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To Fly Without Wings

Chapter Text

Claire, March 2014

 

My hands were trembling ever-so-slightly as I maneuvered the rented SUV through the hills of North Carolina. I had left Oxford behind, along with a wedding ring and a husband. My phone, my new one, with its strange American number, sat in a cup holder next to me and chimed incessantly with forwarded messages from my other phone. I’d wanted to get away, to cut the cord completely, but realizing the cruelty inherent in that, had set myself up to be tethered in some way to England and all I had left behind. I was still questioning the wisdom of that decision. 

 

I was fatigued, battle-worn, and numb. Frank, whom I had loved for years and who had seemed to fit me like a well-worn glove in the beginning of our relationship, had grown in a different direction, and our explosive chemistry in bed could not, with the magnifying lens of time, heal the cracks between the people we had become, and the different priorities we had. His job as a history lecturer meant he saw the world and its wars, terror and violence with a detached long-range lens. That used to make me hopeful, as though, in some way, all of the useless violence I had seen would someday have meaning that would manifest itself to someone like Frank, who could then explain it to me. Over time, though, his callousness, for all that it was well-intentioned, had severed our bond. 

 

I worried at my left hand ring finger, an old habit. The band of gold that had been a staple of my life for six years was gone now, and I was afraid I would wear a rash on the skin from the habit of spinning something that simply was no longer there. 

 

The beauty of the scenery around me flashed in lush, dark greens and tall trees. I had rolled down my window and I could breathe in the damp and humid air, cool now with the beginning of spring. I endeavored to think as little of what I had left behind as possible, to embrace what was happening in the moment, so that end, I stopped in little towns and ate in small diners, waited on by staff who were thrilled with my accent, and happy to tell local stories. Then I would gather my courage, pay my bill with the monochromatic American money in my wallet, and leave again to drive the hills on the wrong side of the road. No small amount of fear or trepidation, for all that I was confident in my abilities, is likely what had made my hands shake.  

 

For all that such a place was foreign to me, there was a history to this land, something deep and ancient and still, especially the further away I got from metropolitan areas and the closer I approached the mountains. I was coming here to heal, and find myself once again, discover who I was without Frank or the Army. 

 

It might seem a strange choice, and in some ways it was. Once the divorce proceedings had begun, I knew I wanted to leave, but how far to go was somewhat in question. I had long been an orphan, my parents having died in a two-seater airplane crash on their way to visit my uncle at his post in Edinburgh. My father had been something of an amateur pilot, and a good one at that, but the plane had gone down, and neither had survived.

 

I was left then in the care of my Uncle Lamb, who was an archaeologist of some note who specialized in Egypt and the Middle East. The days of great digs into pyramids were long over by the time Lamb had risen to prominence in the field, and he had spent a large part of his career arguing for the restoration of the treasures of the Egyptian people back to themselves. We spent time in Egypt, Turkey, Syria, France, Spain, Italy… such a lifestyle meant that I was well-traveled, spoke a smattering of several languages (none of them as well as I’d like, with the exception of French, since we’d been there the longest) and could small-talk with everyone from peasants to princes. But I was also somewhat of a loner, difficult to get to know, perhaps, head-strong and stubborn and assured of my own path, since I had largely been responsible for myself for a large part of my childhood. My homeschooling overlapped with brief forays into more traditional schools, when it was convenient for Lamb to have me in them, and I felt keenly the loss of a set of bosom friends that would ease the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

 

Perhaps that was what had drawn me to the military, the promise of structure, and regulation, and a set of principles that would bring some order to my life. Lamb would, of course, have paid for any schooling I had desired, an educated man himself, but I liked the idea of earning my way, and so I enlisted and the military paid for my education as a battle medic and combat nurse. 

 

It wasn’t worth thinking about what happened after that in any amount of detail. Lamb had died of a rather sudden heart attack, and I had deployed shortly there after. While there, I had met Frank, and we…

 

I stopped the train of thought abruptly. Reaching for my bottle of water, I took a large sip and let it settle in my mouth before I swallowed, as if to wash the taste of the memories away. 

 

The thing about a marriage like mine coming to an end is that there’s nothing really to bitter about, nothing to rage over or shout. We’d never even had a proper fight like we did in the beginning. We’d sniped each other to death, passive-aggressived our way to the split with quiet words and British politeness, an icy death to an affair that in its inception had been hot to the touch.

 

It was killing me. 

 

The GPS on my phone announced that I was to turn off the state high way to a county road, which I did, and then off again to a lane which came to a close at a private drive. “Welcome to Fraser’s Ridge”, the sign read, “Proud Home of Murray Distillery and Fraser Horse Farms”. It gave the hours of operation and pointed the visitors of the distillery down a southeast lane, and the horse farm to the northwest.  

 

I parked the SUV in front of the sign and got out. There was nothing and no one on the road for miles and miles, as far as I could see in that moment, and the weight of what I’d done -- divorcing my husband, selling what possessions I owned save for the few things which had some sentimental meaning to me and could be packed into two checked bags and a carry-on, applying for a Visa, and flying across the Atlantic Ocean on little more than a wing and a prayer, hit me like a ton of bricks. I was rarely impulsive, but then again, I hadn’t felt like myself in so long that perhaps it wasn’t accurate to say such things. Maybe I was impulsive. 

 

I touched the wood of the sign. It was white-washed, round, and hanging from a white post by an antiqued brass chain, with a lantern on top of the post. I walked around it and saw the name of an old friend: Ian Murray and James Fraser, proprietors, it read. James I had only met the once, but Ian had spent months with me when I worked at the rehabilitation hospital, steadily working to regain the use of his leg.

 

That had been nearly three years ago now, and I had been profoundly lucky that he had taken my call, remembered who I was, and offered me refuge before I had even thought to ask. Ian’s wife, Jenny, had offered the apartment over the garage for as long as I might need it, as well as the name of several local clinics who always seemed to be in the market for nurses. In the meantime, she assured me that anytime I wanted to help in the farm’s enormous gardens, I could. 

 

I was coming to North Carolina to heal, recenter, and find myself. I left the sign and opened my car door, breathing in the air one more time. It might have been the jet lag or the exhaustion, but I could have sworn I felt North Carolina welcome me home. 

 

**

 

Jamie, March 2014

 

On that morning, my very bones ached.

 

I’d spent years jumping out of airplanes and camping out in mountains, doing the unspeakable in the name of God and country, and having paid my dues in the marks on my soul, retired to Scotland with my brother-of-the-heart, Ian. But trying to make it work there on the ancestral lands had become nearly impossible, and when my uncle Colum MacKenzie, who had immigrated to America in the 80s, wanted to sell us his land and retire, after a brief discussion, we’d agreed. 

 

My beloved little sister Jenny had her sights set on Ian, and no sooner had we announced that we were moving to America than they were engaged, and shortly thereafter, as shortly as the Church would allow, they were married. The memory of the day was one I cherished. If a brother has to let his sister marry, aye, well, it might as well be to a man as fine as Ian. 

 

I didn’t feel old, most mornings. Sometimes I felt heavy, weighed down to the Earth, other times I felt numb, but mostly, I was… fine. Not unhappy, not happy. Driven to make a success of my side of Fraser’s Ridge, named so for the vast mountain property that came with the estate, but not satisfied, either. There was something missing.

 

But I could forget all that, even on days when the never-ending humditiy of the Carolinas made my very bones ache, when I was working with the horses. 

 

I’d started small, with quality over quantity. Colum had had some good horseflesh here, aye, but I flattered myself to think I was a wee bit better at finding hidden gems than he was. At the moment, my favorite was a bonny wee filly named Precious. Of course, she had a more pretentious name than that on her papers, but just as I’d always felt more comfortable just being Jamie, I felt confident she was more confident being Precious. 

 

“Alright, lass,” I said in a gentle voice, “what say we today to not tossing me off your back this time, eh?” 

 

Precious tossed her head for my trouble, and I got a good chuckle out of imagining her rebuttal, were she inclined to speak with words. Breakfast, a good brushing, bit and harness and saddle on, and we were ready to try our days’ work. 

 

Eventually, I would foal her, but for the moment, Precious’s job was learning how to be a good mount for the steady stream of young students from the county around that came here to learn to ride. She was far too headstrong to ever be a trail horse, but she would be a good first horse for a young woman to learn on. Smart enough not to get her rider in trouble, but obedient enough not to be a complete terror. I was fond of her indeed, and perhaps a little too trusting of her. 

 

Maybe it was the trusting, who can say, or the ache in my bones, or the fact that I’d been a little overmuch in my head the last few hours, but I will say, when the silver-grey SUV came around the bend, and Precious and I both turned to look just as the tire blew on that vehicle, startling Precious…

 

I was in no way prepared. She throw me from her back against a fence, and I landed, painfully, on my shoulder and heard something pop. My vision went white, and then grey. I breathed out forcefully and managed to push myself up. The very last place any sensible person wants to be around a frightened horse is on the ground.

 

With my good arm, I vaulted over the fence.

 

“Oh my Lord! Jesus Christ!” A panicked, female voice caught my attention. “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?” 

 

“Ach, aye, I’ll be fine.” I couldn’t spare another look for her. My arm hung oddly by my side, and would not respond no matter what I did. Precious was running the fence line, tossing her hair and whinnying furiously. I called out to her in Gaelic and ran up to meet her, catching her bridal with my good hand. “Dinnae fash, wee one,” I muttered as soon as I’d got her head and managed to calm her a little. “I ken it wasn’t your fault, aye?” 

 

“Sir… I believe you’ve dislocated your shoulder.” 

 

I laid my head against the filly’s forehead and sighed deeply. “Oh aye, it seems to be so.” 

 

“How close is the nearest hospital? I can drive you. It’s Jamie, right?” 

 

“I donna ken it’s a good idea to drive so far on a flat tire, Ms…?” 

 

“Oh, you don’t remember, of course,” I turned and then I got my first proper look at her. Well, not proper. You ken, the world was a bit off, I was dizzy and near to fainting with pain, but trying not to look a complete fool. Young man’s foolishness. Anyway, I saw her… a torrent of black/brown curls, turned-up nose, concern in what were obviously kind eyes. She continued on, seemingly oblivious to my increased leaning on the fence. “I’m Claire R… Beauchamp.” 

 

“Claire,” I breathed out. “Aye, Ian’s Claire?” 

 

She blushed, something I dinna think women still did. “Yes. I imagine I look a bit different than I did in hospital.” 

 

“You’re not wearing whatever you call them… ah… scrubs,” I managed to gasp. 

 

“No, I’m not. And you, sir, are going whiter every second.” 

 

“It hurts a fair amount,” I said through a grimace. “Oh…” The edges of my vision went black, slowly. “Shite.” 

 

“What?” 

 

“I’m sorry, Ms. Claire, but I think I’m going to…”

 

"Mr. Fraser!" she rushed forward, and the last thing I knew before blackness was the warmth of Claire's arms around me. 

Chapter Text

Claire, March 2014

 

A musician practices the same piece over and over again, far past the time they know it well, so that it lives inside their hands, their heart and their bodies, so that when their mind is occupied with an audience, the soul knows what to do. It’s not so different in medicine, I have found. We practice scenarios, over and over and over again, so that we know precisely what to do. When the unexpected happens, while our brains process, our bodies begin to do exactly what our brains would tell them to do if they weren’t otherwise occupied.

 

As the tall, red-headed man began to crumple, I dashed forward. It didn’t surprise me. He’d obviously dislocated his shoulder, maybe bruised a few ribs, and circumstances hadn’t allowed him to move as slowly or carefully as he ought. I caught him in time to ease some of his descent to the ground, and drew him slowly away from the pen, away from the horse, who took off running in the other direction. Not nearly as frightened as he or she had been before, thanks to the calming Gaelic words of the man I now held in my arms.

 

“Claire!” Another Scottish voice, one I knew well, shouted my name from across the drive.Thank God. I was going to need to move Jamie and doing it on my own, while not impossible, would be difficult.

 

“Ian! There’s been an accident!” 

 

“Christ! Damn fool,” Ian cursed. “Is he okay?” 

 

“Fainted from pain more than the serious nature of the injuries,” I said, “and maybe a little bit of shock. His horse threw him into the fence.” 

 

Ian nodded. “She’ll be fine out here for a few minutes by herself. I’ll call Murtagh and have him take care of her. Let’s get Jamie in the house, aye?” 

 

“I’m fine to walk.” Without us noticing, Jamie had come back. “Christ, that’s embarrassing.” 

 

“Let us help you,” I insisted. 

 

“One of you on either side just in case is fine but I can do it on my own. Besides, you’ll need all your strength to pop my arm back in its socket.” 

 

I frowned. “We should go to a hospital, they can do it there, and take X-rays of your ribs and…” 

 

“Nae. No hospital, thank you kindly.” Jamie’s voice was firm. I didn’t know him well then so I didn’t know just how stubborn he could be, but there was something about it that made me shrug.

 

“It’s your choice, although I strongly suggest we go there, and quickly. The faster we get your shoulder back into place, the better off you’ll be.”

 

“Aye, I ken. And I say no hospital, thank ye kindly.” 

 

I couldn’t help but smile. “All right then.” 

 

“If you’ll follow me into the house, I think we should be able to get you settled comfortably,” Ian said, “so you can get Jamie sorted.” 

 

“Thanks.” 

 

The walk was a quick one, even as injured as he was, Jamie had a long stride and walked with determination. I hovered close on one side, Ian on the other. Soon we were let inside the yellow farmhouse with brown shutters that they obviously all called home. The walkway was cluttered with the deterius I associated with my friends who had toddlers and preschoolers. Shoes and small plastic toys that Jamie and Ian navigated through without bending to rearrange them.

 

“Jenny!” Ian bellowed out. “Jamie’s been thrown by his horse!”

 

“What the devil?” A door to the back of the house swung open. A shorter woman with brown hair tied back in a low ponytail emerged. The last time I had seen Jenny, she and Ian hadn’t been married yet, but the life looked well on her. She had a toddler on her hip, and they both showed evidence that some sort of meal was in progress. “Jamie, are you all right?” 

 

“Ach, fine,” he said. “Lot of fuss over a simple fix, ye ken? Claire’s here and she kens how to wrench it back into place. Dinna fash.” 

 

“Claire!” Jenny’s focus was on me. “How lucky you arrived when you did!” 

 

“I think it was my rental car’s poor quality tires giving out on the driveway that startled his horse, unfortunately,” I confessed. “So I’m afraid it’s a little bit my fault.” 

 

“Ach, I was the one on the horse who got distracted. Twasn’t anyone’s fault, just a damned accident,” Jamie said. “The chairs in the kitchen don’t have any arms, I can sit and you can do what you need to do there, if that’s all right?” 

 

“Sure.” 

 

I followed them into the swinging door of the kitchen. It was simple enough, this kitchen, but filled with knick-knacks, the kind of things I had never allowed myself. Uncle Lamb moved all the time, and it was never a certain thing that I would go with him. From time to time I was sent to boarding school, only to be summoned to the African Sahara or the shores of the Mediterranean when his lifestyle suited him having a teenaged girl in tow. My time in the military hadn’t encouraged the acquisition of things, either. A pretty flower arrangement in a bright blue vase sat in the center of a table that had certainly seen better days.

 

It occured to me that I had never owned a vase of any kind.

 

I wrenched my thoughts back to the present and addressed the situation in front of me. It was easy enough to maneuver the shoulder back into position, at least on my end. Jamie bore the pain well, tamping down on the scream that had to be his immediate reaction, for the sake of not waking his niece, who had just been laid down for a nap, apparently. 

 

Once the job was accomplished, I pulled back from him, and he looked into my eyes. I had never seen such a blue, not even on the vase I had so admired. They were gorgeous eyes, somewhere between a grey and a blue, piercing, sharp.

 

I drew in a deep breath and released it. I’d always been this way. Fond of men, their features, their beauty. Drawn to intelligence, lusty after men who spoke their minds and were sure of themselves.

 

Jamie Fraser was going to be a problem. If only because he ticked so many of my boxes. I tried not to think about it while I secured the sling that Jenny and Ian gave me from the medicine cabinet in the powder room. It appeared there were often small mishaps and accidents on the farm, and Ian and Jamie’s individual prolonged stays in military hospitals had made them disclined to visit such facilities again for minor grievances. 

 

I could understand. 

 

“How about a wee nip o’ whiskey?” Ian asked, as I adjusted the strap for Jamie. “Then we can consider just what it is you’d like to eat for dinner, Claire.”

 

“Oh, I was going to ask you where I could find a grocery store. I don’t want to put you out.” 

 

Jenny let out the typical Scottish grunt which usually translated to “you’re being an idiot” and shook a spoon at me. “Every army nurse who ever took care of Ian doesna have to worry about grocery shopping in my house, ye ken?”

 

“Let Jenny feed ye,” Jamie said, a half-smile on his face as he stood up. “She considers it her sacred duty to make sure we all get three squares a day. And right lucky we are for it. Do you have much in the boot of your car, Claire?” 

 

“I have a few bags and things,” I said. “I can take care of them myself. You’ve probably got bruised ribs and you definitely shouldn’t be straining yourself after taking such a tumble.” 

 

“Ach, lass, I’m mostly rubber anyway, I bounce back. Besides, Ian and I need to do these things, so we feel like men.” He winked at me, and it took everything in me not to giggle like a school girl.

 

“Your manhood depends on you carrying suitcases for perfectly capable women?” 

 

He grinned, perfectly aware of how ridiculous he was. It was incomparably charming. “Aye.” 

 

Jenny nodded at me. “Take advantage of it, Claire. Hand Ian yer keys and I’ll pour you a drink. We can natter about all we’ve missed while they get you settled in the apartment.” 

 

“You’re really far too kind,” I protested.

 

“Isnae such a thing,” Ian said, taking the keys from my hand. “Or that’s what ye used to tell me, aye? Let people help ye when ye’re hurting, lass. Doesna just apply to idiots who step on landmines, ye ken?” 

 

He bussed my cheek in an easy manner, the whiskers on his cheeks touching mine, and I felt a kind of sisterly affection rise up in me, the kind of sisterly affection I’d had for so many young men who had fallen under my care. In the last few years, it had been harder and harder to find that part of me, so sandpapered over with trauma was that feeling, but I could let myself feel it for Ian. I was beginning to think that maybe this was the right place for me to be. 

 

**

 

Jamie, March 2014  

 

“Ye’ll want to take an aspirin or something,” Ian said, as we head out the front door of Ian and Jenny’s house. “Ye ken that will hurt like a bugger for a few days, aye?” 

