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“Miss Claire!”

Claire looked up from her desk at the little boy careening towards her, curls askew and bright orange backpack almost as large as his body. She smiled and put her pen down, waiting for him to reach her.

“Miss Claire! Miss Claire!” the boy said breathlessly, stopping in front of her desk. He grinned widely, mouth displaying a gap right in the front. Was that—was that chocolate all over his face? She dearly hoped it was chocolate and not something else.

“Good morning, Jamie,” Claire said pleasantly. “And what’s that all over your face?”

Jamie looked on either side to him, as if to make sure no one else was listening. Then he leaned in and whispered, conspiratorially, “Chocolate.”

“Chocolate?” Claire mock gasped. “For breakfast? Well, aren’t you a silly boy.”

He giggled. Claire reached over the desk and ruffled his curls.

“After you put your backpack in the cubbies, wash your face and hands so you’re all clean for circle time, okay?”

“Aye,” he said seriously, before scurrying off. She sighed with a smile. You weren’t supposed to have favorites as a teacher, as it could negatively impact the rest of the students, but Claire would be lying if she said she didn’t have a soft spot for the small Scottish lad currently tripping over himself in his excitement to get to the cubbies.

“Sorry about the mess.”

Claire looked up to find one of the largest red-headed men she had ever seen, looking at her with a sheepish expression. With curls just like wee Jamie, she figured this must be his father. It was only the first week of school, and she had yet to meet all the parents. She stood up and walked around her desk, extending her hand for a proper handshake.

“Chocolate for breakfast?” she asked with a raised eyebrow, extracting her hand from his firm grip after a moment. Her stomach felt warm, as her eyes met his piercing blue orbs. Enraptured, she couldn’t look away.

“I thought a chocolate croissant would be a nice treat,” the man said with a grin, eyes twinkling. “I think about half ended up in his mouth. The rest is on his hands, face, and unfortunately, hair.”

At that she couldn’t help but laugh, shaken out of her trance. The man (the beautiful, gorgeous man) chanced a glass behind him, only to see wee Jamie making an even bigger mess at the sink. Claire thought she could see him splashing water on the other children, and willed herself to not go over there. The man turned back to Claire, smiling dancing on his lips. “Don’t tell my sister, eh?”

The pieces clicked into place, and Claire sighed with relief that she hadn’t been momentarily lusting after a married man with children. “So you’re the fun uncle, then?”

“Aye,” he said proudly. “Sorry, didn’t introduce myself. Jamie, Jamie Fraser. Wee Jamie is my sister’s son.”

“Claire Beauchamp.”

“Miss Claire! Miss Claire!”

“Well, I’ll let you get back to the rascals,” Jamie said with a smile and a touch of…regret? “Lovely to meet you Miss Claire.” He gave her a small mock bow, before turning on his heels and walking out.

“Alright, alright,” Miss Claire sighed, crouching down to the size of the munchkins next to her. “Shall we start with a story this morning?” They nodded excitedly, and Claire ushered them towards the story circle.

But as she began to read Goldilocks and the Three Bears, her mind was preoccupied with the red-headed Scottish man who had happened upon her classroom this morning. She couldn’t help but wonder when she would get to see him again. At the thought, her stomach fluttered.

Six Weeks Later

Claire looked at herself in the full-length mirror. She had decided to wear a bright red dress today and had blown out her hair. Without meaning to, she had gotten in the habit of dressing nicer on Thursdays and doing her hair. She tried to tell herself it had nothing, nothing at all, to do with the fact that one of her student’s uncles dropped him off every Thursday morning, but…well, you can only lie to yourself so much.

For the last six weeks, Jamie Fraser had dropped off wee Jamie Murray every Thursday morning. Most times, they were only able to exchange one or two sentences before she was whisked away by the kids, but she looked forward to those 30 seconds every week. She had developed a real, honest-to-God, school-girl crush, and didn’t know exactly what to do about it. Claire was calm, cool, and collected. She never let men get in her head like this, and was rattled by how nervous he made her. Should she ask him out? Would that be inappropriate? Unprofessional? She fret, constantly, debating the proper thing to do. All she wanted to do was listen to his laugh again and again. But what if he was offended if his nephew’s teacher made a move on him? Would he complain? Would she lose her job? Or what if – She closed her eyes, forcing herself to stop with the stream of hypotheticals. Get it together, Beauchamp.

Claire had been up late the previous night, studying for her anatomy exam on Friday, and felt slightly delirious with exhaustion. Upset with herself for being so preoccupied with Jamie, she blamed her scattered thoughts on her lack of sleep and stress.

When she had decided to go to nursing school in the evenings, after being a kindergarten teacher from 8 AM to 3 PM, her friends and colleagues had told her she was crazy. She knew it would be difficult, but she assured them she could handle it.

Now, she wasn’t so sure. She had barely gotten 4 hours of sleep last night, and had still woken up early so she could look nice for that damn bloody Scott.

As she drove to the school, she practiced saying hello to Jamie in her rearview mirror.

“Oh, hi, Jamie!” she said out loud, trying out a surprised tone. No, too forced. “Hello Jamie,” she said coyly. Ew no. She shook her head, cringing slightly, and decided to spend the rest of the drive mentally reviewing her anatomy flashcards.

By the time she plopped down at her desk, she had nearly worked herself up into a full blown panic attack. Whether she was more nervous about tomorrow’s test or today’s upcoming encounter with her crush was unclear. Deep breaths, Claire. He is just a man dropping off his nephew. You say good morning, and then he leaves. A simple interaction.

The kids started to pile in and Claire greeted them all fondly, putting the finishing touches on her lesson plans for next month at her desk.

“Miss Claire!”

Claire’s head whipped up at the small voice. “Good morning wee Jamie!” The boy waved at her before running straight to his cubby. Claire looked behind him, trying to mask her excitement, only to see his harried mother, Jenny, walking in. Claire arranged her features so as to hide the fact that she felt crestfallen. Where was Jamie?

“Morning,” Jenny said breathlessly. “Wee Jamie has a doctor’s appointment so I’ll be dropping him a bit late tomorrow.”

Claire nodded absently. Pull yourself together. She stood up, smoothing out her dress. She felt silly wearing it now. She could have slept an extra 40 minutes!

“No problem at all, Mrs. Murray,” Claire said with a small smile. Jenny looked at her curiously, smirk playing on her lips.

“I told ye,” she said. “Calm me Jenny.” She smiled, patted Claire on the arm and walked out.

Before Claire could sit down again, she heard a large crash come from the direction of the play kitchen, followed by at least two children crying. She sighed, looked up towards the ceiling, and muttered a little prayer to God to give her the patience to get through this day.

~~

“James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser!”

Jamie sat up on his bench, putting his weights down. The only person who had keys to his loft was his sister Janet, so he had no trouble guessing who was yelling at him from the doorway.

“In here!” he called. Jenny rounded the corner, face shiny with sweat. She was wearing yoga pants, and had clearly just come from one of her Pilates classes after dropping wee Jamie off. Jamie usually took care of the weeun on Thursday mornings so Jenny could go to the earlier spin class that she liked. It was the least he could do after all Jenny had done for him, and it also gave Jamie time to bond with his nephew. He treasured their Thursday mornings together, and hoped to keep the tradition going as he got older.

“There you are,” she said, undoubtedly breathless form the stairs up to his flat.

Jamie nodded, wiping the sweat off his forehead. He went to grab the shirt he had thrown on the floor, and then stopped. Jenny was one of the only people he could comfortably not wear a shirt around, and he forgot how freeing it was. He put the shirt down, and continued wiping himself down.

As he towelled off his back, a memory, unbidden, suddenly welled up within him of the last time he had let a woman who was not kin see his bare upper half. Annalise. He remembered the look on her face when she saw the scars crisscrossed against his back. Pity. Revulsion. Was that really a year ago? Had he not been with a woman in over a year? Jamie shook his head, trying to clear it of its dark thoughts. Coward.

He had stayed home today to finish up a large canvas for a commission, but was completely stuck creatively. He had been up since sunrise staring at the damned thing, and had decided to go for a run and lift some weights, hoping it would spark inspiration in him. He looked at his watch and realized he had completely lost track of time, and been working out for over an hour. Dammit. This canvas wasn’t going to paint itself.

“What’re ye doing here, Jenny?” he asked curiously, now wiping the sweat off his neck. Was she mad he hadna dropped wee Jamie off today? He loved the boy, but he needed to work on his commission –

“I’m not mad about wee Jamie,” Jenny started, reading his mind. “Ye ken I appreciate all ye do for us. For him.” Jenny smiled, and Jamie smiled back. There was something about Jenny’s smile, however, that let Jamie know she was not yet finished. “But,” she said, dragging out the word. “I do think someone was a little bit mad.”

Jamie looked at her in confusion, not understanding. Was wee Jamie mad at him? His chest squeezed and his mind whirred, thinking of activities to make it up to him. A ball game this weekend, perhaps?

“Someone who was wearing a beautiful red dress this morning, and seemed absolutely devastated when I walked into the classroom instead of you,” she continued with a pointed look.

“Claire?” he gasped, understanding.

“Ye are truly a daft oaf,” Jenny laughed, setting her stuff down on the couch.

“Ye think she wanted to see me?” he asked, still confused and trying to catch up.

“I don’t think,” Jenny said firmly. “I’ve never seen her that dressed up. She had mascara on! And when it wasn’t you who walked in after wee Jamie, I could almost smell the disappointment.” Jenny was smiling so wide Jamie thought her face might break.

Jamie looked up at her, face flush from exertion, yes, but also excitement. Miss Claire had put mascara on, and a pretty dress. On a Thursday. That meant…well at the least he meant she had tried to look nice, and at the most it meant she had tried to look nice… for him. His heart skipped a beat. Did she not know how beautiful she was, to him and to any man? He couldn’t believe that maybe, just maybe, she had taken a liking to him, too –

“I’ll pick Jamie up today,” he said without thinking, his mouth moving faster than his brain.

“I thought ye might say that,” she smiled. “Come over for dinner after.” She picked up her bags, and turned to walk out.

“And ask the poor lass out for coffee, will ye?” she said with a wink.

~~

Why did I even bother to blow my hair out? Claire thought to herself, throwing it up into a ponytail. The ends were covered in paint, and she was sure she would find glitter from her root line to her honeypot. Her shower later would take an hour, at least.

She sighed, continuing to clean up the art supplies from the floor on her hands and knees. She looked at her watch, noting with surprise that pick-up would begin in 5 minutes. The kids were at the cubbies, packing up their bags with their projects from the day. The day had gone quicker than expected, but then again it always did when the little ones got their hands on crafts. She spent so much of the time wiping the paint off their floor and their pint-sized bodies that she wasn’t sure how any even made it on the paper.

“Claire?”

Claire looked up with a start, only to find Jamie (big Jamie, that is) towering over her.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, doing her best to stand up with grace (and failing miserably, she was sure). “Hi there!” Hi there? Seriously? After all the greetings we practiced this morning –

“Sorry I missed ye at drop off, Sassenach,” he said with a grin. Sassenach? She assumed it was Gaelic, and made a note to look it up later.

“Oh,” she said, surprised and blushing furiously. “I didn’t even notice!” Liar.

He looked at her with a sparkle in his eye, and she knew that he knew she was lying. She swallowed over the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. He looked her up and down, noticing the bits of paint, glitter, and construction paper strewn about her person.

“Busy day?” he inquired, mouth quirked to one side.

“Quite,” she said, trying not to smile.

“Me too,” he said, showing her his hands. They were covered in freckles of paint. She grabbed one, and looked up at him, questioning. “I’m an artist for a living,” he explained.

“Jamie never mentioned that,” I smiled. “When we did family day, all he said was his dad made whiskey and his uncle was a soldier!” I laughed. “I suppose he meant a different uncle.”

Jamie’s smiled tightened. “Aye,” he said brusquely.

“Uncle Jamie!” a mop of curls crashed into his leg, and whatever tension had been on his face drained immediately.

“Hello there, lad,” Jamie said, crouching down so as to be eye level with his nephew. “Did ye have a fun day with Miss Claire?”

“Da best!” Wee Jamie exclaimed. His missing tooth was giving him an adorable lisp, and Jamie ruffled his curls before standing up. “Jamie, why don’t ye go outside and I’ll meet ye in a second?” Wee Jamie nodded excitedly and went to the hallway.

Jamie looked at her, face suddenly shy. Claire’s breath caught in her throat, and she willed herself to school her features so as not to seem over eager.

“I was wondering,” he started, before pausing and clearing his throat. “If ye’d like to get coffee with me sometime?” At the end he looked up, locking his piercing blue eyes on hers.

“Yes,” Claire responded, breathlessly. “Yes, I’d love to.”

Jamie smiled so wide and beautiful that for a second Claire’s mind went blank on the next thing to do. What do I do next? Do we shake hands? Why did she loose all her normal social skills with this man? It was seriously distressing. She felt like a pre-teen quaking in her knickers every time they made eye contact.

While Claire was having an internal freak-out, Jamie had pulled out his phone. With a small smile he handed it to her, and Claire quickly put in her contact info.

“Looking forward to it,” he smiled, slipping his phone back in his pocket. “Miss Claire.”

He walked out and Claire collapsed onto the edge of her desk, running her fingers through her sticky hair. She took a deep breath and then smiled wider than she had in months. I guess the red dress paid off after all.

Chapter Text

 

His leg had not stopped tapping for more than a moment since he had sat down at the small wooden table in the back corner of the coffee shop. Claire had suggested this place, saying it was equidistant from the primary school and her nursing school, where she needed to go after coffee for her evening classes. Jamie had been so impressed when she told him that. A full-time teacher and nursing school in the evening, he had thought to himself. What an amazing woman.  

 

Aye. An amazing woman. Who deserves better than a mangled coward like ye.

 

Jamie squeezed his eyes shut, begging the voice to go away. Not now. He was on a date, and it was going to be fun. They would not talk about anything serious. It would not be more than an hour. If the questions became too personal, he would redirect them to Claire. Talk about Claire. Ask about Claire. He would not scare her off. He would not scare her off. He would not scare her off.

 

He repeated the mantra until his heart had stopped pounding and he could unclench his fists.

 

The door whooshed open, letting in a cool breeze, and Jamie looked up to see Claire walking in, unbuttoning her green pea coat. Beautiful. She looked around the room, before spotting him and walking over.

 

“Hi,’ she smiled shyly. He got up quickly, and pulled the chair out for her. She sat down and scooted in.

 

“I’ll go get us something to drink,” he said. “What’s your order?”

 

“Oh you don’t have to –,” she started, reaching for her wallet, but stopped once she saw the look on Jamie’s face. A gentleman. She liked that. “A vanilla latte and a blueberry scone, please,” she said with a small smile.

 

“Coming right up.”

 

She watched him walk away, admiring the way his jeans clung to his rear, and the broad expanse of his back. He was truly breathtaking.

 

When he came back a moment later with their food and drinks, Claire’s stomach rumbled. She had skipped lunch at school today (too busy cleaning up after the wee ones) and had not realized how hungry she was.

 

“What’d you get?” she asked, eagerly biting into her scone as he sat down.

 

Jamie looked at her eating ravenously, and smiled. “Chocolate muffin,” he said, holding it up. “So how was work today? Did wee Jamie behave himself?”

 

“Oh yes,” she laughed, veering her mouth as she swallowed the bite of her scone. She took a sip of her latte. Mmmm. Perfect. She smiled at him gratefully as he waited patiently for her to continue.

 

“The usual,” she sighed. “I spent half of my day with twenty small, little five-year olds. I think I’m starting to forget how to converse with grown-ups, to be honest,” she joked.

 

“Most grown ups aren’t worth conversing with anyway,” Jamie shrugged. Claire smiled at that, looking up at him through her lashes. He was momentarily breathless.

 

“Too true,” she hummed in agreement. “What did you do today?”

 

“Painted, mostly,” he replied. “I just finished a large commission, so now I’m working on pieces for my show.”

 

“Your show?!” she exclaimed. “How lovely! When is it?”

 

His heart swelled at how excited she was for his art show, for him, for someone she barely knew. It was a nice feeling. “Three months,” he answered. “Most of the big pieces have been done for weeks, but now I’m working on all the supplementary ones.”

 

“What’s the theme of the show?”

 

Immediately, his mind lit up with red flags. Tread carefully.

 

“Recovery,” he said simply, before rapidly moving on. “So tell me about yourself, Miss Claire Beauchamp.” Change the topic. Keep conversation flowing. “I ken you’re not from around here, Sassenach.”

 

“No,” she smiled down at her coffee. She had looked up the word. She knew it was usually used as an insult to Brits, but when Jamie said it felt like a shared secret, not a slur.

 

“I was born in Oxfordshire,” she began, used to recounting her story. “My parents died when I was quite young, so I spent most of my life travelling the world with my Uncle Lamb, an archeologist.” Her face lit up at the mention of her Uncle, and Jamie made a mental note to ask more about him later. “I went to university in London, and lived there for a few years after graduation...” She paused, choosing her words carefully. “…with my ex-fiancé. I moved here about three years ago once I found a teaching job with a nursing school close by. I needed one that offered a night program.” She shrugged, as if this fact explained uprooting her entire life. But to her, he supposed, it did.  

 

Jamie nodded, processing this information.

 

“And yer ex-fiancé?” he asked gently, curiously.

 

“Still in London,” Claire replied simply. “I heard he married one of his teaching assistants. I think she was barely 22.” Claire seemed completely unperturbed by this fact, if not mildly amused.

 

“His loss,” Jamie said seriously. At that, she smiled at him, and put her hand on his across the table.

 

“So what’s your story, Jamie Fraser?”

 

Stick to the facts, but no more detail than is necessary. No lies.

 

Do not scare her off.

 

He sighed, and braced himself. He looked up and made full eye contact with her amber eyes, locked on his.

 

“I’ve lived in Scotland my whole life,” he started. “I grew up on my family’s estate, Lallybroch, in the Highlands.” He smiled fondly at his memories of the place. “I went to uni in Glasgow, to study architecture, ken, but I had to drop out due to –” he paused. “Family troubles.” He swallowed, and looked down at their hands, touching, before continuing. “Then I joined the armed forces,” he said, with all the confidence of voice he could muster. “I was in the military for about three years, serving in the Middle East, before returning home.” I spent some time in the loony bin. I lost my family. I fucked up. He paused, and then forced a smile on his face. “Once I was discharged, I realized my true passion was art. I went to art school for two years, and have been pursuing it ever since.”

 

Claire was silent, processing what he said and figuring out a response. From the way he had paused and glossed over parts of the story, Claire could tell there was much he wasn’t telling her. But Claire could also tell that now was not the time to press, or ask for more. All in due time.

 

“You’re so lucky to have found your passion,” she said simply. Jamie looked up at her, grateful and relieved she had not asked for more than he was ready to give.

 

“Have you always wanted to be a nurse?” he asked, once again changing the topic back to her.

 

She shook her head. “Funnily enough, no,” she said. “I went to school and studied history, thinking perhaps I would be an archaeologist like my Uncle Lamb. But once I met Fr—my ex, I thought maybe I’d be a professor, like him.”

 

Jamie nodded, silently urging her to continue.

 

“While my ex was finishing up his PhD and teaching, I started substitute teaching at a primary school and absolutely loved it. So I got my teaching certificate, and began doing it full time. I love kids, and I love helping people. But I felt like I wanted to do more. Make a bigger difference. My ex was almost constantly at the office, so I started volunteering at the hospital near our flat and I—,” she paused, and looked up at him, her whiskey eyes bright. “I just loved it. I knew it was what I was meant to do.”

 

Jamie smiled.

 

“You’re a fantastic teacher, Claire,” he said sincerely. “And you’re going to be a fantastic nurse.”

 

“I hope so!” she laughed. “I didn’t expect nursing school to be so hard.” She was still smiling, but her eyes had become tight. Jamie felt the need to comfort her, to wrap her up in his arms and kiss her forehead. Control yerself, man.

 

“I ken it isna easy,” he agreed. “But I’m also sure you’ll make it to the other side, no worse for wear.”

 

“Is that so?” she said, raising an eyebrow. “And how are you so sure, Mr. Fraser?”

 

“Wee Jamie,” he said simply. “The lad thinks you hung the stars in the sky, and that weeun is the best judge of character I’ve ever met.”

 

Claire laughed, and leaned back in her chair, peering at the man before her over the rim of her latte. He was such a mystery to her. She wanted to unravel him. But she also wanted to rip his shirt off. She bit her lip, hoping her thoughts weren’t evident on her face.

 

Jamie looked at her, smirk on his face, and also took a sip of his coffee.

 

The things he wanted to do to her…

 

He could only hope she felt the same.

 

He could only hope she stuck around long enough for him to find out.

Chapter Text

Claire desperately tried to get her brush through her hair, eyes pricking with tears as the teeth of the comb pulled her tangled curls. She was near tears anyway, and threw the brush across the room in frustration.

 

“Fuck!” she yelled. Claire dropped her head into her hands, and allowed herself to cry for a moment.

 

Her date with Jamie yesterday had been lovely. Amazing. When she had gotten to the nursing school, she was on Cloud 9.

 

Until her phone buzzed with a notification.

 

The grades from last Friday’s anatomy tests had been posted, and Claire had done miserably.

 

Not used to failing (at anything), Claire had crumpled immediately, full of self-doubt. She kept it together through class, but the second she had gotten home had collapses into tears. She couldn’t help but think that maybe this was a sign that she was not to be a nurse, or at least not right now while teaching full time. Maybe it was the universe telling her she was stretching herself too thin. Maybe nursing was not her calling.

 

But I can’t afford to go to school with out an income. And I’m meant to be a nurse. I just know it. Claire ran her hands through her hair, desperately trying to stop crying so she could get ready for work, but her hands were shaking too hard for her to even get her hair into a proper bun. She could see no other solution than to work and go to class in the evenings, and she was paying the price for it.

 

She took out her phone, and dialed the school. She had not called out sick once in three years, but she truly felt like she was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I’ll stay home. I’ll study. Tomorrow will be better. She took a deep breath.

 

“Hello?” A man answered the phone, his voice gruff and distracted.

 

“Hi, Principal Mackenzie?” Claire’s voice went up at the end, betraying her nerves. “It’s Claire Beauchamp. I’m so sorry to call so last minute, but I woke up incredibly ill. I’d hate to go in and infect the kiddos.”

 

“Of course,” Principal Mackenzie said, voice kind. Claire felt wracked with guilt for using a sick day to study, but she didn’t know what else to do. She had another nursing school test Thursday evening, and couldn’t afford another grade like this one. “Rest up and feel better. We’ll see you tomorrow if you’re up for it.”

 

Claire thanked him and hung up, tears falling from her face.

 

What was she to do?

