A Hundred Lesser Faces: (Five)
Notes from Mod Bonnie
- This story stems from the premise: what if Voyager!Claire had gone first to Lallybroch instead of directly to the print shop in Edinburgh?
My own Jamie,
Almost six months ago, I learned that you survived Culloden. You made history, my darling! Q.E.D.
As many nights as I’ve lain awake in those months cursing myself for not having looked sooner, I know I shall thank God every day of my life for the series of events that led me at last to the right pages, to you. When I fully realized what it meant— that you had been spared the death you faced so bravely that April morning, the death that has haunted my thoughts and my nightmares for so long— It was like a wound, the oldest and deepest scar ripped back open, inch by inch. I was completely laid bare from it, from the storm of emotions warring within me: such joy, such anguish for the lost time (how many more years could we have had, Jamie, had I looked?), such fear—and then joy again, because the years of grief could now be ended, and *against all reason!* I could see you again.
Likewise will I thank God every day for the small voice in my head that nudged me at the very last moment to go first to Lallybroch, rather than to your shop in Edinburgh. Please thank Jenny for me. She explained everything.
It is for the best, that it happened this way; easier, I think, for all concerned. Perversely, despite the shock, I find myself smiling in this moment: for we promised there would be no lies between us, remember? It is a promise I make to you again, today. You can know, then, with absolute certainty, that it can be no lie when I tell you that I am glad— glad and on-my-knees grateful to Heaven— that you have found true happiness.
After all the pain and the loss, the war and the hunger and the suffering you’ve endured, to know that you have a wife with whom you’ve found something new and wonderful; that you have had the joy of holding your own children in your arms, to have seen them be born and grow? It is a balm, Jamie, a comfort to know that despite all the cruelty fate has dealt you—dealt us— you have been blessed with such great and abundant joy. Never would I wish anything less for you, just as I know you would not for me.
It is my deepest prayer that as you read these words, you will know the truth of them, will be able to feel my heart through the page, and KNOW that from its very depths, I wish you every happiness with your wife and your daughters.
And yet I couldn’t leave, couldn’t go back from whence I came, without telling you about another little girl, who was born the 23rd of November the year of Culloden.
I hope the contents of the brown packet, here enclosed, tell you more than any words could about your daughter—our daughter—Brianna Ellen.
Jamie was shaking—no, he was — crumbling.
Every breath wrenched through him, agonizing, and the tears were falling, blurring his vision. He had to sit back on his haunches to keep them from dropping onto the page and blurring her precious words.
His hands were quaking with
Jesus, GOD in
He COULD NOT think
Thoughts, words, they were—
They failed him, simply abandoned him as he shook on the study rug. Only his body seemed to know the way, for he was snatching for the parcel, tearing at the string binding the paper. There was an oily, unidentifiable wrapping within, then a layer of soft flannel, and then —
The sound that escaped him—He didn’t even know there existed such a sound within him. It was terrible and beautiful at once, and though it was in no language, what he felt, his lips over and over formed a word, the only word he could muster: “No….NO….”
For as though a great knife had cut through those terrible, looming stones on the accursed hill, Jamie held his infant daughter, newly-born, sleeping there in the palms of his hands. The portrait—picture?—painting?—was all in shades of grey, and yet somehow lifelike as a true bairn in miniature before him, like peering through a spyglass straight into that distant life.
He had not a single thought to spare for how, or by what means…
He could only trace the bitty wee fists curled on the blanket, the sweet wisps of hair on the tiny skull.
“Oh, mo chridhe…”
He couldn’t look away, could not even blink, though tears were coursing downward.
God, the child —this very child —
—delivered safely into the world and into the arms of her mother—her mother.…
The babe had lived—LIVED.
The pad of his thumb caught slightly as he caressed her cheek, and the portrait slid upward just enough to reveal — “Ohh…Jesus…”
She was grown to a toddling child, eating a cake that was smeared all about her face. And damn him if he didn’t LAUGH amidst the weeping to see just how pleased with herself she looked for it, a cuddly toy raised in triumph like a sword, four wee teeth visible as she giggled out a victory cry.
