Chapter 1: Craigh na Dun.
“What then?” The keening wind was sharp in my ears, but his voice was sharper still.
“I put my hand on the rock.”
“Do it, then.” He pushed me closer, and when I did not respond, he grasped my wrist and planted my hand firmly against the brindled surface.
Claire placed her hands on the biggest stone and Jamie felt his breath going with her, taking his life away.
A moment later she was vanishing, just in front of his eyes.
This was the last he would ever see of her. No more curls on his chest in the morning, no whisky eyes to search for, no English accent making the words sound like music in his ears.
No more love, no more of his Sassenach.
No, he wasn’t ready. He didn’t even have the chance to say a proper goodbye.
Not that he would ever be ready, but he could at least kiss her for one last time. Smell her herbal scent, once again. Touch her ivory skin with his calloused hands, the only balm he ever felt.
He had to stop her.
Jamie walked fast, calling her name with so much force that it hurt his throat. He needed to anchor her to him again, before she would go back to her time forever.
When he reached her he grabbed her arms tight, swirling her around and burying her in his embrace. The feel of her trembling body against his felt like heaven.
“Oh God, Claire. Oh God. Ye were starting to… to disappear. Are ye alright, lassie?” He asked, his voice cracked with emotion.
Claire didn’t reply.
“Claire? Sassenach? Are ye alright? Are ye in pain?” He could hardly swallow, the lump in his throat getting bigger after each moment that passed without hearing her voice. He tried to watch her face, to look for any sign of pain, but it was impossible as she clang on him for dear life. Her breath was shallow and hot against his jacket, and she was still shaking.
Oh God, what did these stones did to her?
Maybe it wasn’t the magic. Maybe he was the reason of her distress. She might have wanted to go back to Frank, and he brought her back with pure force.
Clotheid! Of course she wanted to go back! She told ye she’s trying to come back to the fairy hill for months!
“I’m sorry, I shouldna stop ye, Sassenach. I should ha’ let ye go.” Jamie said remorsefully, placing a kiss on her head. Her curls surrounded his face and he briefly closed his eyes, relieved. She was still with him. Not for long, but she was there.
All he could do now was to pray to God for strength. He had to leave her, to let her go for good.
It was then that he felt her recoil from his touch. She placed both hands firmly on his chest and pushed him back, while taking a step away from him.
That single move counted as a million darts going straight through his heart.
She was mad at him for stopping her.
“Claire, I’m sorry. I… I wasna ready. But I’m not keeping ye here. I promise. Ye can go back, Sassenach.”
Claire opened and closed her mouth a few times before she managed to talk. Her voice was just a whisper, brought to him by the light breeze on the top of the hill. “Back?”
“Aye, to yer own time.” Jamie gulped his anguish, showing a strong face.
“To my … what?” Claire asked, eyes dull with confusion.
“Claire…” Jamie started, not knowing how to reply to that. He was sure he remembered her tale correctly, the words ringing in his mind as she first time he’d heard them. She didn’t belong here.
He didn’t manage to continue his sentence, though. Claire talked again, a little louder this time, but still in a shaking voice. “How do you know my name?”
“Who are you?” She was walking backwards again. God, she was afraid of him.
Jamie raised his hands in the air, away form sword and dirk, trying to prove that he meant no harm. His mind was racing through the one hundred possible ways to explain her reaction – anything to deny the one thought dominating all.
“Sassenach, it’s me. Jamie.” He didn’t take his eyes from her, desperately trying to make her see him. Trying to make her see the endless love he had for her, the heart he would gladly part with, to see her happy.
“I don’t remember… I don’t remember anything.” Claire declared and fell on her knees, the weight of this realization too heavy for her to carry.
Jamie felt the world swirl around them, making his heart beat like a drum in his chest, echoing through his whole body.
He moved slowly towards her, fell on the ground and remained there, afraid to touch her again.
Claire didn’t remember him.
Chapter 2: We’re in Scotland, lass.
Jamie had never heard the buzzing sound of the stones as Claire described it, but his mind created a buzzing of its own after hearing her broken declaration. Claire’s words hit him with force, getting even louder now that she was silent.