 

She had uprooted her whole life to move to Scotland, not that she had had much of one in London, anyway. But at the very least she had had Frank. And at least in London, she didn’t come home to an empty flat and have cold pizza for dinner. At least she had a person.

 

She shook her head, trying to clear it of that train of thought. No. She had spent so long looking for a teaching job in the same town as a nursing school that offered night classes. She had found it, but in Scotland. And Frank would not leave his precious job at King’s College to come with her. She knew it had seemed too good to be true.

 

So she had picked her future. She picked becoming a nurse over marrying Frank. And so far, there was not one day since where she had regretted that decision.

 

After working hard for two years at the primary school, learning the ropes and getting her sea legs (so to speak) as a kindergarten teacher, she had finally enrolled in night classes, and was on her way to fulfilling her dream.

 

Unless she failed out first.

 

Maybe it’s just not meant to be, a voice whispered. Claire shook her head again, harder. No. She wiped the tears from her eyes and took a deep breath. She would make a cup of tea, and then she would tackle her medical texts. She would be fine. She was Claire Beauchamp. She was Miss Claire. And she would soon be Nurse Beauchamp. That was all there was to it.

 

She took out her phone and texted her friend Gaelis Duncan, who she had met in night classes. During the day, Gaelis was a full-time mom to three children under the age of five. At night, her husband, a lawyer, took care of them while she took classes.

 

Want to come over and study for Thursday’s test? I took the day off, Claire texted. A moment later she added, You can bring the kiddos

 

Ten minutes later, as she poured the steaming water into her favorite chipped mug, her phone buzzed.

 

Be over in 30, monsters in tow!

 

Claire smiled and went into her bedroom, gathering whatever crafts and games she had from work for Gaelis’ children.

 

~~

 

It was a Tuesday, but Jamie had offered to pick up his nephew after school and take him to the park. He had just finished his newest commission, and was still on a high from his date with Claire the day before. He thought perhaps if he picked up wee Jamie, he could offer (casually, of course) that if Claire wanted to, only if she wanted to, she could accompany them to the park. Jamie went over and over how to broach the topic as he walked up to the classroom door, preparing himself. He was already imagining pushing wee Jamie on the swings while Claire laughed beside him.

 

But as he rounded the corner, instead of a halo of brown curls surrounding a porcelain face, he found a short, sprightly blonde bustling about the classroom.

 

“Unca Jamie!” His nephew ran up to him, wrapping his stubby arms around Jamie’s leg, just coming up to his knees.

 

“Hey there, lad,” Jamie laughed, eyes still scanning the room. “Where’s Miss Claire today, leannain?”

 

“She’s sick today,” wee Jamie told him, sticking his thumb in his mouth.

 

“Sick?” Jamie said with alarm, crouching down.

 

“Aye,” wee Jamie responded, nodding his head, curls bouncing up and down. She hadna seemed sick yesterday. “Dats what Miss Leerie told us.”

 

“Miss Leerie?” Jamie stood up, looking for the substitute teacher. Catching his eye, she walked up to him, hand out stretched.

 

“Hi, I’m Miss Laoghaire,” she said, shaking his hand. “And you must be Jamie’s father?”

 

“Uncle, actually,” he corrected distractedly. “I was just wondering if you knew why Miss Claire had not come in today.”

 

“Oh,” she said, brows drawn together in confusion. “Principal Mackenzie said she called out sick. She didna want to come in and infect the weeuns.” She smiled up at him, and tossed some of her blonde hair over her shoulder. Flirting, Jamie thought absently. It still surprised him, even after all these years since—since everything, when women flirted with him.

 

“Ah, well,” he said slowly, turning to his nephew. “We’ll make sure to check up on her then, won’t we, lad?” Wee Jamie nodded, rubbing his eyes. Christ the boy was tired. Maybe a nap before the park. “Thank you,” he said to Laoghaire, politely.

 

She leaned forward, and put a hand on his arm. “Anytime,” she purred. Jamie smiled tightly and grabbed his nephew’s hand, nearly dragging him out of the classroom.

 

~~

 

When Jamie finally got his nephew down for a nap in his bed, he picked up his phone and texted Claire. Is it too forward to text her and ask how she’s feeling? Will she think it’s creepy that I know she’s sick? Jamie shook his head, typing and deleting.

 

Hey, I picked up wee Jamie from school today and he said you were out sick. Hope you’re feeling better.

 

He paused. Should he add anything?

 

He licked his lips and pressed send. Immediately regretting sending the message, he quickly added I make a mean chicken soup if you need sustenance

 

Idiot,” he murmured. “Mean chicken soup?”

 

Before he could berate himself further for his inability to text members of the opposite sex, his phone buzzed again.

 

You’re so sweet.

 

Another vibration.

 

I actually took the day off to study for my exam on Thursday. Thank you tho, I’ll take you up on the soup offer soon.

 

He smiled, relieved to hear she wasn’t ill.

 

Anytime (:

 

He anxiously waited for her to answer, but when a half hour had gone by, he gave up. He knew texting her again would be too much, and resigned himself to seeing her, even for just a few moments, Thursday morning.

 

“Unca Jamie?” He heard a small voice call from his bedroom, and got up with a smile.

 

“Time for the park then, lad?” He leaned in the doorway and watched his nephew nod his head up and down excitedly. He was so small for his age, and seemed almost swallowed up by Jamie’s king bed. Jamie couldn’t help but grin. “Alright then, laddie! Get yerself ready.”

 

Wee Jamie scrambled out of the bed, nearly tripping over in his eagerness. Jamie laughed and knelt down to help the boy tie his shoes.

 

“Can we get ice cream?” he whispered to Jamie, blue eyes meeting blue.

 

“Before dinner?” Jamie pretended to be shocked and offended. “Yer mam would have my head!”

 

Wee Jamie looked down sadly, knowing this was true.

 

Jamie kissed his nephew’s forehead. “Of course we can get ice cream,” he whispered back. “Our little secret.” His nephew’s smile was so large that Jamie, for a second, couldn’t breathe. He reminded him so much of – Not now. Not the time.

 

“Come on Unca Jamie!” his nephew was already opening up the door, and Jamie hurried to follow after him.

 

At least I have you, he thought. At least I have you.

 

~~

 

“Gaelis!” Claire shrieked, nearly knocking over her tea in excitement.

 

“What, what, what?” Gaelis came running in from the kitchen, one baby on her hip. “Is it Alex?”

 

“No, he’s fine,” Claire laughed, looking at the small boy coloring with crayons on the couch. “It’s Jamie! He texted me!”

 

“The tall, red-headed Scott?” Gaelis asked with a smile. She had only known Claire for a few weeks, but even she could see she was lonely. She had seemed so happy in class after their coffee date on Monday that it had filled Gaelis with warmth, too. She was rooting for this one.

 

And she’d kill him with her own bare hands if he hurt Claire.

 

Gaelis has told Claire this bit as well, and for some reason, Claire didn’t doubt her. Gaelis was a feisty one – Claire certainly wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.

 

“Yes!” Claire’s voice was breathless with excitement. Gaelis leaned over her shoulder, reading the brief exchange. “Should I answer?”

 

“Nah,” Gaelis said, burping the little one on her shoulder. “Let him chase you.” She winked. “Now, tell me, do you think the carpet matches the drapes?”

 

“Gaelis!” Claire gasped, flushing red. Gaelis laughed wickedly.

 

“Just messing with you,” Gaelis said, rubbing Claire’s shoulder. “Shall I make a pot of coffee for the adults before putting these monsters down for a nap?”

 

Claire nodded, opening up a new pack of notecards. Nearly three years in Scotland, and Gaelis was the first real friend she had made. She smiled happily as her friend walked into the kitchen, cooing and murmuring to the child in her arms.

 

If Gaelis can raise three kids and still become a nurse, then I can bloody well be a teacher.

 

With renewed confidence and vigor, Claire went back to her studying.

 

She was going to be a nurse, and she was going to be the best bloody nurse Scotland had ever seen if it killed her, dammit.

 

~~

 

When Jamie’s alarm went off at 6:30, he groaned audibly and shoved his face back into the pillow. Then he remembered it was Thursday. Thursday!

 

He jumped out of bed and began getting ready. He had purposely set his alarm a half hour early, so he could stop at the coffee shop before picking up the little rascal from his sister’s.

 

He wanted to surprise Claire with a coffee and scone when he dropped wee Jamie off. He hadn’t run the idea by Jenny or Ian, thinking it might be too much, too soon. But he also saw how thin and stressed Claire was, and if she had been nervous enough about the exam to take a day off, it must be important.

 

It’s nice. He assured himself. It’s just a nice, friendly thing to do. Verra casual.

 

Jamie snorted to himself. He had no idea how to be “casual” if he tried.

 

~~

 

“Miss Claire!”

 

Claire looked up as wee Jamie came running around the corner, breathless. He went right up to her desk, his mop-head just making it over the edge enough for her to see him.

 

“Miss Claire, Unca Jamie has a present for you!” he said.

 

“Oh does he now?” Claire asked with a smile, wondering what the boy was talking about.

 

“He does,” said a deep voice behind him. Claire looked up as Jamie placed a to-go cup of coffee and a pastry box on her desk. On the top of the box, in small black letters, was written Good luck on your exam, Sassenach. Claire looked up again, eyes filling with tears. “Fresh scones,” he said softly. “Blueberry.”

 

Claire stood up and went around the desk, hugging Jamie tightly and forcing herself to keep the tears at bay. She couldn’t remember the last item someone had done something so sweet, so simply, so caring for her.

 

“Thank you,” she whispered gruffly in his ear. She let go and looked him in the eye again. He could feel his heart in his throat. “Seriously. Thank you.”

 

“My pleasure, Sassenach.”

 

“And thank you!” she said, kneeling down to bump wee Jamie’s nose. “That was so very nice of you and your Uncle.” Wee Jamie smiled, pleased, before racing off to join the other children.

 

Not wanting to overstay his welcome, Jamie grabbed Claire’s hand and gave it a brief squeeze. “Text me after the exam?” he asked, a question in his voice. “Let me know how it went?” He didn’t want to pressure her. Too much, Jamie, too much.

 

“Of course,” she breathed. She looked around the room to see if any of the children were watching her, then leaned into Jamie and gave him a brief kiss on the lips. It was nothing, a brush, no more than two seconds, but Jamie felt like his body, his entire soul, was immediately on fire. Their first kiss.

 

“Thank you for the treats,” she murmured.

 

“Any time, Claire,” he said, voice gruff. He nodded to himself once, before turning and walking out. Claire watched him leave, a finger raised to her lips, caressing the spot his lips had just been. Where they had connected, albeit briefly, was still tingling, and Claire felt warm down to her tippy toes.  

 

Oh, God. She thought, taking into account how flustered she was. What had she gotten herself into?

Chapter Text

Fireworks.

 

His body was wound so tightly he could feel his tendons pulsing. He was in a cold sweat, hands over his ears, desperately trying to block out the sound.

 

Pop. Pop. Pop.

 

His body’s reaction was to be on alert. Fight or flee. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, his pupils were dilated, his breath shallow. He clenched his eyes shut in a desperate attempt to calm himself down.

 

But closing his eyes was worse, for all he could see was the last time he had seen fireworks.

 

Before.

 

“Da! Da do you see ‘em?”

 

“Aye lad, I do.”

 

He saw William’s chubby little face turn towards the bright colors, eyes wide open in wonder.

 

Two months before his third birthday.

 

Jamie would never see his third birthday.

 

Or any other birthdays after that.

 

Pop. Pop. Pop.

 

Jamie’s eyes flew open, heart stuttering in his chest. He turned over and grabbed the remote, turning the TV on. He switched the TV to a cooking channel, the first non-violent thing he could find, and put the volume up as loud as he could. He didn’t care what was on. Anything to drown out the sound of the fireworks, of the guns, of his friend’s screams. Anything to drown out the sound of William’s laugh, of Geneva’s gasp of relief that day, that awful day, relief William would be away from him, a God damn fucking monster–

 

Anything, anything, was better than spending a night alone in the past.

 

~~

 

When Jamie awoke, he could tell there was no way his body had gotten more than two hours of sleep through out the night, at best. All he wanted to do was turn over and go to back to sleep, but he sighed heavily and shut off his alarm.

 

It was a Thursday. No way he was sleeping in.

 

He rolled over and groaned, forcing himself to get out of bed. As he brushed his teeth, he stared at the dark circles under his eyes. He looked pale and sickly.

 

Through and through, he was a stubborn Scott. He knew he should be taking his medication, but he hated the way it made him feel. It was like always walking around in a haze. It stifled his creativity and happiness, even if it helped him sleep and kept the panic attacks at bay.

 

He also knew he should be talking to Dr. Gowan, but he hated thinking about the past. He had missed his last two appointments.

 

He shook his head and jumped in the shower. At least, soon, he’d get to see Claire.

 

~~

 

“James Fraser,” Jenny hissed, voice low, leaning her head towards him slightly through the window of his Range Rover. “Ye look fucking awful.”

 

Jamie winced, knowing it was true. “I didna sleep much last night,” he told her. Jenny glanced at wee Jamie in the back seat, buckling himself up like a big boy.

 

“Are you okay?” she asked seriously.

 

Jamie smiled tightly. “Aye. There were just some fireworks going off nearby last night.” He swallowed, and looked up at her with a shrug. “Kept me up, is all.”

 

Jenny’s eyes lit up in understanding, and she nodded curtly. “Are you still taking your medicine? Have you been seeing Dr. Gowan?”

 

Jamie shook his head, not making eye contact, hands on the steering wheel. He did not want to have this conversation right now.

 

“Jamie,” Jenny castigated him. “You promised me you would go once a week. You know he did wonders for Ian, back when—“

 

“I’m fine, Janet,” he nearly growled. She looked at him as if to say Suit yourself, but this conversation isn’t over.

 

“Have a good day at school, love bug!” she said to wee Jamie in the back seat, blowing him a kiss. She kissed Jamie on the cheek and headed inside, where Ian was waiting in the doorway. He waved at Jamie and he waved back, backing up the car.

 

“How’s it going back there, leannain?” he asked, looking at his nephew through the rear view mirror. He smiled up at Jamie, all gap-toothed grins, and Jamie’s heart swelled in his chest.

 

He would never be able to thank Jenny enough for allowing him to be in wee Jamie’s life.

 

~~

 

When Jamie walked in Thursday morning, his nephew having already run in ahead of him, he looked terrible. Claire’s eyes widened as soon as she saw his haggard appearance, and Jamie did his best to look happy and calm. Now matter how he arranged his features, though, his entire face looked pale and gaunt, and he had dark circles under his eye.

 

 Claire had not seen him since last Thursday when he had brought her the scones, but they had been texting as much as they could between her job and studies, and his preparation for his big art show. Claire had been waiting to see him in person to ask him to come over to her place for dinner.

 

But when she saw his face, that thought flew right out.

 

“Jamie!” she gasped. She reached up a hand, almost as if to touch his face, but then thought better of it and put it down. “Have you been sick? Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

Jamie half smiled, half winced. “Dinna fash, Claire. I’m not sick. Just didna sleep very much last night.”

 

“Oh,” she said softly. “Is everything alright?”

 

With all the energy he could muster, Jamie put on his widest, most convincing smile. “Everything is great, Sassenach. Especially now that I’m looking at ye.”

 

Claire’s face relaxed into a bright smile, so he figured he had done alright.

 

“Well,” she said, blushing furiously. “I was actually going to ask you to come over tonight for dinner. If you’re not too tired,” she added.

 

This time his smile was genuine.

 

“I would love to,” he replied, squeezing her hand.

 

“Great,” Claire said. He searched her face. She looked relieved. Happy. He smiled back. “I’ll text you the address after work.”

 

“Perfect,” he murmured. He leaned in and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Have a good day, Miss Claire.”

 

~~

 

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!”

 

The dinner Claire had labored over was ruined, positively ruined. She groaned in frustration, staring angrily at the burnt lasagna simmering in her sink. Jamie would be here any minute, and the entire flat smelled like Papa John’s had had a house fire. Why was she positively inept at cooking?

 

Just then, she heard the doorbell ring.

 

“Fuck,” she muttered under her breath.

 

She opened the door, pushing her curls out of her face and doing her best to look calm and put together.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hi, Sassenach,” he breathed, kissing her on the cheek.

 

He walked into the apartment, and his nose crinkled up. Claire couldn’t help but find it adorable.

 

“Is something burning?” he asked, hanging up his coat and walking into the kitchen, following the smell of charred noodles and singed tomato sauce.

 

“Jamie, I’m so sorry,” Claire started, following him into the kitchen. “I wanted to cook you this lovely dinner after you got me those scones and I’ve just made a mess of the whole thing. I’m just completely inept at cooking and I found this recipe online and it looked so easy, which it should have been for anyone except me, and I’m just so—“

 

He smashed his mouth against her before she could say another word.

Chapter Text

Fireworks.

 

That’s what it felt like as soon as his lips pressed against hers. Fireworks, Claire thought.

 

It felt like pop crocks, like a small electric shock from his tongue to her toes.

 

Like in the movies, when the fireworks go off.

 

Burnt dinner long forgotten, she was pressed against the counter, helpless to his mouth against hers. He grabbed her hair and pulled her to him, and she lurched her hips against is, desperate for friction.

 

“Shhh, Sasenach,” he whispered against her lips. “Dinna fash.”

 

And then he kissed her, hard, and slowly opened up her mouth with his tongue. She gasped and wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders, fingers delving into his curls. He put his knee between her legs, and gently propped them open, pressing closer to her. She let out a soft, barely discernible moan, and Jamie felt it go right through him. He grabbed her hair and pulled her closer to him, ripping his mouth from hers and latching onto her neck. She released a beautiful, involuntary sound and it went straight to his groin.

 

Too much, Jamie thought.

 

He detached himself from her with a small kiss on the nose.

 

No he’s pulling away! Instinctively Claire, eyes still closed, followed his mouth. He cupped her face, kissed her again, once, gently, and then taking a deep breath, disentangled themselves. He leaned against the kitchen island across from her, carefully putting distance between the two of them, and smiled a slow smile.

 

“Shall we order take-out?” he asked, eyebrow quirked.

 

Claire smiled and nodded, before scooting around him to clean up the mess she had left all around the kitchen. She brushed the hair out of her face and took a deep breath, begging her heart to slow its rapid pace.

 

“Take out menus are in the drawer,” she told him over her shoulder, heading to the sink. She wanted him – badly – but was glad at least one of them had come to their senses before they were banging on the kitchen floor.

 

She sighed, placing the dishes in the dishwasher. She had never felt like this before, and it puzzled her. Unnerved her. Excited her. She had always liked sex. She had quite enjoyed sex with Frank. But this – this energy, this attraction with Jamie. It was different. She felt she could come just from prolonged eye contact with him, never the less skin-to-skin! When he touched her she felt as if she lost control of all her motor functions. Claire would find herself daydreaming about him on top of her while at nursing school instead of taking notes, and could do little to stop her mind from creating these fantasies. What did he look like? Feel like? Sound like? She could feel herself quiver at the thought of him –

 

“Claire?”

 

“Hmm?” she said turning around, face still flushed.

 

He looked at her and licked his lips, his eyes briefly losing focus before snapping back to attention. 

 

“Is Chinese okay?”

 

“Perfect.”

 

~~

 

“Everyone is entitled to an opinion,” Jamie said calmly. “And I respect yers. But ye’re wrong,” he said with a shrug, the twinkle in his eye contrasting with the hard set of his mouth.

 

“Jamie, that’s absolutely ridiculous,” Claire retorted. “You actually believe Earth is better than Fire?” Claire waited for him to answer and he looked at her, eyes wide and sincere. “That is absurd!” she exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air and back down onto the blanket.It is a commonly accepted fact that fire is the best nation. Not best people, obviously, but best nation.”

 

Jamie shook his head, refusing to see reason.

 

“At least pick water!” she pleaded with him. “At least say water is better and we can have a good argument!”

 

He laughed heartily and brushed some of his curls out of his face. “Let’s just agree to disagree, aye, Sassenach?”

 

“Aye,” she said in a poor imitation of his accent. Claire lifted her beer up in a mock salute.

 

He snorted, and reached for his beer on the coffee table. He shook it and looked down at it sadly, then at Claire.

 

“Empty,” he informed her.

 

“You sound like one of my kindergarteners.”

 

He grinned and put the empty can down on the coffee table. The table was full of empty Chinese food cartons from hours ago, along with an ever growing collection of empty beer cans. They had been talking for hours, snuggled up on the couch facing each other, a plaid blanket in between them. God, how late must it be? Claire thought. As if reading her mind, she heard Jamie whistle low, looking up from his watch.

 

“Look’s like we’re both up past our bed time, Sassenach,” he said with a sad smile. “I should be getting home.”

 

“You don’t have to,” Claire said. He looked at her, eyebrows raised. “Go home, I mean. You could stay over.” Her voice stuttered, but she pushed through. “If you want.” She held her breath, waiting for his response.

 

Briefly, Claire saw an impossible array of emotions flicker across his face like rapid fire at her invitation, and what it implied – understanding, surprise, panic, fear, shame, sadness – and then finally, a perfectly schooled mask took over. If she hadn’t been watching his face for hours, she may have missed the hurricane of emotions altogether.

 

“I think I better not stay tonight, Sassenach,” he leaned towards her and kissed her forehead. “Another time, aye?”

 

Claire couldn’t help it as tears suddenly welled in her eyes. She felt…rejected. And it fucking stung. She felt stupid. Embarrassed. Unwanted.

 

When Claire didn’t answer him right away, he tilted up her chin so he could see her. When he saw her eyes welling up with tears, he felt like someone had kicked him in the gut.

 

“Oh Claire,” he whispered, pulling her to him. Idiot. She thinks you’re rejecting her. “It’s not because I don’t want ye. I do. I promise.” She didn’t answer him and he leaned back, trying to force her to look at him; she wouldn’t meet his eyes.

 

“Claire,” he said softly.

 

He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. Then, slowly, he kissed across her face, until he ended at her other cheek. She did not stop him, even as tears fell. She was embarrassed that she was crying, but could not help it. She wanted him. Did he not want her?

 

(And the sheer amount of beer Claire had drunk was not helping the waterworks or raw emotions, she noted mentally.)

 

He kissed down her cheek before reaching her lips and kissing slowly. Gently, he pressed harder until she put her fingers in his hair and pulled him close. Had he changed his mind? Eliciting a small gasp from Claire, Jamie rolled them over on the couch, so that he was hovering above. He kissed her, tongues meeting tongues, and she moaned, arching up to meet him. Slowly, ever so slowly, he moved himself down until they were flush together. Until she could feel every part of him, every inch of him, pressing against her. Until she could feel just how much he wanted her.

 

“I want ye, Claire,” he said in her ear, voice deep with desire. “So much.” He paused, and lifted himself up so that their eyes met. He rolled his hips just slightly, to make sure she felt that he was not lying. She bit her lip to stop herself from moaning. “But not yet,” he whispered, looking into her eyes. “Not tonight. Not like this.” He gestured with his head to the beer cans strewn about.

