This was a prompt sent in to Imagine Claire and Jamie on tumblr. I'm posting my Imagine prompts here for easier reading and in case there's anyone on AO3 who might not be on tumblr. Do feel free to check the blog out, though, and send in prompts if you have more ideas for our favorite pair!
Original prompt: Imagine if Claire actually got to meet Jamie's parents, Brian and Ellen when they arrived at Lallybroch // The Watch never came to Lallybroch so Jamie and Claire stayed. Jenny and Ian had to leave for a day or two. Imagine Jamie and Claire taking care of wee Jamie and Maggie.
“Ye dinna mind sleeping in the spare room, then?”
Claire briefly looked up at her father-in-law before returning to her work, carefully grinding comfrey and other herbs into a salve for his aching joints. What with the hubbub surrounding the future laird’s return last night – coupled with hurried (if heartfelt) introductions to Brian and Ellen and Robert and Jenny and Ian – she and Jamie had been shuffled into a clean but clearly unused bedroom on the house’s third floor.
“I’m just glad to have a roof over our heads,” she said softly.
Brian – observant but tactful – did not pry. “So have ye two come to stay, then? We’d heard word of your marriage and weren’t sure when ye’d come back to Lallybroch for good.”
Claire pursed her lips, clearly thinking. After a long moment she bravely raised her gaze to meet his kind eyes. “I want you to know – when I married him, I had no idea he is to be laird of this place. I didn’t even know his true last name. I didn’t – ”
“Ach.” Brian rested a gentle hand on her forearm. “Dinna fash yerself, lass – ”
“With respect, Mr. Fraser – I needed to tell you. He’s an amazing man, your son. He has sacrificed so much for me, so that we could have a life together.” She swallowed. “He – he married me to protect me from Captain Randall.”
“Randall?” Ellen’s fair brows lifted in question. “The one who almost killed both you and your father?”
“Aye, the same.” Jamie’s voice was muffled as he bent to pull weeds from the base of the gnarled rosebush in the dooryard. “I had to protect her, Mam. He – he tried to rape her. He would have done much worse, if I hadna done something.”
Ellen plucked dead leaves from around her prized buds. “And conveniently for my brother Dougal, it takes ye from the line of succession.”
Jamie stood, hurt. “Ye ken I never wanted that! I’m to be laird of this place, no other!”
She sighed, shaking her head.
Jamie stepped closer to her. She watched him lick his lips. “Besides, Mam – I love Claire. I love her more than I ever thought I could love anyone, or anything.”
Ellen tilted her head, thoughtful. “Have ye told her, then?”
“Ye ken Jamie’s Mam and I marrit at a moment’s notice as well?” Brian gently rubbed Claire’s salve onto his stiff knuckles, just as she had instructed.
Claire nodded. “Yes – he told me on our wedding night. Sounds like something we have in common is a desire to stick it to the MacKenzie brothers.”
Brian laughed heartily. Jamie had his smile. “Ah well, lass – for all ye’re a Sassenach widow, older than wee Jamie, and with a foul mouth – I couldna have picked a better match for the lad if I’d tried.”
“Have ye even tried telling her how ye feel?” Ellen asked gently, lightly rubbing her son’s back. He’d refused to show her the flogging scars – but she hoped he’d trust himself enough to share in time.
Jamie shook his head. “I canna find the words, Mam. I feel so much. It’s almost too much.”
She squeezed his shoulder. “Take it from a woman, son. She’ll understand.” Briefly she turned her face back to the rosebush, thoughtful. “Have ye ever given yer bride a posey, Jamie?”
He refused to meet her eyes. “No. I haven’t. I haven’t given her much of anything, Mam – save her ring. But now, I – I want to give her everything. A home, a place, a family of our own. I hope – ” he swallowed sharply.
Ellen’s heart ached. “What, lad?”
He sighed. “I hope it’s enough for her. That I’m enough for her.”
Ellen clucked her tongue and suddenly clasped her son tightly to her chest. “Ye’ll do just fine, Jamie lad,” she whispered into his hair. “She doesna need anything – just you.” After a while, she pulled back and plucked a blooming rose from the bush. “But perhaps it’s never too late for a wee wedding gift, aye?”
Later that night, Jamie and Claire sat with Brian and Ellen in the sitting room, lingering over one last glass of whisky. Jenny, Ian, and Robert had long ago gone up to bed. Brian flexed the hand holding his glass – no longer stiff, thanks to Claire – and smiled at his son and daughter-in-law, seated on the chaise across the room, holding hands. He could just see the edge of a rose peeking from Claire’s hair when she turned her head to watch the fire.
“Ye’re a rare fine healer, Claire. I’ve tried most everything for years, and here your potion works on just the first go-round.”
Jamie drew a smiling Claire closer against him. “Ah, well – she mended me twice on the day she met me. I figured it may be a bonny idea to keep her around.”
“Frasers,” Ellen rolled her eyes. “Once they set their mind on something, they’ll move heaven and earth – even rip the veil of time, if they had to.”
Claire’s gentle start didn’t escape Brian’s notice. Neither did his observation of Jamie drawing Claire even tighter against his shoulder.
But the moment passed, and Claire smiled gently. “Who says he already hasn’t?” she teased.
This was a prompt sent in to Imagine Claire & Jamie on tumblr. I'm posting my Imagine prompts here on AO3 for easier reading and in case there's anyone here who might not be on tumblr. Do feel free to check out the blog and send in prompts if you have more ideas for our favorite pair!
Original prompt: The Watch never came to Lallybroch so Jamie and Claire stayed. Jenny and Ian had to leave for a day or two. Imagine Jamie and Claire taking care of wee Jamie and Maggie.
Jamie heaved the hewn log upright. Brian grabbed the other end, and together they guided it into position, filling the gap in the paddock fence. The log locked in place with a slight thud, and father and son released it, breathing heavily.
“That the last one?”
Brian nodded, still short of breath. “I’d rather we’d waited until Ian gets back, but we canna have the sheep get out again. Yer mam and sister would never forgive me.”
Jenny and Ian had departed just after dawn, wanting to get an early start for their visit to the MacNab croft. Jenny would have preferred going on her own – but Ian hadn’t let her out of his sight in the two weeks since Maggie had arrived. And they’d jumped at the chance to get some time alone together.
Which was why wee Jamie was in the paddock with his uncle and grandfather, generally getting in the way, his smock splattered with mud, random tools clutched in his tiny hands.
“Can ye crawl under the fence, a bhailach?” Brian called. “We need to go to the stables next.”
Wee Jamie’s grimy face brightened instantly. “Horsey?” he asked hopefully, carefully crawling through the gap.
Jamie bent and hoisted his namesake up on his shoulders. The boy shrieked with delight.
“Aye lad – but ye must stay away from Donas this time, aye? Dinna want ye losing a finger or two.”
Slowly the trio skirted the paddock and approached the barn. Brian looked over at his son thoughtfully.
“Ye look good wi’ a wee lad.”
Jamie grimaced as the boy’s tiny fingers anchored tighter in his hair. “Ach. It’s what I pray for, Da.”
“Pray for? Why?”
Jamie refused to meet Brian’s eyes. “Claire. She – weel. She thinks she’s barren.”
Brian stopped and laid a gentle hand on Jamie’s arm. Wee Jamie extended his own arms, and Brian automatically took the boy and quietly settled him on his shoulders.
“Why’s that? Because she was marrit before?”
Jamie nodded, lips pursed. “They were marrit for seven years. No children. So.”
Brian reached out a gnarled hand to Jamie’s face, turning his son’s eyes to meet his own. “That’s verra sad. But perhaps the problem lay wi’ her husband?”
Jamie sighed. “Perhaps. It – it pains me to think of her wi’ him. But it pains me even more to think of her never holding a bairn of her own. Ye’ve seen how she’s taken to wee Maggie.”
Brian ruffled Jamie’s hair as he had done when he was a lad. “Dinna fash. God will provide.”
Jamie nodded. “Well then. Let’s see to the horses.” He strode forward, and Brian sighed, heart aching.
Claire sighed in relief, settling deeper into the chaise by the fire.
“Ah – ye’ve got the magic touch,” Ellen remarked from across the room, where she was busily knitting a brightly-colored blanket. “She always settles down when she’s wi’ ye.”
Claire smiled down at Maggie’s perfect rosebud lips. “She misses her mother, poor thing. I suppose I’m a worthy substitute.”
Ellen clucked her tongue. “It’s no’ empty words, Claire. She knows ye. Yours was the first voice she heard in this world – no wonder she’s comforted by ye.”
Claire’s lips twisted in a rueful smile. Emotion – and sudden, unexpected tears – welled.
“Claire?” Ellen asked tentatively after a long, silent moment.
Embarrassed, Claire quickly wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “I’m all right, thank you.”
Ellen set aside her knitting and softly padded across the room, settling on the chaise beside her daughter-in-law. Gently she tilted Claire’s chin so that their eyes met. “Claire? I’ve only known ye for a short time, but – I hope ye feel ye can speak freely wi’ me.”
Claire swallowed. “I don’t think I can have children.” Her voice was quiet, sad. Defeated.
Ellen slid her hand down to squeeze Claire’s shoulder. “Are ye certain?”
Claire sighed. “Fairly certain. And Jamie knows.”
“And what did he say?”
Claire shifted Maggie within the crook of her elbow. “That he loves me.”
Ellen’s eyes softened with love for her son – and compassion for his beautiful, mysterious wife. “I have confidence in ye, Claire. It may take time – but ye’ll be a bonny mother one day. Ye have such a great capacity for love – I see how ye are wi’ the bairns – and wi’ Jamie too. God will reward your love.”
A tear slid down Claire’s cheek – and she quickly wiped it away at the sound of heavy bootsteps in the hall. Murtagh’s grizzled face turned the corner, holding a giggling wee Jamie upside down by his ankles. “This one needs a good scrubbing. Shall I set up the washtub in the kitchen?”
Ellen rose. “Aye. Go tell Mrs. Crook – I’ll be there in a bit.” She smiled as her grandson’s laughter echoed down the hall, and turned back to Claire.
“Dinna fash. You and Jamie have many, many years ahead of ye.”
Claire mustered a small smile and Ellen nodded, crossing the room – and almost colliding with her husband in the doorway.
“Are ye done, then?”
Brian nodded and pulled her in for a kiss. “All done. For today, anyway.” He eased closer to allow Jamie to slip in behind him. Together, Brian and Ellen watched Claire’s face immediately brighten as Jamie approached – and her eyes close in absolute bliss as he tenderly kissed her forehead.
“They’re so fortunate in each other,” Ellen remarked quietly.
Claire smiled serenely as Jamie whispered in her ear.
“Aye, mo nighean ruaidh,” Brian murmured. “That they are.”
This was a prompt sent in to Imagine Claire & Jamie on tumblr. I'm posting my Imagine prompts here on AO3 for easier reading and in case there's anyone here who might not be on tumblr. Do feel free to check out the blog and send in prompts if you have more ideas for our favorite pair!
Original prompt: Can you write an update to the previous Ellen and Brian AU fic where Jamie and Claire announce they're expecting? Or are already pregnant?
Jamie silently closed the kitchen door to find his father waiting by the banked fire. Quietly he removed his dun bonnet, gently laid it and his cloak on the butcher’s block, and crossed the room to step into his father’s tight embrace.
“How is she?”
Brian clapped his son on the back, worrying at the bony shoulders poking beneath his coat. “Better. Yer mam says it could be any day now.” He released Jamie and held him by the elbows. His face was gaunt - as all of theirs were, these days - but his eyes were bright. His spirit was still strong.
Jamie swallowed. “I feel so helpless, Da.” His voice was quiet, moody. “I worry so much. She nearly died the last time -”
“Ye ken well that Jenny and yer mam will never let anything happen to her,” Brian interrupted. “She’s in the best hands we can find.”
Jamie sighed and rubbed his face with grimy hands, grimacing. “Can ye fetch me some water, then? I want to wash afore going upstairs.”
A few moments later - scrubbed and with his hair brushed back a bit - Jamie eased up the stairs. He still had to take them one at a time, on account of his still-healing leg, but at least he could walk under his own power. Had it not been for his sheer strength of will, Claire’s skill, and his mam and Jenny’s stubbornness, he surely would not have survived the bayonet wound he’d suffered at Culloden.
