Actions

Work Header

A Beautiful, Wild Country

Chapter Text

“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, where is this bloody place?”

Momentarily, I thought about opening my window, detaching my satnav from its cradle and chucking the bloody thing out of the window, fat lot of good it was. When I’d been sent the postcode for the venue of my best friend’s wedding, I hadn’t really thought about how I’d actually be getting there. Where I came from, in London, single track roads (sometimes with sheep friends that needed some polite encouragement to get out of the way) weren’t really a thing. And now I was driving through Cairngorm National Park trying to find Mar Lodge and wishing that I’d been slightly more prepared, maybe even packed a blanket and some food in case I had to camp out in some lay-by.

Although, looking out the window at the beautiful surroundings, I wasn’t so sure that that would be a bad thing. There were definitely worse places in the world to get lost in, I had to admit. The turning of summer into autumn had given the vast trees an orange glow and the sun was sitting low in the sky as I navigated my car through the twists and turns that had been carved through the mountains for thousands of years. Having never visited Scotland before, I had concoctions of little fishing villages and some cows in a field. But as I’d made the slow drive up here, I started to notice the beauty and mysticism that everyone had told me I would find. The history that these landscapes could tell.

No, not history. Anything but the mention of the topic of history this weekend, please.

My stomach gave an awkward lurch as the ghost of Frank’s face involuntarily passed through my mind.

“He’s over, Beauchamp, we’re done with him. Let it go,” I muttered under my breath with a thimble-full of conviction. Christ, I couldn’t even convince myself. My eyes glanced up to meet my own in my wing mirror and I fixed her with a glance. “I am a 28 year old, single woman who is going to see her best friend in the world marry the love of her life and I will not be made to feel bad for showing up to a wedding without my planned plus one.”

***

My left hand was digging around in my handbag that was swinging at my side, trying to understand how such a large iPhone could always become so lost in the myriad of junk that always accumulated in every bag I had ever owned when my right hand pressed against the dark wooden panel of Frank’s office door.

“Darling, we’re going to be late for dinner if we don’t-“

“Oh God, Claire, no. Wait!”

I removed my hand and let the door slowly close as my eyes shut, trying to forget what I’d seen. His mouth on the neck of one of his PhD students. The joy emanating from her body, her mouth paused in a delicate ‘oh’ shape as she clearly enjoyed what Frank was doing to her. His hands… God, his hands in her-

Stop it, Beauchamp.

I took a deep breath in, let a single tear slide down my cheek and spun on my heel, quickly stomping down the corridor as I heard Frank call after me and her anguished voice call after him. Before he could decide which woman to comfort, I was out of the door and into the brilliant sunshine.

***

Squealing with delight as I drummed my fingertips on my steering wheel, I saw the vast Mar Lodge Estate come into view.

“Nice one, Geillis!” I remarked to myself, proud of the tiny wee redhead’s achievement at bagging a fairly wealthy fiancé who just so happened to also be charming, considerate, funny and most importantly, not banging someone at work. As I drove down the driveway, I saw just the man pop out of the front door of the main house and beeped my horn in a very excited greeting. Once he clocked that I wasn’t yet another overly enthusiastic wedding vendor, a smile broke onto his face and he began to laugh. I barrelled out of my car and he crushed me with a bear hug.

“Christ Murtagh, I can’t be a guest at your wedding if you’ve put me in hospital with broken ribs!” I gasped and felt his body rumble with laughter.

“Och lass, I’m no’ squeezing you that hard. But can ye blame me? It’s been months since I’ve clapped eyes on ye!” He held me at arms length, hands on my shoulders as his eyes lit up.

“Excuse me Mr Fitzgibbons but I’m the doctor round here, I think I’d know.”

“Aye, so ye are. Well come ben, Geillie’s been gan aff her heid all morning knowing that you were on your way, she’ll be fair chuffed to see ye!” Murtagh put his arms around my shoulders and lead me into the main building, promising that someone would park my car with the rest of them around the back.

To be quite honest, it took my breath away. The dark wood, the massive staircase leading up from the central hall. The portraits of old families, wildlife and landscapes that captured the beauty of the surrounding area. As we moved up the stairs I felt my heart begin to thaw for the first time in the past few months.

“It’s such a beautiful venue, Murtagh, I hope Geillis hasn’t bankrupted you both renting it for the wedding,” I teased, sending him a quick wink so he’d know not to take offence. He and I both knew very well that he’d keep Geillis as happy as she could be for the rest of their lives and it had nothing to do with money and everything to do with the love that the couple had found together.

Murtagh was older than Geillis by a few years but they had grown up in the same small town in the Highlands and were as intwined in each other’s lives as they could be. They had skirted around the issue for a long time before finally realising that they felt the same way about each other and within the year, Murtagh had asked Geillis Duncan if she’d do him the honour of becoming Mrs Geillis Fitzgibbons.

“Did Geillie not tell ye Claire? My family has run this estate since back in the Clan times. It was owned by the Mackenzies of Leoch but Frasers have been taking care of this land for hundreds of years, still do. God knows my da took enough hunting parties through here over the years, made them a good amount of money. Least they could do is lend it to us for the weekend so I can finally get married,” he grinned.

Murtagh had inherited his business from his father and his father before him. There was a lot of money in visitors coming from all over the world to the Highlands of Scotland to hunt, fish, hike and generally just experience the outdoors in a way that was unique to Scotland. You might get four seasons in one day but at least there would always be a peat fire burning to warm your boots and a dram of amber liquid in a crystal cut glass to warm your heart.

We stopped outside of a wooden door and Murtagh gave me a kiss on the forehead.

“It’s great to see ye lass, ye look well. All things considered.” The corners of his eyes crinkled and I bit my tongue to stop myself from getting overwhelmed.

“Thanks, Murtagh. It’s good to see you too. I can’t wait to share tomorrow with you both, you deserve it.”

He crossed himself and kissed his fingers before knocking on the door and disappearing down the hallway with the walk of a man who was fully content with life.

The door burst open and I was immediately being dragged into a hug that rivalled her own fiancé’s strength.

“You’re finally here! Oh my God, I’ve been absolutely beside myself all day waiting for you! What took you so long?” Geillis Duncan, my little redheaded nightmare spoke at the speed of a bullet train and the pitch of a boiling tea kettle.

“Well, you didn’t exactly tell me I’d be driving to the middle of nowhere. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ Geillis, let me breathe!” I squeaked as her grip lessened but not my much. “You’re as bad as Murtagh.”

“You’ve seen him today then? Did he help you in with your bags? Where are you bags?” A thousand questions on that ever inquisitive mind of hers. Some people found Geillis too intense and who could blame them with hair like fire and green eyes that fixed you where you stood? But not me. Not since I’d found her on our second day of our student placement, in a cupboard of one of England's busiest hospitals, crying those beautiful green eyes out. She had straightened up as soon as I’d stumbled upon her, desperate not to be seen as weak or lacking in ability. But once I’d told her that I was trying to find somewhere to cry too so she could either keep it up or leave me the hell alone, a wry smile broke over her face and we collapsed onto the floor together, her head immediately finding my shoulder in solace as though we’d been doing it for years. And we’d barely left each other’s sides ever since.

Still clasping my hands between hers, she sat us both down on the edge of the bed and moved her hands to my face.

“Beautiful Beauchamp, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you here. I’m marrying the love of my life and I get to do it with you standing up there with me. I didn’t know I could feel this happy,” she breathed quietly, the tears starting to well up in her eyes.

“Nope, no no no, you’re not allowed to cry because then I’ll start and we’ll never make it to tomorrow cos we’ll have lost our entire body’s worth of liquid,” I started firmly as she began to smirk.

“For a doctor, that’s a terrible lack of understanding in how the human body works, Claire.” I playfully slapped her arm and we both began to laugh. The tiny part of my heart that had begun to thaw received another burst of heat and the ice began to melt. “Come on, let’s go and get you settled in your room, it’s only a few doors down. We have the run of the house and the outbuildings too for extra guests staying over. And just wait until you see where we’re having the ceilidh!”

“The what?”

Chapter Text

I smoothed my hands over my hips as I considered my reflection in the mirror. The deep red dress was fitted but not tight and matched the lipstick I’d quickly swiped on although I was sure it would be well worn off by the end of the meal and I knew I was always too lazy to reapply. Sitting on the huge four poster bed in my room, I fastened the clasps of my black heels around my ankles and felt a little twinge of pride that I wasn’t terrible to look at. My dark curls would do as they pleased as always and I’d resigned myself long ago to trying to fight them into submission.

I took a deep breath and thought of three topics that I could quickly bring up if there was a lull in conversation. I didn’t hate mingling per se but when all of your anecdotes came from gruesome surgeries, they were maybe best kept locked away until the rehearsal dinner was over. I didn’t want to be making a fool of myself in front of the happy couple’s families and if I found myself in a pinch, I could always tell them about the time Geillis fell off a table in front of our entire graduating class after a little too much drink.

***

“Here’s tae us! Wha’s like us? Damn few, and they’re aw deid!” she had slurred over the sounds of celebration, raising a hip flask to her mouth as the cheer went up. One of my favourite traits of hers was the speed that it took for her to slip into her native tongue. Usually when surrounded by other Scottish people or after one too many drinks, her eyes began to blaze as she’d start spitting fire about Scottish Independence, Westminster rule and her favourite topic, Bonnie Prince Charlie.

“Do you know what she just said cos I have no idea.” The mirth in Joe Abernathy’s voice was evident and I turned to see his eyes twinkling with amusement.

“Oh, leave her be. Must be hard being away from home,” I smiled at him and then at Geillis who was now stomping out the beat of the song that was playing on the tiny table that she was standing on. “But coincidentally, I don’t have a clue either.”

Joe snorted and then I watched as a look of concern started over his face.

“Maybe I should get her down from there before she-“

Geillis crashed backwards, disappearing from view with a small yelp as we rushed over to help her, only to find her snort laughing with her eyes shut as she gasped for breath.

“Please tell me someone saw that?! Arse over tit!” she cackled as we helped her to her feet. I stifled my laughter and tried to put on my stern face.

“Idiot, you could’ve really hurt yourself. I think it’s time for the three of us to head home,” I gestured to Joe with my eyes to grab our things and with a final wave to the party, we were out in the cold London air.

After a quick taxi ride and a short tumble down the street, we entered the flat that the three of us had shared through university. I noticed a tweed blazer draped across the back of one of the dining chairs and my metaphorical shoulders slumped, the real ones being too busy with propping up an almost unconscious Geillis while Joe locked the door behind us.

“I’ll get her into bed and you can deal with that,” Joe’s clipped tone told me exactly what he thought of Frank and I swatted them both into the hallway and squared myself up for the impending fight.

When I got into the kitchen, he was leaning against the cupboards with one hand while the other held a glass of red wine. He didn’t look up.

“Nice of you to join me. Finally,” he said with a little more venom than I was willing to forgive, taking an open-mouthed glug from his glass and still not meeting my eye.

“Join you? Do you even know where I’ve just come in from?” I seethed as I took a tentative step towards him.

“Well, from the state of Geillis, I’d say some club or other while I’ve been sat here waiting for you to come home so we could spend some time together.”

“I was at my graduation party, Frank. The one that you promised, hand on heart, to come to!”

His eyes met mine for the first time and I immediately saw the panic in them.

“Oh God, that was tonight? Bloody hell Claire, I’m so sorry! I completely forgot and-“

My hand immediately snapped to gesture for him to stop talking and to give him his due, he did.

“I don’t care anymore, Frank. I’m honestly just tired and a little bit drunk and I just want to go to bed. Are you coming?” I sighed as he gave an almost imperceptible nod and we walked to my room, the tension bristling between us.

***

The memory of the night shuddered through me and I shook my head as if it would clear it like an Etch-a-Sketch. Frank hadn’t been a bad boyfriend, he’d just been absent. At the time, I would file all the red flags in my emotional rolodex of reasons why we would never work out and not think of them. He was always on time for his lectures but he’d be late for dinner with me. He remembered all the important historical dates but that big brain couldn’t retain my birthday. For the longest time, I just thought that that was the kind of person he was, forgetful and absent-minded. But knowing what I knew now about pretty blonde students, I felt like a fool for not realising it earlier.

I shot up from my seat on the side of my bed and took three deep breaths to try and steady myself. No point in coming undone before having to spend the next few hours pretending to be a fully functional human being who’s heart hadn’t been broken into pieces. Leaving my room, I slowly made my way down the corridor and into the main hall, marvelling at the beauty of the building. The hall was filled with around thirty people, all dressed semi-formally for the rehearsal dinner. I noticed the men wearing sashes of tartan over their shoulders and marvelled at how many different patterns there were.

“Claire, how good to see ye lass!” Geillis’ father’s voice boomed across the large hall and a smile broke onto my face as I stretched out a hand towards Mr and Mrs Duncan.

“It’s so lovely to see you both, you must be the only two here more excited than the happy couple!”

Suddenly there was a huge discordant whine that made everyone hush and look towards the staircase.

As the piper began to play, Geillis and Murtagh walked down the stairs, hand in hand. You could feel the joy coming off of them in waves as they reached the bottom and were surrounded by their families and closest friends. When the song and the well-wishing ended, Murtagh raised a hand in greeting to the small crowd.

“Thank ye so much everyone that’s travelled from so far! We’re so glad that you could all be here with us for the big event tomorrow but for now, let’s eat!” A cheer rose from the crowd and we travelled en masse into one of the adjoining rooms where a massive dining table had been set before a roaring fireplace almost as tall as myself. It was warm, inviting and I immediately felt more at ease, almost enveloped in the atmosphere. I found my place setting and made my polite introductions to the people on either side of me.

“Glenna, it’s lovely to meet you. I’m Claire, Geillis’ friend from work,” I explained to the woman on my left. She had a round, kind face and the thought came over me that she’d be a woman who would make really delicious baked goods.

“I been hearing stories about you from Geillis and Murtagh for years, it’s so nice to put a face to the name,” she spoke in the same Highland lilt that I’d become accustomed to over the years of hearing Geillis on the phone to her family and then later spending so much time with her and Murtagh.

There was a flurry of activity as the few waiting staff that had been employed for the weekend set down our plates in front of us and I eyed it curiously.

“Its only haggis dearie, it wilnae bite ye,” Glenna teased.

Having lived with Geillis for years through university, there were many instances where her eyes had lit up as she made reference to some mythical beast from Scottish folklore or some tradition that I had never heard of, revelling in regaling us with stories from her home. Haggis was the one thing that she had emphatically implored Joe and I to try one day, promising that a sheep’s stomach filled with offal, spices and oats, as terrible as it sounded, was delicious.

“Well, I suppose… Over the top!”

A while later, I leaned back in my chair and resisted the urge to pat my stomach, feeling like it was going to burst if I were to take another bite. We’d had a starter of haggis with mashed vegetables, my companions correcting my guess of turnips and potatoes as ‘neeps’ and ‘tatties’. After that, beautifully braised lamb that we were told had been reared on the estate itself. And pudding was a delicious decoction called cranachan, my English accent not being used to the ch syllable and amusing the surrounding guests as it came out very much ‘cranackan’. Along with a considerable amount of wine that was being constantly topped up by the wait staff making it impossible to count how many glasses I’d had.

Once our plates were cleared, the table was laden with cheese, biscuits, quince jelly and grapes that we were told, again, had been sourced locally. Excited at the prospect of tasting more delicious produce, I told my stomach to stop with it’s protestations and became doubly excited when a beautiful crystal cut glass filled with a finger of amber liquid was placed in front of me. To the left of me, the sound of a knife clinking against a glass and the table quietened as we turned our heads collectively to the man that was standing from his chair, to the left hand side of Murtagh.

Oh my God, where have you been all my life?

He was, to put it simply, one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. At least six foot four and almost as broad as he was tall. The flames from the fireplace behind him lit his red hair beautifully and his big hands cradled his glass of whiskey as he cleared his throat and began to speak.

“Evenin’ everyone I havenae managed to say hello to just yet. If ye dinna ken me, my name’s Jamie and I’m Murtagh’s best man,” he grinned down at Murtagh who was looking up to him with a smile. “Welcome to Mar Lodge estate…”

What he continued to say, I don’t know. I was too distracted to be paying attention, my eyes dancing over his face and body. His mouth twitched into rueful smiles, his tongue darting out to wet his lips every so often and I became transfixed for God knows how long. He was a good speaker, I was aware that people were laughing to well timed jokes and what I assumed was gentle ribbing of the bride and groom to be. At one point, he moved his fingers through his beautiful hair and warmth flushed over my face, my breath catching in my throat.

What the hell Beauchamp, pull yourself together.

My eyes snapped to the napkin laid out on my lap and I tried to subtly take a deep breath. My breath caught again and I coughed quietly. When I looked back to him, he was looking straight at me.

The corner of his mouth twitched and his eyes narrowed slightly, all the while not breaking from the prepared speech that had the rest of the table hanging on his every word. The level of his voice heightened slightly as I became aware that he was still looking right at me while his hand slowly raised the glass he was holding.

I immediately became aware that everyone else at the table was doing the same and I hurried to join them, displaying all the grace of a hippo on ice. I couldn’t help myself and looked back to him only to be fixed by his piercing blue eyes as he smirked over the glass at me.

“Slainte mhath!”

Chapter Text

Once the dinner had finished, everyone slowly started to make their way to their rooms as the time ticked on, including the beautiful redhead.

Jimmy? Johnny? Should’ve paid more attention to what he was saying than his mouth, Beauchamp.

It was getting past midnight when Geillis finally nudged me in the ribs and wriggled her eyebrows, making me look at what she was trying to conceal behind her back. A very large bottle of prosecco.

“And just what are you planning on doing with that?” I enquired, a smirk spreading across my lips.

“Me, you, my room. We can say we’re taking it for mimosas in the morning,” she grinned. Making her excuses to the room on her own behalf and mine, we snuck upstairs and into her room before anyone could catch us. We immediately kicked off our shoes and crawled onto the bed before she uncorked the prosecco with a squeal.

My fingers absent-mindedly played with the wire cage as she took a very large swig from the bottle.

“You know, Frank can make these little things into the shape of a turtle.” His name slipped from between my lips as easily as anything and the horrible pangs surfaced in the pit of my stomach. Geillis rolled her eyes.

“No more mention of the cretin, please! Not this weekend. If it makes it easier, I give you full permission to consider this weekend as all about me,” she pouted playfully and I smacked her on the leg. I threw myself back onto the pillows and covered my face with my hands.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I sighed exasperatedly and heard her giggle.

“You just seemed so happy in the beginning. He was intelligent and charming and you seemed genuinely happy around him. And then he just stopped caring and started taking you for granted.” I felt her hand pat my forearm, trying to comfort me. “Besides, we thought you’d just say that we didn’t like him because of how he behaved when we were around. Remember that Hogmanay?”

***

“Who on earth is ringing the doorbell at this time on New Year’s Eve?” Frank grumbled as he brushed his teeth.

“It’s a few minutes past midnight, it’s New Year’s Day now,” I corrected him, which I always secretly took a little too much pleasure in doing.

As I moved through the hallway of Frank’s townhouse, I could see figures huddled behind the door and I tentatively cracked it open, lest it be the grumpy woman from next door complaining about something or other. Whatever she could be complaining about, it couldn’t be the noise. I’d had to practically beg Frank to see in the bells with me and when they came, I received a chaste kiss on the corner of my mouth before he got up and started getting ready for bed.

I opened the door and honestly, my eyes started to fill with tears.

“Surprise!” The three of them screamed at me, eyes and red noses peeking out of hats and scarves wrapped tightly around themselves.

“Let us in, it’s bloody freezing!” Murtagh exclaimed as he, Geillis and Joe all stumbled into the hall and I closed the door behind them.

“You idiots, what are you all doing in London?” As far as I had been aware, Geillis and Murtagh were meant to be in Scotland where they lived and Joe was in Boston visiting his family for the holidays.

As they began to shrug out of their layers, I noticed they all had individual items to hand. Weird items, at that.

“First things first,” Geillis kissed me on the cheek as she pressed a 5p into my hand. Joe proferred a bottle of whisky and a single slice of almost frozen bread. And finally, Murtagh presented me with a very large piece of coal.

“Lang may yer lum reek!” He announced proudly as Frank joined us in the hallway. Geillis couldn’t help but snort at the sight of his pyjamas and as the three of them swayed slightly, I realised they were all pretty drunk.

“Nice to see you all, happy new year and all that. Claire, can I have a word?” Frank’s hand pulled on my upper arm as he guided me into the kitchen and away from our guests. “What on earth are they doing here?”

“Did you not hear them yell ‘surprise’? I have no idea but I’m glad that they are,” I tried my hardest not to stick my chin up in defiance but he rolled his eyes anyway.

“Claire, you’re acting like a child. You always do when those three appear. And why on earth are you holding a lump of coal?”

At that point, the three mischief makers came into the room with us and the look in Geillis’ eye made me cower for Frank’s sake. She fixed a sweet smile to her face and looked him straight.

“They’re traditional first-footing gifts, Frank. Silver coin for prosperity, bread so you never go hungry, whisky so you’re never thirsty and coal so you always have warmth. We brought them to your home to offer good luck in the coming year.”

Frank rolled his eyes again and sighed.

“Thank you for the lesson on Scotland, Geillis but last time I checked, we are very much in England.”

Geillis’ jaw tightened and I shot her a quick glance, pleading her not to start a fight. I placed my hand on Frank’s arm and turned to him, feeling the irritation radiating off of his body.

“Can we just have a quick drink here? Please Frank, they’ve come all this way and I haven’t seen them in months.” He shook his head.

“I have to be at the office in less than seven hours Claire, I need to sleep.”

“Come on man, live a little! It’s Hogmanay!” Murtagh raised the bottle of whisky in the air before taking a long draw and offering it to Frank, trying to be the peace maker as always. Frank’s eyes drifted from the bottle to the man holding it and he smiled. Being the person in the room who knew him best, it wasn’t a nice smile.

“Sorry jock but I’m more of a gin guy.”

The tension in the room immediately doubled and I saw Geillis’ mouth drop open for the slightest of moments. As fiercely protective of her fiancé as he was of her, the derision in Frank’s voice had sent her over the edge.

“What the fuck do you mean by that then, Frank?” The alcohol made her composure slip. I knew that none of my friends really thought that much of Frank, they all just sort of put up with him for my sake. But Geillis had to try very hard at the best of times to keep her mouth shut when she felt slighted and this, apparently, was not going to be one of those times. “You fucking bastard.”

I immediately told Frank to go to bed while Murtagh put his hands on Geillis’ shoulders to steady her. As Frank left the room, I turned to apologise to my friends.

“You’re not the one who needs to apologise, Claire. Your boyfriend is a fucking prejudiced prick.” Geillis spat, her eyes going glassy from her inebriation.

“Geillie, let’s go, come on.” Joe started to edge the three of them out of the room and they gathered their things to leave.

“I’m so sorry, you guys. I’m sorry and you came all this way-“ Geillis snapped a drunken hand over my mouth to stop me from continuing as tears started to fill her eyes.

“He doesn’t deserve you, Claire. I love you and I will always be your best friend but you deserve more than that man.”

And with that, the three of them left into the cold air as I closed the door and began to cry.

***

“I hate thinking about that night. I’d never seen him be cruel like that before,” I ruminated before bringing the bottle of prosecco to my lips. Geillis and I were now changed into fluffy bathrobes and were tucked up in her bed. She stole the bottle from my hands, yet again.

“Hindsight is 20/20. Anyway, it’s my last night as an unmarried woman and I refuse to spend it talking about your cheating bastard of an ex. Tell me about all the hot dates that you’ve been on recently, as of tomorrow I’m a one-man gal,” she giggled and I faked a gasp, clutching my invisible pearls.

“You mean to tell me that up until now you’ve been spreading your legs every time someone attractive comes past your door? Miss Duncan, what would your fiancé say?” Geillis snorted into her prosecco.

“Bitch, the bubbles went up my nose. Seriously, have you been dating? I know it’s only been a few weeks since Frank but you’re allowed to move on extra quickly when you’re being cheated on.”

“Yes but we lived together, it’s not that easy.”

“Excuse me, he let you stay overnight but you did not live together. He gave you a key for emergencies only for Christ’s sake.” I cringed at her honesty and couldn’t help but mentally smack myself on the forehead. All the red flags that I had dug down were all so obvious when they were coming out of someone else’s mouth, especially someone as blunt as my best friend Geillis. Frank and I had been together for close to two years and every time I raised the idea of me moving in with him, he quickly shut it down. So I’d been existing in the tiny spare bedroom of Joe’s flat, refusing to look at getting my own place with more space on the dwindling hope that Frank would suddenly change his tune.

“Okay, okay, I get your point, no need to rub it in. But no, no dates. I’ve barely left the flat,” I felt myself blush with shame and Geillis shot me a sympathetic look.

“Look, there’s going to be almost a hundred more people coming tomorrow than are already here. I’m sure between the Duncans and the Fitzgibbons, we can find you someone to crush over,” she said, reclining back against her pillows and looking up at the ceiling, clearly swiping through the guest list in her mind.

“Well, now that you mention it…” I trailed off. She immediately sat back up again, her jaw dropping.

“Who? Have you been snooping through our guests? Tell me right now!” She smacked me on the arm making me yelp.

“Stop it, you little savage. Well, I just thought Murtagh’s best man was quite easy on the eyes.” My blush deepened and Geillis nodded appreciatively.

“Jamie, my wee fox cub. He really is quite handsome and a good guy too. You could do a hell of a lot worse, Claire!”

“How does he know Murtagh? I thought I would’ve heard about him before.”

“Well, they’re sort of an unofficial uncle and nephew, really. Murtagh was best friends with Jamie’s dad and when he died, Murtagh sort of stepped in, kept an eye on him.” Geillis smiled, her eyes drifting off to nowhere as she thought of her future husband.

“Oh, that fiancé of yours is a good’un, isn’t he?” I teased and her far away daze broke off. “No really, it’s sweet. Do you, uh, know if he’s seeing anyone?”

“Jamie? Nah, he’s just back from travelling and I think there was a girl he was interested in but I heard she went off with someone else. That’s why he came back home a few months ago,” she explained and a little spark of hope ignited in my chest.

“That’s… interesting,” I said, trying to feign my excitement at hearing he was single. Maybe Geillis was right and it was time for me to move on. And maybe I could do that by getting under Jamie’s-

“Very interesting, you wee vixen,” Geillis teased, “I can see your mind thinking about what those big hands could do to ye.”

Feeling like a teenager, the blush could well have been over my whole body now and I turned around to dig my face into the pillow.

“You’re drunk and you’re getting married in a few hours. I’m drunk and I’ve got to get you ready to get married in a few hours so I suggest we both shut up about hot men and go to sleep,” my words were muffled by the pillow but I felt Geillis dig further down into the bedding.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Beautiful Beauchamp. And I put the fate of tomorrow in your hands as I think I will have a monstrous hangover,” she giggled and with that, we both slowly drifted into the realm of sleep.

Chapter Text

I stood with my back to the mountains, facing the crowd of people sat in front of the main house, their eyes intent on Murtagh and Geillis, standing in front of them with their hands clasped together. An amazing sense of calm came over me as I watched two of the most important people in my life stare into each other’s eyes, the ever present glint of mischief almost goading each other to shed the first tear. The Celebrant, a lovely woman called Judith, had done an amazing job with the ceremony so far and she carefully laid two sashes of tartan over their hands and smiled at them, raising her voice to address the crowd.

“These sashes represent two lives becoming one, shown by the tying together of the Duncan tartan and the Fitzgibbons tartan,” she spoke as she began to tie a knot just under their hands. “A knot to symbolise Geillis’ love for Murtagh, a knot to symbolise Murtagh’s love for Geillis and a final knot symbolising the new journey that they are taking together as husband and wife.”

I tried not to puff my cheeks out as I bit down on my tongue to stop myself from completely losing it. The day had gone so well up to now, Geillis’ warning of a hangover lasted all of five minutes before she began bouncing around with excitement. The hairdresser and the make-up artist had descended on both of us, managing to make me into an impossibly polished version of myself and Geillis was just glowing. Her fire red hair loosely nestled at the nape of her neck and her pale cream dress fell to the floor like water, making her look like she was floating. And she might as well have been.

Feeling a tear escape down my cheek, I forced myself to look away from them, my eyes scanning the crowd for the familiar face that I had been desperate to see all morning. Almost immediately, I found Joe and he beamed a huge smile at me before sending me a wink and mouthing ‘you look hot!’. My dress was a simple green chiffon that I had been told matched the colours of the Duncan tartan. I tried my hardest not to roll my eyes and settled with looking back to the ceremony, my eyes resting on the man stood directly behind Murtagh. He smiled warmly at me and I felt my chest tighten.

The morning had been so busy and hectic, having to deal with getting Geillis ready and talking her down from her numerous bouts of hysterical happiness, I hadn’t remembered that I’d at some point in the day be rubbing shoulders with the beautiful redhead from the night before. Suddenly nervous, I smiled back at him and turned my attention back to the ceremony as Geillis and Murtagh drank out of a small silver bowl. Murtagh had explained to me previously that there would be many traditional elements to their wedding ceremony, including the couple drinking whisky out of something called a quaich which was meant to symbolise the cup of life. It wasn’t something I’d ever seen at a wedding ceremony before, nor the handfasting that had just taken place, but looking into the crowd, I saw that nobody was perturbed by the events, not even when the Celebrant held out a fairly large stone and Geillis and Murtagh placed their hands on it.

Their vows to each other were simple and heartfelt. More than once, I found myself hastily wiping tears with the back of my hand to stop from obscuring the view in front of me. The view of two of my favourite people on the planet joining together for the rest of their lives. My heart jumped as I realised that true happiness wasn’t impossible, it was standing right in front of me. Geillis and Murtagh were the perfect embodiment of two people who were made to be together however far apart they seemed. The sun of their love had caused the branches of their lives to grow towards each other, now twisting around, pulling them closer, making them both stronger as one. Their lips touched as the bagpipes started their drone and everybody erupted in a deafening cheer.

***

After the ceremony, the now husband and wife were crowded with people offering their congratulations. I had kept myself close to Geillis should she need anything else but she was in her element, not allowing any distance between her and Murtagh as they both sipped their prosecco, both of them with one arm tightly wrapped around the other. I made it my mission to find Joe in amongst the hundred or so people that were milling around in the sunshine. Popping onto my toes to see over the group that had amassed outside the front door of the house, I was suddenly unsteadied by a tap to my shoulder.

“Sorry lass, didn’t mean to scare you. Thought ye could do with one of these,” a silky Scottish accent made me turn around, my stomach immediately dropping into my feet.

He was even more beautiful this close up. The mouth that had held my attention so thoroughly the night before split open and showed me his perfectly straight white teeth as I realised, again, that I was staring at his mouth. He held out a flute of prosecco for me.

“Oh, thank you. Very much appreciated,” holding the glass up to my mouth before I could say something stupid, I took a fairly large drink and he held up a hip flask to me in a toast.

“Ye’ve done a fine job corralling Geillie today, the whole thing’s gone off without a hitch. Slainte.”

“You said that last night. What does it mean?” I asked, taking another sip to steady my nerves. I could feel the hairs on my arm standing on end and hoped he didn’t notice.

“Oh, just a wee toast. Good health and all that,” he said as he rocked back on his heels before slipped the hip flask into a furry pouch thing that hung from a chain belt across his hips.

“What else are you hiding in that thing? Does Murtagh know his best man is drunk on the job?” I teased, painfully trying to be flirty. God, I was out of practice.

“I imagine he's counting on it. I would wager all the men here have a flask in their sporran,” he grinned cheekily, setting parts of me on fire that had been frozen for quite some time. “I’m sorry we haven’t met before just now, I’m Jamie Fraser. Best man, for my sins,” he stepped back in an informal bow, held his hand out to me and I placed mine in his.

“Claire Beauchamp. It’s very nice to meet you although to be honest, I had thought of myself as maid of honour and best man in one tidy little package.”

He blushed and in my peripheral vision, I noticed his fingers tap against his the material of his gorgeous kilt that was resting on his thigh.

Shifting his weight that little farther back gave me allowed me to take in the full view. A man in a full traditional kilt was quite a sight to behold and he wore it incredibly well, tall and strong. The brown tweed jacket fitted his shoulders beautifully and I noticed the colours of his tartan on his kilt, a claim to his family name. Most men at the wedding were wearing kilts but not a single one was wearing it the way Jamie Fraser was.

“Aye, Murtagh was quite upset that I havenae been here for the whole of the planning. I was away, ye see. But I don’t doubt you have done your utmost to keep the both of them happy, Mrs Beauchamp.”

“Let me assure you, it’s Ms Beauchamp,” I tried not to sound too bitter. His eyebrows raised for an infinitesimal moment and then became determined, his eyes slightly narrowing on me.

“Well, that’s good to know, Ms Beauchamp. I wouldnae want to be causing any friction between lovers when I ask ye to dance later on,” his eyes sparkled.

“Geillis told me about the dancing yesterday. I have to say I’m quite nervous, I’m really not very graceful at the best of times,” I admitted, my words somehow permeating my limbs as I awkwardly moved from one foot to the other.

“A ceilidh isn’t really a dance as much as it’s a contact sport but dinna fash Sassenach,” a couple in the crowd fought their way past us towards Murtagh and Geillis and he was forced to push himself closer to me, his hand coming to the small of my back to keep me steady and his breath inadvertently landing on the side of my neck, sending shivers down my spine. “I’ll look after you.”

Chapter Text

The reception took place in the most incredible hall. Hundreds of antlers were hanging from every inch of the roof hanging over our heads, even encroaching on the wall space due to their vast number. It was the perfect setting for the evening and I finally started to relax, the main part of the day being over without any disasters. A smile warmed my face as I looked over at Geillis and Murtagh who might have well been in a room all by themselves. Even surrounded by their family and friends, they only had eyes for each other. Murtagh hadn’t let go of her hand the whole time during his speech. I had shifted my gaze from them to Jamie, at Murtagh’s side as always. He was looking up at his uncle with so much reverence, it almost made me tear up.

After the speeches had been made and we were all well fed and suitably tipsy, the tables were moved as Murtagh and Geillis took to the floor. The band that had situated themselves in the corner began to play a gentle Scottish folk song as the newlyweds swayed together, a hush coming over the crowd.

As we watched them move around the floor, the music began to speed up and other couples started to join them. I was aware of a hand on my elbow and I looked up to see Jamie smiling at me.

“Fancy it, Sassenach?” Before I had time to respond, the strength in his hands was guiding me out onto the dance floor and we settled against each other, one of my hands in his and one against his shoulder while his other found it’s way to my waist, his fingertips momentarily digging in before relaxing again. I tried to take a sneaky breath in to try and steady my heart that was trying to beat it’s way out of my chest.

God, I will be mortified if he can feel that.

“What does that mean? ‘Sassenach’?” I asked, looking up at him from underneath my eyelashes. His eyes narrowed and his mouth closed in a straight line, almost like he was embarrassed.

“I don’t mean ye any offence by it, Claire. It means ‘outlander’ or around the Highlands, it’s probably most commonly meant as ‘English’.”

“Suppose I can’t fault your observations there,” I said, dryly.

Not that he knew but the word had an extra sting to it, given my unusual upbringing. When my parents had died, I’d been left with my Uncle Lamb who was an archaeologist. Together we’d lived all over the world and I had able to experience things that few others had which I always cherished. But it also meant that I was a bit of a misfit. When I’d been accepted into Oxford, I found myself trying to conform to the status quo, to fit myself into the mould to make things easier. But it just meant that I was spending time with people I had nothing in common with, feeling more and more lonely. And then one day I’d been taking cover from rain in one of the quads and an umbrella appeared over my head. Joe had been one three black students in the entire university year and as we waited for the rain to stop, exchanging small talk and he mentioned that he had seen me sitting by myself in the lectures, it dawned on me that he felt quite alone too. And then a year afterwards, I’d found Geillis, a proud Scot living in England and having to deal with ignorant remarks. The three of us nomads began to make a home in each other and it had created a lasting bond.

Jamie cleared his throat and I could tell he was trying to find the right words.

“I dinnae mean it that way wi’ you. I only mean to say that yer… well, something new.” He sounded uneasy in his explanation and I smiled to let him know there was no hard feelings. “I’m just surprised that I havenae already met ye is all. I’ve heard yer name mentioned, of course, but they didn’t say ye were so… so-‘

“Heavy footed?” I interrupted, scared to let him finish. After the moment once the ceremony had finished when he’d touched my back, there had been a cloud hanging over us, thick and heavy. I’d had to shake visions of our bodies twisted together from my mind all afternoon and being this close to him wasn’t making it easy. But then, the fear that I had read his signals incorrectly, maybe interpreted them to mean a mutual attraction when he was just being nice, sat in my stomach. He smiled kindly at me.

“Yer a bonny dancer, Claire. And I meant what I said earlier, I’ll keep ye right wi’ the steps for all the reels and strathspeys, dinna you worry. I’ll hold on tight.”

The mere mention of him holding me at all made my head rush and I was at risk of losing my balance. Jamie’s grip tightened around me as a reflex and I found myself wanting to sink further into his hold. The last few hours of adrenaline paired with copious amounts of alcohol were finally getting to me. But they also made me bold.

Shutting up the little voice of self-doubt that was gibbering on at the back of my mind, I looked him straight in the eye, slightly increasing the pressure of the length of my body against his, one of my legs moving further in between his. In a moment of sheer bravery, I darted my tongue out of my mouth, wetting my lips.

“Promise?”

His eyes darkened as he looked at my mouth and I felt a little rush of pride. I was never one to be forward with things like this but the chemistry between the two of us was so strong, I couldn’t believe that he was oblivious too it. His reaction just confirmed my suspicion and I resolved to spend the rest of the night trying to stay as close to him as I possibly could. He slowly started to move his face closer to mine and I could feel his breath on my lips, my body silently screaming at him to close the gap.

Suddenly, an accordion blared an open chord and traditional Scottish music began to play. The tempo was much quicker than we had been dancing to and a voice cracked over the speakers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please join us for our first dance! The Dashing White Sergeant!”

Jamie’s head flew back as he burst out laughing, looking back down at me with a mock-worried look on his face.

“Christ, they’re not letting us off easy for the first dance, Sassenach! Thought I’d be able to talk you through a Gay Gordons, ease you in a bit but seems no. Just listen to the woman and keep up,” he suddenly began to walk backwards and situated himself directly across from me. I realised that everyone was moving into groups, two bodies coming into line with me and we faced three others, Jamie in the middle like myself. More groups like us were forming all around the hall, conversations halting in their steps as everyone waited. Another accordion chord blasted through the hallway and Jamie’s blue eyes held mine as he bowed along with the other men, a smirk playing on his lips. Vaguely aware that the women were curtseying, I made an awkward attempt to copy them and on hearing the caller scream ‘Circle!’, both of my hands were grabbed by the people on either side of me and all of a sudden, I was being dragged to my left in a wave of bodies.

Straight away, I was confused. I could hear the woman calling out instructions but most of my group seemed to instinctively know what they were doing, giggling at my attempts to keep up. I immediately felt uncomfortable in myself but it quickly disappeared when Jamie grabbed my elbow with his hand and spun the two of us around, grinning from ear to ear as he did so. I quickly realised that nobody was laughing at me, they were just genuinely enjoying themselves and getting caught up in the festivities. I found myself being swept left and right by helpful hands as they tried to guide me through the steps, nodding with encouraging smiles. Laughter started to bubble inside me too as the absurdity of what I was doing hit me as I tried to muddle through the steps to the best of my ability. All of a sudden, I was being pulled under the arms of the people dancing directly in front of me and Murtagh, Geillis and her mother appeared as my row’s new dance partners.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Murtagh remarked over the music as he danced, surprising me with how light on his feet he was. The men of the party obviously had it easier being in flat shoes but one look at Geillis floating across the floor in their five inch heels put me immediately to shame. Growing up all over the world, I’d seen dancing in many different forms. But what Jamie had described as a contact sport had a fluidity to it and it seemed to come naturally to everyone taking part. Everyone except for me, that is.

As the dance continued and the partners kept switching, I realised that I didn’t know a single person that I was dancing with but surprisingly, I wasn’t worried. The feeling of rigidity and self-consciousness that usually followed me around had left and I felt light for the first time in a long time. It dawned on me that for the first time in what felt like forever, I was happy.

The music came to an end and everyone applauded each other and the band. My lungs felt like they were working a little harder than they wanted to so I extricated myself from the dance floor and scanned the room for a familiar face.

I found Joe leaning against the bar, a drink in his hand, looking like the epitome of sophistication in his dark grey suit. He moved to kiss my cheek as I leaned into him, wrapping my arm around his shoulders and squeezing, immediately feeling more relaxed.

“Quite the dancer, aren’t ya? You looked great out there, Lady Jane,” he raised his drink to me and I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at him. The nickname had begun in university and it had been harder to budge than I’d anticipated.

“You try it, it’s a lot harder than it looks,” I scoffed. “Hell of a lot of fun though.”

“I’ll wait for the boogie nights section of the entertainment, thank you very much. Anyway, it looked like you found someone to dance with all right. The best man and the maid of honour, very fitting.”

I could feel the blush in my cheeks, my eyes casting downwards.

“He’s nice. And not bad to look at. I don’t know though, I imagine he’ll have a few girls chasing after him tonight, he’s probably found someone who knows what they’re doing and can actually carry on a conversation without becoming a bumbling idiot.”

Joe’s shoulders dropped slightly and he regarded me with what looked like bemusement.

“Claire, when the hell are you going to realise that you’re a catch? You look so beautiful and you deserve to enjoy yourself! Frank kept you down for so long, it’s time to figure out who Claire Beauchamp is again. I think she’s a fox who should chase the ginger giant if she wants to.” Joe reached up to cup my cheek in his hand, looking at me sincerely. “Besides, the guy couldn’t take his eyes off you for the whole of the ceremony.”

“What?” I startled.

“Yeah, I got a good seat. Could practically see the lump in his throat when you appeared down the aisle. My best guess is he’s got his eye on you too. Case in point, he’s walking over here right now,” Joe’s gaze drifted over my shoulder and his hand dropped to his side as he straightened up, put on his best smile and held out his hand. Jamie appeared at my side and shook Joe’s hand.

“I’m Joe Abernathy, Geillis’ and Claire’s friend from work.”

“And school. We went to uni together,” I added, looking up to Jamie. Even in my heels, I had to crane my neck slightly to take him all in when he was this close to me. His arm brushed mine and I felt a jolt of electricity.

“Good to meet ye, Joe. I’m Jamie, Murtagh’s nephew.”

“Oh, I know who you are. You’re the guy who saved Murtagh’s ass from that stampede.” Joe laughed as Jamie nodded, smiling himself.

“I definitely haven’t heard that story.” Turning my body slightly more towards Jamie, I crossed my arms over my chest and raised an eyebrow at him.

“Well, there’s isna much to tell. We were camping, up near Aviemore, and one morning, I woke up to eh… relieve myself and when I came back, there was a group of stags running through the patch where we’d pitched our tent. I didna really think but I just started running towards them, waving my arms and making a hell of a noise. Try and deter them from smashing through, ye ken.”

“But you could’ve been trampled yourself!” I was impressed by his bravery, no doubt the reason that Joe had brought up the story. Here he was, so desperate for me to get back in the sack that he was trying to sell the guy to me and he barely knew him! He and Geillis must have discussed my lack of ability at length if they were coordinating their efforts like this.

“Stags aren’t aggressive creatures, Sassenach. But yon antlers could give ye a fair scratch if they caught ye at the right angle,” he gestured to the hundreds of antlers on the ceilings and walls, all looking suddenly more sinister and sharp.

“Good thing you’re in the presence of doctors then. Our Claire here has the steadiest hands in the business.”

I shot a look to Joe that said ’Stop talking me up, I don’t need your help’ and he cleared his throat with a smile.

“Excuse me Jamie, I promised Geillis I would try this Scottish dancing thing, God help my soul. It was nice to meet you.” And with that, he was away, moving into the crowded dance floor.

Suddenly nervous to be alone with him, I hugged my arms around my body. We had been so close to kissing before and I was now all too aware of the chasm of space that spanned between us, neither of us acknowledging it’s presence. But the heaviness hung in the air again and I felt my heart beat that little bit faster, the hair on my arms standing to attention as though they could sense the electricity between us.

“Cold?”

“What? Oh no, just… you know, erm-“

“Do ye drink whisky, Claire? A wee dram will warm ye up.” Moving past me, he put his hand on the bar. His chest was level with my face and I resisted the urge to take a deep breath in, to draw him into my lungs. He handed me a tumbler of golden liquid.

“Matches yer eyes,” Is he blushing? “It’s Laphroaig. Ever had it before?”

