september 17 1942

The Last All-Clear (8)

Notes from Mod Bonnie

  • This story is a series following the premise: Imagine if Jamie travelled through the stones, but instead of finding Claire in Boston he found himself having arrived years too early, when the War was still happening and Claire had yet to meet him… What would he do?”
  • A wee bit o’ mixing of showverse and bookverse details, hope ye dinna mind. 

Previously:

(Part 1) September 17, 1942: A Rusty Nail

(Part 2) December 3, 1942: Comb and Glove

(Part 3) 1943: Blood and Whisky | (Part 4) 1943-1944: Gifts and Ends

(Part 5) June, 1944: The Road | (Part 6) June, 1944: The Ditch  

(Part 7) Samhain, 1946: Inverness |


(8) April 16, 1948: The Hill 


The first time I went through the stones, there had been no sense to it, no words, no meaning. Unprepared as I had been, my mind had stayed four steps behind my body, completely incapable of processing the experience until it was long over, leaving even now only a vague impression, that of hurtling through an insidious, shrieking darkness. That senselessness had been a blessing, I now knew, no matter how terrible the experience itself had been. This time…

This time, it was like one of those horror-story medical cases where the anesthesia doesn’t fully take effect, where—unbeknownst to anyone— the patient is conscious and feels every single agony…. but is unable to move or scream or even blink.  

This time, I could feel everything, see everything as it happened, and yet I was completely powerless to move, to speak as I bled out, was torn apart. This time, there was no distraction, no senseless oblivion, no blessed, rushing current of time to speed the torture. There was only the truth, sharp and vicious, a thousand knife blades tearing through my flesh as I fell: 

Jamie

Jamie is gone

Jamie is dead


Then the world broke apart, and I was falling through real air toward real grass… and into Jamie’s arms. 


“Oh, thank God,” I moaned. My knees buckled, the crippling blow of sudden relief too much for my body to withstand, but Jamie kept me from falling. Jamie. My fingers scrabbled to hold him tighter, to convince myself he was real. Jamie. Thank — God — !” 

You’re here,” he was gasping back, hands frantic, his cheek wet against my forehead. “You’re—here—You’re you!” 

It hadn’t worked. Praise be to God and all the saints for all of eternity, the stones hadn’t worked. They’d spat me right back out at Jamie’s feet. 

“Jamie ” 

This man—This kind, gentle, powerful, caring man….My husband…

Mo chridhe….” 

Abject relief and even the sensory comfort of him vanished as reality roared back in. “Jamie….Jamie, don’t make me do it!” 

For, I knew it as deeply as I knew my own name that one botched attempt would not be enough to dissuade him from getting me to the safety of the twentieth century. He wouldn’t give in. Well….neither would I. I fisted my hands hard in his coat as I gritted out, “You can’t make me try it again.” 

“’Try’?—What d’ye—?” He stiffened, then squeezed me tighter, his breath fast and shallow against my neck as he said, urgently, “No! Claire, listen! Ye have come—”

“They didn’t work—I can’t get through! You can’t go fight, now—” I was sobbing, completely senseless in my despair. “You CAN’T—You have t—You—Come away with me, Jamie, me and the baby —” 

I pulled myself harder against him, absolutely berserk with determination that he must not die—that I mustn’t leave him. I’d relented once, down below in the cottage; had felt my heart break in two as I agreed to go, because he had begged, and I’d seen no other way.  I’d touched the bloody stones for him, for his child, meaning to go back to my old life for their sake, if not my own; but the stones had had other intentions, thank God, and so now I would do the begging. “Jamie—don’t throw your life away—Come away with me, love—stay with—”

Claire,” he said, louder this time as he cupped my head, kissed it. His voice was cracked but full, radiant, even, with some powerful emotion I couldn’t name. “Mo chridhe, listen, ye dinna understand! You’re—  

“We can run away, ” I whimpered, twining my fingers in his hair, even as I memorized his scent again, greedily clinging to the feel of him for the last time, some part of me knowing the futility of every word. Still, I begged. “I’ll go anywhere—anywhere—Just don’t give yourself up — don’t — DON’T—

“Sassenach, look at me.” This was said more sharply as he tried to pry me away and tilt my face upward. “Lass, l—” 

“NO—” 

I wouldn’t yield to this again; I WOULD NOT sit back and submit to  — 

He must have pushed me, for I was reeling backward, clawing at empty air, my eyes so blurred and swollen with tears I could barely discern more than the direction of the sunlight. 

I was screaming his name, so frantic in my disorientation that I thought I’d touched the stone again and that he was gone…Gone…. 

But he was shouting my name, too, near at hand, though the sound seemed muffled, as though I were beneath deep water. I reached blindly for it, but the tone of command in his voice cut through, harsh enough to halt me. I stood, still unable to see, heaving, waiting.  

 “Claire…. mo ghraidh.…”  

So soft, that voice, now. Gentle. Beaming, with —  

“Open your eyes, Claire. Look at me.” 



The 2,557th day 

God, how it broke my heart to see ye, so, standing in the circle, your face so pale and thin. The hollows of your cheek and collarbone stood out so painfully in the gold of the fading sunlight, and I could hardly bear the shame of it, of bringing that suffering upon ye. For all my own struggles and fears in our time apart, I have had seven years of plenty. Even in the worst of my days in this century, I never went to my bed starving, hardly one night in all those years, thanks to the kindness of many a stranger. You, though…. God, Claire, to see ye thus, your back hunched over as though ye would fall at any moment, scarce minutes removed from those wretched months of war and hunger, and with child, no less. Christ, our own wee bairn… 

Still, though my heart was squeezing fit to burst, though I was aching to hold my wife, to have you and the bairn safe in my arms at last…. I confess, the foremost feeling within me was unspeakable joy. Though my bones still seemed to scream from those agonizing hours of waiting, today, of fearing the worst with every minute ye didna arrive, I was all but laughing as I caught ye, held ye, the happiness so visceral and complete that it imbued my limbs, my breath, my tongue. For, the days of fear were gone, those hundreds and thousands of days, banished. You’re here, Claire. My Claire, the one I married. The one who knows my heart, and I, hers. All that remained was for you to look up, to see me, to see my joy and know your own, once ye understood the miracle at hand.

At last, ye did look, peering up, out from that darkness pressing down upon ye. You blinked once, straightened a bit and looked more closely. Another blink. I watched your mouth open as ye tried to speak, the wind blowing your hair about your face, but no sound came forth.   

My own voice scarcely could make itself heard, though I tried to smile as I gestured toward my garments. This isna precisely how ye left me, moments ago, aye?



Between the tears and hunger, the fatigue and the lingering panic, I couldn’t seem to fix my eyes long enough to put words to what I was seeing, to reconcile the contradictory realities before me. 

Jamie Fraser—my Jamie—standing on the other side of the clearing of Craigh na Dun. That was reasonable. He’d been only at the bottom of the hill, after all, when I’d left him. 

But his hair cropped short? 

His face suddenly clean and shaven?

His clothes— his clothes….?

“Ye did come through the stones, mo chridhe,” he was saying, his face alight. “And so did I.” 

“No…” I shook my head and staggered a step back. 

“…..It’s 1948.” He spoke each word slowly and carefully, repeating it. “Nineteen hundred and forty-eight.” 

I swayed, time and reason seeming to pulse and stretch absurdly, like a rubber band. This was a dream. This was nothing more than a bloody fever dream of grief and emotional turmoil and pregnancy, my subconscious soothing me with a fantasy world in which I got to keep both of them, Jamie and our child, forever, in a place of safety. That world isn’t real, Beauchamp. This isn’t real. I squeezed my eyes shut and covered my mouth to keep from screaming. This isn’t real, no matter how much you want it to be.  

“Claire, hear me. Time has passed. It was morning a moment ago, aye?” He was speaking quickly, urgently. “Look about—’Tis sunset, now. This isna the morn of Culloden. It canna be. Ye see how I’m dressed. Ye felt me in your own two hands, just now, did ye not?” He took a step forward. “We’ve come through the stones, both of us. I’m real.” 

I could do nothing but stare and try to stem the flood of yearning before it could break me apart from the inside. I tried to speak, but could only mouth one word: How…? 

“When I saw the redcoat making chase for ye, I followed, running up the hill after him,” he said, moving slowly toward me. 

I had heard footsteps behind me as I ran to the stones…. just minutes ago…

“I crested the hill just as I saw ye vanish,” he said. “I fought him as the sun came up fully, all across the circle floor. At one point, I made a lunge for him but missed, staggered, and threw out my hand to stop my fall, but I fell against the stone by accident…..I passed through.”  

I couldn’t stop staring at those fists, clenching and unclenching at his sides, twitching, then stilling again, just a few feet before me. 

“I’ve been here ever since.” 

Silence. 

“Claire?” 

"You didn’t fight in the battle?” The words seemed to come from somewhere outside my body as I watched those hands, transfixed, my lips scarcely moving. “You…didn’t die?” 

“No, I didna die,” I heard him murmur with a breath of a laugh, gentle and soft and him. Alive. “I woke up here, in this very spot….. and I’ve been waiting for you, for this day, praying you’d be safely delivered to this year……And here ye are, at last. Claire, I—” His voice broke at that, a grating whisper, and I watched as the fingers began stretching out toward me, trembling. “Mo chridhe…. I’ve missed you so….All th—” He had to stop. When he spoke again, the tears were choking him in good earnest. “—all these years, I’ve— ” 

“Who’s the prime minister?” I heard myself blurt. 

The hands twitched. “…..Beg pardon?” 

“The prime minister,” I snapped, the rush of annoyance somehow momentarily bracing to my fracturing sanity. “I know for a fact I never told you, so tell me right this damned minute who the bloody pr—” 

“The prime minister of the United Kingdom….” I watched as one hand reached out and took mine, warm and confident as his voice. “…. is Clement Attlee.” 

A sob and a gasp escaped my throat at the same time, a wretched pain slicing through me as the other hand raised up to my face. “Dinna fash, my Sassenach,” he said, though tears were pouring down his own cheeks, framing that same crooked smile. “Mr. Attlee’s doing a fine job of it.” 

I must have blacked out for a few moments, for the next thing I knew, my arms were already around his neck, my feet barely touching the ground and my ribs ready to crack as he crushed me to him. We were both crying, sobbing, and I couldn’t seem to hold enough of him at once. Him—Jamie—JAMIE—“You—fucking—bastard!!!” I ground out through gritted teeth against his shoulder (his real, 20th-century shoulder!!). “BASTARD!” 

He laughed, sniffing through the weeping. “I love ye too, Sassenach.” 

“You were going to die!” I snarled, truly and mightily furious, coughing and gasping for air even as my limbs went liquid from relief. “You were going to go to that battlefield— and let yourself be slaughtered— you FUCKING —” 

“I know….” he murmured at once, all levity vanished as he sobered and held me, his hand coming up to twine in my hair and cup my head, hard. “I know….You were so brave, mo ghraidh…Thank ye for doing as as I bade, for the bairn’s sake. It meant everything to me. It means everything.” He kissed me, just below the ear, exhaling, shuddering against my skin. “But now, w—we dinna have to grieve—anymore.” He was crying so heavily he could hardly get the words out. “We’re here…. to—gether.”  

“How long?” I choked out. 

“Forever, mo chridhe—We’ll have all the time in the—”

 “No—” I said, feeling the horror pooling in my gut, enough to make me push back to study his face above the collar of his waxed cotton jacket. All these years, he’d just said. “….How long have you been waiting?” 

