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Highland Destiny

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It was Friday night, and James Fraser and his closest friends were in the Scotch & Rye Pub having a lads' night out. It had been a while since they got together, and for Jamie, it was a welcome distraction after a very long hectic day at work.

The pub was in full swing, filled with locals intent on binge-drinking and having a great time. The drinks flowed, the music from the jukebox blared loudly, and the place was bursting to the seams.

"Hey Finn, bring us another round of pint, will ye?" Rupert shouted to the barman from their table. Rupert was one of Jamie's trusted friend and right-hand at his whisky distillery, FRISEALACH, Gaelic root for the name Fraser.

Jamie shook his head as he peered into his watch. "No, man, I've had enough. I still have work to do aye, but ye lot carry on."

"C'mon pal, ye had only one drink, and ye've been nursing that pint the whole night. It must be warm like pish by now. For fuck sake, loosen up, it's Friday night," Angus, the head security of the distillery cajoled in a drunken slur as he gave Jamie's arm a playful punch.

"Yeah, Jamie, one more drink..." piped in his brother-in-law, Ian Murray.

"Sorry lads I'm driving, and I..." Jamie's sentence trailed off as his phone buzzed with a notification alerting him to an emergency sent by the dispatchers of Inverness Fire Department

"Fire at St. Agnes Orphanage...sorry lads, got to go," Jamie announced as he stood up and grabbed his leather jacket and car keys. Jamie's friends, momentarily stunned, dismissed him with a wave of their hands and muttered something in the way of "alright then," and "stay safe".

Although a self-made millionaire, Jamie Fraser, 28 years old, was an enlistee fire-fighter at Inverness Fire Department. It had always been a childhood dream to be a fireman; hence, he applied for the job. With his impressive height of 6'4, over-all fitness, and years of gym training and early morning runs, it wasn't a difficult feat to qualify for the volunteer post. 

Running to the car, Jamie felt the adrenaline coursing through his veins and was hoping to make it sharp at the scene of action. He wasn't very far from the Fire Station, and he just about made it in the nick of time to put his gear on and hop into the fire engine.

..........

It was after 11 pm when the truck transporting Jamie came to a halt at the scene of the crisis. It was chaotic, and the street was full of law enforcement and bystanders. Jamie quickly jumping out, strapped his protective helmet on and secured his tactical bag. He was immediately instructed by the barking Head Fire Officer and god-father, Murtagh, to get his arse into the 3 story building. 

Fire-fighters from another district were already there running about pulling water hoses and herding children out from the building. Some were climbing up the mechanised ladders attached to the fire truck and some heading into the blazing inferno. Jamie Fraser quickly followed suit and ran into the building. He cursed under his breath as he almost collided into a group of frightened children and nuns herded by a colleague. "Keep moving, keep moving," he shouted as he made way for them to pass.

Jamie pushed on amidst the cries of panics and thick smoke. He went from room to room, kicking doors open and making sure there wasn't anybody left behind. Just as he was making his way up to the next floor, he saw a woman in her dressing gown leaning against the wall coughing heavily and shielding her nose and mouth from smoke inhalation. Without thinking, Jamie quickly ran up and caught her on time before she collapsed to the floor.

With hardly any effort, Jamie scooped the unconscious woman into his arms and carried her outside to safety. As they neared the ambulance, he glanced down at the motionless body he held. Although the woman's face was smudged with soot, he was astonished to discover how breathtakingly beautiful she was. Jamie felt his heart stop as he gazed into her perfect face with full sensual lips, pearl-white skin and that mass of dark curly hair framing the delicate look. His eyes travelled further down and rested upon her shapely breasts. The thin garment she was wearing left little to the imagination and Jamie felt a warm sensation surge through his body. 

Instantaneously, the woman opened her eyes and Jamie, seeing she was alert, heaved as he drew a sharp intake of breath, as he stared at her, stunned. Her eyes were the most beautiful colour of bright amber, and the wild-eyed look made it even more startling.  Whisky eyes,  he thought.   For Jamie, time stood still, and the entire furore that was happening was soon forgotten. He was surprised at the overwhelming sense of protectiveness that washed over him as he held the body close. All he wanted to do at that moment was to keep her forever and get lost in those pools of golden orbs.

The woman, confused and panicked, began to wriggle in his arms. "Let me down please, let me down...the children in the building..." she whimpered in a rasping voice and in a very notable English accent.   Ah, Sassenach.

Jamie, at a loss with words and totally hypnotised by her eyes, continued to stare stupidly at her and when he tried to speak, no words came out. Eventually coming to his senses, Jamie brought her closer to his warmth, hushing and stroking, "Sssshhh, Sassenach, ye're safe now." He cradled her as if she was a child and whispered endearments and assurances in Gaelic in the hope of soothing away the fears.

When two medics came to relieve him of the woman, Jamie snapped out of his trance but kept his firm hold. He loathed giving up the warm bundle in his arms, but his god-father Murtagh was barking orders already, "For fuck sake Fraser, dinna just stand there...get yer arse back in the building." 

Resigned, and cursing in Gaelic under his breath, he reluctantly let go. After one last backward glance at the woman, Jamie ran back towards the burning building.   Damn, Fraser, snap out of it.

An hour passed, and finally, the fire was brought under control. There was a lot of damage, but after making a quick assessment of the aftermath, Jamie knew the structure was still solid. He made a mental note to donate towards the restoration first thing Monday morning. 

Unstrapping his helmet, Jamie made his way back outside to look for the woman he rescued but noticed most of the emergency unit had left. He asked everywhere for the brown-haired lass, but no one knew of her existence. After asking every possible person that might have an inkling, Jamie felt disappointment sink at the pit of his stomach when nobody could recall an injured English woman. He couldn't stop thinking about her and was adamant he would search for her.

"English woman, you say, eh? Sorry, Fraser, I dinna think I attended to any English woman tonight. She's probably taken to the hospital already," one of the medics offered as an explanation.

"Aye, of course. I will go and check there. Thank ye, Aidan, and see ye around." Jamie said with a somewhat forced, smile. 

Later on, in the early hours of the morning, back at the Fire Department, Jamie showered and changed into a fresh white shirt and jeans he kept in his own personal locker. Feeling refreshed, he made his way to the hall where the rest of his fire-fighting colleagues were back-slapping and congratulating each other for a good night's work.

"Hey Fraser, fancy a pint before going hame?" Murtagh shouted. 

Jamie shook his head. "Naa, I'll pass...maybe another night," he replied, giving his god-father a hug and a slap on the back.

"Very weel, suit yersel' lad, but ye think ye can stop by here Monday at 10 am?" Murtagh asked his god-son. "I know ye have an empire to run and all, but we're having a general meeting, and I'd prefer it if everyone, including the volunteers, were present. And I want to introduce a new member, and if I recall right, Beauchamp is the name. What say ye, eh?"

Distracted, Jamie nodded, "Aye, I suppose I can do that. See you Monday morning."

After saying goodnights and farewells to his comrades, Jamie made his rounds to all the hospitals in Inverness looking for an English woman casualty. But none of the hospitals nor emergency departments had any record of her. After exhausting every avenue he can think of, it was 7 am before Jamie gave up his search and headed home.

Chapter Text

Claire Beauchamp arrived in Inverness, late Friday afternoon after a two-day journey by car from Oxford. She was looking forward to a new life in Scotland and a fresh start. It had been five years since her husband of only two months, Frank Randall died in a car accident, and after finishing her internship recently, she was ready to move on. 

Frank Randall was a University professor, and Claire, a medical student in Oxford when they first met in the pub 7 years ago. Frank was 12 years her senior, but that didn't deter Claire from developing an infatuation. On the other hand, Claire's charm, wit and maturity beyond her years captivated the young professor, and it wasn't long before they fell in love and married. It was a blissful union until Frank died tragically, leaving his young bride to pick up the pieces of her broken dreams. 

Determined and stubborn, young Claire wasn't a person to wallow in grief for too long. Although very much heartbroken, she picked herself up, buried herself in work, and concentrated on finishing her studies. Shortly after Frank died, she sold their Victorian house to pay for her tuition fees, and whatever money was left, was put into her savings. 

Five years forward, Claire claimed her hard-earned M.D. as a Neurosurgeon and completed her obligatory internship. As she took her time deciding her next steps, her best friend Joe Abernathy from medical school had taken up residency in the Northern Royal Infirmary in Inverness. Joe Abernathy wanted her to follow suit.

Widowed and 29 years old, Claire knew she still had her life ahead of her. Uncle Lambert, her guardian since she was orphaned at age 5, suggested she takes his neglected cottage in the outskirts of Inverness if she opted to follow her friend Joe. Her uncle had very little use of it and having no family of his own, Claire knew the cottage will one day belong to her.

Without any further persuasion, Claire decided to move to Inverness and put her hospital residency on hold for a year.   A kind of sabbatical  , she thought. She needed time for the transition without the rigorous demands of working as a Neurosurgeon. To ease the transition, Claire responded to a job opening as a paramedic in Scottish Ambulance Service. The possibility of working indoors as well as outdoors on emergency cases sounded exhilarating and adventurous. Although over-qualified for the job, she knew she needed a change of something....or anything for that matter, without wandering too far from the medical route.

It didn't take long before Claire heard from the Scottish Ambulance Service. They knew she was over-qualified for the position, but they were only too happy to accept her application. Claire was thrilled and immediately made arrangements for the move. She was notified to start work as soon as she arrived.

Claire's first destination in Inverness was St. Agnes Orphanage to see the French mother superior, Mother Hildegarde. She was a life-long friend of Uncle Lambert and the keeper of the cottage's keys. As Claire walked into the Mother Superior's office, she was greeted with open arms and a huge warm smile.

"  Ma chérie  , Claire, come here and let me look at you. It's been ages!" Mother Hildegarde gathered Claire into her arms and embraced her tightly. "  Mon Dieu  , look at you...what a beautiful woman you have become. Mind you, you have always been a beautiful girl."

"Mother Hildegarde, oh it's so lovely to see you. Oh yes, it's been almost 10 years since I was here in bonny Scotland. And it's still bonny as ever. How are you?" Claire smiled warmly, hugging the elderly lady back.

For a woman in her eighties, the Mother Superior had a surprisingly firm grip. "  Très bien, ma chérie  . And how about you? You must be tired and hungry,   non  ? You must stay here for the night. There are still workers at your uncle's cottage right this minute and should be finished by tomorrow. They're doing some finishing touches to make sure the place is secure...you know like making sure the roof has no leak."

Claire laughed, "Oh, so typical of Uncle Lamb. He likes to over-see things, you know. As for food, no thank you. I'm not really hungry, but I'm exhausted, and I can use a good nap."

"Of course,   ma chérie  , this way...allow me to show you your room for the night and oh...here are the keys to the cottage." Claire took the keys and linked her arm with the older woman as they walked out of the office, chatting about Uncle Lamb and life in general.

Twenty minutes later, after a small tour around the shelter, saying hello to some of the orphans and exchanging pleasantries with the younger nuns, she was finally in her room. It was a simple room with a small bed - that was all she needed for now. Claire didn't bother getting the rest of her suitcase from the car but took only a change of clothes for the night. Within 5 minutes of laying her head down, she fell asleep.

Sometime late in the evening, she was roused to a loud bang. She bolted right up and heard panicked voices and running feet outside the corridor.   What the fuck was that?   She grabbed her phone and keys, and clad only in her nightgown, went outside to see what the commotion was. She was approached by a distressed young nun. "Miss Claire, Miss Claire, please help gather the children for evacuation, there's a fire in the west wing." 

"Of course, I'm on it." Without bothering to go back to the bedroom, calmly Claire managed to guide as many children as possible towards the emergency exit. She can hear the sirens and firemen's voices amongst the screams of children and women. 

After guiding the last group of children on her floor to safety, Claire decided to head up to the next storey, not realising the upper level was thick with smoke. As she made it to the top of the steps, she started to choke, and her eyes began to sting. Panic-stricken, Claire looked down and below was a very tall fireman running up the stairs towards her. And before she knew what was happening, she blacked-out.

In the dark recesses of her mind, Claire was aware she was being carried away. She felt the cold air on her face and heard emergency sirens from what seemed like a distance. All she wanted to do was to drift off back to sleep and curl up into the strong, warm arms holding her. It was a comforting sensation to be held and to feel safe. 

Then consciousness got a grasp of her, and realisation seeped in- the orphanage was on fire! Her eyes suddenly flew open only to be met by a pair of the bluest she'd ever seen. Claire blinked twice in an attempt to clear the fogginess in her head, but the man carrying her continued to stare as if she was some sort of alien. She searched his soot-covered face, but he remained inscrutable.

Finding her wits, at last, Claire made a futile attempt to wriggle her way out of the man's tight hold. Clearing her voice, she implored, "Let me down please, let me down...the children in the building..." Her voice sounded hoarse to her ears, but the fireman didn't yield his grip. He was saying something, barely audible in an unfamiliar tongue as he cradled her like a baby. 

Unexpectedly, she was handed over to two men from the emergency unit and to add to her confusion, her rescuer left without saying another word. From the arms of the paramedics, Claire glanced back at the disappearing form of the tall fireman as he made his way back into the smoke-filled building.   Damn, those blue eyes! 

Snapping back to reality, Claire turned her attention to the two paramedics who were trying to ease her down on the wheeled stretcher. "I said let me down right this minute...really, I'm alright." 

"Now miss, please calm down. Just a quick examination. Are ye hurting anywhere?" A young male medic was peering into her eyes with a pen torch. "Aaah ye have bonny eyes" The young man smiled.

"Stop that!" Claire slapped a probing hand away, "I'm a doctor, and really for the hundredth time, I'm alright. If you have a spare uniform to lend, I can help. Are you even listening?" The two men fussing over her stopped, looked at each other, hesitated for a moment and then nodded.

"Ye sure miss, ye can stand?" Claire nodded and stood up to prove that she can stand on her own.

There was no time to mess about.   If the lady wants to help, we need all the extra hands we can get.

"Aye, alright then...right in there, there's a spare uniform." informed the dark-haired young man with a badge, T. Christie engraved on it. He pointed towards the ambulance vehicle for Claire, "You can dress in there, and I'll close the door. We need all the help we can get...we're a wee bit understaff, ye ken."

"Aye, I ken," Claire replied, mimicking his accent, before climbing into the ambulance to change into a more appropriate garb.

For the next hour, Claire tirelessly worked side by side with the emergency staff guiding the children to safety, handing out oxygen masks to those who needed it and helping those who were injured onto the stretcher. Much to her relief, Mother Hildegarde suffered only a mild smoke inhalation and was immediately taken to the hospital. As for the rest, everyone from the orphanage made it to safety with some minor injuries.

Claire had no problem navigating through the frenzied confusion. She was a trained doctor after all and knew the ins and outs of a medical emergency. The other medical workers have given up trying to assist her. It was pretty apparent that she knew what she was doing and worked very well under stress. 

Time flew by quickly, and Claire was surprised when she realised, the frenetic activities around her were winding down. As she gratefully retrieved a bottle of water from one of the medics, Claire saw her rescuer reemerged from the building. Although she couldn't see his face, she recognised him from his height, breadth and the way he walked. He was prominently taller and stood out from the rest of the firemen.

She heard him shout, "All clear!" as he gave thumbs-up to his colleagues. Without much thought, Claire walked towards his direction. She wanted to thank him for rescuing her and his bravery. 

"Erm, excuse me..." she started trying to get the tall man's attention.

To Claire's surprise, he raised his hand, and without looking at her, he stopped her mid-sentence: "Sorry not now, I'm busy..." and walked away.

 The bloody Scot didn't even recognise me!  Fuming, Claire walked the opposite direction.

Chapter Text

James Fraser knew he was doomed when he realised he couldn't shake off the image of the Sassenach. What he thought of as a fleeting attraction had become an obsession that plagued his dreams and waking life.  He couldn't stop thinking about her. It's as if when their eyes locked for a brief moment, the stars aligned only to be scrambled again like some cruel joke. Jamie knew it was no longer a matter of choice - he had to find her.

It was a baffling notion that she could simply vanish from the face of the earth without a trace. He made enquiries in and around Inverness and not one of his contacts, emergency institutions nor were any of his friends were able to assist. His last hope in finding the elusive English woman was Mother Hildegarde from St. Agnes, and he planned to visit her later in the hospital. Surely she would know something considering the mystery woman was sleeping under her roof. 

Christ Sassenach, where are ye??

..........

It was early Monday morning, and Jamie was jogging back to the distillery. He sprinted the last half-mile in the hope that the exertion would diminish the frustration he was feeling. By the time he reached Frisealach Compound, he had worked up quite a sweat and his secretary, Laoghaire MacKenzie was waiting with a towel in her hand as he came through the door.

"Good morning to ye Jamie, enjoyed yer run?" He was greeted by a beautiful, blonde girl with too much make-up on and a dazzling smile. "I was watching ye from the window running like a mad-man, so I ken ye'd be here soon. I took the towel from your sports bag. Did ye spend the night in the office?" She approached Jamie purposely.

"Aye, and thank ye." Not offering any further explanations, he ignored the seductive look from his secretary and took the towel from her. "Don't ye have anything better to do?" Jamie asked, mildly annoyed and slightly out of breath from running all the way to the fifth floor.  

Disregarding the hint of sarcasm, Laoghaire smiled sweetly, "You have some messages, and I left them on your desk. Also, Murtagh called to remind you about the general meeting at 10 today." She reached out to Jamie for the towel. "Here, let me dry your back... ye're soaking."

"That'll be it Laoghaire, thank you." Ignoring her antics, he quickly made his way to his office, shutting the door firmly. 

Christ, I need to do something about that woman! 

Jamie quickly made a few business calls and arrangements with the bank to donate £50,000 towards the St. Agnes Orphanage's restoration. Next, he grabbed his sports bag and keys and headed back out again. 

"See you later. I'm going home to change, and then I'll be at the station for the rest of the morning. Anything important just passed it on to Rupert." 

Before Laoghaire could utter a word or react, Jamie was gone.

..........

Claire's first weekend in Inverness started off with a bang, literally. She belatedly discovered that the fire was caused by an exploding furnace. Fortunately, there were no fatalities, and everyone in the orphanage that night made it to safety.

Following the events of that Friday night, Claire made a new friend in the form of Tom Christie, the junior doctor from the paramedic team. She learned that he was employed at the Royal Northern Infirmary, where Joe had taken his residency job. With nowhere else to go after the fire, Tom helped her locate Uncle Lamb's cottage and carried her suitcases into her new home. She was thankful that only a handful of her possessions perished in the blaze as most of her belongings remained in the car when she arrived at St. Agnes. 

Claire spent the next two days unpacking, shopping, catching up with her best friend, Joe and visiting Mother Hildegarde in the hospital. Likewise, she visited some of the orphans and nuns injured in the fire. Worried about their plight, she was reassured by a nurse that the orphans were rehomed temporarily across the Highlands until St. Agnes is restored. This was comforting news! 

The remainder of her Sunday was spent at home unwinding and was pleasantly surprised when Tom popped in for a quick visit bearing a bunch of flowers and a basket of preserves from his sister's shop.

"Ach, it's nothing. Just a wee house warming gift and my way of saying thank ye for helping the other night," Tom explained, after giving Claire a quick awkward hug.

What a sweet gesture, Claire later thought as she got ready for bed. With that in mind, she dozed off, feeling confident that all will be well. And that night she dreamt of Frank whispering to her, "Yes darling, all will definitely be well. Hush now and sleep."

..........

Monday morning, Claire got up early to get a good head start at work. She had been previously instructed by a Mrs Henderson to come before 10 am in time for a joint general meeting between Scottish Ambulance Service and the Inverness Fire Department. Mr Fitzgibbons, the Head Fire Officer, wanted her to meet the whole team, including the volunteers with whom she will be working closely with in the future.

"Easy day on Monday Ms Beauchamp. I'm tae inform ye that yer first day will be familiarising yersel' with your surroundings and colleagues unless of course, we have some emergency. Yer official first day of work will be Wednesday when Mr McCoy goes on holiday so that will give ye plenty of time to organise yersel'," A woman explained over the phone. 

That's no brain surgery! Pretty straight-forward enough, Claire thought. 

But Monday didn't turn out to be as straight-forward. First, Claire's unruly locks refused to cooperate, so she tied it in the messy bun. Then her car keys were misplaced and spent 15 minutes looking for them. Then halfway to the Fire Station, her car over-heated and had to wait for roadside assistance to take it away for repair. Luckily enough, Tom was driving by and happily gave her a lift to the station before heading for work.

Claire arrived at 9:55 am to be exact. She thanked Tom and hurriedly made her way through the station. To her dismay, Claire realised the meeting had started. She followed the sound of the voice, addressing a room, and it led her to the back of the building. 

Right at the very end of the corridor, Claire saw an open door and peeked through. There were approximately 30 men assembled around the tables arranged in U-shape. At the head of the gathering, was a brown-haired man with a thick beard, doing a roll call. She surmised that it must be Mr Fitzgibbons.

Before stepping in, Claire checked her attire: everyday blue jeans, a white shirt, black leather jacket and white sneakers. She smoothed her hair and realised not much can be done. That will have to do Beauchamp... nothing fancyjust like one of the guys.

"Beauchamp!" the voice called out. The men in the room glanced around to determine who Beauchamp was. No answer. Meanwhile, Claire was unaware her name was called. She was too preoccupied smoothing her curly locks as she stood out of view from behind the door.

"Beauchamp, are ye here?!" the voice called out for the second time, this time almost shouting.

Claire finally heard her name called. Come on Beauchamp you can do this! She took big deep breaths and stepped into the room. "I'm right here," she announced loudly if not a bit croaky.

Almost all the men gave a start, chairs making squeaking and screeching sounds caused by a sudden movement of turning when a feminine voice answered.   Sweet Mother of Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!   There was a long silence, and a wide-eyed Claire stood frozen on the spot as she absorbed the room's shocked countenance. Appreciative stares, wolf-whistles and "oooohhhs-and-aaaahhhs" ensued after what seems like an eternity of speechlessness much to Claire's disconcertion. She wanted to back away out through the door and run.

"Hey Hugh, is the lady my belated stag-do pressie?" a voice shouted from the back. The room howled with laughter. Cor blimey, we have a jester in the house...just absolutely fucking great!

Ignoring the comic and the boisterous reaction, Claire gathered as much bravado she can muster and took a few more deep breaths. Aware every eye in the room was on her, she squared her shoulders and spoke, "Good morning, everyone, I'm Claire Beauchamp." Clearing her throat, she continued, "I'm terribly sorry that I'm late...my car broke down on my way here." 

The room calmed down when she spoke, and there were shuffles and murmurs, as the men turned to listen. Thereupon, a man with the beard walked over to her and extended his hand. "Hello Claire, I'm Murtagh Fitzgibbons. Call me, Murtagh. And, erm, welcome to Inverness and welcome to our team." His arms made an extensive motion to the room.

Claire took the extended hand, but before she could say a word, Murtagh, said, "Take a seat." Awkward! 

Somewhat still flustered and annoyed, Claire looked around for an empty chair. In her peripheral vision, a very tall man with auburn hair stood up and pulled out a seat next to him. "Hey Claire, over here," Ginger gestured to the vacancy next to him with sweeping arms. She spun in his direction and glanced up. Her gaze locked with a very amused pair of familiar, blue eyes.  Oh my stars and garters, it's the bloody Scot!

Reluctantly, Claire made her way to the offered seat and nodded. "Thank you!" She flashed a vain effort of her best smile, hoping to conceal her agitations.  

Before Claire could sit, suddenly, Ginger's hand extended towards her. "Hello, Sassenach! I'm James Fraser, or ye can call me Jamie if ye wish." Ah, Ginger has a name!  She peered up at the grinning face. "Listen, lass, dinna mind these loons - they may look scary, but truly, we're all a friendly bunch here," Jamie explained in the way of an apology, loud enough for everyone to hear. 

Standing next to Jamie, Claire felt petite with her 5'7 height.  Her eyes were almost at the same level as the hollow base of his throat. Up close, she couldn't help but be very aware of the broad expanse of his shoulders as her gaze involuntarily drifted to his collarbones and, damn,  he smelled like he just came out of the shower. He was wearing a white shirt that clung to him like a second skin and stretched precariously tight across his well-muscled chest. Avoiding his gaze, Claire quickly shook his hand, but as their hands touched, she felt an electric jolt bolt through her body in waves and swirls. Attempting to ignore the unsettling sensations, she responded, "Hi, nice to meet you too." Then she glanced up and saw Jamie staring too intently for her own comfort.

"Oy Fraser, smooth move" one of the men shouted, making Claire snap out from her reverie. The whole room erupted in laughter. Oh, crikey, here we go again!

"Aye, ye can learn a thing or two on how to be a gentleman," Jamie countered back laughing and threw a crushed paper at the direction of the joker.

Another joined in the teasing, "Gentleman my arse! The Frasers are just tae quick when it comes to pretty lasses. Ye're yer father's son, Jamie lad. My da tol' me how yer da, Brian stole the Mckenzie lass right under my uncle's nose!"

Everyone roared with laughter, and even the dour-looking Murtagh found the outburst hilarious. More banter and hilarity ensued.

Grateful for the distraction, Claire hurriedly sat down. She said "Thank you," again to Jamie and felt rather stupid for doing so. She lowered her head to hide the heat creeping up her face, as she busied herself, arranging her satchel on the table and taking out a pen and notepad.

"Right, that's enough. Everyone wheesht! So, are we all quite done here yet?" Murtagh hollered, "If so, let's get on with it. Aye?" Although the laughter ceased, you can still hear a few sniggering here and there. 

Calm restored, Murtagh proceeded with the meeting. Drawing his attention again!  back to Claire, much to her dismay, he asked, "Right, Beauchamp, which one is it officially, Randall or Beauchamp? I have several papers here with two different names."

Claire's face turned crimson. "It's Beauchamp. Randall is my late husband's name. Oh and by the way, just call me Claire."

Jamie nudged her arms lightly with his elbow, and he whispered with a cocked eyebrow, "Sorcha!" followed by a feeble attempt at a wink. Claire frowned, not understanding and she mouthed Shush at Jamie. 

"Verra weel, Claire Beauchamp it is. Or simply Claire" Murtagh declared. Flipping through more papers, Murtagh added, "Oh hang on a minute, I omitted to inform ye lads. It's actually Dr Beauchamp. She is joining the paramedic team for a year while she is on sabbatical. And if I were ye, ye better be in yer best behaviour. I hear Dr Beauchamp is quite handy with the scalpel, her being a neurosurgeon and all."

That revelation was followed by laughter, impressed nods, Jamie patting her hand, and more wolf whistles, much to Claire's chagrin. All she could do in response was offer a weak smile and shrug.

Murtagh smiled at her and continued, "Moving along..." Oh, sour-face can smile after all!

Even though the proceedings had moved on to other matters, Claire had difficulty focusing. She couldn't decide whether to blame it on Jamie's closeness or on the boisterous banter from earlier. Her concentration was further disrupted as Jamie scooted closer, his knees brushing against hers. He tapped her on the elbow with a pen and whispered, "Hey Sassenach, so ye're a Neurosurgeon, eh?"

She nodded, her eyes fixed on Murtagh. Jamie clearing his throat, spoke again in a low voice. "Hey Sassenach, did ye recognise me from Friday night...ye ken, the fire at St. Agnes? 'Twas me who carried ye out when ye fainted."

Claire quickly glanced sideways to say something but got diverted at the sight of bulging muscles of his forearm as he leaned close, both elbows pitched on the table. The view made her mind wander afresh to imagining how Jamie would look like without his shirt. The thought made her swallow a lump forming in her throat. Catching herself, she shook her head, as if the mere act of doing so would dismiss all silly thoughts. Determined more than ever, Claire redoubled her effort to solely focus on Murtagh.

Unperturbed by her lack of response, Jamie nudged her knees with his. "Well?" he urged." Did ye or did ye not?"

"Shush ..." She gave Jamie a warning look and feigned annoyance, but to no avail. It only made him scoot his chair closer until both their arms were grazing. 

Claire realised Jamie wasn't about to give up. So she looked at him with the sternest expression she can muster, pointed a pen towards Murtagh and mouthed to him, Later ok? Eventually, he conceded and acknowledged with a nod. Relieved, Claire mouthed thank you and was rewarded with the most beautiful smile she's ever seen upon any man's face. Oh, sweet Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, the man's bloody gorgeous. Defeated, Claire gave in to this renewed distraction and daydreamed leaning forward to kiss the indentation on Jamie's chin.

The meeting lasted for two hours, and the only thing Claire could think of was her growing attraction towards Jamie. And little did she know, he was in the same predicament.

Chapter Text

"Jamie!"

James Fraser snapped his head up to see his god-father looking agitatedly at him. "Huh? What??" The meeting had concluded 45 minutes ago, and there he was, still hovering around hoping to have a moment with Claire alone. Some of his mates have stopped by her table to make introductions and talk shop-talk, and he was hoping they would all disband soon.

Murtagh rubbed his beard impatiently. "I said what are ye still doing here, cloth-eared! Whit's the matter with ye? Don't ye have an office to go tae?"

"Aye..no...I mean aye. No, it's good. Rupert can handle it," Jamie mumbled, running his hands through his hair and looking at his watch.

"Weel, that phone of yers hasn't stopped buzzing. Ye answering it?" 

Jamie glanced at his phone then quickly at Claire, who was talking amicably to his mate, Hugh. "No. I mean aye, but it can wait. It's not important. It's just texts."

Murtagh frowned, "Weel if ye say so. Usually, ye canna wait to get out once we finished. Stay if ye wish, I dinna mind, but be mindful, we have work to dae here." But Jamie was no longer listening. His attention was elsewhere.

Hugh, sitting on the other side of Claire, was showing her some pamphlets and information regarding work. Without thinking, Jamie poked her arm with a pen, and she turned to face him. 

"Wot?" Claire said.

She had her black-rimmed glasses on, a pen between her teeth and a finger weaved through a lone tendril of curl. It was a very sensuous picture. Jamie's eyes rested on her lips before travelling down to rest on her curves. It was accentuated by the way she was leaning forward and the snugness of her jeans. He can see an outline of her bra, and her breasts were pressed against the edge of the table. Her hips jutted out, revealing a sweet round arse. As he slowly glanced up to her face again, he noticed her lips have fastened around the pen, moist from her mouth. Jamie's heart faltered. He felt a stirring in his loins and shifted a bit in his seat, glad that he wasn't wearing his sweatpants.  O' Heavenly Father, St. Bride & St. Agnes, please forgive me for my impure thoughts.

"Jamie, wot is it?"

"Gum?" Jamie said in a ragged voice before he could stop himself.  Gum!? What the fuck was that? Eeejit!  He felt like kicking himself.

"Thanks!" Claire smiled and took one from a packet of spearmint offered, her tongue flicking out in concentration.

She was about to turn her back to him when Jamie stopped her. "We'll talk when ye're done?" he asked softly. Claire nodded with a smile before she turned away again.

..........

Although Jamie was happy for Claire to be making friends, he wasn't overly keen with all the attention she was receiving. The emotions he had been feeling the last few days, particularly twinges of jealousy were entirely foreign, and it's playing havoc with his sensibility. He had no idea how he was going to handle this situation without falling apart.

As the last of the men left Claire's side, Jamie let out an exaggerated sigh of relief. 

Claire laughed out loud.

"I dinna think that'll ever be over anytime soon, Sassenach. They're all hovering over ye like bees to a flower."

"And what in heaven's name are you precisely doing here Mr Fraser?" Claire teased as she packed her notepad and pens back to her satchel.

Jamie chortled and shrugged. "Ach weel, I was waiting for a reply, Sassenach. Ye didna answer my question earlier. Sooo....did ye or did ye not recognise me from Friday night?"

Before Claire could respond, a male voice called out her name.

She spun around. "Tom! What are you doing here?" Claire's eyes lit up and smiled.

Tom Christie made his way towards them, his eyes darting from Jamie to Claire and then back again. "Fraser."

Jamie reciprocated the perfunctory nod. "Tommy." He knew Tom didn't like to be called Tommy, but he said it anyway. "So, how are things Tommy boy?"

Tom stiffened.

Claire sensing some tension between the two men, interjected, "So Tom, what brings you here?"

Ignoring Jamie, he smiled at Claire. "Och, I just stopped by to ask you if you needed a lift later when ye're done with work. Yer car must still be at the mechanics'. What time will ye be finished?"

Not waiting for Claire to answer, Jamie chimed in. "It's alright, Tommy, I'll bring her hame." Then looking down at a dumbfounded Claire, he grinned innocently and gave her a side-hug, his hands travelling up and down her arms in a possessive manner. "After all, what are work colleagues for, eh?"

Wide-eyed Claire looked at Jamie, and after a few seconds of awkward silence, Tom found his voice, "Weel, that's alright then, if that's alright with ye Claire. Anyway, ye ken my number so if there's anything ye need, anything at all, just call, ok?" He leaned down to give her a kiss on the cheek. Jamie didn't like that one bit.

Claire smiled. "Of course, and thank you so much for thinking of me. That is so sweet! I will see you around, alright?" He nodded, looked Jamie in the eye, and then without another word, he turned around and left.

Recovering quickly from the scene, Jaime shouted after him, "See ye, Tommy!"

Tom didn't respond.

Claire waited until Tom was out of earshot and out of sight and then slapped Jamie good-naturedly on his forearm. "What the hell was that all about?"

Jamie was laughing as he tried to avoid another slap. "Wot?" mimicking her accent. 

Hands-on hips, Claire gave him a mock severe look. "You know well what I mean. Out with it."

"Och, Sassenach forget it. Tommy hates my guts. Always has. He and I have a history, but it's all in the past now. Nae big deal, truly. Anyway, ye still havna answered my question..."

Letting out an over-the-top exasperated sigh, Claire rolled her eyes and turned to face him, "Alright, alright! You were asking if I remembered you. Yes, Jamie, I did! Who wouldn't with that height of yours? But, just to let you know, I did have every intention of thanking you properly. So, now, here we are...I thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving my life. You are one fine courageous fireman, and I will be forever grateful to you. Happy now?" She said as she animatedly placed her hands over her heart.

Jamie's face broke into a boyish grin. "Show me, Sassenach."

"Show you wot?" Claire asked, slightly puzzled as to where this conversation was heading to.

"Show me how grateful ye are and come to dinner with me...tonight," Jamie replied in a more serious tone, his fingers having a mind of its own, brushed aside a tendril of hair that caught in her lips.

"Whoa, I didn't see that coming!" Claire swallowed and laughed nervously. "Do you make it a habit of asking women out when you meet them for the first time?"

Jamie noticed the blush creeping up Claire's face as she fidgeted with a loose curl.  Christ, those curls are so damn sexy!  He wondered how it would feel like to run his hands through her hair. "No, I don't Sassenach, truly. Besides, today wasn't our first meeting. We met last Friday if ye remember."

Claire bit her lip while deep in her thoughts, and Jamie couldn't help but stare at her mouth.  Fuck, he badly wanted to kiss her.  "Well, alright, then. I gather you don't give up easily, do you? I suppose I can't be having you buy me dinner when you were the one who did the rescuing. How about I make you dinner instead as my way of saying thank you? I was planning on making mushroom Rissotto tonight."

Jamie's face slowly broke into a smile. "Aye, sounds grand! Since I'll be bringing ye hame later, how about we cook together? We can stop at the shop on the way in case ye need anything. That way, ye don't have to do all the work. And I can bring whisky if ye like. I have a few collections at home. I hope ye like whisky."

"Ah well, sounds practical. I think I'll be here until 4, so you can pick me up around after that? And yes, I do love a good whisky, Jamie, that would be lovely," 

"I'll be here at 4 sharp, see you in a few hours?" Jamie grinned. And before he knew what he was doing, he leaned down to kiss her on the cheek, deliberately making his lips graze against her skin, light as a feather. He felt Claire's warm breath against his face as he pulled away to look deep into those golden caramel eyes.

Jamie left the fire station, a happy man whistling out of tune.

..........

The moment Jamie Fraser arrived back at his office, he instructed Laoghaire to order a massive bouquet of assorted wildflowers and have them brought up to his office.  No not roses, it's not Claire. Claire is more like the wildflowers of the highlands, wild like her unruly locks, independent, smart and so refreshingly different from any woman he's ever met.  Jamie knew the lads at the station are enamoured with her, and his only saving grace was, most of the men there were already married.

"Sent to yer office? Don't ye want it delivered? What shall I write in the card, Jamie?" Laoghaire asked as she followed Jamie to his desk. It wasn't the first time Jamie had asked her to order flowers, and usually, they were meant for clients, associates or family. This time seemed different, though, and Jamie's demeanour was highly unusual. Laoghaire was suspicious, but she kept her thoughts to herself.

"Dinna fash, lass. I will sign the card meself." Jamie answered back, his good mood apparent in his voice. "Ye can go home after ye ordered those flowers, I dinna think I will need you after that." And with a wave of his hands, he dismissed her as he made a call to his cellar master to bring to his office a 12-year-old special edition FRISEALACH and a vintage 24-year-old, distilled by his late father.

..........

Oh, my giddy heart, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, what on Earth do you think are you doing? 

Wot? 

You are treading on dangerous ground that's wot, young lady! 

Well, it's not the first time I'm inviting a man to my house. Besides, I'm a big girl. 

This is different. 

How? 

You know fine what I'm talking about. 

It's just a fucking dinner, where's the harm in that? 

You'll see. 

Oh, go away and shut it!

 Fine!

 Fine!

Annoyed with herself, Claire shoved the internal talk and Jamie to the back of her mind and focused on the business at hand. She spent the afternoon acquainting herself with procedures, schedules, programs, and speaking to a couple of dispatchers. She was informed that for the first two weeks, she will be working with a young man named Ewan, a technician in training, and driver for the non-emergency Patient Transport Service. It will be mostly social healthcare as opposed to emergency care work to ease Claire to ambulance service life. Then after that, her real adventure can begin when she is assigned to more life-threatening emergencies.

With so many pieces of information to absorb, Claire was surprised how fast time flew by. Before she knew it, it was almost 4. She quickly gathered her things, said her good-byes to the staff of the Ambulance Service and promptly made her way to the Fire Department, which was just next door. Jamie was already there waiting and talking to Murtagh. 

From afar, she observed Jamie was a head taller than Murtagh. His hair, a golden russet colour in the fading sun, was brushed back and the natural curls settled at the nape of his neck. He had changed his clothes and was now wearing a grey shirt under a leather jacket and black jeans. Standing tall, legs apart and his arms folded across his chest, he was a sight to behold. He looked like a modern Viking warrior.

Suddenly, her nervousness and excitement from earlier came back in waves.  Oh, good, Lord! This is it Beauchamp, too late to withdraw!

"Sassenach, there ye are! Are ye ready?" A beaming Jamie greeted her. He came forward to take her carrier bag, which contained her uniform and other work gear.

Murtagh turned, and with a cocked eyebrow, gave her a knowing smile.

"Hi there," Claire smiled. Then she turned to Murtagh, explaining in an almost defensive tone, "My car is in repair, so Jamie's giving me a lift. So...well... I shall see you on Wednesday."

"Aye...see ye, Wednesday Claire." And with that, Murtagh turned around and left.

Claire was watching Murtagh's retreating back when Jamie's cheerful voice brought her back to the present moment, "C'mon Sassenach, we have a meal to prepare. Let's go shopping first." Jamie took her hands in his and led her to his car. Her jaw nearly dropped when he opened the door to a Land Rover.   Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, a freaking Land Rover! They cost over a 100 grand. Who is Jamie Fraser?