“Maybe once, Murtagh always gives me a taste but I never remember the names.” I admitted as I raised the glass to my lips. I sipped a taste and he watched me, a rueful smile playing on his lips. The flavours danced around in my mouth and I found myself really enjoying whisky for the first time.

Maybe it’s because of the Scottish God that just handed it to you.

Jamie took a much more respectable drink and we stood, just looking at each other.

“So Joe is-“

“A friend.” I immediately jumped in, instantly full of regret at my very obvious attempt to assuage any doubt he had regarding my single-ness.

“I was going to say a nice guy but I’m glad to hear it Sassenach.”

“Yes, it’s… good to have… friends.”

Oh God, please let the ground swallow me up NOW.

“Aye Sassenach, ’tis. To new friends.” He raised his glass and I clinked my own against it, draining the contents as if the alcohol would stop me from saying stupid things. The truth of the matter being quite the opposite.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Gay Gordons!” The caller announced across the hall. Jamie grinned at me and took the empty glass from my hand, setting it down on the bar behind me.

“Ready for another?”

“Again? I’ve barely got my breath back from the last one!”

“This one’s slower and not as complicated, I promise ye. And it’s just the two of us, no dancing with the whole room. Come wi’ me?” He held out his hand to me, the corner of his mouth quipping upwards. He looked good enough to eat. Of course, I placed my hand in his, letting him lead me wherever he wanted.

As we moved to the dance floor, he moved to my side and joining our hands together, his right hand taking mine and resting it on my right shoulder while our left hands joined at my left hip. Thankful that we were both facing the same direction and he couldn’t see the very evident signs of my contentment, a feeling of safety washed over me as he shielded me with his body. As nervous as I felt around him, I noticed that every time we touched, it seemed to disappear. It felt… natural. Like every time he held my hand or his body grazed against me, we were two people connecting after a drought of each other. He looked down at me and smiled slowly, his blue eyes sparkling again with the tension that had been present before. His voice was low, almost husky and his breath smelled like whisky.

Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, this man.

“Promised to hold onto ye, did I no?”

Chapter Text

The world was spinning.

Tentatively, I cracked open one lid and the resulting sunlight practically blinded me. I clamped my hands over my eyes and mentally cursed Geillis and Joe for pouring drinks down my throat all night.

“Oh God, this does not feel good,” I groaned to the room, shuffling my legs underneath the sheets to try and create any sort of tactile stimulus to distract from the raging hangover.

Almost on queue, there was a knock at my door and Joe entered without waiting.

“Good morning, sunshine! Don’t you look a vision,” he took a seat on the end of my bed and expertly dodged the pillow that I threw in his direction.

“I’m not speaking to you. What time is it?”

“Around 9.30am. You have to get yourself up, they’re firing up the hog pit.”

Excuse me?

“Geillis and Murtagh ordered a pig for the guests staying over, remember? Perfect hangover cure, bacon sandwiches and maybe a little hair of the dog that bit you. Come on, get your ass up, I’ll see you downstairs in twenty minutes.” He got up to leave and I reached for aspirin and glass of water that was on my bedside table.

“Fine. But only because you were nice and gave me drugs to wake up to,” I grumbled, swallowing the pills and sending up a prayer that their effects would kick in quickly.

“Wasn’t me, LJ!” And with a wink, he shut the door behind him.

Oh God.

With a tremendous amount of determination, I managed to drag myself into the bathroom for a quick shower, scrubbing my hands over my face. The hot water made me feel more human and I brushed my teeth carefully, trying not to be sick. It was irresponsible to have gotten so drunk to the point where I’d needed to be put to bed. Frank would’ve been livid if he’d been here.

But he wasn’t here. And that was the important thing. I would never have gotten into that kind of state if Frank had been with me because I wouldn’t have been allowed to. For the first time in a very long time, I’d been able to really cut loose and enjoy myself, not constantly being reminded about how many drinks I’d had or how people would laugh if I danced to that stupid song from the radio. I looked at my reflection in the mirror, my hair an impossible bird’s nest of tangles, the bags under my bleary eyes a very clear sign of me dancing the night away. And I smiled.

***

Once I had cleaned myself up to an acceptable standard and pulled on my black jeans and white linen shirt, I jumped into my comfortable Nikes and swept my hair into a bun on top of my head. As soon as I opened the door, the smell of cooked meat hit me and I followed my nose downstairs and into a big room towards the back of the house. Long tables had been laid out as the guests who had stayed the night were busying themselves with grabbing plates and cutlery and heading out of the french doors, propped open to let the beautiful autumn air in. I grabbed a table and paper napkin as everyone else had and went outside to see an entire suckling pig being roasted over a fire pit. My mouth immediately filled with saliva as Geillis came up and kissed me on the cheek.

“This may be the best idea anyone’s ever had,” I announced to her, knowing that my hangover wouldn’t be around for long once I’d had some food.

“Well, we just thought it would be nice to see everyone in the cold light of day. The ones that can get out of bed, that is,” she smirked with a single nod at someone across the room who I took it was suffering worse than I was.

“I was very much on that team myself as of half an hour ago. Pain killers, water and a shower, in that order and now I’m eyeing up that pig.”

“Yes, Joe mentioned about your knight in shining armour putting you to bed. Not entire selfless though, I imagine he had been wondering what you looked like in your skivvies all night.” Geillis elbowed me in the stomach and the realisation hit me like a brick. I’d woken up under the covers in nothing but my underwear, my dress having been folded nicely on the chair in the corner of the room.

“Oh God Geillis, why didn’t you stop me from making a fool of myself? Was I that bad?” She put her hand on my arm and looked me in the eyes.

“Claire, your two friends got married. Ye had a great time, as did the rest of us and honestly, it was lovely to see ye be so free. Ye had a lot to drink, yes, but so did everyone else. There are a lot of people wi’ the boak this morning, trust me.”

Still, I cringed as I imagined all the parts that I couldn’t remember from the night before. A hundred hypotheticals ran through my head and felt myself starting to sulk, the hangover rearing it’s ugly head again.

“I need to eat and I need some coffee.”

As I thanked the man for the heaping bacon sandwich he’d put together for me, I turned to find a seat at a table inside and came face to face with Jamie.

“Mornin’ Ms Beauchamp.”

Oh God, he was being so formal. I must’ve really made a tit out of myself.

“Good morning Jamie.” I looked around him to find someone that I recognised, that I could use as a reason to excuse myself but both Geillis and Joe were conveniently out of sight.

“How’s the head?” He asked, his voice quiet with uncertainty. It was almost like he was nervous.

“Better after the aspirin. Thank you, I, uh… assume that was you? Joe mentioned that you helped me to my room last night, I’m afraid I don’t remember much.”

“Aye well ye’d taken yer shoes off and I couldna let you walk outside over the stones in your bare feet so I helped you through and up the stairs and then I said goodnight.” Maybe it was the hangover or maybe it was simply because I wasn’t a bit tipsy but the conversation felt stilted. The night before it was as easy as breathing but I was starting to feel like there was something he wasn’t telling me. Or maybe even that I had done something and he was angry with me.

“Oh well, thank you. I’m sorry if I cut your enjoyment short.” His face fell a little at my clipped tone of voice and I took a step past him. “I’m keeping you from getting fed, go ahead.”

As I tried to make my exit, he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, slightly blocking my path with his body.

“Claire, would ye like to go for a walk with me tonight? Thought I could show you around the estate. Murtagh said you were staying tonight as well and I enjoyed speaking with ye yesterday.”

My shoulders relaxed a little as I realised that he was nervous, not angry. So maybe I hadn’t embarrassed myself quite as badly as I’d thought.

“I’d like that,” I smiled at him and he beamed in response.

“Great. I’ll meet you at the front door around half six?”

“Sounds good to me. Now, go and get some food, you must be starving.” I teased and received a wide grin from him.

“Always, Sassenach.” He moved to get food and I made my way inside, situating myself at a table with Geillis, Murtagh and Joe.

Back to being a Sassenach, that’s a good sign.

***

We spent most of the day in that same room, guests coming to say goodbye to Murtagh and Geillis as they set off for home. Jamie had joined us at the table and we spent the hours telling old stories about each other, Jamie and Murtagh constantly trying to embarrass each other each other although I couldn’t say that Geillis and I were behaving much better. I became aware that Geillis was keeping a close eye on Jamie and myself when we interacted, barely containing the look of joy on her face.

“And then of course there was the time that Claire knocked a man unconscious with only a wee keek at her tits!” Geillis’ crassness was one of the things I loved the most about her and in truth, I envied it. She was entirely unafraid to say and do what she wanted. Jamie’s jaw dropped and I put my hands up to stop the onslaught of questioning.

“What my dear friend and learned colleague fails to mention is that I was leaning over him to reach for his oxygen mask when he passed out, definitely not because he saw my chest,” I clarified. Murtagh tried to catch his breath once he stopped laughing and I threw an empty sugar packet at his head. “Not the first time you’ve got me in trouble with that story.”

“Oh Frank was a boring, old fart. He never saw the funny side of anything,” Geillis dismissed me and I shot her a look.

“Who’s Frank?” Jamie asked innocently.

“Old news,” I snapped, Jamie looking more closely at my face as my lips pressed together in a hard line. I faked a smirk, desperate to move the conversation on. “Anyway, let me tell you about the time Ms Duncan here got caught flirting with a porter to get her patient moved to a room closer to her car parking space.” Murtagh made a face.

“Excuse me but it’s Mrs Fitzgibbons now.”

***

I nervously fiddled with a curl that was hanging loose down by my ear as I stood at the front door of the house. It was 6.24pm and I was waiting for Jamie to arrive for our walk.

Walk? Date?

At around 4pm, it became abundantly clear that Murtagh and Geillis weren’t too fussed about the company of myself, Joe and Jamie anymore. The hand holding became arm stroking and as time went on, they retired to their room lest they begin undressing each other in front of us. We had teased them as they practically ran out of the room, hand in hand but really, it was sweet to see them so happy, so caught up in the beginning of the next stage of their story together. A little while later Joe left to catch the sleeper back to London and I left Jamie to go and freshen up for our evening appointment.

After a more thorough shower than the rushed one I’d had in the morning, I put my black jeans back on and swapped my shirt for a long sleeved thermal top. It was a dark grey colour with black stripes and the material clung to my body, accentuating the natural curve of my bust. Jamie hadn’t said where we’d be walking and I hoped my Nikes would be good enough for the trail. I slipped into my dark green waterproof jacket that I’d packed, after being told 100 times by Geillis that Scotland could experience all four seasons in one day, but the weather had been so beautiful throughout the day that I hoped I wouldn’t need it. It was the end of September and although the days still stretched in the sunshine, I knew that the evenings could be quite cold which was fine as long as the rain stayed off.

I had been ready embarrassingly early, forcing myself to sit at the vanity and swipe some mascara on instead of incessantly pacing the room, watching the clock. I hadn’t expected to be quite this nervous, especially after spending almost the whole day with him.

And with three other people, Beauchamp. Now it’s just the two of you, alone.

Now as I stood at the door, I took a deep breath and tried to steady my nerves. It was an utterly futile attempt as he came around the corner and smiled when he saw me.

He was dressed in dark trousers, obviously meant for walking due to the fact that they were made of a sturdy material. But these weren’t Grandpa’s old baggy walking trousers, oh no. They were tight fitting, clinging to the massive muscles in his thighs. I hadn’t really had a proper look at all of him before this point, I’d always found myself preoccupied with his face and under the bulk of his kilt and tweed jacket the night before, I could only really tell that he was very large. But seeing him walk towards me, noticing the material of his long sleeved white top stretch against his biceps, I noticed that he kept himself in great shape.

“Evenin’ Sassenach. Ye look lovely.” He took a step towards me like he was going to kiss me on the cheek and at the last minute, decided against it and gave me an awkward, singular pat on the shoulder.

“This old thing?” I tried to joke, pulling on the bottom of my jacket.

“Came prepared for the weather, I see. Smart woman. None sae used to it are quite as forward planning.”

“We do have weather in England, you know, Scotland doesn’t have the monopoly on rainclouds,” I snapped, sharper than I had intended. I was surprised at how on edge I felt but he smirked at me, not taking my comment to heart.

“I ken ye have weather Sassenach but the Scottish Highlands are something else. I can show ye if you like?”

He held an arm out to me and I linked mine through his as we began to walk in silence. Something about the physical contact made me relax, an unspoken secret between us that for the moment, our bodies seemed more comfortable with each other than our minds.

“Where are we headed anyway?”

“Dinna fash, am nae away to drag ye up Ben Macdui. I just thought I’d walk ye over to Linn of Dee so we could see the water and then maybe have a wee dram, if yer stomach’s feeling up to it that is,” he joked. I could feel myself blushing and the cringing that had been so prevalent earlier this morning came back with a vengeance.

I groaned. “I’m sorry, again. Did I already say sorry?”

“Ye did but I’m still no sure what for. I wasna exactly sober myself, Claire, I don’t imagine many were.”

“I just hope I didn’t do anything to make you feel uncomfortable. Or crossed any boundaries.”

He stopped walking and looked down at me, trying to hide his laughter from bursting out from behind his smirking lips.

“Just what do ye think ye did to me, Claire?”

“Well, when I woke up this morning, I had no recollection of leaving the hall. And I, uh, did wake up in only my underwear.” I couldn’t take him looking at me so I pulled, our arms still linked and we started to walk again, forcing him to look ahead.

“Claire, I unzipped yer dress, turned to face the wall and turned back only when ye swore to me that ye were under the covers. I then sorted yer bonny dress that ye’d left in a heap on the floor and by the time I went to say goodnight to ye, ye were already sound asleep.”

Relief washed over me like a wave and I held my free hand to my forehead, somewhat dramatically.

“Thank God! I had visions of me propositioning you and not behaving myself and-“

“Well, I didna say that ye were well behaved.” The smirk was back on his lips, I could tell without even looking at him. The cavernous pit in my stomach opened up again. “Shall I put ye out of yer misery?”

“I’m thinking of the old adage ‘Ignorance is bliss’, Mr Fraser.”

He snorted a laugh and we abruptly stopped walking as he took a step forward and turned to face me. The sun was beginning to set directly behind him, the light dancing over his hair. His face was kind, not mocking at all.

“Ye were verra upset wi’ me cos ye tried to kiss me and I refused ye,” he said in a simple statement.

“Oh,” I immediately knew that he could see the crestfallen look on my face, my stupid glass face that showed everything I was feeling at all times. “I’m sorry if I was rude. I must’ve just thought… well, I thought we were having a good time and the booze must’ve made me a little disinhibited and-“

“Don’t confuse my not kissing you with a lack of wanting to, Sassenach. I just generally don’t go around kissing folk who can barely stand.”

His hand came up to my face as his thumb gently stroked my cheek. Looking into his eyes, I felt my breath go short and his gaze darted from my eyes to my lips and back again, so quickly that I wasn’t even sure that it had happened.

“I’d like to kiss ye now, Sassenach. If that would be okay with ye?” My heart was practically thumping out of my chest as he kept his distance, not moving a muscle until I gave my answer.

“That would be okay.” My voice barely a whisper, his hands cupped my face gently and he bent down, hovering just before our lips touched. There was a palpable charge in the air and we both enjoyed the stillness, allowing the anticipation to build.

“A dhia, I’ve wanted to taste these lips.” His breathless words washed over me and I closed my eyes as he firmly placed his mouth on mine. Still for a moment, his hands moved into my hair as he deepened the kiss, sighing into my mouth. When his tongue flicked across mine, I made what could only be described as a squeak and could feel his mouth curve into a smile, not breaking contact. Every part of my body became more alert, more awake to what was on offer in front of me, my hands coming to his neck as I popped onto my toes, trying to get closer to him. His mouth moved in separate kisses from my lips to the corner of my mouth to my cheek to my ear and down my neck, my jaw hanging open with my eyes still shut. My hands grabbed at the hem of his shirt, fingertips hungrily grazing bare skin that had been hidden from them.

“Jamie-“ And his mouth was back on mine, the fire renewed. I reluctantly pulled away, his hands holding my hips against his as I leaned backwards, anchored to him. “Jamie, we’re meant to be walking, not making out like teenagers when we’ve barely left the house.”

His arms locked themselves around my waist, pulling me back to him as his forehead crashed against my own. He took a few deep breaths and looked me straight in the eye.

“Claire, Sassenach, I don’t mean to be too forward and tell me if I am but I’m of half a mind to suggest that the walk can get fucked and we go back to my place to have a… drink.”

His eyes darkened and I felt a delicious heaviness begin to swirl in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t help but smile at him, so beautiful in front of me. It broke my heart a little that I was leaving for home the next morning.

“Is it far to your place?” I replied as he grinned down and grabbed my hand, starting to pull me in the direction of the woods at the edge of the land.

“Five minutes. Enough of a walk for me.”

Chapter Text

Jamie walked with determination but at a slow pace, leading me by the hand, his fingers laced through mine. The sun was almost entirely set and as we walked through the dense trees, I revelled in the stillness of our surroundings. The faint sound of running water was the only thing you could really hear and I realised how much I wasn’t missing city life. No loud car horns or bins crashing against concrete, just the water and the odd rustle of something moving through the trees.

“Here we are,” Jamie said as his home came into view. It was a small structure and it looked almost impossibly old, an original building from many years ago. It was made from rocks that could have easily been hundreds of years old, contrasting against the modern roof of dark sheet metal.

“You live here?” I asked, the hesitation in my voice evident. He smiled down at me.

“This bothy has been standing on the estate since the days of the Clans, Claire. It’s none sae comfortable as my flat in Glasgow but it’s a good base for me when I’m here, y’ken. But I spent some time sprucing it up and it’s my own private place now, nobody here but me. It’s cosier than it looks, I swear it,” he grinned, pulling gently on my hand as he moved to open the door.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the outside but I confess that I was pleasantly surprised. The room was small with a well-loved brown leather loveseat in the middle of the stone floor, situated directly in front of a wood burning stove. Behind it was a double bed, a black wrought iron frame against the white sheets. A small kitchenette in the corner held an espresso machine and a stove top with a small fridge hidden underneath. Evidence of a quiet life cluttered every available space, books in piles on the floor where he had run out of room in the bookshelf, photo frames showing Jamie with multiple people, including a shot of him and a man who was unmistakably his father. Jamie flicked a switch on the wall and cast a warm light over the whole scene.

“Is it rude that I’m surprised you have electricity?”

He chuckled, “And indoor plumbing, if ye can believe it. There’s a tank outside and the burner heats the water, one thing I insisted on. It’s nae use having to hot foot it to the main house every time ye want a shower.” He was leaning against the wall by the door, watching me closely with his arms crossed over his chest. I turned slowly, removing my jacket and taking in the cosy atmosphere and came to sit myself down on the sofa, my hands running over the soft leather. Looking up, I noticed he was still watching me. “Do you like it?”

“Jamie, it’s wonderful,” I tried to stop myself from gushing. He visibly relaxed and smiled at me.

“I’m glad to hear it, Claire. I was worried ye’d mebbe think it a bit rough. But it suits me fine.”

He clapped his hands together and set to lighting the fire inside the wood burner. Hunched over in front of me, I admired his broad back as the muscles moved under the tight fabric of his shirt. Once he was content with the way the flames were catching, he straightened up and moved towards a dark wooden bookshelf, grabbing a bottle of whisky and pouring a healthy amount into two glasses. Sitting down on the sofa, our knees bumped together and he handed me a glass.

“Slan-shay?” I tried, earning a quick movement of the corner of his mouth as his eyes softened.

“Slainte,” he corrected, his voice quiet as he clinked our glasses together. We both drank, my eyes fixed on the floor and his trained on my face. “Ye seem nervous, Claire.”

My inability to hide my emotions was something I had known about myself for a number of years. It irritated me that everyone constantly knew how I was feeling, that I couldn’t keep any of my thoughts to myself.

“I was a terrible liar growing up, you know. My Uncle Lamb could always tell when I wasn’t being truthful, very difficult to get off with things when everyone can tell what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling all the time,” I admitted, taking another drink. Jamie laughed quietly.

“And just what was wee Claire Beauchamp needing to get off with?”

“Oh you know, staying out past my curfew, maybe a boy,” I ran my finger around the rim of the glass, avoiding his gaze as he relaxed backwards, extending an arm across the back of the sofa.

“I can just picture ye, red in the face and nae telling yer poor Uncle what ye’ve been up tae,” he teased and I looked back at him, smiling sarcastically.

“He’d rather not know, trust me. I once joked with him that he didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he took me in and he just smiled and said that he knew exactly what and he wouldn’t change it for the world. He’s a good man.”

“He sounds it. I hope ye don’t mind but I do know about your parents, I remember Murtagh and Geillis driving down to England to lay flowers with ye on their wedding anniversary a few years back,” he admitted, slowly moving his hand towards a stray curl that he gently tucked behind my ear, his fingertip grazing the skin.

“Geillis told me about your parents, too. I’m sorry,” I said sincerely, looking him in the eye.

“Thank ye Sassenach, I’m sorry too. It’s a lonely old world, made lonelier when yer parents leave ye.”

I nodded in agreement and his hand moved further into my hair, his large palm coming to rest at the back of my neck. Without thinking, I closed my eyes and leaned my face towards his forearm, planting a small kiss on his skin. I opened my eyes and could see that he was watching me carefully. The reflection of the flames flickered across his face, the light catching the beautiful colour of his hair. His eyes were burning into mine and I knew that he could feel the atmosphere between us, the soft bed that was settled right behind the sofa just waiting for us to move to it. I knew what his kiss had done to me less than an hour beforehand and I was desperate to feel it again, his mouth on my skin.

“Another drink?” He asked, derailing my train of thought.

“Oh, um… sure.” The confusion on my face must have been obvious as he smirked slightly before filling our glasses again.

“I’m not trying to get ye drunk, Sassenach. I just want ye to relax,” he clarified, taking a drink from his own glass as his eyes stayed on mine. He was right, I was nervous. Our interactions throughout the wedding were fuelled by merriment and alcohol and I had been considerably braver in a crowd of people. Now it was just the two of us and the conversation hanging in the air. I mirrored his actions and swallowed a large mouthful of whisky, hoping for some liquid courage.

“I’m just not used to this, I suppose,” I admitted.

“And what do you think ‘this’ is, Claire?” He asked, his head tilting slightly to the side, his voice not harsh at all. He was genuinely curious and I began to sense the uncertainty in him too. I steeled myself and drank the rest of my drink before putting down my glass and folding my leg under myself on the sofa, turning to face him head on. Our eyes locked together and I put my hand on his leg, further above his knee than would be friendly so he would understand my meaning.

“I think we are two people with no ties to anyone else who are attracted to each other,” I stated quietly, looking down. One of his fingers came underneath my chin and gently moved my head up so we were looking at each other again.

“You shouldn’t be ashamed of what you want, Sassenach. I’m not.” His voice was barely above a whisper but there was a strength behind it, a conviction that made my skin tingle.

“Do you want me?”

“Oh God, yes.”

He lips crashed onto mine and I moved closer, not breaking our kiss as I swung my leg over his hips and straddled him, bringing both of my hands to his face. His hands travelled from my neck down over my shoulders and further down my back, flattening my body against him. A low growl ripped from somewhere deep in his throat as my breasts pushed against his chest and his hands moved to my ass, gripping and palming the flesh that he found.

“Christ Sassenach, to touch you,” he gasped, his lips kissing my hair and my neck as I instinctively began to grind against him, feeling him harden beneath me. I gasped as his hips tilted up to meet me and his hand fisted in my hair as he pulled my head backwards and tasted my throat with his lips.

“Jamie… bed…” I panted as he growled again, his hands grasping under my thighs as he stood up, lifting me with him. A few steps around the sofa and he gently let me down on the bed, lying on my back as he crawled on top of me, pressing the hard length of his body against mine.

“You are so beautiful, Claire,” he said as his hands explored up and down the planes of my body, squeezing when he found an area that he particularly liked. My hands busied themselves with the hem of his shirt and I keened as I tried to wrestle it further up his body. He tensed and his hands quickly came to mine, stopping me in my tracks.

“What’s wrong?” I was out of breath, desperate for us to resume our touching but the look on his face gave me pause.

“I should warn ye, Claire, about my back.” His mouth set in a grim line and he moved his body from mine, propping himself up on an elbow beside me.

“Your back?”

“I was in an accident some years ago now and I have some… scarring.” He seemed so uneasy and I moved my hand to his cheek to try to comfort him.

“Jamie, I’m a doctor. Scarring doesn’t bother me.” I poured sincerity into my words, hoping that he could tell that nothing he could show me would surprise me. I’d seen people in all manner of states over the years and I had a strong stomach, I was sure I could handle it. He ran his hand through his hair and he moved to his feet as I got to my knees on the bed, placing my hands on my thighs so I wouldn’t reach out to touch him. He went to remove his shirt and paused, the obvious look of apprehension on his face. “Would it help if we turned out the lights?”

“No, I want to see ye,” he said, determination crossing over his features. He took a breath and removed his shirt in a quick motion, throwing it to the side. I couldn’t help but marvel at his naked chest, a light dusting of red hair that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on and his happy trail descending into the waistband of his trousers. I tried a small smile and he returned it before looking at the floor and turning slowly.

My heart broke for him. I had seen mauled bodies in my line of work but it was still shocking to see. Long deep scars running the width of his back, from his shoulders to his waist, the skin raised and pale. He flexed his shoulders, maybe trying to show me that he was still strong underneath all the dead tissue. The scars had healed well and I reached out my hand to touch them before realising that maybe he wouldn’t want me to.

“Jamie… may I?” I asked tentatively and he gave an almost imperceptible nod, still facing away from me. When my fingers touched his skin, he stiffened and then relaxed into my hand, his head hanging slightly. I traced the lines of the biggest scars and walked around him so that we were face to face. He looked down at me as though he was trying to work out a puzzle, his brow furrowing. I could tell his mind was going a mile a minute and it caused me pain to see him struggling. I took a step back and locked eyes with him as I slowly peeled my shirt over my head.

His gaze didn’t soften until I reached behind my back and undid my bra, letting it fall from my arms. I heard a small gasp from him and a large, warm hand came to cup my right breast. His thumb moved slowly over my nipple that stood immediately to attention. Still not saying a word, his hands made light work of the button on my jeans and I helped him push them past my hips and down my legs so that I was standing in front of him in only my underwear. Thank God I’d had the foresight to wear a simple black thong rather than something embarrassing and Jamie seemed to appreciate the untethered access to my skin as his hand gripped my ass, a low growl rumbling in his throat again.

“You are wearing entirely too much clothing,” I whispered against the skin of his chest as he pressed our bodies together, both hands now kneading my flesh in appreciation.

“You are so beautiful, Sassenach.” His voice was so low, it shook through both of our bodies as my hands deftly undid his fly. He chuckled. “Should’ve known a doctor’s hands would’ve made light work of that.” He was starting to relax again, stepping out of his trousers, his nervousness about his back turning into that palpable sexual tension that was drenching the both of us. I snuck a quick look down to his boxers and my stomach clenched deliciously.

When he kissed me, it was slow and soft. As my eyes closed, I let him lift me again and he placed me back on the bed, again coming to lie on top of me. His hand moved from my jaw down my body, slowly coming to rest on top of my thong, an experimental finger tracing the line of my opening. I groaned into the kiss and my hips bucked involuntarily as I felt him grin against my mouth.

“Jamie, please touch me.” I was not too proud to beg, the tantalising strokes that I was receiving felt amazing but I was desperate for the fabric to be removed, to feel his skin on mine.

“Patience, Sassenach.”

His kisses began to move south and I braced myself when his thumbs hooked into the waistband of my underwear that lay across my hips. So slowly, he pulled the material from my body and cast them to the side so that I was completely naked in front of him. He grinned at me, kissing my hip bones as he began to stroke the inside of my thigh. He gently blew on the hot mound between my legs and I threw my head back at the sensation.

“Look at me, Claire,” his quiet voice was a command that I couldn’t refuse and my eyes met his at the exact moment his mouth descended on the apex of my thighs. I moaned loudly as his expert tongue lapped at me, his hands keeping my hips steady on the bed as I squirmed and bucked underneath him. My fingers threaded through his hair and he groaned as I pulled slightly, earning a nip to my thigh before he set back to the task at hand. It didn’t take long for the dull ache of pleasure to start to grow stronger, my muscles beginning to tense as Jamie sped up. When he realised that I was close, he doubled down his efforts and slid a single finger inside, moaning against my skin as he began to feel my muscles clench around him. Hearing the noise that he made sent me over the edge and I came spectacularly, calling his name as I did so.

“Jamie!”

As I came back down to earth, I was aware of the bed shifting as he poised himself over me, opening a condom and expertly slipping it on.

“Are you ready?” I watched as he held himself in his hand, pumping a few times before he lowered his hips to mine.

“Yes Jamie, do it. Do it now,” I begged as he slid into me, stretching me wide with his length. When he was up to the hilt, he held himself still and closed his eyes, savouring in the sensation. Tilting my hips up to meet him, his eyes snapped open to look at me and we began to move together, slowly at first. The sounds of our joining filled the air and he grinned down at me, his eyes glazing over with lust.

“Ye make the best wee noises, Sassenach.”

I laughed and he groaned, the vibration of my body obviously doing something quite pleasant to him.

“I do not make ‘wee noises’,” I looked at him as he slowly moved in me and a look of determination crossed his face.

“Do ye no, Sassenach? Not even if I were to-“ he changed the angle of his hips and hit something deep inside of me, successfully producing a very loud moan from me. Triumphant, he moved his hand between and began to stroke me, matching the tempo with his hips. Still sensitive from my previous orgasm, I gave him another loud noise and he picked up the pace, his thrusts a beautiful staccato. Pulling him by his neck, I clashed our mouths together and the feel of his tongue on mine sent a little jolt further down. Emboldened, I shifted my weight and he took my meaning, not breaking contact as he moved onto his back and I rested on top of him. I set my hands on his chest and his strong fingers gripped my hips as he began to rock together, grinding my sex against his. We both had a better view from this angle and I watched as he shut his eyes, his mouth falling open and gasping air. I could feel my orgasm building again, the muscles in my legs beginning to burn from the exertion.

“Jamie, I’m going to come,” I gasped, his eyes snapping open and a devilish grin crossing over his delicious mouth.

“Wait Sassenach, just a little longer,” he groaned and his hands gripped tighter, pushing and pulling my hips as he began to set the pace. The feeling in the pit of my stomach became warmer and I couldn’t help but let out a yelp as he took control. Collapsing onto his chest, his arms came around my back and he held me against him, pinned as he began to thrust furiously up into me. My pants turned to moans and to a loud scream as my orgasm ripped through my body, his body stilling as he was undone by his final thrust.

We lay together like that for a while as our breath returned to normal, his arms not relinquishing their grasp around me. I could still feel him twitching inside me and I gave him a squeeze which resulted in a low chuckle.

“That was…” he trailed of, his grip lessening slightly. I didn’t move from my position on top of his chest but I raised my head to give him a kiss.

“Yes, it was,” I agreed. We moved slowly, parting our bodies and coming to rest beside each other, one of his big arms tucking me tightly against his body. I let out a contented sigh and he kissed my forehead.

“You’re leaving in the morning, aren’t you?” He asked, my whole body tensing.

“Yes, I am. Why?”

“Just asking,” he said, absentmindedly scratching his stomach with his long fingers.

“Asking what exactly?” He noticed the shift in my voice and moved so that he could look at my face, seeing that I was bordering on pissed off.

“Sassenach? What’s the matter wi’ ye?”

“If that’s you’re way of asking me to leave now that you’ve got your end away, it’s not very subtle,” I snapped, sitting up and bringing my arms to the front of my body, shielding myself from him. Confused, his mouth opened and shut a few times before he ran his hand over his jaw. He sat up and cupped my face in one of his hands.

“I didnae mean it like that, I swear to ye Claire,” he was looking me in the eyes and it was hard to doubt his sincerity. “I was just working up to ask ye, if ye didnae have much to pack up and such, if ye’d stay the night with me. Here.”

Guilt started it’s insidious way through my body as I relaxed back into the bed, Jamie rounding on me and not taking his eyes off me.

“Ye expected me to boot ye out as soon as I’d had my way wi’ ye?” I could tell his feelings were hurt and I shied away, a blush spreading over my cheeks.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. It just… hit a nerve, is all,” I admitted, my voice barely above a whisper. His face softened and he stroked his fingertips across my collarbone, his hand coming to rest just above my heart.

“I have a feeling that someone has maybe made you distrustful of men, Claire. Geillis mentioned Frank earlier and ye shut up like a clam.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat and placed my hand over his, holding him to me like an anchor.

“I don’t want to speak about him in your bed. But yes… he-“ The words got caught in my throat as I choked back tears. “He broke me.”

Jamie’s strong arms came around me and he moved us under the covers before kissing me deeply, his mouth stopping the tears in their tracks. He gathered me up next to him and I could feel him ready against my hip, my own body responding in kind as his fingers brushed against me.

He breathed against my skin as he found my wetness, my insides churning as he whispered in my ear,

“Come here and let me fix you.”

Chapter Text

The smell of bacon and coffee woke me from my sleep. I quietly stretched and I opened my eyes to see Jamie standing over the small stove top in his boxers. The sun was streaming through a small window and he was beautifully lit, moving around the small kitchenette with a practiced ease. I wanted to lay there and watch him move for hours but the sight of his back made my stomach drop. Curling myself into a ball under the covers, I lay on my side facing him.

“Will you tell me how it happened?” My voice was hoarse and I cleared my throat as he turned to look at me, smiling sadly.

“No exciting tale I’m afraid, Sassenach, just an accident in the water. I wasna minding my footing and the current swept me away, my back tore along the rocks underneath. I was knocked unconscious and thankfully someone found me before I drowned, managed to get me out of the water. But the damage was already done.” He spoke without much emotion which surprised me given how reticent he had been about taking his shirt off the night before.

“With that amount of damage you’re lucky you didn’t die.”

“Aye, I am. It was a hard recovery but it doesnae mind me much anymore,” he sat down on the bed beside me and kissed me, tasting of bacon. He offered a small plate in front of my nose. “Breakfast of champions.”

I knew he wasn’t being entirely truthful and trying to change the subject but distraction by food definitely worked. On my first bite, I realised that this was no ordinary bacon sandwich and I raised my eyebrows at a mischievous Jamie.

“Couldnae help myself, if I told you what it was, ye wouldna have eaten it,” he grinned. I nudged him with my knee from under the covers. He laughed and grabbed my leg before taking a bite from the sandwich himself, his eyes closing in delight. “Black pudding is one of my favourite things in this world.”

“Black pudding? You mean blood pudding?” I stared at the sandwich, trying not to look quite as disgusted as I felt so that I didn’t offend him. He just laughed at me and lay down on the bed beside me.

“Ye canna say ye dinna like it if ye haven’t tried it, Sassenach.”

“Well now that I’ve tried it, I can say that I don’t like it!”

“Haud yer wheesht and take another bite,” he challenged me. “If ye do, I’ll give ye something ye like.”

I stuck my chin in the air mockingly and he rolled his eyes. “I would’ve preferred something to eat that I liked to begin with, Mr Fraser.”

His fingers grabbed my chin and pulled it down so our mouths were inches away from each other, a sly smile playing on his lips.

“I dinna mean something to eat, Sassenach,” his voice was low, husky and full of promise. “I mean something that’ll make yer toes curl.”

***

My eyes scanned the room around me as I triple checked that I hadn’t left anything out when I’d been packing up my things. I hadn’t bothered to shower, not wanting to wash Jamie’s smell from my skin. My mind cast back to the previous hours, our bodies joining like they had been made for each other. It had been so easy to be with him, my insecurities seemed to disappear under his touch and I had given myself to him, fully as he had given himself to me for one beautiful night. My heart deflated a little as I had left his home, walking back to the big house and starting the painstakingly dull job of getting myself home after such a good weekend.

When I had finally zipped my suitcase shut, there was a knock at the door and Geillis entered, moving in to hug me.

“I’m going to miss you, Beautiful Beauchamp. Thank you for everything, I couldna have done it without ye.”

Now that the marriage was official, Geillis and Murtagh were away to start on the next chapter of their life together. Which in the first instance, included moving to their new home in a small town called Broch Mordha, meaning that the three musketeers were becoming two. My heart hurt at the thought of not being in the same city as Geillis, the person who kept my feet firmly on the ground when everything had happened with Frank. Joe was always great but Geillis was there in my worst hours and the loss of her being able to appear on my doorstep with a bottle or two of wine was a big one.

“Don’t you start or I’ll never go,” I said firmly, not letting myself become emotional. The past few days had been overwhelming to say the least, the excitement of the wedding and the party and of course, meeting Jamie.

“I came to have a nightcap with ye last night and ye werena here, did ye go off for a walk? It’s nae safe to go in the dark if yer on yer own, Claire,” she chided. I gave her a look and her stoney face immediately broke. “Where were you, ye wee minx?!”

A nervous giggle escaped my mouth as I sat myself down on the edge of the bed, Geillis coming to sit beside me.

“I spent the night with Jamie last night,” I said, coming clean about my whereabouts. The squeal that came from Geillis’ lungs was impressively loud, even for her, as she threw herself backwards onto the bed, kicking her legs up in the air excitedly. “Geillie, shut up.”

“Tell me everything, now!” She demanded, throwing her hands to her head in disbelief.

“Well, he asked me to go for a walk but before we even really left, we kissed and one thin-“

“If you say the words ‘one thing lead to another’, I will tan yer hide. What thing lead to what? Details!” She yelled exasperatedly.

“I am not giving you the sordid details. We kissed, we went to his home, we drank some whisky and we fell into bed together,” I was trying to play it cool, knowing that it was driving her insane to not know every little part of what had happened, as she was always so forthcoming with me through no request of my own. Geillis pouted at me and I relented. “Okay, we may have fell into bed a few times. Maybe four times.”

“My best friend and the wee fox cub. Wait! My best friend and my nephew by marriage? Does that make you my niece-in-law?”

“It certainly does not,” I said firmly. “Anyway, it was one night and now I have to drive back to London so if you’re finished making a scene.”

“One good night?” Her eyebrow quipped up in question and I grinned wickedly.

“One mind blowing night.”

“I knew he’d be good in bed, those hands alone.”

“Geillis! You’re a married woman!”

“Aye but I’m no deid! I’m so happy for ye Claire, that sure is a hell of a way to blow out the cobwebs.”

“My vagina is not filled with cobwebs!” I hissed at her as she cackled. The door to my room suddenly opened slowly revealing Murtagh and Jamie.

“Glad to hear it, Claire,” Murtagh smirked at me as Jamie stood behind him, looking directly at me like he was away to burst with laughter. “Just here to take yer bags down to yer car, hen.”

I rudely shoved my suitcase towards Murtagh who thankfully took it in one hand and Geillis in the other, dragging her out of the room after she planted a quick kiss on Jamie’s cheek, leaving the two of us alone.

“I’m sorry you heard that, it’s just stupid Geillis and her incessant girl talk,” I ran a hand through my wild hair in exasperation and he moved closer to me, wrapping his arms around my waist.

“It’s fine, Sassenach. Well, actually, it’s bloody hilarious but dinna you mind,” he grinned down at me, kissing the tip of my nose. “I’m fair sore to see ye leave, Claire.”

His honesty disarmed me and I resigned myself to relax in his grasp, allowing him to pull me closer as I buried my face in his chest. He smelled so good, smelling of pine trees and our morning together.

“I’m sorry to go too but I have to be back at work tomorrow,”

“I ken that but it doesnae make it easier, Sassenach,” he breathed into my hair as his hand lightly stroked the back of my neck. I could’ve stood there for hours.

“I need to go, it’s a long drive and I’d rather do most of it in the daylight.”

“Aye, I dinna want ye driving in the dark,” he agreed. “If ye dinna mind, I’ll say goodbye to ye here, I won’t come downstairs. Let Murtagh and Geillis say goodbye to ye properly without me getting in the way.”

I nodded and looked up at him as he swallowed a lump in his throat. He smiled down at me but there was a sadness behind his eyes, probably mirroring my own reflection. I really didn’t want to leave him but I told myself I was being ridiculous, we barely knew each other.

“Bye Jamie,” the words sounded hollow as they left my lips and his mouth set in a firm line.

“Sassenach,” he said simply before placing a gentle kiss on my lips, so soft that it made me weak at the knees.

Without looking at him, I made my way out of the room and down the stairs to find Murtagh and Geillis. After a lot of goodbyes and promises to call and hugs, I got into my car and put the key in the ignition. With one final look in my rearview mirror, I saw Jamie standing in the window of my room and as I put my car into gear, I began to cry.

Chapter Text

“You in for dinner tonight, Lady Jane?” Joe asked, sticking his head around the door of my bedroom. It wasn’t really my bedroom, it was his spare room in the flat that he owned in the centre of London and allowed me to crash in for a nominal monthly fee. The majority of my life was still packed away in boxes in Lamb’s home, there was even still a few things left at Frank’s. A life of moving from here to there, never putting down roots, taught me to not be a sentimental person, a hard exterior that rarely cracked.

I looked up from my book and shrugged. “Where else would I be, Joe?”

He cocked his head at me and sighed heavily, showing his exasperation at the mood I’d been in since returning from Scotland. I’d been grumpy and short with him, not that it was his fault. Part of me hadn’t managed to settle into my mundanity of life again after such an incredible weekend. The other part of me felt like an idiot for thinking that the weekend meant more than it did.

“If you miss Geillis so much, go and see her! She’s throwing that party at the end of next month and I will even cover your shifts at the hospital so you can go if it means you’ll get out of this mood.”

“Party? I haven’t heard about a party.” My stomach lurched at the idea that I’d been forgotten about already.

“Sure you do, your invite is on the table next to the front door.” On seeing my complete lack of awareness on what he was talking about, Joe left my room momentarily and returned with a navy blue envelope, with my name and address on it.

“How have I not seen this until now?” I narrowed my eyes at him and he batted me away.

“I told you about it the other night when you were running out of the door, you must not have heard me. Or checked your mail.”

My fingers ripped open the envelope and produced a single card, a silver saltire printed against the dark blue on one side and silver writing on the other.

Mr Murtagh Fitzgibbons and Mrs Geillis Fitzgibbons request your company at their St Andrew’s Day celebration!

The details of the party were printed below, to be held at their new home on the 30th of November.

“The dress code just says ‘tartan’ so God knows what you’re going to have to wear for that,” Joe quipped. I ran my hands through my hair, my body tingling slightly at the prospect of heading back to Scotland and who I might run into there. A memory of his skin against mine tore through me and I pressed my thighs together, hoping Joe wouldn’t notice. “So you’ll go?”

I pretended to consider it while the voice inside of my head was screaming a resounding yes at the top of her lungs.

“I might do. Are you sure you’d be okay to cover my shifts?” I asked, aiming for nonchalance. He snorted at me, eyes rolling back into his head as he got to his feet and left the room, calling over his shoulder,

“You’re lucky that I love you, Lady Jane!”

I leaned back onto my bed as my fingers ran idle circles across my collarbone, feeling the ghost of Jamie’s touch there. Visiting Geillis and Murtagh in their new home would be great, of course, but I hoped that Jamie would be in attendance too. I fumbled for my phone and unlocked it, mulling over what I was going to say. The night that I had returned to London from the wedding, my phone had buzzed as I was putting my keys in the door. A text from an unknown number. Intrigued, I opened it and a smile split across my face.

Hope you got home safely, Sassenach. J x

Since then, there had been a few messages back and forth but nothing of any real substance. Wishing each other a good day, hoping the other had had slept well. It had remained civil, no hints of anything regarding the night we had spent together but every time I heard my phone vibrate, my heart raced as I opened it and it fell if it wasn’t from him.

I typed a few sentiments in and quickly deleted them, unsure of what I wanted to say. Did I want him to now that I wanted to see him? What if he’d met someone in the weeks that had passed and was planning on showing up with a date? Getting to my feet, I began to pace around my bedroom, catching sight of myself in the mirror and shaking my head.

“Get a grip, Beauchamp. It’s just a text.”

My fingers danced over the screen and I hit send before I could change my mind.

Claire: I’m going to M and G’s St Andrew’s Day thing. Will you be there?
Jamie: Was thinking about it. Now I definitely will be.
Claire: Good to hear it. I’m sure it’ll be a fun evening.
Jamie: Looking forward to it, Sassenach.
Jamie: I can’t wait to see you.
Claire: I’ll see you there then.
Jamie: It’s a date.