 

“Oh aye,” I replied. “Not my first shoulder-wrench, nor probably my last.” 

 

“Murtagh came and wrangled Precious for us. He’ll stop by for dinner, meet the lass,” Ian said, and, arriving to the boot of the SUV before me, opened it. “Och, when she said she didn’t have much, she meant it.” 

 

A single military issue duffle bag and a carry-on suitcase, with an additional tote which seemed to house a laptop computer, primarily, as well as her purse, were all she had in her car. I wondered, as much as I could allow myself, how a woman of Claire Beauchamp’s accomplishment and age, had traveled across the world with so little in her possession. Was she running from someone or something?

 

“Ye never told me what brings Claire all the way out here,” I said, taking the rolling suitcase and the tote, out of deference to my arm. Ian lugged the duffle over his shoulder. 

 

“No, I dinnae,” Ian said. “I didn’t ask many questions, to tell ye the truth.” Ian shrugged in his typical Ian way, which spoke a million words. “She called -- oh, aye, must have been a week ago or so. She’s called a few times before, she and Jenny got close, ye ken, and the three of us had a few late nights drinking when I was recovering in London.”

 

“I ken.”

 

“So it wasn’t unusual. But she dinnae sound like Claire,” Ian said. “So I found myself talking of this land we have, our dream out here. You and me and Jenny and Murtaugh, building something like our ancestors must have had in Scotland, a home and a land and a business we can call our own.” 

 

“Aye.” I knew this much. 

 

“An’ she was saying how she thought it was a good dream, how she was envious of us. I asked her what was keeping her in England.” Ian shook his head. “I never did like that idiot of a husband of hers.” 

 

“I never had the pleasure,” I said. 

 

“Good. Man’s an arse,” Ian said, and it was so unlike Ian to say anything unpleasant about anyone for nearly any reason that I choked out a laugh. “I said to her, ‘If ye’re planning on leaving that clout, you might as weel come to North Carolina and let yer family take care of ye’. She got real quiet, ye ken. I don’t think she has anyone, or at least not that she’s ever said.” 

 

“She’s not said ought to me.” 

 

Ian nodded. “I swear to ye, if it hadna been for Claire and Jenny, I would not be walking. I would not be living this life. I always know I donna have a leg, aye, but it doesna slow me down any. So I didn’t ask any questions, I just told her to come, and she came.” 

 

I looked at the tote, at the bags. I remembered the sadness in her eyes, and that moment, which had felt a little like electricity, when our eyes had met as she adjusted the sling on my shoulder. “Ye don’t have to justify yourself to me,” I said softly. “It’s yer land too and ye can have whoever. I liked Claire, when I met her before.” 

 

Ian grinned at me. “Just liked, aye?” 

 

“She was married,” I said flatly. “And now it appears she’s mourning that. Aye, she is a bonny lass, but… I willna do or say anything that would make her uncomfortable while she sorts her life out.” 

 

“Of course ye won’t,” Ian tapped my good shoulder. “Ye’re a good man, Jamie Fraser.”

 

“But she is a verra, verra bonny lass,” I said. “Verra bonny.” 

 

Ian grinned. “I ken. I saw ye two makin’ eyes at each other in the kitchen.” 

 

“Can’t help it,” I said. “Woman’s got a magic touch.” I shook my head, to get myself out of this… struck by lust stupor I found myself in. “Don’t tell Jenny.” 

 

“Don’t tell Jenny what? That you nearly killed yer damn self because a pretty lady got out of a car? That ye’re having trouble forming complete sentences?” Ian was a Cheshire cat. “What would your sister do with that information?”

 

“Make my life miserable, and ye ken it as well as I do.” I opened the front door. “Don’t say anything.” 


I stepped through and, letting the door shut behind me, went back to the kitchen to share a wee dram of whiskey with some of my favorite people in the world… and Claire .

Chapter Text

Claire, March 2014

 

The meal we ate was delicious and pleasant. Jenny fussed that it wasn’t fancy, but I assured her, much to the amusement of the two former soldiers who were with me, that it was far better than the military rations and hospital food that had been the main portion of my diet up to that point. After dinner, we retreated to a living room, notably more filled with books and comfy furniture than it was dominated by a television. Jenny assured me they had one, just in their bedrooms. 

 

Ian poured us all a “wee nip” of whiskey into good tumblers with thick bases. I noticed that each member of the family reached for a certain glass, for they were all a little different, but it was obvious I was given the one without a crack or a flaw, without any discussion amongst the three of them.

 

Ian and Jenny took a spot on the loveseat, leaving Jamie and I to occupy different ends of the couch opposite. A large coffee table sat between the two pieces of furniture, and Ian had taken the time to carefully build a fire in the fireplace. 

 

I crossed one leg over the other, cradling the tumbler in my hands. The evening was relatively quiet, while we appreciated the fact that the children, who had spent the afternoon and evening caught up in a frenzy of excitement over a visitor’s presence, had finally gone to sleep. 

 

Ian cleared his throat, breaking the silence. “Weel, we’re glad ye’re with us, lass. I ken it’s no’ much, the apartment and all, but…” 

 

I had been to the garage apartment for just a few moments. It had its own separate entrance, a small but serviceable kitchen, its own laundry, a bedroom, a bathroom, and an office. Altogether it was perhaps eight hundred square feet of living space, and it was perfectly comfortable for me. “It’s wonderful,” I said. “Thank you so much for offering it to me.” 

 

“Jamie will have to give you some helpful hints,” Jenny said, pulling Ian’s arm around her so it draped across her shoulders, and nestling into his side like it was her favorite spot in the world. “He was in that apartment until just recently.” 

 

“Oh? Where did you move?” I turned my attention to him.

 

He half-smiled. “Murtagh and I built a wee cabin just down the road. Once it’s a bit more complete, aye, then I’ll get started on a proper house, I suppose.” 

 

“That’s the first I’m hearing of that,” Jenny said, taking a sip of her whiskey. “I guess I didn’t know that you had any plans for after.” 

 

“Hopefully I am not living the bachelor life forever, Jenny,” Jamie said, and there was a strained edge in his voice. “I’d like a family of my own someday, ye ken that weel.” 

 

“Aye,” Jenny said. “Just nice to hear you talk about the future like it’s something you might have, that’s all.” 

 

Ian cleared his throat again. “The business is doing well enough that we could start such a project now if ye’d like.” 

 

“Nay,” Jamie said, shaking his head. “One thing at a time, as weel as we possibly can do it, aye? There’s no rush, either. There’s no Mrs. Fraser waiting in the wings.” 

 

I smiled, and sensing that the conversation topic could perhaps become a bit fraught, gently steered the conversation in another direction. “I’ve been so pleased to learn a little more about your family business. I took the opportunity to read a little on the plane on the way over.”

 

“Shame we couldnae have accomplished it in Scotland,” Ian said mournfully, “but the opportunities here in America were far too plentiful to ignore when Jenny and Jamie’s uncle made the offer.” 

 

“Uncle Colum was a right old bastard in life,” Jenny said, “but has turned out to be rather generous in death, may God rest his soul.” 

 

Jamie and Ian both crossed themselves, to my surprise, somewhat reverently. Not that I was surprised by the faith of both of them -- Ian had been a faithful Catholic in the hospital, receiving communion and walking to Mass when he was able to, and I didn’t know Jamie well enough to form an opinion about it either way. 

 

“Seemed a bit chaotic at the start,” Jamie said, “but two years into it, and we’re getting things sorted out.” 

 

“Aye, the whiskey making was easy enough, Colum had been doing that for years, it was just a matter of changing the marketing a bit, ye ken? Jenny’s the genius behind that.” 

 

“Doesna take a genius to pick out a better font than Comic Sans,” Jenny muttered, but she was grinning broadly at Ian’s compliment. 

 

“She’s being too modest,” Jamie said, a sweet light in his eyes. “We couldna do anything wi’out Jenny. She keeps our heads on straight and our boats afloat.” 

 

Jenny flushed bright read. “Haud yer wheest, Chrissakes,” she muttered. “I’m going to need more whisky if ye’re going to be nice to me, of all things.” 

 

Jamie and Ian both chuckled and I settled back. The three of them were easy together. It was good to see Ian and Jenny at home, together, away from the stress of the hospital in which I had first come to know them. Jenny had been a strong-minded woman then as she was now, but she, like all people, was more comfortable in her home than in an institution, and it was in this place that I could see why the two men we were drinking with were each wrapped around her finger in different ways. 

 

As for the men, well -- Ian was gentle, tender-hearted. Started up the stairs a few times whenever we heard the baby make even a whisp of a sound. He was often the first to offer to refill a glass, or fetch a snack. Jamie told stories of their time growing up at the family farm, before it had to be sold to make up the tax debt on their parents’ deaths. 

 

I was fading fast. I was used to sleep deprivation, being a hospital nurse, of course, but that and the long journey and jet lag had definitely depleted whatever reserves of energy I might once have had. The alcohol, pleasant company and warmth from the fire lulled me even further. Before I knew it, my eyes were drifting shut. 

 

I felt a warm hand on my knee. I opened my eyes to see Jamie kneeling next to me. My glass had been taken away, the fire was dying, and Ian and Jenny’s voices were disappearing down the hallway.

 

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean to fall asleep, how embarrassing.” 

 

“No, lass,” Jamie said, “‘Tis a great compliment, isnae it, to fall asleep in the company of others? It says a great deal about how much you trust us, and truth be told, we were glad to see ye get some rest.” 

 

I blushed. “Well, that’s very kind of you.” 

 

“You’ll think me verra bold, Claire, but I don’t remember your eyes being quite so sad the last time we saw each other.” 

 

I didn’t move his hand away, didn’t budge, and neither did he. It was simply so good to feel something once again, something as pleasant as appreciation and attraction. In the devastation of the end of my marriage, I had put up walls so high and so thick, I was almost certain nothing could take them down. 

 

“I don’t suppose they would have been, no,” I said, and gently laid a hand over his. “Much has happened, and we didn’t know each other well, then.” 

 

“A grievous oversight,” he said, and his thumb moved back and forth on my knee, repetitively, soothingly. Warmth dethawing ice. “One I believe I should endeavor to correct.” 

 

“Oh, there’s not much to know about me,” I said, suddenly shy. 

 

“Shite,” Jamie said on a laugh. “And you know it. Ye’re a complicated woman, Claire -- I’ve only spent a few hours with ye this evenin’ and e’en I ken that much.” 

 

If I moved like a cat into his caress, urged his hand up my thigh, breathed his name, would he take me up on an offer? Would he follow me up the stairs, lay down with me, press kisses to my flesh? What would it be like to be naked with this man, to let the ice I’d felt in my bones melt and run between my thighs, welcome him there?

 

“I’m not so very complicated. I can be quite a… simple creature.” 

 

“Perhaps. So can I.” Jamie sighed. “Perhaps we all can be. But we still ought to take the time, don’t ye think? To get to know one another?” 

 

I wanted to spread my thighs. Maybe he didn’t know what he was doing to me. I was so embarrassed -- just a little touch starvation and a simple hand to the knee had me nearly panting at this man’s feet.

 

It took everything in me, but I stood up and brushed my jeans off. “I think I’ll make my way upstairs.” 

 

“Claire.” He stood as well. “I hope I didn’t offend ye.” 

 

“No.” I shook my head. “I’m not offended.”

 

“But I do wish to get to know ye better. I ken, ye’re just out of a divorce and ye’re living in a new place. I dinna want to… Christ, make that any harder, but I do want…” 

 

“I’ll be living just upstairs, Jamie,” I said softly. “I think we’ll have any number of opportunities to… to get to know each other better. As you say.” 

 

He nodded, pleased with that. Some part of me was pleased as well. Some part of me ached, wanted to invite him up the stairs so we could make… carnal introductions. But I had lived long enough, occupied my soul long enough to know that while it might soothe me for a few minutes, it would not aid my mission to heal to jump in bed with even the most harmless of men.

 

And Jamie Fraser was anything but harmless. 

 

I climbed the stairs, my hand gliding up the rail next to me. I was so tired, but yet so full of desire, everything seemed sensuous. Even walking up the stairs, I could not stop my hips from swaying. 

 

“Christ Jesus, Claire,” I heard him breathe from the bottom of the stairs. I turned to face him. 

 

“I beg your pardon.” 

 

“Nothing,” he said, flushed. “Just a verra bonny view from down here. Have a good night, Claire.” 

 

With that, he went out the front door, and I went upstairs and went to bed. 



**

 

Jamie, March 2014  

 

Murtagh had been a close friend and confidant of my mother’s, and a friend to my father. He was named my godfather at my Christening and took his responsibilities seriously. He had not been able to follow me into the desert war that had provided my own personal version of hell, but he had been there in the aftermath. 

 

He’d fought in his own wars, and when my parents had died, he stepped comfortably into the role of father to Jenny and I, and grandfather to her bairns. When we made the decision as a family to move across the ocean, he moved with us.

 

And when I could no longer bear to live so close to Jenny and Ian, knowing that the garage wasna sound-proof and every screaming night terror that took me from my dreams into perdition could be heard by everyone in the family, Murtagh and I moved out and built this place. Mostly by hand, the process took a long time, especially considering we were both farming as well, raising grain for the whiskey, training the horses. 

 

Maybe in a few years, things would be stable enough that I could focus my attention where I truly wanted them to be: on the horses, all the time. But for now, Fraser’s Ridge was a project that required every bit of experience I had, a great deal of research, and more sweat equity than I had accounted for, even knowing that it would be a hard job. 

 

The cabin itself was small. I didn’t know what to do with large amounts of space, having been in the army for so long, anyway. The few months I’d lived at Lallybroch, the family farm in Scotland, before we had to sell it, the house had felt cavernous. This felt better. Serviceable amounts of space, bedrooms for us to retreat to get away from each other, and just the basics in the bathroom and the kitchen.

 

Perfect for two bachelors. Not the kind of place I would want to take Claire Beauchamp home to live in. 

 

Murtagh was sitting in his favorite chair, smoking a tobacco pipe. Nothing Jenny or I said would dissuade him from the habit, and as a result I now listened daily to the wheezing inhaled and exhaled breath of a man who had once been so braw he could lift a car on his own. He still labored at the farm, did more than he was asked to, and refused to listen to anyone telling him to slow down. 

 

The doctor said the COPD would eventually kill him, if lung cancer didn’t kill him first, and the bastard kept smoking. Not a thing I said would do anything to change it, so I let the anger pass through me -- it wasn’t worth fighting that , either, my therapist would have said. 

 

Providing that I still went to a therapist. 

 

“How was yer reunion, lad?” Murtagh rocked back and forth, chewing the end of the pipe. “I put yer horse away, ye’re welcome.” 

 

“Ye were welcome to come up to the house and have dinner with us.” 

 

“Dinna want to listen to Jenny lecture me about my breathin’ is all,” Murtagh said. “She never sees me but she’s giving me a talkin’-to. Makes me want to smoke a pack a day.” 

 

I shot him a sharp look. “Don’t. It’s only because ye’re the only family we’ve got left and she wants ye to be around for the wee ones.” 

 

“Ach, at the rate she’s producing them, should I live another 30 years I wouldn’t catch all of them,” Murtagh grumbled, but I could see the amusement in his eyes. “So many bairns underfoot, soon it will be like having kittens.” 

 

I shook my head. “She just wants a family.” 

 

“I ken,” Murtagh said. “Frasers are like that -- ye’re hard-wired that way. How’s the lass -- what did you say her name was?” 

 

“Claire,” I said. “It was Randall when I knew her first, but now it’s Beauchamp.” 

 

“Claire… that’s a pretty name,” Murtagh said, nodding his head. “One of Ian’s nurses, wasn’t she?” 

 

“Aye, and the best one at that. She’s the one who caught the clot and saved his life.” 

 

“Is she bonny?” 

 

I chuckled. “Oh, aye, verra.” 

 

I could still feel her skin under my palm, the warmth of it. Hear the catch in her breath when she’d looked in my eyes. I remembered how wide her pupils were, how carefully controlled her breath was. 

 

Miles of milky skin, I imagined she’d have. Curly hair -- just the kind I like to see spread out on my pillow underneath me, and a fine arse -- one of the finest I’d ever seen, lovingly encased in jeans that had to have been altered to hug her body just like that. 

 

“Good,” Murtagh said. “I’ll meet her soon enough. I’m for bed.” 

 

With a wheeze and a wince, he pushed himself out of bed and headed towards the downstairs bedroom. I myself went up the stairs to mine. 

 

I sat on the bed, and with some great effort, took my shoes off without jostling my shoulder. The damaged skin on my back, sliced to bits by shrapnel til I had been a shag rug of a human being, pulled uncomfortably as I wiggled out of my shirt. Next my jeans, difficult to manage one-handed. By the time I had gotten to my boxers, enough was enough, and I laid back on the bed, back on the green quilt Jenny had given me when I got back from the sandbox, and closed my eyes for a long minute. 

 

A soft gust of wind from the over head ceiling fan, and I could almost imagine Claire’s long, elegant fingers on my thigh. I could feel her next to me on the bed. Imagine what she would say. 

 

“Manage to get undressed without me, soldier?” she would ask. Then maybe she’d start to undress herself. 

 

What did a proper lady like Claire Beauchamp wear under those proper clothes? Sensible white cotton underthings, or lacy ones? I liked the look of lacy just fine, but I love the feel of cotton, so I imagined that was what she wore. 

 

I tried to picture lust in her eyes like she’d had when she looked at me, imagined her sly grin as she took me in hand. 

 

With my good hand, I reached down. I widened my legs and lay my feet flat on the bed. “Ach, Claire.” 

 

My hands on myself were rough, strong, but I could imagine that Claire’s were softer, more subtle, confident. Maybe she wouldn’t grip so hard at first.

 

I relaxed my hold, although a part of me screamed. This was Claire, after all, what Claire would do… I half-opened my eyes. A mirage of her in front of me. Gently. Up and down, moving the skin on my cock so gently, so carefully.

 

“More, lass,” I whispered. “Give me more.” 

 

Suddenly, I couldna see Claire’s face. My stomach protested, my cock went soft. All I could see and all I could hear was Captain Randall, leaning over my cot, whispering in my ear. “Give me more.” 

 

I lept off my bed, ran to the bathroom, and lost my supper to the toilet. “Ye canna have me, ye bastard,” I muttered. 

 

I could almost hear his laughter at that out-right lie.

