June the Fourteenth, 1946
This might seem a bit strange, a handwritten letter. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t just telephoned you. And I’ll tell you why: everything I need to say to you can’t possibly be said over the phone. And I can’t face you, sister. I can’t look you in the eye and say everything you are about to read. Now, let me be clear: I am not ashamed. The reason I can’t face you is not out of shame, but rather out of terror. I couldn’t watch you slip away from me before my eyes; I can’t bear for that to be my last image of you. And I hope that seeing it in writing will make it easier for you. I pray it, Jenny. I pray it for Ian, as well. The love I bear you knows no bounds, and that will never change, no matter what happens after you read this.
You remember when I turned up after the war, not dead after all? When I shoved you away and demanded to see Claire, and you told me you hadn’t heard from her in months? I’m about to explain her disappearance, but I beg you from the depths of my soul to not bear her judgement, nor any anger or bitterness.
Claire was married. Yes, she and I were handfast. But I was dead. And she was with child, Jenny. She was carrying my child, as you know. I didn’t know. The plane went down before she could tell me.
I don’t know why she married rather than come home to Lallybroch and let the family care for her and the bairn. She knows you would have. Every time I’ve asked her she doesn’t know what to say. I think mostly she couldn’t face you all after losing me. I know you all had lost me too, and she knows that as well. But she needed someone who was as deeply impacted by my loss as she, as a lover would be.
Which brings me to who it is she married.
I had a friend in the trenches named John Grey. Apart from Ian, he was the dearest friend I had ever known. As I continue, I beg you to keep your hearts open. John was different from the other men. I had noticed, and it didn’t bother me. He told me he loved me. Not the way Ian and I love one another, Jenny. Like man and wife love one another. He confessed it to me when he thought we’d die. I never begrudged him for it. I pitied him, and I valued his friendship very highly. Well, he promised me to look after Claire if anything should happen to me. So when I was dead, and she was pregnant out of wedlock, he married her, predilections be damned. And that was how I found them when I came back from the dead: married and prepared to raise my child as theirs.
Claire took me back in her arms, but she remained bound to John. It was a situation none of us could comprehend. I was mad with jealousy for a long time.
And then Brianna Ellen was born, and none of that mattered anymore.
She was born on November the twenty-third. There’s a photograph of her in the envelope. She has my red hair, mother’s red hair. And the Fraser eyes. She’s my entire heart, and Claire’s entire heart.
And she’s John’s entire heart.
I can’t explain it, Jenny. If I could, I’d write novels with science to back it up. But I can’t. I saw John holding the bairn, I saw how deeply and completely he loved her. Watching him hold her and love her was like watching Claire hold her and love her.
What I’m telling you, Jenny, and Ian, is that I love Claire as my wife, and I love John as my husband. I can’t explain how it is I can love them both. I just do. John and Claire remain lawfully married, but the three of us are handfast. We were wed in a church. Claire wore white, and Brianna was our witness. We all three love each other. John loves Claire as his wife and myself as his husband. And Claire loves us both as her husbands. It seems complicated, but it really is simple as that.
I can hardly continue writing with the force of my trembling. You see now why I couldn’t face you. I reiterate: I am not ashamed. It is written, Matthew 19:6 — What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. God has joined us together, Jenny. There is nothing on this earth holier than the love I bear for John and Claire, separately and together. I know it must be hard enough for you to imagine men loving each other as man and woman should, let alone imagining it in addition to my still loving Claire. But I have no justifying to do. My love for them, and God’s love and blessing on our family, is proof enough that we are meant to share this life together. And that should be enough for you. And if it isn’t, I understand.
You’ll notice the change of address on the envelope. The neighbors began talking in London; it was becoming quite apparent who had sired Brianna, and I was not the one lawfully wed to the mother. So we’ve left. There were career opportunities for John in Boston, and Claire wants to study medicine at Harvard. We’ve bought a house, large enough for six more bairns if we wanted. Anyone who asks is told that I’m John’s widower cousin, that Brianna is mine. In this facade, Jamie can’t bear to remarry, so he’ll remain with his kin, raising his daughter alongside them. Nobody should know the difference.
I’m going to teach someday, languages, likely Latin, in the high schools. Until then, I am to stay home with my daughter while John works and Claire becomes a doctor. We’ve decided I will homeschool Brianna and any bairns that come after. We refuse to hide the nature of our relationship from our children. They will see us embrace and kiss one another as children see their parents do. They will call us Mummy, Daddy, and Da. And until they are old enough to understand that they may only call us as such in the home, and that they may not discuss the affection they see between us all, for their safety as well as ours, they will not go to school.
I’m once again quite glad that I’ve decided to write you rather than face you. Because any judgement I could see on your face would have me spitting with rage. Forgive me for assuming it of you if it isn’t true, but I don’t expect you to understand. We don’t expect anybody in the entire world to understand. We’ve run away from all that we know (which includes you, my family, I’m afraid, and for that I am deeply sorry), and we are going to hide our children from the world, because we know they won’t understand.
But what I must emphasize to you is that it is worth it. I am happier than I have ever been in all my life. My heart is full, fuller than you can imagine. John is a wonderful father, a devoted husband. I’d be nothing without him. And Claire, of course, is the perfect mother I always knew she’d be. I’d lay down my life for all three of them. They are mine, and I am theirs, always.
