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The Other Side

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Seeing her had been both reward and punishment. Heaven and hell. To touch her, hear her voice, breathe the same air as she did had been an answered prayer. But the sight of her retreating from him, eyes swimming in pained regret, gutted him further. Hope for his freedom come morning coexisted with doubt, fear that something -- or someone -- would wreak some new havoc between now and then. 

After the door had clicked shut behind her, Jamie lay on his cot in the silent isolation and simply breathed. Deep inhale, heavy exhale. How he wished whatever force had pulled him two centuries forward in time could pull him just another twelve hours. 

Then he'd be free. With Claire. And they could make their plans. 

Only the knowledge that she was safe and well allowed his feet to rest from their beaten path back and forth across the cell. All the better, though, since exhaustion claimed him like a crushing wave out at sea. He hoped for sleep, but the weariness of his bones had yet to infect his mind. His gaze shifted from time to time. Ceiling to walls to floors to window to iron bars. And so he whiled away the afternoon in impatient solitude.

Darkness overtook the cell soon after his lackluster supper had been delivered. Demoralized and bleary, Jamie could only pick at the food before lying back down. As full night finally descended, he felt his eyelids begin to flutter. The muffled sounds of the station and outside world drifted further away. His limbs grew heavier, his breathing deepened. 

Finally, he thought to himself just before falling off the cliff of sleep. 

In the dream, he was back in Leoch. Gwyllyn's harp resonated throughout the great hall and within his own chest, and Claire had just arrived. Donas-sized butterfly wings flapped within his wame as he closed the space between them, grabbing her hand and pulling her to sit beside him as the music rose.

Somewhere in the recesses of consciousness, Jamie recognized this was more memory than dream. She'd looked so bonny with her rosy cheeks and her curls let down around her shoulders. Beautiful as she'd been, though, he'd sensed a somberness about her. Her whisky eyes had been downcast and her brows turned upward just a tick, hinting at a poorly hidden disquiet hanging over her. Lips pinched together. Shoulders rolled forward, nearly defensive in their posture. Unlike the first night they'd enjoyed Gwyllyn's songs, Claire had never sipped the Rhenish she clutched in hand. 

Noticing her mood as he did, Jamie had yearned to be the one to rescue her from the shadows plaguing her mind. To put the spark back in her eye, to draw the corners of her supple lips into a laugh. And so he'd leaned over, whispering the translation of the song into her ear, watching her reactions as the story drew her in. Careful he'd been, though, to keep a breath of space between their bodies, no matter how he wished to feel the softness of her hand back in his once more. Every so often, she'd exhale a breath that danced across his cheek and his mind would go blank and lights would burst behind his eyes like lightning.

Then, finally, she'd smiled. Elated tears had shone in her eyes, and she'd sat up straighter with a gulping breath as though she'd been underwater. 

Ye did it, Jamie had congratulated himself. Ecstasy beyond belief consumed him as, with the transition from the soulful ballad to the upbeat tune, she'd begun clapping along beside him, the apples of her cheeks round and bright as a renewed energy coursed through her and from her. Never had his heart felt so full as when she'd finally thrown her head back and laughed, knowing it had been he who brought her to it. 

The scene changed abruptly as dreams are wont to do. It was dark and raining now. Soaked to the bone, he was, yet he didn't shiver. Dark, but he could see with perfect clarity.

Could see her. Framed in the window. 

Claire was younger here, dressed in a lovely pink gown that flowed over her like mist. Her hair, shorter, frizzed about her head in a halo of candlelight.

"Wake up, Fraser." 

The voice broke as thunder over him. Lightning cracked over the street, illuminating a drenched and wary Frank Randall, eyes narrowed in...suspicion? wrath? envy? Jamie couldn't tell in the split second that the angry sky lit his face. 

"Fraser!"

Jamie bolted awake then, sitting up sharply. The electricity lights flooded the room, but the window showed it was still night outside. Jamie turned his eyes to the bars. Inspector Gordon stood there. 

And the door was open. 

"Inspector?" Jamie asked, easing his legs over the side of the bed and cocking his eyebrow as he watched the officer. 

Gordon's red face betrayed his annoyance. But he moved to the side, clearing the way for Jamie to exit the cell. 

"What's happenin', then?" Jamie stood slowly, keeping clear of the door in case this were a trick or a mistake. "I wasna to be released till morn, I thought?"