There she was again, older, standing in a great snowfall, naught but wee cheeks and grinning eyes visible under the great padded suit she wore against the cold.
Older, still. Three? Four? Sitting proper-like in a pretty frock with her hair combed smooth.
Such a sweet face—
Older, still, standing with a wee box in her hand beside a giant something with wheels, proud and eager, eyes bright.
And then he was gasping as the spyglass world ignited into blazing, brilliant colors. He saw his daughter’s hair, red and victorious and shining against the black coat of the huge dog she hugged tight; saw the pink flush of her cheeks, spread down her neck as it always did his, when he was happy and exuberant.
On and on flashed the paintings, these captured moments of his daughter’s life.
Going fishing and doing a damn fine job of it.
Playing uproariously in the sea-surf, splashing and laughing with complete abandon.
Absolutely lovely as as she grew out of girlhood, and God, how vividly he could see Claire in her, as she did—in the lines of her, the way she held her mouth, tilted her head—that broad, clear brow that begged to be kissed, reverently—
Laughing, carefree, safe.
Braw and strong as she chopped wood. Good lass!
Gazing softly out a window, seeming not even to notice her image being captured.
until he was gasping and looking at the last portrait, of an achingly beautiful young woman sitting on a rock before a fire, making camp for the night, perhaps. Her face was cast in the same golds and red as her hair; the dreams of her heart seeming to dance across her eyes—as they always did her mother’s. His daughter…grown.
The paintings were strewn all around him on the carpet, a tableau of her; her life. On his knees he bowed over them, overwhelmed and shuddering with great sobs as he looked, and looked, and looked.
She would be—
…..she was well.
The child HAD been safe.
It hadn’t been for naught.
He fell, then, and sheltered her like a cloak, keeping his child, his daughter, safe and shielded from the world for just one moment; safe…his….
It was only sudden, ripping, screaming panic that yanked him out of the quiet calm, searching wildly, fumbling with desperate hands—
But relief tore from his throat just as suddenly as he found a second page:
Not everything can be captured in a photograph, of course (that’s what they’re called. Did I ever tell you about them?), and there’s so much I long to tell you about this wonderful person.
Will you believe she’s been taller than me since the age of thirteen? She carries it like a queen, though, like I imagine your mother did. She doesn’t slouch or try to hide. Not Bree.
Oh, yes: most people call her Bree, for short.
She bites her nails, when she’s thinking hard. I don’t even think she notices when she’s doing it.
She’s absolutely brilliant, Jamie, studying at one of the top universities in the world to be a historian. You would be so very proud of her.
She’s not perfect, of course. Perhaps her biggest flaw as half-Scottish is that she HATES whisky, haha. I’ll do my best to win her over, though, don’t you worry.
She’s a spectacular artist, another way in which she takes after her grandmother. She captures you, completely.
That statement, actually, is true in more ways than one. Our Brianna is captivating, in every way.
She’s an absolute wonder with maths and figures —as natural to her as breathing, it seems, just like they are for you.
She smiles in her sleep, just like her father.
She’s so like you, Jamie, it breaks my heart.
After Frank died—But Lord, I haven’t said anything of him.
It was two years ago. He had a good, full life, and he loved Bree more than anything in the world. He could have been cruel, could have taken out his anger upon the child, the very breathing manifestation of the ways in which I’d betrayed him—but he didn’t. From the moment he first held her, Frank loved her as his own, and while things between he and I were tenuous, to say the least, I will always love him for the father he was to her, for the sacrifices he made for her. I hope that is a comfort to you, and not a blow.
After he was gone, after giving her time to grieve, it felt important that Bree should know about you, about the stones. It took—well, it frankly took a bloody lot of luck and a jolly good miracle to get her to believe, *but she does.* She loved Frank with all her heart, but she knows now that Jamie Fraser was her father. IS her father.
You should know that she was instrumental in finding you. She persisted when I would have faltered under the doubts and the fears. As ecstatic and overjoyed as I was at the news that you were alive, I was so afraid Jamie, for you, for me, for Bree.