She didn’t remember him.
All the months they spent together were lost to her.
The flash in their eyes as she fixed his shoulder, the night they first met. Their shared ride back to Leoch, with her arse round and full between his thighs, her head thumping on his chest and spreading her curls around him – making everything smell like her, like heaven. Sharing his plaid and his body warmth. Crying in his arms at Leoch, as she mourned for a lost husband that was 200 years away.
Mourning for a husband. Did she still remember Frank?
Jamie set his jaw and swallowed the tears that welled up in his eyes. He had to be strong now, for both of them. He had to make her feel safe.
And he had to find our what she did remember.
Claire hadn’t moved since she fell on the ground. She was there in front of him with his plaid surrounding her frail body and yet miles away. Her face was buried in her hands, her body shaking with forceful sobs.
Jamie’s heart snapped in two seeing her like this, so lonely and desperate. His extended hand fell on his side twice before he found the courage to touch her again. He placed it softly on her shoulder, aching to take some of her pain away. Maybe with the feel of him, she would remember.
Claire didn’t respond to his touch, leaving him unsure of what to do next. She didn’t look at him, but she didn’t push him away either. Taking a deep steadying breath, his other hand tenderly found her arm and he pulled her to him, so slowly that he thought that time had stopped and she’d never come to touch his chest. He heard the loud banging of his heart, straining with the fear of yet another rejection but most of all, with the dread that he’d might cause more distress to his lass.
Claire didn’t resist. She came to him, with her hands still hiding her face, and she cried in his arms as she had done months ago, when Mrs. Fitz left them alone at Leoch.
The day he knew that she was the one for him. What he didn’t know back then, was that he’d come to love this woman more than himself, more than pride and life. More than he ever though possible for a man to love a woman. Maybe more than his father loved his mother. Maybe.
Jamie felt Claire’s body relax against his own, her muscles giving up their strenuous condition to succumb to his, as if they knew better how he longed to protect her. To prove to her that he was strong and capable to love her.
Did she remember, then?
Did she feel it, too?
Jamie waited until her sobs quietened and he ran a hand in her hair, cradling her head as he moved her to look at him.
“Claire?” His voice was strained, but she met his eyes much more composed now. She had stopped crying.
His fierce Sassenach.
“Are you feeling better, lass?” Jamie was on the verge of calling her mo cridhe but stopped at the last moment.
She wasn’t his if she didn’t remember what lied between them, and he wouldn’t do anything that might jeopardize the connection they had now, fragile as it was. But he ached, oh how he ached, to call her Sassenach and see the sparkle in her eyes, recognizing his endearment! How he ached to tell her that she was his, and he was hers, forever.
But… No. She wasn’t his, she was to go back to him before he stopped her. To him, who had come first in her life. The lucky bastard.
Claire nodded as a reply to his question, her gaze still unsure while she took in her surroundings. Tentatively, he trapped a curl between his fingers and tucked it behind her ear, sensing her soft earlobe and bringing her eyes back to him. “Do ye remember me?”
The seconds between his question and her reply felt like a lifetime, and when she shook her head no his heart sank in the deepest loch, willing its kelpie to keep it there. Deep in the water he could drown his sorrow, the emptiness she would leave behind. His voice shook as he dared to ask again, “What do ye remember, lass?”
“Uncle Lamb.” She replied immediately, her voice hoarse from crying. “Oxford.”
Uncle Lamb? But the man was dead when Claire went through the stones!
“Where are we?” Claire asked before Jamie could think of his next question.
“We’re in Scotland lass. Near Inverness.” She was looking for Inverness the first night she came through the stones.
Would talking about Inverness remind her of her travel?
Would his answer trigger memories of her trip with Frank?
“But I- I’ve never been to Scotland.” She whispered, answering the question he didn’t dare to ask, as a deep wrinkle formed between her eyebrows. Jamie leaned in and kissed it away without thinking, causing an abrupt reaction from Claire, who tried to take some distance from him again.
Jamie felt his heart squeeze, hating himself for his impulsiveness. He had to be careful, much more careful from now on.
