Flood my Mornings: Every Day and Everything
Notes from Mod Bonnie:
- This story takes place in an AU in which Jamie travels through the stones two years after Culloden and finds Claire and his child in 1950 Boston.
- See all past installments via Bonnie’s Master List
- Previous installment: Fernacre (Jamie is surprised with an outing by Claire and ends up with a job).
Every Day and Everything
Brianna, the light of his life, the joy of his heart, wrapped her arms around his neck in the sweetest of hugs, and declared:
“Well, and ye dinna smell like a bed of roses yourself!” said Jamie, startled into laughter. He lifted her above his head and took a dramatic, tickling sniff. “Och, no, I’m forsworn: ye smell verra sweet, cub.” He kissed her repeatedly on the cheeks and neck until she began wriggling–giggling– to escape. “Ye’d best get accustomed to the smell o’ horses, a nighean.” He gave her one more noisy kiss and set her down. “Where’s your Mama, then?”
“In here,” came Claire’s voice from the kitchen, and Jamie’s whole body stiffened, as though reacting to a snapped twig in the dark. Was he only imagining that she sounded strange? Strained…worn…? Tired, perhaps? Well, and he was tired himself, was he not, after the day’s labor and the two long Car rides with Hank? Perhaps it had been a hard shift at the hospital today. Aye, surely that was it. Still, he followed Brianna into the kitchen somewhat braced.
“Hello, there, sweetheart,” she said over her shoulder, reaching for salt with an apologetic, “Just one moment, alright?” She had already changed from her uniform into a cotton shirt and slacks and was stirring something on the Stove top.
He came up behind her and placed a careful, tender hand on the small of her back. “It’s verra kind of ye to see to supper, Sassenach,” he said, genuinely thankful, as he knew cooking was not her joy.
“Penelope saw to it, truthfully,” she said deprecatingly, placing a lid on the pot and turning into his arms. “I’m just reheating.”
She did look tired, Jamie thought as she embraced him; or perhaps not tired, for he didn’t think lack of sleep had to do with it. She looked… subdued, and that troubled him all the more. Claire nearly always had a glint in her eye: from love, from excitement, from determination after some task needing to be done. In this moment, though, her arms wrapped about him, looking up into his face, she seemed glazed, distant, and Jamie had the distinct impression it was with some effort that she smiled warmly and asked, “Was it a good first day, sweetheart?”
“Aye, it was, at that.” He kissed her forehead and released her. He was still concerned, but did not wish to press her, and so sank down into one of the kitchen chairs. “The tasks of conducting business havena changed o’ermuch in two hundred years, from what I’ve seen of it, at least as far as Fernacre is concerned. There are still ledgers to keep, inventories to maintain, records to properly file, and such. Made more telephone calls in one day than I thought I should make in a lifetime,” he said with a laugh, “but it got easier as the day went along.”
“Who were you having to phone?” she asked with the same note of forced cheer as she knelt to check on Bree, who was playing happily with George the toy rabbit on the floor next to the Frigidaire.
“Oh, well, mostly the folk from whom we purchase stock, so Tom could introduce me. The rapport makes a great deal of difference in transactions, ken. That was most o’ the morning. For a time, I was worried the whole of my position would entail sitting at the wee desk…” He paused for a moment, watching Claire’s back, which stayed (carefully?) turned to him as she went to wash her hands. “…but I did get outdoors for the afternoon, inspecting the stock and making my own notes about their ages and breeds and such–to determine what our purchasing priorities should be for the upcoming months; and then ended the day back indoors wi’ damn tedious invoicing,” he said, with a mock shudder he hoped would make her laugh.
She took the cue and chuckled, turning to face him at last, but the mirth had not reached her eyes. “Do you think you’ll enjoy the job, love?” she said, putting her hands in her wee pockets. “Think you can be happy in it?”
“Aye, I do,” he said with a smile, feeling a swell of excited contentment, despite his disquiet over her mood. “Aye,” he said, more emphatically, hoping to reassure her, just in case anxiety over his new position could possibly be the cause. “There’s plenty of the old world about it, but enough of the new to keep me learning.”
“I’m so happy for you, sweetheart,” she said, bending down to kiss him, and Jamie could tell that she meant it.
Nonetheless, as she turned, when she surely thought he couldn’t see, he saw her face fall. “Claire, mo chridhe?” he said gently, catching her hand. “What’s happened?”
