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The Librarian

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Inverness, 1946


Ever since the war, James Fraser had lost any sense of what a restful night of sleep was supposed to be like. 

Tossing and turning, he could never get comfortable, the scars on his back a painful reminder of the past. Most nights, he laid awake on his side, his eyes transfixed onto the window — watching the wind blow through the trees of the garden, illuminated by the moonlight. 

Sometimes, he would close his eyes and succumb to slumber. Whenever that happened, as rarely as it did, she would visit him. 

Curls flying from her bun, khaki uniform stained with blood, whisky eye that encaptured the world.

Her smile. 

She would come to him at night and keep him company, soothe his wounds and his fears. For a brief moment, he’d feel like his old self again. The man he was before the war.

He’d feel at peace, his soul healed by her touch the same way she had healed his damaged body. 

Until the guilt would wash over him like a wave and he’d wake up again.

The painful reminder of where he was — of what his life was like. 

Jamie often wondered what it became of her — wondered where she was, who she was with?

He wondered if she was alive at all but he did like to dwell on that question too much. 

In his mind and in his heart, she was. 

The silence in his room was deafening, the clock ticking driving him mad. He’d get up, eventually, but he’d wait a little more. After all, his days were as uneventful as his nights. He’d just have some breakfast, take a walk through the village and get home to wait for the night to come again to haunt him.

What he didn’t know, then, was that this day wouldn’t be like any other days of late. 

That day, his world was about to get turned upside down all over again. 

******* 

Claire stood in the middle of her new kitchen, smiling pleasantly at the sight in front of her eyes. It wasn’t very big but she didn’t need more than this. With green tiles, a ceramic sink and a window that opened up the view on the Highlands. 

“Ye only have those suitcases?” Mrs Bug asked, coming to stand next to her.

“Yes, I always travelled rather lightly,” she smiled, looking at her landlady. 

“Weel then! If ye need anythin’ or if ye have questions, ye ken where to find me or Mr Bug, lass.” 

Claire turned to her and smiled, “Thank you, Mrs Bug. I can’t wait to settle here.”

“‘Tis Orla for ye, dear,” she touched her arm in a friendly gesture and smiled warmly. 

“I would offer you a cup of tea but my cupboards are not yet filled. I have to go to the general store.” 

“Dinna fash! I’ll come around for tea soon enough,” she winked, making Claire chuckle. 

“But first ye settle in, aye? I’ll visit ye at the library sometimes this week too, I need me some new reading material. We’ll fix a tea date then.”

“Yes, please do,” Claire smiled and followed her towards the hall. 

Orla opened the cottage front door and winked at Claire, “See ye lass.”

“I ken ye’ll be happy here.” She added, touching her hand. 

Simply smiling, she nodded and watched as the older woman squeezed her hand and left the house. 

Slowly, Claire closed the door and let her hand linger a tad too long on the handle. For the first time in her life, she was crushed by a feeling of belonging. As if she had finally arrived home after a long and gruelling journey to find it. 

And in a way, it was exactly what it was. Years of a life on the road with her uncle, until the war broke and the routine she had created for herself had been shattered to pieces — forcing her, and so many others, to adapt to the surroundings. The fear, the curfew, the rationing. She had kept sane by enrolling to be a combat nurse, the need to help overwhelming her. 

Now that it finally was over. Now that was truly alone in the world, the librarian position in Inverness had been a real blessing. One she had accepted right away, packing her few things and leaving for Scotland without a second thought. 

The cottage wasn’t grand but it was exactly what she needed. A place to finally call home. A place to pack with books and vases and a garden to tend to. 

Yes, she would be happy here. 

Claire went into the living room and opened one of the bags she had brought with her. She retrieved the paper-wrapped parcel she had bought in the village, earlier that morning, and carefully put the brand new vase onto the mantelpiece. 

Such a little gesture brought immeasurable joy to her battered heart and she was so transfixed by it that she almost forgot she had to be at the library in thirty minutes for her first day. 

She took another look around, decided the unpacking could wait until later and grabbed her coat and bag before leaving her little piece of heaven. 

****** 

The sight of the library wasn’t exactly what Claire had expected. 

From what was in front of her, it was rather obvious the place wasn’t much visited — even less dusted. And the maigre selection of works on the shelves was painful to look at. 

“We do hope ye’ll bring a new life to the place, Mistress Beauchamp,” said Rupert Mackenzie, the director of the library.

“As ye can imagine, it hasna been used much since the war, not much people come here anymore and we’re a little bit out of practice.”

“To say the least,” she mumbled, walking around for a little while. 

“Can I order new things?” She turned her head to look at him. 

“Oh aye,” he nodded, smiling. “There’s a monthly budget for it, aye. Mind ye, it isna verra much but I’m sure ye’ll be able to bring in good things nonetheless.” 

 “Of course,” she turned her attention back to the shelf in front of her. Lightly decorated with a few classics such as Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. She made a mental note to bring a few books she had at home back with her here tomorrow. 

“The library is opened every day from ten to three and on Saturday mornings and ye’re entitled to twenty days of leave for the year. Does that work for ye?”

“It works just fine,” she smiled and walked over to him. 

“Weel then, welcome Mistress Beauchamp,” he took her hand and enthusiastically shook it. 

With that, Rupert Mackenzie disappeared from the library and went back to his office, that was supposed to be somewhere on the second floor. 

Looking around, hands resting on her hips, Claire let out a sigh.

It was a daunting task to be sure but a welcomed one. 

As a child, her favourite sight, no matter where she found herself in the world, was the sight of a library. A place she’d spend countless hours in, sitting next to Lamb and reading about various things: from Egyptian artefacts to Peruvian folktales or a couple of classics her uncle suggested to her. 

No matter the city or the country, libraries could be found and enjoyed anywhere — stacked with books on any subject she might be interested in. And given her curious nature, they were quite a lot of those. 

The first one she had visited was the one in Alexandria. Barely six, she recalled vividly holding onto her uncle’s hand, following along while looking around. Mesmerized by the scale of the room in front of her. She recalled the smell of parchment and old books like it was yesterday. 

The memory alone was enough to put a smile on her face as she walked towards her desk and started cleaning it. She threw away some papers, gathered the few dusty books that laid on it and put them back on the trolley. 

She rolled the linen sleeves of her cream shirt and pinned back some curls before gathering a damp cloth to start cleaning the shelves. 

Granted, this wasn’t the Alexandria library but, nevertheless, it had its charms and it could become a place of gathering for the village if Claire did her job properly. 

Claire started by removing all the books from the shelves. A task that didn’t take very long. Then, she swiped the dust away with her cloth, going back and forth to the kitchen to wash it under the tap every time it got too dusty. 

She did this for a good few hours, not noticing how fast the time had past but once it was done, she was overwhelmed by a sense of gratification as she looked proudly around her shiny and new library. 

“Not bad, Beauchamp,” she grinned, putting her name tag onto her desk. “Not bad at all.”

“Excuse me, lass?” Came from a voice behind her. 

A voice she swore she knew.

A voice that was the equivalent of a bucket of ice water rolling down her back. 

Slowly, Claire turned around — the fear seeped in her mind materializing at the sight of the man in front of her. 

He had not much changed, save for longer flaming locks and more scruff on his face. He still stood broad and taller than anybody else, with the deepest blue eyes she had ever seen. But there was something different about them — something missing from those eyes that had watched her so many times. He looked haggard and saddened. 

His lips — the same ones she still remembered the taste of, the ones she still craved in the midst of the night — were parted in a shock. 

For a brief second, she did wonder if he’d recognize her. A second that seemed to last an eternity as he just stood there, registering who was in front of him. An expression passed briefly through his face, like an agony gripping him by the throat.

“Claire...?” He frowned, resting onto his cane. 

“Hello,” was all she could answer. In a voice that sounded so remote from her own that she wondered if someone else had walked into the library. 

The silence seeping itself between them was anything but comfortable. It was thick, full of unspoken secrets and rather unsettling. They were the same two people who had met on a dreary Tuesday morning of October during the war and yet...they weren’t those people at all. 

Not here, not now. 

Here, they weren’t two people uncertain of what the future would bring. Uncertain to still be on earth come tomorrow. Now, safe and sound, with no war to create an illusion of freedom to feel alive, they couldn’t be the way they had been with one another. 

“What are ye doin’ here?” His question came out rather venomously, almost taking her by surprise — yet, not really.

She knew why he was reacting this way. She knew why but she didn’t mention it. 

“I…” she took a step closer, a careful one as if he was a fearful animal. 

“I just moved here. I’m the new librarian,” she added, watching as he nodded. 

“I didn’t know you lived in this part of Scotland, I thought…” she let her sentence die. She didn’t think anything. If she had thought, she wouldn’t have moved here at all. 

Perhaps, if she had thought, she would have known there was a chance to see the Scotsman around. And perhaps, she had not thought simply because of the need to see him had been stronger than herself all along. 

“You look well,” Claire said, unable, it seemed, to stop the words to escape her lips. 

At that, Jamie let out a strangled chuckle, clutching his cane. The sarcasm of his next words did not escape her. 

“Aye, I’m sure I do.” 

Often, in the darkness of nights, Claire had imagined what it would be like to see him again. She had rehearsed sentences to tell him — imagining herself jump at his neck, happiness capturing them both as the embrace. All along she had known it wouldn’t have been this way.

It couldn’t have been this way. 

“Jamie!” 

There it was. Or, actually, there she was. 

Bursting through the library door was a face Claire could now attach to a name she had heard about once or twice. A face she had seen on a wrinkled picture, a few years ago. 

“What is it?” Jamie turned to the woman, her dark locks hanging in a side braid and her green eyes inquisitive towards him. 

“I’ve been looking for ye for ten minutes,” she said in a low voice, not altogether ignoring Claire’s presence. 

“I just heard the library opened again and I wanted to see for myself,” he said, looking at the librarian briefly. 

The green eyes looked at her and she smiled, “Oh, hello. I’m Olivia Fraser and ‘tis my husband, Jamie.” 

“I’m Claire...Claire Beauchamp,” she answered faintly, looking at the couple in front of her. It was odd to finally meet a person she had heard about and saw on a picture. A person she, and the man she had given herself to, never thought they’d meet or see again. 

Yet, here she was. 

Flesh and bones, standing next to a man that was her husband and in front of a woman who had this man for a moment. Before he slipped away from her fingers as the war was coming to an end.

“Oh, ye’re English,” she remarked, a hint of disdain in her voice. 

“Come, let’s go home,” Jamie interrupted, “My leg is hurtin’.”

Olivia looked at him, nodding, “Aye, let’s go home.” 

Turning to Claire, she gave her a polite smile, “Goodbye Miss Beauchamp.”

“Goodbye,” she answered, her mouth dry and her feet glued to the carpet underneath them. 

Jamie didn’t say a word, he simply turned his head to take a last look at her as they made their way outside slowly. There was a mixture of disbelief and fear floating into the blue. 

It was something Claire didn’t quite know how to interpret. All she did was steady herself against her desk, feeling the rumble of her heart beating fast against her ribcage. Ringing in her ears as the tears rose up in her eyes. 

Chapter Text

Jamie didn’t know how long he had been laying on his stomach, feeling numb and drained.  — everything around him was too hazy to grasp any sense of the reality of his situation. 

All he knew was that his back and leg burned. It burned so much he wanted to scream but the simple thought of opening his mouth was equal to a herculean effort. 

Instead, he stayed quiet and drifted back to a second state — where the pain wasn’t too much to handle and where he felt like floating on a cloud. 

Around him, he could hear the rumble of voices. An instinctive chatter and footsteps. 

Some days, he could hear her talk to him. 

A gentle voice near his ear, her breath dancing against his skin as if to reach the depths of his being.

The voice was soft, yet croaky — with too many cigarettes, he noticed. 

But the voice was soothing, nonetheless. Posh and delicate. With the faintness hint of an accent: English. 

Sassenach, he had whispered many times.

Each time she wasn’t near him to hear it. And when she was, he was too weak to even open his eyes to look at her. 

She read to him out loud. Whenever she changed his bandages she’d hum a song — one he didn’t know of but one he found endearing, anyway. 

Then, one morning, one rainy morning, Jamie Fraser finally opened his eyes. The sight in front of them lovely enough to break his heart. 

The nurse was asleep on a chair next to his bed. Her legs pulled up, her forehead resting against her knees. Her cheeks were red from sleep, her curls escaping the pins trying to hold them away from her porcelain face. 

The way her breathing was perfectly synchronised sounded like a peaceful lullaby amid chaos. It seemed to him, right there and then, that he was witnessing what an angel fallen from the sky looked like.

Jamie wasn’t too sure he’d ever see anything more beautiful than this but he was persuaded he knew her. Oddly enough, he saw it: the two of them running around in a meadow, laughing before he would finally reach for her hand and they’d stop to kiss. Breathless, happy, together. 

Licking his chapped lips, he could taste hers — the mixture of vanilla and honey. However, he couldn’t linger on that too long as she stirred and opened her eyes. Revealing the most enchanting whisky colour. 

Yawning, it took the nurse a second to realise his eyes were opened. When she did, her mouth curled up into the most tender smile. 

“You’re awake,” she said, matter of factly, as she got up from her sleeping nook. 

“No, don’t say a word,” she added before he had the chance to. “You must be parched.” 

Quickly, the nurse materialised a glass of water and something that looked like a little pipe, curved at the top. “You can drink through that, I can’t have you move just yet.” 

Nodding, Jamie did the best he could, sucking on the straw to drink. He closed his eyes and relished on the sensation of water going down his throat. 

“Thank ye,” he croaked out as he was done. 

Smiling, the nurse put the glass away and watched him, “I’m glad you’re finally awake. I was starting to worry about you.” 

“Where am I?” His eyes moved around, finally taking in the sight around him. Countless cots with wounded soldiers, nurses and doctors walking around. 

“You’ve been transported here from Rouen, a couple of weeks ago. Still in France, I’m afraid.” 

“I see,” he said softly, closing his eyes. 

“Your back and one of your legs have been pretty damaged but you’ll be able to recover. I’m afraid the scars will bother you sometimes, mostly when it’s cold, and you might need a cane to walk for a little while.” 

“I’m breathin’ and still in one piece, I dinna mind a couple of scars and a cane, Sassenach.” 

“What was that?” She frowned, looking at him amused. 

“Sassenach...'tis means English woman is all. I dinna ken her name yet so —“

“It’s Claire or nurse Beauchamp. Whatever you prefer.” 

“Claire…” the name rolled off his tongue like a delightful syrup.

S orcha, in Gaelic.

L ight amidst the darkness. 

“What is your name?” She asked, sitting on the chair again, near him. 

“James Fraser. Jamie, aye.” 

“Jamie,” she smiled, touching his hand. “You need plenty of rest, soldier. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes with some food for you and fresh bandages.” 

He watched as she walked away, the material of her trousers perfectly hugging her silhouette. He shouldn’t have such thoughts about another woman but it was rather complicated to avoid. As if her body was a magnet for his eyes. He felt something twitch against the mattress and thanked Christ he wasn’t completely broken. 

“All I could find was some stale porridge,” she said as she came back, a few minutes later. 

“It’ll do,” he smiled softly, watching her. 

“You really shouldn’t move, I’m afraid I’ll have to feed that to you,” she sat down again, looking at him. 

“I dinna feel like movin’ anyway,” he assured her before opening his mouth to welcome the spoon she was presenting to him. 

“In a week or two you’ll be able to at least sit up,” she explained, feeding him slowly. 

“'Tis the worst porridge I ever tasted, I dinna think eating while sitting up will change that anyway,” he grinned, making her chuckle in the process. 

“It’s one way to look at it, I suppose,” her little smirk was all he needed to chuckle in turn. 

“How are you feeling?” She asked, feeding him another spoon of porridge. 

“It hurts all over,” he closed his eyes for a moment. “Makes one feel alive, I have to say.” 

He sensed a silent worry coming from the nurse and as he looked at her again, he smiled, “Dinna fash, Sassenach.” 

“Well I’ve been fashing about you since you were admitted here, I might as well continue until you are fully healed,” she smiled, putting the bowl of porridge away and got up. 

Silently, he watched as she prepared the fresh bandages and slowly pulled down the duvet from his back. 

“It’s healing rather well, there’s no drainage nor infection,” she explained, carefully taking off the bandages from his back. There was no indication whatsoever that the sight in front of her was pitiful. Rather the contrary. 

“My hands might be a bit cold as I apply the balm, I’m sorry in advance.” 

Her hands were anything but cold. Heath radiated out of them onto the damaged skin of his back. It seemed that whatever ache coming from the scars was being extracted away by her palms that gently rubbed the balm onto his skin. 

If she had told him it was sorcery, he would have believed it. 

“There, it’s done.” Claire said softly, laying the last fresh bandage on his skin. 

“Thank ye,” he grabbed her hand and squeezed it gently, the oiliness of the balm transferring to his own. 

“Do ye ken when I’ll be able to walk? I dinna want to stay like this, I feel like a fish.”

Claire grinned, "A fish uh? Well, like I said, in a week or two you’ll be able to sit up. Once that’s settled, we’ll make sure you walk a little bit every day for at least a few minutes.” 

“Will ye walk wi’ me?” He asked, unable to prevent the coy smile forming on his lips. 

“Only if you behave yourself until then and don’t try to get up,” she said firmly but grinned. He swore he saw a hint of crimson come up her cheeks. 

“Aye, I promise, Sassenach.” 

******** 

The sunlight seeped through the curtain, illuminating half the bedroom in the Scottish cottage. 

Jamie laid in his bed, on his side and his eyes fixed on Olivia’s empty one. 

He often wondered why they still bothered sharing a room when they didn’t share a bed but every time he tried to take up the subject, she’d ignore him and change the conversation. 

They had been married for less than a week when he had to leave for the front — a few days of marital bliss that had not been anything but an illusion. 

They had rushed into a marriage, knowing the war was about the break and for the next five years, they had seen each other a total of ten days during the first two years. 

Jamie was aware how much the war had changed him, he didn’t doubt it was the same for her but in retrospect, it was rather clear they were never meant to end up together in the first place.

However now, it was too late. 

Now, he had to live with a woman who barely looked at him without being repulsed by his scars — the visible and the invisible ones. 

It was later than usual when he decided to get up for breakfast. His back had bothered him all night long, keeping him awake with thoughts of Claire brewing in his mind. 

For so long, he had hoped — prayed — to see her again and now that she was here, in Inverness, he didn’t know what to do about it.

One way or another Claire Beauchamp seemed to always be disarming him. 

The time they had spent together at the field hospital was invaluable to him. The way she had healed his body, and unknowingly his soul as well, would forever be imprinted in his memory. Along with the nights they shared together, in the intimacy of her little room. 

He had often thought he’d been washed by a feeling of happiness if he’d ever see her again but that morning, at the library, it had almost felt angry. 

How dare she show up like this?  She had no right to throw his world upside down once again.

She had no right and yet, that’s all he wanted her to do. 

Yet, the guilt had never left him. Since coming home to Olivia, it was everywhere. On his skin, in the walls, in the furniture. It was as if she knew what he had done. As if she purposely was punishing him for it. 

He had thought about telling her...he had wondered if it would make a difference — if her anger would simply be out in the open. But he could never bring himself to do it. He never thought he would see the most delightful sin he had ever committed become the town’s librarian. 

“Mornin’,” he said softly, walking into the kitchen. 

Olivia was sitting at the table, reading the morning paper as she sipped on her coffee. Her tone, as per usual when they were alone, was monotonous and detached.

“Hello.” 

“How did ye sleep?” He asked, pouring himself a cup before sitting down. 

Her eyes looked up towards him, “'Twas all right. Bit warm in the room.” 

“Aye, ‘twas,” he nodded and smiled softly. 

She returned the smile before taking a sip of her drink, “They’re talkin’ about the new librarian in the gazette.” 

“Are they?” He pretended to be disinterested as he sipped his own cup. 

“I canna understand what a lass from Oxford is doin’ in Inverness at all. A former combat nurse, apparently.” 

“Oh aye?” He turned his head to look out the window.

He knew all of that.

He probably knew more about Claire than what that little article might be saying. 

He knew more about claire than he knew about the woman sitting in front of him. 

“Of all people they chose a Sassenach to run the library,” Olivia scoffed and put the gazette down. 

“Dinna call her that,” he spat through his teeth, slightly more venomously than he had intended. 

“Why no?” Her eyebrows rose in questions. 

“She is one after all,” she added, getting up to put her empty mug in the sink. 

“I could have worked at the library all the same. I’m sure I would have been good at it.” 

“Why didn’t ye apply?” He watched her, the question taking her aback. 

“Who was gonna take care of ye if I had?” 

“I’m no’ a bairn, Olivia. I can perfectly take care of myself,” he finished his coffee and got up in turn, his cane falling to the ground. 

Both of them looked at the wooden object for a moment both knowing he couldn't take care of himself.

Olivia took a step closer to him and leaned down to grab the cane he clearly could not. Slowly, she handed it to him, as if she was handing a lost toy to a little child. She didn’t need to say a single word for Jamie to understand exactly what she meant with this little gesture. 

She was smiling. That little smile of hers that was anything but full of kindness. 

“My back hurts,” he said, taking the cane from her. 

“Would ye mind fetchin’ the ointment?”  

Oh she did mind and he knew but she didn’t say it. She disappeared out of the kitchen, her disdain lingering thickly through the room. 

Jamie leaned against his cane and sighed. He hated himself for the false promises of a marriage he had given her when they got married. He hated himself for not being the man she wanted nor the man she needed. He hated himself for silently hurting her — perfectly aware of how smart women were, how smart she was in knowing he wasn't hers at all. 

Olivia knew he did not belong to her. She knew and she hated him for it in return. Even if she wouldn’t admit it to herself. 

“I’ve got the ointment,” she stated, walking back into the kitchen. 

Nodding, Jamie removed his vest with one swift move of his free hand and turned around. 

He didn’t need to see her face to know the expression of disgust plastered on it. The contrast to the face Claire made every time she took care of his back. 

The way her touch felt was different too. 

Olivia’s hand was cold, harsh. She didn’t put any care on applying the ointment to relieve the pain. She simply wanted to do it quickly to get it over with. 

“There,” she said, putting the pot onto the table and wiping her hands with a cloth. “It’s done.” 

“Thank ye,” he answered, putting his vest back on. 

“What are ye doin’ today?” She watched him, leaning against the counter. Arms crossed, severe face. 

“I’m going into town. I might visit the library,” he said simply, walking slowly out of the kitchen and ignoring her stunned expression. 

Chapter Text

Jamie watched as she was talking to another patient. His mind quivered on the verge of poetry when he looked at her. 

She was nodding at what the wounded man was saying to her, her face focused, with compassionate eyes shining in the late afternoon light. 

He couldn’t help but smile. 

Actually, he only noticed he was doing it when she started to walk towards him and he had to pretend he wasn’t watching her for the last ten minutes — at the very least. 

For the past three weeks, his condition had improved quite well. His body still ached but at least he could sit up properly and it was a matter of time until he’ll be able to start walking again. 

For the past three weeks, nurse Beauchamp — Claire — had become more than just his guardian angel.  She had become a real friend. One that read to him at night and cracked jokes every time she changed his bandages.

There were so many things he wanted to know about her — to ask. But he didn’t think it was too proper to do it. 

“Hello, there soldier,” Claire smiled warmly, crossing her arms as she stopped by his cot. 

“How are you feeling today?” 

“No’ too bad,” he smiled, watching her. “I can wiggle my toes now that my cast is off.”

“Then it might be time for you to get up and walk a little bit. Don’t you think?” Her eyebrow rose, as her lip flicked up mischievously. 

“Is this another one of yer wee jokes?” He asked suspiciously. 

“No, I’m serious. I think you are ready,” she smiled and walked over to him. 

“But bandages first.” She held up the clean ones in her hand. 

“Aye, bandages first,” he moved slightly, bracing himself for her incoming touch, fully aware her fingers sent him in a mad frenzy. 

Claire stood behind him and reached to the bottom of his vest to slowly pull it up. He felt the tip of her fingers lightly touch at the skin of his sides and managed to prevent a shiver. 

With her gentle dexterity, she removed his dirty bandages and started to apply the ointment — humming a song, like she did every time. 

Jamie couldn’t help but smile before shooting a glance at the soldier in the next cot looking at him with a grin. It has come to his attention that everyone had a crush on nurse Beauchamp. 

He could not blame them. 

“Did ye get me the cane ye promised?” He asked, trying to distract himself from her healing touch. 

“I have,” she answered and he could hear the smile in her voice without seeing her lovely face. 

“And you are going to look dashing with it.” 

Chuckling, he turned his head to look at her face. Her gorgeous face, illuminated with a smile. “If ye say so, Sassenach.” 

“I do,” she winked and applied the clean bandages. 

“Will ye walk wi’ me, then? Ye promised.”

“Of course I will,” she handed him his vest, “I’ll go get the cane while you put this back on.” 

Nodding, he watched as she walked away and smiled again. He had not smiled this much since ending up here and he was well aware it was all her doing. 

Claire came back a minute later, cane in hand. She stood by the bed and held out her hand to him, “Up on your feet, soldier.” 

Jamie looked at her hand for a second. The delicate fingers, always painted red — a sign of resistance she had picked up in London, he was sure —  the soft skin that gave no indication she was using her hands as much as she actually was. 

He noticed a little scar at the mount of her thumb and wondered where she got it from — scenarios of childhood misconduct playing in his head as he imagined a curly-headed little girl running around. 

Finally, he took the hand she was presenting him and held it as he slowly got up. His legs did not feel as strong as they used to and the ache in one of them made him wince.

“Take it easy,” she advised, holding both of his hands. 

“Aye,” he nodded, looking at her. 

“I reckoned you were tall but I didn’t think you were that tall,” she grinned and took the cane, putting it in his hand. 

Chuckling, Jamie rested his weight on the cane and kept holding her with his other hand, “Aye, I had a spur when I was around twelve.” 

“A Scottish giant,” she teased as they started to walk together, arms linked. 

“Take your time, okay? There’s no rush.”

“Aye,” he nodded, trying to concentrate and to forget the fact that their bodies were so close together. 

One step after another, Jamie made his way out of the hospital and to the little garden. A place he had never seen before. It almost looked peaceful, far removed from where they actually found themselves. 

Claire was holding onto his arm, walking as slowly as he was, not pushing him and simply supporting him. 

“You’re doing very well,” she smiled, looking at him. 

“I’m snail-paced,” he joked, making her only smile brighter. 

“Snails do go far, nonetheless. It just takes them a little bit more time,” she remarked in her smart ways he loved so much. 

“Ye arena wrong,” he smiled, squeezing her hand as they walked. 

“I wouldn’t say I’m wrong very often if I’m honest with you,” she teased, giggling. 

“I dinna think it is too wise to argue wi’ ye about that, Sassenach, so I’ll just say that I’m sure ye’re never wrong, no.” 

“What a smart man.” 

Jamie simply grinned at that and continued to walk. If he truly was a smart man, he would probably run away with her. Not that he was sure she would ever belong to anyone. She seemed too free. 

“Tell me about ye, Sassenach.” He asked, breaking the comfortable silence that had settled between the two strangers who were becoming friends. 

“After all, I dinna ken much other than the fact that ye’re a feisty wee nurse wi’ a potty mouth.” 

Claire laughed, a delightful sound forever imprinted in his mind, “A feisty wee nurse with a potty mouth, uh?” 

“Aye,” the Scot grinned. 

“That is the perfect description of me. I might steal it from you.” 

“Ye can steal it but I want to hear about ye first,” he reminded her as they stopped for a brief moment for him to recuperate. 

“What on earth would you like to know about me? I’m not very interesting— ”

“That is where I’m sure ye’re lyin’, I canna believe it.”

“Why not?” She looked at him, eyebrows raised. 

“Weel, ye’re a combat nurse for a start. That alone tells me ye’re verra brave and brave people are by definition interestin’. And at the verra least, just tell me basic things about yerself like where ye were born?” 

“I was born in Oxford,” she recalled fondly.

 “And I lived there up until I was five. After that, I lived with my uncle Lambert. He was an archaeologist and he took me with him on his various expeditions around the world.” 

“What about yer parents?” He asked delicately, sensing a sensitive topic. 

“They had a car accident, that’s why my uncle adopted me.” There was an underlying sadness in her voice, hiding deep enough for anyone to miss it but he didn’t. 

“I’m sorry, Claire,” Jamie squeezed her hand in a reassuring gesture. 