Chapter Text

Claire, March, 2014

 

I had no family in England, save Frank, and the general fog that had descended over my existence there had effectively stifled any attempts I might have half-heartedly made at adult, fulfilling friendships. I had warm acquaintanceships, collegial relationships with coworkers, passing knowing of my neighbors in my building in London. But on the whole, without Frank, I was stiflingly, painfully lonely. Trapped in a prison admittedly of my own making, placed there by the tension between knowing I needed help and rationally understanding I could not break out of the loneliness on my own and a British need for a stiff upper lip, the journey here, to North Carolina, had been an agonizing decision. 

 

Almost as agonizing as the decision to come here, to the building in front of which I now stood. Doctors and nurses almost always make the worst patients. We know the cure is often as bad, if not worse, than the disease. We are ruthless in our pursuit of a better life for our patients, sometimes at the expense of our own health and safety. I had sent more than one soldier to a psychiatrist, spoke with authority of the connection of mental health to physical health. That did not mean that I had ever seen myself talking to one. But now I felt most strongly that if I ever was to be the kind of nurse I had been, the kind of nurse I felt I was obligated to be, the kind of woman who could make friends and connections and escape the ball pit of numbness overwhelming me… 

 

I would need to get my head on straight. I’d done my research, chosen a woman who had some experience with what I believed my issues to be -- PTSD, fatigue, compassion flare-out, depression. Not unusual, after all. Perfectly normal. Perfectly… normal. 

 

I squared my shoulders and entered the door of the office, which was situated in a very-American strip mall. Stepping inside the door, a soft chime disturbed the clinical silence. There was a receptionist sitting at a desk and a few stuffed armchairs, none of which were filled with people. 

 

I’d been in America for roughly a week. The first few days, Ian and Jenny asked relatively little of me, but I was regularly invited down to dinner, where Jamie and Murtagh were frequent guests. I grew to know every member of the Fraser/Murray clan, little by little. From sweet young Jamie, named after his uncle, to grumpy but lovable Murtagh, each of them were welcoming and warm. Save for our encounter the first night that I had been in the country, I had not made any more amorous connection to Jamie, and thought perhaps the melting feeling I’d felt had been more exhaustion and weakness than anything else. That’s not to say I wasn’t attracted to him, but more to say that he took pains to be polite, but distant, with me. 

 

I did my best not to be insulted or hurt. A recently divorced woman, four years older, with her own set of issues could hardly be the first choice for a man who, by his own admission, was looking to build a family someday soon, in a house he would build on his own. Perhaps he had decided he did not want to entangle himself in my life, which was fair enough. I oftentimes did not want to be entangled in my life either.

 

I gave my name to the receptionist and, being given a pen and a sheaf of paperwork on a clipboard to fill out, sat down and let the monotony of filling out familiar details of my life distract me from the rather uncharacteristically bleak direction my thoughts had taken me. 

 

“Ms. Beauchamp?” The receptionist called my name, the pronunciation of it falling somewhere between the French and my preferred pronunciation.

 

“It’s more like Beecham,” I said absently. 

 

“I’ll make a note,” the receptionist said, and to my surprise, bent and tapped out such a thing on the computer. “I won’t make the mistake again. The doctor’s ready for you.” 

 

“Thank you, it’s a small matter,” I said. 

 

The lady, who might have been twenty-two, perhaps, but looked more like sixteen, lifted her head and smiled. “No, ma’am, I’m sorry to say, names are the furthest thing from a small matter, don’t you think? It’s important to get it right when we can.” 

 

“I appreciate it, Ms…?” 

 

“Laoghaire, ma’am,” she said. “Dr. Duncan is ready for you.” 

 

I nodded and followed her general wave through a door, which I closed softly behind me. The office both met my cliched notions and did not. As expected, there was a couch, and a couple of arm chairs, books and bookshelves, a desk, a window with curtains drawn. But rather than staid brown leather, dark and warm colors, everything was bright and airy, a bit too modern, perhaps, for my taste, but not so modern as to be uncomfortable. 

 

“Hello,” said the blonde doctor, coming out from behind the desk. She was dressed attractively, in a pencil skirt, heels, and a blouse. Her hair waved and pulled to one side. She made me feel a bit grubby, to be honest, in my jeans and faded button down I had layered over an old white t-shirt. “You must be Claire Randall?”

 

“Beauchamp,” I said. “My name change is still pending, but the divorce is final.” 

 

“I’m sorry for the error,” Dr. Duncan said. “Won’t you please have a seat? Would you like me to call you Claire or something else?” 

 

“Claire is fine,” I said, and sat on the furthest end of the couch away from the armchair she selected. 

 

She had a clipboard and a pen, which she sat carefully in her lap as she crossed one leg over the other. “I’ve read the patient profile you sent in when you made the appointment, but I’d like to hear in your own words what’s concerning you.” 

 

“All right, straight to the point.” I cleared my throat. Dr. Duncan reached behind her, to a small shelf, and handed me a bottle of water. I took it, loosened the cap, and drank deeply. “I’ve been concerned for… a while now. Not feeling myself.” Out of habit, I went to twist my wedding ring. It wasn’t there. I took another sip of water. “I -- I think I said that I have been recently divorced?” 

 

Dr. Duncan nodded, but didn’t say anything. 

 

“Well, I’m not certain the problems start there, with my marriage, or if my problems started the trouble in my marriage, or if it was the war or…” 

 

“Let’s not worry about cause just yet,” Dr. Duncan said. “Let’s just worry about symptoms. What are you experiencing, emotionally?”

 

“Awake?” I shook my head. “When I’m awake I’m… anxious, numb, tired. Panicked at the oddest times for the oddest reasons. When I was working I -- I guess I was just so tired I couldn’t care for my patients the way I wanted to. Physically, I was able to help but… but I used to care, you know?” I took another sip of water. “I used to care. I could compartmentalize when I needed to but it just… the compartmentalization went away, I guess, and now it’s like I can’t connect the side of my brain that does things with the side of the brain that cares why.” 

 

Dr. Duncan nodded. “And at night?” 

 

No amount of water would save me now. “I’m not sleeping. And when I do sleep, I’m plagued by nightmares -- things from the war, things from the hospital... “ 

 

“Any panic attacks, dizziness or nausea?” Dr. Duncan asked.

 

“Not since I arrived in this country,” I said softly. “But then, I haven’t been back to work.” 

 

Again, she nodded. We discussed at some length the treatment I had already undergone -- the diagnosis of a panic and anxiety disorder, the medication I was taking, what would trigger the anxiety attacks, if I did have them. At the conclusion of forty-five minutes of talking, I was shaking and weak. I felt as though I’d opened my chest and laid my guts on the table, and we hadn’t really talked about any of the causes of the trauma, just the effects I was suffering every day, which Dr. Duncan assured me was deliberate. 

 

“We will get there,” she said calmly. “But there’s no point in aggravating your limbic system by retraumatizing you. We need to get you to rest, and do a little healing, so you’re strong enough for the surgery of counseling.” 

 

She prescribed me an anxiety medication and a sleep aid and gave me a couple of exercises to deal with panic, and insisted that I make an appointment for the following week. 

 

“You know as well as I do,” she told me, as we both stood, “there’s no easy cure here. The last six years of your life have been hellish, and we can’t undo six years of trauma in forty-five minutes, or even six weeks. This is going to take some time. So be patient with yourself and with me, Claire. We’ll help you treat the symptoms, ease the numbness, help you reconnect with the world.” 

 

“Should I…” I cleared my throat. “Do you think I can go back? Back to being a nurse?” 

 

She tilted her head to the side, and seemed to consider. “It’s impossible to say, Claire. At some point, you may decide you want to go back yourself. Or you may decide it’s not the healthiest thing for you. I urge you to take every day as it comes, at least for a while. If it’s not a financial burden to continue to take time off, I think that’s the best thing for you to do at this moment. Rest, and heal.” 

 

I nodded. Selling everything I had owned, my divorce settlement from Frank, and my own inheritance from Uncle Lamb meant I was secure for a while. Not forever, but a while. 

 

“Patience, and kindness to yourself, Claire,” Dr. Duncan said. “That’s the most important prescription I have for you today.” 

 

I walked out the door and past the receptionist,, still shaky and weak. The girl looked up and smiled kindly. “Claire, right?” 

 

“Yes.” I paused. “Do I need to pay you, or…?” 

 

“No, your insurance has you covered. I just need you to sign this.” 

 

I flushed. “Oh yes, yes of course.” 

 

“Do you want to call someone?” Laoghaire took the receipt from me. “It’s not unusual to need someone to come pick you up after the first appointment.” 

 

“I…” I shook my head blearily. It wouldn’t be the worst idea, but who would I bother? There was just another example of how alone I was. In England, I could have called Frank. He would have groused and shook his head, stomped his feet and growled, but he would have come and gotten me. At least in the early days of our marriage. 

 

“If you can’t think of anyone, there’s an ice cream shop next door,” Laoghire said. “It’s got the most wonderful mint chocolate chip you’ll ever eat, and you look like you could use a treat.” 

 

I nodded, thanked her, and walked out the door. Ice cream as a band-aid on the wound before I navigated my way to my first trip to an American pharmacy didn’t seem like the worst idea. While I was walking there, my phone chimed. It was Jamie.

 

“Checking in on you” it read. “Everything okay?” 

 

My eyes filled with tears. I was so… open, still, from therapy, I felt I could be honest. “I’m overwhelmed, I think,” I texted back. 

 

Instantly, I got a return message. “Where are you?” 

 

“Emergency ice cream.” 

 

“Coldstone?”

 

“Yes.” 

 

“Stay there.” 

 

I walked to the counter, shakily ordered mint chocolate chip on a waffle cone, and sat down in a booth by myself. Within ten minutes, I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. I looked up, and there he was.

 

Red hair falling in curls around his eyes, a bit sweaty. He’d been at work. He’d been at work and he’d come here, in the middle of the afternoon. I stood up and before I knew it, I was wrapped in his arms, crying without sound into his shoulder. 

 

He whispered to me in Gaelic, the language I often heard he and Jenny, Murtagh and Ian using with each other. He’d told me once their mother had insisted it be the only language they spoke at home. The Scottish had been systematically and surgically separated from their culture. To even have a few family members that spoke the native language was… radical. Of course, it was trying to be brought back now, but, it wasn’t the same as the days when Scots would shift easily between English and the Gaelic. 

 

I’d picked up a few words. Some of the endearments he whispered to me, amusingly enough, were ones he used with the horses, or with his nephew and niece. He was warm, solid and broad. He smelled of sweat and horse, but it was obvious he’d cleaned up a bit before he came to me. 

 

“Let me take ye home, Sassenach, aye?” 

 

“My car…” 

 

“Can sit overnight,” he finished. “We’ll call the doctor, let her know.” 

 

“I have some prescriptions I should…” 

 

“We’ll call the pharmacy. Jenny or Ian can pick them up when they go to the grocery store this evening.” 

 

I blinked. “You’ve got this all worked out, haven’t you?” 

 

“Ach, my ancestors were Highland warriors, Claire,” he said with no small degree of charm. “Give me a lassie in need of a wee bit of rescuing and I’m happy as a clam. Not that ye canna take care of yerself,” he hastened to add.

 

“No,” I agreed. “Still, it is very gallant of you. Your ancestors would be proud.” 

 

He flushed, and took my hand, and we left the ice cream store behind us, and got into his older-model Ford truck, an incredibly American beast of inefficiency, and took off down the road. We were quiet for a long while. Then he broke the silence.

 

“I admire ye, ye ken?” 

 

I was shocked. “Whyever for?” 

 

“I’m smart enough to know my head’s not right.” His eyes were fixed on the road. “Ian and I… well, we don’t talk about the war. About what happened. I know he got help, and that’s part of why he’s… still Ian. Still, I tell myself I’m no’ a danger to my family, thank Christ, or my friends, or my animals. I dinna get violent when the memories overtake me.” 

 

I reached my hand out, and he placed his in mine, squeezed it. “Jamie…” 

 

“I ken, I ought to get help. Maybe you’ll inspire me, lass.” 

 

“It has to be when you’re ready,” I responded. “Otherwise, it won’t work at all. You know as well as anyone you can lead a horse to water…”

 

“But ye canna make them drink,” he finished. “Aye, and Fraser horses are worse than the rest,” he teased gently. 

 

I smiled, but didn’t release his hand. And he didn’t release mine. And we drove all the way to Fraser’s Ridge, hand in hand, and silent. 

 

**

 

Jamie, March 2014

 

The weight of her palm in mine was soothing. I felt a little like an American teenager, driving over the backroads of the hill country where Fraser’s Ridge was situated, holding her hand in mine, the two of us connected on the center console. I canna say what made me reach out to her that afternoon when I had spent so much time trying to fight the force that seemed to draw me to her, as though we’d known each other for a hundred years or more. Claire deserved a whole man, I’d told myself, especially after hearing what she had to say about her marriage to Frank, which she’d only speak of after several drinks in an evening. She deserved a man who could cherish her beauty and guard the heart that was more tender than she would ever let the rest of the world know. 

 

For the moment, I wasna that man. I wasna any kind of man at all, except around the animals that wouldn’t judge me, that needed me to be hale and hearty, to wake up on time and get them fed, and exercised for their health and safety. To train them for the exercise of their minds and challenge them. To watch the visitors that paid for the privilege of riding quality horseflesh, to make sure they were firm but kind with the horses entrusted to me. 

 

I could pretend well enough for Ian and Jenny and the bairns, in the bright light of day. Murtagh kept a careful watch on me, filling in silences when I got lost to the memories. Ian might have noticed, I thought, but he said naught. 

 

But at night -- at night, I couldn’t escape the heat of Captain Jonathan Randall’s hands on me, the horrid pain of being nearly skinned to death by shrapnel, the bullet wound in my side… the hole where a brand had been. 

 

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Claire was talking -- nay, she was singing. She had a proper trained voice, like you might hear in a church choir -- clear and pleasant but without the character to make for a solo voice. She was singing along with the radio, a soft pop ballad. She was playing with my fingers, and we were here, in North Carolina. Far away from Scotland, far away from Iraq. 

 

I wanted to kiss her, just for that moment, for the magic power she seemed to have to draw me back to myself. 

 

Instead.

 

“Aye, lass, you have a fair voice,” I said.

 

She flushed. “Oh, I’m sorry. I realize it’s not pleasant. I’ll stop.” 

 

I blinked. “Who said it’s not pleasant? Ye’ve a proper voice, lass. All sweet and pure, like ye’d hear in a church. ‘Tis a holy thing.” 

 

“Frank,” she said softly. “He wasn’t… fond.” 

 

I cursed him blue, under my breath. “Well, I canna help that ye used to be marrit to a man with no discernible taste, lass. An’ if it wasna the truth that ye have a sweet voice, I wouldna mind the hearing of it, because it belongs to you. An’ any man ye’re with, marrit or not, that thinks different, weel…” 

 

“All right, calm down, soldier,” Claire said, but she was blushing, and squeezing my hand. 

 

And I was sliding, falling even more quickly into something that felt somewhere between drowning and flying. I had an idea. 

 

“Do ye ride, lass?” 

 

“I haven’t, not since I was a little girl.” 

 

“Do ye wish to?” I turned in by the stables, parked the truck, looked her in the eye. “Horses -- weel, they’re restorative. They need you to be in the moment with them -- no’ the past, no’ the future. An’ it so happens, I have a couple of horses that need exercised.”

 

She nodded, flush with what I hoped was excitement. She followed me into the stables, and asked lots of questions while I saddled and readied the horses. I gave her a lift into the saddle, and she confidently placed her foot in my palms as I boosted her up. She had a fine natural seat, and it was obvious that Queenie, the mare I’d given her, immediately understood what Claire asked of her. 

 

I’d taken Dancer, another mare just a little taller, and of a more… contestable nature. Dancer and Queenie were friendly with each other, far more than some of the other horses in the herd, which was part of the reason I’d picked the two of them for us. I led Claire out of the yard and up through a pasture. 

 

We talked easily of nothing -- books we liked, movies we’d seen. Songs we liked. She teased me lightly for liking some of the folk music that permeated the air of the Carolinas. I told her it was enough like music from  home to make a Scotsman fall in love with a faerie or fight the English, which made her laugh with delight. 

 

I loved to make her laugh. I loved to watch her. Every once in a while, she would need a bit of help, I could tell she hadna ridden in a while, but she wasna a complainer, and she wasna scarrit.

 

And after we brought the horses back, cooled them down, brushed them off, fed and watered them, she brushed her jeans off with her hands. 

 

“I know you have to go back to work,” she said.

 

I couldn’t deny that she was right, although I wanted her to stay with me, or I wanted to stay with her. “Aye, that would be best.” 

 

“Thank you for all of it. Coming to pick me up, taking care of my medicine… taking me out for a ride and getting my mind off of it, I…” 

 

“Lass, I verra much want to kiss you.” I couldna stop the words escaping, and I couldna put them back in my mouth once they were out. 

 

“I want to kiss you, too.” 

 

“All right, then,” I said. I flicked my tongue across my lips -- had they ever been this dry? I bent and kissed her.

 

I’d kissed lasses before, but it had never been like this before. Kisses were pleasant preludes, usually, but this kiss was like a match next to a powder keg. I could feel the heat, so close to igniting the fire in both of us. I wanted my hands in her hair, or my hands on her body. I wrapped my hand around her waist and drew her close. Touching, tasting, over and over again.

 

Until Queenie let out a whinny and a snort, stomping her foot. We broke apart, breathless and laughing. 

 

“I believe she’s jealous.” Claire’s eyes were sparkling. “I can’t say as I blame her. You’re a hell of a kisser, Jamie Fraser.” 

 

She walked away before I could think of a single word to say, hips swaying with sexual confidence. It nearly brought me to my knees. I didn’t want her to go, but ach, the sight of watching her go…. 

 

I turned, and found Murtagh almost right behind me. I hadn’t even noticed him. “Christ Jesus!” 

 

“Jesus has little to do with kissin’ pretty lassies in stables,” Murtagh said, clapping me on the shoulder. “Lucky devil.” 

 

I sighed. “Any chance ye can just… forget ye saw that?” 

 

“Ah now, lad, ye know better than that,” Murtagh said, grinning. “Him that skeeves off a’ work for the afternoon to snog a lass ought to know he’s going to get the piss taken.” 

 

I sighed. I was in for a long afternoon.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: Watch Her Watch The Morning Come



Jamie, March 2014

 

I don’ find it easy, ye ken, to sleep at night in the best of times. I suppose it may have started young, when wee Willie was dyin’, and my mother ne’er left his side, no’ e’en at night, and I would find myself walking down the hallway to his room, to the hospital bed where he was struggling for breath and crawl in next to him, being a much smaller lad at that time, and hold his hand, and Ma would stroke both our head’s and whisper Gaelic love words until the dawn came. 

