A Flood My Mornings prompt. Night check at the stables is often a separate shift from day shifts that start as early as 6am. It's usually around 9pm, often a separate employee does it from day shift workers during the week, and sometimes on weekends or holidays an owner or manager would do it. A 'night check moment' with Jamie and Claire might be fun, or even a Fraser family outing with Brianna in her little jammies :)
Flood my Mornings: Night Check
Notes from Mod Bonnie:
- This story takes place in an AU in which Jamie travels through the stones two years after Culloden and finds Claire and his child in 1950 Boston.
- See all past installments via Bonnie’s Master List
- Previous installment: Plymouth Trace (Jamie and Claire take the new car for a whirl. Yes, THAT kind.)
“Thanks for doing this, bud,” Tom said, pulling his coat off the hook by the lounge door and shrugging into it. “Really. I owe you big time. Honestly, I’d cover it myself, but I’ve had this special night out planned with Marian, and—”
“Dinna mention it, Tom,” Jamie said, gesturing reassurance. “Truly, I’m happy to be of help.”
Tom rummaged in his pockets for his keys, still looking regretful. “Was Claire spitting mad at me for stealing you away for the night?”
“No, no, not at all. On the phone just now, she bade me wish Nelson the best o’ luck wi’ his recovery. The gri–” Careful, man, “—that is, the Flu is a nasty business, and I’ve reason to know it.”
“Well, you’re a saint for stepping in last minute to cover his night watch shift, J—really really appreciate it,” Tom said once more as they walked out into the car yard.
It was approaching sunset, and the last of the horses were being led to the stables for the night. It would be a peaceful night, if a long one, Jamie hoped.
Tom opened the door of his 1946 Chevrolet Pickup (black, with silver trimmings and the special wide-base wheels) and sat behind the wheel, looking up at Jamie as he cranked the engine. “Jerry will be in at five in the morning as usual—Don’t you even think of staying to work tomorrow though, hear?”
“I hear. Have a good night, Tom. And give Marian my best, aye?” He slammed the door and waved Tom off on his way.
It was a peaceful evening, on the whole. He saw the last of the day staff off to their homes and made the rounds as night fell, changing water, food, and blankets and taking special care to inspect several of the beasts that hadn’t been given proper attention of late.
He loved being among the horses—always had, ever since he was a wee lad. The quiet strength of them, he supposed it was—the knowledge that they were large and strong enough to kill a man, but kind and soulful nonetheless. He loved speaking to them in Gaelic. He got a few odd looks for it during the day, to be sure, but other than Brianna, who understood and could speak a few words, the horses were the only folk in this new life to whom he could speak in his heart’s tongue, and feel as if he were fully understood. Claire, of course, knew his heart, regardless of the language; but speaking soft words to the horses, they seemed to have a knowing in their large, round eyes that transcended time and its changings. Aye, they seemed to say, you’re of long-ago stuff, man; and so am I.
“Or maybe you’re just a horse, aye, Val?” he said, rubbing the beast affectionately on the nose before closing the stall and heading back to the lounge.
He was dismayed to find it was only half-past ten, for the length of the day had caught up with him. He rubbed his eyes but couldn’t seem to shake their bleary view. If only he had a book with him—Just yesterday, he had gotten from the Library a tome on American government, and he’d been itching to read it and figure out this country once and for all.
He tried to make do with jotting notes in his wee book on the happenings reported by the man on the Wireless about the war in distant Korea. Though it pleased him that he was able to understand most of it, the news of the fighting chilled him, and he couldn’t make himself mind it for long.
Before heading back out into the chill to make another circuit of the stalls, he set about making coffee in the wee machine, now feeling weary in more ways than one. As willing as he’d been to come to poor Nelson’s aid, he would’ve given most anything to fall into a soft bed with Claire at that very moment.
As he was adding a dollop of whiskey from the cupboard above the Frigidaire, there came a small knock and a soft, musical, “Hel-looo-ooo?” from behind him.
To his immense surprise, Claire was standing there, wearing blue jeans, boots, and wool coat against the crisp chill of early October; In her arms, Bree, pajama-clad, covered over with a warm sweater and a knitted cap.
“Well, if this isna a pleasant surprise!” He said, hastily setting down the bottle and going to them. “I was just thinking of how I wanted to see my loves.”
“Horzzis, Mama?” piped Bree against his ear as he pulled them both close.
“Christ, but it’s late, mo nighean donn. Is everything alright? And how did ye get—?
“Everything’s fine, we just couldn’t sleep; took a taxi,“ Claire explained her voice sounding small and tired. She laid her head on his shoulder as they swayed. “Hope it doesn’t disturb you, we just— needed to see you.”
He squeezed them both tighter, kissed Claire’s cool cheek, and stepped back, feeling warmed to his core as he took Bree happily into his arms. “I’ll never say no to my lassies, no matter the hour.”
“Da-me-in-go–” Bree gasped out, brimming with excitement. “Da-n-go mitta-seeinn-th-horzzis, m’okay, Da-ddy? M’okay?”
