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Breath of Life

Chapter Text

The house of the Lairds of Broch Tuarach stands empty.

Littered with weeds and overshadowed by a row of unkempt trees, the gravel driveway leads beneath a crumbling stone arch to the 18th century tower house beyond. Five-stories high, extended and much altered, the house is perched upon a slight rise, allowing for it to overlook the green fields and distant mountains that surround it.

The slate roof is mostly intact, although some tiles have slid enough to let in the rain and the occasional family of swallows. The windows are boarded up from within, the glass caked in layers of dirt and moss on both sides. Grass grows up around the steps that lead to the front door, the wood splintered and aged by the bombardment of the Scottish weather.

Lallybroch.

It has stood for three-hundred years, the home of Clan Fraser.

Except that no Fraser has lived there for nearly fifty years.

In fact, no one has.

Abandoned and forgotten, Lallybroch has been left to the mercy of the elements and the TV production companies. As it slowly goes to ruin, tourists flock up the drive to have their pictures taken with ‘that place that was used in that popular TV programme that one time’. They pay a small amount of money to the elderly woman who sits in the garden shed at the end of the drive, a printed sign behind her head reading All Monies Raised Go Towards the Upkeep of The Tower. And some probably do.

These visitors are not allowed any closer than the stone arch, where a heavy wooden gate bars their way. They climb and stretch up in the vain hope of seeing beyond. They carve their initials into the gate and stone, place charms and letters and pressed flowers into the grooves and splits and cracks, hoping to leave a part of themselves to memory and time. To be part of the story.

For Lallybroch has always been a bastion of stories and secrets.   

If anyone takes a walk down to the nearby village of Broch Mordha, they might hear some of them. If they wander into the Drovers Inn and take a seat by the fire, it is likely that someone will start to tell the tales. Of lights moving behind the shutters and boarded windows late into the night. Of echoes of laughter that can be heard rising from the basement rooms along with the aroma of freshly baked bread. Of the faint scent of fragrant herbs that lingers by the gate and along the cobbled yard, despite no herbs growing there. Of a sudden cooling of temperatures, even on the hottest of days, that leaves goose bumps and chills shivering down the spine.  

Perhaps even the story of a young English woman, who had moved to the village with her uncle in order to be a healer.

Who went out to pick herbs one morning and was never seen or heard of again.

Because people disappear all the time.

 

~~~~~

 

It was snowing on the day the last Laird Broch Tuarach, Jamie Fraser, drove his car from Edinburgh to finally claim his inheritance.  

 

Chapter Text

“IFFRIN!”

Jamie was not in the mood for this.

He leaned over the steering wheel and squinted out through the windscreen, glaring into the blizzard beyond. The wipers were going hell for leather, only managing to clear just enough of the snow for him to see the road disappearing round yet another bend. With an exasperated sigh, Jamie glanced back down at the SAT NAV; Broch Mordha was still a mile away, located somewhere along the narrowest road in all the Highlands.

It was late afternoon and it was getting gloomy, the indigo hue of the twilight descending upon the surrounding mountains. At best, there was only an hour of light left to find the village and the Drovers Inn, ‘a perfect place to eat, drink, sleep, and explore from’.

Or so he’d been told.

He’d booked a room the night before. Then, this morning after hitting the gym, he’d packed an overnight bag and had driven the four hours north. His plan upon arrival was to eat, drink enough whisky to send him off into inebriated oblivion, and then sleep until his meeting the next day. But as for exploring, Jamie had no intention of staying in Broch Mordha long enough.

The snow was beginning to settle into drifts when the village finally came into view. The Drovers Inn was situated hallway along the main street, the lights in the windows beckoning Jamie inside once he parked the car. It was smaller than he had expected, the décor clean and modern; clearly the paintings of flowers and the pink and green wallpaper that Nana had loved about the place were long gone. He stomped the snow from off his boots and stepped up to Reception, ringing the bell as requested to get someone’s attention.   

“I’ll be wit’ ye in a minute,” someone called out and a moment later, an absolutely stunning young woman appeared from one of the rooms off the hallway. She was just his type; short, blonde, ample bosomed and with a tiny waist. He smiled appreciatively as she sauntered over to the desk, hips swaying suggestively. He’d known the exact moment that she had recognised him, despite the week-old scruff and the tattered baseball cap he often wore to hide the famous curly red hair.

The faint blush to her cheeks. The audible gasp as her eyes glanced over his face. The dilation of her blue eyes, her attraction to him immediate. Perhaps this weekend would be a little more enjoyable then he had first thought…

“Good afternoon,” she practically purred once she reached him, pouting her pink lips. “Welcome tae the Drovers Inn. How can I help ye?”  

“I have a room booked,” he replied, quickly glancing at her name badge - Laoghaire. It suited her. “Tis under the name Fraser.”

Laoghaire battered impossibly long false eyelashes as she slipped behind the desk to check. Red painted nails clicked upon the keyboard as she called up his reservation. “Ah, yes. Here ye are, Mr Fraser. Ye have a double room booked for one night. Are ye staying wit’ us for business or pleasure?”

“Business, mostly.”

She smiled seductively as she printed off his booking form, asking him to check over the details before signing it.

“Weel, if yer lookin’ for somethin’ tae do this evening, I can make some suggestions. If yer interested, that is?”

She winked, leaning forward just enough to afford him a plentiful view down the front of her shirt to the pale skin beneath. There was absolutely no chance of him misinterpreting her meaning and what she wanted. And he was tempted. So very, very tempted. And it would be easy too. To seduce her and take her to his bed, offer her pleasure without there being any complications. He had done it before with other beautiful women. But, the voice in his head (which sounded remarkably like his sisters) quietly reminded him that he wasn’t there for a lost weekend.

At least, not this time.

He took the pen she offered him, signing his name along the line with a flourish. Then, with a slight shake of his head, he took what he hoped to be a subtle enough step back from the desk. “I’ll thank ye, lass, for yer more than generous offer, but I’ve got my evening all arranged.”

She blinked, eyes narrowing slightly in confusion and disappointment. He hated to do it to her, to himself, but he didn’t really need the distraction.

“Are ye sure?”

“Aye. I am. And I’ll trust that ye’ll be just as discreet about my being here.”

“Of course.” She nodded her head vigorously, sliding the key card over to him. “But do let me ken if ye change yer mind about anything. Yer in Room 43; second floor to yer right. We hope ye enjoy yer stay wit’ us, Mr Fraser.”

With a nod of his head, he regrettably shouldered his bag and found his way up the stairs. The room was simple enough, with magnolia walls broken up with accents of calming blues and greens in the upholstery and linen. The bathroom had a shower and was clean, with fresh towels and several different bottles of toiletries that he quickly dismissed. He dropped his bag down by the bed and fell forwards upon the clean sheets, heaving a weary sigh.

He just had to get through the next few days. Meet with the solicitor and sign all the necessary papers. And then…well, who the hell knows what he’ll do after that.

Jamie was just thinking about heading back down to find the bar when his phone began to persistently buzz beside his head. Knowing who it was likely to be without even looking, he swiped the screen and put the call on speaker.

“What do ye want, Jenny?”

“Hello to ye as well, bràthair.” His sister replied, a slight edge to her voice. “Did ye make it up there in one piece then?”

“Aye. Had tae drive through a damn snowstorm but I got here. No’ that here seems to be anywhere in particular.”

“Nana used tae say as much whenever she spoke about the place.” Jenny chuckled, then added soberly, “Ma went tae see her today…said she seemed a little more lucid. The doctors think they’ll be able tae move her soon.”

Jamie’s heart clenched. “That’s good. Did she say anything about...?”

“Ma did no’ say. Though, it makes me wonder if we’ll ever get the whole story.” – she paused – “Have ye been tae see it yet?”

Jamie rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. “No. No’ until tomorrow. After I’ve met wit’ Ned Gowan.”

“Aye. Alright. But will ye phone me straight after though? I dinna ken if I’ll be able tae stop pacing until I ken.”

“Ye and me both, Jenny. And aye, just as soon as I can.”

 

~~~~~

 

Ned Gowan sat waiting in his car at Lallybroch the next day, a large brown envelope held securely in his gloved hands.

Chapter Text

The world had turned white overnight.

Annoyingly.

Having spent the better part of the morning digging his car out of the snow, Jamie eventually drove the short distance out of the village, following the gently ascending road towards his destination. Finding the hidden turn on the left (the only marker a slowly rotting tree trunk), Jamie followed the tracks already carved through the snow until he spotted the small garden shed ahead.

And there, standing next to it like a portent of doom, was Ned Gowan.

He was a small, elderly man who appeared to be neatly dressed. He stared Jamie down from behind wire rimmed spectacles as he climbed out of the car, no doubt disapproving of the ripped-knee jeans and sunglasses. Pulling his beanie hat down further over his ears (a habit borne from trying to stay anonymous), Jamie took a deep fortifying breath and smiled.

“Mr Gowan.”

“Good day tae ye, Mr Fraser.” The older man nodded, shaking Jamie’s hand in greeting. “I must say, ye’ve chosen quite the morning for it.”

“Aye. Seems so.”

Ned Gowan chuckled as he gestured up towards the house. “Shall we head on up then?”

Jamie paused. This was his last chance to run, to disappear. To never look back and carry on with his life as though nothing was about to change. He could easily do it. Pack a bag and hop on the next available flight out to anywhere. He had the money, the resources and another four months before filming was due to start again. Four months of sunshine and parties, with no fucks to give. Four months of waking up in different hotel rooms, head pounding like a battle drum, stinking of whisky, stale perfume and sex.

He could do it and not regret it.

He could get lost.

But that inner voice was back, tugging and pushing against the guilt tearing at his guts. Because if he didn’t go through with this, where would that leave his family? They were relying on him to see through the legacy that should have been his father’s. To be the man that Brian Fraser had always said that he was going to be.

Weel, ye ken what, Da? That would have been be a whole lot easier if ye were still here.

“Mr Fraser?”

Jamie shook his head to clear the thoughts, his heart hammering in his chest. The aging solicitor was watching him warily, almost as though he suspected that his client was mere seconds away from bolting.

“Perhaps if I set out the terms again, it’ll help ease yer mind a little.”

He doubted it. But still, Jamie nodded and allowed Ned Gowan to lead the way. The snow crunched under his boots as he walked, head down. Ned reached the stone arch way before he did and had already kicked aside the snow to get the gate open wide enough to slip through. Only then did Jamie look up, seeing the house of his ancestors for the very first time.

Christ! The place was a fuckin’ wreck.

He glanced back and forth as he made his way across the yard, noting the decaying state of the outbuildings, the weight of the snow pressing down on already fragile wood and stone. There looked to be a small walled garden at the far end of the yard where a wooden arbour dangerously leaned, shackled by the dead vines that twisted about it. And beyond stood an enormous dovecot, the slate roof almost completely stripped bare.

He finally caught up with Ned at the top of the short flight of stone steps. The solicitor was fishing around in his pocket, finally pulling free a small iron key from within. This he handed to Jamie and said with a smile, “Tis the verra first key to Lallybroch and has been handed down to each of its Lairds in their turn. There would have been a wee ceremony but under the current circumstances…weel, tis probably for the better we just get the formalities dealt wit’ for now. Would ye still like to do the honours, Mr Fraser?”

Hesitantly, Jamie took the key from his outstretched hand; it was surprisingly heavy, the bow worked into a simple hallow oval. He turned it over several times, examining the nicks and cuts to the metal, the dull smoothness in places from centuries of use. For three hundred years, every Laird had done what he was about to do, and he found himself wondering if they had felt the same enormous weight press down upon their shoulders as he did now.

The blade easily slid into the lock. It took nothing more than a quick turn to the right for the mechanism to give. A gentle push against weathered wood and the door slowly creaked open.

The stagnant air of nearly fifty years stirred.  

“There’s a light about here somewhere,” Ned muttered, brushing an arm past Jamie to fumble along the wall. “The electricity has never been cut so…ahh!”

A sudden burst of light flooded Jamie’s vision.

“Christ! Ye forget how bright those old bulbs can be.” The solicitor laughed as he shuffled by Jamie, making his way down the hallway towards the back of house with familiarity.

But Jamie didn’t follow.

At least not right away. Instead, he stood frozen in the doorway, slowly removing his sunglasses as he stared in disbelief into the hall. The walls were floor to ceiling dark stained oak panelling, adorned with paintings in gold gilded frames. A dirty red floral carpet had been laid that also covered the stairs, some brighter patches in places where large pieces of furniture had obviously once been. Even the pendant lights that hung from the ceiling were layered in dust and grime and dead flies.

Jamie had to breathe in through his mouth to avoid the stench of mould and decay as he stepped further in, finding Ned standing in the kitchen. And he had thought the entrance was dated…

The room was a 1960’s throwback but not in the retro way that made Jenny giddy. The linoleum floor was a chequered brown and white, ripped and torn at the edges where it met the orange flock wallpaper. The cupboards were various shades of brown, some of the doors barely hanging on to rusty hinges. Only a hint of the original kitchen remained in the porcelain stoves that would have provided heat and the brick oven preserved in the far wall.

“Right then, Mr Fraser,” Ned began speaking the moment Jamie stepped into the room. He had wiped down the white formica table and had placed a large brown envelope down on it. “Shall we make a start then?”

Grudgingly, Jamie nodded.

“Now, the will is quite clear; ye are to inherit the house and estate of Lallybroch, along with the title of Laird Broch Tuarach, from yer grandsire, Simon Lovet. His remaining estate is to go to his widow and their children, save for a small sum of money set aside to cover the cost of the inheritance tax. Neither his widow nor his children contest this.” Ned paused, placing his hand down on the envelope before adding, “Inside here are all the papers I need ye to sign and the Deed of Sasine, passing the property, land, and title on to you. They will be yours to do with as ye wish going forward, although you will no’ be permitted to demolish the property or sell the land for profit.  Wit’ that in mind, are ye happy to go ahead, Mr Fraser?”

Happy wasn’t quite the word Jamie would use for it. But he asked his questions of the solicitor and finally signed the papers an hour later, knowing that he wasn’t doing it just for him. There was a bigger plan he needed to play out, regardless of how he felt about the grandsire he had never met. Even if it felt like he was signing away part of his own soul.

After the deed was done, Ned handed him the sasine and the key.

“Congratulations, Laird Broch Tuarach.” – he was about to leave when he paused, placing a wizened hand upon Jamie’s shoulder – “As yer grandsires solicitor, I could no’ say anything about what happened back then. But as his friend, and now that the old miser is gone, I’ll never understand the way he treated Davina and yer father. No’ one bit. And I ken he regretted that he could no’ make amends wit’ Brian while either of them still lived.”

“That was the choice he made,” Jamie replied, fists clenching. “I’ll take this place on, but it will no’ be for him.”

Ned smiled sadly. “Aye. As ye say. Weel, best of luck to ye, Mr Fraser. Yer gonna need it.”

 

~~~~~

 

Irritated beyond belief, Ian Murray couldn’t help wondering if Jamie’s luck was about to run out.

Chapter Text

“Hello?”

“What the hell is wrong wit’ ye, man!?”

It felt like a rhetorical question.

With his phone pressed to his ear, Jamie opened one bleary eye and blinked, taking a second to remember where he was. Old wooden shutters remained open, filling the room in the dull grey light of early morning. He could hear the gentle patter of rain against the windows, felt the chill to the air as the fire in the hearth had long since extinguished. For the third night in a row, Jamie had fallen asleep on the threadbare, yet surprisingly, comfortable old brown sofa in the living room, sprawled out beneath a knitted blanket with a near empty bottle of whisky in his hand.  

Lallybroch.

It was not where he wanted to be. He wanted to be back to where he had been a week ago, waking up in a whitewashed villa that overlooked the Arabian Sea. He’d gone on the invitation of an old stage school friend, jumping at the chance to get away from the damp, dreary January weather of Scotland. The private island he found himself on had been a paradise to relax and drown out the noise, a place bathed in endless blue skies and surrounded by aqua seas that lapped upon white sandy beaches.

Not that he had seen much of the island in those three weeks of his stay beyond the bar, swimming pool, and king-size bed. He hadn’t needed to.

“Good mornin’ tae ye, Ian.” Jamie groaned, pushing himself up to sitting position and wincing at the slight dizziness. “What do I owe the pleasure of hearing yer screeching into my ear for?”

“Tis nothin’ good about this mornin’, Jamie.” His best friend and brother-in-law growled down the phone. “What on earth were ye about last night?”

Jamie frowned in confusion. “Last night?”

“Aye. Or do ye no’ remember?”

“Erm…?”

“Christ, man! Were ye that drunk?”

Probably. But that still didn’t quite explain why Ian was shouting at him at – Jamie quickly glanced at his watch – seven-thirty.

“No. I canna remember because ye just woke me up.” Jamie reasoned, rubbing a hand over his face. “Calm down and give me a minute will ye.”

“Dinna tell me tae calm down. I’ve been up since six having to deal wit’ yer ego. Can ye at least tell me why it feels like I’m goin’ around in circles wit’ ye at the minute? I told ye to no’ say anything, to no’ get involved in the comments, but ye just canna help yerself, can ye?”

“Ian…what are ye-?”

“And what was wit’ posting that picture?” Ian continued to rage on, ignoring him. “Did ye no’ think about how that would look? I just can no’ understand where ye are coming from at times. And then to go and say all that other bollocks, givin’ those people even an inch to whip ye wit’. For fuck’s sake, Jamie. Ye really are a privileged bastard sometimes.”

Slowly, the whisky fog began to clear.

He’d been sitting in the kitchen with a takeaway, casually checking his social media by scrolling through the hundreds, thousands, of messages and notifications. It hadn’t been like this in the beginning, back when he was still on the stage and no-one knew who he was. But after the breakthrough TV role and the movie parts that had made him famous, everything he did or said was dissected with finite detail, with everybody seemingly having an opinion on the sums of his choices, from praise and reverence, to ridicule and spite.

He loved the vast majority of it. Most of the rest he could ignore. Some of it cut a little deep. And occasionally he would stoke the fires himself.

Through a flood of remorse and embarrassment, Jamie recalled that that was just what he had done. He’d been riled, spurred on by the whisky burning his throat and the endless weight of his grief and loss and rage. And he’d said more than he meant.

Iffrin!  

“Christ! Ian. I dinna mean-”

“No. Ye dinna. Ye never do. Do ye even ken what day it is, Jamie?

His head was spinning. “Wednesday?”

“Aye. Wednesday. And instead of helping Jenny out as I promised, I’m going tae spend the day shovelling yer shite. Ye ken, despite what ye think, ye are no’ the centre of my universe!”

“What do ye want me tae say, Ian?”

“Nothin’. That was the point!” There was a pause as he heard Ian take a few deep, calming breaths. He spoke again a moment later, his voice having lost some of its anger. “Look, I ken ye are going through things right now. I ken yer struggling. But the best thing is for ye to lie low for a bit. Dinna go near yer social media - let me deal wit’ it. Take the time off that was given to ye to get some peace. Deal wit’ the house. Find that little spark of Jamie Fraser again, for all our sakes.”

Rolling his head back against the sofa, Jamie closed his eyes and nodded. “Aye. I’ll do what ye say.”

“Good. Because I swear tae ye, if I catch ye posting anything in the next week, I’m goin’ to have yer balls for it.”

Ian ended the call as abruptly as he had started it, leaving Jamie alone once more. It wasn’t the first time he’d had an early morning run in with Ian, who had been managing his PR for the last five years. The man was good at his job, raising Jamie’s career to the point where he never wanted for parts or for publicity. But Ian often commented, sometimes even joked, that his only difficulty came from handling Jamie’s stubbornness and pride.

Or, as Jenny liked to put it, his ‘hard-heided over-inflated ego’.

With a groan and a brewing hangover, Jamie reluctantly stood and stumbled his way back into the kitchen. As he waited for the kettle to boil, he took stock of the room, screwing up his nose in disgust. A local cleaning company had made the house as hospitable as possible, but Jamie seemed just as determined to undo all their hard work. Piles of empty takeaway containers, wrappers, and whisky bottles were strewn about while the sink was full of dirty plates and mugs. There was the slight aroma of decaying food, the smell rolling Jamie’s stomach unhappily.

How had he ended up here and like this?

Unwilling to face down that demon for the time being, Jamie made himself a strong black coffee and for the next thirty minutes scrubbed the kitchen clean. Once every surface was dazzling and the plates had been put away, he gathered up the empty bottles and went to store them in the large pantry until he could take them into the village for recycling.

He stepped through the doorway. He glanced across at the window and the second door that led to what once had been a kitchen garden beyond, overrun now with dead plants and weeds. He looked away, stilled, and looked back again in utter shock and disbelief.   

For standing by the window was a woman.

With her back towards him, she was fiddling with something in the small stone sink, quietly humming a tune that he didn’t quite recognise. Her dark hair was piled up on her head, a few loose curls kissing the back of her long, pale neck, and she was wearing a costume of sorts – a mid-length sleeved plaid dress, the pleated skirts brushing gently over the stone flags under her stockinged feet.

Jamie was so taken aback by her bold appearance that it took him a second to find his voice. Heart hammering in his chest and angry that someone had gotten into the house (even though he’d had all the locks changed the day before), Jamie shouted out, “Who the hell are ye and how the fuck did ye get in here?”

The woman jumped, causing something metal to clink and rattle about the sink. She paused for a second, her back straight, before leaning forward to retrieve whatever it was that she had dropped. Then, unhurriedly, she turned to face him.

“As I live here, perhaps you might permit me to ask the same of you, sir,” she replied, her clipped English accent edged with fury.

 