..........

Jamie and Claire picked up some fresh produce from a local supermarket on the way to her house. She insisted on buying despite Jamie's protests. Rissotto with a side dish of green salad was agreed upon, and from thereon, Jaime was happy to let her make all the culinary decisions. 

Claire splurged a touch on the ingredients. Instead of ordinary mushrooms, she bought chanterelles and instead of a standard bottle of wine, she opted for two bottles of excellent French Chablis: one to be used for cooking and one to accompany the meal with. They completed the purchase with a tray of strawberries. It was a simple menu, nonetheless, sophisticated. Satisfied, they headed home.

As they drove to her cottage, Claire began to relax and forgot all about her nervousness and questions as to how a part-time firefighter can afford a Land Rover. Jamie was an easy guy to talk to, and he was full of humour talking about the Highland way of life and anecdotes of his mates' antics as young lads. She was enjoying their conversation so much she barely noticed they have arrived at their destination.

..........

Jamie loved the simple stone cottage that Claire called home. It was a far cry from his family manor house, nevertheless charming. It had three bedrooms and was set on grassed garden grounds that extended to the front, side and rear elevations, and was enclosed by a combination of fencing, stonewalling and hedging. 

He helped Claire with the shopping bags as she chattered and led the way into a pretty entrance porch. Inside, Jamie had to duck through doorways as they passed through the corridor that opened up to the kitchen. It was small and outdated but functional enough and smelled of potpourri and remnants of burnt scented candles. As Claire began to potter in the kitchen, he went back to the car to retrieve his presents for her.

When Jamie returned, Claire shouted from the living area, "In here, soldier!" He smiled at the pet name and chuckled under his breath.

As he entered the lounge, Claire eyed the massive bouquet of flowers and a brown paper bag Jamie was balancing on his left arm. "What are all these you have here? Are they for me?" she enthused.

Jamie laughed. "Aye Sassenach, I hope ye like flowers. And here, I have 2 bottles of Frisealach that we can sample after dinner." He handed the brown paper bag to her.

Claire peered in and pulled out a bottle. "Good Lord Jamie, these are expensive. This alone probably cost a couple of hundred pounds. What were you thinking?"

"Och, so ye ken yer whisky, Sassenach," Jamie chuckled, avoiding the question. "That's good. I'm looking forward to sharing a dram with ye later."

Claire glowed. "Oh me too!" Then she twirled around the room. "Well, what do you think of my Uncle Lamb's house. I know it's a bit bare at the moment...I've just moved in."

Jamie presented the bouquet of florals to Claire and looked around and smiled. It was modest, but it looked homey and comfortable. "It's verra nice and cosy in here, Sassenach, and I love that wee wood burner." Then his eyes landed on the vase of flowers in the corner of the room and nodding towards it, he said, "It looks like ye beat me to the flowers, Sassenach."

"Oh that. It's from Tom. Tom Christie. A house warming gift he brought the day after the fire at St. Agnes," Claire explained nonchalantly. 

Jamie felt a twinge of jealousy at the mention of Tom Christie's name.

Seeing more questions in Jamie's eyes, Claire revealed what happened on the night of the fire, how she helped the paramedics after she recovered from fainting, and even the part when Jamie dismissed her.

She watched with amusement how Jamie's expression changed in varying degrees of emotions from confusion, to utter disbelief and then to remorseful.

Feeling embarrassed, Jamie rubbed his face with both hands and shaking his head, he said, "Och Sassenach, I'm sae sorry...truly. Christ, ye must have hated me walking away like that from ye."

"Oh, Jamie, of course not. I don't hate you." She placed the flowers on the coffee table.

"But Christie!..." his voice trailed off.

Baffled, Claire asked, "What's wrong with Tom?"

Suddenly, Jamie's eyes turned a darker hue of blue. Without taking his eyes off Claire, he slowly took off his leather jacket, revealing a tight grey T-shirt that exposed the taut muscles underneath. He placed the jacket slowly on the armchair and moved deliberately towards her. Claire watched him with bated breaths as her eyes wandered down the length of his body, resting on his midriff before looking back to his face. He took her hand, his thumb moving a slow circular motion on her skin. Turning it upward, Jaime slowly raised it to his lips and kissed the inside of her palm. All this time, his eyes penetrated hers, as if willing himself to see through her soul. Then he said hoarsely, his breath fanning her face, "I wish it were me who brought ye home, Sassenach."

"Jamie..." Her shivers locked her muscles tight. A bolt of tantalizing heat shot down her centre. 

 

Chapter Text

They were standing in the middle of the lounge, suspended in time and space, between heaven and earth, looking into one another's eyes. Claire's hand was still in Jamie's, his fingers generating tiny sparks that surged erratically through her body, fanned into a flame with just a little pressure of touch. His eyes, dark with wanting, bore into her soul, sending delicious heat to her core. She felt the sudden rush of blood to her head as her heart raced, scattering all logic and reasoning into some unknown dark abyss. She tried to summon a memory from the past; Frank, Oxford, the hospital corridors, her parents, uncle Lamb... anything to keep her from drowning into Jamie's deep blue. But it was futile. She was falling, dropping, slipping, but she had no idea into where.

The electrically charged interlude was interrupted by the sound of ringing from Claire's iPhone, jarring them from their trance and making them both blink. "  Dhia  !" Jamie murmured under his breath as his hand released Claire's, to rub the nape of his neck.

Ding! Ding! Saved by the bell. 

O' sweet Lord Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! Ding ding indeed!

Regaining a tiny bit of composure, Claire reached behind the back pocket of her jeans, extracting her phone. "I need to take this," she whispered hoarsely, barely audible.

He nodded and motioned with his hands towards the doorway as he made his way to the kitchen. She nodded back with an apologetic smile.

Seeing the image of the caller on her phone, Claire momentarily forgot Jaime and what just transpired. "Geillis, darling!"

"Hiya chick! How are you daein'? O' my God, o' my God ah heard from Joe yoo're in town. Sae, ye moved here for good?" answered an animated woman's voice in broad Glaswegian.

" Absobloodylootely – YES! Oh God, it's so good to hear your voice, Geillis. We ought to meet up as soon as possible. Listen, are you free Friday night? If so, let's catch up then. It has been bloody ages!"

"Och this is so excitin'! Aye definitely, let's meet up. Maybe Joe will come too. Ah cannae wait tae see you and show you our shop. By th' way, what's wrang wi' ye? Ye sound like ye hae bin runnin'. 'Tis a bad time?"

Claire twisted backwards to peek through the doorway. She saw Jamie leaning over the sink, splashing water to his face and neck and felt the heat crept up her own. "Well, kind of. Look, sorry to make this short but got to go. I promise to call you first thing tomorrow. Is Scotch & Rye Pub on Friday at 7 ok? I've been told that its the place to be. We can grab some fish and chips if you fancy."

"Brilliant, sorted! Scotch & Rye pub it is then Friday at 7! Ah cannae wait. An', och, Claire...you hae a laddie there wi' ye?" She can almost see her friend's cheeks dimpling and giving a wicked wink.

"Sod off, Geillis!"   She always knows, the bloody cow!   With that, Claire turned off her phone.

Although she was so thrilled to hear from her friend, the call was a welcomed distraction. Geillis was one of her closest mates in Oxford in medical school. And along with Joe, they were the three Musketeers in the campus until Geillis dropped out. In the earlier days, she developed an interest in Alternative Healing after joining a movement against big pharmaceutical companies; hence, she left her medical studies and followed her boyfriend to Inverness to set up a health and herb shop.

Claire was staring at the phone in her hand when Jamie walked back in. He leaned on the doorway, smiling, his breadth blocking the light from the corridor. "Hey, Sassenach. Shall we start dinner?"

She smiled back. "Sure!" And she followed him to the kitchen taking his outreached hand.

..........

In the next half hour, Claire busied herself with dinner's preparation while Jamie chopped the shallots and washed the chanterelles. Still rattled from earlier, she carefully stirred their conversation onto something neutral and avoided eye contact, but working in such a small area, touching was unavoidable. A couple of times, he had to place his hands on her hips as he navigated narrow spaces, and his mere touch sent bolts of heat coursing through her body. But with his laid-back and relaxed manner, it wasn't long before they were back to bantering and joking. Once the chanterelles had been sauteed, and the rice and shallot simmering in broth and wine, she left him to continue cooking while she washed and changed.

Drying herself after a quick shower and shave, Claire was very conscious of Jaime in the other room. Just knowing that he was there under the same roof was enough to make her heart do somersaults. She could hear him moving about as the wooden floors creaked and the pots and pans banged. For a very big man, he looked right at home and comfortable working in the kitchen.

In her bedroom, she looked for something to wear but looking into her wardrobe, there wasn't really a lot of choices.   Well, it's only Jamie anyway, it's not like it's a date!

Well Beauchamp, ready for round 2? Ding! Ding!

Wot round 2? There will be no round 2.

So why did you shave your legs?

Rubbish! I always shave my legs.

Liar, liar, pants on fire!

Annoyed with herself, she decided to put on a pair of black leggings, an over-sized sweatshirt emblazoned, OXFORD and white woollen socks. She twisted her hair to the top of her head and fastened it with a hair clasp after giving up on taming her wayward curls. Looking into the mirror, she scrunched her nose and poked her tongue out. 

Ok, Beauchamp, let's do this! 

Do what? 

Get laid? 

Not gonna happen. 

But you want to. 

I do not! 

Liar, Liar, Pants on fire!

Sod off!

Satisfied with her reflection, she went to the kitchen.

When Claire walked in, Jaime was in the process of opening a bottle of Chablis. He gave her one of those heart-dropping smiles as he took in the sight of her. His eyes travelled up and down, lingering for a moment at her breast.   Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! Can he tell I don't have a bra?   She quickly reached down to touch the hem of her sweatshirt to check its thickness. Taking it as an awkward moment, Jamie reached out and guided her to the table, placing a hand on the small of her back. The scent of her favourite food made her stomach growl ferociously. He must have heard her belly rumble. "Hungry Sassenach? he said with a grin.

She was pleasantly surprised to see that Jamie did make himself at home. There was nothing else for her to do: the table was set, the green salad dressed, her flowers haphazardly arranged in the vase and placed on a side table, and he even had a few of her scented candles burning. In the background, she could hear L-O-V-E song by Nat King Cole playing softly in the lounge. In spite of her nervousness, she couldn't help but smile. Maybe the hunger was getting the better of her.

"Very hungry, indeed!" she replied. Then cocking her head, she exclaimed, "Oh my God, Jaime, you have Uncle Lambs record player working! Sorry, I don't have any sound system set up yet. It's been a hectic during the last few days. There's still a lot of things I need to do with this house."

"Och, dinna fash Sassenach. I love old music and light jazz. We still have my grand parent's record player in our family home, and occasionally, we play some of my ma's collections for 'ol time sake. I hope you dinna mind me going through your uncle's records."

"No of course not, that's what it's there for. Maybe after dinner, we can go through some and listen to some old jig."

"That's grand, Sassenach!" He took her hand and kissed the inside of her palm.

Over the next couple of hours, Jamie and Claire got better acquainted over Rissotto and wine. As the evening progressed, Claire began to relax and enjoy herself as they exchanged stories about their families and life. She found Jamie charming, and like most Scots, he was born a storyteller. He spoke of his late parents and his sister in Lallybroch where he grew up, and in return, she reciprocated in kind and spoke of her travels to archaeological sites with Uncle Lamb and what she can remember of her parents.

After dinner, they moved to the lounge to listen to records. While Jamie lit up the log burner and prepared the whisky and tumblers, Claire fixed a tray of strawberries and cream and coffee. Claire couldn't help notice how at ease Jamie was - he looked like he's lived in Uncle Lamb's cottage forever. For the first time she arrived in Inverness, Claire felt at home, and she wondered if it had to do with Jamie.

..........

Three-quarters of the whisky bottle later, Jamie and Claire collapsed on the floor, spent from laughing so much, after attempting to dance the can-can to Sinatra's "New York, New York." Jamie was a terrible dancer, and Claire couldn't help but giggle her way through the routine. After a few more twirls and twists, they decided to call it a night. She didn't want the evening to end, but it was getting rather late. 

Claire got up from the floor and holding up an almost empty bottle in the air, she announced, before slumping on the sofa, "Ok, Jamie, last drink. I'm totally knackered."

Jamie followed suit, but instead of sitting beside her, he sat down on the coffee table facing her. He reached out and took her hands between his own. This time, there was no hint of seduction or suggestion of flirt. "Sassenach, thank ye so much for a lovely evening. I've never laughed so much in my life, but I will need a taxi, I canna drive back home in my state," he said with a slight slur.

"Rubbish, you can stay here, there's plenty of room. I won't have you driving after drinking so much, and you can have my bed, it's the biggest in the house. I'll take the guest room," Claire insisted. She tried to stand up but swayed a bit. As she regained her balance, she looked up at him and smiled. "And Jaime, I had a wonderful time too. Thank you." Claire got on her tip-toes and gave Jamie a kiss on the cheek before swaggering backwards. She giggled. "Ooops."

"Weel, if ye don't mind, then I don't mind either." Jamie slightly unsteady on his feet, caught Claire by the elbows and laughed.

Claire peered into the almost empty bottle of whisky and poured the rest in each of the tumblers. "Good! That's settled then. And no, I don't mind at all. Last drink?" she said, handing a glass to Jaime.

"Aye." And raising his glass, he made a toast. "Slange var Sassenach!"

Claire wobbling on her feet managed to raise her glass, laughing. "Cheers mate!"

After downing their whisky, Claire handed the glasses and empty bottles to Jamie. "Right, I'll go and get some fresh sheets, and you can bring these in the kitchen. Then off to bed."

"To bed or to sleep?" he asked mischievously with a glint in his eyes.

"Ha-ha,"

Claire hurried to the bedroom, slightly zig-zagging as she made her way. That last remark from Jamie made her conscious of him all over again.   Damn you, Jaime!   As she was getting some fresh linens from the cupboard, she heard a thump and glasses falli

"Jamie, are you alright?" She went quickly to the kitchen and found Jamie taking off his shirt stained with wine. On the floor were shards of glass and spilt leftover wine.

"Och sorry Sassenach, I'm not familiar with your house, and I forgot you had boxes laid there. I tripped over them."

Claire thinking he might be still shaky on his feet due to intoxication, pulled him away from the broken glasses. "It's alright, Jamie. Just stand back a little please." After cleaning up, she went over to him to see if he had a cut. "Let me see you hands Jamie."

"Dinna fash Sassenach, it's just a wee cut." He held up his thumb, and she saw there was a shard sticking out. She quickly went to her first aid kit drawer, to get a tweezer, iodine and some cotton. It was a small cut, but the shard had to be taken out. 

Holding Jaime's thumb to the light, she pulled the glass out from the cut, and fresh blood started to flow. Without thinking, as if it was the most natural thing to do, Claire put his thumb to her mouth to suck the blood.   Oh, sweet Mother Mary, what did I just do?    She only came to her senses when she felt Jaime drew a sharp intake of breath. She felt embarrassed. Feeling idiotic and foolish, Claire didn't dare look up to Jaime and slowly released his hand. Head bowed, she realised he had taken off his shirt after forgetting about it for a moment. As her eyes wandered to his naked torso, she noticed his hard washboard abs and the movement of his breathing. On the hollow of his navel, ran a trail of dark reddish-gold hair that disappeared into his jeans. The thought of running her finger on that trail made the insides of her legs quiver. The skin on her face and neck turned hot.   Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, what have I done, and what am I thinking?

"Sassenach, are you alright?" Jaime said softly as he lifted her chin to look him in the eye. What she saw in Jaime's eye was a concern, instead of his usual mischief. She can only nod, too aware of Jamie's naked torso "You dinna need to be scairt of me - I wouldna force me on you." He paused, taking her hand. "But I would verra much like to kiss you. Would you mind?"

Point of no return, she swallowed. "No Jaime, I wouldn't mind." She paused and then continued, her voice sounding raspy to her ears. "Please kiss me," Then she placed her cool hands on his hard abdomen. 

The moment, Claire touched him, he felt his body was on fire. He thought of the other women in his life in the past,   Louise, Geneva, Annalise, Laoghair e, and looking back, he realised how shallow they have been. The sex was always a welcome release, but beyond that, there was nothing. With Claire, everything came naturally; he was himself, he can laugh, and most of all, she was herself. He looked down at the woman before him but still found himself confused with what he was feeling. 

Jaime, staring into Claire's golden caramel eyes, slowly lowered his head, one hand behind her neck and the other on her waist, pulling her against him. Their lips met, just the lightest touch, but it was enough to send electricity sparks across every nerve ending. It was just a grazing of lips, but he was shaken to the core. He pulled away, his heart hammering, taking shallow breaths. He looked at Claire's beautiful face, her eyes were closed and her lips lightly parted.   Dhia!   Unable to contain himself, he pulled her back once more, this time into a more passionate and intense kiss. He gently thrust his tongue to the opening of her mouth, parting them to delve inside, teasing and probing until she made whimpering sounds. Her own kisses became hot and urgent, her arms snaking around his neck while her fingers ran through his hair, and this made him kiss her harder more. Standing on tiptoes, she pressed her body closer, crushing her breast against his hard chest, sending pleasures down his groin and making Jamie groan.

They pulled away for air, and Jamie searched Claire's face. "Sassenach, I want ye so much, I can scarcely breathe. Will ye have me?" His voice cracked.

He thought his heart would burst when she nodded. 

Feeling emboldened, Jamie then hoisted Claire on to the kitchen counter and clumsily pulled up her sweatshirt, releasing her hair from its clasp and revealing her white breasts. Her curly mass came tumbling down, and Jamie ran his hands through them, raining her neck with urgent kisses and nibbling her earlobes. "  Mo Nighean Donn,"   he whispered. Her legs automatically wrapped themselves around his waist, and she arched her back as an invitation, Jamie's Gaelic endearments making her wild. "Christ Claire, ye are so beautiful!" Jamie whispered in a ragged voice.

Claire moaned loudly as he lowered his head to suckle at each breast, paying homage to each erect nipple. Then his tongue started its frenzied exploration on her skin as his hands tugged at the waistband of her leggings. Once released from the constriction of clothing, Claire said in a husky voice, "Take off your pants, I want you now." 

Seeing Claire exposed on the kitchen counter with her legs apart, was enough to drive Jamie wild with lust. He quickly unbuckled his belt and lowered his jeans without taking his eyes off Claire. Relieved of his jeans, he gathered her into a crushing embrace, his hands fondling her round arse, pressing his hardness against her. Her hips started to rotate, wrapping her legs tighter. He reached down between her thighs, and the feel of her slippery wetness made him groan and grab her thighs even tighter. "Jamie, I want you inside me, please."

Hearing the plea, Jamie lifted her with ease, spreading her legs as he pinned her against the wall. Without a word, he plunged his cock into her wetness. Jamie silenced her cries with a hard kiss thrusting his tongue in the same rhythm as his cock. After a moment, breathing hard, he released her lips, biting and kissing her neck, his hands tightening their hold on her arse as he rammed into her, slamming Claire's back against the kitchen wall. She whispered "harder," and "deeper" as she bit him hard on the neck, which drove Jamie to the edge. He did as she asked and more. As Claire let out a loud cry, her body began to convulse, making his balls tighten. Finding his own abrupt rush of release, Jamie arched his back as he thrust one last time and let out a grunt. 

They held each other for a long while, not speaking, not moving. Eventually, Jamie carried Claire to her bed. She was limp in his arms. As he laid her down, he slipped in under the duvet with her and gathered her close to him. They fitted perfectly. And then he whispered softly,   tha gaol agam ort mo chridhe.

Chapter Text

James Fraser was looking out his office window when Laoghaire MacKenzie walked in.

"A penny for your thoughts?" she said as she came forward to hand him a cup of coffee.

Jamie turned around looking at his watch, momentarily perplexed. "Oh, good morning, thanks." He took a sip of his hot drink and decided he didn't like the taste. "Is it 8 o'clock already?" He was so deep in his thoughts that he hardly heard her come in.

"Aye. Ye're here early. Making up for some lost work hours yesterday?"

He placed the coffee on his desk and started to shuffle some papers. "I was busy somewhere else."

"I'm sure ye were. I tried to call ye several times, but ye wouldna answer. And ye were no' in the gym. We tried the station and Murtagh said ye left with a Sassenach lassie," she revealed as she sat daintily at the edge of the desk.

Jamie didn't respond. She slid on the desk to face him. "So tell me about the lassie? Is she pretty?" she asked, cocking her brow.

Before he could answer, there was a knock on the door. "I thought it was office hours. Am I disturbing something?" came a mocking voice.

Laoghaire immediately jumped off the desk and was about to admonish the intruder when Jamie waved her to go.

"Tommy! What can I do for you?" Jamie gestured for him to a seat.

Tom Christie walked in, but he didn't bother to sit down.

"Fraser, I'll get to the point. I dinna ken what ye're up tae with the Beauchamp lassie, but I'm here to give ye a word of caution. Treat her right. She's no' like the lassies ye're typically after. If ye plan to fuck her 'bout, here's news for ye...there's plenty more in the sea ye can do that tae. I'm sure ye'll have no bother finding one. Her best mate Joe works in the Infirmary, and I know him. He has only got good words about her. Treat her right Fraser, don't mess her 'bout."

Jamie listened, his face impassive waiting for Tom to finish his diatribe. "Anything else, Tommy?"

"Yes...fuck ye, James Fraser, fuck ye!" Then Tom Christie left the office almost bumping into an eavesdropping Laoghaire.

Not long after Tom Christie left, James Fraser gathered his keys and sports bag and headed out, and stopping by Laoghaire's desk, he said, "I'm out for today. If there are any problems, go see Rupert."

..........

Claire Beauchamp was awoken by a sound of door closing. She raised her head and looked around grimacing as a wave of sharp pain in the head engulfed her, not to mention the throbbing, dull ache between her thighs. She was parched, and her mouth felt like cotton wool. As she adjusted her eyes to the morning light, memories from the previous night came flooding back. She groaned.  Oh, bleeding, pickles!

Despite having a massive hangover, she remembered everything that happened, and her face heated simultaneously at the thought. After Jamie had taken her to bed, she had fallen asleep immediately curled up in his arms to the sound of his Gaelic mutterings. Sometime during the night, they made love twice more. Jamie was insatiable, and even in her drunken stupor, he was able to rouse her, and she responded with unbridled passion.

She compared Frank's and Jamie's lovemaking. While Frank was skilled, sophisticated and refined in the art of love, Jamie was more primal, uninhibited and hedonistic. At this thought, Claire shook her head at the comparison, scolding herself for doing so.  But where is Jamie?   She looked around for a note, and she found none. She slapped her head and thought,  Bloomin' heck, I'm such a damn fool.

Then her bedroom door opened, and Jamie's head popped in. "Sassenach, are ye awake?" 

"Oh! I heard the door closed and I thought you left." Embarrassed, Claire slid under the duvet and pulled the covers up to her neck.

He smiled. "I was out and took ye're keys with me so I can let myself in. May I come in?" He held up a brown paper bag. "I have something for ye."

"Oh! Yes, do come in. I mean, of course, you may. Don't be daft." She patted the bed beside her. "So what's in the bag?" Claire noticed he had changed into fresh clothes and wondered if he had been home. Admiring the sight of him, she thought he looked handsome in his black turtle-neck and black jeans. She touched her hair absently.   Oh Christ, I probably look like a poodle.

Jamie walked over and leaned down to kiss her lingeringly on the lips. As he pulled away slightly, he stared into her eyes for a moment with his intense blue before breaking into a smile. "Good morning Sassenach," he said softly.

"Oh...good morning. Good lord, are you always this chipper in the morning?"

"Mmm, not always depends on the company." He blinked his eyes as though he was winking. He reminded Claire of a sizeable red owl.

He sat on the side of the bed, brought out his offerings and placed them on the bedside table. There were coffees, bottled waters, a couple of croissants and a miniature bottle of Frisealach Whisky. 

"Jamie, you can't be serious!" she exclaimed after seeing the whisky.

"It's called the hair of the dog." He poured the alcohol into the coffee and handed into Claire. "Here, Sassenach drink this. It will get rid of your hangover."

"Don't you think paracetamol would do the trick?" She asked as she eyed the cup dubiously, pulling the bed cover higher above her breast.  

"Trust me Sassenach, this will help."

"Alright then but first, can you please hand over my robe so I can sit up properly."

Jamie grinned. "What do ye need the robe for? Ye look fine the way ye are." Attempting to pull down the sheet from her grasp, he added, "Besides, I've seen them before, Sassenach, and I think they're awesome."

Blushing, she ignored the remark and pulled the bedding higher. "Here, give me the coffee." Taking the cup from Jamie, she took a sip of the hot liquid and smiled. "Mmmm, it's not bad at all. And I'll have a croissant too, please." She realised she was starving.

Jamie handed the croissant and held her coffee while she ate. "So, how are ye feeling?" It amused him that Claire didn't realise the sides of her mouth was covered in pastry flakes and was astonished at how quick she wolfed it down.

"Oh, God, I must look terrible," she started in between big bites. "I woke up feeling like I have been run over by a truck!" Realising what she just said, her face turned crimson. "Oh, no...I don't mean you!" Mortified, her face turned into a darker shade of crimson. "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! What I meant to say is, it was the whisky... my head was pounding when I woke up. But this...," she raised the coffee cup, "...you are right. I feel slightly better. And that croissant was heaven." Eyeing the other croissant, she added, "Are you having that?" 

Jamie laughed, handing her another. "I've never seen a woman eat with sae much gusto. I like that. And ye don't look terrible at all...ye look even more beautiful in the morning."

"Hmmm...I didn't realise I was so hungry until I drank...what do you call it again...the hair of the dog? And as for your comment on the way I look, I think you are still intoxicated. Mmmm, this is so good," she said, taking a big bite of the pastry.

"No, I'm not intoxicated at all, Sassenach. I went for a run early this morning. I must have sweated the alcohol off, I suppose. And then I went to work to sort out some papers, and now I'm here."

"Good lord, did you sleep at all?"

Grinning, he replied, "Nah, you wouldna let me sleep." 

Claire coughed in between a mouthful of croissant and coffee, sputtering, she asked, "So what exactly do you do? You never mentioned your day job before."

Jamie cleared his throat, "I work in the administration for Frisealach; hence, I was able to smuggle the whiskies last night." Changing the subject quickly, he offered the second cup of coffee to her.

She shook her head. "No thanks, that'll do."

"Feeling better?"

She nodded, smiling. "Much better."

Jamie chuckled, as he watched her down the last of her coffee and took a swig from the bottled water. "Wow, that was quick! Now it's my turn." He stood up abruptly, making Claire jump.

"Your turn for wot?"

He grinned at her. "My turn for breakfast."

"Oh!" She looked at the empty paper bag. "Sorry, I ate your share. Here, I'll go check in the kitchen..." Before Claire could get out of bed, Jamie had taken his top off already and thrown it on the floor. "Wot!? Jamie, what in heaven's name are you doing?" To her embarrassment, she saw several bite marks on his chest and neck as he took off his shirt.  No bloody wonder he was wearing a turtle neck!

Pulling down his jeans and boxer shorts, he announced, "I'm ravenous. I want my breakfast."

"Jamie, you're crazy!" Her eyes widened when Jamie discarded the last of his clothing. Seeing him stark naked in daylight was something else. He looked like a statue of some Norse Viking that came alive and was ready to claim his plunder. Her eyes travelled down to his lower torso and rested on his growing arousal, making the corpuscles in her vein run riot.   O'Hail Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.

"And ye Sassenach, ye look delicious enough to eat," he said grinning. He got into bed and yanked the cover off she held securely around her, making her yelp.

"Oh no, you don't, I still feel sore from last night!" She was trying to reach out for the last vestige of her modesty, but he wouldn't let her.

"Aye? I promise to be verra gentle, and I promise to make it better," he coaxed, coming closer and grabbing her by the hips. Noticing her eyes were on the bite marks on his shoulder, he added, "And ye can bite me some more, ye vixen..."

"Jamie!" He was licking off the pastry flakes on the sides of her mouth as he gently pushed her on to her back.  Oh lordy, lordy!   

"Mmmm, ye taste yum, Sassenach." he murmured, smiling as he traced the outline of her lips with his tongue while his thumb did the same on her nipples. Then he raised his head and shifted to his side to glance at her naked body. "Mouthwatering, scrumptious, luscious, yum, " he whispered before lowering his head for a kiss.

She made unintelligible sounds as her fingers dug into his shoulders. "Jamie!"

His lips travelled down her throat as one hand slipped under her arse for a fondle. "Hmmm? Tell me, Sassenach, where is it sore, and I'll kiss it better for ye," he whispered.

Claire didn't say another word as she wrapped her arms around Jamie's neck and did some tasting of her own.  You taste yummy too, carrot top!

..........

Lying together afterwards, basking in the glow of the aftermath of their lovemaking, Jamie cradled Claire's head on his chest. "Sassenach?"

"Mmmm?" Her fingers were doing an exploration of their own on his abdomen.

"I meant to tell ye, ye were wonderful last night."

She smiled. "Me or the sex?"

He turned to face her, smoothing the curls behind her ears. "Sex was mind-blowing, but that's no what I meant. What I was meaning to say is, I had a fabulous time, truly. Ye made me laugh, and ye're truly a wonder. I've never met anyone like ye. Did ye enjoy it too, Mo Nighean Donn?"

"Yes, Jamie, I did. What is Mo Nighean Donn?"

"It means my brown-haired lass." He raised one of her locks and twisted it around it in his fingers. After a long pause, he continued. "It's true I had other women before ye, but with ye it's different. Even after I've just left you shortly this morning after making love, all I can think of is coming back to you."

Claire tried not to laugh, but she could hardly stifle a giggle. "Jaime, that's lust. It means you're a very horny laddie."

He chuckled. "Och Sassenach, I'm finding it challenging already to find the right words and here ye are mocking me. What I'm trying to say is, I've never wanted a woman as much as I wanted ye. When I first laid eyes on ye, I knew I wanted ye. Do ye think that's usual?

After giving it much thought, she answered. "I don't know. Maybe it is or perhaps not. But what I can tell you is this, I've never done this before. Yes, I've been on dates before I met my husband, and after my husband died but I've never slept with anyone on the first date. And last night wasn't really a date was it? And even if it was, then you're the first I've slept with on the first date."

Jaime's arms tightened around her. " Hmm...I dinna like it one bit when ye talk of other men before me."

"Well, you started it! You did mention there were other women before me." She pinched him on the arm.

"Let's forget about it then, Sassenach but whatever this is, I would verra much like to happen again."

"What do you think this is Jaime? Us...now?"

"I dinna ken, but I intend to find out." Jaime lifted Claire on top of him and made love to her all over again,

..........

The next three days went by in a blur. Work was hectic, but Claire enjoyed her new role in the world of medical service. Although it was not Neuroscience, the novelty of being in a different environment that didn't resemble a hospital ward was exhilarating. She quickly made new friends and have grown accustomed to her colleagues' humour and constant banter.  Boys will be boys , after all, she often thought. She learned, to her astonishment that Murtagh was Jaime's god-father, and soon found out that behind the grumpy, cantankerous exterior, he was really a softy at heart. The boys at work often teased him about finding a woman to soften his bearing, to which he would reply with a scowl.

And as for Jaimie, he was a continuous presence that hovered ever since. He was attentive, thoughtful and caring as expected of any normal boyfriend. Whether he was really her boyfriend or not, the subject was never broached. He insisted taking her to and picking her up from work every day, even when her car was returned. He practically lived in the cottage and stayed every night, often cooking for them both when he finished work. Claire sometimes wondered what exactly they were as they never made a public display of their relationship. The longest and only serious relationship she ever had was with Frank, so Claire felt like a novice when it came to the matter of the heart. With so many things occurring, there was little time to ponder. It was less than a week since she arrived, but Claire felt so much have happened already in such a short period of time. It felt like she was caught in some whirlwind that wouldn't let up.

Friday night came, and she met up with Geillis in the Scotch & Rye Pub. It was her first night without Jamie, and although they've only known each other less than a week, it felt odd not to be with him. Nevertheless, it was a welcome change and a chance to enjoy the local culture. 

Instead of waiting for Jamie to drop her off in town, she left with a cab before he could arrive at the cottage, leaving him a note, "See you later."

Geillis and Claire were sat at the bar, enjoying a dinner of Fish & Chips, and after a couple of wine and general chit-chat, Geillis finally blurted the question Claire was dreading and expecting.

"So tell me...ye were wi' a laddie the night ah first called ye. What was that all about? Don't ye dare deny it, Claire Beauchamp, ah ken ye! And ye didne call the followin' day either which was highly unusual. It must hae been a good night."

Claire laughed. "Oh God Geillis, I knew this question will eventually pop up. I suppose there's no avoiding it." She paused and took a deep breath. "Well, there is a lad, of course. His name is Jamie. We met on Monday, we made love that night, and he's basically been...well... sort of living under my roof since then."

Geillis eyes widened, and her hand went to her mouth, "Och Claire...ye bloody tart! It must hae somethin' tae dae with the highland air. The Claire ah ken would hae never dain such a thing."

They were both laughing. 

"Oh God! I know, it's just that one thing led to another. What can I say? "

"The laddie must be bonnie for ye tae jump in the sack wi' him on the first night. So what is he like an' what does he dae?"

"Well, he is bonnie for sure and incredibly sexy." Claire blushed profusely much to her friend's amusement. "He's kind, charming, a notorious flirt, well at least with me. I do wonder if he flirts with other girls. As for his job, he is quite evasive about it. To be honest, we're still in the getting-to-know-each-other phase...well with sex thrown in, of course."

Geillis cheek dimpled. "Weel, Claire, you're nae slack in the looks department sae don't sell yerself short. The laddie must be smitten wi' ye. Look at ye, you're only dressed in jeans an' jumper tonight, nae a smidgen of makeup an' every laddie was lookin' at ye when ye walked in." With a mischievous twinkle in her eye, she added, "As for sex, it must be good, eh? Ah thought somethin' was different about ye. At first, ah thought it must be the highland air. It must hae to dae with all the sex you're gettin'. Ah ken the look of lassie that's been weel bedded."

"Oh good God, am I going to get this all evening with you. Geillis Duncan, you are one impossible woman!"

As they sat there giggling, a party of twenty people walked in. A few from the group stopped by to chat with Geillis, and as she was making introductions, Claire heard Jamie's voice from behind her. "Sassenach, I thought it was you." As she turned around, she was met with a resounding kiss on the cheek.

"Jamie, what a pleasant surprise. Sorry, I left before you could arrive...I knew you were at work and I took a cab in case I have a bit too much to drink. What are you doing here?"

"Och don't worry Sassenach. I'm with people from work," he pointed with his thumb to the group of people pushing tables together at the back. Then he looked past Claire. "Geillis! I had no idea that you're friends with Claire. How are ye?" Jamie leaned to her for a hug.

Geillis raised her eyebrows at Claire and grinned. Turning to Jamie, she said, "Weel, weel look at we hae here, it's the wee fox cub. 'Am daein' great an' how about ye? Ay 'course, ye wouldnae hae known am friends wi' Claire...both of ye met only recently." She winked, her cheeks dimpling.

"Oh, you know each other," said Claire somewhat confuse.

"Aye Sassenach, her parents are neighbours with my Uncle Dougal and Aunt Maura from Leoch. As a young lad, I spent my summers with them learning how to ride a horse and taking care of the stables. And Geillis was a proper witch then...she used to throw apples at us and do all sorts of mad stuff to annoy my cousins and me."

Geillis laughed heartily at the memory. "Och, Ah was only causin' some stramash so Jamie's uncle Douggie would come out. Ah used tae fancy the pants off him. He was one big, right lookin' laddie...just like our Jamie here."

"Oh yes, I remember Leoch. I came with you once for Easter weekend." Claire added, looking at Geillis. " So, Jamie, are you joining us?"

"No, I'll let ye girls catch up. I will be over there with the lads." Turning to Claire, he whispered, "See you later?" She nodded.

He left a few pound notes on the bar and signalled the bartender a round of drinks for the girls.

Claire looked over to the table where Jamie headed to. The lads he mentioned included a few lassies.  They must all be from work , she thought.

After Jamie left, Geillis gave her a wide-eyed look and slapped Claire on the hand. "Claire! So that's the Jamie - The Jamie Fraser! Ye never mentioned Fraser. Ye clever boots! Every hen must hate ye now for baggin' the most eligible bachelor in the country."

"Wot? I don't know what you're talking about?"

"What dae ye mean ye don't ken what am talkin' about? Don't ye ken who you're sleepin' wi'?? Christ Claire, don't ye read the news?"

Claire shook her head. "Bloody hell Geillis, out with it for fuck sake. No, I don't know what you're talking about! Who is Jamie Fraser?"

"Oh my God, ye really don't ken. The man ye're sleepin' wi' is James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. He is a business magnate. He owns Frisealach Distellery, My Peak Gym franchise, several horse ridin' schools across the highlands an' he bought his uncle Jared's vineyard in France not tae long ago," Geillis explained in an exasperated tone.

"James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser? I know the name. I know Frisealach, but I thought the owner was an old man. Oh, why do you think he didn't tell me? Not that it would have mattered. I knew he was a part-time firefighter and had a day job at Frisealach. I mean I like him and what he does for a living is irrelevant." Claire was rambling at this point, trying to remember the little details of their short time together. Then she remembered how he never liked to talk about his job. He always spoke of other things but not what he did for a living. 

"Claire, pet, he must hae a good reason. Mebbe he didne tell ye coz he thought ye might treat him differently. Besides, ye said sae yerself, you're still gettin' tae ken each other. Am sure he would tell ye eventually. Ah think Jamie more than likes ye, Claire. He keeps lookin' our way. Sae 'that must mean somethin'. Dae ye hae feelings fur him?"

Claire looked at the mirror on the bar wall, and she can see the reflection of the group Jamie came with. And she also saw a beautiful girl leaning towards him, but he seemed oblivious. When she saw Jamie glanced toward them, she quickly averted her eyes.

"I don't know Geillis. Everything is happening so fast. Ever since I've arrived, it's just one thing after another. The fire at St. Agnes, for instance, then Jamie...to be honest, I haven't had time to even think what I really feel. Sure Jamie is great, and sex is....well that's just another whole different category. Just don't mention to Jaimie I know, ok? I suppose he will tell me on his own time" Claire paused deep in thoughts and after a moment, she said. "Listen, I'll be right back, I need to go to the loo."

"Ye alright, Claire?"

"Yeah, I'm good." She smiled at her friend as an assurance. "It's not every day you find out you're sleeping with a millionaire."

Claire stood up and headed for the toilet, unaware of the many stares that followed her.

.........

Claire looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was flushed from the wine she drank and perhaps from the body heats emanating from the pub. She took big deep breaths and took out a lip balm from her handbag.

"Ye must be the Sassenach everyone is talking about."

Claire looked up to the mirror and saw a pretty girl standing next to her. She had beautiful long blonde hair and wore a grey suit that was probably one size too small for her and had plenty of makeup on.

"Oh, really? I wouldn't know," she said as she applied lip balm on her chapped lips while watching the girl put on a thick lashing of red lipstick.

"I saw Jamie talking to ye. You must ken him well."

"And what is it to you?"

Laoghaire was stunned for a moment. She didn't quite know how to take the Sassenach.

"Weel what I mean to say is, whatever he has for ye, it will pass. He and I go a long way back. Ye're just a Sassenach here...ye're new, so everyone is bound to be intrigued, including Jamie. So don't get yer hopes up."

