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If After All These Years, You'd Like to Meet

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“Nope, I’m not going.”

“Oh come on , Claire,” Louise whined. “You have to!”

“On the contrary,” Claire replied quickly, “I really don’t.” She looked over at her friend pleadingly. “I just moved back here today.”

“Exactly! Which means it’s been five full years since the three of us lived in the same city,” Louise reminded her.

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” Claire said before Louise interrupted her.

“Oh my God, Geillis, she said it,” Louise yelled to the other room. Claire rolled her eyes as her other friend walked in to the room.

“Claire, just face the facts, we’re dragging ye out with us tonight,” Geillis said shortly. “Ye can whine all ye want, but ye know ye want to. We even got Joe on board.”

Claire closed her eyes and sighed. “Really? You dragged Joe into this?”

Joe walked into the room as well. “What do you expect me to do, stay here at your new place while you go out and party? Please, I came all this way to help you move. I’m going out to celebrate with you.”

“Your three best friends are on board. I think it’s time you just accepted the invitation,” Louise informed her.

“All my clothes are in boxes and suitcases,” Claire reminded them. “What would I even wear?”

“Throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt,” Geillis said. “We’re not parading ye around the town, we’re just going out for a drink to celebrate ye returning to London.”

Claire took a deep breath. “Oh alright. Fine.”

Her friends clapped at their victory.  “Great! It’ll just be us and a few other friends,” Geillis explained.

“What?” Claire asked exasperated. “You just said it was just a drink to celebrate.”

“Well they’re celebrating too,” she said with a shrug.

Claire rolled her eyes as she stalked off to find suitable clothes for the evening.

 

An hour, and much more protesting, later, the four of them arrived at the pub where they’d be meeting the rest of the group. Geillis cheered to a group of four men as they entered the place. “Hey lads,” she called. She put a hand firmly behind Claire’s back and pushed her forward. “Everyone, this is the reason we’re all here tonight. This is my dear friend, Claire Beauchamp. She finally wised up and left the States!” Louise cheered from behind them. Claire couldn’t help but laugh as she looked back at her friend. Geillis turned and nodded at Louise. “Okay, Claire,” she said, motioning to the three men in front of them, “these lads are Rupert, Willie, Jamie, and Angus.” Claire waved awkwardly at them. “Oh, and this is Claire’s friend, Joe.” With a nod of finality. “Okay, let’s get the first round.”

Claire was chatting happily and drinking her glass of wine when she felt her phone buzz. Looking down, she smiled at her phone as she read the text she received. She felt Louise scooch closer as she angled her head over Claire’s shoulder. “Who are you texting?”

She looked up at her friend. “Frank,” she said as she looked back to her phone.

Louise stared at her for a moment. “Why?”

“Because he texted me…?”

“Why are you even replying to him?” Louise asked bluntly.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Claire wondered.

“Because you broke up.”

Claire’s eyes grew wide as she stared at her friend. “What? No we didn’t. What makes you think we broke up?”

“You didn’t break up?” Louise practically yelled. “Geillis,” she called across to the bar, “did you know?” Geillis shrugged in her confusion, unable to hear her clearly. Louise focused back on Claire. “I thought you broke up.”

“Why would you think that?”

“He didn’t help you move. You’re telling me that your married friend Joe came all the way from Boston to help you move to London but your own boyfriend couldn’t be bothered to help you?” Louise looked livid.

Claire felt like she was getting on the defensive. “He’s really busy right now.”

“He’s a historian. Literally nothing is pressing for them,” Louise argued. “He’s making a statement by not helping you.”

Claire glared at her friend. “Please don’t do this. I know you’re not Frank’s biggest fan.”

“What’s not to love about the human equivalent of the color beige?”

Claire sighed as she rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m going to go get another drink, okay?” Louise raised her hands in surrender and waved Claire toward the bar.

“Having a good time tonight?” Claire looked over to see one of Geillis’s friends staring at her expectantly. He was tall and stout with a friendly face.

“Rupert, right?” He nodded happily. Claire smiled back. “Yes, I am. I was reluctant to come out tonight, but I am glad I did. I suppose Geillis was right. Don’t tell her I said that, of course.”

Rupert laughed heartily. “Oh of course not. We can never let the lass know when she’s right.”

Claire continued on to the bar as Rupert walked back to the little corner their gang was occupying. Another one of Geillis’s friends was standing at the bar as Claire approached. He was tall and had striking red hair. Claire smiled at him before she turned to the bartender to get another glass of wine.

“Geillis said yer name was Claire Beauchamp, right?” Claire looked over and nodded. “This is going to sound strange, but did ye used to live in Scotland, a few hours outside of Edinburgh when ye were a wee lass?”

She grabbed her glass from the bartender before looking over at him critically, trying to figure out what he was asking. He was staring at her almost nervously. Claire was nearly positive this was the one named Jamie. Suddenly a thought clicked in her head. “No way,” she muttered. “You can’t be...Jamie Fraser?” she asked disbelievingly.

He nodded, smiling brightly. “Aye, I am.”

“From Lallybroch?” She asked, double checking.
“Aye, the same.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” Claire cried, setting her glass down on the bar before bringing the tall Scot in for a hug. “I can’t believe it! How long’s it been?”

“Goodness, I think 18 years,” he replied, still smiling.

“Wow,” Claire said, unable to believe her eyes. “Well how’ve you been?”

“Uh, alright. How about yerself?”

“Well the last 24 hours have been a bit hectic but other than that, pretty good. So how long have you been living in London?”

Jamie sat down in a seat at the bar. “I moved here near on seven years ago now.”

“That beats my six hours by a long shot,” Claire said with a laugh. “How is your family?”

“Jenny’s doing well. She’s married now with four bairns.”

“Whoa. Four?” Jamie nodded with a laugh. “She is either crazy or really knows how to handle chaos.”

“I think it might be a combination of both,” Jamie laughed.

“How about the rest of your family?”

Jamie’s smile faded slowly. “Well ye left Scotland in the spring and that fall, Willie fell ill and passed.” Claire gaped at him, feeling guilty that she’d brought it up. “My mother passed away when I was 12 and my father when I was 21.”

Claire closed her eyes, sitting down in the chair next to his. She reached out and laid her hand on his. “Jamie, I’m so sorry.”

“Ah, ye needn’t be, lass. It was all a long time ago.” He looked up and met her gaze. “Besides, ye lost yours at the same time.”

Claire dropped her head. It had been a while since she’d thought of the car accident that took both her parents from this world. She nodded to the floor. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean my loss was worse than yours,” she said, looking back up at him.  

“So what brought ye to London?” Jamie asked, seemingly trying to change the subject.

Claire smirked. “Well I’d been living in Boston and Uncle Lamb was here in London working at the British Museum. He got really sick in the last year and I was over here all the time to try and take care of him. I requested a transfer from my hospital in Boston to one here in London and it was approved. I filled out my new employee paperwork three days before he died.”

“Christ,” Jamie muttered. “I’m so sorry.”

Claire shrugged. “It’s alright. In the end, it was him who brought me back to London. Between you and me, I probably could have transferred back to Boston, but I didn’t want to. I loved Boston for a while, but when I started spending more and more time here in London to be with Lamb, it just made me much happier. It was a hard time but being in London helped. We came here in between digs Uncle Lamb went on. When he died, I think everyone expected me to return to Boston. Hell, I think even the people who’d just signed me on here expected me to return to Boston. But I couldn’t picture leaving London again. So I took a couple of months to set Uncle Lamb’s estate straight and to box up my life in Boston and now I’m officially back.”

“And ye’re happy with it?”

Claire nodded, a small smile on her face. “I am. Though I think Geillis and Louise are even happier I returned.”

“Yeah, how do ye know those two?” Jamie asked, looking over at the two of them and back to Claire.

She laughed as she settled back in her chair. “We met at Oxford. We were all in a biology class together in our first year. We formed a study group and the next year were flatmates.”

“Christ,” Jamie laughed. “The three of ye lived in the same flat?”

Claire nodded with a grin. “Yes indeed. It was at times chaotic for sure. But it was also a good time. Then we all went on to different post graduate schools. I went to medical school at Harvard and stayed in Boston for my residency.”

“So ye’re not only bragging about going to Oxford, but also Harvard, and the fact that ye’re a doctor,” Jamie teased.

She covered her face as she laughed. “It could definitely sound like that, couldn’t it?” Jamie nodded with a grin.

“Ye said yer Uncle Lamb went on a lot of digs,” Jamie recalled. “Where was the best place ye went?”

Claire opened her mouth to reply when she felt her phone ringing in her pocket. “Oh one second please. I need to take this.” Jamie nodded. Claire angled away from him as she answered the phone. “Hi there!” she said cheerily.

“Claire? Where are you? It sounds loud,” Frank replied.

“Oh, Geillis and Louise dragged me and Joe out for some drinks.”

“Oh,” he said quietly. “Well I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

“No, Frank, you’re not bothering me!” Claire assured him.

“Well it sounds as if you aren’t free. Doesn’t sound as though you’re missing Boston very much either. Why don’t you call me later when you’re quite finished partying,” Frank said shortly before hanging up the phone. Claire stared at the phone in confusion before putting it back in her pocket.

“Is everything alright?” Jamie asked kindly.

Claire nodded. “Sure. That was just my boyfriend. He doesn’t seem very happy that Geillis dragged me out tonight.”

“Well why doesn’t he come out too?”

“Because he lives in Boston.”

“Oh,” Jamie replied with an awkward expression. “Can I ask why he didn’t come help ye move?”

Claire stiffened. “He was busy with work.”

“Ah. Is he a doctor as well, then?”

“No,” Claire said with a sigh. “He’s a historian.”

Jamie raised his eyebrows. “Aha. I didn’t realize that was such a...demanding profession.”

She laughed loudly. “Well you win the most tactful way to say that!” She shook her head as she continued to laugh. “Geillis called him a cowardly prick and Louise thought we’d broken up and that was why he didn’t come.”

“I dinna ken the man so I canna pass judgment,” Jamie said kindly.

Claire felt very impressed by Jamie’s statement. That certainly wasn’t how most of her friends felt. She didn’t feel like talking about Frank any longer though. Talking about Frank was a minefield of feelings. “I believe before my phone rang you asked me the best place I went with Uncle Lamb.” He nodded with a smile. “I really loved Egypt! It was a really neat place.”  She took a sip of her wine. “So did you stay friends with Ian Murray?”

Jamie laughed. “Oh aye. He’s actually married to Jenny.”

Claire gaped at him. “No way. They got married?” Jamie nodded. “He’s the father of her four babies?” He continued nodding. “Your best friend married your sister?”

“Aye,” Jamie said through a laugh. “I coudna quite believe it for a while myself.”

“That’s amazing,” Claire said, taking another drink.

“Aye and they’re both still living at Lallybroch.”

Claire shook her head in awe at the mental image. Soon Claire and Jamie started reminiscing on their shared childhood. Her parents had moved to Scotland for her father’s job when she was four years old. They lived in a house across a field from Lallybroch. Her mother had quickly become friends with Jamie’s mother. Naturally, their children that were the same age spent a significant amount of time together and became quite close friends as well. Claire and Jamie spent most days of the week playing together at one of their houses. Often Ian would join in the madness as well. His family lived in the same village. Jenny, Jamie’s older sister, would join them in their shenanigans when she didn’t deem herself too old for them. The four of them were a tight knit group. Claire’s mother came to rely on the Frasers to watch Claire after school or times when Julia was unable to take Claire with her. Often, Claire was already over at Lallybroch anyway. Jamie had become her best friend and confidant for a good chunk of her childhood. But when Claire’s parents both died in a car accident that somehow spared her, Uncle Lamb took over custody of Claire and she left Scotland, and the Frasers, to go with him.

Before she knew it, she and Jamie had been chatting for quite a while. Louise came over and tapped Claire on the shoulder. “We’re getting ready to go.”

“Oh goodness,” Claire replied, looking at her watch. “Yes, I should too. I’ll come with you.” She turned to pay her tab at the bar. The whole gang seemed to be putting on coats and preparing to leave the pub.

“Well it was so good to see you again, Jamie,” Claire said happily as she turned to him before walking out the door.

“Aye, and you,” Jamie agreed. “If ye’d like, we could grab lunch sometime and catch up more.”

Claire smiled at the offer. “I’d love that! I’ll have to get settled at the hospital first, but that sounds great.”

“Of course. Just let me know when ye have the time. I’m sure Geillis will force us all to go out again as well.”

Claire laughed as she looked over at her friend. “Absolutely she will.”

She bid farewell to the others as she walked away with her friends. “How did I know you’d fall for Jamie?” Louise asked Claire with a grin.

“What? I didn’t fall for Jamie!” Claire exclaimed defensively.

“Please, ye spent all night talking to the lad,” Geillis reminded her. “We all have eyes and can see that he’s handsome. We’re not judging ye for falling for his charm.”

“Well for your information we actually knew each other as kids. We were catching up,” Claire informed them. “And it wouldn’t matter how charming he is because I still have a boyfriend. Remember?”

Louise groaned. “I’d rather forget.”

Claire rolled her eyes as she climbed into a cab with her friends. “I mean it can’t last long, right?” Louise asked. “He didn’t even help you move.”

“He’s a good man,” Claire insisted.

“He may be a good man, Lady Jane,” Joe said, “but there’s a reason I’m here. And it’s because one day you walked into work and said Frank wasn’t helping you move. I have a wife, child, and more demanding job that I left behind to help you move.”

“Is that not concerning to ye’re wife?” Geillis asked.

“Nah,” Joe disagreed. “She told me if I didn’t help Claire she would and she’s pregnant.” Joe shook his head as he laughed. “We love Claire enough to make sacrifices for her.”

“Joe, stop taking their side,” Claire pleaded.

“It’s not your side versus their side. It’s just that Frank may be a good man, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good man for you.”

“Ooh, I’m going to have to remember that line,” Louise cried. “That’s a good one.”

Claire sank into her seat in the cab, wishing to get back to her flat so she could finally sleep. Her first night back in London had been a much longer one than she’d initially anticipated. Though as she thought back on her long conversation with Jamie, she realized that it wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

Chapter Text

Claire shouldn’t have been surprised, but starting work at her new hospital kept her quite busy. It had been a few weeks since she’d started and she was waiting for it to calm down. She’d seen Geillis in passing at the hospital when she was seeing clients for physical therapy. Louise had come by to sit with Claire as she unpacked things at her flat. But aside from the two of them, Claire hadn’t seen anyone outside of the hospital. She’d been meaning to text Jamie about the lunch he’d offered but she never had the time for it.

A miracle had occurred and Claire had gotten a weekend off. She was laying in bed enjoying the fact that she could just sleep in for once. Her day continued essentially the same way; spending the day enjoying the chance to relax. Geillis texted her asking about her plans for the day and let her know that Rupert was having a small house party because some friends were in town.

I’m supposed to skype with Frank tonight. I’ll try and see if he’s free earlier!

It took a lot of typing and stopping before Geillis sent a reply.

I get that he’s yer man and ye miss him, but ye also havena been out with any of us in three weeks. It’s the first weekend ye’ve been free since ye started at the hospital. Blow off the wet blanket and come see us!

Claire rolled her eyes at her response. She wasn’t supposed to skype with Frank until 9:00. So she could go to hang out with her friends for a while. A quick text asking him to skype earlier couldn’t hurt.

It had been a couple of hours and she hadn’t heard anything back from Frank. Geillis and Louise had both been pestering her all day about going out that evening. Though it made her feel a bit guilty, she told them she’d be there. Geillis had been right; she needed a night out.

Claire hoped she had the right building as she walked up to the door. She heard Louise’s shriek-laugh through the door and knew that she was in the right place. Laughing to herself, Claire knocked as she opened the door. “Claire!” Louise yelled before Claire had even cleared the doorway. She was quickly pulled into a big hug.

“Louise, I saw you last week,” Claire reminded her. “You’re acting like it’s been a year.”

“Ah weel she came to help Rupert set up so she’s been imbibing for a while now,” Willie explained with a laugh.

Claire smiled knowingly back at Willie as she patted Louise on the back. “There it is.” She looked around the room and saw a couple familiar faces (though not the one she’d deny she was looking for).

“If you’re looking for the alcohol, it’s back in the kitchen,” Willie offered. Claire nodded with a grin at his advice and wandered off toward the kitchen, Louise closely in tow. Once she reached her destination, she found their host and Geillis as well.

“Claire!” Geillis cried, seemingly surprised to see her.

“Ah, ye made it, lass,” Rupert remarked. “I wondered if we’d see each other again any time soon.”

Claire sighed. “Yes, the stories they tell of doctors being busy are all true. I hope I’m not imposing on your evening.”

“Oh goodness, not at all,” Rupert assured. “Geillis informed me she’d invited ye. The more the merrier. That’s why I’ve invited far too many people this evening.”

She grabbed a drink and settled on a couch, chatting with Louise. As she looked around, she realized Rupert had really meant “the more the merrier.” There were so many people cramped in one small house. The only people Claire knew were the ones who’d gone to her “Welcome to London” night out. Geillis seemed to know everyone, Louise a good amount as well. She stood by listening to a lot of conversations and stories she couldn’t really appreciate.

Back in the kitchen to freshen up her drink, Claire missed whatever happened to make most of the other room cheer. She stood in the silence of the kitchen for a moment. As excited as she’d been to come out, she’d felt awkward in nearly every conversation she’d had. She was looking out the window over the sink when she heard someone else enter the kitchen. Turning around, she was pleasantly surprised at the new partygoer.

“Jamie! Hi!”

Jamie looked up from pouring himself a dram. “Claire, ye’re alive!” he teased.

She laughed lightly at his reply. “Shockingly. Sorry I never reached out. Today’s been the first time I’ve done anything remotely fun since I started work.”

“Och, no worries, Sassenach,” Jamie reassured. “I ken ye doctors are a busy folk. So how has it been?”

Claire took a deep breath. “Busy. Good, but really busy.” She took a sip of her drink. “So what got you here so late?”

“Work,” he replied with a grunt.

“On a Saturday?”

He nodded sadly. “Oh aye. We have a big project that needs finishing. Plus I knew one of my bosses would be here, so I didna want to get in trouble.”

“Your boss is here? How?”

Jamie walked to the doorway of the kitchen with Claire. “Alright, see the man talking wi Geillis?”

“Yeah, who is he by the way? He has looked vaguely familiar to me all evening and I can’t place him.”

“That’s Dougal.”

Claire whipped her head to look at Jamie. “Wait, as in your uncle , Dougal?”

Jamie nodded grimly to her. “Aye. The very same.”

“So he’s your boss now?” Jamie nodded again. “Were you afraid of him as a kid? Because I had a nervous feeling when I saw him and I couldn’t place it at the time. But now the dots are connecting. I think I was scared of him as a kid. I’m assuming I’d have gotten that from you.”

Jamie laughed. “As a kid he was never my favorite to spend time with. He came around very rarely. He and Uncle Colum both, actually. And they weren’t especially affectionate or caring when they did. I must have rubbed my general fear of them off on ye.”

“And yet you work for him now?”

Jamie walked over to lean against the counter. “That’s right. They formed a distillery together and when it became successful enough, they wanted a headquarters in London as well. So that’s where I work.”

“Do you advance easily through nepotism or work your arse off to impress them and rise through the ranks?” Claire asked jokingly.

Jamie smirked. “If only it was the nepotism.” He laughed as he took a drink. “I suppose you could say that I wouldn’t have the job if it weren’t for family. But aside from finding me a position, they’ve not done much for me that I didna earn.” He paused for a moment. “Or at least I like to think that.”

Claire smiled at him fondly. “I could see that.” She looked out at all the other guests. “So do you know just about everyone here?”

He followed her gaze and looked out at the other room. “Mostly.”

“So then maybe you’ll know, how does Geillis know everyone?”

“Well she went through school wi Rupert and a lot of the people here are old school mates of his. Plus obviously other people that he just decided to throw in the mix,” Jamie explained.

“How does Dougal fit in with this crowd?” Claire wondered aloud.

“He’s Rupert’s father’s cousin.”

Claire stared at Jamie, puzzle pieces connecting in her mind. “Wait, so you and Rupert are cousins?” Jamie nodded with a smile. “I did not realize that.”

“We never did see much of each other as children. He and I went to the same college at the same time though and spent more time together. We became friends and then his mother realized I was Ellen Fraser’s son and told us we were cousins,” Jamie told with a laugh.

“You became friends and then realized you were cousins? That’s incredibly bizarre. What are the odds of that?” Claire mused.

“Something we still talk about all these years later.” Jamie looked over at her and then around to the empty kitchen. “Were ye in here all by yerself then?”

Claire shrugged. “Yes, but it wasn’t upsetting. I didn’t really know the others out there as well as Louise and Geillis did so I felt like a third wheel in every conversation. I just stepped in here to take a break from it.”

“Well I hope ye dinna mind the company,” Jamie offered with a smile.

Claire shook her head. “Not at all. I welcome it,” she said, sitting up on the counter.

Jamie settled on the counter next to her. “Sadly, I dinna think ye’d do much to distract Geillis from Dougal.”

“Yeah, what is that?” Claire asked in a disgusted tone. “She’s been around him nearly all night.”

“She’s always like that when he comes around,” Jamie said with a shake of his head. “I dinna ken why exactly. I’ve never wanted to ask her because I dinna want her to go too far into detail.”

Claire scrunched up her nose. “Ew, yeah. I could see her doing that. But I don’t get it. Does she know he’s your uncle?” He nodded in reply. “Also, how often does he hang out with you all?”

“It’s not often, thankfully,” Jamie replied with a chuckle. “But he gets on well wi Rupert and so if he’s ever in town for business, Rupert makes sure he’s spending time wi us. I think Rupert believes I enjoy spending time wi Dougal.”

“He thinks you like spending time with the man who’s both your uncle and your boss?” Claire asked skeptically.

“I canna say where he got that notion,” Jamie said with a shake of his head. “Perhaps simply because he enjoys spending time wi him, he thinks I must as well.”

“That’s rather silly.” Claire took a sip of her drink before she turned to look at Jamie. “So what exactly do you do for their company?” Jamie sighed. “Oh, unless you’d rather not talk about work.”

He shook his head with a smirk. “Nah, it’s alright. I’m essentially the head of their marketing department here in London.”

“Well that sounds like a big deal,” Claire replied approvingly.

Jamie shook his head with a slight roll of his eyes. “I never feel as though it is.”

“You don’t feel like your job is important and yet you work all weekend?” Claire asked with a slight scoff. “Come on. That’s a big deal.”

“Aye, says the doctor,” Jamie scoffed back.

“What? So no other jobs can be a big deal because I chose to be a doctor?”

“I’m just sayin’ I’ll never feel like my job’s a big deal when I’m talking to a doctor.”

Claire stared at him for a moment. “Well I certainly hope that feeling doesn’t come from me. I’d never want to make anyone feel that way. I mean some days my job is terrible. Like the days where I have to have my hand up someone’s arse.”

Jamie laughed loudly, nearly spitting his drink. “Well aye, I suppose I dinna have to worry about that.” He stared down at his glass for a moment. “I suppose I mostly get that feeling from meself. When I was younger, I wanted to do something more exciting with my life. The job’s not bad and I’d go as far to say that I’m good at it. But it’s not what I pictured doing.”

Claire watched him for a second, wondering how the conversation took this turn. “What did you picture yourself doing?”

Jamie laughed to himself. “I actually wanted to be a politician. Someone said I made a good leader once and so I ran wi it. I was studying political science in school before I dropped out.” He looked over to see Claire staring back at him. “My dad died just before my final year of school. It took me a long time to break out of the haze that set in with his death. He passed in June and by September, I knew I wouldn’t be going back so I withdrew. I stayed around Lalllybroch for a while but that just served to remind me of him. Eventually Dougal told me to come visit him here in London. He was living here at the time. I tried to take my mind off of things I’d left in Scotland. And Dougal took that opportunity to bring me into the Mackenzie family business. So when I was finally ready, I took some classes that would teach me enough to ensure Dougal felt comfortable giving me a job.” He took a deep breath and released it. “Since then I’ve slowly climbed through the ranks till I got here. I canna say that I love it, but there’s no guarantee I’d have loved the other.”

“It’s hard,” Claire replied, staring straight ahead at the wall, “wondering what your life would be like if things hadn’t happened.”

“Aye. That’s the truth.” Claire felt Jamie’s eyes on her and turned to meet his gaze. “But then again, it seems as though we’ve both turned out alright.”

She smiled as she leaned over and bumped his shoulder with hers. “Yeah, I suppose we have.” Looking around the kitchen and laughed. “Although we’re also the weirdos who’ve hidden out in the kitchen during a big party. So maybe we need to reassess that statement.”

Jamie laughed heartily with her. “Ye’ve a point there, Sassenach.” He shook his head as he kept laughing. “Although, to be fair, I just came in here for a drink and found ye in here alone. I simply chose to stay and talk wi ye.”
“Wow,” Claire said, dragging out the word. “So that’s how it’s going to be, huh? You’re going to put the weirdness all on me?”

He grinned broadly. “Oh aye, of course.” Claire shook her head at him as she jumped down to refresh her drink. Louise walked in with the same intention. They were chatting as they poured themselves more to drink. “Claire, yer phone’s ringing. It’s Frank,” Jamie called from his perch on the counter, holding up her phone. Claire saw Frank’s face filling the screen. She waved it away, telling him to let it go.

“Oh my God,” Louise whispered. “It’s finally happened!” She ran to the doorway of the kitchen. “Geillis! Come here!”

“Louise,” Claire groaned, “this wasn’t anything. I tried to call and text him all day today and he never replied. I just decided not to take the call while I’m hanging out with my friends. That didn’t go so well the last time.”

“Aye, the last time he seemed sore that ye were out instead of awaiting his call,” Jamie reminded with a small grin.

Claire stared at him with a blank expression. “Yes, I recall. Thank you for the helpful reminder,” she replied flatly. Louise snickered from her place by the door.

Geillis walked into the kitchen accompanied by Dougal. Claire walked over to stand in front of the counter, next to where Jamie was sitting. “What’s going on, Louise?”

“Claire declined a call from Frank!”

Claire rolled her eyes as Geillis’s grew wide and a smile bloomed on her face. “Really?” she asked, drawing out the word. “Well then. I’d say that’s some progress.”

“You know, most friends aren’t so outwardly unsupportive of their friend’s relationships,” Claire asserted, glancing back and forth between her two friends.

“Well that may be when they find the person suitable for their friend,” Geillis retorted. “We all know Frank isna good enough for ye.”

“He’s still trying to control you across an ocean,” Louise insisted. “I just think you could do better.”

“Oh really?” Claire questioned. “And what did you have in mind?”

“Well actually,” Louise laughed, starting to turn her head toward Jamie. She caught Claire’s glare and stopped. “I know some people.”

“Christ, she hasna even broken up wi the man and ye’re already fixing her up with someone new?” Jamie asked. “That’s rather quick, don’t ye think, Louise?”

Louise shrugged. “Eh, there aren’t rules for these types of things.”

Claire looked over at Jamie and rolled her eyes. “What is yer name, lass?” Claire heard Dougal say. She looked over to see he was watching her. “I dinna believe we’ve met.”

She exchanged a quick glance with Jamie before addressing Dougal. “I’m Claire Beauchamp,” she answered, sticking her hand out for a shake. He grabbed her hand, lifting it up to kiss the back of it. Claire felt she wasn’t containing the disgusted and confused look on her face well.

“And Claire Beauchamp, how do ye ken all these people?”

“Well I don’t know everyone here. But I know Geillis and Louise from college. And I actually met Jamie when we were kids. We lived next to each other back in Scotland,” Claire explained, pulling her hand back and discreetly wiping it on her skirt.

“Really?” Dougal asked, looking between Jamie and Claire. They looked quickly to each other. “Then ye must have kent my sister, Ellen.”

Claire smiled fondly, looking over at Jamie. She nodded as she laid her hand on his. “Yes, I did. She was a very wonderful woman. I don’t know how she managed to wrangle her own three children and then bring in two more most days.”

“Ye spent time at Lallybroch then?” Dougal asked further.

“Pretty much every day after school. And nearly every day during the summers as well. We were a tight knit little group,” she reminisced.

“Jamie, how come ye’ve kept Claire tucked away all this time?” He spoke to Jamie but he stared at Claire. She was starting to tense as she felt Jamie’s hand on her back.

“Weel unfortunately, Claire left Scotland when she was ten. We only recently ran into each other again,” Jamie explained to his uncle. Louise had a strange expression on her face. Geillis was glancing back and forth between Claire and Dougal with a strained look.

“What a shame to have lost such a...friend,” Dougal replied, making Claire’s skin crawl.

“Mhmm, but thankfully we’ve caught back up,” Claire answered quickly. “If you’ll excuse me, I actually have to be up early tomorrow so I need to be going. It was nice to meet you.” She grabbed her phone and purse and made a quick escape out of the kitchen. Behind Dougal’s back, she shot an apologetic look to Louise and Geillis.

Once Claire was out out of the house, she shook out the weird feelings that conversation brought about. Pulling out her phone, she was hoping she could get an uber home. She looked back at the house, wondering if anyone could see her just standing on the front porch. Just to be safe, she stepped down and walked down the sidewalk some. She was two houses down when she heard her name being called. Jamie spotted her and strode to her quickly.

“What are you doing?” Claire asked him as she met him half way.

“I wanted to make sure ye were alright. Ye got out of there rather quickly,” he explained.

Claire frowned. “Sorry about that. Your uncle really gave me the creeps.”

Jamie smiled grimly. “Sorry. He’s no the best. I dinna like when he decides to come to things wi my friends.”

“It’s certainly not your fault.” Claire unlocked her phone to try and get a ride again.

“Do ye need a ride home?”

Claire looked up at him, noting the kind smile on his face. “It’s not exactly close.”

“I dinna mind. And I willna charge ye,” he said cheekily.

“Are you sure?”

Jamie stared at her for a moment. “Of course. Anything for a friend.”

Claire smiled. “Well thank you.”

Jamie directed her to where his car was parked. Their car ride to her flat was more of the easiness they’d shared in kitchen before Dougal had entered. As Jamie shared a story of a prank he and Rupert played on Angus in school, Claire looked over and marveled. She didn’t know what it was about him, but she felt incredibly at ease around him. Realistically, she’d seen him twice since she was ten. But she was so comfortable around him. It seemed as though his knowledge of her as a child transferred easily to knowing her as an adult. He was so kind and relaxed with her. When she didn’t laugh at an apparently very funny part of his story, he looked over at her with a concerned expression. “Are ye alright, Sassenach?”

“Uh, yes, sorry. Just was caught up in my head,” she said quickly. Easy as it was to be with him, she didn’t feel she could tell him the thoughts actually spinning around in her head.

“Are ye worried Frank will be angry ye didna take his call earlier?”

Claire laughed dryly to herself. “Wow, I’d actually forgotten he called. That’s probably not good, is it?”

Jamie shrugged. “It’s not my place to make judgment calls on yer relationship. I think ye get enough of that from Louise and Geillis.”

Claire huffed and rolled her eyes. “I like having friends that seem to really care about me, but sometimes they’re just too much.”

He laughed as he turned onto her street. “Aye, I can see that with those two.” He pulled into a spot near her flat. “Perhaps this is odd to say, but if ye ever need an ear and those two won’t do, ye can always talk to me.”

Claire stared in awe of him. “That’s very kind of you to say. I’ll likely take you up on that.” She was about to get out of the car when she turned back. “Will you have to work on your big project tomorrow?” Jamie shook his head. “How would you like to get that lunch we talked of?”

“I thought you had to work tomorrow.”

“No, I just lied and said I needed to be up early as an excuse so I could leave,” Claire admitted. “I’m actually free. How would you feel about lunch?”

Jamie smiled broadly. “That sounds great.”

“Wonderful!” Claire cheered. She leaned in and kissed his cheek quickly. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.” She walked up the stairs to her flat feeling oddly brave. If nothing else, she knew she’d have a good time if she was spending it with Jamie. Perhaps there was something to be said about that, but that was something to unpack at a later time.

Chapter Text

Jamie and Claire were set to meet at noon for lunch. Her body didn’t seem to remember that it got to sleep in again, though. She was up and about by 7:30, cursing herself the whole time. Since she’d started working at the hospital so soon after moving, there were still numerous unpacked boxes around her flat. Some were even being used as end tables. She wasn’t working and she didn’t have plans till later. It seemed like the right time to start taking care of the boxes.

It was just after 11:00 when she took a break to get ready before lunch. While she’d gotten a lot unboxed, she still had a lot to do to make the place truly homey. Shrugging, she walked off to her room. It was a problem for later. She’d thrown on some clothes and base makeup. It was a lunch with a friend so she didn’t need to look her best.

As she walked from her room there was one box to catch her eye. It simply bore the tag “Lamb.” Two other boxes sat with it, bearing the same tag. Tears came unbidden to her eyes as she settled down to look through them. There had only been a few boxes of Uncle Lamb’s things she’d kept. She’d held onto her treasured mementos of him, of course. But most of the his personal belongings were of no use to her. In defiance of her aim to not be sentimental, there had still been things she couldn’t let go. There were also boxes she simply hadn’t had the time to sort through before she’d had to return to Boston to pack up her own things. She’d brought these things with her and now it seemed was finally going to look at their contents.

One box was papers he’d written and all educational or professional works. Silly as it was, she couldn’t bin them. Perhaps she could find someone in the archeological field who would be interested in copies of his papers. The next box she looked in seemed to be his random box. There was no rhyme or reason to the things in there. After deciding there was nothing worth saving in the box, she moved onto the third and final box. Somehow she’d saved the biggest one for last.

Tears surprised her as they fell from her eyes nearly as quickly as she realized the box was filled with her parents’ belongings. She found several packs of old pictures, a photo album from their wedding, part of their silver set, and, in a plastic bag, numerous terrible drawings she’d created. Sitting back against the wall, Claire let the tears fall freely. It had been a really long time since she’d missed her parents this much. With Lamb gone, she felt her last tie to them had disappeared.

Claire dried her eyes, hoping the worst of it was done. She picked up the photo envelopes and started looking through them. There were pictures from the home they’d had in England that she could barely remember. In the next envelope was a picture of Claire standing proudly in front of a moving van with her mother. The rest of the pictures in the roll were from the Scotland house. Claire smiled as she stared down at a picture of her and her parents standing happily in front of their new house. Uncle Lamb had taken the picture right before he left to go on his next dig in Turkey.

She realized it was getting close to time that Jamie would arrive. With that, Claire decided to look through one more envelope before lunch. And with the first picture, she knew she’d picked the right stack to peruse. The first picture was a shot of seven or eight year old Claire sitting on a fence with seven or eight year old Jamie. She laughed at the picture of the two of them smiling hard for the camera. Looking through the stack, they seemed to all be pictures of the Fraser kids, Ian, and Claire playing and posing around Lallybroch or the Beauchamps’ home. Claire shook her head in awe as she took a solo trip down memory lane. She’d just reached the best of the pictures when her phone started buzzing on the table.

“Hello,” she answered.

“Hey! I’m downstairs,” Jamie informed her.

“Great! Come upstairs for a second!”

“What? No, Sassenach, I’m starving. Let’s just go,” Jamie nearly whined.

“Oh come on, it’ll be really quick. Just come upstairs,” Claire argued back.

“Ye better not be trying to seduce me or something,” Jamie joked.

Claire rolled her eyes, holding back a laugh. “Oh no, you figured me out,” she replied sarcastically. “It’ll be a couple of minutes. Just come on.”

Jamie sighed loudly through the phone. “Fine, buzz me up.”

She was still looking through the pictures when there was a knock at her door. Opening the door, she smiled at him brightly. “Hi!” she greeted.

“What’s the emergency?” Jamie asked in a bored tone.

She motioned him to come in. “Well I was going through some of Uncle Lamb’s boxes that I have and I wanted to show you what I found.”

“Seriously? And this couldn’t have waited till after lunch? I wasna kidding. I’m quite hungry.” Claire fixed him with a glare and held out the package of photos for him. He took them from her gently and opened the envelope, gasping softly at the first picture of the two of them. He wore a broad smile as he looked through the first few pictures. Looking up at her apologetically, he said, “Alright, I can see why ye wanted me to come up here. Sorry.” She chuckled and shook her head, stepping closer to look at the pictures again with him. “These are hilarious. I canna believe your mother caught an action shot of us pushing Ian out of the swing.”

Claire laughed with him. “I couldn’t believe that either. I don’t remember us getting yelled at after that, but I’m sure we did.”

“Oh there’s nay doubt we did,” Jamie agreed. He flipped through the pictures with such care, a moment paused on each one to remember the time it was taken. “I’d forgotten about that wee shed ye had in yer backyard. We had a lot of fun there.”

She couldn’t wipe the smile from her face as she looked down at the picture of young Claire and Jamie sticking their faces against the window of the shed her parents had converted for a playspace. “Yeah, we did, didn’t we?” So many happy memories were being presented to them again. A time when both of them still had both of their parents. The kids in these pictures were truly happy and carefree. Perhaps that was the feeling Jamie brought out in Claire again.

“No way,” Jamie muttered, interrupting her thoughts. Taking his eyes off the second to last picture, he looked up at Claire with a smile of disbelief on his face.

“That was the one I wanted you to see most! I’d forgotten Jenny and I talked the two of you into playing “Wedding” with us! And then I found that! How amazing is that?”

Jamie pulled out his phone to take a picture of the picture. “I canna believe there is a picture of Jenny and Ian being married as kids. I have to send this to Jenny. She’ll lose it for sure.” Once he’d marveled at the picture enough, he moved onto the next one. This one showed the other wedding that had happened that day: Young Jamie and Claire’s. Jamie breathed out a laugh. “But of course it was a double wedding.” Claire laughed too as she nodded. “Goodness, I told a coworker I was having lunch wi a friend. I should have told him I was having lunch wi my wife. How careless of me.”

Claire smacked him on the arm, still laughing. “Too right.” He put the pictures back in the envelope and handed it back to her. “Alright, now we can go eat. I’ll wait till after lunch to seduce you,” she teased. Jamie shot her a strange look. “What? You were the one who said it earlier? I was just keeping up the joke.”

He wrinkled his nose. “Aye, but now it’s just weird.”

“What, because we just looked at our wedding pictures?” Claire continued teasing.

Jamie laughed at her joke. “That was it. It made it too real.”

Rolling her eyes, Claire grabbed her jacket and walked to the door, Jamie following her.

 

They were chatting easily over lunch when Jamie grabbed his phone. Holding up a finger in apoology, he checked it quickly. Claire didn’t mind. She ended up having to check her phone often due to work. Well, that and the long distance relationship she was trying to sustain. He started laughing and looked up at her. “Jenny says she’d forgotten that she and Ian were an old marrit couple. She seems to think it’s quite funny that you found that.”

Claire smiled, still in disbelief of the memories she’d uncovered. “What did Ian have to say?”

“She actually asked me to show it to him when I see him tonight.”

Claire raised her eyebrows. “He’ll be here?”

“Oh aye,” Jamie confirmed. “He has some big meeting here in London tomorrow for work. So he’ll be staying with me.”

“The company won’t put him in a hotel?” she asked, hoping he didn’t work for the Mackenzies as well.

“Och, no, of course they do. But Ian always turns it down and says he’s a place to stay in London,” Jamie explained with a shake of his head.

“Ah, so he uses his friend and brother in law for free lodging?”

He nodded. “Exactly. He says it’s in the spirit of bonding time but I’m not quite convinced.”

Claire laughed, just able to picture it in her mind. “That’s exciting though that he’ll be in town.”

“Ye’re welcome to see him if ye’d like,” Jamie offered. “He’ll be staying at my place.”

“Oh, I don’t want to horn in on your time together,” Claire said, waving off his offer.

Jamie raised one eyebrow at her. “I see Ian plenty. It’s been 18 years for ye. Ye’re more than welcome to join us this evening if ye’d like.”

“Well that sounds lovely,” Claire agreed with a smile. “I appreciate it.”

As they left their restaurant, Claire saw a considerable amount of people walking to and from the next street corner. “Oh I wonder if the market is still open,” she mused to herself.

“The market?” Jamie asked, following her gaze.

“Mhmm, it’s just a little street market. A couple of friends at work have said they have found some interesting things there. So far though, I’ve never gotten there when it’s still open,” she explained.

“Well then let’s go have a look, shall we?” Jamie said with a gesture towards the market. Claire shrugged and started walking, Jamie falling in line next to her. They wandered down to find that the market was indeed still active. Claire smiled happily as she looked at all the different booths to peruse. Jamie silently followed her as she walked from booth to booth. Occasionally, he’d point something out that he thought was noteworthy. Claire kept presenting things to him for his approval. She tried on a necklace and looked at him for his opinion. He nodded in approval. “That looks quite bonny,” he remarked. Something about the face he made as he appraised her made her turn right around and buy it.

Claire was admiring a blue vase at another booth when she heard her name. Jamie and Claire both turned to see who’d called out to her. “Ah, Mary! You’re off today as well then?” she asked, greeting her friend from the hospital.

“Oh yes, thankfully! I’ve never needed a weekend off so badly in my life.”

Claire nodded vehemently. “I know exactly what you mean. It seemed like it would never come.”

“Apparently Fentiman had to do a whole emergency surgery yesterday,” Mary gossipped.

“Christ, on his own?” Claire asked, astounded at the thought. “He’s just started his residency.” Mary nodded, agreeing with her. “This is probably indelicate to ask, but did they survive?”

She leaned in close to Claire and lowered her voice. “Well I heard from one of the other nurses that it was touch and go for a while. But the patient seems to be pulling through.”

Claire nodded, feeling impressed by her coworker. “I hate to say I wouldn’t have expected much from him. But good for him.” She glanced over at Jamie, noting how bored he looked. “I’m sorry, we’re being so rude.”

He shook his head, about to speak but Mary interrupted him before he could. “I’m so sorry. Claire, is this the famous boyfriend? The one you left in Boston? I don’t know how you’d do that,” she questioned, nearly drooling at the sight of Jamie. Claire hated the feeling of possessiveness that came over her. She wanted nothing more than to step between Mary and Jamie.

“Uh, no, actually,” Claire said quickly, trying to get Mary’s attention back on her. “This is actually my friend, Jamie.”

“Ah,” Mary replied, still eyeing Jamie. “I should have known,” turning her eyes to Claire, “You did say that he seems hesitant to cross the ocean.”

Claire grimaced at the statement. She hated that she’d shared that with Mary. It just came out one night when Claire was overly tired and in a gossipping session with Mary. Since then, she’d done her best to avoid Mary when she seemed like she wanted new dirt. “Yes, well he’ll actually be here soon,” Claire lied. Jamie looked at her with a surprised expression. “Anyway, Mary, we have somewhere to be, but I’ll see you at work tomorrow.” Mary nodded and said her goodbyes, her eyes lingering on Jamie as they left.

Once they were out of Mary’s earshot, Jamie broached the subject between them. “Ye didna tell me that Frank was making a trip over.”

“He’s not,” Claire said shortly. “I lied to Mary. I don’t need another Geillis or Louise at work. I’ll just let her believe what she wants.”

“Well ye convinced me so ye must have convinced her as well, if that helps,” Jamie said with a grin.

Looking back over her shoulder at Mary, Claire replied, “It actually does.”

 

Without ever meaning to, or really acknowledging it, Claire and Jamie ended up spending the rest of the afternoon together. They wandered around running errands either of them needed to or simply going in shops that looked interesting. It was nearing dinner when Jamie got a call from Ian saying he was getting close to being there. They grabbed some food and went back to Jamie’s flat to wait for Ian.

A knock at the door signalled his arrival and Jamie jumped up to get the door. Claire observed as Ian and Jamie greeted each other happily, wrapping the other in a big hug. She smiled at the sight of it. Similarly to when she re-met Jamie, she could see remainders of the young boy she knew in Ian. He certainly had the same smile. He froze for a second when he laid eyes on Claire. “Och, sorry, Jamie. Ye could ha told me ye had a lass over.”

Jamie turned around to look at Claire. “Oh, I don’t.” Claire shot him a puzzled look. “Well, she is a lass, so technically, I do have a lass over, but it’s no like that,” he stammered. He gestured Ian to come further into the room. “Ian, do ye recall Claire Beauchamp from when we were kids?” Ian nodded. Jamie pointed to her saying, “This is Claire!”

Ian stared at her, eyes wide. “Goodness, it can’t be! Claire Beauchamp?” Claire smiled and nodded. “Well how the hell did this happen?” Ian walked forward and wrapped Claire in a hug.

“I moved back to London just recently and ran into Jamie through some mutual friends,” Claire explained happily.

Ian marveled at the sight of her. “That’s wonderful. Goodness. How’ve ye been?”

She sat down on Jamie’s couch. “Um, pretty good. It’s certainly good to be back in England.”

“She’s a doctor now,” Jamie informed Ian. Claire rolled her eyes as he sat down in the chair adjacent to the couch. Ian followed suit and joined Claire on the couch.

“Look at you,” he said, seemingly impressed. “What kind of doctor are you?”

“I’m a surgeon,” Claire tried to say humbly. “I hear you’re married with a bunch of children!”

Ian smiled bashfully. “That’s true. Four in all. The oldest is five.”

“Wow, that’s a lot!” Claire remarked.

Ian shrugged. “Ye get used to the chaos after a couple of them. And ye get used to operating on less sleep than a human adult requires. But I suppose ye probably know how that goes if ye’re a doctor.”

Claire couldn’t disagree with him. It was, after all, the first weekend she’d had off since she’d moved back. And the hours certainly were insane. She merely nodded to agree with him.

“So ye come back to England and the first thing ye do is start spending time wi this one?” Ian asked, pointing to Jamie with an amused look on his face.

Claire laughed. “Silly of me, isn’t it?” she replied, grinning.

“I’d say. If I hadna fallen for his sister and married her, I’d have dropped him years ago,” Ian teased.

Jamie looked at them and rolled his eyes. “Sure ye would have.”

Suddenly, Claire remembered the picture. “Oh, Jamie, give me your phone! He has to see the picture!”

Jamie followed orders, pulling up the picture and handing the phone to Claire. She beamed as she handed over the phone to Ian, explaining how she found it. He stared at it in disbelief before dissolving in a fit of laughter. “Goodness. I canna believe this exists. How funny. Has Jenny seen this?”

Jamie nodded. “Aye, she told me to show it to ye. She probably didna want ye takin yer eyes off the road while driving.”

Ian kept staring at the picture of him and his wife as small children. As he handed the phone back to Claire, his finger accidentally swiped to the next picture. Claire’s breath caught in her throat at the picture of her and Jamie on the fence. She didn’t remember him taking a photo of that as well. Fighting a smile, she swiped back to the wedding picture and handed it back to Jamie.

Claire turned back to Ian, trying to refocus her mind. “Okay, so forgive me for being incredibly intrusive, but I just have to ask.”

“How did I end up marrying Jenny?” Ian asked with a smirk.

Claire laughed. “Yes, exactly! How did that happen?”

Ian settled back into the couch, getting comfortable to tell a long story. He smiled fondly as he recalled how it happened. “Well I was always rather taken with Jenny. Even when we were kids. She was a girl and I was supposed to think she was gross, but I didna. She impressed me. Not that I didn’t enjoy spending time wi just ye and Jamie, but it always excited me when Jenny decided to play wi us as well. When I was a teen, I’d make jokes to her about when we would be together or something stupid like that. She always scoffed or brushed it off or straight up told me I was an idiot. I was ne’er disrespectful. Or at least I assume I never crossed a line because then Jamie would have pummeled me.”

“That’s true, I would have,” Jamie said as he nodded.

Ian laughed as he went on. “So when I was 18, I decided to enlist in the army. I was rather nervous to leave and the day before I shipped out, I jokingly said to Jenny to wait for me. It was more of the same stuff from before. She left the room and came back wi her rosary and told me to be safe and to come back. I didna really know what to make of it. I assumed it was just because I was the only one of the people in the village that was joining the army. Well I was gone for a year before I lost my leg in an incident,” he explained, patting his artificial limb. “The first person I saw when I struggled through the airport on crutches was Jenny. She was sobbing as she threw her arms around me. Somehow she beat my own mother to the punch. Well, she made sure I got to every physical therapy appointment I needed. She took care of me, more than I ever expected. When I asked her why she was doing so, she said “Because I want to dance with you at our wedding.” We’d never acknowledged the little joking comments I’d made to her. Of course I knew there was more to them and that I was mad for her. But I’d never in a million years expected her to return them. When she’d said that, I’d just thought she was teasing me the same way I teased her before. But then she pulled me in and kissed me and that was that. We never had to make anything official or whatever because we just knew we wanted to be together.”

Claire nearly gaped at Ian. That was one of the most beautiful stories she’d ever heard. “Wow. That’s quite a story. How long before you were married?”

“It was a couple of years. We got married a year or so after Mr. Fraser passed. We had already been engaged, but Jenny was grieving and so we waited till she was ready,” Ian explained.

She stole a glance over at Jamie. He bore a saddened expression. Claire understood the feeling. Just that morning she’d sobbed for her parents, after all. She thought maybe she’d try to bring the conversation back to a happy note. “It’s so wonderful that the two of you are so happy,” she said, interrupting the silence. “And that you have a family.”

Ian smiled, grabbing his phone to show her pictures. “Oh aye, we’re quite pleased with them.” He scrolled through pictures on his phone. There was Young Jamie, age 5, Maggie, age 3, Kitty, age 2, and Michael, age 1. They were certainly all close together. She laughed as he showed her a picture of Jamie with all four kids on his lap. He looked like a natural with them.

“You have such a beautiful family, Ian,” Claire said with a smile for him.

“Ah, thank ye. I feel quite blessed wi them,” Ian replied with a matching expression.

The subject eventually changed and they were catching up on other things. Ian and Jamie spoke of people they knew from Scotland. It wasn’t like at the party the night before though. Claire felt anything but left out of the conversation. She shared stories from her own life at their prompting. She was having a lovely evening catching up with another old friend.

It had been a few hours when Claire heard her phone ring across the room. She jumped up and ran to grab it. Her suspicions were right: it was Frank. Swiping quickly before the call ended, she answered the call. “Hey! Can you hold on just a second?” Frank agreed and Claire set the phone down on her purse. She walked over to where Ian sat on the couch. “I have to take that, so I’m going to head out. But it was so great to see you again! I’m so glad you’re doing well.”

Ian stood up to give Claire a hug. “I’m sorry you’re leaving. It was so wonderful to see you as well. You’ll have to stay in touch this time.”

Claire tilted her head and smiled. “Of course!” She walked over to Jamie and gave him a hug before leaving. “I’ll see you soon?”

Jamie nodded. “Hopefully,” he replied. “That’s more on you than me.”

She sighed but agreed. “You’re right. I’ll text you.”

“Sounds good! Let me know when you get home,” he requested.

She patted him on the arm. “Of course I will.” Walking back over to her things, she picked up her phone, purse, and jacket. She looked back at Jamie before she walked out the door. “Hey, thanks for a fun day.”

He smiled. “I could say the same.”

She nodded with decision and walked through the door, closing it behind her. Putting the phone back to her ear, she said, “Sorry about that, I was saying goodbye to some friends. How are you doing, Sweetheart?”

“I’m doing alright. I missed you so I thought I’d call you. Who were you spending time with?” Frank asked.

Claire hated the part of her that wondered if he was interrogating her. “Two friends that I knew back in Scotland.”

“Scotland? When were you in Scotland?”

Claire swallowed harshly as she walked out into the open air. “Remember, I lived there as a child?” He made a noncommittal sound. “Well anyway, they were two friends that I always used to play with when we were kids. One of them lives in London now and the other was visiting. It was nice to catch up.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard you talk of these ladies,” Frank replied.

She debated lying for a second. “Yes, I have,” she insisted instead. “I’ve told you about Jamie.”

“It’s a man?” Frank asked, a harshness to his tone.

“Yes. Last I checked I was allowed to have male friends.”

“Claire, be realistic. I’m sure the only reason he spends time with you is because he wants to sleep with you,” Frank argued. “You need to be careful around men like him.”

“Men like him?” Claire repeated. “You don’t even know him. What kind of judgment is that? Are you only friends with women because you want to sleep with them? What about Candy from the history department?”

“You mean Sandy?” he asked, ignoring her question. “That’s nothing. We’re just friends.”

“Then why can’t I just be friends with Jamie?” Claire retorted.

“Whatever, Claire. It’s not like you’ll listen to me anyway,” Frank dismissed. “So other than spending time with the man, what did you do today?”

Claire was silent for a moment. She’d spent basically her whole day with Jamie. Frank wouldn’t appreciate knowing that. “Well I went through some of the boxes in my flat. I’m making more progress on getting unpacked.”

