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His Prudent Heart

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The door to a two story, four bedroom house opened unceremoniously at an early hour of the morning. A tall man and two boys tall enough to be the man’s sons made their way inside the sparsely furnished home, each with two suitcases in their hands and an overstuffed backpack on their backs. 

“Weel, lads…” the man breathed, “welcome home.”

“I dinna like it, Da. No’ one bit.” One boy complained.

“Neither do I,” the other one whined, “I dinna wanna live in America. I wanna go back tae Scotland! Where we belong!”

Jamie Fraser sighed, knowing his sons would react this way. He couldn’t blame them; hell, he didn’t want to be there either. Boston, Massachusetts wasn’t where he envisioned raising a family. But then again, life hadn’t exactly been kind to them since their mother died three months prior.

Annalise de Marillac was Jamie’s beloved wife. A light he didn’t know he needed in this dark world, with her long blonde hair and striking blue eyes that envied his own. He’ll never forget the day she walked down the aisle of his hometown church to marry him. He’ll never forget the feeling of being told he was going to be a father. She bore him two beautiful boys, Fergus George Claudel Fraser and, two and a half years later, William Alexander Clarence Fraser.

And then, just as quickly as she came into his life...she was gone.

What started as a simple cold led to Annalise being prescribed cold medicine. A day later, Jamie found Annalise on the bathroom floor of their home. And she wasn’t breathing. He called 999 and the paramedics attempted to revive her, but it was too late. She was essentially dead before Jamie had found her. Jamie remembered feeling utterly helpless as he held his wife’s hand as she lay in the mortuary, cold and gone from his grasps. He remembered crying for his loss, an ugly and rather unmanly show of expression, but at the time he didn’t give a flying feck what anyone thought. He’d just lost his wife, damnit. He’s allowed to grieve!

He remembered the pain of calling Annalise’s mother to break the news. The loud, shrieking wails over the phone were enough to burst Jamie’s ear drums, restarting his own tears of sorrow. His mother in law, Camila de Marillac, wasted no time going over to her grandsons’ school to take them home early. She at least had the presence of mind to let Jamie tell them their mother was dead. Despite the rather rocky relationship he had with his mother in law, Jamie was thankful she thought things through for once. 

Jamie remembered the pain of finally telling his boys that their mother was gone. When they asked the oh-so-innocent question of “where is gone, Da?” Jamie defaulted to the Christian answer.

“Yer mam went to heaven to stay with yer grandparents and yer Uncle Willie. She...she willna be coming back, lads. I’m sae verra sorry.” He didn’t blame them for asking. Fergus was only 7 and Willie was 5. Too young to be losing their mother. 

He remembered holding his sons as the three of them cried for their loss. Jamie lost track of time as he didn’t remember crying himself to sleep that night, his boys tucked in the safety of his arms.

He remembered Annalise’s coffin being slowly lowered into the ground at the de Marillac estate in Glasgow. Him and his boys were the only ones still left after the funeral service had ended, Jamie with both his hands firmly holding each boy’s hands. They didn’t leave until the last of the flower sprays and little memorial trinkets were piled on top of the freshly replaced dirt that now held their mother, his wife.

A week after Annalise’s burial, just when Jamie thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.

And before he knew it, he was packing his and his boys’ possessions and preparing to move away from his beloved Scotland to start a new life in Boston. The weather was typically cold all year round, snow storms a common occurrence, so at least they wouldn’t have to acclimate to a different climate.

It took time, but like all healing wounds, Fraser boys slowly grew accustomed and learned to live without Annalise. Without anyone but the three of them.

Fergus and Willie were warmly welcomed and accepted into an all boys public school, which left Jamie time during the day to find a decent paying job to support them. Given the disaster that happened in Scotland, he was praying the rumors that were unfairly spread didn’t make it “across the pond,” as he often heard Americans say about his arrival.

Jamie had a vast expanse of blue collar skills that could serve a potential employer. His late father helped him build the home where Annalise birthed his sons, so he knew a fair deal about modern construction practices, carpentry and roofing. He also made good use out of his godfather Murtagh’s smithing shop in Inverness; most of the cutlery in his home were made by his own two hands. So he could get a good job as a blacksmith’s apprentice, if he so chose.

But he knew his heart lay in his love for reading and writing. His day job back home was printing Scotland’s oldest daily newspaper called “The Daily Scotsman.” He was on his way to becoming chief editor when the drama between him and his in-laws reached a boiling point.

“So you used to help run The Daily Scotsman?” the older, British business suit-clad man said to Jamie during his interview at The Rising Sun Times.

“Yes sir, fer four years,” Jamie replied, wishing he had spent a bit more on his own suit. It didn’t seem to bother the man across the desk from him. Jamie was more surprised that an Englishman was so far from home, anyway.

“Your resume is extremely impressive. We occasionally have machines that break down. You any good at fixing aging printing equipment?”

“Aye, did a fair bit o’ that for the Daily Scots. They used tae called me in on my off days if they couldna call upon their usual repairman in a timely manner.”

The man smiled at Jamie, who returned it with a sheepish grin. The man raised an eyebrow.

“Do you have children, Mr. Fraser?” He asked out of the blue. Jamie blinked.

“Aye. Two boys. Seven and five.” Jamie pulled out his cell phone and showed the man a picture of Fergus and Willie in his embrace.

“Lovely lads, they are. Ahh, fatherhood is a wonderful gift, in my humble opinion. My wife, Margie, and I have a daughter ourselves. Little Maggie will be six come December.”

“Yer daughter is blessed to have her mother, whereas my boys no longer have theirs,” was all Jamie could say without getting spiteful. The man’s eyes grew somber.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Me too, sir.”

“Widower? Or were you never married?”

“Aye, I was marrit. She died unexpectedly this past spring. It’s the reason we’re here in America, rather than Scotland. Things...just didna go as planned after her death.” Jamie was not about to flesh out the drama he had endured to a complete stranger. It was still a festering wound on his heart that was stubborn to heal, and probably would be for many years to come.

The man sighed, then stood up. “Well, your credentials are phenomenal, and I can’t rightly refuse a single father a decent job when he’s clearly cut out for it. So, Mr. Fraser. When can you start?”

Five years later, the man who’d given him the job, Will Tryon, proved to be the best boss he’d ever had. Despite being his subordinate, Jamie felt he could confide in Will when times were rough emotionally, and Maggie ended up being one of Willie’s best friends. Will treated Jamie as an equal, rather than someone beneath him. It was something Jamie cherished. Will often invited Jamie over for parties and weekend barbeques, something the boys were very fond of. They were good times. When Will unexpectedly passed away in his sleep from a heart attack, his widow offered him his job. Chief editor of The Rising Sun Times.

“I’m verra honored indeed, Mrs. Tryon,” Jamie told Margie at the gathering after Will’s funeral. “Truly.”

“Will always spoke about your talents with the highest regards, Mr. Fraser. I can’t possibly imagine anyone else doing his job.”

“Please, call me Jamie, Mrs. Tryon.” Jamie smiled, and Margie returned it.

“Then, you really ought to stop calling me ‘Mrs. Tryon’, Jamie, ” Margie giggled. Jamie’s heart lightened at the sound.

Over the next few months, and with Margie’s help, Jamie settled into being in charge of one of Boston’s most popular weekly newspapers. Fergus and Willie were both old enough to stay home alone when Jamie was forced to work longer hours. Well, forced wasn’t really the right word. Being the boss now, he could’ve technically left work whenever he wanted, and any problems that came up could be dealt with by his employees. But that just wasn’t the kind of boss Jamie was. He always made sure his employees knew that they were equals, no matter their role or pay grade. It was the same way Will operated the business. Jamie felt he was honoring his late boss’ memory.

Jamie was walking home from the office, massaging his neck and texting Willie.

<<<OMWH, laddie. Did ye get the pizza I had delivered?

>>>Aye, Da. But Fergus didna eat any.

<<<Why not?

>>>Said he was sick, no feeling well. And he’s prolly right. He’s been barfin himself silly since we got home from school today.

Jamie felt his heart seized. His boys never got sick. At least to his knowledge. If they were ever sick, Annalise always took care of them.

He suddenly felt like a brand new father with newborn bairns. Terrified that he was going to mess up. Scared that they would die in his large hands. He quickened his steps and made it home in half the time he normally does. Willie met him at the front door, the crust from a slice of pizza dangling from his mouth, and he could hear the sound of painful wretching from the top half of the house.

“Why didn’t ye text me about yer brother being ill, lad?” Jamie said sternly, taking off his scarf and coat.

“Fergus told me not to, I swear!” Willie exclaimed, clearly not about to take any blame. Jamie sighed, patted his youngest son on the head, and made his way towards the second floor. 

The sounds of puking became more pronounced with every step. Jamie quietly knocked on the bathroom door, then opened it slowly.

“Fergus, my lad,” Jamie said softly as he walked in, and his heart broke at the sight.

Fergus, his tall, braw twelve year old son, looked so tiny laying on the floor of the bathroom. His skin was a pallid sweaty mess, his eyes looked sunken in, and he hadn’t even had the strength to flush the toilet after his last puking session. Jamie took a quick peek inside, noted there was no blood, and flushed it for him. Then he sat down next to Fergus and took him into his arms as if he were his wee babe again.

A Dhia, yer burnin’ with fever, lad!” Jamie’s worried voice was enough to scare Fergus into opening his eyes. There were unspent tears in his eyes. Jamie smoothed his sweat-matted brown hair away from his face.

“M’sorry, Da...I-”

“Shh, dinna fash, a ghràidh, ” Jamie cooed. “‘Tis alright. I’ll call Margie and see if she has some medicine she can spare us. Doubt any pharmacies will be open at this hour. And I dinna see a need tae take ye tae emergency care.”

Fergus just nodded against his father’s chest and closed his eyes. Jamie could see the pulse in his neck, and it worried him at how fast it was beating.

Jamie took Fergus up into his arms and back to his room, laying him on his bed. “Ye good, lad, while I ring Margie?” Fergus just nodded and Jamie slipped out of his room.

“What can I do, Da?” Willie asked Jamie as he came back into the living room. Jamie grabbed one of the few remaining slices of the extra large supreme pizza on the kitchen table, and shoved half of it into his mouth, chewing almost angrily. “Is Fergus gonna be okay?”

Jamie swallowed his food and smiled at his son. Willie and Fergus didn’t always get along before Annalise died; it wasn’t uncommon for Jamie to break up wee brawls started by one or both brothers. But ever since their mother’s death, they learned very quickly that one day, both of their parents would be dead and gone, and all that they would have is each other. Fergus turned into the ideal big brother, always making sure his little brother was taken care of and well. And Willie, in turn, idolized Fergus and looked up to him. So if Fergus was really sick, naturally Willie worried and would want to do everything in his power to speed up his recovery.

“Aye, yer brother’s braw, just as ye are. He’ll be fine. Though, I canna remember the last time either of you got sick. I’m gonna give Margie a ring. See if she has any medicine tae spare. Go see if Fergus needs anything. If not, let him rest. He’s gonna need it.”

Willie nodded and disappeared around the corner and into his older brother’s room. When they first got to Boston, the boys shared a room, the third bedroom was used as a catch-all for all their filled moving boxes, and the fourth left completely void of life. After a while, the third room became a catch-all for Annalise’s things that Jamie was allowed to keep. Now that the boys were a bit older, they had their own rooms. And Jamie had finally had the courage to donate the rest of Annalise’s possessions to a local thrift store. The fourth room slowly acquired furniture in it to act as a guest bedroom that he didn’t think would ever be used.

Jamie munched on another slice of pizza as he pulled out his cell phone and called Margie Tryon’s house phone.

“Jamie! Everything alright? It is awful late.”

“Margie, I’m sae sorry for ringing at this hour. I wouldna if it wasna urgent.”

“Whatever is the matter?”

“Fergus has taken verra ill. Been vomiting all afternoon and evenin’, hadna been able tae hold anything down. Christ, it’s like Annalise all over again. Was wondering if ye had any medicine ye could spare me?”

“No I’m afraid I don’t, Jamie. I’m sorry. But my advice to you? Go to Dr. B’s Apothecary. It’s on 5th street, not too far from your apartment. That shop has every single remedy you can think of. I just know they’ll have something for Fergus!”

Jamie got out a slip of paper and a pen from the junk drawer in the kitchen and jotted down the address. He thanked Margie for the information and hung up. He grabbed his coat and walked down towards Fergus’ room. His heart warmed at the sight of Willie laying his head down next to Fergus’ sleeping form, as if to guard him. He tapped Willie on the shoulder and told him he wouldn’t be gone long and to keep the doors locked.

It had started to snow when Jamie left the house and walked towards the sidewalk. Margie had said Dr. B’s Apothecary was two blocks away from his place if he headed East and took 3rd Street towards Nacogdoches Lane. He kept his pocketed phone in his hand, trying to keep warm. He was starting to regret not grabbing his gloves and scarf on the way out.

When he turned onto 5th Street, he started to wonder where he’d been this whole time, because it sure as hell wasn’t Boston. Five years he and his sons had called Massachusetts home, and he’d never even heard of Dr. B’s Apothecary, let alone seen it. He had to have at least passed it up at some point. It’s on the way to Hannaford’s Supermarket, for Christ’s sake!

It didn’t matter now as Jamie needed their services more than ever before. He walked up to the antique-looking storefront and read the sign on the door.

Hours of Operation
7am to 7pm, Seven Days a Week
After Hours, Ring The Bell

Jamie huffed a sigh of relief; he was worried he was going to have to take Fergus to the emergency room if this place wasn’t available.

He pushed the silver faceplate intercom button to the right of the front door and waited for someone, anyone, to respond after the buzzing stopped.

“Dr. B’s Apothecary, please state your business,” a woman’s British voice sounded through the speaker.

“I’m in need of medicine for my son. He’s verra ill,” Jamie said, trying to sound as desperate as he felt.

A few heartbeats passed before there was a loud click and the door was unlocked from the inside.

“Come inside, I’ll be down in a moment.” The voice said.

“Thank ye,” Jamie said as he stepped inside.

And he felt like he’d stepped through a time travel portal.

The shop itself was clean and very well organized, but the shelves looked like they were built by someone’s third or fourth great grandparents. The bottles, vials, and shelf containers were all made of aging, slightly discolored glass. The labels on them were worn, but looked like they were recently relabeled as pretty, calligraphic handwriting identified the holder’s contents. The only sign of 21st century life was the brand new cash register at the center counter, which was all latest-tech tablets and a Square credit card chip reader and mini-tablet screen keypad for entering one’s card PIN.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” the same voice sounded from behind Jamie as he took in the sights. But when he turned around, he was certain he was going to need a doctor to resuscitate him as the universe’s supply of oxygen evaporated around him in an instant.

The woman wasn’t very tall, but had a very flattering figure, almost hourglass like. Her wild brown curls embraced her face like a warm hug, some of them were still damp from a recent bath or shower. She wore a T-shirt with the business’ logo across generously supple breasts, and she wasn’t wearing a bra underneath it, Jamie could tell while trying not to stare. Her pajamas bottoms were well worn and had navy blue and white stripes. And, to Jamie’s amusement, she wore bright pink bunny slippers. And she had a British accent.

“Sir?” the woman called out to him.

“Aye, sorry,” Jamie felt his ears turning pink. “I, erh, I was told by a friend of the family tae come up here fer some wee medicine fer my boy. He’s verra ill.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” the woman condolled, “what’s wrong with him?”

“Vomiting, fever, hasna been able tae eat all afternoon and evenin’. Even turned down his favorite pizza.”

“Any diarrhea at all? Blood in his vomit?”

“Dinna ken about diarrhea, but no blood tae speak of. Verified myself tonight.”

“Okay,” the woman smiled slightly, and it lit Jamie’s veins afire. She walked behind the counter and Jamie followed. “I have just the thing.”

She pulled out a small vial from one of the shelves in front of the register counter and handed it to Jamie.

“Mix a few drops of this with some hot tea and make your son drink the tea twice a day, preferably morning and night. It has an antiemesis compound to it, so it should relieve his vomiting almost immediately. It also has a natural fever reducer in it, so his fever will get better. It’s very potent, so only 2-3 drops for an 8 ounce cup of tea. Broth can be used too, which will not only keep him from going hungry, but hydrate him as well. Replace lost electrolytes.”

Jamie took the vial from her hand and his fingers brushed her skin. He wasn’t sure if it was his nerves or what, but he was sure he felt his own skin become super charged with blazing hot emotions. He felt silly for thinking such a thing when his son was gravely ill at home, but it couldn’t be ignored.

“Thank ye, milady. How much is it?” Jamie proceeded to pull out his wallet. But the woman shook her head.

“I can start a small tab for you so there’s no need to pay me right now. My computer system is already shut down for the night, and your son would be suffering unnecessarily if we waited for the bloody thing to boot up for a small transaction. Let me get your name, address and phone number and I’ll send you a bill. Sound fair?”

Jamie smiled. “Aye.”

The woman grabbed a pad of paper, pen and removed the cap from it, replacing it on its end. “What’s your name, sir?”

“Jamie Fraser. I’d tell ye my full name, but it’d make yer heid spin.”

“I bet, considering the Scots loved to give their children at least six or seven names.”

Jamie laughed. “Weel, only four fer me.”

“Yeah? And what would those four names be, Mr. Fraser.”

Jamie smirked and spoke slowly, as if the woman was inebriated. “James. Alexander. Malcolm. MacKenzie. Fraser.”

The woman wrote it down in full with an amused look. “Well, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, my name is Dr. Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. A pleasure.”

She held out her hand for him to shake, which he did, and the same electric spark filled his senses again.

“That explains the ‘B’ in ‘Dr. B’, I’m guessin’.”

“That it does.”

“Well. Thank ye, Sassenach. Truly.” Claire nodded as he made his way towards the door. He stepped outside, brought his coat closer to his core, and started walking home.

Thoughts of Dr. Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp would follow him into his dreams for the next three days.

 

Chapter Text

Claire Beauchamp didn’t need much in her life to be happy. Tonight, for example, she was perfectly content with being in just her underwear and a loose fitting t-shirt, curled up on her studio flat’s couch with a warm blanket, a big bowl of chocolate ice cream, and the guilty-pleasure soap dramas she’d been meaning to catch up on after a long day’s work. Thank God for streaming services, right?

The last two weeks had been the pantomime of a dervish tearing through her life. Business had picked up to the point where she was barely keeping up with the demand, and was giving serious consideration to hiring an assistant. She’d never considering it before because for one thing, business just wasn’t enough to justify the cost of employing someone else. She barely made a salary herself. And for another, she didn’t trust anyone enough to do what she did best. Did that make her presumptuous? Probably. But she worked hard to get to where she was today, and she wasn’t about to apologize for it. Given all the turmoil in her life...

Despite her increasing the shop’s operating hours to reflect the growing influx of customers and making it so someone could seek assistance no matter the hour (hence the newly installed intercom system just beside the door) she almost felt like she was being stretched to her limits. By the time she closed the shop at night, she had little more than enough time to shower, eat, then immediately go to bed, just to do it all over again the next day. With how tired she’d become working so much, hiring someone to come in and at least work the cash register didn’t seem like a bad idea. Her sales were in the black, so she could afford it. Right?

Tonight though, the universe handed her a solid. Business was slow enough today for her to catch up on counting much-needed inventory and actually enjoying her dinner. Which might have been just leftover meatball spaghetti from the night before, but she made it herself without burning her livelihood to the ground and she was proud of it, thank you very much. And now, situated in front of the telly, delicious dessert in hand, she was about to see whether or not Chauncey would finally pluck up his courage to ask Gina to marry him, ruin his life by marrying the annoying Lizzette just to ease tensions with a rival gang family on her favorite soap “A Very British Mob Family.” She was thankful that she’d purchased a smart TV and added a UK based streaming service to her streaming app lineup. Now she could keep up with all the shows she used to watch religiously in England.

“Oh c’mon, Chauncey!” Claire screamed at her television, thankful she didn’t have any neighbors. “Can’t you see she doesn’t love you?! She only cares about the money you’ve invested in that stupid Scottish rugby team! That’s not love, you blundering prat! MARRY GINA!”

It was moments like this where Claire truly enjoyed life. But watching this show, she reflected just how tragic and messed up her own life was. Orphaned at five, raised by her archeologist uncle all over the globe, losing him at eighteen, becoming a prestigious doctor only to have her reputation ruined by a man whom she thought truly loved her, just to name a few low points in her life. It was no wonder she tended to get angry at her favorite fictional characters. She pushed those thoughts from her head as the episode ended with a cliffhanger. She got up to rinse her now empty ice cream bowl in the sink. She looked at the clock on the microwave. It read 11:23.

“Well,” she said to no one, “I think I can squeeze in one more episode before bed.”

She made her way to the couch, but the buzzer of the intercom system downstairs sounded and it made her jump. She’d had it installed so that, no matter where she was in the building, it would sound out loud and clear as if she was standing right next to the speaker itself. People came to her little apothecary for anything from acne remedies to potentially life-saving elixirs and medicines that hospitals and modern doctors just didn’t carry anymore. Hell, most of the doctors she’d worked with in England had probably never heard of some of the concoctions she carried in her store.

She sighed as she turned off the TV, and made her way to the speaker mounted beside the door to her room. She had one in her room, one in the living room beside her front door, and one by the backdoor of the shop’s stock room.

She tried to sound professional as she spoke into the mic. “Dr. B’s Apothecary, please state your business.”

The voice that came through the speaker sounded frightened, desperate even, and very Scottish. That had her attention.

“I’m in need of medicine for my son. He’s verra ill.”

She pressed a button underneath her kitchen sink that unlocked, or locked depending on the security circumstances, the front door to the shop. 

“Come inside. I’ll be down in a moment.”

She ran towards her bedroom real quick and threw on a pair of worn pajamas and her bushy pink bunny slippers. Shut up, they’re her favorite and they’re comfortable. It’s why she never replaced them with a more modern, grown up pair of loafers, or whatever. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, okay? She changed out of the t-shirt that could’ve left much to the imagination and opted for one of her older shirts that displayed the shop logo, the tee fitting her form like a well mannered glove. She forewent a bra for this transaction; if this man was here for his son and was as sick as he claimed, he wouldn’t care one way or another if he could see her breasts through her shirt. Poor man’s wife was probably at home with said sick child.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, I-”

She didn’t really know what to expect when the buzzer went off, but when she finally made it downstairs to the main store floor, her world inverted on itself, the gravitational pull was eliminated from the atmosphere, and her breath hitched inside her chest.

The man was tall. Had to be at least a foot taller than herself, just from her position from the backdoor. The amount of red hair that flowed beyond the nape of his neck and down to his shoulders should be considered illegal, given how good it looked on him. The glow of the older, yellowish lighting of the shop gave it a most fiery shine. In that same light, she could see bright blue eyes, whose spark was only diminished by the circumstances surrounding his son. Those same eyes had a slight slant to them, and they only accented his facial structure beautifully. She snapped her attention back to the task at hand; stop swooning over a fucking stranger, Beauchamp!

But the man had a glazed over expression on his face as he looked her up and down. She swallowed nervously. “Sir?”

He apologized for his spacing out and she began asking questions about his son’s ailments after he’d told her of the family friend’s referral. She’d make sure to send said person a coupon on a future purchase.

It was immediately clear to her that his son had the drastic stomach flu that had been going around the school system; it was part of the reason why business had picked up so suddenly. But, if she remembered her inventory count, she knew she still had a vial or two of her own cure-all creation. She had all the ingredients to make more if this small, localized epidemic continued to make its way to every school-aged child in Boston.

As she was grabbing the vial, she remembered something that made her groan internally. Her cash register system had already shut down for the night. And, despite it being brand new and state-of-the-art in point of sales systems, she knew it would take time to boot up. Time this man most likely didn’t have. She gave the man instructions on how to administer the elixir. He was about to grab his wallet from his pocket and pay for the item, but given said computer system was taking its nightly snooze, she just offered to start a tab in his name.

They bantered back and forth about their respective names, and she took down his address and phone number. She handed him the medicinal concoction, and she could’ve sworn she felt a stir of energy in the air around them. Did he feel that too? She was certain it was just her being sleep deprived, feeling things that were not real. But one thing was real: the tan line where a wedding ring would reside.

Not married, she gathered, and she quickly ignored the awareness of relief washing over her. Not now, Beauchamp, his friggin’ kid is sick! Ugh, you’re so hopeless sometimes. 

She dismissed all the sensations she was feeling as she bid the man, Jamie, farewell and well wishes to his son.

But as she went back up the steps to her secluded studio flat, intent on finishing that one last episode before bed, she found she couldn’t concentrate. All she could think about was the single, totally unmarried father and his electrifying touch. Instead of her usual mob boss soaps, she turned on a cheesy love story movie and allowed it to lull her to sleep.

---

What a bonny lass.

Those were the words that Jamie couldn’t get out of his head as he headed home to relieve his son of his sickness. The way Margie had praised the apothecary over the phone, he knew he had no reason to doubt the shop’s ability to remedy his poor lad.

What he didn’t expect, but welcomed with his whole fatherly heart, was for Fergus to awaken the next day and demand a double helping of Jamie’s homemade strawberry pancakes. He made those every morning before the boys went to school. Normally, the boys would take three or four fluffy, fruity disks, warm and smelling like heaven, and drizzle them with butter and raspberry syrup and eat in relative silence before the bus summoned them to school. But this morning, Fergus made a positive one-eighty in recovery, and he begged his father to let him go to school, all the while eating Jamie out of house and home.

‘Tis a miracle, Jamie wondered as he looked through the window to see Fergus and Willie getting onto their school bus. He felt tears brimming at the corners of his eyes.

I need tae find a way tae thank the wee apothecary owner. She saved my son’s life.

Jamie’s heart fluttered at the thought of talking to the bonny Sassenach again. He just wasn’t sure how to go about it.

So, he let his thoughts consistently drift on about Dr. Beauchamp as he got ready for work.

Chapter Text

“Give Chelsea a teaspoon of this once at night with a snack, so it doesn’t upset her stomach. Call back in a week if things haven’t improved. I truly hope she feels better!” Claire smiled at the woman in front of her as she handed her the bottle and her receipt.

“Thank you, Claire,” the woman, Tia Webb, smiled, “I really don’t know what me and Charlie would do without you!”

“Tell Mr. Webb I said hello and good luck on his thesis class.”

“Oh I will, he’s going to need it. This year’s students are a stubborn bunch!”

Claire laughed. “Oh, I bet. Take care now, love!”

Claire watched as Tia left the shop with her remedy in hand, feeling satisfied and accomplished.

She looked at the grandfather clock against the wall directly across from the register counter. It read 6:55pm. She sighed happily, knowing it was almost closing time and her other daily duties had been completed earlier in the day. She was really looking forward to finally catching up on another one of her favorite British soap operas. “The Servants of the Light” was one of her secret guilty pleasures; she never really got into fantasy type dramas, but this one’s story was just too captivating to let go. She flipped over the sign on the shop’s door from “OPEN” to “CLOSED,” pressed a few keys on the cash register to email her a copy of the day’s sales, powered down the computer system, turned off the lights and heading to her flat.

In the back of the shop, where the inventory room was, there was a privacy lift that took her directly to the front door of her 2nd floor studio apartment. She was the only one who could use it as she had the only master key to operate it, an added security measure in the event someone broke into the shop. Of course, there was a narrow set of stairs that led to the same even more narrow hallway outside her flat, but she hated using it. Claustrophobia is a bitch. She prayed her home and business never caught fire.

Claire walked inside her flat and breathed a sigh of relief. She knew she had some leftover beef stew Mrs. Harris, the head chef of a sandwich bistro across the street, made for her the previous night. The older woman knew Claire’s inability to cook and often offered her the food not eaten by customers, if she could help it. Claire always offered to pay for it, but Mrs. Harris wouldn’t hear of such nonsense.

“Yer practically kin, mah deary! Canna have ye payin’ fer a meal I’d serve me own grand-bairns! Nae! If ye dinna put yer wee money away, I’ll cut up yer credit cards, lass!”

The woman’s Scottish lilt always put a smile on her face.

Scottish lilt.

Jamie.

Claire smacked her forehead with her palm. It had been four days since the Scottish redheaded single father came into her shop in the dead of night, begging for help on behalf of his ailing son. In the back of her mind, she had wondered how the lad was recovering. 

She popped a tupperware dish of the stew into the microwave and grabbed the cordless phone mounted beside the cabinet in her kitchen. She fished out the pad of paper that had Jamie’s info on it and dialed his number. It was just after seven so hopefully he would be home. There was a chance he was still at work, but it didn’t hurt to try.

The phone rang a few times before the voice of a boy clearly going through puberty answered in a slightly Scottish accent. 

“Hello? Fraser residence.”

“Hi, I’m trying to reach Jamie Fraser. Is he home?”

“Nay, sorry madam. This is his son Fergus. May I take a message?”

Claire beamed into the receiver. “My name is Dr. Claire Beauchamp. I’m the one who gave your father the medicine about four nights ago. I just wanted to see how-”

“Och, ‘twas ye who sold Da the wee meds!” Fergus interrupted, the cheerfulness in his voice palpable over the phone. “There were fer me. I’ve never felt better! Truly! I was retchin’ somethin’ awful ‘afore. No’ anymore! Stuff ye gave me Da was magic, it was! Havena been able tae put down the fork since! Yer a life saver, ye are! Thank ye, truly, Milady!”

Claire blushed slightly at that. She was so relieved he was feeling better. Fergus sounded like a well rounded young man. There was the sound of a throat clearing before he came back on the line.

“I can give ye Da’s work number if ye’d like tae speak tae him directly.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to impose on your father at work.”

“Dinna worrit, milady. I’m sure he’d love tae hear from ye!”

“Well...okay. If you insist.”

Fergus rattled off Jamie’s work number and thanked Claire once again for her “wee magical herbs,” then hung up. Claire felt really nervous ringing Jamie at work, but if his son insisted it was okay, who was she to argue?

The phone rang once before someone picked up.

“Fraser, how can I help ye?”

Claire’s insides melted at the sound of his voice, though she didn’t know why. Apparently, Fergus gave Claire his direct line. She didn’t know where he worked, but he sounded like someone very important.

“Uh, hi, Mr. Fraser, this is Claire Beauchamp, from-”

“Och, Dr. B! Good tae hear from ye! How are ye this bonny night?”

Claire felt her cheeks get hot again. She smiled and said, “I’m well, thank you.”

“Wait...how did ye get this number? This is my private office line. Nobody but my boys have it.”

“That’s what I was afraid of. See, I called the number you gave me and your son Fergus told me you weren’t home. He gave me your work number. I tried to tell him no, but he insisted you’d be glad to hear from me. I’m so sorry if I’m bothering you.”

“Dinna fash yerself, lass. I am glad tae hear from ye, truly. Fergus has always been a braw lad. Always says what he means and means what he says, that one.”

“I’m glad to hear he’s doing much better. He sounded so lively over the phone.”

“Wouldna been that way without yer help. By the way, I never got a bill in the mail fer the medicine. How much is it? I can give ye my credit card over the phone, take care of it.”

Claire smacked herself metaphorically. “Truth is, I completely forgot all about the bill. The medicine itself is inexpensive and easy to make. Given the recent outbreak of the stomach flu, I’ve had to keep a high stock of it premade and ready for sale. Given you’re a new customer, consider it a gift. From me to you. How does that sound?”

There was a breathy sigh over the line, and for a split second, Claire wondered if Jamie was alright.

“Thank ye, Sassenach. Truly.”

Claire’s heart skipped a beat. Sassenach. Though the word itself was intended to be an insult from the Scottish to the English, she couldn’t find a single hint of animosity or anguish in his voice. It...was it a pet name? She liked it. She liked it a lot. 

“It’s no trouble, really. The whole purpose of my shop is to help those in need. I’m happy to be of service.”

“Weel, I canna rightly let this go. Since ye won’t let me pay ye for yer wee meds, allow me to at least make ye dinner sometime. I’m sure Fergus would like tae put a face tae the woman who helped him in his time o’ need. Please.”

Claire considered it for a moment. While she didn’t feel like Jamie owed her anything, she also wasn’t one to turn down a good, free meal. Especially since she wasn’t likely to do the same in return. She momentarily reminisced all the times she’d tried, and failed, to cook her Uncle Lamb something to eat and it resulted in the fire brigade inadvertently joining them for dinner.

“Oh, I suppose I’ll allow this one time dinner arrangement,” Claire replied cheekily, hoping her facetious tone came through on the other end.

It must have because Jamie chuckled in response. “Verra well! Tomorrow night then? Say, eight o’clock? We tend tae eat dinner late.”

“Eight is perfect. I presume your address is still accurate?”

“Aye, ‘tis. See ye soon, Sassenach.” He hung up. Claire just smiled dreamily out her living room window.

---

While Claire might have forgotten about the bill she was supposed to send Jamie, the Scottish highlander never forgot about her. In his mind, it was physically impossible.

She was the most bonny lass he’d ever laid his bright blue eyes on. Even more so than Annalise, God rest her soul. He almost felt ashamed for thinking of another woman like that, but his wife was gone. Not like she could say anything against it now.

Jamie collected his things and made his way towards the main printing room.

“Geordie!” He called out, and a short, thin man with even thinner long hair appeared from behind a series of computers.

“Yes sir?”

“How’s that fish imports story coming along, lad?”

“Almost done with it, sir. Should be the first thing in the business section for the morning edition.”

“Good man. Yer doin’ a great job. Keep it up. Dinna stay too late, though. Yer wife is due any day now, aye?”

Geordie smiled. “Yes. A baby girl who’s being just a stubborn as her mother.”

Jamie smiled, remembering how it was when Annalise was pregnant with Fergus, the nerves that coursed through his veins at the prospects of first-time fatherhood.

“Yer gonna be a good Da, Geordie. Take care now.”

“Goodnight, sir.”

Jamie made one last stop at the liquor store before heading home. He usually kept a stock of good whisky at home and he knew he would need it tonight. He wished he could have invited Claire over tonight. He couldn’t describe it, but...he missed her. Which was very weird to him considering he’d only just met her.

“Lads!” Jamie called out as he walked into the house, taking his work shoes off at the door and loosening his tie. He never thought he’d get used to wearing a tie, but life has a way of being unexpected. “Fergus! Willie?”

The boys raced out of Fergus’ bedroom, practically rolled down the stairs, and tackled Jamie to the ground at its landing. They wrestled around a bit before Jamie announced it was time to get ready for dinner. He decided to take the boys out for some late night burgers. A rare treat in the Fraser household, considering they were accustomed to living off the farm lands of Lallybroch in Scotland.

They enjoyed their meals, came home and the boys got into their nightly routine before Jamie tucked them both in. Despite Fergus almost being a teenager and Willie being old enough to put himself to bed, neither of his sons could part with the nightly routine their mother had done for them as wee lads. Jamie didn’t read to them anymore, but it didn’t make their nights any less special.

Jamie decided to call it a night early with a dram at his bedside and a book in his hands. He couldn’t wait for Claire to come over and meet his sons.

---

That one time dinner affair turned into Claire coming over and hanging out with the Fraser boys almost every night. None of them could get enough of each other’s company. Claire was absolutely smitten by the boys. And the house that they lived in seemed way too large from the outside for just three people to be living in. But it was beautifully furnished and well maintained. She’d secretly hoped to have a house like this one day, with a husband and plenty of children to fill the halls with squeals of laughter and sprinkles of crayon markings on the walls. 

Fergus talked about his favorite subjects in school, social studies and science, and young Willie showed off his ever-growing toy race car collection. After a while, Claire started helping the boys out with homework. Fergus struggled with math while she remembered excelling at it, so she was happy to help. She even helped Fergus out with a school science project (which he ended up getting top marks on). Willie started begging for Claire to read to him before bed (“and no’ one of those wee bairn books, either, Milady!”) So she started with The Philosopher’s Stone. Classic Harry Potter that every child, in Claire’s opinion, should start reading at that age.

Jamie couldn’t help but look on as Claire got along with his children. There was something nagging him in the back of his mind, something familiar yet extremely foreign that he couldn’t quite grasp.

When the boys were in bed, they’d continue their newly-formed ritual of sharing a dram of whisky on the couch and get to know one another more.

But, try as they might, neither of them could help keeping certain things close to their chests. Jamie was not willing to talk about his life in Scotland, other than telling Claire where he was from and about his sister, Jenny, and her family. Claire, in turn, made no mention of what brought her to the United States, other than “needing a fresh start,” much to Jamie’s reasoning.

Claire wanted so desperately to open up to Jamie. He’d allowed her to be a guest at his home almost every night, he cooked for her and gave her a chance to get close with his sons. She felt like she owed him that much. But the last person she truly trusted with all her heart and soul betrayed her in the worst way possible.

Likewise, Jamie needed to talk about his grief over Annalise’s loss. Needed to speak out about how unfair and unjust it all was. Everything that happened to him and his sons in Scotland, the real reason he brought his boys to Boston. But more than that, without him even realizing it, he was afraid to trust his heart with another. The broken edges that beat underneath his sternum was still on the mend, despite the five years that had passed.