I leave you this letter with no expectations, no demands. If you’re disgusted, ashamed, and you want to burn it and forget you ever had a brother, I understand. If you’re confused, and you have questions, questions that you wish to communicate, I beg you to write back.
I’ve no expectations, but I have my wishes, my prayers. I pray that someday you’ll want to meet your niece. She is every bit both of our parents as she is me. I pray someday you’ll reunite with Claire, someone you once called sister. If you can find it in your heart to forgive her and to understand, she will welcome you into her arms happily. And I pray that you’ll want to meet John. I know I’ve said it enough times, but he is my spouse as much as Claire. He is my family, so he is your family. He’s a gentleman, he’s kind and thoughtful, considerate. He’s braw at chess. He’d keep Ian at it for hours. He’s bloody brilliant, and he would love you and your bairns. He loves children. Brianna is his greatest joy and blessing. He’s told me so.
I miss you, Jenny. I miss Ian, my brother. I miss my niece and nephew. It broke my heart clean in two to leave Scotland behind; it truly did. Leaving Europe was not easy, whatever you might think of me. I agonized over what to tell you for weeks. Claire even offered to write for me, but I insisted this was my cross to bear. You deserve to hear it from me, even just in writing. I pray you understand why I couldn’t just show up at Lallybroch with my child and two spouses; I pray you understand why we had to go, why I had to do this the way I did.
I’m sorry if it feels like I’m taking your niece away from you. My intention was not to punish you for not knowing the truth. My intention was not to drop all these bombs on you and then run away from the repercussions. We left for our safety, for the insurance of our continued happiness and peace. And it felt wrong to leave without telling you we were doing so, and without explaining why. So here it is, all of it.
A package will arrive for you a few days behind this. I’ve sent the spoons back. Not because I’m rejecting them, or symbolically taking you out of our children’s lives, but because if ye dinna wish to see me ever again, I’d feel better knowing you had them over me. Your own bairns deserve a spoon each, anyway. I can’t keep something from you, from the family, for my family, if my whole family is not welcome to use them. I hope that makes sense, and I hope you can understand.
I love you, Jenny. I love you, Ian. I love your children. I love you all so fiercely. The thought of never seeing you again tears me up inside. But if that’s what you wish after learning who I am, who I think I must have always been, really, then I will respect that wish. I will never stop loving you all, no matter what happens. I shall keep the image of you all embracing me and showering me with kisses before my deployment in my mind always. That is who you shall always be in my heart. If you hate me now, my heart will remember that love instead.
But on the chance you wish to meet my family, my home is open to you forever.
God bless you all,
Boston, October 1946
Claire audibly groaned. She’d just fallen asleep after taking about an hour to even find a comfortable position. A tiny banging sounded on her door, and she shot up in bed with a gasp. She tore the blankets aside and rushed to the door.
“Jesus Christ, Brianna!” Claire scooped her up.
Jamie’s voice filled her ears, swearing in Gaelic.
“How did you not notice she was climbing the stairs?”
“I was taking a pish!” Jamie shot right back, taking the stairs two at a time. “I didna ken I had to take her wi’ me!”
“God…” Claire held Brianna close—as close as she could manage these days. “Brianna Ellen. You are not to go on the stairs without Mummy, Daddy, or Da. Do you understand? You could fall and get hurt.”
Brianna just giggled, kicking her feet, landing several strong blows to her belly. Claire jerked her away, holding her at arm's length, and Jamie took her in his arms.
“Ye scared the devil out of me, ye wee heathen,” he said to Brianna. “And d’ye forget what we spoke of? Ye must be kind to Mummy’s belly. D’ye remember what’s inside?”
Brianna didn’t hear a word he said; she was a bit preoccupied rubbing her tiny palms all over Jamie’s scratchy stubble.
“There’s a baby in Mummy’s belly, leannan . D’ye remember?”
“Aye, that’s right, a baby.”
“A baby that kept me awfully uncomfortable,” Claire groaned, clutching at her lower back.
“Did ye sleep at all?”
“No,” she said darkly. “I was this close when little miss heathen decided to pull her daring stunt.”
“Och, I’m sorry, lass.”
“It’s alright. We ought to get started on dinner anyway.”
And by we, she meant Jamie. Her contribution was to keep Brianna out of his hair. Which was nearly as impossible a feat for her as roasting a chicken. Jamie stepped forward and gave her a kiss, then turned to the baby on his hip.
“Can ye give Mummy a kiss to say sorry fer waking her, and scaring the daylights out of her?”
Brianna obeyed, smacking Claire on the lips with a loud mwah! Claire patted her cheek and smoothed her hair.
“Thank you, baby. It’s alright. Let’s go play.”
“Yes, lovie. Mama play.”
When all was said and done, Claire gave up trying to stop Brianna from crawling with the speed of a freight train into the kitchen and just plopped her into her little playpen. It would not be long at all before they couldn’t get away with keeping her in there anymore, so she thought it was fair enough to take advantage of it while she still could. Even as it was, Brianna was standing on her own now while holding onto things; it wasn’t uncommon for Claire to turn around to find Brianna glaring at her over the top of the playpen, like a convict who bore bitter resentment for her jailer.