Frank started commenting on how she needed to be more prompt about things like that so she wasn’t living in a hovel. He continued talking but Claire was starting to tune him out. She reflected on the lovely day she’d had, trying to grasp at the way she’d felt all day, instead of the way her boyfriend was making her feel.

~~~

The door had just closed behind Claire when Ian began staring at Jamie with an odd expression. Jamie walked over to his kitchen to grab a couple of beers for the two of them. All the time, Ian remained silent but still bearing the expectant expression. “What?” Jamie finally asked.

“So what’s happening there?” Ian dug.

Jamie rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Nothing. I promise ye.”

“I canna say I believe ye, brother.”

“I can assure ye that nothing is happening between me and Claire. We’re only friends,” Jamie insisted.

Ian still shook his head, refusing to believe Jamie. “I’m sorry but that’s not the way it seems seeing the two of ye together. Ye seem too close and too comfortable to be just friends.”

“It’ll never happen.”

It was Ian’s turn to roll his eyes. “And why are ye so sure of that?”

“That call she got that she left to take,” Jamie began to explain, “tis her boyfriend. Well, I could almost guarantee that’s who it was.”

Ian sighed disappointedly. “Oh.” He watched Jamie for a moment as he drank some of his beer. “So what’s her lad like?”

Jamie shrugged. “I dinna ken. I’ve never met the man.”

“You’ve never met him? That seems surprising.”

“This has only been the third time I’ve seen Claire since we reconnected. Besides, her boyfriend lives in Boston,” Jamie informed him.

“She’s doing the long distance thing?” Ian asked skeptically. Jamie nodded. “Well I hate to say it, but that probably won’t last.” Jamie shot him a disapproving look. “What? Ask most people who’ve done long distance. They say it doesna work.” Ian paused as he took another drink. “So is he moving here?”
“I dinna believe so. She’s never said anything of the sort.”

Ian looked confused. “So is this a temporary move for her?”

Jamie shook his head. “She’s made it seem fairly permanent.”

“So how is that going to work then?” Ian exclaimed. “They canna be marrit living across the ocean permanently. This relationship won’t last if he doesna move her or she doesna move back.”

“She moved here because her uncle was sick. And then she stayed because she enjoyed being back in England,” Jamie explained. “But the man didna even help her move.”

Ian laughed loudly, then covered his mouth. “That was bad, I shouldna have laughed. But I have to say, that’s not a good sign. I dinna see this relationship lasting. I just hope Claire’s the one to toss the anchor.”

Jamie just shrugged, not feeling as though he had much to say on the matter. It annoyed him that Ian assumed they were together or that Jamie wanted to be with her. He enjoyed spending time with her, but they didn’t really know each other all that well again yet. A voice in the back of his mind reminded him of how easy it’s been each time he’s been around Claire. He shook his head to clear out the thought.

“And then if she does, ye should let her know ye’re interested,” Ian said, interrupting his thoughts.

“Who’s to say I am interested?” Jamie argued back.

“So what did you guys do today?”

“We went to lunch. She seemed interested in seeing ye after I mentioned ye’d be here this evening.”

A smile grew slowly across Ian’s face. “So the two of ye essentially spent the whole day together?”

Jamie opened his mouth to deny it, but it was true. They really had. From lunch to the market to errands. They’d even gotten dinner to bring back to his place. And it just felt natural spending all that time with Claire. Jamie couldn’t remember an instance where there was an uncomfortable silence or moment that dragged on awkwardly. He was just comfortable around her.

“Aye, I suppose we did,” Jamie agreed begrudgingly.

“See?” Ian replied annoyingly. “Ye may no be now, but I bet that one day soon, ye’ll be interested. I know ye, man.”

“I canna do that,” Jamie argued. “She’s my friend. I’ll respect the boundaries there. I value having her back in my life. I’m no going to drive her off by making some sort of advance.”

“I’m no saying that,” Ian defended. He paused for a moment, thinking. “Perhaps it came out that way but I didna mean it like that. The thing I really mean is that ye’ve been through hell, man. Ye deserve a woman like Claire. I think she’d be good for ye. And ye for her. And that’s just from the amount of time I spent with the two of ye this evening.” He fixed Jamie with a meaningful stare. “Look, just make me one promise.” Jamie nodded for him to continue. “If the time comes where she becomes single again and ye examine yer feelings and realize ye do want to be more than her friend, promise me ye’ll actually tell her.”

Jamie sighed, leaning back in his chair. The situation Ian presented seemed ridiculous. But it also seemed too good to be true. Jamie was fairly certain that time would never come. Ian kept staring at him expectantly. With a huff, Jamie leaned forward and held out his hand to shake Ian’s.

“I promise.”  

Chapter Text

“Oh, this is just what I needed,” Claire said as she finished laughing. She looked over at her two friends, Geillis and Louise, and was genuinely happy in that moment.

“I have to say, this is what I was looking forward to when you called me and said you were moving back to London,” Louise replied with a smile on her face as she appraised her friends.

Geillis raised her wine glass to them. “To the three of us finally spending time just the three of us.”

Claire and Louise clinked their glasses with hers. “You realize, Gellie, that we could do this all the time,” Claire reminded. “You just always invite the guys.”

Louise nodded vehemently beside Claire. “Yes. And then Claire inevitably ditches us all evening and just sits in a corner talking to Jamie. You do this, Geillis.”

Geillis and Claire scoffed at the same time. They argued over each other at Louise.

“It’s not my fault!”

“I do not do that!”

Louise laughed at the both of them. She looked at Geillis first. “Yes, I’m afraid it is your fault. We’ll make plans and then you’ll text Rupert and the whole gang is out. I love the whole gang but it’s also fun to just have a night with the girls.” Then she looked at Claire. “And yes, you and Jamie absolutely do that, Claire. Geillis, back me up here.”

Geillis looked at Claire guiltily. “She’s no wrong. Ye do tend to just isolate yerselves and chat.”

Claire opened her mouth to object before she thought about the last few times the group had hung out. It had been more frequent in the last few weeks. Louise had had some work auction that she’d invited the group to in order to look good. After that they’d all converged on the nearest bar and had closed it down. The girls had made plans for the next day and then Geillis had invited everyone else. Then the next weekend, most of the group had ended up together again. Claire had gotten dinner with Jamie on a weeknight the next week. And by Friday, they were all at a pub again. By far, it was the most often Claire had ever gone out in her adult life. She couldn’t deny that she was having a good time though. Well, except for all the interruptions from Frank’s judgmental phone calls.

Claire shrugged and looked back at her friends. “Whatever. You guys are the ones that reintroduced us. So really that all falls back on you two.”

Geillis looked at her with shock. “That’s a tricky turn of mind. I can appreciate it.”

“That brings up a good point though,” Louise added. “What the hell is going on with you and Jamie?”

Claire’s eyes widened over her wine glass as she stared at her friend. “Uh, nothing. Why?”

Louise rolled her eyes and scoffed. “Why? Why ?!”

“Louise, calm down,” Geillis instructed, reaching a hand over to still her.

Louise took a deep breath before turning back to Claire. “Why, you ask, do I think there’s something going on with you and Jamie?” Claire nodded, encouraging her friend to continue. “Well I think it’s because I have these things called eyes.” Geillis choked back a laugh. Claire took turns glaring at both of them. “Come on, once Jamie gets there, you barely talk to anyone else.”

“That’s not true!” Claire insisted. “Last weekend at that pub, I played darts for such a long time with Angus and Willie. Jamie stayed at the booth and had a shots off with the two of you and Rupert like you were all in college.”

“So you just knew where he was?” Louise asked with a grin.

“Yes. Because the four of you were the loudest you’ve ever been and then I had to make sure that the three of you got home safely after you foolishly tried to outdrink Rupert,” Claire defended.

“That’s probably why I don’t remember you playing darts…” Louise said quietly. “Or how I got home.”

Claire laughed in spite of herself. “Well, you’re welcome then for reminding you.”

Louise shook her head quickly to refocus on her argument. “Look, all I’m saying is that it’s so obvious that there is something more than friendship between the two of you. Why do you think I’ve never pursued Jamie? It’s because I’m saving him for you since we all know something is going to happen there.”

Claire rolled her eyes and took a drink of her wine. “No,” Geillis said, looking at Louise. “The reason ye’ve never pursued Jamie is because ye tried to right after ye moved here and he shut ye down.”

Claire couldn’t help but burst out laughing at the look on Louise’s face. “Fine. Yes, that happened. But I could still do it. But I won’t because it wouldn’t be fair to Claire.”

“Oh my god, Louise,” Claire sighed. “If you want to pursue Jamie, go for it. He is not my possession. You don’t need to “save” him for me or whatever. He’s just my friend. And I have Frank.” Claire watched as her two friends exchanged a look of internal struggle.

“Aye, ye have Frank,” Geillis said too sweetly. “But Louise, don’t go after Jamie. It’ll just be embarrassing to see ye get shut down twice. Might mess with the group dynamic.”

Louise sighed. “Alright. I’ll let it go. He’s just so handsome.”

Geillis nodded. “Oh, I’ll agree wi ye on that.”

They both looked at Claire. “At the risk of making it seem like I agree with your earlier points, I’ll say that yes, I agree. He’s a fine looking man.” She laughed to herself. “I nearly had to pry one of the nurses from the hospital off of him when we ran into her at the market a few weeks ago.” She looked up to see Geillis and Louise staring at her with strange expressions. “What?”

“The two of ye went to the market together?” Geillis asked.
“Yeah, just the weekend street market down from my flat,” Claire explained.

“Did you run into each other there?” Louise asked further.

“No. We went after lunch.”

The two of them made eye contact, both of their eyes widening. “So how often do the two of ye spend time just the two of ye?” Geillis asked, nearly interrogating.

Claire suddenly felt defensive. “Well, it’s only been a couple of times really.”

Geillis watched Claire thoughtfully as she took a drink of her wine. “So what does ole Frank think of the two of ye hanging out?”

Claire paused, knowing if she revealed how Frank really felt about it, she’d start a whole other conversation. It was one she’d been desperate to avoid. She swallowed quickly. “Well I think he felt a bit uncomfortable by it. But it’s because he doesn’t know Jamie. Frank never had a problem with me going out for drinks with Joe. I think if Frank knew Jamie, he’d be fine with me spending time with him.”

Louise laughed loudly. “Oh darling, I think it would be the opposite effect. I think if Frank saw the two of you together, he might try to murder Jamie, even if the man never laid a finger on you in front of Frank.”

Claire looked at Geillis to deny what Louise said. “She’s not wrong, I’m afraid,” Geillis said with a guilty look at Claire. “The two of ye just seem at ease around each other.” She opened her mouth to continue and paused. Claire could tell when she made up her mind on how to say what she wanted to say. “Let’s just put it this way: You and Jamie give off the ease and comfort around each other that you and Frank should give off.”

“Mmm, well put,” Louise said approvingly. Geillis smiled at her with a nod.

“Yeah, but he’s not here,” Claire said needlessly. “So obviously things are harder for me and Frank when we’re an ocean away.”

“Claire, ye forget I used to come and visit ye in Boston. I stayed in the home ye shared with the man,” Geillis reminded her. “I feel comfortable with my statement even concerning the relationship ye had before ye left Boston.”

“You never liked Frank,” Claire defended.

Geillis nodded in agreement. “Aye, he’s never been my favorite for ye. And yes, I’ve kent Jamie for quite a long time. But so have ye.”

Claire took a deep breath. “Look, can we just change the subject? I really don’t want to fight about Frank tonight.”

They both agreed. “Yeah, we didn’t want to either. We promised that we wouldn’t be overly negative about everything you said about him,” Louise informed her.

Claire let out a small laugh. “Thanks. I think. Let’s forget about my love life all together. Louise how is work going? How’s the marketing firm?”

Louise shrugged. “It’s alright. Been a bit slow lately.” She gasped as she remembered something. “Although, there was some great drama today at lunch.” She excitedly started telling Geillis and Claire all about an incident between two of her coworkers. And so the evening carried on like that. They shared noteworthy stories from their respective weeks and suddenly it felt like they were back in college when they all lived together. Not for the first time, Claire looked over at her two friends and felt incredibly grateful to have moved back.

They were putting on their coats and leaving the restaurant when Claire felt her pocket vibrate. She told them she had to take her call and bid both her friends goodbye. They nodded in understanding, though she didn’t miss the quick look they gave each other. Nearly running out of the restaurant, she answered her call. “Hello, Darling!”

“Claire, how are you this evening?” Frank asked, sounding like he was in a good mood.

Claire smiled as she walked down the street. Her flat was only a few blocks away. “I’m doing well. How are you?” She got distracted from his answer as she heard someone calling her name. “Oh, Frank, hold on a second, please.”

Turning around, she saw Geillis tearing after her, waving her hand in the air. “Ye forgot yer credit card, woman!”

“Oh shit! Thank you, Gellie! I owe you,” she said, taking the card. “Remind me, I’ll buy your first round next time,” Claire promised, hugging her friend.

“Well that’s an offer I’ll take ye up on,” Geillis admitted with a laugh as she turned back toward the restaurant. “See ye later!”

“Bye!” Claire called after her friend. “Sorry about that,” Claire said to Frank. “Apparently I forgot to put my card away after I paid and I left it on the table. So what were you saying? How was your day?”

Frank paused for a moment before answering. “My day was fine. So you went out tonight?”

“Yes…”

“But you knew I was going to call,” Frank responded.

“You told me originally it was supposed to be another hour or more before you’d be free,” Claire reminded him. “Besides, I was leaving as you called. I took your call and I’m not telling you I have to go. I don’t see the problem, Frank.”

“What if I’d called earlier?” he asked.

“Well I’d have probably told you that I was out with Geillis and Louise. But you didn’t so I don’t see the problem.”

“Claire, do you realize how often I call you and you’re out?”

“What do you want me to do, Frank? Do you want me to stay at home sad and alone until you call me?” Claire wondered aloud. “I’m five hours ahead of you. Which means if you’re calling me once you’re home from work, there’s a chance I’ve been free for five hours depending on my schedule. If I was going to not do anything in anticipation of you calling, I would be sitting at home on my arse most nights of the week. Do you not want me to see my friends?”

Frank sighed on his end. “You never used to go out this often in Boston.”

“I didn’t have friends that went out in Boston. Joe was married and would go home to his family. You never seemed to have a problem when I’d meet Joe for drinks,” Claire reminded him. “Why do you have such a problem with me having a social life?”

“Because it’s like you don’t miss Boston at all!”

Claire paused. She’d been too close to saying that she didn’t miss it. “Frank, of course I miss Boston. Or at least some parts of it. I miss you. And I wish we didn’t fight so often. Believe me, this is hard for me too.”

“Well it certainly doesn’t seem like it. Most of the times that I call you, you’re busy. You’re either working or partying with these people,” Frank said disgustedly.

“I can’t help that I’m busy with my job. I was in Boston too,” Claire defended. “And I’m not sorry that I have friends. I’m glad that Geillis and Louise drag me out and get me out of my own head. With the year that I’ve had, Frank, I deserve to be happy.”

“Couldn’t you have been happy in Boston?” Frank demanded.

“Couldn’t you have been happy in London?” Claire countered. “Remember, I gave you notice that this was coming and asked you to come with me. You insisted on staying.”

“You can’t turn down Harvard, Darling.”

Claire rolled her eyes, looking up at her building. “Frank, you can’t put this all on me. I won’t take it. You’re the one who picks some part of my life to tear apart each time we call.”

“Well I’m sorry that I don’t want to have a relationship with your voicemail, Claire,” Frank yelled into the phone. “I want to talk to my damn girlfriend but you’re always too busy for me.”

“And yet I always answer when you call,” Claire yelled back. “You can’t accuse me of putting my social life ahead of you because I always answer. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing. If I’m not at work, I answer your call, Frank. Can you say the same?”

“I’m not the one who left, Claire.”

“No, you’re just the one so stuck in the past that you can’t accept change happening in the present,” she fired back. “You’re also the one who’s never even mentioned coming to visit me. You know people ask me that all the time. They ask when my boyfriend is going to come see me in my new city. And I have to lie and say that you’re trying to plan it out or that work is really busy for you. And yet, I’ve looked at flights back to Boston to visit you, even though I rarely get a full weekend off of work and I just started a new job. I may be out having a good time here, but I’m at least trying to still make this relationship work. Can you say the same, Frank?”

There was a long stretch of silence. “I think you and I have very different definitions of making it work.”

“Well when you put in the effort that I do,” Claire began, “you can let me know your definition. Why don’t you start by looking at flights. Or maybe even smaller. Start by calling me and not talking down to me.” She willed the tears in her eyes not to fall. “Goodnight, Frank,” she ended.

“No, Claire -” He tried.

“No, Frank, I’m done for the night. I can’t fight like this. Think about how you really want to talk to me and you can call me tomorrow. Goodbye,” she said, hanging up the phone before he could reply.

Claire stood on her steps, angry tears falling from her eyes. She could scream she was so angry at Frank. Going upstairs meant that she would sulk and sit in her fury the rest of the evening. But calling Geillis or Louise meant that she’d get an earful of their true opinions of Frank. Surely their promise to not diss Frank did not extend to this situation. No, Claire needed someone who would actually listen. She stared down at her phone, wondering if it was too late to call. Shaking her head, she pressed the number anyway.

“Hello?”

“Jamie,” Claire breathed. “Is this a bad time?”

“Not at all, Sassenach,” he answered cheerily. “What’s up?”

“Remember your offer a while back about if I ever needed someone to talk to that wasn’t Geillis or Louise?”

“Aye.”

“We may have reached that time. How would you feel about a drink?” Jamie sighed on the other end and then was silent. Claire wondered if he’d lied before and it actually was a bad time. Next her mind jumped to wondering if he had a woman over. She hated the way she reacted to the idea of that. “Look, if it’s a bad time, just say so. It’ll be okay.”

“Och, no. It’s no a bad time. It’s just that I...well I just got back from work not terribly long ago and I...well…”

“You don’t want to leave the house again?” Claire finished for him.

He chuckled in her ear. “That’d be about it. But dinna worry, I can -”

“Do you have whisky at your house?” Claire asked, cutting him off.

“Of course. I’m Scottish.”

She laughed to herself. “Do you mind me coming over?”

“No.”

“Then I’ll be there shortly. Problem solved.”

“Hey, Sassenach?”

“What? Do you want me to bring food?” she joked.

“No, not at all. I was only going to ask if ye were alright,” Jamie explained.

She smiled as she walked to her car. “I’m alright. I mean I’m angry, but I’m alright.”

“Okay good. Well then I’ll see you soon.”

 

Claire took a deep breath before knocking on Jamie’s door. She’d barely been waiting before he opened the door and beckoned her in. It was fairly obvious why he didn’t want to leave again. He was dressed in a t-shirt and pajama pants. She wouldn’t have wanted to leave the house either. “Thank you,” she said with a smile as he handed her a glass of whisky. “And not just for the whisky.”

He nodded to her before walking over to the couch. “Not a problem, Sassenach. So what’s up? I’m assuming this has something to do wi Frank.”

Claire sighed as she took off her coat and laid it on the arm of the couch. “But of course.” She sat down on the couch, took off her shoes, and curled her legs under her. “He called as I was leaving dinner with Louise and Geillis.”

Jamie lifted his eyebrows. “And did they have much to say about his interruption?”

“Thankfully, no,” she replied. “They’d made some promise to not yell at me about Frank all evening.”

“Ah, good. I’m glad to know they take suggestions.”

Claire gaped at him. “You told them to do that?”

Jamie shrugged. “Yes and no. I told them that I thought their negativity was getting to ye. What they did with that comment is their own choice.”

“Well that’s very kind of you,” Claire said in a small voice. She cleared her throat. “Anyway, so Frank called and I walked out and we were chatting.” She told him the story of what happened after that with the credit card and the fight. Leaning her head back against the arm of the couch, she huffed loudly. “I just don’t get it. I don’t get why every call needs to be an argument. I don’t get why he can’t just be happy I’m happy. I don’t get why he’s so mad that I have a life.”

Jamie sat silently, watching her from across the couch. He didn’t respond until she looked at him expectantly. “Well perhaps he’s just jealous.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, don’t go that route,” Claire begged. “Don’t do the whole thing where your mother says “Oh she’s only mean to you because she’s jealous.” No, sometimes she’s just a bitch.”

Jamie tried to hold back a laugh and failed. “That wasna exactly what I was going for, actually. I just mean that ye moved here and ye made friends and ye have a job that ye’re mostly enjoying. Ye could say that ye have a full life here. Perhaps he’s jealous because he doesna have a full life in Boston. Or perhaps he’s worried that ye have too full a life here and he wouldna fit in if he ever followed ye here.”

Claire stared at him, thinking through his points. “I don’t know if it’s that. I mean, maybe. It’s just so draining fighting all the time. And it’s annoying because I know that, with the exception of you, if I talk to my friends about it, they’ll just tell me to dump him.”

“How do ye ken I wouldna say that?” Jamie asked. Claire was worried for a second until his smirk gave him away. “Dinna fash, Sassenach. That’s no my advice to give.”

“Is your advice to drink the pain away?” Claire wondered as she studied her glass.

“Nah, no that either. That way leads to problems.” Claire looked at him curiously. “I thought about doing that myself once,” he admitted. “But when you sober up, the pain’s still there and nothing’s really been solved.” She nodded thoughtfully. Looking up, she caught him staring at her. “Why did you no leave Frank when ye decided to move here?”

She was silent for a while as she reflected on that time. “Moving here was a slow process for me. First, Uncle Lamb casually mentioned that he’d been to the hospital a couple of times. So I came over to be there for him. I took a week off of work only. But I could tell when I got here that a week wasn’t going to be enough. He was in rough shape. Or at least rougher shape than he let on. So I called the hospital and asked for more time off to take care of a sick relative. They were more understanding than I expected. And Frank told me to take all the time I needed. I was here for almost month before it hit me that I was actually more at home here in London than I was in Boston. I started my transfer paperwork not long after that. Of course, at that time, I expected Lamb to last longer. I thought he’d need me for a while longer. That’s how I justified it to Frank.”

Claire paused and took a deep drink of her whisky. “But then Uncle Lamb died and the only thing that seemed right in the world was staying here in London. I don’t know what it was but it was like the city was beckoning me to stay. Someone from the hospital told me they could destroy my papers and it wouldn’t look bad. I told them I still planned to work there. Everyone in Boston, including Frank, just assumed I couldn’t get out of the transfer. Frank told me a million times that I could just quit and I could find another job in Boston. And when I asked him if he could find another job in London, the first thing he did was laugh. He honestly thought I was joking.” She shook her head at the memory, tears burning in her eyes. “I stood my ground and said I was moving to London. I asked him many times to come with me and he wouldn’t.”

She looked up at Jamie. “I was hopeful he’d change his mind and come here with me. I think there’s a part of me that’s still hopeful he’ll come here. I guess other than that, I don’t really know why I didn’t just end things when I left Boston. There’s just constantly this part of me that knows it can be better than this. I can’t toss it away unless I know it’s absolutely broken.” She ducked to meet his gaze. “Is that insane of me?”

He shook his head. “Nah, I wouldna say so. Ye had a good relationship. That means there was something worth fighting for.” He studied her for a moment before asking his next question. She didn’t miss the tension in his face before he spoke. “What was it that kept ye with him?”

She appreciated his thoughtful questions. He had a good tactic. Making her talk about her relationship could make her see on her own whether it was worth saving or not. She sighed before answering. “He’s a good man. I don’t think my stories as of late have really given off that vibe from him. But he is. He supported me through a lot of stuff when I was in medical school. And we had a good time together. We were happy until I moved. I suppose you could say that it’s my fault we are in this mess.”

“I wouldna say that,” Jamie quickly replied. She met his gaze. “Ye gave him more than enough chances to meet ye halfway, it seems. He helped make the mess.”

“I just don’t know what to do,” Claire finally voiced.

“Well I suppose it comes down to whether or not ye want to continue working on yer relationship or if it would just be easier to let it go.”

“Why are you so good at this?” Claire asked, almost in awe. “It seems like Jenny and Ian have been solid from day one so I don’t feel like you’ve given either of them relationship advice.”

Jamie laughed before he took a sip of his whisky. “I dinna ken. I’ve been around enough relationships to pick up on the important things I suppose.”

“I feel like I’ve been around enough relationships that I could do this for someone else. It’s hard to evaluate from the inside.”

Jamie sat forward and poured more whisky in her glass. “Aye, I can understand that.”

“We’ve been together for three years,” she said simply. “That’s a significant relationship. I don’t want to just throw it all away.”

“You wouldn’t be the only one doing the throwing,” Jamie reminded her.

“Yeah, but I’d be the one blamed for it,” Claire argued. “It doesn’t matter how little effort he puts in. It doesn’t matter how he does nothing but bicker once he calls me. All that will matter is that I’m the one that moved. I’m already the one being blamed.”

“Do ye want -” Jamie started. He took a deep breath and shook his head. “Are ye happy here? In London, I mean.”

Claire nodded. “I’m really happy here.”

“Were ye really happy in Boston as well?”

She stared at him. Unable to answer the question immediately, she took a drink. “I would say I thought I was happy enough. I came here and realized I could feel more at home so I stayed. Then Geillis dragged me out of my home and forced me to talk to her friends and then I made friends with you all and I’m happy.” She stared down at her drink. “Probably happier than I have been in a while.”

“Perhaps it just comes down to: how happy do ye want to be?” Jamie asked. He fixed her with a meaningful look. “Does Frank make ye happy?” She was caught off guard by his second question. His other questions had been less direct. He’d been having her suss out the state of her relationship by explaining it to him. But this? This was direct. Did he make her happy? She was saved from answering by a knock at the door. Jamie frowned before jumping up to open the door. In his absence, Claire finished her whisky and poured herself more.

“Hey, man!” a voice called from the door.

“What are ye doing here? Ye usually tell me before ye come over?” Jamie replied.

Claire suddenly felt like she was intruding. Who was this person coming into Jamie’s flat. Would he want her to leave? She stood up from the couch and tripped over the leg of the table. “Shit,” she yelled as she hit the floor.

“Do you have someone here?” the voice asked intently. As Claire pulled herself up from the floor, she caught sight of a young man with dark brown hair. “Hi there,” he said kindly as he stared at her. “Who are you?”

“This is Claire,” Jamie said helpfully. “Claire, this is John.”

She finally stood up to her full height. “Hi, John. How do you know Jamie?”

He smiled, walking in and plopping himself down on the couch where Jamie had just been. “We’re on the same football team.”

Claire’s eyebrows shot up as she whipped her head over to look at Jamie. “I’m sorry, you’re on a football team? How has this never come up?”

Jamie shrugged. “Didna think it mattered. It’s just for fun.”

“It’s just for fun,” Claire scoffed as she echoed him. “Yeah, okay.” She looked over at John. “How often do you play? When is the next one? Are there usually spectators?”

He squinted his eyes at her. “We play next Sunday. We’ve only been having practices so far this season. Last season we won the whole damn tournament. Didn’t we, James?”

Jamie groaned as he sat down in the chair. “Yes, we did, John. So how many bars was it tonight?”

“Only a few,” John replied cagily. “But it looks as though there’s plenty here too.”

Claire lifted her glass to him in answer. “Oh yes, Jamie has the good whisky.”

“How many glasses is that for you, Sassenach?” Jamie asked.

“I don’t think that matters,” Claire replied, waving him off as she finished another glass. “John, tell me, what brings you here?”

“Oh, Jamie lets me stay here when I have too much to drink. I have a very disapproving roommate,” John explained.

“Aww,” Claire drew out, staring at Jamie. “That’s so sweet.”

Jamie shrugged. “It’s that or the street. I’m no a monster.”

“Do you not even invite him out if you know you’re going to come stay here?” Claire asked, winking at Jamie. He rolled his eyes in reply.

“I’d invite him out every time, a fun guy like him,” John insisted. “But he says he doesn’t like my “young” crowd,” he said, making air quotes.

Claire burst out laughing. “Well how old are you?”

“I’m 22.”

“Oh well then I’d have to agree. You’re practically an infant,” she said with a laugh.

“I am not!” he cried. “I’m an employed adult man!”
“That doesna make ye sound any more impressive, John,” Jamie informed him with a grimace. “We’re also employed adults.”

“Well sure,” John said shortly. He looked over at her. “So how do you know Jamie? Are you his girlfriend?”

Claire quickly shook her head. “Nope. We’re friends.”

“How long have you been friends?” John asked. “Tell me the whole story.”

Jamie shook his head at Claire. “I’m sorry. He’s quite drunk. Ye dinna have to humor him.”

Claire shrugged. “Eh, it’s nothing. Jamie and I met when we were four years old. We were essentially next door neighbors where we lived up in Scotland. And we were best friends until we were about ten. Then I moved away and we recently ran into each other again.”

John furrowed his brow, seemingly deep in thought. “Oh god,” he said softly. He looked up at Claire. “That’s the cutest story I’ve ever heard.”

She smiled before taking another sip. Looking over at Jamie, she said, “Yeah, it is quite cute.”

“So are you guys just hanging out?” John asked.

Claire looked down, suddenly feeling guilty for coming over. She should have just kept her problems to herself. No one liked the friend that could only talk about their issues. “I should go,” she said suddenly, standing up.

Jamie jumped up as well, walking over to her. “I dinna think that’s a good idea.”

“No, I shouldn’t have come. I’m just being whiny,” she argued.

Jamie walked toward the kitchen and beckoned her over. He ducked down to make eye contact with her. “Yer no being whiny, Claire. I’m glad ye came over and felt ye could trust me with yer concerns.” She smiled despite herself. “I dinna think ye should leave though. Ye drove here and ye’ve had a lot to drink.”

She looked past him into the living area. “What am I going to do, share the couch with your child over there?”

Jamie fought back a laugh at her comment. “Ye can have the bed. I can sleep on the floor.”

“Jamie -” she began before he cut her off.

“No, it’s alright. I’m the one who was wise enough to have his drunk friends over on the same night,” he said with a laugh. He stared at her for a moment. “I’m betting if ye went home now, ye’d call Frank and perhaps do or say something ye’d regret in the morning. So just stay here.”

Claire didn’t answer, she just wrapped her arms around him, crushing herself to him. He quickly pulled her in closer, holding her for a moment. “Thank you,” she breathed.

“Not to worry, Sassenach,”  he said softly. “I’ll always be here.”

As he walked away to find blankets, Claire somehow knew that what he said was true.

Chapter Text

“Alright, I’ll apologize now,” was the first thing Jamie said when Claire answered the phone.

“What on earth for?”

“I volunteered ye for a football game wi a few of us today.”

Claire burst out laughing. “What, now?”

“John was talking after ye left and said ye were so much fun,” Jamie began to explain. “Then I was trying to get him to go home and I mentioned meeting Rupert later for a match in the park and he included himself. He kept asking if he could come and I said it was just my friends. Then he asked if ye’d be there and I dinna ken what I was doing but I said yes so now John’s coming and apparently I’m throwing a bigger match together.”

Claire was silently laughing on her end of the phone. “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, Jamie Fraser. Were you actually meeting Rupert?”

“Aye, he and Willie. And some friends of Willie’s, I think,” Jamie said sounding embarrassed.

“Do you really need me to come?” she asked.

“Do ye mind? Our friends have never met John and I dinna ken how they’d react to him. Ye could at least act like he’s normal,” Jamie nearly pleaded.

“He seemed fine. Just incredibly drunk. But then again I’d had my share of it as well,” she added. With a grand sigh, she agreed. “Fine, Fraser, I’ll be there. What time?”

“Ah, ye’re the best, Beauchamp! Meet us around 1:00.”  

She’d changed into suitable clothes, tried her luck with the best hangover cure she had in her flat, and was at the specified park in time. Only Jamie Fraser could talk her into participating in a football match with friends after she’d spent the night out. She spotted him and Rupert sitting over on a bench and walked over in their direction.

“Gentlemen,” she said, announcing her presence.

“Sassenach!” Jamie greeted loudly. “I’m glad ye came.”

She looked around pointedly. “How are we to play football just the three of us?”

Rupert looked up at her. “Well obviously more people are coming. Ye got here right at the time we said. Ye think everyone else would?”

Claire shrugged. “I was hoping they’d think it’s rude not to.”

Both Rupert and Jamie laughed. “I told Willie 12:30 because I knew he’d be late,” Rupert informed her.

Claire rolled her eyes and plopped down on the ground next to their bench. “So how many people did you invite?”

“Well enough people to have a real game, of course,” Rupert said like she was being silly. He jumped up from the bench quickly, startling Jamie and Claire. “Those people look like they’re eyeing the pitch. I’m going to go claim it.” He ran quickly toward the field with a couple of footballs.

Claire chuckled as she stood up and started to stretch. “You owe me, Fraser,” she said past a yawn. “I do not feel up to optimum football playing standards.”

Jamie scoffed. “You’re one to talk. You slept in my bed.”

“Wait, what now?” a voice interrupted. Jamie and Claire both turned to see Geillis standing nearby with a gobsmacked look on her face. “What’s this about Claire sleeping in your bed.”

They looked at each other and rolled their eyes. “Sorry to dash yer hopes but she was in the bed and I was on the floor,” Jamie told her with a shake of his head. He walked over to help Rupert stake out the field.

“What is all this about?” Geillis immediately questioned.

Claire sighed. “Last night I drank too much and Jamie wouldn’t let me drive home.”

“Why were ye even at Jamie’s?”

Claire bit her lip. She hadn’t wanted to tell Geillis about the fight. “Well after I left dinner, I had a fight with Frank and I knew what you would say so I went to Jamie for advice.”

Geillis’s jaw dropped as she looked positively scandalized. “Excuse me? You went to...a man for advice?”

“You and Louise have admitted that you don’t like Frank,” Claire defended. “So I went to Jamie just to vent and get some fresh advice that I knew wouldn’t immediately be “Dump his arse!” You know?”

Geillis was doing deep breathing. She looked more composed before speaking. “I can understand that you’d like some varied advice but I am just offended that my right as yer best friend went to him.”

“It went to him because I already knew what you’d say,” Claire repeated.

Geillis rolled her eyes and started to walk from Claire. “Whatever.” She stopped and looked back at Claire, making up her mind. “What was the fight about?”

“He seems concerned that I don’t miss my old life,” she simplified.

Her friend scoffed in reply. “Of course ye dinna miss yer old life. Yer old life didna have me in it weekly!”

Claire couldn’t help but smile at her friend. She wrapped her arm around Geillis’s shoulders as they walked off towards the guys. “I certainly do appreciate that you’re so much more present in my life.”

Geillis slung her arm around Claire’s waist as they walked. “You better be. I’d be crushed if it werena mutual.”

“Jamie!” a familiar voice called from behind Claire. She turned around and saw John running toward the group of them. “Hello again, Claire! Just smashing to see you again so soon.”

Claire laughed as she greeted John. “Yes, I didn’t expect it would be again so soon.”

“Well who am I to turn down a fun game of football?” John asked with a laugh.

Jamie stared at him. “Ye invited yerself,” he said in reminder.

John shrugged. “Tomato, tomahto.”

Jamie watched Claire and John with a smirk. “Perhaps we should make it Scots versus Sassenachs.”

“Or I could be on your team,” Claire offered. She puffed out her chest proudly. “I’m quite good.”

Jamie shook his head. “Nah, I think we should see how the Sassenachs fare on their own.”

Geillis eyed him warily. “I dinna ken if that’s a good idea.” Jamie looked at her skeptically. She looked over at Claire and then stepped closer to Jamie, whispering in his ear. Claire wondered what she could be saying to him.

Jamie eyed Claire impressively. “Seriously?” he asked Geillis. She nodded insistently. Jamie looked over at Geillis. “Well then what do you propose?”

“No,” John interrupted, laying his arm over Claire’s shoulders. “I think we can take on you Scots.”

Rupert laughed heartily. “Oh ye wee thing. There are two of ye. Ye really feel confident saying that?”

“Well aren’t there more coming?” Claire asked. Her timing was incredible as Willie approached the group with two friends close behind him. “Yes, Claire, there are,” she answered to herself.

“Hello, wee one,” Rupert greeted. “Tell us, are yer two friends English?”

Willie looked at Rupert almost nervously. “Aye. But we live in London now, Rupe. Ye canna expect me to only be friends wi Scots. I’d only be friends wi the three of ye and Angus. I’d like better than that.” Claire choked back a laugh.

“Dinna fash, Willie, that wasna why I was asking,” Rupert assured him. “You two are with the girl and the dark haired one,” he instructed. Turning to Jamie he said, “Looks like ye get yer Scots vs Sassenachs match after all.”

“I still think it’s a bad idea,” Geillis insisted.

“Teams are formed, Geillie,” Rupert dismissed. “Let’s play.”

Claire still wondered why Geillis was so against the idea as she walked over into a huddle with John and the other two Brits. John nodded at Claire as she joined them. “Hello, men and Claire. So what are your names?” He asked.

“I’m Charles and this is George,” one of them answered, pointing to the other as he introduced them both.

“Great,” John replied. “I’m John and this is Claire and we’re deeply interested in beating some Scottish ass.” Claire couldn't help but laugh at John’s dramatics. “So what positions do you play?”

“I’m always the goalie,” George said.

“I’ll play whatever,” Charles followed.

John looked over at Claire. “What about you, Claire? What's your favorite position?”

She gaped at him. “There are so many other ways you could have phrased that, John. Good lord.” She shook her head at him. “But anyway, I can handle offense.”

“Great,” John said with a smile. “Then it’s sorted. Claire and I will take offense and we’ll rely on you gents for defense. That work?” All three of them nodded in agreement. “Smashing!”

They abandoned their huddle and took their positions. The Scots quickly followed suit. Jamie and Willie stood opposite Claire and John. “You babies ready to have your diapers changed?” John asked in an attempt at trash talk.

“Wow, John, that was so bad. You really need to work on your trash talk,” Claire remarked.

“Yeah, it’s not great,” Jamie agreed with a laugh. “It never has been.”

Rupert feigned a whistle blowing from his position as goalie and the match began. Claire quickly got the ball down toward the goal but Rupert stopped it easily. The game carried on and seemed pretty evenly matched. Her team scored first, much to their delight. But only a few minutes later, the scots scored as well.

It had been quite a few years since Claire had played football. She was feeling quite proud of herself for how well she’d been playing. Until she tripped. While trying to pass the ball to John, her feet stumbled over it. She flew forward and landed against Jamie, both of them falling to the ground. Her face felt hot as she looked down at him wearing a matching shocked expression. Feeling flustered, she ended up laying on top of him for far too long before she jumped up.

“Claire, I ken ye lived in America for a long time,” Geillis teased, “but we’re no playing American football, ye ken. No tackling!”

Jamie laughed as he got up from the ground. Claire rolled her eyes. “It was clearly an accident!”

“Seemed intentional from where I stood,” Rupert disagreed. “Jamie gets the penalty kick.”

“Oh come on!” John argued! “No way!”

The two teams began arguing heatedly. Geillis finally whistled to get everyone’s attention. “Alright, Jamie it's your call. You were the only one close enough to tell if it was an accident or intentional.”

Claire felt better then. She trusted that Jamie would testify that it was just an accident. He looked her over before turning to his team. “I think I need the kick.”

Claire’s jaw dropped. She glared at him, fueled by surprised and a competitive spirit. He didn't want to know the thoughts running through her head. “Oh that's bullshit, Fraser! You’re just mad that we’re ahead!”

“I canna say that I agree. Ye certainly flew at me and knocked me to the ground, Sassenach,” Jamie argued with a smug grin. “I think I need the penalty kick.”

“Well there ye have it,” Rupert said with finality. “Line up.”

Claire squinted her eyes and shook her head a Jamie. “Betrayal,” she muttered.

She lined up next to John. Charles stood on the other side of him. He leaned over to John, but she could still hear him. “This is why you never want to bring women into the game. They just mess it all up.”

Claire whipped her head over to glare at the boy. John was already staring at him in disgust. She turned to look straight ahead where Jamie was setting up his kick. He bore an angry expression. The fire in his eyes made Claire wonder if he’d heard Charles’s statement as well. The ball was on the ground and he stepped back. He stared at the goal and then at the line of people before running to take his kick. The ball landed squarely against Charles’s crotch. Claire couldn't help but laugh loudly. “Oh shit,” Jamie called. “Sorry!” But the small grin on his face made him seem less than sorry.

By the time the game ended, Claire had easily proved to the doubters on her team (or the others) that she was a more than capable football player. She scored for her team and assisted John plenty as well. In the end, the Sassenachs beat the Scots by two goals. To say they were humble winners would have been a lie. The competitive side of Claire came out too strongly to be humble. John did a celebratory lap around the field, finishing by running up and smacking Claire on the ass. Startled, she stared at him and then looked over at Jamie. He just shrugged with a smirk as he walked off the field.

They all convened at the pub near the park. “I just want to say, for the record, that I was right!” Geillis proclaimed, raising her beer in the air.

“Oh do shut up, Geillis,” Rupert pleaded.

“Right about what?” Claire wondered aloud.

With a sigh, Jamie explained. “Geillis said we shouldna put ye on the other team. That ye were too good.”

Claire choked on her beer. “I said the same thing! I told you that I was good but would you listen to me? No, I’m only a woman!”

The men all groaned but Geillis smirked in agreement. “Claire, that wasna what it was about!” Jamie promised.

“No, it was that Jamie foolishly latched onto the idea of a Scottish team and an English team,” Rupert said disgustedly.

“Oh whatever,” Jamie replied, waving him off. “Twas still a fun time.”

“Even if you lost. Sorely,” John said, feeling the need to remind them.

“Alright, young one,” Rupert warned with a grin. “Ye need to watch yerself.”

John laughed as he sat down next to Rupert and began to chat. Geillis sat and joined the two of them, seemingly curious to find out who the newcomer really was. Willie sat talking with the friends he’d brought along.

Claire couldn't help but watch as John conversed with their friends. “I don't know what you were so worried about,” she remarked to Jamie. “He seems to get along fine with them.”

Jamie looked over and watched the group talking. “We’ll see. I’m still not convinced.”

She watched as John was animatedly telling some story to the others. Claire hesitated asking her question, but it had been brewing in her mind since the night before. She turned to Jamie. “Okay, so I have a question that I need to ask but I don't know how to ask it without potentially coming off badly.” Jamie looked at her with a confused expression. “So John...he...well I just wondered if...could he…?” she was stammering terribly as she tried to ask him. Jamie was laughing at her. “Do you know what I’m trying to ask?”

“I think so,” he said with a grin.

“And you’re not going to help me out?”

He laughed. “Nope.”

“You’re the worst,” she said as she smacked his arm. She straightened up and leaned closer to him. “Is John...gay?” she asked hesitantly.

“Totally,” Jamie replied before taking a drink.

“So I shouldn't be offended by the fact that he smacked my arse at the end of the game?” Claire asked further.

Jamie burst out laughing again. “If he was straight, he’d have had a well aimed kick at him as well.”

Claire gasped and pointed at Jamie. “So that ball to the groin was on purpose!” Jamie made a guilty face, then nodded. Taking a deep breath, Claire asked, “So wait, when he said he had a disapproving roommate…?”

Jamie looked over at her, his face falling a bit. “It’s not John’s drinking that he’s disapproving of. Not that he even drinks very often. No, it’s the fact that he’s gay. And the worst part is that his roommate is his brother.”

Claire gaped at him. “What? His own brother?” Jamie nodded sadly. “Why doesn’t he just move out?”

“He can’t afford to yet. He hasn’t been working long enough to make enough money,” Jamie explained.

She huffed in response before looking back over at him. “Wait, how did you find out?”

Jamie leaned back and grabbed his glass, settling in to tell a story. “It was after our first victory as a team. We all went out to a pub and were getting quite sloshed. John sat down next to me and we were talking. I didn’t know him incredibly well at the time but I liked him fine. At one point he was just staring down at his beer, and note, he was quite a few in. So then he said to me that it was too bad he couldn’t go home that night.” Claire shook her head at his story. “I asked him why and he said his brother didn’t let him come home if he’d been drinking. He never came right out and said it was because he was gay, but he said enough to lead me to believe so. And so I told him he could crash on my couch and somehow we formed an agreement.”

Claire stared at Jamie, a bit in awe of him. “You know, I bet John is constantly happy that you’re in his life.” Jamie scoffed, brushing off her compliment. “No, really, I bet he is. It’s not that hard to imagine. I mean you’ve never struck up such an agreement with me but I am also very grateful to have you in my life,” she admitted.

He looked over at her and smiled as he draped his arm across her shoulders. “Well I could say the same, Sassenach.”

She returned his smile before she got distracted by her vibrating phone. Looking to where it sat on the table, she noticed she had a text from Frank. “Have ye decided what ye’re going to do about that?” Jamie asked as he removed his arm from around her shoulders.

“I’m going to go back to Boston,” Claire said simply. A look of horror covered Jamie’s face. “Oh not permanently,” she quickly added. “No, I’ve just been looking for flights back for a long weekend.”

Jamie sighed in relief. “Oh Christ, ye scared me for a moment. I thought ye were just giving in and leaving.”

Claire chuckled. “Nope. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.” Jamie shook his head in amusement.

“So what will ye do?”

Claire shrugged. “I really don’t know. I don’t even know when I’m going yet. I just want some clarity.”

“Clarity sounds like a good idea,” Jamie agreed. “But I must admit, I’m happy ye’re not leaving again.”

She met Jamie’s gaze. “Don’t worry,” she said, squeezing his hand. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Chapter Text

I GOT THE PROMOTION! Big party at my place Friday and ye ALL better be there!

Claire laughed at Rupert’s text to the group. She had to look at her schedule to see if she could make it. Looking at the calendar, it said Friday was the 20th. Her heart hurt at the realization that April 20th was so close. This year it would be so much harder. Maybe she wouldn't end up making it to the party.

When Friday evening came, Claire was sitting in pajamas on her couch. Her phone rang and she reached to pick it up. “Hey Geillie,” she answered.

“Hey! So do ye think we have to bring a gift for Rupert? I’ve never been to a promotion party,” she mused. “Is it rude not to?”

“I’m not sure,” Claire admitted. “But I can't make it.”

“What?” Geillis cried. “Is it Frank?”

“No, it’s not Frank. I...I’m just having an off day. I can’t make it,” Claire replied vaguely. She figured no one would really understand. “Please give Rupert my best though,” she added.

“Claire-” Geillis began.

“I’m sorry, but I won't be there. Okay?”

There was a long pause on the other end followed by a sigh. “Oh alright. I’ll pass on yer kind words.”

“Thank you,” Claire said before quickly ending the call.

~~~

Jamie was four blocks from Rupert’s when he felt his phone ringing. “Geillis? What’s up?”

“Have ye talked to Claire?” she asked quickly.

Jamie’s steps slowed. “No. What's wrong wi Claire?”

“I don't know. But she’s not coming tonight. She said she was having an off day or something stupid like that but she wouldn't tell me what was wrong,” Geillis explained.

“So why are ye calling me?”

“Because if Claire didna go to me, I thought she’d go to ye. So I didna ken if ye kent what was wrong wi her.”

Jamie halted. “No. I haven't talked to her at all today. I talked to her Wednesday and she seemed fine.”

“Well something’s off,” Geillis said unhelpfully.

“Do ye think she broke up wi Frank?” Jamie wondered, ignoring the feelings that came along with that thought.

“I asked her if it had to do wi him and she said no,” Geillis answered. “Besides I’d hope that when that time comes she would come party with us instead of wallowing.”

“Sure.”

“Anyway, I just wanted to see what ye kent. I’ll see ye at the party in a few.”

“Aye,” Jamie replied absentmindedly.

After Geillis hung up, he called Claire. She didn't answer her phone. Sighing to himself, Jamie stared down the road toward Rupert’s home. Though he probably had no real need to be, he was worried by Geillis’s statements. What if something was wrong with Claire? Jamie looked down at the bottle of Mackenzie whisky in his hand. It was originally a gift for Rupert but his instincts were telling him that it might be put to better use elsewhere. Making up his mind, Jamie turned in the other direction and hailed a cab to get to Claire’s.

~~~

Claire was part way into the next episode when there was a knock at the door. She looked around the room and it was a mess. Kleenex and pictures were scattered like confetti. Why did someone need her? Sighing, she got up to answer the door. The sight on the other side took her breath away. “Jamie? What are you doing here?” she asked, surveying him. “And why do you have whiskey and bags of food?”

Jamie started to walk in the door before answering. “Well, Geillis told me somethin was wrong wi ye but that ye wouldna say what. I didna ken what would fix what ails ye so I have whisky, Chinese food, and ice cream. Ye can choose which is the winner.”

Claire stared at him where he stood comfortably in her kitchen. She was in awe of the man he was. “What about Rupert’s party?”

He shrugged. “Seemed like ye might need a friend more than he did.”

Tears sprang back into Claire’s eyes unwelcomed. “You seriously skipped the party because I was having a bad night?”

Jamie looked a bit uncomfortable. “A bit, aye.”

He was opening his mouth to explain more but Claire cut him off as she threw her arms around him. He quickly returned the gesture, running a comforting hand up and down her back.

“Are ye alright?” he asked hesitantly.

Claire sniffled, pulling back and looking at him. “It’s April 20th. It’s the anniversary of the day my parents died.”

Jamie’s face fell at her explanation. He quickly wrapped her back in a tight hug. “I’m sorry, Claire,” he said into her hair.

Just the act of him trying to comfort her caused her to cry harder. She hated the way that worked sometimes. “I’m okay. Really!” she said unconvincingly. “It's just that this is the first year since Uncle Lamb died. And no matter where I was, he’d always come see me so I didn’t have to be alone on the anniversary of their deaths. And now he’s gone too. I lost the last tie I had to my parents.” Claire stepped back and brushed the tears off her face. “I’m okay. It’s just…”

“Some years are just harder,” Jamie finished, answering from his own personal knowledge.

Claire nodded as more tears fell, though some for him this time. “Exactly.” She looked over at the counter, examining the treats he’d brought. “I say we start with the Chinese food. I was just about to order in dinner so your timing was perfect!”

Jamie smiled before opening the bag and plating some food for both of them. They carried the food over and sat on her couch to eat. “I always liked yer parents,” Jamie said unprompted. Claire looked over at him with a sad smile. “Yer mam made the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had in my life,” he mused. Laughing, he continued. “In fact I told my mam that once and she was not at all happy about it.”

Claire laughed at his memory. “I can imagine. You know I actually have my mother’s cookie recipe.”

Jamie’s head whipped over in her direction. “What? Ye’ve lived here for two and a half months and ye’ve just been keeping that to yerself?”

Claire’s head tilted back as she laughed. “Well I do have a job that keeps me rather busy. I also didn’t realize I was holding onto the holy grail.”

“Aye well ye should ken that ye are holding on to it.”

She beamed at him. “I promise I’ll make you some cookies some time. Though I can’t promise that I’m as good a cook as my mother was. There could be some discrepancy.”

“I’ll try not to get my hopes up too much,” Jamie teased. They sat there in a comfortable silence as they ate. “I could never pin down yer dad,” he continued. “I was always in some place between fear and respect.”

“That’s probably just what he would have wanted,” Claire said with a chuckle.

“Do ye recall that day we accidentally broke the window in the kitchen?”

Claire’s eyes went wide as she remembered the day. More often than not, Claire was over at the Frasers’. But that day, Jamie had come over to the Beauchamps’. They’d been eating snack at the kitchen table when, like most things did, it turned into a game. She couldn’t remember now how it had escalated, but it had reached the point where they were both fighting for a small cutting board and it frisbeed out of both their hands and went through the kitchen window. Only one pane of four was broken, but they were completely terrified. It was loud enough that her mother had come into the kitchen to observe them panicked and trying to figure out how to fix a window. Jamie frantically ran towards Claire’s room after yelling “We need glue!” It took 7 words from her mother to make Claire think her life was over. “Just wait til your father sees this.” When her father had arrived home, Jamie and Claire were still in the kitchen, fearing the worst. Claire was in tears and Jamie was nearly in tears as they heard her father’s footsteps coming down the hall. Her mother pointed out the window before stepping back to see his reaction. He brought them over to the window as he got a good look at it. He focused back on them before he put his elbow through another pane of the window. The two of them gasped loudly at the damaged he’d done himself. “Look, these windows are easy to break,” he said reassuringly. “But that doesn’t mean it’s okay. It means that you two need to learn how to be gentle creatures,” he said with a knowing look at both of them.

“I still can’t believe we never got punished,” Claire marvelled all these years later.

“Well ye might not have,” Jamie said in an irritated tone. “I got my arse skelped after I told my parents what had happened.”

“You did?” Jamie nodded in reply. “You never told me that,” Claire remembered. “I’d have felt bad then.”

“Ye dinna feel bad now?” Jamie asked with a grin.

“I mean, I feel a little bad. But not terribly bad.”

Jamie shook his head at her. “I was so sure yer father was going to say I wasna allowed over to yer house anymore. Hell, I think in the hours we waited for him to come home, I’d even wondered if he’d let me be yer friend after that. I was quite worried that he wouldna.”

Claire smiled at him. “Given how often your mother watched me, I doubt he could have really enforced that.”

“Fair,” Jamie agreed. He looked lost in thought, twenty years back in memories. “Yer home always smelled of cinnamon,” he commented. “I thought that was lovely.”

Claire watched Jamie as he talked about the things he remembered about her parents and her life with them. Suddenly, a realization hit her like a bolt of lightning. When Uncle Lamb died, she’d thought she’d lost her last tie to her parents. But the man sitting next to her on the couch was proof that she hadn’t. He was skipping a party with their friends to sit and reminisce with her about her parents. He would always be a tie back to her childhood and back to the joyful life she’d once had. It was as if Jamie was her tie to the happy feelings she used to have. It only took a moment for her mind to make another leap. Meeting Jamie as adults had helped her be happy again.

He looked over at her and she realized she was staring. “What is it?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she replied quickly, shaking her head. “Just a lot of good memories is all.”

“Aye,” he agreed. “Life was easier then, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

Jamie chuckled to himself, making Claire look back over. “I was just thinking about how I begged yer Uncle Lamb to let ye stay.”

“You did?”

He nodded. “Aye. I told him we could take really good care of ye and there was plenty of room for ye in our house. I even tried to get my parents to tell him ye were welcome to stay wi us. But they, like yer Uncle Lamb, told me that ye needed family. I was very mad at all of them.”

Claire stared at him and wondered suddenly what her life would be like if she’d spent the rest of her childhood at Lallybroch instead of travelling around the world with her uncle. “I never knew that,” she said quietly. She reached out and grabbed his hand where it sat between them. “That’s quite sweet.”

“Well I suppose I was scared to lose my best friend,” Jamie admitted, squeezing her hand.

“Do you think we could call Ian really fast and you could say that bit again?” she asked with a grin. “We used to fight about that.”

Jamie laid his head against the back of the couch as he laughed. “Of course ye did.” They soon fell into silence again before Jamie pointed to the television. “So what are we watching?”

“Don’t judge me,” Claire begged.

“I’m no going to judge.”

“It’s Downton Abbey,” she admitted. “I started watching it after I moved to Boston and it made me miss England but also feel really English. I don’t know. I was just in the mood for it tonight.”

“I’ve never actually seen it. How far into it are we? Have I missed much?” Jamie asked, settling into the couch and getting comfortable.

Claire noted that they were sitting quite close on the couch. “Not far at all. It’s only episode three.”

“Perfect. Let’s do this,” Jamie said, looking over at her with a grin.

They sat watching the episode for a few minutes before Claire paused it. Jamie looked confused. “Thank you,” she said in earnest.

“For what?”

“For everything you’ve done this evening,” she clarified. “You’re a really amazing person. Not many people would give up everything just to comfort someone else. Between you and me, I called Frank earlier when I was feeling down and he answered and rushed me off the phone. So I just want to say that I am truly, very thankful to have you in my life. As you can probably tell from the state of this room, I was having a harder time with it earlier.”

“And now?” he asked.

“Now I’m still a bit sad, but I feel better.”

“I’m happy to help. I sadly completely understand what it’s like,” he reminded her.

She nodded. “I hate that you do.”

“I hate that we both do,” he replied with a sad smile.

Claire hit play on the show and they stopped talking about their parents. It was comforting enough to just have him there.

“Ye mentioned Frank,” Jamie said a while later. “What ever happened with you going to Boston?”

Claire sighed. “I haven’t had the time off yet. I also have been trying to sneakily see what Frank’s schedule looks like but he’s been weirdly evasive. I’ll get there eventually.” Jamie nodded in reply.

They continued watching the show until they both fell asleep on the couch. Claire woke up in the middle of the night against Jamie. She moved slowly so as not to wake him. Before she went to her bedroom, she covered him with a blanket and turned off the tv. She laid a hand gently against his shoulder in a silent thanks. Taking a moment before walking to her room, she couldn’t help but stare down at him. It seemed like every time she spent time with Jamie, she felt grateful that she’d found him again. Tonight had been no exception to that. He always knew what to say and somehow was always there for her. She’d been in London for two and a half months and in that time, he’d become the constant in her life. It was weird how things happened that way. It had pretty much happened the same way when they were four years old. He’d been her confidant and best friend. Those roles had pretty quickly been assumed by him once they reunited. Shaking her head, she walked away from the couch, thankful for him.

Claire woke up early the next morning and couldn’t fall back asleep. She tiptoed into the kitchen and started making some tea. As the kettle heated, she stood with her back to the living room as she looked at her phone. “What are ye making?” Jamie asked croakily from the couch, making her jump a foot.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” she nearly screamed as she recovered.  

“Sorry,” he whispered, still not moving yet.

“I was just making some tea. Would you care for some?”

He nodded before closing his eyes again. Once the water was ready, she made them both a cup of tea. She sat down on the couch at his feet and put his cup on the table. “Your cup is how you like it and on the coffee table. But you don’t have to get up yet. I’m in no rush to get anywhere,” she said with a pat on his leg. He nodded with his eyes closed. She shook her head and grinned at him as she enjoyed her cup of tea.

A knock at the door shocked her from her sense of calm. Who would be showing up at her door just after 8:00 in the morning? She placed her cup on the table and jumped up. Jamie opened one eye and looked up at her. “Go back to sleep,” she urged. “I’ve got it.” Another knock came before she could reach the door.

Opening the door revealed one of the last people she expected. “Surprise!” he exclaimed.

She stared at him in shock. “Frank?”

Chapter Text

“Frank, what are you doing here?” Claire asked hesitantly, blown away by his appearance on her doorstep.

“I’m here to surprise you!” he said as if it should be obvious. “I also have some news. I have an interview at Cambridge. Isn’t that incredible, Claire?”

“Wow, yes, it is,” she murmured, still in shock.

“Listen, if you don’t mind, could I come in? I should have taken a whiz at the airport but I was in too much of a hurry to get here,” Frank said, trying to push his way past her. She shook her head to clear her mind and stepped aside. “Thanks. Do you mind grabbing my bag from the hall?” he called over his shoulder.

“Sure,” she replied, walking out to get it. She walked back in and bumped into Frank’s body, frozen in place. “Frank it’s down that hall,” she pointed in the direction of the bathroom.

He turned back and looked at her before pointedly looking back at Jamie on the couch. In her shock at Frank’s presence, Claire had completely forgotten that Jamie was sleeping on her couch. Her stomach tensed as she waited for Frank’s reaction. Jamie seemed to be asleep though she didn’t know how. “Jamie,” she called.

He opened his eyes and jumped. “Ifrinn,” he muttered. He looked at her and noted her tense face. Throwing the blankets behind him, he stood up and held out a hand to Frank. “Ye must be Frank. Nice to meet ye.”

Frank ignored his hand and turned back to Claire. “What is a man doing in your home? It’s barely past 8:00 in the morning?”

Claire looked over at Jamie before looking back at Frank. “He spent the night.” Frank’s eyes narrowed in her direction. “But he slept on the couch the whole time.”

“Why was he even here?”

Claire stared at Frank in disbelief. “Am I not allowed to have friends over?”

“I don’t see any other friends over,” Frank commented, looking around the room pointedly.

“Well in this instance there weren’t other friends over,” Claire admitted. “Look, I was having a hard day yesterday and he brought me dinner and we hung out to take my mind off of things. All we did was talk and watch Downton Abbey.” She glanced over at Jamie to see him scowl at her. “Oh Christ, are you still mad that I accidentally said Matthew died?”

“Yes,” he said exasperatedly. “You made me watch it and then ruined it for me.” Claire rolled her eyes before turning back to Frank. Jamie beat her to the punch. “Look, Frank, I understand how this must seem to ye. But I can assure ye that I was just here as a friend to make sure she was alright. To help take her mind off her sadness.”

“Yes, well her boyfriend is here now so you can abandon your duties,” Frank said almost cruelly.

“Frank,” Claire scolded. “You can’t -”

“It’s fine, Sassenach,” Jamie said, lifting up his hand. “I should go anyway.”

Claire walked over to the door to see Jamie out. “Jamie, wait.” He looked down at her, hurt showing on his face. “I just want to say thank you for...everything. It meant a lot.”

He nodded with a small smile. “Not a problem, Sassenach.” He moved like he was going to hug her but froze. After shooting a glance over his shoulder toward Frank, he patted her on the shoulder and walked out the door. Claire took a few moments before she released her anger.

“What the hell was that, Frank?”

He stared at her, shocked by her outrage. “What do you mean?”

“How could you treat one of my friends like that?” she yelled. “You call me constantly when I’m out with my friends and say that you’re just uneasy about it because you don’t know them and then that’s how you act when you do meet one of them?”

“Claire, imagine for a second that you came to surprise me and I had a woman sleeping in my home. How would you react?” he countered.

“I think if you told me that nothing happened, I’d trust you,” Claire defended. “Yesterday was the anniversary of my parents’ death. Jamie knew them. When I told him that was what was bothering me, he stayed and tried to take my mind off of it. I tried calling you and you rushed me off the phone, if you’ll recall.”

Frank glared at her. “I was trying to surprise you, damn it.”

“You could have just blown the surprise to explain why you couldn’t talk,” Claire retorted. “Instead you just came off as incredibly insensitive.”

Frank rolled his eyes. “I’m so sorry that I’m not able to be at your every beck and call. But that doesn’t mean you can just turn to the next man in your phone.”

“Oh my god,” Claire scoffed. “Do you still have a problem with the fact that I have male friends?”

“I don’t even know these men, Claire!”

“You just had the chance to meet one and you were a total asshole,” she yelled. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. “You’re here in London. Perhaps it’s time you met my friends. Maybe that will help.”

Frank took a moment to weigh her idea. “Perhaps it is. Maybe I will feel better if I know the people.”

“Great,” Claire said with a huff. “I’ll see who can get together tonight.” She walked over and picked up her and Jamie’s teacups. “Are you hungry? We could go get breakfast.”

Frank’s face softened. “Sure, that sounds lovely. Let me go change. I’ve been in these clothes far too long.”

Claire nodded. “Yeah, take your time to freshen up.” As soon as Frank walked off toward her room, she picked up her phone.

“Hello?” Geillis answered, sounding half asleep.

“Geillis, I need your help and I don’t have much time so you better just listen,” Claire began. After Geillis agreed, she continued. “Frank showed up at my door this morning. We got in this fight and the resolution was him agreeing to meet my friends. So you need to get everyone, and I mean everyone, here. Okay? Jamie may be hard to convince but you have to, okay?”

“Why will Jamie be hard to convince?” Geillis asked.

“Well he was here this morning when Frank showed up and Frank was not exactly polite to him.”

Geillis laughed on the other end. “Of course he wasn’t. I gotta say, I could almost side with Frank on this. Who wouldn’t be concerned by finding a much more gorgeous man in their girlfriend’s home?”

Claire rolled her eyes. “You can gab about it with him later. Will you do it?”

“But of course I will, Claire,” Geillis assured. “I’ll make sure they’re all there.”

“Thank you, Geillie!” Claire breathed. “I’ll see you this evening.” She quickly hung up the phone.

“Alright, Darling, I think I”m ready,” Frank said, walking into the kitchen.

“Great. Wait just a moment and I’ll change clothes quickly and we’ll go,” she said, walking away from him.

They were sitting at a cafe near her home for breakfast as Frank was filling her in on his interview. “It would really a fantastic opportunity if I can land it,” he finished.

Claire nodded. “And how did you hear of this opening?”

“My office mate is friends with the man who’s leaving the position,” Frank explained. “He told my office mate about the job but he can’t move right now. He mentioned it to me and I pursued it.”

Claire held her cup of coffee and thought through everything he’d said. Not once when he was talking of how great the job would be had he mentioned her. “So let me ask, did you pursue this job because it’s Cambridge or because I live in England?”

He looked up from his plate with a confused expression. “What’s the difference?”

Claire nearly laughed. “There’s a big difference. If you looked into it because I’m in England, it makes it seem like you changed your mind. But if it’s just because Cambridge would be incredible for your career, that means this would be all about you.”

Frank rolled his eyes. “Why can’t it be both, Claire? It’s like you’re trying to pick a fight. Haven’t you wanted me to come visit since you moved here?”

She swallowed harshly. “No, you’re right. I have. And here you are. So when is the interview?”

“On Monday,” Frank said nonchalantly.

Claire kept her remarks to herself. Frank was right, it would only start a fight. Still, she couldn’t help but put the pieces together. He didn’t come to England to see her. He came for his interview. Perhaps if he moved here, his motivations wouldn’t matter. They’d be together again and that’s what would matter. She could only hope that they’d fight less if he actually moved here.

 

The rest of the day had passed easily enough. Claire took Frank around to some of her favorite spots and they wandered about until they needed to get ready for her party. She tried to focus on the positives of the day as she quickly straightened up her home. It was easy to come up with a few positives. Frank had actually come to London. They spent most of the day happy and together. Her friends were coming over and were actually going to meet her boyfriend.

She just kept hoping it would actually be as good a night as possible. The food and booze were set out on her kitchen counters as they waited for her friends to arrive. “You’re seriously only going to have pizza?” Frank asked, looking skeptically at the stack of pizza boxes behind her.

“Everyone loves pizza. It’ll be fine. And these people are really only choosy about their alcohol. But no worries, I know I have that nailed,” she assured. Why did she feel nervous? A knock at the door shocked Claire into action. “I’ll get it!” she yelled needlessly, running for the door. The door opened to reveal Louise on the other side. “Hey! Thank you for coming on such short notice.”

Louise smiled deviously. “Oh, I’m not here for you, Claire.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I mean, you know I love you, but I’m here to see what a train wreck this is going to be,” Louise admitted with a laugh.

Claire gaped at her, feeling a bit hurt. “Why do you think it’s going to be a train wreck?” she whispered.

“Frank doesn’t like Geillis or me, so we’re doing you no favors. From what you’ve said, he doesn’t like any of your friends,” Louise explained.

“He liked Joe,” Claire defended.

“Okay, so he liked Joe. But Joe is a certain type of man. He’s gonna hate Angus. And likely Rupert. And he’s for sure going to hate Jamie. So that’s already half the group. Plus, as I’ve already said, he doesn’t like me or Geillis. Sorry, but it’s going to be a train wreck,” Louise concluded with a shrug as she walked past Claire.

And just like that, Claire’s nerves about the evening hit a new high. She was shutting the door when someone yelled for her to wait. Opening it back up, she saw Willie approaching. “Willie, hey!” she said cheerily. “Welcome!”

“Hey, Claire,” he replied. “How’s it going?”

She laughed. “Well, I may tear through half the alcohol in the kitchen, but good.”

Willie laughed with her. “Ye needn’t be nervous. We’re just excited to finally meet the famous Frank.”

“Are you excited for the same reason Louise is?” he looked confused. “Because it’s going to be a disaster?”

He shook his head. “No. I just thought it would be fun to all spend time together.”

“Weren’t you all together last night?” Claire asked.

“Well sure, but I love when we all hang out,” he said simply.

Claire smiled at him and brought him in for a hug. “That’s really sweet. Come on in. There’s pizza and liquor.”

“What more can ye ask for?”

“Thank you!” she cried. She wrapped an arm around Willie’s shoulders as they walked towards the kitchen. “Do you think you could say that again when Frank can hear you?” she requested quietly. He laughed and nodded at her before greeting the others.

Slowly, a few others showed up. Claire threw her arms around Geillis when she walked in the door. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I am so happy you’re here.”

Geillis smiled smugly. “As ye should be. I’m a delight to have around.” Claire rolled her eyes but pulled her friend further into her home. “So how uncomfortable is it? I see Rupert and Angus beat me. And Willie? But he’s late to everything. I didna realize I was that late. My apologies. Ah, and Louise is here.”

“Yeah, she’s the only one Frank knows and she hates him,” Claire pointed out. “So it’s a bit uncomfortable.”

“What did ye expect, Claire?”

She sighed in reply. “I don’t know. Oh shoot, Willie is about to open a bottle of whisky that’s just for Rupert! Willie wait!” she yelled running off toward the kitchen.

Geillis followed Claire over toward the refreshments. “Why does Rupert get his own bottle?”

“Because I felt bad that he came to my get together but I didn’t go to his,” Claire explained as she recapped the bottle and held it to her body.

“Ah, dinna worry. As many people were there yesterday, I’m not even sure he’d notice ye werena there,” Geillis reassured.

“Well it’s the principle of the thing,” Claire maintained. She walked over to Rupert where he was sitting talking to Frank.

“Well ye know, I feel as though I already ken ye, Frank. It’s like ye’ve spent so much time wi us given how often ye manage to call Claire while we’re together,” Rupert teased.

Claire gasped. “Here, this is for you,” she said, interrupting him and handing him the bottle. “Congratulations! I’m sorry I couldn’t make it last night.”

Rupert stared at her with a touched look on his face. “Claire, ye’re too sweet.” He stood up and gave her a bear hug. Sitting back down, he looked over at Frank. “Ye’ve got yerself a good one, lad.”

Frank smiled at Claire before looking back at Rupert. “I know.”

“Do ye?” Angus asked, setting Claire on edge.

“Holy shit,” she whispered to herself.

“What kind of question is that?” Frank demanded.

“I was no intending to be rude, I’m just asking. We all love Claire. She’s bonny,” Angus continued. “It just seems as though ye dinna spend much time together.”

Frank nearly glared at Angus. Claire couldn’t stay to watch the rest. “Geillis, if you love me, please go interrupt that conversation over there between Angus and Frank. Thank you.”

“Ooh, what’s happening over there?” Louise asked, looking over excitedly.

Geillis laid a hand on Claire’s shoulder. “I’m on it.”

Geillis wandered over to sit next to Angus. “So Frank, how are ye finding England? Claire said ye have some big interview.”

Frank was still staring angrily at Angus. His expression softened a bit as he looked over at Geillis. “Yes, I have an interview at Cambridge.”

“That’s a great school,” Geillis said approvingly. “Would be a wonderful opportunity.”

Frank nodded. “Yes, it would be. I’m just hoping it works out. I lived here in England until university. It would be nice to be back here.”

Geillis bit her tongue as she exchanged a meaningful look with Rupert. Angus scoffed before standing up. “Excuse me. I need another slice,” he said as he walked away.
“So ye’d be moving here for the job then?” Rupert asked.

“Yes, if I should get it,” Frank answered, apparently oblivious to what Rupert was actually asking.

Geillis looked over at Claire who was laying into Angus, likely about his earlier comments. “It’s gonna be a long night,” she muttered to herself.

 

Thankfully, the conversation, and the party as a whole, carried on. It had been an hour and nearly everyone was there. One exception was noted. Claire wandered over to where Geillis was standing back from a boring conversation. “Hey, you said you got everyone to agree, right?”

Geillis looked over at Claire with a knowing smile. “Missing someone?”

“Don’t. Please, not in front of Frank,” Claire said quietly.

“Sorry,” Geillis quickly replied. “Look, when I called Jamie earlier, he said he’d be here. But then again, he also told Rupert last night that he’d be there and he didna show up there.”

“Well that was because of me,” Claire informed her. “I’m just worried that it’s the same reason he’s not showing up now.”

“I’m sure he’ll show up,” Geillis assured. “It’s no like Jamie to miss.”

Claire sighed. “We’ll see. I’m just...I’m worried that the conflict this morning is going to change things,” she confessed. “And that will really hurt. He’s become quite important to me.”

“Honestly, Claire, do ye hear -” Geillis started. She cut off as Frank approached the two of them.

“Your friends are certainly...fun,” Frank said hesitantly. Claire followed him to the kitchen as he filled up his drink.

“Yes, they are,” she defended. “And this is them being rather tame.”

Frank’s eyes widened. He was going to reply as the door to Claire’s flat opened. Everyone cheered for Jamie as he entered the room. “Goodness, he just walks right in. Doesn’t even knock,” Frank muttered.

“It’s a party,” Claire reminded. “Half the people here didn’t knock.” She shook her head and walked over toward Jamie. “You made it,” she said a bit breathless.

“Aye,” he said shortly. “Sorry to be late, I was waiting on my date.”

Though Frank was standing in the kitchen, Claire’s stomach sank. She shook her head slightly as she tried to process her confusion. “Date?”

“Hello everyone!” John called as he walked in the door. “Claire!” He wrapped her in a big hug. “Ugh, so good to see you again!”

“John!” she cheered. Claire looked over at Jamie. “You brought John?”

He nodded. John walked over to the group of their friends to say hello. Jamie stepped closer to Claire. “I thought I’d show Frank that there are in fact some men who dinna want to sleep wi ye.”

Claire dropped her head and covered her face with her hands. “You’re terrible,” she said, trying to stop herself from laughing. She pointed to the kitchen. “The pizza’s cold by now, but there’s pizza and alcohol.”

“And aren’t those the staples to any great party,” Jamie said with a grin. He walked over toward the kitchen, where Frank was still standing. Claire couldn’t ignore how Geillis and Louise crept over toward the kitchen as well. They were immune to her glares. She couldn’t help but move towards the same spot. “Frank,” Jamie said, reaching out to shake his hand. This time Frank actually shook it. “Good to see ye again. Having a good time wi our gang?”

“Sure,” Frank said flatly. “Seems like a lively group.”

“Oh to be sure,” Jamie said, moving to reheat some pizza. Claire, and likely Frank, couldn’t help notice that Jamie seemed at home in Claire’s kitchen. Jamie opened her freezer and closed it quickly. “Did you finish that ice cream?”

“We finished it last night,” she reminded him. “What, were you going to have some now?”

“What? We did not,” he denied.

“Yes, we did. Remember? I said ‘Oh shit, we shouldn’t have had those extra bowls.’ But of course you don’t remember. You were far too caught up in World War I starting,” she replied with a pointed stare.

“You’re the one who made me watch it!”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Geillis interrupted. “Instead of coming to Rupert’s celebration last night, the two of ye sat around watching Downton and eating ice cream?”

“I didn’t even say it was Downton,” Claire gasped.

“Oh I ken what ye watch when ye’re sad, Claire,” Geillis reminded her.

Louise was laughing hysterically. “So Frank, what are your thoughts on Downton?”

Frank furrowed his brow. “I never really cared for it. I thought the whole world overhyped it.”

There was a few beats of silence before Geillis turned back to Jamie. “So how far did ye get into it?”

“We started the second series but it got quite late and I fell asleep,” Jamie informed her. He looked over at Claire. “Oh also, I made the mistake of mentioning it to John and now he says he wants to pick your brain about it.”

Claire laughed. “He’s more than welcome to.” She could see the daggers Frank’s look was shooting at Jamie. “I’m going to go see if anyone over there needs a refreshment.”

Jamie cleared his throat as Claire walked away. “So Frank, did ye have a good flight?”

Frank eyed him suspiciously before answering. “It was alright. Not too bad.”

Jamie nodded, unsure of how to answer. “I think Claire was quite excited to see ye here.”

“Yeah,” Geillis chimed in, noting Frank’s silence. “When she called me this morning she seemed so surprised. She couldn't wait to have us all meet ye.”

Louise was looking back and forth between all of them. “That's nice,” Frank replied shortly. Jamie couldn't help but roll his eyes. The man was giving them nothing to work with.

Thankfully, John walked over at that moment. “Hello all,” he said kindly. Looking over at Louise, he stuck out his hand. “I don't believe we’ve met. I’m John.”

She smiled and shook his hand. “Louise. I’m Claire’s friend.”

John turned to Frank next. “And you, of course, must be Frank! The whole reason we’re here!”

Frank nodded uncomfortably. He didn't seem used to someone as upbeat as John. “I suppose I am.”

John smiled. “I have to say, I just love Claire. She’s so wonderful! And truly, an amazing footballer.” Jamie and Geillis laughed and nodded.

Frank looked at him in confusion. “What do you mean footballer? Claire doesn't play football.”

Jamie, Geillis, and Louise all looked at Frank with equally confused expressions. “Yes she does,” they said in unison.

“She played a lot at uni,” Geillis remarked. “Even joined a women’s intramural team that played on the weekends.”

Louise laughed loudly. “I'll never forget her reason for starting to play more seriously. She was walking by a men’s game and one of the guys made some comment about how she couldn't keep up with them and she worked her way into the game and then kicked that guy’s ass. It was amazing to watch!”

“That was more or less how our match went as well,” Jamie said with a grin.

“Ugh, those idiots on our team who were rude to her. You should have kicked more balls at them, Jamie,” John agreed. He looked over at Frank and observed his discomfort. “So you’re a history professor, right?”

Frank cleared his throat. “That's right.”

“That sounds fascinating. What's your period of interest?” John asked. Frank seemed genuinely pleased that someone wanted to talk about him and not Claire. John and Frank kept chatting and walked over to Claire’s table.

Geillis smirked at them. “This seems like it should be an interesting chat. I believe I’ll go sit with those boys.”

“Have fun,” Jamie called.

Louise looked over at Jamie. “So what do you make of Frank?”

“It's hard to say.”

“Because you’re trying to be positive for Claire’s sake?”

“No,” Jamie denied. “Because I canna get much out of the man. It's hard to get to know someone who already hates ye.”

“Yes!” Louise cried, drawing a few eyes to her. She waved them off and looked back at Jamie. “I love when I’m right.”

“Right about what?”

“I knew he was going to hate you,” she said with glee.

Jamie stared at her for a moment. “Ye wanted him to hate me? Why?”

“I didn't want him to hate you. I just knew that he would,” she clarified.

“Okay, why?” Jamie pressed.

“Why wouldn't he hate you?” Louise asked, her words wounding Jamie a bit. “I mean obviously he would. You’re a generally attractive man who spends a ton of time with his girlfriend. There was no way he wasn't going to hate you. Can you imagine how much Claire must mention you to him? I can't even be mad at him for hating you. If I had a boyfriend and he had a best friend who was an attractive lady who treated him better than I’ve ever treated him, yeah I’d feel the same way.”

“Ye canna think that he realizes he treats Claire terribly,” Jamie pointed out. “I mean what kind of man would he be if he kent that and still acted the same way.” Louise shrugged. “And could ye really say I treat Claire better than he does?” Jamie scoffed. He didn't like the strange guilt he felt by what she said. Although he knew without a doubt he did treat her better.

Louise laughed. “I’d say Angus treats Claire better than Frank does and he poured an entire beer down her back once because she insulted his team.”

Jamie choked back a laugh at the memory. “Oh I remember that. Christ, he was quite drunk.”

“I’m just saying,” Louise continued. “He must know from meeting you this morning that you treat her better.”

“Ye heard about that?” Jamie asked.

“She told Geillis. Geillis called me.”

“Ah.” Jamie looked over at Claire. She was laughing at something Rupert was saying. He hated the part of him that felt like he had to protect Claire. It shouldn't be his job to feel that way. He shouldn't be the one worrying if Frank’s appearance in London was doing her more harm than good. It shouldn't be him worrying if Claire was too anxious with the events of the evening to be enjoying it. He should just get to be the friend who drops by to drink and hang out, not feel like he has to also take care of the hostess’s emotional state. She looked over in his direction and smiled when she caught his eyes on her. He smiled back tensely. Looking over at Frank, he felt guilty for the way that a simple smile affected him.

 

Just over at the table, John was still talking with Frank as Geillis added a comment every so often. “So how do you know Claire?” Frank asked. “I’m afraid I haven't heard your name much.”

John sat forward to tell his story. “Oh well, I’m Jamie’s friend so I met Claire through Jamie. There was one night I was a bit drunk and I went to crash on Jamie’s couch and Claire was there.”

“Ah. Was she?” Frank replied.

“Yeah. I think she’d had quite a bit to drink as well so we both ended up staying the night,” John recalled. Geillis cringed at his statement. He looked at her and shrugged.

“You were both there?” Frank questioned. John nodded. “She spent the night in an apartment with two men. Huh.” He looked back at the bottles on the counter. “Excuse me.” With that, he stood up and walked over in between the counter and the kitchen island.

Geillis smacked John on the arm. “What were ye thinking saying that to him? He’s going to freak out on Claire!”

John stammered to respond. “But...nothing happened.”

“He’s no going to think that. He’s just hearing that twice now Claire has spent the night wi Jamie,” Geillis scolded him.

“But they’re just friends!”

“Oh you naive baby,” Geillis said with a roll of her eyes. She stood up walked over toward the couch with John close behind, arguing with her. They passed Claire as she was walking back toward the kitchen.

 

Jamie was still standing against the island talking with Louise when Frank went to pour himself another drink. He dropped the cap and crouched down to get it. Jamie was half listening to Louise as he wondered why Frank didn't stand back up.

Claire walked over to them. “I think everyone seems like they’re having a good time,” she said cheerily.

“Jamie, I have to ask,” Louise said, “Why’d you bring your little friend?”

“Well as I told Claire earlier,” Jamie said with a grin, “I thought it would be good to see that there are some men who dinna want to sleep with Claire.”

Claire rolled her eyes at him again. He chucked to himself. “Ah,” Louise replied. Jamie lifted his glass to take a drink. “And would you consider yourself one of those men?”

Jamie choked on his drink. “Louise!” Claire scolded.

“Christ, Louise! What kind of question is that?” Jamie demanded once he could speak again.

Louise shrugged innocently. “Just asking.”

Jamie glanced behind him quickly. “That's ridiculous to even ask. Claire’s like my sister.”

Claire deflated at Jamie’s comment. She quickly tried to shake the feeling off. “Of course, Louise. Don't be ridiculous,” she replied, though she didn't have the same force behind her comment as she’d wished. She looked back at the couch. “Why don't you guys help me move the table chairs over there so we can sit as a group?” Jamie and Louise nodded and they went to help her.

She didn't know where Frank had been when he suddenly rejoined the group. The rest of the evening was a bit of a fog. She tried to shake off the disappointed feeling but it stayed with her. Sometimes she forgot why she felt that way but then her mind would loudly replay it. The party passed easily with them just sitting around talking. Claire was trying her best to make sure Frank felt included but at the same time she just felt off.

Her friends all left around the same time, bidding goodbye to her and Frank. She hated how thankful she was when Frank claimed he was jet lagged and went to bed without her. As she cleaned up her home, she scolded herself for how down she still felt.

The next day, Frank surprised her by informing her that he would be spending the night in Cambridge. While it made sense, it solidified in her mind the fact that he came for the job and not for her. “Will you be stopping back through here?” she asked, already knowing his answer.

“Well I’ll be coming back for my flight, but you’ll be at work,” he reasoned. “But if I get this job, we’ll get to see plenty of each other.” He reached out and grabbed her hand as he smiled.

She plastered on a fake smile and nodded. “That’s right.”

 

He left midday to take the train to Cambridge. She wondered, as she shut the door behind him, what the point even was of stopping to see her.

Monday morning, Claire ran into Geillis at the hospital. “So...how was the rest of yer weekend?”

Claire shrugged as she walked down the hall with her friend. “It was alright. Yesterday afternoon Frank took the train to go to his precious interview.”

“And?”

Claire looked over at her. “And...he’s there now probably. Then he’ll fly back to Boston. I’m sure he’ll call me to tell me how it went.”

Geillis was silent too long. “So he’ll call ye? And, uh, if he moves here, ye’ll be one happy couple?”

Claire stopped and looked at Geillis. “What are you asking?”

Geillis sighed. “So you and Frank are...still together?”

“Yes.”

Geillis faked a smile and started walking down the hall again. Claire fell in line beside her. “Great. We all had a lovely time on Saturday! In fact, Louise was inspired. She wants to host a potluck tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Claire asked. “During the week?”

Geillis shrugged. “Why not?” She looked over at Claire. “Can ye be there?”

Claire nodded slowly. “I bet so.”

“Wonderful!” Geillis cried before parting ways with Claire. Claire stared after her friend, feeling something had been off during their conversation.

 

Tuesday night, Claire took a plate of her mother’s chocolate chip cookies to Louise’s. The group was mostly all there. Only Willie was missing by the time she showed up. Claire fixed a plate from what they’d brought and sat down in one of the chairs arranged in a circle. She couldn't help but wonder why Louise had put them that way.

Most people had joined her and were eating and chatting. Louise was pacing by the door. Claire tried to get Jamie’s attention but he wouldn't meet her gaze. She wondered, yet again, if Frank had messed up her relationship with Jamie. There was a knock at the door, making Geillis and Louise both sigh in relief. Louise opened the door and smacked Willie in the back of the head. “You’re right on time for Claire’s party but you’re late for this ?” she demanded. “Take a seat! No food.”

Willie tried sputtering a defense. “But the little Englishman isn't even here!”

“Yes I am!” Claire heard John say. She whipped her head around in confusion. Where was John? She hadn't seen him. Jamie held up his phone to Willie, explaining where John’s voice was coming from.

Claire’s confusion only heightened. “Okay, what is going on?”

Everyone unconsciously sat forward in their chairs. Geillis took a deep breath before she spoke.

“Claire, this is an intervention.”

Chapter Text

“Excuse me?” Claire asked, choosing to not believe her ears.

“This is an intervention,” Geillis repeated. “Look, we all had a lovely time together on Saturday, truly. But after we left yer home, we all convened on the nearest pub and came to the same conclusion. Frank isna good for ye. And I’m sorry, but now we all have the proof right in front of us. We assumed that you would have also come to the same conclusion but then ye told me that ye were still together. So thus, an intervention. We, as yer closest friends, want to share our concerns with you about the relationship that you are still in.”

Claire closed her eyes and sighed. “Are you bloody serious?”

They all nodded. “We are,” John announced from Jamie’s phone. Geillis cleared her throat. “Sorry, Geillis, I didn’t mean to step on your toes.”

“It’s fine,” she assured. “Claire, this is all coming from a caring place. We, as yer friends, dinna want to see you in a relationship that is not for yer best interest. And it was revealed to us all on Saturday night that it is not in yer best interest. Now, we want this to be a friendly and cordial space,” Geillis said as she looked around at each person in the room. “And that includes ye, Claire. We’re just trying to help.” She took a deep breath and looked sympathetically at Claire. “Frank’s no good for ye, dear. And he’s gotta go.”

Claire shook her head. “You guys really don’t -” she started before Louise cut her off.

“Geillis forgot to mention that perhaps this will go simpler if ye let us say our pieces first and then yell at us.”

Claire glared at her friend. “You want me to sit here silently as you all tear apart a piece of my life?”

Louise’s mouth pressed into a flat line. “Yes,” she said after a moment of hesitation. She looked around the circle. “Now, who would like to start?”

Geillis sat down in her chair and raised her hand. “I will.” Pulling out a piece of paper from her pocket, she looked at a list of reasons she had for Claire to end her relationship. “Ye ken that I’ve never been Frank’s biggest fan. And every time I see him, I hope that will be the time it changes. But to this day, it still hasn’t. And I think the reason why that is is because his treatment of ye has never improved.” She looked at Claire apologetically. “Since we met as youngsters in biology, I’ve always seen ye for the strong, wonderful woman ye are. I fear that Frank has never seen ye as more than arm candy. Ye deserve to be with someone who shows ye more respect.” She nodded in finality.

“I must agree with Geillis,” Rupert said from Claire’s left. She looked over at him, wondering what his personal soap box would be. “We’ve only kent ye for a couple of months, Claire, sure. But in that time, we truly have come to enjoy yer presence. Geillis didna have to threaten us all to be there that night because we all wanted to be there to support ye. We all kent it was important to ye for us to meet yer man. But I never got the impression that he cared owermuch to meet us.”

“Aye, I would agree,” Willie spoke up. “He didna engage much in conversation. I think the person who got the most out of him was John.”

John spoke from Jamie’s phone. “Look, Frank seems to be a good enough man,” John began. The whole room erupted in yells. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” he cried. “I’m not finished!”

“Alright, continue,” Jamie urged. Claire looked at him but he still wouldn’t meet her eye.

“As I was saying, Frank seems fine enough, but not for you. The only reason I got the most out of him was because I allowed him to talk about him . When Geillis, Louise, Jamie, and I were standing with him and talking about how much we all enjoyed you, he was short and gave curt answers. But when I asked him about his work, he couldn’t stop talking. It shouldn’t be that way. He should be as passionate about you as he is about his work. If not moreso.”

“Well put, young one,” Rupert replied. “I must say, I observed a similar trend. He essentially said to Geillis, Angus, and me that a job was the only suitable reason for him to move here.”

“Aye, he did,” Angus confirmed. “That was when I left the conversation because I kent I’d lay into the man and ye’d already gotten angry at me for something I said to him.”

Claire looked over at Geillis. “Did he really say that?”

She nodded sadly, holding Claire’s gaze. “I asked him about his job and he said it would be nice to have a reason to move back to England.”

“Claire, we could all go on for a while about odd things we observed about him on Saturday, but I should hope that you know deep down that it goes further back than this past weekend,” Louise said delicately. Her face showed that she was nervous. Suddenly, she sighed and threw her hands up in the air. “I mean, for God’s sake, Claire, he didn’t even go to your uncle’s funeral.”

Claire closed her eyes and grimaced as the rest of the room reacted.

“What?” Jamie asked, disbelievingly.

“Ye must be joking,” Willie demanded.

“But he was like yer parent,” Rupert pointed out needlessly.

“Yes, he was,” Claire replied softly, opening her eyes again. “But Frank had a conference he couldn’t miss and I was too grief-stricken to push him on it.”

Jamie looked over at Geillis. “Did ye ken this?” Claire made a mental note that he’d apparently talk to the others, but not her.

“Of course I did,” Geillis answered. “I was there. Louise and I went to the funeral.”

“Goodness,” John echoed into the room.

Claire was starting to feel humiliated. She couldn’t help but wonder how long they’d keep talking about all the things wrong with Frank. The list in her mind was fairly complete enough as it was. She knew they were just trying to help, but she couldn’t stop feeling defensive. Claire was already angry at Frank, but there was still a small part of her that wanted to defend him against these attacks from her friends. It took all the strength she had not to do it. It wasn’t as though she’d been feeling particularly loyal to him after the last weekend.

“Who wants to say their piece next?” Louise asked to a silent room. When no one immediately volunteered, she decided to go herself. “I imagine long distance relationships are hard no matter how well suited the people are,” she began. “But I hated how Frank always blamed you for it. I know that you offered him multiple chances to go with you and he always declined.” She gestured to Claire as she looked around at the room. “Who wouldn’t want to follow this?”

“Ye dinna have to convince us, Louise,” Rupert reminded her. “Ye’re supposed to be convincing Claire.”

“Right,” she said with a quick nod. She gestured again to Claire, this time staring at her. “Who wouldn’t want to follow you? You’re fantastic.” Claire smiled and shook her head. “But then it seems as though once you moved, he conveniently forgot that you wanted him to go with you. You were just the devil for moving and everything that was wrong in your relationship was on you. That’s not how a healthy relationship works. And for that matter, you shouldn’t have to rotate which of your friends you vent to because you’re venting too often to go to just one.”

“Actually,” Claire interrupted, “I switched the friend I was venting to because I already knew what you’d say.”

“Well either way,” Louise continued. “I truly hoped that if the time came that Frank actually found his way over here, we’d get to see you be as happy as you can be. But you weren’t. You looked so anxious and terrified of what he’d think of us. I wanted you to prove us wrong and seem so in sync with Frank. But he could not be further out of sync with you.”

“Yeah,” John chimed in. “He didn’t even know how great you are at football!”

Geillis groaned. “Good lord, man, not everything revolves around football.”

“No, you’re right, it doesn’t,” John agreed. “But you and Louise even said that her playing goes back to uni and he still didn’t know about it. It makes it seem as though he doesn’t listen or doesn’t care.”

“I’ll be honest, after the first interaction I had wi the man, I rather avoided him the rest of the night,” Angus admitted. “But it was because he didna seem to care enough.”

“He’s right, I’m afraid,” Willie agreed. “I thought perhaps he was just a lowkey, laid back man and that’s why he was so reserved and quiet throughout the night. But then I saw him over at the table speaking wi John and Geillis and his face lit up and he seemed excited about whatever he was saying. That was the only time I saw that from him.”

“Claire, ye deserve to be happy,” Geillis said with a kind look her way. “Ye deserve to be happier than ye were when he was around. Ye deserve to be with someone that ye’re not nervous to introduce to yer friends.” She paused and left Claire staring at her, thinking through her statements. “I mean, fer crying out loud, ye told me that ye were worried he’d messed up yer relationship wi Jamie!” she exclaimed, pointing at Jamie for emphasis. Jamie’s head whipped over to look at Claire, concern showing on his face. So he could look at her, Claire mused.

“Geillis!” Claire cried, feeling a bit betrayed by her friend.

“Sorry, but it’s true. Which relationship is more important to ye? The unhealthy one ye have wi yer boyfriend who lives an ocean away who will only move for his own motives or the kind friends ye have that support ye through everything?”

Claire could feel tears stinging her eyes and she willed them not to fall. Geillis was quickly abandoning her rule of going easy on Claire.

“Geillis is right,” John spoke interrupting the silence. “We will support you through anything. If you decide it’s easier to stay with Frank or that he’s where your heart is pulling you, we’ll still support you. Because we’re your friends.” A few of the people in the room opened their mouths to refute him but then nodded in agreement. He was right: they would still be her friend. “But I think there’s one thing that’s really important to think about. If you break up with Frank or if you stay with him, you’re not doing it for us. You’re doing it for you. We’re voicing our opinions because we want you to be happy. Your choice doesn’t really affect us all that much. It’s just you. So you should choose what makes you happy. And there’s really only one thing to ask.” He paused. Claire stared at the phone that had migrated closer to her throughout the intervention. “Does Frank make you happy?”

The familiar question flooded her senses, dragging her back to a night where she was filled with whisky, annoyance at Frank, and a sense of comfort with the man across from her. She looked up at Jamie, realizing he must have prompted John to ask the question. They were his words. It was his question that she’d never answered that night. She stared at him as he continued to look down at his hands.

Handing the phone over to the person next to her, she stood up suddenly. “I appreciate what you all were doing here, but I have to go.”

“Claire!” a few of them cried, trying to stop her.

She grabbed her container of cookies and walked off toward the door. Turning back, she looked at Geillis. “I didn’t really eat that much and a lot of this looked good. In repayment for this ambush, you could bring me a plate of it to work.” She turned around and walked out the door, closing it swiftly behind her.

Claire allowed her tears to finally fall once she reached the street. She was rushing down the sidewalk, trying to ignore her name being called behind her. A hand on her arm stopped her in place. She turned around to see Jamie panting in front of her. “Oh, so now you’ll acknowledge me?” she asked bitterly.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I felt...conflicted about their idea but I went wi it because they all thought it was right. But I didna know how to look at ye knowing what we must be doing to ye.”

“What do you want?” she asked in a biting tone. She wasn’t in the mood to make him feel better at the moment.

He hesitated, clearly picking up on her mood. “I just...I wanted to see if ye were alright,” he replied, reaching a hand out before quickly dropping it.

“Seriously?” she breathed. “How would you feel if all your friends gathered together to tell you all the terrible choices you’d made regarding someone who’s been a part of your life for three years?”

Sighing, Jamie responded. “I expect I’d feel like shite,” he replied defeatedly. “I’m truly sorry, Claire.”

“You know what the worst part of it all is?” He shook his head in response. “I was already planning to break up with him,” she informed him with a sad smile.

“What? Well why did you not say that up there?”

“No one ever asked me. The only thing they did ask was for me to be silent as you all yelled at me about my terrible mistakes,” Claire defended. “When Geillis asked me at the hospital if we were still together, I said yes. We are still together. I didn’t want to tell her yet that I’d been seriously considering ending it. I wanted support, not “hell yeah!” or something like that. No matter how much I’ve realized that we aren’t well suited anymore, Frank has still been a part of my life for the last three years. I didn’t want to tell them and then have them crudely suggest I break up with him over a text.”

Jamie nodded in understanding. “I hope ye know that we really did have good intentions. I’m sure it must have been overwhelming, but...we care about ye.”

Claire wiped away a tear falling down her cheek as she breathed harshly. “No, I know that. It’s just...the thing Louise said about wanting me to be so happy because he was here. I wanted that too. But I wasn’t. I was questioning every single thing he did. And I tried to tell myself that he was there to see me but by the end of the weekend, I knew he wasn’t. It wasn’t until I closed the door on him leaving, just over 24 hours after he’d arrived, that it hit me. It was just convenience that I was there. And that was when I decided that I needed to end things. But I still haven’t decided how to. So all tonight did was make me feel worse for not having the guts to do this earlier. Like when I moved here. I could have had all these months to have fun without worrying about him. I know you all meant well but it felt like shit.”

Jamie closed his eyes in shame. He stared down at his feet as she continued. “I should have been able to answer your question the first time you asked it. No, Frank doesn’t make me happy,” she said bluntly, making him look up at her. “I’m not an idiot. I know I’m not happy with him. But it was familiar. I’ve gone through a lot of changes recently, significant losses, and even though I wasn’t happy with him, it was familiar. I could tell myself that it was because we were long distance and that’s why there was strain.”

She paused and took a deep breath. “But then he showed up and it was painfully obvious how unhappy I was. And it didn’t even feel familiar anymore. I’ve changed.” Her tears fell harder as she braced herself to admit more. “And now I know that I need to end it, but I’m stalling because I’m scared of what comes next.” Jamie pulled her closer, wrapping her in a hug, running a hand up and down her back.

“Ye’re so brave, Sassenach,” he whispered to her in a soothing voice. “Ye can handle anything.” He paused as he held her. “Ye already have handled so much in yer life. I think ye’ll find this is the easy part.”

She pulled back slowly from his embrace. Wiping her cheeks, she nodded at him. “I certainly hope you’re right.” With a sigh, she continued, “I’m going to go home. I need to think.”

He nodded in understanding. “Alright. But listen,” he said, making her look up at him, “what ye said to Geillis...about me?” She could feel her cheeks blush as shame coursed through her. “That’ll never happen,” he assured her with a hand on her shoulder. “I’m still here. And I always will be,” he promised with a smile.

She returned his smile and gave him another quick hug. “Thank you, Jamie.” She turned to walk in the other direction before he called to her again.

“Oh, and by the way, the cookies taste just the same!”

Claire couldn’t hold in the small laugh. Her smile grew as she took the few steps back to him and opened the container. “You can have another if you’d like. But the rest will be devoured tonight in my processing of this evening.” He grinned and reached in for another one. “Hey, uh, please don’t tell them what I told you.”

Jamie looked up at her and watched her for a moment. “Yer secret is safe wi me, Sassenach.”

She nodded her thanks and they parted. Claire’s journey back to her home was filled with so many conflicting thoughts. Part of her was thankful for her friends for doing what they thought would help. Another part of her was still bruised by their approach. She knew that things with Frank should have ended months ago, but it didn’t help her decide how to go about actually ending it.

In the end, it became quite simple. Claire got home from work a week later and before she’d been home even an hour, Frank called her. They’d barely spoken since he’d left for his interview. She wouldn’t call him first because she was planning to end things. He didn’t reach out either until that night.

“Hello?”

“Claire, I have great news! They’ve offered me the job!” Frank said with no proper greeting.

“Congratulations,” she said, hoping her voice had any emotion to it. “So will you accept it?”

“But of course I will,” he replied as if she was an idiot.

“Well before you make up your mind, I want give you some advice,” Claire said carefully. “Choose to accept it based on whether you want it.”

“But I do want it.”

“What I mean is, don’t accept it because of me,” she tried again.

“I wasn’t going to. I was doing this for me,” he replied, a bit rude.

“Let me be clear then,” Claire said, hoping to make things plain. “I won’t be a factor for you anymore, Frank. So if you were taking this job because it’s in England and I’m in England, you don’t need to do it for that reason. But if you’re taking this job because it’s something that’s great for you, then congratulations.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “Claire, are you trying to break up with me?”

“No,” Claire replied quickly. “I am breaking up with you.”

“What the bloody hell, Claire?” Frank yelled. “Why? What, so you can fuck your friend Jamie without any guilt?”

Claire laughed at his response. “Seriously, Frank? Perhaps this is why I’m doing it. Maybe it’s because you don’t even trust me. Or maybe it’s the fact that for the last several months, you haven’t supported a single thing I’ve done. Even when you came to visit me, you couldn’t seem to stop picking apart everything in my life. Maybe I’m doing this because we’ve changed and I’m not happy any longer. Whichever one you choose, I’m sorry to say that this relationship is over.”

“This is your fault,” he spat. “You’re the one who left.”

“I came here to take care of a sick relative,” she reminded him. “I also begged you to come with me and you wouldn’t even consider it. You were more than happy to try and convince me to stay. I was expected to change my life for you, but you couldn’t fathom doing it for me. Even this job of yours now. If we weren’t ending our relationship, you still wouldn’t be taking this job for me. It’s for you. I’m sorry, but I’m not staying in a relationship that is so one sided. And actually, I’m not sorry.”

She was saying more than she’d intended but she felt so energized that she had to keep going. “I’m happy here in London, Frank. And realizing that I’m happy made me also realize that I haven’t been happy in a long time. I’m sorry if that’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth. It’s why I feel I have to end this.” She took a deep breath. “I truly am happy for you with this new opportunity. I wish you the best, Frank.” He started to sputter and yell, but she wouldn’t hear it. “Goodbye, Frank.”

Clicking the end button on her phone, Claire felt more alive than she had since he’d shown up at her door. His reaction only doubled down on her reasons to end it. No matter how misguided they might have been, her friends had been right. He wasn’t good for her. Now that it was officially over, Claire felt lighter. She picked her phone back up and hovered her finger over Geillis’s number. With a sigh, Claire relocked her phone and set it back down.

After quickly changing her clothes, she grabbed her purse and phone and decided to do something she hadn’t done in a long time. Claire went out for a drink by herself. As she sat at the bar alone, she silently toasted the good years she’d had with Frank and at the same time celebrated the freedom she now had. It was a truly freeing feeling to be out for the night, knowing she wouldn’t be interrupted by his call. Suddenly, her silent toasts also mourned the nights she’d wasted on him since she’d moved to London. As she finished her first glass, she realized that Jamie was right. What came next wouldn’t be that scary at all. With that Claire realized she still had her whole life ahead of her. It wasn’t the end, but the beginning. Cutting her ties with Frank helped her see that her friends were right. She had a lot to offer the world. The confidence boost she was having was amazing.

Suddenly, she wished her friends were there to celebrate with her. She looked forward to girls nights with Louise and Geillis that she’d missed because she had to skype Frank. She thought of all the nights out she could enjoy without Frank’s face appearing on her phone, bringing down everyone’s moods. In the span of a few minutes, Claire was done thinking back on the good times she’d had with him and instead was looking forward to all the good times she would have without him. She didn’t call her friends and instead chose to keep this feeling to herself for the moment.

Claire caught the bartender’s attention and ordered herself another drink. She was only down the street from her flat, after all. As he placed another dram in front of her, she made one final silent toast. It was a simple one. “To me.”

Chapter Text

It probably seemed questionable to her friends, but by pure coincidence, Claire’s schedule at the hospital picked way up after the intervention. She was hardly ever free for more than a spare night here or there. It had been a few weeks since she’d actually gotten the whole weekend off. Geillis knew how busy she was and Claire hoped she’d passed it on to the others.

As it was, Claire hadn't immediately felt like spending time with the group after the intervention. No matter how many times she reminded herself that it was all well intentioned, she still felt a bit raw. Their messages may have been in her favor, but their delivery stung. It was the first time since she’d moved to London that she didn't necessarily mind being busy. That way she had some time to get over the hurt she felt each time she thought about it again. In the end, they’d been right; Frank obviously had to go. Claire was still pleased that she'd finally dropped the ax. But she still didn't know how to be around her friends just yet.

It had been three weeks of surgeries and solitude when Claire got paged to the first floor visitor’s desk. She rounded the corner, wondering what was taking her downstairs when she saw Jamie standing by the desk. He had a nervous look about him. Wondering what he was up to, she picked up her pace. “Well fancy seeing you here,” she greeted with a grin.

Jamie’s face lit up as he looked at her. “Sassenach!” he replied, matching her smile. “It's been a long time.”

Claire frowned. “I know. I’m sure you guys all thought I was avoiding you but I promise you I haven't been.”

Jamie lifted up a hand to reassure her. “Dinna fash, Geillis told us ye’d been busier than ever.”

Claire nodded her relief. “Good, I’m glad.” She tilted her head and looked at him skeptically. “So what brings you here?”

He looked a bit sheepish as he started to explain. “Well as I said, Geillis let on how busy ye were, so I was worried that perhaps ye werena getting yer meals in. So I brought ye some lunch, just in case,” he said, holding up a bag for her.

She stared at him in awe, a smile widening on her face. “That's so sweet of you,” she breathed.

“Och, it’s no much. Just Pret. But I figured if ye needed to eat quickly, it would do.”

“I actually just finished up some paperwork so I do have time for lunch,” she informed him. “Would you by chance have time to join me?”

He beamed at her. “Well I believe so. I did bring some for myself after all.”

“Perfect!” She started walking away from the desk. Turning back, Claire motioned for him to follow. “Come on. I know a good spot.”

There was a small courtyard that was one of Claire’s favorite spots to find some peace. The trees and flowers planted around the place took her further from the hospital, even if she was still on the grounds. Some tables and chairs had been placed around the courtyard, as well as some benches. She led Jamie to a table far from the door. They sat down and began to enjoy the lunch Jamie had provided.

“So other than busy, how have ye been?” Jamie asked.

Claire really didn't have much to say. She’d been incredibly busy. It wasn't as though she could admit that it had been hard for her to want to be with her friends. Shrugging at first, Claire took a moment. “I really have been incredibly busy,” she agreed. “But also I…” she trailed off, not sure how to say it.

“We came on too strong,” Jamie finished. He looked to her for confirmation. “The stupid intervention. It was a grand misstep, aye?”

Claire felt embarrassed but nodded. “Just a bit. I know you all meant well but it hurt.” She took a bite of her sandwich as her comment hung in the air between them. “I really have been busy but I’ve also felt weird. You know?” He nodded. She took a drink of her water before continuing. “I guess something did come out of it.”

“What do ye mean?”

Claire looked up at Jamie. “I broke up with Frank.”

His eyebrows raised. “Did ye?” She nodded. He watched her for a beat before continuing. “And how did that go?”

“Well I wouldn't really take no for an answer,” she replied with a laugh. “He got really angry and accused me of a lot of things. Tried to blame the decline of our relationship all on me. It was all that I expected though.” She made the conscious choice to exclude the comment Frank had made about Jamie.

“How are ye doing?” Jamie asked hesitantly.

“I’m doing really well,” Claire said with pride. “I mean there are times where I do feel guilty. Even when I know it’s stupid. Or a random memory of a good time will pop in my head and make me a bit sad. But it wasn't working. And truthfully it probably hadn’t been working before I left Boston.”

“Ye just needed proof?” Jamie offered.

“That party was pretty good proof,” Claire agreed. She shook her head as she thought back on how uncomfortable the party had been. How she’d bounced around from person to person trying to make sure everything went well and that Frank was happy. Jamie was looking down at his food when her eyes flitted to him. The word “sister” kept screaming inside her head. Claire cleared her throat. “Anyway, so how have you been? How’s work?”

Jamie’s mouth pressed into a flat line. “Alright, I suppose. Dougal’s coming down in a few days so we’re all scrambling to get ready.”

“Oh that sounds just lovely,” she said sarcastically. Groaning, she sat back in her chair. “Wait, does that mean that Rupert will try to invite him out?”

“He likely will,” Jamie confirmed with a sigh. “But ye needn’t worry about that. Ye might still be busy,” he continued with a devious smirk as he put air quotes around the word busy.

Claire narrowed her eyes at him as she shook her head. “If you were smart, you’d be busy then too.”

Jamie nodded in agreement as he took another bite of his sandwich. He stared at her for a long moment before he spoke again. “Willie started the conversation about going out this weekend. Apparently he found a new pub he wants to try.” Claire sat back in her chair and waited for him to continue. “Anyway, if ye’d feel up to it, ye ken we’d all love to see ye again.” She did her best to keep her face expressionless. For some reason, it was fun watching Jamie squirm. “But ye ken, if the three weeks that have passed aren’t enough time to heal the wounds we dealt wi our insensitivity, then we understand.” She gave away her hand when she couldn’t stifle a laugh. “What’s funny?” he asked.  

“It’s just that you were the one who wouldn’t even say anything about Frank during the intervention and yet you’re the one here all but crawling over nails to not offend me and convince me to come hang out again,” she explained. “It just seems silly. You may have been part of it, but you weren’t the one talking.”

He shrugged. “They didn’t send me. I came on my own. They pretty much assumed ye’d never speak to them again after ye left the intervention. Geillis said ye barely talk to her here.”

Claire rolled her eyes. “They’re all a bunch of drama queens. I barely talk to Geillis because I’ve been in so many surgeries. Sometimes I feel like I forget what the world looks like outside of an OR.” She sighed as she leaned forward against the table. “I don’t hate any of you. I promise. And I’m actually off this weekend. It’s the first time in three weeks. So I’ll be there this weekend at whatever pub Willie wants us all to try.”

Jamie’s eyebrows raised. “Really? Ye’ll be there?”

She nodded in confirmation. “I will. Just don’t tell them ahead of time. Let me surprise them. Deal?”

Jamie grinned as he held out his hand for a shake. “Deal.”