Being frustrated with the way he handled her uneasiness, he belatedly registered what Claire had said. If she thought that she’d never been to Scotland, she didn’t only forget him. She had no memory of Frank, as well! The only person she mentioned was her uncle. Surely, if she remembered her marriage with the Englishman she would talk about him first.
That realization made something flutter in Jamie’s stomach. A hope for a second chance found soil to grow and he was determined to water it, as Claire has done with her wee herbs at Leoch, even if there was only a slight possibility to see it bloom. But there was still a chance to make Claire his again.
He couldn’t send her back now, he argued in his mind, in a future she didn’t know, where the only person she remembered was dead. Frank would probably wait for her on the other side of the stones, but he had the same claim on her now as Jamie did. For the moment the only place Claire would be safe was with him, in the past.
He would keep her there until she’d remember again. Him or Frank, it didn’t matter.
The only think that mattered was Claire to be happy.
And maybe, just maybe, as she would come back to herself she would come to accept his love again.
But what if Claire never got her memory back?
Jamie pushed the thought away before it settled in his mind. No, that couldn’t happen. All this was temporary, it had to be. But even if it wasn’t, he’d love her just as well from the very beginning. He would do everything again, just to hold a fragment of her heart.
Jamie reached for Claire’s hand again, gently, timidly. Enfolding it in his, he talked to her in a quiet voice. “Forgive me, lass. I didna want to startle ye.”
Claire looked deep in his eyes, with a look of curiosity he knew all too well.
“Who are you?”
Chapter 3: Who are you?
Jamie had found himself in difficult circumstances many a time, and he always found a way out of them. There was a golden thread to follow, leading him to the solution. Best gain, minimal loss. This was what he did back at Leoch, when he managed to be accepted as an ally without pledging his oath to Colum. It wouldn’t do to die during the Gathering, with Claire watching.
But now, in front of the inquiring amber of her eyes, he had no words.
Who was he? Who was he supposed to be in the messed world of her mind?
The first time he introduced himself to Claire, he was obliged to lie. He was Jamie MacTavish, a man with no history; a ghost not to be found. He didn’t mind being MacTavish to everybody else, but he couldn’t stand deceiving Claire. He ached to give her his truth, even if it would be hidden behind a fake name. He longed to be Jamie Fraser with her. And he was, because every time he watched her he felt more like himself than he ever did. He needed her to know him; the scars on his back, the warrant with his name, his family, his history.
The first time Jamie told Claire his full name was before their wedding. She was standing outside the church in that beautiful dress, with the ivory of her skin shining under the rare Scottish sun that came out only to admire her. His bride. Jamie gave her himself with his name, then. Everything he had, little as that was, was hers.
But now… What would he say to his wife, to the person who shared his name, and was looking at him without a single memory of who he was?
Jamie breathed deeply, looking at the inquiring eyes in front of him.
This was a new beginning, he told himself. His new chance with her. When he woke up that same morning he could only picture a future lost. That was the day he would leave Claire free and she would fly away. She wasna his and he’d no be her cage. Claire was born to spread her wings higher than everyone else, and he loved her for that.
But Claire didn’t leave. She was here in front of him, giving him a chance to make her love him again. And he promised himself he’d do everything right.
“I’m James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser.” Jamie said, pausing between each name as he had done the first time.
“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.” Claire extended her hand, exactly in the same way she did outside the church.
Ye’re tearing my guts out, Claire.
Jamie took her white hand between his own. He wouldn’t kiss it, not now. He couldn’t risk scaring her. He run his thumb lightly across her knuckles, feeling the magic of her capable hand.
Claire’s hands, that healed him more than once during the last few months. That led the dagger to the deserter’s kidney. Healed and killed. But for Jamie, what mattered the most was that these hands could love. And they had loved him.
“Aye, I ken that.” Jamie forced a smile on his lips and let her hand go, his heart throbbing in pain in the absence of her touch.
“Right,” Claire said. Jamie could see her thinking behind that glass face of hers. “James?”
Oh no, Sassenach.
He couldn’t have that. “Ye call me Jamie, Sassenach.”
