When the Heart Calls

BY : ChrissyQuinn
Category: -Misc TV Shows > General
Dragon prints: 72
Disclaimer: I do not own Outlander, nor the characters from it. Any resemblance of OCs to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Sprigs of Heather

 

                The British soldiers came like Jamie said, and most of the children in the household seemed to disappear along with Ian the older. Jenny stayed behind, as did Fergus and the other servants, so the house was painfully quiet as we all sat before the hearth. Fergus stood behind me, dressed in what was probably his best waist coat, in a very dark blue with silver buttons. He translated the conversation to me in a hushed whisper as I played my part.

                “As per the disarmament act, weapons are against the law,” the soldier stated, large nose in the air. I knew British soldiers were called red coats, but I hadn’t expected the coat to be so vividly bright. The entire uniform seemed outlandish and impractical to me with it’s golden cording and bright shiny buttons.

                Jenny sighed smoothing her olive gown, “Aye, we ken that very well. It was na our weapon ye heard, as we told ye already.”

                “My daughter was attacked while picking flowers,” Jamie said crossing his arms, keeping a close eye on the man.

                “Attacked?” The soldier raised a brow skeptically. My lip still wasn’t fully healed and I had a shadow of a yellowed bruise around my eye.

                “Aye, she was shot at and narrowly escaped with her virtue intact,” Jamie shook his head. “She wrestled the pistol from the man and by the grace o’ god himself shot him. Poor lass is so shaken this is the first time she’s been from her room since.” It was lies, but I knew why it had to be a lie. Fergus couldn’t have been paired with the pistol. “I told her to ask me to watch over her if she wanted to pick flowers, but she’s not been in Scotland long. Her mother god rest her soul raised her in France while I was detained by the crown and she dinna ken how dangerous it is here.”

                The man in his red coat narrowed his eyes at me, as he stared though his attention focused more on my breasts than anything else.

                “Is that the truth of it?” The man spoke, and I furrowed my brows and looked at Fergus.

                “He’s asking if it’s the truth. Your father said that you ran from the men and only saved your virtue by wrestling the gun away and shooting the man,” Fergus re-explained in French, whispering in my ear. I swallowed and tried not to let the feeling of his breath on my ear get to me, my cheeks burned and I nodded.

                “Yes, that sounds correct, without the addition of my terror at the prospect of being ruined by such a villain.” I played up the damsel in distress role like I’d read in so many books before. “I would not be fit for my French husband if the man got what he sought.”

                “She says yes, though it omits her terror, she was worried about being ruined because milord has such a fine French match in mind for her,” Fergus relayed in English, though there was some bitterness in his voice.

                “I see…” The British soldier eyed Fergus for a moment and so did Jamie. I couldn’t figure out why they were both looking at him, and then his good hand moved from where it rested on the back of my chair.

                “Were I you Mr. Fraser, I’d give the boy a lashing lest he forget his place when it comes to your daughter.”

                “Aye,” This from Jenny who narrowed her eyes at Fergus.

                “I assure ye, the lad will be dealt with,” Jamie said with the fakest smile I’d ever seen.

                “It would be a pity for such a refined and comely girl to end up a scullion,” again the man stared at my breasts. “Do you have the pistol?”

                “She dinna bring it back so I believe it’s still in the woods,” Jamie narrowed his eyes a bit as he caught the man staring at me.

                “Show it to me.” The man stood and bowed to me and Jenny, “Good day, Miss. Madam.”  Jamie followed him leaving Fergus, Jenny and I to sit in uncomfortable silence until the door closed.

                “Fergus, there’ll be no takin’ liberties with my niece under my roof, ye’ hear me?”  Jenny glared at him. “Ye’ know better. She’s a little girl who sees nothing but your big blue eyes and that smirk, you’re a man, time to act like one instead of a damned fool.”

                “He hasn’t done anything,” I whined, and Jenny scowled at me.

                “Ye don’t ken men, Lassie. And ye don’t ken Fergus like I do. I damn near raised him from a lad, while your da was off makin’ ye and actin’ a fool,” she groused shaking her head.

                “It’s not like that,” Fergus said softly. “I care for Milady.”

                Jenny sighed and shook her head. “Sure ye do, lad, like ye cared for Kirsten, or Gailis, or Briget, or Mary or Rona, or any of the dozens of others. I excused those because yer French, and I guess that’s their way, but Moira-Rose is my blood, and I’ll won’t stand for ye or any one else takin’ liberties with her because she’s bonnie, blithe and still thinks like a little girl who’s read too many damned stories.” The rage and anger was clear in Jenny’s voice. I’d never heard anyone get that upset over me spending time with someone before. It hurt to see that anger in Jenny and Fergus’s features drawn with shame.