He replied, but so quietly I had to ask it again. He cleared his throat and couldn’t look me in the eye as he said, too carefully, “Since— 1941.” 

The sound that issued from me—

It wasn’t possible. If it truly was 1948, then the stones kept time in exact parallel. Jesus H Christ, I had left him mere minutes ago, how could he possibly—POSSIBLY—?

Very gently, he took my hand and turned it over. The letter J carved at the base of my thumb was oozing blood, the scabs having torn off sometime in the last few minutes from grappling with him, I supposed. He laid his own hand palm-up to show the mark I myself had made upon him. I stared. For so very long, I couldn’t do a goddamn thing except stare, my eyes and mouth both moving furiously but without sound. In contrast to the raw, screaming red of my own fresh wound, his C was the barest, faintest crescent of white, so long-healed as to all but have disappeared amid the lines and wrinkles. 

 “…Oh, Jamie…”  I reached up for his face with both my hands, my heart absolutely breaking for him. My eyes were wide and streaming, though I still dared to hope that I’d misunderstood. “…..Seven years?” 

I expected him to make a joke, to tease or try to lighten the mood, but he only nodded and kissed my hands, laying his own atop them on his face as he continued to weep. 

“Oh, my love….” I kissed him, kissed his tears, the devastation of his reality ripping through me as though they were my own years that had been lost; my own heart that had been alone for close to a decade. There were no words, but I couldn’t stop murmuring what I could. I love you….I’m so sorry….It’s alright… It’s over.

I love you,” he repeated back, letting me hold and soothe him, as he had me. “I love you.” 

“But, where did you go?” I whispered at last when the questions became too frenzied to ignore. I tried to search his eyes, my own surely incredulous and horrified. “What….what did you do for all that—” Jesus “—all those years?” 

His eyes flicked open. He took a steadying breath, kissed me, very gently, then released one hand to reach into his pocket. Turning my scarred one over once more, he placed something delicately in my palm. It was still warm from the heat of his body. A smooth pebble of cherrywood, carved with a interlace dragonfly. 



 

I thought I’d seen ye shocked, already; thought that you had already been overcome to the most extreme point possible by the day’s revelations. I was wrong, for your reaction in that moment, seeing the token in your hand, the one I made for ye, all those years ago—That reaction was something the like of which I’ve never seen on your face, Claire, so visceral and true, it sent waves coursing through me that took my breath from fear and love, both. I hope never to give ye cause to feel such a thing again.   

You studied my face, wild-like, seeking your friend of old, within….and finding him. Ye covered your mouth with both hands to keep from wailing. 

It’s really him, ye wept through your fingers, —really you.

C’est moi, I said, touching your cheek. It’s me. 

One hand dropped to your heart and clutched hard as ye sank to your knees, tears streaming freely over the other. 

It was the only way I kent to live wi’ myself, I said, or something of the like as I knelt beside ye, put my arms around ye. Being near to ye, in some way. 

All along? 

That what ye kept saying. I could see your eyes above your hands, clear and shining and full of love and awe, even as the most terrible sobs wracked your body. 

Aye…all along. 

It was difficult to speak the words, any words, for I, too was being bowled over by the weight of it all, the immensity of release from this last burden, this last secret that had so long been crushing my heart. I felt myself swaying on my knees, the world spinning around us. 

You came to find me? you said, incredulous, broken-hearted. All those years, you watched over me? Helped me?

As best I could, I said. 

You did, you whispered, nodding fiercely as you wept into my chest and pulled me close, tightly enough to bruise. You did. More than you know.

My heart leapt, for I thought surely ye must mean the night in the ditch. Though, when I asked of it, ye didna seem to comprehend that of which I spoke. You stared up at me, trying to fathom what I might possibly could mean. 

Then all at once you jolted as though struck by an electric shock. I saw you remember. 

You were there? you said, again and again. You were there with me…..Jesus Chris, you were there….

Time seems to have juddered out of place, then, for I canna precisely recall how much of it passed. I canna recall how my body was situated, or yours. I canna remember what words we might have spoken, or, for that matter, if we were able to speak at all. I think not, on the whole. All I ken for certain is that I was holding you, all my heart running down my face as I clung to you and to the bairn; that everything was well, that all was clear, at last. 

When the night had fallen, though, and you were asleep against my breast, I carried you here to the campsite and laid you down upon the blankets, tucking you in against the chill of the night. I couldna sleep, myself. Not yet. I watched you, for a time, wept some more (I’m a most damnably fragile man, mo chridhe; I do hope you’ll forgive me) and then turned on the electric torch, that I might write to ye. One more letter, one final letter, before closing this wee book for good. After all, I dinna mean to be spending many days apart from ye, in the lifetime to come, Sassenach; none at all, if I should have my own say in the matter. 

Lord, but what else remains to be written, apart from rejoicing here on this page that we are safe; we are together; we have our child; that we will live, Claire, long and happily; and that, by divine grace, I was able to keep my promise. 

Do you recall it? The one I made near Carryarrick, just after ye told me about that night in the ditch? About the Americans? I promised you that no matter what might come, you would never be alone again; and you weren’t, not for a single moment as ye fell through the stones; not in that darkest, most fearful night of the war. Whatever luck or chance or providence brought it about, guiding my steps, you were protected. You were never alone. 

Aye, that was it:  what I was repeating over and over as we lay there shaking and weeping on the ground before the stones. 

You weren’t ever alone.





[y e s , t h e r e ’s  m o r e]

The Last All-Clear: (7)

Notes from Mod Bonnie

  • This story is a series following the premise: Imagine if Jamie travelled through the stones, but instead of finding Claire in Boston he found himself having arrived years too early, when the War was still happening and Claire had yet to meet him… What would he do?”
  • Formatting note: Bolding in Jamie’s letters = underlining

Previously:

(Part 1) September 17, 1942: A Rusty Nail 

(Part 2) December 3, 1942: Comb and Glove 

(Part 3) 1943: Blood and Whisky | (Part 4) 1943-1944: Gifts and Ends

(Part 5) June, 1944: The Road | (Part 6) June, 1944: The Ditch  


(7) Samhain, 1946: Inverness


“Did you have many scots in your charge during the war?” Frank asked quite suddenly. I was more happy to change the subject from his kilted spectre, which, while surely utter nonsense, had given me chills.

“Yes, there were quite a few! There was one in particular,” I added, unable to stop the grin from blooming across my face at the memory. “He was a piper in the third seaforths. He couldn’t stand being stuck with a needle. He was—” 

I stopped, the implication suddenly settling over my shoulders like cold, creeping damp. Not a non-sequitur, then?  

His expression did nothing to suggest otherwise, nor his flat, “Right,” as he averted his gaze. 

Why, you bloody bastard! 

“What is it, exactly, ah…” Carefully. Oh-so-carefully. “…that you’re asking me, Frank?”

He didn’t even miss a beat. “When I saw that chap staring up at you, I thought he might be someone you’d nursed. Someone who might be looking for you now. To reconnect.”

“To ‘reconnect?’” My breath shortened and for one wild moment, I felt the hands of panic around my throat. How could he have known? was the unbidden thought. 

“It wouldn’t be unusual,” he was saying, quite gently. “It wouldn’t be surprising if you’d sought some comfort, or—”

The anxiety vanished as my senses returned, along with my absolutely righteous indignation. “Are you asking me— If I’ve been unfaithful?” 


It was hardly the worst fight we’d ever had, but it was the worst we’d had in a long time, made still worse by occurring during the ‘honeymoon’ we had both wished to perpetrate. Yes, it was tense and volatile, but at least it moved rapidly, through the near-accusations, the retractions, tender reassurances and, inevitably, to sex—the Randall fix-all. Or, rather, the Randalls-mutually-agree-to-pretend-that-it fixes-all. 

Long after Frank was asleep, though, satiated and carefree, I lay awake, privately seething. That he would have the audacity to even suggest such a thing when I’d never so much as kissed another man since I married Frank, let alone— 

Still, something still caught in my mind: ‘If you’d sought some comfort…’ 

It was only a harmless flirtation, I reassured myself, before scoffing, because that made it sound cheap, and wasn’t at all what it had been, in any case! But what had it been? We’d never touched in any way that wasn’t perfectly chaste. He’d never found his way to my bed in the secrecy of lonely nights, as so many others did in camp. I didn’t even know his full name or fully what his face looked like, for Christ’s sake. 

And yet, Danton had been very important to me, for that brief period during our time together: we had been friends. I had sought comfort in his company, many times, and he had given it, with his words and his good drink, his attention and encouragement. Hell, I doubt I would have stayed in France through the end of the war, without his friendship and the gentle support he unendingly gave; without the solace he brought to my lonely, doubting heart in those days. 

I stared at the ceiling, wondering—not for the first time—what ever became of him. There was that terrible fight between the tents, when he’d said those things and I’d stormed off in a rage that became a sobbing breakdown in the privacy of my tent. As much as he hurt me—deeply, viciously, even with so few words—I did regret, later, that I hadn’t sought him again and tried to talk things through. That cold, cruel disdain had seemed so out of character, even at the time. Surely, if I’d gotten in his face, forced him to speak to me with the sort of candor that was integral to our friendship, we might have reached some sort of rapprochement. But I’d only ever seen him again in faint glimpses across camp. After that, he was gone. People said he just up and left, one day, never to be heard from again. 

‘Someone who might be looking for you now. To reconnect.’

Well, and if there WERE someone come looking for me, Frank, I silently spat as I rolled onto my side away from him, he bloody well wouldn’t have been a Scot. 


2 0 2 4   

Passing strange, it was, to arrive back in Inverness this afternoon. Odd on the one hand, of course, to compare it with the Inverness of old; but stranger still to traverse its streets with money in my pocket and proper clothes on my back, my steps certain. You’ll have read by now of my wretched experiences here of seven years ago, not one of which I should ever wish to repeat (though I give you leave to tease and laugh about them for as many years to come, as ye wish).

Suffice it to say, I found myself murmuring a prayer of heartfelt gratitude for being able to stride boldly up to the innkeeper’s desk to give them my custom; for the money to hire a room (and by no means the cheapest in the place); for knowing precisely how to operate the hot water geyser and how I might go about seeing to my supp /


/     Forgive my artless interruption, but I must immediately explain that I had been writing the above while sitting at the desk in my second-floor chamber. Some whimsical soul had thought to situate it at the window, overlooking the square and the fountain beneath. A pretty aspect, to be sure, though the night is foul and thundering, at present, and hardly anything to be seen at all. 

On that point, I couldna have been more wrong, for there ye were, Claire, right before me in the window of the inn across the street, brushing your hair. 

Christ, the joy that coursed through me was so immediate, so complete, I couldna rightly say if I was crying or laughing. It’s likely to have been some of both, but as I say, I wasna paying much heed to anything save you, glowing in the lamplight as ye wrestled and tussled with that brush. How I’ve missed that sight, mo nighean donn: you and your great curly wig, both! I ken well that I laughed, the sound loud and full and bursting, when ye suddenly brandished the brush in a fit of pique when it caught in a tangle. I didna need one bit to peer at the reflection of your lips to ken precisely what it is ye said. Jesus H—RRROOSEVELT Christ! with that pursed, growling R that makes ye sound like a wee, angry bulldog, and at which I can never help but chuckle in delight. I leaned elbows on the desk and sat my face in both hands like a schoolboy, half-covering my mouth as I grinned like one, too; as I watched my sweetheart across the way. 

