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A Place to Belong

Chapter Text

 

Claire stared at the deed of sasine, a hard lump forming in her throat. The weight that her signature would bring on this paper was insurmountable. Jamie was giving up his beloved Lallybroch, the place she had truly come to think of as her home.

“Will ye have me take it to Jenny?” Murtagh asked.

“No, I’ll have Fergus take it,” Jamie answered.

“Me, Milord?” the boy asked as he retrieved the ink and quill.

“Aye. Yer to ride to Lallybroch. Ye’ll leave now.” The boy returned to the table with the quill and ink, standing before Jamie. “This must reach Madame Murray without fail. It is worth more than my life. Or yours.”

“I don’t want to leave you, Milord. I refuse.” Claire’s heart broke at his words, tears springing into her eyes.

“Ye must,” Jamie said firmly. “And ye willna be alone. Milady is going wi’ ye.”

“What?” Claire’s eyes snapped up from the deed. “No. No I am not.”

“Claire,” Jamie said firmly, leaving Fergus’s side to stand before her, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Ye told me yerself,” he whispered, his face close to hers. “That the British are to kill every man, woman, and child that they see anywhere near this battlefield.”

“I can’t leave you,” she stammered, her tears flowing freely. “I won’t.”

“Yes. You will,” he resolutely, releasing his grip on her and returning to Fergus. “Go ready Milady’s horse. Ye’ll ride together.”

“Yes, Milord.” After hesitating for only a moment, Fergus was gone.

“Jamie…” Claire began.

“Ye need to sign, Claire.” He gestured to the deed. Murtagh’s name was already upon it. He handed her the quill, his face solemn. Her hand trembling violently, she took it and signed her name, a single tear slipping onto the page, blurring the Fraser of her name.

Jamie nodded and took the paper off the table, rolling it in his hands.

“Jamie…”

“Ye’ll no’ be arguing with me, Claire.” He started to walk back outside, and she followed him close behind.

“At the witch trial, if I’d have gone to the stake with Geillis would you have left me?”

“Left you?” He stopped, turning around. “I’d have gone to the stake with you. To hell and beyond if it had gone to that.”

“Then let me stay. I’ll die with you on that field if I must.”

No .” He stepped toward her, firmly taking her in his arms. “Ye won’t.”

“To hell and back! You said yourself…”

“It’s no longer about just you and me,” Jamie said, and Claire’s stomach flipped. Did he know? How could he possibly…?

“That lad needs you, Claire,” Jamie said, his voice brimming with emotion.

Fergus .

Then he didn’t know.

“He canna lose both of us. I mean…I meant ,” he corrected, tearily. “I meant to make him my son. Our son.”

Fresh tears spilled down Claire’s cheeks, her chest so tight she thought she could stop breathing any second. “Jamie…”

“Lallybroch needs ye, Jenny needs ye,” he continued. “No matter what happens here today…it’s important someone remembers. Ye must…tell my nieces and nephew…tell wee Jamie what I sacrificed for him to have that land. When he’s old enough.”

Claire grasped his face, desperate to feel him in her hands. “Jamie…”

“Promise me, Claire.” He squeezed her tighter, staring with a burning intensity into her eyes. “Promise me ye’ll be a mother to Fergus, and promise me that my heir will ken the weight of his owning Lallybroch.”

“I can’t…Jamie, I can’t…” She dug her fingers into his face, sobbing uncontrollably.

Promise me .”

His grip on her was almost painful. He was red in the face, his eyes glistening. He was desperate.

Claire took a moment to control her sobs, then swallowed thickly. “I promise.”

Jamie immediately kissed her, his mouth aggressively claiming hers in a heated moment of desperate passion, onlookers be damned.

“Thank you, Sassenach.” He cupped her face in his hands. “Thank you.”

Fergus returned with Claire’s horse, and Jamie outstretched his hand, beckoning him to join their embrace. He ran into both of their arms, crashing into them with a weight that broke Claire’s heart. For a moment, they simply stood there in each other’s arms. For just a brief, peaceful moment, they were a real family.

They pulled apart from each other, and Fergus looked into Jamie’s eyes with all the seriousness in the world. “I will not fail you, Milord.”

“I know ye won’t. You stop for nothing, except to sleep. And if you do, hide yourself and Milady well.”

“I will protect her, Milord.” Fergus nodded his head resolutely. “Forever.”

“You’re a soldier now, mon fils .” Jamie tenderly cupped the lad’s cheek. “I love you like a son.”

Claire cupped his other cheek. “Like our own son.” She pulled him into both of their arms again, and Jamie tenderly kissed the top of the boy’s head, his and Claire’s tears becoming lost in his curls.

Jamie ushered them both to the horse and lifted Fergus onto it. He handed him the deed, letting his gaze linger on him for a brief moment before tearing his eyes away to behold the sight of his wife.

“Jamie…” She threw her arms around his neck, throwing her whole body weight on him. “Come with us…we can hide you, and then sail away, anywhere…”

“I’ll no’ put you and my sister’s family in jeopardy fer the time it’ll take for the ports to reopen. My destiny is on Culloden Moor, Claire.” He stroked her hair, holding her close.

Claire released him, just far enough to be able to press her lips to his. She held the kiss, deepening it as far as she dare go in the midst of all these people, attempting to freeze time, to memorize the way his lips felt.

“What, no goodbye for me?”

Claire broke their contact to see Murtagh standing close by. Jamie released her and Claire opened her arms. Murtagh approached her and she held him close.

“Please, watch over him,” Claire whispered. “And take care of yourself.”

“I will. Always.”

Murtagh gave her back a gentle rub, then released her back to Jamie. She threw herself back onto him, a small gasp of anguish escaping her lips.

“Come back to me, James Fraser. Do you hear me?”

“Claire…” He peeled her off of him, holding her at arms length to look into her eyes. “Ye ken as well as I that anyone not killed on that battlefield is to be killed at the end of a rope.”

“You’ve dodged the noose before.”

“Claire…”

“Please, Jamie. Please promise that you’ll come home to me.” She stroked his hair. “You have to…I…” She stopped herself.

The last time she’d been with child was when he’d made her promise.

“If anything should happen to me, I want there to be a place for you. Someone to care for you. For our bairn.”

“If the time should come.”

Was this what he’d meant? It couldn’t have been, he wasn’t taking her to the stones. He was sending her back to Lallybroch. He was asking her to promise to mother Fergus, to be there for Jenny, for her children. To Jamie’s knowledge, there were no children of theirs that needed protection from the harsh world that awaited them after Culloden. Faith was lost to them, and they hadn’t been blessed with another child before fate caught up to them.

At least, that was to Jamie’s knowledge.

Would he send her back if she told him what she suspected?

Suspected…though it was really too soon to tell, she knew deep in her soul that she was carrying Jamie’s child.

Right now, Jamie believed that she was needed here, for Fergus, the child that had come to be their son, for Jenny, the woman that had come to be like a sister to her. But if he knew of a child on the way, he’d immediately return to his thought that their place, Claire’s and their child, was on the other side of the stones, away from this. Without the child, Claire was a widow with a boy to take on as her son, with nieces and nephews to love. But with the child…she was suddenly the mother of his child, their miracle. Claire had always said it would be a miracle if she got pregnant again after Faith. With the child, she was much more in need of protection. He’d certainly send her through the stones, away from Fergus, Jenny, all of them.

She couldn't do it.

He stared at her expectantly, waiting for her to finish her sentence. “I…” she stammered. “I love you…”

And as he kissed her with all the love and passion he possessed, she felt guilt eating her alive.

“And I you.”

“Come home to me…” She was sobbing now fisting his shirt in her hands. “I don’t care how long it takes.”

“I…I canna promise ye that, Claire,” he said reluctantly. “But I can promise that I will try.”

She kissed him again, feeling herself going mad.

“Claire…” He pushed her away after indulging her in the kiss for a moment. “You have to go. There isna time.”

“Blood of my blood,” she whispered reverently.

“And bone of my bone,” he responded, cradling her head.

“Till our life shall be done.” She kissed him again, knowing this time that it would be their last.

Claire would not let him go. He waited for her to move, but she wouldn’t. He picked her up around the waist and lifted her onto the horse herself. He may as well have ripped her heart out right then and there, and taken it to the moor with him, to be smothered and trampled as she knew he would be.

His hand lingered in hers for a long while.

“Goodbye, Claire.” He squeezed her hand, then released it, slowly, painfully, their skin lingering together until the final second. Fergus wrapped his arms around Claire’s waist. “Goodbye, son.” He gave the horse a swift slap on the rear, knowing that Claire would not start him herself.

Startled by the sudden start, Claire scrambled to grab hold of the reins as the horse took off beneath her. She threw a glance behind her, watching as Jamie, Murtagh, the entire bloody Jacobite army faded away.

He will come back to me. He will.

Rationally, Claire knew the promise she’d forced out of him did not hold much water. His chances of surviving the battle were slim to none, and his chances of evading capture after the fact were even slimmer. Logically, Claire knew he was lost to her forever.

But if she thought logically at the moment, she would faint dead away and fall off the horse, and they’d never get that deed to Jenny, she couldn’t see Fergus safely home.

She wouldn't see her child delivered.

And she would be damned if she let that happen.

Claire urged the horse to go faster, remembering Jamie had told Fergus to stop only to sleep. She would be able to ride through the first night, at least. Once they’d put a majority of the distance between them, they could rest the second night, and then ride through until they reached Lallybroch. At normal speed the trip was three days; Claire was confident she could make it in two, arriving at Lallybroch after sunset on the second day if they only stopped to sleep for one night.

Neither Claire nor Fergus spoke as they tore down the road. Claire was reliving her final moments with Jamie over and over again.

No. Not final. He will come back to me.

It was the only thing that kept her going, the only thing that kept her on that horse.

As night fell on them, Claire could tell that Fergus had fallen asleep on her, and she slowed the horse just a little. Her heart warmed at the sensation of his head resting on her back. He was such a dear, dear boy. It had taken her a while to realize it, but Fergus had been their son all along, as surely as Faith was their daughter.

All those times her heart leapt into her throat when she couldn’t find him, her sudden incessant need to get him to listen to her when it came to his safety, the few times she’d referred to him as “your boy” to Jamie. She hadn’t realized she was falling in love with the boy just as surely as she’d fallen in love with poor little Faith.

She felt when he awakened, sometime in the middle of the night.

“Don’t you want to sleep, Milady?”

“I’m alright, Fergus,” she said. “I’d like to cover as much ground as possible before we stop. We may not at all unless the horse needs to.”

“You must be careful, Milady, in your condition.”

Her stomach flipped. “My…what?”

“I…I saw you holding your stomach when you said goodbye to Milord, like you used to in Paris,” Fergus said. “Why didn’t you tell him? It looked like you were going to.”

Claire swallowed thickly and breathed shakily. “I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about.”

She hadn’t meant to sound as firm as she had, but she wasn’t sure how much longer she could bear speaking of it. Thankfully, Fergus didn’t press it anymore, likely upset by her tone.

Claire sped the horse up again, and they tore through most of the day in silence again. The sun had long set when Fergus spoke again.

“Milady!” he shouted over the loud hoofbeats. “Slow the horse! I have something to say!”

Claire did so, slowing him to a trot again.

“It is the dead of night. It is a good time to stop and sleep.”

“You can sleep on my back, I don’t mind.”

You need to rest, Milady,” Fergus said. “I promised Milord I would protect you. You must not fall off the horse in exhaustion.”

“Fall off the horse? Don’t be silly.”

“I have been holding onto you, Milady, and I can feel your hold on the reins weakening, and you are swaying back and forth. I wish I could, but I could not stop you from falling if you fainted. We must stop.”

With great reluctance, Claire slowed the horse again and led him off the path.

“Thank you, Milady,” Fergus said, sighing with relief.

Once they were far enough away from the road and down a small hill, she finally stopped the horse and dismounted.

“No, thank you, for watching out for me,” Claire said, helping him down. “Jamie would be proud of how you wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Fergus gave a small smile.

They carefully hid the horse among the trees and found themselves a spot surrounded by brush. They decided it best to not light a fire, despite the horrible chill.

“I will stay awake,” Fergus said as they sat on the ground. “I slept on the horse. I must keep you warm and keep watch.”

“Fergus…” Claire took him into her arms, holding him close. She kissed his head. “You are so brave, so selfless.”

“I try to be, Milady.”

“You heard me before, didn’t you? Jamie and I love you like our own son.” She released him from the embrace, putting her hands on his shoulders. “I don’t believe sons call their mothers ‘Milady’, do you?”

Fergus gaped for a moment. “Mother…?” Claire nodded. “I…I never had a mother before. The ladies at Mason Elise …I never knew which…I never called any of them…”

“What would you like to call me, Fergus?” Claire gently stroked his hair.

“I…I could call you Maman …if you like,” he said shyly, uncertain.

Claire’s heart skipped a beat to hear him say it. “That’s wonderful.”

“Are you sure…?” He still was so uncertain.

Claire tenderly kissed his forehead, then smiled at him tearfully. “I promised Jamie I would be a mother to you. I could think of nothing else I’d rather do.”

He threw his arms around her, crashing into her. “ Je t'aime, Maman .”

A single tear trickled down her cheek. “ Je t'aime aussi, mon fils.

Chapter Text

Claire was lying in the dirt, wrapped in her shawl. Fergus was sitting dutifully beside her, stroking her hair.

Maman?” he whispered. “Are you asleep?”

Claire’s heart swelled; she was still not used to hearing the word. “Not yet.”

“I…I am sorry for earlier,” he said sheepishly. “I made you upset, on the horse. I am sorry.”

Claire felt guilt pressing down on her. A moment she’d already forgotten and pushed away was weighing heavily on his conscious still. She opened her eyes and looked up at him.

“No, Fergus, I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. Especially because…” She sighed deeply. “Because you were right. I am with child.”

His eyes lit up. “Really?” Claire nodded. “Why did you not tell Milord? It would have made him très joyeux.”

“I…” She couldn’t tell him the truth. “I don’t know. I was…scared. It might have hurt him more than anything.” It wasn’t entirely a lie.

“It is no matter,” Fergus said lightly. “You will tell him when he comes back from battle. He will be just as happy then.”

Claire’s heart sank into her stomach. He was so hopeful…how could she kill that hope?

“You know,” Claire said, pushing away that enormous weight. “This means you will be un grand frère.”

Fergus beamed. “Really, Maman?”

“Well, if I am both of your mothers, that does make you his brother, doesn’t it?”

Oui!” He nodded excitedly. “I’ve seen babies before, at Mason Elise. Born there, like me. I held them sometimes, to help, but none of them were ever my own.”

Claire’s heart felt lighter as she listened to his excitement and ignored her own anxieties.

Un grand frère,” Fergus repeated proudly. “You see, Maman? Now you know why I insisted you must sleep. I was protecting you of course, but now I must also protect mon petit.”

Claire smiled. “And I trust you with my life, with both of our lives.”

Fergus smiled. “I am glad. But now you must sleep. Madame Murray needs this deed, and she will be delighted to hear your news, no?”

Claire’s stomach flipped. News that I kept from her brother deliberately to deceive him, knowing full well that he would likely die before I ever got to tell him…

“Yes, I’m sure she will be.”

Bonne nuit, Maman. Do not fret. I will keep you both safe.”

Bonne nuit, Fergus,” Claire said, allowing her eyes to close.

She hadn’t realized just how exhausted she’d been, and it wasn’t long before a fretful sleep came over her.

  ——

She was woken by Fergus’s gentle shaking of her shoulders.

“I am sorry to wake you, Maman, but the sun will be rising soon,” he said. “We should return to the road while it is still dark, no?”

Still groggy and dazed, she sat up. “You’re right. Thank you, Fergus.”

She was quite disoriented. There hadn’t been any dreams, nor did she recall having fallen asleep. It felt like she’d simply blinked and hours had gone by. Her fingers were frozen stiff, and she briefly checked for frostbite, which to her relief, she did not find. She allowed Fergus to lead her to the horse, then she helped him on and mounted herself.

“Alright,” she breathed, shaking her head to rid herself of exhaustion, to focus. “Let’s go home.”

She set the horse off at a sprint. It seemed like her prediction had been right; they’d make it to Lallybroch before sunset today. She made note to pamper this poor horse to the ends of the Earth when they finally arrived.

She only slowed him down when she could feel that he could no longer sprint, speeding him up again when he seemed ready. During the slow periods was when Fergus would fall asleep on her back again. Between the loudness of the horse when he sprinted and Fergus falling asleep whenever they weren’t at a sprint, the day was passed in silence again.

They were at a trot when Claire could finally see Lallybroch in the distance.

“There it is, Fergus,” Claire said, breathless. “We made it.”

She could feel him smile against her back, and she set the horse at a sprint again. It was only a matter of minutes before they reached the archway. Jenny was already standing on the porch when they passed under it, and she ran to meet them.

“Thank Christ,” she breathed, catching the horse’s bridle. “Come here, lad.” She helped Fergus down and briefly embraced him. She reached her hands up to help Claire down. “Where is Jamie? Is he alright?”

Claire stared at her blankly, her tongue feeling like sandpaper. She, Jamie, and Murtagh alone knew the fate of those on Culloden Moor that morning. They hadn’t shared any of that with Jenny. How could she tell her?

“Claire.” Jenny grabbed her by the shoulders. “Tell me, is he dead? Just tell me, Claire.”

Claire felt her entire body start to tremble before everything went black.

Jenny gasped in shock as Claire’s full body weight fell onto her, and Fergus scrambled to keep them both from toppling over.

Mo Dhia…” Jenny exclaimed. Fergus held Claire around the middle and Jenny held her up by the shoulders. “Get her arm around yer shoulders, lad. We’ll get her inside.”

Just then, Ian emerged from the house. “What happened?” He rushed down the stairs.

“Fergus, hand her to Ian. Take care of the horse.”

“Yes, Milady.”

Together, Jenny and Ian dragged Claire’s limp body into the house. “Mrs. Crook!” Jenny called as they crossed the threshold. “Cold water and rags!”

They laid her down on the sofa, and Mrs. Crook quickly appeared with the water and rags.

“What’s happened, Mistress?”

“I asked her about Jamie, and she fainted dead away,” Jenny replied, her eyes brimming with tears. “Ian…” She turned to him fretfully, her heart seized with terror over the news Claire had yet to divulge. Ian wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders, squeezing gently, and Jenny covered her mouth to stifle her tears.

Mrs. Crook worked to revive Claire, dabbing her forehead with the cold water, gently pinching her cheeks.

“Milady!” Fergus burst into the room, and Ian and Jenny whirled around. “Milord wanted me to give this to you.” He presented the deed. 

Jenny crossed the room to him and took the rolled up paper. Ian followed, reading over her shoulder when she opened it.

“What is this…?” Jenny’s eyes frantically scanned the paper.

“He signed Lallybroch over to wee Jamie,” Ian said. “With me as his guardian and acting Laird until he’s of age.”

“Why would he do this?” Jenny said fretfully. “The date…it’s wrong…”

“He dated it before the rebellion began,” Fergus explained. “So everything would seem…ah, how you say…legitimate.”

“Why…” Jenny turned to Ian, tears in her eyes. “He’s not coming back, is he?”

Lost for words, Ian pulled her into a comforting embrace. “I dinna ken, Janet.”

"Mistress!” Mrs. Crook called.

Jenny practically shoved Ian away and rushed to Claire’s side, dropping to her knees beside the sofa. Mrs. Crook moved out of the way.

“Claire?” She grabbed her hand. “Tell me, Claire…”

“Easy, Jenny.” Ian came up behind her and placed steadying hands on her shoulders. “Dinna put her into shock again.”

“What happened…?” Claire moaned.

“Ye fainted, lass,” Ian said. “Ye alright now?”

“I…I think so…” She pushed herself into a sitting position, nearly falling over again with the wave of dizziness that came when she did so.

“Claire…” Jenny said again.

Claire looked at her and was immediately taken out of her dazed confusion. She remembered exactly why she’d fainted.

“I…I don’t know what’s become of him,” she said shakily. “He sent me away before the battle began. On Culloden Moor.” Jenny stared at her wordlessly, desperately squeezing her hands, urging her to continue.

Claire could not bring herself to look her in the eye. “They…they don’t stand a chance.”

She shook her head, tears spilling down her cheeks. A frightened, strangled noise escaped Jenny’s lips, and she fell back into Ian’s legs.

“The deed of sasine?” Ian asked gently, helping Jenny off the floor and onto the sofa beside Claire.

“He…he wanted to keep Lallybroch safe,” Claire said. “Keep it in the family.”

“How could he be so sure it wouldn’t be safe?” Jenny asked, desperate to be told all the worry was for naught. “How can ye be certain the battle is lost?”

“I’m sorry, Jenny…” Claire said. “I tried to get him to leave with me…I tried…”

Without another word, Jenny pulled Claire into her arms, and they both wept for the man they knew to be lost. Ian sat down beside Jenny and rubbed her back as the two women rocked back and forth in each other’s arms.

“Come on, lad,” Mrs. Crook whispered to Fergus. “I could use yer help finishing supper.”

Reluctantly, Fergus followed her out of the parlor, turning back and keeping his eyes on Claire until the very last moment.

Nobody bothered to keep track of how long they spent weeping in each other’s embrace, but when they finally both quieted they pulled apart far enough to be able to look at each other’s faces.

“Ye said…ye left before the battle began?” Jenny said.

“Yes, the morning before last,” Claire said.

“We should hear news in the next few days then.” Jenny sniffled.

Claire nodded.

“We can still hold out hope for that long at least.” Jenny gave Claire’s thigh a squeeze.

Claire tried to force herself to smile. She wanted to believe that, she truly did…

“The British,” she said, suddenly remembering. “They’re going to take your weapons, your tartans.”

“What’s that now?” Ian said. “Our tartans?”

“They’re going to destroy the Highlander culture in retribution for the rebellion,” Claire explained. “All of it, your weapons, your language, your tartans, they will outlaw it all.”

“How d’ye ken that?” Jenny asked fearfully.

“We…we overheard it. Shortly before the battle,” Claire lied. “Not all of Prince Charles’s generals believed they would be victorious, and they were talking about what the crown would do when they lost.”

“We’ll hide everything,” Ian said.

“They won’t take no for an answer. They know this is Fraser land, they know you’re of clan Murray. They know you have tartans,” Claire said.

“We can save a few,” Jenny said. “Hide them. Give over the rest.”

“Your Gaelic books as well,” Claire said. “You won’t be able to save them all, you’ll have to hand some of it over or they’ll suspect. But you can save a few.”

Jenny nodded. “Ian, sort through the books in yer study. I’ll fetch the tartans from the bedrooms, Fraser and Murray both.”

Ian set off to the study, and Claire got herself off the couch. “Ye alright to be moving?”

“I’m fine,” Claire insisted. “I want to help.”

They went in every bedroom, every wardrobe, drawer, and chest, retrieving every tartan in the castle. They’d decided to hide them in the priest hole, a hiding place that had yet to be discovered through the countless times the house had been searched. There hadn’t been any time for sentiment when they’d been rounding them up. Now they stood there, staring at the heap of tartan in the hall downstairs.

“Should we pull out the ones we’ll be saving, then?” Jenny said, hands on her hips.

Claire nodded, words lost to her.

They began sorting between Fraser and Murray tartan. Claire took one of the Fraser tartans in her hands, rubbing her thumbs over the fabric.

“That’s Jamie’s shoulder sash,” Jenny said.

“He wore this for our wedding.” Claire smiled warmly at the thought.

“Not that exact one, unless he stole it away from here wi’out my knowing.”

“You’re right,” Claire said, remembering. “He borrowed it from another Fraser for that day. We didn’t exactly have all the time in the world.” She chuckled softly.

She brought the fabric to her lips, breathing it in. “He would have worn this one if he could have. He…he wanted to get married in a way that would have made his mother proud. That’s what he told me.”

Claire felt Jenny’s hands on her shoulders, and she looked up to see her smiling. “And he did just that, I think.”

Claire smiled. “Did I ever tell you about the wedding ring?” Jenny shook her head. “He had it fashioned from his key to Lallybroch.” She touched it lovingly. “So I would know it was as much mine as his.”

“Sounds like something my brother would do.” Jenny playfully rolled her eyes. “Too romantic fer his own good.” She knelt down beside Claire, picking up a Murray tartan and separating it from the Frasers. “Lallybroch may no longer be yer husband’s land in name, but ye’ll always have a place here, Claire. Ye’ll always belong wi’ us.”

Claire smiled at her tearfully. “Thank you, Jenny.”

They eventually settled on keeping Ian’s kilt and shoulder sash along with Jamie’s shoulder sash in the priest hole. They’d have kept one of Jamie’s as well, but he’d brought all of his on the road with him. They returned the rest in easily accessible places around the house so the British could find them quickly and be done with it when they came by.

They met with Ian back at the entrance to the priest hole. He had a small stack of books with him.

“These are the ones I thought we couldnae part with.” He handed them to Jenny. “Anything missing?”

“These look good,” Jenny approved.

Claire had folded one of the Murray tartans they were keeping and was just finishing up with Jamies. Jenny knelt on the ground and tenderly wrapped the books in the Murray tartan that Claire had not yet folded. Claire handed her the folded tartans to add to her bundle. When she finished, she reached for the wooden lockbox that Ian had brought down and placed the bundle inside. As Jenny closed the lid and locked it, Claire couldn’t help but feel a terrible sense of finality. It made her heart ache terribly.

“I’ll keep this safe here until I can think of a place to hide it,” Jenny said, putting the key in a pocket of her skirt.

Ian gave them both a solemn look as he lifted the box, then nodded sadly before disappearing into the priest hole. 

“I thank ye, Claire,” Jenny said. “Woulda broke my heart to part wi’ all that. Ian’s too.” She breathed deeply. “And Jamie’s. He’ll be glad to know we’ve saved some Fraser colors when he comes home to us.”

Claire nodded, forcing a reassuring smile.

“Come on, then,” Jenny said stiffly, attempting to sound cheery. “Supper should be on the table any moment now.”

Claire wandered into the dining room as Jenny left to find the children. Fergus was setting the table with Rabbie and Mrs. Crook.

Maman!” Fergus cried, dropping the silverware to rush to embrace Claire. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Fergus.” She returned the embrace, rubbing his back. “I was just very tired from our journey.”

“We made it in time, no?” Fergus said, looking up at her proudly. “Madame Murray got the deed, and all is well?”

“Yes, Fergus,” Claire assured, smiling down at him. “Thanks to you, we got here in time.”

“Claire!” Rabbie said excitedly. “Guess what we’re eating tonight!”

“Oh, I don’t know…” Claire said playfully, sitting down across from him. “Would it perhaps be something containing…potatoes?”

“Yes!” He laughed. “I boiled them myself, right Mrs. Crook?”

“Aye, ye did.”

“Good job, Rabbie,” Claire said, genuinely smiling for the first time since she couldn’t remember. “I can’t wait to taste them.”

Jenny then entered, Maggie on her hip, wee Jamie holding onto her free hand.

“Auntie Claire!” wee Jamie said excitedly, running over to her.

“Hello!” Claire laughed, scooping him off the floor and sitting him next to her for a proper hug. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too!” 

“You’ve gotten so big,” Claire said. “You’ll be taller than your mother soon.”

He giggled.

“Dinna tell him that,” Jenny said, sitting down with Maggie in her lap. “I’ll be hearing about it fer months now.”

Claire laughed, ruffling the boy’s hair. Mrs. Crook reentered the room with the meal, followed by Ian, who sat down beside Jenny, giving Maggie a kiss

“Alright, hands everyone,” Jenny commanded, and everyone joined hands for grace, wee Jamie giving Claire a toothy grin as he took her hand.

“We thank ye Lord, for this our food, which we are about to receive,” Jenny began. “And we thank ye fer bringing Fergus and Claire back to us safely so that they may share in thy bounty. In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

“Amen,” everyone echoed, crossing themselves.

Claire followed suit, and was all at once overwhelmed with love. Love for her family. For just a brief moment, when she became lost in the cacophony of children’s laughter, in watching little Maggie’s face become a mess of potatoes, she could forget the absolute terror and panic that seized her heart over Jamie’s fate.

Because no matter what happened, she was certain of at least one thing: She belonged here; Lallybroch was her home. And these people were her family, always.

Chapter Text

As the days wore on, Claire gradually settled into a comforting routine as she had at Lallybroch the last time she’d been grieving. Except this time, there was a nagging anxiety in the pit of her gut. It had been over a week since she and Fergus had arrived back after Culloden. Ian and Fergus had alternately gone to the village every day to see if there was any word on the battle, but the only news was that it was a bloody victory for the British. No specifics, no news on survivors.

Claire and Jenny were doing the wash, making small talk about the children.

“The other day Mrs. Crook comes outside wi’ her, and she’s screaming her wee head off,” Jenny said. “Apparently she tried to feed her a bannock and she just threw a bloody fit.”

Claire smiled, squeezing a shirt over the tub. “She isn’t taking well to solid foods, I suppose?”

