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A Place to Belong

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Claire’s waking up was a good sign, that was certain, but no one was convinced that she was completely out of harm’s way, including Claire herself. Fergus had taken up permanent residence in her room, sleeping beside her again as he’d done all those months ago and retrieving Brianna when she fussed. He burped her as well when she fed in the night, even changed diapers if need be. There were nights when Claire couldn't bear to part with her little baby, and she’d simply laid down with Brianna in her arms, drifting away in bliss, knowing that the little one was safe and protected, nestled between her mother and her brother.

During the day, Jenny was mostly the one who helped, who fetched Brianna from the cot, burped her, changed her. Mrs. Crook and Mrs. Donnelly returned, and they were beside themselves with guilt for having missed the birth, knowing that so much had gone wrong. They, too, were a great help when Jenny could not be.

After another week of rest, of Claire going back and forth between sleep that felt drug-induced and tending to her daughter, Jenny had allowed the children in to see her and the baby. Maggie was over the moon, dragging herself onto Claire’s bed and squealing at the sight of the baby, kissing her, fussing over her. Wee Jamie was, of course, crushed that it was not a boy, but even he could not hide his excitement.

“Are ye no’ sick anymore, Auntie?” he asked, looking up at Claire.

She smiled. “No, Jamie. I’m not. I’m still very tired, but I’ll be alright.”

“Good.” He nodded curtly, eliciting a soft chuckle from Claire.

“Auntie, Auntie!” Maggie cried. “May I hold her? Please, Auntie?”

“Calm yerself, Margaret,” Jenny said in a warning tone. “Wild wee beasties canna hold bairns.”

Maggie immediately stiffened, ceasing her bouncing and her squealing at once. “I’ll be good, Auntie. Promise .”

Claire beamed at her. “Alright, here you go.” She carefully transferred Brianna into Maggie’s tiny arms. “Support her head, just like that.” Maggie’s face broke out into the widest grin Claire had ever seen. Claire half expected her to start squealing again.

“Hello baby,” she instead was whispering, almost reverent. “Baby cousin.”

“Her name is Brianna,” Claire said gently.

“Baby Brianna,” Maggie whispered. “Hello Brianna. Hello baby…”

Maggie continued to whisper incoherently at her baby cousin, but Jamie quickly grew tired of women fussing over babies.

“Can I go now, Mam?”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Off ye get then.”

He scrambled out of the room, leaving Claire, Maggie, and Brianna on the bed, and Jenny standing holding Kitty.

“What do ye think, Maggie?” Jenny said, sitting on the edge of the bed, restraining Kitty in her lap.

“I love her, Auntie.”

Claire let out a soft laugh, her eyes welling up with tears. Kitty suddenly gave an indignant cry, the usual for her, and Maggie looked up from Brianna for the first time to put a finger to her lips, giving Kitty a “shh.”

“See yer cousin, Kitty?” Jenny said softly into her ear, kissing her temple. “Baby Brianna, d’ye see, mo chridhe ?”

“Banna!” Kitty repeated loudly.

“Shh…” Jenny hushed her, rocking her. “Yes, baby Brianna.”

“Banna! Banna, Banna, Banna…” she repeated it over and over until it became an indecipherable babble.

“Well, Banna , it certainly seems like the whole family approves,” Claire said, smiling down at her baby like a fool.

“Aye.” Jenny smiled. “At least us lasses, aye?” She tickled Kitty who giggled, and Maggie nodded.

“Jamie’ll be good to her,” Jenny assured.

“Oh, I know,” Claire said. “Fergus will show him how.”

“How have ye been feeling?” Jenny asked.

“Tired,” Claire admitted. “Sometimes just holding her for ten minutes is exhausting. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve just fallen asleep with her on my chest, and then I wake up, not even remembering that I fell asleep.”

“Ye lost a lot of — ” She stopped herself, made sure Maggie wasn’t looking and then mouthed blood .

“I know. I’m lucky to still be here.” Her eyes instinctually fell on Brianna, her heart constricting when she remembered what Jenny had told her. She was blue, not breathing…

“We both are,” Claire said, reaching down and stroking Brianna’s cheek.

“Aye. It’ll take time fer ye to get yer strength back. Any pain?”

“Oh, only everywhere.” Claire rolled her eyes. “This dull ache all over my body. And a throbbing…there.”

“Aye, I ken it well. That’s normal. Though I’m sure it’s worse fer ye just now.”

Claire sighed in frustration. “I can’t get my legs back without walking, but I can’t see myself getting out of bed without toppling over.”