It shouldna have been altogether a shock, I suppose. I kent you were in town, for I’d come to Inverness to see you, or rather, to see ye safely gone through the stones tomorrow; and yet I canna express what the gift of that unexpected sighting did to fill my heart. It was more than two years since the last time I’d laid eyes on ye, and that memory marred by blood and fear. So, to see ye suddenly there before my eyes, all alight ? I shall cherish that image, always.    

Ye might think it a strange thing to mention, Sassenach (I wonder if I ought to scratch it through, altogether), but to my own shock, I found myself feeling a trifle sad on behalf of Frank Randall, of all people. For, while I hold no great fondness for the man, he is a man, after all, a man who loves you; and how many years has he, too, waited through wartime and separation for a peaceful life with his wife? with the very woman in that window?  Ye chose me, I remind myself, with no little relief and satisfaction: with a free choice between us, I was the one you wanted. Still, I found that I pitied him your loss; that you’d be gone from him forever, first in body and later in your heart, after tonight. 

That is to say, I pitied him right up until the moment I saw the selfsame bastard coming up the street in the storm, at which time all soft, generous consideration was replaced with purest loathing for everything from his hat to his umbrella to the manner of his gait. 

The electricity cut off suddenly enough to be startling, and from the corner of my eye I saw your own light vanish as well. The work of the storm, I should expect. I fumbled for a candle in the desk drawer (when did I become so blind and helpless in the dark, I find myself wondering), and by the time I’d gotten it lit, I could see that you were about the same business, slowly illuminating your room with candle after candle. It was even more breathtaking, to see ye by candlelight again, silk and curl alike sparkling with gold as ye moved about.  

You should know that the moment I saw the door behind ye open, I stood and closed the curtain. The both of ye deserved privacy, this last night. Besides, my jealous imagination would more than manage on its own, I’m afraid, without newsreel footage of the event.

Besides, my brown-haired lass, I shall see ye again on the morrow. 


2 0 2 5   

I have seen ye this day, Sassenach, though not entirely under the circumstances I expected. 

You’d told me, once, that you’d gone to the stones with Frank at sunrise of that morn, and had returned on your own to Craigh na Dun later in the afternoon to gather your wee plants. Hoping to occupy my time until after midday, when I would drive out to the vicinity of the hill to lay in wait, I put on my coat and scarf (your Christmas gift, remember?) and passed the time out on the moors. 

There was naught I cared to hunt, but I hadn’t the mind for it, in any case. I just wandered, unsure if my thoughts would ever settle. There was no task to be done on your behalf, this time, as much as I might prefer otherwise, nothing to be done at all, save wait. I only wanted to see your last moments before ye touched the stones, so I’d ken for certain. Hour after hour, I walked, trying to enjoy the gusting winds and sounds of the animals and trees, but finding little comfort therein. 

Only, just after noon, when I was nearly back to the outskirts of town, I heard the sound of a Car approaching, coming in my direction, and then there ye were, driving fast around the bend in the road. At once, I felt the gripping of horror, for it was so much earlier in the day than I’d anticipated, and I kent I should never be able to get to my own vehicle in enough time to reach the stones before you. 

As I beheld you in all your glory, though, driving that automobile at terrifying speed, and looking absolutely thrilled for it, the fear vanished and peace settled at last. It was alright. That was the way I wished to remember ye these next years in which you’ll be truly gone, mo chridhe; not you vanishing before my eyes, perhaps screaming—as I did— when the stones pull you into their terrible embrace. No, not that: only you, dressed in white, your hair flying free in the wind and your face glowing with inner joy as ye drove off toward our life together. For today, mo chridhe, is the day we met. 


April 16, 1948 

2,557 days


His breath was white against the dark of the wee hours, coming in gasps of exertion as he made his way up the frost-covered faerie hill, heavy-laden in more ways than one. 

He hadn’t often been able to bring himself to write in the diary, since he had left Inverness. It wasn’t that it was a bleak or unhappy time, on the whole. Much like the two years prior, he had both his employment and his personal projects to keep him well-occupied; and even in the quiet moments, there were countless books to read, rides to take, long walks to be had, and prayers to say. 

But as the months wore on, as the days on the calendar began ticking closer and closer to this day, his waking thoughts were plagued by dark thoughts more and more, those that had tormented him so unrelentingly in the earliest days since coming through the stones: that he himself had been sent to a year misaligned with Claire’s own life, and that she might well do the same. In the end, he’d been meant to go to 1941, to be there in that ditch with her and see her rescued. It was a comfort, to be sure, that his steps had been ordained, but that was the very thing: what if she and the bairn were likewise meant, somehow, for some purpose unknown, to be elsewhere? He had given her up with no doubt in his heart that a better life awaited her on the other side of the stones, but who was to say that such a place and time should be

Let it be with me, Lord, he prayed for the millionth time as he emerged from the wood empty-handed and took up a place of waiting before the terrible stones. That her better life would be now, here, with me. Let it be 1948. 

Dawn broke, in golds and pinks across the horizon. The birds in the nearby wood began their twittering chorus, joyously heralding the start of the new day. Back in 1746, it would be sunrise, as well—the redcoats would be arriving—she would be running up the hill—

Minutes passed. 

And passed. 

An hour. 

Grant her to me again, he begged, his back and his heart aching with the pain of every passing second as he waited, give me once more this rare woman, and I will love her still better than before. I swear it by all that I am. 

Eight o’clock. 

Please…. Please….

Ten o’clock

He was in the grass on his knees in the center of the circle, palms upturned 

Let her place be with me.

Noon

Tell me what I must do to make it so; what I must give in return.

Tell me.

Just tell me and I’ll do it. 

Three o’clock. 

Give me strength, he prayed unendingly as the evil whisperings of doubt crowded around his heart.  Give me the strength to wait beyond the time of hope. Guide my steps to her as you did before. Give me the strength to find her. 

Sunset.

“Lord, that she might be safe,” he wept aloud over shaking hands, despair he hadn’t known since 1746 rending him apart, “wherever she is. Wherever she has gone, she and the—”

A crack like the sting of a whip rent though the world. 

His legs hadn’t even fully straightened before he caught her. 


The Last All-Clear (5)

Notes from Mod Bonnie

  • This story is a series of vignettes following the premise: Imagine if Jamie travelled through the stones, but instead of finding Claire in Boston he found himself having arrived years too early, when the War was still happening and Claire had yet to meet him… What would he do?”
  • Formatting note: Bolding in Jamie’s letters = underlining

Previously:

(Part 1) September 17, 1942: A Rusty Nail

(Part 2) December 3, 1942: Comb and Glove

(Part 3) 1943: Blood and Whisky

(Part 4) 1943-1944: Gifts and Ends 


June, 1944: The Road  


1 1 7 8 


This is the first time, Claire, that I have lifted my pen,  since it   Since.  How can I commit to the page what occurred in that long night? All that occurred? 



Three weeks earlier


He was going to collapse. The forest loomed like the walls of a tunnel over the narrow road, seeming to sap the very life from the air. His every bone and muscle screamed for rest, for water, for even a moment’s respite, but he couldn’t stop running, wouldn’t, not for a moment; not with Claire somewhere out there in the dark, riding toward a near-brush with death. 

His mind replayed the fragments of her account over and over as though it might —somehow—be of use. A German shell would hit the Car, she’d said, kill the driver instantly, and send the vehicle flying before pinning one of the Americans alive in the burning wreckage. Gunshot from the Germans would take out both men, in the end, leaving her helpless and alone in a nearby ditch. Christ, and that was what had set her shaking in his arms near Carryarick, so many years later: the memory of being helpless as she heard the men die slow, agonizing deaths; being alone through the night to follow, not daring to move for fear of meeting the same. His indomitable Claire: helpless and alone. 

God, and even if ye find her so, man, you’ll allow to her remain that way. You canna risk changing her memory of this night through direct interference. 

A voice of reason, a sound one, and yet the deeper reaches of his being bared teeth and snarled at it. I’ll interfere as much as I damned well must to see her safe. 

For, there remained the inescapable thought, there in his mind: that history might be changed. Claire’s work as a healer had shown him that even small actions by a traveler could indeed produce a different outcome than before, an alternate course of events creating a new path. What, then, would prevent tonight’s events from going differently this time? Or for such differences to be for the worse? What if the Car had set out one minute sooner, or one minute later than the time Claire experienced? What if that meant the German shells would hit her along with the vehicle? What if it were she pinned under the wreckage, this time, all from some shift in events from the original due to his presence in camp? What if she was already dead? 

That is what kept him running, hurtling down the darkened road without knowing how far he was to go or even if the attack had already happened. It’s what kept him pushing harder and harder, fearing his muscles would tear apart; but not heeding, not slowing. God, just let her be alive, he begged as he ran, seeing a crossroads up ahead. Just alive. As soon as I find her so, I’ll go back to being cautious—Even if I can see from afar that she’s alive, I’ll go without saying a word to her, just let her live. Let the Germans be sleeping—let them be compassionate, this night—Let them miss their shot, or—

B O O M

He staggered and nearly fell from the shock of actually seeing the explosion happen, the barest flare of light through the trees ahead and to the right. And Holy God….he could hear the screaming. 

He vaguely registered the popping of gunfire in the same direction, heard it and let it fuel his momentum toward Claire, let a bloodthirsty vow that the shooter would pay for every single bullet propel him toward the crossroads up ahead, faster than he even thought possible;

—Just be alive—just stay alive, mo nighean donn—

but by the time awareness truly struck him, he had only seconds to act. With all the strength remaining in his legs, he dove off the road and into the underbrush, concealing himself a matter of moments before the German convoy came into view at the crossroads, no more than fifty feet from where he lay. 

Despite the terror and hatred, the shuddering in his bones from how near he had just come to rushing right into the enemy’s midst, relief rushed up his spine and down into his toes for the respite from running. He lay with his face to the ground under the bushes, heart pounding, strength and breath spent, watching and listening. 

They weren’t moving past, they were patrolling, three or four men on foot escorting a great Panzer Tank. But he could smell the smoke of the fire. He could see the faint glow of fire through the trees to the right, could hear—

B O O M

She hadn’t said anything about a second explosion. He had to bury his face in the crook of his arm and bite down hard to keep from roaring, his entire body shaking from it. She hadn’t said. She hadn’t said. 

You’ll keep yourself together, man, a voice shouted over the despair, though he wanted nothing more than to surrender. You canna fall apart, yet. There’s a job to be done. 

The Germans didn’t show any signs of moving on, their Tank’s hatch open where it stood quiet, right at the middle of the crossroads. 

Jamie began to crawl.



Slow as a insect I moved, terrified that any crack or rustle would bring them down upon me. Even if it took all the night, I knew I had to get to that ditch and find you, alive or

An hour or more, I crawled on my belly across that forest floor toward the light from the fire, and all the while, my heart pounded with my prayer that you’d be alive; that I wouldn’t somehow bring the Germans down upon ye myself; that I wouldn’t have to face, this night, the prospect of eternal damnation at my own hand.

Then I was at the fence at the edge of the wood, looking out upon the open field; upon the horror of that burning wreckage beside the road.  Even from hundreds of feet away, I could see the shapes of the three men cast in the roar of the fire, so destroyed by shot and flame as to be scarcely more than heaps. All of them….silent. God above, rest their souls in peace.

Across the road from the carnage, on the side nearest to me, the ditch, dark and quiet. I couldn’t see anything within, from the angles and the night and the shadows. I couldn’t see you. 