And that was how she ended up being kissed awake on the couch with a book open on her six-month pregnant belly.
“Good evening, sleeping beauty.”
Claire’s heart fluttered. “John.” Eyes still closed, she puckered her lips again, and he obliged her, and this time, she kissed him back. She finally opened her eyes when they parted, no doubt glassed over by the way her vision was blurred. “Hello, my darling. How was work?”
“When compared with coming home and holding my husband from behind while he cooks, kissing his cheeks, his neck, then moving to the couch to wake my wife by tasting her beautiful, sweet, soft lips…” He kissed her again, and Claire whimpered. “It doesn’t hold a candle.”
“Christ, John, you can’t just say those things to me…not when I’m like this .” She gestured ungracefully to her belly, and she knew he knew what she meant. Both of her husbands were all too familiar with her raging hormones by now, and both were more than happy to take more advantage of it this time around than they’d been able to last time.
“Do forgive me,” he said, smirking. He then scooted down the cushion a bit, dipping his head. “Hello, little one.” He kissed the swell of her belly, and Claire tenderly stroked his hair.
“But really. How was work?”
“It’s fine, my dear,” he assured her. “Nearly half a year is long enough to adjust. I’ve established myself well, I think.”
“Good. I knew you would.”
He gave the baby one more kiss before sitting up and taking Claire’s hands. “Come on, dinner is ready.”
He helped her off the couch, setting her book on the coffee table face down, still open to her page.
“I’ve already put her in the high chair,” he assured her. “Don’t worry. She wasn’t climbing the stairs while you dozed.” He arched a brow at her, Jamie having clearly relayed the whole tale to him.
“Can you believe she did that?” Claire said as they entered the kitchen. “She’s going to give me gray hairs.”
“You and me both,” Jamie said, setting down two plates full of chicken in a brown sauce, green vegetables noticeably missing from Claire’s plate.
“This is the last of the bread?” Claire said, taking a piece from the basket in the center of the table as she sat down, John pushing in her chair behind her.
“Aye. I’ll get ye the freshest loaves I can first thing in the morning before ye both even wake.”
Claire practically moaned with delight at the prospect, while shoving a piece of bread in her mouth that she’d lathered in the brown sauce on her plate. “God I love you.”
“Me? Or are ye talking to the bread?”
If Claire could have reached, she’d have hit him on the arm. But Brianna’s high chair sat between them, so she chucked a piece of bread, un-dipped, at him.
“What an example for the children!” John said, acting affronted.
“Please. She’s been throwing anything and everything at me since she could sit up,” Claire grumbled. “Nobody taught her that.”
The men chuckled, and John complimented Jamie’s cooking, a sentiment Claire wholeheartedly echoed.
“Oh! I forgot to even ask!” It suddenly dawned on Claire. “My application! Did you mail it?”
“Certainly,” John said. “I did it on my lunch break in case I stayed late and the post office closed before I got there.”
“Jesus.” Claire put her hand over her heart. “Oh God. What’ll I do if I don’t get in?”
“You’ll get in,” John assured her, taking her hand on the table. “You’re bloody brilliant.”
“Aye,” Jamie said. “The finest nurse in His Majesty’s army. Harvard would have to be completely out of their minds to turn ye away.”
“Or completely sexist,” Claire grumbled, pushing a mushroom off the piece of chicken she was about to put in her mouth.
“Aye, well…We’ll just have to see if they try to pull that.”
They went silent for a moment, cutting and chewing meat.
“Was there, ehm…anything at the post office?” Jamie said, attempting nonchalance. “Something they havena sent out yet?”
John made brief eye contact with Claire, and that one glance said a thousand words. “No, Jamie.”
“It’s possible they addressed it wrong…being from outside the country…”
“I always ask for anything with your name on it, properly addressed or not.” John took his hand. “I’m sorry, love.”
Jamie nodded, his eyes still on his plate. “Aye. It’s to be expected.”
Claire looked up at John again, her eyes swimming with remorse.
“It’s…it’s been half a year,” Jamie went on, unexpectedly. “I think by now, if they havena written back…they never will. So.”
Claire swallowed thickly, her heart breaking. She knew what it was to love Jamie’s family and not be able to face them. She couldn’t imagine how he must be feeling if her own heart was so thoroughly broken.
“Something I’ve learned over the years, knowing who I was since a very young age…” John began. “You choose your family, Jamie. I haven’t spoken to my parents since before the war; all I heard from my brother was brief telegrams. It was very heavily implied that I would not be welcome back in the home after the war…or even welcome back in their lives at all unless I brought a woman home for Christmas. And even after I had Claire…I had no intention of bringing her to them. Because they’re not my home anymore.”
Claire’s heart went out to John, as well; she already knew all of this, but it still pained her to think of him rejected and scorned nonetheless.
“I know it hurts, love,” Claire cut in gently. “But John is right. Blood isn’t the end all be all.”
“Ye dinna understand,” Jamie snapped. “My sister isna like Hal. My father was never anything like yers.”
