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April 15, 1746 | Craigh Na Dun

“I can’t leave you… I won’t,” Claire wept, pushing away from Jamie’s chest. “What about Faith?”

Her question struck his heart anew as he continued to hold her despite her protests. He wouldn’t just be losing Claire the next day. He was asking her to leave and take his heart with her. His wife, and both their children. His energetic two-year-old, rambunctious despite being small for her age. Their miracle. And the bairn that still slept in Claire’s belly. He had known the child was there perhaps even before she did. Or before she admitted it, anyway.

“Dinna fash about Faith,” his voice was weak. He had no desire to say these words, but fate had left him no other choice. “Murtagh’s fetching her now. They’ll be here by first light.”

Claire went boneless in his arms, balling his shirt in her fists, tugging his chest hair as she did so. “No! What if something happens along the way, Jamie—”

Her voice was shrill, eyes bloodshot.

He silenced her with a kiss. How many did they have remaining, before morn? “Ye dinna trust Murtagh?” he chastised. “Ye ken he loves her as his own, wouldna let her come to harm.”

She nodded slowly as they dropped to their knees together. She allowed him to hold her as her body shook with sobs. Once she calmed, she let him love her once more. Their movements were hesitant but thorough, prolonging their last time together.

Jamie rested his chin on her shoulder as she slept fitfully. He wouldn’t surrender to exhaustion when he had the chance to observe her for a few more hours. To make sure he had committed to memory the array of freckles on her nose. To rub the line of worry over her brow until it disappeared and she burrowed closer into him.

He stroked her still-flat belly with his beaten and weary hands. His fingers dug in as he felt her pulse there. He could almost imagine that it was instead the heartbeat of their child, the one he would never see in life. So Jamie imparted all the wisdom he could think of as he spoke to the natural swell guarding her insides, and far below, their son. He begged the lad to look after his mother and sister. He reminded him to be brave and honorable. Things he wouldn’t be able to demonstrate himself.

As the pink glow of dawn shone through the window, Jamie stroked his wife’s face until her eyes flew open beneath his hand.

Claire’s face fell as she realized the time. “Why did you let me sleep?” her voice trembled, her fingers clawing at the ground below her as if she could grasp hold of time before it passed by them, relinquishing their final moments.

They clung to each other. They each dug his sgian dubh into the other’s flesh. Not to hurt. But it brought on a different sort of pain as they marked each other.

She held his face between her palms as he stared into her wet whisky eyes. He rested their foreheads together as he laid his palms over her abdomen once more. Neither wiped their tears until their view of the other was obstructed.

Claire sat in his lap and wept as he held her, a poor imitation of their first night at Leoch. How high his hopes had been that evening! He had wished to provide for her for the rest of their days and see a houseful of bairns nurse at her bosom. To give her his arm to lean on as they grew old and frail.

The only thing Jamie could provide his wife and family now was a chance at a safe future. The rest was up to her, once she passed through the cursed, blessed stones. Up to her and him.

________________________________________

 

Claire tensed at the sound of an approaching horse outside the cabin in which they had rested the night. Though she tried, they could prolong it no more. Her bull of a husband, the joy of her soul, was pushing her towards heartbreak.

Clutching her hands, Jamie led her out the door of the shack.

How ugly it was, in the light of day, as it held their pain inside it. How dark her future seemed once she would leave it behind.

She turned to intercept Faith as Murtagh grew closer. She was ready to lose herself in the soft form of her baby girl, not only because she missed her terribly after months on the road, but to have something to hold on to as her world fell apart.

It would be selfish to keep Faith to herself when the girl was unknowingly about to lose her father. To not allow him to hold her under his chin once more and whisper his love to her before she was sent to a time and place of which she knew nothing.

Claire knew all these things, deep down. She couldn’t decide if she cared at the moment, though regret may overtake her later.

But no wild curls bounced in front of the rider. No sweet, tiny hands gripped the horse’s mane. No joyous shouts of “Mama!” traveled to her over the wind.

Only the grim form of Murtagh was slumped in the saddle of the approaching horse. His jaw was clenched, mouth set in a straight line.

Another horse followed close behind him. A rider with brown curls, to be sure. But the head they grew upon was too tall, too boyish. The child of her heart. But not the one she was to take with her.

Claire’s stomach dropped.

Jamie released her hand and ran ahead of her, his face set as he crossed the final steps to meet his godfather.

As Claire caught up, she noticed the pallor of Murtagh’s face as he dismounted from the steed. The way he fiddled with the end of his plaid as his head hung low, refusing to meet either set of eyes before him told her something terrible had happened.

“Where is she?” Claire could tell Jamie was trying to keep his voice steady, but the words were strangled as they escaped his throat.

“Christ, lad, I’m so sorry…” Murtagh spluttered. “She – she’s gone.”

Jamie dropped to his knees, head in his hands.

Claire wanted to follow him. She wanted to sink into the earth and be buried alive until she could no longer feel the pain pressing upon her heart.

But before she knew what she was doing, before the words had fully left Murtagh’s mouth, she had lurched forward, grabbing him by his shirt collar.

“What the bloody hell does ‘gone’ mean? She growled.

Chapter Text

April 16, 1746 | Craigh Na Dun

Claire observed Murtagh’s throat bobbing in her periphery as her eyes bore into his.

“We encountered lobsterbacks on the way from Lallybroch,” his voice shook. “They knocked me out cold and Fergus couldna fight them off. Ran away with her. Her screams during their attack…” Murtagh shivered in front of her.

Claire shuddered to quell the stream of bile that sprinted up her gullet at his account.

Over her shoulder, a quaking Jamie stood to cast a pointed glance at the French boy in confusion.

“I’m sorry, milord,” Fergus’s voice rose in his desperation. “I encountered Murtagh and wanted to help guard La Petite.”

Jamie nodded grimly. “Ye did fine, lad.” His voice sounded strangled in the silence.

“That’s not all, I saw which way they went!” Fergus began animatedly. “A camp not so far from here.”

Claire strode toward Brimstone and climbed into the saddle. “Well, let’s go,” she ordered. “There’s no time to waste.”

Jamie squinted his eyes shut. “Excuse us,” he nodded toward Murtagh. He strode toward Claire and pulled her down from her mount. “Ye still must go, a ghraidh.” His clammy hands enclosed her face, their trembling doing nothing to calm her anguish.

Claire felt her face fall before lifting her chin in the air. “I beg your pardon?” she hissed. “You won’t sweet talk me into going anywhere while my daughter is in peril.”

“Just pass through the stones and wait nearby,” Jamie insisted hoarsely. “We’ll deliver her to ye shortly.”

“And if she can’t go through?” She snatched her arms out of his hold, choking on her words. “Not a chance, James Fraser.”

Claire remounted before Jamie could stop her, rearing up to meet Fergus. “Lead us there.”

Fergus nodded, looking into her eyes. His determined bravery lit his features. Gone was the conniving lad Jamie had encountered in the streets of Paris. In his place was a traumatized young man trying to hold it together.

“That is still not all,” the precious seconds they had to act ticked away as he hesitated.

Jamie tipped his head toward the boy, urging him on. His reluctance revealed something much more sinister about the situation.

“Their path led to a camp under Captain Randall’s command,” Murtagh finished for him. He flinched as Jamie bustled past him to mount Donas.

Claire avoided his eye as he bade his horse past her to follow Fergus. She pulled ahead once again, resisting the temptation to fall into his arms and seek comfort from their mutual travesty.

She didn’t feel the freedom to invite him to share her pain as she would have just the day before. And soon they would share nothing.

The man that had given her everything was doing all in his power to take it away.

The party galloped their horses along, faster than Claire remembered riding before. She thought back to the agony of her race to find Jamie after his arrest with the Black Watch. But that memory was nothing compared to the wrenching in her gut now at the idea of Faith lying defenseless, prone to the savagery she had witnessed at the hands of the Redcoat army.

They were scarcely half an hour along when the twisting in her stomach became more physical than figurative. She dove from Brimstone’s back, barely hitting the ground before she was heaving the dry bannocks Jamie had insisted upon that morning into the first bush she reached.

The thud of boots landing in the heather behind her reverberated in her chest as she returned the remnants of both her and Jamie’s breakfast.

Jamie’s capable hands met her back, bearing into her shoulder and the low spot that had troubled her the last time she carried. “Sassenach,” he murmured.

“Go!” her voice came out in a hiss at him before she gagged once more. “Get to her. She’s all that matters now.”

He whimpered behind her, hoping against hope to provide more comfort than was possible in the moment, in the nightmare they had awoken to.

“No!” she bellowed to his face.

Jamie stumbled backward, rising to his feet as he staggered away.

Claire watched him nod to Murtagh almost imperceptibly. But she needn’t have seen the gesture to understand its meaning.

See to her.

Return her safely to me

It was a command the Laird had bestowed upon a trusted friend and devoted Godfather numerous times.