Had I been able to see your form, see it show signs of life, perhaps I would have had the courage to remain there behind that fence, simply watch over ye from a distance through the night until morning, when your rescuers would arrive. 

I wasn’t able.



Crawling through that ditch on hands and knees felt like pounding down the forest road again, his breaths like screams in his nostrils, his limbs shaking and spent as he moved as fast as he was able 

Where is she? 

The glow from the inferno cast everything in ghoulish parodies of shadow and light, making every hump of mud and stone look like a body. 

His heart suddenly leapt with a joyful thought: God above, had she managed to crawl to the safety of the wood? Had she managed to get out of harm’s way altogether? Maybe Nancy was mistaken and she hadn’t ever left camp at all! 

Then he rounded a curve in the path, leveling out at last to show—

“Claire….” Her name escaped from him without leave, and he forgot any role he had thought best to play, any name by which he ought to go. 

All he could see was his wife, a hundred feet ahead, laying lifeless in a ditch. 

No—”  He hurtled toward her, his hands catching and tearing on stones, but he barely heeded it.  Lifeless…dead… 

“CLAIRE!” He shouted it at the top of his lungs in his despair, for the Germans could take him, now, gladly, and spare him the choice of it. 

But then the firelight flared, and his heart burst to see her bolt upright and scuttle backward on her hands in fear; saw her face break as she recognized him’ heard her cry of broken relief to match his as, at last, he reached her. 




Will you remember, Claire? 

the moment when the very last ounce of strength within me shattered? 

that fierce, violent second when I collapsed overtop you and clasped you to my heart? 


or the sound I made when you immediately clasped me back?  



When the blackness cleared from his vision, he was on his side, the length of his body pressed against the length of hers, his hands and arms trying to hold all of her at once. Exhaustion and terror and relief were wracking his body so violently that he could scarcely breathe, but it was the fact of the woman in his arms that had him truly falling apart.  

His wife. 

His wife, her quaking body held tight against his, her face pressed against his chest as though he were merely comforting her in their bed after a horrific dream

His wife, sharing breath with him. 

His wife… clinging to him with absolute trust, letting him walk with her through the terror of this night. 

His wife. God, his wife. 

Not alone, Claire.” His hand came up to twine in her hair and cup her head tight as her breathing turned choked and spare with the panic. “You are not alone, m—” A broken cry in his throat as he broke, relented, breathed onto her skin: “—mo chridhe.” 


anonymous asked:

Imagine if Jamie travelled through the stones, but instead of finding Claire in Boston he found himself having arrived years too early, when the War was still happening and Claire had yet to meet him... What would he do?

Notes from Mod Bonnie 

Trying something a bit new as a palate-cleanser, lads and lasses! 

Please do note that I am blissfully, unapologetically putting next-to-no effort into making this historically accurate. Soooo, if you’re in a military history/fact-checking/date-referencing mood… best take those efforts elsewhere ;D 

Hope you enjoy! 


The Last All-Clear 

September 17, 1942: A Rusty Nail 



C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France


17 September

Daytime rotation today.

No new battle casualties & all quiet in the distance, thank God. 

Did tend M. Danton (scored on the arm w/ rusted nail; antibiotics & sterile bandage to finish; strict instructions to report in 3 days for follow-up). 

A strange sort, and no two ways about it. 



“Claire—darling—dearest—You know how much I ADORE you, don’t you?

I was already smirking—fondly, but smirking nonetheless—by the time I turned from restocking the supply cabinets for tomorrow. “How much do you adore me, Nance?”

“So much that I’ll do absolutely any of your chores—ALL your chores!!—for a week if you’ll go tend Danton??”

Danton? The frenchman?” A glance revealed a familiar set of hunched shoulders (spilled over with filthy black hair) just visible through the cracked partition of the infirmary tent. “What’s happened to him?”

“Nothing serious. Says he got scraped by a nail or screw or something this morning and needs to be cleaned up a bit, but oh, please, Claire??” Nancy whined, grabbing both my hands in hers. “I know you were supposed to go off-duty at eight and it’s nine-thirty already but puh-LEASE will you take ten minutes before you go and be the one to tend him?? Please-please-pl—” 

“Good Lord, no need to go into a tizzy about it,” I laughed, a bit taken aback by how truly distraught she seemed. “Surely the man doesn’t bite!” Though in truth, I didn’t know that for certain.

I’d never spoken to him, nor even so much as looked him in the eye, but Danton—was his first name even known?— was a legend in camp. He’d joined the company a month or two ago, they said, one of the men-of-all-work that alternately served as laborer, orderly, handyman, gravedigger, or any other role requiring a strong back. Though I’d always gotten the sense he was past his prime, from the state of his clothing and posture and hygiene, a strong back Danton did have, and whatever his age might be, he was indispensable.  The camp always had to be ready to go into action, or even pick up and move entirely at a moment’s notice. In this chaotic wartime reality, with life and death so often on the line, a spare set of hands was always needful. 

There were a dozen such men in camp, all of them civilian frenchmen, but Danton was the only one people seemed to talk about; which was quite the irony, given that he was a man of notoriously few words. He kept always to himself, speaking only when directly addressed, gruffly and shortly when he was, crossing the verge of sheer bad-temperedness more often than not. Rooms tended to shift to low whispers when Danton entered, if not empty entirely.

It didn’t seem to bother him. The entirety of my experience with the man consisted of glimpses from across the camp or mess-hall. Yet, even that barest of acquaintance was enough to have convinced me that the unsmiling, grubby Danton—with his hunched shoulders, with that profoundly-unkempt black hair and drooping cap that together hid his eyes—wished to be left alone. 

My skin had prickled, though, whenever I had studied him, crawling with something I couldn’t quite put into words or even—

“He gives me the absolute heebie-jeebies!!” Nancy summarized neatly in a whisper. “I can’t do it, I just can’t! Anything you ask, Claire, and it’s done, but PLEASE be a brick and get me out of this??”

I would have agreed in any case—if for nothing more than to satisfy my own slightly-morbid curiosity— but I had absolutely no qualms over letting Nancy take my bedpan duties for a week out of the bargain.

….and surely the man DIDN’T bite?


“Monsieur Danton?”

He JUMPED as though shot, and I startled so violently (absurdly searching for elongated canines in the momentary panic) that I swore and dropped my tray, the bowl, cloth, and other impedimenta clattering and scattering all over the floor with great metallic crashes.

I was utterly mortified, positively dove to my hands and knees to gather the scattered supplies and hide my face, and then the sensation doubled to realize that the frenchman was on the ground beside me. I had only enough time to notice the juxtaposition of the fine leather glove on his left hand with the wretched filth of his clothing before he was placing the last item on the tray. “Thank you,” I mumbled awkwardly, glancing up to smile in thanks, and caught a momentary glimpse of vivid blue eyes before he recoiled, leaping to his feet and busying himself with getting the tray on the table. 

Shy, whatever else he might be. 

“Well, we’re off to a bumpy start, sol—Sir,” I managed with a weak laugh as I got to my feet, throwing myself fully into that ‘jovial commanding-officer’ character that had weathered many an awkward encounter in my career to-date. My usual script felt a little bereft without the useful address of ’soldier.’ “I’m Nurse Randall,” I said more briskly, clearing my throat with a smile.  “I’m told you need medical attention for your arm?”

He rolled up his sleeve without so much as a word. Very well, down to busin—

“Good LORD! I gasped, stepping forward and reaching for the arm, then pushing him down into the chair. Not merely a scrape: it was a slash, a wicked, deep one, about two inches long, just below the right elbow. “This needs stitches! What the bloody hell happened?” 

No answer. 

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I said more kindly in French, “Monsieur, will you tell me what happened to your arm?

No nod. No grunt. The brute didn’t bother even to raise his chin from his chest. 

No language barrier, then: just an arse.  

I reached for the antiseptic, my nostrils flaring. “Will you look at the state of this?” The blood had long since clotted, but the wound clearly hadn’t been washed, let alone sterilized. “Why in God’s name didn’t you come and get help for it right away?

Silence.

“Excuse me, I am TALKING to you,” I snapped, choosing to stick with French for castigation as I prepared the suturing supplies. “Why didn’t you bother coming for help unt—?”

“Do what’s-must to prevent the festering and I’ll be going, yes?” he snapped back with such venom that I would have gasped if I weren’t so grounded in pique. 

So: he was both capable of speech and every bit as ill-tempered for it.  Lord, give me the strength not to SLAP this man. I bit my tongue and cleansed the wound in icy silence.

“Far from home?” I blurted testily, when the tension became too insufferable even for me. 

His head snapped up.

Your accent,” I clarified as I reached for a clean cloth, genuinely curious despite my ire, “—your syntax. It’s not a standard dialect…nor like the other frenchmen in camp, I think?” 

“No.”

I had about an ounce of pleasantness left in me and I scraped it up to force a smile. “Grow up in the country, eh?”

“Yes.”

“…Care to share where?” 

“No.”

“Well, you’re just a blooming basket of violet-scented rainbows, aren’t you?” I snapped in English. “Hold bloody still, this will hurt and you’ll deserve every blasted bit of it.” I gritted my teeth and swore under my breath as I began stitching, in absolutely no mood for grumpy man-children. “Jesus H. Roosevelt CHRIST.”

By complete chance, standing bent over his arm as I began to stitch, I happened to be looking down at his mouth as I said it. To my absolute gobsmacked surprise, I saw a smile twitching at the corners, small and restrained, as though he were trying very much not to show it, but clear as day: a tiny smile verging on a grin. 

Well…! Not a *complete* automaton, then. 

I was taken still further aback when the mouth opened and said quietly in French without looking up, “Forgive me, please, Madame. I do not mean you ill.” The tone told me he was being genuine.  “It is only that I do not very much like—speaking.

“It’s good to work at things you don’t like doing,” I said, fixing what I could see of his face with a sardonic glare between stitches, but trying not to smile. “Builds character.”  

Another infinitesimal twitch of the lips before he dropped his head, strings of wavy black hair hiding his features entirely. “It is—a small bit more easy to manage, in French.”  

We’ll stick with the Français then,” I said, letting a smile show in my voice.

I finished the stitching and sterilization in a more comfortable silence. He took the hypodermic needle without so much as a wince, though I could see him watching it intently, sternly almost, as though not entirely sure what to make of it. From the country, indeed. 

You’re so much younger than I would have supposed.” 

“…I beg your pardon, Madame?” 

I could hardly fault him for being taken aback, as I had blurted it with absolutely no thought for context, let alone grace. I recovered as best I could, all things considered, focusing over-intently on wrapping the bandage around his forearm. “From a distance, I had assumed you to be far older.”

Honestly, for a man with such a beard and posture, that default manner that could charitably be described as cantankerous, it was alarming to find that not only was he not middle-aged, but he couldn’t possibly be older than— 

“Thirty? At most?”

Thereabouts.” After a pause, he added with a shrug. “I am far older in spirit, Madame.”  

I made him promise to come see me in a few days so I could see how the healing was progressing and give him more antibiotic if need be. He nodded, then stood and shrugged back into his coat (Lord, was he huge), and was just beginning to move toward the doorway, when—

“Are you well-treated here, M. Danton?”  Why could I not keep my bloody mouth shut tonight??

“Why is it that you ask such a question of me, Madame?” Though I still could barely see his face through the hair, I could hear the wariness in his voice. 