~~~~~

 

Letting herself in through the open front door, Jenny Murray wondered what on earth her brother had gotten himself into now.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie gaped at her in astonishment.

“Excuse me?”

She held his gaze and said, “I think you will find my question perfectly adequate.”

“Lass,” Jamie gritted his teeth, barely able to contain his growing annoyance and rapidly waning patience. “I think ye’ll find I asked ye the question first.”

“Perhaps, but a gentleman would have provided me with an answer by now.”

Ah dhia! The fuckin’ nerve of her. “Then I guess I am no gentleman.”

“That is quite clear,” she replied tartly, placing her hands upon her hips. “You are aware that you cannot simply walk into someone’s house and make such demands.”

“Aye. And I can. Tis my house.”

She shook her head. “You are most mistaken, sir. This is the house of Laird Broch Tuarach and he does not take too kindly to strangers, especially those that lurk in the pantry.”

“I wasna lurking in my own house,” Jamie bit back, dumping the empty bottles down on the side. His head was pounding now, and this was the very last thing that he wanted to have to deal with. “Look, I’m sure ye dinna mean any harm in being here but if ye do no’ leave now, I will call the police.”

She blinked, appearing to be a little confused. “Police…?”

“Aye. Sae, come wit’ me and-”

“No. I’m not going with you.”

“Yes, ye are.”

She lifted her chin in defiance. “And what if I don’t? Are you going to slit my throat?”

Jamie blinked. Christ! That escalated quickly.

“Why no,” he was quick to assure her, eyeing her up and down. “But ye dinna look heavy. If ye won’t walk out of here wit’ me now, then I shall pick ye up and sling ye over my shoulder. Do ye want me tae do that?”

She swallowed. “No!”

“Well then.” Jamie rolled his eyes, satisfied that he seemed to have spooked her enough. He made his way over to the other door, sliding the two bolts across with ease. He turned back to her and said, “Best ye be off before I have ye arrested for trespassing.”   

But she didn’t budge. Instead, she glanced back and forth between Jamie and the door, clearly mulling something over. And then suddenly, her expression cleared. “Oh, I see. You mean to send for the Constable.” She sighed with relief, shifting her weight slightly from one foot to the other. “That was who you meant when you mentioned the police.”

“Aye. Who else would I be talking of? But if it takes asking them to get ye tae leave then-”

“There really is no need.” She interrupted, meeting Jamie’s eye. She smiled brightly, her brown eyes flashing in triumph. “He is currently breaking fast with the Laird. I’ll go fetch him myself.”

And with that, she pushed passed him, close enough that Jamie should have felt the fabric of her skirts brush his hand, but he didn’t. His confusion allowed her a brief head start and she was quick, already out of the pantry and into the kitchen before Jamie even realised. With an aggravated shout, Jamie set off after her, just catching the flash of her plaid skirts and stocking feet as she rushed through the door into the hall.

He would have sworn that he had not taken his eyes off her but in the split second it took for him to tumble into the passage, the woman had disappeared.

Jamie skidded to a halt, breathing heavily as he stared up and down the hall in disbelief. Where the hell did she go? He quickly checked every one of the rooms downstairs, looking behind doors and opening cupboards to check that she wasn’t hiding somewhere in the shadows.

But she wasn’t.

A shiver went down his spine, setting his blood to chill. It was just no’ possible...was it?

That thought still haunted him days later when his sister came to visit the house, letting herself in through the open front door.

“What is the matter wit’ ye?” Jenny asked, dumping her bag and keys down on the formica table. “I was expecting ye to greet me as I arrived but instead I find ye standing here, looking pale even for ye, bràthair. Do ye think ye’ve seen a ghost then?”

Jamie shot her look. “Dinna be daft.”

“Weel, I would no’ be surprised if ye had. Nana has always said the place was haunted.” She said, taking off her coat and bustling about the kitchen as the kettle boiled. “Do ye remember the stories she used tae tell us when we were bairns…”

But Jamie wasn’t listening.

He was staring over at the garden door, brow furrowed in confusion. The locksmith had confirmed his suspicions that nothing had been tampered with or broken. He’d even offered to come back and install an eye-wateringly expensive alarm system, one that Jamie was adamant he needed. But instead of feeling eased by this, he only seemed to be more agitated.

Because if the woman hadn’t come through a door or window, then how the hell had she gotten into the house in the first place?

He had mulled over it for hours, compulsively checking and rechecking the locks, unable to shake the sense that something wasn’t right. He constantly went back to the pantry, looking for some clue or another as to her and her whereabouts. But there was nothing save for faint smell of freshly turned soil and the bolted door.

That was when it had hit him. And once he had realised the error, it was all he could think about.

Because the handle had been removed and the door was hidden beneath layers and layers of paint, as were the bolts that he had slid across with such ease. The bolts that were now completely immoveable.

I am way too sober for this.

“Jamie? Are ye even listening?”

No. He spun around to find Jenny staring up him, blue eyes full of concern. “Are ye alright, bràthair?” she asked, handing him a freshly brewed cup of coffee. “I’ve been standing here for ages wit’ yer drink but ye were in a wee world of yer own.”

“I dinna ken,” he replied slowly, glancing back at the pantry door. “It was all so strange…”

“What was?”

Jamie shook his head. “If I told ye, I dinna ken if ye’d believe me or no’.”

“When have I ever no’ believed ye, ye cloithead.” Jenny smiled, smacking him on the arm. “ And if ye dinna tell me what’s troubling ye, I’m goin’ tae smack ye about the ears just like I did when we were kids.”

He caught himself absently rubbing the tips of his ears in memory. “No’ that you’ll be able tae reach,” he teased, gently nudging her with his shoulder.

“Rude.”

Jamie laughed but said nothing more. Jenny unusually seemed to let the matter go, standing quietly beside him while they sipped at their drinks. Eventually though, she could no longer stand the silence. “Ye ken, this house is quite ridiculous. But if ye want me tae do the designs for the place, yer gonna need to show me around more than just the pantry.”

“Aye. Of course.” Jamie nodded, glancing back at the door before leading Jenny back into the main house. “Jenny? Do ye think Nana will be well enough for a visitor soon?”

Jenny scoffed. “Yer her favourite, remember. She’s always gonna want tae see ye.”

 

~~~~~

 

Putting down her book, Davina Porter took off her reading glasses and smiled to herself. Tis about time, garbhach. I've got a lot tae tell ye.

Chapter Text

“Jamie! What a pleasant wee surprise tae see ye here.”

Jamie broke out into a huge grin as Davina waved him over to where she was sitting with a small group of her friends. They had clearly just finished lunch and were about to settle down for their weekly crafting activity (clickit, judging by the amount of wool strewn about the table) when his Nana had noticed him hovering in the doorway of on-site communal lounge.

Davina had lived in Beauly Court, a retirement community just on the outskirts of Edinburgh, for the better part of a decade. She liked the independence it still afforded her, allowing her to remain as active as possible without any of the family overly worrying about her or her needs. The mere fact that she had undergone hip surgery just over a month ago was neither here nor there, and it certainly wasn’t slowing her down.

“Ladies, ye remember by grandson, Jamie.” – a chorus of hello’s greeted him as he bent down to kiss Davina’s cheek – “What are ye doing here, a bhobain?”

“I’ve just come tae see my favourite seanmhair, tis all.”

“I am yer only grandmother, ye wee idiot,” she laughed, glancing over him with a critical eye. “When was the last time ye ate something?”

“I had something on the way down here.”

She tutted and shook her head, gesturing at one of the vacant chairs. “Nothin’ of any nutritional value, I’ll reckon. Sit down and we’ll get a bowl of soup to begin with.”

But Jamie remained standing and said, “Actually, I was hoping we could go for a wee walk. If yer feel up to it, that is.”

Davina glanced out of the window dubiously. “A wee walk…?”

“Aye. The weather is no’ too bad.” He gazed at her earnestly, trying to convey the message that he really needed to talk to her.

“All right,” she said at last, gathering up her knitting needles and balls of wool to deposit back into her bag. “We can take the short walk along the river if ye like?”

Jamie nodded, stepping back to allow her the space to put on her coat and grab her cane. “I willna be long,” she assured her friends before leading Jamie out of the lounge and down towards the water.

The weak winter sun felt warm against his skin as they walked along the path, idly chatting as a gentle breeze rustled the reeds that grew along the bank. They made it a fair way before Davina clutched at his arm, asking to have a few minutes off her feet. Spotting a nearby bench, Jamie helped her to sit before joining her, quietly watching the water ripple as it flowed by.

“What has ye sae fashed then, garbhach?”

“What makes ye think I’m fashed over anything,” Jamie replied carefully, pulling at an invisible loose thread in his scarf.

Davina remained quiet, patiently waiting for him to turn to look at her. When he finally did, she raised a grey eyebrow, her expression remarkably like the one Jenny would often give him whenever she didn’t believe a single word he said.

“Ye forget that I ken every one of yer moods, a bhobain.” She chided gently, patting his arm. “And right now, I’d say ye were sitting under quite the storm cloud. I canna do anything about it unless ye tell me what troubles ye.”

Jamie didn’t want to talk about what had happened, not really. The trouble, however, was that he needed to know what Davina knew. It had been two weeks since the incident, and while he felt himself lucky to have not seen the woman in plaid again, that didn’t mean that he was no longer on edge.

Because he most certainly was.

He had tried to rationalise what had happened. Had tried to explain it away as nothing more than a waking dream, a hallucination brought on by his stress and his growing dependence on a bottle of whisky to get him to sleep at night.

And he could believe that completely if it wasn’t for the nagging doubt that seemed to plague him every second of the day.

He cleared his throat. “Actually, Nana, I have a question about Lallybroch.”

“Ahh. What do ye want tae ken?”

He glanced at her briefly. “I dinna want tae hash up any bad memories for ye, sae ye dinna have tae answer my question, but what do ye remember about it?”

She laughed. “Yer goin’ to have tae be a wee bit more specific than that, Jamie."

“Aye. I suppose.” He thought for a moment, fingers tapping against his thigh, before he said, “When ye were staying there, before Da was born, did anything…unusual ever happen?”

Her dark eyes narrowed. “Like what?”

“Erm. Did ye ever hear voices? See things that could no’ be explained?”

“Ye mean as in supernatural things?”

“Aye…” his voice faded. He shrugged, not sure how else to put it.

She contemplated his question for a moment. “I can think of a couple of instances that spring tae mind. Why? What was it that ye experienced?”

He exhaled slowly, relieved in some way that she hadn't brushed it aside as he had feared. “There was a woman, dark haired and English. I thought she was some crazed fan that had snuck into the house, sae I confronted her and demanded that she leave.”

“Sae what changed yer mind, a bhobain?”

“She was wearing a plaid dress, the kind ye only see in period dramas. And when I went to open the exterior pantry door to that little kitchen garden, she ran past me as close as ye are tae me now. I should have felt her go by, but I did no’. I gave chase and could only have been a second behind her, before she just…disappeared. She could no’ have done that if she were real.”

“Tis true,” Davina mused, nodding her head slowly. “But I dinna ken if she was a ghost on account of the door.”

It was said in such a matter of fact way that Jamie was completely thrown by it and could only stare bewilderedly at her for several seconds.

“What do ye mean?” Jamie asked a little nervously once his head cleared, suddenly unsure about what she could say. Because if the English woman wasna a ghost, then what the hell was she then? And what had that got to do wit' that damned door?

“Och. That door has been nailed shut since the fifties. It does no’ open. But ye say that ye got it to?”

“Aye. But when I went back to check it, it was as ye said – nailed shut and painted over. I could no’ see how I’d done it at all.”

“It is curious. But no' unless…?” She stopped speaking midway, her expression baffled enough to cause the hairs on the back of Jamie’s neck to rise.

“Unless what, Nana?”

“Weel, Lallybroch has always been full of ghosts, Jamie. The house is old, but its foundation stones are older still. I dinna ken the whole history – ye’ll need tae speak to the Bugs for that. But I will say that there is a presence in that house, of someone that should no’ be there. They are no’ dangerous, mind. They just dinna belong.”

She reached across to grasp Jamie’s hands in her own and he noted that she was shaking, although not apparently from the cold. For she was shaking with excitement, almost giddy with it, her eyes bright and twinkling in wonder.

“Ye have tae promise me, Jamie, that if anything happens again, ye’ll call me straight away. Dinna delay or wonder if yer seeing things. I’ll come tae the house, although I dinna relish stepping one more foot in that hellhole. But I’ll do it, if there is the chance that I might be proven right after all this time.”

Jamie was now even more lost than before. “I dinna ken a thing about yer meaning, Nana.”

She squeezed his hand, let go and stood, meaning to make her way back. “I ken. But do go and speak to the Bugs down in the village – they were the caretakers when Simon lived there. They might be able tae help ye find a name for yer wee ghost.”

 

~~~~~

 

“He is bound tae ask about the money, Arch.” Murdina Bug whispered, nervously rubbing her hands together. Her husband nodded as he moved to the window, staring out over the fields to the distant view of Lallybroch.

“Aye. Let him.”

Chapter Text

The village was small but busy.

Apart from the Drovers Inn, there was another pub called The Leoch Arms (run by a Mrs Fitz, whose haggis and pancetta roulade, dowsed in whisky sauce, was possibly the best thing Jamie had ever eaten), a school, several small shops and cafes, a disused church, and a post office.

Where Jamie happened to run into one Arch Bug the very next day.  

“Will ye be needin’ anythin’ more, Mr Bug?”

Jamie, who had been standing in the queue for the counter absently reading the headlines of the newspapers, looked up in sudden interest at hearing the name.

“Nothin’ else, thank ye Rabbie,” an older man replied, shaking his head. “But ye tell yer Ma that Mrs Bug will drop by tae see her tomorrow with that roasting tin she was after.”

“I’ll let her ken, Mr Bug.”

As he turned away, Jamie knew this might be only his opportunity to introduce himself. His conversation with Davina, strange and confusing as it was, had given him something of a purpose. And while his forced filming hiatus had not been his choice (Ian had been adamant that Jamie could hiss and spit about it all he wanted because it wasn’t going to change anything), Lallybroch was proving to be a reason to get up in the morning after all.

Mr Bug had just stepped out of the shop when Jamie called out to him.

“Aye? Can I help ye, lad?”

It had been a long time since anyone had called him lad.

“I hope so.” Jamie smiled brightly, offering his hand in greeting. “My name is James Fraser and I’ve just taken on Lallybroch.”

For a split second, the stoic expression on his long face faltered, shifting into a mixture of shock and suspicion before flittering back again.

“Arch Bug.” He introduced himself, shaking Jamie’s hand. He was a tall and thin man, with a long-beaked nose and thinning white hair. “Sae, yer the grandson of Simon Lovat.”

“Aye. Although I never got tae meet him.”

“Weel, ye were no’ missing much. Miserable bastard if yer ask me.”

Jamie warmed to him immediately. “Sae I’ve been told.”

“What can I be doing for ye today, Mr Fraser.”

“I was hopin’ ye could answer some questions I have about the house.”

“Oh, aye. What sort of questions?”

“Mostly tae do wit’ the history and those that lived there, if ye would be willin’. I was told ye were once the caretaker there.”

Arch’s features softened. “I was, alongside my wife. If yer lookin’ for the history, ye’ll need tae speak to her. In fact, why do ye no’ come by the cottage for lunch this afternoon? Say around twelve-thirty?”

“Are ye sure? I would no’ like tae impose -”

“Dinna fash, lad. She’ll be far too starstruck by ye that she’ll no’ worry about anything else.”

With the address stored on his phone and a promise to bring along cake, Jamie finished off his errands and went in search of the Bug’s cottage a couple of hours later. He found it nestled along a peaceful lane, a quintessential chocolate-box design with a traditional lattice entrance porch and white sash windows. Bright heathers added splashes of colour to the winter gloom that Jamie found charming as he made his way to the front door.

Murdina Bug greeted him warmly, her long white hair plaited and hung over one shoulder. She blushed as he handed her the cake, even giggled a little as she ushered him into the small dining room, where she fed them all beef stew with herb dumplings and tried her absolute hardest not to stare at him while he ate.

“Weel, tis no’ every day that a famous actor moves into our tiny village.” She exclaimed in awe as she poured him out a cup of coffee at the end of their meal. “Ye are the talk of Broch Mordha, Mr Fraser.”

“Am I?” Jamie smiled tightly, acting surprised. He had hoped for anonymity here. But then, he supposed, it was bound to get out eventually.

“Och, aye. Nothin’ much happens in the village I’m afraid.” Murdina said cheerfully, taking the seat opposite his. “Or, at least, it hasna in the last ten years or so. But ye are no’ here to hear all that, are ye. Arch said ye were wantin’ tae ask some questions about Lallybroch.”

“Aye. I was just wantin’ tae ken the history. Yer husband said ye would be the person tae ask.”

The Bugs exchanged a look. Arch nodded and stood, leaving the room.

“I was the Parish Clerk for years and I became something of on an amateur local historian.” Murdina explained, sitting back in her chair. “I was always fascinated by the house and its contents. There were some verra old pieces of furniture and antiques that were worth a fair price. Most were sold off by Simon to pay off his debts but there will be some bits still stored up in the attic.”

Jamie nodded. “Sae I found. I have yet tae go through it all, but my sister was verra taken by it.”

“Yer sister is an interior designer, is she no’? I’ve seen her work in magazines and such.”

“Aye. She is verra talented. She has some grand ideas for the house.”

Murdina’s expression clouded. “Yer goin’ tae make changes tae it?”

“Perhaps.” Jamie shrugged, taking a gulp of his coffee. “I dinna ken just yet.”

She made a distinctly Scottish noise in the back of her throat just as Arch re-entered the room. He was dragging behind him a large wooden trunk, which he left just inside the doorway. She waited until he sat back down before she began to speak again.

“Lallybroch was built at the turn of the eighteenth century by Malcolm Fraser, first Laird Broch Tuarach. He was given the parcel of land the house sits on by the Mackenzie’s in payment of a debt, although tis no’ known what that was. Malcolm lived in the house until seventeen-thirty-nine, when it passed on to his son, Alexander. But after Culloden, the estate was stripped of most of its wealth by the British and it took a good century of hard work to bring it back from the brink.

It was extended in the mid-nineteenth century by William Fraser, who made a fortune breeding horses and had an extremely large family tae find the space for. And then in the twentieth century, the house was used as part of the effort in both World Wars. Yer grandsire, Simon Lovat, inherited it in the nineteen-fifties before abandoning it in nineteen seventy-one.”

Intrigued, Jamie had to ask, “Do ye ken why he was a Lovat and no’ a Fraser?”

Murdina nodded, taking a sip of her tea. “Because of his mother. She was descended from the Lords of Beauly and he felt that her family name was more prestigious than Fraser. But the money he inherited from her soon ran out, hence why he remarried and immigrated to America, where his new wife came from. I believe yer grandmother was pregnant at the time.”

“Aye, she was.” Jamie confirmed, not wishing to delve into that too much with practical strangers. So, instead he asked the question he had been meaning to ask all along, one that he hoped would set his mind at ease. “And at any point, do ye ken if an English lass lived in the house?”

Murdina’s mouth twitched.

“There was one once, I think. But I canna recall her name or when exactly. Ye’ll properly find an answer in the Lairds papers though.” She smiled and nodded her head towards the wooden trunk. “Ye’ll find everything ye need to ken in there. Arch and I saved all the papers, books and drawings that we could when the house was being stripped of the more expensive assets. They are yers now, tae do wit’ them what ye will. But feel free tae keep asking me yer wee questions, especially when it comes tae dealing wit’ the tourists in summer.”

Jamie, who had been staring longingly at the trunk in curious wonder, now frowned back at her. “Tourists? What tourists?”