This went on for four months. Each time, it got harder and harder for Jamie and Claire to divulge the other in more personal details. Neither were willing to budge and offer up more. While each time Claire went home at night, starved to know more about her redheaded friend, she wasn’t willing to push if she wasn’t going to give up any new information herself.

Meanwhile, Jamie went to bed each night more or less feeling the same way. He wasn’t going to push her for more intel on herself, and he wasn’t going to give up more than he’d already said. And above all else, he was absolutely terrified of falling for her. He didn’t plan on falling for Annalise; things just happen that way sometimes. He couldn’t predict how this friendship with Claire was going to go. 

But that didn’t stop his subconscious from allowing her to invade his dreams in the best way possible.

For the first time since losing his wife, he was sleeping soundly through the night.

Chapter Text

The dreams Jamie had about Claire followed him even while awake. She was mysterious in that “you think you know me, but you only know what I allow you to” vibe and it was fairly erotic. Sure, he knew where she was from (Oxford, England) and a bit about her family (raised by an archeologist uncle; why him and not her parents?) and some of her favorite things (he had to laugh a bit at her obsession with British TV dramas, but couldn’t bring himself to mock the bright pink bunny slippers she wore the night they met) and things she absolutely detested (she keeps the socks she’ll wear for the day by her living room space heater to warm them up as wearing cold socks creeps her out; she’d put them in the microwave if she knew they wouldn’t catch fire), but those were things commonly asked about when getting to know new friends. He also knew that she was the most open-minded eater on the planet. Literally anything he could cook, she would consume and enjoy. It probably had something to do with how terrible a cook she was herself.

He’d never met anyone quite as captivating. She was beautiful; anyone with two functioning eyes and a heartbeat would see that. With her long, curly brown hair that fell just past her shoulders, those mesmerizing whisky-amber eyes that held a slight yet consistent twinkle in them whenever she was around his sons, bonny fair skin that was completely free from marks or even freckles. It was obvious she took care of herself. Weel, o’ course she does, doesna she? She’s a doctor.

Or…was a doctor. She was essentially a pharmacist now. 

That was the one thing that burned in the back of Jamie’s mind as he went about his work day over the next few days. Why exactly was she in America? What took her away from her homeland? Why come all the way across the pond just to start a new life? Why couldn’t she do that in another part of England, or perhaps Wales, Scotland or even Northern Ireland? Hell, the Republic of Ireland could have used someone with her skill set, right?

No. Something drove her so far over the edge that she had to leave the United Kingdom altogether. And Jamie wanted to know it. Mostly out of morbid curiosity, but at least he was honest with himself about it.

Nae, Jamie thought as he was reviewing one of his printer’s latest articles. I canna be wanting that information. Not when I’m no’ willing tae indulge my own reasons for comin’ tae the States.

“How’s it lookin’, boss man?” Gavin Hayes, or simply “Hayes,” as everyone called him, asked walking into Jamie’s office. He was a fellow Scot and moved to Boston after serving in the Royal Marines for six years. Good man, sturdy morals, stubborn as most Scots were. Jamie didn’t hesitate to hire him when he came looking for a job post-deployment. The sound of the man’s voice snapped Jamie out of his Claire-induced thoughts. He beamed at him.

“It’s good! Real good, Hayes. I think people need tae know more about this new West Nile epidemic coming about. The wording is grammatically, and medically, correct without confusing the everyday civilian with a load o’ medical jargon. Weel done!”

Hayes smiled at him, but then furrowed his brow. “Ye alright, Mr. Fraser?”

Jamie looked up at the man and returned his worried expression with a reassuring grin. Or at least, that was his intention. “Aye. I’m good.”

It was clear Hayes wasn’t buying it. “Tha fios agad. Faodaidh tu bruidhinn rium ma tha rudeigin ceàrr.” (You know. You can talk to me if something is wrong.)

Jamie looked up at him and he suddenly felt like he was transported back to Scotland, back to Lallybroch, where no one spoke English by choice. It was a tradition his father had started and he intended to continue it with his own children. Jamie’s expression didn’t change, but he added a hint of sternness to his tone. “Bha mi a ’ciallachadh na thuirt mi.” (I meant what I said.)

Hayes sighed. “Chan eil thu mar aon airson faireachdainn a nochdadh air d ’aghaidh. Tha e soilleir mar latha. Dè tha ceàrr? Innis dhomh.” (You’re not one to show expression on your face. It’s plain as day. What’s wrong? Tell me.)

A beat passed before Hayes added. “Aon Albannach gu fear eile.” (One Scot to another.)

He had him there. Jamie felt like any Scottish person in the United States could be his kin. There were so few of them in this country and even less in Boston as a whole. He took a deep breath. “Tha thu a ’dol a smaoineachadh gu bheil e gòrach.” (You’re going to think it’s stupid.)

Hayes just laughed and switched back to English. “Canna be any worse than my daughter tellin’ me she’s gotta wee crush on a boy at school. Ye ken yer lucky ye have lads, aye?”

Jamie laughed back. “Too right ye are, bràthair.” Another deep breath. “I met a lass.”

“Och, so maybe ‘tis worse than my lass’ wee crush.”

That caused both men to laugh. But Jamie wasn’t the kind of man to divulge his personal life to his subordinates, and Hayes didn’t cross the line to push him for information. Hayes promised his article would be in the morning post and bid Jamie farewell for the day.

But it did get him thinking.

Am I ready tae start dating again?

Sure, there were opportunities for dating in the past. The closest he got to going on a date was two years after Annalise’s death. A woman much his junior named Geneva Dunsany. The age gap didn’t bother either of them, but Jamie found her to be overbearing and clearly spoiled, while Geneva complained (not directly to Jamie as Jamie found out through a friend of Geneva’s) that he was boring because he was already a father and previously married. While that notion stung Jamie’s pride a bit, it wasn’t enough to keep him from dating again. He tried, really he did try to find someone else to court for a while, but it felt like there would never be another woman for Jamie in regards to eternal love.

That was before he met Claire though.

Her electrifying personality, as well as her witty humor, able to keep up with his cheesy Dad jokes, and her heroic (in his humble opinion) disposition as a medical professional, made him open his eyes a bit more. See her for who she truly was.

Of course, he couldn’t do that if he didn’t truly know her.

Jamie reviewed more articles and submitted them for the morning post print, handled some corporate billing concerns he’d been putting off, shut down his computer and bundled himself up to bear the cold night that was early November Boston, leaving his work behind until another day.

The entire walk home was an internal banter with him and his heart.

Should I ask her out?

Aye, ye should.

But why? Why her?

Dinna be daft, ye clotheid, can ye no see how bonny she is?

There have been plenty o’ bonny lassies since Annalise died…but-

But none of them have been anywhere near the Sassenach’s level and ye ken it weel!

Jamie shook his head. No matter how old he got, he always had conversations with himself on the inside. And he answered back. He was certain he would be sent to a nuthouse if he started having those talks externally.

But he knew he needed to act. So he pulled out his phone and sent a text to both Fergus and Willie, saying he was making a detour before heading home. And he made his way towards Claire’s apothecary.

The closer he got to Dr. B’s Apothecary, the lighter he felt. He looked braver than he probably felt though. His heart was pounding out a painfully sharp rhythm in his chest, he could feel his hands and temples start to swear despite it being in the 20s outside, and to top it all off, he had no idea how the hell he was going to ask Claire out.

None of that mattered the second he turned the corner of 3rd Street and saw Claire’s shop was completely engulfed in flames.

Jamie’s heart damn near stopped at the sight.

The entire second floor, presumably her flat, was on fire with no room to spare for a potential rescue. Everything inside that apartment was alight, which means a total loss. The smoke was thick and black, billowing out into the clear night’s sky, blocking out the moon in an eerie red haze the higher it rose. The first floor of the shop was working its way to being as enveloped in fire as the second floor was. The shelves that were neatly stocked with products were starting to smolder from the heat, and Jamie would bet all his money that everything in there was flammable to some extent. Most of the antique windows on the first floor were already broken, its glass shattered onto the sidewalk. A deafening crashing sound came from within, causing everyone close by to gasp and wince. Taking a closer look, Jamie could see that the floor from the second story, or the ceiling for the first, had caved in slightly.

Jamie ran towards the small crowd starting to gather across the street. Some neighboring shop owners were yelling for the fire department. Some were watching from a relatively safe distance with their hands clasped over their mouths. Some were visibly crying, others were on their mobiles, no doubt calling for emergency help.

Jamie ran to the first person he could see that wasn’t either working on calling emergency services or a hysterical mess. “Is there anyone inside the building? The shop owner for instance? I know she lives on the top floor.”

The woman collapsed into tears so far Jamie almost didn’t catch her before she felt to the cold, hard cement. “Nae, sir! Claire didna get out, far as we know! She’s still inside!”

Jamie froze and it had nothing to do with the chilly air.

“Mhac na galla,” Jamie swore.

Without thinking, he removed his jacket, gloves, scarf and beanie, tossed them onto the sidewalk, and raced towards the growing inferno.

He kicked in the glass that was part of the front door and slipped inside, immediately coughing in the thick, smoky atmosphere. He covered his nose and mouth with his arm, despite knowing what little good it would do, and began his search.

His only good fortune was that it didn’t take long to spot the slim figure of a woman lying prone between the cash register and the back door leading to the store room. Her brown mass of curls obscure her face, but there was no doubt about it.

Jamie found Claire.

As quickly as he got in, he plucked Claire from the floor, now too hot to touch, and carried her out of her now-destroyed livelihood.

The second Jamie had Claire out of harm’s way, the entire structure, from roof to first floor ceiling, caved in and collapsed into a massive fireball, sending even more smoke into the sky. The fire department and paramedics had shown up just in time to witness this, and the paramedics wasted no time pulling out their stretcher and bringing it over to Jamie and Claire.

Just as Jamie placed Claire on the stretcher, he felt his knees buckle and his vision go black. He didn’t hear the paramedics calling for him as he collapsed into oblivion.

Chapter Text

Jamie woke up in the back of another ambulance with an oxygen mask attached to his face, a blood pressure cuff on his arm, and someone fastening something very tight and constricting to his other arm. It wasn’t until he saw the prepared IV catheter about to be stuck in the crook of his elbow that he came to his senses and tried to fight the paramedics off.

“Sir, just relax okay, you’re in an ambulance, and we’re going to take you to Boston General Hospital, okay?” The paramedic decided to put the IV supplies away and removed the tourniquet from Jamie’s arm. Jamie felt stickers all over his chest and abdomen and knew his heart rate was being monitored somewhere inside the rig. 

The paramedic shone a very small yet bright light into his eyes, one at a time, and continued talking. But not before removing the oxygen mask temporarily. “Is there someone we can call for you? Family? Friends?”

Jamie thought about it for a moment, and his heart lurched. “My sons. They’re a’ home alone! A Dhia, I’m such a clotheid!”

“It’s alright, sir, it’s alright,” the paramedic soothed. “What’s your name?”

“Jamie. Jamie Fraser.” He suddenly felt very tired as the mask was slipped back over his face.

“Jamie, okay hi, I’m Tina, I’m a paramedic with the Boston Fire Department. Is there someone we can call to look out for your sons? I’m assuming they’re old enough to stay home alone normally?”

“Aye,” Jamie breathed, his voice muffled slightly. He lay back against the head of the cot as the ambulance started to move, lights and sirens blazing from beyond. “Fergus is twelve, almost thirteen, and Willie is ten. Call a woman named Margie Tyron. She’s the widow of my former boss and a close family friend.”

“We can do that.”

Jamie handed Tina his cell phone and told her where Margie’s number was located. After a quick phone call, Tina handed his phone back to him and Jamie was finally able to relax as he knew his sons were going to be taken care of.

That was, of course, until he remembered why he was in an ambulance in the first place.

He shot up on the stretcher and shouted, “Sassenach!”

“Jamie, what’s wrong?” Tina asked.

“The woman I pulled out o’ the fire,” Jamie began, “where is she? Is she alright?!”

Tina pushed Jamie back down against the cot but had a quizzical expression on her face. Almost amused. “Ahh, so that’s how you ended up spending your evening with me. Playing the hero.” Jamie couldn’t help but smile at her joke. Tina continued, “ to my knowledge, she’s alright. She’s on her way to BG just like you. I expect she should be fine but I just don’t know, alright? Try to relax a bit, Jamie. We’re almost there.”

Jamie did as he was told and closed his eyes, letting the young medic do her job.

Three hours later, a few prescriptions and a very stern talking to from the ER doctor, Jamie was released to go home. He found his cell phone and called the house, knowing someone was awake and awaiting news about him.

“Jamie?! Oh my God in Heaven, are you alright? You bloody scared us! Your boys are worried sick!”

Jamie smiled. “Hello to ye too, Margie.”

“What were you thinking?! Running into a burning building like that! You’re not a firefighter, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser!”

Jamie knew he couldn’t very well explain that he did it to save Claire, as Margie wasn’t aware of his…relationship with her. So he just swallowed what was left of his pride and said, “yer right. ‘Twas foolish, as ye say. I’m sae sorry. Dinna mean tae worry ye. How are the boys?”

“Sleeping, I think. At least I hope so. I told them that there wasn’t anything they could do right now and staying up all night worrying about you wouldn’t help anyone, and you certainly wouldn’t approve of the forced sleep deprivation. So I managed to convince them to get some rest, at least until I heard from you. I plan to wake them and tell them you’re alright.”

Jamie breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Too right ye are, Margie.”

“You…are alright, aren’t you, Jamie?”

“Aye. Aye I am. I’ll be home soon. Gonna call a cab in a wee bit. Thank ye fer lookin’ after the boys on such short notice.”

“Nonsense, my dear lad! They’re like sons to me, and I was happy to be there in your time of need. Now, hurry home. Fergus and Willie are anxious to see their father again.”

Jamie could sense she wanted to say something related to Annalise and her untimely death and was thankful she didn’t. Jamie heard the line go dead and hung up his own phone. 

He realized just how foolish his actions tonight had been. Fergus and Willie had suffered more than they should have with the death of their mother. Nobody would have forgiven him, even in death, if he had gotten himself killed tonight.

“Looks like I found my hero,” called a familiar voice behind Jamie, and his heart skipped a beat. He whirled around to see Claire standing right behind him, and she was as beautiful as ever. Even with her hair a blundering, ashy mess and her clothes stained with ash and soot.

“Sassenach,” Jamie breathed as he threw his arms around her. Claire coughed slightly and returned his hug. “What are’y doin’ out o’ bed? Ye should be restin’.”

“I can’t stay here. I checked myself out AMA.”

“Ye shouldna done that.”

“Not your call, mate. Nor was it your call to rush into my shop, the bloody inferno that it was, to rescue me. That’s the whole reason the fire department exists! But…if you hadn’t…” She let her sentence trail off, and decided her shoes needed to be stared at.

“The instant I had ye outside…the whole thing went down. Ye can be mad at me all ye want, but yer welcome fer savin’ yer life.”

Claire glared at him, but it didn’t hold. She couldn’t be angry at him; she didn’t have the right. After all, she wouldn’t be alive without him.

“I’m not angry with you. I’m grateful, really I am…I just…”

“Aye?”

“…you have a family, Jamie. People who love and care about you. Two boys who only have one parent to care for them…if you had lost your life tonight…” Once more, she let her sentence trail off. “I have no one that important. I just don’t see how I’m worth your sons losing their father.”

Jamie’s heart dropped. “Of course yer worth it, Claire. ‘Tis the whole reason I ran in fer ye. Fergus and Willie…they adore ye. Truly. And what do ye mean ye have no one that important?” Jamie sighed frustratingly, knowing he would have to speak more than he was comfortable doing on the subject.

“Look…I was about tae call a cab. It’s clear ye have no home tae go tae. Ye already spend all yer nights wi’ me and the boys. And we have a spare room, already furnished fer ye. Come home wi’ me, Sassenach. At least til ye get on yer feet again, eh?”

Claire wanted to refuse. Wanted to stomp her foot down and demand he take back such a request, her justification that she’d already abused his generous hospitality enough. But she knew she officially had nowhere else to go. She was homeless now.

“Alright,” Claire finally said.  “But I’m paying for the cab! You’ve done enough for me, you bloody Scot!”

Jamie was tapping the screen on his phone, a sinister smirk spreading across his handsome face. “What’d ye say, Sassenach? I didna hear ye, seeing as I was paying for an Uber just now.” He winked at her (or, he tried to, but it looked more like a drunken blink.) Claire scowled, but then just laughed, and they made their way towards the emergency room entrance to await their carriage home.

Jamie called the boys to let them know everything that had happened, and that Claire would be temporarily staying with them. Claire giggled at the sounds of loud cheering from the phone, Jamie giving her a sheepish grin. Jamie knew his sons would be excited like Christmas came a month and a half early at the prospect of Claire living with them, even if it wasn’t going to be forever.

They’d passed by the charred remains of Claire’s shop, and Jamie’s heart broke. Even if she’d never said anything, Jamie knew just how much her apothecary mean to her. Claire cried in his arms, ignoring the look from their Uber driver. Claire only cried for a short time, and then proceeded to tell him what happened.

She told him she didn’t remember making it down the stairs before she lost consciousness, but she did remember half of the lights going out in her apartment. Only half, and in random places. A few in the living room, some in the kitchen, none in her bedroom and all of them in her bathroom. She was going to look at the electrical breaker box downstairs in the storage room before what felt like an explosion went off behind her. Jamie surmised the explosion sent her forcefully enough down the stairs to cause her to black out.  

By the time they arrived back at the Fraser’s sprawling house, it had started snowing rather heavily. Jamie hurried Claire out of the snow and quickly unlocked the front door to let her in.

“Milady!” Fergus exclaimed, throwing his arms around her with gusto.

“Easy, lad,” Jamie warned.

“It’s alright,” Claire said, returning Fergus’ hug just in time to have Willie joined them. “I don’t mind at all. It’s so good to see you both again!”

“Aye, milady, we’re thrilled tae have ye here wi’ us!” Willie said. “We went ahead and prepared yer room!”

“You did?” Claire said, looking back at Jamie, who just shrugged.

“What can I say? They’re taken wi’ ye, Sassenach.”

“We changed the sheets ‘afore making the bed, ensured the dresser drawers were cleaned out, and we even cleaned the bathroom fer ye, despite Willie whining like a bairn the whole time!” Fergus laughed.

“I didna whine! Ye more a bairn than I!”

“Are no’!”

“Are too!”

“Alright, alright, ye wee rascals,” Jamie said in his least-stern fatherly voice. Claire smile broadened as the boys dragged her towards the room with Jamie following right behind.

Now that Jamie and Claire were both safely home, Margie finally got a chance to introduce herself to Claire. The older woman was thankful Claire and Jamie were alright, and she took her leave, telling Jamie not to hesitate to call her if they needed anything else. Claire liked her, and was glad she was there for Fergus and Willie in Jamie’s time of need. 

The boys didn’t hesitate to get ready and go to bed upon Jamie’s command. Jamie let Claire get accustomed to her new room and then realized she had nothing more than the sooted clothes on her back. Swallowing hard, he went to his closet and dug out some articles of clothing he never thought he’d ever touch again.

He brought the clothes to his face and inhaled, and almost wept right there. 

They still smell like ye, a ghràidh.

He slowly made his way back towards the spare room and handed the clothes to Claire, who was sitting on the edge of bedroom’s very fine queen sized bed. She studied them a bit then looked up at Jamie, clearly in need of answers.

“They, erh…they were Annalise’s clothes.” A heartbeat passed before he added, “my wife.”

Claire’s expression sobered instantly.

“She died…unexpectedly… about five years ago. Almost six.”

“Oh, Jamie…”

Jamie steeled himself before saying, “Annalise de Marillac Fraser. The mother of my children.”

Jamie saw tears collecting beneath her whisky colored eyes. 

“Och, dinna fash yerself, Sassenach. ‘Tis alright.”

Claire met Jamie’s eyes and saw all the hurt and emotions that he clearly kept locked away, trying to escape now, and suddenly understood why he was so tight-lipped about his past. I wouldn’t want to talk about my own abhorrent past, either, she reasoned internally.

“But,” Jamie stood up, as if to brush the conversation off. Which he did. “That’s a conversation fer another day, wouldn’t ye say? We both need sleep. We’re worn out.”

“Agreed.” Claire went into the bathroom to change into her new clothes. She rinsed her mouth out with warm water (since her toothbrush was probably a melted pile of goo amount the burned rubble of her home and business,) used a washcloth hanging from the holder to the right of the sink to wipe her face, then came back into the bedroom. She was slightly surprised to see Jamie still standing there, waiting for her.

“Ye good, Sassenach?” Jamie asked shyly.

“Yep! All ready for bed.”

Jamie smiled as Claire settled herself under the covers. They smelled slightly of fresh flowers. Fergus and Willie really did replaced the sheets with clean ones, she thought.

“I ken I dinna need tae say it but…yer welcome here as long as ye like. Whether ye need it or no’.” He spread his arms out as if to showcase the ceiling to her. “My home is yer home, Sassenach.”

Claire beamed at Jamie, her heart overflowing with adoration for her unintentional savior.

“Thank you, Jamie. For everything. Not just for tonight…truly. For everything you’ve done for me. You could have left my shop that night and never seen me again. You could’ve taken the gift of the medicine I gave and let it be. But you didn’t. You…you’re truly the best friend I’ve ever had living in a city so far away from our home countries. So…thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much.”

Jamie smiled, his own heart swelling with adoration for Claire. “Dinna fash yerself, a leannan. Get some rest. We’ll speak tomorrow.”

Claire turned out the nightstand lamp and snuggled deeper under the covers. Jamie walked back towards his room after checking the boys were fast asleep, and readied himself for bed.

One thought was gnawing at his mind. And it troubled him greatly.

You’re truly the best friend I’ve ever had…

“Christ,” Jamie said to no one as he tucked himself underneath his own blankets. Reality hit him like a light rail train.

Claire only saw him as a friend. Just a friend. Nothing more.

His heart broke all over again.

Chapter Text

“THE RISING SUN TIMES HERO!”

Article by Gavin Hayes

In an unlikely turn of events, our very own chief editor, James Fraser, was a daring hero, risking life and limb, to a local shop owner in their time of need…

Jamie was reading the morning edition of his own newspaper in absolute shock. Being chief editor, he had the paper delivered to his address for free and would occasionally use it to judge how well, or not so well, his employees were doing their jobs. It wasn’t any secret at the office that Jamie received the paper, and because of that, it was rare Jamie found anything warranting a sit down with said employees. They really did try to make the articles something Jamie would be proud to have in The Rising Sun Times.

But this one…he had a feeling it would not be one of those times.

Seeing Hayes’ name as the author of the article couldn’t have been a coincidence. He was the last person to talk to Jamie before Jamie left the office. Right before Jamie risked his life to save Claire’s.

Of course, he also thought he was being rather irrational. It’s not like Hayes had someone follow him home. His choice to go to Claire’s shop was a spur-of-the-moment decision on his way home from work. A fifteen minute walk at best, longer if the weather wasn’t suitable. Someone, anyone, could’ve seen Jamie run into the building and carry Claire out before collapsing himself. Or hell, the woman he originally asked could have recognized him, and reported it to whoever was working early that morning.

Which brought him back to his original reason for going there in the first place.

It was stupid, he told himself. Shouldna gone out there like that. And to ask her out? C’mon, Fraser. Ye gotta stop thinkin wi’ yer cock, sometimes!

If he wanted to ask her out now, all he had to do was go home. Which is where she was at the end of his work day. Claire was sitting at the dining room table with Fergus and Willie, both of them elbow deep in homework.

“So, ‘x’ represents the missing number in the equation,” Claire told Fergus, whom Jamie knew was still struggling in his Algebra class.

“Hey,” Jamie called out to announce his presence.

“Da!” Willie called out, getting up from his chair at the table and tackling Jamie to the ground. Claire smiled as Fergus joined them.

“Och, ye rascals!” Jamie laughed. When he opened his eyes, Claire was standing directly over him. His heart rushed with heat rising through his face as the overhead light created a sort of halo circumventing her head.

“Welcome home, my Laird,” Claire joked.

“Laird?” Jamie questioned, a smile playing on the corners of his lips. “I thought this was the 21st century!”

“It is,” Claire laughed, “but you’re a Scot, and this is your castle. Is it not?”

“Aye,” Jamie smiled, pushed the boys off him and accepted Claire’s hand up. That…feeling of unrelenting flare shot up his arm as he stood. He ignored it. “How are ye?”

Claire met his eyes. “I’m alright. Didn’t sleep well last night, though.”

“I noticed,” Jamie grimly noted. “Another nightmare?”

Claire nodded sadly. “Will it ever end?”

Jamie didn’t know what to say. Sometimes he had nightmares of the living hell he went through in Scotland before fleeing his homeland. But if Claire never noticed them, he wasn’t going to say anything. “Are ye hungry, Sassenach?”

“I could eat,” Claire smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. Jamie knew there was something on her mind, but didn’t say anything.

Jamie went to the kitchen and started pulling out ingredients to make spaghetti. Simple, filling, and he could easily make enough to feed an entire army. Claire sat back at the table with the boys and they completed their homework with her help. After they put away their school stuff, they ran off to go play video games. That had become their new thing when the weather wasn’t permissible. A thought struck Jamie as he set a pot of salted water to boil on the stove.

“Have ye been able tae replace most of yer things, Sassenach?” Jamie added some spices to the water.

“Yes, thank you,” Claire responded as she got up to make herself a glass of water. She took a sip then said, “I had a rather impressive savings account and the closet in my room is rather spacious. I didn’t realize how much personal effect I actually had until the fire. But the store was declared a total loss. And…I didn’t have insurance… so rebuilding is going to take some time.”

“Weel,” Jamie said as a soft boil started up in the pot. He prepared the pasta by breaking a good handful of it in half. “There’s a rather large, unused basement beneath the print shop. I could probably talk tae the owners o’ the building…but, ye could restart yer wee apothecary down there…”

Claire blanched at his words as he turned around to gauge her reaction. “Oh, n-no, I-I couldn’t p-possibly burden the print shop like that! I mean, yes, it would be nice to get an instant restart, and I love the idea, but-”

“Claire,” Jamie calmed her frantic speech. “Ye no’ a burden. Truly.”

“I-I know that, but I also don’t want to be leeching off anyone to get my business back on its feet. No, thank you for the offer, but I would rather work towards rebuilding my shop where it originally was. True, a lot of people in town rely on the apothecary, but I want the rebuilding to mean something to myself. I will rebuild. One day.”

She took a nervous sip of her water, not making eye contact with Jamie. He turned back to the water, which was now at a rolling boil, and added the pasta, setting the timer on the microwave above the stove to ten minutes.

He didn’t bring the issue back up during dinner, or after the boys were down for the night.

“I’m off tae work, Sassenach,” Jamie called out from just outside the locked bathroom door, where Claire was taking a morning bath. She lavished in the bath bubbles she’d bought online, the sweet, succulent fragrance soaking into her skin and making her feel radiant.

“Okay,” she called back, “any idea when you’ll be home?”

“Hopefully on time tonight,” Jamie called in response, “dinna wait up fer me, aye?”

“Riiiiight,” Claire rolled her eyes but heard Jamie’s chuckle. “Be safe.”

“Always, Sassenach.”

Claire heard the sound of the front door being closed and locked from the outside and she went back to enjoying the house to herself. She planned to take her time in the bath, and then catch up on “A Very British Mob Family.” Much to her dismay, Clarence did marry that stupid bitch Lizzette and she was waiting for the final shoe to drop with her betrayal. And poor Gina, left heartbroken and forced to wed her cousin, Fred, in order to keep the family business in line.

She drained the tub, toweled herself off, and grabbed a pair of pyjamas bottoms and a t-shirt that read “I Am Pro Herb. Ask Me Why!” Turning on the TV, she made herself a plate of leftover spaghetti and a glass of juice and settled onto the couch. Just as she was going to pick up the remote to navigate the streaming channels on Jamie’s living room TV, there was a knock on the door.

“What the devil?” Claire said to no one. She wondered if Jamie was expecting company, or if it was one of the packages she was expecting to be delivered. No, it couldn’t be that, she thought, they would’ve just left it by the front door and updated the app. She grumbled as she got up from her spot and went to the door to gaze through the peephole.

It was an older woman, graying-blonde hair that fell to her shoulders, well maintained. And the clothing she wore suggested a higher standard of living than Claire or Jamie’s. What on earth?

“Who is it?” Claire called out.

“I should be asking you that? Who are you and what are you doing in my son in law’s house?”

Claire glared at the door. “Uhh, you’re the one on the opposite side of the door. Either tell me who you are or I’m calling the police.”

She heard an audible groan, as if Claire was somehow inconveniencing her by not bending her knee to her demands.

“I supposes that’s fair. My name is Camila de Marrilac. I’m James’s mother-in-law, grandmother to his sons. May I please come in?”

“Oh, of course!” Claire didn’t hesitate to open the door. If the older woman was the snob she sounded like behind the door, she certainly didn’t look it. A warm, genuine smile spread across her face as Claire attempted to smooth the wrinkles from her stay-at-home get-up. She stepped aside to let Mrs. de Marillac inside. “Please come in.”

Camila walked in, her clearly designer handbag dangling from her arm, taking in the sights. Then, she turned around to face Claire. “I apologize for my unsightly behavior. I did not expect James to have anyone else living here besides my grandsons.”

“It’s quite alright,” Claire waved a dismissive hand with a smile. Though she did find it a bit weird that this woman called Jamie by his Christian name. “My name is Claire Beauchamp, I’m a…friend…fallen on hard times. Jamie was kind enough to let me stay with him and his sons until I can repair my shop.”

“Oh?” Camila inquired, her French accent coming in strong. “Well, I’m so sorry to hear about your misfortunes.”

“Thank you. I owned and ran an apothecary downtown. It was destroyed in a fire a few months ago. Fire brigade told me an electrical short in the storage room.”

Camila put on the face of purest sympathy. “Oh, vous pauvre cher!” She leaned into give Claire an unexpected hug, kissing both her cheeks. “Well, James always held the purest heart.”

“Yes he does,” Claire commented, wondering why in the world this woman was showing up, out of the blue, unannounced, when it’s been apparent to her that she hasn’t seen her son-in-law or grandsons in almost six years. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Oh, no thank you, cher, my thanks for the offer. Erm, when are Jamie and the boys expected home?” The women made their way towards the couch. Claire cleared away the blanket she was going to wrap herself in to watch TV. 

“Well, Jamie left about two hours ago for work, and he told me he would be home on time tonight. So, around six? And the boys should be getting off the school bus in another hour.”

“Ah, I see,” Camila said, her eyes wandering around the house’s living room furnishings. Claire was trying to read her expressions, but they were too neutral. If Camila approved or disapproved of where Jamie had made his home, she didn’t show it. “So, tell me about yourself, Miss Beauchamp. It’s apparent you’re English, but what brought you to Boston?”

Claire’s insides froze. She hadn’t even told Jamie why she was really here. She’d always skirted around the topic, and Jamie never pushed her for more than she was willing to tell. So she stuck to the bottom line, telling Camila about her Uncle Lamb and his excursions around the world as an archeologist, going and graduating from medical school. Camila in turn talked about her late daughter, Jamie’s dead wife, Annalise.

“My husband and I understood why James decided to leave Scotland. It was just too painful for him. Everywhere he turned, there she was, you know? I feel so ashamed for not coming to visit sooner. I imagine Fergus and William have grown quite a bit, have they not?”

“Well, I wouldn’t know…I only just met them about four or five months ago. But they’re such good boys. Jamie is doing such a great job raising them. You would be proud.”

For the first time, in the space of half a heartbeat, Claire saw a flicker of emotion cross Camila’s face, and she wasn’t sure it was a good emotion. Before anything more could be said, she heard the honking of the bus outside.

“Oh! The boys are home! Let me make sure the door is unlocked.” Claire went to open the door and the boys clambered up the short concrete steps and tackled Claire to the ground. The giggles and laughter could be heard down the street. It wasn’t until the boys were standing up to step into the house that they saw their grandmother.

They froze in shock. Claire took notice.

“Hello, boys!” Camila said in a cheerful voice. Neither child moved, and Claire was starting to wonder if it was such a good idea to let the older woman into the house. “Well, aren’t you going to give your grandmother a hug?”

Hesitant, the boys walked over to give Camila a hug, but Claire noticed there wasn’t anywhere near the warmth of the hug she was accustomed to receiving from them.

“Oh, it’s so good to see you boys! You’ve grown so much!”

“Well, it’s been almost six years, Gamma,” Fergus said dryly.

“Why are ye here, Gamma? Is it about Mam?” Willie asked, and from her vantage point, Claire could see a conflicting array of emotions crossing his face. Almost like he wanted to give his grandmother the benefit of the doubt.

“No, deary, God rest your mother’s soul, but no. I’m here to see you two! And, your father of course.”

“Da told us that-” Fergus was about to say, but Willie shoved his brother aside, shutting him up. Claire’s eyebrows rose in confusion.

“We’re glad yer here, Gamma! Ye wanna come see me toy car collection? Come!” Willie grabbed Camila’s hand and dragged her into his room.

Once they were gone, Fergus turned towards Claire and, in a dangerously low voice, said, “she needs tae go, milady! She canna be here when Da gets home, or it’ll be our hides!”

“Why?” Claire asked, in an equally low voice. “Is everything alright?”

“No, it’s not, milady, ye see-”

“I’m home early! Lads? Sassenach? Who wants tae go out tae dinner tonight?” Jamie’s voice boomed through the house as he walked in, a big smile on his face. But when he looked over at Claire and Fergus, their expressions grim, he frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“James, darling, is that you?” Camila’s voice sounded through the hallway as she followed Willie back into the living room. Claire didn’t miss how Jamie’s entire being froze in fear. And anger. “Ah! There you are, my dear! Good to see-”

“What the fuck are you doing here?!” 

Jamie only saw red, his heart fluttering a furious, assailing rhythm and he shook. Visibly shook. For the first time, Claire was scared.

“Why else would I be here? To see you and the boys! And how rude of you to use that language with-”

Jamie cut her off with a string of what Claire could only surmise was Gàidhlig curses. Camila’s face turned sour.

“Ye have no right tae be here. NO RIGHT! Especially since ye had me BANISHED FROM MY OWN HOMELAND AFTER ANNALISE’S DEATH! How dare ye come in here, actin’ like ye own the place, seeking out my sons, MY SONS, whom ye didna care for after their mother was barely cold in the ground!”

Claire stood there in utter shock. So this is why he’s in Boston.

And I let her in.

Oh my God, what have I done?

“I did no such thing, and you know it,” Camila dismissed, waving a hand in front of Jamie, which only seemed to anger him further. “You chose to leave Scotland, James. You just used my daughter as an excuse. Which, by the way, was extremely-”

“YE’LL NO SPEAK OF HER IN THIS HOUSE!” Jamie bellowed. His breathing was erratic and at this point, the boys had retreated to one of their rooms. “YE RUINED ME AND MY BOYS IN SCOTLAND. AND YE DAMN WEEL FUCKING KEN IT, MOTHER-IN-LAW.

Camila didn’t look Jamie in the eyes. Nor Claire. It looked like neither of them were going to budge.

“Get. Out. Of. My. House,” Jamie enunciated slowly. “Yer no’ welcome here. Dinna ever darken my doorstep again.”

Camila huffed, but gathered her handbag and made her way towards the door. “You should know,” she added before crossing the threshold, “if you were so concerned about me coming in, you should’ve told your…friend…here the truth.” And with that, Camila closed the door and left.

Claire let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “Jamie, I-”

“How the hell did she get in here?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know anything, I-”

“Ye let her in here?!” Jamie raised his voice and started in on Claire, cornering her against the wall.

“You never told me who she was! When she said she was Fergus and Willie’s grandmother, I thought she would be welcomed!”

“Big mistake, that!” Jamie said, walked away. “She didna know where we lived. Someone must’ve given her that information. A Dhia, now she’ll never leave us be!”

“Jamie, I’m so sorry. Really I am! I couldn’t have known…” Tears gathered in Claire’s eyes, and it softened Jamie.

Jamie sighed and gathered Claire into his arms. “Och, dinna weep, a leannan. Yer right, ye couldna have kent it. I’m sorry fer my temper. I was sore.”

Claire didn’t say anything. She was just coming to terms with what this meant for Jamie, Fergus and Willie.

They had probably been in hiding from his in-law’s side of the family. Knowing they could make his life a living hell. And that of the boys. That would be the only logical reason to leave Scotland, right?

And she just ruined it. Ignorance was not an excuse. How could she be so stupid? Given how hard it was for Jamie to talk about his late wife. She realized now it wasn’t because of the hard loss. It was because of what her family did to him. Or, had to have done to him to force him and his sons to leave the only home he could’ve ever known.

“Da?” A small voice came from the hallway. Fergus and Willie were standing just outside the elder’s room, clearly fearful and clinging to one another.

“Och, mo bhalaich,” Jamie opened his arms wide and his boys hugged him fiercely.

“Milady?” Willie asked, holding one of his arms out for her to join them.

Claire hesitated before eventually joining them. But despite being included, none of these turmoil feelings would be happening if it wasn’t for her.