Even though I know she, too, was plagued with fears, she remained strong; and she kept ME strong. Even at the very stones, when I was so wracked with guilt over leaving her forever that I would have stayed, for her sake, she was there to strengthen me, to tell me not to look back. She said that she was giving me back to you, and that if I didn’t go, *she* would. ‘Someone has to find him and tell him I was born,’ she said, and she meant it.
THAT is the kind of person your daughter is growing to be, Jamie: determined, and brilliant, and selfless for the sake of those she loves; *and that includes you.* She asked me to give you a kiss, just from her. I’ve left it here, on the page, for you to keep, always.
Brianna has been the greatest joy of my life since we parted, a joy that would have been richer only if I had been granted the grace to raise her with you at my side. Thank you for her. THANK YOU for making me go on, for her sake. Despite everything, it has been a good life. Even in those long years of grief, I had the joy of seeing you every day, of seeing your spirit, there in the child of our love. And I’m so very grateful.
I’ll keep telling her about you. There wasn’t enough time, before I left. She’ll be able hear everything, now. I promise.
Jamie shook his head hard, fast, feeling for a third page that wasn’t there. “No…”
Be happy, Jamie Fraser, and LIVE.
“No,” he moaned. his eyes clinging to the fleeting words, even as he begged them not to stop. “Claire…”
“Mo nighean donn, don’t —
Those next seconds were everlasting, each terrible, catastrophic truth echoing in his soul like the toll of a great bell, over and over.
She had been here
Claire had been here
She was sitting at the bottom of the staircase, crying hard into Ian’s shoulder. When the study door crashed open, her head shot up and she jumped to her feet, her face pure terror. “Jamie, mo ch—”
“When?” He snarled it, and Jenny convulsed with a deep sob like a swallowed scream, and covered her face with her hands.
Jamie was thundering toward her, a veil of red over his vision as he demanded, “WHEN?”
Ian—in a shockingly deft and smooth movement given the leg—shot to his feet, shielding Jenny from Jamie’s rage with his body.
In all truth, the rational parts of Jamie’s mind were glad for Ian’s presence, for that was the only thing keeping the blood rage from taking control, from taking revenge. “WHEN was she here, woman?” he bellowed over Ian’s shoulder, “How fucking long did ye see fit to keep—”
Ian shoved him, eyes blazing. “You’ll NOT talk that way to—”
“Mor—ning—”Jenny sobbed, her voice a strangled whisper, “—gone before—Jamie! Oh, Jamie, I ken I’ll—never for—give mys—for—”
“HOW MANY MONTHS?” he roared, overtaken by despair, overtaken by rage, becoming a nameless beast under it. “HOW MANY YEARS, JENNY?”
“This morning—” she wailed, “To—TO—DAY—”
And then a great wave, tall as a mountain, rose up within Jamie, blasting out everything within him in a single cataclysmic moment of clarity.
T O D A Y
Then she was—
She could be no more than—
He vaulted up the stairs four at a time, paying no heed to Janet and Wee Ian and the others who were gathered at the top of the staircase, wide-eyed and pale and gaping.
Less than a minute later, he thundered back down past them all, breeks only half-laced under his boots, traveling bag on his back.
“No,” Jenny moaned, grasping at his sleeve as he passed and trying to hold him back. “Jamie, ye canna—Ye CANNA catch her, she's—GONE—she’s—”
He shook her off, hard enough to knock her off-balance, and ran to the kitchen, shoving what food he could lay his hands on into his sack and moving straight to the door, so crazed with determination he could barely see what it was he took. Food didn’t matter. Fatigue, already tugging at him, didn’t matter. Claire was—
“Jamie, she’s nearly a day ahead—” Jenny caught the handle just as he did, eyes absolutely wild. “Ye dinna even ken where she’s bound or—”
He spared his sister one look, and let all the hate and contempt, the rage and the betrayal show there as he growled, “I ken precisely where she’s bound.”