Murtagh slipped from his own saddle as Jamie remounted and continued behind Fergus with a last lingering, uncertain glance at Claire.

Claire heard Murtagh’s cautious steps to stand behind her, his shadow falling over the ground as he bent to offer her his hand.

Claire dragged her sleeve across her face, then brushed the thistles from her dress as she stood and swatted Murtagh away.

She began a steady walk back and forth over the space ensconced by their horses. It was one of few activities that had helped settle her morning sickness with Faith, though it nearly broke her to think of her previous pregnancy just now.

Claire felt Murtagh’s eyes on her amid his own pacing, though she tried her best to ignore him.

Ignore the fact that she was left behind to deal with the man that had lost her child.

Finally she whirled around on him when their paths came just too close to each other’s.

Before she could spit out any merciless, irredeemable words, her eyes caught his. The guilt, the dread, the shock she saw in them nearly undid her. She’d been avoiding his gaze for a reason.

Claire followed his line of vision to the hand she’d unconsciously placed over her belly. She couldn’t smother the persistent voice telling her Faith was to be sacrificed for this child to thrive. She wanted to be, was, fiercely protective and fearful for this child, as well. But part of her resented him all the same.

“Ye’re with child,” Murtagh’s words came out almost a question, almost a confirmation of unpreventable ruin.

At her nod, his features swelled with pride before sinking in grief.

For the first time, Claire took in the droop of his shoulders, his sallow cheeks. His right eye was blackened, the skin on his knuckles torn. She saw the man that had, still would, sacrifice his life for her husband.

Her daughter.

Herself.

She swallowed painfully. “Why didn’t you ask me to see to those hands?” she asked, her voice sharper than intended.

Murtagh’s mouth quirked up at this as he read the apology in her face and voice. They both knew she would allow him no more ground until Faith was safely returned to her arms.

Claire extended her hand to lift his for a better look. She had brought no supplies with her in their hurry, but could at least wash it in the fresh stream 10 yards away. She would want something to flush out her mouth, regardless—

Murtagh yanked his hand back. “Not yet.”

Her mouth formed a hard line, but she nodded once.

After a quick visit to the stream, Murtagh placed a hand on her lower back to boost her into the saddle, and they sped on.

________________________________________

 

Jamie’s mind raced as he and Fergus continued at a break-neck pace. It would be just short enough a distance for the horses to not require rest. A mercy, as he doubted he would have the patience to stand still, even if it harmed the magnificent creatures he held so dear in his heart.

He ignored the needs of his own body, even as it screamed for fulfillment. He’d forgone sleep in favor of spending the last hours with Claire. He hadn’t eaten in favor of helping grow the bairn in her belly.

He had hoped to part with his family – a ridiculous notion in itself – peacefully that morning. His daughter never would have understood it, of course.

He would never understand it.

He had been granted persons he loved more than life itself, only to have them ripped away after such a short time, already rife with heartache. Perhaps that was one of the cruel alternatives of life. Either to have love and lose it, as his father did. As he would. Or to never even come close to it.

Even the tender farewell he had initiated between himself and Claire had been tainted. While they rested their heads together, made love, their daughter had been kidnapped and possibly tortured. Or worse.

Jamie had been a fool to expect Claire to accept his affections after such a realization. She had twice pulled away from him just that morning. The unimaginable possibility of the loss of their lass – who had fought so hard for her life already – would ruin them before the stones ever had a chance.

He had always thought of them as a team. As a young man, he had expected to lead his future wife, only an ideation at that point, in all things.

But then he had met Claire.

He would never have dreamed of leading such a creature as her.

She was too stubborn to be forced along with no input in the matter.

And so they led each other instead.

Claire had carried him out of the darkest depths of misery in the aftermath of some of the worst days of his life. She had laid her hands on him and healed his body and soul with her own.

It was hardly what he expected in his youth, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

In turn, Jamie had led her when he could. When he felt worthy.

But then he failed her.

Both of them.

All of them.

He had made the mistake of assuming his plan to be seamless, even if formed in fraught circumstances.

Murtagh would lead the young lads from Lallybroch back home, many of them to their mothers.

(That he had even considered calling them away in the first place, only for the vanity of Charles Stuart…)

Before his return, he would gather Faith from Lallybroch, likely against the teary protest of her aunt, who had sworn to take the bairn as her own. He would carry her up the hill to Craigh Na Dun. Then Jamie would rip his own heart from his chest.

But even Murtagh, the man who had never let him down in life, was not invincible.

Jamie could hardly have stopped the inevitability of the Rising. There were too many parties, too many players, each of which thought they knew best. And the pretender to the throne was all too susceptible to the most grandiose of plans. Impressive, if doomed, marches that would cost him nothing.

The one thing he was able to promise was to see his family safe, and there was only one way to do that now. It was a path with much more significant hurdles to overcome than yesterday.

Only the thought of holding Faith in his arms once more spurred him on. It was his only hope. To see her safe as soon as possible before sending her to a peaceful time with the only person that could love her as much as he did. The only person he could love as much as he did her.

He was already out of his mind with grief at the prospect of bidding his firstborn goodbye until he met her in Heaven. Sending her to safety was leagues above the thoughts that his scattered mind conjured now.

He couldn’t prevent his stubborn brain from painting images of the dire outcomes possible with his daughter – whose chubby legs had barely toddled her into his arms at their last farewell – in the clutches of Black Jack Randall. The pain that he had experienced at the man’s cruel hands had haunted him for years now. He would not, could not, inflict that pain upon his daughter.

His wame curdled to think of the things the man might think to do to the wee lass small enough to hold in his palms months after her birth.

Jamie thought of the fine, still-forming bones of Faith’s hands. Claire had pointed out early signs that she would be cack-handed, as he was. He studied his own non-dominant hand, smashed with Randall’s mallet to test his commitment to the torment to come.

Jamie snuck a glance at the boy riding tall in the saddle next to him. He was a far cry from the lad that had screamed for him in the cursed Paris brothel. The trauma they had in common had changed them both forever.

Claire had told him of the pain that was to come, tales of Redcoats leaving women and bairns alike for dead.

Randall was far more malicious than any ordinary Redcoat.

But if the demon so much as plucked a hair from Faith’s wee head, his remorse would be unimaginable.

Jamie prayed above all else that his daughter would not pay for the foolhardy hope of Scotland. Of the blasted Bonnie Prince.

But if the worst happened, if he was given half a chance and the slightest provocation, he would rip Jack Randall’s head from his neck and carry it in triumph into battle on a pike.

“Milord!” Fergus’s shout of alarm pulled him from his simmering thoughts.

Jamie strained his eyes to see the rows of white tents visible through the trees ahead. Even from far away, their supply of men, ammunition, morale, highlighted the utter foolishness of the Scots marching into battle that day.

The hopelessness of Jamie marching into their camp right now.

But somewhere in its maze of red, his future laid unprotected.

There was no other solution.

No other outcome he could live with.

That he could die with, today.

Je Suis Prest.

Chapter Text

April 16, 1746 | Redcoat Camp – Culloden Moor

Jamie crept through the underbrush, Fergus hot on his heels. They stepped lightly, their trail discernible only to a trained eye like Murtagh’s.

Their teamwork reminded him of another early morning mission that they’d completed together — a day that now felt like it had occurred in a different lifetime.

If only he had focused on keeping his family out of the line of fire rather than falling into bed with the enemy… Jamie brushed off the darkening thoughts crowding his mind. He had plenty of present worries to bide him for now.

The camp was still awakening in the clearing beyond, about a hundred yards from their concealed path. The soldiers’ boastful remarks traveled over the wind to Jamie’s ear. Their morale was clearly high, unlike the spirits of the ill and weary men whom he’d left behind just last night.

The shuffling of tent canvas increased as Jamie and Fergus rounded the corner of the encampment. General Wade’s men were putting the finishing touches on their uniforms and moving off to seek nourishment before facing the trial to come.

Jamie motioned for Fergus to follow as he took a roundabout turn back to the north end of the camp. Crouching behind a boulder, they studied the ramshackle cabin. He knew that the commander of the bloody dragoons would not settle for the harsh conditions of a tent when greater accommodations were possible – meager though they still may be.

The soldiers guarding the back door of the cabin were the last barrier between Jamie and his defenseless daughter. Jamie spied the moment of decision in Fergus’s eyes as his expression transitioned from cowed, to slackened, to enraged. He had no doubt that these were the men that had ripped Faith from her godfather’s arms.

Jamie said nothing, nor did he inhibit the lad as he charged the redcoat closest to him. The men’s defenses were slow at the end of their night watch, allowing Fergus to cut the first down in one silent swoop. Jamie took care of the other in similar fashion, leaving no survivors.

He regretted this necessity, particularly for Fergus in his youth and inexperience. The handful of soldiers that they had encountered in the wood had been simply knocked out for the time being, but no personal vendetta was held against those men.