“No’ at all.” Jenny rolled her eyes, scrubbing a shirt on the washboard. “She’s a holy terror, that one. I’ve gotten her to eat one or two bannocks, some mash potato, but it’s very rare. She’s only got eyes fer my milk.”

Claire laughed, hanging the shirt she’d been working on. “That’s quite common, actually. She may not adjust until she’s closer to two years old.”

“Jamie and Maggie both were chewing on bannocks at eight months, and walking at nine months,” Jenny insisted, wringing out the shirt and hanging it up. “Kitty refuses the food, and she hasn’t yet stood up wi’out holding on to something.”

“All perfectly normal,” Claire assured her, scrubbing a blanket that seemed to have been spit up on. “She’s just over a year old isn’t she?”

“Fourteen months and a week,” Jenny said.

“She’s still well within range to start walking,” Claire said. “Once she passes eighteen months, then we can be worried.”

“Are ye sure? I’ve no’ seen a bairn so late to everything before. Especially no’ my own.”

“A child’s development can often be used to indicate how their siblings will develop, but not always.” Claire continued to scrub at the yellow-white stain on the blanket. “Perhaps Kitty is determined to be her own woman.”

“Aye,” Jenny said, hanging up a skirt.

“If it would make you feel better, I can examine her the next time she eats a bannock, or a potato. See if it’s causing her any internal discomfort that would turn her away from solid foods.”

“Aye, ye could, but ye’d likely have to shove it down her throat first.”

Claire laughed. “Well, if the time ever comes, I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“I thank ye, Claire.”

“Although, I think it’s more likely that she’s just inherited the Fraser stubbornness,” Claire teased, finally getting the blanket clean and wringing it out over the tub. “Perhaps it just skipped over Maggie and wee Jamie.”

“I dinna ken about that,” Jenny laughed. “More likely it’s just waiting to rear its ugly head until they’re older.”

“That sounds about right.”

They laughed again, but they were suddenly interrupted by hoofbeats coming from up the road. Claire dropped the skirt she was washing back in the tub and rushed to greet Fergus as he passed under the archway on horseback.

“Any word?” she asked, her eyes frantically darting over his face to read him.

“They are executing survivors. That is all I have heard.”

“Any names?”

“No. I am sorry, Maman .”

“Damn.” Claire ran a hand over her face, frustrated. She sighed, then reached up to help Fergus off of his horse.

“We are not the only ones that do not know what became of their loved ones,” Fergus said. “The British are not telling anybody anything.”

Claire pulled him into a hug, kissing his head. “It’s alright, darling. You’ve done your best.” She started to say that he ought to put his horse away and then get to the fields with Ian when she was overcome with a dizzying wave of nausea.

Maman ?” Fergus said fretfully, feeling her sway in his grasp.

Claire immediately released him, only able to stumble a few feet away before she was violently ill. Jenny rushed to her side as she doubled over, keeping her from completely toppling. As quickly as it began, it was over, and Claire breathed heavily to catch her breath. She spit onto the ground, the bitter taste of her own bile still lingering in her mouth.

“Ye alright, lass?” Jenny asked, rubbing her back.

“Yes…I’m sorry, I didn’t see that coming,” Claire said, embarrassed.

“Go fetch yer mam some water,” Jenny said over her shoulder to Fergus, who obeyed immediately. “Let’s sit ye down, then.”

Jenny led Claire to the porch steps, and Claire quickly shook her off. “I really can walk straight. I’m fine.”

Once they were seated on the steps, Jenny looked at Claire knowingly. “That was the bairn, wasn’t it?”

Claire was very nearly ill again. She must have looked as shocked as she felt, because Jenny went on. “I suspected, but I didna want to ask if it wasna true. Would’ve upset ye, ye ken. But I ken morning sickness when I see it.”

Claire sighed, defeated. “How could you possibly be able to tell?”

“Ye had the glow about ye,” Jenny said. “Just now when we were talking about Kitty. Ye had this look in yer eye, like ye were keeping a secret, thinking about when yer own bairn would eat solids, would start walking.”

Claire blushed. “I hadn’t noticed I was doing that.”

Jenny took her hand in hers. “I’m happy fer ye, Claire. Especially after the sorrow ye saw wi’ the first one.”

“Thank you, Jenny.” Claire smiled at her.

“Does Jamie know?”

“No…I didn’t get the chance to tell him.” Her face burned with the shame of the lie.

Just then, Fergus appeared behind them. “Here, Maman .” He dutifully handed Claire the glass. She thanked him and gratefully sipped.

Nausées matinales ?” Fergus asked, sitting next to Claire.

“Ye told the lad but no’ me?” Jenny said, feigning betrayal.

Claire smiled, her lips still around the rim of the glass. “He figured it out himself. Like you did.”

“And ye kept yer gab shut about it?” Jenny said. “I’m impressed.”

“Of course I did.” Fergus puffed his chest out proudly. Claire chuckled and tousled his hair. “It would be a great betrayal to reveal Maman ’s news for her. It is her news to tell.”

“Oh, aye,” Jenny said, her tone revealing slight guilt. “I’ve gone and spoilt that haven’t I?”

“No…it’s alright,” Claire said, resting the glass on her knees and keeping it steady with her hands. “Truthfully I was…afraid to tell you.”

“Afraid to tell me?”

“Well, not you in particular,” Claire said, unable to meet Jenny’s eye. “I was afraid to…to say it out loud. Part of me didn’t want it to be real…part of me still doesn’t.”

“Why ever no’?” Jenny put a hand on Claire’s shoulder.

“Because I can’t imagine having to raise his child without him. I don’t think I have the…the strength to do that.” Claire stared shamefully into the water in her glass.

“Dinna be talking like that, now,” Jenny said firmly, squeezing her shoulder, then crossing herself with her free hand. “Ye mustn’t speak things like that into the world.”

“I’m sorry…” Claire shook her head guiltily. “I know it’s wrong to already be thinking like that but it’s…it’s all I can think about, Jenny.” She finally forced herself to look into her eyes, her own vision clouding with tears. “I’m so frightened.”

“I ken.” Jenny pulled her into an embrace. “I share that fear, I do.”

“I know.”

Jenny breathed deeply. “But a bairn?” She pulled apart so they could look at each other. Jenny was beaming. “Jamie’s and your flesh and blood, Claire. It’s wonderful.”

Claire smiled weakly. “I remember in Paris, Jamie said you wrote in one of your letters you were so excited you could hardly write.”

“Aye, my hand shook then something fierce. I’m feeling that way again, light and dizzy wi’ joy.” Jenny laughed. “How long has it been?”

“Almost three months.”

“Three months ye been carrying my niece or nephew and I’m just now hearing of it!” Jenny was incredulous, but her tone was lighthearted. “Come.” She stood and reached her hands down. Claire handed Fergus the glass and gave Jenny her hands. “We’ll celebrate.”

“Celebrate?”

“The news of yer child, Claire! We’ll have a dram and toast to him, to you, and to Jamie.”

“I…I don’t know.”

“Ye canna stop living because yer afeared, Claire,” Jenny said, momentarily serious. “No matter what happens, yer child is a blessing that deserves to be celebrated. Let yerself be happy when ye can.” She gave her hands a squeeze. “Fergus, fetch Milord.”

Fergus descended the porch, but Claire called after him. “Fergus, wait.” He stopped and turned, looking between the two women, conflicted. Claire then glanced back at Jenny, and she couldn’t help but soften. Jenny’s affection for her child was heartwarming, and her desire to see her happy was touching.

“Make sure you tell him it’s good news,” Claire said, smiling at Jenny.

“Yes, Maman !” Fergus scrambled off.

Jenny laughed gleefully and pulled Claire through the front door. “Mrs. Crook! Whiskey and our finest glasses! We’ve a toast to make!”

Jenny pulled her into the dining room. “Do ye think it’s a boy? Or a wee lass?”

“Oh I…I haven’t the foggiest.” Claire shrugged. “I just want him to be healthy.”

“Him, aye?” Jenny teased.

Claire smiled. “A Freudian Slip, I suppose.”

“A what now?”

“Nothing. Just…one of the names I have in mind is for a boy. That’s all.”

It wasn’t long before Ian appeared with Fergus, Mrs. Crook having already arrived with the whiskey and glasses.

“Alright, pour yourselves a glass. You too, Mrs. Crook,” Jenny said.

“What’s the meaning of this, Janet?”

“Hold yer whisht,” Jenny said, pouring glasses and handing them out.

“Alright, then. I’ve gathered us here because we’ve precious little to celebrate these days, and well, what Claire has to tell ye is certainly something to celebrate.” Jenny turned to Claire.

Claire peered up from her glass sheepishly. “Yes…well…I’m…” Jenny gave her a playful shove. “I’m pregnant.”

Mo Dhia !” Ian exclaimed. “Claire, that’s wonderful news!” He embraced her heartily with the arm that wasn’t holding his whiskey. He lifted her a few inches off the ground, and Claire squealed.

“God bless ye, Mistress,” Mrs. Crook said, squeezing her hand.

“Thank you,” Claire said to the both of them. “Thank you, all of you. I’m…I’m confident that our child will come into the world loved beyond compare. Thank you for letting this be our home.”

Jenny raised her glass. “To my wee nephew, and to family.”

Sláinte !” Ian cheered, and everyone echoed him.

They sipped their glasses, reveling in their mutual joy. For a moment, Claire truly could forget the anguish and terror that had been so prevalent in her mind merely minutes before. Jenny was right; her child deserved to be celebrated, and she deserved to feel joy about his soon-to-be presence in her life. Jamie would want her to celebrate, too. He wouldn’t want her spending every waking moment fretting for him when she was bringing his child into the world.

As they laughed and drank, Fergus began spewing absurd French names for the baby, causing everyone to laugh all the harder. All of a sudden, the front door slammed open, and the sound of boots echoed through the halls. Laughter and chatter immediately ceased. They all froze where they stood.

It didn’t take long for the Redcoats to realize they were all congregated in the dining room. They entered the room all at once, four of them.

“In the name of His Majesty King George, you are to surrender all weapons, tartans, and Gaelic reading materials.”

Claire’s heart dropped into her stomach. She hadn’t forgotten that she’d helped hide a few pieces of Highlander culture in the priest hole a week ago, but she’d thought they would have had a bit more time. To her recollection the Act of Proscription wasn’t made official until August of this year. It seemed they were getting a bit of a head start.

“Don’t trouble yourselves, we’ll search the house for you,” he continued. “Can’t have you leaving anything behind.”

He signaled for his men to begin the search. Claire cringed as she heard doors slam, furniture turn over. The Redcoat officer that remained in the dining room circled around the table like a vulture, regarding them with condescension, drinks still in their hands.

“And what are we celebrating today?” he asked smugly. “Surely not a Jacobite victory, seeing that there is none to celebrate.”

“There are no Jacobites in this home,” Ian said. “We are all loyal subjects of His Majesty.”

Claire’s stomach turned as he said it.

“Perhaps you drink to the health of your King, then?” He said, arching an eyebrow. “Or is it someone’s day of birth? To whom do I owe my regards?”

He was still circling them. No one said anything.

“Come now, surely you would not deny me in wishing you well.” He stopped before Ian, dangerously close. His tone completely shifted. “Tell me for what cause you drink. Now.”

“I am wi’ child,” Jenny said quickly. The officer’s head snapped to look at her. “My last birth was a fearsome one, and we didna think I could have another, but God has been gracious. We were celebrating our good fortune.”

A sickening smile grew across the officer’s lips. “Well, that is good cause to celebrate. My warmest congratulations to you. And to the father, I assume?” He turned back to Ian.

“Aye.”

He clapped a hand on Ian’s back, just slightly too rough. “Fine job.”

Ian nodded uncomfortably.

Claire was bewildered for a moment, but it didn’t take her long to figure out Jenny’s reasoning. If her own pregnancy was revealed, there would be a question of its father, being that Ian was the only man in the household at present. They might quickly deduce who the father was, knowing that this was the home of the Fraser Laird, and thereby deduce who Claire herself was. The broadsheets had Jamie’s face on them, not hers, but there was still a danger to her being Red Jamie’s wife. Jenny had acted wisely.

The sound of three sets of boots echoed through the halls, getting closer to the dining room. They entered the room, one holding books, the other swords and guns, the other tartans. 

“The materials in question, Sir.”

“Take them outside. Then search the stables and barns just for good measure.”

The three disappeared again, and the officer turned back to smile greasily at them once more. “My kindest regards to the happy parents.” He turned on his heel and left.

All at once they put their glasses down and scrambled to the front door.

“Mam!” Wee Jamie’s voice appeared behind them, and he stepped onto the porch with them. “What’s happened?”

“It’s alright, mo chridhe .” Jenny stroked his head. “Dinna fash.”

They watched in horror as the Redcoats unceremoniously dumped the tartans and books into the dirt. The officer from the dining room lit a match, then looked up at the family gathered on the porch. Maintaining his eye contact, an uncaring expression on his face, he dropped the match into the pile.

Claire had to restrain herself from rushing forward to put out the flames. She had known this was coming…so why did she feel so paralyzed by shock?

“Fire, Mam!” Jamie tried to bolt forward, but Jenny firmly grabbed him by the wrist.

“Stay put.”

“But Mam! Da’s tartan is on fire!”

“I know, mo chridhe .” Jenny picked him up around the waist and settled him on her hip.

“Why’ve they done this?” Jamie asked.

“Shh…” Jenny pressed his head into her shoulder, holding him there and rocking gently.

Claire’s eyes burned with tears as she watched all the things she’d come to hold dear up in flames, burning to ash. It wasn’t long before the officer added more matches, unsatisfied with how long it was taking for everything to burn. The flames were high now, the smoke billowing.

“Mrs. Crook,” Jenny said, her voice hitching. “Take the lad inside, and check on the other children.”

“Yes Mistress.” Mrs. Crook took Jamie from her, casting a mournful look behind her before disappearing into the house.

Ian wrapped a comforting arm around Jenny as she wept silently, and Claire did not miss the tear that trickled down his own cheek. Fergus leaned into Claire, and she put her arms around him.

Yes, they’d all known it was coming. But nothing could have prepared them to actually see their entire way of life literally up in flames.

It took all of fifteen minutes for the fire to burn itself out with nothing left behind but ash. All four of them stamped the ash into the dirt for good measure, and then they were off, their wagon of weapons clinking behind them as they disappeared up the road.

“Should we…clean it up?” Ian asked hesitantly, unable to tear his eyes away from the pile of ash.

“No. Let the wind take it,” Jenny said resolutely. “Let it become part of the very air we breathe, one with Scotland herself.”

Without another word, Jenny descended the porch steps and returned to the washtub they’d abandoned. The celebrating was over, the moment was gone.

Claire gave Fergus’s shoulders a squeeze before joining Jenny at the washtub, and Ian, too, returned to his work, taking Fergus with him.

Claire and Jenny worked silently now, neither of them having the right words after what had happened. As Claire hung a skirt on the clothesline, she was certain of one thing: As much as she prayed for Jamie’s safety and longed desperately for him to be by her side once more, she still thanked God that he had not been here to see that.

Chapter Text

“Look, Mam! She’s doing it!”

“That’s braw, Maggie! Keep it up!” Jenny called from the blanket that she and Claire sat on.

The month of May was well underway, and the weather had been brilliantly sunny lately. Jenny had insisted they all needed to get some sun away from the fields or the washtubs and clotheslines. So she and Claire had put together a small picnic and brought it to the mill, the lapping water of the stream welcome music to their ears. They’d eaten, and they were now watching the children play. Wee Jamie was teaching Maggie how to roll the wooden hoop by hitting it with the stick, and she was finally getting it.

Just at that moment, the hoop got away from her, and in her frantic attempt to catch up, she toppled over, disappearing into the tall grass

“She alright, Jamie?”

Wee Jamie clamored to where Maggie had fallen and peeled her off the ground by her arm. “Fine, Mam!” he hollered.

Kitty, who was nestled between Jenny and Claire, stretched her arms out toward her siblings and gave a loud shout, seeming to be mimicking how her brother called out to their mother.

“What’s that, little girl?” Claire said, holding out her finger, which Kitty immediately grasped with her little fist. “Shouting at your brother?”

“Like mother, like daughter,” Jenny said. They both laughed. Jenny dipped her finger into the strawberry jam again, then put her finger into Kitty’s eager mouth. They’d discovered that this was a particular “solid” food that she enjoyed, likely due to its sweetness.

“Do you think since she’s used to the jam now she’d take a bit of a bannock covered in it?” Claire said, looking up at Jenny as Kitty bounced her finger around.

“We could try it,” Jenny said, reaching into the basket and pulling out a bannock. “What do ye say, wean?” Jenny ripped a tiny piece of the bannock and covered it with jam. “Will ye let me get away wi’ this?”

To their astonishment, she did, greedily devouring the bit of bread on Jenny’s fingers. “A miracle, indeed!” Jenny said.

“She just needs a little sugar for encouragement,” Claire said in the ridiculous baby voice she used to speak to her. “Isn’t that right, sweet tooth?”

“If I have to put jam on everything she eats from now on, I swear I’ll do it,” Jenny said, feeding her another jam-covered bite of bannock.

They both laughed again.

“Jamie! Gi’ me!”

They looked up to see Jamie flying like the wind with the hoop and stick, Maggie flailing her arms uselessly to stop him.

“Jamie! It doesnae look like yer teaching her to me!” Jenny called over, not wanting Maggie to break into a full blown tantrum.

“I didna want her to fall again!” Jamie protested.

Och , I’m sure,” Jenny said quietly to Claire, who chuckled softly. “She’s a braw lass,” Jenny called to him. “Give her another go.”

“Yes, Mam.”

Claire smiled at Jenny. “How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Manage all three of them?” Claire said. “You’re a wonderful mother, Jenny. I can only hope to live up to the example you’ve set for me.”

“Oh, it isna so hard. Well, it’s hard, of course. What I mean is…it comes natural, ken.” She briefly paused to wipe Kitty’s mouth, which was pink and sticky with jam. “There’s something inside that tells ye what to do even when ye’ve not a clue. I was never taught how to nurse, fer example. I just did it. No one ever told me that Maggie would only fall asleep if I rubbed her wee belly. I just did it one day, and it worked.” Jenny shrugged, then placed a hand on Claire’s knee. “It’ll all come to ye, Claire. I ken it will.”

Claire smiled. Though she still believed there was something innate to Jenny’s way with her children that she wasn’t sure she possessed, Claire was still grateful that Jenny believed in her. “Thank you, Jenny.”

“Mam!” Maggie’s little voice called. “Look!”

“Aye, there ye go, mo chridhe !”

“Lovely job, Maggie!” Claire called. Wee Jamie was cheering her on, encouraging her to keep it up, directing her all around. “He is so sweet to her, isn’t he?”

“Aye.” Jenny looked at them adoringly. “He is. When he wants to be that is.”

They chuckled. Claire’s heart stung, if only briefly.

“What is it?”

Jenny was getting better and better at reading Claire; it wouldn’t be much longer before she could read her like a book, as Jamie could.

Claire sighed. “It’s just…seeing them together…it makes me wonder…” Her voice trailed off.

“How yer own would be together,” Jenny finished for her.

Like a book.

Claire smiled sadly. “They’d be so close in age. I can…I can picture her.” Claire’s eyes clouded with tears. “I can picture my copper haired little lass teaching her brother to run with the hoop.”

Jenny wrapped an arm around her, and Claire gratefully rested her head on Jenny’s shoulder. “May God rest her soul,” Jenny said. “And may He deliver the next to ye safely.”

Claire sighed, determined not to cry. She smiled. “I could watch them all day.”

Jenny sighed as well. “So could I.”

Kitty made another loud yelp, causing them both to jump, then to laugh. “Someone doesn’t like to share her mother’s and auntie’s attention, hm?” Claire started giving her little tickles, and her joyful laughter pealed like beautiful little bells.

The sound of hoofbeats interrupted Claire’s and Kitty’s game. She and Jenny looked up to see Ian riding toward them.

“Ye have news?” Jenny said, standing up and stepping off the blanket.

Ian looked grave. “Aye.”

Claire bolted off the ground. “What is it?”

“Take the children to Mrs. Crook and meet me in the parlor.” 

“Da!” Wee Jamie called, waving his arms. “Look what I taught Maggie!”

Ian simply waved to him before turning his horse and riding back to the house.

“Da?” Jamie called again.

“Not now, Jamie,” Jenny said. “Take yer sister’s hand and come here to me.”

Jenny bent down to pick Kitty up.

“Jenny…” Claire was starting to panic.

Hoop and stick in one hand and Maggie’s hand in the other, Jamie trudged toward the blanket. “You can keep playing, but ye’ll stay close to the house, now. Wi’ Mrs. Crook.”

“Yes, Mam.”

“Off we go, then.”

They quickly gathered the remnants of their lunch and solemnly marched toward the house. The sun was still just as bright, warming their skin, the breeze was just as pleasant, the spring birds still sang. But any warmth or comfort that they’d just felt was gone.

Jenny handed Kitty over to Mrs. Crook when they reached the front porch.

“Put her down fer a nap, then mind the others,” Jenny said.

“Yes, Mistress.”

Claire morbidly thought that it felt like she was marching to her own death as she and Jenny ventured into the parlor. Ian was already standing there waiting when they arrived.

“Ye both should sit,” he said.

Jenny instinctually grasped Claire’s hand, her blood running cold. Together, they sat on the sofa, hands clasped in each other’s.

Claire swallowed thickly, her gaze narrowing and focusing on the pattern on the arm chair across the room. “He’s dead,” she said flatly, not moving. “Isn’t he.”

Ian sighed. Jenny let out a choked gasp, squeezing Claire’s hand tighter.

“They finally released the names of the executed survivors of the battle. Jamie wasna one of them, and he wasna one of the escaped either. Unrecorded names are assumed to be dead on the battlefield.”

Claire’s jaw set hard, her eyes locked on one particular leaf on the chair, the way the stitching flowed, the spots where the color was faded. 

“Assumed?” Jenny said desperately. “Is it no’ possible that he survived but avoided capture?”

Ian knelt beside Jenny and took hold of the hand that was not holding Claire’s. “It was a bloodbath, Jenny. They stabbed every body on that battlefield and shot down any that ran away. Theres…there’s no chance.” His voice caught in his throat, and he swallowed thickly. “I’m sorry.”

Jenny shook her head and collapsed into Ian, wracked with pitiful sobs.

Claire remained unchanged. Her vision had narrowed; all she could see now was that leaf on the upholstery of that chair.

“Claire…I’m heart sorry…”

Ian’s voice fell on deaf ears. It seemed quite possible that Claire would die still staring at that leaf. It was starting to not even look like a leaf anymore. Perhaps it was a feather…

“Claire.” Something touched her shoulder. A hand, perhaps?

Maybe it was the petal of a flower…

“Can ye hear me, lass?”

A green blanket blowing in the wind?

A ringing started in her head, a high pitched stream of white noise in her ears.

It was starting to look blue…had it been blue this whole time? It couldn’t be a leaf then.

“For God’s sake, Claire! Can ye look at me?”

Perhaps it was a piece of the sky, cut out of the atmosphere and stitched into the upholstery of the chair.

The ringing got louder, and she suddenly could not remember a time where she could not hear it.

Now it was turning purple.

There was a very sudden sting in her right cheek, and the leaf was gone, the ringing stopped. She couldn’t see or hear anything at all for a moment.

The first thing she heard was someone breathing, and the first sight she was aware of was the carpet in the parlor. The parlor…is that where she was?

She looked up in front of her, placing the breathing to the woman who knelt before her. She was red in the face, her eyes swimming with tears. Jenny. That was her name.

Her cheek still vaguely stung, and she realized that she’d been slapped across the face. By Jenny.

“Jenny…?” Claire didn’t recognize the sound of her own voice.

“Will ye no’ say anything?” Jenny said, her voice muffled by an excess of mucous in her airways.

“I can’t feel my fingers.” It was the only thing that came to her mind to say. She watched as Jenny clasped her hands in her own, but she didn’t feel it.

“Her hands are cold as ice.”

“I’m going into shock,” Claire said automatically.

“What’s that?” A new voice. Ian. He was there, too.

“I’m going into shock.”

Ian and Jenny exchanged a fretful look.

“Can ye feel this, lass?” Ian placed a gentle hand on her back.

“Have the leaves always been purple?”

Jenny and Ian exchanged another look.

“Yer no’ making any sense, Claire,” Ian said. “Can I…can I get ye something to drink?”

Jenny touched her face. “She’s cold all over.”

“D’ye feel feverish, Claire?” Ian asked.

“Feel…?” 

“Can ye stand, Claire?” Jenny asked.

“I don’t…have feet…” Claire’s eyebrows furrowed.

“She canna feel anything,” Jenny surmised. Jenny put Claire’s right arm around both of her shoulders, and Ian followed suit with her left arm. They slowly got her to her feet, but as expected, she was dead weight, even fully conscious.

“Uncle Lamb?”

“What’s that?” Ian asked.

“I can’t see…” Claire muttered. “Everything is dark…what’s happened, Uncle Lamb?”

“It’s alright, Claire,” Jenny said as they dragged her to the staircase. “Hush yerself now.”

“I can’t see! I’ve gone blind! Help me, please!”

When Claire was eleven years old, there’d been an incident with some gunpowder at a dig that had briefly damaged her vision. After the explosion, when she’d woken up inside a tent, she was horrified to realize she was awake, but the world remained dark. She remembered feeling so lost and helpless. She called out to her uncle, begging him to give her her sight back, crying tears that burned as they left her eyes. It was the first moment in her life she’d been truly terrified. Thankfully, she could see again after about a week, but she couldn’t sleep without a lantern for months after, terrified of any darkness she inhabited becoming permanent.

She felt eleven years old again, locked in a black terror, unable to bear being alone with herself like this. Back then, as her uncle cradled her to his chest, she truly believed she’d never see anything again. She grieved her eyesight and wept like the frightened child she was.

This time when her eyesight returned to her, she was met with a stone ceiling.

“Uncle…I can see…”

“Claire?”

That was not Uncle Lamb’s voice.

“Can ye see me now, Claire?”

Claire turned her head to see the same woman from before hovering over her.

“It’s Jenny, Claire…can ye see me?”

Jenny. Sister of my husband. My husband…

“My husband…” Claire’s voice was hardly a whisper.

Jenny removed the warm rag that was laid across her forehead and stroked her hair. “He’s gone, Claire.” Jenny bit her lip, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“He’s gone,” Claire repeated. 

Jenny began sobbing anew, covering her mouth in an unsuccessful attempt to quiet herself.

Jamie is gone.

That rushed goodbye in that field, those desperate kisses…that was truly the last time…

“He’s gone…” Claire said again, her voice strangely high pitched.

And suddenly, everywhere that had just been ice cold was now on fire. She was burning from the inside out, the worst pain she’d ever known.

She pushed herself into a sitting position, throwing the covers off.

“Jenny…” Claire said. “He’s really gone…”

“Oh, Claire,” Jenny sobbed.

“It can’t be true…” Claire shook her head, but the pain covering every inch of her body told her otherwise. “We had our whole lives, Jenny…”

“I know…” Jenny wrapped her arms around her. Claire’s arms remained limp at her side.

“His child…” Claire murmured. “He has to meet his child…”

Jenny clung to the back of Claire’s head, pressing her into her.

“I…I can’t do it, Jenny…” Claire still wouldn’t return the embrace.

“I ken he was yer heart. I ken it well.” Jenny sniffled and sighed shakily. “I’m…I’m so sorry…”

“I don’t…I don’t want to…” Claire tried to push herself out of Jenny’s grasp. “I don’t want to do this…let me go, please…” Jenny only tightened her grip. “Let go of me! I don’t want to…I don’t want to…”But despite every muscle in her body fighting against it, Claire’s words dissolved into indecipherable sobs, and her rigid body finally collapsed into Jenny. She threw her arms around her and wept gutturally into Jenny’s shoulder, clinging to her as if her life depended on it.

Chapter Text

It was impossible to say how long they’d wept, bore their broken hearts to each other. Where, in the beginning, Claire was hyper aware of strange, insignificant details, now, she was hardly aware of anything. Time was either rushing by faster than she could grasp or it was not moving at all. She hadn’t remembered Jenny leaving her side, when she’d come to be alone in her room. And she certainly couldn’t remember a particular boy entering the room and sitting beside her. When he spoke, it was as if he’d appeared out of thin air.

Maman?”

His voice sounded like it was underwater. She knew he needed her comfort, knew he’d lost him too…but she couldn’t move. She was paralyzed.

Fergus had seen her lost in her grief once before. After Faith, when Jamie was in the Bastille. She thought she’d lost them both back then. Oh, and he was so good to her, even through his own suffering. He could set aside his youth to be strong for a woman nearly triple his age. Now she could not bring herself to move to give him even an ounce of comfort, for fear her fragile shell may shatter.

She truly didn’t deserve him.

But she had made a promise. A promise to Jamie. Jamie, the man whose loss had made her this way.

She’d promised to be a mother to him.

Mothers weren't afraid to look at their sons and see pain in their faces. Not good mothers, at least.

