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Third Time's The Charm

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June 1766

His body felt every bit of his forty-five years of age as he gracelessly chased the squealing toddler around his shop. Ever since she had learned to walk just before her first birthday, her tiny yet chubby legs propelled her everywhere she desired to go. His clothes were covered in soot after a long day of printing, but that didn’t stop him from trying to make her laugh as loudly as possible, even though he knew her mother would have words for him for getting the tiny mischief-maker’s dress dirty.

Mo chuislea leannan, I’m coming for ye!”

She shrieked in delight at his teasing and her running proved futile as he scooped her up in his arms. He kissed her relentlessly on her cheeks, realizing that although her dark curly hair would likely hide any trace of his failure to clean up before taking her into his arms, her dirt-covered face would nevertheless give him away.

He heard a sudden gasp from above, and his eyes immediately locked with those of a young woman standing on the balcony overlooking his printing press. With fiery red hair peaking out underneath the hood of a plum cloak, her eyes conveyed a haunting sense of familiarity that he struggled to rationalize.

Realizing it was no longer just him and the wee spitfire, he cleared his throat and adopted a somewhat professional demeanor. “Good evenin’, can I help ye, mistress?” He adjusted his grip on the bairn, who currently had her arms wrapped tightly around his neck as if holding on for dear life, and propped her on his hip. As he walked up the stairs towards the visitor, his mind began to fight against the frighteningly supernatural sense that overwhelmed his thought process:  You know this lass.

“I—” she started, seemingly unable to decide how she wanted continue her sentence. “I....it’s you two that I’m looking for.”

Confused by the stranger's direct statement and the unusual accent formulating her words, he briefly glanced down at the whisky eyes innocently staring back at him before focusing back on the woman.

“I’m sorry, mistress, but ye've caught me by surprise. I’m no’ sure what ye mean.”

"Are you Jamie Fraser?"

Now at a closer distance, he studied the blue in her familiar eyes as her gaze met his, its steadiness undermined by the lass's wringing hands.

"Aye," he confirmed along with a nod, further unsettled by this visitor's acknowledgment of his name. "Are ye in need of somethin' from me?"

The confidence in her stare vanished as she took a step back. Her clearly evident nerves began to take a toll on his own heart rate, but he didn’t want to further scare the poor lass. She looks so much like my mother, he fleetingly thought, hoping that the eerily similar physical comparison adequately explained why goosebumps had slowly traveled down his arms from the moment he saw her.

“Have ye a message for me, lass?”

 

 


 

January 1764, two and a half years earlier

“Pardon?” I nervously blurted out, reaching my hand to gently touch the shoulder of the delivery boy that looked as if he might know about Jamie’s whereabouts. “I’m looking for a printer. Mr. Malcolm. Alexander Malcolm?”

“Aye!” he answered, his eyes reflecting his immediate shift from confusion to recognition. “He’s located at the end of Carfax Close, which’ll be the first on yer left.”

With that quick confirmation, my heart froze. I realized that I had long been preparing myself for the likelihood that I’d reach a dead end in my quest to find Jamie — that my hope of finding him would never truly materialize, but would instead remain within the four corners of the copy of the printed poem firmly grasped in my hands.

After thanking the boy and watching him walk away, I took a deep breath to steady myself. It seemed almost pointless to do so at this juncture, as my racing heartbeat and shaking hands indicated that I wouldn’t be leaving this stage of adrenaline anytime soon. I grabbed my glasses from my coat pocket and placed them on the tip of my nose, fondly remembering that Brianna had been the one to pick these out for me and my tiring eyes a few years ago.

 

 

 



Frank had died in a car accident ten years after Jamie sent me back through the stones. Ironically, I was on the clock at the local hospital on the same night he was brought into our emergency room. As I left a final check-in with a patient whose surgery had thankfully produced no complications, I heard a soft “Claire” come from Joe, my dear friend and colleague. The fact that he called me by my Christian name and not the playful Lady Jane nickname that he had based solely on my apparently posh accent was the first warning sign. The second stemmed from the tone in which he said my name — the same tone that we, as young doctors, learned to adopt when communicating tragic news to worried loved ones.

“It’s Frank,” Joe continued. “He was brought here after paramedics discovered him at the scene. It was a car accident. He— he was dead on arrival. I’m so, so sorry, Claire.”

I still remember nothing between the moment after Joe broke the news to me and the realization of finding myself sitting in a cold, narrow, echo-filled room with white-tiled walls and a standard linoleum-patterned floor. Sitting next to a body, laid out on a metal stretcher, that once held my first husband’s charm, intelligence, disdain, fatherly instincts, resentment, and grief-filled and eventually unrequited love for me.

As I carefully studied Frank’s face for what I knew would be the last time, I grew paralyzed by a wave of conflicting emotions. A sense of love for him that had undeniably evolved over the past thirteen years, beginning the moment I first traveled through the stones during our second honeymoon in Scotland. It was a love that was no longer romantic, but instead nostalgic and supported by a foundation of likely undeserved gratitude towards him. A deeply-rooted pang of guilt for never completely re-immersing myself in the reality of Claire & Frank  — a guilt that stemmed from the belief that, in my inability to irreversibly shut the door on the most powerful thing I had ever experienced, I let both Jamie and Frank down. A heart-shattering realization that Brianna’s tenth birthday would be her last with the man she lovingly knew as her father.

However, the feeling that came the most naturally at that moment was the one I would deny the quickest. A feeling that would stay buried, never to be recognized again. Relief. Frank’s passing released the verbal muzzle he had placed on me when we started our new life together. I had lived a decade without uttering a single word or phrase that could reasonably be traced back to Jamie Fraser. I had tried to apply the same rigor of mental training I developed in medical school to the inevitably futile task of wiping my memory clean of any treasured memories of my life with Jamie. I had remained complicit in the heartbreaking lie regarding Brianna’s parentage. I had fulfilled every requirement of Frank’s cruel conditions, and now I was free.

 

 

 


 

Seven years after Frank’s passing, I was back in 1764, glancing down at the paper in my hands and skimming the already-memorized words printed by one Alexander Malcolm. A. Malcolm, Jamie’s pseudonym in Edinburgh — a discovery made by Roger Wakefield, a young historian that Brianna and I met during a week in Scotland that changed both of our lives. Shortly after her fifteenth birthday, I took Brianna to Inverness and told her everything about her father. Jamie Fraser. The man who destroyed his own heart for our protection. The proud Highlander who, until a month ago, I believed had died on the battlefields in Culloden.

Brianna and I had carefully rebuilt our collective history over the two years following that fateful trip, a process filled with questions she asked that I never hesitated to answer. We slowly accepted Jamie’s fate as part of our own familial narrative, but the curious Mr. Wakefield never did. He kept researching, kept venturing down promising paths — which is how I found myself, on Christmas Eve in 1965, with unimpeachable proof that Jamie was still alive. He had beaten death in battle and in prison. He was a free man, working as a printer for the main newspaper in town, The Edinburgh Advertiser.

This earth-shattering discovery resulted in a month-long campaign of constant encouragement from Brianna for me to go back and find Jamie. The thought had undeniably crossed my mind the second it registered that Jamie was alive in his own time, but I never seriously considered the possibility of returning to him until my daughter — our daughter — began making the ultimate push. Joe and Gail unconditionally vowed to take care of Brianna, both of them having been let in on the secret of my strange journey back in time (which included a blunt observation from Joe himself: I always knew Brianna had so much of you and so little of Frank).

Brianna never failed to remind me that she would miss me. That bittersweet tinge was constantly present in her voice, even when she would quip about how she was “all grown up” — how she wanted me around, but didn’t need me like she did when she was younger. But she always ended each remark with the same conclusion: Jamie gave you to me, now I’m giving you back to him. And you get to tell him everything about me. At the end of January 1966, I made the journey two-hundred-and-two years back in time, carrying nothing but a small and hidden arsenal of modern-day treasures and necessities that I could never leave behind.

She weighed heavily on my mind as I turned onto Carfax Close. Our beautiful daughter, the perfect creation of my and Jamie’s lives. Brianna was the one reassurance that my years with Jamie were true and undoubtedly mine. I brought pictures of her with me, tucked safely in one of my many pockets, and I prayed that Jamie would want to see them. I had no idea what his life looked like now, but I hoped that I was still enough for him.

At the heart of Carfax Close, I spotted a wrought iron sign dangling in front of a tall wooden staircase that led to the shop’s entrance. A. Malcolm, Printer, Edinburgh Advertiser. My heartbeat quickly traveled up into my eardrums as I stretched out my hand and gently touched the black letters of the name. Jamie’s name.

A. Malcolm. Alexander Malcolm.

Removing my hand, I forced myself up the stairwell before the frayed thread of courage keeping my will together had the chance to snap. Once I reached the shop entrance, I removed my glasses and nervously patted down my wild curls one more time before shoving open the heavy oak door. 

 

 


Christ!”

Jamie yelled in frustration as he fought with his incredibly stubborn printing press. He had arrived just after dawn to begin his daily routine of printing several hundred copies of advertisements and essays for The Edinburgh Advertiser. However, he hadn't accounted enough time for the lever to his main press deciding to jam; so he sent Geordie, his assistant, off to find some tools. The lad had been gone for more than an hour when Jamie finally heard the entrance doorbells chime, and he sighed in much-welcomed relief.

“Took ye long enough, now get down here if ye would and help me.”

When he heard neither a verbal confirmation nor the man's usual speedy footsteps approaching, Jamie took a moment to stretch out the temporary hunchback he had developed in the battle with the lever jam. Satisfied with the melody of cracks that rippled down his aching back, he began to kneel down when he heard the words that would irrevocably change his life once again.

“It isn’t Geordie.”

No, he thought. That can’t be herI’m imaginin’ her voiceI’m goin’ mad.

“It’s me.” A pause. “Claire.”

Oh, Christ.

With his back turned away from the visitor, he shut his eyes tightly and took a few calming breaths. Keep it togetherThis is just another one of yer dreamsYe’ll make it throughJust turn aroundNobody will be there, and ye can get back to reality.

“Jamie?”

Real or not, that pleading voice was forever a siren call to him, and he mentally prepared himself for heartbreak as he turned around. What he saw rendered him speechless.

A Dhia, she was so beautiful.

Her dark brown curls framed the same delicate glass face that he had fallen in love with almost twenty years ago. The golden eyes that he knew all too well contained the same combination of nervousness and hope that was reflected in her half-smile. They were both frozen at the root, neither of them wanting to budge out of fear that their eyes were truly deceiving them.

Never breaking eye contact with him, Claire — or, at this point, a dangerously real vision of her — slowly descended the stairs and approached him. As she drew closer, Jamie saw the faint lines framing her eyes and mouth, reflecting a life undoubtedly hard-fought. She stopped about five feet away from him, having reached a self-imposed physical barrier, and he quickly realized that he hadn’t said a single word since setting his eyes on her.

Swallowing one more time, as if to physically remove the ball of nerves constricting his voice, the corners of his mouth lifted slightly.

“Sassenach, is it truly you?”

Seemingly rendered speechless herself, Claire’s smile reached its full wattage as she moved closer and covered his left hand with both of hers. Her hands sought the silver-tinted “C” scar she had imprinted on him as a reminder that their life together was truly theirs. Her watery eyes followed the movements of her thumbs, gently tracing the scar, back and forth. Flinching as though an electric spark had passed between them, any notion in Jamie's mind that Claire was merely a vision induced by long days with little sleep immediately shattered.

“You’re real,” he whispered. “God in heaven, you’re real.”

“So are you,” Claire softly uttered in response as she met his eyes, tears escaping her own. “I—I thought you were dead.”

Jamie pulled her hard against him as they collapsed onto each other. They were both shaking, and neither could have said how long they sat there on the soot-covered floor, tears of longing spilling down both of their faces. Eighteen years apart had not erased the familiarity and rightness of having Claire in his arms, and Jamie found himself silently praying Gaelic pleas as he drew her closer to him —  Lord, thank ye for bringing her back to mePlease dinna let this be for a moment, but instead for foreverI canna live without her.

“Don’t be afraid,” Claire whispered softly against his chest, likely sensing the irrational fear in his tight grip. Those words harkened Jamie back to their wedding night, the rush of memories culminating in his strange response of a mix between a choke and laugh.

Stroking her cheek, he rested his head on top of hers, finishing that soothing reassurance he had told her all those years ago.

“There’s the two of us now.”

Chapter Text

The first observation my exhausted brain registered upon jolting awake was the pitch black nature of my environment. The second, and more immediately devastating discovery, occurred as I reached my hand across the bed and encountered cold bed sheets.

Panicked, I fought the urge to crumble into tears. My head remained glued to my pillow and my arm extended, selfishly too afraid to make any move that would either confirm or deny what I believed I had experienced over the past twelve hours. It all felt so real — collapsing into Jamie’s arms; revealing to him that Brian was actually a Brianna who knew Jamie as her father; sharing photos of Brianna with Jamie, his face adding another crinkle and his eyes tearing up with each new photo; the shocking-turned-somewhat-humorous discovery that my charmingly naive and gentlemanly husband was a current occupant (but not a customer, he emphasized repeatedly) of the room on the top floor of the highly-visited brothel in Edinburgh, the House of Joy ; the dinner we enjoyed together, sharing stories from our time apart that floated on the surface of the deep waters we now found ourselves in; the mutual assurances that, yes, we both still wholeheartedly and deeply desired each other; and the unbelievable rush of sensations as our bodies fitted together for the first time in eighteen years.

I had dreamt of Jamie countless times. The plot vaporized every time before my mind could consciously grasp it, but I’d always remember the places I had subconsciously visited with him. The Laird’s bedroom in Lallybroch, the heathered fields we’d traveled through on our journeys, the quaint cottage we’d stayed in the night before he sent me back to Craigh na Dun. I had even dreamt of him in my time, pacing the hallways of my home, whispering calming Gaelic words to a baby Brianna in his arms. These visions of Jamie had been far from rare occurrences.

But it was different this time. My dreams usually didn’t provoke any tangible side effects, but I currently felt the delightful aches of satisfaction. My eyes were weighed down by the puffiness that normally remained after several hours of crying. The bed sheets felt scratchy and unfamiliar, sending my rational thought process into a deeper tailspin. Finding myself in a chilly and dark room, I began resigning myself to the conclusion that my mind had played its greatest trick on me and I was actually still in Boston, emotionally and physically alone.

Ten or so minutes had passed, the air around me thick and silent. Age had given me the upper hand in controlling my emotions, but I never felt more vulnerable than in those moments of instant aftermath, lying in bed and grieving another vanquished dream. The tears I tried to ward off streamed down my cheeks, proving any type of resistance useless.

The door next to my side of the bed slowly creaked open. The top half of my body sprang up as a tall, red-headed, warrior-built Scot slowly tiptoed into the room, balancing a large plate on his left hand.

 "Jamie ?” I hesitantly whispered, still fearful that he’d vanish before me upon recognition.

My eyes slowly registered the outline of his body as he hastily jumped at my call, turning to face me.

“Ah! Sassenach, yer awake. ‘Tis my fault. My starvin’ body woke me up, and ye looked too far gone in your dreams for me to feel alright about waking ye, so I grabbed some meats and cheese from the kitchen to tide us over ‘til morning. I also got to chattin’ with the cook for God knows how long.”

A shiver rippled through Jamie’s body. “Christ , I didna even realize until I was downstairs how cold and dark it is in here, the fire must ha’ petered out while I was gone.”

He placed the treasured snacks on the table by the fireplace, clearly pleased with his findings. I, on the other hand, abandoned all sense of propriety as I flew out of bed (naked , as a natural result of our previous activities) and enveloped my arms around his neck, once-terrified sobs wracking my body and overflowing onto his white cotton shirt.

Sassenach.” Jamie’s voice was laced with concern as he gathered me into his arms, stroking my back as I unburdened myself of the heartache I had harbored over years of experiencing his touch and his voice only in my dreams. “What happened, mo nighean donn? Did ye have a nightmare?”

My vocal cords now overwhelmed by the residual hiccups that tended to accompany the start of a good cry, I sharply nodded against his chest, eventually garnering the strength to answer amidst my hyperventilating breaths. “I— I— Jamie, I thought everything that ha—ppened since I found— you was a dream. I—I woke up, alone, and you—you weren’t here—”

“Oh, a nighean , I’m so sorry.”

“So—so many times, you— felt so real to me. And I—I’d wake up and it would be me, all—alone, and all I’d w—want is to go back to sleep to— see you again.”

Claire.

His gentle yet commanding use of my name — a rare occasion he only entertained in the most serious of moments — calmed my erratic heart as I felt his hand cradle my chin and slowly pull up. Looking into his eyes, I encountered a wave of emotions that perfectly complemented my own palette: his reassurance to soothe my fear; his immediate guilt at accidentally causing my temporary sense of despair; his certainty of reality to counter my doubt of the truth of our surroundings.

“I’m so sorry I left ye all by yerself, mo ghraidh," he whispered, kissing my forehead as he brought me against his chest. "And in such a strange and unfamiliar setting as well.”

I briefly reflected on the fact that this simple and truly earnest apology — one that he, of all people, didn’t owe me — could have applied to the last two decades of our lives.

I’m the one who should be sorry, Jamie,” I countered, the steady tone returning to my voice. “All you did was leave to bring us food, and you come back and you’re attacked out of nowhere by a hysterical naked woman—”

Jamie cut me off with a soft kiss. Moving his hand from my chin to the back of my head, he kept it there once we pulled apart.  

“I promise ye this, Sassenach. As long as we are together, ye will never be alone again.”

Suppressing the rather unattractive sniffles that I was currently battling, I grabbed Jamie’s other hand and kissed each of his roughened knuckles. I couldn’t help but smile at the look of complete adoration on his face.

“I’m going to hold you to that, James Fraser.”

Beaming, he met my verbal challenge.

“Ye have my word, Claire Fraser.”

Claire Fraser. No other name — Beauchamp, Randall, Doctor Randall — had ever fit me as perfectly as this one. Grabbing his beautiful face, I leaned in and kissed him deeply. I inhaled every inch of him that my senses could gather as his mouth slowly opened, both of us relishing in the joy of living in a time where I could reach out and kiss him at any moment.

Jamie’s arms traveled down my back before firmly grasping my bare arse, and his accompanying moan resulted in a pool of heat gathering in my belly. I silently thanked the heavens that my husband’s favorite body part of mine still brought him pleasure, and my lips left his as I began a trail of kisses down his neck and onto his collarbone. I gripped the bottom of his shirt, and I felt him lift his arms up as I hastily pulled it off and ran my freezing hands against his incredibly well-defined chest.

“Sassenach,” Jamie sputtered out amidst his melody of sighs and groans, “I need a bit of sustenance before we start round two, otherwise I might faint on ye.”

His plea sparked a humorous vision that had me stifling a laugh as I kissed him on the cheek once more. I plopped onto the olive green couch that occupied the prime space in front of the fireplace. After restarting the fire, Jamie brought the plate of food to the couch before grabbing the fuzzy grey blanket draped over the foot of the bed. He cozied up next to me as he threw the blanket over us both; he promptly picked up a miniature block of cheese and placed it right in front of my mouth.

“Open up, mo chridhe, yer gonna need to build yer strength back up as well.”

Smirking, I accepted his enticing offer. The two of us leaned back against the cushions, Jamie’s right arm drawing me into his side. I curled my feet under the blanket as I placed my head and right hand on his chest.

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A companionable silence fell as we devoured the plate of food, both of us hungrier than we had anticipated. Minutes later, a sigh of deep contentment escaped Jamie’s body, and I peeked my head up to find contentment reflected in his eyes as well.

“Tis a wonderful thing,” he explained, “the fact that touchin’ ye still brings me a sense of peace. Havin’ ye in my arms calms my soul.”

Unsure of what to say beyond my simple yet wholehearted response of “for me as well”, I kissed him before returning to my place on his chest.

It wasn't a thing I had consciously missed, but Jamie’s observation reminded me of the joy of it; that drowsy intimacy in which a man's body is accessible to you as your own, the strange shapes and textures of it like a sudden extension of your own limbs. Touch had been as crucial to our relationship as the words we communicated to each other, and it would continue to be our safe harbor as we slowly rebuilt our histories that we experienced during our time apart.

Anxious to begin that reconstruction, I laid down the first stone.

“Jamie?”

“Claire?”

“What—” I began, simultaneously figuring out what to say and how to phrase it as I continued my question, “what did life look like for you after Culloden? I know that you survived — well, obviously — and you were at Ardsmuir Prison for a time. And now you’re here.”

I felt Jamie’s body temporarily tense under me. He slowly shifted his body so that he was facing me head-on. I adjusted my own positioning to match his, resting on my left side and looking directly into his eyes. He placed his hand around my waist and pulled me slightly closer, then reached for my right hand. The room still too dark and the fire too dim to see the minute details of my hand, his thumb hovered over my palm until he found it — the silver, slightly-raised “ J ” he had carved into me. Gently rubbing his thumb back and forth over the scar, he began.

----------

“I told ye about the soldiers taking me back to Lallybroch after Culloden, aye? That Harold Grey had found me and taken me back to Jenny as payment for the debt his brother owed me?”

Nodding, I gave him the signal to continue. Jamie had delicately scratched the surface of the past two decades during our dinner together, giving away vague clues to where he had been and what he had experienced.

“They brought me back to die, and when word spread that I had lived, that’s when the ransackin’ begin. The Redcoats raided Lallybroch constantly, just like ye warned us. It went on for the seven years I was there. To protect Jenny and Ian and their bairns, I lived in a cave on the Lallybroch property. I’d hunt for food for them, and though I had Fergus to keep me company at times, I was alone for most of my time there.”

I couldn’t shake the devastation that threatened to consume my body. My Jamie. All alone for seven years, in a cave . What shocked me almost as much as the information itself was how he said it so matter-of-factly, as if the years of isolation had merely evolved into a new normal for him.  

 “How—” I swallowed. “How often did you see Jenny and Ian? And the children?" 

“Once a month, at best,” he smiled weakly. “I would sometimes spend an hour or two with them after dropping off my latest hunting finds for them, but never longer than that. I couldna bear the thought of puttin’ them in danger.”

I actively sought another question I could ask him, knowing that this mental exercise was my protective shield. If I took any more time to further reflect on what Jamie had revealed to me, I wouldn’t be able to bear it.

“How did you end up at Ardsmuir?”

My husband — Jamie, my husband, sitting right in front of me — and I were complete opposites when it came to our individual ability to mask emotions on our faces. My glass face, as he had loved to call it, hid nothing. Jamie, however, could find himself battling an ever-growing pit of rage, yet his face would never show it unless fully provoked.

Nevertheless, my curiosity had slightly cracked his facade, a hint of a frown flickering on his face as he deciphered my question.  

“It was the day that Young Ian was born,” Jamie started. “Jenny— she had gone into labor that mornin’, and Ian was—” he paused suddenly, “away , so Fergus was sent to find me so I could keep her company. I held her hand as she gave birth to him, and I was one of the first people to hold him.”

The sapphires in Jamie’s eyes glowed as he recalled the memories of Young Ian’s birth. “He was so tiny , Sassenach. And one of the sweetest things I’d ever seen. I ken I’m only to be his uncle, but I felt a bond between the wee bairn and myself. ‘Tis a feelin’ that is hard to describe, ye ken?”

I nodded in complete agreement, feeling a slight pang in my chest at the thought of Brianna. Her birthday was one of the happiest days of my life, yet it also maintained a space for grief, as the one person I desperately wanted there with me had been dead for nearly two hundred years.

Jamie took a deep breath as he gathered his thoughts before continuing. “It was only a few hours after wee Ian had been born that the Redcoats stormed Lallybroch. Withou’ even thinkin’, I took the bairn and hid in a closet with him for what felt like hours. Thankfully, the lad didna make a peep, but I knew that I couldna keep placing Jenny and her family in danger. They were all I had at that point.”

Time seemed to stop as Jamie filled in the years I had missed, the fire gradually warming our chilled bodies. After the Redcoats arrested him, providing Jenny with a reward that would take care of her family during his absence, Jamie was charged with treason and served time at Ardsmuir Prison in northern Scotland. During his sentence, he had befriended the warden of the prison — Lord John Grey, the name I immediately recognized as belonging to the young soldier we had met at Prestonpans. I noticed that Jamie skimmed over most of his time at Ardsmuir, but I didn’t push him on it.

He explained that Ardsmuir Prison had closed during the fourth year of his ten-year sentence, and while many of the fellow Jacobites he had known ended up being shipped to the colonies, Lord John had gifted Jamie his own conditional release. Jamie was allowed to return to Lallybroch, to be with his family, and to slowly immerse himself back into a normal life. However, in exchange for Lord John’s generosity, Jamie couldn’t leave the property during the remaining term of his sentence. Jamie’s freedom was restrained, yet again, for another six years.

“I couldna tell ye how grateful I was to be at home, especially after years in the horrid conditions at Ardsmuir. Jenny and Ian had been the ones to see me through while I grieved over the loss of ye and our child. Ye ken that those two truly care for me, and they were the ones who kept me going. But—”

Jamie paused. In the midst of the comfortable silence between us, I realized — with a faint sense of guilt — that he hadn’t stopped since I asked him that first probing question. He was pouring out years of lived experiences to me, and I knew he must be exhausted. The well of tears forming in his eyes nearly shattered my heart.

“I shoulda been happy at Lallybroch.” His voice wavered, capturing the aftereffects of the emotional rollercoaster he and I had been riding from the moment I walked into the print shop the previous afternoon. “I was surrounded by family who loved me. Young Jamie was sixteen, Maggie was fourteen, and I got to see both of them married off. Young Jamie had his second child just last year. Kitty grew from a wee and feisty girl to a brilliant young woman. Michael, Janet, and wee Ian were also still at home by the time I left, and I watched all of them grow up before my eyes.”  

“I was happy in a way, but Christ, I missed ye even more than I possibly thought I could during those years.”

He hadn’t said it out loud, but I knew what his heart ached for. I knew, because I was experiencing a rising tide of jealousy on behalf of Jamie and me as he told me of the life Ian and Jenny had created for themselves. It was foolish and shortsighted to feel that way, as those two had experienced no shortage of troubles — but they had faced them, for the most part, together. They had six children, exactly half of the number Jamie had desired as part of our legacy. They had built a family, and fate had snatched that dream from us.

“I missed you too, Jamie,” I responded, those seemingly hollow words failing to communicate the bone-deep ache I carried from the moment I said goodbye to him. “I missed you so much.”