The portly officer heaved a sigh and blinked rapidly. Jamie suspected he wanted to roll his eyes. "We were awaitin' news on if charges were bein' pressed against you," the man said as Jamie approached, still moving slowly. "We've just received word that neither man will be doin' so."

He inhaled sharply. They'd been waiting on two men, yes, but only one had Jamie truly worried about. 

Frank wasn't pressing charges? 

The next twenty minutes passed in a blur of shock. Jamie sat before Inspector Gordon at his desk signing paperwork, receiving his belongings, answering discharge questions. He noticed a bottle of amber whisky sitting on the corner of the desk with a note attached. For some reason, Jamie wished he could read it. 

By the time he opened the door into the crisp night air, the clock inside read 12:56 p.m. The street was deserted at this hour, most lights extinguished. Despite himself, Jamie sucked in a cleansing breath, the chilly air raising goosebumps as relief swept over him. 

"You made it out, then."

That feeling evaporated as the words and voice registered. Jamie's body tensed, and he jerked to his right. Frank Randall sat on a bench, the ankle of one leg propped on his opposite knee and arms spread and resting atop the backside of the bench. 

Lowering the suitcase in hand, Jamie kept a watchful eye on Frank. A sinking feeling set in, but surely if Frank meant him harm, he wouldn't dare do so just steps outside of the lawman's door? 

"No need to fret," Frank intoned as he peeled himself from the bench and stood. His hands went to his pockets and he took half a step away, as though to demonstrate his non-violent intentions. "I'm not here for a fight. I doubt I'd win such, regardless," he added with a scan of Jamie from head to toe.

"Aye," Jamie responded slowly. With effort, he rolled the tension from his shoulders and unfurrowed his brow. "Then just what have ye come for, then?"

Frank didn't answer immediately. With only the glow of the moon to illuminate him, the similarities to Jack Randall blurred. If Jack's features had been painted in aggressive strokes, Frank's were molded from the softness of clay. Where Jack had exuded haughty disdain, Frank seemed to emanate something quieter. Prideful, certainly, but diluted well enough that Jamie could begin to see Frank as his own man rather than the centuries-removed copy of his forebear. 

"The story you both gave," Frank finally spoke up, eyes narrowing just a hair. "There's more to it, am I right?"

If Frank had, indeed, allowed for his release, then Jamie knew he deserved the full truth now more than ever. "Aye," he answered. "'Tis no' an easy story to tell, but a story we both want to share wi' ye, if yer willin' to listen."

Only a single nod answered Jamie's offer. Frank cast his glance at the ground between his feet for a second, perhaps gathering his faculties as Jamie swore he heard a stifled sniffle before the man raised his head again. "Claire's still at Mrs. Baird's, I believe. I'm at the manse. I leave for Oxford day after tomorrow." He paused. "If I don't see either of you before then, I'd prefer not to meet again." 

Both men stood on the pavement, parallel, a world of unspoken animosity stretching between them. 

"The whisky," Jamie called out suddenly as Frank had begun to turn. "On the inspector's desk. Was that you?"

Frank's eyebrows twitched up and back down so quickly it reminded Jamie of a cricket leaping. "Yes. I..." He fidgeted with a thread on the cuff of his jacket. "As an apology for the inspector coming in late at my request. And for...various other uncharitable exchanges between us two."

And with that, Frank Randall pivoted and walked away. 

Jamie stood, stunned. Nothing could have been more antithetical to Jack Randall than his descendent freeing Jamie from captivity, permitting him to return to Claire without impediment, then giving him the free choice whether to face him again at all. Through each encounter with the man, Claire's assurance that Frank was not the same as Jack had echoed within him, a mantra he'd repeated to himself to settle his stomach as he looked upon the face he so reviled. But in this moment, Jamie finally accepted the truth of it. 

As Frank's form faded from view, he let go of the remaining dregs of jealous disdain for the man who'd had Claire first. 

Later, he wouldn't remember picking up the suitcase and sprinting down the sidewalk toward the town square, nor would he recall bursting through the door of Mrs. Baird's inn and making his way up the stairs three at a time, breathless and panting by the time he reached their room and found the knob locked. All he'd remember would be that the seconds between his frenzied pounding on her door and its giving way would feel unbearably long, each heartbeat the length of his entire life. And when he finally saw his Claire standing there, amber eyes going round with surprise, he'd remember that overwhelming surge of need to touch her, feel her lips against his. She stiffened against him for just a moment before pressing her body flush against his and entangling her fingers in his hair. 