“It’s been many years, you know.”

“But ‘tis doesn’t mean the grief will ever go away,” he said softly, fighting the urge to hold her close. 

“Ah, but what is grief other than a lifelong companion? At some point, you have to face it and you learn to live with it, to accept it,” she smiled softly, holding his arm. 

“Aye, I never thought abou’ it like that but ye’re right. Do ye mind if we sit a wee bit?”

“No, of course not,” Claire helped as he sat on the bench before sitting next to him.

“Let’s not over-tire you, I don’t want your leg to hurt too much when you’ll be laying down again. Like I said, a little bit every day.” 

“I’m no’ worried, I’m in good hands,” he looked down at took her hand, carrying up the courage to ask his next question. 

“Do ye have a lad waitin’ for ye at home?” He finally let out, feeling his heartbreak a bit already. He had no rights over her but it couldn’t be prevented. 

“I do, yes. Leonard, my fiancé, works in London, intelligence.” 

“Oh, I see.”

“God knows when we’ll see each other again if we’ll see each other again at all,” her voice was barely a whisper as she said this. Her eyes focused on the horizon. 

“Sassenach,” Jamie said softly, turning her face slowly for her to look at him. 

“The war will no’ last forever,” he cupped her cheek, the skin warm against his palm. 

Up until meeting her, he had wished for the war to end. For things to go back to the way they were but now, even knowing she wasn’t his to have, knowing he wasn’t hers to have either, Jamie wished the war would go on forever just to have an excuse to stay with her. 

He wished they could have been at the field hospital together for the rest of their lives. Not thinking about the future and the people they left behind. 

“No, indeed it won’t,” she said softly, almost whispering.

Jamie didn’t dare to hope but he could swear she did not want to leave, either. 

Their eyes locked together for a moment, silence wrapping itself around them like a thick fog. Neither of them seemed to remember where they were, who was around. 

They were the only two people that mattered. 

Right there and then they almost exchanged a kiss but it would have to wait as Nurse Edwards called for Claire to come and help her with something or another. 

*******

Claire had laid awake for most of the night, the temperature far too warm for an ordinary night in Scotland. Her mind racing a mile a second didn’t seem to help her settle to sleep, either — thoughts and memories floating in her head, trapped

She thought about the war, about her life before it all and how different it had been. She thought about Leonard and what he would think of her life now. 

Claire thought about love, realising a thing or two about it.

How a difficult thing it was. 

One never knew when love arrived or when it left — much like a tide. 

She had thought about Jamie many times over the years. Each time imagining what their retrouvailles would look like — not that she had imagined anything romantic, knowing about the existence of his wife. A detail he had always been honest with her about, just as she had been honest with him about Leonard. 

But wartime was a different beast. A time of fears, where the past did not exist, and neither did the future. 

The only thing people had during the war was the present and the knowledge they were safe and sound — with no guarantee they’d be fine the next minute. So wartime meant seeking comfort where comfort could be sought. It being the arms of a stranger that shared the same grief, sometimes. 

Having seen the Scot again, it had not gone any way she had imagined.

Jamie wasn’t thrilled to see her, that much she understood. She couldn’t blame him, really. He probably thought she was here to cause some sort of trouble between him and Olivia when it wasn’t like that at all. 

If she had known he lived in Inverness, she wouldn’t have come here at all.

Or would she? 

The knowledge of him being alive and well was enough to keep her happy. What he did with his life did not concern her beyond that. When they had parted, they both had agreed to go back to their lives, to other people. Only then they had not known how different of a life it would be. How much they had shaped, stamped one another for the rest of their lives.  

That was what happened when two strangers connect long before they even meet. 

When Claire finally got up, it was around seven-thirty. 

Only when she made her way to her little kitchen that she started to relax — the sight of it making her happy. 

As she made herself a tea and a toast drenched in butter, she ran mentally through her to-do list at the library to try and keep her mind off a certain Scot. 

The library would require work but she was up for the challenge. It was exactly what she needed now: something to throw herself into, to keep busy while doing something she loved. And in time, she was confident the library would go back to being a place people would visit regularly. 

A communal place contributing to the well being of the town. 

So far, on her first day, five people had come to the library. Two of them being Jamie and his wife. Another being Orla and the last two being maintenance people to check on the plumbing. She wouldn’t call that a success. 

Shaking her head of curls, she carried her tea upstairs as she chewed on her toast and decided a morning bath would have to do. 

Dressed in her favourite summer dress, Claire made it to the library fifteen minutes before opening time. She prepared another tea and started to dust dusted off the shelves, humming to herself. 

What she didn’t know what was Jamie stood outside, observing her from afar for a good chunk of the morning.  

She didn’t know the sleepless night he had nor the argument with Olivia about the Sassenach that now ran the library. 

All she knew was that all day long, she had stared at the door, in the vain hope to see him walkthrough, and he had not visited the library — not finding the courage to do it, as he had first intended that morning.  

Chapter Text

Cigarette in hand, Claire stood outside the hospital, her apron soaked in the dried blood of various soldiers she had tended to that morning. Other things, however, were on her mind. Jamie, for a start, as well as a young patient she’d been unable to save; the poor lad passing away just as the dawn had touched the sky.

She would be lying to herself if she said such a thing wasn’t challenging, but something about this young man proved to be more difficult than usual. For one thing, he was barely eighteen and to make matters worse, he had looked exactly like a teenage version of her Uncle Lambert. 

He’d seemed perfectly fine on the outside, with no signs of organ failure or internal bleeding...Until he collapsed and never got up again.  

“Claire?” 

The voice came from behind her, gentle not to scare the living hell out of her and careful not to bother her when she didn’t want to be. The sound alone was enough to make her lip flick up into a smile before she slowly turned around, 

“Hello there, soldier.”

Smiling in return, Jamie walked over with his cane; for the past week, his leg had been steadily improving. 

“I’ve been tryin’ to look for ye all morning, Sassenach. I thought ye left wi’out a word.” 

“I wouldn’t leave without telling you,” she assured him, finishing her cigarette.  “I just needed a little break, I didn’t realise I was gone that long.”

“Weel the sun is almost setting,” he pointed out and she nodded. 

“Do ye want to go for a walk wi’ me? Ye can tell me what’s on yer mind, lass. Or dinna tell me anythin’ at all if ye prefer? I just want ye to know I’m here if ye need someone to listen.” 

“Well, you haven’t gone on your walk today so,” she held out her hand to him, which he accepted. 

There was something about Jamie Fraser that Claire couldn’t explain. Whenever he was near she felt completely safe. A feeling she had never experienced with anybody — not even Leonard. It was a feeling she didn’t know how to handle without being completely engulfed by it. 

Since Jamie had arrived a few weeks ago, her fear and anxiety about the war had slowly disappeared. She had stopped thinking about what the future might look like and, instead, decided to live for the present. 

The Scot was reassuring. For that alone, she was grateful for his presence here. Whatever was going on between them was a comfort, it was all she could ask for during this dreadful time. 

Like every day, they started to walk around the hospital, where the chaos from the inside could be avoided and the only noise was the planes coming and going over their heads, from time to time. 

“What have you been doing all day?” She asked, walking arm in arm with the Scottish soldier. 

“I went on a run first thing in the mornin’, then I made some pancakes, and until now I was playin’ soccer,” he grinned, looking at her. 

“Look at that smart mouth,” she chuckled. 

“You’re spending too much time with me, James Fraser.” 

“What can I say? Ye’re a bad influence on me, Sassenach.” 

“I won’t answer to that,” she smirked as they sat together on the bench — the only witness to their countless conversations over the past few days.  

“So will ye tell me what’s on yer mind?” He asked, taking her hand. 

“Are ye missing home?” 

“As silly as it sounds, I don’t really have a home to miss. Not a tangible place, anyway, you know? Being on the road with my uncle all the time and all,” Claire leaned back, letting the warm breeze blow through her curls. 

“It doesna sound silly,” he smiled, watching her. 

“But once the war is over, I’ll get a little cottage and a cat.”

“What kind of cat?” 

“I haven’t really decided yet,” she admitted, their hands still linked together. 

“It’ll be a lucky cat,” he looked at her, winking. One endearing thing about Jamie, among various other things, was the way he couldn’t wink at all without looking like he’d just repressed a sneeze. 

Claire felt herself blush but hoped he didn’t notice it. She simply smiled and squeezed his hand, “Tell me about Scotland.” 

“I miss the Highlands,” he smiled softly. 

“And the sounds all around, the silence. Here the silence is no’ the same, there isna a peacefulness to it the way there is back home. Once this is over, I just want a wee farm and some land to work on. I’m no’ but a simple man.” 

He was anything but simple, but she didn’t tell him that. 

“And is there anyone waiting for you back home?” She asked, the question finally escaping her lips after weeks of internal inquiries. 

Suddenly his demeanour changed as if a cloud had just stopped over his head. He nodded, “Aye. I’ve got a wife, married one week before I had to leave for France.” 

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she watched him, ignoring the cracking noise her heart just made. 

“I wonder if she’ll remember who I am if I ever get back?” he half-shrugged and fully chuckled. 

“I don’t think anyone could forget you, Jamie.” 

“What about ye? Would ye forget about me?” He looked at her, his thumb gently stroking the back of her hand. 

Claire smiled, wanting to explain how imprinted she was with him now and that it was too late. Instead, she shook her head, “No, never, not even when you’ll have forgotten all about me.” 

“I’m no’ likely to forget the lass who saved me,” he said softly, stroking a stray curl away from her face. His finger brushing the skin of her cheek. 

She wanted to kiss him.

She had wanted to kiss him since he arrived here — an urge she was first surprised by. Nonetheless it was there, like a constant ringing noise in her ear. Even the knowledge of Leonard, and now Jamie's wife, couldn’t deter that want, which had become more of a need lately. 

“Jamie?” She whispered, realising they had moved closer to one another on the bench. 

“Aye?” He watched her, a slight frown forming between his brows. 

“Nevermind,” her whisky eyes dropped, along with her head. 

“Tell me,” he gently lifted up her chin, unaware of just how fast her heart was beating — though his was beating just as fast and she didn’t know. 

“Would you mind if I kiss you?”

The words were hurried but he heard them all the same, his face relaxing as she spoke. 

Jamie blinked a few times as if he wanted to make sure he heard her correctly before doing anything they both might regret. 

“I’m sorry…” she blurted out. 

“I don’t know why I just asked you that,” she pulled her hand away from his, the feeling in the pit of her stomach overwhelming. 

“Claire.” Jamie cupped her cheek, his thumb stroking her bottom lip. 

Slowly, he moistened his lips and she saw his head bend closer  — his blue eyes engulfing her a second before their mouths finally merged together. 

Their lips overlapped gently. In no way hurried or rushed. It erased their last feeling of loneliness that still lingered after meeting one another during a war. 

Neither of them would forget their first kiss. 

Nor would it be the last. 

******* 

The doorbell rang sharply at four that afternoon. As promised, Orla was coming over for tea and to catch up with her new tenant a few weeks after she had moved in. 

Holding homemade biscuits and a bouquet of tulips when Claire opened the front door, she smiled widely, “Hello, dearie!”

“Hello,” Claire smiled warmly, stepping aside, “Come on in.” 

Orla walked in and looked around, “Oh, it looks all lived in! What a great sight.”

“I got a thing or two and repainted the hall the other day,” Claire explained, following her to the living room. “It’s starting to feel like home.”

“I’m glad,” Orla looked at her and smiled proudly, touching her arm in a friendly gesture. 

“Those are for ye, lass,” she handed her the bouquet of pink tulips. 

“Thank you, that is very kind of you,” Claire smiled, accepting them. “Do sit down,” she pointed to the velvet sofa. “I’ll put those in water and get the tea.”

“Aye, do that,” her guest sat, putting the plate of biscuits onto the coffee table dressed for the occasion. 

Claire reappeared in the living room five minutes later, holding the tea tray. Putting it on the table next to her guest’s sweets, she joined her on the small settee.

“How do you take your tea?” She asked, looking at the older woman. 

Orla grinned, “Ye are so verra English.”

Claire chuckled, pouring the tea into cups, “I can’t deny that, no. I’ve been called a sassenach once or twice during the war.” 

The other woman’s brows drew up in surprise, “By whom?”

“A Scottish soldier I had under my charge at the hospital,” she smiled softly. “He didn’t say it to be rude. It sort of became a term of endearment.” 

“Are ye sure? Ye seem verra sad sayin’ that,” she frowned, watching Claire.

“Oh yes, I simply hadn’t thought about him for a long time,” Claire lied and quickly changed the subject when she saw Orla’s inquisitive glance deepen.

“So, your tea?”

“Aye, a wee bit of sugar, no milk,” Orla patted her hand before serving the biscuits. 

“I hope ye like shortbread?”

“I do,” Claire handed her the teacup, “and those look amazing. Thank you, again.”

“Thank ye for the invitation, lass! ‘Tis nice to have a new face around here and such a lovely one at that. Everyone in the village is talkin’ about ye,” she grinned. 

“Are they? No one’s visiting the library though,” Claire chuckled and poured herself a tea. 

“Give ‘em time, they’ll come,” she winked and took a sip of tea. 

“Ah, ‘tis been so long since I had a nice cup of oolong. Couldn’t get it durin’ the war,” she leaned back, smiling to herself. 

“You sound more British than me, Mrs Bug,” Claire grinned into her cup.

“None of that,” she patted her leg. “I told ye ‘tis Orla for ye!”

“Orla,” Claire said fondly, squeezing her hand. 

“So tell me, lass,” she ate a biscuit. “How are ye settlin’ in, in Inverness?”

“Quite well, actually. Everyone’s really friendly but I’ve been so busy fixing the library, I’ve barely had time to really explore just yet.”

“Dinna fash, ye have all the time in the world for that. And ‘tis no’ a very big village, ye’ll have seen all of it soon,” she winked.  

“I’ve only been here a few weeks but I really do love it. It feels like home and this house couldn’t be more perfect. I just need a cat,” Claire finished her tea and took a biscuit. 

“A cat, eh? No’ a man?” Orla teased, nudging her. 

Claire shook her curls, grinning, “No, not a man. One can do without one, actually.”

“Oh aye and ye seem just fine, lass. But I doubt men do leave ye alone so much.” 

Shrugging, she ate the biscuit. She was more than aware men did pay attention to her, she simply didn’t pay much attention to them. And the one her mind couldn’t quite stop thinking about wasn’t an option. 

“Was yer heart broken?” The question was carefully asked, a hand on her own accompanying it in a motherly gesture. 

Squeezing her hand, Claire smiled softly, “You could say that. Not that I’m the only one whose heart has been damaged.”

“Would ye like to tell me about it, a nighean? I canna repair it but it might help soothe it.”

“There isn’t much to tell, you know.”

“That just means there’s more to tell than ye’d like to let on,” Orla smirked. 

Claire couldn’t help but smile at that. In a way, Orla’s ways reminded her of her late Uncle Lambert. For the first time since his passing, she felt like she had a friend again. 

“How about something stronger than tea?”

“I thought ye’d never ask!”

Getting up, she chuckled and went to grab the bottle of whisky Orla had given her when she had moved in. After all, she had to crack it open at some point. She poured two generous glasses then went back to the couch. 

“Slàinte!” Orla raised her glass, smiling. 

“Slàinte,” Claire repeated before clinking their glasses together and taking a sip of hers. 

“Aye,” the older woman winked, and watched her. “Now I’m all ears.” 

“I had a fiancé before the war,” Claire started, her mind drifting to Leonard. A longtime friend of hers and her Uncle’s, he’d wanted to follow in Lamb’s footsteps, assisting him quite a few times during various expeditions. The same expeditions where he and Claire had grown close, as threats of war grew by the day. 

“We got engaged rather quickly as the war had started and I was determined to go to the front while he worked in London. We did see one another sometimes during the first year or two but then it became more difficult to go back to London or for him to come to see me for a few days in France.” 

Orla nodded, putting her hand on Claire’s. 

“At the hospital, I met another man,” Claire bit the inside of her cheek, images of Jamie under her care flooding her mind. 

“He was badly wounded when he arrived, to this day I don’t know how he managed to recover from a bombing. He stayed at the hospital for a few months, right before the war ended.”

“It was the Scottish man, aye?” Her friend asked, though she already knew the answer. 

Claire nodded, taking another sip of whisky, “It was…” 

“We became friends right away. He was different from all the other people I took care of at the hospital. I can’t explain it, it was simply as if I had known him all my life.” 

“Aye, ‘tis always the case.”

“At some point, we grew closer and closer until...” Claire stopped, the guilt still eating away at her. “Until something happened between us and we became intimate.” 

“Weel durin’ such a time, I can understand, lass.”

“He was married; not that he ever hid that fact from me. And I had Leonard. We were both aware this was nothing more than comfort, to survive our situation as best as we could with someone who could understand. We didn’t know if we’d go home at all and...and I don’t think either of us really regretted the decisions we took in those moments because we both needed each other.”

“But then the war ended,” Orla said softly, and she nodded again. 

“The war ended,” Claire whispered. 

“And we stayed together for a few more days at a little hotel in the village, until the trains took us back to our respective places. We agreed not to see one another again and that was that. When I got back to London, I learned that Leonard and my Uncle had been killed by an airstrike whilst giving a lecture together.” 

“Oh,” Orla wrapped her arms protectively around her and held her close for a moment. She whispered words in Gaelic, things resembling what Jamie had told her a couple of times — like prayers. 

“Ye’re a brave lass.” 

Claire smiled softly, squeezing her, “Thank you.” 

“‘Tis only the truth,” Orla smiled, cupping her cheek. She was about to add something else when the doorbell rang. 

“Are ye waitin’ on anybody?”

Frowning, Claire shook her head, “No, I’ll go see who that is. I’ll be right back.” 

Quickly, she got up and went to the front door. Opening it, her frown deepened as no one was standing outside. 

Only when she heard a frail “meow” that she looked down to find a kitten, wrapped in a tartan cover, a little note stuck to the fabric. She knew from which Clan that tartan was from — a sight that made her stomach twist as much as it gave her delight. 

Claire knelt down and carefully took the kitten out, so tiny she could hold it in the palm of her hand. It was perfectly grey, with a tiny white dot around one of its blue eyes. Then, she opened the note and read: 

“You got a home, now you just need a wee cat to fill it, Sassenach. A lucky cat xx ”

She got up, looking around for the sight of a red-haired scot but he was nowhere to be found. 

Nonetheless, Claire smiled — deeply touched at his gesture — and looked down at her new housemate before going inside again. 

Chapter Text

Claire had not been by to check on Jamie that morning. Nor did he see her around the hospital throughout the day. As the sun sunk low in the sky he checked his pocket watch for the umpteenth time; she was supposed to be back already. 

Her orders had been to accompany some American soldiers to the border, who’d requested a nurse on hand in case something happened. It was a dangerous affair but Claire had promised the Scot she’d be fine and that she would return as soon as possible. 

Jamie had nodded and set her off with a soft kiss on her forehead, watching forlornly as she disappeared from his sight. 

For most of the day, he sat in bed, eyes glued to the door. Unable to think, he tried to push away images of what could have happened to her. 

“She will come back”, he muttered to himself over and over, in between anxious prayers whispered under his breath. 

It’d been a fortnight since they had kissed. Two weeks, and they hadn’t addressed it at all — both aware they could not do it without facing things they didn’t want to face.

Jamie laid lay awake in bed more than one night, thinking about it. About her lips grazing his so tenderly. So soft, tasting of vanilla. He would be lying to himself if he said he didn’t want to do it again. Or if he said he regretted it. 

Far from it. 

He was a faithful man — not making promises lightly, even less ones made before God. But there was something about Claire that attracted him like a magnet. The circumstances of the war did not help their situation, either. What if death found one of them? What if he was never able to make it back to Scotland? He couldn’t live in the past, nor think about the future. 

All he had, all Claire had, was the present and each other. 

It was somewhere past midnight when he heard a rumble of voices approaching. Lying on his side, he faced away from the door, pretending to be asleep, but he heard who it was: soldiers returning with Claire. 

A wave of relief overcame him but he couldn’t get up and go to her just yet. He would have to wait for a little while but the sound of her voice, as fragile as it was, gave him comfort. 

She was alive.

What must have been a few minutes felt like hours — so close and yet so far from her. Unable to comfort her the way she needed to be. What if she was wounded? What if she was scared? 

Jamie felt helpless. 

At length, the voices died down and it was quiet again. Everybody having had left the main room and going gone back to their beds. Finally, Jamie could move freely. 

Slowly, the Scot got up and grabbed his cane. The halls of the hospital were lit with candles, but it wasn’t easy to see where he was going. There was no way to explain why he was awake at this hour, on his way to the nurses quarters.  He had a vague idea of where Claire slept, but he just hoped he didn’t go to the wrong door. 

He stopped by the fourth door and waited for a moment before finally deciding to knock. The few seconds it took for the door to open were the longest of his life. Then, he saw her and wanted to crumble. 

Claire stood by the door, in her khaki uniform full of dust. Her face had been cleaned up but a few cuts were still fresh on her cheek and lips. Her hair was let down, mad curls escaping everywhere. She looked battered and she was shaking. 

Jamie had no time to say anything before she threw herself at him, holding him tightly. 

“Christ,” he said softly, gripping her tightly with one arm. 

“Sassenach, what happened to ye?” He looked at her, frowning with worry. “Are ye hurt?”

She shook her head, “I’m all right, just a bit shaken.”

“A bit shaken?” He looked around to be sure they were alone before returning his gaze to her again. “Ye’ve been gone twenty-four hours and ye come back all bruised and covered in dust. Claire, what happened?” 

“An ambush,” her voice was barely a whisper as her eyes dropped to the floor. 

Jamie brought her hand to his lips, kissing the tip of her fingers, “Can I come in for a minute?” 

Nodding, she stepped aside, ushering him into her little room.  

It was exactly as he had imagined: her threadbare robe slung over the wardrobe door, books scattered about. On the wall was a small mirror with a photograph of a young girl and older man standing in front of the pyramids tacked to the side.  Even in a place as soulless as this, the room was infused with all that was Claire.

Turning around, he looked at her as she closed the door. Extending a hand, she took it immediately, “I’m sorry I worried you.” 

“Ye’re back in one piece, ‘tis all I care about, Sassenach,” Jamie pulled her gently to him and wrapped his arm around her. 

Claire buried her face in the crook of his neck, closing her eyes. He could feel her breath tickling his skin, tears rolling down her cheeks. 

“‘Tis all right, a nighean,” he whispered against her hair. “Ye’re all right. I promise ye. Ye’re safe.” 

“They all died, Jamie,” she choked out, holding him tighter. “And I was in a ditch for hours until another platoon of American soldiers found me.” 

It was the first time he saw Claire break down. So afraid in his arms, she looked like a little girl. The sight broke his heart. All he wanted was to wrap her in safety, protecting her and making sure she’d never get hurt again. 

Together they sat on the bed and held one another for a long time, in silence. As the minutes went by, he could feel her relax in his arms, the shaking subsiding too. 

Then, Claire looked up — whisky eyes shiny from crying. In the low light, she looked even more beautiful than usual. There were so many things he wanted to confide to her, so many things about how she made him feel. 

“Dinna scare me like that ever again, Sassenach,” he whispered, resting his forehead against hers and holding her hands to his chest. 

“I promise,” she closed her eyes, basking in the safety he provided. 

“I thought I would never see you again,” she finally said, looking at him again. 

“Ye dinna need to be afraid, a nighean,” he cupped her cheek, smiling reassuringly. “I’m here and ye are all right, aye? Nothin’ will happen to ye as long as I’m around.” 

Nodding, Claire stroked his chin with her index finger; and for the first time since being back, she smiled at him. 

“Can I ask ye somethin’, Claire?” He watched her expression shift to one of slight surprise, but she nodded. 

“Of course, anything.”

“Do ye regret kissin’ me the other day?” He didn’t think any moment would be appropriate for it but he had to know. He needed to. 

Her plump lips flicked into a shy smile, her whole body relaxing in his arms, “No...as a matter of fact, I’d like to do it again.”

“Would ye, really?” He couldn’t help but smile in return. 

“Well…” Cupping his cheek, Claire pulled his head closer to hers and lightly brushed her lips against his. 

It was like a match igniting a fire — setting it ablaze in a second.  

Fears, sadness, and tension for the past few months all mixing together to make a dangerous cocktail. 

Jamie responded enthusiastically, feeling something in the pit of his stomach twist in the most delightful way. Lips overlapping, the kiss grew up to the point of tongues and teeth clashing. 

Their first kiss had been chaste; this wasn’t anything like it. Anything at all. This had an urgency neither of them had ever felt before — it taking them both by surprise, though not really. It had been weeks of dancing around one another. Covert glances, secrets shared. 

“Jamie…we can’t,” she pulled away, breathless, lips pink and swollen. Her fingers fiddled with the first button of his shirt. 

“No, we canna,” he pulled her closer, his hand gripping her hip. 

“I’m —” he let his sentence die to kiss her. 

“I know,” she whispered against his lips. “And I’m —”

“I know,” he kissed her again, throwing caution to the wind. They both knew what they were, but at that moment it didn’t really matter. After all, they didn’t know what they would be facing tomorrow, so might as well just live. 

“I want to feel alive with you, right now.” She started to unbutton his shirt, her dexterous fingers working quickly to reveal his undershirt, kissing him over and over again. 

Jamie’s lips moved from her mouth to her neck as he began to open her shirt in turn. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t imagined doing that very thing for the past few weeks. 

“Mmh,” escaped Claire’s mouth as they undressed one another carefully and leaned back onto the bed. 

“Are ye sure about this, Sassenach?” Jamie looked down at her, stroking a curl away from her face. “I dinna want ye to regret it.”

“I’m sure,” she cupped his cheeks, aware of his naked body on top of hers. “Are you?” 

He smiled tenderly, kissing her lips, “Aye, I am.” 

Jamie couldn’t begin to describe how happy she made him. There was something about being around her that he just couldn’t explain. It just made him feel free and completely himself.; a rarity these days. 

At that moment, the war didn’t exist. In that little room, there was nothing beyond them. Two bodies joined as one. 

*******

“What answers are ye tryin’ to find in yer drink, lad?” Mr. Bug asked, washing some glasses behind the bar. 

Jamie looked up from his whisky, “Nothin’ much...just reminiscing.”

Arch put the clean glasses back onto the shelf and took down the bottle of whisky, “Need a refill,?” 

“Nay,” Jamie shook his head. “One is enough, thank ye.” 

“It’s been a while since we’ve seen ye here.”. 

The pub wasn’t crowded, just one or two regulars sitting at their usual tables. Jamie hadn’t been back since coming home, almost two years earlier. 

“I just dinna feel like it.” 

“Jamie lad,” Arch touched his arm, “Ye ken ye’re like a son to me, aye? Ye can tell me if something is troublin’ ye.”

Nodding, the Scot smiled softly. He had known the Bugs since he was a boy, and after the death of his parents, they had taken him under their wing. 

“I’m fine, really,” he assured him. “For the first time since the war ended, I’m finally startin’ to feel like myself.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Arch smiled, patting Jamie’s arm. “Verra glad, lad.” 

“How are things wi’ ye and Orla?” Jamie asked, keen to push the conversation elsewhere. 

“Good, aye. Ye ken how she is, always makin’ sure I dinna do this or dinna do that,” both men chuckled, knowing well the ways of Orla Bug. 

“Aye, I ken.” 

“Lad, if ye’re lucky to have a wife that cares for ye as much as Orla cares for me, ‘tis all that ye need in life!”

If only he knew, Jamie thought. 

“Aye, ye’re lucky,” he nodded, finishing his drink and trying not to think about his own wife, nor the other woman who occupied his thoughts most of the time. 

“Gimme a refill, after all,” he handed him the empty glass and Arch obeyed. 

“Have ye been to the library yet? ‘Tis finally up and runnin’ again, a lot of new books have arrived too.” 

“Nay, I haven’t,” Jamie lied, rubbing the back of his neck. He had been once, too briefly, and the rest of his time had been occupied watching the librarian from the other side of the road. 

“Ye should! The lass who runs it is our new tenant. A wee bit English,” Arch grinned. “But verra nice.”

“Olivia told me she was English, aye. ‘Tis good, makes for a bit of a change around here.” Jamie took a sip of his drink as the door of the pub opened, the bell ringing along with it. 

“Speakin’ of which,” Arch said in a low voice, looking at the door. 

“Hello, Mister Bug!” Claire smiled warmly, walking over to the bar. 