Jamie’s heart grew heavier at the sight of the gouge marks in the cabin’s doorframe and the cracked window to its side. He crossed himself in memory of the fate of the family that had not long ago made an honest livelihood on this land.

Inhaling sharply, he exchanged one last nod with Fergus before pushing through the door.

“Fraser!” Randall’s voice was a sneer as he turned toward the sound of their disruption. “You’re just in time!”

Much as Jamie expected, Randall was not straggling to start the day like many of his subordinates, but seemed to have been up for hours. A feast of stale scones and preserves was set upon a table in one corner; Faith’s chin barely cleared its surface from her position in a high-backed chair, a napkin tucked into the collar of her homespun dress.

“Da!” she squeaked, suddenly animated at the sight of familiar faces.

“Not to worry, Fraser. I’ve explained to her how close I am with her parents, and that we’ve simply been waiting for you for the fun to begin.” Randall’s eyes gleamed darkly, his mouth set in a subtle smirk.

He crossed the narrow space to stand behind Faith’s chair, gripping the back of it. “After all, there was no mistaking these beastly curls and wild blue eyes.”

Revulsion choked Jamie at the sight of the vile man’s hand caressing his child’s cheek luridly as she looked back and forth between them in confusion. But he couldn’t move, not yet.

“Though it seems that perhaps you’ve brought me a trade?” Randall tilted his chin toward Fergus, considering the boy. “I’m nothing if not negotiable.” He scooped Faith up and placed her on his hip. Her lower lip puckered out at the unfamiliar touch as she began to quiver in his arms and struggle against him.

Fergus, who had been quaking in his boots but nevertheless standing his ground, lunged forward at this, leading a startled Faith to cry out. “Oui, for mon sœur – "

Jamie pulled the tense lad back to him, his voice cold and steady in the silence. “Ye ken fine it will not be either of these weans that stay behind today.”

Randall’s mouth split into sly smile, his dirty laugh ringing out. “You’re an easier sell than I expected!”

“Hold on, ye mad bastard,” Jamie could not stop his voice from shaking with badly suppressed rage. “Ye’ll ensure the children’s safe exit from these grounds first.”

The Englishman shrugged, releasing his hold on Faith as if she were nothing more than a rag doll, letting her drop to the floor with a cry.

Fergus lurched forward to gather her into his embrace, tucking her face into his shoulder. She continued to howl, struggling in his arms. “Da,” she grunted, gesturing toward Jamie.

Randall walked through the front door of the cabin to confer with the next ranking officer.

Jamie listened carefully to discern whether he held his word. It was all he could do to resist the tug on his heart from ignoring Faith’s squalling.

Fergus swallowed audibly as he kept a hold on Faith. “Milord...” He nodded in farewell just as Randall re-entered the cabin.

“We don’t have all day, Fraser. As I’m to understand it, my life hangs in a balance today.” He jutted his chin sharply toward the narrow cot situated in the corner of the room.

Fergus took regretful steps toward the back door, turning the knob much more carefully than Jamie did before. He trudged back into the chilly April morning.

Randall turned to face Jamie, greed in his eyes.

Before the door had time to swing shut, Jamie’s wame dropped to his feet as Claire appeared behind Randall, cloak billowing in the breeze admitted through the open space.

She gathered Randall’s neck in the crook of her elbow and slit his throat in one swipe. His eyes widened as he choked on his own spurting blood, but the last expression to cross his face was a defiant smirk as he fell to the ground.

Jamie’s breath came easily for the first time that day. A healer she may be, but Claire also knew where to strike to do the most harm.

As she wiped her dirk clean, Jamie guided her out the door with an arm around her waist. Claire stopped just long enough to collect a distraught Faith from Fergus.

________________________________________

 

Claire held her little girl’s chin between two unsteady fingers as their eyes met for the first time in months. Her face was red, cheeks splotchy and eyes flooded, but she appeared to be in one piece. Before Faith could react, Claire whispered shakily: “We have to be very quiet, do you understand me? Like the mice in Auntie’s root cellar!”

She ran her thumb over Faith’s cheek. Attempting a strained smile for her daughter, Claire tried to spark some joy into her words – as if it was just a game and their survival was not on the line. As if they all had their whole lives to spend together, and not just the next few hours.

Faith, still sniffling, nodded tersely, tucking one tiny hand under Claire’s kerchief, the other wrapping around the back of her neck. Claire cupped the back of her daughter’s head, noticing her subtle changes and growth during their time apart.

It was hardly the reunion she had dreamt of for her family since hopelessly marching away from Lallybroch, but it was all they would have now.

Leaving the carnage of the cottage behind them, the party dashed away, the wood growing thicker as they continued on.

Faith’s inevitable jostling against Claire as they ran made her long for the days when her baby’s tiny form could fit in a sling against her chest, safely tucked away from the world.

But Claire knew of no other way to keep her safe from the danger she’d brushed with today.

She had stood outside the back door of the cabin for countless agonizing moments, fear unceasing that some element of their plan might fall through.

But they had finally beaten Black Jack Randall at his own wicked games. His gross obsession with pain had been satisfied for the last time in his own bloody death.

Claire fully expected, still, to be scolded by Jamie for her own definitive decision. The original plan, formulated quickly when she and Murtagh had caught up with Jamie and Fergus as they had observed the camp from afar, had been for her to wait with the horses as Murtagh followed in his godson’s footsteps to infiltrate the camp.

But Donas had been particularly skittish as Murtagh had hobbled him, likely detecting the pent-up anxiety that had plagued those around him. The other horses had followed suit, obstinate against the orders commanded to them. There was simply no way that Claire, at least 8 weeks gone, would have been able to keep them safely under control.

She still doubted that Jamie would see the situation in the same light.

Claire noticed Faith slackening in her arms, as she often did upon becoming more relaxed. While a calm – or even sleeping – child would be easier to navigate today, she knew she couldn’t carry them both the rest of the way to meet Murtagh.

“Jamie…” She panted, breathless from exertion.

He turned from his position directly to her left, eyes terrifying and himself poised to cut down any man, woman, or coo that threatened her.

Claire bounced Faith once in a final effort to maintain her hold, but she still unstable in her arms. “Would you take her?” she pleaded to her husband, only loudly enough to be heard over the wind. There was still no telling how soon soldiers might find Randall’s body and pursue them.

Jamie bent toward her, still in motion, and lifted a stiff Faith from her arms. The caress of his fingers left her skin chilled as soon as their warmth left her.

As they carried on, Claire felt the effects of their brisk pace in her underfed and overtaxed body. The stitch in her side grew almost unbearable, her belly rolling violently.

At last their horses were visible in the distance. They made it the few more yards to their rendezvous point; Jamie and Fergus kept pace with her, though she knew they could move faster if they wanted to.

Claire dashed to the shrubbery just as Murtagh spotted and approached them. This time the vomiting felt much worse, as there was nothing left in her belly to come back up. Big hands tugged through her hair as Jamie gathered it up and held it away from her face, one palm resting on her hip to support her, then help her up as she stood.

She leaned into her husband as they walked back to the group, spotting Faith asleep against Murtagh’s shoulder, and Fergus already mounted on his steed.

Jamie boosted Claire into Brimstone’s saddle gently, then cuddled a tartan-swaddled Faith to his chest after accepting her back from Murtagh.

Claire’s heart tugged as she studied the downtrodden group as they set off. They had all just been through Hell and back for her, only to still face a tragic outcome.

Murtagh and Jamie navigated an extensive path back to the base of Craigh Na Dun. Though they prayed that any nearby redcoats were on the battlefield rather than lurking in the woods to detain traitors to the crown, they still made every effort to avoid commonly traversed areas.

The sharp set of Jamie’s shoulders revealed not only his heartache over what was to come, but guilt for evading the fateful battle to which he had resigned himself for months. He appeared to be lost in his own thoughts, interrupting them only to lean forward and leave soft kisses in Faith’s windblown curls.

Claire longed to rub the tension out of his back, then run her fingers through his red curls until he grinned like an oversized cat, eyes crinkled in pleasure.

But they would have no more quiet moments, whispering in the dark and moving together in the shadows of a single lit candle as Faith slept soundly on her cot in the corner of the Laird’s bedroom.

Images of a life with Frank flashed into her mind, but soon were drowned out by her last memory of Jack Randall. The sight of him lying still on the ground, features frozen in a disturbing smirk, would likely never leave her mind. Even in death, the likeness to Frank’s appearance – though dirty, ill, and vile – was haunting.

How she would be able to look into Frank’s face every day for the rest of her life without seeing Jack, she didn’t know. She couldn’t imagine passing Faith off to Frank to tuck her into bed. Her hand drifting to her belly, she shuddered to think of sharing this child with Frank. She couldn’t feel anything yet, but the nagging idea of something being there had finally shaped itself into a confirmation of the future in her mind. This baby would only ever know Frank, rather than the man that had laid down his life for the child to have a chance at one.