“I know. And in a way, I know they will always love you—”
Abruptly, Jamie stood up, pushing his chair back, pulling his hand away from John, and he stormed off. Claire jumped at the sudden movement, and John looked as though he’d been burned. Brianna chose that very moment to begin babbling and slapping her hands on her tray, and for a moment, John and Claire were lost in adoring her, in settling her to stop her from fussing, making sure she was eating her mashed sweet potato and carrot mix that Claire and Jamie had concocted themselves.
They heard the front door open and shut rather roughly, and Claire cringed again.
“He needs time,” John said softly. “Believe me…I spent years…too many years of my life thinking I could change my parents’ minds, thinking that I could get Hal to help me do it. It’s not an easy thing to accept.”
Claire nodded, her throat tight. “Sometimes I’m almost glad that I have no family left,” she said, her voice small. “If Uncle Lamb rejected me over this…I’d be sick for the rest of my life.”
He squeezed her hand.
“I’d like to think he wouldn’t have, and that he’s happy for me wherever he is. But I didn’t think Jenny and Ian would reject Jamie either. I knew them so, so well…” She swallowed. “At least not Ian. Jenny can be…cold when her views are challenged. But Ian…I thought he’d understand, make Jenny see reason…” Her voice trailed off, as if she didn’t have the strength to continue.
“It will get easier,” John promised, leaning across the table to wipe mush off Brianna's face. “It might never stop hurting, but it will get easier.”
Claire sighed. “And he’ll be back,” she assured him. “We are both his greatest comfort in the world.” She cupped Brianna’s head and kissed the top of it, breathing in the lingering baby smell that she still carried.
Claire had been making a slow process of digging up some of her herbs outside and potting them so they would have a chance of surviving the winter. She really should have done it in September, given that a frost in October in Boston was not at all uncommon. She’d been in the middle of this task when she’d been hit with her dizzy spell, during which Jamie had insisted she rest. Which hadn’t exactly gone according to plan.
Their yard was enormous; something that Jamie had desperately wanted for them, or for all their bairns , rather. She didn’t think that man would be truly happy until she’d pushed out enough babies to ruin her body eternally. And the stupidest part was: she’d do it for him, for John. At as early as nine months, Brianna had taken to crawling in the grass like a little tank, unstoppable and seemingly indestructible. She also paid no mind whatever to the fencing around Claire’s garden, so they’d had to reinforce it and replace it several times.
Claire was currently fussing over some hyssop that she’d potted that day before she went to lay down, listening to the beautiful sound of John playing with their baby girl. Their laughter together was like a symphony, and it was the same with Jamie. They were keeping her plants somewhere Brianna could never hope to reach in the office…though Claire was fully prepared to lose at least half of them to her little tank.
The front door opening and closing made Claire’s heart skip a beat, and she abandoned the plants at once. She hurriedly waddled into the hall to see Jamie toeing off his shoes. Similarly to her, John was standing in the doorway to the living room, Brianna on his hip. Jamie looked up from his shoes, turning his head back and forth between them.
“I’m, uh…I’m sorry fer storming out like that.”
“Please, Jamie.” Claire stepped forward. “You’ve nothing to be sorry for.”
“Truly,” John said, taking a step as well. “We understand you needed to be alone to think. It’s alright.”
Jamie nodded, then swallowed. “Ye’ve…ye’ve no idea how much ye both mean to me. And my…my grief over my family…it doesna mean I dinna appreciate the family I have.”
“Of course it doesn’t,” John said fervently.
“I just want that to be clear,” he went on. “Because above anything, I choose this. It was never a question for me, that I’d give up all else for this.”
“We know, Jamie,” Claire said. “You really don’t have to—”
Claire closed her mouth, sighing through her nose.
“I would willingly give up anything for ye both. I’d forsake anything for this family.” He breathed deeply, clenching and unclenching his fists. “I just wish I didna have to.”
Claire’s heart shattered as a single tear trickled down Jamie’s face. Before she could blink, John was putting Brianna down, and then the two men crashed together, crushing themselves to each other. Jamie sobbed into John’s neck, and John cradled his head there, swaying gently. Claire approached them slowly, careful of how she joined the embrace due to her swollen middle. She settled for standing on Jamie’s side, only slightly behind him, her arms around his neck, head resting on his shoulders.
“We’re here, Jamie,” she heard John whisper. “Always and forever. You will always have us.”
Claire kissed Jamie’s shoulder. “We love you.”
They sank to the floor shortly after, Jamie’s knees giving out beneath him as he continued to cry his heart out. Claire continued clinging to him from behind while John held him up in the front.
“We’re here,” John kept whispering. “We love you.”
Claire saw movement out of the corner of her eye and instinctively looked, knowing full well that Brianna would not stay put. What she saw made her gasp loudly, her fingers digging into Jamie’s skin.
“What?” John said, and Jamie took a few heaving breaths to quiet himself.
“You have to look,” Claire whispered. “ Look!”
John frantically looked over his shoulder, and he, too, gasped.
“Jamie, love, look at your daughter.”
Jamie roughly rubbed his eyes and opened the swollen slits, and they instantly popped open ever wider.
“What the devil?” he stammered. “There’s nothing for her to hold onto! How did she—?”
“She stood up on her own!” Claire whispered, her voice decibels away from a squeal. She released Jamie and took a breath. “Brianna? Bree baby?”
