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A Place to Belong

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Another week had passed since the debacle of the missing body. Claire was in the kitchen helping Jenny prepare a few small meals for Ian. He had business in Edinburgh and would likely be gone for about a week. Though he’d be staying in a tavern, the less money he spent on meals, the better.

Jenny was chatting absently as they worked; Kitty was walking more and more now, and she was doing quite well with solid foods as long as they were smothered in strawberry jam.

“Even potatoes,” Jenny said. “It turned my stomach to see her eating such a vile mixture.”

Jenny looked up, expecting Claire to be chuckling as she was. Claire looked up and sighed uncomfortably.

“I’m sorry,” Claire said. “I promise I was listening, I just…”

“I ken.” Jenny sighed. “I’m sorry fer talking yer ear off. I canna help it. It’s the only thing that keeps me from thinking about…everything.”

“I understand.” Claire gave her a sad smile. “I find myself quieter than ever these days.”

“We’ll balance each other out then, will we no’?”

“I suppose.” Her smile widened a bit. “Potatoes and jam?”

Och , ye have to see it to believe it.” Jenny gathered their work and put it in a pouch for Ian’s travels. “Tell me, in all yer healer wisdom, when will she outgrow that?”

Claire chuckled softly. “I have no idea. Children hold onto the strangest things for the longest time.”

“I dinna think I can bear putting jam on a roast chicken, so she’d better outgrow it soon.”

The thought of it turned Claire’s stomach, and she had to brace herself on the high table.

“Oh…I’m sorry, sister. I didna mean to upset yer stomach anymore…”

“It’s quite alright…I think it’ll pass…” She reached into her pocket and retrieved the peppermint she’d been keeping there since their trip to Edinburgh. “This should help, either way.”

“It’s been getting better?”

“It has, actually.”

“That’s good. Just in time fer the real discomfort to set in, aye?” Jenny cocked an eyebrow knowingly, taking the pouch in her arms and leaving the kitchen.

“Oh, indeed,” Claire said, following after her. “Do you suppose Fergus is any good at foot massages?”

That made Jenny laugh out loud as they passed through the halls. “I think that lad’d be good at whatever ye asked him to be.”

Claire chuckled. “Oh, I couldn’t really ask him to do that…” She shook her head. “It helped a lot when Jamie did it, last time.”

“Why no’ ask the lad then? Ye ken he’d lay the world at yer feet.” They crossed the threshold onto the front porch.

“I know. That’s the trouble.” They descended the porch steps, stopping briefly to finish the conversation. “He’s just a boy. He’s my son, not my caretaker…and sometimes I feel as if he takes care of me more than I do him.

“Oh, he’s beyond his years, ye ken that.”

“I do.” Claire laughed, nearly rolling her eyes at remembering their first interaction: a ten year old boy commenting on the quality of her breasts. “He’s seen a lot. But that only makes me want to…shield him all the more.”

Jenny smiled knowingly. “And that, sister, is what it is to be a mother.”

At that moment, Ian approached them with his horse. Jenny handed him the pouch, and he secured it to the horse.

“I dinna like that ye won’t tell me what sort of business it is that ye’ll be doing,” Jenny said. “We dinna need you bringing us any more trouble.”

“Trouble? Me?” Ian said, feigning innocence as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

Jenny audibly groaned as he kissed her, but she did not stop him. “Just hurry back, Ian Murray.”

“I always do, Mistress Murray.”

They kissed again briefly before Ian mounted his horse and rode off.

A shrill shriek suddenly erupted from around the back of the house, and they both rushed around in a panic. They both stopped however, breathing a sigh of relief to discover that it was only Maggie, squealing with delight. Fergus had tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of grain and was spinning her about. Wee Jamie stood nearby, jumping up and down, begging to be next to be spun around. Claire’s heart warmed at the sight of her son so naturally at ease with the children.

“You will have to catch me first!” Fergus said to Jamie. He put Maggie down and began running at a full sprint, Maggie and Jamie scrambling to catch up to him.

“He’s still a wee lad at heart in spite of it all,” Jenny said warmly. “Don’t ye think?”

Claire watched, laughter bubbling in her chest at the sight of Fergus transforming into some strange beast that growled and chased after the young ones, causing them to squeal even louder, scrambling away with contrived terror.

“Yes…He’s quite the little imp.” 

Jenny chuckled. “He’ll be a fine brother.”

“Yes. He will.”

——

Another week went by, everyone having to work a little harder in Ian’s absence. This particular day had brought with it a water fight at the washtub. Claire had only meant to splash Fergus very lightly to get back at him for a light tease. Wee Jamie had seen, however, and got the idea to practically soak his mother. Jenny had yelped, biting her tongue to prevent expletives from escaping her lips.

“James Alexander Gordon Fraser Murray!” she exclaimed, hands on her hips.

“Don’t be cross with him,” Claire interjected. “I did start it, after all.”

It took a moment, but Jenny’s anger eventually faded into a wicked deviousness. “Right, then.”

