Jamie would have been content to spend the rest of his life watching his wife and child asleep on John’s couch. But reality was going to intrude at any moment, and he wanted some time alone with Claire before it did.
This night had been nothing short of a dream. There was a part of Jamie that was certain he was going to wake up any moment, and he’d be back in his cave. Or even worse, he would wake up on Culloden Moor and have to truly face the fate he always feared. But Jamie was happy to remain in this dream, if that’s what this was.
Jamie would allow Claire a few more minutes of sleep, he decided. She hadn’t once complained, but Jamie knew that the past few months hadn’t been easy on her. He could see it himself, the way the long journey on horseback had worn her down. And he knew from John that she was working longer hours than she was hired for. Jamie didn’t know if that was because Claire wanted to be close to him, or if it was simply because she didn’t have help and she refused to leave her patients without care. Either way, more often than not, Claire was sleeping on a pallet on the floor instead of a real bed.
And now he knew from Fergus that even when she was home, she was only sleeping and eating the bare minimum to keep herself going. It made Jamie’s blood boil that she wasn’t taking care of herself, but he was angrier at himself than at anyone else. If it wasn’t for his prison sentence, Jamie could be the one taking care of her and making her take care of herself. But he was useless in Ardsmuir.
One minute more, Jamie decided when he saw Claire stir in her sleep. One minute more to put on the same brave face for her that he knew she put on for him. As Jamie looked at her, he replayed the last several hours in his mind.
Jamie had figured Bree would be a lot like her mother, slow to trust and open up. He hadn’t been prepared for her to throw herself into Jamie’s arms mere moments after meeting him. It had taken everything Jamie had not to break down right there with her. But his daughter needed him, so he managed to hold himself together and comfort her as best he could.
From there, dinner began with an awkward air that quickly melted as Bree chattered. Jamie clocked that Claire barely spoke a word. She gave him a glance here and there, and he saw her stiffen any time Bree said something that must have been about the future. But Claire had been uncharacteristically silent from beginning to end. After dinner was over, she retired quickly to the couch with Bree while Jamie got roped into a game of chess.
He managed to win despite Fergus’ nearly uninterrupted monologue, much to John’s annoyance. Despite filling most of the conversation, Fergus let remarkably little slip about the reality of their situation, but Jamie could read between the lines. Past the general unsafety of the area, John was sending him to deal with anything he didn’t have time for himself. And it seemed like a good deal of it wasn’t official Ardsmuir business. Jamie didn’t know the particulars, but he knew John had a hand in several intelligence groups, so he could only imagine the correspondences Fergus was handling. And he was taking Bree with him most of the time. Jamie thought he might prefer her with Claire at the prison.
It seemed like there was danger around every corner, all because Claire wanted to be with Jamie and this was where he was stuck. Possibly for the rest of his life. Jamie couldn’t allow himself to linger on that. The choice had already been made, and Jamie had no right to tell Claire how best to take care of their daughter. Not when she was trying to make choices in all of their best interests. That was the thought that finally pushed Jamie forward to wake her.
“It’s well past midnight, Sassenach,” Jamie said when her eyes blinked open, “It’s best ye and the bairn leave.”
“Where’s Fergus?” Claire asked when she realized where she was. Her hand went automatically to Bree to check she was still asleep, then it went to smooth her red hair back from her forehead. Jamie was a little jealous of the easy intimacy of the gesture.
“Talking about something with John in his study,” Jamie said “John has him running all sorts of errands, did ye know?”
“Not the specifics. But Fergus is a grown man, Jamie,” Claire reminded him.
“Aye, I ken that. It’s just hard to remember sometimes.” Jamie admitted.
“And it’s not like your ‘errands’ were ever particularly safe, Mr. Fraser,” Claire said with a teasing smile, and Jamie could help his own answering grin. He remembered how much Claire had been against hiring Fergus in Paris all those years ago. And now look at them all.
“Right ye are, mo chridhe,” Jamie said. He kissed her lips just because he could, then he gave into the temptation to touch Bree, who was still sound asleep. Her hair was impossibly soft even with the curls she’d gotten from Claire. Jamie was very nearly choked up, but he managed, “I dinna think I thanked ye properly.”
“For what?” Claire asked with furrowed brows.
“For everything,” Jamie said, “But for bringing the bairn. I ken I didna have the most gracious reaction.”