It was a miracle that he’d not died on that terrible battlefield - and that Claire and Murtagh had made it back to Lallybroch ahead of him. It was truly the only safe place they had left - and he knew that, had he not survived, Murtagh and his parents would look out for Claire for the rest of her days. And above all, keep her and his family safe.
The baby. Jamie swallowed as he slowly crossed the landing at the top of the stairs. He so missed just holding his wife, feeling the bairn tumble within her belly, marveling at their miracle. They’d shared many a quiet night together as his leg healed - but he’d moved into the cave about two months back, when the frequency of English patrols had unexpectedly increased. He gladly did it to keep them safe - to keep her safe. But he ached with longing for her. For his family.
Quietly he eased the door to the laird’s room ajar. His mother, seated at the foot of the bed, looked up - and her face immediately brightened.
But Jamie only had eyes for Claire - sitting against the headboard, her wild hair curling all askew, hands resting on the huge swell of her belly. Her beautiful face, glowing in the candlelight. Her bonny mouth, split into an ecstatic grin as their eyes locked.
Wordlessly, Jamie stepped to the bed, knelt, and clasped Claire so tightly he was afraid for a moment that he’d crushed all the air out of her. He buried his face in the lovely curve of her neck, inhaling deeply. Her fingers tangled into his hair and held him close.
“Shhh,” she whispered. “It’s all right. I’m all right now. Just false pains.”
Jamie raised his face so they were nose to nose. “I’m so sorry I canna be with ye. Ye shouldna be alone.”
Claire smiled. “But I’m not alone. See?”
She eased back a bit and Jamie peered over her shoulder – to see wee Faith curled up next to her mother, her dark curls spilling over the white pillow, tiny chest rhythmically rising and falling, deep in sleep.
“She’s been missing you, too – and she’s refusing to sleep with her cousins. And since I have all this empty space in the bed –”
Jamie stood and leaned across Claire’s body to gently stroke Faith’s soft cheek. The girl stirred and wearily opened her eyes – a light sleeper, just like him.
“Da?” she asked sleepily, blue eyes cracking open.
“Aye, a chiusle. I’m here now.”
She let out a small breath and shut her eyes, burrowing even closer into Claire’s side.
“She wants to protect her mam,” Ellen softly remarked. Jamie started – he’d forgotten his mam was there, so wrapped up he was in his wife and daughter. Claire gingerly scooted over and he eased onto the bed next to her, wrapping an arm tightly around her shoulders.
“Protect her? From what?”
“She saw a redcoat patrol yesterday.” Ellen had returned to knitting a small brown cap, no doubt for the new bairn. “Your father, Ian, Murtagh, Robert, and Fergus waited downstairs while all the women and children were sent upstairs – and when Faith asked why, Robert told her it was to keep them safe. But then she didn’t understand why none of the men were upstairs to keep them safe up there – so Murtagh asked her to do it. Apparently she’s taking her duty quite seriously.”
Jamie sighed. Claire wearily lay her head on his shoulder, and he kissed her forehead, inhaling her. Grounding himself in her.
“She’ll make a bonny big sister,” he said into the clouds of Claire’s hair.
Claire winced slightly as the baby kicked her ribs. Quickly she grabbed Jamie’s hand and settled it over her belly. His fingers curled as the child danced beneath his palm, and a feeling of deep love surged in his heart.
As it did in Ellen’s as she watched her son and daughter-in-law – worn to the bone under so much strain – lose themselves in their joy.
This was a prompt sent in to Imagine Claire and Jamie on tumblr. I'm posting my Imagine prompts here for easier reading and in case there's anyone on AO3 who might not be on tumblr. Do feel free to check the blog out, though, and send in prompts if you have more ideas for our favorite pair!
Original prompt: Imagine Jamie and Claire taking a horse ride with Faith (if she had survived) and Brianna as young girls.
“Settle down, Faith.”
The three-year-old squirmed in the saddle ahead of her mother. “But Mama-”
“Hush, a nighean,” Brian interjected, nudging his horse alongside Claire’s. “Ye’ll be back on the ground soon.”
Faith huffed but obediently remained still, her small body thumping back against wee Brianna, slung tightly across Claire’s chest. Five months old now - old enough to make a prolonged journey from home, now that spring had arrived and icy winds no longer blew between the Highland mountains or across the estate’s fallow fields.
“There it is - do ye see it?” Ellen - at Claire’s left - shifted the reins to her right hand, pointing at the croft in the valley below.
“I see it!” Faith exclaimed. “Is he really there?”
“Aye - he should be.” Brian carefully eased his horse down the steep incline, followed by Claire and the girls, with Ellen bringing up the rear. Flanking their daughter-in-law and granddaughters. Protecting them. Keeping their word to Jamie.
Brianna let out a cry as the horse’s hoof struck a rock and jostled the younger Fraser women. Claire settled the baby closer to her chest, cooing to her. Faith twisted to face her sister and lay a chubby hand on Brianna’s back, patting her gently, as Mama had shown her.
“Seas, Bwee,” she said softly. “I miss Da too.”
They reached the bottom of the hill and clopped slowly toward the farmhouse. Claire could feel Faith almost vibrating with excitement as they steadily moved closer. Once the door swung open to reveal her husband, Claire ignored Ellen’s pleas and kicked her horse into a gallop, focusing on Jamie’s smiling face, holding tight to a giggling Faith.
Claire pulled the horse to a stop - and Jamie was right there, hoisting up Faith with one hand, helping Claire dismount with his other - kissing Brianna’s red fuzz - and then claiming his wife’s mouth, heedless of his wriggling daughters and his parents’ admonishments.
“I know we’re aways from civilization, but can ye no’ even cover yer red heid when ye’re outside?”
Jamie sighed against Claire’s lips and looked up at his exasperated father. He briefly touched his mouth to Claire’s in apology before stepping back and boosting Faith onto his shoulders.
“It’s just for now, Da - the patrol passed two days ago - there’s nothing to be worrit about,” he replied over Faith’s gleeful giggles. Carefully balancing his daughter - whose tiny fists had now anchored rightly in his hair - he walked to Ellen, helped her out of her saddle, and began untying the basket strapped to the horse’s rump. “What have ye -”
Ellen almost knocked the wind out of him as she seized her son in a bear hug, holding onto him tightly.
“Two months wi’out seeing ye is too long, a bhailach,” she whispered in his ear. “Ye canna be away from us for that long - not when the lassies are so small.”
He sighed, collapsing into her, letting her hold him close as if he were a bairn again. “Dinna think it’s easy for me,” he replied, voice muffled in her soft, knit shawl. “I must be out here for a while yet. I canna risk being so close to the house - canna put you and Jenny and Da and Claire and the girls in danger.”
Faith kicked her wee legs against Ellen’s shoulders, and he slowly straightened, holding his mother’s weathered hands. “Let’s just enjoy this day - and tonight, hmm?”
Ellen could only reply with a rueful smile as Brian - now dismounted - clapped Jamie on the back and led the three horses away to be hobbled.
Jamie turned to face his wife - so beautiful, so radiant as she gently rocked Brianna, quieting her fussing. She felt his eyes on her and looked up at him. Their gazes locked - and time stopped.
Only to be interrupted within seconds by his very inquisitive daughter. “Grandda took the horses away, but do ye think me and you and Mama and Baby Bwee can ride together tomorrow?
Visions of holding wee Faith before him in the saddle - and eating as a family beneath the shade of an oak tree - and Claire’s luminous skin as he loved her while the girls slept - darted through his mind. Gently he rubbed Faith’s tiny foot, snug in her wee boots. Claire smiled a secret smile - his secret smile, so full of promise.
“Aye, a nighean. As soon as we can.”
This was a prompt sent in to Imagine Claire and Jamie on tumblr. I'm posting my Imagine prompts here for easier reading and in case there's anyone on AO3 who might not be on tumblr. Do feel free to check the blog out, though, and send in prompts if you have more ideas for our favorite pair!
Original prompt: I love the Brian and Ellen AU! Can you do a continuation of the last post of it? Thanks! // I’m greedy, I want more about wee Faith! Your previous prompts featuring her made me even more sad that she never lived, that Claire and Jamie never got to have her in their life and that Bree never got to have a big sister.
Faith listlessly propped her elbows on a windowsill in the cottage, holding her cheeks, squinting through the wavy glass at the empty moor beyond.
She was still annoyed that Mama and Da hadn’t let her come along to help gather some of Mama’s wee herbs – and she couldn’t understand why Grandda and Grannie had laughed when Da told them where he and Mama were going. Normally that was her job, holding Mama’s basket while she crouched to pluck leaves from bushes or dig roots from the peaty soil.
But Da had asked her to care for Brianna while they were on their walk – so she did, the sleeping baby nestled in her basket at Faith’s feet. Grannie had asked if she’d like to help her with the knitting – a blanket for the bairn that was still in Auntie Jenny’s belly – but Faith had refused, wanting to keep watch at the window for her parents – and anyone, or anything, that could possibly hurt her sister.
“If ye keep looking out that window, they’ll never come back,” Grandda chided from across the room.
Faith turned as he stood up from adding another log to the fire, reaching high for the ceiling to loosen the stiff bones in his back and shoulders. He let out a funny sound as he stretched, and Faith couldn’t help but giggle.
“Are ye laughing at me, lass?” Grandda teased.
“Noooo!” she insisted, though she was sure Grandda could see her smile from where he stood, hands on his hips.
“Mmphmm. Do ye want to help me wi’ the supper, then? It will be nice for yer Mam and Da to have something to eat when they get back.”
“God knows they’re working up an appetite,” Grannie remarked, head bent as she unspooled a length of yellow yarn.
“Hush, you – mind the bairns,” Grandda hissed.
Faith tucked the blanket tighter around Brianna and carried her basket to Grannie’s side, gently setting her down beside the bright piles of yarn. “It’s all right, Grandda – I always get hungry when I go on a walk with Mama.”
Grannie snorted, settled the half-knit blanket in her lap and reached down to Brianna, tucking her tiny cap closer around her ears. “I think there are some bannocks and cheese in the parcel from Mrs. Crook – can you help Grandda find them?”
Faith scampered over to the small, rough-hewn table in the corner, where Grandda had deposited the saddlebags after they’d arrived earlier that afternoon. “Was it in this one?”
Brian knelt beside her, gently separating out the bags. “Let’s see – this are fresh clouts for yer sister, a book for yer Da to read, some bandages from yer Mam – here!” He tugged a rough sack free from the tangle and handed it over to his eager granddaughter.
She undid the twine at the bag’s neck. “Bannocks!”
“Aye,” Brian smiled. “Will ye help me warm them over the fire?”
And so they passed several quiet, content moments – finding the iron pan, gently placing the bannocks on them, swinging the pan over the fire, and cleaning off the table in preparation for a simple but long-awaited supper.
“Grandda?” Faith sat up on one of the chairs, her tiny legs idly swinging back and forth.
“Aye?” Grandda used the end of a blanket to carefully touch the iron pan, examine the bannocks, and then gently push the pan back over the flames.
“You said that Da has to live in the cave and stay in this cottage because he wants to protect us, aye?”
Her dark brows furrowed. “But I dinna understand how him staying away from us is how he protects us. Because when he asked me to protect Brianna, he told me to keep her near me, always.”
Grandda sighed and knelt to be eye-level with his inquisitive, fearless granddaughter. “You know that the redcoats want to capture yer Da, aye?”
Faith’s curls bobbed as she nodded, eyes wide.
“So. Yer Da knows that if he were at the house, and the redcoats came by, looking for him – they might harm other people.”
“Because they’re mean.”
He smiled ruefully and lay a gentle, gnarled hand on her shoulder. “Because they’ll do what they must. And because yer Da loves you and yer sister and yer Mam something fierce – and he loves yer Auntie Jenny and Uncle Ian and yer cousins and me and Grannie, too – he doesna want anything to happen to us.”
Realization dawned on Faith’s soft features – already so much like Claire, she’d clearly inherited her mother’s glass face as well.