***

A few weeks later, I was moving my way through arrivals at Inverness airport, keeping an eye out for the first place that sold coffee. It was late in the afternoon but I’d been on shift since 2am, part of my deal for me getting an entire week off in the first place and I was feeling veritably zombie-esque. Flying wasn’t something I enjoyed at the best of times and certainly not after a child had vomited on me in the second hour of a mammoth shift. I had binned the scrubs at the hospital but hadn’t had time to shower before my flight and I was unfortunately very conscious of how I smelled. It was less than two hours in the air but it felt long enough and now all I wanted was dinner, a shower and a very large glass of wine.

As I moved through the building towards the exit, I heard someone shouting my name and looked to my left to see a beaming Murtagh waving his arms in the air. Instantly more relaxed, I hurried towards him and gave him a tentative hug, explaining why he shouldn’t get too close.

“Christ, that’s a fair morning then. Let’s get you to our place and ye can have a bath and a sleep, if ye fancy. Geillis is ordering an Indian for tonight so she doesnae hae to cook before the big to do tomorrow.”

“A sleep sounds amazing, actually,” I linked my arm through his offered one and we walked outside to the car.

We spent the drive catching up on everything that hadn’t been said over the phone or by message in the weeks that we’d seen each other. The move had gone smoothly and they were both excited to be leaving for their honeymoon in a few days, jetting off to Norway for the week. As we got further from the city, the hills began to creep up around us and I became jealous that my friends were living in such a beautiful area while I was stuck in a concrete jungle. We left the main road and carried on for around ten minutes down a single track, a squat little building coming into view, warm light shining from inside, inviting us in. Rose bushes climbed up either side of the dark blue front door. It was beautiful, like something you’d see on a postcard.

“Such a beautiful little cottage!”

“Aye, it’s no bad. Although it’s a croft when yer up here, ye bloody sassenach. Come ben, we’ll get ye warm,” he ushered me inside in the side door, ducking to not bash his head and only barely managing to straighten up once we were inside under the low ceiling. The kitchen was large and had every mod con they would need but it still held that homey, just stepped back in time feeling. Geillis was stood at the counter, carefully dividing a bottle of red wine into three glasses. She beamed at me and brought a glass over to me, squeezing me with one arm as I took a long drink. Her nose wrinkled and she put some distance between us.

“Beautiful Beauchamp, ye smell like the De’ils arse.”

“Fully aware of that, thank you Geillie. And it’s nice to see you too,” I sighed, earning a wink from her.

“Take that and come wi’ me, I’ll run ye a bath. I know ye’ve been on yer feet aw day.”

With heavy feet, I followed her through the house and up the stairs, taking deep drinks from my wine and making her promise that she’d give me a tour when I was more settled. When she opened the door to the room that I’d be staying in, I practically fell into the plush pillows that called my name.

“En suite through the door, obviously. I’m going to get Murtagh to go and pick up dinner around 8pm if that suits ye fine?”

“Sounds like bliss Geillis, thank you,” I plopped myself onto the bed, feeling the soft bounce of the mattress underneath me. I couldn’t wait to get out of my clothes and into something that didn’t smell like the stale air that gets recycled through a plane. She gave me a quick kiss on the forehead and left me alone to unwind.

The bathroom contained a beautiful clawfoot tub situated just below the window and looking around I noticed that Geillis had not skimped on the candles. Lighting a few, I turned out the light as I filled the bath and used some fancy oil that was sitting in a wicker basket. I knew that getting some time away from work would be beneficial but staying in this beautiful house with all the thoughtful touches from my two friends made it feel like I was really on holiday rather than just staying with friends.

I sunk into the deliciously hot water in the bathtub and welcomed the sting on my skin. Closing my eyes, my mind to wandered and I found myself thinking about how my reunion with Jamie would be. It had been over a month and a half since our night together and although we had texted a few times, we barely knew each other any better than we did when I had left. Maybe he would appear with someone on his arm although he had said that he was looking forward to seeing me. And I hoped I would be seeing him in his kilt again.

After half an hour or so in the bath, I spent some time taking care of myself, dousing my skin in thick moisturiser, indulging in a little bit of self-care before climbing under the covers and setting my alarm for a few hours time. The room was dark enough that I didn’t need to close the curtains and I fell asleep looking at the stars. Voices from downstairs woke me before my alarm a while later and I felt suitably renewed so I put on the softest pyjamas I owned, a matching grey long sleeved top and shorts and cashmere socks from The White Company that had been a gift from Lamb last Christmas. The man knew how to luxuriate.

I was wrangling my curls into a bun on the top of my head as I descended the stairs and entered the kitchen where I could hear Geillis and Murtagh sniggering at something. The kitchen table in the centre of the room was decorated with our feast, or lack thereof.

“That won’t be enough to feed all of us the way Murtagh eats,” I joked, although there really didn’t seem to be enough food for the three of us.

“He couldn’t manage it all in from the car at once, hold your horses Claire,” Geillis smirked at me, her wicked green eyes twinkling with knowledge of something that I wasn’t privy too. I swept my eyes to see Murtagh also regarding me with a mischievous glint in his eyes when another body came through the kitchen door, holding the rest of our dinner.

“Sassenach.”

My heart dropped into my stomach and my stomach into my toes as soon as I saw him, all six foot something of him standing in the doorway with bags hanging from his hands. All of the times I’d thought of him hadn’t done him justice, he was even more beautiful than I’d remembered him to be. His hair was longer, almost at the length of his jaw and it suited him well. My mouth must have been opening and closing like a fish when Geillis pulled me onto the bench and sat down beside me.

“Murtagh bumped into Jamie in the Indian and thought he should join us, isn’t that nice Claire?” Geillis’ voice hid not a single iota of her glee at this turn of events. I turned to her and hissed under my breath.

“If you have planned this, I will kill you. Look at me!” I gestured to my clothing and she rolled her eyes.

“Twa long legs poking out of those wee shorts and yer skin flushed from the heat of a soft bed, aye, ye look like the Nuckelavee himself.”

“I don’t know what that is!”

“Are you two finished yer bletherin’?” Murtagh asked as he put plates down in front of the both of us. “Beer, Claire?”

“Please,” I practically grabbed it from his hand and took a long drink, my eyes going anywhere other than Jamie who was now sitting down directly in front of me.

“It’s good to see ye Claire,” he smiled at me, a hint of embarrassment in his voice. I cleared my throat and sent him a quick smile.

“Yes, you too. How’ve you been?” I asked, thinking that polite conversation was the easiest way out of the weirdness. If we both pretended that nothing had happened, it would be fine. Of course that meant Geillis keeping her comments to herself too.

“Aye, well. Just had the end of the hunting season now so nice and quiet until the Spring, hopefully.”

“Hunting season?” I was confused as to why he was telling me about this in particular. The corner of his mouth twitched.

“Aye, I’m the ghillie at Mar Lodge, did I no mention that?”

“Christ, did you two speak about anything before ye got down tae it?” Geillis laughed which earned her a swift kick to the shin under the table. Surprisingly, Jamie looked rather comfortable with being made fun off which is more than I could say for myself but then I suppose I was feeling embarrassed enough for the two of us.

“You behave,” Murtagh raised his eyebrows at his wife as he began to dish out the food. Geillis pretended to lock her mouth shut and throw away the key as I started to eat.

Thankfully, the conversation changed it’s direction as we all generally caught up with each other. The mixture of good company, good food and good beer was slowing my over-worked brain and I found myself really laughing for the first time since the weekend of the wedding.

“So what exactly is tomorrow night?” I asked, earning a derisive grunt from the three people sat at the table with me.

“St Andrew’s Day, he’s our St George,” Murtagh explained.

“It’s a day of celebrating bonny Scotland! Which, as ye know, we enjoy doing very much,” Geillis said proudly.

“Just a wee gathering. We’ll have some dinner and some music and there’ll be enough whisky to go around.”

“Oh God, not another ceilidh, I hope. I don’t think I’ve recovered from the last one yet,” I joked, Jamie looking at me with a smirk playing on his lips. I didn’t remember telling him how that smirk made my insides clench but I’m pretty sure he had guessed.

“I remember ye dancing very well, Sassenach.”

“Well, I had a good teacher,” I said quietly, Geillis and Murtagh making faces at each other, mocking the two of us. Murtagh stretched his arms over his head as an exaggerated yawn burst from his mouth.

“Well, it’s late and I’m knackered. It’s going to be a long one tomorrow so we should get some sleep.” He rose from his chair and Jamie followed suit.

“Aye well I’ll see ye tomorrow evening then.”’

“Och no, ye’ll stay, ye’ve had too much to drink to drive back,” Geillis practically purred, her hand squeezing my knee under the table. I tried to shift it away subtly as Jamie shot a glance at me. I could see his brain thinking and making a decision.

“I’ll walk, it’s no far,” he said, reaching for his jacket. I was immediately confused, we were at least an hour’s drive from Mar Lodge estate and more than that from the Glasgow flat he had previously mentioned.

“Jamie, it’s at least four miles and it’s pitch black outside,” Geillis said with more emphasis in her voice. “I’ve got mare sense than to incur the wrath of Jenny Murray by sending you out into the night by yersel so yer staying and that’s final.”

Jamie rung his jacket in his hands nervously, looking at me and then the floor.

Who the hell is Jenny Murray?

“Come on you, yer drunk,” Murtagh gathered up Geillis from the bench and gave her a kiss as she grinned, her brilliant teeth clashing with his lips. “Jamie, ye can have the second guest room, up the stairs and-“

“Aye, I ken, thank ye.”

Once the two of them had left the room, a stumbling Geillis being supported by her husband’s strong arm around her waist, Jamie and I suffered through an awkward silence.

“But by the grace of God,” he joked nervously. He was still standing but he placed his jacket back onto the table and he looked at me. “It really is good to see ye Claire.”

“So you said,” I tried to smile, my lips pressing together tightly as I tried to reign in the emotion that would be showing on my face. The idea of him realising that I was jealous at the mere mention of another woman’s name in connection to him was too embarrassing to even mention.

“Geillis has all the subtly of an elephant, eh?”

“A drunk elephant.”

“Aye but unfortunately, she’s right. Jenny would kill me if I walked home in the dark with a few drinks in me. One foot down a rabbit hole and I’d have a broken ankle for my trouble,” he smiled shyly. I heard the words ‘Jenny’ and ‘home’ at an increased volume, my nerves getting the better of me as I retreated into a ball, bringing my feet up onto the bench and my knees under my chin.

“Can’t have that.”

“I doubt I’d get off with my duties as an Uncle to wee Jamie either. The wee beastie likes limpet himself to my back more often than not these days,” he grinned, walking over to the fridge and grabbing another two beers, raising one to me in a question.

Uncle, eh?

I nodded my assent to another drink and he cracked them open with his teeth, spitting the caps into his hand before I could shout at him not to.

“You shouldn’t do that! That is so bad for your teeth!” I castigated him, snatching my beer from his hand. He chuckled at me and sat down on the bench across from me.

“Too late. Besides, yer a doctor, no a dentist.” He held the neck of the bottle to his mouth and I watched as he took a long drink, the muscles of his throat constricting and swallowing. It made my toes tingle and from the look on his face, he could tell the effect it had on me. “I’m staying wi’ my sister Jenny and her brood while I’m up for the party.”

Sister!

“Oh. That’s nice. I didn’t know you were from Broch Mordha too.”

“Broch Tuarach, technically. The house is called Lallybroch, it’s been in the Fraser family for hundreds of years.” He bit his lips together and regarded me closely, like he was trying to work out a puzzle. “Have ye noticed, Claire, that we are terrible at small talk?”

I giggled and looked down, instantly laid bare by his comment. He was right, of course. We knew each other’s bodies intimately but time had passed and it felt like we had become strangers again. Although the spark will definitely still there.

“I think I’m generally bad at small talk, to be honest. It isn’t easy for me to sit here and speak with you,” I admitted before even really realising what had come out of my mouth. “I’m sorry, I only mean-“

“I ken yer meaning, dinna fash, Claire. It isn’t easy for me either,” he smiled kindly before dipping his chin and looking at me with a new heat to his gaze. “It is very difficult for me also, to sit across from ye and not reach out to touch you.”

I couldn’t look away from him, his eyes fixing me to the spot as warmth ran through my body.

“You can touch me if you’d like.” I was emboldened by his gaze, the way he was looking at me as if he wanted to devour me. The corner of his mouth twitched upwards and he closed his eyes for a second before opening them, the heat having evaporated.

“Claire, I dinna want ye to think of me as some letch who wants to bed ye every time I see ye. Even if I do,” he admitted, making me blush again. “I think I will retire to my bed now and leave ye be for tonight. So ye ken that I can control myself around ye and that I wish to get to know ye, properly.”

My back straightened as I looked him dead on. The rejection stung, I wasn’t going to lie. It wasn’t the response I had been expecting from him and it had taken courage to put myself out there but I wasn’t going to beg for him to take me upstairs, I had some pride at the very least. Unfortunately he seemed resolute in his decision.

“Very well, goodnight Jamie.” I started to get to my feet and move towards the door as I heard the bench that he was sitting on scratch against the flagstone floor. Just as I reached the door, a hand appeared over my shoulder and gently pushed it shut.

“Doesnae mean I wouldn’t like to give ye a kiss goodnight,” he whispered down the back of my neck, the warmth of his breath sending shivers down my spine. I swallowed the nerves in my throat and turned to face him, leaning against the door as he pressed the length of his body to mine. It was evident that parts of his body weren’t as keen with the idea of sleeping alone as he was.

“Feels like you want to give me more than a kiss.” I challenged, my eyebrow curving upwards mockingly. He grinned as he pushed his hips harder against my own, grinding me against the doorframe. My breath caught in my chest as I resisted the urge to moan, not wanting to give him the satisfaction.

“My little friend doesnae hae the manners that I do, he’s rather more headstrong than I am.”

“Now that I find hard to believe. And we both know he isn’t little,” my voice was barely above a whisper and I tilted my head up to look at him, offering my mouth and daring him to kiss me. “False modesty doesn’t suit you.”

He moved his hips again, closing his eyes and savouring the sensation as I hung my arms around his neck and planted a single kiss on his neck.

“Sassenach, don’t tease me. I’m a man of my word and I won’t be with ye tonight.” The strain in his voice was so obvious that it almost came out as a groan. I laughed and nipped at the skin of his neck with my teeth.

“You’re the one who stopped me from leaving but I’m the tease?”

He pushed his forehead against mine and laughed quietly.

“That’s cos I didnae ken ye were wearing these wee things.”

His fingers toyed with the waistband of my shorts and I prayed that he would break and slip his fingers underneath. My blood was rushing through my veins, my heart pumping it around with so much fury that I could hear it in my ears.

“Jamie, please,” I whined in his ear, my knees going weak.

His hands grabbed my waist as his mouth descended on mine, my knees almost giving out completely. Our tongues danced along each other as my hands grasped for more skin, more pressure, more him. His hands were a blur on my skin, setting a fire in the pit of my stomach as I felt his hard length press against my hip. With a gasp, his mouth was gone and he stared at me, eyes wild with need.

“What are ye doing to me, Sassenach?”

He took a step back and ran his fingers through his hair, grasping the back of his neck with both hands. I tried to stop the heaving breaths that were battering their way through my lungs and I pressed my finger tips hard into the door behind me, desperate to transfer some of the kinetic energy that his body had awoken in me. After what seemed like a long time, he smiled at me and dropped his arms to his side.

“I hope you sleep well, Claire.”

Bastard! Well, two can play at this game.

“Sweet dreams, Jamie.” I turned and left the room, maybe adding an extra swish to my hips as I ascended the staircase, aware he was watching me from the doorway. Before I disappeared from his view, I stretched my arms over my head, lengthening my body and revealing the skin of my midriff slightly, my ears catching the sharp intake of breath from downstairs.

When I closed the door behind me, I ran my hands over my face and took a few deep breaths. His question had me stumped, I had no idea what I was doing to him or what he was doing to me. We had seen each other in person only a handful of times but it, whatever it was, felt stronger than anything I’d experienced before. What Frank and I had shared for a number of years paled in comparison to the fire that Jamie’s hands sent through my body. It wasn’t any question that our bodies knew exactly how to respond to each other and immensely enjoyed doing so. But I couldn’t deny the leap that my heart made when he came through the door, disheveled from the November wind. Nor could I say that he didn’t look genuinely happy to see me. As I climbed under the covers for the second time that night, I started to think about the fact that in a few days, I’d have to say goodbye again and my heart began to ache at the thought.

Chapter Text

As if both of my trips to Scotland hadn’t been idyllic enough, I was awoken the next morning by the sound of a child’s laughter.

Sitting up from my bed, I tried to coax my eyes into focus. I was not a morning person, never had been and working shifts at all hours in the hospital had done nothing to help my internal clock. My hands raised tentatively to my head, fingers grasping the knotted curls that had accumulated on top of it and I heaved a sigh, blowing the air from my lungs through pursed lips.

Throwing my hair up and out of the way, I had a quick shower and jumped into some clothes, revelling in bundling myself up in a big fairisle knitted jumper that had been a gift from Geillis and Murtagh the previous Christmas. As soon as I shut the door to my room behind me, a small boy of three or four barrelled into my legs and I only just managed to catch him before he fell. A woman came flying up the stairs, her long brown hair whipping around her face, and put her hands on her hips at the sight of the little boy.

“There ye are mo chridhe. And just who have ye found to pester now?” She eyed me up speculatively and I loosened my grip on the boy, smiling down at his sweet little face.

“It’s not a bother, we just bumped into each other. I’m Claire, Geillis and Murtagh’s friend,” I tried my best to smile, to look as inoffensive as possible to the very small but very intimidating woman.

“So yer the Sassenach then,” she said measuredly.

“You must be Jenny,” I smiled again, making her squint at me as though she was sizing me up.

“How’d ye ken that?”

“Well, it’s only Jamie that calls me a Sassenach-“

“I’m Jamie!” The little boy shouted at me excitedly and I watched as Jenny’s face softened, full of love for her little boy. She closed the gap between us and bundled him into her arms with a practiced ease.

“Aye but you’re wee Jamie, mo bhalach. She means your uncle Jamie,” Jenny clarified for him, bopping him on the nose with her index finger as he squirmed and giggled in her arms. “Were you running off from your uncle, ya wee beastie?”

Wee Jamie nodded enthusiastically at his mother before getting distracted by the sound of loud, slow footsteps that were edging closer to us. He squealed with glee at the sight of his uncle stomping up the stairs, arms extended over his head in a menacing arch.

“Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman!” Jamie boomed, his nephew struggling to get out of his mother’s arms before she finally gave up and let him down. He ran straight towards his uncle who immediately grabbed him by his waist and flipped him upside down, uncontrollable laughter filling the air.

“No Englishman here, Mr Monster, only a Sassenach lass,” Jenny turned her gaze back to me, the tone of her voice not really helping the feeling of uneasiness that I had around her. Jamie plopped his nephew on his shoulders and looked between the two women that were in front of him. When he saw me, he grinned even with wee Jamie making a concerted effort at pulling out his hair from the root.

“Claire, this is my sister Jenny Murray. And her wee rascal James Murray is the one trying to make me bald before my time,” he joked as he bent at the knees allowing Jenny to collect her son from his shoulders.

“Go and find Murtagh and ask him to show ye where he keeps the good biscuits,” Jenny said, her hand moving gently through her son’s hair before he slowly made his way down the stairs. “Careful, mind!”

There was an awkward silence between the three of us adults now that wee Jamie was gone and I pulled at the hem on my jumper, desperate to fidget with something. I was acutely aware of Jamie’s eyes on me and his sister’s raised eyebrows pointed in his direction.

“Mornin’ Sassenach,” Jamie spoke softly, “Did ye sleep well?”

“Yes, thank you. Is there coffee downstairs?” I moved past Jenny as Jamie nodded, my feet desperate to carry me away from the awkward situation that I was not able to deal with until I had some sort of caffeine boost. Fully aware that I was still in earshot, I heard Jenny ask her brother a question and his answer made my heart swell.

“So that’s her, mo brathair?”

“Aye, that’s the one.”

***

It was hectic, to say the least. Preparations had taken all day, Geillis furiously rounding on Jamie and Murtagh if they dared try to enter her kitchen as she soldiered on with getting enough food ready to feed the thirty or so guests that would be appearing in a few hours. She’d set me to work peeling the mound of potatoes that Jenny had dropped off that morning into the belfast sink and I carried out my duty diligently so as not to incur her ire, the pads of my fingers turning pruny from the water and starch. I lifted my fingers to my face and my nose wrinkled at the smell.

“This is why we wear gloves at work,” I muttered under my breath, quickly snapping my lips together in a smirk as her flaming red hair flew behind her as she spun to glare at me.

“Peel, Beauchamp,” she seethed, “One of the integral parts of mince and tatties is, you know, tatties.”

By the time we were finished in the kitchen, Geillis had produced three massive pots of varying types of cooked meat and vegetables. At first glance, they all looked the same with only different shades of brown and beige but I had to give it to her, they smelled delicious. When Murtagh and Jamie appeared in the doorway, she gave them a single nod allowing them to enter her domain.

“Smells affa fine, darling, is that yer mam’s recipe for the stovies then?” Murtagh sneaked his arms around her waist and planted a wet kiss on her temple, her stoney demeanour finally starting to slip.

“Ye ken fine well it’s your mother’s recipe, ya wee sook,” she giggled as Murtagh smiled widely.

“Aye but ye still cook it so well. Make sure ye end up wi’ a lass that can cook, Jamie lad, big man like you needs feeding regularly.”

“Claire cannae boil an egg so-“

“I’m away for a shower!” I announced, quickly pulling the strings of my apron out of their knot and walking out of the kitchen. As soon as I’d told Geillis over coffee that morning that Jamie and I had spent the night in our respective bedrooms, alone, she’d been making little jokes and comments and they were starting to grate on me. My feet carried me up the stairs and into my room and I was in the shower within five minutes. The muscles in my shoulders and arms were aching after being hunched over a sink but the hot water worked wonders. It had been a stressful day what with having to listen to Geillis barking orders and my God, did she really have to set Jamie to work moving furniture all day? Every time my eyes had drifted into the other room, he was lifting something heavy, the muscles in his arms and back flexing under his short sleeved t-shirt. As if the frustration that I had carried over from the night before wasn’t enough, I’d had to keep my mind out of the gutter whilst enduring a whole day of what my body clearly considered softcore porn. I had practically convulsed when she had asked him to chop some wood for the fire and he had come inside an hour later, a light sheen of sweat on his skin and his hand holding an axe like some goddamn lumberjack. I was pretty sure she was doing it on purpose to goad me into action but I hadn’t managed to tell her that as of last night, the ball had been firmly smacked into his court.

Once I had sufficiently washed the smell of raw potatoes from my skin, I cocooned myself in two very large, fluffy towels and moved through from the en suite into my room to find Geillis sat crosslegged on my bed, fiddling with her phone.

You are in my bad books, Mrs Fitzgibbons,” I glared at her causing her to roll her eyes as she threw her phone down.

“I always am, Beautiful Beauchamp but can ye blame me? You two are so into each other and yer both acting like brother and sister!”

I bent at the waist and put all my frustration into aggressively towel drying my hair, not responding to her comments.

“I ken that yer scared, Claire,” she said softly as I straightened up. She was looking at me with the face that she reserved for moments exactly like this one, earnest and trustworthy, a slightly furrowed brow. When she allowed her ferocity to drop, Geillis had a way about her that completely beguiled anyone she came into contact with, making her so easy to talk to. She could see what someone was feeling so clearly, sometimes even before the person could put a name on it themselves. It was what made her a strong friend and something I was extremely thankful for, that she could be a voice for me when I couldn’t find the words.

“I’m not just scared Geillis, I’m terrified,” I slumped onto the bed and she smoothed a piece of my hair away from my face, “I barely know him and I’m scared about how much I feel for him already.”

Her hand moved to my cheek and she fixed me with a stare, “He isn’t Frank, Claire. He hasnae given ye any reason not to trust him.”

Looking down at the bed, my fingers idly played with the seam of the towel that was wrapped around my body.

“I know that. I told him, y’know. Not the sordid details but I told him how much Frank hurt me, the night I spent at his.”

“And how did he respond?”

“He said ‘Come here and let me fix you’,” I admitted with a shiver running through my body as I remembered what had happened directly after those words. Geillis frowned at me.

“Fix you? Like ye cannae take care of yerself?”

“No, it wasn’t like that, it was-“ I halted, unsure of what would come out of my mouth next. It had been something that had been on my mind since it happened but now, putting it into words was difficult. “I told him that Frank broke me. And he did, Geillis.” The tears were starting to appear and Geillis shushed me gently.

“I know Claire, I know. When he slept with that bitch-”

“No, it was before that. I just mean that he, well he… chipped away at me every so often. For as long as we were together, he made me feel so small, so less than. I totally forgot who I was, like he snapped me into these pieces and tried to put me back together the way that he wanted them to fit. He wanted the dutiful partner who would greet him at the door, slippers in hand and my God, I was becoming her, Geil. And I couldn’t even see it was happening.”

The tears were fully flowing now and Geillis had started too.

“Claire, if I had known how bad it had gotten…” she started to say but I shook my head, refusing her attempt at taking some of the blame for what Frank had done to me.

“You could tell he wasn’t right even without knowing the full extent of it. I should’ve listened to you,” my head nodded as she smiled sadly at me.

“But Jamie? I ken ye don’t know him that well yet but Claire, he’s a good man. I’ve known him my whole life and I can attest to that. He’s an old soul, Claire, a man of honour.”

“I know. When I speak to him, I can feel that he’s a good person. When he held me, it felt like he did fix me that little bit, like the cracks weren’t as big anymore, his touch had dulled the edges on the broken parts so I wouldn’t cut myself on them. I don’t think he knows what that night meant to me,” I admitted with a small smile, sniffing back more tears.

“Then tell him,” Geillis said firmly, pressing her hand into mine. I blew out a shaky breath and nodded at her again. She immediately enveloped me in a hug, kissing the crown of my head as I laughed, having to grab at my towel as it shifted.

“Christ Geillis, you’ll be getting an eyeful if you’re not careful.”

“Nothing I haven’t seen before. But you’re right, what are ye wearing tonight anyway? Bearing in mind that the invitation did specify a dress code.” I looked up at her apologetically and she glared jokingly at me. “Just as I thought, completely unprepared.”

“Well where the hell was I supposed to find a kilt at such short notice? And I’m pretty sure Beauchamp doesn’t have a tartan,” I scoffed at her earning a roll of her bright green eyes.

“Ye dinna need to wear a kilt, ya daftie. And ye can wear whatever tartan ye want! I have the perfect thing, haud on!” She rushed out of the room and I used the opportunity to slip out of my towel and into a bra and some pants before she barrelled back in again holding a tartan dress at arm’s length out towards me. It was a beautiful navy and dark green tartan with thread of red running through it, a bardot neckline and a length that I guessed would stop just above my knees, hugging the lower half of my body. There was just one problem.

“There’s no way that’s fitting over my arse,” I stated, raising a dubious eyebrow at her. She burst out laughing and shut the door behind her, a determined haze descending over her eyes.

“Just need a wee bit of elbow grease and a prayer to St Andrew, ye bloody Sassenach.”

***

Geillis had been right, of course, the dress had fit without much issue. At her own admission, the fabric was fitted a little tighter over my rump than it had on hers but she assured me that it didn’t look ridiculous. I had borrowed a pair of black patent heels from her as well as a little bit of red lipstick to bring out the red in the tartan. Geillis had clapped excitedly when I’d given her a twirl and had finally left me to go and get ready herself, moaning about how I would upstaging her at her own party.

After giving myself a final once over in the mirror, I shut the door to my room behind me and noticed Jamie down the hallway, leaning against the bannister to the stairs. He straightened when he caught sight of me, a sober look on his face as his eyes trailed up my body, starting at my feet and finally reaching my eyes. He swallowed a lump in his throat and tapped his fingers against the material of his kilt which he’d paired with a dark grey cable knit jumper. He looked every bit the rugged Scot that would be featured in some advert for whisky and it gave me actual honest to god butterflies in my stomach.

“Ye look so beautiful, Claire,” he finally broke the silence, letting out a little breath that he had been holding in. I tried to give him my best demure smile and took a step towards him.

“You don’t look too bad yourself,” I put my hand on his upper arm and pressed a kiss to his cheek, his hand coming to the small of my back and keeping me from retreating to too far away.

“I just thought I’d maybe chaperone ye around tonight, make introductions and the like. I ken it’s a lot of folk to be meeting at once.”

My heart lifted that little bit more and I felt my shoulders relax slightly as I smiled up at him.

“I’d like that.”

I should’ve known to take Murtagh’s comment of a ‘wee gathering’ with a pinch of salt. Several cars had appeared in the driveway a little past 7pm and even more bodies started to appear over the moors as the sun was setting, those being the ones who stayed closer and couldn’t be bothered with having to stay sober in order to drive themselves home. I had been introduced to so many new people that I could barely keep track but Jamie had kept right by my side, his hand occasionally settling on my waist or my hip. It felt so easy that I had started to return the touches in kind, the top of his arms, the small of his back. Neither of us acknowledging it because it came so naturally. I had met his friends that he’d grown up with, my favourites of the night being Angus and Rupert who had both engulfed me in huge hugs whilst making some remarks to Jamie in Gaelic that had earned them both a punch to the arm. I had laughed it off, the alcohol in my system burning warmly in my belly and putting me at ease.

Geillis, ever the hostess, had ushered everyone through to the kitchen and the food that we’d spent hours preparing through the day was demolished in under thirty minutes. Jamie was ever present at my side, chastising me for not understanding the fundamental differences between stovies and mince and tatties and keeping my glass of wine topped up.

“Have ye left nothing for us, ye gannets?” A familiar voice asked and the kitchen erupted in greetings as Jenny appeared, still in her coat and with a man behind her. Jamie’s face split into a grin and he hurried towards them both, grabbing me by the hand. He bent to kiss his sister on the cheek and the man buried him in a hug.

“A charaid, it’s been too long!” The man said as Jamie let him go, nodding in agreement.

“Aye, it has. Ian, this is Claire Beauchamp. Claire, this is my best friend Ian Murray,” Jamie said with pride in his voice, the smile not faltering at all.

Ian looked at me with kind eyes and held out his hand which I shook firmly.

“A pleasure to meet ye Claire, we’ve heard lots about you.”

“We’ve managed to get a night away from the bairn and what, are we to stand here all night wi’out a drink?” Jenny looked between Ian and her brother. Jamie put his big arm around her and moved further into the kitchen, taking my almost empty wine glass away with him to refill.

“Ye’ll have to excuse my wife, she’s nae great with first impressions but she’ll warm up to ye soon. Yer important to Jamie after all,” Ian said quietly to me and I felt my heart beat that little bit faster.

“I am?”

“Aye, it’s why she’s being so prickly with ye. She loves her brother more than anything and she canna bide the thought of him being hurt. Stick around and ye’ll be in her good books before ye know it.” Ian winked at me and I chuckled slightly.

As the night moved on, the drink flowed more freely and the conversation followed suit. Some of Murtagh’s friends had had their arms twisted into bringing their guitar and violin with them and soon, music filled the house as people congregated to listen to the old songs.

Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Onwards the sailors cry
Carry the lad that’s born to be king
Over the sea to Skye

Jenny was sat beside me on a sofa, groaning as soon as the song began. A few glasses of wines had brought her guard down a little bit and we’d managed to relax into an easy flow of conversation.

“Not keen on this one?” I laughed as she shook her head.

“Lachlan plays a bonnie fiddle but I can assure ye, twelve year old Jenny Fraser did not,” she laughed, “Skye Boat Song is the first thing I learned to play in the ceilidh band at school and it was the bane of my life.”

Many’s the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore did wield
When the night came
Silently lain
Dead on Culloden field

“Kind of morbid,” I wrinkled my nose slightly as Jenny’s eyes darted to me.

“It’s an important song, Claire. About the atrocities that Scotland faced at the hands of the Redcoats,” she said sharply.

“Well, I think atrocities is a bit of a strong word-“

“For what they did to us? Took our lands, criminalised our language? Everyone in this room would be imprisoned for wearing their family tartans. They tried to wipe us out, Claire, our history was forever changed at Culloden.”

I could see thunder brewing behind her eyes and I looked away, smoothing my hands nervously along my dress.

“I suppose when you put it like that,” I said trying to diffuse the tension. Her shoulders dropped slightly and she leaned back into the sofa, taking a drink from her glass.

“There’s a spot on the wall at Lallybroch, our home, y’ken? Where the Redcoats took their swords to the panels, a warning to anyone who saw it. It’s never been fixed, not even to this day, as a reminder of what happened during the Risings.”

Not that anyone else in the room knew what we were speaking about but I immediately felt like there was a big flashing sign hanging over my head that read ‘ENGLISH’. I shifted away from Jenny slightly, not sure how to bridge the gap that had opened back up between us. Looking around the room, I caught Jamie’s eye and he grinned at me before noticing that I wasn’t smiling back. Worry crossed over his face as he moved across the space to me. The song ended and through the sound of the applause, Geillis called for a toast. Jenny kicked off her shoes and stood on the sofa, only just coming to the same height as Jamie as he reached us. She raised her glass above her head and said in her loudest voice,

“To the memory of Wallace and the Scots who hae wi’ Wallace bled.
We toast ye, the night, the hill and the heather,
The lad o’ the bonnet, the plaid and the feather,
The land o’ the mountain, the stream and the river,
The land o’ our ancestors, Scotland forever!”

Jamie shouted something in Gaelic and the room erupted in cheers, lifting their drinks to join brother and sister in their sentiment as I took a deep drink from my wine, almost draining the glass. The music started up playing what I recognised as The Flower of Scotland and as people started to sing, I got to my feet, stumbling slightly as I pushed past Jamie and made my way outside, the cold night air hitting me like a bus. The same place that had felt so warm and welcoming just minutes ago now felt hostile and part of me wanted to disappear into the vast fields in front of me. I walked around the side of the house and into the darkness of the garden, away from the noise and the lights of the party inside. The fresh air was mixing with the alcohol and I turned to the wall, placing my forehead against the cool stone, trying to centre myself.

“Ye alright Sassenach?” His soft voice shook me out of my trance.

“I don’t think many people inside would care about how the Sassenach of the party feels,” I mumbled.

I could barely make him out in the darkness and suddenly his arms were around me, turning my body to pull me closer, my face burying in his broad chest.

“I have spent all night listening to everyone tell me how brilliant ye are, Claire. Emotions are high, we’re a patriotic bunch,” he laughed. I wasn’t much in the mood for laughter and a sigh ripped through me.

“Jenny hates me.”

“Jenny is drunk, Sassenach. You’ve lived with Geillis, ye ken how the crazy nationalists get when they’ve had a few drinks.”

He had a point there. I had listened to Geillis speak at great length about an independent Scotland, decisions for Scotland being made by Scottish people rather than Westminster and so on. I’d always nodded along and tuned her out until she ran out of steam, agreeing with the ideas in principle but not really bothering to consider it seeing as how it didn’t effect me. But this side of the border, it was obvious that her sentiments were shared by others too, everyone inside the house had cheered in support of Jenny’s words and I felt their sincerity.

“And are you not a crazy nationalist then?” I asked him as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. I looked at him and he was smirking at me, as though he knew the question was coming before I’d asked it.

“I didnae say that, Sassenach,” he smiled and lowered his face to mine, “Alba gu brath.”

It was the Gaelic he’d said inside after Jenny’s speech, the words flowing out of his mouth like poetry. He smelled like whisky and the smoke from the fire, a heady combination that was making my head spin.

“What does that mean?” I asked, suddenly breathless as he took a step towards me, his hands on my waist as my back gently bumped against the wall.

“Scotland forever.”

His mouth descended on mine and I crumbled under his mouth. I felt like I’d been starved of his touch for years and I was desperate to reignite the chemistry that we had when we joined together. His hips ground against mine as he pushed himself impossibly closer, bruising my lips with the force of his need. His fingertips grazed down the side of my neck and across my collarbone, followed by light kisses as he tasted the swell of my breasts that the dress gave him access to.

“Do ye understand what this dress has been doing to me, Claire? I have been waiting to peel ye out of this thing all night,” he breathed as his hands ran themselves over my hips and behind, groaning as he grabbed my flesh through the tight fabric. “Christ, ye have the roundest arse I’ve ever seen.”

My giggles turned into gasps as he started to slide the dress up my thighs, inch by inch being hit by the cold November air. I could feel his arousal pressing against my belly and he shifted slightly, an uncomfortable look passing over his face.

“Kilts arena very soft, Sassenach, hell of a thing to get a hard-on in,” he admitted. I laughed quietly and my hands dropped to his front, urgently trying to find him underneath all the fabric.

“Let me help with that.”

I grabbed him as he pushed his forehead against mine, eyes closed and his mouth hanging open slightly. Excited by the untethered access of a true Scotsman, I started to move my hand, gripping and stroking him, I kept my eyes fixed firmly on his face, ardently watching what my movements were doing to him. His brow creased in pleasure and I almost moaned myself. Just seeing the effect I was having on him, the way he was panting as I sped up was enough to make me press my thighs together, all too conscious of my own need for his skin on mine.

“Claire, I have to have ye,” he whispered, screwing his eyes shut for a second before they snapped open, his mouth pleading with me, “Please.”

I nodded my head once and he instantly rucked the rest of my dress that was covering the tops of my thighs up to around my hips, his fingers immediately pushing my underwear to the side and finding my warm centre. I sank against his body and he held me up, firmly pushing me into the cold stone of the wall as his fingers tested and teased my flesh.

“Jamie,” I moaned urgently, my hands dropping from his neck and trying to find their way back to him.

“I don’t think I can be gentle, Claire,” he whispered as my hand closed around him again, both of us dedicated to reciprocating the pleasure that we were being gifted from the other.

“Then don’t be.”

In an instant, he grabbed my wrists and raised them above my head, causing me to arch my back and press my breasts into his chest. As he held me there with one hand, he grabbed himself with the other, his knee roughly pushing my legs further apart. His gaze found mine as he buried himself in me slowly and my eyes rolled back into my head with relief. He held himself still as he closed his eyes and caught his breath so I tilted my hips slightly, urging him to move. His piercing blue eyes found mine and with a growl emanating from deep in his throat, he began to mercilessly thrust into me. My whole body reeled from his movements, the small of my back being scratched along the cold stone of the house in the dark. I was desperate to touch him and I flexed my fingers, testing the strength of his grip but I was well and truly held in place. I could see his ragged breath in the dark, warming my shoulders as the delicious heat gathered between my legs. Almost as if he could read my mind, his fingers started to rub me where we joined and I moaned loudly, his mouth silencing me almost instantly.

“Christ, ye’ll get the whole house out with us if we’re no careful,” he laughed against my lips and I joined him, revelling in the hedonism of the moment. I banged my head against the wall behind me and tried to stay quiet but the delicious torture of his cock and his hand together was bringing me close to my release. “Claire, I dinna think I can-“

“I’m close too, just don’t stop. Don’t-“

Stars exploded behind my eyelids as I screwed them shut, my orgasm ripping through me unexpectedly, catching the both of us completely off guard. Jamie’s knees buckled as my walls squeezed around him, causing him to empty himself into me with two hard thrusts.

“Fuck,” he panted against my skin, letting go off my hands. I rolled my shoulders against the wall and my arms settled around his neck, holding my weight there as we disentangled from each other. Grinning, he sorted his kilt back into it’s plaits and plastered a sloppy kiss on my mouth, his tongue darting along my bottom lip. I sighed into his mouth as his hands started to push the fabric of my dress back into it’s rightful place.

“I’ve been wanting to do that since the second I watched ye drive away,” he spoke against my lips and I silenced him with my mouth.

“Me too,” I mumbled, his hand stroking down my neck.

“Christ Claire, ye must be freezing,” he laughed and I joined in, nodding my head. “Let’s get ye inside and get ye warm.”

He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and ushered me through the darkness until we came into the light of the house again. Rupert and Angus were stood by the door, each smoking a cigar and their faces immediately broke into smirks, Angus’ eyebrows wagging up and down.

“Well well well, what have ye two been doing then?”

“Haud yer wheesht,” Jamie chuckled as he pushed me past them and back into the warmth of the house, Rupert shouting after us.

“Claire, if yer still able to walk, he’s no doing his duty by ye!”

Chapter Text

I slowly drifted awake to the feeling of Jamie’s heart hammering against my back. His arm was like a vice grip holding my body to his chest in the bed that we’d shared that night. As the party had been in no rush to wind down, we had snuck up to my room and let the noise of their singing and conversation hide the sounds of our love making. We had taken our time with each other, going slow and really savouring the time that we were spending getting to know each other’s bodies. His hands and mouth delighted in finding parts of me that made me come undone, time and time again, calling his name and digging my nails into his back. I couldn’t remember when we’d fallen asleep but even resting, we had found our way to each other, my back to his chest as he held me tightly against him.

My doctor brain kicked in and I absentmindedly counted his heart beats, trying to guess what his heart rate was. It was alarmingly fast for sleep so I wriggled in his grip to face him and had the wind knocked out of me by the look of anguish on his face. The muscles in his neck were taut and his mouth was twisting in a grimace, the dream obviously not being strong enough to make him speak out loud but doing a good job of unsettling me regardless. I managed to get a hand free and stroked his hair softly, shushing in a soothing voice.

“It’s okay Jamie, it’s just a dream,” I whispered, “I’m here, you’re safe here with me. It’s just a dream.”

His heart gradually began to slow and the look on his face eased. My heart almost burst when the hint of a smile slipped over his lips, his whole face relaxing as he let out a sigh.

Beauchamp, you’re fucked.

I had always been a painfully pragmatic person. Words like dependable and reliable had always followed me around and I had always considered it a good thing, if a little boring at times. People knew what to expect of me and I knew what to expect of myself, knew that I was a planner and rarely did anything rash or without thinking of every possible consequence. So it was a shock to the system when I realised in that moment that I might be falling in love with Jamie Fraser, a man I barely knew but felt connected to on a level I hadn’t experienced before. There was nothing logical about our relationship together. The fact that we had only actually been around each other a handful of times, that we lived hundreds of miles apart. But there was an undeniable pull that had rooted itself firmly inside my ribcage that was constantly trying to find the quickest way to be by his side. When I had returned to England, I had been utterly miserable, my entire day being made if I received a goodnight text, like a bloody teenager. My head and my heart were in a constant tug of war with each other and I was exhausted.

“I can hear ye thinking fae here,” Jamie’s deep voice rumbled through his chest making me jump.

“Sorry, just couldn’t sleep,” I replied as his eyes opened and found mine. He looked worried. “Bad dream?”

“I wasnae sayin’ much, was I?” His brow furrowed and I planted a soft kiss on the crease.

“Not a word. You just looked…” Tortured? Angry? Bereft? “Worried about something.”

His face softened and I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of another beautiful Jamie Fraser smile.

“It’s nothing, Sassenach. Pay it no mind,” he kissed my lips gently, his arms tightening around my body as he did so.

“You smile in your sleep,” I whispered like it was a secret, something personal that I knew about him that only a few would.

“Aye, Jenny says that I’ve done it since I was wee,” his teeth gently closed on my earlobe as his hand slipped between us, sending shockwaves through my blood once more. “It means that I’m happy.”

***

“I have a proposition for ye, Beautiful Beauchamp,” Murtagh attempted to imitate his wife’s voice and I almost snorted into my cup of coffee that I was enjoying at the kitchen table. My mind was still reeling with the confusion over the Jamie situation and as a result, sleep was well and truly evading me so I had extricated myself from his sleeping limbs, slipped on his cable knit jumper from the night before padding downstairs to find some coffee before the sun had even risen. The microwave told me it was quarter to six in the morning but it was still pitch black outside and I remembered how much further north I was compared to my usual geography.

“And that would be?” I replied as he sat down across from me, the ever present smirk on his mouth. He grabbed my mug from me and took a swig himself despite my protestations.

“Well what with us only being in the house a few weeks and away to Athens in a couple of hours, I was wondering if I could convince ye to stay on a while? Here,” he said simply, looking very proud with himself.

“Oh, I don’t know, I have to get ba-“

“Ye said ye had the whole week off, did ye no? Ye don’t have to head back to England straight away. And I know it would make Geillis feel better if the place wasn’t sat empty, we’re just not fully settled yet. I think she’s worried the pipes will freeze and burst or something.”

It was clear he was playing on my sympathies, dangling the mental image of a pouty Geillis returning from her honeymoon and finding her dream home trashed because I wasn’t there to look after it. Murtagh had always been the wiley one, able to get you doing something that you thought had been your idea all along but all the while he was pulling the strings. The word Geillis always used was sleekit.

“I did say that, didn’t I?” I agreed begrudgingly as Murtagh grinned at me, clasping my hands with his across the table.

“Thank ye Claire, she’ll be fair chuffed.” He brought my hands to his mouth and kissed them both as I made a face and pulled them away from him as he laughed.