“That’s why ye go slow,” Jenny said firmly. “Yer no’ ready to be traipsing about yet. I can see just by looking at ye that yer still dizzy.”

Claire smiled lazily, her eyes beginning to drift closed. “That easy to read, am I?”

“Indeed,” Jenny said. “Come now, Maggie. Time to let yer Auntie sleep.”

“Can I bring Brianna?”

“Absolutely no’.” Jenny said. “The bairn needs to be right by her mam if she needs anything.” Jenny left Kitty on the bed so that she could take Brianna from Maggie and put her in the cot.

“And,” Jenny continued, turning to face Maggie again once Brianna was settled. “Yer not to touch the bairn wi’out me or yer Auntie in the room. Dinna even think about looking at her if we’re not wi’ ye. Is that understood?”

Maggie was staring at Jenny as if she’d just put the fear of God in her. “Aye, Mam.”

“Right then, off we go.” She heaved Kitty onto her hip and took Maggie’s hand. “Get some rest, now, sister. I’ll be keeping an ear out fer any crying. Dinna try to get up.”

“Couldn’t if I tried,” Claire slurred, feeling consciousness slipping away as she spoke.

——

Another week went by, and Claire was truly starting to feel stir crazy. It was beginning to genuinely anger her that she couldn’t drag herself four feet to take her own child out of her cot. On her fourteenth day of bed rest, not including the eight days she spent unconscious, she put her foot down (figuratively, of course), and insisted on being assisted in getting up and walking around the room.

If Claire hadn’t been living it, she was sure the situation would have been quite comical, like a comedy of manners. She’d managed to swing her legs over the bed, which was a good sign, and Jenny and Fergus were each positioned firmly under her arms, ready to hoist her up.

“Alright.” Claire breathed deeply, puffing her cheeks. “Ready?” They both nodded. “One, two, three.”

She heaved herself up, and was both shocked and overjoyed that she’d managed to at least get to her feet. But then came the wave of dizziness from standing up after weeks of sitting, and she wavered. But Jenny and Fergus held on tightly, and she wasn’t going anywhere.

“Wait fer it to pass,” Jenny reminded her, and she nodded.

After about twelve seconds, she felt alright to move again, and it took all her strength to take that first step. By the third step, she was already dripping with sweat.

“Do you need to rest, Maman ?”

“I’m fine, damn it.” Claire hadn’t meant to snap at Fergus, but he didn’t appear to take it to heart.

It’s just one foot after the other, Beauchamp. Infants do it. So can you.

Several minutes and many buckets of sweat later, they’d managed to walk her across the room to the chair by the fireplace. Victorious, Claire allowed them to plop her into it. Glistening with sweat, she grinned like a fool.

Braw , was I not?” Claire said.

“Braw indeed,” Jenny said, half rolling her eyes at Claire’s smugness.

“Bring her to me,” Claire said. She knew better than to push her luck and walk around with Brianna. She’d not put her in danger like that until she was certain she wouldn’t drop her. Fergus scooped her out of the cradle, making faces at her and smiling until he put her in Claire’s arms.

“Hello, darling,” she cooed, cradling her precious girl. “Look at this, hm? Mummy has legs, would you believe it?” Fergus and Jenny chuckled, and Claire sighed in blissful contentment. “It’s much easier to hold her sitting straight up like this. I feel more human. Instead of a wobbly sack of potatoes.”

Jenny placed a hand on Claire’s shoulders. “Ye look well, sister. Color’s returning to yer cheeks.”

“Is it?” Claire said absently, lost in Brianna’s eyes. “Good Lord, I can’t imagine what I must look like. Or what I must smell like for that matter…”

“Would you like a bath, Maman ?” Fergus piped up.

Claire practically moaned at the thought of the hot water soaking itself into her aching, weary muscles. “That would be heavenly.”

“Tell the servants, Fergus,” Jenny said, and he bounded off to do just that. “Think ye’ll be able to get in and out?”

“Of course…with your help. And Mrs. Crook. And perhaps Mrs. Donnelly as well.”

Jenny chuckled. “Thought so.”

The tub was brought in and set up, the chair Claire was not occupying and the tables moved out of the way. Claire nursed Brianna, babbled nonsense to her, actually burped her herself, and rocked her to sleep by the time the bath was ready. Jenny put Brianna back to bed, and then the three able-bodied women helped Claire discard her nightgown and lowered her into the tub.