 

He was right.  

 

She nodded and kissed him softly, as he wiped away the last of her tears. He sat up and kissed her once more, before standing up with a yawn and stretch. When he lifted his arms up she could see a strip of his bare stomach, and the copper hair leading down… She closed her eyes and snuggled more deeply into the couch, suddenly so very drunk, and so very tired.

 

“Goodnight, Sassenach,” she heard before she fell fast asleep.  

 

~~

 

Claire woke up on the couch, neatly folded into the plaid blanket, a pillow from her bed tucked under her head.

 

On the coffee table were a cup of water and two Tylenol with a note. The room was spotless, beer bottles and Chinese food containers long gone. Claire smiled as she realized Jamie must have cleaned up when she fell asleep.

 

Claire leaned forward, head absolutely throbbing. She picked up the water and drank it gratefully, before popping the pills. Looks like today would be movie day for the little monsters, seeing as Miss Claire was nursing a serious hang over.

 

Groggily, she reached for the note next to the pills and water, smile on her face growing wider as bits of last night came rushing back.

 

For the headache.

Thanks for dinner, Sassenach.

- J

P. S. Earth > Fire

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Yes, Jamie,” she moaned in ecstasy. “Yes, just like that.”

 

Jamie thrust into her, catching her moan in his mouth as he pushed his tongue into her, searching, desperate.

 

“Jamie—,”

 

Claire awoke with a start, wet and trembling. Impulsively she looked at the clock, hoping she had not over slept. 6:32 blinked back at her in the darkness, red letters emitting a soft glow across the room.

 

She laid back down onto her pillow gently, curly hair wild and askew. She took a deep breath, feeling her heartbeat slow.

 

Claire had fantasized about Jamie in the last two months since they’d met, absolutely, but a vivid sex dream that left her breathless and moist was definitely new territory for her. I seriously need to get laid, she thought to herself. By a living, breathing man.

 

Preferably named Jamie Fraser, she added as an afterthought.

 

Claire had a solid half an hour until she needed to be up for work, and she pondered if she should return to sleep. She sighed and turned over, knowing that sleep at this point was largely useless – not when she was this riled up. Claire nearly growled in frustration, wishing Jamie had actually been in her bed, and not just a mirage in her feverish dreams.

 

Perhaps some self-care wouldn’t be the worst thing this morning, she mused.

 

With a sigh she pulled herself out of bed and padded to the bathroom barefoot. She turned on the shower, hand in the spraying stream as she waited for it to heat up, mind still preoccupied with her dream – and the dream’s very real counterpart.

 

At least I have a removable showerhead, she thought with a small smile.

 

And plenty of material from last night’s dream.

 

~~

 

“Miss Claire?”

 

Claire looked down to find wee Jamie, looking up at her shyly. It was nap time, but clearly the boy had something on his mind.

 

“What’s going on, bud?” she asked with a tilt of her head. When he didn’t answer immediately, she grabbed his hand and led him over to the bean bag chairs, plopping them down side by side.

 

“You can tell me, Jamie,” Claire said with her best teacher smile. The boy didn’t answer, chewing on his lip in distress. “How about you just tell me what it’s about?” she tried.

 

“Halloween,” Jamie said seriously, putting his thumb in his mouth.

 

“Ah,” Claire said wisely. “Halloween. It’s next week, so soon! Are you excited for the parade?”

 

He shook his head no.

 

“Why not, Jamie?” Claire asked, trying to squeeze the issue out of him. “Do you not have a costume?”

 

He shook his head no again, and removed his thumb with a pop. “Spiderman,” he grinned, his missing teeth making the word come out mangled.

 

“Well what a great costume!” Claire smiled. “So why are you not excited?”

 

“Da canna come,” he said, lip jutting out. “Has to work.”

 

Ah.

 

The Halloween parade was a yearly tradition at the primary school. Last week Claire had handed out flyers for all the parents, letting them know that they were welcome to come watch the parade, and more than encouraged to dress up along with their kids.

 

“What about your mum?” I asked.

 

He nodded. “But I want my da,” he said sadly. “Want my da to be spiderman wif me.”

 

Claire pulled wee Jamie onto her lap and ruffled his curls.

 

“Well, I can tell you that I am sure your Da wishes he could come, okay? I can also tell you that I am personally very excited to see your costume, Jamie.” She tickled his stomach and he giggled. “Go take a nap and you’ll feel better, okay, buddy?” He nodded seriously and scurried back over to the other children.

 

Claire went back to her desk and grabbed her phone.

 

Claire: Two questions

 

Jamie: Shoot

 

He responded immediately, almost as if he had been waiting by his phone. She couldn’t help but smile and bite her lip as she typed a reply.

 

Claire: Number One - Are you free next Tuesday during the day to come to the school?

 

Jamie: I should be, Miss Claire. What’s the big event?

 

She smiled ignoring his question and typing out the next text.

 

Claire: And Two - what size do you think you’d be in a Spiderman costume?

 

~~

 

When Jamie walked into the classroom, fully dressed up as Spiderman except for the mask, Claire couldn’t help bust burst into delighted peals laughter, clapping a hand over her mouth.

 

As excited as she was to see Jamie in a spandex super hero costume that showed off his impressive body (and Claire was excited), her excitement was nothing compared to that of wee Jamie’s.

 

“Unca Jamie!” he gasped, running towards him in a little matching costume of his own.

 

After Claire had told Jamie about how upset his nephew was that Ian could not attend the parade, Jenny and Jamie had decided to surprise wee Jamie with his uncle’s appearance at the parade in full costume instead. The surprise had clearly paid off, for wee Jamie seemed near tears he was so damn excited. Jamie lifted him up and gave him a big kiss on the cheek.

 

Claire thought her heart was going to melt.

 

“There ya go, lad,” Jamie said, rubbing his back. “Unca Jamie to the rescue.” He looked up at Claire, and gave her a wink.

 

“Shall I take a picture?” she asked with a smile, blushing slightly.

 

Jamie grinned widely, putting wee Jamie down so he could put on his mask. Then together the two of them posed, sticking out their hands spidey style. Claire snapped a bunch of photos and immediately texted them to Jamie, grin so wide the entire time she thought her face might crack.

 

“Well, shall we go to the parade then boys?”

 

~~

 

After the parade, flushed with the excitement of a long but rewarding day, Claire packed up the last of her things. Nothing pleased her more than seeing the kids happy and excited the way they had been today. Almost all of the children had had parents come, and the day was only structured to be a half day of school, which put everyone in a good mood. Unused to getting out at noon, Claire was grateful for the extra time to study for next week’s anatomy midterm before the trick-or-eaters started to come by.

 

“Claire?” a voice came from the door.

 

Claire looked up, startled. “Oh, you scared me!” she gasped with a laugh, hand flying to her chest.

 

“Apologies,” Jamie said with a smile, leaning against the doorway. He had changed out of his spidey-suit into low slung jeans and a white tee. Claire looked him up and down as subtly as she was capable of. Damn. She wasn’t sure which get up she preferred.

 

“I’ll forgive you, Peter Parker,” she said with a smile, grabbing her bag and walking towards him. “I was just heading out.”

 

“I’ll walk you to your car?” he said, slight question in his voice.

 

“That would be lovely, thank you,” she said genuinely.

 

“Any exciting Halloween plans?” he asked, falling into step with her as they walked.

 

“Anatomy flashcards and trick-or-treaters, I’m afraid,” she replied.

 

“Anatomy, huh?” he said with a smirk and an obscene wiggle of his eyebrows. Claire laughed, playfully swatting him on the arm. He paused a moment before continuing the conversation.

 

“Would ye like to come to the Fraser Halloween party?” he asked. He said it casually, but Claire could detect an almost indiscernible glint of apprehension. “Sorry for the last minute invitation,” he added quickly. “Just decided to go myself.” He paused, running a large hand through his unruly hair nervously. “And I’d definitely have more fun with ye there.”

 

They had reached Claire’s car. She turned around and looked up at him curiously. She had a smile half of amazement, and half of befuddlement.

 

“Would you believe me if I told you I don’t think I’ve been to a Halloween party since I was a child?” she asked, with a small chuckle of embarrassment. “I can’t even think of one time I was invited to one in London.”

 

“Oh, aye,” he said seriously. “I hear those crazy Brits do all kinds of silly things.”

 

She laughed, eyes twinkling. “Such as not have adult Halloween parties?”

 

He smiled in return. “Exactly.”

 

“Well,” she said, twirling the keys around her fingers. “I’ll have to stop by the costume store and buy something but…” she smiled up at him, eyes bright. “I’ll see you there.”

 

He leaned down and kissed her on the lips softly, lingering for a moment too long.

 

“See you tonight, then, Sassenach.”

 

~~

 

When Claire walked into Jenny’s house in her cat woman costume, Jamie thought he would just about combust right on the spot. Already drunk, he couldn’t help but ogle her as she looked around the party, searching anxiously for him. Jenny’s house was packed, the music was blasting, and the air smelt faintly of alcohol and sweat.

 

The tight black leather hugged Claire in all the right places, and Jamie was having trouble breathing as he looked her up and down. Her dark hair was blown straight, framing her porcelain face, her brows furrowed as she searched through the crowded room for Jamie’s red mop of hair. The suit zipped down the front, and Jamie could see the rounded mounds of her perfect breasts peaking over the top. He imagined cupping them, kissing them, biting them, and felt all the blood immediately rush to his cock. He didn’t care how, but he needed his mouth on her, any part of her, no, or he was concerned he genuinely might explode.

 

Claire finally spotted Jamie, and began to walk over towards him, smile wide on her face and a slight flush high on her cheek bones from the outside wind.

 

“Hi,” she breathed, reaching him. “Sorry I’m late.”

 

“Just glad you made it, Sassenach,” he smiled, kissing her on the cheek. He smelled of whiskey and sweat and Jamie, and Claire immediately felt herself moisten. He was dressed as a pirate, and the open white shirt accentuated his broad, masculine chest, glistening with just a bit of perspiration.

 

She wanted to lick it.  

 

Jamie’s eyes were dark when he pulled away, and he licked his lips. “You look,” he paused, searching for the right word. Good enough to fuck right here, in front of everyone. “Breathtaking,” he finished.

 

She blushed harder. “Thank you, Jamie,” she smiled.

 

He cleared his throat, trying to get himself together. “Shall I get you a drink?”

 

She nodded. “That would be nice, yeah. Can I put my coat somewhere?” She gestured to the green pea coat folded over her arms. Completely distracted by her breasts and ass and general Claire-ness, Jamie hadn’t even noticed.

 

“Of course,” he said. “Let’s put it in the guest room upstairs.”

 

Jamie led the way up, and Claire followed. She was getting an inordinate amount of pleasure out of the fact that he was wearing faux leather pants, and certainly did not mind her view on the way up.

 

“In here, Sassenach,” Jamie said, opening a door. The lights were off, and there appeared to be a pile of coats on the bed. Jamie shut the door and turned to her, grabbing her coat deftly. He walked towards the bed and gently laid it down on an empty spot. Bathed in soft moonlight, Claire couldn’t take her eyes off him.

 

He turned around and caught her staring at him, and his eyes darkened.

 

In two strides he was across the room, pressing her against the door. One hand on either side of her face he kissed her, hard. Claire gasped, knees nearly turning to Jelly. He put a hand on her hip and pressed her into the door with more force. She could feel his cock against her, straining through his pants.

 

Click.

 

Claire looked at Jamie curiously, hearing the lock of the door. Without another word, he turned her around and pushed her gently onto the bed, right on top of the coats. Obediently Claire laid down, expecting his warm weight to follow.

 

But instead of laying on top of her, Jamie got on his knees. Wordlessly, he undid her jeans, bringing them, along with her panties, down to her ankles.

 

“Jamie,” Claire gasped, leaning up on her elbows to try to see what he was doing. “What are you –“

 

And then his mouth was on her, and her mind went blank.

 

~~

When they walked downstairs together, Claire’s face still slightly flushed from the upstairs events, Ian gave Jamie a knowing look and Jamie turned red from his neck to his hairline. Claire had laughed and pulled him towards the kitchen, knowing a shot or two would get rid of that embarrassment quite quickly.

 

She smiled as she poured the drinks, satisfied and relaxed. Once Jamie had finished his ministrations (and hadn’t taken long for her to finish), she had eagerly offered to return the favor, but Jamie had refused.

 

“That was just as much for me as it was for you, Sassenach,” he had said with a wink.  

 

Remembering the enthusiasm with which he had gone about his task, Claire definitely believed him.

 

“Claire!”

 

Claire turned around, one whiskey shot in each hand, to find a short, brown-haired woman with Jamie’s eyebrows and nose looking up at her, smile tugging up the corners of her lips.

 

“Mrs. Murray,” Claire smiled, leaning down for a quick kiss on the cheek.

 

“Jenny, please,” she laughed. “Ye’re in my home!”

 

“It’s lovely, by the way,” she replied quickly. “Thank you so much for having me.”

 

“Anytime,” she said with a smile, looking knowingly towards Jamie.

 

Jamie wrapped an arm around Claire, kissing her temple. He then grabbed the whiskey from her hand and unceremoniously downed the shot in one go. Claire and Jenny both laughed, and Claire playfully swatted his arm.

 

“Jamie!” Claire said, a mix of a gasp and a laugh.

 

“Ye’re lagging behind, Sassenach!” he answered, mock accusation in his voice. He gestured towards the whiskey in her hand. Looking at him, then at Jenny, she too downed it in one gulp, wincing just a bit.

 

“Let’s go dance,” he said with a grin. He grabbed her hand, and helplessly (gladly, gratefully) Claire followed.

 

~~

 

“Goodnight, Sassenach,” he whispered, kissing her again.

 

Jamie had forced Claire to allow him to call her an Uber, saying he would drive her car over in the morning before work. Grateful, and definitely not sober, Claire had allowed him to play white knight.

 

She leaned into his kiss, breathing him in for the millionth time that night. She was intoxicated by him, by his scent, by his taste. He tasted of candy corn and whiskey and that essence of Jamie she could not pinpoint nor describe. Thoughts from their earlier escapade flooded her mind, and she felt herself twinge. She desperately, desperately, wanted to bring him home with her, but knew he would not come after she had drank so much. She breathed him in, and unwillingly, pulled away. “See you Friday night for dinner,” he said softly.

 

She nodded. Just a few days. “Goodnight, Jamie.”

 

He opened the car door for her and she slid in, hand on her shoulder. He closed the door and stepped back, still looking at her through the window.

 

Beautiful.

 

He watched the car drive away until it was out sight, lump in his throat, butterflies in his stomach, and well…a fair share of excitement down below.

 

Suffice to say, Jamie definitely needed a cold shower.

Chapter Text

It was their third official date and contrary to popular belief Jamie was not a moron, nor a prude. He knew what tended to happen on third dates.

 

As they walked back to Claire’s flat from the intimate Italian restaurant he had taken her to, his mind was a whirlwind, trying to figure out what to do. He wanted her, more than he had ever wanted anyone before, but there were practical matters to consider.

 

First, his back.

 

There was no way to have sex without her catching a glimpse of the scars. Which meant he had to tell her. Given his previous experience with women (and their horrified looks when seeing the scars without a prior warning), he figured it would be best to caution her before the part of the evening where they began to take each other's clothes off.

 

Claire unlocked the door to her flat, mind also preoccupied with the thought of sex.

 

She had purposely only had one glass of wine at dinner, so Jamie would not, could not, feel as if he was taking advantage of her. She had bought condoms earlier in the day (her first time buying her own condoms in three years!) and had put them on her night stand. 

 

She wanted Jamie Fraser, and she wanted him now.

 

As soon as they walked into the flat, Claire pushed Jamie against the door, kissing him hard. Unable to help himself he groaned and cupped her ass, pulling her to him.

 

“Bedroom?” she breathed against him. She did not wait for a response and started walking ahead of him. Jamie followed, helpless to do anything else.

 

She walked into the room and turned around, looking at him expectantly. Instead of seeing want and desire, however, she saw shame and guilt.

 

He stepped forward and put his hand on her cheek.

 

“I want ye, Claire,” he said, caressing her face with his left hand. “I want this.” He gestured between the two of them. “But before we,” he hesitated, his inner gentleman wanting to word this in the best way possible. “Proceed,” he settled on. “There are some things ye need to know about me. Some things I have to show you.”

 

“Okay,” she said simply, looking at him. She grabbed his hand and led him to the edge of the bed, sitting them both down. Her eyes were open, warm. Full of concern, and desire. He closed his briefly, not wanting to look anymore. He knew in just a few moments what her eyes would contain. Pity. Revulsion. He shuddered and took a deep breath. Like a Band-Aid, or a shot at the doctor’s office. One, Two, Three. Jump.

 

“I have scars, Claire,” he said. “On my body, and up here.” He tapped his temple slightly. Before Claire could answer, he was standing up.

 

Slowly, without another word, he stood and took off his shirt. She looked at him curiously, but before she could inquire as to what he was doing, he turned around so that his back was towards her.

 

He heard her gasp.

 

“Jamie,” she breathed. His chest clenched. Was she revolted?

 

“Oh, Jamie,” she said coming closer. She put her hands on his back and gently traced over the scars. He shivered. After a few moments, she turned him around. He kept his eyes on the ground, nervous to see what was in hers. She put her hands on face, and tilted him up, forcing him to make eye contact with her. He looked at her and found her whiskey eyes wet with emotion, with concern. And still, somewhere swimming in them, he could see desire.

 

She was not flinching away from him. He thought his chest might burst with relief.

 

“Tell me,” she whispered. She said it softly, reasuringly, the way she would to one of her students. He nodded and grabbed her hand, leading her towards the edge of the bed once again and sitting her down. He sat beside her and paused, gathering his thoughts.

 

“I dropped out of uni when I was 19,” he began. “Family stuff.” Not now. Not this part. Not yet. “I enlisted when I was 22. After basic training, they sent me to Iraq, ya ken. I did one tour there, and two tours in Afghanistan. All back to back, without coming home.” He paused. “I was afraid if I came home, I wouldna ever be able to make myself go back.” He swallowed. “My unit was mostly stationed with American units and different UN units, helping to ‘keep the peace.’” Jamie twisted his mouth ruefully, and Claire could hear the air quotes. Jamie paused again, taking a shaky breath. Claire squeezed his hand in encouragement.

 

“It was an IED,” he said simply. “When it went off, I was still by the Humvee, making sure everything was secured. I didn’t usually stay behind to do that, another soldier did. His name was Murtagh, a great big bloody Scott,” he smiled briefly, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “That was usually his job. But for some reason that day, I did it. I was the last one out.” He closed his eyes. He could remember it all so clearly. The sounds. The smells. The feel of the desert heat. “When it went off, I was just starting to walk towards the rest of the unit.” Here, he looked up from their intertwined hands, and looked her in the eyes. They were full of more pain than Claire had ever seen. “They all died, Claire. Every single one of them.” His voiced cracked at the end.

 

“Jamie,” Claire breathed, at a loss for words. She felt her chest crack and splinter in an effort to bear even a portion of the weight he had carried for so long. 

 

“I was in the hospital for months, recovering,” he said, looking away. “I ken that there are other men who have it worse. My sister’s husband, Ian, he lost his leg in Iraq before I went over. He wears a prosthetic.” He swallowed over the lump in his throat. “But it felt worse, Claire, because I should’ve died.” He looked at her again, eyes begging her to understand the fear, the guilt, the shame. “I should have died,” he repeated in almost a murmur.

 

“Jamie,” she looked at him seriously and pulled him close. “But you didn’t die, Jamie. You didn’t. You’re here. You’re right here, alive and well.”

 

Before he knew it, her lips were on his and he felt as if fire was raining down on the two of them. Her hands were all over him, his chest, his back. She doesna care. She still wants you. He kissed her impatiently, pushing her back onto the bed. She arched into him, searching, wanting. He ripped her shirt off and desperately kissed her neck, her shoulders, the bits of her breast spilling over her bra.

 

“Off,” he growled, nudging the bra with his nose. She laughed and sat up slightly, unhooking the offending garment. He immediately leaned down and put one perfect nipple in his mouth and she moaned. She reached down and unbuttoned his jeans, and he obligingly took them off.

 

“Your turn,” he whispered, gesturing to the jeans. She slithered out of her bottoms and panties, and lay before him on the bed, the blood red duvet contrasting with her porcelain skin.

 

He paused a moment, surveying her beautiful cream body, ready and waiting for him. 

 

“Beautiful,” he breathed, sitting on his knees, admiring her laying before him. He grabbed a condom from the bedside table, ripping it open with his teeth.

 

“Not so bad yourself,” she said, mouth quirked up. She grabbed the condom from his hand and leaned forward. Curious, Jamie allowed her to move, not immediately following her intentions. Looking up at him with mischief in her eyes, she unwrapped the condom and promptly rolled it onto him using only her mouth. He thought he might die right there, just at the sight of her plump, pink mouth wrapped around his cock. He snapped out of his reverie and leaned down, pulling her up and kissing her hungrily. He pushed her back onto the bed flat, and suddenly he was on top of her. She could feel his hard cock pressed into her hip and she involuntarily jerked her hips upwards. She wanted him. Now.

 

“Jamie,” she whimpered. She put her hands between them, grabbing him. His eyes momentarily rolled back in his head as she maneuvered him to her entrance. He could feel how warm she was, how ready. Normally, he would take his time preparing her, either with his mouth or fingers (or both), but neither of them seemed particularly inclined towards patience at the moment. “Please.”

 

“Are ye sure, Claire?” he asked again, stilling himself above her. He did not want her to regret this.

 

He did not want her to regret him.

 

“I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.”

 

He nodded and bit his lip, putting an arm on either edge of her face, and kissed her softly. And then slowly, ever so slowly, he edged himself inside of her.

 

“Fuck,” he murmured as soon as he felt her surround him. It had been so long since he had been inside a woman, any woman, but to be with this woman – it was almost too much. He paused, gathering himself. Don’t proverbially jizz in your pants, man.

 

Claire, not one for patience, grabbed his hips and pushed herself up, meeting him. “Jamie,” she pleaded. With a grin he leaned down and kissed her, before pulling out and slamming back into her, hard.

 

“Oh!” she gasped.

 

Jamie continued to move, losing himself in her. She wrapped her legs around him, and put her hands behind her, gasping and moaning with each thrust. Her hands clenched her wooden headboard, knuckles white. She was making the most beautiful sounds Jamie had ever heard.

 

“Jamie, I’m gonna –”

 

She sounded desperate, and Jamie felt his cock twitch in response.  

 

He thrust into her hard and up, hitting her right where she needed him.

 

“Come for me, Claire,” he growled.