“Yeah yeah, whatever. Now go and wake Sleeping Beauty or you’ll miss your flight,” I dismissed him with a flick of my wrist and he left the kitchen grinning, obviously happy with having got his way.

After drinking the last of my coffee, I pulled the sleeves down to almost cover my hands and I moved through the cold house, my internal compass seeking out Jamie and bringing me back to my bedroom. I was glad to see that he was sleeping soundly, the odd snore rattling through his big chest as I climbed onto the bed and sat on my knees, watching him. Not being able to resist, I reached out and touched the pale skin of his arms, marvelling at what good shape he was in. The memory of the muscles in his bicep flexing as he held both of my hands above my head, pinning me against the wall, shook through me and I smiled to myself, deciding in that moment that I wouldn’t overthink it and for the next week, I would just enjoy the man in front of me. I moved closer to press a gentle kiss to his shoulder and his sleepy eyes blinked open.

“Hi,” he smiled, his voice barely a whisper.

“Hi,” I returned at the same volume, not wanting to break the spell. He slowly propped himself up on one elbow, facing me.

“What are ye doing up? It’s still dark outside.”

“Couldn’t switch my brain off so naturally, I decided to add caffeine to the mix,” I laughed as he did, shaking his head.

“What am I going to do with you Sassenach?”

“Well, you’ve got a whole week to figure that out,” I admitted quietly. Still not fully awake, his face screwed up as he tried to process my words.

“A week? Yer staying for a week?” I nodded as his eyes filled with excitement. His free hand wrapped it’s way around the back of my neck and he pulled my lips to his, capturing my giggles in his mouth. We kissed slowly, relishing in the thought of having a prolonged period of time together. We could do only this for the next seven days and I would’ve been in heaven. He pulled away from me and tucked me against his body, his chin resting on my head. “Seven whole days.”

“Well, only six now but it’s better than nothing,” I clarified and felt his body relax as he sighed.

“Every second I get to spend with you is better than nothing, mo chridhe.”

“That’s a new one. What does that mean?” I asked, stifling a yawn as his hand started to work through my hair. When he spoke, it was almost a whisper.

“Och, nothing much, Sassenach. It doesnae translate.”

***

Murtagh was hauling Geillis’ huge suitcase into the boot of the taxi as she held me in a tight hug, practically vibrating with excitement.

“Enjoy yourselves, you two!” Her green eyes flicked to Jamie standing behind me, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

I laughed as she let me go and her arms were almost immediately replaced by Jamie’s as he curled them around me from behind, hugging me against his chest as Geillis got into the car.

“There isnae much ye wouldn’t do, Geillie!” Jamie shouted as she looked back at us with a wink before closing the door.

“Exactly!”

We waved them down the road and once their car was out of sight, I turned in Jamie’s arms to face him, his lips immediately finding me.

“Just the two of us, alone, for seven whole days.”

Six whole days,” I corrected him for the umpteenth time. He rolled his eyes at me as his hands found their way down the small of my back, gripping as he suddenly flipped me onto his shoulder. I yelped as he smacked my arse, walking back towards the house with a sense of determination that I was only too happy to match.

“Better make the most of it then.”

***

The first day passed like a blur. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other, relishing in the idea of the two of us being alone in the middle of nowhere. Out of respect for our friends, we had tried our best to keep the sex to the confines of my bedroom and the en suite but after a few glasses of wine whilst we tried to make dinner together, I had found myself on the kitchen table, legs spread and Jamie slowly thrusting into me in a delicious torture. After he had found my pill packet in the bathroom, we had been enjoying the ability to get down to it whenever we wanted, without needing to rush and hastily procure a condom. And we were taking full advantage of the fact.

“Ye- oh, ye feel like silk, Claire,” he grunted as I looked up at him, my legs hooked over his elbows as he held my hips steady, hammering into me time and time again. My head fell backwards and he immediately growled at me, “No, I want to see ye, Sassenach. I want to see ye when ye- ah!”

He got his wish as I started to clench around him, never taking my eyes off his as I rode my orgasm out. He tensed as he found his own release, his fingertips gripping my hips so hard that I knew there would be bruises. I wanted there to be bruises, a delicious reminder of what he could do to me. He slowly leaned forward and pushed a sweaty forehead to mine, grinning and then suddenly sniffing the air.

“I think we’ve burned dinner, ye ken.”

***

On the second day, I awoke from sleep to find him fully clothed, standing at the end of the bed.

“You look like a puppy who’s excited to go on a walk,” I grumbled as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. With a chuckle, he held a pair of Geillis’ walking boots in the air for me to see and I threw myself back on the pillows, my hands covering my face.

“It’s no like I’m dragging ye up Ben Nevis, Claire. Come on, these should fit ye fine, get yersel in the shower.”

After a little bit more cajoling and the promise of a large cup of coffee, I had myself ready for exploring the Scottish Highlands. We drove in Jamie’s old Landrover Defender for about an hour before we arrived in the small village of Achnasheen. We had been slowly getting to know each other without any pressure and I was finding that I was starting to build a pretty full picture of Jamie in my mind. He had great taste in music but was tone deaf as he sang along at the top of his lungs anyway, making me laugh until I couldn’t breathe.

Do the twist in the twisting outfiiiiit, the loose tie with the loose limp wrists. Lift your dress enough to show me those shiiiiins, let your hair stick to your foreheaaaad,” he brayed along to a band I hadn’t heard of before but I was enjoying a lot. Not wanting to leave him out there on his own, I was bopping around in my seat to the music, letting myself get infected by his good mood.

“You’re a terrible singer but my God, you know how to sell it,” I told him as he snapped his head towards me with a fake look of hurt on his face.

“Ye cut me to the core, Sassenach. Come on then, let’s have yer choice on next!” He demanded as he kept his fingers drumming to the beat on his steering wheel.

“Oh no, I’m having far too much fun watching you.”

“Claire- wait, what’s yer middle name? Do ye have a middle name?”

“It’s Elizabeth.”

“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, you choose a song right now or I will turn this car around!”

“Fine, fine!” I grabbed my phone from my lap and searched through Spotify for a while until I found something suitably agreeable in amongst all the differing genres of music that I listened to. As the opening drums crashed through the speakers, Jamie groaned appreciatively and dug his teeth into his lower lip and he started to nod his head enthusiastically to the song.

“What a tune! You jump in front of my car when you, you know all the time that ninety miles an hour, girl, is the speed I driiiive! Didn’t take you for a Hendrix fan!”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” I glared jokingly at him.

“Just that yer… ye know… It’s a surprise is all I mean!”

“And just what is your middle name Mr Fraser?” He snuck a glance from the road to me and his grin almost stopped my heart.

“James. Alexander. Malcolm. McKenzie. Fraser.”

***

After he had dragged me, sometimes literally, to the summit of Fionn Bheinn, what he had referred to as ‘only a wee Munro’ but was certainly not as ‘wee’ as I had anticipated, we had driven back to the house. At one particularly draining part of the walk, I had bargained with him that I would only carry on if the promise of him running me a bath on our return was on the table. He had wrapped his arms around me and countered with his offer of running a bath for the both of us and who was I to refuse him?

So we found ourselves in the huge clawfoot tub under the open window, my back against his chest as I sat between his legs. He had displaced most of the water when he got in but the addition of his naked body made it all the morning inviting. His slick hands moved over my shoulders as he kneaded away the tightness that permanently took residence in my muscles. I felt his lips press against the hair on the back of my head and I sighed contentedly.

“Penny for your thoughts, mo chridhe?”

“I love it when you speak Gaelic to me,” I admitted with my eyes closed as his mouth found the back of my neck. He trailed kisses along my shoulder and back up the column of my neck, nibbling on my earlobe as I began to squirm.

“I lied to ye, Claire,” his breath was on my skin and even thought I was engulfed in the warm water, a shiver ran through me.

“What do you mean?”

“I told ye it doesnae translate well but it does,” he shifted slightly and I looked up to find his blue eyes blazing with passion, “It means ‘my heart’.”

Chapter Text

It just so happened that the space between Jamie’s jaw and his shoulder was the perfect place for me to rest my head. Our bodies snapped to each other like puzzle pieces and it gave me an overwhelming sense of calm to touch him. As we sat on the floor in the living room in front of the fire, the tartan blanket wrapping us closer together, Jamie made a sound so low in his throat that it reverberated into my skin.

“What’s wrong?” I asked quietly.

“Nothing at all, Sassenach. I was just thinking how happy I am,” he pressed a kiss to my forehead and I could feel the shape of his smile against my skin.

“I am too, Jamie,” I said, as if he had any doubt. Neither of us had come right out and said anything particularly conclusive and we definitely hadn’t had ‘the talk’ but the force that connected us to each other made it so clear how we both felt. I didn’t need to hear anything from him right now because he knew how to convey his feelings without putting them into words. Every time he took my body, my name was a prayer on his lips as he worshipped me and for the first time, I was grateful for my glass face and my inability to hide my feelings. The unspoken agreement was that if we had ‘the talk’ then the bubble would burst and we would have to acknowledge that we were living on borrowed time. It was late in the evening of my second last day and soon I would need to start packing my things and he would be driving me to the airport.

His phoned buzzed loudly against the wood of the coffee table that we were leaning against and he hurried to quiet it, grumbling under his breath as he did so.

“It’s Jenny, again. Saying that she’ll cook us Sunday lunch if we go over tomorrow. I’ll tell her no,” his fingers were already dancing over the keys.

“Jamie, it’s sweet of her to offer, we should go.“

“No Sassenach, I want ye to myself. Just for a bit longer,” his voice betrayed his feelings about the matter and I quickly shut my mouth in a hard line. “I’m sorry Claire but ye know…”

“We only have one day left,” I finished for him. I immediately felt his body tense against my back as an atmosphere of tension filled the air. His arms dropped from around me and the blanket shifted as he got to his feet.

“Wish ye’d stop saying that,” he said quietly as he turned away from me. I hugged the blanket around my body protectively and stared holes into the back of his head.

“Avoiding it doesn’t make it go away Jamie, we both knew I was going home at some point.”

“Aye but seven days sounded like-“

“Six days-“

“Will ye stop sayin’ that?!” he shouted as he spun around to face me. Taking a step towards me, he towered over me in my spot on the floor and his eyes burned with anger and a deep pain. I looked into the fire as he fell to his knees beside me, taking my face gently in his hands so that I was forced to look at him. “Claire, I’m sorry. Sorcha, forgive me.”

He leaned his forehead against mine and shut his eyes as mine began to fill with tears.

“Forgiven,” my breath was shaky and he looked at me, his eyes immediately filled with concern.

“Dinna cry Sassenach, I’m sorry. Truly,” he pressed a kiss to both of my cheeks, stopping my tears in their tracks. He gathered me against his warm chest and we sat like that for what felt like a long time, the crackling of the fire the only sound filling the air until he broke it with the words, “Spend Christmas here wi’ me.”

I pulled away, the anger that was still hanging in the air from his outburst now finding its way under my skin. His impulsivity made me irrationally angry and all of my frustration with our situation bubbled to the surface, overspilling when I saw the look of hope in his eyes.

“What? Don’t be stupid, I have a job!”

“Oh so it’s stupid tae want tae spend Christmas with ye? To take ye home to Lallybroch to be with my family, see you amongst them as my heart knows ye should be? To not want to drive ye to the airport and see ye get on a plane not knowing when I’ll see ye next?” he seethed at me with a venom I hadn’t heard in his voice before. It shocked me and he could tell from the look on my face but his stoney expression didn’t change.

“I have to work, Jamie! I have my job and my life and I can’t just run up to Scotland to have a fling with-“

“A FLING?!” He was thunderous now, back on his feet and pacing the room in front of me. I got to my feet as well, refusing on principal to let him shout at me while on the floor. “Is that all I am to ye, Claire? Someone to fuck while yer on holiday and then forget about as soon as yer over the border?”

“How dare you,” I shouted, angry tears starting to spill again, “I didn’t mean it like that and you know it!”

“Then how did ye mean it, Claire? Cos I’m in bed with ye every night, taking yer body and I can assure you, it’s nae just a fling to me! Christ!” He was clenching his fists tightly, his knuckles going white with strain as he continued to walk his frustration out, backwards and forwards. Without even realising I was doing it, I began to run my fingers through my hair, pulling at the root slightly in an attempt to ground myself, to will myself into making sense of how this had gotten so out of hand so quickly.

"Jamie, you can't be this much of an idiot to not know how I feel about you," I said quietly after taking a breath.

"So I'm an idiot now too?"

"Well right now, yes! You can't seriously expect me to be able to stay, to find someone to cover another two weeks of shifts at work, to leave Joe's apartment empty while he's away home. Think about it Jamie, really think! It's just not possible!"

"There are ways to figure it out, you just dinna want to find them!" He shouted back at me. "And d'you ken what the shite thing is, Claire? Ye dinna even want tae try."

"I have done nothing but try! I have been trying to figure it out in my head since I said goodbye to you the first time, trying to find a way for this to work! But we can't change the fact that we live in separate countries, that we have separate lives."

He stopped walking at that and looked at me, defeated and bruised. The pleading of his eyes burned into me and if I really tried, I was pretty sure I could feel my heart starting to crack.

"Are ye giving up, Claire? On... whatever this is," he gestured between the two of us, somehow making the gap between our bodies feel like a chasm. I held the sob that threatened to wrack it's way through my body in my chest.

"I don't see how this can work, Jamie. I am leaving tomorrow night. I cannot simply drop my life."

“What life? A tiny wee room in a flat that’s nae even yours and a job that runs ye ragged? That’s no a life I’d want to live,” he spat the words at me and I felt each one cut slightly deeper than the last.

“Well I’m sorry if my choices aren’t up to your exacting standard but it’s what I’m working with right now,” I seethed back at him, narrowing my eyes as they made contact with his before delivering my final blow, “Fuck you, James Fraser.”

I dropped the blanket to the ground and turned on my heel, desperate to remove myself from the situation before I really lost it. He shouted after me but I ignored him as I ran up the stairs and into the sanctuary of my room, the bang of my door shutting behind me being echoed with the sound of him taking out his anger on some poor piece of furniture. My chest started to heave as I sobbed harder, clinging onto the bed for dear life as I crawled onto it and curled into a ball, hugging my knees to my chest. I let the hurt wash over me in waves, not seeing any point in trying to stem flow of pain that was radiating through my body. Screwing my eyes shut, I buried my face under my hair and cried until I fell asleep.

***

The moonlight shone into the room as I came out of my sleep, completely aware that he was in the room even though I hadn’t heard him enter. I looked towards the door and he was stood looking straight at me, beautiful and sad. His breath hitched in his chest when we made eye contact and he moved towards me instinctively before he caught himself and halted.

“Claire,” his voice was hoarse and I knew straight away that he’d been crying too. Without even making a conscious choice to do it, I watched as my hand reached out to him and he practically collapsed onto the bed with me, his hands coming to my hips, my legs, my shoulders, my jaw. His lips were a fever across my body as he stole my breath from me again and again, frantically trying to get himself as close as possible to as much of me as he could reach. I met the level of his need equally as my body moved of it’s own volition, seeking out physical sensation without a single thought other than being with him. When our layers had been wrestled away, his hands gripped my lace underwear and he growled as he shredded them with his fingers, sending me into paroxysms of pleasure at the mere thought of what he was going to do next. His teeth closed around my bottom lip as he slid into me, pushing himself in to the hilt and finding his way home.

When it was over, we lay together, my legs tangled through his as he held me against his chest, not wanting any space between us. I was exhausted, physically and mentally, and sleep came over me like a cloud. On the fringe of consciousness, I could hear him muttering Gaelic against my hair and even though I didn’t know the language, my heart knew every single word.

Tha gaol agam ort… my Sorcha, tha gaol agam ort.

Chapter Text

“For fuck’s sake,” I muttered under my breath when I realised that I had somehow managed to get pen all over scrubs. I stuck my index finger into my mouth and began furiously rubbing at the stain, only making it worse in the process. I was two hours into a ten hour shift, pretty short in the scheme of things, and it had been a slow night. My Nikes carried my feet through the Geriatric floors at St Thomas’ Hospital in London as I stuck my head into the wards periodically, adjusting pain medications and lending a helping hand to the nurses who always worked tirelessly. Winter always meant that geriatrics had a boost, icy pavements meant broken hips aplenty but it had been a quiet night although nobody was admitting it, not wanting to tempt fate.

“How are we doing Mr… Robertson? Any pain? Nausea?” I asked in my hushed voice, trying not to wake the others in the ward as I dealt with a patient who was a few hours post-surgery for a broken femur. A hard bone to break but by the looks of his scans, he’d given it a pretty good go. He smiled gingerly at me as I poked and prodded him as quickly as I could so that he could go back to sleep.

“Nae bad quine, nae bad. Fair scunnered though, ye ken,” he grumbled. The accent made my heart drop a little bit. “And it’s Goldie, neen o’ this ‘Mr Robertson’ pish.”

“Right you are, Goldie. You’re far from home by the sound of it,” I said, trying to take his mind off of what my hands were doing that was obviously causing him discomfort. “Where are you from?”

“Am fae Meldrum,” he said, his accent thickening causing me to scrunch up my eyebrows. He grinned mischievously at me, enjoying the confusion on my face. “Am fit ye’d refer to as a teuchter.”

“Never heard of Meldrum before. Where about is it?”

“Aberdeenshire. Bonnie wee place, be glad to be gettin’ hame, gi’ a bosie tae i’ bairns.”

I removed my hands from his abdomen and shoved them into my pockets, smiling at him.

“I’ll make sure to visit next time I’m in Scotland,” I said with a single nod of my head.

“Ye’ve folk in Scotland, dae ye quine?”

My stomach started to twist and I tried to paint a smile on my face, hoping that it wasn’t coming out as more of a grimace.

“Something like that.”

I left him to sleep after placing his call button within reach if he needed anything and began to walk the wards again. There was a strange sort of calm to be found in the night shift, even in one of the busiest hospitals in London. There were pockets of quiet to rejoice in if you found yourself on the right ward at the right moment. Tonight was one of those nights. Saying a silent prayer of thanks to Uncle Lamb, as I tended to do when things went well, I found myself grabbing five minutes with a cup of tea on a sofa in one of the staff break areas that this ward was lucky enough to have. Fumbling with my phone, I shot a quick text to Jamie.

Claire: Quiet night on the floor tonight (fingers crossed!). Miss you. x

Of course, he replied almost immediately. I had asked him on the phone just the other night how he always managed to be awake when I was, despite my crazy work pattern. He had told me that he had set a very loud alarm to wake him every time he received a message from me. I had laughed and called him an idiot.

Jamie: I miss you too, Sassenach. What I would give to be there with you right now. X
Claire: Trust me, nothing to be missed in my current state. Covered in pen, running on caffeine and a prayer. Cute Scottish guy in my ward though. x
Jamie: You leaving me for another man? I’ll fight him for you.
Claire: He’s 68 with a broken femur and he’d still kick your ass.
Jamie: Aye maybe but I’ve got one thing going for me that he doesn’t.
Claire: And what’s that?
Jamie: You’re already mine. X
Claire: Is that so?
Jamie: I would hope so. Hope you don’t send those kind of photos to just anyone…

The space between my legs started to tingle as I remembered the previous night where we had gotten bored of just texts and calls. He had sent me a picture of him, proudly hauling a huge Christmas tree on his shoulder, his short sleeved shirt pitifully trying its best to contain the muscles of his chest and arms. I had replied with enthusiastic heart-eye emojis, much to his disdain. That night on our regularly scheduled phone call that had taken place every night of the two weeks that we had been separated for, he had asked me to send him a picture back. And I willingly obliged. A few photos sent back and forth, each showing a little more skin and he had me moaning down the phone to him, my own fingers a poor excuse for his. We had built to a crescendo together, trying to stifle our orgasms so that our respective housemates wouldn’t hear.

Claire: There’s only you for me, Jamie. x
Jamie: Aye, Sassenach. And I for you. X

Sighing deeply, I pocketed my phone again and soon found myself absent mindedly flicking through some gossip magazine when the door opened and a colleague came in to join me.

“Evening Beauchamp,” he said quietly as he busied himself with making his own strong black coffee.

Henry Foster wasn’t a bad doctor or, as I had been told by my other colleagues, a bad guy but there had always been something with him that just didn’t sit right with me. He had started at the hospital two years before I had and to begin with, we’d barely been in each other’s circles. But over the past few months, our rotations had begun to match more than usual and more than once, Joe had made a joke that maybe it was intentional.

I shoved the thought out of my mind and turned my head back to the magazine, hoping that he would mistake my indifference towards Gemma Collins’ new beau as utter fascination and leave me to drink my cup of tea in peace.

Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed.

“Long night, huh?” He moved over to join me on the sofa, sitting down gently as he extended his arm across the back of it. My autopilot shifted me slightly further back from him and he stiffened slightly, recognising the increase in distance between us.

“Oh, it’s not too bad, I’m only just really on myself,” I said nonchalantly, not raising my eyes from the magazine.

“What’s going on in the world of showbiz then?” His hand moved towards mine, reaching for the magazine and I wrenched it away quickly, looking at him straight in the eyes. He held up his hands defensively. “Hey, you’re jumpy tonight!”

The tension in my body slackened as I leaned back into the sofa and mentally castigated myself for being so on edge.

“Sorry, just haven’t been sleeping well,” I sighed as I dug my fingers firmly into my occipital bone, closing my eyes. Before I knew what was happening, his fingers had replaced mine.

“Sore neck? Let me help,” he whispered as I came to my sense and immediately got to my feet, spinning to face him and seeing the very clear look of arousal in his eyes.

“No, it’s fine, I’d rather you didn’t.” He was looking at me like a big cat stalking it’s prey and not in a good way.

“Come on, Claire,” he scoffed at me, “We’re both single-“

“I’m not single,” I said firmly which caught him off guard, his eyebrows leaping upwards.

“That’s not what Joe Abernathy said when I asked him last night. He said you were on the market.”

What the fuck, Joe?

“Well, he’s wrong. Bye Henry.”

I made my way quickly towards the sink and dropped my half full cup of tea into it, not caring if it smashed. I needed to get out of the situation as quickly as possible and I pulled on the handle of the door, trying not to wrench it open, to not let him see how much he’d unsettled me.

“See you tomorrow night, Claire.”

***

My keys turned in the lock and the smell of coffee immediately hit me. It was around 11am and I was home from the slowest night shift of my life. Kicking off my shoes at the door, I walked through to the kitchen and saw Joe standing as he patiently waited for the toaster to pop. He looked over his shoulder at me and smiled.

“Hey, Lady Jane! Long time no see!”

We had been on opposite shifts for a few days now, always narrowly missing each other in the flat and at work. I hadn’t had the chance to confront him about what Henry Foster had told me but I could feel it bubbling in my gut now, his cheery disposition making me feel even worse.

“Had a shift with Foster the other night,” I said quietly as I put my keys on the kitchen table. His toast popped out, making me jump slightly.

“Oh yeah? He on Geriatrics too?” Joe was busying himself with a knife and butter and I resisted the urge to throw something at his head.

“Did you tell him I was single?” I asked bluntly and Joe turned around to face me, a laugh bursting out of him.

“What? No!”

“Well, that’s not what he said. He said that you told him I was ‘on the market’,” I tried my best to keep my face neutral, not wanting him to see the hurt that was hiding itself under anger.

“No, he asked me if you were single and I said that he’d have to ask you yourself. And then he told me that was a good an answer as any and walked off,” Joe explained, his voice level. I felt my hackles fall just that little bit. “Is this about the rumour?”

Oh, fuck.

“What rumour?” I was almost scared to ask and Joe’s reaction to my question didn’t make me feel any better. He looked down at the ground and then straight in my eye and I could see that he was trying to be gentle with me when he said,

“Foster was talking about you and Dr Abraham.”

What?

Dr Abraham had been my mentor through my training, always championing my ability when I had doubted myself and keeping me focussed on the task at hand when I would become overwhelmed. I was actually a bit embarrassed about how much trust I put in him. Not that I’d ever admit it or even say it out loud but when Uncle Lamb died, he had sort of filled the role of my pseudo-father figure. But we had never shared more than a handshake.

Joe shuffled from one foot to the other as he took a bite from his toast, pouring me a coffee as I sat down at the table.

“I heard Henry telling a few nurses. He was being a jackass, I don’t think they believed him. Did you turn him down or something, make him mad?”

I placed my head in my hands on the table and felt the tears begin to prickle at the corners of my eyes.

“What did he tell them?”

“Claire, he’s a-“

“Joe… please,” I implored him, looking him straight in the eye as he looked sadly at me.

“He was saying that the reason you did so well in training was because you were sleeping with him. That your lack of talent was the reason you hadn’t specialised in surgery. And that you’d thrown yourself at him to try and get a place on the surgery rotation.”

“That fucking bastard!” I whispered. Joe quickly sat down beside me and put his hand on mine. I gripped tight enough to feel the bones in his hand and I started naming them in my head, trying to calm down.

Scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, pisiform…

“People know how he is, Claire, they won’t believe him.”

“It doesn’t matter if people believe him, he’s said it. Even if people don’t believe him, the idea, the thought of it is out there now.” I sipped my coffee, cradling it in my hands as though the warmth would ease the situation.

“You’re dead on your feet, Lady Jane. Go and get some sleep, everything will look better in the mor- well, early evening,” Joe smiled as he touched my arm lightly and I nodded, my weary feet pulling me towards my room. The fatigue allowed my emotions to overwhelm me and not for the first time since returning to England, I curled up under my covers and sobbed.

Claire: You busy? x
Jamie: Not for you. I can call? X

Not even giving me an opportunity to respond, my phone immediately began to buzz. A picture of the two of us that he’d snapped at the top of Fionn Bhienn flashed onto my screen, his brilliant white smile next to my over exaggerated pout. My fingers accepted the call and I tried to steady my breath although failing miserably.

“Sassenach, what is it?” His voice was the salve that I needed, the deep timbre soothing the parts of my soul that felt battered and bruised.

“Just a bad night, it’s nothing. Just talk to me?” I asked, hearing him breathe heavily down the phone as I burrowed further under the covers.

“Well, what is there to say? Snow’s here already. Wee Jamie only broke three of Jenny’s baubles while we were decorating the tree so that’s one less than last year. At this rate, we’ll have no casualties by the time he’s eight.” I could hear the smile in his voice and my heart thawed. “Jenny’s been pestering me about what I’m getting ye for Christmas, saying that it’s no good enough to just get ye some perfume and a book which wasnae even the plan, Sassenach, and I’ve told her that but she doesnae believe me.”

“And what am I getting then?” I asked, not able to hide the childish giggle that erupted from my throat.

“Och, I cannae tell ye that, Sassenach, it would ruin the surprise.”

“Can’t have that, can we?”

“Certainly no,’ he agreed before pausing slightly, “Coincidentally, what have ye got fer me?”

I laughed into my phone and heard him laugh too. The effect that he had on me was almost instantaneous, I was already forgetting the whole mess with work after only a few minutes speaking with him

“I could still book ye a flight, ye ken,” he said quietly, my heart clenching unpleasantly.

“I can’t, Jamie. I’ve only got Christmas day off by some miracle but I’m right back in again on Boxing Day and then straight through until the 30th.”

“But ye’ll come to Lallybroch for Hogmanay?” The hope in his voice was just shy of excruciating.

“I’ll see,” I replied, “I do want to come, you know that, don’t you?”

“Aye mo chridhe, I ken that. I just want it so badly to be so.”

***

The street that I lived on was lit by the harsh streetlamps as I trudged the distance of my hospital, feeling decidedly un-Christmassy even with it being Christmas Eve. Strangely enough, Christmas seemed to bring out the worst in some people. We had stitched up split skin as a result of family fights and pulled glass from the hand of a sobbing woman who had drunkenly fallen on her work’s Christmas night out, shouting at her colleague all the while about the bitch in the office who kept stealing her milk to make her tea. It was busy and tempers were fraying left, right and centre, made worse by the strange edge that everyone seemed to have around me after Henry fucking Foster and his rumour.

I put the tip of my gloved index finger between my teeth and pulled, my glove slipping off as I tried to dig in my bag for my front door keys. The darkness of the night made them hard to make out and I was becoming increasingly frustrated with myself.

“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ!” I exclaimed, exhaustion rippling over me.

“Such language on Christmas Eve, Sassenach, what would the baby Jesus say?”

His voice appeared out of the darkness and my eyes instinctively snapped towards it’s source.

He stood there, the collar of his dark grey peacoat pulled up to protect from the wind. His hair was tied back in a bun at the nape of his neck and his blue eyes were burning into mine, a small smile playing on his lips. I exhaled his name into the air and my feet brought me to him in three steps as he met me halfway and crushed me into his chest. We stood silently for what felt like the longest time, grasping each other as I really let myself come to terms with the fact that he was right here, right in front of me. My heart was beating out of my chest and I felt tears sting at my eyes.

“Did ye miss me, Sassenach?” he joked, his words being lost in the mess of my hair. My only response was to hold him tighter. “Aye, suppose I missed you too.”

“What are you doing here?” I asked, the disbelief still coursing through my body as I pulled away and was stunned again at the sight of his face. He pressed a kiss to my forehead and looked me in the eyes, his hands coming to the side of my face.

“I came to spend Christmas with the woman I love.”

Chapter Text

I could hear the rush of the blood rushing through my body in my ears as I stared at him, unsure of whether the words had actually come out of his mouth or whether my exhaustion had pushed me into delirium. The small smirk was ever present on his face and he looked at me earnestly, confirming what I hoped to be true.

“Did you just…” I could barely get the words out as my mouth opened in a massive smile, “Say it again.”

“Aye, I did just. I love ye, Claire. I think my heart fell in love with ye the minute I saw ye in that dining room at the rehearsal dinner, it just took my head a bit of time to catch up. I am so in love with you, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.”

The world spun on an entirely different axis and I felt myself turning with it, caught up in this perfect moment, this little bubble in time that I wished I could capture and keep forever.

“I’m in love with you too, Jamie.”

As soon as the words left my lips, something deep inside of my chest clicked together. Maybe it had broken when my parents had gone or maybe it fractured with the knowledge of Frank’s infidelity but here, in this moment, it was healed.

His lips hovered over mine as I looked into his eyes, a question that I would say yes to a million times. I answered by pressing my lips against his, letting myself slump into the tight hold he had on me as my knees became weak. He held me against his body, his tongue seeking mine. The kiss wasn’t harsh or hungry, it was a confirmation of all of the thing that we both knew that we felt. That this time, it was for real. There was no going back once we had both branded our initials over the heart of the person standing right in front of us. That we were forever changed.

I don’t know who pulled away first but all of a sudden, my ungloved hand was held against his lips as he kissed my knuckles.

“Christ Sassenach, yer wee hands are frozen. Do ye have yer keys? Can I come in?” I laughed quietly at the request and flexed the fingers that he held against his face to stroke his cheek slightly.

“The man that I love travels for hundreds of miles to spend Christmas with me, I think the least I could do is let him inside.’`

He helped me find my keys and we walked up the stairs to Joe’s second floor flat. As I put the key in the lock, I turned to face him, suddenly nervous.

“Joe’s been home in Boston for a few days now and I’ve been… well, moping is probably the most accurate word, so it’s not exactly tidy but-“

“Open the door, Claire,” he chuckled, silencing my warnings with a kiss.

When we got inside, I fumbled for the light switch and dumped my things on the floor, throwing the keys onto the console table. I watched him closely as he moved inside, taking in his surroundings and then spinning to meet me gaze. I was surprised to see that he was frowning.

“What is that?”

His eyes still held mine but the index finger on his right hand was pointing behind himself. I craned my neck to see what he was talking about and saw that the item in question was the box that held our artificial Christmas tree, unopened. Almost like I was noticing it for the first time, the apartment was entirely devoid of anything that could even remotely be considered ‘Christmas cheer’. There were a few unopened cards that were addressed to Joe and not a single wrapped present in sight.

“Oh well, with Joe gone, I thought I’d get it done but then it got more and more difficult with work to find the time and then I’d just need to pack it all back up again in a few days…” I continued to ramble my poor excuse as he closed the gap between us and frowned down at me, the determined glint in his eye that I’d missed so much was fiercely present.

“This wilna do, I’m rectifying this right now.” He gave me another fake glare as his hands set to work with the buttons of his coat. Following suit, I took my outer layers off but all the while watching as his body became less covered. He quickly pulled the maroon jumper he was wearing over his head leaving him in a long sleeved white cotton shirt and his jeans. My hands ached with the need to undress him further.

“You’re going to do it now? I thought we might…” My fingers toyed with the hem of my t-shirt and his eyes dropped to my waist. Smirking, he walked towards me and put his hands on my hips.

“Plenty of time for that, Sassenach. I cannae let this transgression go, I’m afraid. To think of ye cooped up here alone with not even a Christmas tree, it breaks my heart,” he said quietly, his sincerity surprising me.

“Really? I didn’t know Christmas was such a thing for you.”

“Oh aye, I love Christmas! Ma and Da used to make the biggest thing of it when we were wee, Ma would cook for the whole of December it felt like and Da would take us to cut down a tree-“

“That is so illegal!” I laughed at the thought of a tiny redheaded boy keeping lookout as his dad got busy with a saw. Jamie laughed too.

“It was all very exciting but I’m pretty sure Da actually had an agreement with the neighbour that we could take a tree. Da would tell us stories about the Watch, men who raided the Highlands in the clan times and took what they wanted and Willie and I would play pretend, like the tree was the spoils of our raid,” Jamie smiled as his eyes glazed over slightly, going further into the memory.

“Who’s Willie?” I asked innocently, never having heard the name before. His smiled faltered slightly as sadness creeped into his eyes. He put an arm around me and lowered the both of us into the sofa, wrapping both arms around me so that my back was pressed against his side. I couldn’t see his face when he spoke but I could feel the grief seeping out of him.

“Willie was my brother. My big brother, mo chridhe. And he would’ve loved ye,” he whispered as my shoulders slumped in sympathy. I tried to turn to face him but his grip tightened and I realised that he didn’t want me to so I relaxed into him, leaning my head back into the space between his jaw and his shoulder. A huge sigh rumbled through his body and he took a deep breath. “He was ten when he died, I was six. Looked so much like Da, same as Jenny, while I favour my Ma. We fought like all brothers do, Jenny constantly having to get between her big brother and her little brother to break up fights and Lord knows, she managed. But Willie was always the adventurous one, he ran into things headfirst not thinking about the consequences. I admired him so much. He was the best big brother.”

I could already feel the tears starting at the corners of my eyes, the exhaustion of my day being compounded by the man that I loved and who loved me opening up about something clearly very painful for him to talk about. Not being able to look into his eyes, to comfort him in the way that felt natural to me was torture but I allowed him to set the pace of the moment, not wanting to break his trust about what he needed right now. I steeled myself and bit my tongue in a big to stop the tears.

“There’s plenty to do on a farm for bairns but there are also plenty of things that we werena allowed to do. On no uncertain terms, we were not to go into the stables on our own, that was drilled into us from when we could understand. But Willie didnae take kindly to being told what to do. So he convinced me to go with him to see the new Clydesdale that Da had brought in for breeding. I dinna ken if ye know horses, Claire, but this was a big horse and ill-tempered. He wasnae settling to his new surroundings and he had given Da a few starts but Willie saw something big in front of him and he wanted to prove himself a man,” his breath wasn’t as steady as it usually was and my whole body moved with him as he took a deep breath. “All it took was one kick. Doctor said he would’ve died instantly.”

I squeezed my eyes tight as a single tear escaped, holding back the flood that was threatening to breach my eyelids. The grief was coming off him in waves and I felt it as if it was my own although fully aware that I had no idea what it felt like to lose a sibling. And so young. His chest heaved and I knew that he was crying freely now, his voice shaking.

“I just stood there,” he whispered, “I was so scared that we’d get told off for being where we shouldn’t be and Willie wasnae waking up and there was so much blood and I just stood, I don’t even know how long for. If I’d run to the house sooner, to get help-“ his sobbing cut his words off as his head dropped against my shoulder. I pulled his arms tighter around me, trying to absorb some of his pain into my own skin, to share the burden.

“Jamie, you couldn’t have done anything. You were so young, you couldn’t have understood. People talk about fight or flight but that isn’t the case. A lot of people freeze, they’re not able to comprehend what’s happening. You were only seven years old,” I said quietly, trying not to let my own voice waver. I could feel the material of my shirt becoming wet with his tears and I raised my hand to his hair, stroking his hair gently and shushing in his ear. “I’m here, you’re alright.”

He moved suddenly, twisting so that his head was now on my lap, his legs curled on the sofa beside him. I continued to stroke his hair as he cried, letting the pain pour out of him like a tsunami. After a long time, his breathing changed from the panicky, erratic breaths to deep, slow ones and I realised that he had fallen asleep. Without moving too much, I craned my neck to look at the clock and it told me it was just after 7.30pm in the evening. The flat was only lit by the kitchen light behind us and I resigned myself to the darkness, my final thoughts before I fell asleep of a young, red-haired boy and his big brother.

***

“Oocha bugger!”

The sound of smashing glass and a sharp inhale of breath woke me from my sleep. Realising that Jamie was no longer lying with me on the sofa, I opened my bleary eyes and found him trying to gather the broken shards of a decoration that he had dropped. One finger planted firmly in his mouth to stem the bleeding, I let a chuckle escape from my lips. His head snapped up to mine and his eyes softened.

“Yer awake.”

I stretched my arms above my head and groaned as I felt some of the pops of my vertebrae. Getting to my feet, I went into the kitchen and grabbed the dustpan and brush from under the sink. Silently, I bent down to sweep up the broken glass and realised it was one of the ones that I hated, a chubby little glass angel.

“Thank God that monstrosity bit the dust,” I remarked. I could feel the relief coming from Jamie as he kissed my forehead.

“I’m glad it wasnae important to ye. Still, sorry I dropped it,” he said sheepishly. I smiled at him to let him know that he was fully off the hook.

“What time is it? How long did we sleep for?”

“It’s just after 11pm,” he said, taking the dustpan from my hands and moving through to the kitchen to dispose of it. I turned myself towards the tree, now out of it’s box and adorned by strings of warm lights.

“You’ve made a good start, I hate doing the lights,” I said as his arms enclosed around my waist, his face burying itself in the nest of my curls.

“I dinna ken how to tell ye how thankful I am to have ye, Sassenach. I have never spoken about William before, not to any lass. Thank ye for letting me tell ye about him,” he said, so quiet. I turned myself in his grip and held his face in my hands, forcing him to look at me. In his eyes, I could see his soul laid bare, vulnerable and delicate. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of my love for him.

“I am so thankful that you trust me enough to know about him, Jamie. I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Claire.” His lips lowered to mine as we shared a soft kiss, silently committing to sheltering each other in times of turmoil. Whatever he needed me to be for him, I would show up time after time, as long as he would have me.

As we broke apart, we both moved to the box of ornaments that lay at the bottom of the tree. He was astonished at the sheer amount of tinsel, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the fuzzy plastic.

“They’re Joe’s decorations, not mine,” I said in my defence as I placed a particularly gaudy bauble on the tree. After another twenty minutes of delicate positioning, we stood back and admired our handiwork. He snuck a sideways glance at me and we both burst out laughing.

“That is the ugliest fuckin’ tree I think I’ve ever seen, Sassenach,” he clutched at his chest as his breath returned to normal.

“I have to agree with you there.”

He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me into the side of his body, planting a soft kiss on the top of my head as I placed my arm around his back, tucking my hand into his pocket. I felt him glance behind us towards the kitchen and he smiled down at me, warmth and love radiating out of his body. It made me weak at the knees.

“It’s officially past midnight. Merry Christmas, Claire.”

“Merry Christmas, James.”

Our lips found each other first, our hands a close second. His hands came to my thighs as he easily lifted me, not breaking our kiss and I pushed our joined bodies along the walls of the hallway in an attempt to lead him to my bedroom. As he dropped me onto the bed, he stood over me as he pulled my leggings from my body and I watched in awe as he pulled his shirt over his head. I crawled to my knees, my hands instinctively reaching out to touch his now bare abdomen as I planted a kiss on his happy trail, my fingers unbuttoning his jeans. I stole a look up at him and my stomach clenched when I saw him staring down at me, his eyes completely glazed over with lust. He watched intently as I pulled his jeans down from his hips, taking his boxers with me. My favourite part of his body sprung to attention in front of me and I grasped him firmly, his mouth opening slightly in anticipation. Keeping my eyes locked on his, I slowly licked my lips as he groaned and I took him in my mouth.

“Fuck, Claire,” he breathed harshly, his eyes blazing with need. The fingers of one of his hands coiled themselves into my curls and he rested his hand at the back of my head, gently encouraging my movements. With my hand and my lips wrapped around him, I hollowed my cheeks and sucked deeply as his hips bucked sharply. I had never particularly enjoyed doing this with men but the way Jamie reacted to the slightest change was making me feel drunk with an erotic power that I didn’t know I could wield. I was actively trying to make him lose his mind and when I looked up at him from under my lashes, his lower lip trapped between his teeth as his heavy brow furrowed in pleasure, and I took him even further back, relaxing the muscles in my throat.

“Fucking hell!” he whispered under his breath, his legs sagging slightly. Both hands were firmly on my head now, urging me forward with a need he couldn’t control. “Touch yerself, Claire. Please, for me,” he grunted, baring his teeth as he concentrated on not tipping over the edge, prolonging his pleasure. I snaked my free hand underneath the waistband of my underwear and moaned deeply when my fingers found their destination, the vibrations in my throat making him shudder. With a deep growl, he was gone from my mouth and I was suddenly flipped onto my front, his hands dragging my hips up into the air. Fire spread across my skin as he slapped my ass sharply, making me yelp and push my thighs together. His hand slipped down my sex and he groaned when he felt how wet I was.

“Jame, please,” I whined just as he slowly pushed a finger inside me, my hips squirming in the air.

“Christ Claire, ye have no idea just how beautiful ye look when ye beg me to fuck ye,” he whispered as his finger slowly rotated, hitting a part of my inner walls that sent a shiver down my spine and into my toes. He planted some wet kisses along my back as I felt him rub his hard cock against my skin. “I have missed ye so much, Sassenach.”

“Then show me,” I retorted impatiently, causing him to thrust into me sharply, a gasp getting caught in my throat. One of his strong forearms moved across my stomach he pulled us both backwards, resting on his heels as he thrust up into me, his fingers moving to roll and pinch my nipple as I made noises I’d never heard myself make.

“So deep,” he whispered to himself, pressing his forehead against the skin of the back of my shoulder. I felt his teeth nip me and I groaned at the sensation, the delicious yin and yang of pain and pleasure combined. “I love ye so much, Claire.”

“I love you too,” I moaned as his hips found a new angle and his cock hit that spot deep inside of me that made my toes curl.

“Say it again,” he commanded in a low voice, his thrusts becoming more forceful as we both began to move towards our peak.

“I love you Jamie Fraser,” I gasped, “I love you, I love you, I lov- ah!” His fingers began to rub against the most sensitive part of me and my legs went to water beneath me, his grip holding me firm against his chest.

“I love ye, mo chridhe. I love ye so much,” he whispered against my skin as I fell over the edge, calling his name again and again as it tore through my body. With a shudder, he emptied himself into me and kissed my back gently as he lowered me to the bed, pulling my leg over his hip so we could face each other and be as close as possible as our breath returned to normal.

“Merry Christmas, Sassenach.” His lips kissed my forehead and I let my eyes begin to close, my hand resting over his heart.

“Merry Christmas, Jamie.”

Chapter Text

As I sat in Heathrow airport, eyes glazed over in an attempt to ignore the chaos of holiday travel, my fingers danced against my collarbone, my subconscious already searching for the feel of cool pearls against my skin. I had, of course, cried when Jamie had given me my Christmas present and felt tears prick at the corner of my eyes at the memory of him slipping them around my neck.

”They’re very important to me, as are you, Claire.”

“Penny for your thoughts, mo chridhe?” His big hand thrust a large coffee into my face and my eyes came to focus on him towering over me before he sat down at my side, taking a sip of his own cup.

“Just painfully aware of the lack of jewellery around my neck, Mr Fraser,” a small smile playing on my lips, “But I thought pearls for a domestic flight was a bit much.”

His lips quipped up at the corners and I resisted the urge to kiss the smile from his mouth. “Lack of jewellery around one of your wee fingers, too.”

I started at that, my glass face showing my panic and he laughed loudly, grabbing my left hand and pulling the very specific finger to his lips.

“Jamie, I-“

“Just a wee joke, Sassenach,” his eyes blazed with humour, teasing and something else, “Although… never say never.”