“So – sometimes the best way to keep the people you love safe is by being away from them. Do ye understand?”
Faith nodded. “Aye. But I dinna like it.”
Brian drew her close to him, and she disappeared in his embrace. “Oh, lass. I dinna like it either.”
After a long moment he drew away, hands still clasping her tiny shoulders. “Now then. How about a bannock while I keep telling ye the story about Wee Maisie?”
Jamie twisted one of Claire’s curls around his finger, delighting in how it sprung back into place amid the damp tangles of her hair. She sleepily shifted against him, atop the soft warmth of her cloak, nestled in the hayloft beside the crofter’s cottage where he’d been staying for the past weeks.
“I’d expect Brianna to do that – but she doesn’t know any better,” Claire murmured, stretching lazily like a cat, touching the glorious skin of her naked body all along the contours of his.
“Oh, I do know better, mo nighean donn,” he breathed into the shell of her ear, delighting in her shiver. “I dream of this – holding you, smelling your hair. Being joined with you.”
Softly, gently he ran his free hand up her quivering belly and between the valley of her breasts. Her breath hitched, and his smiling eyes met her hooded ones. Slowly he kissed the bead of milk pearling on her nipple. She arched, and he hummed in pleasure against her.
“Again?” he whispered against her sternum.
Her legs wrapped around his. “But your parents –“
“Can wait. My wife, however, can’t.”
Original prompt: I love this blog! I really liked the story where Claire and Jamie put little Brianna to bed. Imagine Jamie and Claire bring little Brianna on a picnic and Jamie teaches Brianna to swim. This makes Claire nervous! (18th Century)
“No, darling - the water is too deep, and you’re not big enough yet!”
Claire smiled and tightened her grip on her wriggling redheaded daughter, happily splashing her tiny limbs in the cool water of the millpond, enjoying the novelty of not having a clout on. Brianna, aged one, always loved water - she squealed with delight every time she had a bath - and this was her first time taking a real dip.
Claire shifted in her position sitting at the millpond’s edge, her legs submerged in the water up to the top of her thighs, Brianna held safely between her knees, cooing happily. She lifted her gaze to focus across the millpond, where Jamie stood - shoulder-deep - cradling four-year-old Faith, guiding her as she paddled through the water, her dark, wet curls flat against her tiny forehead.
“Mama! Mama! I’m swimming!”
Her heart soared - and filled with worry - though she knew that Jamie was right behind Faith, and would never, *ever*, allow her to sink below the surface even for even a second.
“That’s wonderful, love! Can you swim over to Brianna?”
Jamie - always so perceptive - settled his hands on Faith’s back and pulled her a bit out of the water, allowing her to catch her breath. “Are ye ready, then? Remember, ye have to move yer arms afore yer legs, aye?”
Faith nodded eagerly, and Jamie gently released her, walking slowly behind her as she churned the water, gradually approaching the pond’s edge. Brianna cooed as she spotted her beloved sister, and reached out her chubby hands in welcome.
Jamie briefly tore his eyes from Faith’s tender back to just enjoy the sight of Claire, her shift all rucked up, long white legs luminous in the water. She was completely open to him - even though she sheltered their precious daughter - and a rush of pure want bolted through him. They had had so little time to reconnect after she and the girls had come by the cottage the night before - both Faith and Brianna had been so excited, and after they went to sleep Mam, Da, and Murtagh had wanted to share the latest news of redcoats in the area and the prospects for the year’s harvest.
He knew those conversations had to happen - knew that they could take their time, in the cottage tucked safely away under a small hill such a far distance from the main house that the chance of being discovered by an occasional patrol was next to nil. But still they’d smoored the hearth, sitting in the dim light as they caught up with each other. The perfect excuse for his hands to tangle unceasingly with Claire’s, sheltered in the darkness, his thumb caressing and cherishing the lovely grooves of her palms, the tender veins in the soft part of her wrist, the pads of her fingers calloused from her work.
There had been no time - no opportunity - to do more than hold her close in sleep, lips endlessly kissing her face, relishing the slivers of bare skin that touched his own. But today - it was early afternoon, and the girls would definitely go down for a nap once they dried off. And then perhaps he could ask Murtagh to keep watch while he and Claire stole some time alone in the cottage…
“You did it!” Claire exclaimed as Faith, panting, clutched one of her mother’s legs.
“I did it, Mama!” she exclaimed, out of breath. “I swam!”
Jamie reached for Brianna and settled her against his shoulder as Claire bent to take a firmer grip of Faith.
“I’m so proud of you!” Claire smiled, heart full. “Do you want to rest for a bit?”
Faith nodded, and Claire slowly, gently lifted her out of the water, holding her close, not caring that her shift became soaking wet as her daughter snuggled against her.
Brianna’s tiny legs kicked against Jamie’s chest, eager to be dipped further into the water. But his eyes were fixed on Claire. With the early afternoon sun shining in her hair like a halo, a serene smile gracing her face, she was the very picture of the Madonna and child.
How did he get so lucky? Even now - when he could only see his wife and children a few days out of the month, and he had to live in exile on his own lands - he still had so many blessings. Almost overcome, he shifted Brianna tighter against his shoulder and extended his free hand - under the water - to rest on the back of Claire’s calf. He stroked the skin there so gently - but Claire’s eyes darted to meet his. She read the unspoken question on his face. He felt her toes curl in pleasure, and watched her lick her lips.
“And where’s my wee fishie?”
Faith perked up and grinned at the sight of her grandfather cresting over the small hill beside the pond where he and Murtagh had been keeping watch.
“Grandda!” she exclaimed. “I swam all the way across the pond!”
Brian crouched beside Claire to be at eye level with Faith. “Did ye now? And I missed it!”
“It’s all right - Faith was just getting dried off,” Claire said softly. Her cheeks flamed, but it could have been from the bright sunlight. “I think it’s time these wee Frasers had a late lunch and a nap - what do you think, darlings?”
“Nap,” Brianna agreed, her small eyes already starting to drowse.
Faith extended her arms toward her grandfather, and he neatly picked up first her and then her sister. Straightening up with an over-exaggerated “Oof!” - amid giggles from his granddaughters - he swiftly turned back toward the hill.
“…see what Grannie has made for lunch back at the cottage, aye?”
Jamie watched his father slowly step back up the hill, cradling his precious burdens. Then his eyes met Claire’s. And narrowed conspiratorially.
He stepped closer, in between her parted legs, hands anchored on her hips. From her perch on the side of the pond she was taller than him - and he relished the novelty.
She wound her legs around his waist and he tilted up his chin for a kiss.
He smiled against her mouth, and pulled her into the water.
original prompt: Imagine Jamie and Claire introducing their parents to each other if they were all still alive. At a wedding, at their child's birth, at a dinner, anytime and anywhere!
Claire frowned at the lopsided sock she had been attempting to knit for the past hour. No matter how many times Ellen or Jenny patiently showed her how to count her stitches and stick to the basics, she found it so damned hard to just *focus*.
“Do ye want me to help ye again?” Ellen didn’t look up from her own half-completed blanket, just continued rocking wee Kitty’’s basket with her foot. “I think it’s no’ so easy for ye because every time ye get a few minutes to yerself, there’s either a bairn or sick person needing attention.”
“That, or my husband.” Claire sighed, but couldn’t suppress a tiny grin just at the thought of him. It had been a bold move, Jamie coming to visit the house and stay for a few days. But it was almost Christmas - today being the solstice, the shortest day of the year - and the scant hours of daylight deterred the redcoat patrols.
Which meant that Jamie could spend Christmas surrounded by his family. Claire hadn’t been able to stop smiling since Jamie had arrived very early that morning, waking her up with frozen kisses and loving her so quietly, tenderly, and thoroughly in the sacred dark that they had been almost overcome with the sheer rush of emotion and feeling.
Now he and Brian and Robert and Ian were going over the ledgers in the study while Jenny and Mrs. Crook supervised the supper preparations, and the pack of wee Murray and Fraser bairns quietly played in the nursery upstairs under the careful supervision of Murtagh and Fergus.
Ellen scooted closer to Claire on the settle, squinting her eyes, concentrating on Claire’s crooked stitches. “I still canna believe that ye never learned to clackit when ye were a bairn, Claire. Even in - in yer own time, surely it must still be done?”
Once they had returned from France, Faith still healing from Master Raymond’s miraculous intervention, Claire and Jamie still so freshly restored to each other - it was clear that for Faith and Claire’s safety, they had to tell the family the truth about her. Where, and when, she had come from. There had been disbelief, of course - but they had accepted it as swiftly as Jamie had. They didn’t quite understand it, of course - but they believed her. All the more reason to protect her and the girls - all the more reason why Jamie willingly lived apart in order to keep them all safe.
“Yes, of course we still - will - have knitting. But most girls learn from their grandmothers, or aunts, or mothers. I - I had none of that, growing up.” Claire swallowed away a tiny lump of emotion. For so many years she had had little to no reaction when speaking about her parents - her mother - the sad facts never changed, and the dull pain which she didn’t quite remember feeling at age five was just…there.
But in the four years since she’d become a mother herself, and grown to cherish the bonds she’d forged with Faith and Brianna - the more pain she felt at that loss. Especially since Faith was now not too much younger than she had been when her own mother had passed away.
Ellen gently laid down her knitting needles - the old wood worn shiny from years of use - and gently wrapped an arm around Claire’s shoulders.
“I’m sorry, *a leannan*. I didna mean to upset ye - I mind that ye lost yer Mam verra young, of course ye’d have nobody to teach ye.”
Claire lay down her own knitting and smoothed shaky palms over the scratchy wool of her winter dress. “It was so many years ago - I never truly think about it anymore, to be honest. But there are these small things that I teach my own daughters, or want to teach them someday - and…”
Her voice trailed off, heart suddenly longing to just hold her two wee fiends close for a bit, breathing in the scent of their hair.
Ellen turned to face Claire directly, arm still tight around her shoulders. “Tell me more about yer Mam, Claire. Tell me what ye remember. What she was like.”
Claire stared into the fire for a long while before answering.
“I don’t have any - any true memories, I suppose. More like images. She had brown hair, and golden eyes, like mine. But I can’t remember if her hair was curly, or if that came from my father’s side. They were about the same height, Mother and Father -” She paused, considering. “I always called them ‘Mother’ and ‘Father,’ now that I think about it. So bloody formal.”
“Mother was very attentive - she read stories to me from these beautiful picture books. Uncle Lamb kept many of them for me, after she died, and I still have them.” She swallowed. “Or, I suppose, Frank has them, somewhere.”
Ellen squeezed Claire’s shoulder, grounding her in the present time.
“And yer Da?”
“Father.” Claire pressed her lips together, thinking. “He worked in…in an office. I’m not quite sure doing what. Only I remember waiting for him to come home, and him picking me up and hugging me and kissing me.”
“Sounds like ye remember quite a bit.” Ellen’s voice was gentle, encouraging.
Claire shrugged. “I suppose. I always remember feeling loved - that’s the most important of all, isn’t it?”
Then Ellen drew her close in her warm embrace, and the two women - the two mothers - just held each other for a while.
“Can I tell you something?” Claire whispered into Ellen’s white-streaked plaits, pinned so elegantly to the back of her head.
“Of course, lass. Ye ken ye can always tell me anything.”
Ellen felt Claire swallow, steeling herself. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have you. You - you are the only mother I’ve had in a very, very long time. And I - ”
Her voice broke with emotion. Ellen cradled her head as if she was one of her wee bairns, holding her close, giving her the emotional space she so desperately needed.
“*Seas, a Sorcha*,” she whispered. “Hush now. Ye know I’d love ye just for being the woman who stole my Jamie’s heart - but ye must know that I love ye for yer own sake, Claire. I hope ye do.”
Claire nodded, and went boneless against Ellen’s shoulders for a while.
The fire crackled. Laughter poured through the hallway from the direction of the study - clearly the men had moved from ledgers to whisky.
“Yer Mam - her name was Julia, if I recall correctly?”
Ellen held Claire a bit tighter. “Ye ken that one of my names is Sileas, aye?”
Claire pulled back and met Ellen’s eyes, frowning in confusion. “I did not - but I don’t understand.”
Ellen smiled - Claire’s heart stuttered to see Jamie’s smile.