 

Then Jenny would buzz in, a wee nurse already, in the morning, make sure Mother ate and I gave her space. Jenny’s time with Willie was when Mother would lay down for her afternoon nap, before she even gave those up. Once they’d told us there was nothing more they could do for Willie’s cancer, we’d brought him home so he could die wi’ us, and having spent now more of my life in hospital than I care to think about, I wish it more dearly than anything else to be so for me. 

 

Please let me die at home, dear Christ in heaven, grant me such a small mercy, if You see fit. 

 

Then Ma died, a few years after that, due to complications from an ectopic pregnancy, and I saw the first blow to my father’s seemingly unending strength take hold. He was ne’er the same after that, and so when I ran off to the military, full of piss and vinegar and lookin’ for adventure, of all things, he did his best to see me off wi’ a smile on his face, but I could tell he was worried. 

 

Ian and I went through the training together, were assigned together, were deployed together. And all the while, I had no idea he was in love wi’ my sister. Not until the IED that changed everything. 

 

I canna actually remember much -- a white-hot heat, the car next to us exploding, shrapnel everywhere, in my skin, in my legs, in my back. But I remember Ian. I remember thinking he was a dead man for sure, his leg ripped to pieces, going whiter by the second. 

 

I carried him to safety. Or that’s what they tell me. I canna remember that part, either. I suppose it’s for the better. He held my hand when they laid us both down, me on my stomach as I had less holes on the front than the back. He insisted that if he died, I should tell Jenny that he loved her more than he’d ever loved anyone or anything in the world, and he wished he go back and give her the kind of life they’d often spoke of, wi’out me knowing -- bairns in the yard, a garden, a business, a home.

 

Sometimes when I close my eyes, that’s what I see. Ian, going whiter by the second. That’s what I feel, the slick wetness of our bloody palms touching. That’s what I smell -- sweat, blood and desperation. And I feel again that despair of knowing we would neither of us likely survive. 

 

And so it was tonight. I closed my eyes and I could smell everything -- the explosion, the sweat, tears and blood. Wi’ a wee dram of whiskey, I thought, maybe I could persuade Old Nick and his highlight reel of the worst days of my life to leave me alone in a few hours. I came down the stairs and poured myself a drink. 

 

TV wouldn’t help -- the noise of it would just aggravate my anxiety, so I reached for my whittling knife and a block of wood. Willie had been the real talent with such craft, carving me several small animals before his death, the only one of which that had served was a wooden snake, charmingly rendered with its tongue half-out, that had been in my pocket when I had been blown all to hell. Animals were often my chosen subjects -- horses, mostly, to Jenny’s great amusement (Is it no’ enough that you spend every waking moment of the death with them then, Jamie?)  

 

But it was coming up on wee Jamie’s birthday. My namesake, Ian and Jenny’s firstborn. I’d tried to talk them out of the name choice as soon as I had been told. But talking Jenny out of an idea once she’d landed on it was beyond impossible. Fortunately, he took more after Ian than me, missing the Ellen MacKenzie flaming red locks that had been a cause of much teasing in my younger school days. But he had the Fraser eyes, and he was braw, and canny, and strong, as much as any two-year-old can be, and I was infinitely proud of him. At the moment, he was obsessed with dogs, so I was doing my best to render him a homely hound in a block of oak about 6 inches long. 

 

I sipped whiskey, and I worked. And I thought about the day, about holding Claire in my arms, about watching her on the back of a horse. 

 

And the knife slipped.

 

It quickly became apparent that this was no’ going to be something I could handle myself so, wrapping my hand in a washrag, I left the house and walked up to the garage and knocked gently on the door. 

 

I waited several long minutes, and, feeling sort of faint, knocked again. The door opened not long after that, and if I hadna felt weak from bloodloss I might have felt weak just from the sight of her. She had none of her English control about her -- her hair was wild and free, eyes bleary. I could clearly see her nipples through her thin night shirt, and her shorts were so short as to nearly be panties. 

 

“Jamie, it’s the middle of the night.” 

 

I felt properly bashful. “Aye, lass, and I do apologize. I was up doin’ a bit o’ carvin’, you see. Let my mind wander. The knife slipped.” 

 

She pulled me in the door and sat me down on the couch, the same one I had put in here when I had lived here, with the same familiar stains. As she went for her first aid kit, I laid down and took several deep breaths. 

 

“You haven’t passed out on me, have you?”

 

“Nay,” I said, and shook my head with a smile. “Just restin’ my eyes is all.” 

 

“Should have been doing that instead of wood carving in the middle of the bloody night,” she snapped. 

 

I chuckled. “Ah, I’m sorry, Sassenach, really I am.” 

 

She shot me a look underneath her eyelashes that was heated and scornful and sarcastic and delightful . How did anyone spend any time around this woman and not want to get her feisty and riled every second so her blood ran hot? 

 

“Most men aren’t that attracted to my temper,” Claire said, and I swiftly realized I must have spoken out loud. 

 

“As previously discussed, most men can go hang when it comes to not appreciating you, Sassenach.” She and I both knew when she said “most men” she was speaking of Frank Randall -- her former husband, a man whom I had never met in person, but whose cousin had been the instrument of some of the darkest days of my life. 

 

Truth be told, the first time I had met Claire, when she was Claire Randall, Ian’s nurse in the recovery ward, I hadna even been able to look at her, the reaction to that name was so strong. She must have thought me quite rude, for I tried not to answer her questions, was short, bordering on rude and…

 

“It’s water under the bridge. I think maybe we should take you to the hospital,” Claire said. 

 

“Ramblin’ aloud again, am I lass?” 

 

“Hm,” she agreed. “Don’t worry, I won’t ask you any questions. You can tell me, or not, whenever you want to and you’re not woozy from blood loss.” 

 

“I’m sorry, lass,’ I mumbled. She was gentle, wiping the wound clean. She told me that she could stitch the wound closed here or we could go to a hospital. I sent her a look and she sighed, and reminded me there would be no painkillers if we didn’t go to a hospital. “Ah, but ye see, if we don’t go to a hospital, then we’re no’ in a hospital, which is a far superior state to being in one.” 

 

Stitches are never pleasant, but if you’re going to have them done, there’s far worse ways than being half-gone on whiskey already, laying down on a couch, watching Claire Beauchamp bend over you, muttering about light, and pig-headed Scots, and clumsy idiots. I said some things back, not much of which I can recall here, but I remember her kindness and understanding.

 

She finished the last stitch, and I swear to ye on the Blessed Virgin, as soon as she did, I was out like a light.

 

**

 

Claire, March 2014

 

Frank’s cousin Jonathan had been a source of contention for… some time. Frank was proud of his military service and would frequently bring him up when we were having a party and work colleagues of mine were over. He had quickly and somewhat suspiciously risen up the ranks about as quickly as a soldier could, so that he achieved the rank of Captain at a young age, but there, it seemed, Jonathan Randall would stall. 

 

Frank existed in a strange in-between world where he both admired military valor and was somewhat envious of the men who had chosen to serve, while at the same time being convinced on some level that it was just not the done thing for the educated and privileged to do. Frank was comfortable Oxford, and behind a desk. While his expertise in the area of Middle Eastern politics (the overlap of which with my uncle’s work having been the basis on which we had built our intellectual connection in the early days of our relationship), sometimes meant he was called to consult with MI-6, Frank would never indulge in doing the dirty work himself. 

 

But when it came to dirty work, Jonathan Randall, in my experience, had no such… aversion. In person, he could be charming. But more often he was slimy, chilling, cold. The kind of sociopath that thrives in power structures where there isn’t much questioning of authority allowed, and he used that power structure to his advantage. 

 

His assumption of command of the military hospital at which I served had marked the end of my career, and my marriage.

 

As soon as Jamie said his name, as soon as he let it slip that our first cold encounter, the one I could barely remember, had been influenced by my association with that man , I nearly lost my supper. I wanted to protest, loudly.

 

But I had this injury in front of me -- a cut that, just due to its depth, would require a stitch and a bit of superglue, and Jamie was clearly not all the way present. Either drunk, or dissociative, or both, he talked of how attractive he found me. Among other things.

 

“It’s no’ so very much blood,” he said, his eyes closed, “aye, I’ve lost a lot more blood than this and been fine. It’s just that I’ve spent the evening bathin’ in Ian’s blood, ye see.” 

 

“I do,” I said softly, finishing the last dressing.. “It’s just been one of those nights, huh soldier?” 

 

He snored in response. I chuckled and cleaned the area of all my supplies, and went back to sleep. 

 

**

 

Jenny, March 2014

 

I was up early, but then I’m nearly always up early. Bairns will do that for ye, if ye’ve got an inclination to be lazy, they’ll train it out of ye. I was achin to both relieve my bladder and my breasts. So I used the restroom, washed my hands, retrieved Margaret Ellen, and sat in the rocker, only then experiencing profound relief as my daughter latched onto my breasts and suckled powerfully. “Ach, lass, not all at once,” I scolded lightly, but I ran my finger over my her cheek so she would know I wasn’t too powerfully vexed at her. 

 

It was quiet, wee Jamie would be up in a bit, though, so this was perhaps the last moment in the day that I would be free. I was halfway to my eyes closing again when I felt the pleasant weight of Ian Murray’s eyes on me. For a moment, I was an eighteen year old lass again, thrilling at his attention. 

 

Maybe not many of my girlfriends had appreciated him at the time, oh, but I did. He was more homely than handsome, and skinny almost rather than thin, but he was a tender man, a good man, even as a young man. 

 

Now he stood in the doorway of the nursery and watched me with love in his eyes. “Did ye sleep weel?” he asked, crossing the room with my coffee in his hand. Blessed Virgin, but I’d married a good one.

 

“Aye.” 

 

“Did ye happen to hear Jamie pounding on the garage door last night?” 

 

“Did I what?” I jostled the baby and she gave a startled cry. I shot Ian a look. Honestly, men. 

 

“Oh aye,” Ian said. “I didna ken what for so I called Murtagh this morning. He says they were kissing in the barn yesterday afternoon.” 

 

“Claire and Jamie?” I grinned slowly. “Ach, there’s a good match. She’s got sense, which is what Jamie Fraser needs in spades.” 

 

“He’s not the only Fraser a bit deficient in that area,” Ian teased. “Both of ye need partners to bring ya back to Earth when you go spouting off nonsense.” 

 

“Mmmphf.” 

 

Ian crossed the room and kissed my cheek, and then kissed the baby. “Have I told you, my love, how much my heart aches wi’ love to see ye holding my bairn with the morning light behind yer hair?” 

 

“Not today,” I said melting a little. He lifted my chin and kissed me proper, so I felt it down to my bones. “You keep that up and we’ll have another one underfoot before you can say boo,” I said, exhaling. 

 

“I wouldna complain,” Ian said. “I’ll give ye as many bairns as ye wish, for ye’re the love of my whole damn life, Jenny Fraser Murray.” 

 

And then he walked out, leaving me there, holding his daughter in my arms, feeling loved to my very toes.

 

Aye, a very, very good man.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: A Holy Host of Others Gathered Round Me

 

Claire, April 2014

 

As soon as March’s nearly-unbearable sogginess faded into April’s cool, Jamie and Ian took a Saturday morning to re-till the soil that Jenny had used for a kitchen garden the year before, plus a little bit extra. Jenny and I had spent many wonderful evenings with a Burpee catalogue and a map we’d drawn by hand. I had never had enough time or enough space to indulge my interest in gardening and botany. Uncle Lamb and I had never had a home, and then the London flat I shared with Frank was on the third floor with no balcony and while quite a few herbs grow very well in containers, it was not the half-acre Jenny and I were dedicating to all manner of growing things. 

 

It was too early for certain things, but it was just right for the planting of lettuce and greens, and certain herbs that preferred the cool. We planted, and watered and put up a little fence to keep out rabbits… Jenny assured me it would probably fail, but we did anyway.

 

It felt good to join the rhythm of the farm. Between the distillery, which was primarily Ian’s project, growing the grain that they turned into the whiskey, the horses, the grain they grew for the horses, the employees they had to keep the vast operation going, the family worked all of the time. Jenny kept the kids at home with her but also did books, helped with harvest and planting, helped Jamie when it came time to foal the horses or calve the cows, planted the garden and had dreams of a row of greenhouses she could use to plant tomatoes year-round, and sell at local farmer’s markets. 

 

The Frasers worked endlessly, and it made my few weeks of leisure seem way too indulgent. No one begrudged me the time, and any time I offered to help, I had to insist. I had little practical knowledge, but I had a can-do attitude and a willingness to learn anything. It turned out that my first aid skills were often in use, not just for Jamie Fraser, who despite the initial frequency of seeking my care, was one of my rarer patients. 

 

Farming, it turned out, was dangerous work. Large equipment broke down and had to be fixed, horses and cows kicked humans that were trying to help with them. Most of the injuries I treated were small -- evaluating whether cuts were deep enough to need stitches or not, whether some injuries were serious enough to send to the doctor, et cetera. In those moments, I felt useful and needed, but I did not feel a very strong urge to return to work in a medical office. 

 

So, I did what I could -- planted the garden with Jenny, treated minor injuries, had riding lessons with Jamie and learned some animal husbandry and botany and rested and went to therapy, and Jamie and I learned each other. 

 

Not necessarily much about the traumas that had burned us so badly before, but I learned the small things about him -- he thought American desserts were too sweet, he took his whiskey neat in the presence of others but would sometimes use a single ice cube when no one was around to judge him (opens up the flavor, lass, he would say). He favored flannel shirts and wore them rolled up to the forearms, beat-up Wranglers and lace-up boots. He made the same sandwich in triplicate for his lunch, ate potato crisps by the regular-sized bag, and worked out to relieve tension and stress.

 

He was a born storyteller, charming like his entire family, and could make the simplest of daily occurrences into a side-splitting tale. He was smart and strong and incredibly attractive. When we touched, I could feel the sparks arching between us, but we drew an invisible line and both stayed safely on our sides. I didn’t want to talk about Frank, and he didn’t want to talk about his military service. 

 

But sometimes, late at night, it would just be the two of us left after everyone else went to sleep. We’d sit next to each other on the couch, the fire snapping and popping in front of us and talk softly about nothing. Then his hand would reach for mine, and I could feel the roughness of his palms under mine, which somehow matched the roughness underneath his baritone voice, and his eyes would pull mine and we would lean and kiss.

 

Long, slow kisses. Soft, most of the time. Sometimes needy. His hands would move over me, like he was savoring me. But there we stayed, on the couch. Never going much further than hands over clothes. Then afterwards, we would part, the fire dying down, and retreat to our rooms. 

 

I went to therapy every week, and we worked on strategies to handle the panic and anxiety, but we didn’t touch my marriage or the war. That was fine with me. Geillis -- she insisted I use her first name after the first session -- told me that while the boat was sinking you don’t worry overmuch about what caused the hole in the first place. You plug the hole. 

 

I was starting to thaw, to come back to myself. Jenny and Ian, the warmth of their family, Jamie and his strength, his sweet soul, they were helping to bring me back to myself. 

 

Jenny and I were planting rows of lettuce. Jenny was wearing the baby in one of those carriers, and little Jamie played off to the side with a soccer ball. He was only two, so he would kick the ball and run off screaming after it. 

 

“So, you are spending your evenings kissing my wee brother,” Jenny said, moving with her characteristic efficiency, dropping that truth like a bomb from the sky. 

 

I paused in what I was doing and took a deep breath. ‘Yes, I am.” 

 

Jenny smiled, a cat who got cream for breakfast. “I wondered if ye’d try to avoid the truth wi’ me.” 

 

“Would there be any point?” 

 

She let out a barking laugh. “No, I canna say as there would be.” 

 

“How long have you known?” 

 

“Oh, weeks,” she said breezily. “I was goin’ te wait to ask ye about it until I thought perhaps ye’d taken him into yer bed, but yer being a wee bit slow on that front.” 

 

I dropped my jaw. “Oh, um, I…” 

 

“No’ blamin’ ye,” Jenny said. “Go at yer own pace, o’ course. I just ran out of patience, ye ken. I’m a terrible gossip and a busybody, and Ian begged me to keep my nose ou’ o’ it, but I canna any longer, I’m fair to burstin’ wi’ it.” 

 

“I’m sorry,” I said, blushing. “I… guess I…”

 

“No,’ Jenny said, shaking her head. “You shouldna have t’ tell me anything, but seeing as how ye know I know, if ye wanted to talk about it at all, ever…” She spread her hands wide. “I’m happy to talk. Or no’. We don’t have to, but…” 

 

“I don’t know what there is to tell,” I said, somewhat helplessly. “I don’t even know what… I don’t even know what it is we’re doing. We’ve certainly never talked about it. It just keeps… happening. Almost like we can’t stop it from happening, really. Not that I want to stop it from happening, I….” 

 

“It’s complicated,” Jenny finished for me. “It’s fine, I figured it might be so. Jamie’s dense, for a lad as canny as he is. He should just… ask ye out or something.” 

 

“The thing is, I don’t know what I would say if he did,” I said, rubbing my hands on my thighs. “I don’t if what we’re doing is smart, or stupid… I just know when I look into his eyes I can stop thinking for a bit and feel… okay.” 

 

“He’s a braw man,” Jenny said, “even as his sister I can see that. He has the ability to make folk think he can take on anything and come ou’ the other side.” 

 

I laughed. “Yes, he does.” 

 

“But he’s also in so much pain,” Jenny said, “and he thinks I canna see it, ye ken?” 

 

“I do,” I said. 

 

“There was so much pain, growing up,” Jenny said, still planting lettuce while she talked. “And I ken, ye understand, that it wasn’t all like that -- we had a fair number of good years with Ma and Da, Willie and Jamie and I. It’s just that that pain gets swallowed up. And then Ma died, and Jamie and Ian went to war.” 

 

“You don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to,” I said, seeing that there were tears in her eyes.

 

“Oh, it’s no’ so verra bad now.” Jenny wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. “I just think ye should know. Jamie will probably tell ye all this himself, but… Maybe it’s best to hear it from someone who loves him. But then, there’s much he won’t tell me himself. I know there’s more than what he’s told me, what Ian’s told me. Their deployment went…. Horribly wrong. It wasn’t just the IED. I don’t know all the details. They won’t speak of it, either one of them.’ 

 

Here was an opening. I could ask a question that had been plaguing me. “Ian and Jamie -- both times, when I introduced myself the first time, they both asked if I was related to a Jonathan Randall. Is that…. Is he part of it?” 

