My exhausted, over-extended mind scrambled to catch up to current events. I knew that my mouth was gaping open like an idiot, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself.
Jamie, the unseen, spectral being I’d known, befriended, had gradually fallen in love with, and then lost was standing before me, an honest-to-God man .
He was at once everything and nothing at all like I’d imagined. In my heart he’d been handsome, but I think I would have thought so regardless of his physical looks. This person standing in front of me was quite honestly magnificent, in every sense of the word. I’d known from touch that he was tall and muscular, but somehow the living version was even larger than life than I could have dreamed.
Even caked with mud and - was that blood? - his messy curls were a vibrant shade of red. His skin naturally fair but tanned reddish-brown from the sun. And his eyes...by God, his eyes.
“Hi,” he said softly, the corner of his mouth quirking up just a little.
“Hi,” I said back with a gasp, feeling like I couldn’t breathe.
All at once, his smile faded, turning into a look of alarm, and that was when I realized I really couldn’t breathe.
“Sassenach,” he said, guiding me to sit on the ground before I could fall. “Breathe, lass, it’s alright.”
He held a hand on my shoulder but otherwise kept himself apart, giving me space. I tried to force myself to breathe slowly, having been on the other end of hyperventilation more than once, but it was much easier said, than done.
I was vaguely aware of him continuing to speak softly, pleadingly to me, but I wasn’t aware of anything but the dark spots gathering in my vision or the inescapable panic that came with not being able to get enough air.
He suddenly grabbed my hand, pressing my palm firmly to his chest, and I could feel it expand and contract. Slowly, over and over, I could feel the rush of air in his lungs, and I made my own follow suit.
I didn’t know how long it took, but I gradually came back to myself, and I looked at where my hand rested against him. I could still feel him breathing. His heart thumping.
He was real. He was alive .
“I’m...I’m sorry,” I murmured, removing my hand.
“It’s alright,” he said gently, letting me go. “You’re safe, mo nighean donn .”
My eyes shot up at the name, the name only Jamie had ever called me.
“It’s really you,” I said in astonishment. “You’re...you’re here. You’re…”
He chuckled. “Aye, flesh and blood, Sassenach. And so are you . Question is... how ?”
I blinked at him incredulously. “You’re asking me that? Me? I don’t bloody well know how! You...you were gone and Fergus and I... Fergus !”
I scrambled to my feet, and Jamie hurried to follow, grabbing my elbow in case I wobbled, I suppose.
“Fergus?” he echoed. “Fergus is here too?”
“Yes...well, at least I think so. I followed him through the stones but when I came out, he wasn’t there. I thought I was following his footprints…”
Jamie close his eyes and shook his head. “Wait, what d’ye mean through the stones? Are ye talking about Craigh na Dun?”
“Yes. Those bloody standing stones. Didn’t you walk through them too?”
“No,” he said, confusion written all over his face. And God...how unbelievable it was to see that! “I didn’a. I...well, I’ll explain it all, but first we have tae find Fergus.”
I nodded, but as my panic started to wane slightly, I became aware of the way he was holding his arm. “You’re hurt.”
Jamie looked at it like he’d forgotten all about it, but I could see, even through his shirt, that his shoulder was dislocated. “Do you still not feel pain?” I asked him.
He smirked. “Oh, I feel it alright. I was just a wee bit distracted for a moment, is all. Is there anything ye can do? Can ye fix th’ joint?”
I nodded. “Yes, I can pop it back in. Come here and sit down with your back to that rock there.”
I was anxious to find Fergus, so much so that my mind had barely let me catch up to this astonishing turn of events. But my doctor’s mind plowed on ahead and I couldn’t just let him go on like this.
“I haven’t anything to give you for the pain,” I warned him.
“No matter,” he said, pulling out a flask and taking a long pull from it. He then blinked both his eyes…was he trying to wink? and smiled at me. “Finally got my taste back for whisky, and for everything I gave up it was a half-way decent consolation prize.”
I managed a half smile for him and then offered him a twig to bite down on.
“Think you’re able to get this off?” I asked, tugging on his white shirt.
He smirked again. “Getting me naked already, aye?”
I blushed as he laboriously managed to pull the shirt over his head, and then I winced at just how bad his shoulder looked. Beyond that, I couldn’t stop myself from noticing other aspects of his torso, namely the fact that he was even more fit than I’d thought he was. His chest was smattered in reddish gold hair, hair that I distinctly remembered feeling against my own naked chest…
I shook my head to clear it, then focused again on his shoulder.
