Claire’s life had been moulded by war; First in World War II, then in the Jacobite uprising, and then finally, in her own home. When Jamie had walked Claire to the Stones for the last time, although they had both overwhelmed by grief and regret, they’d understood that the aftermath of Culloden was no safe place for Red Jamie’s wife and child. The future, while a place of more advanced war, was also a place of more advanced peace.
Little did they both know, Claire was being transported from one battleground to another. They had just assumed Frank would take Claire back. He’d loved her and she had considered him an honourable man. But time and her absence had changed him. His honour was secondary to his pride and the wounds that surfaced from the love Claire found in his absence. He had been overjoyed at first, to have her back in his arms. Predictable as all men before him though, his love faded as his jealousy rose. It had taken less than a year for him to realise that while he held Claire, she envisioned Jamie’s arms instead.
The circumstances that brought Claire and Frank back together also brought forth the worst in them. She was inconsolable, stricken with a grief that kept her awake at night, staring into the same stars she had when she lied next to Jamie. While she did her best to hold her emotions back, they came flooding forward at the worst of times; when walking Bree in a park, she’d feel Jamie’s ghostly hand at the small of her back; when smelling the burnt dinner she forgot to tend to, she could hear Jamie’s laughter; when smelling Frank’s cologne, she felt small surrounded by such a foreign chemical scent.
Frank saw her pain, her grief, her longing, and took it as a personal insult. Claire could hardly blame him when his smile dropped into a frown when she ducked from his hugs. Sometimes he’d hold her wrist too tightly when he led her somewhere, but she just absorbed the discomfort as an inevitable outcome of letting him down, for loving someone else. Other times, when he made advances in bed, she let him take what he wanted, knowing Frank held only a shell of a firework that used to come alive under Jamie’s touch.
The fire that used to live in her eyes, transferred into Frank’s. His anger had grown, she knew. She struggled to walk through life with what felt like half a limb. The missing part of her was too consuming, to pay attention to the maliciousness that fuelled Frank’s fire. She couldn’t save Jamie from heartbreak because of the war, and she couldn’t save Frank from heartbreak because of Jamie. Claire simply wanted the peace that had escaped her since she touched the stones in her return. She wanted that peace so much, she ignored the conflict that bubbled to its breaking point.
It was after a thanksgiving dinner in Boston when the façade of peace cracked.
“Claire darling, will you come here please?” Frank called from the living room.
Hearing the request, Claire carefully finished drying the crockery she’d just washed. Frank had bought it for them when they’d moved into their new house in Boston. With the tensions slowly rising between them, she’d been stepping carefully. The last thing she wanted was to accidentally break something and make him think she was unappreciative for all he’d done for her and little Brianna. And he had done so much. He had subjected himself to loving a shell of a person and the offspring of her betrayal. Frank had taken care of her when she had no one else. While she observed his anger, she thought it justified. He was allowed to hate her a little. She hated herself too.
Delicately setting the plate on the counter, she dried her hands on the now mostly wet tea towel and began walking towards Frank’s voice. She stopped just inside the living room to lean over Bree’s makeshift cot. As usual, Bree was sleeping like a champion. If she’d inherited anything from her father, it was the ability to sleep wherever and whenever she wanted. With a small smile on her face, Claire brushed the back of her hand over the warm chubby cheeks of her salvation. Bree shifted slightly at being touched, but ultimately settled back down, leaning into Claire’s hand. In all the moments Claire felt like she couldn’t breathe, see or feel, she could always turn to her child and feel a tether to the world, grounding her in her responsibility to take care of Jamie’s legacy.
Looking up from Bree’s sleeping form, Claire watched Franks turned back. His shoulders were taunt, his sixth whiskey glass for the night in his hand. Claire approached him, hoping he’d had a good night with their friends. They had chatted for hours, speaking of topics she couldn’t for the life of her remember. When she plastered on her happy wife mask for the evening, she tended to zone out from herself. She hoped she hadn’t said anything embarrassing, she didn’t think she had.
“Yes, Frank?” She gently placed her hand on his turned back. He reached up and placed his hand on top of hers. The lack of callouses on his hands reminded her of the luxurious life Frank had provided for her. He was a professor and paid for the spacious apartment they lived in now. It was not cosy like Lallybroch, but the fireplace and the large windows made the perpetually cold weather feel more familiar.
“Do you still care for me, Claire?” he asked lightly. He turned to look at Claire over his shoulder, a sardonic smile on his face, “Because you certainly don’t love me.”