 

He pushed into her harder, and felt her orgasm around him. It had only been a few minutes, possibly the shortest sex he had ever had, but he couldn’t help but fall over the edge with her.

 

“Claire,” he grunted. His orgasm was powerful, overtaking him completely.  He saw stars behind his eyes and he thought his heart might burst.

 

Jamie stayed inside her a few moments, both of them breathing hard. He trailed his fingers down her body, before kissing her once on the mouth and rolling off.

 

“Wow,” Claire sighed. Her face was flushed, her curls matted to her shiny skin with sweat. Beautiful, Jamie thought. “That was amazing.” She sighed happily and looked over at him, expecting to find him looking just as blissed out as she currently felt.

 

Instead, she found Jamie, who had looked so open, so beautiful when he was inside her, now closed off again. A shadow seemed to have fallen across his face.

 

“Jamie,” she said softly. “What’s wrong?”

 

“I didna tell you everything,” he said, jaw tight. His voice sounded wrecked, guilty, ashamed.

 

She turned over and leaned on his chest, resting her soft cheek on his forest of auburn hair. Hesitantly he wrapped his arms around her middle, putting his face in her chesnut locks and inhaling her scent.

 

“You told me enough,” she said softly, fingers splayed across his tummy, playing with his happy trail. She couldn't wait to tell Gaelis that indeed, the carpet had matched the drapes. “You can tell me the rest when you’re ready.”

 

What did he do to deserve this woman?

 

“Thank you, Sassenach,” he breathed.

 

“For what?” she asked tilting her head up, eyebrows raised in surprise. 

 

“For everything.”

 

She nudged him playfully. “Stop that.” She nuzzled into him further, sighing contentedly. 

 

He arched an eyebrow at her. “Shall I show you my sincerest gratitude?” he asked, naughty smiled playing at his lips. Before Claire could answer, he had scooted down the bed, kissing her body as he went. He pecked her navel, before nipping at her hip bones.

 

By the time his mouth reached her center, she was already quivering, aching and ready for him.

 

~~

When Claire awoke, she found the bed empty and immediately sat up, heart pounding. Had Jamie left?

 

She crawled out of bed and in the dim light grabbed her bathrobe, wrapping it around herself and walking further into her apartment.

 

To her utter delight, the missing red-headed Scot in question was in nothing but his boxer-briefs in the kitchen, scrambling eggs on the stove and humming to himself. His perfectly round, muscled ass strained against the light grey of his briefs, hugging him snuggly. His scars glimmered and glinted in the bright light of day, and Claire felt her chest squeeze with emotion when she realized that he felt comfortable enough with her to be shirtless in her apartment. 

 

“Good morning,” Claire said with surprise. He looked over his shoulder and shot her a bright grin. Claire’s breath momentarily hitched in her throat at how disarmingly beautiful he was, and how completely unaware he was of the effect he had on women.

 

On her.

 

“Mornin’, Claire,” he said, turning back to the eggs and spooning them out onto two plates. The steam wafted up, and Jamie placed them on the kitchen island. “Hungry?”

 

At the smell of the eggs, Claire’s stomach rumbled. “Starving, actually,” she mumbled, sitting down in front of her plate. Jamie came around the kitchen island and sat beside her, leaning over to give her a brief kiss on the lips. She sighed into him and then pulled away, her body distracted by the food.

 

“Thank you,” she said gratefully, shoving a forkful of eggs ungracefully into her mouth. Jamie laughed at the sight, and began to dig into his breakfast as well.

 

“My pleasure, Sassenach.”

 

 

~~

 

“I have to tell Claire about William.”

 

It was the day after Claire and Jamie had slept together for the first time, and Jamie was sitting at Jenny’s kitchen counter, watching her bustle about the kitchen cooking dinner for her family. Ian was leaning against the fridge sipping a beer, and wee Jamie was off somewhere playing with his sister, 3 year old Janet. Jamie came over for dinner almost every Friday night. It was a tradition. A home. A family.

 

Jamie should have been over the moon with joy, but he was not. Not while this secret, this chapter of his past, stayed hidden between him and Claire.

 

Because until Claire knew, he would feel as if he had tricked her into being with him. She needed to know, so if she wanted to, she could leave.

 

The thought broke Jamie’s heart. He thought of her this morning, eating her eggs like an overexcited child.

 

He thought of her on the same counter, not much later, screaming his name as he bent her over the cold, hard granite, cupping her soft breasts and burying himself within her over and over again.

 

He swallowed, and pushed the thoughts out of his mind lest they decided to make themselves apparent elsewhere on his body.

 

Ian nodded seriously, and Jenny turned around, a smattering of tomato sauce on her cheek. Ian leaned over and licked it off, to which Jenny shrieked and swatted him away, wooden spatula in hand. With a sigh, she walked towards Jamie and leaned on the counter across from him.

 

“I know,” she said softly.

 

Jamie paused, staring into his glass, before looking up. The whiskey was the same color as Claire’s eyes.

 

“I’m scared.” 

 

She reached out and squeeze his hand.

 

“What happened with William and Geneva is not your fault,” she said, soft but firm. She had told him this a thousand times more. It made no difference.

 

He knew it was.

 

“Aye, Jenny,” he said, shaking his head. “But it is.”

 

“No it’s not,” Ian said gruffly, from the fridge. “When I came back I wasn’t a cake walk to deal with either. But you, you and Jenny—“ his voiced cracked, and he paused. “You put me back together, gimp leg and all. Geneva,” he paused again, eyes burning with the intensity of his words. “Geneva just tossed you overboard. She punished you for something you could not control.” Another pause. A sip of his beer, following by a slight shrug. “She’s a cunt.”

 

At that, Jenny and Jamie both looked up surprised. Ian never used foul language.

 

“What?” he said, looking at them both in surprise. “If I’m gonna use the C word, it should be for her, aye?”

 

Jamie laughed, and took a sip of his beer. Ian wasna wrong.

 

“Aye,” him and Jenny agreed at the same time, and all three of them burst into laughter.

 

~~

 

Chapter Text

They were sitting in the dark amber glow of Jamie’s favorite pub, The Blue Lagoon.

 

The four of them were tucked into a booth in a back corner, Jamie and Claire on one side of the worn wooden benches, Jenny and Ian on the other. The hard wood of the seats reminded Claire of Church pews on Sunday mornings, though Church had significantly less alcohol and laughter, she noted wryly. The sound of the rugby game on the teli and people playing billiards up front floated back to them, but the four of them were in their own contented bubble. They had just finished their first pitcher of beer and were well into the second, still waiting for their food to arrive. Claire felt delightfully warm and buzzed, with Jamie’s strong hand leaving a brand on her bare thigh, the heat of him passing into her and making her shiver.

 

“And then,” Jenny was saying, snorting as she held back a laugh. “He pulls his pants down in the middle of the fucking grocery store!” She cackled, clapping her hands together. “His wee pasty little bum on display to the whole world!”

 

Jamie turned bright red, not enjoying the embarrassing stories from his youth quite as much as sister evidently was.

 

“Aye, like you weren’t a devil child yourself?” he retorted accusingly, raising an eyebrow.

 

“I’m sure she was,” Ian chimed in, laughing around his beer. “Because wee Jamie certainly doesn’t get it from me.”


“Oh aye,” Jenny said with mock seriousness. “You don’t have a mischievous bone in your body, is that right, Ian Murray?”

 

As the couple began to jokingly squabble, Jamie’s left hand, which had been resting on her right thigh, slowly started to make it’s way upward, slipping under her skirt. She looked sidelong at him and raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.

 

“What about you, Claire?” Jenny inquired, turning her twinkling eyes, midnight blue like her brother’s, on her. “Were you much of a fuss as a child?”

 

Claire smiled politely, her face slightly flushed due to Jamie’s ever upward-creeping hand. “I don’t really know,” she mused. “My parents died when I was 5, and I grew up travelling the world with my Uncle Lamb, an archaeologist.” She shrugged. “I don’t really think I had much choice but to behave. It was behave or be eaten by the Egyptian mummies,” she joked.  

 

“Aye,” Jamie piped up beside her, eyes alight with mischief. “Claire is verra well behaved.”

 

She looked at him sharply and he snorted. Under the table, she put her hand on his and gave a warning squeeze. Ignoring her, he continued to move ever upwards until he was fingering the lace of her underwear. His eyes were still straight ahead, but there was a wicked gleam in them as he casually continued the conversation.

 

“That’s probably what makes you such a great teacher,” Ian said, raising his glass towards her. “Wee Jamie adores you.”

 

“Oh, thank you,” Claire said blushing, unused to the attention, and hyper-aware of the attention she was receiving down below. “And what do you do? Whiskey business, right?”

 

“Aye,” Ian grinned. “I work at Fraser Distillery, downtown if ye ken it. It used to belong to Jenny and Jamie’s Da, before he passed. Been working there since I came back from Iraq.”

 

The entire time Ian was talking, Jamie’s hand had not paused in search of it’s destination, and sometime around Ian’s last sentence, Claire felt him slip one long finger inside her with little resistance on her end. (She had, admittedly, been moist since he had kissed her when she arrived at the pub). As his single finger moved out and then back in, Claire bit her lip to keep from making a sound, and looked straight ahead. In front of his sister? Jamie, and his lust, knew no bounds.

 

“Ian has a great sense for whiskey,” Jamie said smoothly, even face displaying nothing amiss. His finger, now sufficiently wet, moved upwards, circling her clit gently. It was just enough pressure for Claire to feel a little bit crazy, but to know she would find no release.

 

Calmly, she picked up her glass and took a sip, hoping the flush on her face and neck would be attributed to alcohol. She uncrossed her legs, spreading them almost unconsciously to give him better access.

 

“Oh aye,” Jenny agreed. “Do a blind whiskey taste test with him, and the man can tell you make and year.”

 

“Is that so?” Claire answered, doing her best to keep her voice even. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to run to the ladies’ room.”

 

Jamie removed his hand (reluctantly) and allowed her to scoot past him. As she slid over him to exit the booth, she felt the hard, long frame of him straining against his jeans.

 

The bathroom was dark and dingy, with only minimal lighting and two stalls. She went to the sink and splashed some water on her face, hoping to reduce the flush coating her cream-colored skin. As she was drying off her face with a paper towel, she heard the door open.

 

“Sassenach.”

 

His voice was low and gruff in a way she was not used to hearing.

 

“Jamie!” she gasped, spinning around in shock. “This is the ladies room! You can’t be in here!”

 

“Is that so?” he said, mocking her from earlier. She flushed red, for once failing to come up with a witty response. He reached down and locked the door, before crossing the length of the bathroom to her in two steps. Before Claire knew what was happening, he had her pushed up against the sink and was kissing her, hard. He lifted her up and put his hands on her thighs, moving to kiss her neck, hot and fierce.

 

“What did you tell Jenny and Ian?” she gasped as she felt him bite her neck.

 

“Told them I was checking on ye,” he muttered. “Said you hadna been feeling well earlier.” He grinned at her, wolf-like, and Claire thought she could see the remnant of the mischievous, trouble-making boy he had been as a child.

 

He began to kiss her again, this time more desperate. He pulled her to him and she wrapped herself around him, long white legs visible in her short skirt.

 

“You’re driving me crazy in that skirt, Sassenach,” he murmured. “I want ye so bad I can hardly breathe.”

 

“Then have me,” Claire replied breathlessly. She had never done something like this before. Not breaking eye contact, she slowly slid her panties down her legs. He grabbed her ass and hoisted her forward on the sink, aligning her with one hand. He quickly unzipped his jeans, releasing his hard cock. With nearly zero warning, one hand on the sink and one on her thigh, he pushed into her.

 

“Fuck!” she nearly yelled.

 

Jamie stilled.

 

“Have I hurt ye?”

 

“No,” Claire moaned, grabbing his still jean clad ass and pulling him further into her. “Not at all.”

 

He grabbed her hair and kissed her hard, pulling out and slamming back in.

 

“Jamie!” she gasped.

 

“Shhh, Sassenach,” he said, trying not to laugh. He took one hand and lightly put it over her mouth, blue eyes shining bright in the dimness of the bathroom. “Don’t want the whole restaurant to hear ye, aye?”

 

Keeping his hand on her mouth, he slowly pushed in again, and again, and again, eyes locked on hers the whole time. It was not too long before Jamie watched her eyes widened and he felt her start to tighten around him, and her hands began to pull his hair. He pressed his hand down harder as she came, holding back his own release.

 

“Fuck, Sassenach,” he grunted. He took his hand off her mouth and kissed Claire’s mouth hard. She gripped his hair and pulled him to her as he came inside her, her mouth stifling his moans.

 

~~

 

“Feelin’ alright, Claire?” Ian asked, concern lacing his voice when they returned.

 

“Oh yes, thank you,” Claire replied. “Just thought I felt a migraine coming on, but I’m all right now.” Her cheeks blushed furiously and she pretended to busy herself with the menu.

 

Jenny took one glance at Jamie’s hair and neck and laughed, quickly attempting to stifle it with her hand. Jamie shot her a glare, and she tried to mask her laughter as a coughing attack, though rather unconvincingly.

 

“So what’s everyone ordering?” Ian finally asked. Jamie looked at him gratefully, and they began a heated debate over whether they should order the wings mild or hot. Claire finally got the nerve to unstick her eyes from the menu when Jamie reached below the table and clasped her hand tight. She smiled up at him, and the rest of the dinner passed by in a delightful blur.

 

~~

 

As they reached the door to his apartment building, Jamie turned her to him, hands still firmly grasped.  

 

"Jamie," Claire began hesitantly, biting her lip. "I want you to know that I'm not usually--" she swallowed, searching for the words to describe their bathroom encounter. "--like that," she finished, hoping he got her meaning. She didn’t want him to think she frequently fucked men in bathrooms while their family members wondered where they were.

 

Jamie laughed, low in his belly, blue eyes crinkling. "Aye, Sassenach," he grinned. He leaned down, and whispered in her hear conspiratorially. "Me neither." Then Jamie kissed her softly, none of the earlier hunger and desperation of the bathroom. He pulled away and glanced up towards the soft yellow light of his loft. He must have forgotten to shut the lights off, Claire mused absently.

 

"Would you like to stay the night, Claire?"

 

He said it with a flat tone of voice, presumably so as not to pressure her, but Claire caught the hint of hopefulness.

 

"I'd love to."

 

~~

 

When Claire woke up, there was a warm vanilla latte on the bed stand and a big, half-naked Scot cooking eggs in the kitchen, the sound of his off-tune humming drifting towards the bedroom.

 

She sighed contentedly, and spread herself out on the cool sheets, inhaling in the lingering scents of Jamie, and her, and them. She closed her eyes and smiled.

 

I could get used to this.

 

Chapter Text

Claire awoke before her alarm, fully swaddled in her sheets with Jamie completely uncovered beside her. A perpetual furnace, she had the opposite cover problem she had with him than she’d had with Frank: Franks stole all the covers, while Jamie kicked them all onto her side.

 

She lazily looked down at his naked body, appreciating the sunlight glinting off his layer of copper hair.

 

After the scene in the bathroom last Saturday, and an unpleasant dose of Plan B, Claire had talked with Jamie and decided to go back on the pill, as Jamie found condoms very uncomfortable. Now, looking at his completely uncovered body, Claire couldn’t help but blush at the thought of why condoms were so uncomfortable for him, and of what she had said in response to that particular complaint.

 

She rolled over in bed, kissing his head gently as she slid into the bathroom to get ready for work.

 

Steam was beginning to fill the bathroom as the water was heating up, and she pulled back the curtain, testing the water’s temperature. Suddenly, she felt a hand on her waist and a scruffy beard nuzzling her shoulder.

 

“Mornin’, ” he mumbled sleepily.

 

“Jamie,” Claire said softly. “You don’t have to be up for another three hours. Go back to bed.”

 

He shook his head, leaning down to kiss her. He had morning breath, they both did, but it somehow didn’t seem to matter.

 

“Wanna see you before you go,” he muttered, brushing the hair out of her face. She smiled up at him, her amber eyes slanted in affection.

 

“Then get in there, soldier,” she said, tapping his ass. “Let me know if its warm enough yet.”

 

He ducked down and kissed her forehead, obediently sliding into the shower. Claire quickly slid in behind him, smiling fondly at his dimpled bum.

 

Unsurprisingly, Claire was late for work.

 

 

~~

 

 

Jamie had said he would pick Claire up from the elementary school after work today, but when the clock hit five past three, she thought maybe he'd forgotten or was waiting in the parking lot. She slung her bag over her shoulder, and did one last check around her desk for anything she might need.

 

As she rounded the corner of the hallway, she heard a tinkling high pitched laugh.

 

She paused, tilting her head to listen.

 

"Oh, Jamie," the voice said. "You're so funny."

 

Claire rounded the corner and came upon a most unexpected sight. There was Jamie, and leaning uncomfortably close to him, her young, blonde colleague Leoghaire. As she watched, she softly caressed Jamie's arm, and Claire felt her stomach clench, and then drop.

 

Before Jamie could see her, Claire abruptly turned and started walking back the way she'd come. She knew was being completely illogical, but her face burned red and she heard a roaring in her ears.

 

"Sassenach!" she heard behind her. Then, louder and closer, "Claire!” Then again, more urgently. “Claire!"

 

She walked through the doors of the school and breathed the fresh air in deeply.

 

Suddenly an arm grabbed her, spinning her around. Jamie looked flushed, his hair askew.

 

"I was calling you," he said. "Did ye not hear me?"

 

"You seemed busy," she said, voice tight and face blank. "I didn't want to interrupt."

 

"Busy?" he said, clearly perplexed. Suddenly his features changed as he realized what scene she must have come upon, and the conclusions she had, evidently, mistakenly, drawn. "Leoghaire? We were just talking, Sassenach." He said with one of his usually charming smiles, and Claire felt even more sick. Of course Leoghaire wanted him. Who wouldn't?

 

"It's none of my business," Claire said stiffly.

 

"None of your business?" Jamie said, confused.

 

Claire nodded, stealing herself. "It's none of my business if you talk to other girls, Jamie,” she said sharply. “I'm not your girlfriend."

 

As she said the last part she heard her voice crack, and she looked down, hoping he hadn't heard it. When Jamie didn't answer right away, she forced herself to look up. She wasn't sure which combination of emotions she expected to see written across his face, but hurt was certainly not one of them.

 

"You're not?" he said, softly.

 

Now it was Claire's turn to be flustered.

 

"I just meant," she hedged, brushing her hair out of her face in an agitated fashion. "That we hadn't talked about it. So if you wanted to see other people, I didn't have the right to say anything."

 

Jamie's eyebrows were drawn together, trying to puzzle out what Claire was saying.

 

“And you think I want to see other people because I was,” he said slowly, taking an absurdly long time to piece together why exactly Claire was upset. “what? Flirting with Leoghaire?”

 

Claire didn’t answer, and continued stubbornly looking down.”

 

"But I wasn’t flirting with Leoghaire,” he said tenderly. “And I don't want to see other people.” He stepped towards her, hesitantly. "I don't think of anyone but you, Sassenach,” he said gruffly.

 

Claire felt the breath she had been holding leave her in a great whoosh.

 

"You don't?" she said, meeting his eyes hopefully.

 

"I don't," he said firmly. He reached forward and pushed a tendril of hair behind her ear. "Now that we've settled that," he said, mouth quirking up. "Can I kiss ye, Sassenach? I’ve been waiting to all day."

 

Claire couldn't help the laugh of relief and unbridled affection.

 

“You have?” she said breathlessly.

 

“Aye, I have,” he said, stepping closer to her. “It’s all I can think about.” He paused and leaned towards her, as close as he could get without touching. “Now may I kiss ye, Miss Claire?”

 

She nodded and he leaned down the rest of the way, pressing his lips to hers and pulling her closer, until their coat clad bodies were flush. The kiss only lasted a moment, and Claire breathed Jamie in deeply.

 

"Let's get out of here," she whispered.

 

"Ye read my mind, lass," he whispered back. He grabbed her hand and they walked towards Jamie’s car.

 

"I’m sorry," Claire finally said, once they were inside the warmth of the car. She said the words slowly, as if they pained her. "For overreacting. Like that. About Leoghaire." Her face blushed a delicious shade of pink, and Jamie licked his lips.

 

"Dinna fash, Sassenach," he said cheerfully, reaching across the console to hold her hand. "I'm sorry I wasna clear with ye about the whole girlfriend thing. It’s been awhile since I last dated seriously, or in any way really, that I suppose I forgot how to." He pulled onto the main road and looked at her wryly. "Seems to be a lot more rules now."

 

At that, Claire giggled.

 

"Are ye laughing at me, Sassenach?" he took his eyes off the road a moment, glancing sharply at her.

 

"No," she replied, squeezing his hand. She bit her lip and looked out the window, trying to keep her wide smile at bay. Looking at her, hair blowing in the wind of the open window, Jamie felt his chest squeeze. He, too, felt an absurd little thrill at the privilege of calling Claire his girlfriend, as if he was a lad of fourteen all over again. He squeezed her hand back.

 

"So where too, Sassenach?" he asked, looking behind him as he switched lanes. Their plan had been to grab a bite before Claire’s nursing class at 5, which he would drop her off for.

 

“Yours is closer than mine.”

 

He looked at her with his eyebrows raised, but said nothing as he turned down the street leading them to his loft, a little thrill of adrenaline shooting threw him at the thought of momentarily getting to see Claire naked, and below him.

 

He immediately felt all the blood in his body rush South, and ruefully shook his head as he parked the car. Truly fourteen, Fraser, he chided himself.

 

As he watched Claire’s round bum walk up the stairs ahead of him, however, he realized that even if he wished to, no matter how many times he had her, he would never be able to help his body’s reaction to her.

 

He was entirely under her power, and happy to be there.

 

 

Chapter Text

Claire walked into the apartment slowly, still not used to utilizing the spare key Jamie had given her. He had told her to come over around seven, but hadn’t answered when she said she was on her way.

 

“Jamie?” she called softly. She didn’t hear a reply and kept walking, wandering slowly through the flat. She heard music coming from down the hall, and followed it, eventually coming upon a large square room she assumed was his studio. All four walls were white, but the wall on her right had three giant windows slit into it. The floor was covered in a beige sheet and in the middle of the room was a giant canvas.

 

It was the first time Claire had ever seen Jamie’s art in person (she had Googled him, of course) and she eagerly stepped forward in an attempt to view the painting closer. The canvas was large, and every inch of it was covered in paint. The canvas was probably ten feet by twelve, Claire estimated. It was an abstract painting, based in black and gray, with bits of green and white sewn into its tapestry. From where she was standing she thought she saw many shapes in it – a wolf, a mountain, the curve of a woman’s body. She knew if she stood at a different angle, she would likely see different shapes, and was keen to move around, to see it from all sides. Somehow, Claire felt the painting spoke to her of grief and loss; with a shudder, she realized it weirdly reminded her of a graveyard on Halloween.