“I was so selfish at times, Sassenach,” he confessed. “I’d see Ian and Jenny fawn over their bairns, play games with them, fight with them to get them to eat their potatoes and vegetables, sing them to sleep if they woke up from a bad dream. And sometimes, I’d think - why them, and not us as well? What had you and I done for life to rip us apart?”

“Nothing, Jamie.” I urged him on, resisting my own impulse to crumble into tears alongside him. “We were on a path we had no control over. We did the best we could.”

“I would ha' given anythin’ tae spend just a day rocking a fussy Brianna back to sleep, or tae stare at her for hours with you. There were some days where the loneliness was all-consuming, where I almost would ha' preferred prison.”

I placed a mental pin on this point in his timeline, wanting to know more about this struggle he experienced back at Lallybroch. I asked another question in hopes of helping us both jump over this emotional hurdle.

“What made you decide to move to Edinburgh?”

Jamie wavered again, and I mentally kicked myself for thinking that this inquiry would have lifted his mood. I could see him battling over what to say next; though his face continued to show nothing, he had other tells that I had picked up as the person who physically, emotionally, and mentally knew him better than anyone else. His fingers tapping, the corners of his eyes twitching, his breathing rapidly departing from the regular pace he set — he had something he needed to tell me, but really didn’t want to say it.

“Hey,” I whispered, pulling Jamie’s hand into my lap. “It’s okay. We’re taking this a step at a time.”

Exhaling quickly, he responded, “I’m sorry, Sassenach. There are pieces I’m no’ yet ready to talk about. Things I’m still processin’.”

Naturally jumping to the worst conclusion possible, I froze.

Oh God, please don’t tell me you fell in love with somebody else.

Deciding not to push against his hesitancy, I squeezed his hand, encouraging him to continue whenever he was ready.

Jamie proceeded to tell me that he had settled down in Edinburgh about six months ago, quickly befriending a local printer who was responsible for the advertisements and essays that went into each copy of The Edinburgh Advertiser. The man had taken Jamie under his wing, and it was not even three months later when he offered Jamie the reins to his shop. Alexander Malcolm had been a pseudonym he’d picked out as an extra safeguard, but most people around town knew him as Jamie Fraser, a freedom he’d long been denied of and now truly enjoyed.

“Considerin’ the Advertiser was the only paper willin’ to print advertisements for House of Joy , we struck a deal with Madame Jeanne and that’s how I got this room. It’s close to the shop, provides me with food and a room and a bed, as well as my own privacy.”

Though I attempted a smile to indicate my attentiveness, I was guilty of merely half-listening to this most recent change in his life, preoccupied with what he had said right before.

What was he processing? What really brought him here? Was there another reason he needed privacy?

“Sassenach? Ye’re upset, I see it all over yer face. What’s wrong, a nighean ?”

Caught. Eighteen years apart, and he could still read any emotion that crossed my face. With anybody else, I would have brushed it aside as an accidental reflection on a surgery that had gone wrong, or on a petty spat with a frustrating co-worker. But from the moment I met Jamie, he unknowingly had broken down the walls I built around my heart, the first bricks laid the day that my parents died. I couldn’t hide this fear from him — he made me more honest. So, I took the plunge, terrified of what awaited me at the bottom.

“I know that you had a life. We both did. Lives that took us away from each other and established new ties. I just— Jamie, it’s alright if you did,” stuttering, knowing that I couldn’t lie to myself either, “but did you ever fall in love with anyone else? Was there anyone else?”

No.”

He spoke it like a promise. An oath. A commitment.

Jamie’s hands were now framing both sides of my face, his serious eyes piercing my own.

“Sassenach, I willna lie to ye and say that I havena sought comfort in the years ye were gone. Those moments came when I was at my lowest, most brutal version of myself. But, mo nighean donn, I have never loved anyone but you. Only you, now and forever.”

Tears of relief spilling down my cheeks, I poured my gratitude into him as our lips met. One kiss grew into two, three, five — losing count, I pulled myself closer to him. Skin against skin, Jamie’s breeks served as the sole barrier.

“Jamie,” I muttered in between passionate kisses as my hands pulled on the ties to his breeks, “take these off.”

He gently lifted me up as he used his other hand to pull them down, his lips never leaving mine. My legs automatically wrapped around his waist as he stood up, carrying both of our emotionally worn bodies back to bed.

We collapsed onto the mattress, our kisses slowing but never fully stopping. Our physical weariness surrendered to our mutual need to remind one another that I was his, and he was mine.

Jamie turned to me, and I to him, and we made love to each other in a slow, unspeaking, and long-lost tenderness that left us lying still at last.

Breathless and sweaty, we fell asleep entwined, exhausted by the early stages of unpeeling the layers of masks Jamie and I had donned in our separate lives. The last thing I remembered before falling asleep was Jamie wrapping his arms around my waist and pressing himself against my back, thankful for the guarantee that when I woke up the next morning, he would be by my side. 

Chapter Text

I awoke the next morning to sunlight flooding our room and Jamie’s deep blue eyes fixated on my sleeping form. Reaching out, I gently pressed my fingertips against his scruff, admiring the reds, browns, and bits of subtle greys that scattered along his beautifully chiseled jaw.

“Good mornin’, my own.”

Oh, the basic yet irresistible pleasure of having a lover in my bed to say “good morning” to.

“Good morning, you bloody Scot.”

Jamie chuckled as he pulled me into his lap and kissed me, adjusting my positioning until I was straddling him. Scooting closer, I threw my arms around his neck and plunged my tongue into his mouth as I began slowly rocking my hips against his. I felt the hard length of him nestled against my thigh as he devoured me, his hands gracing the curves of my back. What had started as a tender wake-up call quickly grew heated and I moaned softly, silently pleading for Jamie to shift just a little to the right and create that perfect fit within me.

“God, Jamie,” I breathed out, his kisses rapidly driving me towards oblivion.

By the time I could register what was happening, Jamie had flipped me onto my back, his body looming over mine as he wandered down my own. His soft kisses forged a path, seeking to leave no amount of skin untouched.

Jamie paused as he approached my stomach, his fingers lightly tracing the silvered stretch marks I had carried with Brianna. His eyes — nearly black with desire at this point — focused on mine as he placed wet kisses on each mark. Taking my thighs in his hands, he slowly spread them further apart and continued making his way toward my core.

Every nerve ending in my body fired in ways I hadn’t experienced during our time apart. My own self-care during those years (a lifeline I sought in nights of nearly unbearable loneliness) could never replicate the glorious feeling of having Jamie between my legs. Breathing harder, I gripped Jamie’s hair and brought his eyes back up to me.

Grinning mischievously, he kissed the inside of my left thigh. He suddenly broke free from my grasp and his mouth shattered me thoroughly and not-so-quietly into pieces. Overwhelmed by the rush of divine pleasure coursing through my veins, I surrendered to his control.

Unrecognizable sounds escaped me as Jamie’s masterful tongue worked me into a frenzy. Tears sprang to the corners of my eyes — a common occurrence since our reunion less than twenty-four hours ago — as a certain awareness flooded my senses: this was the first time in eighteen years that I was enjoying romantic intimacy.

I had tried with Frank after Brianna was born, but his touch only roused me when I could close my eyes and pretend his hands were Jamie’s — a practice that had gone unnoticed during the exceedingly rare instances we even tried to be intimate. But here, in this moment, I didn’t need to pretend anymore. I no longer had to exercise the same brain cells I used to retain medical terminology to conjure memories of the detailed outlines of Jamie’s hands. He was here, with me, and my mind had allowed itself to grasp the weight of that truth.

“Jamie,” I cried, feeling my hips move in an increasingly erratic pace. “Jamie, please, I need you inside me.”

In an instant, his mouth was on mine, and tears of joyous relief streamed down my face as he easily slid home. The doubts I had carried for years about my own sexual abilities evaporated as my body continued to familiarize itself with Jamie’s each time we joined. Time hadn’t erased the pure rightness I felt in Jamie’s arms, and as we fell over the precipice together, our long-lost souls became one again.

Shuddering, Jamie’s body collapsed on top of mine. We held each other in a sweaty embrace, waves of pure bliss crashing over us. He was all I knew at that moment, and not even wild horses could keep me away from him.

----------

“If I can be honest, Sassenach, I dinna feel my age as much as I do right after ye take me.”

Lying against him in what had seemed to become our new default position — my body curled against his, with my head and right hand firmly placed on his chest — I couldn’t help but laugh at Jamie’s candid talk, though he wasn’t alone in the sentiment behind his statement. My body, undeniably satisfied, was feeling the effects of our amorous activities at a slightly quicker and more intense rate. Muscles pulled a bit tighter, bones cracked more often, and things (well, things that aren’t normally supposed to feel this way when one is in the throes of lovemaking) were a bit stiffer.

“A rather scientific observation, Jamie, and one I’d have to agree with. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, my back hurts!”

“Aye, mo nighean donn, I can take care of that one for ye,” Jamie whispered huskily as he kissed me once more, momentarily digging his fingers into my back and miraculously hitting the correct pressure points. I let out a louder-than-intended groan in gratitude, and though my eyes had closed in surrender to his fingers, I could feel his proud smile forming.

“I’ll take you up on more of this later, don’t you worry.”

Jamie hummed his acceptance as he moved his hands from my back to the bed, lifting his upper body to a ninety-degree angle, wincing along the way.

“Sassenach, if ye wouldna mind, I’d like to see the photos of Brianna again. I’ll admit I wasna in the best mindset yesterday to really focus on them, with those tempting curves of yer body provin’ tae be an awful distraction tae me.”

Having both melted and burst into flames at his earnest plea, I jumped out of bed and grabbed the stack of photos from my dress pocket. As I walked back towards the bed, what I saw next nearly had me leaping the rest of my way there — from anticipation, curiosity, or full-blown arousal, any of those motivations seemed possible at that moment.

Jamie had opened the drawer to his side table and taken out a pair of bifocals that rivaled ones Benjamin Franklin likely owned. Watching him place them on the tip of his nose, his tousled burnt-red hair perfectly framing his face, I now remembered how one could simultaneously feel pure adoration towards someone and the completely base desire to roger them. Jamie looked my way, and I spotted a slight flush beginning to form at the base of his neck as I sat on the edge of his side of the bed and placed the photos in his lap.

“Ah, I got these about about a month ago. Still gettin’ used tae them, ye ken? My eyes arena what they once were, and I need a wee bit of help seeing smaller things when they’re up close now. Also for reading and such. I ken I look like an auld man, but dinna—”

I interrupted his sweetly insecure ramblings with a gentle kiss. “Wait one second, Jamie.”

Confused, his eyes followed me across the room as I dug back through my dress pockets to find my dual-toned, cat-eye framed glasses. As soon as I crawled back into the — our — cozy bed, I shyly put them on. “I needed them, too. Brianna actually picked these frames out for me, saying that the cat-eye  — or, you know, whatever these are — compliment my bone structure. I use them for reading and paperwork as well, and sometimes for certain surgeries.”

Jamie reached out and caressed my face, his eyes shining behind his own glasses.  

“I thought you couldna get more beautiful than ye already are, but ye seem tae prove me wrong every time I think it.”

Feeling my own face blushing, I leaned into his hand. “And you, my bespectacled darling, are as dashing as ever.”

Our two sets of four-eyes leaned in for another slow and tender kiss, and as Jamie eagerly pushed for another, I halfheartedly pulled away before we found ourselves distracted yet again from the task at hand.

Realizing what I had accomplished, Jamie subtly smirked before kissing the tip of my nose and grabbing the pictures from his lap.

----------

We spent the next hour admiring the photos of Brianna I had brought with me, and I began reconstructing my own history through the stories I shared with Jamie about the moments captured in each image.

“This was on the day of her christening. We baptized her at our local Catholic church in Boston. She slept through the entire ceremony, up until the holy water woke her up. She was always such a good sleeper. And she smiles in her sleep, just like you do.”

Jamie flashed that shared smile at me, his eyes glimmering with unshed tears. “What was her first word?”

“Dog,” I replied fondly, “and ‘no’ followed shortly after.”

Jamie’s laughter burst from deep in his chest in response to my additional observation. “Ah, Sassenach, she sounds just like a Fraser,” he observed as he flipped to the next photo.

“This was her fifth birthday. All Brianna wanted was a puppy, and she begged relentlessly for one. She’s quite stubborn, like someone else I know,” I side-eyed him amusedly, “so the puppy she’s holding became our Newfoundland dog, Smokey.”

Each insight I gave Jamie sparked another question from him, and we both cherished a moment that we never would have dreamed of experiencing — our two bespectacled selves, lying in bed together and studying photos of our beautiful daughter while Jamie hung on every word I spoke about her.

“This was at my graduation from medical school. Brianna was about eight at this point, and she was just as excited as I was. We had a small celebration at our home after the ceremony, and Brianna was running around telling everyone that her mother could now cut people open.”

“As she properly should, Sassenach!” Jamie confirmed. “Ye were always a healer, but now you have the title to go wi’ it and the skills to do even more incredible things.”

“Thank you, Jamie,” I answered shyly, pleased at how wonderful it felt to have a partner who actually expressed pride in the work I did. “Frank was resistant to it at first, but—”

I immediately stopped my verbal train of thought at the sound of the dreaded F-word pouring out of me. Frank. I still didn’t know how to talk to Jamie about him. Do I even talk about him? What do I say? What would he want to hear? Am I overthinking it—?

“Claire?”

“Jamie?” I responded, trying my best to appear nonchalant while fighting back my increased heart rate at his use of my name and the rather worrying tone he adopted in saying it.

“Ye told me when we first looked at these photos yesterday that Frank knew everythin’ about me and that he had died when Brianna was ten.”

“That’s right.” My feigned nonchalance quickly fading, I fidgeted with my hands to expel the anxiety gradually building within me.

“And ye told Brianna the truth when she was fifteen, aye?”

I nodded, focusing every ounce of energy on holding back the tears that threatened to reappear.

“Were ye—” Jamie paused, and I could see his brain whirring at how to proceed “Well, ah, did Frank — how did he handle it all? The truth, I mean. Knowing about me.”

Jamie’s question transported my brain through a decade of long-repressed memories within seconds.

Waking up in a freezing hospital room, Frank bursting in and hugging me while I remained on the verge of an emotional breakdown.

Spilling out details of my life with Jamie to Frank, his own expressions evoking a battle between grief, acceptance, and a subtle yet powerful hint of disbelief.

Tearfully accepting Frank’s conditions of removing every mention of Jamie from my life.

The selfish and irrational twinge of disgust that hit the pit of my stomach every time I heard Frank call Brianna his daughter.

The ever-present guilt I felt from never being able to let go of Jamie in order to fully fall back into life with Frank.

I couldn’t assess how long I had wandered through these memories, jolting back into reality only upon hearing Jamie’s regret-filled attempt to reel back his question: “Ah, Sassenach, I’m sorry, I ken it’s none of my business, I shouldna have asked—”

“No,” I pushed back reassuringly, grabbing Jamie’s hand and gently squeezing it. “It’s okay, it is your business.”

Jamie squeezed my hand in return and I took a deep breath to steady myself.

“He knew everything about you. I told him as much as he was willing to listen to, but we had made a promise to each other to not tell Brianna. Shortly after I returned to the twentieth century, we moved to Boston so he could take a teaching position, and that’s where we lived until I came back here.”

Jamie nodded in acknowledgment, nervously glancing down at our entwined hands. I knew he was deciding whether to stop at this juncture or continue peeling back my own mask, bringing my years with Frank to life in his mind.

“So, when ye returned, he still loved ye?”

“Yes. He — he loved Brianna as well, so we tried our best to make it work.”

I could see Jamie building up his courage to ask the one question he was too afraid to initially ask, and though I would correctly guess it, I still wasn’t prepared to hear it.

“Were ye happy wi’ him? Did he make ye happy?”

And there it was. A loaded question with an equally loaded answer. Frank had made me feel loved, belittled, desired, betrayed, unwanted, empowered, supported, and completely alone. How I felt about Frank went beyond a “ yes ” or “ no .” But how could I express that to Jamie without sounding like a bumbling idiot? I couldn’t; therefore, I pulled back those threads and answered him with a core truth that underlaid the competing realities.

“I was happy,” I hesitated, searching for the right words, “raising Brianna with him. He was a very good father to her.”

For a millisecond, I observed an unfamiliar expression flash across his face. Actually, it had been the same expression I first saw Jamie convey when I asked him last night about his move to Edinburgh. I wouldn’t tell him this, but his revelations had accounted for all but a little over a year in the eighteen years we were apart, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what possibly had filled that small window of time in his life.

Both of us opened our mouths to speak — me, to give Jamie a more accurate bit of insight into my life with Frank; Jamie, seemingly hellbent on saying something — when the bells outside rang eight times.

Jamie immediately panicked upon hearing that final bell. “Christ, the print shop! I’m late, Sassenach, I have to go.” His naked body flew around the room, grabbing his clothing at lightning speed and speedily dressing for the day. “I have tae run, but I’ll see ye when I return.”

My heart sank at his sudden impending departure, but I managed a smile and nodded. “I’ll be right here.”

Jamie bent down and kissed me softly, turning my insides into liquid warmth. However, his eyes didn’t completely meet mine as he gave a hint of a nod towards me in return and headed out the door.

As I turned over onto my right side and pulled the covers over me, I grew sure of one thing: something was upsetting him. I simply hoped it wasn’t about me.

----------

January 1966

It had been a week since her mother had left for her journey back to the eighteenth century, and Brianna missed her more than she ever thought she could.

She knew it was the right decision to send her back to Jamie. Her mother had spent so much of her life with a core piece of her soul shelved away. Ever since Claire had told her about Jamie, she realized how much of their relationship during those first fifteen years of her life now made sense, now that she knew her mother had had to keep the biggest secret of her life from her.

Brianna's life and identity were thrown into chaos a few weeks after her fifteenth birthday. A friend of Claire's, Reverend Wakefield, had invited them to Scotland for a weeklong venture. His adopted son, Roger, was six years older than her and an aspiring historian. While her mother and the Reverend were holed up in the Reverend’s office, Brianna had became fast friends with Roger. They shared a similar fiery curiosity for their own academic interests, and neither of them grew tired of hearing the other’s observations on anything and everything. Roger wasn’t intimidated by Brianna's opinions, and Brianna found it incredibly refreshing to befriend a man who respected what she had to say.

They had only been in Scotland for a few days when, one evening, her mother brought her into the Reverend’s living room and sat down beside her on the navy plush couch. Brianna's eyes flickered to the stacks of paper gathered on the wooden coffee table. Claire had taken Brianna's hands into her own, and Brianna immediately knew something was up. Taking a shuddering breath, her mother began pouring out fifteen years’ worth of stories and observations that she had seemingly protected and collected over the years — thoughts that Brianna knew her mother had deeply wanted to tell her. Using the research conducted by her father — or, at least, the man Brianna had known as her father —, her mother had told Brianna the story of her life with Jamie Fraser, trying her best to create a paper trail for Brianna.

The numerous “Missing Person” fliers Frank had posted around Inverness shortly after her mother had apparently disappeared around Craigh Na Dun. The journal entries from Mrs. Graham, describing the mysterious happenings she and her fellow druids observed. The signatures from Jamie Fraser and Claire Beauchamp on their marriage contract. The records tracking the locations of a Jamie Fraser and a Jack Randall over the years. The Inverness newspaper clippings endlessly raving about Claire Randall's “mysterious” return over three years later. The clippings from the local Boston papers, announcing the birth of Brianna Ellen Randall, dated approximately seven months after her mother had returned to the present.

Brianna was paralyzed the entire time, inching closer by the minute to the point of both informational and emotional overload. Once Claire had reached a natural stopping point, Brianna acted on the need to leave the room. Making a beeline to the guest bedroom she was sharing with her mother, Brianna slammed the door and stifled her sobs into her chunky heather grey sweater, sliding down the wall until she was huddled on the floor.

Another two days would pass before Brianna felt capable of speaking to her mother.

She had needed the silence. Brianna knew, in hindsight, that it wasn’t fair to her mother. It wasn’t fair to anybody. But she needed to process what she had just heard. Her mother had traveled two hundred years back in time. She had married another man for her protection, and fell in love with him. They were her parents, and her father in the past had sent her back to her father in the present to protect her and her mother from the Battle of Culloden. And Frank Randall knew about all of this throughout the entire decade she had spent with him. He had never said a word, and he forbade her mother from saying anything to her as well. Brianna had tried to understand from the beginning of her mother's emotional release, but all she could feel was devastation and betrayal.

Brianna and Claire had spent the next two years living through the entire emotional spectrum. Months of grief, anger, confusion, despondence, mistrust — and there was nobody for Brianna to blame but her mother. Frank had been the one to lay out the conditions, and Claire had accepted them. There were days where she'd cry silently in her bedroom, unsure of what was even spurring on the tears — sadness for what Mama had to bear; anger that she had been raised under the false identity as Frank Randall’s daughter; a glimmer of guilt at her quicker-than-expected acceptance of her mother's story (she had never understood where her red hair came from, and now she had an answer ); and outright grief at the loss of the simple life she had lived for fifteen years.

However, even through those tumultuous months, Claire had never closed Brianna off from her. It was strange — though her mother had been always been caring, loving, and very involved in her life, it had always felt like she maintained a small and quietly buried side of herself she wanted nobody to know. A side she didn’t want to show Brianna or Frank. But now that Brianna knew what exactly that secret part of herself contained, she felt as if her mother could finally release herself from her self-imposed cage.

Brianna was finally beginning to truly know her mother.

Brianna's heart sank upon remembering that her mother had carried the burden of this revelation on her own. Brianna was struggling enough with it, and she at least had people who she could process this with — Claire, Roger, and Joe and Gail. Brianna and Claire had told Joe and Gail shortly after they had returned from Scotland, officially initiating them into their inner circle of trust. The relief was evident in her mother's voice; and Brianna noticed that no matter how hard she tried to suppress it, Claire's eyes glowed at any mention of Jamie’s name.

It was those observations that would eventually bring her and her mother to a late-night conversation at their dining room table, on New Year’s Day in 1966. During his visit to Boston for the Christmas holidays, Roger had brought along proof that Jamie Fraser was still alive. As her mother gripped the paper tightly in her hands for the first time, Brianna could immediately see the hope she had abandoned so many years ago, shining in her smile. Hope, love, and fear. Over the following week, Brianna carefully watched her mother process this new reality. Claire had internally wrestled with Brianna's own comments that encouraged her to at least consider going back to Jamie.

At seventeen years old, Brianna was getting ready to apply to college. She had come to an agreement with Joe and Gail (“agreement” seemed like too formal of a word, considering Gail’s bear-hug squeeze that immediately followed Brianna's ask to come live with them), and they wholeheartedly joined Brianna's own push to give her mother another chance at a life with Jamie Fraser. Yes, she wanted her mother around for the big moments she would experience in life — but Brianna knew she no longer needed her. 

It was at that dining room table that Brianna gave her Claire the final push to go. That night, with their hands tightly joined and tears running down both of their faces, she gave her the permission she desperately needed. Three weeks later, Brianna had stood at the window of their home and waved goodbye to her mother before turning around and sobbing into Roger’s arms.

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser was, and always would be, the most incredible woman Brianna had ever known. And for Jamie Fraser to have captivated her mother as deeply as he had, she knew he must be something special, too. Brianna had hoped that they would find each other, and that they were truly happy. But Brianna now understood why her mother had been hesitant to research Jamie at all, even years after Frank had died. Claire didn’t want to spend the years ahead of her chasing after a ghost. Brianna was certain that her mother had been dead for nearly two centuries at this point, and it was best for her to follow in her mother's footsteps and search no further beyond that conclusion.

Brianna knew she had done the right thing in sending her mother back. But this was an example of when doing the right thing hurt like absolute hell.

Chapter Text

TL/DR: Chapter 3 is almost ready. It’s not quite there, but I’m about 70% pleased with it. So, a preview is below in honor of World Outlander Day.

Thank you all who have liked, shared, given kudos, commented on, and/or read my story. Your support means the world to me, and frankly makes me feel like I’m doing an okay job at this for the first time! And I’ll still be around here plenty, reading and sharing fic and commenting on the talent in this fandom. <3 

Now, how about a preview??


The frigid January air nearly knocked the breath out of me as I flew through the door and sprinted towards the print shop. I cursed myself for running behind my daily schedule — but more importantly, for having to leave behind the pure bliss of sharing a bed with Claire again.

Claire was here . Claire came back to me. I had held her in my arms, explored every inch of her, and memorized the subtle changes of her body. The day I sent her back through the stones, I left behind any hope of seeing her again. Even though I physically felt the curves of her body pressed against me this morning, the shock and disbelief had not yet departed my mind.

My lungs overloaded from the combination of physical and mental exertion, I slowed into a walk and began processing the last twenty-four hours. What had started as a normal morning quickly transformed into an out-of-body experience that I still could not believe was mine to live. Claire was back, and she still wanted me. Or, at least, I hoped she still did.

As I turned onto Carfax Close, I spotted the familiar figure of a tall, lanky man with tight brown curls outside my shop’s entrance. Bundled up in a thick navy coat, he paced back and forth, fending off the same bitter wind that I had encountered on my walk here.

“Ah, Fergus, I’m so sorry I kept ye waiting,” I yelled while dashing up the stairway. “I lost track o’ time, and now I’m an hour behind! Yer help will be truly appreciated.”

Fergus’s relief upon hearing my voice was displayed on his face. “Oh! C’est rien . I figured you would be, um — preoccupied — after yesterday.”

Fergus had followed me to Edinburgh after I moved six months ago and spent most of his time participating in the active smuggling business in the city. I hated the idea of him investing so many hours engaging in a dangerous activity, so I brought him on board to help me run the print shop a few days a week. He would come in three times a week for a few hours to help organize the materials, which not only provided me with necessary help, but it also allowed me to check in on him without being too overbearing.

He had stopped by the print shop not long after Claire found me. Claire embraced Fergus in a motherly squeeze, and their reunion was the first visible and bittersweet reminder to me of exactly how much time had passed during our separation. The last time we’d all been together, the top of Fergus’s mane of curly hair barely passed Claire’s shoulders; now, Claire had to stand on the tips of her toes to maintain her solid grasp on Fergus, who had shot up to well over six feet.

I could feel the heat creeping up my neck in response to Fergus’s remark, my eyes darting to the floor as I fumbled for the keys in my coat. “Aye, ah, we still have quite a bit to catch up on wi’ each other.” As I unlocked the door, I could hear Fergus’s quiet chuckling, followed by a typical quip: “I meant that you and Milady would have quite a lot to discuss , but it sounds as though I was only half-right.” I gently whacked him on the back of his head as I followed him into the shop, though I couldn’t resist the smile inspired by flashbacks of last night. The imprint of Claire against my chest remained with me as Fergus and I trotted downstairs and began preparing the inks and papers. He slowly approached me as I laid out the first print impression for the day, carefully aligning the galley within the frame.

