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.

For Comfort’s Sake

Autumn 1772 (spoilers for Season 5 episode 11)

                Cicadas hissed and chirped, their familiar call brought me into consciousness, and I stared up at the sky—waiting for the chemtrails of jets or for Nathan to stand over me and finish what he started the night before. My bag was still over my shoulder and I still clutched the torn map in one hand. I held my hand up and inspected the engagement ring, one of the two diamonds beside the large yellow one was gone—payment for my passage like the ruby before. Exhausted as I was, I still breathed easier as I pulled myself from the ground and looked at the map. The creek was still in the same place, and it looked like it would eventually turn into a river that would lead me to Frasers Ridge. The problem was it would take a while. I unwrapped the tartan from around the dress and draped it over my arms and head a bit, shielding me from the sun. I could make it in four days if I slept very little.

                Four days. I can make it four days.

                The scent of smoke filled the air, and the acrid stench of burning canvas stung my eyes. Coughing and squinting I walked toward the smoke. Maybe I could be of some help? What I found were the charred and still smoking ruins of a cabin and a girl burned and melted into the side. Trembling I could do nothing but stare and cry as I was confronted with the reality of the time I found myself in. Truth be told it could happen at any time, but that didn’t make it any easier to look at as the girl with her sightless seared blue eyes croaked up at the sky.

                There were sounds, quiet conversation and footsteps, but I couldn’t stop looking at the girl. Voices called out all around and a familiar looking man with large blue eyes and brown hair stepped around taking off his hat and clutching it to his chest as he stared at the melted girl with her charred, oozing flesh.

                “Oh god,” he gasped, fixated on the girl half melted to the ground beside the cabin. I couldn’t react, I couldn’t move or even think. Jamie rounded the corner but I didn’t go to him and fling my arms around him for a happy reunion. Instead, I listened as he said a prayer for the girl, and the familiar man smothered her with his hand.  They crossed themselves and I shut my eyes shedding a tear and drawing a ragged breath.

                “Da…” I whined, and Jamie blinked like he was seeing me for the first time. The man on the ground turned in confusion as Jamie went to me, pulling me into his arms and hugging me close. I bawled in his arms like a little girl, trembling like a leaf, my breath coming in gasps as he rocked me. Others came over, I heard their footsteps between my sobs.

                “Shhh, dinna fash. Yer safe now, shh,” he cooed to me, drawing back and inspecting the ruined side of my face, still bruised and swollen from Nathan’s rough treatment. “Christ,” he cursed under his breath.

                “Jamie, who is she?” An older woman with dark hair tinged with grey spoke in a British accent. She was pretty with large blue eyes and tall, they were all so tall making me feel so very not as I sniffled and stepped away.

                “This is Moira-Rose Fraser… and she’s like the three of you, a traveler and our blood kin.”

                The dark haired woman furrowed her brows and approached me. “I… I have pictures.” I reached into my bag and opened the antique box full of herbs. In the bottom were a few pictures of my mom and Da, and my grandma and grandpa with some of Grandma’s cousins. That was when I recognized the man, or rather his eyes. I handed the photographs to the woman.

                “I see where you get your red hair,” the woman grinned down at the picture and held it up to Jamie. “Your mother is beautiful, is she Italian?”

                “Her father was a French noble, her mother was Haitian and Indige—Indian but I didn’t know the tribe. She was a military historian, if there was some sort of military encounter tied to a revolution she knew everything about it.”

                “And your father?”

                “He knew everything about Scotland, but lectured about this time period specifically, very intellectual but the man knew how to toss a caber,” I sniffled and shook my head. “He and Grandma were in a car accident last Christmas and I’m…” I swallowed.

                “Claire, why don’t ye sit with Morra on the cart while I take care o’ the others,” Jamie nodded toward the charred house and Claire, nodded and put her arms around my shoulders leading me to the cart. We sat on the back and I pulled the linen tartan close around my shoulders.

                “How are you related to Jamie? Your father… he looks exactly like him. There’s no doubting you’re a relation but how?”

                I looked at her, for a moment studying her features. “You and Jamie have a son shortly before the revolutionary war.”

                She shook her head, “That’s impossible I’m afraid.”

                “Improbable, not impossible.”

                Her pale eyes darted over my face, “What happened to you?”