 

Jamie was leaned over said canvas, hair tousled and eyebrows furrowed in concentration. He was tapping out a rhythm on his thigh, and she could see that his jeans were absolutely covered in thick flecks of acrylic paint.

 

“Hey,” Claire called, pitching her voice above the music. Jamie looked up in surprise, mouth popping open in a soft o almost comically. He paused the music on the laptop by his feet, walking towards her.

 

“Claire,” he smiled. As he glanced down at his watch, his eyebrows rose in surprise. “I must’ve lost track of time,” he said sheepishly, stopping in front of her.

 

“It’s okay,” Claire laughed. She stepped carefully around the canvas and gingerly kissed his cheek, avoiding the spots sprinkled with black paint. “What’s this piece?”

 

“A new commission,” he replied, looking behind him to examine the canvas critically. “It’s called ‘Ghosts.’”

 

“It’s really good, Jamie,” Claire said sincerely. He turned his face to back to her, and gave her a lopsided smile.

 

“Thank you, Sassenach,” he said simply. “And what have you got there?” He expertly changed the subject, gesturing with his chin to Claire’s full hands.

 

 “I brought spaghetti and meatballs,” Claire said, holding up the plastic take out bags in her hand. At that word meatballs, Jamie’s stomach audibly rumbled and Claire laughed again.

 

“How about I put it on plates and heat it up while you shower?” she offered.

 

“Perfect suggestion, Sassenach.” He kissed her forehead and walked past her, pinching her bum as he went. Claire yelped and tried to slap him, missing him by several inches due to the numerous bags of food in her arms. Jamie laughed like a child and raced out of the room, and Claire couldn’t help but smile impishly after him.

 

~~

 

Claire awoke to cool sheets beside her, her hand reaching out for the warm body she expected to be there. She awoke fully then, and with a fright, frantically looking about the room. Her eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, but still she saw no sign of Jamie. The bathroom door lay ajar, lights off, and she heard no sound from the kitchen. Where was he?

 

She sat up, groping around the bed for Jamie’s large, old college sweatshirt. It was ratty and faded, and so large it nearly came down to Claire’s knees. She sniffed it as she crept out into the apartment, inhaling the scent of Jamie.

 

Ah.

 

He was out on the balcony, his back to her, bare and glinting in the moonlight. He turned his head to the side, and brought a small, white, cylinder to his mouth. The end glowed red, and the smoke blew out into the night sky, creating a swirling, glowing halo around his copper mop. With a start, Claire realized he was smoking a cigarette.

 

“I didn’t know you smoked,” Claire said softly, stepping outside. She closed the glass door behind her, and leaned against it, arms crossed across herself to keep warm.

 

Jamie turned around, his expression going from startled to sheepish rapidly.

 

“Aye,” he chuckled. “Picked up the habit in the army.” He took another inhale, and let it out, his mouth quirking up on one side. “I quit, though.”

 

His blue eyes twinkled in the dark, like the stars winking above him.

 

“Me too,” Claire smiled. She walked towards him and plucked the offending object out of his hand, taking a small, quick puff. She coughed and quickly blushed, exhaling.

 

“I’m sorry if I woke ye, Sassenach,” he said softly, taking the cigarette back from her, his fingers brushing hers gently as he did.

 

“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked. She didn’t mean to pry, and quickly opened her mouth to say that.

 

“It’s alright,” he said, seeing where her mind had gone. He put the cigarette in his left hand, and gripped her hand with the other, resting against the cool metal railing. “Just a wee nightmare is all.”

 

There was a pause, while Claire thought about the appropriate response.

 

“Would you like to talk about it?” she asked, keeping her voice steady. “Would that make you feel better?”

 

He squeezer her hand, and gently turned her to face him.

 

“No, Sassenach,” he said softly, tilting her chin up so that they were eye to eye. “But looking at ye will.”

 

He smiled down at her, and slowly, she smiled back. As he looked at her, she saw the tightness around his eyes loosen, and his smile grow more soft. She got on her tip-toes and kissed his mouth, close-lipped and firm.

 

“Come to bed, Jamie,” she whispered.

 

“Aye, Miss Claire.” He leaned down and kissed her, hands reaching down to cup her ass. Suddenly the kissing became faster, deeper, and he gripped her to him. She could feel how hard he was through his plaid pajama pants, and unwittingly let out a soft moan against his lips. Jamie wordlessly spun her around, lifting up the sweatshirt to expose her bare ass.

 

Still covered in plaid, he pressed against her, reaching his hand down to her front, which was nearly trembling in its ache for him.

 

“Gotta have you, Claire,” he murmured in her ear. She nodded, giving him permission, and braced her hands on the railing, smiling enticingly back at him. He gasped, whether in surprise or desire Claire could not tell, and hesitated only a moment before he roughly pulled the top of his pajama pants down and lined himself up with her warmth. He pushed in and Claire let out a small gasp, breath condensing into a poof in the cool November air. Her legs were full of goose bumps and Jamie rested his big hands on her thighs, pushing in again.

 

“Fuck,” he murmured. “Claire, you feel so good.” He buried himself inside her whilst simultaneously burying his face in her neck. He reached up a hand and rubbed one of her soft, perky nipples through the fabric of his sweatshirt. Claire moaned softly, involuntarily clenching around him.

 

“Claire, I’m gonna—“ he choked, hand tightening on her waist.

 

“Me too,” she gasped. She reached down and interlocked their hands on her waist.

 

“Come with me, Jamie.”

 

He buried himself within her and with a small cry, they both found their release together.

 

~~

 

Later, back in bed, wrapped in each other’s warmth, he once again nuzzled his face into her neck and she scooted back, contentedly tucking herself against him.

 

“Thank you, Sassenach,” he whispered softly, so low she almost didn’t hear it.

 

She turned around, searching for his face in the dark.

 

“Thank you? For what?” she asked quizzically.

 

But he was peacefully snoring, arms locked around her waist. She sighed and turned back around, falling deeply asleep herself within minutes.

Chapter Text

The next morning Claire was gone before Jamie awoke, having promised to meet Gaelis for an early morning study session.

 

He turned over in the empty bed, stretching widely and yawning. He was just about to fall back asleep when he heard a voice calling his name.

 

“Jamie!” He sat up in bed with a start, mind still fuzzy with sleep. Who was that?

 

“In here!” he called back. He hastily climbed out of bed, throwing on joggers and a soft, blue tee he had thrown on his floor.

 

“Jamie,” Jenny breathed, walking into the room. Her hair was a mess and her small blue eyes were tight. Jamie immediately crossed the room to her. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Ian’s mother has head an aneurism,” she gasped, a tear escaping.

 

“Oh no,” Jamie murmured, feeling the air whoosh out of him. He immediately had that feeling you only get when you hear bad news unexpectedly, like you’ve suddenly tripped but someone has also just kicked you in the nuts, all at the same time. He saw Mrs. Murray’s kind, round face in his mind, and his gut twisted with anxiety for his brother-in-law’s mother.

 

Jamie pulled his sister to him and hugged her tightly. As soon as she was wrapped in his arms, she began to sob in earnest. “Shhh, it’s gonna be okay, Jenny,” he muttered softly, caressing her gently in an effort to sooth her wailing.

 

 The Frasers had grown up with the Murrays, and Mrs. Murray had been almost like an aunt to them, the way Ian had been almost like a cousin. The woman had always been the kindest soul, and an incredible grandmother to wee Jamie and wee Janet, making up for the fact that Jenny and Jamie’s own mother had died years ago. She was currently in a retired living community in London, but always came and stayed with the Murrays and Frasers at Lallybroch during the Holidays and summers.

 

Jenny hiccupped yet another sob, but pulled away from Jamie, wiping her eyes and taking a deep breath. Sufficiently calm enough to speak, she sat on the edge of Jamie’s bed.

 

“It was bad, but she’s alive and okay, thank the Lord,” Jenny said softly, crossing herself. Jamie sat down beside her and crossed himself as well, squeezing her hand softly in encouragement. “But Ian wants to go up there for a few days, see her in the hospital, check her into the rehab facility and everything. I think I need to go with him, for moral support.” She had been talking almost as if to herself, but at this point she looked up at Jamie, as if she needed him to validate her decision.

 

“Absolutely,” he agreed. “You should be in London with him.”

 

“I don’t want the kids to see their grandmother like that,” Jenny said firmly. “Can they stay with you for a few days?”

 

“Of course, Jenny,” he said softly. He cupped her cheek and kissed her forehead. “Be with your husband. I’ll take care of the weeuns.”

 

“Thank you, Jamie,” Jenny said sincerely, sniffling again. “I don’t know what Ian and I would do without you.”

 

“And I without you,” Jamie replied. It was cheesy, but he meant it. Jenny gave him a watery smile. “Let’s get some food in ye, aye?”

 

“Aye,” Jenny nodded and wiped away the last of her tears. She stood up, brushing nonexistent dirt off her pants, and shook her head. When she looked at Jamie again, she looked much more put together.

 

“Will you pick Jamie up from school today, then?” she asked. “I’ll drop Janet off in a few hours when we head out.”

 

Jamie nodded, already halfway to the kitchen. “Grilled cheese?” he asked, already taking out the bread and cheese.

 

“Of course,” Jenny laughed behind him. They had always had grilled cheese when they were younger and while it wasn’t as good as his mother’s, Jamie’s grilled cheese was still pretty good. Jenny plopped herself on the counter, loudly blowing her nose in a blanket.

 

“You’re gross,” Jamie informed her, turning on the stove. He looked over his shoulder and playfully stuck his tongue out, to which Jenny gave him the middle finger.

 

~~

 

When Jamie had agreed to watch his niece and nephew for a few days, he hadn’t realized at the time exactly how difficult it was to entertain toddlers in a home that was not theirs, and soon found himself at a bit of loss. When he had texted Claire for ideas, he had gladly taken her up on the offer to come over and help.

 

The first night, Claire had come over to Jamie’s flat with Discovery Channel Dinosaur DVDs, coloring books, and crayons, and things had gone pretty well until wee Jamie had tried to convince wee Janet that Dinosaurs were still alive and also that crayons were edible.

 

The next night, Claire had suggested they all go to the fair, and though apprehensive of the idea at first (given the loud noises and large crowds), Jamie had eventually agreed.

 

Now, looking at the towering, metal rides, surrounded by blinding lights and the laughter and shouts of hundreds of children, Jamie felt that perhaps he had been both right to be apprehensive and right to come. He did feel on edge, and his heart was pounding, and yeah his palms were sweaty, but he was managing. He would be okay.

 

Jamie gazed above him, the bright multicolored gleam of the Ferris wheel reflecting back brightly in his midnight blue orbs. His eyes seemed unfocused, almost elsewhere.

 

Claire watched him as she approached, biting her lip. He seemed in a far off trance, and she wasn’t keen to interrupt. The lines of his face were tight, a hand in a fist at his side. As they grew near to him, returning from their voyage to purchase cotton candy, little Jamie babbled beside her, his sticky hand gripping her’s tightly. She rearranged Janet, who she was carrying with her other arm, while the small girl sucked on her thumb, her eyes drooping in exhaustion. Janet’s other small hand tightly gripped a blue cotton candy cone, intended for her red-headed Uncle.

 

“And then the one with the tea cups one more time,” wee Jamie finished. He paused for breath, and took a large bite of his cotton candy, momentarily obscuring his face in a cloud of pink.

 

“Hey,” Claire said softly, lightly putting her hand on Jamie’s arm so as not to startle him. He turned to face her, and his eyes slowly re-focused, the tightness falling from his face. He smiled at her warmly and kissed her cheek.

 

“Did you save me any cotton candy, then?” he asked, looking down at his nephew with a look of mock reproach, and gesturing pointedly at the mostly empty cone in his hand.

 

“Oh aye,” wee Jamie replied solemnly. Laughing, Claire tapped Janet, and she handed him the fuzzy blue ball of sugar in her other hand.

 

“All for you,” Claire said with a grin. “Janet picked it out special.”

 

“Is that so?” Jamie smiled brightly. He kissed his niece on the nose, before taking a big bite out of the cotton candy.

 

“And what of my kiss?” Claire joked. Jamie smiled grotesquely at her, his teeth and mouth stained blue by the candy.

 

“Would ye like to kiss me now?”

 

Janet and wee Jamie burst into hysteric giggles as Jamie tried to kiss Claire, who was laughing breathlessly as she tried to dodge his sticky mouth. When he finally caught her she kissed him willingly, tasting the sugar of his mouth and cheekily sliding her tongue between his lips. She felt his small gasp and pulled away quickly, sticking her tongue out at wee Jamie in a look of mock disgust.

 

“Alright, weeuns,” Jamie sighed, crossing his arms. “Are we ready for bed yet?”

 

“But Unca Jamie!” his nephew protested, jutting out his lip. “Three more rides?”

 

Jamie couldn’t help but laugh at his nephew, who had immediately pushed for three more. He raised his eyebrows, ready to compromise.

 

“One more,” Jamie said, looking down at the little rascal.

 

“Two,” wee Jamie replied quickly, small mouth firmly set.

 

“Deal,” Jamie replied holding out his hand. The small boy took it with a grin and shook it, his hand getting lost in Jamie’s grip. Still holding hands, Jamie led the boy to whichever ride he had been prattling on about, looking down at him with rapt attention as he explained why this ride in particular was so great. Claire followed behind the two with Janet folded into her arms, murmuring in her ear as the little girl did her best to stay awake.

 

~~

 

Janet had gone to sleep in her crib in the guest room almost as soon as they had changed her into her jammies, but wee Jamie had taken much longer to fall asleep, requiring three stories and two cups of water. One his nephew was finally in bed and asleep, Jamie padded to his own bedroom carefully, knowing Claire would still be awake, waiting for him.

 

He brushed his teeth and changed into flannel bottoms, his mind distracted. Claire had been off since they returned from the fair, and she hadn’t spoken a word since he entered the room.

 

As Jamie slid into bed beside Claire, he was not surprised when she did not immediately turn to him or cuddle up beside him. He could tell that something was on her mind and he lay on his back, patiently waiting for her to work herself up to to saying it.

 

He drummed his fingers lightly against his thighs, and wondered what it could be. Things had been going well so far, and though he knew he’d been distracted tonight, it had been an overall lovely evening. He closed his eyes and pictured wee Jamie tonight, running excitedly from ride to ride at the fair. His chest felt tight as his mind immediately conjured up pictures of William, but for once, with the heat and weight of Claire beside him, he didn’t fall into the usual pit of despair thoughts of his sun sucked him into.

 

He took a deep breath and forced himself to think of Claire at the fair, instead. Her long hair blowing in the wind, the curls falling around her face haphazardly. Her face when she won the stupid water-squirting game, and the plush froggie toy she had won and immediately gifted to wee Jamie.

 

After two minutes of silence, he felt Claire shift on the bed to look at him, and prepared himself.

 

“Something tonight at the fair made you,” she paused, searching for the right words in the darkness of the room. “Upset. Sad. Angry.” She paused again, and reached for his hand across the bed. He let her interlock their fingers, though his heart had now begun to thrum so hard he feared it would beat out of his chest. “When I saw you, looking up at the ferries wheel. I could see it on your face.” Still, Jamie said nothing.

 

“It hurt me,” she said softly. “To see you hurting. And to not know why, or how I could make it better.”

 

Jamie felt his chest twinge and he pulled Claire towards him, burying his head in her hair. He pressed her face to his bare chest, and he felt her breathe him in deeply. After a moment, she tilted her head up.

 

“Can you tell me?”

 

Jamie swallowed hard, and his grip on her tightened.

 

“Yes,” he breathed. Then he paused, his thumb rubbing small circles on her waist. “But not yet, Claire. Soon.”

 

He felt her nod against his chest.

 

“Okay,” she whispered. He waited, but she said nothing more, and he felt his chest begin to relax.

 

After another moment of silence, Jamie felt her lips move against his breast bone, kissing his warm skin softly, and couldn’t help but grin. Slowly, her hand began to move down his torso, stopping at the top of his flannel pajama bottoms. She pressed her hand against his already hard cock, feeling his length through the material. Still gripping him firmly, Claire leaned forward, pressing her lips to his. Slowly, she began to open his mouth with her tongue, and he brought his hands to her waist, pulling her to him more closely.

 

“Claire,” he breathed. His heart was pounding, still coming down from the adrenaline of Claire’s earlier words, and now speeding up again in response to his uncontrollable desire to have her. It was like everywhere she touched him was lit with fire, and he wanted her so much he thought he might pass out.

 

“Claire, I want you so much,” Jamie said out loud, dropping his head to her shoulder and biting her, scraping his teeth over the sensitive part where the curve of her neck began.

 

Without a word, Claire grabbed his pants and pulled them down roughly, pressing herself to him. In one quick move, she pulled his old tee shirt over her head, and he rolled himself on top of her. Jamie took his hand and traced it down her, staring at the lines of her body wonderingly, hungrily. He paused above her panties, touching the lace with his long fingers. Suddenly he reached down and cupped her as she wriggled against him. He could feel how wet she was through the lace of her thong, and his cock twitched in response. He pulled her panties down with one hand and leaned down over Claire’s trembling body, putting a nipple between his teeth and biting down gently. Claire gasped and Jamie thrust into her with a groan, gripping her waist as he tried to position himself so as not to crush her.

 

“You looked so hot tonight,” Claire murmured, turning her face to the side  and muffling her moans into the pillow. Jamie thrust into her again and she bit her lip, her grip on the sheet tightening. “You’re so good with them, Jamie.”

 

Overwhelmed, Jamie leaned down to kiss her hard, hoping she wouldn’t see the tears pricking his eyes at her words. She wouldn’t understand why they had affected him so, and why his niece and nephew meant as much to him as they did. Not yet. He pulled back from the searing heat of their kiss and put her bottom lip between his teeth. He bit down and pulled lightly, and he immediately felt Claire clench around him.

 

“Oh,” she cried out, a mixture of surprise and pleasure. Claire gripped him tightly as she came, and not much later, Jamie followed her over the edge.

 

He pulled out and rolled over her, kissing her nose softly. He threw his arm over her belly and pulled her to him, satisfied and already on the verge of sleep.

 

“Goodnight, Sassenach,” he murmured, his voice thick.

 

“Goodnight, Jamie.” She scooted back and tucked herself against him, and they both fell asleep satiated and sweaty, tangled in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

“After this, ye may look at me differently, Claire. And I ken that.”

 

It was the Sunday afternoon, and they were siting at Claire’s kitchen table. It was two weeks before Christmas, and a classic crisp December morning in Scotland. They had spent the morning walking through the park, holding hands and chatting, sharing stories of their childhood. They had come back to Claire’s and made slow, lazy love on her couch, and had now just finished a game of cards at the table, and there were ginger snap cookies in the oven. (Slice and bake, of course). Claire had asked Jamie to teach her how to play poker, and he was trying his best – an impossible task with someone like Claire, whose face betrayed every single thing she was thinking unconsciously.

 

Sunlight poured in through the window, making Claire’s hair look many shades of glistening brown.

 

Everything, in that moment, felt just as it was supposed to be.

 

Jamie took a deep breath. He felt as if he had spent the last few weeks building a beautiful, gorgeous glass house, and he was about to bring a hammer to it. But he knew, that before things went further, he had to tell her.

 

He had to tell her everything.

 

“I told you that I dropped out of uni at 19,” he began. Claire nodded in confirmation. “I told you it was because of family stuff, which is partially true.” He breathed in again, steeling himself. His nostrils flared slightly. “I dropped out because I knocked up a girl.” He said it frankly, the way you would say the weather. A fact. “Her name was—is—Geneva.”

 

He looked up at Claire. Her eyes had widened slightly in surprise, but the rest of her face was impassive. Waiting for him to tell her everything, and then she would react.

 

“I dropped out to support them. Geneva and—,” his voice cracked. “And William. My son.”

 

Jamie paused again and instinctively Claire grabbed his hand across the table, and gave it a squeeze of encouragement.

 

“It was only a fling, we had barely had sex a dozen times over the whole semester,” Jamie continued. “I was a lad, but 19.” He winced, remembering his naivety and cluelessness at that age. “But she wanted to keep the child, and I wanted to do the right thing. So I married her,” he snorted. “Married before 20!” He looked at her, trying to make a joke, and she smiled slightly, urging him silently to continue. “And once the baby came, the three of us moved into a small, cramped flat. I worked for my father part-time at the whiskey distillery, and did other odd jobs, bartending and the like, whenever I could.”

 

He paused, and looked up at her to meet her eyes.

 

“I didna love her. I thought I was doing what was right. I would have done anything, anything, for William. To make sure he had a good life and a good family, Sassenach.”

 

He whispered her pet name softly, almost as if in pain. She squeezed his hand again in reassurance. She had not known he had a son until moments ago, but she had seen him with wee Jamie. She knew he would have been an amazing father. Is an amazing father, she corrected herself mentally.

 

“When Ian came back from Iraq,” Jamie continued, lump in his throat. “Without his leg – I had to go, Claire. I had to. I had to for Ian, for my family. It was my duty. And of course the salary would all get sent back to Geneva and William.” She nodded. She understood.

 

He swallowed again. This was the part of the story he had dreaded telling her. He disentangled his hands from her and crossed them in front of himself. He looked down intently, before taking a deep breath, and starting again.

 

“When I came back,” he said softly. “I was messed up, Claire. In the body, aye, but in the head, more. I told you I spent months in the hospital recovering. But half of that time I was in the psychiatric ward.” He looked up at her, and she could see the raw emotion in his eyes. “I had nightmares. I couldn’t be around bright lights, loud noises. I was on the edge of a panic attack all the time. I was scared. Always scared.” He looked down, face twisted in shame. “And angry.”

 

“When I moved back into the flat, I felt like a terrified mouse,” he said, voice hoarse. “I jumped at everything. I couldn’t bear for Geneva to look at me, nevertheless touch me. And she –,” he paused again, features contorting in a grimace. “Well, it didna matter, because she didn’t want to touch me. She was repelled by me. By the scars.” He paused again. “And William – William was scared of me. He didn’t know me, had not seen me since he was two. Heard me screaming in the evenings. He wouldn’t let me hug him, pick him up. He didna know me.”

 

He looked away, pain overcoming his voice.

 

“Geneva moved out, asked me for a divorce. I had no choice but to agree. I didna want to, for William, but—” He paused, collecting his thoughts. “Three weeks after she moved out, a week before the court hearing, I was out with Ian and I got blisteringly, mind-numbingly drunk. The first time since I had come back.”

 

He looked down, his face contorted in disgrace.

 

“I went to Geneva’s new place at nearly two in the morning, banging on the door for hours and yelling for her to let me in like a drunk fool. Demanding to see William,” his voice hitched. “Demanding to see my son.” He swallowed.