“Oh, I do? Thank you.” Rosy cheeked, Claire gave him a little smile for the memory he offered, the shared knowledge. “So, Jamie.” She tried his name on her tongue and he thought he’d faint listening to her calling him again. “Why are you dressed like that?” She then looked at herself; the dress, the Fraser plaid. “And more importantly, what am I wearing?”
Jamie saw the whole scene unfolding in front of his eyes.
Him telling her that these were the clothes people wore back at 1743. Explaining everything, from the fairy hill to their marriage.
But how could he explain what he couldn’t understand?
Jamie believed Claire when she told him her story after the witch trial at Cranesmuir. He saw the truth in her eyes, he heard the despair in her voice. But what he saw was his wife, the person whom he loved more than himself.
He was now just a stranger to Claire. He hadn’t happened to her yet; he existed in a life lived and forgotten.
What is a life that’s not remembered? Has it happened at all? Are the traces left in other lives enough to bring it back, to give existence in memories veiled by the mind’s tricks?
Memories make us who we are. It’s what we lived through that defines ourselves. And Claire shared no memories with Jamie. Not anymore.
She wasn’t even the person he first met when Murtagh found her. That person had been married, had lived a war. She was a youngest version of herself now.
How could he tell her that she traveled through the stones? How was she supposed to believe him when she didn’t know him?
It was so vivid, what Jamie saw in his mind. Claire running for the stones to go back. Him trying to stop her, screaming his lungs out that her uncle is dead, that she couldn’t find him.
But Claire wouldn’t believe him. Of course she wouldn’t. Not the Claire he knew. She’d go back to see for herself and he would lose her forever. Claire would end up at the other side of the stones, alone, in a place where there was no one to protect her. Who knew what Frank would do with Claire in this state!
No, he couldn’t tell her that truth. Not yet.
“Ye wear my plaid, lass.” He said instead, sticking to his promise. Secrets but not lies. “These are the Fraser colors.”
Because ye’re a Fraser. My Fraser.
“Yes, but…” Claire said looking at her attire, with a frown. She obviously wondered why she didn’t wear anything like the shift they found her in, that first night months ago. “We look like we were in a Scottish festival. Anyway, clothes don’t matter.”
They never mattered to ye, a nighean.
“Jamie?” Her voice was hesitant after a minute of silence, with both of them lost in their thoughts.
“Aye?” His voice was encouraging, even if the prospect of another question scared him to his bones.
“I have to find my uncle. Can you help me?” Pleading whisky eyes were looking deep in his and he felt that the air around him wasn’t enough.
“Aye, I’ll help ye in every way I can.”
“Thank you, truly.” Tears were brimming in her eyes and she bit her lips to stop the feelings from overwhelming her. Claire was never one to cry in front of strangers. And Jamie was almost a stranger now.
His heart throbbed in pain; for him, for her, for the fate that brought them together only to take her away again. But he didn’t stop feeling grateful, for he still had her in front of him, in his time.
If he hadn’t stopped her, Claire might remember him when she’d be back to the future, but that memory would never be enough. Her thoughts could never replace her touch, the way she looked at him, the sound of her voice.
“Dinna fret, lass. Nobody will hurt ye, as long as I’m wi’ ye.” He’d told her that back at Leoch, the first day she took care of his wound. He meant it just the same, if not more now.
“And when you’re not with me?”
I’ll always be wi’ ye, Sassenach. If ye want me to.
“I’m here, am I not?” He smiled and took an errand curl between his fingers. Claire didn’t flinch.
“Jamie,” She searched for his eyes and swallowed hard. “What is this sound? It’s terrifying.”
Ah Dhia! She was still hearing the stones!
He had to take her away, to keep her in safe distance from their power.
Jamie stood up, extending a hand to her. “Come wi’ me?” He said, setting his jaw and gnashing his teeth so hard that they hurt while he tried to keep his hand stable. He had to be strong for both of them.
Please, mo nighean donn. Come wi’ me.
Claire nodded and gave him her hand together with her trust as she rose from the ground.
Feeling her weight trusted in him filled Jamie’s chest with hope.
A hope with the herbal scent of her curls and the golden light of her eyes.