Jamie noticed over the next week that Claire seemed detached. Her smile never reached her eyes, and those eyes held a sort of gloom that hadn’t been there before. Camila had been smart enough to not come by unannounced anymore, but every time she called the house (Jamie was certainly going to have to have his number blacklisted from public record, or change it) Jamie angrily told her to stay away. Jamie had a feeling Claire was blaming herself for Camila’s reammergence into their lives, but while he was initially angry, it didn’t hold long. It was his own fault she didn’t know about his past. The true extent, anyway. Jamie just felt that, when Claire was comfortable enough to talk about hers, where he definitely suspected she had her own darkness, he would spill the beans about his. 

None of them ever expected reality to drop in on their doorstep the way it did. Literally.

Everything changed two weeks following Camila’s initial encounter.

Jamie awoke that morning feeling very troubled. He stretched the sleep out of his muscles on the side of his bed, found his robe and slippers and slipped them on, then made his way towards the kitchen to make coffee.

That’s when he noticed the first sign of something wrong.

Claire’s favorite coffee mug, the one that depicted “Caffeinated For Your Safety” in pretty calligraphy, was missing. It was the only one she used; she hand washed it every afternoon after her morning coffee and before her afternoon tea, and then hand washed it again for the next day’s uses. He checked all the cabinets, and even the dishwasher, and found it was gone.

Panic soared through his insides. His heart contracting tormentfully in his chest. He looked in the living room and found some of the books and DVDs she’d bought since the fire were also missing. The spare bathroom was void of all her washing supplies. Even her bright pink bath loofah, which he’d teased her for, was gone. He went into the bedroom that she’d been sleeping in and found the bed to be perfectly made and the closet was empty.

Tears started to form in his eyes as he found a handwritten letter sitting on the pillow she’d been sleeping on.

Those tears ran down and hit the note as he read.

Maybe it’s best we don’t see each other anymore. I’m so sorry for causing you so much pain. It was never my intention.

Forgive me.

-Claire

Chapter Text

“Here you go, Miss Beauchamp! Your new, charming one room studio apartment! Thank you for the deposit, and I hope you enjoy living here at Blackwater Ridge Apartments!”

The man who’d given Claire the keys to her new home was all too happy to accommodate her with his best top-floor apartment. Blackwater Ridge was located on the opposite side of town, far away from any part of the life she once had. It was already fully furnished, and with her medical degree from England, she was able to get a prorated discount on her monthly rent. Though, she knew, even with the “professionals’ discount,” if she didn’t start working on getting her business back up and running, she would probably be evicted within about six months for nonpayment. The money in her savings account was running out fast.

But, she also knew this was the best thing for her. And for Jamie.

Jamie…

She sat down on the couch and proceeded to cry. She hadn’t just lost her closest friend. But she’d lost two boys whom she felt were her own sons.

Like they’d never lost a mother at all…

Her sobs and wails rang through the apartment as hollow as she felt inside. She was well and truly alone now. She heard someone knocking on her door, but she ignored them and moved towards her new bedroom, void of any furnishing that were really hers. All the belongings she’d brought from Jamie’s place were still packed away. Though, she really didn’t have a whole lot; everything she’d replaced had fit inside a large suitcase, which now sat on her bed. The knocking continued, but she continued to ignore it. If it’s important, they’ll come back later, she ruefully told herself. She assumed it was probably one of her new neighbors inquiring about her crying. She didn’t plan on getting to know anyone living around her here.

As night fell, she felt her stomach churn painfully with the awareness of hunger. She pulled out her phone and ordered a pizza and a bottle of Pepsi. When the delivery driver showed up, she gave the man a good tip and proceeded to eat in agonizing solitude.

When she went to bed that night, she didn’t even bother to change out of the same clothes she’d dressed in at Jamie’s house. Another round of crying was the only way she would sleep that night.

Jamie thought Claire leaving his life was the worst possible thing ever.

Apparently, he was wrong.

Camila had all but moved to Boston as she had given no notion of returning to Scotland. Everywhere he went, there she fucking was. His mother in law- no, former mother-in-law (she hardly ever was his mother in law before Annalise’s death; now she had no reason for that title in his mind) made a consciously annoying effort to insert herself into Jamie’s and his sons’ lives.

And no matter what he said or did, she refused to go. He thought about a restraining order, but he knew what she was capable of. No, actually, he knew what his father-in-law was capable of. He had influence and friends in high places all over the world. The whole fucking point of coming to Boston was to get away from the mess his former mother and father-in-law had created.

And all it took was losing their only daughter.

Mallachd diabhal orm, he cursed himself. This is MY home. MY city. I will NOT be run out again!

He went to bed that night with his mind set and his heart alight with fury. Tomorrow, he would go to the police station and start the file proceedings for a restraining order against Camila, getting her out of their lives for good.

And he did just that. He provided sufficient evidence for his case and the police officer he talked to told him to seek out a lawyer. The lawyer he chose was happy to represent his case.

But when the afternoon rolled around, Jamie didn’t possibly think things could get any worse. He really needed to stop thinking that way. Hey, old habits die hard, alright? Cut him some slack.

The bus never showed up at their home. Which meant that Fergus and Willie weren’t on it. He attempted to call them on their mobiles but neither picked up. In fact, both of their phones were off, which was against the rules he’d set when he bought them mobiles. He left angry messages on both their voicemails.

“Fergus, its Da. Ye better have a good reason fer turning yer mobile off. And fer no’ coming home on the bus. I’m callin’ yer brother too. Ye twa better call me back or there’ll be trouble, aye?!”

Where the hell are my boys?

He called the school, but no one picked up. Probably busy with all the after-school bustle that involved sports and administrative things. So he took a cab.

Jamie was nervous and scared as all hell, his palms starting to become slick and his heart pounding with pure anxiety.

“May I help you, sir?” The woman at the front office asked. 

“I’m looking fer my sons, Fergus and William Fraser. They never came home on the bus this afternoon and they’re no’ picking up their mobile phones.”

“Fraser, you said?” The woman gave Jamie a quizzical look.

“Aye?” Jamie replied, slowly, his stomach churning unpleasantly.

The woman pulled out a large ledger with what looked like every student of the school’s attendance record. She thumbed to the section labeled “Fi-Fr” and flipped through it before settling on two records with the name “Fraser” in bold, typewriter text.

“Ah, yes. I thought the name sounded familiar. A woman came to the school and picked them up. She claimed to be their grandmother and provided a letter written from their father saying she had permission. I take it you’re James Fraser?”

Fury raged through Jamie’s veins. “Aye, I am. And I gave no such permission! Whatever that wench showed ye was forged documentation! She is their maternal grandmother but she would never have been granted such permission. See here?” Jamie produced the documents from the lawyer’s office. “This is a restraining order against her! Tell me right now. WHERE ARE MY SONS?!”

The woman probably should have scolded Jamie for yelling at her, but she probably knew how much trouble she was in. She was clearly panicked as she said, “I-I don’t know sir. Honest, she didn’t say anything except she was taking them on vacation to Scotland. Judging by your a-accent, I take it that’s where you all are from?”

Jamie was still seething as someone of authority, presumably the principal, came out to see what the commotion was.

“Is everything alright?” The older man said. 

Jamie angrily relayed the information to the man. His face went from contented listening to utter shock.

“Anna, call the police,” the man said to the woman at the desk. She didn’t hesitate to pick up the phone to dial 9-1-1. “Sir, we are going to get to the bottom of this. We will find your sons.”

Jamie didn’t bother to thank the man, or say anything to him except for a curt nod. The police showed up and did a report. Jamie showed the responding officer the restraining order paperwork and reminded them of the seriousness of the situation. If what Anna said was correct, and knowing Camila, Fergus and Willie were probably already on a plane right now headed back to Scotland.

Without him. Or his expressed permission.

There was nothing more Jamie could do in the meantime, so he went home. But it was just a house now. His home was nothing to him without his sons.

Or Claire.

Sorcha…

He spent the next several hours drinking whisky and wallowing in misery, contemplating his next move. He walked around the house aimlessly, and he stopped inside Fergus and Willie’s rooms. The drawers were empty, as were the closets, and their suitcases were gone. But in Fergus’ room, there was a handwritten note lying on his bed. It pained Jamie’s heart because it reminded him of the same letter he’d seen in Claire’s room before she left. 

He picked it up and read it, his anger rising to the surface again. He knew Camila’s handwriting from anywhere.

His feet, body, and heart all moved cohesively without his consent. He picked up the house phone and dialed a number he didn’t think he’d ever call again.

She picked up on the first ring. Her voice was the balm he didn’t know he needed to quell the fire raging inside him.

“Jamie?”

“Sassenach…I need yer help.”

Three months had gone by since Claire had left Jamie’s house. In order to keep her bank account from going under, she managed to find a job at a local pharmacy, working as a tech. The interviewer thought it curiously weird that a former doctor was applying for such a low paying position, but didn’t hesitate to hire her on the spot. It also helped that her shop burning down made headlines in The Rising Sun Times; a bit of sympathy play comes in handy sometimes. The money wasn't all that great, compared to her apothecary business, but Claire didn’t need a whole lot to get by. The job paid her rent, and enabled her to restart her British TV subscription service. She’d suspended it when she moved to Jamie’s house because he’d already had one himself.

Oh, how she missed her Scottish printer. She didn’t want to admit to herself just yet that leaving was the biggest mistake of her life. She knew Camila coming back wasn’t her fault. Even her letting the older French woman inside Jamie’s home wasn’t her fault either. But she just felt so damn guilty about it.

The amount of times she thought about calling him, and the number of times she’d actually picked up her mobile, selected his number from her call log, and almost hit “call,” were very unhealthy. She wanted to hear his voice, wanted him to tell her he missed her as much as she missed him. But it was a pipe dream. A fantasy. She was certain, with the way she left, he was angry and never wanted to see or hear from her again.

Just when she thought the waterworks were about to pick up again, her mobile rang.

Her heart quickened its pace when she saw who was calling. She answered on the first ring.

“Jamie?”

“Sassenach…I need yer help.”

“And you shall have it. What’s going on?” He sounds so broken. Like he’s been crying. Did something happen?

“Please come back. I’ll explain everythin’ when ye get here. Just…hurry.”

“I’m on my way, Jamie.”

She heard an exhalation of relief on the other end. “Thank ye, Sassenach. Truly.” And he hung up.

Claire didn’t bother making herself look too presentable. She left her wild curls untamed and threw on a pair of leggings, an oversized beige sweater, thick wool socks and her grey Uggs before grabbing her car keys and bolting out the door. It took a good forty-five minutes to drive from her apartment to Jamie’s house.

Jamie was waiting for her outside as her car pulled up in his driveway. He didn’t wait for her to come to him; he all but threw her on the ground with the fiercest hug she’d ever felt him give.

“J-Jamie! Wha-”

“Mo dhia ghràdhach air neamh,” Jamie breathed, the hot tears falling down the neck hole of Claire’s sweater. “I’m sae glad ye came, mo nighean donn.

“Of course,” Claire breathed. “I…I didn’t ever want to leave.”

Jamie was about to say something, but instead of words, a choked cry escaped instead.

“Let’s get you inside, Jamie.”

The two of them walked inside and Claire could feel, literally feel, how empty and void of life Jamie’s house was.

“They’re gone,” Jamie sobbed quietly as he sat down on the couch. Claire all but sat in his lap, their hands never leaving one another’s grasps. “Camila took ‘em. Right under my nose. Most likely forged documents wi’ my signature on it tae get them from school today. A-And she prolly forged other documents, like a passport, or custody papers, tae get them on a plane back tae Scotland…”

Claire’s shocked expression made her look paler than normal. “Oh my God, Jamie…” was all she could say? What else was there to say? “Oh, god this is all my fault!”

“No,” Jamie said firmly, facing her. He stared her directly into the eyes, more tears threatening to escape. “Don’t ye go and blame yerself fer this! True, I was angry wi’ ye, letting that bana-bhuidseach-” he all but spat in her face, “into the house, but no. No, it’s no yer fault. If anything, it’s mine. Had I’d been honest wi’ ye from the start, I coulda warned ye about her.”

Jamie looked down, the shame written all over his face. Claire’s heart broke for him.

“That doesna matter now.” He went on after a deep breath. “We need tae get them back. I canna let this go. I…I’ve lost enough already. I canna lose them too, Sassenach.”

“Wait…” Claire looked up at Jamie. “We?”

Jamie met her eyes. “As much as I hate tae drag ye into this, Claire, I…I havena been home tae Scotland since…weel…anyway, I’m scairt tae do this alone. Will ye help me? Will ye help me save my boys?”

“Of course I will.”

“…really?”

“There are so many reasons I could say, but the biggest one…is that I’ve grown to see them as sons of my very own. They’ve become such a big part of my life, Jamie. Just as you have. You have no idea…”

Jamie once again threw his arms around Claire. She could feel his heart racing against her own. They beat in unison.

One goal.

One objective.

One mind.

“So,” Claire said, breaking the embrace first. “What do we need to first before we fly to Scotland?”

Chapter Text

Jamie and Claire decide that it’s just too late in the evening to make any concrete plans. So Jamie orders pizza and Claire makes a beer run and they eat and drink in relative somber silence. There’s so much that both of them want to say, yet neither can gather enough courage to speak up. Claire wants so desperately to tell Jamie what exactly was going through her head when she decided to leave, and Jamie wanted with all his heart to explain what transpired in Scotland after Annalise’s death. And then, of course…there was his entire marriage he felt Claire needed to know about.

But, as least in Jamie’s mind, he believed that there could be secrets in a relationship, but no lies.

He wasn’t about to start lying to her now.

After dinner, the two of them picked up the house a bit, almost as if Claire had never left. Almost…

Almost like we’re marrit, Jamie thought.

He remembered there were nights where Annalise wasn’t home and he was left cleaning the house all his lonesome. It never complained; quite the opposite as it gave him time and space to think clearly.

No…no’ like we’re marrit…Lise would have had tae be here fer it tae count…

Old, bitter thoughts, feeling he hadn’t thought of in so long, were starting to bubble up to the surface. They stung. Like a nagging bug bite that could never be scratched to satisfaction.

“Jamie?” Claire’s ever-soothing voice snapped Jamie out of his daydreaming. “Are you alright? I know it’s presumptuous for me to ask, but-”

“Aye,” Jamie smiled, but it wasn’t as bright as she was accustomed to. “Aye, I’m alright, Sassenach. Just…thinking.”

“About what?” Claire dried off the last of their dishes and put it away in the cabinet to the right of the stove.

Jamie’s smile turned shy and he said, “did ye want tae do anything ‘afore going to bed?”

“Not really…” Claire let her sentence trail a bit before adding, “but I’m scared to sleep alone…”

Jamie’s ears turned a shade of pink brighter than her bunny slippers. She almost giggled at the sight, but understood it was probably difficult for him to think about sharing his bed with another.

“I’m sorry,” Claire said quickly, “I didn’t mean to upset or offend you…it’s just…I’ve been so afraid. Scared that you would reject me after what I did…or didn’t do…or-”

Jamie cut her off by wrapping his arms around her middle. “Ye need no’ be scairt o’ me. S’long as I’m wi’ ye.”

Claire pulled back a moment to look at him. “And when you’re not with me?”

Jamie just smiled. Actually smiled, for the first time since she came back. “I dinna see that happenin’ if yer coming tae Scotland wi’ me. Do you?”

It was Claire’s turn to smile. Jamie stood up and offered Claire his hand. She took it, reveling in its warmth and calloused grip, and he guided her towards his bedroom on the first floor, just beyond the kitchen through a back hallway, passing doors that contained the downstairs half bath and a storage closet.

Claire took note of the master suite of a bedroom. The room was bathed in soften green and dusty gold tones with the same off-white walls that adorned the rest of the house.The bed was a four-post, well maintained, solid oak framed king sized bed and it displayed the same color scheme of green-gold in its comforter, the sheets beneath could easily be identified as Egyptian cotton of solid black. 

There were two matching solid oak nightstands that bedecked either side of the bed. There were no big electronics, like a telly or even a stereo. The only electronics she could see were a cordless telephone sitting on its charging deck and an e-reader on the massive solid oak dresser, which sat on the side of the bedroom where Jamie clearly didn’t sleep. The same dresser sat in front of a bay window that stretched from wall to wall, with two dark green, faux silk, pinch pleat drapes pulled tightly shut. Claire imagined that when it was daylight, they acted as blackout curtains. That side of the bed was also so well made, it looked untouched, whereas Jamie’s side of the bed was made but wrinkled with nightly usage. 

There were a few knick-knacks on the walls, mostly to add Jamie’s own personal touch: the Scottish flag draped above the bed (naturally), a large framed Scotland Rugby poster (with autographs from some of the players) across from the bed, and a few pictures of what appeared to be Fergus and Willie still in nappies (which was probably why they weren’t in the hallway along the stairs with the rest of the framed family photos; less embarrassing as the lads got older). Other than that, the walls were barren and clean, like Jamie had invested in washable paint and regularly kept it tidy.

Towards Jamie’s side of the bedroom, a doorway led to a massive master bathroom that boasted a large, clean garden tub, separate glassdoor shower with a tile backsplash of rustic metal, double vanity sinks with sleek stainless-steel fixtures, a half wall that separated the loo from the rest of the bathroom, a pale yellow fuzzy lid cover visible only from the other side of the wall, and beyond the loo was an enormous walk-in closet, only half of it filled with Jamie’s wardrobe. Spotless gold and white towels of various sizes hung from their respective hangers (two large ones by the shower, and two hand towels for drying hands after washing them in between the sinks.) There was also a tall laundry basket half filled with dirty clothes, presumably Jamie’s.

Looking back from where she stood, the only thing Claire noticed on the nightstands were small table lamps, matching with dark green lampshades, an empty tumbler that Claire suspected once held whisky, and a picture of the boys. Judging by the photo, it appeared to have been taken after their move to Boston, as they were much older than the baby photos and Annalise wasn’t in it.

Come to think of it, she thought curiously, I don’t see a single photograph of Annalise anywhere in here. Or throughout the rest of the house, now that I think about it. Does he even have a photo of her? She realized that she didn’t know what Jamie’s late wife looked like. 

“It’s no’ much,” Jamie said, noticing that Claire had gone quiet to take in the scene before her, “but it’s home. ‘Tis my private space, away from the world.”

“I think it’s wonderful,” Claire breathed. She turned to face Jamie. “It’s clear you have a preference on how your room should be. That’s very rare in a man.”

“Is it now?” Jamie cocked an eyebrow at her, grinning slightly. “Weel…I can surely say I’m no like other men.”

Claire returned his grin with a cheeky smile of her own. “So I’ve noticed.”

Jamie chuckled. “Will ye be needin’ anymore clothes fer the night? I can sift through Annalise’s things. I know she had a verra extensive pyjama collection.”

Claire pondered on it for a moment; it had to bother him to keep rifling through her old things just for my sake, she thought. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

“Nay,” Jamie breathed. He made his way towards the closet and pulled a big, dusty box from atop the built-in shelf on the opposite side of the closet, away from his things hanging up. 

Claire curiously followed him to get a better look around. While he dug around, she flipped through some of the things hanging up. She admired his wide variety of kilts.

“Ye ever see a man in a kilt ‘afore, Sassenach?” Jamie’s cheeky tone left much room for speculation.

“No, but you have quite a lot of them. It’s almost like you’re from Scotland.”

Jamie laughed. “I’ve been told that before, ye ken. Canna imagine how or why.” He tried to wink at her as he handed her another pair of Annalise’s pyjamas, but it came out as a drunken blink and it made Claire laugh loudly.

Jamie shed his long-sleeve black henley right in front of her and she almost looked away if it wasn’t for how…fabulous his body looked. He was all muscle, not quite “body builder competition winner” muscle, but Jamie clearly took care of his body. As a doctor, her professional curiosity got the better of her. She studied the movement of his arms and torso, the way his abs carried when he bent over to grab a hanger from the floor to hang up his shirt. The way his pectorals twitched as he reached out to hand the shirt up with the rest of the long sleeved shirts (apparently Jamie organized his closet content by type of clothing: long and short sleeved cotton shirts, long and short sleeved button down shirts, running sweats, jeans, a few permanent pressed pants, the matching suit jackets that completed the set, and the variety of kilts that she observed earlier.) She didn’t look away from him until the shirt had been hung up and he caught her staring.

“Is there somethin’ on my face, Sassenach?” Jamie mused.

Claire blushed furiously as she shook her head and she made her way out of his closet. Jamie got in front of her and pulled back the covers on the side where the dresser was. 

“I think this is the first time I’ve ever pulled this side back,” Jamie admitted reluctantly, as if Claire would think less of him for it.

“I don’t see how that’s a bad thing,” Claire comforted. “Thank you.” And she slipped into his bed.

Jamie just nodded as he shed his jeans and slipped into a pair of basketball shorts he kept on the end of his side.

“Goodnight, Jamie.”

“Goodnight, Dr. Beauchamp.”

When Jamie and Claire went to bed, they kept to themselves and didn’t interact at all. Just letting their natural exhaustion take over. But when Jamie woke up, he found Claire nestled into his right side, her hand fixated on the rustic-red hairs covering his chest and her body relaxed in sleep. He smiled, and it took all his strength not to caress her cheek. In turn, his arm was underneath her body, as if in his own sleep had taken her into his embrace.

As much as it mortified him to be sharing his bed with a woman he wasn’t wedded to, he also surmised it was probably the reason he slept soundly last night, free of the usual nightmares that plagued him. Given the nightmares Claire had had when she lived here with him and his sons, Jamie suspected much of the same from her.

But he had to take a massive pish and would’ve prefered the loo rather than his own bed. Removing himself from her touch delicately wasn’t enough to keep her from stirring away.

“Good morning, Sassenach,” Jamie said as he walked towards the loo on the other side of the half wall.

“Morning, yourself, Jamie.” Claire noticed that even with Jamie’s height, the half wall kept hidden the most intimate parts of his anatomy. One part of her brain was thankful, while the other shouts of bitter disappointment. She blushed as she heard the sound of a stream of liquid hitting standing water and turned her head away to face the large window covered with those nice drapes. Just as she thought, the drapes blacked out all of the incoming daylight attempting to flood the room. Jamie shut the door to the bathroom to take a shower, and Claire took it upon herself to pull the drapes back. The room was instantly warmed with glowing sunlight from the dawn, and the view was simply breathtaking. She also noticed that the dresser was far enough against the wall to look like it was flush, but not so much that it impeded the drapes’ movements.

She dressed in the same clothes she’d worn the night before and made her way towards the kitchen. The coffee pot was halfway brewed when Jamie emerged from his bedroom, now fully dressed in jeans, a plain red t-shirt that accented his glorious body and black socks. Claire took her turn in the shower (she didn’t feel comfortable using the bathroom upstairs that was once hers) and remerged ready to tackle the main problem at hand.

The two of them headed towards the police station to formally open a case of kidnapping against one (monstrous) Camila de Marillac. To their surprise, they had already been receiving calls about her.

“Oh yeah,” the detective said, as if he had been expecting Jamie and Claire to show up looking for her, Fergus and Willie. The nameplate on his desk read ‘Detective Yi-Tien Willoughby.’ He was clearly of Chinese descent, but had too thick a Bostonian accent to be directly from China. “Yeah, the FBI, TSA and even Scotland Yard have made direct inquiries about this woman. Every single credential she presented, including the boys’ ‘passports’,” the air quotes were aided by his mocking voice, “all fake. She must’ve paid a pretty penny to have them all made, including the so called custody papers, citing some crap like ‘poor parentage’ or whatever. Believe me, we have a record of bad parents here at BPD, and honestly? I’ve never seen nor heard of you before, Mr. Fraser. So I seriously doubt you fall into that category. You wouldn’t be here if you did.

“Sadly, it wasn’t until after she’d arrived in Glasgow that Scotland Yard started making inquiries TSA contacted Customs and Border Protection, and eventually, CBP contacted us. And that’s when we here in Boston started poking around.”

“Why didna anyone stop her at the airport ‘afore she took my sons back tae Scotland?” Jamie inquired, his voice becoming angry. The only reason he wasn’t shouting was because Claire had placed her hand on his forearm.

“Truthfully, from what SY was saying, the woman has…influence, among people across the pond.”

“Ye could say that, aye.”

“Who is this woman to you, exactly, Mr. Fraser?”

“She’s my mother in law. Or…was, rather. My wife died six years ago.”

The man blinked. “Oh…oh dear, forgive me, sir… this is embarrassing but…” the man cleared his throat before saying, “I thought this woman here, sitting with you, was your wife, the boys’ mother.”

Claire coughed abruptly. Jamie’s face grew hot. And it was clear Detective Willoughby stumbled onto something he didn’t want details on.

“N-No, I…I’m not his wife…just a close friend of the family. But…those boys have become very close to me in the last eight or nine months or so. Them being taken angers me just as much as it does Jamie here, sir.”

“No ring, good sir,” Jamie smiled sheepishly as he showed the detective the left ring finger with the visible tan line. “I took it off and buried my wife wi’ it in her hands.”

Claire blinked slightly. She really had no idea of what life Jamie had before she met him.

“My condolences for your loss, Mr. Fraser.”

Jamie just gave the man a curt nod, but Claire sensed there was more to it than that. She let the matter slip through.

“Well, I can say this much,” Detective Willoughby said, “Mrs. de Marillac has broken almost a dozen federal and international laws by coming to the states and taking your sons. For one thing, legally speaking, if you were going to give up custody to her, you would have had to arrange their transport, which means getting passports made on their behalf, and then bringing them to Scotland yourself. You would not have been allowed to leave the United States until all that paperwork went through the approval of the court system. There is no law or loop hope in the laws that would have allowed Mrs. de Marillac to take the boys out of your home and back to the United Kingdom herself. They just don’t exist for the safety of the children and to ensure the legitimacy of parental custodial transfers.

“Furthermore, she’s looking at a several forgery charges. Forging one document would’ve landed her in federal prison for a long time by itself, but we’re looking at passports, adoption records, court issued custody papers that only lawyers and judges are authorized to sign, and in order to do that, your own signature would’ve been required too, Mr. Fraser. Given how old this woman is, I wouldn’t doubt she’d spend the rest of her natural life behind federal bars. But because this involves children originally of Scottish nationality- erm, I’m assuming your children and yourself have dual citizenship, sir?”

“Aye,” Jamie nodded. “Aye, we do.”

“Then this will most likely be an international case of kidnapping and this woman is in a lot of trouble with two different nations. Scotland Yard, the FBI and CBP have already pledged their support in this case, provided there was one. But there’s no doubt about that. Mrs. de Marillac will mostly likely face these charges in Scotland rather than extraditing her back to the United States. We typically let SY handle their own citizens’ criminal prosecution proceedings. But, Fergus and William Fraser are residents of Boston, and citizens of the United States. This is where they were taken from, and I mean to bring them back home.”

The looks of relief on both Jamie and Claire’s faces brought a smile to the aging detective’s face.

“Let’s get some paperwork started on this matter, alright?”

Less than ten hours later, Jamie and Claire were on the first overnight flight from Boston to Glasgow; according to Jamie, it was the closest airport to Lallybroch, his childhood home. He had already called Jenny, his sister, and told her of the predicament bringing him home for the first time in six years. As much as Jenny was excited to see her little brother again, she didn’t like the circumstances. Jamie hinted that he was bringing “a guest” with him, but didn’t elaborate. Jenny was a smart woman; she’d already figured it was a woman, but didn’t question it as she said she’d “have a room ready fer ye both.”

The flight was to take them six hours across the Atlantic Ocean to Dublin, and then there was a two hour layover before boarding another plane for an hour and some change flight from Ireland to Scotland. By the time Jamie was setting foot on his mother land’s turf, it was the wee hours of the morning and him and Claire were both exhausted. Neither of them were bad flyers, but neither of them were known for sleeping through flights without a shit ton of alcohol, which they had both declined. If they were going to bring Fergus and Willie home, they both wanted to be as sober as possible.

“Welcome home I guess,” Claire said through a great yawn.

“Ehh, never imagine coming back home tae Scotland on such grim circumstances…dinna really see it as ‘home’ anymore.”

That saddened Claire. Though, she could understand a bit. If she were going home to London, she’d probably feel more like a tourist rather than a native. The overhead female voice was somewhat soothing to her.

“Welcome to Glasgow International Airport. The Gateway to Scotland! Fàilte gu Port-adhair Ghlaschu. An Geata a dh'Alba!”

Claire leaned into Jamie’s ear to say, “I didn’t think any official Scottish location still recognized Scottish Gaelic.”

“English and Gaidhlig are both official languages, but there are laws in place that protect and promote Scottish Gaidhlig. Hell, it’s law that a parent has the right tae request their child have a purely Gaidhlig education, and schools are required tae give ‘em just that. Helps because there are a lot of auld folk who refused tae learn English, and therefore dinna speak it anyway.”

Claire nodded and hummed in approval as they made their way towards baggage reclaim and retrieved their luggage.

“Did you ever do that? Request a Gaidhlig education for Fergus and Willie?”

Jamie smiled. “Didna need tae. My boys are fluent in both, plus French, Greek and Latin. They’ve taken after me, being a linguistic polymath. They ken the difference between the two. Verra versatile, they are.”

“So, you’re saying you’re fluent in English, Gaidhlig, French, Greek, and Latin?” Claire eyed him.

Oui, madame,” Jamie answered cheekily. Clarie rolled her eyes, but smiled.

Jamie had apparently pre-booked a taxi to take them straight to Lallybroch, so when they emerged outside in the rainy spring morning, their carriage home awaited them.

Less than an hour later, Jamie’s heartbeat sped up as the towering remnants of his childhood came into view. Claire heard him take in a sharp breath and she smiled. When was the last time he’d been home? His actual home? She could only wonder.

“Welcome tae Broch Mordha, milord and milady,” the cabbie said proudly.

“Broch Mordha?” Claire asked Jamie.

“North Facing Tower, it means, Sassenach.”

“Oi!” the cabbie called out, crossed. “Ye dinna speak tae her like that, ye wanker! ‘Tis rude, ye ken!”

Jamie grew annoyed instantly. “Is e seo ainm mo pheata dhi, a dhuine. Fàg sinn a bhith!” (it’s my pet name for her, man. Leave us be!) Claire didn’t need any translating as she knew he was defending her. She smiled.

The cabbie’s eyebrows shot up but didn’t say anything else as the two of them got out of the car and grabbed their luggage. Before they could even get through the ancient stone archway that led to the sprawling castle, Jamie was all but knocked over by a woman shorter than Claire with much darker, finer hair than her.

“Six years and no word?” The woman smiled and shoved Jamie lightly, her Scottish lilt just as thick as her brother’s. “It’s good tae see ye, bràthair.” Claire knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was Jenny Fraser Murray, Jamie’s older sister. They had the same facial structures, but their physical looks, such as hair and eyes, were polar opposites of each other. But it didn’t matter; they were both clearly of the Fraser bloodline. Jenny’s eyes swept over to Claire. “I take it this is the… ‘guest’ ye spoke of?”

“Aye,” Jamie said. “Jenny, this is Dr. Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Claire, this is my sister, Jenny.”

“It’s so lovely to meet you,” Claire extended her hand for Jenny to shake. But Jenny just pulled it forcefully to envelope Claire in a hug. Despite the older woman’s height, or lack thereof, her hug rivaled that of her brother’s.

“I thank ye fer looking out fer mah wee brother and mah nephews. Yer practically family ye ken! Come along inside, ye twa.” Jenny laced her arm around Jamie’s, and Claire followed behind them. “Wee Jamie is already at school, but Maggie and Kitty are up and about. They’ll be happy tae see ye!”

“Och, I havena even met wee Kitty yet! Only seen pictures o’ her on yer Facebook and Instagram!” Jamie exclaimed, and Claire noticed the look of sadness cross his face.

“Aye, Maggie was but a wee bairn when last ye were here. She’s almost seven now!”

“Och, yer breakin’ my uncling heart, a ghràidh!” Jamie laughed, slapping a hand against his chest.

When they finally got settled into their rooms, Jamie and Claire went downstairs and were met with a man whom Claire could only assume was Jenny’s husband. He introduced himself as Ian, and it was clear that him and Jamie were the best of friends.

They exchanged Gàidhlig pleasantries before Jamie introduced them to one another. Maggie and Kitty threw themselves at their uncle, and Kitty was visibly the most excited to see him.

“Hello, wee Kitty! I’m yer Uncle Jamie!”

“Och, I ken who ye are, Uncly!” the little girl of four exclaimed, trying her best to strangle the life out of Jamie with her hug around his neck. “I’ve seen yer pictures on mam’s bookface!”

Laughing out loud, Jamie set the young girl down and urged her to go play with her sister. Jamie met with Ian, Jenny and Claire in the breakfast nook.

“So,” Jenny began, the mood instantly sobering around them. “What do we know?”

Jamie and Claire told the Murrays every detail that the lead detective told them in Boston. It gave Jenny and Ian some hope, but it didn’t resolve all their worries.

“Despite how much we might want tae, we canna verra weel go stormin’ up the de Marillac estate tae get Fergus and Willie back,” Ian said.

“He’s right,” Claire chimed in, “we’re not Scotland Yard. Detective Willoughby told us when they had news or some update, they would call the direct line here at Lallybroch. Jamie gave them the number.”

“Aye,” Jamie was the most trouble out of all of them visibly. And not one of them blamed him.

“Weel,” Jenny said, “as much as I wanna go there and blow the place tae smithereens, it seems all we can do is be patient. I don’t doubt Scotland Yard willna leave no stone unturned in getting the boys back. But until we get that call-”

“Make yerselves at home, ye two,” Ian said with a smile. “Who wants tea?”

That day turned into a week with no word from any authoritative agency, either in the UK or the US. By the eighth night at Lallybroch, Jamie was getting restless. Claire could see him practically vibrating with anxiety. She knew he wasn’t much known for his patience when it came to his boys’ well being.

A thousand different worse case scenarios were going through his mind. Tons of question. What if we were wrong? What if Camila took them somewhere else other than Scotland? France maybe? Nay, their passport records said Scotland. But what if it happened anyway? She wasna honest in this entire stramash, she could’ve taken them anywhere! A Dhia, I want my boys back!

But there was something else bothering him too. And it had nothing to do with the boys in origin.

He made his way towards the guest room Claire was staying in later that night after the rest of the house had turned in for sleep. He knocked quietly, but got no answer. When he pushed the door open, silent as God himself, he was slightly disappointed to see Claire already asleep.

He made his way towards his old bedroom, stripped down to his boxers, and crawled into bed for yet another fitful night’s sleep.

The next morning, the mainline phone rang loud enough for everyone in the house to hear as if they were sitting right next to it, and give it was just after dawn, nobody wanted to hear it.

Except Jamie.

With just enough time to slip on a pair of tartan wool pyjama bottoms, he raced downstairs, barefoot and shirtless, towards the kitchen where the main receiver was, but calmed his breathing enough to answer it without sounded as winded as he really was.

“Lallybroch, James Fraser speaking.”

Several beats of his pounding heart passed before he hung up the phone and raced back towards Claire’s room. She was just starting to wake up when Jamie burst through the door like he was on fire. The motion startled her to the point where she screamed.

“Jamie! What on Earth?!”

“Sassenach,” Jamie huffed, his smile brighter than the sun. “They got her.”

Chapter Text

Jamie was a nervous wreck, yet again.

If he had things his way, he would’ve stormed his in-law’s estate like a bat out of hell, taken his boys back, then strangled his in-laws with his bare hands for the amount of turmoil and grief their actions had caused. 

He wanted to give them a piece of his mind. About everything. How they treated him and the boys. How they used Annalise for their own gain. How they inevitably handled Annalise’s death, how they blamed him for it, blamed their sons, and then, after everything else, forced him, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, born and bred Highlander, to leave his homeland, when they were the sassenachs. And this time, he didn’t mean the word in the same loving pet name as he did for Claire. Oh no, in this case, sassenach was most definitely an insult.

They were the outlanders, something that in times of old, was a grave sin in the eyes of the Scots. He was a bloody Scotsman and proud of it. His heart beat to the same rhythm of the Lochs and his blood was blue and white, through and through. He was proud to be Scottish.

And they never stopped shaming him for it.

But no.

Claire, as usual, was the one with the calm, clear head on her shoulders.

“Scotland Yard told you to stay put. They will handle bringing the boys back to Lallybroch. It’s going to be alright, Jamie. You just need to be patient.”

“I willna be patient until Fergus and Willie are back wi’ me, where they belong, Sassenach.”

“Well, at least sit down. You’re starting to scare your nieces and nephew, and you’re making me nervous.”

Jamie looked around and saw wee Jamie, Kitty and Maggie huddle close to their mother and father on the big couch, two out of three children looking upon Jamie as if he were holding them hostage. It softened Jamie a hit, and he took a seat next to Claire, clasping his hand onto hers and squeezing.

“It is going to be alright, Jamie,” Claire whispered as she ran her other hand up and down his arm in an attempt to calm him. He was shaking so hard, it worried her.

“Listen tae yer friend, Sawny,” Jenny called from the couch. “Scotland Yard hasna given us any reason tae doubt their word. Yer boys will be home soon.”

Jamie took a deep breath and leaned back against Claire, relishing her warmth and comfort. 

“‘Sawny?’” Claire asked in a low tone.