“Yes, hello,” Claire giggled. “Come here to me, sweetheart. Come here.”
Her little mouth formed a perfect “o” shape, and her tiny hands remained suspended in mid air in front of her.
“Come on, Brianna,” John joined. “Come walk to us. Come on.”
Her eyes darted to John, and she clapped her hands nonsensically. “Good clapping, sweet girl. Come here,” he coaxed.
“Come on, leannan ,” Jamie joined, his voice hoarse and thick. “Come to Da.”
“Aye, that’s me. Come here, lass.”
She giggled, a shrieking, piercing sound, clapping her hands again.
“She’s so damn pleased with herself,” John said, shaking his head, laughing.
“Because all the attention is on her!” Claire said, still in her baby voice, still reaching out to Bree. “Come on, lovie. You can do it. Come here! Come on!”
Finally, Brianna took one experimental shuffle in their direction, and they all held their breaths. She picked up her other foot and landed with a thud on her little bum.
“Oh!” Claire cried out, and John and Jamie exclaimed similarly. “Oh no…”
“Oh no,” Brianna echoed.
“Yes! Oh no!”
Claire laughed and dragged herself across the floor to scoop her up. There was still room for her in her lap; there likely would be until mid-next month.
“It’s alright, baby…”
Claire kissed her head, and John dragged himself over the hardwood to join them, and Jamie trailed behind.
“It was a wonderful effort, my girl.” John kissed Brianna’s cheek.
“Go on, give Daddy a kiss,” Claire coaxed.
“Thank you, sweetheart.”
“Now Da. Give Da the biggest kiss you can.”
She wound up with a long, drawn-out “mmmm,” and then gave him the loudest mwah she had perhaps ever granted.
“My sweet wee lass. Thank you.” Jamie held onto her little hands, pressing the palms into his lips. “Da loves ye wi’ his whole heart.”
Brianna hummed contentedly to feel Jamie’s stubble in her hands again, and Jamie took her in his lap. “Ye didna give baby a kiss, Brianna.”
She gasped dramatically, and promptly mwah ’d Claire’s belly, patting it gently after for good measure.
“Thank you, my darling,” Claire said. “Baby loves you, too.”
“Yes, baby. Good girl.”
The three of them were sitting in a circle, Brianna in Jamie’s lap, and they each joined hands with each other, a circle in which they were all connected. Jamie’s eyes were still red and slightly puffy, his face still splotchy, but he was smiling, whispering nonsense to his daughter. Claire rested her head on John’s shoulder, and they watched Jamie together, still holding his hands.
“He’ll be alright,” Claire whispered, more to herself than John.
“He will.” John squeezed her hand. “We all will.”
Jamie was playing airplane with Brianna on the floor while Claire was filling out an application on the couch with a clipboard. Harvard had been the very first place she’d applied, but she wasn’t about to put all her eggs in one basket. And once the new baby was weaned, she’d be more than capable and willing to drive herself at least a forty minute commute from the house. She glanced up from the paper briefly to stop herself from going cross-eyed—God knows that would cause a wave of second-trimester-nausea that she didn’t need—and butterflies fluttered in her chest.
She had seen such a change in Jamie since leaving London. He still had nightmares occasionally, but with nowhere near the frequency he’d been having them in Europe. She and John had discussed that the change of scenery had likely done wonders for him, that the war-torn state all of Europe was in would never have allowed Jamie to even start to move away from the shell shock.
And of course, Brianna was helping, too.
Sometimes, Claire would awake to find a gap where Jamie once was, and she’d find him just kneeling in the nursery at her crib, fingers through the gaps, touching her small head. She never disturbed him in these moments. It was always amazing to her that she could get away with that, being that sneaking up on Jamie was near impossible, but she supposed that proved how entranced he was by his daughter, how much he needed her in those dark places his mind went to.
It was incredible to see, and she was so proud of him.
Jamie caught her staring at him, then, and he smirked, Brianna still hanging over his head. “Ye want a turn, Sassenach?”
Claire snorted. “The thought of you even getting me an inch off the ground at my current size is laughable.”
“Nah,” he said, turning his face back up to the baby and making a silly face as he said it. “I could still throw ye over my shoulder if I wanted.”
“Not with this cantaloupe you can’t.”
He laughed again, kicking his legs slightly so that Bree bounced on the little perch, causing a squealing giggle. The doorbell rang, and Claire started.
“Who could that be?” Jamie wrinkled his nose up at Brianna, earning another giggle. “I’ll get it, Sassenach—”
“No, don’t worry, I need to take a little walk anyway,” she said. “Not good to be sitting for hours. The application can wait.”
Jamie obliged her and began blowing raspberries up at Brianna. Claire heaved herself off the couch, chuckling and rolling her eyes at her adult-child husband’s antics. The bell rang again.
“Coming,” Claire answered, a bit impatiently. “Give a bloody pregnant woman a break,” she muttered to herself, wondering who in the hell could be so eager to call on them in the middle of the day when they purposely didn’t keep any friendships for their own safety.
Claire settled into her mask of cheerful housewife, wife to one , first baby on the way, breathing deeply as she opened the door.
The mask completely cracked and shattered when she took in who was standing on her porch.
“Oh…” The woman gasped, her hand flying to her heart. “Hello, Sister.”