 

Chapter Text

The frigid January air nearly knocked the breath out of Jamie as he flew through the door and sprinted towards the print shop. He cursed himself for running behind his daily schedule — but more importantly, for having to leave behind the pure bliss of sharing a bed with Claire again.

Claire was here . She had come back to him. He had held her in his arms, explored every inch of her, and memorized the subtle changes of her body over the past day. When Jamie had sent her back through the stones, he had left behind any hope of seeing her again. Even though he had physically felt the curves of Claire’s body pressed against him this morning, the shock and disbelief of her sudden appearance had not yet departed his mind.

His lungs overloaded from the combination of physical and mental exertion, he slowed into a walk and began processing the last twenty-four hours. What had started as a normal morning quickly transformed into an out-of-body experience that he still could not believe was his to live. His wife was back, and she still wanted him. Or, at least, he hoped she still did.

As he turned onto Carfax Close, he spotted the familiar figure of a tall, lanky man with tight brown curls outside his shop’s entrance. Bundled up in a thick navy coat, he was pacing back and forth, fending off the same bitter wind that Jamie had encountered on his walk here.

“Ah, Fergus, I’m so sorry I kept ye waiting,” Jamie yelled while dashing up the stairway. “I lost track o’ time, and now I’m an hour behind."

Fergus’s relief upon hearing his voice was displayed on his face. “Oh! C’est rien . I figured you would be, um — preoccupied — after yesterday.”

Fergus had followed Jamie to Edinburgh after he had moved here six months ago, and the lad spent most of his time participating in the active smuggling business in the city. Jamie hated the idea of Fergus wasting his life engaging in a dangerous activity (fully aware of the irony of that concern towards the man who was like his son), so he had brought Fergus on board to help him run the print shop a few days a week. The company not only provided Jamie with necessary help, but also allowed him to check in on Fergus without being too overbearing.

Fergus had stopped by the print shop not long after Claire had found Jamie, and she embraced Fergus in a motherly squeeze. For Jamie, their reunion was the first visible and bittersweet reminder of exactly how much time had passed during their separation. The last time the three of them had been together, the top of Fergus’s mane of curly hair had barely passed Claire’s shoulders; now, Claire had to stand on the tips of her toes to maintain her solid grasp on Fergus, who had shot up to well over six feet.

Jamie could feel the heat creeping up his neck in response to Fergus’s remark, his eyes darting to the floor as he fumbled for the keys in his coat.

“Aye, ah, we still have quite a bit to catch up on wi’ each other.”

As Jamie unlocked the door, he could hear Fergus’s muted chuckling, followed by a typical quip: “I meant that you and Milady would have quite a lot to discuss , but it sounds as though I was only half-right.”

Jamie gently whacked Fergus on the back of his head as they entered the shop, though he couldn’t resist the smile inspired by flashbacks of last night. The imprint of Claire remained on his chest as he and Fergus trotted downstairs and began preparing the inks and papers. Fergus carefully approached Jamie as he laid out the first print impression for the day, carefully aligning the galley within the frame.

"Milord?”

“Fergus?”

“You told me that Milady was pregnant when she returned to her own time.”

“Aye, she was.” One night, when Fergus had visited Jamie in the cave, Jamie had told him the complete truth about Claire. In hindsight, Jamie knew it was the fear of gradually forgetting the details of Claire’s journey that had motivated his rather reckless decision to tell the young man at the time. Fergus had became Jamie's recordkeeper of Claire's life, patiently listening to the stories he told of his life with her. Besides Murtagh, Fergus was the only person in Jamie's time who knew how special Claire was.

“And how is the child?”

Jamie placed the frame down and turned to Fergus, his eyes glimmering with tears for what felt like the thousandth time in the past day.

“She’s so braw, mon fils. Claire and I have a daughter. Her name is Brianna.”

Jamie's chest tightened at the realization that Claire had kept her promise to him, her daughter’s name rooted in his father’s.

“She is seventeen years old.” Old enough for marriage , he reflected, “and she wants to go to university and study history.”

Jamie could not hide the immense pride he carried as he continued telling Fergus all he knew about their daughter. “She loves spending time outdoors. She has red hair and blue eyes, just like mine. And she was the one who encouraged Claire to come back to me.”

Fergus smiled fondly at Jamie in return, reaching his arm behind him and patting Jamie's left shoulder twice. “It is so wonderful that you finally know about her. You and Milady deserve a chance at happiness together, and I am so glad for you two.”

Jamie grabbed Fergus and hugged him tightly. The past day had stripped him emotionally bare, and Jamie could not help but remember the years when the young lad was one of his only companions, keeping him company through the loneliest moments of his life.

Taking a step back, Fergus’s expression grew concerned. “So...how did Milady take the news?”

“What news?” Jamie asked, puzzled at Fergus’s unease.

“Well, Laoghaire? Since, I suppose, you two are still technically married?”

What had taken form as an ever-present warmth in his chest, spurred on by Claire’s presence, quickly turned into a violent punch in the gut. Laoghaire. The single piece of the past eighteen years that Jamie had not yet shared with Claire — the piece that oversaw a failed attempt at a marriage between two people who did not love one another. A marriage that both he and Laoghaire had ventured into for their own selfish reasons, leaving them both even more wounded at the end.

Near the end of Jamie's six years of conditional release at Lallybroch, Jenny had made it her mission to find a purpose for him. The six years he had spent with Jenny, Ian, and their children at Lallybroch consisted of so many joyous moments — birthdays, marriages, new bairns, and other celebrations of life. But each moment had also deepened the well of grief he carried. He had thought of Claire and their child at every gathering, wanting nothing more than to live in a world where he and Claire could revel in their own moments of celebration as a family of three — hearing his son or daughter say their first word, watching them take their first steps, leading them on their first fishing and hunting trips, and teaching them the ways of life. Jenny knew he had desperately yearned for a family of his own, despite having done everything possible to permanently shut the door on that option once he had sent Claire back.

Jenny decided to take action. At Hogmanay during his final year at Lallybroch, Laoghaire came to the celebrations — at Jenny’s request  — with her two young daughters, Marsali and Joanie, eleven and seven. He had not seen her in over fifteen years, and the two of them talked throughout the evening. The last time Jamie had encountered Laoghaire, she was an immature lass who nursed a childish and jealous vendetta against Claire. But as they continued chatting that evening, he discovered that time had not been kind to her either. Jamie knew he could never reciprocate the love Laoghaire carried for him, so she had lived through two marriages, becoming a widow twice over. And a month later, he and Laoghaire were wed in a small ceremony.

Jamie never liked talking about the time he had spent with her. They had both wanted things that neither of them could give the other. Laoghaire needed a man who truly loved her; he had wanted a family — with Claire. It felt good to be needed for the first time in years, as both a father figure and a husband, but the facade had only lasted a few months. They quickly realized that no amount of effort could make it work, and he moved out of her home six months after they were married.

“I havena told her yet,” Jamie admitted, his eyes fixated on Fergus's while his voice dropped several decibels — a failed attempt to make his clear deception less obvious.

Fergus’s eyes widened at the revelation, a key trait of the glass face he and Claire both possessed.

“Why not tell her?”

“I— I’m so ashamed,” Jamie muttered softly while leaning back against the printing press. “Laoghaire was never kind to Claire. She was a brat during our time at Castle Leoch, goin’ so far as to put an ill wish under our bed. Marrying her had always felt like I betrayed Claire.”

“Maybe Milady would understand, though? You truly believed you would never see her again in this lifetime.”

“Fergus.” Jamie's voice wavered under the crushing weight of anxiety. “I canna lose her again. I will do anythin’ tae keep her wi’ me. Now that she’s here, I—” He gripped the press on either side with both hands, transferring the nervous energy coursing through his veins. “I know I canna survive losing her again. I canna let her believe I so easily moved on.”

Fergus moved closer and stood directly in front of Jamie, no more than a foot of distance between them.

“You should tell her about Laoghaire, Milord. You cannot keep this from her forever, even if you and Laoghaire did end things peacefully. Secrets, but not lies, remember?”

Using his own words against him. Fergus had him there. “Aye, ye’re right. But how do I explain this to her?”

“By being honest with her. You thought you could make a decent life for yourself by joining another family, and it did not work. Did you not send Milady and Brianna back to Frank for their own protection and happiness?”

“That was different,” Jamie uttered faintly. The feeling of another unforgiving punch in the gut took the wind out of his lungs, but it was not caused by a sense of guilt this time; at least, not entirely. He did not know how to navigate the current wave of emotions flooding his senses, but there was one thing he knew for certain.

Jamie Fraser was irrationally and completely jealous of Frank Randall.

---------------

The jealousy had taken hold the day Claire told him of her former husband's existence — the moment when, two decades ago, she’d explained she was from the future and that someone she loved was waiting for her. When Claire chose to stay with him, Frank Randall became nothing more than a faceless name in the back of Jamie's mind. But once he sent Claire back, Frank's presence re-emerged with a persistent force that strengthened in intensity over the years. The part of himself Jamie wanted to believe in had hoped that Frank took Claire back, but the thought of everything that would come afterwards racked his body with surges of nausea and anger: Frank waking up with his Sassenach every morning, after taking her to their bed the night before; Frank calling Claire his wife; Frank claiming his and Claire's child as his own; Frank being the lucky bastard to spend the rest of his life with the two people Jamie loved more than anything in this world. The visions of their life together kept Jamie company, an unwelcome visitor who always found him in his lowest moments.

Jamie knew that Claire had noticed his body tense as soon as she mentioned Frank this morning. The pride and love he had felt while looking at the pictures of Brianna were matched only by the sadness and envy brewing in a corner of his heart that he was too ashamed to recognize. Claire’s hesitation in her answers to his questions about Frank only heightened his own awareness of that devilish duo of emotions.

Claire did not deserve any of this. She had done nothing wrong. He was the one who made her promise to return to her time, and he had forced her to keep her word. She was the only person he could talk to about anything, but what could he say to her about this?

Lost in the haze of his chaotic thoughts, it took Fergus physically shaking Jamie's shoulders to pull him back to reality. “Milord, are you all right? What is it?”

Jamie's body jolted in response and he found himself staring into Fergus's worried eyes.

“Nothing.” Jamie smiled halfheartedly. “All is well, only a wee bit tired.”

Fergus’s expression suggested that he did not believe his response, but he decided not to push. “What is your plan for the Laoghaire situation, then? Milady’s return means that you are no longer married to her, non?”

Upon hearing Fergus's question, Jamie buried his own emotions back underground for now, shifting his focus to the tasks at hand.

“Fergus, I need ye to find Ned Gowan for me. He should be at his office a few blocks away. Please have him come see me at the print shop whenever he can. I want a legal end to the marriage to Laoghaire, and I want to do it wi’ as little trouble for her and her girls as possible.”

Fergus squeezed his shoulder and nodded in understanding. “Aye, I can do that.”

Fergus grabbed his coat before jogging up the stairs and out the door, leaving Jamie with his warring thoughts. Alone for the first time in a full day, Jamie exhaled deeply, pulled out his glasses, placed them carefully on his nose, and finalized the first of many prints.

----------

Jamie worked at a speedier rate than normal, thanks to Fergus’s assistance and to taking no breaks until the advertisements and essays were ready for pickup. Four hours later, he bolted home, desperate to return to Claire. Once he entered the toasty interior of the House of Joy and began shedding his coat, his heart beat faster at what he witnessed before him.

Claire was sitting on one of the dark oak roundtables at the center of the living room, her slate blue skirt hiding her dangling feet and the shape of her white cotton shirt shifting with the movement of her hands. She was surrounded by six of Madame Jeanne’s girls, all seemingly mesmerized by Claire’s captivating discussion (not to mention her gorgeous whisky eyes and dark curls, traits of hers that had enchanted him from the moment they met ). He had lost track of time, completely devoted to watching his wife in action, when one of the girls spoke up.

“Wait, Mrs. Fraser,” said a petite brunette woman who sat next to Claire’s left knee, “ye’re tellin’ us tha’ there’s no good way to prevent a bairn?”

“Well, the teas and sponges that many of you say you use wouldn’t necessarily increase your chances of getting pregnant, but they’re not guaranteed preventions. Mugwort brewed in tea can be very effective, but again, it’s unfortunately not a guarantee.”

“See, ye numpty? Do ye get it now, Mollie?” One of the other mistresses, clearly exasperated by the brunette’s question, turned towards her while crossing her arms. “We can do everythin’ right and follow the ol’ wives tales, but tis no’ enough.”

“Ye dinna ken that!” Mollie retorted, her voice squeaking in frustration. “Why do ye get off on always making yerself look smarter than the rest of us, tis so—”

“There are ways to keep yourself safe,” Claire interjected, placing her hand on Mollie’s right shoulder. “I’m more than happy to explain these methods to you all. Many of them are easy to do every day, and they can help keep you child-free.”

“One of the girls here had a customer a few weeks ago who said somethin’ rather strange,” said another woman sitting to Claire’s right. “He told her that if the man pulls away from the woman before he, ye ken, finishes, she would never have te worry about a bairn.”

“So,” Claire responded, “there’s a name that we have in the medical field for couples who rely on that to prevent having children.”

“And what is it?” Mollie shyly asked.

A hint of a smile emerged on his Claire's bonny glass face, her quivering mouth suppressing the urge to break her serious expression. “We call them parents.”

Gasps, followed by a small chorus of laughter, echoed throughout the main living room, and he snuck a peek at Claire. She looked proud of herself for the wee joke, and he could not help but join the chorus with a chuckle. Claire's golden eyes traced the room until they locked with his. He had never wished for amenities from the future as much as he did in that moment, because he wanted nothing more than to capture a photograph of the radiant and giddy smile Claire now wore upon seeing him.

“Ladies, I have to run, but you can ask me any questions that you may have in the future,” she concluded as she jumped off the table and strode towards him, never taking her eyes off his.

“Hello there.” Claire’s smile, combined with the endearing tone she had greeted him with, made him want to tell societal customs to go hang by ravishing her right then and there.

“Hello yerself, Sassenach,” Jamie responded, heat pooling in his stomach. “Ye had quite the audience just now. People love listenin’ tae ye, a nighean , as do I.”

Claire’s blush instantly filled her cheeks and drew attention to the glow in her eyes. She turned slightly backwards to glance at where the ladies, now dispersed, had gathered around her. Circling back to him, she could not disguise the well-deserved pride on her face. “I wasn’t sure what to do while you were gone, so I came downstairs and started chatting with some of the women while eating breakfast. They discovered that I was your wife and a doctor, and while some were quite devastated about my first revelation,” a mischievous smirk crossing her face, “they began asking me all sorts of questions about certain ailments and remedies. And two hours later, here we are.”

Jamie grabbed Claire’s right hand and pressed it to his mouth, overwhelmed with a benign form of possessiveness.

"Ye're really here."

Her blush deepened, but she never broke from his gaze.

"I am."

Their right hands still entwined between them, Jamie's fingers made his way through the curls at the nape of her neck and pulled her towards him for a kiss. Jamie had intended to consider their surroundings and therefore conclude the kiss in a chaste manner; but as Claire's hand pressed against the small of his back, all he wanted was to continue reacquaint himself with every inch of her body — beginning with each nuance in the way her mouth moved as they kissed.

A rowdy yell of approval from an observer burst the bubble their kiss had formed, resulting in Claire bursting into an amused giggle as she leaned against his chest.

"Let's go upstairs," she whispered. 

----------

Later that evening, Jamie and Claire were lounging on the couch, their limbs entwined, as they enjoyed whisky in front of the fire. Ever since Jamie had watched her lively interactions with the women earlier, he could not stop thinking of a certain question he wanted to ask her. However, he knew that question would lead to another, and each inquiry would bring him further out on a potentially shaky limb.

Claire had only been here for a little over twenty-four hours, but he could no longer hold it in.

“Sassenach?”

Her head turned up towards him, and she shifted her body into a more comfortable stance.

“Can I ask ye a question?”

“Of course,” she answered reassuringly, taking his free hand into hers.

“I canna help but think about how happy ye looked today, talking with the women about all of the medical things tha' ye ken. Ye get the same look on yer face that ye have when we’re together. Would ye—” he swallowed, grateful his grip on the whisky glass and Claire's hand could hide the nervous tremor in his own hands.

“Would ye like tae work as a healer? Here? I ken how soon it is, and I dinna want to pressure ye. I just want ye to no' be afraid tae pursue what ye love."

The relief on her face calmed Jamie's rapid heartbeat, the glow of her answering smile reaching her eyes.

“I love being a healer. I know that you work long hours as a printer, so I could help bring in money as a healer, and we could—”

“Find a home of our own?” Jamie had excitedly interrupted her, feeling both a rising tide of hope and a swift kick from embarrassment at the possibility of putting too much on Claire's mind. Panicking, he reeled back his statement. “Ah, I mean, we can talk about that later if ye decide to stay here. Ye just got back, and I ken we have a lot to talk about. I just thought, we shouldna stay in this room forever—”

“Jamie.” Claire squeezed his hand and leaned in, placing her forehead against his. “Do you really think I came all this way to make love to you once, and then leave?”

“Well,” he chuckled quietly, “technically, it’s been more than once.”

Claire smacked him in the arm and Jamie could not resist laughing as they parted. Amidst the battling emotions he had navigated today, it felt wonderful to simply collapse into giggles with her. Once they had calmed themselves down, Claire sighed and softly cleared her throat.

“For so long,” Claire began, “I dreamt of having a home with you. Of building a life together. Brianna sent me back to you so we could do just that.” Tears filled her eyes, and Claire’s breathing shuddered before continuing. “I want to cherish the everyday moments with you. Neither of us thought we’d ever have that chance with each other again.”

“So, yes.” Claire wrapped her arms around his neck and scooted sideways into his lap. “I want you to work at the print shop while I work as a healer. I want us to have a space of our own; maybe even have a small house one day, with a cat and a porch and a garden. I want our place to be filled with things we create and discover together. You are my home, Jamie Fraser, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Jamie pulled her against his chest as tears welled in his eyes. He knew that they still had things to discuss with each other. The shadows of Frank and Laoghaire threatened to steal the light he currently held in his arms.

For now, though, he surrendered those worries to the night and focused on his heart having finally returned to him.

Chapter Text

February 1764

The week since Jamie and I had reunited was nothing short of thrilling. Reacquainting ourselves with the lines and curves of one another, a faint yet consistent drum of relief beat in my chest that every touch and kiss still felt like us. Though nearly two decades of separation proved to be no match for the metaphysical connection our bodies shared, I discovered it was more challenging for me to release the long-held emotional burdens I’d carried alone; I sensed that same hesitation in Jamie as well. Despite our hours spent together, side-by-side in the bed we shared, our conversations implicitly recognized a line of demarcation that neither of us were willing to cross. It was a boundary that I feared upon breaching would rudely awaken us from the blissful dream we were relishing in together.

In vulnerable moments, I worried that we’d never be able to remove that barrier and return to the place where we knew every inch of one another’s fears and desires. But my mind quickly squashed those encroaching doubts, reminding myself that Jamie and I had forged through eighteen years of separation, and we simply needed more time — time that we’d cherish as a settled couple. From the moment Jamie asked me about finding a home of our own and exploring my career possibilities in Edinburgh, both questions took hold in my thoughts. What I didn’t expect, however, was that we’d discover the answers throughout the course of a lucky and seemingly divine interaction. 

The two of us had comfortably fallen into the beginnings of a daily routine. Jamie would venture to the print shop shortly after sunrise, and I would spend my day researching Edinburgh and the general landscape of the medical field in this time period. I’d stop by Jamie’s shop every afternoon near the end of his shift, and we’d spend the remaining hour or two before sundown exploring the city we had decided to call home, our hands always entwined and noses turning red from the blustery cold. 

One afternoon, with the wintry air chilling our bones in seconds, Jamie and I sought refuge in the encompassing warmth of our local apothecary shop. My heart nearly leapt out as I took in the hundreds of medicines, oils, and herbs that lined the shelves on each wall. Amidst our wandering through the shop, Jamie and I met the owner. Dr. John Morgan had studied medicine at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and he later opened up his apothecary shop on High Street. Over the course of a decade, his business had grown substantially, serving as the most visited apothecary in Edinburgh. 

“I’ve been blessed by God with this business’s success,” Dr. Morgan stated as he took off his clouded spectacles and cleaned them against his shirt, “but between seeing patients, prescribing medicines, and running the shop itself, I’m here nearly fourteen hours a day with almost no time for family.” He sighed deeply as he placed his glasses back on. “I’ve been looking for another healer to possibly bring on for help, but I’ve had no luck.” My eyes locked with Jamie’s, and for a moment, I was grateful that time hadn’t eroded our ability to wordlessly communicate with one another. 

Several hours and two rounds of celebratory whiskies later, Jamie and I were floating on clouds as we meandered back towards the House of Joy, giddy beyond measure. Dr. Morgan, impressed with my medical background and unconcerned by the possibly taboo notion of women practicing medicine, invited me to work for his apothecary shop as a physician. The pay was more than enough, and I would have my own space to serve patients, consisting of two examination tables and a tall wooden cabinet with all of the medical supplies I could possibly need (at least, the supplies that existed in this century). Jamie and I were already willing to accept the offer when Dr. Morgan threw in another benefit that, unknowingly to him, proved to us that only fate could have made this encounter possible.

The second floor of the apothecary shop served as a two-bedroom living space, which had remained occupied until a few months ago. The flat consisted of a generous living room to the left; a makeshift kitchen area and dining table to the right; a cozy yet comfortable room in the back, with a fireplace and an intricately patterned four-post bed; and additional space that could serve any purpose we desired. The apartment featured at least one window in each room, immersing the area in natural light. In terms of practicality, we were only a ten-minute stroll from Jamie’s shop, and I doubted that the location, space, and rent could be bested. 

“Ye look at home, a nighean.” I turned to see Jamie leaning against the open doorway that led into what would likely become our bedroom, a mix of pride and hope shining in his eyes. “Ye have that expression ye get when ye’re dreamin’ and plannin’.” He approached me from behind and wrapped his arms around my waist, placing his chin above my left ear.

“I was just thinking,” I started, confirming his observation, “about how this would be a first for us.”

I felt Jamie’s smile against my mane of curls, a drawn-out sigh of satisfaction in response. “Aye, I didna even realize that until ye said it now. We’ve laid our heads at Leoch, Lallybroch, my cousin’s place in Paris, abandoned cottages, fields of heather, and now a well-frequented brothel. But this . . .” Our bodies swayed in unison, cherishing this rare moment of domesticity that neither of us thought we’d ever experience together again. “This will be our home to make, and that,” he nodded his head towards the bed in front of us and turned to whisper in my ear, “will be where I worship yer body at any and all hours of the day.” He kissed his way down my neck and stroked his hands along my sides, and I momentarily forgot that Dr. Morgan was waiting for us to finish our tour of the apartment. I unenthusiastically tried to force out a plea for him to stop, but a delighted moan was all I could muster. Pleased with himself, Jamie’s laughter vibrated against my collarbones and he paused his wandering mouth and hands, returning his arms around my waist and holding me securely. 

“Jamie,” I whispered while pressing the back of my head against his chest. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy.”

“Nor me, Sassenach,” he responded, his voice unusually heavy, and lightly kissed my left cheek. A few beats of silence passed, the two of us resting in our mutual assurances.

“But it’s no’ just the bedding, ye ken?” he continued, surprising me with his additional insight. I turned around to look at him straight-on, gems of sapphire gazing softly upon me.

“No,” I said, this time wrapping my arms around his neck. “It isn’t.”

Jamie’s upper lip curled up, his eyes momentarily shooting downwards before returning to me. “To have ye with me again — to talk with ye, and to ken I hold yer heart in my hands — Christ, mo ghraidh, ” he said. “Ye ken I canna keep my hands from ye for long,” Jamie tossing me a wry look, “but all I need is the pleasure of havin’ ye by my side, telling ye my heart.” 

I placed my lips against his, pouring into our kiss the words I desperately wanted to say to him but couldn’t formulate.

“So,” I noted breathlessly as we broke apart. “Are we doing this? Would this,” I gestured towards our surroundings, “be too much for you?”

A childlike grin broke free across Jamie’s face. “I appreciate yer concern, Sassenach, but our life together has been nothin’ if not an adventure. And to see ye light up like ye did downstairs is more than I need to know this is right for us.” 

Jamie took my hands from behind his neck and cradled them gently. “I love you, a nighean donn. I have loved ye from the moment I saw ye.” He kissed my left hand. “I will love ye ’til time itself is done.” He kissed the silver ring on my right hand. “And so long as you are by my side, I am well pleased wi’ the world.”

----------

The buzz of excitement continued the following day, though the emotions manifested themselves quite differently. My body briefly experienced a moment of deja vu as I dressed myself that morning; although Jamie and I had already reunited, this upcoming gathering carried its own meaningful weight. Jenny and Ian were on their way to Edinburgh from Lallybroch — a day’s worth of travel, round-trip — to bring a chest of clothing that I’d worn in Scotland and France nearly two decades ago. I was grateful for their helpfulness, as I only had my outfit I traveled in to find Jamie and a couple of borrowed ensembles from Madame Jeanne. However, the adrenaline coursing through my veins threatened to crush my lungs at the mere thought of seeing them again.

Jamie had informed Jenny and Ian of my reappearance (described through our agreed-upon altered reality) and asked them to bring my clothing, since they were the ones who had a proper horse and wagon. They would arrive sometime today, and I found myself pacing our bedroom at the House of Joy, seeking any form of distraction until I stopped by the shop that afternoon. The deja vu continued to wrack my body as I followed a similar route I’d traveled merely a week ago. The faint sense of dread only accelerated my already quick pace, and before I could recognize my surroundings, I was opening the door to Jamie’s print shop and strolling inside. 

Less than ten feet from the entrance stood Jenny, Ian, and Jamie, each occupying a side of the rectangular table. Based on Jenny’s hunched posture, her palms splayed on the table, and Ian and Jamie’s matching cross-armed stances, I quickly realized I had interrupted some form of tense conversation. The silence grew thick as my gaze flitted between Jenny and Ian’s faces, their unusually pale complexions and bugged-out eyes giving off the impression that they had encountered a literal ghost, which wasn’t exactly incorrect in these circumstances. 