It was dark by the time the stones became visible in the distance, and the ache in Claire’s heart sharpened. She watched Jamie halt his horse as they approached, glancing back and forth between the crest of the hill and the cabin at its foot. After turning to meet Claire’s eye, he guided Donas in the direction of the cabin. One more night.

With only a glance between the two, Murtagh acquiesced to Jamie’s silent plea to seek out their supper, while the rest filed into the cabin forlornly.

They ate their meagre supper in silence, saving the important words for the next morning. The pressure of the day soon caught up with them, and they arranged themselves for sleep in the small space.

Fergus curled up to Claire before laying down, reminding her of the young boy who dozed on a Parisian couch, many sleepy mornings ago. She pulled him to her and tangled her fingers in his hair. Her own son.

Faith, whose eyes had popped open just before supper to warily survey her surroundings, snuggled into Claire’s other side, gesturing to her father and patting the space next to her with a huge yawn.

Jamie complied, sliding one arm under his daughter and curving his opposite hand over Claire’s hip. Claire doubted either of them would sleep that night.

Claire’s gratitude brought tears to her eyes as she watched Murtagh set himself up just beyond the doorway to guard his clan one last time.

________________________________________

 

As dawn greeted them, Jamie rose once more, supported his wife as she stood, then swung his dazed daughter into his arms.

Claire’s kiss to Fergus’s sleeping head felt like a knife twisting into Jamie’s wame, but it was her extended hug with Murtagh and the tears shining in his eyes as he whispered into her ear that broke his heart.

Jamie took Claire’s hand and led her through the doorway, then helped her keep her balance as they advanced up the steep hill. Before Claire or Dhia, Faith, were inhibited by the unearthly sounds the stones emitted, he stopped them and hung his head.

“Da loves ye,” he whispered to Faith in English, then repeated in Gaelic, the words a haunting lullaby on his tongue. “My strong, bright, beautiful lass.” He passed her gently to Claire even as she wriggled, then looked deep into his wife’s eyes.

Her lip was already quivering as she swallowed, eyes streaming. She held onto the side of his neck with her free hand. “I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forgive you.” Her voice shook. “But I’ll miss you more every day that passes.”

Jamie nodded, thumbing the tears from under her eyes. “I’ll find ye,” he promised. “I’ll wait the 200 years. Wherever you are, I shall be.”

Their mouths met once more, teeth crashing desperately. He held onto Claire’s waist and Faith’s wee back as he walked them to the stones beyond.

Faith vibrated in Claire’s arms, reacting to the all-encompassing terror of the sounds surely engulfing her. She burrowed her face into her mother’s arasaid, trying to muffle the noise.

Jamie placed an open hand at Claire’s belly. “Name him Brian?” he whispered. “After my Da.”

Claire nodded as he lifted her right hand and kissed her ring, followed by each finger, then placed it on the tallest stone. “Until we meet again.”

They faded away before his eyes, just as Claire had nearly done on another bleak morning, years ago.

They were gone.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

November 1, 1953 | Oxford, England

Jamie rolled his shoulders against the stiff, artificial material of his new coat. He marveled once more as he took in his surroundings. Claire’s stories about her time had been full of rich descriptions, but his meager imaginings didn’t match the sights he observed now.

Events from the past few months were a blur, save Fergus conspiring with the local men to break him out of prison at Fort William. Fergus. Though Jamie’s heart ached to leave him behind, he had no choice in the matter. The lad had not heard the call of the stones. Thinking about that beastly place turned his wame almost the same way as thinking about Fergus. Jenny and Ian. The bairns that called him uncle.

He thought instead about his son. He would be nearing his fifth birthday and while he had missed so much already, Jamie could not wait to finally join his family in a period of safety.

Even still, the air felt trapped in his lungs as he turned down one narrow street after another, closing in on the most recent address listed for the Randall family. Seeing those words printed together so matter-of-factly had sent chills through him. Much as he knew it was right, he had little idea of what would occur once he walked back into their lives. James Fraser, forced by circumstance to be nothing more than an absentee father. The last thing he’d ever wished to be in his lifetime. But such injustice would end today.

Jamie’s fingertips stroked the latch of the wee gate as he closed it gently behind him. Had the brass tarnished from Claire’s delicate hand caressing it in the same place each day as she went out into the world to answer the call of those who needed her?

He took a deep breath to steel himself as he climbed the last step and lifted the worn door knocker. He rapped it three times, clearly and confidently, as if to prove that it was no trifling matter that brought him to this place.

The door swung open, but no face was immediately visible on the other side. 

Jamie looked down to meet crystal clear blue eyes set in a fine-boned face. Brown curls spilled over her shoulders, much longer than he’d last seen them.

He could scarcely see her through his tears. “A nighean,” he muttered over the knot in his throat. 

Faith’s small brow crinkled. “May I help you?” she asked in a polished English accent.

Jamie’s heart fell to his stomach. “It’s m—” Jamie began. “Christ, but I should’ve expected ye might not remember.” He tugged the hat from his head and nervously fiddled with its brim.

“Is your mam home?” he asked softly.

“Faith?” called a deep voice of a cadence strangely familiar to Jamie. A figure stepped into the shadows just behind his lass. 

“Faith Randall, you know better than to answer the door to strangers.” The man emerged fully into the light, and Jamie took a defensive step forward as if to put himself between this man and his child. 

The man responded with a tight smile and placed a hand on Faith’s shoulder, even as she tensed under his hold. “Pardon me, but I do not believe you have any business here.”

“Frank?” called a soft voice from farther back in the house. Claire suddenly appeared from the recesses of the gloomy interior, and it was as if the sun finally came out on this dreary day. Beside her trailed a wee lad  – smaller than Jamie had expected. 

But naught about her was recognizable. The lavender smudges beneath her thin eyelashes made his heart twinge. But what nearly undid him was the empty look in her eyes as they met his. 

Claire squinted. “…Jamie?” she asked, as if trying to recall an acquaintance from a different lifetime.

“Aye,” he choked out, leaning forward to see around Frank. “Sassenach—” 

“I don’t know what you’re about, but we don’t use that word in this home,” the other man said with an air of haughty reproach and moved to block Jamie’s view.

The bairn tugged on Claire’s hand, trying to get her attention.

She tilted her head toward him disinterestedly. 

Jamie’s breath caught as the boy’s cinnamon curls reflected in the light from inside the house. “Will this be Brian?” he asked, hopeful. This was not any thing like the warm, joyful reunion he’d prayed for, but perhaps if he could stay just long enough to meet his son…

Claire cocked her head to the side, an empty smile forming on her lips. “There is no Brian. This our little Jack.”

Colors and sounds swirled around Jamie as he struggled to understand the bizarre scene in front of him. The only thing familiar was Faith, whose eyes hadn’t left him.

“Da?” she asked.

Did she remember him after all?

He stumbled forward to reach her. He’d pry her from Frank’s grasp if he had to, but he needed to touch something that he knew to be real amid this maddening farce. Faith suddenly broke free and ran toward him. 

“Da?!” she beseeched.

Jamie woke to the weight of a clammy hand on his cheek. He shakily covered it with his own. Still tiny. Still there. He sat up in the dark and crushed Faith to him, pressing his lips to her forehead. Taing dhia. What troubles ye, a leannan?”

“A-are ye sad, Da?” her little voice quivered against his chest. 

He took a cursory glance to their right and spotted Claire’s tangled cloud of hair on the dusty floor, Fergus tucked under her arm. Just as they had been when he fell asleep earlier that night. “Nay, lass.” Filmy tears ran in his eyes. “No’ so long as ye’re with me.”

Faith snuffled against him. 

Jamie stroked her back, realizing he’d likely frightened her with his greeting and thrashing about. “What’s all this, then?”

“ ’M scairt,” she muttered into his shoulder.

“Aye?” he whispered. “Of what?” But he had a terrible feeling that he knew. 

“The man,” she whimpered. “He talked nice but he was sae mean, Da.

Jamie closed his eyes, reminding himself that everything that had transpired in the past day was over. “Ye’ll no’ ever see him again, a chuisle. I swear to ye.”

Faith’s breathing returned to normal as he cradled her against him. She fell asleep with her hand gripping the collar of his shirt.

He wrapped her tighter in Claire’s tartan shawl and laid her next to Fergus, breathing a quick blessing over the both of them. He laid a hand on Claire’s shoulder.

“Mo ghraidh,” he whispered, brushing the back of his hand across her cheek.

Her eyes fluttered open, her face falling as her gaze focused on him. “Is it time?” 

“Nay, but I hoped ye’d have a word with me?”

Claire let him pull her up and place a gentle hand on her hip.

Murtagh startled at his post as he registered them passing through the door. His expression lightened only when he saw that Faith was not with them.

Jamie led his bride away from the hill, noting the way her features relaxed the further they traveled from it. He lifted her knuckle to his lips, then held her hand tightly with both of his.

