks for reading and reviewing!

Chapter Text


Jamie winced as his daughter cried out yet again, the sound reverberating from her birthing chamber to the sitting room where a small assemblage of his family waited. His third grandchild was about to enter the world, and he was as terrified for his daughter as he’d been for Claire each time she’d given birth. He wasn’t sure which was the more difficult task--being in the room to watch his wife suffer through such pain or listening from below as their daughter endured it.

“Blessed Bride, Jamie, ye’ll wear a hole in the rug with all your pacing,” his Aunt Jocasta admonished him from her place on the sofa. She couldn’t see him, but her diminishing eyesight had only heightened her other senses.

“‘Tis been over twelve hours now. None of our bairns took this long to deliver.”

“Then, your wife was a lucky one. My first lass took nigh on twenty.”

Jamie shuddered at the thought of it. He’d always regretted his absence for the births of Fergus’ children, wee Germain and Joanie, but as they’d been born in France, there had been little help for it. He was now fairly certain he’d been better off, though of course he didn’t hold quite the same attachment for his daughter-in-law as for Brianna.

“Did they ever decide on names?” Murtagh inquired, guiding his wife’s hands to a fresh cup of tea.

“Aye, though they’ve no’ told anyone yet.”

“Perhaps they’ll be as creative wi’ them as Claire,” Jenny teased as she glanced up from her knitting.

Jamie chuckled good-naturedly, having long since grown accustomed to the typical reaction to his daughter’s unusual name. Although they had tentatively planned on naming their first daughter after Claire’s mother, his wife had insisted upon using Julia for a middle name instead.

“She just doesn’t look like a Julia,” she’d insisted. Jamie had laughed but opted not to ask precisely how a Julia was meant to look. Labor had been a long and grueling experience for his wife. “What about Brianna? After your father.”

He’d made a face over the name at first, and they’d spent a good while arguing about the pronunciation. They’d spent even longer bickering playfully over the lass’s nickname, but after Brianna had gained the ability to move about on her own, Jamie had been forced to agree with Claire’s initial assessment. His daughter was a Bree and no doubt about it.

As another anguished cry was followed by a round of shouted encouragements, Jamie grimaced and began to pace again. His aunt and sister sighed in resignation.

“Ye could always go outside wi’ the lads,” Jenny suggested.

He grunted indifferently but glanced out the window on reflex. His teenaged sons, Jacob and William, had been sent out to see to the livestock several hours ago. From what Jamie could see, however, they’d started a game of shinty with their Murray cousins at some point. Claire would likely have a few injuries to tend when she finished with Brianna.

His wife was a renowned healer throughout their part of the Highlands. She acted as midwife and physician for most of the Lallybroch tenants, and her skills had been sought by many in other parts of Scotland as well. There were still the occasional whispers of witchcraft and being a ‘faerie woman,’ but those on their own land knew better by now. Regardless of the extraordinary gifts Claire may have possessed, she’d never been known to harm anyone. She had the love and admiration of their people, and with that came their protection.

Jamie glanced upward, as though he might be able to see through the rafters to his daughter’s room. Births had made him nervous ever since he’d lost his mother and newborn brother. Jenny had borne Ian six living children and had a few grandchildren of her own now. Only the three youngest still lived with Jenny and Ian in the house they’d built on the other side of the lower fields. Once Brianna and Roger finished construction on their small house opposite the kailyard, the estate would be a proper compound.

Jamie had to admit a grudging new respect for his son-in-law, for the lad had scarcely left Brianna’s side since her pains had begun. Roger MacKenzie had come into Bree’s life just as bizarrely as Claire had entered Jamie’s. He had travelled by accident through the standing stones at Craigh na Dun. 

After having concluded that Master Raymond had been a time traveller as well, Claire had begun to wonder just how many of them there might be and thought perhaps she wasn’t such a rarity after all. The best indication of the ability seemed to be whether or not a person could hear the terrible buzzing sound the stones made on certain days of the year. Suspecting that such an ability might well be genetic, Claire had insisted on taking their children to the henge a few years ago on one of the quarter days, when the veil between worlds--and presumably, time--was said to be thin. Better to know the danger, she’d said, and thus be able to avoid it.

Jacob and William had been unable to detect anything out of the ordinary, but Brianna had heard the stones calling just as Claire could. More shocking, however, had been the sight of a large, black-haired man materializing on the ground in front of the largest stone. He’d clearly been in a state of distress, and Jamie had barely caught his wife in time to stop her from rushing toward the stranger.

“Nay, Sassenach. Ye canna get too close to the stones. Stay wi’ the weans. I’ll go.”

Claire had agreed to stay put, clutching her eighteen-year-old daughter’s hand to keep her from moving any closer as well. Once Jamie had pulled the man far enough away from the stones, the women had knelt on either side of him, checking for signs of life.

After a few minutes, the man had awoken and introduced himself as Roger Wakefield. The surname had tickled something in the recesses of Claire’s memory, and she had eventually recalled him as the Reverend Wakefield’s young nephew. Her brief time in Inverness had been filled with more pressing concerns and no little amount of psychological trauma, and she had blocked quite a bit of it from her memory. To her surprise, however, Roger had vaguely remembered her, but more as a local legend of Inverness.