Before Claire could process what had happened, Jenny had thrown a large handful of water at her, causing her to squeal. Jamie giggled uncontrollably, then squealed as Fergus soaked him as well. Before long, water and suds were being thrown back and forth by the four of them, and they were all dripping head to toe when Mrs. Crook had appeared on the porch with a hungry Kitty, hopelessly confused.

It was moments like that that made Claire certain that she’d made the right choice. When all her grief could disappear for even the briefest moment, and she could laugh, really, genuinely laugh. She knew that Jamie could see her here now, with his family, with their son, full of joy with them despite the emptiness he’d left in her. She knew that he, too, would agree that she’d made the right choice.

Then, in the following moments, where she dried herself off, put on fresh clothes, looked at herself in the mirror, flushed with laughter, she’d think of what Jamie would have looked like, soaked head to toe in soapy water. How his eyes would have crinkled with laughter, how he’d likely have picked up the washtub itself and emptied it over Claire’s head, just to prove a point. Then afterwards, he’d feign remorse, apologize but not be sorry at all he’d done it. He’d make a show of wrapping her in his plaid, but then once they were alone he would tenderly dry her hair for her and help her change into dry clothes, of course turning his undressing of her wet clothes into something erotic beyond comprehension.

Now, as she sat there, drying her own hair, she wept. In spite of, or perhaps because of the joy she’d felt without him, she wept.

——

Everyone went to bed in relatively high spirits, expecting Ian to be back the next afternoon.

Claire was woken that night from a dead sleep by hands violently shaking her by the shoulders.

“Claire! Wake up! Ian’s been shot!”

“What?” Claire sat up, shaking off her grogginess the best she could. “What happened?”

“The damned fool tried to grave rob Culloden Moor and he was shot at.” Jenny pulled Claire out of bed, and she swiped for her robe on the way out of the room.

“Culloden…?” Claire fought to shake off her sleepiness. “But he was in Edinburgh.”

“Apparently not. There are two men from Broch Mordha in the dining room with him who were apparently in on the whole scheme.”

“He’s been traveling for days with a bullet wound then?”

“Aye,” Jenny said. They rapidly descended the steps and Jenny pulled them into the dining room where Ian was sitting on a chair, servants already lighting candles.

“Help me get him onto the table,” Claire barked at the two men standing by Ian’s side, and they obeyed.

He grunted as he got on, laying down with a wince. “What were you thinking?” Claire reprimanded, finding the bullet wound on the thigh that used the wooden leg. “I need water, clean cloth, and whisky,” she instructed the servants.

“If ye weren’t hurt I’d throttle ye myself,” Jenny said, furious. “I might even do it still, once yer healed.”

Claire cut the fabric of his pants. “Jenny, fetch my medical box.” She obeyed, and a servant came back with cloth, another following behind with water and whisky. “I’m going to need to turn you over since the bullet entered from behind.” Ian nodded, wincing as Claire turned him onto his stomach. “It’s a clean entrance, but I think the bullet is still in there. It’ll have to come out.”

Jenny returned with the medical box. “Out of my house!” She barked at the men who stood by uselessly. Muttering apologies, they dipped out of the room. “Of all the stupid, foolish…!”

Claire poured whisky over the wound, causing a sharp intake of breath from Ian. Claire’s vision narrowed; the world was only her and her patient at the moment.

Jenny stood directly in Ian’s sight, pointedly not fretting over him or holding his hand while Claire cut him open to operate on him. She stared at him, her arms crossed over her chest.

“Janet…”

“Don’t you dare!” Jenny said.

“You shouldn’t talk, Ian,” Claire said, not looking up from her work.

“I dinna want to hear it,” Jenny continued. “I ken why ye did it, but it was a fool’s errand! What the hell would we have done if ye got yerself killed? Did ye think of that?”

Her voice was dangerously loud. Mrs. Crook put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “The children, Mistress.”

Jenny sighed, frustrated. “You’re right. I shouldna be disturbing their sleep because of this fool .”

“I’ll go check on them, make sure they’re still asleep.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Crook.” Jenny immediately turned her attention back to Ian, hands on her hips. “Is it no’ bad enough that I’ve lost my brother? Did ye even think about how I’d feel if I lost you, as well?” Ian could only respond with pained groans as Claire dug around under his skin.

“Jamie is dead, Ian. There’s no getting around that. It’s so fresh I havnae made my peace wi’ it yet, but I was just starting to process the idea of not burying him wi’ the rest of my family.” Her eyes swam with tears. “Do ye think I want him rotting away on the moor? Of course I don’t. But that isna worth yer life. What good would it be to have his body to bury if I’d had to bury yours as well?

“Ye might have thought ye were being brave and noble but ye weren’t. It was selfish.” She crossed her arms again. “Imagine me explaining to yer bairns that ye ran off to get yerself killed just so we could bury the body of the uncle that is already lost to them either way!”

Claire grunted, then sighed with relief. “I got it.” She dropped the bullet into a bowl. “I’ll just have to stitch it up and bandage it now.”