Claire’s mouth was dry, her lips parted in complete and utter shock.
“Jenny…?” she breathed.
“Ian?” She peered around Jenny to the man behind her. “Oh my God…!”
Jenny pulled her in for a crushing hug, but she quickly jerked back. “Christ! Oh, Sister! Another bairn!”
Her hands rested on Claire’s bump, her eyes shimmering with tears.
Claire whipped her head around to find Jamie frozen in the entryway into the living room, Brianna on his hip. He looked as gobsmacked as she felt, though she was certain the feeling was at least doubled for him. Tears unexplainably tumbled down Claire’s cheeks as she watched Jamie’s eyes dart back and forth between the two people on his porch.
“I’m…” Jenny’s voice cracked, and she hastily swiped at her eyes. “I dinna blame ye if ye dinna want us in yer home. Going so long wi’out a word. So I’ll no’ come in unless ye wish me to. I just…” She sniffled, and Ian grasped her hand. “I had tae…to, ehm…”
Jamie moved, as if propelled by an engine, blindly handing Brianna off to Claire without stopping, and then he was yanking Jenny over the threshold and into his arms. Jenny squeaked and then cried out in a little sob, burying her face in his chest and squeezing him around the middle. Jamie cradled her head and clutched her upper back, weeping into her hair. Brianna made an impatient sounding cooing noise, and Claire sniffled, wiping tears away as she hushed her, bouncing her gently.
Jenny and Jamie were muttering to each other in Gaelic in a string of barely intelligible words, even if Claire had known the language. But she was able to translate, over and over, from both brother and sister:
“I’m sorry…I love you…I’m sorry…”
Claire pressed Brianna into her breast and kissed the top of her head, not knowing what else to do with the overwhelming emotion bubbling in her heart.
They carried on like that for an imperceptible amount of time, and then Jenny was finally unthreading herself from him and pushing him toward Ian. Jamie embraced him similarly, both men weeping.
“I’m sorry it took us so long, a charaid .”
Jenny stepped further into the house, toward Claire.
“Is this Brianna Ellen…?” Her voice was a breathless, awed whisper. “Ma wee niece?”
Claire let out a gasping, choked sort of laugh. “Yes…this is her.”
“Christ…” Jenny let a trembling hand rest on Brianna’s curly head. “Jamie was right. She’ll look just like Ma.”
Claire sniffled. “Do you…?”
“Oh, can I…?”
Claire nodded vigorously and transferred the baby to Jenny’s eager arms. Claire braced for Brianna to perhaps start fussing, knowing how babies could be around strangers, but she settled contentedly into Jenny’s arms, even if she kept her eyes on Claire with almost imperceptible longing.
“Oh…hello there, sweet thing…” Jenny crooned. “I’m yer Auntie Jenny. Oh, ye’re so beautiful…”
Claire was fully sobbing now, and Jamie finally released Ian to shut the front door and join the women. Ian put an arm around Jenny’s shoulders and cupped Brianna’s head, stroked her cheeks.
“She’s so bonny…” Ian said.
“Thank you,” Claire choked out, leaning into Jamie’s embrace for support.
“Yer spitting image,” Ian continued. “I canna believe it.”
“She’s so big,” Jenny said, laughing sadly. “She was so wee in that photograph…” She sniffled. “Christ, I’m sorry…I should have put my damn pride aside and come here straight away…”
“It’s alright…” Claire shook her head. “You’re here now. That’s all that matters.”
“Ye’ve another chance to see a newborn of ours anyway,” Jamie said proudly, squeezing Claire around the shoulders.
“Aye! I can see! Ye mentioned nothing of another bairn in yer letter!”
“We didn’t know until right after!” Claire said, laughing. “April nineteenth was my appointment to confirm it. We must have conceived as he was writing it!”
“Christ…” Ian shook his head. “So much time wasted…from fear and misunderstanding.”
“Aye,” Jamie said solemnly. “I ken.”
A sad silence passed between them, during which Jenny not-so-inconspicuously glanced around them and side to side.
“Where’s yer uh…yer man?”
Her voice was timid and unsure, and Claire felt Jamie stiffen slightly against her.
“He’s an architect,” Claire jumped in. “He’ll be home after five.”
Jenny nodded silently, focusing on the baby for a moment.
“He’ll be very happy to meet you both. I’m sure,” Claire went on.
Jamie cleared his throat. “I think I should phone his office, actually…so he can ehm…prepare.”
“Yes, do that,” Claire ushered him away, watching him go, then she smiled back at Jenny. Claire almost jumped at the intensity in Jenny’s eyes. She gripped Claire’s forearm.
“Tell me true, Sister. Are ye happy?”
“What? Of course I am…”
“Is it true that ye’re…involved…?” Her eyes swam with turmoil, her brow furrowed in deep concentration, as if trying to solve a puzzle she couldn’t wrap her head around. “Ye’re no’ just…a facade…? So they can…?”
“Janet…” Ian warned.
“Oh, hush, dinna pretend ye didna ask me the same thing.”
“Jenny,” Claire interrupted gently yet firmly. “I am involved , as you put it. Very much so. I appreciate you accepting Jamie for who he is, but I don’t think you quite understand…he’s not…they’re both not…”
“ Janet .”