Jamie froze at the sound of her voice; as smooth as the whisky he was drinking, the colour floating in his glass a reminder of her eyes. 

He had known they were bound to cross one another at some point, given how little the village was, but he thought he could avoid her. Or at least try. 

“Claire,” Arch smiled, shaking her hand. “How are ye, lass?”

“Good, thank you,” she answered, her tone changing as she realised who was sitting at the bar. 

“Can I get ye anythin’ to drink?” 

“Uhm no, thank you.” She answered, unaware that Jamie was watching her from the corner of his eye, nose hid in his glass. 

She was wearing a light blue dress he had seen once before — the day they had parted in France. He had helped her dress that morning before holding the material in his hands as they said farewell. The sight alone was enough to break his already battered heart. 

“Actually, I’ve just come to ask you something about the house.”

“Oh?” Arch frowned, “Is everythin’ alright?” 

“Yes, perfect,” she smiled. “But the boiler is not working properly. I told Orla, but she told me to come to you directly.”

“Och, that old thing again,” Mr. Bug sighed, shaking his head. “I’ll come and fix it for ye. ‘Tis gettin’ chilly, I dinna want ye to catch a cold while ye sleep.” 

“Thank you very much!”

“Can ye wait for me to close here? I’ll be by the cottage in an hour, lass.” 

“Yes, of course I can —”

“I can go now,” Jamie heard himself say out loud, both heads turning to look at him. 

It was only the second time he’d looked Claire in the eyes since she had arrived. Hands moistening instantly, he felt a shiver up his spine; where on earth had the courage to speak come from? 

“So ye dinna have to wait and Arch, ye dinna have to hurry to close down here...” he mumbled quickly, clearing his throat. 

“Aye, of course,” Arch nodded, “Only if Miss Beauchamp doesna mind?” 

Both Scots looked at her, Jamie feeling the panic creep up his neck. 

“I don’t,” she said simply, looking at Jamie. 

“As long as Mister…” she stopped, waiting for him to tell her his name as if she didn’t know it. 

“Fraser,” he added, his eyes glued to her. 

“As long as Mr Fraser is not allergic to cats?” She smiled at him then, and he couldn’t help but smile in return. 

“I’m no’ allergic, Miss Beauchamp.” 

“Well then, I’ll have to grab my things from the library. I can meet you back at the house if that’s alright?” 

Jamie nodded, “Aye, I’ll meet ye back there in a wee bit.”

“See you in a wee bit, then,” Claire’s smile only grew before she quickly looked at Mr. Bug and left the pub. 

Chapter Text

When news of the war ending made its way through the field hospital, a wave of happiness erupted throughout. Cheers, songs, hugs and kisses exchanged, everybody was ecstatic. 

Everybody, but two. 

Former strangers — now so much more — looked at each other from across the room and understood what it actually meant. The reality was clear, yet they didn’t dare say it. Neither Jamie nor Claire was ready to think about goodbyes until they were due to catch the trains that would part them forever, in a few days' time.

In the meantime, now newly freed from their war duties, they decided to spend what precious time they had left in the battered village. 

Just the two of them, in a hotel room. 

Together, they silently walked through the narrow streets. The atmosphere around them overflowing with a freedom that had been forbidden for too long. It was unlike anything they had ever witnessed — the juxtaposition of the bombed village, amidst the countless celebrations happening all over. 

The Germans defeated, it was time to start living again. Time to go home, reunite with loved ones. Time for new acquaintances, new friends and lovers to go their separate paths. 

That was one of the things about war: everyone talked about the ending and the reuniting with people. No one talked about having to part ways with someone they had created a bond with. 

“It’s here,” Claire said softly, as they arrived at the hotel. For the first time, in a long while, she was dressed in day clothes. Her uniform carefully packed in her suitcase, to make space for a pair of tweed pants and a silk white shirt. Hair down, curls as free as she was. 

“After ye, Sassenach.” 

Army bag slung over his shoulder, Jamie opened the door and let her go in first, kissing the back of her exposed neck as she moved past. Claire looked back over her shoulder and smiled.

At the reception desk stood a young woman, her face illuminating at the sight of the couple. 

“Bonjour!” She said enthusiastically. 

“Bonjour,” Claire smiled in turn. “Ça serait pour réserver une chambre, s’il vous plaît. Pour deux personnes.” 

It wasn’t the first time the Scot heard her speak French, however, it still had the same effect on him. Hearing the language of Molière slip so gracefully from her lips, erasing the slight hint of English from her accent, and making Jamie’s heart swell twice its size. 

“Oui, à quel nom?” inquired the young woman, looking at them both. 

“Beauchamp,” they answered in unison. 

“Monsieur et Madame Beauchamp,” the receptionist repeated with the correct french pronunciation, scribbling down in the guest book. 

She handed Claire a key. “Chambre 82, au fond du couloir.” 

“Merci.” Smiling, Claire took Jamie’s hand and led them towards their room. 

It wasn’t very grand, but it was cosy. A double bed, some floral wallpaper; and most importantly, the ensuite had a bath. 

“Beats an army tent and a cot in the mud,” Jamie grinned, closing the door behind them. He had only time to put his satchel on the floor before Claire collapsed onto the bed. 

“I never thought I’d feel a soft mattress again,” she sighed happily, closing her eyes for a moment. Her rock hard bed from the hospital already a forgotten memory. 

“Aye, ‘tis the little things,”  Jamie sat next to her and took her hand, bringing it to his lips. His heart broke a little to think that it wouldn’t be long before such a simple gesture would be lost to him forever.

“You know,” she moved to rest her head on his lap. “It feels rather surreal to think it’s finally over.” 

Finally over — both the war and their relationship, however brief it had been. 

“It does” Looking down, he stroked her hair. “It’ll take some time getting used to.” 

“Yes, it will,” she replied quietly, reaching to touch his cheek. 

Leaning close, he kissed the tip of her nose and smiled. “What about a bath, Sassenach?” 

“I thought you’d never ask!” Kissing his lips, she got up and held out a hand to him. 

“Are ye in a rush?” His eyebrow rose in interrogation. 

Pulling Claire close again, she stood between his thighs as he rested his forehead against her stomach.

“No,” she smiled, stroking his curls back. 

Gently, the Scot started to unbutton her shirt: one button at the time, revealing the porcelain skin he was only now becoming accustomed to. And a sight he knew he’d never tire of.

The shirt soon cast to the floor, his eager fingers unzipped her trousers, as he kissed the fair skin above her belly button — sending a wave of shivers all over her body. 

Hands reaching up her back to unclasp the silky brassiere, he delicately slid the straps off her shoulders, revealing her breasts. 

Eyes locked together, Claire stood still, letting him peel the layers from her body. The Scot smiled tenderly, his fingers tracing around her nipple, “Yer skin is like ivory, a nighean.” 

Cupping his cheeks, she leaned down to kiss his lips, as his hands pulled down her trousers. Once that layer was gone, Claire straddled him, the kiss deepening in the process. 

“If I could, I’d carry ye to the bath myself,” he whispered against her lips, arms wrapped protectively around her bare waist. 

“I don’t like to be carried anyway,” she grinned, rubbing her nose against his. 

“Good to ken,” he smiled, kissing her again. 

“Come,” Claire got up, clad only in high-waisted knickers, and moved to help him stand.

“Oh, so bath now eh?” He chuckled, following her up slowly and reaching for his cane. He didn’t think he’d get ever used needing it but he didn’t have much of a choice. 


******** 

“How does your back feel?” Claire asked, running a warm wet cloth over his bare skin. 

They sat together in the tub, basking in the newfound comfort they had been deprived of for the past five years. 

“A wee bit tight,” Jamie turned his head to look at her and smiled. “But much better than it used to be, Sassenach.” 

“I’m glad it healed without getting inflamed,” she kissed the back of his neck. “I don’t know how you made it through such an injury, though.”

“I had a verra good nurse,” he leaned back against her, closing his eyes. 

“Mmh,” she shrugged, kissing the freshly healed scars between his shoulder blades as her fingers gently stroked up and down his sides. 

Jamie could never explain how healing her touch felt. Whenever he was near her, pain simply did not exist. Whatever it was, sorcery or otherwise, he didn’t think he’d be able to live without it. In fact, being without Claire was something he could barely contemplate...but he couldn’t tell her that. 

“How can ye look at my back and no’ be repulsed, Claire?” 

“Why on earth would I be?” Frowning, she looked at him and turned his head. 

“Those are just scars, darling. Everyone has them, one way or another. I don’t look at your back and think much of it,” she kissed his cheek, smiling. 

“They’re a part of you but they don’t define you. They tell the story of your survival.” 

Jamie turned around slowly, a tricky thing to do in such a narrow bath, but he managed. Without a word, he pulled her close to him, wrapping her legs around his waist. 

“Claire?”

“Yes?” She cupped his cheeks, watching him. 

“Thank ye for everythin’ ye’ve done for me.” Closing his eyes, he melted against her touch. 

“Ye saved my life, I will never forget that.” 

“I…” she stopped herself before it was too late, biting her lower lip. There and then, Claire understood very well why men measure time. They wish to fix a moment, in the vain hope that doing so will keep it from departing. 

“Ye what?” Jamie stroked her bottom lip. 

“I...I’m glad I could help,” she smiled softly, resting her forehead against him. It was not what she had intended to say. What she had intended couldn’t be said. 

Jamie held her close for a moment, both wrapped in silence. They knew their time together was running out; however, one word from him would have made her leave anything behind to run away together. 

“Should we get out? The water is getting cold.” 

“Aye,” Jamie kissed her shoulder and watched her climb from the tub. 

Wrapping a towel around her body, she grabbed his cane, along with another towel, and waited for him to get out in turn. He was not shy in front of her, but she knew his leg bothered him from time to time and he was frustrated not to be able to fully do things. 

“Thank ye,” he wrapped the towel around his waist and took his cane. 

“Does your leg hurt?” She followed him to the bedroom. 

“Nay, no’ much,” he smiled, sitting on the bed. 

“Good,” she smiled, grabbing her nightdress from her suitcase. She never knew why she bothered bringing such a fancy piece but right now, she was glad she had. It was pink silk, quite open at the front with white lace and a thin belt. Changing quickly, she turned around to look at Jamie. 

“Christ,” he let out a breath, blinking. “Claire, ye look so bonny. A witch, ye are.” 

“Should I worry that you keep referring to me as a witch?” She grinned, diverging to humour to avoid blushing. 

“Would enchanted creature work better?” He smiled, tilting his head and holding out his hand.  “A white lady?” 

Claire approached, taking his hand. “You talk such nonsense, my darling.”


“‘Tis what ye think,” his arms wrapped around her waist. 

Smiling, she kissed the top of his head and held him for a little while. 

“Would you like some of the cheese and bread they brought up?” She finally asked, pointing to the provisions the hotel kitchen had supplied. 

“Aye, I’ll pour the wine, mo nighean donn,” Jamie changed into his pyjama trousers and moved to sit at the little table by the window. 

As the daylight faded, Claire lit a few candles while Jamie poured the two glasses. Once done, she joined him at the table. 

“What does it mean?” She watched him, resting her head in her palm. “What you just called me?”

Jamie smiled, handing her a glass, “It means my brown-haired lass.”

“Rather a dull colour brown, I always thought,” she smiled shyly. 

“Nay,” he shook his head. “No’ dull at all.” 

“‘Tis like the water in a burn, the way it ruffles down the rocks. Dark in the wavy spots with wee bits of auburn when the sun touches it. If anythin’ yer hair colour is far from dull, Sassenach. Just like ye are.”

Claire felt the warmth creep up her cheeks, along with self-consciousness. The way he spoke to her was different from any other man she had ever known. There was something about James Fraser that disarmed her every time. 

In the back of her head, was a little voice asking how the hell she was supposed to she say goodbye to this man in two days? In truth, she had no idea, nor did she want to dwell on it.  But their parting was inevitable, they both knew it. She’d go back to Leonard in London, and Jamie would go back to Olivia in Scotland. 

What they had would forever remain imprinted in their hearts, a bright spark in the darkness of a war that had exhausted them for the past five years. A bleak time, both in history and their minds; it would never be completely bad because they’d had each another. However brief their time together, it was more precious than the finest jewels. 

*******

They had three days of bliss, basking in a sort happiness they’d never known with anyone else. But the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads was descending little by little. On their last night together, neither slept much; minds clogged by their impending farewell, the seconds and minutes seemed to disappear faster than ice melting on a summer’s day.

Naked bodies tangled together, lit only by the moonlight, no one said a word. The only sound in the room was their synchronised heartbeats, slow and harmonious, beating like drums from the same orchestra.  

Jamie’s hand lightly stroked Claire’s bareback, while her head of riotous curls rested on his chest. 

They knew it was the end of them — the end of whatever they had together.  What had started as seeking comfort slowly turned to something else. Something they didn’t dare voice out loud, though the intensity of it grew by the minute. 

In the dark, they silently prayed to have enough courage to let the other go. To be selfless enough to rip their hearts out and live without it for the rest of their lives. In the dark, silently, they loved one another again. 

Bodies joined, their hips rocked in unison. Eyes locked and tears threatening to spill, they didn’t say a word; simply existing in the same space for the last time. Exchanging secrets and promises through a hidden language only they understood.

Aware reality had to resume and both afraid the other wouldn't feel the same way, they never dared to voice their dreams of something more.

In her ear, Jamie whispered words in Gaelic she didn’t understand before his mouth found hers again. Hungrily, desperately, registering the way her lips felt and tasted. His hands moulded her body like a sculptor with white marble, knowing each nook and cranny of her being by heart. 

He couldn’t let her go. He didn’t have the strength. But he had to — he’d promised her he would. Assured her this was nothing more than comfort. He simply had been caught in his own game.  Little did he know she had been, too. 

Chapter Text

His train was scheduled first — one-way to Scotland, back to the Highlands. Far from France, far from Claire. Away from some of the worst times of his life, but also the best.

They didn’t rush breakfast, still acting like they were not about to part. With the sun shining down upon them, they shared coffee and pastries on the balcony. Claire had remarked what a beautiful day it was; the sky clear and blue, no clouds to taint it. 

The atmosphere had changed since yesterday; lightness and levity replaced with heaviness. Conversations had been limited to small talk to avoid the real elephant in the room: their respective departures. As such, the air was thick with what was being left unsaid. 

“Tilt your head a bit please,” she asked, cleaning shaving cream from the straight blade. 

Jamie obeyed, basking in the sun while she shaved his beard — like she used to when he had first arrived at the hospital. 

The rest of their breakfast laid on the table, some pastries untouched and mugs half emptied. The radio played jazz softly back into the bedroom. 

The blade glided over his skin gently, removing his scruff along with the cream. Like with anything involving her hands, Claire was skilled and gentle. The last thing she wanted to do was cut him. 

Opening his eyes, Jamie looked up at her — so beautiful and tall above him. Ringlets cascading over her shoulders, her lips curled up into a tender smile. The sunlight shone from behind her, forming a halo around her head. 

“Would ye find me foolish to say how beautiful ye are again?” He asked softly, reaching up to cup her cheek. 

“Are you trying to mellow me while I’m holding a blade to your throat?” She smirked, leaning down to kiss his damp lips. 

“Should I be worried?” Whispering against her lips, he pulled her to sit on his lap. 

“No,” she said softly, rubbing her nose against his. 

Putting the blade aside, she grabbed the cloth and started to clean the last of the shaving cream from his face. 

Jamie took the cloth from her hands and wiped a bit of foam from her lips, “‘Tis what ye get for kissin’ a man in the middle of shaving.” 

“I planned to use it to remove my moustache, actually.” 

Chuckling, he pulled her waist closer  and kissed the tip of her nose, “Ye’re a witty one, eh?”

“It took you long enough to notice,” she kissed him once more, smiling. 

“Nay, ‘tis one of the first things I noticed, the second I met ye.” Resting his head over her shoulder, he kissed the delicate skin under her ear. “Amongst other things...”

“What other things?” She looked at him, eyebrows raised. 

“I dinna have time to enumerate them all, it would take me days...” 

The small remark seemed innocent enough in his head, but saying it aloud brought a dark cloud over their conversation. 

Nodding, Claire cleared her throat and stood. 

“We should get dressed if you don’t want to miss your train.”

“Aye,” 

Jamie bit his lower lip, watching her. He did want to miss his train; more than he’d ever wanted anything.

“What time is yers again?” Getting up, he put his toiletries back into their leather case, avoiding her eyes. 

“This afternoon, at 2:30.” 

Claire went back inside and started changing into a light blue dress he hadn’t seen before. He didn’t think he’d ever tire of seeing her in clothes that were not her nurse’s uniform — though he had loved that sight, too. 

“2:30,” he repeated softly, as he closed the bay windows. 

“I’ll bring you to the station and then come back here to get my things.” 

Turning around, she watched him getting ready.

“As ye wish, Sassenach.” 

He put on his shirt and started buttoning it. Claire came to stand in front of him and took over, doing up the last few as she looked up at his face. 

“I haven’t thanked ye for what ye did for me, Claire,” he spoke softly, his eyes locked with hers. 

“You have,” she cupped his cheek, stroking it with her thumb. “Many times.”

“No, no’ just the healing,” Jamie wrapped his arms around her waist, keeping steady without his cane by holding onto her. 

“I mean everything ye did for me.” 

Of course, she did not know exactly how much she had impacted him. As much as he did not know how much he had impacted her. Those were secrets they couldn’t reveal to one another; they had neither the time nor the strength. But those secrets would keep them warm on cold and lonely days ahead. When they missed each other so much it was hard to breathe. 

“I thought you’d wait until we were on the platform before starting the farewell speech.” Her words were whispered, broken by the emotion clutching her throat. She had sworn she wouldn’t cry, but the tears seemed to be harder to hold back than she had expected. 

“I didna want to forget to say what I wanted to tell ye,” Jamie gathered her close, closing his eyes. He could barely speak, the words too difficult to form. Too difficult to find. He could never tell her everything he wanted to without saying the things he couldn’t say at all. 

“What else did you want to tell me?” Claire looked up, her eyes starting to redden from holding back tears. She clung almost desperately to the material of his shirt. 

“So many things, mo nighean donn.” Cupping her cheeks, he sealed their lips — words and promises unspoken but felt regardless.  

She knew and reciprocated in kind, their kiss growing more frantic by the second. Only when a knock at the door came did they pull apart, breathless. Claire quickly wiped her cheeks and cleared her throat. 

“Yes?” 

The door opened slowly, the receptionist sneaking her head in with a smile.

“Bonjour! Vous m’avez demandé de venir vous chercher pour aller à la gare.”

“Ah oui,” Claire nodded, having completely forgotten they had asked her to remind them not to be late to the station. 

“Merci.” 

“De rien,” she winked and closed the door again. 

“Time to go?” Jamie spoke softly, holding her to him. 

Nodding, Claire briefly closed her eyes, feeling his lips stamp her temple. 

“Time to go.” 

They arrived at the station fifteen minutes later; the platform full of various people waiting for their own journey home. The sea of soldiers and nurses were faceless to both Claire and Jamie, their minds too preoccupied by their own impending farewells. 

Hands clasped, they stood for a minute in silence, next to the train that was about to rip them apart. Both determined to wait until the very last second before being forced to separate. 

Jamie let his bag fall to the ground and wrapped his arm around her tightly, nose buried in her hair. He whispered things in Gaelic; things she would not understand but things he needed to say to her, anyway. 

Things she did not ask the meaning of, knowing she would not let him go if she did. 

The last call for his train came like a rude awakening. Forcing them to finally look at one another. This time, their tears had not been able to stay hidden, instead, roaming freely on their faces. 

She spoke first, cupping his cheeks, “Please take care of yourself.”

“Aye,” he smiled through the tears, stroking a curl away from her face.

“And don’t get frustrated by that leg, in time it’ll get better. I promise.” 

“If ye promise, then I ken ‘tis true,” he leaned down and kissed her salty lips. 

Her arms wrapped around his neck, their mouth sealed until the last second. Until the whistle of the conductor blew once more and they had to release one another. 

Jamie reluctantly boarded the train, standing with his head out the window. 

“Be well, my darling.” Kissing her index finger, she placed it on his lips until the train started to move. 

Neither of them would forget the sight of the other disappearing.  As the train pulled away from the station, their hearts ripping apart.  

*******

Images of their parting played in front of Jamie’s eye as he stood by Claire’s door — paralyzed on the spot. He didn’t even remember ringing the doorbell until he was brought back from his mental wanderings by her appearing in front of him. 

Up close, she looked exactly the same, except for her hair being slightly longer than it used to. The little scar on her cheek had faded, but still there; a reminder of the ambush that almost took her life. 

And her eyes...Christ, her eyes. 

“Hello,” she said softly, breaking the ice. 

Blinking, he finally took reality in; the ghost of his heart standing before him. 

“ Coming in?” She asked, frowning at him. 

“Oh aye, aye,” he nodded, managing a shy smile as he entered. 

“The boiler is in the kitchen,” she explained, leading him through the house, both keeping a fairly good distance from one another. 

The house was far cosier than his own, lived in.  

A fire roared in the fireplace and music softly played from a radio somewhere. The walls of the living room were covered in a lovely patterned wallpaper, reminding him of the one that had been up in his childhood home. The bookshelf was unsurprisingly full of various books; from classics to archaeological research. And the whole place smelled of freshly baked biscuits. 

“I don’t really know what’s wrong with it...It just doesn’t seem to want to start in the mornings.” 

Nodding again, Jamie walked towards the machine in question; both self-conscious that she was watching him and that he didn’t know how boilers worked at all. He seemed to have lost the ability to speak, and maybe it was better this way. He didn’t trust himself around her. 

“Does it start at all, after a bit?” He rested his cane against the counter and opened the little door of the boiler. 

“Yes, it just takes a while to get going.” Crossing her arms, she leaned against the counter to watch him. 

“I see.” Though, he did not see at all. 

“Are you not going to talk to me at all?” Her question was blunt but someone had to ask it. To break the wall between them, or at least a little part of it. 

Jamie stopped in his tracks, turning his head slightly to look at her. 

“What do you want me to say to ye?” 

“Why don’t you start by telling me why you proposed to fix my boiler when it’s plain as day you don’t know how to?” 

Claire had never fallen for his bullshit before, so he didn’t know why he thought she’d start now. Some things really did not change. 

“I wish I knew myself,” he admitted, his eyes studying the lovely pattern of the tiles decorating the floor. 

“Look, I understand that you may not be all too pleased to have me show up out of the blue. I get that —” she watched him, speaking gently. 

“I’m sorry, I did not know you lived in Inverness, and if I had I…”

“Ye what? Ye wouldn’t have come?” He interrupted her, desperately wanting to know the answer. Hoping she would tell him that she would have come. Come for him. 

“I don’t know what I would have done,” she said sincerely. 

“I’m not here to cause you any trouble. I just want to live my life and go to work at the library, that’s all. But would you at least please stop looking at me as if I am a ghost haunting you.” 

If only he could explain to her the way he felt about everything. About her. About Olivia. About his life since the war; a life that did not look at all how he had imagined it would be. He could not tell her his despair and the sadness that had been engulfing him since coming home.

All the things he should have told her needed to be said a long time ago — not now. Not like this. 

“Claire…” he looked at her, barely unable to hear his own voice over the sound of his rapidly beating heart. 

“I’m sorry for the way I reacted the other day at the library. And I’m sorry for bein’ here right now, I dinna ken what came over me. I dinna want ye to feel unwelcome here, aye?” 

“I just need to know where I stand.” She took a step closer to him and he almost took one back. 

“I can pretend I’ve never met you, I can pretend we didn’t spend those months together in France. I can say whatever you need me to, but I can’t bear to see you looking at me like that.” 

“Like what?” 

“Like I’m the worst mistake you ever made.” Her voice barely held it together, then. Her throat tightening with emotions. 

Jamie stared at her, speechless at the idea that she would think that at all. He felt like screaming; no - she wasn’t a mistake! That the only mistake was that he her go. His thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell ringing. 

Before either of them could move, Orla announced herself, “A leannan?

“I’m in the kitchen,” Claire responded, looking at Jamie for a second. There was no way for him to hide or to leave. 

“There ye are,” the older lady smiled widely before frowning at Jamie’s presence. “Oh, hello lad.” 

“Orla,” Jamie smiled politely, hoping his uneasiness was not too visible. 

“What are ye doin’ here?” She asked, looking between him and Claire. The Englishwoman jumped in before he had the chance to.

“Remember I told you about the boiler? Well, Mister Fraser was at the pub when I went to see Mister Bug and he kindly offered to come and fix it himself.”

“Och, that’s nice,” Orla smiled, patting his arm. “Did ye find the issue?”

“Nay, actually, I think Arch should take a look at it. He’s much better than I am,” Jamie shrugged, grabbing his cane. “I dinna want to make it worse.”

“Dinna fash, I’ll tell him and he’ll fix the old thing,” she nodded, polite enough not to mention the awkward atmosphere in the room. 

“Weel then...” Jamie cleared his throat and looked at Claire. “I should be goin’’”

Nodding, she smiled softly, “Thank you for your help nonetheless, Mister Fraser.” 

“Aye.”  He turned to Mrs Bug, “Orla, see ye soon.” 

“See ye lad,” she smiled warmly, giving him a hug. 

“Sassenach,” he bowed his head and left the house as quickly as he could. 

Orla’s eyebrows rose at that, head turning immediately to Claire. At that moment, the librarian cursed herself for revealing one too many details about the Scot she had met during the war. 

At that moment, she could not control the single tear that escaped her eye. 

Chapter Text

Standing in the little kitchen, the librarian felt panic creep up her neck. Orla stood next to her and from her expression, it was plain as day that she understood exactly who Jamie was to Claire. And that was not something the Englishwoman had ever planned on revealing. Before more damages were done, she quickly wiped out the tear strolling down her cheek. 

“Sassenach, eh?” Orla asked, looking at Claire. Her face had softened, but the surprise was very much still plastered all over it. 

Sighing, Claire leaned against the counter and crossed her arms, “I guess you’d like an explanation?”

“Weel, I’m no’ yer mother, ye dinna owe me one,” she smiled, touching her arm. “I’m just curious is all. Ye should have told me yer Scot lived in Inverness and was, in fact, James Fraser.” 

“He’s not my Scot,” she answered softly, eyes trained on the floor.  “I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, nor cause trouble for Jamie, it’s not like we’ve even really spoken since I moved here. Quite the contrary.”

Orla stepped close, tiling up Claire’s chin with a finger.   

“‘Tis none of my business, a leannan.”

“But?” Claire’s lip flicked up into a smile,

“But I think I ken ye well enough by now to know when something’s’ botherin’ ye.”

Before Claire could deny it, Orla continued. 

“How ‘bout ye put the kettle on and let it out? Ye look like ye could use a good cry.”

“It’s been a while since I have cried, actually.” Shrugging, Claire grabbed the kettle to start preparing the tea. 

The last time was at the train station in France; after that, the tears never came freely again. Not even with her return to London, when she found out she was truly alone in the world; roots ripped out from under her feet. 

“Claire,” Orla touched her arm in a friendly gesture

“‘I’d never wish to pry but I’m here if ye need to speak of it. But from the way ye told me about that Scottish man in France, weel…”

Opening up the cupboard, Claire took out two cups and the sugar, “I didn’t know he lived here, if that’s what you‘re wondering? Of course, it crossed my mind, but I thought: what are the odds? Then I saw him, and I didn’t know what to do…I still don’t.” 

“My mam used to say one should no’ play with fate, ye have to welcome it.” Orla took the milk out of the fridge and sat down at the table. 

“I never much believed in fate or things of that kind.” Claire poured the tea and brought the cups to the table.

“Ye dinna think that ye endin’ up here, where he lives, means anythin’?” 

“I don’t,” she said truthfully, pouring some milk into her tea. 

Claire did not like to think about things she could not control. For some reason, she had ended up in Inverness, where Jamie resided. She refused to accept it meant anything at all, simply because her heart could not take another heartbreak. 

“Why no’?” Mrs Bug watched her attentively, sipping her tea. “I gathered, from what ye told me, that what happened between ye was more than comfort?” 

Nodding, Claire carefully stirred a lump of sugar into her cup, “I guess it was more than that, for me it was, anyway. But it’s part of the past. I came here to build a future, not to look back on things I’ve lost.” 

“Ye do not want to need him, is that it?” 

“No.” Her voice was barely a whisper. 

“Why no’?”