I’m not strong enough, Jamie. I can’t carry his pain as well as mine.

I’ve failed him.

But even as she thought it, she second guessed herself. Jamie knew he would die on that moor. He knew it when he said goodbye, and he knew it when he asked her to be a mother to Fergus. He knew exactly the burdens she would have to carry, precisely how difficult a time it would be for her. And he still asked it of her.

Because he believed in her.

He believed in her capacity to love, above all else, even when she was hopeless.

I will not let you down.

She forced herself to pick her head up and focus her vision on Fergus’s face. It almost broke her. His eyes were red, swollen. His face was splotchy and stained with dried tears.

At Prestonpans, when he’d confessed to killing an English soldier, and he melted into her panicked embrace, she’d been overcome by the reminder of how young he was. It was easy to forget, the way he carried himself, the things he was capable of.

With trembling hands, she cupped his dear face, then ran a hand over the length of his beautiful curls.

“Oh, my darling…” she whispered, her chest tightening.

Jamie was the only father he’d ever known, his friend, his hero.

“My poor darling…” She pulled him into her, cradling his head to her chest. She could feel him weeping anew as tears trickled over her skin, and she gently rocked him.

“He loved you, Fergus.” Claire willed her voice to not tremble. “You were his son.” She pressed a tender kiss to the top of his head. “Even without him here…you will grow to be a remarkable young man, just like your father was. He will…” She breathed a deep, shuddering breath, steeling herself. “He will always love you. And you will forever make him proud.”

There it was. Proof that Jamie was right. He’d believed she was strong enough and possessed enough love in her heart to be able to give what little strength she had left to those around her.

“Will you die without him?” he said suddenly, tightening his grip around her middle.

“What…?”

“Will you die of a broken heart? Please do not, Maman…I will do anything to make you happy, anything.”

“Oh, Fergus.” She held him tighter, if that were even possible. “My heart is broken…into a million pieces. I am in…so much pain. I won’t ever be the same again.” She released her grip on him enough to tilt his chin up so she could meet his eye. “But what will always be the same is how much I love you. I will never leave you, Fergus. No matter what happens…” She swallowed thickly, recalling words that seemed a lifetime ago. “You will never be alone again.” She caressed his cheek.

“You will never be alone either, Maman,” Fergus said, dutiful even through his tears. “I will take care of you. I promised him.”

“I know. You are such a good boy.” She stroked his hair again, then kissed his forehead. He leaned into her embrace again, curling into her lap.

“You know, when my parents died when I was little, my Uncle rocked me to sleep every single night. I slept right next to him for months. Now when I think back on it, I think he needed the comfort from me as much as I did from him.”

“Like us,” Fergus said. “You need me and I need you.”

“That’s right, love.” Fresh tears trickled down Claire’s cheeks. “And if you need me to hold you until you sleep, right here in this bed, I will do it for as long as you need.”

“Will it bring you comfort, too?”

Claire sighed. “Yes. It would.”

“Then I will.”

Claire settled into the pillows, and they adjusted themselves until they were both lying down, nestled into one another as mother and son.

She had no concept of what the time was as she slipped into a surprisingly peaceful sleep, Fergus’s even breathing lulling her into a sweet oblivion.

——

Maman?”

She awoke to Fergus’s gentle shaking. She peered up at him through squinted eyes.

“Mrs. Crook has brought us supper.”

“Just some broth,” Mrs. Crook’s voice took Claire by surprise. “It’ll be easy to keep down.”

Claire’s head was splitting. Even the small amount of candlelight in the room was killing her. Candlelight…it was broad daylight when she’d fallen asleep, wasn’t it?

“Mistress Murray told me to insist that ye eat it,” Mrs. Crook continued. “And that she’ll be in later to make sure ye have. Both of ye.”

“Yes, Madame,” Fergus said.

Mrs. Crook turned to leave, but stopped herself. “I’m…I’m heart sorry, Mistress Fraser. Yer husband was a fine man. God be wi’ ye.”

So it’s real, then.

Claire’s head was turned away from her, covering her eyes with her hands to block out the light. Fergus nodded to Mrs. Crook on Claire’s behalf, and she left, gently shutting the door behind her.

Maman?” Fergus gently touched her shoulder. “Did you hear me?”

Every single limb weighed thousands of pounds. Her head was throbbing. She couldn't move.

“Will you eat the broth, Maman?”

She was trying to move, trying to make sound in her throat, but she couldn’t.

“Maman, you must eat.”

After waiting briefly for an answer, Fergus gently took Claire’s hand in his and pulled it away from her face. She winced in pain.

“Food will help your headache,” Fergus said.

Finally, Claire was able to muster enough energy to turn her head and open her eyes so she could look at him.

“I understand…I am not hungry either.” Fergus squeezed her hand. “But you have to eat, Maman. Please. For mon petit.”

Claire blinked slowly, painfully. As much as she wanted to, she could not let herself waste away. To let herself get away with telling herself she was too upset to eat even one time could put her child in danger. If it all came back up right away, then at least she could say she tried.

Claire nodded, and Fergus helped her sit up. He carefully picked up the tray that held two bowls from the nightstand and put it on the bed between them.

“I eat, you eat,” Claire said groggily.

“Fair is fair.”

They both ate slowly. It tasted like nothing, like a tasteless liquid heat sliding down her throat and landing heavily in her stomach. Fergus was watching her carefully all the while, waiting for her to swallow before taking his own spoonful.

There was a knock on the door, and whoever it was didn’t wait for a response before opening it.

“Glad to see yer eating,” Jenny said. “Ye’ve got to keep yer strength up even when ye don't want to.”

Claire nodded silently, putting down her spoon.

“And ye’ll be finishing it,” Jenny said pointedly.

“I will make sure of it,” Fergus said.

Jenny approached the bed and hesitantly sat down. “I just wanted to tell ye,” she said to Claire. “Ian will be sending for Jamie’s body come morning. We won’t be leaving him to rot on the moor.”

Claire very nearly lost all the food she’d just forced down, her stomach turning at the phrase Jamie’s body.

“We will bring him home to rest, Claire.” Jenny’s voice was thick with emotion as she closed her hands around Claire’s. “I swear it.”

Claire closed her eyes, heavy, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. Jenny sighed heavily. She pecked Claire on the cheek, briefly caressed Fergus’s head, then made for the door.

“Make sure it’s finished.”

“Yes, Milady.”

She shut the door behind her as she left.

Claire had no concept of how much time had passed; it very well may have taken her five hours to get through a single bowl of broth. Either way, she finished it, and Fergus put the tray back on the nightstand.

“Would you like a nightgown, Maman?”

Claire nodded, and he wasted no time retrieving one from the wardrobe. “I will help you with your laces and then turn so you may have privacy.”

Claire numbly swung her legs over the edge of the bed and allowed him to do just that. After he'd turned around, it was a struggle to finish undressing herself with how her fingers trembled. Somehow, she managed.

“I’m done,” she said, surprised by how croaky her voice sounded. Fergus got back into bed, having removed his vest and socks. This time, they actually got under the covers. They each lay on their pillow, looking at each other in silence for a long while.

“Have I told you how lucky I am to have you?” Claire said, cupping his cheek.

“Perhaps.”

“Well I am. And so is mon petit.”

“I am lucky to have you, too.”

It baffled her that he could be grateful for her when she’d become this empty, hollow shell, yet it also comforted her. This boy was grateful for her, every part of her. He wasn’t grateful for her despite what she’d been through, the losses she’d suffered, he was grateful for her because of it.

And that made her all the more grateful for him.

——

Days and days passed in a similar manner. Claire could not get out of bed. Broth would be brought to her, and Fergus or Jenny would see to it that she ate it. The morning sickness was becoming more and more frequent, which certainly wasn’t helping her already dwindled desire to eat.

She spent her days alternating between staring at the wall or the ceiling, feeling numb and feeling anguish. She couldn’t remember a time where her existence consisted of any more than this.

Fergus hardly left her side, comforting her when she was ill and fetching her water immediately after. He brushed her hair as he had in Paris. Fergus could be credited for being the one to actually get her out of bed. His insistence on brushing her hair and wiping her face and neck with cold water and just a dab of sweet smelling oils is what eventually made her feel somewhat human again.

Her sleep during those days she stayed in bed was fitful. She was constantly tired no matter how many hours she spent asleep. She neither dreamed nor completely blacked out. It was a horrible lingering between worlds, and it was exhausting.

There was a particular day where Fergus had asked to be held; he was overwhelmed with grief. As she rocked him back and forth, she was shocked to realize that she was not crying, not at all. Her chest felt tight, her stomach was churning, but her mind was blank, and not a single tear came. Even as her son wept for his father, her husband, she felt nothing.

Perhaps it would have been different if he’d died right in front of her. If she’d spent hours trying to tend his wounds or ease his fever, only for him to weakly take her hand in his, stopping her.

“It’s alright, Sassenach,” he would say. “You can let me go now.”

Then he’d drift away in her arms, and she’d shout at him, curse him for letting himself leave her, she’d spend hours trying to revive his long dead body before she’d collapse on top of him, fist his shirt in her hands, kiss him all over his dead face, stroke his hair. Someone would have had to pry her off of him, kicking and screaming. Almost like how they’d had to pry Faith out of her arms.

Perhaps then it would feel different. She would have those final moments to remember, horrible, painful memories, but concrete nonetheless. The way it had really happened, she could not fathom that he’d been alive when she last saw him. She could not fathom that he was dead and rotting without her having tried to save him. She could not fathom that he was just…gone.

After the initial shock had worn off, it didn’t feel like he was gone at all. She was not going mad; she knew what she’d heard and she knew it was true. But logic and what she felt in her soul were two different things. The week she spent lying in bed was not really grief or mourning. She literally didn’t know what else to do. With nothing to cling to, nothing to bury, there was nothing to do.

Now instead of grief, there was this emptiness, this complete helplessness, almost restlessness. It was what finally drove her to get out of bed and rejoin the household for breakfast one morning. She knew she looked haggard, though Fergus insisted she was beautiful.

She entered the dining room with Fergus, and all heads turned.

“Claire,” Ian said, a small smile on his face. “It’s good to see you, lass.”

Jenny offered a small smile as well. Feeling a stranger in her own home, Claire mechanically stepped into the room and sat down. “Good morning, everyone.” Her voice was small and scratchy.

“How is the morning sickness?” Jenny said, desperate to avoid awkward silence.

“It’s alright,” Claire said. “That might change after this meal, however.”

Jenny chuckled softly.

“Is there…” Claire began, averting her gaze from looking directly at anyone. “Uh…the body…”

“No news yet,” Ian said quickly. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s…it’s alright,” Claire brushed it off. “I was just…curious.”

“It’ll take some time,” Ian said.

“I understand,” Claire said, finally looking up at him.

“Do ye need any herbs, Claire?” Jenny said suddenly. Claire looked at her, her brows furrowed together. “All those herbs ye use for medicine. Are ye needing any?”

“I…I don’t know…”

“I was thinking we could set aside a section of the garden fer yer herbs,” Jenny said.

“That’s…that would be lovely.”

“I thought we could gather some things today on the grounds that ye’d like to have closer to ye. If anything is missing we can take a trip to Edinburgh tomorrow.”

Claire hadn’t thought about herbs or healing in weeks. It had seemed futile to do so, knowing that so many were mangled and dead and she’d been powerless to stop it.

“Be nice to get out of the house,” Jenny continued when Claire didn’t answer. “Fresh air would be good for you, and the bairn.”

“I…I suppose,” Claire said.

“It’s settled then. I’ll have Mrs. Crook pack us a lunch and we’ll be off. Back by supper.”

Claire nodded. Breakfast continued rather silently.

She’d been hesitant to agree to a long day out of the house, but as usual, Jenny had been right. It felt good to be in the fresh air, and it felt good to feel useful and productive. There were even moments where she found herself genuinely smiling. It felt good to be able to teach Jenny as they went along, tell her what they were looking for, describe the medical uses for everything. She hadn’t met anyone besides Jamie in this time who was so eager to learn from her. Of course it occurred to her that Jenny could be simply humoring her, using this as a device to get her outside and have normal interactions with someone her age, but Claire wouldn’t have minded if that were true. But it helped that that didn’t seem to be the case. Surely that was Jenny’s motive, but she did seem to be expressing genuine interest, which did Claire’s heart good.

They did end up taking a trip to Edinburgh the next day to fetch some things they couldn’t find on the grounds that Claire would have liked in her garden. It was a small gesture, really, but Jenny’s insistence that Claire designate a piece of the Lallybroch garden for herself was another way that she was made to feel welcome, like this really was her home. And though she had lost so, very much, perhaps she could someday, with time, find comfort in the things that she’d gained.

Chapter Text

“Claire…”

 She inhaled deeply through her nose, teetering on the edge of oblivion.

 “Claire…mo nighean donn…”

 “Jamie…

 She reached out for him, but she couldn’t tell if she was really reaching, or if she was frozen in her body and reaching out with the edges of her mind. She couldn’t even tell if she was really speaking.

 “Come find me, Claire…”

 “I’m here Jamie…”

 She tried to sit up, but she found herself paralyzed in her own body.

“Mo ghràidh…”

 “Jamie…please come to me…

 She felt his fingers brushing her back, and a choked gasp escaped her lips. She tried to reach behind her to take his hand, but she could not move.

 “Jamie…touch me…

 His hands were all over her back, kneading her shoulders, running his fingers through her hair.

 Claire let out a tortured sob. She was sweating with the effort of willing her arms to move, of turning herself around and beholding his presence with her eyes. But she was rooted where she lay; there was a thousand pound weight pressing her into the bed, every inch of her trapped.

 “Let me see you, Jamie…

 He pressed kisses into her head.

 “Claire…”

 “Jamie, please…let me see you…

 His touch began fading from her.

 “No…please…let me see you!”

 She could feel his breath on her neck, in her ear.

 “Goodbye, Claire…”

 “No…please…please!”

 His touch was gone, his breath was gone.

 “Jamie!” 

 Her own scream reverberated in her head, ricocheting off the walls, piercing her skull like bullets. Every inch of her body was aching, screaming to be free from the paralysis that plagued her.

 “Jamie!”

 Her eyes shot open. She finally really heard her voice in her ears, rather than just echoing in her mind. Gasping for breath, trembling violently, she was finally able to move. She pushed herself into a sitting position.

 “Jamie!” She frantically searched the room. “Jamie…”

 The room was black, there was no motion, no sound but her own ragged breath.

 “Jamie…” She was hit with the crushing realization that it had been a dream. She’d had a sleep paralysis episode; she was asleep enough to imagine his voice, his touch, but awake enough to have believed it was really happening.

 Her nightgown was clinging to her. There was an outline on the sheet and pillow in her own sweat. 

 “Come back…” she called out into the blackness of her empty bedroom. “Come back to me…please…”

 Even knowing as she did that it was a dream, she still could not shake the feeling of his hands on her back, his voice, his breath…he was there. She would swear it on her life. She had felt him. Even if it hadn’t been real, she had felt him there with her.

 All logic left her for a moment as she desperately called for his return, until her words dissolved into incoherent sobbing. She curled into herself, hugging her knees to her chest and stifling her cries in her arms.

 The ache of his absence was almost too much to bear. Of course he’d been gone, but this was an entirely different kind of loss, it was like having him ripped from her arms all over again, unable to even turn around to look at him, knowing that he was there

 Claire picked up her head and wiped her face with her clammy hands. “I’m losing my mind…” she mumbled to herself.

 She briefly glanced at the empty half of her bed. Fergus had started to give her more space the more time that had passed, so there were some nights he’d decided to let Claire have the bed to herself. She selfishly never liked when he did this; she found herself feeling starved for affection no matter how much of it she received from nearly every member of the household. Tonight, for the first time, she was grateful that Fergus had decided not to sleep beside her.

 She forced herself out of bed and stumbled over to the window. She dropped to her knees on the windowsill and forced it open. The cool, night air flowed into her lungs, and she drank it in like a starved prisoner. The cold rushed over her wet skin, clung to her soaking nightgown, turning her entire body to gooseflesh in an instant. She welcomed the sensation. She let her head hang loose, breathing heavily at the ceiling. It felt odd, to have goosebumps and yet still feel like every inch of her was on fire.

 She’d heard about sleep paralysis, read about it. But she’d never experienced it before. She’d heard of the terrors of being trapped in one's own body, of feeling an evil presence and being unable to flee.

 She would have gratefully taken any form of torture, any evil spirit, any demon at her bedside. She would have endured that suffering without the ability to relieve herself of it. It could not compare to the agony of knowing that Jamie was right behind her and being unable to turn and look at him, to touch him with her own hands, or even to call out to him.

 She swallowed thickly, remembering the terror of the feeling of her throat closing around her words even as she spoke them. Just as she hadn’t realized how badly she’d needed air, she hadn’t realized how badly she needed water. She walked to the nightstand and gulped down an entire glass. She filled the glass again and made her way back to the window, missing the feeling of the cool air.

 She sat herself on the windowsill, her back against the one side, her feet against the other. Her hands rested on her bent knees, lazily holding the glass of water. She stared out into the night, the moon illuminating her pale skin. How many times had she and Jamie slept under the stars together, made love under an open sky? How many times had he told her the story of every single constellation as he pointed them out to her, his eyes lighting up like an excited little boy as he did so? She remembered leaning on his chest, her chin resting on the back of her hands, watching him speak into the sky, his eyes glittering in awe at the stars. She’d always been too busy watching him to pay any mind to what he was telling her. She nodded when he paused, smiled lovingly when he occasionally would glance at her face for approval.

 He was beautiful in those moments. He was always dashing, rugged, handsome, every second without even trying. But those moments were when he was truly beautiful. His eyes when he stared in wonder at the heavens, his gentle voice when he was alone with a horse, the enthralled expression when she’d first told him about airplanes, his laugh when he was with Jenny’s children. Those were moments where she was reminded just how deeply she loved him.

 The night sky began to blur, and she blinked to allow the tears to fall down her cheeks. Her chest ached so terribly. She suddenly lacked the energy to even hold the glass up anymore. She set it down on the floor beside her and slumped back into her position, suddenly feeling dead where she sat.

 She gazed absently into the sky again, weeping silently. She let her gaze slip to the tree tops beyond, then further down to the Fraser farmland, then further still, to the ground right below her window. Without even thinking, she swung her legs over so they dangled outside her window, her heels hitting the cool brick of the castle.

 She was only two stories up, but two stories of a Scottish castle were higher than two stories that she’d been accustomed to at one time. It was likely closer to three stories, perhaps a bit less. People had survived worse falls with only a few broken bones to show for it. 

 But on the other hand, if one landed the right way, they could be killed immediately.

 Claire hadn’t remembered when she’d stopped crying. All she could remember now was the wind brushing her dangling toes, beckoning her. It was almost as if she’d been on this window sill, dangling like this for years, even her whole life. Her existence had narrowed down to these moments. There was no thought in her mind but sweet, forgiving oblivion. She was at peace.

 Until there was another thought.

 A baby’s face, eyes closed, lips parted, translucent skin. Cold and dead in her arms. Her first born, dead before she could draw breath.

 Claire’s hands instinctively flew to her stomach, a wave of the most intense guilt she’d ever felt washing over her.

 She was not only contemplating suicide. She was also contemplating murder. Murder of her child. Of Jamie’s child.

 She was suddenly terrified at the height, no longer enthralled by it. Her peace was gone. Her chin trembled and her eyes widened. She scrambled to swing her legs back inside, terrified of making one wrong move and toppling over. Her legs safely inside, she firmly shut the window. Trembling, she stumbled off the windowsill, knocking over the glass she’d put on the floor. She staggered back a few steps, her eyes locked in horror at the window.

 New tears trickled down her cheeks, tears of shame, of absolute abhorrence of herself. She collapsed to her knees on the wooden floor. Her hands were trembling violently. She brought them to her abdomen, but she could not bring herself to rest them there. She was not worthy of the comfort of touching her child. Not when she’d been so ready to kill him.

 “I’m sorry…” she whispered into the empty room. “I’m so sorry…” She crossed herself, surprised even as she did it. The last time she’d done so had been at Faith’s grave. She brought her fingers to her lips. “Forgive me…” Whether she was begging for God’s forgiveness, for her unborn child’s, for Jamie’s or even Faith’s, she had no idea. Perhaps even all of them at once.

 “As long as I draw breath, your child will be safe,” Claire prayed fervently. “Forgive me, Jamie…forgive me…”

 ——

 “Claire?”

 There was an acute pain right at the front of her forehead, between her eyes.

 “Claire!”

 She groaned. She didn't remember having fallen asleep on the floor.

 “Thank Christ.” She recognized it now as Jenny’s voice. “What in God’s name are ye doing on the floor?”

 Dazed, Claire pushed herself up and opened her eyes.

 “Scared me half to death seeing ye sprawled out like that.”

 “I…I was hot, in bed…” Claire squinted as she looked up at Jenny, the light feeling like a sword through her skull. “The floor was…cool.”

 Jenny’s brow furrowed with confusion. “Were ye drinking last night?”

 Claire could have laughed. She must’ve certainly looked hungover. “No…but I do have a splitting headache at the moment.”

 Jenny was at her side, helping her up before she could even blink. “Let’s get ye into bed, then.” Claire hadn’t the energy nor the willpower to stop her from pushing her back into bed. “I’ll get ye some of that tea for headaches. For now, drink some water — where’s the glass?”

 Claire almost laughed again. “Windowsill.”

 Jenny retrieved it from the floor where it had fallen last night, and returned to Claire’s bedside looking skeptical. “Are ye sure ye weren’t piss drunk last night?”

 “I can assure you, I was painfully sober,” Claire said, though she could tell Jenny wasn’t about to accept the story about the floor being cold. “I…I had a frightening dream. I didn’t want to be in bed. I don’t even remember falling asleep again.”

 “Drunk wi’ dreams then,” Jenny said, pouring water into the glass and handing it to her. “Couldn’t free yourself from it then?”

 “No…I guess you could say that,” Claire said, guilt bubbling in her chest.

 “Ian used to have nightmares after France, when he came back wi’out his leg. He kept reliving it in his sleep. Even after I woke him he’d still be going mad, like he was still living in it.”

 Claire nodded. “That’s common for soldiers, especially those who suffered a trauma like he did.”

 Jenny nodded. “It only happens very rarely now. His soul healed wi’ time.” Jenny put a hand on her shoulder. “Ye don’t have to tell me. I ken what ye were dreaming.” Jenny sat down on the bed. “I dream of him too, suffering, dying, rotting in the ground where we’ll never find him.” She sighed shakily. “The only comfort we have is to know he isna suffering any longer. He’s free of pain in the eternal kingdom. Ye have to believe that.”

 “I do.” Claire’s voice wavered.

 “Yer soul will heal wi’ time.” Jenny quickly wiped her own eyes. “I’m hoping I can stop dreaming of him rotting and forgotten when we can finally bury him beside Father.” She spoke of it as if speaking of a business transaction, but Claire could see how deeply it pained her. “At least then I’ll ken he’s where he belongs.”

 Claire nodded. “It’ll be a great comfort to be able to visit.”

 “Aye.” She sniffled. “Ye know, I…I ken it’s foolish…”

 “What? You can tell me.”

 “I…I gave him that rosary. The one that brought Ian back to me. I truly thought…” Her voice trailed off.

 Claire put a hand on Jenny’s thigh, not knowing what to say.

 “The last thing I said to him is that I’d never forgive him if he never came back.” Her voice broke, and tears spilled down her cheeks. “I canna help but think of him in his last moments, remembering how I said I’d never forgive him…”

 “Jenny…” Claire gently rubbed her back. “I’m sure he knows you didn’t mean it…”

 “But I did,” she said resolutely. “I still havena forgiven him. I can’t.”

 Claire didn't know what to say.

 “Have you forgiven him?” Jenny asked. “Leaving his wife and child unborn? Yer whole lives ahead of ye?”

 Claire’s throat tightened briefly, remembering her final deception of him, keeping the baby from him. “I…I suppose I haven’t,” Claire admitted, deciding to not tell her that she purposely kept the baby from him. “I knew…we knew,” Claire corrected herself, not ready to explain how she alone had known the details of Culloden’s aftermath. “It was a doomed cause. I asked him if he wanted to flee the country, that day we found out Prince Charles had forged his signature. I suggested the colonies, a new life. He said he couldn’t leave his tenants, his family. You, your children.” Jenny looked at her guiltily. “And I understood. I suggested you and your family come with us but he just…he couldn’t leave his tenants to the mercy of the British. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself. And I suppose I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself either. But still…we could have done it. All of us. We could all be in the colonies, together, alive.

 “I understood…but at the same time I didn’t. Why were his tenants more important than me? Than the children he’d promised we would raise someday? All of his tenants that fought for the Jacobites are dead now anyway. All of their families are destitute and grieving now anyway. It all would have come to pass with or without him. He couldn’t save them from any of it. The only thing he could have changed…the only one he could have spared that pain was me. And he chose not to.” Claire inhaled, and was shocked to feel the breath catch in her throat. She hadn’t remembered beginning to cry, but she certainly was now. “I…I tried not to think about it before Culloden. I thought maybe he was right…that we could change history. And then we won Prestonpans and I truly believed, for just a moment…But now that he’s gone, I find myself wanting to grab him by the shoulders and scream at him…I told you so.”

 Jenny nodded, covering Claire’s hand that still rested on her thigh. “I’d like to join ye in that.”

 “Perhaps if I’d been firmer, I should have insisted we leave, I never should have let myself get carried away by that pipe dream…”

 “Claire,” Jenny said firmly, looking into her eyes. “Ye ken as well as I that nothing could have changed his mind. It’s that damnable honor o’ his. You know.”

 “His bloody honor…” Claire spat. “Honor…to his tenants, over his honor to me. To our family.”

 Jenny nodded. “I know.”

 “I wish I could just hate him for it,” Claire hissed through her gritted teeth. “Then I could…replace this…horrible emptiness with something…” She sighed, shaking her head, closing her eyes and letting the tears fall. “But I can’t.”

 “I…I know exactly what ye mean.” Jenny sniffled. “I feel just the same.”

 “It was the same when…when we lost Faith. I hated him for it, or at least I wanted to. I told him I did. It was easier to have someone to blame than to let myself feel the weight of what I’d lost. I want to blame him for this, too. Even more than I did for that.” Her heart ached so terribly. “But I can’t.”

 “But even knowing that ye can’t hate him, there still isna room to forgive him.”

 “No.”

 Jenny nodded. “And it hurts more that way. Unable to forgive someone ye love so.”

 Claire nodded. “Exactly.”

 “Come here.” Jenny pulled her into a tight embrace. Claire gratefully returned it, knowing Jenny needed it as badly as she did. “I’m grateful to ye fer making him as happy as ye did while he still walked on this Earth. And I’m grateful to him for bringing you here to us.”

 “I’m grateful for you too, Jenny,” Claire breathed, tears falling into Jenny’s shoulder. “He loved you so much.”

 “I ken.” Jenny kissed her cheek, and as she always was when Jenny did such a thing, Claire was touched beyond description.

 Releasing her grip, Jenny took a quick breath. “Right then. I’ll get ye that tea.”

 Claire laid back on the pillows, closing her eyes again and wiping her face clean of tears. Living without Jamie was the most difficult thing she’d ever had to do. Losing Faith was horrible, but she’d had Jamie (if not right away, then at least a few months after the fact) to carry her through it. Losing Jamie was like losing a piece of herself that she needed to survive all other injuries. And last night, she’d never been so certain that she would have to die without that vital part of herself.

 But Jenny saw something in her that she could not find within herself. Claire had always felt weak when she compared herself to Jenny, whether she liked to admit it or not. She was a force of nature that made Claire feel small even on her strongest days. But for some reason, Jenny believed in her. She could still see a kernel of strength beneath her grief, something Claire was certain had died with Jamie. Jenny was pulling her out of that wreckage, even if it was only inch by inch, and she would not rest until Claire was above water again. She would keep her afloat and deliver this baby, her brother’s child, and together they would raise him in his memory. Claire briefly prayed for strength, to never again feel the weakness that she’d felt last night, weakness that could have brought yet another indescribable pain to Jenny, to Ian, to Fergus. She prayed for even a fraction of the strength that Janet Fraser Murray had in her right pinky.

 And she prayed for her poor husband’s body to be delivered to them, so his soul could finally be put to rest, so they could finally bury him and begin to pick up the pieces he’d left behind.

Chapter Text

About another week passed by of peaceful uneventfulness. Breakfast that morning had been quiet aside from Rabbie and wee Jamie chattering away to each other. There was a solemnity in all of the adults present, and even in Fergus.

It had been almost a month since they’d inquired about retrieving Jamie’s remains from Culloden. They’d heard whispers of people sneaking past the barriers the British had put up and retrieving loved ones themselves. Ian had mentioned it many times, but Jenny had insisted they do things properly. Claire was in enough danger as it was being Red Jamie’s wife. They couldn’t afford to do anything foolish to draw attention to her.