Claire turned to face the girl. "Umm...what is your name again?"

"Laoghaire." She replied, her red lips breaking into a menacing smile.

"Laoghaire...beautiful name Laoghaire." Smiling sweetly, Claire extended her hand. "I'm Claire. Dr Claire Beauchamp. As a doctor, I have a moral obligation to diagnose and treat patients if I see fit. From my point of observation, I think you might have a debilitating condition. I understand that I may not be your cup of tea but please, allow me to impart to you that I can see something is wrong here. At first glance, my prognosis is, you need to have your head examined." Claire paused, making waving motions in the direction of the girl's head. "I might have an idea what might be inflicting you, but I don't want to get ahead of myself. But if I am right, don't worry, your condition isn't contagious...it's a disease that's usually inherent to a person. If this symptom you have now continues to persist..." Claire took out a card from her handbag and placed in front of Laoghaire. "... please give me a call, and I'll see what I can do. Meanwhile, I am off duty, so I wish you a lovely evening." 

With that, Claire turned around, leaving an open-mouthed Laoghaire staring after her.

Eat my shorts, blondie, or stuff it where the sun doesn't shine!

 

Chapter Text

Claire carefully pulled out a box from her wardrobe. It was a box that contained Frank's important documents, among other things. Geillis had mentioned the name Jared Fraser in a conversation the previous night while they were discussing Jaime, and somewhere on the back of her head, the name rang a bell. She had seen it written somewhere before.  But where?

She browsed through all the papers and finally pulled one out that caught her eye. On the letterhead, it said Château Cheval Blanc. Claire had seen this document in the past but never paid close attention to it, just like with the rest of the papers Frank left behind. After her husband died, her lawyer had gone through everything she bequeathed and her endowment fund policies, but nothing registered at that time because of the grief she was going through. Not wanting to deal with the bureaucracy that comes after the death of a family member, all the papers have been put away to be forgotten. Now, looking at the single piece of paper in her hand, Claire Beauchamp just realised she was a 15% shareholder of the company Château Cheval Blanc, formerly owned by the late Jared Fraser.

..........

James Fraser was watching Claire from the bedroom door as he leaned on the door frame. She was putting away a box labelled "FRANK" into the wardrobe. He wondered if she still missed her late husband. The thought of her thinking of another man, deceased or alive, didn't sit well in his wame. It felt like an overwhelming burn blossoming at the bottom of its pit only to rise up to his chest and make his heart constrict. "Sassenach, I have to go soon," he said softly.

Distracted, she looked at his direction. "Oh right, I forgot you have a plane to catch...give me a sec." She was frowning and seemed lost in her thoughts.  Will she miss me?  Studying her surreptitiously, he noticed how small she looked dressed in nothing but his shirt and that ridiculous white woollen socks she loved to wear when at home. With her hair loose and wild, she had her reading glasses perched on her head buried in the riot of curls. When Claire did finally come to him, she wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her chin on his chest beaming at him with her cheeks flushed and her lips still swollen from his kisses. She smelled of bergamot oil and wildflowers, and her breath of coffee. "Right soldier, have a safe trip. Enjoy Paris for me!" She stood on tiptoes and gave him a kiss, her lips soft and warm and very inviting.

He looked down at her bright amber eyes and once again he was drawn to its bottomless pools of whisky gold. "Christ Sassenach, I will be missing ye so much. I wish ye were coming with me." He wrapped his arms around her and lowered his head to give her a thorough kiss. The sounds she made at the back of her throat was driving him insane with lust, making leaving difficult. It was only two hours ago they made love, and he felt like doing it all over again.

"I will miss you too, but you'll be back tomorrow night...so enjoy while you're there," she whispered. "Besides, you'll be too preoccupied to think of me. You must be one very important man to be sent to Paris on a business mission." She nuzzled her face at the base of his throat, careful not to disturb his tie while her small hands made their way under his suit, causing him to smile.

"I guess I have my use. How about ye? What will ye do without me?" he asked, his forefinger caressing the lines of her jaw while his other hand slipped under her shirt and settled underneath the waistband of her panties. He wanted her to say,  I don't know what I'll do without you.  Or something ridiculous like , I will feel lost without you.

"Well...I have friends coming over tonight. Geillis, Joe and Tom. We'll be watching rugby with a few pizzas and wine thrown in..." she replied, her fingers weaving through his hair at the nape of his neck, making goosebumps rise on his skin.

Jamie stiffened at the mention of Tom's name but maintained his cool. "Alright, no wild parties. I ken what ye're like when ye've had a bit too much to drink..."  What was she thinking?   This home was their bubble away from the prying eyes of the world.  

"Like I lose all my inhibitions? Like I did with you? Is that what you're trying to tell me?" she ribbed, as she ran her hands down his back to momentarily rest on his arse and then slowly glide up again from the base of his spine to his shoulder blades.

He smiled despite having mixed feelings about Tom Christie coming over to the cottage. "I'm having difficulty leaving ye Sassenach, and yet ye're teasing me." She stood so close, he wanted her to cling to him and wrap her legs around his waist. He could have easily lifted her up to him, but he wanted so badly for her to make that move.

"Oh, so am I a tease now? Look who's talking." She laughed as she released him. "Alright soldier, on you go...you don't want to miss your flight."  But I don't want to go. Ask me to stay.

Instead of letting go, he held her tight and searched her face. Jamie wanted to say something...anything, but for once, he was at a loss for words. Not that he didn't want to say what he wished to convey, but because he didn't know how to say it. The only thing he knew was that his feelings for Claire were too powerful for words, so instead, he showed her with his kiss.

..........

Normally, the first thing James Fraser would do when he arrived in Paris was to call Annalise de Marillac, his on and off girlfriend/lover for the last 4 years and a well-known socialite among the Parisienne celebrious. Twice they were engaged and twice she broke off their engagement, not because of Jamie but because of what she perceived her life would be living in Scotland. She loved the celebrity lifestyle and the fame that came with it, and Jamie preferred a quiet life in the highlands. Although they have broken up amicably, they have maintained a no-strings-attached sexual relationship whenever Jamie came to Paris.

A celebrity in his own right, after a successful breakthrough with Frisealach in Europe, James Fraser never cared for the limelight. His publicist, François de St. Germain insisted he maintained a well-publicised profile to capture the interest of the international market. Following his advice proved to be profitable for his business, and soon he was rubbing shoulders with the elite, and world-renowned whisky connoisseurs. Jamie was often photographed with and linked to beautiful women in tabloid newspapers - all in the name of marketing and promotions for Frisealach Distillery. With his good looks, charm and business acumen at such a young age, it didn't take long before he became the darling of European media, and his whisky was most sought after.

His fame led his uncle Jared to approach him for help when his wine business, Château Cheval Blanc, the biggest in France started to fail due to some unfavourable judgments in the past. It was barely surviving and was only being propped up by investors who acquired shares on a condition to invest a substantial amount of money. The biggest shareholder was Annalise de Marillac's father, the ambitious Frédéric de Marillac. Before Jamie's uncle died, his only dying wish from his nephew was to make sure the company stayed under Fraser's name, and he promised his uncle he would do what he can.

In the last five years, Jamie had made it his mission to buy out all the shareholders but only managed to accumulate 40% of the shares of the company. When he offered to buy out Frédéric de Marillac's 45%, it was turned down even when the offer was double its value. After finding out Jamie was seeing his daughter, Frédéric Marillac agreed to the proposition under the condition he married Annalise. Frédéric knew Jamie was desperate to have the company under sole ownership. And Frédéric also knew that Jamie's marriage to his daughter would boost his own business, recognising the fact that his prominence was quickly rising and opening important doors in the corporate world. Although Jaime was willing to marry Annalise for the sake of keeping the company in Fraser's name, he wasn't prepared to give up living in Scotland, and Annalise wasn't ready to leave the celebrity lifestyle. 

When Annalise broke off their engagement, it became a race for the two businessmen to find the elusive 15% shareholder for control over the business. In reality, James Fraser had no power over the company, but in the media, he was the image that represented Château Cheval Blanc.

..........

Jamie walked in into his luxury suite in The Four Seasons Hôtel George V and threw his travelling case onto the massive, luxurious bed. He had always stayed there whenever he came to Paris because he knew Annalise loved the extravagant, sumptuous settings. He had booked the room weeks in advance before he met Claire, and now, looking at his surrounding, he felt hollow and empty and the beauty of it meaningless.

He reached for his phone and instead of calling Annalise, he called Claire.

"Sassenach? Hi, it's me, Jamie."

"Jaime! Of course, it's you, silly! Who else would call me by that name? Are you in Paris already?" Her voice sounded like a balm to his soul.

"Aye, I just came into my room," he replied, smiling to himself as he loosened his tie and leaned back against the headboard. "Mmm, are ye alright, Sassenach?

"Yeah, I'm great. You?" He could hear running water.

"Aye, I'm just getting comfortable. What are ye doing? Are ye busy?"  I hope not.

Claire laughed. "I knew you were about to ask that. I'm having a bath right now. I went for a walk earlier in the fields to pick some wildflowers but came home all drenched. I was so cold I had to run a bath. That's Scottish weather for you!"

"Sassenach?"

There was a long pause before Claire replied. "Yes, Jaime?"

"I really miss you."Jaime wanted to say more, but he was unsure what.

"Oh Jamie, I missed you too but seriously, did you call up just to tell me that? Don't you have work to do?" She sounded amused.

Ignoring the question, Jamie asked, "What do ye miss about me?"

"Well, if you must know, I missed the sound of the floorboard creaking under your weight whenever you're walking around," she said giggling.

"Is that all?" He asked in a more serious tone.

Jamie heard Claire sigh. "Are you homesick Jamie? Don't worry, in just over 24 hours you'll be home soon."

"Aye, ye're right Sassenach, I'll be home soon to ye." Jamie felt comforted by this thought.

..........

Jamie had made up his mind. In truth, he only wanted to save Château Cheval Blanc, because it was his uncle's request and he wanted to preserve his family heritage. It was time to cut off his ties with the de Marillacs. He will make one last offer, and if Frédéric turns it down, then it's time to move on. Jamie knew he had done his best, and if the meeting turned out to be unsuccessful, nothing more could be done.

As expected, Frédéric turned down the offer since he knew the business in Château Cheval Blanc was picking up again after Jamie's name was linked to the company. But Jamie wanted no more part of it and had arranged with his lawyer, Ned Gowan, to prepare the papers for the sale of his own shares. Not surprisingly, a couple of hours after the meeting concluded, Annalise sent him a text.

Darling, I heard you were in town. Why didn't you call? Anyway, we need to talk. Maybe I was hasty breaking off our engagement. I was young, and I loved the parties, but now I'm ready to settle down. We can live in Scotland if you wish. Or wherever in the world. I can't talk now, but I will be coming to Scotland in the next few days. We can talk about our wedding then.

Jamie tried to call Annalise to tell her it was over, but she didn't answer the phone.

.........

Claire had just come out of the shower, her hair still wet and wearing only Jamie's shirt, as she made way to the kitchen. The plan was to make quiche for Jamie's supper when he arrives. Earlier in the day she had quickly tidied up the lounge, getting rid of the evidence of previous night's rugby party with her friends. She was in the middle of chopping leeks when a car parked outside. Unable to see from the window, she wondered who it might be. Looking at the clock, it was only 4 pm, and Jamie wasn't expected until 9 that evening. She was just heading for the bedroom to put a robe on when the front door suddenly opened. 

"Jamie! You're home early!"

Jamie dropped his bag and coat on the floor, and without saying a word, he walked towards Claire in 3 strides and lifted her in his arms. Before she could say a word, he had her pinned against the wall, wrapping her legs around his waist and kissing her hungrily. 

"Oh God, Sassenach I missed ye so much," he muttered when he finally released her mouth for some air. He proceeded to kiss her neck as his hands roamed her body and stopped when he realised she wasn't wearing anything underneath. "Christ Claire, what are ye doing walking around the house half-naked? What if ye had visitors?"

She laughed. "Visitors came and went last night. And...by the way, welcome home soldier. I wasn't expecting you this early."

Still holding her against him, Jamie carried Claire to the dining area and sat down on a chair with her straddling him. He nestled his face into her neck, his arms pulling her body closer. "Weel, work was done early, and I couldna wait to come home to ye...so I bought an earlier ticket."

"Jamie," she whispered, "you feel at home here, with me?"

He lifted his head and smiled. "Aye Sassenach, I do. Ye didna mind having me around, dae ye?"

"No, Jamie. I don't mind having you around," she replied, her arms wrapping around his neck.

They sat hugging each other for some time, not speaking, just holding each other close, listening to each other's heartbeat.

"Sassenach?"

"Mmmm?"

"Will ye accompany on Saturday as my date to a charity ball? Frisealach will be hosting the event to raise money for St. Agnes, and I would like it verra much if ye can come."

Claire smiled. "Of course, Jaime I would love to." And with that, she pulled his head closer and kissed the top of his head.

 

Chapter Text

He couldn't wait till nightfall, so Jamie carried Claire to the bedroom. Her legs were firmly around his waist, as she gingerly loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt. Freed, at last, her hands slipped inside, sliding gently from his chest to the sinewy flesh of his shoulders before clasping it behind his neck. In slow motion, she leaned forward, and closing her eyes, she caressed his mouth with her own. He let out a weak gasp and felt his breathing become shallow, as feather-like kisses tickled his lips.  Dhia!  Pulling away, she met his gaze with a smile as he steered them towards the bed. But before he can lay her down, Claire released her hold and slid down his body with deliberate slowness, and with one sudden movement, she whipped off her shirt. Naked, she took a step closer, slipping his tie off from his head to put it around her neck while Jamie's eyes wandered down to her bare breast, fixated at its gentle rise and fall. Leaning forward, Claire stripped his top off from his shoulders, while her tongue grazed the hollow of his chest, sampling his saltiness. Jamie made growling sounds and reached out to grab her, but she stopped him.

"Sssh, stand still soldier, what's the rush," she said huskily.

"Christ Sassenach, ye'll be the death of me," he hissed.

She paused. "Is that so? Do you want me to stop?" she teased, her hands slipping under the waistband of his trousers, resting on the lower part of his navel.

Jamie could only shake his head, unable to utter a word.  She'll pay dearly for this.

He watched her unbuckle his belt and unzip his fly, his heart hammering as his cock strained to be released. With an excruciatingly slow movement, Claire pushed all the way down the last remnants of his clothing. "Please, Claire..." his voice ragged as he pleaded.

"Please what, Jaime?" she taunted as her hands skimmed his thighs, her breath warm against his throbbing cock.

"Kiss me..."

"Like this?" She took him fully in her mouth, grazing his length with her teeth before flicking her tongue at the sensitive tip. She licked and sucked, as her hand cupped his balls and the other dug into his thighs.

Jaime couldn't take it anymore. In rapid progression, he kicked off his pants and carried her to bed, settling her on top of him as he leaned back against the headboard. She giggled as his impatient hands roamed her sides. He pulled her down by the neck for a punishing kiss, ravenously thrusting his tongue, teasing and probing until her body melded into his in surrender, faint moans escaping her lips. He smiled in her mouth as she writhed against him, her fingernails digging hard on his shoulders. Finally yielding to her whimpering pleas, Jamie raised her hips and lowered her to his hardness, both letting out a gasp of euphoric pleasure.

"Oh, Jamie..." she whispered, her hips moving rhythmically to his thrusting.

Jamie couldn't help but watch her in awe as she took her own pleasure, with her back arched and his tie between her breasts.  Christ, she's so beautiful!   Her breasts were perfect rounds, white as milk and her nipples were like cherries that puckered as his hands reached out for them. She clenched around him, making him groan and tighten his hold on her hips, her movements becoming faster and his breathing harder. On the brink, Jamie leaned forward and pulled her to him, sucking hard at her breast, his thumb rubbing her sweet spot in rapid motion, turning her soft moans into a high pitch cry. She shuddered as her body began to convulse and with a guttural groan, he exploded into her, shooting up his hot seed. "Oh God Claire..." he whispered over and over again, as he cradled her, his face buried between her breasts.  Oh, God, Claire, I love you.

..........

"Welcome home again, soldier," Claire whispered, her head resting on the crook of his shoulder, their bodies entangled, slick with sweat.

Jamie smiled. "Indeed a verra nice welcome, Sassenach, but I dinna think I could leave ye again. It was torture. All I could think of while in Paris is ye. It's verra true what they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder." He turned to face her, his finger caressing her breast.

She laughed. "More like, abstinence makes you go firmer. So tell me, how was Paris?"

"Och, speaking of Paris, I have something for ye. Hang on, let me get it." Jamie quickly got out of bed.

Intrigued, Claire watched him leave the room, admiring his graceful movements and his naked body, beautifully sculpted from hours spent in the gym. He came back with a small gift bag. "Oh, you got me a souvenir?"

He grinned boyishly, his eagerness tugging at her heartstrings. "Weel, it's just a wee gift. I hope ye like it," he said, handing her the present.

She sat up to inspect the bag and gasped. "Jamie, this is a jewellery box!"

"Aye, I ken. Open it..." Jamie's face lit in anticipation.

Claire took out the box, her hands trembling slightly. "Oh, Jamie, it's very thoughtful of you. Really, you shouldn't have." Inscribed on a very expensive looking case, she read Van Cleef & Arpels. She knew they were from a French luxury jewellery maker. Wide-eyed, she looked at Jamie before slowly opening it. Inside the box was a beautiful rose gold band bracelet adorned with three clover motifs, each embedded with tiny diamonds. Claire was speechless.

Jamie looked at Claire apprehensively waiting in suspense.

She lifted the bracelet to the light and inside she saw an engraving. She read it aloud. " Da mi basia mille ...give me a thousand kisses." She swallowed a lump forming in her throat, and when she could finally speak, she said softly, "Jamie, this is beautiful, I don't know what to say, except maybe I will give you a thousand more..."

"But Sassenach, do ye like it?" he asked nervously.

She reached out and stroked his face. "Jamie, I love it. I really do," she said before leaning forward for a kiss. 

His face beaming, he took the bracelet from her. "Here Sassenach, let me put this on ye." As he put the band on her wrist, he explained, "See, these clovers, that's for luck, and there are three...weel..." Jamie's face turned red. "Weel, three is a lucky number."

"Oh Jaime, I really love it, I really do. Thank you so much. But this must have cost you a fortune. Really, a box of French chocolate truffles would have sufficed." She said jokingly as she stretched her arms out to admire the rose gold band. "It's absolutely stunning. I will cherish this forever."

"Ye're worth it Sassenach." Smiling, Jamie took her hand and kissed the inside of her palm.  And I will cherish you too.  He then gathered her into his arms, holding her tight to his heart.

.........

"Joe, I have a favour to ask you," Claire asked her best friend, Joe Abernathy, as they sat eating lunch at the Northern Royal Infirmary cafeteria during their break.

"Mmm, what is it, LJ?" She smiled, hearing the nickname he used for her. LJ stood for Lady Jane, and that had been Claire's nickname used by Joe ever since their medical school days.

"Well, this is going to sound unusual, but I need your honest opinion. In fact, a male's honest opinion."

"Hmm, where is this going? I've always given you my honest opinion LJ," he said in-between bites of his Lasagna.

"Ok, I don't want you to be shocked, but you're the only male person I know I could ask..."

"Spit it out, Lady Jane, my break is almost over," he said exasperatedly.

"Right, here goes. Honest opinion remember? How attractive do you reckon I am, from a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest? Forget about our 10 years of friendship...I need you to see me in the eyes of a hot-blooded male." Claire blurted out, cringing.

Joe almost sputtered his beverage. "Goodness, I didn't see that one coming..."

"Joe, please this is already embarrassing. Help me out, please. And while you're at it, you can also tell me what my best assets are," Claire pleaded.

Wiping his mouth with a napkin, he looked her over. "So, I can say anything, and you will not be offended?" He was looking at her nervously.

Claire nodded.

"Well, here goes nothing LJ. I think you have ....erm...one fine piece of ass, an incredible body and your face well.....it's out of this world. You are a stunning woman. As for your best asset, well, it's your ass and your eyes...gorgeous golden syrup eyes. There you go... I thought you would have known that."Joe paused. "Wait a minute, has this anything to do with Jamie?"

"Yes, it's about Jamie." She sighed. "I told you all about him, and I've seen photos of him on the internet with different gorgeous women. How can I compete with that? And Jamie, well, he's the type of guy women throw themselves at. It's not even funny. And..."

"Whoa, stop right there, LJ! You really have no idea, do you? You're one of the most attractive looking women I know...well after Gail of course," he paused coughing, as he thought of his girlfriend. " And I've only met Jaime once, and yeah he's a probably a nice looking bloke but one thing for sure, that time I met him, he sure does look like one love-sick puppy around you."

"You reckon?" Claire asked, still not convinced.

Joe rolled his eyes and stood up. "Right LJ, therapy is over. Got to go. I will see you lovebirds at the ball on Saturday. " He then pulled her to her feet and gave her a hug. " Don't worry LJ. In my honest opinion, I think Jamie is head over heels in love with you..."

..........

The days leading to the much-talked-about charity ball was hectic. Besides Claire's day job, there were other tasks at hand that needed her attention. For one thing, uncle Lamb's cottage desperately needed to be ushered into the 21st century. Although antique appliances have its charms, it made modern living difficult. She had arranged all electrical wires to be rewired and the ancient furnace replaced with something more energy-efficient. Grateful for Jamie's insistence on helping and organising, Claire managed to squeeze in a meeting with the Randall family lawyers: London based, William Tyron and Paris based, Hugo Raymond, also known in his inner circle as Master Raymond.

Master Raymond had proven to be quite a revelation and not to say the least, quite a character. During introductions, he had made a courtly bow, taking her hand for a kiss, as if she was royalty. "Aaah Madonna, the elusive Madame Frank Randall," he announced quite flamboyantly at their private meeting. "It's a pleasure and honour to finally meet you...such beauty you possess would bring the goddess Aphrodite to tears."  

Claire had thought at the time she was in some kind of "hidden-camera" TV show after being introduced to Master Raymond, but, as it turned out, the meeting with the lawyers had proven to be mind-blowing if not shocking. And even more so the story she had been told of Frank's deceased father, Jonathan Edward Randall and his connection with the French businessman, Frédéric de Marillac and Jared Fraser. There was so many information to digest, and Claire felt that the whirlwind she was caught up in, was not letting up anytime soon. She knew she had to speak to Jaime, but with her ever-changing shifts and mounting tasks, it was an almost impossible feat to have a moment with him.

As she had been too preoccupied with Frank's papers, documents and the lawyers, Claire didn't give the upcoming ball much thought. She had intended to go for one afternoon to buy a dress for the event, but Geillis, also attending the ball, had "better" ideas. She had dragged Claire to visit her fashion designer student cousin, Georgina, to try on some of her creations. To her surprise, after seeing and trying-on the arrays of gowns and dresses on display in Georgina's apartment, they were quite impressive.

Much to the delight of Georgina, Claire fitted in almost all of her evening wear collection. "Och Claire, ye should be a model...all these dresses look fab on ye," the young designer gushed.

Although she wasn't the type to "doll-up," Claire couldn't help but admire her reflection in the mirror. Twirling and sashaying to the amusement of the girls, she was amazed at how one dress can alter the way she looks. She had to agree, some of the gowns she had tried on seemed like specially made for her. But there was one particular gown that Geillis and Georgina thought would suit Claire best and they made her try it on.

"Oh no, I can't wear that! Good grief, it's showing too much skin," Claire said vehemently. "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! My boobs are about to pop out in this."

Geillis was getting excited by the minute. "Och, Claire, it's nae showin' too much skin. It's a strapless gown, for Christ sake! An' ye look absolutely gorgeous. Jamie will hae a heart attack when he sees ye in this."

"Claire, trust me, ye look amazing," Georgina piped in. "That dress was so made for ye. I dinna ken anyone who can carry it the way ye do. So please say yes. It's perfect!" 

"Oh, I don't know. It looks way over the top..." Claire argued. Turning once more to the mirror, she inspected herself one more time, and she realised the gown fitted her like a glove, and it clung to all the right places. Even her bum looked terrific in the dress, she must admit. "Alright, fine! I'll take it! How much do I owe you, Georgina?"

"Och, it's on the house for ye, Claire. I will only need a nice photo of you in that dress and if anyone asked who designed it, give them my card," Georgina answered happily, giving her a stack of business cards.

Happy the mission was accomplished with aplomb, the girls splurged on some new shoes and evening clutch bags, on the way home. To Claire's relief, Geillis offered to help with her make-up for Saturday's event in exchange for a lift to the ball. Although thrilled with the dress, Claire wondered if Jamie would like it too.

..........

It was the day of the ball, and surprisingly for Claire, she felt the mounting excitement building up, even if she hadn't given it much thought all week. She was looking forward to seeing Achnagairn Castle Hotel, where the venue of the Charity Ball would be held, and spending some quality time with Jaime. Having seen little of each other that week, especially with Claire's night shifts, enjoying the ball with him would be a welcome change. Since Frisealach was hosting the event, Jamie had been busy with its organisation and other work in the office. With not enough time in the day, they had agreed to meet at the castle and arranged for Joe to pick her and Geillis up from the cottage.

Finally, all dressed up, Claire stepped in front of her bedroom mirror and inspected her reflection from head to toe. She didn't recognise herself. Instead, she saw an image of a statuesque woman dressed in a strapless fitted red gown that clung to her curves. It had a skin-baring panel down her midriff with silk-bow-detailing joining the two sides. Cinched at the waist, the fabric highlighted her ample breast and curve of her hips before skimming her frame to the floor. Wearing red strappy high heels, it made her taller by 5 inches, adding more to her 5'7 height. Her hair was loosely pulled up with invisible pins, strands of cascading curls framing her perfectly made-up face. The clever blending of the dark eye shadows made the colour of her eyes dramatic and the colour translucent like liquid gold. To finish it off, her lips were done in nude shades. The only accessories she wore were a pair of simple diamond studs given to her by Frank, and the rose gold band on her wrist from Jamie. 

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, who is that woman?

"Claire, are ye ready?" The door opened, and Geillis stepped in. "Och my God, Claire, look at ye. Ye look like a movie star!"

Claire turned around and smiled at her friend. She was wearing a strapless duck-egg blue ballgown with a ruched fitted bodice and a voluminous skirt, and her silken red hair was pulled back in a chignon. "And you, my friend look drop-dead gorgeous!"

Geillis laughed as she twirled Claire around to get a better look. "Weel, weel, we both hae scrubbed up weel, havna we? Now, let's go an' surprise that man of yours. Joe an' Gail are waitin' outside."

Claire grabbed her black cape coat, and arm in arm with Geillis headed outside to Joe's waiting car.

..........

When they finally arrived at Achnagairn Castle Hotel, Claire had to take a moment to soak in the surrounding before going in. It was stunningly beautiful, and the many lights on the lush grounds of the estate created a magical and romantic atmosphere. It was indeed a white fairytale castle of the highlands, she thought. 

Once inside, she was captivated with the intimate ambience and warmth. It wasn't anything like a modern plush five-star hotel - it was more like a hall from medieval times, where the king's and queen's men gathered. There was a high vaulted ornate wooden ceiling, and surrounding the ballroom, there was an upstairs-gallery lined with oak bannisters. There were fairy lights everywhere, climbing green plants that decorated the columns and the air smelled of wildflowers. The hall was buzzing with activities; people laughing, waiters serving drinks, highland music playing softly in the background, glasses clinking, men dressed in traditional kilt and women in their glamorous gowns talking. It was truly magical.

"Claire, your coat please?" It was Joe, smiling at her. She wondered how long she stood there, gawping.

"Oh, yes, please, thank you." So entranced she was, she was oblivious of the admiring glances cast her way.

Geillis leaning close, whispered, "They're aw starin' at ye Claire, you're the belle of the ball tonight, hen."

"Oh!" She looked around, and sure enough, there were a lot of curious stares. This made her suddenly conscious of her dress, but it was too late to retrieve her coat. To add to her horror, most of the women were wearing gowns in either black or nude shades.  Oh fuck, now I'm standing out like a sore thumb in this red dress!   "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, I need a stiff one..." she muttered.

"Plenty of that here, come on," Geillis said as she led her through the crowd.

With a whisky in hand, she took three successive swallows to calm her nerves. She was scanning the room when she saw Jamie walking purposely towards her, his eyes intent never straying even when he stopped to greet a guest. It seemed the crowd was parting as he made his way. Maybe it's because of his height and breadth or perhaps because they knew Jamie was the owner of Frisealach. Her heart skipped a bit as he came closer as she saw him in his full highland regalia. Jamie looked resplendent in his tartan kilt, crimson with thick navy and green stripes. Under the belted plaid, he wore a white shirt that puffed at the sleeves, and his hips were ornamented with the traditional sporran. Instead of wearing the usual white kilt hose, he wore black woollen socks underneath a pair of heavy black boots. His wavy red-gold hair was brushed back, the locks curling at the nape of his neck, making the picture complete.  Damn, my bloody Scot is one handsome devil!

Claire could see his eyes roaming up and down her body, his face expressionless.  Oh, sweet Jesus, he doesn't like it!  

"Sassenach!" Jamie took her in his arms and kissed her. She heard a hush in the nearby crowd.

Embarrassed, Claire pinched him on the arm. "Jamie, people are watching!"

"I dinna care, Sassenach, let them watch and talk," he said, his face breaking into a grin. Then his eyes turned a darker cast as he looked into her eyes. "Christ Claire, ye're the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I want to..." Jamie stopped midsentence as he looked down at her cleavage. He took a step back noticing the bare midriff on display. "Sassenach! I can see down ye're navel and that bow disna look it's going to hauld yer tits.." his accent was getting broader by the second. "Nae wonder all the laddies are staring at ye...here have my plaid...it has red colours, it will suit yer dress." 

"Jamie! I will do no such thing. There's plenty of cleavages around on the show, why should I cover mine?"

"Sassenach, I can almost see yer belly button! It's a verra pretty dress but..."

Someone cleared their throat. "Good evening, Jamie! Aren't ye going to introduce me to yer friend?"

Claire looked up and was astounded to see a handsome elderly man. He was as big as Jamie and had the same facial features, except his eyes, they were steely grey. She noticed how Jamie stiffened, obviously not too pleased to see him.

"Uncle! I didna expect ye to be here..."

"Weel, Jamie lad, I'm here to support a great cause, so why should I not be here?" Turning to Claire, he took her hand and kissed it. "I'm Dougal, Dougal Mckenzie, Jamie's uncle. It's always a pleasure to meet a beautiful woman such as ye." His eyes travelled downward and appreciating what he saw, he gave her a wink.

Before Claire could respond, Jamie was already steering her away. "Have a lovely evening, uncle!"

Out of earshot, Claire exclaimed. "How rude Jamie!"

"Forget about him Sassenach. He likes to chase after young lassies even if Aunt Maura is around. Stay away from him," he explained impatiently. "Listen, Sassenach, we need to talk. There are things I need to tell ye before I go up that podium. I've been meaning to speak to ye this week, but ye've been very busy. Things I should have told ye..."

Claire smiled. "Jamie, it's alright. I have some things to tell you too that are important, but I think it can wait another night. Let's enjoy this evening, shall we?" She had noticed Jamie's agitation when a photographer from the press took a picture of them.

"Aye Sassenach but this is important. It's kinda a surprise, but I think ye'll be mad at me. Anyway, I have booked for us a room here for tonight, so we can have a moment..."

"Bonsoir Monsieur Fraser! Finally! I've been looking for you!" A lean French man in his fifties with spectacles came forward extending his hand.

Jamie looked stunned, but not in a good way. He was looking past the French man. "Monsieur De Marillac!"

Before Jamie could be rude again, Claire extended a hand and introduced herself. "Bonsoir Monsieur! My name is Claire.."

Frédéric De Marillac turned and smiled warmly at Claire, bowing his head. "Quel plaisir, Madame. My name is Frédéric, and this is my..." Before he could continue, a beautiful tall, blonde woman in plunging silver sequenced gown, stepped forward. Smiling dazzlingly, she introduced herself. "Hello, I'm Annalise..." Then to Claire's surprise, she went to Jamie's side, and she watched as her arms wrapped around his waist and kissed him on the mouth. Jamie looked too stunned to react. Finishing her sentence from where she left off, she announced, "I'm Jaime's fiancee." 

Just after Annalise's not so subtle announcement, the photographer caught up and immediately started taking pictures. People nearby that overheard began to extend their congratulations, and soon the news spread like wildfire as the crowd thronged closer. Claire couldn't move, she couldn't breathe. People started to shove, and she was being pushed away as more came forward. Amongst the cheers and shouts, she heard Jamie shout, "Sassenach!" But it seemed like from a distance, and it was fading, as she was pushed back even more. The room began to spin, and the air became thin. It felt like her heart was being pierced, over and over again and Claire thought, if it didn't stop, it would implode.

Suddenly she was a child again, looking down at the narrow streets of Pamplona. She was with uncle Lamb, and prior, he had forbidden her from stepping into the balcony. But she couldn't help but be drawn to the commotion outside. She could hear the thunder of hooves, running, frantic cries, panics, cheers, a mass stampede. Her heart was beating faster and faster...she had to take a peek. As she took a step outside, she was in time to see a man tossed in the air by a raging bull, his shirt soaked with blood where the horns have impaled him. The maddened beast didn't stop there...it became a ceaseless enraged goring on the lifeless body, over and over again. She wondered then what it would have been like for the unfortunate soul to be gored repeatedly. 

That night, she understood.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Claire was motionless. She was looking straight ahead, frozen and unblinking. Her awareness was gradually peeling away like she was being split in two. She knew she was no longer in her body and was observing the activities through a goldfish bowl. It was all very dream-like, everything was starting to shimmer like their atoms couldn't hold together, and the colours seemed too bright and the people too close. This sense of detachment frequently happened to Claire when she's about to perform surgery. It was a kind coping mechanism to help her deal with stress and anxiety and aid her surgical work with precision and efficiency. 

"Claire! Claire! Are ye alright? Look at me!" 

She turned. It was Geillis. Claire looked at her face, and she thought it looked like it was made of wax and it was animated by some alien spirit. She smiled at her friend, but it was an empty smile. "I think I need a drink," Claire murmured. She didn't recognise her own voice - it sounded very garbled and distorted, like someone speaking through a very long metal pipe.

"Aye, of course, ye dae...c'mon," Geillis said as she led her away towards the bar. She was concerned about Claire. She knew that look from their medical student days whenever they performed a mock dissection. Her face would become expressionless, and her actions very clinical. And although Claire was fully functional, she was very robotic. Geillis wanted to shake her and slap her on the face to bring her back, but she couldn't. Not in front of all these people. Instead, she ordered a double whisky and made her drink it straight.  Damn ye, Fraser! Damn ye!

It worked. It wasn't long before Claire was sputtering and coughing. And when she came around, the pain was etched on her face.

"Oh God Geillis, what the fuck!" Reality suddenly hit Claire like a massive wallop to her stomach, and the continuous piercing sensation in her heart was returning again.

Joe was there, his firm grip on her arm was supporting her. "Sweetheart, shall we go outside for some fresh air?" he said softly, as Gail looked on.

"No! No! Just let me be, I need a moment alone. Please." Claire's voice cracked. Joe and Geillis knew she was trying to hold it together, but they could only watch helplessly as their friend walked away and headed for the bathroom.

..........

Jamie saw it, plain as day. He couldn't bear it. He couldn't bear to see the pain in Claire's eyes. It was the first thing Jamie noticed before all the insanity began. His head was reeling, and his heart was fragmenting piece by piece as he bore witness to Claire's anguish. In all his life, Jamie had never seen hurt with that much intensity, and it pained him to see Claire like this. He wanted to go to her, but he felt trapped. Confined. Ambushed. Everything was happening too fast for him to get a grip of reality. Annalise's hand felt heavy like manacles on his arm, weighing him down. 

"Smile sweetheart, you wanted this remember. Now look happy," Annalise said through her teeth as she smiled and posed at every snap of the camera.

That's when he snapped. Seething, he could no longer go on with the pretence. "There is no engagement!" Jamie bellowed, making everyone nearby jump. Not caring anymore, he roughly grabbed Annalise by the elbow, steering her through the crowd, brushing past stunned onlookers.

"Jamie! Let go...you're hurting me," she hissed as she tried to yank off her arms from his firm grip.

Ignoring her, Jamie led her out of the ballroom and into an empty conference room. He was fervently praying that Claire would still be around once he dealt with this awful mess.  Oh, Christ Claire, I'm so sorry!  Away from prying eyes, he turned Annalise around to face him, maybe too harshly. He didn't give a damn. "What the fuck was that all about?" Jamie asked in a dangerously, calm voice. He wanted to yell at her but refrained from doing so.

"What do you mean Jamie... I thought you wanted this..." she retorted.

"No, I didna want this. I never did. Neither did ye." He snarled, his temper was quickly mounting.

She glowered at him. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Noticing her confusion, he took a deep breath, feeling frustrated and sick in the stomach. "All these is a fucking farce. Don't ye get it?" He ran his hand through his hair in agitation. "Think back, Annalise, think back for Christ sake! Think back to the time when we started seeing each other. We were dating...we were young....we didn't even talk about any future. Ye loved yer parties, and I was intoxicated with my achievement. Neither of us understood the concept of marriage, let alone even thought about it. When my uncle fell into hardship, I wanted to help. Then yer father came along and dangled the opportunity for me to retrieve my uncle's vineyard...well, that's if I married ye. I dinna ken what he's been telling ye but back then I was willing to do anything to save my uncle's failing business...." Jamie's words came pouring out, unrestrained.

They were both still for a while. Jamie watched Annalise absorbed his revelation.

Then she closed her eyes and exhaled deeply as if a burden was lifted. She lingered a moment to compose herself. "It's all about those shares, then?"

Jamie nodded. 

Pondering, she carried on. "So papa bribed you." It was stated more as a fact rather than a question. She shook her head in disbelief and paced back and forth until she found her next words. "Thinking back...you know... us...I did like you Jamie, and you liked me, and we had fun, but we were never in-love, were we?"

"No. We weren't," Jamie admitted. "But I liked ye enough to go through with the marriage. I thought I was doing something honourable by agreeing to yer father's wishes. But I was wrong. I know that now. Ye would have hated me eventually if I married ye and brought ye here to Scotland. Ye've never liked it here. And I don't want to be anywhere else in the world, but here in the highlands." Jamie paused, trying to think about the best way to soften the blow. "If it's any consolation to ye, I would have tried my utmost best to be a good husband, but that's no guarantee for a happy marriage."

" Fils de pute!"  she cursed under her breath.  " My papa is one manipulative, piece of shit! And it's true...I hate it here. The rain, the greyness, the cold. It rains all the time and living here would have made me miserable." She paused, taking a deep breath. "You see Jamie, I have always followed papa's orders. I had no choice. I've never worked a day in my life, and he holds the purse's string. Sometimes he would threaten me if I didn't comply. His usual threat was to cut off my allowance. So if he says jump, the only acceptable response would be, how high? Do you remember Charles Gauloise? I was in love with him, but he was married. We were having an affair, and I wanted him to leave his wife. So when you asked me to marry you, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to make him jealous and please papa as well. Papa wanted us married because he thought with your name connected to our family name, it would boost his own business. Then Charles found out about our engagement, and when he promised to leave his wife, I broke off our engagement at once. I thought if Charles married me, I would be free from my father's clutches. Unfortunately, Charles' promises were nothing but empty promises. And I fell more than once for his lies; hence, I broke off our engagement twice. I remember now clearly, how relieved you looked when I broke off our engagement. You didn't even look disappointed."