                “Whiskey and my fiancé. I tried to leave him before but… he found me. This time I went where he couldn’t follow.”  I ran my fingers through my hair, pulling the fiery locks over one eye. “I know you’re a healer, I am too. I’m a certified Naturopath and physical therapist, it’s… I treat people with natural remedies, and I can use reflexology and massage to help manage pain.”

                “You are quite the accomplished young lady. I couldn’t help but notice…” she passed the pictures back to me with the photograph of my grandmother with her cousins on top. “You do have family left.” She looked at the younger version of the man I knew as Great Uncle Roger.

                “We’re not close, they’ve never been that welcoming to me. They love my father but I’m… I’m half tempted to say I do something here to upset them.” I sighed and held my face as it started to throb again. “I’m just so tired, all I want is to see Marsali and Fergus, put some leeches on my black eye and sleep.”

                After they buried the dead, I rode in the back of the cart with the parcels to the big house at Fraser’s Ridge. It was larger than I’d expected it to be, with two stories and a horde of children playing out front. I stared for a moment or two before lowering myself from the back of the wagon. So far I didn’t regret my decision. Then Marsali came out of the house, her belly large with child and hair tucked under a white bonnet. When I left she’d been a year younger than me, now that didn’t seem the case. Child rearing and the pioneer life lined her face, but hadn’t dulled the joy in her eyes. She ran to me and pulled me off balance as she yanked me into a hug with a little squeal of delight.

                “Look at you! You look so—” she stopped as the wind blew my hair out from over my eye and split lip.  Her lips turned into a frown and she hugged me. “You were right about Fergus, I wore him down just like you said.” She giggled but the sound was slightly off tune.

                “Oh, I can see, multiple times even,” I laughed and pulled the tartan closed. “I hear you have a plethora of babies.”

                “Aye, we have Germain, our first, who looks more and more like his Da with each day. Then wee Joanie, and Felicite, and now this one. Fergus insists on teaching the bairns French. I’ve learned some, but I don’t ken how ye do it.”

                “What do you mean?”

                “I remember how ye used to speak it, no hesitation no thinking… ye just spoke it like we’re speaking now, like it was as easy as breathin’.”

                I smirked a bit, then winced as the tug of my lip split my lip again. I touched the wound and came away with blood.

                “Growing up in France I had little choice in the matter, but practice helps.” I tilted my head from side to side.  “You should try one night speaking in nothing but French. If you don’t know how to say something… tell him.”  If I didn’t think about it being Fergus, I could help Marsali with her French husband and be happy for her.

                Then Fergus walked out of the big house, stopping at the bottom of a set of stairs he stared at me like I wasn’t really there. It was like seeing him ride up to Lallybroch for the first time all those years ago, the world moved a little slower with those eyes of his focused on me. The wind blew hard again pulling my hair back and revealing the bruised and battered half of my face. As we neared him I could almost see that night I read our cards reflected in his eyes, and how he begged me not to go. All I wanted was to fall into his arms and cry, but I couldn’t. Not with Marsali there, I didn’t want to hurt her. At the same time I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d made a mistake by going back again. Maybe I was meant to have stayed in my own time with Nathan. Maybe I was supposed to be the blood sacrifice for Fergus’s happiness.

                “Fergus! Look who Daddy and Claire brought,” Marsali beamed, stooping to rest her head against my shoulder. “Can ye believe it?”

                Fergus and I stared at each other and it was like no time had passed at all, though there was a certain sadness in his eyes as he shut his eyes before looking away.

                “It’s like a dream,” he smiled though it looked somewhat forced and I couldn’t help to wonder if Marsali noticed it too. “I have a letter to deliver, so I will be home somewhat late, Ma Coeur.” He kissed her forehead as he stepped passed us.

                “Not too late, Fergus Fraser,” she called with a giggle staring after him like a lovesick girl.

***

                It was dark when I awoke, only blue moonlight illuminated the small room off Claire’s surgery that they’d given me. Someone had removed the leeches while I slept, Claire helped me place them for my bruise before I fell asleep, or more like passed out. It was hot and humid, and my skin was slick with sweat that made the linen shift Claire gave me stick to my body. I was smaller than her, shorter and finer boned, but my shape had more of a curve. My unbound wild red mane brushed my hips as I stood and opened a window to let a breeze in. I heard a horse then, and footsteps go through the main house. The walls were relatively thin so I could hear some of the conversation in the parlor or rather snips of it.