Claire cringed visually at the word. “We don’t use that word,” she said as patiently as she could. “They’re not…only capable of loving men. They both…love men and women. As evidenced by my presence in the relationship.”
Claire could see the gears turning in Jenny’s head, but no understanding lit up her eyes yet. “I’m sorry to offend, truly. I’m just trying to understand…”
“I know you’re trying.” Claire put a hand on your shoulder. “And it means the world. It means the world that you’re here at all. Jamie was beside himself when he thought he’d never see you again. And so was I.”
Jenny nodded. “It…wasna easy at first. It was…hard to swallow.”
“It was Ian, really, that finally got my head out of my arse,” Jenny said sheepishly. “He said whether or no’ I understood, I shouldna lose a brother over it. And then I figured I couldna just show up wi’out understanding…” She sighed. “I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it.” Claire nodded. “All I’ve ever wanted was for him to find happiness. And I thought he had wi’ you…”
“But it’s not about an either/or,” Claire explained. “He wasn’t lacking for anything when it was just us two…but John just…” Christ, it was hard to explain something she hardly understood herself. “He…completes us. He fills a hole we didn’t feel was there before we met him…does that make sense…?”
She pursed her lips. “I think so.”
“The bottom line is,” Ian cut in, “we’re thrilled to see ye both well. And the bairn. Both bairns I suppose. And we canna wait to meet John.”
“Aye,” Jenny agreed, a genuine, bright smile on her face. “It’ll be an honor to meet the man that completes ye, as ye say.”
Claire squeezed her shoulder, smiling back, and then Jamie reentered the hall.
“How is he?” Claire asked.
“He was…shocked. But he’s happy,” Jamie said, and Claire could see the relief flowing through him like a lifeblood. “He’s eager to come home and meet his family.”
Jenny’s smile was a bit frantic, but it was still genuine.
“Let’s get ye out of the hall. Come sit.” Jamie ushered everyone into the living room, and Brianna loudly demanded to be handed back to her Da, which Jenny obliged. “Where are your bairns?”
“They’re at the hotel wi’ Mrs. Crook,” Jenny explained. “We brought her wi’ us.”
“You will not stay at a hotel!” Claire insisted. “We have more than enough rooms here.”
“We werena sure if ye’d want us,” Jenny admitted sheepishly. “We had no idea how this would go.”
“Ye’re family,” Jamie said with finality. “Ye’ll stay here. After ye meet John, ye can fetch the bairns and Mrs. Crook.”
“Oh…how old are they now…?” Claire said longingly.
“Jamie’s almost five, Maggie just turned three.”
They launched into gushing over children, the ways in which Brianna was similar to her cousins, when she’d hit milestones, all the things that mothers and fathers discuss.
“Oh, and this one!” Jenny squealed, patting Claire’s stomach. “When’s he due?”
“January.” Claire beamed, caressing the baby.
“Whose is he?” Jenny said, giggling. “I assume ye both…”
“ Janet .”
“He’s all of ours,” Jamie cut in. “Paternity doesna matter. We’ve no way of knowing, and it doesna matter.”
Jenny blanched a bit, going a bit pink. “Aye, of course.”
“No way of knowing ’til he comes out wi’ hair like that,” Ian joked, jutting his chin toward Brianna.
“Aye,” Jamie said genially, smiling. “Ye’re right. But fer all intents and purposes…”
“No, I understand,” Ian said. “Just teasing, brother.”
A terribly awkward silence followed, and Claire clasped her hands together. “Do you want to see the rest of the house?”
Conversation flowed more and more easily the longer it went on, and Ian and Jenny were completely charmed by the house. Around four, Jamie got started on dinner, with Jenny’s insistence on helping. Claire and Ian stayed in the living room with Brianna, rolling their eyes at the sound of the classic Fraser bickering.
“This may shock ye,” Ian said, looking up from tickling Brianna, bouncing her on his knee. “But I’ve missed that sound.”
Claire smiled wistfully from the couch. “So have I.”
Ian looked like he wanted to say something, but was stopping himself.
“Well, it…” He sighed. “I didna want to say it, because I’m no’ proud of it…Jenny’s no’ proud of it. But when we got Jamie’s letter…she was spittin’ fire. And I didna blame her. I was more sad than angry, but still.”
Claire’s chest ached, but she nodded, urging him to continue.
“I felt like I’d been lied to all my life,” Ian said. “I mean…he was my best friend. Ye have to understand. I thought…how could I have missed something like that? How could he no’ tell me? No’ trust me enough?” Brianna gave a demanding shout, eliciting more tickles from her uncle. “But watching Jenny say such terrible things in her anger…I realized very quickly why he’d never said a damn thing.”
Claire’s eyes glistened.
“And I thought…why would someone choose a life that would lead to their loved ones hating them so? Why would they choose a life where they had to homeschool their children to protect them from harm…?” He shook his head. “So I got there a bit quicker than she did. But she’s here, aye?”
Claire sniffled, wiping her eyes. Damn those hormones.
“Yes, you’re both here.” Claire reached across the couch and took his hand. “And I think you understand a lot better than you think you do.”
He gave her hand a squeeze and smiled warmly.