~~~

Jamie was standing at the end of the block waiting for a sign of her. He’d already gotten texts from a few of his friends asking where he was. Claire was usually a prompt person. Something must have come up. His finger was hovering over her number when he heard her yelling his name. He turned and looked to see her tearing down the street towards him. She caught up to him, placing her hands against his shoulders to stop her momentum. “Sorry,” she panted. “I got caught up at the hospital.”

He patted her back as she bent over to catch her breath. “No worries, Sassenach. It’ll probably be a better entrance for ye if everyone else is there anyway.”

She stood up and tried to flatten hair against her head. Her curls were piled in a bun on top of her head. “Do you think they’ll be okay with me coming?” she asked in an uncharacteristically shy voice.

Jamie stared at her for a moment. “What do ye mean? Of course they’ll be happy to see ye. Claire, they werena offended that ye kept yer distance. We thought ye were mad at us. Not the other way around.”

She stared at him for a beat before nodding. “Okay. I suppose I trust you.”

“Suppose?” Jamie asked with a laugh.

Claire laughed with him. “Yep. Okay, let’s go. Let’s get this awkwardness over.”

Jamie rolled his eyes as he turned to walk toward the pub. He couldn’t understand why Claire seemed nervous to see her friends. They’d had many conversations in the past few weeks as they wondered if they’d driven her off for good. The intervention had seemed like a good enough plan at the time. Jamie had been able to tell from the moment it started that Claire wouldn’t react well. Who would in that situation? But he’d promised his support and so he sat there and watched her grow more and more frustrated by their friends. He wanted to explain to Claire that they’d just be happy she wanted to spend time with them again. More than anything, he wanted to put her at ease.

The door opened just as they were getting close. Claire grabbed the door and gestured for him to go first. She followed him in and walked right behind him. Earlier in the evening, she’d joked that she should hide and jump out to surprise them. He wondered if that’s what she was trying to do. The table of their friends was easy enough to locate. They were always a raucous group.

“Jamie!” Rupert called, flagging him down. He waved and walked in their direction, Claire still in line behind him. “Where’ve ye been man? Ye’re late.”

“Well…” Jamie began before stepping aside to reveal Claire behind him.

“Claire!” many of them cheered in unison. Jamie looked over at her with a big smile. She looked genuinely happy to see them. Claire patted him on the arm before walking over closer to the table.

“Beauchamp, it’s been too long,” Louise said with a tilt of her head. “We’ve missed you.”

Claire sat down next to her. “I’ve missed you guys too. I’m sorry that I’ve been so dreadfully busy. Geillis told you, surely.” Geillis nodded at her from across the table.

“Oh aye, she did,” Rupert assured. “But we were worried it was more our fault than anythin else.”

Claire shook her head. “No, I promise it wasn’t that.” She paused for a moment. “Although I do hope there are no more interventions coming down the line.”

The group laughed and assured her there weren’t. Claire seemed to relax once she realized that their friends really were just happy she was there.

“Jamie, you made it!”

Jamie turned to see John walking over with a beer in hand. “But of course. I said I’d be here.”

“What took you so long? We’ve already been here for almost a half hour,” he informed him. John followed Jamie’s glance over to where Claire was sitting. “Claire!”

Claire looked up, startled by her name being called. Surprise turned to confusion quickly. “John? What are you doing here?”

“Well ever since that party you threw, I have rather become part of the gang,” he said cheerily. “We’ve missed you the last month.”

“It hasn’t been a full month!” she defended.

“Oh no, of course not,” he agreed. As he walked past Jamie, he muttered, “Bloody close though.”

Jamie fought back the grin threatening to cross his face. He took one last glance at Claire before turning toward the bar to get a drink. She’d only been spending time with them for a few months, and yet in the time she’d avoided them, it had felt off. Jamie didn’t want to admit that it was Claire’s absence that had thrown him for a loop in the past few weeks. Still, there wasn’t much else it could be. Work had been the same. Not talking to Claire had been harder for him than it should have been.

Somehow in the few months she’d been back in his life, she’d become the person he went to first for everything. He’d shown up at the hospital earlier in the week because he was desperate to see her. Even if she was still angry with him and turned him away, he’d have at least seen her. There had been too many nights where he’d pulled out his phone to call or text her before putting it back. He didn’t want to bother her if she still needed time away. The way she’d looked after that disastrous intervention had left him a bit shaken. He hated knowing that he’d helped make her look that miserable. So he never reached out until he couldn’t take it any longer.

Jamie walked back over to the corner they were occupying and handed Claire her drink. She looked up at him, surprise coloring her face. “How’d you know?” she asked with a small smile. He just shrugged and took a sip of his own drink. It had been just the past Tuesday when Claire finally confirmed that she’d ended her relationship with Frank. Jamie could probably count the number of times Claire hadn’t been on his mind since then. Without the excuse of her being in a relationship, Jamie had no reason to not truly acknowledge how he felt. He looked up from his drink to see her laugh with John. All of their friends’ reasons that Claire was too good for Frank had somehow doubled as reasons Jamie shouldn’t let her get away. There was truly a feeling of relief from seeing Claire back among their group. She must have felt his gaze on her because she looked up at him and smiled.

In that instant, two realizations hit him at the exact same time. Number one: he was in love with Claire. Number two: he could never do anything about it.

He remembered the promise he’d made Ian so soon after he’d been reunited with Claire. But Ian didn’t know the pain that not seeing or speaking to Claire had caused him. Ian couldn’t have known how thrown Jamie felt by knowing he’d hurt her. Ian didn’t know how desperate Jamie was to be around her. There was no way he could risk losing her place in his life. The three weeks she’d frozen them all out had been proof enough that he needed her influence and her presence. So much as he might want to, he couldn’t jeopardize his friendship with Claire. It wasn’t as though she felt the same way for him. He could keep his feelings to himself if it meant he got to keep Claire.

~~~

Spending that first night back out with her friends had reaffirmed to Claire how much she needed all of them. The weeks she’d spent apart from them had been necessary, but now she was just pleased to have a solid group of friends. Just as Jamie’d said, they weren’t mad at her for being absent. It had been wonderful to see them all again and fall right back into their fun routine.

In the following weeks, she’d still been fairly busy, but made sure to find time to see at least some of her friends. She didn’t quite know how she actually went three full weeks without talking to Jamie. After that night out, they’d started getting lunch together when they could both manage it. A lot of times, he’d come to the hospital and they’d sit in the courtyard. It was nothing fancy, but it always made Claire feel better about her day.

It was a rare Friday night that she had off and no one had suggested to go out. Claire was actually at home, laying on her couch, enjoying a nice evening in. A knock at her door roused her from her perch. She wondered who could be stopping by unannounced. Opening the door, she saw John standing on her doormat. “What are you doing here?” she asked, amused.

“Well you know that deal I have with Jamie?” he asked. She nodded in response. “I was hoping I could make that deal with you this evening.”

Claire stepped aside, letting him walk into her home. “Why? What’s up with Jamie?”

“Well he’s on a date tonight so I don’t want to ruin any, er, opportunities that he might have this evening,” John explained.

Claire leaned back against her door, staring at John in confusion. “Jamie has a date tonight?” He looked back at her and nodded in a simple reply. “Jamie as in Jamie Fraser, our mutual friend?”

A smirk spread across John’s face. “Yes. Why, are you jealous?”

Claire barked out a laugh. “Jealous? Me? Never!” She shook her head vehemently and walked past him to sit down on her couch. “No, I’m not jealous. I’m just surprised is all. He never mentioned it to me. He usually tells me everything.”

John pointed his finger at her. “You’re jealous!”

Claire huffed. “Stop saying that! I’m not jealous. Jamie is just a friend. Good for him.” She watched as John planted himself at the other end of her couch. “So he told you that he was going on a date?”

John still looked amused by Claire’s reaction. “Yeah, he just mentioned it in passing. I asked if anyone was going out this weekend and he said he didn’t think so. Then he said he couldn’t go if they did throw something together because he had a date.” John eyed her curiously. “Maybe he didn’t tell you because he didn’t want to rub it in.”

“You think he thinks I’d be jealous?” Claire asked, worried of the image she’d been projecting.

“No, no, not like that. I just mean because you’re pretty freshly single. Maybe he was trying to be nice and not rub in the fact that he’s going on dates when you’ve been thrown back into the dating world,” John explained.

Claire watched him as she thought through his argument. It could have made sense. Jamie was always very protective of her feelings. She still couldn’t fight the feeling of irritation that he didn’t tell her. “Perhaps,” she said belatedly. “Maybe I am a bit jealous. Not of her, but of him. I mean, it’s been a long time.”

“Oh, you’re jealous that he could be getting some later?”

Claire glared at him. “Not that. Well, not only that. It’s been a long time since I went on any kind of date or had a romantic evening. But it’s also been a long time since I had any of that either. Since I moved to London, actually.”

“But Frank was here a couple of months ago,” John pointed out.

Claire nodded grimly. “Yeah, that didn’t happen that weekend.”

“What? Geez, no wonder you broke up with him,” he replied with a laugh.

Claire chuckled. “It wasn’t all him. I had been irritated with him and so I wasn’t really feeling it. The only time we’d have had the day he showed up was before the party and I was in full panic mode. Then he claimed he was jet lagged and went to bed before me. My mind and heart weren’t really in it. I guess that was a pretty good indicator that our relationship was on its last leg.”

“Mmm.” John was silent for a long moment. “So do you think you’re jealous of Jamie having sex because of that or because you want to be the one he’s having sex with?”

Claire laid her head back and groaned. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! John, could you please stop talking about Jamie and I having sex. It’ll never happen.”

John looked at her skeptically. “The phrase “never say never” exists for a reason, Claire.”

“Oh yeah? What if I said that I will never have sex with Angus? What would your response be then?” Claire retorted.

“Fair point,” John conceded. “I would believe that statement.”

“So why won’t you believe it about Jamie?”

John laughed. “Because there is something there! You can lie to yourself all you want, but there is something between you and Jamie. All of us can see it. The only two who claim not to are the two of you.”

“You’ve talked to Jamie about it?” Claire pressed, against her better instincts. Yet again, the word “sister” floated through her mind.

“Well no, but I’m sure he’d deny it too.” She felt disappointed. Clearly it was too much to ask for some insight into Jamie’s mind from someone else. “But come on, you can’t tell me you’ve never thought of it!”

“No, I’ve never thought of it!” Claire said loudly.

“Have you ever read Hamlet, Claire?”

She was confused by his turn in conversation. “Of course I have.”

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” he quoted with a sly grin.

“Shut up, John. Quoting Shakespeare is not going to make me agree with you,” Claire said with a roll of her eyes. “Just drop it.”

“Fine,” he replied, lifting up his hands in defense. “I suppose I just have to take your word. I just don’t get why you had such a big reaction to knowing Jamie is on a date if there’s not something there.”

“Just let it go, John. Please,” she begged. “Talk about something else.”

“Okay.” He stretched out his legs to rest on her coffee table. “We have a football match tomorrow. You should come.”

“You’d want me there?”

“Of course! We usually go out and get food or drinks afterward, no matter the turn out. You could come with us. It would be great!” John encouraged.

Claire shrugged. “Sure. Sounds fun.”

Once the conversation steered away from Jamie, the two of them settled into a nice evening. Eventually John yawned and Claire got up to find blankets for him. He fell asleep on the couch and she wandered back to her room, praying that sleep would find her quickly.

 

She heard a knock at the door and quickly ran to answer it. Jamie stood on the other side with an intense look in his eye. “Jamie, wha-” Before she could finish her question, he crushed her mouth to his, holding her body against him. She quickly responded, running her hands through his hair, pulling him closer if that was even possible. Her back pressed against the wall as he eliminated any space between them. His hands were roaming her body, finding all the places she wanted his touch. Well, almost all. When his hands found her ass, he groaned into her mouth.

He broke away and laid his forehead against hers. They were panting together, staring into each other’s eyes. “It’s ye I want,” he whispered.

She kissed him again hard, before responding. “Then take me.” His hands flew to her clothes, trying to rid her of her pajamas as fast as possible. She followed suit, taking the time to unbutton each button on his shirt. Why were there so many buttons? Her pants and shirt were off and his mouth was on her neck, distracting her from her task.

She was throwing his shirt behind him when he whispered in her ear. “I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe.” Claire quickly went to pull down his trousers, not wanting to waste any more time. They’d wasted enough time as it was. He stepped out of his pants and picked her up, her legs wrapping around him. Her mouth quickly found his again, locking in a searing kiss. She spared no thought to where John might be as he carried her back to her room.

Her back hit the bed and he was hovering over her. She wanted him everywhere at once. His mouth was on her breast, his hand on the other. He was quickly working her up into a state. She reached down between them and grabbed him, making him groan. He was kissing his way down her body when she pulled him back to her by his hair. She kissed him languidly, rolling her hips against him. Panting, she looked up at him, noting the blackness of his eyes. “Jamie, I want you inside me. Now.” He grinned deviously and nodded, returning to kissing down her body. She was writhing under his attentions, wishing he would just do what she needed. Moaning his name got his attention. He left a kiss between her legs before moving back over her again.

He was just about to drive home when she found herself alone. Claire looked around, panting. She was sweating and clinging to her sheets. Her bed was empty and she was fully clothed. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. It was a fucking dream,” she breathed out loud. “Fuck you, John.”

 

When she got up the next morning, John had already left. She found a note on her counter reminding her of the game time that morning. Claire rolled her eyes. She was still incredibly shaken from the dream she’d had the night before. Never before had she had such a salacious dream about someone so close to her. A large part of her insisted that she couldn’t go to the game. There was no way she could see Jamie all hot and sweaty and not freak out. But at the same time, she had promised John that she’d go. A text dragged her from her thoughts. It was John, checking to see if she was still coming. With a sigh, she let him know she’d be there. It seemed important to him. Maybe watching a football game would take her mind out of the gutter where her dream had left it.

Claire had gotten there well before she needed to. A quick survey of the field showed that she’d even beaten Jamie there. But he wasn’t the one she was really looking for. John was standing by a set of bleachers, taking a drink from a water bottle. Claire stomped over and slapped the bottle out of his hand, sending water flying in all directions. John gaped at her, jumping in surprise. “Well hello, Claire. What the hell was that?”

“You bloody bastard,” she said in reply.

“Say what?” he asked, clearly confused.

“You just had to spend so much of the night last night talking about me and Jamie and so what did I dream about last night?”

A large, excited smile graced his face. “Did you have a sex dream about Jamie?” He seemed far too pleased.

Claire slapped his arm. “Yes, you arse. Now I feel so embarrassed. I don’t even know how I’ll look him in the eye.”

“Then why come here?” John asked. “You know he’ll be here.”

“Because you asked me to come!”

John tilted his head as he smiled at her. “Aww, I’m so touched, Claire.”

“Don’t be. I’m still mad at you. You’re the one who put it in my head with all the “You’re jealous so you must love Jamie” shit you were spouting last night.”

“Was it a pleasant dream?” John asked with a shit-eating grin. Claire punched him in the top of the arm. “Hey!” He rubbed his arm as she glared at him. “Are you telling me you’ve never had a sex dream about Jamie before? You’ve known each other for a long time.”

“The last time I saw him before February, I was ten years old,” Claire reminded him. “So yeah, I can say that I never had a sex dream about Jamie. That’s not even the point, though. This is so uncomfortable.”

“Look, you can’t control your dreams,” John offered reassuringly. “On the other hand, though, you seem to be having a strong reaction to this one.” Claire was about to reply when she saw John tilt his head up in greeting to someone behind her.

“Who is that?” she asked, knowing the likely answer.

“Your dream-lover,” John teased.

“You have another arm for me to punch,” she reminded him.

Jamie walked up to stand with them. “Sassenach, I didna realize ye’d be here.” He reached out and touched her back. She couldn’t help but flinch, the memory of his touch in her dream still at the front of her mind. John stifled a laugh as he watched her.

“Yeah, John invited me last night,” she said flatly. “Anyway, I’ll let you guys get warmed up. I’m going to go sit down.”

Jamie nodded at her. “Alright. Ye’ll join us afterward?” He had a hopeful look in his eyes and Claire couldn’t crush it.

“Of course.” She glared at John one more time before walking to take her seat.

The game was rather entertaining for only knowing two people playing. It went by surprisingly quickly. John kicked in a final goal right before the clock stopped, granting a victory to their team. Claire jumped up and down as she cheered for them.

They went to a restaurant after the game ended to celebrate. Claire was sitting at a table by herself until Jamie sat down across from her. John was still over talking to some of his teammates by the counter. “Good game,” she said with a smile as Jamie sat.

He returned the smile. “Why thank ye.” He eyed her for a moment. “So how did John rope ye into coming to one of our games?”

Claire laughed as she shrugged. “I don’t know. That boy must have quite a way with words.” She shook her head before taking a sip of her drink. “He was sitting on my couch and just asked and for some reason, I agreed.”

Jamie’s brow furrowed. “The two of ye were hanging out? I didna realize ye did.”

“Oh we don’t usually. He came over to sleep on my couch,” Claire explained. She leaned into her courage and continued. “He said he didn’t want to ruin any opportunities your date might grant.” Jamie closed his eyes and shook his head. “You never mentioned you were going on a date.” Claire could only hope it came out playfully.

“That’s because it didna seem like a big deal,” Jamie replied. “A friend from work said he wanted to set me up with a lass he kens. I didna want him to but he was a convincing fellow. He promised me that this lass was just perfect for me,” he told. Claire couldn’t help but notice her stomach turning at hearing this girl was perfect for him. “As it turns out, the only reason she was perfect for me was because we’re both Scottish.”

Claire laughed, feeling relieved. She hated the feelings coursing through her. Maybe John had been right and she was jealous. Was knowing Jamie could date someone and find the love of his life enough to make her jealous? According to him, there wasn’t much to be jealous of anyway. Why did she feel like this? She felt strangely protective of him. Her mind took the time to remind her that it was not the first time she’s felt this way. Jamie kept talking and Claire did her best to join in and not let her mind wander.

Everyone was getting ready to leave and Claire had spent most of the afternoon just talking to Jamie. They were standing on the street near Jamie’s car. Claire noticed John hanging back by the door of the restaurant, subtly watching them. “So do ye need a ride home?”

She had some things she needed to talk about with John. “No,” she declined. “Thank you though.”

Jamie nodded. “Anytime.” He moved to get in his car before turning back to her. “Would you want to get breakfast tomorrow? I ken ye say yer breakfasts are always lousy the days ye work.”

She stared at him in awe. His memory of things she said was truly touching. Claire had never met anyone who actually remembered the things she talked about that well. Smiling, she said, “I’d love to. That sounds great.”

He smiled back at her. “Great. I’ll see ye in the morning.”

She waved to him as he drove away before she walked over to where John was standing. Yet again, she punched him in the arm. “What the hell, Beauchamp?”

“You know, I could live with my own ignorance. I could be so happy ignoring the way I feel about things. But no, you have to barge in and talk and make me question everything. And that always leads to realizations. And realizations make my life harder. I just wanted to be relaxed right now. But no, you had to ruin it,” Claire ranted.

“Ruin it how?” John asked, staring at her like she’d lost her mind.

“You were right, okay?” she admitted. “I was jealous.” John’s eyes widened. “I had never really taken the time to think about it until after you said everything last night. But now I’ve thought about it and I can’t stop thinking about it.” Claire sighed grandly. “I have feelings for Jamie.”

Chapter Text

John pulled Claire back into the restaurant and sat her down at the bar. “So...you’re actually admitting it? You think this was because of your dream. I hate to say it, Claire, but maybe your feelings are just lust.”

She shook her head at him. The last 24 hours had been a series of confirming events, only prompting her to actually admit the truth to herself. Claire didn’t really know why she’d told John about it. She almost wished she’d kept it to herself and just gone home to stew. “No,” she told him, “it’s not just lust. God, it would be so much easier if it was that.” Claire sighed deeply before she felt she had to continue. “It’s everything. He’s kind and generous. He’s somehow always there when I need him. I end up spending so much time with him or I spend time thinking about what he might be doing. I don’t honestly know how I went as long as I did not talking to him after that blasted intervention. When he just showed up at the hospital, I felt so much lighter. I was just happy he was with me.” She looked over at John and he raised his eyebrows in reply.

“That does sound deeper than just a naughty dream,” he agreed.

“It is. But I never wanted to admit it to myself. That makes things far too complicated. Plus some of my feelings could predate me being single and that makes things even more complicated. Frank accused me of breaking up with him to sleep with Jamie and I was horrified at the comment. But I’ve probably had feelings for him since not long after I saw him again. Even just after the first time we met again in the bar, the night I moved here, I couldn’t stop thinking about him until I saw him again,” Claire continued, finally spilling the truth. She didn’t know how badly she’d needed to talk about this. “He’s a wonderful person and even just as my friend he treats me better than anyone I’ve dated ever has.”

“So why don’t you tell him then?” John asked, making it seem like the obvious next step.

Claire bit her lip. “Because I can’t.”

John groaned. “Don’t say that. Why? Why couldn’t you tell this person who is easily the closest person in your life that you have feelings for him?”

“Because I know he doesn’t return them. I can’t put myself out there when I know the result,” Claire insisted. John stared at her, a dumbfounded expression on his face. Then he began to laugh. He leaned his head back dramatically as he continued to laugh right at her. “What is so funny?”

“You actually think he doesn’t return the feelings?” John cried, wiping away a tear that had leaked from his eye in his laughter. “Seriously?”

“Yes, I do.”

John gaped at her. “How is that what you think? Do you have eyes, Claire?” Before she could reply, he continued. “Because Jamie does and they’re always on you. And the rest of us do and it’s easy for us to see that there is something between you two.”

“Then why would he tell me he thinks of me like his sister?” Claire demanded.

John sat back in his chair and eyed her suspiciously. “He actually said that?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

Claire huffed. She didn’t really want to rehash the glancing blow Jamie had dealt her with his words. John’s steady gaze proved that she would have to, though. “It was at the party I held when Frank was in town.”

“Oh,” John replied, drawing out the word. He nodded with a smile on his face. “I get it. So how did he say it?”

“He was telling Louise how he brought you to the party to prove that there were men who didn’t want to sleep with me,” Claire informed him.

“Oh my God, he told you that too?” John asked. He rolled his eyes. “He must have thought that was really funny. He laughed to himself for like five minutes in the car on the way over.”

Claire couldn’t help but smile at the image. Jamie was in fact a funny man. Apparently he thought so himself as well. She nodded in reply to John’s first question. “Yes, he told me and then also Louise. He really must have wanted everyone to hear it. Anyway, so Louise then asked him if he fell into the group of men who didn’t want to sleep with me.”

“That’s when he said it?” John asked, cutting off Claire’s story. She nodded. “You can’t believe it, then.”

“What?”

“I’m a man, trust me. You can’t believe it,” John insisted. “He was asked point blank if he wanted to sleep with you and he denied it because it would be too awkward to say yes. Next question.”

“That really didn’t seem like what he was doing,” Claire argued.

“Were you standing there?”

“Yes.”

“You can’t believe it.”

Claire huffed and sputtered, trying to fully explain the situation to John. She felt as though he wasn’t really listening to her.

“Was Frank around?” John asked further.

“No. I didn’t see him. I don’t know where he was at that point,” Claire replied, trying to call who’d she’d seen Frank talking to before she walked over to talk with Jamie and Louise.

“So he could have been nearby,” John said with a wave of his hand. “That’s another point in the “You can’t believe it” column.”

“You really think that Jamie has romantic feelings for me?” Claire asked hesitantly.

“One hundred percent I think so,” John responded with certainty. “Look, Claire, it comes down to this Jamie is usually very particular about the company he keeps. He spends more time with just you than he does with all of us. He certainly spends more time with you individually than he does with any of the rest of us individually. He’s never had lunches with Geillis or Louise just the two of them. And bottom line, he never even looks at them the way he looks at you. He looks at them like they’re just his friends. He looks at you like you are his world.”

Claire rolled her eyes. Surely she would have noticed if Jamie was staring at her lovingly all the time. John had made a good point with the fact that she couldn’t necessarily trust his “sister” comment. But the thought of actually telling Jamie that she had feelings for him truly terrified her. Jamie had become so important in her life that she couldn’t imagine risking it.

“So are you ever going to tell him?” John asked. Claire flashed him an unsure expression. He shook his head in response. “What if I can give you an answer? What if you could know what he would say?”

Anger flared up in Claire. “You are not allowed to tell Jamie that I have feelings for him! If anyone is going to actually do so, it is going to be me , not you, John! I swear to God that if you tell him, I will make your life a living hell,” she promised.

John’s hands flew up in defense. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, Claire. That wasn’t what I meant at all. I was just thinking that the two of you must be pretty used to some of us asking what it is between you. Jamie wouldn’t likely be suspicious if one more person asked.”

Claire sighed, dropping her head in her hands. “It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it. Maybe one day I’ll actually be able to work up the nerve to talk to him about it. Right now I just can’t.”

“Claire, maybe you should remember this, then,” John began, leaning toward her, “you are an incredible woman. Jamie would be lucky to have a woman like you. Maybe don’t worry about rejection. It’s his loss if he’s dumb enough to send his amazing best friend away.”

He stood up suddenly from the bar and held a hand out to Claire. “Come on, we should get you home. You’ve got a lot on your mind.”

Claire laid her hand in his and stood up, nodding in agreement. “You may be right.” John drove her back to her flat. He smiled at her sympathetically as he stopped. Claire looked over at him before getting out. “I appreciate having a shoulder to lean on and an ear to talk to,” she told him with a smile. He nodded. “Although, I still blame you for this stupid realization.”

John laughed. “I can take the blame for now,” he said, grinning. “I’m certain that soon enough the blame will turn into thanks.”

Claire shook her head in amusement. “We’ll see.”

“All depends on you.”

Claire turned back and glared at him. “Gee, that’s no pressure. Thanks, John,” she replied sarcastically. She reached out and laid a hand on his arm. “But on a more serious note, thanks for the ride home.”

John nodded. “Not a problem. Thanks for letting me crash last night.” Claire stepped out of the car and closed the door. “I’ll see you soon,” he yelled out the open window. She waved as she disappeared into her building. Claire walked up to her flat wondering how the hell she was going to find the courage to actually tell Jamie how she felt. It seemed like an easy enough thing to do, but she truly had no idea how it would happen. She hoped that John was right about Jamie’s reasons for saying she was like his sister. Even when she just wanted to forget it, even when she swore she only saw him as a friend, it still stung. Claire threw herself down on her couch once she entered her home. How on earth would she get through breakfast with Jamie in the morning? Despite herself, she felt a zing of excitement at spending more time with him.

 

Jamie couldn’t help but notice that there seemed to be a change in Claire recently. He found she didn’t look him in the eye much. When they were out with friends, she barely ever sat next to him anymore. They still were meeting often for lunch throughout the week, still usually at the hospital. Jamie would have never thought of a hospital as a romantic place, but the little courtyard where they ate on nice days was quiet and secluded and actually fairly romantic. It did nothing to help Jamie suppress his feelings for Claire. He still insisted to himself that he wouldn’t tell her. Surely it was too soon for her to even consider an offer like that. She’d only just broken up with Frank a couple of months ago. There was no way she would return his feelings and then it would just make things tense between them. Or at least those were the fears Jamie felt each time he considered telling her.

He often wanted to ask Claire what had changed. Why was she subtly distancing herself from him? They never touched, not even a graze of hands as they passed something. The time he’d reached out to pat her on the back at his football match, she’d fliched. She still talked to him. Lunches weren’t awkward, but they were always across each other at a table. They never sat on the benches as they had a few times before. When they’d go out with their friends, Claire still seemed like herself around the others. It was only Jamie that she acted reserved around. Had he done something to her? Had he accidentally revealed his feelings somehow? Scanning back in his mind, he was fairly certain that he hadn’t. It bothered him that he didn’t know why Claire was acting differently.

Also acting differently was John. Many times when Jamie looked over at John, John was watching Claire. If Jamie didn’t know that John was gay, he would think John had feelings for her. Maybe John knew something Jamie didn’t. The thought of Claire confiding in John and not Jamie tied his stomach in knots.

Jamie hadn’t been home from work too terribly long when a knock sounded at the door. He opened it to see John standing before him, a six pack of beer in his raised hand and a smile on his face. “What are ye doing here?”

“Well I realized that we’re friends and you let me stay here when I need to, but we never really just hang out the two of us,” John informed him. “I thought we could this evening.”

“What if I was busy?” Jamie asked, still blocking his way inside.

John glanced around Jamie at his empty flat. “Well are you?”

Jamie shrugged. “No, but what if I was? Ye didna call first or anything.”

“Oh, I didn’t even think about it to be honest. I figured if anyone was here it would be Claire and I would fit right in,” John said with a grin. Jamie rolled his eyes and stepped aside so John could walk in. “So Claire isn’t here?” John asked over his shoulder.

Jamie shut the door and met John at the couch. “No. Were you expecting her to be?”

He shook his head in reply. “Not really. Just curious. You two seem to hang out a good amount on your own.”

“We’re close,” Jamie offered as a lackluster explanation.

“Mhmm, I’ve noticed,” John mused. Jamie looked over at him suspiciously. What was he trying to say? Jamie opened one of the beers and started drinking. “You know, I never asked you. How was the date you went on?”

Jamie grimaced. He didn’t know why he’d told John about that date. John had told Claire and Jamie’s heart had about stopped when Claire had asked him the same question. He didn’t really want everyone to know he’d gone on one crappy date. Why was it anyone’s business but his? He shouldn’t have even agreed to the date to begin with, his feelings as they were. Shrugging in response to John, Jamie said, “Och, it wasn’t anything special. There hasna been a second date.”

“Why did you go out with this girl?” John pressed, much to Jamie’s irritation.

“A friend from work set us up.”

“So why did you go?” he asked further.

“Because I figured there was no harm in humoring a coworker. It would have been awkward to tell him no. He asked if I was seeing anyone and I’m not so I said no. He told me he’d found the perfect lass for me. But she was rather dull and I believe the only reason he deemed us perfect is because we’re both from Scotland,” Jamie explained.

“I suppose you could have lied to him,” John said with a laugh. “You could have said Claire was your girlfriend. You spend enough time together.”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “I could have hardly done that. We do spend enough time together and what if we ran into this friend and he asked me if this was my girlfriend, Claire? How on earth would I explain that to her?”

“You could just use that moment to tell her that you want her to be your girlfriend,” John suggested with a wry smile.

“Excuse me?” Jamie asked, nearly choking on his drink.

“Oh come on, you can’t tell me there’s nothing there,” John said bluntly. He took a drink of his beer. “You don’t spend nearly as much time with Louise. Or Geillis,” he pointed out.

“So? What does that have to do wi’ anything?”

“Jamie, look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t have some sort of feelings for Claire?” John all but demanded. He continued before Jamie could reply. “And if you did actually do that, I still don’t think I’d believe you. I see the way you two are together. It just seems like you’re already a couple.” Jamie sputtered, not knowing where this conversation was coming from or how to respond without giving himself away. John turned to face him. “Okay, say you got a promotion at work. Who would be the first person you’d want to tell?”

“Well I’m already the head of marketing,” Jamie reminded him. “So I dinna ken what promotion I’d be getting, really.”

John rolled his eyes. “Oh stop being difficult, man. Fine, you get some exciting news, who is the first person you want to tell?”

Jamie knew the answer but he wouldn’t say it. John was right. He’d tell Claire first. But he had no idea why John was being so aggressive about him and Claire. So instead, he just stared at John in mock confusion.

John sighed. “Fine, I won’t ask you to say whether or not you have feelings for Claire.” He paused and looked at Jamie. “Though I would tell you that you would be crazy not to. And I’m gay. But that’s not the point. I won’t dig the truth out of you. At least not tonight. But what is a good enough reason to not try and go after her? She already spends most of her free time with you. Do you think she wouldn’t be interested?”

Jamie set his beer down and crossed his arms. “Why are we even talking about this? You realize she just broke up with her boyfriend?”

John nodded. “Sure, yes, she’s freshly single. There’s something to be said for letting her have some time to herself, for letting her experience being single for a while. And yeah, it was obvious to all of us how utterly wrong for her Frank was. He was a nightmare who didn’t make her happy.”

John paused and took a drink of his beer. “But let’s say you’re puttering around, sitting on your ass, keeping your feelings to yourself and Claire meets someone. Maybe this guy is actually perfect for her. Maybe this one gets along well with the group and so he starts to hang out with us all the time. You’re forced to see Claire with her perfect man, knowing that could have been you. Maybe this is the last guy she ever dates and she ends up married to the perfect guy for her and ends up having perfect children.” John leaned forward and stared Jamie down. “Tell me, how does that image make you feel?”

Jamie knew full well how it made him feel. It left him feeling sick to his stomach. He loved Claire, whether he could say it out loud or not. The idea of her with another man, of blowing his chances with her made him feel hollow. They spent enough time together that if she started seeing someone else, he’d have to hear about the bastard all the time. Or worse, she’d stop spending time with just him. Frank had certainly been uncomfortable by how much time she spent with Jamie, perhaps another lad would too. Jamie had no idea how to go about finally telling Claire how he felt. He didn’t want to do so too soon after her break up and blow his chance with her. But as John pointed out, he also didna want to wait too long, either. There was a fine line to professing his love for Claire and Jamie had no idea how to find it.

Jamie could feel John’s eyes on him as he argued with himself in his head. Looking over, he noticed the smug expression on John’s face. He knew he’d won the argument. Jamie’s silence was answer enough. With a smile, John stood up off the couch. “It seems like you might have a lot to think about, Jamie.” He put his bottle in the kitchen before turning toward the door.

“Ye’re leaving? Ye’ve barely been here,” Jamie wondered aloud.

“I am leaving. I wasn’t expecting us to have that much of an important conversation, but now I feel like I need to leave you alone with your thoughts for a while,” John explained as he put his jacket on. “You’ve got some thinking to do, mate.” John walked over to the door and looked back once more. “If you want my advice, it’s this: don’t be an idiot.”

Jamie stared at him as he nodded once and left, closing the door behind him. Jamie had to wonder if John had just come over to grill him about Claire. There was no way John could actually know the depths of his feelings for her. Jamie leaned his head back on the couch and sighed. John was right; he’d be an idiot to sit on his feelings too long. Each time he saw Claire, he wished he could sweep her up in his arms and tell her the truth. He longed for her even when she was right in front of him. Jamie was certain that if Claire did return his feelings, they’d make a good match. They already were so in sync with each other. He knew her preferences, her history, and genuinely enjoyed hearing her thoughts on anything. Perhaps it was time he stepped up. No. No “perhaps.” It was time.

 

Claire sat at her kitchen table, hoping for any kind of distraction. It was a Saturday afternoon and she was trying to ignore the paperwork that had come home with her the night before. She could not figure out the reason a patient could be having their symptoms and it was driving her crazy. Claire enjoyed being a surgeon. She liked the precision and the healing. But the puzzles in the cases drove her crazy. There was no doubt that she was capable of figuring out why these symptoms were presenting, but her mind could not land on a sufficient answer. Sighing, she folded the file and left it on the table as she walked away from it. She desperately needed a distraction.

Claire spotted her phone on the kitchen counter and she picked it up, trying to decide which friend to call on to distract her. Realistically, she knew who it would be. It didn’t take any deciding. He was always her first instinct. She pressed on Jamie’s number and waited for him to answer. As it got to the third ring, she wondered if he was busy. Maybe she would be bothering him. Perhaps he was out on another date. The thought tied her stomach in knots. She still hadn’t put herself out there.

His voice pulled her from her thoughts. “Hello? Sassenach?” he asked, after her delay to respond.

“Hey!” she nearly yelled. “What are you up to?”

“Uh, I was just about to go for a run.”

A run. That could help clear her head. “Would you mind some company?”

“Not at all. I was going to go to the park. Want to meet me there?” he asked.

“Sounds perfect!” she replied, a smile wide on her face. “I’ll see you there soon. Just let me change quickly and I’ll head out.”

“Great! I’ll see ye soon, Sassenach.”

She hung up the phone and for the first time, felt a bit excited about a run.

Twenty minutes later, she was walking over towards him. Maybe this hadn’t been the best idea after all. He was wearing a tight tee and pants that fit him quite well. Claire felt her heartbeat quicken at the sight of him. Since her revelation about her feelings for him, she’d pulled back a bit from him. She hadn’t stopped seeing him. There was no way she could, for her own sake. But she hardly ever let there be contact between them. She never touched him anymore and would avoid sitting too close to him where their legs could touch. In her mind, she was trying to act as a friend would, and less like a woman with secret feelings. As she approached him though, she couldn’t deny that it would be nice to run her hands along the lines of his body.

“Sassenach!” he greeted with a wave. “I was glad ye called. It will be nice to have company.” He surprised her by wrapping her in a hug. Her breath caught in her throat as his arms closed around her. She quickly reciprocated the hug before stepping back.

“Yeah, I needed a distraction from some work stuff and this seems perfect,” she explained. Looking around the park, she tried to figure out which route would be the best. “Do you usually run here?”

“Sometimes,” he commented, following her gaze and looking around at the park. “I usually have a rather random path. I can try and tell it to ye.”

“I’m sure I can just follow along,” she commented.

“Are ye sure ye can keep up,” he teased, a competitive gleam in his eyes.

“Am I sure I can keep up?” Claire repeated. “Am I su-” she cut herself off as she took off running. Jamie’s laugh carried forward to her as he raced after her.

They ran for the better part of an hour. Jamie’s path had indeed been random, but they went in each sector of the large park. Claire threw herself down on the grass once they finished their run. Jamie laid down next to her, both of them still breathing heavily. She tried hard to push away the image of him laying panting beside her in a different setting. “I’ll be honest, this was a much longer run than I was expecting.”

Jamie chuckled beside her as he sat up. Looking down at her, he started grinning. “Did ye have trouble keeping up?”

Claire slapped his arm. “Clearly, I did not as I was right on pace with you the entire time.” She glared at him for emphasis.

Jamie laughed, standing up to stretch. He reached a hand down to help her stand. Claire wondered if he’d noticed the fact that she never touched him anymore. Reluctantly, she laid her hand in his. Jamie pulled his arm back fast, rocketing Claire off the ground, and making her collide with him. Her hands flew to his shoulders as she tried to catch herself. His hands caught her waist and held her in place. “Sorry, Sassenach,” he said with a laugh.

She shook her head. “No worries.” Standing a bit back from him, she started stretching along with him.

“So have ye seen much of John lately?” Jamie asked.

Claire certainly had. John seemed to spend plenty of time with her. He always initiated it. Occasionally, they’d meet for a dinner or a quick drink during the week. She wondered if he pitied her for the confession she’d made. But then she also wondered if he was trying to figure out if she’d told Jamie yet. Whichever it was, she’d been seeing a lot of John. “Yeah,” she replied. “Sometimes too much.” Jamie looked at her with a mixture of shock and concern on his face. Suddenly she heard it the way Jamie must have. “Oh God! Not like he flashed me or anything!” Claire laughed to herself. “No, I’ve just seen a lot of him recently. For whatever reason, he’s latched onto me.” She paused as she realized something. “Oh my God,” she muttered.

“What?” Jamie asked.

“We’ve all joked that John is like your son. I think he’s making me his mother,” Claire explained.

Jamie doubled over as he laughed at her revelation. “We’re his parents?” Claire nodded. “Well that certainly does explain his attachment to us, I suppose.”

Claire laughed with him. “Why did you ask if I see John a lot?”

Jamie crossed and sat on a bench behind her. Against her better judgment, Claire joined him. “Just something he said recently. He made it seem as though the two of ye spent a lot of time together. I didna ken if it was just all the times we’ve been together as a group.”

“What did he say?” Claire asked, her body tensing. John couldn’t have been stupid enough to actually have told Jamie how she felt. He’d promised her that he’d keep it a secret.

“Och, nothing bad. It was just a feeling I got from him,” Jamie looked over at her. “He seems quite fond of ye.”

Claire smirked. “Well aren’t most boys fond of their mothers?”

Jamie laughed beside her, laying his hand on hers. She left her hand there, allowing herself a moment to appreciate his touch. After a short silence, Jamie removed his hand and spoke again. “Can I ask ye something, Sassenach?” Claire wished he’d have just asked the question rather than starting with that. It set her on edge. She nodded for him to continue. “Have ye been back to Scotland?”

“You mean since my parents died?” she asked. Whatever she expected him to ask, it wasn’t that. He seemed nervous as he nodded. “No, actually I haven’t.” She tilted her head and looked at him with curiosity. “Why?”

“Well I’m going up to Scotland next weekend to visit Jenny and Ian and their bairns,” he explained. He swallowed harshly before he continued. “I was wondering if ye’d want to come with me.”

Claire stared at him for a moment. “You want me to come with you to visit your family in Scotland?”

“Well ye already ken them,” he pointed out. “I just thought it could be fun. But if ye dinna want to go -”

Claire cut him off. “I never said that. I was just surprised.” She broke her own rule and reached out to lay her hand on his. “I would love to go to Scotland with you.”

A large smile bloomed on Jamie’s face as he laid his hand over hers. “Really?” he asked. She nodded insistently. “Great. I can’t wait.”

Claire returned his smile. “Me either.”

Chapter Text

Claire was standing talking to Geillis near the nurses’ station when they were interrupted by a shriek of glee. Turning to look, they saw Louise approaching them. “Ahh, it’s perfect!” she said without explanation.

“What is?” Geillis asked.

“The two people I wanted to talk to already in the same place,” Louise replied, pointing to the two of them.

“What’s up?” Claire asked, almost dreading whatever could be important enough to drag Louise to the hospital.

“Well you two are my best friends,” Louise began, laying it on a bit thick, “and this weekend I need one or both of you to join me so that you can help me seal the deal between me and Anthony from work.” Geillis and Claire both groaned. “Come on guys! I need one of you to come. Again, or both! His band is playing at this small pub.”

“So ye’re dragging us to hear his crappy band?” Geillis asked bluntly.

“They’re not crappy!” Louise defended. She made a face and corrected herself. “They’re not awesome, but I have to go if I’m going to convince him to date me.” She clapped her hands together. “So who’s in?”

“It’s this weekend?” Claire asked. Louise nodded. Claire fought the smile wanting to cross her face. “I’m afraid I can’t. I’ll be out of town.”

Louise frowned and Geillis narrowed her eyes. “Out of town, huh?” Claire nodded. “Where will ye be?”

“I’m going to Scotland this weekend. Actually leaving Thursday night,” Claire informed them.

The other two looked at each other and then back at Claire. “This is the first I’m hearing of this,” Geillis commented. “What’s takin ye to my homeland?”

“I’m going with Jamie,” Claire tried to say offhandedly.

Her friends stared at her with matching skeptical expressions. “What now?” Louise asked.

“Why are ye and Jamie going to Scotland?” Geillis pressed.

Claire took a step back from them, feeling defensive. “Jamie asked me and I said I’d go. It’s just a visit to see his family.” Both of them raised their eyebrows and exchanged meaningful looks. “Who I already know!” Claire added quickly.

“Did we perhaps miss the announcement where you two finally got together?” Louise wondered aloud as she stared at Claire.

“We’re just friends!” Claire insisted. She hadn’t mentioned her all consuming feelings for Jamie to her friends. Somehow, she knew they’d be less than helpful. “Anyway, I have a surgery I need to get to. Shouldn’t you guys coordinate schedules so Geillis can get to this concert with you, Louise?” Claire smirked at Geillis as she walked away. She strolled down the hall, suddenly so much more thankful for her upcoming plans. No matter how confusing and potentially hard the upcoming weekend would be, Claire was still looking forward to it.



Miraculously, Claire had actually gotten off work early on Thursday. She was able to take her time getting to Jamie’s office before they took the train to Scotland. Claire knew that the Mackenzies didn’t own the whole building and only occupied a couple of floors, but she couldn’t help but be impressed by the building. The atrium seemed grand as she sat there staring. She was caught up in the architecture, something she’d gotten from Uncle Lamb, when she heard his voice.

“Sassenach!” Jamie greeted. Claire tried to ignore the way her heart fluttered at the sight of him.

She stood up and grabbed her bag. “Hi,” she replied lamely.

“Ready, then?” He asked, briefly touching her arm. She nodded and he led the way to the nearest tube station.

Once they were on the train that would get them all the way to Scotland, Claire began to relax. It was just a trip with a friend. They were going to see his family after all. It wasn’t like she’d be confronted with romantic moments she didn’t feel equipped to handle in her current state. They made small talk as they pulled away from the city. It wasn’t until a couple hours into the trip that Claire started to notice Jamie tensing.

Fighting her better instincts, Claire reached out and placed her hand on his arm. “Are you alright?” He laid his hand on hers and nodded. She didn’t really believe him. Claire stared at him until he sighed.

“It’s always a bit hard going back to Scotland,” Jamie admitted. He squeezed her hand in his.

“Because…?” Claire pushed.

He looked over at her with a sad look in his eyes. “I canna escape the ghosts that haunt me there. When I’m in London, my life is very different. It’s easier to compartmentalize it all. Not so much at Lallybroch.”

“You mean because of your parents? And your brother?” Jamie grimaced and Claire hurried to reassure him. “If you don’t want to talk about it, I get it. You don’t have to.”

“Perhaps talking about it with someone who understands could actually help,” he said, looking at her. She nodded for him to continue. “There was nothing we could do for Willie or Mam. They were both too sick. We’d done everything. But Da…” he paused, clearly still affected by his father’s death. “It was my fault he died.”

Claire squeezed his arm under her hand. “I’m sure that’s not true, Jamie.”

“No, it was,” he disagreed. “I was the reason he passed.”

“Was it an accident?” Claire asked, remembering her own parents’ passing.

“Aye, but not necessarily in the way ye think,” Jamie replied, looking away. She could tell he was years away, remembering how it happened. As he began to tell the story, he started stroking his thumb along Claire’s hand. “I got in an accident,” he started. “It was a bad one. I’d lost control of my car and crashed. They werena sure I’d make it. I was taken to the nearest hospital. I guess at some point, they’d called my dad. He went straight to the hospital. Apparently while they were fighting to save me, they lost my heartbeat.” Claire gasped softly beside him, even if she clearly knew he was fine. “My da had burst into the room as the monitor was reading that I’d died. They said he fell like a stone and didna get back up again.”

“Jamie,” Claire breathed, unsure of what else to say.

“I was kept in the hospital for quite a while because my injuries were significant,” he continued. “I missed his funeral. I didn’t even see his grave until a couple of months after the fact.” He looked down at his hand over hers, still running his thumb against her hand. “But it was my fault. If I hadna been in that accident, he could still be here.”

Claire swallowed past the lump in her throat. “Had you been drinking?”

Jamie looked over at her quickly. “No,” he insisted. “No, it was that road that leads out of the village toward the city,” Jamie recalled. “Ye probably dinna remember it, but there was a nasty curve in the road.”

“And a wall of rock on one side,” Claire remembered.

“Ye remember the road?” Jamie asked, seemingly amused.

Claire nodded with a sigh. “Can’t quite forget it.”

Jamie’s eyes widened as he stared at her. “That’s the same place where…” She nodded. “Christ,” he breathed.

“Someone was coming along the curve too fast and crashed into us,” Claire explained. “Was that what happened to you?”

Jamie shook his head. “Nah, I was the only one on the road, thank the lord. My car crashed into the wall.” He looked back over at her. “I’ve never driven that road since. I’ve always taken the long way to avoid it.”

“Can I ask you something? About your dad, I mean,” Claire asked. Jamie nodded for her to continue. “Was it a stroke?”

Jamie closed his eyes. “Aye.”

Claire blew out a breath. “Well then it wasn’t your fault!” Jamie opened his eyes and looked over at her. “It wouldn’t have just happened suddenly. A blockage would have had to have been building long before you ever wrecked your car. He was already losing blood to some part of his brain. It wasn’t your fault! And that’s my professional opinion.”

Jamie smiled at her. “Well that’s very kind of ye to say. Others have said it as well. And logically, I ken that it’s no’ my fault. But...I still feel responsible.”

Claire leaned her head on his shoulder. “I can understand that. I rather felt that way about Uncle Lamb. What was the point of spending all that time in medical school and all that time as a doctor if I couldn’t save the person who mattered most?” She moved her head to look at him again. “Logically, I know it wasn’t my fault. But I still sometimes feel a bit guilty.” Claire rubbed his arm. “I hope your ghosts will release you soon,” she said softly.

Jamie stared at her, an intense look in his eyes. “And yours.”

Claire smiled before hastily changing the subject. “So what are you actually excited to see in Scotland?”

Jamie laughed lightly. “Well it’s always good to see Jenny and Ian. And the bairns. It’s been too long since I’ve seen the bairns.”

“When was the last time you were here?”

Jamie sighed. “I havena been back since Hogmanay.”

“Been a bit, then.” Claire smiled as she looked at him. “What is the bairns’ favorite thing to do with their Uncle Jamie?” Jamie seemed to relax as he told her all about the trouble he helped his nieces and nephews get into during his visits. Claire relaxed as well, remembering all the wonderful times she’d had at Lallybroch as a child. It would no doubt be different going back, but she couldn’t deny that she was excited.

After a connecting train, they finally reached their destination. Ian was waiting for them in the parking lot, two small children next to him.

“Uncle Jamie!” they cried, running for him. Jamie dropped his bag and wrapped them both in his arms. Claire stood there, smiling at the sight. They clearly adored him.

“Claire, so good to see ye,” Ian said, walking up next to her.

“Ian!” She reached over and gave him a hug. “Thanks so much for allowing me to come this weekend.”

“Och, it was Jamie’s idea. We told him it was more than fine,” he assured her.

“I’m surprised you let these two stay up this late,” Jamie commented, holding his nephew and niece in his arms. Claire reached down and grabbed his bag for him.

“Well three and four passed out before we could leave. Five needed to be fed, so Jenny was taking care of that,” Ian remarked. “These two were too excited to sleep and insisted on coming wi’ me. I’ve no doubt they’ll pass out in the car on the way back.”

They walked toward the van Ian drove as a thought stopped Claire short. Ian had said “five” but the last time she’d seen him, they’d only had four kids. As Ian was buckling the children in, Claire pulled Jamie aside.

“They have five children?” Jamie nodded. “Pretty sure it was four the last time I saw Ian.”

“Oh right, well Jenny only had the fifth one recently,” Jamie explained. “Did I no tell ye she was pregnant?”

“Nope. You never mentioned that.”

“Hmm. Must have slipped my mind. Ian told me that weekend he’d come down to London when ye saw him again,” Jamie said with a shrug as he turned to get in the car.

“Wait, Jamie,” Claire called, grabbing his arm. “Did you come up here to meet the new baby?”

“Aye, she’s two weeks old but I couldna get away earlier.”

“If you’re here for some big family moment, why the hell did you bring me?” Claire asked, desperate for an answer. She felt like she was intruding.

“Because I thought it would be fun,” Jamie replied simply.

“That’s it?”

“Why does it matter why I came up here? I checked wi’ both of them and they said ye were welcome to come. I thought it would be nice to bring ye back here is all,” Jamie explained.

“I just don’t want to intrude.”

Jamie reached out and put his hands on her shoulders, ducking some to meet her eyeline. “You’re no’ intruding, Sassenach. We’re all happy for ye to be here. I promise ye,” Jamie said in earnest.

Claire took a deep breath and blew it out. “Well okay then. Let’s head on to Lallybroch.”

“That’s the spirit!” Jamie cheered, wrapping an arm around Claire’s shoulders as they walked back toward the van.

As they pulled up to Lallybroch and got out of the van, Claire stood in awe up at the house where she spent a significant portion of her childhood. She smiled as memories flooded her mind. Behind her, Ian mentioned getting Young Jamie and Maggie up to bed. Claire was still marveling when Jamie stopped next to her. She looked over at him with a large grin. “It hasn’t changed at all.”

Jamie nodded with a fond smile as he turned to go inside. She followed him, ready to see more of the house. They were barely inside before they were greeted by Jenny.

“Jamie!” she cheered quietly for the sake of the sleeping baby in her arms. “I’m so glad you’re here!” Jenny looked over at Claire. “I’m so glad both of you are here!” Jenny glanced back to Jamie and took a step toward him. “Here, why don’t you take your new niece?”

Jamie grinned and reached his arms out for the infant. “Hello there, Wee Janet. I’m yer Uncle Jamie,” he cooed to the baby. Claire couldn’t fight her smile as she watched him slowly walk away from them as he whispered to the baby in his arms. He switched to Gaelic and Claire couldn’t tell what he was saying any longer. She reminded herself that she shouldn’t be listening anyway. It was a private moment between uncle and niece

“Claire, I’m so glad you came up here!” Jenny said, refocusing. She reached out and hugged Claire tightly. Claire wrapped her arms around her old friend.

“I am too! I’m so sorry if I’m intruding. Jamie didn’t say anything about a new baby. I feel like a fool,” Claire apologized.

Jenny waved off her apology. “Please. She’s number five. This is practically a routine. The only important part of the weekend is happening right over there,” Jenny said, pointing over at Jamie and the baby. Claire looked back at Jenny with a confused expression. “Jamie makes it a point to talk to the wee bairns and let them know the important things of life. Tell them all that he knows, I suppose.”

“I’d say that’s impressive but if he can do that all in one weekend, I’m a bit worried,” Claire teased.

Jenny laughed, laying a hand on Claire’s arm. “Oh how I’ve missed making fun of Jamie wi’ ye. Of course, Ian and I still do, but it gets a bit old. We’ve needed new material.”

Claire laughed and shook her head at the image. “So he does this every time you have a new baby?” She looked over at Jamie sitting in the chair, the baby on his lap, still talking to her.

Jenny smiled as she nodded. “Oh aye. He’s really taken wi’ being an uncle. I can’t wait for the day he has bairns of his own.” Jenny looked over to Claire. “Do you want bairns?”

Claire gasped. “Are you asking me if I want to have your brother’s children?”

Jenny covered her mouth as she laughed. “Oh Christ, no! I could see how it sounded like that though. Oh forgive me. No, I just meant any of yer own.”

Claire raised her shoulders and crossed her arms tightly to her abdomen. “I don’t know. Yes, I suppose. I would like kids someday. I just don’t know when that day is. Work is very demanding right now. And I’m not very upset by that. I really enjoy my job.”

Jenny smiled at her. “I wasna trying to pressure you or anythin’. Just curious. I’m happy to hear ye’re so happy.”

“I am pretty happy,” Claire admitted. “Moving back to London was a really good choice for me.”

“I canna believe that ye moved back to London and just happened to run into Jamie,” Jenny marvelled. “That’s so great.”

Claire looked back at Jamie. “I often can’t believe it either.” She looked around the room before looking back at Jenny. “Everything looks exactly as I remember it,” she mused.

“Well don’t say that,” Jenny said disgustedly. “Some of the furniture and decorations were very late 80s and I worked quite hard to change that into something a bit nicer.”

Claire laughed. “What I meant was, even with a modern update, it still looks just as I remember it. Makes me feel happy just being here.”

Jenny smiled at Claire as they both appraised the room. Jamie walked back over to them. “Janet, yer bairn needs changing,” he informed her.

Jenny shrugged. “So change her.”

“I’m no’ her mother or father,” Jamie stated, holding out the baby.

“Ye’re the one trying to tell her all about life. Why don’t you continue that over a changing station?” Jenny offered.

“I really can’t. I dinna ken how to do so,” Jamie lied.

“This is my fifth child, Jamie. I’ve left you alone with at least two of them. Ye ken just fine how to change a dirty nappy.” She rolled her eyes and took the baby from him. “Men,” she muttered under her breath.

Claire laughed to herself as Jenny walked upstairs with the baby. “So many wonderful memories here,” Claire mused.

“Aye,” Jamie replied shortly.

Claire looked over and noticed Jamie seemed tense. “Is me being here making it worse?” She asked, thinking back to their conversation on the train.

Jamie turned to look back at her. “Nothing is ever made worse by being around ye, Sassenach,” he said with a reassuring smile. Claire stared at him, blown away by his statement. She could feel a flush to her face as she held eye contact with him. Ian walked in the room as she was about to reply.

“Well the two biggest ones are down,” he informed. “Of course, there’s no guarantee it’ll stay that way for long.”

Claire smiled at him. It was one thing to know Ian Murray was a father and another to see it in action. “I’m sorry if our late arrival messed up their schedules.”

Ian scoffed. “They kent Jamie was coming, they’d have been bouncing off the walls even if they didna come wi’ me.”

Claire looked over to see Jamie smile at Ian’s comment. “So is the layout and everything still the same?” she asked, gesturing to the rest of the house.

“If ye’re looking for the bathroom, it’s still off the kitchen, yes,” Ian finished for her.

“Thank you,” she replied. “If you’ll excuse me.”

Jamie and Ian watched her leave the room and stood there in silence for a moment. Once Claire seemed out of earshot, Ian spoke. “So is this a move?”

Jamie looked back at Ian, confusion apparent on his face. “What now?”

“Ye’re bringing Claire back to Scotland where ye first met and fell in love as kids. I mean, this seems like a move,” Ian pointed out.

“I wasna in love with Claire when we were kids!” Jamie insisted.

“But ye’re in love wi’ her now?” Ian asked, a grin wide on his face.

“I-uh...damn, it that did sound like that,” Jamie sputtered.

“Mmm, it did in fact,” Ian agreed. “So do ye recall that promise ye made me in February. I ken it was five long months ago, but it would do ye well to keep it, brother.”

“Ian, just let me take my own time,” Jamie asked of him.

Ian rolled his eyes. “What’s the hold up? I thought surely if ye were bringing her here, it meant ye were together. But then ye nearly jumped down Jenny’s throat when she asked ye.”

“Look, it’s no’ a move. And she doesna know. So dinna say anything,” Jamie pleaded.

“She’s no’ blind. I bet she knows something,” Ian said with a raised eyebrow. “I stand by my comments five months ago. Ye’d be good together. That’s even truer now.”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “Aye, I ken that.” The sound of a door opening down the hall alerted Jamie. “She’s coming back. Please drop it.”

Ian raised his hands in surrender. “Aye. Consider it dropped.”