 

~~~~~

 

The woman in plaid stared at him, eyes widening in horrified surprise. “What the bloody hell are you doing back here?”

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie glared at the crumbling wall of the arch and wondered how the hell he’d missed it.

There were hundreds of them, all squished and shoved between the weathered cement and beaten stone. Strings of beads and dried flowers that had somehow survived the winter blasts. Hand-painted pebbles and scraps of torn letters and drawings. And alongside these were countless names and initials all crudely scraped and carved into the stone and wooden gate.

Hundreds of tokens left behind by hundreds of summer tourists.

Tourists who, apparently, showed up in their coachloads to take pictures of Lallybroch.

This was all he feckin’ needed.

Murdina Bug had explained what the tokens were about, adding that she would take them down each year, usually just before the first of the tourists descended upon the village. She had dropped more than one heavy hint that the local businesses relied upon the income and that any changes to Lallybroch would jeopardise that. Arch had vehemently agreed with her, nodding his head but saying very little.

As he had left their cottage, the boot of his car laden with the trunk and several tubs of leftovers, Jamie couldn’t shake the suspicion that every move he made from then on would be watched, debated, and scrutinised. That he would be measured and weighted, and he would be found wanting once more.

And how would that be any different to every other aspect of his life so far?!

Sometimes, Jamie was convinced he was unravelling. He could almost feel the thin threads of his whole being slowly come undone with each beat of his heart, and that he was merely being held together by the scars that were etched and gouged into his skin. He had been told he would begin to feel better, that the weight of his grief and guilt would not always be such a heavy burden to carry. That he would be able to retie the threads and pull himself back together.

But a year on from the accident and he still felt chained and shackled by it, forced to his knees to crawl all the way.

Shaking his head to clear the memories (there really wouldn’t be much point in getting into it again), he began the slow process of removing the tokens that were not wedged too tightly for him to pull out with his fingers. Every now and again he would pause to read a letter or to inspect a painted pebble, marvelling at the detail and wondering at the story behind each one. He knew them for what they were - tokens for past loves, for forgotten dreams and enduring hope. Each one a precious and shared memory that he didn’t think he could just throw away.

He would have to think of something.

After an hour and with the light too faded to continue, Jamie returned to the house. He balanced the box of tokens on the trunk he had left in the hall, lit the fire in the living room and heated one of the containers of Mrs Bug’s beef stew for his dinner. Sated and with a tumbler of whisky in his hand, he sank into the old brown sofa and closed his eyes. It had been one hell of a long day…

“What are you doing back here again?”

To say that he was surprised by a woman’s voice speaking directly into his ear while he slumbered, would be an understatement.

With a shriek, Jamie woke and scrabbled to his feet. The tumbler fell from his hand, the glass shattering into pieces upon the wooden floor, eyes wide in horrified surprise. The woman in plaid was standing on the other side of the sofa, hands on her hips, glaring furiously at him.

“Well?”

Jamie clutched at his chest, strangely relieved that it was her.

“Dinna go sneaking up on me like that.” He warned, feeling the rapid beat of his heart beneath his palm. “Christ! I think my heart is gonna burst.”

Her anger quickly gave way to alarm.

“Are you feeling unwell?” she asked, hurrying around the sofa towards him. “You do look awfully pale. Perhaps you should sit down?”

“I was sitting down,” Jamie shot back, stumbling backwards until the back of his knees hit the old leather armchair. He landed heavily, trying to catch his breath as the woman hovered close by. He glanced at her through the haze of his subsiding shock, noting that she was wearing a different dress beneath the thick woollen travelling cloak; not plaid as before but a dark green skirt embroidered with tiny flowers. Both hems were caked in mud, as were her boots. Can ghosts change outfits and get splattered with dirt?

He added crabbily, “In fact, I was tryin’ tae take a nap when ye scared the shite out of me.”

“Yes, I could see that.” She bit down on her lip to hide her smile. “Can I fetch you something? Some water perhaps? Really, you do look terribly pale.”

Without waiting for him to reply, she crossed the room towards the two large floor to ceiling windows. As she had her back to him, Jamie couldn’t make out what she was doing but he heard a familiar clink and she turned back towards him with a fresh glass of whisky in her hand.

She came to stand before him and offered him the glass. “Here. You had better drink this.”

Curious, Jamie peered around her skirts. He blinked. Swallowed. Shook his head in wonder. Because there was absolutely no table in the room, let alone much of anything else. Sae, where the hell did the whisky and the glass come from?

“It is good stuff,” she encouraged gently, nodding her head. “It will cure what ails you.”

He was going to need more than one glass to do that.

Hesitantly, Jamie reached up for the glass, expecting his hand to pass through it. But to his increasing alarm and confusion, his fingers curled around the cool surface, the weight of it solid in the palm of his hand. He heard her gasp and he looked up. For a second their eyes locked and Jamie was certain he saw the strangest look pass over her face – unexpected and too brief to be certain. Almost as though she hadn’t expected him to be able to touch the glass either.

Realising that she was staring, the woman cleared her throat and turned her attention to the fire. Jamie raised the glass and smiled behind the rim before taking a dubious sip of the whisky. It slid down his throat, burning in that way that warmed him all the way through. He raised his eyebrows in pleasant surprise. She was right. It really was good stuff.

“I wonder if Mrs Crook has been in already?” she mumbled to herself, taking a log from out of the basket he had placed by the hearth. She paused. Stared at the basket for a moment and then shook her head, throwing the log onto the flames. She stayed by the fire to warm her hands and asked, “Did Mrs Crook ask you to wait in here for the Laird?”

He shook his head. “I dinna ken who this Mrs Crook is but no-one had asked me tae do anything yet.”

She frowned. “Then you just decided to let yourself in to someone else’s house to take a nap?”

“As I’ve told ye before, I live here.”

“Not this again,” she muttered darkly, whirling around to face him. She didn’t appear to be angry but curious. “What is it that you want and why do you keep showing up so unexpectantly?”

I dinna want anything. And tis ye that keeps showing up outta nowhere.”

She blinked. “I’m not the one. It is you that keeps appearing here like some sort of…of ghost! Leaving behind strange glass bottles and looking the way that you do, wearing…what exactly are you wearing?”

“Tis quite normal tae dress like this where I come from."

"And where, exactly, is that?"

"Edinburgh."

She scoffed. "I have never seen a man dressed like that and I’ve been to Edinburgh on more than one occasion, I assure you."

Although his confusion was hardly abating, he was starting to realise a thing or two. 

Leaning forward, he said "I have tae ask, what year is it?" 

She tilted her head just enough for an errant curl that had been tucked behind her ear to come loose. “It is the year of our Lord seventeen hundred and forty-three...why? What year do you think it is?"

Iffrin!

He dodged the question. "What are ye talking about wit’ the bottles?”

"The bottles from the last time you were here. You left them rolling about the floor of the pantry. The Constable was thoroughly put out about having his meal interrupted for nothing, I can tell you." Her eyes narrowed. "By the way, where is Glenmorangie? I could not find it on a map.”

Jamie sat gaping at her, his throat suddenly dry. How was any of this feckin’ possible? He was having an argument with a ghost who thought it was nearly three hundred years ago. At least, he thought she was a ghost…he had absolutely no idea what she could be otherwise.

He really needed to stay off the whisky for a bit.

So he tried to explain. “Tis a name of a distillery on north-east coast. Look, I dinna ken-”

Jamie stopped suddenly, as from inside his jeans pocket his phone started to loudly vibrate.

Her eyes widened in shock. “What is that? What on earth…are you quivering?”

“Erm…” he cleared his throat. “It’s my phone actually.”

“Your what?”

“My phone.” He fished the device out and hesitantly showed her. Ian’s face filled the screen and she stared into it in horror.

“How did he get in there?”

Jamie tried not to laugh. “He isn’t in there. It’s a photograph…a sort of portrait made using light.”

“Light?” she repeated, her expression one of terrified fascination as she stepped closer. This close, he found himself noticing that she had a natural pale complexion and that she had a smattering of freckles over the bridge of her nose. But it was her eyes that gave him pause; an extraordinary golden-brown that reminded him of a hawk. She lifted a cautious finger, pressing the screen and somehow accepting the call. That suspicion and fear had her snatch her hand back as Ian’s distorted voice filled the silence.

“Jamie! I have some good news for ye, bràthair-cèile.”

He slowly raised the phone to his ear, keeping his eyes locked on hers. Tis alright, a nighean. Please dinna look sae afraid. I’ve no idea what is goin’ on either.

“Ian. I canna talk right now.”

“Why ever no’?”

“Look, I’ll call ye back later, aye?”

But Ian wasn’t quite prepared to let it go. “Is everythin’ okay, Jamie. Ye sound a little odd. Has somethin’ happened? Ye dinna get into it wit’ someone on social media again because I’ve just managed to clear up the last time!”

The woman, who had been muttering vaguely to herself about witchcraft, suddenly snapped her attention towards the door and frowned.

“I’ll tell ye later, I promise.” Jamie replied, worry growing and gnawing in his wame. Something, or someone, had spooked her. He ended the call, leaving his phone and the glass on the arm of the chair before slowly standing. “Are ye alright?”

The woman was nervous, wringing her hands as she began to pace the room. “I need to go,” she whispered urgently. “I cannot be in here.”

Heart pounding, Jamie asked “Are ye no’ safe?”

“Oh no! Completely safe, I assure you. It is just that the Laird has a terrible temper at the best of times, worst when he is in any kind of pain. I should have gone to him the moment I arrived but instead, I got distracted by you. There really is no telling what he will do now that I am late.”

He took a step towards her, suddenly wishing to draw her near, wanting to keep her safe. “Ye promise that he will no’ hurt ye!”

She stopped pacing, a small smile curling her lips. As her gaze met his, Jamie noticed that his heart had started a new little drumbeat. Ah dhia!

“Never! But I thank you for your concern. And I do need to go.” She moved to the door, paused, and turned back to face him. “Do you think that we’ll see each other again? Because I have a lot of questions.”

Jamie shrugged, ignoring the cold feeling that crept over him at the thought of not seeing her again. “I dinna ken how this thing works. But I hope so.”

She smiled kindly, nodded and ducked out of the room.

As though she had never been in there in the first place. 

Jamie slowly lowered himself down onto the sofa, mind whirling. He knew he needed to stay calm, but he didn’t think that he was capable of it in that moment. He felt erratic and out of control as all sorts of feelings bubbled their way to the surface, yet he had no idea how to admit to any of them.

All he knew for sure was that he needed to speak to his seanmhair as soon as possible.

 

~~~~~

 

“I dinna think ye’d ever want tae be back here, Ma.” Ellen Fraser queried, glancing at her mother-on-law in the passenger seat of her car as they made their way to Lallybroch. “What changed yer mind?”

Davina turned to her and offered her a mischievous smile. “Because I think our wee Jamie has seen her.”

 

 

Chapter Text

There was barely any light coming through the one small window.

With a heavy sigh, Jamie flipped the brass switch by the door and waited. For a moment, nothing happened. But then a dull gentle hum began to echo about the cavernous space above his head. The lights flickered as the fluorescent tubes within the dirt filled strips finally ignited and artificial orange light filled the room.

He was having to face the nightmare once more.

The attic space of Lallybroch was enormous. Spanning the entire length of the 18th century tower, the space extended upwards into the vaulted roof, where ancient timbers had been cut and carved into heavy beams. A narrow set of rickety wooden ladders were positioned along the far wall, allowing for access up into the rafters and a small hatch out onto the slate rooftop.

Several weeks before, when Jamie and Jenny had first climbed the staircase up to the attic, he had been filled with an excited apprehension. Jenny, on the other hand, had been only too eager to find out if there was anything left from when the house had last been occupied.

What they found had been extraordinary.

Every inch of space had been given over to boxes full of books and ornaments, oil lamps and their delicate glass shades. There was so much furniture covered over in mouldy dustsheets, from tables, chairs, sideboards, and cabinets, to wardrobes, mahogany and oak bedframes, and bookcases. All of it deemed unworthy to sell and left to collect dust, forgotten and unwanted.

But Jenny had seen the potential. She had spent a good couple of hours exploring the hoard, cooing over what she found and making suggestions as to what could be reused in her designs for the interior. Between them, they had dragged certain items downstairs, distributing them about the rooms as starting points for colour and fabrics. One of the beds had immediately caught Jamie’s eye; a dark stained oak frame, much older than any of the others, the headboard made up of four panels with carved moulded decoration while the two chunky posts of the footboard were topped with turned orbs.

It was plain and simple, nothing like any piece Jamie had owned before. He could not explain what had drawn him to it, but he had reverently rebuilt it, purchased a new mattress, and had slept more peacefully upon that bed than he had done on any other in years.

Ignoring the flutter of wings coming from somewhere up in the gloom, Jamie gingerly now made his way towards the back of the attic, where the largest pieces of discarded furniture stood forlornly. He could smell the damp that had seeped in through the holes in the slate, could hear the constant drip of a large leak that had sprung once the snow had melted the week before, the droplets splashing into an already half full bucket. Making a mental note to change the bucket out (wishing that the roof contractor could start earlier than the beginning of next month), Jamie began his search.

“Have ye no’ found it yet?”

Shaking his head as Davina’s voice somehow carried up the three flights of stairs to reach him, Jamie hollered back, “No’ yet, Nana! Tis gonna take more than five minutes, ye ken!”

“Dinna go and get cheeky wit’ me, James Alexander Malcolm.” – he winced at the use of most of his full name (hearing it was never a good sign) – “Will ye no’ hurry up though. There’s something in that crate that I want tae show ye.”

Jamie chuckled, oddly at ease in the house for the first time in weeks, attributing it to the arrival of the Fraser matriarchs.

Davina and Ellen had appeared early that morning, bustling through the front door with arms laden with bags of food, cleaning equipment, and three enormous houseplants. Tutting at how tired and scruffy Jamie looked, they had sent him off to get washed and dressed whilst they busied themselves with making the beds, cleaning down and dusting every surface, and cooking up an absolute storm in the kitchen, filling the house with delicious aromas and laughter that reminded Jamie of home.

And his heart had ached, for it had given him a glimpse of what Lallybroch could be.

After an enormous Scottish breakfast (complete with a square lorne sausage, haggis, and tattie scones that made his mouth water), Davina had made him drag the trunk the Bug’s had given him into the dining room before sending him off to find this one particular crate that she knew to be in the attic.

Where though, was proving to be a problem.

Fifteen minutes of fruitless searching, Jamie heard the light footsteps of someone coming up the stairs behind him.

“I thought I’d come and see if ye needed a hand, mo mhac.”

He glanced back to see Ellen Fraser standing in the doorway, her blue eyes wide as she stared about her. In her late fifties, she was a strikingly handsome woman; a Mackenzie through and through, she was only a few inches shorter than his 6’ 4 frame, her once vibrant red hair, so like his own, now dulled and streaked with white.  

“Christ!” She exclaimed in awe as she carefully climbed over a pile of moth-eaten linens. “There is just sae much stuff up here. What are ye goin’ tae to wit’ it all?”

“Dinna ken,” Jamie answered, peeking at another crate. “But Jenny has had a few ideas.”

Ellen smiled proudly. “Sae I’ve heard. Ye should see all the fabric swatches she’s been gathering up.”

“Aye. She’s been sending me regular updates and I’ll be getting the full review over the weekend when she and Ian come up tae stay.”

“Of course. She is verra excited.” Ellen nodded, rolling up the sleeves of her jumper. “Sae, where would ye like me tae start?”

Pointing her in the direction of a stack of crates still unchecked, they spent a few moments quietly reading the markings before Jamie felt his Ma’s gaze come to rest upon him.

“I’ve been meaning tae ask ye,” she ventured gently, her voice soft. “How ye are, Jamie?”

He should have known, really . Ellen Fraser was not one to outwardly ambush either of her bairns when she needed to know something. She was far more subtle than that.

“I’m fine, Ma.”

“Just fine?”

He had no idea how she did it, but with those two words, Ellen had ripped a hole in his armour.

A knot of tension in his chest, the one that he could never quite get rid of, tightened. His thoughts started to scatter back and forth, trying to find an answer that would appease her in some way. He kept his face turned away, clenching his eyes shut against the sudden wave of emotion that threatened to pull him under and drag him down. He tried to quieten his mind but that feeling of unravelling was rapidly coming upon him.

She must have sensed his struggle for Ellen was on her feet and moving towards him before Jamie noticed, tenderly taking him by the elbow and easing him down to sit upon a torn leather settee.

“Na bitroimh-chèile, a ghaoil.” She whispered in Gaelic, just as she always did when she was trying to ease his suffering. “Bruidhinn rium, mo leannon.”

Jamie opened his eyes, meeting her worried gaze with his own. One shuddering breath and he said, “I miss him sae much, Ma.”

Ellen’s expression softened. “As do I, Jamie. Every single day. But yer Da would want us tae let go of our grief so that we might live. Especially ye, mo mhac.”

He swallowed the fear. “Do ye think he would be angry at me for taking this place on, when it should have rightfully been his?”

“No. Yer Da never wanted anything from Simon and had made that verra clear. Had yer Da still been wit’ us now, he would no’ begrudge ye this. Christ! He’d be here everyday tae help ye make this place yer home. He loved ye, Jamie. Dinna ever think otherwise.”

“Despite what I said tae him?”

Especially because of that. Leig às do chiont,” she said kindly, pressing her hand over his heart. “Dinna let it pull ye apart.”

Jamie nodded as Ellen wrapped her arms around him, stroking his back with gentle, soothing movements. They stayed that way for a while, simply offering the comfort that came from the closeness of family. Already he felt lighter, the tension easing just as it always did whenever his Ma put him straight. He was a long way from healing the scars that were inside of him, from being anything like the Jamie he had been from a year before, but perhaps, given the time and space, he might be able to make a start.

“Jamie? What did the crate yer Nana wanted look like again?”

“She said it was painted with forget-me-nots. Why?” Jamie asked, looking around in question.

“Because ye’ve got yer feet on it, mo mhac.”

Less than ten minutes later, and with Ellen heading down before him to make some tea, Jamie triumphantly placed the crate down on the kitchen table. Davina, who had been sitting skimming through an old ledger, looked up and laughed in delight.

“Ye finally found it,” she said excitedly, practically throwing the book aside. “Tis been a long time since I’ve set eyes on this.”

“What are ye hopin’ tae find, Ma?” Ellen asked, entering right behind Jamie from the kitchen with three steaming mugs. “And how do ye ken what’s even in it?”

“Because this was mine, a nighean, back from when I lived here and before Brian was born.”

Jamie and Ellen shared a look.

“But I thought ye took everything wit’ ye?” Ellen asked, taking a sip of tea. “Ye said ye never wanted tae leave any of yerself here.”

Davina smiled coyly. “Och, I took everythin’ that mattered at the time. Everything that’s in here, belongs tae Lallybroch.”

“And the significance of the flowers, Nana?” Jamie asked as sat down beside her. He grabbed the disgarded ledger, skimming through the pages and seeing nothing but orders for seeds and buildings materials.

“I dinna ken,” Davina mused, standing to begin riffling through the contents. “Tis always been the flower I associated wit’ this place. I used to dream about them whenever I stayed in the smaller north bedroom - forget-me-nots and a grey cat, for some reason. Sae I painted them on so that I’d always ken how tae find it. Ah! Here it is.”

He glanced up to find Davina holding a miniature portrait, brushing off the layers of dusts from the frame almost affectionately. Ellen had moved to peer over her shoulder, her expression curious as she asked, “Is that her?”

Davina nodded but had shifted her gaze to Jamie. “I think sae. Although Jamie here will be able tae tell us if it’s a true likeness.”

“What are ye talkin’ about?” He questioned, taking the frame from her when she offered it. “Why would…I…ken…?”

Jamie voice faded. He had only glanced at the portrait briefly, too briefly to notice anything else, but he did recognise the face immediately. Memory slammed into him and would have knocked him off his feet had he not already been sitting. For staring back up at him, the colour used to paint her eyes completely wrong, was the woman in plaid.

Gasping in surprise, his own eyes devoured the painting. She was smiling slightly, her usually pale cheeks given a rosy hue. She was standing in a small garden, holding a bouquet of herbs between her long, delicate fingers. Lallybroch had been painted behind her, far enough away so that the entire tower could be seen, along with most of the outbuildings and the dovecot. Sheep and cows grazed on the emerald fields behind, the green strips rising to a sparsely wooded hill topped with a stone circle.

“Tis her then!” Ellen stated upon seeing his reaction, sitting down beside Jamie and gently prising the portrait from his fingers so that she could take a better look. “Tis yer ghost?”

“How…? What…?” Jamie spluttered, glancing back and forth between the portrait, Ellen, and Davina. “I dinna think ye believed in all that superstitious stuff, Ma?”

Ellen threw him a look and laughed. “Ye forget that I was raised in the Highlands, Jamie. Tis in my blood. Sae, have ye seen her again since?”

“Of course he has. Tis why we are here,” Davina chimed in before Jamie could speak. She smiled at him sadly and said, “I saw her once myself, when I first started working for the Frasers. She was standing by the sink in the pantry, as clearly as I see ye both now, and I watched her open and close that pantry door, but when I tried to follow, I could no’.”

Jamie frowned. “I dinna understand…”

“Neither do I, garbhach. Tis why it’ll be interesting tae look through that trunk the Bug’s gave ye. But I can tell ye this - her name was Claire and tis always been believed that the second Laird Broch Tuarach murdered her in a fit of jealous rage.”