John arrived shortly before dinner was finished, several minutes earlier than he usually did. Claire smiled fondly to think he must have ran all the way home from the office. He was, indeed, out of breath as he stepped into the living room, still in his coat and hat.
Claire and Ian turned their heads, and John’s eyes widened only slightly.
“Hello,” he said warmly. “I’m John.”
Ian smiled and handed Brianna over to Claire so he could use two arms to pull himself up onto his unsteady legs.
“Hallo,” Ian said warmly. “I’m Ian. The pegleg.”
John flushed a bit, unsure of how to react to Ian’s deprecating humor, but when Ian stuck out a hand to shake, he didn’t hesitate.
“It’s…wonderful to meet you,” John stammered. “Truly an honor. Jamie told me so much about your childhood together while we were in the trenches. You mean the world to him.”
“He speaks quite highly of you as well,” Ian said. “He and my wife are in the kitchen.”
“John.” Speak of the devil, Jamie strode in from the kitchen, dish rag draped over his shoulder.
The endearment slipped out so naturally; they were in their home after all. Claire could see the blush spreading over both men, but Ian didn’t bat an eye. Despite their discomfort, maybe even because of it, to prove a point, Jamie pecked John lightly on the lips, as he would any other day when he got home from work.
“Where’s my girl?” John said, and Claire promptly put Brianna in his arms.
“Do you hear that?” Claire said, forcing a pout. “One day I’m his girl, the next I’m not.”
“Ah, don’t listen to Mummy,” John cooed in Brianna’s face. “I’m happy to see you both. But you are my little girl.”
He kissed her nose, and Claire’s heart tumbled. God, she’d never tire of it.
“John,” Jamie interrupted, stepping aside a bit. “This is my sister, Jenny.”
John smiled, shifting Brianna to one arm as Jenny stuck out her hand.
“It’s…an honor to meet ye,” Jenny said, and Claire could tell it wasn’t as much of a struggle to say as she thought it might have been.
Instead of shaking her hand, John brought it to his lips, bowing slightly, baby and all. Claire bit her lip, fighting the urge to giggle. That bloody fool was too charming for his own good.
“The honor is all mine,” John said genuinely.
Claire met Ian’s eye, and he, too, was trying not to laugh. Jenny’s ears were bright pink at John’s charming attentions.
“Dinner’s just about done,” Jenny said curtly, removing her hand from John’s grasp politely. “Ian, help John set the table.”
Ian rolled his eyes at Claire. “Aye, aye, Captain.”
John met Claire’s eye, and she smiled encouragingly. “Trust me,” she whispered, taking Brianna back. “It’s a good sign when she’s giving you orders.”
John grimaced as if he didn’t believe her, but she pecked him on the lips. “Go on, Soldier.”
He gave her one more kiss before obeying Captain Jenny. Claire asked Jamie to move the high chair into the dining room, and then they were all gathered, candles lit and fine china and crystal set. Claire realized as she sat down that they had not had a single reason to use the fine table settings or the candles. They did not, could not have company. And to use it tonight lightened something in her heart that she did not know had darkened.
Jamie even poured his finest whisky, saved for the grandest of celebrations, like holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries. Before they dug into the food, Jenny cleared her throat, holding her whisky.
“I want to make a wee toast. To my brother,” she raised her glass to Jamie, “to the two that love him,” she made sincere, lingering eye contact with both Claire and John, and Claire watched as John welled up with tears, “and to the products of that love.” She gestured to Brianna, then Claire’s stomach with her glass. “And to all of your continued joy and peace.”
“Slaínte mhath!” Ian called joyously, and the whole room echoed, even the Sassenachs. They all sipped their drinks, and Jenny interrupted once more before they could start eating.
“And,” she said, “to bless this union, and the children of this union,” she stood up and left the room, returning with a wooden box, “I’ve brought these.”
“Janet…” Jamie said, breathless.
Claire’s brow furrowed.
“In our family for generations,” Jenny explained to John. “There are two missing, one for each of my bairns, as Jamie suggested in his letter. But…” She opened the box to reveal ten glittering silver spoons. “Apostle spoons. I ken we missed her baptism. But we willna miss his.” She nodded curtly, sniffling away her own emotional tears. “Ye’ll take Saint Andrew for Brianna so she might never forget where her blood is from.” She removed the Saint Andrew spoon and put it on the tray of Brianna’s high chair. “And ye’ll take Saint Thomas for the bairn.”
Her voice broke, and she sniffled again as she put the spoon in front of Claire.
“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed,” she quoted. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Jamie grasped Claire’s hand for dear life under the table, shuddering with quiet tears.
“I, myself, was a Doubting Thomas,” Jenny said shamefully. “I shall never doubt ye again, any of ye.”
Claire picked up the spoon with a trembling hand and brought it to her lips to kiss it, as if christening Jenny’s blessing on their union.
“Thank you, Janet,” Jamie said hoarsely. “Thank you.”
Claire squeezed Jamie’s hand. She knew how much this meant to him; for Jenny to use her faith to welcome him back into the family, to welcome John, their children. That faith was the very thing that kept them apart for as long as it did, so for this to be what brought them back together again meant the world to him.
And to her, and to John.
And as they finally dug into their dinner, all was suddenly right with the world.