“Sassenach, I must ask your forgiveness…”

Claire began to tug away, features downcast. “Jamie, just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I don’t understand it. You don’t have to keep defending yourself—” Her hand went limp in his and she spun around to head back to the bairns. 

“Claire!” he caught her by the shoulders, forcing her to meet his eye. “I’m asking ye to stay.”

Her eyes widened. “Y-you’re… You’re sure?” Her hands found his tense shoulders.

“Aye. I… I’m no’ sure I can explain it.” He swallowed deeply, placing one hand on her belly. “But I think we can do it. We’ll hide in the priest hole until we can stow away on one of Jared’s ships. Or, Christ, there’s even a cave in the woods at Lallybroch. I’d sleep in a loch if it means I can keep ye…”

Jamie trailed off as he noticed the ravenous look in his wife’s eyes.

Their time together in the wee hours of the morning before had been gentle, savoring what they believed to be their last touches, and saying an impossible goodbye.

But there was something feral in the way that Claire tugged him down and climbed over him now.

She would have her revenge, and he wasn’t of a mind to stand in her way.

________________________________________

They embraced while laying on their sides, hands clasped. Her entwined with his C, bound once more.

The sun rose over the fairy hill in the distance, casting an eerie glow around it. 

The stones could kiss Claire’s English arse for all she cared, now.

She studied the face of her sweet lad, more relaxed now than it had been only moments before. There were still lines of worry caused by the unclear path that lay ahead, to be sure. But his heart still beat steadily beneath her palm, his hot blood warming her to the core.

Claire’s own pulse flickered rapidly as she recalled the events of the last 24 hours. How she’d hated him, and then grieved his loss all at once.

“I was so worried. For you, for Faith.” She knew her voice warbled, but there was hardly anything she could do about it at this point. Her emotions were likely to take free reign now that her deepest fears were relieved.

“I didn’t know how she would react to him…” She paused. “To Frank. The resemblance isn’t always obvious, Jamie. There are times I can almost forget.”

Claire remembered her hands shaking as she had tried to separate the two in her frantic mind that very morning. Was it Jack or Frank that she was cutting down? Or both?

Ultimately, it hadn’t mattered. Not when it was her baby girl in harm’s way.

“I wasn’t sure whether I could have faced him again,” she whispered into Jamie’s neck. “Knowing everything that I do now about the man he so revered.” She shuddered. “He would have touted that inglorious history to our children…”

Jamie had fallen silent, his throat working as he considered his next words. She palmed his cheek and met his eye. Tell me, she implored.

“Claire, I saw it.” The sharp edge returned to his voice, the only way he could speak of what he’d dreamt. “I dinna ken how or why, but I did. Poor Faith shied away from his touch. And…” Jamie ran the pad of his thumb over the bridge of her nose, then tucked a stray curl behind her ear. “Your bonny eyes held no life. All the joy was sucked out of ye.” He swallowed.

She stroked his chest through the opening of his shirt as she listened.

"I’m no’ sure if it was yer grief or the despair of Frank's house but it was as if ye couldna even see the bairns,” his words rumbled, ragged.

Claire tilted her head. “Bairns? Not just Faith?” she questioned.

Jamie’s face flushed. “I saw a bonnie lad, Sassenach. Red curls and blue eyes, with yer delicate cheekbones.” He pinched the feature in question, as if marveling that she was still there with him.

Brian,” she whispered, and watched peace fall over his face.

She held tighter to his hand. “We won’t let that happen. We’ll give them so much of our attention they’ll be sick of us.”

Jamie smirked, then leaned in closer to meet her lips. “All dozen o’ them.”

Claire chortled. “Keep dreaming, Fraser.”

“I think…” She paused to consider. “I think that if it hadn’t been for today, maybe it would have been okay.” She shuddered. “Going back there again. Frank would have done his best, and he would have been good at it.”

Claire paused to brush a rogue curl from his eye. “But it’s all different now.” She took a deep breath. “Thank you. For fighting for us. But also for being willing to give it all up.”

Jamie nodded, overcome, then squeezed his eyes closed. “Anything for ye.”

They watched the light rise in the sky, content to enjoy the first of many moments together in their reclaimed life.

“Murtagh will wonder what’s keeping us.”

Claire smirked, running her fingers through his locks. “One look at your hair and he’ll figure it out.”

Jamie’s hands lost themselves in her curls, then brandished the thistles he’d discovered. He gave her one of his classic attempts at a wink, making her heart soar.

*****************************************

They were both admittedly worse for the wear as they made their way back to the doorway of the ramshackle cabin. 

Murtagh raised a bushy eyebrow. “Roll down the hill, did ye?”

Jamie gripped Claire’s hand tightly as they approached him as a united front. “Change of plans, a gostidh.”

*****************************************

They’d curled back up with Faith and Fergus for a scant half hour before rising again, just watching their children sleep in peace. Neither quite understood what Jamie had planned to sacrifice for their family, but Claire would make sure to tell them when they were older.

Their party was headed onward to seek refuge with Jamie’s uncle at the abbey. After much deliberation, they deemed it the safest place to bide for the remainder of her pregnancy, or at least until they plotted their next steps.

Jamie was of a mind to sleep during the day and travel under the cover of darkness. Claire glanced toward Fergus in time to watch the boy shake off encroaching slumber. They’d stopped only out of necessity, most often for her to relieve the growing pressure on her bladder or belly.

Murtagh’s horse crept several paces ahead, the Scot scouting the safest path. Lost in her own thoughts, Claire watched his profile disappear into the valley below.

Eager for a bit of lie-in herself, Claire was relieved to see the glow of dawn on the horizon. Jamie would be sure to know of a shady place for them to lay their heads.

She guided Brimstone over the steep decline of the hill, only to nearly slam into Jamie’s abandoned horse.

He stood stricken in horror, staring ahead.

Murtagh was being pulled down from Donas by two Redcoats. As they set his feet on the ground, he met Claire’s eye, his own full of guilt and shame.

She slid down from her own horse and sidled up to Jamie’s back as he tried to make himself impossibly bigger to hide her, lowering Faith to her arms.

Over his shoulder, she studied the English officers in the dim light. There was something oddly familiar about one of them.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

April 17, 1746 | Scottish Countryside

“Please.” Jamie’s voice rang clear in the still morning. “Leave him be.”

Claire’s eyes flooded as she watched him march toward the scene in surrender. She pressed her forehead into Faith’s mangled curls to hide her tears.

“I’ll wager ye know who I am,” Jamie said decidedly. “Take me, and let my companions go free. I’ll no’ fight.”

The silence was deafening as each party studied the other.

“James Fraser,” the ranking officer bellowed from his mount. “Notorious Jacobite.”

One of the younger men holding Murtagh in a vice grip paled at the obvious confirmation.

“Then this could only be the Stuart Witch in your company, Mr. Fraser?” The officer continued, breaking into a dark chuckle. “It seems we’d be foolish to let any of you get too far today.”

“No!” Jamie shouted, but it was too late. He thrashed violently even as three men surrounded him. All Claire could see was the sun shining against his brilliant red hair as the men dragged him away.

The remaining soldiers approached Claire and Fergus, gripping them indelicately as they led them on a solemn march toward the camp just visible through the clearing. Even though no one tried to remove her, Claire tightened her grip around Faith’s middle until the little girl began to squirm and whimper.

Each unfriendly face they passed jeered at them, recognition of the long-awaited captives flashing in their eyes.

They were all forced into a semi-circle together, surrounded by their captors.

Claire lowered herself to the ground, hit with another bout of nausea. Little wonder, as they’d had nothing to eat since supper the night before.

“Mama?” Faith whined softly, the impatient tones of a temper tantrum in her voice.

Jamie dropped to his knees beside them, using dirty palms to check each of them over for injury. “I’m sorry. Sae sorry Claire. So verra sorry,” he whispered, shaking.

Claire palmed his cheek in return. There was nothing he could have done. They had chosen their path, knowing the consequences it might bring.

She leaned into him and together they shielded Faith, sure these were their last moments but uncertain what they might bring. 

Claire barely registered the weary young man from before as he slowly backed away from his post and then dashed toward the largest tent at the edge of camp.

The commanding officer approached their huddle. “Captain Jacobs, at your service,” he sneered. “As long-sought after criminals in a losing battle, we’re certain you have plenty of information to share with us. Who knows, in the end your cooperation just may give us leave to be more lenient.”

Claire felt Jamie tense, her own breathing growing shallower. All they’d lost already, and their lives still on the line.

“Now,” Jacobs began. “I’d like to question each of you individually, starting with…” his cold eyes narrowed on Claire.

A throat cleared behind him, and the captain straightened. “Colonel.”

The colonel inclined his head as his inferior officer bowed.

“If you’re quite done, Captain… James and Mistress Fraser, I presume?” he asked them formally. He turned. “And Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser. And…” he tilted his head at the sight of Fergus. “Hello, young man. If you’d all accompany me to my quarters, it seems we have much to discuss.”