                Fergus frowned and shook his head, eyes full of pain. “Fine.” He swallowed and left out the front door as Jenny narrowed her eyes at me in disapproval. Without saying anything she stood and went toward the kitchen, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

***

                Jamie never talked to me about Fergus, though I suspected he did speak to Fergus as the sprigs of heather stopped showing up and if I entered a room he was in alone he left it. My lip was healed by the time Allhallowstide, or as I knew it better Halloween came around and the servants set about decorating the rooms with boughs of orange flowers and golden leaves. The night before I’d been brought a yellow satin dress that was tailored to fit me by one of the servants—it took most of the night. Several inches had to come off the bottom since I was far shorter than the original owner of the dress. As I dressed for the festivities, I couldn’t help but wonder if the dress was Claire’s. With the skirt and everything in place I twirled around feeling not unlike belle from beauty and the beast.

                Most of the night I watched people dance because I didn’t know how. A blonde girl about my age came up to me with a big grin on her face. Her dress was the color of cranberries but it wasn’t satin like mine, it was wool, a finer wool than most dresses were made of but wool all the same. The color made her cheeks seem rosy and alive. I didn’t recognize her, then again I didn’t recognize half of the people at the party.

                “Don’t you just love this time of year?” her hair was flaxen and her eyes big and blue, and her voice had a dreamy quality to it like she found everything around her utterly mesmerizing. I shrugged a little and smiled, usually I’d go trick or treating with my friends and though I did more or less dress up in a costume it certainly wasn’t like the sexy witch I dressed up as the Halloween before.

                Fergus entered the room and walked over to where Jamie stood by the fire, the two of them spoke for a time. He wasn’t dressed in anything special, no his waist coat was the same light blue one he usually wore, the color so very close to his eyes but it was clear it needed mending. My new friend’s eyes fixed on Fergus like she could will him over with her thoughts.

                “What a bonnie lad he is. He’s so… nothing like any of the boys here,” she gushed with a grin.

                 My smile sweetened a little. “I suppose.”

                She gasped and giggled. “You speak!”

                “I’m sorry, I… my Da is sending me to France soon, to my husband.”

                “Oh have ye been courting for long? Does he have fine dark hair like Fergus?”

                I shook my head. “It’s not like that. Someone was courting me but…” I sighed my millionth sigh as I looked at Fergus and he glanced at me and looked away quickly. “Da thought they were beneath me.”

                She looked at me and grinned. “Of course, you’re going to France! Ye look bonnier than a faerie. Would’na be surprised if ya stayed and ended up with a Laird.”

                “But you like Fergus,” I stated as I looked at her and then at him again. I could see them together, smiling and happy. Maybe that was how it was meant to be if I hadn’t gone through the stones.

                “Aye, but I don’t think he’s taken much note of me. I’ve loved him since I was wee. But I think he’s only said about twelve words ta me ever.”

                “Tonight, that’s going to change.” I giggled, someone should be happy and she seemed nice enough.  “What’s your name?”

                “Marsali MacKimmie. At yer service madame,” she faked a bad French accent and dropped into a curtsey.

                “Well Marsali,” I linked arms with her. “I’m going to introduce you to Fergus.”

                “Just like that?” she gaped at me as though introducing her to him were some impossible feat.

                “Mhm,” I half dragged her across the room as Jamie disappeared up the stairs. We stopped in front of Fergus and he nursed his drink with a little smile on his lips.

                “Hello dear stranger, allow me to introduce Marsali MacKimmie,” I prattled off quickly in french, like ripping off a band aid. “She finds you quite handsome.”  It was hard to say it but I managed to push the pain away and smile wide enough to hurt my cheeks.

                He wet his lips and glanced me over as Marsali turned as red as a beet after a moment he bowed his head a little.

                “A pleasure to meet you Marsali,” he kept his voice low, and it played up all the best parts of his accent. He was good at it, he could make someone love him with a look and a word.

                Marsali stood there for a moment more or less mute as she stared at him like she’d never seen a man before. I knew the feeling, the first time I saw him up close he was overwhelming but that wasn’t the case anymore. Now, he was comfortable and familiar… my lips turned to a frown and I twisted on my heel to face away from them.

                “Marsali loves this time of year, don’t you?” Still I didn’t look at him for more than a glance as I kept my attention on the dancing people.

                “Of course, I love holidays. Would you care to dance, Marsali?” He asked, eyes all for her.

                My heart twisted and I turned to look at them then. She nodded and they walked out to the middle where all the couples were dancing and I died inside. Her smile was so big, I’d never seen anyone so happy before. Once they started dancing she began to talk and as they made their little circle he slowly started to grin too. Pain gripped my chest but I smiled through it all, clapping to the music as I pretended to be happy when in truth I was on the edge of screaming and crying all the way back to the stones.