“It’s a Gaidhlig play on my second name, Alexander. A pet name when I was a wee lad. My, erm…my older brother Willie gave it tae me. Usedta’ call me that all the time, rather than Jamie.”

“Is that who your son is named after?” Claire asked. “Your brother?”

Jamie’s smile sombered a bit. “Aye…I insisted. Annalise…said Fergus was a popular French name fer boys…I wanted my brother tae live on through my younger son.”

Claire leaned her head against Jamie’s shoulder, and the look Jenny and Ian shot their way didn’t go unnoticed.

There was a knock on the door, and everyone’s hearts skipped a beat simultaneously. 

Jamie reached the door first. The minute it was ripped open, Fergus and Willie tramped through and assaulted their father, as if it was a race to see who could reach him first.

He cried out Gaidhlig praises and love towards his sons, whom were damn near crushing his windpipe in their hugs. Claire crouched down to be close to them, but Fergus wouldn’t let her be a bystander. She was dragged into the dogpile and her life was squeezed out of her. She laughed at the close contact.

“I’ve missed ye, milady!” Fergus said.

“Aye!” Willie croaked underneath her.

“We’ve missed you boys so much,” Claire said, kissing them both on the head.

“Mistress Claire,” Willie said, “yer like a mam tae me. Please never leave again.”

“Aye,” Fergus chimed in, “yer better than our real mam. Please, dinna leave us again.”

Claire and Jamie both froze at that revelation. Claire just blushed and nodded her humble thanks, but Jamie looked like someone threw a softball at his head. Stunned into silence, he just stared at his boys.

Jenny and Ian’s faces mirrored Jamie’s, Claire noticed. When she realized that wasn’t exactly a good statement the boys made, she knew.

Whatever happened between Annalise and Jamie before she died definitely wasn’t happy.

The FBI, accompanied by Scotland Yard, appeared in the doorway and asked to be invited in. As current head of household, Jamie waved them through and invited them to sit in the living room.

“Boys, go find yer cousins and play a bit, aye?” Jamie said, a convincing smile plastered on his slightly unshaven face. Fergus and Willie obliged their father and ran off into the courtyard to play chase with Kitty and Maggie.

The adults gathered into the living room while Jenny made tea for everyone. Once they all had themselves a steaming cuppa, the Scotland Yard agent spoke first.

“The agent from Boston was right in his assessment. Those documents yer mother-in-law used as justification tae kidnap yer boys were indeed fake, though they looked rather convincing. ‘Tis why no one noticed the first time ‘round.”

“We brought on a certified forgery expert,” the FBI agent continued, “to make sure it was all done right. Sure enough, this woman went to great lengths in the legal sense to make it look like she had become the legal guardians of your sons, made it look like you’d signed over all paternity rights to your sons.”

“Woman was daft ‘afore my late wife’s passing,” Jamie spat bitterly, “now she’s just proven she’s certifiable.”

“Why even go through such troubles?” Jenny piped up. “It doesna make sense tae me. Why go through all the trouble, legal or otherwise, just tae have yer grandchildren in yer lives?”

“Where d’ye think Lise got it from?” Ian asked his wife, who gave him a stern look.

“Ian!”

“No, he’s right,” Jamie said, causing Claire to whip her head around to stare at him. “Annalise wasna the most sound individual, and she was spoilt by her mother tae the point where…weel,” Jamie finally looked at Claire, but didn’t finish his sentence.

“In any case,” the FBI agent went on, “she’s looking at a host of charges, including but not limited to, forgery, international kidnapping, falsifying government documents, perjury, and that’s just on the American side.” He looked towards the Scotland Yard agent.

“Aye, we have our own charges that can be doubled tae account for her crimes in America,” he said. “Given Mrs. de Marillac is a Scotland and UK citizen, we’ll take over the case from here. If ye dinna have any further questions?” The man looked among Lallybroch’s residents, and all of them shook their heads.

“Rest assured, Mr. Fraser,” the FBI agent said as he got up from the couch, “your former mother-in-law won’t be breathing free air for a very long time.”

“Aye,” the Scotland Yard agent confirmed, “aye, we’ll see tae that.”

“Thank you for the tea, Mrs. Murray,” the FBI agent smiled, handing her the cup. Both government agents left.

Everyone breathed a collective breath of relief, silence fell over the grand living room. Nobody moved or said anything for a few minutes.

“Weel,” Jenny finally said, “Imma go check on the boys, see if they need anything. I imagine they’re starved and in need o’ a good wash. God knows what atrocities that woman was feedin’ them.”

Jamie smiled at his sister and reached his arm out to hug her while he sat. The much shorter woman leaned over to hug her brother, and they exchanged a kiss on the cheek. “Thank ye, Jenny. Yer help means a lot.”

“Och, nonsense. They’re mah nephews, and they’re damn fine boys. Yer doin’ them a great justice raising them yerself, man.”

Ian stood up and said, “I better go finish those ledgers.”

“Aye,” Jamie said as Ian walked off. 

That left Jamie alone with Claire.

Claire had a lot of emotions running through her all at once. Curiosity was winning out, but she also felt like she was being misled. Like Jamie hadn’t been completely honest with her about his past. She didn’t blame him, nor was she angry; after all, she hadn’t exactly spilled her guts out to him about her past either.

But now that this was behind them, and they could bring the boys home, she felt…maybe it was time for honesty.

“Jamie, I-”

“Sassenach-”

They both spoke at the same time, them shared a chuckle. “You first,” Claire offered.

Jamie took a deep breath before saying, “I’m sorry, Claire. Fer everything.”

Claire blinked. “You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s not your fault this happened. Even if Camila hadn’t gone this route, she would’ve eventually found you out. She’s a cruel, heartless woman.”

“Aye,” Jamie confirmed, “but that’s no’ what I was getting at.”

Claire held her breath.

“I think… ‘tis time ye know my true story, Sassenach. And about Annalise. What it was really like…being her husband.”

Chapter Text

It wasna uncommon fer Scots tae go on holiday in France. Paris was a welcoming environment fer those of us looking tae warm our bones after yet another frigid winter in the Highlands. My father and brother and me used tae go every summer tae visit my cousin Jared, who was a port merchant. He mainly dealt wi’ exotic wines, but had a dabble in selling most everythin’. We’d always stay at his place, which was a grand mansion compared tae the castle that is Lallybroch, I’d always stay in the same room, across the hall from Willie, and Da would stay up most of the night wi’ my cousin, talking about the trade market. Jared had on more than one occasion tried tae convince Da tae get into it, claiming he had a “penmanship fer the trade,” but Da always called him daft, laughed a bit, then indulge in enough wine tae drown a whale.

It was the summer o’ 2003. The day was hot, the nights were muggy, and I was dyin’ from boredom. I was old enough tae go out and seek my own dram, so that night I did just that. Had about eighty-five pounds tae my name. Weel, it actually equaled about a hundred euros, but I knew most French pubs wouldna take a pound note; wasna worth as much. Jared made sure I had my sterling converted ‘afore I ventured out in Paris.

I found meself at the solid oak bar of a pub right around the corner from Jared’s massive house.

That’s when I saw her. All golden sunlit hair and oceans fer eyes.

She was a local performer, traveling through pubs around France tryin’ tae make a living. She could play the acoustic guitar and sing. And och could she sing.

Most of her songs were in French, but occasionally, she would sing in other languages.

Like Gàidhlig.

That’s what really caught my eye. And ear.

She apparently had written her own rendition of The Woman of Balnain, a classic, well known folktale song among the Highlands, but wi’ a French twist. I’d heard it sae many times growing up, and heard it sung in pubs across Scotland.

But the way she sung it, blending French and Scottish mythology…och, my heart burst at the sound o’ her voice. Like angels were singing direct tae me. Fer me.

When she was finished, I was the first tae stand and applaud. It mighta been obvious I was Scottish, wi’ the red mane I carried atop me heid, but it caught her eye. I’d captured her attention. I saw her breath catch in her abundant chest. She couldna look away from me. And I her.

‘Twas fate in my mind. Another performer took the stage and I went back tae the bar fer another dram. That’s when I felt a small tap on my shoulder.

“I see you enjoyed my performance, no?” She had a beautiful smile that broke my heart. She was sae lovely up close.

“Aye,” I replied, sheepishly grinning like a fool, “ye canna sing The Woman of Balnain and no’ capture the attention of a Highlander, madame.”

“You know French!” She exclaimed.

“Je sais beaucoup plus que ça.” (I know much more than that.)

She giggled, a melody all its own.

“My name is Annalise, monsieur,” she whispered.

“James, madame,” I replied. She laughed again.

“It’s Mademoiselle, monsieur.” She blushed, a cute shade of pink building on her cheeks. “I regretfully am unmarried.”

“Och, I didna mean tae offend ye,” I stammered, but she waved it off.

“Would you like to have a drink with me?” She asked and held out her hand.

I felt in my pocket tae make sure I still had enough money on me, then took her hand. “Only if ye’ll allow me the pleasure of buying.”

“Things with Annalise started out great,” Jamie told Claire somberly. “It wasna long ‘afore she was traveling tae Scotland tae see me. And only me. She’d shown up at Lallybroch about six months after I met her. We’d spent that whole weekend together, never leaving each other’s sides.

“I was smitten. She was the bright summer sun tae my cold, winter heart, Sassenach. I was a bitter, angst ridden teenager and young adult. I didna like tae play by the rules. I was…a bad boy, so tae speak, ye ken. I think she was drawn tae that…image.

“Within a year, we’d been dating, going steady as they say, and I couldna wait tae marry her. I’d saved up hardcore and bought her an engagement ring. Wasna much, but I she wouldna care. The day I proposed, a year and a half tae the day I’d met her at the pub, she started crying. O’ course she said yes. We were marrit here at Lallybroch, a full blown Scottish gala of sorts. Och, Claire…she was sae bonny in her dress…”

I had tae borrow my Da’s Fraser clan brooch tae pin my tartan up from my kilt, but I had everything else. I hadna worn my plaid since Jenny marrit Ian, as I was his best man. Naturally, I had Ian return the favor, and he was wearing his MacLeod-Murray clan regalia.

The moment I saw Annalise walking down the courtyard walkway wi’ her father beside her, I felt my heart stop at the sight o’ her beauty.

She was wearing a simple white dress that fell just above her knees. Her long blonde hair was tied in a pretty French twist, and she had Scottish thistles scattered throughout. Dinna ken why she thought that was a good idea given thistles were prickly wee things, but I didna question it when we were plannin’ the wedding. I could see now how bonny they looked, and they made the bundle of heather in her hands, serving as a bouquet, stand out more.

My eyes were waterin’ by the time she made it tae where Ian and I were standing. The local priest was right beside me. And within about fifteen minutes, she had become Mrs. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. And I, her husband. On the 15th of September, in the year of our Lord two-thousand and five.

Two years later, we welcomed our first son. Fergus George Claudel Fraser. He was sae wee, a whole six pounds in weight, born at Lallybroch, just as Willie, Jenny and I had been. It was verra important tae me that my children were born where I was. Given Annalise had become a permanent Scottish citizen, she was more than willing to let me choose. Two years after that, we welcomed our second son. William Alexander Clarence Fraser. Both o’ them had their mother’s facial structure, and they both had my eyes and tenacity fer trouble. I couldna been prouder tae be their father.

“It wasna til after Willie was born that…things took a turn…” Jamie continued.

She was strugglin’ sae much. The bond and love that shone in her eyes and actions wi’ Fergus just wasna the same with Willie. She would o’ course nurse him and sing him tae sleep, but her heart clearly wasna in it.

It was at her six week postpartum check up that she was diagnosed with postpartum depression. And it was verra bad.

Annalise would get angry at the simplest things. She’d start shouting and screamin’, at everything and nothing sometimes. Then, she’d just cry. Och, she’d cry fer hours, and there wasna anything I could do tae ease her pain. She was tae carry this burden alone.

“It was around when Willie was four months old…that the abuse started.”

Claire’s already teary eyes looked up at him in shock. Jamie kept his stare at the floor.

“I didna think it was abuse at the time,” he went on, “but she started degrading me about everything. My childhood, my upbringing, my family, my friends, even my job. Which I found strange considering she’d never come tae see me at The Daily Scots. I dinna think she even kent was my job was there…”

“You never would have even had that job if it wasn’t for my Daddy, James!” Annalise screamed. 

“Och, now ye ken that’s no’ true, Lise,” I tried tae defend myself, knowing well it wouldna do any good.

“No? Is that what you think?”

“Aye! Tis the truth, whether ye like it or not. Now, please darling, keep yer voice down. Willie’s finally gone down tae bed-”

“I don’t care about that! You’ve ruined everything. You ruined me! I had the body of a supermodel. Now it’s riddled with scars and fat that I can’t easily get rid of! You ruined me, James Fraser! You and those stupid kids!”

“Now wait just one damn minute, Annalise!” Now I was angry. I can take insults, but for her to take it out on the children? Their own mother?! “That’s no fair! They’re but bairns! Wee babes! Ye canna think tae degrade them!”

“I’m their mother, I can do whatever I want! Fuck you, Fraser!”

I didn’t see the vase coming. It slammed right into the side of my face, cutting me from the corner o’ my right eye close tae the tip of my nose. It bled somethin’ furious. And it hurt. Och, it hurt quite a lot. My shouts of agony inevitably woke the boys. Willie started tae cry first. Then Fergus did. I kent he didna sleep weel when Annalise and I fought. I was about tae go to Willie’s nursery, but Annalise had shoved me so far against the wall, picture frames fell from their hangings, their glass shattering over my heid. I felt the glass cut into my scalp, making the bleeding worse.

“Now look what you’ve done, you damn fool,” Annalise spat as she walked out of the room. Like she’d never tried tae kill me in the first place.

By the time Jamie was done talking, Claire was silently crying.

“Och, dinna fash, Sassenach,” Jamie put an arm around her shoulders. “It’s all in the past.”

“But…” Claire tried to reason, “I have to ask…why didn’t you leave? Why stay in such a horrific marriage? For god’s sake, Jamie, she abused the hell out of you!”

“Yer right…I could have left…and it woulda been an easy case tae settle in court. Ye ken weel that the UK doesna take divorce lightly, unless there’s actual proof of abuse or adultery. But…”

“Da?” Wee Fergus asked me one day. Annalise had come down wi’ a cold and, despite how distance she’d grown towards the children, she didna want them tae get sick. She was really struggling tae find a medicine that would help her, so she was in hospital fer a time. She’d asked me tae keep the children away from her while she recovered. “Why doesna Mam ever read tae me and Willie n’more?”

Fergus was a week shy of his fifth birthday and he was starting tae ask questions. He was always an observant lad. I kent it wouldna be long ‘afore he started noticing me distancing himself from his mother. But I couldna weel tell him it was because she beat me. 

“Yer mam hasna been feelin’ verra weel lately. Doesna want ye and yer brother tae get sick, aye?”

“Aye, but,” he went on, “she just got the cold last week. I asked her tae read tae me and Willie last month and she told me never tae ask her again. Did I do something wrong? Is Mam angry wi’ me? I’m sorry. Teel her I’m sorry Da!”

My heart broke when Fergus started crying. Crying because he felt he’d hurt his mother tae the point of rejection. I’ll never fer the life o’ me know what that might feel like. My mother loved me with her entire being until the day she died.

I couldna hold it in. I broke down wi’ him.

“I dinna ken, my braw lad,” I sniffled, my voice broken and high pitched. “I wish I kent.”

“It was shortly after that…that I gotta phone call…from the hospital.”

Claire’s heart clenched. She knew what that call meant, but could not imagine how it must’ve felt for Jamie.

I had quite a time getting Willie up and ready tae go, but Fergus had become verra helpful since Annalise’s recent mood changes towards the children. We packed Willie into his baby carrier and we piled into the car so I could drop the boys off wi’ my sister at Lallybroch. I’d told Jenny the gist of what was going on, and she ushered me out the door wi’out another word.

I all but raced tae the hospital, praying my sweet Annalise would still be alive. When I arrived, the hospital priest had just finished administering her Last Rites.

“We’ve done all we can, Mr. Fraser,” the doctor told me. “But…I’m afraid your wife’s time among the living is short.”

“What happened?”

“She was talking and then she just…passed out. Stopped breathing. We’ve placed her on the ventilator…to give you a chance tae say goodbye.”

My heart skipped in my chest. This was it. I walked over towards where my Annalise was laying. Eyes closed, no’ breathin’ on her own, her heart struggling tae beat. I kent she was verra sick…but it was just a cold! Wasna supposed tae kill her!

“Mo ghràidh,” I whispered, “‘tis okay, mo ghràidh. Ye dinna have tae worry about me. Or the boys. I’ll see fit they’re raised weel…ye can let go…” I brought her cold hand into mine and kissed it, the tears I didna want tae cry spilling over her hand.

And then…

“…she was gone…”

Claire never let go of Jamie as she wept. Not for the sadness of the story…but for him. She cried for him. Because she was certain no one else ever did.

“Her heart stopped about five minutes after I arrived…like the doctor said…enough fer me tae say goodbye.”

“I’m going to assume you made the necessary calls right afterwards?”

“Nah…I mean, I did… I called Jenny first, letting her know the news. Asked her not to say anything tae Fergus or Willie…then Camila…but no…’afore I did all that…”

The doctors allowed me tae stay in the room after Annalise had died. I watched as they removed the breathing tube from her throat, undid the IV attached tae her hand, removed the heart monitor wires and stickers from her breasts, and took all the sheets she’d been laying on tae use it as the cocoon she’d be covered in fer the wee trip to the morgue.

Every doctor and nurse who was close by gave their condolences and sadness fer my loss on my way out. I needed air. I needed the fresh air of the Scottish highlands tae breathe properly.

Once I was outside, I noticed the sun had set, and it was quite a bit colder than it had been during the day. I felt the cold, let it sink its way into my bones, seep through tae my very soul. My heart warmed as the frigid air touched the small part of my chest exposed from under my shirt.

I dropped tae my knees. And I prayed.

“I wasna sad, Sassenach…” Jamie went on, smiling for the first time. “I was free. Sure, I was sad that my sons had lost their mother, my in-laws their daughter, her brother a sister…but…I’d been at the mercy of her wicked hands fer sae long. She’d come close tae puttin’ me in hospital wi’ her violent outbursts. She’d taken everything I’d heard dear to my heart and torn them apart. She wasna the woman I originally loved. That woman died long ‘afore she actually did. No, Claire…I was finally free. I could finally raise Fergus and Willie wi’ the love, care and respect that they deserved. They’d no’ ever feel unloved or unwanted eva’ again. I’d make sure of that.”

“And you’ve clearly done just that,” Claire said. “Seeing them now, years after the fact…there was never a doubt in my mind that they weren’t loved.”

Jamie smiled briefly, then went on. “Of course, I had tae keep up the facade around my family. None of them knew o’ the abuse…I didna want tae cause any trouble.”

“Trouble?!” Claire spat and scoffed. “She beat you! She mentally, physically, and emotionally abused you, Jamie! How on earth could you be trouble in that scenario?”

Jamie gave Claire a tentative look. “Because of her father.”

It wasna even a week after Annalise had been buried that Camila and her husband started makin’ trouble fer me and the boys. They were still in shock over their mother’s death. Willie was constantly crying now. Fergus did his best tae calm his brother, which warmed my heart because just last week Fergus had told me that he didn’t want a little brother anymore. Typical boys no’ getting along, I supposed. I’d done my best tae teach them that one day, me and their mother would both be gone, and they’d only have each other. I guess it took Annalise’s death fer them tae learn it.

I tried tae remain peaceful wi’ Camila and her husband. Truthfully, the man angers me sae much, I dinna speak his name. I’ve been doing that fer sae long…I canna even remember my father-in-law’s first name. I prefer it that way.

But…weel, it started wi’ me trying tae bring the boys over fer Christmas. Their first Christmas wi’out Annalise. But when we got to the door of the grand estate, we were escorted off the premises.

“By the police?!” Claire exclaimed.

“Aye,” Jamie replied somberly. “Told me ‘this party was a family affair only. Anyone wi’ out an invitation werena allowed and tae be trespassed if they tried tae come back’.”

“That’s barbaric.”

“Aye. ‘Tis. But…” Jamie let his sentence trail off.

“It gets worse, doesn’t it?”

Jamie held his breath for a moment, then let it out slowly. “Camila tried tae stake a claim in paternity. Claimed I wasna Fergus and Willie’s biological father.”

“More bullshit,” Claire spat again. “I can see Fergus takes a bit after Annalise, but Willie is practically your twin!”

“Aye. But…I took a paternity test anyway. But no’ at their request.”

“Oh, dear, why are you going through the trouble of a paternity test, James? Everyone knows those boys are not yours.”

“Och, ye claim I’m no their father, and the moment I offer tae confirm it legally, suddenly there’s a problem. Ye ken damn weel they’re my boys. Unless yer suggesting yer own daughter wasna faithful tae me. But nooo…I doubt ye’d go that far. Ye ken ye canna claim she’s no their mother, ye saw her while she was pregnant both times-”

“You shirll of a man! I’ll have your head for your insulting comments about my daughter! Your wife!”

“Dead wife, I might remind ye. And yer words are makin’ her spin in her grave bed! Ye dinna have tae like me, ye never have. But dinna shame yer only grandchildren, Camila. Knowing Cornett, Fergus and Willie are the only one ye’ll ever have.”

“Is that a threat, Fraser?”

“Nay, nay, I dinna need tae make threats. I dinna see myself gettin’ marrit again. And my boys, yes MY BOYS, are perfect. I dinna need anymore children. The good Fraser name will continue through them, whether ye like it or not.”

Camila didna like my smug responses one bit. But she kent I was right. She knew damn weel I was the boys’ father, legitimate and proper. She couldna take such a thing tae court, especially after I had the paternity tests mailed tae her, declaring me as such.

But when it comes tae Camila de Marillac, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

It wasna long ‘afore rumors about me being a man whore started going around at work. Threats of lawsuits and accusations of sexual harassment starting coming in from women at work I’d never even laid eyes on, let alone touched.

It wasna long ‘afore I talked tae one of the women, and she gave me a cheque of a thousand pounds. It had my father-in-law’s name on the right left corner. I knew the jig was up.

“A woman approached me and made me an offer, ye ken,” the woman…Lizzie, I think her name was, told me. “She said there was a bad man, a womanizer of sorts, working here unjustly. Said she’d give me a grand if I were tae fabricate stories o’ rape and fornication against ye. She showed me yer picture and gave me yer name. She also told me she’d give me an extra grand if I remained anonymous and…made it look like I was hurt.  But…I couldna do it. ‘Tis no fair since I’d never met ye ‘afore.”

“I appreciate it, ye ken. The name on this cheque…’tis my father-in-law…my late wife’s father.”

“Och, I’m sae sorry fer yer loss!”

“Thank ye…but, this…whole mess is an entire family spat that’s been going on fer years. Dinna ken what they think tae achieve by ruining my reputation at work. Dinna fash yerself, Lizzie. Give me the cheque…I’ll have it destroyed. And dinna contact them, and dinna let them contact ye in return. They’re nasty people. If they do…let me know. I’ll no’ let them ruin ye because o’ me. ‘Tis my burden tae bear.”

“Thank ye kindly.”

It didna take long ‘afore more women came forward tae me to dispose of the cheques my mother-in-law gave them along wi’ the bribe. I told them I would destroy them, but I was building a case. I was expecting a big bonus tae come in soon, and I planned tae hire the family lawyer, Ned Gowan, tae represent me in the harassment suit I planned tae file.

In total there were nine women who were contacted by Camila. Five o’ the women went straight tae me, and confessed everything. Three o’ the women cashed the cheques and then went tae me and confessed Camila’s deception.

Only one actually went tae my boss. And it was enough tae cause me tae lose my job. Dinna matter that there was no hard proof. She had no marks, no police report was on record, and she had a receipt on her person from the cheque she’d cash the day before making the complaint.

But, the one thing I always hated about The Daily Scotsman. There was a zero tolerance policy for harassment of any kind, man or woman. And wi’ who my boss was…it didna matter that there was no proof.

I was terminated the following week.

“I returned tae Lallybroch wi’ my heid hangin’ low, Sassenach. Jenny and Ian welcomed us tae stay fer as long as we needed after the funeral. She couldna bear us going back tae that house wi’out Annalise. That’s when I started making plans tae leave Scotland.”

“Whatever happened to the money? Those cheques.” Claire asked.

Jamie had the most satisfying smirk on his face. “I cashed them. Converted part o’ the money tae American dollars and used it tae get us tae Boston.”

Claire and Jamie shared a laugh.

“Didna spent it all though. Part o’ it is still in a savings account in the boys’ names. College fund fer the future. In case they wanna go.”

“That was rather clever of you, Mr. Fraser,” Claire smirked. 

“Camila couldna track where or who had cashed or deposited the cheques, and she certainly couldna find out if they were converted to another country’s currency. She’d have a hard time considering most of the woman lied about doing what they said they’d do.”

“How long was it before leaving Scotland and finding your way to Boston?”

“Ye mean when I decided tae leave and when we got here? About three weeks. But by the time I bought my house, it had been three months since Annalise died.”

“Wow…so, all that transpired in a matter of three months?”

“My mother-in-law isna known fer wasting time.”

Claire yawn and stretched.

“Dinna tell me yer tired already. It’s about tae be lunch time!”

“No, but…well, this was a lot to take in…I feel like I need a nap. I’m surprised you don’t nap that often.”

“As ye can plainly see,” Jamie gestured in the living room around him. “I was raised on a farm. Woulda been a farmer if my father had insisted. But, like my cousin Jared, he was a businessman. We kent enough tae be able tae live off the land when times were tough, but it was rarely needed. Jenny and my mother had a close bond when it came tae gardening. Used tae grow wee herbs. And my mother’s rose bush still blooms a few times a year.”

Jamie pointed towards one of the large bay windows and, sure enough, roses could be seen starting to bloom just beyond Claire’s view. It was lovely.

“Well, if nothing else,” Claire said, standing up and smiling. “I need a wee really bad!”

Jamie just laughed. “Aye. I trust ye ken where the loo is.”

They both were standing and had just turned around when they saw Ian and Jenny standing in the archway of the hallway that led towards the grand staircase. Jenny was silently weeping against Ian’s chest and he was holding her up. Jamie froze.

“I suspected it fer some time,” Ian said slowly, “but I didna know how tae bring it up. I…I’d see yer bruises…the cuts on yer face…had I’d known that frog done it…” Ian’s face twisted in a kind of anger that Claire wouldn’t have suspected him capable of. Jamie, on the other hand, knew his anger face. And knew he only got angry for two reasons. His children deliberately disrespecting or disobeying their mother, or someone coming after his family. To which Jamie was part of.

“Och, brother,” Jenny cried out, and she threw her arms around Jamie, who just held her close. “I’m sae sorry, Jamie! Och, I had no idea! Dinna even ken that monster was capable o’ such…atrocities! If she werena already dead-”

“Dinna fash, a leannan,” Jamie whispered into Jenny’s hair. He continued to whisper more calming Gàidhlig phrases to her, and Ian was rubbing her back. Ian looked up at Claire.

“Must be quite a shock, learning all this…”

Claire looked away from Ian, which caught Jamie’s eye as his sister continued to weep in his arms. “Not that shocking really…”

Nobody questioned when she meant. As they all dispersed, Jamie went to go spend some time with the boys, Jenny and Ian went back to the daily routine of their lives, and Claire stepped outside for some fresh air.

“Fair’s fair…” she said to no one. “Jamie needs to know about me. The real me.”

Chapter Text

Jamie and Claire spent the next few weeks recuperating at Lallybroch before the four of them planned to board a plane headed for Boston. But not before Claire, Jenny and Ian became fast friends.

Claire and Jenny spent most of their time having traditional girlfriend coffee chit chat sessions that would last for hours and leave them in tears of laughter and joy. They would also spend time tending the gardens just outside Lallybroch’s main manor. Claire enjoyed her time with Jamie’s sister.

“He did not!” Claire roared, much to Jamie’s dismay.

“Och, aye!” Jenny returned with loud amusement. “Wee Jamie definitely takes after his uncle, usedtae’ had tae fight him to keep his kilt on as a bairn!”

More laughter ensued as Jamie turned a few more shades of red. Though he couldn’t deny the sentiment. He thoroughly enjoyed that his family had accepted Claire as one of their own. Something that they never truly did with Annalise.

“Yer wife isna worthy o’ the good Fraser name, Jamie,” Jenny said angrily. Jamie had come to Lallybroch after yet another fight between him and Annalise. At least this time, she didn’t put her hands on him or throw anything at his head.

“Ye ken I’m only still married tae her fer the boys’ sake,” Jamie said, feeling small.

“Aye, aye, what good is that doin’ them, eh? The only good tae come o’ that is there’s gonna think it’s okay fer a woman tae treat her husband like rubbish! Is that what ye want fer Fergus and Willie?”

“O’ course not, Janet,” Jamie growled. “But we canna divorce, ye ken. Annalise is more Catholic than any Fraser we’re related to. She willna allow it.”

Jenny just rolled her eyes, knowing nothing she says will get through to her little brother. Jamie, on the other hand, sat in the foyer with a coffee in his hand, daydreaming of a time when he used to love and cherish the woman he married.

Jamie looked up at the sound of Claire’s rich laughter at yet another one of Jenny’s embarrassing stories, a joke at his expense. But he couldn’t bring himself to be upset; he was convinced Claire’s laughter and smile had healing powers of their own.

Jenny and Ian’s children (the ones that could talk, that is) started calling Claire “Auntie Claire,” which always made Jamie blush a fiercer shade of red, much to Claire’s amusement. It didn’t take long for the children to be up at an ungodly hour and screaming “Auntie Claire!” from around the house, insisting she join them for breakfast before going to school. It’s not like Claire could say no to that.

“Auntie Claire, how long d’ye plan tae stay?” Wee Jamie had asked her a few days before her, Big Jamie and the boys were to depart Scotland and head back to America.

“Only for a few more days, sadly,” Claire said, trying to soothe the incoming sadness Jamie’s namesake nephew would display. Though, given his age, ‘wee’ probably wasn’t the best discerning adjective for the young man. “Don’t worry, lad, I’ll come back to visit soon enough!”

“Aye? Ye will?”

“That’s the plan!” Claire said, but it wasn’t lost on her how Big Jamie was looking at her from the entryway.

“Aye, dinna fash, laddie,” big Jamie said. “We’ll be back soon enough.”

The lad went back to his cereal as big Jamie walked in.

“Ye ready tae head back to Boston, Sassenach?”

“I won’t lie…the idea of staying here is appealing, but…yes.” Claire took a sip of her coffee. “I am ready.”

Jamie considered her for a moment. “Je Suis Prest.”

Claire looked up at him. “So you do speak French.”

“Aye,” Jamie said before sitting down beside her. “But…that’s also…the Fraser Clan Motto.”

Claire looked at him for a long moment. “Je Suis Prest.”

The flight back to Boston was something Fergus and Willie were looking forward too. And apparently it was more pleasant than the one they took to Scotland. Jamie had tried to get the boys to talk to him about what happened. But both boys remained tight-lipped about it. Maybe they were afraid, or maybe it was still too fresh in their minds to speak of. Neither Jamie nor Claire pursued the matter more than once. By the time they were all walking into the house, they were all exhausted. The flight, plus the drive from the airport, and a stop at a drive thru place, left little in the way of a good night’s sleep.

At least for the boys and Jamie. Claire was another matter entirely.

She spent the night tossing and turning; first it was too hot, then it was too cold, then she couldn’t get comfortable, her mind unable to settle down. Jamie’s long confession of his past with Annalise and her family, his inevitable flee from his homeland, and the harsh settling he had to endure as a single father in the States, kept Claire dwelling on telling Jamie of her own past.

She hadn’t thought about it for a long time. Maybe it was her ritualistic habit of compartmentalization, same thing she used to do as a doctor in England, that let her live in relative peace without the darkness of the past haunting her. But it didn’t matter now. Jamie bore his raw, wounded, still-healing heart to her. Left himself extremely vulnerable in more ways than one.

She owed him that much. Jamie needed to truly know the woman he was allowing to stay in his home. Mingle with his children. Share food at his dinner table and sleeping in his late wife’s clothes.

By the time the sun was starting to breach the horizon through her bedroom window, she gave up on her feeble attempts at sleep. She showered, dressed, and made her way towards the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. She was surprised to see Jamie already awake, drinking the coffee she had planned to make.

“Morning, Sassenach,” Jamie croaked, unenthusiastic. His eyes were bloodshot and half open to the newspaper in front of him. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days.

“Morning, yourself,” Claire responded with equal unenthusiasm. She poured herself a cuppa and sat down across from him. She noticed things on the dining room table between them: Fergus’ unfinished English homework, a classic car drawing Willie had started but didn’t get a chance to complete, a few bills that were marked past due, the comics section of the newspaper in Jamie’s hands (she assumed he had read them first as a pick-me-up, to no avail), all things that would be found in any normal household.

“What are ye doin’ up sae early,” Jamie inquired before taking a sip of his coffee. Claire suspected it was doing absolutely nothing to wake him up.

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Claire replied, “seeing as you’re not normally up until at least six. It’s half past four.”

“Ah,” Jamie sighed, rubbing one eye with his hand, “weel…couldna sleep. Gave up tryin’. I’ll stake my bets that yer up fer the same reason.”

“Unfortunately,” Claire said, the nerves starting to eat the lining of her stomach.

“I ken that look,” Jamie said. “Somethin’s on yer mind. And it’s eating at ye. Plain as day.”

Claire avoided his eyes. Jamie’s brow furrowed.

“Ye can talk tae me, ye ken. I’ll always be here tae listen.”

The invitation was all she needed. But she didn’t speak.

She just cried. She burst into tears and didn’t allow herself to stop or silence her weeps. Jamie acted on instinct when he came across the table and wrapped his arms around her. He didn’t try to shush her either. Just…held her.

Which is what she needed the most, even if she didn’t realize it.

Jamie led her to the couch and continued to hold Claire until her sobs quieted enough for her to speak.

“I lost my parents when I was five years old,” she began. If she didn’t have Jamie’s attention before, she certainly did now.

I remember being sent home from school early. My brown curly locks, much more manageable as a child, were in cute, fluffy pigtails with pink bows in them. My favorite bows that my mother had made for me.

When I arrived home, it wasn’t my mother nor my father that greeted me. It was my Uncle Lamb. And even as the tender age of five, I knew the somber look on his face wasn’t anything good.

Watching my parents being lowered into the ground by the cemetery groundskeepers…I felt numb. I couldn’t feel anything. I scarcely even recognized I was still breathing.

My hair bows were black, just like my dress, socks and shoes. My mood matched my attire perfectly. But I couldn’t bring myself to express it physically.

It wasn’t until Julia and Henry Beauchamp were in the ground a week that I broke down. My dear Uncle Lamb held my small body as I wept.

“They were in an accident while I was at school. The only saving grace was that they were killed on impact. Their car ended up going off a bridge after trying to avoid collision with a truck. They…they ended up in the river…”

Jamie remained quiet while Claire spoke, his heart attempting to provoke worrisome arrhythmias that he ignored.

It wasn’t until I stubbornly refused to go to boarding school that Lamb decided to take me on his archeology excavations. I saw the world in a way no eleven year old should probably have seen. We went to Egypt, Malaysia, Peru, got lost in unsavory parts of Mexico, saw the secret insides of caverns, caves, and temples not meant for adult human exploration, let alone a child, taught myself how to find, harvest and consume edible fruits and nuts in the deepest parts of the Amazon rain-forest. By the time I was fourteen, Lamb and I were smoking the same brand of cigarettes, and sharing the same bourbon canteen.

“You know, Claire,” Lamb told me one day while we were stargazing atop a mountain in Cairo, where the air was just as hot and humid in the dead of night as it was during the brightness of day, “having you by my side all these years…have been the best years of my life. I miss my brother, and my sister in law. But in a way…they made me a father. I’m grateful to you for your love.”

I remember blushing at the thought. By this point, I was seventeen, had the equivalent of a high school education under my belt, and was thinking of where and what I wanted to do in university. I didn’t remember much of my parents, the nightmares of their deaths that used to haunt my childhood dreams receded into the faded corners of my memory. Where they would most likely remain forever. “I’m sorry they had to die for you to become a father, Uncle.”

“Don’t trouble yourself, my dearest,” Lamb pulled me into his side and squeezed lightly, his signature way of hugging me and only me. I hugged him back. “Henry was a good man, and you were the apple of your mother’s eye. You have her hair, and his eyes, you know. I know, wherever they are, they’re proud of the life you and I have made with each other.”

It was two weeks later that I announced to Lamb that I wanted to attend medical school, become a doctor. Naturally, he was sad to lose his excavation partner, but beyond thrilled that I wanted to be something great in the world.

“I cannot wait for the day to be able to address you as ‘Doctor Beauchamp’!” Lamb grabbed me by the waist and swung me around, my still-girlish giggles resonating throughout our campsite.

“He never would though,” Claire said, feeling the tears start to build. Jamie’s off-putting expression didn’t change, but she could feel the tension in his shoulders. 

