Anticipating the next chapter of the artist series!!! 😍
Mod Note: If anyone can remind me which fic this is, I’d be very grateful. Until then, have some more CoC.
Chain of Command: Part 5.
Claire traced the pattern on the rough table, trying to avoid making eye contact with Mama Crook who –with a very motherly stare– was keeping council with her in the privacy of the downstairs study.
“Who, Claire, ye need to tell me, aye?”
Dipping her head closer to the wooden hardtop, Claire tried to contain the butterflies that were forming in her belly.
She shook her head.
“Did he force ye? You can tell me. Ye *ken* me, Claire…”
For six months she’d managed to conceal the child, using rags to hold her belly flat under her skirts after her failed ‘escape’ attempt. But in a moment of weakness, she’d snuck away from her duties, undone her bindings - just as her baby began to move within her - and just sat with her palms cradled over the unborn babe.
Mrs Crook watched her sneak away and had followed, curious as to why Claire had been so withheld recently. Pushing the door open, she viewed Claire with a sort of awed-wonder as the lass stripped down and sat cross legged on the floor, cradling her extended belly with such peaceful reverence.
Claire shook her head again, keeping the identity of her secret lover concealed.
Huffing out an audible sigh, Mrs Crook dropped her joined hands onto the tabletop, her patience wearing thin as the minutes ticked by.
“Claire, ye need t-”
Opening the door, Brian plowed into the small room a large smile on his face as he viewed the two women, “Mrs Crook! I need some…” his words trailed off as he took in the tense scene in front of him, his smile faltering as he caught the sweep of Claire’s belly beneath her thin dress.
“Mary, mother and bride,” he cursed, pulling a chair beside Mrs Crook as his weight fell into the seat with a solid thump.
“Dinna ask me who, sir,” she sighed in defeat, “I canna get her t’ tell me who’s fathered the bairn.”
Holding his hand up to Mrs Crook a look of understanding crossed Brian Fraser’s face as he placed his large palm over Claire’s joined ones. “Claire, lassie, who?”
Remaining stoic, Claire pressed her lips together, Brian’s familiar blue eyes piercing her armour as she tried to stay quiet. “You’ll send me away, so what does it matter if you know?” She questioned, her voice stable for the moment as her fingers twitched where they lay beneath his.
No matter what, she wasn’t from their world. Whether she told him the truth or not, she would not be allowed to raise her baby the way she’d dreamed since discovering her new circumstances.
“Ach! It *does* matter, Claire,” Brian whispered, his hard stare holding some unspoken emotion that Claire couldn’t place, “especially if it’s someone who hurt ye! And we willna send ye away, why would ye think such a thing?”
Hiding her head beneath her curls, Claire pulled her eyes away.
“Is that the reason fer *Inverness*?” Brian whispered, sensing her crumbling resolve he changed tack, his palms rubbing soothing circles over Claire’s clammy hands.
Claire’s cheeks pinked but she remained quiet.
“Did I ever tell ye,” he began, a wistful reverence in his tone, “about my mother, Claire?”
Bringing her head up, Claire studiously ignored Mama Crook as her eyes locked with Brian’s once more. Shaking her head, she licked her lips as unshed tears welled in her eyes. “No,” she replied, the hunched set of her shoulders relaxing a little as she settled to listen to his tale.
Seeing her calm, Brian’s mouth twitched upwards as he continued. He had an idea, of course, as to why Claire was being so coy about her tryst. But he wanted her to tell him the truth of it without having to force the information from her. He knew that this story was likely the only thing to break down the walls which she’d built around her wee secret.
“Ye already ken Jamie and Jenny’s grand-sire, aye?” He forged ahead, waiting only briefly for Claire’s nod in between words, “weel, he met my ma in a rather unconventional position…”
Sitting on the guest bed, Claire shifted her weight. The mattress was incredibly comfortable but she just couldn’t seem to relax. Despite his best efforts, Brian had been unable to coax the identity of Claire’s mystery suitor from her. She very nearly cracked after hearing his story but the more rational part of her saw through his attempts to prize the information from her. In the end, the story saw Brian’s mother raise him alone - without the help of Simon Fraser. Only in guilt had the man gifted Lallybroch to Brian and Claire could only see the same fate for herself and the baby. Why bring Jamie’s reputation into disrepute? She’d rather continue to conceal it in the hopes that Jamie wouldn’t feel the need to claim ownership of her unborn once he discovered her secret.
She’d come this far, already in too deep, Claire -as stubborn as she was- had chosen her path.
Ellen clicked the door open, pushing the thick wood slowly so as not to spook Claire. She had returned home to find Brian with his head in his hands and and empty dram of whisky drained on the table in front of him.
He’d only to say two words and Ellen knew it all.
With the words still echoing around her head as she snuck into the bedchamber.
“Claire?” She questioned quietly, reaching her hand out to run over the young lassie’s hair as she tried to hide her eyes from Ellen. “Ye ken what you mean to me, to us…” she began, her hands trembling a little as she tried to quash Claire’s misgivings. “I wouldna be here today if it wasne for you.”
“I’m so sorry, Ellen,” Claire blurted, her emotions boiling over at Ellen’s motherly touch.
“What is there to be sorry for, a leannan? I dinna think there is anything ye need apologise for. But we canna do more until you tell us…tell me, Claire…” she pleaded, “please?”
When Claire still refused to speak, she tried one last thing. Wrapping her arm around Claire’s shaking shoulders, she brought her against her chest. “Ye ken how strong our Scottish blood is, Claire,” she whispered, “tell us and we can assure you both safety and protection before the bairn arrives. Do you want to be a family?”