My own lips cracked a smile at that, my heartbeat slowing from the thundering gallop it had set itself too at the even vague mention of something like marriage. Of course I wouldn’t admit to him that every time I had watched him swoop wee Jamie into his arms, my brain had filled with images of him doing the exact same with our own redheaded offspring. But they were daydreams, everyone had daydreams of possible and not so possible futures. A happy warmth bloomed in my stomach at the realisation that he had maybe been doing the exact same thing.

“You ridiculous man. How am I going to manage a whole two hour flight with you?” I asked rhetorically and he snorted, taking another long drink from his coffee.

“Nae quite two hours but I’m sure I’ll manage. Besides, ye’ve a whole three days after our wee flight to handle me.” His eyebrows waggled up and down and I hit him on the arm before relaxing into him, laying my head against his shoulder.

“What time will we get to Lallybroch?” I asked, my mind swimming with ideas of what the house would look like. Of course I had seen parts in some of Jamie’s pictures, snippets of some of the rooms and the grounds but I had emphatically told him that I wanted the reveal to be a surprise.

“It’s about a forty minute drive from the airport so maybe around half two? Depending on the roads and how Ian is with them,” he shrugged his shoulders causing my head to jostle and I scowled up at him, sticking my tongue out like a child. Something about being in his presence made it so easy for me to forget about the proverbial monkey on my shoulder and just allow myself to have fun. “Look Sassenach, we have a gate.”

He had taken my irrational need to be hours early for every flight in his stride, laughing at first at my ridiculous request and then nodding in acquiescence when he realised I wasn’t joking. Flying made me jittery and if I could get myself to the airport bar and tank a drink or two beforehand, all the better. So we found ourselves sat on bar stools at the Fortnum and Mason bar right outside our gate, my fingers curled around a flute of very crisp Ruinart champagne while Jamie savoured a 12 year Balvenie.

“Canna believe we’re nearly the one two at this bar, do ye no drink in airports in England?” Jamie glanced around himself, noticing the two other bodies at the opposite side of the bar, two very drunk and very loud men drinking pints.

“Well, not usually this early, I suppose. I just thought because it was New Year’s, we could enjoy a drink.”

“Aye weel, ye winna find many airports in Scotland where the bars aren’t full to the brim. Getting a pint is the first thing ye do when ye get rid of your bags up wi’ us. And if you’re spending the 31st of December in Scotland, it’s Hogmanay,” he looked at me sarcastically as his whole face scrunched together, both blue eyes pressed shut before snapping back open again. I barely contained the burst of laughter that erupted from me, receiving an interested look from the men across the bar.

“What on earth was that?” I squealed with excitement as his brow furrowed in confusion.

“It’s called a wink, Sassenach, surely ye ken that. Just how far gone are ye?”

“There is not a single person on this earth that would consider what you just did a wink!”

Jamie attempted it again which only made me laugh louder, putting a hand on the bar to steady myself as the movement of my body swing me around in my stool.

“Share the joke, love!” One of the men shouted from the other side of the bar as I dabbed the corners of my eyes with a napkin and waved them off without thinking about it. “Come on, we could do with a laugh!”

“Just a wee inside joke lads, nothing special. Enjoy your flight,” Jamie spoke firmly but with a smile to them as he raised his glass in their direction, “Slainte.”

“What did you call him?” Man number two entered the fray now, his voice brimming with the promise of violence. Not for the first time, I marvelled at how quickly the male ego could become bruised.

“Gentlemen, please. It’s just a Gaelic toast, no offence meant by it,” I spoke clearly to them, letting my hand drop from the bar to Jamie’s knee, feeling the tense muscles in his leg as he became uncomfortable with the escalating situation.

“Yeah well laddie buck, you’re in England, mate. So you and your Gaelic can fuck off back to Scotland,” the first man sneered and Jamie rolled his eyes, the tension dissipating from him as he realised there was no use in trying to be polite with the two very intoxicated men. I, on the other hand, was not feeling quite as forgiving.

“Excuse me but just who the fuck do you think you are?”

“Oh shut up, you stupid cow. Can’t be that good if you’re happy to be with one of them lot,” the man jutted his chin towards Jamie as he sprung to his feet, ready to defend my honour if need be. Honestly, men sometimes. The stranger laughed harshly as he clapped his hands together. “You’re a bloody big bastard, ain’t ya! Come on then!”

I quickly grabbed my bag in one hand and Jamie’s hand in the other as I pulled us away from the bar and as far away from the two idiots as I possibly could. Once we were around the corner and out of their sight, his hand came to my face as I slumped against the wall, feeling the slight tingle of the mix of alcohol and adrenaline run through my system.

“Claire, are ye alright? Fucking pricks, the both of them,” he hissed under his breath as his eyes searched my face, seeing the anger that was still apparent on my features.

“Am I alright? I wasn’t the one on the receiving end of abuse, Jamie. I’m perfectly fine, are you okay?” The palm of his hand was resting close to my mouth so I turned my head and kissed him firmly there as he smiled at me.

“I’m fine, Sassenach, I’m used to it. Wee men see big ones and their baser instincts kick in, for some reason they want to fight ye to prove their manliness. Been dealing with it my whole life,” he chuckled quietly.

“Really? That’s ridiculous. But the insults about being Scottish-“

“Unfortunately used to that one too. Not from everyone, of course, but when folk want to nip at ye, it’s the low hanging fruit they go for. Guess they’re just no very imaginative,” he grinned as he lowered his face to mine and captured my bottom lip with his own, the single gesture making me relax that little bit more.

Flight number ABN7134 to Inverness, please make your way…

Jamie smiled against my mouth and moved back slightly from me before whispering softly onto my lips,

“Let me take ye home, Sassenach.”

Chapter Text

We touched down at Inverness airport without much issue, despite the snow and ice trying its best to scupper our plans. I was becoming accustomed to my shoulders dropping slightly in relief as I took my first step on Scottish land, it now becoming synonymous with the man I was in love with. Jamie grinned and kissed my temple as he secured an arm around me, sheltering me from the cold air as we hurried from the plane into the building.

Come gather in my lungs Scottish wind…” his low timbre had grumbled in what I guessed was a rather inaccurate approximation of whatever tune the words usually followed.

His arm barely left its tight coil around my waist as he easily lifted our luggage from the carousel. After a few short exchanges of indeterminable Gaelic on the phone to Ian, we were stood in the pick-up area of the carpark as Ian’s Land Rover pulled up in front of us. He came around the car with his arms wide open, engulfing me in a hug before Jamie, much to his upset.

“Failte! Claire, it’s so good to see ye again! Yer looking well,” he placed both hands on my upper arms as he kissed my cheek before he turned to Jamie and the two men clapped hands on each other.

“A charaidh, I’ve missed ye,” Jamie muttered into his friend’s thick tartan scarf that was wound around his neck. Ian nodded in agreement and the men fought over who would pick up the heavier case to deposit into the boot as I settled myself in the back passenger seat. Once we had made our way onto the country roads, Ian ramped up the speed despite Jamie’s hissed protestations. Not that I knew any of what was being said.

Tha thu ‘draibheadh ro luath,” he grumbled as Ian waved him off. (You’re driving too fast.)

Duin do bheul!” (Shut up!)

Tha an rathad sleamhainn!” (The road’s slippery!)

A bheil thu ‘g iarraidh a droll a-mach a choiseachd?” (Do you want to get out and walk?)

“For the love of God, am I going to need a translator this whole trip?” I sighed exasperatedly at both of them as Ian’s eyes regarded me in the rearview mirror.

“Sorry Claire, sometimes I forget that I’m doing it,” he smiled apologetically and I winked back at him.

“Dinna fash Sassenach, we’ll teach ye the Gaidhlig soon.” I could hear the grin in Jamie’s voice and I laughed as I rolled my eyes, looking out the window at the beautiful scenery that was starting to unfold.

“How are ye finding it then, just the same?” Jamie asked Ian who’s shoulders shrugged noncommittally.

“Much and such, aye. Still getting used to it but it’s none sae different.”

I smoothed my hands on the warm leather seats, “Is it a new car then?”

Jamie and Ian shared a quick look of amusement between themselves and I knew that I wasn’t privy to something that they both found quite amusing.

“A new car, no,” Ian said, his voice dripping with mirth as Jamie couldn’t hold back any longer and let a bark of laughter burst from his chest.

“Do I get to know then?” I asked before thinking better of it, “Actually, do I want to know?”

Ian snorted a laugh and his eyes found mine in the mirror again, “Mebbe we didna get around to speaking about it when I saw ye last Claire but I’m an amputee. Right leg.”

I’m not sure what reaction they expected me to have but it didn’t phase me having seen multiple amputations of various limbs in my time at the hospital.

“Oh,” I said, nonplussed before my professional curiosity got the better of me and I found myself asking, “Above or below the knee?”

Ian burst out laughing at that and clapped a hand on Jamie’s arm who was chuckling along with him.

“She’s a keeper, Fraser,” he remarked as Jamie’s eyes caught me in the mirror, twinkling with humour and love.

“Aye, I ken that just fine.”

***

As Ian pulled the car through two tall stone pillars, I finally got my first view of Lallybroch. Although as a child I had seen many beautiful places all across the world, there was something that hit me about the sheer history of the place that I was looking at. As I exited the car, I was conscious of Jamie’s nervous eyes on me, watching for my reaction just as he had when we first went inside his bothy the first time we spent the night together. The courtyard that we were standing in was surrounded by high walls made from granite blocks that glistened in the frosty weather and the piece de resistance was a huge building that already felt like home. I could picture a small Jamie running around with his siblings, wreaking havoc amongst the calm country setting. I sent a huge smile Jamie’s away and saw his shoulders relax, almost as if my acceptance of Lallybroch was by extension an acceptance of him and the potential future that lay before us. As I turned back towards the house, Jenny’s impossibly quick feet trickled down the worn steps that lead to the front door, hugging her cardigan around herself.

“Come in out of the cold, ye dafties!” She ushered her husband, myself and Jamie into the warmth of the house, closing the door behind herself with an exaggerated shiver. “There’s soup on in the kitchen, go on through.”

Jamie’s hand appeared on the small of my back as he gently lead me towards the kitchen, a huge room with a tall ceiling that seemed to have been built to accommodate the massive range that proudly sat against the wall with a big pan of simmering soup on top of it. His fingers gently prised the coat from my shoulders and he disappeared to put it away and get the bags from the car with Ian as I stood anxiously in the vast room. Jenny stirred at the pot and then turned to look at me, hands on her hips.

“Thank you for having me for a few days, I really appreciate it,” I smiled in an attempt to put myself in her good graces. I watched her bottom lip quiver before she set it straight again in a hard line.

“Yer welcome,” her reply came, short and to the point. The hard expression on her face faltered slightly again before her shoulders slumped, one eyebrow cocking up, “I hope ye can be comfortable in yer time here, Claire. I know I can be… mercurial sometimes. But ye are clearly very important to Jamie which means ye are important to me.”

It was the last thing I expected to hear from her and I had to take a minute for it to really sink in. Jenny was giving me her blessing, practically handing the care of her brother’s heart into my hands and I was incredibly appreciative of it.

“Thank you, Jenny, that means a lot. I hope you know how much I love him,” I said quietly, hoping she heard the sincerity in my voice. Her smile twitched, threatening to become a little bigger before she reeled her emotions back in.

“Aye well, ye better,” she joked before turning back to the stove and getting busy. Without having heard any footsteps, a strong pair of arms wrapped themselves around my middle and Jamie’s chin set itself to rest on my shoulder.

“And just what are my twa favourite women speaking about when the menfolk are away?”

I batted his hands with my own and he only squeezed me tighter to him, making me laugh.

“Just about how much time and attention ye require, mo brathair. Like a wee house plant,” Jenny joked as she began to dish the soup into bowls, Jamie’s arms guiding me to sit as he settled himself beside me.

“Tapadh leat,” Jamie muttered as he took the bowl from Jenny after I had received my own. After Jenny had shouted for Ian, he appeared at the table with wee Jamie, setting the little boy in his chair after he had stopped wriggling with excitement at the sight of his uncle.

“Do ye remember Claire, mo ghraidh?” Jenny asked as she kissed her son on the head, handing him a spoon. Wee Jamie eyed me nervously and shook his head, earning a laugh from the table, myself included.

“We met the last time I was in Scotland but it was very quick. Do you think we could maybe be friends this time?” I asked him, his steady eyes never wavering from my face as he sized me up. After a quick consideration, he nodded his head firmly and I gave myself a little high five at having earned his trust for at least the night. Jamie’s lips nuzzled against my temple as he pressed a kiss there and Ian announced to the table,

“Guess that means yer part of the family now, Claire!”

***

Hogmanay at Lallybroch was like something from a dream. Jenny had occupied every surface going with food, drinks and candles that bathed the vast house in a warm glow and I felt myself fall in love with it quicker than I had anticipated. As the last minute party tasks were being dealt with, Jamie led me by the hand to his old room, stopping outside the door nervously.

“Now I ken why ye were nervous to take me into yer wee flat, Sassenach, this feels very personal,” he chewed his bottom lip nervously and it made me ache to claim it as my own.

“Open the door, Fraser,” I said in a vague approximation of what he had said on Christmas Eve. He grinned and held my hand to his lips before opening the door and leading me in.

The room was exactly as I had anticipated it to be, walls covered in Scotland rugby posters and ticket stubs from gigs he’d been to, plane rides he’d taken. There were a couple of photo frames that sat at home on a huge bookshelf that was fit to burst, books arranged in no order at all and squashed in at all angles. The bed was a huge four poster queen made from dark wood with dark navy sheets.

“Much better size than the one in your bothy,” I said jutting my chin towards our sleeping arrangement, earning a grin from him.

“Aye weel when Mam realised I was at 6ft and wasnae slowing down, I got to swap rooms wi’ Jenny for the bigger bed,” he laughed as his hands found my waist and he fell backwards onto the soft mattress, taking me down with him with a yelp.

“James Fraser, we need to-“ The telling off that he was about to receive was cut short as he groaned appreciatively, fondling my ass in his big hands.

“I love it when ye call me James, Sassenach,” he joked making me burst into laughter as I buried my face in his neck.

“You’re an idiot.”

“Aye but I’m your idiot,” he grinned, “And dinna ye forget it.”

“Wouldn’t dare, James” I said dropping my voice to an overly husky tone to make fun of him. He laughed as he kissed me, his tongue slipping past my lips as I felt him twitch underneath me, against my stomach.

“Wee teenage Jamie dreamed about an awful lot of girls in this bed but none as beautiful as ye, Sassenach.”

“Flatterer!”

“Aye but an honest one. If only I could go back in time and tell him, I’d say there’s a rare woman coming yer way Jamie so just haud on, even if she does step on your toes during yer mate’s wedding ceilidh.”

I dug my fingers into his ribs and began to tickle him before his strong hands gripped my wrists and flipped us over as he pinned my hands above my head. Slowly, he ran the tip of his nose down the length of mine, grinding his hips against me as the mood in the room began to charge.

“I’d tell him that he was going to fall in love with the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and nae to let her go no matter what,” his lips found mine again, fitting perfectly as he sighed contentedly against my mouth. His hands began to wonder as I threaded his hair through my fingers in a futile attempt to pull him closer. The space between my legs started to tingle and I bucked my hips to try and find some delicious friction against him. He dragged him tongue from the corner of my mouth down my neck as my breath began to come short, his lips finding their destination at the open collar of my shirt.

“Jamie, please,” I keened as he sunk his teeth into the juncture of my neck and shoulder, his hands beginning to undo the zip of my jeans.

“BEAUTIFUL BEAUCHAMP, FAR ARE YE?”

Hands immediately halting, I rested my forehead against him with a pained laugh as he tried to kiss me again, urging me not to stop.

“It’s no use,” I sighed, “If we don’t go down to her, she’ll come and find us and I’m not wanting to hear the story of how she caught us fucking at every party I attend with her in the future.”

Jamie snorted, zipping my jeans back up slowly and pressing his mouth to mine in a final, chaste kiss, “To be continued, Sassenach.”

“I’m holding you to that.”

***

Live from Edinburgh Castle, I’m Jackie Bird and if you’ll count down with me in ten, nine, eight…

The TV blared across the din of the twenty or so people that were huddled in the living room, all getting to their feet and clutching drinks, Jenny steading a very bleary eyed wee Jamie against her hip. Jamie quickly made his way to me from across the room, pulling to my feet from the couch and hooking a large, warm arm around my waist as he grinned down at me, counting along with the group.

“Three, two one,” he whispered against my lips, whisky and the promise of a new year on his breath.

“Happy Hogmanay!” The room loudly announced as his mouth descended on mine, his arm crushing me to his chest as he held me tightly. I kissed him back fervently, pouring all of myself into the kiss in a display of commitment and adoration. Our kiss lingered as I became aware of everyone else moving around the room offering well wishes to everyone around them. Suddenly, Jamie’s teeth clashed against my own and he grunted, one hand going to rub the back of his head as Geillis came into view behind him, her hand held aloft.

“We all ken very well that you two lovebirds cannae keep yer hands off each other but I’d like to wish my best friend a good new year!” She said impatiently but with humour in her voice as Jamie smirked at her and stepped aside. Laughing, I wrapped my arms around her and buried my face in her wild hair.

“Happy New Year, Geillie,” I said, my voice catching as the alcohol began to make me emotional. I would’ve been embarrassed had Geillis not been openly crying with happiness, her being the most drunk out of the entire party.

“Happy New Year, Beautiful Beauchamp. I’m sae happy that ye’ve found love,” she said sincerely, her green eyes blazing at me as I kissed her on the cheek.

Jamie was beside me again, not wanting to stray far as people came to us, Murtagh, Rupert and Angus, Jenny and Ian with their newly energised son bouncing between them. I was embraced by everyone, smiling faces on each one of them as they kissed my cheeks and held my hands in theirs. Looking around the room, seeing the love and goodwill emanating between everyone and realising that they now considered me part of them made my heart beat that little bit faster. The orphan who never quite fit in anywhere, who always flitted from one place to the next, never putting down roots had found her people and as Jamie pressed a kiss to my temple, I realised that I was finally home.

Chapter Text

On the first day of January, the adults of the house were huddled around the kitchen table, all nursing cups of coffee as well as the hangovers that sat above our heads like a cloud. With some coaxing and an extra biscuit or two, wee Jamie’s youthful exuberance had been brought down to a simmer as he played quietly in the corner of the kitchen on an old Chesterfield armchair, running one of his new toy tractors over the leather as we collectively swore off alcohol, all fully aware that by dinner time tonight that vow would be broken. A sense of familiarity fell over me that I hadn’t felt before, being all too comfortable in my hastily thrown on thick socks, pyjama bottoms and one of Jamie’s old rugby tops, leaning against the tall column of his body and sharing the heat that radiated from him.

“I didn’t know you played rugby,” I remarked as I pulled at the collar with my fingers.

“Not much else for a lad of my size to do when he’s growing up around these parts, Sassenach. I played as a lock for years until the other boys caught up wi’ me.”

“Worse second row ye’ve ever seen, Claire, dinna let him tell ye any different,” Ian snorted into his coffee from across the table as Jamie threw a browning apple core at his head which he dodged expertly.

“Mac na galla, shame ye didnae have those reflexes as a scrum-half,” Jamie retorted at his brother-in-law, trying to keep his lips from curling into a smile.

“I had lightening reflexes, ye big lummox and ye ken it. Even with one leg rather than two, I could still outpace ye.”

Jamie burst out laughing at that, slamming his hand down on the table and earning a satisfied grin from Ian. Jenny rolled her eyes at two of the three important men in her life and got to her feet to tend to the bacon that was sizzling away.

“Ye couldnae outrun me then and ye definitely canna now,” Jamie replied

“Aye well I’m still pretty sure ye did it on purpose to get one up on me,” Ian said sharply making Jamie laugh even harder as my jaw dropped open, my eyes darting back and forth between the two men who shockingly seemed to find the whole thing incredibly funny.

“Ye bastard, she’ll think it was my fault!” Jamie’s voice shook with laughter and I looked at Ian for an explanation.

“He didna do a thing, Claire. Just would’ve been awfully handy if he’d taken the hit for me, as opposed to having been binned for scrapping with the other team’s number 8.”

“You lost it playing rugby?” I asked quietly as Ian leaned back and began to fiddle with his prosthesis under the table, unsecuring it from his stump. Still with her back to us, Jenny’s sixth sense perked up as she held the wooden spatula up into the air in protest.

“If ye think yer putting that thing on the kitchen table- ye ken, where we eat, ye’ve another thing coming, Mr Murray.”

Ian looked at me like a naughty child and sent me a quick wink, mouthing ‘I’ll show you later’ as he lowered it to the floor.

“Aye, a bad dislocation to my knee sent me to hospital. Then things went sideways, complications happen and a while later I was learning to walk again as a twenty-six year old man,” he shrugged, as though a life altering thing such as a limb amputation was simply another page in the book of life. “Thank God for my best friend and his sister who became my beautiful wife.” Shooting a look behind himself just in time to catch Jenny’s tense shoulders fall slightly, he reached his hand towards her and she instinctively knew, letting her own drop to her side to allow Ian to hold it in his own and pressed a kiss to her knuckles.

It was a perfectly tender moment, something so sweet that I almost felt like I was intruding. To see two people who had been together for such a long time that they moved in sync was something truly enviable. They complemented each other perfectly, both keeping the other in balance throughout whatever life had in store for them. Jamie’s lips pressed against the mess of my hair and I knew he was thinking the same thing I was as I relaxed against his body, letting him wrap a warm arm around my shoulders as he pulled me in closer.

That could be us, one day.

***

Even though I had thought I was becoming accustomed to Scotland, it somehow never failed to take my breath away.

Jamie and I walked hand in hand away from the main house of Lallybroch, the small path that had been made by years of footfall trodding up and down hidden by a few inches of snow and barely wide enough to accommodate two people walking side by side but we were nothing if not determined. A few times I had stumbled on a mound hidden by the frozen grass and at one point we were so caught up in our conversation that Jamie didn’t realise he was walking straight into a nettle bush, Gaelic expletives falling from his lips like water as he snatched a nearby dock leaf from the ground in an attempt to soothe the itch but as the sun began to set, so early in the afternoon on the first day of January, the landscape of the highlands that we were surrounded by were suddenly bathed in pinks and oranges as the wispy clouds became candyfloss against the rapidly darkening sky. It was truly a sight to behold and we stood together in the middle of a field, his arms encased around me as we watched the world go silently by.

“Where are we headed anyway?” I asked as soon as I realised that I hadn’t bothered to wonder, having been more than happy to be lead by the hand by Jamie to the end of the world if that’s what he had in mind.

“To visit with the rest of the family,” he said quietly, his voice holding a reverence that I didn’t quite understand. We continued to walk further from the house as the sun went down and turned the corner at a line of trees, a small ruined wall coming into view. And behind it, a row of headstones.

We fell into a respectful silence as Jamie pulled me towards the graves of his parents, extending one hand’s fingers to lightly brush the snow from the top of the stone in greeting as the other’s remained laced tightly with my own.

“I come here to speak to them, to ask for advice, for strength,” he told me, his voice low and steady. I didn’t say anything, just squeezed his hand in mine. “Sometimes I speak to the both of them, sometimes just one on their own. I can always tell who’s here with me and it’s always exactly what I need. I suppose it’s my way of being close to them, still.”

“I understand. I thank my parents for silly things all the time, as if they’re looking out for me and pulling the strings.”

He chuckled quietly and nodded, his eyes still fixed on the gravestones.

“Exactly like that. I came here when ye left after the wedding, ye ken. I needed to tell Da about ye, try and get my head straight. When I was a lad, I had asked him about love, how I’d know when I was in it and the like. He telt me that I’d ken it in my bones,” he turned his head to look down at me, his blue eyes burning with a love so intense that it sent fire through my veins. “I came to tell him that I kent how it felt, finally. That I was in love wi’ someone I barely knew and that she was brilliant and intelligent and funny and beautiful.”

“I feel very privileged that you brought me here, Jamie. Thank you.”

He pulled me tightly against his side and I heard him inhale the scent of my hair as if he was committing this exact moment to memory.

“They both would’ve adored ye, Sassenach,” he whispered as I shut my eyes, following suit in taking a mental photograph of this perfect point in time.

We stood quietly with our thoughts, not needing to say anything until Jamie’s phoned buzzed aggressively in his pocket.

“Hell’s tooth,” he mumbled as he opened his phone to see a message from Jenny, the blood draining from his face as he showed me.

Jenny: Need Claire. Come quickly.

***

“Christ Janet, I thought someone was dying!” Jamie shouted at his sister as I shrugged out of my jacket, hanging it up on a peg beside the door. Jamie and I had rushed back to the house, thinking the worst had happened and I prepared myself mentally, thinking that I would need to switch on my doctor brain a little sooner than I had anticipated.

“Why on earth would someone be dying, Jamie, dinna be so daft,” Jenny said dismissively as she held her hands in firm fists against her hips. Jamie ran his hand through his hair to ease the tension he was holding in his body and I couldn’t help but find the whole misunderstanding amusing.

“What exactly is the emergency then?” Jamie huffed as he started to tug at the zipper to his own jacket. Jenny raised her eyebrow at him and turned to the worktop before returning to face me and putting a huge ceramic bowl on the kitchen table with a thud. She looked at me and brandished a well used wooden spoon.

“Stir,” she said simply. I didn’t move, my eyes darting from the spoon to Jamie as I saw the vein in his temple attempt to burst out from beneath his skin.

“Ye put the fear of God in me so ye could get us back here so she could stir yer cloo-“

“I will not start the year without her doing her turn,” she said firmly to her brother before fixing her eyes back onto me. “Stir!” She barked as I immediately snapped to attention, grabbing the spoon from her and moving towards the bowl. As I peered over the edge, it seemed to be filled with a thick cake batter that smelled delicious. As Jenny turned her back to me once more, rummaging in one of the many kitchen drawers for her the next item that she felt like attacking me with, I plonked the spoon in the bowl and firmed my grip on its handle. Just as I began to move my arm to force the spoon through the mixture, Jamie grabbed at my wrist with a yelp.

“Bloody hell, no that way!” He made a distinctively Scottish noise in the back of his throat and my eyes widened in confusion, and annoyance, at him.

“What in the hell are you talking about? She told me to stir!”

“Christ, ye are a bloody Sassenach, aren’t ye? Ye have to stir it counter-clockwise,” he sighed as his hand slipped over mine and he started to move the spoon slowly, our hands moving together. I laughed in disbelief and two pairs of Fraser eyes instantly fixed me where I stood.

“He’s no joking, Claire, it’s bad luck nae to,” Jenny said gravely. I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat and held up my free hand in surrender.

“Fine, fine, I’ll stir it counter-clockwise.”

Something that I had learned about Scotland, the Highlands in particular, was the amount of ceremony and tradition that had not been whittled down by time. As I had come to know Geillis and her particular, sometimes peculiar, ways of doing things had endeared me to her. I had thought of them as her little quirks and it wasn’t until I had met Murtagh who held all the strange beliefs and behaviours just as firmly as she did that I realise it was part of their heritage, the old ways having been passed down through the generations. I had absolutely no idea what the significance of stirring a cake solely in a counter-clockwise direction was but I wasn’t going to argue with two stubborn Frasers on points of Scottish tradition.

I raised my eyebrows as Jenny in a question as she watched me stir, relinquishing a sharp nod of affirmation when she decided that she was happy with my technique. I bit my tongue to resist asking if they would also like me to throw salt over my shoulder or hop around the room on one leg as I did it, a wry smile playing on my lips as I realised that Jamie was watching me just as intently, taking this whole thing very seriously. Jenny began to unfold a plain off-white muslin cloth on the table before dusting it with flour from a glass jar. From the looks of the thing, it had seen better days and she noticed my reticence.

“This is my great granny’s cloot and it’s perfectly clean.”

“A cloot? Like cloth?” I asked earning a roll of Jenny’s bright eyes.

“Aye, like a cloth, ye Sassenach. Every family should have their own cloot for making clootie dumpling, it’s no the same wi’ a new one.” She took the bowl from my hands and dumped the mixture out onto the floured cloth before beginning to bundle it up into a round parcel, pinching the cloth together at the top and looking at me expectantly.

“Ach, gie’s it here,” Jamie muttered impatiently although definitely enjoying the utter confusion on my face as he stood beside me and cut a length of string from a spool that was lying on the table, wrapping it around the cloth and pulling a tight knot. “Now you.”

His arm snaked around my waist and he pressed a warm kiss against the back of my neck as my fingers tied a second knot against his own, hearing him grunt appreciatively as I apparently did a good job of it. Jenny finished with a knot of her own and raised her eyes to her brother.

“Go and find yer namesake and his dad, would ye mo brathair?”

Jamie slinked away from me as Jenny patted at the cloth, shaping the contents further into its round, bulbous shape.

“It might seem strange to ye Claire but it’s just how things are done. Every member of the family takes a stir and ties their own knot,” she said, her voice firm despite the words that she had said having warmed my heart.

“Member of the family then, am I?” I teased. She glared at me playfully, her eyes wrinkling at the edges and a wicked smile on her lips.

“Course ye are.”

Chapter Text

“It’s nae use, Jenny, just leave me be!”

My ears pricked up to Ian’s exasperated tone as I moved through the house. I had become accustomed to how sound carried through old houses like Lallybroch as it reverberated against the stone walls and floors, the tapestries and rugs trying in vain to dampen the sound. Not wanting to disturb Jenny and Ian in what sounded like something personal, I kept my footfall light as I tried to sneak down the staircase without being caught.

“Why don’t ye just ask Claire to look at it? She might be able to help!” Jenny snapped harshly at her husband in an attempt to mask the concern in her voice. My feet paused on the third last step and I strained to hear Ian’s response.

“How can she help wi’ something that isnae there?”

My heart sank in my chest at the sadness, the frustration in Ian’s words. There was clearly something going on and I could make an educated guess at what that something was but I wasn’t prepared to simply bound into the room uninvited, handing out medical advice that hadn’t been asked for. There was a matter of pride that a lot of men held, especially those who had gone through the loss of a limb. I would be flattered if Ian came to me for help but it would be on his terms.

“Fit ye deein’ standing about, Sassenach, I was waiting for ye,” Jamie’s low timbre vibrated through me as his hands found my hips and he pressed his mouth against the ditch between my collarbones. From my perch on the staircase and his feet firmly planted on the ground, our heights were a mismatch that we weren’t accustomed to. My mouth curled into a salacious smile as I slowly threaded my fingers through his hair, pulling his face closer to my décolletage.

“My apologies, sir. Did you miss me terribly?” I joked, feeling him grin against my skin as his tongue darted out to taste my skin.

“Ye ken I did,” he breathed, “I realise we had plans to go on a wee jaunt down the road but if ye wanted, I could flip ye over my shoulder and we could go back to bed?”

Desire pooled in the pit of my stomach, thick and heavy swirls that began to work their way through my limbs. My head relaxed backwards as his lips continued their exploration of my skin, his nose nudging at the hem of my cotton shirt that lay against my shoulder as he searched for more.

“Just leave it, Janet!”

Jamie immediately halted, his eyes darting up the stairs behind me to the source of the fight between Jenny and Ian. His brow furrowed and he put distance between our bodies, much to my dismay.

“Usually only me that calls Jenny by her Sunday name and that’s only when I’ve made her angry enough to throw things at ma heid,” he mumbled. The sound of Jenny and Ian’s bedroom door slammed shut, followed closely by the quick staccato of Jenny’s steps that still somehow made me fight the urge to run in fear. Jamie looked at his sister, eyes full of concern as she came along beside me, bristling with anger.

“I love him wi’ all ma heart but my God, he can be as stubborn as a mule sometimes!”

“Guess he’s spent too much time around Frasers,” Jamie joked as Jenny tsk’ed in agreement before fixing me with a stare.

“It still pains him, even after all these years. The leg, ye ken.”

I nodded, Jenny’s words confirming what I had hypothesised after overhearing their conversation. Although Ian had lost his leg many years previously and the day to day use of a prosthetic was something he was more than used to, he was experiencing phantom pain in a limb that was no longer connected to his body.

“It’s very common, you know. I’m assuming he’s had acupuncture, massage, that sort of thing?”

As Jenny nodded, Jamie looked at me with confusion knitted between his brows.

“Acupuncture? It’s the leg that isnae there that bothers him, Claire.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and ask him how he thought I’d gotten through medical school with that dazzling observation and directed another question at Jenny.

“Has he tried mirror therapy?”

Jenny’s face blanched as my words sunk in. Her face was as still as stone until she began to shake her head.

“I’ve never heard of that, I don’t think so. What’s mirror therapy?”

***

An hour later, I had sent Jamie off to the village with his nephew in tow on a mission to bring dinner back in an attempt to empty the house. There was nothing I could do about Jenny pacing behind the closed door to the kitchen as Ian and I sat in front of the fireplace in the main room. I was trying to create as calm an atmosphere as I could, free from distraction as I kneeled in front of him. Ian was sat on the edge of one of the large armchairs in his boxer shorts, his amputated leg under the cover of a large towel as I placed the biggest mirror I could find between his thighs. It wasn’t perfect but it would do.

“I understand the theory but this isn’t really my area of expertise so you have to work with me here,” I had admittedly sheepishly after convincing Ian to give it a try. I had explained to him that, as with a lot of medicine, belief that the treatment would work was a huge part of mirror therapy. After a few frustrating minutes in the beginning, Ian continually muttering under his breath in Gaelic, the tension in his shoulders had lessened as I instructed him to circle his foot at the ankle one more time. Phantom limb pain had many treatments but their effectiveness at alleviating the symptoms varied hugely from person to person. Jenny had explained to me that Ian had somewhat lost faith in the treatments he had received over the years after never really seeing an improvement and with the added sting of having to fork out money for the pleasure. Mirror therapy allowed patients to perform movements using the unaffected limb whilst watching its mirror reflection superimposed over the affected limb. Although there wasn’t a large amount of evidence in its effectiveness, I had thought that it couldn’t hurt to try. The medical side of my brain that always seemed to be ticking over in the background was muttering on about proprioception, neuro-rehabilitation and remodulated cortical mechanisms when Ian’s quiet voice brought me out of my thoughts.

“I think it’s working.”

He was moving his foot slowly, making a wide circle in one direction, stopping at the top and then going the opposite way. My eyes scanned his face as he stared intently at the reflection of his foot in the mirror, moving sharply from one position to the other as though he was willing the limb to catch himself out.

“Slowly, Ian,” I reminded him in a soft voice. Watching as he resumed his slow, deliberate movements, we fell into a heavy silence. Suddenly I heard him sniff and I turned my eyes to him as his own filled with tears.

“Claire, it doesnae hurt.”

***

“It truly is a gift, Claire,” Jamie whispered against the skin of my stomach as we lay in bed together that night, his hands slowly undressing me in the darkness as the heat between my legs grew, “Watching ye heal the people that I love.”

A heavy exhale burst from my lungs as his tongue traced the jut of one of my hips bones, his warm hand encasing the entire left side of my waist in his calloused grasp.

“It makes me love ye that much more and I didnae even think that possible.”

My lips stole the words from his as I pulled his head up, a groan sneaking into my mouth from his own as our tongues danced together and his hands made quick to get rid of his own underwear.

When we were finished, the smell of sex and perspiration hanging in the air as our hearts began to slow to their normal rhythm, he propped himself up on his elbow and turned his magnificent body towards me.

“Sassenach, I have something to ask ye and I don’t want ye to think me as being too forward or presumptuous or… well, I just wish for ye tae listen until I’m finished, aye?”

I tucked my own elbow under the pillow beneath my head as I turned to him, placing a single kiss on his bicep that was directly in front of me before relaxing back onto my side.

“I promise to listen.”

“It’s just… I cannae help but wonder. I dinna think it’ll be a shock for ye to hear that ye have become my world, Claire. I wish to be beside ye every moment I possibly can and when we’re separated, I feel as though I’m livin’ wi’out a heart,” his eyes burned into mine with sincerity, blazing through the darkness of the room. “It’s been almost four months since we met and I ken we’ve only actually been together a handful of times but… ye feel it too, don’t ye, Claire? That this, us, is…” his fingers traced the outline of my lips as he struggled to find the right word. My breath caught in my chest, my heart knowing exactly how to finish his thought.

“Everything. It’s everything, Jamie. You are everything to me.”

He closed his eyes momentarily and breathed a sigh of relief as his arms crushed me against his chest in one swift movement, his face burying into my hair.

“I know the hospital hasn’t been good for a while after yon bastard and while I could still break his neck for what he said about ye, I can’t help but think that maybe it’s an opportunity. Broch Mordha could benefit from yer expertise. Ye’ve said yerself so many times that after Geillis moving back home it isnae the same. And the thought of ye holed up in that wee box room, alone… it just breaks my heart. Ye deserve more, Claire.”

My heart was beating so hard I was sure he could hear it, feel it against his own chest. Of course, he was putting words to all the things I had been feeling over the past few weeks. The despair at leaving him in Scotland after the St Andrew’s Day party, going back to London on my own and spending the run up to Christmas in an empty flat once Joe had left for Boston, the way my heart lifted once I knew the plane had touched down on Scottish land.

Ask me to stay, Jamie. I’ll say yes.

“What is it ye want, Claire? I ken I have my family here, my job and I have grown my entire life knowing that my heart would always be tied to Scotland. But since meeting ye, I ken that it is as simple as needing to be wherever ye are. If ye ask it of me, I will pick up my life and leave for London wi’ ye tomorrow.” His hands moved to my face, slowly moving our bodies so that we were looking each other in the eye. “So I ask ye, and ask only that ye give me the truth, what do ye want?”

“I want to be with you,” I whispered as a tear escaped my eye, “In Scotland.”

Chapter Text

“That’s the last one, don’t worry,” I remarked to Jamie as he bent to pick down the somewhat haphazardly packed box of my meagre belongings.

“Aye, I’m sure I’ll manage, Sassenach. Be an insult to my manhood if I couldn’t manage but four wee boxes,” he joked as he headed out of the room.

I had expected it to shock me, seeing the room that I’d spent the last few years living in now devoid of all my things but in reality, it looked much and such the same as it always had. Living the life of a nomad meant that I had grown up to be a person not without sentiment but certainly without the need to cling to things that didn’t serve a functional purpose. My clothes had mostly been donated, going to the department at the hospital that allowed people to be discharged in normal clothes if theirs had needed to be cut from them when they were brought in or soiled by blood. I had no furniture to move, only my collection of books that were easy to jigsaw into the boxes that Jamie had brought down with him. A few picture frames were placed in a box with my electronics and the myriad of cables and I was done. With a cursory glance to check that everything had been left neat and tidy, I turned to leave only to find Joe standing in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest. He smiled sadly at me and I felt the tears threatening to spill.

“Going to miss you, LJ.”

“I’m going to miss you too,” I whispered as I moved towards him, letting him wrap his arms around me as I began to cry. This man, who had been there through it all after Frank, who had forced me to sleep when I was sad and who had drank wine with me when I was angry, who had formed such an integral part of the trio as we had moved through school and began our budding careers. It felt cruel that after Geillis moving up to Scotland that I was now doing the same, leaving him by himself. “I hate that you won’t have anyone to say hello to when you come through the door.”

He snorted at that and held me at arms length, smiling with a secret playing behind his lips.

“I’m not going to be on my own forever, Claire. Gayle is moving in with me. Actually, she’s agreed to marry me.”

I threw my arms around his neck with force and kissed him squarely on the cheek as he laughed.

“Joe, I am so happy for you! For you both!”

“Thank, my Lady Jane. Just promise me one thing?” He asked as I unwrapped my arms from him and took a step back.

“Anything, anything at all,” I beamed at him.

“Promise you’ll still travel back down here to see your other best friend get married?”

“You couldn’t stop me.”

***

“Are you sure Jenny doesn’t mind putting me up for the night?” I asked for the thousandth time causing Jamie to roll his eyes so far back in his head that I worried that he should be keeping them on the M6 that stretched out before us. Although I had been lucky to find a flat in Broch Mordha, Jenny had insisted that I stay the first night at Lallybroch as we'd be weary from the travelling.

“It's my family home too, ye ken.”

“But it’s not yours, it’s Jenny and Ian’s,” I corrected him as he snorted, his huge frame jolting upwards with the force of it.

“Aye, it’s theirs. But it’s also mine and Murtagh’s and now Geillis’ as well and yours too, when ye think about it. It’s just the way in the Highlands, we look after each other. I canna think of a soul in Broch Mordha that wouldnae be welcomed with open arms by Jenny, whether it’s for the night or for longer. It’s a big house and it’s always been the place in the community where folk could go for help, for a rest, to get them back on their feet. It was the way with my parents and it’ll continue to be the same for as long as Jenny has any say in it,” he spoke with a gentle voice as his hand found my knee and he squeezed. “It’s why ye’ll do so well in yer new role, Claire. Ye’ve the same kind of heart. Ye’ll doctor these people in the beginning but I imagine after a time, once they get to know ye, they’ll no be able to think of Broch Mordha wi’out ye in it.”

I turned my head to the window beside me so he couldn’t see me welling up. Two weeks ago when we had lay in bed and decided that I would move to Scotland, my brain had immediately been consumed with planning the logistics. Telling Joe, quitting my job, finding somewhere to live in Broch Mordha and most importantly, getting a new post as a doctor. The panic had risen in my chest as I felt overwhelmed with where to begin but amazingly, it had all fallen into place rather beautifully. Joe was, of course, overjoyed as me finding my happiness. Quitting in London had come with a very satisfying ‘fuck you’ to anyone who had turned on me after that idiot Henry Foster’s rumour. On a rainy Tuesday, my phone had pinged from Jenny as she sent me the link to a beautiful little flat above a coffee shop in the middle of Broch Mordha, available immediately and fully furnished. And to top it all off, Jamie had spoken at a mile a minute down the phone a couple of days before he was due to come to London to help me move.

“I’m afraid I’ve got some terrible news, Sassenach,” he was slightly out of breath but I could feel his excitement through the phone.

“You don’t sound as thought you have terrible news.”

“Aye well, it’s terrible but when God shuts a window, he opens a door-“

“Not sure that’s the saying, my lad,” I laughed as he grunted impatiently at my interruption.

“Haud yer wheesht, woman! I’m trying tae tell ye that auld Doctor Beaton has er… weel, he’s pushing up the daisies.”

“Oh, that’s a shame. Who is Mr Beaton?”

“Sassenach, yer no listenin’ tae me. Doctor Beaton. He was the GP here until his last breath, worked until he popped.”

My heart started to beat a little faster at the revelation, at Jamie’s clear excitement.

“Oh, so there might be an opening for…”

“Nae jus’ an opening, Sassenach. A full surgery, twa nurses to help wi’ the bits and bobs but Doctor Beaton is- sorry, was- the only doctor for forty miles. Wi’out a doctor in the surgery, it’d hae to close.”

That made my heart beat faster. Could it really be this easy? It was as if the universe was giving our relationship a green light, letting it all fall into place without me even trying. It felt like after the problems with Frank, the difficulty in dealing with the distance with Jamie, we were allowed for it to be easy.

“And there’s nobody else who might want it?”

“Like who? The surgery isnae owned by the NHS, GPs are self-employed, are they no? Why would they advertise if someone was ready to fill it?”

I smiled and pressed my cheek into my phone, almost trying to feel him through it.

“You’ve been doing your research, haven’t you?” I asked quietly earning a sigh from the other end of the line.

“I’ll admit that I have. I dinna want ye thinking that I’m making decisions for ye or anything, I just heard about auld Beaton and I couldnae help but see it as the perfect opportunity for ye,” he said slowly before asking, “Are ye angry wi’ me?”

I couldn’t help the laughter that burst from my chest, “Angry? Why on earth would I be angry, Jamie?”

“Jus’ because I want ye to know that I’m nae trying to push ye into anything. Ye can work wherever ye fancy and I’ll support ye in it. I dinna want ye thinking I’m making plans for our future wi’out ye having a say in them.”

“Oh Jamie, no, I don’t think that at all. I think it’s incredibly sweet of you to keep me in mind like that.”

“Yer always on my mind, Sassenach. I just canna wait until yer here, wi’ me.”

“I know, I feel the same. Only a few more days.”

***

Jamie’s fingers worked at the knot in my left shoulder as he sat on the sofa above me from my position between his legs on the floor. My fingers pinched and twirled the stem of the wine glass that held an almost obscene amount of red wine and I sighed as I reclined my head against one of his thighs, allowing my eyes to close.

My unpacked boxes sat to the left of us, a task for the morning when we were both properly rested from the past few days of moving. But for now, we revelled in the fact that we were in Scotland, together. And that our new future was lying before us, just waiting for us to take the next step.

“Sassenach, can I ask ye a question?” His low voice broke me out of my blissful relaxation and I hummed affirmatively in response. “Would ye mind if I kept a few things here? Just to make it easier wi’ the travelling back and forth, ye ken.”