I had to beg the Dean of Oxford University’s Medical Academy to allow me to make Lamb’s final arrangements. And I knew that would be a fight the moment I got the call that he was gone. I was Lamb’s only surviving relative, and since he was my guardian as a child, the Dean had no choice but to allow me a week to retrieve his body, get it back to England, and made sure he was properly laid to rest. 

A heart attack in his sleep in the jungle forests of the Amazon, I was told. I had been far along in my studies that I was thinking of potential causes on the plane ride to Brazil. He was a heavy smoker all my life, probably before, and to my knowledge, he had no intention of quitting. He also drank a bit heavier than someone his age should have. The most exercise he ever got was going through digs, and when he wasn’t digging, he had a book in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It was obvious to me that smoking probably led to a sleeping death, but I’ll never know as I opted not to have an autopsy done. Mostly because I didn’t have the money for it. I was already going to be spending quite a bit getting him back to England, and then the services…

“His funeral consisted of a few colleagues from Oxford University, who heard about his death through the student editorial that went around, and myself.”

“That’s it?” Jamie asked with a single raised brow. Claire surmised that when his parents and brother died, people came in droves to pay their final respects. Jamie was used to having a big family, and constantly being surrounded by his kinsmen. She had no such luck.

“I’m not sure how they found out because I hadn’t even thought to contact anyone at school. So, I can only assume he had colleagues with him on his last expedition.”

“We’re so very sorry for your loss my dear,” one man, whose name always escaped me, said as Lamb’s body was being lowered beside his brother, my father.

Many of those colleagues said the same thing to some extent. I just nodded my head and plastered on a convincing smile. Before I knew it, I was sitting alone with the only family I had ever known. Dead, in the ground, in one of Oxford’s lesser known Catholic graveyards. According to Lamb, it was the same church that my parents had married in, the place I was baptized. I was too young to receive my First Communion when they died, so I was never fully indoctrinated into the Catholic Church. Quentin Lambert Beauchamp was an advent atheist, therefore the idea of taking me to church was completely out of the question.

Despite never really being a devout Catholic, I did have my beliefs, one of them being the belief in God. And I believed that one day, when I finally passed away, I would be seeing my parents and dear uncle again.

But that didn’t bring me any comfort sitting there alone, among the dead, as England started to shower me with its cold rain.

“Life went on after that…I eventually graduated from medical school, top of my class-”

“Never doubted that, Sassenach,” Jamie mused with a small smile.

Claire chuckled. “And went on to complete my residency at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, not too far from where I graduated.”

“How long did yer residency take?” Jamie inquired.

“It can take three to seven years depending on your specialty. Mine took about four years since I wanted to ensure I could open my own practice when it was done.”

“Och, ye must’ve been one of the youngest doctors around, if ye started at the wee age of eighteen,” Jamie added.

“I was twenty six by the time I finished. And then…I met Frank.”

Franklin Wolverton Randall.

Sometimes, I wish there was a way for me to go back in time. Because if I could, I would have never given Frank the time of day.

He’d actually known of my existence for quite a few years, being brought on as a medical historical consultant for Uncle Lamb during one of his many lectures at one of the many universities he was a guest professor at. Frank was a good decade older than me, therefore I was only a teenager when he was with Lamb that day.

It wasn’t until Lamb had died that he gave the same condolences everyone else did at his funeral, that I noticed him.

“I cannot express enough how sorry I am for your loss, Miss Beauchamp,” he had told me, and there was something in his voice that told me he meant it. His words weren’t loss on the notion that at a funeral, you had to say something to acknowledge the loss you were paying respects to.

And he was the only one who actually heard my voice that day. “Thank you.”

I will admit, I was smitten by him in that moment. He wasn’t overly tall, and I could see he had dark hair underneath a black fedora. He had the body of a scholar, naturally. But he was a good looking man in his early thirties, appearing way too young to be a decade older than me.

It wasn’t for a few weeks after Lamb’s death that I happen to run into him between my psychology and internal medicine classes.

It started with meeting for coffee. We ended up meeting for coffee every day at the same place and same time. Then he took me out on a proper date. A candlelit dinner at a nice restaurant and then a walk in the nearby Headington Hill. And it just escalated into going steady, as they say.

“Like you and Annalise,” Claire said, “things started out great. He would come by while I was studying and surprise me with a dozen roses or a case of my favorite sweets. He was quite the charmer. It didn’t take long before he put himself down on one knee to ask me to marry him.”

“If I may ask,” Jamie said, “when did things…ye know…start to turn…”

Claire steeled her heart before replying, “shortly after I opened my practice.”

Frank and I had been engaged for about six months when I finally opened my practice. He was there, of course, to help me cut the blue ribbon across the entryway of the building. There were a few photographs taken of us for the local newspaper, one of him bending me over to kiss me passionately, another showing off my smiling face in his embrace. At the time, I felt like I was finally happy. I had my own practice after so many years of hard work and good grades, I was about to be married to the love of my life. And we had planned to start a family after a year of being married. We had talked about baby names and where the perfect neighborhood would be to raise a family. He wanted a large family, I was okay with any number of children.

I can’t pinpoint the specific day when things changed with him, but I wish I’d seen it sooner.

Frank would show up at all hours of the day and night. He wanted to “do things right,” so we didn’t live together and wouldn’t until we were wed. He would come up to my work almost on the hour, every hour, and sometimes, he would demand to speak to me when I was seeing patients.

Telling him he couldn’t be doing that only made him angry. He had his own job at the university being a history professor, so I never understood how he found the time between a full day of lectures to come and bother me.

It wasn’t just my practice either. He would show up at my flat too. Those occurrences didn’t bother me as much as it was my home and my off time was mine to do what I wanted. But it was the way he would show up. And he stopped caring if I was in the middle of something. I was attempting a recipe I’d found online one time and I almost set my kitchen on fire with the way he was banging on the door.

“Frank!” I exclaimed, a hand over my excited heart, “Good lord, you scared me half to death.”

“Finally you answer!” Frank pushed past me and entered my flat without so much as an invitation from me. Rude, I thought, but whatever. He sniffed the air and his nose turned up. “What on earth are you cooking? It smells awful.”

“Well, if you must know,” I coolly returned, shutting the door. “I was attempting to make a recipe I found online. I thought it could be nice to have dinner with you tonight.”

“It smells like a dead carcass, I’m not eating that!” Frank all but spat, which stung.

“Okay,” I dismissed, “then why are you here?”

“No reason,” Frank said nonchalantly.

“No reason?!” My voice rose slightly, surprising Frank. “You bang on my door like my flat is on fire, storm past me once I finally answer it without waiting to see if I am even able to receive company, and there’s no reason for your arrival?!”

“Darling, why are you so upset? You need to relax, here let me get you a glass of-”

“I’m trying to cook, Frank! And you’re being very inconsiderate!”

“You’re just overreacting. I’m your fiance.”

“Yes, but you don’t live here! You can’t just come and go as you please!”

“Oh, so you’re saying I’m not welcome here anymore, is that it?”

“No, Frank, just-”

“Is this how our marriage is going to become? I can’t come back to my own because my wife won’t let me in? What will our children think of that, Claire?!”

“Oh my God, Frank, please, just-”

“Is this how you really feel about me? That I’m just some sort of nuisance? Should we even be getting married at all?!”

“FRANK FOR THE LOVE OF-”

I didn’t get to finish my sentence as the smoke detector in the living room started going off. When I turned around, the pot that was on the stove was boiling over and a fire had started under it. I made a mad dash for the pot holders and threw the pot into the sink, at the risk of splashing its scalding hot contents all over me, and threw the lid over the fire on the burner. Within a few moments, the fire was out and I turned around to start opening windows to let the smoke out.

What I didn’t find in my living room was Frank. The door was ajar and I heard the sound of his car leaving my car port. I sighed, frustrated.

“He could’ve cost ye yer home, Sassenach,” Jamie said angrily.

“I know. I tried to reason with him, but…”

“Ye canna reason wi’ someone who has no reason tae begin with,” Jamie supplied.

“True.”

“So, what happened next?”

I thought Frank had learned his lesson after the near-fire fiasco. He didn’t show up at my practice nor my home for several weeks. I knew that we were to have a small meeting with the chapel where we plan to marry, and a few of those who were supposed to be in the wedding were showing up too, and with Frank’s sudden disappearance, I was wondering if he was getting cold feet. At that point, I was indifferent to the idea. On the one hand, I would have been devastated if Frank had left me and called off the wedding. But on the other, I was starting to wonder who exactly I was about to pledge to spend the rest of my life with, and I had my doubts.

When he did finally show up, he showed a side of him I had never seen before.

“He didna hurt ye, did he?” Jamie’s voice was controlled, but hardened.

“No, fortunately.” Claire blew out a breath. “I don’t think Frank was one for physical violence. But then again, I didn’t think he would accuse me of being unfaithful either.”

I had made great friends while I was in college, and one of them was Joe Abernathy. We were both medical students and used to have friendly competitions on some of the silliest things. Grades, skills practices, even our ultimate challenge: who ended up being our graduating class’ valedictorian. Naturally, I won, but he ended up being our salutatorian. And I was grateful for that.

He was the only classmate I kept up with after the initial four years of medical school, then Joe took a residency job in his native Boston. I found myself pouring out my heart over Frank’s unjust behaviors over the past several months to Joe. We would consistently FaceTime each other and we were always texting. He always told me I was worth paying an additional ten dollars a month on his mobile plan to keep up with his “Lady Jane.”

Somehow, I don’t know exactly, Frank got ahold of my phone and saw all those months of texting. Texts Frank was never meant to see.

He had invited me over to dinner at his place just to fly into a rage over it. He threw curses, accusations, insult after insult, and somehow made himself to be the perfect example of how a faithful lover was supposed to be.

I had called him out on being my “lover” considering he’d refused to bed me before our wedding. He didn’t like that one bit.

I reached my breaking point that night. It was over.

“I took the engagement ring off and threw it in his face.”

“That’s my girl.”

I changed my phone number and even moved to a different flat in my complex, and invested in a detached garage to hide my car. It was all I could do to keep Frank away from me.

It worked. For a time.

Six months after that though, everything went downhill.

“That bastard had apparently gone through a lot of trouble to start a rumor about me involving a medical malpractice suit. It got to the point where I had to get lawyers involved to quell the rumors, or at least prove they were false. I’d only had my practice for a little over a year; there really wasn’t time for me to be involved in the ‘high profile’ suit he claimed I was a primary defendant in. Naturally, it was proven he lied and committed perjury, and he went to jail for it for a while…but the damage was already done.”

“I’m guessing yer wee practice suffered horribly over it.”

“Most of my patients were suddenly wary of being seen by me. They’d transferred to other doctors. After another few months, I didn’t have enough patients to keep the practice open full time. It wasn’t until I lost my NHS license that I knew it was over. I closed down my practice and left England.”

“And that’s how ye ended up here in Boston, eh?”

“I took a teaching job at Boston University. I had prayed those stupid rumor hadn’t made it all the way over here, but when I learned they did, I was mortified. I spent more time trying to explain myself to the Dean of the college than I needed to, though. Hell, if I had known Joe was the Dean now, I probably would have left Frank and moved here sooner.”

“Joe is the Dean of Boston University?”

“Yes, can you believe it?! He didn’t hesitate to give me a job and I spent a good few years teaching internal medicine, as well as botany on the side.”

“So…” Jamie breathed. “How did ye come tae own Dr. B’s Apothecary?”

Joe and I were walking home together from a small bistro across from the University when I saw it.

SIR PENDER’S APOTHECARY CLOSED INDEFINITELY. THANK YOU FOR 45 YEARS OF BUSINESS, GREAT PEOPLE OF BOSTON!

“Oh man!” Joe exclaimed. “I figured that would happen.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, popping a chip into my mouth.

“Old man Pender…Douglas Pender, I think was his name…he used to own this joint. Very popular among some of the newer students coming in for admissions. He died in his sleep last week. Funeral was the other day.”

“Oh how awful.” I decided to sate my curiosity and peered into the glass of the shop.

And it took my breath away.

“I contacted Pender’s estate to inquire about buying the shop and continuing its business. I explained my background and my love for alternative medicine…they essentially just gave me the keys to the place and said ‘good luck’.”

“Luck had nothing tae do wi’ it, Sassenach,” Jamie smiled.

“Maybe…but…it still felt like…I don’t know, I was living a half life.”

Jamie was about to get up to go grab something from the kitchen.

“Until I met you.”

That statement stopped him, and his heart, in its tracks.

“You…your sons…I was a woman with a great purpose in life. I had a career, and a life…and I let one man ruin it all…but with you…I don’t feel like a failure.”

“That’s because you’re no’ a failure, Claire,” Jamie came back to sit on the couch again. “Ye’ve a good heart, a pure soul, and yer work ethic is one that should be celebrated. Yer the kind o’ person I want my sons tae look up to, ye ken.”

Jamie took this time to pat her on the shoulder, and got up to use the bathroom, then grab another cup of coffee.

If he’d stayed with Claire, his heart would’ve forced him to confess strong feelings that he wasn’t sure he was ready to admit were real. It all feels too familiar to him.

Like with Annalise.

And if he was heartbroken over the death of his wife, faithful to her in such a loveless marriage, he knew he wouldn’t survive it if Claire knew his true feelings and she left again.

Chapter Text

Jamie managed to convince Claire to let him pay the lease termination fee to get her out of her apartment and move in with him and the boys permanently. She had tried to argue against it, but Jamie’s argument won out.

“I’m asking ye tae move in wi’ us fer good, Sassenach. ‘Tis no fair if ye have tae pay yer way here. Let me do this fer ye. Please.”

She couldn’t willfully refuse when he pointed that out. Jamie did practically beg her to come back to live with them. His main argument was about the boys. They were so used to having her around, Jamie knew if Claire left again, it would break their hearts even further. And they’d had enough of that in recent months.

Because of Claire, Fergus was passing Algebra for the first time in a while, actually retaining his knowledge. Meanwhile, Willie’s toy car obsession was starting to dwindle and he had become fascinated with Claire’s knowledge and experience of archeology, the more exciting stories of her time with her late uncle only fueling that fire in his belly. Jamie wasn’t going to complain. He could see Willie becoming an archeologist in ten to fifteen years’ time, judging by the amount of new holes in the backyard, Claire right beside him, the two of them pretending to have an excavating adventure. Claire seemed to be very experienced with playing pretend with a ten year old, whose imagination was more wilder than parts of the Scottish Highlands. 

Six months had passed since their misadventures in said country, and the more time passed, the more Claire felt like she belonged with the Frasers. Every facet of their lives had her intertwined in the middle. Fergus and Claire were constantly reading each other books, exploring new languages and cultures, while Willie and Claire would compare the best tools used for digging up ancient artifacts, with the occasional debate on certain controversial digging practices. And any time Jamie needed to make a household decision, he never made it without consulting Claire first.

“You know, Jamie,” Claire told him one day, “you are the man of this household. You don’t have to ask my opinion on everything, especially things that won’t have any impact on me.”

“True,” Jamie hummed, looking over some bills and other important documents related to The Rising Sun Times, “but I like having yer viewpoint on certain matters. I value yer input, Sassenach. Otherwise, I’d nay bother keepin’ ye here, ye ken.”

“Oh well,” Claire laughed, no mocking or malice in her tone, “you certainly know how to make a girl blush. I feel like an honorary Fraser.”

That last sentence made Jamie’s heart race.

An honorary Fraser.

As much as Jamie was thrilled to have Claire home with him for good, and despite how much he loved seeing his sons lavish Claire with adoration, he was still hesitant to confess his feelings to her. To truly give all of himself to her, the way she deserved. He’d told her the truth of his previous marriage, and its subsequent collapse prior to and following his wife’s death, and she’d accepted it without judgement. His heart would be safe with her, but those natural hesitations to fully trust another kept getting in the way.

“Am I that afraid of heartbreak?” Jamie had asked himself. “Am I truly scairt tae give my life to another, especially one so willing tae give the same in return?”

He was a coward, and he knew it; it was holding him back. Yet he didn’t know what to do about it.

Tell her how ye feel, ye clotheid!

I canna do that.

Sure ye can, ye fool. Just spill it all out. Your heart is safe.

Canna be sure about that. Can never be too careful.

Nay, yer being too careful now, no teelin’ her the truth about you wi’ her.

Dinna be daft!

Ugh.

“Da?” Fergus’ voice snapped Jamie out of his thoughts.

“Aye, lad?”

“Can we ‘ave those wide sandwiches again from that bistro around the corner fer supper? Me wame was cravin’ them all day at school today!”

“Dinna ken, lad,” Jamie smiled and they walked over towards Claire, who was sitting on the couch with a tablet in her hand. “What say the lady of the house, eh? What was that place called, Sassenach? The one wi’ those wide sandwiches?”

“Mrs. Harris’ place?” She inquired. “The one right across the street from the apothecary?”

“Aye, that’s the one! That meatball provolone was tae die fer!” Fergus exclaimed, causing Jamie and Claire to laugh.

“Go find yer brother, Fergus,” Jamie told the young man. “Be ready tae go in ten!”

As soon as the older Fraser son was gone, Claire turned to Jamie. “‘Lady of the house?’

The tips of Jamie’s ears turned pink. “Aye…I figured, since, ye ken, yer such an important person in their lives…ye needed a title. Nice and proper.”

Claire’s own blush, creeping up her chest and towards her cheeks, rivaled Jamie’s. She chuckled. “I suppose that’s fair.”

“Fair indeed,” Jamie added, “considering no one else in this house is a doctor.”

“Oh, I see how it is,” Claire chided, giving Jamie a gentle push, but he caught her and held her in his arms. 

Their eyes lock, amber drowning in a deep blue sea, their hearts almost beating in sync, and the air shared among them in their embrace. Jamie’s breathing speeds up slightly at the feel of Claire’s warm body against his, doing nothing to quell his swelling libido. Claire wasn’t much better, becoming more aware of the succulent heat between her thighs. She could feel his heart hammering wildly against her own as he held her tighter to him, her own breathing becoming in sync with his.

“Da! Claire! We’re ready!”

Jamie released Claire and the two of them tried their damnedest to make it look like they weren’t having an intense moment. Claire rubbed inconspicuously between her legs behind Jamie, who was trying to hide the cockstand growing limp in front of his person. Both adults were a thousand shades of red, and Jamie felt he was going to have a heart attack.

“Aye, lads! Let’s go.”

Over the next several weeks, Claire ramped up her duties to get her shop back up and running. She was so thankful the shop had insurance and the day she received the cheque in the mail, she started making phone calls.

She hired the best contractors Boston had. Electricians, roofers, carpenters, she had even hired an inspector from the city to ensure the building would be as safe as humanly possible, before, during and after construction was complete.

Another six months passed while it was being built. She restarted her stockpile, and finally took Jamie up on his offer to use the print shop basement as a warehouse. She only had so much room to rebuild the shop as there were two buildings on either side before the fire, so she had to keep that in mind. And she couldn’t possibly think of relocating; too many people were accustomed to the apothecary’s location and she wanted to keep them in mind. Without them, she wouldn’t have been as successful as she was.

A week before the scheduled grand opening ceremony, she was given a tour of the completed project by the city inspector. There were tears in her eyes as she and Jamie walked through, the inspector pointing out certain features of safety and security.

“It’s like I never left,” Claire whispered to Jamie, “like nothing ever happened…”

“Aye,” Jamie replied, “‘tis going’ tae be grand, Sassenach.”

Jamie wanted more than anything to put his arms around her and breathe her in, whisper all his praises of her into her ear. Claire was radiating so much happiness, he couldn’t help but smile too. Seeing her happy always made him happy. If there was one thing Jamie regretted, it was that the two of them had shared his bed.

Because now, he couldn’t very well sleep peacefully without her glowingly pleasant body by his side.

Bright and early, just after the sun had risen, the Fraser family and Claire were being cheered on by the local citizens of Boston as Claire was handed a giant pair of scissors to cut the bright green ribbon blocking the entrance way into her newly-built apothecary. Jamie had pulled some strings and managed to get a few of his best journalists and photographers on scene to capture this momentous occasion for The Rising Sun Times.

Claire was handed a microphone to speak to the growing crowd.

“Thank you one and all for coming out here today!” She was greeted by more cheering, the boys being the loudest of them all. “I never thought I would be standing here today after the fire. But without your support and love, I know I wouldn’t be. Welcome back to Dr. B’s Apothecary!”

She looked at Jamie, who momentarily forgot where he was. It was as if the sun had come out on a dreadful, cloudy day. Claire was just that radiant to him.

“I would be so honored if you helped me,” Claire said. “You happened to be my biggest supporter.”

Claire saw the tips of Jamie’s ears turn pink, visible even in the brightening sunlight, but stifled a giggle. Jamie and Claire gripped the giant scissors and together, they cut the big ribbon in one swift motion, letting it fall to the ground. More cheering sounded as Claire and Jamie propped open the door to let the bounty of customers in. She immediately went behind the counter to boot up the computer system, but found it was already up and running.

“Managed tae find ye a wee system that didna take so long tae boot up, Sassenach,” Jamie came behind the counter to stand beside her. “D’ye like it?”

“Oh Jamie,” Claire breathed, faint tears swimming in her eyes. “I love it. Thank you so much. For everything.”

“Claire!” Margie Tryon came up the counter with an entire hand basket full of merchandise, her daughter standing right behind her. It seemed she didn’t waste any time finding exactly what she was looking for. “Good to see your shop back to its former glory! I really needed to restock.”

“I share the sentiment!” Tia Webb exclaimed behind Mrs. Tryon. “There are so many remedies I keep in the house that only you have! Your handcrafted ailments do a large family so much good!”

Claire beamed at both women and started ringing up their purchases, one at a time. Jamie took a step back and let Claire work her magic. His heart soared to see her in her element. Of course, this also meant that he wouldn’t always be seeing her when he came home from work as she extended her normal hours to later. She had already agreed to live with him and the boys permanently, and the upper room that would’ve been her studio apartment was now the storage room, so she would be home at some point. But all the same, he was going to miss having her around constantly. This feeling did nothing to quell the fire in his belly. A fire that could only be ignited, and extinguished, by his Sassenach.

Eventually, as much as Fergus and Willie were happy to see Claire get her business back up, they quickly grew bored with the festivities already in the past, and Jamie gathered them to take their leave. He’d taken the day off from work so he could see Claire’s shop open (and oversee his staff on site), so he suggested to the boys they all go see a movie at the cinema. A rare treat in the Fraser household that caused Fergus and Willie to lose their minds with excitement. Jamie knew he would come to regret the post-theatrical sugar rush the boys would give off later as he never could say no to the expensive concessions they loved so much, but it was always worth it. They were worth it. He’d almost lost them in Scotland. He felt it was the least he could do.

Jamie was pleasantly surprised to come home from the cinema to see Claire sitting in the living room with one of her signature coffee mugs (the one with a cartoon rabbit holding a mug and a large knife and says “Caffeinated For Your Safety. And My Sanity!”) in her hand and a book in her lap.

“Sassenach!” Jamie exclaimed, letting the boys run to their rooms to talk about the film they’d just seen. “Didna expect tae see ye home anytime soon!”

“Well, you would’ve been right,” Claire began, setting her mug down. “But I didn’t have a choice but to close early.”

“What? Why?” Jamie’s concern facial expression softened Claire a bit. She just smiled.

“I ran out of everything! The citizens of Boston bought my entire shop out, plus the kitchen sink it seemed!”

The two of them shared a breathy laugh.

“But,” Claire stood up, stretcher her tired limbs. “I could do with an early night in. I’m exhausted. Spent the whole day on my feet, no chance to sit and take a breather. Fortunately, Mrs. Harris brought lunch for me, so I didn’t go hungry.”

“That was verra nice of her,” Jamie smiled.

“I definitely would’ve starved if she hadn’t.”

“We canna have that.”

“No, indeed we can not. But yes, by the time rush hour traffic started making its way in from downtown, I had to tell everyone who was left in the shop that I was closing early. I had nothing to sell them! My new store room is empty!”

“Och, I’m sure ye’ll get it back up again in no time, Sassenach.”

“I was on the phone whenever I wasn’t dealing with a customer. My shop should be restocked with everything I need to make my medicines by the end of the week. That’s only a few days away.”

“Ye’ve got yer work cut out fer ye,” Jamie said. “Are ye hungry? Fergus, Willie and I went tae the cinema while you were at work, so we’re fed. But I can cook fer ye if ye like.”

“Oh no, I’m topped off,” Claire made a gesture of patting her tummy to indicate she wasn’t lying, causing Jamie to laugh. “But I could go for a hot bath and an early bedtime.”

Jamie did a good job of hiding his disappointment. He really wanted to cook for her. “As ye say.”

Claire’s gaze lingered on Jamie for a moment, and then she disappeared upstairs to soak in the hottest bath she could stand.

Within an hour, she was tucked into her old bedroom. Grabbing her book was completely unnecessary as she was asleep by the time she registered her head hitting the pillow. Dreams of Jamie kept her in a peaceful sleep the whole night.

Just as Claire had said, her shop was fully stocked and ready for business a few days after the grand opening. The influx of customers would never be as grand as her re-opening ceremony, but it was alright. She wasn’t dim and knew quite well how many people relied on her apothecary, therefore she wasn’t worried about losing her business again. The inspector showed off all the latest fire-suppression technology installed around the store. She knew the electrical hazard that caused her old shop to succumb to its demise would never happen again if she could help it.

After a month of steady business, Jamie noticed she was going to bed earlier and earlier, to the point where they weren’t talking anymore, save for the few text messages they exchanged with each other over household matters. (Will ye be home for dinner tonight? Can ye pick up laundry soap on yer way home? I’m stuck late again with my count, can you move my clothes to the dryer please? Mrs. Harris is having her BOGO sale again, who wants subs for dinner? Willie is pukin’ up everythin’, can ye bring home yer wee tummy bug potion please?) He missed their in-person conversations. So he suggested he cut back her store hours so she could at least get some decent sleep.

“I sleep just fine, Jamie!”

“I’m over here, Sassenach.”

“What?” She whipped her head around to face Jamie, but missed him by a foot and almost fell over, had Jamie not been there to catch her. He gave her a stern look, not letting her go.

“Ye canna even look at me when yer talking, yer so tired! Hell, ye can barely stand! Yer working yerself tae an early grave. Ye gotta take care o’ yerself too, Sassenach. Cut back yer hours a bit, and maybe open a direct phone line so after hours customers can get ahold o’ ye.”

“You think that would work?” Claire pondered on it as Jamie settled her back on her feet. She didn’t have another intercom system installed like before because she wasn’t living above the shop anymore. She didn’t think about a phone line that connected to her mobile.

“It’s how we met, is it no’?” Jamie smiled sheepishly, his face turning red. “I’d say it did some good.”

Claire’s chest started to blossom with warm, pink blotches, her face splitting into a sheepish grin of her own. Jamie just grinned as he led her to her room so she could sleep.

Another week passed before the phone line was installed and she had her sign changed outside to reflect the changes.

Hours of Operation
8am - 8pm, 7 Days a Week
Closed 12pm-2pm Daily For Lunch
After Hours
Call 617-555-5372

The shiny embossed lettering upon the shop’s window gleamed in the morning sunlight, and blazed reflectively at night so passersby could see them no matter where on 5th Street they were. Claire wanted to make damn sure she wouldn’t lose potential business.

It didn’t take long before the line was being put to use. And it didn’t matter the hour, Jamie would always walk Claire back to her shop so she could help the customers needing medical help without having to go to the emergency room. Much like she helped him way back when. He was fortunate the boys were old enough to stay home alone while they were gone. Jamie would always wait outside for her to conduct her business, and then they’d walk back home. Claire was always expedient in her business approach, so he was only left to stand alone, as if to guard the entrance, for about ten to fifteen minutes tops.

Claire was at work, restocking one of the shelves, when the little chimes above the door sounded, indicating a customer had walked in.

“Welcome to Dr. B’s! I’ll be right with you,” she called out.

“Take your time, madam.”

The man had a moderate Bostonian accent and didn’t sound like he was in a hurry, so Claire quickly finished her task, rubbed her hands on her apron that read across her bosom “Please Do Nothing To The Healer” with a cartoon-looking stethoscope underlining the word “Nothing,” and made her way to the counter.

“How can I help you today, sir?” Claire greeted the gentleman.

He was all business if his appearance had anything to say about it. A tailored, fine silk brown three piece suit, a dark green tie adorned the base of his throat, and a light brown dress shirt underneath. His shoes looked like they cost more than Jamie’s monthly mortgage payment. He was removing a dark green felt fedora hat from the crown of his head as she looked up at him; he was clearly a few inches taller than Jamie. Which was saying something considering Jamie was six-foot-four.

“My name is Roderick Weaver, I’m a representative of Cyrille Pharmaceuticals. My company is looking to expand its operations here in Boston, and according to my sources, your shop is on my list of appraisals.”

“Appraisals?” Claire inquired, the threads of panic starting to stitch the lining of her stomach. Is he serious?

“Yes, ma’am. Acquisitions are my main specialty, and I wondered if I could borrow a moment of your time to talk numbers.” He produced a business card with his pertinent details.

Acquisitions. Claire felt her heart dropped to her knees. He certainly didn’t waste any of her time getting straight to the point. If what Mr. Weaver said was correct, his company was interested in buying her shop.

The shop that took her over six months to rebuild after almost losing her life over it.

Had it not been for Jamie…

She handed the card back to him and gave him no room to misinterpret her following words. “Thank you for your time today, Mr. Weaver, but my shop is not for sale. Nor will it ever be. I lost the original store, the one owned by the late Mr. Pender, in a fire almost a year ago, and I’m just now getting back on my feet. The community has need for my specific line of business. So, thank you, but no. Will you be needing anything else today?”

Claire had displayed her biggest, fakest smile for the man, but he just politely replaced his hat atop his head, nodded and left the shop. And he did not look happy at all.

Claire didn’t care what he thought; she meant every word she said. Nothing would come between her and her business.

Even if it tried to kill her again.

Roderick rounded the corner of Nacogdoches and pulled out his mobile phone, seething. He couldn’t believe this woman got the better of him. He speed dialed an international number, using the star-six-nine system to block his mobile number.

“Yes sir…no, it…it didn’t go as planned…” shouting could be heard from the other end, and Roderick had to pull the mobile away from his ear for a moment, “yes…yes I’m aware of that…she didn’t give me a chance to talk numbers! She…she took one look at the card and told me no…yes! Just like that!… I understand…yes, sir…yes sir…I will claim what is yours, sir.”

Chapter Text

You ever get that feeling you’re being watched?

Well, Claire can’t seem to shake said feeling as of late.

She’d never had it before, but on some instinctive level, she knows, just knows, she was not alone in her day to day activities.

First, she noticed the same small group of people (only one or two at most) coming into the shop, to browse or make friendly chatter with her, but they never buy anything. Not unusual for Claire; she does own the only legit full service apothecary in Boston, possibly in the whole United States, and she sells things no one else had. Sometimes people come in just to see if her shop is legit. When was the last time apothecaries were really common? Claire didn’t know.

They would come in during all operating hours. Sometimes they would come in one at a time, early in the morning shortly after she opens, and sometimes they would come in their small group of two closer to closing time, when she would normally have slow enough business to start her daily merchandise count. The only thing that stood out to her was that they never bought anything. And they were young. Older than Fergus, but clearly were either fresh out of high school or into their first or second year at university. And they always wore the same smelly, grungy clothes. She wasn’t all that good at memorizing faces, but after a few weeks, she smelled them before she saw them.

But, Claire Beauchamp being Claire Beauchamp, she couldn’t have just that low amount of creepy in her life.

She then noticed they were everywhere she went. Crossing the street to pick up an online order at the local Starbucks or her usual beef and cheese sub at Mrs. Harris’ place, walking home from the supermarket to pick up any essentials asked of her by Jamie, Fergus or Willie, even that one time she had to make a mad dash to the bank before they closed! These kids were always three or four steps behind her. The bank only had one location and was a specific one that only serviced local business owners, so she knew there was no way any of those kids held an account there. Nor could they have gone anywhere else. And she would definitely refer to them as kids. She was thirty-three, a good decade their senior, thank you very little! She was in secondary school by the time they were born and in the middle of medical school by the time they were in primary school.

Eventually, alarmed and shocked as she already was, they started following her home. They now knew where she lived. As if being followed by what she amounted to teenagers wasn’t scary enough. When they were following her around town, she could deal with it on her own with some weird factor but no danger.

But now, this put Jamie, Fergus and Willie at potential risk.

She remembered some things from her psychology classes in medical school: Stalkers always had a motive somewhere in their minds when it came to looking for victims or prey. They were typically intelligent, some tended to fall towards the narcissistic side, and usually (though definitely not always) suffered from one or more mental health issues. She also knew that men tended to stalk women more than the other way around, though in today’s times, it was becoming increasingly common for a scorned woman to stalk her ex-lover, male or female.

But she didn’t fall into any of the stalking-victim categories she’d studied in school. In any case, it was more than one person following her around. It just didn’t add up. Which scared her even more; she always became frightened when she couldn’t predict the outcome of a situation. Typical healthcare professional, she surmised internally.

When she came home one night, her suspicions were confirmed: the kids from the shop, the market, the bank, and the sub shop, were in fact one in the same. She observed them from the window in her room without turning the light on so they couldn’t see where she was, and waited.

After about ten minutes, they went from standing across the street, looking at the house, to leaving as if they were nothing more than common passersby. Claire’s heart was racing with anxiety and worry.

She knew she needed to tell Jamie, but if they were just following her around, did they really pose a threat to Jamie and the boys? Did she really need to worry them unnecessarily? No, she determined. I don’t want to worry Jamie, or the boys. At least until I have more evidence as to why these kids are being so bloody weird…

She waited another fifteen minutes for the rush of anxious emotions to pass before leaving her room. She was at least thankful that whenever an overnight call came in, Jamie always went with her. She was never alone then, Jamie made certain. She’d observe and see if they only stalked her during the day, or if their extracurricular activities would plague them at night.

Around eleven at night, a call did come in. Mrs. Jones from a local senior living facility called in on behalf of her husband, needing a remedy. She said she would be sending her in-care nurse in her place.

“Got a call?” Jamie inquired. He was wearing a black short-sleeved t-shirt (that drew out the pectoral muscles of his chest nicely, Claire noted), a gray pair of sweats and a faded red zip-up hoodie that read “Boston University Athletics” across the back in faded lettering. He was grabbing his trusty, worn red and gray trainers from the coat closet in the living room as she hung up her mobile.

“Yes,” Claire took a shuddering breath. “It’s Mrs. Jones again.”

“Ah,” Jamie smiled. “Sweet, auld crone, that.”

“True, but this time, she’s sending her and her husband’s nurse in her place. It’s for Mr. Jones this time.”

Jamie just hummed as he laced up his shoes and Claire grabbed her coat. They walked out the door and Jamie locked it behind them.

“Are the boys asleep?”

“Aye…weel, Fergus went over tae a friend’s house, an’ Willie is tucked in bed.”

“Fair enough.” Claire was internally thankful for that; Fergus being away from home with the present situation kept him safe. But Willie… she put the horrid thought out of her mind, reminding herself that these kids were following her around, not anyone with the surname “Fraser.”

Claire and Jamie walked mostly in silence after that. Unbeknownst to Claire, Jamie couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. But Claire was hypervigilant to her surroundings. They made it to the shop and a woman decked out in scrubs and a thick brown fleece-lined coat was waiting for them. Claire smiled at the woman as she unlocked the door and Jamie took up what had become his “post” just beside said door. Within ten minutes, Claire was saying goodbye to the woman, who had a small bag in her hands containing her purchase. Business done, the two of them walked back to the house, continuing their comfortable silence. Jamie eyes kept wandering to Claire’s arse.

Despite her attentive awareness and waned anxious state, Claire’s mystery stalkers were nowhere to be found. Her uneasiness of the situation led to a restless, fitful sleep that night.

“Mornin’, Sassenach!” Jamie called as he walked through the door. His long auburn hair, white T-shirt and sweatpants were drenched in sweat from his morning run. The way his clothes clung to his lean, muscular frame gave Claire all kinds of thoughts she’d rather not voice aloud.

“Good morning, Jamie,” Claire handed him a bottle of water, to which Jamie drained in a series of long gulps. Her eyebrows rose as he handed her back the empty bottle, and she deposited in the box that one of the boys had labeled in thick black permanent marker “PLEASE RECYCLE!” in scrawly handwriting. “I was just about to head to the shop.”

“Aye, I figured,” Jamie said, still trying to catch his breath. The way his chest rose and fell with each exacerbated breath left Claire unable to tear her eyes away. “Ye look lovely, Claire.”

Claire looked down at her clothes, internally wondering what she was wearing that her stand out. She kept her thoughts to herself as the light pink blush started to rise, face Jamie and smiled. “Thank you. You…look like you could use a shower.”

Jamie laughed at that, fluffing the front of his shirt to dry the sweat clinging to the skin there. This did absolutely nothing to stop Claire’s libido from soaring above the clouds.

“Ye’ll be home later tonight, eh?” Jamie inquired, walking to the fridge to grab one of his premade post-workout protein shakes.

“That’s the plan,” she smiled. “I’m behind on count unfortunately.” She looked at the clock on the microwave and her eyebrows shot up. “Oh dear, I’m gonna be late! See you later!”