                The music stopped and everyone went outside to watch the lighting of the bonfire and I lost track of Fergus and Marsali on purpose. I didn’t want to see her snuggling close to him by the fire. I stayed at the stairs as everyone made their way to the field.

                “No, no, no! I’ll not have my new friend standing by her lonesome!” Marsali came out of nowhere with Fergus close behind her. She grabbed my arm. “We can all stand together.”

                I twisted from her and shook my head. “No, it’s fine. Go have fun! I don’t want to ruin my skirt.”

                “Fine, but you’re missing the best part!” She grabbed Fergus by the hand and skipped away leaving me alone. As I watched them, I couldn’t help wonder if my mother did the same. If she sensed the end coming and pushed Da toward another woman or if they had the agreement all along.

                “Dinna fash, Nighean,” I jumped at Jamie’s voice, he patted my shoulder and I took a step back from him, glaring.

                “When can I go?” I asked, choking back the emotions I’d kept at bay all night.

                “Ye need a gemstone to travel, I’m tryin’ ta find ye one. I’m meetin’ with someone in a few days about a small one.” He smiled and nodded a little.

                “Thank you.”

                “For what it’s worth the lad is…he cares for ye. This is as much about savin’ him as it is about savin’ ye.” He sighed. “I ken all too well how this will end if I dinna put a stop to him courtin’ ye. He’ll be all torn up inside in ways that’ll never heal. Do ye want that for him?”

                “No but… I don’t have to leave.”

                “Lass, if ye stayed…” he sighed. “I love him like my own blood, but he would’na make for a very good husband.”

                I turned and shoved him, of course it did nothing since he had over a foot of height on me and I might as well have pushed a mountain. He chuckled and smirked.

                “You don’t know that!” I almost stamped my foot, but I did cross my arms over my chest.

                “Bein’ a husband is about more than love, Lassie. It’s about providin’ an honorable living. There aren’t many honorable jobs for men with only one hand.”

                “Guess it doesn’t matter. Go. Stay. Neither matters because I feel like shit either way! Happy birthday to me! Best birthday ever.” My voice echoed but was mostly drowned out by the fire, music and laughter.

                He made a noise, “Christ! Why dinna ye say something?”

                “Why would I?” I wrapped my arms around myself. “Where I come from a birthday is a big deal. Here? I don’t know, I feel like I’m stumbling along blindfolded half the time. I can’t imagine how hard this would be if my family wasn’t obsessed with history but…”  I shook my head and rubbed my arms. “At least I got to wear a pretty dress… while I shoved the only guy I’ve ever felt something toward someone else.”

                He chuckled, “Aye, ‘tis a very bonnie dress.” Drawing a slow breath he looked up at the sky for a moment. “Off to the fire with ye. Go, forget I said anythin’. Enjoy your birthday, Morra.”

                At first I didn’t move, then I gathered my skirts, lifting them a little as I headed out to where everyone was drinking and dancing. The fire cut through the cold, leaving me warm enough to forget how cold my nose had become just from standing on the stairs. I wasn’t certain I wanted to stand with Fergus and Marsali but eventually I joined them, and Marsali pulled me into a tight hug. She was drunk, and smelled like a distillery.

                “I’m so glad you joined us…” she stared blankly for a moment.

                “Moira-Rose,” Fergus said leaning toward us, our eyes locked and the intensity of his gaze left me breathless. “Marsali thanks you’re going to wed a duke.” Again that bitterness was there.

                “Will ye write to me when ye get to France? I’d love to hear about your husband and the dresses and the balls. Your life is going to be so exciting.” Her eyes were eager, and earnest, so the lie that was my answer hurt.

                “If my husband allows me to,” I smoothed the dress and Marsali pushed her cup into my hand. I’d never had a drink before aside from a half glass of wine at Christmas. The stench of the alcohol singed my nose hairs. I took a sip, and instantly my lips went numb, and it burned all the way down. It tasted exactly the way I imagined gasoline to taste. “Today’s my birthday.”

                Marsali snatched the cup back and raised it, “Slangevar!” She giggled and spun around kicking up the hem of her skirt slightly. “Oh! Lets dance! I love dancing,” clearly she was very drunk, but her strength was surprising and there was no fighting her as she dragged me toward the people dancing a few yards away.

                “I don’t know how!” I whined watching the people bouncing about to the music.

                “It’s easy, just do what I do. Oh! Fergus can help!” She blushed as she waved him over. The rest of the night was spent drinking and dancing as the three of us joked around like old friends. Marsali was a halo of light that helped me forget the uneasiness of earlier that evening. But as the crowd thinned her mother dragged her away, chastising her for drinking too much.

