Jamie’s feet felt like lead moving up the grand staircase of Jared’s house in Paris. How could he dread seeing her while at the same time he longed for nothing else?
His last memory of Claire was screaming her name in the clearing, catching glimpses through the soldiers and horses of dark blood staining her skirts and the light leaving her eyes.
The child was born too soon.
That’s what they told him in the Bastille after hours of bellowing threats and curses and pleas at every guard who passed by.
At last he collapsed in a corner of the cell, seeing nothing. Their child was dead. He shook with the pain and shame of knowing his actions had driven Claire to the woods that morning. What could he have done? Fergus, the lad they loved as their own son, the terror on his face was vivid in Jamie’s mind. No. He could have done nothing else, save murder Randall on the spot in that brothel.
And that’s what he should have done. Better quick and over with, then it would have been finished before Claire knew. Before…
It would have been a promise broken. But better that, than their child dead.
Jamie’s arms ached to hold his wife. The scenarios played over in his mind like they had every day and night for the three months he spent in prison.
He refused to think about how she got him out. He knew, but he would not let himself think of it.
The door to their bed chamber stood solid and silent. He had been staring at it for the past ten minutes, alone in the hall. Afraid to go in. Afraid to turn away.
He shook himself, steeled his heart, and walked through the door.
Claire was asleep. Her curls were a riot across the pillows, and he drank in the sight in the dim firelight. The slimness of her neck and collarbone, the concave of her cheek, the dark circles beneath her lashes, told him she had been as miserable as he.
Jamie moved toward the bed, noticing Fergus on a pallet by the fire. Good lad, mon fils.
Then he stopped. His eyes had fallen on a little fist rising from the bed beside his wife. Everything in Jamie froze and then thawed with a snap when the fist waved again, and a soft cooing noise touched his ear.
O Dhia, thank you. Thank you. Alive! Christ.
The babe was perfect. Jamie lowered himself to the mattress with eyes for nothing but his child. His child. Dark eyes studied him with interest, and the fists waved again through the air. Reaching out a big hand, Jamie’s heart stumbled when his finger was confiscated by his tiny offspring.
He carefully picked the small bundle up and cradled it against his chest. “Hush, mo ghraidh ,” he whispered, “tis only yer Da, here to meet you. My bonny wee thing.” He hadn’t realized he was crying, but his vision kept fogging with new tears that he had to blink away.
Suddenly the emotion swamped his senses, and he could do naught but hold the precious babe close to his heart and try to breathe through silent sobs. He stood up and stepped away so his shaking would not wake Claire. Oh God, Claire.
Was this a dream? Could he go from being hopeless and alone in a prison cell to being free and holding his child, with wife and son sleeping peacefully?
But there she was, face placid in her rest. Strength and beauty shone in every graceful line of her body. And faithful Fergus watching out for his family like a guard dog, his features still soft and childlike.
“And you, a leannan. Here ye are, warm and solid in my arms. Real as can be, aye?”
Jamie sniffed and smiled through the tears at the small person he held. He sat in the chair before the fire and stroked the babe’s cheek and nose, unwrapping until he found perfect fingers and toes, a small sturdy body, and…
“ Daughter,” his heart swelled with joy. “Aye, ye are my darlin’ lassie. M’sannsachd, my sweet blessing.”
There was a gasp behind him, and Jamie turned to see his wife sit up with a start. “Faith! I—“ she stilled when her eyes caught his.
“Claire.” He was at her side without consciously getting up. Her eyes were wide and tears sparkled in the firelight. Jamie fell silent, reading the emotions that flickered across her glass face. There was fear, anger, relief, and then a wave of love that rolled down her face as she cried.
He crushed her to him, feeling whole for the first time in months. All of the fear he had been carrying melted in the warmth of holding her. Of holding them. They clung to each other, shaking with the release of emotion for many long minutes.
It was their daughter who finally brought them back to reality. She grabbed fistfuls of hair, bright and dark, and pulled as she protested their absorption in each other as opposed to herself.
Claire sniffed and smiled, reaching for the baby. She sat back against the headboard and set the child at her breast where she greedily began her midnight meal.
“Might I join ye, Sassenach?” Jamie couldn’t take his eyes from the beauty that was his wife nursing their daughter. At her nod, he settled beside them, absorbed in the normalcy of the moment. He found himself reaching to touch the curve of the tiny head covered in downy curls, stroking over to his wife’s other breast, full and heavy awaiting its turn.
“ Christ,” he breathed. “To touch you, Claire.”
Her breath hitched, in a tiny sob as she clutched the babe tightly. Jamie laid both big hands on her cheeks and wiped her tears with his thumbs.
“ Mo chridhe, mo ghraidh, Claire, I love you, don’t cry.” He leaned in to kiss her trembling lips, wet and salty. “I’m here now, Sassenach. I wilna leave you.”
“Milord?” Jamie looked up into the face of his son, sleep and tears of relief mixing in his eyes. He reached out for the lad, and found that Claire was reaching too. They gathered Fergus between them and Jamie wrapped them all in his arms.
The baby squirmed until Claire lifted her up and she stared at the smiling wet faces all gathered close together.
