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Make Me Feel Safe

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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.

Chapter Text

Waking up the next morning, lying just inches from Frank, had been mildly terrifying. Claire had the brief initial moment of ignorance before the pain throbbing in her head set in. Clarity quickly followed, reminding her of the horror Frank had inflicted on her last night. It was so surreal that she briefly considered it to be a dream. Touching the stiches she’d shakenly sowed into her hairline however, shoved that hopeful thought away.

Slowly, as if having accidently encroached on a snake’s territory, Claire turned her head to look at Frank’s face. Grateful for the opportunity to study his sleeping face, Claire analysed how last night could have happened. With his face relaxed and peaceful, it was difficult to reconcile the monster from the night before with the man she’d had known for 12 odd years, the man who Uncle Lamb had encourage her to marry, the man who she had run to when Culloden had ripped out her heart.

I trusted you.

Jamie trusted you.

She jolted into a sitting position at the reminder of her daughter. In her rage last night, she hadn’t had enough time to stitch herself up and clean up the mirrors and crockery she’d shattered, as well as check on Brianna before Frank was calling her to bed. If he’d heard the mirror in the bathroom shatter, he hadn’t let on. It was difficult to keep with his mood swings. He’d changed masks the night before, going from sullen to enraged to loving to cruel all within a few minutes the night before.

When she heard him call her to bed, she didn’t know what to expect. Would be the monster or her husband? Having calmed down from her own rage, she’d felt empty and detached, unable or unwilling to think of the consequence of going to bed with him. For what reason, however, it was her husband waiting for her and in their rooms. He’d helped her into the shower, washed down her body with soap, held her head still as he washed out the shampoo, and even helped brush her hair before bed. They’d done so in silence. While she had barely been present for any of it, he’d been more gently and attentive than ever before. He seemed loving and caring, as if she’d just gone through a tearful meltdown, not a violent attack he’d perpetrated.

As he led her into their bed, he did nothing but draw her close and kiss her wounds. There was no cruelty, but also no apologies. It was as if none of it had happened. The pain were an important reminder for Claire, where Frank offered none. Together they’d fallen into a deep sleep.

Waking up this morning, however, Claire understood the danger anew that she and her child were in. The defining reason why Jamie and she had agreed that she needed to travel through the stones again was to protect their unborn baby. Jamie had trusted her to keep their child safe when he could not. When Frank had tightened his hands around Brianna the night before, he’d threatened that safety. They could not stay a moment longer.

With a throbbing head, Claire quickly tip toed around the bedroom, collecting the essential items she’d need to live. Grabbing a luggage bag from the hallway wardrobe, she stowed away some clothes and a few items of jewellery she thought to sell off for a rent and food until she got a job. Checking over her shoulder, she could see Frank still sound asleep. She left the bag in the hallway to collect Bree’s things from the nursery. She stopped for a short moment at Bree’s cot, staring at the innocence that graced her angelic face. Bree was unaware of the monster they lived with. Claire promised she would remain so. Remembering that Frank could wake up at any moment, Claire began stacking nappies and the like. With her arms full, she rushed back to store it into the luggage, only to see Frank standing over the bag, intently holding one of her dresses in his hands.

“Going somewhere are we?” he asked in an unimpressed drawl.

After making the decision to escape, Claire promised herself to see it through. Although it wasn’t ideal to be caught, she owed it to Jamie to keep try, to keep their baby safe. “You hurt me,” she whispered, letting the betrayal slip off her tongue. “You. Hurt. Me,” she repeated, gathering her strength for what would most definitely be a fight.

Frank chuckled deep in his throat. He looked down at the luggage before looking back up at Claire distastefully, as if she were a child throwing a tantrum. He shook his head before straightening up, crossing his arms over his chest and looking down his nose at her. “No, Claire. You hurt me.”

Before she could reply, Bree began stirring from her sleep in the nursery cot Claire left her in moments before. Frank cocked his head to the side, as if suddenly remembering it was not just Claire he’d lose if she ran. Looking back at Claire’s panicked face, he began walking towards the nursery. Quickly, Claire jumped in front of him. Although it was her husband that fell asleep, it was the monster that woke up, of which she was unwilling to expose her baby to.

“Claire, darling, move aside,” he ordered with a smile. Claire was not lost in shock like she was last night. Although she swallowed nervously, she planted her feet and raised her chin in defiance, as if to say he’d have to go through her to get to Bree. He didn’t move to cast her aside like she expected. He simply raised his hand to tenderly hold her cheek in his hands, rubbing his thumb back in forth in no hurried motion. “I’m not going to hurt our baby, Claire.”

Relief ran through her, but not enough to rid all the adrenaline from her system. Maybe the monster before her did have boundaries and morals. Maybe … maybe he wasn’t a monster. Maybe she’d missed something, misunderstood.

“As long as you don’t do anything … irrational,” he hesitated on the last word, looking curiously down at Claire. His gaze flickered between her eyes, analysing the emotions she couldn’t hide. The confusion, the fear, the anger. He could see it all. She couldn’t afford to forget that he had been an intelligence officer in the war. He knew how to read people, how to manipulate them.

Claire froze under his scrutiny, scrambling for an explanation to his behaviour and implication. Claire’s brain short-circuited as she concluded Frank could mean nothing but a blackmailing threat against her baby.  Although she’d lived in facades and lies during her time at French Court, no ideas came to mind in the face of such promised violence. The possibility was suffocating her. Images of Frank throwing Bree into a mirror like he did with her sprung to mind. Frank had a million ways to hurt Claire for sure, but she was much less breakable than Bree. It wouldn’t take much for Bree to die under strong hands. She was too preoccupied with the infinite futures ahead of her to respond to the present threat.

What would Jamie do?