Jenny and Claire were sitting on the sofa in the parlor. Kitty was sitting on the floor, Bran laying dutifully, and quite patiently beside her as the toddler patted his head, and picked up his ears and paws over and over again, giggling madly when they dropped back into place. Jenny was attempting to teach Claire knit. Transitioning from stitching up skin to stitching fabric hadn’t been too difficult to manage, but knitting was an entirely different animal. She was failing miserably, and Jenny had taken the yarn and needles from her about three times now to correct something.

“Just tell me the truth,” Claire said, falling into the back of the couch and laughing. “I’m hopeless.”

“Yer not a lost cause until I say ye are,” Jenny insisted. “Come over here, watch how I fix this…again.”

Sighing, Claire sat up again and leaned over to watch Jenny fix yet another one of her mistakes, but something else caught her eye.

“Jenny!” she whispered excitedly. “Look.”

Jenny looked up and followed Claire’s gaze. Kitty was standing, still right next to Bran, having not used any furniture to get up. Jenny gasped in excitement. She threw the knitting down on the sofa and scrambled to her feet, grasping Claire’s hands. They silently crept several feet away from her, not wanting to startle her into falling back down before she attempted to walk.

“Kitty!” Jenny called, crouching down. Claire stood behind her, beaming. “Come on, Kitty. Walk to me, mo chridhe!”

Kitty stared for a moment, gaping at her. She made a little grunting noise, causing Jenny and Claire to laugh.

“Come on Kitty!” Claire joined. “Come on, sweetheart, you can do it!”

Jenny began egging her on in Gaelic, and she finally took a step toward them.

“Good girl!” Claire cried joyously, and Jenny stammered affectionately in Gaelic.

Katherine took two more steps, causing the woman to squeal. They continued to cheer her on, to praise her, until she finally took six, continuous steps into Jenny’s arms, smiling triumphantly. Jenny laughed joyously and scooped her up, standing and throwing her over her head.

“You did it!” Claire said. “What a clever girl!”

“She finally did it!” Jenny exclaimed. “I was worried, I was but…oh, mo chridhe..." Jenny kissed her yellow head, and Kitty laughed gleefully.

“I told you she was fine, just a late bloomer.” Claire cupped her little head and kissed her cheek. “Auntie Claire is so proud of you,” she said, and Kitty latched her clumsy hands into Claire’s curls, causing Claire to laugh out loud. Babies always had a tendency to latch onto hair, but there was something about Claire’s curly mop that was much more intriguing to her than her own mother’s hair.

Kitty made quite an indignant noise as Claire and Jenny worked to detangle her hands. They laughed and fussed over her; they couldn’t wait to tell Ian.

Suddenly, Fergus burst into the room.

“Fergus!” Claire said joyously. “You’ll never guess what wee Kitty just did!”

“I am sorry to interrupt,” Fergus said. “There are English soldiers coming up the road.”

Claire and Jenny’s smiles disappeared.

“Go fetch Milord,” Jenny instructed. Fergus nodded and scampered off. Claire went to follow after him, but Jenny grabbed her arm. “Ye’ll be staying inside.”

Claire burned a white hot stare into Jenny, but she did not release her. “I ken what ye must be feeling right now, but we canna afford for ye to make scene wi’ the British. I wouldna blame ye if ye did, but we canna take the chance. Ye’ll stay inside while Ian speaks wi’ them.”

“It’s my husband’s body they’re discussing,” Claire spat.

“Aye, and his child yer carrying. Would ye like it to be born in prison?” Jenny challenged. Claire’s jaw hardened, but she had nothing to say in response to that.

With a frustrated sigh Claire pulled her arm free of Jenny’s grip and dropped back onto the sofa. Kitty made another noise, sounding troubled, as if she could sense the change of mood in the room.

Jenny bounced her and kissed her head. “Mrs. Crook!” Jenny called. Before long the woman entered the room. “Take her please.” She handed her off to Mrs. Crook’s outstretched arms. “She just took her first steps,” Jenny said, smiling proudly despite the anxiety in her chest.

“Ah, what a braw wee lassie!” Mrs. Crook said, giving Kitty a tickle. “I’ll keep her occupied fer ye, Mistress.”

Jenny thanked her and called for Bran, who snapped into a standing position and trotted after Mrs. Crook, leaving Jenny and Claire alone in the parlor.

Jenny sat down beside Claire, putting a comforting, steadying hand on her knee. “Nothing so pure as a child’s laughter, no?” Jenny said in attempt to lighten the mood.

Despite her own anxiety, Claire smiled. “Yes…it’s a beautiful thing.”

“Won’t be long before — ”

The front door slammed shut, causing them both to jump. They both listened with bated breath as Ian’s uneven steps came closer and closer to the parlor.

Ian entered the room, his face solemn. “That was a British courier responding to our inquiry.”

Jenny sighed, not waiting for him to say it. “They won’t give him back to us.”

Ian shook his head. “They don’t even know where he is.” Jenny scoffed, disgusted. She buried her face in her hands as Ian continued. “They buried the dead in mass graves right on the moor. Hundreds and hundreds of them.”

“Fucking bastards,” Claire spat, abruptly standing up. She began pacing. “They slaughter him like an animal on that field and they don’t have the decency to give us a body to bury? It’s barbaric! I could fucking throttle him.” Claire made for the front door, intending to follow that courier to the ends of the earth and kill him with her bare hands. Ian stopped her, gently placing his hands on her shoulders.

“Let go of me.” she said through gritted teeth, but Ian only tightened his grip.

“It’s no use Claire. There are hundreds of other wives without bodies to bury. I’m sorry, lass.”

“I refuse to accept that,” Claire said firmly. “Now let me go!”

“Claire.”

She writhed in his grip, to the point where he had to wrap his arms around her entire frame. “Let me go! You fucking bastard!” She was screaming now, unintelligibly, trying to throw punches, to knee him in the groin, but unable.

“Jamie!” she shrieked, long and drawn out, his name tearing through her throat in an agonizing, blood curdling scream. She cried out his name again, but this time her knees gave out beneath her, and she dissolved into uncontrollable sobs. Ian, holding her up under her arms, glanced up helplessly at Jenny, who hurried off the sofa.

“Let her down,” Jenny instructed, and Ian gently lowered her to her knees. Jenny dropped to the floor and caught her in her arms. She held her tightly and rocked her back and forth as guttural cries wracked her body.

Wee Jamie appeared in the entryway to the parlor. “Mam?” His voice was small and scared.

“Ian,” Jenny said exhaustedly.

“It’s alright lad.” Ian hurried to scoop him into his arms. “Dinna fash. Let’s see if we can bother Mrs. Crook for some biscuits, aye?”

They disappeared to the kitchen, leaving the two women alone.

“Claire…oh, Claire…” Jenny stroked her hair, rubbed her back, cupped her cheek. “I ken it’s no’ fair. It’s downright sacrilegious. I ken it’s no’ fair…” Jenny kissed the top of her head. “Try to calm down, mo ghràidh…I ken it hurts, and I ken ye need to scream and cry…but it’s no’ good fer the bairn, ye told me yerself.” Claire seemed to not hear her at all. She was inconsolable. She hadn’t even been this upset when they’d first been told of his death. Perhaps she’d expected him to die; she’d been prepared to hear it. But being deprived of a body to part with him properly was another matter entirely.

It wasn’t long before her lungs couldn’t keep up with her anymore, and she began breathing heavily, her back heaving. She very suddenly and abruptly vomited on the rug, startling Jenny. It was nothing she hadn’t seen before; she’d been spit up on by all three of her bairns. She got her onto her hands and knees and soothingly rubbed her back until she was dry heaving, nothing coming up.

“It’s alright, breathe deep now. That’s it.”

Claire was silent, breathing deeply and staring at her own sick. “I…” she stammered, her voice hoarse. “I’m sorry, I…I completely lost it…”

“It’s alright.”

“No, it isn’t.” She sat back on her heels and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand “My behavior was abhorrent…I’ve soiled the carpet like a bloody child…”

“Grief makes us all fools, Claire. I ken I’d be wailing like that if the British took my husband and buried him in an unmarked grave. And didnae care to remember where.” Her voice wavered, stroking Claire’s hair.

“But I feel selfish acting this way. I’m not the only one that lost him.”

“Oh, I ken that, too,” Jenny said, taking a deep shuddering breath. “But he’s yer man. It’s different. And the two of you…ye were like two halves of each other. Drove me to drink to watch the two of ye,” she attempted to tease, and it worked, even if only slightly, bringing a tiny, tearful smile to Claire’s face. “It’s just…different.”

Claire forced down the urge to burst into more tears. “I’ll clean this.”

“Ye’ll do no such thing,” Jenny said firmly. “Let’s get you cleaned up. The servants can see to this.”

Jenny helped her to her feet, which was admittedly more difficult than either of them thought it would be. Claire was quite dizzy after the ordeal, and the pregnancy surely wasn't helping matters. They made their way slowly up the stairs, and then into Claire’s bedroom. Jenny helped Claire strip down to her shift and then sat her in front of the mirror. Claire absently stared at her reflection as Jenny wiped her mouth, face, neck, chest, and shoulders. She was vaguely aware of how pale she was, how gaunt her face had become. Was her flesh rotting away like Jamie’s was at this very moment, in his unmarked grave? Were they so inextricably linked that she was wasting away with him even as she lived?

“Ye’ll start showing soon,” Jenny’s voice interrupted her morbid thoughts. “Nearly been four months, has it no’?”

“Yes,” Claire said, her hands absently resting on her abdomen. “It has.”

“Are you happy to be wi’ child again?” Jenny said, dipping the rag again, then dabbing at Claire’s hairline. “I ken it’s different wi’out Jamie this time. But how does it feel to be carrying a bairn again?”

Claire smiled. “It doesn’t feel like much yet,” she said. “I admit, I haven't given it much thought, with everything else going on.”

“Give it some thought now.” Jenny put the rag aside and began pulling pins out of Claire’s hair.

“I feel…swollen, already.” They both chuckled. “And it’s only just begun. My breasts are sore, I’m exhausted…but,” she paused to look down at her abdomen. “When I really think about it, it’s…it’s a miracle.”

“How’s that?” Jenny put down the final pin and started gently combing through Claire’s curls with her fingers.

“I’ve heard of women who deliver…stillborn children, and they can never get pregnant again. I thought, perhaps, after how horrible it had been for us that I’d never…”

“Every child is a gift,” Jenny said, picking up the hairbrush. “But this one especially is a treasure.”

“I know. He’s the last thing Jamie will ever give me.”

“The greatest gift yer man can give ye.”

Claire smiled in agreement in spite of her urge to cry. “And when I really think about it…I’m also terrified.” Jenny didn’t have to ask. “I’ve also heard of women who’ve miscarried three, four, five times, or delivered stillborn after stillborn. After the first one they just…can’t bring a child into the world.”

“That’s always a risk, ye ken that.”

“I know but…it…it was horrible enough the first time. But to lose another one of Jamie’s children…I couldn't bear it. Not after all of this. I couldn't bear to…to lose the last thing he ever gave me.” Claire quickly swiped away her tears, not wanting to give into hysterics again.

“I understand.” Jenny laid down the brush and rested her hands on Claire’s shoulders. “I canna imagine how that feels, the usual fears piled on all the rest. Tell ye the truth, I dinna think I could bear losing Jamie’s child either. Not after all this. Like ye said.”

Claire sighed shakily. “It’s the only thing keeping me from wasting away.”

“I know.”

“I’d have died on that moor with him if I didn’t know I was carrying his child.”

“I know.”

Claire felt a heavy burden on her chest, one that she needed to relieve. “Remember I said that I…I never told him.”

“About the bairn?” Claire nodded. “Ye knew before ye left for Lallybroch?” She nodded again.

“I feel horrid for not telling him. I think about it every day. I could have given him one last thing…and I didn’t. He gave me the child itself, and to bring him that news, I could have returned the favor. It would have made him so happy.”

“Then why’d ye no’ tell him?” There was no judgment in her tone, just genuine curiosity.

Claire thought carefully about what to say. She’d thought time and time again about telling Jenny everything, especially now that they’d likely be spending the rest of their lives together.

She would eventually, but now didn’t seem like the right time.

“I…I promised him something. Something that would have had to come to fruition if I was with child…a promise I knew I couldn’t keep. So I…couldn’t tell him.”

“The guilt’s eating ye alive, is it?”

“Some days it does,” Claire said.

“Ye don’t have to tell me. I ken that husbands and wives make promises and keep secrets,” Jenny said, and Claire briefly wondered if there was more behind her saying it; if she was inferring that she knew she and Jamie had been hiding something from her. “But what I do know, is that Jamie is quite aware that yer carrying his child now.” Jenny wrapped her arms around Claire’s shoulders from behind and rested her chin on the crown of her head. “He’s smiling down on ye both, and he’s smirking to himself because he knows if it’s a boy or a girl before we will.” This made Claire chuckle. “Ye didna have to tell him then. It might have made it all the harder. He knows now, either way.”

“I’m sure he does.” Claire smiled through her tears, covering Jenny’s hands, which were clasped above Claire’s chest, with her own. “You know, we hardly talked about names for Faith. There was so much going on and then she…she came too soon for us to make a decision and then I…I didn’t name her.” Jenny tilted her head so her cheek was resting on Claire’s head. “But then, later on, months after, back in Scotland, here in Lallybroch actually, we were talking about your father. What a good man he was.”

“Aye, he was.”

“I told him I wanted to name our son Brian. When we had one. It…it made him very happy.” Claire briefly became lost in the memory. “So I promised him then that our next child would be Brian.”

“Father’d be honored,” Jenny said. “Ye know, when I first heard my brother married a sassenach I was red in the face, screaming at Ian that father was burling in his grave.” Claire chuckled. “But I’ve no doubt now that he’d have blessed the match a thousand times over if he could.” Jenny picked her head up again, returning her chin atop Claire’s head. “He’d be proud to have a second daughter in you. Just as I am proud to have ye as my sister.”

Claire beamed at Jenny through the mirror, touched beyond description. “Sister…I’ve never had one before. Or a brother for that matter.”

“Trust me, yer not missing much. Having a brother I mean.” They both laughed. “But I never had a sister either. And I didna ken what I was missing until ye waltzed yer proper English self onto my porch.”

“Yes, when you called me a trollop.”

Jenny tossed her head back in a loud guffaw. “I did, didn’t I?”

“Indeed you did,” Claire said, laughing nearly as hard.

“Oh…” Jenny gave Claire a brief squeeze and kissed the crown of her head before finally releasing her grip. She crossed the room to the armoire. “Let’s get some clothes on you, ye wee trollop.”

Claire bit her lip and reached for the wet rag. Not bothering to ring it out first, she hurled it across the room, hitting Jenny square in the back with a loud, wet slap. Jenny let out an undignified yelp, the likes of which Claire had never heard from her. Claire giggled uncontrollably, and Jenny whirled around, hands on her hips.

“Well, I never — !”

Claire could not stop laughing, and it was made all the worse by the face Jenny was pulling. Jenny shook her head, laughing in spite of the giant wet spot on her back.

“Jenny?” Claire said, finally able to abate her laughter. “You’re the best sister a trollop could ask for.”

“Aye, I am.” She bent down and retrieved the rag from the floor. “I’d have to be to put up wi’ this.” She hurled the rag back at Claire, who caught it, not without a little splash to the face. She laughed again, returning the rag to the bowl and standing to let her sister help her get dressed.

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

In a week’s time, they had a coffin fashioned, a headstone made, and the priest’s blessing to proceed with the burial, if one could call it that. While Jenny knew Jamie would have wanted Fraser tenants at his funeral, it would have been far too public to have a large gathering of the like. If they found out they were having a burial for a Jacobite that perished at Culloden, the Redcoats would be upon them, likely assuming they’d stolen the body after all. They’d desecrate the grave without a thought. So they would keep the service small, family and their own servants alone.

Claire was sitting in the parlor, staring absently at the empty coffin. She was wearing that black veil around her shoulders, something she hadn’t touched since they’d said goodbye to Faith in Paris. She pulled it over her head as she approached the coffin. She ran her fingers over the wood and looked inside. She swore she could see him lying there, cold and lifeless, no smile on his face despite how it appeared that he was simply sleeping. His hair was combed back as it had been on their wedding day. He was dressed similarly as well, tartan and Fraser crest arranged perfectly. She longed to bend over, to kiss his cold cheek goodbye, to smooth his shirt so he would be perfect for God…

But she could not. Because there was nothing in the coffin.

Maman ?”

Claire was jolted out of her morbid thoughts by Fergus’s small voice. She turned around, and her heart broke anew at the sight of him dressed head to toe in black.

“What is it, darling?”

“I have been thinking...about burying Milord.” His eyes wandered the room, seemingly unable to look at her or the coffin. “What he would want. And I…I would like to be un porteur de cercueil .”

Claire’s throat tightened, overcome. “Fergus…”

“It is traditionally family, no? Brothers, Uncles…or sons.”

Claire sighed, a strangled, pained noise. She crossed the room and took the boy tightly in her arms. “He would be honored to have his son carry him.” Her voice wavered, and she pressed a long, tender kiss on the crown of his head.

Jenny and Ian entered the parlor just then, Ian leaning on the crutch Claire had fashioned to help him to stay off his leg as much as possible while the bullet wound healed. Jenny was carrying the Fraser tartan. Claire moved her arms around Fergus to hold him around the shoulders and guided him behind Jenny and Ian to the coffin.

Jenny held out a length of the fabric to Claire, and she took it in her hands. Ian and Fergus took hold of a piece of it as well. Simultaneously, they brought it to their lips. In Claire’s kiss that she pressed into the fabric was every ounce of love she bore for the man that had once worn it. She reminded herself that it was not that love that she was putting to rest. She would never, never stop loving him. The dull ache of his absence would be with her forever, and she would forever attempt to fill that void with memories of him, shared with those that loved him as much as she did. Memories she would share with their children.

After kissing the tartan, the four of them lowered it into the coffin with all the reverence in the world.

“Mistress,” Mrs. Crook said, having waited a moment before speaking. “The priest has arrived.”

They all turned to see Mrs. Crook, holding Kitty and flanked by Maggie, wee Jamie, and Rabbie, Father Gregor standing behind them. 

“Good day, Father,” Ian said.

“Good day. My blessings to yer grieving family in this time of great sorrow.”

“I thank ye.” Ian nodded.

“Who are the pallbearers today?”

“I am,” Ian answered. “And three men from the village, old friends of ours.”

“Two men,” Claire interjected. “The fourth will be Jamie’s son.” She placed her hands on Fergus’s shoulders, standing him directly in front of her.

“Well, bless my soul,” Father Gregor beamed. “I didna ken my Laird sired any sons before his passing.”

“He didn’t,” Claire said. “But Fergus is our boy nonetheless.”

“Oh, that’s fine, very fine,” Father Gregor said, nodding.

Fergus looked up at Claire, crossing his arm across his chest to rest his hand atop hers on his shoulder.

“I’ll go fetch the men, then. They’re in the dining room,” Jenny said, scurrying away and returning shortly with two men.

“Peter Dunkirk and Lawrence Quigley,” Jenny said to Father Gregor.

“Alright,” Father Gregor said, finally crossing the room and approaching the coffin. “Have ye all had, ah…proper goodbyes?”

“As proper as it can be,” Claire said bitterly.

Father Gregor nodded, then gestured for the men to put the lid on the coffin. Jenny, Claire, and Fergus stepped back, all holding onto one another. Peter, Lawrence, and Ian  lowered the lid on the coffin, closing Jamie’s tartan inside forever. It didn’t feel as final as Claire had expected it to, perhaps because it was only fabric and not her husband himself.

Father Gregor blessed the coffin in Latin, and everyone bowed their heads. Upon completion of the prayer, everyone crossed themselves. Father Gregor looked expectantly at Fergus, and he looked up at Claire with uncertainty. She gave his hand a squeeze and gently pushed him forward. The four of them positioned themselves around the coffin and hoisted it over their shoulders, Fergus having to hold it up with his hands, being the shorter of the four.

Father Gregor started out of the room, the coffin following behind him, then Claire and Jenny. Jenny paused in the doorway to scoop Maggie into her arms and settle her on her hip.

“Both of ye hold onto Mrs. Crook’s skirt. Dinna let go, and behave yerselves,” she said to Jamie and Rabbie. “This is to honor yer uncle’s memory. Treat it wi’ respect.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Satisfied when the boys took hold of Mrs. Crook’s skirt, she straightened and gave Kitty a brief kiss on the head, then turned to face Claire. She stretched out the free hand that was not holding Maggie. Claire gratefully took it, and hand in hand they processed after the coffin, Mrs. Crook following close behind, followed by the rest of the servants that had been congregated in the hall, waiting for the procession to begin.

The sky was gray, and a gentle breeze greeted them as they crossed the threshold onto the porch. The weather was finally starting to turn for the better. It was not hot, but there was no longer a bitter chill in the air. It was beautiful. The heather was blooming, something that Claire hadn’t noticed until today. Her eyes wandered to little Maggie, her head resting on Jenny’s shoulder, and Claire’s hand absently rested on her stomach, where a small bump had started to form. It had been just over four months; she’d start getting bigger by the day now.

She let her eyes wander everywhere but where they should have been, which was on the coffin. She watched the trees bend in the wind, she watched the heather dance in the breeze, she watched birds dart between branches. This land was truly beautiful, and she would raise her child on it, raise him to remember that his father had fought for this land that they stood on.

Claire hadn't even noticed when they’d arrived at the cemetery, but before she knew it, the coffin was down and Fergus was back by her side. Grateful to have him back in her arms, she held him close, kissing his head again. Her eyes lazily fell on the headstone, and something took hold of her heart.

Laying the tartan in the coffin, closing the lid, none of it had felt final. But to see his name etched into a headstone:

 

James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser

Born in 1721 and Died in the 25th Year of His Age

at the Battle of Culloden 1746

Beloved Brother, Husband and Father

 

It was unbearable.

Jenny must have felt her trembling, because she placed a steadying arm around her shoulders. Claire tightened her grip around Fergus, crossing her arms over his chest. He held onto her hands.

She wanted to run away. She wanted to pretend she’d never seen his name carved in stone, burn the sight from her memory. She wanted to wake up every day and sit on the porch, waiting for him to appear on the road. She wanted to live forever in denial, holding onto the hope that he would keep his promise and return to her.

But she had to face it. It was time to let him go. She could not raise his child to remember him properly if she thought all the while that he would be coming back soon. She could not be a mother if she was the grieving widow for all eternity. Her child deserved better than that. His child deserved better than that.

The ceremony finished before Claire had even started to pay attention. Jenny gave Claire a gentle shove, jolting her out of her thoughts. Claire blinked herself to consciousness, and finally noticed the priest standing before her, holding a small shovel out to her. Hand trembling, she took it and approached the mound of earth beside the grave. Nothing felt real as she scooped up some dirt with the shovel and walked mechanically to the hole in the ground. She turned over the shovel, watching as each individual speck showered down, eventually landing on the empty box six feet below her.

She stood there, frozen for a moment long after the dirt had fallen, hand and empty shovel hovering over the hole. A gentle hand closed around her hand that gripped the shovel, and she turned to see Jenny’s teary face, Maggie still on her hip.

“It’s alright,” Jenny said gently.

Claire nodded dazedly, relenting her grip on the shovel. Fergus was not far behind Jenny, wrapping his arms around Claire’s waist as soon as she backed into him. Jenny held Maggie’s hand on the handle, pouring the dirt in together. Jenny turned and handed the shovel off to Fergus. He followed suit of those before him, then handed it over to Ian, who brought wee Jamie up with him to pour it over together as Jenny had done with Maggie.

Ian held Jenny in his arms, Fergus and Claire held onto one another, as they watched the servants pour their own scoopfuls of earth into the hole. The small crowd gradually dispersed, the female servants wandering back after they’d thrown dirt in, except for Mrs. Crook, being that she was still holding Kitty. Once only the men were left, Jenny put Maggie down and approached the stone, careful of the gaping hole in the ground.

She removed the wooden rosary from around her neck, kissed it in her palm, and then lovingly placed it atop the stone. She stood up, wiped her eyes, and returned to the family.

“Off we go then,” she said, picking Maggie up again and beginning to walk off.

“I’m staying,” Claire said stiffly.

“Claire, it could take the men hours to get it completely buried — ”

“I need to see it,” Claire interjected. “With my own eyes.” Jenny looked at her quizzically. “I need to see it buried completely so it feels…final. So I can finally feel like…like it’s really over.”

Jenny sighed, rubbing Claire’s shoulder. “I understand.”

“I am staying, too,” Fergus said. “I want to help.”

“Yer needed inside,” Jenny said, trying to usher him away from Claire.

“No, it’s alright,” Claire said, tightening her grip on his shoulders. “If he wants to help then he should.”

Jenny nodded. “Try not to be out here all night.”

Claire nodded. Jenny took wee Jamie’s hand and headed back to the house, followed by Mrs. Crook holding onto Rabbie’s hand. Ian and Fergus grabbed shovels and got to work helping the other men fill the grave.

Claire stood there watching shovelful after shovelful, forcing herself to believe that he was really down there, that they were really laying him to rest after all this time.

Hours went by, and she remained rigid, watching dutifully as her husband was buried. Finally, the mound of earth was gone, the hole was filled. The servants touched the stone one last time before walking off with their shovels and disappearing back toward the house.

Claire watched as Ian struggled to kneel, and Fergus immediately helped him. He prayed silently for a moment, then crossed himself before kissing his hand and touching the stone. Fergus helped him up again, handing him his crutch. Ian started toward the house, beckoning Fergus to follow.

“I want to stay with you,” Fergus said, approaching Claire, those beautiful blue eyes wide with concern.

“It’s alright, darling,” Claire said, caressing his hair. “I need…I need to be alone for a moment, if that’s alright.”

Fergus nodded dutifully. “Of course, Maman .” He glanced behind him back at the stone.

“Go on,” Claire said gently. “Go say goodbye.”

Fergus obeyed, kneeling before the stone, silent for a moment. After a short while, he gently brushed his fingers over the name etched into the face. “Farewell, Milord.”

He stood up and turned to leave, but not without stopping to hug Claire again.

“I’ll be in shortly,” she assured him.

He nodded, and with that, Fergus and Ian departed the cemetery, heading back toward the house.

Claire slowly approached the stone, her heels sinking into the fresh dirt. She kneeled before the stone, gingerly resting her hand atop it.

“Hello, Jamie.” She smiled, despite the horrible pain. “I hope I don’t look too deranged trying to smile right now. I just…I know you hate to see me cry. And you always said that my smile was a…a sun in your cloudy day. So I’ll try to smile for you, Jamie.” She sighed shakily. “And I’ll apologize in advance for all the crying I’ll likely be doing, and all that I’ve done recently. It’s…very hard to go on without you. You made very certain that I’d be incomplete without you whether you meant to or not.”

Her hand lingered over the spot where Jenny had left the rosary, the very tips of her fingers brushing over the beads. “I know you’re not really here, or your bones aren’t at least. What matters is that…that I can feel you here, with me. When I touch the growing bump on my stomach…I can hear you whispering to him like you did to Faith. I can feel your kisses there. I can feel how much you love him.

“I’m…I’m sorry, Jamie. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about our child. I was afraid. I know what I promised…but I didn’t want to go back. I couldn’t. I couldn't raise your child away from this world that I’ve grown to love as my own. But I promise you that he will be safe, and loved, and so happy here. He’ll run around this land with his cousins, like you did as a boy. He’ll grow surrounded by love, from his Aunt and Uncle. He’s going to learn French, and Gaelic, and play chess, and ride horses. All things you would have taught him. All of us, me, Jenny, Ian, Fergus…we will teach him. All the things you would have wanted him to know, he will know.

“He will be raised with our love for him, but also with the love that you bore for us, me, Jenny, all of us. The way you made me feel…I will carry that with me forever. I could never forget it. And our child will know that love, Jamie. I will make sure that he feels your love.

“And I will go on.” She couldn’t help the tears this time, and she cursed herself as they rolled down her cheeks. “For our child, I will go on. For Fergus, our son, I will go on. For Jenny, our sister, I will go on. For you, in your memory, I will go on. Every single day I will feel the pain of you being gone, but as you know by now, I’m a tough lady.” She felt a fraud even as she said it, never having felt weaker in her life. “Jenny has already seen me through my worst of days. She’s a wonder. Even if I wanted to give up, she wouldn’t let me. I can assure you that.

“At Culloden, we said a lot of things. But there was one thing I didn’t say…I couldn’t. But I’ve seen you buried now, the best we could, and I can’t spend my life chasing your ghost. Too many people need me. So, it’s time.” She pressed her lips to the cold, unforgiving stone, feeling as if they could fall off. “Goodbye, Jamie Fraser. My love.

“Rest easy, soldier.”

She gave the stone one last reverent touch before standing up and wiping her tears. “I’m sorry,” she laughed in spite of herself. “It’s going to take some practice.”

Breathing deeply and steeling herself, she made her way back to the house to join her family in celebrating the life of a man they all cherished.