They remained in the doorway for some minutes in their heated greeting. When they finally parted, breaths coming hard and fast, Jamie finally grabbed his case and eased her back into the room. 

"Jamie," she breathed, hands never leaving his face and neck as he closed the door with his heel and guided her toward the bed. "Jamie, how--"

"Later, Sassenach," he growled, the necessity of joining with her, possessing her nearly painful in its intensity. He claimed her lips again. They seemed to boil with their combined heat and want, her hands caressing the planes of him with just as much greed as his own, which sought her curls, her waist, gripping and kneading her glorious arse and pulling her hard against him. A perfect, beautiful sigh escaped her lips. He devoured it. 

Still, she gasped out a question as her hands slid below the collar of his shirt to touch his bare shoulders. 

"But, Jamie, you didn't--"

"No, mo nighean donn," he responded, fingers trembling as he searched for the buttons at the back of her dress. Nearly blind with lust he was as he retreated an inch and looked into her hooded eyes. Lungs strained for breath, and the words he murmured against her lips trembled. "I didna fight nor escape. And I promise to tell ye." A groan rumbled from his chest and through his throat as he tasted her neck where her pearl-like skin fluttered with the quickening of her pulse. "Later."

 

#

 

Standing outside the manse at ten o'clock sharp the next morning, Claire's trepidation nearly surpassed that of the first time they'd arrived on this stoop mere days previously. They waited a moment, gathering themselves for the confrontation to come. 

Because even after Jamie's account of his release from the prison and Frank's words to him, his sense that Frank truly meant them no harm, Claire found it all too good to be true. Uncertainty about his motives and actions had haunted her since awakening in hospital to find him at her bedside. She loathed her continued distrust of Frank, yet she struggled to banish it. 

Grateful though she was Jamie had managed to dissociate Frank from Jack despite their shared face, such a feat eluded Claire. 

Finally, after nearly a full minute of avoidance, Claire raised her fist and knocked. Mrs. Graham opened the door and, with only an anxious smile, gestured for them to follow her into the study. Too nervous to sit, they both hovered in the center of the room. Jamie wrapped one arm around her shoulders. She didn't even mind his fingers digging in at five points, anchored as she felt to him. 

Minutes later, the door opened again and Frank entered. He crossed to the desk without greeting, only a momentary flicker of surprise betraying him. Taking their cue from him, she and Jamie sat in the worn wingback chairs across from him, hands still joined.

No one spoke for some time, none quite sure who bore the responsibility for opening the discourse. When the air grew so thick she could hardly breathe, Claire took the mantle upon herself. 

"Frank," she said, imbuing as much tenderness and sincerity as she could in the name. "I just...want to thank you for what you did for Jamie. Having him released." Unexpected tears pooled at the corners of her eyes as memory of the wretched days spent apart from Jamie clawed at her. "You had...every motivation to leave him there, to override me and keep him out of your way. And I cannot convey to you the weight of our gratitude that you didn't."

She watched as he only nodded vaguely, almost as though in thought himself rather than in response to her words. His eyes darted every so often to her hand joined with Jamie's resting on the threadbare arm of her chair. Though she blushed, Claire refused to release it. In truth, that contact was all that kept her together as they prepared for the arduous task to come. With his touch -- his palm against hers, their fingers intertwined -- Claire felt calm and complete. Prepared for what was to come.

Silence enveloped them once more before Frank finally spoke. When he did, he trained his eyes on Jamie, speaking as though Claire weren't present at all. "If you've known her for any length of time, you know there's one thing she absolutely cannot do."

Jamie's lips quirked into a slant. He twisted to look at Claire, one eyebrow cocked as he answered Frank with a hint of cheek aimed at her. "I call it her glass face. Shows whate'er she's thinkin' clear as day. Which means she canna lie to save her skin."

And he does mean that quite literally, Claire thought as her gaze shifted back to Frank. 

A weak chuckle whispered from his lips before he continued, still looking to Jamie. "In the war, I worked in intelligence where the ability to lie and, more importantly, to spot a lie are matters of life and death."

"And yer still breathin'," Jamie replied in understanding, turning back to the man across from him. 

Frank nodded once. His gaze, when it landed upon her at last, ripped through her like a bullet. "I knew the story you gave was a lie. Would've known even if you could've shielded your face. It echoed his too carefully." He crooked his head to Jamie without taking his eyes from Claire. "Too obviously constructed, rehearsed even.