My eyes snapped open in surprise as I looked at him, almost upside down from the angle of my head.

“Well, of course, you can. I had sort of, um… assumed that you would be,” I spluttered awkwardly before straightening up and taking a long drink from my wine glass. I heard him chuckle from behind me as he slid down to the floor to sit with me, his warm hand closing around mine.

“I dinna want tae be presumptuous, Claire, that’s why I asked. This is yer home now, ye set the rules. If ye want me here, I’m here,” he said as he pressed his lips against my temple allowing me to sink against his side as his arm came around me, settling in.

“It could be yours too, you know.”

My voice was so quiet that for a moment, I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me. But when I felt him stiffen beside me, the muscles of his long body becoming tense, I knew that he had.

“What are ye saying?”

Steeling myself, I put my glass down on the wooden floor and turned in his grasp to look him in the eye.

“I know you have your flat in Glasgow and the bothy at the estate but you’re only really there for a part of the year when the season is on and it’s not all that far from here. When I saw this place on the website, my mind ran away with me. You'd be closer to your family and friends. I just... I couldn’t help but picture us here, together,” I cleared my throat to stop my voice from shaking as I looked down at our hands, our fingers finding their way to be wrapped through each other’s. “You’d be more than welcome to move in with me here, to live with me.”

One hand untangled from my own and came to my chin, lifting my head so that my eyes met his.

“Nothing would make me happier, Sassenach.”

Overwhelmed by his confirmation, I pounced at him, my lips finding their rightful place against his almost immediately as he caught the impact of my body in his arms. His hands were a fever over me, skimming at every part of me they could find in their exploration as his lips moved down the column of my throat, my mouth falling open in a gasp as his teeth nipped at the skin.

“The idea of being able to come home tae ye, Claire… I feel like I could burst wi’ it,” his breath was ragged as I moved to straddle him, his long legs bending at the knee to pull me even tighter against his body.

“We’ll make a home here, together,” I replied, surprising myself at the emotion in my tone. The reverence, the desperation, the raw need that I so rarely heard in my own voice. He growled against my skin as a reaction of me rolling my hips against his, finding him already firm in his jeans. He fisted my hair in his hand as he tilted my head backwards, looking at me as though I was made of stardust. His other hand pulled at the buttons on my shirt, almost painfully slowly as he uncovered my skin, watching me through slanted eyes the entire time. To see the lust reflected back in his made my stomach tighten. When I shed my shirt, he splayed his hand on the small of my back, holding my torso tightly to his own as he flipped us and lay me gently on my back.

“I had thought that we’d probably start wi’ the bedroom before christening the rest of the house but I suppose the living room floor is the first of many.”

Chapter Text

I tucked a single curl behind my ear as I turned again to my the cupboards in my new office, trying to get the medical supplies into my preferred order. The illustrious Doctor Beaton had not been an organised man and although I was well aware that he had a particular system for how he kept things, it was not in keeping with my own. When I realised that I had a spare thirty minutes towards the end of my working hours, I had pulled my hair back and tried to turn the haphazard cupboards into some semblance of order.

“Dr Beauchamp, we’ve had someone come in last minute if ye’d be willing to see them?” I turned to recognise the pretty blonde girl that had popped her head around the corner of the door to my office. The opportunity to procrastinate sorting the cupboards was all I needed to shut the doors and turn my back to them. They would keep.

“Yes, that’s fine, Laoghaire. Send them in,” I sighed as I smoothed my hair, trying to grasp for at least a modicum of professionalism at the end of a slow but long Friday at the end of my first week as Broch Mordha’s primary physician. Laoghaire, the younger of the two staff nurses that had been at the surgery for the past few years, was attentive and quick to anticipate my every need. For my first few appointments, she had sat in with me, promptly procuring everything I could’ve needed and I was incredibly thankful for it. She and her colleague, Mrs Graham had both made me feel very welcome which had come as more of a relief than I had thought.

I took my seat in the chair beside my computer as the door widened slightly, Laoghaire disappearing from view as the person made their way inside. I didn’t look up from my desk, quickly opening an email from Joe and minimising it as I heard the patient clear their throat loudly.

“Sorry to drop in w’out makin’ an appointment, Doctor,” the sound of Jenny’s voice made me turn instantly to her as she stood beside the now closed door, her hands dug deep in the pockets of her coat. It was the first time she’d ever looked… well, small to me. Jenny Murray nee Fraser had always stood far beneath her brother’s great height but she had grown up pushing her chin to the skies, trying to make up for the difference. I don’t know at what age she had learned that her fiery personality could well outdo her physical stature but she had honed it, always appearing to me as much the same size as Jamie. Stood in my new surgery office, she looked small and nervous. I immediately got to my feet and ushered her into a chair beside me.

“Jenny, you should know full well that you don’t need an appointment,” I reassured her as she unbuttoned her coat, “I’m always here to help you, any of you. What can I do?”

The worry on her face disappeared as she tried in earnest not to let a smile break onto her face.

“I’m in need of confirmation, Claire. I think I may be pregnant.”

Disbanding all rules of professional behaviour, I leaned towards her and took her worried hands into my own. I realised quickly that she had brought this information to me before anyone else and my heart warmed at her trust.

“What makes you think you’re pregnant?” I asked her, trying so hard to remain professional. She snorted and rolled her eyes at me and then fixed me straight.

“Women know when somethin’ isnae the same in their bodies, Claire. Especially when a bairn is settin’ up shop, surely ye ken that?”

She waited for a response but she received none. I fought the urge to clear the lump from my throat, casting my glance to the floor as her hand found my knee, one crossed on top of the other.

“Actually, I’m not sure that I do,” I tried to keep my voice firm, assured. But Jenny had a way of looking through me, similar to that of her brother. Without doubt, she had seen the secret behind my confession.

“A chuisle,” the soft endearment of her Gaelic almost undid me but I shook my head and took at her straight.

“Don’t do that. Don’t use those words.”

She looked affronted and her spine straightened, “Jamie speaks-“

“I know exactly when James chooses to speak Gaelic to me but that has nothing to do with… this.”

He uses it out of love, out of adoration. Not pity.

Her small hands wrapped themselves around both of my own and I could feel her eyes burning into me as I kept my gaze firmly on the floor.

“Do ye mean that ye cannot hae weans, Claire?”

It was the question that had nipped at my conscience since my body had considered itself able to produce a child. I was capable, certainly. But after meeting Frank, after his lack of commitment to me but his incessant, primal need to secure an heir, I had resigned that my body, my womb, was incapable of harbouring human life.

“Enough about me. Shall we do a test?”

I wasn’t sure how Dr Beaton had guided her through this the first time but I truly believed that the understanding of a woman, in these matters at least, was paramount to the entire situation. Jenny and Ian had experienced a generally calm first pregnancy, labor and all, and I had resigned myself to ensuring that their second would be much the same.

Jenny returned to the room from her brief stint in the bathroom and we waited in silence. I could feel the myriad of emotions that were rolling off of her, excitement and anxiety and a slight air of disbelief. Trying to quiet the noise that was in my head was becoming easier and when the test result began to show, the ache that was in my heart lifted and it was filled with happiness for Jenny and Ian.

“Looks like Wee Jamie is going to be a big brother.”

Jenny let out a huge sigh of relief as she dashed a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand, trying to contain the smile on her face. I moved towards her and hugged her as she stood, feeling the slight hiccups in her chest as she began to cry.

“I cannae wait to tell Ian,” she whispered as I let her go, holding her shoulders with my hands.

“Then go! And we’ll see you tonight,” I smiled at her as she began to wriggle into her thick coat.

“Aye, tonight, 7.30pm ye said?” Her hand was on the doorknob as she turned back to see my affirmative nod. Sadness appeared at the corners of her eyes as she opened the door and looked at me, “I winna tell him. That’s yer information to share, no’ mine. But for all that it’s worth, Claire, I’ve never seen Jamie love anyone as much as he loves ye. Dinna think that it will change what he feels for ye.”

I coughed loudly and crossed my arms over the front of my body, almost as though I was willing myself not to fall apart.

“Thank you, Jenny.”

***

“Mac na galla!”

I heard Jamie’s cursing coming from the small kitchen in our flat and tried not to laugh as I turned the corner to see him with his finger in his mouth, trying to soothe what I presumed was burning skin.

“All those years of medical school tells me that you should run it under cold water rather than stick it in your mouth,” I chastised him. He turned to face me and removed his finger, wiping it hastily on my cheek as I eagerly squirmed away from it.

“Haud yer wheesht and help me peel those tatties, will ye?” He gestured to the sink and I set to work, peeling the mound of potatoes that he had brought home with him from the farm shop.

We had settled into a comfortable routine in the small time that we’d been living together, like it was the most natural thing in the world that we would always be close to the other. On returning from his early morning run, he would bring me a cup of tea in bed before disappearing into the shower. I was still getting used to the hours of a General Practitioner rather than working all types of shifts in the accident and emergency of one of London’s busiest hospitals. There was, undoubtedly, a slower pace to my work here and if it meant that I got to slip into the shower cubicle with my hot boyfriend before heading off to work in the morning, I was all for it.

We moved around the small kitchen together, Jamie’s music of choice playing softly in the background. Heading to the fridge, he proffered a bottle of white wine that we had opened the night before.

“Just a small one, suppose it is a party,” I accepted but he had already begun to pour one for me, anticipating that I would say yes. I took it from him gratefully and sighed when the alcohol slid down my throat.

“Are ye alright, Sassenach? Ye look like ye’ve somethin’ on yer mind,” his fingers captured one of my curls and he twirled it around before tucking it behind my ear. I sent him a tight smile and I could see him begin to worry.

“I’m fine, really, just a long day. We’ll talk about it but later, yeah? Everyone will be here soon.”

If he was unhappy with my response, he didn’t say anything and we returned to our tasks, letting the music fill the space of the conversation that we weren’t having.

“I like this one,” I said quietly as I recognised a song from the radio, something about digging a thousand holes.

Jamie smiled as he came behind me and wrapped his arms around my hips, his chin coming to rest on my shoulder.

“Mon the Biff,” he whispered, making me laugh as his breath tickled against the skin of my neck.

“I have no idea what that means but sure, Mon the Biff.”

I could feel the smile on his lips as he pressed a kiss against my neck, sighing contentedly as he did so. I turned in his arms as he lips found my own and I let all the worries of the day melt away as he kissed me. His hands gripped my hips tightly, pulling me closer to him so that I could feel that he was already quite hard in his jeans. The power of what I could do to him swept through me as I pushed him backwards against the counter, my hands moving to the fly of his jeans as moved to get to my knees. I watched as his knuckles went white, his strong fingers gripping the edge of the counter as he held his breath, waiting in anticipation.

“Hallo the house!”

Ian’s loud voice came from the hallway as Jamie scrambled to lift me from my knees in front of him before hastily correcting his clothing.

“Christ, why did we say we’d host this?” He growled as he left the kitchen, sending me his very own attempt at a wink as I laughed quietly. Smoothing my hands over my hair and my dress, I went to meet our guests, Wee Jamie barreling into my legs at the first sight of me.

“Auntie Claire, yer house is lovely!” He said with a practiced emphasis on the word ‘lovely’. He looked at Jenny for approval and she gave him a quick nod before presenting me with a bouquet of flowers.

“Thank you, you’re a true gentleman,” I laid a hand on Wee Jamie’s head as I bent to kiss Jenny on the cheek, “And thank you for the flowers, they’re beautiful.”

“Och, dinna fash, Ian’s got the real housewarming present,” Jenny smiled as I turned to see Ian pressing a bottle of whisky into Jamie’s hands. The look on Jamie’s face told me that it was a very nice whisky.

“Dinna be daft, that’s too much,” he said with awe in his voice as he handled the bottle like a newborn baby. Ian rolled his eyes at his brother in law and slapped a hand to his shoulder.

“We’re celebratin’, are we no’?”

“Aye but a bottle of 18 year old Macallan is a wee bit much for Burns’ Night, do ye no’ think?” Jamie countered. A wry smile crept over Ian’s face as he looked at his wife, her hands subconsciously cradling the budding life that was growing inside her belly. Jamie looked between the two of them and his eyebrows furrowed.

“I winna be partaking in the drink tonight, mo brathair. Sees how yer gonna be an uncle again.”

Jamie closed the gap between himself and his sister in two long strides as he crushed her in a hug that would’ve taken the breath out of someone who wasn’t as used to it as Jenny Murray. She laughed as he swung her around before putting her down quickly and setting her right on her feet.

“Christ, sorry Jenny, I’m just sae excited for ye. For the both of ye.”

“And me!” Wee Jamie piped up causing Jamie to grab him by the waist and effortlessly swing him upside down, much to his nephew’s delight.

“Ach ye weel rascal, ye’ll be the best brother!” Jamie tickled his namesake mercilessly as Wee Jamie squealed with laughter. Ian moved to put his arm around Jenny and watched their youngest with his uncle, both of them smiling. They looked every bit the family unit and not for the first time, I couldn’t believe that I was lucky to be a part of it.

***

“Fair fa’ yer honest sonsie face, great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race!” Ian was stood at the head of the table, a large knife in his hand which he held above his head. We were all cramped around the table that was much too small for five people but as Ian began his address to the haggis in front of him, our close quarters just made everything feel more cosy. All eyes were on him as he continued with the poem written by Robert Burns that I’d heard in passing before but never in full. Some words were a complete mystery to me but the Scots around the table laughed and smiled as they understood much more than I did. At one point they quickly applauded as Ian brought the knife down to the haggis and cut it open, steam rising from the now split casing.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind yer care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies.
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

Everyone around the table applauded loudly, Wee Jamie most of all as Ian finished his poem. The food was dished out and we all began to eat, conversation flowing easily as the night went on. After a little while, Wee Jamie began to fidget in his seat and his dad bent to speak quietly to him, nodding with encouragement as the little boy got to his feet on his chair.

“A toast to the lassies!” He proclaimed loudly as his uncle cheered and found my hand under the table, squeezing it as the boy straightened up, his nerves gone with the approval of his uncle. “Thank ye tae Auntie Claire for letting us come for dinner and thank ye for takin’ Uncle Jamie out of our hoose, we couldnae deal wi’ the smell much longer!”

We all laughed as Jamie’s mouth dropped open in an over exaggerated gasp, earning a giggle from his nephew.

“And thank ye tae my mam for geein’ me a wee brother or sister to play with soon. Ye are as bonnie as the… uh-“ Wee Jamie’s rehearsed speech trailed off as he forgot the words that he had learnt but Ian was beside him, reassuring him with a gentle nudge.

“Flower banks-“

“Oh aye, the flowery banks o’ bonnie Doon!”

Jenny cheered and clapped her son as I retrieved my hand from Jamie’s and joined in, Wee Jamie bowing and plopping himself back down next to his father who pressed a kiss to the top of the little boy’s head.

“Well, it might no’ be traditional to have a Sassenach do it but do ye fancy giving the Reply?” Jamie looked at me expectantly and I scoffed at him as I took a drink from my glass.

“Considering I have no idea what you’re on about, I rather think not.”

Jenny chuckled at my side as she pushed herself to her feet and raised her glass of water to her son.

“Thank ye, mo chridhe for yer brilliant toast. And yer wee nod to Rabbie as well, of course,” she said easily, inclining her head to her son and her husband, “The lassies are grateful that we are aw thegither and have had a brilliant Burns Night.”

Wee Jamie applauded his mum and we all relaxed into our chairs, the performative aspect of the evening being over. Or so I’d thought.

When their son’s head starting lolling against the back fo the sofa, Jenny and Ian had made their goodbyes and headed home, leaving Jamie and I to relax on the sofa, me bundled under the tartan blanket as he brought me a glass of whisky.

“You know, I never really liked whisky before you,” I noted as I took a deep inhale of the amber liquid. He made a decisively Scottish noise in the back of his throat as he sat down beside me.

“Ah ken that fine, Sassenach, mind the wedding? But this isnae just any whisky, this is a near £300 bottle,” he closed his eyes as he tilted his head backwards, savouring the flavours that danced along his tongue.

“It is delicious,” I nodded as his free hand found the skin at the back of my neck, his fingers rubbing lazy circles there.

“So how was yer first Burns Night then, ye Sassenach?”

“Surprisingly not as much Robert Burns as I thought there’d be,” I laughed as the whisky warmed my chest.

“Well then, let’s see, shall we? What can we conjure up from the Bard that’s hidden itself away in my brain, I wonder…” he trailed off as he began to think and I leaned into his side, curling up in my favourite place in the word. When he began to speak, his voice was low, reverent and full of love.

Oh my luve is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June;
O my luve is like the melodie,
That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile.

Chapter Text

It had been a particularly busy morning in the Broch Mordha surgery. One child in the village primary school had been put to class with chickenpox and the remaining lot had fallen like dominoes, all becoming infected within a few days. Although there wasn’t really much I could do from a medical viewpoint, I had spent the morning reassuring worried parents, recommending cooling creams and gels that could be used to help soothe the itch and trying to bribe the children with lollipops if they pinky-promised to try their best not to scratch the angry red dots.

When the chaos of the non-stop morning finally seemed slow to a manageable flurry, I took my chance to thank what I was still getting used to as ‘my staff’ in a break in my appointments. The transition to a small village practice had taken some getting used to and Laoghaire and Mrs Graham had been infinitely helpful while I got settled. My eyes were already tired and I was in desperate need of a caffeine boost when I realised that my two colleagues may be in much the same state, having also had to deal with placating a waiting room full of unwell children and worried parents while I had been relatively safe in the confines of my office. Leaving the surgery in search of such sustenance, I had wrapped my scarf tightly around my neck to ward off the February chill and insisted that I nipped out to go down to the tearoom.

“Please Mrs Graham, I insist that it’s my treat. Now what would you like?”

The warm gust of air that met me when I stepped into the small village tearoom, The Fly Cup, meant that I could finally relax my arms from their grip around my body, pulling my jacket tight against the cold. I rolled my shoulders from their hunched position and made my way to the counter, ordering two mochas for Laoghaire and Mrs Graham and before deciding on what I fancied myself.

“She’ll have a ginger tea with lemon, thank you,” a familiar voice from behind me ordered. The young girl, behind the counter, Senga if I remembered correctly from her appointment with me for an ear infection a few weeks prior, nodded and turned from us, setting to work on the hot drinks. Fighting the urge to shake my head to clear my ears myself, I willed myself to keep it together, the shock reverberating through me as a wave.

What on earth is he doing here?

I resisted taking a deep breath, knowing that he would be well able to see the dramatic rise and fall of my shoulders and certain that I did not want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me unsettled by his presence. Steeling myself, I turned slowly and came face to face with the dark eyes that I never thought I’d have to see again.

“Frank,” I breathed while attempting to smile politely. He returned it with more sincerity than I had sent his way.

“Hello Claire, you look well.”

There was a moment of silence, neither of us sure of what should be said when you run into your ex hundreds of miles from where you left them.

“What brings you to Scotland?”

“Do you have time to sit? We could catch up-“

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” I told him firmly, the tone of my voice colder than I had expected. His brow furrowed momentarily before his small mouth set in a tight line as he exhaled through his nose, not used to being on the receiving end of my frosty demeanour.

“I’m up for a research trip. I’ve been commissioned to write a book on Cumberland’s victory at Culloden. This area had a lot of involvement, you see.” He hadn’t returned the question my way and his tone was conversational, relaxed, but I could feel his eyes searching mine for information, too polite to just come out with it. I straightened my back and answered his unasked question.

“Yes, I’m aware that it does. My partner’s family are from the area, have been for centuries.”

Thin lips clamped even tighter at my words and his eyes squinted slightly, trying to balance what I said in his head.

“So the rumours are true. You followed your heart to Scotland,” he said quietly although with a distinct amount of venom on the word ‘rumours’.

In the time before, before Jamie, I would’ve crawled on broken glass to hear whatever people thought they knew about me. Frank was wielding my old self against me, dropping the crumb and hoping that I’d scramble to pick it up, in an attempt to establish the upper hand. In the months that had passed, he didn’t seem to have changed.

I allowed myself a genuine smile as Jamie’s face came into my mind.

“Yes, I did. I met him at Murtagh and Geillis’ wedding. We live here in the village.”

“You’ve only known him a few months and you moved to the middle of nowhere for him?”

“Doctor Claire? Your drinks,” Senga’s light voice made me turn as I said a silent prayer of thanks for halting the reunion with my erstwhile companion. I thanked her with a £10 note and told her to deposit the change into the tip jar.

“So you’re still working then?” Frank asked inquisitively, setting his shoulders straight and biting back the impoliteness that had seeped out from him, lest he look less than perfect in a public place.

“Yes, the GP here. Quiet but it’s nice to get to know who you’re helping. And the hours are better,” I nodded my head firmly as his body bristled although I couldn’t be sure what part of what I had said had affected him the most.

“More time with the Scot, I suppose?”

I didn’t answer straight away but instead chose to look at him closely, really consider the man that was standing in front of me. The last person I’d thought I’d run into in a tiny Scottish village. There was tiredness around the corners of his eyes, crinkled in a way that hadn’t been as pronounced when we had been together. His lips were tight as he bit down on them in an attempt to refrain from what he really wanted to say. This man, who had made me feel small for such a long time, watching as I turned inwards on myself, losing the parts of my soul that I cherished in order to make way for his lofty expectations of me. This man had no control over me any more.

“We spend as much of our time together as possible, yes,” I stated simply as I moved to push past him, towards the door just as he went to grab me by my arm. He stopped himself however, aware that that particular gesture was not something someone did in public. He would not let himself be anything other than the perfect gentleman. Behind closed doors was a different story.

“Goodbye Claire, I hope you’re happy.”

“I am.”

And with that, I was out of the door. Although his surprise reappearance had startled me at first, my feet felt lighter as I made the short walk back to the surgery, cradling the drinks tray in my hand, skin bright red from the biting wind. I told myself that he was here as a pitstop, a momentary blip on the perfect life that I was planning on building in the highlands. When I was within hearing distance of the surgery reception, I sensed a shift in the air and by some strange magnetism, I knew that Jamie was near.

“Och Jamie, ye must remember! Mind we were guising and ye were dressed as Batman and I went as The Gray Lady!” Laoghaire’s voice was in a higher pitch than I had heard her use before. At the sound of Jamie’s name, I pressed my back against the wall and listened harder.

“Nay lass, I dinna remember. Weel, I mind going as Batman but I’m afraid I canna mind ye being there,” his voice was calm but there was a determination behind it that I knew only came out when he was trying to steer the conversation away from wherever it was headed. The knot that had started to wind itself in my stomach loosened at the sound of his intentional dismissal.

“Aye weel, I remember ye back then when we were both bairns and I ken ye must remember the night of Jenny and Ian’s wedding… when we-“

“We had a dance and nothing more, Laoghaire, ye ken that fine,” he interrupted her, the tone of his voice warning her against wherever she thought was wise to go.

When I peered around the corner to come in sight of the reception desk, I saw her leaning over it in her light blue uniform as she made eyes at my Jamie, a dazzling smile across her pretty mouth.

Is she honestly twirling her hair?

“We both know that it would’ve been more than a dance had my grannie not interrupted us.”

I made a sound that I tried to disguise as me rushing in from the cold as I made my way through the interior door. As soon as Jamie was in reach, I instinctively placed my hand on his lower back, letting the warmth of his body penetrate my cold skin. He immediately relaxed and bent down to kiss me firmly on the lips as I appeared at his side, both of us staking our claim to the other. Even with my eyes closed, I heard the little puff of air that left Laoghaire as the scene unfolded in front of her. Suitably satisfied that I had given her no reason to doubt, I broke from the kiss with a smile and placed the drinks on the reception desk.

“Here we are, hope they’re still hot after that walk, it’s freezing out there,” I shot a megawatt smile to Laoghaire as she struggled to regain some semblance of composure before turning back to Jamie and slipping my hand possessively into one of the back pockets of his jeans, “And to what do I owe the pleasure of a lunchtime visit?”

He grinned down at me, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he enjoyed the situation perhaps a little too much. Laoghaire made herself busy with some pointless task, arranging and rearranging the pile of papers on the counter as she tried to look anywhere but us.

“I wish I could say that I just wanted to see ye, mo nighean donn but I’m afraid it’s a business call.”

That startled me and I put some distance between us, “Oh? Do you need me?”

“Always,” he grinned in a low voice that made my skin tingle, “But it’s nae me, no. It’s the wee one,” he nodded his head to one of the chairs in the waiting room where wee Jamie’s little body was curled in an almost perfect circle, his chest rising and falling rapidly with the shallow breaths of a sick child. I immediately moved towards him and he stirred slightly as I placed my fingers in the crease of his neck, feeling his hotter than ideal skin. Lifting his shirt from his back, I saw the same angry red spots that had marred the skin of children all morning.

“He’s no’ even in school, how did he manage tae catch it?” Jamie asked as he came to stand behind me, the concern evident in his voice.

“It’s a virus like any other, it finds a way. Very easily spread, I took out a whole whole nursery when I was little. Have you had it before?” I asked him, pulling wee Jamie’s t-shirt back into place and resting a cool palm on his forehead as he whimpered in his sleep.

“Aye, when I was a bairn. Made me itch like mad, I was miserable. Problem is, Jenny and Ian havenae. So it seems like we’re to have a lodger for a few days,” Jamie’s voice was wary as I turned to look at him, his eyes watching me carefully. I realised that he was nervous of my reaction, that I would think it an inconvenience to receive his nephew but I knew that Jenny and Ian would be happy to place their child in the care of his uncle and a doctor, hopefully offering some solace over the fact that they weren’t able to care for him themselves in that moment.

“Of course we will, he shouldn’t be anywhere near Jenny until he’s good and healed. It’s not safe for the baby,” I explained, Jamie sighing in relief as he pulled me into his side, pressing his lips firmly against the crown of my head.

“Yer a rare woman, Claire. Willing to look after my kin when they’re in need of doctoring,” he mumbled against my curls as I swatted at his chest playfully.

“Don’t be silly, I’m more than happy to do it. Get him ready to go and I’ll tell Laoghaire.”

As Jamie began to corral a sleeping Wee Jamie into his jacket, hat and gloves, I went back to the desk to find Laoghaire who’s skin was still flushed a deep red.

“I’m going to head home to take care of Jamie’s nephew but if you need me for anything, just give me a call and I’ll come back straight away,” I told her with a smile. She wasn’t quite meeting my eye, sending me a quick glance before pretending to read an email on the computer.

“Aye, nae bother Dr Beauchamp.”

“Remember to enjoy your coffee while it’s warm,” I was trying to be nice, to show her that she didn’t need to be embarrassed about flirting with Jamie. I knew better than most the effect that he had on women and really, I couldn’t blame her, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

With that, I pulled the scarf tighter around my neck as I left the surgery with Jamie beside me, his nephew looking impossibly small in his big arms.

***

Falbh a chadal agas caidil gu math, mo ghille. De tha ‘cur dragh ort?

Jamie was sat on our sofa with his nephew cradled in his lap, running his fingers through his hair and whispering soft Gaelic into the air that surrounded them as Wee Jamie drifted into sleep. When we had come home I had rushed around setting everything to rights for our guest, deciding on the muted warmth of the table lamps rather than the harsh halogen illumination of the ceiling light and bringing through pillows from the spare bed so that Wee Jamie could be laid comfortably on the sofa for the meantime so that we could keep an eye on him.

In a moment of surprise that I tried not to let show on my face, Jamie had thrust his nephew into my arms as he snatched up the small backpack that Ian had packed for his son, full of his overnight things. Although I had received hugs from Wee Jamie before and had, on more than a few occasions, put a steadying hand on his shoulder to ensure he kept his feet in instances where he was feeling particularly rambunctious, I had never held a child against my chest like I had at that moment. He was so small, prone against my chest and I could feel his heartbeat against me as he barely kept a grip on his consciousness. At Jamie’s instruction, we had taken him into our bedroom and changed him into his pyjamas, allowing me a moment to put soothing cream on the worst of his blisters in an attempt to offer some relief. Once he was more comfortable, his uncle placed him on the sofa and covered him with the plaid that would keep him warm. Wee Jamie’s eyes had opened briefly when his uncle asked what he would like for dinner and I heard his little voice croak for the first time that day.

“Mam makes cock-a-leekie when am no’ weel,” he said faintly as Jamie laid a hand on his head, quieting him again.

“Then that’s what ye shall have, mo ghraidh.”

I had panicked when Jamie rose to his full height as I had no idea what cock-a-leekie was but with a gentle look, Jamie moved into the kitchen and set himself to work, easily preparing his nephew’s favourite comfort food.

Once wee Jamie had eaten his share, which was considerably less than his uncle would have liked but I assured him a loss in appetite was normal for chickenpox, the two of them walked around the room, Jamie holding his nephew against his chest as he paced, trying to subtly rock the small boy before settling onto the sofa, his large frame engulfing his smaller counterpart as wee Jamie’s tired head relaxed against the warm shoulder underneath it.

“Come lay yer head, man,” he whispered followed by litany of Gaelic flowing from his lips as he soothed the sick boy and I found the beauty in the sound despite not understanding a word of it. His low voice vibrated in his throat as wee Jamie’s eyes fluttered before finally closing, his lips parting as he breathed deeply the way a child did when asleep.

I stood, leaning against the doorframe of the entrance to the kitchen and I felt my heart break.

The scene in front of me showed a very distinct picture of a future I could never have. Jamie was so clearly meant to be a father. The way he soothed and cared for the boy that he adored, the way such a large, muscular man could make himself soft and tender in order to offer comfort. Such a man was born to protect and to cherish the people around him. Having been brought up in such a close family, the idea of fatherhood had been second nature to him for his entire life. And it was something I could never give to him. My breath caught in my chest as I dashed away a tear from my cheek with the back of his hand, the sudden movement from the corner of the room catching his eye.

An dean thu cupan teatha dhomh?

The reaction on my face made him realise that I hadn’t understood a word of what he had asked me and I watched as a single laugh rose in his chest before he swallowed it, trying to keep still lest he wake Wee Jamie.

“Sorry Sassenach, would ye mind makin’ me a cup of tea?”

Without another word, I rushed into the kitchen and began to go through the motions. At least this I could do. This was a simple request, something I had done a thousand times over. After feeling so utterly helpless, I relished in managing to do something so small for him, a need that I knew how to satisfy. I took a deep breath to steady myself as I saw that my hands were shaking when I reached out for the kettle. When I opened the cupboard door, I realised that I couldn’t find his favourite mug and it nearly broke me.

Do not fall apart, Beauchamp. It’s just a cup of fucking tea. You cannot lose it over this, not now.

My hands gripped the edge of the counter as I listened to the water inside the kettle boil, the sound becoming deafeningly loud in my ears as my breath burst from my lungs in gulps.

“Claire?” His voice was quiet and I could hear the concern in it as he came upon me, practically bent at the waist and trying in vain to catch my breath, “Claire, what’s worst wi’ ye?”

His hands pulled at my shoulders, straightening me up to look directly at him as the tears poured freely down my cheeks. His arms fixed around my body, tighter than he had ever held me as I sobbed against his broad chest, unleashing the pain and anguish that had been sitting in the pit of my stomach. White noise was ringing in my ears and I don’t know how long I had been crying for when I realised that we were both sat on the slightly grubby kitchen floor, my body curled in his lap as he stroked my hair and whispered soothing Gaelic reassurances over the sound of my crying.

“Sassenach, I canna bear it. Will ye tell me what’s happened?”

The confusion in his voice was painful to hear but I knew that my answer wouldn’t offer him any solace. I attempted to pull myself upright from him but he kept his grip clamped around me, anchoring me to the safety of his chest.

“I wilna ask for anything ye dinna wish to tell me but whatever you do say, let it be the truth,” he whispered and I realised that along with the understandable confusion, he was also scared. “Do ye regret being here wi’ me, Claire? Is that it?”

I shook my head fiercely in what little range of movement I had and pushed forcefully away from him to fix him with an incredulous stare.

“Of course not! How can you even ask me that?” He didn’t flinch at my sharp tone, just let his blue eyes stare into my whisky counterparts, his brow furrowed in deep thought as he kept his mouth completely still, waiting for me to continue. My body sagged against his again as the lack of tactile connection left me bereft, “Although you might regret it once you hear what I have to say.”

I tried in vain to take a steadying breath, to pull my gaze from his and ground myself in the moment before I heard the words come from me, words that had been hidden in the deep place of my soul that I had never wanted to confront.

“I can’t have children.”

The silence hung in the air, heavy and oppressive. He didn’t move a muscle but his breath flowed evenly and I wished for the ability to read his mind, to know his innermost thoughts and feelings. Throughout our time together, he had always been an incredibly open and communicative man but I knew that he had a talent for hiding his emotions should he feel the need. My heart started to race as the silence continued and I began to babble with no real awareness of what I was saying.

“Frank and I tried for a while but nothing happened and it never really bothered me, the thought of motherhood wasn’t in me having not grown up with my own mother around. But it’s different with you and tonight seeing you with Jamie, seeing how natural it is for you to fit into the role of protector, offering comfort and sanctuary. It’s like you were born to be a father,” I pulled up so I could meet his gaze with my own and saw that his eyes were filled with tears threatening to spill, “Oh Jamie… I don’t think I can give you that gift.”

The panic appeared in his bright blue eyes as his brain tried to grasp the words that were tumbling mindlessly from my mouth, “But yer on the pill and-“

“For easing the pain of my period, not for contraception.”

Sobs began to rack through my body again as he laid a hand on the back of my head, gently pushing me back to the spot on his shoulder where his shirt was wet with my tears. Still, he didn’t say a word, only the sound of my quiet gasps for air filled the kitchen. And then the padding of soft feet on the wooden floorboards.

“Uncle Jamie?”

I hurried to wipe off my face and shoot a fake smile at Wee Jamie standing in the doorway. It took the strength of an army to keep myself in check as Jamie scrambled onto his knees in front of his nephew and gently pushed his hair out of his eyes.

“What is it, mo ghille?”

The young boy’s eyes darted quickly between his uncle and myself as his brain tried to make a conclusion as to what was happening and he nervously began to fiddle with his fingers.

“Can I gang hame?” His tiny voice squeaked as tears began to fall, perturbed by the strange scene in front of him and no likely still exhausted from feeling so unwell. Jamie rubbed his cheek gently, wiping away the tears as I turned away from the both of them and took a deep breath.

“No quiet yet, wee one. Yer still unwell and yer mam needs to keep healthy for the bairn,” Jamie explained quietly before adding, “Come, let’s brush yer teeth and get ye all settled in bed, have a wee read of the Katie Morag book yer dad packed for ye, aye?”

I turned to watch them pad gently down the hallway, one tiny hand encased in one huge one and felt my heart constrict once more.

***

I hadn’t been aware that I’d finally cried myself to sleep until I rose from it at the sensation of one of Jamie’s arms draping over my body and his chest pressing to my back. I stiffened in anticipation but felt my body relax slightly when he took a deep inhale of the mess of my hair and sighed against my skin.

“I canna believe that ye think less of yourself because of something ye have no control over.”

I let out a breath that I didn’t know I was holding and he twisted me in his arms so that we were face to face, illuminated by the moonlight bursting through a crack in the curtains. His blue eyes blazed with a myriad of emotions and I stared at him, trying to ascertain at least one of them.

“I just want you to be happy, Jamie.”

“Mo chridhe, you are my happiness.”

“But it isn’t the future you were hoping for. I know you want to be a father,” I whispered into the darkness and watched as he closed his eyes in frustration, the muscles in his jaw tightening as he did so.

“My future is you, Claire. Wherever the road takes us, I will be grateful to have spent it travelling alongside ye. And no matter how it changes us, I will love who you become.”

Chapter Text

After five busy days, when Wee Jamie was no longer infectious, he was swept into the arms of his father at our doorstep, squealing with delight at the sight of Ian in front of him. Ian pressed a wet kiss to his son’s cheek, sticky with the remnants of the honey from his breakfast, and clapped Jamie firmly on the arm in thanks.

“We’re fair indebted to ye, tae both of ye,” Ian sighed as he pulled his son’s wriggling body closer to his own, hooking an arm through the strap of the tiny backpack that Jamie handed to him.

“Dinna fash, ye ken it’s nae bother. What else is family for?” Jamie smiled, ruffling the hair of his nephew with love in his eyes.

“Hope he wasnae too much of a hindrance for ye, Claire. Bet the wee rascal has put ye off of the idea of kids for a while, eh?” Ian cast a look at me with humour in his eyes and I smiled tightly, my heart constricting in the way that it had become accustomed to doing so for the past few days. Jamie’s arm instinctively wrapped itself around my side and anchored me to the tall column of his body, offering strength.

“Not at all,” I managed to reply, clearing my throat quickly to stop the panic from rising.

With a wave goodbye, the door of our flat shut and I immediately split from Jamie’s side. The silence fell between us and I could feel the weight of all the things we had yet to discuss. Caring for Wee Jamie and being busy at work had meant that we hadn’t spoken about the problem that had appeared in our relationship. In all honesty, I had been actively avoiding any discussion of the whole thing. And he could feel it.

“Will ye sit wi’ me for a moment, Sassenach?” He appeared at the doorframe of the kitchen as I busied myself with pouring coffee into a travel mug.

“I can’t, I have to get to the surgery. We’ve got a delivery today and I want to organise it how I prefer it before Laoghaire puts it how Dr Beaton always did. Have you seen the lid for this thing?” I pulled a cupboard door open, removing his large body from my line of sight as I allowed myself to close my eyes and take a deep breath.

“Try the dishwasher,” he mumbled, taking a step closer to me, ducking around the open cupboard door and putting a hand gently on my waist, “We’ve barely spoken these past few days, Claire.”

“We’ve been busy and I need to get to work-“

“Would ye just… stop for a minute?” The frustration was evident in his voice and I subconsciously let the weight of my body lean into his grip as he brought his other hand to my face, forcing my eyes to meet his. I knew that he was confused, hurt, and there was definitely the potential for anger. But the thing that was the most prevalent in his gaze was desperation. My confession had left him adrift, out at sea with no land in sight. He was drowning. “Please, we need to talk about this.”

“Talk about how I’m unable to give you the future that you’ve wanted since you were a boy?”

“Claire, will ye stop tellin’ me what I want? And how I’m supposed to feel about this? Please? Ye keep talking in absolutes and I am yet to be able to tell ye how I feel about the whole situation.”

“Because I already know how you feel about it, Jamie! I met you through Murtagh, for Christ’s sake, a man not even related to you by blood but who basically stands place as your father! Even with dead parents, you have the whole family unit and you always have. You have been a family man since the day that you were born and I have grown up with no idea of what family even looks like! You deserve someone who can give you the life that you have. Jesus, even someone like Laoghaire-“

“Laoghaire? What the fuck does she hae to do wi’ anything?”

“Well, clearly something happened between the two of you when you were younger! Or else why would she obsess after you for all these years-“

“Christ, I dinna love Laoghaire and I never have!”

“Well, maybe you fucking should!”

He flinched. My voice had been colder than I had anticipated but in true Beauchamp style, my defensive side had come out in order to protect myself. I immediately regretted it.

His hands fell from my body and dropped listlessly to his side. Silence hung heavily in the air as he looked at the floor, the red hue to his skin rising from the collar of his t-shirt. Everything in my body and mind wanted to move to him, to reach out and bring him to me so that he would never doubt what I felt for him. But I kept still, my feet fixed to the floor.

“How are we ever meant to fix things if we canna keep calm enough tae talk about them?”

His voice was dangerously quiet and I was instantly aware that he was restraining himself from experiencing the true depths of what he was feeling. I shuffled anxiously and turned my back to him, the quiet environment of the kitchen shattering as he slammed his hand against the open cupboard door, causing it to bang shut with a deafening crack.

The shock sent my coffee cup flying from my hand. My stomach was in my throat as I moved as quickly as I could, removing myself from the room and flying out the flat. My fingers thankfully remembered to grab my keys before the door slammed itself shut behind me.

***

I held my hand up in front of my face, examining the pruny fingers as I let my mind drift. The water that I had engulfed myself in had grown lukewarm from it’s previous scalding heat but my mind hadn’t noticed the length of time that I had been in the tub. Candle wicks were burning low around me and a cursory glance out of the window told me that it had gone from dusk to black night. With a heavy sigh, I pulled myself to my feet and enveloped myself in one of Geillis’ fluffy white towels.

I hadn’t even been aware of the fact that I wasn’t driving back to my and Jamie’s flat after my last house call of the day, not until I turned the keys to switch the engine off and my heart relaxed at the sight of the warm light coming from Geillis and Murtagh’s cottage. My day at work had been hectic and I’d relished in the opportunity to switch my emotional brain off and concentrate on the job at hand. With a practiced ease, I hadn’t let myself switch it back on during my drive home, pushing all thoughts of Jamie out of my head lest I break down at the wheel. Geillis had, thank God, been home. At the sight of her, the dam that I had been keeping up all day came shattering down and with it, a tidal wave of emotion. She didn’t ask any questions, didn’t push at anything I had said, she just let me sob in her arms on her sofa in front of the fire.

When I had tired myself out, she lit some candles and ran me a bath with the promise that she was right downstairs if I needed anything. Thank God for friends like Geillis Fitzgibbons.

I stood in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror pensively as I let the towel drop to the floor, puddling around my feet. Slowly, I explored my body with my hands, pressing light finger tips into the bends on the inside of my elbows, the hollows of my collarbone, the curves of my ears that were hidden under my hair. As if to torture myself, I let my hands gently fall on my abdomen, my heart twisting when it didn’t find the imperceptibly small bump of a life growing inside of me. A child, half me and half Jamie. Eyes the colour of my own but the shape of his, cat like and with their ability to cut through people like a knife. Long, elegant limbs, a gift from the both of us. Maybe they would inherit my curls or perhaps his inability to wink was a genetic trait, like rolling your tongue. Maybe they would have hair like fire. And a temper to match.

My eyes shut tightly at the memory, the deafening blow as Jamie smashed his fist into the cupboard door. My hands clutched the sink in front of me, fingertips digging into the ceramic as I forced myself to meet my gaze in the mirror, dead on.

“He would never hurt me,” I said loudly, firmly to myself. The thought of his face, contorted in rage and one of those big fists curled around my arm so tightly that it felt like the bones squeaked against each other, made my stomach flip. I pushed myself away from the sink and grabbed the towel from the floor, hastily covering my body as if it would make the memory of the bruises disappear. “No! He is not Frank!”

“Frank?”

I jolted around, my breath escaping me in a gasp as Murtagh came into view.

“Christ, Murtagh! What are you doing?” I pulled tighter at my towel as he came out from behind the door, holding both hands above his head in surrender. One of them was holding a glass of whisky.

“Geillis made me take this upstairs,” he handed it to me, not meeting my eye as I reached out a shaking hand to accept it. At the burn of the alcohol on my tongue, I relaxed slightly and quietly laughed at the situation.

“It’s fine, sorry. Not like you saw anything anyway. Thank you.”

“What did ye mean, Claire? About Frank?” His bushy eyebrows were knitted together. It wasn’t a look I saw on him often and it made me uneasy, his piercing eyes fixing me where I stood.

“Oh, nothing, just muttering to myself,” I waved a nonchalant hand and willed myself to keep a similarly disinterested face, praying that it would work at least this one time.

“Ye said he wouldnae hurt ye. Did Frank hurt ye?” His voice was impossibly low, a sound that was so rare for him. He was almost whispering.

I took another drink from my glass and turned my back to him, looking at myself in the mirror, looking anywhere but at my friend.

“Don’t be so silly, you must’ve heard me wrong. I’ll get dressed and come downstairs, just give me a moment,” my voice shook slightly and I knew immediately that he heard it.

“Claire,” I watched in the mirror as he took a step towards me, hand out to offer comfort and the mix of shock and anger that flashed over his face when my entire body flinched involuntarily, “Jesus Christ, Claire-“

“What are ye two doing in here, dinner’s ready!” Geillis pushed the door open wider and surveyed the scene in front of her. Me, wrapped in a towel and still wet from the bath that still held its water and the look on Murtagh’s face that she couldn’t make sense of, “What’s going on?”

A tear fell onto my cheek and I looked between the both of them, trying to reassure them with a smile, “Let me get dressed and we can talk downstairs. Please?”

***

“If we had known…” Murtagh exhaled for the hundredth time, his gnarled fingers squeezing tightly against my one hand as Geillis held my other, gentle and warm. She had barely spoken throughout my entire recollection of the ugliest part of Frank and I’s relationship. While it felt like a lifetime ago, actually talking about the whole situation made it feel like it had happened yesterday. I had amazed myself at my ability to keep myself steady, not to devolve into a fit of tears, but then I supposed I had cried them all out.