~~~

The next morning, Claire was sitting, eating breakfast at the kitchen table when Jamie walked in. “Morning, everyone,” he said with a smile. He sat down next to Claire. “Morning, Sassenach.”

She smiled back around her bite of toast. “Morning.” She gestured over to Young Jamie. “Young Jamie here was just telling me about all the fun he has with you.”

“Ah, were ye?” He asked, looking over at his nephew with a grin. “And what tales were ye telling Claire? Surely none we said we wouldna speak of in front of yer mam,” he reminded with a wink.

“What trouble are ye gettin’ my son into, Jamie?” Jenny asked as she put a plate in front of Kitty.

“None he wouldna be getting into himself, I assure ye,” Jamie insisted. Claire chuckled beside him.

“While ye’re here brother, I have some things I’d like ye to help me with, if ye didna mind,” Jenny told Jamie.

Jamie looked to Claire and then back to Jenny. “This wasna really supposed to be a trip where I do chores the whole time. I wouldna have brought Claire if that was going to be the case.”

Jenny stared down her brother. “Look, this house is partially yours still. At least legally. There are simply some things that are easier for ye to fix than Ian. I would do them myself, but I had a bairn two weeks ago. It would really help us out if ye could do just a couple of things for us,” Jenny guilted. “I dinna want to put off yer plans to show Claire the boring corner of our world here, but we do need yer help.”

Jamie opened his mouth to reply but Claire jumped in. “Jamie, you can do whatever you need to do around here. I can help. The trip was to see your family, not necessarily Scotland. Please, give me something to do too.”

“Dinna give her anything to do,” Jamie demanded. “She’s a guest. Just tell me what ye need of me. I’ll do them quickly.”

Jenny nodded to both of them. “The fence on the east side of the land needs fixing. That’s the most pressing issue.”

“Do ye have the equipment to fix it or will I need to go to Broch Morda?”

“No, we should have all ye need,” Jenny assured him.

“Alright.” Jamie shoved the rest of his toast in his mouth and stood up from the table. “I’ll go as quickly as I can so we can go about our plans,” Jamie said to Claire. He started to walk out of the kitchen.

“There’s no rush from me!” Claire called after him. She looked over at Jenny.

Jenny just rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Men,” she muttered.



It had been a couple of hours and Jamie hadn’t come back from fixing the fence. Claire had been trying to entertain the children as Jenny was taking care of the newborn. Once Jenny wandered back in, Claire decided to go find Jamie. She was walking in the direction of the broken fence with a glass of cold water when she spotted him. He’d abandoned his shirt and was hammering a fence post back into place.

Claire stood, frozen in place, staring at the sight a few yards away. He hadn’t noticed her as he was still working but she couldn’t take her eyes off him. Sweat was dripping down his chest as he worked to fix the fence. The sight of him was doing things to her. She readjusted her stance, crossing her legs to ignore the evidence of how turned on she was. This was not what she was imagining she’d find when she decided to go check on Jamie. Before she could stop it, her mind pictured him pushing her back and taking her against the fence he was trying to fix.

Claire shook her head, trying to ignore the image there. She was tempted to pour the glass of water over her head to shake her out of it. Jamie looked up as she started to walk to closer to him. “How’s it going?” she asked. Pointing to his shirt she said, “I think you lost something.”

Jamie grinned. “I got hot.”

Claire ignored the part of her brain wanting to remind him that he always had been. “You’re in Scotland.”

“It’s July,” he argued. “It’s warm. And ye are just standing there. I’ve been working to get this bloody fence back in shape.”

“I see,” she commented. “How’s it coming?”

Jamie looked from her over to the fence. He nodded approvingly. “I think it’s about finished.” Claire reached out and handed him the water. Taking it, he downed it in a few gulps. “I’m sorry that today’s been boring so far.”

Claire leaned back against the fence. “It hasn’t been so bad. Your nieces and nephews were entertaining me.”

Jamie smiled. “Well still. It’s not what I had planned.”

Claire shrugged. “Don’t worry. We still have plenty of time to get wild,” she joked. Jamie stared at her with a judging expression. Claire grimaced. “I really wish I hadn’t said that.”

“Yeah, that was bad,” Jamie agreed with a laugh.

“It was like I got possessed by Geillis for a second,” Claire said as she shook disgustedly.

“Oh Christ, we canna let that happen.” They both laughed. “I would much rather prefer Claire be here than Geillis,” Jamie said softly, intensifying the moment.

Suddenly Claire felt trapped between his body and the fence. She looked up at him and he was staring back at her. Her eyes dropped to his mouth, wondering what it would be like when he finally kissed her. Shaking herself out of the intensity of the moment, Claire grabbed his shirt and threw it at him. In his surprise, she stepped away from between him and the fence. “Well if you’re finished, I’m sure Jenny will have another task for you,” Claire teased. She grabbed the glass back from Jamie and turned back toward the house. “I’ll see you back at the house.”

Jamie stared at her, but she was unable to name the feeling on his face. Could it be disappointment? He simply nodded and bent down to grab the tools he’d been using. The whole way back to the house, Claire wondered what that moment could have become if she hadn’t freaked out.

 

Claire was helping Jenny get food ready for lunch. Jamie had come back and showered before he started playing with his nieces and nephews. She could see him sitting on the floor with them as Maggie was animatedly telling him a long story. Jamie seemed engrossed in whatever tale she was weaving. Perhaps she’d picked up the family trait for captivating storytelling.

As she stared into the other room, she realized Jenny had spoken to her. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Oh, I just said they love their Uncle Jamie,” Jenny repeated, as she too watched her children play with Jamie. “He hasna been here in a while and they could hardly contain their excitement when we told them he was coming.”

Claire smiled. “That’s sweet.”

“I expected he’d come home for his birthday but for whatever reason he didna do so,” Jenny commented. “When we video chatted with him, he didna even mention any special plans. Did you all do something big for him?”

Claire looked over at Jenny. “Oh my God,” she whispered to herself. “It was May 1st.”

“Aye, I mean I ken it was a long time ago now, but I was just surprised he didna come celebrate wi’ his family as he usually does,” Jenny remarked. “Did ye not do something, then?”

“I completely forgot about it,” Claire admitted. She felt suddenly quite guilty. His birthday had fallen right in the window when she’d avoided the group. “To be honest, I wasn’t really speaking to him on his birthday.”

Jenny’s eyebrows raised as she looked over at Claire. “What?”

Claire shook her head. “It was stupid. We all were a bit stupid. They came on a bit too strong and I reacted badly.”

“They?”

“Our whole group of friends,” she clarified. “They didn’t like my boyfriend and had an intervention to convince me to break up with him.”

“Oh,” Jenny replied. “I didna realize ye had a boyfriend.”

“I don’t anymore,” Claire said with a small smile. “They were right. He was quite wrong for me. But I didn’t need an intervention to prove it to me. And so they just came on a bit strong.”

“Wait,” Jenny said, putting her knife down and turning to Claire. “Yer whole friend group, my brother included, staged an intervention for ye to make ye break up wi’ yer boyfriend?” Claire nodded. Jenny looked out toward the other room. “James Fraser!” she scolded. Claire cringed, but laughed at Jamie’s reaction to his sister’s tone.

“What did I do?”

“Ye meddled in Claire’s relationship and made her break up wi’ her boyfriend?” Jenny demanded. Jamie looked over at Claire, shocked. She bit her lip and looked back down at the sandwich she was making.

“What are ye telling my sister, Sassenach?”

“I just was telling a story,” Claire said evasively, not looking him in the eye. She turned to look at Jenny. “To be fair, Jamie didn’t really say much. It was everyone else who piled on too much.”

“Was he there?” Jenny asked. Claire nodded. Jenny’s gaze turned back to Jamie. “Then he was complicit.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Wow,” Jamie said from the other room. “Ye think ye trust people.”

“I’m sure that’s what Claire thought too,” Jenny retorted.

“Mam, when’s lunch? I’m starving!” Young Jamie interrupted.

“Soon, mo chridhe,” Jenny said to her child.

Jamie stared at Claire and shook his head as he narrowed his eyes at her. Claire just smirked and turned back to her lunch preparations.

 

After lunch, Jamie had taken Claire to Broch Morda, showing her around the place. She’d been there before, but like everything else in Scotland, it had been nearly 20 years. It was a relaxing day, just wandering around with Jamie. As they drove back to Lallybroch, she noted that he took the long way back, avoiding the road where he’d been in his accident. When she looked over at him, he seemed content enough. She wondered how much it all still haunted him. Claire could remember bits and pieces from her parents’ accident. It had all happened so fast. A psychologist she met in college told her that her brain had likely shut down the memories from the accident to spare her. She was fine not remembering it all.

They’d had a lovely dinner with Jenny, Ian, and their children. So many memories had been rehashed while they sat at the table. The children were likely bored by all the stories told by the adults through tears of laughter. “And that is precisely why the Murray children will never have a goat,” Jenny declared with a shake of her head at the end of her story.

Ian shrugged. “I thought it was cool.”

“It ate half of yer clothes and then butted me in the chest,” Jamie reminded him. “The goat was terrible.”

Claire wiped away a tear running down her face. “Jamie layed there for so long after that goat hit him. I honestly thought you were dead for a second.”

“I thought I was too for a second,” Jamie admitted with a grin.

“These Murrays are learning from their father’s mistakes,” Jenny said as she stood up to grab plates. Claire jumped up to help her clear the table. “Ye dinna need to help me, Claire,” Jenny said, waving her off. Claire shook her head and continued into the kitchen.

After the table was cleared, Ian and Jenny herded the children upstairs for a bath. Jamie was still sitting at the table when Claire walked back into the dining room. She held out a wrapped box for him. He looked up at her, his curiosity piqued. “What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s the best I could do on both short notice and incredibly long notice,” Claire replied, sitting down next to him. He started to unwrap it as a confused expression covered his face. “I missed your birthday,” Claire admitted. “I didn’t realize it until I was talking to Jenny earlier. I found this in Broch Morda earlier.”

Jamie sighed, pausing in opening the gift. “Ye didna have to get me anything. My birthday is long past.”

“I know. Two months and you never even mentioned it,” Claire said, feeling guilty. “It fell when I had been avoiding you all and I’m sorry.”

“Sassenach, it’s really no’ big deal. It’s just a birthday. I’ll have another next year,” Jamie said with a grin.

“Well I felt bad,” Claire told him. “So I wanted to celebrate, even if it’s two months late. Although, I do believe I broke up with Frank on your birthday.”

Jamie laughed. “Well that’s present enough. We didna need this,” he joked, gesturing to the box.

Claire shook her head as she laughed. She pushed the box closer to him, urging him to continue opening it. Jamie picked it up and pulled off the rest of the wrapping. Opening the box, he found the glasses she’d purchased from him in the village. He pulled out one of the whisky tumblers with thistles etched on the sides. Turning it around, he ran his finger along the sides of it as he stared at the glass in his hand. “Sassenach,” he breathed. “These are beautiful.”

“I’m glad you like them,” Claire said softly. Jamie looked over at her, moving to put his arm around her and bring her in for a hug.

“Thank ye,” he said in earnest.

There was a heavy silence between them. Claire sat back. “Well too be honest, the ones you have are really nice and I’m always a bit afraid I’ll get too sloppy and break one.”

Jamie laughed as he stood up from the table. “I’d say John is more at risk for that than you,” he countered. “How would ye feel about a drink?”

“Are we breaking in the glasses?” Claire asked.

“Nah, I thought we could go to a pub. Ye’ve never gotten to experience the nightlife here.”

“Does it get crazy?”

“Not in the slightest,” Jamie laughed. “But there’s a good pub in the village. Feel up to it?” Claire nodded, jumping up from her chair.

 

It was a small pub, fairly crowded for such a small village. Jamie and Claire had found a small table and were tucked into a corner. Claire sat there, appraising the quaint place. “Seems almost odd to not be here with a huge group of people.”

Jamie chuckled. “Are ye saying ye miss them?”

“Not really,” Claire replied with a smirk. “I love all our friends, but this is nice too.”

“Aye. ‘Tis,” Jamie agreed, raising his glass. “Slàinte.” Claire mimicked him.

“This is damn good whisky,” Claire remarked. Jamie snickered. “What’s funny?”

“It’s Mackenzie,” Jamie informed her.

Claire looked from her glass to Jamie and back again. “Have I never had Mackenzie before? I could have sworn I had. What do you have at your flat?”

“Ye might have. That’s an older year. But no, I dinna have Mackenzie at my home. It’s a bit too much like taking work home wi’ me,” Jamie explained.

“Hmm,” Claire said before taking another sip. “Well I suppose I’m glad to know you work for a company that makes good stuff.”

Jamie laughed. “Do ye approve now?”

Claire nodded with a grin. “I think I do.” She felt her phone vibrating in her pocket. “Hold on,” she said. “Hello?”

“Claire!”

“John, hi,” Claire replied. “Why are you calling me?”

“I knocked on your door a bunch of times and you never answered so I’m guessing you’re not home,” he explained.

Claire chuckled. “I’m not. What do you need?”

“Your spare key. Where do you keep it?”

“Why do you need mine?”

“Jamie re-hid his and I don’t know where it is. I need a place to stay so I thought I’d try yours,” John answered.

Claire looked up at Jamie. “You hid your key from John?”

“I told him if he used it he had to be discreet about it so everyone wouldna ken where it was. But he was getting sloppy so I hid it in a different place to teach him a lesson,” Jamie said with a righteous nod of his head.

“Wait, are you with Jamie?” John asked in her ear.

“Yeah,” she said quickly.

“Well tell me where you are, I’ll take a Lyft to you,” John insisted.

“I’m afraid that would be a rather expensive Lyft,” Claire remarked. “We’re in Scotland.”

“What?” John asked. “You’re in Scotland?”

“Yes.”

“Is the whole group there?”

“No, it’s just me and Jamie,” Claire responded, taking a drink from her whisky. She had purposefully not told John their weekend plans. He was guaranteed to read into it.

“So...it’s just you and Jamie...away for a weekend in Scotland?” John asked, pointedly drawing out his question.

“Yep. Just visiting Jamie’s sister and her family,” Claire said nonchalantly. She was starting to worry Jamie would get suspicious from hearing her end of the conversation. It was time to end the call.

“Well I have about a million and one questions then,” John said with a laugh. “First, how -”

“Oh no, John, I’m losing you,” Claire lied. “You know what, I’ll text you where my key is. Talk to you next week!”

“No, Claire! Don’t hang up!” John demanded.

“I can’t hear you, sorry! Bye!” Claire quickly hung up the phone. She sent a quick text to John telling him where her spare key was and an express order to not vomit on anything in her home. “So,” she said, looking back up at Jamie. “Where were we?”

“So John’s turning to his mother then?” Jamie asked with a grin.

Claire rolled her eyes. “I swear if he vomits on anything in my home, I don’t know which of you I’ll blame more.”

Jamie looked appalled. “How could you blame me?”

“You’re the one who took your key away!” Claire reminded him. “He’s in unfamiliar territory now.”

Jamie shook his head and laughed. “Hopefully the lad has more sense than to show up that far gone. If it makes ye feel any better, he’s never gotten sick at my home.”

“That may help. Time will only tell,” Claire replied, still hoping John wouldn’t be too sloppy.

“Well let’s distract ye from it,” Jamie offered. “How about another round?”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you the other part of your birthday present,” Claire remembered. “I’ll be your driver for the evening.” Jamie looked confused. “We’re not in London. I tend to doubt the village has many cabs or lyfts or ubers. So I’ll be the driver. You can imbibe to your heart’s content and I’ll make sure you get home safely,” she assured him with a smile.

“Ye dinna need to do that,” he replied. “It’s not as though I’m planning to get trashed.”

“Well I’d have done it for you on your birthday,” Claire maintained. “So I’m offering it now. Feel free to drink as little or much as you want. You have a safe ride home.”

Jamie shook his head at her with a smile. “You’re too much, Sassenach.”

Claire smirked and lifted her nearly empty drink. “I’m going to take that as a compliment.”

“Aye, ye should,” Jamie said, staring at her.



Jamie had allowed himself a few more drinks before they decided to leave the pub and head back to Lallybroch. He trusted Claire to get him back home. Sitting in the passenger seat of Ian’s car, he looked over to see Claire adjusting the driver’s seat. She had a look of determination on her face. He’d seen a similar look from her before, but he couldn’t imagine what was causing her to look like that now. It didn’t make sense to him until the moment she took a left when she should have made a right. “Claire, ye needed to make the right,” he reminded her.

“No, this is the way we’re going,” she said stonily.

Panic started coursing through him. He knew the way she was going. Of course, it was the faster way back to Lallybroch, but he couldn’t let her take it. “Claire, please turn around.”

“No. Jamie, you’re going to be fine. I won’t let anything happen to you,” she maintained, not taking her eyes off the road.

“Claire, ye ken why we canna go this way. The road…”

“The road is not what killed my parents. And it’s not what killed your father. And what happened with you was an accident,” she said, still not looking at him. He was rather grateful that she chose to keep her eyes focused on her driving. “Your ghosts have haunted you for too long, Jamie. It’s time you conquered them.”

Jamie took a deep breath. He felt panicked. In London, it was easy to forget everything that had gone wrong that fateful night he’d lost control of the car. But here in Scotland as they barrelled down the road where it had all happened, he felt terrified at the prospect of facing it again.

“What made you lose control?” Claire asked. “I’ve driven places with you. You’re a good driver. So what was it? You said you weren’t drinking.”

“I wasna,” he insisted. “I canna remember what happened.”

“It’s just blocked. I’m sure you remember,” Claire prodded.

Jamie looked out the window at the scenery speeding by in the dark. A movement in the trees sparked a memory for him. “There was a deer,” he said simply.

“Did you swerve to miss it?”

“No. It was just standing there in the road,” he recalled. It was all foggy, but it was starting to get marginally clearer in his mind. “I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting it.”

“Then what happened?” Claire pushed.

Jamie racked his brain, trying to remember what happened next. The only thing that stood out was the sickening sound of his car crunching against the rocks. It was the last sound he’d processed for days. Sometimes the sound still popped up in his nightmares.

“Jamie, what happened?” she asked. They were getting close to the curve in the road.

“The road was wet,” he said suddenly. It all came back to him. He’d slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the animal but his car hydroplaned and he crashed into the wall. Jamie looked over at Claire and told her what had happened.

The look of determination was still on her face, though paired now with a look of satisfaction. “Like I said, it wasn’t your fault. And the accident that nearly took your life as well was purely circumstantial. If it hadn’t been wet, perhaps you’d have just gone home normally. But you couldn’t control the fact that it had rained. It’s Scotland, for Christ’s sake. It rains constantly.” She slowed down immensely as they went through the curve. Claire was silent as she navigated the car through the dangerous stretch of road that had cost the both of them so much. Neither of them spoke again until they pulled up at Lallybroch a few minutes later.

“Why did you do this?” Jamie asked, feeling much more sober than he had when they left the pub.

Claire put the car in park and turned to look at him. “Because you’re a good man, Jamie. You don’t deserve to be haunted.” She reached out and took his hand in hers. “Especially by something that wasn’t your fault.” Squeezing his hand, she continued. “I know it’s been a while, but I did know your father. He wouldn’t want you to blame yourself. He wouldn’t want you to isolate yourself in England because of his death. I’m sure this is nothing that Jenny hasn’t told you, but it bears repeating.” Claire grabbed both his hands in hers. “You have a great family here who loves you so much. Maybe conquering that blasted road will help ease your pain and help make it easier to come home again. And you deserve that.”

Claire opened the driver door and stepped out of the car. Jamie quickly jumped out of the car and ran around to the other side of it. She was walking toward the house when Jamie caught her hand. He pulled her to him, her body turning to align with his. His arms wrapped tightly around her, holding her close. Slowly, her arms came up to hug him back. He knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t stop himself; Jamie planted a kiss in her hair. “Thank you,” he whispered.

She squeezed her arms around his torso before releasing him. Claire reached up and touched her hand to his cheek. “Don’t mention it. Hopefully we both left our ghosts there.” She smiled sadly and walked off toward the door.

Jamie couldn’t help but stand there staring at her. With every day his feelings grew. It hadn’t been his intention to bring Claire to Scotland as a way to woo her, but it was sure having that effect on him. More and more he was realizing that he didn’t know what his life would be without Claire Beauchamp.

Chapter Text

Claire couldn’t sleep. Her mind simply wouldn’t shut off enough to let her rest. Instead of fighting it, Claire got up. It was quite late so she walked through the house with the utmost care. She wandered down toward the kitchen, deciding it wouldn’t be too bad to make herself a cup of tea. The kettle was still sitting out. Claire crept to it, trying to be as silent as possible.

“Hey, Claire.”

“Jesus H. Christ!” Claire yelled, her instincts abandoning her attempts at quietness. Claire turned around to see Ian sitting at the kitchen table, wearing an amused expression. “Night owl as well?”

Ian nodded. “I always have been. It benefits me now that I have children,” he said with a grin. “Well, until they wake me up with the dawn.” Ian pointed toward the kettle. “Should still be some water left in there.” He held up his cup in explanation.

“Thanks,” Claire said, going about making herself some tea. She sat down in front of Ian, letting it steep. “Okay, I need your advice.”

“Is it about Jamie?” Ian asked.
“Why would you think it’s about Jamie?” Claire wondered.

“I dinna ken what else ye’d be coming to me for.”

Claire nodded. “That’s fair. Yes, it is about Jamie. I’m worried I made a mistake.” Ian nodded for her to continue. “When we were coming back from the pub, I was driving and I went down the road. You know, the road.”

Ian’s eyes widened. “You took him down the road where he had his accident?” Claire nodded. “Christ, ye have balls on ye.” Claire opened her mouth, wanting to explain. Ian continued before she could. “That’s no’ a bad thing, Claire. Ye’re braver than Jenny and I have been in the last 7 years.”

“What do you mean?”

“We tried to tell him it wasna his fault that Mr. Fraser died but Jamie wouldna hear it. He insisted that if he hadna lost control of the car, his father would still be living. It was brutal to watch. One of us had to take him everywhere for months because he refused to drive. He couldna remember how he lost control so he was too afraid to drive again. He woulnda leave the house even though the house just reminded him of all that he’d lost. Jenny and I tried everything to convince him. Once I tried to drive him down that road and he threw himself from my moving car.”

“You’re kidding me!” Claire gaped at Ian, trying to imagine it.

“Well it was too soon for me to pull that. It had only been a few months. Jenny screamed at him for doing so, since he’d only been out of the hospital for a month and a half,” Ian continued. “We were both very leery of Dougal’s offer to Jamie to go to London. But we knew he wasn’t really living here anymore. So he went and somehow, Dougal actually helped him. Got him a job and helped him make something of himself. Then Dougal left London and came back to Scotland. We hoped Jamie would follow but he stayed there. He seemed content. Or at least, he seemed whole enough.”

Claire shook her head before taking a sip of her tea. “You know, until we came back here, I never knew he’d been through so much. I mean, I knew he’d lost most of his family, but he’d never told me the gory details. I feel guilty. Perhaps I shouldn’t have pushed him.”

“No, he needed it,” Ian insisted. “It’s hard for him to come back here. He would come back somewhat more often before the two of ye reunited.” Ian hid a grin behind his cup of tea. “But even when he was here, it was obvious that something was off. He just didna feel quite at home.”

“Have you noticed that this time?” Claire asked.

“No,” Ian replied. “And honestly, I think it’s because he brought ye.”

“Why do you think that?”

“For one, ye’re a distraction from the pain. When ye’re with him, he’s remembering all we did as kids. And while those would include memories of his parents and Willie, it’s all happy. The ghosts arena getting to him as easily,” Ian explained. “This is the most relaxed I’ve seen him here at Lallybroch in seven years.”

“Wow,” Claire whispered. She didn’t know what to say.

“For what it’s worth,” Ian said, meeting her gaze, “he’s never brought another lass home.”

“Why would that matter to me?” Claire asked, knowing why it did matter, but hoping to get more from Ian.

“I think we both ken why wi’out having to say it,” Ian replied with a pointed look. “It’s clear the two of ye are close. More than just childhood friends.”

“I don’t know,” Claire said noncommittally.

“Ye push him and that’s good. He needs someone to put him in his place,” Ian assured her. “It means ye’re the Jenny.”

“The what now?”

“Between ye and Jamie, ye are the Jenny. Ye’re the strong one. The one to make him do the things he needs to do to be better.” He grinned at her. “It’s better to be the Jenny than the Ian.”

“If I recall correctly, the Jenny just said what she wanted,” Claire mused.

“Aye, she did. Still does.” Ian leaned forward and laid his hand on one of hers. “And let me tell ye, the Ian was more than happy that she did.” He stared at her for a moment as he waited for his message to sink in. With a nod, he stood up and placed his cup in the sink. “Night, Claire.”

“Goodnight, Ian.” Claire sat there in the kitchen for a while longer, drinking her tea. Ian’s words rattled around in her brain, paired with advice from John. It was all so much easier said than done. She was still worried that she’d pushed Jamie too far that evening. Perhaps their advice wouldn’t mean anything come morning if he didn’t speak to her. With a sigh, Claire placed her cup in the sink next to Ian’s and walked up the stairs. She laid down and wondered how much courage it would take for her to really become the Jenny.  

~~~

Claire was riding to the market with Jenny, just the two of them. Jenny had convinced Ian and Jamie to distract all of the children so she could get through the store quickly. She’d asked Claire to come along and she’d happily agreed. It wasn’t often that the two of them had spent time together without Ian or Jamie as kids. That made it a nice change for the two of them to simply be running errands together.

“So Jamie mentioned what happened last night,” Jenny said, breaking the silence in the car. Claire started to worry again. She looked over at Jenny nervously. Jenny looked away from the road quickly to glance at Claire. “On the way home from the pub,” she clarified needlessly.

“Listen, Jenny,” Claire started before Jenny cut her off.

“I’m not about to scold ye or anything,” Jenny reassured her. “I wanted to thank ye. Ye did what I should have done a long time ago. I should have shook the man and made him see that it wasna his fault.” She shook her head as she sighed. “But I was grieving and I couldna bring myself to shake Jamie from his pain. So I truly do appreciate what you did for him. I dinna think it’ll be instantly better, but he spoke of it this morning and he seemed...different. Better, perhaps.”

Claire smiled to herself. “I’m glad.”

“I’ve spent a lot of the last seven years worried about Jamie,” Jenny admitted. Claire could see her grip on the steering wheel tighten. “But the last few months I would say he’s been the happiest he’s ever been. When we talk to him, he just seems...happy. He was fine enough before. He got by and he was happier in London than he was in Scotland. There was no denying that. I wished for a long time that he’d have stayed closer, but I couldna ignore that he just did better there. But now, he goes out more and does more. He just seems like he’s actually living his life, not just going to work, going home, and occasionally doing something else. I mean, Dougal pushed him and Jamie had to work his arse off to get to where he is, but I never wanted work to be his whole life, ye ken?”

Claire nodded in reply. “Yeah, I see that.” She laughed to herself. “Although I’m not really one to talk.”

“Ye clearly ken when to take some time for yerself,” Jenny pointed out. “Ye’re here, after all.”

“That’s true.”

“Look, all I was going to say is that I really appreciate the effect ye’ve had on my brother,” Jenny said, looking quickly over at Claire. “I ken ye’re just friends and ye both insist there’s nothing there, but whatever it is, ye’ve made my brother whole again.”

“God,” Claire breathed. She wished she could tell Jenny the truth of it all. But she would sound ridiculous. “Well I can assure you that it’s been mutual.”

“Ye’re good for him,” Jenny continued. “He’ll call and talk about “Claire and I did this” or “Claire said this” and on and on. It always makes me laugh because it seems just like when we were kids.” Jenny pulled into a parking spot at the market. “He always wanted ye around when we were kids and it seems that hasna changed much. I still can recall how betrayed he felt when we wouldna support his efforts to convince yer uncle to let ye stay wi’ us.” Jenny laughed to herself. “He wouldna speak to us for weeks.”

“Seriously?” Claire asked with a laugh.

Jenny nodded as she stepped out of the car. “Oh aye, he was sore for a while.”

Claire placed her hand over her heart. “That’s pretty sweet.” She walked into the market with Jenny. “I wonder what life would have been like if I’d grown up a Fraser.”

Jenny chuckled. “Ye’d have been part of the madness for sure. It probably wouldn’t have felt that different to us. Ye were always there anyway.”

“I don’t know how your mother managed all that chaos. She let me come over nearly every day after school. I still remember the trick she taught me to help me with my maths,” Claire recalled fondly. She snapped her head over to Jenny. “Wait! Do you know how to make her cheese toasties?”

Jenny’s eyes grew wide and she groaned. “Oh I haven’t thought of those in years! Those were so bloody good. I think I should be able to replicate them. We should grab the fixings. We could try and make them today.”

“Oh I love it. Let’s do it!” Claire agreed, looking around the market.

“I can’t believe I thought I’d be a proper mother without the cheese toasties,” Jenny scoffed.

Claire laughed, putting her arm around Jenny’s shoulders. “Young Jamie’s only five. You still have plenty of time,” she teased.

“Oh Claire, perhaps I should have supported my brother’s attempts to keep ye with our family. It’s nice having ye around,” Jenny said with a smile.

Claire felt truly touched. “Jenny,” she said with a shake of her head. “I have to say, this is probably the best weekend I’ve had in a long time.”

“Well, whether Jamie’s here or not, ye’re always welcome at Lallybroch,” Jenny assured her. She snorted out a laugh. “This morning Maggie called ye Auntie Claire.” Claire laughed with her. “I almost didna want to correct her.”

Claire choked out a laugh as she walked along next to Jenny. If only Jenny knew what the thought of her being called Auntie Claire did to her.




After a long day bustling around Lallybroch, Claire was still awake. The night owl in her never seemed to cease, even when she’d had a full day. It did come in handy when she was doing an overnight shift at the hospital. She was staring at a picture Mrs. Fraser had painted when she heard footsteps rounding the corner. Expecting Ian, she was surprised to see Jamie walk over to her. “Hey,” she greeted. “I rather expected you’d be sleeping already.”

“I’m no’ one of the children, Sassenach,” Jamie reminded her.

“Ahh, yes, of course.”

Jamie looked at the painting with her. It was of him and his brother when they were little boys. He took a deep breath beside her. “How would ye like to come with me?” he asked.

“Where are we going?”

Jamie grinned. “It’s a surprise.”

Claire rolled her eyes and nodded. She followed him out of the house and toward the old family truck. “Where are we going?” she asked again.

Jamie stayed silent. He got behind the wheel and drove around to the big field behind the house. She could barely see the roof of the house when Jamie stopped the truck. Wearing a smirk, Jamie turned to look at Claire. “This is likely going to sound insane, but do ye recall my ninth birthday party?”

Claire burst out laughing. “That would probably sound insane to anyone else, but oddly enough, it doesn’t to me. I do remember it.” She looked out the window before looking back at him. “You’d decided to wanted to camp for your birthday party but your parents didn’t want you to go anywhere else so you said you’d camp in the field up the hill. And you wanted Ian, Jenny, and I to go with you.”

“Aye,” Jamie said with a grin. “That’s right.”

“But as it was early May, in Scotland, it was a bit brisk that night and Jenny and Ian ran back to the house after like an hour,” Claire recalled.

Jamie laughed and nodded. “But you stayed. And we tested each other on our knowledge of constellations.”

“Well I couldn’t leave you alone on your birthday,” Claire maintained. “Especially since, even now, that was the last one I celebrated with you.”

“That’s not true,” Jamie argued. “We celebrated my birthday last night.”

“Two months late,” Claire pointed out.

“Well aye. But that’s actually what reminded me of that birthday,” Jamie explained. “I thought it could be fun to recreate it.”

Claire looked from him out to the field. Jamie opened the door and got out of the truck, rounding the truck to grab things from the back. She stepped out next to him and watched him lay down a blanket in the grass. Claire looked down self-consciously, wishing she’d changed out of the simple button up dress she’d been wearing all day. Jamie put a battery powered fake candle in a lantern next to the blanket. He waved his hands as a way of saying “ta-da.”

Claire laughed and sat down on the blanket. Jamie moved to lay down beside her. She looked over to see him staring up at the stars, a large smile on his face. With a quiet sigh, she laid down next to him. “Look sharp, Fraser. I still know my constellations,” Claire teased.

“I have to say, this is what I miss in London,” Jamie said. “There’s nothing like staring up at the night sky full of stars.”

“It is quite beautiful,” Claire agreed.

They’d been in Scotland for two days and so far, she’d been pretty good at avoiding any overtly romantic moments between the two of them. Most everything they’d done had felt just like it would back in London. It certainly hadn’t felt like they were on a trip just the two of them to the gorgeous Scottish highlands. But laying there with Jamie, looking up at the stars could only be described as romantic. It was exactly what she wanted and at the same time, the thing she was dreading most. He reached over and took her hand in his. That’s when the jig was up.

“Claire,” he started to say.

She interrupted him though, pulling her hand from his with a sigh. “Jamie, I can’t do this.”

“What?” he asked, looking over at her.

“Laying out under the stars. I mean this isn’t exactly something you’d do with your sister,” she started to explain. She couldn’t help but throw his own term back at him.

“What are ye talking about?”

“I can handle the fact that you think of me as your sister,” she said shakily. “Even if it sucks. But you have to treat me that way and not do...this.”

Jamie sat up and looked down at her, concern covering his face. “Where did ye ever get the idea that I thought of ye that way?”

Claire’s anger flowed through her. She sat up and poked him in the chest. “From you. You said it.”

Jamie covered his face. “Shit,” he whispered. He dropped his hands and stared at her. “Ye mean at that bloody party you had?” Claire stared at him, barely nodding. “Yer boyfriend was ducked down, standing right behind me. What was I supposed to say?”

Claire took a deep breath. “You mean you didn’t mean it?”

Jamie laughed. “Of course I didna mean it. I just panicked because Louise asked me that point blank wi’ you standing there and yer boyfriend right by us.” Jamie watched her. He looked like he was struggling to find the right thing to say. “And here I thought I was being too obvious.”

“What?” she breathed.

Jamie closed his eyes and took a breath. “Claire, do ye ken why I asked ye to come to Scotland with me?” She shook her head. “It’s because I didna want to spend a whole weekend away from ye. I usually come back here more often, even when it’s hard to, but since ye came back into my life, I havena been able to leave. What if by chance the weekend I was out of town, ye wanted to spend time wi’ me?”

Claire laughed weakly, hardly able to believe what he was saying. “Jamie,” she began. He continued speaking, cutting her off.

“Claire, I’m mad for ye,” he said, reaching up to push a curl back behind her ear and held his hand there. “I’m sorry it took me so long to admit it. Even more sorry that ye’ve believed I thought of ye as my sister. It couldna be more wrong. If I’m no’ with you, my thoughts are. I’ve just been afraid to…” he took a deep breath. “I didna want to ruin our friendship by telling ye of my feelings if ye didna return them.”

Claire leaned her face into his hand. “Did you ever think of what might happen if I did?”

Jamie breathed out a laugh, inching closer to her on the blanket. “No. It seemed too impossible.”

She reached out and grabbed his other hand. “Well it’s not.” She stared at him, finally finding the courage to say it. “I feel the same way, Jamie. I’ve been using the same, stupid justifications to put off admitting it. But I do. I-”

He stopped her as he crushed his lips to hers. Too quickly, he pulled back, staring at her to make sure he hadn’t made an error. She shook her head quickly, leaning back in to kiss him again. They met in the middle, wrapping each other close as they kissed passionately. Her hand raked through his hair as the other clung to his back. Jamie’s hands roved over her body, keeping her close. His tongue slid across her lip and was soon in her mouth, meeting hers. Claire moved closer to him, feeling like she could never get close enough. She seated herself on his lap as he kissed a trail down her neck. Jamie moved his hands around to grab onto her ass. He seemed like he was everywhere at once.

“Oh God, Jamie,” she sighed.

He pulled back and stared at her, an intensity in his eyes. Claire reached out and caressed his face. A smile widened across his face as he watched her. Slowly, he leaned forward and kissed her gently. He placed another kiss on her jaw and another on the side of her neck. Jamie kept moving slowly, placing a kiss on her collarbone. He looked back up at her, holding her gaze as he moved to lay her down. She took a deep breath as she laid back down with him hovering over her. There was a moment of hesitation between them. Claire leaned up and kissed Jamie, nodding to him as she released him.

After another kiss, Jamie resumed his trail of kisses down her body. He started slowly unbuttoning her dress, planting a kiss on each patch of skin he revealed. Claire sighed at his attentions. She reached and ran her fingers through his hair again as she felt the need to be touching him. When her dress was laying open, she pulled on his shirt, bringing him back up to her. She kissed him as she tried pulling off his shirt. Jamie knelt and pulled off his shirt as he stared down at her. Claire sat up to start unbuttoning his pants. Jamie groaned when she grazed the front of them. He quickly scrambled out of his pants. Claire couldn’t help but laugh at his eagerness. “Are ye laughing at me?” he asked, laughing himself.

Claire nodded, “Yes, I am.” She sat up and let the dress fall back, removing her bra as well.

All humor faded from the moment and was replaced by an intensity between them. Jamie’s eyes dropped to her chest, darkening as he took in her nearly naked form. He crushed her lips to his again, moaning as he reached out to cup one of her breasts. She sighed into his mouth, only urging him. He laid them back down, moving to take her other breast in his mouth. Claire dug her fingers into his back, writhing beneath him. “Jamie,” she urged. She reached down to take off her panties.

“Let me,” he whispered, moving down to help her. She lifted her hips up and he pulled them down.

“Wait!” she yelled suddenly.

Jamie looked panicked for a second. “If ye dinna want to, we dinna have to -”

Claire laughed and shook her head. “No, that wasn’t it. I just didn’t want you to rip them off and throw them into the field where we’d lose them and Ian would find some random pair of women’s underwear. That as all.” Jamie chuckled to himself, making a show of pulling them off slowly and setting them down on the blanket. Claire was nervous for a moment as she realized she was fully naked. She took a deep breath and reached for his boxers. “Now you.” Jamie rid himself of the last bit of clothing between the two of them.

They stared at each other for a long moment, both taking in each other’s naked forms. Claire broke the moment by grabbing ahold of his newly freed cock. Jamie closed his eyes and sighed. “Christ, Claire,” he breathed, looking down at her. He kissed her again.

“I need you,” Claire whispered, placing her hand on his face. Jamie nodded.

He reached down and slid into her, filling her exquisitely, both of them crying out at their connection. They were still for a moment before he began moving. She wrapped one leg around his waist, pulling him in deeper. They rocked together as the waves started building within her. Hearing him pant her name in her ear was certainly doing things to her. He brought his mouth back to her, kissing her languidly as he moved within her.

She felt like she was getting close so she reached down to help herself along. Jamie moved her hand and kissed it before he started stroking her in return. She could feel herself clenching around him as she found her release. Crying out his name, she fell apart, clutching him to her.

Claire could tell he was getting close as well. She rolled them over so she was on top and bent down to kiss him. Leaning her head towards his ear, she whispered to him, urging him. Jamie held her tighter, bringing her mouth back to his. He gasped into her mouth as he found release in her. She laid against him, his arms still wrapped around her, both of them insanely satisfied.

Reluctantly, she rolled off of him and laid down next to him. They both laid there for a moment, trying to catch their breaths. Jamie reached out and held her hand, just as he’d done at the beginning of the evening. Claire chuckled to herself, bringing their joined hands over to kiss his. He turned his head and looked over at her, a wide smile on his face.

~~~

Claire woke the next morning, curled up next to Jamie. She looked up to see him still asleep. Grinning to herself, she thought back on the night before and all that had happened. They’d redressed and headed back to the house, quietly creeping to Jamie’s room. Getting into his bed had inevitably led to a second round, though they attempted to be as quiet as possible. The last thing Claire wanted was to be caught by his sister. Or worse, one of the children.

She felt Jamie’s hand tighten on her waist and she knew he was waking up. Claire reached up to run her fingers along his hair. He smiled before opening his eyes. “Good morning,” she whispered. Jamie looked at her before leaning over to kiss her.

“Good morning,” he repeated. “A better morning than I think I’ve ever had.” Claire laughed but she had to agree that he had a point. She leaned back in and kissed him slowly. Suddenly it felt like they had all the time in the world. The rush from the night before was gone.

“Breakfast is ready!” Jenny called from downstairs.

Jamie started kissing down Claire’s body. “Don’t you want to eat?” Claire asked, expecting him to stop.

“Aye,” Jamie said with a devious grin, moving further down her body till his head was between her legs. Claire bit her lip to keep from crying out as his mouth went to work against her.



Jamie wandered downstairs a while later in search of food. “Well ye slept in late,” Jenny remarked as he walked into the kitchen. She was the only one in the room, sitting there holding Wee Janet.

“Is that a crime?” he asked, picking up a piece of toast and slathering jam on it.

“No, I suppose not. Where’s Claire?”

“Uh, I believe I heard her getting in the shower,” Jamie replied, hoping for nonchalance.

“The two of ye were up late,” Jenny commented. Jamie looked over at her nervously. “I heard ye start the truck late last night.”

“Oh aye,” he said quickly.

Jenny watched him for a long moment. “Look, I canna pretend to ken what’s going on wi’ the two of ye,” she said. “But I’m just going to say this.” Jamie looked at her with furrowed brows. “Dinna screw it up. It’s easy to see how good Claire is for ye. So just don’t be an idiot and mess it up.”

Jamie chuckled to himself. “Dinna worry, sister. I dinna plan to.”

“Can I make another request?” Jenny asked, setting Janet down in her baby seat. Jamie nodded for her to ask. “Please dinna stay away as long as ye did this time. I ken ye canna always control how busy ye are at work. And I ken that not long after Hogmanay, Claire came back into yer life. Dinna say that’s no’ a factor.” Jamie looked down guiltily. “But yer family loves ye. I ken it’s hard for ye here, but we miss ye when ye’re in London.”

Jamie stood up and walked over to wrap Jenny in a hug. “I promise I’ll be back sooner.”

He felt her nod against him. “Good. And ye ken ye’re welcome to bring Claire too. She fits in well here.”

“Aye, she does then, doesn’t she?” Jamie leaned down and picked up Wee Janet from her seat. “I’ll be back,” he promised. He sat down as Claire walked in.

“Good morning,” she greeted, a smile on her face. Jenny smiled at her, gesturing to the food still on the table. Claire sat down next to Jamie, placing a hand quickly on his back. She leaned down to look at the baby in his arms. “And good morning to you too, sweet thing.” Jamie glanced up at Jenny, unable to ignore the look on her face.



They all said their goodbyes at the train station as Claire and Jamie prepared to head back to London. Jamie hugged his sister and brother in law tightly, repeating promises to be back soon. Ian gave Claire a hug and said to her, “You should come back with Jamie next time he comes. It’s nice to have Claire Beauchamp back at Lallybroch.”

Claire smiled and nodded. “I’d like that.”

Jamie took his time saying goodbye to all of his nieces and nephews. Young Jamie made him promise that next time he’d bring something special for him from London. Jamie laughed and agreed. Claire turned and said goodbye to Jenny, thanking her for her hospitality.

“I meant what I said yesterday,” Jenny said, “Ye’re welcome anytime.”

After a quick check at the time, Jamie and Claire said their final goodbyes before heading into the station. They walked away from the family and after a certain distance away, took each other’s hands.

Jenny and Ian looked at each other before looking back at the other couple. “Hmm,” Jenny said. “Wonder when that happened.”



Jamie and Claire sat hand in hand on the train. Claire’s head was resting on Jamie’s shoulder. She couldn’t deny how comfortable she was with him, even after the changes and admissions of the night before. Jamie squeezed her hand in his. She looked up and smiled at him. He leaned down and kissed her quickly.

“I want to thank ye, Sassenach, for coming wi’ me.” He looked down at their hands. “I appreciate all ye did for me.”

Claire chuckled. “Well you did plenty for me as well,” she said suggestively. He looked over at her, clearly amused. “You didn’t mean just last night, did you?” she said as she laughed.

He leaned over and kissed the side of her head. “No, I didna. Although, that too.” He paused, looking at her. “Somehow having ye wi’ me made me feel comfortable in my own home again.”

Claire planted a kiss on his shoulder. “Well your sister told me that I am welcome anytime. So I think that all just means you have to bring me with you every time you come to Scotland,” Claire surmised with a smile.

“I think I could make that work,” Jamie agreed. Claire laid her head back on Jamie’s shoulder and he leaned his against hers. They sat in silence for a bit. “I ken we still have a few hours until we’re back in London,” Jamie said, making Claire look up at him. “But your place or mine?”

Claire laughed, leaning in to kiss him again. “Mine’s closer to the train station.”

“Perfect.”

They sat and watched as the Scottish Highlands fell away behind them. Claire couldn’t help but marvel at the difference in the ride to Lallybroch and the ride away from it. She’d been so nervous to go away with Jamie and now she couldn’t keep herself from him. The smile on her face wouldn’t fade as she cuddled in closer to Jamie and his arm came around her. They were still in a bubble and she planned to make the most of that until they got back to the city and the real world.

Chapter Text

The real world had a good way of taking the fun out of everything. Claire should have known that if she took three and a half days off, she would surely be paying for it the next week. Before her trip to Scotland, she’d chalked a busy week up to just being a doctor. But since Scotland she knew that if she wasn’t at the hospital, she could be with Jamie. She scoffed in frustration when she was finally leaving the hospital near midnight. It had only been a few days since they’d returned, but she wanted to be with him. The last time she’d seen him was when they both left her home Monday morning. It was Thursday and she missed him. She couldn’t help but scrunch her nose in disgust at how clingy she seemed already.

It was the newness, she decided. That’s what made her yearn for Jamie or just simply his presence. She’d spent quite a while wishing she could be with him, thinking she never would. And now that she knew what it was like with him, she wanted it even more.

Claire sent him a quick text to tell him she’d been called into a last minute surgery. They hadn’t had plans to meet, but she still felt she owed him an explanation. Part of her hoped she’d get a text back from him saying he was still up and she should come over. The entire trip back to her home, she kept her phone in her hand just in case. Once she’d showered and thrown herself in bed, she thought maybe it was good that Jamie was a responsible adult who was already in bed. She was exhausted from the days she’d had and sleep was probably the thing she needed more than sex.

The next day seemed to be somewhat slower, thankfully. Claire had woken up to an apologetic text from Jamie telling her that he’d been asleep. She told him of the same conclusions she’d reached the night before. But she still missed him.

Her stomach rumbled, making Claire turn from the nurses’ station for the cafeteria. A lunch break was absolutely what she needed. Claire was halfway to the cafeteria when her phone started ringing in her pocket. Jamie’s face filled her screen, making her smile. “Hi,” she answered immediately.

“Hi. Are ye having a busy day?” he asked.

“Thankfully, it’s a bit slow.”

“So does that mean ye have time for lunch?”

Claire beamed. It was like he read her mind. “I do. Where are you?”

“Our spot,” he said simply. She knew exactly where he was.

“I’ll be right there.”

She pushed open the door to the courtyard and saw Jamie on one of the benches across from her. He was delicately setting out the food he’d brought. Her heart felt full at the sight of him. God, she’d missed him and it had been less than a week. She floated over to where he sat, bending down to kiss him in greeting.

He looked up at her when she pulled back, a broad smile on his face. “Hello there.”

“Hi,” she sighed. She sat down next to him, close enough for their legs to be touching. “I’ve missed you,” she admitted, laying her head on his shoulder. “Is that foolish to say?”

Jamie chuckled. “No. I missed ye as well.”

“So what are we having?” Claire asked with a grin.

“The usual,” Jamie said with a shrug, handing her the sandwich he’d brought her.

“Perfect.” She took a bite of her lunch and sat back, rubbing her hand against his leg. It was a beautiful day. The sun was high in the sky and actually showing itself. The trees in the courtyard were a beautiful shade of green. And Claire sat next to Jamie. She couldn’t think of a way to improve it. “Have you been as busy as I have?” Claire asked, breaking the silence.

“No, not really,” Jamie replied airily, looking down at her. Claire’s face fell as she started to feel guilty for being the reason that they hadn’t seen each other. “I mean, yes!” Jamie suddenly cried, changing his statement. He grinned. “I’ve basically been sleeping in my office.”

“Oh good, I’m glad both of us have been busy,” Claire laughed.

Jamie settled closer to her, putting his arm around her shoulders. “Aye.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “It’s really the calm before the storm just now. Colum is coming down at the beginning of September.”

Claire looked back at him. “I thought you said he didn’t travel.”

“I did. He only comes but once a year. Part of me wonders if he really trusts Dougal’s words from his more frequent visits.”

“Ooh, do you think there’s discord among them?” Claire wondered.

Jamie shrugged. “I dinna ken. I just dinna want to get caught up in it. I’d much rather keep my head down and be able to meet ye after work.”

Claire smiled. “Seems like the much safer option.” She ate more of her sandwich before looking back at him. “Do you ever go to Scotland for work?”

“Why, are ye already wanting to go back?” Jamie teased.

Claire laughed before leaning in and kissing him quickly. “I’m certainly not against the idea. But I was just curious.”

“I’ve only been up once for work purposes and it was when they made me head of my department,” Jamie explained. “They had some big ceremony for people assuming new positions. It was a bit too much. I didna care for it owermuch.” Jamie sighed. “My job is just so much simpler when my uncles are up in Scotland. People tend to forget I’m their nephew when they havena been around in awhile.” He took a messy bite of his sandwich one handedly. “So how has work been? Have you had your hands up anyone’s butts this week?”

Claire stared at him in a mixture of revulsion and amusement. “Thankfully, no,” she replied, smacking him on the chest. “What sort of question is that?” He just laughed in reply. “It really has been quite busy. I haven’t even seen Geillis this week. Which is honestly for the best.”

“Why?”

Claire rolled her eyes. “Because she’ll grill me about the weekend we had away.”

She felt Jamie tense next to her. “Why would that be a bad thing?”

Claire squeezed her hand where it rested on his leg. “I’m not ashamed of us,” she clarified. “I just...this is the first time we’ve been together since we got back. I don’t want Geillis’s and from there Louise’s opinions on things before I even got to see you again myself.”

“You think they wouldna approve?” Jamie asked, his eyebrows raised.

Claire shook her head. “No, of course they will. They’ve been pushing me at you since the night we met again at the bar. I don’t know. I just...liked the privacy, I suppose.” She looked over at Jamie, afraid of his reaction. “Have you told the guys?” Before Jamie could open his mouth to reply, she continued. “Are you mad at me?”

Jamie breathed out a laugh. “No, I’m no’ mad at ye, Sassenach. I didna mention it to the lads. I suppose I was like you and preferred the privacy for a bit.”

Claire heaved a sigh of relief. “Good. I’m glad we’re on the same page. This bubble is too nice to break,” she mused, leaning her head against his shoulder.

“Will ye have to work this weekend?” Jamie asked.

Claire whimpered slightly. “Yes.” She picked her head up and looked at him. “But it won’t be as long of days as I’ve been working this week. And today I’m due to get off at a normal time!”

Jamie smiled and leaned in to kiss her. “Good, dinna make any plans.”

“What if I was going to make plans with you?” she asked between kisses.

“That’s allowed then.”

They ate the rest of their lunches with a quiet excitement brewing between them. Knowing Claire would get to go home to Jamie made her ready to take on the rest of the day. She was standing, filling out a chart when her supervisor walked over to her. “Beauchamp,” he greeted without preamble, “you’ve worked a lot this week.”

Claire looked over, confusion written on her face. “Yes.”

“You’ve been here late every day this week,” he said looking at something on his tablet.

“Well yeah. But I was gone last weekend.”

He shook his head. “Go home.”

“What?” Claire asked, still confused.

“That was a different period so it doesn’t matter. But you’re on call this weekend, correct?” Claire nodded. “Do you have any surgeries planned for today?” Claire shook her head. “Go home.”

“Is this a money thing?” Claire asked flatly. Her superior grimaced before meeting her eye.

“It comes from the chief. They’re trying to cut back in places,” he explained.

Claire rolled her eyes. “Let’s hope these cutbacks don’t affect patient care.”

Her boss eyed her skeptically. “Are you saying you wouldn’t mind an afternoon off?”

“Fine,” she sighed. “You’ve got me. Am I still on call this weekend?”

“Yep,” he said, turning to walk away from her.

As she left the hospital, Claire wondered what she was going to do with the newfound free time in her day. Her mind was still mulling the possibilities when she walked by a storefront that piqued her interest. A smile grew wide on her face as she realized her new plan for the day.



In three hours, Claire had made a fresh batch of her mom’s chocolate chip cookies, had attempted to cook, burned it, and run back out to buy a simpler meal to heat up in the oven. Jamie had texted her when he was getting ready to leave his office. She told him she’d meet him at his place. Unbeknownst to him, she was already waiting at his home, on his bed, in the brand new lingerie she’d purchased on her way home from the hospital.

Claire was trying to decide what pose she was going to use to display her new attire when she heard the door open. She laid down on her side, propping her head up with her elbow. “Come on back,” she called. Footsteps, seemingly hesitant at first, made their way back to his bedroom.

“Claire?” John nearly screamed at the sight of her.

“John?” Claire cried in shock, trying desperately to cover herself with Jamie’s quilt. Once she felt covered enough, she stood up and stared at John. “What the hell are you doing here? Where’s Jamie?”

“My computer died and Jamie told me I could drop by and pick up his so I can complete a project this weekend,” John explained in a faint tone. He watched Claire in confusion. It was obvious he noticed her hair was tamed and her makeup was fresh. “Better question is what are you doing here?” he pointed out. His eyes grew wide. “Is this a move? Are you trying to seduce Jamie?”

Claire rolled her eyes. “No! That’s not what this is.”

“Then what is it?”

Claire opened her mouth to answer when the sound of the door opening again got both of their attentions. John got an excited look on his face. Claire tried to stop him from moving but tripped on the quilt wrapped around her.

“Hey Jamie,” John greeted in a weird tone. Claire could hear him as she threw the quilt back on the bed. She grabbed Jamie’s robe and wrapped herself in that instead.

“John, ye’re already here?” Jamie asked. She could hear him put his keys down in the bowl by the door.

“Yep, used the spare key. I figured out where you hid it,” John explained. “So, I have to ask. Are you sleeping with Claire?”

Claire peeked out of the doorway, wondering how Jamie would respond. His eyebrows shot up as he looked back at John. “Why would ye ask that?”

John cleared his throat. “Why don’t you come on out here?” he asked, not looking away from Jamie. Jamie looked confused but Claire knew he was speaking to her. She pulled the robe tighter around her and walked out, her face hot with the shame of being caught. This was not how she wanted to reveal her purchases of the day to Jamie.

“Hi,” Claire said flatly.

John scoffed. “Well what’s with the robe? He’s not going to know what I’m talking about with that.” He looked back at Jamie. “I came in and found Claire in a rather compromising position.”

Claire couldn’t help but roll her eyes. He was being too dramatic. Jamie looked over at her, his eyes going up and down her body. “Christ, were ye naked?”

“No,” Claire insisted. She looked over at John warily before she started to untie the robe. Opening it quickly, she gave Jamie a short view of what she was wearing. His eyes widened and he looked back at her appreciatively before Claire closed the robe again.

John called them to attention again. “So I’m going to ask again. Are you sleeping with Claire?”

“No,” Jamie said quickly. Claire wondered how she was going to explain her appearance there if Jamie was going to lie. “We’re dating,” he corrected. “Saying we’re just sleeping together sounds like it’s just physical.” Claire couldn’t help but smile at him.

John gaped at the two of them. “What?” He broke out in a huge smile. “You mean you two finally figured it out? I don’t have to keep playing you like fiddles anymore?”

“Wait, wait, wait.”

“What?”

John shrugged. “Please, you both told me enough to put the pieces together. I mean, Claire, you straight up told me you had feelings for Jamie.” Claire opened her mouth to defend herself but John kept going. “And Jamie you practically did. Your lack of a response was answer enough that time I grilled you about your feelings for her.”

“Wait a minute,” Claire interrupted. “Was this after I explicitly told you not to tell Jamie I felt anything. That if anyone was going to tell him, it would be me?”

“Yes, but I didn’t tell him. I just tried to gently nudge him toward the obvious truth,” John defended. “And if I hadn’t nudged both of you, Claire wouldn’t be barely dressed right now.” Claire scoffed. “Wait, had this already happened when you went to Scotland?”

“No,” Jamie replied.

“Had it happened when I called and talked to you?” John asked, turning to Claire.

“No,” she answered.

“But it happened in Scotland?”

“Are ye being a pervert? Why do ye need to ken every detail?” Jamie jumped in.

John held his hands up defensively. “Hey, it’s not every day you get two of your best friends together. I can’t help but want to know.”

“As touched as I am that you’re calling us your two best friends, I feel the need to reiterate that you didn’t get us together,” Claire retorted.

“Whatever,” John said, walking over and sitting down on the couch. “So tell me everything.”

Neither of the other two made a move to join him. “Just get my computer and go,” Jamie said bluntly.

John walked over and grabbed the computer from the small desk. He walked back over and stood in front of the couple. “Is this,” he said, moving a finger between the two of them, “going to affect our deal that we’ve had for much longer than you’ve been dating Claire?”

“No,” Claire answered for Jamie. She looked at both men. “I promise you, it won’t. We’ll figure it out.”

John nodded appreciatively. “Thank you, Claire. That means a lot.”

“Yeah, but right now you need to go,” Claire replied, pointing at the door.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said as he walked toward the door. “Wait.” He stopped and turned back to them. “Does everyone else know?”

“No,” Jamie responded. “And we’d appreciate if ye didna tell them just yet.”

John’s eyes grew wide as he started to smile. A hand came to rest over his heart. “So I’m the first one you told?”

“Don’t act like it’s some special title you’ve earned. You only know because you walked in on me,” Claire reminded him.

John feigned hurt and dropped his head. “Fair enough. I suppose I’ll have to start knocking now.”

“Yes, please do,” Jamie said, walking toward the door to see John out.

John walked out and turned around before the door closed. He smiled at the two of them. “Hey, I’m happy for you guys.”

Jamie looked back at Claire and they shared a smile. “Thanks, John,” he said. “Now go.” He closed the door swiftly behind him.

Claire collapsed on the couch, laughing as she covered her face with her hands. “Oh my God. That was not how I pictured this evening going.”

Jamie laughed as he sat down next to her. “I can imagine so. But it’s the two of us now so I think ye should take off the robe and allow me a better view.” Claire stood up and reached for the knot in the robe before a beep from the kitchen drew her attention. Jamie groaned as she stopped untying. “What is that?”

“I made dinner,” she chirped. “I guess this will have to wait.” She leaned down and teased him with a kiss. Jamie grabbed her arm as she started to walk toward the kitchen and pulled her down onto his lap. He reached his hand up into her hair and brought her lips to his, bringing her in for a long kiss. She ran her fingers through his hair as she responded with equal fervor. The continued beeping from the kitchen finally drew her back.

“I’ll be right back,” she promised as she ran over toward the oven. “I already burnt one dinner tonight. Better not make it two.”

Jamie stood up and walked over to her. She set the pan down on the counter and turned to him. “We’ll have to let that cool, aye?”

Claire grinned. “Aye.”

Jamie closed the distance between them, holding her face in his hands and kissing her deeply. Her back was pressed against the counter as he crowded her space. She wrapped her arms around his waist, melting into him. A moan escaped her lips as he picked her up and sat her on the counter. They kept kissing, not moving further. She pulled him closer to her as she wrapped her legs around him. His hands drifted down her back, stopping when he reached her bum. He was the only man she’d ever been with that appreciated her arse. That thought made her giggle, shaking him from their kiss.

“Something funny?”

Claire grinned, running a hand through his hair. “No. You just seem to like my arse is all.”

Jamie squeezed his hands where they still held onto it. “What’s not to like?” he said with a smirk.

Claire laughed again, shaking her head at him. She jumped down from the counter and pulled him in for a hug. He wrapped his arms around her and placed a kiss in her hair. “Let’s eat dinner, shall we?” Jamie nodded, though he had a funny look on his face. “What?” she asked.

“Nothing. I just didna think dinner is where that would be going,” he teased.

Claire shrugged. “Well you know you have to have dinner before you can have dessert,” she replied with a wink, her hand resting on the knot of the robe.

“You mean the cookies?” he asked, pointing at the plate on the counter. He grinned before he picked one up and took a bite. Jamie closed his eyes and groaned loudly as he ate the cookie. Claire knew exactly what he was doing. “Ah dhia, Claire,” he moaned. She rolled her eyes to herself, picking up a dish towel to throw at him. It caught him perfectly right in the face. He jumped and opened his eyes, laughing at her annoyed face.

“Bit dramatic, don’t you think?” she asked, turning to serve their dinner.

Jamie laughed as he walked up behind her. He wrapped his arms around her. “Perhaps, but they’re very good cookies.”

Claire shook her head before turning to give him a quick kiss. “You just wait,” she murmured to herself.

Despite what they both knew was coming after dinner, they took their time eating. It was nice to just have a meal together at home. Claire couldn’t help but feel like they were further into their relationship than five days. But that must be a side effect of falling for your best friend. She smiled as he talked about the rest of his day, enjoying the easiness of it all. Her hand was resting on the table as she ate. She couldn’t help but be charmed by Jamie reaching out to hold it without comment.

Jamie was finishing up washing the last couple of dishes when Claire disappeared from the kitchen. “Hey, Jamie,” she called from deeper in the flat. She was standing in front of his bed, twirling the tie from the robe as he walked back in. His eyes instantly zeroed in on her. She grinned smugly to herself. With an air of drama, she dropped the robe to the floor. The small gasp from Jamie as he finally took in her attire was enough payoff for spending the evening in a robe. He walked closer to her slowly, his eyes devouring every inch of her. His fingers reached out to touch the red, lacy fabric.

“Did this set ye back much?” he asked in a husky voice.

“What? Are you trying to get onto me for my spending or something?”

Jamie’s darkened eyes met hers as he stared at her. “No, I was more asking if I’ll get in trouble for leaving it in shreds on the floor.”

Claire’s mouth went dry as she stared at his open desire of her. She pulled him in for a hard, quick kiss. “Do what you must,” she breathed.

Jamie brought her back to him, kissing her deeply as he ran his hands over her body possessively. He pulled the straps down her shoulders. There was a hurry to get her out of it. While he attended to her, she yanked at his shirt, losing a couple of buttons in the process. “I’ll sew those back on for you later,” she promised in a whisper against his lips.

“I dinna care,” he panted back. He pulled back as he lifted the garment off and over her head. His mouth immediately went to her chest and she moaned in reply.

“Jamie, you are wearing far too much,” Claire whined. She fiddled with his belt before pulling his pants and boxers down at the same time. Her hands were roving across his body as his mouth was roving across her body. She pulled his head back up, meeting him for another heated kiss. His arms clamped around her, pressing their naked bodies together. They fell back onto the bed, moving toward the top. It wasn’t much longer till they were joined and moving together.

When they were both spent, Claire laid next to Jamie, her arm draped across his torso. He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “I’m really glad I got off work early and got to do some shopping,” she quipped breathlessly.

Jamie laughed. He turned over and looked at her. “Believe me, that would have happened even if ye’d been in yer dirty scrubs.”

Claire returned his laugh, leaning up to kiss him. “Thank you for lowering the standard very early in our relationship,” she joked. “That really takes a load off.”

Jamie wrapped an arm under her shoulders and brought her closer to him. “I believe that red number is still in one piece,” he whispered in her ear.

“If you’re a good lad, you’ll get to see it again,” she retorted, patting him on the cheek.



The weekend she was on call was a slow one. She wanted nothing more than to slip away from the hospital and into Jamie’s flat. Claire was sitting at the nurses’ station, her chin on her hands, bored out of her mind. There were no surgeries that had come in from the A&E. It was an incredibly slow day. She couldn’t fight yawning loudly, shaking her head. Her mind strayed to the reason she was so tired. Staying over at Jamie’s had led to a late night. Yet again, she wished she could ditch the hospital and go find Jamie. Or a bed. Or both.

Her eyes drifted closed as she continued to sit at the desk. “Tired?” a voice asked.

She opened her eyes to see Jamie grinning at her, holding a rather large coffee in his hand. Claire sighed, immediately reaching for the cup. “You are truly an angel,” she said, taking a drink. “I’ve been exhausted all day,” she yawned.

A smug look crossed Jamie’s face as he bent down to her level. “Aye, I figured I owed ye coffee if I was the reason ye’re so tired.”

Claire laughed and stood up to kiss him quickly. “Your logic is sound.” She watched him as she drank more coffee. “So where are you headed?”

“I was thinking I’d go for a run.”

“God, even that sounds more exciting,” Claire bemoaned, flashing a look around the deserted floor.

“Aye, seems a bit slow. Or is that something I shouldna say for fear of jinxing it?” Jamie asked with a grin.

“I don’t even care. I’m so bored. I could be just as bored at home and not have to be here.”

“I’d like to think if ye were at home, I could be around, making sure ye were far from bored,” Jamie replied, quirking up one eyebrow.

Claire was about reply when one of the nurses beat her to it. “Oh my God,” the woman said in disgust, staring at the two of them.

Claire covered her face as she flushed. She sputtered out a laugh. “I’m sorry. We’re being crude. Excuse us, Grace,” Claire said, still shame-faced. She walked out from behind the desk and took Jamie’s arm. “Let me walk you to your car.”

They were far enough from the nurses’ station when the both of them burst out laughing. “Perhaps we arena ready to be around other people yet,” Jamie said through his laughter.

“Oh my God, I’m going to have to go to a different nurses’ station now,” Claire realized. “I can’t show my face there for a while. Maybe the third floor will accept me.” They kept laughing on their way to his car.

He stopped just next to his door. “Thank ye for walking me to my car.”

“Thank you for the coffee,” she said holding up the cup. Claire groaned in annoyance. “I’ll see you later,” she whined.

Jamie grinned. “I look forward to it.” He reached up to cup her face in his hands. Leaning down, he met her for a sweet kiss. “See you soon, Sassenach,” he whispered against her lips.

She leaned up on her toes and kissed him one more time before she stepped back to let him get in his car. As she walked back into the hospital, she was already happily replaying their last encounter in her head.



A few months ago, Claire would have been irritated by the hospital cutting back on hours. But as it was a Wednesday night and rather than staying late at the hospital, she was sitting on Jamie’s lap on her couch, her tongue deep in his mouth, she was fine with it. Her hands rested at the base of his neck. Jamie’s hands were on her hips, keeping her on top of him. She rolled her hips against him as she tilted her head, deciding to focus her attention on his neck. A trail of kisses lined his neck before Claire licked a stripe back up to his ear. Taking his earlobe in her mouth, she scraped it with her teeth. In the back of her mind, she noted that one of his hands left her body.

“Oh, Angus wants to get together this weekend,” Jamie commented.

Claire felt his the vibration of his voice where her hand rested on his neck. She pulled back, looking at him, scandalized. “I’m sorry, are you on your phone?” He looked up guiltily and met her glare.

“No,” he said, trying to hide it.