 

Jenny went stiff, I could see even that name influenced her somehow. “Jonathan Randall -- aye, they never speak of him, except when they must, and it is always to curse his name. I donna ken exactly what happened, but I know that neither one of them have any love or respect for that man.” 

 

“He said something about him, one night -- the night he about took his thumb off with a carving knife,” I admitted.”I thought maybe it might be… holding him back from me. Because I was a Randall.” 

 

“Jamie’s not so small minded. And besides, I think the part all of us think is important about ye being a Randall is that ye arena one any longer.” 

 

“In a lot of ways,” I said softly, “Frank was a good man. He was the right man for me at the time.” 

 

Jenny nodded. “I’m sure you wouldna marry someone you didna think was a good man, Claire. And Frank isnae Jonathan, at any rate.” 

 

I nodded. “Whatever is between them, all this sadness that you talk about… Jamie’s not going to be able to move past it until he talks to someone about it.”

 

“Perhaps that someone will be you,” Jenny said, rising to her feet and dusting off her jeans. “Now, I think Miss Margaret wants to nurse. Are you happy to finish the planting by yourself?” 

 

I smiled at her. “I think so. I’ll be in a bit.” 

 

She took the baby and Jamie inside and left me to finish planting the lettuce, which I did. It was methodical work and repetitive. But it meant I was bent over on my knees for much of it, facing the ground. And so I missed him approaching until his shadow crossed the ground.

 

“Ye are the most beautiful woman I have e’er seen,” I heard him say, his brogue as soft and rumbly as it ever got. “Christ Jesus, what ye do to me, Claire. Look at you, all prim and proper, out here up to your elbows and nose in dirt.” 

 

“I’m planting,” i said a bit, my knees growing ridiculously weak. “I’m not sure what’s so attractive about that.” 

 

“You donna ken what’s attractive about that arse in those jeans, making a mark on my land with your beautiful hands?” He shook his head. 

 

I slowly stood up and crossed the garden to him. He pulled me tight to him with one hand. “You’re a ridiculous man,” I said on a breath. 

 

“Hm, only for ye, Sassenach.” 

 

“You keep calling me that,” I said, pulling back a little. “I can never tell, when a Scot calls me that, whether it is meant to be an insult or not?” 

 

“In my case, verra much not… Sassenach . Ye are so far beyond anything I have ever known.” He bent his head towards mine. “Can I kiss ye?” 

 

“Always. You have blanket permission to kiss me.” 

 

His lips touched mine. His hands fisted in my shirt. I felt like I was on fire, and would have lain down with him in the freshly tilled soil if he had but asked like some kind of pagan goddess of the earth and harvest. A cleared throat interrupted us.

 

“If you don’t want Jenny to ask anymore questions of ye,” Ian said, “We’d probably best all be headed into lunch. With our clothing on.” 

 

He winked, and left us to collect our breaths… and ourselves.

 

**

 

Jamie, April 2014

 

I wanted her more than I had ever wanted anything, but I couldna have her. Not like I was, not when even touching her reminded me so much of… him . What he’d made me do, what he’d done to me. 

 

I hadn’t had sex with anyone since it happened. Hadna made love, or so much as touched anyone -- man or woman, in a way that would lead to intimacy. I told myself I felt no shame, that I was beyond that. But every time I thought of Frank Randall, I felt small, defeated. 

 

That night, I got in my truck after dinner, instead of sitting by the fire with Claire, I drove down the road to St. Andrew’s. Wednesday nights were open perpetual adoration, and I was in the habit of going once or twice a month, confessing my sins, and sitting with the Lord. 

 

As far as churches go, no church in America is as old as the oldest churches in Scotland, but you still get the same feeling. The weight of prayers hold the building to the ground. It isna so much the blessings and the consecrations that make a place holy, in my experience, but the tread of holy people and sinners, over ground over and again, seeking the divine, that make it so.

 

I wasn’t the first person to try and find solace in the sanctuary, and I wouldna be the last. I got out of my truck, checked my pocket for my rosary, and went inside. I recognized a few of the worshippers from when we all attended Mass, but my usual spot towards the back was open. 

 

I genuflected and took to my knees. 

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son…

 

I prayed for an increase in faith, hope and mercy. I prayed for the souls of my friends I had lost in battle, for Willie, for Ma, for Da. Five decades of the rosary -- five causes. I tightened my hands around the beads when it was done…

 

Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mournings and weepings in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus…

 

O clement, O loving. O sweet Virgin Mary… Pray for us, o holy Mother of God…

 

That we be made worthy of the promises of Christ

 

I bowed my head. Would I ever be worthy of… anything? I’d compromised so much, been driven to make decisions I had no compass to true north for… and now, to be sent a woman like Claire…

 

It seemed cruel. 

 

“Coming to confession, Jamie?” Father Abner laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. He was an older man, and a combat veteran, like me, though he’d served in Vietnam and my war had been in Iraq. He was a good man, steady, calm. He’d heard my first confession in the States, and he had been the one I told about… well, he’d been the one I talked to the most. 

 

“I think so, Father.” I stood up, and walked back to the confessional. 

 

He blessed me, and I began to talk. We went over my sins, large and small. At the end, I paused, and he did too.

 

“There’s one more sin you’ll need to confess, Jamie,” Father Abner said. 

 

“There is?” 

 

“Hm -- I think this woman is a gift from God for you. You don’t need to be worthy or unworthy, Jamie, you must simply be accepting of where you are called to go in your relationship with her. Otherwise you are questioning the will of God.” 

 

“My hands are still dirty, Father.” 

 

“You were absolved long ago. God has forgiven you. That’s the easy part. Now you must forgive yourself and come to understand what it is that we have talked about many, many times. That there was nothing more to be done. Mistakes are not sins.”  He reached for my hand, squeezed it once. “Mistakes are not sins,” he repeated, “and you are so loved by our Father, Jamie, created wondrously and powerfully to be yourself and live in this time. The greatest command was twofold, you know -- to love your neighbor as yourself. Some people have the hardest time with the first part -- the loving others. Still others have the hardest time with the second. Loving yourself. But what is loved by God that cannot be unlovable? You are loved, Jamie. And mistakes are not sins. I’ll hear your Act of Contrition and I’ll want you to work on loving yourself as your penance.” 

 

I walked out of the church into the fresh air and took in a deep breath. I felt the strange mixture of relief and wrung out I always got from that sacrament, and walked the distance to my car, only to find Claire sitting on my bumper. 

 

“What are you doing here?” 

 

“Your sister said you come here a couple of times a week,” she said. “She said it was like your therapy.” 

 

“Hm.” I crossed my arms in front of my chest. “I don’t know if it’s that -- I’m not sure that’s quite putting God in the box where He belongs.” 

 

“You really do… believe all this then?” She gestured vaguely.

 

“Oh, aye.” I nodded. “I donna ken that I’m up for a theological debate tonight, Sassenach.” 

 

“Well, then, I’ll guess I’ll just ask… does it help?” 

 

I nodded. “Most times. Some more than others.” 

 

“Tonight?” 

 

“Weel,” I reached for her, drew her close, kissed her lips. “Father Abner says you must be a gift from God, so… I think that this time, like all times, he must be right.” 

 

“He does?” Claire was fair shocked. 

 

“He does. And he says it is verra arrogant of me to question a gift from God. So, Claire.” 

 

“Hm?” 

 

I took a deep breath. “I’d like for you to be my...  weel, girlfriend is a terrible word but it seems the only one I’ve got. Will ye be mine?” 

 

She smiled up at me and kissed me back. “Yes. Yes I will.” 

Chapter Text

 

Claire, April 2014

 

At the beginning of my marriage to Frank, our sex life was the cliched powder keg. He had only to look at me a certain way, or I to brush him as I walked past, and we would both go up in flames.  At the end of our marriage, sex was the thing that held us together and made us 

 

“I’d like to try, Claire,” he told me. “For a child.” 

 

My heart went cold. He was asking me a mere week before my deployment. “Frank, you know as well as I do…” 

 

“Would it be the worst thing in the world?” Frank asked, half-sitting up. “If we conceived before you left and they had to send you back?” 

 

I was horrified. “Yes, yes it would be. Frank, for one thing, the child would be in incredible amounts of danger before we even knew of its existence, for another, that’s defrauding the government, and for another, this is something I want to do.” I reached for the nightgown i had so hastily discarded. “I can’t believe you.” 

 

“Claire, I wasn’t being serious, I…” He huffed with annoyance and sat up as well. “This is what you always do, you know -- this is so childish .” 

 

I’d married him young -- something he threw in my face often at times like this. “What’s childish? Putting on my nightgown so we can have an argument without my tits out?” 

 

“Christ, Claire.” He threw a forearm over his eyes. “No, that’s not what I meant. What I’m talking about is what putting your nightgown on symbolizes.” 

 

“Bloody hell, Frank, sometimes a nightgown is just a nightgown. Not everything has layers and layers of hidden meaning, you know.” 

 

“Not everything, but when it comes to what’s between us, there’s always layers of hidden meaning,” Frank snapped. “When it comes to you . You, shutting me out so we don’t have to discuss anything. You just make unilateral decisions that I must go along with.” 

 

“When it comes to this particular subject, yes, I do, I do make unilateral decisions. I’m not ready, Frank, it’s the exact wrong moment in my career…” 

 

“Are we ever going to arrive at the right moment?” He threw his legs over the side of the bed and reached for his pajamas. “Claire, it’s been years .” 

 

“Yes.” I had had enough of this. “You’re right, it’s been years. First you were an adjunct professor with no permanent position to your name, and I was moving around so much for training we couldn’t live together. It wouldn’t have been right then. Then you got the post at Cambridge but it was only for a term, and I was stationed on the other side of the country. And now that we’re together, I’m starting to wonder if the only thing we had going for us was sex and I’m not bringing a child into the world with a man that I’m not even certain has managed to keep his trousers zipped !”

 

I screeched the last, dropping the bomb like the nuclear device it was meant to be. My suspicions were just that -- suspicions, but they were solid ones. Oh, I was supposed to be a modern, evolved woman, I told myself, understanding of the inherent flaw in the expectation of monogamy, understanding enough about anthropology to think the expectation of lifetime monogamy to be even more ridiculous than short-term arrangements, and I had thought I was over the wound that the knowledge had caused in my heart. 

 

“Claire,” Frank stood up, his arms out, placating me. “You know as well as I do, man wasn’t meant to… that is to say, if you’d had an affair or two while you were stationed so far away from me, I would understand, Claire.” 

 

I felt the wounds like bullets to my guts. “We are so far ,” I said through grit teeth, “from being ready to conceive a child between the two of us, you might as well be in Moscow right now. That’s how far away from each other we are.” 

 

I stormed out to the living room, wishing it wasn’t the middle of the night so there was somewhere to go, something to do , that the hospital would page me so I could escape the screaming hell of the inside of my brain. 

 

“If it’s important to you, Claire, I can stop,” Frank said, from the doorway of our bedroom. “I’m an evolved enough man to take responsibility for my choices, and if they’re causing you this much pain…” 

 

“I shouldn’t have to ask ,” I said, to my dismay, breaking down in tears. “I shouldn’t have to ask, Frank, that’s what you vowed me, that’s what you promised me….” 

 

“I guess I just thought we both understood how… how it was going to be,” Frank said somewhat helplessly. 

 

I thought of conversations we’d had before marriage, how neither one of us had ever brought up the idea of monogamy or non-monogamy… I had made my assumptions, and so, it seemed, had Frank.

 

“You’re the one I want to come home to,” he said, coming towards me, kneeling at my feet. “I want to give you my children and see us raise them together.” He took my hands in his and kissed the palms of them. “I do love you, Claire Randall. I gave you my name when I had literally nothing else in the world to give anyone. Doesn’t that count for something?” 

 

It makes me sick to think now, that I nodded, accepted his word, accepted him again into my body that night. I wish I had been more able to speak up for myself, to say what it was that I wanted and required, to walk out the door right then and there. But I wasn’t. I was deploying in a week, and I wanted the security blanket of someone back at home thinking of me. Needing me. Missing me. 

 

My uncle Lamb was gone at that point, and my parents had been gone. All I had was Frank, and I didn’t want to give him up. I knew that down deep in my bones. I guess I just hadn’t realized how deeply Frank knew that as well … how deeply he counted on it. 

 

Still, when I look back -- that was the beginning of the end. That was the first crack in the bridge between the two of us.

 

I was thinking about that -- about children, the end of my marriage, and the like, when Jamie plopped down next to me while I was eating my lunch, a green salad I’d tossed together with some smoked salmon and lemon vinaigrette. That particular day marked four years since that argument. He bussed my cheek with an affectionate kiss. 

 

“Can I take ye out to dinner tonight, Claire?” he asked. “I can promise ye a fine meal, all the best our local diner has to offer, which is to say that the food may not be of grand quality, but it will be of grand quantity, which, when ye’ve been working wi’ horses all day is as strong a recommendation as I need.” 

 

A feeling swept through me -- a feeling I got often with Jamie. Here was a man who was honest, perhaps to a fault, caring, sweet. I wasn’t a teenaged girl, fond of doodling my name next to boyfriends, or searching out someone who would offer to take care of me. But I could see Jamie Fraser in my life for years to come, and I didn’t know whether to trust myself or not. After all, I’d also chosen Frank. 

 

“Do you believe in monogamy?” I asked him, reaching for my glass of water as his eyes widened. 

 

“Yes,” he answered, his face settling into something serious from his teasing charm from earlier. “I donna think I am wired any other way, lass.” 

 

“Oh.” Relieved, I took another big drink of water. “That is, I’m sorry, but I must ask… do you believe men, in particular, are capable of being faithful over the course of a… well, if not a lifetime, then a very long time?” 

 

He tilted his head. “Does it matter if I think men are capable of it, or if I think I am capable of it, lass?” 

 

“Is it so very heroic a thing, then?” I asked, growing impatient. I pushed my plate around. “Of all people, Jamie Fraser, I expected you to give me a straight answer to the question.” 

 

“I would, except I very much suspect that the two of us are not the only people in this room, and when we’re talking about you and me, I’d very much like to know which other ghost I’m also addressing, the one who put that anger in your eyes. Is it Frank, or some other wound that’s been festering too long?” 

 

I pressed a hand to my heart. “Oh, Jamie.” Once again, I found myself with tears welling in my eyes. “I’m sorry, I guess I’m not being fair.” 

 

“Who gives a damn about fair? If you need reassurances I’ve plenty to give you, lass. I suppose,” he said on a sigh, “that there are folks who don’t think a marriage vow means what I think a marriage vow means, if we were to undertake such a thing. And I can see how, in today’s world, you might want to know how I feel about the idea of… well, I suppose ye can fancy it up, but cheating is cheating. When I asked ye to be mine, I meant that I was yers.” He reached for my hand and squeezed it. “Right now, until you release me, I will be yours and only yours and only the forces of Heaven and Hell would keep me from doing anything that would make ye cry so.” 

 

I couldn’t help it, I folded into his arms. “I’m sorry, you’re right, it was Frank, he… he told me I was a fool to expect the things I expected and it was my fault that I didn't… I just made assumptions, I never asked…”

 

“You can call me old-fashioned and aye, I expect many will,” Jamie said, “but if you were expecting what most folks mean by marriage, and he wasn’t, he should have explained very clearly what he thought he was going to get with that ring.” He kissed my ring finger. “It bothers me verra much that he scarred you so.” 

 

I found myself sitting in his lap. “Do you -- do you want children? Will it bother you overmuch if we can’t have any?” 

 

He kissed my forehead. “Yes, I want them. I want loads of them. But I suspect Jenny and Ian will keep giving me nieces and nephews to love and babysit, and if we canna have any of our own, I think I’d like to be like your Uncle Lamb and take on a wee beastie or two that needs us, aye?” 

 

I cracked up. “A wee beastie?”

 

“Have you never met a toddler, Claire? They’re feral beasties, aye,” he said, kissing my cheek over and over again, more Scottish than usual to make me laugh. “I want it all with you, Claire, and ye can bet, when I ask ye to marry me, when ye’re ready, I will mean for it to be only you and only me, together forever. Aye?”

 

I nodded, and he kissed me properly on the lips. I wrapped my hand around his neck and drew him closer. 

 

We were interrupted by Jenny’s particular way of clearing her throat. “That’s how ye end up with bairns before ye’re ready,” she said, teasing us. “Snogging in the middle of the day like teenagers, shameful.” 

 

Ian came behind her and lovely patted her arse. “What would you call what we were doing upstairs just now then?” 

 

Jenny flushed but pressed on. “Marriage maintenance.” 

 

“I’m taking Claire for dinner tonight so donna plan on us,” Jamie said, rescuing Jenny from further teasing. “About time I fed the lass for all the kisses I’ve been stealing.” He took a bite of my salad and chewed it noisily as I protested, faintly. 

 

“Aye,” Jenny looked at me with canny eyes. “It’s about time.” 

 

**

 

Jamie, April 2014

 

Ian was a fair horseman, even with a bum leg, but still, I more often found myself helping him with his side of the business than he did with mine. We sat in his office and stared at plans to increase the distillery to a tasting room. 

 

“Some of yer posh places,” Ian said, “they do it up with a fancy restaurant, maybe have a spot where we can hold events, and such. Weddings and corporate events and things.” 

 

“Get married at Fraser’s Ridge,” I mused. “Well, I imagine ye’d get yer spoilt American brides wanting horse-drawn carriages and the like.” 

 

Ian nodded. “It’s something to work towards. In the meantime, you should try this. One of old Colum’s barrels -- client was aging it special, but the old coot died and the widow doesnae want to pay the balance.” He reached for a bottle, unmarked because it was for his private use, and got two tumblers out of his desk. 

 

“Drinking in the middle of the day, are we? Jenny’d have our hide if she knew.” 

 

Ian grinned at me, the same grin that got me into more scraps as a lad than I knew what to do with. “Nay, she won’t. She’d go all misty-eyed about her boys bonding… and then she’d skin us alive, yeah.” 

 

I lifted my glass. “To Colum MacKenzie, whose only hope is that the Devil doesnae want him around anymore than our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

 

Ian raised his glass, and we both took a sip. “So. Ye and Claire.” 

 

The whiskey sliding down my throat suddenly stung and I coughed. “Well, don’t waste any time man, get right to the point why don’t ye?” 

 

“I wanted to tell ye -- I think ye should tell her about Randall.” Ian looked at me, eyes level, but I could see his hands were shaking. “She knows a bit about it, since she took care of me in the rehab hospital and helped with some paperwork, but she should know… all of it.” 