And then all at once, it hit her. Claire knew what Jamie would do because he’d already done something similar. Her mind flashed back to the dirty prison cell in Wentworth. When given the ultimatum to either surrender his body or let Claire die, Jamie didn’t hesitate. And neither would she.

“Okay,” Claire nodded slowly. She relaxed her posture into a demure stance, transforming the anger in her to acceptance and hopeful resilience.

“Okay,” Frank smirked shamelessly. His hand dropping from cupping her cheek to holding her hand. “Now how about we try our marriage again, and this time,” his voice dropped, “you leave the ghost out of our bedroom.” He picked her hand up and kissed the back of it softly, maintaining eye contact with her. Her heart pounded. Frank was enjoying watching her shove the fight in her down into a hidden place. He knew which button to press to bring forth her compliance.

Tugging on her hand, Frank led a stone jawed Claire into the bedroom. Despite her efforts to remain calm an unaffected, as if he hadn’t just won, Claire couldn’t help but feel infuriated at the sight of their bed. She’d slept soundly next to this monster, too exhausted to sneak out in the middle of the night. That delay would cost her greatly.

Looking back up Frank’s expectant face, Claire speculated how Jamie survived this. How he looked into the cruel eyes of a Randall and submitted himself to the horror awaiting willingly. Claire was afraid, but she would not show it. She squared her shoulders off and looked straight ahead, as if nothing about the situation bothered her. Bree’s safety was at stake. Claire could not faulter in her resolve to play by Frank’s rules. For now. Claire and Bree had a future, she was sure, outside of this house. She just had to endure until she could escape. She would endure for both their sakes. For only god knew what plans hid behind Frank’s eyes as they trailed up and down her tensed body. Better, Claire thought, that he look at her that way, than Bree.

After minutes of deliberation, watching Claire, waiting for her to buckle under the scrutiny, Frank stalked over to her and pushed her face down into the bed. Claire’s heart jumped beginning to understand the reality of what she’d waken up to this morning. With her sore head pushed harshly into the covers of their unmade bed, Claire closed her eyes and refused to break but also refused to give him any reason to harm Bree. He would not fight in her, not today. She would save it for a day when she was prepared. Her resolve didn’t halt her fear however. She’d never been raped. But here she was, moments away.

She hadn’t changed out of her pyjamas yet, so all he needed to do was push her pants down before his fingers could enter her. She bit her tongue as it began, trying desperately to separate her mind from her body, to focus on anything but what was happening. Despite her attempts, her mind wondered, making up images of Jamie in this exact same position, being held under threat by the same evil bloodline. She wondered if he’d kept silent. She wondered if he felt disgusted and powerless, if he’d felt anything at all in those moments.

Hold my hand, Jamie, Claire pleaded to her mind. Scrambling to call forward memories to distract her. she was dry, Frank and her both knew it. Perhaps, Frank revelled in. Perhaps he detested that her body did not want him. He turned Claire over, kissing her lips, neck and breasts roughly.

“Claire, darling,” Frank groaned, reaching down to tug on himself momentarily before entering her. But Claire’s mind was drifting elsewhere; some place he could not reach her. Jamie was her safe place.

She imagined laying in her bed in Lallybroch, watching the sun slowly drift through the windows, creeping towards them. She imagined Jamie turning to her and muttering sweet nothings to her in gaelic, making her feel special and safe. Jamie would compliment her whiskey eyes and her scruffy hair. He’d rub soothing circles into her back and press their foreheads together. They’d revel in the peace and content of the moment. Then Jamie would press butterfly kisses into neck until she laughed and pushed him away. He would smirk and his eyes would glint mischievously.

Frank was saying something, but Claire wasn’t sure what. She was remembering Jamie’s face in excruciating detail, from his lopsided eyebrows to shape of the bridge of his nose. A sharp slap drove her out of her imagination for a second. “Goddammit I love you, Claire!” Frank shouted, his hands trapping Claire’s face. “Tell me you love me,” he pleaded.

Claire watched in horror as Frank the husband looked back at her. She wanted Jamie’s face, not his. Her silence was not well received. But she couldn’t speak. Screams were barely held down. She refused to acknowledge the pain she was in, physically and emotionally. It wouldn’t do her any good.

It continued on, the husband fading back into the monster, a seamless transition. Anger replaced his pleas, the violence escalating. Frank was determined to give her no reprieve, no safe place to hide. He shouted and begged her to tell him she loved him. The resolve to give him nothing, not an inch, began to fade as the pain became too much. She tried to imagine Jamie and the solace he provided, but nothing but a whisper came to her. Survive. Although she had resolved to ignore and detach from Frank, she needed this to be over more.

“I love you, Frank.”

There were demands to say it again. She felt like she was giving in by saying what he wanted her to. But Jamie’s whisper came to her again. It reminded her that it wasn’t just Claire that could be subjected to pain. If she didn’t comply, perhaps Frank might kill her. Perhaps Bree might be next.

“I love you, Frank.”

If Jamie went through this for her, she could go through it for their child. As if he were there, it felt like Jamie were holding her hand. Claire saw Jamie lying beside her calmly, just looking into her eyes. So she stared back. Her body was not her own, but her mind was. And so she took solace in her imagination. Jamie looked sad and concerned. He brought her hand up to kiss it, not letting it go. He pressed his forehead into their clasped hands, as if to give him strength too. Claire just watched on, wondering why Jamie looked upset.

A voice seeped through, demanding things she could not give. She ignored the angry buzz. She ignored the plain. She detached from everything but the image of Jamie lying next to her.

 Jamie. Hold me. Make me feel safe.

The thought floated through her head on repeat, a drone to match the rest of the sounds swirling around her. Perhaps someone heard it, for the punch that came providing only a brief moment of pain before the bliss of cold darkness.