“Be safe, Sassenach.” And without another word, she dashed out the door. Jamie locked it behind her, downed his shake and made his stinking way to the shower.

Claire had a feeling today was going to be a slow one. It was in between the usual pay cycles of most workers around the city, and she always used this time to do an in depth re-evaluation of her stock based on recent sales. She’d go through her entire store and determine what needs to be kept, increased or decreased in supply, and what can be removed from the shelves until a later time. But since she was behind on her daily count (given recent events, she wasn’t about to feel sorry for herself), she probably wouldn’t be home until much later than she usually was. She hoped Jamie would have something along the lines of supper already in the fridge as leftovers when she got home.

An hour into being cupped up in the upstairs storeroom, she heard a startling commotion downstairs. She reached for the dirk she kept hidden (for protection, naturally) and slowly walked downstairs.

To her surprise (and anger), none other than Mr. Roderick Weaver was in her store again. And he wasn’t alone. She snuck back upstairs and replaced the dirk within its scabbard and made her steps a bit noisier so as not to surprise them.

“Ah, Dr. Beauchamp! Good to see you again!” Mr. Weaver called as she descended the stairs. 

“That makes one of us,” Claire said, not bothering to hide her distaste for the man. The galls of this bastard!

The broad, suit-clad man ignored her statement. “Look, I know the other day you said you weren’t interested in my company’s acquisition process-”

“Still not,” Claire cut him off, glaring at him. His face didn’t change.

“But I believe my approach last time wasn’t as…persuasive as I could have made it. So, I took the liberty of bringing in local professional appraisers. Give them an hour to evaluate your shop and I can have an offer for you, and a check written, by lunchtime! How does that sound?”

Claire took a moment to look around the shop. There were five people, two men and three women, all wearing uniforms that looked official enough to identify them as appraisers, and they were rifling through her merchandise. They were moving products around on the shelves, rearranging other products, putting bottles and vials on the floor where people could easily step on them. Some were making notes on clipboards, some were snapping photos with their company-issued tablets and tapping on the screen to make electronics notes. And none of them had been invited into her store. To her knowledge, appraisers were only allowed to inventory one’s shop upon expressed invitation. At least in Boston that is. She saw red.

And then exploded.

“God damn you, Weaver!” Claire’s rabid shouts could be heard from the streets; some passersby stopped momentarily to look in on her. “I told you no, and I meant it! That has not changed! Now you have invaded my shop, unannounced and uninvited, to conduct business that I do not welcome, nor would I ever! Appraisers are only allowed to do their jobs upon expressed permission from the shop owner, which none of you have!” She made sure to glare at each of them individually.

“I have a business to run and your lackeys are potentially ruining my products, which will cost me time and money! If I wanted to sell my shop, I would be contacting people on my own. How dare you not know your place!”

The man just blinked, as if she’d casually asked for the time. “Perhaps we can schedule an appointment to come back?”

Claire’s red vision of certain death intensified, and it took some serious self control not to run upstairs for her dirk and run him through on the spot. “GET OUT! GET OUT AND DO NOT COME BACK! I SO MUCH AS SEE YOU WALKING BY MY SHOP AGAIN, I WILL PURSUE LEGAL ACTION! DO NOT THINK I WON’T! GET OUT! NOW, ALL OF YOU!”

By the time Claire was done shouting, her breathing heavy and ragged, all of the appraisers had withdrawn themselves from her outburst. Mr. Weaver didn’t say anything as he took his hasty leave.

Fuming, Claire knew she wasn’t in any condition to continue work. She knew her sales were potentially going to take a dip as her count hadn’t even been touched. The one time she didn’t keep up with it…but she didn’t care. She was pissed and had every right to be.

When was the last time she closed the shop for a personal day? To her knowledge, in the five years she’d been the owner of Dr. B’s Apothecary, she’d never closed the shop even for a sick day. With her remedies, she rarely got sick anyway.

But today, she decided to make an exception. She wrote a sign and taped it to the inside of the window. (Closed For The Day. Call After Hours Line For Assistance. -Dr. B) activated said after hours line, turned out the lights, locked the door and went home. Her anger did not wane as she walked through the threshold of the Fraser household.

Jamie could feel the hot anger rolling off of Claire before he saw the crossed look on her face. She was seething, visibly shaking, and something had upset her to the point where she was coming home early. If he looked closely enough at her neck, he would’ve seen her pulse rapidly bounding. She never comes home early from work, Jamie thought, his own heart beginning to match her own’s pace. Did something happen?

“Yer home early, Sassenach,” Jamie figured that would be a good icebreaker statement. “I can have dinner goin’ in about ten, if yer hungry.”

His words were met with a tense silence. He swallowed, heart still racing in his throat.

“Claire?”

She slowly turned around, and his heart went from racing to dropping to his knees. She was crying. He got up from his position at the dining room table, crossed the living room in a few steps, and brought his arms around her.

“What’s wrong, a ghràidh,” he spoke softly. Her tears started to wet the front of his shirt as she leaned into his embrace, his chest. The slowing heartbeat beneath it soothed her a bit. Jamie hooked a finger underneath her chin and gently tilted her eyes towards his. “Tell me yer trouble, mo nighean donn.

Claire told him everything. The stalkers, the man from the pharmaceutical company trying not once but twice to buy the shop from her to the point of trespassing. By the time Claire was finished, she was crying again and Jamie was fuming himself.

“What do you need me tae do, Sassenach?” Jamie asked with all the seriousness he could muster. “I’ll do anything fer ye.”

Claire just leveled her gaze towards him, a small smile breaking out from his generosity. “Just…hold me, please.”

And so he did.

Chapter Text

Jamie’s anxiety was through the roof. And he was thankful his employees had a mind to leave him be in his office.

To say that the news of someone following Claire around town had him on edge was a fucking understatement. Claire had gone into detail about how she felt and where she went when she felt she was being followed, but she didn’t have enough descriptive details (other than they really needed to shower or use deodorant) to take it to the police. So he offered the next best thing.

She took some of the profits that she’d earned and had professional security cameras installed in and around the shop. If there was a place in the shop someone could access, there were electronic eyes on it. And there were at least three cameras that gave 5th Street the eyes they needed. One of them showcased the front of Mrs. Harris’ Station Bistro sandwich shop, something Mrs. Harris was eternally grateful for. (“Ye can never be too careful these days!” she’d told Jamie the day the cameras went live.) The cameras were connected to the store’s Wi-Fi so either one of them could view the footage, live or in playback mode, from anywhere on their mobiles or computers.

And instead of working on reviewing the fiscal budget for the print shop for finalization, he had his personal laptop booted up and the cameras showing real time footage of the shop. Currently, the footage displayed Claire helping a customer a bit away from the register. To that screen’s left, it showed people walking along the sidewalk close to and across the street from the shop. Nothing out of the ordinary so far, he thought.

“Sir?” Called Hayes.

Jamie snapped his head from the computer screen to look up at him. “Hayes! C’mon in, man.” Hayes stepped inside his office and closed the door behind him. “How’s yer latest assignment comin’ along?”

“Och, braw, sir, thank ye,” Hayes said, but it was obvious to Jamie that wasn’t what his subordinate wanted to talk about. “Jamie…if ye’ll permit me tae inquire…are ye alright?”

Jamie usually did a good job of hiding his emotions and feelings deep within himself, but lately, with all that had happened in Scotland, it was becoming harder. “Aye…I’m braw…”

“Yer no’ braw, boss, and ye ken it weel. Everyone here at RST is worrit about ye.”

Jamie sighed. Hayes had become a close ally of his and he hated to deceive him. “There…are some things goin’ through my mind, but ‘tis no’ a concern, I assure ye.”

“Aye?”

“Aye,” Jamie pushed an tone in his voice that told Hayes “put it out o’ yer mind, lad,” which Hayes did. He just told him that his assignment would be on his desk before the end of the day and left Jamie to his lonesome.

Jamie stood up and looked out the window in his office. Someone was standing across the street from the shop with what looked like a smartphone in his hand. The camera lens on the phone was pointing straight at his window. His nerves got the better of him as he hurriedly closed the blinds and drew the curtains. Taking deep breaths to steady his pounding heart, he made a phone call and canceled the rest of the day’s work activities. His receptionist was curious but didn’t push the issue, and Jamie gathered up his stuff and left work, not bothering to say goodbye to anyone. Jamie knew some of the workers who cared the most might ask questions, but right now he couldn’t care less.

Instead of heading home, he decided to stop by the school and pick Fergus and Willie up early. The boys were, of course, delighted to see their father, and excited to start the weekend a few hours early. Jamie was thankful neither of his sons noticed how tense he felt. That tension only grew when he saw the same figure standing across from the school and around the corner, the same smartphone in his hands, no doubt taking more pictures. His heartbeat shot up a notch.

Jamie told Fergus and Willie that they would have a night in, order whatever food and drinks they wanted and watch movies or play video games all night, completely foregoing bedtime. The boys made shrieking noises that didn’t sound natural coming from pre-pubescent boys, but Jamie was delighted they were going along with the plan. Anything to keep them from leaving the house. No doubt his paranoia was getting the better of him, as this mystery person following them around was probably the same one that had stalked Claire.

But now that this person was following Jamie and the boys, did that mean they were leaving Claire alone?

“I’m home!” called his Sassenach’s voice from the front door.

“Claire!” the boys yelled in unison as they stampeded from the kitchen towards the entryway where she was, tackling her to the ground in true Fraser boy fashion.

“Welcome home, Claire!” Willie exclaimed. “Da brought us home early from school tae have pizza and soda!”

“An’ we dinna have tae go tae bed early tonight! We can stay up as late as we want!”

“Is that so?” Claire’s amused grin brightened the room as Jamie started walking towards them, but it disappeared when she saw how troubled he looked.

“Welcome home, Sassenach,” Jamie said, trying to smile but failing to make it reach his eyes. Claire tried not to look as troubled as she started to feel, seeing Jamie obviously distraught. So she redirected her attention to the boys, told them to go play while she and Jamie talked, and they obeyed.

“What’s wrong, Jamie?” Claire asked in a quiet voice, not wanting the boys to overhear.

“Has that person been followin’ ye any? Either of them,” Jamie asked, his own voice quite timid, as if he was afraid of her potential answer. “In the last few days or so, I mean…”

“Hmm…” Claire pulled out her mobile and tapped on the app for the security camera system at the shop. She flipped through the app to put it in playback mode and went through what seemed like the last few days of footage in a matter of a minute or two. Her momentary silence was deafening, and Jamie wondered if she could hear his heart trying to escape his chest. “No, he’s not showing up on the footage. Or she, rather. I really don’t know if it was a man or woman. Either of them.” It clicked in her mind suddenly, dread filling her soul. “Why? Why do you ask?”

Jamie led her towards the couch and urged her to sit. And he told her everything that had happened. The events of today, how it made him feel, and the real reason why the boys were pulled from school early.

By the time he’s done, Claire’s shock expression is vivid with her hand covering her mouth.

“I’ve never voiced this aloud…but, I’m worrit fer my boys, Sassenach…” The fear didn’t have to be evident in his voice. Claire could see it plain and clear on his face.

“This is all my fault,” Claire finally said, and Jamie’s eyes all but bulged out of their respective sockets. “I don’t know why they’re following me, but had I-”

“Had ye what? Not come home? Sassenach, ye dinna have anywhere else tae go!” Jamie’s anger was starting to rise a bit, and he didn’t bother hiding it. “This is yer home, Claire. And I will not have ye blaming yerself fer somethin’ that’s out o’ yer control. ‘Tis no your fault, and ye ken it weel.”

Claire looked at Jamie, and her heart warmed. The fury behind his eyes wasn’t true anger. It was that same protective look he’d given her every time he stood up for her and her well-being. It was endearing.

“But something must be done if we can’t go to the police,” she countered. She thought on it for a moment before saying. “What if I closed down the shop?”

Jamie’s heart broke.

“Wait, hear me out, Jamie please!” Claire had to speak fast because she knew Jamie was going to disagree. “I could sell the business…maybe contact that idiot who came into the shop with those appraisers…then, I could stay home with the boys and home school then. I mean, I was a teacher at the university. I know a thing or two about classroom structure. We could set up one of the spare rooms to be a classroom and use it strictly for instruction. I’d have to contact some people, maybe talk to Joe about it, he might know who to call, and that way…” she took a breath, feeling winded. “The boys would be safer.”

The tears that had threatened to spill earlier from Jamie’s slanted eyes were falling like leaves in an autumn wind. To think that Claire would go so far just to protect boys that weren’t even her own. The sacrifice she was willing to make.

It was too much for him to ask of her.

“No.” Jamie declared. “And ‘afore ye say anything, lemme speak.” Claire just nodded as Jamie took a deep, steadying breath. “Yer right. It would be safer fer Fergus and Willie. But no’ after all the trouble, hardship, and sacrifice ye made to rebuild yer wee shop. Ye told me once ye dreamed about the day ye’d reopen it. And now here ye are. I canna let ye give all that up just fer my sake, my worries. I just canna let it be, Claire.”

“But-”

“I mean it, a ghràidh. My heart is so full of your love for my boys. Believe me when I say that, because it’s true. But, please…dinna sacrifice all ye’ve worked fer just fer our sake. We will find another way…I know we will.”

Jamie took Claire into his arms and didn’t let her go for a long time. Claire noticed the way he was rubbing her back with the hand that didn’t have her head cupped to his chest. She noticed that the longer he touched her, the faster his heart beat. He placed a tentative kiss atop the crown of her head before finally releasing her. He smiled.

“So,” he finally said, a breath leaving his lungs as if to cleanse the air of its tension. “Are ye hungry? There’s enough pizza tae feed an entire army!”

The boys stayed up well past one in the morning, and only because Jamie was tired of them bouncing off the walls with their continued excitement and copious amounts of sugar rushing through their veins. Claire was wondering when they would actually fall asleep, but she stopped hearing movement from their rooms within about twenty minutes of their father sending them to bed.

“Maybe I should do this more often,” Jamie chuckled, sipping his dram of whisky. “Lettin’ them stay up, I mean. They didna take long tae fall asleep.”

“Maybe so,” Claire replied, “but I’m fairly certain it would throw off their sleep cycle for school. And that can make their grades and concentration suffer greatly. We finally got Fergus to start passing algebra.”

“That was no’ me, Sassenach. You are the one who got his grades up. I commend ye fer it,” Jamie raised his tumbler glass towards her.

“Cheers,” she said with a smile, clinking her own dram against his.

Slàinte mhath,” Jamie returned her smile with one of his own, brilliant white teeth radiating around the room. He drained his dram and stifled a yawn. “Dinna ken about ye, Sassenach, but I could use some sleep meself. I bid ye goodnight, mistress.”

He stood up and bowed before her and made his way up to his room, desperately wishing she would follow him.

Claire had half a mind to follow, but decided against it. She finished her whisky, took both glasses to the sink, and made her way towards her room.

She forewent a shower in favor of just washing her face, slipping into one of Jamie’s t-shirts (it was one of his Scottish rugby shirts that fell down to the middle of her thighs) and climbed into bed.

Her mind kept wandering towards Jamie’s words and the actions that followed.

“My heart is so full of your love for my boys. Believe me when I say that, because it’s true. But, please…dinna sacrifice all ye’ve worked fer just fer our sake. We will find another way…I know we will.”

He kept including her in his speech. We and our, he’d said. We will figure it out. I know we will. Just for our sake. As if they were one unit. One family. One mind.

The way he held her. His arms were so warm, she didn’t want him to let go. His heart was racing beneath her ear, each beat faster than the last. She felt and smelled a slight sheen of sweat across his body, and even more so around his palms. It wasn’t that it was too hot in the house. It was nerves, she thought. She knew the signs as she’d felt them every time she was close to Jamie. It couldn’t be denied or speculated anymore.

Jamie’s in love with me.

Her heart skipped a beat at the thought, and she felt like she was in middle school again, crushing over that one guy on the school’s rugby team. The way he would look at her sometimes used to send her over the edge. That’s what this felt like. And it suddenly seemed cruel to keep her feelings from her.

As she fell asleep that night, she made up her mind. She planned to sit down and tell Jamie exactly how she felt about him. And prayed she hadn’t misinterpreted his body’s signals.

Jamie received a text from Claire the next day, and it made his heart soar.

>>> Meet me at the shop after your work day. I have to tell you something. No, you’re not in trouble, and no, I’m not leaving. I think you’ll find it rather…entertaining ;)

<<< Oh Christ, Sassenach. Should I change into my kilt beforehand? ;D

She didn’t respond to it, but it didn’t matter.

The previous night’s encounter fueled Jamie’s more primal needs. He release his pleasure while in bed at the mere thought of her in his arms, feeling her body so close to his, the sound of her breathing into his chest, causing his heart to try its feeble escape attempts from his ribcage. He went at it for over an hour before his body signaled he was spent. Hands slick with his own seed, he got up to take a quick yet cold shower. While cleaning himself, it dawned on him that getting off on drunken images in his mind when Claire was sleeping right down the hall was an insult to everything she meant to him. He started formulating a plan to ask her out on a date, praying to every god in the sky that she’d say yes.

He planned to wear his best kilt suit and made reservations at one of the best steak restaurants in town. He would spare no expense on either of their accounts, ensuring she was well fed on the best and drank only the finest drinks the restaurant had to offer. He longed to see her face smiling and happy as he treated her like the queen she was. Like the woman she deserved to be treated as.

These thoughts kept the smile on his face all throughout work. The print shop wasn’t opened on Saturdays, but he always came in for a few hours to ensure things were smooth sailing for the Monday release of The Rising Sun Times, without being interrupted. He would go over all the articles, last minute grammatical checks and such, making sure the outline for the paper had the aesthetic quality he expected. After the paper got his personal stamp of approval, he would go over payroll one last time and clock out.

Today, he managed to get out of the office just before two, and made his way towards the apothecary. He really did feel he should be wearing something more than just a worn t-shirt, faded jeans, his running shoes and a Boston Red Sox ballcap, but he also knew Claire wouldn’t care what he was wearing. Just as long as he showed up.

It wasn’t until he was close to the door of the apothecary that heart-stabbing fear bubbled in his gut.

The door was ajar, and the glass had spider-web breaks all throughout. Jamie stepped inside and found the entire shop to be a mess. Potions, vials, and medicines littered the floor. The brand new cash register was on the ground, broken in pieces. The money that was in the register was all scattered about, which meant it wasn’t a robbery.

He kept walking, being careful not to touch anything, the anxiety churning his innards making him want to vomit.

“Claire?!” He called out, but no one answered.

He approached the stairs that led to the store room. And there was blood on the steps. A lot of blood.

Foregoing any preservation of this potential crime scene, he took the steps two at a time, keeping in time with his racing heart, and found the store room to be just as messy as the main shop. The shelves were all on their sides, boxes raided thoroughly but nothing appeared to be taken, the landline phone sitting on a now-overturned desk smashed to pieces. Along the wall, there was a mess of cable and wires, and his heart dropped when he realized the security camera black box that once resided there was missing.

Jamie whipped out his mobile and desperately dialed Claire’s number, almost miss-dialing as his hands were shaking badly. As the dial tone sounded in his ear, an eerie sound emanated from downstairs and he slowly followed the sound towards the back door of the shop. The closer he got, the more he realized it was Claire’s ringtone, only now it was distorted to sound like it belonged in a horror film. Tears in his eyes, he bent down to stare at Claire’s mobile. The screen was smashed in, the picture of him that always popped up whenever he called was scary looking through the shattered gorilla glass.

Jamie dropped to his knees and cried out as loud as his heart would let him, not caring who heard him. 

It drew the attention of Mrs. Harris from across the street. She ran in and shrieked at the sight of the shop.

“Och dear Christ in heaven!” She crossed herself as she called out to Jamie. “Speak tae me, laddie!”

Jamie slowly looked up, and the sight of him caused the older woman to gasp a bit.

“Call the police, Mrs. Harris! Claire’s been taken.”

Chapter Text

Numbness swallowed Jamie’s entire being, his heartbeat a hollow vibration in his chest, as crime scene investigators and law enforcement combed through Dr. B’s Apothecary inch by inch. They left no stone unturned, no piece of glass undusted for finger prints, no surface unphotographed. Mrs. Harris urged him to come over to her bistro for a meal on the house, but the last thing Jamie could think about was food. He was certain the sight and smell of anything edible would cause him to vomit all the bile in his wame.

“Mr. Fraser?” Detective Willoughby called out. Jamie barely heard him, but managed to get up and walk towards the Chinese man.

Jamie let out one of his signature Scottish grunts in acknowledgement.

“It’s early in the investigation, but your suspicions about kidnapping without robbery are looking to be correct. There wouldn’t be any other reason to take her and leave money and valuables behind.”

Jamie just nodded.

“We were able to pull the footage from the security camera by way of internet access using the log-in information you provided. So far, there isn’t a clear view of the perpetrators on film. Their faces were obscured by black masks and beanies. And then the footage was disrupted by them ripping the black box from the wall.”

Another nod.

“Have you or Miss Beauchamp been the subject of targeted harassment lately? It would include actions such as stalking, being followed, strange people in the shop, that sort of thing.”

Jamie’s head snapped up to meet the detective’s eyes for the first time. “Aye…someone or more than one person had been following Claire around. Then…” he took a shuddering breath. “They started following me and my sons around. I pulled them out of school early last week as a precaution.”

Yi-Tien Willoughby made notes on his little notepad, then folded it up and shoved them in his breast pocket. “Let’s go back to the station so we can talk.”

Jamie was led towards an unmarked police cruiser and was offered the passenger seat up front. Willoughby slipped behind the steering wheel, fired up the car, and drove him down to the station.

The drive passed by Jamie’s vision in a haze. It wasn’t until Willoughby was parking in a lot underground that he noticed they were at their destination. The men went into a private interrogation room, one that Jamie suspected was used to interview criminals, and they sat in chairs opposite one another across a small table. Jamie was offered a cup of coffee, but politely declined.

Jamie told Willoughby all the events of the last few weeks. The stalking, the people taking pictures of him at work and the boys’ school, and his fears that Claire was the intended target, but the one question on both men’s minds remained unanswered.

Why.

Why was Claire taken?

Why was she being followed in the first place?

Why was her shop being targeted?

Okay, maybe there were more than just one unanswered question. Write your congressman.

By the time Jamie was done talking, Willoughby patiently listening without even trying to interrupt, he was an emotional mess. His heart in his throat, it took all his strength not to burst into tears.

“Mr. Fraser,” Willoughby began, “first, allow me to say that, you live in one of the best towns in regards to law enforcement and missing persons’ cases. Boston has a 43% increase in finding missing loved ones compared to the national average.” He cleared his throat. “That being said, I cannot make you and promises or guarantees that we will find Miss Beauchamp, but what I can promise is that my department will work around the clock to find her.”

Part of Jamie wanted to get angry at Willoughby’s statement, but he couldn’t. Even if he wanted to, he just didn’t have the energy. In any case, Jamie knew Willoughby was being truthful. Jamie didn’t want empty promises, he didn’t want to be given false hope that Claire would be found easily, if at all (the latter he was trying desperately not to think about), he just wanted Claire home. With him.

And their boys.

Mo nighean donn, Jamie’s internal monologue chimed in, I will find ye. I swear it on my soul. Your sons, that’s right, YOUR sons, will have the mother they deserve even if it destroys me.

Over the next week or so, Jamie worked diligently with the Boston Police Department and their missing persons’ unit in Claire’s case. At Willoughby’s suggestion, Jamie runs a front page ad in The Rising Sun Times about the case.

BOSTON PD ASKING PUBLIC’S HELP TO FIND MISSING WOMAN

DR. CLAIRE ELIZABETH BEAUCHAMP

$500 REWARD FOR INFORMATION LEADING TO HER SAFE RETURN

CONTACT BOSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT AT 617-555-4242

Willoughby and Jamie even go in front of the television cameras pleading their case.

“We’ve recently increased the reward to $1000 thanks to many local businesses eager to see Claire returned to her loved ones unharmed. Any information leading to Miss Beauchamp’s whereabouts, or the arrest of her captors, will be rewarded. As always, you can remain anonymous. Text your anonymous information to 54242.”

Fergus and Willie, being the good boys that they were, despite their own grief, did all they could to ease Jamie’s suffering. When he came home from work some nights, the boys would attempt to cook him dinner (much like Jamie would do for Claire), and they even learn how to do their own laundry so their father wouldn’t have to. They paid extra special attention in classes so Jamie wouldn’t have to worry about their grades falling behind due to the hole in all their hearts. Jamie adored his sons and their efforts. But it also made him sad.

“They shouldn’t have to do things like this,” Jamie told Jenny over the phone one late night. “They’re too young tae be worryin’ about household duties, ye ken. They should enjoy being boys, like Willie and I did.”

“Aye, I hear ye, brother,” Jenny somberly agreed, “but at least they’re of mind tae help. Ye ken how hard it was fer Da after Mam passed, aye? How we all pitched in? I would cook, ye and Willie would take care o’ the grounds?”

“Aye, I do.” Jamie smiled at what should have been a painful memory. 

Their mother, Ellen, had died in childbirth. Jamie would’ve been a big brother had she, and his baby brother Robert, lived. Their father spent the months following Ellen and Robert’s funeral wallowing in depressed misery. The three surviving Fraser children didn’t need to be told to do anything; they picked up the slack that their mother’s void had left. Though, in their attempts to raise their father up to a higher moral, Willie had gotten sick and died about six months later, leaving Jenny and Jamie, just fourteen and eleven, wondering how they were going to cope.

“Has anyone come forward wi’ info yet?” Jenny asked.

Jamie huffed an exhausted breath. “No.”

There was a momentary pause on the line. “I can teel somethin’s botherin’ ye, brother. I may no’ be in front o’ ye, but yer voice give ye away.”

Jamie reflected, took a breath, and replied, “I dinna ken where Claire is, Jenny, but something tells me she isna far from her wee shop.”

“What makes ye think so?”

“Weel, according tae the detective, kidnappers are the lazy sort. They willna go far if they can avoid it, and Claire hasna no connections outside o’ Boston. The only people who ken her association wi’ the UK are me, the boys, you and Ian. Hell, most of Lallybroch doesna ken her existence. We didna exactly come back tae Scotland on holiday.”

“Aye, aye, I ken it,” Jenny blew out a breath of her own. “Ye think she’s still in the city, then?”

“Aye, I do. But, no one’s coming forward. Prolly’ because no one really kens her weel. She didna have many friends ‘afore I met her, and now she lives wi’ me and the boys. Short of Mrs. Harris, the Scotswoman who owns the wee bistro across the street from the apothecary, and someone named Joe, her friend from the university…”

There was the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. Jamie looked up and saw Willie, looking half asleep, but with big fat tears streaming down his face.

“What is it?”

“Hold on, Jenny,” Jamie took his mobile away from his face and tapped the speakerphone icon on the screen. “Yer on speakerphone now. Willie’s up and he doesna look verra happy.”

“Hullo, mah wee lamb,” Jenny cooed on the other end of the phone. That got Willie to smile a bit as he fitted himself into his father’s lap.

“Hi, Auntie Jen,” Willie said.

“Dè tha ceàrr, a ghràidh?” Jenny asked sweetly. (“What’s wrong, my love?”)

“Canna sleep, Auntie. I miss mam.”

Jamie’s heart damn near stopped, and he heard a small gasp from Jenny’s corner of the world.

“Lad,” Jamie began, being ever so gentle with his wording. “Yer mam’s in heaven, remember?”

The boy started to wail in frantic waves of grief, alarming both Jamie and Jenny, as Jenny could be heard audibly gasping on the other end. “THAT’S NO WHAT YE SAID, DA! YE SAID SHE WOULD COME BACK! YE PROMISED ME AND FERGUS!!! WHY YE LIE, DA?! YE SAID CLAIRE WAS-”

“Claire?” Jenny said over the phone, and Jamie didn’t know whether to blush, cry, or laugh. “Willie, a ghràidh, is it…I mean…do ye see Claire as yer new mam?”

“Aye, auntie…she…she’s been such a good mam sae far…without having tae teel me or mah brother. She does all the things that mams at school do fer the kids there. She…I ken she loves us!” Willie drove his blue eyed sight directly into Jamie’s eyes. “Please, Da…teel me she’s isna gone like my old mam!”

Jamie’s heart clenched. “Och, mo mhac beannaichte,” (my blessed son) “no… tae my knowledge…she isna gone. But…right now…we dinna ken where she is. But I did make ye a promise, did I no’? She will be found.”

“Aye, and ye ken what happens when yer Da makes a promise, eh?”

Willie smiled as he snuggled further into Jamie’s chest. “Aye. Things get done.”

Despite Jamie and Jenny’s successful attempts at convincing Willie that Claire was, in fact, still alive, three weeks had gone by and there hadn’t been a single lead in the case. It had gotten to the point where, unless he was drunk, he didn’t sleep. His employees were very worried about him and his mental state. Hayes and Geordie had both tried to convince him to take time off, to focus on the case, but Jamie (in a regretfully hungover state) threatened them both with termination if they ever mentioned Claire again. When he was sober enough to recognize how poorly he’d treated them, he offered them both fifty dollars cash and a heartfelt apology. Neither of them took the money, though happily and humbly accepted his apology, knowing he wasn’t acting as his usual self.

Late one night, while on yet another sleep-inducing bender, Jamie started pondering over the biggest concern with Claire’s disappearance.

If she doesna come back…or worse… he shook those morbid thoughts from his head at once. If Claire doesna come back…how will she know I love her? How will I ever teel her she’s the sun that warms my day and the moon and stars that brighten my night? How will she ever know Fergus and Willie want her as their mother? Want her in their lives? I never thought I’d ever marry again, but…I canna see any other woman becoming Mrs. Fraser. God, Claire! Where the hell are ye?!

Jamie did something he hadn’t done in a long time.

He cried.

Cried for his boys.

Cried for all the injustice he had had to endure since Annalise’s death. 

Cried for all the abuse he had to suffer being Annalise’s husband.

And, for the first time ever, he cried for Claire. His Sassenach. And prayed to god as he cried himself to sleep that she was, at the very least, still alive.

After another week of wallowing and self destruction saw Hayes, Geordie, as well as Margie, forcing Jamie to take time off work. Jamie tried to resist, but he knew the fight wasn’t worth it. He could hardly see straight, let alone think like the competent CEO of The Rising Sun Times he was. He appointed Hayes the interim CEO effective immediately, and allowed Margie to give him a ride home. Margie told Jamie she would be right back, and an hour later, returned with her daughter Maggie and about 200 dollars worth of groceries to help care for Jamie and his boys.

Jamie had to admit, despite himself, that having Margie around was a blessing. Despite the boys’ best efforts, there were only so many things they knew how to cook. Plus, the laundry was starting to become more than they could handle. Margie was also there for emotional support. If anyone knew what it was like losing the love of your life, it was her. And Jamie didn’t feel comfortable confiding in anyone else.

Two days after Margie started staying with them, Jamie’s world once again flipped upside down.

A letter came for him. There was no return address, no stamp in the upper right corner, just a simple “JAMMF” written in neat handwriting in the center of the sealed envelop. The no-stamp notion alone was enough for him to guess that whoever delivered it didn’t use the post. They just dropped it straight into his mailbox. 

Without thinking, he opened it. He didn’t think to wait for anyone to come home, as Margie, Maggie and the boys were out running much needed errands. His heart a racing ache in his throat, he read over the letter’s contents. It was a single page, but the space on the page was fully utilized, written in the same handwriting as the inscription of his initials on the front.

He didn’t realize it at first, but when he reread it a second time, he noticed the entire letter was written in Gàidhlig, his mother tongue.

His heart froze.

Jamie dropped the letter onto the floor in his haste to grab his mobile. He dialed the only number that would lead to the only person able to help, picking it back up.

The man on the other end answered the phone on the first ring. “This is Detective Willougby.”

“It’s Jamie Fraser. I may have a lead fer ye. I just received a letter wi’ no return address. It’s a ransom note for Claire’s return. And it’s in Gàidhlig. Whoever has Claire is known tae me, Detective. This just became personal.”

Chapter Text

Jamie told Margie about the letter and she couldn’t hide her fearful facial expressions. She asked if she could stay another night and Jamie let her, throwing his shoes on to make a mad dash for the police station.

Jamie practically threw the letter on the Chinese-American man’s desk, huffing the oxygen back to his ravaged lungs as fast as he could with all the running he had just done.

“And you’re sure about this?” Willoughby inquired, a thin eyebrow raised in the Scot’s direction. “Ignoring the current circumstances regarding Miss Beauchamp’s disappearance, this is a very serious accusation, Mr. Fraser.”

“Aye, I ken, but what else could it be?” Jamie said, still breathing heavily. “Unless we’re suggesting one of my Scottish employees took her, stash her away under the city. And ‘afore ye say anything, I can vouch fer all o’ them. Only a few of them are fluent in our mother tongue like me.”

“Never would have suggested such a thing, Mr. Fraser,” Willoughby went on, “but maybe we should start with the basics. Given how it arrived, I don’t doubt we’ll find your fingerprints on it, but as to right now, it’s an official piece of evidence. I’ll send for a crime lab tech to come retrieve it.” Willoughby reached into his desk drawer and pulled on a black pair of disposable nitrile gloves. He gestured for Jamie to carefully hand it over, which the Scot did. Willoughby delicately slipped it into a spare evidence envelope. He then stripped off the thin plastic film to reveal the sticky side and folded it over, sealing it. “Now, bear in mind, processing this could take up to a week. I know that doesn’t bode well considering Miss Beauchamp has been missing for-”

“Twenty-three days, six hour and 14 minutes,” Jamie finished somberly, causing the detective’s eyebrows to raise. “I ken.”

“Right. But, if this is what we think it is…this could lead us to her.”

“And that’s why I brought it here. Doesna do me any good tae no’ let ye do yer job.”

The results of the letter came back within about four days, a lot sooner than Jamie or Detective Willoughby had expected. But, there was a reason for it.

“What do ye mean it’s a dead end?” Jamie furiously spat. He wasn’t mad at the Chinese American officer of the law, per se. But his frustration had to be let out somehow. The detective just happened to be in his line of fire.

Yi-Tien Willoughby didn’t take offense to this; he was used to interrogated criminals shouting fairly vulgar explicits at him as they were being hauled off to jail for whatever heinous crimes they’d committed. Jamie’s anger was actually a welcomed encounter.

“According to the crime lab, while the ink on the paper was indeed handwritten, it wasn’t written by anything human. See here?” Given the letter wasn’t consider evidence anymore, anyone could handle it with or without gloves. Willoughby invited Jamie to look on the letter where he was pointing. “The writing here, and everywhere else on the page, suggest it was actually computerized writing using ink from an old fashion inkwell. The letters are written and styled too perfectly to come from a human’s hand.” Jamie wordlessly asked to see the paper for himself, and he brought it closer to his face to examine it. Willoughby went on. “Plus, the type of ink used was considered ‘multipurpose,’ meaning it could be used with a calligraphy fountain pen or put into a cartridge of printer ink.”

“What does that mean fer the ransom note, aye?” Jamie asked, not looking up from his fervent inspection of the letter. “It doesna seem likely that, if they really wanted a ransom for Claire’s return, they’d have written a fake letter.”

“Precisely my line of thought,” Willoughby agreed. “Given we’re in the 21st century, it’s more common to receive a phone call from a blocked number than it is for a letter to be dropped in someone’s mailbox. Hell, the police station is more likely to receive such calls than the captured’s loved ones.”

Jamie pondered on this for a moment. On the one hand, he was relieved he didn’t have to come up with three million dollars for Claire to be released from her captors. Even if he did have the money, who’s to say they would return her peacefully? But on the other hand…

“Why?” Jamie finally asked. “Why go through all the trouble of a fake ransom note?”

Willoughby stared at him. “I figured that would be obvious to you, Mr. Fraser.”

“Humor me, detective,” Jamie replied dryly.

Willoughby took a deep breath before saying, “whoever has Claire is trying to distract us. Throw us off their trail. Which mean one of your theories might be correct. Whoever took her does know you and feels extremely threatened by you figuring it out. This usually only happens when the suspects are planning their next move. Which could be literal.”

“Ye think they’re gonna leave Boston?” Jamie’s heart skipped a beat at the thought. If Claire is taken from Boston, there would be no chance she would ever be seen again.

That could not happen.

“All the more reason why we need to find her. Someone’s really thought this through. And they’re on to us, while we have no idea who they are.” Willoughby swallowed. “Mr. Fraser, I advise you to take some time with your boys. I am going to ramp up my efforts to find Miss Beauchamp, but-”

“Dinna worry about my boys, detective. Sir,” Jamie added in the most respectful tone he could as an afterthought. He put the letter back on the detective’s desk, grabbed his coat and left without another word.

On the outside, Jamie turned his face to stone, leaving his expressions and emotions completely unreadable. It was one of his talents.

But on the inside, he was slowly dying.

When Jamie got home, Fergus and Willie were setting the dinner table, whatever they had cooked actually smelled edible for once, and it caused Jamie’s stomach to protest with hunger pains. The thought of eating repulse the older man, but he knew if he didn’t eat to keep his strength up, he’d get an earful from loved ones.