“You just seem…” I struggled to find the word in French, to express my concern without giving offense. “…..hunted.” 

Yes, a beast at bay. That’s what I had discerned and yet been unable to name in those vague, distant glances across camp: the utter wrongness in the sight of a man so tall and strong keeping his head low, avoiding eye contact, as though cowering before an invisible blow. Then there was this slash to the arm…

He caught me looking at the bandage, so I summoned my courage enough to ask directly, “Is someone bothering you? Hurting you?” 

No.” He relaxed, and I saw his throat muscles working.  “No, it truly was a rusted nail; an accident, entirely my own.” He inclined his head in acknowledgment of the first statement. “And my manners and ways are mine as well, Madame. Of my own choosing, I mean to say. Better, it is, that I keep to myself.

There was nothing morose in the way he said it, nothing maudlin or self-pitying.

 ….but it still was so very sad. 

Nonetheless,” he added quite suddenly, one hand on the tent flap, “I thank you for having asked.” He gave a graceful bow and said in heavily-accented English before vanishing off into the night: “You ‘ave a kind ‘eart, Nurse Randall.”


Strange, yes. But not as bad as all that. 

-CEBR




5 1 9


Ye touched me, today, mo nighean donn. 

Spoke to me. Looked at me. Stopped my beating heart. 

You were supposed to go off-duty at eight. I let that damned wound go untended all the day because I was waiting for when I kent you’d be away and abed. I couldn’t take the chance of it being you. God above knows I meant for us never once to come face-to-face in this camp.

More than a year since I ran up the hill after ye and the world went black; more than a year of trying to find my way in your world; of trying to find youthese last months of staying hidden in plain sight that ye never should see my face…. All undone by a rusted nail and your damned heedless self working at all hours instead of taking to your damned bed. And yet…. ye always did see fit to undermine my plans, my wife. Mo ghraidh. 

….Lord, and you’re so young, Sorcha; so heartbreakingly young, and it makes me want to weep. And yet I weep still more to have witnessed with my own eyes and ears that you’re exactly the same. Even now, at three-and-twenty, you’ve the same fire that I myself have known in you, that same brilliance and compassion and—

Jesus. 

Oh, God, Claire. 

From a distance, keeping to my duties, I have been able to separate myself from it all; keep myself and my thoughts in check by mere will, knowing that it is my place only to watch over you, never in any circumstance to know you or seek you out.  But so close to ye today, mo chridhe, SO CLOSE with you touching me, that deepest part of yourself reaching out to heal and care for me, even in disguise, even though ye dinna yet know me— It took all my strength not to take ye in my arms and crush you to my heart.

I long for you, mo nighean donn. I long for my wife; to hold ye again; to speak all my heart to ye. My truest friend. 

And yet, beyond longing, there is that uttermost of terrors that fills me day and night. 

I wait for this war to end—this war of unspeakable horrors, the like of which I could never have fathomed—and still I dread the sounding of that last all-clear. At least here, now (and for three years more, at the least) I have a place in your world. I can watch over ye, see your face each and every day, if only for a moment from afar, and be able to close my eyes at night only because I ken that you are safe. 

But when the fighting has ceased, when ye leave France, I shall have to bid you yet another farewell….silently, this time, unseen….and hope that in April of 1948—

Pray with all my soul that you and the bairn make it to April of 1948. 

That you won’t be— That you haven’t already been—? or that you aren’t now—?

Lost among the years. As I have been.  

The Last All-Clear: (6)


Notes from Mod Bonnie

  • This story is a series of vignettes following the premise: Imagine if Jamie travelled through the stones, but instead of finding Claire in Boston he found himself having arrived years too early, when the War was still happening and Claire had yet to meet him… What would he do?”
  • Formatting note: Bolding in Jamie’s letters = underlining

Previously:

(Part 1) September 17, 1942: A Rusty Nail

(Part 2) December 3, 1942: Comb and Glove

(Part 3) 1943: Blood and Whisky

(Part 4) 1943-1944: Gifts and Ends

(Part 5) June, 1944: The Road 


June, 1944: The Ditch   


There, in that darkness with you, love, there was no fear in me. None. There was no worrying about stones, or time, or wars, or consequences. There was only the feel of you in my arms, for the first time in so many years; the feeling of my soul, reaching out to yours, and being accepted in kind. The intimacy of it was a blow and a caress sending me reeling, and everything went silent around us. I held you, stroked your back, cupped your head; felt your heartbeat against mine as ye wept and shook. I held on to you, lass, like I never would let go. Perhaps, I thought, I wouldn’t. 

You didna speak, so violent was the terror and relief within ye, but I myself could scarcely stop the words from tumbling out, incoherent and tear-choked as they were. I had enough sense left to move from language to language—Latin, Greek, Gàidhlig, Hebrew, the ones you wouldna ken, or very little— but I was able to speak my heart aloud to you, and that itself was relief beyond telling.



“You will survive this day, my heart.” 

“You will survive and go on to do so much more than you ever imagined. You’ll be kind and brave and reckless and wild and wonderful. Happy. Free. I promise you.”

“Even the suffering, the horrors, you’ll bear with grace. You’re a fighter. You overcome. I’m so—so very proud to be your husband.” 

Her husband. Lord, that he might be given the grace to be her husband again. He pulled her closer, breathed deep, his hammering heart breaking for the millionth time to hear her own breath calmer, slowing. 

“I miss you, mo Sorcha.” 

“I love you.” 

She couldn’t have known the words, but she gave a little whimpering sigh and pressed her face closer into his chest. He closed his eyes tight and didn’t bother to stifle the sob in his throat. 

“I love you, and no other.” 

“I promise I will find you, wait for you and the bairn, no matter how long it takes.”

“Be brave,” he heard himself saying in English, in his own voice, brushing his lips against her forehead. “Be brave, Claire, and have hope in the joy to come.” 



When the fingers of dawn began to creep into the ditch, you were still in my arms, fast asleep. I hadn’t slept, for I couldn’t bear to look away from your face. I was happy. No matter else might come, I had had that night with you, a night in which you would not have been alone. 

And then, I heard them. 



People shouting above the roar of motors, close at hand. Carefully dislodging himself from Claire, he grabbed the hilt of his knife and eased up to peer over the edge of the ditch. Nothing and no one in sight, but a breeze carried a word or two on the wind: Americans. THE Americans that she’d said had found her and brought her to safety. Only, they weren’t coming closer. They were on the other path, going the wrong direction at the crossroads. 

“Come back,” he muttered, fixing his eye on the distance with all his might as though he could summon them by sheer will. “Come back….come this way….damn you, come back…”

The panic was roaring within him, heightening with every passing second. They weren’t coming. He could get her back to the camp himself, of course, but why had the goddamn memory changed? He had been so relieved, the previous night, to find that things had played out as she’d foretold, but something…. something had gone wrong. Something was different. What had he done to change— 

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ

It was like a blow to the head, but he didn’t have time to stop and marvel. One moment only, he spared, that to kneel over Claire once more, look at her, and kiss her sleeping face. 

“I love you, mo nighean donn.” 

Then he was gone. 




Perhaps you’ll have understood at once, Claire, pieced together the conclusion of the tale long before I myself did. Perhaps, to a person raised with Films and so verra many books about fantastical happenings, it would have occurred to ye sooner. 

But how great was the shock that tore through my own simple mind, not to mention the abject relief, to comprehend the truth….That I perhaps couldna have changed events even had I tried; that things set in the motion of history might be—for better or worse— unstoppable, certain. While it makes my heart ache with regret, thinking that our efforts to stop the rebellion will have been for naught from the outset, in THIS case, love, it is for the better; for better than I could ever have imagined. 

My being alongside you, these years, wasna a divergent path, Claire. My coming through the stones and finding young Claire Randall during the War: that wasna a course of events separate from the ones you knew. I— Danton—was always a part of your story. Even if, perhaps, you had your reasons not to think of or remember him since, he always was there, beginning in 1942. There was never a version of your life in which you did not stitch his arm; in which he did not offer you whisky after that unfortunate operation; in which he did not become your friend in camp. As astounding as it is for my own faculties of comprehension to reconcile, I was always there. Here.

And I was always in that ditch with you, mo nighean donn. Why it is that ye never remembered me; that your lingering, terrifying memory of that night was of being completely alone? That, I shan’t even attempt to comprehend until the day I can ask you of it myself and ken the truth from your own lips; but you weren’t alone. I was always there with ye, holding you through the night

and it was always a ragged, bearded Frenchman that ran after the Americans and told them of two of their countrymen, dead in a German attack, always his word that made them hurry down the adjacent road to see for themselves; always me that made sure you were found. 


“Hey, Bill! Boys, there’s a woman over here!” 

“Alive??” 

“I think so! Ma’am? Ma’am?” 

He hung back at the fringes of the troupe, close enough, only, that he could see all that occurred. If they laid a foul hand on her….

“Ma'am, are you okay?” 

She was awake, and—Oh, love…. Have courage, my heart— as frantic and terrified as when he’d first found her the night before. ‘Helpless.’ ‘Alone.’  

“Ma’am, can you hear me?” the soldier kept saying. “What the hell are you doing down here all alone?”

Jamie’s heart broke to see her curl up with her hands about her head. But this is how it must be, Fraser. This is the morning she remembers, the way she remembers it.  

The soldier was insistent, agitated with concern as he tried to get her to speak. “Ma’am? Ma’am?”

“Cool it, Jimmy,” the other man said, “the poor lady’s been through hell. The English camp ain’t far off—Let’s take her with us and see if that’s where she came from.” 

“Here, ma’am, it’s alright,” the man Jimmy said, more gently. “Put your arms around my neck. We’ve got you now, okay? It’s all over.”

Jamie kept his distance as they trekked back down the forest road; kept far back as they approached camp; stayed hidden in the woods as he watched the Americans waiting outside the fence. The last sight he had of her was her head still bobbing on the American’s shoulder, her hands fisted in his shirt as the Nightwing guards ushered the party in to safety. Then, she was gone. 

He didn’t cry; he didn’t feel the churning of regret and pain that he perhaps would have expected. He took the time only to find that patch of woods through which he’d left camp the night before. His pack was there, just where he’d dropped it. Shouldering it, he cast one more look at the place that held her. 

“Until we meet again, mo chridhe.” 



Will you believe that what I felt as I left, and what I feel now, all these weeks later, is happiness? 

For, as much as the memory of that night’s fears shall haunt me, always, I’m more at peace, today, than I have been these many, many years. For I ken, at last, why it is I was brought to this time. It wasna a mistake; wasna a twisted blow of fate. It was for that very day, to see you safe. 

Had I not been there, had someone not gone to fetch the Americans, help might never have found you. You might well have lain there in that ditch until you were found and shot by the Germans. I’m on my knees thanking the heavens for guiding my footsteps to where they were meant to go. I couldna have known or planned it on my own merits, but yet somehow I was led to where ye needed me; all the way from the stones to France, through all the years and to that very ditch on that very night. 

The relief within me, Claire, at that knowledge, is balm beyond imagining. Call it pride, call it selfishness, but to know that my time near you was not in vain, that there WAS some purpose, some role I was meant to play for my wife’s sake—I’m grateful for it. I’m so very, very grateful. It makes every moment, every year that I otherwise might have deemed ‘lost’, have been worthwhile; precious, even. 