                Opening my herb case, I tucked the pictures away in the hidden bottom and took out the lilac perfume. Closing my eyes, I held the bottle under my nose and wallowed in its scent my lips curling into a smile as I recalled finding it on the bedside table. I placed a few drops on my wrists, neck and between my breasts before tucking the bottle away again. Laying back in bed I wallowed in the familiar calming smell. There was a soft knock on the door, and I sat up and walked over.

                Cracking the door I found Fergus on the other side. I let him in, powerless to otherwise. Once the door shut, he pulled me into a tight embrace, burying his face in my hair. Bathing in his scent in my mind I saw everything that could have been, everything that we couldn’t have. The wedding, the children, the small cabin tucked away where we’d raise our children and grow old. Again, there was no future with him, but it was all my doing. I’d come into his life both too early and too late.

                With a step away from him, I leaned back against the post of the wooden bed and he dropped to his knees and pressed his face to my stomach with ragged rasped breathing. He trembled as I stroked his black hair, tamed by the ponytail. I missed the wild curls.

                “I shouldn’t have let you go,” he whispered in French. “I should have ridden after you and snuck aboard the ship. I should have…” he didn’t finish his thought. Was it going to be never married Marsali? I stroked his cheek and he looked up at me.

                “Everything happened like it was supposed to, Claudel.” I trailed my fingers down his cheek and across his jaw. “You have a wife who adores you, and so many children. You’ve been happy.

                “I’d almost forgotten about your face when you drew those cards for yourself. The fear and agony in your eyes. Even while Marsali lay beside me in bed, I thought of you and the horror you might be enduring at the hands of your husband and my heart would break every night.”  He swallowed and pressed his cheek to my shift again.

                Sighing, I kissed his forehead and helped pull him to standing as I tried to find a way to explain the truth of my last six years to him.

                “When I returned to France, I wasn’t married right away. The original engagement fell through. I studied healing and lived with relatives. They died, and I… thought I found someone I could love.” I sat on the side of the bed. “He was sweet to me during the courtship, but once I became his wife he…” I swallowed and couldn’t find the words… standing I untied the shift and shrugged out of it letting it pool at my feet, revealing my body in all its bruised glory his eyes brimmed with tears as he looked me over. “This.” Pulling the shift back on I held myself. “I’d heard word of Fraser’s Ridge, and I left into the woods.”

                “Where is he?” Tension and rage brewed on his features and I opened the box and took out the engagement ring I slipped it on my finger and held my hand out to him. The gem looked obscenely large on my small hand.

                “This is my wedding ring, Claudel. Some people are too powerful to go after. He doesn’t know Da settled in the area, he can’t hurt me here,” I spoke, shaking my head. He took my hand and tilted it to the side, the massive diamond in the middle catching light. “If you want to do something for me…” I shut my eyes. “Go home to Marsali and your children.”

                “What?” His brows knit, “You cannot be serious.”

                “It hurts, but it’s the right thing. You have children and a life with her, I’m—”

                “The woman I love more than life itself.”

                “Don’t say that.”

                “But it’s true. I care for Marsali, but comparing my feelings for her with my feelings for you? A candle is a poor substitute for the sun, no?” The honesty in that strikingly blue gaze unnerved me and I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d done more harm than good by suggesting he take up with Marsali when I left. Regardless my mind was made up, the choice had been made and couldn’t be unmade.

                “And yet a candle lights a room all the same,” I countered, raising my chin as I walked over to the door and held it open. “Go home, Fergus.” Calling him Fergus out loud was so strange, to me that wasn’t his name. He was eternally Claudel to me, my Claudel. My hope was that it would sink in that I was serious.  He meandered slowly to the door, pausing inches from me. That familiar scent of him was intoxicating and I had to fight myself not to pull him to me and taste his lips again. Instead I trembled and stared at him with my chin raised. “If doing the right thing was easy, there’d be no martyrs, saints, or confessional.” At my words, he leaned his forehead to mine, took a few breaths then left.