Ignoring the last statement, Jamie demanded, "And how about tonight? What was that all about? For fuck sake, it was like a fucking circus out there. And you fucking knew well I hated all the media attention."

Annalise sighed, feeling resigned. "Everything that happened tonight was papa's design after you told him you didn't want anything to do with Château Cheval Blanc. He was afraid that if your name weren't attached to the business, it would no longer thrive. God, I don't even know why he is hanging on to that stupid vineyard. He hates it, and he doesn't even know a thing about wine-making. So you did do me a favour by telling those people there's no engagement."

Jamie was stunned by the admission, and he softened up a bit. "Christ Annalise, why didn't ye tell me? I could have helped ye. All this would have never happened if ye told me." 

"Helped me how Jamie? We were both played. I am hopeless without my father's money. Don't get me wrong, he loves me dearly, but he loves himself more. At least now, I don't have to continue this fucking charade."

"Ye're not hopeless Annalise! Ye're a talented painter. Any gallery in Paris will exhibit yer work, and ye have a well-known name to boot." Jamie didn't know whether to feel sorry for her or feel exasperated at her spoiled behaviour. Either way, he was eager to get this conversation over with and go find Claire.

She remained silent, pondering what he just said.

When she didn't say anything, Jamie continued. "Ye see, I hung on to our relationship because I thought one day ye will agree to marry me and finally I would be able to restore Château Cheval Blanc as a Fraser legacy. But like ye, I couldn't keep this up...so I decided to draw the line and give up the vineyard because..."

"Because you're in love," Annalise added sighing. "It's that woman in red, right?"

Jamie nodded, failing miserably to conceal his emotion as the picture of Claire's anguished face replayed on his mind.

"I saw earlier the way you looked at her. You have never looked at me that way...not once," she said sadly, thinking of Charles. 

Jamie didn't want to waste any more time. He had to go and find Claire. "Annalise, I'm sorry...I need to see her now. Will ye be alright if I leave ye?" Jamie asked, his voice hoarse.

She smiled weakly. "Of course. You go get your girl. And I'm so sorry for fucking this up for you."

"No lass, it was me who fucked up. I should have told her the truth from the beginning. Dinna worry." He smiled back in reassurance.

"So friends again?"

"Aye, of course."

"Hug?"

"NO! No hug. No offence but I'm in a lot of trouble already so we will leave it at that if ye dinna mind."

Annalise laughed. "Go then!"

Just as Jamie was about to leave, the door opened. "Jaime, we have a problem. Yer uncle is blind drunk and causing problems," Rupert announced.  What the fuck now!

..........

Claire applied cold water to her neck and temple after sitting in the toilet cubicle for the longest time. Despite the heat on her face, she was shivering. Claire didn't want to think of Jamie. She didn't want to cry. All she wanted to do was go home, curl up in a ball and sleep.  It's alright Beauchamp, you can do this! Just breathe! 

The sudden opening of the door made her jump, and the sound of the music from the ballroom drifted in, reminding Claire where she was. As she turned around, she found herself staring at a very inebriated Dougal McKenzie, Jamie's uncle.

"Weel, weel, what do we have here? The pretty wee lady in red..." he slurred as he swayed on his feet. He had his hands on both sides of the door frame to support himself, and his handsome face was puffy from too much alcohol.

"Dougal, this is the ladies room..." Claire explained, hoping he will turn around and leave. His presence was giving her ominous feeling.

Dougal gave her a lopsided smile as he took a step forward. "Och I see that...an' I can see one very, very pretty lady."

Claire tried to go around him, but he was reaching out for her. Slightly tipsy herself, she floundered a bit and almost lost her balance.

"Come here and give me a wee kiss. I promise not to tell Jamie..." he garbled as he took another step forward.

There was hardly any room to manoeuvre as Claire tried to sidestep him. Before she could make her next move, she was cornered as he pitched forward and grabbed hold of her waist. He pulled her to him as he groped at her breast, but the struggle was futile - he was a large man, and his grip was strong despite his state. She tried to squirm out of his embrace. "Let go of me you damn fool or I'll scream!" 

She tried her hardest to push from his chest, but he didn't budge. Then panic set in when he tried to lift her dress, and before she could scream, a large hand took him by the shoulder and the next thing she knew, Dougal was slumped on the floor.

Claire stared in disbelief. It was all like a blur. One minute he was pawing her and the next minute, he's been decked.

"Oh my God, oh my God, he's hurt!" she whispered. Claire didn't even notice Jamie standing there. Everything happened so fast that she didn't see him throwing a punch. All her focus was on the injured man, sprawled lifeless-like at her feet. Oblivious to Jamie's presence, she knelt down by the immobile body and checked his pulse. The doctor in her had taken over, and everything else evaporated.

Then he touched her. "Sassenach are ye alright?" Jamie asked softly as he took off his plaid to placed it over her shoulders. He noticed she had been trembling the whole time. To his relief, she wrapped it tight around her.

"Oh Jamie, it's you...please help me turn him over to his side. He's had too much alcohol, he might choke on his own vomit," she said in a voice that was flat and unfeeling. "And please call an ambulance just to make sure he's alright." 

Jamie helped her turn Dougal but was confused with her response. Claire seemed to be in some sort of trance.

Then she stood up, pulling the plaid tighter around her. "Right Jamie, I have to get going...and remember, call an ambulance please." She patted him on the arm before turning away,

Gently he touched her, again "Sassenach, please look at me, we need to talk...please..." Jamie was beginning to be alarmed.  Oh, God, Claire, please.

The moment he touched her for the second time, Claire suddenly snapped out from her stupor and whipped around to face him, her eyes bright with anger, and her cheeks flushed red. "Don't touch me, " she hissed through clenched teeth. Jamie nearly staggered backwards at the sudden change of demeanour.

"Sassenach please, it's not what ye think..." he pleaded. Jamie was groping in the dark for the right words.

"Not what I think? How do you know what I think! Tell me this James Fraser..." she stepped forward, her face contorted in pain and was mere inches from his, "What am I to you? Huh? TELL ME!"

"Claire, I beg ye, come with me. We have a room here in the hotel..." he implored. He wanted to take her in his arms and soothe her, but he knew there was very little chance of that happening soon.

"A room? Is that it... you think I'll come up with you and everything will be alright? How many women have you taken in that room? And answer my question...WHAT AM I TO YOU? Answer me, damn you." Claire was panting like some wild banshee, and she couldn't stop. "Well, you know what, you fucking bloody Scot, I think you think that I'm just another girl you can stick your cock in and warm your bed while we play little cottage in the woods. That's all I am to you. I'm just another cunt to fuck. Isn't it? Admit it, James Fraser, ADMIT IT YOU BASTARD!" This time Claire was yelling.

Jamie grabbed her arm and pulled her closer until they were nose to nose. His anger was beginning to rise, not towards Claire but because of the whole situation. He only wanted a perfect evening for her, and it was all going very wrong. "Sassenach, ye have a filthy mouth on ye...will ye pipe down please."

"I DON'T FUCKING CARE YOU FUCKING BASTARD!" she yelled.

There was a moment of silence as Jamie and Claire swayed from each other, both stunned by the outburst. They were both hurting and had no idea how to end the madness. Claire wanted so much to be in his arms, but there were so many unanswered questions. And Jamie thought it would be as easy as saying I'm sorry.

He took a cautious step towards her, and for the first time in his life, Jamie bared his true feelings. Gone was the mask. The veil lifted, and his face was one of despair. "Sassenach please, ye're tearing my guts out."

Claire saw his pain, and she wanted to reach out, but before she could, Annalise showed up at the door, her eyes widening at the sight of Dougal's slumped body. "Is everything alright? I heard shouting." At the sight of her, Claire remembered why they were in this predicament. She felt her blood boil all over again.

Seizing control, Claire straightened her shoulder and stared directly at Annalise, "I was just telling your fiance that he should remind his uncle to keep his cock to himself." Claire looked back at Jamie. "I guess he had a boner to pick with me."

Then she walked off, leaving them to stare after her.

"Sassenach! Wait!"

She kept walking, Jamie's plaid still around her and she could smell his aftershave on the fabric. She didn't cry even though her heart was breaking. She kept on walking past a sea of faces aware Jamie was following. She didn't look back. She ignored the nods and glances. She kept walking. Then she bumped into Geillis.

"Claire, we'll take ye home, alright?" She nodded still stupefied from recent events. "Joe and Gail are outside getting the car, and I will get our coats. Will ye wait in the lobby for me?" Claire could only nod again. 

Then she kept on walking again, this time towards the lobby, but Jamie was getting nearer. She quickened her pace and was relieved when she saw Tom Christie. Claire went to him.

"Claire! Are ye alright? Ye don't look too good." He touched her elbow lightly, steering her aside.

"No, I don't feel right. Can you please accompany me outside...Joe is waiting for me there."

"Of course..." Tom put his arms around Claire and escorted her out of the hotel. Jamie could only stand and watch as they walked away.

..........

Jamie left the ball early and went to the cottage. It was very dark. He let himself in, but there was no sign of Claire. He went to the kitchen and saw the pile of morning dishes still unwashed. On the counter was a mug of half-drunk Earl Grey tea. It had Claire's lipstick mark on it. Jaime cleared, washed and dried the dishes. Then he went to the lounge and picked up the cushions from the floor and placed them on the couch and then made his way to the bathroom for a quick shower. In the bedroom, he lied on Claire's side of the bed and hoped that when he wakes up the following morning, everything that happened that night was just a nightmare.

Chapter Text

"Ah, Jamie come in, come in...take a seat." Ned Gowan motioned with a wave of his hands as Jamie was ushered into his office by his secretary. "I'm so glad ye can come. I will try and make this as quick as possible."

Ned Gowan, Fraser's family lawyer, had called early Monday morning after the weekend of the ball, urging James Fraser to see him as soon as possible. 

"Ned, ye said it's an emergency?" Jamie shook the elderly man's hand before sitting down. 

Ned Gowan took some papers from his desk drawer and stacked them neatly in a row in front of him. "Aye, it concerns Château Cheval Blanc. I personally think ye should put off the sales of yer shares...weel at least for now until I can establish the validity of my theory. I have reason to believe that our mystery shareholder may soon surface. But before I proceed, I do have a question...do ye know or have ye heard of the name Jonathan Edward Randall? Or if by any chance your uncle mentioned the name in the past."

"Jonathan...Jonathan," Jamie's brow furrowed in concentration as he uttered the name. "Aye, uncle mentioned that name a few times when I worked in his winery as a young lad. An old foe he once said...set on destroying him...I believe that's what uncle said. I understand that this person has been deceased for some time."

Ned's eyes lit up and quickly leafed through one of the stacks of papers. "Hmmm, interesting ye should say that. Firstly, we have a couple of the late Jonathan Edward Randall's lawyers enquiring about yer shares, and I find that quite suspicious considering Randall is long dead. Secondly, not too long ago, we dug up some old business records from Frédéric de Marillac. And as it turned out, Jonathan Edward Randall was once his business associate and long-standing friend. They go a long way back when they were students in Oxford. From your statement, there is a high probability that Frédéric de Marillac had been buying the shares for Jonathan Edward Randall. We have found a copy of one particular shareholder agreement. This contract was especially drawn-up for de Marillac, meaning this did not apply to all shareholders. There are two paragraphs I find highly interesting in de Marillac's contract. First one is, it states here, he may assign a successor to his shares without the approval of the other shareholders and the second one states here that upon the death of the shareholder, the deceased shareholder stocks are to be bequeathed to the next of kin. Yer uncle must have been quite desperate to sign such a contract. Now, Jonathan Edward Randall's next of kin was Franklin Wolverton Randall or also known as Frank Randall."

His thoughts were on Claire and were only half-listening to Ned Gowan when Jamie suddenly sat straight up. "Frank Randall?"

Ned ignored the interruption and carried on. "Now Frank Randall died five years ago and left behind a widow. At the moment we cannot find any documents of the widow's name. It's as if her identity has been erased overnight. This should have been a public record, but we cannot find Frank Randall's marriage certificate. But we did find phone records of de Marillac contacting Frank Randall's former residence. But there are no records of that contact reciprocated. And last but not least, we were able to acquire a bank transfer statement with a substantial amount of money sent to de Marillac. And this money came from Jonathan Edward Randall. To summarise the hypothesis, the money transferred, we believe was used to buy the shares. And because of the agreement signed between your uncle and de Marillac, we have reason to believe that Frank Randall's widow is our elusive shareholder by default. She is Frank Randall's next of kin."

Dhia Claire!   Jamie was dumbfounded. "What is the probability that yer theory is correct? I thought the secret shareholder hold only 15% of the share."

Ned Gowan leaned back on his chair and smiled, looking satisfied with himself. "We found in some old records that the 15% share was under Frank Randall's name, making the probability of my theory very high, but I have a few people investigating and will confirm in the next few days. The good news is if the widow does surface, and we can prove that de Marillac's shares are legally hers, ye can make an attempt to buy it from her. With yer charm and popularity with the ladies, I don't think that should be too difficult for ye. So Jamie lad, what do you propose we do next once we have established the name of our secret shareholder?"

"Sell my shares to the secret shareholder at a fraction of the price, " Jamie answered, his face expressionless.

"What!?!"

..........

Claire got out of her car. She had been expecting the garden to be unkempt and over-grown, but instead, found a well-kept yard with arrays of wildflowers, herbs and spring flowers in full bloom. It had been three weeks since she was last at the cottage and it was on the night before she left for the St. Agnes Charity Ball. Claire had been staying at Joe's, and he was kind enough to let her stay in his apartment, considering he lived half the time at Gail's townhouse. He had insisted Claire stayed for as long as she needed knowing she wasn't in the right place to be alone in the cottage.

Ever since the night she walked away from Jamie, he had been continually trying to reach her via phone, messages, emails and sometimes through her friends. It took a lot of willpower not to succumb to his pleas, but Claire knew she needed the time and space for herself to heal and to sort out her feelings. She had been astounded at the force of her anger and intensity of her pain during that disastrous night. She knew she never wanted to feel that way again.

Geillis had been a blessing throughout the past few weeks. She had taken upon herself to take care of Claire's needs: retrieving a few of her clothes from the cottage and her car, admonishing Jamie for his stupidity and acting as their mediator. Geillis had found out the whole truth after hollering and shouting all sorts of abuse at Jamie when she came to the cottage. He had been silent, contrite and close to tears which was very much a far cry from the self-assured and cocky Jamie she knew from all the years she had known him. And of course, there was that headline news from the Daily Mail, much to the horror of Claire, plastered on the front page, DISTILLERY KING DITCHES FIANCEE FOR LADY IN RED. There were two photos under the headline. One was of a scowling Jamie dragging Annalise and another of Claire and Jamie kissing.  Bloody tacky journalistic piece of shit!  She had thought then.

"Claire, what do ye want to do? Ye cannae hide here forever. Do ye love him?" Geillis had asked one evening over takeaway dinner.

"Oh, I do Geillis. I wouldn't be in this mess if I didn't. But I'm scared... too scared..."

"Och come here." Geillis had gathered Claire to her arms. "Listen, hen, it's reasonable to be scared, but runnin' away wilnae help. I've known Jamie since he was a wee laddie. Ah ken he'd done a lot of stupid things in th' past, but he'd done a lot of good too, like puttin' a lot of money in St. Agnes' restoration an' other stuff like that. He's got a big heart, an' th' media hae portrayed him a playboy. Sure he had other women in th' past, but ah have ne'er seen him in such a state before. He's in love wi' ye, Claire, an' it breaks mah heart that both of ye are sufferin' like this."

Claire had given Geillis' words a lot of thought, and she knew she had to confront Jamie sooner or later. So it was on one untypical warm spring day, on the way to the garden centre when she decided to stop by the cottage. It was on the spur of the moment decision as if some force of nature was guiding her. She was dressed in jean shorts, a white sweatshirt with a Union Jack print and white sneakers. She had been planning on taking a walk in the open fields after plant shopping. 

The cottage was tranquil when she arrived, and she didn't see Jamie's vehicle or noticed any presence. She had quickly gotten out of the car before she could change her mind but not before taking an A4 size envelope she meant to give to Jamie from the compartment. She knew Jamie had stayed in the cottage all that while and he had told Geillis he will only leave if Claire wished it. Secretly, Claire was glad he stayed. 

Walking through the front garden, she was amazed at how beautiful it had turned out to be. It had been her plan ever since she arrived to plant some medicinal herbs and wildflowers and put a trellis on the cottage exterior wall for some climbing plants. It seemed someone had already done the job for her.

Inside the cottage, everything was spic and span, and in every room, there was a vase with a bouquet of wildflowers in assorted colours. She was just placing the envelope on the coffee table in the living room when she felt a presence from the doorway. She turned around and saw a very stunned Jamie standing there. Claire didn't even hear him come in.

"Sassenach..." His voice was almost a whisper. Jamie's hair was a tad bit longer and curlier from his usual wavy locks, and he had several days old beard, making him look like some medieval Norse warrior. He was wearing a black shirt, and grey sweat pants and his skin was very bronzed, probably from working in the garden or running. 

"Hi, Jamie," Claire stammered, "I'm sorry for coming unannounced...I was just driving by..., and I thought I'd stop and...I didn't see your car, and I thought ..."

Jamie took a few steps forward as if to reach out but stopped himself midway. "Claire, what are ye talking about? This is yer home," he said softly. He then ran his hand through his hair, quite unsure what to do next, he took a deep breath and muttered, "Christ Sassenach I've missed ye so much. Would ye mind verra much if I kiss and hug ye?" His eyes were full of yearning, but he was very cautious.

Looking at his beautiful deep blue eyes, all doubts seemed to dissipate. "No, I don't mind Jamie but..." Before she could finish her sentence, Jamie had Claire in his arms, kissing her with so much tenderness. The kiss was not one of seduction, nor of demand. It was a kiss full of longing and outpouring of love. Claire gave in and put her arms around his neck as a single tear ran down her cheek. He smelled of sweat, fresh air and tasted of mint, and she loved the feel of his stubble against her skin.

"Oh Christ Claire, I'm so verra sorry for everything," Jamie murmured in between air. "I don't ever want to lose ye again. So so sorry..." He rained kisses all around her face before kissing her deeply once again.

As his hands wandered up from under her sweatshirt, Claire stopped him. "Jamie, please..." She gently placed her hands on his chest and looked up at him. Like his, her breathing had become shallow. Although she didn't want the kiss to end, there were still a lot of unanswered questions.

Confused, Jamie searched her face. "Don't ye want me anymore, Sassenach?"

"Jamie, that's not it. We need to talk. We can't just start from where we left off as if nothing happened..."

Still dazed from the kiss, Jamie managed to regain control, "Aye, that's true...come we'll take a seat." Without letting go of her hands, he led her to the sofa. He turned to face her and sighed. "Look Sassenach, everything I've ever told ye was true, but I admit I omitted some parts of the whole story...and as for Annalise, I never told ye about her because the last time I was with her, it was almost 9 months ago. I'm not proud tellin ye this, but our relationship was never one ye can really call a relationship. Geillis must have told ye the whole story surely. And also, I was going to tell ye on the night of the ball about Frisealach, but Annalise happened. I suppose ye know already I own the distillery."

"But why didn't you tell me you owned the distillery? I asked a few times about your job, and you always came up with some feeble answer, such as working in the administration. I suppose that's part of your work, so I guess there's some truth to it. And I don't even know where you live...you only spoke of your family home, but that's a couple hours away from here. I don't suppose you travelled every day from Lallybroch to Inverness."

"I don't know Sassenach why I never told ye the things I should have. There are a lot of things I should have done and not done, but ever since I laid eyes on ye, I haven't been thinking clearly. I haven't been myself. After we made love for the first time, I couldna bear to leave yer side, and before I knew what was happening, I just slotted into yer life. It seemed to be the most natural thing in the world to be with ye. Before meeting ye, I lived in a luxury apartment in the town centre. Aye it's posh, and it has everything, but it has no soul. I never felt at home in it. With ye here, it's the first time I've ever felt at home outside Lallybroch." 

Claire gave him a mock warning look. "Jamie, are you trying to charm your way out of this?"

Jamie smiled and took her hand and kissed the inside of her palm. In a serious tone, he answered, "No. I promise you it's the truth. It's like I'm under yer spell and, to be honest, I'm only too happy to remain there."

"How about those string of women in the papers, internet and magazine? I saw photos of you with different women each time..."

"Christ Sassenach, do ye really think I slept with all of them? If I did, I wouldna had time to run my companies. It's a marketing ploy to be seen with the right people and to introduce my whisky in Europe and truth be told, I hated every moment of it. I dinna care for a celebrated lifestyle. Everything about it was very superficial, and ye have to be mindful all the time of what ye say in public. That's no easy thing for me - I grew up in a family that says their mind a lot. No Sassenach, it wasn't for me."

"So, what do you want of me? From us?"

Jamie got off the sofa to kneel in front of Claire. Then taking her hands in both of his, he looked into her eyes. "Claire, I want to be with ye. I have never wanted anyone as much as I wanted ye and I promise there'll only be truth between us." His voice cracked, and his eyes turned to a darker hue. "Ye see Sassenach, whenever I look at ye, my heart starts to pound, when for years, I dinna think it beat at all. I dinna ken what was missing in my life until ye came and filled in the holes and took away the emptiness. And when you're not by my side, the loss is unimaginable. The night I carried ye out from St. Agnes and looked down upon yer face, I knew I was ruined for life. Totally, utterly ruined. I can't be good for anybody now, except for ye. What I'm trying my hardest to say is, I love ye, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. And I am scairt because ye have my heart now in yer hands."

"Jamie.."

"Sssh." He placed a finger on her lips. "Sassenach, may I kiss ye?" Jamie didn't want to hear what Claire had to say in fear she may not feel the same way. Without waiting for her to reply, he pulled her tight against him and kissed her softly, one hand behind her neck as his thumb caressed a sensitive part just under her earlobe. She tasted of warm honey, and her skin as soft as the petals from the flowers. "Claire, will ye stay with me tonight?" he asked hoarsely.

The spell broke when Claire was reminded of her plans for that night. "Oh Jamie, I can't tonight...I've already made arrangements..." Although rattled by his confession, she wanted to stay, but this time she didn't want to rush things between them.  One baby step at a time!

Jamie tried to hide his disappointment, and gave her a smile instead, not wanting to rock the boat. "Are ye going out with Geillis?" he asked.

"No, I'm meeting up with Tom tonight." Claire felt him stiffen and gave him an apologetic look, knowing that both men had some sort of disagreement.

"Oh! Are ye seeing him...I mean is it a date?" Jaime was no longer smiling, but he kept his hold on her.

Claire reached out to touch his face and sighed. "No Jaime, it's not like that. It's just for a couple of drinks. I promised him a few days ago that I will see him. And then I have some things I need to do for Joe...medical kinds of stuff."

Feeling slightly heartened, Jamie asked in a hopeful voice, "Errm, Sassenach, can I see ye tomorrow?" His finger was tucking a lock behind her ear.

"How about lunch before I go to work tomorrow...that's if you're not too busy being a boss?" Claire asked, good-humouredly. "I start work late...we have a few shift changes this week."

Thinking that lunch would be a longer wait, he suggested an alternative. "How about breakfast? I will bring it up to ye, so ye didna need to dress." Jamie attempted a wink before giving her a suggestive smile.

Claire laughed. "Alright breakfast then but not too early...I was planning on sleeping in. I'm staying at Joe's apartment. You remember where he lives?"

"Aye." He nodded.

"Oh by the way, before I leave, this is for you." Claire took the brown envelope from the coffee table she had earlier and placed it in Jamie's hand.

"Sassenach," he said, giving her a suspicious look. "This is not a goodbye letter, is it?" He frowned as he weighed it in his hands.

"No Jaime." She gave him a lingering kiss, telling Jamie with her own lips how much she loved him too.

.........

It was probably not a great idea to meet Tom at the Scotch & Rye Pub. It was Saturday, it was loud, it was teeming with employees from Frisealach and Laoghaire MacKenzie was there. Most likely, Jamie could walk in any minute soon. They found an empty high table near the entrance and quickly took it.

"Claire, what would you like to drink?" Tom's soft voice broke into her contemplation.

Distracted, she replied, "Oh, a glass of dry white, please." She had been thinking of what Jamie said earlier in the afternoon.

Claire watched as Tom made his way to the bar. She saw Laoghaire approached him at the counter, smiling sweetly at him as she placed well-manicured painted fingers on his arm. She saw her opened her bag as she continued to chat with him and took a few pound notes from her purse to give to the bartender.

Claire smiled as Tom came back with their drinks, but her smile quickly faded away as she saw Laoghaire was right behind Tom. "Claire, the drinks are from Laoghaire, she says it's a truce and apologies offering."

"Oh! Well then, thank you, Laoghaire, that's very kind of you!" She raised her glass to her. "To truce and forgiveness." Her heart warmed a bit for the girl, but she still felt slightly uneasy about her mannerism.

"Och think nothin' of it. Anyway, I hope ye both enjoy yer date!" Before Claire could protest its not a date, she had turned around sauntering towards the Frisealach employees' table.

Once alone, Tom revealed, "She's a funny girl her. She asked me a week ago, here in the pub, if I fancied ye. I told her it was none of her business." He leaned forward and in a lower voice, he continued, "Stay clear away from her, Claire. She might not seem to be the brightest, but I can't help but feel apprehensive whenever she's around. I think she's a bit of a gossip." 

Claire laughed nervously, taking a big gulp of her wine, trying to dismiss the warning. "Don't worry. I think she's just young and full of mischief."

"Don't ye want to find out Claire?"

"Find out wot?" She took another sip of the wine and grimaced at the taste.

Tom leaned forward and smiled at her. "Whether or not I fancy ye?"

Claire thought he had a beautiful smile. "Well, do you?" she asked boldly. Suddenly Claire felt relax and loose-tongued. She stood up from her high chair to lean forward to remove a fluff off Tom's hair when suddenly she felt wobbly.

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!   Feeling the room was spinning out of control, she attempted to sit back but instead ended up slipping into the darkness.

..........

Jamie was just walking into the pub when he saw Claire swayed precariously as she held onto the high table. Before she could fall and Tom could react, he caught her in time before she hit the floor.

He shot Tom an angry look as he propped Claire's head with his hands. "How much has she had to drink? Didn't ye think she might have had enough?"

"She's only had one glass, and she drank it too fast," Tom snapped, as he kneeled down to check Claire's pulse. People were gathering already, and he knew Claire needed air. "Listen, Fraser, I'll deal with this. I'm a doctor, and I'll make sure she gets to the hospital. Go and join yer friends."

Jamie was lifting Claire up already. "She lives with me, so she's practically like my wife, so back off Tommy," he growled, determined not to relinquish his hold. "I'm taking her, my car is just outside."

Unperturbed, Tom let Jamie carry Claire as he held the door open. "I'm coming with ye."

"Suit yersel'"

..........

Both men drove in silence as they headed to the Northern Royal Infirmary. Tom had called Joe and the hospital in advance as Jamie laid Claire in the passenger seat. When they finally got there, they were greeted by Gail, Joe Abernathy's girlfriend, who was the doctor on duty, and Claire was immediately put onto a wheeled stretcher and taken away.

Seeing the concern on both the men's faces, Gail guided them to the waiting area. "Listen, boys, it's probably not serious. Claire has been under a lot of stress, so it's probably just the repercussion rearing its ugly head. Wait here, please. We'll do some test, and I'm quite sure the results shouldn't take very long," she said, smiling warmly.

Quite contrary to what Gail said, both men waited two hours.

When Joe finally arrived in civilian clothes, Jamie and Tom were sat at opposite ends of the waiting area. He had just come out of the operating room when he heard the news about Claire and immediately went to see the doctor attending her. After reading the initial results, Joe volunteered to relay the report to Tom and Jamie. As soon as he appeared in the waiting area, both men stood up and were surprised when they saw he was accompanied by two security guards and two policemen. Joe liked both men, but his main concern was Claire at this very moment.

"Tom, Jamie, we have the result from the initial tests." His voice sounded stern and very professional. "But before I can reveal anything, I want to ask... who was with Claire when she blacked out?"

Tom raised a hand. "I was with her, and we were both on our first drink. She drank the wine rather quickly, and I was surprised that she seemed tipsy all of a sudden," he explained.

Joe closed his eyes before making a formal statement. "We have found traces of Ketamine in Claire's saliva and urine test. Ketamine is also known as Date Rape Drug, and we have a very strong suspicion of an attempted sexual assault." Turning to Tom, he proceeded, "I'm so sorry, Tom, I need to have you detained until further results come in..."

Before Joe could finish his sentence and the police could react, Jamie, with his hands clenched and his face dark red with fury, threw a punch at Tom Christie's face sending him sliding across the hospital floor and knocking him out cold.

Joe had also wanted to tell Jamie that Claire was pregnant, but he guessed it could wait later.

 

Chapter Text

Although Joe should have been home hours ago, he had opted to stay in the doctor's mess room. He didn't think he could unwind after the previous night's events, and besides, Gail's shift would be over soon-it was nearly 5 am. 

Wandering through the cafeteria, he was surprised to see Jamie sitting alone and staring into space. He went and bought them both a cup of coffee before approaching him.

"Hey, need some company?"

"Oh! Aye, take a seat." Jamie rubbed his face in rapid motion and sat up and smiled at the sight of coffee. "Thank ye, I was about to get one."

"Out on bail?" Joe knew already he wouldn't stay long in jail.

"Aye. How's Christie?"

"He'll live. That was some punch you threw at Tom. What were you thinking, Jamie?"

"I dinna ken. I saw red, I suppose. The coppers weren't impressed at all," he joked, not feeling guilty about last night's misdemeanour.

There was a moment of silence between the two men as they drank their coffee.

"You need not be here, you know. You should go home and rest. Claire is no longer in danger," Joe said in-between sips of his coffee.

"Ye said she's pregnant. How did that happen?"

Joe looked incredulous. "Seriously, Jamie? You had sex, that's what happened. Don't you guys use any form of protection or birth control? I know she said she couldn't have any babies...but still!"

Jamie ignored his question. "Does she know?"

"I haven't told her yet...she's still unconscious. Anyway, I intended to tell you first because I was unsure of the effects of Ketamine on the fetus. You see, she received quite a high dose. Out there it's often used as a recreational drug, but recently there are a lot of cases of it being used as a date rape drug. Its effect is almost immediate, making it more effective for its sinister use. In the right amount of dosage, it should wear off in an hour, but Claire ingested a substantial amount and to make matters worse, it was mixed in alcohol. It could have been fatal if she had not received medical attention immediately. There is no antidote for its overdoses, but we have given her a drug to counteract the symptoms. So you might find her drugged to her eyeball for a couple of days. As for the fetus, there is no telling...I'm sorry."

"Christ! I thought it would have just been a matter of flushing the drug out of her system...fuck." Jamie slammed his fist on the table, rattling the coffee cups. "So, ye think Christie had some ill intentions towards Claire?" He was about to say rape, but he couldn't bring himself to say the word. Jamie could feel his anger rising again.

"Pure speculations Jamie. But he will remain detained until proven innocent. It is plausible that he put the Ketamine in her drink because we have them here in the hospital, and it is accessible to him. We use them for anaesthetic purposes. Now the thing is, the drug comes in a variety of forms. Pharmaceutical Ketamine is usually liquid. On the street, it is more common to see tablets or white crystalline powder. And Claire ingested the liquid form."

Jamie shut his eyes tight, inhaling deeply through his nostrils. When he finally exhaled, he noticed his hands were clenched tightly. "I'm no sorry now that I punched the daylight outa that prick."

Noticing his anger, Joe quickly changed the subject. "Don't get your hopes up but if the fetus does survive, have you thought what that would mean for you?"

His tactic worked, Jamie's face broke into a grin. "I'm going to be a da. Can ye tell already if it's a boy or girl?" 

Joe coughed, not expecting that reaction. He is now unsure if he made the right choice asking him that question in case there was a disappointment in the end. "No, Jamie...not for another at least 7 weeks. And by the way, I saw on the report that Claire is 5 weeks pregnant...that's around the time when she first arrived here in Inverness. Didn't one of you think of using a condom? It's not just about birth control we're talking about here...there's also sexually transmitted diseases to think about. Oh God, did you have sex on the first day you met? "

"Aye we did," he replied grinning, looking very pleased with himself. "Weel... normally I would have used a condom, it's just that we had a lot to drink and Claire was so beautiful and then..." 

Joe stopped him, not wanting to hear anymore. "You know what? Forget that I asked. I don't want to know what happened before conception!" He rolled his eyes as he let out a frustrated sigh.

"But ye're a doctor. Surely ye hear it all the time..."

He glared at him. "Jamie, for crying out loud! We're talking about Claire here. She's like my sister. I'm not interested in hearing about her or your sexual escapade. Jesus!"

Now it was Jamie's turn to change the subject. "Anyway, can ye picture me being a da?"

"No. Not really."

"What do ye mean, no? If ye think I'm going to leave Claire because of her pregnancy..."

"Jamie, listen. It's not as simple as that. A baby will need a family...a father. Are you ready to have a family of your own? Have you thought about marriage?"

"Aye, of course, I have. Weel, what I mean to say is, I was thinking about it before ye came. And what do ye take me for? Ye think I'll run away because Claire is pregnant?" Jamie looked shocked that Joe would think he would abandon Claire.

"It's not only about what Claire wants Jaime. It's also about what you want. Do you really want this? Baby, Claire and the whole family thing..."

"Joe, I know ye're concerned about yer friend. I want ye to know that I will be doing the right thing for Claire, not because it is the right thing, but because I love her."

"Yeah, that's nice, and all, but both of you have been separated longer than you've been together. Falling in love is not the same as loving someone..."

"You know Joe, once I asked my da how ye knew which was the right woman, weel, he told me when the time came, I'd have no doubt. My da was right. That night when I first laid eyes on her at St. Agnes, I knew she was the one."

"Did you tell Claire how you feel?"

"Aye, but I don't know if she feels the same way. What do ye think? Did she tell ye?"

Joe shifted uncomfortably. "Well Jaime, the only way to find out is to ask her yourself."

..........

Jamie slowly opened the door, careful not to make a noise. He had been explicitly told by Joe that Claire needed a lot of bed rest. So he was surprised to see Claire awake and smiling when he came in. 

"Och, ye're awake..." He had brought her a tray of assorted Danish pastry which he knew she loved and placed them on the table before pulling a chair next to her bed. Before he could sit down, he noticed Claire had an odd look on her face.

He smiled at her as he placed a hand on her cheek. "Are ye alright, Sassenach? How are ye feeling?" 

Claire extended her arms towards him and said dreamily, "Give me a kiss lover boy!"

His eyes widened at the greeting. Finding Claire's response a bit unusual, Jamie hesitantly leaned down to kiss her on the forehead. But before he could raise his head, her strong arms had pulled him down by the neck. She kissed him passionately, her tongue darting daintily to get a taste of him. He responded but pulled away abruptly, thinking she was not herself. "Christ Claire, what are ye doing?"

To his surprise, she unexpectedly sat up and looked at Jamie with twinkling golden eyes and an impish grin. Biting her lower lip, she provocatively looked him over. "Come 'ere Jamie and give me some of your sweet lovin'," Claire slurred. She was staring at him like he was some savoury dish to be devoured.

"Oh, sweet Jesus, Sassenach, ye're still drugged. Ye should lie down!" Jamie tried to gently force her down back to bed, but instead, she threw the covers aside and got onto her knees facing him, her hands reaching for the buckle of his belt. Wearing only a thin hospital gown and the hazy glow of sunlight casting a shadow, he could see the outline of her body and her breasts.  Oh, God!  Disengaging her hands from the front of his jeans, took a mammoth effort. Not because of her strength but more because of his rapidly dwindling self-control. He firmly put her hands away from him and backed away. "Claire, listen to me, ye need to lie down..." he said slowly and deliberate, not quite sure how to deal with the situation.

"I don't need to lie down...I feel good, and you look good. So, come here, love and give me a kiss." She puckered her lips in invitation.

Jamie was beginning to get nervous. "Sassenach, ye're heavily medicated, so ye're not acting yourself. So be a good lass and get under the covers. I'll only come to ye once ye're lying down." he said in an unsteady voice.

She sat back on her heels and pouted prettily, one hand resting on her thigh and the other slowly raising the hem of her gown. "Don't you want me, Jamie love?"  Oh Christ Almighty, of course, I want ye! 

Taking big deep breaths and braving the risk of what could potentially happen if he touched her again, Jamie made another attempt. "Claire, please, ye need rest and all these excitement cannae be good for ye. Well...it's certainly not good for me," he muttered, reaching out to grab her so he can lift her and lay her down. 

Instead of cooperating, Claire dodged Jamie's hands, raised herself on her knees and flung both arms around his neck. "Lock the door..." she whispered huskily into his ears, "...and then kiss me." She ran her tongue on the edge of his ear before biting his earlobe.

His hands having a mind of their own, landed on her round arse, fondling it as Claire rubbed herself against Jamie. "Now, Sassenach, why would I want to lock the door?" he replied hoarsely. He could hear hospital activities happening outside on the corridor, and he was on the verge of committing public indecency. It's been over 3 weeks since they had made love and his restraint is about to snap.

"Because I want to take a peek," she giggled as one hand suddenly grabbed Jamie between his thighs.

Gasping, he seized her wrist away from his growing bulge. "Oh, fuck! Sassenach! For someone who has small hands, ye have some firm grip on ye. And I dinna want ye taking a peek!"

"Why not?! How about I let you see mine first? Then I'll take a peek at yours" she grinned coquettishly, leaning back to take a better look at his face, "After all, fair is fair, right, Jamie?"

He grabbed both her hands and held them behind her back, gripping them in place, making her head tilt to the side. "No, Claire! Naebody is taking a peek at anything..." His words trailed off as his eyes rested on the smooth line of her neck. He could almost see the pulsation of her vein as Claire struggled to set her hands free. On impulse, Jaime kissed the spot, before trailing down to the base of her throat, making her quiver. Then he remembered and backed away. "Christ Sassenach, ye're not making this easy for me are ye?"

She winked as she grinned wickedly, "Well if you won't come here, you can watch me instead. Would you like to watch Jaime?" Her hands were already sliding between her thighs, and he knew anyone can come through the door any minute.

"Fine Sassenach, I'll lock the door and don't ye dare make a sound..." he said, giving her warning look.

Door safely locked, he turned back once more to Claire to find her standing barefoot beside the bed, swaying on her feet. "Go back to bed now!" he growled.  Damn ye woman!  He was amused by how quickly she scrambled under the covers.

Claire settled in, he got into bed with her, lying on his side with his head propped by his elbow. "Jamie..." She was looking expectantly at him, her eyes, although dilated was dark with want. Gone was the giddy, sultry seductress she was moments ago. He knew he wanted to take her there and then, but he couldn't. Not here and not like this even though he was dying inside. Instead...

"Shh Sassenach," he whispered softly as he moved his free hand slowly under the cover and under her gown. There he squeezed the soft, warm flesh before parting her thighs gently. Her golden eyes widened, and her hips began to move, as his forefinger travelled to the moist patch of her panties, tracing the lines of her cleft and her sensitive spot. A faint moan escaped her lips as she closed her eyes in ecstasy, making him dizzy with want. Then he slipped his hand under the waistband, cupping the heat between her legs before dipping his forefinger into her wetness and stroking the silky fold long and slow. She let out a loud gasp as she arched her back, her hand reaching for him to take her.

"I want you inside me..." she whimpered, her breath quickening.