“Only - weel - it’s how we say ‘Julia’ in the *Gaidhlig.*”
Unbidden tears welled in Claire’s eyes. Her mouth opened and closed, struggling to find the words.
Ellen gripped Claire’s hands tightly. “Don’t ye see, Claire - I ken weel that ye and Jamie were…were fated to find each other. But I was fated to find *you.* To love ye and care for ye - gladly - and welcome you into my family as one of my own daughters.”
Claire swallowed, heart so full.
“There ye are!”
She felt Jamie enter the room, and waited almost breathlessly for him to walk up behind her, bend to gently wrap his arms around her shoulders, and kiss her cheek with a loud smacking noise.
“What’s this, Claire?”
He must have tasted the salt.
“Are ye alright? Has something upset ye?”
She turned her face to meet his, and kissed him deeply - right in front of his mother.
He - and she - didna mind one bit.
Original prompt: Imagine Ellen and Brian embarrassing Jamie and Claire about how obviously newlyweds they are.
“I’m so mortified.”
Jamie turned back to face his wife.
“It’s no’ like she’s never seen me nekkid, or a nekkid woman before, Sassenach. Dinna fash.”
Claire stopped, tugging his hand to face her. Over his shoulder, she could see someone lighting candles in the windows of the main house.
“I know she’s your mother, but I still don’t really *know* her, Jamie. And I *knew* we should have tried to find more privacy – ”
“The shady trees behind the broch is about as private as ye’ll get here,” he said softly, thumb tracing her knuckles. “God knows I was so happy to find ye, what with ye leaving so early this morning to gather yer wee herbs.”
She pursed her lips. “I felt – overcome with need, Jamie.” Her voice was quiet, and her eyes downcast. She always had such trouble expressing her feelings – and the depth of her feelings – and that she would so boldly state them now did not go unnoticed.
He stepped closer, took her basket from her free hand, set it down, and touched his forehead with hers. Quietly they breathed each other in.
“I did too, Claire. There’s no shame in it. And it’s grown deeper since last night, aye?”
Last night – they night they had finally said those three magic words to each other. Words that were long felt, but long overdue to be spoken.
She nodded, swallowing. “It’s like I told you – once I start, I’ll never be able to stop.”
He kissed her eyelids. “Tell me, once more.”
She touched her lips to his, whispering, “I love you.”
He stole her breath – and then, after a long moment, breathed those same words against her lips.
And they would have remained there, right outside the dooryard, for hours – whispering, caressing, just ecstatic to be alive and married to each other – had Claire’s stomach not voiced its emptiness.
They broke apart, laughing. Jamie bent to retrieve Claire’s basket, twined his fingers through hers, and walked beside her through the dooryard and into the house.
Turning the corner to the sitting room – hoping for a few private moments in their bedroom before supper – they were stopped cold.
“Ah, I was just about to send Murtagh out after ye!”
Brian was on the setee, a tumbler of whisky beside him, massaging the salve Claire had made him into his aching joints.
“There’s no need to be so worrit, Da,” Jamie said softly, shifting from foot to foot, impatient to be alone with Claire. “I ken weel when it’s suppertime. Dinna want to disappoint Mrs. Crook.”
“Those are wise words. And a wiser man will pick a more private spot next time.”
Claire flushed scarlet – but said nothing, knowing it was not her place.
“I am the laird of this estate, Da. I should be able to have some privacy on my own lands.” Jamie squeezed Claire’s fingers in apology – steel hardening his voice.
Brian cocked his dark head. “Ye are no’ the laird yet, lad. But I’ll ask ye to act like one. I dinna begrudge yer love for yer wife – but remember her honor. And remember where ye are, every second of every day – ye never know when a tenant may walk by. And some of the tenants have their eye on Claire – future laird’s wife or no.”
“Jamie?” Ellen rounded the corner from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a grubby apron. She slipped beside Brian on the setee and helped herself to his tumbler of whisky.
“Did ye really have to tell Da, Mam? It could have stayed between us.”
Claire glared at her husband – but he ignored her.
Ellen laughed. “Of course I did – and no’ for the reason ye’d expect.”
“Oh, aye? And what’s that, then? Are ye saying ye didna want to shame me in front of my own wife?”
“Shame has nothing to do wi’ it. If yer Claire is anything like yer Mam, Jamie – I’d wager she’s the reason why ye were out there flat on yer back in the first place.”
Ellen smiled. “Aye - it’s a bonny spot, behind the broch. We ken it weel.”
Jamie’s mouth gaped – and Claire shook her head, so happy to be a part of this strange but loving family. “Come on, Jamie. Let’s freshen up before supper? Want to make sure you get all the twigs out of your hair.”
She tugged Jamie up the stairs. Brian and Ellen’s laughter followed them all the way to the third floor.
original prompt: any more brian and ellen au fluff please! // Thank you for continuing the Brian and Ellen Au! Could we have an other piece with kids??
Jamie turned his head to kiss the spot on the underside of Claire’s jaw that never failed to make her shiver.
She settled closer to him, shifting her legs to be more comfortable in his lap, watching their wee lassies peacefully dream in the sunshine nearby. They had quickly tired themselves out, darting after dragonflies and chasing each other in the tall grass just outside Jamie’s cave. It was pleasantly warm for Beltane – perfect for an impromptu birthday celebration, complete with bannocks and honey from Mrs. Crook’s basket.
Claire turned her face to nuzzle her nose with Jamie’s, smiling at the stickiness of his cheeks – the legacy of honey-smeared kisses from their messy daughters. So thrilled to see their beloved Da after a four-week separation, he had allowed them to tackle him to the floor of the cave, giggling the whole time.
“I’m sae happy right now, Claire,” he breathed into her ear, twining their fingers together atop her thigh. “I – I *crave* all three of ye. So much.”
They both hated how necessary it was for him to live apart. Redcoat patrols were still common, though not as much as in the immediate aftermath of Culloden three years before. That the Lallybroch had so far been relatively untouched by the violence and starvation sweeping through the Highlands was due in no small part to Brian and Ellen’s fortitude, and Claire and Jenny’s frugality, and Ian’s painstakingly built alliances with the remnants of neighboring clans. Together they would do – and were doing – everything they could to ensure their beloved estate would not only survive, but thrive in the years to come.
Jamie so wished to play a more active role in the running of the estate, taking his rightful place at Brian’s side. There still was a price on his head – though Brian had been quietly advancing his son’s cause with any sympathetic English ear he could find. After all, Jamie was still an outlaw – one of many Jacobite officers who had never been found following Culloden – and his case was not unique.
But still, they waited for a resolution. And so, Jamie lived in the cave during warmer months and in the cellar at the main house during the winter. Which meant that it had been more than a month since he and Claire had last enjoyed long, lazy hours of lovemaking, safe beneath the quilt in the Laird’s bedroom.
“We’re here today – right now, my love,” she whispered against his lips. “We think of you always. Surely you know that.”
“I do.” He sighed, kissing her forehead – then adjusted the flower crown that Faith had woven (with his help) to sit deeper in Claire’s curls. “So much fuss for my birthday. Mam and Da never marked the day with anything particular.”
“Well - *we* will. We must give as much joy to the girls as we can find – God knows there are enough terrible things in this world to take that joy from them.”
Jamie sighed and dropped a kiss on Claire’s shoulder. “I canna argue wi’ ye. And I’m verra grateful. Ye have taken so much of the burden wi’ raising them – ”
“Shh. You know I’m happy to. It’s no burden – well, when they’re *behaving,* anyway.”
“Mmm. Well then.” He brought his forehead to hers, and for a long time they just breathed each other in. Peace, sanctuary, amid so much anguish.
“Now I must think of how I’ll give ye a proper birthday this year,” he finally murmured, thumb tracing the outlines of her iron ring. “Fortunately I’ve got more than five months to plan.”
She pulled back – suddenly sporting a dazzling smile. He raised one eyebrow, questioning.
“It may be a bit difficult,” she teased, bringing their joined hands to rest on her belly.
He stared at her – blinked – and whooped, startling a confused Faith and Brianna into wakefulness. But then he gathered them – and Claire – into his arms, holding them so tightly that they stopped squirming.
Tears streamed from his eyes – so blue – as they locked on Claire’s.
“I am the happiest man alive,” he whispered.
Note: written as a Christmas 2016 gift to my Imagine readers!
Six-year-old Faith Fraser took careful hold of her corner of the trapdoor.
“When I say heave,” their grandfather instructed, “yer Grannie and I will help ye. All right?”
Three-year-old Brianna Fraser nodded, her red curls bouncing in the light cast by the lantern.
“All right! One – two – three – heave!”
After a few moments the trapdoor opened. Brianna curiously peered over the edge into the gloom – and Ellen extended a careful arm to prevent Brianna from falling into the root cellar.
“It’s so dark! Why do we have to come out here when it’s so dark, Grannie?”
“Because it’s the only way we ken the Redcoats won’t be about.” Jamie set down his basket and handed the lantern to Brian, who held it above his head as he descended into the root cellar. Once Jamie had carefully stepped down almost past his shoulders, he effortlessly picked up a giggling Faith and hoisted her into the dark, then took the lantern from Brian.
“Here ye go – pick out enough potatoes to fill the basket, aye? There’s a good lass.”
Faith dutifully crossed to the far corner of the root cellar – full of shelves of dried fruit, dried meat, herbs, jars and jars of preserved vegetables, and enough potatoes and apples to feed all the hungry mouths of Lallybroch throughout the long winter.
“How are we doing, Jamie?” Brianna tugged on Ellen’s skirts, and she lifted her granddaughter to her hip, blessing her with a quick kiss to the forehead. “Will we need to try for another harvest?”
Brian stepped around his wife and held tight to the opened trapdoor as he carefully descended into the cellar, standing shoulder to shoulder with his son.
“We may have to,” he mused, glancing around at the half-full baskets. “Do ye think the ground is too hard to try at that softer patch?”
Jamie shook his head, keeping an eye on Faith as she carefully selected the potatoes.
“It’s been a bit warm these past few days – and we have to look, at least. Canna hurt. It’ll be a lot of onions and neeps and potatoes this year, but we should do well. And I may be able to bring home a stag or two, God willing.”
Brian silently slung an arm around his son’s shoulder – so proud. “It’s settled – we’ll take a look in the morning.”
“I’m done!” Faith piped up from the corner. “I canna lift the basket, Da – can ye help me?”
Brian crossed the packed-earth floor to examine his granddaughter’s work. “Good work, *a leannan*. Can ye help me wi’ a boost?”
“Watch yer back!” Ellen’s voice drifted from up above. “I dinna want ye throwing it out again.”
Brian sighed theatrically, and Faith giggled.
“That’s what ye gave me a son for, am I right? To help his puir Da in his auld age?”
Jamie stepped to Brian’s side, and together they hoisted the heavy basket of potatoes to their shoulders. Jamie pushed Faith in front of him and held out his free hand against her back as she negotiated the stairs to the surface.
“Auld age, my arse,” Brian muttered. “I’m fit as I ever was.”
“Mmphm. Keep telling yerself that, auld man.”
“Mama! We’re home!”
Faith tore through the door to the Laird’s bedroom and jumped up on the bed. Claire carefully settled one-month-old William Fraser against her shoulder and extended her other arm so that her eldest daughter could snuggle happily against her side.
“How did your little expedition go?”
“Well enough,” Jamie replied as he stepped into the room and closed the door, a sleepy Brianna nestled against his neck. “The stores are a bit low, but Da and Ian and I will go walk the potato fields tomorrow. We’re bound to fill up a basket at least – it’s been a while since we’ve been out.
Jamie stepped out of his boots, gently set down Brianna beside Faith, and stepped to the other side of the bed. Carefully he reached a tentative finger to stoke wee William’s brow, before bending to give his wife a kiss.
“How’s the wee lad, then?”
“He just finished his supper before you arrived. We’ll be good for a while.”
“Mmm. Move over a bit?”
Claire handed William to Jamie, then shifted over on the bed. Brianna and Faith took this as an invitation to crawl over their Mama so that they were safe between her and Da.