“Sassenach, ye’re here.” Jamie’s kind yet nervous voice broke through the haze as he walked towards me, grabbed my hand, and brought me closer. I swallowed the knot threatening to cut off my vocal cords, overwhelmed by the flood of memories coursing through me as I studied Jenny and Ian. Their physical features were worn from the natural effects of age and time, similar to mine and Jamie’s. Both were frozen in shock, so I decided to follow Jamie’s lead. Casting a quick glance at Jamie, his twitch of a nod encouraging me, I stepped forward and donned a full-watted smile.

“Hello,” I greeted them softly, not wanting to further spook them. “It’s—” I looked down at my fidgeting hands, trying my hardest to compose myself as my face turned back upward, “it’s so good to see you both again.” 

“Claire?” Ian spoke first, waves of recognition and shock battling in his expression as he slowly traveled towards me, his limp having grown more prominent over the years. “Is it you, lass?” I flew directly into his arms and embraced him tightly, tears welling as I felt his own arms encircle my back. Once we broke our embrace, Ian cast a once-over, as if he outright refused to believe I was standing in front of him. 

“When Jamie wrote to us and told us that ye were still alive, ye could ha’ knocked me over wi’ a feather.” My head whipped around at the sound of Jenny’s voice, her now-crossed arms serving as a tentative barrier to any possible display of affection between us, though a faint glaze of tears underlined her stare. “And now here ye are, right in front of our very eyes.” 

“Jenny.” My voice wavered as I greeted her, an unexpected well of fondness taking root in my chest. Jenny had been the nearest thing I ever had to a sister, and by far the closest female friend in my life. We had developed a special bond, one that I knew my disappearance severely threatened. More than any of that, though, was the knowledge that of all the people in the world, Jenny was the one who might love Jamie Fraser as much as I did.

We cherished that common bond; but in Jenny’s eyes, I was the one who’d left Jamie broken. Her love for him was now her most effective weapon against me. 

“Where’ve ye been?” She placed her hands on her hips, the suspicion laced through her tone. “Ye come back after eighteen years, all of us livin’ for nearly two decades under the belief that ye had died, and we’re supposed to act as if none of it happened?”

I felt Ian’s hand gently press my right shoulder, and I met his confused gaze. “Forgive us, we’re just a wee bit stunned. We grieved over ye for years, Claire.”

“I know,” I acknowledged remorsefully, grabbing Ian’s hand and squeezing it. “I sailed to America shortly after Culloden, and I thought Jamie was dead. I didn’t even know until this past year that he had survived.”

“And ye didna even think to write to us, yer family?” Jenny questioned. Her voice reflected anger, but I could see the hurt flashing in her expression. 

“We told ye,” Jamie interjected, wrapping his arm around my shoulders, his protective instincts flaring. “In the letter I sent ye, I explained where Claire was and why she couldna—”

“Aye, a brathair , I ken what the letter said,” she interrupted, mirroring Jamie’s snappiness. Had this encounter not been occurring amidst my interrogation, I would’ve laughed at how time really doesn’t change certain things. “Ian and I read it over and over, but we still couldna believe it.”

Jenny moved from behind the table, her stare remaining fixed on me. “The Claire I ken would never ha’ stopped looking for my brother. Do ye remember sittin’ wi’ me, outside on the steps at Lallybroch, waitin’ for our husbands to come home? Was it not you and I who fought Redcoats and risked our necks to find Jamie? Where is that Claire? Because the woman in front of me isna—” 

Janet, that’s enough.” 

Jamie’s sudden outburst halted her physical approach, his own forward steps placing his body slightly in front of mine. “I already told ye — I was the one who forced Claire to leave. I made her promise tae flee for her own safety. Now, you both should start yer journey back home before it gets dark. Fergus has yer horse and wagon ready outside.”

Jenny’s eyes had radiated outrage towards Jamie, but cooled over time as she continued. “Aye. Well, it’s clear as day that ye two arena bein’ honest wi' us. And we ken what happens when certain secrets are left untold, especially if ye think ye can handle them yerself.” Her unwavering focus on Jamie during that last sentence, spoken as if it were a warning, spiked my heart rate as I wondered to what she was referring. As Ian and Jenny headed towards the door, she turned around once more.

“Tis a wonderful thing to see ye well, Claire. But I canna lie to ye and say that the years witnessin’ Jamie’s grief havena caused anger in my heart towards ye. I need time, and I need honesty. From ye both.”

“I understand, Jenny,” I answered, my shaky tone undermining my response. “Jamie and I will come visit you all very soon.”

She nodded in acknowledgement and Ian cast a sympathetic half-smile in our direction as he pulled the door open, the two of them leaving silently. 

I glanced over to Jamie, his face reflecting the exhaustion that was now overwhelming my senses. He wordlessly placed his hand in mine and gently pulled me towards him. I settled my head against his right shoulder, and our physical touch emanated the calm we desperately needed, our steadying heartbeats anchoring us.

February 1967

A year after Claire's return to the past, the grief Brianna carried from her mother's absence still hit her at the most unexpected times. Today was one of those moments.

Brianna was two months into her second semester of her freshman year at Harvard University. Despite her current emotional conflict with the legacy of her father (well, the father who raised her) — a legacy that she was still processing — Brianna had chosen his area of study and was majoring in history. She enjoyed her classes and found herself looking forward to the free hours in her days, when she could escape to the library and hide in her favorite cubicle, surrounded by books. Her friends kept her grounded, remaining completely unaware of her fantastical familial background and instead bringing her along to fun mixers and late-night outings. Brianna was also grateful to count Roger as a friend who did know her secret, the two of them calling each other every couple of weeks, updating one another on their lives and the trivial matters on their minds. 

It was why Brianna had decided to called him this afternoon, crying over an innocent comment her friend Lizzie had made about her mother being “insufferable” with her “constant” visits and “embarrassing” need to befriend all of Lizzie’s friends. What served as a halfhearted remark from her friend had been a seemingly targeted, painful reminder of what Brianna had lost. Roger knew how much Brianna missed her mother, and he was always willing to listen. At the end of her long-winded rant, she heard Roger clear his throat, and she knew he was going to drop the same offer he sometimes added at the end of their calls.

“Brianna,” Roger started, his voice light yet unwavering. “I ken we've talked about yer parents before, but there’s something else now. My father has several unopened boxes of research in his office that have your parents’ names on them.” He began talking faster, and Brianna knew he wanted to get the suggestion completely out in the open before she could cut him off.

“I saw them when I visited the manse over the holidays this year. They're rather heavy, but he and I canna imagine what else they contain besides books and other papers. I can take a look into them if ye’d like me to. Knowing how yer mother and Jamie fared might help bring some closure for ye.”

She remained uncharacteristically silent, mentally digesting what he’d proposed. His past offers were meaningful but also safely vague, requiring him to perform the research on his own, making her inevitable refusal more acceptable. But now, the research may have essentially fallen into his lap. Her parents’ lives now likely sat in boxes in Inverness.

Did I want to know?

Taking a deep breath, she gripped the phone handle tightly and answered.

“I can’t.” She swallowed down the rising tide of encouragement from her heart that wanted to bellow the opposite, playing with the phone cord in between her fingers as a necessary distraction. “I can’t spend my time in the past. I promised Mama I wouldn’t. I envision them living a calm and happy life together. What if the information you find shows something terrible? I don’t think I could handle that.” 

“I understand,” Roger answered reassuringly, “ye ken I won’t push this on you anymore. We just wanted to let you know your options.” 

She nodded, knowing it was pointless since he wouldn’t see it over the phone.

“I know. Thank you, Roger. But I don’t think I want any more information about my mother, or about Jamie. My own ending for them is enough for me.”

He chuckled on the other end, in a humorous and amused fashion.

“With your curious mind? Those are some famous last words, Randall.”

Chapter Text

Jamie held Claire closely, realizing that it was one of the rare occurrences since she had returned where the two of them were both standing still, floating in calm waters. The irony of this moment happening on the heels of his sister unleashing years of grief and anger on them was not lost on Jamie, but he remained grateful for the peace. Claire's arms unraveled around him as she moved a few steps back. Leaning against the table, a disappointed look appeared on her face.

“That wasn’t exactly a happy family reunion,” Claire remarked, a rueful smile forming at the corners of her mouth.

“No, it wasna,” Jamie agreed, positioning himself next to her. “But I canna blame her, at least not for what she said to me.”

“She’s right, though. About both of us.” As she turned to him, Jamie caught a flash of pain in her eyes, riddled with guilt. “We’re lying to them. Jenny and Ian know us too well to believe the story we’re telling about my disappearance.” 

Jamie hummed in agreement, unable to ignore the sudden pang in his core at her comment. They were both guilty of lying to Jenny and Ian about Claire’s reappearance, but a week had gone by and he hadn’t mustered the courage to tell Claire about Laoghaire. Similar to Fergus’s approach, one of Ian’s first questions to Jamie upon their arrival that afternoon was how Claire handled the news. When Jamie informed them that, no, Claire did not know, and he was planning on legally ending things with Laoghaire through Ned before telling her, neither Jenny nor Ian encountered any problem letting him know exactly how selfishly he was acting.

Claire’s entrance into the print shop was a much-welcomed interruption to the ongoing standoff with those two. Between Ian’s understanding yet cautionary approach (“Brother, that’s not somethin’ ye’ll want tae keep from her for long”) and Jenny’s more confrontational questioning (“Ye’re tellin’ me she’s come back to ye after all these years, and ye didna feel the need tae tell her ye were wed?! Ye mindless clot heid…), Jamie was exhausted. But he knew they were right. His marriage to Laoghaire was an emotional restraint in his reconciliation with Claire, and he was terrified she would leave him immediately upon finding out. 

He knew that he wasn’t strong enough to lose her again. 

Jamie had vowed to God to do anything he could to make Claire happy and assure her that she belonged here with him. He initially believed that his unspoken oath included telling Claire about his time with Laoghaire after he resolved things through Ned, making sure that no loose ties remained; but his decision had led only to more deception. Each day brought more clarity in a future with Claire, but the lie Jamie was keeping had come with the burden of an increasingly heavy weight on his soul. 

Jamie glanced over at Claire, who seemed to be lost in her own thoughts. Wanting to comfort her with his words and touch, he grasped her right hand and squeezed, a startled jolt traveling down her spine as her eyes met his.

“Jenny’s no’ wrong in that regard, but ye didna deserve those accusations she threw your way. She crossed a line by taking out her anger towards me on ye, Sassenach, and I’m sorry.”

She clasped her other hand over his in a show of solidarity, mirrored in her half-smile. “That’s always been Jenny, though. She casts a warm light on those she trusts, and a very cold shadow on those she doesn’t. Right now, she doesn’t trust me.”

Pushing herself off the table, Claire began pacing slowly, her wringing hands reflecting the apprehension flickering in her expression. A minute passed before she swiftly halted in front of Jamie.

“We should tell them the truth.”

She took a step towards Jamie, her hands gently landing on his forearms. “Everyone we’ve told — Murtagh, Fergus, Brianna — they’ve accepted it, even if they don’t completely understand it all.”

Although Jamie had decided long ago that telling Jenny and Ian the truth about Claire would only bring more anguish than closure, hearing her plainly lay out the reactions of those who did know slightly nudged him to a point of reconsideration. 

“I canna disagree with yer observation there,” he conceded, uncertain about expanding the circle of people who knew Claire’s history and potentially increasing the likelihood of putting her in danger. “‘Tis only— Jenny and Ian are different, ye ken? Murtagh was a man of the world, and Fergus was a child who likely believed your story tae only be a cautionary tale about wanderin’ off. Ye told me even Brianna struggled to understand, and she’s a canny lass.” 

“And Jenny isn’t?” Claire responded amusedly, her eyebrows raised. “Jamie, she’s one of the smartest people we know. She was always comfortable with tales of the supernatural in a way that even we aren’t. I think she’d probably find the truth more believable than the story we’re currently telling.”

“Ye make verra fine points, a nighean,” he surrendered. “I hadna thought of it that way. I still dinna ken how I feel about them knowing, but,"  Jamie shrugged and looked down, unsure how to communicate his skepticism.

“We don’t have to decide today,” Claire said, the back-and-forth movements of her hands against him providing additional reassurance. “It’s something we can think about together. Hm?”

He nodded, sighing deeply as Claire wrapped her arms around his neck once more. They steadied their breathing, grasping once more for that that bit of quiet they craved. As the two of them inched apart, Jamie noticed Claire's furrowed brow as her eyes shifted their focus and venturedbeyond his gaze.

“Is that it?” she questioned, a hint of anticipation breaking through in her voice. Before Jamie could answer, she wandered behind him and crouched down in front of a large oak box; he watched her carefully opened the metal latch, and a soft gasp left her body as she slowly opened the top. 

“Oh my God, Jamie!”

She was awestruck, her fingers softly tracing the fabrics peeking out on top. “I can’t believe you kept these. After all these years?” She stood and turned towards Jamie, gripping an olive green bodice and matching skirt. “You could have sold these, made some money for you and your family.” 

Swallowing the knot quickly forming in his throat, Jamie fought back the memory of doing everything short of threatening Jenny when she had suggested exactly what Claire recommended.

“I couldna, Sassenach.” He momentarily focused on the newly-formed splinter on one of the floor panels, scrambling for the words he needed to explain the attachment he had formed to her clothing. “Those were my only memories of you, the things I could hold in my bare hands as a reminder that our life together was real. No amount of money was worth losing them.”

Speechless, Claire stared at the clothing in her arms, and a glimmer of tears lined the bottom of her eyes. “These brings back so many memories, Jamie.”

She spoke carefully, the tenor in her voice delicately balanced on a tightrope. “I understand what you mean. About wanting something as a physical reminder.” She placed the material back in the chest, her eyes locking with his as she continued. “I wanted to keep the outfit I’d worn once I went back to the twentieth century, but Frank—”

She clammed up immediately after dropping his name and uttered a halfhearted well, never mind. Jamie never wanted to push her on the topic, but he had remained acutely aware that Claire avoided talking about Frank whenever she could. As someone who was carrying a damaging secret, he knew he possessed no grounds on which to be bothered by her silence. But logical thinking could not stop Jamie from noticing the hesitation in her facial expressions, and he began to wonder if she was possibly afraid of hurting his feelings. 

Clearing her throat, she grabbed her right hand and rotated the thin silver ring.

“I couldn’t keep my clothes,” she admitted, her voice shaking, “but I never took this off. He let me keep it, and it always gave me comfort to have a part of you with me.” She walked towards Jamie and took his hands into hers, her thumbs gently rubbing the calluses on his knuckles. 

“Ye’ll think me mad when I tell ye this, Sassenach,” he chuckled, praying that the laughter would suppress the melancholy feelings currently threatening to overwhelm him. “I dreamt of ye constantly over the years. And similar to what ye told me, they’d usually never last in my mind past the morning. However,” he paused, a sudden chill rippling through his body, “once I returned to Lallybroch to serve out the rest of my sentence, my dreams of ye became so clear. I can remember so many of them.”

His focus shifted from their entwined hands, and he nearly lost himself in her sympathetic gaze.

“I would see ye in a rocking chair, a wee bairn sleeping against yer heart. I saw ye playing on the floor with a small red-haired lass. There were moments where it was only you, sitting by a window or readin’ a book on the couch. Those dreams felt so real to me, a nighean. I couldna understand why, but then I realized Jenny had placed your chest of clothes,” he nodded his head towards the rather imposing object on the floor, “in my bedroom. And it was only there that I’d have these visions of ye at night, so I convinced myself the garments had held on to parts of yer spirit.”

“I ken it’s a bit mad,” Jamie admitted, “but I missed ye so much, mo nighean donn . I looked for ye in everythin’ around me.”

Claire’s face crumbled as she placed her hands on the back of Jamie's neck.

“Brianna was my connection to you. When she was small enough to hold in my arms, I’d spend hours admiring her blue eyes, seeing so much of you in her.”

Her admission pierced Jamie's chest as he thought of Claire raising their daughter in a time that she had once walked away from. She had risked everything and chosen a life with him, and he had turned her away only three short years later. Jamie knew it was for her and Brianna’s safety, but he was also well aware that he had torn out Claire’s heart by sending her back through the stones.

“I wasn’t amidst a pile of clothes in a wooden chest. But I was out there, wishing that you’d come and find me.”

Jamie felt her fingers stroking the back of his neck, her movements and words both creating goosebumps in that area.

“During those first months after Brianna was born, I treasured the quiet moments I shared with her. I’d talk to her as if you were there with us. Whether it was sharing the clever sounds or movements she’d made that day, or how much she had grown over the past week, it was my way of keeping your memory alive for me.” 

She briefly stopped, her nerves showing themselves as he felt her fingers twitch against my skin.

“I’m sorry if I’ve seemed lost in my own world at times over this past week. I couldn’t be happier to be here with you.” Her brilliant smile and shining eyes revealed the genuine sentiment behind her words, but Jamie had also caught a hint of sadness behind her glow.

“But I—I spent so much time grieving alone. For the life we left behind, and for everything we’d never experience together. I feel like I’m in a constant state of wanting to either weep with joy at having another chance with you, or to angrily curse fate for the time we were apart.” 

Jamie grabbed her left hand from behind and kissed it lightly, his eyes never leaving hers.

“Oh mo chridhe , dinna fash. You never have to apologize to me for what ye’re feeling.”

Claire's words had nearly shattered him. He has also struggled with how to navigate his own own joy and gratitude of having Claire back, because those emotions were in a constant fight against a nearly permanent current of grief that had formed the moment she disappeared.

They had been deprived of so much together. 

“I promised ye this already, Sassenach, and I meant every word. We canna get back the time we’ve lost, but from this moment forward, I will do everythin’ I can to make sure ye’ll never be alone again.”

Claire placed her hands on either side of Jamie's face and pulled him towards her lips. Though their hearts bore the scars and calluses that separation had inflicted upon them, kissing Claire still felt like having a living flame in his hands.

She is baring her deepest insecurities to me, and I am keeping a bombshell from her.

I need to tell her.

Christ, if she leaves me, I dinna ken what I would do.

B ut she needs to know.

S h e has a right to make a choice this time — one that I denied her years before.

Jamie slowly pulled away from their kiss, drowning in the noise of his thoughts. Before he could say anything, he froze at Claire’s heartbreaking look of concern.

“What is it?” she whispered, the fear evident in her tone. “Jamie, what’s wrong?”

Secrets, not lies. I already broke that promise to her, but I need to make it right. 

“Claire, I need to tell ye somethin’. I havena found the right time tae talk about it wi’ ye, but—”

Suddenly, the front door swung open, and Jamie's stomach leapt into his throat as a familiar face strolled his way into the shop. Claire’s eyes widened, a gasp escaping her as she quickly dropped her hands from his face.

Ned?! ” 

Jamie watched the kindly old man’s demeanor instantly brighten at the sound of Claire's voice, completely overjoyed to see her after two decades.

“Oh, my dear , tis truly you! Yer husband had told me ye’d returned, and I didn’t believe him at first.”

Both of them walked swiftly into their hug, arms wrapped tightly around one another. As they broke their embrace, Ned Gowan pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at his cheeks. “Ye’ll have to pardon me, dearie, I’m a trifle overcome.” 

While Claire and Ned reveled in their surprise reunion, Jamie was actively using every ounce of self control to resist the creeping panic at Ned's appearance. Jamie had asked Ned to look into the legal consequences of Claire’s return when it came to his marriage to Laoghaire, hoping that it could end with as little trouble for everyone involved. Jamie hadn’t heard from Laoghaire since moving to Edinburgh six months ago, and it was best for them all to keep it that way. Nevertheless, his gut churned at the realization that Ned was likely here for an update on the situation — and since Ned probably considered Jamie a better man than he actually was, it was safe to assume that he believed Claire knew everything.

Before Jamie could think up a plan to speak privately with Claire, Ned was walking alongside her towards the table Jamie was currently leaning against. Opening the folder he was carrying, he pulled out several crisp sheets of paper, and the next minute of Jamie's life passed in a blur that he was powerless to fight. Jamie had only caught bits of Ned’s words (“Laoghaire wants this over as much as ye do, lad” and “doesna want anythin’ for herself” ) as the emotional paralysis consumed his rational thinking.

All Jamie could focus on was Claire. Her face grew pale, and Jamie watched the emotions pass through her — anger, grief, sadness, and betrayal.

It was the simple conclusion (“The marriage is void, and we may proceed as if it never existed!” ) that broke Jamie from his silence.

“Ned,” Jamie interrupted, his voice wavering. “Claire and I need to speak alone.”

A perceptive man, it only took the lawyer about ten seconds to assess the situation and discover that Claire knew nothing about any of this mess that Jamie had created behind her back. She only had eyes for him, her glare powered by the unexpected hurt and fury. Ned whispered his goodbyes as he gathered his things and slipped out the door, Claire not moving a single inch.

The door quietly shut, and the lie was no longer a secret.

"What the bloody hell have you done, Jamie?”

Chapter Text

Tension enveloped the room like a thick blanket, the aftershock of betrayal conquering the senses to the point of suffocation. Claire felt both numb and fragile, her mind assuming a defensive crouch and refusing to believe what Ned revealed, while knowing that a single glance or word from Jamie would break her into pieces. 

Jamie was married. To Laoghaire.  And he lied to me about it. 

“What the bloody hell have you done, Jamie?”

The question exploded from within, her voice working faster than her brain could think. She witnessed the beginnings of an explanation form on Jamie’s lips, but all she heard was her mind screaming at her to get out. She needed to breathe. Her focus now single-handedly on the door, she strode towards the exit, desperately seeking cooler air and an escape from this new reality.

Trapped in his own well of guilt and helplessness, Jamie’s instincts alerted him to Claire’s imminent departure, and he realized his greatest fear was playing out in front of him. With a targeted focus of his own, he lunged for Claire and grabbed her right arm. “Claire? Claire, where are ye goin’?”

“Away,” she shakily uttered as she halfheartedly attempted to free herself from Jamie’s grasp, “I need to leave.”

“No, please , let me explain—”

Laoghaire ?!” 

Claire flung her arm out of Jamie’s hand, pivoting sharply and fixing her stare on him. Jamie knew Claire was furious, but no amount of preparation would have adequately prepared him for the crushing mix of hurt and anger that played out across her face, framed by her wayward curls.   

“You married Laoghaire? She—” Claire’s shallow breathing was a physical warning of her rapid approach towards the emotional precipice, and she stemmed the rising tide of fury in her throat.  “She tried to have me killed!”

Jamie’s eyes widened as he absorbed what she disclosed. “Claire, what are ye talkin’ about?”

“Do you remember the trial at Cranesmuir? Laoghaire tricked me into visiting Geillis that afternoon, and we were arrested together.” Arms crossed tightly against her, Claire paced away from the door, providing a miniscule but necessary lift to Jamie’s nerves. “Laoghaire testified against me, and the little harlot couldn’t wait to tell everyone how I was a witch and how excited she was to dance on my ashes .”

Jamie’s blood turned cold at Claire’s reveal, the force of Laoghaire’s threats merely intensifying the waves of guilt rippling through him. “ Ah Dhia , she did that? I didna ken that, ye have to believe me, Sassena—”

“Don’t you dare call me that.” 

Battling his own emotions, Jamie breathed as deeply as his strained lungs would allow him. “ Claire, I swear, I never would ha’ married her knowing she did this to you. Why did ye no’ tell me?”

“It doesn’t matter anyway. From the moment you and I were married, she hated me. She wanted me gone so she could have you to herself.” He caught a faint glaze forming over Claire’s seething expression, and he knew that she had disappeared — if only for a second — into her vault of memories.

Claire was powerless to ward off her haunting past with Laoghaire. The furious glare Laoghaire cast their way when Jamie guided Claire back to her surgery during one of those first nights at Castle Leoch. The twinge of jealousy in Claire’s belly that she refused to recognize upon discovering Jamie kissing Laoghaire in the hallway. The gleeful, twisted smile Laoghaire cast Claire’s way as the final judgment condemned her to death at Cranesmuir. 

And the ill wish cast under their bed — the seemingly innocent bouquet of twigs and herbs that foreshadowed the years of war, loss, and grief ahead of them.

“Laoghaire was a widow with two bairns when I wed her.” Jamie’s voice bringing her back to the surface of reality, Claire swallowed the urge to interrupt. Noting her silence, Jamie hesitantly continued. “They live in Balriggan. I only lived with Laoghaire and the girls for six months before moving to Edinburgh.”

”So you abandoned them then,” Claire fired, her accusation sparking a flame of rage that radiated through Jamie’s shaking hands and increasing heart rate. 

“Claire, will ye no’ let me explain—”

“That’s what you should have done in the first place,” she interrupted, her right foot propelling her off the wooden column as she began her slow approach. “You hid this from me, and I had to hear from Ned Gowan that my husband married and fucked a woman who did everything in her power to have me burned at the stake.”

“I didn’t know about her involvement at Cranesmuir, and ye canna hold that against me,” he sharply responded, the frustration seeping out in each syllable. “I was working wi’ Ned to end this from the moment you returned. Laoghaire and I havena lived together for a while now, and our lives are completely separate.” 

Laoghaire and I. A simple phrase that punched Claire squarely in the gut. From the moment she discovered Jamie was alive, one of the many floating questions had taken root in the back of her mind, growing louder as her plans to return to Jamie became more concrete: What if he fell in love with someone else?  

“You told me everything that first night we were back together,” she started, her arms no longer crossed ( which Claire instantly regretted, the absence of her physical barrier leaving her emotionally unarmed ). Claire and Jamie were now facing one another, their bodies leaned against the parallel oak tables, ten feet separating them. “I know we’re still getting used to one another, but this is the biggest secret you’ve kept from me. Why couldn’t you tell me this?”

The silence that Jamie needed to contemplate his answer roared like an illicit confession in Claire’s ears, and after waiting for what felt like hours, the deafening anxiety pushed her over. “ Why ?” 

With no time to process, and livid, tear-filled whisky orbs glaring at him, Jamie gave her what she wanted: honesty — overdue, likely futile, but complete. “ Why? Because I’m a coward, Claire. When you walked into the print shop a week ago, my entire world stopped. Nothing else mattered but you. I wanted — and want — ye so badly, there was nothing I wouldn’t do to make sure ye knew ye belonged here with me.”

“I know that hiding this from ye was wrong. But if someone ha’ told me that one day I’d have you back in my arms and in my bed, and we’d be doing somethin’ so normal together, like buyin’ trinkets for the rooms in our new home, I’d tell them they were mad.” His arms twitched with need to touch and comfort Claire, but he cautiously noted the way her hands gripped the table, a weariness emanating from her muscles. Instead, he stepped toward her, his hands lingering against his sides. “I was scared to tell ye, Claire, because I was terrified that you would turn around and leave without a word. And I cannot lose ye again.” 