Jamie could see her hard nipples against the thin fabric of her gown, as her chest heaved at every stroke of his finger. "No, Sassenach, I want to watch ye," he murmured as he lightly touched her lips with his, resisting the urge to kiss her thoroughly. He pressed his fingers inside her, thrusting, stroking, dipping and rubbing, her hips lifting to push herself against his hands. She writhed and squirmed with wanton abandonment, her thighs spreading wider apart for deeper penetration. She was so hot and wet, and her throaty moans were making his head swim. He plunged deeper, his thumb grinding the sensitive spot until he felt her clamped around his fingers tightly and her body began to shake uncontrollably. She let out a cry before collapsing next to him, her breaths warm against his neck, and her thighs tightly clamped around his hands. Claire held on to him like that until tiredness took over and her body began to relax.

Claire smiled, drowsily at him as her body eased. "Jamie, I never got to take a peek."

"Sshh sleep now, mo chridhe," he murmured, kissing her on the forehead, before releasing his hands from between her thighs. Then he got up and straightened her gown before pulling the covers to her neck. 

"Jamie?" 

"Aye Sassenach?" He took her hand in his as he watched her eyes began to get heavier, and her head bobbed, as she struggled to stay lucid.

"I love you," she whispered before drifting off to sleep, her hands going limp in his. He smiled a very broad smile. Jamie wanted to hug her but thought better of it. She needed her rest, so he watched her sleep instead, feeling content with the world.

Today's problems can be tomorrow's, he thought.

Then Jaime received a phone text from Finn, the bartender from the Scotch & Rye Pub.

 

Jamie, please come ASAP to the bar. I have some footage from our surveillance camera I want you to see.

Chapter Text

Jamie didn't want to leave Claire's side particularly now when she's at her most vulnerable and damn it, he just got her back...well almost. Today they were supposed to be having breakfast in the hope of clearing the air of whatever doubts she may still harbour, and maybe talk about the "talk", but instead, she's in the hospital high as a kite, his to-do list is getting longer by the second, and he has had very little sleep. His disposition was very fragile and the fact that he had spent a few hours the night before in jail, charged for assaulting Tom Christie, meant he was treading on thin ice.

The thought of Tom Christie made his blood boil. He had been nothing but a pain on his backside ever since they were young lads. What was supposed to be a healthy competition in all aspect of their growing up, Christie had always turned it into a heated rivalry and dispute even though he excelled in more fields than Jamie, especially academically. Christie had made it his life mission to out-do him whenever the opportunity presented itself whether it was in sports, girls, popularity, friends. Still, somehow Jamie, more often than nought, seemed to trump over him as if God was playing some cruel trick, much to Christie's ever-growing annoyance over the years.

It did make Jamie wonder if he had anything to do with what happened to Claire. Joe did say it was plausible, but would he go that far to score a point against him? Could Christie be really that calculating and devious? Although he found Claire's earlier uninhibited display of seduction quite erotic and amusing, it had entered his mind that the drug may have been intended for that purpose. The thought had given him chills, and Jamie was glad that he had arrived at the pub on time when Claire collapsed. Christie never disguised his attraction towards her even though she had been oblivious to it, and Jamie had tolerated it for her sake. But if it turned out, he had anything to do with drugging Claire, and if anything happened to their unborn child, God knows what he would do.

Jamie read Finn's text once again.  Jamie, please come ASAP to the bar. I have some footage from our surveillance camera that I want you to see.  But before he left, he stood by Claire's bed looking down at her peaceful face and remembered her love declaration before sleep took over. His heart lightened, easing his fatigue and disconcertion, her words like a balm to his soul.

..........

Jamie arrived at Scotch & Rye Pub. The door was still closed to the public, but the door immediately opened before he could knock. Finn had been expecting him.

"Jamie lad, it's good ye made it on time. I've had a call from the police asking for the surveillance footage from last night. I figured it might have had something to do with Claire, and I thought ye might be interested in seeing it first," Finn chattered excitedly, not wanting to reveal too much before Jamie has had a chance to look. "This way, follow me."

Jamie's heart was pounding, anxious of what he might find out. He thought of Claire to find his calm as he followed the bartender to the back of the bar that led to a tiny office. Finn instructed him to sit as he started some program on his computer. He opened four browsers up on his screen, two of it showing different angles of the bar, one at the entrance and one outside the building. 

Finn played the first video which showed the entrance, and then he fast-forwarded to the correct time and played it. Jamie could see the pub was full, and people were coming and going.

"There!" pointed Finn as he paused the video. "That's the lad Claire was with...Tom." 

"Aye, Tom Christie. Claire said they were meeting in a pub, but I dinna ken at first that it was this pub she meant." Jamie leaned forward to take a closer look and noticed Tom was easily recognisable. "Play that a bit forward please."

Finn used his mouse to manipulate the next still picture instead of playing the video. "That one?"

"Aye, that's the one. Can ye zoom in, please." Jaime's eyes were squinting trying to make out the hazy picture. "Right, stop." Behind Tom Christie was Laoghaire MacKenzie, they were both entering the pub. Claire wasn't on the video yet, but Jaime expected that. "Right, let's play the next one."

So they played all the videos, reviewing each footage that had Tom in it. Jamie noticed from the outside camera that Laoghaire and Tom arrived together. Once inside, they were both stood at the far end of the bar, talking and watching the entrance. On the next video, he saw Claire arriving and Tom coming over to greet her and Laoghaire was not on the screen. Then Finn played the footage of the bar where Tom was ordering drinks, and Laoghaire was once again in the picture. Everything seemed quite normal, two friends chatting and laughing. Finn manipulated the video with the cursor to watch the film in slow motion and what he saw next, made Jamie sick to his stomach. He saw Tom Christie retrieving from the inside pocket of his jacket what looked like a vial, emptying it in a glass of wine before disposing it into Laoghaire's open bag. The rest of the footage became a blur as Jamie sat back, trying to comprehend what he just saw. 

Jamie envisioned all sorts of scenario in his head if he hadn't arrived on time, and he recalled Tom's words when he cradled Claire in his arms when she fainted.   "Listen, Fraser, I'll deal with this. I'm a doctor, and I'll make sure she gets to the hospital. Go and join yer friends."  Had Tom planned to take Claire to his home? What was Laoghaire's part in it? Why would she take part in some heinous activity, and what did she have to gain from this? He remembered Claire's behaviour from earlier and couldn't help but wonder, would she have been as wanton with Tom if he had managed to take her home?  Oh, Christ!  Jamie was getting sicker by the minute. He didn't know whether to punch the wall next to him or to throw the computer screen on the floor, but he knew he needed to get his anger under control. But Jamie was reeling...reeling mad, thinking of their unborn child and the possibility of a loss and Claire's heartache when she finds out. Jamie thought of all the times he had tolerated Christie's taunts, smear campaigns, vilification, disparagement towards his person, and he had endured it all in good humour. But not anymore. This time Christie had gone too far.

Then his phone rang. It was Joe.

"Jamie, listen. I found out from the board that Tom had taken Ketamine and some other drugs from the hospital unsigned and unaccounted for. This is not public knowledge, so don't do anything stupid - don't jeopardise the investigation. The police are on their way, and they probably want to talk to Claire. So she will need you. You hear me mate?"

He took a deep breath. "I hear you, Joe. I just need to sort some things out, and I'll come as soon as I can. How is she?"

"She's fine, Jamie. I'm more worried about you. Don't do anything rash and make matters even worse. Think of the unborn child, ok?"

"Aye Joe, don't worry, ye have my word." 

After speaking to Joe, Jamie called Angus, the head security at the distillery. "Angus, I don't have time for an explanation but listen carefully. Under no circumstances is Laoghaire MacKenzie allowed to leave the premises. Make sure one of yer lads keeps an eye on her. This is a serious legal matter. I will explain later."

"Aye Jamie, nae bother, I will personally see to it," the voice on the other end replied.

Before he left the pub, he had some copies of the video made and sent to his lawyer, Ned Gowan and on his private email account.

..........

"Laoghaire, into my office NOW!" Jamie roared as he stepped off the lift and strode past Laoghaire MacKenzie's desk, not caring if there were other employees within earshot.

Laoghaire knew Jamie was on his way up. She had a ready-smile plastered on her immaculately made-up face, but her expression quickly changed as she was summoned in a deprecatory manner, which was very unlike Jamie. Her face turning red, she quickly stood up and followed him to his office and slammed the door after her.

"What the fuck has gotten into ye, Jamie? How dare ye speak like that to me in front of the people!" waving her hands in the air, her cornflower blue eyes shooting daggers.

"Sit and shut the fuck up," Jamie bellowed, as he angrily sat down and swiped the neatly stacked papers from his desk, sending them flying into the air. "Ye will talk when I tell ye to!"

Laoghaire was nonplussed, her mouth opening and shutting like a blowfish. She wanted to remain standing but thought better of it, having previously heard of stories of Jamie's rare temper.

In a much lower voice, nevertheless, steely, Jamie spoke. "Tell me what part ye played in lacing Claire's drink with Ketamine."

The colour drained from her face and what she saw in Jaime sent chills down her spine. His eyes normally full of warmth and humour had turned glacial blue flashing wrath and fury. "Oh God, did something bad happened to her? Oh, God, oh, God. I didn't mean to." Her eyes wide and filled with panic started to well up. 

Known for his chivalrous acts and saving damsels in distress, Jamie was not having any of it and ignored Laoghaire's cries. "Start talking," he said in a warning tone as he turned his attention to his laptop momentarily.

"Oh God, I'm so sorry, Jamie," she blubbered. "Tom wanted Claire, and...and... he reckoned you stole her from right under his nose. He thought if ye found out Claire had been with him, ye wouldn't want her back." She closed her eyes tight, as fresh tears flowed before she continued. "And...I...I have always been in love with ye. I thought...we had something together back then and then ye discarded me. I thought if the Sassenach was with Tom, maybe ye could look at me the same way ye look at her."

"We never had anything together," Jamie snapped acerbically. "Ye forced yer way into my life the way ye snuck into my room after Hogmanay in Lallybroch years ago. Aye, I was drunk, and I remember vaguely what happened. A couple of months later ye came to me announcing you're pregnant so I decided to do the right thing. I said to ye I'd marry ye after the baby was born. As it turned out, ye weren't pregnant at all. But I stayed with ye, thinking ye need help. And what did ye do? Ye paraded yersel' in town every night with Christie knowing I will know. Ye knew our history and still..."

"That's because ye never treated me like yer girlfriend. I did everything for ye, and still, ye were indifferent," she cried bitterly. "I thought ye stayed because ye have fallen in love with me. But whenever ye came to my bed, it was like making love to a log. I went with Christie to make ye jealous..."

"How can ye make someone jealous who never wanted ye in the first place?" Jamie cut in dispassionately. "Ye never endeared yersel' to me no matter how I tried to see something good in ye. Instead, ye constantly lied, manipulated people around ye to get what ye want and now this...I dinna ken how ye can think what ye did has something to do with love. What ye did was selfish and egotistical."

"I thought ye wanted me back when ye hired me. Did ye ever love me at all, Jamie?" she asked miserably, the tears staining her cheeks with black mascara.

"I cared for ye, Laoghaire, and maybe I felt sorry for ye. But, no, I never loved ye. Ye never gave me a reason to when ye had me." Jamie shook his head as if seeing the past replayed before him. "Aye, I felt sorry for ye...yer da was a cruel man, and ye didna have it easy. And I hired ye because I thought ye would have grown up. But no, ye're just the same wee pathetic lassie." Jamie paused, contemplating his next words. And when he finally spoke, his tone was caustic and sharp. "I dinna care what ye and Christie do to me...ye can do what ye like, and it will just bounce off me. I would even let ye off. But this time, I'm not letting this pass. Both of ye nearly killed the woman I love, and there is a possibility she might lose our baby. You and Christie will pay. I will make sure of that."

"No, Jamie, please...oh God! I'm so sorry. I'll do anything ye want. It was mostly Tom's idea," she wailed in a grovelling plea. "Tom stole the drugs from the hospital, and I kept it for him for safekeeping. I gave it to him before we arrived at the pub and Tom was the one who put the drug in Claire's wine. I only went along with it because I thought with her out of the way...and she with Tom...maybe we...us...could be together."

Jamie's face was unmoving, and he scorned at her pleas. "You are a vile person Laoghaire MacKenzie. Ye and Christie deserve each other and whatever is coming for both of ye next. Hope and pray that nothing happens to our baby because if something did, ye would wish ye've never laid eyes on me. Save yer pleas and apologies for the court. I am done with both of ye."

"NO! Ye have nae proof, James Fraser! Ye fuckin' wanker...ye send me to the court, and I promise ye, I'll do far worse to yer Sassenach bitch. That fucking witch was nothing but trouble since she arrived. Ye hear me? Ye have no proof!" Laoghaire screeched, her eyes wild and her face contorted in rage.

Jamie then turned his laptop around, and to Laoghaire's horror, she saw a video messaging program up on the screen, live with Rupert and two police in the background. Before she could react, the door opened, and four officers led by Rupert walked in.

"Laoghaire MacKenzie, you are under arrest on suspicion of assisting in administering an illegal substance with an intent of indecent assault and causing grievous harm. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence." Two officers lifted her bodily from the chair and secured her wrists in cuffs as Laoghaire screamed abuse and obscenities at Jamie.

Jamie just sat and watched, his face impassive as they led Laoghaire away from his office.

Then his phone rang. It was from Joe again.  Christ now what!  Jamie still had pending voice messages he wanted to attend to from his sister and Ned Gowan, but he thought it could wait.

"Jamie..." Joe spoke cautionary. "Claire is missing..."

"What?!? What do ye mean she is missing? She's in bed sleeping, she's too doped to go anywhere..."

"Geillis came to her room for a visit, and she found Claire wasn't there. The bed covers were on the floor, but she found Tom Christie's phone. He must have dropped it..."

"What the fuck! I thought he was detained!" Heart pounding, Jamie was already standing up, grabbing his keys and jacket.

"He was. Two officers were watching his room in the hospital...they must have wandered off thinking he was minimal risk. They didn't take him last night to jail because Gail, who was on duty, wanted to keep him in after Tom suffered a concussion from your blow previous night..."

"Ye have surveillance cameras in hospital, right?" Jamie didn't bother using the lift. He was already running down the emergency stairwell.

"Yeah, we are on it..."

"I'm on my way."  Oh God, please let her be alright!

..........

Claire opened her eyes, and she saw the floor moving under her feet. Realising she was on a wheelchair, she tried to move her head and felt a painful kink to her neck. She groaned as she lifted a hand to massage the muscle spasm. 

A hand patted her on the shoulder. "Dinna worry my love, we're soon there." It was Tom Christie's voice.

She had a hazy recollection of Tom coming into her room, dressed in his lab coat wearing a stethoscope around his neck. His face was swollen, and his hair matted, and she had asked him in her groggy state if he was alright as she reached out a hand to touch his face. Tom had said something along the line that he fell and that he was okay. Then he had carefully lifted her off the bed and told her he was taking her to be examined.

Wincing at the painful discomfort of sitting slumped on the chair, Claire tried to gather her bearings. She noticed the corridor was void of people and activities, but her mind was too foggy to think clearly. When Tom finally wheeled her into a room, Claire realised immediately she was in an empty pathology lab. Something was very wrong, and before she could utter a word, there was a sharp sting on her arm. Once again she drifted into darkness, dreaming of Jamie running towards her but never quite catching up and somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind, she could hear Tom singing Every Breath You Take by the Police.

Chapter Text

Jamie was driving his Land Rover like a madman, cussing and cursing as he swerved and navigated the wet roads to the Northern Royal Infirmary. Despite the cold spring temperature, he could feel rivulets of sweat on the sides of his temple. He felt queasy, and his heart was racing like a freight train, as a feeling of helplessness intensified. Jamie had never been afraid of anything in his whole life, but the picture of Tom Christie pouring drug into Claire's drink playing over and over in his mind, had his stomach in knots. Tears burning at the back of his eyes threatened to spill as he remembered her last words. "I love you, Jamie,"  she had said.   Oh God, I love this woman, please don't let this be my punishment for my sins. Please protect her and our unborn child.

After what felt like an eternity searching for a parking space, Jamie finally made it to the hospital's lobby, huffing and puffing after running through a maze of cars. Unsure where to go to next, he viewed the scene before him, a picture of normality as people carried on with their business, bustling, with places to go and things to do.

"Jamie!" A woman's voice shouted after him.

He whirled around and was relieved to see Geillis, her long, red-gold hair, wild and loose, and her face pasty white. She was followed by Murtagh, his god-father and three other lads from the Fire Brigade, all dressed in their uniform and carrying their tactical bags.

"Any news on Claire? Is she still in the hospital? How come there are no police here? Was she taken out of the building?" Jamie blurted rapid-fire questions without taking a breath, his eyes darting back and forth to their faces, searching for answers.

"Hello to ye too, god-son!" Murtagh spoke, a figure of equanimity, as he took his elbow and led him away from the group. Once they were a fair distance, he turned to Jamie, his face deadpan and inscrutable. "Now listen to me, ye wee daftie. Ye will stay here like a good lad, and ye will do as yer told. I dinna want to hear ye interfering with the cops or punching anyone on the face. Everything is under control, ye hear me? Beauchamp is in the building. Leave this to the pros."

Jamie grabbed Murtagh's arm in a vice-like grip. "Fuck that! I will no' have ye talking to me like I'm some wee lad...ye dinna ken what Christie is capable of. This is between him and me..." he hissed, in a dangerous undertone.

Murtagh shoved his hand away and moved closer to Jamie, "Wheesht, ye eejit! I ken fine what Christie is like. Ye shoulda clobbered the lad years ago and that woulda been the end of it. Ever since the Beauchamp lassie arrived, ye've no' been acting yersel' an' ye've been in all sorts of trouble. So stay away. That's a warning. Ye're never too big to get a cuff on the ear from me, " the older man retorted, glaring up at him, intent on carrying out his threat. Not waiting for a further response, Murtagh turned to his men. "C'mon lads, we have work to do."

"Wait! I can go to the station and change. I work with the fire department...in case ye dinna remember..." Jamie shouted after them as they walked away, in a last attempt to convince his god-father.

Without turning around, Murtagh shouted back, "NO! Ye'll stay put! Ye're a fucking hazard at the moment. As yer commanding officer, that is an order!"

"Prick!" 

"I heard that..."

"Ye were supposed to!"

Fist clenched, Jamie roared in frustration, causing the people in the lobby to turn around in surprise. Geillis, noticing the awkwardness of the situation, quickly jumped in, addressing the on-lookers, "Och, nothing to see here," she announced, waving her hands in the air. "He jist hud his haemorrhoids treated. Th' bigger th' laddie, th' bigger th' piles. Soo verra painful indeed...it makes even the biggest laddie scream."

The people and nurses nodded in understanding before turning away. Jamie glowered angrily down at her as he took her aside by the elbow. "Ye think this is some joke, Geillis. For fuck sake, Claire is in danger, and ye make some crack like that," he snapped, trying to keep his voice down.

"Whit? Listen to yersel'... if yoo're gonnae act like a fanny, expect tae be treated like one," she fumed, yanking her arms away.

Letting out a huge sigh, he conceded. "Alright, alright. Hear me out. I need to get to Claire. Do ye have any idea where she is or have ye heard where Tom took her? Please, lass. I can't stand here and do nothing," he pleaded.

"Aye, ah ken where Christie took 'er. Joe said they're in an abandoned south wing in th' basement. That section is awaitin' renovation until th' permit comes through, so that area is isolated. There are civilian police doon there now an' some of th' male staff an' security," she explained rapidly. "And Jamie...Joe broke into Tom's locker an' foond these." Geillis took a packet from the pocket of her coat and handed it to Jamie.

He opened it and found several candid photos of Claire and a pair of her knickers, obviously stolen when Tom came to visit at the cottage while he was away in France. "Oh, Christ! That sick bastard...I'm going to kill him..." he seethed under his breath, shoving the packet into his own pocket. "I'm going to the station to get my gear..." He was just about to turn around and head for the exit when Geillis stopped him.

"No wait, I have a better idea. I know a nurse who will lend ye a lab coat. She sorta fancies ye... just give her one of those stares ye give Claire an' say something nice aboot her hair," she suggested, her cheeks dimpling as her eyes glinted with mischief.

"Aye, alright...let's go. Lead the way."

..........

 

Claire dreamt of Frank. He was sitting on the edge of the desk in his study, holding an open book. As she walked in through the double doors, he looked up, smiling. "Hello, darling! What on earth are you doing here?"

"Hi, Frank! I thought you'd be happy to see me."

Frank closed his book and strode towards her with open arms. "Oh Claire, of course, I'm happy to see you," he responded, holding her by the shoulders. "But sweetheart, you aren't supposed to be here. You need to go back. Trust me, all will be well." He took both her hands in his and raised them to his lips.

"Go back to where Frank?"

"You need to go back where you came from," he answered cheerfully, as he turned her around and led her back through the door.

"But..."

"You need to have Faith...," were his last words.

 

Claire opened her eyes and blinked at the harsh fluorescent lighting right above her, her body shivering from the cold surface she's lying on. As she raised her head slowly, Claire realised she was laid on a metal lab table, and from somewhere at the back of the room, she could hear someone whistling and shuffling about. For diagnostic purposes, she made some small movements with her limbs and head and decided that all her faculties and bodily functions were sound. 

Right, Frank, you said I need to have faith. Faith in what though?  Suddenly she sensed an unfamiliar stirring in her belly, and her hand instinctively touched it. Although unable to comprehend, she felt in the centre of her guts that something was not right. Trying to piece her memory back together was futile. It was as if the connecting thread to the pictures in her recollection had become undone. All she knew was that she wasn't meant to be there.

She heard footsteps coming nearer, and without any second thoughts, she gingerly slipped off the table, her heart thumping wildly. Slightly unsteady on her feet and her eyes somewhat blurry, Claire looked around the worktop and grabbed the first instrument she could find - a bone marrow biopsy needle which fitted perfectly in her hand. Before she could make her next move, calloused fingers gripped her elbow and pulled her up to her feet, bringing her face to face with Tom Christie. 

"Looking for something, hen?"  Yeah, where's the fucking exit!

"T-Tom, what are we doing here? And what happened to your face?" Judging from the look of his eyes, Claire sensed he was under the influence of narcotics. The once warm brown eyes she knew was erratic and shifty, and he smelled badly of stale sweat. His left side of the face, severely swollen and the colour of purplish-blue, twitched constantly.

"Och Claire, sweet Claire," he muttered as he raised one hand to caress a cheek. The other hand holding her elbow, slipped behind her back, pressing her close to him. "I've waited for so long to do this. Now we're alone..." He leaned down for a kiss.

Seeing his puffed lips descending upon her, Claire panicked, as her knee automatically jerked upward, hitting him on his most sensitive part. Taking advantage of his pained state, she quickly scrambled to the other side of the work table and yelled at him, "Wot the fuck is wrong with you, Tom? Why are you doing this? And where's everybody?" Her eyes scoured the room, looking for a quick get-away.  Think Beauchamp, think!

Recovering from the pain on his groin, Tom straightened up, his slobbery inflated lips sneering wickedly. "Big mistake, Claire...ye shouldna done that..." He cautiously made his way around the lab table to her, his hand taking out a syringe needle from his pocket. "Now be a good lass, and get back on that table. I promise I will not hurt ye if ye do as ye're told."

"Wot? I will do no such thing... you fucking demented bastard!" she screamed at him as she edged further away, her one hand tightening its grip on her weapon, it's handle likened to an old fashion corkscrew. With adrenaline pumping through her veins, the fog in her head lifted, and her fear replaced by anger. She raised her weaponry, brandishing it in the air. "I swear to God, Tom, if you don't let me go, I'll skewer your balls with this and make a haggis out of it and feed it to the dogs."

Tom laughed an evil laugh. "Do ye know how beautiful you look when you're mad even such a salacious slut that ye are? Tell me, Claire, what is it about Fraser that ye like so much ye prefer him over me? Do ye think he'd mind if I took what's his? He has taken away so much from me over the years, so, I'm quite sure he wouldna mind if I sample a bit of ye," he jeered as he followed her around the lab table.

Claire backed away slowly, focusing on his next move, ready to run if he made any sudden action. She thought she heard movement outside the corridor but dismissed it when Tom didn't react. "You're one sick bastard Tom...and here I thought you were my friend. You really need help.." Claire heard shuffling again...

He abruptly pounced on her, making her yelp. Claire caught unaware, he lifted her up, kicking and squirming. Tom was about to reach out for the syringe when something sharp pierced his shoulder blade, making him shriek in agony and releasing his hold. Reaching back, he pulled out the sharp object Claire wounded him with and threw the offensive object away. But before she could flee, Tom grabbed a handful of her locks and swung her to the side, making her head bounced off the corner of the table. "Ye fuckin' whore...ye'll pay for this!" he growled, as he shrugged off his lab coat and wiped his bloodied hand on his pants.

She slid to the floor as she saw stars and flying birds behind her eyelids. Feeling disoriented, Claire searched and groped for anything to defend herself with. She was just inches away from Tom's syringe when his hands pulled her up by the waist, picked her up like a rag doll and slammed her on the lab table. She kicked and screamed as she felt her hospital gown ripped away, but he was stronger and bigger. "GET OFF ME, YOU FUCKING BASTARD!" 

Suddenly there was a loud crash as the door gave way to the battering ram, and several bodies rushed into the room, screaming and shouting. 

"CHRISTIE!" A bewildered Tom turned around and loosened his hold on Claire as he slowly backed away, his eyes huge as saucers, as a very large, menacing red-head Scot advanced towards him, death sentence written all over his face. Tom swallowed and dropped the syringe, frozen on the spot.

Before he could get his hands on Tom, Murtagh and four of his men lunged at Jamie, holding and twisting his arms, as he fought to get-away. Like a possessed man, he continued to thrash and flail as the officers quickly whisked Tom Christie away before the situation could get out of control. They were warned well in advance what Jamie could do if he got within an inch of Tom. "CHRISTIE, YE HEAR ME, YE'LL PAY FOR THIS!" Jamie shouted after him as he was led out of the lab.

At last, coming to his senses, he roughly shrugged off the men holding him and searched the room. "Sassenach!" An officer was already wrapping Claire in a blanket when he saw her, sat-up on a metal table, trembling. Rushing to her side, Jamie quickly carried her away to the corner of the lab, as police searched the room for pieces of evidence. Finding a chair, Jamie settled Claire on his lap, cradling and hugging her tight. "Oh thank God, ye're safe," he muttered over and over, his face buried in her neck, both of them shaking from their ordeal. 

Claire wrapped her arms around his neck and ran her hands through his hair. "It's alright...we're okay, Jamie, shh," she whispered, pulling him closer. "He's gone..."

After a while of holding each other close, he pulled away to take a better look at her. "Are ye hurt anywhere, Sassenach?" he asked tenderly, his hands patting her arms and thighs, just to make sure she's whole.

Smiling and feeling more like herself, she answered, "You know what, I'm hungry. I really fancy a pudding."

He laughed out loud, pulling her back close to his embrace and hugging her tight.

..........

Jamie waited outside Claire's room as Joe, and two other doctors gave her a thorough test while she ate three servings of chocolate pudding. He was so exhausted, he fell asleep slumped on the chair.

"Hey buddy, wake up..."

Jamie opened his eyes, immediately alert. "How is she? The baby? Does she know?"

Joe smiled and sat next to him. "Claire's doing great and asleep...well except for a small bump on her head, but nothing serious. You know, it's a sort of miracle that she's so alert and the effects of the drugs are gone from her system. As for the baby, it's too early to tell, but Claire is in great shape, so that's a good sign for the fetus. Her vitals are great...no signs of infection...blood pressure normal and she just ate three servings of chocolate jello. If you want, and when she wakes up, you can take her home. We haven't told her yet about the pregnancy...I thought you should be the one to tell her."

Jamie let out a sigh of relief. "I'm just happy she's alive. And whatever happens with the baby, we'll go through it together..."

"Have you told her the whole story...you know about Tom and Laoghaire, what exactly happened?" Joe asked.

"Aye," Jamie replied, shaking his head. "She took everything in stride. I don't think it has sunk in yet."

"That's normal, Jamie. It's probably a lot to take in after what happened with Tom. She is probably still in shock. What she needs is a holiday...even just for a few days."

"Aye, I was thinking about it...maybe as soon as we leave the hospital. I think I need a holiday too. The last few weeks have been crazy and surreal." Jamie stretched and yawned before continuing. "Right, I'll go and see her now. And thank ye for everything, Joe. I'll have her return yer keys to yer apartment. I don't think she'll be needing it anymore. I will be taking her home."

Joe laughed and slapped him on the back. "You do that, Jamie. I'm pretty sure she'll be happy returning back home to you."

.........

Claire woke up to a pair of sky blue eyes staring down at her. Jamie was lying on his side, his head propped on his elbows.

"Jamie..." She pulled him down for a lingering kiss.

He smiled as his thumb caressed the lines of her jaw. "Good morning Sassenach, ye slept well?"

"Morning? Jesus, I must have slept through. Did you stay here all night?" Claire stretched herself before turning to face him, her arms going around his waist.

"Aye, I couldn't take any chances. Inverness hasn't been kind to ye ever since ye arrived. Ye think ye ready to come home...to me? Joe said ye can leave anytime...ye're in perfectly good health."

"I would love that...I missed the cottage," she replied wistfully, lowering her eyes, her hand rubbing his back."And I missed you too, Jamie." 

He lifted her chin with his finger and smiled. "I missed ye too Sassenach. How do ye feel like, when we get home, we pack our bags and head to the Isle of Skye for a few days,? And after that, to Lallybroch?"

"But my work..."

"I spoke to Murtagh already, and he said he'd be happy to see ye back in two weeks." He beamed, pleased with himself. 

Claire laughed. "Well, I can hardly say no since you've already arranged everything. Won't it be too cold in Skye?"

He grinned, his face suddenly looking boyish. "Aye, Sassenach...verra cold but I'll be there to keep ye warm." Then his expression turned serious as he leaned to kiss her forehead, his ears turning pink. "Claire, how do ye feel about babies? I mean...have ye ever wanted one? I know ye said ye couldn't have one." 

Claire raised her eyebrows, surprised at the question. "It's funny you should ask that...I dreamed last night I was carrying a child. Maybe it's wishful thinking..."

"What if I told ye, ye are with child, Sassenach? Our baby..." Jamie whispered, his eyes glistening.

"Oh!" 

"Joe said it's early days yet, but there is a chance ye might lose the baby because of the amount of drug ye ingested. But Joe also said, that yer quick recovery, perfect health and positive results with your examination, could also mean there is a good chance of survival. Either way, we're in this together..."

"Do you want this baby, Jamie?" Claire asked, earnestly.

"I want ye and the baby Sassenach...and if anything happens to the child ye carry, we can try again," he whispered softly, his hand smoothing her hair.

Claire was silent for a moment, confusion crossing her face. "Jamie? What's this?" Baby-talk forgotten, she raised her right hand to show the amber ring, set on white gold, on her ring finger.

Jamie's face turned bright red. "Erm... ye were so sound asleep, and I thought...I thought I'd slipped it in your finger to see if it fits...it's my ma's ring...yer hand is so small ...and it's the colour of yer eyes...I thought, it would suit ye...and I wasna sure if it fits...and then I had trouble taking it off ye," he stammered, as he shifted position in bed, trying to sit up.

"Jamie, why?" she asked, her eyes widening and her face turning pink.

"Weel, what I'm trying to say is, Sassenach, now that ye're wearing the ring...and ye know I love ye..and..."

"Jamieeee..."

He cleared his throat and took Claire's hand in his, deep blue boring into her liquid gold. "What I'm trying to say is, will ye marry me, Sassenach?"

Chapter Text

"Wot?" Claire gasped as she stared at Jaime, wide eyes and unblinking. Her mind was racing, flitting from past recent events to an unknown possible future and then back. So many things have transpired in the last five weeks, that she hadn't really had time to catch her breath, let alone wrap her head around the unexpected news of her pregnancy.  

And now this? If I keep this up, I'll have 10 kids before I'm 40! Jesus H.Roosevelt Christ!

"Sassenach, I asked...if ye will be my wife?" Jamie whispered softly, his forehead furrowed in anticipation, as he waited on tenterhooks for an answer.

Avoiding his eyes, Claire bolted right up, pushed the bed covers aside and got out of bed. "I need to go to the loo," she muttered, hurrying before Jamie could say another word. Inhaling deeply, she closed the door and leaned against it.  

One little two little three little Indians, four little five little six little Indians...,  Claire sang in her head to calm her nerves. It was something she did since she was a child whenever she was anxious or nervous. 

When she could finally move, she turned on the tap and lathered heaps of soap on her hands, trying to remove Jamie's ring.

There was a soft knock on the door. "Sassenach? Ye alright?" Before she could answer, Jamie came in. "Ye shouldn't be running like that...ye need to slow down now that ye're pregnant," looking her over with concerned eyes.

"I'm a few weeks pregnant for crying out loud, not nine months. So stop treating me like I'm incapacitated!" Claire snapped without looking at him, focused on removing the jewellery.

Jamie frowned as he realised what she was trying to do. "Maybe yer fingers are swollen...I read last night that pregnancy causes that. Perhaps that's why ye can't remove the ring."

She turned to face him, golden eyes blazing and face beet red. "Are you trying to tell me that I'm fat, James Fraser?"

"No, that's not what I was saying," he said calmly, leaning on the doorframe, arms across his chest, his hair tousled from sleep or lack of. "Sassenach, are ye grumpy at me?" he asked gently, trying to suppress his amusement.

"No! I'm not grumpy at all!" Claire huffed in annoyance, as she gave up removing the ring, turning her back to him to wipe her hands on the towel.

Sighing deeply, Jaime uncrossed his arms and walked over to her. Slowly turning her around, he tilted her head back with one hand and asked, "Do ye not want to marry me, Sassenach?"

"I never said that!" she retorted, trying to avert her eyes from his intense scrutiny. After a few moments of silence, she softened, releasing a long pent up breath, "Jamie, I'm so sorry. It's just that...I can hardly keep up with all the things going on. These last five weeks ...I was nearly burned alive...I've been assaulted by your uncle...I've been drugged...I was almost raped...then I find out I'm pregnant and you dropped the bomb and asked me to marry you...It's all too much, and I'm still ..."

"Ssshh...I'm so sorry too," hushing her gently as he took her into his arms, tenderly stroking her hair and back. "If we could start all over again, I ken there are things I would like to change. I wish I could have been more forthright with ye from the beginning. Then perhaps some of the things that happened wouldn't have happened. But I can't change the past, Sassenach, but I would verra much like to make it up to ye, if ye would allow me to. That is why I thought Skye would be a great idea...there will be just us. No work, no distractions, no places to go to...just us. There, we can start all over. I'm so sorry for putting the ring in yer finger...I wasn't planning on asking ye today...I only wanted to see if it fitted ye. I feel so foolish now."

"You didn't intend to ask me?" Claire asked, puckering her eyebrows.

"Och, I do want to marry ye Sassenach." He leaned down to briefly kiss her on the lips. "That's if ye'll have me. I know now asking ye today was lousy timing. We can marry anytime ye want...tomorrow, in ten years, whenever...I can wait. I thought maybe ye didna wish to marry me because ye were married before...to Frank. If that's the case, I wouldn't mind as long as I'm with ye." He paused, swallowing audibly, trying to find the right words. "The first time I laid eyes on you, I knew I wanted ye...more than anything I have ever wanted in my life. And when ye walked in at the Station, the day of the general meeting, I've loved ye ever since." He moved closer, his breath warm on her face. "I love ye with all my heart Claire, and I tell ye the truth when I say, I have never said those words to any woman before." He paused. "Weel...except to my ma and my sister...and now I'm saying it to ye." He smiled broadly, placing both her hands on his chest.

"Jaime..." she was unsure what to say, trying to find reason and logic to grasp onto.

Taking her right hand, he looked at the ring on Claire's finger, before bringing it to his lips to kiss it. "Do ye really mind wearing it, Sassenach? It looks so pretty on ye...it matches yer eyes."

Gazing at her hand, she had to agree it did look quite fetching. "It is beautiful, Jaime...I love it. But our friends are bound to ask questions when they see this on my finger...not that I mind wearing it." She frowned slightly, pursing her lips.

"Weel, ye dinna exactly say no when I asked ye to marry me...do ye think ye can picture us married in the future? Besides..." Both Jaime's hands reached out to her stomach, "...we have the wee bairn to think about as well."

"I suppose so..." she replied, biting her lip. After a short contemplation, she gazed directly into Jamie's eyes, and what she saw was the baring of his soul and the promise of an unflagging love. Her heart soared, astounded that this beautiful specimen of a man, can open his heart in all its rawness, exposed and unafraid. It was there for the taking, waiting for her to claim it. Whatever control and self-preservation she had left, it was rapidly slipping away, and it was no longer a matter of choice. "Yes, Jaime...I can see us together," she admitted.

"Weel, if ye can do that, see yersel' married to me, and ye not minding wearing my ring, is it so difficult to say yes to my marriage proposal?" he asked. It was a question that was undemanding of nature, nor was it an attempt to challenge her reservations. Not waiting for her to reply, he gathered her into his arms for a long tender kiss...a kiss that spoke from the heart.

Claire, feeling intoxicated by the feel of his hard body against her, yielded, surrendering to her own feelings and urges, releasing whatever doubts and fear she had. Slowly she responded fervently to Jamie with all her being, twining her arms around his neck, pulling him closer until they moulded together as one, fitting perfectly and in harmony. She realised then and there, that she couldn't imagine life without him as the stirring in her belly renewed, an acknowledgement to their love waiting to be born. In her heart of hearts, Claire found their moment in forever, like this was how they should have always been. Without any more further thoughts, she conceded. "Yes, Jamie, I want to marry you." The moment Claire uttered those words, a sense of deliverance took over her, just like the feeling after a confessional rite when a priest absolves past sins.

Jamie raised his head to gaze into her eyes, his face a picture of bliss and ecstasy, making her heart skip a beat. "And I, you Sassenach. And I can't wait to have ye to myself once we're in Skye."

Claire raised an eyebrow, nuzzling her face at the base of his throat. "Really? And what are your plans?"

Sliding down his hands to fondle her arse, he whispered into her ears, "I plan to have ye naked with yer hair all wild and loose...and I will make verra slow love to ye, kissing every inch of yer body until ye forget yer name."

"Is that so?"

"Aye, that is so." And then he kissed her some more, to give her a taste of his promise that is to come. 

..........

It was difficult to leave the hospital immediately. There were papers to be signed for Claire's release, police statement to be made, and to delay things further, she had a few belated visits from Geillis, Joe and her colleagues at work, much to Jaime's growing impatience. Although overwhelmed with the attention, she found it very amusing to see strapping and burley firemen bearing gifts in the form of pink stuffed toys, balloons and flowers. Even the dour-looking Murtagh didn't disappoint.

"Here," said Murtagh gruffly, handing her a giant box of chocolate truffles before leaning forward for a quick awkward hug. "See ye in two weeks, bright and early."

Before she could say thank you, Geillis let out a high-pitch screech making everyone in the room jump. "Oh my God, oh my God! Claire! Let me see that!" She grabbed Claire's right hand, raising it for everyone to see the engagement ring.

Flabbergasted, everyone stared open-mouthed at Jamie, eagerly awaiting for him to say something.

Red-faced, Jamie shrugged, giving Claire an apprehensive look and a weak smile, and before he could think, he blurted out, "We're having a baby!"