“Because I can’t have him.” She finally admitted it, somehow feeling as if a weight had lifted off her shoulders. “It’s not much more complicated than that.” 

“Oh, a leannan.” Orla reached to touch her hand, squeezing it gently. 

“I’m afraid ye canna avoid needing people all yer life. It doesna work that way.” 

“I know, but the situation is complicated enough. No one needs a scandal around here, least of all Jamie.” 

“Weel, ye two need to talk, that’s for sure. I think Jamie could do wi’ a friend around here, and who better than ye to ken what the war was like?” 

“I suppose so,” she nodded, leaning back. She wasn’t sure being friends with Jamie was the solution — given she couldn't even look at him without feeling like a bee drawn to honey. 

“He’s verra sad, lass. Since coming back, he’s no’ been the same. Of course, after what happened, it is understandable, but there is somethin’ more to the story and he doesna want to talk about it. Maybe ye could help.” 

“Orla…” Claire watched her, her own heart breaking for Jamie. She had noticed how different he was from the man she had known and said goodbye to in France. 

“This is a small village. If Jamie and I become friends, God knows what people are going to say. For both our sakes, I don’t believe it’s a good idea, even if I’d want to be there for him.” 

“Aye, perhaps. But do ye think that is all? Or are ye afraid of getting too close to him?” Mrs. Bug asked bluntly. 

“How long have you known Jamie?” She asked, changing the subject and, making the older woman smile. 

“Since he was a lad. His mam, Ellen, and I were the best of friends, and I watched him grow up before my eyes. He’s like a son to me,” she said fondly.  “And I dinna want him to keep hurting so much. It surely is no’ my place to say anything, but I believe ye ended up here for a reason.” 

“Maybe you’re too superstitious?” Claire grinned, finishing her tea. Adso, the kitten, had come to rest on her lap. 

“Aye, maybe I am!” Orla said proudly, smirking. 

“Can I ask ye somethin’ personal?” 

“Oh, you’re asking permission now?” The laugh escaping her lips was not preventable. She had a fond attachment to the woman in front of her. In the space of a few weeks, she had become like a mother figure. 

“Weel,” Mrs. Bug answered, a twinkle in her green eyes. 

“Shoot,” Claire stroked the kitten’s head gently, smiling down at it. 

“What made ye say yes to a job in the middle of the Scottish Highlands? Have ye ever visited here before?” 

“No, as a matter of fact, I’ve never been here. I went to Glasgow with my uncle once, but that’s about it,” she admitted, taking a cigarette out of its case and offering one to her companion. Orla shook her head and Claire continued.

“When I got back to London after the war, I had lost my uncle and my fiancé, as I told you.” She lit the cigarette and took a drag. “I thought I’d continue to be a nurse. I actually quite enjoyed the work, but I didn’t want to stay in England. To be honest, growing up all over the place, I never felt at home there — or anywhere.” 

“You know,” she bit her lip before she found the courage to continue. 

“When I met Jamie, for a brief moment, I felt at home. I guess finding this job in Scotland made me believe maybe I belonged somewhere...I won’t deny I thought about him, but I never thought he’d be here. He talked to me about growing up in the Highlands, but never mentioned anywhere specific.”

“Do ye feel good here?” 

“I do,” Claire smiled, squeezing her hand. “I really do.”

“Then that’s all that matters, a leannan.

“The rest will fall into place.”  Her words sounded like a prophecy. 

*******

The next few weeks passed too quickly for Claire to do anything but work at the library. Ordering books, rearranging shelves, she even fitted a little bell above the door so she’d know when anyone came in; no one ever did though. 

Thoughts of Jamie were locked away in a part of her mind that she didn’t allow herself to visit more often than she needed to — mostly, it was during the night when she had nightmares of war, times where she sought the safety of his arms. The nights used to be the most difficult parts; haunted by the war, haunted by Jamie. 

But now, the nights brought comfort; safety

At night, she could escape to a place she had been happy. With someone who did not pretend he never knew her, someone who was not married to another woman. At night, she was still his; and he was hers. They could be together in a way they could not during the day; in a way they had been during the war. 

At night, she felt whole again, until the sun would rise and a rude awakening to reality would come along with it. 

Occasionally, they would cross paths in the village. Each time it happened, Jamie had been with his wife; avoiding her eyes and hurrying on to wherever he was headed. Each time, he seemed perfectly fine, except maybe for an air of nostalgia surrounding him. 

But he never came to the library. 

And slowly, Claire decided it was time to move on. Time to stop thinking about Jamie, about what they shared during those lonely war nights, in France. 

It was time to store those memories somewhere she could cherish them forever, but that would be all she would do with them; like books on a shelf one has read, one has loved, one has no intention to pick up again. 

Claire could avoid Jamie, avoid his wife, avoid the thoughts of their happiness together. 

Being alone in the world was nothing new for her to be; she could continue on that path like she had done until now. 

On her own, with her library and her books — which meant she would never really be alone at all. 

Alone was easier to be than being his friend; since it seemed as clear as day he did not want her to be anything to him, other than a snippet from a time he’d rather forget.

Yes. 

It was easier to forget. 

It was time to move on. 

Chapter Text

Since no one ever came to the library, most of Claire’s days were spent alone. Still, it was a place she loved and now it was spotless and arranged, which meant she could pass the time reading. She knew it would take time to bring people back, but patience was a virtue she did not possess — thankfully, she had quite a lot to occupy herself. 

One afternoon Claire was so lost in an Agatha Christie novel, she didn’t notice the hours pass — nor the sunlight starting to fade. Hercule Poirot was just about to reveal the identity of the murderer when she heard the tinkle of the bell on the door. Startled, she looked up, brought back to reality by two men entering.

One of them was fair, with blonde hair and brown eyes. The other had chocolate skin with the most piercing green eyes.  They reminded her of the people she had seen in a jazz bar in Paris. Both very tall and dapperly dressed, they stuck out Iike a sore thumb in the Scottish town. 

“Are you still open?” one asked, smiling kindly. Beige jacket draped over his arm, he had an American accent and a Panama hat. 

“Sure,” Claire returned the smile and got up from her desk. 

“Can I help you in any way?”

“Oh, an Englishwoman,” the man grinned. “I didn’t expect that all the way out here.” 

“I didn’t expect an American,” she retorted, grinning in turn. 

“She’s spicy, I like it,” he looked at his companion, winking. 

“I’m Gale McIntosh.” The other man took a step toward her, taking off his own hat. He had a Scottish accent, not unlike Jamie’s. 

“And this is Joe Abernathy.” He introduced the American, looking at him with so much love that Claire felt like a voyeur. 

“I am Claire Beauchamp, and welcome to the library!” She smiled and held out her hand. 

“Now, if I had such a beautiful librarian when I was growing up, I would have gone to the library more often,” Joe winked, bringing her hand to his lips. 

“Though I’m afraid, as beautiful as you are, you are not quite my type. No offence.” 

Claire chuckled, watching them. “None taken. I do see you have very good taste, nonetheless.” 

Joe grinned, looking at Gale, “I do, haven’t I?” 

Gale shook his head, smiling. “Dinna pay attention to him, he talks a lot.” 

“No one ever comes here, so it’s a welcome change, Claire admitted. “Nice to meet you both.” 

“Nice to meet you too, Miss beautiful librarian,” Joe smiled, sitting on the side of her desk. 

“We came here for books, but I think we can come back another day for that. However, I am dying to know what an Englishwoman is doing in a small Scottish village…” 

Claire raised a brow at his question. Amused, she could already tell she’d love these two. 

“Would you join us at the pub for drinks? Mister brown eyes over here is back in town and we wanted to celebrate. We’d love for you to join us!” 

“Are you sure?” 

“Aye, why no’?” Gale smiled warmly. 

Turning to look at the clock for second, Claire turned back towards her two new acquaintances, “Well, it’s not like anyone is going to walk through the door at this time of the day. I’d love to join you.” 

Joe clapped his hands, getting up. “Good! I knew I liked you already.” 

“You two go on ahead, I’ll close down here and be right there.” 

“Alright, Lady Jane,” Joe winked, taking Gale’s hand. “See you in a minute.”

“Lady Jane?” She frowned initially but then smiled. 

“It’s the accent,” Joe smirked, pointing to her lips. “So posh and sophisticated, I’m jealous.”

“I told ye he talked too much,” Gale chuckled and pulled him towards the door. “Come on, before ye make her run away.”

“See you at the pub!” Joe waved at her and followed his paramour out of the library. 

Claire grinned to herself, pleased with the two colourful characters she had just met. She had a feeling they’d become very good friends, and that was exactly what she needed to take her mind off a certain red-haired gentleman.  

*******

The dream about Claire was always the same. 

Standing on a porch, curls free in the light breeze of a warm summer’s day, she’d be leaning against the doorframe, watching him coming through the gate. White linen dress stained with grass from her gardening. Nails red and arms crossed. A tender smile plastered on her face. She was luminous, glowing in the sunlight. The closer he came, the bigger the smile grew. 

She never spoke. 

She never touched him. 

Whenever he reached for her, she would disappear and Jamie would wake up. 

Last night he dreamt of her again. For hours in the dark he was tossing and turning; limbs heavy, mind foggy. Then, he had spent most of his morning in bed — trying to conjure pictures of her face and the sound of her voice. When he finally decided to get ready and go for a walk, his feet had taken him towards the library; like they usually did recently. 

One day he would have to go inside, even if it was simply to sit at a table and pretend to read a book. But he was not ready. Not after the boiler incident and looking like a fool. 

Thankfully, Orla had shown up and he managed to extract himself before all his thoughts and desires poured out; before he had the chance to reveal all his secrets to Claire and tell her just how much more alive her mere presence made him feel. 

Since she’d arrived in town, it was like he could breathe again.  His head was still only barely above water, but it was far better than being submerged and drowning as he was before. 

Claire thought he viewed their time together as a mistake...truth was, the only mistake he had made was letting her go. And the regret gnawed away at him constantly. Time and again he thought about how easy it would've been to disappear, to change their names and start anew — together — in a place they could call home. Just the two of them and their love. 

If only he had asked her. 

It was too late now. Jamie was stuck in Inverness; with a wife he did not love and who couldn’t look at him without being repulsed. 

At least Olivia had the decency to pretend her housewife duties occupied her too much to pay attention to him. When she was at home, she kept to herself and never came to see him in their little sitting-room. For the rest of the time, she either went to the market or visited friends. 

He needed her help for his scars, but he preferred to suffer in silence than facing the humiliation of her tone when she had to apply the ointment. 

At night, one of them was usually asleep before the other came into the room. He didn’t know the precise moment they had stopped trying to keep up a facade; all he knew was that their marriage was not salvageable. Unfortunately divorce, in such a place, was impossible; it would ruin them both for years to come. 

“Jamie?” 

His wife’s voice was, for once, deprived of its usual coldness. It even had the slightest hint of tenderness as she stood at the kitchen door. 

“Aye?” Looking up from the book he was reading, he waited for her to continue. 

“I was thinkin’ earlier and I thought that maybe...we could go to the pub? ‘Tis been a while since we’ve done something together.” 

A while as in, since the end of the war. 

“The pub?” He frowned, closing the book. “Do ye really want to?” 

“Why no’? There isna much to do around here, I thought it could be fun.” 

It was then that Jamie noticed his wife was wearing one of her good dresses — the one she reserved for church on Sundays. Her hair was done up in a high ponytail and she had lipstick on. 

“Aye, if ye want,” he heard himself say, feeling sorry for her effort. He knew he was a grump, that he let his sadness and heartbreak ruin what little intimacy they had between them. If she wanted an evening at the pub, he could at least give her that. 

“Let me grab my things,” Jamie got up and went to grab his tweed jacket and his wallet. 

Waiting by the front door, Olivia tapped her foot; impatient at his slow pace. 

Taking a good look at her, the contrast between his wife and Claire couldn’t be clearer. One was like a walking ray of sunshine. The other was closed off and severe.  One never much cared to bother with a hairbrush or lipstick because she simply did not need to. The other was in a freshly pressed frock, with hair and makeup done up to the nines.  One was a bohemian who had seen the world. The other was stuck in the same place she had been since childhood. One had his heart.  The other did not.  

“Ready?” 

He asked, holding the door for her. Nodding, Olivia grabbed her purse. 

The pub wasn’t very far from their cottage — and given the day and hour, it housed most of the inhabitants of the village.  The rumble of voices was barely audible over the music. Smoke hung heavily in the air, mixed with the smell of distilled alcohol that was oddly comforting to Jamie. 

“What are ye drinkin’?” Olivia asked, removing her cardigan. 

“A whisky,” he answered, sitting down at a table near the back. He already regretted agreeing to come here. 

“I’ll be back in a minute,” she grabbed his wallet and went to get the drinks. 

Sighing, Jamie removed his jacket and looked around. He often wondered what had happened for him to become so morose. The war, for one. And losing the one person he had ever loved.

The one thing that pained him more than his scars was to think of how much he lost himself when he lost her. 

Quickly scanning the room, Jamie recognised most of the people, save for two men at the bar. One of them was familiar, his companion not so much. Nevertheless, he smiled politely in their direction before turning his gaze towards the door. 

What followed was like a punch in the gut; it always did when he saw her. 

Khaki knitted vest over a linen white shirt and black trousers hugging her in all the right places. She wore brown leather oxfords and golden glasses on the tip of her nose. 

It was not surprising that every head in the room turned to watch as she entered. It took ten seconds for Claire to feel his presence and for their eyes to lock. In that moment all he wanted to do was to walk over and kiss her, to claim her as his own. But Olivia would have his hide for breakfast and Claire might’ve slapped him if he did, so he stayed seated. Instead, Jamie smiled slightly as a hello. 

Claire bowed her head, returning the smile politely, and made her way towards the bar where the two strangers stood, apparently waiting for her. 

His face did not give a single indication of the jealousy he felt towards seeing Claire talking to other men. But inside, Jamie was boiling, trying to keep his temper at bay, knowing he had no right to be jealous in the first place. 

“One whisky for ye,” Olivia announced, sitting down and putting the drinks on the table. 

“Thank ye,” he smiled tightly and took a sip of his drink. 

Silence fell between them — like an old companion to their relationship. Olivia sipped on her drink and looked around the pub. A few people had started to dance, others were laughing together. Jamie noticed her eyes stopped on Claire, who had her back half turned as she spoke with her companions. 

“She could at least dress properly to go out,” she whined, rolling her eyes. 

“Why do ye care?” He looked at her. “What’s wrong with her clothes?” 

“She dresses like a man,” she remarked, noisily slurping her drink. 

Jamie bit the inside of his cheek to refrain from commenting. 

“No?” She turned to him, eyebrows raised. “Look at all the women around here, she sticks out like a sore thumb and everyone’s looking at her.” 

“Aye, they are, but I doubt it is for the reason ye’re naming right now.” He mumbled, ignoring her seething anger as best as he could. 

“Green isna yer colour, Olivia.” 

If looks could kill, he would have been dead right now. 

*******

“So, Lady Jane,” Joe handed her a glass of wine, winking. “I want to know everything about you.” 

“Oh, but there is not much to know.” Claire raised her glass with a grin. She tried to ignore the fact that Jamie and Olivia Fraser were sitting a few tables away from the bar and that she could feel two pairs of eyes staring her in the back.

“Born in Oxford, combat nurse during the war, and now I’m the librarian in a small Scottish village.” 

Joe smirked, leaning against the bar, “I will be satisfied with this for now, but don’t think I’ll let that go easily.” 

Gale chuckled, “Please excuse his curiosity. He can’t help himself.”

Joe shook his head, hitting his arm. “I just like to know about people!” 

“I don’t mind,” Claire smiled, sipping her drink. “I just don’t think I’m particularly interesting.” 

“All the men in this pub would disagree with your declaration, Lady Jane.” 

“Are you flirting with her?” Gale asked, eyebrows raised. 

“I would if I didn’t have you,” he leaned against him, smiling. “Alas, I do.” 

“How long have you two known one another?” Claire asked, interested by her new friends. 

“We met in Paris before the war,” Joe smiled warmly. “And we haven’t been apart since.” 

“That’s lovely,” she smiled in turn, seeing Jamie out of the corner of her eye. It warmed her heart to know that some people had not been ripped apart by the war, or the end of it. “And what do you do?” 

“I’m a poet, and Gale is a saxophonist.”

“Now I’m the one who’s intrigued,” Claire laughed, sipping her drink. “Too bad we didn’t meet in Paris, I think we would have had a hell of a good time.” 

“You are cordially invited to visit us when we go back,” Gale said and Joe nodded enthusiastically. 

“Paris is always a good idea.” Smiling, she raised her glass before clicking it with theirs. 

Leaning closer, Joe spoke near her ear, “Don’t look too quickly, but there is a rather dashing red-haired man sitting over there and looking at you like you’re the eighth wonder of the world.” 

“No, I doubt he is,” she rolled her eyes, feigning amusement to hide the fact that she knew very well that Jamie was looking at her. 

“Shall we dance?” Joe offered her his hand. “This pub is lovely, but it needs a little bit of a shakeup.” 

“You know this isn’t Paris, don’t you?” Finishing her glass, she smirked. 

“Sadly, I have noticed.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the centre, where some people had dared to start dancing, “Come on!” 

Claire had no choice but to surrender to the request — one she secretly enjoyed. She could not remember the last time she had danced, other than alone in her kitchen. 

She was aware of Jamie, Olivia and all the other people in the pub watching her dance with Joe. Not only was she the Englishwoman who ran the library and never wore a dress, but now she was also dancing with a black man, in a place where most people never saw one. If this was what they thought of as a provocation, then Claire rather liked to provoke. 

Her carefree spirit, gone for far too long, was back. What these people said about her, what they thought, was not her problem. If her uncle Lambert had taught her anything, it was how one could not control what perception other people had of them. 

People would think what they want, might as well not lose too much sleep over it. 

Body swirling, curls flying, hips swinging. She was mesmerising; smiling and laughing as she danced in time.  Jamie watched her, sipping on his second glass of the evening and ignoring whatever nonsense his wife was droning on about next to him. Blessedly, he could barely hear her high-pitched voice above the music; but even if he could, he was too enchanted by Claire to pay much attention, anyway. 

Claire couldn’t help but notice him looking at her. How she wished she could simply forget...anything would hurt less than being unable to be with him the way she wanted to. 

Not aware of how long she had been dancing, she saw Jamie and Olivia get up from their table and make their way out of the pub. She had noticed how his wife had not looked at him once on their way out — not even waiting for him, given his slower pace. Claire’s fingers itched to reach for his hand to pull him back, but he had disappeared from the pub too quickly for her to do anything.  Only when Joe reached for her did she notice she had stopped dancing. 

“Tired, Lady Jane?” 

Nodding, she managed a smile, “A bit. It’s been a long week.” 

“Let us get you one last drink before we send you home to rest,” he smiled, pulling her towards the bar and Gale. 

Half an hour later, Claire walked home, her ears ringing from the noise and a headache forming from the glasses of wine. Her mind was fuzzy — but then, it always was now that Jamie was around again.

Humming to herself, she looked through her purse for her keys as she walked towards the little cottage she fondly called home. The sun had set and the only lights were the ones from the street. Opening the gate, she stopped dead in her tracks. There on her front steps sat a figure, clearly waiting for her.

“Claire.”

Chapter Text

It was not the first time Claire noticed the effect James Fraser had on her.  Since their first meeting at the hospital, there had been something about the Scot that made her feel different from the way any other man had. There was a strong mix of attraction, and lust, but also a slight sense of intimidation brought on by the fact that she was powerless against her feelings for him. Feelings too strong to control. 

After the war, whenever she caught herself thinking about him, she would wonder how she would react to seeing him again. Would her heart beat faster? Would goosebumps erupt all over her skin? Would her knees feel weak? 

The answer was a resounding: yes

Now, standing in front of this man waiting for her on the front steps, she felt slightly at a loss. She did not recall drinking enough for it to be a vision. 

A few whiskies in, her yearning for him was even stronger than usual and at first, when Claire saw him sitting on her porch, she’d wondered if he was just another of her imaginings. Her heart beat faster and goosebumps broke out over her skin; that had never happened in one of her visions before - was Jamie really there?

“Claire?” 

“What are you doing here?” Frowning, she took the last few steps towards him. 

“I dinna ken,” he answered, truth ringing in his smooth voice. 

Slowly, Jamie got up and, instinctively, Claire stepped close to help him. 

Surprised, the Scot lost his balance and gripped Claire’s forearms to keep from falling over; their eyes locking as they had in the pub earlier.

“It’s all right,” she said softly, holding onto him. She was aware of their bodies pressed together, heat radiating from then both in the cold of the late evening. 

“I’ve got you.”

“Aye,” he answered, his warm breath tickling her cheek. 

Clearing her throat, Claire supported him with one arm and reached down to take his cane with the other. She handed it to him, “There.” 

“Thank ye, Sassenach,” he smiled gently. 

“Uhm,” she watched him, taking a step back to separate their bodies. “Do you want to come in?” 

The words were out of her mouth before she even registered them, prompting a surprised expression on Jamie’s face. 

“I have tea and biscuits” she added, as if it was necessary. 

He smiled then, whole body relaxing, “Well if ye have tea and biscuits...how could I say no to that?” 

Nodding, Claire led the way to the front door, fiddling with the keys a little before finally getting it open. Entering first, she turned on the lights and removed her coat. 

Given the late hour, she wondered where Olivia was; what would she be thinking when she realized her husband wasn’t home? They had left the pub together, had Jamie made up some excuse to stay out by himself?

Claire turned around to look at him. Standing in the hallway, they were like children, unsure of what to do or say. 

“Are you here to fix the boiler again?” she finally asked, breaking the ice. 

The Scot blinked, taken aback by the question. Only when he saw her lip flick upwards did he understand. He laughed softly, rubbing the back of his neck, “No, I’d better not try that again.” 

“So, uh...tea?” she asked, wondering if it was a good idea to have him here at such an hour, when no one would be disturbing them. “Or something else? I know you’re not much for tea. Tastes like warmed up pond water you’d say”

“Ye remember that?” Jamie smiled, surprise floating in his blue eyes. 

“Of course I do.” Answering softly, she cursed herself silently for letting this specific bit of information slip out.

“I have some whisky, if you’d rather?” 

“I’d rather,” he agreed and followed her to the living room. “Ye’ve done grand things wi’ the place, Sassenach. ‘Tis a lovely abode ye have.” 

Smiling, she grabbed a glass and poured the whisky while the Scot sat down. She was aware of his eyes on her, but tried to ignore what it did to her as best she could. 

“Thank you. I really like it here,” she smiled to herself, thinking about how quickly the cottage had become home to her.  The shelves were filled with her precious books from London, the only real momento from her previous life there. Since arriving in Inverness she’d furnished her new dwelling with items she loved, wallpapered the rooms and picked wildflowers for her little blue vase. Everything together brought her the one thing she’d been searching for since the war - peace.

Claire noticed her hands shaking as she brought the drink to Jamie, but she managed to control it better than she anticipated. She could tell he wasn’t completely comfortable either. Both of them tiptoed around one another as if they were back in the early days at the field hospital, wanting to be close but refraining. 

“Here,” she handed him the glass and sat down on the velvet armchair, opposite 

“None for ye?” Jamie wondered, eyebrow raising. 

“No, I’ve had enough drinks for tonight,” she smiled softly, preferring to keep her mind clear in his presence. 

Raising his glass, he watched her before finally taking a sip. There were things he wanted to ask her, she could tell. Probably things about Gale and Joe, and who they were to her? If she didn’t know better she would have said he’d been slightly jealous. 

“It is rather late…” she pointed out, glancing at the clock quickly before looking at him again. 

“Aye,” his voice was low. “When I got home from the pub I felt like a walk, and before I kent it, my feet took me here.” 

“It’s all right,” she reassured him, happy to have him there nonetheless. “I just don’t want you to get in trouble because of it.” 

Jamie shrugged and took a sip of his drink, “Dinna fash, I doubt I would. I’m sure Olivia is asleep by now.” 

Biting the inside of her cheek, Claire ignored the mention of his wife. It had been painful enough to lay eyes on her at the pub earlier. 

“It’s a bit chilly in here,” she commented, getting up quickly. Frankly, she did not know what to say to him. She might as well busy herself by starting a fire.

Jamie stayed silent as she kneeled down and started setting the logs and kindling. Growing up with an archaeologist who made her sleep under the stars in the middle of searching sites, it only took her a few minutes. 

When she turned around, the noticed her small kitten had found residence on the Scot’s lap. 

“I made a friend,” he said proudly, smiling gently down at the cat and stroking its grey fur. “Someone looks well spoiled.” 

“Yes, well spoiled, indeed,” she smiled fondly, getting back up and resettling in the armchair. 

“When I saw the wee cheetie, I couldna leave it there...I thought ye’d give it a good home.” 

The kitten in question looked even smaller resting on his legs. Jamie was a giant, his hands bigger than the grey creature that was sitting on his lap, purring contentedly. 

The adorable sight twisted Claire’s insides and made her heart sink at the same time. Perhaps she could use a whisky, after all. 

“Adso seems to like you very much,” she pointed out, trying to keep the kitten as the topic of conversation.

“Adso?” Jamie looked up at her, eyes widening with surprise. “Where’d ye get that name?”

“Mrs. Bug,” She reached to pet the kitten and avoid his eyes. “She was here when you dropped him off, and I had no idea what name to choose.” 

“When I was a lad, my mam had a cat named Adso,” he confessed, his voice soft and mind full of memories of his mother. 

“‘Twas grey too…I thought of him when I found this one,” he smiled tenderly, looking down at the sleeping cat. 

“Orla told me about her friend having a cat named Adso...I didn’t know it was your mother.” Claire reached to touch his arm in a friendly gesture, but refrained at the last second. Her palm tickled with the urge to do it...yet it was better to keep Pandora’s box closed.

“Aye, they were like sisters those two.”

“You never told me about your parents.” She carefully observed his expression, which had grown sadder.

“There is no’ much to tell,” he watched her, leaning back. “They lived in this cottage when they first got married.” 

“Did they?” She frowned. “Really?”

“Aye,” he smiled then, nodding.

“For a year or two, before I was born, then my Da built them a wee home outside of the village. ‘Twas no’ really a farm, but it looked like it could have been.” 

This was a detail Orla omitted to tell Claire, not that they had actively discussed the previous owners of this cottage. Yet, it was one more thing binding Jamie and Claire together.

Claire was starting to think fate had something to do with this after all. 

“My mam died two years before the war started,” Jamie continued. 

“‘Twas verra sudden, too. She collapsed in the garden and never got up again,” he looked down at his hands.

“And my Da died a year later....” he paused for a moment before adding, “You ken how people say ye can die of a broken heart?”

“Yes.” Her voice broke slightly, and she hoped he didn’t notice. She knew all too well about broken hearts and what one did to a person. 

“‘Tis what happened to him. He loved her so much, he couldn’t go on wi’out her. It’s beautiful in a way...that two people needed each other so much, they couldna live wi’out one another.” 

“Indeed it is,” she nodded, feeling a lump forming in her throat. 

“What happened to Leonard, Claire?” 

The question almost took her by surprise, but she realised it was his way to pull the conversation away from his parents and matters of the heart. Plus, it sounded like the question had been burning in his mind for a little while. 

“He was killed in London by an airstrike, a couple of weeks before the end of the war. Along with my Uncle Lambert.” 

“Christ, Claire,” he muttered, a frown forming in between his brows. He wanted to reach for her, to hold her, but he fought the urge to, instead staying seated. “I’m sae sorry.”

Simply managing a grateful smile, she couldn’t admit to the guilt she felt at Leonard’s passing not affecting her the way it should have. It was almost a relief going back to London and not finding him there waiting for her; she had not known how she could have faced him after parting with Jamie. 

“Loss is part of life,” she said simply, getting up to get a glass of whisky after all. 

“Aye, ‘tis verra true,” he watched her intensely as she poured herself a drink. 

“Care for a refill?” She turned her head to look at him. He nodded. 

Armed with her glass and the bottle, she returned to her seat and poured him another dram. 

He raised his glass, “A ghràidh, a chall.”

To love, to loss. 

She raised hers in turn, smiling softly, “Cheers.” 

They drank, basking in silence; comfort returning to peel away the tense layers in between them. It was starting to feel like old times, when they could be together without any awkwardness, without unspoken words of grief and sadness engulfing them. 

There were still things they couldn’t tell one another, but it had to be that way. 

“How have you been?” She spoke first, rolling the glass between her palms. 