***

                When I woke up shortly after dawn, in a chair was a dress for me and a sprig of false indigo wrapped up with climbing aster. Flowers he’d picked for me on the way from his cabin with Marsali and the children in tow, no doubt. I remembered how easily he slipped away her first letter, was it much the same? I was thinking too much about him. Shaking my head I got out of bed and dressed, leaving the flowers to the side. I braided my hair over my shoulder, and the long foxpelt rope of hair reached almost to my hip. I tucked the flowers behind my ear, the dress was a nice neutral homespun color that played up my warm skin tone, green eyes and bright red hair.

                When I entered the surgery I found Claire sitting with Fergus, the wooden hand was off and she was inspecting the stump of his delicate wrist by candle light. He studied me carefully.

                “Good morning, Milady,” He spoke softly, Claire flinched toward me and I walked over.

                “He’s having pain in his… hand,” she explained. Sighing I nodded a little, stress could have aggravated phantom limb pain. “It prevented him from sleeping.”

                “I’ll be back.” I left and retrieved my herb case and placed it on the table. I took out a dram of lavender and eucalyptus oil sealed with a cork and smirked. “You’re going to smell like a cheap whore’s perfume,” I teased rubbing the oil on my hands. “Whatever will poor Marsali think?” Once I warmed the oil in my hands I massaged his forearm, tracing the bones and muscles with delicate pressure. With the absence of a medical chart and knowing that his hand wasn’t removed by a surgeon but a soldier I was betting there were nerve clusters left behind.

                “Were the two of you well acquainted before?” Claire asked as I continued my tactile expedition of Fergus’s forearm and wrist.

                “Yes,” I answered without guile as I looked into his eyes. “We were very close when I was at Lallybroch.” I returned my attention to his forearm, forcing myself to be the professional I’d been for the last two years. I knew what his problem was within moments of pressing at the end of the stump, there were nerves left. Not only that but the pucker of the skin told me that he might as well have been sewn back up by a butcher. “Tell me about the pain?” I asked in French.

                “Sometimes it itches, other times it’s a stabbing pain. Mostly it feels like the hand is clenched in a fist, I can almost feel my nails digging into the palm,” he whispered as Marsali walked in.

                “How often does it happen? The clenching.”

                “The severity differs, but twice a week. Usually a few minutes and it passes.” He didn’t notice that Marsali had entered, he didn’t even look toward the door when it opened and shut. I was the center of his world as I massaged his arm, I knew from his breathing that the pain had passed. Were it the twenty-first century and I was at the clinic where I worked I’d have referred him for corrective surgery, since it was the eighteenth century, I sighed.

                “I’ll teach Marsali how to massage your arm in a way that will relieve the clenching. But it won’t be a fix.” Maybe I could make a mirror box for him and we could do mirror therapy to help. Pursing my lips I tilted my head to the side.

                “So yer a healer too?” Marsali asked as I wiped my hands of oil on Fergus’s hand. He still hadn’t looked up at his wife and was instead watching my hands.

                “She’s quite gifted at healing by touch, actually,” Claire said smiling at Marsali. “There was little I could do for Fergus.”

                “Thank you, I know about some things… others not as much.” I smiled at her and tucked the oils away back into the chest before shutting it.

 

                Later that day, I helped Claire in the garden while a mass of children played by the laundry line with one of the women of the settlement. It was a warm day, and I felt like I was baking to death in the fall heat. A boy ran over with big blue eyes and a mass of dark curls. I knew whose child it was just from the glance. In his little had was a yellow dandelion. He couldn’t have been more than five.

                “For me?” I asked in French and he nodded and took a step closer putting the flower behind my  other ear. He touched one of my bruises gently with his little hand.

                “I’m sorry you’re hurt.”

                “I’ll be okay. Thank you for the flower.”  He wrapped his little arms around me, and I touched his hair as I hugged him back. In a different world he could have been my child. “Go play.” He stole a kiss on my cheek and ran off.

                “How long have you been in love with Fergus?” Claire asked in French drawing my attention.

                “Since the day I laid eyes on him,” I answered as I continued to weed the herbs. “Which is why before I left I suggested he court Marsali. I didn’t want him miserable.”

                “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling. When I went through the stones myself, I never entertained even for a moment that Jamie wouldn’t be waiting for me  frozen in time. That sounds terrible, I did expect that he’d have a life but I never truly entertained there would be others. It was jarring at first, but I grew used to it.”