"What?" Everyone exclaimed simultaneously in astonishment, except Joe who knew already and was shaking his head in amusement.

This time everyone's eyes were on Claire. "Oh, Jamie!" she groaned, slightly annoyed that he announced her pending pregnancy. She didn't want anyone knowing until they were very sure the baby was safe from the effects of the drugs she ingested.

Unaffected with everyone's reaction and silence, Geillis was shrieking in delight, jumping up and down, clapping her hands before hugging Claire, Jamie, and then Claire again, both of them collapsing on the bed. "Och, Claire, I'm so happy for ye... cannae believe our wee fox cub is off the market... and ye, my pet, I cannae wait to spoil yer wee red-headed curly top bairn," she squealed ecstatically.

Tension and surprise soon were replaced by hearty congratulations, back-slapping and bear hugs, and Claire and Jamie began to relax and revel in sharing their happiness.

"Aah, a right Fraser ye are, my lad," one of the men shouted, "Ye dinna waste time do ye, getting one of our best worker up the duff." The statement was followed by roaring laughter, making Claire blush profusely.

"Weel, I cannae help it...she pursued me day and night, ye ken, and I cannae deny a beautiful lass," Jamie replied jokingly, before giving Claire a sloppy kiss on the cheek.

"Is that right, Fraser? Ever since Beauchamp arrived, ye were never away from the station. Ye didna give the rest of the lads a chance," Hugh teased, giving his friend a nudge on his arms.

"Och, it's the Fraser charm, lads," Geillis said, joining in with the banter before turning to Claire and Jamie. "So do we have a wedding date yet?"

Claire smiled shyly looking at Jamie, "No, we haven't talked about any dates yet..."

"I'm hoping verra soon, before the bairn is born," Jamie interrupted, overlooking the delicate matter of the fetus' precarious state.

Before more questions could be asked, Joe decided to intervene, after noticing Claire's slight discomfort. "Right lads, let's leave the lovebirds for now. They have a holiday to go to, and you'll see them back soon enough."

Collectively nodding in agreement, everyone said their good-byes, congratulations and good luck before they left one by one leaving Jamie and Claire once more on their own. It took almost twenty minutes for everyone to disperse, and both were relieved once everyone was gone.

"How are ye Sassenach? It wasna so bad, was it?" He asked, taking her hand in his.

"No, not at all," she replied, facing him and putting her arms around his waist, before laying her head on his chest. "I'm happy."

"That's good...I want ye to be happy," he whispered, kissing the top of her head. 

.........

At the cottage, Jamie took the brown envelope Claire had given him a few days ago from the coffee table and headed for the bedroom where she was busy packing for their leave. He stood there watching her for a moment, as she went through the wardrobe and drawers picking out clothes and throwing them onto the bed. He loved watching her, especially when she was unaware or distracted.

He cleared his throat to get her attention. "Sassenach, do ye have a moment?" When she turned around to face him, he raised the envelope with his hand. "I want to talk about this."

"Oh, Jamie...do we have to? Can't it wait until we come back," she asked half-heartedly.

He sighed. "Claire, I don't want to go into details about it. All I want to know is why?"

Giving in, she walked over to him and took the envelope from his hand and placed it on the nearby chair. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she replied, "Because I wanted to, and it was the right thing."

Unconvinced, he shook his head. "That's no' a reason, Sassenach."

Claire released him and went back to folding clothes. "Well, if you must know, Château Cheval Blanc was never mine to have in the first place as well as the many stocks, bonds and shares Frank left behind. When my father-in-law made his will, I was never in his mind. It was all meant to be for Frank and future children we would have. Nobody could have predicted Frank would die so young and having no other family to pass on Frank's inheritance, I inherited my father-in-law's wealth...I guess by default. De Marillac's shares were Frank's father's shares, and I inherited it by some loophole in the legalities of the will. When I accidentally found out you were Jared Fraser's nephew and that you were trying to buy-out the other shareholders, it was a no-brainer decision to sign them over to you. It belongs to your family Jamie, and I have no right to it."

Jamie's face was expressionless as he strode towards her. Taking the garment she was folding off her hand, he turned her around to face him. "Sassenach, ye still haven't answered my question," he said in a warning tone. "I already know all that. What I want to know is why."

She fidgeted on her feet and lowered her head, refusing to look at him. "Well, after the incident at the charity ball, I didn't know how you felt about me. Thinking that you would have moved out from here after the stunt Annalise pulled, I didn't want to have anything that belonged to you or anything that would remind me of you."

"Ye could have used the money..."

"Jamie, I am financially stable, and I've always led a simple life, a legacy from growing up with my Uncle Lamb. I do not need much, and I'm quite comfortable...really."

"Sassenach, but why?" His hands were tight on her shoulders as if by gripping any harder, he could force the real truth out.

"Jamie, I already told you why, for fuck sake!" she glared at him, gritting her teeth in exasperation.

"No, ye haven't," he replied stubbornly, standing his ground.

Claire suddenly panicked. She knew there was no way out, and the last vestiges of the secret she held close to her heart were about to be exposed, leaving her naked and vulnerable, and Jamie was not about to give up. She wanted to resist, but inside she was crumbling and disintegrating fast, like the stone quarries of Egypt when the dynamite was detonated, leaving fragments of stones scattered to the ground.

Suddenly, she fell on her knees, hands on her face, and her shoulder slumped. Whatever fortification she had built, it was all gone. "The reason why I did what I did is that because I love you, damn it!" she sobbed, her voice cracking. " I love you James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser or whoever you are."

Jamie quickly got down on his knees and took her into his arms, his heart pounding and rejoicing in a chorus. It was what he had wanted to hear and not the drug talking.

"Sssh Sassenach, I love ye too,  mo chridhe.  There's the two of us now...ye're no longer alone. Hush now, everything will be alright." He cradled her tight against him, wiping her tears away until there were no more tears to be shed.

For the longest time, they both clung onto one another, not saying a word, two souls stirring in a most subtle way as the story between them finally began to write itself.

 

Chapter Text

Jamie was surprised to discover that Claire was a light traveller. She produced a duffel bag, a laptop case and her everyday tote bag, even though he had told her they would be travelling in a campervan, the distillery's promotional tour carrier. He thought his choice of transport was a perfect way for Claire to see the Highland's countryside and to allow her to rest when the necessity arises, albeit the distance from Inverness to the Isle of Skye was more or less two and a half hours drive.

After Claire's admission to her feelings, there was a notable air of constraint and shyness on her part, and Jamie attempted to ease the awkwardness by giving her a quick tour inside the Frisealach distillery before retrieving the campervan from the compound. So he was moved to see her eyes lit up when she stepped inside the vehicle, her earlier discomfiture forgotten.

Standing close by, he heard her gasped as she took in the interior open-mouthed. Inside was a fully equipped kitchen with hidden nooks and cabinets for storage, a comfortable upholstered living space, a TV area, a mini wardrobe and shower compartment.

"Oh my word, Jamie!" she gushed, looking at him wide-eyed, before proceeding to open cupboards for brief inspections and touch the smooth surfaces of the kitchenette. "This is so luxurious...it's like a proper house. Goodness, I can live here...it has everything."

Coming from behind, he wrapped his arms around her, loving the feel of her warmth. "Ye like it, Sassenach?" he whispered, burying his face into her freshly washed hair.

"Like it? Are you serious? I love it! I have been on the road so many times with uncle Lamb...but this," she whistled under her breath, throwing her hands in the air at awe. "...this is something else. Good Lord, back then we slept under the stars or in a tent and travelled in jeeps or four-wheel drives when work took uncle Lamb to North Africa. The nearest thing to luxury we had was spoon and fork." she recounted chuckling, clasping the arms around her.

Without letting go, Jaime gently guided Claire to the back, reaching out to slide the trifold door in front of her, unveiling the sleeping quarters. "Ye can sleep here Sassenach if the journey gets too much for ye. I read somewhere that pregnant women need plenty of sleep," he explained matter-of-factly.

Claire blinked and let out an "Oooh" at the sight of the king-size berth, one hand flying to her mouth, as her face turned crimson. "Oh, my God! This bed is massive...you will be able to actually fit in it without your feet hanging at the edge."

He laughed. "We can both fit in it...want to try?" It fascinated him that Claire could still blush at a sight of a bed despite the fact she was pregnant with their baby.

Detaching herself from Jamie, Claire quickly scrambled onto the mattress, loving the feel and smell of the clean, crisp bed linen underneath. "Definitely huge enough!" she confirmed giggling as she rolled from one end of the bed to the other, delighted, like a child in a candy store.

Jamie followed suit and laid on his back, turning his head to face her. "Och aye...it's definitely big enough! Actually, I've never slept in here before...we've only used the campervan when we're doing tours across the country...ye ken...promotional kinds of stuff." He bounced his weight lightly, testing the spring beneath him. "It's actually kinda comfy."

Claire rolled onto her tummy and edged closer to Jaime. Beaming with joy, she leaned forward to give him a quick peck on the lips. "Love it!" she said, smiling.

Before Jamie can put his arms around her, she was already up on her feet, hands reaching out to pull him up. "C'mon soldier, show me the Highlands."

..........

It was late afternoon by the time Jamie and Claire hit the road, but there was still plenty of daylight left to enjoy the scenery. Although partly cloudy, the Spring weather held up despite the forecast of light rain, which was unusual for that time of year in the northern part of Scotland. They had made a pit stop earlier to buy snacks and drinks to fill the mini-fridge for their journey at a village supermarket, and Jamie was amused when Claire grabbed a box of frozen ice cream cones.

"Don't ye think it's still too cold for ice cream, Sassenach?" he had asked playfully as they were checking out at the til.

"Definitely not!" she clucked, nodding in approval of her edible acquisition. "Everyone knows that ice cream is worth the trouble of being cold. Like all things virtuous, you have to suffer to gain the reward."

He laughed, retracting on his earlier statement. "Och, ye dinna need to worry about the cold. I promise ye, it will be nice and warm in the camper."

Jamie noticed the change in Claire's food choices. Usually, an advocate for healthy eating, opting for loads of greens and fruits, he noted her preference of late was more of a sweet fare. There was too a certain glow about her since leaving the hospital earlier, her recent ordeal blotted out of mind, or so it seemed. The pallor on her cheeks from the day before was replaced with a healthy flush, making her recovery quite a remarkable turnaround. Joe had warned him that there could be a delayed reaction to her trauma, but so far so good, Claire seemed fully recuperated.

The weeks that had followed after the charity ball had been like hell for Jamie and ever since Claire was back, he had been trying his utmost best to slow it down for her sake, until that minor hiccup with the engagement ring. He realised it was proving to be a difficult commitment as his senses were permeated by everything that was Claire, being very close together on this trip, and his hands having a mind of their own, tend to reach out and touch her whenever she was near. He wanted her so badly but was afraid he could jeopardise her recovery.  Damn Christie!  Instead, he focused on pointing out the sceneries and landscapes they passed on the road, telling her stories of Scotland's past and the battle of Culloden hoping that would be enough to quelch his mounting yearning.

..........

True to his words, the inside of the camper van was very warm once they were on the road, and Claire and Jamie had quickly changed into something more comfortable before setting off. Claire for once wished she had something more alluring to wear, instead of her well worn and shabby jean shorts and an over-sized red-black flannel shirt. Growing up, Claire rarely shopped for clothes, and when the opportunity did arise, her choice was always practical and comfortable. For some reason, it did cross her mind that Jamie must think she was scruffy and dowdy. Although still attentive and caring, Claire couldn't help but noticed Jamie's demonstrativeness was more subdued than usual.  Maybe he's disgusted with all the sugary junk food I'm eating!  Suddenly feeling annoyed with herself, she tried to dismiss her thoughts as a silly rumination of a hormonal pregnant woman, and instead, she directed her attention on the trip.

The camper was already moving when she finally took her seat next to Jamie. As she sat down, Jamie gave her a glance over, his eyes lingering on her bare legs. Noticing his gaze, she felt conscious of her clothes. "It's uncle Lamb's shirt, and it's comfortable," she explained defensively, as she looked down her front, unwittingly fidgeting and tugging at the hem of her top.

Smiling, he reached out and squeezed her thigh. "Sassenach, you look beautiful more than ever," he said softly and sincerely.

Lightening up, she smiled back at him and settled to enjoy the countryside views. 

She loved listening to Jamie talked so passionately about Scotland as he pointed at glens and mountains he had trekked and told her stories and myths of standings stones and cairns. He was at his most element whenever he spoke of his country's history and culture, his sky blue eyes lighting up when he answered her curiosities. Claire had always loved travelling, and being on the road with Jamie had brought back memories of her childhood adventures with uncle Lamb.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing Skye, especially now that you've told me all these wonderful stories," she mused, feeling grateful for the trip.

"Weel, I was thinking, since ye've had a long day, we should stop for the night near Eilean Donan Castle. I know we're not too far from Skye, but there's this place I'd like ye to see. I ken ye will love it Sassenach," he suggested with his comical wink, making her laugh.

"I'm quite sure I will," she agreed, smiling. All of a sudden, craving for something sugary, she offered, "Want some icecream? I know it's dinner time soon, but I really fancy something sweet."

Jamie grinned. "No, ye go ahead Sassenach. I can't be eating and driving at the same time. I'll do."

Claire quickly got up from her seat to get the frozen coned ice cream from the fridge. She had been hankering for some sweet treat ever since they set off and had tried to suppress it, having had her few shares of puddings in the last 24 hours. The craving had won, and she didn't care anymore.

Settling back, she peeled off the wrapping from her treat and bit a big chunk from the top, her eyes closing as the sweetness filled her mouth. It was vanilla ice cream with chocolate covering on the top. Sensing Jamie's eyes on her, she blushed. "Want some? It's delicious!" she offered, extending her arm to let him have a taste.

Jamie just shook his head and stared for a long time.

"Jamie watch the road!" she cautioned. "What's with you?" Her hands went to her mouth, thinking she was covered with ice cream.

He blinked and turned his focus on the road again. "Och, sorry, Sassenach..."

Thinking Jamie's scrutiny had something to do with her mouth being smothered in a sticky mess, she got up to get some wet wipes.  Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, I must look like a hodgepodge of grubbiness!  As she was about to return to her seat, she was surprised the camper van had halted, and the ignition turned off.

"Jamie, is everything alright? Why are we stopping?" she asked as she looked out the window. She noticed they were parked at the lay-by.

She glanced up as she saw Jamie leave the driver seat. "Jamie is something the matter?" she asked, concerned, noticing a funny look on his face.

He walked over, his eyes dark as the ocean blue. "No, Sassenach, I'm not alright," he replied hoarsely, openly appraising the sight of her like she was some forbidden fruit, the movement of his Adam's Apple visible. "I ken ye want to take things slow, but I'm dying inside from wanting ye. If I don't have ye now, I'm going to implode."

"W-Wot?" She stared at him, shocked.

He continued to stare at her, his eyes penetrating and his face a picture of yearning. "I want ye, Claire. Will ye have me...now?"

Transfixed, Claire dropped the packet of wet wipes and ice cream cone from her hands and licked her lips as she felt her mouth go dry. Just one look had always been what it took, and she was lost forever in those azure abyssal depths. Something primal took over her, and she could feel a delicious heat scattering from her core, like tiny fiery sparks igniting every nerve and particle alight. She couldn't speak, so instead, with unintentional slowness and shaking hands, Claire unbuttoned her flannel shirt as she watched his eyes strayed lower to the visible bare skin.

Without waiting for a further invitation, and in one deft movement, Jamie pulled her to him, his tongue parting her mouth, probing and teasing, savouring the taste of her. "Christ, ye taste of vanilla and chocolate," he muttered in her lips, as he licked the residual sweet off its corners, before trailing kisses along her jawline and nipping her earlobe. Impatiently he pushed her top down from her shoulders, and with dexterous fingers, he unfastened her jean shorts, sending them sliding down the floor.

Spellbound, Claire twined her arms around his neck as he lifted her from behind her thighs. She could feel him hot and hard, throbbing against her, and instinctively, she slithered her body, rubbing herself against him, making him groan and his abs clench. He laid her down onto the bed, and she watched him pull down her lace panties too eagerly, accidentally ripping the seam of one side. They paused, looking at the torn fabric and then at each other. "What's with your promise of making verra slow love to me?" she teased, trying to imitate his accent.

"We're not in Skye in yet, Sassenach," he answered, a lopsided grin slowly spreading across his face. Then he ripped the other side with a quick, sharp tug, making her squeak in surprise.

Jamie quickly shed his shirt, sweatpants and his boxer shorts, his eyes never leaving hers. Completely naked, he laid between her thighs, spreading them wider apart. Before she knew what he was doing, he pulled her by the waist to hook her legs on his shoulders and to cup her arse with both hands, raising her to kiss her most intimate part. She felt his tongue dart along the folds of her slippery cleft and holding her breath, she clutched tightly on the bed covers as a moan passed her lips. His tongue skimmed and dipped, savouring the taste of her, as one long arm reached to rub her nipples with the palm of a hand, before teasing it with circular motions with his forefinger. She thrashed and gyrated while holding his head firmly between her legs with one hand as one climax rolled after another, propelling soul-shattering spasms to spread through her body.

Her whimpers were hushed by his kiss, and she could taste herself in his mouth. Releasing her lips, he whispered, "Open yer eyes Sassenach and look at me." She did as she was told as he pinned her arms above her head, his eyes lusty and dark. His cock slid inside slowly, stretching her and making her back arch to embrace a renewed assault. He began to thrust rhythmically, one hand raising her arse for deeper penetration, his breathing fast and hot on her neck. His strokes were hard and powerful as he slammed into her over and over again, her legs wrapped tight around his waist. They stared into each other's eyes as their adjoining bodies moved to the beat of their pounding hearts, faster and faster. As he felt her tremble and tighten around him, he picked up speed, lowering his head to kiss her hungrily, plunging deeper and grinding harder. Another powerful thrust and Jamie found his own release, arching his back with a loud grunt before settling gently on top of her.

..........

The hard-won intimacy of their lovemaking had eased the sexual tension that had been building between Jamie and Claire. Whatever uncertainty or hesitancy they had before their trip, it had all dissipated, and it was like a rebirth for their blossoming relationship.

It was already dark when they arrived in a small village of Torridon, and they found a place to stay for the night in a private cottage managed by the village inn. It was called The Boat House, and it owed its name to its proximity to the water's edge overlooking the loch. Claire couldn't wait till morning to see the view as she caught partial glimpses of the lake and surrounding forest in darkness.

Tired and hungry, they made their way to the inn for some nourishment, giggling like a couple of teenagers as they took their seats in a semi-crowded pub. They were oblivious to their surroundings and had only eyes for each other, their minds far from the ordeal that happened less than 24 hours ago. Even the worry of Claire's pregnancy was replaced with optimism and hope as they talked about the future and discussed names for their unborn child. They held each other's hand as Jamie told stories of Lallybroch and of his sister, absorbed in each other's company that they didn't see the approaching figure towards their table.

It was only when a shadow fell upon them that they both looked up, Claire's face turning into one shock astonishment.

"Hello there...my name is Stephen Bonnet an' ah've cum ter collect me missus," drawled an amused voice in a thick broad Irish accent.

"Stephen!"

"Sassenach???"

Chapter Text

Jamie was looking at Claire. 

"Stephen!? Oh, my God! What are you doing here?" Claire's eyes were wide with disbelief as she sat staring with gaping jaw at the man before them.

"Hello, little darling, how's my beautiful missus?" drawled the Irish stranger, his blue eyes twinkling with mischief.

Jamie, looking puzzled, observed the exchange. "Sassenach?"

Claire didn't hear Jamie. She was already stood on her feet, squealing with delight as she threw herself for a hug at the tall, broad Irish lad. Jamie instantly stood up, squaring his shoulders as he warily regarded the display of familiarity and intimacy. He sized-up the man and noticed he was as tall as him with dark chocolate brown hair, smiling blue eyes and bronzed skin - probably merited from a lot of outdoor activities, he thought. Not seeming to be aware of Jamie, the Irish lifted Claire off her feet and swung her nimbly around as she laughed, obviously happy to see him.

Jamie cleared his throat.

"Oh...sorry Jamie," she breathed, suddenly letting go of the newcomer. "Jamie, this is a very good friend of mine...Stephen. He was uncle Lamb's apprentice back in the days...Erm... Stephen, this is Ja-..."

"I'm James Fraser, Claire's fiance," Jamie interrupted in a deep voice, watching him with narrowed eyes as he extended his hands.

Stephen took Jamie's hand warmly in both of his and cocked an eyebrow at Claire. "Oh, you're engaged! Well...well...about time, lass. Congratulations in order then." He nodded good-humouredly at Jamie before winking at Claire.

"Oh, I can't believe you're really here. Are you on your own? Do you have time to sit with us for a bit?" she suggested eagerly. "It's been a very long while, and you have a lot of filling-in-the-gaps to do."

Jamie frowned at Claire, but she didn't notice.

Stephen glanced back at the party of eight sat at a big table looking at them. "Well...just for a few minutes. I'm here with the lads," he pointed with his thumb at the group behind him.

"Oh, that's great...take a seat. What would you like to drink?" Claire asked, signalling for the waiter with her hand.

Before Stephen could grab the chair next to Claire, Jamie offered his before taking the one close to her, placing his hand possessively on her thigh as he sat down.

"Oh thanks, a pint of Guinness would be grand," he smiled as he settled himself. "So, a wedding soon, eh? June bride perchance, Claire? You always wanted to be a June bride even before Frank came along. Too bad he wasn't much of a traditionalist."

"Frank was a practical man," she pointed out defensively. Sighing, Claire resumed, glancing at Jamie. "Actually, we don't have a date yet. We sort of got engage...well, in a hurry. No, that's not the right word... " she reflected. "Anyway, believe it or not, we got engaged yesterday."

Jamie coughed. "Well, we're hoping to get married soon aren't we sweetheart?" he added, his arms going around Claire's shoulders, pulling her for a sideways hug.

Claire gave Jamie a strange look.  Sweetheart?!? You never call me that!

Jamie returned the look with an innocent grin and a shrug.

Claire quickly changed the subject before Jamie could utter some more oddity. "Never mind me...so what have you been up to? And what are you doing in this neck of the woods?"

Stephen took a sip of his drink that just appeared and leaned back. "Well, I'm still ducking and diving, as usual. I've been indefinitely barred from some countries for smuggling artefacts and relics from archaeological sites. So now, I'm a certified Tree Surgeon back in Belfast. I'm not getting any younger...so I'm trying to clean up my act." He laughed in spite of himself. "And I'm with me' mates...we're headed for Skye tomorrow to a wedding party. Remember Phil? Phillip Wylie?"

Claire smiled as she recalled.

Stephen renewed, "Well, he's getting married at the end of this week to some rich Highland lass from Skye. It's a whole week event leading to the wedding. There will be brunches, picnics, cricket games, rugby and shinty going on for the guests. And at night time, there will be some Highland dancing and singing. They've booked the whole hotel for an entire week."

"Phillip Wylie... oh my word, so he's finally settling down. I've lost touch with him over the years after marrying Frank, and of course, I had my studies. Actually, Jamie and I are headed for Skye too...we're staying there for a few days."

"Really? The whole wedding party is staying at the Cuillin Hotel in Portree. You should come and join us for one of the brunch meals or games." Turning to Jamie, he asked in a casual tone, "You a sporting lad, Jamie? Ever played rugby or shinty? The groom and us, lads, we will be having a few friendly games in the next few days."

Not wanting to be outdone, he replied. "Aye, I'm very much into sports, and like a true Highland lad, born and bred, I play rugby and shinty....always have since I was a lad." Jamie straightened up from his chair to prove his body was used to physical activity, much to Claire's concealed amusement.

"Well, then how about stopping by one of these days at the hotel before the wedding?" Stephen proposed before turning to Claire. "Phil would be happy to see you, you know."

Claire shifted her attention to Jamie, her eyes hinting. "Jamie, what do you think? Maybe just for one morning or afternoon."

Jamie glanced at her eager face, uncertain of what to say.

Sensing an air of aloofness from the Scot, Stephen decided to step in. "Listen, mate, I'm sorry for calling your girl "me missus." He chuckled. "When Claire was a student, she used to visit the site Quentin was working on...her uncle Lamb that is, and as you already know, I was working for him as an apprentice. Well... sometimes our work was in the Middle East and over there, in certain countries, and back then, single females weren't allowed to be on their own and unchaperoned unless they were with a relative or spouse. And in certain Arabic countries, you can't even get a visa if you're a single female and travelling alone. And Quentin was sometimes too busy to accompany Claire. So, I knew this guy who faked certificates, and I had a fake marriage certificate made for us, so Claire can come and visit her uncle. At the worksite, she was always known as my missus."

Claire giggled at the memory. "Good lord, I don't know how we got away with it, but it worked!"

"So what say you, Jamie? You look like you have the size for a game of rugby," Stephen challenged.

Not one to back down on a dare, Jamie agreed, pleased to see Claire smile at his decision. "Aye, we'll be there. There's nothing like grappling in a scrum or body slamming in a tackle."

Claire suppressed a smile as she observed the verbal testosterone-charged contest, biting her tongue in case Jamie changes his mind.

After exchanging phone numbers, Stephen asked interestedly, "So how did you guys meet? In Oxford?"

"Well," Claire began, giving Jamie a quick look, " I left Oxford a few weeks back. I live and work in Inverness now, and we met when I moved there over five weeks ago...well, almost six now. Uncle Lamb has this cottage just on the outskirts ..."

"W-wait...what? You met five weeks ago, and you're already engaged?" Stephen cut in abruptly, his eyes darting from Jamie to Claire.

There was a moment of silence, each waiting for someone to say something.

"We're having a baby," Claire blurted out.

"We're in love," Jamie announced.

Suddenly, Jamie and Claire laughed when it registered they spoke at the same time as Stephen looked on, incredulous and bugged-eyed.

"Wow, a baby," Stephen whistled, not quite believing what he was hearing. "Well, I guess, it is what it is. Double congratulations then to you both."

"Weel, when ye know ye found the one, time is inconsequential," Jamie explained, beaming at Claire. "How about ye, Stephen, have ye found the one yet?"

Stephen didn't answer immediately as he contemplated on his next words, and when he finally did, there was a hint of despondency in his voice. "Aye, I did...once...a long time ago, but she had her sights on someone else," he admitted, lowering his eyes to disguise a well-kept secret. When he finally looked up, he glanced at Claire. "You know what's the most precious thing in the world? It's loving someone and having them love you back."

 

Chapter Text

Jamie had noticed that fleeting look Stephen had given Claire the previous night. It may have been brief, but it spoke volumes. At that point, he knew the extent of Stephen's feelings for Claire went beyond fondness and wondered if she was aware of it. He hadn't liked it one bit the way she had flung herself into Stephen's arms, the way she had leaned forward to listen to every word he had said, and the way she had smiled and laughed at a shared memory. Jamie wanted to be the reason for her joy, and the sparkle in her eyes, to be the one she shares her innermost thoughts, memories and secrets with. Irrationally, he wanted her pregnancy to show soon so that the world can see that he had done that to her - and that she was his.

After Stephen had left their table, they had hastily finished their meal, eager to be on their own again. After leaving the inn, Jamie had hoisted Claire on his back and weaved their way through the open fields to The Boat House, laughing and screaming. At the threshold, he had carried her into his arms, coaxing her to close her eyes. Inside, she had been enraptured at the rusticity of the modest dwelling as she beheld her surrounding, admiring the craftsmanship of the unembellished woodworks. He was charmed as she took joy in the simplest things as if he had laid the most precious jewels at her feet. 

"Sassenach, what do ye think were ye born to do? Do ye think it is to be a highly accomplished and successful Neurosurgeon? Or...to be a wife of a nomad to spend the rest of yer days sleeping under the stars? Or...do ye see yersel' as a lady of the manor with people to serve you at yer disposal? Or...how about a mother with many children?" Jamie had asked as he held her close.

Claire had simply answered, before kissing him softly on his lips, "I was born to be with you, James Fraser."

He knew that it was never easy for her to put into words her true feelings, but her reply was the nearest thing to expressing her love. So he basked in the light of this admission, his heart exulting in the knowledge she had chosen him.

Although tired, they had made slow passionate love that night with the moonlight streaming through the huge window that overlooked the loch. He loved how the glow had painted her body in shades of silver, her pale skin beaming out luminescence as they moved in tandem to their coupling. He savoured the intoxication of her scent; sunshine, lemon, sweet herbs and wildflowers. He delighted in the sounds that she made at every touch, stroke, and caress; even more, when she cried out his name, clawing his back, her heels pressing into his arse. He wanted all of her, every atom and molecule that made up her body, every thoughts and dream. He yearned to brand her and to leave his imprint, making his claim unquestionable and true. 

As he found his release in her arms, he had groaned into her ears like a dying man. "You are mine, mo nighean donn. Mine alone. Do ye understand me?" 

Then he realised, after uttering those words, that he could never ever possess her soul without losing his own.

..........

Before setting off for Skye, Jamie and Claire breakfasted at the edge of the loch wrapped in tartan pattern blankets with a teapot of Oolong tea and generously buttered rolls. Although it was a glorious spring day and the sun was out, the air was still chilly and crisp. They had sat in silence enjoying each other's company and the surrounding, content in their own thoughts, afraid if they spoke, the peacefulness and tranquillity of the scenery would be disturbed.

The drive to Skye was smooth and traffic-less, and they had made a pit-stop at Eilean Donan Castle in Kyle of Lochalsh to enjoy the scenic view of the lake and rugged surroundings. Jamie had explained how the castle was destroyed by British Naval Warships in 1719 because it was a stronghold of Jacobite rebellion under Clan Mackenzie and their allies. Although the location was stunning, they didn't stay long, and they were only too happy to leave as the first tourists-filled coaches started to arrive.

Claire had been surprised when Jamie suggested, after they have checked-in into their cottage, to visit her friends Philip Wylie and Stephen Bonnet in the Cuillin Hotel in Portree that day. He hadn't been overly keen the previous night when Stephen had extended the invitation, and Claire had already decided she wouldn't press the matter again. Seeing that he was genuinely enthusiastic about it, she had dismissed his change of heart to male-bonding over sports and rugby.

It was early afternoon when they arrived at the hotel with their camper van, after calling Stephen to warn him of their arrival. As Jamie and Claire strolled hand in hand into the grounds, they could see a flurry of activity on the lawns, awnings and canopies erected, and tables and chairs spread about. The air smelled of roasting meat and bbq and fresh grass, and there was music playing subtly in the background. The service staff scurried about refilling chafing dishes with food, offering dainty hors d'oeuvre in silver platters and serving aperitifs from trays. Further afield, there was a game of Tug O'War about to commence with men on both teams all wearing their respective clan's kilt.

As they approached nearer to the festivities, Claire saw Stephen waving his arm animatedly at them. Still, they didn't hurry and took their time to read the signpost of the upcoming nuptials and programme of the next few days' forthcoming events. Claire waved back at Stephen who was already alerting Phillip Wylie of their arrival. 

She felt Jamie stiffened in her hand.

"What is it, Jamie?" she asked distractedly as her focus was divided between reading the notice in front of her, Jamie's reaction to something he read and the approaching Phillip Wylie with fiancee.

Jamie turned to her. "Sassenach, there is something I must tell ye before we go..."

"Is it important, Jamie?" she asked, as she waved to the approaching couple, oblivious to his mounting trepidation.

"Sassenach listen to me...this is important!" he asserted impatiently, his face turning white as the couple came nearer.

Finally, sensing his distress, she turned to face him exasperatedly. "What is it, Jamie?"

"Th-the bride of yer ...friend Phil," he winced and swallowed hard, dreading Claire's reaction, "She used to be a former lover."

Claire let out a sigh as she reached out to touch his face. "It's alright, Jamie...I get it. You have a past and so have I...everyone does." She smiled at him in reassurance. "Actually, I have something to tell you too. Stephen was my..."

Claire was about to finish her sentence with "my first kiss" when the hosts arrived.

"Stephen was yer what?!?" Jamie hissed in her ears, his face turning from chalk white to a thunderous red.

"Claire! So good of you to come!" A smiling Phillip Wiley interjected, pulling a stunning woman eagerly by his side.

Claire ignored Jamie and turned her attention to the beaming couple.

"Phil!" she squealed, her arms already open wide for an embrace. "So good to see you. Of all places...here in Scotland!?!"

Phil took Claire in his arms and squeezed her warmly, laughing and babbling in her ears how happy he was to see her.

When they finally let go, Phil turned to the woman next to him. "Pardon me, sweetheart for getting carried away, but I'm just so thrilled to see an old friend of mine from Oxford. Claire meet my bride, Mary...Mary MacNab."

Smiling broadly, she shook the woman's hand. "Nice to meet you, Mary. I'm Claire...Claire Beauchamp. Phil and I used to be teammates in our local pub dart competition during our university days. We were the best team ever," she enthused, laughing. Claire noted, although stunningly beautiful, Mary McNab looked much older than Phil, and she just caught her in time stealing glances at Jamie, recognition apparent in her eyes.

"The pleasure is mine, Claire," Mary purred with an enigmatic quirk of the lips. Then her eyes flashed as she glimpsed the engagement ring on Claire's finger and cocked an eyebrow at Jamie as she turned to him. "Jamie, darling, nice to see you again." She placed a hand intimately on his arm before offering her cheek for a kiss.

Claire noticed Jamie was rigid and reserved as he leaned down to kiss Mary and introduced himself to Phil formally. He was not his usual lively self, and obviously, something else was bothering him. She almost felt sorry for him that they came, especially that she knew Mary was his former lover. She took his hand and gave it a tight squeeze, but he didn't respond. 

"Aaah James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, of course. The kingpin of Scotland's finest whisky. Mary had insisted on your  usquebaugh  gracing our bars...what an honour to have you as our guest," Phil exclaimed, shaking Jamie's hand overly vigorously and looking at Claire with  I-never-knew-you-knew-him  eyes.

Jamie smiled weakly. "Thank ye for having us here, Phil...now that ye mentioned a bar, I think I need a stiff one."

Claire was about to remind Jamie that he was driving when Stephen suddenly showed up from nowhere, pumped up and sweating from some rigorous activity and too jolly for Jamie's liking.

"Hey, Jamie, how about that rugby game you promised? You still in it?" he asked, winking at Claire. "It's five against five, and we're missing one. You'll do to play forward for the defending team with your muckle size. So are you in?"

Jamie didn't need further persuasion. He was already taking off his jacket before Stephen could finish his sentence. "Aye, I'll be there. I'll just need to change my clothes in the camper," he answered, his jaws clenched and his face set in determination. He deposited his jacket in Claire's arm and turned around without saying anything as he headed toward their vehicle.

"Ooooh, this should be interesting! I love watching Jamie play sport. C'mon, darling let's find a seat near the field. I can't miss this for the world," Mary MacNab chimed in, already stirring Phil away who looked at Claire with an apologetic shrug.

"What's up with him?" Stephen wondered, pointing at Jamie's retreating figure.

"God knows, Stephen, God, knows!!! He's probably got chilis stuffed up his arse for all I know," Claire grumbled irritably as she turned around and walked towards the dessert buffet.

..........

Claire piled dainty petits fours onto her plate mumbling to herself and not bothering as the other women near her gasped at her sugar-laden dish. She stole a sideways glance at a group of girls and checked out their outfits. She knew she was under-dressed for the occasion, but she was beyond caring.  Well, at least I'm warm in my jeans and sweatshirt...I can't be prancing about on the lawn in high heels and flowing dresses, like these bunch of hoity-toities . She refused to take further notice at the glances thrown her way as she found a seat in the sun at the edge of the field, waiting for the rugby to commence.

Although it was sunny, the breeze was biting. Claire had put on Jamie's leather jacket and smiled to herself as she noticed the length of it almost covered most of her thighs.  All the better to keep warm, lass!  She was about to bite into her sweet treat when she felt someone put a tartan scarf over her shoulders.

It was Stephen smiling down at her. "I saw you shivering and took this from my hotel room. It's wool, it should keep you warm."  

"Thank you, Stephen, that's really kind of you." Knowing how well Stephen plays rugby and that Jamie will be playing on the opposing side, she jokingly, cajoled, "Go easy on Jamie, will you."

"Oh, my sweet darling missus," he began with a grin. "I know the likes of James Fraser...they have it too easy in life. So no, I will not make it easy for him. He needs to earn you even if it's just with a game of rugby. I saw how he looks at you, so I'm betting my bottom penny he'll be showing off today." 

Claire laughed as he blew her a kiss and turned to run towards the field. She knew perfectly well how provocative Stephen can be when playing with opponents. He has had a few split lips and damaged eye retina in the past as testament to those provocations. She just hoped that he had outgrown those habits, for both his and Jamie's sake.

Lost in her thoughts, Claire nearly missed the tittering, giggling and gasping from the nearby group of girls. She turned towards the source, and he saw Jamie running to the field in his team's plain black t-shirt and sweatpants while Stephen's side was in all white. Both teams were priming for a warm-up before the game as the players did some stretch exercises and lunge twists.

"Oh my God, it's Jamie Fraser! I can't take it!" she heard one say not too subtly as the others from the group shrieked excitedly.

Inwardly Claire rolled her eyes and stuffed one confectionary morsel into her mouth, shoving it in with her forefinger.

"Hungry much?" asked a voice in a very posh English accent.

Claire turned to the seat next to her and saw a woman dressed in a very expensive pantsuit. In fact, everything about her was expensive; her perfect hair extension, well-manicured fingernails, Chopard sunglasses, Hermes handbag, Christian Louboutin high heels and a light Burberry coat. Even her scent smelled expensive.

"Oh, sorry, hi," Claire replied with a mouth full of cake, wiping her right hand on the side of her jeans to shake hands, "I'm Claire...Claire Beauchamp. Sorry, these cakes are just so good." Her voice sounded muffled as she extended the plate with her other hand to the woman next to her. "Want some?"

The woman ignored her offer of handshake and cake. "Hi, it's Geneva, Geneva Dunsany and sorry, I don't do carbs. It's not really good for the waistline," she responded off-handedly.

Claire ignored the barbed remark and focused her attention to the men on the field warming up, as she put the last piece of cake into her mouth.

As if she couldn't help herself, Geneva piped up again. "An excellent piece of arse that James Fraser have don't you think?"

There was a moment of silence before Claire answered, as she put her empty plate to the ground. "Oh, I've seen it a multitude of times, and I have to agree, it is an excellent piece of arse indeed," she said keeping a straight face as she took a massive gulp of orange juice offered to her by a waiter.

Disregarding her reply, Geneva added, "Well, I've met him in London before, at a gala dinner for Food and Drinks Presentation Award. He seemed interested in me then, but we never got to talk further because he had a lot of interviews lined up that night. I plan to get reacquainted with him again today. I think he'd be thrilled to see me."

"If that's the case, I can arrange a meeting for you with him. He's my boyfriend," Claire pointed out casually, not looking at the woman next to her as she groped for a tissue she stuffed in Jamie's jacket.

Geneva turned to Claire, pulling down her sunglasses and raising her eyebrows at her. "Well, every girl can dream, so they say," she said in false cheerfulness, as she looked at Claire up and down. "Dream on, Claire, you're not his type."

Claire, still not looking at her, agreed, smiling to herself, "Yes, that's definitely true, every girl can dream."

..........

The whistle blew as a signal that the rugby game was about to commence. The players quickly left the field to remove their sweatpants to reveal sports shorts underneath. Surprising Claire, Stephen ran up to her to kiss her on the forehead.

"I know you'll be cheering for your lad, missus but I've come to give you a peck for luck. Wish me well, lass!" He huffed, giving her a mischievous wink.