And now, I’m sitting on English soil—sand, rather— James Fraser, again, respectable Scottish stowaway. Something within me knew that it remained my time to be parted from ye, to leave camp, just as I’d planned. If you were to remember my presence there that night, the intimacy, connection, yes, the intimacy of the heart between us in those hours….Even if nothing in the events could be changed….No, far better to allow myself to fade from your presence, before we could have the chance to properly talk about that night, or make amends for the rift that preceded it. 

Sitting here on this beach, looking back across the channel, and even with the knowledge that there remain four years more in this purgatory of waiting,  I am filled with exquisite peace. It will be like claws in my skin, waiting for 1948, agonizing as to whether you too will be sent to the wrong year, but ‘tis a pain that I can bear in the blessed assurance that you will be well until then, and that I’ve done what I was meant to do, for your sake and the bairn’s.  

I will see you soon again. 



C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

1 July 

I will not put to paper what occurred that night on the road; what happened to those innocent men. I never shall. 

But one thing I must write out, else refusing to acknowledge it will drive me mad: 

I passed out alone, in that ditch; I woke up alone. But I dreamed. I dreamed that strong, familiar arms held me throughout the night. I dreamed of my own name, over and over, said with such tenderness. Even more, I dreamed of strange words, words in languages I couldn’t even name, but words that spoke of warmth and care. I dreamed that they were words of love, so deep that I believed them, without knowing what they said; so visceral that when the Airborne men found me, I was still reeling from the sensations awoken in me.

It isn’t like one has any control over dreams, but what I must get out of my mind, confess, even if I later burn this page:  

The arms weren’t Frank’s. Nor did I want them to be. 


The Last All-Clear (4)

Notes from Mod Bonnie

  • This story is a series of vignettes following the premise: Imagine if Jamie travelled through the stones, but instead of finding Claire in Boston he found himself having arrived years too early, when the War was still happening and Claire had yet to meet him… What would he do?”
  • Formatting note: Bolding in Jamie’s letters = underlining

Previously:

(Part 1) September 17, 1942: A Rusty Nail

(Part 2) December 3, 1942: Comb and Glove

(Part 3) 1943: Blood and Whisky 


1943-1944: Gifts and Ends


C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

1 September

Another long night in surgery by the end of which I wanted nothing more than to scream.

But, as always, Danton was there waiting for me at the shed with whisky and an open ear. I don’t know how he always knows when I’m in most need of company, but it means the world to know I’ve got a friend, not just friendly people with whom I work, but a friend. He’s always there to listen, drink with me, say a word of encouragement, and get me laughing by the time I leave to go to sleep. Still a tough nut to crack, all things considered, but I’ve rarely encountered someone so intuitive and incisive. He’s quiet, but when he speaks, it’s with such intention. 

Add another tidbit to the Danton file: his mother’s name was Hélène and she had red hair. It makes him sad to talk about her, but he loved her very much. 



9 3 2 

Will ye have you noticed, reading this, years hence, that I’m a different person these last several months than in the ones before? That I go days—weeks, even— without writing single word? That when I do, it’s brief pleasantries: what I ate, the tasks I undertook?

It isna because my days are less full than before; quite the contrary. Only, if I dinna force myself to recount the way I’ve let myself act around you, the way I order my day so that I can see you, the way I encourage your attentions, chaste and merely friendly as they are….If I allow myself to simply go to sleep with the sound of your voice still fresh in my ear, I’m better able to live with myself for it. ‘Tis infinitely easier to let myself live my days in an unexamined happiness, however fleeting, however much I feel the shame of it in my bones, deep down. Writing of it, having to face it, makes my weaknesses so abundantly and painfully clear. Denial, I have found, is its own sweet comfort. 

Will you understand this, Sassenach? Will you understand the depth of loneliness that can drive a person to be so pitifully less than he ought? 

Still, with every day that passes, each day torn between restraint and joy in your companionship, I find the voice of better judgement murmuring more and more determinedly in the back of my mind, the same questions that have been there from the beginning of this nightmare: What is it that I actually accomplish on your behalf? Is it only my pride that keeps me here? Would it be better for you, be less risky, if I were to simply leave, go to Scotland and bide my time until you should return? Am I doing you any good at all by staying? 



C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

25 December

A working Christmas, but a merry one. Wrote a long letter to Frank with all my love. 

Danton seemed absolutely shocked when I handed him his gift, and he tried to scold me for it, but everyone can use a new scarf, I insisted! It brings out the blue in his eyes. He grumbled about it even then, but honestly I think he was just embarrassed he didn’t have anything for me in return. Told him it was the least I could do to pay him back for drinking all of his good whisky, month after month. Then I told him the truth: that his friendship has been a tremendously dear gift to me this year. I swear to God, the man actually blushed. 



9 9 1

A new year, today, mo nighean donn.  Ye pushed a paper cup of champagne into my hand at the gathering in the mess hall and kissed my cheek before running off to dance with your friends. It was a lively song first, but followed by that bittersweet one that brings tears to my eyes every time, even if I canna discern the tune: 

     ….how happy, my darling, we’ll be,     

     when they turn up the lights, 

     and the dark, lonely nights     

     are only a memory.

You sat off to the side, during that one, looking as lonely and sorrowful as I myself must have appeared.

Nineteen hundred and forty-four. Another year closer to when I can take your face in both my hands and kiss you without end, at the stroke of midnight or no. 


C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

13 January

Saw Danton wearing his blue muffler again. Teased him about it and he immediately grinned and pulled a little cloth-wrapped bundle out of his pocket. The bastard intentionally baited me! 

My Christmas gift turned out to be a little carved-wood oval, polished and sleek as a pebble, with an intricate interlace pattern that, at the center, knits inward to form a dragonfly. It’s small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, and I honestly can’t stop staring at it. The time it must have taken him, and the precision needed for working on so tiny a canvas! He demurred, of course, when I raved about the craftsmanship, but I know he was pleased I liked it. 


1 0 0 9

You stitched up a wee French laddie today, no more than four years of age. He was hurt in the course of fleeing with his family, and it was clear that he was terrified of soldiers and of being in camp. Ye spoke to him softly in his own language as ye worked, though, soothing and comforting him as though he were your own. Ye sang to him, too. Being so sadly precluded from music myself, these last years, it didna occur to me before that ye might have such a lovely voice. 

I’ve passed these last few hours in such beautiful peace, mo ghraidh: imagining the day when ye might take my head in your lap and sing to me as you stroke my hair; a day when a song drifts through our rooms, our home, and I peek through a doorway to see you cradling our child, singing them to sleep. 



1 0 1 3 

You didna tell me he was coming to camp.

Should it reassure me, an indication that I’m insignificant enough that it didna even cross your mind to mention it? Or is it the worst of signs: that ye didna want to speak of your husband, of all people, to me

There he stood, there at the quiet edge of camp by the pond, behind the barracks. Franklin Wolverton Randall, patiently waiting for his wife to go on leave. He truly does look like the bastard. I nearly reached for my knife when I saw him standing there, unannounced, unexpected. Then to see you, out of uniform, hair long and loose as ye ran for him, flew into his arms with that same abandon as you used to enter mine? See him kiss you, touch you like that—

I watched for far too long, mo chridhe. I confess as much to you, here. It was wrong of me, but I simply couldna look away. Even after the two of ye had left, hand-in-hand, your face alight and beaming….I sat under that tree for hours—trying not to think of where and how and for how long he was bedding you, tasting you. Would ye be making those same small sounds for him, reaching for him with that wild, lovely abandon? Would ye be crying out his name, moaning for him as



Forgive me. 


C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

24 January

Lord, it’s positively wretched trying to undertake an intimate visit in a mobile camp with no friendly town or inn nearby. A spare tent and two mattresses pushed together on the ground hardly can qualify as a love nest. Still, throw enough cozy blankets on top and a cozy husband within for good measure, and not a bad way to spend a day or two off. 

It’s been over a year since we last saw each other. Always a little strange trying to get back into things, but it’s so good to have him here, to have even a short time to reconnect. It’s easy to get caught up in work, day after day and month after month; easy to forget, amidst it all, that I’ve a marriage to maintain.  

Danton’s taken ill, apparently; asked for today and tomorrow off. Hoping he’s alright.


1 0 1 5 

I wanted him to be cruel. I wanted him to be the worst kind of scum. 

But when I was so startled seeing his face again unexpectedly today that I dropped a hammer on my foot, he came over at once to see if he could help. He was kind and considerate, and had a warmth to his eyes, even toward a complete stranger such as me. He has nothing of the cruelty of his putative ancestor, not to me, and more importantly, not toward you. I could see the tenderness he has for ye, the evident care and the love as the two of ye made your farewells.

It only serves as yet another proof. You’re safe while you’re in camp. You’re safe when you’re with Frank. You dinna need me watching over you. You never did. The only one that needed it was me. 

Today, Claire. It ends today. I promise you this.


C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

9 February

Danton is angry with me, I think. Every time I try to approach him to talk or just say hello, he’s turning tail and making for the other side of camp. He’s never in the wards anymore, nor do I see him taking his meals at the usual times. I made excuses for him for the first several days, but it’s clear, now, that he’s actively avoiding me. 

It shouldn’t bother me as much as it has, but damn it all, I miss him; that calm support he’s been to me this year. 

Jesus, looking at that on the page, I want to scratch it out. I have no right to be so entitled or territorial or whatever you wish to call it. The man’s never even told me his first name, for god’s sake, and he hardly knows a thing about me, either. Still, there’s a hollow feeling in my chest every time I feel that dragonfly carving in my pocket. I miss him, and I don’t know what I did. 

How bloody dare he. 



1 0 6 5 

I ache for you, mo nighean donn.



April 1, 1944

I rounded the corner so quickly, neither of us had time to avoid the other. We both just stood there in the narrow passage between tents, teetering mid-step. I smiled and opened my mouth to speak. He nodded once, put his head down, and walked around me.

“Oh for Christ’s sake,” I snapped, turning to follow him with my glare, “honestly? Danton, I’m not going to bite you.”

He stopped, but did not turn. “I know, madame.” Quiet. lifeless. 

“Will you at least tell me what it is I’ve done to offend you so grievously?”

I didn’t think it was possible, but his shoulders tensed further. “You ‘ave done nothing, madame.”

“Well, something clearly changed.” All my pent-up bewilderment was barreling out of me in a fury. “You’ve avoided me completely for weeks. You won’t even look at me any more, like the past year was just— erased overnight! I mean, Jesus H. Christ, we used to be friends, didn’t we?”

A momentary flash of blue over his shoulder before the hair and the hat obscured him. “In truth, we do not know one another, madame. We ‘ave been friendly acquaintances.”

“Ac…Acquaintances.” My blood boiled and hot tears prickled in my eyes. “That’s it? That’s…. bloody it?” My voice came out shrill and small. 

His was like a dead man’s. “What more did you think it was, madame?”

I couldn’t even speak for a few moments, so great was the shock and hurt. 

He made to walk away, but then I found my voice, low, teeth gritted. “Perhaps I don’t know you in the sense of having all the details of your life’s story. Why? Because you deign to divulge such things only once in a blue moon and I’ve respected that.” I rallied, trying to maintain control of the lump in my throat and my rage. “But you meant a hell of a lot more to me than I apparently meant to you.”

He was still for moment longer, then he turned and faced me squarely, looking me in the eye with a hostility I had never before seen there. “I am no longer interested in being your charity case, madame. And it is time you learned to carry on without needing a man to constantly congratulate you.” 

He may as well have sliced me open. 

Fuck you, too, then.