                “She is absolutely smitten with you,” I said in French as Fergus walked me back to the house.

                “It is somewhat obvious, and she’s a very nice girl—” he began explaining away and I cut him off.

                “Very pretty too,” I added for him as I walked inside. Lallybroch was quiet beyond the crackle of the fire. He stopped walking then and stared at me.

                “Are you playing the role of procuress now, Milady? I don’t think milord would approve of you practicing such talents,” he teased, and I smirked taking his good hand and twirling under it. We laughed a bit and when I came to face him I raised on my toes and kissed him.

                It was my first kiss and everything I’d dreamed about, he even tasted good; the mulled wine he’d been drinking all night lingered on his lips with the spiciness of cloves, cinnamon and orange. Breathless I broke the kiss and moved to take a step back but he refused to let my hand go, his long pale fingers holding me captive, blue eyes smoldering in the dark with emotions I didn’t understand. The stairs creaked and I damn near jumped out of my skin, yanking my hand back from Fergus.

                “Good night, Fergus,” I called as I started up the stairs.

                “Sweet dreams, Milady,” he answered, the weight of his gaze and whatever he didn’t get to say pressing against me as I went back to my room. Once the door was shut, I pursed my lips and leaned back against it, sighing heavily. Biting my lip as my cheeks burned hot with wine and blush, I couldn’t help but to giggle as I stripped out of the dress and shoes. To my surprise the skirt was hemmed enough that none of the dirt from the field got on it, so I was able to tuck it away back into the chest. But as I laid in bed with the covers pulled over me it wasn’t the dress I was thinking about, or Marsali but Fergus and our kiss and how perfect it made my birthday despite everything else.

***

                Days passed and I woke up to a pleasant almost delicious smell. On my bedside table was a small cup and in it was the mulled wine spice mixed with heather sprigs and salt. I knew Fergus left it to remind me of Allhallowstide and our kiss. Shutting my eyes, I inhaled deeply and smiled before setting the potpourri back. I dressed back in the pale purple wool dress and as I stared at my hair I wished I could have done more to it.

                Downstairs one of the servants passed two letters to me. One was sealed and from Marsali, I tucked it away in my skirt pocket to read later. The other didn’t have a name on it, but was written in French.

Meet me in the stables after everyone’s gone to sleep.

                I clutched the letter to my chest, it had to be from Fergus. Tucking it away, I took out the letter from Marsali and read it. It was long and rambling and included a letter to give to Fergus. For a moment I was upset, then I realized I didn’t have any reason to be. It was what I wanted after all, or at least it was what I wanted at Allhallowstide before I kissed him. Jamie had gone to Inverness, and chances were that when he came back he’d have the gem I needed to return but I wasn’t certain I wanted to leave anymore. At least not yet, maybe it was selfish, but I wanted to see where everything with Fergus would go.

                That night I snuck out to the stables in my shift, with a thick woolen blanket around my shoulders. It was frigidly cold and took considerable effort for me to walk the short ways to the stables and not run back inside to my warm bed. There was a candle lit in the stables, and when I entered I found Fergus sitting on a blanket with a basket. I’d brought my bag with me, and inside of it was the letter for him from Marsali and my tarot cards—I might have left the bag but the cards were always with me.

                “Happy birthday, I know it’s late but I couldn’t let such a day pass without celebrating.” He chuckled and pulled back the cloth on the top of the basket revealing a bottle of wine, two glasses bread and cheese. It might not have been something fancy, but I appreciated it all the same. Cradling the bottle against his body, he worked the cork out one handed and filled both glasses.

                “Salut,” I raised mine and took a sip. It was then that I realized I was on my first date and I had to set my glass down and rub my cheeks to stop them from burning. “Oh, this… is from Marsali.” I took out the letter and handed it to him. He stared at it for a while before shaking his head.

                “Unfortunately, I can’t even acknowledge that other women even exist in your presence. Your beauty is blinding,” he purred with a happy little grin before taking a sip of wine, though after he did set the glass down, take the letter and set it to the side.

                “I don’t need to be flattered.”  I ran my fingers back through my hair and pulled the mass of waves over my shoulder. “As long as I can remember everyone’s called me beautiful, or pretty, or bonnie. The last thing I need is someone else pandering to my vanity… no matter how much it makes me blush when you do it.” I bit my bottom lip and sighed. “I’m here because… I want to talk to you, to get to know you without other people hovering over us like I’m six seconds from stripping naked and jumping on you like a wild animal.”

                 He lulled his head back for a moment, his dark hair brushing his shoulders. “Why didn’t you stay in France? Not that I’m not benefiting from you being here, but you don’t strike me as well suited to Scotland.” He reached out and touched my palm, “You have very soft hands and skin, I can scarcely imagine the leisurely life you lived in France.”