                “But it’s different. Marsali is a friend, I wrote to her constantly while at Lallybroch. I was their go between, their Cyrano. I urged him to reply to the letters she sent him through me.” I furrowed my brows as I watched the little boy play with the others. “He has a pregnant wife, who is my friend, and several children with her. There’s nothing to do. Yes, I came back because I wanted to be with him but I knew this was a possibility. Hours before I went to the stones I met a man descended from Germain Fraser, who I assume is that little boy. He looked so much like Fergus it was painful, so I knew to expect it. I made my choice when I made him write her back.” I wet my lips, shutting my eyes and listening to the sounds of children playing and the wind through the trees. “When children are involved there’s no do over.”

                “That is very admirable, you sound like a young lady with everything sorted out,” Claire said, smiling at me.

                Giggling I shook my head slowly, “Not really, but thank you.” I trailed my fingers over my braid and thought for a moment. My mind still fixated on Fergus, and his pain from the morning. “Could I have something made?”

                “What do you need?”

                “Are you familiar with Mirror-therapy?”

                She furrowed her brows and shook her head. “No, it doesn’t sound familiar at all.”

                “It’s a technique for phantom limb syndrome, which is what Fergus has. It’s why he felt like his hand was in a fist. You make a box with a mirror so that the patient can only see their good limb and it’s mirror image. With how the brain works he could simply unclench his fist by watching the other unclench. I was thinking I could teach Marsali to do it, the exercises he’d need are very rudimentary.”

                Claire pushed some of her dark hair out of her face. “I’ll ask Roger and Bre about it.”

***

                The next day I woke up as Fergus was placing the sprigs of indigo on my nightstand. Dawn was dim and graying. Half awake I placed my hand on his wooden one and smiled at him as he stared at me with out shame or embarrassment in his eyes. His lips half parted all the same as he gazed at me with love in his eyes. His mouth called to mine and I was moving toward him before I could stop myself, I turned my head to the side at the last moment when I’d realized what I’d done. He trailed his fingers along my jaw, sending skitters of electricity through my body, coaxing me to face him again and I let him. He reclaimed me as his with a slow, deep, soul-tasting kiss. I threaded my fingers back through his hair, knocking off his hat and messing up his ponytail as I pulled him down on the bed with me, my body screaming for his warmth, touch and weight between my thighs.

                Hazed with sleep my desperation for him surfaced and I wrapped my legs around his back as he settled between my legs and the kiss continued. My skin was on fire and it had nothing to do with the heat as our hips jockeyed, mocking the act both of us ached to complete. He ate away my moans as I clawed at him in passion and he slipped his hand down my body. His fingers found my soaked sex, and I cried out into his mouth as he touched me in ways I’d never been touched by anyone but myself in the dark.

                Footsteps sounded in the breeze way followed by voices and I panicked coming to my senses, I shoved him off me and shut my legs. Shivering and panting with lips swollen from kissing and the cleft of my body pulsing with denied desire.

                “We can’t,” I whispered breathlessly, though it even pained me to say the words as I closed my legs as my chest heaved and my body called my brain a traitor. He shut his eyes and covered his face with his hand collapsing on the bed beside me. “I can’t do this to her. I’m sorry… I…”

                 “Merde,” he cursed, nostrils flaring as he drew a few measured breaths. Lowering his hand, he sat up staring at me. “It’s okay…” He reached up and stroked his thumb over my bottom lip. “There is some pleasure in having no pleasure, no?”  That wicked smirk of his tugged at his lips and I almost forgot myself again. It was like laying with him before the fire six years ago.

                “Ah, Voltaire…” I slowly moved to lay beside him once more, trailing a finger down his aristocratic profile. He looked like the combination of so many paintings of French nobles I’d stared at since leaving him. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the customer who probably imparted him upon his mother was a noble. As I stared at him, a quote came to mind. One that I’d thought long and hard on when I came across it during university. “I loved him as we always do the first time: with great idolatry and wild passion,” I quoted moving closer. He rested his hand on my hip.

                “Loved?” He whispered into my mouth, we were so close together now. “Have I faded in your heart?”

                “No, but if I were smart you would have.”

                “I think we are both fools then.” He tilted his chin up a little and rubbed the tip of his nose against mine. “Mm, I wish I could stay here forever. But I have to go to Cross Creek for the next few days…”

                “Why?”