 

~~~~~

 

“Ye dinna remember, do ye? The fact that ye died.”

Claire gaped at him, her eyes flashing in annoyance. “What on earth are you talking about?”

 

 

Chapter Text

Perspective. That was what Jamie needed to find.

A little bit of perspective and, possibly, a large glass of whisky.

After saying goodbye to Davina and Ellen earlier that morning (with a promise that, of course, he would call them more often), Jamie had sat at the dining room table and stared at the contents of the trunk, now meticulously organized in neat piles. There were wills, personal letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, handwritten ledgers and drawings. Century after century of collected stories and histories that should tell him something, anything, about his mysterious woman in plaid.

Claire .

Almost involuntarily, his gaze drifted over to the miniature painting perched upon the mantelpiece. His Nana had left it there, claiming that it would help him to focus on finding Claire if he could always see her face. Jamie had smiled indulgently but really had no idea what she was talking about. It was becoming a common theme of late.

He stared at Claire’s face, noting (and not for the first time) that the artist had not done her any justice. There was the gentle slope of her neck, the delicate rise of her cheekbones, the soft line of her brow that furrowed when she was thinking that were too harsh in the painting, as though the artist had not been paying attention. Her hair was pulled back with no hint of the riotous curls that sprung forth, her mouth too pouty and her eyes…well, the colour used was almost unforgivable.

For the colour wasn’t just brown, but a dozen shades of gold, amber, topaz and whisky. A favourite well-aged whisky.

Iffrin! He hadn’t realised he’d been paying that much attention .

Shaking his head, Jamie turned back to the piles of information before him and breathed out slowly.

Where exactly was he supposed to start with all of this ?

Reaching out, he began with a thick notebook. It looked expensive, although the soft-tan leather cover was scratched and worn from where it had been frequently handled. Splotches and splatters of ink stained the leather in places and the gold letters Q L B were beginning to wear away where they had been embossed on the bottom right corner.

Mildly curious, but with no real notion of what he was looking for, Jamie began to absently thumb through the pages. The notebook was dated to the summer of 1987, the handwritten notes primarily regarding early Scottish history and important archaeological sites across the Highlands. Alongside the notes were pencil drawings of dig sites and pottery shards and several photographs of cairns and rock art, standing stones and stone circles. Jamie smiled as he recognised some of them, recalling idyllic childhood summers spent exploring the sweeping hills and glens alongside Jenny and their parents.

Back when it had all seemed so much easier.

Dismissing the thought before it could take hold, he turned the page and felt his stomach flip.

The research had suddenly shifted. The notes now referred to ley lines and crop circles, dowsing techniques and the mythology of gemstones. Stapled or glued down to nearly every page was a newspaper clipping of an unexplained disappearance, the earliest dating back to the turn of the 20th century. Names had been circled in a bold red ink, places and dates highlighted or scribbled out, annotations made in handwriting that was more scrawled and hurried than before. The information looped and diverted in nearly every plausible direction, making it hard for Jamie to follow.

Then it all came to an abrupt halt several pages before the end with, ‘Craigh na Dun, Inverness. It is only a few hours drive from Broch Mordha. I think, perhaps, I have finally found a way.

What? Found a way to what?

Jamie scoured back through the notebook, trying to find exactly what it was that he might have missed. But there was nothing new, no sudden inclusion of a sentence or newspaper clipping that would make sense of any of it. And if the notebook only made one offhand reference to Broch Mordha, why had it been included in the trunk from Lallybroch?

There was only one way he was going to find out.

 

An hour later, having jogged down into the village, Jamie stood waiting at the cottage door. After a moment, it opened to reveal Murdina Bug, wearing a floral pinny and brandishing a rather large feather duster.

“Jamie!” she smiled brightly, taking the opportunity to swipe at a cobweb she must have spotted just above the frame. “Tis a pleasant surprise tae see ye again sae soon.”

“Good afternoon to ye, Mrs Bug.” Jamie smiled back, offering her the plastic containers he held in his hand. “I wanted tae bring back these and tae ask ye a wee question or two. If ye have time, that is.”

Murdina paused, her small eyes briefly scrutinising. “Best ye come in then,” she said, stepping to one side to allow Jamie inside the cottage. “Luckily for ye, I was just about tae put the kettle on.”

Taking the offering of her returned containers, Murdina led the way towards the back of the cottage and into the kitchen. It was quite traditional – a black slate floor, covered over with a brightly coloured Turkish rug, and white panel cupboards, with an old Aga stove and rows of open shelves laden with copper pots and pans and neatly labelled jars. She motioned for him to take a seat at the tiny table tucked away in the corner and they exchanged pleasantries as she bustled about the small space, throwing loose tea leaves into an infuser to steep and conjuring up some freshly baked bannocks and homemade blackberry jam.

“These are verra good,” Jamie remarked, munching his way through his second bannock as Murdina poured the tea. “How do ye make them sae fluffy inside?”

“I cannae be givin’ away my secrets, lad.” She laughed, placing a cup down in front of him. “How about I make ye some tae take away wit’ ye instead?”

Jamie nodded enthusiastically, taking another bite.

“That’s grand. Now then, what is that ye were hopin’ tae ask me?”

Swallowing the last of the bannock, he asked, “I was just wonderin’ if ye kent anything about the person who wrote in the leather notebook? Ye ken the one that is filled with drawings and clippings and such.”

Murdina slowly nodded her head. “Aye. It belonged tae the gentleman that rented out this cottage for a few years back in eighties. He was pleasant enough, up from Oxford tae do some research. Seemed quite keen on purchasing Lallybroch for a while but that dinna come tae anything. But the notebook makes for quite an interestin’ read, does it no’?”

“It does. What do ye think he was lookin’ for?”

“Dinna ken exactly. I do recall him sayin’ somethin’ about finding his family, but he never really gave any details. When he moved on, he left no forwarding address sae the notebook got thrown in the trunk along wit’ all the other bits and pieces he left behind.”

That was interesting . “And Craigh na Dun? What’s that?”

She took a sip of her tea and kindly smiled. “Tis a circle of stones that is said tae be both enchanted and cursed. Beyond that, I dinna ken much more, I’m afraid. I’ve always been more interested in people than places. Now, ask me about yer ancestors and I can tell ye anything ye want tae ken.”

“Actually, it would save me a wee bit of time if ye could tell me somethin’ about the second Laird Broch Tuarach.”

“I thought ye’d ask in the end,” she chuckled. “Ye’ll be wantin’ tae ken about Alexander Fraser, then?”

Jamie nodded. “I heard he was suspected of a murder…?”

“Och, aye.” She confirmed, eyes twinkling in excitement. “Tis quite the story.”

“How so?”

“Weel now, Alexander was the eldest of three brothers and as heir, helped tae run the estate alongside his father. But when he was nineteen, he went down tae London to study at the university for a year. Unfortunately, he fell in wit’ the rather notorious Randall cousins, Franklin and Jonathon, and got himself embroiled in a wee scandal or two, forcing his father to bail him out at a considerable expense. Verra nearly cost the Frasers the farm.”

“How were the Randells notorious?”

“They were into some pretty dark stuff – blackmail, robbery, even the odd murder or two. What Alexander’s involvement was though, was between him and his father. Now, the Randells finally got their comeuppance - Franklin was killed and Jonathon arrested, though he managed tae escape somehow, and Alexander was ordered back to Lallybroch.

But he was no’ the same man when he returned. Angry. Ill-tempered. Vengeful. Ye dinna want tae get on the wrong side of him if it could be helped. The only person who dinna suffer his wrath sae much was Franklin’s young English widow. She had journeyed tae Scotland wit’ Alexander and her uncle, who took up residence in Lallybroch as guests of the Laird.”

Stomach churning with unease, Jamie asked “Who was she?”

“Her name was Claire and she had marrit Franklin when she was verra young. Most of her story is unknown, as are her reasons for coming to Lallybroch. Och, there were rumours of course. Sordid tales of infidelity, of fraud and manipulation. All the things that a young independent woman wit’ means has to defend herself against. Either way, her relationship wit’ Alexander was platonic, even after his father’s death, and she lived in the house until seventeen forty-three.”

Seventeen forty-three? Wasna that the year Claire had mentioned?

“What happened in seventeen forty-three?” Jamie asked, his voice trembling.

“The lass went lookin’ for herbs one day and was never seen again. And while there was no doubt that she was killed, there was verra little evidence or proof of what happened. Alexander faced month, years even, of interrogation and suspicion. Some believed he had killed her in a jealous rage because she loved another, others that she must have gotten lost and frozen tae death. Her body was never found sae who is tae say.”

“Do ye think that he did it?”

She tilted her head to one side in thought. “Probably,” she ventured after a moment. “The servants reported that the two had been arguing for days beforehand and that she seemed agitated. But the thing is, people disappear all the time. Sae who really kens what happened tae her.”

“How do ye ken any of this, Mrs Bug?”

She smiled as she poured him another cup of tea. “I pay attention to the stories, lad. And a story as notorious as the second Laird Broch Tuarach’s and his missing healer are worth remembering.”

 

Dusk had settled over Lallybroch by the time Jamie made it home.

The jog back to the house had given him time to think. It seemed more and more likely that Claire was a ghost, her spirit tied to Lallybroch because of some unknown trauma. But it didn’t seem to matter how Jamie spun it around in his head, it just didn’t seem to sit well with him. He knew he was being pushed in one direction, one answer. The rational answer. The one that made the most sense.

He just didn’t know how to explain it to Claire. Or whether he should.

The bitter chill of the late winter was beginning to seep in through the shrunken doorframes and ill-fitting windows as delicate patterns of ice began to form upon the glass. Jamie entered quickly through the side door into the kitchen, flicking on the lights and turning up the heating as high as he could. The old boiler reluctantly clunked to life, sending lukewarm water through the pipes to the radiators. It would be just enough to push back the chill, but Jamie had never been more grateful for thermal blankets and open fires. With his stomach rumbling, he fished out one of the casseroles his Ma had left for him and placed it in the oven to heat through before making a beeline for the living room, intent on building up the fire.

But as he neared the room, Jamie could smell the smoky, earthy scent of burning peat lingering in the air.

Almost as though the fire had already been lit.

Taking a deep breath, he slowly pushed open the door and was immediately struck by a wave a heat. There was a fire burning in the hearth, the crackle and spit of the flames as the turf burned the only sound over the rapid beat of his own heart. He glanced about the room and saw her, curled up beneath a thick blanket in the armchair, her attention thoroughly captured by the book in her hands. She looked up suddenly and jolted in surprise upon seeing him standing awkwardly in the doorway.

Her expression shifted from disbelief to wariness before finally settling somewhere close to delight.   

“Hello again,” she whispered, slowly closing her book. The armchair creaked as she unfurled herself, rising like a selkie from the inky depths of a loch. The riotous curls had been tamed into a thick braid that hung over one slim shoulder, the light from the fire highlighting streaks of gold and silver like moonlight.

How on earth was she a ghost? He could see the faint rise and fall of her chest, the bloom of a flush to her skin from sitting beside the heat of the fire, the nervousness in her fingers as she twirled them around the ends of her shawl. Iffrin! Pull yerself together, man, and say something.

“Aye.”

He groaned inwardly, supposing that a one syllable answer was better than nothing.

So he tried again.

“I guess there is no point in asking ye what ye are doing here, lass.”

“Claire.” She blurted out, her cheeks reddening slightly. “My name is Claire. In case you did not want to keep on calling me lass.”

The faint blush in her cheeks was sae bonny…wait. Did ghosts blush?

“Claire.” He repeated, relieved to finally be able to say her name out loud. “I’m Jamie.”

She nodded in greeting. “Hello Jamie. And probably not, as I doubt that we will ever agree on the answer.”

Then she smiled and Jamie was damned if he wasn’t smiling back.

But the good feeling was soon gone. Perhaps now would be as good a time as ever. His stomach clenched and his mouth went dry. Just say it, man. Tell her what ye ken because what it the worst that could happen?

“I have thought of a hundred questions I wanted tae ask ye if I ever got the chance.” Jamie said, taking a slow step into the room. “But now, seeing ye here again, I find that I cannae recall any of them. And I think that I should be afraid of you, of what ye are. But I am no’.”

Claire stared at him blankly. “Afraid of me? Why should you be afraid of me?”

Jamie paused. “Ye dinna remember, do ye? The fact that ye died.”

The moment the words left his mouth, Jamie immediately wanted to take them back.

Claire stood gaping at him, her expression one of complete astonishment. “What the bloody hell are you talking about?” she asked crisply, folding her arms because she was clearly annoyed.

Ah dhia! There was no turning back now.

“I’m talkin’ about the fact that ye are a ghost.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Would I not be aware of the fact if I were?” she asked, her voice devoid of any of its previous warmth.

“I dinna ken. Probably no’.” Jamie persisted, shrugging his shoulders. “Ye said the year was seventeen forty-three…?”

“It is. The twenty-sixth of February in fact.” Claire clarified briskly. “But I fail to see what that has got to do with anything.”

Wait. It was the twenty-sixth of February!

“Have you considered that it might actually be you that is the ghost?”

“No.” He said firmly, the realisation fading from his mind. “Because I am verra much alive.”

She raised her eyebrows. “As am I.”

“Then how can ye explain why we dinna see each other all the time?” He asked, sounding more defensive than he would have liked.

“Do you stay in one room every hour of every day?” Claire replied sharply, her tone sounding far from being impressed. “Because I know that I do not.”

He took a deep breath, feeling a completely unwarranted surge of annoyance towards her for arguing with him. It was so obvious, so why could she not see?

“Alright. How come we dress differently then? How come ye think that it is nearly three hundred years in the past? How come I ken that Alexander kills ye-?” He broke off, aware that he had said too much.

Sure enough, Claire was staring at him as though he had just slapped her.

“How do you know that?” she asked, her voice suddenly small but by no means less harsh.

Jamie held out his hands helplessly. “Because it has already happened. Some time ago.”

Claire shook her head. “But not to me. Alexander would never hurt me.”

“Sae ye say. But Claire, I promise ye that I’m no’ lying. Ye are in trouble, Sassenach and-”

“You would call me that as well?” she whispered, tears threatening to spill. “And to think that I…no. It does not matter. I am safe with Alexander.”

Jamie reached out to her, suddenly desperate to bring her into the safety of his arms. To shield her from the inevitable truth she must now be facing. But she flinched from his hand and took several determined steps away from him and towards the door, her intention to leave the room clear.

“Dinna go, Claire.” He pleaded with her softly, his voice not quite as steady. “Stay. Please. We can talk more-”

“I do not think that we can.” Claire said tightly, refusing to meet his eye. “Goodbye Jamie.”

She passed him by, close enough that Jamie should have felt the fabric of her skirts brush his hand.

And this time he did.

 

~~~~~

 

“This is all yer fault, ye ken.” Jenny accused, glaring across the table at him.

Jamie nodded and took a swig of his beer. “Aye. I hope so.”

Chapter Text

The hill rose from the mist, the sharp climb of the grass slope hindered by loose stones and worn patches that slipped beneath stockinged feet.

Breathless. Heart beating with fear.

The buzzing sound grew louder still, rumbling deep within blood and muscle and bone.

I am a woman of Balnain. The folk have stolen me over again…

Jamie jerked awake, his head lifting from off the table. He groaned and swiped at a piece of paper stuck to his cheek, staring about him in a daze.

Why was he not in his bed? Why did everything, including his eyebrows, hurt? What was that disgusting taste in his mouth?

He caught sight of the empty beer bottles and shuddered.

That would explain it.

Bracing on his forearms, he tried to stand. But the room spun alarmingly, and he immediately slumped back down. Nope! He was going to be staying right here after all. With a groan, Jamie slowly lowered his head back down onto the cool tabletop and closed his eyes. Vague memories of the night before gently began to lap at the edges of his dazed mind. Jenny and Ian were at Lallybroch for the weekend and after subjecting him to hundreds of fabric swatches and paint samples, Jamie had declared that he’d had enough and dragged them down into the village for dinner.

Dinner turned into drinks in the bar of The Leoch Arms which led to the three of them stumbling back to Lallybroch before midnight and…well, that was where it started to get hazy.

“Have ye thought about the house being cursed, bràthair .”

Jamie shook his head and smiled. “What is wit’ ye and curses, Jen?”

“She loves a good curse.” Ian answered, pointing at things around the room and adding, “This is cursed. That is cursed. Everything is cursed.”

“This is all yer fault, ye ken.” Jenny accused, glaring across the dining table at Jamie. “Because if ye had no’ hired him in the first place, I’d be blissfully single right now. Instead, I’m cursed tae live my life wit’ this idiot.”

“See what I mean.” Ian grinned, blowing his wife a quick kiss. Jenny pretended to catch it on her cheek, giggled, and blew one back.

Watching the way his sister and brother-in-law were together, Jamie had to admit that he was envious of their relationship. They had been married for a little under two years and were still as deliriously happy and loved up as they had been on that day. Jamie had hoped to have found someone to have that with, to give the years of his life to and to share the love of a family, but the long months filming on set in Glasgow, the weeks spent on location around the world and the promotional tours meant that he had little time to invest in a relationship. It was easier to do what he had been doing; one-night stands and lost weekends were all he was able to commit to.

There had been that one time, when he had thought, hoped even, that it might have been different.

“Sae, are ye goin’ tae tell us about yer wee ghost then?”

“I dinna ken that there is much tae say, Jen,” Jamie insisted trying to keep his expression muted. “I saw something and nothin’ more has come of it.”

“Ellen told us that ye are hopin’ to find out who she was?” Ian queried, starting to shuffle through the papers and ledgers. “About what might have happened tae her?”

Jamie nodded and took a swig of his beer. “Aye. I hope so.”

“Is that her?” Jenny asked and Jamie felt a prickling of tension, watching as his sister stood and walked over to the mantelpiece. She picked up the portrait, examining it closely before inquiring, “Is she as beautiful as this?”

More so .

“l…”

“What do the herbs in that wee posy she’s holdin’ mean, Jen?” Ian asked, having stood to join his wife and peer over her shoulder.

She narrowed her eyes. “It looks like yarrow for healing, thyme for courage, and rosemary for remembrance. Although I canna be completely sure…”

Wait…the herbs meant something?

Ian gently took the portrait from Jenny, moving closer to the small side lamp to get a better look. “Ye ken, I recognise that stone circle. Tis near to where my sister lives, up by Culloden. Ye ken the one…up that ridiculously steep slope… Craigh na Dun.”

Jamie’s jaw all but hit the floor.

A draft of cold air struck the back of his neck, pulling Jamie back to the present.

The knowledge that Ian had known about Craigh na Dun seemed to have given him a fresh purpose. They had drunkenly agreed to drive out to the stone circle the next day (just as long as a café was found along the way for a proper Scottish breakfast to cure the inevitable hangovers), which explained all the weird images that had flickered about his dreams.

The back of his throat felt scratchy, his mouth and tongue woolly and dry. He needed a coffee and then a shower and then he needed to lay back down, preferably on his bed where he intended to sleep off the thumping headache until it was time. Decision made, Jamie gingerly wandered into the kitchen, shivering at the surprising chill, and downed a glass of water and a couple of paracetamols as he waited for the kettle to boil.

That was when he heard a noise coming from the pantry.

Intrigued, Jamie turned his head, noticing that the usually sealed back door was wide open, allowing him to see directly into the abandoned kitchen garden beyond. For a brief second, his whole body tensed in anticipation and then he was tripping over his feet in his hurry, desperately trying not to get his hopes up.

But what he saw in the pantry made his eyes to widen in utter disbelief and his stomach flip and roll.

What the actual fuck!?

The normally empty shelves were now full of earthen-ware pots and jars in all different shapes and sizes. Bunches of dried herbs hung from hooks along the shelf edges and ceiling rafters, filling the room with a heady aroma. Troughs of winter vegetables were lined up along the bench, soil still clinging to the roots and leaves. And coming into the room through the outside door, holding her apron out in front of her as she balanced a small heap of potatoes, was Claire.

And if she was aware that he was there, she was doing a fine job of ignoring him.

Having dumped the potatoes into the small porcelain sink, she closed the door and began busying herself with checking on the stores, walking by him twice without once looking in his direction. Eventually, she returned to the sink and ran the water, scrubbing the earth away as she quietly hummed along to an unknown tune.  

It was more than he could stand.

Jamie took a step closer. Then another. One more and he was close enough to reach out to touch her.

He breathed out slowly.

“Hello Claire.”

She continued cleaning, seemingly oblivious to his presence behind her.

Was something different?

He tried again. “Can ye no’ see me? Can ye no hear me, lass?”

Was she scrubbing those potatoes harder than before?

“Please. Sassenach, I-”

Claire suddenly wheeled around, whisky eyes blazing with fury.

“Why do you call me that?”

Jamie blinked. “What? Sassenach?”

She nodded, her mouth pinching in irritation. “Is it not enough that I am reminded daily that I am English in a place where that is not a good thing to be? Why do you have to remind me of it too?”

Iffrin!

“If I offended ye, I am sorry, Claire.”

She glared up at him, breathing heavily. He tried not to notice the attractive flush to her cheeks, the wild sparkle in her eyes or the way her breasts pushed against the fabric of her corset. She looked like she wanted to say something in rebuttal, to argue further and refuse to accept his apology.

But she unexpectedly deflated, the fury replaced with a sadness that felt like a dagger in his heart. She fell back against the sink and took a deep, shuddering breath. “I know you did not mean it like that. I am just exhausted from trying to understand what is happening between us.”

His heart thumped. “What do ye mean, Claire?”

“All of this!” she motioned around her. “I wake up each morning and I go about my day. I talk to people. I mend their bones. I read my books and I write my notes. I close my eyes at night and I dream. I can hear my heartbeat in my chest, feel the air in my lungs, taste the food that touches my tongue. I do everything that I have always done and yet you tell me that all my hopes will be shot to hell just in a moment. That I wind up dead and haunting Lallybroch!”

“I should no’ have said anything.”