I threw the dragonfly on the ground and walked away without a glance backward. 



1 0 8 2  

It was the only way I knew to complete the break. 

I am so very sorry, mo nighean donn. 

I shall be leaving as soon as I have enough wages to get home.  I waited all my life for you. I can wait four years more alone.



C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

4 May 

So many battles. So many wounded. German incursions and raids have locked down the camp until further notice. 

God, just let this vile war end. 


1 1 3 4 

You willna even speak to me, now. I hardly can blame you for it, as that was the intended result. Still, now it’s me keeping my eyes wide and searching for you at every turning, for you’ve been avoiding the usual sick bays, the places we used to encounter one another. 

You’ve taken to teaching classes to the soldiers. It’s a credit to you, Claire. I’ve stood outside the tents and listened to you give your lessons on several occasions. You truly are grand at it, this world of healing and instructing. You have so much in you, Sassenach, so much to give. 

I dinna wish to leave you. 



C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

7 June 

God be praised, the Americans stormed the Normandy beaches yesterday. Let this be the breakthrough that changes things, at last. 



1 1 5 6 

Tomorrow. I’ve been given leave to depart tomorrow. 

I’ve thought long and hard about it, Claire. Even if you dinna wish to see me, even if it is only a word and a moment, I shall say farewell face-to-face. 





The sack felt leaden on his shoulders, though he had hardly any possessions to his name.  His old sporran. A change of clothing. His book of letters to Claire. 

This is not the end, he reminded himself over and over. This is naught but the end of a chapter that should not have been opened to begin with. This is not the end. 

The walk across camp felt an eternity, made still worse by the fact that she wasn’t even in the barracks, where she would normally be found at 7:00 of an evening. She wasn’t in the instructional tent. He went to the mess-hall—not there either.

Jesus, Claire,” he muttered under his breath after a full quarter hour of searching, “where in God’s name have ye gone?

At last, he spotted a familiar face and he all but ran to catch up with her, panting a little as he said, “Excuse me, Miss Nancy?”

Nancy jumped as though he had grabbed her, and it took all his control not to roll his eyes at the flighty wee thing. She never had gotten over that initial fear and loathing for his manner and look. More’s the pity that it hadn’t worked half so well on Claire.

He recovered and gave a cordial bow. “I am most sorry to ‘ave startled you. Would you tell me, please, where I might find Nurse Randall?”

“Whew, um,” Nancy put a dramatic hand on her heaving heart as she blinked and thought. “Oh! Yes, well, she’s not here, of course.”

“Not here?” In his shock, he nearly forgot to put on the French accent. “Where ‘as she gone?”

“She was part of the escort that set out to take those American chaps back.”

“…Ameri—” Then the world was shifting, tumbling, fragments of memory from another war suddenly sparking into horrific clarity. 

“Surely you heard about it? The two Airborne lads that came to us because they got separated from their men after Normandy? They’ve been here for the last week, I can’t believe you haven’t—”

But Jamie wasn’t listening. He was running. 

Of all the things Claire had told him, how could he have failed to recollect THIS?  For today was the day Claire nearly got herself killed by German fire…..the day when Claire could get herself killed by German fire. 


The Last All-Clear (Part 3)

Notes from Mod Bonnie

  • This story is a series of vignettes following the premise: Imagine if Jamie travelled through the stones, but instead of finding Claire in Boston he found himself having arrived years too early, when the War was still happening and Claire had yet to meet him… What would he do?”
  • Formatting note: Bolding in Jamie’s letters = underlining

Previously:

(Part 1) September 17, 1942: A Rusty Nail

(Part 2) December 3, 1942: Comb and Glove



(Part 3) 

1943: Blood and Whisky  


April 29, 1943


“BLOODY—”

I was already falling, stumbling over a rut in the dark. My hands crashed into the side of the shed and I surrendered; let the wall take my weight, wished it would take still more from me. Moving, righting myself—those were foreign, even the prospect of allowing myself to sink to the ground. All I could do, I did: I leaned my forehead against that wall and fell apart. 

Proud of yourself, are you? 

Ruined your goddamn career, Beauchamp. 

It’s over. 

My tears were icy-cold upon my cheek. I’d run out of the surgery tent in nothing more than my smock, and I was shivering so hard my entire body was seizing. Though, truthfully, it mightn’t have been the cold, at all. 

HOW could you be so careless, Nurse Randall??

Don’t you realize what could have HAPPENED, Nurse Randall? 

One more such blunder and I SWEAR, I’ll make it so you’ll never work in the QAs or any civilian surgery again, Nurse—

“Nurse Randall?”

“JESUS H—” I whirled and gasped and choked on a half-uttered sob, but from that familiar ‘RON-dahl’, I knew who it was before I actually saw. 

Danton was slowly rising to his feet a few yards away to my left at the corner of the shed, as though he had been sitting there, enjoying the clear, crisp night. I saw him slip a small book—a diary?—into his jacket pocket before raising both hands in front of him, showing that he didn’t mean to alarm. There was alarm aplenty in his own manner, though, as he took in the sight of me: hair wild from where I’d torn off my cap, front and sleeves and gloved hands covered in blood. 

“Oh, bollocks,” I moaned, just then noticing the bloody handprints on the stretched-canvas wall of the shed. My clumsy swipes at the mess only made it worse, and for some reason that made me cry even harder. 

“Din—Do not trouble yourself, madame, please,” he said in that slow, oddly-accented English, indicating the blood-streaked wall. “I will take care of this myself.” 

I could only nod my thanks as I turned my back to him, as I tried to calm my breathing. I shucked off the gloves and threw them on the ground, tried to focus on how to look less like the utter lunatic and fool that I was. Just what I needed, I thought as I hunched my shoulders and buried my face in my hands: an audience for my descent into madness. Although…. company did have its advantages. 

Aviez…” I rasped out as I turned back to him, my gulps for air spasming like those of a small child as I struggled for the ridiculously-simple French conjugation. “No, wait—Avez-tu, no, SHIT, VOUS un—une—”

Speak English, madame,” he offered gently. “It is alright.”  

English, then. “Do you have a bloody cigarette?”

Every man in camp had cigarettes, but this man had the absolute gall to look disapproving. “You should not smoke, madame.”

I practically bared my teeth at him as I snarled, “Well, governments shouldn’t drop bombs on people and blow them apart, either, but here we fucking well are.”

Whether it was the words themselves or the violence behind them, he did not push it further. He fished in his pocket, and I was already reaching before I realized it wasn’t, in fact, a cigarette case he held.

Hunched shoulders shrugged once as he offered me the battered flask. “Better than nothing, non?”

Better than just about anything, in fact.  Accepting it gratefully (and deciding any grace or decorum had left my company for good, tonight), I sank onto the ground, leaning against the wall as I unscrewed the lid and took a tentative sniff. Oh, blessed Jesus: whisky

“Please, ‘ave it all, if you wish,” he said, seeing my oh-so-slight hesitation over seeming greedy. “You are needing it, I think.”

“Bloody right.” I downed half of it in a single, long gulp. Heaven

My eyes were closed and I was just getting my breath back when I heard him shift and say: “I bid you a good night, madame. You can return the flask another—” 

“No, don’t!” I blurted.

He didn’t actually look at me. “Do not…?”

My voice was a pitiful whisper. “….Would you please—stay? I—” For, as much as I was mortified to have been seen at my worst in these minutes since my flight from the surgery, the prospect of being alone with my thoughts was …. “Would you? Please?”

He was cast deep enough in shadow that I couldn’t see it myself, but I was certain his expression had gone drawn and tight; I’d seen him react thusly countless times, usually precipitating a hasty departure. At last, though, he relented, and to my surprise, actually sat on the ground beside me, just more than an arm’s length away. When I glanced over, his forearms were resting comfortably on bent knees. The hat and long hair and beard obscured him, as always, but his manner was peaceful as he looked up at the sky, one bare hand absently rubbing the the gloved one, the stiff one.

“What happened to it?” I blurted, misjudging where I was mid-sip, and ending up dribbling all over my front. If he noticed, he didn’t let on, just gave a puzzled grunt. “Your hand,” I clarified in my still-sniffly voice, taking another sip to hide my embarrassment (bloody hell, you ARE a paragon tonight, Beauchamp).  “How did it get injured?” 

I felt him stiffen awkwardly, but he answered simply enough.  “It was crushed, several years ago.”

“That’s…terrible.” Crushed. Jesus H. Christ. “An accident?” A wheel, maybe, or piece of farm equipment.

“No.” A pause before he said softly, with something I could only place as shame: “An act of cruelty.”

“I’m—My God, Danton….I’m so very sorry.” To think of the kind of person—monster who could have hurt him so, purposely hurt him in such a horrific manner. I wouldn’t dream of pressing him for details of the event itself, but damn me, my medical interest was piqued and I couldn’t resist asking, “Does it still give you pain?”

“Ay—Yes. Sometimes.”

“Will you let me look at it?” I was dying to see what manner of surgical repair had been done to allow him such dextrous use. I reached out, inviting.

No,” he said, almost snapped, recoiling. “No, madame. There is nothing you could do, in any case.”

You. Something sliced in the bottom of my gut. My lips were wooden as I gulped from the flask again and turned back to face forward, “Of course. Nothing I could do.”

The consternation was clear in his voice as he hastily amended, “Nothing—anyone could—”

“It’s true though,” I said falteringly, the fatigue and the turmoil and the spirits making me half-delirious as I croaked out, “I’m absolutely useless.”

“That is not true, madame.”

Sweet man. Sweet and wrong. I looked up at the moon, wishing I could get off this wretched planet and escape everything, never to look back. I squeezed my eyes tight-shut. 

“I nearly killed someone just now.” 

The words were tumbling out of me. “I was supposed to be holding the clamps in the chest cavity while the surgeons worked and I must have held too tightly or slipped or something—I’d nicked the artery and before I knew it, he—he was bleeding out— so quickly—so goddamned fast—and by the time we realized— By the time they stabilized him—The surgeons— everyone—screaming at me and—”

I swallowed a scream and drained the last of the whisky, every last drop of oblivion it promised. 

“A soldier leaves his home,” I grated out, though every word trembled, “to fight for king and country, gets himself half-destroyed by artillery for the cause, for his family and friends, and it’s a stupid, stupid excuse for a nurse that nearly kills him because she THOUGHT she could—could do this.” 

“….Could do what, madame?” 

I thudded my head back against the canvas wall once, my voice ragged with shame. “It’s good, I suppose, that I’m learning this now, the hard way.” He started to say something, but I was already voicing the wretched truth:  “They wouldn’t even have me if there weren’t a war on.” A sob of despair slipped out. “I’m just not capable of the things surgeons are.”

Yes, you are,” he laughed at once. Yes, laughed—chuckled, actually. I was stunned into silence, still more when he added, more soberly, but with that same unhesitating conviction, “You are capable, Nurse Randall.” 

“With all due respect, Danton…” My throat ached from the effort of maintaining some shred of control over myself. “…how would you know?”

I was ashamed as soon as I said it, but if my pointed inflection rankled him, he didn’t let on. “I know.” 

Sensing rightly that such an answer was not going to cut it, he leaned forward, clasping his hands together around his knees. “I am often in the wards near to you, do you know?”

He was, nearly every day, at some point or another, to lift patients or bodies or bring or take away as he was needed. He was such a solid, reliable presence, to me and the other—well, no. To me. 