Claire gaped at him, a bit offended. “Wow, I’m sorry that I wasn’t entertaining enough,” she huffed, rolling off his and laying on the couch next to him.

Jamie reached for her. “No, no, no, that wasna it! Come back.”

She narrowed her eyes and shook her head at him. “Gee, I wonder if there is a study out there that shows a decrease in babies being born since the birth of the phone.”

Jamie started to sputter before he closed his mouth. He looked amused. “Is that what ye were trying to do? Make a baby?” He knew he’d caught her off guard.

A small gasp escaped her mouth. “No, what? Why would you say that? This has really changed the dynamic in the room.” She laid her head back on the couch and groaned.

Jamie reached out and grabbed her foot, pulling her legs across his lap. “There was something that happened at work today so I was curious to see if that was why my phone vibrated. I’m sorry for looking at my phone.”

She opened her eyes and looked up at him, an unimpressed expression on her face. “Yeah whatever. Perhaps one day, years from now, my ego will recover.”

Jamie sighed, running a hand along her leg. “I promise ye, I was enjoying it. Immensely. Ye could resume yer activities and I’d prove it to ye.”

Claire shook her head at him, a reluctant grin on her face. “What did Angus say?”

Jamie pulled his phone back out again and looked at it. “He said this week has been hell even if it’s only Wednesday and he needs to get drinks. Who’s in?” He looked over at Claire and held his phone up as proof. “Willie just said he’s in.” Jamie fiddled with one of Claire’s toes. “So should we go?”

“Don’t we usually?”

“Aye, but there wasna the bubble before,” Jamie pointed out. She grinned at his use of her phrase. “Ye seemed unsure of seeing Geillis…”

“It’s not that I don’t want to tell our friends that we’re together. It’s that I don’t want to tell our friends that we’re together. You know?”

Jamie stared at her in confusion. “No, not really. What’s the difference.”

“We’ve been friends for months, years, really, and we’ve spent all this time with our friends. I don’t want this to be like some cheesy high school movie where we have to make some big announcement to our friends that we finally kissed,” Claire said in a mocking tone. “Plus I just know they’ll be really smug about it. If I hear one “it took you long enough” I might slap them.”

Jamie laughed, running a hand along her shin. “I suppose I see yer point there. The odds of at least one of them saying that are quite high.” He looked down at his phone. “Louise is in.” His phone vibrated again. “Oh and now so is Rupert.”

“You do know that this isn’t about us though, right? My hesitation to tell them,” Claire asked, afraid she could be hurting him.

Jamie smiled at her. “I ken. And ye have a point. They’re likely to be annoying.”

“Mmhm,” Claire agreed. “I also can’t shake the fact that the last time I introduced any of them to the person I was dating, they were all incredibly unsupportive and, at times, rude. And yes, I know that you and he are vastly different and that you’re already friends with them. But it’s still just sitting there in the back of my mind.” Jamie nodded halfheartedly. She was sure he didn’t like being compared to Frank already.  “Plus John already knows,” she added.

“John’s in,” Jamie interrupted after his phone buzzed. She sighed. “And Geillis is in too. It’s down to just us.” He looked over at her expectantly.

“I just don’t know how to tell them,” Claire admitted, staring at Jamie.

“So what if we don’t tell them anything?” Jamie asked, a grin slowly spreading across his face.

Claire lifted her head up to look at him. “What do you mean?”

“Ye were right when ye said they’d be smug. How often have they made wee comments about how close we are,” Jamie started, looking more devious by the second.

“Wait, you got those too?” Claire asked.

“Oh aye. Not only from John. Sometimes Geillis. A couple of times Rupert. Though I’ll admit, Rupert’s asking seemed more innocent than Geillis,” Jamie informed her. “But aye, they never made them in front of us when we were together. Just little side comments.”

“Incredibly annoying, right?”

Jamie laughed. “Aye. It never made me feel better about the things I was keeping to myself.”

Claire nodded as she rolled her eyes. “Sounds about right.”

“So let’s mess with them,” Jamie insisted.

“How?”

“They say we’re so close and now we’re even closer than they ken,” Jamie explained. “So let’s not hide it.”

Claire nodded appreciatively. “I see. Probably would be too much to make out in front of them, but everything else…”

“Still on the table,” Jamie said with a devious grin. “Let’s see how long it takes them to really figure it out.”

“Oh, I love it!”

Jamie unlocked his phone. “So should I say that we’re in?”

“No!” Claire yelled before he could send the text. “Don’t speak for both of us. Then they’ll know we’re together!” Jamie looked at her, clearly confused. “Not, like a couple but they’ll know we’re spending the evening together. And that will make them suspicious.”

“Oh fine,” Jamie replied. “Where even is yer phone?”

“It’s still in my purse on the floor by the door. I didn’t want to be distracted,” she said pointedly as she aimed a light kick at his side.

“Well you can reply and then I can show ye how undistracted I really am,” Jamie said, nudging her legs off his lap. Claire walked over and picked her phone out of her bag. She typed out a quick text and sent the reply to the group. Jamie read her text as she sat down next to him. He looked over at her with a disapproving gaze. “Well then I guess I’m in too?” he quoted her text back to her. She shrugged. “That makes it sound like ye’re only going because I am. That’s going to make them suspect!”

“I meant it more along the lines of since the whole group is in I was too,” she clarified. “Which way do you think they’ll interpret it?”

“I’d say John, Geillis, Louise, and Rupert will interpret it my way. As for Angus and Willie, I’ve no clue,” Jamie offered. He leaned over, crowding her space. “But I’m done caring about them for the evening.” With a grin, Claire laid down on the couch and Jamie was quickly on top of her, his mouth meeting hers.



That Friday, right at the set time, Jamie and Claire were strolling toward the bar where they were set to meet their friends. They were near the door when Jamie pulled Claire’s arm and ducked into an alley next to the bar. “What are you doing?” Claire asked. Without a response, Jamie pulled her against him and kissed her soundly on the lips. Far too quickly for her liking, he pulled back with a small smile.

“Since we said those are off limits for the evening. I felt I needed one more.” Without another word, he walked back toward the street. Claire shook her head with a smile and followed him. They walked into the crowded bar and quickly found Angus and Geillis. “Are ye the only ones here?” Jamie asked.

“So far. Ye ken we willna see Willie till it’s past fashionably late,” Geillis replied. Claire couldn’t help but nod in agreement. She looked between the two of them. “Claire, I’ve barely seen ye. How was yer trip to Scotland?”

Claire marveled at the fact that it took her friend less than a minute to bring it up. “It was good,” she said simply.

“Ye went to Scotland then?” Angus asked.

“Aye, she and Jamie both went a couple of weekends ago,” Geillis informed him. Claire quickly glanced over at Jamie but his face gave nothing away. She hoped her glass face wouldn’t betray her that evening.

“Did ye then? What took ye to Scotland?” Angus pressed, looking at the both of them.

“My family,” Jamie responded.

“Well that’s what got Jamie there,” Geillis cut in. “What took you there, Claire?” The look from her friend was nearly piercing. She was trying so hard to get information out of them.

“A train,” Claire joked. Jamie laughed beside her.

“So what did ye think of Scotland then? Were ye moved by the beautiful place?” Angus asked in a near interrogation.

“You know I’ve been there before, right? I lived there for six years as a child,” Claire reminded him. He stared at her as he tried to rack his brains. “That’s how I knew Jamie,” Claire added.

Angus looked between the two of them, still clearly confused. “Huh.”

Geillis opened her mouth to further question the two of them but thankfully Rupert and Louise walked in. Claire was too quick to greet them and offer them her full attention. A large group was getting up to leave from the booth in the corner. “Jump on that!” Geillis ordered. Louise and Claire quickly ran over toward it as they had the best path.

Hearing her name, Claire turned back to the bar. Jamie motioned to ask her if she wanted a drink. She nodded, knowing she’d be satisfied with whatever he chose. Slowly, the rest of them got their drinks and wandered over to the booth they were claiming. Willie showed up earlier than they all expected. Jamie placed Claire’s drink in front of her before he sat down next to her and placed an arm around her shoulder. She didn’t miss the looks exchanged between Geillis and Louise as she slightly leaned into him.

The last person to show up was John. He wandered over when Jamie was up getting a second round. After greeting everyone, his eyes settled on Claire. “You’re here,” he remarked.

“Of course I am,” Claire replied. “I usually do come out when we all do.”

“Sure, sure,” he said. “I just...didn’t know, you know. Seems like not everyone’s here,” he commented, looking at the table.

“Jamie’s at the bar,” Rupert informed him, pointing to where Jamie stood, noticeable by his height.

John turned to look. He nodded his head as he looked back at Claire. “And have I missed anything?”

Claire shook her head. “Aye, the first round,” Angus told him. “Ye might want to go get yerself a drink so ye can catch up, lad.”

John nodded again, turning off toward the bar. He stopped to speak to Jamie as they met in the middle. Jamie walked back over, placing a drink down in front of Claire. “Here ye are, Beauchamp.”

Claire smiled her thanks. “What the hell?” Louise asked. “Claire hasn’t even finished her first drink yet.”

“Aye but she was low,” Jamie remarked.

“Did you happen to notice I was as well,” Louise pressed, seemingly not wanting Claire to get special favors.

“No, but I did notice yer legs werena broken,” Jamie retorted with a smirk. “Besides, Claire asked.” It was a lie. She hadn’t even finished hers yet, he just went ahead and ordered her another. She didn’t mind, but she was having trouble not laughing at her friends’ faces.

The conversation changed as Rupert began to tell a story from work but Claire couldn’t miss Geillis staring at her and Jamie. When she looked up at her friend, Geillis looked quickly over at Rupert.

The night carried on most of the same way. Jamie and Claire would exchange small touches or held a glance longer than necessary, drawing the attention of their friends. John looked as though he was going to have an aneurysm as he tried to keep their secret. Geillis and Louise looked incredibly skeptical of them, like they were waiting for them to slip up and kiss or something. Rupert too, seemed to be paying more attention to them than usual. As Jamie had predicted, Angus and Willie seemed oblivious.

After a bit, the guys got up to go play darts. The ladies followed and stood at a high table near the dart board. Claire was watching Jamie when Geillis interrupted her thoughts. “What is going on wi’ ye, Claire? I’ve barely seen ye at the hospital since ye came back from Scotland.”

Claire turned her head to look at her friend. “What does that have to do with anything? The hospital is trying to cut back on people putting in more hours. Something about overtime, I think. So I’ve been working a bit less. But it wasn’t my choice.”

“Still, it seems like ye had a romantic weekend away,” Geillis pushed. Claire noticed as Louise glared at Geillis. Geillis saw it too. She shook her head. “I suppose just the idea of the two of ye going away together seemed odd.”

“We went away just as friends,” Claire maintained. It wasn’t a lie. Neither of them had imagined they’d leave Scotland as more than friends.

“Aye, I suppose you’d ken better than us,” Geillis conceded. Claire couldn’t help but wonder what Louise’s glare had meant to Geillis.

Jamie walked over at that moment, reaching over and taking a sip of Claire’s beer. Louise and Geillis stared at him, but Claire was unfazed. “What are you doing, Fraser?” Louise asked. “That was Claire’s.”

“Well aye, but I finished mine,” he replied, aiming for nonchalance. The two women looked at each other and back at him, their skepticism growing.

“Jamie, ye’re up,” Willie called.

Jamie nodded at him and turned to walk back. Claire couldn’t stop the urge that came to mind. She smacked Jamie’s ass as he walked away. Behind her, Louise or Geillis let out a small gasp. Even Jamie turned back, a look of shock and amusement on his face. “Good luck,” Claire joked, smiling as she shrugged. She turned around and saw her friends’ faces. The plan to mess with them was definitely working.

By the end of the night, there had been plenty more touches and comments that made Louise and Geillis raise their eyebrows. A brazen hand in Jamie’s hair had even grabbed Willie’s attention. But all of them stayed silent. The closest Geillis had come to asking her anything outright had been during the darts game. Louise had shut that down for whatever reason. Claire was truly surprised that no one had called them on anything. Not even the ass smack had gotten more than a look.

The group was saying goodbye and parting ways outside the bar. Jamie, a bit loudly, made a comment about walking Claire home since her flat was not too far away. They all parted and Jamie took Claire’s hand in his as they walked from the bar.

“Okay, stop!” Geillis yelled, getting everyone’s attention. Jamie and Claire turned back to see what had riled her up. She looked back at the rest of the group. “I’m sorry. I promised all of ye that I’d keep my questions and comments to myself. Ye said that if Louise and I kept saying things as we had, we’d make them uncomfortable and they’d stop coming out wi’ us. But I canna keep the promise. This is too much,” she insisted, pointing at their joined hands.

“What are you talking about?” Claire asked as they walked back closer.

“The two of ye!” Geillis cried. “All night it was hands all over each other and little comments here and there. And for the sake of the promise I made, I didna call it out. But I canna let this slide. Ye insist ye’re just friends and nothing more, but never in my life have I walked hand in hand down the street wi’ Rupert. Okay, one time as a joke I walked hand in hand wi’ Rupert. Let me rephrase that. Never in my life have I ever walked down the street hand in hand wi’ Angus. Or Willie. Or John. It’s no’ a normal thing that two people who are just friends do!”

She took a deep breath, looking to the others to see if they were upset. They seemed fine with what she was saying. A small nod from Louise urged her to continue. “So I’m sorry, but for the last time, I must ask. What is it between the two of ye? Just tell us, are ye together or no’?”

Jamie quickly squeezed Claire’s hand. “Aye, we are,” he admitted. Claire looked at him, shocked that he’d confessed. He turned to her. “I’m sorry to burst the bubble. I hope yer no’ mad at me. But we didna say we’d lie to them.”

She smiled at him as she ignored the gasps from their friends. “I’m not mad. I promise.” Claire turned back and looked at her friends’ reactions. “He’s right,” she said as she bit her lip.

Geillis screamed and ran over to wrap them both in a hug. “I knew it!” she cried. “It was that arse slap.” Claire laughed and shrugged. Louise was smiling and shaking her head at Claire.

“Wait, so the two of ye are truly a couple?” Willie asked. Jamie and Claire nodded.

“Well when did this happen?” Rupert wondered as he clapped Jamie on the back.

“When we were in Scotland,” Claire informed them all.

“You mean you’ve kept this from us for two weeks?” Louise demanded. “How very rude of you both.”

“It was kind of nice just having it be our little secret,” Claire said, looking up at Jamie.

“A sexy little secret,” Angus added with a grin.

Claire grimaced. “And now it feels gross.”

“Wait, have ye?” Geillis asked. Claire glared at her. Her friends could assume what they wanted but she didn’t want to air the private details of her life for them all. “Just text me later,” Geillis said with a wink. “Or perhaps we should have a ladies’ dinner next week.”  

John sighed from the back of the group. “Well I’m certainly glad you finally told them. It was so hard not spilling the secret.”

All of them turned to look at John. “You knew?” Louise asked, pointing a finger at him. “They told you?” She turned back and glared at the couple.

“Of course they told him. They’re his parents,” Rupert reasoned.

John looked confused. “What do you mean by parents?”

“Nothing, lad,” Jamie quieted him with a wave of his hand. John still seemed confused.

“Anyway,” Claire said, changing the subject. “This has been fun. I’m sure we’ll all see each other again soon.”

“Och, no worries, I’m sure ye’re eager to get home, Claire,” Rupert said with a wink.

“You’re gross,” Claire insisted. Though as she looked at Jamie, she knew Rupert wasn’t wrong. “Anyway, we’ll see you guys later!”

They all said their goodbyes and went in separate directions. Claire wrapped her hand around Jamie’s arm. “Well they all ken the truth and the world didna end.” Claire shot him a look. “They seemed supportive enough.”

“True,” she agreed. “We didn’t even get an “I told you so.” I’m rather shocked.”

“Dinna get yer hopes up. I’m sure that will come later,” Jamie teased.

“Okay, I think it’s time for me to admit that you were right,” Claire said with a sigh as they kept walking. Jamie looked down at her with a curious expression. “It’s nice that they know.” Jamie nodded and kissed the top of her head.

They walked in silence for a bit before a soft chuckle from Jamie turned Claire’s head. “What?” she asked.

He wore a wide grin. “I was just trying to imagine what I would have done if you’d have slapped my arse like that when we were only friends.” Claire couldn’t help but laugh, leaning into him. “I expect I’d have wanted to do the same thing I want to now.”

“Which is?”

Jamie stopped, close to her flat and took her face in his hands. He drew close to her face but didn’t kiss her. “I think ye ken.” Closing the distance between them, he gave her an almost sinful kiss. Breaking away from her quickly with a devious grin, he took off up the stairs to her flat. She chased after him, eager to carry on with whatever he had in mind.

Chapter Text

Dating Jamie hadn’t really changed much for Claire. He still came to have lunch with her at least once during the week. They still hung out with their friends. Jamie was still the first person Claire would call if she needed something or needed to share something. He was still her best friend. Now, she just could actually tell him the full extent of her feelings for him. Well that, and they could have sex. It was only pleasant additions to her life.

Claire had been at work for an hour when she was stopped by one of the nurses. “So what time are you heading to the gala?”

“I should be out of surgery by noon,” Claire replied. “And since they’ve said only emergency surgeries are happening today, it looks like I’ll have to be there. Dr. Harris said I’m not allowed near the A&E.”

“Well just don’t forget to change. I can’t believe the won’t let us wear scrubs.”

Claire gasped. “Oh God.”

“Did you forget?”

“No, I knew that was the rule. I just...forgot the dress I was planning to wear,” Claire explained, turning from the nurse and waving in apology. Her surgery was in thirty minutes. There was no way she could get home and back before she had to start prepping. What was she going to do? In a flash, she knew what she could do. “Pick up, pick up, pick up,” Claire urged as the phone rang in her ear.

“Hey, Sassenach,” Jamie greeted.

“Are you going to have a lunch break today?” Claire asked without preamble.

“Yes.”

“Do you remember that dress that I said I was going to wear to the gala?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember where it was hanging on my closet door?” Claire continued with her interrogation.

“Aye, I do.”

“Do you think you could bring it to me at the hospital? I walked out without it today and I have to have it for that stupid gala this afternoon. I don’t even know why they’d have a gala in the afternoon and not the evening. And more than that, I don’t know why they won’t just let us wear our scrubs. But either way, I have a surgery in about a half hour and I’m going to get out right before I have to be at the gala and I won’t be able to get back to get it. Please tell me if I’m asking too much of you.” She took a deep breath as she finished ranting.

Jamie chuckled on the other end of the line. “Claire, it’s fine. I can absolutely get that to ye. It’s no’ too much to ask. I promise. I can take an early lunch to make sure I get it to ye in time.”

“You are the absolute best,” Claire sighed into the phone. “Thank you so, so much, Jamie!”

“Tis no’ a problem, Sassenach. I’ll see ye later. Good luck wi’ your surgery.”

“Thank you! Bye!” Claire hung up quickly, feeling instantly relieved.

Even though the surgery lasted a few hours, it went by quickly. Claire was antsy for Jamie to show up. She felt guilty making him waste his break to go fetch something for her, but she trusted him when he said it wasn’t a problem. Once the patient was safely in recovery, Claire walked out into the hallway and pulled out her phone. She had a text from Jamie telling her that he was there. Frantically, she checked the time of the message. It had only been a couple of minutes before. Breathing a sigh of relief, she wandered down to the lobby where he was waiting.

Jamie smiled as he saw her approach, standing up to greet her. Claire ran to him, kissing him quickly. “Thank you so much!” She took the dress bag out of his hands. “Seriously, I will make this up to you, in the best way I know how.”

“That sounds rather inappropriate,” he replied with a grin, leaning back in to kiss her again.

“It was supposed to. That’s how serious I am,” she confirmed. Claire sighed. “I’m sorry, I have to run. They’ll expect me to be prompt. This gala is -”

“With a bunch of board members and donors, aye, I remember,” Jamie finished for her with a grin. “It’s all ye’ve talked about for the last couple of weeks. And yet somehow ye couldna remember the dress,” he teased.

Claire shook her head at him. “Maybe I forgot it on purpose so that I could see you today. Ever think about that?”

“I did for a brief second when ye called me, but I figured ye wouldna give yerself tha’ much stress just to see me,” Jamie answered. “Besides, ye see me basically every day anyway.”

“True. Well anyway, I have to go,” she repeated. After giving him another kiss, she started walking off toward the stairs. Halfway up the stairs, she turned back and called to him, “Thanks again! I love you!” Suddenly, she froze. Her eyes widened and she stared at him. It was the first time she’d ever said it. He tilted his head, looking a bit shocked. “Bye!” she yelled and took off running.

Claire ran a hand down the front of the green dress she’d put on. It would have to do. Her hair was up in what she hoped look like an updo and not bundle of snakes all trying to escape. She was still beating herself up for what she’d said. How could she have said it for the first time like that ? Jamie deserved better than that but she couldn’t take it back. Trying to put it out of her mind, she wandered down to the gala.

She immediately helped herself to a glass of champagne, even before she’d introduced herself to the important people. Her boss found her and dragged her over to schmooze with people he thought she should know. After a bit of chatting, she excused herself. Finding another glass of champagne was first on her list. Avoiding conversations was second on her list. Suddenly, she wished there was an open bar and not just champagne being served. It wasn’t nearly strong enough.

“Ye look terrible.” Claire looked over and saw Geillis approaching her. “Not yer appearance, yer face.” She waved a hand in front of Claire. “It’s just this whole vibe ye’re giving off. Ye look hot, but emotionally distraught. What’s going on?”

Claire sighed and took a long drink. She explained the events that led to Jamie’s appearance at the hospital. “And then as I was running away, I said “Thank you. I love you.” And then I just left.”

“So?”

“So? It was the first time I said it!” Claire cried.

“Oh shit,” Geillis whispered. “I can see why you’re freaking out then.”

“You think he’s going to be mad at me that I did it like that?” Claire asked, panic starting to course through her.

“Has he said it to you?”

“No.”

Geillis inhaled sharply. “If I had to guess, I’d be willing to bet Jamie was waiting for a good opportunity and didn’t want to just blurt it out.”

“You mean like I did?” Claire reminded.

“Aye.” Geillis looked at her critically. “Well...did ye mean it?”

Claire paused for a moment before answering. “Of course I meant it. I do love him. I just...I don’t know. I’m not good at these things. I don’t know when I would have said it otherwise. I’ve never sat there and wondered “Am I there yet? Do I love him? Hmm? Should I say something?” You know? I didn’t really think about it until after I’d yelled it and run away awkwardly. Then I berated myself and wondered “Did I really mean it?” And I came to the conclusion that yes, of course I meant it. I do love him. I love him so much. I just wish I was better at articulating it for the first time.”

“Well I dinna ken what to tell ye, Claire. I mean it’s no’ like ye can take it back,” Geillis replied, being completely unhelpful.

“Gee, thanks Geillis.”

Claire walked away from her friend, actually willing to engage in conversations with strangers now. Perhaps talking about her job would actually take her mind off her current dilemma. She would accept any distraction from the ball of doubt sitting in her stomach.

As she gathered up her things, she noted the fact that she hadn’t heard from Jamie the rest of the day. “He’s probably just working,” she muttered to herself. She was walking out the door when her phone started ringing. Expecting Jamie, she was surprised when it was Joe calling.

“Joe? How the bloody hell are you?” She asked, happy to hear from her friend.

“Doing pretty well! How are you? How are things with the Scot?” he finished with a tease. Claire smiled. She decided not to mention her current debacle and instead just tell him how well things had been going. They chatted and caught up on each other’s lives for her entire commute home. She hung up her phone as she walked up to her door. There was a big part of her that hoped Jamie would be there. Opening the door left her crushed at the sight of her dark home. Sighing, she walked in and set her things down before she looked back at her phone. There was a text from Jamie that must have come in when she was talking to Joe.

Working late tonight. Sorry I’ll miss dinner.

Claire stared at it for a long time. What did it really mean? Was he avoiding her or was he really just working late? She wondered if she went over to his flat if she’d find him there, hiding away from his disastrous girlfriend. Or perhaps he was actually working late. Claire looked down at the dress she was still wearing. She ran back to her room and changed into something a bit more comfortable. Grabbing her purse, she left her flat, deciding to go find Jamie.

 

As Claire walked onto his floor, she knew where he was because it was the only office that was still lit. A feeling of relief swept through her. He hadn’t been lying. She adjusted the strap of her purse on her shoulder and walked off toward his office. A knock on the door grabbed his attention. She smiled. “Well this is certainly a role reversal,” she mused. “ You working late and me bringing you food.”

He smiled and turned in his chair toward her. “What are ye doing here?”

“Well you said you were working late. I was worried you wouldn’t eat dinner.” She held up a bag of takeout for emphasis.

“Ah, thank ye. I hadn’t, actually.”

Claire walked over towards his desk, handing the bag over to him. She sat against the edge of the desk. “I also, uh, wanted to make sure you weren’t avoiding me.”

He looked up at her, confusion plain on his face. “Why would I be avoiding ye?”

She sighed deeply and looked down at her feet. “I don’t know if it was because my formative years were shaped by Uncle Lamb who was never married, except to his job. I don’t know if that’s why I’m so terrible at expressing my feelings. I know that I’m a mess at...this and I’m sorry.”

Jamie opened his mouth but Claire waved a hand to stop him.

“No, wait. This time I actually want to express myself.” She took a pause and looked at him. “I meant what I said. I wish that I’d said it differently and better. But I did mean it. I...I do love you. I think I’m just a bit scared by it.”

“Scared?” Jamie asked, his brow furrowing.

“We’ve only been together for two months,” she explained. “I’ve never felt this way about someone that fast.”

Jamie nodded, seemingly in understanding. He set the food down on the desk and scooted his chair closer to her. Almost hesitantly, he reached his hands out and laid them on either side of her knees. But he was silent, waiting for her to keep talking.

“For that matter,” she continued, “I’ve never felt like this with anyone else. It’s not even the fact that it’s this fast. Never in a relationship have I felt this happy, or this safe, or this cared for. And that includes the entirety of my three year relationship with Frank. And we’re only two months in. So I was scared that it was too fast and I was feeling this way already. And God, if I’m messing this up or freaking you out, please tell me. Maybe I didn’t mean it,” she finished, throwing her hands in the air. After confessing that much, she couldn’t look at him. Instead she covered her face with her hands.

Claire could feel his hands squeeze slightly on her legs. “Claire,” he said in a soft voice. She slowly removed her hands and looked down at him. His eyes were bright, staring at her with an intense look in his eyes. “Ye’re no’ messing anything up. I ken that it’s early for most people to say it.” She took a deep breath and held it. “But the fact is, I love ye, too.” He reached up and took her hands in his.

She let go of the breath she was holding, squeezing his hands. “You do?”

“Oh aye. I really do,” he reassured with a smile. “I realized it well before it was acceptable for me to say it.”

She couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh really? Well now you have to tell me when it was.”

“No, I dinna think I can,” he said, rebuffing her. He rolled his chair back to the center of his desk and opened the bag of food.

“Oh come on,” she cried. She jumped up and sat down in his lap, lacing her arms around his neck. “Please tell me,” she pleaded as she laid her head on his shoulder. “It might make me feel better after I spent all day agonizing over the fact that I yelled it at you and then ran away.” She felt Jamie laughing as his arms closed around her.

“That was quite special,” he teased.

“It’s too soon to tease me,” she warned, lifting up her head to look at him. “I’ve felt terrible about it all day.”

“What, ye didna think I’d return the sentiment?”

“It wasn’t that. I mean, it was partly that, but not entirely,” she began. “I think I was just mad because I wanted to do it better.” She looked up and met his gaze. “I love you,” she said softly, leaning in to kiss him. They sat there for a moment, just holding each other.

“I love ye, too, mo nighean donn,” he whispered back to her. After a long moment, he pulled back and grabbed the food on his desk. “However, I am quite hungry.”

Claire laughed as she stood up and walked over to his couch. Jamie brought over the food and sat down next to her. They had been sitting there eating silently when Claire brought it up again. “So really, when did you know?” Jamie looked over at her with a groan. “Come on, did you actually think I’d drop it?”

Jamie sat back against the couch, looking at her with pleading eyes. She held firm and stared at him. Jamie sighed. “Well which were ye wanting to know? When I kent I wanted ye or when I kent I loved ye?”

“Oh, I didn’t realize there were two separate things here we were talking about,” Claire said almost gleefully. “Why not say both?” She laughed deviously at the look on his face.

“Fine.” He took a bite of his dinner and continued staring down at his takeout dish. “I kent I wanted ye more or less the first night I saw ye again. Ye walked into the bar behind Geillis and I thought ye were the bonniest lass I’d ever seen. Then she introduced ye as Claire Beauchamp and I thought surely it wasna possible that ye were the same Claire Beauchamp I’d grown up with.” Claire watched him as he kept his eyes on his food. She felt almost powerful knowing that he’d wanted her all this time. It would be a lie to say she hadn’t found him incredibly attractive from the get go. “But it was a bit later when I kent I loved ye.”

“Well when was it?”

“I didna really ken that what I was feeling was love until ye froze us out,” Jamie admitted. Claire felt a stab of guilt at his mention of the weeks she’d avoided all her friends. “But thinking back on it, I’d noticed a change in the way I felt even before then.” She stared at him, nodding for him to keep going. “Do ye recall the night ye met John? When ye came over to my flat to talk yer feelings out?”

“That was when it was?” she asked, horrified at his revelation.

“Aye, that was when it all changed for me,” he revealed.

“Good God, why? I was there bitching about another man,” she reminded him. “What was attractive about that?”

He laughed. “I canna say exactly. I think it was the fact that ye trusted me wi’ yer feelings and yer doubts. Ye came to me because ye kent I’d be there for ye. It doesna exactly make sense to me either, but I remember feeling grateful that John had arrived.”

“Why?”

“Because the longer you went on about your relationship issues, the stronger the urge to change my tactic became. But I’d promised myself that I wouldna ever tell ye to dump the man, even when I wanted to,” Jamie confessed.

Claire laughed and shook her head. “You certainly kept that promise. Even with that damn intervention.”

“I’m a man of my word, Sassenach,” he said with a laugh. “Even to myself.”

Claire took a bite of her food after she stopped laughing. “For me, I think it was the day you brought me coffee at the hospital because you felt guilty that you’d kept me up all night.” She giggled at the memory. “And then you made inappropriate comments at my work and the nurses shunned me. Granted, that was because they were single and were mad that I’d ditched the singles’ club at the hospital.” She looked over at him with a grin. “But it was that little gesture of you trying to take care of me that just tipped me over the edge.”

He smiled fondly at the memory. “That’s funny because that seemed like a non-event for me.”

“I guess we can’t choose when it happens, huh,” she mused.

“I suppose not.”

Jamie set his food down on the table in front of them and leaned over to kiss her. Claire quickly set her food down too, reaching up to pull him closer. His hands pulled at her waist as their kiss grew heated. She cupped his face with her hands, keeping him from breaking away. Her hands began to roam, touching everywhere. He stayed constant, just holding her close to him. She pulled away, panting.

“Have you ever had sex in your office?” she joked. “Wait, don’t answer that.”

Jamie laughed. “No, actually I havena. And frankly, I dinna want to. Sorry, lass.”

Claire pouted. “Well that’s a buzzkill. Why not?”

Jamie raised a brow at her. “Do ye think I want to be in a meeting in here, looking at someone sitting here on the couch and then have my mind stray to things I’ve done to ye on here? That would no’ be good.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “Alright, I suppose I understand that.” She leaned back in and kissed him softly. “I can still kiss you, right?”

Jamie laughed against her lips. “Aye,” he breathed before pulling her back in. They shared a long and languid kiss before Jamie broke away with a sigh. He kissed her forehead before he stood up to sit back in his desk chair. Claire picked her food up again and kept eating. She felt no rush to leave, knowing she’d go home to an empty flat. Jamie got back to work and Claire pulled out her phone to catch up on the news of the day.

She had no idea how much later it was when she felt Jamie kiss her forehead and brush her hair away. Opening her eyes, she saw him staring down at her with a gentle smile. “Did I fall asleep?”

He nodded. “Come on, why don’t we get you home?”

“Are you finished with everything you needed to work on?”

“Not really, but I canna just leave ye here sleeping on my couch. I ken that’s no’ a very comfortable couch.”

“It’s just fine,” she insisted, closing her eyes again. “I’m just tired because I worked a lot this week. I’m fine. Keep working if you need to.”

Jamie grabbed her wrists and pulled her into a sitting position. He reached out and cupped her cheek. “Let’s go home, Sassenach.” Knowing he wouldn’t give up and go back to work, she let him help her stand so they could leave. They cleaned up his office and turned out the lights before making their way out of the building. “I meant to ask ye, how did ye get up here earlier?”

Claire grinned. “I may have flirted with the security guard a bit.”

“Well that makes me feel verra safe,” Jamie joked.

On their way back home, Claire realized just how tired she was. The anxiety that had kept her going all afternoon had abated the moment Jamie had said he loved her too. Her inevitable crash from a lack of sleep all week and a spike of anxiety could not be far off. Jamie had directed them back to her flat. She made her apologies and quickly went about her nightly routine. Once in bed, she could feel sleep pulling her under quickly. A movement next to her signalled that Jamie had gotten in bed as well. She reached out to curl her arm around him when she met a hard surface. Opening her eyes, she saw him sitting up with a laptop on his lap. “Are you doing more work?” she asked through her sleepiness.

“Aye. Quite a wild Friday night.”

“Well why did you make us leave your office?”

“Because I can work just as easily here but ye must be far more comfortable sleeping here,” he replied as he rubbed a hand along her hair.

She sighed. “Okay. Goodnight.”

“Night, Sassenach.”

Claire put her head back down on the pillow and closed her eyes. She pried her eyes open and reached out to grab his hand. “I love you,” she whispered.

Jamie leaned down and kissed her head. “And I love ye.”

 

Claire woke the next morning feeling rested and happy. It took a few moments to remember why she had this relentless feeling of happiness. Looking over, Jamie was asleep next to her, a smile on his face. She would have to go into the hospital today, but the timing of it was flexible. Rather than getting up, she curled in against Jamie and let sleep pull her back under. She felt his arms closing around her as she fell back asleep.

It was nearly noon when she was wandering around her home, gathering the things she needed for the day. Jamie stood in her kitchen, sipping on a cup of coffee as he watched her run around. Once she had everything she needed, she joined him in the kitchen. Rather than sipping like him, Claire chugged her cup, despite it burning her tongue. “Thanks for the coffee,” she said quickly, leaning in to kiss him before turning back to leave.

“Hey, ye shouldna be there long, right?” Jamie asked. “It’s no’ a full day at the hospital?”

“That’s right. I just have to check on a few patients and probably do a bit of paperwork.”

“Alright. Well what if when ye get home, I cook ye dinner this evening?”

Claire smiled and walked back to him. “I think that sounds wonderful.” She kissed him again, lingering a bit this time, before she had to leave. “I’ll see you later?”

“I’ll be here,” he assured her.

“Perfect.” She shot him a smile before closing the door behind her.

After she left, Jamie sat down and thought through the recipes he knew best. He figured he had at least a few hours before she’d be back. The meal didn’t have to be cooked, but he could at least have all the things he needed. He spent the next few hours getting groceries and doing a bit more work before he started to prep for the meal he’d promised.

He’d spent plenty of time at Claire’s flat, but there was a part of him that wished he was using his own kitchen. His search for her dish soap had taken him to nearly every cabinet in her kitchen. He had just opened the cabinet under her sink when he heard a knock at the door. As he walked over to the door, he wondered who would be stopping by Claire’s home. The only person he thought of was John. He opened the door and found that it was definitely not John.

“Frank?” Jamie asked, stunned at the sight of her ex-boyfriend. Suddenly, he felt like he shouldn’t be in Claire’s home by himself. He cleared his throat. “What are ye doing here?”

Chapter Text

Jamie stared at Frank, waiting for an answer from him. It was clear that he didn’t expect someone else to be in Claire’s home. Jamie was wishing at the moment that he was still out getting groceries. Frank eyed him suspiciously before he offered up an answer. “I’m here to see Claire.”

Jamie nodded, thinking through what to say next. Frank looked past him to the rest of her flat. “Well I’m afraid she’s not here at the moment. She got called into the hospital.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m uh,” Jamie looked back into the flat. He spotted the open cabinet under the sink and it sparked an idea. “I’m fixing her sink for her.”

“When she’s not here?” He narrowed his eyes at Jamie.

“Well she was here earlier and let me in,” Jamie said. Frank didn’t need to know that he’d actually spent the night there. Or the fact that he’d spent most nights in the last two months with her. In a flash, Jamie had decided to hide his true relationship with Claire. That could be Claire’s choice to divulge to him if the time came.

“When will she return?”

“Not sure,” Jamie answered evasively. Frank huffed before he walked past Jamie into Claire’s flat, bumping his shoulder as he passed him. Jamie stood and stared at him for a moment, taken aback by his brazenness. “So you’ll be waiting then?”

Frank sat down in a chair at her kitchen table. “Clearly,” he replied in a biting tone.

Jamie swallowed harshly as he turned to close the door. He stood there for a moment, trying to figure out what he would do. One option was leave and go to the hospital and tell Claire. Another option was sit down at the table with him to see if Jamie could make Frank feel as uncomfortable as he felt. A third option was pretending to actually fix Claire’s sink. Ultimately, the latter won out. The last thing he wanted was to actually talk to Frank, so Jamie knelt down in front of the open cupboard and wondered how he could pretend to fix a sink.

He was only kneeling there for a minute before he stood up to go find Claire’s toolbox. She kept it in her bedroom closet. There was a part of him that hoped Frank was scandalized by the thought of Jamie in there. If he could only know the full truth of what they’d done in there. He shook his head. That was no way to think. If anything he felt bad for Frank for being idiotic enough to take Claire for granted.

Jamie walked back out of Claire’s bedroom with a few tools in his hands. Frank watched him as he moved about her kitchen. “And does Claire know that you just make yourself at home in her flat? Wandering about in her room?”

Jamie looked over at him, choking back the rising anger within him. “Yes.” He smiled slightly, mostly to himself, before kneeling back on the floor. In the next few minutes, he moved the tools against the pipes so it would sound like he was working. Occasionally, he’d stand and turn on the water to “test” it. Then he’d duck back down. He was glad the island sheltered him from Frank’s gaze.

But the whole time, he was imagining what he’d say to Frank if he thought it was his place. How does it feel to have lost the perfect woman? Do you know how truly stupid you are to have not followed her here? What could possibly be worth staying in Boston over being with Claire? How did it not kill you to not spend each night beside her? Why would a selfish man like you have ever gotten to be with her in the first place? I suppose I should thank you for being such a terrible boyfriend that she left you and allowed me a chance.

Jamie never said any of it though. Instead, he kept to himself and feigned handiwork. Hopefully Claire had seen the several texts he’d sent her in warning. If nothing else, he could give her a heads up to the situation waiting for her. Jamie sighed, wishing he could be working on the dinner he’d promised Claire. He was just wasting time. But surely if Frank saw him preparing a meal for her, he’d have more questions and Jamie wasn’t quite sure he had the strength not to punch him in the face. Somehow he wasn’t sure Claire would appreciate him beating up Frank.

It had been an hour of loaded silence before Jamie heard a key unlocking the door. He jumped up and bolted to the door, hoping to catch Claire before Frank did. Her eyes lit up as she saw him. “Hi. You know I don’t smell anything and I distinctly recall -” She cut off at his expression. “What’s wrong?”

Jamie looked over his shoulder to Frank. Claire peered around Jamie and released a small gasp. “Frank?” she asked. He stood from his chair with a smile. She tugged on Jamie’s arm, pulling him closer to her as she backed toward the door. “What is he doing here?” she whispered.

“I dinna ken. He just said he was looking for ye,” Jamie replied with a shrug.

Claire looked mildly horrified as she risked a glance back over Jamie’s shoulder. She took a deep breath and walked past Jamie. He felt a knot in his stomach as he watched her walk towards the other man. What had been his purpose in coming here?

“Frank,” Claire said in a polite voice. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you.” He reached for her hand but she put both her hands behind her back. “I think we need to talk.”

Claire shrugged. “So then talk.”

Frank looked past her to Jamie. He narrowed his eyes at him. “I was thinking we need to talk alone.”

Claire looked back at Jamie before turning to Frank. “No. You’re not going to come here and kick people out of my home. You’re not my boyfriend anymore, Frank.”

“It’s alright, Sassenach,” Jamie replied. He didn’t really want to be there to hear whatever Frank might say to Claire. “I have to go get some better tools for the sink anyway.”

Claire looked incredibly confused as he turned to go out the door. She walked over to him and stopped him from leaving. “Jamie, you don’t have to go anywhere.”

“Nah, ye need yer privacy,” he offered. She shook her head but Jamie had made up his mind. “I’ll, uh...yeah,” he sputtered before walking out the door.

He didn’t know what it was about Frank that got under his skin. Perhaps it was the way he’d treated Claire. All of their friends had detested the way he either acted like she didn’t matter or like she was his property. There was something else, though, that made Jamie uncomfortable around Frank. It probably had to do with the fact that by the time Jamie met the man, he’d already realized he had feelings for Claire.

Jamie planted himself on the steps outside Claire’s flat, putting his face in his hands. What could they have to talk about? Maybe he should have taken Claire’s offer to stay. He wasn’t sitting there long before a familiar face popped up. “Louise? What are you doing here?”

“I came to borrow some shoes from Claire,” she informed him. “What are you doing? Why are you just sitting out here?” She sat down next to him on the step. “Did you guys have a fight?”

Jamie breathed out a laugh. “No. Claire is up in her flat talking to Frank.”

“Dear God, why? Why is that insufferable man back in our lives?” Louise cried.

“I dinna ken. He got here an hour ago and Claire wasna home. Just me,” Jamie told her.

“Wait, so he stayed?” Jamie nodded. “You sat there for an hour in her home with her ex-boyfriend? Did you tell him that you and Claire were together?” she interrogated.

“Nope.”

“Why not? That probably would have shoved him out the door,” Louise insisted.

“Ye’re right. It likely would have. But for some reason when I saw the man I decided it had to be Claire to tell him that. It was probably a poor choice.”

“It definitely was,” Louise agreed. “Although, there’s always the chance he’d have punched you. So why do you look so miserable?”

“I just told ye what’s happening up in Claire’s flat, did I no’?”

“Well sure, but why do you look like the world is ending?” Louise asked, pointing at his face. “You look sad and concerned. Do you actually think Claire’s going to get back with him?”

Jamie shrugged. “Well no. But then there’s this small voice in the back of my mind that says otherwise. I mean, I only saw the end of their relationship. Maybe it was wonderful until Claire moved.”

“It wasn’t,” Louise quickly countered. “I saw lots of it. Do you think Claire would have moved if her relationship was wonderful?” Jamie shook his head. “What, are you worried Frank is going to convince Claire to move back to Boston with him?”

Jamie looked over at her in a panic. “Well now I am.”

Louise laughed shrilly. “Good God, man. I didn’t realize you were so insecure.”

“I’m not. Or I guess I’m not usually. I canna say what it is but something about Frank just puts me on edge.” Jamie sighed. “Perhaps it’s because I canna see why she’d ever have been with him. I canna say what it is that draws her to him. Is it doing so now?”

“Wow,” Louise said with a shake of her head. “This is bad. We need to get you a drink.”

“No, I dinna need a drink,” Jamie whined as Louise pulled on his arm.

“Yes, you do. Come on. There’s one right across the street. If we get a table by the window, maybe you can watch the door to see when Frank leaves,” Louise bribed.

Both with beers in hand, they found a table by the window. “You know you’re being really stupid, right?”

“Aye, I ken. But no amount of rational thought is helping. For whatever reason, I’m still jealous of the man,” Jamie said, marveling at his own stupidity.

“Even though you have his girlfriend?” Louise asked.

“Like I said, no amount of rational thought is helping. It’s all because I dinna ken what he’s saying,” Jamie insisted. He took a long drink, looking out the window and praying to see Frank leaving.

~~~

Claire stood at the door for a moment after Jamie had swiftly walked out. She didn’t know why he left. This could have gone a lot faster if he’d been there. Why did he think she needed privacy? Anything Frank told her she was surely going to just tell him later. Rolling her eyes at her boyfriend, she turned back to look at her ex. “What is it, Frank?”

He smiled at her and walked closer to her. “God, it’s good to see you.”

Claire just nodded. She truly couldn’t return the sentiment. “Why are you here?”

Frank sat on her couch and encouraged Claire to sit with him. For whatever reason, Claire wanted to tell him that she’d had sex with Jamie on that very couch. She held her tongue though. Sitting a distance away from him, Claire nodded for him to talk. He scooched closer to where she was. “It’s been four months since you broke my heart with that call,” he started.

Claire scoffed. “Well then it’s been seven months since you broke my heart when you wouldn’t even consider moving with me.”

“Claire, I didn’t come to fight. Please allow me to say what I need to,” Frank pleaded. She sighed before pressing her mouth into a tight line and waving for him to continue. “We were really good together. And so I was hurt when you wanted to leave. I thought it was about me. I thought maybe if I didn’t go with you, I could show you how much I meant to you. I thought maybe you’d come back. But that didn’t happen. You seemed genuinely happy here. You had friends, however rude they were.”

Claire fought back all the retorts coming to her mind. She’d told Frank he could have the space to say what he needed to. What that would be, though, she still couldn’t tell. Her mind strayed from his speech a bit and she wondered where Jamie had gone.

“So I took the job,” Frank told her. “And I moved here this summer. Like you advised, I moved for me, not for you. I’ve gotten settled and I have a life here now. But something is still missing and I know what that is. It’s you. Surely, you must feel it too.”

Claire opened and shut her mouth a few times before speaking. She needed to tell him the truth. “Frank -”

“No, please, just wait. I have more to say,” he interrupted, placing a hand on hers. “What we had in Boston was so good, Claire. We were good together, a good pair. And I know the distance made it hard for both of us. But that’s not a problem anymore. I’m back in England. And you’re here. We could start again and recapture our good relationship. I want you back, Claire.”

Claire sat there stunned. She felt him squeeze her hand. More than anything, she wanted to wrench her hand out of his. With a small sigh, she started to reply. “Look, Frank, I ended things for a reason.”

“I know. Because the distance was making our relationship too strained. But there’s not distance anymore. I’m not five hours behind you. I’m right here,” Frank insisted, clearly not reading Claire’s tense body language. “Claire, I regret the way I acted but you have to know that I was hurt by you leaving.”

“I left because Uncle Lamb was sick. I was spending so much time here that it didn’t make sense for me to have a job I wasn’t working back in Boston when I could have one here in London,” Claire reminded him. “But that’s not what really got you, was it? You were upset that I had a life outside of our relationship. I didn’t have many friends in Boston. I had Joe and I had a handful of friends at the hospital. But I didn’t go out with them and spend a lot of my time with them. You were scared by the fact that when I came here, I found a group, a little family that took me in. And you were scared that I’d forget about you. I didn’t. Every bloody time you called, I answered, even when it annoyed me or my friends. And every bloody time, you decided to pick apart my life and be as condescending as possible.”

Frank closed his eyes, his head tilted down. “Claire, I said I regret the way I acted.” He looked up at her pleadingly. “Please, I just want a second chance. I miss you and I miss what we had. You can’t deny that it was good. There’s a chance we’ll never find something like it again. Please, Claire, I love you. Give me another chance.”

Claire took a deep breath and sat up a bit straighter. “Frank, I know it must have taken a lot of courage to come here and say all this. But the fact is, I don’t feel the same way. I still stand by all the reasons I had for ending our relationship. It wasn’t working. And no, I don’t think it was just the distance. I’m sorry, but my answer is no.”

“But why?” he asked, taking both her hands in his. “You know we could be good again. You’re just scared.”

“I’m not scared,” Claire maintained. “The biggest reason I can’t take you back,” she paused, biting her lip before her confession, “is because I’m seeing someone.”

Frank dropped her hands, glaring at her. “Who?”

“What makes you think you know them?” Claire asked.

“Oh I think I very well know them,” Frank said accusingly. “It’s the Scot, isn’t it?”

“Which one? You met five the night you were here,” Claire reminded. “Although, I’ll admit, it’s not Geillis.”

“It’s Jamie, isn’t it? The very man I knew you’d immediately fuck once you were free of your ties to me,” Frank asked, his voice dripping with bitterness.

Claire took a deep breath. “Fine. Yes, it’s Jamie. That’s why he was here. But I didn’t start seeing him immediately after I left you. In fact I didn’t see any of my friends for nearly a month after I broke up with you. But really, it doesn’t matter if you had been right or not because what I do now is none of your business. I’m sorry that something is missing from your life, but I don’t think it’s me. I wish you the best, Frank, I really do. But I won’t be a part of it. I’m sorry if this hurts you, but I’m quite happy with my life right now.”

Frank shook his head as he stood up off the couch. “Whatever. Can you at least admit that you cheated on me while you were here?’

Claire stood up and got in his face. “No. I can’t. Because I didn’t. I’ve never once been unfaithful. I’m sorry if you were too insecure to believe that I could have friends and not sleep with them. Makes me wonder what you got up to in Boston.”

He rolled his eyes and walked past her towards her door. “You’re making the wrong choice,” he said in a low voice.

“Actually, I’m not,” she replied, standing with her arms crossed. “Thank you for coming and reinforcing all the good choices that I’d made. Goodbye, Frank.”

She walked forward and urged him out the door, ignoring his grumblings as he left. Claire turned around and leaned against the closed door, wondering why that all had to happen. Pulling her phone out of her pocket, she realized she’d never checked it when she left the hospital. There were several texts from Jamie warning her of Frank’s arrival. If only she’d seen them ahead of time.

Shaking her head, she closed out of her messages and called Jamie. She cursed when she heard a vibration on the kitchen counter. Her laughing face was staring up at her from his phone. Claire couldn’t help but smile at the picture. It wasn’t a particularly good picture of her, but Jamie had said it was his favorite. He’d snapped it when she was snorting laughing at something stupid Rupert had said. Claire sighed, holding his phone to her. After the awkwardness with Frank, all she wanted was Jamie.

Claire left her flat, hoping Jamie hadn’t gone far. She stopped on her steps outside and looked both ways on the street. Which way would Jamie go? Where would he go? Did he just go home? She groaned, hoping that he hadn’t actually gone all the way home. As she tried to make up her mind, she spied a familiar head of red hair in the window of the pub across the street. Claire smiled to herself as she walked over to find him.

“Louise?” Claire asked, surprised to see her with Jamie. “What are you doing here?” She placed her hand on Jamie’s shoulder as she stood next to him. He looked up at her before taking another sip of his beer.

“Well I was coming by to borrow those shoes from you when I found your boyfriend sitting on your stairs looking glum. So we’ve been drinking,” Louise informed her, raising her glass.

“Oh, fun,” Claire remarked.

“So I hear Frank’s in town,” Louise asked, pinning Claire with a look.

“Yes. Apparently he’s moved back to England.”

“He moved here?” Jamie asked, a strange look on his face.

Louise shook her head at him before she looked back at Claire. “You mean I have to share a country with him? It might be time to move back to France.”

Claire laughed. “Why don’t you come on up and get those shoes?” Louise nodded and downed her beer. The two of them started to walk away and Jamie was still sitting. Claire turned back and looked at him. “Are you coming?” she asked with an amused expression.

He nodded. “Aye, just let me finish this and I’ll meet you up there.”

Claire had given Louise the shoes she wanted and had sent her friend on her way. Jamie still hadn’t returned though. How long would it take for him to finish a beer? A knock at her door moved her from where she stood waiting in the kitchen. She opened the door to see Jamie standing there wearing a sad expression. “Why did you knock?” He just shrugged and walked in. She could tell he was acting oddly and she didn’t know why. Could it have been Frank? Had Frank said something to him when they’d been there alone? Claire decided it was time to get back to their original plans for the day. “So if I recall correctly, I was promised dinner this evening.”

Jamie smiled halfheartedly. “Aye, ye still want that?”

“Of course, I’ve barely eaten today.”

He nodded and walked over to the kitchen. Claire realized he’d barely made eye contact with her since he’d left her flat. Something was bothering him. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing.” He got out the vegetables he’d purchased and began chopping them.

“Well something is,” she insisted. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

With a sigh, Jamie put down the knife and looked at her. “What happened?”

“When?”

“With Frank,” he said, strained.

Suddenly his sullen demeanor made more sense. He was jealous. Did he truly think she’d pick Frank? A laugh escaped her before she could stop it. Jamie’s eyes widened and she clapped a hand over her mouth. She raised a hand in apology before she explained what had happened. Climbing up on the island next to where he stood, she started to tell him.

“Frank wanted to get back together,” she started.

“And?” he asked, cutting her off while not looking at her.

She shook her head at him. “And you’re a fool if you think I’d take him back.” He turned his head to look at her, so many emotions crossing his face. Claire reached over and grabbed his arm, pulling him to stand in front of her. “Do you actually think I’d get back together with Frank?”

“No. But for whatever reason when I was sitting on the outside, I was terrified it would happen,” he admitted.

Claire reached up and cupped his face in her hands. “You realize I told you to stay and you were the one who insisted on leaving?”

He nodded. “Aye, I ken that. I wanted to give you some space but then the moment the door closed, I regretted it. I didna think I could just walk back in. So I sat and stewed. Until Louise came along and then I sat and drank.”

“You know you have no reason to be jealous of Frank, right?” Claire asked, making sure he held her gaze.

“Logically, yes, I ken that,” Jamie agreed. “But I used to be jealous of the man.” Claire couldn’t help but smile. “Ye ken when ye run into someone from yer past and the way ye used to feel around them comes screaming back?” Claire nodded. All the anger she’d felt for Frank had come back to her as he sat on her couch. “It was like that. Even though I kent that I should be fine, I wasna.” He shook his head at himself.

Claire leaned forward and kissed him slowly. She pulled back and looked at him. “You know he was going on and on about how we were good together and how we could get that back and everything. And it hit me that I actually used to think that. I truly used to think Frank and I were good together. But do you know when that stopped?” He shook his head. “When I met you again. When you treated me better than my boyfriend did.” She stared at him with a meaningful look, running a hand through his hair. “So he sat there, talking about how good we were and I knew from this,” she motioned between them, “that what I already have is better than I had with him.”

Jamie smiled as he reached up to wrap his arms around her waist. “I’m sorry for being foolish.”

“You don’t have to apologize to me,” she said, leaning into him. “I would just like to remind you though, that literally last night, I told you I love you. Did you think that would change just because Frank appeared on my doorstep?”

“Technically you said it yesterday afternoon,” Jamie reminded her with a grin.

“Hey! Don’t try to distract me from your stupid behavior by bringing up my stupid behavior,” Claire said, smacking him on the arm.

“I admitted I was being foolish,” Jamie insisted. “What can I say? When it comes to ye I go a bit mad. All logic flies out the window.”

Claire smiled, leaning in to kiss him. She wrapped her legs around his waist, bringing him closer to her. They kissed slowly, pushing away the events of the day. Claire was the first to break the kiss, leaning her forehead against his. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I am quite hungry,” she whispered.

Jamie chuckled, tilting his head to give her a quick kiss before he started cooking again. Claire remained where she sat on the island. She liked watching Jamie cook. He had a look of determination about him. Grinning to herself, she just stared at him while he moved around her kitchen. “Did I ever tell you what Frank said to me when I was breaking up with him?” she asked.

Jamie looked up at her from the cutting board. “No. I dinna believe so.”

“He asked me if I was breaking up with him so that I could fuck you.” Jamie gaped at her, though she could see some amusement there. “Yep, that was real.”

“So it was probably not the best then that I was the only one here today, then was it?” Jamie asked with a smirk.

“No, probably not. But it’s kind of funny to me,” she confessed. “I really wish I had checked my phone before I left the hospital.” Jamie nodded in agreement. “Okay, I think it’s time.”

Jamie looked over at her in confusion. “Time for what?”

“Time for you to once and for all tell me your true feelings about Frank,” Claire pressed. “I broke up with him four, almost five months ago. I’ve now had the choice between him and you without any pressure of persuasion. I think it’s time you air it out.”

Jamie laughed. “Why does it matter what I think?”

“Because literally everyone else has told me what they think of Frank. You’re the last hold out. You kept your promise to yourself. When it mattered, you didn’t meddle. But now there’s nothing to meddle in, so go ahead and tell me what you think of him,” Claire urged.

Jamie paused his work and stared at her. “Ye really want me to tell ye?” She nodded with a grin. He looked back down at his cutting board. “I hated him.”

“Yes!” Claire cried with a laugh. “Go on.”

“I thought he was an ass. I spent the hour he was here mentally berating him for his childish behavior towards you.”

“You’re right, it was childish. What else did you hate?” Claire felt giddy finally getting the truth out of Jamie. He’d always been rather diplomatic to her about the man, even after she broke up with him.

“I hated the way he clearly looked down on us,” Jamie continued. “What made him better than us? If anything, we treated ye better than he did. Ye seemed happier when ye were with us. And what was so wrong with ye spending time wi’ yer friends? Why did he feel the need to yell at ye about that? Are ye no’ allowed to have friends?”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh. She could tell she had him riled up now. Apparently he had months of feelings to get out.

“No wonder Louise was mad when ye said ye hadna left him. He’s a damn fool. I think part of what put me on edge today is that I canna for the life of me figure out why someone as amazing as ye are would choose to be with a man like him,” he admitted.

“Well being 24 and more or less alone in a new country will do some weird things to your self-esteem,” Claire offered. “And until you know there’s something better for you, you think you’re happy.”

Jamie looked over at her and offered her a sad smile. Claire jumped down off the island and walked toward him. She wrapped her arms around his torso, her head against his back. “You know, I don’t think there’s been a single moment in the last seven months that I’ve regretted moving back here.” He laid a hand on top of hers. “And you’re a big part of that.”

Jamie turned around in her arms and held her. He leaned down gave her a heated kiss. She reached up to lace her arms around his neck. They remained in a passionate embrace, momentarily ignoring the food Jamie was preparing. Claire’s hands were under Jamie’s shirt when she felt her stomach growling. She pulled back from their kiss, looking at him appreciatively. “Mmm, I’m ravenous.”

Jamie grinned, leaning in to kiss a trail down her neck. “Me too.” Claire cleared her throat. He pulled back, still wearing a grin. “Och, you meant food.”

She nodded with a laugh. He gave her a quick kiss before he went back to his work. Claire settled herself back on the island, this time with a glass of wine in hand. As she sat there talking with Jamie and watching him cook for them, the feeling from this morning of relentless happiness finally returned to her.

Chapter Text

Claire felt a tear roll down her cheek as her head tilted back in laughter. She smacked a hand on the table in front of her.

“It’s no’ funny, Claire,” Jenny protested.

Claire shook her head at her phone. “Okay, but you have to understand, from my perspective, it’s fantastic!”

“Ye think it’s fantastic that a toy ye bought my son for his birthday is turning my home into madness?” Jenny asked, making a face as they video chatted. “Ye kent what ye were doing, Claire Beauchamp.”

“Of course I did,” Claire admitted. “But come on, I’ve never bought an Aunt gift before. I asked Jamie if he thought Wee Jamie would like it and he said I should get it. At least it’s not a drum set.”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Gee, Maggie’s birthday is in January. Should I expect that you’ll get her that now?”

Claire grinned. “That’s two months away. I can’t predict what amazing toy I’ll find before then.”

Jenny shook her head, though a reluctant smile crossed her face. “Whatever, Claire.”

“Really, you should be touched that your brother’s girlfriend bought presents for your child,” Claire reminded her. “His girlfriend of only a few months.”

“I’d think that was impressive if ye hadna met them before ye were his girlfriend,” Jenny said. “And also, ye came up for his party. What were ye to do, not get him something? Five year olds demand gifts at their parties. No matter how well we attempt to raise them.”

Claire laughed. “That’s fair. He did seem to have a good amount of those. I’m pleased that a full month later, he’s still taken with mine.”

Jenny shook her head. “Ye just wait till ye have bairns, Claire. I’ll be buying the most obnoxious toys for them, whether they’re my nieces and nephews or not!”

Claire grimaced. “Oh no. If I remember anything about a young Jenny Fraser, it was that she certainly kept her word. Even when you didn’t want her to.” Jenny grinned. “I’m a bit afraid of this promise.”

“As ye should be. I imagine before that time comes, my children will have a fair few birthdays. So choose yer gifts wisely, Claire,” Jenny said with a raise of her brow.

“Noted,” Claire conceded, smiling.

“Well I should go. I think I hear some naps ending upstairs.” Jenny looked nervously up to the ceiling. “It was lovely to chat wi’ ye.”

“And you,” Claire agreed. “Give the children my best. And Ian.”

“Aye, and ye do the same wi’ my brother,” Jenny added. Claire looked up to see Geillis walk into her flat. She motioned with her finger that she was on a call. “Oh wait, while I still have ye!” Jenny called before Claire could hang up. “Tell Jamie that the thing he requested from Lallybroch was too precious for me to send so Ian is bringing it. He’ll be down on Wednesday.”

Claire nodded. “Am I supposed to know what this precious object is?”

“If ye were supposed to, I wouldna have been so vague,” Jenny replied with a cheeky grin. “Just let Jamie know.”

“Alright, I will. Bye, Jenny!”

“Talk to ye soon, Claire!”

They both waved before ending the video call. Claire looked up at Geillis, surprised by the look of awe and mischief covering her face. “What?”

“So that’s gotta be a ring, right?” Geillis asked. Claire rolled her eyes. “You really don’t know what Jamie asked his sister for?”

She shook her head. “No. But I don’t have to know every little thing Jamie does or says, you realize? I really doubt it’s a ring.”

“Claire, come on! It’s “too precious to send” and so she’s sending it in person? That’s absolutely an engagement ring! Oh my god, I can’t believe Jamie is going to propose! Ah, you’re going to be engaged!”

Claire sighed as she watched her friend get excited over nothing. “Geillis, you can calm down. It’s not a ring. And honestly, I don’t want it to be a ring.”

Geillis dropped her arms and stared at Claire. “Why not?”

“We’ve been together for only four months. That would be far too soon for a proposal.”

“So what will you do if it is a ring and Jamie does propose?” Geillis posed.

Claire took a deep breath. “I’m not actually sure. But I don’t want us to get married yet. It’s too soon.”

“Well you better think on it and be sure of what you’ll do before next Wednesday,” Geillis pushed. “Because I guarantee that it’s a ring.”

“Did you come for something?” Claire asked, feeling annoyed by her friend.

“Oh yeah, I just got off of work and knew you had the day off. I was just coming to see what you were up to.”

Claire stared at her friend, feeling less and less like spending time with her. Surely if they went out, Geillis would spend the whole time talking about whatever Jenny was sending to Jamie. She kindly lied, saying she was busy and that Jamie had made plans for them later. There was no telling if Geillis bought it or decided to just leave her alone. Either way, she left and allowed Claire her peace and quiet.

The problem was that once she was alone, she started to spiral. Part of her said there was surely no way Jamie was about to propose. A dark voice in her head agreed with Geillis though. Claire loved Jamie. She loved him more than anyone she’d ever been with. But she wasn’t ready for them to get married. There were so many other steps she envisioned them taking before they got to that point. They’d only been together for four months. It was simply too damn soon for him to be expecting them to make that step.

Claire tried to make herself busy before Jamie got home. She cleaned and started to make dinner, hoping it would take her mind off Geillis’s arguments. Her endeavor was only moderately successful. By the time Jamie got home, she had managed to push it maybe an inch or two back in her mind.

Claire tried to seem normal all throughout dinner. Jamie had thankfully had an eventful day which led to him talking about it all as they ate. They were having an easy night in, like most nights. It couldn’t require Claire to talk too much. Her mind was still reeling over the possibilities of this precious cargo.

She was sitting on the couch next to Jamie, barely paying attention to the movie they were watching. Jamie looked over at her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. “Are ye alright, Sassenach?” Claire turned to look at him, raising her eyebrows in response. “Ye’ve just been a bit quiet this evening is all.”

Claire shrugged. “I’m just a bit tired, I think.”

Jamie chuckled. “But ye had the day off.”

“Well it was a draining week. I guess it just caught up with me,” she lied. He watched her for a moment before he nodded, either in understanding or because he wasn’t going to push her further. Jamie reached over to grab a pillow before putting it in his lap. Claire understood his meaning, meeting his gaze with a smile. She laid her head down on the pillow, allowing him to provide her comfort. His hand was quickly in her hair, massaging her head. It helped her relax. As she laid there, curled up with the man she loved, she started to forget the anxiety that had been plaguing her since the afternoon.

When she went back to work that weekend, a potential proposal was the furthest thing from her mind. Monday and Tuesday also, blessedly, left her distracted enough that her mind never cycled back to it. Her days were filled with normalcy, not with thoughts that left her spiraling and unsure.

But then Wednesday came. And with Wednesday’s arrival brought Ian’s arrival. Claire was still at the hospital when she got Jamie’s text saying that Ian would be there by dinner time. At first she was excited. She and Ian had always gotten along very well. They often bonded over the crazy Frasers, even if they were both madly devoted to them. As she started to think of what Ian’s visit might be like, the thought of what he was bringing with him returned.

Suddenly, Claire’s stomach was tied in knots again. It would be one thing if it was a ring and Jamie just planned to hold onto it for a long time. There were no guarantees though. What would happen if Jamie thought they were ready for marriage and Claire didn’t? What if he proposed and she said, “No, not yet.” Would they survive that? There was no way Jamie would just bounce right back and be alright with her rejection, even if it was really just a raincheck.

Claire sat down on the bench in the doctors’ locker room and closed her eyes. What would happen to them? She knew without a doubt that she didn’t have a future without Jamie. He had to be in her life. But she also knew without a doubt that she wasn’t ready for him to propose yet. Claire shook her head with a huff before she stood up to leave the hospital.

By the time she got to Jamie’s flat, her mind had spiraled and come back to reason so many times she had mental whiplash. All she really wanted was the comfort of Jamie’s presence, even if his theoretical actions were the ones causing her trouble.

Opening the door, she heard Jamie greet her. Claire set her purse on the floor and walked with purpose over to him before she pinned him against his fridge and kissed him senseless. His hands quickly found her waist as he eagerly responded. Her tongue was in his mouth when she heard and felt him moan as he pulled her closer. The small part of her brain that could form thought hoped they had enough time before Ian got there to really act on this. Her hands strayed to pull up his shirt when someone cleared their throat behind her. Reluctantly, Claire pulled away from Jamie and turned to see Ian standing by Jamie’s couch wearing an amused grin. Claire quickly pulled her hands off of Jamie and ran a hand nervously down her scrub top. “Sorry,” she said in a quiet voice.

Ian laughed. “No worries. I remember a time like that before I had five children.”

“I didn’t realize you were here yet,” Claire explained.

“To be fair, ye didna ask,” Jamie reminded her.

She turned back and looked at him. “Are you complaining?”

He grinned. “Nope.”

She shook her head with a matching grin. “Anyway, hi Ian. How was your trip down?”

Ian shrugged. “Uneventful. Bit light on the food though. The two of ye wouldna by chance also be starving?”

Jamie and Claire both chuckled. “Yes, let’s go eat,” Claire offered. “Just let me change out of my scrubs first.” Both men nodded and she walked off toward Jamie’s room. She had at least a few outfits stashed there. Their voices carried back to Jamie’s room as she scurried around to look more presentable.

“Oh wait, I have something for ye,” she heard Ian say.

“Oh right! Thanks for bringing that, by the way,” Jamie replied.

Claire froze. She took a few deep breaths before she resumed changing. “It doesn’t mean it’s a ring,” she whispered to herself. “It could be anything. It doesn’t even have to be for me.”

“Claire, ye about ready?” Jamie called back to her.

She decided to leave her hair up in the very messy bun. Shaking her head to clear it, she strode out to go eat with the other two.

Entertaining conversations with Ian and Jamie were a good distraction from the anxiety eating away at her stomach. By the time they all got back to Jamie’s flat, she’d calmed down again, though the thoughts still lingered at the back of her mind.

It wasn’t until Friday night that the full weight of her thoughts had consequences.

Claire entered her home, surprised by the smell of garlic wafting through the air. She inhaled deeply, greatly appreciating the smell. Even more than that, she appreciated the sight of Jamie standing at her stove, cooking for her. As she walked up behind him, she laced her arms around his waist. He startled slightly before turning around to hug her properly. “Hi,” she greeted simply. Jamie’s reply was in his kiss.

Jamie turned off the stove and plated the pasta for them. Claire wandered to find the bottle of wine she knew she’d hidden. Their food was on the table and dinner was seconds away when Jamie grabbed Claire’s hand and directed her toward the couch instead. Confused, she followed him without comment. He sat down with an excited look on his face and motioned for her to sit next to him.

“So before Ian left to go back to Scotland, he left me with something that I wanted to give to ye,” he explained. Claire’s stomach tightened. This was the moment she’d been dreading since Jenny had told her about it a week ago. No matter how many times she’d dwelled on it, Claire had never come to a conclusion of what she would do if Jamie proposed. Her mind was battling itself as he talked. Part of her was yelling for him not to do it, the other was constantly repeating that it wasn’t a ring. She was missing what he was saying. “This was very important to me and so I wanted it to be yers.” Jamie stood up slightly, pulling a small jewelry box from his pocket. “Claire, -”

“No, Jamie, don’t do it!” Claire bellowed at him before she could stop herself.

Jamie froze, staring down at her in confusion. “What?”

She looked at the box he’d just opened, a sigh escaping her. “Oh my god, they’re just earrings.”

He watched her, a realization dawning on his face. “Ye thought it was a ring?”

Claire shrugged. “Maybe a little,” she reached for the box, “But -” Jamie cut her off as he snapped the box back shut. He backed away from the couch, shaking his head. “Jamie…” she said, hoping to figure out what he was thinking.

He turned back to look at her, pain clear on his face. “Ye thought I was proposing.” Claire opened her mouth to explain but he continued. “Ye thought I was proposing and that was yer reaction?”

“Oh God,” Claire cried, dropping her head into her hands. “No, it wasn’t like that.”

“Well then tell me what it was like, Claire,” Jamie demanded, a hard edge to his voice that she wasn’t used to. “Because I may not have been proposing now, but I rather figured if I ever did I’d get a better reaction than that.”

“It’s just too soon!” Claire explained in a small voice. “I was scared that you were proposing too soon.”

Jamie shook his head. “I was giving ye my mother’s earrings. But, Christ, forget that now.” Claire let out a small gasp. “Would it have really been that bad if I had been proposing?”

“Jamie, we’ve only been together for four months,” Claire reminded him.

“I realize that,” he replied. “But I also ken that we’re no’ a normal couple. I mean it’s no’ as though we met four months ago and started from zero. I basically know everything about ye and ye wi’ me. And yet ye feel the need to scream at me to stop me? What if I had been actually proposing? How do ye think that would have gone?”

Claire sighed, sinking further into the couch. “I don’t know. I never said it was a brilliant plan. I just freaked out.”

Jamie ran a hand down his face. “I never really thought that if I’d propose to ye, ye’d freak out. I thought we wanted the same things.”

Panic coursed through Claire at that statement. She stood up, walking towards him. At her first step in his direction, he took a step back. “We do. Of course we want the same things.”

“Do we? I ken it’s early into this, but I see us getting there. Do ye?” Jamie asked her, his voice breaking at the end.

Her eyes were filling with tears. “Yes. Someday. But it’s too soon now. I mean, I was with Frank for three years and I would have married him. It wasn’t until the last several months of our relationship that it seemed so terrible.”

Mentioning Frank was clearly the wrong move. Jamie’s eyes went wide. “Well, Christ, I didna realize our relationship would be ye holding that man’s faults on me. Frank may have been a controlling, unsupportive prick, but that doesna mean I am as well. Ye’ve said yerself that what we have is different.”

“I know it is, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready for marriage already. We’ve never even talked about it,” Claire defended. “Look, why don’t we just forget about this and eat dinner?”

Jamie shook his head. “I’m no’ hungry anymore.” With a sigh he took a few steps toward the door. “I need to think.”

“No, Jamie, don’t leave,” Claire pleaded, meeting him at the door. “Please.”

He wouldn’t meet her eyes. “I just canna be here right now.” Without a look back at her, he opened the door and was gone.

Claire stood there, frozen, unable to believe what had happened that evening. If anyone had asked her, she’d have said that she and Jamie pretty much had a perfect relationship. How in the span of a few minutes had he just left? How had she fucked things up so badly that he needed to think? She felt the tears stream down her face moments before she slid down the door.

 

An undetermined amount of time had passed when Claire realized she was halfway through the bottle of wine she’d opened. Still berating herself for the mess she’d gotten them into, she picked up her phone to share the misery. Deciding to text Geillis, she typed out her frustration into a single message. It read: fuck you.

It wasn’t long before Geillis called Claire, hoping to discover the true meaning behind the text. When Claire answered in tears, barely able to speak, Geillis quickly ended the call by saying she was coming over.

Another glass of wine later, Geillis and Louise let themselves into her flat. Claire sat on the floor between her couch and coffee table as she was still sobbing. It had been a constant stream since Jamie had left. Louise knelt down next to Claire, concern clear on her face. “Claire, what happened?”

“Why don’t you ask Geillis? It’s all her fault,” Claire said, her voice dripping with disdain as she glared at her friend.

“Is this because of what we talked about last week?” Geillis asked hesitantly.

Claire nodded, wiping tears from her face.

Louise looked back at Geillis. “What happened?”

“I told Claire I thought Jamie was going to propose, based on something I heard his sister say to Claire,” Geillis explained.

Louise looked over at Claire. “Did he?” Claire shook her head. “So what happened then? I’m very confused.”

Claire clutched her wine glass tighter to her as she told her friends all that had been said. She watched as both their faces fell. “I think it might be over,” Claire let herself voice. She closed her eyes as more tears streamed down her face. “I’ve called and texted him a ton of times since he called and he hasn’t responded once.”

“Well that’s the first problem,” Louise said, grabbing Claire’s phone from her. “Geillis, go hide this,” she added, handing the phone off to the other woman.

“Why?” Claire begged. “I need my phone. I need to talk to Jamie!”

“No, you need to let Jamie think. He’s just going to get irritated if he is trying to process his feelings and you keep calling him every other minute,” Louise insisted. “Now, how much have you had to drink?”

Claire huffed. “A lot.”

“Maybe we should switch to water,” Louise offered.

“No!” Claire cried, hiding her glass from Louise. Geillis walked back in the room as Claire curled her legs into herself. “I really fucked this up,” Claire whispered. “I can’t lose Jamie. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I don’t think I’ll be able to handle it.” She dropped her head to her knees. “What am I going to do?”

Louise ran a hand comfortingly up and down Claire’s back. “You’re going to be fine. If anything, this is just a fight. Just a misunderstanding that got a bit out of control. But it’s you and Jamie. You guys are perfect for each other. I promise you this isn’t over.”

“Yeah, well Geillis promised me that Jamie had a ring. And not only was she wrong, but she got in my head and made me get freaked out,” Claire reminded them. “So I’m sorry if I’m not buying your promises.”

She took another long drink of wine as her friends exchanged a concerned glance over her head.