“So when exactly were you planning on telling me about Laoghaire?” Claire asked, her tone imploring Jamie to maintain the honesty he was offering her. “After I’d started working? Would you have simply bided your time until she showed up one day, discovering that your witch of a first wife returned? We just found a new place to live, Jamie. We’re moving in days!”

“I wanted te resolve it with Ned before telling ye.” One step closer , Jamie pondered, as his left foot shifted forward. “Laoghaire and I both knew early on that the marriage was a grave mistake, and it was only a matter of time once I left before we’d officially end it.”

“She won in the end, though.” Claire shifted against the table, her arms returning to their crossed position. “I was gone, and she claimed you.”

“Ye ken I would have given anythin’ to bring you back to me.” Her eyes made their way back to Jamie’s, her knees almost buckling under the intense vulnerability swirling in his pools of sapphires. “I spent years wrestlin’ with my own grief over losin’ ye. During my years at Lallybroch, everyone around me was movin’ forward with their own lives, makin’ plans and entertainin’ their dreams, but I always kept one foot planted in the time I spent with you. And I couldna let go, because I needed the constant reminder that what we shared was real.”

  The exhaustion nipped at Jamie as years of emotions flowed out of him, many seeing the light of day for the first time. Running his left hand through his fiery red curls, the ringlets having loosened with age, he inched closer, desperate for Claire’s touch. 

"Laoghaire was a safe option to me. Tis my fault alone for willingly agreeing to marry her, but it was almost a comfort realizing I’d never fall in love with her.”  

Claire shifted her weight off the table, moving a step closer to Jamie. 

“She was harmless when I first met her, a girl with a crush on the handsome young Highlander.  It wasn’t until we were married that she turned on me, making me feel like an outsider who never deserved you. If you had been honest with me about her, Jamie, we could have talked about this together. Instead, you hid it entirely from me.” Claire understood that Jamie explained only seconds ago that his marriage to Laoghaire lacked any romantic love, but her long-standing walls had reemerged. “You told me that you never fell in love with anyone else.”

“It’s because I didn’t . Claire, I told ye I sought comfort elsewhere. And aye, I struggled with how I would tell ye about this. But I never stopped loving ye, and that truth was the only thing that made me feel human most days. And ‘tis why I was scared to tell ye about Laoghaire when ye came back to me.”

Despite the anger that nearly blinded her, a sense of recognition — of being seen — broke through the formidable light. Her all-consuming love for Jamie, renewed and multiplied through Brianna, kept her spirit going long after they’d parted. A love she fiercely protected. Claire couldn’t shake the threatening chill from this revelation in Jamie’s past, but she tread carefully, her own temperature naturally falling to a simmer. 

“You knew, deep down, that this would feel like a betrayal. That I would question your feelings for me in light of knowing this. How am I supposed to know you aren’t lying to me now?”

What else can I say to ye, Claire? ” The sense of being emotionally stripped raw had depleted Jamie. Despite his awareness that he wasn’t necessarily in the most understanding state of mind, Claire’s objectively fair question provoked him. “I’ve told ye how sorry I am, how much I love ye, how I would give up honor, my family, and even life itself to be with you again.” Pacing back and forth, Jamie tapped his fingers against his thighs as he scrambled to verbalize the feelings he’d hardly acknowledged. “But, Christ , words cannot show you how much I missed you. How the loss of you was so deep in my bones that it hurt to breathe most days. How I selfishly resented my sister and her family — people who loved me through my darkest years — simply because I couldn’t stop thinking about how that was supposed to be you and me.” Jamie had stilled, his eyes never leaving hers. “Ye’ve always been my heart, Claire. I ken I’ve given ye reason to doubt, but it has been and will always be you.”

Though Claire’s education informed her that the phenomenon was impossible absent extreme physical trauma, she would have sworn on the grave of Hippocrates himself that her heart had split open at Jamie’s admissions. Immersing herself in Jamie’s words, she found herself wanting to wring his neck from exasperation, drag him into her arms and weep over their shared grief, and grab his face and kiss him thoroughly — the dominant want of the three changing with each second. Instead, she squeezed her tear-filled eyes briefly for a moment of respite before responding.

“You broke a promise that you made to me on our wedding day: that there was room in our marriage for secrets, but not lies. Was she worth it?”

Jamie released a defeated sigh. “It wasna because of Laoghaire herself, it was my fear that I would lose ye. That a choice I made at the lowest point of my life would take ye away from me once again.” 

“So you’re not sorry for lying to me,” Claire concluded with an air of defiance, masking her hope that Jamie would assure her otherwise.

  “I’m sorry for lyin’, but not for why I did, because I’d do far worse than lie to keep you.” He shortened the distance between them, motivated by a need to prove his devotion to her and an underlying terror that his efforts wouldn’t be enough. “And that should prove to you how much I love and need ye. Willing to turn my back on everything I hold dear for you, even though ye left me.”

Jamie regretted it the instant he said it. He had sensed the emotional control slipping out of his grasp, and he ignored it to his peril. Claire’s face briefly crumbled, but indignation steadily burned in her eyes as she carefully approached him. 

Left you?” she whispered, disbelief laced in her tone as her feet automatically guided her towards Jamie. “Left you ? You forced me to go back. I would have died gladly at Culloden with you. We could have made a life here together had we survived, and you took that away from me.”

“It wasna just me, Claire. You made me a promise. I did it to protect you both, and you know that.”

“No, you demanded when we were in Paris that I make you that promise.”

“And did ye think I wanted to make ye promise?” Claire was now less than a foot away from Jamie, and he wanted nothing more than to grip her arms and erase that gap of space. “Do ye think I enjoyed tearing my soul into pieces by sending you and our daughter away? That day at Craigh Na Dun haunted me every day while we were apart, and still does.”

“I understand, more than you know, but you cannot make yourself the lone martyr here. We both suffered from that decision. It wasn’t your fault, but don’t you dare say that I left you.” Outrage vibrated through her body as she continued her defense, refusing to let Jamie discount the agony of her time apart from him, even if done unknowingly. “I wanted to try and fight history down to the end, but we knew we couldn’t do it. And you especially cannot use that poor excuse to wave away my anger at you.”

“It’s not an excuse, ‘tis what fate dealt us. You and I were forced to keep living, knowing that we’d never see each other again. And that involved us making certain choices and trying to move forward.”

“And for you, that included marrying Laoghaire.” Suddenly, a possibility she’d rarely considered flooded her mind with worry.  “Jamie, do you regret me coming back?”

 “No! Claire, no, never. Tis only—” 

“It’s only what?”

Jamie exhaled shakily, his hands balling into and out of fists. “Do ye ken what it feels like to live without a heart? To live as half a man, and exist in the bit that’s left?”

  “Do I know ?” she called back, exasperation warring with a familiar heartache brought on by the exact feelings he’d described to her. “Do I know how that feels? Yes, you bastard, I know . Do you really think I went back to Frank and we lived happily ever after?”

"Sometimes, I hoped you did,” he sharply whispered, his sturdy build mere inches from Claire’s, their eyes fastened. “Then some nights I’d see it so clearly: him and you, day and night, lyin wi’ ye, takin’ your body and holding my bairn , and the visions drove me to near madness.”

“Well I don’t have to imagine Laoghaire, as I’ve bloody seen her before.  I was the only one who knew your body, who shared that deepest level of intimacy with you. And now that wretched woman can claim what used to be only mine.”

“And did ye live as a nun during our time apart, Claire?”

The bitterness in his question knocked the wind out of her, shock overwhelming her as she defensively stepped back. “What is that supposed to mean?” 

“I ken ye dinna like talkin’ about it with me, but I sent ye back to a man who loved ye, and who you loved as well. And you shy away every time one of us brings his name up.” The years of jealousy Jamie fought to ignore could no longer be contained, leaking through the cracks of his fragile state.

“This isn’t about Frank.”

“Oh, I think he belongs in this conversation now if we’re talkin’ about who we shared our beds with while we were apart.”

Claire’s mouth fell open, a gasp of incredulity escaping her. “Jamie, this is completely different. You knew I was married to Frank when you sent me back to him.”

“Aye, and ye didna return to me until years after he died.”

“I came back to you after I found out you were still alive.” 

“Ye asked me the first night ye were back if I fell in love with anyone else.” Jamie silently prayed that Claire wouldn’t see the fear that gripped him. He wanted no external circumstances influencing her answer. “I need to know — did ye fall in love w’ him when ye went back?”

No ,” she answered, her urgency recognizing and attempting to remove the uncertainty behind Jamie’s question. “I cared for Frank very much, and I loved him, but that was before you.”

“After I sent you back through the stones, you were with him for years. Ye told me ye were happy with him.”

Don’t twist my words. I said I was happy raising Brianna with him.”

“And yet ye shared his bed,” he countered.

Claire wanted to scream. She couldn’t blame Jamie for failing to understand a part of her life he knew nothing about, but the emotional whirlwind that plagued her years with Frank churned in the pit of her stomach. “Yes. I did. But I don’t understand why we’re talking about him when you were the one who lied to me.”

“Because the man took everything from me, Claire.”

Jamie’s face dropped all pretenses, the pent-up resentment finally unloaded. Claire felt a pang in her chest as a watery shimmer appeared in his eyes; he looked upward, blinking twice, before gazing at her once more.

“He lived the rest of his days with you as his wife. He raised our daughter as her father , watching her grow up and teaching her the ways of the world. And he did it all with you. Things that I had to give up when I said goodbye to ye at the stones.”

“Jamie—”

“I knew who Frank was, aye. You made him known to me long before I sent ye back, and I’m grateful that he cared for you and Brianna. But that doesna erase the anger I feel knowing that he got the life with you that I wanted for us from the moment we met.”

“I wanted that life with you too.” Not for the first time that evening, Claire resisted her elemental need to touch him, instead slowly entwining her arms once more.“I would have given anything to bring Brianna with me through the stones and find you miraculously alive and well at Lallybroch. But you know I couldn’t risk that. I had to think of our daughter.”

“I dinna regret sending ye back for your safety, and it gave me peace to know that you two were together. But you had our daughter, and a man that loved ye, and you still struggled with loneliness. I was on my own for so long.”

“So was I,” she responded, a burst of tenderness further tempering her radiating anger. Jamie’s deception had triggered an insecurity that Claire could never lose during their time apart, but she understood him in a way that nobody else could. “I didn’t want to go back, Jamie. When Frank came to the hospital and discovered me, I was broken and drowning in grief. I didn’t even want to live without you, but then I would feel guilty for even thinking that way, knowing I was carrying our child.” 

Her life with Frank hid under layers that Claire had planned on living the rest of her life without acknowledging. Yet as she studied Jamie’s expression — a pained, helpless look of sympathy that mirrored her own feelings towards him — she knew a life with him meant a return to that place of vulnerability she’d walled off the minute her hands touched 1940s soil. Pins and needles coursed through her bloodstream and her cheeks flushed, using every bit of control to keep her focus on Jamie and not completely fall apart.

  “Frank was a good father to Brianna. He loved her very much.” Bit by bit, the veneer began to fall, a slight tremble emerging in her voice. “And yes, I tried to make the marriage work for our family’s sake. But I couldn’t let him be a true husband to me anymore, and he made me live with that decision for the rest of his life.  He made me swear to keep you a secret from our daughter. I couldn’t look for you or speak about you to anyone, and he did everything he could to bury the part of me that was yours. And when he realized that nothing he did could ever change the fact that my heart belongs to you, he made sure I knew I let both him and Brianna down.”

The pure sorrow in Claire’s tone, reflected in her teary eyes, nearly brought Jamie to his knees. She had shattered the illusions of her life that cruelly mocked him at his loneliest hours. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and whisper the Gaelic promises that always calmed her soul. He yearned for the perfect reassurances to combat the doubts that bastard Frank Randall planted in her. But mostly, he hated himself for the damage that his selfish decision inflicted on her wounded heart.

“Claire, I’m so sorry.”

“And in case you still wanted to keep track,” she added, despondence etched in her expression, “I slept alone for most of my marriage, and for the entire time after Frank died.”

Her confession lingering between them, and no longer able to withstand Jamie’s desolation, Claire turned her back to him and made her way toward the exit. As soon as the sound of the floorboard creaking under the weight of Jamie’s step reached her ears, Claire whirled around, her composure on a knife’s edge.

“Please don’t follow me,” she choked out. “I need to be alone.” She questioned whether she really meant any of her final words as she opened the door to a refreshing yet chilling influx of air. The bell rang in greeting throughout the shop as the door shut, echoing amidst the heavy silence from their emotional reckoning.

For the first time in eighteen years, Jamie Fraser was utterly terrified.

----------

The boisterous lobby of the House of Joy at dinnertime left Claire unfazed as she silently proceeded toward and up the stairs, down the hallway, and into their room. The mental and physical fatigue from her fight with Jamie had evaded her until her eyes landed on the lush and inviting bed. Exhaustion seeping into her bones, Claire’s defenses began to crater as she plopped on the couch, her fingers pressing against the throbbing bases of her temple. Jamie merely cracked the surface of emotions she’d suppressed for years, and it was only a matter of time before she’d eventually surrender to the oncoming rush.

No, Beauchamp, you’ve got this. Deep breaths. Sleep it off. It’s worked for nearly twenty years. You’ll feel better in the morning. 

Losing track of time, she peered at the bed once again, her heart sinking at the likelihood that she’d be sleeping alone tonight. She rose and slowly peeled off the constricting layers of her clothing — stomacher, bodice, skirts, petticoat, bum roll, stockings, corset — and powered through her first expansive breath of the night, shuddering as she exhaled. She strolled over to the washstand and dipped a white terry cloth towel into the basin, pressing the cooled material against her tingling skin. 

Claire was so engrossed in her worn-down appearance staring back at her in the mirror that she barely registered the door creaking open. Deciding to ignore both the familiar footsteps and the accompanying relief blooming in her chest, she purposefully looked down as she made her way towards the bed. 

Jamie knew it was a risk, but his mind was beyond the point of need. He delicately grabbed Claire’s left hand as she made her way past him, his heart rate already quieting upon contact. 

Sassenach , I’m so sorry that I hurt ye.”

Before she could process his apology, she wrangled her hand from his and shoved him with all her might. Words no longer came easily to her tonight, but her emotions angrily brewed in her veins. Jamie was so taken aback that it wasn’t until Claire shoved him a second time that he grabbed her wrists, carefully walking her to the closest wall and only using enough force to steady her against it, leaving her the option to break away if she desired.

“Leave me alone, please ,” Claire argued through gritted teeth, her face turned away from Jamie’s as her body writhed against his.

“Ye’re holding back from me.” The calm in his voice sharply contrasted the verbal challenge he issued her, as well as his unbreakable stare. “I ken ye’re angry wi’ me. But we canna do this. No more hiding.”

The tears returned to Claire as she met his pleading eyes, her quivering chin rendering Jamie defenseless. “I left everything to come back to you, Jamie. I trusted you more than anyone else in my life.”

“I know. I broke your trust, ye’re right to be furious. You may not want me around, but I will not leave you alone like this.” 

“Why did you do it?”

“I told ye, a nighean .” His entire body was so weak, and he realized he wouldn’t be able to hold her much longer. “I was lonely, and needed a chance—”

That’s not what I mean .”

Claire’s guttural outburst shook through her frame, and Jamie’s heart snapped as tears spilled down her reddened cheeks. 

“Why did you send me back?” She knew the answer. The fault belonged to neither of them, but to the realities of time that forced their collective hand. Nevertheless, decades of buried grief left little room for logic and reason. “Bad things always happen to us when we’re apart. If I hadn’t gone back, you wouldn’t have married Laoghaire, I wouldn’t have gone back to Frank, and we could’ve been happy.”

Removing his hands from her wrists, he affectionately placed them on each side of her face. “Ye dinna ken that, Sassenach.” 

“I do.” She nodded, her eyes squeezed tightly as she attempted to catch her breath. “All I needed was you by my side. We lost so much time. It isn’t fair, Jamie. None of it’s fair .”  

Suddenly, Claire collapsed against Jamie as sobs wracked her body. Cleansing, healing, and long-awaited tears poured onto his shoulder. Clad only in her shift, she gripped the fabric near his chest and pressed herself fully against him. When she begged him to not let her go, Jamie could only muster a “ never, mo chridhe ,” as he scooped her up and carried her towards their bed. Sitting on the edge, he swung his legs onto the covers while keeping Claire tightly against him. Though tears were also forming in his eyes, he kept them at bay, stroking her hair and back with worn hands. 

He softly kissed the top of Claire’s head and listened to her sobs diminish from full-blown, to teary hyperventilation, to phlegmy hiccups, to an even, quiet snore. Adjusting their bodies to a more comfortable position, Jamie held her closely as his breathing eventually matched hers. 

Their two weary souls laid bare, and a battlefield of unresolved emotions would await them come morning. But for now, as a sleep-laden Claire reached for Jamie’s arm and wrapped it around her in the encompassing darkness, this was enough.

Chapter Text

An abrupt jolt pulled Claire from her fitful slumber. Drops of sweat clung to her forehead and chest, her emotional state enhancing the physical effects of sleeping beside a human furnace. Her sinuses were on the verge of bursting from the pressure that eighteen years of tears had unleashed on her body. Her muscles throbbed from the defensive stances she’d assumed the night before.

In every way possible, Claire was completely spent. 

Jamie had not fallen asleep yet; therefore, his mind was immediately alerted to the sudden shifts in Claire’s breathing and movements. As she turned towards him, his heart fell at the tear-stained lines that marked Claire’s cheeks, temporary yet healing scars from her painful release. Placing his hand against her left jaw, his thumb slowly caressed her puffy skin. 

“Hello, Sassenach,” Jamie whispered, internally berating his choice of a trivial greeting. 

Claire actively fought the ball of wool wedged snugly in her throat to respond, but nonetheless collapsed into a flood of dry coughs. Her tired lungs echoed in the darkness as she raised herself up and fell against the headboard, her body protesting the onset of movement. In a flash, Jamie hopped out of bed and returned with a glass of water. As her vision adjusted to the predawn atmosphere in their room, Jamie’s slight breathlessness and his upturn at the right corner of his mouth nearly prompted a smile of her own. Grateful for his quick actions, she took the glass and carefully drank it down. He hesitantly rubbed her back as she turned to place the object onto her nightstand. Adjusting to an upright position, Claire took a deep, uninhibited breath and met his concerned gaze.

“Thank you."

Her soft eyes began to untangle the bundle of nerves constricting his thoughts, and a hint of a smile emerged while his hand traveled a well-worn path between her shoulders.

“Are ye alright, Claire?”

A rueful half-laugh erupted from her, her eyes quickly shifting down to her wringing hands and  returning to his worried look. “I’ve been better.”

Jamie nodded awkwardly and removed his hand from behind her, buying additional time to contemplate his next move. Before he could say anything, Claire decided to break the silence.

“I don’t exactly know what came over me.” She paused, her glass face processing a word at a time. “But I’m sorry for completely unloading on you when you returned last night. I don’t think I’ve cried that much in years.” 

His chest squeezing at her unguarded admission, Jamie tested the waters and delicately clasped Claire’s right hand with his. Noting the absence of any negative reaction, he placed their entwined hands in his lap.

“Ye dinna need to apologize, Sassenach. We said all kinds of things to one another, and we talked about feelings that burdened us for a long time. Tis normal to be upset.”

Claire’s head bobbed once in acknowledgement. “It’s so much to take in, especially all at once. Add in the fact that you and I were apart for so long, it can be overwhelming to think of all we’ve missed.” Her throat tight from emotion, she cleared it before continuing. “And tonight showed we both need to learn to trust one another again.”

  A thin veil of newly-formed tears accentuated her whisky color. Though Claire made the additional effort at that moment to gently press his hand, Jamie knew she was deeply hurt.

“Claire.” Jamie shifted his positioning to face her directly, his eyes boring kindly but firmly into hers. “I’m so sorry I kept my marriage to Laoghaire from ye. I dinna ken what else I can tell ye to express my regret, but ye have every right to be upset wi’ me.”

“I’m still angry that it was her , of all women,” she admitted. The stinging rage pummeling through Claire had significantly lessened in both temperature and intensity over the night, evolving into a temperate yet powerful heartache. “But Jamie, to realize you thought you couldn’t be honest with me about this — that was the real betrayal to me. I know we believed we’d never see each other again, and we’re both figuring out how to catch each other up on our lives.” Claire blinked back the encroaching tears, the vulnerability in her words shaking her composure. “I just wish you had told me about this from the beginning.”

“I should ha’ told ye before.” Searching her face for some clue to her feelings, he resisted the shameful urge to look down. “I was afraid to say anythin’ out of fear ye’d turn around and leave wi’out sayin’ a word.”

“I would have been furious, but then I would have known your entire history while we were apart. I remember that first night, there was a little over a year in your past that was unaccounted for in my mind.” Her back growing stiff against the headboard, she repositioned herself towards Jamie, her right shoulder pressed against the engraved wood.

“Will you tell me more about her?” Eyes reflecting the curiosity and anxiety that motivated her to ask, Claire rolled her tense shoulders back as she straightened her posture and locked her stare onto him. “When did she come back into your life?”

“Would you truly like to hear? I dinna want to hurt yer feelings even mo—”

“I haven’t stopped feeling hurt, Jamie,” she interrupted, her voice heavy yet lacking the edge it had possessed throughout the night. “I want to know. This shouldn’t be a secret between us.” 

Help me understand why you kept this from me , she silently pleaded.

Taking advantage of the natural lull to gather his thoughts, Jamie shifted his body to mirror Claire’s. After a long beat, he started on the path that his stream of consciousness forged for him.

“Ye ken I served out the remainder of my sentence at Lallybroch?” He waited for Claire’s steady nod before moving forward. “I’d been away for so long before then — hiding in the cave, imprisoned at Ardsmuir — when I came back, everything was different. I saw Jenny and Ian’s bairns grow, and I ken I told ye how lonely that was. I was always surrounded by life, but I felt like a ghost, drifting through each day without much notice.” He exhaled shakily, his fathomless blues dimmed from the grief that ransacked his memories of those years.

“I missed being needed by someone.” 

His admission struck Claire, her mind rapidly flipping through the countless times she had tried to bargain with God to bring Jamie to her and Brianna. How many days had she spent quietly begging, craving Jamie’s words or touch? 

“Did Laoghaire fill that need?” she asked carefully, keeping her tone as neutral as possible. 

“I thought serving her and her daughters would help, aye. Jenny had been trying for years to have me marry again, and I fought her off constantly. But as time went by, the loneliness became unbearable.” Jamie ran the fingers of his free hand through his curls, and Claire noticed a faraway look gathering in his eyes. 

“It was Hogmanay the year before last,” he started, recounting the setting that was only visible to him. “Jenny had beautifully decorated the house with candles and mistletoe, and every room was packed with people celebrating with food and drink. It was a happy time of year, but I always felt the spirits of my parents and Willie — and you.” He smiled sadly at Claire before clearing his throat in a fruitless attempt to displace the psychological weight thrust squarely on his chest. “That night, I met two lasses who happened to be Marsali and Joanie. They insisted on bringing me out to the dance floor, and we spent hours laughing and dancing together.” 

Breaking from the haze of memory, Jamie’s focus returned to Claire’s surprisingly unreadable face. “I hadna felt that carefree and light since the last time I was wi’ ye. And I was so relieved I could still feel some type of happiness.” 

Claire squeezed Jamie’s hand in understanding, casting a sympathetic half-smile towards him. She remembered experiencing that same relief every time she looked at Brianna, or held a scalpel in the operating room, or laughed at one of Joe’s terrible jokes while sneaking in an eyeroll with Gail. Fragments of time that reminded Claire of her humanity. Moments she clung to when the waves of grief threatened to drown her. 

“I couldna believe my ears when the girls told me they were Laoghaire’s daughters,” Jamie continued. “They brought me to her, and she and I started talking. I found out she’d been widowed twice, and her daughters and I got along well.” The right corner of Jamie’s lip suddenly inched up sheepishly as his gaze tilted downwards. “Jenny knew I missed feeling useful — as though I had a purpose when it came to people. As Laoghaire and I talked that evening, I saw a possibility to step in and help her and her lasses. I wasna naive enough to believe that they’d fill the holes in my heart, but I thought I could be the husband and father I’d wanted to be with you and our bairns.”

Our bairns. One of the many dreams they had parted with at the stones.

“And were you?” she asked quietly, inching closer to him.

Claire immediately sensed the guilt flooding Jamie’s body as he shook his head. “I tried my best with her and the girls. I grew fond of Marsali and Joanie, getting to know them as the people they were becoming in the world. It wasna always easy with them, but when they looked to me for help or as someone they could speak to, it was nice.” 

Tapping his fingers against Claire’s hand, he swallowed back the hoarseness growing in his throat. “Wi’ Laoghaire, it was a matter of disappointment between two people who refused to let go of what they’d lost.” Rubbing his hand tiredly between his brows, his eyes briefly shut before returning to Claire. “I tried to be kind, to be gentle wi’ her. But she realized soon after we wed that my heart would never truly be hers. The fault lies entirely with me for the pain I caused her, because I kent I’d never love her the way she wanted.”

Claire was grateful for the dark hues that encompassed their bedroom, masking the ruddy flush in her cheeks. She was well aware that this conversation would extend beyond tonight, as they were only beginning to peel back the decades of life they’d missed; but she momentarily relished in the relief of Jamie’s words. The bare honesty in his voice provided a balm that Claire never knew she wanted — a selfish but necessary reassurance that Jamie’s heart had always belonged to her.

“I tried for months,” Jamie insisted, “but there were demons from her first two marriages that we could never move past. She always showed fear in her eyes any time I came near her. It hadna even been six months since we wed, but we both agreed that it would be best if I left.” Lightly squeezing Claire’s hand, his face grew solemn. “Tis another fault of mine that I’ll have to reckon with God when my time comes. I joined that family seeking something I knew I’d only feel with you. And aye,” he nodded, his eyes not leaving Claire’s, “I should have told ye this. And I’m sorry I didn’t.”

Strengthened by their shared vulnerability, Claire reached up and brushed the hair from his forehead, her fingers gracefully tracing the worn lines down his cheek before resting her palm fully against his stubble. “I’ll never understand what you saw in that woman,” she confessed, affection softening her disappointment, “but I can relate to how painful that kind of loneliness can be.” 

Jamie had leaned into her caress, his eyes narrowing in surrender to the emotional exhaustion seeping into his bones. But Claire’s final statement nudged his conscience, his sapphire blues widening and studying the way the faint wrinkles around her own eyes had loosened; how her chin slightly quivered as her mouth formed a thin line. Motivated into action, Jamie rose from the bed and walked around the footboard, his vision tracking Claire’s confusion as he perched on her side of the mattress. A bit stunned at Jamie’s hurried movements, Claire shifted her back against the headboard, their bodies now a foot apart. 