“Faith,” her mother addressed her with a smile, “I’d like to introduce you to your father.”
The Fraser family ended up sleeping all night snuggled tightly together in the big four poster bed. Fergus drifted off listening to the low murmur of his parents’ voices, Faith emptied her mother’s other breast and then settled into Jamie’s chest with a soft burp. Claire curved her body around her son’s back, laying her chin on his curls. And Jamie lay awake, filling the void that had gaped in his soul for months with the sight and smell and feel of his family.
When dawn touched their peaceful faces, Jamie felt the unmistakable strain of a bowel movement through the hand that rested on his daughter’s back. He looked down into the red face and rolled to stand off the bed before the smell woke Fergus and Claire.
The mundane domesticy of diaper changing had not hit him yet, and he completed the task consumed with wonder at her tiny features and perfect form.
His wife and son were yawning and talking softly when he came back into the room. “Good morning,” they grinned at him. Jamie lay Faith on top of the covers and she neatly rolled over onto her belly, reaching for Fergus and babbling. He scooped up the baby and started playing with her toes and singing her a foolish song in French. Claire drew Jamie to her side and kissed him gently. “Good morning to ye, my love,” he whispered against her lips.
Fergus glanced over his shoulder, and with a knowing smirk he carefully climbed off the bed with Faith and left the room, pulling the door shut behind him.
“Och, I owe him one.” Jamie leaned back and pulled Claire on top of his chest, running his hands up and down her back and sides, feeling her ribs too close to the surface. It was such a stark difference from his last memory of her, soft and swollen with child.
She answered his unspoken question, guessing from the touch that lingered on the places her bones pressed against the skin. “We were both very sick for a long time,” she tried to keep her no-nonsense nurse voice steady as she related the facts of the weeks they lay in the hospital fighting for life. “Mother Hildegarde was not sure that either of us would make it. Faith’s lungs were not quite ready, it is a miracle really, that she is so strong now.”
Jamie lay still, holding her tightly to him and listening to what she didn’t say intently. “I should have been there,” he spoke against the top of her head.
“You are here now.” Claire extended the forgiveness freely, willing to wipe the slate and move on from the hellish ordeal they had all been through.
He tilted her chin and kissed her mouth softly. “Aye, I am here now.” He swept his tongue across her lower lip, dipping down to taste her. Her eyes had drifted shut, but he couldn’t close his own, couldn’t tear his gaze from her when all he had wanted for months was a glimpse of her face. He let his eyes drift over it now, leaning to kiss her temple, drag his teeth gently along her jaw and lick the corner of her mouth.
“Jamie…” her breath was short, and he could feel the urgency mounting in her grip on his shoulder and the way her body drew up against his own.
“Are ye able, Sassenach? Is it too soon?” He would have drawn his head back from kissing down her neck, but he was held firmly in place with two slender hands anchored in his hair. He chuckled instead and continued his descent, laying flat on the bed so he could pull her over him as he explored her.
“I think I’m fine, I feel ready.” Claire was panting already. He found her soft breasts, nipples stark and beaded in arousal, and he pulled the flat of his rough tongue over first one and then the other. Her whole body jerked above him and he felt a grin take over his face.
“Let’s ease ye into it, aye? I dinna want to hurt you. We have time for the rest.”
Claire let out a soft whine, but he wasn’t sure if it was in response to his words or the kiss he had just placed inside her hip bone. He let the rasp of his unshaven face brush roughly against her smooth skin, leaving a sensitive pink reminder of his presence for her to feel there all day.
At last he reached his prize. Jamie steadied his wife who was on her knees above him, open in the most intimate way for his attention. He wrapped his hands around her hips and waist, marveling at the soft skin and slender power underneath. She trembled above him, both hands on the headboard for support, he could see her core already clenching in anticipation.
Here in the morning light, he saw the marks of Faith on her body clearly. The silver lines that webbed her abdomen like an elegant spider’s design, the skin stretched to house his daughter that hadn’t bounced back as taut and elastic as he remembered, and the pink of a healing wound on tender flesh that glistened now as she waited for him.
Feeling a knife in his heart once more for his absence, Jamie pulled her down and kissed her gently where her body had torn, giving him a child. He used his tongue to part her folds like the petals of a tulip, and then he lost himself in her.
Claire gasped, then moaned loudly and clapped her own hand over her mouth. He couldn’t think, couldn’t stop to wonder if anyone would walk in or hear. He devoured her and drank from her as if she was his life source, desperate and fierce.
Jamie couldn’t count the number of times she had coiled tight and burst into pieces, only that each time he burst with her, insatiable and greedy for more. At last she collapsed forward, begging him and crying, exhausted and sated.
He rolled till she rested on her side, and laid his head on her thigh, both of her legs still clenching and spasming over his shoulders.
“Thank you, mo ghraidh. ”
“For… what?” Claire breathed, her heart pounding loudly in her ears.
She finally relaxed, and Jamie slid out from between her legs and pulled her head to rest on his shoulder.
“For my bairns. For Fergus and Faith, safe and happy here with us. For being here to come home to.”
“Oh,” she was silent for a moment. “Well, it was my pleasure.”