 

“The man’s a bloody menace, a traitor to his country and a psychopath. She knows all that.” 

 

“Aye.” Ian sat back down. 

 

“So what more should I tell her, honestly?” 

 

“You should tell her all of it,” Ian said. “She should know the truth -- especially the truth that it may be a long shot, but if he ever crawls out of whatever hole the British government stuck him in, she could be in a fair amount of danger. It’s no’ like we’re doing our best to hide here, but that was a decision we all made together.” 

 

“If I tell her about what happened in Iraq, then I’ll have to tell her… everything.” 

 

“Aye,” Ian nodded. “And we’ve both got our share of shame when it comes to that, so…” 

 

“It wasna you he beat and rogered,” I snapped back. “So…. go to hell wi’ ye, Ian Murray. Don’t I deserve to have one shining thing that bastard doesn’t get to put his finger prints all over?” 

 

“Lasting relationships don’t shine,” Ian said, shaking his head. “And true beauty rarely glitters. If you want Claire to be yours for life, and I ken ye, Jamie Fraser, ye’ve got that look in yer eye… then she has to know.” 

 

My hands shook. My stomach lurched. I took another sip of whiskey. “Go to hell,” I said, quieter than before. “I hate ye when ye’re right, Ian.” 

 

“It’s a burden I far too often have to bear,” he said. He came around the desk and clasped me on the shoulder. “Ye held her in yer arms and comforted her while she showed you some of her old wounds today. It’s never goin’ to work if you don’t show her yours, as well.” He patted my shoulder. 

 

“Now. What say you we finish this dram and ye can help me load a few barrels, aye?” 

 

I swallowed the rest of my whiskey in one gulp, the way I’d seen American cowboys in movies take shots of whiskey when I was child. “Aye.” 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie, April 2014

 

I don’t think about Jonathan Randall any more. Not as much as I used to, at any rate. It used to be an anger that hung over every single moment, the things he’d done, the choices he’d forced me to make. His hands over me… inside of me. 

 

But now, with the looming specter of having to tell someone who didn’t know -- someone who just knew me as just Jamie, no preconceived notions of me being a hero, like Jenny, or a victim, like my superior officers, or a fellow soldier doing their best, like Ian, or a man seeking to give me absolution, like the priests I’d talked to -- Jonathan Randall was back in my thoughts in a way that I hated. I wanted him to have no acreage in my mind, no home inside of me from which he could ambush me in my happy moments. 

 

I wanted to be able to take him out with a rusty knife, the same way I’d taken his brand off of me. 

 

I was a good soldier, for what it’s worth. I completed basic training and then received more, Ian right with me. We’d helped each other through SAS training. He wasn’t as good with languages as I was, but Ian had less of a temper than I did, and could always think through a situation to its natural conclusion, and come to a solution, most of the time. 

 

We were somewhere we weren’t supposed to be, doing something the government hadn’t officially sanctioned, when we were captured, our whole unit. Ian had been whole, then, and so had I… We found ourselves dragged to a cave, and prepared ourselves to be executed. 

 

Caves in the dessert are interesting things -- hot in the day time, freezing cold at night. They fed us not well, when they fed us at all. Our companions were taken from us one by one, out to see the sun one last time before they were beheaded for ISIS cameras. Praying to our heretical God angered our captors, and they would beat us if they caught Ian and I moving our hands to count Hail Marys on our fingers. I still have the scar on my ear from when one of them took a chunk of my ear. 

 

We knew ourselves to be next -- they’d started with the lowest ranking members of our captured unit, and Ian and I were on the next step up, just below our unit commander who had somehow escaped capture. Unfortunately, the reason for this miracle soon became verra clear. 

 

He appeared one morning, the same morning they’d nearly cut my ear off, wearing civilian clothes, his hair pulled back and his head covered in the Muslim tradition. I was shocked and relieved to see him. “Captain, have ye come to…”

 

“Quiet, Fraser,” he’d said, waving a hand. “Give up any notion you might have of rescue or escape.” 

 

My stomach had sunk, but part of me still hoped. Hoped, even as the guards got me to my feet and took me to another part of the encampment, that this was all an elaborate undercover assignment, that Randall would slip me into the back of a truck. I whispered to Ian that I’d come back for him. 

 

Then I had found myself in a tent with some of the creature comforts of home -- a bottle of alcohol he must have not have mentioned to his Musilm friends, clean bedding, clean clothes, water, a plate of food. 

 

“I’m sorry that you had to wait so long,” he said, turning to me. “I had to wait, you see, until you were just a trifle weak.” 

 

In my naivete, I asked. “Wait for what?” 

 

“For the opportunity to do to you what I’ve longed to do to you since the moment I saw the great expanse of you, Jamie Fraser.” 

 

My hands were bound. They went clammy. I took a step back. 

 

“I wouldn’t advise that,” Randall said. “If you step out of this tent, the guards will shoot you. But if you stay here and cooperate, I can make your stay here very, very… well, I don’t know if I would say comfortable is the word.” 

 

He looked up at me and stepped into my space. “If you will give yourself to me, I will see you make it home safe… someday.” 

 

Everything in me revolted, and I lurched forward to head butt him. A guard burst through the tent, pistol-whipped me, and dragged me outside. They cut my shirt from me and whipped me. 

 

The wounds were festering, aching, I was near to death with fever, the next time Jonathan Randall came for me. 

 

I closed my eyes against the memories. Claire was coming to my truck, swinging herself up into the cab with easy confidence. She’d worn a dress -- something pretty in deep blue, in a cut that I’d sworn I’d seen in an old black and white movie. 

 

“Are you okay?” Her eyes were calm, but piercing. 

 

I swallowed. “Aye, I’m fine,” I said gruffly. “Shall we go?” 

 

She agreed, and distracted me all the way there with easy chatter of my niece and nephew, the mischief she and Jenny had got up to, plans she was beginning to make for what her summer would look like. I stayed engaged as best as I could. I even struggled all the way through dinner, so much so that when the waitress came and asked if we wanted dessert or the check, I answered, “Check, please,” without looking at Claire.

 

She tilted her head to the side as the waitress left. “Hm, something is really not right with you,” she said. 

 

“I’m sorry, lass, I just -- there’s something I must tell ye,” I said. “Something about someone we both know and I…” 

 

She reached for my hand. “Then let’s get out of here, don’t you think?” 

 

We laid enough cash on the table to cover our bill and then some, and walked out the door. I felt her calm, patient eyes on me. “Is there somewhere you like to go to think?” She asked. “Or somewhere that’s beautiful?” 

 

“Aye.” 

 

The local park had a pond with benches all the way around, and in the almost-dark, it was nearly abandoned. Technically, it would be closed, but I dinna much care. Claire took my hand after we got out of the truck, and I led her to a park bench. 

 

“Is this about Randall?” Claire asked. “I knew from the moment I was first introduced to you, back when I was married, you must have had an encounter with him.” 

 

I sat her down, and took her other  hand in mine, so that I was clasping both of her hands in my lap. “I canna tell ye where we were,”I said, “and I canna say exactly when.” I took in a deep shuddering breath and let it out. “Ye ken the man’s a convicted traitor?” 

 

“Yes,” she said softly, “it was devastating for my first husband. He’d always held the man in such esteem.”

 

“I was an eyewitness,” I said, “an essential part of the prosecution that brought him down.” 

 

Her eyes shot up and met mine. There were rumors, of course, there was nothing to be done about the gossip machine that is the military. But nothing confirmed. “Jamie, I…” 

 

“My unit and I were captured,” I said. “I lost four members of my special-ops team to execution. I thought Ian and I were next. That’s when Randall appeared. Initially, I assumed he was there to help, that he had infiltrated the enemy. It quickly became evident that was… not the case.” 

 

I felt my heart race. I could look anywhere but her face. “You ken, there’s lots of places for power-hungry men in the military, but that was not Jonathan Randall’s… perversion.” 

 

Her breath quickened. I could hear it. I could not look at her. I could not… I closed my eyes. “Oh, Christ, Claire,” I muttered. 

 

“It’s okay,” she said, “oh, my love.” I felt her hands in my hair. “Tell me quick, like pulling off a bandage.” 

 

I huffed out a breath. “He likes men. He likes to take big, strong men and make them bloody, wretched animals. And then he likes to fuck them, to bring them to their knees and make them suck his cock. And….” 

 

My stomach turned. I gagged. 

 

Claire rushed me to a bin, helped me bend over it, and let me lose the supper I’d just eaten. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I said over and over again

 

“No, no,” she said, “Oh, my love. So -- the scars on your back, on your legs, they --” 

 

“Aye, most of them,” I said. “Some -- wee lad’s foolishness, and then still others the explosion that took Ian’s leg.”

 

She fit herself in my arms, drew them around her, laid her head in the spot where my neck and shoulder met that she’d called her own for the last few weeks. It seemed I only felt equilibrium when she was there, and I slowly came back to myself, sensing that she was rocking us back and forth. 

 

“It wouldna matter at all, ye ken,” I said, shaking my head, “only that I love ye sae, and I have not, since … weel.” 

 

“It matters,” Claire said. “Not in the way that you’re thinking. Not because you think you’re broken or I won’t be attracted to you or whatever thing it is you’re thinking. But because this is a big part of your story.” 

 

“Weel, I prefer the ending of it, ye ken,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I won’t… I donna want to tell ye how long or just what happened, I can’t remember much myself, but… we were rescued.” 

 

“Who? How?” 

 

This part of the story brought a grim smile to my face. “Sassenach called John Grey. He was in command of another troop, ye ken, and his codebreaker ran into some communication that didn’t seem… right. Weel, long story short, they hauled Ian and I out of the cave in the middle of the night, then blew the whole camp to hell. It was on our trip back to the field hospital that Ian lost his leg and I got the shrapnel embedded in my back.” 

 

“And it was shortly after that that you screamed bloody murder for having a nurse assigned to you named Claire Randall ,” she said softly. “That makes sense.” 

 

“Aye.” The word came out strangled from my mouth. I’d missed out on knowing Claire for so long and yet… and yet I knew I wouldn’t have been ready for her four years ago. She laid kisses to my neck, rubbed my shoulders. “Thank Christ ye came back to me, Sassenach.” 

 

“Hm, you may believe in Christ, but that might have had more to do with Ian,” Claire disagreed, “Ian selling North Carolina like a paradise across the water.” 

 

“I couldna live in England after, and our land in Scotland -- it’s nae sae profitable. The government was willing to help us… get away. Very embarrassing business, traitors and rapists in the military,” I said, recalling with some grim amusement the process of selling our land, a part of the ordeal that had nearly killed me, getting visas and greencards and… 

 

Claire pulled my head down a bit. “I’d very much like to kiss you, soldier.” 

 

“I’d like you to kiss me, too.” I drew her down by the pond. “Mayhap after I’ve brushed my teeth?” 

 

She nodded, and we started to walk back to the truck. 

 

**

 

Claire, April 2014

 

We held hands the whole way, but didn’t speak. The horror of what he’d been through sat like ash in my mouth. My impression of him had always been that he was a strong man, steady as an oak tree. I could see the cracks in the armor now, the things he didn’t want to talk about, the scars.

 

They somewhat matched my own. I remembered the short reign of terror Jonathan Randall had while he was captain of the field hospital -- and I remembered when they came to take him away. If I’d known then what I know now… 

 

I might have shot him myself. 

 

Jamie took me to the door of my apartment. “Well, lass,” he said… “I…” 

 

“Come in,” I said, opening the door. “Please. We don’t have to… do anything you don’t want to do, but I would like to hold you.” 

 

He gasped and laughed at the same time. “Aye, weel, I’d very much like to hold ye too.” 

 

I walked him back to my bedroom, and slipped off my shoes. “Can I change into something a bit less…?” 

 

“Aye, lass, whatever you want.” He turned like a gentleman. I chuckled and fetched an oversized t-shirt emblazoned with the Fraser’s Ridge logo, which I had stolen when we painted one of the outbuildings. I stripped down to my panties and the t-shirt, and crawled in bed. 

 

“You can get comfortable too,” I said. “If you want. Whatever makes you..” 

 

He drew his shirt over his head and pushed his jeans down while he toed off his boots.I found myself laying next to him while he wore nothing but his boxer shorts and a smile. “I meant what I said lass, since Randall I havena…”

 

“We can go as slow as you want,” I assured him. “Or as fast. I’ll let you decide what you need.” 

 

“I think I need -- to kiss ye.” 

 

He rolled me over, braced his weight on his elbows and took my mouth. He was a good kisser, I knew that already, but the weight of him pressed on me awakened something elemental in me. I felt a tingle, an ache, a moisture between my thighs that said woman, welcome him home . I spread my legs so that he could press his center to mine. I rocked my hips helplessly. 

 

He kissed me, my neck, my cheek, my ear. He palmed my breasts through my shirt, with thick fingers and rough palms. 

 

“Oh, Jamie,”I let out a breath when he took a nipple between his teeth. “Oh, my God…” 

 

“I want ye,” he said in my mouth. “I want ye to come, aye? Nothing would make me feel better, lass, than to have you redeem me with your come.” 

 

“Put your leg between my thigh,” I gasped, “keep doing that with your teeth and I…”

 

Suddenly, I had a thick Highland thigh wedged between my legs, right where my needy clit needed it and I rocked up. He kissed my nipples and sucked them and I tried desperately to get enough friction between my legs. 

 

“Oh, please touch me,” I moaned. “Please…” 

 

He slipped his hand underneath the cotton of my panties, a pointer finger found just the right spot and circled and pressed and I…

 

Came

 

Shaking, rocking in his arms, my eyes wide with shock. “Oh my Christ in heaven, oh my God.” 

 

He pulled my panties down and I was helpless to stop him. He bent and kissed my thighs. Then set to work between my thighs…

 

Sometime later, he was laying next to me. I was sated, satisfied as I could be without penetrative sex. And he had yet to come. 

 

“Do you want me to…?” 

 

“Nae, Sassenach. I donna want the first time I’m ever inside ye to be tonight.” He kissed me again and again. 

 

“Then can I… I can with my hand, you know,” I said, blushing. 

 

Jamie shook his head. “That’s nae how I want it to go, either. Just… trust me, Claire, I feel more like a man tonight than I have in four years.” 

 

“All right.” Hesitant to push for more, I curled around him, let him wrap his arms around me. “For the record -- you are such a man.” 

 

He let out a laugh. “Aye and ye make me feel like one.” 

 

“It’s how you walk and how you talk and how you carry yourself,” I said. “How you’re so gentle with Jenny and me and your nieces and nephews. How you help Ian without making him feel like he’s less of a person. You got hurt and you’re healing,” I continued. “That’s all very… mannish behavior.” 

 

“Ah, Sassenach, ye will make me blush. Shall I write you a novel on all the ways I can tell you’re the pinnacle of woman, now?” 

 

I laughed, kissed his arm and closed my eyes. “Save it for a day when I really need to hear it, hmm?”

 

I never heard what he had to say about that idea, because I drifted off to sleep in his arms for the very first time.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: I’ve Seen Sunny Days That I Thought Would Never End

 

Claire, April 2014

 

I awoke the next morning with my head on Jamie’s broad chest, my hand reaching across it to his shoulder. We had neither of us slept well, I thought -- for all the romance novels I had ever read, where mystical connection between two lovers provided an easy transition to sharing a sleeping space, I had always found it the more difficult proposition, far more difficult than sex. That we had both slept at all was a good sign. It takes a while to get used to the weight of a body next to yours, the sounds they make by virtue of being alive, someone else sharing covers and blankets and space

 

But on the whole, Jamie was a pleasant partner. He smelled good -- he’d showered before our date obviously, with something suitably pineish and manny, probably purchased by Jenny -- and the scent of the sweat we’d worked up together was clean and good, to my more Earthy tastes. He didn’t snore or seize covers from me -- in fact, he seemed to run warm, and though he’d squawked a little when I laid my cold feet between his, he’d eventually resigned himself to his fate. 

 

He was not quite awake yet, and that was fine by me. I watched the sun creep up in my morning window, casting light across his face, and got to appreciate all of the colors in and around red his hair really was -- auburn at points, russet, gold, thick and heavy, somewhat curled -- not like mine, but more wavy. 

 

I was trying to figure out what particular shade of red I would call a lock by his ear when he drew in a deep breath and let it out. “Yer staring, Sassenach.” 

 

I smiled, and laid my hand flat on the center of his chest, watching his eyes open slowly. “Good morning.” 

 

“Good morning to ye, lass,” he said, and lifted the hand from his chest to kiss the open palm. “Did ye sleep weel?” 

 

I nodded, deciding to sidestep absolute truth in favor of almost-truthful pleasantries. “Did you?” 

 

“I didna have a dream,” he said, smiling slowly. “So I count it a victory, aye?” 

 

“Aye,” I said back, teasingly. “Verra fine morning then.” 

 

He threw his head back and laughed and tossed us both over so that he was comfortably on top of me again. “Ye make fun, Claire?” 

 

“You’re very Scottish in the morning,” I said, taking his face in my palms. “I can almost picture you some sort of Highland warrior this early in the morning, wearing a kilt and riding out to fend off some cattle raiders or an English lord.” 

 

“My ancestors did,” he said. “And I’ve a kilt around here somewhere… it’s not just the mornings where I tend to be very Scottish, ye ken? It’s holidays, evenings, when I’ve had a drink or two…” 

 

“All right then,” I laughed. “You’re very Scottish all the time. It’s very attractive, you know.” 

 

He kissed my cheek, and then made his way down to my neck. “As long as ye say so, Sassenach.” 

 

My eyes nearly crossed his lips made it further, and further, and further down my body… “Oh, I do.” 

 

Sometime later, I was very pleased with him and myself, and we were both dressed -- myself in a new set of clothes, Jamie in what he’d worn the night before. We walked the short distance to the shared kitchen where Jenny was likely making breakfast, not holding hands, but close enough our hips frequently touched, and he found reasons to touch my back, my arm, hold the door open for me and pat me lightly on the arse as I walked by. 

 

We walked into the morning chaos of a family with small children. There was some discussion about what was to be done for the day, among shouts from wee Jamie about cereal, and then watching cartoons. The baby was trying rice cereal for the first time, a little ahead of the doctor’s advice, but Jenny waved that off -- she was nursing so frequently and never seemed satisfied, it seemed like the right time to add something else to her diet. 