“I caught you off guard,” Claire asked mercifully and Jamie gave her a small smile. Then, Jamie suddenly wasn’t able to hold himself up anymore. He felt Claire start as he landed hard on the stone floor, but she seemed to recover quickly. Her hand landed in his hair and Jamie enjoyed the feeling of her nails on his scalp as he watched Bree’s eyes move under her lids in sleep. He hoped she was having a sweet dream. He hoped he’d have dreams of her when she was gone.
“Jamie?” Claire asked a few minutes later. She was whispering, as if she didn’t want to burst the bubble of the moment.
“Hmm?” Jamie replied, trying to pull himself out of his daze.
“John will be back soon,” Claire said, “If there was anything we needed to talk about in private?”
“There are a great many things I want to do with ye in private,” Jamie said cheekily and he was rewarded with a light blush painting Claire’s cheeks, “But aye, I suppose we should talk.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve changed your mind about running away?” Claire asked. It had the cadence of teasing, but Jamie could hear the genuine question in it.
“Was that yer master plan in bringing the bairn here?” Jamie asked in the same tone.
“No,” Claire replied, “My master plan was proving to you how much that girl loves you, Jamie. Anything else was just a biproduct.”
“And I appreciate it, Sassenach,” Jamie said, “But no. I havena changed my mind. As much as I wish I could.”
“I know,” Claire said, and Jamie could hear the weary acceptance in it, “I didn’t expect you to.”
“But ye hoped?”
“Of course I did,” Claire said, “I told you I’d take any life with you, but I’d prefer one where I could see you without a medical emergency.” Jamie managed a small smile at that.
“Even if I ran, we wouldna really be free, Claire. Ye ken that,” Jamie said sadly. He brushed an errant tear from her cheek, “Besides, what would the other prisoners do without ye?”
“You’re right, it’s all my fault for making myself indispensable,” Claire said with a wobbly smile, “It was worth a try.”
“I love ye for always trying. But John wouldn’t be able to look the other way a second time if we got caught. I couldna put Bree and Fergus in that kind of danger.” He didn’t add that they probably would get caught. They made a rather conspicuous group: a redheaded scot, a Sassenach doctor, a onehanded Frenchman, and a child. They probably wouldn’t make it five miles before they were discovered. And then it wouldn’t be just Jamie paying for the crime.
As if on cue, John and Fergus took that moment to come back into the room. Both looked very much like they’d rather be anywhere else when they caught sight of Claire crying and Jamie very close to tears himself. But Claire gamely brushed her tears aside and put on an unconvincing smile.
“I’ll carry Bree, milady,” Fergus said as he gently picked her up from Claire’s lap. She gave Fergus a grateful smile and allowed Jamie to help her to her feet. There was little they could say now that John was back in the room, so Jamie contented himself with a final kiss to Bree’s head and Claire’s lips.
“I’m sure I’ll see ye soon, Sassenach,” Jamie said with a gesture to his bruised face.
“I better not,” Claire warned, but she smiled anyways. Never one to draw out the inevitable, Claire turned and left the room with Fergus, but John held back.
Without speaking, Jamie and John gravitated back to the chess board. With his family there, they had only managed one game when they usually played three. It was late, but Jamie would do anything to hold onto this night for a little bit longer. John seemed to understand that and took his time setting up the board.
“It’s remarkable how much she looks like you,” John said as he moved his first pawn.
“Except for the curls,” Jamie agreed, “Those are all Claire.”
They played in silence for awhile after that. That wasn’t rare. Their games often found a rhythm and they fell into companionable silence. Jamie was too lost in his own thoughts to wonder what John was so silent about. Jamie was distracted enough that John backed him into a corner soon enough. Jamie let his king fall and set up the board again for their final game of the night.
“Was tonight Claire’s idea or yours?” Jamie asked.
“Bringing the child was Dr. Randall’s idea,” John replied. Jamie stiffened, as he always did when he heard the name Randall. Jamie knew why Claire had chosen it. She clearly couldn’t use Fraser or Beauchamp, and it would be obvious she was using an alias if she’d chosen something she wouldn’t respond to. But it still grated on him every time someone used it. Jamie had managed so far to never use it himself, sure he would choke on the name if he tried. John noticed the flinch and gave Jamie an apologetic look, “In fact, I thought it was a damn foolish idea and tried to talk her out of it.”