                He chuckled, throaty and mischievous like I remembered. “A one-handed man makes for a terrible farmer, no? I take odd jobs, messages, translating. It takes me away from home but I don’t mind it as much.” He did mind, I could just tell by the furrow across his forehead and how he raised his eyebrows, giggling I shook my head and trailed my thumb across the ridges. “What ever are you smiling for?”

                “Because I know you, Claudel. Which is how I know you hate how it takes you away.”

                “There is some truth to that, I love my children.”

                I wet my lips. “Little Germain is more adorable than words and all too much like his father. He put a dandelion behind my ear while I was in the garden.”

                “Of course, it is every man’s duty to worship at the altar of your beauty.” He kissed along my throat and I quivered as things low in my body tensed.

                Knock. Knock. Knock. “Moira-Rose, are ye decent?” It was Marsali and I died inside shoving my hand over his face preventing him from kissing me more. “I brought ye another dress I won’t be fittin’ in any time soon no thanks to Fergus.”

                It took me two tries to find my voice. “I…I need a minute, can you come back?”

                “Aye, oh and Germain picked some posies for ye. I think they’re not but weeds, but the wee boy insisted. Me thinks ye have an admirer.” She laughed, the sound light and happy—because of course she didn’t know that her husband laid beside me in my bed.

                I covered my face with both hands and shut my eyes tight, shame eviscerating me as I laid beside my friends’ husband in my bed and she talked about their child picking flowers for me and she mentioned her charity.

                “I’m sorry, Marsali. Can you please come back later I just need a moment. I had too much wine last night.” I didn’t take my hands away.

                “All right, I have to speak to Claire about the new bairn anyway. I’ll come back after.” My stomach twisted as I listened to Marsali’s steps and the door of the surgery opening and closing.

                I placed both of my hands on his shoulders and looked him in the eye, shaking my head.

                “Please just go,” I whispered, shutting my eyes as my chest cavity was clawed out again. The straw mattress shifted, and he left, closing the door next to silently. After he’d gone, I couldn’t bring myself to move so I laid there for the longest, thinking about what I’d almost done.

                Knock. Knock. Knock. Opening my eyes, I glared at the sprig if indigo on the bedside table and snatched it up, crumpling it in my hand as I headed for the door.  On the other side stood Marsali grinning ear to ear. She giggled as she pushed her way in.

                “Oh my! Ye look like ye had a rough night.” Shaking her head she set the dress down on the bed it was purple, and looked like it might fit me but my breasts would be shoved up under my chin to make the bodice work.

                “Something like that,”

                She smirked and pulled some flowers from behind her ear. “Before I forget, these are from yer wee suitor. He heard Fergus call ye milady, and now he won’t be convinced yer not a French princess.” Sitting on the foot of the bed she sighed holding the flowers out to me. I took them and inspected the random wildflowers; the tiny bouquet was mostly milkweed with some bits of false indigo. “The next few days are going to be awful.”

                “Why is that?” I tilted my head to the side and sat beside her smelling the bouquet.

                Her head bobbed a bit as she thought, “I ken well that he needs work, and that he’s not exactly suited to being a farmer but… I miss him something fierce when he goes to town. When he’s gone, sometimes I worry he won’t come back.” She swallowed. “We’re in a good place now but… it breaks my heart to say but it was not always true. And he’s very good at staying quiet and keeping his thoughts inside. We promised we weren’t going to have any secrets… but I’m starting to feel like he’s holding something back and it scares me. With all he’s told me what sort of awful thing he would feel he couldn’t share?” She sniffed. “Christ, here I am blatherin’ on about my man when ye don’t have one o’ yer own.”

                “After…” I gestured to the yellowing bruises on my face. “I’m not sure I want one, for now the spinster’s life sounds… advantageous.”

                She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “No, ye see we have to find ye a husband so ye can have a wee lassie for Germain.” Wrapping her arms around me she gave me a tight squeeze and I shook my head a little. “I’ll leave so ye can get dressed.” Once the door shut behind her, I stared at it memorizing the way the light hit the door and the beveled curves of the carving. Even then I knew it was the last moment I could let myself love him.

                While he was gone I helped Marsali and Claire in the surgery and pitched in with keeping an eye on her three children. It was nice to have a friend, I really hadn’t bonded with anyone in my own time and before Marsali was as close to a best friend as I’d ever had. Without him there I could enjoy spending time with my friend, I’d learned all about what they’d been through.