Claire sighed as her body submerged in the hot water. It stung a little down below, her birth canal and its related parts still burning from the traumatic birth. She quickly adjusted, however, and could think of nothing but how wonderfully relaxed her muscles felt. The servants helped her wash while Jenny changed the sheets on the bed, and soon enough the water started to cool off, and so she was heaved out of the tub again like a limp rag doll. Another comedy of manners ensued in drying her off and dressing her again, but by that point, Claire was too exhausted to care. She was, in fact, even grateful to be back in bed, as blasphemous as that would sound to an earlier-in-the-day version of herself.

——

The days dragged on, and every day Claire was able to walk about the room relying less and less on Jenny and Fergus, and by the end of the following week, she was even walking around with Brianna in her arms, with Jenny hovering over both of them in a frenzy, of course.

“Look at that, Bree,” Claire said. “Mummy can walk! Isn’t it a marvel?”

“Aye, a marvel indeed,” Jenny said quickly. “Be even more marvelous if she’d sit down now.”

“Auntie Jenny doesn’t believe in Mummy,” Claire cooed ridiculously at her. “What about that, Bree?”

“Why’re ye calling her that?”

“What? Bree?” Claire said. “It’s a nickname. Jamie for James, Jenny for Janet. Bree for Brianna.”

Jenny snorted with a short laugh.

“What?”

“It’s a Gaelic word,” she finally elaborated. “Means a disturbance of some kind.”

Claire’s face screwed up in disapproval. “Does it really?”

“Aye. And it’s no’ as if she won’t ken that once she learns the Gàidhlig .” Jenny was holding back more laughter.

Claire sighed, shaking her head. “I guess we won’t be calling you that then, hm?” She bounced her little bundle. “Though when I’m dead asleep and you insist on being fed, that does create quite a disturbance doesn’t it?”

Jenny chuckled.

“Or perhaps we’ll call you Banna instead. Throw cousin Kitty a bone. How does that sound?”

“Will ye sit now, sister? I’m sweating like a pack mule wi’ the fear ye’ll drop any minute.”

“Really.” Claire huffed indignantly and finally took a seat on the windowsill. The cool air leaking in from the closed window felt nice on her back, sweaty from the effort of walking. She tightened Brianna’s swaddle, not wanting the chill to reach her. “Happy?” She looked up at Jenny, eyebrows raised.

“Aye, that’s the word fer it.” Jenny rolled her eyes. “Canna believe two of the most pigheaded people I ever met created a child.”

Jenny meant to tease, she knew, but Claire’s heart felt heavy nonetheless.

“She looks more like him every day,” Claire said. And it was true. The squishiness of her newborn days was finally fading, growing into more decipherable features. Much to Claire’s relief, the blue in her eyes hadn’t faded, meaning she’d probably have it forever.

“One month,” Claire said incredulously. “I can’t believe in two days she’ll have been here for a whole month.”

“Aye. It flies by.”

“I feel like I’ve missed it all.” Claire frowned. “The first week of her life I was dead to the world, and then I couldn’t fend for myself, let alone care for her…”

“Now, now,” Jenny said. “Yer own health had to come first so ye’d live to see the day where ye could care fer her. And look, she isna all that big. When they’re this young all they do is eat, sleep, and piss.”

Claire chuckled softly. “Right.”

Her thoughts returned to Jamie. What would he look like, holding his child? This baby who was so undeniably his? He’d have been a frantic lunatic during Claire’s bedrest. He’d have carried her everywhere; he’d likely never let her walk again. But, Lord, he’d love Brianna so much. He’d be so tender with her. His one hand was bigger than Brianna’s entire head, but he would cradle it so gently.

“Thinking about Jamie?”

She always knew.

“Yes.”

Jenny draped an arm around her. “Canna wait to tell ye all about yer Da, Brianna,” she said, and her bright blue eyes shifted to look at her auntie. “Sweet, wee thing.” She delicately brushed one of her cheeks.

“She really is such a good baby,” Claire marveled. “Sometimes I just…I can’t believe that she’s here, that she’s alright.”

“Aye, I understand.”

“He’d be so…so happy.” Claire felt her throat constricting. “He was so heartbroken over Faith and he…he never held her, never even saw her. To see Brianna now, he’d…” Her voice broke.

“He sees her, mo ghràidh .” Jenny rubbed soothing circles on her back. “He sees her, and he’s mad wi’ joy. He’s here, wi’ us. I ken it.”

Claire nodded tearfully, sniffling. “I can feel him…when I look at her. I see him so clearly in her and I…I can feel him.”

Jenny kissed the top of Claire’s head and held her tighter. Claire reveled in this feeling, the love of her sister, her overwhelming, all-consuming love for her daughter, and she tried to hold onto it. Even as her world came crashing down around her, the grief eating her alive, she held onto it.

And she did not drown.