“I speak very little,” he continued, “but I keep my eyes open. I ‘ave been watching you—Non, pardonnez-moi,” he amended at once, “that is not what I—I only mean….I ‘ave noticed you. You see?”

I hadn’t been offended by the choice of words, just mute with shock that he was speaking at all, and even now, I could only manage, “…oh?”

Oui,” he said softly. “You are….most kind to me, of course, and yet you ‘ave a spirit that is—ruthless…. and that is no small thing.” With every word, he spoke faster and more surely. “You can take orders when you must, but you so easily, admirably assume authority and ‘elp direct others when there is need. Not everyone can do this, you know.”

Jesus.

He wasn’t finished. “You ‘ave a sense, an uncanny sense, for the urgency of a matter, and ‘ow you must conduct yourself to best remedy it. I do not see you daunted by blood or dirt or uncomfortable interactions as the others are. You…take charge. You carry on, and ‘elp, and fix, no matter the need.” From the corner of my eye, though we were both facing forward, I saw him nod. “You are uncommonly strong, madame.”

His words were like—like tingling in my fingers and toes; a reminder of life and liveliness in a stagnant dark. I was stunned by it, by the evident honesty behind his words. He’d truly noticed all—?

He’d have died, Nurse Randall.

YOUR name would have been down as cause of—

“Blustering through awkward encounters is hardly strength,” I gritted out, my body coursing with every despairing thought and memory as I latched onto the easiest of his statements.  “Pigheadness at best. It’s acting; that’s all it fucking is. Stubbornly acting like I know what the bloody hell I’m doing when I DON’T.”  

A beat of silence, in which I wanted nothing more than to curl up and vanish. When he spoke again, his voice was so unutterably gentle, understanding. “You are tired, mo—madame, and”  

“That doesn’t—”

 “You ‘ad one mistake,” he pressed, “one unfortunate night. It does not take away all that you ‘ave done; all that you are, in yourself.”

Before I could speak, he was crouching beside me, and—Good Lord— taking my hand in both of his. For once, it was me that couldn’t look him in the eye. I stared at our joined hands as he spoke, watching them ripple through gathering tears. 

“There is not anything ‘ere you cannot manage, madame, if the need is great upon you,” he said. “I know this in the deepest part of who I am. It may sound—ridiculous, an overstepping to say such things, but it is the very truth, as I know it. Forget the men who yell and shame you, and let yourself remember who you are. You are yourself, always…..you are capable. You will make mistakes, yes, as all do, but in the urgency of battle and of war and upheaval, that is where you are the most strong. You prove this day after day. One mistake does not undo it. Tonight does not undo it.”

In the last two minutes, Danton had uttered what had to be triple, quadruple, even, the amount of words of our entire acquaintance; and the way he’d spoken them—fluid and strong and true, his accent even seeming less pronounced as he spoke, encouraged me with a message as piercing and discerning as though he’d known me all my life—

I surrendered to his words, broke from them, wept like a child without holding back; let the warmth of his hands on mine, his presence, his unfathomable belief in me, begin to drive my shame and fear and doubt off into the night. 


C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

29 April

Always darkest before the dawn. Can’t even express how much Danton’s words tonight meant to me. Have been feeling for some time now like I’m the worst sort of fraud, for believing I could be more, that I might pursue more, one day. I always had the sense that even Frank is only indulging me with this whole medical business, rather than genuinely believing I had something to offer. How should a man that’s practically a stranger to me be the one to set that fire of purpose back in my hands and my heart again? I don’t know why him, but I’m grateful. I WILL work harder, better. I will SHOW them what I have to offer. 

-CEBR



7 4 3  

I shouldna have taken your hand last night. Jesus, God, what madness came over me? Only I saw ye like that, lass, love, so young and fragile, covered in blood, weeping your whole heart out there in the night, and—Those things ye said of yourself:  they were the vilest slander. It broke my heart that ye should believe them, even for a moment, and I had to speak against that darkness in your heart. Ye needed to hear what you are, within you—what you can be, what you will be. No…what you are, beneath the fear. 

And the look in your eyes Claire, when ye handed back the flask and I bade ye farewell—the utter fire in them? To see that same flame still alight today—the way ye squeezed my hand again and thanked me over and over—began asking me anew about my own life, my experiences—and pressed still more when I demurred, until had to wrench myself away to tend to some feigned task? 

No, I shouldna have taken your hand. I can still feel your touch on my skin. 



C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

20 August


My hands are SHAKING with happiness. A special commendation by the chief surgeon for my performance these last several months, and on top of it all, a PROMOTION! I am positively bursting with pride and excitement. Absolutely cannot wait to tell Danton! Going to run out and find him before final bell. 

And Frank, of course. Must write to Frank. 

First thing in the morning. 


8 5 7  


I cannot stop myself. I cannot. I still keep my distance to some extent, still willna let ye see my face clearly, still willna tell ye of who Monsieur Danton might have been before joining the camp, but still….I treasure every single one of your smiles, Claire. I treasure every time you come to tell me of your day, grinning like a wee fool as ye detail for me whatever manner of infection or pestilence ye vanquished since last we spoke. I do little save smile and nod, you’ll know, but ye always see the genuine feeling in even those small nothings. I treasure that, too. I treasure every moment of you. 

I know I shall have to stop this, shall have to pull back to keep this connection from growing into something dangerous for us both, but not yet. May I be damned for my weakness, but I cannot, yet. 



The Last All-Clear: (2)

Notes from Mod Bonnie 

  • This story is a series of vignettes following the premise: “Imagine if Jamie travelled through the stones, but instead of finding Claire in Boston he found himself having arrived years too early, when the War was still happening and Claire had yet to meet him… What would he do?” 
  • Formatting note: Bolding in Jamie’s letters = underlining 

Previously: 

(1) September 17, 1942: A Rusty Nail



(2) December 3, 1942: Comb and Glove


5 9 6 


How you’ll laugh, one day, mo ghraidh, when ye should read this, when I’m able to tell ye myself:

that the Jamie ye knew once is the same that spends the greater part of his wages…

                 upon cosmetic dye for his hair.

I MUST laugh, Sassenach, even if only here on this page by the dawn light, write to a you that is verra far away indeed. There is so little laughter in my heart, these years, and to be able to find it here, upon the hope of your spirit? It is sustaining to my own in a way that I know you’ll understand. 

Seamus Dubh, I suppose I now am. My da would like hearing of that, I suppose. It serves my purposes, but ‘tis nasty stuff, the dye, with a reek that makes me feel as though I’m half-gone with the worst drink money might buy. I’m obliged to awaken before dawn and go to the wood, that I might go about my task undiscovered. I’ve just come from doing just so—in the bloody, blistering cold, no less—and found I wished to tell ye of it while I wait for the rest of the company to awaken. 

Wearing the bonnet as often as I do, I can go quite a space of time between re-darkening the hair on my head, but the beard: that, to my constant aggravation, I must manage every week for fear of the red sh    //


C. E. B. Randall

Camp Nightwing, France

3 December

An infestation of rats discovered early this morning in the medical supplies. God bless Danton, today’s undisputed hero, who had the little bastards routed in no time. That man isn’t daunted by anything in the world, save eye contact and words of more than one syllable. 

Must say, though, (with no little pride) that yours truly can wring a SMILE from the bloke if she endeavors hard enough. He’s really a kind soul, beneath the beard and the smell, just gruff and painfully shy. Nancy and the others still tend to treat him like a plague patient. 

I rather think he just needs a friend. 

-CEBR


//  

Is it only the pitiful hope of a long-lonely man, Claire, my love, that ye seek me out especially, of late? That you’ll go out of your way to meet my eye and give me a smile, when ye see me passing? 

True, we’ve scarcely spoken since that evening ye stitched my arm, and the times when we have, it’s been orders and camp business: ‘Could you move this man’s bed, Danton?’….‘Monsieur Danton, Major Swenson bids you report to G-block’… or, to take a more recent example, ‘Danton, thank God!!! How are you at killing rodents??’ 

And yet, you’ll always smile at me while doing so; take the time to ask if I’m well, and mean it; and I canna help but be warmed by your attention and kindness. Still less can I rightly decide if I am more at peace or less, now that there is this acquaintance between me and you this past-you. 

On the one hand, there is the truth of these past six hundred days: that lack of you has been a constant ache in my soul, that having you again—even if only in these fleeting moments, as though in a dream—is balm. 

Yet, on the other, there is that verra same unease that bids me dye my hair and beard—that of which I was endeavoring to write before I was called up so suddenly to dispatch your wee rats. 

If we should meet here, now develop a friendship here, as we did at the time of our first acquaintance, as much of a momentary comfort as it would be, I canna think but of the destruction it would almost certainly put into motion. 

Do ye see it too, Claire? The potential for disaster to us? To our life and our marriage?

Imagine that the man ye ken as Danton should vanish tomorrow, never to be seen again; and soon after, a red-haired, clean-shaven Scot saunters into camp and strikes up a rapport with a certain brown-haired sassenach lass. Imagine that such a rapport develops into a friendship, a warm, fond one that lasts to the end of the war; or suppose simply that he’s known to ye, memorable enough to be noted favorably in your wee book.  When the time comes that we should meet, after ye fall through the stones, that night when ye mended will mend my shoulder….ye might recognize me, no? think to yourself, “Lord, but he’s so like that other Scotsman I once knew…” 

Harmless enough, perhaps….

Only I canna banish the notion that such memories and questions might impact, somehow, the way ye’ll see me, in those earliest days of our knowing one another; how I seem to ye at Leoch, and on the road with the rent party. Might it make ye more eager to get to know me? More trusting? Or, as I fear, less?  Might it make ye so leery of me, even if ye canna quite place why, that we never—. Think ahead to Paris, when you’re tending the hand ye so skillfully mended…Might ye not think of another such crippled hand ye saw once, back during your war? Perhaps that case mightn’t matter quite so verra much as the first, with the both of us knowing full well of the stones by that time, their miracle and myst  

Mo chridhe: I’ve just sat with my face in my hands for minutes upon end, uncertain I should be able to bring myself to take up the pen again, for I’m bested by the limitations of my own mind at every turning. For, say you should swear on your life in Paris that you’d kent me before, and we agree that by some means or manner, I—or a man as alike to me as a brother—had been there in those these years. Still, I would not be able to recall them them, they not yet having come to pass in my own life. Whether it be from you or me or both, might the wondering, the trying to reach a logical explanation, somehow impact the events and the years that we had together, our choices and their consequences, such as I remember them now, in this moment? And would such changes be for the better? Or the worst possible eventualities? What if I could

It baffles every thought and sense and shred of reason, Claire. Each time I think upon it overlong, I find myself in drink not long after. For that reason, I must keep such wonderings at bay. You already have had cause to know from Paris, after all, the depths of my infallibility— the devastating consequences of presuming to have the measure of such things as time and stones and actions and choice. 

But what I do ken, mo nighean donn, is that just as much as I have deemed it my duty to be near ye, to watch over ye in these years in whatever small ways I might, I canna take any chances of causing harm through simple negligence. Hence, I wear the glove, always, that ye might never see your own handiwork; I comb dye into my hair and beard; I keep both long to hide my face and features (THAT above all); I feign a frenchman’s birth that my voice will be a stranger’s to ye when we shall meet in that darkened hovel four years hence. It is neither convenient nor simple; but it is the only way I ken to be near and yet still preserve our life; both the one we had and the one we shall have when the Claire I married comes once more through the stones. 

And yet still, my heart quickens when ye say that stranger’s name.