There was a moment when Jamie thought she was going to pull away and declare everything to be perfectly fine. He could see her mouth working in deliberation; but as she turned to him, she seemed to deflate before his eyes. Without a word, she sank down onto his lap and put her arms around his neck, curling against him like a child.
“Hey, now, hey,” he breathed, pulling her close against his chest. “Oh, my sweet lass…”
She wasn’t crying, just breathing heavily and clinging to him very tightly, burying her face in his neck and shoulder. “Just…hold me?” she said, voice tight.
“Always, mo nighean donn,” he said. He cupped her head and rested his lips in her hair, closing his eyes and rocking them gently, praying.
“Ma-ma?” came a small voice a few minutes later, causing them both to open their eyes. Brianna was looking up with stricken concern and patting Claire’s bum. “Ma-ma? Ah-sad?”
Claire straightened a bit so she could reach down and touch Brianna’s cheek. “No, no, not sad, lovey. Mama just wanted to have a cuddle with Da.”
“M’okay, Sacknap!” the lass said, satisfied. After giving Claire a parting kiss on the foot, she toddled off to resume her animated conversation with George.
Jamie and Claire both watched her for a time as an excuse not to break the silence. Finally, though, Jamie squeezed his wife’s hip. “You are sad, though, aye?”
“Yes,” she whispered, after a long pause, not meeting his eye.
He kissed her cheek and temple, slowly. I’m here. I love you. Don’t be afraid, my love. “Tell me?” he said aloud.
Slowly, without speaking, she reached into the pocket of of her trousers and pulled out an envelope.
Jamie inhaled sharply. “Jesus…He wrote back, then?”
Claire had shown him her letter before posting it, that second day together, the day before their wedding. With so much joy between them, it had seemed callow not to send a gesture of thanks to the man that had made their life-altering reunion possible; and yet each word had been a wound in her heart in the writing, no matter how genuinely she meant them.
July 7, 1950
I do not know if it is right for me to write you. You might prefer never to have cause to think of me again. I would not blame you, if so, and yet I felt I had to write to you to thank you for each and every one of the gifts that I learned about yesterday, when James Fraser appeared in my kitchen:
Your forgiveness in not pressing charges after what happened at Oxford (Jamie told me what happened, and how badly he must have injured you); the money and tickets (my God, the cost of these alone must have been exorbitant); the passport and birth certificate (I know you risked much in acquiring them: your position, criminal charges).
And the trust for Brianna….Frank, this above all had me floored and in tears. Had you written to me of it before and I’d not seen, ignoring your letters? For the extravagance of this gift, for my shame at my own behavior, my conscience screams in my ear that I must refuse this, that it would be wrong to accept. Jamie, though, asks that I give you the gift of accepting your kindness; so, unless you should choose to rescind (which I give you full permission to do), I will say only thank you, THANK YOU, and God bless you for wishing to see to the care of my daughter. For the selfless love you showed toward the child that I promised you, then ripped away: I am grateful; I am touched; I am speechless.
What you did for Jamie, for me, was beyond what any person in your position would be obliged to do. Please know how deeply, utterly grateful I am for what you have done by giving Jamie the means to find me. You’ve given me my husband. You’ve given Brianna her father. Truly, you have given me more than I ever could have dreamed of, everything that I have mourned and buried. You’ve given me life again.
I’ve very nearly scratched that last paragraph out, for it must seem little more than salt in a wound, to prattle on about my happiness that came so directly at the expense of your own. So too does it feel woefully incommensurate with the deed. “Grateful”; “Touched”—these are flimsy, disgusting little words that do not begin to reflect the depth of my feeling; and yet I leave the above sentences where they stand, for it would be even more of a disservice to allow your actions to go down as casual good deeds or simple kindnesses.
You gave me everything, Frank. Everything. And whether or not my words can carry the intensity of how I feel today as I sit here writing to you, please hear me: I am eternally, brokenly, on my knees thankful to you.
And above all, I am sorry. I’m sorry for everything I took from you. Every minute. Every year. Past and future. For everything I did to hurt you, I’m so deeply, terribly, truly sorry.
You deserve far better, Frank, and I wish every happiness upon your life.
Jamie squeezed Claire tight with one arm and turned Frank’s reply over in his free hand. The flap was still sealed. He brought both arms around her and held her close for a long time before saying gently, “What is the worst that this letter could contain?”
“I don’t know,” she said, voice quavering.
“Ye do know.” He ran his fingers lightly over her back, speaking softly but without hesitation. “What is it ye fear he’s said, mo chridhe?”