Chapter Text

The warmth of June brought with it the promise of new life. A new life for Claire as she settled into an existence without Jamie, and quite literally a whole new life waiting to burst out of her.

She was sitting in front of the mirror, pinning her hair up for the third time that morning, her stubborn curls refusing to cooperate as always. She had just about gotten it now; one more pin and she could finally be done with it. Then, suddenly, a familiar fluttering sensation made itself known in her stomach. She gasped, immediately releasing her grip on her hair and resting her hands on her abdomen. Her fragile updo unraveled, pins clattering to the floor.

She exhaled shakily, closing her eyes to revel in the feeling. It lasted a couple of seconds, then stopped for a brief moment, then lasted a few more seconds, and then it was over. Claire kept her hands on her stomach for a moment, realizing for the first time that it was, indeed, a small bump; no longer was her baby flat and intangible.

“You’re real,” she whispered reverently, opening her eyes to look down at him, caressing the small mound.

She decided to not bother with a full updo today, instead pinning back the front pieces. In somewhat of a daze, she dressed herself and floated down the hallway, down the stairs, and into the dining room.

“Morning, Auntie!” Wee Jamie blurted.

“Jamie, quiet yer voice,” Jenny said. “Yer Auntie is right there, she can hear ye just fine.”

Claire chuckled. “Good morning everyone.”

“Well, aren’t you all aglow this morning,” Jenny said. “What’s the occasion?”

Claire sat down next to her, unable to stop herself from beaming. “I felt him.” She pressed her hands into her stomach.

“Oh, did ye?” Jenny broke into a grin. “Is he moving now?” Jenny put her hands atop Claire’s.

“No, not at the moment. He interrupted me while I was doing my hair.”

“Ah, already a trouble maker, then,” Jenny teased. She gazed at Claire lovingly. “Being wi’ child suits you, Claire. You really are glowing.”

“I’m just…so relieved.” Claire quickly wiped her eyes before the tears could trickle down. “Obviously I know it takes time before you really feel anything, but I spend so much time imagining the worst, so to feel him…alive. It’s…indescribable.”

Jenny’s smile widened even farther, if it was possible. Mrs. Crook entered with breakfast just then. Maggie was now insisting on no longer eating in her mother’s lap. She was sitting next to her, though, and still needed assistance in breaking food into small enough pieces so that she didn’t choke on it. For this meal, however, she was perfectly capable of spooning her own parritch into her own mouth, though not without leaving slop for Jenny to wipe up from the table. She also wasn’t really sitting; instead she was all the way up on her knees in order to reach anything.

And then, again, even as Claire reveled in the togetherness of her family, in the comfort and joy of feeling her baby inside of her, she still found herself glancing across the table, expecting to find those deep blue eyes, mad with joy for the confirmation of their baby’s life. She swore at certain moments she could really see that mop of red, flashing in an instant as he reached over to help his nephew.

It was strange. She was not any less happy than she had been. It wasn’t as if thoughts of Jamie had tainted the morning’s joy. Rather, it was as if those thoughts reminded her of something that was missing. Like suddenly remembering she was only wearing one sock. How could she not have realized that something was missing?

“You know,” Claire said abruptly, not even aware herself that she’d said it until she heard it reverberate back into her own ears. “In Paris, when we were falling asleep, Jamie would stay awake for hours just…rubbing my pregnant belly. Or maybe he wasn’t even awake, maybe he was doing it in his sleep.” She looked up from her food at Jenny, smiling. “He was in awe of it all. It was…I loved seeing him like that. Like a little boy.”

Jenny smiled. “He loved all my bairns like they were his own. It must have made him mad wi’ joy to see ye carrying one of his own.”

“He really did love children,” Claire said, finally feeling a twinge of sadness. “He wanted so badly to be a father.” Jenny nodded. “He loved her so much, even when she was this tiny. He even used to…talk to her.” Claire could not help but smile at the memory.

“And he’s talking to this one, too,” Jenny said, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. “They say that wee ones can hear spirits, angels. Especially when they’re still inside ye. And I’ll bet he talks his wee ear off.”

Claire laughed at that. “Yes, I’ll bet he does.”

Jenny gave her shoulder a squeeze, then returned to her parritch. “It does my heart good to hear ye speak of him, Claire.”

Claire paused her spoonful. She realized then that this was perhaps the first time she’d spoken of him . Talk of Jamie for the past several months had been in reference to his corpse, his lifeless body. But that was not him. His love for his nieces and nephew, his adoration of his wife and children, that was him .

Claire smiled at Jenny. “Me too.”

Breakfast finished and Ian took Fergus to the fields. Ian was finally walking somewhat normally, Claire having checked on the bullet wound recently and deemed that it was healing just fine.

“Claire,” Jenny said as they helped Mrs. Crook gather the dishes. “I have something for ye.”

Claire’s eyes narrowed at her questioningly.

“Come on upstairs wi’ me.”

They handed the dishes off to Mrs. Crook, and Jenny pulled Claire up the stairs and into the Laird’s room. A flood of memories came crashing into her as she took in the room. Nothing had changed in here since she’d been here with Jamie, when he was Laird, and she was his Lady, and they’d held each other in that very windowsill, conceived Faith in that very bed. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed.

Jenny sat Claire down at the foot of the bed and then went to the wardrobe to fish something out of the back. Grinning, Jenny sat down next to Claire and presented her with a small bundle wrapped in white linen.

“For the bairn,” Jenny said proudly.

Claire took it in her hands and unwrapped the cloth, revealing a knitted white lamb, with stitching for a mouth and nose, and little black buttons for eyes. “Oh, Jenny,” Claire said. “It’s beautiful.” She turned it over in her hands to look more closely, and her breath caught in her throat when she saw the bow around its little neck.

“Is that…”

“Aye,” Jenny said. “From Jamie’s tartan.”

Claire reverently ran her fingers over the bow, her eyes brimming with tears.

“Figured the bairn ought to carry his father wi’ him somehow. No’ to mention I couldna bear to bury the only Fraser tartan we have left. Had to keep a piece of it for us, ken.”

“I…” Claire finally looked back up at Jenny. “I’m moved…beyond words, Jenny…”

“Then come here.” Jenny pulled her into a tight embrace. “The bairn will know him. I’ll make certain of it.”

Claire sniffled. “I will, too.”

“And he’ll know himself, as well. We’ll no’ let him forget he’s a Highlander. I’ll teach him Gaelic in the priest hole if I have to.”

Claire chuckled, and it morphed into a sigh. “I’m counting on that.” She released Jenny from their embrace, but they still held onto each other. “I’m afraid I’ll be rather useless on that front.”

“What’s an Auntie for, hm?” Jenny said, smiling despite the fresh tears still lingering on her cheeks.

Claire looked down at the little lamb in her hands. “You know, Lamb was my uncle’s name, the uncle that raised me.”

“Lamb?”

“Well, Lambert. I called him Uncle Lamb,” Claire explained, then exhaled, laughing. “If he could see me now…”

“He’d be proud,” Jenny assured her, obviously missing Claire’s meaning.

“He would,” Claire agreed, knowing that Uncle Lamb was watching her adapt and thrive in the strange world she’d fallen into using everything he’d taught her. 

What would he think of Jamie, she wondered? He’d thought very highly of Frank, being that he was a professor as well. He’d likely be incredibly fascinated by Jamie for what he represented, the perfect example of the extinct Highland Warrior. He’d be astounded when comparing her ruggedly handsome, enormous, wild Scotsman to the slender, intellectual history professor.

Frank…there was someone she hadn’t thought about in a while. She’d thought of him abstractly of course, of saving his existence from being wiped away, but she hadn’t really thought about him since Jamie had given her the choice between Frank and his time, or Jamie and his.

What must he think? Did he assume she was dead, or with another man? Was he able to move on, find happiness with someone else as she had, short lived as it had been? She could have had those answers if she’d kept her promise to Jamie. But, God…how would she have explained this? How could she have told him she was carrying another man’s child, a man who’d been dead for two hundred years? How could she ever move on knowing that Fergus, Jenny, Kitty, Maggie, wee Jamie, Ian, all of them, were dead and gone for two hundred years?

She prayed that Frank was happy and loved. Because even though the happiness and love she’d found with Jamie was gone, she’d found new purpose as a mother, sister and aunt. Despite her sorrow, she was still fulfilled, and in some fleeting moments, even happy. And to think of him suffering, completely in the dark about everything, while she existed with some semblance of happiness, made her feel deep pangs of guilt.

“What’re ye thinking about, sister?” Jenny’s voice brought her out of her reverie.

“My first husband, actually,” Claire admitted.

“Lived with him in Oxfordshire?”

“Yes.”

“Do ye miss England?”

“From time to time,” Claire admitted, though England had never really been “home,” per se. More what she missed from time to time was the life she’d had to leave behind in a different century. “But I wouldn't trade this, the life I’ve made with Jamie, all of you, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

“Not even to be safe and well fed in England?” Jenny cocked an eyebrow.

“No. Not even for that.”

And it was true. She’d had more than one chance to leave behind the suffering in this time, in Scotland itself, and given the same options over and over again, she’d still make all the same choices.

Claire smiled down at the lamb again. “Now what do I do with this little one before my own little one arrives?”

“Once Kitty adjusts to sleeping in a bed ye can keep it in the cot, ready to sleep beside yer wee one,” Jenny said. “But we’ll be lucky if that one ever decides to leave the cot.” She rolled her eyes. “Ye ken how she is.”

“Have you tried putting strawberry jam in her bed?” Claire said, hardly able to finish the sentence before succumbing to laughter.

Jenny guffawed. “Now there’s an idea!” Then she sighed. “It won’t be long before there isna even any strawberry jam left. The crop isna doing well, ye ken. We don’t grow any here, but Ian says word in the village is that there willna be any berries at all this year. They’re saying the same in Edinburgh.”

Claire nodded sadly. “The famine is coming.”

“Aye…”

“We’ll be alright. So will all the tenants. The potatoes will save them,” Claire assured her.

“Aye. But what’ll I do about Kitty?” She rolled her eyes again.

“You’ll have to wean her off the jam like you’d wean a child off your breast,” Claire laughed as she said it.

“She’ll be the death of me, I ken it.”

“I pray mine isn’t as stubborn.” Claire placed a hand on her small mound again, smiling to herself. “Though I have to admit, I’d be a little disappointed if he wasn’t.”

Jenny chuckled. At that moment, he moved again, fluttering inside Claire’s womb. Claire gasped, and Jenny immediately touched her stomach.

“Can you feel it?” Claire whispered, as if it may stop if she spoke too loudly.

“Just barely, but it’s there.” Jenny looked up at Claire’s face, joyful. “There he is, Claire.”

“Indeed.” Claire smiled. As quickly as it began, it stopped. “Jenny?”

“What is it, sister?”

“Is it…wrong of me to feel…happy?”

“Wrong? Why the Devil would that be wrong?”

“I mean, I’m not always happy. In fact I’m usually empty, hollow…but sometimes, like when I can feel my baby…I’m overwhelmed with joy.”

“As ye should be,” Jenny said firmly. “It’s what Jamie would want ye to feel. Ye ken that.”

“I suppose…it’s just strange. I thought I’d never be happy again.”

“Yer a braw lass, Claire. Yer spirit is strong. My brother knew it and I know it.” Jenny stood, taking Claire’s hand and helping her up. “Come on, now, let’s find a home for wee Lambert,” Jenny said, a teasing grin on her face. Claire chuckled, allowing Jenny to pull her into her bedroom, where they decided they’d keep Lambert on the mantle for now.

Hope you don’t mind, Uncle. A stuffed animal for your namesake rather than my son.

Claire brushed her fingers over his tartan bow, winking at his button eyes. As long as the toy was loved by her child, she didn’t think he’d mind at all.

Chapter Text

Claire was woken from a deep sleep by the sound of whimpering. It took her several seconds to comprehend what she was hearing. She slowly turned herself over; changing positions in bed was getting more and more difficult in this, the middle of the fifth month of her pregnancy. Once she was finally facing toward the center of the bed, realization came crashing into her.

“Fergus?”

He was murmuring incoherently in French, tossing his head back and forth, kicking his legs.

“Fergus, it’s alright.” Claire struggled to sit herself up and gently touched his shoulder.

Claire’s heart was breaking, and she felt pangs of guilt surge through her. It had been over a year since Fergus had had his last nightmare, or so she’d thought. Had she been so consumed with her own grief that she had missed that her son was still struggling with his trauma?

“Fergus, love, I’m here. Wake up, it’s alright.”

She gave him a gentle shake, and his eyes finally popped open with a ragged gasp. His whole body froze for a moment, his eyes frantically searching his surroundings, then finally landing on Claire’s face.

“You’re safe, Fergus. I’m here. You’re safe.” She stroked his hair, watching as he slowly came out of his terror. He gradually dissolved into tears, and Claire scooped him into her arms, holding him close.

“He came for me! He dragged me away from you, right out of your arms! You were screaming, and he shot you! He killed you and the baby!”

“We’re alright, darling.” She rocked him and kissed his head. “I promise.”

“There was no one to protect me, he dragged me into the woods and he…he…”

“Shh…darling…” Claire blinked away her tears. “He is dead and gone. He will never, ever hurt you again. And there will always be someone to protect you. Always.”

“It hurt like it was real, Maman …” he whimpered.

“I know, sweetheart, I know…” Claire could not stop the tear that escaped her eye, unable to stop herself from imagining the pain he spoke of. “Oh, my poor darling…everything will be alright. I’m here.”

He wept quietly for several more minutes, Claire rocking him, kissing him. Fergus had not slept beside her in a few weeks now. She’d figured he wouldn’t do it forever, of course. Even now he was older than most boys that still enjoyed sharing a bed with their mothers. Today he’d asked out of the blue if he could join her again, and she’d of course agreed, figuring he’d just been missing his father a bit extra.

Now, she wasn’t so sure.

“Fergus?” Claire said gently. “Is this the first nightmare you’ve had in a while? Or have there been others lately?”

He didn’t answer right away, but she let him take his time.

“There have been more,” he finally admitted. “I thought…I thought maybe if I slept beside you it would stop. I am sorry for waking you…”

“No, no…” Claire took his face in her hands and looked into his eyes. “You have nothing to be sorry for. Nothing. I am your mother, and this is exactly what I’m here for.” She kissed his forehead. “Why didn’t you tell me you were having nightmares? I could have given you some herbs to help you sleep better.”

“I didn’t want to worry you,” he said, averting his eyes. “Worry is not good for the baby.”

“I have two children to care for, Fergus. I think mon petit will understand if his mother has to worry about her other child for a while.”

Fergus nodded. “I was…ashamed, too, Maman ,” he said. “It was so long ago, and I did not have any dreams for a long time. I thought it had…stopped.”

“I understand. Sometimes our dreams like to remind us of things we thought we’d already forgotten. It’s happened to me with lots of different things. Before Prestonpans I was…reminded of something terrible from another war I was part of, something I thought I’d forgotten.”

“When you fell, in the grass,” Fergus said. “I remember.”

Claire nodded. “It’s also happened to Jamie.”

“To Milord? I do not believe it.”

Claire smiled sadly. Jamie was an untouchable, infallible pillar of strength to this boy, and perhaps he always would be. “It’s true. I used to hold him and soothe him in our bed, just like I’m doing to you now.” He finally met her eyes again. “So you see? There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Fergus nodded hesitantly. “I do not…want to go back to sleep, Maman .”

“I understand.” She ran a hand through his curls again. “How would you like to go for a walk outside? I heard the weather in July is loveliest in the dead of night,” she teased.

He nodded. Claire got out of bed and pulled her robe on. She slid her feet into her slippers as Fergus pulled on his boots. They quietly tiptoed out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

They left the house through the back door, and Claire wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him into her as they walked aimlessly through the grounds. They eventually reached the mill, and Claire smiled at the sound of the rushing water, the sight of the mill turning.

“Would you like to hear a story about Jamie and this mill?” she said as they got closer.

“Yes, I would.”

“The first time he ever brought me home to Lallybroch the mill wasn’t working. So, being the pigheaded fool that he was, he marched himself over here and stripped down to just his shirt, and jumped into the water.” They stopped at the bank of the water, watching it flow, listening to the soothing white noise.

“Did he fix it?”

“Well, while he was in there, some Redcoats started riding toward us, and he still had a price on his head at that time. He took a deep breath and went under, and he stayed there the whole time. Jenny tried to get them to leave, but one of them insisted he could fix the mill. Somehow, while he was under the water with hardly any breath left, Jamie managed to get the mill moving again, and he’d put his shirt on one of the paddles to stop them from inspecting the cause of the problem.”

“So he was naked under there?” Fergus said.

“As the day he was born.” Claire shook her head, remembering how much she’d wanted to throttle him at the time. “When they left and he came up for air he had to cover himself with his hands.” Fergus laughed. “He looked quite foolish.”

“That sounds like Milord!”

Claire laughed as well, wrapping her other arm around him as well, rubbing his upper arm and resting her chin atop his head.

“Can you tell me more about him?” Fergus asked. “I never realized…or I never thought about your lives before Paris. I always thought of you as being in that house forever, but of course you were not.”

Claire’s heart swelled, leaving her feeling full and yet painfully empty. To be able to share details of Jamie’s life with her son would bring her such joy, and yet the fact remained that the reason she had to be the one to do so was because Jamie himself was dead. 

“Why don’t we sit down, hm?” She suggested, and she and Fergus settled into the grass. The night had left it wet with dew, but neither of them seemed to care. It was soothing to feel its coolness, in combination with the late night breeze that passed over them.

“Well, my first interaction with Jamie was putting his dislocated shoulder back into place.”

Fergus laughed. “Exactly as I would imagine!”

Claire laughed as well, and then proceeded to spin the tale of those first nights, Jamie stubbornly refusing to reveal his gunshot wound, toppling off the horse unconscious. How he’d threatened to throw her over his shoulder and carry her off; how much she’d utterly despised him in the beginning.

At some point, Fergus had laid his head in her lap, and just as she’d finished relaying the night that she’d caught him sleeping outside her door, she was interrupted by the sound of his even, heavy breathing. She sighed, gently running her fingers through his hair. Despite the catharsis that it brought her to talk about the time she had cherished with Jamie, it still overwhelmed her with the reminder of his absence, and it made her heart ache.

After briefly indulging her grief, she turned her attention back to the sleeping boy in her lap. She’d have to pay closer attention to him. She’d had no idea that he was suffering nightmares lately. She’d have to observe him closer during the day, make sure there was nothing triggering it, and she’d have to be sure to give him that tea that she’d given Jamie in Paris to soothe his nightmares. And of course let him stay in her bed for as many nights as he needed before he felt safe in his own mind again.

Her eyes felt heavy, and her head lolled from side to side. If she were able, she’d scoop him up into her arms and carry him to bed so they could both sleep through the rest of the night, but unfortunately he was too big for her. She suddenly had the strange realization that she’d never even known him to be small enough for her to pick up, and with that realization came a small pang of sadness. She wondered what he’d been like as a baby, as a little boy. Had he come out of the womb with that wild mop of curls? His eyes must have taken up half of his head when he was little. She smiled softly at the thought. He was a beautiful baby, I’m sure of it .

Jamie would carry him to bed if he were here.

As much as she craved sleep, she could not bring herself to wake him, and nor would she leave him alone in the grass. She leaned back on her hands and let her head hang loose, her eyes closed. She breathed in the earthy smell of Scotland, the fresh scent of the water as it ran by them. The sky had gradually turned from black, littered with stars, to the blank, grey-blue of early dawn.

Just as she thought she was about to fall asleep sitting up, she felt something unmistakable inside of her. Her head jolted up and her hands flew to her stomach. Then it came again, a gentle thud from the inside, pressing into her hand.

She exhaled loudly in awe. After a quiet moment of disbelief, he kicked again.

“Fergus,” Claire stammered. “Fergus, wake up!”

At that moment, she couldn't even think of how she should likely not be disturbing his sleep. Keeping one hand on her stomach, she shook him by the shoulder with the other.

Maman ?” he said groggily. “Are you alright?”

She wordlessly took hold of his hand and pressed it onto her protruding stomach. Confused, he sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the hand that was not being pinned down by Claire.

“He kicked, Fergus.”

Any trace of sleepiness immediately vanished from his face, and his eyes lit up. “ Mon petit ?”

“Yes, yes! Just wait…he’ll do it again…”

As if on cue, another soft thud came again, and Claire cried out with joy, and Fergus gasped.

“You felt it?”

Oui, Maman !” He beamed up at her for a split second before glueing his eyes back on her stomach. “It is incroyable !”

Claire laughed, tears leaking out of the corners of her crinkled eyes. “It is, isn’t it?”

Fergus pressed both of his hands into her now, waiting patiently for the next movement. They waited with bated breath, but nothing else came.

“He’s all done now, I suppose,” Claire sighed.

“He tired himself out, no?” Fergus looked up at her again.

“Seems that way.”

“Does it hurt?” he asked curiously.

“Not at all,” Claire assured him.

“Will he remember when he comes out? That he kicked his brother?”

Claire smiled wistfully. “He might.”

Fergus beamed proudly.

“I’m so glad you were here for it.” Claire cupped his cheek. “All this time I imagined feeling it and…having no one to turn to like I did with Faith.”

“We promised each other we would not be alone, Maman . I am glad I was here, too.”

Claire pulled him in to embrace him and kissed the top of his head.

“Now, we don’t have to go to sleep, but I think we’d better at least go inside before your Auntie Jenny has a heart attack upon realizing we’ve disappeared.”

Fergus chuckled. “Alright, Maman .”

He stood up and then she gave him her hands to help her off the ground. It was trickier than she’d have liked it to be.

“God, this isn't even the largest I’ll be, and I can already hardly move…” she groaned, leaning into Fergus as they ventured back into the house.

“Do not worry, Maman . I will fetch whatever you need if you cannot move."

“I appreciate that, darling, but I actually need to keep moving. Of course I need rest, and I…I learned my lesson about running myself ragged.” She shuddered guilty at the horrible memory of her loss in Paris. “But it’s very healthy for me to go on walks, keep the blood and air flowing. For me and the baby.”

“Then our walk tonight was good, no?”

“Yes, it was. For both of us.” She gave his shoulder a squeeze.

Oui, Maman .”

Once they were back inside and in Claire’s bedroom, it took Claire all of two minutes to fall dead asleep, feeling guilty even as she did it, because she could not stay awake to make sure Fergus fell asleep again. The last thing she felt before she fell asleep was a tentative, brief kiss on the largest, roundest part of her stomach. Her heart burst, overwhelmed with love for her sweet, affectionate boy, and she let the comfort of his presence, his love, and his devotion carry her to sleep.

Chapter Text

Claire and Jenny were once again sitting in the grass near the mill, watching the children play. This time, Kitty was running around with them, and yelling as well. She was starting to speak in one word sentences, much to Jenny’s relief, things like “up,” “Ma,” “Da,” “jam”. More often than not, in chasing after her siblings, she toppled over, but after the first three times, Claire and Jenny stopped expressing concern. She was perfectly fine.

The little life inside Claire was growing more and more restless by the day. It was nearing the end of August, just over a month since the baby had started kicking.

Claire cried out softly, her hand flying to her stomach.

“Ye alright?” Jenny asked, looking up from the shirt she was mending.

“Yes, I’m fine…just a strong kick, is all.” Claire shook her head in disbelief. “Strongest one yet.”

“Sometimes it feels like they’re trying to bruise ye,” Jenny said, laughing. “Kitty was brutal to me. Though I’m sure that’s no surprise.”

Claire chuckled. “He seems quite eager to get out of me. I don’t know what the rush is,” she crooned, looking down at her swollen abdomen. “You’ve still got three months to go in there.”

They both chuckled at that, and then another thought crossed Claire’s mind.

“You know…” she absently stroked her bump, unable to take her eyes off it now. “He’s already further along than Faith ever was.”

“That’s a good thing, is it no’?”

“Of course. I thank God every time I can feel his life, even if it feels like a personal attack sometimes.” She gave a tiny smile. “It’s just…strange. I never actually got this big, her kicking never got this strong.”

Jenny put down her sewing for a moment to take Claire’s hand. “There’s no shame in celebrating what ye have wi’ this bairn, even though ye couldna have it wi’ the first.” Claire nodded silently. “Faith will always be the one to make ye a mother. Yer first born. But this one will be special to ye in his own way.” Jenny placed a hand on Claire’s belly. “D’ye ken what I’m trying to say?”

Claire nodded. “I do.” She covered Jenny’s hand on her stomach. “Thank you, Jenny.” Unexpectedly, her eyes filled with tears. “I wish…” She took a shuddery breath. “I wish she could have been buried here. And I wish we could have laid her father beside her.”

Jenny’s eyes swam with tears as well. “They’re together now, sister. Ye ken that.” Claire nodded, wiping her eyes. “He can be the father he always wanted to be. To Faith.”

Just then, Kitty shrieked, and both of their heads whipped up to see Jamie haphazardly holding her by the waist.

“Jamie! Put her down!” Jenny called. He released his grip, and she unceremoniously thudded into the grass, popping her head back up in no time and toddling away from Jamie.

“Christ…” Jenny groaned, but Claire started laughing.

“What do you suppose he was going to do with her?” Claire asked.

“Throw her into the stream I’d expect. He’s still angry she wasna a wee brother.”

Claire laughed out loud at that, wiping away the lingering tears that remained on her face.

“Auntie Claire!” Maggie’s voice squeaked, scampering toward them. She was clutching something in her wee fist, and she presented it proudly to her. “Flower. Fer yer garden.”

“Oh, thank you so much!” Claire beamed at her, taking it from her. It was a blue thistle, likely plucked somewhere near the mill. “This will be lovely with the rest of my herbs and medicines, Maggie. Thank you.”

Maggie smiled a wide, toothy grin, twisting her skirt in her hand.

“Give yer Auntie a kiss, Maggie,” Jenny said, knowing she needed it.

Maggie immediately obeyed, throwing her arms around Claire’s neck and planting a kiss on her cheek. Claire laughed joyously, returning the embrace and holding her tightly. It was hard to believe that come November, it would be three whole years since she had delivered this little girl. 

Maggie pulled away and bit her bottom lip excitedly before speaking again. “See baby?” she asked, looking down at Claire’s stomach.

“You’d like to see the baby?” Claire said, and she nodded, her strawberry blonde curls bouncing. “Come here.”

Claire took her hands and put them on her bump, and Maggie’s eyes lit up.

“If you are very patient,” Claire said, whispering to emphasize the importance of her words. “He may say hello.”

“Patient!” Maggie repeated, nodding again.

She practically bounced up and down, though she kept her hands glued to her Auntie’s belly the whole time. When the baby finally decided to kick, Maggie squealed. Claire and Jenny both laughed out loud.

“See?” Claire said. “There’s your wee cousin.”

“Hello baby!” she called, practically shouting at Claire’s stomach. “Baby cousin! Hello cousin!”

“You’re going to be so very helpful when he’s born, aren’t you?” Claire said, tickling Maggie’s own stomach.

She giggled. “Yes! I’ll help! Help baby!”

Claire kissed Maggie’s cheek. “Good girl.”

Jenny pulled Maggie over and covered her face with kisses, causing her to squeal all the more. “Run along now, make sure yer brother doesna damage wee Kitty.”

Giggling still, Maggie ran off to rejoin her siblings in the open field.

“Ye canna use that fer anything, can ye?” Jenny asked, picking up her mending once more.

“Not like this,” Claire said, smiling. “But I’ll cherish it nonetheless.”

She tucked the flower into a pocket in her skirt and picked up the sock she’d abandoned mending several minutes ago. Her cheek still felt warmed by the kiss that her darling niece had given her.

“Your children are so special to me, Jenny,” Claire said. “I can’t imagine what it will feel like to have my own child kiss me like that.”

“There are days when I take it fer granted,” Jenny admitted. She looked up at her children again, seemingly getting along for now. “But no’ today. The love ye feel fer yer child is…well, it’s the strongest thing I’ve ever felt. I look at them and I’m reminded I’d do anything fer them. Anything.”

Claire nodded in understanding, but she was suddenly overwhelmed with guilt. Would she really do anything for her child? If that were the case, wouldn’t she have let Jamie send her back through the stones? This was a volatile world to bring a child into, with or without the dangers awaiting them at childbirth. If she’d truly do anything for her child, wouldn’t she have set aside her own wishes to bring her to a safer world, even if her heart would have died?

“Claire?” Jenny prodded, noticing she’d stopped sewing again. “What’re ye thinking?”

Claire swallowed thickly. She couldn’t tell her. Not right now.

“Just…worrying, I suppose.” Claire shrugged.

“Look at Maggie, Claire,” Jenny said pointedly. At present, she was holding Kitty’s hands and circling round and round with her. “The beautiful lass who just gave ye a flower and a kiss. I thought she’d die, Claire, honest to God I did. The second ye told me she’d be a breech baby I started accepting my own death as well as hers.”

“I remember.”

“Look at her now. She’s braw, she’s happy. During those hours and hours of agony, I never could have imagined this. This moment, now.” Their laughter, all three of her children, was loud as ever. “It makes sense that ye worry. Sometimes our worst fears come to pass. But sometimes, they don’t.”