“What is it?” she asked, dread creeping into her chest. “Is there something else?”

Shaking his head to calm her, he forced a half-smile and reached for both of her hands. Rubbing his thumbs over the calluses in her skin, his eyes followed the motions before connecting with hers.

“I shouldna have brought up Frank the way I did last night.” Immediately sensing a flicker of tension in Claire’s grip, he squeezed apologetically. “I was angry. It was unfair of me to do so, especially since I knowingly sent ye back to him.” 

Her fight with Jamie had blown the Pandora’s Box of Frank Randall wide open, leaving the two of them with the essential task of sorting through the pieces of her years with him. Though Claire no longer felt restrained by hesitation, she still battled the intense guilt that plagued her memories of Frank. Nevertheless, as she observed Jamie’s remorseful gaze, she knew it was time to begin her own reconstruction.

“I understand, Jamie,” she answered truthfully. “We both said things we didn’t mean last night and wish we could take back. My own uncertainty to talk about him likely didn’t help matters either.”

“I had no—” Jamie paused, tears forming on his bottom eyelids. “I had no idea. I ken ye didna want to leave, and that I was tearin’ yer heart out by sending ye back. But hearin’ ye last night . . . it tore my guts out.” 

Overwhelmed by his heart-wrenching revelation, Claire moved to the edge of the bed, her right shoulder now touching Jamie’s left, legs loosely crossed. Seeking her touch again, Jamie returned to the familiar patterns he had pursued across her back. 

“It’s always been difficult for me to explain,” she uttered in a near-whisper, her focus straight ahead. “From the moment I returned to Frank, life was — well, it was complicated. But what can you expect when you return to a life that no longer fits you?” Exhaling a long-held sigh, her worn eyes met Jamie’s. 

“Frank still loved me, and he poured his heart and soul into raising Brianna. But he and I were never the same once I returned. My pregnancy was difficult on its own, and we never found solid footing. Things were alright after Brianna was born, with both of us focused solely on caring for her. But as she grew, it became more difficult for us to keep up the act.”  

“We tried to be intimate,” she continued, an uncharacteristic shyness flickering Claire’s eyes downwards. “There were moments between us where I’d catch a glimpse of the love we had for one another. But during the few times we had sex,  I—” Jamie observed the gradual blush return to her cheeks as a sensual chill traveled down her spine. “I always thought of you. I made love to your memory, and Frank caught on rather quickly.”

Heat pooled in his cheeks, his devastation at Claire’s revelations wrestling with the bestial need to fling her back against the bed and make heart-racing, bone-deep love to her. Scooting closer, he wrapped his arm behind her shoulders, and Claire rested her head against him.

“We stopped pretending to fit the mold of our previous life together. I offered to divorce him, but he wouldn’t risk losing Brianna. So, we both threw ourselves into other passions. I immersed myself into medical school and residency. Being a surgeon gave me the chance to be part of something greater than myself — a feeling I’d experienced with you and Brianna.” As she met his eyes, Jamie’s heart lifted at the beam from Claire’s face. 

“And Frank, well—” Her shine disappeared as quickly as it’d emerged, replaced with a poignant mixture of sadness and regret. “He put so much into his relationship with Brianna. He wanted a child, and it gave him so much joy to raise her. He also wanted someone who could love him the way I once did — the way I do when it comes to you.” A burst of affection flickered in her eyes, and Jamie squeezed her shoulders in response. “So, he found that love elsewhere — or tried to, at least. He was almost always discreet, but—”

“Sassenach.” Wanting to provide Claire with the space to unravel her years with Frank at her own pace, he resisted interrupting or contributing his own thoughts, choosing instead to comfort her with his touch. But her latest reveal — the unworthy bastard had paraded around with women when he had a wife and child at home — was too much for him to bear. “He — he had mistresses? Other women? That self-righteous embarrassment of a man, he was supposed to protect ye and Brianna—” 

Jamie .” Framing his rays of fury between her palms, she watched him gradually return to her, rage morphing into despondence. “Frank and I had to find a way to live again. No, it doesn’t excuse his behavior. But he didn’t make it obvious to me — or, more importantly, to Brianna. I was so deeply yours . . . I couldn’t blame him for trying to find that love for himself.” 

“Ye dinna deserve it though.” The news had left Jamie utterly helpless, powerless to do anything that would remove the source of pain from Claire’s life. 

“It wasn’t ideal, but it was part of our agreement. I knew about them all. We’d had a fight about it a few weeks before he died, but otherwise it was simply a part of our marriage.” 

Grasping her hands from his face, he entwined them with his, a sense of protectiveness coursing through him. 

“There was one time, though.” Before she could think, Claire had unearthed one of several painful turns in her relationship with Frank. “Do you remember the pictures I showed you of Brianna? The one of her with me at my medical school graduation? We’d had a party that evening at the house before our celebration dinner, and I’d invited several of my classmates over. Frank was acting unusually distant, trying to rush us out of the house. It was so strange, but then I heard a knock on the door and answered it.” Her voice growing hoarse, Claire paused and gulped quietly.  “It was a woman — one of Frank’s. She’d shown up at our home. Frank tried to tell me he had the time wrong, but that man never missed a detail in his life. ” Restless from the intensity of emotions currently pounding her body, Claire shifted further onto the bed. 

“He’d wanted to give me a taste of my own medicine. It’d be easy to blame him completely for the way he embarrassed me, or how our relationship only worsened after that night. But I know I share some of the fault, too.” 

“What are ye talkin’ about?” Jamie challenged, unable to let her take the blame for the man’s petulant behavior. “Claire, ye did the best ye could.”

“He knew I could never look at Brianna without seeing you. I followed every condition he laid out for me, but nothing he demanded could erase your presence in me or in our daughter.” Jamie was surprised by Claire’s tight grip enclosing his hands, a physical emphasis on her meaning of our. “He could never forgive me for something I’d never apologize for. It was a tension that followed us until the day he died.” 

A silent, too-quick respite fell between them. Jamie traced his fingers along the insides of Claire’s hands, the two of them captivated by the movements.

“You won’t be the only one who has to stand before God and reckon with your faults,” Claire admitted, her vocal lightness warring with the pure sadness in her eyes. “I was heartbroken when Frank died. The person that I’d once loved with my entire self had disappeared over the years. Brianna was barely ten years old, and she lost the man who had been a father to her. The two of us mourned and found a way forward, and we faced a lot of difficult days.” 

Though Claire had delicately framed the words used to describe Frank and Brianna’s relationship, Jamie couldn’t escape the air of melancholy that surrounded his thoughts of the years he’d missed with his daughter. With his brows furrowed and a slight twitch of his mouth upwards, he renewed his focus on Claire and encouraged her onwards. 

“But there was something else I felt,” she added, surprising herself at the ease with which her confession began pouring  from her — a revelation she believed only Jamie would truly understand. 

“I was so relieved.” 

A few tears escaped her thick eyelashes, and Claire quickly blinked the rest away while releasing a shaky breath. “We’d been living out a story that wasn’t ours for so many years. I walled off the most fundamental parts of my soul for his satisfaction. And it was exhausting . When he died, I realized I no longer carried as much resentment towards him.” Her amber orbs shone as she placed a hand behind Jamie’s neck, her fingers drifting through the fine hairs on his warm skin. “His death gave me the freedom to tell Brianna the truth about you. About us. About the love we shared and life we experienced together. It took me a few years, but I reclaimed my ability to choose, and I can never be sorry for that.” 

At a complete loss for words, Jamie pulled Claire against him and wrapped his weary arms around her, planting another kiss amidst her free-falling curls. He felt her tired frame melt against his as she encircled her limbs around his waist. A single tear emerged, pushed by the emotions sparring within his heart: grief coexisting with joy; anger with delight; and heartbreaking empathy with overflowing thankfulness

“Ye’ve always been the bravest person I’ve known,” he confirmed, speaking truths he could safely vocalize without breaking down. “Ye bore two children, ye sacrificed parts of yerself to create a good life for Brianna, and ye left it all behind to come back to me.” Slowly detangling themselves from one another, Jamie’s hands searched for Claire’s and held them between their bodies. “I’m so grateful for ye.” 

From the moment she’d left the print shop earlier that evening, he knew what he had to do next. As he listened to her own confessions, the proposed offer lingered in his mind, tapping Jamie to give Claire what she deserved — a choice. 

“Sassenach, I ken I’ve made this difficult for you. I broke yer trust, thinkin’ only of myself while knowing ye risked everything for me. Ye’ll always have the freedom to decide when it comes to me.” Fighting back tears, he forged on, terrified of the reaction waiting for hm. “If ye ever want to return to the stones and go back to yer own time, I’ll take ye there myself. Ye deserve a happy life.”

A mixture of a noisy huff and trembling gasp escaped from Claire. Before he could capture her reaction, she’d risen from the edge of the bed and wrangled him up towards her. Their faces only inches apart, Jamie nearly buckled under the weight of Claire’s pleading eyes and firm clutch of his forearms.

“Listen to me, Jamie Fraser,” she commanded, fear and yearning underlying her voice. “Tonight has been confusing and frustrating, and it may feel that way for some time as we get used to one another again. But it’s never been a question of whether I love you.” 

Covering her hands with his own, Jamie’s heart nearly leaped out of his chest .   “I never want ye to feel like ye dinna belong here, mo chridhe .”

“You bloody fool.” Blinking back the onset of tears once more — the physical exhaustion weakening her defenses — she tightened her claim of his body. “I am never leaving you again. You have and will always be my home, even when I want to throttle your neck. I choose you , Jamie.”

Between Claire’s words of confirmation and the feeling of her hands on him, unadulterated desire flooded his senses. Her body intoxicated him in a way that not even the strongest whisky could manage, and all he wanted in that moment was her skin against his, the physical barriers joining the emotional layers shed throughout the night. But as he looked directly at Claire’s earnest appearance, only one question materialized.

“Will ye forgive me?” 

A rush of tenderness bolstered Claire as she enveloped her arms around Jamie’s neck. Placing a chaste yet promising kiss against his lips, she pressed her forehead against his, and Jamie lost himself in the pure love glowing in her eyes. 

“Yes,” she whispered, “I forgive you.” 

Without missing a beat, a tearful Jamie smiled into another kiss, the intensity reaching a new level. Claire outlined his bottom lip with her tongue, her actions rewarded with a soft groan as Jamie opened his mouth in return. Refusing to break apart, Claire grasped the waistband of Jamie’s breeks as he unlaced the top of her shift, their hasty actions reflecting their shared need to reclaim one another. Coming up for breath, Claire grabbed Jamie’s shirt and flung it off before launching her mouth against his once more. 

Naked skin pressed together, their emotionally raw souls discovered territory that further emboldened them. Jamie’s hands traveled down her collarbones before finding her breasts, his thumbs stroking her nipples in a rhythm that awakened Claire’s body against him. Breaking their kiss to release a moan spurred by Jamie’s actions, her fingers lightly grazed the faded scars that crossed his back as she lightly bit the skin on his neck.

“Claire, ” Jamie whispered against her ear in an aroused haze, his remaining self-control emptying by the second. “I need ye so badly. Will ye have me?” 

“Yes,” she groaned, kissing him deeply. “I need you too.”

Taking his hand, they kneeled on the mattress, kissing their way towards the headboard. Scooting her body downwards, Claire brought Jamie over her, nearly every inch of their bodies touching. Based on the heat radiating from her, Jamie knew Claire was ready, but he desperately wanted to cherish her without rudely teasing. Beginning from her lips, he planted wet kisses along her entire upper body, feeling her body rise to meet his as the kisses grew in frequency and geographically.

“This is what I dreamt of at night,” Claire breathed out, her physical and emotional openness leaving no room for tentativeness. “Your hands on me, your mouth on mine, your skin against me. God , Jamie, I need you inside me.”

Floored by Claire’s verbal boldness, Jamie leaned up and plunged his tongue into her mouth, his hips slowly grinding against her pelvis. Steadily approaching the edge, Jamie suddenly paused as a hand wrapped around his length, delicately stroking its hardness. As soon as his eyes focused on Claire’s wide and knowingly teasing smile, he was flipped onto his back, his arms pinned above his head. 

James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser .” Claire’s breathless huffs forced her through each syllable. “I belong to you. And you — you are mine.

Lacking the breathing necessary to speak, Jamie exaggerated his nod, his hands pressed against the headboard.

Grabbing his cock, Claire teased him with her wetness, confirming her body was ready for him. 

“You are only mine.”

His hands now free to roam, Jamie perched himself up, running one of his hands behind her head and through her mountain of curls. “Aye, I’m yours.” 

“And you will only be mine, now and forever.”

His response turned into an echoing moan of relief as Claire pushed herself down on him, her own  sighs harmoniously mixing with his sounds.

As she ground her hips, Jamie and Claire explored a physical intimacy that had just escaped their fingertips in the time since she’d returned to him. Their bodies had little trouble reconnecting, comforting both of their nervous hearts. But as they reached a higher precipice, stars bursting in their eyes as whisky met sapphire, they realized the unspoken emotional line of demarcation had held them back. With no barriers left to cross, they finished one after the other as their bodies melded together, reveling in an all-consuming satisfaction they never thought they’d experience again. 

The first colors of dawn peeking through their windows, they laid breathless and sweaty, their rejuvenated bodies facing one another. Jamie sought Claire’s left hand and brought it between them, his eyes shining with devotion.

“For so many years,” he said, caressing her fingers, “for so long, I have been so many things, so many different men.” 

“I was Uncle to Jenny’s children, and Brother to her and Ian. Milord to Fergus, and Sir to my tenants. Mac Dubh to the men of Ardsmuir.  Malcolm, The Printer , in Edinburgh.” 

Jamie brought Claire’s hand to his lips, placing a soft kiss on her J scar.

“But here,” he whispered heavily, “here in the dark, with you . . . I have no name.”

“I love you,” Claire spoke into Jamie’s breath as she leaned inwards and tenderly kissed him. 

I want him , she concluded . Claire had not wanted Jamie on their wedding day, but she had said it since in two moments of choice at Craigh na Dun. And now, for a third time, she would make the same choice.

What I tell you three times is true .

Chapter Text

March 1764

There were so many things he had missed about Claire. 

There were the visual and tactile aspects he had memorized. The way her amber eyes sparkled, whether in fury or delight; the same eyes that would catch his own and read his scattered thoughts in an instant. The slight uptick her lips assumed whenever she found something he’d said amusing, accompanied by a soft laugh that had always warmed him to his bones.  The unruly silky curls that his hands always found their home in.

He had missed the way she melted into him, her arms wrapped around his waist while her solid head rested against the beating thump in his chest. Every inch of his body had desperately ached for her touch for the knowing hands that could both bring him to the edge of pleasure within seconds and heal the scars he bore. He had missed the ease in conversation that he found only with Claire. 

But he never knew how much he had missed watching her sleep until he found himself standing at the entrance to their bedroom, overwhelmed at the sight of his beautiful wife curled up in their bed. She was still clothed in her navy skirt and bodice, and several curls had escaped the messy updo she preferred to wear as a doctor. Her journal remained open beside her, an ink pen loosely held in her right hand. Her lips were slightly parted as a faint snore accompanied the rhythmic movements of her lungs. Jamie could feel his own weary muscles fighting the urge to collapse on the spot, fueled by the sympathy he carried towards her exhaustion.

Over a month had passed since he and Claire had wrestled with an exhaustion of a different kind, stripping away the loneliness and grief they’d each shouldered on their own. They placed the burdens of their eighteen years apart at each other’s feet, overwhelmed by the daunting realization that they had spent six times the number of years separated as they had together. With the first rays of dawn peeking through the windows of the House of Joy, they had made the decision to fight for a life that they wanted; a life rooted in the love they had never lost for one another.

They had moved out of Madame Jeanne’s and into the bright and open space above Claire’s new surgery. Jamie and Claire had spent a weekend scrubbing (or, as his wife liked to call it, disinfecting) every nook and cranny of her new professional abode and rearranging the furniture into a suitable layout for her first day as the new healer in town. Distracted by the whirlwind days they’d spent moving and settling into their new life, Claire showed no signs of nerves until the two of them hit a natural lull that Sunday afternoon. 

“Doesna look too bad, aye?” Jamie concluded, leaning against the front door and admiring their hard work. He ran a stained cloth over the developing layer of sweat on his forehead, the combination of the three roaring fireplaces and their physical exertion leaving them both on the verge of overheating, despite the blustery February winds outside. “Tis ready tae receive your first patients tomorrow. Have ye got everythin’ ye need?” 

“Mmhm.”

Her unusually subdued response prompted Jamie’s head towards her, and he immediately sensed the unease that coursed through her — from her wringing hands, to the way her glances darted across every corner of the room while she chewed on her lower lip.

“Sassenach.”

The term he’d reclaimed in endearment for her. When she quickly answered his call through the turn of her head towards him, he could feel his body relax with relief that time hadn’t weakened the feelings he laced in that word. Her face was in full view as Jamie erased the bit of space between them and gently framed her flushed cheekbones. 

“Tis normal to be nervous, but dinna fash. You have a great doctor who’s excited tae work wi’ ye. You’re ready.”

Her shoulders slumped and a nervous smile crept along the corners of her mouth. “I know, but I sometimes wonder if agreeing to this was too much too soon.” 

Jamie’s hands moved towards her crossed arms and slowly began traveling up and down her taut muscles. He followed the flickers of doubt crossing her face, the silence resting between them and giving Claire room to think.

“I’ve only been here a few weeks, Jamie. I know you’ve been nothing but supportive of all of this,” she stated, her head nodding towards the impeccable surgery that was now hers. “Am I really ready? I practiced medicine in a different time, with technology and other advantages. I don’t want to let my patients or Doctor Morgan down.”

“First, mo nighean donn,” Jamie began, tilting his head to catch her slightly lowered eyes. “Ye’re forgettin’ that you already know how to heal in this time. Ye didna even have the training back then that ye do now, and look at what ye did from the moment we first met. And every night these past few weeks, I’ve come home tae you wi’ yer wee nose in all sorts of books, studyin’ at all hours.” 

Claire looked upwards, and while he knew that he’d somewhat relaxed the stressful entanglement she’d weaved for herself, she still felt tightly wound.

“Is this too much for us?” she blurted out quickly, the last syllable bringing every ounce of tension towards the surface.

Ah. There was the question. The previously unspoken fear buried within her. 

“That’s not what I meant.” Her hands sought Jamie’s on her arms, squeezing them reassuringly. “I want this. I know you want this for me. It’s only—” A sigh of frustration forced itself out, her words unable to capture the dueling anticipation and fear in her eyes. “We’ve never done this together — settling down, establishing ourselves so permanently in one place. And we’re still learning one another again.” 

His fingers laced through hers as he brought one of her hands to his lips, pressing a featherlight kiss against her knuckles.

“All I’ve ever wanted is a life wi’ ye, Sassenach. Tis more than I ever thought I’d have wi’ ye again. Everything else is just an added blessing.” 

He moved behind her and wrapped his arms underneath her breasts, tugging her towards him and feeling her relax against him as they surveyed the physical foundation of their new adventure. “You have a gift of helpin’ people that makes ye happy,” he continued, his breath falling just above her right ear. “That should always be a part of any life we make together. This will never be too much.”

Claire angled her head towards him, and Jamie was momentarily captivated by the bright golden flecks of her gaze before she rose to her tiptoes and met his lips. Once they parted, she broke from his grip and hugged him tightly, and the sparks exploding throughout Jamie’s body were a stark reminder that he still hadn’t quite deemed himself worthy enough to have her here with him. The sensation grew stronger as she nestled herself in the crook of his neck, smiling at his increasingly erratic heartbeat and taking a deep breath.

“Thank you.”

Claire officially opened her surgery the following day, and it only took her patients a few minutes to completely fall in love with her. Her charm and warmth could put the shyest bairn or the most skeptical auldjin at ease. As her days steadily grew busier with her increasing popularity throughout Edinburgh, Jamie began to lose count of the number of nights he’d come home and find her hunched over her examination table, using the firelight to excitedly jot down what she’d accomplished that day with a focus that only strayed at the sign of his presence. 

His need to hold her finally outweighing the hesitancy to wake her, he carefully dropped his bag, removed his coat and tricorn (both necessary to counter the skin-piercing winds that lingered in the Scottish springtime), and crawled onto the bed, mindful not to disturb her. Inch by inch, Jamie’s left side met the downy comforter; but despite his best efforts, a low-pitched hum departed from Claire as her body began to unfurl. Eyes still closed, her left arm extended towards him and landed on his vest, and the sweetest smile immediately formed upon contact. 

“Hello there.”

“Hello, Sassenach,” he whispered into a teasingly intimate kiss, her slightly louder hum indicating its success.

“I missed you today,” she observed through a sigh as her eyes fully opened, hazy clouds of whisky taking her in. “You’re home late.”

“Ach, our dear friend Cameron wouldna stop running his mouth when he spotted me on my way home.” Though Jamie kept his focus on her, he shifted onto his back and placed his right hand behind his head, resting it against the pillows. “Nearly an hour and a half of askin’ me about which products he’d have the best chance sellin’ as a silversmith. Christ, the man can talk.” 

That quietly electrifying chuckle he had missed so much rumbled through her as she continued emerging from slumber. “Is he switching up his market again? He’s been doing so well with woodworking.”

“I dinna ken. That man changes his mind every day; Susanna is a saint for puttin’ up wi’ him.”

Claire scooted closer, her head fitting into the space between his arm and shoulder, and her left arm sprawling across his waist. “I’m glad you’re home.”

He wrapped his arm around her and pressed a kiss against her forehead. “Me too.” 

Jamie had loved introducing her to the people he’d come to know during his year in Edinburgh. Listening to the “story” of how they found one another again (the one they’d tested on Ian and Jenny, who knew both of them far too well to be satisfied with it), the community had welcomed Claire with no shortage of both curiosity and kindness. And Jamie was most thrilled by the fact that Claire had already begun to develop friendships of her own.

There was William Byrne, a young man around Fergus’s age who ran his father’s jewelry shop down the street and lived above it with his wife and newborn son; Agnes and John Baxter, talented and once-penniless pianists in their thirties who’d recently joined the Edinburgh Music Society; and, of course, the ragtag group of men Jamie had employed in his print shop, all willing to spar with Claire’s wit and humor in a way that their Highlander family had done so long ago.

And then, there were the MacNeils. Susanna and Cameron — both in their fifties, they’d become well known during their thirty years and counting on High Street for their spirited personalities. Susanna was the best midwife in Edinburgh; and Cameron, a Renaissance man of sorts, somehow successfully changed jobs with every sunrise. While Jamie had become acquainted with the MacNeils, it was Claire’s arrival that bonded the four of them. Upon hearing the news that his long-lost wife was a healer herself, Susanna made it her mission to take Claire under her wing and teach her all the secrets and gossip of the city. They’d become a constant presence in their lives, and Jamie realized one night that they now had friends of their own making. 

Friends who knew them as the Frasers and nothing more — an unusually normal but incredible feeling.

“How was your day?” Jamie asked at just above a whisper, Claire’s wandering hand fiddling with his vest buttons and reassuring him that she was awake.

“No major tantrums from my younger patients and no projectiling of body fluids, so overall a lovely day. How was yours?”

“Good. Fergus and his friends are getting the hang of the shop, which is a tremendous help wi’ the paper’s demand growin’ so fast.”

“That’s a relief.” Placing both hands on his chest, she rested her chin on top of them and flashed a tired half-smile at him. “I’d much rather him be with you than out there smuggling Christ knows what. We need to have him over for supper again soon.”

“Aye, that’s a braw idea, Sassenach.” 

Her smile widened in contentment, and Jamie couldn’t resist unwrapping the pearl-colored ribbon that kept her few obedient curls tied up. They let the minutes pass them by in peace, Claire’s eyes blissfully closing as his fingers weaved through the beautiful waves that tumbled against her porcelain skin.  Though his heart sank at the idea of disrupting the rare quiet bubble they had created, he had something to tell her. 

“Claire.” 

Her eyes snapped open as she shifted once more, seemingly alert to both Jamie’s tone and the absence of the numerous Gaelic names he’d preferred calling her. 

“Ned came by and brought me the papers this morning.” His hand paused its movements and rested against the back of her head.  “It’s official. Wi’ you back in this time, Laoghaire doesna own and never owned any claim to me, neither before God nor the law.”

Any hesitation the two of them had carried in the wake of their reunion had disappeared the night Claire found out his hidden past with Laoghaire. Instead, with both of them now painfully aware of the lows they’d faced during their time apart, they spent evenings sharing more long-buried stories. It was a daily choice he and Claire both had to make; but over time, Jamie grew hopeful as they slowly rediscovered the freedom that he’d found only with her, and she with him. 

Even with the progress they made, Jamie still carried the fear that he’d wake up one day and find her gone. It was irrational and grew easier for him to quash over time, but he had promised her that she had that right to go back if she wanted. It was the same fear he now swallowed, face-to-face with the raw vulnerability in Claire’s expression.

“Are you all right, a nighean?”

Claire nodded slightly, inching closer. 

“I know it’s silly.” Despite the shakiness in her voice, her eyes only temporarily flickered downwards before confidently matching his unwavering stare. “But I’m glad you’re mine again. I don’t want to share you with anyone else ever again.”

Her response nearly broke his heart from guilt and selfish gratitude, and his hand automatically traveled down her jawline, stroking her cheek. “I ken my decisions may have led ye tae think otherwise, but my heart has always been yours, Sassenach.”

“I know.” Her hand met his traveling fingers and she squeezed them tightly, her smile reflecting the truth of her words. “It was the same for me.”

A rush of tenderness spurred Jamie on; and at that moment, he remembered how much he’d missed the little hitch in Claire’s breath that awaited him right before an especially needy kiss. Starting off slowly, he cherished the softness of her lips before her mouth opened against his, begging him to venture deeper. A wee groan signaled her impatience as her tongue traced his bottom lip, and he gripped the back of her head and pulled her closer. An embarrassingly loud moan left Jamie’s mouth as she swung her left leg over his waist, every inch of their upper bodies now touching as their kisses grew more intense. 

And right as his hands started to untie her bodice, his empty and demanding stomach made its presence known, immediately killing the mood by sending Claire into a fit of giggles. 

“There are some bannocks and jam in the kitchen, I’ll go grab them.” 