She froze, feeling caught out in the lie she thought she’d carefully crafted since they’d decided to resume their marriage. She had been complacent, allowing him to set all boundaries except for the sexual ones which she kept mostly intact aside from the nights she felt too guilty to push him away. She knew he wanted more of her, but she’d been disappearing before her own eyes. There wasn’t much to give him simply because there wasn’t much of her anymore. A moment of silence hung between them, as fragile as the crockery she’d just painstakingly cleaned. After Culloden, she was so exhausted. She forfeited the right to happiness when she travelled through the stones, but she desperately desired peace; something of which Frank’s question threatened to rattle.
“You don’t deny it then?” he noted, the smile melting off his face, leaving a repulsed expression in its place. His lip twitched as his handhold on her wrist tightened to an uncomfortably tight grip. But this was nothing new. He left bruises occasionally when he was passionate. She didn’t pay those bruises any attention. She rarely looked in the mirror anymore, uncomfortable in her own skin.
“Here I am, sitting around like a fool, trying to convince everyone my wife loves me even though I’ve long since given up on convincing myself.” His eyes trailed slowly up and down Claires body with an intensity in his expression that invoked an anxious cold feeling inside her. “But I think they all know by now that I just married an elegant whore.”
Claire’s jaw tightened and anger rose in her chest like a kettle boiling. Couldn’t he see how hard she’d been trying to act normal, like her cheat wasn’t an empty cavern? “How dare you!” she snarled, painfully ripping her hand out of his. “I told you I loved Jamie when I came back. You knew exactly what you were getting into!” She took a few steps back in her rage, needing to put distance between her anger and his. “You can’t blame me now because your fantasy of me isn’t the same as the real me. Did you think we’d magically fall back in love? I have been trying, Frank! I -”
He lunged forward, reaching out to grab the side of her head. With a fistful of her hair pulled tightly in his enraged hands, he threw her into the mirror hanging upon the wall next to the fireplace. Pushed upon against those broken shards, blood surfaced along her hairline. The cut, however, was a minor concern compared to the fear thrumming through her. Never before had Frank crossed this line. For all the bruises he’d left, he had never drawn blood. Excuses that Claire had always told herself following Frank’s aggressive moments, fell away. And just like that … they shattered. What they were before could no longer be, the potential for what they could be given time and peace, shattered.
Claire watched blood drop from her head to her nose, painting her face with the consequences of her ignorance. She thought if she ignored the conflict building between them, peace must prevail. Claire closed her eyes and kicked herself for not seeing this coming. She had seen the monsters men became firsthand from the wars. As Frank suddenly released his hold in her hair, she realised that she may well be living with one now.
Barely standing up, Claire opened her eyes, trying to focus despite the blurriness in front of her. After a few moments, she reached up to touch her head wound. Bringing the hand back in front of her, the stark redness came into startling focus. Turning around ever so slightly, Claire looked to the still form behind her. Franks blank face stared out of her, only his shaking hands giving away the shock he felt at his own actions.
For seconds or minutes, she wasn’t sure, they just stared at each other. Their chests both heaved, not in sync, never again in sync. With no second attack seeming to come, Claire turned to logic. “I should go to the hospital,” she reasoned with herself out loud, struggling through her shock.
Regret flashed across Frank’s face. He stepped hesitantly towards Claire, looking at the blood that dripped down her cheek and onto her neck. Unable to push aside his own shock, he slowly raised a hand to the wound. Claire watched him, waiting for him to respond, to apologise maybe. She flinched when he pressed his finger to the wound. As his shocked eyes flickered to Claire’s, he pressed down harder, watching her squirm. Shock turned into sick curiosity.
He gathered her hair in his hands again, and this time, as he smashed her face into the mirror again and again and again, he watched closely, a small smile upon his lips. Claire was too defenseless to do anything but grab the hand holding her hairs with his, digging in her nails.
When he released her this second time, she could not hold herself up anymore, and collapsed to the ground, her face near the edge of the fireplace. Although Claire understood she was in pain, she wasn’t too sure if this was real. Perhaps she’d fallen into a vivid dream she would soon wake from.
Disturbing her from her detached thoughts, Frank crouched beside her crumpled body, raising her chin up to face him. If it weren’t for the short hair, Claire would have thought she was looking at Captain Randall. She waited, hoped, that the kindness she remembered from her life with Frank would seep back into his features. As a genuine smile overtook his face, she thought her hopes might be realised.
Frank moved his other hand to push her hair out of her face. The gentleness calmed her fears. But as Frank moved his hand back into both their visions, his palm coated in his blood, the smile that widened on his face had her stop cold. Her marvelled at the blood, at his handiwork. His eyes moved back to hers. “No darling, I don’t think you will,” he crooned, as if talking to a small animal.