~~~

“Jamie, we were so thrilled ye asked us out tonight,” Rupert greeted with a cheery voice. “It was shaping up to be a boring evening.” Angus nodded next to him.

Jamie looked up at them, already a couple of drinks in. “Sit,” he ordered. He noticed the shock on Rupert’s face at his tone. A quick look exchanged between Rupert and Angus showed their concern before they joined Jamie in the booth.

“So, uh, where is Claire this evening?” Rupert ventured.

“I dinna want to talk about Claire,” Jamie replied gruffly.

Another concerned look was shared between Jamie’s companions. “Christ, did ye break up?” Angus asked.

“No.”

“Well then what happened?” Rupert pressed.

“Honestly, I dinna ken,” Jamie answered. “It was supposed to be a good evening and it all blew up.”

“Did she cheat on ye?” Angus asked in a menacing tone. “Because if she did, I’ll -”

“No,” Jamie assured him. “No, she just…” he sighed, trying to find the right words. “She just broke my heart a bit.”

Rupert clapped him on the shoulder. “Well are we to drink about it?”

“Aye, we are.”

Both men nodded, Angus jumped up to get the newcomers both their first round. The three of them drank in silence for a while. Angus and Rupert seemed to cautious to push Jamie for the details. As it was, Jamie didn’t have the words to really express what had happened. He hadn’t been about to propose, but she’d still wrecked him.

Finally, Jamie spoke. “Have ye ever thought ye kent exactly where ye were headed only to be thrown for a loop?”

Rupert cleared his throat. “I suppose all of us have at some point, aye.”

“I never thought I’d have it happen with Claire,” Jamie admitted. “I thought if we figured it out and got together, it would be fine. I never expected for her to…” He stopped and shook his head before taking a long drink of his beer. “I thought I knew how things would go between us, but I guess I was wrong. Now I’m just sitting here, reevaluating it all. At what point did she zig while I zagged?”

“I thought ye said ye didna break up?” Rupert asked.  

“We haven’t. But I’m jus’ no’ sure we want the same things. And I canna imagine having less than that wi’ her,” Jamie explained, a stray tear escaping his eye. He shook his head. “And now I feel I’ll worry that at any time she’ll just change her mind.” Rupert’s brow furrowed. He opened his mouth to say something but Jamie stopped him. “No, let’s just drink. I dinna want to talk about Claire right now. It’s best for me to try and take my mind off of it.”

Angus and Rupert nodded next to him. “Alright, then let’s drink,” Rupert said, raising his glass.

~~~

Claire had consumed far too much alcohol when Louise shoved a glass of water into her hands. She still hadn’t moved from her place on the floor. Geillis was sitting on the couch behind her and Louise had stayed on the floor next to Claire. The sound of a key in the door got Claire’s hopes up. But as she looked up, it wasn’t Jamie that entered her home. It was John. His eyes went wide as he saw Claire’s state. “Umm...what the hell is going on? Is Jamie here?” he asked.

Louise shook her head, but it was Geillis who spoke. “Dear God, dinna say the “J” word!”

John looked confused. “Seriously, what is going on? Claire looks miserable and further gone than I’ve ever seen her and I got a really strange call from Jamie.”

Claire looked up at him again, desperation coursing through her. “You’ve heard from Jamie? Where is he?”

“Honestly, I don’t know where he is,” John said, kneeling on the other side of the coffee table. “I tried his flat but he wasn’t there. I figured he was here but apparently not.”

“What was weird about his call?” Louise asked.

“He called and said he wanted to fight someone so he could feel something,” John recalled for them with a grim expression. Both Louise and Geillis grimaced at the story.

“Goodness,” Louise remarked. “Wait, was he going to fight you?”

John laughed. “No, actually. He said he knows my brother is a jerk and so he wanted to fight him so that he won’t feel bad about it when he sobers up.”

Claire felt fresh tears roll down her face but she couldn’t help but breathe out a laugh. “That’s actually quite sound logic,” she admitted.

“Okay, so what happened?” John asked, looking at Claire.

She shook her head, unwilling to relive it all again. Louise rubbed a hand against her back and told John the story. “Really, it was all just a big misunderstanding,” Louise concluded. “But we can’t go find Jamie because we have our hands a bit full here.”

“I need to find him,” Claire announced, trying and failing to stand up.

“No, Claire, ye need to sleep,” Geillis said, urging her back to the floor. “Ye’re bound to have a wicked hangover tomorrow and ye’ll not help it trying to bounce around London in yer condition.”

“I can’t sleep without setting things right between us,” Claire cried.

“Look Claire, in your state, and surely in Jamie’s, things aren’t going to be fixed tonight,” Louise said regretfully. “But you can sleep off your drunkenness and allow Jamie to do the same.”

“I don’t even know where he is.”

Louise took a deep breath. “Well here’s what we’ll do then,” she offered. “You’ll go to sleep, because as Geillis said, you’re in no shape to go anywhere right now. And John will go find Jamie and he will make sure that he gets home safely and is taken care of. You trust John to do that, right?”

Claire eyed John with a critical look. “I guess.”

John flashed a small smile as he stood up. “Good idea, Louise. Yes, I’ll go find Jamie and make sure he gets his rest too. You just worry about yourself right now, Claire. I’ll see you soon.” He mouthed “good luck” to Louise and Geillis before he walked back out Claire’s door.

Claire’s friends succeeded in convincing her to go to bed. Wine didn’t usually make her tired, but after the amount of glasses she’d had, she was starting to fade. It was a couple of hours later when she startled herself awake. Claire wasn’t sure she’d actually slept. Looking over at her nightstand, she wished her friends had thought to leave her a glass of water. Stumbling, she crawled out of her bed and walked toward her kitchen. It was the moment that she turned on the lights that she started to sober up a bit. A small screech came from the couch. “No lights!”

Claire was frozen in place though. “Jamie?” she asked, not believing it was really him.

“Aye. Please turn off the lights.”

Claire nodded, reaching back to flip the switch. She turned on a small lamp by the wall and crept over to the couch. He was laying there with his eyes closed and a pained expression on his face. Kneeling down on the floor, she fought her instinct to lay her hands on him. “What are you doing here? I didn’t expect to see you again. This evening, I mean.”

Jamie didn’t open his eyes as he spoke. “John found me and told me I had to go home. He pushed me in a cab and told the cabbie to take me home. I canna really explain it, but I gave him this address. Even as things are, I didna want to spend the night apart. But when I got here, I didna think I was ready to go join ye in bed. So here I am.”

Fresh tears were rolling down Claire’s cheeks. “I understand that.” She took a deep breath and released it before trying to speak again. “Look, I’m quite drunk still and I’m assuming you are too, but I need to explain myself as best I can. I don’t expect it to magically fix everything, but I have to try. That is, if you’ll allow me.” He nodded slightly, his eyes still closed.

Claire sat down on the floor, laying a hand on the couch, close to his arm. Close, but not touching. “I’m terribly sorry, Jamie. I know I hurt you and I can’t really forgive myself for it. But I just got scared. It felt like it was too soon. Geillis insisted that it surely was a ring and somehow my mind believed her even when logically, I knew it wouldn’t be. I panicked because we’ve never even talked about marriage and we’ve only been together for a matter of months. I should have just waited to see what it was and not screamed like I did. And more than that, I should have trusted that you wouldn’t try to take steps in our relationship without knowing we were both ready for it.”

“Aye, ye should have,” he said in a small voice.

“Let me be clear about something though,” Claire continued. “I was not scared by the idea of marrying you. I didn’t stop you because we want different things. I may not be ready for us to get married right now, but when I think of my wedding someday, it’s you standing up there with me. I love you, James Fraser. I want all that with you, I just don’t want us to jump the gun and miss all the steps before that rather large one.”

His eyes opened slightly, peering at her through his lashes. “I can understand that,” he admitted.

“Good,” she replied, a reluctant smile crossing her face. “I’m sorry that I ever mentioned Frank. But I hope you know that I do not hold his shortcomings on you. You are a better man that he could ever hope to be and I promise you I know that with every fiber of my being.” She reached out to lay her hand on his cheek. “I’m truly sorry for all the pain I’ve caused you this evening. Or all the doubts I’ve made you have. I have been here, scared out of my mind that I ruined the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Because that’s what you are, Jamie.”

She saw a small tear leak from his eye and she brushed it away with the pad of her thumb. “I’m going to go back to bed. But I won’t ask you to join me. You’re welcome there, though, whenever you feel that you’re ready.” She stood up and laid a quick kiss on his forehead. “I love you,” she whispered. Continuing with her initial plan, she walked over to get herself a glass of water. She grabbed a second glass, filled it, and left it on the table for Jamie.

Claire took a long drink of her water and crawled back into bed. Even though she’d said all that she needed to, she still couldn’t fight the tears that flowed down her cheeks. They felt off kilter and they had always been solid. It was her fault. If she’d talked to him instead of leaning into her fears, they could have avoided all the pain of the evening.

Claire was curled in on herself, tears still streaming, when she heard the door to her bedroom open. The other side of the bed shifted as Jamie laid down next to her. She turned over, looking at him in disbelief. There was a hesitancy between them that had never been there before. They stared at each other for a long moment. Finally, Jamie lifted up his arm, gesturing for her. She released a sob as she moved closer to him and wrapped her arms around him. His arms came down to hold her tightly to him.

Neither of them said anything, simply holding each other. It was enough, though. He’d come home and he’d come to bed. It may not be perfect and it certainly wasn’t all settled, but Claire felt peace as she laid in his arms and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

When Claire woke the next morning, Jamie’s arms were still wrapped around her. It took her a moment to remember why she had a monstrous headache. She looked nervously over at Jamie to see if he was still asleep. He was. Taking a deep breath, she carefully removed herself from his embrace and, as gently as possible, got out of bed. Claire wound her way to the kitchen, desperate for some coffee. Surely that could help with the hangover. It was entirely likely that Jamie would wake up in the same state.

She thought back on other times they’d had hangovers together and what had worked for Jamie before. Looking in her fridge, there wasn’t much food. A lump formed in her throat as she saw the leftovers from the dinner Jamie had made them. One of her friends must have put it in the fridge so they could eat it later. She made a mental note to text them and thank them. Not just for preserving her food, but for everything.

Claire was sipping on her coffee when she heard the telltale signs of Jamie waking. He stumbled into the living room, his hand to his head and his eyes scrunched shut. “Christ,” he muttered.

“There’s coffee,” Claire whispered across the room. She stayed quiet as much for her own hangover as his.

He shook his head with a disgusted expression and instead sat down on the couch. Claire paused for a moment, trying to decide what to do. Before the fight last night, she would have walked over and wrapped herself around him, no matter how crappy they were both feeling. But this time, she didn’t think she could. It wasn’t lost on her that she was the reason Jamie felt so hungover and terrible.

She’d said what she needed to the night before when she found him on her couch. The problem was that things weren’t quite settled between them. She felt awkward and tense as she stood in the kitchen, watching him. It was the last way she’d ever want to feel around Jamie. Claire was still beating herself up when Jamie spoke.

“Do ye have anything to eat?” He rasped.

Claire shook her head. “Not really. Just dinner from last night.” He scrunched his face up at the mention of it. “Yeah, it wasn’t what sounded good to me at the moment either.” She set her cup down on the island and walked closer to the couch. “If something sounds good, I can go get it.”

Jamie looked over and stared at her for a long moment. “Ye dinna have to do that.”

“Do what? Get food? I’m hungry too,” she reasoned.

“Aye, but I ken why ye’re volunteering.”

Claire frowned. “Because it seems like my head hurts a fraction less than yours?”

“So ye’re no’ doing so to try and make up for what happened?” Jamie asked.

Claire sat down on the arm of the couch opposite him. “No, actually I wasn’t.” She paused, not wanting to start another fight, but unable to be silent. “Are you implying that I should be doing that?”

“I ne’er said that.”

“Obviously it was my fault, yes,” Claire conceded. “But it was a big misunderstanding. I don’t particularly want to be punished over it.” Jamie nodded but stayed silent. Claire sighed and stood up. “I’m going to go get myself food. I’ll find you something too.”

She walked back to her room and threw on clothes as fast as she could. Pulling her hair into a bun, she decided she didn’t care what it looked like. She felt like shit physically and she was starting to feel the same way emotionally. The last thing she wanted was space from Jamie, but she thought maybe they both needed it. Neither of them were feeling good enough to really approach their situation fairly at the present moment.

Claire grabbed her purse without a word to Jamie and walked toward the door. “Claire, ye dinna have to go,” Jamie said in a small voice.

She turned back and looked at him. “We both feel like utter shite. Eating something will help and I don’t have much here, so yeah, I do.”

“Claire,” Jamie called again. She looked back at him, noticing the pained look on his face.

“Just drink some coffee,” she suggested. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Stopping at the nearest Greggs, she grabbed something that her hangover decided sounded alright. Not knowing exactly what Jamie’s hangover would dictate, she got a few different things and left.

Claire found herself slowing down as she got closer to her flat. She hated the tension between them. It was even worse that she knew it was her fault. He was in pain and even though she’d tried to make it better last night, it was still hard between them. Logically, she knew it wouldn’t be a simple fix. She would likely have to prove to him that she wasn’t going anywhere, that they wanted the same things. But whether he knew it or not, she needed proof from him that he wasn’t going anywhere either. His presence at her home last night, even after the fight, had comforted her immensely. But in the light of the morning, she found herself scared again. Scared that he would make a choice for the both of them without really considering all she’d said. She knew it was illogical and that they just needed to talk. But there was an underlying fear that she’d done irreparable damage to them. With a nod to herself, she picked up her pace, determined to set things back on track between them.

Opening the door, she found Jamie still sitting in the same spot on the couch. He must have gotten up at some point though because now he was sipping coffee. His eyes flicked up to her as she walked in. She flashed him a tight smile as she went to the kitchen. After pouring another cup of coffee, she put her croissant on a plate and walked over to her kitchen table. Jamie’s food was sitting in a bag on the island, waiting for him. As he looked over at her, she pointed to the bag, informing him as such. Claire didn’t suggest that he join her at the table. He could do whatever he wanted. Her heart felt a bit lighter when he brought the bag over and sat down next to her at the head of the table.

“Oh, a sausage roll sounds rather good. Maybe the pasty too,” he mused as he looked through the bag.

“Every hangover is different. That’s why you got a bit of everything,” Claire explained.

“Thank ye. Ye didna have to,” Jamie replied, eyeing her carefully.

“Would have been silly for you to starve. Even sillier for you to go out on your own when I was already going,” she reasoned.

“Well, still.”

They ate in silence for the most part. It was obvious to the both of them that they would have to talk at some point. Hopefully the food and coffee would start to reduce their hangovers before they had to really talk things out.

Claire stood up when she was finished to put her plate in the sink. Looking back at him, she returned to the table. Jamie had finished and sat there, watching her, seemingly trying to gauge her mood. Without saying a word, he reached in his pocket, pulled out the same box as he had last night, and laid it on the table in front of her. It sat, closed, between them. Claire stared down at the box before looking back up at him. “You still want me to have them?”

Jamie fixed her with a look. “Aye. Unless ye’re planning to contradict what ye said last night.”

“No, I meant it,” Claire maintained. “I just don’t really know where you stand.”

Jamie sat back in his chair and sighed. He watched her for a moment before he pointed toward the box. “I suppose that’s where I stand.”

Claire studied him for a long beat. “Look, I said how I felt last night. Why don’t you do the same?”

He rubbed a hand down his face. “I dinna think I should.”

“Well I’d rather put this thing to bed. So it’s really now or never,” Claire said, a harshness to her. “Wouldn’t you rather talk things through now than have it all come back up in six months?”

Jamie stared at her, though she couldn’t tell if he was angry or hurt or some other emotion she couldn’t readily name. He leaned forward and clasped his hands. “Fine. Ye want to ken how it felt? I’ll tell ye.” Claire tensed, suddenly afraid of what she’d pushed for. “It felt like ye’d ripped my heart from my chest, Claire. I thought I knew where we were headed and the moment ye looked terrified at the prospect of our future, it scared the shite out of me.”

Claire opened and closed her mouth a few times, unable to speak past the pain and guilt she felt.

“I went out last night and attempted to get blind drunk to try not to feel anything because everything that I was feeling was too much,” Jamie confessed. “I heard what ye said when ye found me here last night. I ken that ye just think it’s too soon and such, but it didna feel like that yesterday.”

Claire felt tears stinging her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“Last night I felt heartbroken,” he continued, a tragically sad expression on his face. “That’s how I felt. Are ye sure ye want me to continue?”

“Yes. Yes, I do,” Claire said with a nod. “Better to air it out, right? I deserve it all.”

“Claire, I dinna want ye to feel bad,” Jamie argued. “I, too, just want to put it behind us, but I dinna see how making ye feel guilty and the like will actually put it behind us.”

“I just don’t want to be the only one who got to clarify what they were feeling,” she countered.

“I think it was rather clear how I was feeling,” Jamie said plainly. They sat there in a moment of silence. Jamie opened his mouth but then shut it, looking down at the table.

“What?” Claire pressed.

“I can understand that ye were a bit scared that we were moving too fast,” he began, “But why not just talk to me about it?”

She sighed, leaning back in her chair, avoiding his gaze. “I mean that would have been a bit presumptuous, right? It wasn’t actually a ring. And we’ve never even discussed marriage. So how would I have brought that up?”

Jamie shrugged. “I dinna ken. But I wish you’d felt comfortable discussing it wi’ me.”

Claire reached out and held his hand. “Jamie, I spent a week keeping it at the back of my mind and flip-flopping about it when I was actually thinking about it. When Jenny said she was sending you something, I didn’t think it would be a ring. Geillis suggested that. I told her no, it wasn’t. But then it just got in my head. It wasn’t logical and I felt like a fool. I couldn’t even rationally explain it to myself, let alone you. Besides, I wouldn’t have wanted to make you feel the way I ended up making you feel.”

He squeezed her hand in his. “I get it. I just...I guess I thought we told each other everything.”

Claire closed her eyes. “We do,” she promised. “I just got scared.” She whispered the last word.

“Well should that say something to me about our relationship that the prospect of that made ye scared?” Jamie pushed.

“No,” Claire insisted. “Jamie, like I said last night, I do want to marry you. Just someday.”

“Is there a reason why?”

“Is there a reason why what ?” Claire repeated.

Jamie took a deep breath and let go of her hand. “I wasna proposing. And even before this, I wasna planning on it yet. But I already ken I would. That I’d like to. Is there some reason that ye’re so against it right now? Is it something to do wi’ me?”

“Of course it’s not,” Claire replied immediately. “Jamie, I said I want to get married to you someday. I just I want to enjoy us now. We’re a good couple and we’ve rushed a lot of things, but I don’t want to rush that.” She sighed. “I mean what if we rush into a marriage and then you find this fatal flaw of mine that is a deal breaker?”

Jamie laughed and shook his head. “I dinna think that’s going to be a problem.”

“But what if it was?” Claire maintained.

“So this is more to do wi’ wanting to preserve our relationship?” Jamie asked. “It doesna have to do wi’ Frank.”

Claire covered her face. “I don’t want to talk about Frank.”

“Well perhaps it’s a factor. Christ, I’ve listened to Jenny preach that all of our experiences shape us into who we are and such,” Jamie said with a roll of his eyes. “And that’s a big experience.”

“Look, until I realized I could have better, I would have married Frank,” Claire admitted.

“So, what, ye’re worried we’ll get married and then ye’ll find something better?” Jamie pressed.

Claire glared at him. “No. God, Jamie. Have a little faith in me. I realize I am the reason we’re in this position, but does that sound like me?” He looked down guiltily. She stood up and paced in front of the island. “I guess it comes down to the fact that I’ve been through a lot of changes in the last year. I mean, last year at this time, Uncle Lamb was still alive. He was sick and I was here, but he was still alive. Frank and I still seemed on relatively solid ground. I still had my job in Boston. Then Uncle Lamb died. I moved here and met you all. My relationship with Frank self destructed. And I started things with you. I’m certainly not upset about all the changes in the last year, but you have to admit that it’s a lot.”

Jamie nodded with a solemn expression. “I suppose I see yer point.”

“Jamie, when I think about marriage, I think about my parents. My parents were together for five years before they got married. And they were solid. I’m not saying I need to wait that long, but I’m also not at an age where I feel like I need to rush into things,” Claire reasoned. She walked over and sat back down at the table. “I love you and I want to be with you. And someday when we’re both ready, I want to marry you. But I also want to have talked about it first. It was easy to skip a bunch of steps because we knew everything about each other before we even kissed.” She smiled as she looked at him. “I mean we really do know each other quite well. Well enough that I know what a big deal it is for you to give me something of your mother’s.”

Jamie looked down at the box on the table. “Aye, it rather was.”

“I know,” Claire agreed. “Which is why I don’t want you to give them to me.” She pushed the box back toward him. Jamie gaped at her. “Not right now, at least.”

“Claire, ye said ye werena going anywhere,” Jamie said, fear back on his face.

“And I’m not,” Claire promised. “And to be honest, I want those earrings. But not like this. The way we feel right now, the way we’ve been tense and awkward around each other, that’s not us. That’s not how we normally are. And I know that the way I made you feel and the way I more or less made myself feel isn’t going to go away immediately. We’re talking it out but that doesn’t mean it will instantly fix things. I want the earrings, but when I put them on or when you see me wearing them, I want us to think of something better than this. I don’t want to put them on and remember how I almost fucked us up completely. I would like to wear them someday and put them on and think about you and your love for me. I’d like to think of your mom and how I hope she’d be happy for us being together.”

Claire put the box in Jamie’s hand and covered it with hers. “So when you feel better about us, about me, when you feel like you did when you first asked Jenny for these, give them to me.”

She could see the tears in Jamie’s eyes. He looked down at her hand on his, no doubt looking for the box between their hands. Nodding, he replied. “Fine.” Suddenly, Claire felt distressed. She opened her mouth to explain herself but Jamie held up a hand. “I see yer point. Ye’re right.” Jamie patted her hand before he stood up from the table. “I havena showered since yesterday morning and I feel rather gross.” He looked down at Claire with a pained expression. “I think I’m going to go home and shower. I just -”

“Jamie, it’s fine for you to want some space,” Claire assured him.

Jamie stared down at her. “I dinna want space, I…” He closed his eyes and took a breath. “We’ve said a lot and I dinna ken what more there is to say. Perhaps it’s time to lick our wounds and come back later. Maybe a bit less hungover.”

Claire chuckled at his last. “I think you’re right. Honestly, I rather want to go back to sleep.”

Jamie smirked. “Aye.” He started to walk towards the door and Claire stood to follow him. Jamie turned around at the last second before he walked out. Leaning his forehead against her, he whispered, “I love ye.”

Claire smiled, resting her hands on his shoulders. “I love you, too.”

Jamie pulled her in for a long kiss. They both poured all their emotion into it, making sure the other knew. Jamie broke away, locking eyes with her. They both nodded. With that, Jamie turned and walked out of the door. Claire’s heart, somehow, felt a bit lighter. Things weren’t back to normal, but they’d get there.

She walked back to her room and threw herself down on the bed. Her eyes had only been

closed for a few minutes when she heard her phone vibrate on her nightstand. Looking at it, she saw Jamie’s face on her screen. “Hello?” she answered.

“Ye said the dinner I made last night is in yer fridge, aye?”

Claire chuckled. “I did.”  

“How would ye like to bring it over to my place tonight?” Jamie asked.

She cozied into her pillows, getting more comfortable. “I think that sounds good.”

“Great. I’ll see ye tonight then.”

“Alright, I can’t wait,” she replied.

“Good. Bye, Claire.”

“Bye, Jamie.”

As she hung up, it occurred to her that Jamie had only called her Claire the entire time they’d talked that morning. Not “Sassenach” or “mo nighean donn,” just Claire. When she thought about it, she realized he’d done the same thing during their fight and when she found him on the couch. Her heart clenched a bit at the realization.

~~~

Jamie and Claire had done their best to fall back into their regular routine. They still spent most nights together. The only ones apart were usually when Claire was working at the hospital. Still, things weren’t quite back to normal. Their interactions were sometimes strained. They were overly polite to each other as they tried desperately to cover up their hurt feelings. Both of them were convinced no one else would notice.

It was two weeks later when they were hanging out with their friends for the first time since “the incident,” as they’d branded it. Jamie was standing up to get another round when he turned to her. “Would you like another round, Claire?”

“Sure, that would be great,” she replied with a smile.

No one else seemed to be fazed by their interaction except Willie. “What the hell was that?” he asked Claire.

She noticed Geillis shaking her head almost violently from the corner of her eye. “What was what?” Claire asked innocently.

“Ye two were...polite,” he scoffed. “That’s no’ like ye.”

“Jamie and I aren’t rude people,” Claire insisted.

“No, but he doesna usually ask if ye need another round, he just gets it.”

“So Jamie decided to ask her instead,” John replied in a loud voice, “whatever, Willie. Let it go!”

Claire grimaced. John made a big deal out of it, so now Willie definitely wouldn’t let it go.

“What happened?” Willie asked.

“Nothing happened,” Rupert answered. “We’re all just fine.”

Claire sighed. Louise spoke up too. “Yep, it’s all okay, so just drop it.”

“It is clearly something,” Willie continued. “Just tell me what happened.”

“Fine,” Claire nearly yelled. Everyone else looked at her nervously. She looked back at the bar. Jamie seemed to be in a long line for drinks. “A couple of weeks back Jamie and I got into a bit of a fight. A misunderstanding really. It just got a bit out of hand. But we’re fine and it’s nothing.”

Willie stared at her, evaluating her story. He looked at the others, gauging their reactions. She could tell the moment he realized that they all already knew. His mouth hung open. “Ye all knew?” They all nodded guiltily. “Why the hell did all of them ken but no’ me?”

“I called Geillis and Louise,” Claire recalled. “John came over to find Jamie and he found out from us.”

“Aye, and Jamie called me to come get soused wi’ him,” Rupert informed him. “To be honest, he only called me but Angus was wi’ me.”

“Because he’s always with you,” Geillis teased.

Rupert shrugged, not denying it. “Anyway, we didna leave ye out of some big secret.”

“But none of you mentioned it to me afterward,” Willie argued.

“Well none of us felt like talking about it,” Louise reasoned. “It was a lot and we were a bit worried about Jamie and Claire. We didn’t really figure it would be a good thing to be talking about it.” Geillis and John nodded in agreement.

“Did you and Jamie break up?” Willie asked directly.

“No.”

“Then what’s with the politeness?”

Claire sighed deeply. “We’re just...not quite back to normal yet. We’re trying, but it was just a bit raw, I suppose.” Louise put her arm around Claire’s shoulders. “Look, just please drop it. I don’t want to talk about it in front of Jamie.”

Willie nodded. John leaned over to him. “If you want to know more, I know pretty much everything. I heard it from both sides.”

Claire glared at him. He feigned guilt and looked down at his beer. The group sat there silently until Jamie returned. “What got this group so quiet?” Jamie asked, setting Claire’s drink down in front of her.

“Geillis’s cat died,” Rupert lied.

Jamie sat down and looked at her. “Ye had a cat?”

Geillis quickly adopted a sad expression. “I dinna want to talk about it.”

Jamie held up his hands in defense and turned the conversation to football. Claire breathed a sigh of relief at the turn in conversation. Louise reached out and squeezed her arm, winking at her. She leaned over and whispered to her. “You’ll be alright.”

Having to bring it all up again put Claire on edge. Even though her friends had known about it when it happened, she still didn’t want to talk about it with them. A knot had started forming in her stomach with the thought of the incident. But then Jamie reached over under the table and laid his hand on her knee as he talked casually about sports with Rupert. The simple gesture eased the tension in Claire just enough for her to actually enjoy the night.

~~~

It was 9 days until Christmas when Claire walked into Jamie’s apartment to find him wrapping presents. She laughed at the sight of him fighting the paper to get around a large toy for one of his nieces or nephews. “Need some help?” she offered.

“No,” he said in a dejected tone. “This one’s jus’ going in a bag.” He picked up the toy and set it down on the couch with a sigh. “How was yer day?”  

She walked over and kissed him quickly before going to get herself some water. “It was fine. Nothing to write home over. You?”

“About the same. Well, until I started wrapping presents and it turned into a nightmare. I’m no’ made for this.”

Claire laughed from her place in his kitchen. “I can always help. That does remind me though of something I wanted to talk to you about.” He looked over at her and nodded before grabbing the next present to wrap. “Save some night for us to exchange presents before you head off to Lallybroch.” Jamie was silent on the couch and Claire didn’t know why. Could he have not gotten her a present? She didn’t need a present, but she’d certainly gotten him something. “I mean if you won’t have time, that’s fine, we can do it after Hogmanay.”

Jamie got up from the couch and walked over to her, a puzzled look on his face. “Claire, I realize that things have been a bit...off between us since the incident. But did ye really think that I wouldna celebrate the holidays wi’ ye?”

She opened her mouth to reply but she had no words. There was a small part of her that did expect that. With the way they’d been, strained and trying desperately to recapture their easiness, she didn’t know if he’d just want a week away to be with his family. She’d asked for the time off at the beginning of November, making sure she’d be available, but that had been before the incident.

Jamie reached up and cupped her face in his hands. “I guess I never asked, but would ye come to Lallybroch and be with us for the holidays? I dinna ken if ye can get the time off from the hospital or not. If ye canna, we can go up for Christmas and come back and go back for Hogmanay. Or we could jus’ go up for Hogmanay and spend Christmas just the two of us.” Claire just watched him, in awe of him at the moment. “It’s no’ lost on me that this is yer first Christmas wi’out Uncle Lamb. I would never leave ye alone during a time like that,” he insisted. “And more than that, I’d like ye to be wi’ me, wi’ my family for the holidays.” He leaned his forehead against hers and she wrapped her arms around his waist. “No matter what, ye’re my family too,” he whispered.

Claire felt a tear drop down her cheek. “Of course I’ll come with you,” she whispered back. “I actually have the time off.”

“Perfect.”

“Thank you for including me,” she said in a nervous voice.

Jamie pulled back and saw her nerves on her face. He stroked away a tear running down her cheek before he pulled her into his embrace. “It was never in my plan no’ to include ye,” he promised as he kissed the top of her head. “I love ye and I want to be wi’ ye for the holidays.”

“I do too,” she agreed. “To all of that.”

“Great,” he sighed. “Then we can leave Christmas Eve. Will that work?” he asked, looking down at her.

“It sounds wonderful,” she admitted, burrowing further into his embrace.

~~~

Claire stared at the entryway of Lallybroch. It was breathtaking. Garlands and flowers hung on bannisters and balconies. A large Christmas tree in the living room, decorated with a beautiful array of ornaments. The whole place just felt magical. She looked over at Jenny and shook her head in awe. “I don’t know how you do it. This looks incredible.”

Jenny smiled, wrapping an arm around Claire’s shoulders. “Well we’re having a rather large party for Hogmanay. It wouldn’t do for the house to look shabby.”

Claire laughed, walking off toward the kitchen with Jenny. “It’s never been shabby.” She bent down to pick up Kitty, giving her a big hug. “So what can I help you do?” Claire asked.

“Jamie told me I shouldna put ye to work. That it was yer holiday,” Jenny informed her.

“Well forget that. I’m volunteering. What can I do?” Claire repeated.

Jenny nodded and walked from the kitchen. “I’m so happy ye said that. Follow me.”

Claire set Kitty back down and took off behind Jenny, following her up to one of the guest rooms. “Who will this be for?”

“With the party, I usually try to have at least one room prepared in case people get too carried away and need to stay,” Jenny explained. “Do ye mind helpin’ me make the bed?”

“Not at all,” Claire replied, going to the other side of the bed.

Jenny threw her the other side of the sheet and eyed her curiously. “I have something I’d like to ask ye, but I dinna ken how to.”

“Jenny, it’s me. Just ask.”

“Well a while back Jamie asked me for something and I sent such a thing to him, but I would have expected ye to have it by now,” Jenny asked, vaguely enough.

Claire sighed. She hadn’t wanted to talk about it with Jenny or Ian. “Are you talking about the earrings?”

Jenny’s eyes widened with excitement. “So you have them?”

“Well, yes and no.”

“What the bloody hell does that mean?” Jenny questioned as she tucked in a corner.

“It’s a long story,” Claire evaded.

“We have many layers to put on this bed. It gets cold up here in Scotland at this time of year,” Jenny reminded her.

Claire nodded, fighting the urge to roll her eyes. “Alright, here it is.” She proceeded to tell Jenny the whole story of the incident.

Jenny stopped and stared at her while she told her story, seemingly captivated by Claire’s own disasters. When Claire finished the story, Jenny frowned. “Well so that’s it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, clearly ye didna break up. Ye’re here for the holidays,” she pointed out. “It was a blip. Why are you treating it like the end of it all?”

“I never said I was.”

“No, but the way ye told it rather did,” Jenny explained. “Ye made it seem like it was all yer fault and Jamie is a perfect saint.”

“Well it was all my fault,” Claire argued.

“Perhaps ye freaking out was yer fault, but ye canna help the things that send ye over the edge. I’m sure ye didna want to be feeling tha’ way,” Jenny countered. “Look, for his part, Jamie could have stayed instead of storming off and leaving ye to fret all night. But then again, my brother has always been a bit hotheaded. Claire, ye’re still together. Jamie still stares at ye like ye hung the moon. I’m sure everything will be fine.”

She sighed in response. “I know. I know that someday it will be fine. But we’ve been in this stupid place for over a month now and I don’t know what to do about it. We’re too polite. It’s like we did break up and we’re trying to still preserve our friendship.”

“Ye mean except sex?” Jenny asked.

“Nope, that too.”

Jenny gaped at Claire. “I’m going to pretend that ye’re no’ wi’ my brother while I interrogate ye about this, but ye havena had sex in over a month?” Claire nodded. “I thought ye basically live together.”

“We do,” Claire confirmed “But things have just been off. And it scares me because it’s my fault and I don’t know how to fix it. I mean, we’ve gotten close a few times, but something always interrupted us.”

“Ye dinna even have children,” Jenny argued. “What could interrupt ye?”

“Well once I got paged to the hospital. Once you called Jamie,” Claire listed.

Jenny held up her hand, an angry and confused look on her face. “I’m sorry, ye let me interrupt ye? Christ, ye could have sent me to voicemail and called me back in a post-coital haze. Or the next day. I’m sure it wasna anything important. I canna believe Jamie chose to answer the phone.”

“Well I told him he should. You know, just in case,” Claire recalled.

Jenny stared at her for a long moment, her eyes narrowed in on her. “So each time things have stopped progressing, has it been ye that stopped it?” Claire thought for a long moment before she nodded guiltily. Jenny sighed, nodding her head with a small smile. “I think I ken what’s holding ye back from the two of ye being normal again.”

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“It’s you.”

Claire gaped at Jenny. “Me?” she asked dumbly, pointing to herself.

“Aye, you. You’re carrying around all this damn guilt from one panicked moment. Claire, we all freak out about things. But ye’ve done yer best to mend things between ye and Jamie. So let go of the guilt. Try and treat Jamie the way you used to instead of wandering along with him acting like some sad puppy who doesn’t believe ye’re deserving of his love.”

Claire sat down on the partially made bed, staring at Jenny. Maybe she had a point. Claire had been trying to accommodate everything Jamie needed or wanted and never tried to push anything. She had believed it would be the best way to get things back on track. But maybe she was wrong. “What if I don’t know how to do that?” Claire whispered.

Jenny walked around the side of the bed and sat down next to Claire. “Surely ye remember. Perhaps just make one joke at Jamie’s expense instead of trying to make him so content he forgets what ye did.” She looked at Claire with a knowing smile. “Look, if it makes ye feel better, I’ve done things too that put Ian and I in a small strain. The point is that ye get over it. Ye say what needs to be said and ye move on. I think Jamie’s moved on, Claire. But ye seem to be holding yourself back because ye feel ye must. That ye dinna deserve to be happy yet.”

Claire covered her face with her hands. “I think you’re right,” she admitted. “I didn’t even think Jamie was going to want to spend the holidays with me. But when I mentioned it, he seemed shocked that I didn’t already know I was included.”

Jenny ran a hand up and down Claire’s back, comforting her. “That tells me that he’s gotten past it. He’s ready to leave it in the past. Ye need to do the same.” Claire dropped her hands and looked over at Jenny. “Just act as ye normally would. Fight the new instincts that say ye should tiptoe around Jamie. Just be Claire.” Jenny stood up, ready to resume making the bed. “Guilt is a heavy burden to bear, Claire. Dinna let it burn ye up from the inside and take yer relationship wi’ it. Ye two are too good together for that.”

She felt tears building in her eyes, wishing they wouldn’t fall. Jenny was completely right. She’d been acting like she didn’t deserve Jamie when in reality, it had been one mistake. If they were ever going to fully move past it, she needed to finally let things go. Claire stood up to face Jenny and got back to helping her with the bed.

It was Christmas Eve which wasn’t especially a big day for the Fraser-Murray clan except for the preparation for the next day. The kids were vibrating with the excitement of Christmas and it was endearing to see. Claire was endlessly happy that Jamie had made sure she was included. After helping Jenny, she wandered back down to see where Jamie had gotten to. They’d been in the door approximately two minutes when Young Jamie had grabbed his hand and demanded he come see something. Jamie had grinned and said “Be right back” to her. Jenny hadn’t wasted anytime in putting Claire to work after her offer. So in the near hour they’d been there, Claire had barely seen Jamie.

She found him in the living room holding himself up off the floor, Maggie on his back, seemingly trying to pin him to the ground. “Ye’ll no’ get the best o’ me, Wee Maggie!” Jamie taunted.

“Yes I will! I’m strong now!” she yelled back to him. Jamie hadn’t noticed Claire’s presence but she couldn’t help smiling as she watched the two of them. Suddenly an idea struck her. She tiptoed over and stood next to Maggie. When the little girl looked over, Claire held a finger to her lips, telling her to keep quiet. Maggie smiled brilliantly and nodded. Claire braced her weight against her forearms on Jamie’s back. He growled suddenly, his body starting to collapse.

“What the devil?” he looked back and saw Claire and Maggie giggling together. “Claire! Betrayal!”

That only made the two of them laugh louder. “Nope, us lasses have to stick together, right, Maggie?”

“Right, Auntie Claire!” Claire felt Jamie’s back tense at the title Maggie had used. She laid a hand flat on his back. Soon, he gave up and collapsed on the floor with a groan of defeat. “Ha!” Maggie yelled, climbing off Jamie’s back to mock him to his face. “I told ye I’m strong now!”

Jamie stood up slowly. “I suppose ye are then.” He stuck his hand out for her to shake. “Well done.” Claire grinned at the excited smile on Maggie’s face. The little girl ran from the room, no doubt going to find her older brother to brag. “Such betrayal, Sassenach,” he teased with a shake of his head.

Claire smiled, both him and the return of her nickname. She reached up and cupped his face in her hands. “It’s Christmas. You’ve gotta give her one,” she reasoned. He shrugged with a grin. Claire leaned forward and kissed him sweetly, trying to mind Jenny’s advice. His arms came to wrap around her, holding her close, even after their kiss had ended.

Jamie planted a kiss on her forehead. “I’m verra happy that ye’re here, Sassenach,” he said in a soft voice.

Claire tightened her arms around him before laying a kiss on his chest. “I am too, Jamie.”

Jamie leaned down and pulled her in for a long kiss. She sighed as his hands started to roam her body. “Ye ken, we’ve a bit till dinner still,” he whispered against her lips. He pulled her hips tighter against his. “I could think of something we can do to kill the time,” he suggested.

She didn’t respond with words, but with her body as she started to grind against him. He groaned in reply, breaking away to look at her for a moment.

“Ah, there ye two are,” Jenny said, walking into the room and interrupting the moment. “Ian had to run out and get something I forgot from the store. I’m about to start dinner. Could the two of ye entertain the bairns so they’re not running amok in the house or in the kitchen?”

Jamie nearly glared at her. “Ye have a television. Can ye no’ put it on for them?”

Jenny was about to reply when Claire stepped in. “It’s fine, we can, Jenny.” Jamie looked down at her, disappointment clear on his face. “It’s not like we get all that much time with the kids. But we certainly have time for that . Let’s just help your sister.”

Jamie shook his head. “Aye, just this once.” Claire laughed before she leaned back in to kiss him. She felt daring this time, sticking her tongue in his mouth and leaving him with a filthy kiss before she pulled away with a smirk. “Tha’s how ye’re walking away?” Jamie demanded. “Christ, woman,” he said with a shake of his head. Claire winked at him before walking away to find the kids. She promised herself as she walked from him that it was the last time she’d stop them from going further.

~~~

Christmas had been a fun day. It was the first Christmas Claire had spent with little kids since she was a little kid herself. The joy on all their faces was very sweet to see. There was nothing like sitting around the tree, feeling the warmth of the fire, cuddled with Jamie. Ian and Jenny seemed just as content. It was a lazy and yet exciting day for the family. The entire time, Claire felt endlessly thankful to get to be there.

In the six days between Christmas Day and Hogmanay, Claire and Jamie had been busy helping make sure everything was ready for the party on Hogmanay. There had been numerous trips to the village and even to Glasgow to get each needed staple. The party promised to be quite an extravagant affair. Jenny had been on edge, ordering the other three adults around like children. Once she saw Jamie roll his eyes at Claire and he got yelled at for a full five minutes while Claire giggled in the background. The two of them had barely had time just the two of them with the exception of trips to get supplies. And even then, Jenny kept them on a strict timeline. There were no side trips for an intimate lunch or such.

During that time, Claire had tried to keep Jenny’s advice to her in mind. Guilt wasn’t an easy thing to get rid of, but she was doing her best. When she pushed it to the back of her mind, Claire allowed herself to have a good time. Practice was helping make perfect and she felt more like herself than she had since the incident. It had been a while since she and Jamie had laughed as much as they had. Still, every now and then, the awkwardness crept back in.

Despite all the chaos and endless orders of the week, it all seemed worth it when the house looked impeccable and everything was ready to go. Claire had just put the finishing touches on her makeup when she walked out of their room. She nearly ran into Jamie as she walked out into the hallway. “Hey,” she said cheerily. He didn’t reply. He was too busy staring at her in awe. She couldn’t fight the grin at his reaction to her appearance. “Well do I look alright?”

Jamie nodded, his mouth agape. “Aye, ye look wonderful.”

Claire turned around, showing off the tartan dress she and Geillis had happened across in London. “Do I look Scottish enough?” she joked.

Jamie pulled her in close, his lips almost touching hers. “Aye, ye’ll do.” Claire wrapped her arms around him as well, leaning in to meet his kiss. They stood there in a gentle embrace, not pushing things further. Claire ran her hand through Jamie’s hair as he finally deepened the kiss. She let out a contented sigh, moments before they were interrupted.

“People are going to be here any minute!” Jenny yelled as she walked past them. “Could ye maybe stop snogging like teenagers?” They broke apart, both glaring at her. “Ye two can glare at me all ye want, but there’s work to do.”

They stood there until Jenny was safely down the stairs. “Do ye think she’s fully downstairs?” Jamie asked. Claire nodded. He looked at her, rolling his eyes with a sigh. She couldn’t help but laugh. “I suppose we should go help.” He leaned in and kissed her again quickly.

“Is she always like this before the party? Is this a yearly tradition?” Claire asked. “I love Jenny, but if that’s the case, I think next year we’re going to have to go on vacation or something instead.”

Jamie looked down at her, a brief look of awe crossing his face before he schooled his expression. “No, it’s usually like this. Maybe no’ to this degree. Perhaps she’s feeling nervous that ye’re here.”

Claire shook her head at him. “No reason to be nervous for me.”

“Well then she’s jus’ going insane,” Jamie offered. They laughed as they walked into the kitchen together, ready to do Jenny’s bidding.

An hour later, most of the guests had arrived and Jenny had somehow undersold the amount of people that were going to be there. Claire had never seen so many people at a house party in her life. Jenny Murray made Rupert Mackenzie look like he had no friends.

Claire was standing with Jamie as they were refilling their drinks. “No,” Jamie breathed. Claire looked over to find him horror-struck. Following his eyeline, she saw why.

“Is that Dougal?”

Jamie sighed. “Aye. Tis.” He looked down at her with a crushed expression. “Why the fuck would Jenny invite him?”

“Because he’s her uncle?” Claire reasoned.

“Yeah, but it’s no’ as though he’s been a present uncle. She knows I dinna care to be around the man outside of work,” Jamie complained. They watched as Dougal Mackenzie made his way through a crowd of people. He stepped to the side and Jamie gasped. “Colum’s here too? What the bloody hell is happening?”

“That’s Colum?” Claire asked. She’d heard plenty about him, but she hadn’t ever met him.

“Aye, tha’s him,” Jamie said, not taking his eyes off the man. Suddenly he grabbed Claire’s hand and he walked toward the kitchen, dragging her behind him. Jenny was getting something out of the oven when they found her. “Jenny Murray, what the devil were ye thinking?”

She looked up, shocked by Jamie’s harsh accusation. “Excuse me?”

“Why are Colum and Dougal here?” he demanded. “I’m supposed to be on holiday from work!”

“Well you were the one who decided to go work for the family,” she argued, looking away from him. Jamie glared at her. She looked back apologetically. “Ian ran into Dougal in Glasgow when he was there for work. They were talking about Hogmanay, Ian mentioned the party, and somehow they both were invited. We never expected them to actually come. It’s no’ like they ever came to the parties we had here when Mam and Da were still alive.”

Jamie closed his eyes. “Christ, then that means it’s something to do wi’ me.”

“Why do you think that?” Claire asked.

“Because they could get me alone here, full of merriment, with my guard down, potentially liquored up and it would be easier to get me to agree to somethin’ than it would be at work,” Jamie reasoned.

“Well then I guess it’s a good thing you already know this ahead of time,” Jenny said with a flourish of her hands. “Just rip off the bandaid and go talk to them. Go introduce Claire and change the conversation away from work.”

Jamie looked over at Claire with a guilty expression. She nodded her assent. “It’s fine. Let’s do it.”

They found their way to where his uncles were sitting. “Dougal, Colum!” Jamie greeted. “I ne’er thought ye’d come to a humble Fraser Hogmanay.”

“This is far from humble,” Dougal said, looking around. “Yer sister puts on quite the bash.”

Jamie nodded, swallowing harshly. “Uh I canna remember if ye’ve been introduced,” he lied. They both knew Claire had met Dougal at least. “Uncles, this is Claire.” He gestured to her. She smiled and reached for both their hands to shake. “Claire these are my uncles, Dougal and Colum Mackenzie.”

“Ah, yes, I’ve heard so much,” Claire said with a fake smile. “So lovely to meet you.”

Ian walked over to stand with the group of them. “Welcome gents, I’m so happy ye could make it.” He missed Jamie’s glare. It seemed he was avoiding his eye contact on purpose.

“So, Jamie, lad, ye’ve taken up wi’ a sassenach?” Colum asked from his chair.

Claire felt Jamie’s hand turn into a fist where it rested on her back. “I suppose you couldn’t be surprised by it when you sent him to work in your London office,” Claire mused, a smirk on her face.

Colum did a double take at her remark. “And a cheeky one at that.”

Ian laughed loudly. “Aye, Claire is a sassenach, but she’s got a little scottish in her.”

Claire and Jamie gaped at his innuendo.

“Ian!” Claire scolded.

“Christ, man,” Jamie muttered.

Ian stared back at them. “What? I meant because she used to live here in Scotland!”

“Sure ye did,” Jamie replied, shaking his head.

“Did ye then?” Colum asked. “What made ye move?”

“My parents died and I left to live with my uncle,” Claire recapped.

“Anyway, could I get ye something to drink?” Jamie asked, wanting to steer his uncle’s focus from Claire.

“Surely ye’ll have our product here,” Dougal said with a strange look.

“But of course we do,” Ian chimed in. “Let me go get ye a glass.” Jamie shook his head at him. Claire could tell he wanted a reason to get away.

“So Claire,” Colum began, “what is it that ye do for a living?”

“I’m a surgeon,” she informed him, standing a bit straighter. Jamie nodded appreciatively at her.

“Oh, a surgeon, that’s wonderful,” Colum replied. He looked over at Jamie. “So Jamie, how does it feel that yer lass makes so much more money than ye?”

Jamie’s mouth dropped open a fraction, no immediate reply coming. Claire stepped in. “Well, I know Jamie has significantly less money to pay back. I got an expensive medical degree and have a good amount of loans still. Maybe one day the difference will be larger than it is, but now it’s definitely not.”

Jamie swallowed past the lump in his throat. “Besides, I’ve seen the amazing work Claire does and she deserves every penny she makes.” She smiled at him, rubbing a hand on his shoulder.

“Are ye saying ye dinna do amazing work, Jamie?” Dougal asked.

“I’m no’ exactly saving anyone’s life, now am I?” Jamie retorted. “Anyway, if ye’ll excuse us, Claire and I need to be helping Jenny keep things running. She’ll have our necks if we’re gone too long.” Finding his out, Jamie nodded and turned from them.

“It was lovely to meet you both,” Claire said before following Jamie back to the kitchen.

“Fancy a drink?” He said once they were secluded.

“Absolutely!” They both downed a whisky quickly. Claire took a deep breath. “Jamie,” she started.

“It has never bothered me,” he immediately replied.

She grinned at him. “Are you a mind reader now?” she joked.

“I knew it would be exactly where ye went,” Jamie explained. “No, I dinna care. I’ve never cared. Why should it bother me? Ye do a much more important job than I do. Why should I make more money than ye?”

Claire tilted her head to look at him. “That’s a very mature way to look at it.” He shrugged, a small grin on his face. Claire leaned in and kissed him quickly, a mere echo of their earlier kiss. She sighed when she stepped back. “The food is out there. We’ll have to risk more terrible conversations.”

Jamie grimaced as he looked out the doorway. “I’ll risk it wi’ ye,” he said, ever the dramatic, sticking his hand out.

Claire clasped her hand around his. “Let’s do it.”

 

A few hours had passed and Claire had somehow lost track of Jamie. Scanning the room for him, she spotted him on the edge of the makeshift dance floor talking with a group of people. She smiled to herself, seeing him in his element. He was ever the people person. She was starting to walk over to him when she bumped into another woman. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

The woman cocked her head. “I dinna think we’ve met before. I’m Mary.”

“Claire.” They shook hands briefly.

“So what is a sassenach doing here?” the woman asked bluntly.

“My boyfriend brought me.”

A grin spread across the woman’s face. “Are ye Duncan’s lass then? He has always had a thing for foreigners.”

Claire felt repulsed by this woman. “No, actually, it’s Jamie Fraser.”

Her eyes widened as her jaw dropped. “Jamie?” Claire nodded. “Wow, I never would have expected Jamie to bring some sassenach home.”

Claire smiled tightly, standing up a bit straighter. “Well he does live in England. The odds of it happening were quite high.”

“Oh of course,” Mary replied. “It’s just that I always saw Jamie ending up with a Scottish lass.”

Claire’s polite smile faded. “Let me guess, you wanted it to be you?” The woman looked shocked. “Look, you know nothing about me or my relationship with Jamie, so if you’ll excuse me, I need to be anywhere else than here.”

She walked away before the woman could even respond. Heading toward the kitchen, she hoped Jenny had wandered out to enjoy the party. A bit of privacy sounded pretty good at the moment.

~~~

Jamie was talking to a few people who knew his parents back in the day. While it was nice to hear stories of his parents, he was eyeing the people dancing and wanted to drag Claire out there. He was looking around the room to see if he could spot her. Over near the hallway leading toward the kitchen, he saw her. She looked upset. Jamie quickly excused himself and made his way to the kitchen. When he reached the mouth of the hallway, Claire had looked up to see his approach. He needed to know why she was alone and upset. Just before he walked into the kitchen, he was stopped as Dougal stepped out of the bathroom and in front of him. Claire’s eyes went wide and she moved away from view.

“Ah, Jamie, just who I was looking for,” Dougal said, too sweetly.

“Yes?” Jamie asked. He looked past Dougal into the kitchen but Claire had hidden herself well.

“Have I ever told ye what a good job ye do for our company?”

That got Jamie’s attention. He looked back at Dougal. “No, as a matter of fact, ye havena.”

“Well I suppose there’s a first time for everything. Ye really have done a fantastic job with the London marketing department. Colum and I were discussing it just recently. We couldna ask for a better department head.”

Jamie was aghast at Dougal’s impromptu performance review. “Well, uh, thank ye. I appreciate that.” He moved to go into the kitchen but Dougal stopped him.

“Have ye ever been to New York?” Dougal asked.

Jamie stared at him for a moment. “No, I canna say I have.”

“How would ye like to?”

Jamie’s brow furrowed as his confusion grew. “What?”

“I jus’ got back no’ too long ago. It’s a lovely city,” Dougal commented. He leaned in closer to Jamie, almost conspiratorially. “See, here’s where being family is going to be to yer benefit. Ye’re about to find out top secret information that most people dinna even ken yet.” Jamie braced himself for Dougal’s reveal. “We’re looking to expand. Cross the ocean and such. And I scoped out a great office space.”

“Wow,” Jamie replied, shocked. “Congratulations.”

“Congratulations to ye as well,” Dougal added. “We’d like ye to be the head of the marketing department in New York City. How exciting does that sound?”

Jamie stared at him for a long moment, feeling unable to catch his breath. “Is this an offer or an order?”

“Well an official offer will have to come in an official capacity and no’ at a family party, but ye’re who Colum and I want in charge. Ye could say it’s the offer of a lifetime.”

Jamie nodded slowly, wishing he could see Claire’s reaction at the moment. “Well, I must say I’m very touched by the fact that ye both thought of me. But I’m afraid that when the official offer comes, I must decline.”

Dougal stared at him, clearly shocked by his decision. “Boy, ye realize this is a big deal.”

“I do. And like I said, I’m very touched. But my life is in London. I enjoy my job and I’m good at my job and I will not be leaving London.”

“Yer life used to be on this little farm until I had ye move to London,” Dougal reminded him. “Surely ye recall that. I gave ye that job and that life ye so enjoy. Why doubt me this time?”

“I have no doubt that this would be a great opportunity for me, but I canna take it. My life is good as it is and I’m no’ willing to risk that,” Jamie said respectfully.

Dougal scoffed in his face. “What is this about? The bloody sassenach?” Jamie tensed. If Dougal insulted Claire, it would take all his power not to hit him. “Jamie, there will be women aplenty in New York. Ones who I’m sure will go crazy fer yer Scottish accent.”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “That may be, but I’m no’ interested.”

“We could fire ye if ye dinna take it,” Dougal threatened.

Jamie laughed. “Seriously, after ye took the time to tell me how brilliant a job I’m doing.” He shook his head. “Go ahead. I enjoy my job, but I’ve no doubt I can find another one.”

“Oh really? How’s that? Ye didna finish school,” Dougal reminded in a menacing tone.

“Actually I did,” Jamie revealed. “A few years after I moved to London, I realized that if I didna finish my degree, I could get stuck at Mackenzie Whisky and that was the last thing I wanted. Well, rather, I just wanted to have options so that in moments like these, I dinna have to throw my life away on yer whims. So yes, I have finished my degree. But I appreciate yer concern for my future. Now, if ye’ll excuse me, Dougal, I believe we’re done talking.”

Jamie squeezed past Dougal’s frozen frame and walked into the kitchen, praying he wouldn’t follow. He looked around for Claire but the kitchen was empty. Where could she be? He couldn’t see anyone out the door in the kitchen, but it was worth a risk.

~~~

Claire was sitting on a bench near the kitchen door when Jamie found her. She was trying her best to ignore how cold she was. Jamie sat down next to her. “What are ye doing out here?”

“Well I figured I’d eavesdropped enough,” she mused.

Jamie closed his eyes, sighing. “How much did ye hear?”

“Most of it.”

He turned to her on the bench, grabbing both her hands. “Then ye heard me immediately turn it down.”

She flashed him a small smile. “Yes, I did. But that’s not what troubled me.”

“What do ye mean?”

“Jamie, if you want this job, you should take it,” she said, looking up at him, feeling her heart break at the suggestion. “Dougal could be right. It could be a great opportunity for you and I don’t want to stand in the way of that.”

Jamie shook his head, squeezing her hands in his. “It’s no’ some big opportunity. It’s my same job just in a different city. And I don’t want to live in America. I’d be far away from everything I ken. My family, my friends. And you.” He held her gaze, making sure she saw how serious he was at his last point.

“Jamie, I just don’t want to be the person who holds you back from something good for you,” Claire said nervously. “I heard what Dougal said about how they could fire you.”

“So I’d find a different job. I’m employable,” Jamie said with a shrug.

“I just…” Claire tried to find the way articulate her fears. “I don’t want to stop you from doing something.”

Jamie pushed a stray curl behind her ear. “Mo nighean donn, I dinna want to move out of London. I meant what I said. Ye’re no’ the thing holding me back from something good. Ye’re the one keeping me where I want to be. I’ve already seen ye in a long distance relationship and I dinna want to be part of that myself. I canna imagine going more than a day wi’out seeing yer face.” He reached up and caressed her cheek.

She smiled and leaned into his hand. No matter how hard she tried though, her insecurities were coming back to the surface. “Are you sure though? I mean, our relationship as of late hasn’t been worth…” she stopped, not sure how to proceed.

Jamie’s brow furrowed. “I’ve actually been thinking about that.” Fear coursed through her and no doubt showed on her face. Jamie looked shocked at her expression. “I wasna about to end anything, I promise!” She closed her eyes and breathed out a laugh. Jamie leaned forward and kissed her gently. She reached up to lay her hand on his cheek. When he pulled back, he laid his forehead against hers. “I was thinking that it’s Hogmanay.”

Claire pulled back further. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Jamie stood up and pulled her with him. “Well it’s a fresh start, aye? In…” he looked at his watch, “forty three minutes, it’ll be a new year.” Jamie took both her hands in his. “So what if we leave all the awkwardness and tension of our relationship in 2018?” Claire smiled at him. “I love ye, Claire, and I’m over the pain of that bloody fight. I just want us to be us again. Don’t ye?”

She nodded, tears brimming in her eyes. “Desperately.”

“It’s been better here, aye? I’m no’ the only one who sees that, right?” Jamie asked.

“No, it has been.” She released a watery laugh. “I guess we know what to do if our relationship ever hits a bump in the road. We just come to Scotland.”

Jamie laughed with her. “Aye, where it all began.”

“Wow, that was quite cheesy. You say it like it wasn’t only five months ago.”

Jamie frowned at her. “I actually meant when we were kids.”

Claire laughed loudly, leaning her head against his chest. “That’s even cheesier!”

Jamie shook his head, bringing her face up to his. “Do ye promise then? That we’ll start the new year on the right foot? And we can both let go of any bad feelings?”

She wrapped her arms around his waist, watching him earnestly. “I promise,” she whispered.

“I do too.” Jamie leaned down and met her for a kiss, pulling her in closer. Jamie broke away and looked down at her, an intense look in his eyes. “I love ye so much, Sassenach.”

Claire smiled brightly, running a hand through his hair. “I love you too, Jamie. So bloody much.”

When they met again in a kiss, it wasn’t gentle. Jami pulled her as close as possible, his hands quickly starting to roam. Claire’s hands clutched to his back as her tongue found its way into his mouth. The feel of being surrounded by him again was intoxicating. Claire felt more drunk on him than she had with the alcohol during the party. Jamie’s hands found her ass pretty quickly, but she shouldn’t have been surprised. Soon, he was walking them backwards and she felt her back hit the wall of the house. He pressed even closer to her, his hips pinning her to the wall. His mouth left hers to leave kisses along her jaw and down her neck. Claire gasped at his attentions as she tangled her hands in his hair. His hands pulled on her waist. “Christ, I’ve missed ye,” he breathed against her neck.

“I know,” she sighed. “Me too. I’m sorry.”

Jamie froze, looking up at her. “Please dinna apologize.” He held her gaze. “I think ye’ve made more than enough apologies. Wouldn’t ye say?”

Claire couldn’t fight the smile as she nodded. “Yeah, I’d say so.”

He nodded with her before leaning back in to kiss her. “Come wi’ me.”

“Anywhere,” she breathed, taking his hand. He smirked at her before he dragged her off away from the house. “Where are we going?”

Jamie didn’t stop walking but he looked back at her with a smirk. “Ye’ll see.”

He led them over the hill and stopped in front of the barn. “The barn?” Claire asked, clearly dubious.

Jamie pulled her in for a kiss, walking backwards toward the barn. “Why no’?”

Claire pulled back suddenly. “Wait, have you ever done this with anyone else in the barn?” He laughed and shook his head. “Then let us proceed.”

All the humor faded from the moment between them. They stared at each other with a hungry intensity. Like magnets, they snapped back together, kissing each other madly. Jamie quickly picked Claire up, her legs wrapping around his waist, as he walked them into the barn. Stumbling, they crashed into one of the wooden posts. Jamie just pressed further into her, making his want of her known. Their mouths were nearly fused together as their hands explored again. Claire could feel him against her and she started to grind her hips against his. He groaned at the feeling, pulling back to kiss her chest. “I need ye,” he panted into her skin.

“Me too,” she responded, grinding harder.

“If ye dinna stop, this may all be over before it starts,” he joked.

Claire stopped and unwound her legs from his waist, jumping down from his embrace. “Well we can’t have that.” She backed away from him, pulling down the zipper of her dress.

Jamie broke eye contact to grab a blanket from one of the shelves by the door. He walked past Claire and laid it down on the pile of hay at the back of the barn. She eyed him skeptically. “Now, that seems like someone who has experience having sex in a barn.”

Jamie grinned, wrapping his arms around her. “Nah, I’ve just taken a lot of naps in here when I was avoiding Jenny’s orders.”

Claire laughed loudly. “Well after this week, I certainly get that.”

He hummed his amusement before he leaned down to pull at the hem of her dress. She held her hands up, allowing him to take it off of her. Before he could even appreciate the sight of her, her hands were at the buttons of his shirt. He moved to undo his pants, wanting them both to be naked as fast as possible. A small chill ran down Claire’s spine and she didn’t think it was all to do with Jamie. “We picked a really cold night for this,” she chattered.

Jamie stepped out of his pants and walked toward her. “Then here, let me warm ye.”

She clutched to him immediately and not because she was cold. Their undergarments were all that stood between them. Jamie’s kisses down her body were certainly warming her up, if not in the same way. He knelt down in front of her, removing her panties almost reverently. She threw off her bra and knelt down to take off his boxers.

They stared at each other for a moment once they were both completely naked. Jamie just smiled at her. She smiled back, reaching out slowly to grab ahold of him. He groaned at her grip, his eyes closing. Her hand went to her slit, using some of her own wetness to slide her hand up his length. Jamie’s eyes were dark and his mouth hung open as he watched her. “Claire,” he rasped. He pulled her hand from him and nudged her shoulder so she would lay down. When she was on her back, he hovered over her, kissing his way up her body til he reached her lips. “I dinna need that right now. I need ye,” he breathed. She nodded her assent, moving her foot along his calf. Without delay, he drove home.

Claire moaned at the feeling of him filling her. It had been exquisitely missed in their small bout of abstinence. Jamie was still inside her for a moment but Claire kept moving, trying to get him deeper. “Jamie,” she panted. “Please.” His eyes locked on hers and his hips thrust against hers. Her fingernails clawed down his back. “Yes,” she sighed loudly. “Harder.”

Jamie’s hands were no doubt leaving bruises on her skin but she’d relish them. He drove into her deeply, pulling her leg up around his waist and holding it there. His mouth moved over her body. Her lips, her breasts, her neck. “I canna be gentle,” he admitted in a soft voice.

“Good,” Claire answered, lifting her hips to meet his in a hard thrust.

“God, I love ye,” he moaned. “I love ye, I love ye, I love ye,” he repeated over and over as he continued to wind her up into a frenzy.

Claire could feel her release building within her. She met Jamie for each thrust, willing her climax to reach her. Suddenly, he hit the right spot within her. “There,” she cried, urging him to do so again. Ever the willing student, Jamie repeated his action again and again until she was collapsing around him. He was not long behind her, nearly falling on her with a loud groan of pleasure.

He rolled to his side, bringing her to lay on her side and face him. Jamie reached up and stroked her cheek as they both lay there spent and panting. “I love you too,” she breathed. He smiled, leaning forward to kiss her softly. The boom of fireworks went off above them, announcing the arrival of the new year. They both laughed, looking back at each other. “Happy New Year,” they both whispered to the other before meeting for a long and lazy midnight kiss. “You know, this was the first Hogmanay I’ve celebrated since I was 10 years old,” Claire remembered.

“And? Thoughts?” Jamie teased, his hand squeezing at her hip.

“It seems appropriate to be here at Lallybroch. And here with you.”

They laid there for a while, holding each other and cherishing the afterglow. It wasn’t until Claire started to shiver that they redressed and walked back to the house, hand in hand, hoping they didn’t both look thoroughly fucked.

If Jenny and Ian had noticed their absence, they blessedly stayed silent. The guests had, for the most part, dispersed and the house was theirs again. After helping clean up as much as Jenny would let them, Jamie and Claire went back up to their room. Claire quickly stripped again before running to climb under the mound of blankets on the bed. Jamie chuckled as he did the same, but slower. He was about to climb in next to her when he remembered something. Claire watched as he rifled through his suitcase. He walked back to the bed and climbed in next to her, bringing her close to him.

“Here,” he said simply, extending his hand. Claire looked down at his hand and noticed a familiar jewelry box sitting there. She glanced back up to Jamie to see him smiling and nodding. Before even taking the box from him, Claire clutched him to her, kissing him hard. She held his gaze for a long beat before reaching out to pick up and open the box. The small circle of emeralds with diamonds in the center twinkled up at her. Claire stared down at the earrings formed like small wreaths of gems, completely in awe.

“These are so gorgeous,” she sighed. “Jamie, I...they’re amazing.”

He smiled broadly at her appreciation of his gift, planting a kiss on her shoulder. “Aye, ye didna really see them the last time.” Claire snapped her head up and glared at him. “Too soon?”

“By about three decades, I think,” she retorted. He bowed his head in apology. She reached a finger out to run delicately over the earrings. “They’re so beautiful. I don’t really remember your mother wearing them.”

“Well aye, she only wore them on special occasions,” Jamie recalled. “Da gave them to her after I was born.”
“Ah, hence the emeralds,” she remarked, still staring at them.

“Exactly,” he chuckled. “They were very precious to her and she left them to me when she passed. And I always said I’d give them to someone very precious to me.” He met gaze pointedly. Claire felt tears in her eyes as she reached out to cup his cheek. “After Mam died, I never thought I’d get to give them to someone who actually knew her too. It makes it even more special this way.” He leaned over and kissed her temple.

“Thank you, Jamie. I promise you, the weight of it is not lost on me, nor the memory of the wonderful woman who owned them first,” Claire replied as a happy tear trickled down her cheek.

“Happy New Year, mo nighean donn,” he said before he kissed her again.

Claire set down the box on her lap and held his face in her hands, staring at him. “I know it will be, James Fraser, since I’ll spend it with you.”

Chapter Text

“Jamie, where are we going?” Claire whined, a few steps behind him.

He looked back at her, a sneaky grin on his face. “Ye’ll see.”

Leaning her head back, she groaned loudly. “I told you I was hungry and you said we’d go somewhere and eat. I meant it, Jamie. I did not really get the chance to eat today.”

Jamie stopped and turned to meet her. “Do ye no’ trust me? I told ye that ye’d get to eat, woman.”

“Why won’t you tell me where we’re going?”

“Because it’s a surprise!” Jamie insisted, grabbing her hand and nearly dragging her down the street. “Look, we’re almost there.” Claire sighed. “It’s really nice when ye treat my surprises like this,” Jamie commented.

“You know what I get like when I’m hungry, Jamie, and you chose to drag me back out of your flat before I could put any food in my stomach,” Claire reminded him. “This is on you, really.” Jamie stayed silent, only shaking his head. Finally he stopped in front of a building with a smile on his face. Claire looked at it before looking back at him. “Jamie, this is a bar!”

“Aye, ‘tis our first stop,” he informed her.

“There’s not food here,” she nearly cried.

“Just trust me.”

They walked in, hand in hand. Claire didn’t know what to expect from Jamie’s mysterious plans. She certainly didn’t expect their group of friends standing in front of them. “Surprise!” they all yelled, smiles on their faces.

Claire narrowed her eyes, looking between them and Jamie. “You guys, my birthday was in October. We all celebrated it. What are you guys doing?”

“We’re no’ celebratin’ yer birthday, silly,” Geillis told her with a grin.

“It’s yer one year anniversary of moving here,” Jamie remarked, gesturing to the bar. “And this is the same bar we all came out to the night ye moved back.”

Claire couldn’t help but be touched. She squeezed Jamie’s hand in hers. “Okay, this is incredibly sentimental, guys, and very sweet. And almost a bit out of character.”

“It was all Jamie’s idea,” Angus said.

“Okay, well then it all adds up,” Claire teased, nudging him with her shoulder. She leaned closer to him so only he could hear her. “When are we getting food?”

Jamie breathed out a laugh. “No’ to worry, mo nighean donn, we’re only here for a round.”

“The original plan was just dinner, but Jamie wanted to be sentimental,” Louise informed Claire.

Jamie just shrugged in reply. “What would ye like to drink, Sassenach?”

“Something filling,” she said, flashing him a pointed look. He laughed, walking off toward the bar. Everyone else congregated at a booth, making room for Claire. She sat down, greeting her friends. “Wait, where’s John?”

“He’s over at the bar,” Rupert pointed, “He got here late and didna get his drink before ye arrived.”

“So you’ve all started your drinks and it’s only Jamie, John, and me with a full first round? Great, we can chug those and get to eating then,” Claire mused.

“What, did ye no’ eat today?” Geillis asked with a laugh.

“Did you see me at the hospital today?” Claire asked. Geillis shook her head. “Yeah, that’s because I was incredibly busy. So no, I haven’t eaten much today.”

Jamie sat down next to her, handing her a beer. “It may no’ fill yer belly but it’ll make ye forget yer hungry.” Claire rolled her eyes at him, taking a long drink of her beer. “Anybody ken who the lad is over there talking to John?”

Everyone’s eyes turned to the bar where John stood animatedly talking to an attractive man. “Nope, don’t know him,” Louise said, a smirk growing on her face, “Wouldn’t mind knowing him though.”

Geillis laughed. “No, look at the way he’s leaning in, talking wi’ John. He’s no’ interested in you, Louise. Or me or Claire.”

“Oooh, you think John’s meeting himself a man?” Rupert asked, almost excitedly.

“Seems only fitting,” Geillis replied. “After all, this is where Jamie and Claire met, aye.”

Claire shook her head with a roll of her eyes at her friend. “It’s no’ really where we met,” Jamie clarified. “We really met in Scotland.”

“Fine,” Geillis sighed, “Tis where ye met again and found each other after years of separation.”

“That is a more accurate statement,” Claire agreed, grinning at Jamie.

“Either way, it’s where ye ended up on the nauseating path ye’re on now,” Geillis concluded.

“Nauseating?” Jamie and Claire asked in unison.

“Who was the one constantly asking me why we weren’t together?” Claire demanded. “You didn’t seem too nauseated then!”

“Well I wasna then. But ye didna have to listen to Jamie go on and on and on while I planned this bloody party wi’ him,” Geillis defended. “Now it’s nauseating.”

Claire snuggled in a bit closer to Jamie, a grin on her face. She didn’t really mind being nauseating. After all, she was pretty obnoxiously in love with Jamie. And her friends were obligated to put up with it.

“So do ye think John kens the lad?” Jamie asked, still curious.

Everyone continued to stare at John over at the bar, allowing him no privacy. “I say no,” Willie decided.

“Only one way to find out,” Angus said, starting to stand up.

“No!” the rest of them cried. He looked at them, shocked.

“Just let them talk,” Claire ordered, motioning for him to sit down.

Soon the group at the table had finished their drinks and Jamie said it was time to go to dinner. Claire jumped up excitedly, still quite hungry. “Yes! Let’s eat!”

Jamie wandered over to the bar, ready to pay the tab. He couldn’t help but stand a bit closer to where John was standing, still talking to the same man. Admittedly, it did sound a bit flirtatious. Geillis was probably right about the nature of the conversation. Jamie grabbed his card from the bartender and regretfully tapped John on the shoulder. John’s eyes widened at him pointedly as he looked over at him. “Sorry,” Jamie whispered. “We’re all heading to dinner though. Ye know, if ye still want to join us.” John nodded, not saying anything more. Jamie walked over to join the group at the door. “Ye were 100% right, Geillis,” Jamie informed her. Geillis clapped her hands in her joy.

“So where are we going?” Claire asked, linking her arms with Jamie.

“To yer favorite place,” Jamie replied.

“Oh God, what’s my favorite place?” Claire laughed to herself. She couldn’t help but wonder though. They got in a cab and Jamie told the driver where to go in hushed tones. Claire glared at him as he sat back next to her. He just shrugged with a grin. Louise snickered on the other side of her.

She was incredibly confused when the cab pulled up at her own stoop. “Why are we at my flat?” Claire asked, unsure if she should step out of the cab. Jamie paid the driver and got out as Louise stepped out of her side. “Why are we here?”

“Home, tis yer favorite place, is it no’?” Jamie smiled.

Claire stood close to him as the rest of their friends waited on the curb. “Jamie, you know I hardly ever have food,” Claire reminded him.

“No’ to worry,” he said simply, taking her hand and walking up the stairs. The rest of them followed, not even a bit surprised they were here. None of them looked concerned that they wouldn’t eat that night. Claire still was, though, and still very hungry.

Claire was about to protest again when Jamie unlocked her flat and she saw balloons scattered throughout the room. Looking over at the kitchen, she saw her neighbor wave to Jamie. “Thank ye so much, Emma, for keeping an eye on everything.”

Emma grinned, shaking his hand. “Not a problem. I appreciate your concern over not burning the building down.” She walked over towards the door, squeezing Claire’s arm. “Have fun!”

“Thanks,” Claire said, a bit breathless, wondering what all was going on.

“Come here, Sassenach,” Jamie said as he motioned for her. She noticed the containers of food being warmed in her oven as she walked through the kitchen. He held up a bag for her, showing her what they were going to eat. “See? I didna lie. Tis yer favorite place.”

Claire tilted her head, smiling at him. “That’s so sweet. But why eat here? Why not go there?”

“That was my idea,” Geillis volunteered. “This way we can have a nice dinner all of us, well, apparently except John, and there’s no need to rush to give up a table. We can just spend the evening having a nice time at yer home.”

“You guys realize you didn’t have to celebrate the anniversary of me moving here,” Claire said.

“Of course we did,” Louise replied. “It’s been a fun year having you here and we wanted to celebrate that. All of us did. Jamie mentioned it to Geillis and she mentioned it to me. We ran it by the rest of the group and everyone was on board.”

Claire laid her hand over her heart. “You all are too much.”

“Dinna flatter yerself, Claire,” Angus replied, “Ye ken we’re always good wi’ any opportunity to drink wi’ the group.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m with you. Any excuse.” She turned back to Jamie and kissed him quickly. “Thank you,” she whispered to him. “Now, I’m still quite hungry and this smells amazing, so, let’s eat!”

Everyone crowded the kitchen as they loaded up their plates with food from Claire’s favorite Italian restaurant. Willie gave Claire a quick hug as he stood next to her at the island. She couldn’t help but look around and feel incredibly grateful for her friends. Her life really had been at its best in the last year. They were all cramming to sit around Claire’s kitchen table when the door opened and John ran in.

“Sorry, sorry! I’m here!” he called, running over to the kitchen. He made himself a quick plate and threw himself down in a chair next to Louise.

“Aye, ye should be sorry,” Rupert agreed. “I thought ye were about to drop us all for the first lad to make eyes at ye in a bar.”

“Oh come on, Rup,” John replied, “don’t try and tell me that you’ve never ditched your friends for the night because some woman talked to you.”

“I can actually say that,” Rupert confirmed, puffing out his chest. “And no, Geillis, it’s no’ because women never talk to me.” Geillis laughed heartily, agreeing that she was about to suggest it. “No, I’ve been approached by many a pretty lady in bars, but I am what you call loyal. I’ve never left my friends for the evening to pursue a woman. Jamie, tell them.”

Jamie nodded his head thoughtfully. “He’s right. Even at uni, he never ditched us.”

“Hmm,” John answered, “perhaps that’s why you’re still single.”

The table broke out in laughter at Rupert’s expense while he glared at John.

“Wait, all you did was talk to the guy,” Louise recalled. “Are you saying you aren’t single anymore?”

John took that moment to eat a particularly large bite of pasta, purposefully taking his time chewing. “No. But I do have a date next week,” he replied with a cheeky grin.

“Well done, John,” Claire said, pointing at him.

“Gee, perhaps we’ll be adding another member to this wee group I formed,” Jamie mused.

Rupert’s head snapped over in his direction. “Ye think ye formed this group? I formed this group!”

Jamie scoffed. “No ye didna. I did. Ye only moved here to London because I was here. Ye followed me so anyone who moved here after ye was really all because of me.” Rupert shook his head. “Ye moved here wi’ me. A few months later, Angus followed. Then we ran into Geillis at a pub and she started spending time wi’ the three of us.”

“Why?” Claire couldn’t help but ask. “No offense boys, but why?” The three of them stared at her with hurt expressions.

Geillis laughed. “Twas all because I didna ken anyone else yet. But I suppose it’s worked out.”

“Anyway,” Jamie said, staring at Claire pointedly, “then Willie spent a weekend down here and we convinced him to move here. Louise moved here and Geillis brought her into the fray. Then Claire. Then I brought in John. But it was all because of me,” Jamie declared.

“Ye brought in two people,” Rupert argued. “I brought in about half of the people. Tis my group!”

“Wow, of all the pointless things to argue about,” Louise commented, taking a sip of wine.

“Please, they’ve argued over much more pointless things in the last year alone,” Claire offered. “Like that time Angus and Willie had us all hostage as they argued for a full hour about the proper way to pronounce an obscure word in Gaelic.”

Everyone at the table groaned. “That was terrible,” John agreed.

“Aye, I’ll admit, it wasna fun,” Angus chimed in. “But it’s even sadder because Willie still canna say it the right way.”

Willie opened his mouth to argue but Claire stopped him. “I swear to God if you two start this again I will just kick you out of my home. I can’t do it again.”

“Agreed,” said Geillis.

Both men sat back in their chairs, eyes narrowed on the other. Claire shook her head and took the time to raise her wine glass. “Anyway, I just wanted to thank you all for planning such a fun and unexpected evening. I am very happy that I have all of you in my life. It’s been a good year,” she toasted.

Everyone raised their glasses, clinking with each other. Claire held her glass to Jamie’s winking at him with a smile.