“I’ve been alright,” he answered, his eyes looking down the bottom of his drink. 

“And your leg?” 

Looking up, he raised his eyebrows, “Weel, I still carry a cane so, I wouldna say there has been too much improvement.” 

“Do you go swimming? If not, you should. It would help and there is a loch not very far from here. Of course, not in the middle of winter; but in the summer it would do you some good. And walking, obviously.” 

“Dinna fash, I take my daily walks.” His lip flicked up into a smile, and so did hers at the memory of their walks together at the hospital. 

“Good.” She finished her drink. 

Adso had woken up and moved from Jamie’s legs down to his favourite spot in front of the fireplace. Aside from the crackling of the flames and his purring, there was no other noise in the room.. 

“I should go.” Jamie put the empty glass on the table and got up slowly. “‘Tis verra late and I’ve taken up enough of yer time.” 

“Oh.” She got up in turn, nodding. “Yes, it is rather late.” 

Following him into the hall, she couldn’t help but look at  his back; picturing the damaged skin hidden under the material of his shirt and jacket. She wondered if the scars still pained him as much as they used to. Did his wife soothe them when he needed? 

“Thank ye for welcomin’ me into yer home, Sassenach. ‘Tis lovely to have ye to talk to again.” Jamie stood by the door, his blue eyes piercing her. 

“So…” Claire moistened her lips, watching him.

“So?” He frowned, taking a step closer to her. 

“Friends?” She held out her hand to him, the gesture felt like a peace offering. 

Nodding, he smiled tenderly. He grabbed her hand, their skin touching again for the first time in a long time, burning against one another. 

“Aye, friends.” Jamie brought her hand to his lips and placed a gentle kiss on the tip of her fingers. Reluctantly, he let her hand go, bowing his head before opening the door. 

“Goodnight, Sassenach.” 

“Goodnight Jamie.” 

The Scot took another good look at her then left to go back to his house, a place Claire didn’t know. A place that was deprived of tenderness and warmth, and that didn’t feel like home at all. His heart, however, would remain in the little cottage with Claire.

Chapter Text

On Sundays, the library was closed, which meant Claire could indulge in one of the things she loved doing the most: snoozing

After five years as a combat nurse, where hours of rest were sparse and spent on the most uncomfortable of surfaces, having the comfort of her own bed — in her own home — for as long as she wanted, was a welcome advantage of her new life. 

During the week, she had to be up by seven-thirty to be sure to arrive at the library on time. But on her free day, she would not leave her bed at least until ten, when Adso would come and wake her up by purring in her ear. 

“Good morning to you too,” she mumbled to the cat, lids heavy with slumber. 

Gently, Adso came to snuggle against her, rubbing his head on her shoulder. Smiling, she sat up and took it him in her arms. The cat was bigger than it used to be when Jamie had brought him to the cottage, but it was still small enough to be carried around without protestation on his part; well, except for a meow or two. 

“Yes, I need some tea too.” Claire got up and walked to the kitchen with Adso snuggling against her. 

The librarian relished in her slow days, even the ones spent at work. There was a contentment in her life; one she had never known until moving to Inverness and finding a home. As much as she had loved her life with Lambert, and the time spent on the front being useful to her country, there had always been something missing.

Something she was starting to find now. 

Kettle boiling on the stove, she toasted some crumpets and grabbed the milk, along with the butter, from her fridge. Pouring some into a bowl for the cat, she put it him in his on its usual spot near the back door, giving him another head rub before going to turn on the record player. 

Humming to herself, she poured the tea, adding milk and sugar. Once the crumpets were buttered, she sat down at the table and opened a book. A banned book.

Claire always had a fascination for the forbidden. As a child, the more she was told not to do something, the more she did it. In the years since, she had to admit that this trait of hers hadn’t changed much. Stubborn, headstrong, she detested not being able to do what she wanted; which was exactly why when she heard of the banned book, she did everything she could to find a copy. 

It was in Paris a couple of years ago that she found that very copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but somehow, she had never started to read it up until this morning. It had been labelled pornographic, scandalous, and every other derogatory name that went along with the resentment of female sexuality and liberty. 

There was something more to the book than just sex. It was the story of a broken couple, though. It told the story of a broken man, home from the war, who could not satisfy his wife’s needs — might they be physical or psychological. There was an underlying sadness to the tale, to this married couple who had no reason to be together and to this affair between two people finding one another, giving each other all the happiness they needed. 

Sipping her tea, she realised she might end up in jail just by being in possession of the novel and, in true Claire fashion, the idea amused her. This alone proved how powerful literature could be; so much so that people were afraid of certain books.  How utterly ridiculous a thing it was, too. Books were not threatening; at best, they existed to help shift perception of the world. To tell stories, history, so people could evolve. 

“Listen to this, Adso,” she smirked at the passage, beginning to read aloud: 

“I only want one thing of men, and that is, that they should leave me alone.”

“How very relatable.” She finished her crumpet and got up, book in hand. “Do you think I should get myself a lover?” 

The cat looked up at her for a brief second, blinked, and turned back his attention to his bowl of milk. 

“No, you’re right. I probably shouldn’t.” She shook her head and continued to read, walking to the living room. 

“Let’s not give this village anything more to talk about.” 

******* 

On Monday, Claire ignored temptation and left Lady Chatterley’s Lover at home, choosing instead to busy herself with the newest shipment of books to arrive.

The first thing she noticed when she started working at the library was the lack of selection. The majority of the shelves were half full with dusty books, mostly about history. Now it was starting to look and feel like a real library, with various genres of fiction, non-fiction, children's books, and more. If only people would start to come in. 

Adjusting her glasses, she started to unpack the new arrivals, carefully storing them on her desk. She tried to ignore thoughts of James Fraser by staying busy, but invariably he would pop into her mind time and time again.

They had talked things through and agreed to be civil, while still pretending not to know each other from prior to her arrival in Inverness. Friends, they had agreed. And friends it would have to be. Though her fingers still tingled from his kiss the other night, she did her best to brush the feeling off. Friends, she mumbled under her breath for no one to hear. 

Once done with her task, she started classifying the books into their various genres and finding them a new home on the shelves. Sometimes, she had to use the ladder, balancing herself on it while holding the titles to organize. 

Libraries were usually quiet; but since no one came to visit, she had gotten into the habit of turning on her little radio. Jazz played softly, engulfing her mind with melodies and lyrics, leaving her too preoccupied to notice someone entering.

The last book to be put away belonged on the top shelf. Claire climbed the ladder and stretched to place the book when suddenly she lost her balance. Closing her eyes she braced for impact with the hard wooden floor; instead, she was surprised to find two strong arms catching her. 

Opening her eyes, she was face to face with the ginger-haired Scot smiling down at her. 

“Careful there, Sassenach.” 

“Jamie,” she said softly, holding onto him. She didn’t expect to see anyone walking in her library, much less him. 

“What are you doing here?” she asked, not moving from his arms. 

“Weel, I wanted to borrow some books. I thought I’d come to the library,” he smiled softly. “I didna ken I would have to save ye from the ladder.” 

Eyes widening, Claire stepped out of his embrace, quickly grabbing his fallen cane to give back to him. “Thank you for that.” 

“Ye’re lucky ye fell just as I looked up.” 

“Indeed,” she cleared her throat and brushed off her trousers. “So, uhm...what can I do for you?”

“Can I look around? I dinna ken what I feel like readin’ actually.”

“Of course.” Nodding, she smiled and picked up the book she had let fall off from the ladder. “Just tell me if you need anything.” 

“Aye, I will.” Jamie smiled at her before turning his attention to the shelves of books. 

Claire felt the heat in her cheeks but prayed he didn’t notice she was blushing. Quickly, she went back to her desk and sat down, putting her glasses back on. 

The Scot had disappeared behind the shelves, allowing her to relax slightly. Since their little talk back at her house, she had not thought much about what they would say to one another if they saw each other again so soon. Somehow, the idea of him showing up at the library did not cross her mind.

She could vaguely hear him moving around, picking up books up and putting them back on the shelves, but the sound was muffled by the radio. The soft jazz a welcome distraction from the whereabouts of the man that occupied all her thoughts. That was until the song changed, shifting from an instrumental piece to Eddy Arnold.

It's a sin my darling how I love you
Because I know our love can never be
It's a sin to keep this mem'ry of you
When silence proves that you've forgotten me

The dream I built for us has tumbled
Each promise broken like my heart
It's a sin my darling how I love you 
so much in love and yet so far apart

Quickly, she got up and turned off the radio, bringing silence back to the library. Eyes closed, she stood there for a moment, the rest of the lyrics playing in her mind as she knew them by heart. 

I'm sure you're happy with another
Who shares the love I couldn't win
Why pretend that I can't live without you
When deep inside I know that it's a sin

“Claire?” 

His soft voice ruptured the silence like a thunderbolt. She couldn’t hide from him, she couldn’t run away, no matter how much she wanted to. 

“Yes?” She turned around, looking at him with a polite smile. 

“Do ye have any recommendations? I canna decide.” 

“Well,” she made her way over to him, assuming her librarian role. “What do you like to read?” 

Shrugging, the Scot leaned against the table. “Whatever. I dinna have a very good attention span, so as long as it keeps me focused.” 

“That is a broad spectre of books.” She couldn’t help but grin, crossing her arms. “Because a good book should be able to do that anyway.” 

“Ye’re right,” he chuckled softly, watching her. 

“I’ve just finished reading this; couldn’t put it down.” Claire turned around and grabbed a book from her desk, handing it to him. 

The Mysterious Affairs at Styles,” he read, a frown forming between his brows. 

“Have you ever read any Agatha Christie?” 

“Nay,” he shook his head, turning the book over to look at the back. 

“It has a very endearing Belgian detective, and if you enjoy this one, you can read a few more because she’s been quite prolific.  I guarantee it will keep your attention until the very last page,” she assured him. 

“If ye say so, I’m sure it will,” he smiled gently. 

“I’ll have to make you a library card before you take that home,” she exclaimed, excited to finally make someone one. 

“Please do, Sassenach.” Jamie followed her to her desk and waited for his card. 

Claire wrote down his name on a blue piece of paper, along with the date and the title of the book he was borrowing. Once done, she stamped it and put the card inside.

“Here you go.” She handed it back to him, smiling. “Enjoy.” 

“Thank ye,” he smiled in turn, their fingers touching as he took the book from her hand. 

“Of course,” she answered, their eyes locking for a moment, neither of them unable able to do anything about it. 

“Sassenach?” Jamie asked softly, hesitation in his voice. 

“Yes?”

“I wanted—“

Before Jamie was able to continue, the bell on the door sounded. Joe walked in — dressed to the nines, once more — and accompanying him was a man that wasn’t Gale. Tall, with dark brown hair and blue eyes, he was rakishly handsome. 

“Good morning!” the American said enthusiastically, smiling warmly. 

“Joe,” she smiled in turn, “Good morning.”

“LJ,” he said solemnly, albeit with a hint of a smirk. “I want to introduce you to someone.” 

Claire waited for the introduction, from the corner of her eye, she could see Jamie, who seemed determined not to go anywhere. 

“This is one of our friends, Jeremy Foster,” Joe finally said, “Jeremy, this is Claire Beauchamp, the librarian Gale told you about.” 

“Madam,” the man said, smiling tenderly. “Joe and Gale have been talking to me about you all morning.”

“You’re English!” Claire’s eyes widened as her lip flicked up into a smile. 

“Indeed, I am,” he nodded, still smiling. Gently, he took her hand and brought it to his lips. “It is a pleasure to finally put a face to a name. You are even more beautiful than I had imagined.”

Claire chuckled, looking at Joe. “What on Earth have you told this poor man about me?” 

“My lips are sealed LJ,” he winked, crossing his arms. 

“Joe told me you’d have tea with me, if I asked you,” Jeremy grinned, looking at her. 

Jamie made a low Scottish noise of displeasure down in his throat. 

“Tea? I’m afraid I can’t leave the library just now…” She looked at Joe and then at the fellow Englishman in front of her. 

“Of course, of course,” he nodded, smiling. “What time would suit you?”

Jamie was silent, putting on a poor show of flicking through the pages of his book, as if he was actually reading it.  

Joe and Jeremy stood in front of Claire, waiting for an answer. 

“What about five?” she finally proposed. “It’s when the library closes, and we can meet at the bakery.”

“Five it is then, Miss Beauchamp.” Jeremy brought her hand to his lips again, smiling against the back of her hand. “But I will pick you up.” 

“All right, then,” she nodded, smiling at him. There was something inside of her that made her say yes to this little date, and it was not her wanting to know this man better. 

“Now that that’s settled, I’ll leave this here for you,” Joe said, putting a tiny book on her desk. They had spoken about his poems and he had promised her he would bring around one of his collections. 

“Thank you, Joe,” she smiled, picking up the book. 

“See you later, Miss Beauchamp,” Jeremy smiled tenderly, before following Joe out of the library. 

Claire stood by her desk, wondering what had just happened and feeling deep blue eyes staring at her intensely. 

Chapter Text

Slumped in one of the armchairs in his living room, Jamie swirled the whisky around his glass. He craved silence but the slightest noises— the fire crackling, the wind outside — became louder and louder, ringing in his ears like parasites.  

He sat with the pretence of reading his newly borrowed book, but he could not focus. All his thoughts flowed back to Claire and the small moment they’d shared at the library earlier, before being rudely interrupted by Joe and that Jeremy guy. 

Fully aware of the situation, he knew he had no right to be jealous, to be possessive of a woman he gave up to go back to another. He had no right to feel angry but he couldn’t help himself. 

He was not a happy man. He had not been for a long time. Not since those brief moments with her, when he’d tasted happiness and all it had to give before it was snatched away, leaving him alone and afraid all over again. He had given up on the idea of any kind of joy since he came back to Inverness, never expecting that Claire would to reappear out of the blue one day. 

Now, not only was she here, unreachable to him, but he also had to step aside and watch other men court her freely, unable to say anything. Instead, he had to live a life he did not want, with a woman he did not love, all because of one hurried decision seven years ago. 

Sighing, Jamie took the last sip of his drink and closed his eyes. He could feel a headache forming. Images of Claire and that other man sharing laughs and maybe more. Jeremy was already closer than Jamie could ever be; that alone was enough to set him ablaze with anger. 

He tried to temper it; he tried to keep it at bay, but he could feel it simmering. A dangerous mixture of guilt and doubts coming dangerously close to the surface. 

“Jamie?” 

Olivia’s high pitched voice shattered the tiny illusion of stability he had been able to take refuge in. It was becoming harder and harder to hide his annoyance with her. 

“Aye?” Opening his eyes, he looked at her standing in the door frame. She had barely spoken to him that morning, waking up with a chip on her shoulder; one that had not left since their evening at the pub. 

“What are ye doing?” Her eyebrows raised in question. 

“Readin’,” he mumbled, raising the book. He hadn’t actually started it, but she wasn’t to know that. 

“Are ye just goin’ to sit there forever?” 

“What do ye mean, forever? I’ve been out today.” He sat his glass on the table, ignoring the sudden pain in his leg. He could feel an argument coming, and he did not feel like avoiding it this time. 

“Aye, ye went on yer walk and now ye’re back sittin’ here, wonderin’ what to do wi’ yer life.” Olivia made her way inside the sitting room. She had come in looking for a fight, he could tell by the way she carried herself. 

“Are ye never goin’ to work again?”

“I was thinkin’ about becomin’ a professional athlete, actually.” He answered sarcastically, giving her a little smile. 

“Verra funny.” His wife rolled his eyes and sat down in front of him. 

“Ye ken that if I could work I would, Olivia, but ‘tis a bit difficult given my situation. I have my soldier pension, and that did no’ bother ye until now.” 

“We canna live on that alone, and I canna find a job and take care of ye at the same time. What are we goin’ to do when we have children?” 

Jamie blinked at her question, completely taken aback. 

“Children?” He sounded amused. “Where is this comin’ from?”

“Weel we’ve been married for a while now...even wi’ the war,” she watched him, her whole demeanour changing.

He did not quite understand what she actually wanted from him. All he knew was that whatever it was, he couldn’t give it to her. 

“Are ye aware that in order to have children, ye’ll have to touch me at some point in the proceedings?” Jamie asked bluntly, carefully observing the way her eyes widened just a tad. 

“I assumed that ye wouldna touch me ever again, Olivia.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she scoffed, shaking her head. 

“I’m no’ the one being ridiculous right now and ye ken it verra well.” 

“Excuse me for tryin’ to make our marriage work, James Fraser.” She got up, shaking her head. “At least one of us is.”

“Aye when that suits ye.” Jamie got up and went to refill his whisky. He was aware of his wife’s eyes on him, but pretended she was not in the room. 

“People are startin’ to talk, I dinna want to be the joke of the village because my husband is still living in the past, lettin’ himself be eaten away by a war that has been over for almost two years now.”

“But why is it suddenly my fault? If I recall, ye’re the one who didn’t seem too thrilled to see yer husband come home crippled,” he pointed out, pouring himself a glass. 

“Ye ken I tried to be patient wi’ ye.” She walked over to him, bitterness lacing her tone.  

“Patient?” He laughed, taking a sip of his drink. “Aye, ye were patient for a week, maybe two. I canna deny ye were gentle wi’ me at the beginning, but all ye’ve been doin’ since is resenting me for comin’ home a different man.” 

“Aye, ye did come home a different man...and it has nothin’ to do wi’ yer leg or yer scars, Jamie. Ye ken it as well as I do.” 

The Scot looked at her then, finding truth in her words but not about to admit it. “Still, ye have been repulsed by me ever since. And children, really? Why are ye makin’ a decision wi’out consultin’ me first? Do ye think I want children when I won’t even be able to run around wi’ them or when my wounds are still so raw I can’t sleep at night?”

“Physical scars are no’ all that exist, Olivia. But ye wouldna know what the war could do to one person. Ye stayed here, cocooned in the safety of the village. The only complaint ye have about the war was havin’ to ration the food and no’ being able to find oolong tea.” 

“Ye’re a bitter man, James Fraser,” she spat out, crossing her arms. “Ye resent me because I did no’ go through the same war as ye did, is that it? Well, what did ye want me to do? Enroll in the army?” 

“That’s no’ what I meant,” he sighed, leaning against the wall. “Ye canna understand what I went through, and ye dinna seem to want to either.”

“Whenever I try to reach out, ye close off like a clamp. I tried, ye ken it as much as I do. But, for whatever reason, ye’re no’ willing to let me in.”

“I dinna want to talk about this again,” he rubbed his face, aware that the last drop of patience he had was starting to dry out. It wasn’t their first argument about this, it surely would not be the last, but he’d reached his limit for today. Guilt would continue to eat away at him until he found a solution for his lack of freedom. 

“No, ye never want to talk about things.” She walked to the door, avoiding his glance. Suddenly, she stopped and turned around. 

“I’m no’ stupid, Jamie. ‘Tis no’ my name ye whimper or my hand ye reach for in yer sleep. Despite what ye think, I’m no’ fool.” 

With those words, Olivia left the sitting room and a minute later, he heard the front door slam. 

*******

“So where in England were you born exactly?” Claire asked, resting her head against her palm. She watched while Jeremy poured her a cup of tea. 

The bakery wasn’t very crowded at this time of day, but the few people there seemed to be curiously fascinated by the two English people sharing scones. It wouldn’t take very long for the entire village to be aware that the librarian was seen on a rendez-vous with a stranger. 

“In Dorset,” he answered proudly, smiling charmingly. “Do you take milk in your tea?”

“Yes, please,” she nodded, smiling in turn. “And a spoonful of sugar.” 

“What about you?” He handed her the tea, watching her.

“Oxford, actually,” she recalled fondly. “But I haven’t been there for a long time after living all over the place with my uncle, then London and then the war.” 

“Did I understand correctly that you were a combat nurse?” 

His accent was posh and sophisticated, much like her own. Physically, his features were far removed from Jamie’s, except for the height. But even then, the Scot probably towered over him. 

“Yes, I trained in London for a few months, and then I was sent to France and I stayed there until the end.”

“What about you?” she asked, buttering her scone. 

“I served as a lieutenant in the army, I was stationed in Belgium for most of the war, and then my regiment moved closer to Germany as their troops were starting to lose ground.” 

“Then we probably never crossed paths,” she grinned, taking a sip of tea. Claire was enjoying this man’s company, she knew that much. Not to mention it was a welcome distraction from thinking about Jamie too much; not that he wasn’t constantly in the back of her mind. 

“No, because if we had, I would have remembered,” he smiled tenderly, passing her the jam. 

Chuckling, she took it and added some to her scone. “Is that a  line of yours?” 

“No, I genuinely would have remembered! I doubt many people forget once they meet you.” 

“You’d be surprised.” She took a bite and smiled. Foolishly Claire never thought she left much of a mark on people; how wrong she was.

“What brings you to Inverness? Did you travel with Gale and Joe?”

He shook his head. “No, but we decided to meet here since Gale was coming to visit his sister. I live in London, actually, but I have been travelling around since the war ended.” 

“Oh, I see.” 

Jeremy reminded her quite a bit of Leonard, and there was something unsettling about this. She often wondered how she would have reacted seeing him again after returning to London, or what he would think of where she was now. If anything, Leonard had been a real sweetheart; but in retrospect, they had never been properly suited in the first place. 

Claire wasn’t blind to Jeremy’s charming ways and his attempt at wooing her, but her heart was not meant to be given to anyone anymore. It already belonged to another man, and even if he didn’t want it, she couldn’t change it. But giving her heart to a man wasn’t the same thing as appreciating the company of one. 

“How long are you staying in Inverness?” 

“A couple of days, maybe more,” he gently touched her hand, smiling. “We should go to the pub with Gale and Joe on Friday.”

“Sure, why not?” she smiled in turn, finishing her tea. “I had a great time with them the other night.”

A great time, despite the fact that her ex-lover and his wife were there too. But she didn’t mention that. She needed to stop circling back to Jamie all the time, only...she couldn’t help it. She was partially on this date because he was at the library when Jeremy asked, and she felt like she could get a reaction out of him. 

Not that her plan had worked; after hearing her accept the date, Jamie had politely taken his library book and left to go home. He didn’t seem much bothered by the idea of Claire going to have tea with another man. If he had been, he didn’t show it at all.  And why would he be? They were just friends, nothing more. 

“How is working at the library? It was always a favourite place of mine growing up, but my librarian wasn’t very friendly,” he chuckled, finishing his tea. 

“What makes you think I am a friendly librarian?” She grinned, raising her eyebrow in question. 

“You’re right, you would probably be very scary telling me off for talking too loudly!”

She couldn’t help but laugh at the image. 

“Truth is, no one but a few people come to the library and two of them are my landlords the other two are Joe and Gale.” 

“But there was a man there when I came in earlier, yes?” He frowned. 

“Yes, that makes five people.” 

She gave him a look, raising her cup in a toast. 

“Well, it’s their loss.” Jeremy brought her hand to his lips,  delicately kissing the back. 

Any other woman would have blushed, embarrassed at the overt display of affection from a man she didn’t know well at all. Actually, some women at the bakery seemed to blush on Claire’s behalf but she did not; why would she? She enjoyed the attention, it was a good distraction. 

“Maybe they’ll start to come in after seeing me out and about with a gentleman such as yourself,” she said in a low voice, chuckling. 

Jeremy glanced around him, making all the heads watching them turn back to their own afternoon tea. He smirked, “I’m glad I can be of service.” 

“That is very kind of you.” She finished her scone, along with her tea, and wiped her mouth. 

“Should I walk you home?” he asked, reaching for his wallet to pay. 

“It’s alright,” she smiled, getting up. “I’m not very far from here, but thank you.” 

Smiling, Jeremy got up in turn and helped her into her coat. He followed her out of the bakery before she stopped to look at him, “Thank you for the tea. I had a lovely time with you.”

“Thank you for your lovely company.” He gave her another charming smile and kissed the back of her hand. “I can’t wait to see you again. In the meantime, expect me to drop by the library.” 

“You are more than welcome to visit.” Claire stood on her tiptoes and gently kissed his cheek. 

“Goodbye,” she added, smiling, before starting to make her way to the cottage. 

Jeremy stood there, waving at her and watching her. Left completely bewitched by the Englishwoman. 

Claire was actually looking forward to making it home; planning to have a bath and read in the water until it turned cold, upon which she’d move to her bed to continue, snuggled beneath the covers. 

Lighting a cigarette, she took her time making her way back to the cottage. Enjoying the warm breeze of the late afternoon, she would never forget the sky that day. Blue, with small hints of orange and pink, and the loveliest clouds. Un ciel pommelé, as the French would say. It wasn’t unlike a sky she had seen in France, on the last day of the war.  She hummed a song and smiled to herself at the memory. 

“Ye’re always humming to yerself, Sassenach.” 

Jamie stood by the gate of her cottage, leaning against his cane. He was smiling slightly, a mixture of shyness and apprehension in his voice. 

“You again,” she grinned, walking over to him. 

“I was coming to return my book.” 

“The one you don’t have on you?” She tilted her head, looking at his empty hands. 

“Aye, that very one.” 

“The library opens tomorrow at 8:30, so you’ll have to find another excuse.” 

“I dinna ken why my feet keep bringing me here whenever I’m on a walk.” He ran his hand through his curls, shrugging. “I didna expect ye to catch me again.” 

“Catch you?” Her eyebrows rose. “You weren’t waiting for me?” 

“I’ve been waiting for ye all my life, Sassenach. Tis nothing new, but I dinna think ye’d be back so soon from…” he let his sentence die, an expression of displeasure appearing on his face. 

“From my date? Is that what you’re trying to say?” 

“I guess, aye. Was it nice?” 

“None of your business.” She opened the gate and made her way to the front door, aware of the Scot following her. 

“Ye’re right, it isna,” he agreed, coming to lean against the doorframe beside her. 

Claire unlocked the door and moved to push it open, expecting Jamie to bid her goodnight. Instead, he just stood there, eyes dark and intense. Rather than feel intimidated by it though, she found she wanted to rise to the challenge.

Turning to face him, she met his gaze dead on.

“Were you hoping for an invitation inside?” 

Running her fingertips under his lapel, she bit her lower lip to stop herself from smiling. 

“Am I allowed to come inside?” he asked softly, leaning close. 

Emboldened by the same spirit that had made her read the banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover, what Claire said next surprised even herself:

“Well that depends; am I allowed to kiss you?” 

Jamie’s eyes blew wide, mouth opening but no sound coming out. Claire stood silently, watching him try - and fail - to compose himself

“What did ye say?” 

“You heard perfectly well.” Voice low, Claire enunciated each word slowly.

“Claire…” he whispered, licking his lips in anticipation. 

“Yes?” she answered, breath tickling his mouth. 

For a second, they were so close that their lips could almost touch. Half an inch more and they would touch. Instead, she smiled — that mischievous grin that she hadn’t used in years — and went inside the house, waiting for him to join her. 

Chapter Text

Jamie didn’t hesitate more than a second before heading inside; following Claire and tossing every belief, every promise he ever made to Olivia aside. Like in France, he forgot about the circumstances, the people; he forgot about everything that was not his Sassenach. He had needed only a sign from her to understand where he belonged and now that it had come he was not going to let her go again. 

He was a sailor answering a siren call, hypnotised and at her mercy. 

Closing the door behind him, he stood, watching Claire waiting for him. Her whisky eyes drinking him in and lips slightly flicking up into a smile — she was shy but daring all at once. Alone in the silent cottage, there wasn’t a single thing that could disturb their peace; nothing to tear them apart prematurely again. 

He was scared; but so was she. He could see it in the way she hesitated to take a step forward. The idea that Claire had not meant the words she had spoken only a minute ago flashed through his mind like a thunderbolt, disappearing as quickly as it came when she finally made a move to come closer. 

“Why did you come here?” Voice gentle, question and hope floated in the whisky of her eyes. 

“‘Tis rather a long story,” he admitted, not knowing how he would pour it all out to her; just that he needed to. 

“One I’d like to tell ye.” 

Claire reached up to cup his cheek, the warmth of her skin contrasting with the coldness he was used to back home. Her index finger traced the lines of his mouth, waiting for him to make his choice. One he had made almost two years ago, back in a field hospital in France. 

Leaning down, Jamie licked his lips to temper the anticipating tingle. He didn’t want to close his eyes, fearing she’d disappear from his arms like she had so many times, right before they would kiss. 

This time, however, she didn’t disappear. 