 

Murtagh showed up, grabbed one of the bagels that Jenny kept just for him and slathered it in cream cheese. Not his preference, he’d assured me, but it was blessed convenient and kept him focused. He and Jamie went over the plan for the day, and then Jamie kissed my cheek in full view of everyone and gave me the slow blink that counted as a wink, since he was not capable of such a gesture, and walked out. 

 

“Are we kissing the lass before we leave now?” Murtagh called out, teasing.

 

“I’ll thank ye not to kiss Claire,” Jamie said, from the doorway. “I think she’s a strong preference to save her kisses for me.” 

 

“Is that so lass?” Murtagh asked, his eyes twinkling.

 

I tapped my other cheek. “I’ll accept one on this side from you, since I’m in such a good mood this morning.” 

 

He bussed my cheek and chuckled. “A good mood? Aye, well done, Jamie my lad.” Then he, too, walked out. And I was left with a very canny Jenny Fraser Murray looking at me through narrowed eyes, a very pleased expression on her face. 

 

“So ye spent the night with my brother.” 

 

I was expecting the question, so I didn’t spit out any of the coffee I’d poured into a mug decorated in Shakespearean insults that I’d come to love over my short time there. I swallowed instead, and nodded. “I guess there’s no use trying to hide it. Not that I would want to.” 

 

Jenny’s face was slowly overtaken by a smile. “Good. Aye, I’ve prayed every day for four years for God to send my brother even a wee bit of happiness, and I haven’t seen him so well pleased with himself for a verra long time.” 

 

“Yes, well, he should be,” I said, softly enough I thought she might not hear, but hear me she did and she let out a joyful shout of laughter.”  

 

“Good, I’m glad to hear it,” she said, ever the practical Scot. “As much as one sister could ever hope to be glad of hearing of her brother’s… skill..” 

 

I turned a bright red, and so did she, and we both fell to giggling like school girls. 

 

I spent my day the way I frequently did, working in the garden until the sun was high in the sky, weeding, for the most part, as well as watering and monitoring growth. Some sort of bug was going after some of my seedlings, so I judiciously applied Seven. I’d taken to wearing a large straw hat while I was working, as well as some thick leather gloves. The sun was good, as therapeutic as the night with Jamie had been in terms of recovering from the destruction of my marriage with Frank, but it was not so good on my fair English skin. 

 

I noticed with some interest a group of school girls arriving mid-day for a riding lesson. Murtagh had their horses saddled as soon as they arrived, but it was Jamie who patiently walked them through the basics -- beginners, then, I thought, especially since he was working so much with them on the use of reins. Jamie himself was such a communicative horseman that, like his warrior ancestors of old, he frequently did not need to use his hands to tell a horse what to do -- his thighs were more than enough. 

 

Thinking of his thighs, and of riding, was enough to turn me flush again. He had pleasured me several times in the night, but had not allowed me the joy of sitting astride him quite yet -- which I was very much looking forward to -- or having him inside of me. 

 

Desire, a now-familiar ache, spread out from my loins. I let the hat slip further down my brow as I worked to rid a patch of ground of crabgrass, which was stubborn and thick at the root. Mindlessly, I cleared the ground around me while I revisited scenes from  last night in my mind, expanding on them and fleshing them out with the avenues he wasn’t quite ready to take. I knew, before last night, from all of the times we’d been so wondrously engaged in touching each other in flickering firelight, that Jamie had rough palms but they were gentle and careful. I knew his lips were chapped but soft. I didn’t quite know, exactly, just how overwhelming it would be to have his entire being focused on mine, how his single-minded stubbornness could be so delicious in bed. 

 

I loved the heavy weight of him over me, I loved the way he took the time to figure out which kisses felt the best. I loved…

 

I felt myself go a little weak and dizzy at the realization that I was having. My heart fluttered in my chest. I pressed a palm to my sternum. 

 

It’s not that I’d ever thought, except in my most secret, melodramatic moments, brought on by the fact of my youth, the first few times that Frank and I had come to the brink of divorce, that there would never be anyone after him. I knew myself, the desires of my body and soul, too well to think there would never be anyone to follow in Frank’s footsteps. But it was more than a little disconcerting to realize just how fast it had happened.

 

Maybe it was all too fast. Maybe, just like it had been with Frank, I was looking for someone to be my home in the world, to be an anchor, someplace, someone to count on. Was that fair to ask of anyone? Was that…?



“Claire?” Jamie was all of a sudden in front of me. “Are ye all right, lass?” 

 

“I think I’m having a little panic attack,” I managed to say. “It’s not… I just need to breathe.” 

 

“All right then,” Jamie said, sitting in front of me. “With me, then. Breathe in.” He took slow, deep, calming breaths with me, squeezing my hand as we inhaled, relaxing as we exhaled.

 

After a few minutes, I looked up at him through the brim of my hat. He smiled and pushed it off my forehead. “Better now?”

 

“Yes,” I said. “I’m sorry, I got a little bit carried away on a train of thought and I couldn’t quite pump the brakes in time.” 

 

“Dinna fash. Happens to me, too. I usually, you know -- punch a wall or something. This might be better.” 

 

I nodded. “Will you help me get up? I think I’m going to walk back to the house and get some water.”

 

“I’ll walk with ye,” Jamie said, gallantly offering me his arm.

 

“Oh, but I thought you were teaching…” I turned my eyes back towards the paddock. 

 

“Murtagh’s walking them through the cool down, then he’ll take care of the tack and all. He and I both saw you tumble a bit, lass, and wanted to make sure you were fine.” 

 

“Oh.” I flushed again. I prayed he wouldn’t ask me what had made me so distraught, and he didn’t. He just held my hand the distance back to the farmhouse, where he let Jenny make both of us a few sandwiches and pour big glasses of lemonade. 

 

When he went back to work, he kissed me lingeringly. “Therapy today?” he asked. 

 

“Yes,” I said firmly. 

 

“And you’ll talk about --” 

 

I nodded. 

 

“Good.” He kissed me again. “I ken it doesn’t help, but ye did manage to scare the life out of me there for a minute, Claire.” 

 

“Well, I feel quite foolish.” I dusted my jeans off, imagining some dust to take my eyes away from his. 

 

“Dinna,” Jamie said, kissing me one final time. “We’re all only human, after all.” 

 

I laughed, and he took his leave of me. I had a few minutes before I should get ready to go to therapy and I spent that time mindlessly swiping through my phone, trying to get calm enough to drive. Jenny came in through the kitchen door, her purse slung over her hip. “Right then, are you ready?” She asked me.

 

I was taken aback. “For what?” 

 

“To go in tae town,” she said. “Jamie canna take ye today and he said ye might want a ride. I have some errands tae run, and if I leave this house, I’ll get a blessed hour away from the bairns. What do you think?” 

 

I nodded, and we left the house together. 

 

I’ve said before that my life before all of this was lonely. I hadn’t grown up with a family -- I’d had my parents for such a precious little while that my memories of them were faint impressions that could be called upon in moments of great distress but very rarely could I conjure up casual memories of their presence. Uncle Lamb had done his best and he was, when he was alive, extremely good company. My marriage had been fulfilling in its early days, but I had never had what Ian and Jenny and Jamie were slowly providing me with now -- unquestioning, uncompromising support. 

 

We talked of everything and nothing on the fifteen-minute drive into town. Recipes Jenny wanted to try, the development of the kids, Ian’s ideas to expand the distillery and dip more into agro-tourism. Jenny was a good driver, competent and confident the way she seemed about anything. But she did mention that it had taken her a while to get used to the roads here -- not, she’d said, with a laugh -- that she’d had much choice. 

 

“Jamie told me last night,” I said, wringing my hands in my lap. “I’m sure he didn’t tell me everything, but he told me… some things.” 

 

“Aye, I was suspecting he did,” Jenny said with a nod, turning into the parking lot of the strip mall I was still getting used to which housed my therapist’s office. “He’s been very tender with ye, today. I ken in some ways he knows it’s hard on us in a different way.” 

 

“He’s a very astute man,” I said, twisting my non-existent ring. “In so many ways.” 

 

“Aye.” Jenny huffed out a breath. “And terrifyingly competent and sure of himself, he is. If you’re not careful, he’ll have ye convinced he can withstand anything. But, somehow, I ken that willna be a problem for ye, Claire. I sense ye admire him, but ye can see the flesh and blood man underneath all of that willpower and drive.” 

 

I nodded. “I hope so. He’s very special, Jamie Fraser.” 

 

“So are you,” Jenny said, and reached over and squeezed my hand. “I’m going to get us a very good bottle of wine and we can share it after supper, aye?” 

 

I nodded once more, overwhelmed by feelings of sisterly tenderness.

 

“How are things?” Geillis Duncan asked me, as soon as I was settled in the office. 

 

“Fine, for the most part,” I said, crossing one leg over the other. “I’ve experienced just a few moments of… overwhelm, since we started the last medication. But not as much as before I came here.” 

 

She nodded and made a mark on her ever-present legal pad. “Good. When was your last one?”

 

My throat went dry. But I knew, as well as any medical professional knows, that the only way to heal a wound is to be honest about the process. “This morning.” I reached for the bottle of water she was instantly handing me, having grown to know me extremely well in the last few weeks. “I was looking at Jamie. We had kind of an… intense moment, last night.” 

 

“Did ye now?” She marked that down. “Did the strategies we worked on help pull you out of it?” 

 

I nodded. “That and some deep breathing. Jamie’s got some… experience with these things. He helped ground me.” 

 

“Good.” She leaned forward. “I think maybe it’s time we start talking about what led you here, to my office, Claire. I think it’s time you tell me about Frank.” 

 

And so I did -- I started at the beginning, at the beginning of everything. I tried to be as objective and calm as I could. I had been eighteen. Frank was twenty-five. He was more a colleague of my Uncle than a contemporary of mine. But he had been suave, and kind, and compassionate. And I think, I told Geillis Duncan, I really did believe that he loved me. 

 

We were married a day short of my nineteenth birthday and we each pursued our interests. Geillis raised her eyebrows. “You didn’t live together?” she asked.

 

“It wasn’t practical to,” I said. “And Frank and I were both very… practical people, in the end.” 

 

She tilted her head, but nodded. “I see.” 

 

I told her about going to nursing school and basic training. He was never more than a phone call away -- emails, texting, all the things couples today did to make the distance seem somehow less but yet it always seemed to make it feel more . The weekends we got together, our passion for each other was explosive. But we never had to make the small adjustments that truly living together required. We could each live our lives in a way that made us happy, while being committed to each other. Or so I thought. 

 

“I think… I think the marriage for me might have been a bit of a security blanket, especially after Uncle Lamb died. He was much older than my parents and in poor health to begin with. There was security in having family. Frank’s parents were nice, but they weren’t… overly welcoming, at any rate, but he had them, you know?” 

 

“I do.” Geillis leaned forward. “I think it’s fair to say, Claire, that one of the things you were looking for in a romantic relationship is a foundation on which to build a family for yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s one the most basic human needs, to have a tribe, a family, a group of people who care about you.” 

 

“I stayed for a long time, after I knew he’d been cheating.” I told her -- about the parade of young grad assistants, so much like I’d once been, enamored of his intelligence and charm. “Not because I didn’t respect myself, I don’t think, but because…” I waved a hand. “I needed the security of being married.” 

 

Geillis nodded. “What brought the house down, then?” 

 

“I finally knew I was strong enough to leave. I’d been talking to Ian -- we’d gotten really close while rehabbing his leg, and I knew and liked Jenny, his wife. He knew how unhappy I was.” I drew in a breath. “He told me, if I ever wanted to start a new life, he and Jenny would make a place for me here. Neither one of them can say no to a stray puppy, I’ve noticed.” 

 

“You’ll have to tell me more about how you came to know them,” Geillis said. “For now, our time is up. Claire -- you should be really proud of yourself. I know there’s a lot we haven’t talked about, but I will say -- you married a man very young, and you were with him for a long time, and it’s okay that it took you a while to come to the conclusion that it was over. It shows you didn’t take marriage lightly, and that’s not a bad thing. For what it’s worth, I do think you made the right decision.” 

 

I nodded -- we exchanged good-byes, and I left. My hands were shaky and my knees were weak. But Jenny was waiting for me outside the office with a big bottle of wine and a pint of Coldstone Cookie Dough ice cream. 

 

She drew me under her arm and gave me a squeeze. “Feeling okay?” She asked.

 

“Not right at this moment,” I said. “But I think… I think I’ll get there.”

 

"Good," Jenny said, grinning. "Let's go home and drink wine until you do."

 

I burst into laughter. "I've never heard of a grander plan in all my life. Lead on, Jenny Murray!" 

 

“Not right at this moment,” I said. “But I think… I think I’ll get there.”

Chapter Text

Jamie, May 2014

 

I miss Scotland the most when the seasons change. When winter gives way to spring and spring to summer, summer to autumn, autumn to winter -- you expect certain smells, certain sights. Some things are universal, but some things are unique to my homeland, and to be missing those, well, it can take a man a minute to grieve and then move on. It’s not as though I canna go back -- I wasna exiled, I did nothing wrong. It just feels that way, sometimes. 

 

The decision to come here was one we made as a family. It broke my heart to leave Lallyborch behind, but not as much as it broke Jenny’s. Ian and I had left home, traveled the world. Jenny had never had such desires. She’d gone to school, gotten a degree in business management, and come home, hoping to resurrect the family farm with Da. Every spare penny I had from my deployments I sent home to aid in that endeavor. 

 

But then, I had been captured, and news of the almost-certain death of his son had killed my Da. He’d had a weak heart, we’d known that much, and it simply gave out, Jenny said, when they gave him the news. Maybe that explained why I had so frequently felt his presence, and the strength to endure -- Da had simply been lending me what he could from beyond the grave. And I was grateful to him, if not more than a little guilty for his death. 

 

As Ian and I were preparing to testify -- there were pressures on all sides of us. The looks in the village, the whispers at church. Jenny had held her head high. Meanwhile, estate tax grew, the centuries-old farm house fell around our shoulders, sometimes literally, and then -- Jenny fell pregnant. 

 

Ian had come to me, overjoyed but worried. Randall had friends in high places -- friends who had, for years, covered up his perversions and inclinations. Friends who would rather not have their part in the cover-up exposed. Staying in Scotland could very well be dangerous, we knew that, and while each of us were fine risking our own lives, the life of a wee bairn, helpless to defend itself, well -- that was something else entirely.

 

We stayed up late of an evening, Jenny and Ian and I, in the ancient kitchen with its creaking windows and doors, trying to come to some conclusion. 

 

“The historical society would buy the property in a heartbeat,” Jenny said. “We never could afford to make many improvements, so it’s as vintage as they please, and they might offer enough money to cover the back taxes on the property.” 

 

I nodded. “Maybe, with their resources, they could afford to make some of the repairs we never could.” 

 

Ian poured me a tumbler of whiskey and took one for himself. “I’ve a contact I could call, see if they’re interested. At least then we’d know the property would go to folks who would care for the place as much as yer family has.” 

 

I nodded solemnly. “So… where do we go from  here?” 

 

“It might be safer to move to a city?” Jenny asked, laying a hand flat on her stomach in an age-old gesture. “More people -- easier to be more anonymous, in a city.” 

 

Ian made a noise of assent, although I could tell he wasn’t mad about the idea, but then, neither was I. 

 

“Christ,” I swore. “The very last fucking place I want to be is a city.” 

 

Jenny cleared her throat. “There’s always Uncle Colum.” 

 

Silence reigned for a few seconds before I swore violently again. To say that the two sides of my family -- mother and father’s -- had never gotten along would be an incredible understatement. My uncles had been fond of my mother (maybe a little too fond), and none of the men she’d ever dated had been good enough for them. They went out of their way to torture and run off all of them, until they encountered one who was just as stubborn, if not more, than they were. Brian Fraser, my Da. Nothing they did drove away Brian Fraser.

 

Then Ma got pregnant with Willie, and Colum and Dougal had wanted to march the both of them off in front of a priest, but Ma wouldn’t be rushed, and Da, from what he always said, deferred to Ma as much as possible when she was carrying a bairn. And so they waited until her sixth month and got married quietly, just the two of them and two witnesses. 

 

But things were never quite the same after that. Uncle Colum had moved to America. Dougal had a short run at politics, but wasn’t popular except with a a very small number of enthusiastic people. He’d died a few years ago, which just left uncle Colum in the family. And now he wasn’t doing so well, either. 

 

“We could move to America quietly,” Jenny said, reaching for my hand. “Take over, as Uncle Colum has offered to ye time and time again. Ye knew ye’d slowly die if ye made yerself work in an office or live in a city.” 

 

A glance at Ian confirmed that he was of the same mind, though it was killing all of us. A fury, cold and clammy, swept through me. I rose to my feet and threw my tumbler at the wall. 

 

“After all that bastard’s taken from me,” I growled, “now he gets to take Scotland , too!” 

 

“Maybe not forever,” Jenny said, rising to her feet and coming to hug me. I wrapped one arm around her while my heart beat wildly in my chest. “But just for now. Jamie…. I ken ye don’t want to leave, but I just…” 

 

She laid her head on my arm. She was too short to reach my shoulder. I could feel the sobs wracking her body. “I need ye to come with us. I canna lose my da, my brathair, my mother, and my Jamie, aye? I need ye, ye’re the only thing I have left.” 

 

I raised my eyes and locked with Ian’s. He nodded at me. “I dinna want to lose ye either, lass.” 

 

So it was decided. The land was sold, our things were packed and shipped, and we followed soon after. Uncle Colum wasn’t long for the world, but he got us going on what he’d managed to achieve so far. And now.

 

Now the sun was rising over the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, right in my backyard. And I was humming tunelessly as I went about my morning chores. There was endless amount of fence to fix -- seemed I spent more than a third of my life fixing fence -- and animals to feed and water, of course. We had few crops but what few we had, had to be tended to. As much as I missed Scotland, North Carolina had become home.

 

I flattered myself to think that maybe it was becoming home for Claire, as well. I spent more and more of my nights with her. We slept curled around each other, falling asleep talking late into the night, her eyes the color of my favorite of whiskey. She told me more of her life before, and I gave her pieces, bits at a time, of what had made me into me. 

 

I’d never felt anything quite like this. The lust, I was familiar with. But the bone-deep ache to know someone, to be able to predict what they would do and why they would do it, to know how her brilliant mind worked -- that was new. I was more and more familiar with her body, the way it tasted and moved underneath and on top of mine. 

 

I’d kissed her this morning, before I left. She’d groaned a little -- Claire hated waking up in the morning -- and snuggled further into her bed, the sheets tangled around that pearl-white skin and my breath caught and I knew , just knew that everything I’d ever fought for -- all the times I’d crawled my way back from oblivion without knowing why, was because the Blessed Virgin had me in mind for Claire, and Claire for me, and I had to live just to see that moment. 