“But,” John continued, “After seeing the two of you together, I understand why it seemed like she would move heaven and earth for you to meet her.”
“I hope you know how much I appreciate what you’ve done for us these past few months,” Jamie said. John held his gaze for a long moment before looking away with a smile.
“Thanks isn’t necessary,” John said, “I daresay your wife has made herself indispensable, which I’m sure was always her plan.”
“Aye,” Jamie said, “She tends to have that effect.”
“I am glad to have met her, Jamie,” John said sincerely, “She is a remarkable woman.”
“She is, that,” Jamie agreed, glad that John had taken Claire’s strangeness and impropriety in stride. Jamie knew firsthand how many men were quick to dismiss her as either fraud or a sorceress. This time, it seemed that John was the one who was distracted and Jamie checkmated him easily.
“I’m long overdue back in my cell,” Jamie said. Jamie caught John looking at him several times like there was something he wanted to say, but no words ever came out.
“Goodnight, Mr. Fraser,” John said when a guard finally came to escort him back to his cell.
“Goodnight, Lord Grey,” Jamie replied with a slight bow. Jamie caught the look again, but John kept his mouth closed, and Jamie had no choice but to return to his cell.
For once, time seemed to move quickly at Ardsmuir as winter turned into spring. Jamie never hurt himself on purpose, but he was constantly getting cuts and bruises that Claire insisted she look at, and Jamie was the man elected to escort other injured prisoners. So he usually saw Claire several times a week. They didn’t have the privacy to do anything other than exchange small talk most of the time, but they managed to have entire conversations with words no one else would think twice about.
As much as Jamie wanted to see Bree again, he and Claire agreed that it was risky to bring her into the prison again. They had been unbelievably lucky the first time that no one had recognized her. It was lucky that no one recognized Claire herself. There were several guards at Ardsmuir that had fought at Prestonpans and Culloden. It would be easy enough for someone to see her with Bree and put the pieces together that she was Red Jamie’s wife. So as much as it killed him to be away from her, Jamie didn’t ask to see Bree again.
John invited Claire to dine with them a few times a month, and between that and his visits to her surgery, they made due.
Then Murtagh got caught with his small, torn piece of tartan. Just as Jamie warned him he would someday
After a few months of medical care, he was doing worlds better than before Claire. But everyone knew what the penalty would be for his forbidden clan memorabilia. Murtagh would be flogged, and Jamie knew he wouldn’t survive it. He was too weak after years of prolonged illness and malnourishment.
Jamie could survive it, though.
He hadn’t hesitated to confess to the crime. Murtagh tried to get him to take it back, but Jamie was persistent. And he had the other prisoner’s support. Any number of them would do the same thing for him.
“Possession of clan tartans is illegal. You know the penalty, of course?” John asked when Jamie was brought to his office sometime later.
“And are volunteering to be flogged?” John pressed.
“It’s no volunteering when the tartan belonged to me in the first place,” Jamie replied.
“We both know it’s Mr. Fitzgibbons’” John replied without even a hint of the wry humor that was often in his voice. John knew that Jamie had been flogged before, and he was not looking forward to doing it again. But what choice did he have? Jamie didn’t begrudge him for it. John had looked the other way about a great many things. He couldn’t with this, not now that Jamie had publicly confessed.
“Sixty lashes,” John said once it became clear that Jamie wasn’t going to renege on his confession. It seemed like the words physically pained him, but Jamie hung his head in acquiescence.
The lashes themselves weren’t nearly as bad as the flogging that had given Jamie his scars. He wasn’t expecting it to be. Unlike Randall all those years ago, it was clear the young solider administering them didn’t take any pleasure in the act. He whipped Jamie quickly and relatively lightly. Still, sixty lashes did damage, even if applied without enthusiasm. Jamie had lost his footing around the thirtieth one and he’d never gained it back.
But what Jamie hated more than anything else was his men seeing his flayed back. After years of living in close quarters, it was unavoidable that most of them had caught glimpses of his scars every now and then. But Jamie had taken great pains to keep them mostly hidden. And now here they were, on fully display. Jamie didn’t miss the gasps and mutterings of displeasure when he first took his shirt off. And he didn’t miss the pitying looks in the men’s eyes when he was finally untied from the whipping post and dragged away.
And Jamie definitely didn’t miss Claire’s eyes looking down on the scene from the window in her surgery, her eyes nearly alight with fury.