Their lips met again, bringing back memories of their time together. A gentle kiss, slow, still full of the hesitation that belonged to former lovers walking a bridge back to one another.  Her arms wrapped around his neck, and his wrapped around her waist as he let go of the cane he didn’t need when she held him like this. As their kiss grew, their familiarity came back like a tide that had gone only briefly — the layers of protectiveness built up over the years slowly washing away with each touch of their lips. 

“Mo nighean donn,” he whispered, forehead resting against hers. It was such a relief to be near her like this; pain leaving his body and mind, the feeling overwhelmed him so much that the tears he had held for so long finally roamed free. 

“My darling,” she smiled tenderly, wiping them away. 

He held her tightly, closing his eyes while hiding his face in the crook of her neck. 

A haven. 

There was no more façade to maintain, no pretence to keep up; relief washed over him. She was here, she wasn’t unreachable anymore. Jamie felt like the weight he had been carrying had finally lifted off his shoulders. He wept in her arms. Wept for the lost time, the heartache, the times he thought she was forever lost to him. He wept for her, for him, for the things he thought they’d never have together. But mostly, he wept because it had been too long since he felt at peace, safe, in the arms of another person. Safe in the knowledge he could show her anything: the good, the bad, the ugly.  

He could simply be. 

Claire gently lifted up his chin to make him look at her. He took her in then - finally free to study her the way he had wanted to since he first saw her in the library. Her beautiful smile, warm and tender; her shiny golden eyes, holding onto tears. The perfectly carved Cupid’s bow and her tiny scar on top of her cheekbone; the same one she had acquired after the ambush, where he thought he’d lost her forever. 

He still saw it all too well — the slow hours without her return, her closed bedroom door and the night that followed...their first night together, seeking comfort and safety in each other’s arms. It had been some two odd years ago, but it felt like yesterday. He felt that same feeling right now — the need to consume one another, to feel alive again. 

“Claire...would ye come to bed wi’ me?” he hardly recognised his own voice, devoid of its usual sadness. 

He watched her expression change from the tiniest spark of surprise, giving space to her own forbidden lust and desires. 

“To bed? Or to sleep?” she asked in turn, tilting her head in that daring way she often used to tease him. 

“Weel.” It was his turn to be mischievous, finding his own flirtatious ways after far too long. 

“Are you sure?” Her voice was soft, her fingers grazing his chin in the way he loved so much. 

“If ye want me, Sassenach,” Jamie took her hand and kissed it, “I’m yers.”

“We do have some things to talk about,” her eyebrow raised, her arms wrapping around his neck again. “Quite a few things, actually.”

“Aye,” he nodded, feeling the heat creep up his cheeks again. That was the thing about Claire; she made him feel like the most powerful man and a shy little boy all at once.

“But we can talk later,” she whispered and kissed him again. 

This time, the kiss was anything but chaste. Tasting salty from his tears, it was a match igniting the fire in the pits of their stomachs. Claire reached for his hand, unable to break away from his lips as she slowly led him towards her bedroom. His cane forgotten on the floor, when she held him he didn’t need it to walk. She was his balance, his stability. 

Standing in her bedroom, she started to unzip his trousers, their mouths still connected. His hands travelled down to her bottom to take a firm grip, prompting a moan from Claire. Smiling, he slowly made his way backwards to sit on the bed, trousers and boxers down to his ankles and hands reaching to unbutton her shirt. 

Looking down at him, Claire cupped his cheeks and leaned in to kiss him again. Letting him peel her clothes off, he brushed his lips against the smooth skin of her bare stomach as she held herself close against him. Slowly, the fear of her disappearing from underneath his fingers vanished; there was no turning back. It was only the two of them, in the small room, just like in France. 

Straddling him, Claire reached behind her to undo her brassiere and remove the last piece of fabric from her body. Then, her fingers started the task of unbuttoning his shirt, pushing it off his shoulders to join the pile of clothes on the carpet. Her skin was so warm against him, like she was the sun and he was approaching too closely. His bones stopped hurting, his scars didn’t pull. Things he hadn’t felt for years were coming back to him; lust, excitement. His hands explored her body like new territory, yet they already knew perfectly well each nook and cranny. 

Wrapping one arm around her waist, he pulled her with him as he leaned back against the pillows and kissed her, hungrily. His hand grabbed her curls gently, pulling her away to look at her face; she was so beautiful, it broke his heart. 

“Claire,” he said softly, breathless, “I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe.”

“Are you sure about this?” she asked again, cupping his cheek. The light from the hall illuminated around her like a halo. He could see the mixture of fear and lust floating in her eyes. 

“Aye,” he smiled, stroking a stray curl away from her face. “I’m sure as I was back in France, Sassenach.”

That was all she needed to hear. Leaning to kiss him again, she reached down to take a firm hold of him. Gaelic prayers left his lips as agonisingly slowly she sank down onto him. 

Claire started to move, hips circling gently. Their bodies were still getting used to one another, no rushing, no hurrying. All the times he had imagined himself with her again, he had pictured it exactly like this. She led and he let her, enjoying letting himself go, entrusting her with his heart, his body; knowing she’d take care of him. 

As her speed increased, so did his heartbeat and the frequency of moans leaving both their lips in between kisses. He held onto her hips, pushing her lower each time she came down. He had thought intimacy lost forever; what a relief it was to know it wasn’t. 

When he felt himself getting close, he moved them abruptly so that he was on top of her. His hips thrusting, her back arching. He took one nipple in his mouth, kissing and tugging before giving the same attention to the other. The more she moaned, the more powerful she made him feel — like he was another man, not crippled and not in pain; yet, he was more himself than he had been in years. 

They finished together, both breathless and sated. Reunited, their bodies in perfect synchronicity. He collapsed on top of her and closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of being inside her for just another moment. He felt her hands resting on his back, fingertips running up and down his scars as if touching them really meant she was with him again. 

He smiled gently and touched her cheek, “I thought my heart was goin’ to burst.” 

She kissed the tip of his nose, smiling. “I’m glad you came over.” 

“Me too.” He stroked her cheek, smiling tenderly. “God I’ve missed ye, Sassenach.” 

“I’ve missed you too.” 

They moved so Claire was the one laying partly on him now, resting her chin on her chest. 

“So…” she looked at him, unable to hide her grin. “I take it you didn’t like me going out for tea with another man?”

“Weel,” he blushed, kissing her temple. “Twas part of it, aye. But no’ only.” 

“Tell me,” she said gently. 

“When I saw ye here for the first time, I was afraid,” he admitted, stroking her arm. “So afraid, and I didna ken what to do, how to exist around ye without spilling my guts, my misery to ye.” 

“Well, you know I never want you to hide from me. I just thought...I just thought you were not happy to have me around, which I understood, so I left you alone.” 

“I didna ken what I felt when I saw ye again, except that there were so many things all at once. I’m sorry I thought pullin’ away from ye was the way to do it. I’m sorry I hurt ye.” He stroked her cheek. 

“I didn’t expect to see you here, let alone that you’d want to be with me the way we once were. I thought you were happy with Olivia and that you thought I had come to cause trouble.” 

The sadness in her voice broke his heart. 

If only she knew. If only he had told her everything. It was past time to do it. 

“I have never been happy wi’ Olivia,” he finally said. “And I doubt she’s ever been happy wi’ me either. Maybe during the first few days of our marriage, when we thought we’d defy war and bask in happiness forever, but that’s about it. When I came back, I was a changed man. No’ only from the war, but from ye too.” 

He kissed the tip of her red painted fingers. 

“Ye made me feel things I never suspected I could feel for another person. Aye, I did sometimes feel guilty about Olivia, about Leonard even, but I dinna have regrets. Lying in my bed at night, seeing ye in my dreams, I felt thankful to have met ye, to have loved ye so. I just thought ye’d have to be a memory forever.” 

“I felt the same.” She kissed his chest, her fingertips stroking his side. 

“I accepted living with you as a memory...only when I got here, you weren’t just a memory anymore. You were here, tangible to me, and I had no idea how to deal with it. I still don’t, if I’m honest.” 

Before he could answer, she continued, “I knew I felt a pull to come here when I saw the advertisement for the librarian position. And at first, I thought it was only because Scotland reminded me of you, and memories of you were all I had left.” 

“Aye, maybe twas that, but I ken it’s more, Claire. Ye came here for a reason, and that reason was me. I believe God had put me on yer path once more so ye’d rescue me again. And so I could rescue you too.” 

“You think so?” She cupped his cheeks and kissed him gently. 

“I’m more than sure abou’ it,” he whispered, resting his forehead against hers. 

“I dinna ken what tomorrow will bring. I dinna ken how I’ll be able to leave Olivia wi’out causin’ a scandal. I dinna ken anythin’, other than I canna be wi’out ye again.” 

“We don’t have to figure out every single little thing out right now, my darling,” she smiled warmly. “But I’m happy to know that I have you in my corner.” 

“Can I ask ye somethin’?” He hesitated, still afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. 

“Shoot.” Claire leaned towards the bedside table and grabbed her cigarette case. She put one in her mouth and lit it. 

“Can I stay with ye tonight?” 

The question took her aback; he could tell as she looked at him with raised eyebrows. Blowing out the smoke, she put the box of matches away. 

“Wouldn’t that be a bit difficult with Olivia?”

“She’s gone to her sister’s for a few days. We argued earlier and she decided it would be best. I wasna sorry to see her go,” he looked down, getting ready for her to ask him to leave. 

“Well then.” She kissed him again, smiling. “Of course, you can stay. If I can keep you for a little while, that’s fine with me.”

“Thank ye.” 

Smiling in return, he stroked her cheek. She moved a bit, wrapping her leg around his waist. 

“Jamie, whatever you need to tell me, whatever you want or need to talk about, I’m always here to listen.” 

“Ye dinna ken what it means to me to have ye here again. To be able to be myself wi’ someone wi’out being scared.” 

He held her close, feeling tears rise up again. For so many years, for so long, he had been so many things, so many different men...But here, in the dark with her, he had no name. 

He simply existed. 

Chapter Text

Claire woke up sometime in the middle of the night, limbs aching pleasantly and lids heavy with slumber. Reaching next to her, she felt the empty mattress, deprived of Jamie’s presence. She had not realised until now just how much she had missed him. How much being around him soothed her in a way she couldn’t begin to explain. 

Rubbing her eyes, she looked around and saw the Scot standing by the window, staring out into the garden. He was lit by the moonlight, leaning against his cane and naked. The first thing she saw were his scars, slightly more faded than the last time she had seen them in France. He stood in a way that told her former nurse self he wasn’t all too comfortable with his body; knowing on instinct that it was to do with the ache of his injuries. 

She got up, duvet wrapped around her body, and made her way to him. 

“Hello there, stranger,” she said softly, wrapping her arms around him from behind. She felt his entire body relax at once. 

“Why are ye awake?” he asked, smiling as he looked over his shoulder at her. 

“I could very well ask you the same thing,” she smiled in turn, placing a gentle kiss on his damaged skin. 

“I see someone hasn’t lost her smart mouth.” He grinned, turning around. 

“I’m afraid not.” She wound her arms around his neck, standing on her tiptoes to kiss him. 

Smiling against her lips, he held her close, cradling her head. 

“For a moment there, I thought I had imagined you being here.” She stroked his sides, closing her eyes. 

“I had the same feeling when I woke up.” He brushed her hair back. “But then, I looked over and ye were there. I’m sorry if me gettin’ up woke ye.” 

“You didn’t wake me,” she reassured him, looking up with a smile. “Trouble sleeping?”

“Aye, always,” he admitted, caressing her cheek with his thumb. “But ‘twas one of the best nights of sleep I’ve had in a while.” 

“Are your scars still bothering you?” 

“How did ye know?”  

“The way you carry yourself. And it’s cold and humid outside, which probably doesn’t help with how much they must be pulling at your skin.” 

Her hand came to rest against his back, his skin cold against her warm hand. 

“Why don’t you sit down? I’ll go and grab some ointment from the bathroom.” 

Claire rose to her tiptoes again, kissed the tip of his nose, and grabbed her robe on her way out of the bedroom. When she came back, Jamie had turned the small bedside lamp on and was sitting on the bed waiting for her, 

“Chamomile and lavender.” She held up the pot, walking over to the bed. 

“Ye dinna have to do that for me, Sassenach.” 

Jamie held out his hand and she took it, letting herself be gently pulled to him. 

“It’s not a chore, you know?” She kissed the top of his head and sat down. 

Shrugging, Jamie simply smiled and waited for her to apply the ointment. 

“How often do you do this?” 

Gently, she started to rub his back, applying the cream with a little bit of pressure to help the skin absorb it. 

“Jamie?” She frowned when he didn’t answer. “How often?”

“Once in a while,” he finally said, closing his eyes as she rubbed. “‘Tis no’ a verra easy place to access, and I tend no’ to ask Olivia to do it.” 

“Why not?” Claire kissed his shoulder, scooping some more of the ointment. 

“The sight of my back isna much to her taste,” he answered, in a low voice so full of sadness it broke Claire’s heart. 

Tenderly, she turned his head and sealed their lips. She couldn’t find any words to express how sorry she was for the way his wife treated him, but she knew her kiss would soothe him. 

“Did ye really think we were happy together?” He pressed his forehead against hers, stroking her cheek. 

“Well, I didn’t see you together very often, and whenever I did, I tried not to imagine anything. And I thought that whatever happened between us during the war wasn’t anything more to you than what we had agreed it was.” 

“Aye, I tried to convince myself of that too,” he smiled softly, bringing her hand to his lips. 

“Only, that was easier to do when ye weren’t roaming the streets of the village, lookin’ like temptation itself.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh at this last observation, “Oh, it’s my fault now?”

“I dinna say ‘twas a bad thing,” he grinned, kissing her cheek. “But I’m no’ verra strong, I tried to resist ye, back in France too, and I failed both times.” 

“Rather glad you failed, my darling.” She stroked her nose against his cheek. “How is your back feeling now? Better?”

“Aye, much better.” Smiling, he rubbed the last of the ointment on her hand and kissed her. “Thank ye, Sassenach.” 

“Let’s go back to bed.” She stroked his cheek and he nodded. 

Together, they moved back under the duvet and snuggled close, basking in their newfound proximity. Claire laid her head on Jamie’s chest, curls scattered all over, and one leg wrapped around his waist. She let the soothing sound of his heart drift her into peacefulness as she closed her eyes. She wished she could freeze time, to stay like this — with him — forever. In a bubble, unbothered and simply with one another. 

She knew they had to face the music at some point. She was aware she’d have to leave his arms in a couple of hours to go to work. That she’d have to let him go back to his wife, eventually, at least until they figured out a way to be together, without half the village pointing a finger at them. 

“Sassenach?” Jamie whispered softly, drawing patterns on her back. 

“What is it?” Opening her eyes, she looked up at him with a smile. 

Jamie took a moment to answer, hesitation floating in his ocean eyes. Then, he spoke:

“Do ye ever have nightmares from the war?” 

“Sometimes.” She leaned up, cupping his cheek. 

“It happens less and less often, but when they do I see myself lying in that ditch again, helpless and unable to move.” 

“Ye scairt me so much that day,” he sighed, touching her hand. “Christ, I thought ye wouldna come back...and then when I saw ye injured, I felt so angry that I couldna protect ye.” 

“You know, when I was there thinking I wouldn’t see you again, I imagined you were with me, holding me close and safe. In a way, I think you were.” She traced the features of his face with her index finger. 

“And when I’ve woken up at night because of a nightmare, there was always a bird at my window, and I believed it was your way of telling me everything was alright.” 

“That’s beautiful Sassenach,” he smiled tenderly, stroking her hair back. 

She kissed him and smiled. “What about you? Do you have nightmares?” 

He nodded, a shadow appearing across his face. His eyes looked down, as if he was ashamed. “Most of the time, aye. The rest of the time I dream of ye. Those times dinna happen nearly enough.”

“What are the nightmares about?” Slowly, she snuggled closer to him. “You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t feel like it.” 

“Nay, I want too,” he assured her. 

“Tis always about the bombing, except this time, I see the bomb about to explode, and I scream for everyone to run but no one can hear me. I try to pull them away, but it’s like I’m no’ there and they can’t see me. Then, it explodes, and, I’m in the middle of it all, untouched and surrounded by their lifeless bodies.” 

Warm tears were rolling down his cheeks as he spoke, his voice similar to the one of a scared little boy. All she wanted was to wrap him in her arms and make him feel safe. 

“I have panic attacks, too. They can happen any time, with no reason at all and I’m paralysed, thinkin’ I’m dying all over again.” 

He started to shake, closing his eyes as if he was trying to control himself but had a hard time doing it. 

“Ssh,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around him. “Let it go.” 

Those words prompted him to hold onto her for dear life, letting tears he had kept inside for God knows how long finally go free. Emotional wounds still raw, he sobbed in her arms, breaking her heart and cleansing himself all at the same time. 

“I’ve never told anyone about the war. Olivia doesna seem to understand what we went through. In a way, I canna blame her, but she was never willing to listen.” 

“I’m here now,” she smiled, wiping his cheeks. “To listen and to understand, my darling.” 

“Ye dinna ken how much it means to me to ken that, a nighean. Just to have ye back. It is everything I ever wished for.” He kissed her hand. “The only time I’m without pain is when I’m in yer bed, Claire.” 

“I don’t like you to be in pain, so I’ll have to keep you here forever,” she smiled, kissing the tip of his nose. 

“Sounds like heaven to me.” He kissed her tenderly, pulling the duvet over them. 

Still smiling, Claire hid her face in the crook of his neck and held him. She listened to the sound of his heart until she felt it slow, meaning he had drifted to a peaceful sleep. Quickly, she joined him in slumber. 

*******

When she woke up again, it was still dark; not surprising for a gloomy November morning, but from habit, she knew it was time to get up and get ready for work. There was a faint burning smell coming from the hall and a plethora of Gaelic curses coming from the kitchen— two things she decided to investigate before dressing. 

Standing against the kitchen door frame, she watched as the Scot struggled to keep an eye on what appeared to be eggs simmering in a pan, and the kettle boiling.

“Please don’t set my kitchen on fire,” she said, walking into the room with a smile. 

“Is this what I get for trying to make ye breakfast?” He looked at her, grinning. 

“I know, what a wee ungrateful lass I am.” She turned the stove off and wrapped her arms around his neck. 

“Aye.” He pulled her close, leaning down to seal their lips. “Verra, Sassenach.” 

Smiling against his lips, she stroked the hair on the nape of his neck, “Thank you though, I’m not used to being spoiled like this.” 

“Why don’t ye sit down? I dinna want ye to be late to the library because of me.” He kissed the tip of her nose.

“It’s not like anyone would notice,” she chuckled, opening the fridge to get some milk. She poured it into Adso’s bowl and gave the cat a head rub before going to the table. 

“I do sometimes wonder if the library would be more utilised had the librarian been Scottish,” she grinned, crossing her arms. 

“Nay, no one in the village ever went to the library, even before the war,” Jamie plated the eggs and toast “I dinna ken why, ‘twas my favourite place as a kid and my mam made sure to take me once a week.” 

“Wise woman, your mother,” Claire smiled, imagining a small ginger-haired boy lad roaming the library shelves.

“Aye, that she was,” he smiled, bringing the plates on the table. “Eat up, Sassenach.”

“Thank you,” she kissed him gently and smiled. 

Jamie brought the tea over and sat down in turn, resting his cane against the wall. He watched, a worried expression on his face as she took the first bite of scrambled eggs. 

“Relax, it’s very tasty,” she grinned, eating. 

“Oh good,” he finally smiled and picked up a piece of toast. “‘Tis just eggs, but I’m no’ much of a chef.”

“You’ve managed all right, my darling.” She took a bite of toast, smiling. “I could get used to this.” 

This small remark brought back the reality of their situation, and the shadow of Jamie’s wife looming over them. 

“I will speak to Olivia as soon as she comes back,” he said, sensing the question lingering between them. 

“Jamie…” she touched his hand gently. “I want to be with you more than anything, but it is a delicate situation. Whatever happens between you and Olivia, it will take some time before we’re able to be together. I can’t get in trouble at the library, you understand that, right?”

“Aye, of course I do.” He brought her hand to his lips. “But still, I will ask Olivia for a divorce. I canna stay wi’ her, no less like this. As long as I ken ye’re mine, even in secret, ‘tis all I need right now.”

“I’m yours,” she reassured him, cupping his cheek. “Always.” 

“And we’ll figure things out as we go. Let’s just not cause a scandal, all right?” 

“I promise ye we won’t,” Jamie leaned up and kissed her lips tenderly. 

His words were reassuring.  To be with him was what she wanted more than anything, but the situation wasn't an easy one. For a start, this wasn’t London; it was a small-minded village that vilified anyone who didn’t adhere to its rules. Being English, a foreigner, was already something in her disfavour. If the news that Jamie left his wife for her came out, she could kiss her work at the library goodbye. 

But what Claire didn’t know about small villages was just how fast rumours started. And how even faster they spread. 

Chapter Text

A trail of kisses descending down her bare spine woke Claire from her slumber. Eyes closed, she basked in the familiarity of Jamie’s touch. Relishing its return, she smiled. 

“Sassenach,” he whispered against her skin, placing a kiss in between her shoulder blades. 

“No,” she mumbled, opening her eyes slowly. She didn’t know when she dozed off; she only knew she didn’t want to move. 

Chuckling, the Scot kissed her cheek, stroking her hair back. “Ye dinna want to get up?”

Groaning, Claire turned around and looked at him, her whisky eyes getting used to the light in the room. “No, in fact, I’d rather not get up from bed today at all, my darling.”

“But ye need breakfast before ye leave for the library.” He caressed her cheek. “Not that I want to part from ye, but I dinna want ye to get in trouble.” 

“I know,” she pouted, wrapping her arms around his neck. “But I won’t be able to have you all to myself for a little while, so I’d like to enjoy the time we do have as much as I possibly can.”

“Aye,” he agreed, kissing the tip of her nose. “But dinna fash, ye’ll soon see me every day. Ye canna get rid of me now.”

“Good.” Smiling, she closed the gap between them and sealed their lips tenderly. 

It was a relief to have him back, but neither of them denied the complicated nature of their situation. Jamie would talk to Olivia; but even then, they could not be together as freely as they wished. Neither of them wanted to give the village anything to talk about, nor did they want to jeopardise Claire’s position at the library. 

Jamie’s lips parted from hers to travel down her neck, lingering on the beauty mark there for a moment before continuing to her collarbones.

“Mhh.” Her smile grew as she bit her lower lip. 

Goosebumps erupted over her porcelain skin as his lips continued down the path to her stomach, stopping at her breasts to give them the attention they deserved. 

“Jamie...” she rasped, her back arching. 

“Claire?” Abandoning his task briefly, he looked up and grinned. 

“Don’t you want to eat?” she asked, looking down at him. The sheer lust plastered on his face cut her breath short. 

“Aye.” His smirk broadened for a brief second before he resumed his task, lips trailing down to her navel.

The Scot kissed the inside of her thighs, scruffy chin rubbing against the soft and delicate skin of her leg. Breath tickling her skin, anticipation built inside the pit of her stomach. Managing to open her eyes once more, Claire sat up on her elbows and watched as he buried his face between her legs, inhaling her scent as he did. 

“Oh.” She threw her head back, feeling the warmth of his breath. 

He began to lick her folds, the lapping sounds filling the room. Claire began to writhe underneath him, trying to ride his face, but he put one hand on her stomach to hold her down.  A fire was building inside her, her moans echoing like a melody created just for him.  Claire’s leg came to rest on his shoulder, while his hand held her in place, languorously worshipping her. 

She couldn’t think, her mind hazy and her eyes barely opened as she lost herself to this man. The only noises in the room came from her voice, smooth as honey, and whatever his mouth was doing to her. She grabbed the sheet, fist clutching it as though she was trying to maintain balance. Knees weak and legs trembling, she silently thanked God she was lying down. 

What came next wasn’t what either of them expected.  

The doorbell rang, and it felt like a bucket of ice water had been thrown on them. Claire opened her eyes at once, looking at Jamie as panic took over. She had no idea who it could be at the door. It could have been anyone. And no one could find her like this, especially with the Scot. Whoever it was, she prayed they would just go away.  

Briefly looking at her, Jamie shook his head and went back to his task, determined to finish what he had started and throw her over the edge of pleasure. Another moan escaped her mouth, louder than the previous one. 

“Shhh,” he mumbled before diving back in and flicking his tongue against her. It was so erotic to fall apart and yet try and stay silent. 

The doorbell rang again, but this time Claire was too far away to care. Jamie gripped her hips and lifted her slightly upwards. He slid one hand underneath her and began to devour her faster. Claire turned her head to the side, burying her face into the pillows as she felt herself go, her entire body shaking with pleasure. 

Breathless, it took her a second to gather herself, fingers running through his soft curls. For a moment, she forgot where she was and simply basked in contentment, the Scot’s head resting against her stomach. For a moment, all was well. 

Then, the doorbell rang again. 

“Shit!” She realised whoever was at the door was not going to go away; why would they? It was too early for her to be at the library, whoever it was knew she had to be home. 

“Ye’re goin’?” he watched her, moving aside. 

“I don’t have much of a choice,” she mumbled, getting up quickly. She managed to ignore her legs that felt like jelly and grabbed her robe. 

“Hopefully, whoever it is doesn’t expect to come in for breakfast,” she sighed, looking at herself in the mirror. The sound of the doorbell grew more and more insistent with each passing second. 

“I willna make a sound,” he promised, keeping his voice low. 

Claire shot him a warning look and walked out of the room, closing the door. Once at the front door, she opened it slightly to see who had been ringing for the past five minutes. 

“There ye are!” Orla grinned, looking at her with an amused expression. “I thought ye didna want to open the door for me, lass.” 

“I’m sorry, I overslept and didn’t hear the bell.” She was a horrendous liar, but her landlady didn’t know that; and hopefully, it wasn’t written all over her face. 

“Did ye do something to yer hair?” Orla frowned. 

“My hair?” She touched her messy curls. “No, that’s just what it looks like when I wake up. Mad mad curls everywhere.”

“Can I help you with something ?” she asked, trying to keep Orla outside. 

“I just wanted to check up on that boiler, make sure it was runnin’ all right? Perhaps I should have come by the library?”

“Yes, well it’s all working fine thank you!” She said, her pitch a little higher than normal. “Anyway, I’d best be getting ready for work…” 

“Aye,” the other woman answered perplexedly, though seemingly quite amused. “I’ll see ye later then, lass.” 

“See y—”

Before she could finish, a booming sneeze echoed behind her, coming from the bedroom at the end of the hall. Too loud to ignore both women just stood there. 

“What was that?” Orla looked over Claire’s shoulder curiously. 

“Must be the cat,” Claire said quickly, deciding it was better to look like a fool than a married man’s lover. 

“Loud wee thing,” Orla grinned, her eyebrows raising. “Weel, I’ll be on my way,” she winked. 

“Goodbye,” Claire answered, feeling relief wash over her as she shut the door.

*******

Her day at the library was less eventful than the morning preceding it.  Orla did visit as promised and thankfully didn’t bring up their earlier encounter at the door. They shared a cup of tea, talking about everything from the weather to the latest book Orla had borrowed before she went around the place to choose a few more. 

Once Mrs Bug left, the library went back to being deserted and quiet, leaving Claire to her daily tasks of cleaning the shelves and organising the books. Her mind was too occupied with thoughts of Jamie to actually concentrate on anything more complicated than that, anyway. 

Olivia was meant to come back sometime today or tomorrow. The uncertainty of her return had separated them prematurely, a precaution they both agreed to take. Once Olivia returned, Jamie would have a talk with his soon-to-be ex-wife; and from then, they’d see what they could do. 

Divorce was an option easier said than done. It was nothing scandalous in Claire’s educated mind, but it was different here. Jamie had known these people all his life. Not only would this cause a stir, but they might cast him aside, too closed-minded to understand that sometimes, things didn’t work the way someone had hoped they would. Or that sometimes, people were not meant to be together until death do they part. 

As for Claire, if word got out that they were together, she would be labelled a homewrecker at best, likely a whore at worst. She would lose what little reputation she had managed to gather and most likely, she’d lose her job. People would pressure Mr. Mackenzie to get rid of her if he didn't do it himself first. 

Earlier in the morning, at the bakery, she had overheard two women talking about her in low tones. Whispering things about the librarian who had a tea date with that Englishman. She had almost forgotten about Jeremy completely. 

The bell on the library door tinkled and Joe walked in.

“Hello, LJ,” he said, the usual charming smile on his face. 