The boys gently hugged their father and then continued fixing the table up. Willie poured himself and his brother tall glasses of milk for them while Fergus, the taller of the two, reached into the cupboard above the stove for the nicer whisky Jamie liked so much. Given the events of the day, Jamie knew he would be disgracing his beloved Scotland by turning down a dram.

On the menu tonight was spaghetti with homemade meat sauce, slightly singed garlic bread with olive oil for dipping, and caesar salad tossed with what looked like an attempt at homemade caesar dressing. Jamie couldn’t help but smile at the boys’ efforts, and it did all look very appetizing. It didn’t taste too bad either, Jamie surmised as he bit into the forksize bite of salad.

“Ye boys did a fine job o’ dinner,” Jamie said about twenty minutes later, plate cleaned of two helpings of food and his wame stuffed to the brim. He was trying his hardest to maintain a genuine smile, but it was hard for him to enjoy a meal without his beloved Sassenach sharing in its glory.

“Weel,” Willie started slowly, “we ken ye’ve been out o’ sorts lately, what with Mam bein’ gone…”

Jamie’s heart lept at the sound of Willie calling Claire “mam.” “Aye,” was all he said.

“Maybe ye should call Auntie Jen, Da,” Fergus suggested as he downed the rest of his milk and started clearing the table. “Ye usedte’ tell Auntie everythin’…maybe ye should this time. I ken it’s verra late at Lallybroch, but ye know she’d be willing tae talk if ye need it.”

Jamie had just talked to Jenny last week, but that never used to matter. After him and the boys fled Scotland, he used to call his sister several times a week. Now, he was in such a stooper with Claire’s disappearance… perhaps it is a good idea, Jamie thought. He smiled at his oldest son.

“Dinna fash yerself about the dishes, lads. I’ll handle them. Ach, no, ye went through the trouble o’ makin’ dinner, it’s my job tae clean up the mess. Now off wi’ ye.”

The boys gave their father one more hug before clammering up the stairs to their rooms. Jamie made quick work of the kitchen before picking up his mobile phone, selecting Jenny’s warm smile from his “starred contacts” on his contacts’ list, and tapped the phone icon to dial.

Given the hour, it was just after 1am at Lallybroch, but he knew his sister was a light sleeper. And given all that had happened, he had a feeling Jenny would be beside herself with worry for him, the boys, and Claire.

Sure enough, she answered on the first ring.

“Hello, mah wee lamb.” Her voice was music to his ears.

“Christ, Janet, I havena been a ‘wee lamb’ since ‘afore mother died,” Jamie tried to sound stern, but the emotion of hearing his sister’s voice took all his intended snark away from him. “Sorry tae call so late. Hope I didna wake anyone.”

“Och, no. Ian took the children out on a fishing trip, so I’m currently Lallybroch’s interim laird.” That caused Jamie to laugh. “Has there been any news, Jamie?” Jenny asked.

Jamie filled her in on the letter and the results, as well as his and Detective Willoughby’s speculations on why the letter was sent in the first place. Jamie heard his sister let out a big breath.

“That’s no good, a ghràidh,” Jenny said grimly. “I have tae agree wi’ the detective on this one. Doesna bode weel fer Claire if he’s right.”

“Aye,” was all Jamie could say. He really didn’t want to start crying again. 

Jamie could hear his sister’s smile even over the phone. “Ye love her, don’t ye. That’s why ye canna let her go, aye?”

He’d never said it aloud. Never spoken of his true feelings to anyone, just kept them buried deep in his heart. But to hear his sister say it, aloud and unfiltered, cut through the haze that had been his mind for almost a month.

“With all my heart, Jenny.” Jamie could feel his eyes starting to water, and if he did cry, he wasn’t going to stop himself. “I wanted her from the moment I laid eyes on her. The night Fergus got sick and I made a late night trip to her wee apothecary in town. But it wasna til I pulled her from the fiery deathtrap that was that same shop that I realized I loved her. That I’d move hell and earth, mountains, and give up my verra soul if it meant I could spend the rest o’ my life wi’ her. Truth is…I never really felt this way wi’ Annalise. Sure, I thought I did when we were first marrit…but I think now, lookin’ back…it was lust…no’ love. This,” he placed a hand over his heart, the rapid beating beneath his shirt moving his hand up and down. “What I feel fer Claire is definitely love. I have tae get her back, Jenny…I-I willna be able tae live wi’out her.”

“I ken…’tis how I’ve always felt about Ian…it’s like what Da always said…ye’ll ken when ye’ve found the right one…just by lookin’ at them. There won’t ever be another one, whose heart syncs wi’ yer own.”

Jamie smiled. “Aye…though, in regards tae recent events…it doesna help that we have no idea who coulda done this to her.”

“Weel…” Jenny started, but stopped.

That got Jamie’s attention. “Out wi’ it, Janet. What do ye know?”

The span of two slow heartbeats went by before she said, “there’s been talk around Broch Mordha…regarding yer former in-laws…”

Jamie’s heart dropped at the mention of the de Marillac’s. When he didn’t speak further, Jenny took that as a sign to continue.

“They’ve been rather chatty lately…talkin’ about moving their pharmaceutical company tae the States, and planning a big trip tae Boston, buying up small, family owned shops, completely taking over the market. Not Camila, obviously…she’s still in prison, but Annalise’s brother I think…”

Jamie uttered loud, explicit curses in Gàidhlig. Of course, he thought, mentally smacking his head. He’d forgotten all about the man who had come into Claire’s shop with every intent to buy it from her, even going as far as to trespass. It was all starting to make sense, and the food in his gut started to churn at the thought of his in laws getting back at him by going after the one person Jamie would rip his still-beating heart out to save.

Dread pulsated through Jamie’s trembling body as he told Jenny he’d call her back later, that he loved her, hung up and dialed Willoughby’s number.

“This is Detective Will-”

“I know who’s behind this. And I’m a fucking clotheid for not thinking of it sooner.”

Chapter Text

Time stood still. Sounds were indistinguishable from one another. Air barely moved. It was hot and sticky and when Claire finally woke up, she felt many different things at once. 

She hurt. All over. She reached out to try and feel where exactly she was hurt, but found she was bound. Her wrists were strung high above her, the metal binding her there cutting deep into her skin. A mere millimeter of movement caused her to cry out and she could feel something warm dripping onto her face and into her mouth. It tasted like rust.

Blood?!

Despite the pain, she struggled against her restraints, a fresh wave of sickening pain washing over her like a tidal wave, keeping her grounded.

“Don’t even try to move, deary,” a cold yet somewhat familiar voice called out from nowhere. “It won’t earn you anything.”

Claire managed to open her eyes to get them to adjust in the darkness. But no matter how much she strained the whisky colored globes in her head, she couldn’t make out any shapes, moving or otherwise.

A single, dingy hanging light bulb was turned on over her head. The sudden brightness brought Claire a new set of challenges. She couldn’t see anything at first, her vision going from utter blackness to stunning whiteness. But it took less time to adjust to the brightness than the dark.

“You’re finally awake!” said the voice again, and the owner of the voice kicked Claire in the stomach hard, causing her to cry out even more. Rusty copper flooded the inside of her mouth and she spat. The red-tinged spittle nearly caused her to vomit bile. She slowly looked up, and her eyes grew the size of dinner plates.

“You,” was all she could croak out; her throat was parched worse than the Mojave desert in July.

It was the man from the pharmaceuticals company. The same one who went way too far in his attempts to buy her apothecary.

“Despite the violent way you threw me out of your shop,” he said with a ridiculous amount of calm, as if they were having a civilized conversation over afternoon tea, “I’m still willing to negotiate a deal.” He sat down and laid a briefcase in his lap. He pushed some buttons on the latches and opened it, drawing out several sheets of legal-sized papers and a pen.

Claire, concussion-induced daze aside, couldn’t believe what she was seeing and hearing. Even in her current predicament, this bloke was still trying to buy her apothecary?!

“Screw…” she somehow managed to choke out, “you.”

The man’s face went from a pleasantly fake smile to a downright evil glower. Just as calmly as he pulled the papers out, he replaced them inside the brief case, clicked it shut, and ran it across Claire’s head as hard as he could.

Colorful stars danced around her vision with her eyes closed, the dizziness coming back with a vengeance. She did her best to keep her strength up, but she retched up what bile her stomach had left, along with some blood. She cried out, the pain becoming almost unbearable.

Mr. Roderick Weaver grabbed Claire by her hair and pulled her head up, ignoring her protesting whimpers.

“Let me try this again, slower this time,” he spat through clenched teeth. “I’m going to ask you, once more, to sell your fucking shop to me and my employer, and you’re going to say yes. Do I make myself clear?”

Claire slowly dragged her eyes up to face the man, no fear showing on her otherwise glass face. Her beautiful feature twisted into an evil smile of her own.

“Eat…me…you cow.

She probably would have regretted that line if she wasn’t who she was. She’d been through so much worse than what this oversized bully could ever do to her. And he was about to find out.

But that was before he threw her head back (thankfully it didn’t hit the pole this time) walked behind her prison where she couldn’t see and produced some kind of instrument.

Claire’s eyes widen when she saw what it actually was.

An actual fucking cattle prod.

“So…Miss Beauchamp…” he began in that annoyingly sing-song voice, pressing a button on the cordless torture device to demonstrate just how effectively it worked. “Are you willing to sell your shop to my employer? You won’t have to do anything except sign here and-”

“Maybe…you didn’t…hear me…before,” Claire huffed out, the pain starting to interfere with basic speech. “Eat…me.”

She didn’t get a warning. Her side started shooting with an immense pain, causing her entire body to convulse in response. She knew a cattle prod was different from a stun gun. Don’t ask, she sometimes does weird searches on the internet, alright? A cattle prod has just enough juice in it to cause electrocution, but not enough to stun or even kill a person.

In truth, the sting itself was just that: a sting. Or it would have been if her nerves already firing all at once with her overall body pain, it made the shock feel a thousand times worse.

“Are you going to sell it?”

“No.”

Another shock, another stifled scream.

“You need to sell it. What good is it doing you, really?”

“You know…nothing about…my business. No.”

Another shock, more screams.

“I know enough. We can do better. Sell it!”

“No you can’t. No!”

A slightly longer shock. A louder scream.

“Sell it!”

“No!”

Long shock. Longer scream.

“SELL IT, YOU BITCH!”

“FUCK YOURSELF!”

The longest shock yet was delivered, but Claire had no more energy to scream. But she didn’t lose consciousness either. She stayed true to her word. Every time he asked, the answer was, and forever would be, the same. No.

This went on for almost an hour, and Weaver knew if he kept going, he would eventually tire Claire out to the point where she just…expired. He knew if she was dead, he would be too. His employer made it very clear to him that he was not to kill anyone. Just…push them into seeing the benefit of selling their businesses to them. It had worked so far; every other mom-and-pop pharmaceutical company in Boston had given up their livelihoods, their dream businesses, in favor of a big cash out in exchange for all the rights their ownerships had.

But not Claire. Not this woman who had been tortured in ways that didn’t require any physical devices. No. What was done to her was much worse. And that’s what kept her awake.

Kept her alive.

Or so she thought.

Weaver decided to switch tactics. He laughed richly, which gave Claire a bit of a start. “They told me you would be persistent.”

Claire looked up, barely able to keep her eyes open. “W-Who?”

The man set the cattle prod down on the ground and sat back in his chair, propping a foot across the opposite leg. How the hell was he able to do that being so fat? Claire thought. Thinking about it now, she never paid attention to his physique. She was too consumed by how much his ugly suit might have cost.

“Why, my employer of course!” Weaver chuckled. “How do you think we were able to find you?”

Claire almost tried to blink her confusion away; she would’ve fallen asleep for good if she had.

The man scoffed. “I feel I should apologize to you for not calling you by your proper title. Doctor.

Claire’s insides froze, and her heart damn near stopped. Oh no.

“You know,” Weaver went on, “we were very saddened to hear of your former fiance’s passing in prison.”

A sob somehow escaped her lips. “F-F-Frank’s…dead?

“Oh yes,” a fake pout formed on the pudgy man’s lips. “Took his own life in his cell, just before the sentencing trial was to begin in England. Nobody knows exactly how he managed to smuggle enough sheets into his cell to hang himself with, but there it is. A tragedy, really.”

Now Claire didn’t stop the tears. They fell freely from her eyes and down her dirty face.

She never hated Frank to the point where she wanted him dead. She just wanted him to respect her privacy and leave her alone. He almost burned her bloody flat to the ground because of his childish behavior! But…to hear that he was dead?

Because of her…

No. She steeled her thoughts immediately. I am not to blame for this. No matter what this fat arse says. Frank did that of his own volition. Frank could have owned up to his crimes and mistakes and served his time like a man. I am not responsible for that coward’s actions.

“There was quite a story attached to why you ended up in Boston to begin with,” Weaver continued, as if Claire wasn’t even in the room. “Some of it utterly fabricated, rumors and such, but some of it…well well, it’s no wonder he killed himself. You ruined his life.”

Had she not been so weak from the beatings and torture, Claire would’ve ripped herself from the chains to strangle Weaver to death, screaming about how Frank was really to blame, despite it going against everything she held dear as a doctor. But she just continued to cry silently.

“So, you see, there’s really nothing stopping us from, oh I don’t know…making our own story here? In Boston? I mean, you’re practically running a pharmacy without a license. That’s a federal offense in this country.”

Claire ignored his stupid attempts at blackmail; before purchasing the shop, she inquired as to what she would need, legally speaking, to do it, and she was assured a notary just needed to be present when signing over ownership. She did however have one question on her mind.

“W-Who…told…you…this…”

As clear as a bell, footsteps slowly made their way towards them from behind Weaver. Another man now stood beside him, dressed just as impeccably as the first day Weaver showed up at the shop. When she looked up, he seemed slightly familiar. Like they had met before.

When he spoke, what was left in Claire’s bloodstream ran cold.

“Let’s just say you have some…interpersonal relations with my former brother in law,” the French accent rolled off the man’s tongue as easily as breathing would be. “And I’m here to clean up the mess he’s made.”

Chapter Text

Camila de Marillac was now officially a criminal with an extensive charge sheet. She would never be able to breathe free Scottish air again. She’d never be able to leave prison, and she would never be able to return to France, even if she wanted to.

After her arrest at Lallybroch, a public relation nightmare ensued. A family that was once revered and respected, was now laughed at and mocked, between former friends and within business circles.

Almost all of the potential business contracts the de Marillac’s were engaging in severed ties with the family. People who considered themselves friends of the de Marillac’s distanced themselves. Family members still living in France severed all communication with Cornett’s immediate family members in Scotland.

Camila spent three months in prison before the trial began. At this point, she knew she wouldn’t win, despite the connections she had had. 

The trial was fairly lengthy, but it didn’t matter as there was no evidence that would disprove any of her charges. Fraud, international forgery, two counts of kidnapping across international borders, extortion (because apparently, despite the appearance of immense wealth, the de Marillac’s were broke and had been for years), just the name of few.

Shocking to no one, she was found guilty of all charges against her. And she was sentenced to-

“Imprisonment for life!” Cornett de Marillac continued his whining for going on an hour now. Claire was starting to wish that she was already dead. If for nothing else, to get away from this moron’s childish complaints. Sadly for her, twenty-something French boy continued his rant. “These actions of my mother’s have left a permanent stain upon my family name. Once a good name! Of reverence and respect! Now we are nothing but laughing stocks. By almost all the European courts we were associated with!

“And the financial struggle! Ach, do you know how much it costs to fund a trial?! Who knew in that vile country it could be so expensive! Naturally we tried to ask for help, but were turned away at every corner! The depravity! The outrage! We cannot even afford a simple two million pound loan!”

“Yes, my heart bleeds for you,” Claire muttered under her breath, wishing this poor excuse of a man would just hurry up and either make his point or shoot her already. She was thankful Cornett didn’t hear her, otherwise she might have paid for her snide remark.

“So, you see, I had no choice but to find funding here in the states,” he went on, his demeanor taking on a more sinister approach. “It was perfect. Boston is chock full of small, locally owned pharmaceuticals rather than major corporations and, by buying them all up, it would expand my family’s business further and, of course, keep up out of the debt collector’s leering eye.”

“So that’s why you’re here…” Claire said, slowly starting to understand, but not all of it made sense to her. “But…why me?”

“Well, ma cherie,” Cornett rolled his eyes, “it’s not like Jamie owns the apothecary,” Cornett said dryly. “You do.”

“Exactly!” Claire said, and Cornett eyed her. “Jamie doesn’t own it. I do. If your beef is with him…why did you go after me?”

A sick, twisted yet determined grimace took shape on the young man’s face. “Because James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser is an honorable man. He possess virtue, pride, and honor as his namesake demands. He also is like most Scots. Stubborn, headstrong, and fiercely loyal to those he loves. Yes, you heard me correctly, loves. Are you seriously the only one who doesn’t see it? We’ve been watching you. Well, we as in my sister and me.”

Clarity dawned on Claire. Not only was she being followed for sure, but she, Jamie, and his sons, were being followed by the very antagonists who had damned him from his home country.

“You sick bastard,” Claire spat. “Have you no shame?”

“Not really, no,” Cornett said, clearly bored.

“I’ll never understand what Jamie saw in your sister,” Claire began, knowing more pain would come from this but she didn’t care. She was pissed. Going after her was one thing. Going after her because she was involved with Jamie? That crossed the line. “She was an abusive bitch. Looks like it runs in the family.”

She braced herself for whatever Cornett was going to throw at her. But, to her surprise, he did nothing.

Claire opened her eyes to see Cornett sitting down and eyeing her. Her heart started racing again.

“What…are you going to do to me?” Claire brazenly asked. Her chin tilted up in utter defiance. “You have me right where you want me. What now? Take over my shop by force? Kill me?”

“Oh, you English are such simple creatures,” the kid chuckled, but must have left his humor at the door. He pulled out his phone and shot a quick text. “While this…capture was indeed triumphant…this isn’t about you.”

It took Claire all of three seconds to realize what he meant. And if she had any strength left, she would’ve cried out.

“Catching on, I see. Wonderful! Sit tight, my dear. The party will start just as soon as your beloved walks through those doors!”

As if her heart couldn’t beat any faster, she felt it skip a few beats at the realization that she was being used as bait to lure Jamie into a trap. She could hear what could have been identified as mechanical devices being installed somewhere.

“Charges are set, sir,” Weaver materialized out of nowhere.

“Excellent.” Cornett got up and walk towards the overweight con man. “I’ll take my leave now. I’ll make sure to send a spray for both of your funerals.”

And with that, the two men left Claire in what was now an expertly connected bomb room.

And Cornett had the detonator in his hands.

Panic gripped Claire’s guts like nothing she’d ever felt before. The moment Jamie realized where she was, she knew he wouldn’t be kept away from her. Jamie Fraser would burn down the entire world to save her life; she knew that now.

She knew he loved her the same way she loved him.

And now…neither of them were going to live long enough to express it.

A knock sounded at the Fraser’s door shortly before 11pm.

“Who could that be, Da?” Fergus asked, poking his head from around the corner of the hallway.

“I dinna ken, lad,” Jamie responded bleakly, sitting at the dining room table with a dram of whisky in his hand (his seventh one of the night). He had gone to the police to divulge all the information he had. Detective Willoughby told him he would compile all the info and compare it against what he was able to dig up.

The knock at the door sounded again, followed by a familiar female’s voice.

“I know you’re in there, Jamie,” Margie said, sounding extremely worried. “Your car is in the driveway.”

“I’ll get it Da,” Fergus said somberly, stopping his father from getting out of his chair. “Ye need tae slow down on the drams.”

“I dinna take orders from ye, lad,” Jamie’s voice was slurred heavily.

Fergus furrowed his eyebrows at Jamie. “Nay, but if ye fall over and bust yer heid open from being drunk, ye may have no choice.”

Jamie wanted to argue, but he was fairly certain his blood was over fifty-percent whisky at this point. He kept his arse rooted in the chair as Fergus opened the door to let Margie inside. She took one look at Jamie and knew what needed to be done.

“Fergus, go find your brother,” Margie said seriously, not taking her eyes off Jamie. “I think it’s best you two stay with me and Maggie for the night.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Fergus trotted off to go get Willie and begin packing. Margie approached the table and stopped Jamie from pouring his eighth drink of the night. Which was probably wise considering if she had let him, he would’ve emptied the bottle of imported spirit all over the floor.

“James,” Margie’s commanding voice got his attention. “Talk to me.”

Jamie took a breath before speaking, but didn’t bother trying to focus his eyes on her; he was certain they were crossed and glassed over from too much drink. “Annalise’s family is involved in Claire’s disappearance.”

Margie placed one hand over her heart and the other to her mouth, stifling a gasp. “Oh my God…”

“Willoughby told me the de Marillac’s were planning a big trip o’er here tae Boston…buying up all the small locally-owned pharmacies…the apothecary was the only one not bought sae far… my…my former brother in law…Cornett…there’s records o’ him here in Boston recently…he hasn’t been seen in public since…”

“Since Claire was taken,” Margie was on the verge of tears. “Oh Jamie…what can I do?”

Jamie’s head slowly climbed its daunting ascend to look at the older woman. For a moment, in his drunken stooper, Margie almost looked like William Tryon, his boss and Margie’s late husband. The wonderful man that he was, he’d be proud of his wife. Jamie managed to crack a small smile and said, “look after the boys fer the night, if ye please. I need tae sober up.”

“Too right you do, James Fraser.” Margie stood up as Fergus and Willie dragged their suitcases behind them. Margie smiled at them. “You boys ready? Good.” She took out the keys to her SUV and tapped one of the buttons on the key fob. Jamie could hear the small “wheep-wheep” sound coming from the truck outside, indicating it was unlocked. Then she held down another button and the sound of an engine starting filled his senses. “You lads go put your bags in the car. I’ll be out shortly. Gonna make sure your father is settled good and safe, alright?”

The boys nodded, gave Jamie tentative hugs, then raced each other to their awaiting ride. Margie got Jamie to stand upright, but he almost fell over. She hoisted one of his arms across her shoulders and walked him towards his bedroom. She pulled back the covers while still holding onto him and eased him into a sitting position.

Margie kissed him on the cheek. “Trust the police, alright? They’re onto the de Marillac’s trail. Claire will be home before you know it. For now, take care of yourself. Sober up some, drink plenty of water, and do not hesitate to call if you need anything.” Her hand remained cool against his alcohol-warmed cheek. He placed his own hand over hers and maneuvered his lips to kiss her palm lightly in an expression of gratitude.

“I’ll never be able tae thank ye enough fer all ye’ve done, Margie. You and Maggie.”

“Nonsense, Jamie…you’re family. This is what family does for one another. We’re always here for you. Now if you really want to pay me back…get some rest. Not just for you. But for the people who love you.”

And with that, Margie walked out of his room, closing the door behind her. As Jamie clumsily removed all but his boxers from his person, he heard Margie lock his front door behind her. The headlights of the higher end SUV could be seen pulling out of his driveway and leaving his house.

Once he was safety in bed, not for the first time, he sobbed uncontrollably. Large, unruly wet tears pattered his pillow and face as he wept as hard as his body would allow.

His cries were loud and wailing, and he wished he’d never met Annalise. Wished he could forget he ever knew her. Wished he’d never been in Paris all those years ago. Wished he never went into that stupid tavern where she was playing. 

True, without her, he would have never been a father to such wondrous sons, but in that moment, he cursed anything and everything that had to do with the de Marillacs.

He fell asleep with tears in his eyes and unspoken burdens on his heart.

Chapter Text

Jamie called Margie the following morning. He could hear and feel his heartbeat thrumming throughout his entire being, and he’d already thrown up twice from the nauseous onslaught brought on from his bender. Hangovers are a bitch, ye ken?

“Good morning sunshine!” Margie’s voice sounded too loud and too quiet at the same time to Jamie. Another wave of nausea washed over his wame. “How are you feeling?”

“Like my stomach is almost out o’ bile.” Jamie almost didn’t make it to the kitchen sink. The dry heaves coming from him could most definitely be heard in the next town over.

“What do you need from me, dear?” Margie asked, sounding like a mother worrying over her sick child. It warmed Jamie’s heart.

“How are the boys?” Jamie croaked, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his dark green long sleeved Henley.

“Oh they’re fine. Fergus is already asking about you, naturally. Willie seems to be thoroughly distracted by a game of chess with Maggie. He’s determined to beat her. Though, I’d say at this stage it’s unlikely. Maggie has already won several regional chess championships. She has a natural talent for winning all games played against her.”

Jamie smiled at this, despite it cracking his already dried, chapped lips. “He’s a Fraser. Doesna like tae lose, that one. Takes after his Da, ye could say.”

“Too right you are. But seriously, Jamie. You can’t be seriously thinking of dealing with this monstrous hangover all on your own, can you?”

Jamie paused for a moment, then said, “I wouldna be opposed tae some Advil…I think we’re all out here.”

“Can you stomach some food, by chance? I whipped up some strawberry pancakes, at the boys’ request. Something you apparently make for them often.”

Jamie felt his stomach turn into a roller coaster, and he placed a tentative hand over his navel. The groan that escaped his person made Margie chuckle over the phone. “That obvious, eh?”

“Well, when I showed up, you were about to pour your eighth glass of whisky all over the floor and, subsequently, my shoes. So you were long gone about an hour before I even thought to come over.”

Guilt replaced sickness in Jamie’s gut. “I shouldna put ye through my problem, Margie. Ye’ve been too good tae me and my sons, ye ken.”

“We’ve talked about this, James Fraser. You and your wonderfully handsome, strong, amazing boys are and will never be trouble so long as we all live. Do you hear me? Now. I have plenty of over-the-counter painkillers here at home, as well as some of Claire’s homemade remedies if you’d prefer those.”

The events from last night slammed into Jamie as if it were a freight train. The urge to vomit rose up stronger than before and he didn’t hesitate to once again empty his stomach contents into the kitchen sink. Tears started to prickle the corners of his slanted, sapphire eyes. He fought back for control. “Whatever ye have is fine, Margie. Thank ye.”

Margie hesitated before speaking, no doubt realizing that mentioning Claire was probably a bad call. “I’ll see about bringing over some vitamin water too. Maybe some Gatorade. It sounds like you’ve been throwing up for a while. You’re probably extremely dehydrated and you need to replace those lost fluids and nutrients. Hang in there, Jamie. The boys and I will be over as soon as possible.”

Jamie’s signature Scottish grunt came through over the phone and Margie took that as an acknowledgement before hanging up. He knew she was right though; he started puking about five hours after crying himself to sleep, and had been averaging one vomiting spell an hour since. Given it was only a quarter past ten in the morning, he’d thrown up about as much as he had drank. He was dehydrated, and in dire need of sustinents. While he didn’t think he could stomach solid food yet, the thought of Vitamin Water wetting his palate was very inviting.

From the time he’d hung up the phone to Margie, Fergus and Willie were walking through the front door was only about thirty minutes. Not surprising, really, considering Margie was a five minute drive from his house.

“Oh, you look terrible,” was the first thing out of Margie’s mouth when she saw Jamie curled up on the couch, a tartan blanket haphazardly thrown over him and his bare feet sticking out from the bottom. He was pale and sweaty, and she felt the pulse in his neck still racing from all the effort of upchucking the whisky. Jamie looked directly at Margie this time as she examined him, even if his vision was still a bit blurry, and she riffled through her purse to fish out a bottle each of Advil and Vitamin Water. XXX, he thought, licking his lips absentmindedly, how did she know my favorite flavor?

Margie popped two of the teal-colored gel caps into her hand and pressed them into Jamie’s, and opened the vitamin water for him. He gratefully accepted both and within about five seconds, the bottle of maroon colored liquid was halfway gone.

“Don’t drink it too fast, dear, or it’ll come back up!”

“Nah,” Jamie smiled, savoring the flavor of the cool drink, feeling his strength, wellness and self-awareness flooding his insides once more. “I’m good. Thank ye.” He handed the bottle back to her. “Actually…strawberry pancakes sounds verra good right about now.”

Margie laughed. “Good thing I brought the leftovers in a storage container.”

Jamie’s smile broadened as he got up (for the first time today, vertigo did not rear its ugly head) and made his way towards the kitchen. He could hear the boys unpacking their suitcases in their rooms as he placed the entire container of sweet smelling goodness into the microwave. A minute later found himself devouring the entire content. Ten minutes later, he was washing the dish by hand, drying it off all while Margie was watching over him. Like the guardian angel he didn’t know he needed.

Margie set the now clean dish on the counter and the two adults sat at Jamie’s dining room table. “I trust my sons were verra well behaved fer ye?”

“Oh, when are they not?” Margie smile, waving a hand dismissively at the ridiculous notion of Fergus and William Fraser being anything but good children. “Honestly, Jamie, they were wonderful. They, of course, worried after you. But, like when you got Claire out of that fire, I assured them all they could do was hope you were well and take care of themselves. They do nobody any good worrying over something they can’t fix.”

Jamie was about to say something in response, but the house phone rang. Margie and him exchanged concerned looks as Jamie wasn’t expecting any phone calls from there; the only people who had the house number was Margie, Claire and Jenny. He got up and grabbed the cordless to answer it, not bothering to look at the caller ID.

“Fraser Residence,” Jamie answered in his most serious tone of voice.

“Open yer door, ye clotheid!” said a familiar male voice.

“Murtagh?”

Jamie cautiously walked towards the front door and slowly opened it. And he dropped the house phone on his foot in complete shock. His cry of pain was met with sly looks and muffled chuckles.

“I kent ye were clumsy as a lad, but tae see ye havena grown out of it warms my heart!”

“Murtagh!” Jamie exclaimed, and his heart lightened to see Jenny, Ian, and his uncle Dougal all standing behind him with suitcases in their hands.

“Ye gonna let us in or shall we freeze tae death on yer front porch?” Ian called out, smiling.

“It doesna get cold here like it does in Scotland. Ian!” Jamie allowed his kinsmen inside his home. Every one of them clambered around each other, fighting to see who hugged Jamie first. Naturally, Jenny was awarded the honor.

“Sae good tae see ye, brother!” Jenny said into his chest as Jamie planted a big wet kiss on her forehead.

“Yer still braw I see!” Dougal exclaimed, slapping Jamie on the back, well cared for white teeth showing around his thick, salt-and-pepper facial hair.

Jamie hugged Ian and he called for his sons.

“UNCLE IAN! AUNTIE JEN! UNCLE DOUGAL! UNCLE MURTAGH!” The boys’ chorus of exclamations mashed together as they all but flew down the stairs to embrace their family members. Jamie hadn’t seen Dougal since Annalise’s funeral, therefore he was unsure how Willie knew of his mother’s younger brother. But right now, it didn’t matter. He knew why they were here, even if they said nothing. And he welcomed their company.

Margie didn’t say anything as she threw Jamie a knowing smile and slipped quietly out the door, but not before Jamie made sure she saw him mouth “thank you.”

“I ken ye dinna need explainin’” Murtagh said in a low voice, taking Jamie aside from the mini family reunion going on, “but we’re here fer ye, lad. Whatever ye need.”

“I take it Jenny’s told ye,” Jamie said, his own voice matching his godfather’s.

“Aye,” Murtagh confirmed. “It was my idea tae have us all come out here fer ye. I was originally suppose tae go by meself, but when Dougal offered tae accompany me, Jenny and Ian didna hesitate to arrange care fer their bairns. And before I kent it, the four of us were gettin’ on planes tae come to America. Have tae say, lad, Boston is verra nice.”

“Willna ever be as nice as Scotland, but I’m bias. And…we’ve made it work.”

“Ye shouldna have had tae leave in the first place,” Murtagh said bitterly, “but that’s in the past now. Let’s focus on the future. I hear it’s verra bright.”

Jamie sighed and nodded, turning his attention back to the rest of the Frasers, MacKenzies and Murrays in his home. His heart soared seeing his kinsmen here. He knew Jenny was an excellent flyer, but Ian and Dougal tended to get air sick in cars back in Scotland. Ian always said if he’d had things his way, he’d go everywhere he needed to on horseback. Jamie had always laughed at this, but given he was raised on a farm with plenty of horses to last him a lifetime, he never outright opposed the idea.

Jamie’s house was big for him and the boys, but he worried about where everyone would sleep.

“Dinna fash yerself, brother,” Jenny said, “Ian and I arranged fer a hotel around the corner fer anyone who doesna wanna sleep on the floor.”

“I offered tae let the happy couple stay there fer some privacy, but they insisted on staying here wi’ ye, Jamie…if that’s alright.”

“All o’ ye are welcome tae stay here,” Jamie insisted. “I’d hate tae put ye out, considering flying here from Scotland isna exactly cheap.”

“Ye need no’ concern yerself wi’ our finances, Jamie,” Ian said seriously, and his face matched everyone’s in the room. “We chose tae come out here fer ye. Claire went well beyond out o’ her way for ye when the boys were taken. We willna rest until she’s back home where she belongs.”

“Which, by the way, is with you,” Jenny chimed in.

Jamie didn’t bother hiding his emotions behind a mask. He let the tears that started to come back to the surface slide down his cheeks. Nobody in their family had suffered quite a loss the way Jamie had in his relatively short life and none of them could rightly tell him to suck it up.

Ian was the first to approach Jamie and offered him a hug. Soon enough, everyone was hugging a crying Jamie, rubbing his back and whispering Gàidhlig words of love.

“I’m sae grateful yer all here.”

Jenny offered to take the boys out for burgers and ice cream while the men congregated in the living room. Jamie had pizza delivered and drams were passed all around. He was hungry enough to eat half a pie by himself, but also knew he might have to pay for it in the morning (again), with the amount of drinking his family was known for. But he also wasn’t about to dishonor the Scottish blood in his veins by refusing whisky. He wisely decided to pace himself tonight, and prayed to God none of the other men notice, lest he suffered their rampant teasing.

“What do we know so far?” Murtagh asked. “Anything new?”

Jamie filled them in on the conversation he’d had with Detective Willoughby the previous day between bites of supreme pizza.

“It’s a trap, Jamie,” Willoughby had said. “I received a text message from a blocked number, but it contained information only those directly involved with Claire’s kidnapping would know. Your former brother in law is using Claire as bait to lure you into a trap. Given all that happened in Scotland with your ex mother in law, I have no doubt Cornett is planning something extremely dangerous. This is clearly revenge, and I wouldn’t put it past him to try and harm you to get back at you.”

“That’s exactly what he’s trying tae do. Using Claire tae get back at me. If it’s me he wants, then he should get me. And only me. I willna risk anyone else’s safety fer my past transgressions.”

“Jamie listen to me,” the detective was trying to reason with him, “it is our job as law enforcement to uphold the law and deliver justice when its due. That means we are willing to risk our lives for the safety of others. For the love of God, man, let us do our job. We’re planning to set it up as if you would be going to that warehouse alone. But we’re not taking any chances. We’ll have the bomb squad and SWAT on standby just in case. This madman will be hurting no one else so long as I can help it.”

“Ye shoudna have tae-”

“That is not for you to decide, Jamie.” Willoughby’s patience was clearly running thin, so Jamie decided to keep his mouth shut for once. “We have to think about Claire in this scenario. There’s no telling what condition she’ll be in when we arrive. But that’s what the paramedics are for. You’ve trusted me this far. Give me just a bit more one last time, okay? We’re gonna be hitting the place tonight at the arranged meeting time.”

“That’s tonight at 11, right?”

“Yeah,” Willoughby confirmed. “Someone from the department will call you when Claire is safe. And I mean that. She will be safe. This ends tonight. I’ll make damn sure of it.”

“Every fiber of my being is screamin’ at me tae go anyway…” Jamie sighed, setting his now empty plate down to take a small sip of his whisky. He was determined to have no more than two drams tonight. He didn’t want to taste the pizza again in the morning.

“Ye ken how daft that is,” Ian said, “and there’s no point. Knowing what I know about Detective Willoughby, he probably has the entire force aware ye might do something foolish. They’ll make sure ye dinna get anywhere near that warehouse.”

“Yer probably right.” Jamie looked at Dougal. “How’s Colum doin? Not really surprised he’s not here, but I do still think about him sometimes.”

“As weel as he can be, that one,” Dougal took an angry bite of his own slice of pepperoni pizza. It was no secret among the Frasers and MacKenzies that Colum and Dougal MacKenzie, big brother and little brother, didn’t get along. But after their oldest sister Ellen’s untimely death, they were the only living MacKenzie’s left. Save for Jocasta, Jamie and Jenny’s aunt, who lived just outside Fort Bragg, North Carolina with her Army officer husband Hector Cameron. It was also no secret that Colum was living with a debilitating degenerative disease in his legs, therefore was wheelchair bound, and living on borrowed time.

Jamie didn’t push the matter any further and grabbed another slice of pizza from the box. Good thing too as the door opened up and in clambered his sons with a very happy Jenny behind them. She was sipping on an ice cream milkshake from a thick straw.

“Da!” Willie bounced into Jamie’s arms, shoving something in his face excitedly. “Auntie Jen got me a new book about exploring caves in the Savannah!”

“Did she now?” Jamie smiled at his sister sweetly; Jenny loved spoiling her nephews. And given what had happened in Scotland, she didn’t get the chance to last year. “Did ye thank yer auntie?”