“Perhaps.” She agreed. “But you did and now I must live with it. And I may not be able to explain how or why you see me differently, but I know I live, Jamie. I know it.”

Jamie was suddenly at a loss as to what to say to her.

He would gladly admit that he was desperate to talk to her. To open the floodgates of his emotions and ease the pounding of both head and heart that he felt each hour since he had last seen her. He wanted to ease his guilt, lessen the soreness that he felt in his chest whenever he thought about her face when he had blurted out the truth.

I dinna mean tae tell ye that way, a nighean.

Because Jamie knew that he should not have spoken about something he did not fully understand. He knew that if he was going to own up to that fact, he only wanted to say it to Claire. But now that she was standing before him again, he was at a complete loss on how to even begin to apologise, to begin to try to make things right.

Only then could he start to figure out why he felt so protective of a woman it was far too late to protect.

“I dinna understand it either, Claire.” He attempted to explain, picking up on her agitation. “Ye appear as ye do but no’ as I would expect. Ye do no’ materialise or float or move through walls. Ye act and talk as though ye are real but I dinna ken how ye can be. How ye can hand me glass tumblers and I can see into yer life, feel the touch of the fabric of yer dress. None of it makes sense except for what I ken of ye.”

“That I have died!”

He nodded weakly and they plunged into silence. It all felt so surreal to Jamie, how he was having this conversation with Claire, back in the pantry where they had first met. The heightened atmosphere was almost too much, and his eyes flickered back and forth across Claire’s face. He couldn’t gauge her expression nor did he had any idea of how she was going to react. He barely knew anything about her but in that moment, he would have given anything to learn.

Jamie cleared his throat. “Can I ask ye somethin’, Claire?”

“I imagine so.”

“Why ye are so sure of him?”

She looked up at him. “I assume you mean Alexander?”

Jamie nodded. “Aye. Because I canna believe he will no’ harm ye, no’ after this. Ye said he had a temper...?”

“Has.” She said, not unkindly but clearly wishing to correct him. “He has a temper. But it has not always been so.”

“Will ye tell me about it?”

Claire regarded him for a moment, her whisky eyes staring him down like a hawk would its prey.

“I suppose there is nothing to lose in telling you.” She accepted, lowering herself down to sit on one the stools set up alongside the work bench. “It was a few years ago when we were both in London. He was brought to me one evening, bruised and beaten and in need of a healer. I have some knowledge of doctoring, you see.”

“Where did ye study?”

“In France. My uncle sent me to L’Hôpital des Anges in Paris when I was fifteen to train alongside Mother Hildegarde.” She paused, smiling brightly. It was like the sun had come out on a cloudy day. “Those three years were the most extraordinary of my life.”

“Did ye no’ wish tae stay?”

Her smiled dimmed. “Yes. But I was to be married and expected to be the dutiful wife. Only my uncle insisted that I keep that part of me alive, so once we had moved to London and after the wedding, I volunteered at Saint Bartholomew’s, much to the chagrin of my husband. Alexander and I would run into each other occasionally as he was an associate of my husbands, and the better acquainted we became, the more regard I found I had for him. He is a sweet man, kind and true and loyal. He became a friend when I had none.”

“That is why ye trust him then.”

“That. And he saved my life.”

Jamie caught his breath. “He saved yer life. How?”

“I am a widow, Jamie.” Claire stated, her fingers worrying the pleats of her skirts. Her voice is calm as she continues, “The night my husband died I was visiting a patient. Alexander came to me, insisting that I go with him because he feared I was about to meet a similar fate. And he was right. There were men were waiting at the house and Alexander got hurt keeping me safe. A blow to the back of the head. He did not wake up for five days after and I honestly thought I had lost him too.

But when he did finally wake, it was clear that there had been a change in him. His is quicker to temper, forgetful, loses his concentration which means that he can hurt himself. His father insisted on bringing him to Lallybroch in the hope that being home again would help. It does but I seem to be the only person Alexander is willing to tolerate. I have promised to stay for as long as he needs me. It seems the very least that I can do.”

Jamie feels anything but calm. He was taken aback with how much Claire had just shared with him. And although he now understood the reasoning behind her unwavering belief, it didn’t put his mind at any ease.

“Can I ask you a question, Jamie?”

“Of course.”

“When?”

Jamie shook his head in confusion. “When what?”

“When does it happen?”

Ah dhia!

He swallowed. “I dinna ken all the details.”

“But you know enough to make an accusation against Alexander.” Claire asked, puzzled.

“I only ken what I’ve been told,” Jamie shrugged helplessly. “That sometime in seventeen forty-three, ye disappear.

Claire frowned. “I disappear? But you said that I died…?”

“Aye. Ye must have done because ye are here, nearly three-hundred years later.”

“What was I doing when I disappeared?”

Jamie struggled to remember. “Collecting herbs, I think.”

“What variety?”

“Does that matter?”

“Yes.” Claire nodded, growing restless. “There are some that I would only pick at certain times in the year. Perhaps if I knew the herb, I would know when it happens.”

“Then what? Ye canna change history, Claire.”

“No. But I might be able to avoid it.”

Jamie frowned. “Surely ye would no’ be able tae do that…would ye?”

But Claire didn’t seem to be listening. She was staring over at the pantry door, her gaze fixed upon the stone slab of the doorstep.

“Maybe he was right after all,” she murmured, a slow smile forming on her lips.  

 

~~~~~

 

“Jamie? Is that blood on your sleeve?”

He glanced down at his arm, noticing that a stain was clearly forming. “No?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“It is feckin’ freezing out here!”

Smirking, Jamie glanced over his shoulder to where Jenny followed behind him, huddled up in several layers of coats, scarves, and gloves. It was ear-shatteringly windy as they had walked into the cold gusts, following the path from the small car park as it cut through the farmers field and onwards towards the steep slope of the hillside.

“Ye could have stayed in the car, ye ken.”

“What? And leave ye tae break yer neck by taking a wee tumble down the hill?” Jenny scoffed, shaking her head. “No, bràthair. Yer legion of admirers would no’ ever forgive me.”

“I’m no’ so as unsteady as a wee bairn, Jenny.” Jamie objected, his boots sliding on the wet mud and grass just enough for him to momentarily lose his balance. “I doubt anythin' will happen.”

Jenny chuckled. “Ye gotta get up there first.”

Throwing her his best glare (which only seemed to make her laugh harder), Jamie continued to lead the way. The track way, carved into the ground by thousands of footsteps over the years, had narrowed considerably the higher they climbed, the brown and green patchwork of the winter fields falling away beneath them into the freezing waters of the loch below. Within a few more strides, Jamie had reached the top of the grass slope and there he paused; the woodlands and peaks of moor stretched out for as far as he could see, leaving him breathless at the sight.

And if he had any inclination of what to expect beyond Ian’s personal view (‘once ye’ve been up there, tis nothin’ more than a couple of old stones and a view’), he would have argued that he had sold it short.

“And ye never ken.” Jenny continued, barely looking up as she walked past him. “If people do disappear all the time up here, they have tae go somewhere.”

Now that was true.

He took a deep breath and turned to face the reason for their journey.

Craigh Na Dun.  

The circle of eight monoliths rose up darkly out of the hillside, standing guard around a much taller cleft stone, hewn wide enough for someone to easily pass through. Beneath the smattering of moss and lichen, the stones felt cool to the touch, smoothed by centuries of weathering. He followed Jenny to them and walked the circle, oddly mesmerized by them. He wasn’t sure what he had expected, even less sure of why he was waiting for something to happen, hoping that there would be a moment where the story clicked into place.

 

“Tis no’ just that they are shrouded in myth and folklore,” Ian had stated, taking a bite out of his bacon roll and chewing.

Jamie gulped down his coffee and waited.

The three of them were sat at a booth in a small roadside café they had found along the way to Culloden. Of course, Jamie had immediately been recognised and after the usual questions, autograph, and obligatory photo, had retreated to one of the farthest tables from the door, wearing his beanie hat pulled down low to cover his red curls.

“Tis that most of the stories involve folks disappearing.”

“Disappearing?”

Ian nodded. “Aye. I can remember one of my Great-Aunts mentioning something about the last known disappearance – some English professor had taken a walk and vanished a few decades ago – but he was no’ the first. It seems tae have been a common enough occurrence over the centuries for people to start claiming that the stones were cursed.”

“Seems I’m no’ the only one who believes in curses then,” Jenny muttered, pointedly staring at him.

“But people dinna just disappear, Ian.”

“Course they do. They either run away from home or take a taxi to the train station. Some change their names, disappear into the crowd, or even move to a new country. If ye dinna wish tae be found, ye’d find a way. The difference is that those will all have an explanation. What happens to folks up there will no’.”

 

“Do ye reckon the stories can be true?” Jenny asked, peering up at the cleft stone.

“I dinna ken,” Jamie shrugged, watching as his sister slipped through the gap, not realising that his whole body had tensed until she stepped out of the other side and he breathed a sigh of relief. That was odd… “It makes no sense but then, strange things do tend to happen in the Highlands.”

She nodded her head, agreeing. “Tis unsettling though, to think that ye could go from one place tae another and somehow get lost in-between.”

He had never thought of it that way.

“Aye, I suppose. Tis a wee bit like how I feel since taking on Lallybroch.”

Jenny turned to face him, eying him curiously before asking, “Because of Claire?”

Ah dhia! How did he always forget how feckin’ perceptive she was?

He closed his eyes, willing himself a brief moment of calm before he tried to explain.

“In my head, I ken what she is, but my heart reckons on it no’ being true. That there has tae be a way to save her, tae stop the inevitable from happenin’. I ken it’s daft, but tis all I can think about.”

Jenny tilted her head in confusion. “But how can ye save her, bràthair? Surely what’s done is done.”

Jamie knew that.

He knew that it didn’t make much sense. He knew that time and history was against him.

But that feeling of wanting was still there, in the very marrow of his bones. There was the wonder of whether Claire was at Lallybroch now because of him. That there was a reason they were both able to talk to and see each other. And he could not let it go without trying to find out why.

So he dared to speak his hope.   

“What if it has no’ happened yet, Jenny? What if, by some weird twist of fate, she is no’ dead? What if I can find a way tae change things?”

Jenny stared at him oddly. “Why would ye want tae change things?”

It was obvious, wasn’t it?

“Sae that she’d live.”

“And then what? Tis no like ye could be together.”

Jamie shook his head. Why would she think that? “That’s no’ what I-”

“Of course it is,” she interjected, her expression clouding with worry. “Ye said it yerself, tis all ye can think about. Why are ye chasing a ghost, Jamie?”

He blinked. “Because I dinna think that is what she is!”

“Then what is she?”

“I…I cannae explain it. Tis like she's trapped...”

“Or ye are. Jamie, this past year has been difficult for ye and-"

“Dinna start this again, Janet!” He warned, unwilling to be dragged into another Jenny Murray lecture on the state of his mental health.

She held up her hands in defence. “I'm no'. But ye have tae admit that ye've been under a great deal of pressure since Da passed away and after the accident-“

Jamie bristled. “Ye dinna need tae remind me.”

“I ken.” Jenny implored, blue eyes brimming with tears. “I just dinna want ye tae involve yer heart if it’s gonna be broken. All I’m askin’ in that ye think about yer reasons before ye do anythin’ more about them. She’s three-hundred years away from ye, Jamie. That is impossible to change.”

The wind swayed the tops of the ring of trees that guarded the stones, rustling and shaking the leaves.

 

“Maybe he was right after all,” Claire murmured, a slow smile forming on her lips.

“Who was right, Sassen-Claire?”

She smiled. “I do not mind it so much, coming from you.”

To his utter dismay, Jamie felt the heat of a blush burn the tips of his ears. He nodded and ducked his head, hoping that Claire wouldn’t notice. Christ man! Ye are no’ longer a teenage lad wit’ a wee crush!

“And I was thinking about my uncle, about the stories he used to tell me when I younger.”

“What kind of stories?”

Her gaze softened. “Of fairy hills and standing stones that whispered through time. He used to say that it reminded him of the Woman of Belnain.”

The hairs on the back of his neck rose.

“‘I am a woman of Balnain.’” He quoted, his whispering voice echoing about his ears. “‘The folks have stolen me over again…’”

“‘…the stones seemed to say.” Claire continued, her voice softening as she recited the rest of the poem. “‘I stood upon the hill and wind did rise, and the sound of thunder rolled across the land. I placed her hands upon the tallest stone and travelled to a far, distant land where I lived for a time among strangers who became lovers and friends. But one day, I saw the moon came out and the wind rose once more. So I touched the stones and travelled back to my own land and took up again with the man I had left behind.’”

Jamie smiled gently. “I’ve never heard the whole poem before.”

“Uncle Lamb knew it by heart. I’ve always wondered if he believed it, that there was a stone upon a hill that could pull you through time. Could you imagine if it were true, Jamie? What if you could change your fate?”

“Travel to a different time, ye mean?”

“Perhaps. Would you not do it, if you were given the chance?”

 

Aye. She may well be out of his time but as he stared up at the stones, Jamie found himself wondering just what he was prepared to do if he was given the chance to change that.

 

~~~~~

 

He couldn’t sleep.

Jamie lay there, staring at the colour samples Jenny had painted on the walls (apparently there was a difference between Frosted Lake, Vast Lake, and Lost Lake – he was just being an idiot) and listening to the deafening silence of the house before he finally admitted defeat and sat up, throwing back the covers in agitation. He had been lying awake for hours and now that dawn was fast approaching, Jamie needed to do something to quieten his mind and exhaust his muscles, something that did not involve staring into the bottom of another whisky bottle.

Throwing on his running gear, he took the long route down into the village, arriving just as the pink and orange streaks of a new day lit up the sky. He circled the village green twice, nodding his head in greeting to those out and about early for work or school, before heading back up the hill towards Lallybroch.

His run took less than an hour but had done nothing to ease his growing frustration.

Claire was haunting him.

After his talk with Jenny up the top of Craigh Na Dun, her concerns about his intentions lingered. He understood those concerns, even felt the sharp pinpricks of his own more than once, but he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t stop the hope from rising. He couldn’t stop the want and the fear and the need to know that all of this was leading somewhere.

He just didn’t have a clue where.

It appeared that the builders had already arrived by the time he crunched over the gravel driveway. It was only the second day of the first phase of renovation, meaning that the house would be in a state of upheaval all day. So far, an endless stream of electricians and plumbers had already made their way through the floorboards and walls looking for pipes and wires, while it seemed that today was when the scaffolding was due to go up to finally be able to repair the roof.

Iffrin! He was going to need to find something to do that took him away from the house.

After a quick shower and a change of clothes, Jamie had decided upon making a start on clearing up the walled kitchen garden. He planned to have the rest of the garden landscaped once the weather warmed, but he’d been oddly adamant that the overgrown borders of dead plants and over eager weeds would be for him to make anew.

Two hours later, Jamie had fought his way through twisting brambles (catching his sleeves more than once on protruding thorns), to produce a rather rewarding pile of weeds and dead plants that he intended to throw onto a bonfire later. He’d even managed to clear on complete border, turning over the soil ready for him to start sowing and planting, without much drama.

Completely unabated, his thoughts turned to his father and the garden Brian Fraser had spent years tending and nurturing. To the hours spent watching him mowing the lawn or trimming back the shrubs and trees, whistling some tune or another as he went. To the times Jamie would find him in his potting shed, reverently placing cuttings into pots of soil so that he could watch them grow. To the long summer evenings that Jamie had spent playing out on the grass with his friends or Jenny, while his parents laughed and danced beneath the floating lights that Brian had hung from the trees…

Shaking his head, Jamie banished the memories before they firmly took hold. He could feel the unwelcomed burn of unshed tears in his eyes and he blinked repeatedly to rid himself of them. He was not ready to face those demons, at least not yet. Perhaps he never would be.

Turning his attention back to his task, it was another ten minutes of angrily hacking into a tangle of dead roots when the edge of the fork struck something metal buried in the soil.

Jamie stilled, his heart hammering in his chest.

Ah dhia! What the hell was that?

Jamie dropped to his knees and began to dig with his hands. Soon enough, he pulled free an old tin, brushing off the loose soil to reveal a floral pattern beneath the mud. He was on his feet and heading into the kitchen before he was even aware that he’d moved, running it under the hot water tap until all the mud had been washed off.  

The tin was square, the floral patten on the lid faded and mottled with rust, but intact, save for the slight dent where the fork had struck it. Davina had a tin almost identical to this, one that she had been given at Christmas over thirty years ago and now used to store hundreds of buttons and cotton threads. Perhaps then the tin had been buried in the late 1980’s?

But no-one lived in Lallybroch then, so who would bury an old biscuit tin in someone else’s garden?

Curiosity getting the better of him, Jamie sat at the kitchen table and prized the lid off. Inside, there was a stack of old photographs, a bank book (with the last withdrawal made on October 30th, 1987) and an expired passport belonging to a Professor Quentin Lambert Beauchamp. Alongside these was an antique Cartier wristwatch and pocket watch, two pieces of neatly folded paper, and an envelope addressed to ‘Whomever finds this tin’.

Taking a deep breath, Jamie tore open the envelope and read the handwritten note:

Friday October 30th, 1987

Broch Mordha, Scotland

If you are reading this, then I would have succeeded in my quest to go back. It is strange to know that, despite being born in 1932, I will have died long before then.

You may be wondering why I buried the tin at Lallybroch. Well, it is because all my paths have led here, so it seems poignant that I leave these last things of mine here too.

I have left my journal in the possession of Mr and Mrs Arch Bug of Broch Mordha. If they still live, I advise that you speak to them as soon as possible – it will go some way to explain how any of this has been possible. I leave it to your own discretion as to whether you believe it possible or not. But if you do hear the buzzing, take care.

As to the Bugs, my only heed of warning is that they know more about Lallybroch and its secrets then they let on.

You will also find within the two death notices that sent me on my journey. One I fear I will have no effect on. The other, I hope to defy.

As you are now in the care of Lallybroch, I will wish you all the best. I have reason to believe that the stone step of the pantry door (the one sealed shut with paint) comes from Craigh Na Dun – I do not know if that means anything but you should be made aware of its historical importance.

With sincere regards

Quentin Lambert Beauchamp

With shaking hands, Jamie put the letter down and swore loudly.

Q L B was Quentin Lambert Beauchamp? But who exactly was he and what did he have to do with…?

Jamie lost his train of thought the moment he unfolded the two loose pieces of paper; they were photocopies of obituaries from two different newspapers, both dated to the 18th century. The oldest – The Oxford Chronicle, March 1721 – reported the sad news of the deaths of Doctor Henry Beauchamp and his wife, Julia.

The other – The Inverness Courier, November 1743 – near stopped his heart.

We have today the unhappy obligation to relay the following. It is with grief that the news is received of the death of Claire Elizabeth Randall née Beauchamp, of Broch Mordha, Invernessshire. Widow of the notorious villain, Franklin Randall, and daughter of Doctor Henry Beauchamp, both of Oxford, England, Ms Randall came to the small Highland village with her uncle, Quentin Beauchamp, to escape the ensuing scandal of her husbands crimes. A natural healer, Ms Randall kept the lives of Laird Broch Tuarach’s tenants safe and well until her own untimely demise at the hands of an unknown assailant. She leaves behind no issue. It is with respect that she will be remembered. We pray that her soul is in the hands of our Lord and Saviour.

Jamie read the notice once. Then he read it again. Then he swore even louder and with much more vigour.

November 1743. Claire had once mentioned that it was February, so did that mean…?

“Jamie?”

Startled, he looked up to find Claire herself standing in the doorway to the pantry, a large bushel of dried herbs in her hand. She was staring at him in concern, a flush of colour high on her pale cheeks having just come in from the cold.

“Jamie? Is that blood on your sleeve?”

Unsure what else to do, he glanced down at his arm, noticing the stain that had clearly been forming.

“No?”

She raised a sceptical eyebrow. “I am not too sure that you should be replying to my question with another,” she said sternly, moving closer to the table. “Why don’t you roll up your sleeve and let me take a-”

Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, “Ye family name was Beauchamp.”

Claire paused, her whisky eyes widening in surprise. “Where did you learn that?”

Unsure if he was doing the right thing or not, Jamie handed her the obituary. But Claire wouldn’t take it, choosing instead to hold his gaze in her unwavering one. If he had something to say, then he would need to speak directly.

Suddenly, he couldn’t bring himself to tell her.

“Sassenach…will ye tell me about yer uncle?”