Not giving Claire a chance to reply, Stephen was gone as quickly as he came, leaving her in stitches. And before she could recover from laughing, Jamie too was running in her direction, sweatpants in his hand and his face still looking like thunder.

Geneva Dunsany suddenly straightened up and smiled. "Oh, hi, Jamie!"

Jamie didn't notice the girl nor the greeting. He purposely advanced towards Claire, leaning down to grab her neck, not too gently, to give her a long bruising kiss. Claire could hear a lot of drawing in of breaths and gasps from nearby, as Jamie continued with his silent amourous admonitions. When he finally raised his head, he whispered in a warning tone, stormy blue eyes boring into her, "We'll talk later, Sassenach." And then he was off leaving Claire to deal with the trail of shocked onlookers.

..........

Claire could hardly contain the heat on her face after Jamie's ardent display. She knew Jamie was well known for his whisky among the socialites and celebrity circles even if he tried his best to downplay it. But Claire had never imagined being pulled into it. She had heard phone cameras snapping, audible whispers of  who-is-that-girl,  and even felt the sudden dislike towards her person from some women, during and after Jamie's punishing kiss.  Damn you, Jamie!

So she was glad when an incensed Geneva left without saying a word, and her seat was taken by Phil.

"Oooh, that was some kiss, Claire," he remarked with a shake of his head before pointing toward the field," And that game is becoming like a two-men rugby game. I do not like the look of it."

She smiled weakly at her friend, glad of his presence and distraction, as he sat down. "They're both a couple of Neanderthals if I may say so myself. Stupid bloody oafs! They could beat each other for all I care," she retorted, glowering at the two giants on the field intentionally body-slamming and tackling each other even if neither of them possessed the ball.

Phil and Claire winced as they witnessed an illegal high tackle by Stephen on Jamie sending him flat on his back, and then they grimaced when Jamie swung an arm on Stephen as he retrieved the ball during a scrum. They both agreed Stephen and Jamie were very well matched when it came to stamina and endurance that even the rest of the players began to off-load the ball to them regularly. Ignorant of the game's rules, the majority of the spectators thought battering and pummelling were part of the game, and they cheered exuberantly at every hit and fall.

"Crikey, they're going to kill each other!" exclaimed Phil, who was already signalling one of the men to stop the game. "That's not even funny anymore."

More bodies crowded the outer field as they yelled and applauded, inciting both men, like bloodthirsty spectators of Ancient Rome. Some of the players had already stopped playing, and instead, they watched in astonishment as Stephen and Jamie grappled with the ball, ignoring the sound of the whistle

Instantaneously, as more people rallied the game, Claire began to feel sicker and sicker in her stomach. Not because of watching the brutality of rugby, but she felt a rather rapidly building nausea in her guts, and her skin started to feel clammy and cold to the touch. A sudden tautness assailed her middle, and her stomach felt like it was carousing with her kidneys. She gripped Phil's hand to keep from falling. "Ph-Phil, I think I have the collywobbles," Claire said hoarsely before collapsing to the ground.

Chapter Text

"Aaah, nothing to worry about. High blood pressure, nausea...quite common during pregnancy. I don't think there's anything life-threatening, but I would advise you to see your doctor as soon as possible - just for safety measures, " the doctor said, smiling down at Claire. "As far as I can see, you look like a picture of health."

"Thank you, doctor, I think I might have over-indulged a bit, and there's been a lot of excitement lately..." Claire replied, wincing as another wave of nausea hit her as she tried to sit up. She noticed her surrounding for the first time - they had brought her up into the hotel room. Under normal circumstances, Claire might have enjoyed the luxury setting, but in this case, there were other things she was concerned about. Then she looked at her worried friend Phillip Wylie. "Phil, how are the boys?"

"Oh, the boys..." Phil looked up suddenly. He was so deep in his thoughts, he hadn't realised the doctor was about to leave. He stood up from his chair and shook hands with the doctor, thanking him for coming immediately. Then Phil sat down on the bedside next to Claire and took her hand in his, smiling. "I'm so glad you alright, Claire. You scared the shit out of me. And as for the boys, I've told them you're well, and I have prohibited them from coming in until the doctor has done a thorough check with you. I told them to wait in the lobby. Stephen was more compliant, and Jamie looked like he was about to bulldoze the door, but after I yelled all sorts of obscenities at him, he did as he was told." Phil said chuckling.

Claire laughed. She tried to imagine gentle Phil shouting at a raging Jamie but couldn't quite picture it. "They're alright, though?"

"More than alright except for a few minor bruises and bumps. I was told Jamie and Stephen are in the lobby now drinking whisky and laughing like long-time buddies. I guess whatever issues those lads had, they have sorted it out."

Claire let out a sigh of relief. Then she looked at Phil and knew there was something else bothering him. "Phil, what is it? That worried look can't be all about me. We might not have seen each other for a long time, but I know that look. Want to talk about it?"

Phil hesitated a bit. He knew Claire could read him like an open book, always had done and she was one of his dearest friends. He wondered for a moment why they lost touch. "Claire, I'm truly happy for you and Jamie. I can see that both of you are in love, and that is wonderful. And the baby...that is one big cherry on the cake. I too would like to have children one day, three tops."

"Phiiilll, you're not talking to me. If you'd rather not, say so. I will understand."

"Well, I don't know how to say this," he paused, thinking for a moment. "But I couldn't help but notice how Mary looked at Jamie. I know there had been a few men in Mary's life after she was widowed and I can't help but think if Jamie was one of them."

"Oh, Phil..." Claire knew exactly what he meant. She had seen that look too. "I'm going to go straight out with it, ok?" Claire waited for Phil to nod. "Yes, it's true... they had something in the past. Jamie told me today. But surely, the past is the past right?"

Phil smiled ruefully. "Oh, I thought so. About the past... I understand that, but I can't marry someone who is pining for another. Mary must want and love me wholeheartedly."

Oh damn, me and my mouth!  "Phil, you and Mary need to talk. Jamie and I are doing a lot of that lately. He and I had quite an unconventional start to our relationship, so we've had a lot of teething problems along the way, but we're learning and hopefully, getting there. The most important thing is communication, and if you don't have that, the relationship can't survive. Speak from the heart and don't beat around the bush."

Phil sighed. "I guess that's the only way I'll find out. God, I hate talking about these things. Damn, those kinds of talks give me the heebie-jeebies...but I guess it must be done." He contemplated for a bit. "You're right! I'll talk to Mary tonight." He gave Claire a quick hug and stood up. "I'll go and get big Ginge for you. And then see Mary." Before he opened the door, he turned to Claire. "And Claire, thank you!"

Then Phil left the room.

..........

Jamie had panicked after one of Phil's guest had run-up to the field and shouted, "Your girlfriend has collapsed," during a tussle with a rugby ball with Stephen. It didn't register at first, but Stephen had heard instantly and pulled him up from the ground. "It's Claire!"

Both men ran immediately towards the hotel and asked at the reception if they knew about a woman collapsing. They were promptly given a room number only to be greeted by a red-faced Phil sending them away. Jamie had blamed himself, and his first thought had been their baby. He knew he wouldn't have been able to forgive himself if Claire had lost it. 

As he was pacing back and forth in the lobby, Mary MacNab approached him, touching him on his arm when he didn't see her.

"James, I see that ye're engaged to the Sassenach," she had spoken softly, meant only for his ears, running a finger down his chest. "...But...ye and I, you know, it needn't stop..." she hinted with a provocative smile.

He gave her a wild-eyed look, not quite believing what he was hearing. At that moment, he had wanted to throttle her and scream. He had been too preoccupied with his worries with Claire, and the last thing he needed was the past catching upon him.

"Christ Mary, have ye no shame! Ye're about to marry, and here I am worried sick about our baby..." he hissed through gritted teeth.

Mary wasn't perturbed and had ignored his last statement. Instead, she batted her eyelashes and pouted seductively. "Surely, Jamie...we could arrange..."

Jamie didn't let her finish. "Mary, listen to me, it's fucking over! Do ye not understand? Aye, we were lovers before, but that's not me anymore. I'm getting married, and soon Claire and I will have a baby."

"It never stopped ye before I was widowed..."

"Christ Mary, I was verra young, and you seduced me aye? You taught me a lot of things, but surely ye dinna expect that to go on forever. I have a family now, and ye're about to get married. What do ye think yer groom will say? And he's good friends with my fiancee. No, Mary, it's over. It was over long ago. Give it a rest, aye?" 

Mary straightened up and looked at him indignantly, her cheeks blotched red. "Well, James, if that's the case, I do not want you and your Sassenach bitch in this hotel. You are both no longer guests. I want you both to leave immediately." With that final statement, she turned around and walked off to the lift.

"I don't intend to stick around, ye witch," he muttered under his breath, before heading to the bar.

..........

At the hotel bar, he saw Stephen signalling to an empty seat next to him. Jamie exhaled profoundly and walked over. He could see Stephen's face' bruising starting to show.

"You look like you need a drink, mate," Stephen offered, grimacing as he tried to smile, obviously in pain. Then he whistled, as he got a better view of Jamie's face through one slit eye. "Damn, you look like shit! I don't think Claire would be too happy." 

Jamie forced a smile and ordered a double, neat whisky from the bartender. "Aye, that's what I'm afraid of. The lass has got temper...I've seen it before. Listen, Stephen...about earlier..."

"Ach, think nothing of it. I was just as bad," Stephen interrupted. "I just want you to know, there was nothing between Claire and me. Maybe one impromptu kiss but that was it...we were young when it happened ..." He breathed before moving on. "She had her eyes on Frank already, and Claire didn't take any notice of me. For her, I was her big brother...she said it often enough that I gave up any notion of pursuing her."

Jamie slapped his forehead and immediately regretted it, the bump on his forehead ricocheting pain to the top of his scalp. "Christ, I'm such an eejit! I wouldn't be surprised if, after all this, she goes back to Oxford. She hasn't had much good experience in Inverness and here I am...making things worse for her. She must have fainted because she thought we're going to kill each other," Jamie pulled a face as he took a sip of the whisky, the alcohol stinging his wounded bottom lip. "Phil said that Claire called us a couple of Neanderthals," he added laughing in spite of himself.

Stephen laughed. "Aye, that we are! But I don't think Claire will go back to Oxford. The lass loves you. It's very apparent. The worse thing that could happen is she'll probably skewer your balls the moment she's feeling herself again."

"Aye, I could live with that I think," Jamie chuckled, looking at his watch and wondering when he could see Claire. "I don't think we'll be staying much longer. I want to take her to Lallybroch, it's more peaceful there."

"Well, whatever you do and wherever you go, just cherish the lass. She'll never ask for much as long you remain devoted. But it probably doesn't help your cause when you're featured in the newspaper with different lassies all the time..."

Jamie shook his head. "Aye, that will need to stop. I'll take her with me if I need to...and..."

"Jamie, I don't think that's the solution. Claire didn't look too comfortable at the party earlier. These people are not her kind of people, and I don't blame her. I can't be asked hob-nobbing with a bunch of pretentious tits either. I'm only here because Phil is my mate. I'm not saying you're one of them because if that's the case, she wouldn't be with you."

Jamie thought about what Stephen said, and if truth be told, it wasn't his scene either. It never was. The celebrity and socialite side of his life were all in the name of promotion and publicity. And he doesn't need to do that anymore. All his businesses were doing well, and he can set up a team to do all the legwork for marketing. He wanted to concentrate on family life and not traipsing around the world. And maybe spend some time with his sister and her family in Lallybroch. Jamie and his sister were close, and he missed his nephews and nieces. But, ever since his whisky catapulted into success and his French publicist decided it was a great idea to throw him into the limelight to ensure favourable profit, he had neglected family and friends. Jamie must admit, despite the perks of his fortune, he never felt complete, and there was always something lacking. With Claire, he can have a fresh start once they're married and he hoped she wouldn't be too mad at him.

"Aye, I agree with ye. It's not my scene, either. Something has to give, and Claire is more important."

.........

There was a knock, and before Claire could answer, the door opened. "Sassenach?"

"Jamie?" Claire put her magazine aside. "Come here and let me take a look at you, you clodpole."

Jamie walked gingerly towards the bed, with a slight limp on his right leg. After sitting for more than an hour on an uncomfortable bar chair, he can feel his muscle seizing. It didn't help much that he was bruised and achy from the rough and tumble of the earlier rugby game. "Ye're not mad at me Sassenach? I dinna blame ye if ye are."

Claire smiled but frowned when Jamie sat on her bedside and got a closer look at his face. "Ouch! Those bruises look nasty, Jamie. And no, I'm not mad. I think you're suffering enough as it is."

"Sassenach, I'm so sorry for..."

"Sshh, forgiven, it's alright Jamie," Claire hushed, as she reached out to gently touch a bump on the forehead. "Just get me out of here. I don't think I can face another day with those people out there."

"Aye, I want to get out of here too, but we'll have to call for a cab. I think I've had one whisky too many. We can get the van tomorrow and maybe leave Skye altogether and head for Lallybroch." He flinched as Claire leaned forward for a kiss. "How 'bout ye Sassenach? How are ye feeling?" He raised her hand to kiss her palm.

"I'm feeling good. It's all just pregnancy symptoms what I had earlier, but I was advised to see a doctor, just to make sure the baby is alright."

There was silence for a while, as Claire checked Jamie's bruises.

"Sassenach?"

"Hmm?" Claire was absorbed doing her thorough medical check-up.

"Ye ken how I said I can wait for as long as it takes about getting married?" Jamie shifted on the bed. "Weel, what I'm trying to say is. I love ye, and ye love me, aye?"

"Uh-huh."

Jamie cleared his throat. "Do ye really want to have a long engagement?"

Claire raised Jamie's shirt to see if he had any injury in his abdomen. "No."

"No?"

"Uh-huh."

"So ye saying, we can marry any time?" Jamie had to make sure if he understood what Claire was trying to say.

"Uh-huh." She gently touched a purple patch near his ribs.

Jamie licked his swollen lips, still unsure if he heard right. He wanted to push it further to see how far he can go. "Want to get married in Lallybroch as soon as we get there?" In his mind, he was crossing his fingers.

"Sure, it should be something to do," Claire said, trying to suppress a smile, as she straightened Jamie's shirt after concluding her examination.

"Christ, Sassenach! Look at me, will ye! I dinna ken if ye're joking with me or no'. What do ye mean sure?" he said impatiently and wincing at the same time from his sudden movement.

Claire looked him straight in the eye, grinning. "Sure, let's get married in Lallybroch, it will be something to do while we're there."

Aches and twinges forgotten, he lunged at Claire for a hug, kissing her and groaning at the same time as he felt pangs from his soreness. "Christ Sassenach, ye better not be joking. I dinna think my heart can take it."

"I don't take marriage talk lightly, Jamie," she whispered, as she wrapped her arms around Jamie's neck.

..........

Later in bed at their rented cottage.

"Sassenach, ye awake?" Jamie couldn't sleep. He was thinking of Claire's sudden change of heart.

"I'm awake, Jamie," she sighed, concerned that there must be an injury she had overlooked. "You're tossing and turning a lot, I can't get to sleep. Are you in so much pain?"

"Sorry...I just wanted to ask what made ye change yer mind about getting married."

"Hmm, well, I'm sick and tired of girls looking at you like you're some piece of prized meat and I was hoping if we do get married, you'll stop having fits." She replied, with slight exasperation in her voice.

"Fits?"

"Yes, jealousy fits!" Claire turned on her side to face him and softened a bit. "I do love you, Jamie. Maybe I should have said it to you more often. So I'm hoping when we do get married, you will realise I meant what I said."

Jamie smiled in the dark, his heart soaring.

"Sassenach?"

"Hmmm?"

"I'm sore all over," Jamie murmured.

"Well, I can't do much about it, Jamie. You have to let healing take its course. You've done this to yourself," she pointed out.

"Do ye think ye can kiss it better?"

"Well, as your doctor for tonight, it's not ethical to take advantage of one's patient," Claire replied, feigning sternness. But she was on her elbows already, leaning towards his chest, her tongue licking in swirls at the sensitive bud of his nipple, and as she went lower, her lips grazing his abdomen, she heard him gasp.

"Christ, Sassenach!"

Claire whispered, smiling as she nipped at his lower navel. "Not Christ, Jamie. It's Doctor...Doctor Beauchamp."

Chapter Text

Claire was sat on the pew in Abercorn Parish Church waiting for Jamie to sort out the papers for their nuptials. She was wearing a simple pleated cream dress belted at the high waist with matching heels, bought earlier in the day. It was merely two days ago when they were talking about marriage, and she didn't wholly believe that it would be possible to arrange everything in such a short time. The Scottish law required twenty-nine days of notice to be submitted to the registrar before a legal wedding can take place, and somehow, Jamie was able to circumvent the rules. With the help of his lawyers and connections, the paper works and licenses were expedited when he called in past favours owed.

"How did you manage that?" Claire had asked, not fully understanding how much influence Jamie wielded in Scotland.

Jamie, extremely reticent about his charity work, hesitantly and shyly explained that he had helped the Hamlet of Abercorn restore its parish church and its other causes in the past. And in return for his generosity, they were turning a blind eye on the procedural requirements and red tape.

Still, it was hard to believe that she was actually getting married, considering the circumstances how they had met. What she had thought was a fleeting romance and attraction at the start, had turned into a roller coaster ride of mixed emotions, soul searching and introspection all within a short time. She had known men like Jamie before, men who have women falling at their feet and women at their disposal lured by their charm. After Frank died, she had guarded her heart in pursuit of her medical career, her life navigated with control, discipline and restraint, and she thought she had everything in grip until she met Jamie. Although not to be characterised as naive in the matter of the hearts, Claire was under the notion that sleeping with Jamie would have ended her fascination and draw towards him. She thought she could play the same game what Claire perceived Jamie was playing without getting hurt, safe in the knowledge that she was confident and open-minded when it came to love affairs. But the opposite had occurred and never in her life had she expected to fall hard for him. So it was astounding to believe that a man like him could love her in return, let alone wanting wholeheartedly to marry and start a family with her.

Looking now at her engagement ring, she couldn't help but smile at the memory it stirred. It was a simple amber stone, set on a plain white gold band, and it had belonged to Jamie's mother. Ever since Jamie had slipped it onto her finger, she hadn't been able to remove it no matter how much lubricants and soap she used. It wasn't as if her fingers were swollen, but the ring had remained stuck. Jamie had joked that his deceased mother must have insisted on her wearing it and that it was a sign of her approval. Well, it must be the case, she had thought because it looked more than ever, brilliant on the day of their wedding.

"Sassenach, are ye ready? We're about to be married," Jamie said softly. Claire hadn't heard him approach, so engrossed she was in her thoughts. Kneeling beside her, next to the pew, he smiled tenderly, his sky-blue eyes translucent as the light from the window touched his face. Although still bruised, Jamie looked achingly handsome with his three days bristles and longish hair, the golden-red locks curling at the nape of his neck. He wore a dark blue suit and crisp white shirt, forgoing a tie. "Looking forward to being Mrs Fraser?" he grinned boyishly, raising her hand to his lips.

Claire's heart swelled, and her eyes glistened, as she felt the sting at the back of her eyes began to burn. Instead of answering, she leaned forward to kiss him gently, afraid if she spoke, tears of joy would spill.

"Sassenach, ye ken when we get back to Inverness, we can have another wedding if ye want. A grander one. I know this isn't..."

"Ssshh...Jamie, this is perfect," Claire smiled as she put a hand on the side of his face. "Just the two of us. Maybe we can have a small party for close friends when we get back...I'll be more than happy with that."

Pulling Claire to her feet, he gathered her into his arms, to hold her tight. "Ye're a very unusual woman, Sassenach," Jamie murmured in her ears. "I want to give ye so much, deck ye in jewels and place the world at yer feet, but ye'll no' have any of it. Ye only need to tell me what yer heart desires..."

"I have you, Jamie, that's all I've ever wanted." She then stood on her tiptoes to give him a kiss.

..........

The wedding ceremony lasted fifteen minutes. With the church's caretakers as witnesses, they had exchanged vows from their hearts, a lone tear escaping Jamie's eye as he smiled broadly, like a child receiving all his Christmases' presents wrapped into one.

"Weel, hul-loh there, Mrs Fraser," he said, giving her a lopsided grin after the priest announced he may kiss the bride. 

Jamie kissed Claire long and thorough, almost forgetting that the witnesses and the priest were still there and Jamie had to be gently reminded with a slight tap on the shoulder that there were still papers to be signed.

After everything was signed and sealed, they left the parish church and headed for Queensferry for some celebratory macaroons and herbal tea at a local cafe. They weren't far from Lallybroch, but they wanted this special moment for themselves away from people they know and away from big crowds who might recognise Jamie. Although they felt slightly guilty for not telling their friends and family about their impromptu wedding, they couldn't stop grinning as they tucked into their sweet treats. Claire hadn't wanted any fuss, and knowing her luck after the last few weeks', she thought it would be best to stay away from people who might know them, at least until after the wedding.

"Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, Jamie, I'm going to get fat before your very eyes if I continue to eat like this. I feel like eating for three instead of two," Claire remarked in between popping her fourth macaroon into her mouth and sipping her fennel tea. "I just can't stop eating anything sugary."

Jamie laughed and looked lovingly at his new bride. He wasn't overly concerned about her change in eating habits, simply because he was too happy beyond words. "Dinna fash Sassenach. As soon as we're back in Inverness, I'll start cooking for us some healthy meals. We're on holiday, and importantly, the baby seems to have an appetite. That must be good, aye?"

"I guess so...it must be a good thing my body has all the hallmarks of a healthy pregnancy, but I don't know how a fetus could have so much appetite. At this stage, our child is about this big," Claire explained, as she showed Jamie with her thumb and finger how big the embryo was. "The fetus is about the size of a pea."

To her amusement, Jamie had been surprised at this revelation and Claire couldn't wait to see his future reactions and responses as she progressed into the later stages of pregnancy. He had read so much about this subject from the internet and books given by Geillis, but Claire knew, no amount of reading will prepare him for fatherhood. 

"Sassenach, are ye ready to go and see Lallybroch and meet my family?" Jamie said as he reached out to squeeze her hand after Claire polished off both their plates

She nodded with a slight hint of a frown. "I hope she'll like me, Jamie. She's your only family, and I'm really looking forward to having a sister. I've grown up wishing I had a sibling, especially when uncle Lamb and I were isolated from civilisation. I was always surrounded by adults growing up, so I've never really had anyone near my age."

"Dinna fash Sassenach. If she dinna like ye, remember, ye're married to me and not to her. Besides I'm quite sure she will love ye like her own...weel... after she's done lambasting me for all my misgivings these last few weeks," Jamie reassured but cringed at the thought of what's to come when Jenny finally gets her chance to harangue him in person.

..........

The drive to Lallybroch from Queensferry was a short one; nevertheless, picturesque and charming. It was quintessential Scottish countryside with open fields full of wildflowers in bloom and mounds of green hills in the background. The lands they passed were dotted with ancient manors and castles, and working farmhouses and Claire couldn't help but think of Frank. He had loved Scotland, and the history that shaped the country, and they had often visited ancient sites before they were married many years ago. Thinking back now, her times and marriage to Frank seemed like from another lifetime.

Jamie slowed down as they drove through a small unpaved road, lined with wooden palisades that led to a grand grey-stoned manor house. The stone building was surrounded by trees; there were oak, hawthorn, juniper, elder, and a few wild cherry trees scattered about. On the far side, away from the residence, was a paddock with three horses grazing in the field, and as she opened the window to breathe the fresh air, she could hear dogs barking from afar. She couldn't see the front of the house, but instead there was an arched-entrance that led to what she presumed was a front courtyard.

"Welcome to Broch Tuarach, Mrs Fraser," Jamie announced smirking in amusement, seeing her face looking in awe at his childhood home as they approached nearer to the driveway.

"Oh my, Jamie...your family home is grand! It's like a bloody castle if you don't mind me saying so. You could fit in three families there," Claire gushed, not taking her eyes away from the looming manor.

Jamie chuckled. "Aye, that it is, but at the rate, Jenny and Ian are breeding, they will need all the rooms in the house. They have four children at the moment, and my uncle had informed me, another one is on the way."

"Wot?" Claire's hand automatically went to her stomach, silently praying that their own child would be safe and healthy. "Your brother-in-law must be a hard-working man to have so many children and maintain such a large home."

Jamie smiled. He couldn't wait to see Ian. He was like a brother to him even before he married his sister, and he was his childhood best friend.

As they finally stopped, Jamie reached out and squeezed Claire's hand. "Ye ready, Sassenach? Mind ye, my sister...she is a tad feisty with a mouth like an army sergeant, but really, her heart is pure gold once ye get to know her," Jamie cautioned as he braced himself to introduce his new bride.

Claire simply nodded, itching to see the grounds of Lallybroch and meet Jamie's family.

As they stepped out from the van, Claire heard children squealing and shouting, and little feet running towards them.

"Uncle Jamie! Uncle Jamie!" A small boy with brown hair about the age of seven or eight threw himself at Jamie who picked him up and twirled him around laughing. "We missed ye loads, and I heard ma saying to da that ye're a clot-heid and a coof."

"Sssh...ye better no' let yer ma hear ye say such things or she'll wash yer mouth with lye," Jamie gently admonished, laughing as he hugged his nephew. Turning to Claire, he introduced the bairn. "Sassenach, this is wee Jamie. He was named after me, and I'm his godfather. Wee Jamie, meet yer auntie Claire."

The wee boy warily extended his hand, squinting his eyes as he looked up to her. "Hallo auntie Claire."

"Nice to meet you, wee Jamie," Claire smiled as she got down to her knees, eyeing the other shy little ones behind the boy who were waiting for their turn to be greeted by their uncle. "And are they your sisters and brother? Can you please introduce them to me," she coaxed.

One by one, the children came forth and introduced themselves shyly, with an amused Jamie looking on. She learned the eldest girl was Margaret, maybe around five or six, then came Katherine, who was four and a toddler learning to walk, Michael.

"Jamie, me lad!" It was a man's voice. As she stood up to take a better look, the children suddenly scurrying away to inform their ma of Uncle Jamie's arrival in high shrill voices, wee Michael tottering behind his siblings. Claire presumed he was Ian and noticed immediately that he had a prosthetic right leg. He had a kind smiling face, and like wee Jamie, he had dark brown hair.

"Ian!" Jamie hugged his brother-in-law, laughing and slapping his back good-naturedly. "Good to see ye, pal! Come meet my wife, Claire."

Ian still smiling, raised an eyebrow at Jamie before stepping forward to squeeze Claire warmly in an embrace. "Och, the lady in red!" Ian grinned much to Claire and Jamie's mild discomfort as they both remembered that calamitous evening at the ball. "I've read all about ye Claire in the tabloids - what did it exactly say...mmm let's see...the Sassenach that stole Jamie's heart, but I never read anything about a wedding. I'm quite sure that would have been impossible to miss." Ian turned to Jamie for some answers.

"Och, we only got married today. Ah ken Jenny won't be too pleased to hear that part, her only wee brother marrying so..."

"James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser!! At last, the prodigal son has returned!" interrupted a woman's high-pitched voice, not sounding very friendly at all.

They all turned around, and Claire observed a very petite woman stomping determinedly towards them.  It's Jenny!   She had the same blue eyes as Jamie, but her face was more delicate and porcelain-like, and she didn't inherit her brother's height -  she must be around five feet tall!  Jenny was wearing a plaid shirt over loose linen pants that were folded at the bottom hem, and it was evident that she was expecting a child. Her head was covered with a straw hat, and Claire saw wisps of black hair that was tied back in a knot, escaping.  

Jenny dropped the wicker basket that was hitched to her waist, sending the freshly harvested potatoes rolling to the ground. Then she pulled her garden gloves from her hands one by one, angrily, throwing them aside. Not noticing Claire, she walked towards her brother, her one arm ready to slap his left ear, but Jamie was quick to duck as if he knew already what to expect. 

"Jenny, what the fuck!"

"Aye, ye wee prick...what the fuck!" Jenny screamed, one hand on her hip and the other waving about madly. "Why did ye not answer my calls, eh? Yer head is so stuffed deep in yer arse ye have forgotten about yer family. The fucking paparazzi were all over our grounds nosing aroond looking for ye and scaring yer nephews and nieces off their wits. Ye have nae care in the world but yersel', so engrossed in yer own shit. I told ye countless times, I dinna want paparazzi hanging aboot here...this is our home, and we have our lives...and what's this on the newspaper I hear..."

"Jenny, please," Jamie gritted his teeth, trying to suppress his mounting anger and the urge to shake Jenny. Claire could see rigid cords forming on Jamie's neck as he glared down at his wee older sister. "Will ye button it for a minute till I introduce ye to my wife."

Jenny spun her small frame around towards Claire's direction, noticing her presence for the first time and then quickly turned back to Jamie. "Yer wife? Ach, ye married a Sassenach...aye, I heard all about ye chasing a Sassenach in Inverness," Jenny suddenly turned to Claire, and in a milder tone, she apologised, "Nae offence, lass." Then turning back to Jamie, she continued her rant. "Ye dinna think to include yer family...yer only family with yer happy news? Me...us worried sick...those newspaper people sneaking aboot like wolves..."

Jamie has had enough and pulled Jenny towards the house, half dragging her, his grip digging into the flesh of her arm, leaving Ian and Claire to stare in wonder as the siblings continued their screaming matches. As they disappeared through the large entrance door, Claire turned to face a smiling Ian.

"Claire, dinna fash about those two...it's always the same when they don't see each other for a long time. They'll scream and shout until they tire and eventually hug and make-up. Ye canna get between the Frasers when both are in that state..."

Claire smiled weakly, not quite sure what to say. Jamie did say his sister was feisty, but that was more than feisty. The woman was raving mad! "Well, I hope we're not intruding your peace here. It seems so tranquil until we arrived..."

Ian laughed. "No, not at all. It may sound weird to ye, but hardly anything ever happens around here so this with Jenny and Jamie is a welcome respite from the peace and tranquillity."

"But the children...and all that screaming..."

"Ach, we have a nanny, Lizzie. She kens what Jamie and Jenny are like. I'm quite sure Lizzie has already lead the bairns away to the back garden, and the walls are thick...I dinna think the wee ones will hear," Ian assured her as he guided her near the opened entrance door. 

Claire expected to still hear screaming as they stood near the steps, but it was eerily silent. "I hope they haven't killed each other. It sounds too quiet in there."

Ian laughed. "No...that will be them done now. They're probably apologising to one another right this very minute. Anyway, I hope ye and Jamie will be staying long. I'm pretty sure Jenny is looking forward to getting to know the newest member of the family."

Claire was unsure about staying after witnessing Jenny's wild rant, but before she could reply, her sister-in-law suddenly burst out of the door, running down the steps towards her. "Claire!" Jenny beamed, both her hands on Claire's shoulder, before pulling her for a surprise hug, as if the incident earlier never happened. "Welcome to the family. I'm so glad to have a sister...I've always wanted one since I was a bairn."

Wide-eyed and shocked, she could only stand there and return Jenny's hug, indecisively at first, not quite sure what to make of her sister-in-law's sudden change of demeanour. Then, Claire saw a grinning Jamie leaning on the entrance doorway. "Welcome home Sassenach...welcome to Broch Taurach."

Chapter Text

Jenny proved to be an enigma and a revelation to Claire, and she couldn't help but feel amused at how one tiny person could assert herself with the aplomb of an army commander to two huge strapping men. Tough love, Jenny had called it, and she had revealed, with conviction in her voice, that someone had to be around to keep everyone in line. Abrasive and gentle at the same time, Jenny was quick to reprimand but was always generous with her praises where it was due. Although temperamental, which Claire put down to pregnancy hormones playing havoc, Jenny was fierce in her love and loyalty to the people she cared for. Claire quickly surmised that this tiny effervescent bundle of vivacity was the heart and soul of the family.

They had just finished eating their early dinner of roast lamb and "neeps and tatties,"  and the kids were already in bed, tired from all the excitement at seeing their uncle and meeting their new auntie. As an extra treat, Jenny had added a last-minute batch of Yorkshire pudding as her way to welcome Claire to the family. "Aye, Yorkshire pudding... that's very English! I'm quite sure Claire would love it," Jenny suggested earlier to herself as she had bustled about the kitchen, banging pots and pans.

"Aye...we must have a party... that is a braw idea! Aunt Jocasta is coming from the States, we have a village festival just around the corner, we have yer wedding to celebrate and the weather...oh goodness, the forecast is braw for the rest of the week ..." Jenny announced as she stood up to clear the dishes, clapping her hands.

"Jenny!" Ian, Claire and Jaime simultaneously interrupted the hyper petite woman's babble, as they watched her collect the plates. 

"What? It's a perfect idea! Don't ye think so?" Jenny's face was a picture of disbelief, looking at all three of them as if they've lost their mind.

"Jenny sweetheart, nae parties please. I ken ye like to cook and entertain, but Claire has been through a lot, and the last thing we need is attracting the attention of the paparazzi. Ye ken what it is like...ye said so yersel'." Ian firmly but gently reminded his stubborn wife, looking at the worried faces of Jamie and Claire, but he knew already he was fighting a losing battle unless, of course, the newlyweds can change Jenny's mind.

"Rubbish! The village folk will take care of the paparazzi if we tell them in advance of our plans. They love Jamie, and they will make sure everything is hush-hush. He's like their laird around here, ye ken," Jenny retorted defensively to her husband. Then turning to Claire, she cajoled sweetly and angelically. "Claire, please say aye. I promise ye, I'll take care of everything, and I will make sure by hook or by crook that nothing and naebody will spoil this day. I dinna ken what else to give ye for yer wedding present, but let this be my gift to ye."

By hook or by crook, indeed!  Jamie leaned back on his chair, hands rubbing his full stomach and grinning. He knew full well what his sister was like as he watched Claire's face go through different expressions, from worried to appalled before settling to an uncertain look. He found it adorable how she bit her lower lip when she concentrated on something, her brows puckering in her indecisiveness. Then Claire looked at him, bright golden eyes, willing him to say something or anything. But Jamie thought better of it and shrugged instead.  Let this be the battle of the womenfolk!

Claire cleared her throat, trying to summon excuses in her head so she could put off Jenny, but looking at her sister-in-law's eager and excited face, she knew she didn't have the heart to deny her. Well, where is the harm in having a party, after all, she is now surrounded by her new family. "Well then..." she breathed deeply, "...let's have this party, BUT, under one condition - we'll just invite very close friends and family." And then she looked at Jamie, sternly. "And no shinty and no rugby!"

Jenny squealed, her face a picture of excitement and Claire couldn't help but feel happy for her sister-in-law's gaiety. Even the men were relieved that the matter was resolved quickly, their faces puffing out breaths of relief. "Oh, that's wonderful, Claire! We'll do it this coming weekend, and ye can give me the list who ye want to invite. It will be a pretty garden party, and that's a promise! And before the day of the event, we'll go shopping for clothes and maybe pamper ourselves. Now isn't that grand?"

Jamie's hand reached out to Claire. "Are ye sure Sassenach, ye alright with the party. Ye ken ye dinna have to..."

Claire nodded, smiling, but stopped when she noticed a stunned Jenny with mouth wide open, staring at her engagement ring. Thinking Jamie hadn't told Jenny about the ring, she placated her new sister-in-law. "Jenny, I know this is your mother's ring, and it must be an heirloom. Would you like to have it back? Well, if I could take it off, that is..." Claire had started to wriggle the ring unconsciously and was bewildered when it came off with just a gentle pull, after having tried everything in the last few days to remove it. She placed it on the palm of her hand to show the ring to Jamie, who, too, was astonished that it finally came off. They had both joked that it would remain on her finger for the rest of her life unless someone decided to chop it off from her.

Jenny made a sign of the cross. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Claire! Ye can wear the faerie ring! Look at that Ian...I've told ye about this ring, aye? Naebody could wear it without breaking into a rash. Ma was only able to wear it when she was pregnant with Jamie, and after that, she couldna. Aye, she told me this story. That is why she gave the ring to Jamie because none of the Mackenzie women can wear it...or any other women in the family, near or wide."

Ian didn't dare say anything even if he never believed the faerie story. Instead, he reached out to squeeze Jenny's hand.

"Christ, Jenny! Faerie ring?? I thought ye would have outgrown that story!" Jamie objected impatiently, rolling his eyes. "Claire, it's just a highland myth. It's all hogwash!"

Claire gave Jamie a stern look, before nodding to Jenny to continue.

Jenny ignored her brother, determined to tell the story. "Weel, Mrs Graham...ye ken Mrs Graham aye, the housekeeper of Reverend Wakefield? She told Ma that the ring is passed on from one lifetime to another and it always belonged to the same soul." She began, nodding excitedly at all three of them. "Apparently, back in the olden days, there were these star-crossed lovers, a Highland warrior and his Lady. The story goes, there were always these outside forces determined to keep the couple apart, so they went to Simon Fraser of Lovat's seer called Maisri to ask her counsel. The seer, after going into a trance to see their future, she found out their love was doomed for that life, so she gave them this amber stone. And the seer told them if they couldn't be together in that lifetime, they will find each other again in another through this gem. And Mrs Graham said, there is a hex on this ring protected by the faeries of the standing stones, and she said only the soul of the Highland Warrior's Lady can wear the ring. The ring should bring the souls of the lovers back together by the power of the spell cast upon it." Jenny paused to breathe before giving Claire a wide-eyed look as something dawned in her mind. "Oh my God, Claire, ye must be the soul of the Highland Warrior's Lady and ye Jamie must be..." Jenny's hands flew to her mouth, her sapphire blue eyes about to bulge out of their sockets.

Jamie and Ian burst into a loud guffaw much to Jenny's annoyance. Both men knew she had always believed in the old folks' stories of the Highlands, of faeries and superstitious beliefs that had been passed down from generation to generation.

"Oh, Jenny, that story is so adorable. A charming bedtime story for the kids, definitely" Claire giggled nervously, feeling an odd shiver run down her spine, the ring suddenly becoming warm in her hand.

"Aye laugh at me ye goons. Here watch this." Jenny grabbed the ring from Claire's hand and placed it on her right-hand ring finger. And sure enough, within seconds, the pale skin at the back of her hand started to turn red. "See...what did I tell ye? Look at that!" Jenny then returned the ring to Claire, and her skin colour returned to normal.

Jenny, with hands, on her hips, eyed them irritatedly, both eyebrows raised. "Weel, what ye say now, huh?"

Nobody said anything but replied only with a shrug, unsure what to make of Jenny's story.

..........

The days that lead to what Jenny called,  ceilidh , cautious not to call it a wedding party in case the word got out in public, was a flurry of activities in Fraser's household. Jamie had insisted on hiring and covering the cost of a catering company and local musicians as well as other expenses, so as not to burden his sister. There were enough things to organise as it was, such as invitations, preparing the outside area, the house and guest rooms, making reservations at local inns and hotels for their guests and even a bar had been set up, of course, compliments of Frisealach.

Claire had given up, eventually, in offering her help with the preparations, if not a futile attempt but more to appease her sister-in-law who seemed to be in her element orchestrating the event. Instead, she spent most of her days with Jamie as he showed her around his childhood home and the surrounding area, and going on day trips that either involved picnics, fishing, exploring the woods or shopping in Edinburgh. The people from the neighbourhood who have known Jamie all his life came to visit, bearing gifts of homemade fares from their farm such as smoked or cured meats, haggis, jars upon jars of assorted pickles, elderberry cordials and sourdough bread. It was all very idyllic, and Claire cherished the laid-backness and uncomplicated way of life. And even Jamie seemed more relaxed and content to be surrounded by all things and people that he grew up with.