Jamie gave a slight nod. His face was the mask Claire knew would cover his thoughts, but he quickly rose, pulling Faith and her up with him.

As they walked, Faith dove toward Jamie and he caught her easily. Her eyes slipped closed at last, tucked against her da’s chest. It was likely for the best, as Claire herself hardly wanted to see what happened next.

________________________________________

 

As they ducked under the entryway of the large tent, the colonel motioned them toward a long table. 

They’d need to keep their story straight. Balancing Faith’s slumbering form in one hand, Jamie ruffled Fergus's hair with the other, imploring him to keep quiet with a stern glance. Then Jamie reached for Claire, who accepted his touch, gripping his thigh firmly with her free hand.

After ensuring the tent flap was secure behind him, the colonel sat opposite them at the table. “I believe I’ve been remiss in introducing myself.” He straightened in the high-backed chair. “Colonel Harold Grey, Duke of Pardloe.”

Jamie frowned at the surname. Why did he know the name Grey?

“I’m told you’re all in acquaintance with my younger brother,” Grey continued. The young soldier from earlier stepped around a fold in the tent, flushed.

“Mr. and Mrs. Fraser, meet John William Grey.”

Surprised and a bit uneasy, Jamie and Claire glanced at each other before fully acknowledging the young man.

“Mr. Grey, pleasure to make your acquaintance again.”

“Mr. Fraser, Mistress Fraser, I trust you are both in good health.”

“Aye lad, at least my wife tells me so.” Jamie stroked Claire’s palm with his thumb.

John Grey nodded, smirking. “I suppose I should have guessed as much that night at Carryarrick, Sir.”

“As my brother reminds me,” Colonel Grey began, rubbing his temples. “He swore to you an oath of honor in exchange for his life.” He paused, looking from one Fraser to another. “It seems to fall on me to fulfill that promise today.”

“Just what will that mean, Colonel?” Jamie asked, his voice dropping to hide his nerves.

“I wonder if you’re familiar, Mr. Fraser, with Captain of Dragoons, Jonathan Randall?”

Claire’s nails dug into Jamie’s thigh as he shifted in his chair. “We’ve heard a bit in passing, aye. Most of it isna good.”

“Is he as nasty a man as they say?” Claire asked, trying to hide her emotions.

The colonel rose and fetched a decanter, pouring himself a drink before offering one to his guests. Jamie and Murtagh accepted, while Claire refused. Jamie knew she’d have a hard time stomaching ale on an empty belly.

“I’m afraid that everything you’ve heard, Mistress Fraser, pales in comparison to the truth. Allegations of abuse have followed him for years. But he always manages to shake them off before the consequences reach him.”

“That’s a shame.” Jamie swirled the drink in his mug. “But how does it relate to myself and my family?”

“We received word just this morning that Captain Randall met his end before the battle yesterday.”

Claire inhaled sharply.

Seemingly oblivious to their reactions, the colonel continued, pacing back and forth. “There was an outbreak of influenza in the camp. Terrible conditions, as you might imagine.”

Jamie shrugged, lifting one shoulder in response.

“As it turns out, he left behind a young widow with no other family to speak of. Mrs. Randall will be on her own to establish her inherited estate in Paris. She is also expecting his child.”

“I can’t imagine,” Claire whispered, rubbing her own belly underneath the table and trying not to shudder at the casual use of her friend’s married name.

“So, to conclude, I’m offering you both parole to her property in France. If you accept, you’ll leave on the next ship.”

“Mmmph.” Jamie nodded slowly, considering.

“Otherwise, I’m afraid there aren’t many options left in Scotland than the noose. For any of you.”

Jamie leaned forward, careful not to jostle Faith. “And what about my godfather, Murtagh?” he asked, his voice low.

The colonel turned his attention to the man in question. “I suppose any additional service would be to Mrs. Randall’s benefit.”

“And the children?” Claire asked. She rubbed Faith’s back.

Fergus perked up at this, looking between Claire and the colonel.

Grey cleared his throat. “As long as Mrs. Randall is willing to accommodate them, I see no issue in sending them along with you.”

“Ye should know,” Jamie warned. “I signed my estate away to my nephew. There will be no need to harass its residents.”

The colonel fixed his gaze on Jamie. “I have no desire to disturb properties that no longer belong to you, Mr. Fraser.”

Jamie and Claire exhaled together. “You have our gratitude, Colonel.”

Grey nodded. “To tell you the truth, I’ve watched many men fall over the past months. If only a few…” He cleared his throat again. “You’ll be detained here until our ship leaves in three days’ time, but you may move about the grounds as you wish. We will post any letters you wish to write before you leave. They will, of course, be read by myself first.”

________________________________________

 

Claire knelt by the stream with Faith in her arms, the remnant of a gooey bar of soap clenched in her palm.

“Time to get cleaned up, lovey.” She trailed a wet finger down Faith’s cheek.

Faith giggled, dropping her chin to her chest to get away. When her mother paused, she looked into Claire’s eyes and placed a hand on her cheek. “S’okay, Mama?”

Claire paused and gathered her baby tighter to her. “Yes, my love. Things are looking up for us.” She pulled back to meet her eye. “But you are safe no matter what, do you understand?”

Faith nodded, turning around and leaning back as Claire lathered her hair with soap.

“Stay close, but out of the water,” Claire reminded her gently as she started her own ablutions. She needn’t have worried though, as a quick glance over her shoulder assured her that Jamie was standing guard at the tree line.

She grimaced as she felt water hit her back. She turned around in time to see Faith standing by the shallow of the creek, splashing. She shook her head and chuckled, sweeping Faith up and spinning her around, her little girl giggling madly.

*****************************************

Claire stripped down to her shift as night finally fell over the camp. Fergus was tucked into a separate tent with Murtagh. The dour old man had scoffed at their accommodations, but Claire caught the grin he tried to hide as Jamie pulled the blanket snug over Fergus’s shoulders.

She checked on Faith one more time, snoozing soundly on her pallet at the other end of the tent. Smoothing out her bedroll, she dropped down next to Jamie, who had left on only his shirt. Even as she curled into him, he continued staring a hole through the wall of their tent.

“Ready to get some rest, soldier?” she asked, smoothing her hand over his freshly shaved cheek.

Jamie caught her hand in his, and placed a kiss on her palm, but said nothing.

Claire sighed. This was no good. “You know I’m feeling different than last time. You don’t suppose it could be twins?” She caressed her belly.

He jerked around to face her, then rolled his eyes when he caught her smug grin. “Och. So ye’re a wee jokester tonight, eh?”

“What is it?” she asked, stroking the hand she had healed for him with delicate fingers.

“I’m sorry, Claire,” he said softly.

She tilted her head. “Whatever for? Things looked dodgy there for a moment, but we’ve a way out now.”

One side of Jamie’s mouth ticked upward. “Aye, and I’m grateful for that, but once again it seems that being here has put ye in danger.”

Claire shifted to hold his face in her hands. “We’ll be fine,” she whispered. “There’s nothing we can’t do, together.”

Jamie squeezed his eyes shut. “I just canna help thinkin’ it was my fault.”

She hesitated before nodding, slowly, with an air of finality. “You’re right.”

He went still for a moment, her sarcasm taking a second to fully settle on him. 

Claire shifted to drag their bodies fully together, nestling against his neck. His arm wrapped around her shoulder.

“You nearly gave up everything to make sure the children and I were safe.” She bit his earlobe. “When we get a chance to be alone,” she purred, pulling his mouth close to hers by the collar of his shirt. “You’ll find out whether I’m more inclined to punish or reward you for it.”

Jamie smiled at her and gripped her bottom. “I’ll hold ye to that.” He met her with a kiss, rubbing circles into her lower back. “I do love ye, Sassenach.”

“Mmm, you’ve mentioned that a time or two.”

He rolled to his back, folding her into his side with her palm over his heartbeat.

Claire could feel the heady tug of her exhaustion, and she was ready for sleep. But Jamie’s fingers tapping on her hip wouldn’t cease.

“Jamie?” 

“Ach, sorry.” He stilled his hand into a grip instead.

“What’s on your mind??” Claire wondered.

Jamie looked at her in surprise. “Sassenach,we’re surrounded by men that have likely no’ seen a woman in months. I willna give them a chance at ye.”

“We’re 15 paces from Colonel Grey’s tent. I don’t think anyone is bold enough to try anything.”

“Mmmph. That Captain Jacobs. Dinna like the way he was looking at ye.”

Claire sighed, thumping her head against his shoulder. “Even in sleep, you’ll know if he shows up.” She scratched the back of his head, knowing his eyes would droop as she did.

His body relaxed. “Will ye wake me if anything’s amiss?”

“Of course. And I can defend myself, you know.”

“Aye.” He smirked. “But ye shouldna have to.” He pressed a kiss to her temple before letting his eyes drift shut at last.