                My lips pulled into a frown all on their own, I didn’t want to have to lie to him. It took a moment for me to fit the truth into a workable box. Drawing a breath I shook my head.

                “When my mother died, it was like someone cut out my heart.” I paused realizing it was the first time I’d told anyone any semblance of what I felt about it all. Shaking my head I continued, “I was so close to her, she was my dearest friend. I told her everything, my dreams of the future, the boys I liked, what I thought of the books I read. She would have adored you and warned me off you.” I giggled. “She always said be very wary of pretty men. But… her husband wanted to replace her immediately, I felt like I blinked and he was engaged to some woman I’d never even met. So, I left for Scotland because it hurt too much to watch my mother be so easily forgotten…” I swirled the wine in the glass, pouring myself out to him didn’t make me feel any better about any of it, but his fingers trailing over my palm in intricate and indistinctive patterns did make me feel a little better.

                “What a kind and tender heart you have,” he looked me over and wet his lips before pulling his hand back from mine and sipping his wine. His lips curled up in a thoughtful smile that I returned, though the cold was starting to get to me. Shivering I crawled over and sat beside him. I leaned against him to leech his heat and to my surprise he draped his arm across my shoulders, drawing me near.  After a moment he chortled, “Though one can’t help but wonder if you are aware of the irony.” He picked up Marsali’s letter from the blanket and turned his hand over as he opened it, the gesture was graceful. Fergus had a way about his hand that I’d noticed from time to time, he liked to touch things in this light and graceful manner. With his fingers out stretched logic would have the letter on the blanket but it wasn’t for all intents and purposes it had disappeared. All it took was him turning his hand palm up and flicking his wrist for the letter to reappear—or rather fall into his hand from his cuff. I applauded all the same, it was interesting to watch slight of hand up close. He laughed shaking his head.

                “I didn’t know you were a magician,” I looked up at him and he closed his eyes for a few moments, sadness rolled of his features like a storm softening lines and making the corners of his mouth fall.  He cracked the seal of the letter and opened it, I’d have commented on his dexterousness with one hand but that had been his life as long as I’d known him.

                “Dear Fergus,” he started reading the letter. “I enjoyed dancing with you at Allhallowstide very much and hope to get a chance to do the same at Hogmanay. I still cannot believe I was able to dance with you, every time I think about it, it feels like a dream I had.  My mother chastised me for dancing with you on account of you being French I think. I pay her no mind and neither should you. Are you well? I heard there’s fever in Inverness I hope it doesn’t reach Lallybroch. I like the snow and the cold but I don’t like the sickness that comes with it. Do you like the winter?  At the bonfire I saw you watching Moira-Rose when she talked to her father. She’s a very bonnie lass, but we both know she’s going to marry the man in France. Looking is fine, all I ask is that you save a place in your heart for me because soon she’ll be gone but I’ll still be here. Awaiting your reply, Marsali.” He stared at the letter for a moment, was he thinking about what could have been if I weren’t there?

                “You should write her back,” I wet my lips and sighed. “Because she’s right.”

                “I know she’s right, but until you leave I have no plans on courting another.”

                “And yes, I know it’s contradictory for me to urge you toward Marsali considering the reason I’m here but… I don’t want you miserable.”

                He laughed and kissed my hair. “Unfortunately, it is far too late for that. A month ago it would have been the loss of your beauty, a thing any man would mourn. Now?” He smirked and shook his head. “Now it will be the taste of your lips, the scent of your skin, and the warmth of your heart.” He claimed my mouth with his and drew me closer as he kissed me deep enough to taste my soul. When the kiss broke he didn’t push things further, instead he kissed my cheek and leaned back against the stall behind us as I leaned against him, dizzy and breathless.

                “I wish I could stay right here.” I nuzzled against his shoulder. “And never leave.”

***

                Every night after that Fergus and I stole away and had our moments when I would lay in his arms and we’d discuss our days and what was going on at Lallybroch and the springs of heather were placed on my bed side table every morning again. There was always a bottle of wine for us to share or something he’d taken from the kitchen, usually bread and cheese but sometimes it was sweets. With the addition of our nightly rendezvous, I found myself less than enthusiastic when Jamie rode up two weeks later as I was picking herbs from the little garden Jenny had set aside for me. It was growing colder, and I could tell just by looking at the sky that it would snow soon. Young Ian darted from the stables to greet Jamie but I stayed where I was, binding herbs and tucking them away in my bag for later use. I knew how to treat fevers, coughs, colds, the flu and even treat minor wounds with herbs thanks to my grandma. There were doctors in this time but I would rather trust myself over them.