Jamie carefully lay William, swaddled in one of Claire’s spare arisaids, against a pillow, then slipped under the covers. In the dim light his arm crossed over his three children – and his fingers met and twined with Claire’s.
“Happy Christmas,” he whispered.
“It will be the happiest of Christmases, won’t it?” she replied.
“Will ye tell us a story, Mama? Maybe the one about mice?”
“There werena any mice, Bree! Remember, the mice were all sleeping?”
“Hush – that’s right, Faith. Not a creature was stirring – not even a mouse.”
“Can ye start from the beginning, then?” Jamie asked quietly, thumb tracing the bumps of Claire’s knuckles. “I want to hear it all again.”
The logs crackled in the fireplace. The wind picked up outside. The world was full of such uncertainty – but not here. Not in this room. Not on this night.
“Twas the night before Christmas…”
original prompt: Hi, is it possible to get another continuation of the Brian and Ellen Fraser AU please?
Jamie shook awake as a twig snapped at the mouth of the cave.
Curling cold fingers around his dirk, Jamie eased closer to the hidden opening, squinting in the faint rays of pre-dawn. Closer – and closer –
And then a blur of red-brown feathers.
He sighed, and let the dirk dully clatter to the dirt floor. Just another curious grouse, looking for a safe place to lay her eggs, no doubt.
Two weeks he’d been back in the cave, after spending the winter in the cramped quarters of the priest hole. One week without word from the main house – not since Fergus had scrabbled up the hill, bearing a few loaves of Mrs. Crook’s coarse bread and two short notes from his family.
One from his mother: “All is well. Be safe.”
And one from his wife: “We miss you and love you. Be safe.”
Close on four years now he’d been living as a fugitive on his own lands – in the priest hole, in the cave, in the abandoned cottage half a day’s ride out. Not living with his wife and children, as a true man should. Not contributing to the running of the estate as much as he would like – and him the heir!
He shook his head, hearing Claire’s exasperated voice echo in his mind. “You do *plenty* for us – bring meat and birds when we need them, give Ian and Brian advice when it’s required. And love us.”
The barest of rustles from the bushes just a few yards from the mouth of the cave.
Christ – it sounded too big to be another grouse. And bigger than a deer –
Not Fergus. Not Da.
Something was wrong.
Jamie fumbled on the floor of the cave for his dun bonnet, clapped it on his head, and wriggled, blinking, into the dawn.
His godfather huffed a bit – looking the worse for wear.
“What is it?”
The dour man pursed his lips, bushy eyebrows creased into a frown. “Ye must come to the house. Now.”
Jamie’s heart leapt to his throat. Fear iced through his heart.
“Why? Is everything all right?”
Murtagh extended an arm to gently nudge Jamie down the hill toward the main house. “No. Yer Da – he’s had an apoplexy. Claire’s tending to him, but – ”
If there had been more, Jamie didn’t bother to hear it, for he was already half-way down the hill, exhaustion forgotten in the haze of fear.
*Christ, Da – ye canna die now. I canna run Lallybroch now – not when I’m living like an animal. Not when Ian has just been released from prison again. Not when the English are doing their damndest to take everything away from us.*
The main door was suddenly in front of him – and Jamie realized he’d been running.
*Not when I still have so much to learn…*
He left the door open for Murtagh, and swiftly yet quietly climbed the stairs two at a time to his parents’ bedroom.
Just as he turned the corner on the landing, the door opened and Ellen slipped out, eyes creased with exhaustion.
“Mam,” he croaked, yanking off his bonnet and carelessly dropping it to the floor.
Startled, her eyes lit up at the sight of her eldest surviving son. Then she opened her arms, and he fell into them just as he had when he was a wee bairn.
“It’s all right, *mo mhac*,” she soothed. “Robert noticed something amiss at supper last night, and he went straight up to tell Claire. She was putting the wee ones to bed and came straight down. Started giving him a looking-over and then he just slumped on the chaise.”
She swallowed, still so full of feeling. Jamie just held her tighter.
“Robert and Fergus and Murtagh got him up here – and Claire hasna left his side. She says the worst is over, and he’s awake now.”
Jamie inhaled – and felt a sob wrack through his frame. Ellen shushed him.
“It’s no’ his time yet. Dinna fash.”
Murtagh finally appeared at the top of the stairs – and locked eyes with Ellen over the shoulders of the man they loved almost more than anything in the world.
As always, Murtagh understood what needed to be done. He quietly stepped forward to lay a gentle hand on Jamie’s back. Jamie straightened, kissed his mother’s forehead, and softly opened the door to the Laird’s room.
Sunlight streamed into the window, falling on Brian’s legs as he shifted uneasily beneath the coverlet, sitting against the headboard he’d carved for Ellen as a wedding present. On the far side of the bed, Claire bent to dip a cloth in a bowl of water before laying it on Brian’s forehead. On the near side of the bed, Jenny and his younger brother Rab alternately held Brian’s hand and sorted through a pile of dirty linens.
They all looked up – and beamed to see Jamie.
Relief from Jenny and Rab. Love from Brian. And pride – and an outpouring of silent support – from Claire.
“Da,” he finally said, a bit deflated.
Brian raised a hand in greeting, face split in a wide smile.
“He canna speak just yet,” Jenny said quietly. “Claire said it would only be temporary.”
Jenny and Rab stood, allowing Jamie to ease onto the bed beside his father and rest a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Fortunately it only seems to have been a minor stroke – just a bit of facial drooping, and he’s lost a bit of feeling on his right side,” Claire gently explained, running her fingers along the inside of Brian’s wrist to take his pulse. “But all that, and his loss of speech, are temporary. He should be back to his normal self in a few days – that is, as long as he listens to his doctor’s advice.”
Brian quirked a large, dark eyebrow at his daughter-in-law, but then turned back to his older son, nodding.
“I’ll stay in the house until he’s better.” Jamie looked to his brother and sister, daring them to disagree. “I canna be away when this is going on.”
“There was a patrol here yesterday. In the house,” Rab’s blue gaze pierced into his brother. “They were looking for ye. Thank God Da was able to dream up a good explanation as to why there’s a five-month-old bairn in the house when Jenny is clearly ready to deliver at any time.”
Jenny reflexively moved a hand to the swell of her belly – her fifth child.
“William,” Jamie breathed. “Christ, Rab – they didna touch him, now?”
“Of course not,” Claire huffed from across the room. “Fortunately *that* Fraser had the sense to not resemble his father too much. Easy to explain him away as an orphan that we took in.”
“What Rabbie is trying to say,” Jenny interjected, “is that it isna safe for ye here, Jamie.”
The door opened, and Ellen quietly slipped into the room, holding the door open for Murtagh, who carried a tray piled high with bannocks and fresh milk.
“It isna safe for me *anywhere*, Jenny.” Jamie closed his eyes, defeated. “I am useless to all of ye. I canna protect any of ye.”
“Get yer thick red heid out of yer arse,” Ellen admonished, diligently mashing a bannock in a plate of milk for Brian’s breakfast. “Ye’re no’ going anywhere. We’ve been talking about it – we want to air out the attic and build a room for ye up there. And then expand the priest hole, so ye can hide down there if need be.”
“That way ye can be close to all of us – and remain out of sight,” Jenny explained. “There are too many things going on – we canna risk ye being away from us anymore.
“But – ”
“It’s already settled lad,” Murtagh interrupted. “Dinna even *dream* of arguing wi’ us.”
The eyes of five Frasers bore into him – challenging him to disagree.
So he leaned to kiss his father’s rough cheek, rose, walked around the bed, and took his wife into his arms.
“If it means I get to be wi’ all of ye all of the time – and spend the day with my bairns – and sleep beside my wife every night – how can I refuse?”
And he bent to kiss Claire, heart suddenly lighter than it had been for a long, long time.
original prompt: Could we have more of the Brian and Ellen AU pretty please?
“Here.” Jamie turned the fragile pages of the Fraser family Bible, carefully scanning for the passage. Six-year-old Faith waited patiently at his side, idly kicking her small legs over the side of the bench, chin cradled on her elbows.
“Found it.” Jamie gently hoisted his eldest daughter onto his lap, and pointed to the middle column of the left page. “Can ye start from there?”
Faith squinted in the candlelight. In the corner of the room, Mrs. Crook finished drying the last of the supper dishes.
“From inside the fish, Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.” Faith’s voice was slow, deliberate – but she never faltered. Jamie’s heart swelled with pride – so happy that despite the sometimes insurmountable challenges, at least he had succeeded in giving her this gift.
“He said: In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me.” Faith craned her neck to look up at her father. “Do ye think Jonah was afraid, to be inside the big fish?”
“Aye, I suppose he was.”
Mrs. Crook crossed the room on her way to the dining room, arms laden with dishes and towels and the pewter candlestick Murtagh had accidentally knocked to the ground during supper.
Faith turned her attention back to the tiny letters packed onto the page. “But how come he doesna say so? Mama always says that if we are afraid, we must tell her. Or tell you, or Grannie or Grandda.”
“Probably because he wanted to stay strong. Because he had nobody to help him – he was all alone.”
She paused, deep in thought. Jamie absently kissed the dark curls – Claire’s curls – at the nape of her neck. “At least I’m no’ alone, then.”
“Aye, *mo chridhe,*” he agreed. “Ye will never be alone. No’ you, no’ yer Mam, no’ yer sister or yer wee brother. None of ye will ever be alone, no’ as long as I can take care of ye.”
Faith snuggled against him then, and he settled his arms around her waist, and together they continued to read.
“From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.”
Claire breezed into the kitchen, six-month-old William on her hip. “What are we reading today?”
“Jonah and the whale,” Faith helpfully explained, extending her arms. Claire gratefully handed the baby over.
“Isn’t that a little…heavy for bedtime reading?”
“Absolutely not,” Jamie insisted, wincing at William’s strong grip on his index finger. “She hasna yet made one mistake. She’ll be reading Shakespeare afore we know it.”
Claire shrugged, then stepped to the other side of the room, examining the odd bundles of plants and herbs she had set to dry above the hearth.
“Yes, love?” Claire didn’t turn to face her daughter, busily untying the twine from a bunch of now-dried feverfew.
“Have ye ever seen a whale? Da told me that ye’d seen an elephant – and even took a ride on one?”
Memory flared – those carefree times before the Rising, when she and Jamie were still finding each other, those precious weeks here at Lallybroch before it had all gone so wrong.
“I have not. But that doesn’t mean that it will never happen.”
“One day we will take ye to the seaside, Faith – I ken ye’d like it. Yer Mam likes to be beside the sea, because it’s a wonderful place to collect shells and rocks and even wee bits of glass.”
“Here ye are!” Brian thundered into the kitchen, three-year-old Brianna on his shoulders. “This one was busy making a mess of Fergus’ things upstairs.”
“*Again,* Bree?” Claire turned to face her younger daughter, hands on her hips. “You know we’ve talked about this – it’s not nice to go through other people’s belongings.”
Brianna placed her tiny hands on her own hips, brows furrowed with passion. “I was looking for my doll, Mama. Fergus took it.”
“So the better way is to ask nicely,” Jamie interjected, William now chewing around his fist. “Or ask one of us to help ye get it back.”
Brian gently hoisted his namesake down to the kitchen floor, planks worn shiny with age. Brianna scampered across the room to dig through her small basket, full of rocks and plants and leaves she had gathered while outside with Claire earlier in the day. “Are ye reading, Faith?”
Her curls bobbed as she nodded enthusiastically. “Have ye ever seen a whale, Grandda?”
“I have. Once, many years ago. Before I met yer Grannie.”
“Were ye afraid it would eat you?”
He raised one dark brow, settling on the bench across the table from his son and grandchildren. “Why? Are ye reading the story of Jonah, then?”
She nodded enthusiastically. “We’re just at the part where he’s in the whale’s belly and praying to God to save him.”
“Ach. Whales are harmless creatures – they would be more afraid of you than you would be of them.”
“Even when they’re so big?”
She considered this. “But because Jonah prayed to God when he was scared, and he was a good man, God helped him, aye?”
“Yes. That’s how the Bible tells it.”
“So if I pray to God to help us, and to make the redcoats go away so that Da doesna have to live in the attic – will he answer my prayer, too?”
