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Prodigal Son

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Claire watched the scenery go by as the wagon rolled along. She thought she would never tire of seeing America like this, green and tree-covered, quiet. She realized one of the things she had missed most about the past, other than Jamie of course, was the lack of ambient noise ever-present in her time. There were no automobiles beeping their horns, no airplanes roaring overhead, no constant chatter of the radio. It seemed to make her other senses come to life; the colors seemed brighter and the smells stronger. Even the constant breeze on her skin from their movement felt like a soft caress.

She slipped an arm through Jamie's as they held the horse's reins. He turned and gave her a smile as she rested her head on his shoulder. Despite everything on her mind, she was consumed with an underlying happiness. It was a strange, foreign feeling, this contentment. How had she gone thirty years without it? Like the lack of noise, it was something she didn't realize she missed until she had it again.

Normally, she would have preferred to ride horseback, side by side with Jamie, but neither Bree nor William were feeling well, and they were worried about them. She glanced back to see the two of them, cramped and curled up amongst the supplies in the wagon bed, lulled to sleep by the motion as they moved along.

Dragging a hungover William out of bed early that morning had been quite the task considering his size and temperament, but between Jamie, Ian, and Roger, they had managed to get some water and bread in him before loading him into the wagon. Bree had been less difficult, though no less green in the face, and Claire had a distinct feeling she knew what was causing her nausea, even if Bree hadn't realized it yet.

Claire reached above her head and stretched her body as best she could. Jamie turned to her again and leaned over to kiss her cheek. "We'll stop soon and make camp, a nighean. I want tae get a few more miles in."

She scooched over on the wagon seat and leaned into him again. "I wish we could get some alone time," she whispered.

He raised an eyebrow at her and licked his lips. "Aye, as do I. I suppose we'll have to do with being verra quiet after everyone has gone to sleep."

The idea of making quiet, secretive love to Jamie under the stars made her stomach do flips. She felt the heat rising to her cheeks. Apparently, Jamie saw it, too. He smiled mischievously and reached his arm under her to grab as much of her ass as was possible while she was sitting on a wagon seat. She squeaked, causing William and Bree to stir in the wagon bed. She looked at Jamie and mouthed, "Behave," at him before turning around to check on the two ailing travelers in the back.

William sat up slowly. His chestnut hair was tousled, and he had sleep lines on his face. He reminded Claire so much of the man she had fallen in love with all those years ago, it made her heart melt. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

He attempted to smooth down his wild hair. "A bit better. What time is it?"

"Near time to make camp!" Jamie chimed in.

"I'm sorry I slept all day. I should have been helping," William replied.

"Dinna fash yerself. There was naught for ye to do anyway. I'd rather have ye feeling better."

Claire smiled and reached back to shake Bree's leg. "Wake up, darling. It's almost time to stop for the night."

Though William was looking better, Bree still looked wretched. As soon as she could grab a moment alone with Bree, she would speak to her to confirm her suspicions.

***

The opportunity arose sooner than Claire expected. Soon after Jamie stopped the wagon, she and Bree set off to collect kindling together. As soon as they were out of earshot, she grabbed Bree gently by the arm. "Brianna, when is the last time you had your period?"

Brianna looked taken aback at first but then her eyes begin moving back and forth and her fingers twitched as she did the mental math. After a moment she quietly said, "Oh my God, it's been almost two months. With everything going on, I guess I lost track!"

Claire smiled and hugged her. "Congratulations, Bree! I'm so happy for you."

Bree's face was worried, though. "Won't it be dangerous, having the baby here?"

Claire gestured to a large rock and they both sat down. "Childbirth is a risky business, no matter what, but even more so here without modern medical equipment. Bree, I know it's a lot to take in, but if you truly don't want to have the baby here, you will need to decide soon. I don't know if there are any other standing stones in America, and we're traveling farther away from the ones we came through in New York. You really need to make the decision sooner rather than later. Talk to Roger and then let me know."

"Does Da know?"

"No, I didn't tell him I suspected; I wanted to wait until I was sure. Do you want me to tell him or should I wait?"

"Give me a few days, please," Brianna asked. "I want to know what I'm going to do before I let him know. I don't want him to get excited about it and then let him down by telling him later that I'm leaving."

Claire nodded. She knew Jamie would be devastated to find out Brianna was leaving with his grandchild in her belly, but in her head, she knew it would be for the best. Still, she couldn't help but begin to picture a life of being grandparents with him, having been denied raising their own children together. "Alright," she said, standing and then reaching out to help Bree up as well. "Best finish up quickly before Jamie thinks we've wandered off."

***

Jamie and William went out to look for game, leaving Ian and Roger to tend to the camp. They walked along quietly together until William finally cleared his throat and spoke. "I'm very sorry about all the trouble yesterday."

"Dinna fash," Jamie replied. "It's I who should be apologizing. I lost my temper wi' ye and I'm sorry for it. It had nothing to do wi' ye, lad."

