In Sickness and In Health

She sat with her head on the steering wheel as she turned off the car, the weight of the last few days settling into her bones. On some level, she knew this was the life she had asked for, and yet it was one she didn't want.

It was one she was thrown back into almost ten years ago thanks to a promise, and if it wasn't for her daughter, she would say that it hadn't been one worth keeping or a life worth living. Tiredly, she sat up and opened the door, slowly she alighted from the car and walked into the darkened house. No one understood her here. Oh, her husband pretended to try, but really, what alternative did he have? She didn't fit in as a faculty wife, and once Bre had entered school she had been at loose ends. The only thing other than her daughter that had made any sense to her had been medicine, and after having had the freedom of being a healer in the 18th century being a nurse in the 20th wouldn't do. Not that Frank seemed to believe the story she had told him of the time from when she disappeared from Craigh Nu Dunn till her reappearance in Inverness… Shaking her head, at thoughts better not thought, Claire Randall flipped on a hall light and walked towards her daughter's room.

"You're home," Frank said as he slipped out of his home office.

"So it would seem," she replied as she shed her coat and looked at him; trying to feel something for him.

Shaking his head slightly, he exhaled: "there's a plate with dinner on it in the refrigerator."

"I grabbed something in the cafeteria while I did paperwork," Claire admitted tiredly as she folded her coat over her arm.

"With Joe?"

"Not this again, Frank," she sighed in exasperation.

Inhaling he put his hands up in surrender: "you've been there for four days; maybe I just hoped you stopped to talk to someone."

Rubbing the bridge of her nose she sighed: "we're in the middle of fast and wide spreading illness, Frank. I've barely had time to sleep, never mind stop to talk to someone. The time I spent talking to someone other than in the course of work was to call home and talk to Bre," she admitted coming close to the edge of her patience.

"Well, I'll let you check on her and get some rest then," he said a bit curtly. "I have a paper I want to get finished tonight so I won't be a bother and say goodnight now."

Nodding, she turned away from him as she bid him goodnight and headed down the hall. Frank watched her in silence till she slipped into Bre's room before slipping into his office dejectedly himself, wondering what had happened to the woman he had married nearly twenty years before…

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Claire crept over to Bre's bed led by the dual light of the moon from the open window and the nightlight near the floorboard. Placing her coat on the edge of the bed, she crossed the room to close the room agaist the damp night's chill. "Momma?" Bre asked sleepily as she turned slightly in the bed.

"You should be sleeping Miss," Claire chided with a smile in her voice as she went back to the bed and sat on its edge and looked at her daughter with a laugh: "what ever happened to your hair?"

Bre rolled her eyes: "daddy tried to braid it, but he can't do it like you can Momma!"

Claire bit back a laugh: "so I see. Grab your brush," she sighed as Bre's smile lit her face and she jumped up and reached over to her nightstand to get it and a ribbon. "Oh a foregone conclusion that I'd fix this, huh?"

"A what?" Bre asked as she bounced on the bed.

Claire laughed: "it means you figured I'd come in here and fix your hair. Did you stay up just for this? You do know I might not have made it home," she explained as she started to brush the hair that was so much like Bre's fathers'. Thick and copper in color with just a touch of a curl that always seemed to be flying out of its restraint.

"No," Bre answered. "The strange man woke me."

"What strange man?" Claire asked pausing mid-stroke. "Did you see him in the widow?"

"No Momma. He used to come sometimes to get Faye, but he never talks. He just stands and watched."

Claire let go of the breathe she had been holding as he daughter mentioned the imaginary friend she used to have: "did you see Faye too?" she asked, wondering if her four day absence had caused a regression in some of her daughter's behaviors.

"No, but Ougal was here too."

"Who?"

Bre huffed as she turned her head slightly towards her mother. "Her Unkie mother. The storyteller. I told you about him," she informed her before turning back around. "He talks funny. But he told funny stories about fairies and Dunns and Leoch and different places. He's who she left with. Had to go home with him. But he said he'd watch out for me. And you too."

Claire felt a shudder run up her back as if someone had walked over her grave as she finished the braid and swallowed hard. I'm just tired she thought. "Oh, that's nice," she said, not wanting to do anything to smother her daughter's adventurous and creative spirit. "How about a cuddle and a story?"

Bre smiled as she put her brush on the table and picked up her book of fairy tales. "Tell me the one about the true bride," she said as she handed Claire the book and pushed herself back on the pillows and leaned against her mother.

"Always 'The True Bride' or 'The Goose Girl,'" Claire teased as she tweaked her nose and Bre put her head into the crook of Claire's shoulder.