Jamie’s heart about stopped; Claire froze at the chimney; Brian heaved a deep, deep sigh.
“It will take many, many prayers from more than just you, *a nighean.* But I have faith in God. Do you?”
Brian stood up and reached out his hand. His granddaughter wriggled off the bench and grabbed his hand. His other granddaughter, hands clutching random leaves and twigs, raced to take his other hand.
“Let’s get you up to bed – do ye mind if I tell them their bedtime story tonight, Jamie?”
“No, Da,” his voice broke. “I dinna mind.”
“Do ye even think I could fit inside the mouth of a whale?” Faith asked as they set off down the hallway.
Jamie swallowed, eyes focusing and unfocusing on William’s tiny face, his bright blue eyes – Jamie’s own eyes – staring up at him.
And then Claire materialized at his side, smelling of earth and fennel and love.
“Stay with me tonight,” she pleaded, lifting her skirts to sit beside him on the bench. “Please don’t go upstairs. You know there’s no need – ”
“There’s plenty of need, and ye ken that weel,” he sighed. “It’s risky enough for me to be in the kitchen, when there was a patrol here two days ago. Da’s well enough to walk about, praise God – but his reflexes aren’t what they were.”
“Then why come downstairs, when you felt it such a risk?”
“I didna want to concern the girls. They need to have as normal of an upbringing as possible. But clearly they ken it isna normal.” He closed his eyes, heaving a soul-deep sigh.
Claire moved closer so that their knees touched. One hand cradled their precious son; the other took her husband’s free hand and rested it on the smooth, smooth skin of her collarbone.
“Stay with me tonight,” she repeated. “You’re hungry.” For peace; for calm; for the world that once was; for the wife whose bed he had not shared in more than a week.
He bent his forehead to touch hers. “Why does it have to be so hard, Claire?”
“Sshh.” She kissed the tip of his nose. “We’ve come so far. Just enjoy what we have accomplished. You know I’m always here.”
“Praise God,” he breathed against her mouth. “God may deliver me yet from the belly of the whale – but in you, *mo nighean donn*, he has already answered my prayers.”
For a long time after she finished speaking, Claire watched the flames flicker in the fireplace, casting a soft glow on the rich wallpaper and furnishings in the Laird’s bedroom. Finally empty of words.
Four-month-old Faith snuffed against her shoulder. Jamie squeezed her hand. Brian set down his empty tumbler of whisky with a soft clang on the table. Ellen shifted a bit, and a ball of yarn fell from her lap to the floor, gently unspooling; she didn’t move to fetch it.
“Do Jenny and Ian and Robert know?”
Jamie cleared his throat. “Murtagh does. But no, Da – nobody else knows. No’ yet, anyway. We wanted the two of you to know first.”
“Not that we don’t trust them,” Claire added softly. “But it’s a lot to take in.”
“Aye, it is.” Ellen sighed. “All of it’s true, then? About Randall, and yer first husband?”
Brian rubbed at his tired eyes. “And about the Rising that’s to come?”
“Yes. All of it.” Gently Claire rubbed Faith’s tiny back. “I didn’t tell Jamie until after we were married. It’s why Jack Randall is still alive. And it’s why we…insinuated ourselves with the Prince, when we were in Paris.”
“Ye wanted to try to stop it, lass?” Brian reached across the small gap between his chair and the settee, softly touching Claire’s shoulder.
“We did.” She raised her chin half-proud, half-defiant. “I think we’ve been successful for now. But there’s no telling whether what I learned as history will indeed come to pass.”
“Let’s hope it doesna, lass.” Ellen smiled at her daughter-in-law. “Otherwise I canna rest easy knowing that Jack Randall still walks the earth.”
“Ellen, mo chridhe, how can ye wish someone dead?” Brian’s dark brows raised in surprise.
“Just that one man in God’s creation, mo dhu. Do ye want to tell me that he doesna deserve to be torn to pieces, after what he did to Jenny? And to Jamie? And to Fergus? And for nearly killing you, too?”
Jamie carefully took Faith from Claire’s shoulder, wrapping the blanket – a parting gift from Mother Hildegarde – securely around her tiny back. “By keeping him alive, it assures Claire that she and Faith have a safe place to go, should anything happen to me.”
“And did ye ever consider, ye wee idiot, that Lallybroch is that place?” Ellen sighed.
Claire smiled sadly. “But what if one day it isn’t? If the Rising does come to pass – there will be a terrible famine. Entire villages will be cleared out, transported by force to the New World.”
Brian nodded, considering. “So we must do whatever we can to prepare ourselves.”
Jamie kissed Faith’s forehead. “Aye – starting with demarcating every single boundary line wi’ the neighbors. Ensuring it’s all properly registered at Broch Mordha. And then stockpiling extra food.”
“But Claire – would ye truly go, if things got to be so bad?” Ellen crossed her arms, defensive. “Ye ken that Lallybroch will always be your home – as long as Brian and I, and our family, are alive to care for ye.”
“Of course!” Claire rose and stepped across the seating area to sit beside Ellen on the other settee, clasping her hands tight. “You – all of you – are my family. My true family. And Lallybroch is absolutely my home.”
“But Mam…” Jamie’s voice cracked. “Do ye blame me for wanting every option available to see my family safe? Even if it meant she left us all behind?”
Overcome now with emotion, Ellen squeezed Claire’s hands. “I – no. No, a bhailach, I dinna begrudge ye.” She swallowed. “I – I canna tell ye how my heart soars, to see ye wi’ such a well-matched wife, and wi’ such a beautiful bairn. To see ye for the man ye’ve become.”
“You mean – the man you and Da raised me to be.”
Brian met his son’s gaze, so unspeakably proud.
“But could wee Faith travel through the stones, then?”
“I don’t know, Da. It’s not like I was given an instruction manual.” At the confused looks on the faces around her, Claire smiled. “Never mind. I don’t understand how it all works – or if there’s even any logic to how it works.”
“She said that the stones make a buzzing sound.” Jamie shifted Faith to his front, holding her arms securely while she kicked her tiny legs against his lap. “And that she touched the largest one, the last time.”
“But Jamie couldn’t hear the buzzing.” Claire bent over to fetch Ellen’s fallen ball of yarn, and began winding it back together.
“Do ye mean – ye took Jamie there?”
“He took me there, Ma – right after I told him this. Told him the truth.” She returned the yarn back to Ellen’s lap, eyes cast down. “He tried to send me back.”
“This was right before I brought her home the first time,” Jamie added softly. “After Cranesmuir. We – we had only been wed for a few weeks.”
Claire turned now to face her husband, eyes bright and certain. “He told me there was nothing for me on this side of the stones. Nothing except violence and danger.”
Brian felt the electricity in the room; watched his son swallow back emotion; watched his daughter-in-law’s face transform as she spoke.
“He couldn’t have been more wrong.”
“Are ye sure ye’ve got that, lass?”
Six-year-old Faith Fraser nodded fiercely, carefully balancing the tray as she crested the attic stairs. “Aye, Grannie. Can ye knock on the door? Let Da know we’re here?”
Ellen Fraser did – six quick knocks, followed by two quicker knocks. They felt Jamie’s footsteps on the floorboards before he cracked open the door – then opened it wider, to accommodate his eldest daughter.
“Is that supper?”
Slowly Faith crossed the threshold of Jamie’s attic hideaway and set the tray down on the simple table Ian and Robert had made.
“Aye – a bit early today if ye dinna mind. Mrs. Crook just put a new roast over the fire, and yer Da and Robert are up at the far field to supervise the planting, and – ”
Gently Jamie bent to kiss his mother’s cheek. “I dinna mind, Mam. I ken weel how everyone is busy this time of year.”
“Mama had to stich up two of the men yesterday – and she let me help her!” Faith exclaimed excitedly as Jamie sat down at the table. Ellen sank to the foot of Jamie’s cot, smoothing out the creases in the quilt, and Jamie hoisted Faith onto his lap.
“And I suppose ye did a fine job of it, hmm?”
She nodded. “I disinfected the sutures wi’ whisky, and told the men to stop yelling, because William was sleeping.”
“She’s in charge, this one,” Ellen smiled. “Can’t imagine where she gets that from.”
Jamie chewed on a hunk of bread. “Do ye want to be a healer like yer Mam, when you’re older?”
“Aye. Mama says I can have my own wee basket for herbs this year, and that I can be her assistant when she goes out to forage!”
Jamie swallowed and kissed his daughter’s forehead, warm with joy. “I’m sure she’ll be happy to have such a dedicated assistant.”
Just then, Faith sat up a bit straighter. She scooted off of Jamie’s knee and scampered to the window.
“Someone’s here,” she announced.
Immediately Ellen crossed the room. “Stay away from the window, Jamie.”
Hands shaking, he set down his spoon. “Is there a man in the house?”
“Ian is downstairs, in the study. Fergus, too. And Claire and Jenny, of course – and all the bairns.”
“Look – someone’s getting out of the carriage,” Faith remarked, nose pressed up against the window. “He’s old.”
“Redcoats?” Jamie whispered.
Ellen’s hand flew to her mouth.
Jamie stood, alert. Waiting to pounce. “Mam?”
“A Dhia,” she gasped. “It’s Ned Gowan.”
“May I thank you again for your hospitality, Mistress Fraser?”
“Ellen, please, Ned – I’ve known you all my life!” Ellen re-filled Ned’s tumbler of whisky, still smiling ear-to-ear. “How long has it been since we’ve seen each other?”
“Oh, my.” He scratched his head. “It must have been when Jamie was at Leoch, that first time.”
“I was sixteen,” Jamie added, squeezing Claire’s hand as she sat on the settee beside him. “It was when you and Da took me to Leoch.”
“My first time back since Brian had stolen me away,” Ellen smiled. “Aye – it was quite the memorable experience.”
The door to the sitting room opened – Fergus entered, followed quickly by Brian and Robert. Ned stood to greet the Fraser men.
“Oh, I’m so sorry to have intruded on your day – ”
“Nonsense.” Brian warmly clasped Ned’s weathered hand. “The potatoes can wait another day to be planted. It’s not every day we have visitors such as yourself here!”
Brian sat next to Ellen, while Robert squeezed in beside Jenny and Ian on the other settee. The fire crackled – Fergus added another log, then sat on the floor next to his sisters and cousins. Rapt with attention.
“This is a long way to come for a social visit, Ned.” Claire shifted her sleeping eight-month-old son to her other shoulder. “And it’s been more than three years since Culloden. Are you well?”
In an instant, Ned’s face seemed to get even older – the lines cut deeper – and his shoulders slumped.
“Truth be told, my dear – I’ve lived quite the ragtag existence since we lost Leoch.”
They knew it had happened, of course – had heard tell of how the castle and its contents had been ransacked in the wake of Culloden, with the redcoats in power and no living MacKenzie brother to stop them. But now to hear Ned speak of it –
“For a while I eked out a living in Cranesmuir. I’ll have you know, Mrs. Fitz and her kitchen lads saved almost all of Collum’s library – it’s in a safe house in the village, if I can ever figure out what to do with it.”
“That was my father’s library,” Ellen breathed. “My sons have good heads on their shoulders – they can figure something out.”
“Anyway,” Ned continued, “I was able to practice law in the village, for a time. That’s how Roddie MacKenzie, my driver, came into my employ.”
“Mrs. Crook is feeding him in the kitchen right now.” Jenny turned to her father, gesturing to the back rooms. “Puir man looked half-starved.”
“It’s been a meager existence, I’ll tell you that. This land is different now – far fewer people. The soldiers don’t begrudge me for my service to the MacKenzies, given that I’m a man of letters – so I’ve been a bit of a roving solicitor. Adjudicating disputes, writing marriage contracts, and the like.”
“He did write a good one for us,” Jamie mused. Claire smiled.
Brian shifted forward in his seat. “Do ye need a place to stay for a while, then? Because we’ve room enough here – if ye dinna mind bunking wi’ Rob.”
“He’s more than welcome,” Robert piped up. “I’ll take care of him.”
Ned sniffed and wiped at his eyes. “I – I would be most grateful.” He swallowed, blinking harshly from behind his spectacles. “You see, I’ve been in service to the MacKenzies for so long – and I don’t have any family of my own…”
Ellen leaned forward and took Ned’s hand. “You’re wi’ family now, Ned. Ye can stay as long as ye like.”