Claire just stared on in horror, wondering what had happened to Frank. Or worse, wondering if she had done this to Frank. He was still crouched over her, backing her into a fireplace he could easily push her into, her blood on her face and his hands. He could hurt her more, kill her even, if she fought back. So she didn’t. Not yet. Claire just watched and waited, hoping Frank would leave. Instead of hurting her more, he pulled her into his embrace, rubbing his hands up and down her arms soothingly, and shushed her softly. Too confused to do anything but lean into him, Claire began crying. She couldn’t recognise him or herself, but he was holding her lovingly. As much as she wanted to flee, these were still the arms that had held her years, strong and reliable.
“Frank?” she hesitated, pulling back to look into his eyes hopefully. His face was kind again and gentle, loving in a way it hadn’t been for months. He pulled back to wipe away her tears delicately. He exhaled heavily, looking deep into her eyes.
“Oh, Claire,” he sighed, his smile falling into a deep frown. As his crouch turned into a kneel, he held himself more solidly above her. The hand resting on her cheek trailed down to her front of her neck. “Claire,” his voice hardened, dragged out lowly. His hand tightened around her throat, his fingers digging into hard. He pushed her head back to hang just above the small flames of the fireplace. Although Claire had brought a hand to the ground behind her, to her alleviate the pressure on her neck, it did nothing to alleviate the fear caused by the fire audibly sizzling her hair.
“You won’t be going to the hospital, my darling. You are going to use those nursing skills you love to brag about.” His teeth were bared and he looked every inch the monster his ancestor was. He held her there for a moment longer, revelling in the panic that overtook Claire’s eyes. With a quick inhale, he let go, letting her fall into the fire.
For that brief second, panic overtook everything. The back of her head hit wood only for her to lurch away, dropping and rolling on the ground, putting the small fire out in her hair. She heaved in her panic, not seeing that Frank had already moved away. Her gaze snapped from the ceiling to the back of the room where Frank held Bree in his arms, above the cot.
“Go get yourself cleaned up,” he barked shortly, “I’m sick of looking at you.” The same hands that had just thrown Claire into a mirror and a fireplace were now wrapped around her daughter’s small body. Fear froze the heat the leeched across her head. Frank knew exactly what he was doing when he tightened his hands, causing Bree to cry out. “For gods sake Claire, do it now,” he advised, the edge in his voice the only tell that even he was overwhelmed by what he had done.
With no choice but to follow his orders, Claire mechanically pulled herself up from the floor and walked to the bathroom where she kept the first aid kit in a daze. Despite the plea locked in her chest to look back, she couldn’t bring herself to.
Her steps were short and so were her breaths. Fear, confusion, betrayal. They all melded into an overwhelming buzz just under her skin that threatened to explode out, leaving Claire in smithereens. Despite being present for that attack, she couldn’t help but draw short at the question: what just happened?
The question swirled and pounded every inch of Claire’s body. It took her a moment to realise that she’d reached her destination, the bathroom bench under her hands. Ever so slowly, she looked up looked up and into the mirror. A stranger stared back. A stranger with black hair matted with blood. Cheeks a sharp white contrast, paled in sickness. Her eyes were completely dilated, not taking in all that much. Claire failed to connect the stranger before her with herself, for surely, for all she’d been through, Frank would not add his name to a long list of men before him that had hurt her. Surely, she would recognise a monster when she saw one.
A crash came from the kitchen caused her to jump out of her shocked reverie. “Sorry darling, the crockery you left on the bench just seems to have … fallen,” Frank called out nonchalantly. “You’ll clean it up, won’t you Claire?”
Looking over her shoulder in the direction of the kitchen, Claire swallowed at the anger that had begun to rise in her. After a delayed second, she yelled back to Frank, “of course, dear.” Sharply, Claire turned back to the stranger in the mirror, hatred filling its eyes. The woman in the mirror was a victim who’d wallowed her misery for too long, putting herself and her child at risk.
She had brought a monster into her daughters’ life, into Jamie’s daughters’ life. A monster who was holding Bree at that very moment. That was unforgivable. Staring into her eyes in the mirror, Claire understood that Jamie would never forgive her for such a weakness. For that reason, neither would she. Claire hated herself, couldn’t stand what she saw in the mirror.
She was shaking at the rage she felt for Frank, but she was out of her mind with repulsion at herself. After minutes of staring at the coward in the mirror, Claire took her revenge ... and slammed her own face into the mirror, destroying the evidence of her own weakness staring back at her.