“Taken by the faeries?” Claire had asked with a laugh. He’d smiled pleasantly, still a bit stunned to find himself in the wrong century even after Claire’s thorough explanation.

“Aye, well, the police searched for you for months, even after your hus--er, that is, Mr. Randall, left the area. I know he corresponded with my uncle for many years afterward, but he never came back. More than a few of the locals thought he might’ve had something to do with your disappearance, but nothing was ever proven. The faerie abduction bit… That just fit with the folktales, you see.”

“Ye seem to be takin’ it a bit better than Claire did,” Jamie had noted curiously, grinning when his wife had stuck her tongue out at him playfully. Roger had chuckled as well.

“I suppose because I have no choice but to believe my own eyes. Besides, my uncle’s housekeeper and her granddaughter are full of stories about the faerie hill, so it’s not the first time I’ve heard of such a thing.”

“Mrs. Graham,” Claire had recalled fondly. “She was the one who told me about the stones in the first place, though she certainly never said anything about traveling through them.”

The conversation had continued as the family made their way back to Lallybroch with Roger in tow. Once he’d recovered a bit, he’d attempted to return by touching the largest stone again, to no avail. Jamie and Claire had decided to help him assimilate as well as possible until such time as he could find a way to return. By the time they’d reached Lallybroch, both Claire and Roger were fairly certain the vicar’s sweet old housekeeper had known what would happen when Claire visited the stones. 

As a graduate historian, Roger had been slightly better equipped than most when it came to adapting to his new reality. He’d been born a MacKenzie and had decided to use it again in order to blend in. Roger hadn’t memorized enough of his family tree to be certain whether or not he was related to the MacKenzies of Leoch, but posing as one of Jamie’s distant cousins was believable enough, thanks to his stature, which was strikingly similar to Jamie’s.

It had been Roger’s intention to return to the stones on the next pagan holiday, which happened to be Samhain. By that time, however, he had fallen deeply in love with Brianna Fraser and, like Claire, had chosen to stay. They’d married the following year, and their first child would be making his or her appearance at any moment.

Or so Jamie hoped. The waiting was enough to make him daft, and he’d found himself accepting yet another glass of whisky from his brother-in-law.

“I dinna ken how ye held yourself together through so many births, a charaid.”

“Och,” Ian scoffed lightheartedly. “‘Tis no’ the men who do the hard part.”

“Ye’re damned right,” Jenny muttered. Jocasta smiled into her teacup.

Jocasta MacKenzie Fraser was the last of the elder MacKenzie siblings and had moved to Lallybroch with her youngest daughter shortly after the Rising, when her third husband had passed. She’d married Murtagh a few years later, having known him since childhood. Her brother, Colum, had died shortly before the Battle of Culloden, leaving Dougal to lead the majority of the MacKenzie fighting men into battle. Most of them had died alongside him, and those who hadn’t had been imprisoned and later indentured to the colonies.

The Rising had transpired exactly as Claire had predicted, and the years following Culloden had been difficult. Fortunately for the Frasers of Lallybroch, the English believed them to be loyalists even before the fighting had begun, and since the men of Lallybroch had stayed out of the conflict altogether, the estate had remained safely in Jamie’s hands. They had cooperated with the redcoats as much as possible, and while it hadn’t particularly endeared them to the surviving Jacobites, it had at least kept the Frasers from starvation. They had, of course, tried to help others when possible, and Lallybroch continued to fare better than most of the other estates in the region.

Jamie had always felt a mixture of relief and guilt when he contemplated his family’s circumstances. He certainly had no love for the British, but he wasn’t fool enough to go against them. There was simply too much at stake. Many Highland families had lost their homes altogether, and he counted himself lucky not to be among them. Lallybroch would eventually pass to William, though only because Fergus had insisted upon it.

When Fergus had reached his majority, he had expressed a desire to know more about his origins. Jamie and Claire had always been completely transparent with him about what they’d learned from Master Raymond, but it had taken Fergus a few years to warm to the idea of seeking out his biological mother’s family. To everyone’s surprise, however, it was his maternal uncle, the current Baron Amandine, who had found him first.

With no surviving legitimate heirs, Claudel Beauchamp had apparently spent years searching for his nephew and namesake. Tracing his sister back to the correct brothel had taken a long time, but once Madame Elise had confirmed the rumors of the child, it had been a simple matter to track young Claudel to the apothecary. By that point, Master Raymond had long since left Paris, but tales of the suspected sorcerer were still well-known. The baron had eventually learned of young Claudel’s adoption by none other than the notorious La Dame Blanche and her Scottish husband. He’d then sent a messenger to the Frasers in Scotland, inviting them all to his estate in Compiegne.

Fergus had initially been resistant to the idea of accepting the role as Amandine’s heir, and several years had passed before he’d even agreed to a visit. As much as he’d missed his homeland, being legitimized as a Beauchamp felt like a betrayal of those he considered to be his true family. Only when Claire had revealed her maiden name and her unique origins had Fergus finally relented.