"But..." Frank swallowed visibly, cheeks reddening, "when you finally looked into my eyes and told me that you weren't..." A hand still bearing the gold band that had once bound them together came to rest against his chest. "...weren't mine any longer, I knew that was the truth. And when you said he hadn't hurt you, I knew that was the truth, as well. 

"And at that moment, I was tempted to press charges. Tempted to lose every material possession I owned to lawyers and court fees if it meant he rotted in prison. To spite you both." Lips turned downward, eyes cast to the space between Claire and Jamie where their hands still held one another, he nodded slowly. "Sorely tempted."

Jamie's fingers squeezed hers, and she took a steadying breath. Frank shrugged then, leaning back in the wooden chair in a casual posture at odds with the atmosphere of the room. "But in the end, whatever crimes he's guilty of, I knew he wasn't guilty of hurting you. And I knew letting my own...anger at the both of you goad me into pretending that he was wouldn't win you back to me. So the decision wasn't all that hard, in the end.

"Why did you lie to me, Claire?" 

Claire froze. Panic that the moment, long awaited, had finally arrived rendered her speechless. A lump lodged in her throat, aching and tight. She breathed. In, then out. Again. And again. 

Two years ago, she'd sat herself on a stool and, terrified, set herself to the task of mending her husband's demolished hand. To this day, Claire had no notion of just how she'd managed to push through her own pain and Jamie's to do what needed to be done. But sitting across from her first husband, knowing that the coming hours would, in their own way, be as painful and painstaking as the ones spent sweating over Jamie's broken body, Claire found herself resolved now just as she had been then. Determination settled over her as she sat up taller, chin raised. 

"I didn't want to lie to you." Her voice remained soft. Sharing a look with Jamie for support and strength, Claire turned back to Frank. "We'd intended from the time we returned to tell you the truth. But in the moment, I was alone, and I was afraid."

"Of me?"

Claire pursed her lips. "In a way, yes." She paused for just a beat. "Perhaps once you hear, you'll understand better why." 

Breathe, Beauchamp. 

"When we spoke, I'd only just awoken from the bloody drugs those doctors forced on me--"

"What?" Jamie blurted beside her, eyes squinted in unexpected ire. Claire flashed him a look that said, Later, and again turned her focus to Frank. 

"I still felt...ill and disoriented. And I was concerned that if you heard the truth, you'd think me mad, perhaps even have me hospitalized further. And with Jamie locked away and alone as he was, I couldn't risk that."

The sardonic laugh that cut through the room had Claire's stomach lurching and, she could see, the vein below Jamie's eyes pulsing. 

"You must have so low an opinion of me," Frank muttered through the dark laughter. "Thinking I'd lock you away, thinking I'd lock him away..."

"Ye did say ye were tempted not five minutes ago, did ye no'?" Jamie burst in, defensive frustration deepening the timbre of his voice. 

"If we were all judged by our temptations, not a single man, woman, or child in existence would be spared from hell." Frank rebutted, eyes and tone cold. Jamie and Claire both remained silent. 

"If my opinion of you has diminished," Claire conceded after a time, "please know it's not your fault."

"Whose, then?" Frank insisted, leaning forward. All understanding and tenderness seemed to have dissipated as his tone grew heated. 

Jamie's fingers tightened in hers. "Jonathan Randall's," he snarled. Frank turned to him, astonished. Claire looked to Jamie and he to her. A sharing of courage, an assurance of support. 

The telling of it took longer, somehow, than it had with Mrs. Graham. Perhaps Claire was more hesitant with the details of hers and Jamie's growing relationship or their run-ins in Black Jack considering her audience. But in as exacting detail as she could remember, Claire divulged the details of her three years parted from him, excluding only the worst of Black Jack's deeds from her retelling, painting blurry pictures of his crimes against Jamie. Enough for him to understand why they both had such visceral reactions to Frank himself but not enough to victimize Jamie further in the sharing of it. Frank deserved the real story, the fully story, but this piece -- the worst hours of Jamie's life -- belonged to neither her nor Frank.

At various times, Frank stood, paced, sat. 

Faced her, turned away. 

Flipped through pages in books or fidgeted with the items sharing the shelves with them. Tobacco pipes. Bottles. A clock. One porcelain figurine of the Loch Ness monster. 

Ran his hands over his face or hung his head in his palms. 

And through it all, Claire never stopped speaking, uninterrupted for hours.