                Wiping my hands on my apron I stood a Jamie approached grinning at me, he pushed some of my hair behind my ear. His cheeks were flushed pink and slightly dewy but I couldn’t tell if it was from the ride, cold or something else. That a side he seemed in good spirits as he grinned at me.

                “You’ll have your gem in time for advent. But for now,” he reached into the bag at his side, producing something wrapped in fabric. “Happy Birthday, my wee Leannan.”  He handed the parcel over and I took it, folding back the cloth to reveal pressed charcoal and a leather-bound journal of drawing paper. Under the leather journal was a book about the herbs of Scotland. I hugged him close and took a step back, beaming up at him.

                “Thank you, Da,” I couldn’t call him anything else. He’d looked after me like a father since I came through the stones. It felt right so I went with it, and his eyes sparkled a bit as he nodded and draped his arm over my shoulders.

                “’Tis nothin’, hopefully it will help ye pass the days a bit easier. I ken it’s taking longer than I said.” We walked into the housed together, Jenny passed us and grinned but didn’t say anything.

                “I think I want to stay a bit longer if you don’t mind. Until Hogmanay at the latest.”

                “Aye, but no later. Your own Da must be rife with worry,” he spoke softly and I shrugged.

                “Maybe, I understand a little what he did now. But…”

                “But you’re of a marriageable age, and bonnie enough that you’ve already caught the attention of quite a few suitors during Allhallowstide. If ye stay ye need to marry in the year and it cannot be to Fergus. I’m sorry, lassie.” He shook his head and sighed. “You’re my blood, Morra… and I cannot allow ye to put yourself through all o’ that because ye dinna ken what it really means, or how hard your life with him will be. If I thought you kent it I’d give ye my blessing,” as he spoke he kept his voice quiet and even and there were emotions there I didn’t fully understand. He cared and his opinion came from him wanting the best for me. I wanted to hate him for it, but I couldn’t bring myself to. Fergus was a servant, and no matter how I felt for him I knew his life would be difficult. Frowning I nodded and sniffled and like he felt my pain Fergus turned the corner.

                “Milord?” Fergus knit his dark brows as I wiped my tears.

                “Moira-Rose is leaving the day after Hogmanay for France,” Jamie stated plainly, as though he didn’t know the effect his words might have on Fergus.

                Fergus’s lips twisted, and his eyes settled on me for a moment before retuning to Jamie. “Are we to travel with her, Milord?”

                “No, her mother’s relations will meet us in Inverness, and accompany her back to France. I’m sorry, Lad,” Jamie patted my back, then Fergus’s and left us standing in the hall. Hope died in his eyes, the light deep in that enthralling blue snuffed out.

                “Congratulations, Milady,” his voice was tight, but he bowed all the same.

                “Thank you,” the two words came slow and almost mechanical in nature like I’d forgotten how to be human in that moment. I wanted to scream myself hoarse as we stared at each other in silence. I wet my lips and looked around.

                “I have letters to take to Balriggan, Milady.  Excuse me,” he stepped around me.

                “Be safe,” at my voice he paused and turned, giving me a small smile and a bow of his head before continuing on his way. Balriggan was where Marsali lived. With a deep breath I willed away my sadness and sat in one of the chairs before the fire. I meant to read, but all I could do was think about Fergus and Marsali as I toyed with the sprig of heather tucked behind my ear.

***

                It was too cold to meet, or at least that was the excuse passed to my hands by one of the servants after dinner. In a month and two weeks I’d be back in the twenty-first century, Instagram and central heating. As much as I longed for it, and not having to hide how I felt about someone because of their social standing of all things, the thought of not seeing Fergus ever again physically hurt. Which was why I took my little bag, now free of herbs which were drying above the hearth in my room, and headed to find him. It was cold enough that I took the cloak with it’s hood from the wardrobe when I went out looking for him. I pulled it over my head and thought I looked like the heroine of some adventure movie as I sought out Fergus’s room. Though as I stood in the little hallway I realized that I had no clue which room was his. Most were full of snores, one even had enthusiastic moans that left me blushing and covering my mouth as I walked the small narrow hallway. I opened one door as quietly as I could, and found a woman sleeping. After I shut it I couldn’t help but to think I was being foolish, but at the same time I needed to talk to him.

                “Fergus?” I whispered to no reply. I tried another door and found him reading by candle in bed wearing nothing but his shirt, his breeks were folded across the back of a small chair. The room was tinier than I remembered them being. Barely big enough for the thin bed, desk, night table and chair. There wasn’t a window and I couldn’t help but think it looked more a kin to a dungeon than anywhere someone would sleep willingly—and yet there I was.