 

Deo. Gratias.



Jenny, May 2014



I missed Scotland more than usual today. Jamie, Ian and I, we hardly ever talk about it. But Scotland is in our blood, part of the fabric that makes us whole. None of us ever thought to leave it. And certainly, I had never thought we would flee it. 

 

I keep my children close to me, maybe closer than I should. The business is making a little money now -- not much, but a little. We could afford to send wee Jamie off to a preschool for a few days a week, so he could learn his letters and numbers and his counting, and get some wee friends to play with. But I’m a selfish mother, for all the bairns drive me crazy. I want them close and underfoot. I want them to hear the rhythms and patterns of the way their uncle Jamie and Da and I talk, so they sound like us, look like us. I know I’m holding on to something it may not be possible to preserve. 

 

I know it’s not what we’re supposed to want these days -- but all I ever wanted was Ian Murray. I fell for him when I was fourteen and he was sixteen. He was skinny then, and sort of awkward, but he had the kindest eyes and he was oh so polite and careful. And gentle. Oh, how gentle my Ian is, down to his core. 

 

I wept for days when he and Jamie enlisted together. I didna think I could ever forgive him. And I wept still longer when they both went for special forces training. I went to university, I studied for my degree. But all I wanted was Ian Murray. 

 

And he came home to me. Every time he came home, he came home to me. And the first time we made love, God forgive me, in the grass in the field, laid out on a polyester picnic blanket, his hands were so large over my wee breasts and his mouth was so demanding and eager, I felt quite overwhelmed but I felt, yes, God, please -- this is what I want, to be so thoroughly Ian Murray’s. 

 

I was scared at the time -- scared that what I felt wasn’t at all what he felt, that I would scare him with how big and deep I felt things. Ian’s so quiet, ye ken, he can fool even me into thinking he’s a shallow pool. But he’s deep, so deep and so quiet. He told me later that he felt a sense of rightness, of justice, when he slid home in me, and so much pleasure, aye, he never wanted to leave. 

 

When he rolled over, my virgin blood on my thighs, skin glistening in the August heat, he took my hand in his and kissed my ring finger. “Ye’ll be my wife, then?” 

 

“In my mind,” I said, bold as brass, “I’ve been yer wife for a very long time, Ian Murray. I suppose it’s time we let the rest of the world in on the secret.” 

 

We married as quickly as the Church would allow, and he was off again. And then next time I saw him was in the rehabilitation hospital. It was a struggle, because the Army had sanded away some of his gentleness, and he felt somehow less with one leg. We had our fights, our screaming matches, our nights where he wept, or I wept, and we clung together or pushed each other away. 

 

That’s not to say that it’s done now, that my Ian is okay with how this all shook out. He still gets angry sometimes, or frustrated when things don’t come as easily he thinks they ought. But that’s rarer, these days. Especially now that we’ve had the bairns. 

 

I knew when I picked him all those years ago that he’d be a great da… the way any teenaged girl knows things -- it’s not the truth of knowing, really, but the conceit of thinking you’ve got the world all figured out. I was so relieved to find it true. And though we’ve sort of kept things traditional -- it works for us, that I stay home with the bairns and he does his work with the distillery -- he still plays with them every minute he can, gives them baths, loves on them unconditionally, and helps out as much as he can. I’ll keep having bairns with Ian Murray.

 

It’s not just the having them and the raising them that I love, ye ken. It’s also the making of them. I’m just Scottish enough to be a little suspicious when something is so thoroughly good, but, aye, there’s nothing like having your man in your bed. 

 

At present, Ian was inside of me, kissing my neck and muttering in Gaelic the way he always did. Dirty, sweet things that made me flush and made me tingle. I could never tell him to hush, never get tired of it. 

 

He palmed my breast, heavier and rounder these days from feeding Maggie, and kissed my ear, his hips pumping away. I arched mine to meet his until the climax overtook me and I shook something fierce while he emptied himself inside of me. 

 

“Shouldna have done that if we don’t want another bairn just yet,” he muttered as he rolled over, “but Christ, Jenny, you have the most wonderful cunt in all the world.” 

 

I laughed and kissed his arm. “I want all the bairns you can give me, Ian Murray. They’ve all got your eyes so far and the world needs more beauty in it.” 

 

My sweet Ian gave me another kiss and walked to the bathroom to get us a rag to wash up with. “I canna say as I would object to another, either.” And that was all he said about that. 

 

I laid a hand flat on my stomach and said a wee prayer to the Virgin, as I always did. Protection for any of the unborn children that lay in my womb, or that were ahead of us in time. I felt a motherly presence just touch me and then leave. 

 

“I had a case of the homesickness today,” I told Ian as he handed me the cloth. “Missed Scotland something terrible.” 

 

Ian nodded. “Same. Jamie said something of the sort as well. Must have been something in the air.” 

 

“Do you ever regret it? I ken, ye and Jamie would have never lift if it weren’t for me and wee Jamie in my womb.” 

 

“No.” Ian took my hand and squeezed it roughly. “I will never, ever regret any of the sacrifices we make for our family. I count it a blessing that I had a bairn to protect at all, that I had a brother in arms and in law who would pick up his whole life and come across an ocean with me, that I had a wife who loved me so completely. Aye, I miss Scotland. But.” He took my hand in the palm of his hand and rubbed a thumb across my cheek. “I took the best parts of Scotland with me.” 

 

**

 

Claire, May 2014

 

Jamie and I often take long walks after supper. We talk about everything and nothing and I fall deeper in love with him, though I haven’t managed to say it out loud just yet. 

 

“Can ye be marrit in a church, Sassenach?” he asked me, one night as we were passing the stables. “It’s no’ a huge barrier if ye canna, but…” 

 

“Yes.” I turned to him. “Well, I will be able to shortly, I hope. There will be little reason to withhold my annulment when it becomes clear that Frank was… deceptive when he took his marriage vows.” 

 

Jamie nodded. “Aye, I can see that.” 

 

My Catholicism had, for a large part of my life, been mostly nominal. But I could see how important it was to Jamie and Jenny and Ian, and so I had quietly started the process a few weeks ago to dissolve my wedding to Frank in the eyes of the Church. It would be an expensive process, but it might well be healing, or so I hoped. 

 

“I hope someday, I…” Jamie cleared his throat. “Well, I ken ye probably aren’t ready to hear grand proposals just yet but I mean to say that I don’t take women lightly, take relationships lightly. Someday, I’d like ye to be my wife.” 

 

A part of me thrilled. “I think I’d like that too, someday.” 

 

He pulled me close and kissed me, smelling of Earth and air and horse, a little bit. The way he always did. And I loved him so fiercely that I hoped nothing would ever touch that moment when we seemed to understand each other so perfectly. 

 

We walked back to my apartment over the garage and shared a glass of wine and then fell into bed together, undressing each other lazily, and easily. Little kisses as skin was exposed, quick touches, we were so hungry to be naked and together. 

 

“Touch me, Sassenach?” he’d whispered in my ear, and I felt a stirring in between my thighs. He so rarely asked for anything, bringing me to orgasm over and over again, night after night, but never allowing anything for himself. 

 

We went slowly. I caressed his chest, thumbed his nipples. Kissed his pectoral muscles and admired the triangle that led the eye so unerringly to his cock. I kissed my way down, down, down.

 

“May I?” I asked, looking up into his eyes. 

 

“I donna think I will survive it, but what a way to go,” he gasped, and I took him inside my mouth. 

 

I have known women who don’t like the act of oral sex, but I like it. There’s something earthy about it, a little naughty, but so much… power. You may be on your knees but it is the man who is in your grasp then. You are in, that moment, his whole world.

 

Jamie laid his hands on my head, grasping my curls without pulling. His breath came hard and fast. “Sassenach…” 

 

“Just warn me,” I said, pulling away for a second. “Just tell me before you come.”

 

His hips jerked once, twice. “Claire, I…”

 

I pulled away at the last second, letting him mark my breasts. He stared at me in wonder. “I think my heart is going to burst.” 

 

I laughed. “I’ll give you a few minutes to recover,” I said, reading for a facial tissue. “And then, it’s my turn.”

Chapter Text

Chapter: 

 

Claire, June 2014

 

Given the fact that I hadn’t been particularly given to them as a child, even in the aftermath of the tragedy of my parent’s death, the fact that my brain, which was by its nature rational and given to making lists rather than daydreams, had turned to nightmares to help me cope was… distressing

 

The first one caught me well off-guard. I have a tight control on my consciousness on all planes, usually, and can stop a dream from going in a direction I don’t like, but this dream, I was powerless to stop. 

 

It was a place I didn’t recognize -- kind of a vague approximation of every hospital tent I’ve ever been in -- one of the quickly assembled ones, when there’s a skirmish and there needs to be a facility close. I was walking through rows and rows of cots, my arms bent at the elbow in front of my face, gloves on and secured to my sleeves -- I had prepped for surgery. 

 

“Where’s Jamie?” I started out just wondering it. Then I realized I was saying it, and then a sudden, terrible realization had come over me, where I came to know I was scrubbed in to operate on Jamie . “Where’s Jamie?!” 

 

The nurse who was leading me around -- I realized then I wasn’t the nurse, I was the surgeon, kept leading me through rows and rows of cots, cots with bleeding and broken men and women with the kind of war-time trauma that scarred the back of your eyelids so you always saw it when you laid down to sleep at night, but I could spare not one ounce of compassion for them, because none of them were Jamie

 

“Where are you taking me?” I grew more and more insistent, more panicked. My heart raced. If I was prepped for surgery, Jamie needed me. 

 

The nurse turned to face me. Up until that moment, she had been a blurry figure, quite without any distinct features. When I saw her face, I knew. She was Frank’s TA -- the last one, the final straw in the coffin of our marriage. Sweet-faced and freckled, a naive child. In the dream she took on a vindictive expression she never would have worn in real life. She said nothing, yet I knew -- she’d kept me from Jamie long enough that he died.

 

I screamed, and screamed and…

 

“Claire,” Jamie’s voice. Jamie’s hand on my arm. “Lass, it’s just a dream. Come back to me, for you’re breaking my heart.” 

 

I fought my way to the surface, out of the dream, to find a very worried-looking Jamie holding my hand. “Oh,” I said softly, “well, this is embarrassing.” 

 

“Nothing embarrassing about a bad dream every once in a while,” Jamie retorted, and kissed my cheek. “Want to talk about it?” 

 

“I’m not sure,” I said. “I’ve never really had anyone there to dissect nightmares for me.” 

 

A look swept over his face which he swiftly wiped off. It wasn’t quite pity, but it was quiet compassion. He bent and kissed me thoroughly. “Well, I’m always happy to help you dissect the nightmares, Sassenach.” 

 

“We could,” I said, “or…” I let my hand sweep over his chest, down to that clever, clever V that I loved so much, the one that directed your mind, and hand’s attention to his cock. He was as easily diverted as any other man his twenties would be, bless him. As soon as my hand wrapped around him, his eyes closed in bliss.

 

“I do like the way you think, Sassenach…” 

 

I let it lay that week, but I wrote it down and, later that week, in therapy, I brought the dream up with Geillis.

 

“It’s not terribly surprising that you didn’t want to discuss it with Jamie,” she said, “but that is something you might want to work on -- sharing your fears with Jamie.” 

 

“What do you mean?” 

 

“Claire, we’ve talked before about how protective you can be of your mind, your thoughts, what’s inside. You lost your parents at a young age. Your uncle Lamb was good to you, I know, but that rocks the foundation of a child’s world. You rushed into a marriage where you were treated as and felt like the junior partner. It’s natural to be a little protective after that. But if you want a true and lasting connection with any partner, but in this case, especially Jamie, you might want to tell him that losing him is the stuff of nightmares.” 

 

“We haven’t even told each other ‘I love you’!” I protested. “I can’t… look insane .” 

 

“Love is a kind of socially approved insanity,” Geillis said, half-smiling. “Not to be dismissive of your fears. But from everything you’ve told me about Jamie, I think that he would not think that you are insane. I’m sure he has his own fears.” 

 

“I’m a mess,” I said, helplessly. “I just worry that maybe it’s not right for me to saddle myself to someone else while I’m a wreck.” 

 

“You are the farthest thing from a wreck,” Geillis said, shaking her head. “You only feel like a wreck because normally you are very controlled and certain of yourself. Which you will be again. Stop trying to sabotage yourself, Claire. You deserve to be happy.” 

 

I thought about that for a long time. Did I deserve to be happy? I’m not sure any of us ever gets what we deserve, on balance. In Jamie’s arms I felt peace, security. The problem was the minute I left his arms, and the reality of the world, and the uncertainty I felt about everything in the world. 

 

Everything in the world except how I felt about him. I knew, down to my toes, that I loved him. A different kind of way than I had loved Frank, which had been sudden and overwhelming, like being pulled out with the tide. Falling in love with Jamie was slower, sweeter, but somehow deeper. Losing Frank, the family we were trying to build, had been devastating. What would it be to lose Jamie? And yet, time in war had taught me that nothing was certain, anything could be taken at any moment. 

 

So I had to decide to either hold fast and enjoy every moment we did have together, or fret with worry about possibilities vague and dire at all hours of the day night, or set him free in anticipation of pain yet to come. 

 

I tried to savor every minute, without worrying him, but he could see that something was bothering me. I could see he wanted to ask me, but he bided his time, until I woke up, panicked and near-screaming, a week later. 

 

“Claire, this canna go on,” he said. “Lass, what’s bothering ye so?” 

 

“It’s always the same,” I told him. “I’m prepped for surgery, in some kind of make-shift medical tent. I know there’s a terrible war on, or something, outside the walls. I’m walking through rows and rows of soldiers, horribly injured -- like the worst of everything I’ve ever seen, all jumbled together in some kind of nightmare. But I don’t care about any of it. I’m following this nurse, and I know she’s supposed to lead me to you, that you need me desperately. I start to call your name. She turns and -- it’s Frank’s latest mistress, the one right before the divorce. She smiles and I know -- I know it’s too late.” 

 

At this point, my eyes were leaking tears, so fierce as to be a river. Jamie took both my hands in his and kissed them fervently. 

 

“Ah, lass,” he said softly. “You know no other woman would ever keep me from you.” 

 

I laughed through the tears. “That’s what you got from that?” 

 

“I canna control some of it -- I have no intentions of ever going to war again, but it’s true that farming can be dangerous, so I willna make you any promise that I will live to a ripe old age, for we both know that wouldna be fair.” Jamie drew my palm to his mouth and kissed it once more. “And I have little doubt that you would push through armies o’ men if you thought I needed ye, Claire.” 

 

I studied his hands in mine. Beautiful hands, thick and rough with work. Hands that had loved me patiently, and then sometimes roughly, and sometimes sweetly. I looked up to his eyes, which were piercing and blue and full of love for me. 

 

“I think it’s more that I worry that I will… lose you,” I said, taking a deep breath, “without you ever having known how I feel about you.” 

 

“And how is that, Sassenach?” 

 

I swallowed. There was no need to panic. I heard rushing in my ears. “I love you, Jamie Fraser.” 

 

The grin that broke over his face was slow as sunrise -- slowly, and then all at once, crinkling at his eyes and the corners of his mouth. He drew me close to him and kissed me fiercely. “I love ye too, Claire Beauchamp.” He pushed me back on to the bed. “You make me so hungry, lass. Hungry for your words, for your thoughts, for your hands on me.” 

 

I spread my legs. He shucked his boxers and lay between them, and kissed my cheek and my neck. “Oh, my love,” I muttered. 

 

“Call me that again and let me have ye, Claire. In all ways tonight, let me have ye.” 

 

“You can have me always.” His hands stroked down my body, found the well of liquid between my legs. He caressed me there, flicked my clitoris lightly and made me gasp with want. 

 

“You are so wet, mo nighean donn, so wet and so perfect and so warm.” 

 

“You make me that way,” I gasped as he filled me with a finger, then two. Made sure his welcome was certain. 

 

“You make me hard as a rock,” he said, and I laughed again, arching my back at his perfect fingers inside of me, pumping in and out. “Will you go over for me just to watch, once, lass? Before I slide home in ye?” 

 

He bent, kissed my neck and, sliding down, found my breasts. His gentle mouth licked and laved while his fingers pumped, and then just at the right moment, just when I was pleading for more… I felt the slightest nip of his teeth on my nipple.

 

I felt the ripples and waves, echoing out from my core. I shook with it, the pleasure of it. He held me in his arms. 

 

“Now?” I asked, pulling his mouth to mine for a desperate kiss. “Will you fuck me now, Jamie?” 

 

“I canna wait,” he said in my ear.

 

“I do not want you to.” 

 

He pushed his way inside me, and I felt once more that delicious and strange queerness of being full of man, making a place for him inside my body which he would hopefully come to know and regard as his own. 

 

The look on his face was between pleasure and pain. “I do not wish to disgrace myself, Claire,” he whispered, “But I donna think I shall last long at all.” 

 

He set a quick rhythm, but a good one. He didn’t object to my fingers finding my clit, stroking myself a little while he sought his pleasure, while we sought pleasure together. 

 

“You have the most beautiful… beautiful…” he made no sense as he spoke now. “Perfect, gorgeous. Wet and tight, my darling, my love… mo nighean donn, I …” He released inside of m, crying out primally. He shook and bent to kiss me while we rode out his orgasm together. 

 

We held on to each other afterwards, touching, laughing, kissing, long after the sun was on its way up and Jamie should have been on his way to work. 

 

Our alarm clock went off and he turned it off. He reached for his night stand, took something out of the top drawer. It was a burgundy box, of a familiar size and shape.I felt my heart race. 

 

“Oh, Jamie,” I whispered. “You can’t mean…” 

 

“I thought to take you out,” he muttered. “In a month or so, so I wouldna look desperate, ye see. Get down on my knee on a restaurant and ask ye in front of God and everyone but now I see.” He shook his head. “That willna do for us. This is us, loving each other in the morning and through a bad night. No matter where we are, Claire, if I’m with ye then I will feel at home.” 

 

“Jamie…” 

 

He flipped open the lid of the box. A simple diamond solitaire on a platinum band. “I know you probably had a fancy ring with Frank, but I canna afford much. This was my mother’s. I’d like ye to wear it and be my wife.” 

 

My heart about beat out of my chest. “Oh, Jamie…” 

 

“What do you say, lass?” His eyes pled with mine. “Will ye?” 

 

I reached for the ring, slid it on my finger. “Yes.”