The question was supposed to be rhetorical, but Ellen did not, and had never believed in the impossibility of any situation.
“You’ll send me away once you know,” she spoke repeating the same worry to Ellen as she had to Brian, her voice muffled as she burrowed deeper into the wool of her shawl. “Or take my baby away from me. Why yearn for something I can never have?”
“This has to be your choice, Claire. I canna force yer honesty. But I will strive to help you in any possible way. And we would *ne’er* remove your child from ye.” That particular statement and cut Ellen deep - for Claire to assume that either her or Brian would punish her so severely made her heart ache.
Taking Claire’s hand in her own, Ellen first ran their joined palms over Claire’s belly and then raised them to place over her own heart. “Trust in us, Claire. We will see ye safe.”
Closing her eyes tight, Claire felt the steady beat of Ellen’s heart and swallowed. “I should have told him first,” Claire sighed, tears falling down her cheeks as she opened her eyes again, staring directly at Ellen as she tried to convey meaning with simply a look. “W-will you tell him I’m sorry for it…?”
Padding downstairs, Ellen huffed out a rather large breath as she pressed herself to Brian’s side.
“How is she?” He asked, eager to know if his clever wife had managed to wrangle the truth from Claire.
“Scared still,” Ellen sighed. “She thinks she’s alone.”
“Have ye managed to convince her that view is supremely foolish?” Brian chuckled worriedly.
If anyone could do it, Ellen could. After Jamie, Ellen was the Fraser with whom Claire had the strongest bond.
“What’s amiss, Mam?” Jamie piped up, his voice echoing through the almost-silent room. Brian and Ellen’s eye rose to meet his immediately. They’d been so deep in thought that neither had seen or heard their youngest enter until he’d made himself known.
“Son,” Ellen coaxed, patting the sofa next to her as she spoke, “before I tell ye, I think we need a wee chat, aye?”
Sitting with some trepidation, Jamie perched on the end of the seat with his fingers strumming out a nervous rhythm against his bare knees. “It’s Claire, isn’t it?” He broached, unaware of her current predicament. She had been off-colour for a while, avoiding him completely in recent weeks. He’d been busy though, which had made giving her space easier.
Brian took Ellen’s hand, watching as Jamie’s gaze flittered restlessly between them both. After Willie had been taken, sickness in the house always came with some manner of trepidation.
“Jamie,” Ellen began, her eyes serious as she clutched Brian’s hand tightly, “Claire’s pregnant.”
Steeling himself, Jamie wrung his hands together as he stood outside the guest bedroom door. The distinct sound of sobbing filtered under the door and his heart shattered at the idea of Claire suffering alone for all this time, afraid and unable to come to him with her news.
*Promised*, his mother had told him. She’d spent most of their romantic time together thinking their actions to be illicit - all because of some misconceived notion that he was to wed another.
In a moment of weakness as a child, his grief at losing his brother consuming him inside and out, he’d made a promise to his father. Claire had been his beacon. His shining light. And no matter how she saw herself, he saw the treasure she truly was. In those dire days he had promised Brian that one day Claire would be his bride - no matter what.
Brian, it seemed, had taken him at his word to this day. The rumours that had been spilt throughout Broch Tuarach had not been wrong, he was permanently entangled with someone whom he loved greatly. But since the name of the lucky lassie had been conveniently omitted - to allow Jamie the chance to woo his intended properly - Claire had only heard a partial truth.
She’d craved Jamie, labouring under the assumption that sometime soon he’d be betrothed to another woman.
Suddenly her downtrodden mood over Laoghaire became clear to him as the mist evaporated before his eyes.
Cursing his foolishness, Jamie berated himself for the lack of clarity on his behalf. This mess would not have occurred had he cleared Claire’s misconceptions. Had he not allowed her to block his every attempt at making his position clear to her, they would *not* be in this situation now.
Opening the door, he walked across the wood paneled floor and knelt beside the cushioned four poster bed.
“Why, Claire?” He muttered, taking hold of her frozen hands as he began to kiss her frigid digits. “Why did ye spend all this time thinking yerself no’ fit for me?”
Stunned, Claire remained silent. She’d expected the ‘why’. After all, Jamie was loyal to a fault. To think that he’d missed the chance to resolve this mess earlier would have certainly had him in knots. But she hadn’t expected latter part of his statement.
Ellen’s calming influence earlier had worked. Within moments of their unusual mother/daughter-like conversation beginning she’d broken, sobbing relentlessly as she hiccuped through her sorry tale.
“Because I’m not, Jamie. You’re the Laird Broch Tuarach… and I’m plain Claire, nothing more.”
“No!” Jamie cried, tears slipping from his eyes as he leaned forwards, pressing his forehead gently against hers, “dinna you ever say that, Claire!” He castigated, his patience at the depredation of her self-worth depleting.
“It’s you, mo nighean donn. It’s always been you! Can’t you see?” He begged, pleaded, his tone reverent and true as he grasped her tightly.
“All of those years ago, I pledged myself to ye. My body, my heart…everything. I told da. So yes, I am promised. I was *always* promised…but to you, Claire.”
Fresh tears cascaded down her cheeks now as she dragged in a ragged breath, relief and sorrow coursing through her veins as she hurled herself from the bed and into Jamie’s waiting arms.
“Oh, Jamie,” she spluttered, gripping onto his shirt so tightly that she almost tore into the fabric, “I l-love you…God how I love you.”
“Then you’ll have me?” He whispered, his lips caressing her ear slowly as he pressed his flat belly against her round one, the feel of his child between them emboldening his words by touch alone. “Because, Christ, Claire, if I don’t love ye too. I always have…”