William nodded and they continued on in silence. Suddenly, William lifted his rifle and took a shot, taking down a rabbit. Jamie laughed and clapped him on the back. "Aye, yer a braw shot, Willie. I didna even see that rabbit!"

William smiled and walked off to retrieve his game. He knelt down to quickly dress the game. "Mind ye save the pelt!" Jamie hollered after him.

After William had dressed the game, they continued on. "Did Sir John teach ye tae hunt?" Jamie asked.

"Yes," William responded.

Jamie sighed, cursing the fact that he had to navigate these conversations with his children. He knew in his mind what he did for both his children, giving them up, was the right thing to do at the time. But that didn't stop his heart from aching at the fact that they both thought of someone else when they thought of their father.

At least with Brianna, he didn't have to face the idea that her father was still alive and wanting to claim her. Frank had been dead for more than ten years and Jamie knew the lass had room in her heart for him. William was a different story entirely. Lord John was alive and would soon be awaiting the arrival of William.

Lord John was his friend and he had always been grateful to him for his care of Willie. But now that Willie knew the truth, it changed things. Jamie was no longer the silent father in the shadows. He was vying for a piece of his son's heart and even if William was willing to give it, would John stand by and let it happen? Would John understand that Jamie was willing to share Willie's heart with him?

His heart had never felt so full in all his life, but with that brought worry, fear, and the potential for pain. All he had ever hoped for had finally come true. He had Claire and the children by his side, but he had never anticipated the difficulty of that. For years he had only to worry about himself. Of course, there had been the everyday worries of ensuring his sister and her family were provided for, but it had been thirty years since he had held anybody's heart in his hands. Suddenly, out of the blue, he had been handed three hearts, wounded ones at that. He felt the responsibility of that immensely.

They continued on, father and son, until they had collected enough game to feed his large family. As they walked back to the camp, Jamie silently put an arm around Willie, who did not protest or pull away. He supposed that was as good a start as any.

***

Later that night, Jamie and Claire made love slowly, their attempts to keep each other quiet ending up with both of them dissolving in laughter. After, they laid tangled together smiling and kissing, still craving intimacy. "I never thought I'd laugh in the bed of a woman again, Sassenach."

Claire giggled and held his hand tightly. "We're not exactly in bed."

"Ye ken well what I mean, Sassenach," he replied, nibbling at the back of her neck.

She let out a small shriek and Jamie clamped a hand over her mouth. "Shhhhh, mo nighean donn, ye'll wake the bairns."

"This trip reminds me of what life was like when Brianna was small, glued to my side. I don't think I had any privacy for at least ten years." Jamie went quiet suddenly and stilled. "I'm sorry if it pains you to hear me talk about her as a child."

"It's no' that, Sassenach. I love hearing about her and someday I hope to be able to say that I’ve learned everything there is to ken about her."

"What is it then?" Claire asked, turning to face Jamie. She stroked his cheek tenderly with the back of her hand.

"It's difficult for me to think of ye and Frank needing privacy," he responded gruffly, his voice choking a bit on Frank's name.

Claire sighed; she knew this conversation was coming. They had barely any time to talk alone those last few days, with all the energy they had been spending on William and Brianna. Jamie had managed to fill her in on most of his life in the last thirty years, but they hadn't spoken much, if at all, about her relationship with Frank.

"Did ye...did ye lie with him, Claire? I need to know."

"Yes, Jamie. I did have sex with Frank, though not often. He was my husband." Despite her best efforts, her voice had a defensive edge to it.

"I ken that."

"I'm sorry that hurts you, Jamie, but I can't take it back, and I don't know that I would anyway."

His eyes flashed with fury, reflecting off the light of the campfire. He disentangled himself from Claire and sat up with his knees pulled to his chest. Claire sat up and reached out to touch his shoulder, but he flinched back. Breathing heavily, he asked, "Did ye fall in love with him again, then? After ye left?"

"No," Claire replied simply. "I never loved anyone else after you."

"But ye shared yer bed with him?"

"Yes."

"How could ye if ye didna even love him?" His voice was a quiet fury.

"I tried to make my marriage work, damnit," Claire hissed back. She breathed deeply trying to quell her desire to scream.

"And did it, Claire? Were ye happy with him?"

"I just told you I didn't love him, Jamie. But I did what I could to make a happy family for Brianna. And fuck you for trying to make me feel bad about it. I did what you asked, and now you're going to hold it against me?"

"Fuck me? Like ye fucked Frank?"

"You are not allowed to be angry about that. You told me, you made me promise to go back to a man that loved me and would protect us. Do you remember that or have you lost your memories in your old age?"

"Aye, I asked ye tae do that, for Faith and then I asked ye again for Brianna. But I didna ask ye to lie with him. I never asked that of ye."

"And how did you expect me to make the marriage work then, Jamie? I lived in a loveless marriage for twenty years, dammit. And I did it for you." Jamie looked at her incredulously. "Yes, that's right, Jamie. Everything I did for the last thirty years was for you or because of you."