“You’re our son,” she’d told him simply. “You’ll always be our son, no matter where you are or what you’re called.”

He hadn’t been willing to give up his chosen name entirely, however, and had now been legally recognized as Fergus Claudel Fraser Beauchamp, heir to the title and estate of the Baron Amandine. His wife, a Scottish woman named Marsali who was distantly related to Jamie, had relocated with him to Compiegne and had given him two children thus far.

As Jamie’s thoughts lingered on his grandchildren, he lamented only having been able to visit them a few times in France. Still, Fergus and his family were doing well, and he was grateful his son had found a solid place in the world, even one so far away. Claire had warned them all of the revolution that would take place in France a few decades hence, but Fergus had been raised with a good example of leadership. He was fair-minded, compassionate, and not a man prone to hoarding his wealth, unlike most of the French aristocracy. Jamie suspected his son’s humble beginnings might well align him with the revolutionaries, who would prove to be the victors.

Jamie’s distracted musings were cut abruptly short by an altogether different sort of cry coming from the second story, and his feet were propelling him up the stairs before he could think twice about it, his heart pounding with anticipation. Just as he reached the landing, the door to Brianna and Roger’s bedchamber opened, and his wife emerged, looking weary but relieved.

“Brianna? The bairn?” Jamie asked, rushing toward her. Claire beamed.

“Brianna and her son are perfectly fine.”

“A lad?”

“Yes. Look.”

He stood in the doorway, holding his wife and following her gaze to the bed, where his daughter and her husband smiled down at their newborn son. Jamie released a long sigh, feeling almost lightheaded with relief as he watched them. Claire tugged him gently into the room, and he moved to get a better look at his grandson.

“Christ, he looks so much like ye, lass. Look at that hair,” Jamie crooned, reaching down to stroke the baby’s thin red hair, still damp from washing. “Aye, he’s a braw lad. Heard him all the way downstairs.”

“Good strong lungs,” Claire agreed. She leaned over to kiss Brianna’s clammy forehead. “Now, will you tell us his name?”

“Aye,” Roger said softly, practically glowing with pride. “We decided to call him after my father. Jeremiah Alexander Fergus Fraser MacKenzie.”

Jamie’s eyes burned with tears, and he couldn’t seem to dislodge the tightness of emotion from this throat. Claire squeezed his hand.

“It’s perfect,” she whispered, wiping at her own teary eyes.

“Aye,” Jamie finally managed to say. “And ‘tis a great honor ye do me. I ken Fergus will appreciate it as well.”

The rest of the family met the new baby in small groups, and when Brianna was finally ready to rest, Claire handed the baby back to Roger.

“Don’t hesitate to knock on our door if you need anything,” she advised him. “You need rest too.”

Roger nodded and kissed her cheek in thanks, leaving Claire and Jamie to retreat to the laird’s bedchamber.

“We must write to Fergus first thing tomorrow,” Jamie announced as they settled into bed for the night. His arms wrapped themselves instinctively around his wife, and he pressed his lips into her curly hair.

“Yes. He’ll be thrilled. I just wish he were here to meet his nephew in person.”

“Och, I’m sure they’ll manage a visit when the bairns are wee bit older.”

“That’s assuming they don’t have more,” Claire chuckled. “Marsali’s last letter hinted that she might be expecting again. She wasn’t sure yet, though.”

“True. Well, perhaps we’ll just have to go to them, aye? I miss them too, but they’re doing well in France, Sassenach.”

“I know. And I’m happy for them. I just… miss them. I suppose I’m getting sentimental in my old age.”

“Old age?” Jamie echoed with a laugh. “You’re no’ quite fifty, and ye hardly look thirty-five. Still every bit mo nighean donn as ye were the day we met, too. You’d think the lads would ha’ left ye with a bit more gray hair.”

“Fergus gave me plenty. And William and Jacob are only fifteen and thirteen. Give them time,” she answered wryly. “But even if we’d never had any of them, you would’ve no doubt put me in a similar state by now.” 

He responded with a Scottish grunt of amusement and brushed his knuckles over her cheeks, smiling into her whisky-brown eyes. It was still so easy to lose himself in them, to let the abundant happiness he’d found with her wash away every worry and fear.

“Aye, I’d probably no’ have lived half this long were ye no’ such a bonny healer, mo ghraidh.”

“And my work is never done.” They shared a chuckle and a soft kiss.

“Twenty-three years, Claire. Magic brought us together, and love made us one.”

“I was alone in the world and practically frightened of my own shadow.”

“And I was an outlaw wi’ a price on my head, but ye chose me just as I chose you. I hope I’ve never given ye cause to regret it.”

She laid a hand gently against his stubbled jaw and smiled at his words, shaking her head gently.


A/N: That's a wrap! I hope you all enjoyed this little tale. Special thanks to my amazing beta, my loyal reviewers, and to those who took a chance on a new writer to the fandom. I will undoubtedly write more Outlander fics in the future, and in the meantime, you can find my contributions to other fandoms here: Fifty Shades and Twilight or Bones (TV)

I also have five contemporary romance novels on Amazon and always keep my prices low. :)