~~~

It was a week later when Claire was sitting at her kitchen island, watching Jamie cook. Her phone buzzed on the counter with a facetime request. Picking it up, she answered, John’s face showing on her screen. “I need your help!” he cried, almost panicked.

“With what?” she asked. Jamie looked over from the stove.

“My date is tonight and I can’t figure out what to wear,” John explained. Claire nodded her understanding but Jamie died laughing as he stirred the vegetables in the pan. “Stop laughing, Jamie! It’s not funny!”

“He’s right,” Claire agreed. “This is serious.” Jamie shook his head in amusement as Claire turned her attention back to John. “Okay, what are your options?” John walked over to his bed, showing off the pants and shirts he had decided were options. “Hmm, I think the black one could look nice.” Claire looked up at Jamie. “Come over here, Jamie. I want to see what you think.”

“Don’t ask for his opinion,” John demanded. “He laughed at me.”

“I can still offer my opinion,” Jamie said, walking over to stand behind Claire. He studied the options John was still showing. “Go wi’ the blue shirt. It’ll bring out yer eyes.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh, even as impressed as she was. “I agree. And the black pants. You’ll look very dashing.”

“You think so?” John asked, still unsure.

“We’re yer parents, would we lie to ye?” Jamie replied with a grin.

John rolled his eyes and thanked them before hanging up. “Our little boy is growing up,” Claire joked, pretending to be choked up. Jamie laughed as he walked over to keep cooking dinner.

~~~

John was very nervous as he was meeting Hector. They’d gotten along easily at the bar the week before, but this seemed different. He had high hopes that they’d still get along well. It was hard to spend so much time with Jamie and Claire and not want that as well. He had grabbed a table at the bar where they’d decided to meet. It was only a block away from his flat, so John had gotten there early. He was facing the door so he could see when Hector walked in. Soon enough, the door opened and the man in question strolled in, a smile growing on his face as he spotted John. John stood up as Hector approached their table, not quite sure what he should do. Should he hug him? Shake his hand? Do nothing? In the end, he awkwardly waved as they sat back down.

“I was really glad you agreed to coming out,” Hector said.

“I was really glad you asked,” John replied, only speaking the truth. “I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous. It’s been a while.”

Hector smiled. “For me too. I only moved here to London a few months ago.”

“Oh where from?”

From there, Hector started talking about his past, sharing entertaining stories. They ordered drinks and just as before, they got along very well. Conversation flowed easily as the hours ticked by. John had shared more of himself with Hector than he’d have ever expected to on a first date. It was just easy.

John wasn’t quite sure what to do when they were standing outside on the sidewalk. They were about to part, but both of them seemed to be stalling. “I had a really good time,” John said, a wide smile on his face.

Hector mirrored his expression. “I did too. How would you like to meet again?”

John nodded, perhaps too emphatically. “Yeah, I think we should.”

“Great,” Hector replied. “I’ll text you later then. Maybe not even about that.”

“Well then I’ll reply,” John answered. He immediately shook his head at his lame response, looking down at his feet. Hector laughed, his hands landing on John’s face making him look up. He kissed John quickly, not much more than a peck. Hailing a cab, he smiled back at John. “I’ll talk to you soon.”

John felt breathless. “I can’t wait,” he replied in a quiet voice, unsure if Hector could even hear him. He waved as the cab drove off. Blowing out a breath, John reached for his phone and called Jamie.

“Hello.”

“Hey! You’re at Claire’s right?”

“That’s right.”

“Can I go stay at your place?”

“Of course ye can stay there. Oh hold on, Claire’s demanding I put ye on speaker,” Jamie said, pausing for a moment.

“John, how was the date?” Claire asked.

“It was good,” John told her. “I had a really nice time. So, Jamie, it’s fine for me to go there?”

“Don’t go to Jamie’s!” Claire demanded. “Come here and tell us all about your date. Besides, you know my couch is comfier than his!” Jamie scoffed over the phone.

John laughed. “I don’t want to interrupt your evening.”

“We spend basically every evening together. Just come over here! You need to dish!” Claire insisted.

“Oh alright fine. I’m leaving The Stag so it’ll be about fifteen minutes.”

“Wait,” Jamie said, “isn’t The Stag right by yer flat?”

“It’s about a block away,” John replied. “But you know the rules, Jamie.”

“Yeah, well the rules are bullshit.”

“I’ll see you soon,” John said. “I’m getting an uber and I’ll see you in fifteen-ish minutes, okay?”

“Okay!” Claire called.

“Bye.” John hung up. He was ordering an uber when he heard someone walk up behind him. Feeling on edge, John turned to look who it was. The man was glaring at him. John recognized him. He’d sat in the bar the whole time John and Hector had been on their date, glaring at them just as he was now. At the time, John had felt uneasy but was able to ignore it by focusing on Hector. But Hector had left now and it was just this menacing man and John. He slowly backed away from the man. “Look, sir, I don’t want any trouble.”

“Then you shouldn’t have made me witness what you did this evening,” the man growled at him.

John kept backing away from him, looking around madly for other people to be walking down the street. How was it this deserted? The man took advantage of a split second where John looked away and pushed him. John fell back towards the alley next to the bar as the man loomed over him.

~~~

Claire laid on her couch, her legs draped over Jamie’s lap, his hand idly running up and down her shin. Their movie was still playing in the background but she was almost soothed to sleep. It was a relaxing evening in. She heard her phone vibrate on the table and saw a text from Louise. The time on the screen distracted her from reading the text though. Pulling her legs back, she sat up and stared at her phone.

“What’s the matter, Sassenach?”

“It’s been an hour,” Claire said. “John isn’t here. I got distracted by the movie, but it’s been an hour.”

Jamie’s brow furrowed. “Maybe he decided to go home.”

“You heard him talk about the rules.”

Jamie nodded, concern growing on his face. “Maybe he didna want to talk about his date so he went to my place.”

“Don’t you think he would have called us or texted us to tell us?” Claire wondered aloud.

“Aye, he probably would have,” Jamie agreed. “Look, the fact that he’s here doesna mean that something bad has happened.”

“Jamie, he should have been here by now.”

He nodded, sighing. “Ye’re right. Here, I’ll call him.” Jamie pulled out his phone, clicking on John’s number. It rang and went to voicemail. He tried again but the same thing happened. “He’s no’ answering.”

“Dear God,” Claire whispered.

“Maybe his phone died,” Jamie offered.

“But it rang. If it was dead it would go straight to voicemail,” Claire told him.

Jamie stood up. “Alright, then we need to find him.”

“How do you think we’ll find him?”

“I’ll use find my phone.”

“Wait, you have that set up for John’s phone?” Claire asked, peeking over Jamie’s shoulder.

“Aye.”

“Okay, why?”

Jamie looked over at her, a grim look on his face. “He turned it on the night of the incident. Ye had him hunt me down and he linked our phones so he could make sure I got home. Or in case he needed to find me again.” He tapped around on the app, finding a location for John’s phone. “It says he’s still there. Look.”

“But his date was over, right? He said he was coming here,” Claire reminded.

“Why don’t we go to the bar and see what’s going on,” Jamie said, looking at Claire. She nodded.

“I think that’s a good idea.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were standing outside the bar. Jamie looked in the window. “I dinna see him.”

“I’ll call his phone again,” Claire offered. She stepped further from the bar and the noise flowing from it. His phone kept ringing but he didn’t answer. Jamie walked over and stood next to her, concern coloring his face. She called again. Her head was turning, scanning the area, trying to see if John was anywhere to be found. She glanced down the dark alley and saw a light coming from the ground. As the call ended, the light disappeared. Clicking on John’s number again, she listened to it ring. It rang once and the light appeared again. “Jamie,” she said, “What is that?” Before Jamie could answer, she tore down the alley towards the light.

A scream ripped from her throat unbidden as she found John unconscious in the alley. “Jamie!” she called, though he was steps behind her. “Call an ambulance!”

Delicately, she felt around on John’s neck, desperately hoping to find a pulse. She felt a faint beat against her fingers as she heard Jamie talking hurriedly into his phone. Lifting herself up, she tried to assess the injuries he had. Blood was flowing from a wound on his head, staining his shirt and the ground beneath him. She ripped off her coat and the shirt she was wearing before putting her coat back on. Holding her shirt to his head wound, she tried to stop the blood flow.

“Claire?” Jamie asked, terror clear in his voice.

“He has a pulse. It’s strong enough.”

Gently, she lifted up his shirt to see if he had any other injuries. “What are ye doing?”

“I need to see what sort of injuries he has. Maybe it will help us figure out what the hell happened,” Claire reasoned.

Satisfied with her small evaluation of his wounds, Claire sat down next to him, one hand on his head, the other on his wrist, her fingers never leaving his pulse. If it weakened any more, she wanted to know exactly when it happened. It felt like it had been hours when the ambulance finally arrived. Jamie jumped out of the way as the EMTs came down the alley. Claire squatted behind John, looking up to see the people approaching.

“Sarah?”

The woman looked up. “Claire?” She gaped at her. “What are you doing here?”

“This is my friend. We found him like this. His name is John Grey. He’s 23. He has a serious injury to the head and some bruising on his abdomen which could mean he has cracked ribs.”

Sarah breathed out a laugh. “Goodness, anything else? Know his blood type?” she joked.

“I do actually,” Claire replied, completely serious. “It’s A positive.”

“I was kidding, but good to know,” Sarah said. “Scott, let’s load him up.” Claire stood up, standing out of the way as they got John on the gurney. Right as they were getting him in the ambulance, police walked down toward the scene. Sarah called to Claire. “Why don’t you come with us?”

Claire looked over nervously at Jamie. “You go. I’ll stay and talk to the police,” he decided.

“Come to the hospital after, okay?” He nodded. Claire reached out and squeezed his hand before she ran and jumped in the back of the ambulance.

Pulling out her phone, she scrolled through her contacts until she found the person she needed.

“This is Dr. Chambers.”

“Kenneth, it’s Claire Beauchamp,” she responded. “Look, I’m in the back of an ambulance, maybe five minutes out from the A&E. I need you to meet me there.”

“Why would I do that?”

“I’ll owe you one,” Claire said, “Please, I need your help. You and I both know you’re the best neurosurgeon so please for the love of God, just be there when we arrive.”

There was a long silence on the line. “Alright, I’ll be there.”

“Thank you.”

Once they arrived at the A&E, it was a flurry of movement to make sure John was stable and determine the depth of his injuries. Claire may not have been working, but no one sent her from the room. She took advantage of that by demanding scans and proper protocol. Dr. Chambers had met them there and he agreed with Claire that the head wound was concerning.

John had been whisked away for proper scans and Claire was left waiting. A nurse found her in the waiting room. “Dr. Beauchamp?” Claire stood up, nodding for her to continue. “The scans revealed a small bleed so Dr. Chambers wanted to fix it immediately. He’s in surgery now. He also had two broken ribs and they’ll be setting those once he’s stable.”

Claire felt out of breath. She nodded, unable to speak. Sitting back down, tears found her for the first time all evening. How could this have happened? Who would want to hurt such a kind person like John? She couldn’t fathom the violence behind his injuries. It was an odd feeling. There had been worse injuries come in that she had seen and treated. But when it was her own friend, she felt unable to accept it, to process it. She lost track of time and had no idea how long she’d been sitting there. The nurse had given no indication of how long the surgery would take.

“Claire!” She looked up at her name and saw Jamie rushing to her across the waiting room. He wrapped her in a tight hug, both of them incredibly shaken by the events of the night. “How is he?”

“He’s in surgery,” Claire informed him. “I don’t know how long it will take. They said he has a small brain bleed and broken ribs. He’s probably lucky it’s not worse.” She looked up at Jamie. “How did it go with the police?”

Jamie shrugged. “I didna have much information for them. I simply told them all I know. They’re going to want to talk to John if, no, when he wakes up.” They sat down next to each other, hands clasped. “Ye dinna think it was his date, do ye?”

“He’d already left, right? That’s at least how John made it seem.”

“Yeah.” Jamie sighed and ran a hand down his face. “How is it ye do this, mo nighean donn?”

“Well I’m not usually on this side of it,” she reasoned. “I don’t actually know how people do this.”

They were sitting there for a while in silence. Neither had any words of comfort for the other. Their hands were tight around the other, clinging to something real while the rest of the world felt scary. Claire leaned her head on Jamie’s shoulder, needing to be closer. She was fairly sure that if no one came to find her in the next thirty minutes, she’d find John’s OR and get answers for herself. It was only five minutes later when someone did find them. It just wasn’t a nurse.

“Claire? Jamie? What are ye doing here?”

“Geillis?” Claire stood up. “What are you doing here?”

She shrugged. “I was working late. Then I fell asleep doing some paperwork. I just finished the last of it and was about to head home. Now why are ye here?”

“John was attacked,” Jamie said in a rough voice.

Geillis gaped at him. She looked at Claire, willing her to say Jamie was wrong. Claire shook her head, her grim expression saying enough. “Holy shit. Why? What happened? Who was it?”

“We don’t know,” Claire told her.

“Was it his date? I swear to God if it was his date, I’m going to set Angus on him!”

Claire couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle. “We don’t know who it was. I’m assuming the only person who does is John.”

“Is he going to be okay?”

It was the question Jamie hadn’t asked and Claire couldn’t bring herself to ponder. “Since I’m not in there, I don’t know,” Claire answered. “I certainly hope so.”

“Well what can I do?” Geillis asked.

“Go home,” Claire advised. “We have no idea how long he’ll be in surgery. Go home and rest. You said you already fell asleep here.”

Geillis looked on the verge of tears. “Okay. Just please…”

“We’ll keep ye posted,” Jamie assured her.

She nodded, tears starting to fall. “Thanks.” She hugged them both before leaving the hospital.

Claire and Jamie sat back down, prepared to wait again. Thankfully, Dr. Chambers himself walked towards her. “Claire, he’s going to be alright. I stopped the bleed and thankfully it was small to begin with. They’ve set his ribs. He just left recovery and is in his own room. You can see him if you’d like. I know you’d just use your power to do so even if I didn’t let you.” Claire smiled and nodded. She definitely would have done that. “Nurse Ramsey will show you to his room.”

“Thank you, Kenneth,” Claire called to him as he walked away. “I meant what I said before. I owe you one.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he joked, waving to her before walking away.

Claire and Jamie were led to John’s room. A nurse on the floor tried to tell them they couldn’t stay long. All it took was a withering stare from Claire and the nurse backed down. There was a small couch against the wall and Claire threw herself down on it. Jamie settled into a chair next to John’s bed, staring over at him with a terrified look on his face. “They said he’d be alright, aye?”

Claire stood up and walked over to him, laying a hand on his shoulder. “They did. They said it might be a bit before he wakes up because of the anesthesia and pain medication, but he’ll be alright.”

“And ye trust this doctor?” Jamie asked, looking back at her.

She smiled, leaning down to kiss his head. “I do. I called him myself from the ambulance.”

“Then that’s enough for me.” He pulled her hand down from his shoulder and wrapped her arm further around him. Claire curled her arms around him, kissing his cheek. She was feeling more at ease now that John was out of surgery. Sure, complications happened, but she felt better now that she knew what was going on. But as Jamie stared at him, multiple tubes and wires hooked up to John, she could tell that Jamie wasn’t at ease yet.

After a bit, Claire settled back on the couch, allowing the silence to fill the room. Neither of them could do anything for John but let him heal. Eventually she fell asleep on the couch. She woke up with the lights out in the room and Jamie’s coat covering her. Her lips curved into a small smile at the gesture. Looking up, she saw that Jamie had fallen asleep as well. At some point he’d pulled over another chair and his legs were reclined on it. He looked as peaceful as he could for how uncomfortable he must be. Claire was watching Jamie when she saw a small movement past him. John’s hand was moving. As she looked closer, he was waving to her.

Claire jumped up and ran over to his side. “John!” she whispered, so excited to see his eyes open and focused on her.

“Claire,” he rasped, “what the hell happened?”

She laid a hand gently on his head. “You were attacked. Jamie and I found you in an alley next to the bar you went to on your date.” He closed his eyes and sighed, clearly trying to remember. “It’s okay if you can’t remember,” Claire told him reassuringly. “You’ve been through a lot and had surgery.”

“I do remember,” he whispered, looking up at her with fear on his face. Claire reached down and held his hand. “He watched us the whole time at the bar. I didn’t care then because I was having a good time. He seemed creepy though and just kept watching us. He seemed angry that the two of us were so openly together.” Claire squeezed his hand in hers. “It was after I called you. I was about to order an uber when he came up to me on the street. I tried to back away from him but once we were towards the alley he started beating me. I...I tried to defend myself.”

“Ye dinna need to tell us, John,” Jamie said from his chair. Claire and John both looked over, unaware he was awake too. “I’m sure ye did. But we wouldna think less of ye if ye didna defend yerself.”

John nodded almost imperceptibly. “Well it matters to me. And I did. Once I lost my footing though, it was all over.” He winced as he tried to adjust his position in bed. “How did you guys find me?”

“Find my phone,” Claire told him. “You never showed up and we got worried so Jamie found your phone.”

John made a face between a smile and a grimace before he turned to look at Jamie. “I told you that would come in handy.”

Jamie breathed out a laugh, reaching out to lay a hand on his shoulder. “Aye, ye did.”

“Do you need anything?” Claire asked.

John thought for a long moment. “Water, maybe?”

“I’ll get some,” Claire said. She walked to the end of the bed and grabbed the pitcher, filling a cup for him.

He took a long drink before setting it on the table next to him. “You guys can go home, you know.”

“Like hell,” Jamie replied. “Claire wielded all her power so we could stay. There are likely some nurses who willna want to work wi’ Claire next week. We’re no’ making that for nothing.”

John could clearly read the subtext, realizing we were too scared to leave. He smiled and nodded, a touched look on his face.

“Just rest,” Claire advised. “We’ll be here if you need anything. Feel free to wake us if we fall back asleep.”

“You two should sleep too. I’ll throw my cup at you if I need you,” he joked.

It set Claire even more at ease to see John seeming like John, even after his attack and surgery.

~~~

Claire was walking through the waiting room, carrying lunch for Jamie, John, and herself. John had turned his nose up at the sight of the food from the hospital. Leaving to find lunch had been the first time she’d left the hospital since she’d arrived with John the night before. Jamie had yet to leave. Both of them would need to at some point; they were likely to smell soon. As it was, neither of them felt like they could.

“Wait!” a voice called out. Claire turned and saw a man running toward her. He looked vaguely familiar. “You’re John’s friend, right?” She nodded, still trying to place the man. “I’m Hector. I went on a date with him last night. I saw a news story that he was attacked.”

“Uh, yeah, that happened,” Claire admitted.

Hector let out a sob, clapping his hand to his mouth. “It was all my fault. I should have stayed. It happened after I left.”

Claire suddenly felt so sorry for the man. “It wasn’t your fault. I promise. The fault lays on whoever decided to hurt John. Not on you.”

“Do you think I could see him?” Claire watched him for a moment. He looked nervous and terrified.

She nodded, a smile on her face. “Of course. I was just headed back up to his room. Why don’t you come with me?” As they approached the room, she could see Jamie and John talking. It was good that John was awake. “I come bearing food,” Claire announced. Both men looked up at her. “Also, John, you have a visitor.”

Claire stepped aside, revealing Hector. John stared at him in shock. “Hector?” he asked in a small voice. “What are you doing here?”

“I saw a news story about the attack and I had to come and see if you were okay,” he answered, walking closer to John’s bed. As panicked as he’d been downstairs, Claire couldn’t help but note that he seemed almost hesitant now.

“I’m on a lot of pain killers, but I think I’m doing alright,” John answered. “I am, right, Claire?” Claire laughed and nodded. “They say I’m going to be okay, though.”

Hector breathed out a sigh of relief. “Good. I’m so glad to hear that.” He sat down in the chair that Claire had been sitting in before getting lunch. “I’m so sorry I left. I should have walked you home or something. I shouldn’t have left you alone.”

John shook his head. “It wasn’t your fault. It was that creepy guy’s fault.”

“The one from the bar?” Hector asked, concern on his face. “The one who stared at us?”

“You noticed him too?” John asked, a look of awe on his face.

“Of course I did. I just didn’t say anything because I didn’t want you to be freaked out by him or something,” Hector explained.

“That was my reasoning as well.”

“Hector, could ye give a description of this man?” Jamie asked.

Hector nodded. “I think so.”

“Good. The police will want that.”

“Absolutely I will,” Hector said, looking only at John.

Claire watched the two of them, staring at each other, realizing it must have been a good date. They both seemed very taken with the other, while also terrified of the situation. She watched as Hector hesitantly reached out for John’s hand. Jamie seemed oblivious as he ate the food she’d brought him. Claire decided John and Hector deserved a moment to themselves. “Jamie,” Claire said softly, getting his attention, “come with me for a moment.”

“I’m eating,” he replied.

“Jamie,” she said again, voice firmer. He glanced up and noticed her widened eyes. Standing up, he brought the food with him.

They finished their lunches and sat out in the waiting room, allowing the couple some time to themselves. Suddenly, Jamie tensed. Claire looked over to see him watching a man at reception. The man nodded and turned from reception, walking towards the elevators. Jamie jumped up, clearly recognizing him. Claire followed him. Jamie stepped in front of the man on his path to the next floor.

“Ye’re Hal, right? John’s brother?”

The man drew back, looking at Jamie suspiciously. “That’s right. And you are?”

“I’m James Fraser. The man who consistently takes yer brother in when ye decide he isna welcome in his own home,” Jamie said. He stood firm in front of the other man. “I dinna think ye need to be going up to see John.”

“I don’t think that’s your call, sir. He’s my brother,” Hal argued.

“Aye, he is. And yet ye’ve never had a problem treating him like he’s less than ye. Never had a problem sending him away because part of him makes ye uncomfortable. And so ye left him stranded and left him to be attacked by a man that hates the same part of him that ye do. Ye did this to him, to yer own brother. Tis yer fault that yer brother is laying up in a hospital bed. He was a fucking block away from his own home and yet because of yer backwards and shitty rules, he was standing waiting for a car to take him to someone who would allow him to stay when a man attacked him.”

Hal glared at Jamie. “You know nothing about me or my brother.”

“On the contrary, I do. I’m his best friend,” Jamie said. “So I dinna think ye need to be going up to see him. Maybe send him a text letting him know ye’re thinking about him. But while he’s trying to heal, he doesna need ye there.”

Hal tried to get around him but Jamie wouldn’t let him. Finally he gave up and stalked away. Jamie deflated with a sigh. “Was that too harsh?”

Claire shook her head. “I don’t think so. I think you were 100% right.”

They wandered back upstairs after John texted them that Hector had left. Apparently he’d promised to be back after he finished up his shift at work. He saw the news story over his lunch and ran to the hospital, not caring if they needed him at work. Overall, Jamie and Claire had been impressed by Hector.

Neither of them mentioned the encounter with John’s brother. John never said anything about a text from the man either. It seemed Jamie had made an impression on Hal. They were sitting there silently, all absorbed in something else, be it the news or social media. A knock at the door got all of their attention.

Louise didn’t wait for anyone to respond before she was rushing to the bed and hugging John. “Louise,” he said, in awe, hugging her back.

“Are ye alright, John?” Willie asked, filing in behind Louise. One by one, all of their friends came into the room. John smiled at the sight of all of them, a few tears falling down his face.

“I’m hanging in there,” he joked. Jamie stood up, abandoning his spot next to John’s bed. He joined Claire on the couch, allowing their friends space to greet John. Geillis dropped some balloons in the corner while Rupert put a plant on the table at the end of his bed.

“Ye’re sure ye’re alright?” Rupert asked, gently clapping him on the shoulder.

“I mean, you can ask Claire,” John said, pointing at her. “The doctors all seem to think I’m doing well.”

“Good,” Geillis responded. “Ye canna scare us like that again.”

John chuckled as he smiled. “Yes, I’ll do my best not to get beaten outside of a bar again, Geillis.”

She shook her head and laughed. “Ye know what I mean.”

“Well the good news is that we’ve come up with a solution for you,” Louise told him.

“Solution?”

“Well we ken ye got attacked because ye couldna go home,” Willie answered. “So we came up wi’ a solution.”

“Aye, because ye canna be relying on Jamie all the time. Eventually, that bridge may burn,” Angus said. Jamie furrowed his brow, holding up his arms in question.

“So we’ve set ye up a system,” Geillis explained. She pulled a notebook out. “We’ve mapped out who ye can stay wi’ each week if ye happen to go out drinking or on a date. Ye willna have to worry about yer brother’s rules and ye won’t have to worry about upsetting Jamie wi’ how often ye’re over. But dinna worry, Jamie, ye’re still in rotation.”

Claire laughed and looked over to see Jamie staring at her with a strange look. “Come wi’ me for a second,” he said, grabbing her hand.

She followed him out of the room and away from their friends. When he reached the end of the hall, he stopped and turned around to face her. “I’ve been thinking about John’s situation. I havena really been able to stop thinking about it since we found him yesterday. I meant what I said to his brother. I think it’s his fault. That damn rule isn’t sustainable. Eventually something has to change.”

“Okay, and?”

“John needs his own place to live,” Jamie said.

“I thought you said he can’t afford it yet.”

“Aye, that’s what he’s said too. But I came up with a very practical solution. I think it makes the most sense.” Claire nodded for him to continue. “He should move into my flat.”

Claire stared at him. “You have a one bedroom.”

“That’s right, I do,” Jamie said. “And he could have it.”

Claire felt like she knew what he was building to, but she was going to make him say it. “So what would you do?”

“Well, logically, I thought I could move in wi’ ye,” he answered. “It makes the most sense. John could sublease from me so I could control his rent and how much he owes. And we basically live together anyway, so it wouldna be that different. It’s the most practical option.”

Claire was silent as Jamie watched her. He was right, the idea made sense, but for whatever reason, she felt conflicted. “I have a question.” Jamie nodded. “Do you only want to live with me because it solves a problem, because it’s a practical solution?”

“What?” Jamie asked.

“If the only reason you want to live together is because of that, then I don’t know that I want to. We can find another solution for John’s living situation. I agree with you that it needs to change, but it doesn’t have to be that way.” Claire closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I want you to want to live with me because that’s what you want. Because we’re taking that next step in our relationship. I don’t want you to force yourself to live with me because it’s a simple fix for a problem. I want...I want you to want it yourself.”

Jamie closed his eyes, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Claire. That’s no’ how I should have phrased it.” He grabbed both her hands in his and met her gaze. “Of course, I want to live wi’ ye. I absolutely want to take that next step in our relationship. I would love nothing more than knowing for certain I’ll come home to ye every night. And that I’ll wake up next to ye every morning.” He leaned down and kissed her quickly. Jamie sighed before he continued. “I thought, after the incident, perhaps it was better if I presented it that way, as a practical step. Perhaps if ye didna want to live together, ye’d give it a bit more thought if it seemed like a logical solution to a bigger problem. I’m sorry.”

Claire breathed out a laugh. “Don’t be sorry. I understand that. I just didn’t want either of us to have regrets on taking this step together. There are other solutions we can find for John if you’re not sure.”

Jamie held her face in his hands, a smile on his. “I am absolutely sure that I want to live wi’ ye. I’ve known for a while now, I’ve just never known how to ask. Claire, would you like to live together?”

Claire smiled as she nodded excitedly. “Yes! Of course I want to live with you! And I think, logically speaking, that my flat is obviously the better one for us both to live in.”

Jamie frowned at her. “Why’s that?”

“I have a better couch. It’s more spacious. It’s closer to both our works.”

“I’ll allow ye the work excuse, but ye can stop it wi’ the assaults on my couch,” Jamie said with a reluctant grin. “So we’re going to do this then? We’ll move in together?”

Claire reached up and kissed him. “Absolutely!”

They shared a small moment, just the two of them before they walked back to John’s room, his arm around her shoulders, hers around his waist.

“No, what I’m saying is that if say, Louise is on vacation the week that John should stay wi’ her, then we just go down the list and it’ll come back to her next time,” Angus argued. It seemed like their friends had been in some heated debate for a bit now.

“This system can work, we just have to let it!” Rupert yelled to the group.

“Ye dinna need yer system,” Jamie announced, getting everyone’s attention. John looked at him, seemingly exhausted. “John, ye’ll move into my flat. Then ye dinna have to worry about no’ going home anymore.”

John looked confused, as did everyone else. “But where will you live?”

Jamie looked down at Claire, a large smile on his face. “I’ll live wi’ Claire.”

Every one of their friends gasped. “Seriously?” John asked, staring at them. “You guys are moving in together?” They both nodded.

“Oh my God,” Louise cried. “When did you decide this?”

“Just now,” Claire admitted. “But I mean we basically already have been. Now we’ll just have one place to keep up with.” Claire curled in beside Jamie as he explained his whole plan to John and the rest of their friends. Everyone agreed that it certainly seemed like the best option.

Geillis excused herself at one point in his story because their food delivery had arrived. A few minutes later, she walked back in with a comically large bag of takeout. “I know how terrible the food is here, so we made sure you got some good dinner.”

“Surrounded by the best people,” Rupert added.

“Sadly, Claire said no alcohol,” Willie said, throwing Claire a dirty look.

“It’s a hospital…”

He simply shrugged in response.

It was obvious how touched John was by everyone’s response to his injury. “Thank you all,” he said, a bit choked up. “Really. You’re the best family anyone could ask for.”

They all found a spot around the room to sit while they all ate dinner together. It had only been a week earlier that they’d done similarly at Claire’s flat. It was scary how much could change in just a week. She knew how grateful every person in that room was that John was going to be okay.

Claire was pouring John some more water when he whispered to her. “I guess you must be kind of happy I got attacked.”

Claire gaped at him. “What? Dear God, no.” She shook her head. “Why on earth would I be happy about that?”

“Well because now you and Jamie are moving in together.”

Claire rolled her eyes at him. “It would have happened eventually. Goodness, I’m not happy you got hurt. I hope you don’t truly think I would feel that way.”

He grinned. “No. I don’t think you’re heartless like that.”

“Good,” she said, smacking him on the arm.

They had all been chatting when they were joined by a hesitant visitor. Hector had gotten off of work and had come back to see John again. Everyone stopped talking and looked at him. He seemed nervous to have so many people staring at him.

“Uh, everyone, this is Hector,” John introduced. “Hector, these are...all my friends.”

Hector waved his hand to the room. “Hi everyone. I don’t want to intrude, I can come back.”

“Nonsense!” Rupert called across the room. “You belong here too. This is simply a party to celebrate John.”

John looked over at Claire. “I don’t think I realized they all cared so much,” he admitted.

Claire grinned. “I doubt you’ll ever forget it now.”

“Too right.”

Rupert walked over and guided Hector to take his seat next to John. Soon, conversation started again, thankfully, including Hector as well. Claire sat down on the small couch next to Jamie. He brought his arm around her, pulling her closer. They watched as Hector talked with the group and caught him staring at John.

Jamie grinned to himself. “Ye know, I have a feeling, Sassenach, that I was right last week. I think we’re on our way to adding another member of the group.”

Chapter Text

Claire stood surrounded by boxes, looking around her flat. She was never claustrophobic, but at that moment, she just felt incredibly crowded. The door opened and Jamie walked in bearing a grin. “And here we have it, the last box!” he announced, raising the box in the air. He sat it down on top of one of the many other boxes of his. “Sassenach, are ye alright?” he asked, throwing himself down on the couch.

She snapped her head in his direction, shaking from her thoughts. “I’m fine. Why?”

“Ye look a bit...overwhelmed.”

Claire weaved herself around the boxes and walked over by the couch. “Nope. I’m alright. So, what should we unpack first?”

Jamie frowned. “Ye realize we moved John out of his flat and into mine and then moved me out of mine and into here? Ye realize that all happened today? And now ye’d like to start unpacking?”

Claire shrugged. “It just seemed like something to do. Also would be less clutter.”

“If I recall correctly, I came here three whole weeks after ye’d moved in and there were still boxes laying about,” Jamie reminded her. Claire looked over and glared at him, making him chuckle. “Is unpacking what ye’d really like to do for our first night of living together?”

Claire sat down on the couch next to him. “No, not really. But I don’t think you’re up to what I’d really have us do.”

He looked over at her, a curious look in his eyes. “If it’s something to do wi’ yer body, ye ken I’d find the energy for it.”

Claire grinned. “Good answer.” Jamie picked up her hand where it rested between them and placed a kiss on the back. “Do you think this place is big enough for both of us?” Claire asked, temporarily ignoring his gesture.

Jamie sighed but still held onto her hand. “Yes. We’ve essentially been living here for months anyway.”

“Well yes, but your stuff wasn’t here.”

Jamie scoffed, dropping her hand as he turned to face her. “I barely brought anything. I left most of my stuff for John. I brought a dresser and a desk and that’s it furniture wise. Ye ken my clothes willna take up much space. What are ye really worried about?” Claire opened her mouth to reply but Jamie kept talking. “Is this some subtle way of trying to get rid of my things because ye dinna like them?”

Claire burst out laughing. “Not at all, Jamie!” She shook her head as she looked at him. “I genuinely worry there’s not enough space.”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “I think we’ll be fine. Ye have a rather spacious flat, if ye hadna realized.” He paused for a moment. “Look, I’ll promise no’ to take up too much space in yer flat.”

Claire looked over at him, noting the sincerity on his face. She crawled onto his lap, holding his face in her hands. “Don’t say that,” she whispered. “I want you to take as much space as you want. This isn’t my flat anymore. It’s ours . And that’s the way I want it.” She wouldn’t break her gaze, making sure he knew she was serious. “Jamie, I want you here. You and all your crap.”

“My crap?” he asked through a laugh.

She smirked. “You know what I mean.”

Jamie shook his head with a grin, craning his neck up to kiss her. “Thank ye for saying that, mo nighean donn , because this is where I want to be too.”

Claire bent her head down to meet him for a long kiss, their tired bodies melting together as they grew more heated. Jamie’s hands glued themselves to her bottom as Claire’s hands held him close. She rolled her hips against his, feeling him harden. Jamie broke their kiss to plant a line of kisses down her neck. She sighed contentedly, her fingers moving to ruffle through his hair.

“Should we christen the couch?” Jamie breathed against her chest.

Claire laughed. “You realize that we christened the couch a long time ago.”

“No’ as a couple who officially lives together,” Jamie reminded her, meeting her again for another heated kiss. His tongue was deep in her mouth, leaving her incapable of replying. Instead of answering with words, she simply started pulling at the waistband of her own pants. Jamie took notice, breaking their kiss quickly to assist her. He pulled off her shirt and bra, almost immediately bringing his mouth to her chest. She panted loudly, holding him there.

Claire grinded her hips against his, noting how he was far more clothed than she was. “Take off your pants,” she ordered.

Jamie pulled back, staring up at her for a second before he processed her words. With a nod, he reached for his pants while Claire lifted herself off his lap. She reached to pull them down faster than he was moving. “Eager are ye?” Jamie teased with a grin.

Claire grabbed hold of his cock as it was freed, causing Jamie to gasp. “Seems I’m not the only one.” His shirt was still on and his pants weren’t even all the way down his legs when he pulled Claire back to him, his mouth meeting urgently. His hand trailed down her thigh finding her center. “Christ, ye’re so wet.”

She bent down to whisper in his ear, “You know the effect you have on me.”

Jamie groaned. “Sassenach…” He looked back up at her, kissing her again deeply before entering her. She sank down onto his lap, taking him deeper as she rolled her hips against him. Both of them cried out at their joining. Foreheads pressed together, they rocked against the other with a desperate energy. Jamie’s hands roved her back and landed at her ass, kneading firmly. Claire clutched his shoulders, her nails digging in through his shirt. Wanting to feel his slick skin against hers, she yanked at his shirt, pulling it off him in one motion before closing all distance between their bodies.

“Ye feel so good,” Jamie sighed into her neck. Claire replied by kissing him languidly as they continued to meet each other thrust for thrust.

She could tell he was getting close as his movements became more erratic. His hand dropped to where they were joined, stroking her to encourage her along. She cried out, telling him to keep going. Her head fell to his shoulder as she held him, both of them exquisitely close to seeing stars. She reached her climax, panting his name over and over. He held her tight as he found his own release, biting her shoulder.

They remained together, him still inside her for a long moment as the sweat cooled on their bodies and they regained their breath. After a long silence, Jamie ran a hand through her hair. “I’m thinking the kitchen table could be next.”

Claire burst out laughing, her head falling back against his shoulder. “Maybe not where we eat.”

“Oh, well if ye want us to jus’ eat there, then I think I have a good idea,” he said with a smug grin and an attempt at a wink.

Breathing out a laugh, Claire leaned in to kiss him quickly. “You’re too much, James Fraser.”

He chuckled, kissing her again. “Aye, perhaps. But ye love me.”

She smiled down at him. “You know I do.”

~~~

Claire was up and out early on Monday morning, needing to make it to the hospital before rounds. Jamie had just staggered into the room as she grabbed her bag to leave. “Leaving already?” he asked through a yawn.

“Unfortunately,” she said. “But I made coffee.”

Jamie smiled. “Ye’re the best.”

She walked over and kissed him quickly before walking to the door. “I’ll see you later.”

“Hey!” Jamie called, an excited look on his face. She turned back to look at him. “I’ll see ye when ye get home.”

Claire smiled as wide as he was. She walked back over to him, wrapping an arm around his neck. “I love that.” She leaned in and kissed him again, lingering a bit this time. “I can’t wait,” she whispered. “Have a good day!” she said as she walked back to leave.

“And ye, mo nighean donn . I love ye.”

“Love you too!” she yelled just before the door closed.

Jamie walked over to pour himself a cup of coffee, surveying the amount of boxes to unpack. He’d taken the day off to get a bit of unpacking done. In truth, he could have slept in, but he’d heard Claire up and about and he’d wanted to see her before she left. It was an exciting feeling to know that when Claire came home it would be to him.

 

He’d had a productive day of unpacking while Claire had been at work. There was every chance that when she came home, she’d want to rearrange things, but he didn’t mind. His sense of accomplishment was still in place. Jamie decided to start cooking dinner so that it would be ready when she got home. As he moved around her kitchen with complete comfort, he really noted that moving in together had more or less happened months ago, just minus his stuff. He’d already made her dinner in her own kitchen so many times that he knew where she kept everything.

Claire strolled in, throwing her bag down in front of the island and moving to wrap her arms around him while he stood at the stove. She planted a kiss on the side of his neck in greeting. “Hello, love,” she said, hugging him tighter.

He laid a hand on her arm as he craned his neck to look back at her. “Hello. How was yer day?”

She kissed his shoulder before she released him, perching herself on the island. “It was alright. I had a couple of surgeries but they went well.” She looked around the flat. “Looks like you got a lot done today.”

“Aye, that I did.” He turned around with a proud smile. “Oh also, I spoke to John today and I invited him and Hector over for dinner on Saturday.”

“Why?”

Jamie looked back at her, confused. “Why no’?”

“Well it’s just that you realize they’re going to have to go on dates just the two of them at some point, right?” she asked. “I mean, we all love Hector and I’m sure that’s great for John to know, but they spend more time with us as a group than I feel like they do just the two of them. They kind of need to date just the two of them as well.”

“It’s no’ like we did that,” he reminded her.

“That’s completely different! We knew each other,” she countered. “They still need to get to that point.”

“Well from the way John talked, it seems like they do spend a good amount of time together,” Jamie added.

“That’s good to know. They’ve spent at least a few nights with our group in the last month and a half,” Claire recalled. She stiffened as she remembered the times they’d seen John. There was something linking all of the times. “Jamie, how many times would you say we’ve seen John since his attack?”

“Aside from when we moved him in this past weekend?” Jamie thought on it. “I suppose two or three times. There was the night that you, me, John, Hector, and Louise hung out at her place. The night you had the group over here. He missed the night we went to that pub with the weird drinks that Geillis wanted to try. I had lunch wi’ him at my old flat while I had him sign some paperwork.” He stared at Claire. “Why?”

“Because all the times we’ve seen him have been at someone’s home,” Claire realized.

Jamie turned around and watched her. “He’s allowed to be reluctant to go out, Sassenach.”

Claire took a deep breath. “No, I know he is. Who wouldn’t be? I’m just worried about him.”

“Let him be,” Jamie advised.

“Why? Wouldn’t it be better to let him know that he has people in his corner?”

Jamie shook his head as he turned back to keep cooking. “He kens he has people in his corner. He saw the amount of people crowding his hospital room. Just let him heal at his own speed. If he’s no’ yet ready to go out, dinna push him.”

“I never said I was going to push him,” Claire insisted.

“No, but I ken yer ways,” Jamie said. “Were ye or were ye no’ the woman who drove me down the road I had my accident?” He raised his brow at her.

Claire rolled her eyes. “It had been like seven years, Jamie! I’m not about to push John back out after a month and a half.”

“I ken ye wouldna do that. But just go easy wi’ him. I ken it’s no’ the same thing, but after my accident, I didna even want to be in a car. And that was me crashing my own car. I canna imagine the terror of thinking someone else could be out there wanting to hurt ye again when ye were doing nothing but going about yer own life.” Jamie brought the pan over to the island and scooped their dinner onto plates. “Just wait, alright?”

“Are you saying your sister didn’t push you to get back in a car?” Claire asked, unable to let it go.

“Of course she did,” Jamie confirmed. “But I hated it and often wouldna speak to her afterward. Is that what ye want to happen wi’ John?” Claire sighed. He looked at her, quite obvious that he knew he made his point. “Now, dinner?”

She rolled her eyes and jumped down from the island, taking a plate from him. He was right on several points, but Claire couldn’t just let things be. She was worried about John and it was just in her nature to try to fix things. The timing of her chat with him would have to be just right. And after her conversation with Jamie, she realized it would have to be a secret too.

~~~

Claire showed up at John’s flat, despite Jamie’s voice in the back of her head. There was no crime in checking in on a friend. And there was definitely no way she was just going to forget her concerns. She knocked on the door and waited for an answer.

“Claire!” John greeted with a smile. Even though Claire knew Jamie didn’t live there anymore, it was still odd to see John opening Jamie’s door.

“Hey!”

“What brings you by?” John asked, ushering her inside.

“Just wanted to pop by,” she lied. “I got off work a bit early and thought I’d see if you were here or wanted to get dinner.”

His brow furrowed as he glanced over to the kitchen. “I might have food. I could try to make us something,” he offered.

Claire narrowed her eyes. “Or we could just go out. My treat!”

John’s lips formed a thin line as he looked at her with a tense expression. “That’s okay, I appreciate the offer. I really shouldn’t eat out. With all the food you all brought me in the last month or so, I’ve definitely put on weight.”

Claire rolled her eyes at him. “You’re still a string bean.”

“Nevertheless,” he said with a wave of his hand, “I can’t.”

Claire swallowed past the lump in her throat. “John, can I ask you something?” He nodded for her to ask. “When was the last time you left the flat?”

He looked at her with a confused expression. “I went to work today. I actually just got home an hour ago.”

“Sure, you go to work,” Claire agreed, “but other than that, when was the last time you left?”

“I just moved in, Claire. I have plenty to be doing around here,” he said, gesturing to the boxes still in corners.

“No, I know. Believe me. Jamie took Monday off so he could unpack some and he still has boxes everywhere,” Claire told him. “I don’t get how a man who is so lowkey has so much stuff. God, I’m getting off track.” She paused and shook her head, reminding herself of her mission. “John, I’m just a bit worried about you. That’s all. When was the last time you went to a restaurant or a bar or something?”

John’s expression hardened. “People go months without going to bars, Claire.”

“Yeah, but you never did. You had an active social life,” she reminded him.

“Claire, I was attacked!” he yelled. He pulled back and calmed himself some. Swallowing harshly, he looked back at her. “I’m allowed to want to stay in my home and not leave. I’m allowed to be wary of what could be waiting for me out there.”

“I never said you weren’t,” she said kindly, moving closer to him. “I just don’t want you to lose the things that make you happy because you’re afraid. I don’t want you to isolate yourself.”

“I’m not. I still go to work. I have seen you and Jamie and Louise. I saw the rest of the group a few weeks ago. Hector comes over a lot and we hang out here. Do you want me to talk about my blooming relationship with Hector?” he asked, clearly trying to change the subject.

“That’s low. You know I would love to hear all about that,” Claire said, narrowing her eyes at him. “But not now. I’m still worried about you.”

John sighed and threw himself down on his couch. “Claire, please just let it go.”

“I can’t,” she maintained. “Not when I’m worried my friend might be hurting.” She sat down next to him, looking over and trying to catch his gaze. “Have you talked to anyone about it?”

“Of course I have,” John insisted. “I talked to you, Jamie, Hector. I’ve talked about it plenty.”

“Okay, what about a professional?” John glared at her. “Look, I have never been through something like this. I truly have no idea how I would react. I’m sure I would also try not to leave the house more than I needed to. But that’s not a healthy reaction. Eventually, you need to get back to your life. And Jamie, Hector, and I can’t possibly give you the right advice since we haven’t had these experiences.”

“I just don’t think I can,” John said quietly. “I don’t know that I’m ready to talk about it that deeply yet.”

Claire nodded, unsure of what to say.

“But I suppose you’re right, I don’t want to lose the life I had before the attack,” John admitted. “I just am really not ready to go to bars again. I want to spend time with the group, I just can’t.”

Claire was about to reply when a knock at the door cut her off. “Oh I’m sorry, were you expecting someone?” She grinned. “Hector, maybe?”

John laughed and shook his head. “No, tonight I’ve gotten two surprise visitors apparently.” He opened up the door to see Jamie standing on the other side. “Jamie, what brings you by? Although, I’m betting I already know the answer.” He turned to look back at Claire, noticing how she was straining to not be seen from the door.

“Claire isna home yet so I thought I’d drop by and see how ye were doing,” Jamie said, stepping inside the flat. Claire didn’t hide well enough and he spotted her quickly. “Seriously? What happened to dropping it?”

“Oh come on, you knew I wasn’t really going to do that!” Claire retorted.

“Aye, I did. I came here partially to see if ye were here,” Jamie confessed.

“So you’re not really here to see how I’m doing?” John asked, a fake look of hurt on his face. Jamie started to splutter a response before John grinned.

“I really do want to ken how ye’re doing as well. But I had a sneaking suspicion that Claire’s “errand” was actually coming here,” Jamie said, shaking his head at her in disapproval.

She shrugged. “I’m not upset by your disappointment. I was doing what I thought was best for my friend.”

Jamie looked from her to John. “Tell me, John, how has this conversation been going?”

“Please don’t put me in the middle of this,” John pleaded. “Think of your child!” he teased. He managed to get a laugh out of both of them. “Look, I know Claire was well intentioned and just wants the best for me. So I suppose it hasn’t been that bad. She came off a bit harsh at first, but I can see her points.” John looked over at Claire. “But I meant what I said too. I’m not quite ready for therapy yet or something like that. It’s still too much. I don’t think I could get through talking it out.”

Claire nodded, standing up and walking toward him. “Then you don’t have to. Just think about it. And we will make sure that you still stay part of the group too,” she added.

“How?”

Claire looked between the two men. “I’m sure we can think of something to do. If you recall the group in your hospital room, you’ll know that we don’t have to always be at a bar to hang out. Maybe we can start spending time at each other’s homes. We can still drink just as heavily. Only one of us won’t have to find a cab,” she said with a grin.

Jamie nodded in approval. “I think that could work.” He clapped his hand on John’s shoulder. “Ye’ve been part of this group long enough that we’d like to keep having ye around.”

“Yeah, and if anyone has a problem with it, it’ll be Angus and we can easily guilt him into agreeing,” Claire decided. “I’ll talk to them.”

“Don’t make it all about me and my trauma, please,” John asked in a small voice.

Claire met his gaze and nodded with sympathy. “Of course not.”

They stood there for a moment silently. John pulled out his phone and read something on it. He cleared his throat, looking up at them. “Anyway, you two should get home. I appreciate you both stopping in to check on me.”

Jamie smirked. “Hector coming over?” he asked, pointing to John’s phone.

“Yes, actually,” John laughed. “He just texted.”

“Oh great!” Claire said. “Then we’ll get out of your hair.”

“I’ll see you in two days, right?” John asked. “Dinner for the four of us?”

“Aye, that’s still on,” Jamie agreed.

“Good,” John said with a nod. “Hector and I were looking forward to it.” He walked to the door and more or less hurried them out. “Bye guys, I’ll see you later!”

Once the door was closed, Jamie and Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “He seemed eager for us to leave,” Claire commented.

“Did ye hear what he said? He said they’re looking forward to dinner wi’ us. And ye made fun of me,” Jamie reminded her, shaking his head.

They walked down the stairs and out into the night as they headed toward the underground.

Claire grabbed ahold of Jamie’s hand. “Hey, I’m sorry I didn’t listen to what you said. I know you had John’s interest in mind when you asked me not to come here.”

Jamie squeezed her hand in his as he looked over at her. “Sassenach, I ken ye’d come here. Tis no’ like ye to just drop something when ye think ye’ll be helping yer friend. But...that’s one of the things I’ve always loved about ye. Ye have a big heart and ye just want to take care of people. Tis what makes ye a great doctor.” He pulled her hand up and placed a kiss the back of it. “And tis also what makes ye a wonderful girlfriend.”

Claire felt very touched by his response. She leaned in and laid her head on his shoulder as they kept walking. “Well, I appreciate you saying that.”

~~~

Claire and Jamie were sitting in the courtyard at the hospital, enjoying a lunch together when Geillis spotted them. She walked up and stood in front of their bench, staring at them for a long moment.

“Can we help ye?” Jamie joked, taking a drink.

“Let me get this straight, ye live together and yet Jamie still comes here so ye can have lunch together?” Geillis asked, her head slightly tilted as she watched them.

“Yes. Is something wrong with that?” Claire asked.

“No,” Geillis admitted. “I guess I’m just surprised that ye want to spend that much time together. When he leaves here ye’ll still see each other in a few hours.”

“If we’re living together and have the intent to be together for the rest of our lives...” Claire started, looking over at Jamie. He nodded in agreement, a grin on his face. “...then surely it’s important that we want to spend time with each other.”

“Alright, I’ll give ye that,” Geillis conceded. “Anyway, I’m glad I ran into ye both. I had a thought I wanted to run by ye.”

“What’s up?” Claire asked.

“It’s about John,” Geillis began. “I’m worried he’s no’ going to want to come out wi’ us anymore after what happened. I mean the one time we’ve all gone out to an actual bar since then he didna come.”

“Funny you should mention that,” Claire started to say before Geillis kept speaking.

“So I was thinking perhaps we didna have to go out. We could stay in. We’d have just as grand a time, I’d think. It’s no’ like we do all that much at bars other than drink and gab and we could do that jus’ as easily at someone’s home. And then he might feel more comfortable. What do ye think?”

Jamie and Claire exchanged a look, both of them fighting grins. “I think that’s a great idea, Geil,” she said, deciding to let Geillis believe she’d come up with the plan if the group went forward with it. “I’m sure John would really appreciate the thoughtfulness behind that idea.”

“Well then I can suggest it first,” she replied. “I’ll text the others and let them know the plan. And then I’ll text the group and suggest it like it’s a fresh idea,” she informed with a wink.

Jamie laughed. “Sounds like a braw plan, Geillis. Good thinking.”

She turned to go but turned back, her eyes narrowed on them. “Did ye have breakfast together before ye went to work?”

Jamie and Claire looked at each other before looking back at their friend. “Yes,” Claire replied.

“And now ye’re having lunch together.”

“Obviously,” Jamie said.

“And then ye’ll go home and ye’ll have dinner together as well,” Geillis pointed out.

“That is how it usually works,” Claire responded with a smirk.

“Hmmm,” was all Geillis said in reply. “Anyway, ye enjoy yer lunch. I’ll see ye later.”

“Bye,” they called together.

Claire turned to look at Jamie, a frown on her face. “I think it’s nice that we enjoy each other’s company so much.”

Jamie shook his head, leaning forward to kiss her forehead. “I do too. Geillis is the weird one.”