Ned looked around, at the smiling faces surrounding him. He sat up a bit straighter.
“It would be my honor.”
Sometime later – supper, and at least three whiskys later – Ned and Brian and Jamie and Claire sat in Brian’s study. Footsteps thundered overhead as Ellen and Ian and Jenny and Robert tried to get the Fraser/Murray children – still excited by the new houseguest – into bed.
“If ye say ‘thank you’ one more time, Ned, I may have to turn ye out into the dooryard,” Brian smiled.
Ned set down his empty tumbler of whisky. “Well then – until I find my feet, of course I’m happy to consult on any legal matters for which I can assist.”
Brian scratched his chin. “There’s all the deeds to the house and the land – we registered them with a magistrate before the Rising, so that there would be no dispute as to ownership of the land.”
“And I presume you still have a copy of yours and Ellen’s marriage contract?”
Brian smiled and patted the thick, dark wood of his desk. “I do indeed – you wrote it very well. Clearly laid out the terms of Ellen and my ownership of this land.”
“Good. I’d be happy to take a fresh look.” Ned turned to Jamie. “As far as I know, young man, you’re still an outlaw.”
“Red Jamie, to be exact. And I am.”
“Don’t forget, I’m the Stuart Witch,” Claire smiled. “Though that all seems to have been forgotten now.”
“And may I presume that the Crown doesn’t know you’re here?”
“They don’t – and they won’t, if we keep it that way.” Jamie slung an arm around Claire’s shoulders. “I lived in the far cottage for a time, and moved upstairs into the attic a few months back. My children have never known their father to live out in the open.”
Ned pursed his lips. “I presume you haven’t attempted to petition the Crown.”
Jamie sighed. “For what? The penalty for treason is death. You and I both know that.”
Ned tilted his head, thinking. “If I could find a way for you to be pardoned – for you to live openly – would you be open to that?”
Jamie looked at Claire. She looked back at him, silently supportive.
“Yes,” he replied, eyes still fixed on Claire’s. “There’s nobody else I would trust.”
Ned’s beaming smile was positively infectious. “Well then. I have work to do.”
For this one, I thought it would be fun to explore how things would have been different when Culloden happened - assuming that Jamie and Claire were still with Charles Stuart’s army…
Five days. Five days that Claire had sat on the stone steps of Lallybroch, watching the gate for someone. Anyone.
Six days since her brother-in-law Rab Fraser had led her and Fergus and the Lallybroch men home from Culloden Moor. Where she had left Murtagh and Jamie - the other half of her heart - to fight. To die.
There had been no time, at the end, for anything but the swiftest of goodbyes. What was there to say, when both you and your spouse never expected to see each other again?
I love you, of course. Be strong for Faith, and for the wee one in your belly. Mam and Da will care for ye. Now go.
She’d cried the entire ride home. Numb to the beautiful forests and mountains. Curling in on herself and the baby she carried. Preparing for a life without Jamie - yet surrounded by his home and family. All the while picturing two-year-old Faith - how much she must have grown, in the months she and Jamie had traveled with the Jacobite army! Would she even recognize her? Would she ever understand the magnitude of their sacrifice?
A gentle hand on Claire’s shoulder - and Ellen MacKenzie Fraser sat beside her daughter-in-law.
Claire heaved a tremendous sigh.
“I was thinking.” Ellen’s voice sounded a thousand miles away. “Weel, to be fair, I was talking wi’ Brian. We ken that what you and Jamie tried so hard to avoid, still came to pass.”
“Thousands of men are dead,” Claire rasped. “Jamie among them.”
“You don’t know that,” Ellen chided. “But you were successful at changing things, aye?”
Claire frowned, eyes still trained on the gate at the far end of the dooryard. “How do you mean?”
“Weel - ye saved yerself. And my youngest son. And the crofters. You changed all of their futures, Claire.”
Claire wrung her hands, watching the sun glint off of Jamie’s iron ring.
“And the future of the bairn in your belly.”
Only then did Claire turn to face Ellen. “I won’t even ask how you know.”
Ellen’s face creased into dozens of wrinkles - and a broad smile. “I’ve delivered hundreds of bairns in my time - watched hundreds of mothers carry. I recognize it when I see it.” Gently she lay a warm hand on Claire’s knee. “That’s why ye didn’t stay wi’ him, aye?”
Claire nodded, throat suddenly thick. “I couldn’t argue that I could stay. Not when I’d be risking the baby’s life - not after we almost lost Faith.”
“How long have you known?” Christ, the way the sun hit Ellen’s hair…Claire’s vision blurred.
“Not long. Jamie kept track of my courses, even when we were on the road. It’s been almost three months.” She sat up a bit straighter. “He - he said that this child, and Faith, would be all that was left of him.”
Ellen sighed. “That’s not true. We haven’t had word one way or the other. And we would. Trust me.”
Claire grasped Ellen’s work-worn hands. “I do.”
Footsteps pounded in the hallway - Fergus almost tripped over the landing.
Immediately Claire and Ellen rose. “Fergus?”
The night that Rab, Fergus, and Claire had returned to Lallybroch, Brian had asked one of the returned men to stand guard at the top of the broch. To watch for visitors - the signal being a hand-held mirror, shining with sunlight or candlelight.
Someone was coming.
“Where’s Brian?” Ellen gently pushed Claire over the threshold and into the house.
“He’s up in your bedroom, milady. He wants you and Claire and madame Jenny to wait up there.”
Already Claire was taking the stairs two at a time, and almost bumped into Jenny and her children and Mistress Crook on the landing.
No words could be spoken - just worried glances exchanged.
Brian darted out of the laird’s bedroom. Ian emerged from his and Jenny’s bedroom, and Brian helped him down the stairs.
Claire grabbed Rab by the shoulder. “Any idea who it is?”
He shook his head. “Is your medicine box at the ready?”
“Yes, it’s downstairs in the still room.”
Rab nodded once, quickly. One of the dozens of mannerisms he shared with his older brother. Claire’s heart clenched.
“Good. Something tells me we’ll be needing it.”
Faith tumbled into Claire’s legs, and Claire bent to pick up her daughter. Automatically she snuggled into her shoulder. Rab squeezed Claire’s other shoulder and followed his father down the steps; Claire followed the last of Jenny’s children into the spare bedroom, and sank to the bed, still holding Faith, as Jenny bolted the door behind them.
Ellen stood at the window, peering through the curtains.
“It’s a wagon.”
Jenny set Maggie down on the bed, then crossed the room to stand beside her mother. “No redcoats?”
“No. I dinna understand - it’s just a small wagon, wi’ hay in the back. There, your father has gone to talk to the driver.”
“Do you - ”
Brian Fraser’s terrified voice wafted through the glass of the window.
Somehow Claire gently lay Faith on the bed and floated to the window, heart in her throat.
To see Brian Fraser jump into the back of the wagon, push away the hay, and lift a body from the back.
“CLAIRE!” He screamed again.
“Holy Christ, it’s Jamie.” Ellen collapsed against the windowframe, Jenny holding her upright.
Somehow Claire unlocked the door and made it to the bottom of the stairs. As if on auto-pilot, she fetched her medicine box from the stillroom Jamie had built for her beneath the stairs, in time to watch Rab and Fergus and Brian rush through the door and lay Jamie on the dining table.
Somehow she came to stand at his side, not quite sure how many steps she had taken to be there.
Calmly, so calmly, she set down her box and lay her hands on Jamie’s bruised and blood-spattered forehead and throat.
He coughed, and his eyes sprung open at her touch.
Bloodshot, glassy eyes fixed on her.
“Am I dead?” he rasped.
Her battered heart soared. “You are alive. You are whole.”
She turned to see Brian, Ellen, Rab, Jenny, Ian, and Fergus standing at the ready.
“I need boiling water and lots of clean cloth.”
“Aye.” Mistress Crook melted away into the kitchen.
“How bad is it?” Brian’s knuckles were white as they gripped the top of the dining chair.
Claire raised her chin. Defiant. “Very bad. But we’re all here.”
Jamie coughed again. The spell broke, and the Fraser/Murrays took their positions around the table. Keeping Jamie alive.
“The way I see it - of course I can’t say that you didn’t fight, because you did. However, the reason you fought - that was based on a lie.”
Jamie sighed, rubbing his face with his hands, sinking even deeper into one of the chairs at his father’s desk. “My name is on that letter, Ned. Pledging my loyalty to Charles Stuart.”
Ned looked up from his hastily scribbled notes, eyes almost comically huge as they blinked behind his spectacles. “But you didn’t sign the original version of the letter. All we know is that your name appears in the final, published version.”
“And how do you think you’ll find the original?” Brian Fraser slumped in his own chair, mirroring his son’s posture. “You cannae exactly write to the prince and ask for the original copy.”
Ned smiled. “No - but I can find out the name of the printer who originally published it. He had to have been given something to work from.”
“You mean, the original version of the letter?” Jamie thumped his head back against the chair. “It cannae hurt to ask, I suppose. But even if you were to find the printer, there’s no guarantee he’d still have the original letter. Or that whatever he has, includes signatures.”
Calmly Ned lay the palms of his hands flat against the time-polished wood of Brian’s desk. “Are you saying you do not want me to try?”
Brian reached out to squeeze Jamie’s shoulder. “No. Let’s try. We have to.”
“Wait - hold on. And what’s in that crate?”
Rab Fraser huffed and shifted his burden to his free shoulder. Ellen Fraser squinted first at the side of the crate, and then at the inventory clutched in her hand.
“Box 14…more ledgers. Bring that to Da’s study, please, a bhailach.”
Rab disappeared down the hallway, just as Fergus and Young Jamie appeared, carrying another crate between them.
Ellen sighed. “I knew the library at Leoch was grand - but I had no idea that Colum had added so much!”
At her side, Claire looked down at her own copy of the inventory. “Box 27…books in Greek and Latin. Would you mind if that one goes to my and Jamie’s bedroom, for now? He’ll know how best to sort them.”
“Aye. Away ye go, lads!”
And they did, breathing heavily as they navigated the crate upstairs.
“I don’t know if I ever told you about my audiences with Colum, when I first came to Leoch.” Claire adjusted the fabric wrapped around her shoulder and middle, and ten-month-old William Fraser blinked from his cocoon like a wee owl. “He didn’t know what to make of me. And he would only see me in his library.”
“I would sit in there for hours and hours on end.” Ellen sank into a spare chair, carefully laying the paper inventory on the dining room table. “It was my escape. Colum and I - we would pass many a cold winter afternoon there. Especially after the trouble with his legs started…he would lay on Father’s couch, and I’d read to him.”
Claire smiled sadly. “What would you read?”
“Greek odes. Shakespeare’s sonnets. Father’s library had so much to offer.” She smiled tightly. “I didnae have much of a formal education - apart from the basics, that is. I forced my way in to Colum and Dougal’s lessons wi’ their tutors. Even if I had to press myself up against the door, to listen.”
Brian appeared through the door. “They’re still unpacking?”
“Ian should be back any moment with the last wagonload.” Claire craned her neck, looking through the window and into the dooryard. “I still can’t believe how much Ned was able to save.”
“I still cannae believe he found the printer in Edinburgh who published Charles Stuart’s letter.” Brian eased into the chair beside his wife, and gently took her hand as she sighed.
“He’s always had a knack for that sort of thing.” Ellen squeezed Brian’s work-roughened hand. “Creative ideas. It’s kept him alive. And now, it keeps him young.”
“Jamie once told me something he had overheard Dougal say to Colum.” Carefully, Claire pulled William from his wrap, and settled his solid wee legs onto her lap, kissing the curls at his crown. “That they had only one brain and one cock between them.”
Ellen’s laugh rang clear through the house.
“Oh, Claire - I havenae heard anything so funny in years.”
“Humor is best when it rings true,” Claire agreed.
“And it will take me precisely two seconds to guess which brother had which.” Brian shook his head. “I was right to take ye away from them, mo nighean ruaidh.”
Ellen turned to face her husband. “Can ye blame me for jumping at the first chance I got?”