                “So tell me about France, there had to have been some good times?” She smiled at me, as I held Germain who was asleep with his little head on my shoulder. He’d refused to leave my side all night, I’d helped with dinner making a camping stew Da used to make with squirrel meat.

                “There were balls and parties, lots of dresses in all sorts of colors.”

                “Fergus said yer husband was very wealthy, was he a duke? Fergus said the diamond on the ring ye showed him was as big as my finger and the color of good champagne.” She grinned and I took a moment to breathe.

                “Power and money show you the truth of people.” I swallow and she tilted her head to the side.

                “I’ve gotten a spankin’ one or twice, but nothing to leave a mark. There’s a difference between a spankin’ and a beatin’. Some men like to beat I think, my Da… my ma’s first husband used to beat me somethin’ fierce. Fergus does nothing like that.”

                I almost balked at her frank guileless confession. Of course, there wasn’t any shame in her voice, after all it was the seventeen seventies and husbands were supposed to correct wives like children. There was reason to it and what Nathan did to me in any time was considered excessive.

                “Aye.”

                “Look at ye, Moira-Rose Fraser, sounding as Scottish as yer hair.” We shared a quiet laugh as Fergus walked in, looking rough from the road. His eyes were tired but when he saw me holding Germain his face lit up and I couldn’t help but wonder if he were envisioning me holding a child we’d made. “Moira-Rose made dinner, the most delicious stew I’ve ever tasted.”

                He nodded but didn’t say anything as he walked to the hearth.

                “Germain proposed to Moira-Rose today, it was the cutest thing,” Marsali giggled and turned to watch Fergus who still hadn’t spoken. “I was telling her that we should find her a good man.”

                “According to the church I’m still married, but honestly I think I want to be alone for a time.” I added shifting Germain on my leg.

                Marsali shook her head. “No, ye don’t. I have eyes, ye ken. Watching ye with wee Germain and how good ye are with him. Yer a nurturer. Doesn’t she look good holding a bairn, Fergus?”

                “Very lovely,” Fergus murmured but he didn’t look up from the fire.

                “Everything was wonderful as always Marsali. I’ll put Germain to bed so you two can… reacquaint yourselves.” I smirked and stood balancing Germain who shifted with a little groan.

                “Fergus can ye walk her home?” Marsali asked as I headed for the back room where the children slept. I laid him in the bed and tucked him in, taking his little gray flat cap off and setting it on the bedside table before leaving and shutting the door. Fergus waited by the entrance, and I could feel the tension between him and Marsali. He very obviously wasn’t happy about something. All I could do was hope I wasn’t the cause of it. Wrapping my tartan around my shoulders, I grabbed my basket.

                “I’ll show Fergus the box I had made for him before he heads back,” I said before giving Marsali a quick hug.

                “Yer still goin’ to show me how to use it?”

                “Of course! Good night, Marsali,” I called on my way out of the door with a wave. Fergus followed close behind. The heat of September had mellowed, giving way to a light chill in the air as we walked through the trees toward the big house.

                “How was Cross Creek?” I asked looking at his face, there was space between us and I felt it like some touchable thing. The pull I’d always felt toward him made me yearn for my hand in his. It didn’t matter, not only was I on the wrong side to take his hand but I’d just left dinner with his family and I couldn’t do that to Marsali.

                “Lonely. Long. Frustrating.” He smirked, and glanced me over.

                “What was that back there?”

                He crossed his arms and sighed. “Watching you cradle my son in your arms was surreal. To open the door and find you holding Germain like he was yours, while you sat at the table in my home was… heaven and hell,” the words came easily to him in French and sounded that much more profound.

                “Claudel…”

                “Mm, I missed that,” he purred with a glance in my direction.

                “What?”

                “Hearing you call me Claudel. I even like the shape of your mouth when you say it.

                “I should probably stop. With everything before you left and the last few days I… How could I rip apart a family? I love you more than I can put to words in any language I know, but I love Marsali too, and Germain and Joan and Felicite.” I shook my head. “I don’t regret finding you here, but I feel so guilty for what we’ve done and my thoughts. I’m not yours, I can’t be yours.