“Hey there,” she smiled down at him before descending from her ladder. “I’m glad you’re here, I wanted to talk to you about something!” 

“Am I in trouble?” He grinned, removing his Panama hat. 

“No, you’re not,” she chuckled and went to her desk. “But I have read your book of poetry.”

His eyes widened as he walked over to her. “And what did you think?” 

“Well, I was wondering if you had another copy I could have? I’m keeping the one you gave me, but I’d like to add one to the poetry section.” She pointed behind them to one of the spotless shelves. 

“Really?” He looked briefly behind him before turning back to her. “You want to do that?” 

“Yes,” she smiled, leaning against her desk. “As much as I enjoy Yeats and Eliot, I do think my poetry section needs updating, and your book was beautiful. People around here would gain a lot from reading it. Granted, not many people come to the library, but the ones who do have very good taste and always welcome their librarian’s recommendations.”

“Fine,” he agreed, kissing her cheek. “I shall bring you another copy, pronto!”

“Thank you,” she smiled, crossing her arms. “So, what can I do for you now?”  

“Well,” his smirk grew. “I’m here to find out about your date with Jeremy, of course. As a true gentleman, he didn’t divulge anything to Gale and me.”

“I’m afraid there isn’t much to divulge, Joe. We had a lovely time together and that was that. He’s a real gentleman, that’s for sure.”

“And...you want to go out with him again, don’t you? He said you agreed to join us at the pub.” 

“Yes, I did agree to that, but as friends.” She adjusted her glasses. “I’m not really interested in starting something with a man that’ll be gone from Inverness in a few days. I’m sure he understands that.”

“Mmh,” Joe nodded, sitting down. “I guess he does. Oh well!”

“I’m sorry, Joe,” she said sincerely, feeling a tad guilty to have gone on a date with Jeremy only to make Jamie jealous.

“Don’t be,” he smiled, his eyes twinkling. “Something tells me you have your eye on someone else, LJ.  If that’s the case and he makes you happy, that’s all the better!”

“What makes you say that?” She frowned, suddenly worried that a bite mark had become visible on her neck. 

“There’s something about you. I can’t say what, but it’s there. When you walked over to me, it seemed that you were floating; and there’s a sparkle in your eyes that wasn’t there the last time I saw you. Since you’re telling me it’s not Jeremy, it must be another man.” 

“You read too many books,” she chuckled, trying to brush it off. 

“Maybe I do. But that’s the fastest way to understand the world we’re in and the people around us.” Getting up again, he put on his hat and winked. 

“I’ll see you later, LJ, and I’ll bring the other copy of my book along!”

“Thank you,” she answered, watching him leave. 

Joe was the second person today who suspected a change in Claire's demeanor...she’d need to be much more careful if she wasn’t going to give away what and who occupied her mind and heart. 

Or the repercussions could be disastrous to both Jamie and herself. 

Chapter Text

“Why are ye so quiet?” Arch Bug asked from behind his newspaper, while his wife ate her bowl of porridge. Or pretended to. 

“What?” She frowned, looking up at him. To be fair, she had not been listening to what he’d been saying for at least the past six minutes. 

“I said,” he began, putting the paper down. “Why are ye so quiet? Usually, at breakfast, ye’re going ten to the dozen tellin’ me all the things I need to be doing for the day.” 

“I was just distracted is all.” She took a spoonful of her food, making a mental note to add more honey next time. 

“By what?” The corner of his mouth flicked up into a questioning smile. 

“I dinna ken,” she answered as she chewed, shrugging. “This and that.”

“This and that?” he repeated, amused.  “Mo ghaol, how is it that after almost thirty years of marriage ye still believe I can’t tell when ye’ve got somethin’ on yer mind, eh?” 

Orla Bug could only smile at the perspicacity of her husband. The truth was, something was indeed on her mind, but she had no idea how to talk to him about it. How to talk to anybody about it, really.  Partly because it wasn’t her business; but mostly because she didn’t want anyone to get in trouble, especially Claire. 

“Weel, maybe it was cos I was hopin’ ye wouldna bring it up.” 

“Is it verra bad?” He leaned against his palm, looking at her with a boyishness only reserved for his wife. 

“Depends on who ye’re askin’,” she answered nonchalantly, getting up to put her empty dish in the sink. 

“Orla,” he said solemnly, looking up at her with a grin. 

“Fine, I’ll tell ye!"

For a quick second, she wondered how many discussions they had shared in that kitchen and how different it looked from the day they had moved in, newlyweds excited to make a home together. 

“Ye have to promise no’ to say a word to anyone, no’ even by accident while ye’re talkin’ to someone at the pub, Archie.”

The expression of worry plastered on his face wasn’t lost on her, and she realised the issue was probably not as dramatic as she’d made it sound 

“I went and visited Claire earlier this morning before ye woke up.”

“Ye ken ‘tis no’ appropriate to visit people before eight AM, right?” He grinned again, and Orla was unable to resist a chuckle. 

“I ken! But it’s Claire. ‘Tis different.” She sat back down, this time on his lap. 

“Why? Because we’re rentin’ her the house?” His strong arms wrapped around her waist. 

“No, because I genuinely like the lass and we’re friends.” 

It was true. More so than a friend, Claire had quickly become like a daughter to Orla. So now, between wanting to know what was going on and minding her own business, the Scottish woman was deeply conflicted. 

“So ye went to see the lass, what happened? Did ye argue?” He frowned. 

“Nay, nothin’ of the sort,” she reassured him. “We talked for a few brief minutes on the porch, but she didn’t let me inside.” 

Nodding, Arch let her continue her story before asking for more information.

“I think she wasna alone…”

Archie was anything but a closed-minded man. It was one of the reasons she had fallen in love with him; but of all the responses she had expected from him at hearing her news, laughter wasn’t one of them. 

“She wasna alone?” He looked at her, shaking his head in disbelief. “Is that it then? Yer big worry?” 

Smacking his arm, she smiled, “Christ, stop laughing! It’s no’ funny.”

“It is a wee bit.” He tilted his head, smirking. “I thought ye were goin’ to tell me Claire has burned down the cottage or somethin’!” 

“I ken I sound ridiculous, and I dinna even have any proof, but I heard a sneeze. And cats don’t sneeze that loudly.” 

“A sneeze, mo ghaol?” His eyebrows rose in question. She could tell how hard he was concentrating to not start laughing again. 

“Someone else was in that house, I’m tellin’ ye! It came from down the hall, where the bedroom is” 

“Aye,” he nodded, patting her thigh. “And who do ye suspect to be this sneezin’ fella?” 

“Who do ye think?” She looked at him, waiting to see if his deduction was as good as she knew it was. 

“I dinna ken, Orla. I dinna spend my time wonderin’ who sleeps with who around here,” he smirked. 

“Neither do I!” she said, shocked he’d think she would. “I just heard a sneeze.”

“The sneeze, right. So, whose sneeze was it?” 

“Jamie’s.” 

“Jamie’s?”

“Aye. I ken how he sounds.”

Eyes widening, her husband took a second to compose himself and then said: “Now Orla, I know ye’re not too keen on Olivia, but this is a bit ridiculous.” 

“It has nothin’ to do wi’ what I think of Olivia or no’, Archie.” Orla got up and poured herself another cup of tea. “Granted, the lass is anythin’ but right for him, and ye ken it as much as I do. But there’s something else ye need to know about Claire and the lad.” 

“Which is?” He got up and wrapped his arms around her from behind. 

“Claire was a nurse durin’ the war, in France. Jamie ended up under her care for a few months before the end of it. I dinna have to tell ye what happens between two people who are attracted to one another and who spend time together during such a time, eh?” 

With a smile full of memories of their own youth, Arch shook his head. “No, ye dinna have to tell me, mo ghaol. I remember it quite well.” 

For a moment there, Orla forgot about Jamie and Claire. About their young love and reunion. All she was thinking about was how heartbroken she would have been had she lost Archie after the Great War. Or how she would have felt if they had reunited by chance afterwards. She had been promised to another, back then, but she had not thought twice about what she wanted when her path had crossed his. 

Leaning back, she pressed her lips on his cheek, “Do ye think I should talk to Claire? I dinna want to force her hand to tell me anythin’ she wouldn’t want to.”

“But?” He held her closer, resting his chin on her shoulder. 

“But I’m afraid they’ll get in trouble if this gets out. Ye ken how people are here. We’ve been living here all our lives, and we’re still pariahs because we dinna have children.”

“Aye, I ken how they are, but what do ye always say?” 

Her lip flicked up into a smile. God, she loved this man. 

“That they can go to hell.” 

“Exactly.” He kissed her and smiled. 

“Let Claire and Jamie figure it out. If either of them need guidance, I ken ye’re the first person they’ll turn to. Whatever happens, we’ll be there to support them. Ye know as well as I do that Jamie and Olivia have never been happy together. It breaks my heart to look at the lad ever since he came home from the war.  I’ve also noticed a change in him since Claire arrived.”

“Aye, I have too,” Orla smiled.

“Let them be, they’re together now and they’ll figure it all out, one way or another.” Arch kissed her temple as she melted against him, slightly less worried than she was just a few minutes earlier. 

********

Claire had spent the last ten minutes staring at the stack of unused library cards on her desk. It had been a few hours since Joe had come by, and in a little while it would be time to close up and go home.  Home to a bath and a book — a fairly attractive prospect, if she was honest. 

She wondered how much longer it would take for people to actually start using the library; or if they would at all. Even if it wasn’t in her temperament to lose hope quickly, it was starting to eat at her that for the past few months since the place had opened, barely anyone had come in, other than people who cared about her. 

“Oh well,” she sighed and rose from her desk. She grabbed the pile of books on it and walked around to place them on the appropriate shelves. 

“Hello?” A little voice came from the door. It was barely loud enough for her to hear it, but she did. 

Turning around, her eyes dropped to look down at a little girl. She was smiling shyly, ringlets of golden curls falling over her eyes. 

“Hello there,” Claire smiled in turn. “Can I help you?”

Nodding, she walked over, her steps determined and assertive for someone so small. “I want a book.” 

“You came to the right place, then! What sort of book?” 

“I dinna ken,” she shrugged, blowing the curl away from her face. 

“Ok, well to start, why don’t you tell me how old you are?” 

Frowning, she looked perplexed. “Why would I do that?” 

“Just so I know what could interest you,” she smiled, “Unless you want to end up reading about Egyptian fossils or something like that?” 

Not that those books weren’t enjoyable to read when she was a little girl though, she had to admit. 

Giggling, the little girl answered, “I’m ten.”

“A very good age,” Claire smiled, heading towards the appropriate shelf, followed by the curly blonde. 

“Let’s see...” Running her hands over the spines, she thought about the books that shaped her own childhood. Though, given that Uncle Lambert let her read Hamlet when she was twelve, maybe those were not the best things to think about right now. 

“Start with this one.” She grabbed a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and handed it to her. 

“What’s it about?” the girl inquired, looking at the beautiful cover. 

“It’s about a young lady named Dorothy and her journey to the land of Oz, where she meets lots of very interesting characters. I think you’ll enjoy it.”

“Have you read it?” She looked up at Claire, but asked another question before she could answer.  “Have you read all the books here?” Her eyes widened. 

“No,” Claire chuckled. “But I have read quite a few of them, and I’ve read The Wizard of Oz, yes. Come, let’s make you a library card.”

“What’s your name?” she asked, sitting down at her desk and taking one of the empty cards. 

“Penelope Mcleod,” she answered, waiting patiently. “What’s yours?” 

“Claire Beauchamp.” She scribbled down Penelope’s name, the title of the book, and the date, before stamping the card and handing it to her. 

“There you go. You have a month to bring it back and to borrow another one if you would like to. You can bring it back before that as well if you’re done and can’t wait to read something else,” she winked. 

“Thank ye.” Penelope took the card and put it safely in the book. “See you soon, Miss Claire!”

Too occupied smiling, long after Penelope had gone, Claire didn’t notice the red-haired giant standing at the door, who had apparently been watching her for several minutes. 

“I see that the library is picking up, Sassenach.” 

Looking up, her face illuminated even more at the sight of him. This morning had felt like an eternity. 

“You again!” 

Jamie held up the borrowed book. 

“I managed to finish this and I thought I’d come inquire about another of the Belgian detective’s adventures.” 

Getting up, Claire brushed off her pencil skirt. 

“The crime section is in the back. If you’d care to follow me?”

“Aye,” he answered in a hoarse voice before following her. 

If Jamie was here, it meant that Olivia wasn’t home yet — not that Claire was complaining about it. 

They stood between two sets of shelves, and while her eyes scanned the crime section to find him another  Agatha Christie novel, she felt his watching her. Their bodies moved closer together. 

“It’s only right that you read The Murder on The Links.” She rose onto her tiptoes to grab the book in question. “It’s the second published Poirot story.” 

“Perfect,” he answered, his breath tickling her neck. 

Turning around, Claire leaned against the shelf, book in hand. She looked up at Jamie, smiling at the tender expression on his beautiful face. 

“Can anyone see us, Sassenach?” His voice was low as he quickly looked around. 

“No,” she cupped his cheek with her free hand. “No one can see us.”

“Perfect,” he smiled again, leaning down to kiss her lips. 

Melting against him, she wrapped her arms around his neck, deepening the kiss. She was determined to enjoy every single second she had alone with him. Not knowing when the next time could come. 

“I’ve missed ye,” he whispered against her lips. “I ken how that sounds, given I’d seen ye just this morning, but it doesna make it any less true.”

“I’ve missed you too,” she smiled, cupping his cheek. “I was wondering when I’d see you next.”

“I didna plan on coming, but Olivia isn’t back yet, so I thought I’d come by to see ye. The book was a good excuse.”

She chuckled, “So, you haven’t even finished the one you brought back?”

“No, I did finish it,” he grinned, kissing her lips again. “And enjoyed it. A good book and another way to see ye, ‘tis a win win for me.” 

“Mmh,” she said, stroking his collar bone. He smelled of the chamomile and lavender ointment she had applied on his back that morning. 

He smelled like home. 

Claire gave him another kiss, making sure to savour him just a moment longer before having to let him go again. 

“Come, I’ll fill your card before I decide to keep you in here forever.”

“Aye,” he smiled, kissing the tip of her nose. 

At her desk, Claire stamped his card and put it into the book he was about to borrow. He was smiling, watching her, and she had to pretend she wasn’t extremely turned on by it. 

“Here you go.”

“Thank ye kindly, Sassenach,” he smiled softly. But before picking up the book, he took her hand and brought it to his lips to kiss it. 

“I will see ye soon,” he added, more like a fact than a generic farewell.

“See you, my darling,” 

Smiling, she watched him walk slowly away, a bittersweet feeling wrapping itself around her.  After a moment, she grabbed the copy of The Mystery at Styles and opened it to slip the library card back inside. Before she could do that, she noticed a note tucked inside the cover. Unfolding it, she recognised Jamie’s handwriting and W.B. Yeats’ words: 

You that have wandered far and wide
Can ravel out what’s in my head.
Do men who least desire get most,
Or get the most who most desire?*

Chapter Text

For the first time since taking up residence as the librarian, Claire had the pleasure of seeing the place full.  About half an hour earlier a group of older women had arrived, some of whom she recognised from around the village. Several ladies were now busy reading, others roaming the shelves; it did not, however, escape the Englishwoman’s notice that all of them had been observing her quite peculiarly since they’d entered.  

At length, one woman approached her at her desk.

“Hello,” Claire smiled politely, adjusting her glasses. “Can I help you with anything?” 

“Aye, I’d like to borrow these,” the woman answered, handing her two books. 

“Of course. May I have your name? It’s for the library card.” Claire grabbed one of the cards in question and her ink pen. 

“‘Tis Fiona Cameron.” She stood, piercing green eyes glued on her. They reminded Claire of someone, but she couldn’t quite pinpoint who. 

“Fiona Cameron,” she nodded and inscribed the name on the blue paper in her elegant handwriting. 

Before she could ask anything else, Fiona spoke, “And yours, lass?” 

Looking up, she smiled again, “Claire Beauchamp.” 

“Nice to meet ye then, Mistress Beauchamp. Ye’ve done a lovely job with the place!” 

“Oh, well thank you.” 

Claire stamped the books and removed the library cards to store in her folder. 

“You have one month to bring these two back. If you’d like to keep them a bit longer, just let me know and it can be arranged.” 

“Perfect.” 

Fiona gave her another smile, taking the books, but instead of turning around to join the other ladies — who were now curiously looking at Claire again — she sat down at the librarian’s desk. 

“Now, lass, how are ye enjoyin’ finding Inverness?” 

Claire was aware people who lived in small villages could be busybodies It wasn’t the first time she’d encountered it here, but it always managed to amuse her. 

“I’m enjoying it very much, thank you,” she smiled. “Everyone’s so kind, and it’s such a lovely place to live. So peaceful, too.”

“Aye, ‘tis,” Fiona agreed. “And good to see people coming back now that things have gone back to normal.  We felt verra isolated durin’ the war.”

“I can imagine,” she concurred, keeping her voice slightly lowered, so as not to bother the others reading. 

“Are ye from London, then?” The older lady inquired, leaning back into the chair. 

“I was born in Oxfordshire, but I lived in London, yes. Then, I served in France for most of the war.” 

Claire took a sip of her tea, realising it had gone cold. She would spare Fiona the details of her upbringing with Lambert. She didn’t want to prompt another round of questions; but also, because it was none of the old woman’s business. 

“In France, ye say? Combat nurse?” 

Claire nodded, “Indeed.” 

“No’ many young men from here served, well except for James Fraser. In France, too...” 

The way Fiona paused made it clear she was implying something more than casual information about where a young man from the town had been stationed. 

“But ye ken that,” she added, her lip flicking up into a smile that was anything but sweet. 

“I’ve heard he did, yes.” 

Claire took another sip of cold tea, managing a smile. 

“Mrs Bug told me when I was telling her about my own time in France.”

“Oh,” Fiona frowned. “I thought ye and Jamie knew one another?” 

“I wouldn’t say we know one another, Mrs Cameron, I’ve actually only met Jamie a couple of times since moving here. He was even kind enough to come and help fix the boiler once, but I’m afraid he’s merely an acquaintance.”  

“Och weel, my bad for assumin’.” She said, winking. “A lovely lass like ye is bound to turn heads. Like that English lad ye were so chummy with the other day at the bakery. Probably made his stay in town quite memorable” 

Claire blinked, taken aback. She recalled people watching her and Jeremy have tea together, but she had no idea they went to alert the entire village about it. Nor did she know that having a drink with a man equalled fucking him. 

“Jeremy is a friend, that’s all.”

Claire gave her another smile — one that said it was time to stop the insinuations and leave the library altogether. 

“Again, I’m no’ assuming anything,” Fiona got up, her sweet grandmother demeanour firmly in place. “I ken what it is to be young!”

I’m sure you do, Claire thought. She bit the inside of her cheek, preventing her from saying it out loud with enough sarcasm that would have knocked Fiona Cameron down. 

Without time to ruminate on the reason for Mrs Cameron’s questions, Claire was approached by another of the old women who also claimed to want to borrow some books.  She too, however, subjected the librarian to a barrage of questions, wanting to know about her life, her work and curiously, her relationship status. When it happened for the third time the happiness that had come from seeing people visiting the library turned sour. These women weren’t there to read, they were there in search of gossip. But it wasn’t just that. 

There was something else. 

As if they knew something Claire did not, and that made her terribly uneasy. 

When, at last, they finally left, she let out a breath she didn’t even know she had been holding in. 

“Bloody hell,” she muttered, walking towards the small kitchen to pour the cold tea down the drain. Glancing at the clock, she realised it was time to close up. 

A couple of hours later, home alone and sitting on the carpet in front of her fire with Adso resting on her lap, Claire took a long sip of whisky. 

She sat under the pretence of reading, but her usual concentration was nowhere to be found. Her mind was preoccupied with other things; Jamie, his wife, the conversation she had with Joe earlier...but mostly, the looks the women had given her when they left the library. She wasn't accustomed enough to small village life to understand it. All she knew was that it meant something, and not something particularly pleasant. 

It wasn’t that Claire cared about her reputation; she never had. But being an Englishwoman who had moved here alone and who — shockingly— not only worked, but also wasn’t some war widow with children, brought in itself quite the reputation already. Now, apparently, she was also being labelled a whore for having tea with an unmarried man. 

Taking another sip, Claire began to worry about Jamie. She didn’t know if Olivia had come back yet, or when she would. She had no idea how she would react to his request for divorce; but most importantly, she couldn’t be sure as to when she’d be able to be with him freely. There was no way to know how long it would take, how many times they would have to see one another in secret, careful not to be seen — though, after her encounter with Mrs. Cameron, she was beginning to grow certain that they had been seen already. 

Her eyes caught sight of a photograph on the mantelpiece. It was a picture of her with Lambert, proudly posing in front of the steamer that was about to take them on an expedition on the Nile. About fifteen years old, it was on that trip she’d had her first kiss. Smiling fondly at the memory, she wondered what Uncle Lamb would think of her situation now? 

“Darling, who cares? It’s your life, not anyone else’s. If they’ve got time to ponder what someone else is doing they’ve clearly got too much time on their hands.” 

She could still hear his aristocratic voice as she recalled the many times he had told her this. In a way, he was right. But it was easier not to care and worry when one lived in a city big enough to avoid seeing the same people twice. 

“And what do you think about it, uh?” She looked down at a sleepy Adso, who didn’t bother to do much more than a meow. 

“Right,” she chuckled, rubbing his furry head. 

At that moment, the doorbell rang. 

*******

Orla Bug’s worries had not ceased since talking to her husband that very morning. Nor had they eased since she had visited Claire at the library. 

She had not talked to Claire about Jamie or about anything related to him. Instead, she borrowed a couple of books and talked about various subjects, ranging from the weather to what scone recipe was the best. However, in the afternoon, she went to the market, and it took only a few minutes for her to be alerted to the latest piece of gossip in the village. Usually, she was amused more than anything, but this time, the town was talking about Claire — and that wasn’t sitting well with her. 

While cooking a roast, she walked around the kitchen, waiting for Arch to come back from the pub. He would be home soon — punctuality was one of his strong suits — but the minutes seemed to stretch longer and longer.  When, finally, the familiar sound of the door opening came, she rushed into the hall to greet her husband. 

“There ye are!”

Arch frowned, removing his jacket. “Aye, are ye alright?”

“I’m fine, but I hate this goddamn village.” 

“Ye, mo ghaol, need a whisky.” He couldn’t help but grin. 

“Nay, I’ve had one already,” she sighed, wrapping her arms around his neck. 

“Och, then it must be verra serious,” he kissed his cheek. “What is it?” 

“Come in the kitchen, I dinna want the roast to burn.” Grabbing his hand, she led him down the hall, where the smell of dinner pleasantly hung in the air. 

“I went to the market this afternoon,” she started, leaning against the counter. “I hadn’t even bought meat yet when three people were already talking to me about Claire. First Mrs. Mackenzie told me she saw her wi’ some English lad. Then Mrs. Mcleod said Claire wasn’t alone at the library but didn’t know who the lad was; and finally, Mrs. Cameron told me she saw Jamie come out of her house this very mornin’.”

“Well then, ye were right about her no’ being alone,” Arch couldn’t help but smirk.

“Aye, but ye ken what that means now?”  she asked, her eyebrows raising. 

It was not their problem, but both of them liked Claire enough to make it theirs. 

“To us, it means nothing, because Claire is a nice lass who’s no’ bothering anybody. But aye, I ken what it means to those people and how long it’ll take for those rumours to get around.” 

“Regardless of what is goin’ on between her and Jamie, if there is anythin’, it is senseless that the lass canna talk to a man without being labelled a whore.” Orla shook her head, her annoyance starting to turn into anger. 

“Ridiculous,” she repeated, taking the roast out of the oven to let it rest. 

“No matter what,” Arch wrapped his arms around her waist from behind, “We’ll be here to support her.” He kissed her head. “And same goes for Jamie, too.” 

“Archie.” She turned her head to look at him. “She told me how happy she felt here. How much she thought she had finally found a place to call home. Can ye imagine what it’s going to be like for her now? These women are vile.” 

“Luckily, she’s friends with the one woman in this village who isn’t,” he smiled, resting his chin on her shoulder. “She doesn’t need the friendship of people who think she’s a hoor.” 

Orla let out a Scottish noise of agreement, mixed with displeasure for those women. She had never truly been friends with them, either — only ever making polite conversation at the market or at the pub, avoiding their tea parties and lunches like the plague to avoid the questions about children and her fertility. And when she became too old for those questions, she was all too pleased to realise they had never wanted her at those events to begin with. 

“I ought to talk to Claire. I have to warn her because I dinna want them to descend on her to question her senselessly until they find the smallest scrap to burn her at the stake for.” 

“Aren’t ye being a little dramatic?” His eyebrow arched. “I ken they’re a handful, but other then ignorin’ the lass, I dinna see what  more they can do.” 

“She’s a strong one, but words can be verra hurtful to a person, and their words can be poison...ye know how much it hurts to hear things about yerself, true or not. I dinna want Claire to suffer, she doesna deserve it.” 

“Aye, ye’re right.” He kissed her temple, holding her closer. “Do what ye think is best, then. I’ll just support ye no matter what ye decide. Or help ye, if need be.”

“See,” Orla turned around, smiling. “That is exactly why I married ye.” 

“Oh,” he frowned, “I thought it was because of my verra dashing looks and my natural talent for cocktails.” 

“That helped,” she smirked, kissing his lips. “I’ll go talk to Claire. Ye have fun wi’ the roast and leave some for when I get back.”

“Are ye sure ye dinna want me to come wi’ ye?” He stroked her cheek gently. 

“Nay, it’ll be fine,” she smiled, taking his hand to kiss it. “I’ll try no’ to be too long.” 

“Take the time ye need.” He kissed her again and reluctantly let her go. 

A minute or two after Orla left, the doorbell rang. 

Chapter Text

Claire rose to her feet so fast, she didn’t take any time to place the empty glass back onto the coffee table. In a flash, she was down the hall, her hand reaching for the handle, fingers shaking slightly.

She expected Jamie; of course, she did. Yet, she had to admit finding Orla at the door wasn’t much of a surprise.

“Hello again, dearie,” Orla smiled sweetly, though she did seem rather out of breath.

Had she run?

“Three times on the same day?” Claire couldn’t help but smirk. “Should I be worried?”

“Can I talk to ye?”

Frowning, Claire nodded and stepped aside to let her in, “I do have to be worried, then.”

Once they were back in the living room, the Englishwoman finally disposed of the empty glass and sat down onto the velvet chair, opposite to her visitor.

“Claire.” Orla’s tone was gentle but stern.

“Ye’re no’ my daughter, and what ye do wi’ yer life is none of my concern. But I canna stand aside and pretend I dinna hear things in the village without talkin’ to ye about them—”

“Things in the village?” Claire’s eyes widened. It was bound to happen, she just hadn’t expected it to be so soon.

“What sort of things, exactly?”

“About ye…and men,” the Scottish woman said.

“Men? As in, more than one?” Claire couldn’t help but grin at the thought.

“Is it from every time I spoke to a man, or what? Because I can assure you, nothing happened with Jeremy, and even less so with Joe or Gale.”

“And wi’ Jamie?” Orla asked, her eyes softening.

“Jamie is quite another story,” she confessed. There was no use in lying to her, anyway. If the village was starting to talk about her intimate life, she’d need an ally; and of all people, she was glad it’d be Orla Bug.

“Do ye want to tell me abou’ it?” Orla reached for her hand, squeezing it.

“What exactly did you hear? Because, a bunch of women came to the library earlier, and one of them was rather insistent about knowing quite a lot of things about me.”

“One of them asked if I knew Jamie, and what was the type of my acquaintances with Jeremy Foster,” she continued explaining. Claire was slightly mad at herself for falling into Fiona Cameron’s trap.

“Mrs. Cameron told me she saw Jamie leave yer house this mornin’.”

“Shit.” The word escaped her lips before she had time to register what Orla had just said to her. They had been careful, making sure no one saw him leave. Thankfully, they had not kissed at the door.

“That was the sneeze I heard, eh?”

Nodding at the memory, Claire smiled slightly. “It was…but I could swear that no one was around when he left.”

“Aye, perhaps no’, but Fiona is known to live by her window to watch whatever is goin’ on here. She doesna live verra far from ye, so she probably just saw Jamie in the street and decided he must have been payin’ ye a visit since his own house is at the other side of town. If somethin’ is going on in this town, Fiona Cameron kens about it all right.”