________________________________________

 

Jamie’s family patiently stood to the side as Colonel Grey conferred with the harbormaster -- almost patiently.

Faith wriggled in Jamie’s arms as she rubbed her eyes and adjusted her position against his shoulder againFergus paced back and forth under Murtagh’s nose, causing the older man to mutter under his breath.

And Jamie himself twitched in the breeches provided to him by Redcoats. Colonel Grey insisted that tartan was outlawed and didn’t want his prisoner wearing a kilt in front of his colleagues. Jamie complied, albeit reluctantly. It wasn’t just the loss of his kilt that bothered him, nor Claire’s tartan shawl that he’d spread her out over more times than he could count. It was their last day in Scotland for an indeterminable amount of time. He couldn’t say when the next time he’d see Lallybroch or even a patch of heather would be.

But then Claire tightened her grip on his elbow, leaning her head against his shoulder. Regardless of what he was going to lose, he’d managed to keep his wife. His family. Everything else could bide.

Jamie came to attention as Grey turned back toward them. He didn’t like the look on the man’s face.

“Colonel?” 

Grey’s face was drawn. “It seems that demand for passage is quite high. Only official prisoners are allowed transport.” He met Jamie’s eye. “Now, your… Fergus… I can assign parole status, but your daughter…”

Jamie felt himself begin to quake. Claire went white beside him.

“I’d be more than obliged to have some of my men deliver her to your family estate while I accompany you to France…”

“Ye said you would leave Lallybroch alone,” Jamie bit out.

“It would remain safe, Mr. Fraser, it would be a simple business matter— ”

“We go as one, or not at all. I canna…”  His eyes fell to Claire’s silver ring, remembering all it represented. To leave part of his heart in another country for years… The carpet bag in Claire’s hand caught his eye.

The piece was clean, if threadbare, also provided by Grey. Perhaps it was fortunate after all that their belongings had barely covered the bottom.

“I’ve an idea, if ye’d be agreeable, Colonel.”

*****************************************

The bones of Jamie’s hand ground into Claire’s as they crossed the dock toward the awaiting ship. His other arm held the carpet bag against his hip.

“Halt,” barked the harbormaster . “We have orders from the Crown to check your cargo. They suspect you lot may try to smuggle contraband to whatever miserable place you’re headed.”

Grey nodded as the dockhands moved to pop his trunk open, but cleared his throat as they reached for the bag Jamie carried. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

The harbormaster, a fellow Redcoat, looked at him suspiciously. “And why would you say that?”

Grey leaned toward the man sternly. “I’ve checked their belongings already. I don’t imagine the discipline that would follow second guessing me is worth peering inside Mistress Fraser’s medical kit. You can only imagine the ghastly methods that pass for medical treatment in the Highlands -- dead toads, mummified crickets, and something that strangely resembles a man’s toe…” He shuddered.

“You folks are free to board,” the harbormaster blanched.

Murtagh and Fergus carried little cargo, and nothing the dockhands were willing to risk investigating.

They hastened onto the ship and locked themselves away in their respective cabins, while Grey went to introduce himself to the ship’s captain and explain their unusual situation.

Jamie watched the carpetbag wiggle as Claire undid its fastenings, followed by the appearance of a curly head.

Before Faith could react, Jamie plucked her from it and pulled her to him, embracing her so hard she squawked.

“Wonderful, Lovey.” Claire crushed herself into their embrace.

“Da is sae proud of ye, a nighean,” Jamie whispered into her ruffled curls. “I ken ye dinna understand now, but ye will someday.”

Faith raised her finger to her lips. “Shhh!”

“Yes, you were very brave.” Claire smiled. “But you don’t have to be anymore.”

________________________________________

 

Claire smoothed the blanket over Faith’s slumbering form, then stood up from the bottom bunk and closed the door softly behind her. She knocked on Murtagh’s door and asked him to listen for Faith.

She climbed to the deck of the ship, spotting her husband leaning over the railing in the darkness. She wrapped her arms around him from behind.

“You’re not thinking of abandoning ship are you? All this effort would have been quite a waste.”

Jamie turned in her arms and wrapped her in his own. “Nae. ‘Tis just such a beautiful a night.”

“Hmm. Any seasickness yet?” Claire turned in his embrace, her back to his chest.

“Not yet. I think my heid’s working too hard to catch up with all that’s happened.” He rested his chin on her shoulder. “And all I have to be grateful for. But what about ye?” He rubbed his hand in a circle over her belly.

“Nothing to report yet.” She shook her head. “But I have a feeling it might return with a vengeance in the morning.”

“I wish there was something I could do to help ye with it,” he murmured into her hair.

“Just be with me,” she sighed.

They looked out over the moon-lit water together, swaying gently.

“Did you ever think we’d get here?” Claire whispered. “When we took that first ship ride?”

Jamie exhaled. “No’ at all. I could scarcely imagine putting the parts of me back together to make a whole man. But ye did that.” He turned her to face him, lifting her chin to meet his eye. “Now the Scotland I knew is gone, but me and mine and hale are provided for.” He placed a hand on her bottom. “And my bonnie wife has already given me two and a half bairns to cherish.”

Claire laughed as her lips met his. Not even a week ago, she’d expected to find herself pregnant and alone with a toddler, preparing to face a man she’d let go of first physically, then emotionally.

Instead, they’d fought for each other, and their family. Though they would part one day, it wouldn’t be today. Nor any day soon, if they had anything to say about it.

epilogue to follow

Chapter Text

November 20, 1748 | Paris, France

Seas, a bhailach,” Jamie whispered to the beast as he brushed its shining coat. He’d taken quickly to the horses in Mary Hawkins Randall’s stables, but the black sorrel pony had stolen his heart for its similarity in appearance and character to his own Donas.

The horse was still riled after his afternoon jaunt with Faith. The lass had more confidence than experience on horseback, and had led the horse into mischief with a puddle, even under her father’s close supervision.

Jamie had sent Murtagh upstairs to deliver a squirming and filthy Faith to Claire. In fact, it had been quite a while since, and he hoped the man was not dallying his time flirting with Suzette, who had recently come into the Randall estate’s employ.

Dubh, aptly named by Faith, huffed impatiently as Jamie recalled Grey’s promise to release Donas, Brimstone, Thistle, and Blanc within ten miles of Lallybroch.

A week after their arrival in Paris, Jenny had written of Ian’s surprise to open the front door one morn and find all four beasts grazing in the kailyard.

It warmed Jamie’s heart to imagine the sight, and made him long for home all the more.

He hadn’t long to wait, as their parole was nearly complete and they would soon see the shores of Scotland once again. Much as he was willing to sacrifice the sight to see to his family’s safety, he was looking forward to leaving the confines of the city.

Jamie figured it couldn’t come at a better time. While Mistress Randall had welcomed their company in the lonesome and overwhelming time she had found herself, she had recently made a good match. According to Claire’s account, Robert Isaacs made Mary very happy, and the engaged couple were looking forward to staffing their well-established estate.

So long as the bairn arrived safely within the next few weeks, the Fraser family would stay whole and make it back to their homeland. Jamie couldn’t wait to re-introduce his children to Lallybroch, and most of all, watch the years touch Claire…

Jamie’s thoughts were interrupted by the swift re-entry of Murtagh, balancing Faith on his shoulders. While the lass wore a fresh dress, her face had only been wiped quickly, still smudged with streaks of dirt.

Murtagh grinned. “Ye’re needed upstairs, a charaid. The bairn seems to be comin’ quick, and Claire’s asking fer ye.” He bounced Faith once, and she broke into giggles.

Jamie dropped the brush and let it clatter to the stable floor. He wasn’t sure he could keep his jaw from doing the same. “Ah dhia, she’s laboring now?”

“Aye lad, get tae it. Ye don’ want to miss the birth of your son.”

Jamie nodded, clapping his godfather on the shoulder. He felt his eyes mist over as he studied the man that has served his family since before he was born.

“Ye have the bairns? The others?” he asked, stammering, his mind rushing to catch up.

“O’ course, just fetch us when ye’re ready.”

“Thank you, a ghostidh… for everything.”

“Och,” Murtagh exclaimed. “Dinna get soft on me now. Go see yer lady.”

Jamie raced out of the barn, heart hammering. That she be safe, she and the bairn...

“Da!” Fergus called in the corridor, the lad balancing a stack of clean rags from the kitchen. Jamie stopped short to gasp for breath.

The lad had called him such by a slip of the tongue during their first weeks back in Paris – so used to hearing Faith use the precious word – then had immediately blushed scarlet.

Jamie had simply clasped his shoulder and returned with a simple “Aye, mon fils?” as he had called the boy for more than a year.

Fergus had cautiously tested the word ‘Mama’ out on Claire not long after, bringing her to tears as her heart soared.

“You heard about Mama?” Fergus exclaimed, rocking back on his heels in his excitement.

“Aye,” Jamie cracked a smile. “Gi’ those here, I’ll take them on my way. I’d like ye to bide in the barn with Murtagh.”