 

“She didna let me in, of course. After that, she wouldna even answer my texts, my calls. I didn’t see her until we were in court.”

 

He paused again.

 

“I thought she would get primary custody, and perhaps I would get William on the weekends. I was still getting back up on my feet, but I knew I would have a full-time job soon, and I still had the flat.”

 

He looked up at her, and the depth of pain and betrayal in his eyes took her breath away.

 

“She petitioned for sole custody. No visitation rights. She said I had,” he paused, struggling to get the words out. “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, which I do, and that I was unstable.” He looked up at Claire, dark blue eyes shining. “She also called me an alcoholic, which I’m not, just a Scot.” He managed a tight smile at that, trying to make a joke. Again, Claire squeeze his hand. “But she sighted the incident from the week prior as evidence, ya ken. She said—” he paused, and said lowly, through gritted teeth. “She said I was unfit to be a father.” He took a deep breath. “She said I was a danger to William’s physical and emotional well-being.”

 

He looked down at his hands, clenched into fists on the table.

 

“She won,” he whispered softly. He looked up at Claire, and unwittingly, tears brimmed over and spilled down his face. “She won full custody. And then she moved William to Boston. Didn’t even give me the address, or the telephone number.”

 

Jamie looked into her eyes, tears spilling freely now.

 

“I havena seen my son in almost five years, Claire. And it’s all my fault.”

 

“Oh, Jamie,” Claire breathed. She felt like she had the wind knocked out of her when he said that. His fault? How could he think this was his fault? She got up and walked around the kitchen table. She knelt down next to Jamie and went to wrap his arms around him. He twitched away, and Claire pulled back.

 

“You –” he said, confusion on his face. “You dinna hate me?”

 

“Hate you? How could I hate you, Jamie?” She crawled into his lap and wrapped her arms around him, and this time he did not resist.

 

“You aren’t,” he swallowed. “scared of me?”

 

Claire’s chest squeezed at the man before her. She put a hand on either side of his face and looked deep into eyes.

 

“Did you ever hurt Geneva?” she said seriously. He shook his head. “Did you ever hurt William?” He shook his head again. “Would you ever hurt me?” she asked softly.

 

“No, Claire,” he said, voice cracking. “Never.”

 

 “You are the strongest, kindest, most beautiful man I have ever met,” she whispered. She closed the space between them, kissing him gently. She could taste the salt from his tears on her lips. “Thank you for telling me this, Jamie.” She pulled away so she could look right in his eyes, so he could see just how very serious she was. “But it doesn’t change anything, James Fraser. I’m right here. And I’m not going anywhere. Not as long as you’ll have me.” His breath hitched and he pulled her closer, burying his face in her hair.

 

And right then he made a promise to himself.

 

I will not lose Claire. I will not lose my family.

 

Not again.

 

~~

 

They were laying in bed beside each other in Claire’s soft, red bed, having just made (exhausting) love. The dawn light of Monday morning was beginning to fall through the window, and Jamie was tracing lazy circles on Claire’s back as she began to doze off. He wished desperately that the light would go away, so that they could stay here forever. Her face was illuminated by the pale glow of morning, her dark hair a curly halo around her translucent face. Her soft, red lips open and closed as she breathed, the picture of relaxation.

 

“I love you, Sassenach,” he breathed.

 

“What?”

 

Claire sat up with a start. Jamie was positive she had been fast asleep, but clearly she had not been. She looked down at him, eyebrows furrowed together. Jamie held his breathe, his heart pounding out of his chest. 

 

“What did you say?” she asked again.

 

“I love you,” Jamie said slowly, calmly, looking down at her and enunciating each word carefully. No point denying what he had said now. His heart was beating hard and fast against his ribs, each bud-dum as loud to his own ears as Claire’s breath. She looked at him for a moment, head cocked to the side, then wordlessly lay back down on her side, eyes locked on his the whole time.

 

After a few more moments of silence while Claire stared at him, Jamie decided to break the tension. “Is it too soon?” he asked. His voice cracking, betraying his fear. “Have I scared you off?”

 

Claire looked at him then, eyes finally snapping out of her reverie. She smiled softly at him, and leaned forward to kiss his lips softly.

 

“I love you, too, you bloody Scot,” she whispered. Jamie released the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding, and scooped her into his arms, crushing her against his chest and burying his face in her hair.

 

Claire held him back just as tightly.

 

Chapter Text

Claire had never been to an art show opening before, and nervously tugged at her dress. She spun around in the full-length mirror, examining herself once more. Am I too old to wear something like this?

 

The dress was black, short and very tight.  The spaghetti strap number looked nothing like the dresses Claire usually chose to wear, but Gaelis had convinced her it would be perfect for tonight. Jamie had thoughtfully told Claire to bring Gaelis along, as he would likely have to be talking to the press and various potential buyers with his agent John for the majority of the evening.

 

“Gaelie, let’s go,” Claire called towards the bathroom, anxiously looking down at her phone. “I told him I would be there 15 minutes ago.”

 

“Aye, aye,” Gaelis mumbled, coming out of the bathroom half-hunched over as she tried to readjust her Spanx. Catching Claire’s look she shot up straight, checking herself one last time in the hall mirror.

 

“Look at me with those judging eyes when ye pop out three monsters and none of yer parts stay in place anymore,” Gaelis huffed, walking out the door.

 

Claire laughed so hard she snorted and Gaelis shoved her playfully, laughing as well.

 

“So things with Jamie are getting serious, then?” Gaelis asked once they were settled in the cab and on their way to the gallery.  

 

“I think so,” Claire responded, a tell-tale blush creeping up her neck. “Yeah. Yeah they are,” she said more definitely.

 

“I’m happy for ye, Claire,” Gaelis said genuinely, squeezing her hand. Claire squeezed back, suddenly feeling extremely grateful to have a friend with her tonight.

 

That feeling was amplified when the two women walked into the gallery, and Claire didn’t recognize a single person there.

 

“Well this is a fancy event for Edinburgh,” Gaelis cooed beside her. She fixed her dress, a sparkly pink thing that literally no one could pull off except for probably Gaelis, Claire thought.

 

The room was big and white, filled with dozens of people, perhaps over a hundred, milling about in cocktail attire. Along all the walls were Jamie’s paintings, giant canvases in reds and purples, blacks and blues. Claire was pleased to see that two of the larger ones nearest the entrance already had small “sold” signs posted beneath them. There were waiters walking around with flutes of pale gold champagne, and Gaelis waved one towards them.

 

“Claire!”

 

She turned around quickly, finding Jamie walking towards them in a perfectly tailored midnight blue suit, hair neatly pulled back. Beside him, walking at a much more rapid pace, was a small, slim man with fine blonde hair, pixie-like and handsome.

 

Reaching them, Jamie leaned forward and gave Claire a quick kiss on the cheek, wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her to him.

 

“You must be Claire,” the small man said warmly, holding out his hand. “Jamie has told me all about you. John Gray, his agent.”

 

“Pleased to meet you,” Claire replied. “This is my friend Gaelis.” The two of them shook hands and began small talk, allowing Claire to turn to Jamie.

 

“It’s amazing, Jamie,” she said honestly. “I’m so proud of you.”

 

“Thank ye, Sassenach ,” he smiled, looking down at her. “Now, as the artist,” he rolled his eyes dramatically and Claire giggled,” I have to go make lots of small talk, but it might be slightly more bearable if ye join me.”

 

“You got it,” she grinned, playfully linking her arm with his.

 

For the rest of the night, Claire happily played significant other to budding artist genius, and absolutely delighted in simply nodding along and smiling while watching Jamie talk about his work confidently, though she found the slight blush he got whenever he glanced her way both woefully endearing and unbearably sexy.

 

They were on perhaps their third lap of the gallery when Claire paused in front of a canvas she was not sure she had seen yet.

 

“Jamie,” she said, putting out her hand on his arm to stop him. “This one is…”

 

Claire was at a loss for words. The painting before her was one of the most magnificent things she had ever seen. Abstract, like all of Jamie’s work, this one looked to her like a sunset, with golds, yellows, oranges, and reds swirling around one another, seeming to both burst and fade.

 

“You like it?” Jamie asked beside her.

 

She turned to him, her chest squeezing inside of her with a feeling of such pride and love she thought she might explode.

 

“Oh Jamie,” she murmured. “It’s absolutely beautiful.”

 

“Look closer,” he whispered, grabbing her hand. They walked forward a few steps so Claire could see the small white plaque beneath the piece.

 

Sassenach; 2017; oil on canvas.

 

Claire touched the plaque with her fingers, running her pointer over the black letters over and over again.

 

“Sassenach?” she asked, looking up at him. Her eyes suddenly felt very wet. Jamie nodded, not breaking eye contact for a moment. Roughly, Claire buried her face in his chest, forcing herself to not cry. He enveloped her, murmuring Gaelic words so softly she could barely hear him. 

 

“Jamie!” Claire pulled away as she recognized the voice, wiping her eyes briskly.

 

“Ian,” Jamie said warmly, slapping his brother in law on the back. "Was wondering when you two would show up."

 

“Nice to see ye, Claire,” Jenny smiled, kissing Claire on the cheek.

 

“You too,” Claire replied, clasping Jenny’s hand. “You look wonderful.”

 

And she really did. Jenny was wearing a plum, A-line dress with a deep V, her white breasts looking plump and nearly ready to spill over. Catching her glance, Jenny winked at her.

 

“They’re starting to fill up with milk already,” Jenny whispered conspiratorially.

 

“Starting to..?” Claire began to ask, before cutting herself off. Jenny’s eyes twinkled in delight, and Claire had a sudden burst of understanding. “Oh!” she gasped. “Jenny!”

 

“Shhhh,” Jenny said, turning her away from where Ian and Jamie were chatting animatedly. “I haven’t told Jamie yet. We’re going to tell him this Friday, at our weekly dinners.” Claire nodded. She was familiar with the tradition.

 

“He’s going to be so pleased,” Claire told Jenny genuinely.

 

Jenny nodded. “I want you to come to Friday dinner too, Claire,” Jenny said softly. “You’re part of the family now.”

 

Claire nodded, not trusting herself to speak lest she begin to cry again. She hugged Jenny roughly, hoping to communicate without words. Jenny hugged her back. When they let go, Claire cleared her throat.

 

“I’ll be there,” Claire smiled. “Of course.”

 

“Don’t tell him though, aye?” Jenny said, wagging her finger in mock-seriousness. “I want him to be surprised.”

 

“Cross my heart,” Claire said back.

 

“Claire,” Jamie said, suddenly behind her. “I have to go speak with John. Are you alright here?”

 

“She’s more than alright,” Jenny smiled, linking her arms with Claire. “Go on.”

 

Jamie smiled brightly and leaned down, first kissing Claire and then his sister lightly on the cheek before turning to walk away. 

 

“Brother,” Jenny called, forcing Jamie to turn back. He tilted his head quizzically, urging her to go on. “I’m proud of you.” Jamie blushed thoroughly, ducking his head in acknowledgement before disappearing to mingle.

 

The night continued to drag on, with Claire alternating her time between gossiping with Gaelis and Jenny (who, unsurprisngly, got along like two peas in a pod) and staring at Jamie from across the room. Claire thought she would go mad with her fantasies of roughly escorting him to a nearby room and having her way with him by the time they finally left the gallery.

 

It wasn’t until they got in the Uber, however, did Claire realize that Jamie, who had been networking and chatting and drinking drink after drink all evening, was, in fact, absolutely hammered, and had just been hiding it very well.

 

“Claire,” he slurred, dragging out her name so that it had somewhere between three to six Rs. He leaned his head against the chilly fogged glass of the cab window, cooling his forehead. “I thought that night would never end.”

 

Claire laughed softly, covering her mouth when she hiccupped. While not at Jamie’s level, she had certainly drank a lot.

 

“Me too, darling,” she giggled. She leaned forward and made sure that the cab driver had her address, before gently tugging Jamie’s head into her lap, whose eyes and head were considerably more drooped against the window than they had been a minute ago.

 

Head firmly snuggled in Claire’s lap, Jamie was practically snoring by the time they arrived at Claire’s apartment, and Claire had to nearly shout to wake him.

 

“Jamie, let’s go,” she pleaded, simultaneously annoyed at the ginormous Scot asleep in her lap, but also trying very much not to laugh.

 

“Mmmm,” he grumbled, finally opening his eyes blearily. Claire got him to scoot out of the cab and walk into the apartment pretty much without incident and mentally patted herself on the back.

 

“Let’s go to bed,” Jamie murmured as soon as they walked into the important. Claire laughed softly and took his hand, leading him to the bedroom.

 

“I agree.”

 

Jamie stumbled into the bedroom behind her and quickly shucked his jeans, crawling into bed. Claire slid out of her dress, standing before him in nothing but her panties and black lace bra. She took off her earrings and made to get into bed beside him, but he held up his arm.

 

“Wait,” he murmured, his blue eyes sharp and glinting in the dim light of the bedroom. “I want to look at ye.”

 

Obediently, Claire paused at the edge of the bed. She slowly turned around, giving a 360 view. As she turned back around, Jamie reached out and gently cupped her ass, pulling her to him.

 

“Oof,” Claire laughed, falling on top of him with little grace. She quickly arranged herself so that her legs were straddling him. 

 

“Sorry,” Jamie grinned wolfishly, hands still firmly gripping her rear and not looking sorry at all.

 

Claire leaned down and kissed him softly.

 

“I’m so proud of you, Jamie,” she said again. This time, in the quiet of the bedroom, the soft tendrils of her hair tickling his cheek, the words seemed to hold much more power than they had in the bright gallery, surrounded by stranger. Here, now, it was just them; just Jamie and Claire. And there was nowhere else she would rather be. 

 

“Thank ye, Claire,” he breathed. He kissed her forehead, and then her nose. Claire sighed happily and slid off of him, curling herself into his side as he wrapped the blankets around them.

 

“Ye looked beautiful tonight, Sassenach,” he whispered into her hair, pulling her close. “I could barely keep my hands off of ye.”

 

“You and me both,” she whispered back, scooting her bum back so she could feel him pressing against her. Jamie reached around and cupped her breast through the lace of her bra.

 

“Goodnight, Sassenach,” he mumbled, swallowing back a yawn.

 

“Goodnight, Jamie.”

 

~~

 

Claire went directly to work the next morning and then directly to school, not arriving home until well into the evening. When she finally did, she was harried and exhausted and could think of nothing except a hot shower and bed. She unlocked the door to her apartment and flicked the lights on, taking off her coat and putting her stuff down. She was so preoccupied that it was a few minutes before she noticed the giant, square package in the middle of her entryway, covered in brown paper.

 

She walked towards it quickly, grabbing the white note attached to the top.

 

“For my Sassenach.”

 

Claire did not need to unwrap the paper to know which painting would be hiding underneath.

Chapter Text

As they pulled onto the estate, Jamie let go of Claire’s hand--which had been languidly resting intertwined with his on the center console--in order to better steer the car over the bumpy terrain.

 

It was Christmas Eve, and in true Scottish fashion, the sky was the color of steel and there had been a constant freezing drizzle since they had left Edinburgh to make the drive all the way into the highlands.

 

“Sorry for the rough ride, Sassenach,” Jamie grinned, brows furrowed together as he inched up the last bit of uneven gravel and stone. “But here we are.” He switched the car off and turned to face her.

 

 “Welcome to Lallybroch,” he said proudly.

 

Claire looked up at the large grey estate towering over them, and felt her stomach lurch. This was the place Jamie had grown up.

 

“It’s beautiful, Jamie,” Claire breathed.

 

“Let’s get you inside and warmed up,” Jamie smiled. “I’ll give you the full tour.”

 

~~

After Jamie had shown her around, he had disappeared with Ian into the cellar to go over the wine and whiskey options for Christmas dinner later that night. Claire was on her way upstairs to take a nap, when she ran straight into Jenny on her way down to the kitchens, nearly colliding.

 

“Whoops!” Clair exclaimed, coming to a halt right before Jenny, who was holding Janet in her arms. “I didn’t even see you!”

 

“Dinna fash,” Jenny smiled. “These corridors take some getting used to. How was the trip up?”

 

“Long,” Claire replied. “But happy to be here. Thank you so much for having me.”

 

“It’s our pleasure to have ye here, Claire,” Jenny said warmly. Claire blushed and turned her attention to Janet, hoping Jenny wouldn’t notice.

 

“And how are you doing, darling?” Claire asked Janet. Janet buried her face into her mother’s shoulder instead of replying.

 

“She’s going through a shy phase,” Jenny shrugged, rolling her eyes even as she affectionately kissed her daughter. “I’m going to put her down for a nap and then go pick some berries from the garden for Mrs. Fitz. She wants to make some of her famous pies for dessert tonight.”

 

Mrs. Fitz, I had gathered, was something like a grandmother to the Fraser children, while also making sure the estate ran without a hitch while they were not there. She was also, I had been told, a phenomenal cook and baker.

 

“Would ye like to join me in the gardens?” Jenny asked.

 

“I would love to,” Claire replied, mentally waving goodbye to the nap she as going to take.

 

“Great,” Jenny smiled. “I’ll meet you in the garden as soon as the weeun is asleep.”

 

~~

 

It took Claire longer than she had anticipated to find the garden, but after a few wrong turns and some help from Mrs. Fitz, she was finally able to arrive. Jenny was still not there, so Claire took a basket from the shed and began to collect berries. Having spent so much time travelling and scavenging with Uncle Lamb as a child, she prided herself on her ability to tell the ripeness of different fruits and vegetables with just a glance.

 

She was humming tunelessly to herself in the bushes when she heard the telltale crunch of someone walking up behind her.

 

“Janet sure is a tough one,” Jenny said, falling into step beside Claire with a basket of her own. “No doubt about that one being a Fraser.”

 

Claire smiled at her. “Jamie and I had so much fun taking them to the fair a few weeks ago.”

 

“Oh, wee Jamie wouldn’t stop talking about that for a week!” Jenny laughed. “He said it was the best night of his life.”

 

“He’s a wonderful boy,” Claire said, slipping into her teacher voice.

 

“Do you want kids, Claire?” Jenny asked casually, plopping another handful of berries into her basket. Startled by the question, Claire dropped her basket, and Jenny bent down with her to help gather the rolling berries back into the basket.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Claire, murmured, shoving fair out of her face as she tried to collect all the berries. “I’m so clumsy.”

 

“Dinna fash,” Jenny replied, standing up. She looked at Claire curiously a moment. “I take it he’s told you about William?” she said. She said it like a question, but from Jenny’s face Claire could tell she already knew the answer.

 

“Yes.”

 

Jenny nodded, and without another word, the two of them went back to picking berries. Claire was grateful Jenny did not pursue her question any further. A few more moments of silent passed before Jenny ventured to speak again.

 

“How is he doing?” she asked softly. Claire looked at her quizzically. “The nightmares and such,” Jenny clarified in a rush. She wouldn’t meet Claire’s eyes, and Claire could tell that this was hard for her. She did not want to betray her brother’s trust, but was also motivated to check up on him.

 

“He’s okay, I think,” Claire said, following Jenny’s lead and looking only at the berries as she spoke. “He has them still, but not as much.”

 

It was silent as Jenny mulled over her next words.

 

“I havena seen him this happy in a very long time, Claire,” Jenny finally said. “I’m grateful that he’s found ye.” She reached out and grabbed Claire’s hand, squeezing her hard.

 

“Me too, Jenny,” Claire whispered, squeezing back. “Me too.”

 

~~

 

Dinner was a family affair, with Mackenzies, Murrays, and Frasers from all across Scotland descending upon Lallybroch for a Christmas Eve feast. There was honeyed ham, and enough whiskey to supply a small army.

 

Claire sat beside Jamie and across from Ian and Jenny. On her other side were Ian’s brother and sister-in-law, who Claire found to be absolutely delightful. On Jamie’s other side was Principle Mackenzie, who Claire had only just recently found out was in fact Jamie’s Uncle Dougal.

 

“Are you related to every Mackenzie in Scotland?” Claire had joked.

 

“Nearly,” Jamie had winked at her.  

 

Though there were many people and many conversations occurring simultaneously, Jamie kept one hand firmly clasped with Claire’s below for the entirety of the meal, letting her know that part of his attention was always on her. Claire didn’t talk much, mostly just listening to other’s stories, but her smile was so wide the whole evening that her cheeks were sore by the end.

 

She hadn’t told Jamie, but in many ways, this had been her first ever family Christmas. She had been nervous, afraid she wouldn’t know what to do, or would stick out like a sore thumb. But that hadn’t happened, not one bit. Everyone had welcomed her as if she was one of them, and every time she caught Jamie staring at her, it was with a look of what Claire could only describe as pure adoration.

 

She felt loved. She felt welcome. She felt at home.

 

Claire felt like finally, jus maybe, she had a family of her own.

 

~~

 

The fire fizzled and crackled and gurgled, and Claire snuggled herself deeper underneath the thick wool quilts, digging her toe-covered socks into the bed. She thought about her day at Lallybroch and found herself smiling. In just a few hours, the estate had already begun to feel like home to her.

 

Claire couldn’t believe how quickly her life had transformed in a matter of months, how quickly her world axis had tilted to include Jamie and his family. And yes, Jamie was still learning to trust her in the ways he needed to, and they still had a lot further to go, but they were getting there, together. For the first time in a long time, Claire felt that everything was the way it was supposed to be.

 

Except for one thing.

 

There was one thing that was not as it should be, and Claire, no matter how hard she tried, could not stop thinking about it.

 

Jamie should have the right to see his son.

 

Not only was it wrong, it was cruel. He was a good man, and Claire wanted to help him, but she would only act if she knew that was what Jamie wanted. After spending the day at Lallybroch with his family, and seeing him playing with wee Jamie and wee Janet and all the other little children about, Claire knew she needed to ask him. If Jamie wanted to reconnect with William, Claire would do everything she could to help him make that happen.

 

Jamie shut the light in the bathroom off and walked towards the bed, sending an email on his phone as he went. The blue light lit up his face in the orange glow of the room, making him look ghostly. He put his phone down on the bedside table with a click as he locked it and grinned down at her, quickly chucking his shirt and sliding into bed. Claire nudged herself closer to him, pressing her freezing thighs to his warm ones.

 

“Jamie,” Claire said softly, running a finger through his chest hair absently. “Can I ask you something?”

 

“Of course, mo chridhe.”

 

“Do you want to find William, Jamie?” Claire asked softly. “Do you want to try to get him back in your life?”

 

The air was thick with tension as Claire waited for Jamie to respond.

 

“Yes, of course,” he said, his voice horse and clouded with emotion. There was a pause.

 

“But I will not do that,” Jamie said firmly.

 

He closed his eyes then, and blindly reached out for Claire’s hand.

 

“Geneva is his mother, and this is her choice and what she thinks is best for her son.”

 

“But he’s your son, too,” Claire said gently.