“Christ. Alright, hold still, I have to get the joint in the correct position before it will slide into place.”
Jamie chuckled, and I shot him a glare.
“Oh stop that! And get your mind out of the gutter. You’re supposed to be in pain.”
“I am,” he said, with a smile that completely contradicted that statement. “A great deal of it. But I just canna help it; I’m happy, Sassenach.”
I blushed again, this time for another reason, then set myself to work.
The joint luckily popped back in after one try, and Jamie gasped in relief.
“It doesn’a hurt anymore!”
“It will,” I said. “I’ll need to bind it up, and you’ll have to keep from using it for a few days.”
“Easier said than done, Sassenach. These aren’a exactly safe times here. Not like your home.”
“Where are we?” I asked, removing my own belt to use as a sling.
“Not where, exactly. It’s when .”
I blinked at him in confusion. “Come again?”
“Dinna ask me how , but we’re in th’ past , Sassenach. Your past, I mean. 1743, to be exact.”
This time my eyes closed as I tried to process this new information.
“What ? It…it can’t be…”
“Look, I ken it sounds impossible but it’s true. And really, is it any less believable than an invisible man? Though, I never knew people could actually go back, though. I never left.”
“Wait, slow down...what are you saying?”
Jamie took a deep breath, then let it go. “I’ll tell ye, I’ll tell ye everything, but first we must find Fergus. It isn’a safe tae stay here at any rate.”
I helped Jamie back into his shirt then bound his arm.
“Dinna fash,” Jamie said. “Fergus is canny, we’ll find him.”
He stood, then offered me his good hand to help me up. I took it, feeling the familiar calloused palm, barely able to make it compute in my mind that the presence that I’d taken for granted as just being invisible was now a living, breathing man.
It was exhilarating.
And, if I was being completely honest with myself, it was scary.
Jamie was like a hound dog on alert, carefully leading me through the woods with his hand on the handle of his sword. I’d tried to give him back his smaller knife, but he’d told me to hold onto it, just in case. I tucked it into my boot.
“Ah, there ye are, a charaid ,” Jamie said fondly at the sight of a large black horse, drinking from the stream. He glanced at me. “I knew he wouldn’a go far. Come on, Sassenach.”
I approached the horse warily, having never had the same interest in them that Jamie and Fergus shared.
“Donas is an ornery old beast,” Jamie said, hauling himself into the saddle. “But he’ll obey me, and willn’a mind you coming along.”
He held out his good hand and I clambered into the saddle behind him, holding on for dear life. Donas threw his head back in a irritated manner, and I suspected he minded my coming along a bit more than his master claimed he did.
“What if those soldiers found him?” I asked, fear making my stomach churn. “You were running from them. Would they hurt him?”
“I think Fergus would know tae hide from anyone he doesn’a ken. But at this point, I’m rather hoping that if anyone found him, it’s my uncle.”
“Your uncle?” I echoed. “Would that have been one of the men I saw when I first came through the stones, in a kilt like you?”
“Aye, but we were separated. No matter.”
“What are you going to tell them about me and Fergus?”
Jamie chuckled. “No idea. For now, let’s just focus on finding our lad.”
I felt a warmth deep within me at the way he said our lad, but I decided not to dwell on it.
Worry twisted in my gut, it being the only thing keeping me from being elated about actually finding Jamie in the flesh .
I couldn’t fully enjoy the revelation though, not until I had Fergus back, safe.
But even still, my mind and heart raced, wondering exactly where we stood now. We had been as close as two people had been once, but that had been under very strange circumstances. So far, Jamie had seemed happy to see me, but he was standoffish in a way, having made no effort to touch me beside what was necessary.
I rode behind him, my arms around his waist. And being behind him that way, without any of the reminders of the imaginary friend I’d known, I could almost believe that I was on that horse with a completely different person. This person who smelled of blood and unwashed skin and sweat that I could feel dampening his shirt. Whose heart pulsed a rhythm against my hands and my chest. A stomach that made slight rumblings of hunger. Muscles that flexed when he moved to guide the horse.
I pressed myself closer.
“I ken you’re worn out,” Jamie said sympathetically. “We’ll double back tae Craigh na Dun, hopefully skirt around any lingering Redcoats. I dinna think Fergus would have tried tae venture too far from th’ stones. We’ll find him soon, and then we can all get some rest.”