Claire kissed him on the cheek before crawling off of him and heading out their bedroom door. With his back screaming at the uncomfortable position he’d assumed on the bed (and his very immediate frustration at his body betraying him), he slowly shifted his upper half and stretched out his cramped legs. As Jamie grabbed Claire’s journal off the bed to place on her nightstand, several inserts fell from in between the pages she had already carefully documented her days’ worth of adventures on. Once he picked up the scattered paper squares, however, he realized they were the farthest things from random scraps.

Their daughter was smiling back at him through glimpses of her childhood captured from the future: Brianna as a toddler, his blue eyes and her mother’s heartstopping smile shining as she proudly sat on a rocking horse; as a five-year-old, standing against the front door in a purple ruffled dress and matching bow in her hair, posing mid-laughter for her mother; as a thirteen-year-old, smirking behind her fiery red hair and underneath a plaid blanket while reading in front of the fireplace; and as a sixteen-year-old, her mouth open in surprise and two thumbs sticking up as she held what Claire had explained to him as a key to an automobile.  

The photographs spanned the entire length of time they’d been apart, and the familiar crushing weight of grief returned to the pit of his stomach. He could never completely accept what Claire and he had lost; however, the knowledge that their sacrifice had not been in vain made him smile. 

Brianna was alive and safe. And Claire had done the most brilliant job raising her.

“I like to keep her with me.” 

So lost in their daughter’s world, he jumped at Claire’s voice and turned to find her leaning against the door jamb with food cradled in her hands, bittersweet adoration gathered in the glowing amber of her gaze. 

“Those would probably send me straight to a witch trial if anyone found them, but it didn’t feel right to keep them locked away forever.” Perching herself on the edge of the bed, she grinned sheepishly before handing him a bannock in exchange for Brianna’s photographs. He swung his feet over the bed and scooted himself towards Claire, their shoulders touching while they both looked at their daughter.

“I ken what ye mean, Sassenach,” Jamie responded fondly. “My office stays locked because I work with people who canna keep their noses out of other’s things, but I keep several photographs of her in my desk at the shop.”

“Do you?” Claire’s eyes glittered with both humor and tenderness.

He nodded, placing the bannocks and jam on his nightstand before returning to an image of a seventeen-year-old Brianna, her tongue sticking out while doing schoolwork at her desk.

“It was just the two of us for seven years,” Claire added while Jamie’s fingers traced the outlines of Brianna’s face. “She became my best friend, and she unknowingly kept me going through so many dark days.”

The gathering tears highlighted her whisky color, and he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her towards him.

“I’ll never forget what ye gave up to come back to me, Sassenach.” 

“Brianna wouldn’t have accepted anything else.” Her head tilted towards him, their faces only inches apart. “She was the one that gave me the final push I needed to come find you.” 

“Our daughter has her mother’s courage,” he choked out, an unexpected wave of emotion making the words more difficult for him to speak.

Claire placed her hand at the back of his neck and their gazes locked.

“And her father’s heart.”

“She’s the best of both of us.” 

 

March 1967

“It’s Penny Lane! I don’t know why you’re arguing with me over this, you nerdy Scot,” Brianna teased, too focused on the bumper-to-bumper traffic in downtown Boston to stick her tongue out at her rambunctious passenger.

Whoah , no need for name-callin’.” Roger ruffled the troublesome brunette waves off of his forehead before turning towards her, his glasses and nose previously hidden in a souvenir guide he’d picked up at Logan Airport on Sunday. “The DJ’s clues were that the song was by a band that was part of the British Invasion, and that it peaked at #1 on Billboard this month. If you ask me, those are pretty vague clues, and I think they could describe Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones.”

“You’re forgetting his third clue — a song based in nostalgia. Penny Lane is where Paul McCartney grew up!”

“But what if he’s playin’ loose with the definition? A song about an ex-girlfriend can be nostalgic, and—”

“Shhhh!” Immediately recognizing the transitional jingle, Brianna waved her hand in his direction before turning the radio volume back up.

On a sunny Wednesday morning in Boston, it’s 8:56 a.m. and I’m Dale Dorman with WRKO….”

Brianna resisted the urge to let out an exhausted groan, kicking herself at agreeing to not only host a bright-eyed and curious historian during her Spring Break, but also being naive enough to believe that there was no way he’d force her out of the house before 10 a.m. while on holiday. 

Ladies and gents, it’s the final song of The Breakfast Club.…..”

She automatically leaned closer to the radio, as if a shorter distance would give her a head start on the song name reveal. 

“Penny Lane, there is a barber showing photographs…..”

“YES!” After pumping her right fist upwards in victory, she flattened her palm and thrust it in Roger’s direction. “Last bit of donut, please.”

She didn’t even have to look in his direction to register his stunned jaw drop in response to her demand. “Listen, we never agreed to that. Two glazed donuts — one plain and one chocolate — and one cake donut; perfect Bostonian treats to share between us.” 

“And I guessed correctly while also being the one to drive you around on your bookish adventures this week, pal.” Her arm still extended, she refused to relent. “We can grab Dunkin Donuts again tomorrow, but that last piece of chocolate glazed is mine.”

Biting her tongue to ward off her laughter at his indecipherable mumbling, she thanked him graciously before stuffing the sugar bomb into her mouth and reveling in the way it melted against her taste buds.

“Aye, I guess it’s the least I can give ye as thanks for spending your morning combing through records wi’ me,” he surrendered, making no attempt to hide the feigned defeat in his tone. 

“You’re giving me a reason to explore the city I’ve called home my entire life, Wakefield,” she responded, pulling into a lucky parking spot right in front of the Massachusetts State House. “For example,” she continued, peeking out the windshield and pointing towards the imposing golden-domed building, “I don’t think I’ve been inside since we took a class trip in third grade. And I’ve never been down to the archives.”

“Ah, so ye’re admitting ye’ve liked these — what did you call them? Bookish adventures? — this week?” he quipped, his stare likely anticipating her reaction as he unbuckled his seatbelt and exited the car. 

“They’ve involved a lot more research than I’m used to doing on school break, but they’re not intolerable,” she conceded as she shut the car door and they began their short walk. 

“Speaking of research, how’s yer second-year history paper going? Have ye figured out a topic?”

“Well….” she drifted off, hesitant if she should finally say what she’d been seriously contemplating the past month. Roger would be the first she’d confided in about this — but with him, she only questioned it for about ten seconds before spilling the beans.

“I might be switching majors soon. Harvard has an architecture program that would let me get a graduate degree after five years, and I think I might give it a go next fall.”

At that point, the two of them were halfway up the mountainous set of stairs leading to the State House when Roger stopped and quickly spun towards him. She anticipated being met with some sort of “are ye mad, woman? ”, but instead nearly sighed in relief when she took in his pleasantly accommodating reaction.

“Well, how about that. Architecture?” Smiling, he elbowed her playfully after she’d taken the few steps to catch up with him. 

“I think so,” her verbal confirmation surprising even herself as their feet propelled them forward in identical stepping time. “Maybe . It’s just — when I research nowadays, I’m becoming less interested in the events and people that occupied a certain location and more fascinated with the buildings themselves. The design, the structure, how everything is precisely crafted to keep a design weighing hundreds of thousands tons standing upright. Like for example,” she tugged Roger closer to her as he followed her upward glance towards the State House, both of them shivering as a burst of wind seeped under their layers of clothing. “I haven’t been inside this place in over a decade, but I’ve come down to the park and sketched it several times. It’s one of my favorite buildings in the city.” 

“It sounds like ye’ve made up yer mind then.” Roger tugged his scarf closer to him and they continued up the stairs. “Are ye still plannin’ on Edinburgh this summer?”

“Yeah, I’ve already paid for the history courses for the summer at the university. And it still sounds like a great opportunity.” 

“I’ll have to come meet ye in the city one day and take ye to The National Archives there. The architecture is stunning — and it’s a gold mine of research, a place where ye could find the history of anything and anyone that walked the streets of Edinburgh.”

Brianna rolled her eyes in an exaggerated manner, letting out a mocking groan. “Well gee, for a second it sounded like you were about to suggest something fun.

“Ah, hush.” He laughed momentarily before turning his face towards her. “But really, that sounds brilliant. Ye’re also a gifted artist, which’ll serve ye well as an architect.”

Brianna hid her growing blush as she dug in her tote bag for a map of the State House’s interior that she'd grabbed from Joe. “You don’t think it’s strange that I’m not following in Frank Randall’s footsteps?”

“Ye’re yer own person, Brianna.” Pausing outside the entrance, he blindly searched in his worn leather bag for the black spiral notebook he’d been using to document his research this week. “While ye have a family and history ye were born into, what ye do wi’ it is yer choice.” 

She paused as he proceeded to stroll inside, his casually-spoken remark hitting her square in the chest. Roger’s visit to Boston — jam-packed with sightseeing and research for his upcoming project on the Great Awakening’s beginning movements in the Colonies —  had marked the first time they'd interacted in the past year that hadn’t included some veiled reference to her mother or to Jamie Fraser. She could tell he was being intentional about avoiding discussions of them, but even his well-intended advice brought her thoughts back to her parents.

Her mother had been gone for over a year. And though she had trained her mind to instantly bury the more melancholy thoughts, she constantly wondered what had happened to her.

Was she happy? Were they happy? What did those papers at the Reverend’s manse say? 

The entrance door opened and Roger’s head popped out, clearly searching for Brianna.

“It’s freezing out there, Randall, come on.”

 

---------

Twelve hours (four spent meandering through the Massachusetts Archives, occupying herself with records from the early days of the Salem Witch Trials) and nearly ten miles of city-walking later, Brianna and Roger dragged their weary feet through the front door of her childhood home. 

“Hello! We’re back!” Brianna called as they shed their coats and scarves in the entryway, thawing out after a chillier-than-normal spring day.

“Hello loves! In here!” 

Gail’s honeyed greeting, accompanied by the warm lighting and the sounds of WRKO’s Top 40 evening show, led Brianna and Roger to the living room. She was sprawled on the couch and underneath a peach blanket, while Joe sat in the neighboring armchair, completely immersed in a medical journal.

Claire had granted the deed of their home to Joe and Gail until Brianna had turned eighteen, and the three of them now encountered some form of analysis paralysis any time they discussed what to do with the house. Joe and Gail had their own family home in Cambridge that they didn’t want to part with, while Brianna lived in the dormitories at Harvard during the school year and with the Abernathys during the holidays and summer. But once a month, they'd head over together and spend a weekend there — an unspoken agreement that she wouldn’t have to spend nights alone in a place frozen in time. They would flip the lights, dust off the furniture, and breathe a bit of life back into the house. 

There were days where Brianna wanted to throw out everything that was inside — the vast majority of items in the same place they’d been the day her mother left — and never look back. But on other days, she was grateful she could return to the time capsule their home had become. Her stomach twisted whenever she moved something from its spot, which didn’t help the current struggle she was facing with the house. It was paid off and Claire had put more than enough money away to handle the tax and utility bills every month, but Brianna knew she needed to make a decision soon.  

“How was day four of Boston?” Gail inquired, eyes glancing up from her magazine and smiling at the sight of them. 

“Well, my feet may say otherwise, but it was a fun day,” Roger replied as he slumped against the stairwell.

“He got some research done, and I took him around Boston Common.” Brianna plopped on the couch next to Gail, her aching legs grateful for the relief. “We walked around Downtown Crossing, Back Bay, and eventually along the Charles before walking back to the car at the State House.” 

“Jesus, Bee, how are you two still mobile?” Distracted by the extensive map of Roger and Brianna's day, Joe perked up from his studying, adjusting his glasses against his surprised expression.

“I’m asking that same question myself, Joe, hence I’m outright knackered and headin’ straight to bed,” Roger responded humorously, waving once as a farewell. “Night, all.” 

After the three of them bid him goodnight, they caught each other up on their days. Brianna became so immersed in listing all of the tourist traps she'd taken Roger to, she hadn’t even noticed the late hour until Gail excused herself to bed. With Joe as her fellow night owl, he walked over to her mother’s bar cart and poured two glasses from the bottle of whisky he’d brought to the house.

“Cheers to peace and quiet,” he toasted after handing off her drink, the two of them clinking their glasses together.

Joe returned to his medical journal and Brianna pulled out her sketchbook, anxious to finish the drawing of the State House’s lobby that she started after growing bored in the archives. The music of The Supremes, The Monkees, Marvin Gaye, and others occupied the living room, the two of them humming along every so often while in their own mental grooves. However, as the radio blared a set of drums and chiming guitars, the familiar intro immediately left Brianna transfixed as her surroundings disappeared.

They say we're young and we don't know

We won't find out until we grow

Well I don't know if all that's true

'Cause you got me, and baby I got you

Babe. I got you babe….

“Now that’s a song I haven’t heard in ages .” 

Joe’s delighted revelation brought Brianna back to reality, and she watched through glazed eyes as he moved towards the radio, turning the volume up before joining her on the couch. 

“Lady Jane loved this song. She’d hum it constantly, especially during those long surgeries.” Joe cast a wistful smile in her direction before taking another sip of his whisky. “I remember her saying this was a song you two loved to sing together.” 

“We did,” She laughed a bit louder than normal in response, desperate to contain the rising tide of emotion in her chest. “With some lyric foul-ups on her end, I might add,” she continued before taking another long sip of her drink. “This is also the last song I remember singing with her.” 

Joe’s brows furrowed as he placed his drink on the coffee table, settling back against the couch in anticipation of further elaboration. Brianna was already in the process of beating herself up for saying too much; nevertheless, she took a deep breath, doing her best to calm her rapid heartbeat before continuing. 

“It was New Year’s Eve,” she began, nervously twisting the glass in her hands. “We’d had a big party, you remember. After everyone had left and Roger had gone up to bed, Mama and I put on some records to entertain ourselves while we cleaned up. The two of us were laughing and dancing, throwing the confetti we were supposed to be picking up at one another.”

Brianna paused at a vision of her mother in her gorgeous navy silk dress, the cowl neck perfectly contrasting the sleeveless design. Her carefully-styled updo had fallen loose, and the two of them had donned matching flushed cheeks from the booze and side-splitting laughter. 

“One of the songs we played was this one. I usually sang the Cher part, since it was a bit more complicated,” Brianna laughed, “and by that night, we’d sung it countless times before. It felt like any other time, but that night she was so relaxed and free. That was when she told me that my father — Jamie — had the worst singing voice, and she’d always been grateful I hadn’t inherited that trait from him.”

Brianna would never forget the pure adoration in Claire's eyes in that moment, as if her mother had been waiting for eighteen years to share that bit of her father with her.

“That wasn’t long after she’d found out that Jamie was still alive,” Joe commented. She could see his mind piecing together the emotional ramifications of that time.

“Only a week,” she confirmed. “She was completely torn up. After Roger shared the news with her, it was as if this weight she’d been carrying in her body had finally lifted. I could see how happy she was, but,” Brianna swallowed, looking down at her twirling glass once more, “she and I both knew that her unwillingness to leave me was the one reason she wouldn’t go find him. We’d done a pretty decent job of ignoring it that evening, but as soon as she made that comment about my father and I saw the tears in her eyes, it was back.”

Tears suddenly filled her own eyes, and she shuddered as she prepared to wade through the final yet most difficult part of the memory.

“That’s when I saw it — the undeniable, powerful love she had for him. She’d shared pieces of him with me over the past two or so years, but it’s different to actually see it. The way her entire body softened at the mention of him, so comfortably herself. And I would be the one thing keeping her from having a second chance at that, Joe.”

Brianna took another sip, an opportune moment to gather her scrambled thoughts. “She grabbed my hand and pulled me in for a hug, and I remember how everything got quiet except for the song playing in the background. I got you to kiss goodnight, I got you to hold me tight ,” she sang shakily, feeling a little pathetic at how sad these sappy lyrics would always make her feel.  

“I knew then that I had to do what I could to send her back to Jamie. I remember her face when we talked about it the following day. She’d never admit it, but I think she’d been waiting for me to say yes.”

Joe scooted to the edge of the couch and rubbed her back, letting a natural silence fall momentarily between them.

“I’m glad you shared that with me, Brianna.”

Brianna shared a natural half-smile in response, appreciating Joe’s ability to switch to her actual name in more serious moments instead of his preferred “Bee”, a nickname he’d lovingly bestowed on her when he first met her as a kid.

“I know I needed to send her back. But there are days where I miss her so much and I’d give anything to have her with me. And then, I feel guilty for wanting her back, because I’m the reason she was stuck here for so long—”

“Brianna Ellen.”

A rare name combination coming from Joe, only used in the most serious moments. He took her hand and squeezed it gently. “Your mother loved you more than anything in this world. She wasn’t stuck with you. You were her greatest adventure in this time. And like you pointed out, she would never have dreamt of leaving you if you had not been the one to give her that last boost of encouragement.”

She nodded as she wiped away a tear. “I know. I know all of these things. I just . . . I miss her.”

“I miss her too. Your mother was one of the best.” 

Joe squeezed Brianna's hand once more before picking up his drink. 

“I hope it was worth it,” she joked halfheartedly. “She loved him in a way I’d never seen her love anything else in her life.”

“Well, based on the stories your mother told me about him, he loved her just as fiercely.”

“Star-crossed lovers,” Brianna said with a slightly dramatic air as she picked at the fuzz on the blanket, though she couldn’t ignore the way Joe’s observation made her insides all warm and fuzzy. “I just hope she made it to him. I hope they had a good life together.”

“Well, you know,” Joe lingered, hesitant to continue his thought.

“Know what?” she asked, crossing her arms as she leaned into the couch.

“You still have Roger’s offer on the table. Why don’t you stop by the Reverend’s house with him after your trip to Edinburgh this summer? You can look through the boxes and see what became of your mother—”

"No,” she interrupted sharply, refusing to hear any more on the matter. “I’ve already said no to him, Joe.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t chase after my mother’s ghost.”

“Brianna, you don’t have to live your life in the dark.” Standing up, Joe grabbed both of their empty glasses before heading to the kitchen. “Your mother had no choice in that area, whether it was through a promise she made to Frank or her struggling to decide when to tell you the truth. Don’t use excuses to hide the fact that you’re afraid. It’s okay to be, but be honest with yourself.”

As he walked away, Brianna rested her head in her hands, frustrated that he was absolutely right. Despite her fears, though, a plan was already beginning to form in her head, and she knew she'd only need to wait a few months to execute it. 

What she didn’t know was that history had already accounted for her formulating this plan, and she had unknowingly begun a journey that would span both one and two-hundred-and-two years.












Chapter Text

May 1764

A sequence of actions regularly followed. 

A habitual course of procedure.

I’d always yearned for some form of stability in my life — an unusual desire for a woman who’d spent her childhood traveling the world with an explorer of an uncle, often experiencing the most extraordinary adventures on a whim. Though the exact moment that planted this innate need remains uncertain, I began to treasure the peace of mind and predictability a schedule brought. 

Routines provided the opportunity to establish a new normal and reset my equilibrium. The motivations behind creating one evolved alongside the changes in my life: the hope of fitting back into the life I once lived as Frank’s wife (a difficult adjustment once we reunited after the war, and an obviously futile attempt once I returned from the eighteenth century); a desperate need for mental stimulation to fill the hours Brianna and I spent together (from morning walks in her pram to afternoon reading sessions in preparation for elementary school); a foundational source of stability for each day that followed my decision to begin medical school; and a tenet of survival for Brianna and myself when I suddenly became a single mother of a ten-year-old. 

And for the first time since our paths crossed over twenty years ago, Jamie and I were creating our own routine together. 

We had a home to call our own. Though our decisions no longer had to factor in the whereabouts of figures like Black Jack Randall, the livelihoods of men that would fight in battle with Jamie, or the crushing inevitability of history, they still carried a weight that normally accompanied one’s entrance into unprecedented territory. Despite the twenty-one years we’d been married, burning for one another during our time apart, there were moments when Jamie and I still felt like newlyweds. Instead of discussing the latest plan of political deception or worrying about how to keep Jamie’s family safe at Lallybroch, we now found ourselves in heated conversations about whether to move our bed out of the direct trajectory of the sunrise (I found the sudden burst of light rather jarring in the morning, but he eventually won me over with a tight squeeze around my waist and a persuasive kiss, murmuring in his intentionally husky tone that “there’s nothin’ like wakin’ up in the sunlight wi’ ye, Sassenach” ). 

Those uninhibited beams against the pinkening sky served as our natural alarm clock, eliciting a grunt of resistance from Jamie every morning before he rolled over and kissed me somewhere on my head — lips, cheeks, neck, or the ticklish spot behind my right ear he’d rediscovered. We’d laze in bed together until the bell chimes from the Royal Mile filled the air in our room, the two of us often cursing that final toll. We’d ready ourselves and send each other off to work, and we’d  spend our evenings filling that time with conversation (that never lacked a good whisky) while our worn bodies sat lazily intertwined on the couch.

There were moments where years of suppressed grief roared in my ears, threatening to blind me to everything but the cruel images of Jamie being her husband. It was a jealousy I never wanted to acknowledge, rooted in unkempt bitterness over the years we lost together. I was grateful we’d opened up more to one another about those years apart, but the knowledge that came with filling those gaps also brought along a wistful haze I couldn’t help but occasionally catch myself up in.

But all it took to bring me back was a look from those tender blue eyes that had never left my memory, or Jamie running his fingers through my curls while studying the emotions flickering across my face at that moment. His hands grounded me when they undressed me at night, traveling smoothly over the softened edges of my shoulder blades and arms while he planted his mouth on my collarbones. And it was in the quiet conclusions of our days, with his body warming mine under the cozy layers of our bed, where my mind was re-anchored every night.  

A month or so into our new routine, we decided to shorten our hours at the print shop and surgery on Sundays, taking the afternoon off to spend time together (barring any last-minute emergencies). We’d dedicated one of those cherished days to exploring the pottery shop next door, when I saw it: a vase, perched on a shelf, radiating a cobalt blue that reminded me of the color in both Jamie and Brianna’s eyes and of an object I spotted long ago in a window in Inverness. It now sat on a table in our kitchen upstairs, home to a fresh posy that a patient’s five-year-old daughter brought me and my merchant neighbors every week.

We were making a life that belonged solely to us. One that people may call “normal”, a term that had never before fit the description of my life with Jamie. And though the ache from missing Brianna had established its permanence in the marrow of my bones, I was happy. 

So, so happy. 

-----------

“Sassenach, ye ken ye’ll tear all yer hair out if ye keep messin’ wi’ it that way.” 

I let out a cathartic huff as I yanked the grey strip of fabric from my tangled mane of dark curls, admitting to what felt like the hundredth round of defeat. 

“Well, it’s not my fault that it’s choosing not to behave this morning.” 

Perched in front of our full-length mirror that greeted us at the entrance to our bedroom, I grew increasingly frustrated at the fight my hair had decided to start with me. I always preferred to wear my hair pulled back when working in the surgery, and my curls either willingly surrendered to my fingers or rebelled against my wishes (and gravity’s pull). Today, they had chosen the second option.

“Do ye need some help?” Jamie, already fully dressed for work (including his own curly locks tied into a simple low knot to boot), cast a sympathetic smile my way as he meandered behind me.

“Ooooh wait,” I exclaimed, having properly trapped the feisty beasts into a semblance of a ponytail.  His eyes met mine in the mirror as I tugged on each side of the fabric, and I sighed in gratitude as the knot landed right at the back of my neck. “There we are!” After claiming my first victory in the half-hour since we had pulled ourselves out of slumber, I wrapped a hand behind Jamie’s neck and kissed him swiftly. 

“Ready to go, a nighean ?” he asked, his firm hand against my back indicating his own lack of enthusiasm at the thought of us parting. “Though to be honest, all I want to do is crawl back into bed wi’ ye and stay there all day.” 

Humming in agreement, I gently drew him forward and kissed him once more. “If only we could. But yes, now I’m ready.”

Because of the immediate unpredictability our respective professions brought us (Jamie had been working long hours at the print shop to train his new team of employees to meet the growing demand for the local newspaper), it was a rare morning when our departures were perfectly aligned. With my supplies conveniently located downstairs, I helped Jamie fasten his bag and locate his ever-disappearing tricorn (“How in the devil did it get underneath the couch?”). After treading down the steps together, we briefly separated in my surgery to shove aside the weighted curtains and sunlight flooded into my sleepy domain, waking up the nooks and crannies of my office. Finally, I swung open the front door in a greeting to High Street, ready to receive today’s patients.

“I’ll see ye later, Sassenach.” A golden light twinkled in Jamie’s eyes as he exited onto the stoop before kissing my forehead, mindful of the small gathering of people outside my surgery. “And dinna forget, we’ll have company tonight.” 

“Yes! I’ll see you two then,” I confirmed excitedly, leaning against the entryway as Jamie nodded towards the group in a welcoming manner and strolled away from our home, my heart slightly sinking as I watched him go. There were days where my body craved his reassuring presence so much that my mind questioned the sanity of our decision to work long hours in separate locations.

It’s been eighteen years. Will there ever be enough time to make up for what we lost? We're both trying, aren't we? Is he as happy as I am? I've turned his life upside down once again...but hopefully in a good way?

Those insecurities became less noisy with each passing day, but occasionally made their presence known. However, just as I now felt that tempting tug, Jamie paused before turning the corner and glanced back, and I could still register his smile when he took one last look at me.

Satisfied with our farewell, I shifted my focus towards the older gentleman standing several feet away, his familiar brown eyes sheepish as he raised his right hand, now wrapped up with a few bloody spots staining the grimy fabric. Reassured by his calm demeanor, I sighed and backed myself into my surgery to clear the doorway.

“This is the fourth time this month! Your wife is going to maim you herself if you aren’t more careful with your welding tools,” I warned, though I knew my expression revealed my undeniable mirth. “All right, Mr. Logan. Let’s get you inside.”

----------

May 5, 1764, I wrote in the top right corner of my newest entry in my leather journal. 

M. Logan, 45 - Cut on right hand approx. 3” long, stitches provided

S. Adair, 28 - Small break in nose, speculum used to reset bone, packed both nostrils and wrapped extremity in gauze

A., C., and T. Douglas; 6, 8, and 12  - nausea, fatigue, stomachaches; symptoms indicate a viral source; sent mother home with bags of peppermint tea, encouraged constant hydration and consumption of bland foods.

The heat from the fire warmed my back as I hunched over my examination table, listing my patients’ wide variety of ailments from today. With the sounds of the crackling log behind me and the muted pacing of both foot and horse traffic on High Street as my only company, I cherished the quiet that had become a regular ending to my workday. It was a time to gather the thoughts that had scattered between my patient visits, a venture that I knew would be more difficult after Jamie returned home. Once I was pleased that I’d written enough information to trigger more details upon further review (likely on our couch, curled under a blanket while I rubbed my chilled feet against Jamie’s toasty calves; or even in bed if I suddenly remembered an observation I’d forgotten to note), I placed my journal in the drawer and pulled out the cleaning supplies from under my main cupboard.  