                We walked together back toward the house in silence, we went into the surgery the lamps were all snuffed and it was quiet enough that we could hear Claire and Jamie above. The muted rhythmic thumping of the bed brought a blush to my cheeks as I took the mirror box Roger and Bree made from under a cabinet and walked back for my bedroom. Someone had lit the small hearth and so there was at least some light as I set the box carefully on the little table and pulled out a chair for Fergus as I opened my box of herbs and took out a small vial of oil. He sat down and stared skeptically at the box with one brow raised.

                “It won’t bite,” I teased, as I sat down opposite the chair I pulled out. He sat down and took off his hat. “Take off the coat.”  I set a little dram of oil to the side and flipped the box so the side covered by the mirror was on his left as he took off his outer coat and waist coat until he wore only the indigo undershirt that brought out the color of his eyes even in the warm candle light. Scooting close enough that our knees touched I took his wooden hand in mine and unfastened the leather strap at his wrist.

                “When we were recently wed, and Germain was weeks old…” he shook his head. “I tried to love her as I do you. But she’s not you.”

                “What do you mean?” I asked not looking up at him as I pushed his sleeves back.

                “I was happy, truly happy after Germain was born. But…I was having a rough time of it, and instead of…” He canted his head slowly from side to side. “Marsali made a friend make me a false offer of employment, in hopes of brightening my spirits. It was years ago but… pretending I didn’t know has exhausted my heart.”

                “And yet not your trousers,” I giggled and stood. “Close your eyes.” He did as I asked, and I guided his maimed arm into one side that had the angled mirror over it and placed his other in the open side. “Keeping your eyes shut, clench both of your fists as hard as you possibly can.”

                “Both?”

                “Yes, both. Squeeze both hands as hard as you can,” I coached him, after making a noise and muttering under his breath he clenched his fist and I saw both arms shaking. “Now open your eyes.”

                “What is…” He fell silent, but kept clenching his fist.

                “Look in the mirror and relax both of your hands at the same time.” As I spoke, he complied and made a small noise I couldn’t quite decipher as I walked around behind him with the little dram of oil. I oiled my hands and rubbed his neck and shoulders.

                “Witchcraft,” he whispered gazing at the reflection of two hands.

                “Burn the witch,” I commented idly, working the oil into his tense shoulders. He leaned his head back and looked up at me.

                “Never.” Over head those dull thuds continued, and my lips parted. “Come to Cross Creek with me next time.”

                “Claudel, we’ve been over this…” I sighed and pulled his collar up.

                “You’ve been in France the last eight years, you cannot possibly have me believe you never came across a pairing like ours would be? A man takes a wife but keeps his mistress in comfort.”

                “For comfort,” I corrected him stepping around him. “Love for love’s sake is a wonderful idea when you are very young but we’re not so young. Go home to your wife, kiss her lips, hold her close and take her to bed.”

                “While I think of you, and your skin too soft to be real. That makes me just as much the villain, yes?”

                “You seemed to manage fine before, you have quite a few children. Even if we did… you’re very potent.”

                “My youth was spent in a brothel, I know things.”

                “Clearly not since it looks as though if you sneeze on poor Marsali and she’s with child.”

                “Are you worried about the pain?”

                I smirked. “No.”

                “I’ve felt you, remember? I know you’re still a maid.”

                “It’s Marsali, and Germain, and Joan and Felicite I worry about, and the guilt.”

                He swallowed. “And if I’d never done as you’d asked and courted and married her for the sake of comfort alone?” Oh, anger was seeping in now, he raised his voice—though still not to interrupt what went on above.

                “There’s no use wondering about what could have been and isn’t. What if I’d never left? What if you’d come after me? What if we’d made love that night at Lallybroch and I’d had your child? None of those things matter because the past is written with what now is.” I shrugged off the tartan and hung it up before continuing to get ready for bed. My body ached with the need for sleep, the day had been long and Fergus’s temper tantrum was making it that much more draining. He stood and stepped around me, lips seeking out my neck, nibbling at the flesh in such a way my knees quaked.

                “What if instead of listening to your words, I listened to your body?” He whispered pulling me back against him, his fingers finding the front laces of my robe and untying them with ease. My skin tingled and the peaks of my breasts throbbed with a pulse of their own as he pulled the lacing loose.

                “Go. Home.” I turned and our eyes locked. We stared at each other for what felt like an eternity before he nodded once slowly, gathered his jacket and left—slamming the door hard enough to interrupt the dull thuds above.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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