Lunchtime had come and long gone by the time she fell silent. They sat there, a triangle of tensed anticipation, eyes shifting amongst each other. Just as Claire decided to speak up, Frank reached behind the desk and pulled out a bundle of familiar tartan, handing it over to Jamie. "Mrs. Graham shared this with me yesterday," he said. As Jamie unwrapped his weapons, wary, Frank sat back in his chair. 

"Do you..." Claire swallowed. Now that the truth had been told, nerves attacked her. She grasped harder at Jamie's hand. "Do you believe us?"

Frank cut his eyes toward her then to Jamie, looking at him briefly before severing the connection and focusing on some point just over his shoulder. "When I heard your name, I recognized it. I thought at first it was simply a family name, or that your parents had a ghoulish sense of humor. Historians, maybe, or nationalists even. Or maybe by pure coincidence, if such a thing fucking exists." 

With a deliberation of movement, Frank stood and lumbered across the room. The clink of glass rang out in the still room as he poured a dram from the decanter and returned to his seat. 

"But the more I saw of you, heard from you..." He nodded to the sword now balanced across Jamie's knees. Frank's voice had deepened, but his face was slack, relaxed even, which only fed her growing unrest. "It was clear you're made of different stuff. I knew just who you were early on. I just couldn't...admit it."

"Frank, what--" Claire attempted, but he cut her off. 

"When I was working toward my doctorate, I was a professor's assistant to my mentor, Dr. Menzies." The Frasers exchanged a curious, confused look, of which Frank apparently took no notice. "My final year working beneath him, I was helping him research a book on the rise and fall of Charles Stuart before and through the '45." 

Rage coursed through her at the thought of the pale-faced manchild who'd led thousands of men to their deaths, doomed an entire culture to extermination. Jamie, likewise, squared his shoulders in his seat as Frank stood to perch on the corner of the desk facing them. 

Anxiety buzzed through her like static electricity.

"We combed through...must have been thousands of letters, notes, diaries, military dispatches together. Dr. Menzies was meticulous. The man had detailed histories on all of Charles's advisors. Generals, politicians..." His brown eyes slid over to Jamie, whose chest rose and fell with increasing speed, the only thing betraying his mounting emotion. 

"Except there was one. Close to the prince. Inner circle, prized place at his war table." Frank took a swig of his drink, settling the glass against his thigh to continue. "The broadsheets called him Red Jamie. And at his side always, his wife -- his English wife -- the Stuart Witch. Firsthand accounts of him in battle depict either a folkloric hero or an inhuman monster, depending on who's writing. Though it's clear that his influence contributed heavily to the Jacobites' early victories.

"But where historians have been able to track the fate of Charles and his other associates following the failed rebellion, no one has ever found a trace of either Red Jamie or his wife." Frank frowned contemplatively, as though faced with a particularly challenging puzzle. His eyes seemed brighter, and Claire realized he'd slipped into the role of lecturer, offering him an escape from the weight of his own circumstances for a time. "Best anyone can tell, they're not included in the casualties. Were never arrested, never tried. They don't show up anywhere in Europe or the Colonies. Red Jamie attended a war council the morning of Culloden, then..." Frank shook his head dramatically. "Nothing. 

"Dr. Menzies concluded, as most others have, that they must have escaped under assumed names or died nameless away from the fighting."

"But you know better now?" Tears streamed down Claire's face, and her body vibrated with rushing adrenaline at his words. Jamie's hand, still linked with hers, shook as well. 

The mask of the detached professor evaporated, but so did all anger and malice. Frank deflated before her, his eyes somehow both awed and utterly despondent. "Yes," he nodded. "Now I know better.

"When Mrs. Graham tried to tell me this was a possibility, back when you first vanished..." Frank cleared his throat, swiping at the moisture escaping his eyes. "I wanted to believe it. So badly. If it meant you hadn't...that I hadn't lost..." 

Resigned devastation rolled off him as he stood and walked back to his chair behind the desk. She understood the instinct to put a barrier between them. For all he knew the truth -- and, Jesus H. Christ, believed it -- she could see the hopelessness in his eyes.

"I climbed that hill before going back to Oxford," Frank revealed before taking another sip of his drink, cradling it between his hands as though it were precious. "Climbed up to those stones and screamed for you. I wanted so badly to believe it, I thought I heard you screaming back to me." The tears rolled down his cheeks with abandon now as he dipped his head, chin tucked into his chest as though he wanted to burrow himself into a place of safety. 

"If he hadn't come back with you," Frank burst out, snapping his head up to lock eyes with Claire. "If you'd ended up back here alone, could we have..."