Claire nodded thoughtfully. Maggie’s birth could have been dangerous even in the twentieth century, and they’d survived it in the eighteenth. Perhaps the same could be said for the little one that she carried now. There was really no way to know, and there was only one way to find out.

Another swift kick came, causing Claire to exhale sharply. Claire smiled to herself. She could practically hear Jamie admonishing their baby, telling him to stop beating his mother so.

“After all the work of carrying him around, this is the thanks he gives ye?” he would say. And Claire would assure him it didn’t hurt so very badly, and she would kiss him, and he would kiss their baby, rub his hands over her belly, quietly pleading with him in Gaelic to be kinder to his mother.

God, she missed him so.

——

August wore on, and Claire found herself settled in a comforting routine of breakfast, then gardening, then helping Jenny with whatever task, like laundry, mending, cooking. The herbs they’d planted back in June were doing quite well, and she now had a healthy supply of dried herbs for medicines and teas. Jenny had set aside a section of an old barn where she could properly hang things to dry, then come back to collect them and add them to her medical box.

Tending to her plants, taking little cuts and snippets, drying them, crushing them, mixing them, brewing them…it was cathartic for Claire. She was very grateful that Jenny had insisted she start doing this all those months ago. Her work was diligent and therefore mind numbing, and yet she was not working herself to the bone. She was getting the fresh air, the distraction she needed, without bringing any harm to herself or her baby. 

Occasionally her blank mind would be forced to return to the present when her nephew would barge into the barn, or when her niece would bolt up to her as she tended the garden with yet another flower that she simply had to add. She’d scoop Jamie up, hold him as high as she could to allow him to tie up a bundle of herbs with the others to dry, and thank him so very much for being so helpful. She’d take the flowers from Maggie and “plant” them beside the herbs, promising her that it would turn into a wonderful medicine that she could use one day.

“Flowers, Auntie?” She’d toddle up to her every day to check on them. “Me’cine yet?”

“Why, I think so,” Claire would say. “Look.”

And she’d show her the exact spot that Maggie had watched her bury the flower, and watch as her eyes popped out of her head to see the greenery that had “sprouted” overnight, which was really only Claire moving a few things around. Indulging her in this way had proved more of a feat than Claire had originally signed up for, because the more and more Maggie saw evidence of her efforts proving helpful, the more and more she wanted to help.

After a while, she’d had to gently tell her that there was no room for any more flowers, but that since it was so full, she needed her help to take care of it. She’d wholeheartedly agreed, eager to help her Auntie. Claire had deemed her “my little garden faery,” her wee helper. And Maggie loved it. Claire also adored it. It touched her heart in a way she could not describe that she’d been the one to bring her into the world with Jenny, and now she seemed to be attached to her at the hip. It meant more to her than she could ever explain.

Perhaps someday, when she was old enough to truly understand, Claire could teach Maggie medicine, really teach her. Perhaps someday the tenants of Lallybroch would have two healers to go to.

Claire watched from her garden as Maggie plucked weeds and flowers alike out of the dirt around the porch and the goat pen, singing in Gaelic to herself.

Yes, perhaps someday…but why rush away the beautiful innocence she possessed right now?

September arrived, and they were now in the throes of harvest season. The potato crop had done splendidly again, and though there was always the lingering fear of unknown possibilities, everyone was certain that they’d survive the winter once more because of it. Game had been difficult, seeing as they no longer had any guns to hunt with. They’d taken to setting traps in the woods surrounding Lallybroch, and for most of the summer they’d been lucky enough to have rabbit on and off every couple of days. Fergus would march himself right into the kitchen, proudly brandishing the wee beast from the trap he’d set all by himself

Claire was enjoying watching him thrive here. In Paris, he’d been confined to one small building his whole life, not to mention how unsuitable an establishment it was for children. Then even after Jamie had liberated him, his free spirit was confined by the high, brick walls of the city, his lungs clouded from breathing in the slums. In Scotland, at Lallybroch, he was truly coming into his own; as much as Claire hated to admit it, he was becoming his own man.

Of course, he was still only eleven—no, twelve years old (just turned it), hardly a man by any means, not yet at least. But he was unencumbered here. He had a family to belong to, a family to protect and provide for using the wilderness that surrounded him. If it wasn’t for his obvious French-ness, in his manner and accent, one would not question that he was a Highlander through and through.

And Jamie would be so proud.

Today, September the twenty-second, Fergus was gone for a peculiarly long amount of time. On the days where he checked the traps, he was gone right after breakfast and back in no more than two hours. It was nearing a third hour, and Claire was growing anxious. Was it irresponsible of her to allow him to run off into the woods alone? No, he could take care of himself. She knew that. Or perhaps she overestimated him. Twelve years old was still a child , whether or not the people of this time believed it to be so.

Claire was working fretfully on her garden, unable to bear the worst-case scenarios that whirled in her mind for much longer, when she heard hoofbeats come up the road. She whirled around and breathed a sigh of relief to see her boy trotting toward the house. Ian had taught him to ride over the summer, and he was getting quite good. Yet another thing that would make his father proud.

“Fergus!” she called as he got closer. “What on Earth took you — ”

And then she noticed the enormous bundle draped over the flank of the horse, behind the boy in the saddle. Fergus was beaming ear to ear, slowing the horse as he drew nearer to Claire.

“Is that — ?”

“A deer, Maman !” he said smugly, sliding off the horse and surveying his work proudly.

“How did you—? You couldn’t have shot it—?”

“No, Maman , the poor thing was in one of my traps,” he said, and his pride briefly morphed into sympathy. “They are meant for very wee animals, as you know, so it did not kill her right away. Just hurt her leg.” Claire couldn’t help but smile at his use of the word “wee.”

“It was very sad to see her suffering when I came upon her, but I knew she would only suffer more if I let her free. So I gave her mercy with my knife.” He gave a curt nod, like a little soldier. “And now we have lots of meat for supper!”

Claire laughed jovially and pulled him into a hug. Her hugs had become quite awkward lately, having to careen him around to her side so they could actually embrace each other. Two more months, she thought to herself. Two more months of feeling like an absolute tank in the way of everything.

She tenderly kissed the top of his head. “Wonderful job, mon fils . Why don't you join your uncle in the fields and I’ll see about getting it butchered, hm?”

He nodded, stretched up to kiss her cheek, gave her swollen middle a pat, and then scampered off around the house. She briefly caressed the spot on her cheek that he’d so briefly kissed, smiling to herself. He would never know how much his affection, his love, meant to her. 

Claire grunted and clutched her abdomen, exhaling sharply. Speaking of affection, she thought wryly to herself, smiling in spite of the most recent, ruthless blow to her womb.

“Easy there, little one,” she said, rubbing the spot. “You’ll knock Mummy right off her feet if you keep that up.”

“Good Lord, what is that?” Jenny suddenly appeared on the porch.

“A deer that Fergus killed mercifully after finding her in his trap.” Claire smiled proudly.

Mo Dhiah !” she exclaimed, crossing herself as she approached the horse. “His bounty be blessed!”

“We’ll eat like kings tonight,” Claire laughed.

“Kings indeed!” Jenny gave the poor beast a pat on her flank. “Let’s get it ready then, shall we?”

It had been a great struggle to carry the animal inside to be butchered; many of their servants had had to be let go in the financial struggle that had followed Culloden. They were more apt to let go of the men first, as they would be more likely to find other work, and most of the male servants were attached to the female ones, either by marriage or because they were siblings. The Murrays were heart sorry to do it, and of course they hadn’t officially let anyone go until they found other work, but they simply couldn't afford to live like Laird and Lady anymore. The only servants left were Mrs. Crook, of course, who had firmly insisted that they’d have to drive her away with the switch (which had been met with “we wouldn’t dream of being rid of you, yer one of our own”), Rabbie, though he’d truly become more of a foster-son to the Murrays despite his status as their stable boy, and the Donnelleys, a widow woman and her wee daughter, serving as maids.

And so, Mrs. Crook, Jenny, Mrs. Donnelly, and even wee Laura, had struggled to get the beast inside. Claire had tried to help, but every single one of the three women had accosted her into stepping aside; how dare she, a pregnant woman at great risk, even think of lifting such an enormous beast?

Despite Claire’s initial annoyance, she was grateful for their concern. She hadn’t realized, but she was already quite sore without doing any heavy lifting. Once the beast was laid out, they each pitched in for its butchering. Jenny fussed over Claire all the while, never letting her do anything she deemed too strenuous. Even as her hormones raged and demanded revenge, she had to remind herself that Jenny was only looking out for her best interests, and she really was right. Claire had been very good so far about sparing herself from anything that would overwork her, and at seven months pregnant was perhaps the worst time to start changing that.

So she begrudgingly wielded the smaller knives, did not engage in any large swinging or hacking motions that would bring any greater pain to her back. Eventually the butchering was complete, and they separated the useful bits of meat and other things from the disposable bits. Mrs. Donnelly and wee Laura went off to be rid of what they didn’t need and then went about the rest of their daily tasks, leaving the sisters and Mrs. Crook in the kitchen to prepare the meat to cook.

It certainly was an all day affair, but the joy on the children’s faces, hell, even on Ian’s face made it all worth it. It was perhaps the heartiest meal they’d had in months. Everyone was all smiles, laughing, children and adults alike. Even Claire. She allowed herself to become lost in the food, in the drink, in the laughter of the children she had come to love and cherish more than her own life.

“Catching a full grown deer in one of those wee rabbit traps was surely God’s grace,” Ian said toward the end of supper, raising his glass to Fergus. “Either that, or our wee Frenchman is one lucky bastard!”

Fergus’s nose crinkled with the laughter he unleashed, and everyone else’s laughter followed.

Sláinte !” Ian cried, and everyone echoed, even the children with their cups of water.

God’s grace…

Claire gave the table a glance over, her cheeks sore from smiling, her throat aching from laughter.

Auntie ,” wee Jamie pulled at her left sleeve, whispering.

“Yes?” She answered with contrived secrecy, leaning her ear closer to him.

“May I try yer whisky, Auntie?” he whispered, but the desired effect of quiet was not achieved, as everyone at the table burst into laughter.

Claire’s head fell back with laughter, before promptly covering the lad with tickles, kissing his head over and over.

“If big Jamie could have heard you say that…” Claire shook her head, still laughing.

“He’d surely give it to him!” Jenny said rolling her eyes at the thought.

Uncle Jamie? He’d give me whisky?” 

“Aye, and I’d box his ears fer it,” Jenny said firmly. “No whisky until yer grown.”

“Fergus isna grown!” Jamie pointed across the table accusingly. Fergus put his hands up in surrender.

“Tell ye what, lad,” Ian said. “When you bring an entire deer home fer supper, ye can have all the whisky ye want.”

Without another word, Jamie sprang out of his seat and scrambled out of the room.

“And where d’ye think yer off to, and no’ excusing yerself?” Jenny called after him.

“I’m gonnae set a trap ! Fer a deer!”

“Lord ha’ mercy,” Jenny sighed, exasperated. Ian laughed so hard he started slamming the table.

“Best be stopping the wee huntsman before he becomes a drunk at five years old.” Jenny stood up from the table, and Claire could see the glimmer in her eye as she followed after her headstrong boy.

“When can I ha’ whisky, Da?” Maggie suddenly piped, rising all the way onto her knees.

Never ,” Ian said, taking another sip of his own drink.

Claire chuckled to herself at Maggie’s adorable wee pout. “Oh, don’t worry, Maggie, my little garden faery,” she whispered into her hair. “When you’re old enough, Auntie Claire will share her whisky with you. Our secret.” She put a finger to her lips to emphasize discretion, and she copied, making an adorable “shh” noise. Claire laughed and kissed her forehead, overwhelmed with love.

God’s grace indeed, she thought, that these people are my family. 

Family in a conventional sense had been lost on Claire for most of her life. Both parents dead at five years old had left her traveling with Uncle Lamb for her childhood and adolescence. Then she was flung into Frank’s arms, then Jamie’s. Jamie had felt the closest to family she’d ever imagined, but this was different. This was a whole family, an entire wee clan that welcomed her with open arms.

My own family.

Chapter Text

The crisp October air filled Claire’s lungs as she worked at her garden. Her little garden faery had been much too invested in her doll to join her outside this morning, which was probably for the best, seeing as it was perhaps the coldest day of the month so far. Fergus had left about half an hour ago to check his traps. Jenny was working beside her in the vegetable garden, and they were quietly chatting about this or that. Claire was vaguely aware of the dull ache in her lower back that would occasionally escalate to a sharp pinch, but she didn’t think much of it. Her entire body had been throbbing lately with one month to go in her pregnancy.

“Everything will freeze over soon, don’t you think?” Claire asked.

“Oh, aye,” Jenny said. “This’ll likely be the last of the turnips fer the year.”

Claire exhaled sharply through a particularly searing pain in her back, clutching it hastily. Jenny opened her mouth to say something in concern, when suddenly, the sound of hoofbeats started coming toward them, loud and urgent. Claire looked up from her work to see Fergus, flying on his horse faster than she’d ever seen him go. She watched him get closer, bewildered, not even knowing he could go that fast on horseback.

Maman !” he called as he crossed beneath the archway. He stopped the horse and jumped off, breathless. “Redcoats, coming up the road.”

Jenny and Claire exchanged a panicked look.

“Ye must be hidden,” Jenny said, snatching Claire by the arm and pulling her inside. “Fergus, take a blanket from Kitty’s old cot and wrap potatoes in it.”

“Whatever for?” Claire asked, bewildered, as Fergus flew past them to do as he was told.

“I told them last time they were here that I was wi’ child.”

“You’re going to hold a bundle of potatoes and pretend it’s a baby?” Claire sputtered in disbelief as Jenny opened the priest hole.

“Dinna have a choice,” Jenny said. “I canna tell them I lost the child. If they come back after the bairn is born they’ll be suspicious.”

Fergus appeared with the lumpy bundle, and Jenny struggled frantically to arrange it well enough.

“Does it look like a bairn?” she said. Fergus and Claire exchanged a look.

“Perhaps another blanket, Milady,” Fergus said.

Hurry !” Jenny cried. “Get inside now, Claire. Dinna make a sound.”

Claire descended the ladder and Jenny sealed up the hole above her. It was dark and damp. She could not see more than half a foot in front of her. She sat herself in the middle of the floor (struggling greatly due to the enormity of her size). “This would be easier if you really were a sack of potatoes,” Claire whispered wryly to her baby.

Fergus came back with another, thicker blanket. Jenny pulled him into the parlor, sat them both down on the sofa, and she wrapped the bundle in the new blanket. “That’s better, no?”

Oui , Milady,”

“What’s happening, Mistress?” Mrs. Crook appeared.

“Redcoats coming. Keep the children in the nursery.”

“Yes, Mistress,” Mrs. Crook said dutifully, her voice slightly tinged with panic.

“Dinna say a word about yer mam or about Jamie. D’ye understand?” Jenny said firmly to Fergus.

“Yes, of course.”

“This is my bairn. If they ask about his size, he came early.”

“He?” Fergus said. “What if Maman has a girl? And they come back later and it has changed?”

“Oh, Father help us.” Jenny threw a look up. There was no time to contemplate, however, as the door burst open.

The sound of boots echoed through the house. Jenny began bouncing the little bundle, and she nudged Fergus. He took the hint and started cupping the “head,” smiling at it as if it were a real baby.

“Ah! There you are.”

Jenny and Fergus looked up from the bundle, Jenny still bouncing it, Fergus still caressing it. The same officer stood in the entrance to the parlor, flanked by the very same men that had burned their tartans and their books.

“Good morning to ye, officer,” Jenny said.

“I understand congratulations are in order?” He took a few steps into the room.

“Yes.” Jenny stood to prevent him from peering down into the blankets. She pressed the potatoes into her chest. “Born just five days ago.”

“What a joyful occasion.” His smile made her stomach turn. “Early, was it not?”

“Oh, aye, just a bit.” Jenny bounced decoy and smiled down at it. “Gave us quite a scare, did ye no’, mo chridhe ?” She chose her words very carefully, deliberately not revealing a gender, her heart pounding in her ears.

“I dare say, it is quite a great deal quieter than it was during our last visit.” The officer gave a sweeping glance around the room. “Where is the rest of the household?”

“In the fields,” Jenny said. “Harvest season, ye ken.”

“Ah yes. The humble potato.”

Jenny’s heart leapt into her throat. Was he suspecting?

“Such a…hardy crop, is it not?”

“Indeed, sir.” Jenny bounced her own potatoes nervously.

The officer turned to his men. “Retrieve the man of the house.”

“Yes sir.”

“I’ll remain here with the bundle of joy.” He smiled again, slimy as ever.

Jenny’s breathing was becoming shallow. What did they want with Ian? How much longer would he believe that this still, lumpy bundle was anything more than a sack of potatoes? If he even believed it at all?”

“Care to have a seat?” Jenny said, gesturing with her head to one of the armchairs. “I could have the lad fetch ye a dram.”

The officer took the invitation to sit. “A drink would be fine.”

Fergus sprang up, but Jenny stopped him.

“Take the bairn to Mrs. Crook, will ye lad?” She carefully handed the bundle to Fergus. “Fetch the finest glass for our distinguished guest.” She turned to the officer with a smile. “And make sure Mrs. Crook holds the bairn close.” She gave Fergus a hard look, praying her meaning wasn’t lost on him: make sure Mrs. Crook holds the bairn close if they search the room so they willna see.

“Bairns need as much body heat as they can get when they come early,” she said, emphasizing as much as she could without raising the officer’s suspicions.

“Yes, Milady.” Fergus nodded deliberately.

He knows. Clever lad.

“Whatever is a French boy doing in your employ, Mistress Murray?” the officer said with a chuckle as Fergus went up the stairs.

“My husband employed him during a long stay in France and couldna bear to part wi’ him when it came time to leave. He’s like one of our own now. Very dear to us.”

“Charming.”

His dripping sarcasm was not lost on Jenny as she sat down on the sofa, smoothing her skirt uncomfortably.

“What can we help ye with today, Captain?”

“Where is the other woman?” he said suddenly, ignoring her question. “She was with you when you celebrated your being with child.” Jenny blanched for a moment. “Curly hair?”

“Oh, aye. She is my cousin,” Jenny said quickly. “She was visiting then, but she’s returned home since.”

“Cousin,” he said thoughtfully. “And would her home happen to be in England?”

“Beg pardon?” Jenny asked.

“Forgive me. Perhaps I was not clear.” He leaned forward in his seat. “This cousin of yours. Is she English?”

“Of course no’,” Jenny said, feigning confusion. “She’s my blood cousin, Scottish through and through.”

“I see.”

Fergus returned with the whisky and a glass. He poured it out and handed him the glass.

Merci ,” the officer said to him with deliberate condescension. Fergus’s eyes narrowed. He gave a mocking bow before joining Jenny on the sofa.

“You mean to tell me, Mistress Murray,” he continued after sipping the whisky. “That none in your family have ever… tainted your Scottish blood?”

Jenny could feel Fergus tense beside her, and it took everything in her not to tense up herself. “I’m afraid I dinna quite understand.”

“No one in your family married a sassenach , as you’d call it?” He took another sip of his whisky. “Your…brother, for example?”

Jenny swallowed thickly. “Oh, aye. A sassenach witch,” she said firmly. “Forgive me fer no’ saying it myself. He is a brother to me no longer. We dinna discuss traitors to the crown in this home.”

“A fine example, indeed.” He raised his glass to her before taking another sip. “I’m sure you know Red Jamie was killed in battle.” He raised an eyebrow from behind his glass.

Jenny’s heart stung, but she nodded curtly. “Makes no difference. He was dead to me the moment he joined that bloody cause.”

“Of course, of course,” he mused. “But his wife…this ‘sassenach witch’ as you say…do you know what’s become of her?”

“I always thought she was killed as well,” Jenny said dismissively, despite how saying it made her sick to her stomach. “Wished it, almost. Good riddance, ye ken.”

“Indeed,” he affirmed, nodding. “This uh…cousin of yours…no relation at all to the sassenach witch?”

“None at all,” Jenny said, feigning confusion once more. “She’s my blood cousin. No’ a drop of English blood.”

He opened his mouth to continue, but the back door opened and the stomping of boots started again, this time accompanied by the sound of wood dragging on the floor.

Ian’s leg.

Jenny’s throat went dry.

The officer put down the glass and stood. Jenny and Fergus stood as well. The three soldiers appeared, two of them each holding one of Ian’s arms, dragging him along.

“Ian Murray, sir,” one of the soldiers boomed. “Man of the house.”

“Ah, yes!” The officer beamed. “If it isn't the infamous Pegleg Grave Robber of Culloden Moor!”

——

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.

Claire’s heart leapt into her throat. She’d been listening as intently as possible, unable to hear very clearly until now.

How on Earth did they track Ian here? And why on Earth did it take them so long to decide to reprimand him for something that happened months ago?

“I’m sure I don’t know what yer talking about — ”

Ian’s voice was cut off by the sound of a blow, to the stomach most likely, based on the noise he made. Claire heard Jenny gasp.

“We want nothing to do with that bloody moor! Nor any Jacobites that were on it!” she heard Jenny cry out.

“Not even your darling brother? Was it not his body you were looking for?”

“I dinna have a brother any longer! Please, we are loyal subjects to the crown.”

“I have the word of a fellow soldier that he shot a man with a pegleg on the moor about three months ago.”

“Surely there are others — ”

“Others specifically having lost the right leg?”

A blinding pain suddenly surged through Claire, causing her to cry out softly, involuntarily. She immediately clamped her hand over her mouth. The shouting above her hadn’t stopped, thank God; they hadn’t heard her.

She began breathing heavily in panic.

It’s too soon…it’s too soon…

Another wave of pain came, and she clamped down on her hand, her teeth digging painfully into her flesh.

It’s too soon! It’s too soon!

“If he is indeed innocent, surely you wouldn’t mind if we took him in for questioning.”

“But the harvest!” A new voice. A young boy.

Fergus, don't you say another damn word.

“Milord is needed in the fields to finish the harvest!”

“Do they teach you to talk back to your superiors in France, then?”

The crisp sound of a hand on soft flesh sounded.

Claire bit down on her hand again, this time to stop herself from crying out to her son. Then another wave came. She clamped her other hand over her mouth as well, this time moans were audible, even through her hands. She pinched her nose in attempt to stop this as well.

God, please…not again…it’s too soon…

“The graveyard,” Ian’s voice panted. “There’s a grave wi’ his name, but it’s empty.”

No.

“We did it to honor him wi’out his body. If ye must, ye may unearth the grave. Why would we bury an empty casket if I’d taken his body from the moor?”

“To my recollection, you were shot before you could retrieve a body. This empty grave proves nothing.”

“Ask the mason in the village, and the carpenter. The date the stone and the casket was made will pre-date the night this other pegleg was on the moor. I swear it.”

Claire was trying to breathe evenly and yet quietly as possible, but she was interrupted by another contraction.

No. It can’t be that. It’s too soon.

She bit down on her hand, drawing blood now.

But what else could it be?

“Very well. We will question the mason and the carpenter of Broch Mordha. Until then, you’ll be taken into custody.”

The sound of Ian’s wooden leg dragging on the floor started again, along with the clomping of boots. Claire was seeing stars now, and whatever vision she had in the dark hole was becoming hazy.

“Oh…and we’ll be back to inspect this empty grave.” Even through the floor and walls, Claire could hear the slime in his voice. “We must be sure everything…lines up.”

Connard!”

“Fergus, don’t!” Jenny cried. Claire prayed she was holding him back. “Hold yer whisht, lad. It’ll be alright.”

“You are the grave robbers!” Fergus spat. “You will go to hell!”

“Silence that frog at once!” the Captain barked. “Or I will drag him away as well, child or not.”

Claire could picture him, yanking against Jenny’s strong grip like a bull ready to charge. And then blinding white pain surged through her again, and she squeezed her hand over her mouth, her nose. Air was blocked from any entrance into her body, her throat burned with the need to cry out, her chest begged for air.

She felt consciousness slipping away from her.

Perhaps that would be for the best…

——

Jenny watched from the porch as Ian disappeared in the cart, tears blurring her vision. She fiercely bit her lip as he vanished from her sight.

“I will kill them,” Fergus said bitterly.

“That’s enough,” Jenny said firmly. “If ye mouth off like that to them again ye may get Ian killed. No’ to mention yerself.”

Fergus sighed in frustration. “They will see Milord’s tartan when they return.”

“Aye. They will.”

“We must move it!”

“No, Fergus. They’ll know we’ve unearthed it ourselves and then they’ll know we’re hiding something.” Jenny sighed. “Best to let them find it and tell them we buried it before they came to take them away.”

“It is not fair!” Fergus exploded. “They take everything away!”

“I ken, lad…I ken.” Jenny wiped her eyes. “Best go check on yer mam.”

She put an arm around his shoulders and ushered him to the priest hole.

“Claire,” she called, opening it up. “D’ye need anything, sister?”

She didn’t answer.

“It is alright, Maman . They are gone for now.”

Still no answer.

“Claire?” Jenny descended the ladder, and her heart dropped. Even in the faint light she could see her limp form. “Claire!”

“What is wrong?”

“She’s fainted,” Jenny called up to him. “Claire?” Jenny gathered her into her arms. “Claire what’s happened?”

“What can I do?”

“A cold rag, she’s dripping wi’ sweat.”

Without another word, Fergus was off.

Claire uttered a pained groan, her eyes fluttering open.

“I’m here, sister.” Jenny clasped her hand. “Talk to me. Is it the bairn?”

“I’m…having contractions…” she panted, her eyes widening. “It’s too soon, Jenny…”

“I ken it is, but ye’ll be alright…” she assured her, despite the panic that was making itself known in the pit of her stomach.

“Here, Milady.” Fergus tossed the rag down the hole into Jenny’s hands.

“Fergus…?” Claire whimpered. “Is he alright?”

“He’s fine.” Jenny patted down Claire’s sweaty face. “Despite his being a damned fool, he’s just fine.”

Claire let out a short, breathy laugh. “How is…the potato baby?”

Jenny laughed at that. “Oh, he’s braw. Redcoats never knew any better.”

Claire smiled, breathing heavily.

“Is yer hand bleeding?” Jenny asked, bewildered.

“I bit down on it,” Claire said. “So I wouldn't scream.”

“Ye poor thing.” Jenny tutted in sympathy. “It’ll be alright now. When was the last one?”

“Before I fainted.”

Jenny nodded. “Let me take a look.”

She peered beneath Claire’s skirts, and Claire opened her legs to allow inspection.

“It doesna seem like anything has changed.”

“No bleeding?” Claire said desperately.

“None at all.”

“Thank God,” she breathed in relief.

“No more pains?” Jenny asked, looking up at Claire.

“No…not since you woke me.”

Jenny smiled with a relieved sigh. “False labor.”

Claire, too, gave an enormous sigh of relief. “Of course. Braxton Hicks contractions.”

Jenny cocked an eyebrow. “Is that what you fancy healers call it, then?”

Claire gave a soft chuckle. “I suppose you could say that.”

Jenny returned Claire’s skirts to their proper place.

“So…they took Ian?”

“Aye,” Jenny said distantly. “And they’ll be back to desecrate Jamie’s grave.”

Rage bubbled in Claire’s chest, tears of white hot anger gathered in her eyes.

“What more can they possibly take away from me?” Claire spat.

Jenny put a hand on her shoulder. “I ken, sister. It’ll turn my stomach to see them do it. Be grateful at least ye willna have to see it.”

“They’ll take his tartan,” Claire said flatly.

“Aye, they will.”

An angry sob left her lips and she pounded her fists into the stone floor. “ Damn them! Bloody fucking bastards!”

“Aye, that they are,” Jenny said, tears spilling out of her own eyes. “It’s alright mo ghràidh …” She wrapped her arms around Claire’s shuddering frame. “They canna take him away from yer heart, ye ken?”

“I know…it’s just…”

“I ken, sister. I ken.”

Maman , Milady! They are coming back!”

They pulled apart. “Will ye be alright?”

“Yes…I’m fine.” Claire sniffled and wiped her eyes. “As long as my little potato doesn’t cause any more trouble.” She caressed her stomach.

Jenny chuckled in spite of her anguish. “Alright. I’ll come back fer ye when they’ve gone again.”

Jenny climbed the ladder and sealed the priest hole up again. The Redcoats didn’t bother coming into the house this time, so Fergus and Jenny made their way to the graveyard. They watched from a distance as a small handful of Redcoats dug up the long undisturbed earth. Jenny kept her hands firmly on Fergus’s shoulders even as he struggled to break free, though she wondered if she’d be able to stop herself once they removed the casket itself.

Remove it they did, and they simply tossed the lid off and threw it aside. She could hear them laughing as they dumped the tartan out of the casket. Jenny’s blood boiled. Fergus jerked in her grip again, but she clamped down harder.

Even from the distance, Jenny could see the officer shake his head and light another match.

No !” Fergus cried.