"Well ye didna have tae do me any favors!"

"Christ, Jamie. Is it not enough that I sacrificed any chance of happiness for you? If you had preferred I died at Culloden instead, then you shouldn't have forced me to go through the stones in the first place."

"It isna my fault ye werena happy. Ye canna blame that on me."

"Can't I? Do you know that Frank gave me an out, when I first went back? And again, after we moved to America? He told me I could go, divorce him. And I chose not to. It would have been the best thing for me to divorce him and live my own life, raise Brianna on my own, but I didn't. I made the difficult choice, chose a life with a man I didn't love, and who made me regret my decision more and more with each passing day. And do you know why I did that, Jamie?"

"Ye did it for Brianna," he hissed, "so she wouldna grow up without a father."

"No, Jamie. Brianna loved Frank and he loved her. He was a good father to her. But she would have been fine growing up without a father. I did it for you. I did it because it's what you wanted for us. I did it to honor what I thought were your final wishes." Tears were streaming down her face and she didn't bother to wipe them away.

They sat silently for a while, Claire crying, Jamie breathing shakily. Finally, he reached a hand out and took hers in it, squeezing. "I'm sorry, Claire. I never meant for ye to lead a life that wasna happy."

"What did you think my life would be like if I went back to Frank?" His touch calmed her, evening out her voice.

"I dinna ken. I didna think much about it, really. I thought I would be dead. It didna matter much to me at that point to think about yer future, except that you and Brianna were safe."

"We were safe, Jamie. And Brianna was loved. The fact that I was not was a sacrifice I made willingly for you, and I won't resent you for it. But I won't have you resenting me for it either. I'm not asking you to treat me like a martyr, but I need you to know that I did it for you."

"I ken, Claire. And I'm grateful to ye. And Frank."

"Frank asked me to put the past behind me, Jamie. It was a condition of him taking me back."

"A condition? That bastard put a condition on protecting ye and the bairn?" His hand squeezed her harder than he intended.

"Ouch!" she whispered, pulling her hand away. "Yes, he put conditions on it. And to honor your request, I accepted them. I had to lock you away for twenty years. And even so, he never let me forget my betrayal. And I could never truly forget you. Every time he touched me, I wished it was you. When we had sex, I closed my eyes and imagined you. And Frank knew it, resented me for it."

Jamie put his hand on the back of her head and pulled her in close, their foreheads touching. "Did he hurt ye, Claire?"

She shook her head, the tears falling freely again. "No, not in the way you're thinking. He never beat me, never laid a hand on Brianna in anger. But he hurt me nonetheless, in a thousand little ways every single day."

He kissed her nose and pulled her down so her head was in his lap. "Tell me, mo nighean donn. Tell me, please, so I can make it better." He twined his fingers through her hair over and over.

"I don't know that you can erase twenty years of emotional abuse, but I'll tell you if you want to hear."

She paused and Jamie squeezed her shoulder, encouraging her to go on. So she did. She told him everything she could remember. Frank's infidelity and the pain she felt each time she found evidence of a new affair. The way he undermined her parenting with Brianna, ignoring her choices and doing what he wanted. How he openly disparaged her decision to go to medical school and used her absence at home to isolate Brianna from her.

"We could fight about anything, and he would bring it around back to you and what I did. He made me put the past behind, and I tried. But he refused to do the same. While I struggled every day to put the past behind me and move forward, he would continually throw it in my face. I was completely trapped. And that was how I spent twenty years."

"I'm sorry, Claire. I'm so verra sorry," Jamie said finally, stroking her hair softly. "If I had known that was the kind of man he was, I never would have asked that of ye. Ye never told me -"

"Don't blame yourself, Jamie. I didn't know he had that part of him either. He was never like that before. A bit possessive, perhaps. A little condescending at times. But I never knew the depths of his vindictiveness."

Jamie reached down and lifted her into his lap. Her eyes were red, her nose puffy. He pulled her into his arms and whispered to her softly. "Mo graidh, mo chridhe. I love ye, and I'm so sorry ye went through that and still didna resent me. I couldna blame ye for it if ye did. To hold ye in my arms again is the greatest gift. I'm sorry I get jealous. It was so hard for me to think of ye with him, and him with our bairn all those years. Sometimes I was happy, knowing ye were safe, but other times it would make me so angry I wanted to reach through the stones and strangle ye."

"I felt the same way, you know. It took me a long time to stop being angry at you. But I always loved you."

"And I you, Sassenach." He kissed away the tears on her cheeks before placing his big hands on both of them, practically enveloping her entire face. "Let's get some sleep now, aye? The bairns will be up in a few hours and we've another long day of travel ahead of us."

Claire nodded and moved out of his lap, lying down on their meager pallet of blankets. Jamie shifted himself and laid behind her, molding his body to hers to keep her warm and safe. Before she drifted off to sleep, Jamie whispered into her hair, "I love ye mo nighean donn, now and forever."