                “Milady,” He sat up a little, his attention going to where the wooden hand sat on the table just out of reach. It was the first time I’d ever seen him without it, or so undressed though he’d seen me in my shift plenty of times. Taking great care not to raise his amputated arm from under the covers he set the book to the side. “You should not be here.”

                “No, this is exactly where I should be,” I whispered as I shut the door and walked over to the bed. “How was Balriggan?” I asked sitting on the hard straw mattress, it was far different from the feather one I’d slept on for the last month and a half.

                “Milady…. Moira-Rose, please,” he half breathed it, and then I noticed in the dim light that his cheeks looked flushed. Fever had flushed his cheeks and caused a furrow of pain in his brow, the heat from his forehead against my lips only confirmed my suspicions. Without an accurate thermometer I’d never know how high his fever really is, and people could die from fever.

                “Put your breeks on, you’re coming up stairs with me,” I caressed his cheek and he coughed, shaking his head.

                “If I’m found in your room you could be lashed,” he croaked and I shook my head.

                “I don’t care.” Standing I grabbed his trousers from the back of the chair and threw them at him. “You’re not going to sit alone while sick.” He coughed again and nodded I turned away from him and faced the door as he put on his trousers. In no time we made our way back up to my room as I tried to think about what herbs I’d collected and if I had everything my grandma put in her ointments and teas for fever. Unlike the times before, Fergus didn’t seem to worry about people finding us.

                Once we reached my room I made him lay down and felt his forehead again, he was burning up. Sweat slicked some of his dark curls around his face. I pressed my ear to his chest and listened.

 

                “Grandma, what are you doing?” I asked peering at my grandma as she sat on the bed next to Da with her ear to his chest. Damp with sweat his skin held a sheen to it that distracted from his freckles as my grandma sat up. I’d finished Kindergarten not a month before, and while my mother finished up at Harvard Da and I left early to visit Grandma. Da went to bed early complaining of a headache not an hour before.

                “Shhh, I’m listening to him breathe.” She pressed her finger to her lips and grinned at me. “Would you like to be my helper?” Her gray eyes sparkled as wrung out a cloth and dabbed at Da’s forehead.

                “Is Da going to be okay?” I frowned as he groaned and squirmed.

                “Aye, if you help me by the time your mum arrives it’ll be like he never had the flu.”

                “Why are you listening to him breath?”

                “To know which herbs to give him. Come here,” she picked me up and pulled me into her lap. “Put your ear to his chest, hold your breath and listen.”

                Pressing my ear to Da’s chest I listened to his breathing, there was a strange dull crackling noise. I pulled back and Grandma put me on the ground.

                “What did you hear, wee bonnie lassie?” She asked, rubbing my chin with her thumb.

                “Crackles like Rice Crispies.”

                She pursed her lips, “Hmm, that means your Da doesn’t have the flu. Your Da has pneumonia. I need you to get the tea ball, and the meadowsweet and peppermint jars. The cheese cloth, and the cinnamon and cloves.” We all went downstairs, and she showed me how to mix up a tea of peppermint and Meadowsweet, the clove and cinnamon she steeped in boiling water with the cheese cloth. When we took everything upstairs, she burned of bundle of sage next to the bed, and made Da drink the tea, before placing the warm cheese cloth over his face.

 

                With each breath his lungs crackled like dishsoap bubbles popping. I walked over to the hearth where I’d laid the herbs I’d picked to dry and picked up two bundles of sage and tossed them on the fire. They weren’t quite dry yet so they smoked a bit, but I knew the sage would help purify the air regardless. The meadowsweet had dried enough for tea, I snatched up the thyme and peppermint. I knew the smoke would be beneficial for his lungs. I paced like a mad woman as he watched me.

                “I need to get water, I’ll be right back,” I said before darting out of the room, I ran as fast as I could to the kitchen. Out of breath, I grabbed a pitcher of water, two pots and a bowl. Hobbling I returned and found him smirking, though I wasn’t certain he actually saw me as I made an incense out of the cloves from the potpourri, thyme, and peppermint, burning it in one of the pots I’d brought up next to the bed. The other pot I used to boil half the water for tea.

                “It’s not that bad,” he hoarsed out before coughing again.

                I dabbed a wet cloth on his forehead, “Hush now, you need to rest. I’ll wake you when the tea’s ready.” I kissed his forehead and sat back.

                Dawn crested by the time he finally fell asleep and the crackling in his lungs abated. I couldn’t sleep, so I took the down time to sketch him in charcoal. He made very little noises in sleep, though on occasion he’d murmur in French things too colloquial for me to understand. One of the maids came in and screamed when she opened the door. I jumped over Fergus as he sat up and darted for the door, glaring at the woman in her white bonnet like I could set her on fire if I stared hard enough. Shoving her out of the room I shut the door, but the damage had been done. Jenny and Jamie came down the hall toward me.