“It willna help, lad!” Jenny said firmly, wrapping her arms around him from behind now. “It willna help.”

The bastard deliberately looked at them, as far away as they were, as he dropped the match into the casket.

Jenny bit her lip as the casket and the tartan went up in flames. Claire’s words echoed over and over in her head:

“What more can they possibly take away from me?”

Fergus finally stopped fighting her, and he burst into tears in her arms. Jenny laid her cheek atop his curly head and wept silently into his hair.

Forgive me, a bhràthair …I tried to honor ye properly…I’m sorry…I tried…

Chapter Text

Claire rubbed Lambert’s tartan bow between her thumb and fingers. She’d been sitting by the fire with her baby's little toy for a while now. It was a month since the Redcoats had come and destroyed the bit of peace she’d created for herself.

“They burned it, Claire…his coffin as well.”

How she had screamed, how she had raged.

“We can have another casket made, Claire. Bury it again, fix everything so it’s just as it was before — ”

“No,” she spat. “I’ll not fucking do it again. I will not.”

“I willna do anything ye dinna agree with sister.” She went to take her hand, but Claire yanked it away. She did not miss the pain in Jenny’s eyes.

“Would ye have me fill it wi’ dirt and nothing more? Whatever ye think is right, Claire. I want to fix it for ye.”

“You can’t.” Claire stood up.

She was being unfair. She knew it. But the true source of her anger, her utter fucking rage, was not here, and even if they were, they were untouchable. So she fled, she fled Jenny even as she called out to her, in pain. She fled to her room, slamming the door behind her, and collapsing against the door to scream in rage, in anguish.

After hours of screaming, the cot caught her eye. And then she'd remembered.

She’d held onto that little lamb and cried for hours.

And now every day since, she spent time rubbing the fabric between her fingertips, willing her flesh to become one with the colors that Jamie had been so proud of.

Ian had been returned to them about a week later. Jenny had sent Fergus into the village to inform the mason and the carpenter to alter their records of the purchase of the stone and the casket. They’d done so unquestioningly, and so with evidence supporting that Ian was not the pegleg in question (even though he was), the Redcoats had no choice but to release him. Jenny had admonished him and verbally torn him apart for going to the moor in the first place, all while kissing him and crying with relief.

A soft kick brought Claire back to the present, and she smiled.

“Why, that was very kind of you, darling,” she said softly. That was certainly one of his gentler kicks. “You want to see Lambert?” She knew it was foolish, but she put the little lamb on her stomach and let it balance there. “Since you asked so very nicely.”

She giggled to herself at the silliness of it all.

“Oh…my baby.” She caressed him, nearly fully grown as he could be inside her. “I’m going to have to share you soon, aren’t I?”

If Claire was being honest with herself, no matter how much she complained about being pregnant, no matter how badly she ached all over, she almost didn’t want to give birth. She’d come to cherish his moving around inside her, she’d come to truly believe that he could hear her when she spoke to him, and that he was kicking in response to his mother’s voice. The conversations they shared felt real to her. The way things were now, he was safe, in her womb, protected.

True, if harm had come to her, he’d be in danger, if there was undue emotional stress, it could harm him. But she had been extremely diligent in taking care of herself these almost nine months that she carried him. She hadn’t protested when she’d been told to cease a certain activity, she hadn’t objected to being taken care of. She’d allowed herself time to scream and cry for her dead husband, but then she’d allowed herself fresh air and distraction, and joy with her nieces, nephews, and her son. If her grief and mourning were going to harm her baby, surely she’d have known by now.

She possessively and protectively wrapped her arms around her middle, as if she could keep him there forever if she held on tightly enough. She tried to find comfort in images of a squirming, tiny baby with Jamie’s eyes, of a little boy running and shouting with his cousins, wild copper curls flowing in the wind, of little kisses to her cheek and tiny whispers in Gaelic. She tried.

But it terrified her.

Once the labor pains began, once her water broke, he was in danger. Faith had stirred and moved right up until her premature birth. She was alive when she was inside of her. It was only when Claire’s body tried to release her that she’d killed her.

Killed her.

For perhaps the millionth time, Claire prayed fervently to whoever was listening.

Please don’t take him, too. Please don’t take him too. Please don’t let me kill him. Give me the strength to see him safe…Please…

Don’t let my body fail me again.

Don’t let me fail him…

This child was all that would be left of him. Ever. The thought of her body purging that life and strangling it even as it came into the world made her sick enough to wish she’d never go into labor at all.

A soft knock on the door stirred her out of her reverie. Her eyes fell on the little lamb again, chuckling softly at the sight of him balancing on her large, round belly. She took him into her hands.

“Come in.”

The door opened, and she expected Fergus’s wide eyes, a stern look from Jenny, or even a lip-biting smile from her little niece.

“Good evening, lass.”

But she certainly hadn’t expected Ian.

“Good evening,” Claire said warmly, sitting herself up a little straighter in her chair. “Is everything alright?”

“Oh, aye. Just fine.” He lingered in the doorway. “D’ye mind if I join ye?”

“Not at all, please.” Claire gestured to the other chair beside the fireplace, adjacent to hers. “Is it your leg?”

“No, Claire.” He waved her off as he sat down across from her. “I just wanted to apologize.”

Claire’s brow furrowed. “Apologize?”

“I ken ye’ve been in anguish since the Redcoats desecrated Jamie’s grave. And I ken well that it’s my fault they did it.”

“Ian — ”

“Please, I want to say my piece,” he cut her off gently, holding his eye contact with her. Claire wet her lips, swallowing thickly.

“It was damned foolish of me to attempt to retrieve his body. I didna think of the consequences, how easy it’d be to track down someone like me.” He gestured weakly to his leg, blinking shamefully. “And when they were here, I couldna think of any other way to save my hide than to tell them of the grave. I kent well what they’d do.”

“I said it the night you were shot, and I’ll say it again: a body to bury, a grave, is not worth your life,” Claire said. “Where would Jenny or your children be if you hadn’t thought to say something to support your innocence?”

“Aye. It’s true. But ye have anger, Claire.” His eye contact remained ever constant, and she felt her resolve crumbling under his gaze. “And I want ye to know that I ken it’s anger fer me. And well deserved at that.”

Her vision began to blur with tears and she quickly wiped her eyes. “Ian…I don’t resent you,” she said firmly. “You’re right…I have anger. I have…so much anger.” Her voice shuddered. “But it isn’t for you, or Jenny, or anyone but the bastards who killed him in the first place, and then blew apart the only grave we could give him.” She wiped her eyes again, taking a breath. “And perhaps God.”

Ian nodded. “Aye. I can understand.”

“What kind of God would create a society in which those with power can be so…so cruel to those that are helpless? Drive thousands of men to their deaths to stop it all from happening…and have it all be in vain?” Claire shook her head, then rubbed her hand down the length of her face and rested her fingers over her lips.

Frank had briefly recounted to her what had become of the European Jews, the Holocaust, they were calling it. Apparently, right under the noses of the whole world, those with power had rounded up the helpless and murdered them by the millions. A systematic erasure of a culture that they despised for the sake of despising it.

It was not a one-to-one correlation by any stretch of the imagination. What was happening here was no Holocaust, though it was cultural genocide to be sure. Claire supposed that if the powers that be in England could even wrap their minds around something so incomprehensible as death camps, perhaps they might have employed them. At least for the men. Jamie’s treatment at Fort William, at Wentworth, could certainly rival that of the paper thin, war weary Jews in rags that she’d seen on a rare occasion in Europe.

And what kind of God would let this happen? Not once, not even twice through history…countless times? Jamie took up arms to ensure that the ones he loved never had to endure the treatment that he did. To protect his nieces and eventual daughters from the treatment Jenny had received at Lallybroch all those years ago, to protect his nephew and eventual sons from his fate in prison. He fought for a better future for the ones he loved. He died for it. And it was for nothing.

Once again, she found herself possessively hugging her middle. This world is not safe for him.

And it would appear that no world would be safe. Not this one, in 1746, and not her own, in 1945. Here, her child would be targeted as a Highlander, in 1939 children were targeted and murdered for simply being born Jewish. So who was to say that two hundred years from now, some new evil couldn't arise and target her child for being anything? He could be ripped from her arms in any century, everything she loved and held dear could be destroyed for no good reason no matter where, no matter when she was.

“God created this world, aye, he created the people in it. But he didna create the evil,” Ian began. “The Devil lives, thrives in some people, and they drag others down wi’ them.”

Images of herself screaming, pleading for help from the soldiers in Wentworth flashed through Claire’s mind, followed by images of Jack Randall telling them to leave and ignore what they’d seen. And they'd obeyed.

The Devil thrives in some people indeed. And he managed to drag plenty down with him.

“For whatever reason, He canna purge the world of that evil,” Ian went on. “D’ye ken the only thing that truly does combat it?”

Claire blinked numbly at him.

“It’s love, Claire. Pure and undying. It’s the only thing that can never truly die.”

Silent tears trickled down her cheeks as she listened intently.

“After seeing the evils of war, what men are capable of doing to one another.” He gestured to his leg again. “I cursed the Lord as well. I couldna close my eyes wi’out feeling hatred and terror. But d’ye ken what dragged me out of it?”

Claire briefly closed her eyes, a tiny smile appearing on her lips, but not quite reaching her eyes. “Jenny.”

“Aye. That she did.” Ian’s face was now full of emotion. “That lass and her damned stubbornness refused to let me be lost. Her love reminded me why it is that God puts us on this Earth. And then I look at my bairns…and I’m so full of love I’m fit tae burst.” Claire wiped her eyes again. “D’ye see what I’m saying, Claire?”

“I do.” Truly she did. But she was not comforted yet. “And then what happens when they’re ripped away from you?” She didn’t mean to sound as harsh as she did.

“The love remains. I ken ye know that, Claire.”

That damned eye contact.

What had she said to herself when they’d buried Jamie’s tartan?

It was not their love that she was putting to rest.

“Love can’t be put to rest,” Claire said shakily.

“Aye. And neither can pain. And that’s the hell of it, I suppose.” He sighed. “You are loved, Claire. By those that have left us and by the ones still here. Throughout the Highlands, men have been slaughtered, and their families are hanging together wi’ love for each other. It’s all they have in the face of evil. Ye ken?”

She nodded tearfully. “I understand.”

He leaned over and placed a gentle hand on her knee. “Yer child will be brought up wi’ love.”

“I know.”

“It was love that brought him here.”

“Yes…it was.”

“I, uh…reckon ye havenae seen the graveyard as of late.” Claire shook her head. “We cleaned up everything that was burnt, filled the hole they left. Didna bury anything else. Jenny said ye didna want it that way.”

Her eyes absently landed on the tartan bow in her hands.

“It wasna salvageable,” Ian said, not waiting for her to ask. “The Redcoats made sure of that.” She nodded, rubbing the fabric on the lamb between her fingers again.

“We…we gathered the ashes. Of the tartan. Jenny argued against it seeing as how ye didna want to bury anything else…but I thought I should ask ye before we truly were rid of it.”

Claire bit her lip.

“Ye dinna have to say anything now. Or tomorrow, or ever, if ye dinna want to,” he continued. “But just know that we have them. The grave is cleaned up, the rosary is returned to the stone, and the ashes of the tartan are safe somewhere.”

She nodded, her chin trembling, not knowing what to say.

He took his hand from her knee before standing.

“I ken ye havena been joining us fer supper of late, and I dinna blame ye. Ye can stay in here of course, eat supper in peace wi’ yer bairn, and we’d think none the less of ye fer it.” He smiled warmly at her. “But I’d be honored if ye came to supper wi’ us, Claire. Wi’ the family that loves ye.”

With that, he turned to leave. Claire watched him go, her heart aching.

“Ian.” She stopped him just before he shut the door behind him. “Thank you.”

He nodded, and then left her alone to think again.

She’d be lying if she said that what had happened with the Redcoats hadn’t caused her to regress in terms of her grief. She was spending more time locked in her room than she had in months. Jenny was bringing meals to her room again, forcing her to eat it, Fergus was peeking in, frightened like he’d been all those months ago, walking on eggshells, frightened that he would shatter her. But unlike last time, the baby was much more concrete, much more real now. She was not just locking herself in her room, she was locking herself in with her baby. This made it all the easier to forget that she was shutting everyone else out.

Guilt clenched her gut. She’d been taking them for granted. The sister that was constantly putting her needs over her own, the brother that risked his life to bring her peace, the son that brought her comfort enough to sleep on nights where she otherwise couldn’t, the nieces and nephew that put so much light in her heart. She’d gotten used to having them, to having a family of her own. And she’d taken it for granted.

Resolutely, Claire pushed herself out of her chair. She reverently placed Lambert in the cot that would soon belong to her baby, smiling as she ran her fingertips over the mattress and blankets.

She would dine with her family. Tonight, and every night thereafter.

She was greeted with several boisterous “Auntie!”s when she entered the dining room, Maggie, then wee Jamie rushing to hug her around the legs. Even Kitty made an attempt, crying “Ah-ee!” and clapping her hands, mimicking her siblings’ delight.

Maggie tugged on her hands, dragging her to the seat beside her, where she’d become accustomed to having her during meals. Maggie had turned three during Claire’s self-induced isolation. Jenny had come into her room, and Claire, in her depression, had been none the wiser to the day.

“D’ye ken it’s Maggie’s birthday?” Jenny said, trying to suppress the salt in her words.

“Is it…?” Claire said dazedly.

“Aye. And she’s been asking fer her Auntie all day.”

Claire finally forced herself to look at her, her stomach wrangled with guilt.

“Remember, three years ago, Claire?” Jenny allowed a smile. “We were strangers, and I had ye pulling a bairn out of me wi’ yer bare hands.”

Claire chuckled softly. “I was terrified.”

“Oh, you were, now?” Jenny scoffed, then shook her head, smiling. “She’s a blessing, a blessing that I have because of you. A blessing that you have because ye brought her into the world three years ago today.” Jenny patted her shoulder and then stood up and made to leave the room.

“Just wanted to tell ye that.” She shut the door behind her.

That was the one and only day that month that Claire had forced herself to venture out of the house. The air was chilling, biting, even, but there was only one way to make this right. After her journey out of doors, Claire found Maggie in the nursery with her dolls.

“Auntie Claire!” She toddled to the door and threw herself on her legs. “D’ye ken the day, Auntie?”

“Of course I do!” She sat on Maggie’s bed and pulled her into her lap, though there wasn’t much room given the size of her belly. “It’s the day I helped your mother bring you into the world.” She poked her nose, resulting in a little giggle.

“Aye! Mam says ye saved me, Auntie.”

Claire looked into her eyes, so wide, so in awe of her, completely clueless as to how broken she, the woman who was her hero, had become.

“I did, Maggie. Because I already loved you so very much.”

She was very much like Ian, Claire decided. Wee Jamie was the troublemaker, like his namesake, Kitty was the stubborn devil, like her mother, but Maggie was so gentle, so sweet, caring beyond her years.

“I’ve brought something for the birthday girl,” Claire said in a sing-song pattern.

Maggie gasped, her face lighting up, clapping her hands.

Claire reached into her pocket and pulled out the very item she’d ventured outside for. It was a dried and flattened bluebell, something she’d been saving with her other dried herbs for experimental purposes, but also something she’d much rather give to a special little girl on her birthday.

“It’s a dried flower, a bluebell.” Claire held it out to her, and she gaped at it in awe. She took it in her little hands with all the grace of a grown woman holding a string of pearls. Claire didn’t have to tell her to be careful, how delicate it was. She knew.

“Someday, I’ll teach you how to dry flowers yourself, that way you can keep any flower you want forever. How does that sound?”

Maggie simply nodded, her mouth stuck in an adorable little “o” shape, unable to tear her wide eyes from it.

“It’s a special medicine flower,” Claire went on. “If you keep it in your pocket, you’ll always have the warmth of Spring, even in the dead of Winter.” Claire was never one to come up with fairytales, but she felt compelled to endow the simple little plant with something so that the poor girl wouldn’t realize her Auntie had selfishly forgotten her birthday.

Although, looking at her face, Claire decided that even if it was just a plain, non-magical flower, Maggie would have cherished it all the same.

“Do you like it?” Claire said, almost laughing at how her little awe-struck face still hadn’t changed.

“Aye, Auntie.” She nodded.

“I’m glad. I had to give my little garden faery something special for her birthday.” Claire kissed her head. “Keep it safe now, won’t you?”

“I will, Auntie. Promise.”

Now, Maggie clambered into her chair next to Claire, and she hoisted herself onto her knees. She looked up at Claire smiling, biting her bottom lip as she always did. She patted the pocket of her wee apron. “Safe, Auntie.”

Claire’s eyes welled up with tears, and she pulled the girl into a hug to hide them from her.

Dear, sweet girl.

Supper was…normal. It was as if she’d never left, as if she hadn’t spent weeks avoiding everybody. The children were boisterous, Jenny and Ian bickered, Fergus was…well, Fergus. Everything was as it should be. Everything was perfectly…normal. It unnerved her for some reason to feel that way, and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Until halfway through the meal it hit her.

“Normal” no longer included Jamie.

She’d spent months imagining him at the table, hearing his laughter among the cacophony of noise. Now, his absence was normal. She’d gotten used to it.

She’d almost had to excuse herself, suddenly overcome with this burden of knowledge, but then wee Jamie spilled his glass, and the water reached Claire’s lap, even from all the way across the table. Maggie squealed, Jenny reprimanded her son, and it was enough to bring Claire back into the moment, out of her whirling thoughts.

She managed to make it through the rest of supper, despite her now being wet.

“What do ye say to yer Auntie, Jamie?” Jenny stood with her hands on her hips as Claire and wee Laura started to clear the table.

“Sorry fer getting ye all wet, Auntie Claire,” the lad said, peering up through his long lashes, trying not to grin.

“It’s alright, Jamie.” Claire ruffled his hair. “I needed a bit of a bath anyway.”

He couldn’t stop the giggle that erupted at that, and Jenny gave the back of his head a gentle smack. “Up ye get, lad. To bed.”

“Milady,” Fergus suddenly reentered the dining room, having gone upstairs to put Kitty to bed. “It would appear Katherine does not want to go to bed.”

Claire had to cover her mouth to prevent herself from laughing out loud. Fergus was holding onto the squirming toddler for dear life, and she was screaming her wee head off, positively red in the face. Fergus looked terrified.

Och.” Jenny sighed and took quick strides to retrieve her stubborn wee devil. “Ye behaved just fine fer cousin Fergus last night, Kitty! What on Earth could be the matter today?”

Tutting and muttering to herself, Jenny whisked the screaming child out of the dining room and upstairs, the sound gradually quieting the further away they got.

“I hope mon petit does not hate me as Katherine does,” Fergus said, his eyes wide.

“Oh, Kitty does not hate you,” Claire assured him, picking up dishes. “She’s just a fussy toddler. She does the same thing to her own mother. You’ve seen it.”

He seemed placated enough, nodding.

“You are a wonderful cousin to the little ones, mon fils,” Claire said. “And you will be a wonderful brother as well.”

He smiled proudly. “Thank you, Maman.”

“Alright then. Since Kitty so vehemently opposed your being on baby duty, it looks like you’re on dish duty with — ”

A familiar searing pain rushed through her, and the pile of plates she held slipped from her grasp, the bottom two shattering on the wood floor.

Maman?” Fergus was at her side in an instant.

She panted heavily, clutching her belly.

“It’s alright…I’m alright.” Claire assured him, taking the arm he offered her.

“False labor again?” Fergus asked.

“Very well could be,” Claire said. She allowed Fergus to lead her into a seat, exhaling heavily as she sat. “Look at the mess I’ve made…”

“Don’t worry, Maman. I will clean it up.”

He got right to it, returning the unbroken plates to the table and then picking up the broken pieces, gathering them in a pile in his arms. He disposed of them and then returned to her side. Her breathing felt regular again, no more pain.

“Alright. Back to the dishes then. Though perhaps you should carry them,” Claire said sheepishly.

“Are you sure, Maman? Perhaps you should go to bed,” Fergus said, rushing to help her stand before she could even attempt to do it herself.

“I’m fine, darling, really. It’s — ” She suddenly cried out and doubled over.

And then her blood ran cold.

The liquid running down her legs and gathering at her feet was unmistakable.

Maman?” Fergus was panicked now.

Claire looked up at him, her chest heaving with panic. “My waters have broken.”

“Does that…is it…?”

“Yes, Fergus.” Her mind was racing, her head was spinning. She was squeezing his arm with white knuckles.

“The baby is coming.”

Chapter Text

“Milady?”

“Christ, Fergus, ye scairt the bowels out of me.” Jenny clutched her chest. She was sitting on Kitty’s bed, lulling her to sleep.

“Fergus?” Wee Jamie sat straight up in bed, followed by Maggie.

“Fus!” Kitty called.

“Milady, it — ”

“I’d just gotten her to fall asleep,” Jenny groaned. “Ye’d better have good reason fer keeping me in here fer another hour, lad.”

“I am sorry, Milady,” Fergus stammered. “It is the baby.”

Jenny leapt to her feet.

“Her waters have broken.”

“Christ! Why did ye no’ say?” She bustled out of the room. “Fergus, stay wi’ the bairns.”

“But I want to help!”

“Ye can help by getting the bairns to sleep and out of my hair.” She was already halfway down the stairs. “Ye can come by when they’re asleep!”

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Jenny practically sprinted through the second-story hallway to Claire’s bedroom.

“Jenny,” Claire uttered her name breathily. She was pacing the room, but now she stopped, looking up at Jenny with panic in her eyes.

“Ye alright, sister?” Jenny was immediately beside her, feeling her forehead, her cheeks.

“I’m…” Claire swallowed, her vision blurring. “I’m scared.”

“I ken ye are.” Jenny squeezed her upper arms. “But I’m right here wi’ ye.”

There was a light knock on the door, but Ian was already in the room. “It’s true then? Bairn’s coming?”

“Aye.” Jenny nodded. “Get to the village to fetch the midwife.”

Ian nodded curtly, then he was off.

“Mrs. Crook and the Donnelly widow picked a right fine time to no’ be here,” Jenny sighed.

Before Claire could respond, another contraction came, and she braced onto the chair by the fireplace, clinging to it with white knuckles. She groaned through gritted teeth, the pain coursing through her. Jenny rubbed her back, reminded her to breathe.

Mrs. Crook’s sister had suddenly passed, so she was off to the services in a small village outside of Edinburgh. Mrs. Donnelly had decided to journey with her and stop in Edinburgh to see family, though she’d left Laura behind to do menial tasks and cleaning while she was gone.

“I’ll be fine without them,” Claire finally answered when the contraction ended. “I assured them both as much when they were concerned about leaving so close to the due date.” She released her grip on the chair and began pacing again. “I’ll have the midwife. And I have you.” Claire smiled warmly at Jenny.

“Aye. Ye do.” Jenny approached her and began untying her skirts. “Let’s get ye down to yer shift, nice and comfortable.”

Claire allowed her to help her undress, pausing once to brace herself for another contraction. After she was in only her shift, Jenny sat her at the vanity to unpin her hair for her. A tiny knock came at the door, and Jenny groaned, expecting Jamie or Maggie to burst in.

“What is it then?” she called.

The door opened just a crack, though, and wee Laura was standing there.

“Laura, should ye no’ be in bad, lass?” Jenny paused her attentions on Claire to turn and face her.

“I want to help, Mistress,” she said in a tiny voice. “Mother told me to be helpful.”

“Oh, aye, she did.” Jenny smiled. “Why don’t ye go fetch some clean rags and linens for Mistress Fraser, and a pitcher of fresh water as well?”

“Yes, Mistress.” Laura curtsied and then tiptoed off, shutting the door behind her.

“Sweet girl,” Claire said fondly, finishing up with her hair.

“Aye, she is. Too young to be birthing bairns yet. I’ll be sending her to bed once she’s done what I asked.”

Claire nodded in agreement, and then braced herself, as she felt another contraction coming on. This time she outright yelled, and Jenny rushed to her side. It passed, and Claire started breathing heavily through puffed cheeks.

“A strong one, aye?”

Claire nodded wordlessly, breathless.

“How’re ye feeling? Dizzy? Weak? D’ye want to lie down?”

Claire shook her head. “Not just yet. I’m alright.” Jenny helped her to her feet and then sat down, watching Claire pace the room.

“Is the bairn in a good position?” Jenny suddenly asked. “Didna even think to ask.”

“Yes…I felt myself,” Claire assured her. “He’s ready.”

Jenny nodded. “Are you ready?”

“Quite the loaded question,” Claire said, cocking her head. Then she sighed in defeat, resting her hands on the small of her back, turning her elbows outward. “I suppose I…” She stopped herself. “No,” she said simply. Why lie to Jenny when she’d get the truth out of her either way? “I don’t feel ready at all.”

“I understand.” Jenny nodded in sympathy. “What has ye scairt most?”

She scoffed. “Everything?” She started pacing again. “I can bear the pain, of course. But I’m not ready to face something going wrong. I’m not ready for my body to…to fail my child again.”

“Claire…dinna talk like that.” Jenny crossed herself, presumedly warding off any ill luck Claire had spoken into the world.

“I know I shouldn’t…and everything seems perfectly normal so far. But I…I’m not prepared for it to happen. And then there’s…seeing him.”

“What d’ye mean? Yer no’ ready to see the bairn?” Jenny almost laughed. “That’s the part most women are ready fer.”

Claire smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I know it doesn’t make much sense…but I…I’m not ready to…to see…” She stopped pacing and took a deep breath, forcing herself to look at Jenny. “I’m not ready to see Jamie in my baby.” Jenny’s face softened. “I’m afraid I’m going to…to look at him and just…fall apart.”

“Claire…”

“And then what of the rest of his life? What if I can’t look at my child without seeing him? And then I…I completely lose it?” Claire’s voice caught in her throat, and her chest began heaving with shallow breath. “What if I never stop grieving him and it’s too painful to even look at my child? What if I…I just can’t do it?”

“That’s enough, now.” Jenny stood up and crossed the room so she could firmly grab Claire by the shoulders. “I willna lie to ye, Claire, ye will see Jamie in this child. But as much as it’ll pain ye, is it no’ a miracle as well? To have him with ye still?” Claire’s tears were falling freely. “I ken ye know that’s the truth. Yer just scairt now, is all. Ye ken, don’t ye? The miracle that this child is?”

Claire nodded, sniffling. “I do.”

“Good.” Some of her firmness melted away, and she cupped Claire’s face in her hands, swiping her tears away with her thumbs. “I also ken that ye’ll never stop truly grieving him. As much as I want to tell ye otherwise. He’ll always be missing from ye. But you are strong , Claire Fraser. Ye’ve survived hell and back, I ken it well. I know yer heart. Ye’d do anything fer yer bairns, no matter how it pains ye. A mother doesna quit no matter how her heart aches.” Jenny pulled her face down to kiss her forehead. “And you are a mother, Claire. Through and through.”

Claire pulled her into a tight embrace, clinging to her. “Thank you, Jenny.”

A little knock sounded again, and Jenny went to the door to take the pitcher from wee Laura. It was almost comical how she struggled to balance the pitcher and all the linens she’d brought with her. Jenny was about to pour a glass when Claire cried out again, waving blindly for something to grab onto. Jenny rushed to catch her and guided her to the bed. Laura watched with wide eyes, frozen still, holding the bundle of linens.

Claire squeezed Jenny’s hands as the wave of pain flooded over her, and Jenny soothed her all the while. It ended, and Jenny finished the task of getting her a glass of water.

“What shall I do with the cloth, Mistress?” Laura’s voice was even tinier than normal, if it were even possible.

“Put them there on the table,” Jenny indicated with her head, making sure Claire was drinking the water. “And then off to bed wi’ ye.”

“But Mother said I must help.”

“D’ye ken the most helpful thing ye could do?” Jenny asked. Laura shook her head. “Ye could make sure ye get a good night’s sleep so yer ready to help when the bairn is here. How does that sound?”

Laura nodded. “Yes, Mistress.”

She curtsied, and was off again.

Jenny quickly set to work wetting one of the rags in the cool water, then dabbing Claire’s sweaty face with it.

“That feels heavenly,” Claire panted, letting her head hang loose so Jenny could get to her neck.

“Good,” Jenny said. “Here, let’s get ye against the pillows now. They’re getting stronger.”

Claire nodded, scooting back into the pillows arranged at the headboard. “I don’t think I could get back up if I wanted to.” Claire put the glass on the night table beside her and adjusted herself to get more comfortable, if that was even possible. Jenny tugged the blankets out from underneath her and then pulled them over her legs.

Claire smiled wistfully.

“What?” Jenny said, looking up from her current task of rearranging the pillows behind Claire.

“You fuss over me like Jamie used to,” Claire said.

“Do I, now?”

“Indeed,” Claire chuckled softly. “He’d be beside himself if he were here.”

“He’d no’ be here, I can assure ye,” Jenny said. “I’d have Ian tie him to a tree if I had to.”