He laughed and sputtered a bit as he took in the rapid fire. Brianna, little more than a month away from two years of age, had been making leaps and bounds in terms of her vocabulary of late, beginning to get the way of longer, more complicated sentences. Increasingly consistent in this endeavor she undoubtedly was, but it always took that extra second for Jamie to mentally translate the stream of almost-correct syllables, a delay that invariably peeved the speaker, who never could understand why folk were being so slow.
“Horzzis, m’okay?” she repeated.
“Seeing Da and seeing the horses were on an equal footing, as far as Bree was concerned,” Claire said, smiling, but still sounding tired. “She’s never seen a horse in person, before.”
“Horzza-horzzis!” Bree insisted again, craning around for sight of one, then squaring back up to look him sternly, her hands on his cheeks. “Seein-th-horzzis–m’okay, Daddy?”
“Okay, a leannan,” he grinned, squeezing her tight and kissing her wee nose. Christ, but he loved this feisty wee baggage. “Let’s go see the horses.”
“What have you been doing to pass the time?” Claire asked as they entered Stable B.
“Oh, coffee, the Radio, thinking, talking wi’ the horses.”
“Do they make good conversation?”
“Oh, well enough,” he said, clucking his tongue to beckon Cornflower to the stall door.
Bree gasped at sight of the huge, grey flanks rotating in the stall. “Issa horz–AGHHH!!”
She squawked as Cornflower’s head came around and jumped so violently Jamie nearly lost his grip. “Och, come now, lass, it’s only one o’ the horses ye wanted to see, aye?” He took a step closer and turned so she could see Cornflower over his shoulder.
“Noooo!” Bree squealed, terrified, cowering under Jamie’s chin. “‘Inna like-’im!”
“Nothing to be scairt of, mo chridhe.” He reached out a hand and firmly stroked Corny’s soft nose. “See? She’s gentle—just like a big dog.”
“Notta dog!” Bree wailed sharply as she tried to get as far as possible from the beast, almost sobbing.“‘Ssa horssiz!”
No matter how much they coaxed and wheedled, Brianna could not be persuaded to touch Cornflower or any of the other horses. She would show interest in them from a distance, but when confronted by their huge toothy faces, she would wail and burrow– terrified–into Jamie’s chest.
They walked amongst the stalls, talking contentedly of Jamie’s day at Fernacre, Claire’s day at the hospital, and so on. Claire still seemed quieter than usual. Just as Jamie was about to put Bree down so that he might hold Claire close and ask what was amiss, Bree suddenly lurched her body toward the opening of the next stall and whispered. “Daddy! Is–horzzis is–’im sleepin’?”
“Oh, aye,” he said, encouraged by her interest, “that’s wee Valkyrie. And aye, she’s taking a nap. Here,” he said, opening the door and stepping gingerly inside, “shall we bid her hello?”
“No-oooo!” Bree began to squeal as they approached the horse, twisting in his arms to get away.
“Whisht, whisht, be still, a chuisle, there’s naught to be afraid of.” Holding Bree tight—the lass would have to get accustomed to horses, and that’s all there was about it—he knelt down next to the jet-black mare, reaching out a hand to gently rub her neck.
Val, who was evidently only dozing, whuffed in acknowledgement, and Bree actually giggled at the resultant spray of wind and spittle. She then froze and looked up at Jamie, thoroughly stricken, evidently taken aback by her own delight and in complete indecision over how to act with this monster. Bless her heart, there were tears already building in her eyes.
“See, lovey, it’s a nice horse,” Claire said quickly, seeing the impending meltdown and settling next to them, holding their Thermos of coffee. “What does the horsey say, pumpkin?”
Bree, eager for diversion, produced a startlingly accurate whinny, and accepted applause with good grace.
With a sudden flash of inspiration, Jamie reached out and laid a hand on the beast’s swollen abdomen. “D’ye ken something else, Bree? This one is a mama horse.”
“Mama-horzz?” she repeated, looking sharply at Claire.
“Aye, sweetheart. That means there’s a baby horse inside.”
“Beebee horzz…” she whispered, suddenly enraptured. Bravely, she slipped down from Jamie’s arms onto the ground and, stepping closer to the huge, recumbent body, laid both hands on the jet-black hide next to his. A moment later, she looked up in her usual business-like manner. “Munna lookint th-beebee-horzz, m’okay, Da?”
“No, lass,” he laughed, “we canna look at the babe, yet. She has to stay inside her mama to grow big and strong, first. Then when the right time to be born comes, the wean will––”
With a jolt of realization, Jamie snapped his head around to Claire.
Her courses would have started today—unless she were—
Claire met his eye directly….and shook her head.
“Oh, lass,” he moaned softly, his heart breaking to see the sadness and disappointment in her face, to feel the sorrow in his own heart. He reached for her, pulling her close.
“I know it’s foolish…,” she said, her voice quivering as she wrapped her arms around his waist and burrowed against his shoulder. “There’s no reason it should have happened on the first month…I just can’t help but feel the… loss.”
“It’s no’ foolish, Claire,” he said, being obliged to release one arm from around her to intercept Brianna, who—startled by a sudden shifting from Val—had scurried back, anxiously scrabbling against him. He held them both, but squeezed Claire tightest. “But dinna fash, mo ghraidh: ‘tis only a matter of time.”