The lad’s face fell. “But if Mama needs me –”

“Dinna fash about yer mam. Faith needs ye.”

Fergus brightened. “You can count on me, Da.”

Jamie concentrated on the soft weave of the old towels in his hands as he mounted the stairs two at a time, eager to reach his wife. In his hurry, he tripped over the blonde porcelain doll that had been cast aside and forgotten earlier. He shuddered. Annalise had once gifted the toy to his daughter, and its resemblance to the woman herself was that bit frightening.

He burst through their bedroom door, nearly plowing over Mary, who was setting water to boil as if she were lady’s maid to Claire, rather than the other way around.

“Apologies, Mistress,” he murmured, grasping her elbows to keep her upright.

“Jamie!” she exclaimed, squeezing his arm. “You’re just in time.”

He was careful as he squeezed back, unsure of the strength of his grip, especially as his eyes landed on Claire with her face red and scrunched in pain, breathing rhythmically at the gentle direction of Mother Hildegard. Her eyes popped open to meet his, relief swelling in their whisky depths.

Jamie crossed the room in four steps, his hand finding Claire’s naturally as he knelt to kiss the old woman’s wrinkled cheek. “Good afternoon to ye, Mother.” Mary had housed the nun in one of her many guestrooms for the past week, well aware that Claire’s time was quickly approaching.

He brought Claire’s warm, sweaty hand to his lips as he kneeled behind her stool, content for her to use him in any way she wished. He’d missed the birth of their first child, and had since sworn she’d never go through the experience alone again.

Just then, Claire braced her back against Jamie as she wailed in pain. Her short fingernails scored Jamie’s palms as the contraction crested and she breathed out deeply.

“That’s a braw lass, a ghraidh,” Jamie whispered, placing a kiss on her shoulder and caressing the swell of her belly.

Several sharp contractions later, Mother Hildegard continued softly coaching at Claire’s knee. “Keep breathing, my child. I can almost see the head.”

“Jamie,” Claire croaked, short of breath. “If anything happens…” she whispered, just as the powerful force overtook her body once again and she screamed.

“I willna hear that talk, Claire,” he answered sternly, massaging her lower back.

Push, Claire.” Mother Hildegard’s voice rose above the noise of the room.

Jamie felt Claire inhale deeply once more, then gather her strength from him for the task ahead.

 

________________________________________

 

Claire smiled through her tears, admiring the little one cradled in her arms. Mary had bathed the baby as Claire delivered the afterbirth, then passed their blessing swiftly to Jamie, who had admired the sight with flooded eyes until tiny lips had begun rooting around for sustenance.

Their newest child had latched on with impressive speed and skill, inspiring jokes about Jamie’s own appetite.

The man himself eased carefully to Claire’s side, placing a steady arm around her and pressing his face into her neck, just watching her sustain the new life.

Little brown eyes popped open as the meal ended, searching for something familiar in their new surroundings.

“Hello, baby boy,” she cooed. While the lad’s red fuzz stood out starkly from the moment he appeared, she was thrilled to find something of herself in him.

Jamie reached over her shoulder to brush the boy’s diminutive cheek with his broad thumb. “He’s a braw lad, Sassenach.” He kissed her hair. “Thank ye for our son.”

Claire grasped the hand he had left on her shoulder, swaying gently with the baby. “He’s just as much a gift from you to me. We’re so lucky to have him, all of them.”

A gentle knock sounded from the door, followed by Mary peering around the corner, her own wee Denys at her heels. “Ready for some introductions?” she asked softly.

Claire sniffled and wiped her eyes. “Please, bring them in.”

“Mama!” Faith scrambled in, dragging Murtagh behind her. She approached the bedside slowly, trying to catch a glimpse of the bundle in Claire’s lap.

Jamie stood to give her a boost upward, settling their daughter between them easily. “What do ye think, a chuisle?”

“So bonny!” Faith whispered, reaching to grasp Claire’s free hand. “Ye did it all by yerself, Mama?”

Jamie chuckled. “She did, lass. Wasn’t that canny of your mam?”

Claire rolled her eyes. “Da cheered me on.” She squeezed Faith’s hand. “I’m glad you like him, Lovey.”

Murtagh slapped Jamie’s shoulder before leaning over to pat Claire’s. “A wee lad, then?”

“Mmmph,” Jamie replied, grinning widely. 

Fergus appeared in the open doorway. “Look who is up from her nap!” Holding tight to his hand was a toddler with red hair already trailing halfway down her back, rubbing her eye with her free hand.

She perked up at the sight of her parents, dashing to the bedside and slamming into Murtagh’s knees. He scooped her up swiftly, depositing her on the mattress knees first. She scrambled closer to Claire’s knee, looming over little brother.

“It’s the bairn?!” she squealed, bouncing in place.

“Gentle, Bree.” Faith scolded. “He’s still wee, see?”

Sae wee,” Brianna whispered reverently.

Jamie chuckled. “You were this size once too, a nighean ruaidh.”

“And you were even smaller,” Claire added, tickling Faith’s chin.

The girls exchanged dubious looks.

“Nah.”

Canna be!”

Fergus stopped next to Claire. “How do you feel, Mama?”

Claire’s heart warmed for the son of her heart. He’d offered to wait on her hand and foot these last few weeks, to the point that she’d laughed and told him to take a rest for himself.

Claire leaned her head against him as his arms folded carefully around her neck. “Just fine, my love. Would you like to hold him?”

Fergus nodded, his eyes wide.

Claire eased the baby into his arms, reminding him to be gentle of his head and neck. She welcomed Bree into her arms not a moment later, smoothing hair out of her blue eyes.

Murtagh cleared his throat, ineffectively covering his emotions. “So who do we have here?

Claire met Jamie’s twinkling eye, nodding her approval.

“This is Robert Franklin Murtagh William Fraser.” He swallowed deeply. “Our second son.”

Murtagh’s bushy eyebrow had creased at the second of the boy’s names, but he stood visibly straighter at the third. “’Tis a fine name.”

“That’s so many,” Bree stage-whispered, to the amusement of everyone else.

Faith rolled her eyes dramatically. “No more than you, Brianna Ellen Claire Jan-dit Fraser,” she taunted.

“Alright,” Claire sighed. “The lot of you all have as many names as the others. It’s certainly not a competition.”

Jamie chuckled. “That’s enough o’ that. Stop bouncing. We should let your mam get some rest.”

The children each kissed their mother’s cheek, then let their father herd them out the door as he cradled wee Rob to his chest.

Claire watched them file out the door one by one, each stopping for one more glimpse of her and the baby. She waved at them fondly, blowing kisses. Before Jamie could follow them into the corridor, she caught his hand.

“Stay?” she asked him.

“Aye.” A smile tickled his lips. “I willna go far.”

Claire patted the empty space next to her. “Here.”

He turned, then folded her into his side carefully.

She rested her chin on his shoulder, watching their son sleep until her own eyes drifted shut, a promise of their life together, and their family’s to come.

April 17, 1967 | Oxford, England

Professor Roger MacKenzie Wakefield shuffled through the ever-growing piles of paper crowding his office desk. Amid his lesson plans, papers still to grade, and disorganized files, he’d be surprised if he set off for home in time for supper.

Even still, his curiosity overwhelmed him as he broke the seal on an envelope of research left for him by his colleague. Ever since he was a boy, fascinated by the solemn disappearance of Claire Randall, he had pieced together clues about her whereabouts with the help of his beloved uncle. Her husband’s death last year had only energized his search. Perhaps if he could find answers at long last, it would bring meaning to the most discouraging period of Frank’s life.

More and more, the evidence had begun to point toward something not of this world, much as Mrs. Graham had insisted over the years. He retrieved the file that he had been accumulating for decades, thumbing through what he already knew. The marriage certificate for one James Fraser and Claire Beauchamp, the Deed of Sassine willing the Lallybroch Estate to a James Murray, and a curious pamphlet of medical advice attributed to a C.E.B.R. Fraser.

Roger dumped the new stack of documents on top of the current chaos. The top sheet caught his eye, heart skipping a beat as he read the photocopied print dated from the 1770s, with only the last digit smudged:

"It is with grief that the news is received of the deaths by fire of JAMES MACKENZIE FRASER and his wife, MISTRESS CLAIRE BEAUCHAMP FRASER, in a conflagaration that destroyed several crofts on the estate of Broch Tuarach. Their five children: FERGUS CLAUDEL, FAITH GLENNA, BRIANNA ELLEN, ROBERT FRANKLIN, AND JULIA ELIZABETH, also perished and now lay at rest with them."

Roger shook his head and blinked. Once. Twice. All the hope and warm imaginings he held for the kind woman that he was almost sure he remembered, all for them to be dashed with one headline bearing tragedy.

If there was something, anything, he could do for her and her family, he would in a heartbeat.

He stilled, skin tingling. Christ, but who was to say there wasn’t…

FIN