As I approached the end of my final wipedown of the tables and chairs with my newest batch of bleach, a gentle tap-tap-taptaptap against the door broke my trance. I smiled at the familiar beat and turned my head to greet the owner of said knock: she was leaning against the doorway, reflecting an amused smile of her own — despite the evident exhaustion in her green eyes — and flipping her braided grey hair over her right shoulder. 

“Susanna!” I rose from my knees to my feet after scrubbing my last chair. “I’ve just cleaned up, come grab a seat.”

“Och, good sister, if I sit down then I’ll never be able tae get back up,” she confessed with a laugh, dropping her weathered supply bag and leaning against the wall closest to me. “Eight house visits today. I’m knackered .” Her accent coming through on that last word, Susanna sighed in relief as she began rubbing her neck and arms. 

“That’s what you get for being such a bloody excellent midwife,” I teased through an exaggerated shrug, throwing my bleached rag into the bucket and hauling it to the back door. 

I could hear the eye roll that accompanied her scoffed quip, “Ye ken I only take yer cheeky attitude ‘cos ye’re one of maybe five people I actually like in this town, right?”

The loud chuckle escaped my sore ribs before I could cut off its departure. “Well, consider me flattered,” I responded over my shoulder before tossing the bleach mix into the back alley, “because not everyone gets regular visits from the bairn whisperer herself.”

Susanna MacNeil was the first friend I’d made in Edinburgh. Once Jamie and I had figured out a socially acceptable narrative for my sudden return, he was incredibly eager to introduce me to the people he’d befriended since moving to the city a little under a year ago. Though the names and faces eventually began to blur together, two details stood out with startling clarity: the look of both disbelief and rapture on his face every time he turned to me and said, “This is my wife , Claire” (a string of words he never thought he’d say again, and an acknowledgement that made me feel like I was floating); and the day I met Susanna. 

Our similar heights had allowed us to truly stand eye-to-eye; and though she was only three years older, the steely composure that had come from nearly three decades of delivering babies and helping new parents had ingrained a sense of unquestionable authority into her posture. The curiosity and shock from my appearance hadn’t quite left her face when I told her and her husband, Cameron: “I’m a healer. A physician, of sorts.” 

“Not of sorts , Claire.” Jamie had squeezed my shoulders and began rubbing my left arm. It had only been a month since we reunited, and I had become even more grateful for his physical touch, harboring my body amidst the whirlwind of this new world. “She’s had years of trainin’ and experience. She’s a true physician.” 

Her eyebrows rising in response, Susanna nodded twice, her demeanor now reflecting a different kind of curiosity — one that brought all types of questions to the tip of her tongue. 

“Well, consider me impressed,” she remarked, removing what looked like her work bag from across her body and giving it to Cameron. “If you two gentlemen dinna mind, Claire and I are goin’ tae continue this conversation at The White Hart down the street.”

She paused her movements, meeting my gaze with a hint of a smirk. “I assume yer English blood will be able tae handle a wee bit of the water of life?”

I laughed and felt Jamie’s grip on me twitch, knowing he was just as amused. Giving him a kiss on the cheek, I stepped forward and the weight of nervousness lifted from my shoulders. 

“I think I can manage that.”

We’d spent several hours that evening at the pub, talking about ourselves, about Edinburgh, and about what had driven each of us into the general world of medicine (my mind carefully processing my own disclosures to ensure their compliance with the eighteenth century, a routine task that became more difficult with each additional whisky). Susanna’s proactive nature made our friendship inevitable, and her regular visits — almost always including a healthy amount of gossip and laughter — strengthened my sense of belonging in this city. 

“In all seriousness, how was your day?” After shaking the bucket of any lingering drops of bleach, I headed back into my surgery and placed it under my cupboard. “These visits were all mother-and-baby check-ups, if I remember correctly?” 

Having grabbed her canteen for necessary hydration, she nodded in response before swallowing the last bit of liquid. “Aye, bairns who were born in the past few weeks. All braw, thankfully, with no issues.” Twisting the cap back on, she groaned from her sore muscles as she leaned down to put it back in her bag. “But they werena the ones who annoyed me today.”

I now knew Susanna well enough to sense her changes and emphases in intonation, and I bit my lip to avoid cracking a smile and waited for her to continue.

Men, ” she spat out, the exasperation making her voice unusually breathy. “You and I both ken we canna live wi’out our own, but they can be the sharpest thorns in my side. Christ, did I encounter some prickly ones today.” 

I turned towards her and leaned back against my examination table, crossing my arms in anticipation and letting my amusement clearly show on my face. “Men, indeed. Did one of them try to tell you again that, what was it, according to their ‘doctor’, a mother’s baby talk ‘makes the bairns daft’ ?”, attempting my best pass at a Scottish accent. 

The sudden bark of Susanna’s laugh prompted my own chuckle in return. “Blessed Michael, defend us. No, thankfully none of tha’ business. ‘Tis only….I dinna ken what it was about today, but I had a whole row of them who couldna care less in general.” She let out a breath in a way that made me think she’d been holding it in all day, then shook her head before meeting my eyes. “Disinterested. I mean, one didnae even look at his wife the entire time I visited.”

The frustration grew throughout her rant, and I felt both sympathy and appreciation for her. She loved every family she worked with (even if her love was limited to the baby), and she took it quite personally if she felt the mothers and their children weren’t receiving the respect or love they needed, societal customs be damned.

“I understand,” I contributed once she’d gone quiet, reaching for her hand and squeezing it once. “You get attached to your patients.”

“Shhhhh,” she shushed, winking before pressing her fingers against mine in response. “I have a reputation to maintain.” 

I let her hand go and walked around to the other side of my table, picking up the tools I’d left behind on my initial cleanup. “I’m sorry today was so rough.”

“Ah, well. It just bolsters my belief that some people arena meant to be parents. Cameron and I never had children, and I dinna regret a minute of our lives.”

“That is true,” I remarked, untying my apron and hanging it on the metal rack by my front door. “I’m surprised you haven’t received more opposition for openly expressing that idea.” 

“I think I lost my cares about that sometime when, like ye said, people realized I am damn good at what I do.” 

I noted the satisfaction in her voice and smiled back at her as I made one final round around my surgery to ensure everything was in check. 

“But my opinion on the matter doesna extend so far as to ye and yer husband,” she continued, meandering around the table and finding another part of the wall to lean against. “In fact, I dinna ken many men who take as much delight in newborn babes as yers does.” 

Susanna’s words recalled several fond memories. Two of the younger men in Jamie’s print shop had become first-time fathers a couple of months ago; and since we’d both come to know their families well, we’d visited them with sustenance (in both solid and liquid forms) at the earliest appropriate time.

“That’s very true.” I couldn’t help but beam at the thought, while my body recalled the faint but rather primal sensations it experienced whenever I saw Jamie with a baby. 

“Aye, the Morrisons told me they were able to catch up on some sleep while you two took care of their wean.”

“I was just thinking about that,” I responded, glancing in her direction before turning to my cabinet to organize the herb jars. “Jamie would’ve taken care of Aiden the entire time if he could have. He is so good with them, I can’t even be upset when he tries to pry them from me. He’ll act all concerned, saying, ‘Ye look tired, Sassenach, I’ll hold him for ye’ , barely a minute after I pick them up!” Though I gave my best eyeroll at the recollection, I couldn’t resist letting out a slight chuckle.

I heard the scrape of one of my stools as Susanna plopped onto it, likely deciding at that moment that any potential stiffness incurred from sitting was worth the relief for her feet. 

“That doesna surprise me at all, now that I really ken ye two. Just like I ken ye were meant to be a mother, that man was meant to be a father.”

A mother and a father. Susanna only knew the vaguest of outlines of  my and Jamie’s past. We had told her that we’d separated before Culloden for our daughter’s safety, and she lived “far away” in America — enough of the truth to keep it realistic. But she didn’t know about the first daughter we’d lost in Paris, or that Jamie had sacrificed his chance at fatherhood for our second when he sent me back through the stones.

Susanna had been incredibly helpful in the early days of my practice. I had begun by seeing the overflow of patients that Doctor Morgan had no time to see throughout the day. However, once she’d deemed my medical skills acceptable, Susanna began recommending my practice to the families she’d met as their midwife. Slowly, and with much of it owed to her, I had my own ever-growing circle of patients. Meeting the exhausted yet overjoyed parents, and the babies who would eventually become my youngest patients, made me feel at home in a way that words couldn’t adequately express.

But sometimes, I’d watch a mother cradle her baby in her arms, cooing at the bundle while the father beamed at the pair; or I’d observe parents soothing a child no older than four or five who’d seen my tools and deemed them too scary to be safe. And despite the joy that the people I met brought me, there were moments when I couldn’t deny the ache of longing I’d mostly been able to ignore for nearly twenty years. 

I never knew how much I’d wanted a child with Jamie until I’d stood with him at Lallybroch all those years ago, pouring my heart out under the mistaken impression that I couldn’t get pregnant. He’d drawn me close, and I’d begun to dream of our life together as parents. Even amidst the high-stakes politicking in Paris, I’d mentally escape by feeling Faith kick in my belly and thinking about how Jamie would be the father who’d perfectly balance my own to-be-determined parenting tendencies. He would have been the first to admit when our daughter or son had had him successfully wrapped around their finger. 

The unexplainable and history had denied us our dream twice; and while I’d accepted the reality that time had likely foreclosed that dream for good, the grief from that loss — a loss embodied in our two daughters — would never fade.

“He really was.” The emotion underlying my response caught me off guard and I cleared my throat, grateful to have my back turned towards Susanna. “And he is such a wonderful father.”

Before either of us could continue, another distinct knock against my front door jolted me back to the present and I spotted my second visitor of the evening.

“Mr. Byrne,” I greeted the local jeweler, a patient and friend of mine in his early thirties whose lanky frame stood at around six feet. He brushed his blonde mop of curls to the side as he quickly stepped inside and shut the door behind him.

“Good evenin’, Doctor Fraser,” he cheerily responded, adding a slight nod in my direction. “And how are ye, Mrs. MacNeil?” 

“Quite fine, William,” she answered, eagerness melting the exhaustion off her face (the Byrnes were a favorite family of hers). “How’re the wife and wee one doin’? Everythin’ all right?”

“Oh yes! Everyone is well, thank you.” After quickly scanning the room to spot any unaccounted-for visitors, a smile emerged as he deliberately  removed a small velvet box from his pocket. “Thankfully, my family and I aren’t in need of either of yer fine skills tonight. I’m actually here for that favor you requested, Doctor Fraser.” Lifting the box slightly higher, a gleeful expression took over his face, resembling an explorer who’d found buried treasure.

“I found it. I found the stone fer yer ring.”

A soft gasp escaped my tongue-tied mouth at his revelation, and I was suddenly torn between wanting to squeeze him in a forceful hug and wrenching the prized discovery out of his hand to see the proof myself. Considering that neither of those options were appropriate in this time and place, I swallowed the ball of sandpaper lodging itself in my throat and took the few steps necessary to meet him. 

“You did?” I asked hesitantly, my hand automatically reaching out.

“Aye, I did.” 

Noting the need likely dominating my expression, William gently placed the package in my hand. “Well, my father helped me. He was the jeweler for forty years, after all, so I figured if anyone could help me locate the exact type of cabochon ruby, it would be him. We used the information ye were able to give us to find the right stone, and once we found it, we fit it in the ring and polished it a wee bit for ye—”

I nodded at his eager explanations but my focus was solely dedicated to the box, holding an heirloom that neither Jamie nor I thought we’d ever see restored again. As I slowly opened it, unexpected tears filled my eyes and blurred my view of Brian Fraser’s ring. 

Jamie had entrusted me with it, but my trip through the stones resulted in the sacrifice of the ruby gemstone that snugly fit within its place. The lone gold band sat in a silver jewelry box — mostly unopened for eighteen years — and I laid eyes on it a few days before I left Boston.

Brianna sat at the dining room table as I made my final preparations, Ellen Fraser’s pearls dangling against her navy-colored jumper. They were one of two final gifts I wanted to give her, but the only complete one. I pulled out the gemless ring, and my mind took me back to the moment Jamie had placed it into my trembling hands. 

“This ring belonged to your grandfather.” Holding it delicately between my thumb and forefinger, I walked slowly towards the table and sat next to Brianna. “It had a ruby, but I lost it when I came back through the stones. Your father wanted me to give this to you once you were older.” I pressed the ring into her hands and squeezed them tightly. “You can buy yourself a gemstone for the ring, if you’d like. But this is now yours.”

Casting me a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, Brianna looked down and fiddled with the gold band. Her bottom lip caved under the weight of her bite — her telltale sign that she was deep in her own thoughts.

“This was Jamie’s ring. And his father gave it to him?” 

I nodded in response, emitting a soft “mhm” since her stare hadn’t left the object of our attention. “And it’ll be yours to either keep or pass on to your own children.”

Her head bobbed as she returned to her thoughts. I knew she’d reached a decision when the blue color returned to her eyes, her hands enclosed mine, and she pressed the ring back into my palm.

“Give it back to him,” she pleaded, her low volume unable to mask the shakiness in her voice. “Tell him — tell him it’s from me.” A grin lit her face as her hands returned to the necklace, her fingers cradling the individual pearls. “This is more than enough. He should have his father’s ring.” 

The gravity of the evening had finally caught up with me. Placing the ring on the table, I pulled Brianna against me and wrapped one arm around her back while brushing my other hand through her auburn locks, similar to how I’d held her in my lap when she was little.

“He will love it even more because of you,” I whispered against her curls. The slight tremor in her grip confirmed that I wasn’t the only one struggling to keep my emotions in check. 

“I know,” she mumbled. “That’s why I want you to give it to him.”

I removed the ring from the box and slowly revolved it between my fingers. The gold circlet shone against the light from the fireplace, brilliantly complementing the gorgeous ruby that sat perfectly amidst the metal, smooth but for the original etching of “Je Suis Prest” on the mount. 

“Now that’s a beautiful ring ye’ve got there,” Susanna remarked. “I can nearly see my own reflection in it from here!”

“Ah, it really is. I cleaned the bit of dirt and tarnish that had gathered on the gold,” William responded, his face beaming. “I visited Doctor Fraser here — what was it, a month ago? For that pain in my hand?” I confirmed his memory with a quick nod as he continued his story. 

“Anyway, it took a bit of research and time, but we finally tracked down the ruby type and put a good amount of elbow grease in to smooth out and shine the gem.” 

“It’s beautiful, William,” I confirmed, with no shortage of fondness for both his eagerness and the efforts he’d made to restore a beloved item. “He will love it.”

Confident enough in the ability of Susanna and William’s newfound conversation to keep them both engaged, I pulled out the ring of keys I carried in my skirt pocket and traveled towards the back of my surgery. After carefully removing and unlocking the safety deposit box I’d hidden in a locked drawer, I gathered the money I’d collected for Jamie’s gift. I’d managed to set enough aside at once after an unusual encounter with a collector, enamored with a rare coin (even by eighteenth-century standards) in my possession  — a treasure discovered by Roger nearly two-hundred years in the future, given to me as a possible source of future income. 

With both of us working, and considering Jamie’s year of frugality prior to my return, we had more than enough. As I counted out the money, I couldn’t help but surrender to the excitement. I had an idea for when I’d want to give him the ring; and though it would require the Herculean task of keeping it a secret from my husband for another month, I knew the look on his face would be worth it.

“Thank you so much for your hard work,” I said, walking towards William and placing the money in his hands. “And please give your father the same message on my behalf.”

Smiling brightly, he nodded in acknowledgment and turned to wave at Susanna before leaving the surgery.

“What’s tha’ for?” She’d kept her curiosity to herself throughout William’s visit, waiting only until the bell signaled the door closing before walking over.

I handed the box to her and she carefully opened it, the two of us studying the ruby and gold as it sat perched in a way that perfectly accentuated its beauty. 

“It was Jamie’s father’s ring. He’d given it to me before we parted, and…..” 

“He didnae think he’d ever see it again?” Although she was currently sharing my singular focus on the jewelry, she’d noticed my trail of thoughts disappearing and forged ahead.

Grateful for the mental pickup, I caught her stare and nodded. 

“Well, Christ, he’ll be thrilled!”  she observed excitedly. 

“The best part is that it’s a surprise ,” I announced both with anticipation and as a warning, given Susanna’s penchant for openness that veered towards tattle talk. “I wanted to give it to him for his birthday, but William was still looking for the jewel.” 

She closed the box gently and handed it to me, and I placed it in the safe. 

“When will ye give it to him?”

“Next month,” I answered over my shoulder before turning to ensure everything was properly locked up. “Our anniversary is in June, so I’m thinking sometime then.”

“Ah, well now his visit last week makes more sense.”

“What?” I spun back towards her, too curious to leave that remark unacknowledged. “He visited you?” 

Susanna, both blessed and cursed with her own transparent face, quickly realized that her casual observation had reached the wrong ears. “Oh, it was nothin’.” I could see her mind scrambling to recover as she waved her hand dismissively, eyes glancing around the room for a new topic. “Do ye need help puttin’ out any of the fires? I can take care of tha—”

“Hold on a minute,” I interrupted her hastily assembled diversion, and I felt the encroaching smile that came from the thought of Jamie possibly doing the same thing I was. “What did you two talk about?”

“Ye ken I always keep my friends’ secrets,” she digressed with her classic wink, fate saving her with a sudden ring of the front door’s bell. “And speak of the friend himself….”

A pair of tall figures temporarily blocked the fading sunlight from my open front door as they unloaded their bags, one of them rushing over towards me before wrapping me in a hug. 

“Fergus!” My greeting cut off by the usual tight squeeze that accompanied his embraces, I patted his back as he released his grip. “It’s so good to see you.”

“And you! How are you today, Milady?” he asked with a hint of his charming French accent, making himself comfortable on the edge of my examination table.

“I’m all right. Things are finally becoming more regular around here, but I wish you came by more.” I cast my most pitiful look his way, garnering a chuckle out of him. “How are you? How’s the shop?”

“Ahh, busy as always,” he answered, though the twinkle in his eye confirmed my suspicion that Jamie and I knew only the very surface of his life in the city. “But as for the print shop, we’re making a lot of progress.” Fergus nodded his head towards Jamie, who was chatting with Susanna. “The men he’s brought on have really helped speed up production, and the weekly reader numbers have been incroyable . We’ve been getting more interest from businesses to advertise in the paper, too, and it’s all Milord’s hard work.”

I smiled, both out of immense pride in Jamie and at the sight of Fergus scooting further back on my table, his swinging legs giving him an appearance of childishness that reminded me of the mischievous boy we’d met in Paris all those years ago. 

After a few minutes of back-and-forths that merely resulted in the vaguest of life updates from Fergus, Susanna left for the evening and our secretive but beloved guest headed upstairs to begin heating up the fireplace in preparation for the vegetable stew.

“Thank God we have an extra set of hands tonight,” I said amidst the echo of feet stomping up our stairwell. “I am exhausted , today was a busy one.” 

Jamie was crouched on the floor, sorting through the interiors of the bags haphazardly piled near the front door, but turned to cast a sympathetic glance in my direction. “Ye look bonny as usual, Sassenach, but ye do look dead on yer feet.”

“Always the flatterer,” I teased as I leaned against my table, admiring the muscles pulling the fabric at the back of his shirt and along his trouser-covered thighs. “And what on earth are you looking for?” 

“I’ll tell ye as soon as I find—ah! There it is.” He rose with several folded sheets of paper in his pocket, and he emitted a soft groan I was all too familiar with — the one your body can’t resist among the stiffening muscles rebelling against sudden movement. 

“You need to take better care of your back,” I remarked, holding out my hand and pulling him towards me once he took mine. “You’re not getting any younger, you know.” 

Jamie’s slightly open-mouthed look of faux surprise met my knowing smirk. “I havena even been three and forty for a week, and here ye are, already makin’ jokes at my expense.” 

“That wasn’t a joke at all, just a mere observation.” My grin widened as I lifted my chin slightly, locking my focus on his eyes. 

Jamie leaned in closer and cradled my face with his hands.  “Ye tease."

“Don't pretend you don't like it."

“Never said anythin’ about no’ liking it, Sassenach."

“Good, because I'll be doing it a whole lot more,” I answered proudly, “at least until you're a hundred."

“And I’ll always laugh at them, Sassenach, even if they remind me of how auld I am.”

Though I’d  kept a fixed composure during our exchange, the irresistible warmth in Jamie’s gaze and the slow descent of his hands towards my shoulders and down my arms conjured up memories from a few nights ago. Between the two fires — the first relit by the fingertips caressing my wrists, the second sparked by the newfound excitement from the small box currently locked in my cabinet — I was beginning to melt.

“But dinna fash , my darling.” The Scottish accent rolling off my tongue a little clumsier than I would have liked, I eased towards him and kept my eyes on his dilating pupils. “You’ve aged like a good whisky.” 

Clearly inspired by my silly retorts, Jamie decided to elevate the teasing as he moved forward, our mouths only inches apart and his breath further weakening my composure. 

“And you, mo chridhe , have matured like a fine wine.”

His words and touch together had left me on the verge of intoxication, nearly swooning as I felt Jamie’s hands begin to knead the tender spots on my lower back.

“But dinna forget, Sassenach,” he whispered into my ear after what felt like an hour later, “ye’re the one who married below yer age.”  

It was my turn to act out the role of the offended; and despite the sudden arousal coursing through me, I grabbed the papers from his pocket and gently smacked him against his side.  

“You know that with age comes wisdom, don’t you?”

“Oh aye? And who told ye tha’?”

“It’s a common belief among the greatest of philosophers,” I replied, maintaining a facade of certainty as I wrapped my arms around him, placing my hands on his lower back. “So you should consider yourself fortunate you’re married to such a wise woman.” 

The lilt in my voice cracked Jamie’s smug expression, and his amused laughter vibrated against my breasts as he kissed me slowly but rather generously. 

“Aye, I’m verra blessed indeed,” he concluded once our mouths parted. 

Looking up, I watched his eyes open and immediately answered the desire shining in the sapphire hues with another kiss. A soft moan of surprise from Jamie bolstered my own movements, and the delight I felt at my ability to catch him unaware made me shiver. Our positioning changed instantly, my arms wrapping around his neck and Jamie’s hands shifting upwards while pressing against my back. Once his tongue lightly touched my bottom lip, my greed took over and I opened my mouth in response, seeking the inside of his as well. 

Back in my time, I’d craved the rediscovery of some semblance of the physical and emotional joy that comes from mutual want between two people, my own attempts at filling that emptiness from losing Jamie providing necessary yet temporary peace. I treasured having Jamie in my life again, and was grateful for his favorite way of expressing the same feeling towards me; because despite my best efforts during our time apart, I’d missed being touched.

I’d held the hands of Frank and Brianna, the former with a touch that grew colder over the years while the latter had stayed just as warm and tender the night I said goodbye to her. Brianna and I had shared kisses on cheeks and full-body embraces, and I’d never left Joe or Gail’s presence (at least outside of the hospital) without a hug. As Brianna grew older, I’d tried to be open to the beginnings of a romantic intimacy with other men, but I’d never successfully moved past the first few kisses at the end of a date. The desire was generally not quite mutual on my end; and even in the times that it was, the passion had never burned as bright as it once had with Jamie and as it did now.

From the moment we had met, Jamie Fraser had never made me feel anything less than wanted. And in knowing how deeply and wholeheartedly he wanted me, and how my need for him was just as strong, I had never felt both more powerful and vulnerable than I did in Jamie’s arms.

A sigh from my body brought my mind out of its internal reflection, suddenly bereft of the feel of Jamie’s lips. Opening my eyes to observe further, relief flooded my senses as I gathered the context clues and concluded our separation had only been for replenishing our oxygen. Jamie pulled me closer, gently cupped the back of my head, and dove back in with a searing kiss. 

Shifting my arms behind me, I hopped onto the table and wrapped my legs around Jamie’s waist to bring him closer. As our hands explored and bodies began to slowly grind against one another, we were walking the tightrope in balancing our tender and luxurious movements with the physical need building with every touch. 

Christ , Sassenach, it’s takin’ everythin’ in me to not crawl on tae the table wi’ ye.”

Realizing that we were a slight tilt away from surrendering to our bodies’ calls in an environment that was prone to disruption from our favorite Parisian lad, I stilled my hips and leaned back. I brushed the damp curls plastered to his face, evidence of the need in his eyes and in the heavy breaths moving his chest, and kissed him in hopes of beginning a smooth landing.

“I want you,” I said, my own breathlessness preventing me from saying more in the moment. I didn’t leave his eyes, and one of my hands supported my weight against the table while the other grazed the stubble along his beautifully defined jaw. “But we also have a guest upstairs.”

Jamie’s eyes shifted upon the reminder of our surroundings, and he laughed somewhat ruefully.

“Oh aye, ye’re right about that. Though, I canna say tha’ the thought of ravishing ye here hasna crossed my mind before, and now I ken I need it,” he confessed, grabbing one of my wandering hands and pressing his lips against it before leaning in and kissing me. “What do ye think of sendin’ him home, tellin’ him one of us fell ill?”

“Stop,” I chuckled, pulling his upper body towards me and holding him. I settled my head in the crook of his neck, and we relaxed into the synchronized rise and fall of our breathing. “I can be patient.”

“Is that a challenge, mo nighean donn?” 

Kissing up the side of his neck, I ended at the bit of skin below his right ear. “Yes, but one I’ll win no matter what happens.”

Jamie responded with a half-laugh that indicated he was rather impressed with my conclusion, and his touch disappeared as he took a step back.

“Ye’re a bold wee minx, Sassenach, but I wouldna have ye any other way.” 

The delight glowing in his expression confirmed the truth in his words, and I slowly slid off the table before kissing him one more time.

“Let’s go be the excellent hosts we always are,” I said, grabbing Jamie’s hand after we had readied ourselves to head upstairs. As I surveyed my surgery one last time for the evening, I spotted the papers I’d grabbed from Jamie on the table and picked them up.

“What’s this?” I asked, handing them back to their original recipient.

“Nothin’ that needs discussin’ right now,” he answered as he used his free hand to fold them into his pocket before turning back towards me. “We can read them together tonight.”

After we handle more important matters,” I confirmed, raising my eyebrows to emphasize my point. 

His laugh bellowed throughout my surgery, the man unable to suppress his amusement as he squeezed my hand and kissed my forehead.

“Aye, of course. Ye’re the most important of them all,” he concluded, opening the door to our stairwell and showing off another terribly earnest wink.

The sounds of our feet echoed in perfect rhythm as we made our way home.