"They're my favorites," Bre said as she yawned. "Momma you're hot."

"Only because you're cold as ice from having that window open. Now, it's getting late. 'The True Bride' then sleep…"

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Claire tossed and turned into the night. She just could not get comfortable in the bed. One minute she was cold and the next hot. For the life of her she couldn't imagine where her husband was and what he could possibly be up to. Sighing, she flopped onto her bed and stared at the ceiling. Something was wrong. Something was seriously wrong….

At the sound of the door opening, she propped herself up on her elbows and glared at the man she caught entering. "What the bloody HELL do you think YOU'RE doing?" she asked as she jumped to her feet.

Frank rolled his eyes at her as he loosened his tie, not taking in her glassy eyes or the slight accent she had reverted to. "Claire, can we not do this right now. I'm tired and I would like to go to bed."

"Not with me you aren't," she said as she backed against the wall and her hands started to fiddle within the folds of the skirt of her nightgown as she muttered repeatedly: "where is it? Where is it?"

"Where's what?" he asked growing annoyed. "What is wrong with you?"

"They'll find me you know. You can't keep me here. You may have taken my dirk but there are other ways…. You saw that at Wentworth."

"Wentworth?! Claire you're having a nightmare," Frank deduced as he stepped towards her and she grabbed the book off the table and threw it at his head, barely missing him, but making a loud BANG as it made a hole in the wall.

"Too bad those cows and the door didn't kill you! You should've died there… Or the duel… You took Faith from us, and somehow you lived," she continued to go on in derision. "You don't care who you hurt. Torture- Rape- Woman- Child- Man- it doesn't matter, does it Jack? Just as long as you get off. Get what you want…" she continued to rage to his surprise.

Frank stumbled back: "you said you weren't…"

"Weren't what?" she asked as she stared blankly at him, and then started to move as if she was pulling away from someone's hold, her energy now as frantic as her words. "Murtaugh let me go!" she said to the air. "He deserves to pay for what he did to Jamie… that so called choice. Me or him… Of course he choose to give himself to Jack…. He promised me the protection of his body and this bastard made sure he had to keep it!" she argued as she started to deflate and curl into- something, as Frank, horrified, backed out of the room.

"Daddy?" Bre called from down the hall. "What's wrong with Momma?"

"Just a nightmare, Baby. Go back to sleep. We didn't mean to wake you. I'm going to give her sometime and see if I can get her back into bed later," he said as he walked to her. "Come on, I'll tuck you back into bed. And we won't mention this to her in the morning. She'd be pretty embarrassed."

"Is the nightmare because she was so hot when she got home?" she asked looking up at him innocently.

"She was hot?"

"Uh huh. When I cuddled with her when she told me a story. She said it was because I was cold from the window being open, but I was nice and toasty under the covers," Bre told him as they entered her bedroom.

Frank cursed under his breathe: "Bre honey I need you to get dressed and put your school uniform in a bag. I'm going to call Ms. Flannery and see if she can watch you and take you to school in the morning."

"Why daddy?"

"Because sometimes when people get sick they get hot and they have nightmares. I'm going to take Momma to the hospital and have the doctors check her over."

"Is she gonna die?"

"Not if I can help it," he said as he kissed her head. "Now do what I said. I don't want to leave your Mom alone too long." or wait much longer to get her help, he thought.

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Murtaugh lowered to the ground with Claire in his arms. As she felt them tighten around her she muttered: "He has to pay."

"Aye and he will," the older man said as he tried to calm her.

"But…"

"Ye think the Mackenzies will let his trespasses go by with a by your leave, Lass?" Dougal asked as he squatted down in front of her. "Colum and I have something planned the mhic an diabhoil! Don't ye worry ye heid about it. For now you need ye rest. To bed with you. Murtaugh and I will keep watch over you. As will the others."

"Others?" Claire asked as she let Dougal help her to her feet and Murtaugh to steady her.

"We aren't the only ones who care," Murtaugh reminded her. "We'll get you through this."

"What about Jamie? Where is Jamie?" she wondered as they led her to the bed and Dougal pulled back the covers.

"Working on getting back to you," Murtaugh told her simply as she sat confused on the edge of the bed.

"But shouldn't I…"

"When you're fairing a bit better," Dougal insisted as they got her feet on the bed and torso down. "Sleep now. He's waiting for you- you and the bairn. Get yeself better so ye can go to him…"

"Je suis prest," she whispered as she sank into the blankets and started to fade into sleep.

"Not yet, but you will be…"