                “Mistress, she has Fergus in her chambers!” The maid whispered scandalously to Jenny. I crossed my arms.

                “Yes, I do, and you could have gone and gotten my Da and Aunt Jenny without waking him up!” I snapped at the woman.

                “What’s the meaning of this now, Morra?” Jamie glared at me. “Dinna I just tell you—” I cut him off.

                “He’s ill, and I think I can—”

                “What d’ye mean ye think?” Jenny sneered. “D’ye think it’s wise havin’ a man in yer bed? With that gossip knowin’ there won’t be a soul in Lallybroch who don’t ken it by supper.”

                My brows furrowed, “Check on Young Ian.” I could deal with them being angry at me, but I really was worried about Young Ian. It was possible he could have it too, only unlike Fergus he’d have gone untreated all night.

                “Why?” Jenny countered.

                “Send someone to check on him please, he might have the same thing. Fergus and he spend time together when he’s doing his chores.”

                “And you ken how to heal ‘em?” Jenny lofted a brow skeptically, but Jamie nodded a little considering me.

                “The lass kens her herbs well, Jenny.” Jamie rubbed his temples and looked at the maid. “Go check on Young Ian.” The maid curtsied and ran off.

                “This won’t be the first time a lassie under this roof has tried that one to excuse a man in her bed.” Jenny snorted.

                “I’m sure ‘tis nothing more than Claire would do.”

                “For you,” Jenny countered eyeing Jamie.

                “Morra, stay out here with your Aunt.” He stepped passed me and opened the door, disappearing into the room.

                “Ye—” Jenny started but was cut off.

                “Mistress!” The maid shouted as she ran up, “Young Ian and Janet have taken ill.”

                “Christ,” Jenny shook her head. “I’m sorry, Lassie. But ye ken full well that dinna look good. What do ye need to treat everyone?”

                Sleep and I became strangers, the rest of the day I ran between rooms brewing teas and making incense to burn. The next day was much the same, I barely ate and every free moment I spent in my room watching Fergus carefully. Young Ian’s fever broke the second day, Janet’s the third but Fergus’s lingered and I lingered with him at his bed side. The fifth day, I fell asleep beside him, with my ear pressed to his chest. When I woke up, I found Jamie in the room sitting in a chair opposite the bed. Squinting my eyes I sat up and Jamie twitched his head toward Fergus with a grin.

                I sat up and turned finding Fergus leaning back against the headboard awake and smiling. He said something but I didn’t hear it as I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed him as hard as I could—which wasn’t very hard all things considering. After the hug I pressed my ear to his chest, there was some crackling in his lungs though nothing like before. All of a sudden the fear of losing Fergus that I’d pushed away while tending everyone hit me all at once and tears flowed freely down my cheeks as I clung to him. I didn’t care that Jamie was in the room all that mattered was he was awake and alive and his fever broke.

                “I thought I lost you,” I murmured to Fergus’s chest, the fine hair there prickling my cheek.

                “Not even death could keep me from you,” he whispered to my hair, but he didn’t kiss me, nor did I kiss him though I wanted to. I did nuzzle against him before standing and walking over to the mantle. He stared coughing again as I snatched up a few of the sprigs of heather. Heather and thyme would help quiet his cough. I mixed the Thyme in the mortar and pestle and wrapped it up in a little cheese clothe sachet before dipping it in the boiling pot of water to steep.

                “Are you thinking of Milady, Milord?” Fergus asked, his voice a half shade of what it once was, scratchy and hoarse. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the Milady in question wasn’t me but Claire, the mother of my ancestor and Jamie’s wife.

                “Aye.”

                “Does this mean I’m not going to get lashed for having a man in my bed?” I snorted and raised a brow glancing at Jamie before I checked the tea and poured a large cup for Fergus.

                “No, ye did well by the family, lassie. It would be a shame to punish ye for it.” He smirked and glanced between Fergus and I. “Discretion, is all I ask. That and her virtue remains intact.”

                “Of course, Milord. So, I have your blessing to court her?” Fergus asked carefully as I brought him the cup and sat beside him.

                “Aye, lad, ye do but like I said, ye must be careful. She’s still bound for France after Hogmanay.”

                “Thank you, Milord,” the joy in his voice made me grin as well. I bowed my head a bit in gratitude to Jamie and Fergus claimed my mouth with his, it felt like a wedding kiss as Jamie chuckled and I wrapped my arms around Fergus’s neck. I broke the kiss and playfully shoved him.

                “Drink your tea, Claudel,” I chastised him in French with a swift peck on the forehead as Jamie stood and headed for the door. With a quick look back at us he left with a pleased smile on his face.

 



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