Evenings were always special as the whole family gathered around the massive family room, the men drinking whisky, the women herbal teas and the children playing with their toys until it was ready for bed. And once everyone had retired for the night, Jamie and Claire would make slow passionate love, eventually falling asleep in each other's arms content that everything is right with the world.

Two days before the event, the guests started arriving and among them were Claire's friends from Inverness; Joe and his girlfriend Gail, Geillis, and Murtagh and a few of the men from work. Even Stephen, and Phil, who cancelled his wedding to Mary MacNab made it to the guest list, upon the insistence of Jamie that there were no hard feelings between him and her long-time friends. Most were staying at nearby inns and hotel that Jenny booked and some at the manor's guest rooms.  

Much to the secret delight of Murtagh, he spied the arrival of Jamie and Jenny's widowed aunt Jocasta who arrived from the States with her niece. She was the sister of Jamie and Jenny's late mother, Ellen. He thought Jocasta looked so much like the sibling's mother, who he had been infatuated with for most of his younger years. Seeing Jocasta reminded him of their youth, banter and happier times and he had in mind to reacquaint himself with the handsome woman, and maybe ask her for a dance during the party.

Claire had tried the last few days to get in touch with her uncle Lamb as she had wanted so much for him to be part of this special family event, but her efforts had proven to be unsuccessful. So she was surprised when her uncle turned up with Mother Hildegarde, Jaime feeling proud he was able to pull off the surprise for his wife. Unbeknownst to her, Jamie was able to track down her uncle through Mother Hildegarde of St. Agnes, who had been a family friend to Claire and Quintin Lambert for years. Claire couldn't be happier now that she had one of the most important men in her life to share their joy.

True to her words, Jenny arranged a day of shopping and pampering for the ladies who wished to come along and most especially for her sister-in-law. Although not alien to this guilty pleasure and recreational past-time, Claire was not used to spending so much money on herself for a mere indulgement all in one day. Nevertheless, she indulged and splurged and even treated the ladies to an afternoon tea of scones, cakes and miniature sandwiches during a break from their spree in Edinburgh. 

When they finally got home, Claire was surprised at the progress that was made to transform Lallybroch for the  ceilidh.  There were people from the catering company, family, friends and even neighbours littered everywhere, each busy with the preparation for the following day's party.   Still, it didn't stop Jenny from barking orders after seeing with very critical eyes things that were not to her satisfaction.

Jamie, upon seeing his wife, abandoned what he was doing at the makeshift bar he was working on and rushed to her. Burying his face into Claire's neck, he lifted her for a bone-crunching hug, unaware of the smiles and stares of family and friends. They had never seen Jamie so enamoured and affectionate towards another woman before, that some couldn't help but let out a dreamy sigh.

"Jamie! People are watching!" she whined in a muffled voice as his mouth swooped down for a ravenous kiss.

"I dinna care, Sassenach," he muttered under his breath, one hand cheekily reaching down to squeeze her bottom. "Christ, I've missed ye. Ye were gone for seven hours and thirty-five minutes." After a long, lingering kiss, Jamie pulled his head back a bit for some air, eyes fixated on Claire's swollen lips before dropping his gaze down to her multitude of shopping bags. "Ye have something for me, Sassenach?"

Claire nodded weakly, her head still foggy from the kiss. "I bought you some ties for work and a few shirts..." she said her voice trailing, as she saw Jamie eyeing a lingerie bag.

"Mmm, I see something verra pretty in one of the bags, Sassenach," Jamie observed, one eyebrow cocked, his eyes turning a darker hue. "Would ye care to oblige yer husband and try it on? I would be verra pleased if ye could do that."

"Oh, alright then," she hurriedly mumbled, heat creeping up to her face. Claire was slightly uncomfortable with all the stares and secret smiles that she just wanted to go in the house.

Jamie quickly took Claire's shopping bags from her hands and in one swift, effortless movement, he carried her to the cheers and wolf-whistles of the onlookers. "Wifey is pregnant ye see, and needs plenty of rest, aye? I have to make sure she gets one, her being a stubborn woman and all," he explained cockily before quickly heading towards the entrance door.

As they went in, Jamie and Claire snickered as Jenny shouted after them. "Oy, ye two, dinner is at 6 sharp, dinna be late! Or I'll throw a bucket of cold water over ye both!" Roars of laughter ensued, but Claire was beyond caring as Jamie kissed her while carrying her to their bedroom.

Murtagh incentivised by Jamie's amorous display, eyed Jocasta and approached her with a suggestive smile. "Weel pretty lass, fancy showing me what ye bought today?"

Jocasta surprised, but delighted with the unexpected attention, took Murtagh's offered arm and linked hers through his. "Aye, of course, I bought a few lingerie myself if ye fancy a peek."

.........

It was a beautiful day for a  ceilidh.  There was not a cloud in the sky and everybody, well almost everybody that they had wanted to be there for the special day, was there. The women looked elegant in their floral dresses, men, smart in their kilts and even the children scrubbed up very well. White heart-garlands hanged everywhere across the courtyard, white canopies set up for the buffet, the tables and chairs were all covered in white with umbrellas and in the far end was the dance floor and the musician's stage. The florists have done a fabulous job decorating the tables, buffet, bar and the inside of the house with assorted Highland wildflowers. It was all very rustic and charming.

Claire sat next to aunt Jocasta after refilling her glass with Prosecco with a splash of orange juice. They had been introduced a couple of days ago when the older woman arrived with her niece, and they got better acquainted during the ladies' spree in Edinburgh the day before. On Jocasta's other side sat Murtagh, preoccupied with dabbing the corner of her mouth, after feeding her a canape, just like a maid in waiting, to the amusement of Claire. Jocasta was half-blind and could only make out shadows and blurs in front of her and needed constant assistance. Murtagh thought to take over in assisting her, not so the niece could enjoy the party, but so he could have Jocasta to himself.

"Tis lovely weather for a party Claire. I think Jenny had timed it right. Mind ye, the lass has a knack for perfect timings and organising. She's so much like her mother," Jocasta smiled as she reached out to grasp Claire's hand, her face immobile as she looked straight ahead.

"Perfect timing indeed, and I'm so glad we have this gathering while you're here, Jocasta. You know that you're more than welcome to visit us in Inverness next time you visit Scotland," Claire offered, putting her hand over the older woman's.

"It's aunt, Claire...call me aunt. Ye're part of the family now. I wish Ellen could see how happy her lad is...she would have been proud of this moment. He's always been a good lad and a hard worker, but some of his life's choices have been questionable, and Jenny has done right by him. Such a strong lass she is. And as for ye dear, my darling Jamie has ye now...I can now live the rest of my days in peace." Jocasta tittered at her last statement before she opened her mouth for another delectable canape Murtagh offered.

Claire leaned over to kiss aunt Jocasta just as a shadow fell upon them. Looking up, she saw her friend Stephen, a handsome smile plastered on his face.

"Stephen!"

"May I have this dance with the beautiful bride?" he drawled in his thick Belfast lilt, blue eyes dancing mischievously.

Claire laughed, and when she looked at Jamie, she noticed he had his eyes on her. He nodded as she took Stephen's hand, after excusing herself to Murtagh and Jocasta.   I didn't ask your permission you cocky bastard!   She thought, smiling at her husband and silently scolding him with her eyes.

Stephen took Claire in his arms before expertly twirling her around. "Ach Claire, even if you're not in a bridal dress, you still make one gorgeous bride."

Claire was wearing a nude coloured, floor-length floral dress with sheer long sleeves and V- cut neck, which Jamie had complained was a plunging neckline. To her amusement, Jenny had rubbished his claims. She had swept up her hair loosely with a few loose ringlets hanging down and only wore the pieces of jewellery Jamie had given her. Her skin, normally pale, was slightly tanned from her mornings sitting in the sun, giving Claire a healthy glow and radiance. 

"And you Stephen, you'll never change! You're still the biggest flirt ever," Claire chided jokingly. "So, when are you going to let a lass make an honest man out of you? You're a kind soul, you know, under all that bawdy and coarse exterior of yours. And a romantic too, if I may add!"

"Well, now you've asked, I think there is a lass...a very pretty lass indeed. But, I'm making her suffer a bit though before I answer her calls," Stephen confided with a hint of devilry in his eyes.

"Oooh! Someone, I know? Please tell, now I'm totally intrigued."

"Mmm...maybe...I saw her sat next to you during the rugby game..."

Claire's eyes darkened a bit, remembering the snobby girl dressed like a million dollars. "Please don't tell me it's Geneva Dunsany! That woman was horrid, and you deserve better! Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, Stephen, what are you thinking?"

Stephen chuckled. "Aye horrid she was, but I taught her a lesson....or two. After I left your husband at the bar at Cullin's Hotel in Skye, I bumped into Geneva, and I thought to mesel' what a gorgeous lassie...aye, maybe a bit haughty. So I was flirty to her but not indecent when I said hello and tried to make conversation. But when I tried to slip my number into her purse, she went ballistic and started calling me all sorts of names. Let's see...what did she call me...in-bred was one. Mmmm shameless, indecorous, lewd and a stinking bastard. I thought the girl was ballsy and spirited. So...I carried her outside and took her near the hotel's fountain. And before I threw her in, I kissed her for the longest time. And oh lordy, lordy, the lassie can kiss. Anyway, now, she can't stop calling or texting me, but I'll let her stew a bit before I get back to her. That lass needs a bit of chastening."

"Oh, my God, Stephen, no you didn't! Please tell me you're joking!" Claire, already knew he wasn't, but she laughed nevertheless.

They laughed and twirled some more as Stephen recounted more of his antics during Phil's party. And in the next hour or two, she was passed on from one arm to another as the band played tirelessly from one Scottish jig to the next modern music. Claire thought she had never danced so much in her life and was glad she wasn't drinking any alcohol; otherwise, she would have toppled over from all the exertion, so she thought.

She had just finished dancing with her Uncle Lamb when Stephen decided to give the lead singer of the band a rest. He had with him his own guitar, as he took centre stage, strumming a few chords before speaking. "Right folks, I know this is a Highland party, but I would like to inject a bit of Irish flavour for you lot. This song is dedicated to the gorgeous bride and her groom. I used to play this for Claire and Quintin...unlce Lamb... many years ago when we were in the middle of nowhere and missing home."

Stephen paused until the cheers, whistles and clapping subsided. 

"As you know, the Scots and Irish are Gaelic brothers and sisters in arms...so I hope you'll enjoy this wee Irish song...it's called  I'll Tell Me Ma . So everybody, grab a partner and lets parttttyyyyy!" Stephen's voice boomed in the speakers as the first notes of his raucous Irish country folk began to play.

Nobody needed encouraging, and everyone gathered near the musician's stage. Everybody knew the lyrics, and everybody knew the tune and everybody grabbed a partner, adults and kids alike. They all formed a formation to do a fast Grand Chain dance with Jamie and Claire at the head, stomping, clapping and singing along with Stephen's song.

Each faced their partner, and as they passed each other, they gave their right hands. As they let go of their partner's hand, they took the left hand of the person that came towards them, and pass them by the left. They kept on moving right and left alternately until they stopped and facing their original partner once again. As they moved and danced, they all sang loud and enthusiastically and some, drunkenly.

 

 

🎶🎶🎶

I'll tell me ma, when I get home

The boys won't leave the girls alone they

Pulled me hair, they stolen me comb

But that's alright, till I go home

She is handsome, she is pretty

She is the belle of Belfast city

She is a-courting one, two, three

Pray, can you tell me who is she?

Albert Mooney says he loves her

All the boys are fightin' for her

Knock at the door, they're ringin' the bell

"Hello, my true love are you well?"

Out she comes white as snow

Rings on her fingers, bells on her toes

Ol' Jenny Murray says she'll die

If she doesn't get the fellow with the roving eye...

🎶🎶🎶

After the last chorus was sung, everyone cheered, whistled, roared, and clapped while some started shouting  More!  To Claire's horror and at the same time, amusement, Jamie ran up the stage.  Jesus! Please, don't tell me he'll be singing! That bloody Scot...he can't even hold a tune!

"A round of applause for Stephen and the band!" Jamie's voice reverberated as he spoke on the microphone. After everyone had quietened down, he continued in a more subdued voice. "Before we continue with our dancing and singing, I would like to thank each and every one of ye, especially my sister and brother-in-law, on behalf of my lovely wife Claire, for making today memorable. We are truly blessed to have ye in our lives, and I hope we can have more days or evenings like this in the future. Most of all, I would like to thank my wife, Claire, for making my life complete and whole. Sassenach, ye are the most precious thing in my life, and because of ye, ye have made me a better person." 

More cheers, whistles, and clapping followed.

"Now Sassenach, I know ye're about to die of embarrassment here as ye've told me often enough I have a terrible singing voice."

Everyone roared with laughter and Murtagh shouted, "Get him off the stage!"

"As I cannot sing to save my life, I would like to assure everyone that I took three hours singing lesson with Stephen earlier and practised with him this song. So without further ado, I would like to dedicate this song, to ye, my beautiful wife, Claire. It's from The Proclaimers,  I'm Gonna Be 500 Miles.  As I cannot sing as quick as our dear friend Stephen, I will sing the slower version of this song."

Claire's eyes started to well up as Stephen took his place on stage with his guitar behind Jamie. It was apparent that Jamie was about to sing with only Stephen's guitar to guide him as the other musicians have left the stage for refreshments. As Jamie cleared his voice, everyone hushed, and waited for the melody to play. And then Jamie sang, his sky blue eyes never straying from Claire's. 

 

 

🎶🎶🎶

When I wake up, well, I know I'm gonna be

I'm gonna be the man who wakes up next to you

When I go out, yeah, I know I'm gonna be

I'm gonna be the man who goes along with you

If I get drunk, well, I know I'm gonna be

I'm gonna be the man who gets drunk next to you

And if I haver, hey, I know I'm gonna be

I'm gonna be the man who's havering to you

But I would walk five hundred miles

And I would walk five hundred more

Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles

To fall down at your door

When I'm working, yes, I know I'm gonna be

I'm gonna be the man who's working hard for you

And when the money comes in for the work I do

I'll pass almost every penny on to you

When I come home (When I come home), oh, I know I'm gonna be

I'm gonna be the man who comes back home to you

And if I grow old, well, I know I'm gonna be

I'm gonna be the man who's growing old with you

But I would walk five hundred miles

And I would walk five hundred more

Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles

To fall down at your door

When I'm lonely, well, I know I'm gonna be

I'm gonna be the man who's lonely without you

And when I'm dreaming, well, I know I'm gonna dream

I'm gonna dream about the time when I'm with you

When I go out (When I go out), well, I know I'm gonna be

I'm gonna be the man who goes along with you

And when I come home (When I come home), yes, I know I'm gonna be

I'm gonna be the man who comes back home with you

I'm gonna be the man who's coming home with you

But I would walk five hundred miles

And I would walk five hundred more

Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles

To fall down at your door

🎶🎶🎶

As Jamie sang the last chorus, he made his way down the stage to stand before his wife, tears evident in his eyes.

Oh my giddy heart, he's done it again, the bloody Scot!  Claire, who wasn't prone to crying in front of anyone, was now crying openly. If truth be told, Jamie had sung the song so beautifully, and from his heart, that she thought her own heart was going to implode.

As the last tune ended, everyone was so quiet, and so still, you could hear a pin drop. Jamie then gathered Claire into his arms and kissed her tenderly as one thumb wiped her tears away. "I love ye so much, Claire."

Chapter Text

"Jaaaa-mie, breakfast is ready!"

Jamie smelt burned food as he came out of the shower and walked into the adjoining bedroom. Wrapping a towel around his waist, he sat on the slipper chair to check his phone.  Burnt waffles!   He smiled. This was Claire's third attempt in the week in making waffles after revealing that he loved them.

"Jamie, is there really a need for Angus to drive me to the doctor's today? Surely, I can go by myself. My car hardly gets used, and really, it needs a run." Claire ambled into the bedroom with a mug of black coffee, wearing a short silk floral blue robe loosely tied around her waist, her stomach protruding at the opening.

Jamie sighed, looking up to his wife. "Sassenach, we've been through this before. I can't have ye walking around on yer own in town while I'm away in Paris. I can't take any chances with all the headcases crawling out of the woodwork."

The news of Jamie's marriage had spread like wildfire when they returned to Inverness three and a half months ago. He hadn't liked the intrusion on Claire's privacy as the press found out the identity of his wife. There were several candid pictures taken of her in town and unscrupulously published in a tabloid newspaper. The last straw was when Jamie's representatives had intercepted hate mails and messages on his public social media accounts. Although most were petty and seemingly harmless, one message was traced to Laoghaire MacKenzie's brother with death threats. The threats came after it was revealed that the MacKenzie/Christie case may be taken to the Scottish High courts.

Fearing for his wife's safety, more than his own, Jamie had ensconced themselves in his penthouse apartment with the round the clock security surveillance. He loathed leaving the cottage since it was the first place Jamie had felt at home since leaving Lallybroch, and for the most part, Claire loved it there. Jamie was aware it would have been a matter of time before the media discovered their hideaway, and he was mindful that Tom Christie knew the address of the cottage.

Claire stood in front of him with an exaggerated pout as she handed him the coffee. Jamie knew his wife was restless after being relieved from work after a photographer had nearly hampered an emergency case Claire was working on; moreover, there was the doctor's warning about stress because of her high blood pressure.

Jamie took the coffee off Claire's hand and placed it on the table. He undid her robe to kiss her belly before pulling her down onto his lap, her legs straddling him. "Now Sassenach, ye promise me ye'll not try to lose Angus this time. The poor man was almost out of his wits with worry the last time ye tried to abscond. I know ye don't like the security and the fuss, but we have the baby to think about now, aye? And I'm so sorry I cannae be with ye for the doctor's appointment." He leaned forward for a kiss, his large hands firm on her hips. "Mmm, ye taste of hazelnut chocolate spread."

"I promise." Claire sighed as her arms snaked around his neck. "Besides, I have a project that I'm working on, and I'll need Angus' brawn with the shopping, so I need to stay on his good side. Shall I message you later when I find out the gender of the baby?"

"Ye can call me anytime, Sassenach, but no... I want the gender of our baby to be a surprise. But keep me updated what the doctor says about yer health." Jamie's first and foremost concern was Claire's well being as he tried to push away thoughts of how his mother had died, giving birth to a stillborn child. He didn't want to leave her, but he needed to sort out some paperwork in Paris concerning Château Cheval Blanc.

"Alright then, if you want it to be a surprise, the baby's room is off-limits to you. I plan to decorate it while you're away, and Geillis and Gail promised to come around to help with some ideas."

"Mmmm...off-limits. Got it. Now let see what delectables you have for my breakfast," Jamie breathed nuzzling her neck as he slipped off Claire's robe down her arms. 

"Jamie! We just did it this morning, and you have a plane to catch!" But his warm breath against her skin was already sending tingling sensation down her spine.

Jamie ignored her remark. "Christ Sassenach, yer tits are so massive, and yer arse is so plump and round." He nibbled her earlobe delicately, one hand cupping the weight of her breast and another squeezing her arse, as he pulled her closer to his hard arousal. "Feel that Sassenach, that's what ye do to me when ye walk around half-naked. Damn, ye're so bonnie...so sexy," he whispered in a ragged voice.

"And you're so ravenous and insatiable...how are you going to survive a few days in Paris, huh?" Claire whispered as her hips started to move against him, pulling his head down to her breast. She smiled as he groaned, his hip movements matching her own.

Impatiently, Jamie raised Claire by the hips to pull down her panties and whipped off his towel before lowering her down to his cock. Then he reached down to their adjoining nakedness and stroked her sensitive spot. "Weel, ye just have to talk dirty to me tonight on the phone. They call it in French,  en libre service ." He chuckled softly as he heard her gasp, knowing she was shocked and roused at his suggestion.

Claire's head lolled back as Jamie bent his head to tease a nipple. " En libre service?  Alright Jamie, tell me more about it...what would you like to hear as by way of example..." she whispered as a whimper escaped her lips.

Jamie raised his head from her breast, and with one hand behind her neck, pulled her closer. As Claire began to rock more frantically against him, he whispered all the naughty things he intended to do to her once he was back from Paris.

.........

Joe had suggested accompanying Claire to see the doctor, which he had done on previous occasions as Jamie had been very busy with work. He had recommended as soon as she was back from Lallybroch to make an appointment for a screening test, acknowledging that there was a high probability of abnormality with her baby after she had ingested ketamine a few weeks back. Joe had voiced his concern to Claire, but she had been adamant that whatever they find wrong with the baby, she refused to terminate her pregnancy. Joe knew if Jamie had found out that there was a risk of developmental challenges, disability or risk to Claire's life, he would have had wanted a say as Joe had known how his mother had died. Stubborn as Claire was, she had prohibited Joe from voicing his concern to Jamie, thinking this was probably the only chance she'll ever be pregnant. As it turned out and much to his relief and surprise, and after a series of doctor's appointments, Claire and her baby were in perfect health. And today they were about to find out the gender.

"Are you excited, LJ? I'd say though, you look massive for 21 weeks," he chortled as he looked her over on the examination bed and held her hand. "Importantly though, I'm glad that you're passing through all examinations with flying colours and you're positively glowing."

Claire's face turned a shade crimson as she thought of Jamie, secretly attributing her glow from their lovemaking earlier in the day. "You know, as much as I'm enjoying this pregnancy, I can't wait for the baby to be born. Jamie is driving me nuts with his worry. He has enough on his plate already, and he still insists on cooking when he comes home from work. And for crying out loud, he even hired a cleaner to come twice weekly. And he's so paranoid with the trial, he had the cleaner screened thoroughly."

"Well, after what you've been through, coupled with being a first-time parent, I can hardly blame him. And you missy, knowing how stubborn you are, you tend to do as you please which makes all the more difficult for him. Go easy on Jamie...you know how much he loves you and with his mother's history..."

Claire sighed. "I know, I know. It's just so difficult not doing anything but I guess, I'll be busy enough doing the nursery."

"Mrs Fraser, Dr Abernathy, hello, are we ready for the scan?" Claire and Joe turned towards the door as her doctor, Dr Grant, a woman in her fifties and a female sonographer walked in. "We've done this before, and it shouldn't take long, so whenever we're ready..."

Indeed it was all very a standard routine test, and Claire only felt the mild discomfort of the coldness of the lubricating gel slathered onto her belly, and the handheld probe pressing near her full bladder, making Claire want to burst. When the first images appeared on the screen, she could hardly make out any semblance as the monitor was not in her direct vision, but she could hear soundwaves coming from the ultrasound probe. But when Joe's head tilted funnily and his brows furrowed, Claire became worried.

"Joe, what is it?" Trying to suppress a rising panic, she tried to turn her head around to her side to take a look at the screen monitor, but she couldn't make out the images.

Joe's eyes were about to pop out. "Is that what I think it is?" he asked nobody in particular.

"Joe!!!!! For fuck sake Joe, what is it?!?"

Dr Grant smiled. "Congratulations Mrs Fraser...it looks like you're expecting twins."

"Twins? There was no mention of twins in Claire's previous examination," Joe said with utter disbelief.

"Well, they call it the hidden twin and sometimes they're not detected until later. See here?" Dr Grant pointed, "There's the second baby. And it's quite clear from here the twins are girls."

"Sweet Mother of Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! Jamie wanted a surprise... well... he's definitely in for a surprise."

..........

"Och twin girls, Claire, double the trouble an' double the fun. Ah bet Jamie nearly had a heart attack," Geillis smirked as she danced around the nursery, not really concentrating in measuring the walls for wallpaper.

Claire was sat in a reclining chair she had recently bought, sipping cold lemon water as she watched her friend. "Jamie doesn't know."

"What? Why didnae ye tell him?" Geillis stopped mid-twirl.

"Well, I did ask him before he left for Paris if he wanted to know the result of the scan and Jamie said he wanted it to be a surprise. And surprise he will get." Indeed a surprise considering Claire was still in a state of shock. She had yet to wrap her head around the prospect of having twins, let alone the impact it would have on their lives and her career as a doctor. She had wanted, after her maternity leave, to complete her residency at the Northern Royal Infirmary, instead of continuing to work at the Scottish Ambulance Service. Murtagh had thought too that it was for the best as he didn't want any more press lurking around the emergency department.

"But Claire, he was probably talkin' aboot the gender. Surely he would want tae ken how many mouths he has tae provide for. No' that he cannae afford it,"

"Good Lord, Geillis, it's bad enough him knowing I have a baby...imagine what he would be like when he finds out we're having twins. So promise me that you'll zip your mouth, alright? The only people who know about the twins are Jenny, Joe and you. So not a word!"

Geillis made an action of zipping her mouth, her cheeks dimpling wickedly. "That wee secret of yours will be hard tae keep an' surely, Jamie will start to wonder you're unusual size at yer next stage of pregnancy. An' how about the bairns' shower? An' the nursery? How will ye keep that all a secret from Jamie?"

Claire waved the key to the nursery room. "The nursery is off-limits to Jamie, and he knows that too, but as a precaution, in case he does get tempted to take a peek, the door will be locked. And Jamie will be too busy at work in the next few months...he said so himself as he planned to have paternity leave. And as for the baby shower, Jenny had already offered to organise it. That woman is truly a wonder."

"Speaking of the wee fox cub, there are pictures of him in Paris hittin' the news already. The press in France sure loves him. Ah wonder how the public took the story now that he's nae longer in the single market."

"I don't want to know Geillis, and I don't read news about Jamie. I just hope he doesn't blurt out that we're having a baby because he does have that tendency. Thank God the press doesn't know about it yet, and I guess, having Angus around to drive me about and accompany me, has its perks."

.........

October

Jamie noticed his godfather came more often to the gym than he used to. Usually taken to running to keep himself fit, he had been doing a lot more strength building and trained more often with Jamie. And the change didn't stop there. Ever since Jamie was a wee bairn, he'd always only seen Murtagh with a full beard, so it was a shock when his godfather walked into the gym with a clean-shaven face.

"Dare I ask what's with the sudden change in your looks?" He tried to suppress a smile, but Jamie had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with his aunt Jocasta. Ian had already informed him that his aunt will be flying back to Scotland soon and visiting Inverness and apparently, to be there when Claire gives birth to their baby.

"Dinna bother and one word about my beard, I'll wallop ye," Murtagh warned in a gruff voice as he started his warm-up exercises doing arm swings and standing-trunk-twists next to his godson.

Jamie didn't say another word, and Murtagh only broke the silence as they went on to their next warm-up on the stationary bicycle. "How's Beauchamp?" Despite Claire not working for the Ambulance service anymore, Murtagh continued to call her by her maiden name.

"Aye, she's braw." Jamie paused, hesitating as he pedalled vigorously on the bike. "Say, what do ye think about Claire's size? That bairn she's carrying looks massive in her tummy."

Murtagh glanced at him as if he was asking a stupid question. "Weel, with yer muckle size, what did ye expect? Obviously, the baby must take after ye...size-wise that is."

"Hmm, I've never seen a pregnant tummy that huge. I'm just worried about Claire...she can hardly get off the chair, and she tires easily. Do ye think that's normal?" Jamie asked, reflectively.

"I dinna ken. Why ye asking me? Ask yer sister," Murtagh muttered as he doubled his efforts on the bike.

"I did. I know Jenny has more experience when it comes to pregnancy, but she just dismissed it as Claire being a tall lassie. She said, the taller the lass, the bigger the tummy. That doesna make any sense at all."

"When is she due?"

"In two months...December she said. But the way I see it, she looks like she's about to pop."

Murtagh just mentally shrugged, not really interested in pregnancy talks. "Jamie, I've meant to ask ye something..."

Jamie got off the bike and waited for his godfather. When Murtagh finally finished, they walked over to the rowing machine. "What is it?"

"Aye weel, I was thinking..."

"Aunt Jocasta?"

"Ye're very perceptive! How dae ye ken?"

"For fuck sake Murtagh, I saw ye fondling my aunt's arse back in Lallybroch as both of ye dancing to slow music during the party...the whole hamlet knows," Jamie pointed out laughing, as he settled down on the rowing machine.

Murtagh's face turned red, and it was even more evident without his beard. But Jamie couldn't tell if his reddened face was down to being found out or exertion from their warm-up.

.........

November

Claire was doing some finishing touches to her hair, and as usual, her locks refused to cooperate, so she opted to leave it loose around her shoulders instead. It was aunt Jocasta's birthday, and she had the whole French restaurant booked for the venue. As Jamie was going to be late for the dinner, Murtagh and Jocasta had offered to pick Claire up on the way.  

Claire was slightly worried about going to the party as she knew pregnancy with twins means she can go on to labour before the nine months term. She was already on her 37th week, and Jamie had no idea she was carrying more than one baby. Dr Grant had informed her during one of her more regular visits that at 38th week they would have to induce the birth, assuring her everything was perfect even if she had been complaining of sharp back pains. Twice, Claire had gone to the hospital with Geillis thinking it was time and each time it had been a false alarm. Despite the possibility of complication, Claire had insisted on keeping it secret, knowing Jamie was too busy with work. She wished now she had confided to more people, but Geillis had promised all will be well and to stop worrying as it was not good for the bairns.

When the doorbell rang, Claire waddled to the door, feeling slightly out of breath, as she felt shooting pain in her back. It was Murtagh on his own as he had left Jocasta in the car.

"Christ lass, are ye alright? Ye looked a bit flushed," Murtagh asked with concern in his voice.

And just as Claire had feared and of all days to happen, her water broke.

"Oh...ahh...I think I'm about to give birth," Claire breathed heavily, holding onto the door. As she felt herself sway, Murtagh, caught her in his arms just on time.

..........

Jamie was just finishing some paperwork when his godfather had called to inform him Claire was taken to the hospital. At the mention of the word hospital, he didn't let Murtagh finished his sentence and was already on his feet, dropping everything he was doing. His heart was hammering as Jamie weaved through the traffic, willing his car to go faster, cursing himself for working late. All sorts went through his head and the one memory he didn't want to think about kept resurfacing in his mind: his mother's death giving birth.  Dear God, please let her be safe.

When Jamie reached the Northern Royal Infirmary, Joe was already there to greet him. "C'mon buddy. You're about to become a da! Claire's in labour. I think the babies are too eager to come out," Joe announced calmly as he led Jamie to the lift that would take them to the maternity ward.

"Babies? Da? I thought she wasn't due until December. Murtagh only said Claire was taken to the hospital, so I presumed it must have had something to do with her high blood pressure..."   Christ, what the fuck is going on...why is Claire having the baby now?

Joe caught himself. "Erm, I mean Claire and the baby are ready. It happened so quickly, and we didn't think...Anyway, she's fully dilated and is on active labour now. The contractions are so close together...so you'll be a da anytime soon."

Fully dilated? What the fuck does that mean?  Jamie had attended only a couple of Lamaze classes with Claire, and he remembered the breathing techniques. 

Joe looked at Jamie oddly. "What are you doing, Jamie?"

Jamie was doing rapid, short breaths. "Practicing for the birth? Isn't that what I'm supposed to do? Christ, am I doing it all wrong?"

Joe smiled and slapped Jamie on the back. "That's Claire's job. You're only there to assist her with the breathing. C'mon, calm down. Claire's doing wonderfully, and Gail is there with her."

"Oh Christ Almighty, I'm really going to be a da. Oh God...oh God. Christ, can't this lift go any faster?" Jamie was impatiently moving around and fidgeting in the lift much to Joe's amusement.

When the lift finally opened, Joe guided Jamie through the corridors of the maternity ward, and Jamie grimaced inwardly as he heard birthing screams and moans at each door he passed by. "Right buddy, do you want to be in the room with Claire, or do you want to wait until it's over? You don't have to you know...Claire's in good hands."

Jamie didn't hesitate, as he removed his tie and stuffed it in his suit pocket. "Aye, aye. I want to be there. I'm ready." He slammed a fist on his hand, puffing big breaths out as if he's about to enter a boxing ring.

"Right, you need to wear scrubs as we're going to the operating theatre."

Jamie's face turned white. "What? Why the operating theatre? Are there any complications? I thought everything was going well?" 

"Standard procedure buddy just in case the doctor deems it necessary to perform caesarian..." In actual fact and what Joe didn't tell Jamie was that most twin or multiple births are done in the operating theatre in case one of the babies refused to come out of the womb and the doctors are forced to perform a caesarian.

"Caesarian? Th-they'll cut her open? Claire had always wanted a natural birth...is it truly necessary?"

"Not necessarily...like what I said it's all precautionary. Calm down now...Claire needs you, remember that. "

A few minutes later, dressed in scrubs, a very nervous Jamie was led into the operating theatre. He stood there for a minute, dumbfounded taking the whole scene in, thinking what a pair of healthy lungs Claire had, and the sounds she was making made him tremble on his feet. Jamie saw his wife surrounded by medical staff, and there were monitors and bright lights everywhere and not the birthing room he had expected.

"YOU BEASTLY SCOT, WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?" Claire screamed as soon as she realised Jamie was there, to the astonishment and shock of the doctors and nurses. Ever since she was wheeled into the hospital, Claire had been shouting all sorts of profanities that would shock a naval officer. Even Jenny and Ian, who were attending Jocasta's party, and were immediately on the scene, was shocked but amused at Claire's very colourful use of the language. 

"Mr James Fraser?"

"Aye?" Jamie's eyes darted from the doctor's face to his wife, who had a look as if she's about to commit murder, her riot of curls wild if not plastered to her perspiring face.

"Yer wife is about to give birth, you can stand here or take a stool next to her."

Jamie didn't need prodding and immediately went to Claire, nearly slipping and sliding under the operating bed from his awkward and shaky movement. As he caught himself, Jamie leaned over his wife, one arm around her head and the other, taking her hand in his. "Ssshh Sassenach, so sorry...so verra sorry. I'm here now, and I love ye...love ye to bits. And ye're so beautiful...and I love ye..." He regretted holding her hand after realising what a strong grip she had, her fingernails digging into the back of his. He winced but kept his hold firm, as his other hand stroke her hair, keeping it away from her face. 

Claire let out another howl as she pushed with her back. "I FUCKING HATE YOU JAMIE FRASER. LOOK AT WHAT YOU'VE DONE TO ME. WAIT TILL I GET MY HANDS ON YOUR BALLS.....AAAAAHHHHHH!"

Jamie swallowed audibly as he felt Claire's body convulsed with pain. He closed his eyes, wishing he could take the pain away from her, and for once, he felt utterly useless.

"I can see the head Mrs Fraser, just a little bit more," a gentle voice reminded Claire, as she prepared to push, her face contorted in pain. 

Jamie's face was as white as the hospital's bedsheets, as Claire grunted and his heart thundered between his ears. His wife's nails, earlier digging painfully into the back of his hand was no longer felt as he heard the sound of a baby's wail to rival his wife. The room suddenly spun, and Claire's cries and the medical staffs' mutterings became distant. "Congratulations Mrs Fraser! Looks like this wee one inherited your pair of lungs," he heard one of the doctors said before he succumbed to the oblivion.

A couple of minutes later, a nurse hovered over Jamie, and he came to his senses immediately as something pungent and strong was waved under his nose. Realising at once what was happening, he quickly got onto his unsteady feet, breathing as many big breaths as his lungs can muster. He leaned over Claire, who was sobbing uncontrollably. Taking her into his arms, he looked around to catch a glimpse of the baby, but he couldn't see it. "Sassenach, shh...it's over now, the baby is here. Ye were so brave...so incredible, and I love ye so..."

"Right, Mr and Mrs Fraser, are you ready for baby number two? This next one is very impatient to come out, and we don't need to wait," announced a doctor with a smug smile on his face.

"W-What?? Wait a minute...what ye mean number two?" Jamie's voice faltered before he fainted once again for the second time, his head making a resounding thud on the floor.

It was too late for any of the nurses to check on Jamie, as the second baby came out without a hitch and with less push required from Claire. 

Once the babies were safely delivered and taken to be cleaned, the bewildered staff looked at Jamie's immobile body, still on the floor and then Claire, who was wildly dishevelled and wet from perspiration and exertion.

"Well, my darling husband wanted a surprise, and I merely obliged," Claire shrugged with a smile as she leaned back against the pillow, feeling all of a sudden tired and spent; nevertheless relieved and ecstatic that their baby girls were safe, whole and healthy.

..........

Jamie looked down at his wife, the twins nestled against her chest. After Claire and the babies were cleaned, they were rolled into their own private room in the hospital and were given an hour of family bonding. The bairns have latched on immediately as Claire breast-fed them and now slept contentedly. Jamie wasn't ready to share them to the world just yet even if he knew friends and family were waiting outside. Taking off his shoes, he slid into bed next to Claire, putting his arm above her head as he laid on his side, watching his bairns sleep.

He leaned towards his wife and kissed her on the forehead. "Ye were so incredible, Sassenach. The birth...ye...and everything has been a miracle. I dinna ken how ye've done it, but ye were so brave and strong." Jamie contemplated for a bit as he leaned to kiss the babies' head, inhaling their clean smell. "Ye've given me so much...yer love, our babies. I have so much joy in my heart that I feel I'm about to burst anytime soon."

Claire smiled, tenderly at her husband. "And I love you, Jamie Fraser and I'm sorry for shouting at you. How's your head?" she croaked hoarsely as all her screaming from earlier started to take its toll.

Jamie chuckled. "Och, it's fine. I dinna mean to faint like a wee lassie on ye, but it must have been all yer screaming that did it to me. I couldna bear the pain ye were going through. I wanted to take all yer pain, and I would have gladly suffered it for yer sake."

Claire was just lifting her face to kiss Jamie when the door to their room suddenly opened.

"Right, ye two, that's enough. Ye have plenty of time for cuddles later. We want to see the baby!" Jenny announced as she burst into the room, followed hesitantly by friends and family.

"Jenny!" Ian tried to pull back his wife, shrugging apologetically, but Jamie signalled them all to come in with a nod of his head, not moving from his position.

Jenny and Geillis were immediately leaning over Claire's side, crooning at the sight of the bairns as the rest congratulated the new parents.

"Och, they're no' identical... one's got dark hair an' the other lighter," Geillis chirped excitedly as she gently touched each baby's head.

Everybody crowded around the bed to have a better look. "Do we have names for the bairns yet?" Aunt Jocasta piped in as she stood by his nephew's side, one hand on his shoulder.

Jamie straightened up from his position. "Weel, everybody, Claire and I'd like to introduce ye to our beautiful lassies, Hope and Faith Fraser...our wee bundles of joy and miracle..." 

"Hope and Faith...how fitting after what both of you have been through," Joe said, smiling.

"Aye, Claire and I have talked about names. We have already decided on the name Faith awhile back if the bairn is to be a girl. But my wife never told me about a second girl," he laughed, lightly tapping Claire on her nose.

Claire looked at Jenny, smiling. "We thought too of the name Brian after your father, if the baby was a boy."

Murtagh peered his head to take a look. "So which one is which?"

"Well, Hope is with lighter hair and Faith is with the darker hair," Claire explained, her tired face breaking into a contented smile as she leaned her head towards Jamie's shoulder.

Jamie felt Claire's head bobbed up and down, trying to keep lucid in front of their friends and family. To his relief, the nurse came in to take the babies and announce visiting hours were over. By the time all of them left, Claire was already sound asleep, weary from all the excitement and effort of giving birth. Jamie remained where he was, holding his wife tight against him, thinking of the future for his young family. He said a silent prayer of gratitude as he stroke Claire's hair, and for the first time that day, Jamie allowed tears of happiness to flow freely until he too eventually fell into a peaceful sleep.