 

~~~~~

 

He felt the blush creep up his neck. Ye’ve removed yer clothing in front of women before…why are ye sae shy now?

It turned out to be obvious really. None of those women had been Claire.

Chapter Text

Jamie held his breath.

The barb of Jenny’s early warning stung, leaving an itch in his brain that he couldn’t scratch - “I just dinna want ye tae involve yer heart if it’s gonna be broken. All I’m askin’ in that ye think about yer reasons before ye do anythin’ more about them. She’s three-hundred years away from ye, Jamie. That is impossible to change.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

Until he knew, there was no chance that he could relax. And the longer Claire remained silent, those hawk-eyes of hers boring through him, the higher the tension seemed to rise up in his chest. His grip on the obituary began to tighten as the seconds crept past, the paper creasing and folding beneath the pressure.

Christ! He knew how that felt.

He had wished to show it to Claire, but now he wanted to snatch the obituary back, pretend that it was nothing and then firmly bury his head in the sand about what it proved. However, he knew that it was far too late for that now. He really wasn’t being overly dramatic to think that the entirety of his future happiness was now hinged on this moment. For better or worse.

Okay. Maybe he was.

Snippets of Lambert’s letter suddenly came to mind - ‘ It is strange to know that, despite being born in 1932, I will have died long before then…I leave it to your own discretion as to whether you believe it possible or not. But if you do hear the buzzing, take care…I have reason to believe that the stone step of the pantry door (the one sealed shut with paint) comes from Craigh Na Dun…’ .

Jamie had no idea how he was going to be able to explain to Claire that he felt sure, right down to the very marrow of his bones, that her uncle was the key to understanding what the hell was going on. And if he could find a way to explain, how was she going to take it? Would it even change anything?

“Lamb was quite the closed book,” Claire said suddenly, jolting him out of his thoughts. “I am afraid that there may not be much to tell you.”

“I dinna mind,” Jamie was quick to reassure her. “I ken there are things ye dinna wish to tell me but I’ve one thing to ask ye…when ye do tell me something, let it be the truth and I’ll promise ye the same.”

A spark of something flashed in the unwavering gold. “Agreed,” she nodded, walking over to the window to put the bushel down by the sink. “But may I take a look at your arm first?”

Jamie glanced down as though seeing the rips in the fabric for the first time. “Dinna fash, Sassenach,” he said, dismissing her concern with a mere shake of his head. “Tis nothin’ more than a few scratches. They’ll heal up quickly enough tae no’ be much of a bother.”

Claire didn’t look convinced. “Kindly roll up your sleeve and step over here into the light.”

Christ! She could have been taking lessons from Jenny in the ways to boss him around . He stared back at her, realised that there was no point arguing the matter, and stood. He tucked the obituary into the back pocket of his jeans, and did as she asked, trying his best not to roll his eyes. She didn’t touch him (he had no idea if she even could) as she examined the cross pattern of angry looking nicks and dried smudges of blood.  

“Ye see, a nighean, tis only a graze.”

She hummed her disapproval and Jamie suddenly found that he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

The pale sunlight was igniting the flashes of gold and silver woven within the soft brown curls that had come loose to frame her face. His eyes traced the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, following the curve of her cheek to the swirl of her bitty ears and down the swan-like slope of her neck, drinking in the sight of her flawless skin as though to quench an unbaiting thirst. His fingers itched, his palms grew sweaty and the thump of his heart was beating like a jackhammer.

Ah dhia! He did have a crush. A one-hundred percent full blown adolescent crush that was rapidly growing into something more.   

And just like that, his head was full of fantasies. Of leaning forward to press his lips to hers in a slow lingering kiss-

“What happened?” Claire interrupted, scattering the thoughts before they took hold and he horribly embarrassed himself. “Did you go into battle with one of the barn cats?”

“There are no cheeties round here that I ken of,” he replied, hoping she wouldn’t notice the heat flooding his cheeks. “Let alone much of a barn for them tae shelter in. There is no’ much of anything really, save for crumbling outbuildings and a garden overgrown with weeds and brambles.”

She looked up. “Weeds and brambles, eh?”

“Aye. I reckon tis how I got these. The thorns must have ripped the fabric as I hacked them back - they put up quite a fight, let me tell ye.”

“So I can see,” she muttered with a grin. “I rather fear they may have won the war.”

“No’ quite. But will I live tae do battle wi’ them again tomorrow?”

“Cannot see why not, Soldier,” she laughed, holding his gaze for a second longer than was strictly necessary. Staring back, Jamie felt the tingle of awareness spread across his body, pushing and pulling him to move closer. But then Claire quickly looked away, clearing her throat awkwardly as she tipped her chin towards the sink. “But you should probably clean out these wee scratches of yours, just to be on the safe side.”

A little deflated, Jamie nodded. “Aye. As ye say.”

With his thoughts swirling, Jamie retreated to wash the blood away beneath the cold tap. There was a still, tense silence between them now, broken only by the sound of the water splashing about within the porcelain basin. He recognised the pull of physical attraction well enough but around Claire, that pull felt different. It was almost as though it was being driven by something other than desire and lust, something that was twisting its way into the very matter of his soul.

And it suddenly hit him like a lightning bolt. Was this what his father had meant when he had told him that when the time came, he’d have no doubt?

“If I tell you about Lamb, can I ask something of you in return?”

He glanced over. “Ye can ask me anything, Claire.”

“Would you tell me something about you, about your life? About your family?”

Jamie frowned, not at all expecting that to be the something she wanted. “Have I no’ said anything before?” he asked, somewhat bewildered.

“No.” Claire regarded him with amusement. “I am afraid that all I know of you is that you live in Lallybroch sometime in the future and that your name is Jamie. Although, telling me such was the polite thing to do, so I feel it does not count towards sharing information about yourself with me.”

“Is that so?”

She nodded. “You are very fond of asking questions.”

“It helps that ye are verra fond of talkin’,” he pointed out, smiling as she threw him a withering look. “But I get yer point, Sassenach. Perhaps we should take a seat before we spill all our secrets, eh?”

Claire gave him a slightly odd look but pulled a wooden stool out from beside the stove and sat. Unsurprisingly (because he was now so used to the mystery) the fire was lit, the distinct smell of peat permeating the air as he watched Claire warm her hands for a moment. Then he pulled out a chair, dragging it closer so that he could feel the warmth himself, and took a seat.

“So…who gets to go first?”

Claire thought for a moment. “Tell me about your family.”

He smiled. Guess its me then. “How many generations back?”

“Your parents will do.”

“Alright. My mother, Ellen, was born a Mackenzie here in the Highlands and is the eldest of six – she has three sisters and two brothers but as they are all scattered about the world, she does no’ get tae see them as often as she’d like. She now lives and works as an artist in Edinburgh and met my father when she went to university there.” Jamie paused then and took a deep breath. “Da was a Fraser and an only child, though he had a couple of half-brothers that he never got to meet. He…um…he sadly died a year ago.”

“You must miss him.”

“Aye. Every day.” Jamie paused, waiting for the usual discomfort to strike at his heart like a thousand tiny blades. But he felt nothing except an accepting calm that seemed to radiate from Claire’s presence, quietly soothing the pain and sorrow of his loss. It was quite a remarkable feeling. “Da was the life and soul. Everybody loved him,” he continued softly, staring over into the fire. “His name was Brian and he was as tall as me but with hair as black as night. He was born in the Highlands, but he lived his whole life in Edinburgh, working in the same factory since he was sixteen. He was a kind and sympathetic man, tough but fair, who loved his family with everything he had.”

Claire smiled. “Your father sounds to have been an honourable man.”

“Aye, he was.” - he picked at an invisible piece of dirt on his jeans - “Would ye say the same of yer uncle, Sassenach?”

Her eyes softened. “Certainly. I had no idea I even had an uncle until he showed up at the orphanage where I had been placed, but there was no mistaking that he was my father’s brother, albeit older and a little shorter. He recognised something in me that he had himself in abundant measure and he took me forever from the world of order and routine, of sums, clean sheets, and daily baths, to follow him into vagabondage.”

“What do ye mean?”

“Lamb was an explorer, a wanderer who was utterly incapable of settling in one place for too long before he was off again on another adventure. Suddenly becoming the guardian of his then five-year old niece was not going to change that. We spent those ten years before I went to Paris travelling as far as we could go, visiting all the places that he knew so much about. He always seemed so much more at home in the past somehow.”

“Ye speak of him as though he is no longer wi’ ye?”

She smiled sadly. “Lamb died last year, just before Hogmanay.”

Jamie felt his heart squeeze. “Christ! I’m that sorry, Claire.”

“It is quite alright. He had been ill for some time…his heart was not as strong as it once had been. I had rather hoped, after the excitement of London, that the Highlands would offer him some peace. I think that Lamb did too which was why he agreed to come with me. Well, it was that and he had a terrible distrust of Alexander.”

That was interesting…. “Did he ever tell ye why?”

She began fidgeting with the ends of her woollen shawl. “Not straight away. He had always liked Alexander but that seemed to change after finding out he was Laird Broch Tuarach . Then, when we came here, he would get so anxious if I went out alone or if I went down into the village without him. It was so unlike Lamb to be that protective, to be that controlling, that I finally confronted him about it. That was when he reluctantly told me of his suspicions, being just as vague on the details as you were.”

Despite himself, Jamie smiled. “That was why ye were so mad at me then.”

“In part,” she conceded, her eyes sparkling. “Lamb warning me was one thing but to hear it again from you, someone who I had never met…well, it was galling to say the least. As to the rest – the where and when of his past – Lamb did not say until the very last of his days when he called me to the study, gave me a glass of whisky, and told me everything.”

“What did he tell ye?”

“That he was born in nineteen thirty-two and that his brother, my father, had left a box for him in a bank in Edinburgh. Inside was a portrait of my mother and I, and a letter explaining his disappearance three years earlier. Lamb went on to find us all in the records, including the notice of my parents death, and from there he found out where I was and determined to come and get me, his intention to bring me back to his time and raise me there. However, it turned out to be a rather fruitless venture as I could not hear the stones as he did.”

Jamie’s heart rose and fell like a rollercoaster. Then it stalled altogether.

“Still, he told me the stories of those who could, hoping that it might one day change. Yet with every year that passed, with every standing stone he took me to, I still heard nothing. When we moved here to Lallybroch, Lamb had some intention of taking me to the same place he came through, a Fairy Hill near Inverness. But it was not to be, and I cannot make myself go.”

“Why no’?”

Claire released a long, slow breath. “Because you have given me reason to believe, to want, that I can change my fate after all. And I need to understand why, since meeting you, I can suddenly hear the buzzing.”

Chapter Text

 

Jamie had gone very, very still.

Of all the things that he had expected Claire to say (because truthfully, he hadn’t actually known what to expect), it wasn’t that.

For him, what had started out with his curiosity, his need to know about what her uncle might have told her, had now morphed into an ever bigger confusing, hopeful mess than when he’d started. Claire knew what her uncle had done, what he had been capable of. She knew that, somehow, Lambert Beauchamp had been able to defy all known laws of physics and had travelled through time. That the stones of Craigh Na Dun were a goddam time portal!

And while that fact completely floored Jamie, all he was able to focus on, the one thing that was making his heart beat so violently that he thought it was going to burst out of his chest, was Claire’s gentle admission – “Because you have given me reason to believe, to want, that I can change my fate after all. And I need to understand why, since meeting you, I can suddenly hear the buzzing.”.

His own words and sentiments echoed about his head. Had he not questioned his part in their connection as he stood in the shadow of Craigh Na Dun? Had he not wanted the exact same chance to change her, his, their fate? Did she not also give him a reason to hope, to want for something more? And as for the buzzing…Christ! What did that even mean?

“You must think me mad,” Claire said quietly, lowering her gaze to her lap. “Believe me, you are not alone in that.”

“No.” Jamie replied, his voice steady despite feeling as though his entire body were trembling. “No, I believe ye, Sassenach. I dinna understand it a bit, no’ yet. But I trust ye. I trust yer word, yer heart. So, whatever ye tell me, I will believe ye.”

Claire looked up, a little bemused. “You would believe me as easily as all that?”

He nodded with absolute conviction. “Aye. Can ye tell me more about this buzzing sound?”

She gave him a watery smile. Did she really think that he wouldn’t? Oh! Mo nighean donn…

“It is hard to explain,” she began tentatively. “It comes and goes, a low humming noise that is barely noticeable but distracting all the same. The morning we met for the first time, I had come in from the garden and was standing at the sink in the pantry, scraping off the mud from the potatoes, when the sound rose up, like the gentle buzz of a bee flying by the window. In fact, that was what I thought it was, so I paid it little heed. Then, a moment or two later, you were standing there, raving and threatening to throw me over your shoulder.”

“In my defence, I’d thought ye’d broken in.”

Claire smiled. “So I gathered. The buzzing has been getting gradually louder since and is now more like an angry hornets nest.”

“How often do ye hear it?”

“More and more frequently of late. And always if I am in the pantry.”

“Yer uncle thought that the stone used in the step came from the Fairy Hill,” Jamie said, throwing a glance over at the room. It sat in semi-darkness; the white walls dulled over time so that they didn’t so much reflect light as suck it in. “Tis a place called Craigh Na Dun.”

She nodded. “It seems that Alexander’s father, when he was building Lallybroch, took the stone as a ward against evil coming into the house. It was smashed in two and each half was placed beneath the front and back doors. Then, last summer when Alexander had the front steps replaced, the two halves were reunited, and things have been a little odd here ever since.”

That felt rather like an understatement . “Did Lamb ever hear it as ye do?”

Claire started to shake her head but then she stopped, her brow wrinkled in thought. “Once, I think. I can remember him complaining of a ringing in his ears, but he never made much of a fuss about it and certainly did not say anything when he told me about coming through the stones. Do you suppose it could be the same thing?”

“I dinna ken, Sassenach. But I’m beginning to find that anything is possible lately…”

She nodded in agreement. Then, her eyes narrowed, and she said, “So, you are a Fraser then.”

Jamie laughed. “I did no’ think ye’d noticed.”

“It was subtle. You said that your father lived in Edinburgh so how did you come to live in Lallybroch?”

Jamie curled his lip in a slight snarl. “That would be because of my grandsire, Simon Lovat. He was born a Fraser but chose to disown it in favour of his mother’s family name, just as Da chose to take it back.”

“Were they close?”

“No’ at all. Da met Simon once when he was ten years-old and he did no’ think much of him. Da was to inherit this place, only he died before my grandsire did and so the title reverted to me as the next living male Fraser heir.”

Claire threw him a brief look. “Can I ask about how your father died, Jamie?”

As always, the weight of his grief weighed down upon him. He sometimes felt like it was bricks being piled on, one on top of the other, and that he had to keep holding them up, no matter how exhausted he was, because if he dropped even a single one, he would have to drop them all.

He glanced over at Claire. She was smiling gently, willing him on.

So, she would come to know the demon in the end.

“I’m afraid that it was me,” he admitted quietly, his throat dry as he tried to swallow.

Claire blinked. “You killed your father?”

“No. But I was responsible for it.” - he let out a short, bitter laugh - “Or, at the verra least, my behaviour was.”

“How?”

“I tend tae get drunk and make terrible life decisions. Decisions that do no’ just affect me. I’ve said and done things that I will never be proud of, things that my Da was no’ proud of me for. Ever since I turned eighteen and went to live in London, I was on what he called a ‘destructive spiral’, and I did no’ care enough about who I took down along wi’ me.”

Jamie was trying to keep his voice from cracking with emotion, but he was close to admitting defeat.

“We’d argue whenever I would come back to Edinburgh. Och, it would start off well but there would be always something that would set one of us off against the other. He’d call me reckless and selfish, and I would yell that he was just jealous and full of spite that I made something of myself when he could no’. We did no’ speak the entire year before he died.”

“Jamie…”

“Ye dinna ken me at my worse, Sassenach,” he muttered darkly, unable to cope with the sympathy in her voice. He stood and began to pace back and forth across the kitchen in agitation. “I was everything that he said I was but so far up my own arse to acknowledge it. I believed all the hype, the praise. I let my ego drive my choices, refusing to believe that I’d be expected to pay a price for my behaviour. Sae, when Ma called and told me that he’d been rushed into hospital, that whole world that I’d created, the one that I thought I wanted, shattered around me. Christ! I barely made it back to see him before he died.”

“But you did…”

“Aye. He was so fragile, as though the weight of the world was pressing down on him. Ma had told me that the illness had been quick, but I could no’ help but think that it was my actions that had worn him down. That everyone had spent so much time worrying about me that they had no’ realised how ill Da had become.

I got to hold his hand and tell him that I loved him, that I would become the man he wished me to be. He said that he’d always been proud of me, that he loved me and that all he wanted was for me to the man I wanted to be. And that was the last time we spoke. He was laid to rest at the Mount Vernon cemetery in Edinburgh and I’m left behind wi’ this unbearable guilt that I’ve no’ been to see him. I’m far too ashamed that-”

Jamie stopped talking abruptly to run shaking hands through his hair before falling back down into the chair with sudden determination. He wanted to tell her everything now, in this moment, while he still had the guts to do so.

“Can I show ye something, Sassenach?”

“Of course.”

He suddenly felt nervous. “I dinna…that is tae say…if ye feel uncomfortable wi’ the fact that I have tae take off my shirt, I will no’ be so bold as tae show ye. But if ye dinna mind, a nighean…I’d like to show ye the scars.” He felt the blush creep up his neck. Ye’ve removed yer clothing in front of women before sae why are ye being shy now?

It was quite obvious really. None of those women had been Claire.

“It is alright, Jamie. You can show me.”

He smiled gratefully. “Come. Stand behind me then.”

Claire did as he asked, barely making a sound as he lifted off his shirt in one fluid motion to reveal the criss-cross of red lines that were slowly fading to white. He knew what it was that she saw – scar tissue and patches where the skin had been flayed off. There were areas of recovery, where the skin grafts had smoothed away the worst of the gauged muscle. But with every second that ticked by, Jamie became more and more self-conscious that she was disgusted by it.

Her voice was soft and void of any revulsion as she asked, “What happened?”

Jamie took a deep breath. He desperately wanted to reach back for her hand, to seek the reassurance he needed and wanted to give. His stomach clenched at the thought that he didn’t know if he could, that she might not even welcome his touch. But he so wished to have hers.

“Old habits die hard, Sassenach. It was no’ long after Da’s funeral that I got into an accident. I was in Italy for work and had taken a day to explore. I was being as reckless as always, wi’ no respect for my safety. I just wanted tae feel something other than the horrible numbness. I came off my bike in some disused quarry that I should no’ have been in. I was dragged down a dirt track for nearly half a mile and must have blanked out from the pain as when I came too, I was in hospital wi’ my back flayed.”

“That must have been terrifying for you.”

He shook his head, glancing down to find that he had been clenching his knuckles so tightly that they had turned white. Then he felt the streak of hot tears cascade down his cheeks, splashing down upon his fists and it was all he could do to try and keep himself together.

“Tis alright, a nighean. I should have been more careful. It took being in hospital for four weeks, followed by six months of physio and therapy, before I was able to come to terms with it, to stop feeling as though the accident was some sort of penance. But tis hard no’ to when I have tae live wi’ the scars.”

“Why did you want to show me them?”

He was surprised that she had asked. “I suppose…I wanted to show ye because I felt that ye’d let me ken yer sorry for it, wi’out making me feel pitiful about it. And I wanted ye to see me, to ken that I am as real as ye are to me. Tis important, Claire. For ye tae ken that.”

He had no idea that she had moved until he felt the lightest of touches of cloth upon his back.

“May I…may I touch your back, Jamie?”

Jamie nodded and held his breath, hardly daring to believe that it was possible to feel her do so, even as her touch grew bolder, her fingers tracing along the ridges of scared flesh and smooth skin. He heard her sharp gasp a second before her arms were suddenly around him, wrapping around his shoulders and hugging his taut, surprised body to her.

For a moment, Jamie stiffened, but then he grabbed her hands and pulled her arms tighter, holding onto her wrists for what felt like dear life. “What must you think of me, mo chridhe.”

She pressed her chin to his shoulder, and he sighed at the skin to skin contact, however slight it was.

“Would it surprise you to hear that I am in awe of you?”

He sniffed. “How so?”

“Because you are healing, Jamie. With each and every day, those scars may remind you of your pain, but they also remind you of your recovery. The past can never be erased, and as for the future…well, you are showing me that it is nothing to be afraid of. And I will tell you this for free - I may not know the Jamie you were but I am so glad to know the Jamie you now are.”

Jamie let out a sob, fingers tightening around her wrists as she anchored them both to the world, allowing him to cry out his pain and anger and heartbreak. And as unexplainable and mysterious as their embrace was, he could have stayed that way for hours, with the sound of the fire in the stove crackling and the sweet smell of the lavender soap that clung to her skin.

But he knew that it couldn’t last.

Slowly, Jamie began to relax, his hands loosening their grip on her as the short gulps gave way to even breaths. “Thank ye, mo nighean donn.”

“You have nothing to thank me for,” she whispered, gently removing her arms before moving back to the stool. As she sat, her gaze immediately found his and she smiled. I am under her spell, and happy to be there. “Lamb never told me this could happen. But then, I suppose he might not have known this was even possible. I do wish that he were still here to ask or that he wrote something down. But he never did.”

“But he did, a nighean.” Jamie said eagerly, wiping away the tears as he realised that Lamb had found a way to share what he knew. “He kept a journal in this time that he then left behind. I have it, Claire, though I’ve no’ been able to make hide nor hair of it. But perhaps, you can?”

Her eyes were wide with excitement. “I would certainly not mind trying.”

Giddy, Jamie stood and was about to rush from the room when a sudden though occurred to him. He spun back around and said, “Will ye wait here, Sassenach. Dinna go anywhere until I get back.”

She nodded and grinned. “I will try…”

Grinning like a fool, Jamie bolted down the hallway and took the stairs three at a time, bursting into his room just as his phone began to ring from it’s charging point on the bedside table. He’d been without it all morning…which was a first!

Ignoring all the hundreds of usual notifications, he swiped the screen as he fished the journal out of the drawer. “What can I do for ye, Ian?”

“Finally!” His brother-in-law exclaimed with relief. “I’ve been tryin’ tae get ahold of ye all morning. Where have ye been?”

“Talkin’ wi’ Claire,” he answered matter-of-factly, leaving Claire’s obituary behind. He was not ready to show her it yet.

Ian, sounding somewhat bewildered, spluttered, “Talkin wi’…okay, we’re goin’ tae swing back around tae that but first, I have something tae tell ye and I dinna think yer gonna like it.”

“Go on.”

“The production company has been in touch this morning.”

“Aye. So?” he asked, already making his way back down the stairs.

Ian sighed heavy in his ear. “They wanted tae ken if ye were ready tae start promoting the show again.”

“And ye reminded them that I’m no’ due back for another month, right?”

“I did. But they were no’ asking, Jamie. They want ye to come back tae work now.”

He paused on the second to last step and swore.

“There is something else. They also want ye tae do the promo’s wi’ Geneva.”

“Yer jokin’?”

“No. Seems like the Execs dinna have such a problem wi’ yer history as much as ye do. They are verra excited to bring her on board, Jamie.”

“Can I say no?”

“Unlikely. Her people are pushin’ and I’ve been suitably reminded by the Powers That Be that ye are no’ the only star they now have. They keep using ‘contractual obligations’ like it’s a feckin’ comma.”

His whole body slumped against the wall. “When?”

“Yer no’ gonna like this either. They want ye back in Glasgow before the weekend for a brief, and then they are sending yer both over to tae the States. Yer to be on a convention panel by Sunday afternoon.”

Jamie swore again, much louder this time. He glanced down the hallway towards the kitchen, his heart in his throat. “And what if I’m no’ ready tae leave here?” To leave her?

“I dinna ken what ye want me to say, bràthair-cèile,” Ian replied helplessly. Because they both knew that there wasn’t an answer that Ian could give that was going to change the inevitable.

Jamie had run out of time.

 