 

“Claire,” his voice sounded twisted with emotion. “Please dinna ask me about it again. It’s too painful. Just leave it for now. Please, my love.”

 

He squeezed her tightly and kissed her forehead.

 

“Okay,” Claire consented in the dark and squeezed his hand back. It was silent for a moment as they both waited for Jamie’s rapid breathing to slow down. Once it was at a normal pace again, Claire prepared herself to speak.

 

“There’s something I felt I should tell you,” Claire began. “Since you told me about William.”

 

Jamie pulled Claire closer to him, so that they’re bodies were touching along every line as she spoke. He could feel her shaking with her nerves at whatever she was going to tell him and he put a large hand on her thigh, rubbing up and down.

 

“You can tell me anything, Sassenach,” he said softly. “But you don’t have to tell me anything ye dinna want to.”

 

Claire nodded against his chest.

 

“I’m not sure if I can have children, Jamie,” she said, all the words rushing out of her in one whoosh, like they had been waiting for the chance to escape. She paused, but Jamie did not answer, waiting for her to continue.

 

“Frank and I tried, for two years while we were engaged, since he was older. Nothing happened. I never went to a doctor, or anything, so I don’t know for sure but, well.”

 

She paused again, this time lifting up her head to peer at him in the darkness of the room. His face was partially lit by the glow of the fire, a pattern of gold and orange dancing across his jawline, but his expression was entirely indiscernible. “I thought you should know. In case that’s something that’s important to you. Moving forward.”

 

Jamie lifted a hand and cupped it around Claire’s face, his thumb lovingly caressing her lips. His eyes seemed to melt in the fire, and a look of wonderment came across his face as he gazed at her.

 

“Oh my Sassenach,” he whispered. “As much as I would love a little boy with your eyes and a little girl with your hair-” he leaned forward, kissing her softly. “I will be very happy, happier than I ever thought possible, if it is just you and I for eternity, mo nighean donn.”

 

“Me too,” Claire whispered back, and in the darkness of Lallybroch, the ghosts of generations of Frasers scooped up their words and recorded them in the histories of their hearts.

 

For eternity, mo nighean donn.

 

For eternity.

Chapter Text

 

They had dinner reservations, and they were going to be late.

 

Normally this wouldn’t have bothered Jamie very much, but he knew that if they missed their dinner reservation they would never make it on time to The Blue Lagoon, where they were supposed to meet Jenny and Ian to ring in the new year.

 

“Claire!” he called, pacing around the kitchen. “Let’s go!”

 

She didn’t answer, which Jamie took to mean she wasn’t ready. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and sat down at the kitchen island counter, resigned to waiting.

 

Jamie was just about to start answering some work-emails out of sheer boredom when the doorbell to Claire’s apartment rang.

 

“Are ye expecting someone?” Jamie called into the apartment, already standing up to open the door.

 

“No!” Claire called back. Jamie could hear the click-clack of her stilettos on the hardwood echoing through the flat as she finished getting ready. “Can you see who it is?”

 

Jamie’s hand was already on the door, twisting it open with a polite smile loosely in place. Who dropped in unannounced on New Year’s Eve?

 

The man in the hallway was tall by most standards, but still several inches shorter than Jamie.

 

He had a narrow face, angular cheeks. He was older than Jamie, certainly, and looked quite surprised to see him standing there.

 

“Oh,” the man said (rather stupidly, Jamie thought). “I was looking for Claire.”

 

“She’s just getting dressed,” Jamie said politely. “She’ll be out in a minute.”

 

The man nodded. Jamie looked him up and down, subtly assessing him. He seemed…scholarly. Clean. Professional.

 

The silence had been going on for too long. Jamie shuffled from side to side in the open door.

 

“Would ye like to wait inside?” Jamie asked awkwardly, rubbing his neck.

 

“Uhm, well,” the man began awkwardly.

 

Just then Claire walked down the hall, distractingly closing her purse.

 

“Jamie, darling, who was it?”

 

As she finished her sentence she looked up, and immediately dropped the purse in her hands.

 

“Frank?” she gasped.

 

Frank?

 

Jamie looked from the man, to her, to the broken purse. A single round gemstone had popped off the purse, and was rolling down the wooden floorboards.

 

Jamie felt like he couldn’t breathe. His chest was closing in, and the only thing he could think to do was run. Away from here. From Claire’s past – her fiancé. Her happiness without him.

 

“I’ll wait in the lobby,” Jamie said tightly.

 

Not waiting for a response, he raced out, slamming the door behind him. His heart was beating erratically as he took the stairs down two out of time. But instead of stopping in the lobby, he kept going, pushing through the glass doors into the frosty Scotland air. The cold hit him like a truck, but still he did not stop walking. He did not know where he was going, but he knew he needed to get as far away from there as he could.

 

Jamie shoved his hands deeper into his coat pocket, and began to walk at an even brisker pace.

 

~~

 

Claire’s POV

 

Frank?

 

She couldn’t believe her eyes. The purse fell out of her hands, dropping to the floor with a thud, but she barely noticed. What was he doing here?

 

Her ears were whooshing, but she suddenly became aware of Jamie saying something. She turned her eyes to find him saying something in an agitated tone, before bolting out the door.

 

“Jamie?” she said hollowly. She went forward as if to follow him and then stopped midway, almost as if in a trance.

 

The door slammed shut, leaving Frank standing on the welcome mat, uncomfortable.

 

“What’re you doing here?” Her voice sounded a million miles away.

 

“I,” he stuttered. “I’m here for an academic conference and I thought to look you up. I just, I guess I wanted to see you.”

 

He looked down, his briefcase in his hands.

 

“I see now that was a mistake.”

 

“Yes.” As Claire said the word, the shock finally dissipated and she was finally started to regain her senses. “Yes, it was, Frank. Please go before you cause anymore damage.”

 

“Claire,” Frank began, pleadingly, earnestly. His face made her stomach twist in knots. Suddenly all she could see was Jamie’s face – the look when he ran out the door. She needed to find him. Now.

 

No, Frank,” Claire said sharply. She walked forward and shoved on her coat, opening the door. “I need to go find Jamie. You better be long gone by the time I get back.”

 

~~

 

When Claire arrived at Jamie’s apartment, the entire place was dark. She fumbled for a light switch in the blackness, eventually flickering on the living room light. Her heart began to beat erratically.

 

“Jamie?” she called. When she heard no answer, she truly began to panic. He hadn’t answered any of her texts or calls, nor Jenny’s eithers. She began to race around the apartment, first checking his office and his studio. When both were empty, she ran to his bedroom. It was dark, but she could see a light on from the bathroom.

 

Claire walked towards the door slowly. She took a deep breath and raised her fist, knocking softly.

 

“Jamie,” she said, speaking through the door. “May I come in?”

 

She could hear the sound of fitful breathing, but still no reply.

 

“Jamie, love,” she began again. “Please, let me come in.”

 

She reached down and tried the knob. It was unlocked!

 

“Jamie,” Claire said, this time more insistent. “If you don’t say something in three seconds, I’m coming in.”

 

When he again didn’t reply, Claire took a breath. She knew no matter what, she could handle whatever was on the other side. She loved Jamie, and that was all that mattered.

 

Claire twisted the nob, unconsciously holding her breath.

 

Jamie was sitting on the tiled floor, in grey sweatpants and a white t-shirt. He was covered in a visible layer of sweat, and was hyper-ventilating. His hands were shaking and his eyes were glassy and unfocused.

 

“Oh, baby,” she whispered. Claire walked to his side and knelt beside him. She reached out to push the matted and sweaty hair back from his forehead, but he flinched away from her touch.

 

“Jamie, it’s okay,” she said softly. “It’s me, Claire. You’re just having a panic attack, Jamie.”

 

“I know,” he said softly. Then suddenly, his eyes again grew wild.  “I didn’t mean, too.” He spat the words, refusing to meet her eyes, his voice full of self-loathing. His mouth was twisted. Somehow, inexplicably to Claire, even as he breathed in and out uncontrollably, he looked ashamed.

 

“Didn’t mean to?” she replied perplexed. “Oh, Jamie, honey, you can’t control panic attacks, baby. It’s fine. You’re fine. We’re fine.” She stressed the last part, putting both hands on his shoulder.

 

“We are?” His wild eyes locked on hers, and she took one of his shaking hands and clasped it in hers.

 

“Yes, Jamie,” she whispered fiercely. “I love you. I love you so fucking much. She took both of her hands and grabbed his locks, making him look at her firmly. “Do you understand me, you bloody idiot? I fucking love you. You and nobody else. Do you hear me?”

 

Suddenly, his lips were on hers, hot and desperate. She moaned into his mouth.

 

“Jamie,” she tried to say, but he caught his lip in her teeth and she groaned.

 

“Need you,” he whispered. She grabbed his face, stilling his frantic movements. He tried to kiss her again, his eyes still unfocused, but Claire held her ground.

 

“Jamie,” Claire said, soft but firm. “I need to know you’re okay.”

 

As he looked at Claire, the cloudiness from his eyes began to disappear. And then suddenly, for the first time in years, James Fraser began to cry.

 

He slumped forward, his body collapsing under the weight of his sobs. Claire cradled his head in her lap as he cried, his chest heaving. She brushed his hair, murmuring sweet nothings until he was calm.

 

Eventually Jamie’s sobs began to subside, and his breathing began to return to its normal rhythm. When he sat up, his eyes were puffy and red-rimmed, but clear. After a few moments in silence passed, with Jamie’s eyes still fully trained on the ground, Claire finally spoke.

 

“Do you want to talk about what happened?” she asked softly. He nodded, but his hands were balled into fists at his side.

 

“Jamie,” she said softly. She reached out and grabbed his hands in hers. “You can tell me anything.”

 

He nodded.

 

“When I saw ye,” he began. “With Frank. I didna know what to do. It was irrational, aye, I know I wasna thinking, but when I saw him, on your door step, on New Year’s eve–“ He swallowed. “I was certain you were still in love with him and you belonged together and this was his big romantic gesture and I was standing in the way. I would never want to—” his voice hitched, breaking. “—cause you any unhappiness. So I left.”

 

He paused a moment.

 

“Once I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about you with him,” he spat. “I couldn’t breathe, thinking about it. And then I really couldn’t breathe, and I began to panic, and –“ he gestured to the bathroom.

 

“Jamie,” she whispered. “Frank is nothing to me. Nothing. He was in town for an academic conference in a few days, and thought to look me up. We spoke for two minutes, Jamie, before I ran out to come looking for you. I wasn’t even thinking of him, Jamie. My heart belongs to you, fully and completely. I’m yours, Jamie. You never have to doubt that.”

 

This time, when he kissed her, she did not pull away.

 

And when he pushed her back onto the tiles, the hard ceramic pressing into her spine, she did not stop him.

 

And when he thrust himself inside her, burying himself home, his cries mingling with hers, she knew that Jamie would be okay.

 

Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but he would be okay.

 

 

~~

 

Later, warm in bed, in the quiet of the night, the cold tile of the bathroom floor seemed like a distant nightmare. Claire scooted back, aligning herself more comfortably with Jamie, and sighed contentedly.

 

“Happy New Year, Jamie.”

 

“Happy New Year, Sassenach.”

 

She sighed contentedly, and was almost asleep when she felt Jamie’s voice ruffle her hair, tickling her ear.

 

“Do you know what my resolution is, Claire?” Jamie asked softly. His voice sounded like velvet, and Claire imagined it enveloping her in the darkness.

 

“What is it, love?” she asked. Claire’s voice was thick with sleep.

 

“To get better,” he said, his voice horse. His arm around her tightened. “To get better,” he repeated. “For you.”

 

Claire turned to him, and softly, without a word, pressed her lips to his.

 

“I don’t want you to get better for me,” she whispered. “I want you to get better for you.”

 

He wrapped both of his arms around her and pulled her close, breathing in her scent deeply.

 

Nothing else needed to be said.

 

They fell asleep as the clock struck twelve on the new year, intertwined and at peace.

~~

End of Part One

Chapter Text

PART TWO

 

Author's Note: This chapter starts about (more or less) one year later

 

 

One semester.

 

That’s all she could think as she looked down at the white, plastic stick in her hand. It reminded her of a thermometer, Claire thought absently. She squinted, trying to focus, and looked closely again at the two pink lines.

 

She only had one semester left of nursing school.

 

And she had to go and get fucking pregnant.

 

Claire looked up at the ceiling, wondering what Fate had planned for her. She mentally did the math in her head, and (assuming she was nearly three months along, which she suspected she was) concluded that the baby would most likely come sometime around finals. Lovely.

 

She looked at the small plastic stick again, eyebrows knit together.

 

How ever would she tell Jamie?

 

~~

 

The snow was falling softly as she walked home from the school, the glow of the lamp lights illuminating her way home.

 

Jamie had moved in a month ago, nearly a year from when they began dating. He had been spending nearly every night at her place for the last ten months (except for the summer, when he had been at Lallybroch and she was taking online summer classes), and it was just simply getting annoying to go back and forth. They had decided to live full time at Claire’s flat, and in turn convert Jamie’s loft into a fully-functioning art studio. He was really taking off in Scotland, and was even talking about doing a gallery show in London the following year. Jamie had recently even hired an assistant, and so having a full-time studio seemed like the logical next step.

 

Claire was still getting used to the feeling of unlocking the door and finding him on the couch reading a book, or in the kitchen, humming loudly as he cooked. The small moments of domestic bliss made her belly feel warm in a way she was unaccustomed to. Last week, as a random gift, he had bought her a beautiful vase he had passed by and “thought would look nice” in the kitchen. She had never owned her own vase before, and she smiled at the memory.

 

Now, keys in hand, she felt as if she was about to shatter the tenuous, precious peace they had created in the last month, if not the last year.

 

Jamie had been better. Things had been calm.

 

But even so, part of Claire wasn’t sure he was ready to handle this. And a smaller part of her, small and irrational but painfully loud, wondered if he would leave.

 

If he left, Claire didn’t think she could do this on her own.

 

She paused on the landing, steeling her nerve to walk in. Claire could hide nothing on her face, which meant it would not be long before Jamie inquired as to what was bothering her, and she would have no choice but to tell him, incapable of lying as she was.

 

She mouthed the words to herself as she stood there, sure she looked a downright fool.

 

“I’m pregnant,” she mumbled. “I’m pregnant!” she tried again. She still stage-whispering to herself on the landing, but this time with a bit more enthusiasm.

 

Claire shook her head, sighing heavily. You’re stalling, Beauchamp. She squared her shoulders, fixed the band of her bag, and unlocked the door.

 

Mo nighean donn,” Jamie greeted her from the couch warmly. He was wearing his black-framed reading glasses, his long auburn hair tied up in a bun he had taken to wearing recently when he was painting or working. He had a pen in his mouth and appeared to be working on a crossword puzzle of some sort. When Claire walked in he put the puzzle down, crossing the room to her in three strides and scooping her up into a kiss. At the feel of him, she immediately relaxed, breathing him in. “How was your day?” He asked, brushing some hair off of her face.

 

“Good,” Claire looked up at him, trying to read his face. She paused, and Jamie could immediately tell there was something on her mind. He grabbed her hand and took her to the couch, sitting down beside her, their hands entwined. “What is it, Sassenach? A bad grade?” He looked so concerned, and it broke Claire’s heart.

 

She shook her head and took a deep breath. When she looked up at him, her amber eyes were watering just slightly. Jamie felt his stomach swoop with nerves. What could she be so worked up about? If something truly bad had happened, she would’ve called him earlier, he thought.

 

“I have to tell you something,” she began. He nodded again, squeezing her hand in encouragement. Claire swallowed over the lump in her throat, feeling extremely nauseous as she tried to get the words out. Her mouth felt dry and covered in cotton, her tongue fuzzy and heavy in her mouth.

 

“I missed my period last month,” she started again. “And this month.” She looked up at him, with a slight look of shame. “I didn’t even notice I was so busy with school, until yesterday when I went in my bag and found a tampon and realized –,” she stopped again. Jamie felt like he had stopped breathing, waiting for her to finish. Did she mean what he thought she meant? “I took three tests at work today,” she breathed, looking into his eyes. “I’m pregnant, Jamie.”

 

There was a moment of tense silence before Jamie pulled her to him tightly, caressing her hair gently and whispering Gaelic nonsense in her ear, his throat thick.

 

She pulled away, looking at him.

 

“Jamie,” she said, forcing him to look at her, eyes frantically scanning his face. “Jamie, baby, I need you to speak English,” she pleaded, voice strained with worry. “I can’t even tell if you’re happy.”

 

His face broke into the widest grin she had ever seen.

 

“Happy?” he said in astonishment. “Claire, my Sassenach, this is a miracle. This is amazing. I love you.” He was babbling, so excited his words were nearly stumbling over themselves. Suddenly he let out a whoop of laughter and stood up, vibrating with excitement like a little boy on Christmas. “A baby!” he exclaimed. He looked down at her, eyes twinkling. He kneeled in front of her and put his hands on her belly. “A baby,” he said softly, fervently. He looked up at her, and now the tears did fall.

 

“A second chance,” he whispered.

 

At that, Claire felt her heart crack just a little. She pulled her to him and held him, and they both cried. Jamie for his lost son, for this new miracle, for a second chance at fatherhood. Claire out of love for him, and fear for what this might mean. But mostly Claire cried out of happiness, knowing that their love had created something bigger than themselves.

Chapter Text

As the putrid bile splashed into the toilet, Claire’s analytic mind could not help but wonder whether the cause of this particularly nasty spout of vomiting was morning sickness (even though it was evening), anxiety over her impending announcement, or an acute combination of both.

 

“Ye all right there, Sassenach?” she heard from the vicinity of her left shoulder.

 

Claire sat up slowly, blindly grabbing some toilet paper to roughly wipe her mouth and lean against the cool tiled wall.

 

“I’m all right,” she said hoarsely, giving a weak smile.

 

It had been Jamie’s idea to tell Jenny and Ian first, to ease the two of them into the reality of being soon-to-be parents together. Claire had requested they host them for dinner at their place, hoping the comforting environment would soothe her nerves.

 

Claire knew it was stupid—irrational, really—but she had not stopped worrying about telling Jenny for more than a moment the entire week. This was not Jamie’s first time to the rodeo—or, to put it bluntly, it was not his first time bringing a pregnant woman he was not married to home to his family. But for Claire, this was all new territory. Given Jamie’s past, Claire felt even more uneasy. She roughly knew what the family’s opinion was of Geneva, and—though that circumstance was certainly singular—she could not help but wonder if Jenny and Ian would approve.

 

“Jenny texted to say they just left, so they’ll be here soon,” Jamie said apologetically. “Do ye want me to call her and cancel?”

 

“No!” Claire exclaimed. She scrambled up, holding her forehead as the room began to tilt slightly. Jamie quickly grabbed her arm, holding her up.

 

“Claire…,” he said warningly, wrapping his arm around her waist to support her.

 

“I’m fine,” she insisted. “Really.”

 

She smiled brightly at Jamie, doing her best to appear calm and put together, though her mouth still tasted quite overwhelmingly of vomit.

 

“Let me just brush my teeth real quick, mmm?” she said, scooting him out the door. “I’ll be there in a sec. Why don’t you open a bottle of wine?”

 

She could tell Jamie wasn’t buying it from the tilt of his eyebrows and the set of his mouth, but Claire responded in equal measures of seriousness.

 

“I’m fine,” she repeated slowly. “Give me a second.” She looked at him pleadingly. Why was he so stubborn?

 

“Claire—” he started again. She pushed him over the entrance and grasped the door.

 

“See you in a minute,” she said firmly. Claire closed the door quickly on Jamie’s bewildered, still-dubious face. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs fully while running her fingers through her tangled curls.

 

Claire knew he was just concerned, but she needed a second to breathe, and process. She pursed her lips slowly, letting the breath out in a measured stream, methodically counting to ten in her head.

 

Claire padded softly to the sink, hand absent-mindedly resting on her abdomen. What the hell was her problem? Get your shit together, Beauchamp.

 

She splashed her face with cold water, silently willing her heart rate to slow. She wasn’t sure why she was feeling so nervous and chalked it up to pregnancy hormones and the general stress of the situation. She took another breath and forced herself to smile at her reflection in the mirror.

 

We’re all good, she told herself sternly.

 

Satisfied with the stability of her hands, Claire quickly brushed her teeth, rinsing and spitting quickly. She took one last look in the mirror as she dried her hands and nodded.

 

All good.

 

~~

 

Dinner had been wonderful, of course. Jenny and Ian couldn’t have been happier or more supportive—Ian immediately started tearing up, and Jenny (after wrapping Claire in a bear hug) started offering old prams, pajamas, and toys.

 

And—worst of all in Claire’s mind—she insisted on getting Gaelis’ number from her so that they could throw a bridal shower. Claire desperately hated being the center of attention, but Jenny was so insistent on it she couldn’t help but give the number up with a laugh.

 

Jamie had not stopped smiling the whole evening, and he simply though his cheeks might burst. Jenny knew for a fact she had never seen him so happy, and her chest had been squeezing the whole night from witnessing this genuine joy emitting from her brother’s face. It had been a long time since she had seen this side of him, and it made her heart hurt in the best way.

 

After Jamie and Ian shared one last glass of whiskey, the Murrays said goodbye and headed home to relieve the babysitter. Jamie walked them out, and Claire, feeling energized from the company and not yet ready for bed, decided to get ahead on scrubbing the dishes.

 

She was just getting in the zone with the casserole platter when she felt a pair of strong arms slink themselves around her waist. The intrusion was follow by a fuzzy face nuzzling itself into the crease between her should and neck, and she felt a shiver rush down her spine.

 

“Hi there,” she murmured, slowing turning around and wrapping her arms around his neck.

 

“Hi,” he breathed. He smiled cheekily, leaning forward and pressing her lips to her softly.

 

“Mmmmm,” she hummed against his mouth.

 

“That went well,” he said into her mouth, moving his hands to her ass and pulling him to her.

 

Claire nodded, putting her hands on his chest and pressing herself against him. She kissed him harder, walking forward until she felt him bump up against the marble of the kitchen counter. She could feel how hard he was through his jeans, and her nipples hardened tightly. Claire knew her hormones were heightening her sensation, and at the though of it, she felt herself get wet. She wanted him so badly.

 

Claire pulled her lips from his and slowly began to kiss down his jawline until she reached his ear.

 

“Take me right here,” she breathed. As she said the words she felt heat pool in her stomach, and instinctively placed her hands tantalizingly on his belt.

 

Without another word Jamie grabbed her by the hips, spinning her around so they were both facing the counter. Claire didn’t wait to be told, bending forward and splaying her fingers and arms across the counter top as if he was a cop arresting her on the hood of a car. Jamie spread her legs apart with his knees, and she felt a sharp tingle shoot all the way from her belly to her clit. As he gripped her waist over her dress to put her in place, she couldn’t help but let out a moan even though Jamie had barely touched her.