“O’ course I did! Do ye think Mam will read it tae me when she gets back?”

Jamie’s heart skipped a beat as the men eyed him warily. But he shrugged off their worried looks and smiled at his youngest son.

“She would love nothing more, a ghràidh,” Jamie kissed the side of Willie’s head. “Now, given the hour, I think it’s time fer you and yer brother tae get ready fer bed.”

Willie looked slightly sad at this notion, but followed Fergus (who had already disappeared upstairs) and Jenny to prepare for bed. The second the door was audibly closed, the rest of the men ganged up on Jamie with their suggestive stares.

He just shrugged. “Willie insisted on calling Claire ‘mam’. Even outright said so. She’s had a direct affect on my boys, lads. So if ye can imagine how hard this all is on me-”

“It’s like losing Annalise all over again fer them,” Murtagh said soberly, setting his glass down on the coffee table. “Dinna fash yerself, Jamie. We ken it weel enough.” He got up and stretched a bit. “Canna speak fer the rest o’ ye lot, but if ye gotta place fer me tae sleep, I’d like tae take advantage o’ it. Feelin’ the effect of jetlag.”

Jamie stood up and offered to take everyone’s drams and plates to the kitchen. He offered Jenny and Ian Claire’s room, Dougal offered Murtagh the other guest bedroom opposite Claire’s room while insisting he take up residence on the couch. Jamie fetched blankets and an extra pillow for Dougal as he picked up the remote and started flipping through TV channels.

“Who knew Americans needed sae many telly channels,” Dougal said dryly, “I can find all the entertainment, news, sport, and the like on BBC Scotland and Channel 4.”

“That’s because ye grew up on a farm pretending tae be a laird’s estate, uncle,” Jamie replied with an equally dry tone. “Yer set in yer ways.” Dougal smiled at his nephew before returning his gave towards the TV.

Jamie made his way towards the kitchen to finish the dishes. It wasn’t until ten minutes later that Jamie noticed Dougal wasn’t channel surfing anymore. When he looked up, Dougal’s otherwise stone face had gone pale.

“Jamie,” Dougal said slowly, not taking his eyes from the television. Jamie made his way to stand beside him. His blood ran ice cold through his veins.

“Jenny! Ian! Murtagh!” Jamie called out, not caring his sons could already be asleep. Harsh footsteps sounded throughout the house as one by one, the adults filed into the living room to watch the horror unfolding on the news.

MASSIVE IMPLOSION AT ABANDONED BOSTON WAREHOUSE.

The headline on the bottom of the screen was scarier than anything Jamie had ever seen in his life. He listened to the woman reporting the news. “Reports are coming into the station as multiple witnesses say a massive explosion has leveled an old abandoned warehouse in the lower south region of the city. Officials are on their way to the scene now and are not commenting on what this could be, or what could have caused it.”

Jamie knew. And now he worried, more than ever before, if his beloved Sassenach was still alive.

He raced towards the bedroom, Jenny and Murtagh following in his frantic wake. He threw on his old trainers and grabbed his coat.

“Ye canna be possibly thinking-” Jenny said

“Aye, ye damn right I am!” Jamie angrily responded.

“Yer gonna get yerself killed boy!” Murtagh lashed out.

“I DINNA CARE!”

“BUT WE DO!” Jenny had tears in her eyes now.

“I canna stand by and do nothing! I have tae go get her!” Jamie rushed towards the front of the house. In a calmer voice, he told Jenny, “look after my sons. Please.”

Dougal and Ian were now standing, blocking the front door. Jamie got right in their faces.

“We canna let ye go out there, Jamie, yer too close tae this.” Dougal said softly.

“Think of Fergus and Willie,” Ian tried to reason. “What do ye think they’ll do when ye don’t come home? Huh?”

Jamie was breathing hard from anger, frustration, and anguish. “Get out o’ my way.”

“Jamie, please, dinna do this.” Jenny pleaded from beside Murtagh, who was hugging her.

Jamie looked back at his sister, his own eyes showing unshed tears. “I would rather die trying tae save her…than die slowly of a broken heart. I canna lose her again.”

Nobody said anything for several minutes.

“She’s the love of my life,” Jamie’s voice hitched with fierce emotion. “She’s my heart. My soul. She’s everything tae me. I willna lose her again. I would die fer her, just as I would my sons. Will ye really deny me this? True happiness?”

“Da?” Everyone whipped their heads towards the top of the stairs to see Fergus standing there.

“Aye?”

“Did they find Mam?”

A heartbeat passed before Jamie smiled. “Aye, lad.”

Fergus smiled. “Bring her home, Da. Please.”

Nobody could willingly argue with Jamie now. Dougal and Ian reluctantly stepped away from the door. Within thirty seconds, Jamie was breaking all the speed limit laws to get to Claire.

He just hoped he wasn’t too late.

Chapter Text

Jamie Fraser could’ve been any number of things in his life. His parents had always taught him the only thing that could stop him from being who or what he wanted was himself. He still believed that to this day, and it’s a lesson he has since passed onto his own children.

When he was a lad, he wanted to be a doctor. His mother even went as far as to buy him a real stethoscope (rather than one of those fake ones in those kiddie doctor kits) so he could “practice the trade early.” Every person that walked through the door of Lallybroch had their hearts listened to by the young lad, and everyone would call him “Doctor Jamie” with praise. Though, the first time he saw a surgery on telly, despite it being a drama, that fantasy quickly dissipated as he knew real doctors worked on patients in such conditions. He tended to get squeamish over the thought of Willie or Jenny throwing up. He still has that stethoscope in a locked chest in his closet alongside other mementos to his parents and childhood and, to his knowledge, still worked like it was brand new.

When he was a teenager, close to graduating secondary school, he thought about becoming a soldier. There was a time where the people of Scotland were tired of being part of the UK. Talk of a “21st Century Jacobite Rising” became a common subject in pubs and grocery markets across Scotland. It was a funny name for such a subject considering there were no living descendants of the 18th century Bonnie Prince nor was there a Protestant monarch in place, but given Scotland’s history for trying to gain independence, it was catchy enough to get people’s attention. Jamie was always fiercely loyal to his motherland, and didn’t hesitate to take a pro-independence stance, engaging in political and economical discussions with anyone who would listen, whether they agreed with his views or not. But when the war in the middle east broke out and soldiers from the United States started fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, images from those war zones broke on the airwaves and his desires to be a solider took a backseat. He kept the plan in the back of his mind, though; if Scotland wanted independence bad enough to declare war against Britain, he knew he would find himself first in line at the nearest recruitment office.

Pulling up to what was left of the warehouse brought flashes of those telly images from Afghanistan. Once a sturdy, five story building that had life breathing throughout, now was nothing but a pile of burning rubble and ash, the air heavy with smoke and soot. Jamie grabbed his scarf and wrapped it around his nose and mouth and got out of his car.

“CLAIRE!” Jamie’s shouts echoed throughout the vast stretch of land as he made his way towards the crumbling, unstable structure it once stood upon. His heart pumped painfully harder as the heat from some of the still-burning fires started slowly penetrating his clothes. He wished he’d grabbed his worn leather utility gloves from the garage before leaving, but he was already short on time. “CLAIRE?!”

Jamie figured the best place to start was from the beginning. He started digging through the rubble, unfazed by the destruction. His fingers worked tirelessly to find someone, anyone, that was alive. He knew that most of BPD’s finest came out here in his place, including Detective Willoughby. He also knew that his ex brother-in-law was most likely under here as well. Knowing what little he did of Cornett, since he’d only met him once or twice prior to Annalise’s death, he would’ve wanted to be here to see him and Claire die. The ultimate revenge, he bitterly thought as he continued his descent into the mess.

A strained cough sounded as he dug. It didn’t take long before he unearth the damaged, broken, but still living, body of Cornett de Marillac. Jamie was by no means a medical expert, but he judged by the amount of blood staining the young man’s fine clothing at a slow rate, the awkward angle that his right shoulder, left arm, and left leg were in, and the fact that his guts were protruding from his belly, Cornett was going to die here. Or at least…

I’ll make sure he does, Jamie thought.

“It’s-ach!” Cornett coughed as he struggled to draw enough unlabored breath to speak, “been too long…James…”

“Canna say the same, Corny,” Jamie responded mockingly. “Ye dinna look sae weel.”

“Be that as it may,” Cornett quickly said before another bloody coughing fit overtook his lungs, which were no doubt collapsed. “This will have to do.”

“What will?” Jamie had his eyes focused on the dying man but his ears were straining for sounds from other potential victims.

“I may have failed in my attempt to avenge my family’s name…but…” Cornett’s eyelids were growing heavier with each breath he took. It wouldn’t be long now. “You and yours will never be safe…so long as…Annalise’s sons…still live…”

In a burst of anger, Jamie grabbed the man by the collar, dislocating his shoulder even further, the bone starting to pierce through the ashen-colored skin. “Yer just a failure wi’ a death wish. And they’re no’ Annalise’s boys. Because. She’s. Dead. As are you.” He spat those last six words in Cornett’s face as the young man took a final, agonal breath. Then…he was gone, his heart’s blood still warm as it ran down Jamie’s arms. As Cornett told Claire, Jamie was an honorable man. It would be too easy to defile the young man’s body out of spite and vengeance; it would have been the only vengeance Jamie would ever get from the de Marillac’s. But no. He was better than that. Better than them. He gently laid Cornett back where he’d found him, and manually closed the man’s eyes.

Jamie took a moment to reflect, his eyes not leaving the unmoving, unbreathing body.

“Ye hurt me sae much. Hurt my family. My sons. Children who were supposed tae be yer kin. And fer what? What was it all for? Ye dinna have tae like me in order tae show respect. Because in the end…Lise chose me. But ye lot couldna live wi’ that, could ye? All this,” Jamie gestured towards the rubble, “all it brought ye was shame. And death. And you have no one tae blame but yerselves. Yer mother will die in her cell, yer sister still lies cold in her grave bed, and the rest o’ yer family will forever be marked as traitors tae a prominent Clan of Scotland. The Frasers are one o’ the original Scottish settlers, ye ken. We’re an indestructible force when we put our minds together. It willna be long ‘afore the de Marillac’s are exiled from Scotland.” Jamie took a deep breath to steady his temper. “But none o’ that matters now, does it. Ye lost, de Marrilac. Ye should never picked a fight ye canna win. Whether ye like it or no’, I was the victor. And the victor…” he straightened his jacket and wiped the blood from his arms and hands as he started to walk away, “I shall remain.”

Jamie continued with trying to unearth more, repeating the same Gàidhlig prayer in his mind.

Leig dhi a bhith sàbhailte

Let her be safe

Leig leatha fuireach

Let her live

Biodh i beò O Thighearna

Let her survive Oh Lord

Oir is i mo chridhe

For she is my heart

Mo neart

My strength

Mo shaoradh

My salvation

Màthair ceart mo chlann

“The rightful mother of my children,” Jamie breathed as he made his way deeper into the debris. He could feel him strength waning, fatigue gaining traction across his body. His breathing was becoming more and more heavy, and his fingers were starting to bleed as they cut into the jagged edges of reinforced concrete, sheet metal and glass. But he refused to give up now. Knowing Claire was somewhere here, he would gladly die alongside her if it meant getting just a few precious minutes with her once more. To feel her body against his, no matter how broken and hurt she could be. He imagined her breath tickling the inside of his jawline, her heartbeat close to his as he took her into his embrace. To whisper all his heart to her in any of the languages he was fluent in. He just had to see her. One last time. No matter how long that time could be…

A choked, pained sob escaped the debris supposedly void of all living humans save for Jamie.

“…h-help…”

Jamie’s heart almost stopped at the sound. He knew that voice like he knew his own soul.

“CLAIRE!”

Jamie expedited his attempts to dig up the building. He had to get her to keep calling out. That was his only chance of finding her alive.

“Claire! Call out tae me! As loud as ye can!”

“…J-Jamie…”

“That’s right! It’s me, Sassenach!” Jamie’s voice didn’t hold back on emotion. Even now, tears were starting to blur his vision as he frantically searched for Claire.

“…J-Jamie!”

He followed the sound of her voice like a dog sniffing for a bone. Slowly, but surely, his hard work and efforts paid off. He dug up just enough for a small, pale, bony hand to poke out of the brash mess.

“Claire?!”

Silence.

Panic gripped him.

“CLAIRE?!”

He grasped the hand gently at the wrist, feeling for the pulse. It was so slow, but steady. Claire’s heart was still beating.

A Dhia! “Claire!” Jamie put what strength he had left into excavating Claire from the wreckage. In the process, he found several bodies beside Claire.

Including that of Detective Yi-Tien Willoughby. Jamie crossed himself at the sight of the Chinese American with an open gash in his neck, as if the blast caused flying debris to slit his throat wide open. He had to have bled out within a few short minutes. There was no way he would have survived.

Which meant that, had Jamie answered the summons himself, gone to the warehouse on his own like he was intended to…this could have been his fate. No doubt Claire would’ve woken up to find him dead beside her. No words in any language could have sufficed for Jamie to express his gratitude to the Boston Police Department.

“Thank ye, Detective,” was all Jamie said as he moved him away.

“J-Jamie?”

Looking down, his heart broke, but he managed a bright smile.

Claire was filthy, covered in blood (whose, he wondered frightfully) obviously injured and in desperate need of immediate medical attention. But she was alive.

Everything else they could deal with.

“Mo nighean donn,” Jamie sobbed as he carefully extracted Claire from her prison, light gasps of pain sounded from her being as he gathered her in his arms, cradling her as if she were a bairn. “I’m here, mo ghràidh.”

Claire nodded and their foreheads met in the gentlest of touches. “I-It was C-Cornett… he-”

“Shhh…hush now, mo chridhe, dinna fash yerself on it…” Jamie stood up with his Sassenach in his arms. “Thighearna…” he exclaimed slightly as the air filled with the sounds of sirens seemingly from all directions. “Yer sae thin. I can feel each o’ yer ribs…” One of his hands encompassed half of her entire chest cavity, from her spine to sternum. He could feel each heartbeat, as prominent as the last, as if he were holding the actual organ instead of her. Fear overtook his previous anger. The sirens grew louder. “Let’s go, Sassenach. Ye need a doctor.”

Claire closed her eyes, and Jamie would’ve panicked if she hadn’t taken a deep breath as she did. “As long as we’re together…”

Jamie gingerly carried Claire towards an awaiting ambulance.

For the first time in a long time, he felt things were going to be okay.

Chapter Text

The last time Jamie Fraser was in an ambulance, he awoke strapped to the stretcher himself, paying for the foolish action of pulling Claire from a burning building. He’ll never forget the angered look on Claire’s face when they finally met back up in the emergency room’s lobby after both being discharged home (well, Jamie was cleared to go home, Claire checked out against medical advice, the stubborn lass). It was worth it to him because she was alive. Whole.

“Never thought I’d see you again, Jamie,” Tina, the same paramedic who tended to Jamie that fateful night, now tended to the love of his life. His Sorcha. “Seems you have a knack for adventure.”

“Or trouble,” Claire’s voice was muffled by the oxygen mask on her face and her speech was slow, but none of the anger from that night was showing. Jamie could tell she was grateful for him still being by her side.

“I gathered that,” Tina laughed, putting the ear pieces of her stethoscope in her ears and the diaphragm against Claire’s chest. “Take some deep breaths for me, Claire.”

Jamie watched with morbid fascination as Tina examined Claire thoroughly, his hand never leaving hers. He couldn’t hear the sirens wailing above him, or the sound of the radio at Tina’s shoulder occasionally blurting out communications. The only thing he could see was Claire, and the sound of her quiet breathing filled his own lungs with a feeling of relief.

“We’re about two minutes from BG, alright guys? Sit tight.” Tina moved from her position on the bench next to Jamie and settled into the captain’s chair behind her head, where she could keep an eye on the portable monitor currently connected to Claire’s vitals. Jamie moved over to be closer to Claire, and he bent over to press a soft kiss to her temple.

“You two are gonna be just fine,” Tina said without looking up, a small smile on her face. Jamie blushed slightly; Claire let out a short chuckle as her own cheeks pinkened a bit. Jamie watched as Claire closed her eyes and rested the rest of the short trip to Boston General’s emergency room.

Naturally, given the state of her injuries and the nature of what had happened to her, Claire was admitted to the hospital’s general observation unit. Jamie went home only once to make arrangements for Fergus and Willie with Margie and packed a bag because there was no way in hell he was going to be leaving her side.

Joe Abernathy, Claire’s longest friend in Boston and fellow doctor/teacher from Boston University, made it possible for Jamie to stay with Claire for the entirety of her stay no matter what the visiting hours’ sign said. A rather large cot was set up for him to sleep, and he was slipped the employee WiFi password so he could remain connected to the rest of the world as cell signal inside the hospital rooms were utter garbage.

Claire slept the first two days and nights of her hospital stay. Jamie kept a close eye on her breathing and heart monitor the entire time. However that meant he stayed away for two days straight. When Claire finally woke up, she found a sleeping Scot on his cot, feet dangling just over the edge, and his hand tightly gripped onto hers even in slumber. Now it was her turn to watch him.

She remembered when he told her he had nightmares, and couldn’t ever sleep peacefully. She saw no sign of such plagues upon the tall red-headed Highlander now. His face was completely relaxed, the laugh lines around his mouth and eyes were almost gone. And he had a small smile on his face. This caused a smile of her own to form. He smiles in his sleep! She found it absolutely adorable. Had she not been tethered to all the life monitoring machines, she would’ve reached out to kiss that smile. He was breathing slowly, fully, and evenly, his chest rising and falling with each breath. She could see the pulsebeat in his neck, also slow and steady like the rhythm of a calm river. If she looked more closely, she could see that same heartbeat across his chest.

Jamie had to have gone through Hell on earth to rescue her. Just like before. She kicked herself mentally for her ignorance. How could she have been so blind? No man does the things Jamie had done for a friend. Not just anyone would rush into a burning building, or dig someone out of a collapsed building, if there wasn’t an intimate connection between the two people.

Jamie Fraser loves me, Claire thought blissfully. And I love him.

She shifted in the hospital bed to take stock on her injuries. She looked like someone tried, and failed, to run her through a human sized blender, cuts and bruises littered her fine, fair skin from face to feet. She touched all the important places: her ribs, arms and legs, and between her legs (can never be too cautious, right?) and found herself mostly intact. She knew she’d been holed up in that damn warehouse for almost a month, and she was sparsely fed (a few pieces of cheese and fruit of questionable age and water once a day, like she was some animal in a cage) so it didn’t shock her to see how flat her stomach was. If she flattened it enough, she could see some of her internal organs protrude from beneath her belly. Her navel had inverted slightly, she noticed, no longer the innie she’d lived with her whole life. Getting back into her old eating habits would correct her thinned out appearance. She’d always been relatively thin, but it was a healthy thin for a woman her height and age.

She felt her face next. It was tender to the touch, and there were small bandage stripped across her cheeks, eyebrows, close to her lips, and her temple. No doubt they were all wounds that were big enough to need manual closing, but not so big that they required stitches. Thank goodness, she thought. While she was never terribly vain with her appearance, she couldn’t imagine seeing scars on her face every time she looked in the mirror.

“Sassenach?” A scottish grumble sounded from Claire’s right side, and she smiled at the sight of Jamie waking up. His golden auburn mane was a wild mess from sleep, his eyes were squinting and slightly crossed in their attempt to adjust to the light in the room, and it made him look like a madman.

“Well, good morning, handsome,” Claire said softly, leaning back in the bed.

Jamie gave her his signature lop-sided smile and sat up, stretching the kinks from his back no doubt brought on by sleeping on a bed too small for his massive frame.

“What time is it?” He asked, looking around for his phone. He left his watch at the house again, she thought amusingly.

“I don’t know, but I wager it’s meal time.”

“Are ye hungry, Sassenach?”

“Very much so. They, uh…” shyness took hold of her voice temporarily, “they didn’t exactly give me three square meals a day…over there…”

Jamie nodded seriously. “Aye…aye, I suppose not…” The two of them were hesitant to talk about what transpired in their time apart. Claire wasn’t worried; she was in no danger of dying anytime soon, so there was plenty of time to reconnect. “I’ll go find yer nurse. See if I canna scrounge up some grub fer ye.”

Instinctually, Jamie leaned over and kissed Claire on the cheek, like he’d been doing it his whole life. Claire didn’t complain; in fact, the smile on her face told him exactly how she felt about it.

A week after the incident, Claire was well enough to be discharged home.

Home.

The Fraser’s house was a place she never thought she’d see again. With its walls covered in pictures of Fergus and Willie (oh how she missed those two amazing boys!) the kitchen in its usual state of tidiness (Jamie was never one to let dishes pile in the sink if he could help it) and the bedrooms all carefully tailored to the occupant’s tastes and preferences. Jamie drove Claire home and they were both very quiet. In fact, the whole inside of the car was quiet save for the purr of the engine. Jamie didn’t turn on the radio or launch a playlist from his phone, and Claire couldn’t bring herself to talk to him like nothing bad had happened. It didn’t feel right. Every time Claire looked at Jamie, his eyes were straight ahead on the road. And when Jamie took his eyes off the road to look at Claire for just a second, she was staring out the window, watching the city go by.

That awkwardness completely disappeared when Jamie opened the door and a welcome home party was waiting for Claire.

Fergus and Willie were gentle with their tackle hug this time. Jenny, Ian, Murtagh and Dougal were next to give their hugs and well-wishes. Claire had never met Dougal or Murtagh, so Jamie made the introductions.

“Sassenach, I’d like ye tae meet my uncle, Dougal MacKenzie, from my mother’s side,” he pointed to Dougal and he shook her hand, “and this is my godfather, Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser.” Murtagh, instead of shaking Claire’s hand, wraps his arms around her gently in a hug.

“We’re verra glad tae have ye back wi’ us, Mistress,” Murtagh said emotionally.

“Thank you,” was all Claire could say without bursting into tears.

Jenny stepped forward and gave Claire her own hug, the much shorter woman making Claire feel like a giant was squeezing her ribs together. She couldn’t stop the tears now. “Dinna weep, a leannan,” Jenny whispered in her ear. “‘Tis over now. Yer home. Take care o’ my brother and my nephews just as ye have, ken. All will be well.”

“Thank you, Jenny,” Claire smiled.

Murtagh and Dougal left the following morning for Scotland, with Jenny and Ian following a few days later. Despite the warnings from the doctors, Claire managed to make a full recovery from her ordeal. Cornett was indeed found dead in the rubble, and the scandal that surrounded his family’s business was brought to light. The remaining members of the de Marillac family were held responsible for Claire’s kidnapping and subsequent hostage situation and arrested in Scotland. Cyrille Pharmaceuticals as a corporate entity were formally indicted in a European court for extortion, fraud, breaches of contract, and terroristic threats. The last few take overs in Boston were revered with the funding help from the US federal government, in collaboration with Scotland Yard and the The Directorate-General for Trade in the European Commission.

Jamie and Claire were watching a streaming of the court proceedings at home one night, sipping whisky. It was a bittersweet for both of them. For Claire, it was the end of a short, but brutal time of her life. Where she was victimized and singled out because of who she associated with. It reminded her a little bit of her time in England…with Frank. Though circumstances were entirely different, and the outcome was less violent, in both cases she was forced to alter her way of thinking and living to survive. She was proud to be sitting with Jamie, on his couch, sharing a dram with him, thankful that it was all over.

For Jamie, however, this was much more than just an ending. True, with all that had happened, every single detail from the moment Annalise de Marillac Fraser died holding his hand, Jamie’s life has been absolute hell. He fled Scotland with his sons to protect not only them, but himself. He lost so much more than just his motherland. He lost a bit of his sanity, his personal freedom and, in a way, part of his heart and soul. If someone told him, a year or two after coming to Boston, that he would find love again, be able to trust another like he did Annalise, again, he would’ve laughed in their faces and recommended a psychological evaluation. But that’s what he did. His Sorcha, God bless that massive English heart of hers, made him see that he was wrong.

That’s why, while this is the end of an era, this is also the beginning for him. A real, true chance to start anew. With Claire.

“Jamie?” Claire snapped him out of his thinking, and he blinked tears out of his eyes. They were now running down his face. This apparently alarmed Claire for she moved close to him on the couch. “Are you alright?”

Jamie melted into her touch as she gently, oh so gently, wiped his tears away. Before she could remove her hand from his cheek, she laid his own over it. Her smooth, caring hand was warm and inviting in his own calloused, farmer’s one. He took a deep breath and, heart beating fast, pressed a firm kiss to her palm. The small gasp that left her lips lit a fire within him.

He looked her straight in the eyes, and took the plunge. “I love ye, Sassenach.”

Claire blinked, her own fine-aged whisky eyes shining bright. “I know…”

Now it was Jamie’s turn to blink. “Ye do?”

Claire laughed. “It took me a long time, way longer than it should have, to figure it out but yes…I know it now. And…” she took her own plunge after him and settled herself into his lap. Her body was positioned so her right side was up against his. His right hand snaked its way to grip her legs, and his left held her torso in place, flushed against the heat of him. He smelled wonderfully like slightly aged pine, cinnamon and his breath had a hint of whisky to it. It was ridiculously inviting. A breath from her own lungs didn’t have to force the words out. She was speaking directly from her heart now. “I love you too. My Laird.”

Jamie returned her laugh with a fierce chuckle of his own.

There were so many things he wanted to say now. Needed to say for his heart couldn’t speak on its own, save for the rapidly galloping pounding beneath his shirt. He had rehearsed so many times in his head what he would say when he saw her again. He would have spoken any language he knew of his love for Claire.

But right now, in this moment, there was no need for words. Nothing more needed to be said between. Their hearts communicated for them, speaking in tones of devotion that had been there from the start. Here in the dark, Jamie had no name. He didn’t need one.

But names do help.

“Marry me, Sassenach.”

Jamie felt Claire’s heart skip a beat against his side. He smiled.

“God has given me a second chance, mo nighean donn. Never did I think I would ever love again. Never meet another woman worthy of the good Fraser name. But I was wrong. You are my home now. You are worthy of my name. So…” he took in another lungful of air, “will ye take what I’m offerin’, Sassenach? Will ye make me the happiest man alive, and become my wife?”

Claire could’ve said or done so many things ranging from heartfelt to cruel, jest or not. He was giving her a choice after all. Wasn’t he?

No. There was no choice in this matter. For her heart would not let her walk away a second time.

She smiled through her tears, not a single hint of sadness showing on her glass face.

“Yes.”

Chapter Text

Five Years Later…

“Dada?!”

“Aye, mo chridhe?”

“Bree-bree willna let me ‘pway wi’ her dolls! Dada make her!” There were tears in the little girl’s eyes as she spoke. The older man softened.

Jamie put his tablet down and sighed, standing up to the little girl with her big blue eyes, curly brown hair and took her outstretched hand.

“Alright, mo chridhe, let’s go see what yer sister is up tae, aye?”

Jamie followed his daughter into the bedroom she shared with her twin, Brianna, but instead of finding their room in its usual state of array, he found his entire family waiting for him with a giant cake, complete with lit candles, depicting the words “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JAMIE!”

“SURPRISE!” Everyone called. That being Claire, his wife of five years, Fergus and Willie, and their newest additions to the family, twins daughters Faith and Brianna Fraser.

“What’s all this, un?” Jamie said skeptically, causing everyone to laugh. He walked up to the cake, paused to make a wish, then blew the candles out. Everyone cheered for him.

“Wat did ye wish fer, Dada?”

“Och, I canna teel ye that, silly! It willna come true!”

“Alright,” Claire said, grabbing a few plates and a knife, “Da gets the first slice as it’s his birthday, after that, who wants a piece?”

He took a step back to watch his beautiful wife work. And he took a moment to reflect.

Truthfully, he didn’t wish for anything. For he didn’t need to. He had everything he could’ve ever wanted in life right here in this very room, this very house.

Flashbacks from the last several years went through his mind as he admired his family. 

His and Claire’s small wedding was held at Lallybroch, surrounded by their closest family and allies. Claire wore a knee-length ivory dress, a baby’s breath flower crown sitting atop her head (made by wee Maggie with love) and a blossoming bouquet of bright flowers fresh from the late Ellen Fraser’s garden was trembling in her hands; she clearly was just as nervous as her future husband. Jamie stood there shaking slightly in the archway, in his full Scottish Highlander regalia, each of his rapidly frantic heartbeats a timer, counting down until Claire was officially his wife.

Their honeymoon was almost as short as their wedding; Fergus and Willie picked out the destination and assured them it was “perfect”. An isolated island cabin just off the Caribbean coast, where they were treated like royalty by the locals. Fresh food and the best drink was delivered to them personally every morning, and the two of them did nothing but lay in each other’s company and embrace.

When they returned to Boston, Claire, Jamie, Fergus and Willie finally as a family, real life slammed back into them.

The Boston Police Department held a public memorial ceremony for the detectives and officers who were lost the day Claire was rescued. It brought tears to everyone’s eyes; the price of the de Marillac’s treachery, deceit and wickedness was brought to light, and the BPD swore no evil shall ever grace their city again. In a surprising twist, Jamie was presented with a medal of honor (of sorts) for his “bravery, chivalry, and honor for going above the call of duty” to rescue Claire. In their eyes, he did more for his community than their own officers. The moment the medal was slipped around his neck, the bronze weight sitting directly over his heart, loud cheers filled the air space (almost all of them from Claire, Fergus, Willie, Jenny, Ian, Murtagh and Dougal, who wouldn’t have missed this event for the world). The Scottish gang was invited to participate in an after-ceremony gathering where refreshments would be offered, but Jamie declined on their behalf.

“I just wanna go home,” Jamie told the police chief with a tearful smile, “be wi’ my family. If that’s alright, Chief.” No one disagreed with him, nor stopped him.

The boys went back to school, Jamie went back to work as CEO of The Rising Sun Times, and Claire went back to running the apothecary. 

That first day she reopened the shop, she was met with an excited crowd. Only, the air was different from when she reopened it after the fire. Jamie stood in front of all of them, like he was their leader. A banner across the top of the doors read “WELCOME BACK, DR. B!”

“Sassenach,” Jamie began, “ye’ve been through sae much. And I ken yer itchin’ tae get back to work, but I thought it would be nice to show ye just how much ye mean tae this town.”

Claire scanned the crowd, and damn near burst into tears. Everyone in said crowd was a customer to whose life she had saved with her products. She recognized a few that would’ve died in hospital if she didn’t have her business, didn’t sell her homemade potions of healing.

“Yer worth more than yer wee numbers and counts, Sassenach,” Jamie said, coming to stand in front of her. His hands found their way towards her face, a thumb wiping a tear that had snaked its way down her cheek. “Yer worth more than however much this shop would fetch were ye to sell it. This,” he gestured towards the crowd, “is how invaluable ye are, mo nighean donn.

Claire would never forget that day as long as she lived. But her business wasn’t the only one doing well. The Rising Sun Times expanded their issues to three times a week instead of just one. New advertisers came in, practically begging Jamie for a spot in the classifieds, and the revenue from it allowed the paper to flourish more than it ever had.

But as time went on, both Jamie and Claire wanted more out of life than just going to work and coming home, the same routine day in and day out. No matter how much money they made, it couldn’t buy happiness. Two and a half years of this, and Claire came home with news that startled Jamie.

“Ye wanna what?!” He gaped at his bride.

“I want to sell the apothecary. Before you judge, Jamie, hear me out. Please.”

Jamie picked his jaw off the floor and nodded, allowing Claire to continue.

“You’re Dr. Pender’s daughter?” Claire couldn’t contain her excitement. The man who’d previously owned the apothecary, who made it a successful business for over 45 years before passing peacefully in his sleep, apparently had his daughter Evelyn maintain his affairs and estate after his death.

“Yes, ma’am,” the woman said. She was tall and lanky, but carried herself with a sense of purpose and pride. Like she was proud to be her father’s daughter. “Well, I’ve been keeping an eye on this place, seeing how you have kept my father’s legacy alive with your work and it’s…very inspiring!”

“Well, thank you Evelyn. That means a lot. I never thought it would become what it is now. I just wanted a sense of purpose after…well, after moving away from England.”

The two women exchanged pleasantries for a bit before Evelyn said, “I, um…I wanted to make a proposition to you. You don’t have to decide anything now, and you’re more than welcome to say no, if you so chose, but…”

“She said she was so inspired by what I was doing, that she wanted to buy the shop and run it in both her father’s and my name. She was a botanist for many years and knows a lot about what I do. I trust her, and… this feels like the right time, Jamie. I can feel it.”

Jamie and her had migrated toward the couch to continue the conversation. He didn’t look entirely convinced though. “What about all yer wee potions? Ye told me once that they were patent protected. Are ye gonna sell her the rights tae them?”

“That was the plan, yes. We discussed it in great detail. When we started the conversation, I was mostly curious as to where her mind was. But the longer we talked, the more I felt comfortable with it. I…” Claire took a deep breath, “I had been planning to sell it for a while now, but I just wasn’t sure how to go about it…”

“How long have ye been feelin’ this way?” Jamie asked.

“For a few weeks…” Another deep breath, Claire steeled her nerves, “because…well…this wasn’t the only news I came home with.”

Before Jamie could inquire further, Claire got up and fished inside her bag for something. She produced a small, nearly wrapped rectangular box with a bow on top. She handed it to Jamie, who tentatively opened it. His jaw ended up on the floor again at the content inside the box.

“Is this?”

“Yes.”

“Are ye?!”

“Yes!”

Jamie threw the box aside and picked Claire up, spinning her around in delight. On the ground lay three positive pregnancy tests that she took while at work.

The next several months were a whirlwind for Jamie and Claire. It didn’t take long before the Frasers learned they were expecting twins girls. Claire transferred ownership of the apothecary to one former botanist Evelyn Pender, who lovingly renamed the shop “Beauchamp & Pender’s Healing Company.” Jamie and Claire naturally were present for the renaming and opening ceremony, the prominent swell of her growing babies making her glow with pride.

Two months later, Jamie and Claire gratefully welcomed Faith Glenna Julia Fraser and her little sister, by a minute and a half, Brianna Ellen Janet Fraser. The bairns and Claire were both doing well and Claire had the chance to nurse them both at the same time. While they were nursing, Jamie noticed something that made his heart swell.

“They’re holding hands, Sassenach,” he whispered, unable to hold back the tears. “Dinna move.” He pulled out his phone and took a picture and showed it to Claire. The girls were indeed holding hands under Claire’s breasts, their mother looking down on them like the guardian angel she was. It took all her strength not to cry out in sheer elation, lest she disturb their daughters.

“This is what perfection is?” Jamie asked.

Claire looked down at her breasts and saw that they were both finished. She handed Jamie Brianna and they both began their journey as new parents.

“Yes,” Claire whispered, kissing Faith lightly on the top of her head. “Yes I think so.”

When the twins were six months old, Claire decided it was time to make what was in her heart a reality. She adopted Fergus and Willie as her sons. Jenny and Ian made their way from Scotland to Boston to help celebrate this momentous occasion.

“We now have four children. And they are ours, Sassenach,” Jamie told her, watching Fergus and Willie play with their baby sisters. “Nothing will ever come between them or us now.”

“I quite agree,” Claire said, smiling at the same scene. Fergus was teaching Faith how to play peek-a-boo with Willie and Brianna. The girls emitted the cutest giggles ever.

With Claire now at home full time with the children, Jamie focused on his own professional mission. He felt he was old enough, and had enough savings, so he decided to step down as CEO so he could spend more time with his family.

“Effectively immediately, I am naming Gavin Hayes as my successor. I trust ye will be in good hands wi’ him in charge,” Jamie addressed the staff on the last day, two boxes filled with his things from his old office. Everyone was very accepting of this and wished Jamie and his family well.

Claire was initially concerned but Jamie assured her he would get a pension for the rest of his life, and hers, given what his contract had stated.

It seemed like all the trials, torment and struggles he once faced belonged in someone elses’s lifetime.

“What are you thinking about, Jamie?” Claire asked him that night after all four children were in bed. The cake was devoured and it gave the kids a bit of a sugar rush, which led to them all crashing around the same time. Both were nude in their bed, Claire’s head lay atop Jamie’s chest, Jamie had one arm wrapped around her torso and the other stretched around his head.

“Just…” Jamie began, “thinking in general…never thought my life would lead me here. To ye, Sassenach…everything we’ve done…all that we’ve been through…”

“Your prudence paid off, My Laird,” Claire smiled, placing a kiss directly over his heart. Jamie felt it contract pleasantly in his chest.

“What do ye mean?”

“You once told me that, you came here to make a better life for your sons…for yourself… to put your past behind you and look towards the future…a better future…I think you did just that. I’m just thankful I got to play a part in it.”

“Och, my Sassenach,” Jamie brought her closer to him, and kissed her with all his heart’s worth. “Ye were more than just a part. Ye were the star in my salvation.”

“That’s good to know…” Claire let her sentence trail off. Jamie raised an eyebrow.

“What it is, Claire?”

Claire looked up at her husband of five years through hooded lashes, a playful smile on her face.

“Well…” she took a breath, “how do you feel about becoming a father of five nine months from now?”

F I N