~~~~~  

 

“Are ye alright, mistress?” Mrs Crook asked, throwing her a curious look from across the wooden table. “Ye dinna usually knead the bread dough wi’ such furious vigour.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Murdina Bug had no problem with keeping secrets.

She had those that she kept from her family and friends. Then there were the secrets that she had hidden and the ones she kept for others. She even kept the occasional secret from Arch.

Secrets meant something and nothing to Murdina and she had certainly never lost any sleep from knowing what she did. Except that since Jamie Fraser had inherited his ancestral home, there were some secrets that were now keeping her awake.

She had known when he had left Lallybroch to return to Glasgow. Not because her daily walks took her by the stump of the slowly rotting tree at the end of the drive (that might have afforded her a view of the house if she cared to look…which she often did) or because she followed the series online, but because she had read about it.

When she had given the trunk to Jamie all those months before, filled as it had been with the wills, personal letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, handwritten ledgers and drawings of generations of the Frasers of Lallybroch, she had been quick to assure him that he would find everything he needed to know within it.

But she had not spoken the absolute truth.

For omitted from the collection was a small black leather diary, prettily embossed with gold leaves and flowers. Written between the years of 1742 and 1743, the pages were delicate and aged, the words written in an ink that had faded into the paper. Some of the pages featured anatomically correct drawings, others with plants and flowers and herbs that had some homeopathic use or other. There were notes on treatments for ailments and procedures for the setting of bones (that were somewhat advanced for the 18th century) as well as ways in which herbs and medicine were to be dispensed.   

However, it was the personal entries written in between the drawings and notes, and the loose letters placed sporadically about the pages, that were of much more interest to Murdina. She had marked what she had felt were the most important, often rereading to make sure she remembered all the little details hidden within. For the diary and its contents had been in her keeping since Simon abandoned Lallybroch to its fate and she knew well the events that were about to unfold.

Pulling her chair up to the heater, Murdina opened the diary at two specific pages, unfolding the letters that marked their place and once more began to read…

 

~~~~~

 

Edinburgh House, London

January 21st, 1743

 

My dearest Claire,

What an absolute delight it was to receive your letter and how extraordinary. You were quite right to assume that the story within would be of both a great interest and of some great amusement to me – for only Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp could find herself living with a ghost!

Although I have had some experience with the supernatural, I confess that your minimal description of the young man does not recall any such similar encounter to mind; I will, of course, make some enquiries within the circle and write to you as soon as I learn anything more. It would help if you could describe him with more detail, perhaps include an etching so that I may see this apparition of yours for myself – truly, he sounds to be quite the handsome wee fox, you lucky hen.

Life here in London continues to be both exciting and tiresome in equal measure, and barely tolerable without your scathing wit to enjoy; I shall not endeavour to bore you with the details of societies turns as I know you do not care for the gossip half as much as I. I do so long for you to relent and finally allow Alexander to bring you with him on his next visit for you are greatly missed here; we would have such fun, I am sure of it. Please at least think upon it, for you shall always be most welcome. Imagine if you were to make it down for the season? We could go shopping for dresses and ugly hats that we could try to make pretty and attend the balls to find you a rich, old husband like mine.

Now, I know you will be rolling your eyes and heaving a weary sigh at the thought but be assured that the viciousness you encountered on your last visit will not be tolerated again – for neither my dear Lord Duncan nor Alexander nor I. It shall simply not be allowed! Christ! You would have thought that, after four years, the vultures would have found someone else to sink their claws into. Write as soon as you can to confirm the details of your journey but until then, I am and remain

Your friend

Geillis

 

~~~~~

 

Edinburgh House, London

February 10th  

 

My dear Claire,

Thank you for sending me the bottled rosemary tincture for Lord Duncan so promptly; we cannot find one that works as well from any apothecary here in London. My dear husband already states the pains in his stomach are easing and proceeds to place you up upon the pedestal I have already made for you.  

Perhaps I should not feel as disappointed as I do at your flat refusal to step one foot again in the city and try to be more understanding of it. But as I cannot make the mountain move, it seems I shall have to go to the mountain (and by which I mean that I have already secured Alexander’s approval to invade his home for a few weeks over Beltane). I have to say that I am excited to be returning to my homeland again and shall prevail upon you to show me how much – or I dare say how little – Inverness has changed. Society is much quieter there if I recall but I shall be expecting you to attend the Gathering, even if I have to pull you along by the ribbons of your dress to get you there.

Now, as to the drawing you sent – how close a likeness to your ghost is it? I can see why you have referred to him in your letters as a red-haired Viking, for surely that is he. Are his eyes that blue? Is he really that tall? And as handsome? And if he is all in your head, how vivid your imagination must be to have conjured him; I find myself quite jealous and a little flushed.

I must admit to being confused by your description of this second encounter – I was not aware ghosts could be scared enough to suffer a bursting heart, nor take a glass straight out of your hand, though his concern about Alexander is most amusing; there is no man alive less likely to hurt a single curly hair upon your head. Though how does he know about him? I am starting to think he may not be a ghost at all but something much more exciting – I think that I shall have to do some reading before I come to you in April. And on that note, I spoke to my friends in the circle and a name has come up; Master Raymond Grenouille. His last known residence was in Paris, but he has not been heard of there in some time. Perhaps you might be able to reach out to one of your French acquaintances to see if they know of his whereabouts?  

I would be most interested to hear his thoughts on this Jamie; I shall be (im)patiently waiting to receive your next letter.

Your affectionate friend

Geillis

 

~~~~~

 

L’Hôpital des Anges, 26 février, 1743

 

Ma très chère Claire

I hope this note finds you safe and well.

The request you made in your letter was no trouble at all, though it took me un petit moment to find what you asked. No doubt you will be pleased to hear that the man is still in Paris and I have enclosed his current address. He is a strange man, whose name is most befitting his appearance, but beyond his large eyes, il est assez charmant. I was surprised to discover that he was un vieil ami de vos oncles; saddened as he was at the news, he is looking forward to hearing from you in due course.

May he bring you bonnes nouvelles, mon ami.

Bouton sends his regards.

Hildergarde

 

~~~~~

 

Saturday March 16th

It has been ten days.

Ten days since I sat in the kitchen and spoke to him of his father and I the truth of my uncle. And for the briefest of moments, completely unexpectantly, I got to place my arms around him. I do not think I will ever be able to explain the feeling fully, the sense of happiness and completion and utter stillness, as though the world had fallen away to leave only he and I. There was such a longing in me, a want and need that I trembled with it. And now, to have it be so cruelly taken from me by whatever is going on in this house - I must confess that I am sore about it. For Jamie has not reappeared to me; there have been longer absences, but I feel this deeper than any other.

After revealing to me that he had one of Lamb’s journals, I was so full of the most extraordinary feeling of light-headedness, of a giddiness at the thought of there being something more of uncle, one last connection to the man that raised me. I had such hope to hear his voice again (even if it were merely words upon a page) and such a fluttering in my stomach at the thought of it being in Jamie’s possession. Perhaps it was silly to think it, but it felt like he was about to give my uncle back to me.

My mind kept turning over the possibilities – what would it say? Would Lamb have written down further clues about the stones, to how they might have worked for him? Would there be anything in that journal that he might not have divulged to me that would explain anything?

And above all, if he and my father could travel back, would there be a way to travel forward? Would that mean that I could change what was about to happen, even if that meant having to leave behind my life here, to leave Alexander? Of course, it all depended upon whether there is a way for the stones to finally work for me and if they do…I dare not think of what could await me for it fills me with equal measures of joy and dread.

What if, after all this, Jamie would not want me there? Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! That thought alone is enough to squeeze all the air from my lungs at once. I know he feels something for me, but our meetings have been so few and far between it is difficult to surmise what they might be. I do not think he would have divulged so much if he did not have feelings of some sort. I grapple with this dilemma near daily for how could it be possible?

It is both infuriating and heartbreakingly unfair.

Mrs Crook, having found me lost to my thoughts, was curious to my mood but how could I ever hope to explain this to her? Where would I even begin? Thankfully, the housekeeper of Lallybroch is far too sensible to take me seriously on such matters and was only too happy to distract me, setting me to the usually calming kneading of dough. But I admit that that day, I was far too tightly wound for it to ease the tension in my shoulders and may have taken most of my frustrations out on it (much to her concerned amusement).

I rather think I would have been at a loss without Mrs Crook - she has been so wonderfully kind to me since I came to Scotland, taking me under her wing and allowing me some freedom.  She admitted that she is rather glad to have another woman about the house, having had a hand in raising Alexander and his two brothers alongside her own son. Even as I write this, I can hear her bustling about the kitchen below, shouting at the dogs to get out from underneath her feet. It seems that Alexander has returned from visiting the estate manager and already he calls out for me to join him for dinner. I am most grateful for him, for the friendship he has shown and his infinite kindness to my situation. Without him, I would have been thrown to the London wolves and…perhaps that story shall remain my own for a little while longer.

 

~~~~~

 

Monday April 8th

To my absolute delight, I woke this morning to find the warmth of spring had returned, and so too have my spirits. I am quite determined to shake off the overwhelming disappointment of another week passing without seeing him and to resume my walks down to Broch Mordha – Alexander thinks I should ride still but I am not to be dissuaded (so we have compromised by agreeing that he will ride down to the village should the weather take a nastier turn with my horse).  

Even after all these years, I still find the place to be quite charming, with its neat rows of croft cottages surrounded by woven coppiced fences and freshly turned vegetable gardens. The villagers suffer from enough bouts of ailments and accidents each day to keep me relatively busy; this week alone I have extracted teeth and reset bones, cleaned cuts and bruises and provided treatments for many stomach complaints. My muscles ache and I am bone weary each day, but the work is fulfilling and distracting so I shall not complain.

The sun remained kind, so I was able to walk back to Lallybroch in the evening. It was as I was untangling myself from the hedgerow, having come across a rather splendid specimen of hedge garlic plant, that I spotted Alexander crossing the pretty stone bridge towards me. Dressed as he was in his kilt and long coat, fine-looking with the sunlight behind him, he was every inch the Laird Broch Tuarach. And I find myself watching him more recently – not because of a growing attraction but because I hope to find something of Jamie in his appearance.

Not as tall or as broad across the shoulders, he is perhaps just as handsome, with the same cat-like slant to his eyes and effortless ease with which he holds himself. His hair is dark though, the curls almost as unruly as my own, and his eyes are the exact same shade of the moss that grows upon the trunks of the woodland trees. There is something in the roll of his shoulders, in the charm and the wit and stubbornness that does remind me, but it is not there in the way my heart flutters or leaps. Or in the prickling of my skin and the sweaty palms.

But I digress. Alexander had brought down the post, explaining that a letter had arrived for me that looked far too intriguing to have to wait until I got home. As it was, the letter was from Master Raymond Grenouille and it was most extraordinary. I cannot sit still from reading it; I feel that I could completely come undone. He had written to me a most cryptic note, one that I suppose must be somewhat vague to protect the nature of the matter he discussed…

 

~~~~~

 

Paris, 18 Avril 1743

 

Milady Beauchamp,

I beg your forgiveness for having taken so long to reply to your letter, but I felt it needed some time to think upon before I committed the words to paper.

To begin, I must confess to have known your uncle, Lambert. We met some time ago and I had the pleasure to assist him with his research into the standing stones – his lost will be felt greatly in my heart for some time to come. I was, therefore, not surprised to be approached by Mother Hildergarde in reference to our exchanging of letters, which is most welcome; I knew of your time in Paris as your uncle asked of me to watch out for you, not that you needed me as I found you to be as resourceful as he.

As to your question regarding of ghostly apparitions, I am afraid I know little, but of the pierres dress é es, I know much more. I shall take the assumption from the tone of your letter that Lambert will have told you what he was, what he was most capable of. I, too, have made the journey many times but it is not something that should be done lightly and with no preparation. Your uncle knew the risk, but it was something he did to ensure your safety; if you wish to do the same, I advise that you take heed of my words.

It can happen at any time, but it is at its strongest on the half year. You must know when you expect to come out or else you will find yourself when you did not intend. It does not require blood, but you must take something precious with you to pay the price for the journey; it must not be gold or silver but of stone. And lastly, the noise you hear will tear you apart, but you must not listen.

Lambert told me that you cannot hear the buzzing, but I do not think that this is something that is of concern. It will be because it is not yet your time; I assure you that it will come. You must write to me if you visit Craigh na Dun – the place where both your uncle and father knew well – and if I can, I will make the journey to see you soon for I think that there is much more for us to discuss.

Your obedient servant,

Raymond

 

~~~~~

 

London, June 2nd

 

Claire,

I am on my way back to Lallybroch; Horrocks has been freed.

A

 

 ~~~~~

 

There came three rapid knocks on the front door.

Cursing, Murdina hurried to hide the diary in her knitting basket, careful to ensure it was well covered, before hurrying to see who wished to disturb her on that quiet Tuesday morning in July.

Swinging open the door, she did her absolute best to keep her expression in check. She looked the person up and down, and sneered, “Weel, if it is no’ Davina Porter come back tae the place she swore to no’ step foot again.”

“Good morning, Murdina,” Davina replied with a tight smile. “I assure you tis no’ a social call. I was actually hoping ye might be able tae tell me the location of Claire’s missing diary?”  

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie was not in the mood.

He had driven up from Glasgow a day later than he had planned, all thanks to Geneva feckin' Dunsany. Was he being grumpy and unreasonable? Too bloody right he was! And he had good reason because the blasted woman, who had delayed filming of the block for three consecutive days by quibbling over the script and her costume, had done nothing but bark orders and insult people since she started. Of course, she had been all flirtatious charm with him; lightly touching his arm, leaning in whenever he spoke, dropping the occasional suggestive comment or look as she told him how talented and good a person he was.

She was so bloody infuriating!

Jamie hated to admit that he would have fallen for it six months ago, had in fact fallen for it two years previously when they had started a brief and very regrettable affair. It had all come to an end across the pages of the tabloids, Jamie painted as some sort of Lothario while Geneva was the saint who’d had to put up with him. The reality of it was quite the opposite, but it had been enough to send Jamie on the path that had him live up to the reputation. 

Yet, a mere handful of encounters with a woman who lived three-hundred years in the past had changed everything and now…now he had no idea who he was. For so many years, for so long, he had been so many different men to so many different people. But with Claire he felt he had no name, no want or need other than to be with her. In the four months since he had last seen her, Jamie felt the loss like a weight tied around his neck, dragging him downwards. He had returned to Lallybroch as often as he could, always anticipating and hopeful, but he was always disappointed.

He lived in crippling fear that she had vanished for good.

“There ye are, a bhobain,” his Nana said as she appeared in the doorway from the living room the moment the front door to Lallybroch shut behind him. “I’ve been waiting for ye all mornin’.”

Surprised and somewhat confused as to why Davina was there, Jamie leaned down to accept her hug and asked, “Tis lovely tae see ye, seanmhair, but what are ye doing here?” 

“I came up wi’ Jenny a few days ago on an errand,” she explained, pulling back so that she could look him up and down. “Ye look pale. Have ye been getting enough rest? Are ye hungry? There is some tea and bannocks in the other room, but I can make ye something else if ye want?”

“Dinna fash, Nana. Is Jenny still here?”

Davina shook her head. “No. She went back to Edinburgh this morning.”

“Then why did ye no’ go back wi’ her?”

“Because I have something that I would like tae show ye,” she smiled, ushering him into the living room. “Ye see, I could no’ put my finger on what was bothering me about what was no’ there, neither in the box nor in the trunk. And I kept thinking that there was something missing, something that I’d could have sworn that I’d seen. Then it suddenly came to me and I just had tae confront her about it! Christ! I’m that mad wi’ myself for no’ remembering it sooner as it might have saved ye some heartache, Jamie.”

“Nana…what are ye going on about?”

“Why the diary, of course,” Davina said, waving a hand towards the coffee table where a small book crammed full of loose papers sat upon the glass. “Murdina Bug kept it because she dinna want anyone tae ken about the stolen money, no’ that she and Arch have been able tae find it mind.”

Jamie took a deep breath, feeling the first thud of a headache behind an eye. “What stolen money?”

“The gold that Alexander Fraser stole from Franklin Randall, of course.”

What the actual bloody feckin’ hell?!

Seanmhair…?” he warned, rubbing his fingers across his forehead.

“I ken tis probably no’ that important but that’s the reason why the diary was no’ there wi’ all the other stuff. Murdina reckoned the gold would be found in the renovation and she could then bargain the diary for it.”

“Why would she think that?”

“Because the diary belonged tae Claire.”

Feeling as though his knees may well buckle beneath him, Jamie all but fell down into the old leather armchair. Without further thought, he reached out to pick up the diary, tracing a light finger over the worn golden leaves and flowers embossed into the black leather; this had been Claire’s?! She had held it in her hands. Touched the leather. Pressed her fingers to the paper.

“It doesna make sense…why would Mrs Bug want tae bribe me wi’ something that belonged tae Claire?”

“I think because Claire mentions you and time travel throughout and Murdina reckoned ye would want it kept secret, a bhobain,” Davina said gently, placing a cup of tea down before him. “Take yer time reading it and when yer ready, we’ll figure out what ye are going tae do about it.”

 

~~~~~

 

Tuesday April 29th

I had the dream again last night.

The hill rose out from the curling mist, the stones looming like giants rising from the ground. I clambered towards them, the sharp climb of the grass slope hindered by the loose stones and worn patches of earth that slipped beneath my stockinged feet. I was breathless from running, my heart beating erratically with fear and excitement. I was drenched to the skin as the rain was falling heavily, weighing down my skirts to wrap around my legs. My lungs were screaming, my muscles twitched and strained; but I knew that I could not stop, not until I reached the stones. The wind howled and I could hear the thrum of voices as invisible hands reached out from the stones to pull me forwards.

As always, I woke with a start with my heart beating as frantically as it had in the dream. Rolling out of bed, I went directly to the window, opening it to take in great gulps of the early morning air in an attempt to recover my breath. It was raining – perhaps the sound of the plump raindrops ricocheting off the glass and frame had filtered into my dream? – and I was grateful for the cool drops of water to splash upon my heated skin; my shift clung to me and the muscles in my legs twitched as though I had physically run up that accursed hill for real. The dream has been reoccurring for weeks now, ever since I remembered the Woman of Belnain poem Lamb used to tell me; surely that was the reason it kept coming back to me?

I had hoped that being away from Lallybroch, and the infuriating buzzing sound, would halt the dreams but alas, I am to be haunted by them wherever I go. Geillis has been most insistent that we stay in Inverness over Beltane – the Gathering will be the day after tomorrow, and she has in mind to visit Craigh na Dun in the morning. I find myself full of trepidation over the visit, torn between the want and the fear that the stones may either reject or take me – I am ill prepared for either outcome. All I know for sure is that I am bloody exhausted from all of it and I long for the days when I knew nothing of Lamb or Jamie or Raymond. How much happier I was then to be ignorant and as I stood at the window, anticipating another day stretching out before me, I closed my eyes and sent up a silent prayer; please let me forget all of it for one day. 

 