Her controlled tears verged on wracking sobs as she shook her head. "I would have tried," she whispered to him. She stood, her back stiff from the prolonged tension, and approached him behind the desk. Falling to her knees before him, face screwed up as she struggled for composure, she reached for his free hand. Slowly, so he'd have time to pull away if he wanted. Palms smooth as ever, such a contrast to Jamie's work-roughened touch. 

"I would have tried because it's what Jamie asked me to do," she said again, her voice only slightly stronger as she gasped for breath between suppressed cries. "But I couldn't have given you what was no longer mine to give. We'd never have gotten back what was taken from us, Frank. And we would have ruined our lives in the chasing of it."

A rueful smile spread on Frank's lips as he drained his glass. "Likely," he agreed as he set it on the desk and exhaled long and deep. Looking down to Claire, she read a question in his eyes, but he never gave voice to it. 

Instead, in a quiet, steady monotone, he said, "I'll sign whatever you have sent to me. And I wish you both happiness."

It was a clear dismissal. Watching the emotions warring in him, pride and desolation and fury and resentment all battling for dominance, she nodded once. She gave his fingers one last squeeze before standing and returning to Jamie, who'd stood and reached for her. Jamie released a breath as though he'd been holding it. 

"Thank you, Frank," Claire said as they moved to the door in a gross mirror of the moment he'd departed the hospital only a day ago. 

Before she could turn the knob, though, Jamie whipped around to Frank again. 

"I thank ye, truly," Jamie said, stepping toward the desk. "For all ye've done to help us, to help me, when ye've no cause to do so. But I have to ken..." Claire saw the muscles of his neck contracting as Jamie clenched his jaw. "I need to ken why yer steppin' aside so willingly to trust that yer genuine in yer word."

"'Willing,' am I?" Frank said with another resigned laugh. 

"Are ye?" Jamie pressed in earnest. 

Frank met his eye, possibly for the first time since they'd arrived. "After Claire told you where she came from, you brought her to the stones and told her to come home. Were you willing?"

Eyes softening, Jamie relaxed his stance. "Far from it."

Point made, Frank nodded but said nothing. Claire grasped Jamie's hand once more, the one not cradling his prized weapons and tartan, and pulled him to the door. With only a brief backward glance, amber eyes meeting brown, Claire shut the door on the man she'd first known as husband. Holding on to the second, she led them through the door, from the manse, across town, and back to the inn at a harried pace. 

Safe within their rooms, Jamie pulled her into his arms. She broke then in the shelter of him, guilt and sobs tearing through her with a brutality that made her all but incapable of moving, of standing, of controlling any of her body or limbs. 

"Ye were right, mo chridhe," Jamie whispered in her ear, rubbing his hands along her back in comfort. "He's a good man. I ken, if it came to it, he'd have protected ye and the bairn where I couldna."

Claire nodded against his chest, clinging to him, letting the solidity of him soothe her fragile spirit. 

Jamie had proven his devotion to her time and again. The lengths he'd gone to, the agony he'd endured in the name of her own salvation humbled her beyond comprehension. And though Frank's body would not show the evidence of the love he bore her as Jamie's did, Claire knew that Frank's own sacrifice in the name of her happiness carried no less weight. 

To be cared for so deeply and selflessly by both these men touched a piece of her soul tucked deep within her like water trickling through the soil to her deepest roots, the roots that fed the very core of who she was. It was overwhelming.

Pulling back, Claire looked into Jamie's face. His cheeks shone with tear tracks, evidence of his own tamer release. She leaned her forehead to rest against his, their heartbeats slowing to echo one another. 

Two men loved her, and in her life she had loved two men. But only one whose very presence made her blood hum in her veins. Whose understanding of her penetrated to the deepest layers within her, a knowing that could not be shared or learned. Only one who, when their skin touched, ignited a spark of recognition that they were but one soul split into two bodies. Separate but inextricably woven together so that, even when apart, she felt the presence of him still with her.

"Blood of my blood," she murmured to him, eyes closed. 

"Bone of my bone," he answered, his fingers caressing her neck. 

Claire brushed her lips against his and opened her eyes. And, despite the still-heavy guilt cloaking her and the fatigue from the difficult day, she smiled and brought Jamie's hand to her stomach. His grin as he pressed his palm against the tiny life he'd given to her brought the blood rushing to her cheeks as tears, now of joy, rained down her face. 

"We're free, Jamie."

End of Arc I