Faith, Brianna, Maggie, and Kitty scampered by in the hallway, giggling. On their heels, Jamie poked his head through the doorway - smiling broadly at his son, who squealed in delight.
“Here ye all are. Ian just returned wi’ the final wagon.” He crossed the room and picked up his squirming son, tossing him up in the air.
Claire, Brian, and Ellen rose, just in time for Rab and Fergus and Young Jamie and Jenny and Ian to descend on the dining room once moor, huffing under the weight of the crates representing all that was left of Castle Leoch, and Colum MacKenzie.
The Fraser/Murrays were still unpacking the crates six days later, when Fergus darted into the house to announce that a visitor was approaching.
Ned Gowan rolled into the dooryard looking a little worse for wear, and for the tenth time Ellen was grateful that two of Grannie MacNab’s grandsons had accompanied him on the journey to Edinburgh. Ellen wrapped a kind arm around his back as soon as he alighted from the wagon, welcoming him home and promising a restorative meal and drink within minutes.
So it was that Brian and Ellen and Jamie and Claire and Ian and Jenny and Rab all gathered around the dining room table - Ned sitting at the head, tucking into an enormous portion of neeps and tatties. Regaling those assembled with tales of what he had seen on the road - the empty villages, the beggars, the highwaymen, the despair.
Edinburgh, fortunately, was largely unchanged - just featuring more redcoated soldiers than he had ever seen. Fortunately with the help of the MacNab lads, they had secured lodging and begun their interviews of every printer on the Royal Mile.
“We finally found him on the fifth day. Abraham Bell. He barely escaped the noose himself, after the Rising. He didn’t want to speak at first, but when I told him that I am formerly of Castle Leoch…”
Beneath the table, Jamie threaded his fingers through Claire’s, squeezing impatiently.
“…only after much cajoling that he furnished the copy of the letter that a member of Charles Stuart’s retinue had provided to him.”
“And?” Jamie’s voice was desperately calm.
Ned chewed on a potato, then swallowed. “It included the printed names of the signatories, and included a blank space where the signatures where meant to be. Your signature, Jamie - it decidedly was not there.”
“That doesna mean anything.” Jamie clenched his free hand into a fist on top of the table. “This Mr. Bell could have just been furnished a list of names to print.”
Ned set down his spoon. “Yours was the only signature not on the page, Jamie. All others were written, in ink.”
Claire let out a shaky breath, desperately squeezing Jamie’s hand.
“And the printer added Jamie’s,” Brian interjected, “because his was the only one not there.”
Ned nodded, beaming. “Precisely.”
“With respect,” Jenny piped up, “isn’t it only your word against this Mr. Bell’s? How can ye convince anyone of this?”
Ned’s smile widened even further, and he patted his breast pocket. “Because I have the letter here.”
He turned to Jamie. “We have evidence to support the petition. Do you still want to move forward?”
“Yes,” Jamie breathed, without hesitation. “Yes. Definitely.”
Ned picked up his spoon and dove back into his food. “Then tomorrow, lad - we begin.”
“…but the fairy couldnae return to the place where she had come from, because sadly the magic door between the stones had disappeared.”
Snug in their bed, Faith and Brianna gasped. “But why, Da?”
Sprawled on one side of the bed, arm tightly holding his daughters, Jamie sighed. “Because the magic door was only open at certain days of the year. And sadly, the day that the fairy returned to the stones was one of those days.”
Faith’s dark brows furrowed. “So what did she do? The bad man in red was chasing her!”
“Do ye remember how the fairy had made friends wi’ the hunter?”
Brianna nodded. “He kept her safe when she was sad and lost.”
“Weel - the hunter had gone to the stones wi’ her, just in case there was a problem. And sure enough, he was there to help her.”
“So where did they go, Da?”
He smiled slightly. “Would ye believe that he wrapped her up in his plaid and took her home wi’ him, to a secret place where no’ even the bad men could find them?”
“Yes,” Faith yawned. “Because Lallybroch is that place for you, Da. Aye?”
His heart clenched.
“Aye, lass. It is.”
He found Claire in her stillroom downstairs, checking entries in her meticulous ledger.
“Is he asleep?”
Briefly she looked up, then returned to her work, scanning the cramped pages. “Yes - he was a bit fussy, but all is well. What about the girls?”
He leaned over to kiss her forehead. “Giggling like wee fiends. They’ll tire themselves out eventually.”
She stood up straight, and slung her arms around his shoulders. Pulled him closer for a long, slow kiss.
“Mmm. You taste like herbs,” he breathed against her lips.
“And you taste like salt.” Quickly she kissed him again. “Sweat or tears?”
He swallowed. “A bit of both.”
She kissed his chin. “All will be well.”
He pressed his cheek against hers, whispering terrified words in her ear.
“What if it doesnae work? They will know I am here. I’m an outlaw. I’m a danger to all of ye. What if they come to arrest me, and take you away from the bairns? What if - ”
“Hush.” She pulled back to look at him, framing his face between her hands, eyes intent in the candlelight. “One day at a time. What if it does work, Jamie? What about then?”
His eyes were so wide, glassy with tears and fright. “I cannae live wi’out you, Claire. Wi’out my family.”
“You won’t need to,” she insisted. “We have right on our side.” She paused, trailing a finger down the side of his neck in a way she knew would make him shiver.
“I am here with you, right now, beyond all logic and reason and possibility. Our children exist because we defied all of the rules. And we love what we have because we have fought for it, so desperately.”
He nodded, sighing. Heart and mind racing.
“I want to give ye so much more than I have, Claire.” His voice was low, quiet. “More than a life as an outlaw’s wife, living on a remote farm. You deserve something…grander. For all you have sacrificed.”
Carefully she swept her ledger, quill, and assorted bottles to one side of the table, and sat on the edge of the cleared side. Holding her husband’s work-roughened hands. Looking up at him.
“I want what I have. I love our life - I don’t need anything else. And you’ve given me so many things I never thought I’d have. Your family. Our family that we’ve made together.”
She pulled him down for an affirming kiss. Tore her mouth away, to whisper in his ear.
“You’ve given me yourself. The gift I never thought I’d have.”
She felt the shiver echo through his body.
“And I give you myself in return. Now. Please.”
He seized her mouth. She wrapped her legs around his hips. She kissed his smile.
Ellen was in bed, reading, when Brian finally made his way upstairs.
“What took you so long?” She set aside her spectacles and lay them atop the book on her bedside table, stretching.
He bolted the door and kicked off his boots. “Was going over the ledgers wi’ Ian. Jamie had promised to be there, but he disappeared into Claire’s stillroom.”
She smiled. “I’m so glad they have each other, now especially. This waiting…it’s excruciating.”
Brian unbelted his breeks. “Aye, and it’s only been two weeks. No word from Ned, either. I dinna ken if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
“Aye. I’m glad Rab went wi’ him, though. He can advocate for Jamie if Ned can’t. And truth be told - I worry for Ned.”
Brian slid into bed beside her. “When he comes home, wi’ Jamie’s pardon - we need to do something for him.”
Ellen sighed. “Aye. But let’s no’ start planning for something that hasnae happened.”
“Yet,” he insisted.
She nodded. “Ever the dreamer ye are, Brian Fraser.”
He smiled. Christ, when he did that she felt like a lass again.
“I’ve had many a dream in my life, Ellen MacKenzie. But all the most important ones have you in it.”
She lay her hand on top of his.
“Though,” he added, “I do often wonder whether ye regret that I couldnae offer ye a life better than that of a crofter’s wife. I do remember the castle ye were born in.”
She squeezed his hand. “The life you have given me, mo dhu - it’s far richer than any I could have ever dreamed of.”
He kissed her forehead, then her temple - and buried his face in the red curls that had made his heart sing since the first time he saw her, thousands of lifetimes ago on that night at Leoch.
“I do love you, my own,” he whispered.
“I love you,” she whispered. “More than reason.”
In the dark of their rented room above a London tavern, Rab Fraser listened to Ned Gowan rehearse his remarks for the ninth time.
“…regardless of the fact that James Fraser was indeed on Culloden Moor on that fateful day, he was only there due to the willful forgery of his signature by the pretender who His Majesty’s court is currently petitioning the Vatican to extradite…”
Rab rubbed his eyes wearily.
Tomorrow would decide everything.
On the morning that changed her father’s life forever, Faith Janet Hildegard Fraser was three months shy of her seventh birthday.
She didn’t quite understand it all at the time, though she clearly remembered Uncle Rab and auld Ned Gowan - whose eyes always looked funny from behind his spectacles - riding through the dooryard and narrowly missing the buckets of washing that Mama and Mistress Crook and Grannie and Auntie Jenny had set up in the dooryard.
She remembered Mama sending Fergus racing inside, and him returning moments later with Grandda and Uncle Ian and Da.
She remembered how worried Da looked. And then how Da had let out a whoop of joy, twirling Mama around, when auld Ned had handed him a wee scrap of paper.
She also remembered how she’d stained the front of her dress later that day, mixing berries to help Mistress Crook bake a pie to celebrate Da’s freedom. How happy they had been that evening - and how she was allowed to stay up with the grown-ups as they sat around the fire. And the strong arms of her father, carrying her up to bed and kissing her goodnight before bringing the quilt up to her chin.
“Da?” she had asked him, sleepily.
“Aye?” he had whispered, mindful of Bree snoring on the other side of the bed.
“Does this mean we can go to Edinburgh now?”
He had ruffled her hair. “Aye. And Aberdeen and Glasgow and wherever yer heart desires, a leannan. We can talk more about it in the morning.”
“Is she all right?”
Jamie kissed the crown of Claire’s head as he settled back down next to her on the settee. “Aye. Tired out, puir thing. She wants so badly to grow up.”
Claire took his hand, squeezing. So full of joy.
Across the room, Brian poured Ned another dram. “So what will ye do now?”
Jamie pursed his lips. “I’m no’ leaving Lallybroch, if that’s what ye’re thinking. This is my home.”
Ellen let out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. “But surely ye want to at least go to the village, perhaps?”
“Aye - in good time. I’ve lived these past years wi’out it. Will be strange to see people who aren’t one of you.”
“I’ve the five certified copies in my satchel,” Ned repeated - unknowingly - for the third time that evening, his face cheerily flushed with mirth and whisky.
“Ye should have seen him.” Rab smiled at the wizened old man beside him, then clapped him heartily on the back. Ned choked a bit, but cleared his throat with even more whisky. “Arguing yer case in that room full of magistrates. He’s a force of nature.”
“My father did right when he brought you into his service,” Ellen remarked.
Ned blinked owlishly, hand gripping the side of the couch. “I realized long ago that I wouldn’t make my way in this world with my back or my arms - but rather with my brain.” He wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I’m afraid I won’t be of much use to you here, now that this mission is accomplished.”
“Nonsense.” Brian’s voice was slow and clear. “You’re welcome to stay with us until the end of your days. A man deserves to live out his auld age in peace. And ye’ve got many good years ahead of you yet.”
Ned sighed. “I cannot tell you how grateful I am, Brian. Ellen.”
“It’s us who are grateful,” Claire interjected quietly. “You’ve given so much to our family.”
“And the bairns love ye something fierce,” Jenny added, adjusting a sleeping Kitty against her shoulder. “Not to mention - with the way things are going wi’ the redcoats these days…we could use a good lawyer to keep things to right.”
Ned stood, then - legs wobbly - and placed his hand over his heart.
“Then I pledge my fealty to the Frasers of Lallybroch,” he proclaimed.
Then he gently collapsed back onto the couch, stone asleep.
“Do ye think he’ll remember that oath come morning?” Ian smiled.
“Oh, aye.” Ellen rose to fetch a blanket from the closet in the hallway. “My father didnae bring him on for nothing - and Ned didnae survive Colum and Dougal wi’out developing a few peculiar talents. He’ll remember, all right.”
Ned’s snores echoed off the walls of the room.
Jamie rose, Claire right beside him. “We’re lucky to have him.” He turned to face his family. “And I’m lucky to have you. All of you.”
Brian could only smile. “It’s us who are lucky to have you, Jamie. And to celebrate your freedom.”
For free Jamie was - his honor restored - and the world was open and bright and fresh with hope and possibility.