~~~~~

 

Thursday May 2nd

There appears to have been something quite prophetic about the dream. Yesterday morning, I found myself staring up at the circle of stones at Craigh na Dun in horrified fascination; I have not seen this place before and yet, I know those stones well enough.

It was cold and overcast, not exactly a surprise for early summer in the Scottish Highlands, and I was shivering beneath my cloak as I followed Geillis across the grass towards the steep hillside, complaining the entire time about the mud splashing up her dress. I was transfixed upon the stones; the henge rose up stark against the pale grey sky beyond as real as the dream in which I had seen them. I had not known what to expect for I had conjured such thoughts about that place, torn between excitement and trepidation and blood-chilling fear. I have seen enough henges and cairns and standing stones to not even batter an eyelid at seeing another one, but there was something about the eight monoliths that protruded from the ground at the top of that hill that sent chills down my spine.

We climbed the hill, careful not to slip upon the wet grass until the stones were in reach of our cold fingers. The view from the top of the hill was magnificent; the fields had returned to the lush emerald hue and, despite the dullness of the day, the waters of the loch glistened, surrounded by the woodlands and moors with the mountains beyond. I had half a mind to draw the scene except that I had no brought any of my brushes or pencils with me, so I turned my attention to the stones. I pressed a hand upon one of the moss-covered surfaces, breath baited, but I need not to have worried so; for my heart sank, taking the fluttering of hope with it. I could not hear them, nor feel the warmth and movement that Lamb had described. They were merely stones and nothing more; to not be feared or revered as anything more. I shall write to Master Raymond as he requested to let him know I have visited.

I was disappointed, of course, and that feeling soon dissipated. I was distracted by it at the beginning of the Gathering but thankfully I was with Geillis, who became the centre of attention, as she so often does, and managed the social obligations of us both with the style and flare I have come to expect from her. I was invited to dance several times and I admit that I had forgotten the thrill of the movement, the count of the beat and steps, even the light conversation. I am happy to live a quiet life at Lallybroch, but I have missed the excited flush to my cheeks (not entirely brought on by the glasses of rhenish I am sure). We shall return to Lallybroch tomorrow - perhaps I will be able to convince Alexander to dance upon his birthday next month after all.

 

~~~~~

 

Paris, 15 Mai, 1743

 

Milady Claire,

I was most pleased to receive your last letter but how my heart has felt your sadness. I shall try to answer your two queries with as much clarity as I can manage in the form of this letter, though do forgive me if I do not.

To answer your first question, the stones of Craigh na Dun are indeed most old and have been used for passage for thousands of years. Lambert was not the first of your family to fall through from there for the place draws the bloodline to it; those of us who can journey can do so from any place but there is always one that pulls us with more strength, more purpose. Some fall with accident whilst others do so with knowledge – it is of some consequence that you find yourself, an English woman, living where you do.

As to your second question, I am not surprised that you do not hear the sound any longer. You understood, I think, that bringing the two halves of the stone together returned to the stone its power, but it will not ever be as strong away from its brothers and sisters. I believe that it has caused a ripple, if you will, creating a passage to a Lallybroch of another time – c’est le plus incroyable. I suspect that the passage will only be open at the half year when the mysterious ways of the world grow stronger. You may not hear it again until the next time.

With yours and Laird Broch Tuarach agreeance, I would like to make the journey to Lallybroch to see and hear it for myself. I shall book passage for mid-June and will not press upon your hospitality for longer than a week – would you be most willing to return to the stones with me during that time? Do not fear them, milady, for they will not call you back to them until you, and the Red Man, are ready.

Your obedient servant

Raymond

 

~~~~~

 

Monday May 27th

A rather confusing letter arrived from Master Raymond this morning; I am not at all sure of his meaning of bloodlines and passages and ripples, though I suspect this explanation is as good as any other. I also have the faintest notion to who the Red Man is and whether I should be afraid of him or not; I shall have to write back to him to ask for an explanation. I do so wish that I could talk to Jamie about it but as it has now been nearly three months since I last saw him (and nearly a full month since the last time I heard the buzzing) that I feel that I must accept what is not to be. Three-hundred years separate us so how could it ever be possible?

My gloominess has been made all the worse since the departure of Geillis back to London, taking Alexander with her. He has business to attend to and as neither could persuade me to change my mind about joining them, they left Lallybroch early on Tuesday last. I had become quite accustomed to having them both around; Geillis for her conversation and candour and her tireless interest in what has been happening. It has been wonderful to have her here, to be able to talk to her about the ebbs and flows of my thoughts concerning Jamie – I could never tell her my true feelings, of course. She is good enough to believe what is happening but if I admit to my heart being touched by him then I fear she shall call me out to be a fool. I would rather continue to be in denial of the matter and allow my heart to mend in its own time rather than be forced. 

As to Alexander’s absence, I confess to missing all the mud in the hall, his booming voice and thundering steps that echo about the house. There is an eerie silence now, broken only by the chimes of the clock in the hallway and the most welcome chatter of Mrs Crook; she shows up every morning with a new list of things that she could use my help with (something I suspect Alexander had a hand in, not willing to let me fall into a melancholy). She tells me that The Watch have been spotted near to Beauly and are slowly making their way north; she has asked her son to accompany her and myself back and forth from Broch Mordha each day. I do not think it necessary, but Tom Crook is only too happy to oblige; he is a most affable man who is thrilled to be becoming a grandfather in the next few months and has asked if I will attend to Annabel at the birth.

I am reminded to write to Alexander in London about The Watch and Master Raymond’s visit – I have no doubt that he will wish to return in time to meet with him.

 

~~~~~

 

Saturday June 12th

Alexander has it in his head that I should spend the rest of the summer in Paris with his brother and family. I have to say that the idea does appeal - the climate is a notch kinder and I think the change in scenery would do me some good; I just wish that the reasoning behind it was not Horrocks.

The man is quite odious, full of deceit and distain, and wretched scorn; he was once Franklin’s valet and then he became a partner in the business. I have no doubt that he was behind some of the more disturbing of the ventures the Randalls were involved in and he certainly knew how to make them money. The last time I saw him was the night that Franklin died, and I dare say that he will try to make something of that by way of extortion; he will not commit such a thing to paper of course and I believe that Alexander would rather wait for him here alone than risk my reputation, not that there is much of it left to risk.

If I do decide to go, I would like to wait until after Master Raymond visits; I want to know as much as I can about this ripple in time he mentions. I shall take him to Craigh na Dun as requested for I shall like to know all that he does. Perhaps there will be something that Lamb did not tell me?

 

~~~~~

 

Lallybroch

July 24th, 1743

 

Dearest Claire,

It is with some relief that I received your letter confirming your arrival in Paris; you will be happy to know that Lallybroch is so much duller without you here. I am afraid that there is little news to pass on after the excitement of Master Raymond’s visit (what an extraordinary man he turned out to be) but I am sure that Paris will prove a needed distraction. I shall not expect to hear from you for some time to come; a bottle or two of the finest French wine will ease my sadness over this upon your return.

Send my regards to Hildergarde; try not to get too elated by pustules and disgusting tasting tonics (especially if you think to try them on me in the future). 

Your friend

A

 

~~~~~

 

Monday September 2nd

Paris is remarkably diverting.

I have been here for over six weeks and I am only now finding the time to sit and write. Margot Fraser has offered me the use of her sitting room in order to write my letters; the room is pretty enough with a large window that overlooks the river that affords me enough light to neaten the rough drawings I have made at L’Hôpital. Mother Hildergarde is still remarkable. She tells me that she is pleasantly surprised with my learning and technique from my time in London and Scotland, though she gently corrects me on occasion. It is rewarding to be working alongside her again but I find myself exhausted by the time I return to the house; I keep my eyes open just long enough to have something to eat and to wash before I long to slip into sleep.

I have seen Master Raymond on occasion, though he does not come to L’Hôpital. He has a small apothecary shop situated in the other side of the city and he has invited me to visit him there. He is even stranger in his own environment but as fascinating, with the look of a man who has seen more than he expected to. I am still coming to terms with his visit to Lallybroch; it seems that I shall have to wait until Samhain to know for sure, but he is of the opinion that I might be able to make the journey, given the right incentive. He reckons on time running parallel, that the ripple may well occur again as Samhain approaches, just as it did at Beltain. I admit to being full of such flutterings about it as it occurs to me that I could just stay here in Paris; the damnable death notice would mean nothing then, surely? Would I be able to cheat it that way after all?

But am I willing to give up the chance to see Jamie again?

By this, I have a month to make up my mind.

 

~~~~~

 

Lallybroch

September 18th, 1743

 

Claire,

You must return as soon as you are able to; Alexander has been hurt and is gravely ill.

I do not think that he will survive without your healing. Please say that you will return, mistress.

Lizzie Crook

Chapter Text

 

It was the middle of the following day and Jamie was finally beginning to piece it all together.

Sort of.

Sat beneath the newly repaired arbour in the corner of the kitchen garden with a notebook and both Claire’s diary and Lamb’s journal open beside him on the stone bench, he’d been furiously making notes in a bid to try to organise the tumbling thoughts that had kept him awake half the night. So far, he had noted that:

No one thought Alexander was actually capable of hurting Claire but who was this Horrocks?

Samhain marked the next half year, meaning the power of the stones would increase and just so happened to coincide with Claire’s supposed death/disappearance at the end of October

Both Lamb and Raymond wrote about needing a precious stone to make the journey and that it would be easier if she had a reason or a known destination

Jamie has a sneaky suspicion that he was the Red Man the mysterious Raymond had mentioned

Claire would be in Paris until at least the end of September meaning he would have to wait another four months, or there about, until the ripple caused time to catch up again

He needed to convince Claire that he wanted her

That last point broke his heart more than any other.

Claire had put it so herself; how could three-hundred years and a handful of meetings ever amount to anything? But Jamie knew, right within the very depths of his soul, that they would find a way. He could hardly dare hope to believe that she might feel the same, but it was all there in the diary, wasn’t it? The same longing and want and need? Reaching out, he brushed his fingers across the open page of the diary, hearing her voice as he reread the words

‘What if, after all this, Jamie would not want me there? Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! That thought alone is enough to squeeze all the air from my lungs at once. I know he feels something for me, but our meetings have been so few and far between it is difficult to surmise what they might be. I do not think he would have divulged so much if he did not have feelings of some sort…’

It ripped out his guts, knowing that she thought that he did not want her. It would have been so different if their circumstances had been normal (whatever that meant), if she had been here or if he were there, as he would have left her with no doubt. And if he got the chance again now, he vowed that he would tell her all that was in his heart and so much more.

So I get it, Sassenach. I am just as sore as ye about it all.

As to the rest of the list, Jamie had first hit on the notion that time was possibly running parallel back in February but had been too unsettled to think much more on it. But he supposed that it made some sense; after all, a stone taken from a magical time portal and placed within the foundations of Lallybroch where it continued to play havoc with time was a completely acceptable explanation as to what had been going on.

Probably.

And a quick internet search and several rough calculations of how long it might take a ship to sail from Le Harve to Edinburgh (plus a few days to ride back up to Lallybroch) put Claire being back in Scotland sometime around the beginning of October. Extraordinarily, the timing coincided with the end of his filming commitments in Glasgow, meaning that Jamie would return to Lallybroch at roughly the same time and would be there every day from then on until after Samhain. If this ripple in time idea was correct, Jamie had every hope that Claire could well appear once more and then they could decide together what was to happen next.

It was all he could do to keep breathing.

“What are ye going tae do about them, a bhobain?”

He looked up to find Davina peering at him from over the top of the neat row of vegetables that were ready to harvest; she had insisted on staying to tidy and prune the garden, despite the gardener having done precisely that earlier in the week.

“About whom, seanmhair?” he asked casually, knowing full well what she was getting at.

She clipped the top off an artichoke and threw him a look. “Ye ken I’m meaning the Bugs. Tis no’ a surprise that Murdina turned tae stealing and extortion. She’s always been something of a wee bitch and a nasty piece of work.”

“Really?” Jamie enquired, trying to hide the smile at the look of indignation on his Nana’s face. “How do ye ken the Bugs in the first place?”

“Weel, Murdina and I were both maids here in the sixties, but she was always full of mischief,” Davina explained, moving on from the runner beans to start pulling up the carrots. “She’s always wanted money and has despised anyone who had it. Ye ken, she made a play for Simon once, but he rejected her of course. No’ long afterwards she quit Lallybroch and got marrit tae Arch…now, there are two peas from the same pod if there ever were.”

“And the diary?”

“Och, I found it at the same time as that wee portrait of Claire, lodged in the narrow gap between the wall and the panelling in the room that I used tae sleep in. Murdina and I used tae share the room back then sae I’m sure I would have told her all about it.”

“How come ye did no’ remember it, seanmhair?”

Davina frowned. “I dinna ken. But it came back tae me quite suddenly and when I could no’ find it, I figured it would have been because of Murdina. She coverts things that her no’ hers tae have, ye ken.”

Jamie nodded slowly. “But what about this random gold?”

“Tis nothin’ but hearsay of course,” Davina mused, pausing to fan herself with her hat. “But Murdina reckoned on the diary being a clue. And then ye moved to the village and started asking yer wee questions and she started to put it all together and perhaps, ye’d be willing tae give up the gold in return for her no’ selling the story tae the tabloids. Sae I played her at her own game and reckoned she would no’ be wanting the police tae ken about all the money she and Arch have been fraudulently claiming from the estate all these years. Rather surprisingly, she handed the diary over wi’out much more argument.”

“But the gold…is it real or no’?”

Davina’s dark eyes sparkled mysteriously as she said, “Only one-way tae find out for sure and that is tae ask Claire yerself.”

Jamie was about to say something witty in retort when Ellen Fraser suddenly appeared from the side of the house, carrying a tray of drinks in one hand. She had shown up that morning in search of her absconding mother-in-law (and yet with a chicken casserole in her hand which Davina didn’t appear to be at all surprised to see). Obviously, Jamie hadn’t minded having the company of them both, even if he had rolled his eyes and jokingly commented that the pair were about as suitable as a pile of bricks.

“The post has come,” Ellen called out as she hurried down the cobbled path that outlined the garden. “I thought I’d bring them tae ye, Jamie, seeing as it was hand delivered.”

“One’ll be the Bug woman,” Davina muttered, climbing over the rows of potatoes to help herself to one of the glasses of lemonade. “She’ll no’ want tae face ye now.”

Sure enough, the envelope did contain a rather abrupt and to the point note.

 

Jamie,

By now you will have learnt that Arch and I have left Broch Mordha with no intention of returning. Please accept this letter as the termination of our employment with the estate and the end of our tenancy. 

Your grandsire, Simon, was a miserly old bastard who paid my Arch very little to look after the estate and then uprooted us from our home to live in that poxy cottage with no real means to live. We figured it was our due to skim the money from all those gullible tourists and believe it to be payments for services rendered and shall not be returning it.

As to the diary, I had intended to keep it from you so that you would not know what to expect, for no-one should know the future. The idea of using it against you did not come to me until it became clear that you were to close off Lallybroch and end our meagre income stream. I figured that you would not want such details to be exposed and that you would want something of hers and pay handsomely for it; you would have no need for the gold but it would have set us right. And if there turned out to be no gold after all, we might well have come to some other agreement out it.

It is no matter now; we have enough set aside to disappear. May Lallybroch bring you as much misery as it has done to anyone else associated with it.

Murdina Bug

 

Well , he mused with some amusement as he handed the letter over for his Ma and Nana to read, that was that then.

 

~~~~~

 

Finally, it was Samhain.

It was still dark as Jamie made his way up the hill, a thick blanket and Thermoses of coffee in hand, as the henge rose up barely visible in the sombre light of pre-dawn. He was far too nervous and excited to feel drowsy, far too eager to be in place to get much sleep. He had left Lallybroch an hour earlier than he had intended, wanting to be at Craigh na Dun in time to see the sunrise as opposed to be there afterwards; it had been four months of agonising waiting to get to this day.  

Those four months had passed as slowly as possible. After that weekend at Lallybroch, where all the pieces had started to fall into place, he had returned to Glasgow with a renewed energy that even his annoying co-star could not ruin. He had taken the diary with him, careful to not leave it in a place where it could easily be found. Both Ellen and Davina had questioned his rationale as the information within could still be exploited but Jamie refused to be parted with it; if it was all he was to have of Claire, then it was going with him.

Because of all the delays, the filming schedule had overrun by several weeks and by the time he moved permanently into Lallybroch, it was Halloween week. As each day passed, his growing dismay that he had missed Claire grew until it gnawed at him every second of every day; he had paced up and down the newly polished hardwood floor between the living room and kitchen enough to wonder if he would create a groove. But Claire did not appear and as he was beginning to lose hope, there had come a knock on the door.

The man on the other side had barely reached his elbow, appearing to be barrelled chested and bandy-legged beneath a long coat of worn brown suede.  He had a high wide forehead, bulbous black eyes and long thick silver-grey hair that he had tied back, and when he smiled as Jamie greeted, he had noticed that he had very few teeth left.

“Can I help ye?”

“Oui, Monsieur Broch Tuarach,” the man nodded, his voice raspy beneath the heavy French accent. “But I rather think it is I who can help you more. My name is Raymond Grenouille and we have a shared acquaintance, I think. Tell me, do you know one Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp?”

The conversation that followed had been extraordinary. Master Raymond (for it was the same man who had written to Claire and visited Lallybroch in 1743, leaving Jamie momentarily in a state of shock) had travelled forward to deliver the simple message that Jamie needed to be at Craigh na Dun two days hence for the sunrise of Samhain. He refused to tell him much more than that and was gone within ten minutes of his arrival, stating that Claire would explain everything.

So that was why he was there, treading carefully so as not to trip over any exposed tree roots, to wait for what he believed was going to happen. It felt like there were hundreds of tiny butterflies fluttering beneath his skin; he couldn’t catch a breath or hold onto a single thought, his blood practically singing as it thumped along his veins. It was all he could do to lay the blanket down upon a nearby fallen tree trunk that had a clear view on the central cleft stone, and to sit and wait.

What he didn’t expect, as the streak of light on the horizon turned a pale pink, was the arrival of a small crowd of people.   

The first one he spotted moved quickly, crunching the loose stones beneath their feet. Soon after, the others came in ones and twos and threes, their giggles and whispers faded as they drew level with the outer stones. It suddenly dawned on Jamie that this must be what Ian had mentioned when he first told him about the stones, that people still came up here to practice the old ways.

Ah dhia!

He ducked down behind the trunk so as not to be seen or to disturb as the crowd gathered together. He reckoned there were fifteen in all, a mixture of men and women, and varying in age. They were all dressed for the cold of the Highlands, each carrying a bundle under their arms which they took with them behind the stones and nearby trees to emerge several minutes later empty-handed and clad in white robes.

The group then assembled outside the stones and stood in silence, waiting for the pale pink light to grow stronger, and as the sun began to peak over the horizon, they slowly  walked about the stones until they all stood in the centre, circling round and round the central stone.

There was clearly a leader and that person suddenly stopped to raise their arms and face toward the easternmost stones, calling out in a voice that echoed about as though it had risen out of the stones themselves. The call was repeated by the crowd of dancers (for dancers they now became) as with arms stretched out towards each other, they bobbed and weaved about, some moving in the opposite direction to the others as they moved at increasing speed.

Jamie rather supposed that it should have all looked ridiculous but as the hair prickled on the back of his neck, he wondered if there was much more to it than that.

All at once, the dancers stopped and turned to face the rising sun as its light flooded between the eastern stones and struck the great cleft stone. They stood frozen in the shadows where the light did not reach, then the leader called out and pivoted to walk through the light as the others fell into step behind, each passing through the cleft to disappear into the silence. For the briefest of moments, Jamie wondered if they actually had. But then he heard the laughing and chatting rise up again and he watched in fascination as the crowd gathered their belongings and headed back down the hill towards where he could now see a row of parked cars. The event was over almost as quickly as it had begun.

At a lost for words, Jamie clambered back onto the blanket and poured himself a cup of coffee from the Thermoses, somewhat grateful that he’d added a generous splash of whisky to it as an afterthought. As the liquid both warmed and calmed him, he sat quietly and tried to process what it was that he had just seen.

But he didn’t have all that long before something else happened.

Roughly an hour later, with the day now dawned and a crisp blue sky above, the wind suddenly picked up, growing into a quickening bluster that shook the branches of the trees as it howled and swirled the fallen leaves about the stones. It buffeted against him as he stood, pulling at the edges of his coat and scarf enough to cause him to take a stumbling step forward, the sudden cold nipping at his cheeks and nose. From somewhere close by came the rumbling sound of thunder and it was as though the earth shook beneath his feet.

For whatever reason, his gaze was suddenly drawn to the cleft stone just in time to see a woman tumble through the gap. She swayed on her feet for a second before she crumbled to the ground in a heap of brown-green tartan and riotous dark curls.

Without hesitation, Jamie bolted forward to land on his knees beside her, his own breathing rapid as he carefully reached out to brush aside the curls with one hand whilst pressing two fingers of the other against the cool skin on her inner wrist in a bid to find a pulse. He saw her all at once, the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, the curves of her cheek to the swirl of a bitty ear and skin the colour of ivory.

And the beginnings of a nasty bruise that was blossoming around her right eye, temple and cheek…

Iffrin!