“All the…I don’t know, Jamie, I just– had planned things so that we’d never speak again. Now, I have to…” She took a deep, ragged breath, “…face all the the terrible things he thinks about me…and the fact that they’re incontestably true.”
That she’d broken his heart thrice over and left him to pick up the pieces. Jamie remembered the rage and the pain in Frank Randall’s face. He knew the truth of how the man suffered.
“Could ye carry on,” Jamie asked with no trace of mockery, “if he told ye all his grievances against you?”
“Yes,” she said after a long silence.
He rubbed her hip slowly. “That is no’ to say it willna be painful…but you are strong enough, even for this.”
She nodded and took a deep breath. She took the letter from his hand and rose, walking over to the sink. There came the sound of ripping paper, the whifft of the letter being withdrawn. She stood hunched for a moment, steeling herself over the paper in her hand. Then, she turned and held it back out to him. “Will you read to me?”
Jamie took the letter and unfolded it, his heart racing, seeing at once that it was far shorter than her own message had been. God be with us, he prayed silently.
Jamie stopped and glanced up nervously. She was leaned with her back against the counter facing him, but staring at the floor. He went on.
“Every day since we parted, I have grieved; I have wished; and I have raged.”
“Jesus,” Claire whispered, squeezing her eyes tight as if to shut the pain out.
Jamie’s breath caught in his throat and he had to swallow hard before reading the next words.
“…everything I have done since the day you and I met, I would do again, and gladly.
Her head came up, stunned, and she made a small whimper, her eyes glassy with tears.
Jamie finished the letter very quietly.
“I wish every happiness for you, as well, Claire. And for your family.
She put her face in both hands and wept, her strong, narrow shoulders hunched over with the immensity of Randall’s words.
Jamie stood and went to her, hugging her gently to him. “He wishes ye well,” he crooned. “You couldna wish for better than that, aye?”
She struggled to get a deep breath through the tears. “I really do want him to be happy–I do!”
“I know….I know ye do,” he said, rocking her and smoothing her hair.
“Until he's–happy–-finds someone who makes him–I’ll always feel…my fault…” She trailed off, crying harder.
Jamie kissed her hair. “Ye canna hold yourself accountable for his happiness, Sassenach. We might pray for it, true, and we ought, but ye must release yourself from the burden of it.”
She nodded against his chest and let the rest of her tears fall silently against his chest, the peace of the kitchen disturbed only by the sounds of Brianna’s play at their feet.
Suddenly, Claire stiffened and pulled back to look him in the eye, her own wild. “I love you, Jamie,” she said, laying her cool hands on his face and giving him a little shake.
“And I love you.“
“I love you,” she said again, insistently, almost violently, “—and I—I would never—” She shook her head, hard. “You should never think that—I could ever—”
That she would ever do this to him. Leave him. Love another.
“NO, mo ghraidh,” he said firmly. “NO. You loved Frank Randall; it would be wrong for either of us to pretend otherwise….but you’d never have left him if you’d had something like this between you…. God, never!” She dug her fingertips into his arms, lips working furiously as she tried to keep her emotion in check. "You and I,” he went on, “we’re different, aye? We’ve always been different. That kind of heartbreak…that damage and pain: they willna be for us, Claire. Not ever.”
“But hhhow…” She exhaled heavily on the word, the pent-up distress rushing out of her, such that she had to gasp for air to speak. “…how can you be sure?”
“I’m sure of my own heart…and I’m sure of yours, mo chridhe. There’s nothing on earth to which I stake my faith more than that.”
“Oh, Jamie,” she breathed, “Jamie, my love…I don’t want to believe we could ever–ever–” She made a sound of anger and pain in her throat. “But I thought I knew my own heart when I married Frank, too…and look at how…” She couldn’t finish the sentence, just clapped a hand over her mouth and shook with weeping.
The lump in Jamie’s throat burned and choked him with doubt and fear (Jesus, could she)…
…then vanished; utterly, completely vanished.
“Ye ask me how I can be sure? Because the first time I took ye to the stones, after Cranesmuir, ye chose me, freely. You felt sorry about Frank, and couldna forget him entirely, true, but from then on, it was me…not him. Because the second time I took ye there, and ye went back to him, it was still me, aye?…even with him there and loving and willing before ye, ye loved me.” He took her face, her lovely, red, tear-streaked face in both hands. “Because in life and death and beyond time, you’ve chosen to affirm that I’m yours just as you’re mine.”
He opened his mouth to speak the words, but they fell from her lips first. Their promise:
“‘Til our life shall be done.”