I started to say that sounded like a great plan to me, when Jamie suddenly tensed all over, then jerked his horse off the path and into the bushes.
“What’s happening?” I whispered.
Jamie shushed me, reaching back to squeeze my knee reassuringly.
I could hear the sounds of another horse, but just one it sounded like. We waited, Donas remaining remarkably still and quiet for an animal, until Jamie exhaled and relaxed.
“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” he said, guiding Donas back into the open. “‘Tis only my godfather.”
“Godfather?” I echoed, leaning around him.
The older, grizzled-looking man and paused and reached for his sword when we first emerged, but also relaxed once he realized who it was.
“Ye near tae gave me a heart attack,” the man groused. “Twice! Just now, and when ye got it intae your damned heid tae fall off that beast ye call a horse and disappear.”
“Apologies, a ghoistidh,,” Jamie said, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “I was a wee bit distracted, is all.”
Murtagh craned his head around to see me, raising one bushy eyebrow. “Aye, I can see that. And just who might we have here?”
Jamie dismounted, then turned to help me down as well. He took my hand and led me to his godfather, introducing me proudly.
“Murtagh, I’d like ye tae meet Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Erm, that is, Dr. Claire Beauchamp.”
Murtagh’s other eyebrow joined the first to touch his hairline, and he looked at Jamie, then back at me.
“He knows me?” I asked.
Murtagh scowled. “I ken this lad woke up after two months o’ bein’ half-dead ranting and raving like a madman about a woman named Claire Beauchamp and a lad named Fergus and I thought I’d finally convinced him that it had been a dream.”
“That he did,” Jamie agreed. “But it wasn’a,” Jamie turned to look at me, touching the tip of his finger to the underside of my chin. “Unless I’m dreaming still, in that case, I dinna think I want tae awaken.”
I smiled back, but a little awkwardly, remembering the last time Jamie talked about not wanting to “wake up,” and that had been after the most unusual and also most incredible sex of my life.
Murtagh looked like he was waiting for something, and very impatiently at that.
“I promise I’ll explain everything tae ye,” Jamie said, then looked at me. “ And you. But first, Murtagh, we’re looking for th’ wee lad. He’s been separated from Claire and we need tae find him.”
Murtagh frowned. “Aye? What does he look like?”
Jamie held his hand out to the approximate height that Fergus had been before his growth spurt, so I took his hand and raised it a good three inches. “Black curly hair, blue eyes.”
Murtagh’s scowl deepened. “I think I saw your lad.”
“ What?!” I exclaimed, pushing past Jamie, not liking the expression on Murtagh’s face. “You saw him?! Where?”
Murtagh grimaced and looked to Jamie. “I split from Dougal and his men tae look for you, and nearly came upon some redcoats. They had a lad, as ye just described, and he was fightin’ and screaming as they put him on a wagon and took him away. I would’a liked tae help him, but I was alone.”
Jamie nodded, his jaw clenched tight.
“Jamie!” I exclaimed. “W...what are we going to do? Surely they wouldn’t hurt a little boy, right? He...he’s not even Scottish!”
“No, Sassenach,” Jamie said, grabbing my shoulder and giving it a squeeze.
“Jamie…” Murtagh said, grunting. “I agree th’ British would have no cause tae harm a lone child. But…I saw a certain Captain of Dragoons with whom we are acquaint going wi’ them.
Jamie’s calm concern evaporated in an instant, and he released me, suddenly hissing a string of words in another language before ending it with “mother-fucking son of a bitch.”
Murtagh’s brows shot back up at that, and he looked a little impressed.
“Jamie, what the hell?” I demanded. “Who is Murtagh talking about? Is Fergus alright? Tell me Fergus is alright!”
Jamie touched my arm again, trying to soothe me but I could see he was a volcano about to explode.
“Th’ captain Murtagh speaks of is th’ one we saw near th’ ravine. Jonathan Randall.”
“The one who looked like Frank?” I asked, then shook my head, trying to catch up. “Did...did you say Randall ? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, that’s Frank’s last name!”
“Your Frank was a piece of shite ,” Jamie growled. “But this man is a monster, Sassenach. We need tae get tae Fergus and now .”
I felt my blood go cold, and my throat close up. “Jamie…”
“We’ll get him,” Jamie said firmly. “Murtagh, d’ye ken which way they were headed?”
“North,” Murtagh said. “Reckon they must be headed tae Fort William. There’s a English command set up in Brockton, but that’s th’ other way.