“Well, rumours are just rumours, right?” Claire got up, going to pour herself another glass of whisky.

“Jamie and I agreed we’d see each other in secret until his divorce is finalised. We can’t walk around the village together, but people will talk no matter what we do.”

“Jamie is leavin’ Olivia then?” Orla watched her, a smile forming on her face.

“Yes, he told me he wants to.” Claire poured the drink, feeling another weight lift from her shoulder as she spoke the words.

“She has been at her sister’s house for the past few days, but he’s determined to talk to her when she gets back. They either have talked or are talking now, I reckon.”

“Weel, that is a start,” she leaned back, nodding. “A verra good start.”

“Thank you for warning me about the rumours.” Claire walked back towards her guest, holding two glasses.

“I dinna want ye to think I put my nose where I shouldn’t,” Orla smiled, taking the drink Claire was presenting her. “I just didn’t think it wise of me to stay quiet.”

“Oh well, I assumed you already knew about Jamie this morning,” Claire grinned, sitting down again. “You’re only saying something now because you’re scared I’m going to be the new pariah around here.”

“Dinna pay any mind to what those people have to say, a leannan.” Orla raised her glass. “They haven’t seen anythin’ but this place, I’m afraid. Closed-minded they are.”

“I understand.” Claire took a sip of her drink. “I just don’t want to cause any trouble for Jamie.”

“I can tell that the lad would walk through fire for ye, Claire. Life has given ye both another chance to be together. Dinna let anyone ruin that, aye?”

“I won’t,” Claire smiled sweetly, looking at her.

“You know…” she suddenly grew shy, as if she was five years old again. “You’re a little bit like the mother I never had. I’m glad to know I have you in my corner.”

“Oh, come here lass.” Orla put her drink aside and hugged her tightly. “Ye’re like a daughter to me too. I won’t let anybody hurt ye or Jamie.”

“Thank you,” Claire pulled back, smiling gently. “Thank you so much.”

“I just want ye both to be happy, and as far as I can tell, ye canna fully be unless ye’re together.”

“You don’t think I have loose morals?” Claire asked, making the other woman laugh at the question.

“Nay, but some people should loosen theirs a wee bit. It would help them be happier,” she winked, patting her arm.

“Ye’ve survived a war, don’t let anyone tell ye what ye should be doin’ wi’ yer life just because it doesn’t please them. Most people dinna know what it was like to be on the front, to be unaware of what it felt like not to know if ye’d live to see another day.” Orla cupped her cheek, smiling.

“Did you serve in the Great War?” Claire’s question had been one she had long wanted to ask every time the topic came up. A glimmer hidden in Orla’s eyes told her many times that there was a story there.

“Aye, I did,” she recalled, nodding. “That’s where I met Archie, but I was lucky enough not to have to leave him when it was over. I refuse for it to be any other way for ye and James. No’ if I can help it.”

“So you are a little bit of a romantic, after all, uh?” Claire’s eyebrow rose, her smirk growing.

“And so are ye, a leannan,” Orla chuckled, getting up. “Now, ye’re comin’ wi’ me.”

“Now? To your house?” she asked, and a nod answered her.

“Aye, I made a roast and some pie earlier. Apricot,” she added, knowing Claire’s fondness for the fruit.

“All right then.” Claire rose, finishing her whisky in one sip, smiling like a pleased little girl.

*******

Surprised at the doorbell sound, Arch Bug walked towards the front door.

Perhaps Orla had forgotten something? No, she had the keys.

Perhaps it was Claire, looking for his wife? Most likely.

Opening the door, he realised both his theories were, actually, rather wrong.

“Jamie?” A frown appeared between his brows. “Everything all right, lad?”

“Aye, ‘tis…” he nodded, leaning against his cane. It took a moment for Arch to realise he was holding an army bag in his other hand.

“Olivia threw me out.”

“Oh Christ,” Arch’s eyes widened. “Why don’t ye come in? Orla is out, but I feel like ye need to talk lad.”

Nodding once more, Jamie walked inside and deposited his bag near the bannister. “I didn’t really know where to go, so I thought I’d come here.”

“Ye thought well. Ye ken ye are always welcome,” he smiled, closing the front door. “Dinna fash about it, ye’re at home here.”

“Thank ye,” Jamie finally smiled. There was something different about his demeanour, Arch noticed. He seemed…lighter. As if a weight had finally been lifted off his shoulders.

“Come, I’ll get ye a whisky,” Arch led him into the living room, deciding not to ask anything about Claire unless Jamie decided to talk about the whole affair himself.

Sitting down, Jamie opposed, “No, thank ye. I’m tryin’ to stop drinkin’ so much.”

“Ouch, alright then,” Arch joined him, sitting opposite him.

“Are ye feelin’ alright, lad?”

“It might surprise ye, but I’m feelin’ more than alright,” Jamie admitted, unable to suppress the smile on his face. Now, Arch was sure of it — this was a man very much in love, but given the situation, it couldn’t be with his wife.

“What happened then? If ye dinna mind telling me.”

“I’ve come to realise that I married the wrong person…It wasna fair to stay together when neither of us made the other happy, so I asked Olivia for a divorce and she agreed. Though she said I had to leave immediately, and given the house belongs to her family, I didn’t argue. To be fair, ‘tis no’ like I wanted to stay there anyway.”

“Aye, I understand,” Arch smiled, patting his arms. “Can I ask ye somethin’ else?”

Jamie nodded, waiting for the question.

“Does that realisation have anythin’ to do wi’ a certain curly-haired librarian?”

Jamie’s eyes dropped for a brief second, his lip flicking up into a bigger smile. Then, he looked up again and nodded. “Orla told ye, then?”

“Ye ken how she is,” Arch chuckled. “She told me ye two met each other durin’ the war and so on. No’ the whole story, but sort of.”

“There’s no use in lying, aye. ‘Tis all about Claire.” Jamie’s smile remained unmoved. “I naively thought I would have been able to forget about her after the war, but I was wrong…and then, one day, I walked into the library and there she was.”

“I tried to push her away, really I did,” Jamie admitted, shamefully. “But I couldn’t, and it didn’t help that I never truly loved Olivia. Nor that after I returned she only ever looked at me like the broken man I was.”

“Ye deserve happiness, lad. So does Olivia, and ‘tis fine if ye were no’ meant to be together,” Arch patted his hand. “Ye make a mistake and ye move on. Ye’re lucky ye have Claire to do so.”

“Aye.” Jamie smiled at the thought of his Sassenach. “I’m verra lucky, indeed.”

“I’ll have to talk to her, I’m just afraid to go over to her house and be seen… I dinna want her reputation to be tainted once the news of the divorce goes around. I dinna want people to think she’s a homewrecker because she’s no’ one. Far from it.”

“Orla’s gone there, maybe ye can write a letter and we’ll make sure she receives it? In the meantime, I reckon ye’re stayin’ wi’ us?”

“I thought I’d go to the tavern —”

“Nonsense!” Arch shook his head, getting up. “The guest room is yers, lad. And there’s a roast in the oven just waitin’ to be eaten.”

“Are ye sure? I dinna want to disturb the two of ye.”

“Jamie lad, do ye want Orla to be mad when she learns ye came here and I let ye go to the tavern to sleep?”

Jamie chuckled, getting up, “No, we dinna want that.”

“Thought so,” Arch smirked, walking to the kitchen with the red-haired Scot.

As the two men entered the hall, the door opened to reveal Orla and Claire on the other side of it.

“Sassenach!” Jamie’s face illuminated. His grin broadening.

Before he had time to register, she had thrown himself into his arms. Cane forgotten, he wrapped them tightly around her body.

“My darling,” Claire whispered, holding him close.

Orla closed the door, smirking at her husband, “I guess we have company for dinner tonight.”

“Aye, we do,” Arch wrapped his arm around her neck, kissing her temple.

“I think we have a few things to celebrate."

Chapter Text

When Claire stepped into the room, Jamie was sitting on the bed, waiting for her.

Closing the door carefully, she stood in her pink nightgown, hair loose and curls falling freely over her shoulders. Mischief floated in her eyes, along with relief— which matched his own. Every time he saw Claire she took his breath away, but this time, there was something different about her. She was finally his, and that made her all the more beautiful.

Orla and Arch had been kind enough to let them stay for the night so they could be together without anyone in the village suspecting anything. By now, the news of the divorce must have already made the rounds and it was safer to not take any unnecessary risks. Jamie would worry about his reputation later; right now, he was too busy staring at his Sassenach.

“What are you looking at me like that for?” she asked, her voice low and a shy smile forming on her lips.

“I just like the sight of ye, a nighean.” He held out his hand to her. “For so long ye were only a memory for me cherish, but now ye’re here. Flesh and bones.”

“Indeed, I am,” she took his hand and joined him in bed.

“I’m verra glad I didna have to wait so long to have ye in my arms again though.”

Jamie pulled her closer, breathing in her scent of patchouli and vanilla. It was a smell that had defined his entire time in the war even if they had only spent a few short months together towards the end. Her intoxicating scent erased the memories of the odour of blood, ripped flesh and gunpowder that surround him before they met.

“I’m grateful Orla and Arch put us up tonight,” she smiled, resting her head against his shoulder. “I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw you standing at the door when I arrived.”

“I thought it would be a better idea to come here and no’ to yer house, though comin’ to see ye was all I wanted.” He kissed her temple, wrapping his arm around her.

“I feel like Orla knew you would show up here, and that’s why she asked me to join them for dinner.” Stroking his chin, she closed her eyes for a brief moment.

“Aye,” he said softly, smiling in turn.

Jamie couldn’t explain the relief he felt. Seeing Claire again was like taking a breath after years of being underwater; but now, the piece of steel that had been lodged in his ribcage had finally dissolved. Guilt and sadness were no longer his everyday companions. He had abandoned them and the stranger he had become since returning home from the war.

“Orla came to see me because she’d heard a few rumours.” Claire opened her eyes and looked at him seriously.

“What?” He frowned, turning to look at her properly. “What rumours, Sassenach?”

“Well,” she sat up, leaning against the bed frame.

“Earlier today a group of women came into the library. They were asking me all sorts of questions about my life and one of them - Mrs Cameron - asked me if I knew you. I said I did, but only as a passing acquaintance but there was something in her countenance that didn’t sit quite right. Of course, I had no reason to suspect…”

“Suspect what?” His eyebrow rose.

“When Orla came over she told me that Mrs. Cameron had been spreading all sorts of nasty things about me at the market. Orla thinks she must have seen you come out of my house this morning, but we’re not sure. Whatever it was that set her off, Fiona Cameron clearly believes I’m some sort of maneater,” Claire rolled her eyes, brushing a curl away from her face.

Sighing, Jamie rubbed his hand against the back of his neck. What he had feared had already started, and there was nothing they could do about it, except make sure they were never seen at the same place at the same time— at least for now.

“I’m sorry, Claire.”

“What the hell is there to be sorry for?” She cupped his cheek, making him look at her.

“I don’t care about rumours. If they want to believe I have loose morals, let them. It’ll give them something to fill their sad lives with other than knitting patterns and the price of tea.”

He couldn’t help but smile at that.

“Maybe it’ll mean those old biddies don’t want to come to the library, but since they weren’t coming to begin with, I’m not too worried,” she grinned, brushing her lips against his.

That was Claire. Sorcha. She wouldn’t worry, she wouldn’t care about what other people thought of her. She was a wild spirit, independent and stubborn.

God, he loved her so.

“Ye always have such an optimistic way of looking at things,” he smiled, cupping her chin.

“After everything we went through in that fucking war, I found you again. I have nothing to be pessimistic about,” she smiled, resting her forehead against his. “Nothing at all. And if rumours about me keep the village entertained, then so be it.”

“Aye,” he whispered against her lips, lingering for a moment before kissing her. “But if anybody causes ye trouble, they’ll have to answer to me.”

She chuckled softly, “I think that would give us away rather quickly, my darling.”

“So be it,” he smirked, pulling her on top of him.

*******

The next morning, Jamie and Claire drove out of the village at dawn.

Orla and Arch had given them their car for the day after the lovers had decided to venture to Loch Ness. With Claire having the day off, and neither of them wanting to part too soon, getting away for a few hours sounded like a great idea.

As Claire was yet to visit the surrounds of Inverness, she was full of excitement. For Jamie, spending the day with his love away from the prying eyes of the village had him practically laughing with joy.

Driving, Claire’s curls flew all over the place because she didn’t like to drive with a headscarf on. She couldn’t hear properly, she said. As they drove, Jamie snapped photographs of her, making her laugh to deflect the growing shyness she had from his attention.

“Stop it,” Claire mumbled, shaking her head at him, eyes focused on the road.

The sun had risen but the sunlight lingered behind the clouds that hid the peaks of the mountains. Their colour was reminiscent of a painter’s palette; lighter and darker shades of green mixing with yellows and oranges. It was the beginning of Autumn, the leaves falling onto the ground, the wind whispering symphonies of secrets. It was the beginning of everything.

“I’ll stop for now,” he grinned, putting the camera aside. “But I have plenty of films left for the rest of the day.”

“Grand,” she chuckled again, nudging him.

Jamie took her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing her palm.

“Scotland is so beautiful,” she said in a low voice, her eyes wide open like a child discovering the world. She had been that child, finding beauty in all the places she had visited. Yet, there was something about the Highlands…

“Do ye feel at home here, Claire?” he asked, watching her.

Smiling, she nodded and looked at him briefly, “I do, actually. But I’m not sure it has to do with the place.”

“Aye, I ken what ye mean,” he smiled tenderly, kissing her hand once more.

“My uncle always said, it’s not about where you are, it’s who you’re with.”

“He’s right,” Jamie nodded, leaning back. “I would have loved to meet him.”

“He would have loved you very much,” Claire smiled, squeezing his hand. “I’m sure of it.”

The Loch came into view a couple of minutes later and Claire parked the car under a tree. As suspected, given the early hour and cool temperature, the place was deserted but for them. Getting out, she finally tied the scarf around her head to give her curls a rest from the wind and took out the picnic basket from the car. Jamie joined her and hand in hand, they went to find a spot for the day.

The Scot laid the blanket onto the grass and helped her sit down before joining her in turn.

“Do you want a muffin?” she asked, opening the basket.

“Aye,” he smiled, taking out the coffee thermos and two cups to pour it in.

“You haven’t told me how Olivia reacted?”

At dinner, the topic didn’t come up; and in bed afterwards, they’d had much more important things on their mind.

“She seemed relieved,” he admitted, handing her one of the cups. “As if she knew it was comin’ and she was simply waitin’ for me to say the words. I wouldn’t say she was verra pleased, though.”

Nodding, Claire reached for his hand and smiled softly, “I’m sorry, Jamie.”

“Why are ye sorry?” He couldn’t help but smile. “She never loved me, and I never loved her… ye rescued us both from a lifetime of misery. Now I can be wi’ ye, and she can be happy wi’ someone who will love her the way she deserves.”

“She deserves to be happy too,” Claire smiled, leaning against him.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course. What is it ye want to know, Sassenach?”

“From the minute we met in the hospital, us knowing each other has impacted every aspect of your life. Do you feel guilty about how it’s all turned out?” She bit her lower lip, almost as if she didn’t want to know the answer but couldn’t help to ask.

“I never felt guilty,” he said truthfully, making her relax.

“I often wondered why I didn’t…but ye canna feel guilty for somethin’ that was meant to be. For somethin’ that makes ye feel so alive, so full. To be honest, the only regret I have was leavin’ ye that day at the station. I spent the journey cursin’ myself. Then, when I arrived back in Inverness, all the doubts I had about making the right choice just materialised and I was stuck. I didn’t know where ye were or where I could find ye. And there was Olivia, waitin’ for me on the platform. A woman I barely remembered the features of, even less how to love. Somethin’ had shifted, I knew she kent it too…just from the way she was lookin’ at me wi’ my cane. But I’m afraid she was aware I never belonged to her from the moment we got married.”

“And do you belong to me?” She cupped his cheek, her thumb stroking it.

“I thought ye already knew the answer to that?” his lip flicked up into a smile.

“I like to be reminded…” she admitted, smiling shyly.

“Weel then,” he said softly, leaning down to seal their lips.

The breeze rose flowing around them like a lullaby. Claire smiled against his lips and took his hand.

“I love you.”

His breath stuttered for a second at hearing the words slipping out of her mouth so naturally.

“I love ye too, Claire. From the moment I saw ye, when I was lying on that cot. I thought I was dreamin’ but there ye were.”

Jamie brought her hand to his lips and kissed the tip of her fingers.

M’aingeal,” he whispered.

“What does that mean?” she asked, golden eyes locking with his.

“My angel,” he said simply, stroking a stray curl away from her face.

“Once, you asked me if I would’ve come to Inverness if I’d known this is where you were.”

“I remember that, aye. Ye said ye didn’t know.”

Her lip flicked up into a tender smile.

“Oh, but I knew…Wild horses couldn’t have kept me away, even if it was to take just one last look at you. Believing you were happy helped me sleep at night. But deep down, I knew I couldn’t live the rest of my life without you. Coming to Inverness was an unconscious move on my part, but with time, I would have started looking for you, I’m sure of it. Thankfully, you walked into the library before I had to lift a finger.”

“My mam used to say libraries were magical places,” he smiled, reminiscing.

Claire had moved closer and arms wrapped around her waist, they lay face to face on the blanket.

“They are,” she smirked, bopping his nose.

They didn’t move for a little while, a comfortable silence surrounding them. They had done this quite a few times in France, but were always worried someone would see them, worried a bomb would drop out of the clear blue sky as planes flew over the fields. They were at peace now. At the edge of a loch, where folktales and mysteries had soothed the place, where lovers came for centuries before them.

Jamie whispered words of Gaelic into her ear. Words she didn’t ask the meaning of because, deep down, she already knew everything he needed to say to her.

The first time he had seen her, he was a broken man. Spirit and body shattered by bombs, exhaustion, and pain. She had healed him; first with her hands and then with her love, before she had been ripped from him. A future he had imagined and wished for above all else had disappeared in a flash when the war ended. But one time, in the deepest of night, she thought him asleep and unable to hear her, she had promised him she would find him again.

And she had. 

Chapter Text

Aix en Provence, 1953

Sunlight seeping through the windows, the smell of lavender filled the house, floating in from the fields beyond. Like every morning, Claire sat on the porch, eyes closed and cup of tea in hand, as she let the sounds and smells of home soothe her before she began her day.

The South of France was a rather different place to live than the Scottish Highlands, but the feel of both was the same. The village, the people, being surrounded by nature…lots of things reminded her of Inverness. Except for the weather. This was a vast improvement.

The farm was a couple of miles from the centre of town, but it was easy to bike there when needed; either when Claire had to go to the library or to the market. The house itself was alone in a field, surrounded by peace and quiet, with a perfect view of the sunrise. It looked like heaven up there; and most days, it felt like it too.

Humming to herself, she took another sip of tea and opened her eyes, reflecting on how much her life had changed over the last decade. In 1943, she was knee-deep in mud and blood, spending her days at the hospital in the midst of war. She didn’t know how or when it would end, nor if she would still be alive to see it. Then things started happening, things she would have never imagined possible.

She loved, she lost, she moved away. Claire found herself in Inverness, alone and rather lost — though something called her there. It didn’t take too long to find out what that thing was.

“Good mornin’, Sassenach,” Jamie’s voice came from behind and she turned to look at him, standing against the doorframe. His hair was messy and his cheeks pinkened from slumber.

Slowly, he made his way outside and sat down on the step next to her. He had long abandoned the cane, but always made sure to hold onto something so he wouldn’t lose his balance and fall.

“Good morning, my darling.”

She smiled warmly at the sight of her husband, leaning towards him to seal their lips. The Scot reciprocated in kind, his arm wrapping around her waist to pull her closer.

“You’re up early,” she said softly, resting her head against his shoulder.

“I could say the same thing to ye,” he smiled, stroking her back.

“I’m always up early,” she remarked, smirking before taking a sip of tea.

“Aye, but lately ye’ve been sleepin’ a bit later. When I woke up and ye weren’t there I thought the bairn might be botherin’ ye again?” His other hand rested on her burgeoning belly, palm flat and warm.

“A bit, but it’s not too badly. The tea is helping.” She closed her eyes, relaxing into his arms.

“I’m glad it does.” He looked at her, his smile growing. “Not much longer now until the wee one arrives.”

“I can’t wait to meet them.” She took his hand. “To see the perfect little face, the shape of the eyes, their colour…I wonder if they’ll have copper hair, like you?”

“All we ken for certain is that they’ll be a stubborn bairn, that’s for sure.”

“No doubt about that,” she grinned, looking at him. “A Fraser through and through.”

“Aye, ‘cause yer side of the family isna stubborn at all, eh?”

“Oh no, you’re right. But at least I can admit it,” she chuckled, kissing his cheek.

He smirked and took the cup from her hand to take a sip of tea. She leaned against him and took his hand, enjoying the warm breeze.

They had moved here six years ago, after all hell broke loose in Inverness and Claire lost her job. They had been talking about going back to France a while before that happened, it just accelerated things slightly. After it became known that Jamie was getting a divorce the rumours about them simply grew, snowballing until most of the village refused to speak to her. They refused to serve her in shops, and it escalated until people pressured Mr. Mackenzie to get rid of her at the library.

Orla and Arch had been godsends, helping them move all the way to Paris, while Ned Gowan took care of Jamie’s divorce, making sure he wouldn’t lose his soldier’s pension to Olivia. They were in the South of France for a small holiday with Joe and Gale when they stumbled upon an abandoned farm. They fell in love with the place, and one week later, it was theirs to renovate. It had been a long process, but a great one to experience together.

They lived in the barn until the main house was finished. It didn’t take long for Claire to become the new librarian in the area; the people from the village welcoming her with open arms and open hearts, eager to come borrow books and engage in literary discussions. It was a striking contrast to what her job had been in Inverness.

Jamie worked on the farm most days, enjoying being out in the sun and taking care of their various animals. He made cheese and jams, and he had plans to start distilling whisky soon. His leg still slowed him down, but he wasn’t frustrated with it anymore. He took every day as it came, and didn’t push himself if it hurt too much. Instead, he’d stay home and enjoy a massage from his former combat nurse of a wife.

A week after his divorce was official they married at the little church in the town square. They invited the Bugs, and, Joe and Gale to come stay at the farm to celebrate, their friends arriving bearing gifts and well wishes for the newly married couple. It was the life they had both secretly dreamed about, thinking the other lost forever. Except it wasn’t a dream any longer.

“What should we make for breakfast?” he asked, stroking her hand.

Des crêpes,” came from the little voice of Annie Fraser, four years old.

Jamie and Claire turned around, looking at their daughter at the door. Her curls were as messy as a bird’s nest, like her mother’s. In one hand she held her trusty rabbit; and with the other, she rubbed her sleepy eyes.

“Good morning,” she added in English, in the middle of a big yawn.

“Good morning, ma poupée,” Claire smiled, opening her arms to her.

“Hello, a leannan,” Jamie smiled, kissing the top of her head once she was in Claire’s lap.

Annie was the perfect mixture of them both. Her hair was a dark blonde with glints of red when the sun hit it. Her eyes were neither blue nor brown — they were topaz. She was as stubborn as a Fraser and determined as a Beauchamp, while her accent sometimes sounded English, other times Scottish, but most of the time, French.

“I want crêpes, maman,” she yawned again, snuggling against Claire.

“Then we’ll make them.” She kissed her cheek, smiling at Jamie.

“Why don’t ye two go fetch some eggs?” He got up slowly, holding the cup. “I’ll go and prep what we need to make them and make another pot of tea.”

On va chercher des oeufs?” She looked at her daughter who had suddenly properly woken up.

“Oui!” Annie jumped up and pulled onto her mother’s hand. “Come on, maman!”

Smirking, Jamie kissed his wife’s lips and gave her bump a gentle pat before sending them off to the chicken coop.

“Annie love, you forgot your basket,” Claire grabbed it and handed it to her.

“Thank you,” the little girl said happily, walking with her mother towards the coop. “Maman? When is my sister arriving?”

Chuckling, she squeezed her hand, “In a few weeks, but we’re not sure it’s a girl, my crumpet. You could have a brother.”

“Charlotte has a brother and he cries all the time.” Annie said as she made a face.

“Well, babies do tend to cry, boy or girl. You cried quite a bit,” she grinned, opening the door to the coop.

“Non, I am sure you are lying,” she retorted as she walked inside.

“Annie,” Claire crossed her arms and grinned.

Giggling mischievously, she let go of her hand and ran towards the hay to find some eggs.

Maman! We’ve got six eggs today!” she said happily, clapping her hands in excitement.

Gently, she picked them one by one and laid them in the basket as though they were the most precious things in the world. She looked exactly like Jamie doing this, tongue out in concentration and eyes focused on the task.

“That will make quite a lot of crêpes,” Claire smiled, resting her hand on her belly.

“We can keep some for when Grandpa and Grandma arrive later!” She smiled widely and walked over to her. “They love them too.”

“You’re right.” She leaned down to kiss her head and took her hand.

“Now off we go.”

******

Claire was lying on a blanket on the grass, eyes closed and hands resting on her bump. It was the late afternoon, the light starting to shift as the sun turned. They were by the lake, Jamie and Annie swimming with Arch while Orla sat next to her. They had arrived earlier, coming to stay for a few weeks until the baby arrived.

“How are ye feelin’?“ Orla asked, looking at the three swimmers in the lake.

“Like I’m about to pop,” Claire grinned, opening her eyes. “And I can’t see my feet right now.”

“Ye look lovely,” she smiled, squeezing her hand.

“Thank you.” Claire sat up as quickly as her state would allow. “So, how are things in Scotland?”

“Same old,” Orla grinned. “Mrs. Finegan is havin’ an affair with the vicar, so that is the town’s preoccupation at the moment.”

“The vicar?” Her eyebrow rose and she laughed. “Good for them!”

“They’re both young and her husband barely takes a look at her, can ye blame the lass? They look so smitten wi’ one another too!”

“Whatever makes them happy,” Claire smiled, crossing her legs at the ankles. “As much as I miss you all and Scotland in a way, I’m glad we’ve moved here. People just don’t care about what others do, it’s bliss.”

“I told Archie we’re sellin’ the pub and movin’ here when ‘tis time to retire,” she winked.

“Yes please, we have more than enough room for you here, and I wouldn’t have to wait months to gossip with you,” Claire winked, patting her hand.

“Oh aye! I miss havin’ tea wi’ ye every day and visitin’ ye at the library of course.”

“Indeed,” Claire watched Jamie swimming around with Annie on his back, both laughing as they pretended to be sharks hunting Arch.

“Are ye wonderin’ when ye’ll wake up from yer dream, Claire?”

Turning her head, she looked at her, taken aback by the question. “Actually, yes. I often do. It’s silly, but—”

“‘Tis no’,” Orla smiled gently. “I still wake up in the mornin’ finding myself surprised to be with Archie. I can only imagine what ye’re goin’ through after thinkin’ ye’d never see Jamie again. And now look at the two of ye; marrit wi’ a beautiful lass and another wee bairn on the way…and ye’re wonderin’ when was the exact moment yer life became what ye always wanted it to be.”

“That’s exactly it,” Claire admitted, smiling. A tear rolled down her cheek and she quickly brushed it away. “It’s like my heart grew twice its size.”

“It has,” the Scottish woman squeezed her hand. “And it’ll only grow more and more.”

“It feels like fate that I came to Inverness and found Jamie, I should find the person who put the job advertisement for the librarian in the newspaper and thank them.”

“Twasn’t me,” Orla smirked. “But I might have put yer letter on top of the pile when I visited Mr. Mackenzie one mornin’.”

Frowning, Claire looked at her in confusion. “You did? Why?”

“When Jamie arrived home from the war, he came for dinner at our house and forgot his jacket when he and Olivia left. When I picked it up, a picture fell out of one of the pockets…’Twas a picture of a young lass in her nurse’s uniform; written on the back was C.E. Beauchamp. Of course, I had no idea if the Claire Beauchamp who applied for the job was the same as the lady in the photograph but I had a very strong hunch that it might be.”

Claire didn’t bother to brush off her tears this time, her grin growing. “All this time you knew who I was?”

“Aye,” Orla winked, handing her a napkin. “Nothin’ wrong with giving fate a wee bit of a kick in the arse from time to time. And we needed a good librarian, which ye turned out to be.”

 

The end.