I started at the beginning, telling them of the first time that Frank had shown me what kind of man he was. We had been having dinner in his apartment, having cooked it together all the while stealing touches, bumping hips and enjoying a glass of wine. It had been flirty, easy, enjoyable. At one point when we were sat at the table after having eaten our delicious starter, my phone had beeped with the tone that I had designated for work messages and without thinking, I had reached into my jacket pocket to check it.

“Don’t you think that’s quite rude, my dear?” He had asked innocently enough, jerking his head to the side as his eyes narrowed. But his mouth still had the ghost of a smile. Sheepishly, I had checked the message and put the phone back.

“Sorry, just an update on a patient. He’s doing much better,” I replied quietly. He looked at me closely, his fingers tightening their grip around the stem of his wine glass.

“It’s okay, dear. Just didn’t realise that I was spending time with such an unthinking little bitch.”

The words hit me but didn’t really register as I sat there, unaware that I was gawking at him. He smiled a cruel smile and rose quickly to hit feet, making me jump. His smile widened and I realised that he was enjoying my discomfort and my confusion. Chills crept into the base of my spine and I had the overwhelming urge to hide. He walked towards me slowly as I noticed that I was beginning to sweat, my clammy hands resting on my lap under the table as I began to pick at the skin on one of my thumbs with my forefinger. Dumbfounded, I looked down at my hands, recognising a nervous tick that I had developed after the death of my parents, one that I thought I’d grown out of years previous.

Not content with my head being bent towards my lap, Frank’s fingers curled around the back of my neck and pulled my head sharply upwards so that my eyes met his. The pain registered first and then I became aware that what I was experiencing was fear.

After that night, I had decided that I wouldn’t see him again. He made me too uncomfortable and there was something dark behind his eyes. But having come home late, I hadn’t been able to apprise Joe of the situation so when I walked into my kitchen the next morning, there was Frank. Sat with fresh coffee from my favourite place, a paper bag that contained my favourite pastry and a bunch of white tulips. He apologised for his ghastly behaviour, explained that he was stressed from work and if I gave him another chance, he would never treat me badly again.

For whatever reason, I believed him. And it was better. For a while.

He never actually hit me. Never raised his hand to bring it down against my body with force. And that was how I rationalised it with myself, that it could be worse. As I picked up broken pieces of the vase that he had just shattered on the wall a couple of inches from my head or wore a long sleeved shirt in the height of summer to cover the bruises from the time that he had dragged me home from the bar after not liking how the barman looked at me. Yes, he might have a firm grip but he never took his open palm to my face. He only ever punched the wall beside me as he pinned my shaking body against it, he would never punch me.

I let a single tear fall down my cheek as Geillis burrowed her face into my neck and Murtagh got to his feet, pacing in front of the coffee table.

“So today, when Jamie slammed the door…“

“I just panicked,” I sighed. And I ran straight out the door, throwing myself into my work and ignoring the calls and messages that Jamie had been sending all day. The last I had received just after 4pm where he had said that he understood that I needed space and would respect that. But that he would be waiting for me when I got home.

“That bloody idiot, I’m gan’ tae kill him,” Murtagh seethed as his pacing became faster.

“Rationally, I know that he wouldn’t, couldn’t, have known that I would react like this. It’s not Jamie’s fault,” I tried to soothe Murtagh’s anger, not enjoying the sight of a man feeling uneasy about a man that he viewed as his own, a man he considered family. A very Scottish noise came from Murtagh’s throat but his pacing came to a halt at the sound of a heavy fist rapping against the door in the kitchen.

Geillis righted herself to look at her husband and then her green eyes flicked to me as I watched her switch from her role as comforter to that of the protector.

“I’ll tell him tae go, Claire, jus’ say the word,” she said firmly, unfolding her legs from beneath her and preparing to stand. Instead, I stopped her as I got to my feet and squaring my shoulders.

“Thank you but it’s fine,” I tried to reassure her as I left the living room and moved through to the kitchen, steadying my hands on the iron dead bolt of the door that was between me and the man that I loved. My numb fingers pulled it open and revealed Jamie, soaked to the skin and larger than the doorframe itself. I had never seen such pain on his face but a shadow of relief flitted over it at the sight of me.

“Sassenach, thank God yer alright! When ye didnae come home-“ he managed to choke out before he rushed to me, crushing me against his chest without a thought. The rain soaked through to my clothes and for the first time all day, I felt my body relax at his presence.

He’s here. Jamie is here and he would never hurt me.

I only had to see him to know the truth in the words that had been running through my head all day.

“Get off her!”

My body jerked suddenly as I was taken from Jamie’s strong arms and cuddled against Geillis once more. Murtagh stood between me and his pseudo-nephew, the small wiry frame looking up to the large man who’s face was full of confusion and hurt.

“What are ye doin’, man?” Jamie hissed, his eyes darting from Murtagh to me, Geillis’ arms tightly around me. His brow furrowed as he tried to move towards me again as Murtagh intentionally put himself in his way again.

“I swore an oath to yer father and yer mother to look after ye as my own, and I have, but Christ Almighty, this girl has become as much my flesh and blood as ye are. So I am tellin’ ye now, if ye hurt one hair on her head, I will kill ye,” Murtagh’s voice was low, deadly and full of intent. Part of me wanted to get between them, to get them to stop the male posturing and hyperbolic threats of murder, but the other part was touched by Murtagh’s sentiment.

“What on earth are ye on about?” Jamie asked, his eyes growing desperate as nothing in the situation made sense to him. I reached out and put a hand on Murtagh’s shoulder, easing him back towards his wife as I came to stand in front of Jamie. His chest was heaving, breath being forced from his lungs and down onto my face as I resisted the urge to bury myself into his broad chest. Turning to Geillis and Murtagh, I opened my mouth but Geillis interrupted me.

“We’ll leave ye two be. It’s late and we should be in bed,” Geillis nodded curtly at Jamie, put a quieting hand on her husband and sent me a reassuring look that said ‘I’m upstairs if you need me’.

When they left the room, the tension loosened slightly and I moved to face Jamie once again. He was looking at me intently, trying to puzzle out the interactions that he had left him unclear. My fingers rose to the zip on his jacket and I pulled it down slowly as his shoulders rolled, allowing the fabric to fall from them.

“You’ll get sick if you sit in wet clothes,” I said quietly as I laid his wet jacket on the kitchen table as he toed out of his trainers and kicked them to the side, “Let’s go upstairs and get you warm.”

When I turned away, he grabbed my hand in his and pulled me back to him, his eyes beseeching me.

“Claire, ye have tae tell me what’s going on,” he pleaded. I reached up to cup his cheek in my hand and he instinctively leaned into it, closing his eyes beneath still furrowed brows.

“I will. Come with me.”

***

He was sat on the edge of the bed, hands held tightly together and facing away from me as I gathered my knees under my chin, my back leaning against the headboard of the bed in Geillis and Murtagh’s spare room. So much had changed since the last time we had been in this room together. It had been the night of our first proper fight when he had come to me, both of us desperate with the need to show each other how in deep we were. And months later, as we were joking about it whilst making our morning coffees together, I had asked him what he said that night. He had laughed at my attempt at the Gaelic, my lack of knowledge of the language coupling with my inability to remember exactly what sounds he had so effortlessly made. When he admitted that it had been Gaelic for ‘I love you’, I had kissed him deeply and we had returned to the bedroom.

A shiver ran over my skin at the memory as a sigh escaped my lips, causing Jamie to flick a glance back towards me. His eyes met my own for a split second before he cast them back to the spot on the carpet that he had been staring at for the past half hour. I had told him everything, finding it somewhat easier having done it once already that evening but still exhausting nonetheless. He had listened, only offering any indication of what he was feeling by the tightening of his jaw or the wringing of his hands. While I knew that he was staying silent to be respectful, to allow me to tell the entirety of the story without interruption, it was beginning to unnerve me. He was usually so reactionary, so quick with a question or a reply that this absolute silence pushed me into the waves of uncertainty.

I cleared my throat, “I- uh, I realise that it’s a lot of information. And maybe you’re questioning why I didn’t leave him or-“

My words were cut off by the sudden feeling of his lips on mine. His hands held my face tightly, as though he was scared to let go as he kept his mouth still, not looking for anything deeper. Just wanting to be connected to me in the way that we knew best. When he finally pulled away, his hands stayed in their place as his blue eyes burned into mine.

“You are the bravest woman I have ever known, Claire,” his voice was dripping with sincerity and I knew that he meant every word, “I am sorry that ye went through that but I promise ye, I will never-“

“No, Jamie-“

“Please Claire, let me say this. Let me prove to ye, show ye that I will never behave like I did this morning again. I was a brute and I’m too hotheided by far but I will never…” he trailed off, pressing his forehead against me before he was immediately gone, moving to kneel on the floor as his hands pulled against mine so that I was sat at the edge of the bed. He kissed the knuckles on both of my hands and kept them held to his mouth, looking at me once before closing his eyes solemnly.

“I swear on the cross of my Lord Jesus and by the holy iron that I hold to give ye my fealty and pledge ye my loyalty. If ever my hand is raised in rebellion against ye, I ask that this holy iron may pierce my heart.”

I was stunned into silence when he looked at me with a look of pure desperation, the tears threatening to spill from his blue oceans.

“An old oath, usually with a knife handy but ye ken,” he muttered quietly, the corner of his lip quipping up into an attempt at a smile before he sobered, “Is it no’ enough, Claire? Do ye not want me anymore?”

The pain in his voice was the last brick to be torn from the wall that I had built inside myself. I let myself slide down from the bed, landing on his lap as his face changed from anguish to surprise.

“I shall want you forever, James Fraser.”

And my lips descended on his.

Chapter Text

The skin on my bare shoulder began to tingle as Jamie’s lips trailed their way across it, towards the back of my neck where he planted a solid kiss. I sighed deeply as I came out of sleep, allowing my body to push back against his and find his solid frame there to welcome and comfort me.

“Good morning, Sassenach. Did ye sleep well?” His words were whispered against my neck as his tongue darted out to taste my skin.

“Yes, thank you. Did you?” I returned the question as a lazy smile drifted across my lips.

“Aye. I dreamt of ye, ye ken. Even in my dreams, ye are all I see.”

I turned my body to face his and kissed his mouth slowly as his hands grasped at my waist, pulling my body to rest on top of his. My knees instinctively fell to the side of his hips and I settled against him, feeling his length beneath me.

“And just what was I doing in this dream?” I teased him, eliciting a rumble of laughter from deep in his throat.

“What we were doing, Sassenach…” his teeth caught my bottom lip between them as his hands moved up my body to fist in my hair as he deepened the kiss.

“What were we doing then?” I taunted back when he released my mouth as I began to slowly move my hips against his, delighting when I saw his jaw tighten in restraint, “Something like this, I’d wager?”

Humour flashed through his eyes before they were filled with something else as his hands let go of my hair and came to cup my face tenderly. He pushed me away slightly so that he could look at me properly.

“Actually, I do dream of ye with yer clothes on sometimes, too. Last night was one of those times,” he said quietly and my body stilled against his as I let my weight drop onto him, propping my chin on his sternum so that I could look up at him. His hair was tousled from sleep which always amazed me considering that he slept on his back. There was the remnants of sleep in his eyes and his skin was flushed from the heat of spending a night in a warm bed with a body next to him. The gentle light of the morning sunrise was coming through the window and painted him in a hue that made him almost impossibly beautiful. Not for the first time, I sent thanks to whatever powers that be that this man was mine and that I was his.

When I didn’t ask, he told me anyway, “We were in the hills. Just the two of us, walking through Bidean nam Bian. The Three Sisters, ye ken?”

I shook my head no and his eyes widened slightly in surprise.

“Ye’ve never been to Glencoe?”

I snorted, “Jamie, before the wedding, I’d never been to Scotland. And every time I’ve been since then, you’ve been with me so if you haven’t taken me there, I haven’t been.”

He settled his arms around my back and nestled his cheek into the crown of my head, sighing contentedly as we basked in the sun that was streaming through the window.

“I shall take ye there soon then. There’s nowhere in Scotland like Glencoe. We can take a drive to Ballachulish, see Loch Lìobhann. Make a weekend of it,” he spoke out loud and I watched as he began to plan the trip in his head.

“Sounds good to me.”

***

I sent a swift kick to Murtagh’s shin under the table in the kitchen as he continued to watch his nephew from over his bowl of porridge. He started and cleared his throat as he continued to eat, Geillis laying a calming hand to the back of his hunched over neck. Thankfully, Jamie was oblivious to the close consideration that he was on the receiving end of as there was also breakfast food in front of him and I’d learned that when that was the case, there was little to be done to distract him from shovelling it all down in record time.

“So, what’s the plan for yer Saturday then, you two?” Geillis asked in an attempt to break the silence that was only being filled with the sounds of cutlery on plates.

“Probably just head home after breakfast, have a quiet weekend,” I shrugged as I sipped my coffee. Jamie’s head rose momentarily from his plate as he looked at me quickly and then straight back to his food.

“Actually, thought we might go to Lallybroch for a bit, if yer nae fashed, Claire. Ye could look in on Jenny.”

I immediately straightened up and looked at him but he was back to staring at his plate, “Is she alright?”

“Aye aye,” he said the words with a sharp inhale, a truly Scottish mannerism, before stuffing more black pudding and eggs into his mouth, “She’s braw.”

I looked at Geillis pointedly who sent me a subtle shrug of her shoulders before continuing to reading the papers. Confused, I leaned back into my chair and went back to drinking my coffee, the scraping of knives against crockery once again becoming the only sound in the room.

***

For the whole drive to Lallybroch, Jamie didn’t once let go of my hand which made it particularly difficult when trying to change gear. I had muttered something along the lines of ‘downright dangerous’ under my breath but Jamie had simply grinned, pulled our joined hands to his mouth and planted a kiss there, all the while keeping his eyes on the road. He had, once again, picked the music of our journey and we sat in a companionable silence as the car was filled with the voice of Rufus Wainwright. I looked at him in surprise and watched his mouth flip up at the sides, confirming that he had put on this particular song on purpose. It was the song that I always found myself singing along to, the one that my fingers typed into my phone when I needed to fill the silence. But I hadn’t realised that Jamie had noticed.

“It’s one of your favourites, no?”

“You never stop surprising me, James Fraser,” I mused as I looked out over the rugged terrain of the highlands. The road to Lallybroch was twisted and wild and driving it would’ve scared the life out of me but Jamie knew the area like the back of his hand, occasionally pointing to a remote farmhouse and telling me who lived there and who had lived there before them. We passed derelict crofts, vast pieces of land that were the home of cattle and dense woodland that seemed to go on forever. It made sense why Highlanders still had mysticism and folklore running through their blood, how could they not when they seemed to live in amongst a fairytale?

When we finally came within sight of Lallybroch, as always, the tension that I wasn’t aware that I was holding evaporated from my body. Jamie smiled knowingly at me as he parked the car, his smile widening at the sight of his family spilling out of the front door.

“Auntie Claire!” Wee Jamie’s arms tightened around my knees as soon as I was out of the car. Shocked that he hadn’t gone to his uncle first, I looked up at Jamie’s equally surprised face. He scowled at me jokingly as I pulled Wee Jamie onto my hip, the dense weight of his body almost impossible to settle against me as he squirmed in a way that only young boys could.

“Pure dingied, man!” The older Ian laughed out loud at the sight of his brother-in-law’s over exaggerated pout.

“Leave him be,” Jenny smacked her husband lightly on the chest before sending a straight look at her offspring, “Say hello tae yer uncle, James Murray.”

As soon as I put his feet on the floor, Wee Jamie ran straight to his uncle who scooped him up with much less difficulty than I had had.

“This is a nice surprise for a Saturday morning,” Jenny said, her hands settling themselves in their standard position on their hips. She looked pointedly towards her brother with a strange smile, almost too big for her face before Ian placed his hand on her waist and she seemed to relax slightly. I shifted my eyes to Jamie and caught him smirking straight back at her, the two of them telepathically sharing thoughts with each other.

As we all went inside, Jenny was forced to sit at the kitchen table while Ian got everyone settled with cups of coffee. Jamie came to deposit his nephew on Jenny’s lap before running his fingertips along the back of my neck on his way out of the room as I began to question Jenny about how she was feeling. I noticed the shift in her eyes, her glance darting to the door that her brother had disappeared through moments later.

“And are you getting any exercise at the moment? Movement is good for the baby’s development,” I asked her, her eyes flitting back to me.

“Running after this wee one and his father is exercise enough,” she snorted as Ian put his hands on her shoulders, kneading the muscles.

“I’m trying my best to help but she’ll no be telt sometimes,” he chuckled as he pressed a kiss to the top of her head and then went to load the dishwasher.

“You really should try to rest a bit, no big plans for a while,” I raised my eyebrows at her and saw a small smile spread across her lips as she pulled Wee Jamie closer to her.

“Aye, no big plans, I promise ye.”

We sat at the table and caught up as we drank our coffees, Wee Jamie finding all the adult chat terribly boring and finally scurrying off to find his uncle.

“Where has he got to anyway?” I mused out loud, craning my neck to the kitchen door just in time to see Jamie step through it, his namesake following closely behind him. He sent a blinding grin to his sister and then came to sit beside me, eagerly crashing a kiss against my temple.

“Sorry for bailin’ on ye, Sassenach, is this still hot?” He raised the mug to his mouth and drank deeply, hiding a smirk behind the rim. I glanced at Jenny who was glowing at him and wondered, not for the first time that morning, if there was something they weren’t sharing with the rest of the group.

An hour or so later, Jamie was parking his Landrover in the side street beside the flat. He had been quiet the whole drive home but I still saw the smile that had been permanently sat on his lips, only being broken in the moments where he would chew the side of his bottom lip with his teeth. He burst from the car and jogged around to my side to open the door for me, holding his hand in an act of chivalry that I would usually scoff at. But something today felt different. He didn’t let go of my hand as we walked up the stairs to the front door of his flat and I felt the atmosphere between us change slightly.

“Jamie, what’s going on? You’ve been funny all day,” I narrowed my eyes at him but he simply pushed the door open and gestured for me to go inside.

The first thing that I noticed was the smell. The air in the room was uncharacteristically floral and as I rounded the corner into the living room, I realised why. Every possible surface was filled with flowers. Wild flowers and roses and lillies and peonies, some flowers that I didn’t even recognise. Every space that wasn’t covered in vases was covered in unlit candles, some looking as though they’d almost burnt to their end. I spun on my heel to look at him, standing in the doorframe watching me closely. With a flick of his hand, fairy lights that I hadn’t even noticed came to life, their light setting everything in a warm glow.

“Do ye like it?”

Tears started to fill my eyes as I laughed in delight at my thoughtful, loving boyfriend, “Jamie, it’s beautiful. When on earth did you set this all up?”

He moved towards me then, placing his hands gently around me and holding me close to his body as he kissed my forehead.

“I spent most of yesterday afternoon getting it together, Jenny helped me with getting the flowers delivered. Took me an age to light all yon wee candles but after our fight in the morning, I wanted ye to come home to something beautiful,” he mumbled into my hair as I closed my eyes and let myself be pulled deeper into his grip.

“I’m sorry that I wasn’t here to see it all. Let’s light some of them now,” I pressed a kiss to his chest and moved away from him, grabbing the box of matches that we kept on the bookshelf and striking the first one, setting to work at lighting two of that were within reach.

“Dinna fash yersel, Claire. Besides, our trip to Lallybroch this morning gave me time to get this,” he said from behind me.

“Get what?” I asked as I lit another candle and turned to look at him.

My heart skipped a beat.

He was there, the warm light of the room bringing out the fire in his hair and flickering in his impossibly blue eyes. His face was calm but I noticed that he was shifting his weight slightly, nervous energy getting the better of him. Balancing on one knee with his hands outstretched towards me. Cradling a small burgundy velvet box in his hands.

“Jamie?”

I stared at him, rooted to the spot as the corner of his mouth curled up, his eyes full of sincerity.

“Claire… Sorcha… From the first moment I saw ye, I knew in my heart and in my soul that we were destined to be together. It was as if I stepped outside on a cloudy day and suddenly the sun came out. Ye have allowed me to know ye, love ye in ways that I thought I could only dream of. I did not know it was even possible to love someone this deeply,” he spoke with a surety that made my skin tingle, every fibre of my being was set alight in that moment, “If ye’ll have me, I wish to spend the rest of my life lovin’ ye, servin’ ye. Will ye give me that gift, Claire? Will ye marry me?”

I wasn’t even aware of making a conscious decision to move to him until I felt my knees hit the floor in front of him, my hands reaching out, cradling his face and crashing my lips against his. One strong arm came around my waist, holding my body tightly against his own as he kissed me back fervently. I couldn’t get enough of him, wishing that I could sink under his skin and never be parted from him again.

He wrenched his mouth from mine, breathing heavily with hooded eyes as he panted, “Is that a yes? Will ye have me as yer husband, Claire?”

“Yes. Yes, I’ll have you. I’ll be your wife, Jamie,” I whispered against his mouth, eliciting a groan as he slammed his mouth back onto mine.

Suddenly, he stood taking me with him and broke our kiss. His hand, still gripping the box, sought out my ring finger on my left hand and he planted a kiss above my knuckle before flipping the box open and slowly pushing the ring onto my finger.

“It’s beautiful,” I told him honestly, admiring the intricate white gold band with a large amethyst stone set into the middle. On closer inspection, I saw that the design that held the stone in place were thistles.

“It was my mother’s. And now it will be my wife’s,” he pulled my hand once again to his mouth and placed a kiss on the ring, “I love ye, Claire.”

“And I love you.”

Chapter Text

Not for the first time that week, a knock on my office door brought me out of the dream state that I kept slipping into, staring at the engagement ring that sat beautifully on the ring finger of my left hand. Quickly retreating my hand under the desk so that I wouldn’t be caught, again, I kept my back to the door in an attempt to hide the stupid lovesick grin that seemed to have taken a permanent residence on my face since Jamie had asked me to be his wife.

“Yes, what is it?” I kept my voice light, tried to sound casual as I faked a scroll through the saved documents on the computer in front of me, pretending like I was looking very intently for something specific.

“Got time for an old friend, Lady Jane?”

I immediately spun myself in my chair at the sound of an American accent and caught sight of Joe in the doorway, a huge smile plastered on his face as he shot me a wink. Practically skipping over to him, he enveloped me in a hug as we both laughed.

“What on earth are you doing here?” I asked him as I gave him a final squeeze before letting go, only for him to grab my left hand and pulling it closer to his face.

“Couldn’t let this momentous occasion go without a visit! Besides, Geillis was moaning at me about not coming up to visit so here I am,” he grinned, moving my hand gently so that the light caught the gemstones, “He picks a good ring, your man.”

“It was his mother’s actually,” I corrected him. I pulled my hand from his grasp and rubbed the band of the ring absentmindedly with my thumb as I’d taken to doing in an attempt to make the whole blissful thing sink in. “Are you here for long? Come over tonight, I’ll make dinner and we can catch up.”

Something flashed behind his eyes as he looked me up and down, the grin still plastered to his face.

“Thought we’d go out tonight, my treat. The nurse up front said you were done for the day?” He asked, jerking his head in the direction of the reception desk where Laoghaire was situated.

“Yeah, I’m all done. Highland life has its drama but it still isn’t as busy as an ER in London, who knew?” I teased as I turned to grab my coat and bag. Sitting on my chair once more, I slipped out of my heels and into my trusty Nikes.

“Much more sensible,” Joe nodded soberly as I batted him on the arm.

“The village is so small, I usually walk to and from work unless Jamie is driving.”

“Oh good so you don’t have a car here? We can take mine,” he said innocently as we walked outside, waving goodbye to Laoghaire as we passed. She sent me a tight smile before bidding me a good evening.

“Do you have somewhere in mind? Can we nip past the flat so I can change first?”

“You look great, LJ,” He sent me a quick side glance, once more taking in what I was wearing, “Is it, uh - a new shirt?”

My eyes narrowed at him and we reached his car, “No, why?”

He shrugged and didn’t answer the question as we got inside and he turned the key in the ignition, checking a message on his phone and moving his lips as though he was reciting it in his head.

“You’re being weird,” I mumbled, looking out the window and ignoring his snort of laughter as we began to drive. When I tried to give him directions to the flat, he simply nodded and ignored them, confirming the suspicion that had creeped into my spine.

It didn’t take me long to realise that we were on the road to Lallybroch but no matter how many times I asked, Joe kept his mouth shut with a somewhat smug smirk playing on his lips. Eventually I gave up trying to find out what was going on, the whole thing reeked of Geillis and some clandestine hen party that she had thrown together knowing that I would never agree to the debauchery that she was capable of.

It had turned into a beautiful spring evening when we finally pulled in to the courtyard at Lallybroch, the sun only just beginning its descent and it was unseasonably warm as we exited the car. Joe exhaled heavily from between his teeth as he took in sight of the house and part of me beamed with pride at the thought of officially becoming part of the family that had its roots in such a beautiful place.

As if they had been waiting for us, bodies appeared in the courtyard. Jenny and Ian stood by the door with Wee Jamie fidgeting beside them as I turned to see Geillis and Murtagh coming through the archway that we had just driven through. They were shooting looks at each other, all quietly colluding on something. Just as I was away to ask what the hell was going on, Jamie’s voice ripped through the quiet.

“Claire, RUN!”

His body dashed from the old stable block, surprisingly quick on his feet for such a large man. He was running directly towards me with his hand out in front of him, grabbing me by the forearm when he was within reach and wrenching me with him, my feet barely registering the change in pace as I tried to keep up. He pulled us as fast as he could towards the wooden fence that separated the courtyard from the fields behind the house as his arms made light work of lifting me over the fence before jumping over himself and immediately getting us running again. I could hear everyone behind us, laughing and hooting as the made their way over the fence and began to chase us over the field.

The air was bursting its way out of my lungs as I barely managed to keep up, Jamie’s speed matched only by the strength that he was wielding to keep me with him, my feet barely touching the uneven ground.

“What the hell is going on?” I panted as I sent a glance behind us to see Ian coming towards us at a surprising speed given his prosthetic, his son gently pulling him forward by the hand. Joe ran beside Murtagh and Geillis as our friends and family all advanced on us.

He yanked my arm so that I whipped around to face forward again and caught the face splitting grin that he couldn’t contain.

“Dinna look back, they’ll catch us!” He laughed.

“And what will happen if they do?”

“Just run, Sassenach!”

My legs were growing heavy with exhaustion, the lactic acid building up in muscles that hadn’t been used for anything that resembled running in a very long time. Sensing that I was lagging behind, Jamie held my hand even tighter as the sounds of the gang behind us seemed to get closer. Suddenly, he went from upright to flat on his stomach in a matter of seconds, forgetting to let go of my hand and subsequently pulling me to the ground with him.

“Cack!” The word burst from his lungs as his shoulders shook with laughter. I immediately went to the foot that had caused him to fall, firmly running my hands over the ankle that I hoped he hadn’t broken.

“Serves you right for running around like a banshee, dragging me behind you like a ragdoll,” I chastised, smacking him lightly on the chest as his arms came around me, crushing my body to his amongst the grass.

“Ye’ll wish we’d kept on running when they catch up to us, Sassenach.”

“Will you please tell me what’s going on?” I begged him but his eyes weren’t on me, they were looking at whoever was stood behind me. Without a word, Jamie laced the fingers of his left hand with the fingers of my right and raised them into the air.

“Be over before ye ken it,” Murtagh’s voice rumbled with humour from above me. Without warning, the sensation of metal against skin brought me to the realisation that Jamie and I were now tethered together by a set of rusty old shackles.

“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, will someone please explain?!” I implored as we scrambled to our feet. Jamie pressed a kiss to the crown of my head as the rest of the group caught up to us, cheering and clapping Murtagh for bagging the prize.

Geillis came to her husband’s side, slipped her arm around his waist before sending us a devilish grin.

“Welcome tae yer Blackening, Claire!”

***

“No no no, no!" I screamed at the sight of Jenny walking towards us with a bucket filled with what looked like syrup, her son jumping excitedly beside her. Jamie and I were still attached to each other but were now also stood against the wall of the stable, nowhere to run. With a wicked smile on her face that told me she was enjoying the whole thing way too much, Jenny lifted her son and helped him pour the contents of the bucket over Jamie and I’s heads.

I fought the urge to scream in revulsion as the sticky substance oozed down our bodies, not only for the reason of not getting it into my mouth as Jamie squirmed beside me in futility, the laughter getting caught in his throat.

“What do ye think after the molasses, mo chridhe?” Jenny asked her son with an innocent smile as Wee Jamie started to bounce on her hip.

“The grass, Mama!” He commanded with glee. On hearing this, Ian appeared in front of us with a bag full of grass cuttings and howled with laughter as his son’s pudgy hands dove into the depths and started to throw it towards us.

Geillis appeared at my left with a bucket of oats and a can of shaving foam, coating Jamie and I liberally in both items as we twisted our bodies responsively. Resigning myself to the whole situation, I couldn’t help but join in with the general mood of hilarity that was filling the courtyard as our friends and family made the biggest mess of the newly engaged couple as they possibly could. Joe threw handfuls of flour at us which immediately adhered to what Jenny had now identified as molasses against our skin and I threw my head back, yelping loudly. Jamie’s loud laughter beside me turned into groans at the sight of Murtagh now advancing with yet another bucket, the horror inside not yet known to me. Jamie, on the other hand, his height being an advantage could see exactly that was inside.

“Nae the beans, man!” He howled, trying in vain to shield me with his body as cold baked beans hit our already filthy skin.

After what felt like an hour but was probably closer to ten minutes of this very odd, very smelly torture, when Geillis was finally satisfied with the hundred or so pictures that she had taken, Murtagh moved towards us and undid the shackles.

With a quick glance at Jamie, in an unspoken agreement, we advanced on him and immediately enveloped him in a bear hug, pinning his arms to his sides as we rubbed the remnants of the ingredients onto his clothes. He laughed along with it, Wee Jamie braying with laughter until his uncle rounded on him and began to chase him around the courtyard.

My cheeks ached from smiling, the laughter still bursting out of me in gasps as Jenny came to my side with a towel in her hands, a stand in for a white flag of surrender. I took it gladly and went to wiping my face.

“We’ll all stay out here for a bit and ye twa can get sorted. Take your clothes off in the utility room and head up for a shower, we’ll have a bit of supper once yer both cleaned up,” she smiled as she took the towel back from me. Suddenly, she wrapped an arm around my neck and pulled me into a tight hug, her own clothes being ruined in the process, “I love ye as my own sister, Claire. Welcome to the Fraser clan.”

***

Jamie’s strong fingers worked through my hair, rubbing lazy circles into my scalp. The water had finally begun to run clear after a third round of shampoo and I relaxed back against his body, letting the hot stream run over us.

“I imagine we’ve the farm up the road to thank for the agricultural molasses but I think it’s all finally out,” Jamie said, his laughter disappearing into the steam that filled the bathroom.

“You Scots have the strangest traditions,” I sighed as I closed my eyes and bent my head to let the water rinse through my tresses.

“I mebbe should’ve warned ye about The Blackening but I never thought they’d do it so soon,” he agreed and I ‘hmphed’ in agreement as his large hands landed on my hips, slowly turning my body so that I was facing him. I immediately caught the look in his eyes, his pupils dilating as he pressed my breasts against his chest and bent to claim my mouth with his own. His hands ran over my skin, red and tender after the scrubbing that had been required to remove the remnants of our earlier activity, tingling at the sensation as he explored my body with his fingertips.

Not for the first time, I was shocked by how quickly my body began to respond to him. Often, if I allowed my mind to wander from me, I would find myself replaying some of our trysts in glorious technicolour but it always paled in comparison to the real thing, to having Jamie’s body beneath my hands. The way the anticipation could build with just a look was like nothing I’d ever experienced and when his lips would find mine, the world would spin on its axis, the force of our love pulling me towards him.

His tongue rubbed along mine as my breath started to come in pants, my arousal beginning to build. When his hand trailed down over my stomach and his fingers found my centre, he pressed me gently against the wall to stop my knees from buckling beneath me.

“They’ll be waiting for us,” I whispered as his middle finger curled up inside me, his mouth hanging open above mine as he watched my face closely, enjoying the sight of what he could do to me. I moved my hand to grasp him and he growled against my lips.

“Let them wait.”

Jamie’s hand tightened on the back of my knee and hitched my leg up against him as he pressed his hips against mine. His other hand came to the small of my back as he lifted me slightly, his eyes burning into mine as he lowered my body onto his length, gritting his teeth at the feeling of filling me. His mouth lowered to my breasts, teeth closing around my nipples and earning a roll of my hips as a response. Groaning, he screwed his eyes shut, pushing his forehead against mine as he began to quicken his movements.

“Nothing will ever feel this good,” he whispered. I began to moan louder, the angle of his hips hitting a delicious spot inside of me. He pulled at my bottom lip with his teeth, a low rumble in his throat. He quickly moved his hands to my ass, lifting me entirely from my feet and pinning me to the wall, the cold tile against my back contrasting with the heat of his skin. My hands rested on his biceps and felt the muscles contracting as he pistoned me up and down on his cock, delicious pressure building in the pit of my stomach as I clamped down on him, trying to chase my orgasm. He felt the tightening of me around him and gasped loudly, doubling down on his efforts know that he knew that I was close.

“I can’t wait to be your wife, James Fraser,” I moaned into his ear as a growl ripped from that deep place in his chest, fingers digging into my skin as he claimed me. His reaction to my words tipped me over the edge, bucking wildly against him as my orgasm tore through me. I bit down on the skin of his thick neck to stifle my scream, earning a hiss as he spilled himself into me, pinning me against the wall of the shower.

“Claire Fraser…” he kissed my lips so softly, “Mine, now and forever.”

Chapter Text

I watched as the look of alarm came over Geillis’ pretty features, laughing as her mouth opened and her eyebrows raised up.

“Do ye hate me, Claire? Is that why yer doing this to me?” She asked as though I’d told her that I wanted to shave her head.

“Yes because this is about you,” I snorted in response, taking a drink of the gin and tonic that was placed on the table between us as we sat in the corner of Broch Mordha’s one and only pub, The Coorie Inn.

“But to not give yerself a hen party-“

“-I will have a hen party. It’s just that there will be no L plates, no penis straws. Or strippers,” I said definitively before adding, “And Jamie and the rest of the stags will be there.”

“That’s the very part that I canna bide! Ye just canna invite yer fiancé to yer hen party, it’s just no’ done!”

Rolling my eyes at her with love, I covered her hand with my own and looked into her beautiful emerald eyes, “This is what I want, Geil. And as my Maid of Honour, you have to make it so.”

She huffed, pulling her hand from beneath mine and sinking the rest of the wine that was wallowing in the bottom of her glass.

“Fine,” she spat, “But at least let me plan the activities.”

“You and Murtagh in his role as best man can plan it together,” I nodded as she started to whine once more. As though we had summoned them, Murtagh and Jamie appeared back from the bar with the next round of drinks in their hands.

“Have ye heard this?” She directed at her husband who just shrugged nonchalantly which only irritated her more, “Christ, I’ve gone from my dreams of a night of a debauchery and hedonism to this! We might as well just have the bloody thing here!”

“I wouldn’t be opposed to that,” I turned to Jamie who just shrugged.

“Would be nice to have everyone able to drop in whenever they wanted to, I’m sure Angus wouldnae mind,” he agreed with a jerk of the head towards his friend behind the bar, “It would be a good night.”

Geillis sent daggers across the table to the both of us, her fingers curling around the stem of her wine glass so tightly that I thought she might snap it clean in two.

“Ye two deserve each other,” she seethed and we laughed, Jamie’s mouth fitting over mine as if to say ‘Aye, we do’.

And so we found ourselves a few weeks later, bodies crammed into the small pub and Angus keeping us well lubricated from behind the bar. Despite her reluctance, and once she realised that neither Jamie nor I were going to budge, Geillis had organised for Jenny to cook up enough sustenance for what seemed like the whole village and had even twisted the arms of her friends Lachlan and Rhuaridh from her St Andrew’s day party to play a few songs as the night went on which slowly descended into a loose karaoke arrangement after she had made a drunken demand. As Jamie had hoped, practically every resident of Broch Mordha had popped in for a bit to share a congratulatory drink with the two of us. Of which there were many.

Jamie had been drinking whisky for the past three hours while I, wanting at least one of us be functional enough to get us home, was drinking water in between my wines. Of course I couldn’t say no to the whiskies that had been gifted to us but I drank them slowly rather than throwing them back as my fiancé was doing. Despite the number of people that were crammed inside, he didn’t let go of me once, twisting and turning in the crowded space so that he was constantly at my side, a permanent grin on his face that I knew mirrored my own. Tipsy Jamie was funny and charming and more than a little bit handsy but tonight was a celebration of our engagement and I let myself get swept away with the rest of them.

Jenny appeared at our side and handed a dram to the both of us, raising her own glass of water in a mock toast before taking a sip and laughing as Jamie hissed after downing his whisky.

“Why do we fall in love with men that canna hold their drink, eh?” Jenny winked conspiratorially at me before looking towards the makeshift stage in the corner where Ian Murray was trying his hardest to stand upright.

“To the bride and groom to be!” Ian swayed as he seemed to grip the microphone stand for dear life before shouting again, “Slàinte!”

“Slàinte!” The crowd echoed his sentiment, raising their drinks towards Jamie and I as he swept me into a deep kiss, much to the satisfaction of everyone who began to cheer and laugh.

“Christ lad, dinna swallow her!” I heard Murtagh shout. I kept my mouth firmly on Jamie’s but raised a solitary middle finger in his direction and heard him laugh loudly.

Our lips parted as my body careened to the left and I opened my eyes to see Ian’s slightly glassy eyes trying to fix themselves on me as his hands desperately grasped at my shoulders, having shoved his brother-in-law to the side. Jamie scoffed at him in humour and turned his back to greet more bodies that had piled through the door.

“Ye best take care of him, ye ken?” He slurred as I began to laugh until I saw him become serious, “He’s my brother.”

“I promise that I will,” I told him solemnly with a small smile, pulling him in against my side to encase him in my arms. Suddenly, Ian’s shoulders jerked upwards as his entire body convulsed and his hand flew to his mouth.

With a thankful moment of clarity, I managed to herd Ian’s surprisingly heavy body out of the door of the pub just in time for him to vomit on the wall. My hands kept him upright as he emptied his stomach. Thankfully it didn’t take long for Jenny and Jamie to join us, Jenny carrying his coat and trying not to laugh at the sight of her husband.

“One night off from the bairn and this is what happens,” she teased, entirely sober himself. Jamie handed his brother-in-law a glass of water before Murtagh appeared in the door of the pub and dragged him back in with the promise of another dram. I forced Ian to drink the whole thing before he straightened up, wiping the sweat from his forehead and lunging towards his wife with open arms who deflected his kiss quite expertly. “Come on, lad, home to bed.”

It only took a few minutes and a wrangling of limbs to get them both into one of Broch Mordha’s singular taxi firm cars and I sent up a silent prayer that Ian would make it back to Lallybroch without any more explosions as they drove away. Smiling to myself, I revelled in the quiet of the night air before turning back to the din that was emanating from the pub. Only to be confronted by the sight of Frank Randall.

He smiled, “Evening, Beauchamp.”

“Frank,” my voice sounded small as I cradled my arms around my body.

His eyes looked at me closely, hands deep in the pockets of his trousers as he tilted his head to the side in the way that he always did. In that moment, I couldn’t make sense of why seeing him was so much more unnerving than it had been a few weeks prior in the coffee shop. Granted, it had been broad daylight and we were in a crowded place rather than the only two standing on a dark street. It wasn’t like he knew but the last time we had come face to face, I hadn’t told anyone the whole story of our relationship together. I hadn’t admitted to myself that he had been abusive. Now, here he was standing in front of me and I felt entirely vulnerable.

“I’m back up for some more research,” he said as he took a step towards me, “Actually, we’re shooting some footage to show to the BBC, see if they want to pick it up.”

Trying to keep my wits about me as the alcohol blurred the edges of my awareness, I was surprised to find that my feet seemed to be frozen to the ground as he took another step. Fear rose in my chest as I knew that he was close enough to reach out and touch me. Close enough that I could smell the alcohol on his breath. He wouldn’t have been inside the pub, I would’ve seen him or at least Geillis or Murtagh. My hands began to clam up as I started to stretch my fingers in an attempt to expel some of the anxiety that was building.

“It’s very nice to see you again, Claire. Our last meeting was cut so short.”

“Yes well, I was busy,” I croaked, mentally castigating myself when my voice broke and I saw the flicking up of the corner of his mouth in a twisted smirk. I knew he was taking pleasure from the fact that I was unsteadied by his presence.

“Too busy to make time for an old lover? Come now, darling, we mustn’t be rude. You know I can’t abide rudeness.”

His words, his tone of reproach washed over me as his finger under my chin lifted slightly, trying to meet my eye. Not wanting to give him the satisfaction, I looked directly over his shoulder and the voice in my head that was telling me to run was immediately quietened.

“Do not touch her.”

Jamie’s voice came from the darkness, so low that I could almost feel it reverberating through the soles of my feet and up through my body, to the very tips of my fingers. He moved further into the light, the illumination dancing across the coiled muscles under his shirt, his fists clenched at his sides. Frank twisted to face him and took a step in front of me, shielding me from Jamie with his body.

“You must be the Scot.”

“Claire, come here and let’s get inside,” Jamie didn’t address Frank as he made a step towards us, his bright blue eyes alert but also calm. Even thought I knew that he had sunk more whisky than would fell an army, Jamie’s whole body was poised for action, as if he was ready to strike if the situation required for him to do so. Frank looked rather comically small against him and I had to bite back an absurd laugh as the anxiety threatened to take over my body.

“Claire and I were just speaking, she’ll be with you in a moment.”

Jamie’s eyes snapped to Frank and I watched the muscle in his jaw twitch as it tightened.

“You dinna get tae speak for her anymore. Ye never had that right,” Jamie whispered in a low timbre that was every bit the threat that it was intended as, “I should snap ye in half just for looking at her.”

Frank’s eyebrows raised in mock surprise as his mouth twisted into a sadistic grimace, “I’ve no doubt that she’s told you some sob story and I imagine you ate up every word, didn’t you? She can be quite convincing when she wants to be. When she’s not playing the role of wounded little animal, that is.”

“Aye, she told me. I ken exactly what kind of man ye are.”

Jamie took a slow step towards us and another until they were practically touching, not breaking the stare that the two of them held. My entire body was vibrating with tension as I watched the expression on Jamie’s face, one that I had never seen before.

Frank didn’t take his eyes off of Jamie as he addressed his words to me, “Got yourself a highland warrior then, have you, my dear?”

“Dinna speak tae her, dinna even look at her,” Jamie breathed, his shoulders rolling slightly as he brought himself to his true height, towering over Frank in the dark. Reaching around the smaller man, Jamie held a hand out and I rushed to take it as he pulled me behind him, finally safe. He looked down at me, his face serious but with a look of concern that I knew was for me. The ghost of a smile played over his lips, “Back into the pub wi’ ye, Sassenach. Go and enjoy the party.”

A cruel snort of laughter burst out of Frank as he looked at me, “Lovely pet name, Claire. Has he told you what it means?”

“You should leave, Frank,” I had finally found my voice, emboldened by Jamie’s presence.

“Can’t a man have a drink after a long day? A party sounds like fun.”

“No’ here.”

There was a moment of silence before Frank raised a hand in defeat, bowing his head. Jamie was stood so close to him that Frank’s forehead almost bumped against his chin and he automatically took a step back from the smaller man, squeezing my hand slightly in reassurance. Frank slumped to the side slightly and I realised that he’d probably drunk more than I’d thought.

“Go home, Frank,” I said softly.

“Can’t,” he slurred, “Stuck in bloody Scotland.”

“Then maybe it’s time ye returned tae England. I dinna think ye’ll be missed much.”

Frank sneered up at Jamie and I could tell that he was trying to size up the situation in his mind. Although there was the very apparent size difference between the two, I had first hand knowledge of Frank’s strength and I had to fight not to cower at the memory. Shaking my head slightly, I gave Jamie’s hand in mine a squeeze before I began to leave them to it, knowing that the whole thing would be over quicker without my presence there.

It happened so quickly as Frank lunged to grab me by the upper arm before Jamie’s hands were on him. Frank’s grip was quickly detached from me and Jamie held the offending hand up in front of Frank’s face, his fingers forming a vice around Frank’s wrist. Jamie bent his face to Frank and looked him straight in the eye, his jaw barely moving as he hissed in his face.

“Touch her again and I will break yer arm.”

Suddenly, the quiet was broken by the sound of the pub door opening and my name being called in song by Geillis. I turned to see her stumble in her stupor as she moved towards me, oblivious to what she was walking into.