Jamie spat out a few more of what I assumed to be Gaelic curses, and then took a deep breath and nodded decisively. “Murtagh, I’d ask that ye please keep Claire with ye, watch over her. I’ll…”
“No,” I broke in. “I’m going with you!”
Jamie shook his head. “No, I’ll no’ have ye anywhere near Randall. I’ll get Fergus out myself.”
“And just how will ye do that?” Murtagh asked sarcastically. “March right on in, wi’ th’ price on your heid, take on a whole prison of redcoats, and skip out scratch-free wi’ th’ boy?”
“I’ll sneak in,” Jamie hissed. “I ken th’ place, after all.”
“Ye’ll get yourself kill’t.”
“I’m English ,” I pointed out, stepping between the arguing men. “I can go in and just tell them I’ve lost my son. They’ll have no reason to doubt me, or refuse me. Fergus is twelve, what could he have possibly done to get himself arrested ?”
“Twelve is man enough here, Sassenach,” Jamie said lowly. “And ye don’t ken what Randall is like. No, out o’ th’ question.”
“Fine, then I’ll just go myself,” I said, sticking my nose in the air. “I’ll ask directions on the way.”
I started to walk away, fully expecting Jamie to stop me, but not for him to grab me rather roughly and spin me around to face him.
“You will do no such thing!” he spat, eyes flashing in anger.
I snatched my arm away, fighting the urge to slap him. “Get your fucking hands off of me! You don’t get to just grab me like I’m a doll and you do not get to tell me what I can or can’t do! I don’t care what century we’re in! Just who do you think you are?!”
Jamie took a step back, but his furious expression didn’t fade. I felt the barest stirrings of unease, but didn’t dare let it show. After all, how well did I really know this man?
“I’m nobody,” Jamie ground out through clenched teeth. “I’ve no home, no title, no’ a penny tae my name. I have nothing , d’ye understand me? Nothing but you, and Fergus. Now, I dinna ken how all of this has happened, I dinna ken how it’s possible, but it happened . And in that time, I raised that lad. He is mine tae protect. And whether you like it or not, so are you. For you and Fergus tae come here only tae lose one of you...or both…”
I watched, my heart sinking, as Jamie began to crumble in on himself, beginning with his face until his shoulders hunched in. In an instant he went from a powerful, intimidating man to someone much younger, and much more afraid, making me wonder yet again just how old he was.
I went to him, lightly touching the side of his face. “You’re not going to lose us,” I said firmly, praying that I was right. “But neither can you do this alone. Please, Jamie, let me help. Fergus is mine, too.”
Jamie took a deep breath through his nose, then nodded, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he tried to swallow his tears. “Alright,” he said. “But ye must promise tae follow my lead. You don’t know this time, and ye certainly don’t know Randall, or Fort William.”
“I promise,” I said at once.
“Weel, if you two are done,” Murtagh broke in. “Shall we go?”
Jamie smiled at his godfather. “Aye. Thank ye, Murtagh.”
Murtagh grunted. “You can thank me by giving me quite an explanation along th’ way.”
Jamie huffed a weary chuckle. “Oh aye, there’s plenty to explain,” he looked at me. “And a few things you need to understand before we reach Fort William.”
“How long will it take?” I asked, my worry increasing. I’d had in my head that it was close, my brain used to being able to get places quickly. But we were in the land without cars.
“A day and a half,” Jamie said resignedly.
“Well...can’t we catch up to them? Get to Fergus before they get him to the Fort?”
“It’s been several hours already,” Murtagh said. “If we rode as fast as we could, maybe, but even if we managed tae get your lad away from ten Redcoats without getting shot, we’d be stuck w’ exhausted horses that canna escape. One of their men was hurt, so I dinna expect them tae take their time in getting there.”
“We’ll move quickly,” Jamie said, grabbing his horse’s reins. “Rest only as long as we must, and we’ll make it tae Fort William by nightfall tomorrow. We’ll try it your way, Sassenach. Send ye in tae petition for Fergus’s release, and if that fails, I’ll sneak him out.”
“We’ll need tae make a stop in th’ next town,” Murtagh said.
Murtagh made a vague gesture at me. “Ye canna be sending her into a jail full of men dressed in a pair of breeks can ye?”
Jamie gave my attire an appraising look. “Oh, aye, I suppose we canna. We’ll want them tae find ye respectable, Sassenach. We’ll find ye a gown.”
“Whatever it takes,” I said, letting Jamie help me onto Donas. “Let’s just hurry.”