“Well that’s always been the case,” Claire agreed with a laugh as they settled back in for the rest of their lunch.

~~~

Geillis’s plan had gone well and getting the group on board had been easy. The others had seen the importance of changing their venues a bit for John’s sake, though none of them ever said anything to him about it. Much like the plan they’d been about to make for John with a cycle of whose house he should spend nights at, they also rotated who hosted the group when they were getting together. Things had felt the same but seeing John feel comfortable had made everyone relax more.

After the big events near the start of the year, life had finally calmed down and settled into a routine. It took a simple text from Jamie telling Claire that he’d picked up their dry cleaning for her to take note of the changes in her life. And the biggest and best change was how happy she was. She’d been happy as long as they’d been together, but living together had upped the ante.

Before they’d moved in together, they still spent most nights together, but now there was no question. If Claire wasn’t at the hospital, she was able to be spending time with the man she loved. Intertwining their lives even more had gone more smoothly than she’d ever expected. Both of them were just truly happy to be with the other and it made everything else easier. Claire just went about her life, knowing it was the best it had ever been.

She had no way of knowing the other shoe would drop soon.

It was mid-April and Claire had just walked into the staff room at the end of the day to get her things when she heard a knock at the door. Turning around, she saw Jamie standing in the doorway with an odd look on his face.

“Hey!” she greeted, quickly grabbing her things. “What are you doing here? I thought I told you I had a normal shift.”

“Aye, ye did,” Jamie confirmed, “but I just needed to see ye.” His face fell slightly as he said it.

Claire steeled herself for whatever news he was going to drop. It wasn’t like Jamie to stop by the hospital without any warning, and certainly not when they were about to be home soon. Claire threw her bag over her shoulder and walked towards him. “Jamie, what’s wrong?” She reached out and ran a hand along his cheek. “Is everything okay?”

Jamie sighed out a ragged breath. “I dinna ken.”

She wrapped her arms around his waist, trying her best to comfort him even if she didn’t know what was bothering him. “What is this about? Are Jenny and the kids okay?”

“Aye, they’re fine.” He took a deep breath, his body tense. “Do ye recall that offer Dougal made me at Hogmanay?”

Claire drew back, horror no doubt showing on her face. She’d forgotten it. In their full reconciliation and John’s attack and moving in together, she’d truly blocked out that whole part of the holidays. Her breath came short as she waited for Jamie to continue. She gave him a small nod, urging him to continue.

“Let’s go get a drink,” Jamie suggested.

Claire grabbed ahold of the front of his shirt. “Jamie Fraser, don’t you dare take another step before you tell me why you brought that up. You better tell me right now if you’ve been transferred. I can’t wait until we get to some bar.”

Jamie flashed her a small smile despite himself. He reached up and cupped her face in his hands. “I havena been transferred. Yet.”

She felt relief and despair at the same time. It was no doubt the way Jamie was feeling as well. He wasn’t gone yet, but there was still a chance it could happen. Life had been too good, so naturally this wrench had to be thrown. “Yeah, let’s go get a drink,” she agreed, lacing her fingers through his as she led him from the hospital.

They were seated in a corner table at a quiet pub not far from the hospital, both of them with a drink in hand. “Okay, tell me what happened. What’s got you so shaken?”

Jamie sighed, choosing to take a deep drink of his beer. “Alright, so ye recall that Dougal said they’re expanding to New York.”

“Of course.”

“So they’ve apparently gotten far enough in that endeavor that they’re starting to staff that office,” Jamie explained.

“And do you think they’re going to send you there even though you said no?” Claire pressed.

“I canna decide if that’s the endgame or if they’re going to make me suffer at my current position until I ask to be moved there,” Jamie revealed. Claire furrowed her brow as she took a drink of her own beer. Jamie continued explaining. “So a memo went out today saying that staffing changes were being made to accommodate the new office in America and that they wanted experienced people running that office so that it could be successful. Essentially, they’re slowly shutting down the marketing department here in London. They’re making a UK marketing team and a US marketing team. After the memo went out, most of the people in my department were handed new orders from people above me.”

“But you didn’t get one?” Claire asked, triple checking.

“No, but I’m sure it’s coming. Unless, like I said, they just want me to be so miserable that when they give me the offeragain, I’m sure to take it.” Jamie shook his head, glaring down into his drink. “But there’s always the chance they’ll just transfer me anyway. There are three of us left in my department including me. Most of the people were sent to New York though others were sent back up to Scotland to help coordinate the UK office.” He took a deep breath, looking up at Claire with a helpless expression. “I just dinna ken what’s coming and it scares the hell out of me.”

It scared the hell out of her too. She’d been distrusting of Dougal Mackenzie since the moment she officially met him in Rupert’s kitchen over a year ago. The slimy man seemed like he would do anything to benefit himself. It started as a family company, but Claire had her assumptions that the Mackenzie brothers did not share the same values that other small companies might. She had no doubt that if they needed Jamie somewhere else, they’d disregard anything he said and send him there, no matter the fact that he was their nephew. What would their options be then? They’d just moved in together. She couldn’t lose him to New York.

Claire sighed deeply, reaching out to grab Jamie’s hand. The last thing he needed on top of all this was her fears. “It’ll be okay,” she said, hoping her voice sounded stronger to him than it did to her own ears.

Jamie laid his hand over hers, looking down at them as he shook his head. “Will it though? What if they do end up transferring me, mo nighean donn ?”

Claire shook her head as she shrugged. “Well then we go to New York. We can find some nice apartment we can’t really afford and we’ll see some Broadway shows that you’ll hate and we’ll make it work.”

Jamie stared at her for a long moment, his hands tightening on hers. “We?” he asked, his voice small.

Claire flashed him a smile. “Yes, we .”

Jamie closed his eyes. She swore she saw a smile on his face before it quickly disappeared. “I canna ask ye to do that, Claire. Ye just moved back here. Ye have a contract at the hospital and ye’re only a year into it. Ye canna just up and move back to the other side of the pond.”

“Well you’re not really asking. I volunteered,” she reminded him. “And I can do whatever the hell I bloody well please. Yes, I’d have to break my contract at the hospital, but it would be okay.” Jamie started to disagree but she tightened her hold on him as she leaned forward. “I can find a new job, Jamie, one I’ll easily like as much as this one. But I’m not going to find another you.” He stared at her with a look of awe and disbelief. “I love you, Jamie Fraser, and I’m not letting you move across the world without me. If you go, I go. That’s all there is to it.”

She swore she saw tears brimming in his eyes as he picked up her hand and laid a kiss on it. “I dinna ken what I’d do wi’out ye. I love ye so much, Sassenach.”

Claire smiled, wishing they’d gotten a bigger table so she could move around to his side. “You really think I’d let you go there on your own?”

“I wouldna blame ye if ye did,” Jamie admitted. “I dinna want to go, so why should ye have to?”

“Because I can’t bloody well do without you,” Claire promised him.

Jamie shook his head as he gazed at her. “I canna say what I ever did right in my life to earn ye.”

Claire laughed out loud, leaning her head back. “Some prize you’ve got.”

He looked at her with an earnest expression, “Yeah, actually it is.” He held her gaze for a long moment before looking down at their hands. “Thank ye for saying all ye did, Sassenach.” He looked to her once more. “It makes the future seem a bit less scary. I still dinna want to move, but knowing I wouldna be losing ye in it all makes it seem more manageable.”

“You won’t lose me,” she assured. “And we’ll figure out the rest as it comes. It’s the best we can do, right?”

Jamie grinned at her. “You and me against the world, aye?”

Claire nodded in agreement, raising her glass to him. “Just the way it should be.”

Chapter Text

Jamie’s leg was bouncing up and down. Claire rolled her eyes, reaching over to put her hand on his knee. “It’s going to be fine,” she said. He looked over and her and nodded. “We’ve got like a half hour before we land and then I’m going to distract you so you can’t think about it anymore.”

Jamie’s face slowly broke into a grin. “Aye? And how do ye plan on distracting me, Sassenach?”

Claire smiled mischievously as she leaned in closer. “By showing you all the fun things Boston has to offer,” she teased.

“That wasna really where I thought ye’d be going wi’ that,” Jamie admitted.

“I know it wasn’t. But don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for that too,” she assured, patting him on the cheek.

She turned back to her book and Jamie looked out at the clouds below them. He was nervous and she knew it, but there was only so much she could do to take his mind off of it. She’d spent the last two months trying to reassure him that something would work out, but she knew he didn’t quite believe her.

It was mid-June and Jamie still hadn’t gotten the transfer order from his uncles. As he waited, he’d started looking for other jobs. After five different interviews at five different companies all came up empty, he started to panic in earnest. Claire had done her best to be his rock, but she didn’t know how much help she was. He knew a transfer would come but he was hoping to leave the company before it got to that point. He didn’t want to move, and certainly didn’t want to make her move too. Ultimately, his biggest opportunity came thanks to Louise.

She had burst into their flat, causing Claire to remember she’d once given her friend the key. Ignoring Claire completely, Louise had very excitedly told Jamie about an opening at the marketing firm where she worked. Jamie’d seemed unsure if he was the right fit for the position, but Claire and Louise forced him to apply for it.

After a successful interview, Jamie was offered the job. But there has been a big “But.” He had to be approved by the board since it was a director position. Jamie had gotten on easily with the man who interviewed him which was how he learned that the board only meets at random times. It was also how he learned that the board might find him too young for the position, no matter his level of experience.

So naturally, he had become an anxious ball of nerves. Nothing Claire did took his mind off of it for long. Going to work had become a nightmare for him, so Jamie had decided to cash in on the sick time and vacation time he’d stockpiled over seven years at MacKenzie Whisky. It gave Claire an idea and they ended up booking a trip to Boston for a week.

She glanced over at him as he stared out the window. They were both desperate for him to get this job. With all his anxiety over a potential transfer, she felt she’d done very little to help. As his girlfriend, she kept feeling like she was letting him down. A big moment of relief came when he agreed to the trip she’d proposed. Maybe in a different city and in a different country, Dougal and Colum could bother him less.

After their plane landed, Claire walked through the all too familiar airport. She knew it was going to be an interesting experience being back in Boston, but she was excited to share that part of her past with Jamie. She was also very excited to see Joe and Gayle. Joe and Claire talked on the phone often enough, but they hadn’t seen each other in person since he’d helped her move to London, 16 months before.

They were through customs and about to grab their bags when Claire heard her name being called. She glanced over to see Gayle standing near baggage claim holding a sign with their names on it. Claire dropped her carry-on at Jamie’s feet, running over to her friend, and wrapping her in a hug. “What are you doing here?” Claire asked.

“You really think we’d let you’d get a cab from the airport?” Gayle replied.

“We were going to get a rental car,” Claire explained.

“Yeah, we cancelled that reservation,” Gayle informed her. “As well as the hotel one.” Claire gaped at her friend. “We have a perfectly good guest space.”

“Okay, I’m fine with staying with you,” Claire began, “but how are Jamie and I going to get around during the day? We need a car.”

“I’m going to drive Joe to work while you’re here and you’ll have his car,” Gayle said with a wave of her hand.

Claire shook her head with a laugh. “If that’s what you guys want to do, then okay.” She turned and saw that Jamie had approached and was standing behind her. “Gayle, meet Jamie. Jamie, this is Joe’s wife, Gayle. I’m glad you guys are meeting.” They both shook hands, exchanging pleasantries. “And Jamie, apparently, we’re staying with Joe and Gayle.”

“Goodness, are ye sure ye want us around for a whole week?” Jamie asked.

Gayle’s eyes went wide for a second. “Whoa, he’s like Scottish Scottish.”

Claire laughed loudly, laying a hand on Jamie’s arm. “Yes, yes he is.”

“Sorry,” Gayle said, looking to Jamie, “I was just surprised. Anyway, yes, you both are more than welcome to stay with us. We converted this standalone garage into a guest house area so you’ll have your own space as well.” She nodded toward the baggage carousel that had just started turning. “I think that’s you guys.”

Jamie and Claire ran over to grab their bags and then they were off with Gayle. Claire couldn’t help but stare as they drove through Boston. Familiar sights kept catching her eye, making her turn her head to look again. She had far preferred London over Boston when it came down to it, but Boston had still been a nice place to live. Shooting a glance back at Jamie, he was already staring at her with a smile. She returned his smile as she reached back and patted him on the knee.

“So I’m assuming your oldest is at school, but where’s little Lenny?” Claire asked.

“He’s with my dad today,” Gayle told her. “I didn’t know how much stuff you’d both bring so it was easier to not have the baby with me.”

“He’s not so much a baby anymore though,” Claire said.

“Hey! Don’t say that about my baby!” Gayle teased. “He’s only a bit over a year old.”

“I’m so excited to meet him officially,” Claire replied with a smile. “Video chat just isn’t quite the same.”

Gayle looked in the rearview mirror towards Jamie. “Jamie, I hope you’re comfortable around little ones.”

He laughed. “Oh verra much so. My sister has five.”

Gayle gasped. “Five? My god. Joe’s lucky he got two out of me.”

Claire and Jamie both laughed. “Yes, Jenny is something else,” Claire agreed. “She told me once she never set a number on it.” Claire looked back at Jamie with a mischievous grin. “Jamie and I have taken bets on when she’ll announce she’s pregnant next.”

Gayle laughed before she scolded them. “You guys are terrible.”

“They have five under six,” Jamie explained. “Tis bound to happen soon.”

“Jamie, do you want any of your own?” Gayle interrogated with a grin.

“Seriously, Gayle?” Claire asked, smacking the other on her arm. “What are you doing?”

“We’re having a conversation, Claire,” Gayle argued. “It’s a natural segue.”

Jamie laughed at them from the backseat. “Aye, sure I do.”

Gayle quickly looked over at Claire, her eyebrows raised and a grin on her face. “You need to slow down,” Claire told her.

“I’m going the speed limit,” Gayle replied.

“I meant conversationally,” Claire retorted. “We’re not even engaged. You’re getting a bit ahead of yourself.”

“It’s important to know that you want the same things, Claire.”

Claire looked back at Jamie and rolled her eyes. Glancing back at Gayle, she nodded. “I realize that. But don’t you think it would be a bit awkward to have that conversation and potential realization here .”

Gayle looked at Claire. “Okay, I’ll give you that. I’m sorry.”

“No’ to worry, Gayle,” Jamie said, leaning forward, “we have talked through some important things.” Claire chuckled at him, reaching her hand over to pinch his cheek before he sat back.

“Okay, so safer territory then,” Gayle started, “Jamie, what do you do for a living?”

Claire burst out laughing. “That’s actually not safe territory right now.”

“Oh dear God,” Gayle cried, waving a hand at them. “How about you guys steer the conversation then?”

Together, Jamie and Claire got the conversation back on track, talking about what they were excited to do in Boston. Gayle peppered in suggestions that she thought Claire might have forgotten. Soon enough, they were turning onto Joe and Gayle’s street. Claire stared out the window, struck again by the charm of their neighborhood. She glanced back at Jamie who was watching out the window as well. It was in that moment that Claire decided some day they should have an actual home and not their tiny flat.

 

After settling in and letting Gayle get back to work, Claire was excited to go back out to experience Boston again.

“Are ye sure ye’ll ken where ye’re going?” Jamie asked with a cheeky grin.

“I’ve only been gone a year and a half,” Claire reminded him. “Yes, I think I’ll know where I’m going.”

They got in the car, Claire behind the wheel. Jamie looked over at her skeptically. “I’m no’ joking this time. Are ye sure ye’ll be able to drive on that side of the car? And the other side of the road?”

Claire glared at him. “I lived here for five years, Jamie. I think I’ll be okay.”

“Alright. Before we leave, just let me call Jenny and tell her goodbye. Just in case, ye ken,” Jamie teased, pulling out his phone.

“I’m going to punch you soon,” Claire sighed as she put on her seatbelt and started the car.

They drove to Claire’s favorite lunch spot. There had only been a couple of times Claire had struggled with the adjustments to driving in America. She kept them to herself, though, as she wouldn’t give Jamie the satisfaction.

They were sitting out on a patio, enjoying the sun when Claire looked over to see Jamie on his phone. She knew he was waiting for answers, but she couldn’t take his disappointment anymore. “Why don’t you put that away?” she asked. Jamie looked up at her, his brows raised. “Look, Jamie, you’ll know when you know. I doubt you’re going to miss it because you’re eating lunch.”

Jamie frowned, looking down. “Ye’re right. I ken that.” He sighed heavily. “I just want to know. I need an answer, even if it’s “no” just so that I can figure out what to do next.”

Claire reached out and laid her hand on his. “I know. And you will. Louise said it should be soon, right?” Jamie looked up at her and nodded. “So until then, let’s just try to enjoy ourselves, shall we?”

Jamie grabbed Claire’s hand in his and squeezed. “Yes, let’s do that.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sassenach. I ken I havena been a joy to be around lately.”

Claire stared at him with a disapproving look. “Shut your mouth, Jamie Fraser. You are always a joy to be around. And looking for jobs is the bloody worst. You’re just fine.”

Jamie smiled back at her. “Thank ye, mo nighean donn . That means a lot.” He looked around the patio. “So what would ye like to do next.”

Claire scrunched her nose. “Well what I was thinking of doing next would be more fun for me than it would be for you.”

Jamie shrugged his shoulders. “I dinna care. I’m at yer whim.”

 

An hour later they were walking into the hospital where Claire used to work. She was looking around, trying to find changes since the last time she’d been there. Jamie grinned as he watched her. “I should have known that a hospital would have been on our list of sights.”

Claire laughed, wrapping her arm around his. “You really should have.” She pulled him further into the lobby of the hospital. “I was just hoping to find Joe and a few other people I used to work with.”

“I’d be happy to meet them,” Jamie said, kissing the side of her head.

Claire walked around the hospital, still knowing the layout like the back of her hand. “I actually did my internship here as well,” Claire told Jamie as they strolled down the halls. “And then Joe and I both got offered residencies here which was pretty unheard of for this place. They don’t usually keep too many of their interns.”

“They must have just kent how great ye were,” Jamie remarked.

Claire shook her head with a grin. It was an interesting experience to go back to a place that she’d spent so much of her life. For years, she’d walked down these hallways with purpose. It was an odd feeling to be strolling through them again with Jamie at her side. She was happy that she got to share this huge piece of herself with Jamie. This hospital had shaped who she was and certainly made her the doctor that she is now. Her hand tightened around his as she thought of how he’d also shaped her life.

Claire spotted Joe near the nurses’ station and picked up their pace. “Paging Dr. Abernathy!” she called.

He turned around with a look of surprise on his face before that morphed into a look of joy. “Lady Jane!” Joe replied, rushing over to them and wrapping her in a hug. “Jamie!” he said, turning his attention to him with a hand extended for a shake. “You guys made it!”

“Yes, we did,” Claire said. “We got in this morning. Your lovely wife picked us up from the airport.”

“Oh, so she told you we cancelled all your reservations?” Joe asked with a smirk.

“Yes, she did, though I still think it’s insane,” Claire answered.

“No, what’s insane is coming to a city where you have friends who are basically family and not staying with them,” Joe retorted, shaking his head. “So I’m guessing you’re also here to see the rest of the gang?”

“Yeah, I was hoping to,” Claire admitted. “Although, you know I’m obviously happy to see you too.”

“Well sure, but you’ll see me later tonight too,” Joe reminded her. He directed them toward the doctor’s lounge. “I believe I saw some old friends of yours in here,” he said as he pushed the door open. “Hey guys, look who I found!” Joe stepped aside to let Claire in.

“Beauchamp!”

“Claire!”

“You’re back!”

Claire beamed as she was greeted by her old friends and colleagues. She walked further into the room, hugging them. “It’s so good to see you all. How are things?”

Jamie hung back by Joe as Claire caught up with the others. She seemed happy as she stood there chatting with old friends, a bright smile on her face. He may have not known who they were, but it made Jamie happy just to see Claire having such a good time. Eventually Joe walked over and joined the group, leaving Jamie by the door alone. He realized the last time Claire saw any of these people she’d been with Frank. That kept him in his post by the door until Claire turned and gestured for him to join her.

“Everyone, I want you to meet Jamie,” Claire said, putting her arm around his waist. Introductions were made and soon Claire was forced to tell the story of how they met and became a couple. She kept smiling and glancing over at him as she told the tale to her former colleagues. “It’s been almost a year now,” she said, looking up at him with a sweet smile just for him.

Claire didn’t want to bore Jamie by making them stay too long, so soon enough she made excuses and parted from them. She bade special goodbye to Joe, promising to see him later at his home. Taking Jamie’s hand, they walked out of the doctor’s lounge and out of the hospital.

~~~

They walked hand in hand along the harbor, both staring out at the water. “So this is the harbor, hmm?” Jamie asked.

“Yep.”

“This is where they wasted all that good tea?”

Claire scoffed, turning on Jamie. “I’m sorry, are you taking the side of the British?” Jamie laughed as she gaped at him. “Because we went through school together for a while...in Scotland. I know for a fact, you were taught that the Redcoats were basically the devil. The first year we learned about Culloden, I had to hide from some of the boys in our class because I was English.”

Jamie chuckled to himself. “Oh, I’d forgotten that. Those wee bastards.”

“Did you forget how you had to serve as my personal security guard because of them?”

“I had no problem with it,” Jamie recalled. “I already followed ye around anyway. Twas an easy job.” He squeezed her hand in his. “Of course then we’d move on to a different part of history and then ye’d get yer freedom back.”

“Because we didn’t already do everything together,” Claire laughed. She leaned into him. “Kinda like now, I suppose.”

Jamie lifted their joined hands and kissed the back of her hand. “Perhaps we havena changed all that much after all.”

~~~

They’d been in Boston for a few days and had been having a lovely time. So far, no word had come from the firm Jamie was hoping to join. Jamie had kept his promise and had been present while they were out exploring Boston, but Claire knew it was still on his mind. He was in the shower and Claire was getting dressed for the day when she heard his phone ring on the bed. Seeing Louise calling, Claire scrambled for his phone. “Hello?” she answered almost breathlessly.

“Claire? Hey, it’s Louise. I need to talk to Jamie.”

“He’s in the shower. What’s up?”

Louise sighed on the other end. “It’s happening.”

“What?”

“The board meeting. It’s happening today. One of the guys walked in and said we best be getting our work done because all the old, crotchety members of the board were going to be there in an hour. So I’m guessing that means it’ll be today if Jamie’s going to hear about it,” Louise informed her.

Claire felt her stomach tie itself in knots. “Oh God. Do you think I should tell him?”

“Yes, Claire, obviously! That’s why I called,” Louise scolded. “You can’t keep something like this from him.”

“No, you’re right. I just don’t want him to get so anxious again.”

“Well he’ll know one way or the other, likely today,” Louise repeated. “And then you’ll both know what to do from there.”

Claire took a deep breath. “You’re right. Thanks for the heads up, Louise.”

“Not a problem. Now, I gotta go so I can look like I’m working,” she replied with a laugh.

“Good luck with that.”

“Good luck on your end too.”

The women said goodbye and hung up, leaving Claire to stare at the door to the tiny bathroom. Her nerves were ramping up just at the idea of having to tell Jamie. Without putting too much pressure on it, their futures both rested on this job offer. If Jamie got transferred, everything would change. She would happily follow him, but she knew he wouldn’t be happy with his job. And what was the point of uprooting them both for his job if he hated it?

Steeling herself a bit, she walked into the bathroom. Jamie looked up as he wrapped a towel around his waist. “If ye were looking to join me, Sassenach, I’m afraid ye left it a bit late. Although, I could just jump back in,” he said with a smirk. Claire smiled tightly and Jamie noticed it. His demeanor instantly changed. “What’s the matter?”

“Louise called you,” she said. She watched as concern took over his expression. “She said the meeting is today.”

Jamie nodded stiffly. “Oh. Okay then.”

“So she thinks you’ll find out one way or the other today,” Claire added. Jamie stood there without reply. “Are you okay?”

His eyes flitted up to look at her. “Aye,” he said with a nod. “Just nervous, I suppose.” He stepped closer to her, his hands reaching up to cup her face. “But dinna worry, I’ll keep my promise. Ye’ll have my attention.”

Claire rolled her eyes. “I’m distracted by this too, Jamie. I’d find it odd if you weren’t .”

“Still, I dinna want to spend our whole day on it,” Jamie insisted. “Let me change and I’ll be ready for breakfast.”

“Okay,” Claire said with a nod. “I’m going to go see if Joe’s still here.”

“Sounds good. I’ll see ye at the house.”

Claire tried to force her mind on something else as she made the short walk over into the kitchen. Planning what they’d do that day was always a good tactic. Joe was sitting at the kitchen table when she walked in. “Hey!” he greeted.

“Hey! How’s it going?”

“Good. I was just about to leave soon. I’m glad I caught you. Gayle is upstairs changing Lenny for the second time today. But she made biscuits and there’s some bacon.”

“Oh that sounds amazing,” Claire said, walking closer to the counter. “You got a good wife, Joe. Better than Jamie’s getting.”

“Did I miss the announcement?”

“Ha, no!” Claire answered, holding up her bare left hand. “But I know it’s going to happen.”

“You seem pretty confident,” Joe said as he chuckled.

“What, because I know where my relationship is going?” Claire asked. “For perspective, if Jamie doesn’t get a new job, he may end up getting transferred to New York and I told him I’d go with him. That’s pretty serious, right?”

Joe nodded. “I was just kidding, Lady Jane. Although, that does remind me of something.” Claire came over and sat down across from him, deciding to wait until Jamie came over to eat. “Do you remember that time Geillis went on that long rant about how you had to stay friends with her ex-boyfriends or ex-friends on Facebook so she could know she was winning the breakup?”

Claire laughed. “Yes, I do remember that impassioned, drunken speech. It’s why after all these years, I’m still friends with Greg Edgars on Facebook. He actually just got a new dog and it is so cute. Geillis would have loved it.”

“Well for whatever reason, I kept that information in mind and I’m still friends with Frank.” Claire’s eyes narrowed as she stared at her friend. “And I saw last night that he’s...getting married.”

“What?” Claire nearly yelled. “He’s getting married? How?”

“I don’t know. They just announced the engagement, they didn’t put the details up yet,” Joe responded, clearly confused by her reaction.

“That’s insane. It was only nine months ago that he showed up at my home and begged me to take him back. And now he’s getting married?”

The door opened behind her and Jamie walked in. “Who’s getting married?”

Claire turned and looked at him. “Frank.”

“Goodness. Poor woman,” he commented, walking over towards the food. “Dinna even ken the woman, but I feel the need to say it.”

“Look, I wasn’t trying to stir anything up,” Joe insisted, “I just thought you might want to know.”

“I just don’t get it,” Claire said as she prepared a plate next to Jamie. “I mean, he couldn’t have known that many people in England. He hadn’t lived there in years.”

“Didn’t you know Jamie from before?” Joe asked.

Claire turned and glared at him. “Yes, but it’s not like we got to that point that fast.”

“Aye, that would be very fast. He showed up at yer flat only, what, nine months ago in hopes to win ye back,” Jamie said, unknowingly repeating Claire’s point.

“That’s what I said!”

“Well maybe he knew her from before,” Joe offered. He pulled out his phone. “Let me find it again.”

“It’s just weird is all,” Claire commented. “I mean, I would have thought Jamie and I would get married before Frank did.” Jamie glanced over at her, a question on his face before he nodded with a shrug.

“Okay, here’s the picture. It’s not a very nice looking ring, if that helps,” Joe added. Claire and Jamie both laughed as they walked over to look at the picture on Joe’s phone.

Jamie made a small “hmm” noise before sitting down to eat. Claire stared at the picture for a much longer time, her fury growing evident on her face. “That’s his fiancee?” she asked, her voice low.

Jamie and Joe both looked at her with matching curious expressions. “Who is she, Sassenach?”

She started laughing and shaking her head. “That bloody bastard.”

“Claire, who is she?” Joe asked, echoing Jamie.

“Her name’s Sandy. She used to work in the same department as him at Harvard. They were very close,” Claire informed them. “Of course, when I broke up with Frank, he accused me of only doing so in order to sleep with Jamie.”

“That’s classy,” Joe interrupted. Jamie nodded with a grin.

“Mhmm,” Claire replied. “And then when he showed up at my home after I’d been with Jamie for two months and I told Frank I couldn’t get back together with him because I was seeing someone else, he accused me of cheating on him with Jamie. And yet, here, it seems that he was likely the one doing the cheating. I cannot believe he had the gall to accuse me of the very thing he’d probably done.”

“Maybe he wanted to feel better about it,” Jamie wondered aloud. “Like if he had and then he got ye to admit that ye had as well, then he could justify his wrongdoings.”

“Oh that sounds like a total Frank move,” Joe agreed.

They both looked at Claire nervously. “Ye alright, Sassenach?”

Claire sat down between the two of them. “I’m fine. Just...surprised I suppose.”

Jamie reached over and grabbed her hand. “I’d say ye’re allowed to be.”

“Yeah,” Joe agreed. “And also, fuck Frank.”

Claire laughed, looking between the two of them. “I’m really fine. I promise. But thank you.”

They changed the subject and chatted about something that wasn’t Jamie’s job or Claire’s ex. Gayle walked down with Lenny and all attention turned to the baby. Joe was getting up to leave and gestured for Claire to walk with him.

“I just wanted to tell you privately, especially now that I’ve seen you two together, you’re much better off now,” Joe told her.

Claire smiled, stealing a glance back to Jamie in the kitchen. “I know that.”

“I know you do. But it helps to hear it from friends too. If you recall, you were the one who told me Gayle was perfect for me,” Joe reminded.

“I stand by that.”

“As you should. Well now it’s my turn. Jamie’s obviously perfect for you,” Joe said with a kind smile. “And let me tell you this, Frank never looked at you the way Jamie does. Like...I don’t know, you’re the stars in the sky.”

“That’s very sweet. Thank you, Joe,” Claire said, bringing him in for a hug.

~~~

It was during a walk through Boston Common that Claire felt she needed to address her earlier reaction. She laced her fingers through Jamie’s, making him turn to look at her. “I’m sorry about earlier,” she said, a contrite look on her face.

Jamie looked confused. “I’ll admit, I’ve been more in my head than I meant to be, but I dinna ken what ye need to be sorry for.”

“All that stuff about Frank earlier,” Claire reminded. “I know I reacted stronger than I should have. I’m sorry. I don’t want you to think I’m upset that Frank is marrying someone that’s not me. I couldn’t care less that Frank is getting married. I just...I was thrown off by it actually being someone I know. And everything that implies.”

Jamie stopped, pulling Claire closer. “I could tell exactly what was going on in yer mind, mo nighean donn . Yer face doesna hide a thing.” Claire blew out a laugh. “Just from hearing yer stories, no’ even living them, I thought it was odd that he’s already getting married. I imagine it must be even more so from yer position.”

She nodded in agreement. “I just didn’t want you to think that I have any sort of lingering feelings for him. I can assure you that I don’t.”

Jamie smiled, leaning in to kiss her forehead. “I ken that, Sassenach. Ye’ve shown me well enough what or who is in yer heart.” He cupped her face in his hands, bringing her in for a kiss. “Besides, I hear whose name ye call out in bed,” he added with a bad wink.

Claire laughed as she pulled him in for a hug. “You’ve got me on that one,” she admitted. Looking up at him, she smiled. “I love you.”

Jamie leaned down to kiss her again. “And I love ye.”

After another quick kiss, they continued on their walk through the park. They had been walking in a comfortable silence for a while before Jamie spoke again.

“I will say, there was one question in my mind after that conversation this morning,” he confessed.

Claire tensed a bit as she turned to look at him. “Oh?”

“I canna think that Frank must be ready to actually marry someone, since he was still hung up on ye only so many months ago.”

“Yeah, that’s a good point. What, you think he’s marrying her just to get married?”

Jamie shrugged. “Oh I canna say why the man’s doing so. I’ve never understood the man and certainly never liked him.” Claire couldn’t help but chuckle. “But him likely no’ being ready to get marrit made me think of us.”

“How so?” Claire wondered in a small voice.

“Made me wonder if we are,” he replied.

“Ready to get married?” Claire asked. Jamie looked over at her and nodded. She cleared her throat as she stared at him. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she wondered if this was him sussing out if she was ready. They’d both make sure there were no repeats of the incident from months ago. She held his hand tighter in hers. “Yes, I would say we’re ready.”

Jamie grinned down at her. “I’d say the same.”

“I mean, if you think about it,” Claire continued, feeling bolstered by his agreement, “we’ve been tested a lot in our almost year. And yet here we are.”

Jamie breathed out a laugh. “Aye, here we are.”

“Exes showing up and begging to get back together, fights, moving in together, job insecurity, spending long weekends with your family. These are all good tests for a relationship,” Claire reasoned.

Jamie nodded in agreement. “Oh they are. Especially the Murray family as ye said.”

Claire laughed out loud, holding onto his arm. “Yeah, they’ve been the toughest part, haven’t they?”

Jamie slowed down, staring over at Claire. She stopped and turned back to him. “Nothing’s been that tough wi’ ye, mo nighean donn .”

Claire walked closer to close the distance between them. She leaned up to kiss him as she wrapped her arms around his waist. “I have to agree with you,” she whispered against his lips. They met for a long kiss. It wasn’t until a bird started chirping nearby that they pulled apart, remembering they were still in public.

They continued walking through the park, just content to be with each other. They were always touching, either as they held hands or linked arms. In that moment, the vacation seemed to have done just what it was intended to do: bring them together while pushing the negative parts of their lives to the back of their minds.

They were starting to consider their next meal option when Jamie froze. Claire looked back at him as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. His eyes went wide right before he answered.

“Hello?”

Claire had never so desperately wanted to hear both sides of a phone conversation before.

“Yes,” Jamie replied to whatever the other person had said. “Mhmm.”

She was bouncing on her feet, feeling antsy to know what was going on.

“Alright then,” Jamie said. She could curse him for how well he could mask his emotions. “Yes. Thank ye. Goodbye.”

Jamie didn’t look at her as he slowly moved to put his phone back in his pocket. He glanced back at her and started to walk. “So what were ye thinking for lunch?”

“Jamie!” Claire scolded.

He turned around with a broad grin on his face. “I got the job!” Claire gasped. “Ye’re looking at the new regional director of online marketing!”

Claire screamed, running and launching herself at him. He picked her up and she wrapped herself around him. She kissed all over his face as she clung to him. “I knew you’d get it!”

“Thank ye, Sassenach. I wish I could say the same,” he admitted.

For a moment, he just held her and she just stared at him, both of them elated by this news. Claire leaned in slowly and kissed him. “I’m so proud of you,” she whispered.

Jamie kissed her again. “Thank ye. For everything.”

“What do you mean? What have I done? It was Louise who found you the job,” Claire reminded.

“Aye, but ye stood with me. And listened to me at my whiniest. Ye made me feel better when I felt like shite,” he told her. “So thank ye.”

She shook her head at him. “That’s quite silly of you to say. You do the same thing for me as well.” They started walking back toward the car. “I do have only one request.”

“Oh? Ye have requests now?”

“Just the one. Can I be there - or if I can’t be there, maybe you could wear like a camera or something, or video chat perhaps. I just really want to see how it all goes down when you quit your current job.”

Jamie burst out laughing. “Sadly, I dinna think it would go over well if I brought ye with me,” he admitted. “I also think I’ll be turning in my resignation to the person just above me. It willna go directly to Dougal at first.”

“I would just enjoy seeing him squirm for a change, you know?” Claire said.

Jamie put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her into his side. “This is one of the reasons I love ye, Claire.”

She wrapped her arm around his waist as they strode back to the car. “What are girlfriends for if not to hate the same people you hate?” They both laughed as they got in the car. Everything was noticeably lighter since the news had broken.

~~~

They were parting ways with Joe and Gayle at the airport when Jamie pulled Joe further from the women. Joe looked confused, but walked with him. Jamie turned back to see Claire still talking to Gayle.

“How would ye and Gayle feel about coming to Scotland?” Jamie asked.

Joe furrowed his brow. “I mean it sounds great. When? Why?”

Jamie kept checking over his shoulder to make sure Claire wasn’t looking. “It’s short notice, but mid-July. I think that Saturday would be the 12th or 13th, I’d have to look.”

“Okay, I’ll talk to Gayle we’ll see if we can figure it out. Can I ask why?”

Jamie checked back on Claire one more time before he glanced back at Joe.

“I’m planning something.”

Chapter Text

Claire opened the door to see Jamie still sitting on the couch. “Well someone must be enjoying unemployment. I’m fairly certain that’s the same place I left you in this morning,” she teased.

Jamie leaned his head on the back of the couch to meet her for a kiss as she walked by. “Aye, I am in the same place, but I’ll have ye know I did get up and move occasionally. Mainly to piss.”

Claire laughed as she set her stuff down at the kitchen table. “You lazy bum.”

Jamie looked over at her and scoffed. “Hey! This is the first time I’ve gotten to be truly lazy in eight years. I’m milking it! I won’t start the new job for a few weeks.”

Claire threw herself down on the couch next to him, her legs spilling over his lap. “Honestly, I’m just teasing you because I’m a bit jealous.” Jamie grinned, leaning in to kiss her cheek. “I’m surprised you didn’t go for a run.”

“Oh, I did. Light 10k,” he informed her, running his hand along her arm. Claire rolled her eyes at him. “So I was going to call ye at work but then I looked at the clock and figured ye’d be leaving soon. Do you think ye’d be able to take off the weekend of the 12-14th?”

“Of July?”

“Yes, of July,” Jamie clarified.

“I already took it off. Do you think I don’t know what that weekend is?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at him.

He grinned, kissing her on the nose. “Nah, I figured ye would.”

“So what are you thinking? I’m imagining if you asked, you’re thinking something .”

“Well, aye. I thought we’d go to Scotland,” Jamie offered.

Claire watched him for a moment. “Are you sure you wouldn’t just rather stay here?”

Jamie frowned. “What do ye have against Scotland, Sassenach?”

“Well nothing. You know I love it there, but we’ll already be there this weekend. And that’s only two weeks later. It’s just a lot of up and back,” Claire said, standing up to go get some water.

“Perhaps I’m missing something. Why are we going up this weekend? Since when are we going up this weekend?” Jamie asked, staring at her as she returned to the couch.

“Jamie, it’s your niece’s -”

“You can just say our niece,” he interrupted.

Claire grinned at him with a shake of her head. “Fine. Jamie, it’s our niece’s first birthday. Don’t you think we should be there?”

“Ye ken what I jus’ realized?”

Claire rolled her eyes as she sat back down. “What did you just realize?”

“That wee Janet will no’ know ye as anything other but her Auntie Claire,” he informed her with a fond smile on his face.

“That’s sweet,” Claire agreed. “But let’s get back to her birthday. Why do you think we’re not going? Jamie, did you forget about her birthday?”

“No, of course I didna forget. I suppose I forgot to tell ye that Jenny said we shouldn’t come,” Jamie said. “She figured we’d come up for our anniversary and so they planned a birthday for wee Janet that was just the Murray family. No Frasers allowed, apparently.”

Claire frowned at Jamie. “She doesn’t want us there? But we’re family.”

Jamie shrugged. “I dinna ken. Perhaps she’s planning to tell the children there’s to be another one.”

Claire smacked Jamie on the arm. “You’re terrible.”

“What do ye expect of me? Ye’re the one I’ve been making bets with on when it’ll happen!”

“So we’re really not going?” Claire asked. “It’ll be that weekend instead of this weekend?”

Jamie nodded. “Aye, if ye like.”

“I guess that’s better. I don’t want to pack this week anyway,” Claire remarked, relaxing into the couch against Jamie.

“Perfect.”

Jamie pressed play on the show he was watching before Claire walked in. She snuggled in next to him, her arms coming around his waist. He’d breathe easier when all the secrets were out. But for now, he felt guilty lying to her. He also felt guilty for making Jenny lie to her, as Claire would no doubt call to confirm these plans with Jenny. But she’d understand in the end. Big things were coming, she just didn’t know it.

~~~

It was odd to Jamie to be waiting outside his own flat, but he didn’t feel right just letting himself in. John should be there any minute. Checking his watch, he started to get irritated that John was late. He had to get home before Claire did.

A loud set of footsteps signalled John’s arrival. “Sorry I’m late!” John yelled as he ran towards the door. “My therapist would not stop talking today! It was like I did my part and then she needed to do an hour too.” He shook his head in annoyance. “Anyway, sorry.”

“Ye’re fine. I just need to make sure I get home before Claire.” John nodded, opening the door for Jamie. “So how is therapy going? If ye dinna mind me asking.”

“I think it’s going well. Even when I don’t want to talk about dark stuff it’s nice to just talk to someone,” John commented.

Jamie frowned at him. “Ye ken ye have friends to talk to for free about yer daily life.”

John laughed. “Oh I know. But sometimes it just all links back. I’m doing good though. I mean it’s been five months since the attack and three months in therapy. My therapist says I’m making good progress which is always nice to hear.”

Jamie walked back out of his old bedroom and nodded at John. “Aye, that is nice to hear. I’m proud of ye, John. I ken it was hard to take that step.”

“Thank you,” he said, a touched look on his face. “Probably wouldn’t have done so without you and Claire.”

Jamie nodded, choking back some emotion. “We’re always here for ye.”

“That’s why they call you my parents,” John joked. He looked at Jamie’s hand. “Got what you needed?”

Jamie held up the fist clenched around the object he’d come to claim. “Aye, I do. Thank ye for keeping it.”

“Not a problem,” John waved off, walking Jamie toward the door. “Talk soon?”

“We will. I’ll see ye,” Jamie said with a clap on his back before walking out the door.

~~~

Jamie and Claire had arrived at Lallybroch and were putting their bags down in the room they always shared. Jamie threw himself down on the bed with a sigh. “Wow, to think that one year ago today, we were just two fools who thought we’d never work it out.”

Claire laughed as she rifled through her bag. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job,” she mused.

Jamie jumped up off the bed, walking up behind her, and putting his arms around her. “I’d say would have to agree, mo nighean donn ,” he whispered in her ear. She turned with a grin, meeting him for a quick kiss. “If it hadna happened here, when do ye think we’d have finally confessed our deep dark secrets to each other?” Jamie wondered aloud.

Claire laughed, her arms holding his. “You know I’ve wondered that before.” She turned around in his arms, her hands clasping at his neck. “I feel like we both just hit a breaking point and couldn’t keep it in any longer.”

Jamie nodded thoughtfully. “I’m fairly certain if it hadn’t happened any sooner than it did, John and likely the rest of our friends, would have locked us in a room until we could figure it out.”

Claire laid her head on his shoulder as she laughed at that mental image. “You know, I could definitely have seen them doing that. God, they were so annoying.”

Jamie kissed her forehead. “I dinna ken about that. They were on to something.”

Claire smiled with a hum. “You might be right.”

They stood there for a long moment in the quiet of their room, holding each other, both mentally reflecting on the past year of their shared life. After a while, Claire pulled back, looking up to meet Jamie’s gaze. “I love you,” she said simply. With a quick kiss, she parted, the need to feel helpful growing too strong.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” Jamie told her as she walked out the door. Once the sound of her footsteps disappeared, he turned to his suitcase and grabbed the one thing he wouldn’t let her see. He hid it in their room before going down to visit with his family.

~~~

They’d spent the rest of Friday and up til the afternoon Saturday just spending time with the kids. Claire had been surprised that Jamie hadn’t asked for any of her time alone. But as she also enjoyed spending time with the children who Jamie already called her nieces and nephews, she didn’t mind. Jenny and Ian had been very busy with projects they wouldn’t let Claire or Jamie anywhere near, so it helped to entertain the kids. Claire tried to think of the silly games she and Jamie had played as a child. There was a definite chance that Jenny would kill them if they taught her children some of their rowdier games.

The evening was rolling in on Saturday and Claire strolled into the kitchen, ready to help Jenny. Her head snapped up at the sound of Claire’s arrival. “What are ye doing here?”

“I came to help with dinner.”

“Do I look like a woman who needs help making dinner? Are ye saying that I’m insufficient on my own?” Jenny seemed heated and Claire had no clue why.

“Look, Jenny, I’m not trying to start anything. I just wanted to be helpful,” she said, her hands raised.

“Well let me tell ye how ye can help,” Jenny offered. Claire nodded for her to continue. “Ye can get the hell out of my kitchen!”

“Jenny, seriously, what’s going on?”

“Claire, I dinna want ye in here. Get out of my kitchen!” she nearly screeched.

Claire was staring at her friend and nearly sister, completely confused. She was about to press the issue when Jamie walked in. “What’s going on?”

“Get her out of here,” Jenny demanded. “I dinna want her in my kitchen.”

Claire looked to Jamie, hoping he’d set his sister straight. His face bore no expression. He simply shrugged and gestured for Claire to follow him. “Why don’t we go for a walk?”

“Jamie, what was that?” she asked as she followed him out of the kitchen. “I’ve never seen Jenny like that.”

“Eh, sometimes she’s jus’ no’ a great hostess. It’ll be fine. We can just go for a walk before dinner,” Jamie suggested again. Claire shrugged and followed him out of the house.

They started walking across the vast Lallybroch lands. Jamie’s hand quickly took hold of Claire’s, lacing their fingers together. The sun was getting lower in the sky, but not low enough to set just yet. Even if Claire was still distracted a bit by Jenny’s outburst, she couldn’t deny that it was a beautiful evening.

Jamie slowed down as they approached a big tree near the back of the house. “Do ye recall this place?” Claire smiled fondly at the memories with a nod. “We’d all dare each other of who could get highest in the tree.”

Claire laughed loudly. “Ian was the winner for the longest time until he fell from a lower branch and then was afraid of heights.”

“How he only managed to break his arm and no’ his neck is still a miracle,” Jamie recalled.

“And then your mother wouldn’t let us anywhere near this tree for months,” Claire added, giving the tree a pat. “Should we climb it now?” Claire asked with a devious grin.

Jamie looked down at Claire’s sandals on her feet and her loose top. “Ye’re hardly in climbing clothes, Sassenach.”

“Spoilsport,” Claire muttered, taking his hand again as he started to walk from the tree.

They kept walking, stopping occasionally as Jamie pointed out spots on the estate from their past. It was a nice little stroll down memory lane. Most of the memories made Claire smile, if not laugh outright. Each time they moved onto a different place, she tucked herself a bit closer into Jamie’s side.

Jamie turned to start going up a steep, uneven hill. He held out a hand to stop Claire, instead having her climb on his back. He carried her up the hill and set her down once they reached whatever destination he was hoping to find. “Do ye remember this place?” Jamie asked.

“I’m not even quite sure where we are,” Claire admitted. Jamie pulled back a curtain of foliage, revealing the cave they’d hidden in as kids. “Oh my god, I’d forgotten about the cave.”

“I thought ye might have,” Jamie said, pulling out his phone to shine a flashlight. Claire took his offered hand and followed him in there. They both ducked down, afraid to hit their heads. Both of them were significantly taller than the last time they’d been in there.

Claire sat down on the floor at the back of the shallow cave. Jamie plopped down next to her. She wrapped her arm through his, leaning her head on his shoulder. “You know the last time I was in here?” Jamie leaned his head against hers. “It was the day after my parents died. Uncle Lamb started talking about how we’d have to go back to England for a bit before we moved on to India. But I didn’t want to go,” Claire recalled. “I ran out of my parents’ house with my backpack and I found myself here.”

“I recall,” Jamie said. “Uncle Lamb came to the house hoping to find ye and my parents had no clue where ye could be. I wouldna tell any of them where I thought ye might be, but I came to find ye here.” A silence hung between them. “Twas when ye told me ye’d be leaving.”

Her hand squeezed around his arm. “I believe I told you that they wanted me to leave, but I’d decided I could just live here and you could bring me food three times a day.”

Jamie laughed at the memory. “That sounds about right. I’d have done so.”

Claire breathed out a laugh, turning her head to plant a kiss on his shoulder. “I know you would have.”

“Twas no’ long after that day that I started begging Uncle Lamb and my parents to let ye stay here,” Jamie remembered.

They sat in silence for a few minutes before they stood and made their way from the cave. Walking back down the rocky hill, they continued on the walk down memory lane.

Jamie had slowed in the middle of a big field, his eyes narrowing. Claire turned around and watched him. He stepped a couple of paces closer to her, looking around critically. She had no idea what he was doing. “Aha!” he said suddenly, gesturing for her to join him. He grabbed her arms and made her stand right in front of him. “Right in this spot, one year ago, tomorrow , was where it all began,” he said with a broad grin on his face.

Claire looked around, trying to see if she recognized their surroundings as well as he did. “How can you even tell? It was so dark that night.”

Jamie shrugged. “I just do.”

Claire rolled her eyes with a shake of her head, an amused smile on her face. “Well, seeing as you didn’t bring a blanket, I’m afraid we won’t be having a repeat of those events. I refuse to have sex straight on the grass.”

Jamie pulled her close, whispering against her lips. “What if I let ye be on top?” His lips met hers for a long, heated kiss. The thought lingered on Claire’s mind as Jamie’s hands roamed across her body, landing firmly on her behind.

“We can’t,” she decided, pulling away from him just a bit. “We’ll miss dinner.”

Jamie shook his head. “I kent ye’d say that.”

“Well your sister is already mad at me for something stupid,” Claire reminded him. “I don’t want to make it worse by missing the dinner she cooked.”

Jamie laughed and took her hand again. “I see yer point.” Together, they started walking back towards the house.

There had been a couple more points Jamie had pointed out from their childhood adventures. It amazed Claire how sharp his memory was for that time so many years ago. She loved listening to the stories he told of them as kids, especially the ones she’d forgotten.

The sun was getting even lower in the sky, ducking behind the tall home, throwing the courtyard by the front door into shadow. Jamie led Claire under the archway and paused in the middle of the courtyard. “I think of all the spots, this is the most important one,” Jamie mused.

“Why’s that?” Claire asked.

“Because I was standing right about…” he backed up a few paces, “here the first time I ever saw you.” Claire smiled, a tilt to her head as she stared at him. “I remember thinking ye looked nervous to be here. My mam told me that ye were going to be my new friend and that we’d get to spend a lot of time together. And even then, even at four years old, I was excited about it. If only I’d known then what awaited us…”

Claire smiled at Jamie. She was about to reply when a sudden burst of light came from above them. Looking up, she saw several strings of lights, hung criss crossed above the courtyard, suddenly lit and twinkling at them. She stared at them with a confused laugh before turning to look at Jamie. But he wasn’t in the same place she’d last seen him.

He was down on one knee.

She laid a hand over her heart as tears formed behind her eyes. He hadn’t even spoken yet and she was already going to cry. She didn’t used to be such an emotional person.

“Claire Beauchamp,” he started, seemingly choked up as well, “ye’ve been one of the most important parts of my life since we were kids. Our mothers may have forced us together at first, but I believe it was fate that brought us back together last year. I canna imagine spending my life wi’ anyone but ye. Ye’re the perfect match for me and I like to think that I’m yers as well.”

Claire wiped away a tear, nodding insistently at him. “You are,” she whispered.

“Each day I wake up and I find I love ye more than I did the day before,” he continued. “Ye’re a rare woman, Claire, and I still canna believe ye’ve chosen to be mine. But I promise ye, I’ll do everything in my power to make ye as happy as possible.” He took a deep breath, holding his left hand up higher, a ring glinting between his fingers. “Will ye marry me?”

She cleared her throat, afraid she’d have no voice. “Of course I will,” she rasped. Jamie jumped up off his knee, closing the distance between them immediately. They met for a passionate, yet messy kiss full of emotion and promise. When they broke apart, Jamie took the time to slide the ring on her finger. “God, I love you,” she whispered, pulling him in for another kiss.

They were interrupted by the sounds of pots and pans banging together accompanied by a cacophony of cheers pouring out of Lallybroch. Claire turned, expecting to see Ian and Jenny. She was shocked to find all of their friends standing behind the Murrays, all cheering for the two of them. Claire looked over at Jamie, completely shocked. “What on earth? How are they all here?”

Jamie grinned. “I’ve been planning this for a bit now,” he admitted.

The two of them walked closer to the group waiting for them on the stairs. It was at that moment that Claire noticed Joe and Gayle among the group. “You two are even here?” she cried.

They bore matching smiles as they nodded. “Jamie asked me back in Boston,” Joe told her. “When he said what he was planning, we couldn’t miss it.”

Claire stared at all of them, truly touched by all the secrets they’d kept and all the planning that had gone into such a special moment. To have all of their friends there made it even better.

“You’re engaged!” Louise cried, wrapping Claire in a hug.

Geillis hugged the both of them, rubbing a hand up and down Claire’s back. “I’m so happy for the both of ye,” she said, also looking over at Jamie.

“Claire, I have to ask,” John started, “did you see it coming?”

Claire separated from Louise and looked at John. “Honestly, not at all.” She grinned, wrapping an arm around Jamie’s waist. “I guess it’s to Jamie’s credit that he’s sappy and sentimental all the time. I wasn’t suspicious by him wanting to take a walk down memory lane.”

Jamie laughed, placing a kiss on her temple.

“Congratulations, ye two,” Jenny cheered as they walked toward the stairs. “There’s a bit more waiting inside, so perhaps we should all go in.” The group turned to go back in the house. Jenny pulled Claire from Jamie’s embrace, giving her a hug of her own. “I’m sorry I yelled at ye earlier. Twas all part of Jamie’s plan to get ye out of the house.”

Claire laughed, hugging Jenny tighter. “I knew something was off with you! Now it all makes sense! If you yelled at me like that in front of Jamie, he’d normally tell you off for it.”

Jenny laughed, wrapping a hand around Claire’s shoulder as they moved into the house. “Aye, usually he would. Except when it’s his idea.”

Jenny led her into the living room where Jamie was grinning broadly at her. She looked past him and noticed the multitude of decorations strung across the room. Her jaw dropped as she took it all in. There were pictures of her and Jamie all hanging in the room. The biggest one was placed on the mantle. It was a blown up version of the picture of their childhood fake wedding. Claire burst out laughing, walking over to look at it closer.

Ian pressed a glass of champagne in her hand. “That’s there to remind ye that this is no’ yer first wedding to Jamie,” he said with a grin.

Claire laughed harder, hugging Ian. She turned and faced the room. “I truly can’t believe this. I can’t believe that you’re all here. I can’t believe you all apparently kept this very large secret from me for a long time.” They all laughed. Jamie walked over and stood next to her. Her next comment was just for him. “And I can’t believe I get to marry my best friend.” He leaned his forehead against hers, sharing a sweet moment.

“I thought you were marrying Jamie,” John interrupted, “not me.”

“I’m sorry, but are ye saying ye think ye’re Claire’s best friend?” Geillis asked. “I’m afraid that post has been filled since her first year of uni.”

“Yeah, by me!” Louise interjected, her hand raised.

“Oh boy,” Claire sighed.

“Picking your maid of honor is going to be really fun,” Hector commented before taking a sip of his champagne. The others laughed.

“Tis a good thing Jamie already kens who his best man is,” Rupert stated, winking at Jamie.

Jamie looked nervously at Claire before he faked a smile for Rupert. “Sure I do,” he lied. Claire didn’t miss Ian’s glare at Rupert.

Jamie leaned in, whispering to Claire. “Perhaps we should elope.”

Claire laughed. “Ooh, or perhaps we should just go with outsiders. Strangers. That would really throw them all off.”

Jamie laughed, holding her closer. “I like the way ye think.”

Thankfully the conversation shifted as everyone started eating and celebrating Jamie and Claire’s engagement. They sat around telling their favorite stories from before and after they’d become a couple. Jenny and Ian had particularly funny stories about them as children. Claire felt so surrounded by love and friendship and was truly amazed by it.

“I just feel the need to state, for the record, that I called this from the first night,” Louise exclaimed for the room. “I called it!”

“No you didn’t,” Claire scoffed. “You just accused me of falling for Jamie.”

“I was there,” Joe said, “and Claire’s right. That was what you said.”

“Okay, then I called that you’d fall for Jamie,” Louise corrected.

“Well then you should have put that on the record a full year ago, Louise,” Willie pointed out. “Tis no good now.”

“Aye, we already all ken that Claire obviously fell for Jamie. Yer news isna groundbreaking,” Angus agreed.

Louise rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

“I think we all saw this coming, Louise,” John stated. “Anyone with eyes, really.”

“Okay, we can stop now,” Jamie said before taking a sip of his champagne.

In true fashion, their friends carried on well past when they should have. But nothing could dampen the pure joy between Jamie and Claire. Even if they’d already known it in their hearts, their futures were now officially with the other. Claire wiggled her ring finger, watching the ring sparkle in the light. She looked up to see that Jamie had caught her doing so, an appreciative smile on his face. “I love you,” she whispered just so he could hear.

Jamie leaned in close enough to kiss her. “I love ye, too,” he whispered against her lips before sealing them.

As their friends started to leave, they left one last surprise for the couple. “Really, this is more a gift for Jenny and Ian,” Rupert explained, “but tis a gift for the both of ye as well.” John handed them a key.

“What’s this?” Jamie asked.

“We got ye a room,” Geillis explained.

“Yeah, there’s this sweet bed and breakfast in the village,” Louise told them. “You’ll be staying there.”

Jamie and Claire exchanged similar touched looks before glancing back to their friends. “That’s so thoughtful. Ye truly didna have to do that.”

“Well, like I said, tis more a gift for Jenny and Ian,” Rupert repeated with a wink.

Claire wrinkled her nose at him. Though she couldn’t deny that in the hours since Jamie’d proposed, she’d silently lamented that they were staying in a house with five children and two other adults.

Their group parted, congratulating them again, promising to celebrate again in London.

It wasn’t too much later, but not soon enough, that Claire and Jamie were walking into the bed and breakfast where their friends had gotten them a room. “It was such a nice thought to have them all there,” Claire mused, noting Jamie’s planning. Jamie looked over at her and grinned as they walked up the stairs. “I can’t believe Joe and Gayle came all the way here for it.”

“Joe said they wouldna miss it. But they also are going to be spending the rest of the week on vacation here in Scotland. It wasna just for the weekend,” Jamie informed her. “I gave them a list of places to see.”

“Oh good,” Claire replied. “Coming all the way here for a weekend would have just been insane.”

“Oh aye,” Jamie murmured, pausing his steps as he found their room. “Are ye ready, Dr. future Mrs. Fraser?”

Claire laughed loudly. “Just going to blend all the titles in there, hmm?”

“Yes, that’s what I was thinking.”

He opened the door, motioning for her to go first. Jamie had barely gotten in the room when Claire met him in a heated embrace, pushing him back against the door, closing it with their bodies. One of her legs was already wrapped around his hip as they kissed sinfully, their hands everywhere on the other. Before they even left the door, both of them started relieving the other of their clothes. Jamie’s kisses, like his hands, were everywhere. Claire moaned under his attentions. They were too far from the bed. She tried to direct them that way. Jamie’s hands slid down her back and under her arse as he bent to pick her up, meeting her for another long kiss.

Claire broke away from him before he could lay her on the bed, looking down at him earnestly. “I am so excited to spend the rest of my life with you,” she breathed. “I love you so much.”

Jamie’s mouth flicked up into a grin as he laid her down on the bed, quickly climbing over her. “I love ye, too, mo nighean donn . So much.” He began kissing his way down her body, stopping in the places he knew she enjoyed. “Ye’re going to be my wife,” he said into her neck. “How did I get so lucky?”

Claire wrapped her arms and legs around him, moving to flip them over on the bed. “We’re both lucky, my dear. Also, I believe you promised earlier that I’d get to be on top,” she reminded him with a sultry grin before she bent down to close the distance between them.

He clutched her closer to him, their hips grinding against each other before she finally reached down and guided him inside her. She cried out, her head bent back. They moved together, rocking, grinding, sliding against the other. Jamie’s hands squeezed her hips so tightly, she was sure she’d have bruises in the morning. She couldn’t find the energy to care about it when he was still thrusting into her madly.

“Sassenach,” he called out, “give me yer mouth.”

She followed his request, laying herself against him, meeting him for a long, languid kiss as they continued to race closer to their climax.

They laid spent next to each other, still basking in the afterglow of their private celebration. Jamie’s arms held her against him, his fingers running up and down her arm.

Claire held her hand up in the air as they both looked at her left hand and it’s new addition. “You know it’s got a good ring to it.”

Jamie kissed the side of her head. “What does?”

Claire looked back at him, an excited smile on her face. “Claire Fraser.”

Chapter Text

Claire sat on the picnic blanket, stroking her large belly. She could hear high pitched giggles carrying through the air as her husband and their child approached the picnic site. “Mama!” Claire looked over to see her second child hanging off Jamie’s shoulders, his arms keeping her from falling. 

“Couldn’t find Ellen?” Claire asked, reaching her arms out for her child. Jamie handed her over before sitting down next to Claire. 

“She ran off wi’ Young Ian,” Jamie explained. “Jenny went to find her and send her up this way.” 

“You think she knows it well enough?” Claire asked, her eyes scanning the field. 

“Aye. She spends plenty of time here,” Jamie reminded her. “Plus, she and Ian have wandered everywhere together. I’m sure she knows this land better than we did at her age.” 

Claire grinned. “I don’t know about that. I was talking about the cave the other day and she had no idea it existed. It was probably a bad idea to mention it.” 

“Mama, I wanna eat,” Lucy cried, curling in closer to her mother. 

Claire leaned down and planted a kiss on the small girl’s head. “Soon, sweetheart. We’re waiting on your sister.” 

Lucy sighed dramatically. “I dinna want to wait.” 

Claire glanced over at Jamie as they shared a look. A jolt to her stomach made Claire gasp. She laid a hand over the spot that had just been kicked rather violently. “Goodness,” she sighed. Jamie scooted closer and ran a hand along her stomach, leaning down to kiss it. “Don’t get too close. He might kick you too.” 

Jamie laughed, leaning back as he picked up Lucy and held her in his lap. “I’ll leave that privilege to ye, Sassenach,” he said with a grin. 

“Of course you will.” 

“Do ye need me to have a stern talk wi’ the lad?” Jamie asked. He leaned down, his head resting on her stomach. “Now ye listen to me, Henry Brian Fraser, ye’re no’ to be using yer mam like a human football. She willna thank ye verra much for it. And then I’ll have to be doing all the changings when ye’re out.” 

Claire rolled her eyes. “On second thought, stay there. Let your son kick you.” She smacked his arm as he sat up. 

The sound of quickly approaching feet grabbed both their attention as they saw their five year old daughter running toward them. “Ellen, nice of ye to join us,” Jamie remarked, raising an eyebrow at her. 

“I’m sorry,” she said, looking down. “Ian and I were having an adventure.” 

“Of course you were,” Claire commented as she moved to finally spread out the food. “We did tell you though that we’d be going on our Fraser family picnic at a certain time though.” 

“I know. I’m sorry,” Ellen said, settling down next to Claire. 

“Yer sister’s getting verra hungry,” Jamie informed her. 

“El’s here. I wanna eat!” Lucy yelled this time. 

“Yes, ma’am,” Claire responded, handing Jamie the container with Lucy’s lunch. 

They sat there and had their picnic, fulfilling the little tradition they’d started just over five years before, right before Ellen was born. Jamie had convinced Claire they should go back to Scotland one last time before she had the baby. Even though travel had been anything but enjoyable, she agreed because she truly loved being back in Scotland. And Jenny’s knowledge and advice was a comfort as Claire went through her first pregnancy. About two months before Lucy was born, Jamie had suggested they make it a tradition. This pregnancy, they didn’t even need to address it. They’d both decided it would happen again. Traveling with their children was never easy either, but they found themselves back in Scotland much more often as their family grew. 

Jamie and Claire had been married at Lallybroch in a small but beautiful ceremony. They didn’t need much more than the quiet simplicity with their friend group and Jamie’s family. Their married life hadn’t changed much from when they’d moved in together, but they were still blissfully happy. 

The biggest change had come when Claire got pregnant. 

“We have to be clever,” Claire reminded Jamie. “They’re going to know something’s up if I’m not drinking.” 

Jamie sighed. “I know, Sassenach. Ye’ve mentioned this ten times.” Claire turned and glared at him. 

“I’m sorry, perhaps the energy from growing your child wiped it from my mind,” she retorted. “Look, I don’t want to steal the focus from Rupert and Hannah tonight. So we just need to be sneaky. It’s too early to tell them anyway.” 

“The doctor said ye’re having a very healthy pregnancy. Surely it would be fine if they found out,” Jamie reasoned. 

“Why jinx it?” 

Jamie nodded with a shrug as he followed Claire into the private room of a restaurant where they were meeting the rest of their friends. 

It was only two years after Jamie and Claire had been married. Rupert had met Hannah at a work party Jamie and Louise had decided to throw. Sparks had immediately flown and they’d just gotten engaged. The group was all getting together for a small engagement dinner at the couple’s favorite restaurant. 

Everyone gathered in a circle, drinks raised in the air. Claire tried to be nonchalant about her water she was toasting with. Rupert was starting to speak when his eyes locked on Claire’s glass. 

“Claire? Do ye only have water? Ye canna just toast wi’ water,” he pointed out. 

Everyone turned to look at her. The hand of Jamie’s that was resting on her waist tensed slightly. “Uh, no, it’s vodka,” Claire lied. 

“You’re drinking a full glass of vodka?” John asked, his brow furrowed. “Doubtful.” 

“Who cares what I’m drinking? Let’s just toast!” Claire exclaimed, trying to throw off the attention. 

“Claire, honey,” Louise began, turning from the happy couple to watch Claire. “Is there a reason you’re drinking water?” 

Claire sighed. “Just trying to cut back a bit,” she tried. “You know, we really do drink a lot.” 

“We havena been out in weeks,” Willie stated. 

“Aye, especially ye and Jamie,” Angus said as he narrowed his eyes at them. 

“Could it be…” Geillis asked. 

“Could it be that it’s Rupert and Hannah’s big night and we’re supposed to be toasting them? Yes, indeed,” Claire said, still trying to avert attention. 

“Hannah, give me yer ring,” Rupert said. Hannah laughed as she took it off and placed it on his palm. “There, tis like we’re no’ engaged. Now, Claire, tell us.” He took a long pause. “Are ye pregnant?” 

She still couldn’t admit it. “What makes you think I’m pregnant? Just because of the water?” 

“That and yer boobs are huge,” Geillis remarked. 

“Aye, they are, aren’t they?” Jamie said with a grin. 

“Jamie!” Claire scolded, slapping his arm. 

“Sorry.” 

Hannah met Claire’s gaze. “Claire, don’t worry about stealing our spotlight. Are you pregnant?” 

Claire took one look at Jamie and he gave her a look that said “Up to you.” She shrugged and took a deep breath. “I am,” she admitted quietly. 

The whole group burst out in cheers and yells, clearly very excited for the both of them. Jamie and Claire were met with hugs and claps on the back as their friends joined in their formerly private celebration. 

“I canna believe ye’re pregnant,” Geillis said, tears in her eyes. “This is incredible!” 

“Well done, lad,” Rupert said to Jamie with a wink. Jamie laughed but Claire glared at Rupert. 

“This is amazing news!” Hector joined in. 

“Your baby just needs to know that I was your child first,” John reminded them. The whole group burst out in laughter at that. 

“Well thank you all,” Claire said, wrapping her arm around Jamie’s waist. “Now, Rupert give Hannah back that ring so we can celebrate your big news instead of ours.” 

They smiled as Rupert slid the ring back on her finger and the group resumed toasting the newly engaged couple. As they sat around the table eating dinner and unhelpfully making suggestions for the future wedding, Rupert set his sights on John and Hector. 

“So lads, when will it be yer turn?” Rupert asked, one brow raised. 

John rolled his eyes before he placed his hand over Hector’s on the table. “We’re taking our time. What’s the rush?” 

Claire had been largely pregnant (and indignant about it) at Rupert and Hannah’s wedding. It had been rather the opposite of Jamie and Claire’s wedding. The whole thing was large and boisterous, but also fun. Claire and Jamie made sure to avoid Dougal Mackenzie as best they could. A lot of Jamie’s cousins he didn’t speak with much were there. Claire picked up on some of their comments on not being invited to Jamie’s wedding. Neither of them had any regrets though. 

When Ellen was eighteen months old, John and Hector finally got engaged. They had a long engagement and by the time their wedding day arrived, Claire was pregnant with Lucy. 

Claire appreciated the sight of Jamie standing up at the altar. It had been since their own wedding that she’d been afforded such a view. She couldn’t help but notice how handsome he looked in his tux. Claire bent down as best she could to whisper to Ellen. “Okay, darling, you see Da up there? All you have to do is walk up to him. If you drop some flowers on the ground on the way there, even better.” John laughed as he stood next to Claire. “Think you can do it?” 

Ellen looked up, a bit unsure. The little girl looked down the aisle to her father who was nodding and gesturing for her to walk to him. Suddenly she straightened up and set back her shoulders and walked slowly and calmly down the aisle, dropping petals one at a time. Claire laughed and shook her head as she watched her daughter walk from her to Jamie. 

“I want to take a moment to say thank you, Claire,” John whispered to her. 

Claire looked over at John in confusion. “Whatever for?” 

“For all you’ve done for me and Hector. For all you’ve done for me in general,” John explained. 

“And yet you still chose Jamie as your best man,” Claire reminded him. “What happened to us Sassenachs sticking together?” 

John chuckled. “You know it had to be Jamie.” 

She grinned, nudging him with her shoulder. “I know.” 

“But I couldn’t walk down the aisle without my mother,” John said, extending his arm to her. Claire smiled brightly as she linked her arm through his. “Seriously though, you’re a wonderful person, Claire. You’ve brought so much joy to my life just by being my friend.” 

“Dear God, John. At least pretend you’re British,” Claire remarked, trying to hold in tears. “You can’t say these things to a pregnant lady.” 

“If it weren’t for you and Jamie, I don’t think I’d even be with Hector, so thank you,” John continued. “You both did so much for me after...after the attack. I don’t think most relationships would have survived something like that on the first date.” 

“I think that speaks more to you and Hector than it does to Jamie and I helping you,” Claire admitted. 

“Perhaps. But you pushed me to take care of myself and helped me while I was trying to do so. You both did. You guys changed my life,” John said, leaning in to kiss Claire’s cheek, “And I’ll be forever grateful.” 

Tears were starting to spill from Claire’s eyes. “Well what kind of parents would we be if we didn’t do so?” she teased. The music changed, signaling their time to walk down the aisle. She squeezed his arm. “But in all seriousness, we love you. Both of you.” 

John smiled brightly as he started walking with her. “The feeling is mutual.” 

“I will say, I’m a bit mad that you followed Rupert’s lead and got married while I was largely pregnant,” Claire remarked. 

“Well maybe you should keep your legs closed for a bit,” John joked. 

Claire smacked his arm lightly, stifling a laugh as they processed down the aisle.

On their walk back to the house after their picnic, Lucy fell asleep in Jamie’s arms. Claire could tell that Ellen was getting tired too, but she would surely fight a nap. She often tried to tell her parents that she was too old to nap. Claire craved some rest herself. 

Jamie quietly walked up to the room Lucy and Ellen were sharing and tucked Lucy in. Ellen had found Ian and Caitlin in the kitchen and was trying to rally so she could spend time with them. Claire shrugged, deciding to let Ellen do what she wanted. She turned and laid down on the couch, needing some rest herself. 

She didn’t end up getting much before Jamie found her. “Are ye up to go look at something wi’ me, mo nighean donn ?” Jamie asked. 

Claire groaned. “What are we looking at?” she asked, not opening her eyes. “Your son is draining my energy.” 

“Tis a surprise, I’m afraid,” Jamie said with a small grin. 

“You’re trying to get me to go somewhere with you and you won’t say where?” Claire asked. “If I weren’t eight months pregnant, I’d think this was an excuse for a romp somewhere. But I think you know that’s not happening.” 

Jamie laughed, kneeling down next to the couch. “Nah, no’ that, sadly.” He laid his hand high up on her thigh. “Though ye ken there are other ways of finding some pleasure,” he reminded her as he waggled his eyebrows and moved his hand up higher. 

Claire slapped at his hand as she laughed. “Jamie, your sister is in the next room. Not to mention our daughter.” 

He chuckled, moving his hand instead to rest on her stomach as he kissed her gently. “No’ to worry, I ken our potential audience.” He jumped up, extending an arm to her. “Will ye join me? We can take the car.” 

“It’s that far away?” Claire asked. 

“Tis further than ye’d want to walk.” 

She shook her head with a sigh and smacked her hand into his. 

They stood in front of her parents’ old house, still in surprisingly good shape. “You know you’ve brought me here before, right?” 

“Aye, I ken that,” Jamie said, still looking up at the house. He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet. “But there’s something ye dinna ken about the place.” 

“What’s that?” 

“Tis for sale,” Jamie told her, turning to meet her gaze. “And...I put an offer on it.” 

“I’m sorry, what?” Claire said, looking between him and the house. 

“I ken I should have mentioned something earlier, but I had to jump on it. When I was up in Glasgow for work last month, I saw the sign as I was driving to Lallybroch. I stopped, stared at it for a long time, and then I called them and asked to see the place,” Jamie confessed. 

“You did this all without telling me?” Claire asked him. 

“Yes, and I ken that was wrong. We should decide things together. But I havena officially purchased it. Tis still just an offer,” Jamie rushed to say. “I want yer final decision before I sign anything.” 

“Look, obviously this house means a lot to me,” Claire admitted, “but it’s in Scotland. I know we’re doing pretty well, but not ‘have two residences’ well.” 

“I ken that too, but we’ve also talked about moving out of London,” Jamie reminded her. “Wi’ the girls and now the new bairn, it would be a good time for it.” 

“And so you think we should move back up here?” Claire asked. 

“We’ve talked about it.” 

“I know we have. But we never came to a decision.” Claire sighed. Her heart yearned to go back in and walk the halls she used to walk with her parents. “So we have an offer on this?” 

“Aye, they’ve actually accepted it,” Jamie told her. “But I said I had to talk it over wi’ my wife before I signed anything.” He watched her as she stared at the house. “Living in London is no’ what it was when we reunited there. Rupert, Hannah, and Angus all live in Edinburgh.” 

“Yeah.” 

“Louise took that job in Paris.” 

“She did.” 

“Geillis would probably follow us as an excuse to go back to Scotland,” Jamie argued. 

Claire laughed. “You’re right, she probably would.” 

“That really only leaves Willie, John, and Hector. And you know Willie has one foot out the door.” 

“Yeah, I think he does,” Claire agreed with a sigh. 

“Our days of spending the weekends closing down a pub wi’ our friends have been over for a while now,” Jamie admitted. “And we pay quite a lot on our home. The city is a grand place, but tis no’ like here. We were both raised here and enjoyed it, aye?” 

Claire finally took her eyes off the house and looked over at Jamie. “Aye.” She smiled, moving to tuck herself into his side. “Yes, we certainly did.” She shook her head as she weighed all his arguments. “As much as I love London and will always love London, it would be nice to be closer to the family. And to have more space for the kids to be kids.” 

“Aye, that’s just what I was thinking as well.” 

“The group has dispersed so it’s not like we’d be staying for them. And we should be thinking of our family before them anyway,” Claire reasoned. “And Ellen definitely loves it up here. I don’t think she’d have any issues with the move.” 

Jamie smiled, thinking of how naturally his daughter had taken to the land. It brought him such joy to see her tear across the same fields he’d done so. “We always talked about leaving the city someday , but when I saw this was becoming available, it seemed like a sign.” 

Claire let out a deep breath, running a hand absentmindedly over her stomach. “I could see that.” She turned to look at Jamie. “But what about our jobs?” 

“I could get transferred up here,” Jamie informed her. “I spoke wi’ my boss and it would be an easy process. There’s the office in Glasgow, as ye ken. That would be an easy commute. Plus, there would be a hospital in Glasgow I’m sure that would want ye. Ye’re a fantastic doctor.” 

Claire rolled her eyes. “Laying it on a bit thick. Feeling guilty for doing all this behind my back?” 

“A bit. I want ye to be on board, but I willna push ye toward something ye dinna want to do,” Jamie assured her. “Whatever we both want for our family is the most important. I can take back the offer on this and we can find something outside London if ye’d rather.” 

Claire was silent for a long time as she thought through each aspect of Jamie’s plan. The fact that it was her parents’ old home, the last place she’d had a family before her children came along did make it feel like a sign. London had linked her to Uncle Lamb and when he’d passed, that was what she needed. That was what had felt like home. But now that she was a mother, she craved the idea of a link to her parents again. The idea that her children could grow up and play in the same place that their parents and aunt and uncles did gave her a ridiculous amount of joy. Lallybroch had always brought her happiness and peace. Getting to be there regularly sounded pretty perfect. She’d just never considered the option until now. 

Claire turned around and looked at the road that led to Lallybroch. She saw the backyard where she used to play in the refurbished shed. There was the tree that was much easier to climb than the ones at Lallybroch. This place held so many sweet memories that she’d held close to her heart in the years after she left Scotland. Suddenly, with a kick from the baby, the decision became very easy. 

“Leave the offer on the table,” she said as she walked up to the front porch. Turning around, she saw Jamie’s broad grin as he strolled towards her. 

He wrapped his arms around her. “Ye mean it? Ye’re sure?” 

Claire nodded. “London was our home for a while. And we both loved it and will always love it. And we can take the kids back and show them all the wonderful parts of it. But Scotland is also our home. And it’s where we should be. I didn’t really think about it until you showed me all of this.” She felt another swift kick. Claire laughed, rubbing a hand along her belly. “And I think Henry agrees. He thinks this is our home too.” 

Jamie smiled, bending down to kiss her belly. “Smart lad.” He looked at her. “Ye’re sure?” 

Claire wrapped her arms around his neck as best she could with her large stomach between them. “Yes I am. It just feels right.” She leaned up as Jamie leaned down and met her for a kiss.

“Well then, welcome home, Claire Beauchamp Fraser,” Jamie announced, gesturing to the house. “Apparently there’s only been one family living here since ye last did. When I looked through it, there didna seem to be too much changed. It seemed just the same.” 

Claire curled into his side, staring at the house. “That sounds nice. But realistically, we’ll probably have a lot to change. You know you’ll want a nicer kitchen than the outdated one my parents had.” 

Jamie laughed, wrapping his arm around her. “We can make whatever changes ye like, a nighean .” 

Claire leaned up and kissed his cheek. “This is a terrible time to be making a big move,” she reminded him, looking down at her prominent belly. “But I can’t deny that it seems perfect.” 

They stood there for a while longer, intermittently sharing a silence and crafting plans. Soon they turned back for Lallybroch, enjoying how quickly they got there. That night, they sat down to tell the girls the news, hoping they’d be as excited as Jamie and Claire were becoming. 

Ellen was very thrilled at the prospect of being minutes away from her cousins instead of hours. Lucy didn’t seem to really know what it all meant, but was smiling nonetheless. Claire held her youngest daughter on her lap as she watched Jamie hold their eldest and share in the excitement of the upcoming move. 

Jenny and Ian were also quite thrilled at the idea of having them so close. Their children were already inseparable during their visits. They all shared the same joy at the idea of their children living out a similar happy childhood as their own. The Frasers and the Murrays must have been destined to spend their childhoods on those lands. 

It was three months later that they finally moved into the house. Wrapping up their lives in London while also welcoming a new baby and trying to pack up had been chaotic. And in that time, Claire and Jamie never gave up on trying to convince John and Hector that they should move to Scotland. 

Jamie had moved up to Scotland two weeks before the big day due to the transfer. He’d taken the girls with him and entrusted them to Jenny and Ian. Claire had finished up packing away their lives when not nursing and changing Henry. She felt capable of undergoing it all by herself, but she couldn’t deny her relief and happiness when Jamie surprised her two days before the movers were due to arrive. 

They spent their last night in the house they’d welcomed all their children. The first place that had been only theirs . They’d moved in there when Claire was expecting Ellen. It had been a happy place. Though they were excited to move back to Scotland, it was a bittersweet moment. 

It felt strange to Claire to be unpacking all her new things in her old house. She felt she’d misremembered certain things in the almost thirty years since she’d lived there. But the feeling of contentment remained. And that was all that mattered. 

The girls were discovering the shed, one Jamie had made sure was still in good condition before letting them loose in, while Henry napped. Claire was down to her last box to unpack. It had only taken a couple of weeks, which seemed like an impressive undertaking with three small children. Claire had decided to wait to look for jobs until she was ready to go back to work. And at the moment, she was enjoying the time with her children, even if that just meant unpacking while they ran around and played. Jamie walked in the door from work and Claire held the last box up victoriously. 

“We did it!” she cried, waving the box over her head. “We’re officially moved in!” 

Jamie walked over and wrapped his arms around her, meeting her for a kiss. “I believe ye beat all our other records.” 

She laughed, kissing him again. “Yes, I believe I did. I’m amazing.” 

Jamie beamed at her, a smile on his face. “I’ve always thought so.” Claire shook her head, wrapping herself tighter around him. “What’s this?” Jamie asked, spotting something over her shoulder. She turned around to see him looking at the housewarming gift Jenny had dropped off earlier in the day. 

“It’s from Jenny.” 

Jamie smiled as he stared at it, wonderful memories clearly coming to mind. It was a frame that held two pictures. The first was the picture Claire had found when she’d moved to London of Jamie and Claire sitting on the fence as children. The second was the picture Jenny had insisted they take sitting on the same fence, their three children with them. 

“Tis perfect,” Jamie commented, seeming a bit choked up. 

“It is.” Claire hugged him tighter before Henry started waking, drawing her attention. She brought the baby back over, holding him between them. 

Jamie bent down to kiss his son’s head. He then kissed Claire’s forehead. “We’ll be happy here, aye?” 

The girls raced in, running past their parents for the kitchen. Claire laughed, looking around at the family they had and the life they’d built. She leaned in close to Jamie. “I think you should know by now, we’ll be happy wherever we’re together.” She kissed him softly. “You and me.” 

“And the bairns.” 

Claire laughed. “Exactly. Our family.”

Jamie leaned his forehead against hers. “Tis all we need.”