 

“Fuck,” she heard him say behind her, seemingly involuntarily. He lifted up her dress, revealing the black lace song she had worn underneath and exposing her pale, round ass. Claire looked over her shoulder, a shiver going down her spine as she took in Jamie’s hungry look. As their eyes met, he slapped her ass, and Claire let out an involuntarily gasp.

 

“Oh!”

 

Claire felt herself get even wetter and was certain if he didn’t enter her soon she would begin to drip down her legs. She was unsure if she’d ever been this aroused and painfully turned on in her life – if this was to be her entire pregnancy, she was not sure she could handle it. It was very possible she had never wanted Jamie as much as she did in the moment.

 

“Please,” Claire whimpered. “I need you to fuck me.”

 

She saw Jamie’s eyes darken, and he swiftly unbuckled his belt. She turned back around, bracing herself on the counter. He pushed aside her underwear roughly, and his fingers grazed her etrance.

 

“Holy shit,” he said, his voice low. “You’re so wet.”

 

“I know,” Claire moaned. “I need you.” Her voice was desperate.

 

He inserted a slender finger, and Claire instinctively bucked back onto him.

 

Please,” she whimpered again, pressing back on his finger. Jamie felt her clench around him, and his dick twitched.

 

“Fuck,” he whispered. He grabbed his dick and aligned it with her entrance, pushing in with no resistance.

 

“Yeeesss,” Claire gasped. He pulled back slowly, adjusting to the feeling of being inside her. She had never been so wet, and it was driving him crazy.

 

“Baby, you feel so good,” he mumbled, pushing into her again, his strokes measured.

 

“More,” she moaned, leaning against the counter and pushing her ass back, begging him to go deeper.

 

“Harder,” she said forcefully.

 

Not one to be told twice, Jamie aligned himself with her at the right angle and slammed into her hard, hitting her where he knew she wanted it.

 

“Ohmygod, Jamie!” Claire was nearly screaming. The angle against the counter was near perfect, and Jamie was so deep inside her she thought her knees would give out. She never wanted it to end.

 

“Don’t stop,” she gasped. “Don’t stop!”

 

“Oh, Claire,” Jamie moaned. He grabbed her hair in his hand and wrapped it around his fist, giving it a slight tug. Claire moaned loudly and lay flat against the counter breathlessly as he felt her clench around him.

 

“Fuck, you feel so good,” he gasped. Feeling her come around him was something he may never get over. He wanted to feel it again and again and again. Even more wet after having orgasmed, Jamie could feel his cock so slippery inside of her, and though he wanted to climax, he did not want this to end.

 

“Want to make you come again,” he grunted, slamming into her harder.

 

“Fuck!” Claire gasped. He pushed into her again, this time pulling her hair just a touch.

 

“Yes,” she moaned. “Make me come again.”

 

“You’re so hot,” Jamie mumbled, placing his hand on her waist. “I love you so much. I love being inside of you. I love making you come.”

 

“Yes, baby, yes,” she moaned as she pushed back against him. Claire reached down and grabbed his hand, placing it inside of her dress and on her breast.

 

“My nipples,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “They’re so sensitive.”

 

He took one of her impeccable, taught nipples between his thumb and forefinger, and rolled it slightly.

 

“Yes,” Claire breathed. “Like that.”

 

Suddenly, Jamie gave the nipple a sharp tug, and just like that, he felt Claire unravel around him.

 

“Oh!” she gasped. “I’m gonna come! I’m coming, Jamie! Yes!” Her voice rang through the apartment, and Jamie was sure the neighbors could hear. She clenched around him hard, nearly pushing him out with the force. Unable to hold himself back, Jamie fell apart too, coming inside of Claire with a sharp groan.

 

“Fuck!” he whispered, leaning his sweaty forward against Claire’s dress. His heart was pounding through his chest, and he was sure he could see light bursts behind his eyes from the force of his orgasm.

 

In front of him, Claire giggled. She slowly detached herself from him and turned around, grabbing a napkin to catch the semen that was definitely and disgustingly dripping out of her. She looked up at him as she cleaned herself off, her eyebrows set in a mischievous tilt.

 

“Wow,” she said, looking at Jamie with an indulgent grin. Jamie, still shell shocked, was leaning against the sink, pants unbuttoned and shirt disheveled. He looked dazed, and more than slightly blissed out.

 

“I really, really like pregnant Claire,” he finally said. Claire laughed, one of those laughs from deep inside her belly, and sidled herself up beside him.

 

“Me too,” she whispered back. She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. “Let’s go to bed, hot stuff. Mommy’s tired.”

 

Jamie grinned down at her, kissing her forehead and giving her waist a squeeze.

 

They loved each other. It was the real thing. And they could do this. He just knew it.

Chapter Text

Jamie had spent a lot of time thinking about how best to go about the challenge at hand, and even know, cup in hand, he was still unsure of his chosen course of action.

 

The first time around, he had not even proposed. It had more so been a mutual decision, an obligation he felt he must fulfill. There had never been an engagement ring, just two silver bands and City Hall.

 

But he wanted to give Claire everything.

 

He had thought of grand gestures, of string quartets and fireworks. (He knew how she loved them, and would gladly suffer through a show, fists clenched, just to see her smile). He wanted Claire to remember this day for the rest of her life. He wanted it to be special.

 

He had talked to Jenny, to Gaelis, to Ian and in his heart, to his mam. Ultimately, he decided that the way to go was not over the top, or ostentatious—it needed to be simple and heartfelt, like Claire.

 

And so on a rainy Sunday morning, a week after finding out about the baby, while Claire was still in bed, Jamie had gone out for a vanilla latte and blueberry scones.

 

When he walked into the bedroom, Claire was just beginning to stir. She sat up on her side of the bed and smiled up at him blearily.

 

“Good morning,” she said with a smile. He leaned down and kissed her forehead, handing her the coffee and putting the box of scones on her bedside table. She took a sip and sighed. “What a lovely surprise,” she said genuinely. “Thank you.” She leaned forward and gave him a quick peck on the lips, still keenly aware of her morning breath.

 

It was then that she noticed the red velvet box in his hand. She looked from the box to him, eyes getting wide.

 

Wordlessly, he took the coffee out of her hand, and placed it on the bedside table beside the scones. He opened the box, took a deep breath, and looked up, his steel blue eyes meeting her whiskey.

 

“I have loved you nearly from the moment I first saw ye, Sassenach,” he said, his trembling voice betraying his nerves. He paused, bringing himself under control. “You make me happier than I ever thought I could be, and have given me more than I thought possible.” At that he looked down at her tummy and smiled softly, as if he could already see his child growing inside. He paused, took a deep breath, and jumped. “Will ye marry me, Claire?” Claire looked down at the ring in his hand, eyebrows drawn together.

 

And then she promptly burst into tears.

 

At first Jamie thought they were happy tears, but given how she shied away from his touch (and did not put the ring on), he quickly saw that this was not the case. Shocked by the unexpected turn of events, Jamie couldn’t say anything for a moment as Claire put her head in her hands, her frail body wracked with sobs.

 

“Claire?” he said, panic lacing his voice. “Claire, what’s wrong?” Claire continued to sob, taking gasping breaths and hiccupping in between. “Please, Claire, tell me,” he begged. “Do ye not want to get married?”

 

At that she looked up at him, eyes red rimmed and round. “Of course I want to get married, you daft oaf!” she exclaimed, tears streaming down her face. She hiccupped and took a deep breath. “I want nothing more than to marry you!” She looked at the ring again and her face crumpled. “But you don’t want to marry me,” she said helplessly, fresh tears beginning to fall. She put her face in her hands again, newly overcome with sobs.

 

Jamie looked at her, hunched over her hands, sheets pooled around her waist, trying to figure out for the life of him what in the devil she was going on about.

 

“Aye, I do,” he said, trying not to laugh. She was near hysteria, and he didn’t think him laughing at her would help any. He put the ring gingerly back in the box, and grabbed Claire’s hands from her face, forcing him to look at her. He wrapped her small hands in his big ones and rubbed small circles behind her thumb, trying to calm her down. “I do want to marry ye, Claire. That’s why I just asked you to marry me.”

 

She shook her head, biting her lip, eyes darting back and forth. Something was seriously distressing her. Was it Frank, her ex-fiancé? Was it nursing school? They could wait, if she wanted. “Claire, please,” he implored her softly. “Talk to me.”

 

“You only want to marry me because of the fucking baby!”

 

Her voice was scared, hurt, sure, angry. She looked him in the eyes, steeling herself, he supposed, for him to agree with her.

 

“Like Geneva,” she continued, her bottom lip quivering though the rest of her face was hard as steel.

 

“Like a burden.”

 

She hardened her mouth and looked down at their joint hands.

 

“I won’t do it,” she whispered, voice strangled with sadness and conviction. “I won’t let you ruin your life again with a marriage you don’t want, for another child you didn’t plan.”

 

His heart swelled with so much love for the woman in front of him, that for a moment his throat felt choked off. He leaned forward and kissed her on the lips, wiping the tears away with his hand.

 

“That is not true, mo nighean donn,” he whispered. He pulled back, eyes still boring into hers, and placed one hand on her stomach. “How could you think that, my Sassenach? This baby was made from love,” he said, voice breaking on the last word. “It was made by two people who love each other verra much. And it will be raised by two people who love it verra much, aye? Married or not.”

 

She looked up at him, the flow of tears finally beginning to slow.

 

“Yes,” he admitted, rubbing her stomach softly, before pulling back and looking her in the eyes. “Would I like to be married before we have our first child?” He nodded.

 

“Of course I would.”

 

He swallowed before continuing.

 

“The child is a part of it, Claire, I willna lie. I want to do right by you, and by it.”

 

He paused.

 

“Already, I love this baby. But I am absolutely, uncontrollably in love with you, Sassenach,” he said it fiercely, voice hitching at the end. “And I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

 

He leaned down and kissed her belly.

 

“And with this wee one, too,” he whispered. He looked up at her, eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks. “If you’ll let me.”

 

Claire felt her heart shatter as she looked down at this beautiful man. Tears once again streaming down her face, she nodded wordlessly. Jamie again grabbed the box on the table and pulled out the ring.

 

“Will ye do me the honor, Claire Beauchamp,” he said, slipping the ring onto her finger. “Of becoming my wife?”

 

“Yes,” she sniffled looking down at the ring on her finger. It was beautiful, a small oval set in a gold band, Celtic patterns engraved around. “Yes.” She threw her arms around him, and he squeezed her tight, shoving his face in her hair and breathing deeply. As he held her body close, he was profoundly aware that there were three of them now.

 

And he was never going to let them go.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Absolutely not. No. Not happening.”

 

Claire­­--”

 

“No. I look ridiculous.”

 

She twirled in the mirror again, examining the pale-yellow suit she had on. The worst part was the custom hat Gaelis had her wearing on top, some type of monstrous creation which simultaneously sported larger-than-life pink flowers in addition to white feathers spouting from the top. She looked absolutely unlike herself and wholly ridiculous.

 

“I look like my grandmother,” Claire said, her mouth twitching. Though she was amused at the image of herself and was trying valiantly not to laugh, a part of her was also incredibly annoyed that Gaelis would even think to put her in this. The emotions were battling within her, and she wasn’t sure which one would win out.

 

“Okay, fine,” Gaelis laughed. “Maybe a little. I brought something else over too.”

 

She held up a robin’s blue dress with a scoop neck top and capped sleeves. It was plain, but pretty, with white detailing in the cloth on the top.

 

“Oh, I love it,” Claire said. “Let’s try that one.”

 

As Gaelis had secretly expected, the blue dress fit Claire perfectly. She hadn’t yet fully popped and so could still afford to wear some items of clothing on the form fitting end, but none of her dresses quite fit her the way they were supposed to. Having had nothing to wear, she had called Gaelis an hour before the party nearly in tears.

 

“You are a life saver,” Claire sighed, doing a twirl in the mirror. “Seriously.”

 

“My pleasure,” Gaelis said with a grin. “Now let’s go finish setting up the cupcakes. People will be here in 20.”

 

“Ugh,” Claire groaned, sitting down on the edge of the bed to slide her flats on. “Remind me why I’m doing this again?”

 

“Because you’re pregnant, and you need lots of things when you’re pregnant, and when you have a baby shower, people give them to you for free,” Gaelis replied, folding up the yellow dress.

 

“You have a point there, Mrs. Duncan,” Claire conceded. “But a baby shower? My only friends in Glasgow are you and Jenny, and Jenny has to be my friend,” Claire pouted.

 

“Hey now,” Claire heard from behind her. She turned to watch Jamie walking in to the bedroom, an easy-going grin on his face. “Ye and I both know that Jenny Fraser doesn’t do anything she doesna want to do, aye?”

 

Claire giggled as Jamie came up behind her and wrapped his hands around her waist, kissing her on the cheek.

 

“Well I suppose that’s true,” Claire smiled. “Where are you off to?”

 

“Gonna go for a run and then meet Ian down at the pub for a pint or two,” he said. He kissed her on the cheek again and turned to head out.

 

“Or three,” he said cheekily, wrapping his knuckles against the doorway. “You ladies have fun.”

 

Jamie winked at Claire and left, and Claire already found herself missing him. She was so far gone, it still even surprised her sometimes.

 

“Get that look off your face right now,” Gaelis demanded. “You’ll see your man in just a few hours. Now let’s go drink virgin Strawberry Daiquiris and open cute baby onesies until we throw up pink, ya hear?”

 

Next week was St. Valentine’s Day and Gaelis Duncan had fully taken advantage of the fact, buying up every single pink item in the party store, even though Claire had not yet inquired as to the sex of the baby (and had no intentions of doing so).

 

“Yes, your majesty,” Claire replied, rolling her eyes affectionately and pretending to curtsy. Gaelis threw a pillow at her in response, and Claire cackled as she left the room.  

 

Claire took one last look at herself in the mirror, fixed her hair, and smoothed her dress. Showtime.

 

~~

 

“Oh, Marjorie!” Claire exclaimed, this time not even pretending to fake-like the gift. “This is lovely! Thank you so much.” She gently placed the cream colored blanket back in its box, marveling at how soft the fabric was.

 

The act of opening and actually touching all these gifts was finally making the pregnancy—the baby—seem real to her, and she wasn’t surprised to see her hands slightly shaking. Motherhood was impending, and Claire wasn’t quite sure she was ready.

 

Gaelis had invited many of the primary school teachers (at least the ones Claire liked) to the shower, as well as a few of the young women from their nursing school. Many of the girls had already had their first—if not second and third—child and were gifting Claire all kinds of things they just couldn’t live without or wished desperately someone had given them.

 

Claire had not realized how much stuff was required to have a baby and was feeling more than slightly overwhelmed. And—she suddenly realized—queasy. Was it all those finger sandwiches or morning sickness or nerves or both? Probably the daiquiris, she reasoned. Babies probably didn’t like that sort of thing.

 

As the party began to wind down, Claire found herself getting even more and more wound up. Why had no one told her she needed so many things to have a baby? There was so much she didn’t know. What the fuck was a diaper genie? Why did breast pumps look so painful?  She felt like she might have a panic attack.

 

“I’m gonna go put some of the food away in the fridge,” Claire said in a low voice to Gaelis. She was sitting on the couch, squished in between Gaelis and Jenny, and truly felt like she couldn’t breathe. Gaelis nodded and continued talking to one of the women standing on her other side, and it took all of Claire’s will power not to break out into a sprint to the kitchen.

 

As soon as she reached the kitchen, she splashed some water on her face and took a deep breath. She was fine. She was fine. She was fine. Could she stay in the kitchen for the rest of the shower? Probably. There were only two nursing students and one other teacher still lingering. They wouldn’t even notice.

 

Claire wiped her face with a paper towel and grabbed some crackers to settle her stomach. She leaned against the counter, munching them thoughtfully. She’d enjoyed the party and was grateful to her friends for all the necessities she had just been gifted, but the reality was starting to crash down around her.

 

Motherhood. Motherhood.

 

Was she ready for this?

 

“Everything okay in here?”

 

Before Claire was able to contemplate too deeply, Jenny walked into the kitchen, eyebrows knitted in concern and hands full of empty paper plates. She tossed them in the trash and walked over to Claire, wrapping an arm around her as she continued to morosely munch.

 

“Did everyone leave?” Claire asked. She knew her voice sounded sulky for someone who had just received a large number of presents, but she couldn’t help it. Her stomach was still flip-flopping around.

 

“Just about,” Jenny said, rubbing Claire’s arm. “Gaelis was showing Stacy out, last I saw. I think she was gathering up some of the champagne bottles.”

 

“Man, can that women chatter,” Gaelis said, walking into the kitchen with bottle-laden arms. She threw them into the recycling bin with a clatter, turning to face Jenny and Claire expectantly. “Everything good?”

 

Gaelis and Jenny both turned to look at Claire, their eyes wide and blinking innocently. Claire wondered if she looked as pale as she felt.

 

“Yes,” Claire said out loud, smoothing her dress. She was fine. “Everything is great. Perfect, really. I couldn’t have asked for a better shower.” She injected as much pep into her voice as she could muster without risking the very real possibility of vomiting right on the spot.

 

“Are ye sure you’re okay?” Jenny asked, peering at Claire. “Ye looked a bit green there for a minute.”

 

“It’s the morning sickness,” Claire said, turning to gather more of the trash scattered around the kitchen. “I swear I’m fine.”

 

“Showers can be overwhelming,” Gaelis said, coming up behind her to help. “It’s okay if you’re freaking out.”

 

Claire looked down at the dishes in the sink and took a deep breath. Did she really want to talk about this right now?

 

No, she decided. She wanted to be alone.

 

“I’m fine,” she said, putting on her very best winning smile. “I mean it. I am so grateful to you both to the shower. I think I just need to be alone.”

 

Taking in their unconvinced looks, Claire forged ahead.

 

“You were right,” Claire said, trying to sound believable. “It was a lot of people. I’m just feeling really tired.” The words leaving her mouth felt sticky and cluttered and wrong, but she felt like she was about five minutes from either crying or vomiting, and all she knew was that she wanted to be alone if and when that happened.

 

Jenny and Gaelis looked back and forth at each other.

 

“Are ye sure, Claire?” Jenny asked. “It’s my pleasure to stay and help ye clean up.”

 

“Seriously,” she said, busying herself by wiping down the counter. It wasn’t doing enough to distract from the nausea, so she tossed the paper towel in the trash with a huff. “I’m fine, I promise.” She turned and smiled brightly at the two again.

 

“Okaaaay,” Gaelis said slowly, not one to miss a hint. “We’ll head out. You call if you need anything, okay?”

 

“Absolutely,” Claire said, trying to not let the relief show in her voice. She hugged the two of them tightly, silently thanking them again for the party.

 

“How about I come over tomorrow and help clean up the rest?” Jenny suggested as she put on her coat by the door. “I’ll bring over breakfast.”

 

It sounded more like a command than a question, so Claire readily agreed. She kissed Jenny on the cheek again, and all but shoved them both out of the apartment.

 

Claire leaned her back against the door, taking in a deep breath. The nausea had dissipated significantly, but the apartment still felt like it was closing in on her. She needed to get out. She needed air. She needed to be somewhere very far away from here.

 

She went to her room and changed into something comfortable, hoping to kill enough time to exit her apartment unseen by Jenny or Gaelis. After 15 minutes, she figured the coast was clear and grabbed her keys.

 

Once on the street, Claire paused and thought about where to go. She knew she needed to go somewhere, but where? Somewhere quiet, peaceful. Where she could think. Where she could breathe. As she started to walk, she knew exactly where to go to gather her thoughts.

 

~~

 

When Jamie got home, the apartment was empty. He sensed it as soon as he got in. The living room was covered in pink balloons and half eaten cupcakes, unwrapped presents scattered on the couch. He called out for Claire anyway, though he knew he wouldn’t get a response. He wandered into the bedroom, and then the bathroom, but still no Claire.

 

Jamie was no longer actively sweaty from his run, but a hot shower was still very much in order. As he had predicted, he and Ian had certainly not stopped at three pints. Jamie wasn’t drunk, but he was definitely a little bit tipsy.

 

Where are you? He texted Claire as he peeled off his still sticky clothes. Just got home.

 

When Claire still hadn’t answered after his shower, Jamie began to worry. Had she gone somewhere with Gaelis or Jenny? He decided to text his sister.

 

Jamie: Are you with Claire?

 

Jenny: No. Is she not home?

 

Jamie: No. Was the party okay?

 

Jenny: Yeah, great. She said she was tired. She seemed overwhelmed, tbh.

 

“Dammit,” Jamie cursed to himself. He knew it wasn’t traditional, but he should’ve stayed at the shower. He told her that he had wanted to. I should’ve insisted. Jamie had a gut feeling that it would be too much for Claire, and now she was probably sitting in her car somewhere crying, and he wasn’t there.

 

“Fuck,” he cursed again. He dialed Claire, pacing around the living room, and was surprised when she answered.

 

“Hey,” she said, her voice crackling through the phone. Jamie’s chest clenched in relief. He had already been imagining the worst, head swirling with images of Claire in an accident or hurt.

 

“Sassenach,” he said, trying to keep his voice calm. “Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah,” she said. Her voice sounded distracted. “I’m at the park by city hall. I just needed some air. I’ll be home soon.”

 

“I’ll come get you,” Jamie said, immediately reaching into his drawer for a clean t-shirt. “I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

 

“No, no,” Claire said quickly. “I just—need to be alone.”

 

Jamie felt his stomach clench. Alone. That meant without him.

 

“Okay,” he said. What else could he say? If Claire wanted space, he would give her space, even if it killed him to do it.

 

“I’ll be home soon, okay?” Claire said through the phone. “Jamie?”

 

“Yeah, of course,” he responded quickly. “I’ll be here.”

 

The phone clicked shut and Jamie kept gripping the phone.

 

~~

 

Claire had wound up at the park by the city hall, lost in her thoughts. As the sun began to set, she knew it was time to go home. Still, she could not move from the bench. She felt glued to it, weighed down by all her hopes and fears and dreams and anxieties.

 

The air was cold, spring having not quite yet come to Scotland. She shivered as a gust of wind blew past and wrapped her coat around herself even tighter. Earlier, there had been families in the park, but as dusk settled around her, she was the only one left. She kicked her shoes in the dirt mindlessly, scuffing up the white leather. The nausea had long past, but the ghost of the unease was still sitting in her chest.

 

Finally, overcome with exhaustion and suddenly filled with an aching need to be safe in bed, she texted Jamie.

 

Come take me home.

 

~~

 

Jamie was there, sitting in his car, in less than two minutes.

 

He would never tell her that he had been around the corner for an hour, and in return, Claire would never tell him that she had expected as much right along. But the way they gripped each other’s hand in the warmness of the car was all the other needed to know.