Claire had only vaguely been listening to the argument, if one could call Jenny’s one-sided tirade an argument. From what she could hear, she had to admit she agreed with Jenny. She knew that proper burials were extremely important to the people in this time, especially Catholics. But the aching pit in Claire’s chest would not be healed if there was a body. He was still gone, plain and simple. Did it make her sick to think of his unmarked grave? Of course. But there was little to be done about it, and she’d rather not lose anyone else because of the battle, even if it was indirectly.

“I’m heart sorry, Jenny,” Ian said, sighing in defeat. “And Claire, my apologies to you as well.” Claire briefly glanced up from her stitching to look at his face. “I just…I ken ye’ve both been feeling lost. I thought I could do something to help, so I asked the men and they agreed. They had kin on the moor as well. I’d move Heaven and Earth to bring ye home to me to bury ye properly, Jenny. I wouldna be able to sleep knowing ye were out there somewhere. I canna imagine how ye feel, Claire. I thought a body to bury would bring ye both some peace.”

“Peace that would be no good wi’ you dead as well,” Jenny insisted.

Claire was beginning to feel dizzy, and the bullet wound had nothing to do with it. “Ian…I appreciate what you tried to do for us…for me. But Jenny’s right. It’s not worth your life. I’d never forgive myself if something worse had happened because you were trying to give me peace of mind.”

“Tell ye the truth of it, I didna think it would be so impossible. Didn’t realize there’d be armed guards on a burial site.”

“Then yer a damned fool,” Jenny said. “If ye’d told me what ye were about to do I could have told ye that myself!”

“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?” Ian said.

“Till I stop being angry,” Jenny said. “Which will no’ be any time soon.”

“Alright. Stitches are done.” Claire cleaned the wound with whisky one last time, then worked to bandage it up. “I appreciate your worry, Ian,” Claire said softly. “But Lallybroch needs you. We can’t afford for you to be hurt, or worse.” She tied off the bandage. “There. You’re going to want to stay off of that for a while. Especially since it’s the bad leg.”

“That’s just what we need,” Jenny said dryly, rolling her eyes.

“Listen to me,” Ian said, trying to sit up.

“Don’t. You need to rest,” Claire insisted.

Ian swatted her away. “I dinna plan to sleep on the table, lass. I’ll get to bed eventually. Help me up.” Claire obeyed, sitting him up carefully.

“Jenny,” Ian said. “Can ye please look at me?”

Huffing indignantly, Jenny met his eye, putting her hands on her hips again. Claire began absently cleaning up her equipment, gathering the soiled cloth, cleaning her hands.

“I wasna able to bring him back to us, that much is clear,” Ian said. “But I did find this.”

“Yer bringing souvenirs back from the battlefield now?” Jenny scoffed. “God’s teeth, if I ever — ”

Her voice cut off, and Claire looked up from her work, shutting her medical box. From where she stood, she could not see what Ian was holding out to Jenny. Jenny suddenly sat down on the nearest empty chair, her knees seemingly giving out beneath her. Claire rushed to her side in concern, and her heart stopped when she saw what he held.

“I found it sticking out of the dirt. Lord knows how I saw it, as tiny as it is, on a field that big.”

Hand trembling, Jenny reached out and took it in her grasp. It was the rosary, the very same one she’d given Jamie all those months ago. Claire sat down slowly beside Jenny, her eyes locked on the wooden beads. Jenny rubbed a thumb over the cross.

“Must have been a message from Jamie himself,” Ian continued gently. “He wanted ye to have it back to remember him by since we couldnae bury him properly.”

Small, shuddery sobs erupted from Jenny. She buried her face in her hands, leaning her elbows on the table, rosary dangling between her fingers. Claire was overcome with grief, a blackness creeping into her heart. Weeping silently, she wrapped her arms around Jenny’s shoulders from behind, resting her head between her shoulder blades. Ian stroked Jenny’s hair, rubbed Claire’s back.

Jenny picked her head up after a while to look at the rosary again through her tears. She adjusted her position so she and Claire could wrap an arm around each other, Jenny’s head resting on Claire’s shoulder, Claire’s head atop Jenny’s. Neither of them had any words as they stared at the wooden beads, perhaps the last thing that Jamie ever held with his own hands that they could ever touch.

“I’ve…been thinking,” Ian said, his voice also touched with emotion. “We can have a proper burial here even wi’out his body. We can have a coffin fashioned and have a priest oversee the ceremony.”

“An empty coffin?” Jenny spoke for the first time in several minutes.

“I’ve heard families of men lost at sea do it sometimes. It’s their way of making peace wi’out a body.”

“Aye,” Jenny said, then sighed deeply. “I suppose that’s what Jamie would want. What do you think, sister?” They both picked their heads up so they could look at each other.

Claire nodded tearily. “Yes, I…I think that’s what he’d want us to do.”

“We can lay his tartan to rest in the coffin,” Ian said. “He’d want to be buried in it, ye ken.”

Claire bit her lip as her vision completely blurred with tears, the threads of her sanity beginning to come apart at the seams, threatening to let her completely break down right there and then.

“Aye,” Jenny said, her voice breaking. She put an arm around Claire again. “He would.”

“Oh, Jenny…” Claire said, coming undone. “I ken, sister…I ken.”