“I very much doubt that.” Claire winced as pain surged through her lower back. “You’d likely have to sedate him and drag him out of here. And even that might not work.” They both chuckled. “Though I think I’d want him here. If he could be.” Her gaze became far off, her voice small and sad. “Especially after the last time. Being without him, being alone was horrible.”

“Yer no’ alone,” Jenny said firmly, squeezing Claire’s hand.

“I know.”

Several minutes and several painful contractions later, Ian returned to the room, his face grave. 

“Dinna tell me she’s no’ coming,” Jenny said, hands on her hips.

“She’s broken her leg and canna travel,” Ian said, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Claire. I tried to rouse anyone that would listen, anyone to help.”

Claire opened her mouth to speak, but instead she wailed in agony again, her head lurching forward off the pillows, curling into herself. Jenny dutifully dabbed at her forehead. “It’s alright, sister, breathe now. There ye go.”

Exhausted, Claire collapsed back into the pillows, and Jenny held the water glass to her lips.

“Damnable woman is never here when we need her.” Jenny shook her head in disbelief.

“It’s alright,” Claire said, and Jenny put the glass back down. “I’ve delivered children before. I can guide you through this.”

“Through yer own birth?” Jenny said. “I can hardly remember the alphabet when I’m in this agony.”

“I’ll just have to find my senses somehow,” Claire chuckled.

“Is there anything I can do fer ye, lass?” Ian said.

“Ye can get to bed,” Jenny answered for her. “I’ll no’ have ye hovering.”

Ian rolled his eyes. “Yes, Mistress.” He bowed mockingly, and Jenny scoffed, waving him off as he left the room.

Ian was nearly barreled over by the lad coming down the hall.

Maman !” Fergus burst into the room without knocking. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Fergus,” Claire insisted. “Come here.”

He obeyed sitting on the edge of the bed.

“The bairns are asleep, Milady, I promise,” he assured Jenny.

“Good lad.”

“How much longer until mon petit arrives?” Fergus asked.

“Based on how far apart and strong the contractions are, I’d say about one or two more hours?” Claire said, looking to Jenny, who nodded.

“Then I will stay awake.”

“You don’t have to darling.” Claire cupped his cheek. “You can get some rest, and we’ll wake you when the baby is here.”

“Are…are you sure?” He looked frightened, terrified even.

“Fergus…” Claire wrapped him in her arms. “The last time I had a baby it was not normal. Everything is fine right now. We’re both fine.”

He nodded in her arms, and she kissed the crown of his head.

“I promise we’ll get you if something happens.”

He pulled away and looked into her eyes, nodding. “One or two hours?”

“Maybe three,” Claire said, smiling.

“Alright, Maman . Good night.”

“Fergus.” She squeezed his hand as he tried to get up. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

——

Eleven hours.

Claire’s waters had broken at around eight in the evening, and she’d now been in labor for eleven hours.

Her entire body was aching, throbbing.

“Yer alright, Claire,” Jenny assured her for perhaps the millionth time. “Remember how long I was wi’ Maggie? A whole day and night.”

Claire nodded, bracing down as another horrible contraction wracked her body, her throat burning with the screams that ripped through her. Jenny was immediately upon her, dabbing her head, her neck.

“Breathe…that’s it. Good girl.”

Claire’s head fell back onto the pillows, her chest heaving. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ…”

“Take some more water.” Jenny held the glass to her lips, and Claire gratefully sipped.

“It’s been almost twelve hours…” Claire panted. “I don’t know how much longer I can bear this…”

“Ye can bear it, and ye will,” Jenny insisted. “It can’t be long now.”

“It feels like I’m being split in half…” Claire groaned. “Do you think he’s alright? What if something is wrong…if I felt the position incorrectly?”

Jenny pushed the blankets down and lifted up her shift to feel for herself. “It feels just right to me, Claire. His head is right there, see?” She brought her hands down so she could feel.

Claire nodded. “I just…I hate that I can’t feel him while this is happening…he could already be dead and I’d never know…”

“Enough of that,” Jenny said firmly, crossing herself again.

Claire began whimpering. “Christ…this one is going to hurt…”

Jenny sat down beside her and let her squeeze her hands, wincing herself when her grip tightened as the wave of pain coursed through her. If this scream hadn’t roused the entire house, nothing ever would.

Claire collapsed onto the pillows again, tears leaking out of her eyes, wide with panic. “Something is wrong.”

“What?”

“It’s…it’s wet…” Claire stammered, and Jenny tore away the covers. She gaped in horror at the large blood stain on the sheet between her legs.

“It’s blood isn’t it?”

“Aye,” Jenny gulped.

“Jenny. You have to stop the bleeding,” Claire said firmly. “Clean cloth, just shove it between my legs. As tightly as you can.”

Jenny nodded and set to work. Claire closed her eyes and tried to regulate her breathing the best she could. It would do her no good to panic. She needed to be as alert as possible.

“Jenny, the bleeding has to stop, or at least be slowed, before the cervix opens.” Jenny looked up from between her legs, bewildered. “Before the…the baby is ready to come out. I cannot lose consciousness before I start pushing him out, or he’ll be in the birth canal too long and he’ll suffocate.”

Jenny nodded fretfully. “I willna let that happen. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

“Just get as much pressure on it as possible and change the rags when they’re full of blood.” Jenny nodded. “We may be able to slow it enough so that I can stay alive at least until he’s out.”

Jenny’s head whipped up from her work. “Oh no, ye’ll no’ be talking like that,” she said firmly.

“All I mean is…”

“I dinna care. I’ll not have ye writing a death sentence already. The bleeding will stop once the bairn is out, will it no’?”

“I…I don’t know,” Claire admitted, her heart skipping a beat. “I don’t know what’s going to happen…”

“Now, now.” Jenny moved back up to Claire’s side, taking her hand in hers and squeezing. “I’m right here wi’ ye, sister. Ye guided me through wi’ Maggie, and we are both alive and well. And I will do the same fer you.”

Claire nodded, trying to allow herself to believe that. The pain echoed through her again, this time unfathomably so. Jenny left one hand in Claire’s for her to squeeze and quickly got to work wiping her down with the rag in the other hand. The pain subsided after what seemed like an eternity, and Claire dissolved into sobs.

“They’re getting longer now,” Jenny said. “It’s alright.”

“I’m so frightened,” Claire cried desperately, unable to see through the pain or her tears. “I’m so terrified!”

“Hush now,” Jenny said, stroking her hair. “Tears won’t do the bairn any good.”

“Check the rags,” Claire stammered.

Jenny obeyed.

“Replace them immediately with clean ones, don’t leave it exposed.”

Jenny nodded, readying the clean ones and then working to unpack the soiled ones. Her hands began violently trembling and her throat closed. There was so much blood. She looked up at Claire, whose head was back on the pillows, staring at the ceiling. She was still weeping. She quickly threw the soiled rags on the floor before she could see, and replaced them with the clean ones.

“How bad is it?” Claire said.

Jenny wiped her hands on her apron and walked to the nightstand to fetch the glass of water. “Here. Drink.” She held the glass to Claire’s lips.

“How. Bad. Is it?” Claire repeated.

Drink .” Jenny insisted, tipping the glass into her mouth. Claire coughed at first, but eventually was swallowing the water, more thirsty than she’d realized.

Satisfied when the glass was empty, Jenny set the glass down and got to work cooling her down again with the rag.

“He’ll be ready soon,” she said, forcing herself to smile at Claire. “Ye’ll look braw wi’ a bairn in yer arms, Claire. It’ll bring me great joy to see it.”

“The pain isn’t stopping…” Claire said. “It hurts…so badly…”

“I know, mo ghràidh , I know…”

“It’s not normal…” She was trying to raise her voice in alarm, but the energy she put into the words was dying on her lips. “I’m losing too much blood…” She was cut off by another wave of even more intense pain wracking her body. “Oh God …” She wailed, and yelled as the wave crashed into her.

“Breathe, Claire! Breathe…” Jenny rubbed her shoulders. “Breathe…that’s it…”

She was growing paler with every second.

Claire grunted and groaned as the contraction ended, panting heavily. “He’s coming…move…the rags…”

“Should we no’ get ye off the bed?”

“I shouldn’t be moved…that far…” Claire panted. “Would worsen the bleeding…Scoot me…closer to the foot of the bed…”

Jenny obeyed, helping her move and adjusting the pillows as she went. She rushed to retrieve more pillows from her own bedroom to keep Claire properly sitting up. She then got to work removing the cloth. She couldn’t tell if the amount of blood was just as bad or if it had gotten worse; the only thing she could tell is that it made her dizzy and sick to her stomach.

“Keep at least one…move it when…a contraction…”

Jenny nodded, understanding without forcing her to continue. “It’ll all be worth it when he’s here,” Jenny said, with a forced cheerfulness that did not manage to convince herself. “Should be within the hour.”

“Oh God…” Claire moaned, and Jenny could see her bracing herself for a contraction. Jenny quickly moved the rag, and was horrified to see the blood simply pooling on the sheet instead.

She gulped, forcing down the bile that had risen in her throat, and rushed to Claire’s side. “Alright, it’s time.” Jenny sat on the bed and gathered her weary body in her arms. “Take hold of me, now.” Claire desperately grasped both of Jenny’s hands that were wrapped around her. A high pitched keening noise started in the back of Claire’s throat, and it gradually transformed into an agonizing shriek.

“That’s it, push! Good, good!” Jenny encouraged, wincing as Claire bore her entire body weight down on her. The contraction ended, and Claire collapsed onto Jenny, eyes fluttering shut.

“Claire?” Jenny gave her a gentle shake, and they fluttered back open. “No time fer nappin’ just yet. One push isna enough.”

Claire breathed heavily, her chest heaving. Her arms were trembling. Jenny left her side to return to the foot of the bed to check in and to slow the bleeding some more. “I canna see him yet.” She stuffed clean rags between her legs, wiped her hands on her apron, and rushed to fill the water glass. She held the glass to Claire’s lips, her stomach churning at the way her eyes lolled open and shut, fighting to stay in focus.

“I think…” Jenny said, desperate to keep her awake by talking her ear off. “If the bairn is a girl, she and Kitty would be the best of friends, being so close in age.” Claire had been swallowing the water, but she suddenly began choking. The water was collecting in her mouth; she no longer had the strength to swallow.

“Or,” Jenny continued despite the new panic that set in. “If it was a lad, wee Jamie would be very pleased.” She put the glass down and set to wiping the cool rag on her face again. “Claire,” she said firmly. “Can ye look at me, lass?”

Moaning with the pain of the effort, she obeyed, her head falling onto her shoulder, her eyes glazed over. “He was so disappointed when Kitty was a girl. He wanted a wee brother so badly. He might keep this one all to himself if it’s a boy, ye may never see him again.” Jenny forced a small chuckle. Claire offered back a smile that made Jenny’s skin crawl; her eyes were half closed, her skin was so pale, it was almost ghostly.

“He’s going to grow up loved by so many people,” Jenny continued, putting down the rag and stroking Claire’s head with her hand. “All of his cousins will be all of his closest friends. Oh, and Fergus. I ken the lad is bursting to meet the bairn.”

“He’s…good boy…” Claire whispered.

“Aye, he’s a fine lad,” Jenny agreed, overjoyed to hear her speak. “He’ll be a fine brother to the bairn, boy or girl. Has he told ye which one he’d want?”

Claire shook her head. “He just…wants us…to be healthy— Ah !” Claire’s entire body seized up, and Jenny sprung up to remove the rags. Bloody still.

“Push, Claire,” Jenny said, rushing to grab her hand again. “Wi’ all the strength ye have!”

She obeyed, wailing in agony as she did. This one was a little longer than the last. When it ended, Jenny returned to replace the rags. “Still canna see him. The next one, surely.”

“Jenny…”

She didn’t hear at first…her voice was so weak.

Jenny…

Jenny poked her head out from between Claire’s legs, and her heart nearly stopped. She looked dead already, pale as anything and not moving at all.

“I’m here, sister…” She rushed to Claire’s side, squeezing her hand.

“Name…” Her eyes were a horrifying mixture of sluggish and desperate. “Brian…I promised…”

“None of that, now,” Jenny said kindly, yet firmly. “Ye’ll be naming him yerself.” She dipped the rag into the bowl of water and gently wet her forehead again. Jenny was startled to feel a strong squeeze of the hand that had previously been holding Claire’s. She looked down to see Claire’s hand trembling violently with the effort of squeezing Jenny’s.

“Save him…promise me…”

“Ye’re wasting yer strength, Claire.” Jenny firmly removed herself from Claire’s grip. “Ye’ll be needing it when the next wave comes.” She busied both of her hands with the rag on Claire’s face.

“Please…Jenny…” Her eyes lolled in and out of focus on Jenny’s face.

“Shh…” Jenny smoothed her hair and put the rag in the bowl. She started for the foot of the bed again, but she was once again stopped by Claire’s grip that should logically have not been as strong as it was.

Promise .”

Jenny looked at her face, glistening with sweat and tears, terrified. She would not rest until Jenny gave her peace of mind.

So peace of mind she would not give.

No .” Jenny said firmly, no kindness anymore. “I’ll no’ be promising anything. I’ll no’ give ye permission to waste away. My brother entrusted you to me, and I’ll no’ let him down. If ye die under my care, may he come from above and take me wi’ ye. I’ll not have it.” She hadn’t noticed that she’d been choking up until her voice caught in her throat. She swiped at her face with the back of her hand. “I canna live with myself if ye die. I ken he’d never forgive me.” It was Jenny’s turn to squeeze her hand, and tightly. “So I need ye to fight , Claire Fraser. And if the only thing that keeps you awake is my refusing yer peace of mind then so be it.”

New tears ran down Claire’s face, and Jenny mopped them up with the cold cloth. Her eyes began drooping closed, and Jenny threw the rag into the bowl and began repeatedly slapping both of Claire’s cheeks. It was enough to open her eyes again. Her face suddenly screwed up in familiar pain, and Jenny rushed to the foot of the bed. She removed the bloody rags from between Claire’s legs and threw them to the floor. Much to her dismay, she was still bleeding.

Jenny looked up at Claire, who was not screaming with the wave as it hit her. She was fading again, letting the pain take her into oblivion.

No !” Jenny returned to her face, slapping her cheeks, harder this time. “If ye dinna push now, the bairn will be lost.”

Claire let out a heartbreaking whimper.

“Push, now! Yer killing yer child, Claire! Now !”

Claire’s entire body tensed and began violently trembling. The cries began in her chest and escaped her throat in a blood curdling scream. Jenny rushed back to the foot of the bed.

“Keep going, mo ghràidh ! I can see his head!” It only lasted a few more seconds, however. The scream dissolved into sobbing, and Jenny hurried to shove more cloth between her legs in an attempt to slow the excessive bleeding that had still not abated.

“That was braw, Claire.” Jenny mopped down her face again, then held the glass of water to her lips. “Drink. That’s it. That’s fine.”

Even as she whispered words of comfort, Jenny could not ignore the horrific color Claire had turned. She was whiter than the sheets she lie on. Her lips were moving, but no sound was coming out, and they were tinged blue. Jenny’s heart was in her throat, but she swallowed thickly. She could not weaken, not now.

She pinched Claire’s cheek, stopping her from letting her eyes slide shut again. “Yer almost there, lass. They’ll be coming closer together now.”

As if on cue, Claire’s body tensed again. Jenny returned to the foot of the bed and removed the cloth again. She peered up at her face. “Claire!”

She obeyed without being told, letting out more horrible shrieks and pushing with every ounce of strength she could muster. “Dinna stop!” Jenny cried. “Don’t ye dare, Claire! Keep going!” The sounds she was making were tearing her guts out. Jenny thanked God she had never experienced a birth this painful, and yet simultaneously vowed that she would take this pain away from Claire and carry it herself if she could.

That particular wave ended, and Jenny sighed shakily from the foot of the bed. “Fine, fine.” She said, moving to her face again. Jenny’s heart nearly stopped. Claire was still as rock, her eyes closed.

“Claire!” She slapped her cheeks. She would not move. She pinched her cheeks. Slapped her again. Nothing. A Dhia …” Jenny ran a shaking hand through her hair, her chest heaving with panic. The bairn was not out yet, but there would be no more pushing. They would surely both die if she didn’t do something.

Chapter Text

Jenny’s eyes scanned over Claire’s lifeless body. She was at death’s door. Jenny quickly moved between her legs. The head was mostly out. Claire herself had pulled Margaret out of her by the feet. But that was with Jenny pushing…but Margaret hadn’t been poking out at all, had she?

Did Jenny trust herself to do it? What if Claire woke and she had to tell her that she’d killed the bairn with her own hands?

There isna time, Janet…make up yer mind…

She looked in panic at the color of the bairn. He was dangerously blue.

She resolved that it would be worse if they both perished and she hadn’t tried anything at all.

She rushed to the door and down the hall to the banister. “Ian!” She would need help keeping Claire alive while she dealt with the bairn, and without Mrs. Crook it would have to be the only other member of the household that wasn’t a bairn themselves. “Ian!”

“What is it, Milady?” Fergus appeared at the bottom of the steps. His face blanched at the sight of all the blood on Jenny’s hands and clothing.

“Where is Milord?”

“In the stables.”

“Fetch him to me immediately. ’Tis a matter of life and death.”

Fergus gulped uncertainly, but he nodded. “Yes, Milady.”

“And fetch more cold water.”

“Yes, Milady.”

Jenny hurried back into the bedroom and back to the foot of the bed. She willed her hands to stop shaking as she brought them to the bairn’s head. She could not find a good grip from the outside, so she attempted to reach around the head, inside, to find where his wee neck began. Once she found it, she took a deep, steadying breath, positioning her fingers underneath his chin and her thumbs on the crown of his head. She began gently tugging, and much to her amazement, he shifted. Determined now, she kept her pace gentle, but steady. Soon enough, his entire head was out. Not realizing she hadn’t been breathing, Jenny took another breath and continued to pull. His shoulder’s came next, and Jenny quickly moved to support his head and grip him under the armpits. In merely seconds she’d finished pulling him out.

She did not release the breath she’d been holding yet. This was not over until he let out his first cry…until she let out her first cry. She was still so blue…

Jenny expertly cut the chord and wrapped the bairn in a towel. She moved her to the pile of hay by the fireplace, laid her on her stomach, and began vigorously rubbing her back. It was then that the door opened. Ian didn’t have to say anything; all he had to do was look at Claire’s lifeless body in the bed.

“What can I do?”

Jenny’s head whipped up from the bairn. “Keep rubbing her back,” she instructed, leaving her side to return to Claire. “She’s no breathing.” Ian didn’t hesitate to follow his wife’s instructions as she brushed past him to return to Claire’s side.

“Oh, Claire…” Jenny pressed her ear to her chest, and she could have cried. Her heart was still beating, but only just.

“Is she alive?” Ian asked.

“Barely…”

The door opened again. “Fergus! Don’t ye come in here.” Jenny rushed to the door to take the pail from him without allowing him entrance.

“I want to help,” Fergus insisted, trying to peek around Jenny.

“Ye’ll not be seeing yer mam like this,” Jenny said firmly, taking the pail.

“She needs me, Milady,” Fergus pleaded, tears forming in his eyes.

“Quit my sight, Fergus, that is an order.” Jenny shut the door in the lad’s face. It hurt her heart to be so short with him, but it was for his own good. He’d seen enough suffering in his young life; this was a sight he did not need burned into his permanent memory.

Jenny dipped a clean rag into the pail and quickly wiped down Claire’s face. “She’s burning up, Ian…” She left the rag on her forehead and moved back down to the foot of the bed and frantically began stuffing cloth between her legs to abate the bleeding.

“Still no’ breathing…” Ian’s voice hitched with panic.

“Give her bottom a smack!” Jenny said from between Claire’s legs.

“I…”

“Do it! And dinna be gentle!”

He obeyed, and a little cough sounded through the room, followed by the glorious sound of a newborn screeching. Jenny let out a cry of relief.

“Oh, thanks be to God…” Jenny rushed to the fireplace, bringing the pail of water with her. “Go to Claire and keep cooling her face and neck. I’ll wash the bairn.” Ian nodded wordlessly and obeyed.

Jenny reveled in the sounds of the wee lass’s screaming as she ran the water over her head. The more she wailed, the more air would be carried into her tiny lungs. As she cleaned her, Jenny could clearly see that her hair was a wild red, just like Jamie’s.

“Jenny…” Ian’s voice snapped Jenny out of her adoration of the bairn. He gestured helplessly at Claire’s limp frame.

“She canna die,” Jenny said simply. “Simple as that.”

Ian gaped at his wife. “She’s…she is dying, Janet…”

“Dying.” Jenny expertly swaddled the bairn and stood, handing her to Ian. “Not dead.”

“What’ll ye do?” Ian said helplessly, bouncing the screaming child. “Ye’re no miracle worker.”

Jenny removed the cloth from between Claire’s legs, just as heavily soaked with blood as the rest of them. She paced at the foot of the bed uncertainly. “Something is missing, Ian. She willna stop bleeding …”

Then it dawned on her. The afterbirth .

After Jamie and Claire had returned from France, after losing their first born, Claire had divulged some details of the birth to her. The trauma of her near death experience was a heavy burden on her, but she hadn’t wanted to worsen Jamie’s guilt by sharing it with him. Claire told her that after she’d parted with the wee one, she’d begun wasting away, burning up with fever. The only thing that had saved her was a friend in the dead of the night pulling what she’d called the placenta out of her, later clarifying she meant the afterbirth. Apparently if the afterbirth didn’t come right after the bairn, it was dangerous, even deadly. It would stand to reason that the same complication would happen with the second birth if it had happened with the first. Perhaps Jenny could pull it out as easily as she’d pulled out the bairn.

But what was she looking for? What on earth was she supposed to catch her grip on? Was she to blindly grope around inside the poor woman, grasping for straws?

Yes, that was exactly what she would do.

Ian watched incredulously as his wife’s head disappeared between Claire’s legs again. “What are ye doing?”

“The afterbirth’s gotta come out.”

“The—Janet,” Ian stammered. “She’s got to…to push it, does she no’?”

“Aye. But if she canna I will pull it out. Just as I did the bairn.”

“Are ye mad, woman?”

“Madness would be to let her die.”

“Jenny — ”

“She is my brother’s wife, and my sister. I’ll no’ let it happen. Now hold yer whisht and let me concentrate.”

Ian fretfully continued bouncing the lass as Jenny blindly felt around Claire’s womb. A Dhia, she’ll kill her…

After several minutes, Jenny let out a strangled cry that sounded like relief.

“I think I’ve done it.”

Ian glanced over at the bed and nearly became sick. There was a grotesque collection of bloody bits of something all over the sheets. Jenny quickly set more cloth between her legs to stop whatever bleeding was left.

“Now what?”

Jenny sighed, standing up straight for the first time in several minutes. “Now…we wait.”

Truthfully, Jenny had no idea if she’d done the right thing. For all she knew she could've pulled out a vital organ or made the bleeding worse. Her attention suddenly turned to the bairn, screaming her poor wee head off, starved half to death, no doubt.

“Gi’ me the bairn. I can feed her.” Jenny stretched out her arms.

“Jenny…sit down, mo ghràidh ,” Ian said gently. “Ye’ve been at it fer hours. Ye’ll be no good to Claire or the bairn if ye faint dead away.”

Jenny suddenly became aware of the trembling of her own hands. Ian gently put the wailing child down in the hay and took his wife’s bloody hands in his own. He gently guided her to the chair by the fireplace.

“It’s alright.” He knelt beside her and got to work cleaning her bloody hands, arms, and the spots that managed to get on her face, ever so gently. Jenny’s trembling had not ceased for the entire process. Silent tears were trickling down her cheeks. “Breathe, Jenny. Ye’ve done all ye can now.”

She buried her face in her now clean hands, sobbing gently. Ian gently stroked her back. “It’s alright.”

“It’s no’ alright…” Jenny mumbled. “I swore on his grave that I’d keep her safe…”

“Ye’ve done all ye can, Janet.” She shook her head. “Ye need to calm yer shaking now. The bairn needs her Auntie’s milk.”

Jenny quickly wiped her face and took a deep, shuddery breath. She nodded, desperately willing herself to be calm. “Bring her to me.”

Ian retrieved the tiny, screaming bundle and placed her in Jenny’s arms. The child immediately quieted as she found Jenny’s breast. Jenny gently stroked her copper hair as she fed.

“Her color is changing…more red now than blue, no?”

“Aye. She’s braw.” Ian placed his hand on her arm. “Thanks to you.”

Jenny smiled weakly. “Can ye check the cloth between her legs?”

He did, and Jenny watched from the chair. “Bleeding seems to be slowing, thanks be to God,” she observed, watching the rags hit the floor. Ian crossed himself gratefully. “Once the bairn is done we can change the sheets beneath her.” Ian nodded. “Try to make all this blood go away so Fergus can see her. He’s beside himself no doubt.”

The bairn soon finished and fell asleep immediately. The room was eerily quiet without her crying, no noise at all save the crackling fire. Jenny put the sleeping bairn in the cot by the fire and got to work changing the sheets underneath Claire. Jenny changed her shift as well, feeling sick to her stomach as she rolled around her poor lifeless body.

Jenny and Ian stared at the bloody mess of fabric on the floor. “We’ll have to burn them,” Jenny said flatly. “There’ll be no getting them clean.”

“Aye,” Ian agreed. “I’ll do that.”

“Dinna let the bairns see ye wi’ it,” Jenny warned as he gathered the bloody sheets and rags in his arms. He nodded. Jenny followed him out of the room to find Fergus, only to see him sitting right outside the door.

“Fergus…I told ye…” She sighed in defeat.

“That is…a lot of blood, Milady,” the boy said uneasily as Ian walked past.

“Aye. ’Tis.”

“Is she…dead?”

“No, Fergus. But she’s…she’s no’ well.”

He stood up solemnly, attempting to put on a brave face that looked very strange with his youthful features. “May I see her?”

“Aye, ye can.” Jenny put a gentle hand on the boy’s back and guided him inside. He did not hesitate even for a moment in approaching the bed. He oh so gently stroked the crown of frizzled curls that framed her face. Jenny had to bite her lip to keep from crying at the sight of it.

“Will she wake up?”

“I…I dinna ken, lad.”

“The baby in France hurt her very badly,” he said. “They did not think she would live, but she did.”

“She’s a fighter.” Jenny forced herself to smile down at the lad, clapping a hand on his shoulder and giving a gentle squeeze. 

Oui , Milady. She is.”

“Do ye want to see the bairn?” Jenny asked gently. Fergus looked up from Claire for the first time since he came into the room. He nodded silently. “Here, come sit by the fire—”

“I would like to stay with Maman ,” Fergus said abruptly. “Please.”

Jenny swallowed. “Aye, alright.” She brought the chair from the fireplace to Claire’s bedside, and Fergus sat down. Jenny carefully took the sleeping child from the basket and presented her to Fergus.

“She’s a bonny wee lass,” Jenny said. “Careful not to wake her, now.”

“She is tres jolie ,” Fergus said. “Very pretty.”

“Aye. Wait ’til ye see her eyes. The brightest blue ye’ve ever seen.”

“Like Papa,” Fergus said, wrapping a tuft of her bright copper hair around his finger. “Her hair, too. Like Papa.”

Jenny blinked away tears. “Aye. Just like her Da.”

He looked up from the bairn at Claire. “What will happen to me?”

“What do ye mean?”

“If she does not wake up…what will happen to me?”

“Fergus,” Jenny began. “Do ye honestly think I wouldna take care of ye? Do ye really think I’d throw ye out?” He didn’t say anything. “I canna take care of yer sister without ye, ken.”

Fergus sighed. “I know, Milady. I know you will take care of me. Lallybroch is my home. But Papa is gone, and now Maman …I…I cannot put it into English words.” He shook his head in defeat, unable to communicate how lost he felt.

Jenny knelt next to the chair so she was eye level with the lad. “Well she’s not gone yet.” Jenny took the bairn from him and placed her back in the basket.

“Do you think she can see him?”

“What’s that now?”

“Do you think she wants to be in Heaven with him, instead of here with us?”

Jenny straightened in front of the basket, her breath catching in her throat.

“I think that’ll be in God’s hands, mo chridhe .” Jenny stroked his curly head. “Do me a favor lad. Go fetch some broth from the kitchen. Yer mam needs to eat to get her strength up. I promise ye can come right back in and sit wi’ her as long as ye like.”

“Yes, Milady.” Obedient as ever, the boy left the room, quietly shutting the door behind him.

Jenny sat down on the bed beside Claire, taking her frail hand in both of hers. “Don’t ye dare give up now, Claire. That lad needs ye. The bairn needs ye. If ye die on me I…I swear I’ll kill ye.” If her heart wasn’t aching so, Jenny might have laughed at how foolish that had sounded. “I ken yer heart aches fer what’s lost but ye’ve got to fight fer the ones that aren’t lost. And if ye give up on the bairn, on Fergus, on me…I’ll never forgive ye. Never.”

She smoothed a section of her hair and kissed her head. “If ye see her, Jamie,” Jenny said, throwing a look upward. “Give her a swift kick in the arse to get her back to us.”