“Claaaaire! Ye can run off wi’ yer fiancé after the party but while Angus is still serving, I plan on pouring as many drinks down yer throat as ye can handle.”

“Christ, Geillis Duncan, just what we need,” Frank slurred as Jamie let go of him and moved quickly towards me without a second glance backwards, his arm fixing around my shoulder and ushering Geillis and I towards the pub.

I watched as Geillis’ eyes lost their drunken glaze and became impossibly sharp at the sight of Frank, brow furrowing in confusion for less than a second before her face became stone. Before he could coax her inside, she moved from Jamie’s reach and stepped towards Frank, slapping her hand across his cheek with enough force to make him stumble.

“Ye bastard.”

“Got a whole security team these days, eh, Claire?” Frank sneered at me as he rubbed his reddening cheek with his fingers before looking directly at Geillis, “Did you say fiancé?”

“She did,” Jamie confirmed, his fingers lacing with mine possessively as Frank sighed heavily.

“Shame. That’s a damn shame.”

“I don’t think you’re quite capable of feeling shame,” I spoke firmly, not a hint of a waver in my voice as long as Jamie was beside me. Geillis walked back to us and went to open the door to the pub, the welcome noise of a party in full swing spilling out into the street. I looked at him one more time, saw the fury in his eyes as he stood there, alone.

“Goodnight, Frank.”

As soon as we were back inside, Geillis pulled me into a fierce hug and then ducked and weaved through the crowd to the bar. I watched as she pulled Angus to her, her lips no doubt spilling what had happened outside and asking for his help in keeping an eye on the door to make sure that Frank didn’t try to get inside. Angus looked sharply at me, his lips pressed together firmly and nodded his head in my direction once. I had begun to mouth the words ‘thank you’ back to him but didn’t quite manage to finish as Jamie pulled me by our joined hands into a corridor and shut the door behind us as he leaned back on it, his hands behind his back. He was watching me carefully and I knew that he was picking the right words to say. My heart clenched in my chest.

“Jamie, forgive me, I didn’t know-“

Forgive ye?” He whispered incredulously, his eyebrows knitting together over his fierce blue eyes.

“I swear I didn’t know he was here - Broch Mordha, I mean - I promise I would have told you if I’d known that he was here again but he said he’s back for more research. God Jamie, I swear I didn’t know.”

His eyes blazed into mine as I stood across from him and he sighed deeply, “Ye think that I am angry wi’ ye?”

I started, “Well, I can imagine what it looked like, me standing out there on my own with him-“

“Do ye, aye?” He asked as he took a step towards me, “Shall I tell ye how it looked? From my perspective?”

His hand reached out to brush a curl from my face as his finger trailed across my cheek bone, leaving a line of fire in its wake. I watched his throat constrict as he swallowed the lump in it, closing his eyes briefly before looking down at me with a look of sadness.

“Ye looked terrified. It’s my wish never tae see that look on yer face again.”

My entire body fell into his arms, the relief of his words washing over me as his grip tightened around me, holding me close against his chest. I could feel the heat of him through his shirt and I sighed deeply, happy to be safe and to be his.

“You’re not angry, then?”

“Christ, no,” he exhaled, “Claire, ye are not to blame here. Do you hear me? Ye are not to blame for anything wi’ that man.”

My head reeled at the sound of his words and I felt a deep shift in myself, like a deep click in my ribs. There had been many nights after our night at Geillis and Murtagh’s where the truth had come out that we had spoken at length about my relationship with Frank and telling it had been cathartic but tonight felt like the letting go of something that I had been holding inside myself. Not feelings for Frank or fear of him but it was, I realised, the anger that I had held inside and wielded against myself. The sound of Jamie’s words flowed through my body and I forgave myself.

“I am so in love with you,” I whispered against his chest as he cradled my head in his hands, his fingers tangling in my hair.

“And I am in love wi’ you, Claire. If we were at home, I’d take ye to our bed and show ye how much.”

“Do you think we can leave early?” I smiled against his chest and felt my head bob against him as he chuckled.

“I think Geillis would have my hide. And yours. Besides, he may still be outside. Let’s go and celebrate wi’ our friends, aye?”

He pushed me away slightly so that he could press his lips against mine. My mouth slotted perfectly against his as my hands found the space between his shoulder blades where they seemed to fit perfectly, pulling his body against mine as a shield. He sighed into my open mouth as my tongue found his and I knew at the flex of his fingers that he was treating me gently, afraid to trigger some of the feelings that had been roused in me that night. To reassure him, I moaned loudly and pressed myself against the length of his body and he answered in kind, his hands moving from my hair to my waist as his arms fixed around me and lifted me off of my feet. He was a thief stealing each breath from me as he pinned me to the wall and my legs wrapped around his waist, my hands threading through his beautiful hair and trying to pull his mouth even harder against my own. We lost ourselves in each other, relishing in the moment of quiet where we could enjoy each other before going back through the door and being submerged into the rowdy behaviour again. For that moment, we were the only two people in the world. Jamie showed me his heart and mine called out to answer him.

Chapter Text

Jamie’s long fingers shut like a vice around my upper arm just before I began my exit from his Landrover, pulling me back towards him and fixing his mouth firmly over mine. My torso leant over the gearstick as his other hand tangled in my curls and I sighed with pleasure, suddenly overcome by such a blatant change in tone from the relaxed small talk we’d been sharing just a few seconds before. He moaned loudly as the force of his mouth against mine prised my lips open, his tongue delving inside to twist against my own.

He kissed me like a man who’d found himself suddenly ravenous and I returned the sentiment, wanting to drown in his affection. I squirmed in my seat in attempt to contort my body to bring me closer to him but only able to close the distance by less than an inch given the constraints of our seating and a tiny part of brain that was reminding me of the fact that we were parked in a very public spot right outside of Inverness train station.

Suddenly, the hand that was around my arm slackened its grip and planted itself on my shoulder as Jamie softly pushed me away, leaving me gasping for breath. His bottom lip hung down, full and wet from his attack and I couldn’t keep my eyes from it, as if it were calling out to me to sink my teeth into the flesh. My lungs were fighting to get enough air and I resisted the urge to shake my head in an attempt to clear the haze that had descended over me. One of the most self-satisfied smiles I'd ever seen donned his face as he pressed a final kiss to my lips.

“What was that for?”

“Jus’ givin’ ye something to remember me by.”

“I’m only away for three nights, I’m sure we’ll manage,” I snorted at him as I successfully extricated myself from the car. He followed suit before slamming the back door after retrieving my small trolley bag that held everything that I needed for the weekend from the back seat on his side.

“Don’t count on it, Sassenach,” his voice was louder now, wanting me to hear him over the sound of the traffic and no doubt wanting to embarrass me when he said, “In fact, I’m sure ye’ll be getting a few texts as the day goes on, mebbe even a phone call tonight telling ye how much I miss ye, how hard my-“

“You don’t stop, do you?”

He had that twinkle in his eye that made me weak at the knees as we both reached the front door of the station. My fingers closed around the handle of my bag as he pushed it towards me, his hands now being free to cup my face gently as he smiled my favourite smile at me.

“I canna help myself around ye, ye ken that fine well enough.”

“Just as well I’m making an honest man out of you then, isn’t it?” I couldn’t stop myself from grinning with excitement and his face shone the sentiment right back at me, the unspoken words of ‘I can’t wait to marry you’ not needing to be said out loud.

Our fingers threaded together as we walked into the station, my eyes scanning the concourse for Geillis’ head, hoping to God that she was joking about this impromptu overnight stay being my ‘proper’ hen do. When I finally laid eyes on her I was thankful to see that she wasn’t wielding any L-plates or sash emblazoned with ‘LAST NIGHT OF FREEDOM’ in sparkly garish lettering but was simply engrossed in whatever she was reading on her phone screen, her eyebrows knitted together in something that looked like concentration or frustration. Or maybe both. The hand that wasn’t holding her phone was hanging by her side, her tiny fingers wrapped tightly around the neck of the bottle of Prosecco that she had stuck a cheap and cheerful blue bow onto. Only in the hand of Geillis Fitzgibbons could it look like a weapon ready to be wielded.

As we walked towards her, I called her name and watched as her eyes flicked up to us in recognition and then directly back to her phone, her mouth twisting into a grimace.

“Fucking Tories, honestly, ye canna make this shite up,” she seethed before shoving her phone deep into her pocket and looking up to switch from a look of rage to blinding joy as she wrapped her now free arm around my shoulders, “Are ye excited?!”

“I am, actually!” I laughed as I squeezed her quickly before Jamie landed a kiss on her cheek.

“Ye’ll take good care of her and nae gettin’ pished on the train before ye even get tae Edinburgh,” Jamie jokingly warned her with an upward eyebrow.

“Dinna fash, there’s only so much damage ye can do on a three hour train ride,” Geillis dismissed him with a wave of her hand before casting her eyes down to her very large handbag that was hanging heavily from her shoulder, “I definitely don’t have a second bottle in here either.”

Às an dris, anns an droigheann,” Jamie mumbled as he pressed his mouth into the nest of my hair, his arm gripping me tightly against him while Geillis just laughed, presumably at whatever he had said. I made yet another mental note to try harder to pick up bits of Gaelic.

Geillis made herself busy by burying her hands into her bag, muttering under her breath about the ‘bastarding tickets’ as Jamie took the opportunity to manoeuvre my body into his arms. With a somewhat sad look in his eye, he lowered his face to mine and gave me a goodbye kiss that reignited what he had started in the car but was definitely more acceptable for a busy train station. My stomach started to twist as I was suddenly uneasy at the idea of being separated from him for any longer than the few hours that we were used to. There hadn’t been a night that we’d spent away from the other since I’d moved up here a few months ago and I wasn’t looking forward to slipping into bed and not finding his body next to me.

“Off wi’ ye then. Awa’ and find yersel’ a dress,” he laid a final kiss on my forehead as my body reactively leaned into him, breathing deeply to catch the smell of him. His fingers grazed my cheek as he took a step backwards and then another, “I love ye.”

“I love you too,” I replied before watching him spin on his heel and head outside. Geillis let out what could only be described as a squeal from behind me and I spun to see her brandishing the train tickets in between her perfectly manicured nails.

She snagged my arm with hers as we began to head towards our platform, excitement bubbling in my stomach at the promise of a girly night away.

“Honestly, that man of yours doesn’t trust me as far as he could throw me,” she said sarcastically, flicking her hair over her shoulder as she stepped onto the train and pulled her bag up behind her.

“Well, he has known you since you were children,” I grinned as response in her as I handed my trolley bag to her before wrapping my fingers around the railing on the train door to follow her inside, “What was it that he said anyway?”

“It’s the Gaelic version of ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’,” she snorted as we settled ourselves into an otherwise empty carriage, managing to luck out and snag a table seat, “Although we say ‘out of the bramble, into the blackthorn’.”

I relaxed in my seat, letting my head fall backwards in the headrest as she pottered about producing bits and pieces from her bag. Once she managed to almost entirely cover the table with a mix of cheese, meat, crackers and olives, she pulled out two sparkly pink plastic flute glasses and gave the cage of the bottle six solid twists before removing it. Her excitement was palpable as her skilled hand twisted the cork once and it came free with a very satisfying ‘pop!’ that made me giggle like someone much younger than I was.

“Get that down ye!” She remarked as she passed me the first glass, the fizz almost spilling out over the top and forcing me to slurp from the rim to stop it from doing it.

“To Edinburgh!”

***

“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ,” I muttered as I rifled through the contents of my bag.

“What’s wrong?” Geillis asked, twisting her head to look at me as she dried her hair, the air of our hotel room filling with the notes of her lavender shampoo. Which I would now be having to steal for the duration of our trip.

“I’ve forgotten my wash bag. Toothbrush, deodorant, my pill. Everything I need is currently still on my bedside table in Broch Mordha.”

In my head, I cursed Jamie for distracting me as I’d packed that morning. The memory shivered through me, as though I could still feel the ghost of his fingertips dragging my still damp hair from the back of my neck, closely followed by his soft lips. I had sagged against his body, my back finding his warm chest just an inch behind me and let my eyes softly close, his hands closing around my hips and pulling me onto the bed. Thirty minutes and an orgasm each later, I had rushed to hurriedly throw the last few things into my trolley bag but was obviously not entirely cognisant enough to recognise the bag that held my toiletries and makeup that hadn’t been packed safely away.

“Well, we’re no’ in Timbuktu, I’m sure ye’ll manage to find somewhere that’ll sell ye a wee toothbrush, Claire,” she said sardonically, working magic on her long hair as she twisted into a loose knot at the base of her skull, enviably managing to look both put-together and effortlessly natural at the same time.

“Do you mind if I use your things?” I asked even though I already knew the answer, her waving a nonchalant hand in my direction as she began to swipe on light makeup. Locking the door behind me and delighting in the sticky heat of the bathroom already being filled up with steam, I heard Geillis’ warning to not get my hair wet as I let the spray of the shower wash over me, ridding my skin of the remnants of a rushed morning and a slightly tipsy three hour train ride.

With my own still damp hair unceremoniously plopped in a bun on top of my head, Geillis fiddled and secured some stray wisps with bobby pins, instructing me that having my hair up and out of the way was the easiest when it came to trying on wedding dresses.

I had never really daydreamed about my wedding day. While I sort of had this image of my life ten years down the line in which I was definitely someone’s wife, I had never pictured myself as a bride. And I definitely hadn’t imagined myself at the centre of a big wedding, being watched by hundreds of people that I barely knew in some grand church saying vows that felt rote and unoriginal. ‘To have and to hold, to death do us part’; it all felt so alien.

But at the sound of the soft sigh that left Geillis’ lips, the sight of her eyes becoming muddied with tears, I felt the excitement begin to bloom and flourish in my belly. Because all of a sudden, the prospect of being Jamie’s bride felt like the most natural thing in the world.

“Beautiful Beauchamp is right,” she all but whispered, her hands coming delicately to her lips in an attempt to control the smile that was blooming on her face.

Geillis had squealed excitedly at the first dress (a simple a-line to start us off, with a jewelled belt around the empire line that we both decided was pretty but plain), she had clapped with an enthusiasm that didn’t quite reach her eyes at the second (a lace mermaid gown which was much too fussy for my liking) and had simply tilted her head to the side at the third (a full ballgown that made me look like a child playing dress-up), which told me all I needed to know.

I was beyond grateful to have her with me for the whole ordeal. Not really knowing what I wanted, I had asked for her help given that she was my best friend, maid of honour and of course, that she’d been married just the year before. Geillis had dug out all her magazines, had blown up my WhatsApp with pictures of things she thought I might like and had resolutely refused to let me look for a dress in Inverness, telling me that it was just as good as excuse as any to take a trip to the country’s capital to find a dress that I felt exactly right in.

Like I’d fallen into a fairytale, the fourth dress magically seemed to be ‘just right’.

The pale ivory satin cascaded in its weight to a length that just hit beneath my knees. It was cinched in at my waist but blossomed out to form the perfect tea-length shape, cutting sharply across my collarbones and covering my cleavage but dipping almost to my waist in the back. While it had still been on the hanger, the dress had been dismissed as ‘the safe choice’ by Geillis and I knew fine well that she wanted me in something a little sexier but the look on her face when she saw me in it confirmed everything that I had felt about it. That it was the one.

“Well?”

“Honestly? I canna imagine ye in anything else.”

I could see her fighting to keep her edge as the tears began to bloom, threatening to spill over her lower lids and onto her cheeks. While I had readied myself to spout out the standard ‘if you cry, I’ll cry’ sort of nonsense, I was overcome seeing my best friend experience the unadulterated emotion at seeing me in what I already knew was my wedding dress.

“I think that’s a pretty good compliment,” the helper, Morven, who had been lovely from the first moment she’d pressed a flute of fizz into mine and Geillis’ hands, smiled between us. Her delicate hands fluffed the petticoat that sat underneath the plume of my skirt so that it sat perfectly.

I turned my body to face the mirror head on, squaring my shoulders to come head on with my reflection.

It looked like someone else. Someone with the perfect posture, perfect limbs, perfect hair, perfect skin to wear a dress like this. It was certainly a wedding dress rather than just a white dress, hitting the exact line between ‘bride’ and ‘casual’ that I had been hoping for. Drifting my hands through the folds of the skirt, I relished the weight of the fabric underneath my fingers and immediately felt like a naughty child who’d been caught touching something much too precious with sticky hands.

“Claire?” Morven’s voice floated into my ear, pulling me out of my daydreaming and into the present. Looking at Geillis, I could see that she had become overwhelmed in a full-on sob now, her slightly shaking hand moving her glass up to her mouth before taking a steadying pull.

My eyes fixed on their own whisky doubles in the mirror, feeling the slight pop between my vertebrae as my spine straightened it to its fullest extent. My cheeks already aching from the smile that I wasn’t aware was splitting across my face, making the words that left my mouth distorted with my grinning.

“This is the one.”

***

“I’m proud of ye, ye ken?” Geillis slurred slightly as she reclined in her seat and raised the rim of her tequila cocktail to her mouth, one eyelid drooping slightly against her will.

Once the dress had been purchased, wrapped and delivered safely to the hotel room, Geillis had insisted that I freshen up my makeup before dragging me along the streets of Edinburgh until she had halted us outside of a barber shop with a knowing smile. Cackling at my look of sheer confusion, I let her lead the way as she pulled me inside and across the shop floor, down a flight of stairs to stand in front of a bookcase that suddenly turned itself into a secret door.

We were immediately swallowed into a basement of dark wood and plush high-backed chairs. A well equipped bar spanned the length of the back wall and the bartender that was stood behind it effortlessly put down two napkins and went about making our desired cocktails.

I looked at her closely, resisting the urge to laugh at her admission that most would consider out of character for Geillis. But I noticed the truth of her feelings on her face as they shone through her inebriation. Swallowing the witty retort that had almost slipped from between my lips, I simply asked for clarification.

“Proud?”

“Aye,” she said with a sober face, “Ye mind when we met? I was literally on the floor because I’d cocked up something or other, canna even remember what it was now, but ye barrelled intae that cupboard and ye jus’ looked at me like ye’d set me right straight. Ye were so tiny even though ye were so tall but ye sat down right next tae me, pushing yer leg against mine like we’d known each other for years.”

“You rested you head on my shoulder. I remember.”

The two of us looked at each other, our collective memory of that moment burned into our minds.

“I kent then and there that ye were going tae be my best friend. There was just something about the whole situation, how sure ye seemed. I remember thinking, if she’s nae feart, I’m nae feart.”

“Jokes on you, I was fucking terrified,” I laughed, letting the last of my whisky sour slip easily down my throat.

“Ye couldna tell. You seemed strong. Certain.”

“What’s your point?” I asked with a kind smile, wanting her to get to the crux of the matter.

Geillis was not someone that anyone would consider as quiet. She would tell you in no uncertain terms exactly what she thought of a situation or a person, most of the time without her opinion being sought in the first place. She also was a master at telling you exactly what she thought with a singular, bone-chilling look. But when you were around her as much as I was, you began to realise that while she told you exactly what she thought, she rarely told you exactly how she felt. That honour was reserved for a handful of people that she considered worthy. I counted myself extremely lucky to be one of them.

“To be honest, I dinna ken what I’d do without ye. I’ve not done well wi’ other girls in the past, I think I always saw them as my competition. Internalised misogyny and all that. But on my wedding day, I stood up in front of my friends and family, wi’ Murtagh staring at me like he wasnae sure if I was gonnae break in half or turn and bolt intae the hills and then all of a sudden, I wasn’t looking at Murtagh. I was looking at Jamie. And he was staring at you.”

I could feel the tears start to form in my eyes, the lump in my throat that I refused to clear so that I could ignore the wave of emotion that was flooding my body. However, the errant thought that chastised me not to dissolve into a crying mess in a public place, not to be considered one of those people that had too much to drink before crying their heart out, was immediately dashed when I saw Geillis was also trying her hardest to keep it together.

“Like he had never seen a sunrise in his life, like it was all in your eyes,” she continued as her body pitched forward in her chair, hand reaching out to me across the table which I gladly accepted in my own.

“And now we’re here, buying ye a dress to marry the fucking guy. Ye’ve come through the worst of things, moved yer life to be closer to him, called Scotland yer home. After all that, we’re here and in a few weeks, ye’ll be walking down the aisle and ye’ll be happier than ye thought ye ever could.”

“I still can’t believe it’s happening,” I admitted through a sob that managed to break its way through the dam.

“Well, it is. And you bet your arse, Beautiful Beauchamp, I am proud.”

***

Standing outside the front door, I pressed the key into the lock and felt the familiar tip and fall of my stomach as I entered our home.

Three nights away had been long enough and it felt so nice to be in our space again. Even if Jamie had been called away to the estate that afternoon because of a surprisingly late start to calving season, apologising for not being there to welcome me home, I allowed myself to take my time moving around our flat and get myself settled.

I sifted through three days’ worth of delivered mail that had collected on the console table by the door, the odd advertisement flyer from a local eatery peppering through the stack of bills and local authority notices about roadworks. There was something exciting about the mundanity of my fingers flipping through envelopes addressed to both Jamie and myself and I allowed myself a secret smile at the thought of spending a day painstakingly changing the name on all of my bank accounts and highstreet store loyalty schemes from ‘Beauchamp’ to ‘Fraser’.

I’d sent him a text to say that I was home as soon as I’d gotten in but the lack of a response didn’t worry me. He could, quite literally, be up to his elbows in a cow or I knew how spotty the signal up amongst the mountains could be. Languishing on the sofa for a good forty-five minutes, I finally got myself to my feet and unpacked my bag, sorting through what needed to be chucked into the washing basket and shooting a glare at the wash bag that was still sat innocently on my bedside table, it’s contents undisturbed for the past few days. Before the evening got too dark, I nipped out to the shop on the corner and grabbed a few necessities, pondering over some steaks in the butcher before deciding on a whole chicken, thinking that Jamie may have had enough of beef for one day. With a few carrots, a leek, a pint of chicken stock and a bottle of our favourite wine, I headed back home and began to cook.

At around 6pm, my ears caught the sound of his key turning in the lock. I recognised a small excited shake in my hands as I rushed to pour him a glass of wine, straightened out the sheer chiffon of my blouse that I’d made an effort with and went to meet him in the hallway.

He looked exhausted and painfully beautiful. There were dark circles under his brilliant blue eyes and he absentmindedly scratched the back of his neck as he cast his glance down as he tried kick his work boots from his tired feet.

“Hi,” the word left me as a whisper and in an instantaneous reaction, his head snapped towards the source of the sound and the tension, the exhaustion that he had been carrying in his shoulders seemed to melt away.

“Hullo there, Sassenach.”

In just a few steps, I was in his arms. Taking a deep breath in, I allowed my eyes to close and let my body sink against his, his forearms forming vices around my waist as he pulled me closer.

“Christ, I canna tell ye how much I missed ye. I almost forgot how good ye smell,” he took an illustrative deep breath in and I heard a soft moan catch the back of his throat, “Although something else smells affa fine too.”

“I’m cooking.”

Relinquishing his grip slightly, I snuck a glance up to see a one red eyebrow, questioning.

Batting him on his behind playfully, I pressed a soft kiss to the column of his throat earning a contented sigh.

“I followed Jenny’s recipe, don’t worry. Even I can throw a chicken into a pot with some vegetables without too much bother.”

He hummed his assent, clearly content with issuing non-verbal responses for the time being. My hands slipped underneath his outer layers and I helped him peel off his jacket, relishing in the rush of heat and the smell of a long day on the estate that was so synonymous with Jamie. His lips found the top of my head as he let me unzip his hoodie and pull it from his torso, his shoulders rolling with the movement as he tried to relieve some aching muscles after a long day.

“There’s wine,” I said with a hint of promise in my voice and he chuckled softly.

“Proper wee housewife, are ye no’?”

I snorted, “Don’t get used to it.”

“Dinna be daft, Claire. As soon as we’re wed, ye’ll give up yer wee hobby at the surgery and yer sole purpose will be tae rub my shoulders and warm my bed.”

“Ha bloody ha,” I glared playfully at him as he grinned, his fingers running through my hair before his hands came to rest on either side of my face.

“Can I kiss my fiancé hello?”

“I’ll allow it.”

His lips found mine, as they had done so many times before. It was the perfect reunion after our time apart and he kissed me slowly, his mouth softly moulding into my own as my heart sped up slightly.

The incessant buzz of the timer on the oven broke the spell and we both moved silently into the kitchen, Jamie’s hand immediately seeking out the glass of wine that I’d left for him.

“So, far have ye put it? I dinna want to go stumblin’ upon yer dress if I’m searching for my bafties.”

“It’s safe and sound with Geillis for that exact reason. This flat is too small to hide it here,” I told him as I retrieved our dinner from the oven and said a thankful prayer that it looked edible, if not quite delicious.

“And yer happy wi’ it? Ye found one nae bother?”

“I wouldn’t say no bother but it certainly didn’t take as long as I’d thought it might. When I found the perfect one, I just knew.”

“Aye, I ken that feeling quite well, mo chridhe,” he crooned at me from over the edge of his wine glass, his blue eyes twinkling despite their tiredness.

Reaching for my own glass, I watched him from the other side of the kitchen as he went about getting plates and cutlery for the both of us, pulling the bottle of wine from the fridge and setting it down on the table. When we were finally sat across from each other I watched as he took his first bite and his eyes closed in pleasure.

“This is the first thing I’ve eaten since 9am this morning,” he sighed happily and I let my chest swell a little bit with pride at making something he was enjoying.

“You look positively wabbit, my dear,” I remarked with a teasing smile.

“Yer accent could do wi’ a bit of work but yer nae wrong,” he laughed, confirming my comment with a heavy hand rubbed across his face. As it always did when he was tired, his own accent thickened considerably as the last word sounded more like ‘wrang’.

We ate slowly, talking quietly as we caught the other up on how we’d spent our time apart. He told me about how he’d slept poorly the first night because of my absence and in the morning had found himself pouring water from the kettle into two mugs before it dawned on him that I wasn’t there. I regaled him with tales of trying to guide Geillis in her skyscraper heels through the cobbled streets of Edinburgh after the night that resulted in a monstrous hangover. I couldn’t keep my eyes from him, letting myself sink into the quiet of our home, of the acceptance of being able to be only myself in the space that we shared together.

He drained the last of his wine and fell back into his chair, sighing a sated sigh as he smiled softly at me.

“It’s late and it’s been a long day,” I returned the smile to him, popping my chin on my upturned palm as I leaned my elbow on the table, reactively closing the distance between us that he had created, “Shall we go to bed?”

The exhaustion was suddenly gone from his eyes as he narrowed them at me and I watched as they darkened with what I knew to be desire.

“To bed? Or to sleep?”

“Well…”

Not taking his eyes from me, I wondered if he was aware of his tongue darting out from his mouth to run along his lower lip. Feeling emboldened by his gaze, I allowed my fingers to skim over the skin of my neck and down across a collarbone, finally landing on the top button of my blouse.

His eyes followed the lines that my fingertips were drawing, pupils blown wide and dark with need. Satisfied that I had his full attention, I popped open the top button and pulled the blouse apart slightly, letting him peek at the bra that I was wearing.

“Have I told ye how much I missed ye?”

“A few times,” I giggled in return as he moved forward in his chair, his eyes fixed intently on each new patch of skin that was revealed to him as I undid the next button, and another.

Jamie rose to his feet quickly, the sound of the chair scratching against the floor breaking the silent spell that had been growing between us, my fingers halting in their journey.

“I want to do that,” he admitted, voice hoarse with need.

“Then come here,” I dared him, holding a hand out to him which he took quickly, pulling me to my feet and crushing me against his chest.

“Not here. I mean to have ye in our bed, Sassenach. It has been much too empty wi’out ye in it.”

With no protestations from me, he pulled me by the hand towards our bedroom, wrenching the door open and urgently pressing me against it once inside, his lips finding my neck as his fingers fisted in my hair.

I gasped loudly, allowing the small bites that he peppered along my jaw. I could see that he was clenching his jaw, the lines in his forehead deepening, looking like he was fighting against an insurmountable need.

“Ye must ken what being separated from ye would do to me, Claire,” he hissed against the skin of my neck as my hand found the hardness in his jeans, squeezing firmly. I felt us dip slightly towards the floor as his knees buckled slightly, smirking to myself at the power that I held over him.

“Show me,” I returned with a breathy sigh as his fingers peeled one bra strap from my shoulder, his lips affixing themselves to the sliver of skin that he’d unearthed. His hands made light work of the few remaining buttons on my shirt and it was discarded to the floor quickly as his fingers began to attack the zip of my jeans.

We moved in an amorphous bundle of limbs towards the bed, frantically shedding the other of our clothes. When the back of Jamie’s knees hit against the edge of the mattress, I pushed him firmly to sit and followed closely behind, kneeling on the bed with his thighs between mine and his face in my hands as I brought my mouth to his.

“Claire, please,” he begged, his grip tightening on my hips as I felt his hardness bob insistently against my inner thigh, demanding attention. My breath caught in my chest at the sound of my name leaving his lips with so much desire.

“Take me, Jamie,” I whispered into his mouth, “I’m yours.”

His hands instantly slid from my hips to my back as he cradled my body against his, spinning us so that I was suddenly lying beneath him. The anticipation made my skin feel like it was on fire and I knew that I would be consumed by it if he didn’t keep touching me.

Jamie’s finger found my lips, tracing them lightly before he dragged it down, down, down the line of my neck and between my breasts, over the plane of my stomach and finally taking himself in his hand, guiding himself to sink into me. The feeling of being filled by him, joining in the way that we knew best, was overwhelming and my back arched as I huffed for air.

“So beautiful, mo Sorcha.”

He twisted his hips slowly, as though he was reacquainting himself with my body. Although it had only been a few days, it felt like I had been starved and I knew it would feel the same way for him.

My legs instinctively cradled his body against my own, deepening our connection with a contented sigh. Jamie pulled away from my slightly, cradling my cheek in his hand as our eyes locked, brilliant blue meeting molten gold. He rolled his hips slowly against me, watching intently as my eyes widened, my mouth gasping at the feeling.

The frenzy that had moved within us to begin with slowly faded, neither of us in any rush for this to be over. There was no sense of urgency and I knew in that moment that we would spend the majority of the night in this very state, joined together and wishing to do only this for the rest of time.

Soft hands gripped my flesh, testing different pressures and patterns and being completely in awe at each elicited response. When he rolled my nipple between his fingertips, I felt my hips rise up to meet the snap of his and he swallowed my moans into his mouth, claiming them as his own.

At the first telltale flutterings of my muscles around him, his breath burst from his lungs, teeth coming to scrape along my jawbone as I groaned. His hand reached down to the bundle of nerves that felt like the epicentre of my being and I tightened my arms thighs around him when he reached it, making tight circles with the rough pads of his fingers.

“Let go, Sassenach, I’ve got ye,” his words were damp on my skin and his tongue darted out to catch them, licking the shell of my ear and making me convulse with the sensation.

“Kiss me,” I begged, my mouth hungrily seeking his but being denied as he quickly moved out of reach, a wry smile on my face.

“No, mo nighean donn, I want to watch ye.”

Wanting nothing more than to please him in that moment, I leaned back as he continued his ministrations, constantly filling me over and over as his fingers kept up the pace. Fixing him with a stare, I watched as he panted above me, sweat gathering on his face and his lower lip becoming trapped between his teeth. A wave of pleasure wracked through my body and he groaned loudly at the feeling.

“Jamie, I’m-“

“I ken, mo chridhe, come wi’ me,” he demanded, eyes blazing with adoration as his hips snapped against mine as he spilled into me, coming undone together.

When our heart rates had returned to their steady beats and we had caught our breath, we managed to climb under the sheets and he gathered me in his arms, pressing a solitary kiss to the crown of my head. The sky was dark outside but I let my fingers trace the lines of the parts of him that were bathed in the moonlight, watching as the hairs on his arms stood up to greet me as a shiver ran through his body.

“Can we just stay here forever?”

“That’s a funny way of sayin’ ye dinna want tae marry me, Sassenach.”

I pinched the skin on his shoulder lightly in admonishment before he grabbed the offending fingers and brought them to his mouth.

“Of course I want to marry you. I’m just… apprehensive.”

“Tell me what’s on yer mind,” he said quietly. I could feel his worried eyes on me so I burrowed further into his side, a reassurance that I wasn’t going anywhere.

“I think I’m just nervous about being the centre of attention. I don’t want to be distracted by feeling watched by all these people when I just want to focus on you, on our vows to each other. I want to be completely present.”

“That’s why we’re doing it at Lallybroch wi’ just our family and friends. I ken ye said ye didnae want a big day so it’ll just be us and the folk that we love. Besides, Geillis will hae my heid if I dinna let her fuss o’er ye a wee bit, ye ken.”

I smiled into his side, hoping that he could feel the movement of my mouth against the skin of his ribs, “Suppose you’re right. But just promise me that we’ll have some time that’s just the two of us?”

“We’ll have the rest of our lives just the two of us,” he said with a fierce sincerity. The implication in his words made me wince and I felt him tense a little bit, “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“If it were up tae me, we’d run away the morn and be done wi’ it. I am all too dissatisfied wi’ the fact that ye are not yet my wife.”

I snorted a laugh at his sentiment and angled my head onto his chest so I could look at him, pressing a kiss in the space above his heart.

All at once, his eyes brightened, turning from calm seas to sparkling waves of excitement. I knew that Jamie looked like when a plan was forming in his head and I felt the the anticipation gather in my chest and I waited. His face split into a huge grin as he looked down at me.

“Will ye indulge me in a wee adventure, Claire?”

Chapter Text

I hadn’t realised that I’d been silently staring through my windshield at nothing at all until my reverie was broken by Geillis’ knuckles rapping loudly on my window.

“Where the bloody hell have ye been, Beauchamp?!” She hissed, her eyes slightly crazed.

It was clear that she was fighting the urge to tap her foot impatiently as she stood outside the stairs to our flat dressed in a tracksuit, brandishing my dress bag like it was a weapon.

Switching off the ignition, I extricated myself from the car and fingered through my keys, finding the one for the front door and letting us inside with her right behind me.

“We agreed that I’d be here at nine tae start getting ready! It is now quarter to ten and yer no’ even showered! Do ye want me to have a heart attack on yer wedding day, Claire, is that it? Help ma boab!”

“I just had a little thing to sort at work before taking the next few days off,” I tried to keep my voice light and dismissive, hoping that she didn’t look anywhere near my glass face and see the secrets of the morning that I was trying to keep hidden, “Anyway, I’m here now. I surrender myself unto you.”

Holding my hands out to her, palms facing the sky, I watched her faux-anger melt into gleeful excitement. She grabbed my hands with her own, the dress bag discarded on the sofa and bounced on her toes slightly which made me laugh.

“You get in the shower and I will get everything set out for when you get out. We’re due to leave for Lallybroch at half twelve.”

I let her boss me around for the hour, not really listening as she chattered on incessantly about this and that as her fingers worked in my hair and on my face. She was too preoccupied with making me look like a bride to notice that I was distracted, thank God, and I allowed my mind wander to the morning that I’d had.

I watched Jamie walk towards me with a smile on his face, his long legs making easy work despite the thick the bracken and heather as the burgeoning rays of sunlight began to kiss the landscape that we were surrounded by. He was beautiful in his kilt and thick knit black jumper under his old beaten leather jacket that he’d donned to ward off the cold of the morning. He pressed a kiss to my forehead as his hands settled on my shoulders, pulling the matching Fraser plaid tighter around me to keep me warm. Underneath it I wore a simple ivory crochet dress that had been bought for a holiday and was now standing in as my impromptu wedding dress from the moment that I’d hastily pulled it from my closet in the small hours of morning. We had both donned our muddied walking boots that had luckily still been sitting in the boot of Jamie’s Landrover from our last walk around Loch Muick.

“Ready, Sassenach?” He asked quietly. The sound of his voice amongst the silence of the mountains was music to my ears.

“Yes.”

Our fingers twined together and we turned to face each other. Chasing the dawn as it rose over the highlands, we had driven further and further from Broch Mordha and into the wilderness of the mountains. We parked the car and walked for thirty minutes or so in complete silence, watching as the world woke up around us. We were far from any main roads, any structures apart from the odd croft or bothy that had sat on the land for hundreds of years, their walls now overrun by the unrelenting wild. After climbing over the crest of a hill, we finally stopped walking when we reached one of the most beautiful views I’d ever seen.

“Are ye sure, Claire?” he asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

I nodded.

Clearing the lump from his throat, Jamie produced his sgian dubh from his sock, the blade glinting in the sunlight.

“Just a wee nick, Sassenach,” he promised quietly but I had prepared myself for what was coming next.

Calmly, he opened the skin on his wrist until it began to bleed freely and then pressed the blade against my own wrist. It was so sharp that I barely registered the pain but watched with a detached awe as Jamie put his knife away and moved even closer to me.

Our arms laid against each other’s, Jamie quickly set about tying the strip of Fraser tartan that we’d brought with us, binding our hands together in the same handfasting that I’d seen at Geillis and Murtagh’s wedding, albeit without the blood. He had explained the ritual to me as we’d laid in bed, seeming a little embarrassed at the mere mention of something that could be considered quite primitive and immediately back tracking on the whole idea before I silenced him with a kiss. I told him that I understood what he was asking and that I wanted it too. Not only to tie myself to him in marriage but in blood. A vow that would inextricably link us for the rest of our lives together.

“Say the words wi’ me,” Jamie said with a smile as I appreciated the way the sunlight played in his eyes.

Together, we spoke the vows that he’d taught me, letting the words get carried away on the wind.

“Ye are blood of my blood and bone of my bone. I give ye my body, that we two might be one.”

Still tied together, Jamie wrapped his free hand around my waist and pulled me to him, our bodies touching at every available point. I couldn’t keep my eyes from him, transfixed by the beauty of the moment and the man that stood in front of me. Our voices came together in the air, as one, as we spoke the final part of the vow.

“I give ye my spirit til our life shall be done.”

Geillis was running around like a madwoman, endless trips from the flat to the car and back again with more bags than I knew that I owned. Jamie had been at Lallybroch since we’d returned from our morning trip into the mountains and I knew that Murtagh, Jenny and Ian were helping to prepare the house for the ceremony. I didn’t know what else could be left in our flat for Geillis to be carting with her but I didn’t ask. I smiled at my reflection in the mirror once more, smoothing the beautiful fabric of my dress just for the sheer joy of watching it shift under my fingertips and took a deep breath, smiling at Geillis in the reflection. She scowled me at playfully.

“What in the hell were ye doing at work anyway?”

“Hm? Oh, nothing. Just wanted to see about some test results that were due in.”

“Canna even leave the place well enough alone on your wedding day, can ye? Well, I hope whatever it was was worth it.”

I smiled to myself, “It was.”

As soon as the tires of the car began to crunch against the gravel at Lallybroch, Geillis had rushed me through the front door with the help of Jenny to ensure that Jamie didn’t catch a glimpse of me. Little did they know that it was all for naught. The scenes of our morning elopement played through my mind like a movie, the sight of Jamie’s crooked smile after a kiss goodbye being the last time I’d seen him.

Now he stood in front of me, the same crooked grin playing on his lips as he finished speaking, our vows to each other echoing the sentiment of the ones we’d shared earlier that morning when it had just been the two of us, committing to one another for the rest of our lives.

I give you my spirit til our life shall be done.

“You may now kiss the bride.”

His hands cupped my cheeks, firmly bringing his lips to mine.

Time seemed to stop and I was only vaguely aware of the sound of our family and friends cheering us on. Wee Jamie’s over excited ‘yaaaaas’, Murtagh’s raucous laughter and Geillis’ hoots when Jamie tightened his grip around my back and dipped me. I couldn’t help but grin against his mouth, our kiss breaking as he began to laugh with happiness.

“Claire Fraser,” he grinned, “My wife.

“My husband.”

We took the short walk through the old ruins of the church on Lallybroch grounds that we had married in, taking a moment to think of our parents who we knew were watching over us. The weather had blessed us and closing my eyes, I leaned back slightly and basked in the warmth of the breeze. Jamie’s grip tightened on my hand and I opened my eyes to see him watching me, his fingers brushing a curl behind my ear and fixing it there with a kiss before we walked the rest of the way to the house, our guests following on behind us.

Even though we were a small wedding party, we were surrounded by all of the people that we loved the most. Settling in the living room at Lallybroch, Jenny relished in the ability to play hostess as she bossed Ian and Murtagh around to organise drinks for everyone. Geillis and Joe sat cackling on the sofa as Wee Jamie fiddled with the belt of his sporran, having gotten over his earlier grumpiness when he realised that he only had a pretend sgian dubh. Jamie was showing him his own as a consolation prize, letting the young boy feel the weight of it in his hand. As everyone buzzed around with excitement in the aftermath of the ceremony, I managed to press myself against the wall and slip into the hallway, mumbling an excuse under my breath for nobody’s ears but my own. Shutting the door behind me, I let myself slip into the brief quiet and I let out a breath that I didn’t know I’d been holding, pressing the palms of my hands against the cool stone to ground myself.

“It’s not a dream, Beauchamp. But you’re not a Beauchamp anymore, are you? You’re a Fraser now. You are married to the love of your life.”

I could do nothing to contain the laughter that bubbled inside of me. I closed my eyes and let it happen, my cheeks aching from the sheer enormity of joy that I was filled with.

I heard the door creek open gently and immediately knew that he’d found me.

“There ye are. Murtagh was joking that ye’d ran off.”

Jamie had loosened his tie and rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt. I rested my hands on his forearms, being careful of the cuts that had bonded us together that morning.

“Well, it hardly seems worth it now,” I joked, my thumb running across the band that now rested on the ring finger of my left hand. Jamie pressed his lips against my forehead, mumbling his words against my skin.

“Have I told ye how beautiful ye look?”

“Only a thousand times but don’t let that stop you.”

He pulled away to look me in the eye, “Then ye are beautiful, mo nighean donn.”

“So are you.”

My husband’s lips found mine and we kissed slowly, savouring the moment of quiet that we were sharing together. My fingers played in the curls of his hair and I earned a groan when I scratched my nails gently against his scalp. He pulled away from me, smirking at me promisingly.

“Enough of that, ye wee minx. They’ll notice if we’re gone too long. Let’s go back, we’ll sit ye down and get ye a drink. Geillis is dying tae open the very large, very expensive champagne that she brought wi’ her.”

His hand caught mine as he turned away from me and I couldn’t keep my secret anymore.

“Okay but only one small glass. I really shouldn’t.”

“I’m sure she’ll put it away just fine on her own,” he grinned wryly before really hearing what I’d said. He stopped suddenly and turned to face me head on, “What are ye on about, Sassenach?”

My heart was thundering in my chest at the look on his face, his eyes searching every inch of my own to try and confirm his suspicions. I looked down as I closed the gap between us, taking his hands in mine before placing them on my stomach.

“I’m pregnant.”

It was the first time I'd said it out loud, even to myself. I hadn’t been prepared for the wave of emotion that crashed through me at the sound of those words leaving my own lips. Words that I never thought I would be lucky enough to claim as my own. The tears began to fill my eyes.

“Pregnant?” His question left him in a burst of breathlessness as he stared at his hands on me, “But I thought ye could not…?”

“It seems that I was wrong.”

His mouth was hanging open slightly as his fierce blue eyes blazed into me from under furrowed brows. Not for the first time, I wished that I had his ability to intuit exactly what he was thinking. I’d expected jubilance and was met with only stunned silence.

“When did ye know?” He asked in a whisper.

“I had a feeling this morning, after I left you. I can’t quite explain it but something just felt… different. So I ran to the surgery and took a test.”

Jamie stood so still that only the movement of his chest and shoulders betrayed that he was breathing slightly heavier than usual. I placed my hands on his cheeks and forced him to look at me.

“Are you happy?”

He moved faster than ever before, scooping his arms around my body and pulling me up onto my toes and tightly to his chest. I could feel his whole body shake as he pressed kiss after kiss to whatever skin his lips could find and couldn’t stop myself from laughing with joy. His cheek found the top of my head as he tucked me against his chest, against his heart.

“Happy? Claire, happy does not even begin to explain how I feel right now. I dinna even think a big enough word exists.”

I closed my eyes and let myself bask in the moment as tears began to flow freely down my face.

“Jamie, we’re having a baby,” I sobbed. He began to rock me where we stood, letting the sounds of gentle Gaelic sentiments fill the space around us. One he kept repeating more than others.

“M’annsachd,” he whispered as he moved his hands between our bodies, roving lightly over the fabric that encased our budding new addition.

“What does that one mean?”

He brought his eyes to mine and I saw for the first time that they were filled with tears, his lips curled into a smile,

“It means ‘my blessing’.”