3 year ago
“Claire, if you walk out that door don’t bother coming back.”
The words had been ringing in her ears since she’d left Frank less than 24 hours ago. Claire had left him in London. And now here she was, in the Scottish Highlands. She was taking a week off up north before she traveled back to her internship in Edinburgh.
She was 25 and had just finished medical school. She’d spent the past 2 years making rounds at the Royal London Hospital. It was where she was continuing as a resident-in-training after the summer. After the summer where one of her professors had recommended her for a UK-wide exchange program in Edinburgh. It was a great opportunity, one that Claire had jumped at.
She’d fallen in love with Scotland when she’d studied a semester in Glasgow in undergrad and she’d been itching to return. Unfortunately, her studies didn’t allow a vacation and she had to work during the summer to save for the next year. It had been exhausting and Claire wouldn’t have really used time off for anything other than sleeping anyways, let alone traveling and sightseeing. But that was over now. She had graduated medical school near the top of her class and finally earned herself a paid position at one of England’s best teaching hospitals. The summer stretched out blissfully in front of her, but Claire never really knew what to do with idle time. So when the internship in Edinburgh came across her radar and one of her favorite professor’s urged her to apply…
She’d applied without even talking to Frank about it. Then she accepted the offer with just a passing comment to her boyfriend of a year. He hadn’t taken it well. They’d fought about how Claire wasn’t making any time for him. She’d shot back that it wasn’t her fault his graduate program in history was mostly done from home while hers’ also meant nights and weekends away from him. Of course she didn’t like it (when the reality was she sort of did), but it was her career. Her dream. Yes, he’d replied, I understand your career. But these four months of summer were going to be her last break for the foreseeable future and she couldn’t even give him that. So he’d told her, if you take this internship we’re over. Claire hadn’t even hesitated.
Claire, if you walk out that door don’t bother coming back.
She was feeling quite a bit less sure of herself now that she was alone and more than a little tipsy in the Inverness pub she’s stumbled into. Frank hadn’t been right to give her an ultimatum, but Claire should have told him about the program before she’d been accepted and decided to go. They’d been together more than a year and she knew this was more than a passing fling. Even if she wasn’t quite ready to love him yet, Frank loved her. For someone like Claire, an orphan with very few friends and one sickly uncle, that meant quite a lot.
She was fighting the urge to call him when the bartender gave her a third pint of Guinness. She gave him a grateful smile. He was going to be getting a very good tip. She needed the drinks even if she didn’t need an enabler to the pathetic groveling she was now considering. She was just about to give into it when she heard a distinct voice behind him.
“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, is that ye?”
Claire turned around and was faced with none other than Jenny Fraser.
“Jenny?” she gasped as the woman in question threw her arms around Claire, “God, it’s been years.”
“4 years,” Jenny confirmed. Claire stood up from her bar stool in an attempt to make the embrace less awkward, but in her inebriated state she did just about the opposite and then they were laughing together, “What’re ye doing here?”
“I’m doing an internship for the summer in Edinburgh,” Claire said, “I thought I’d see some of the sights before I start.”
“And ye didna think to call me?” Jenny asked. Claire looked at the ceiling guiltily because honestly she hadn’t. Jenny and Claire had met when she was doing her semester at Jenny’s university in Glasgow. Jenny’s business degree didn’t overlap much with Claire’s pre-med program, but they’d found enough free time to tear through the clubs of the city with Jenny’s childhood friend, Geillis Duncan and her boyfriend, Ian. Geillis had also been pre-med (she wanted to be an obstetrician, Claire recalled) and Claire hadn’t thought to give her a call either. She wondered if Geillis was graduating this year as well. Was there a chance they’d be working together in Edinburgh, or had she stayed in Glasgow?
“Never mind,” Jenny said as she interrupted Claire’s train of thought, “I’ll forgive ye if ye buy the next round of drinks.”
That’s how things were with Jenny. She was easy to anger but also quick to grant forgiveness with a well-timed apology. This apology consisted of Claire buying (and drinking) three rounds of tequila shots. By the time Jenny suggested the fourth, they were the best of friends once again. Jenny lived in Edinburgh now with her brother, Jamie, and was just up north to deal with some matters at her family farm of Lallybroch. Her father wasn’t doing well and it was looking like they were going to have to sell the property. Claire offered her condolences but Jenny brushed them off.
“We ken this was coming. Da’s been running things alone since Jamie decided he wanted to go to university. We ken it couldn’t go on forever. We’re all resigned to it.”
James Fraser (Jamie, to Jenny) was a 21 year old freshman studying linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. He’d put off his studies for a few years now to help his father at Lallybroch and save money, but Brian Fraser wouldn’t let him put things off any longer. His children were simply not farmers, and Brian Fraser had made his peace with it. So he was moving in with the Murrays and whatever money they made from selling the land would be distributed between father and children.
Jenny was using her share to start up a pub in the heart of the city. Claire wished her well and soon Jenny was dragging her back to Lallybroch and inviting other people over.
“Ian will be so happy to see ye,” Jenny gushed as she snapped a picture for him. Claire didn’t doubt it. She loved Jenny’s boyfriend and he was rather fond of her. He didn’t join them in their clubbing adventures often, but when he did… Claire wanted a kind of love like that. She’d witnessed often enough how he’d watched Jenny rage and rant until she tired herself out before calmly explaining all the things she’d misunderstood and the mistakes she’d made, always with kindness. Claire envied it. He rolled his eyes fondly at her antics, but very rarely put her down. There were times where it seemed like all Frank ever did was criticize her. And just like that she was thinking about Frank again.
“What’s wrong?” Jenny asked her. Dammit. It seemed like Jenny’s intuition hadn’t dimmed in the 4 years since they’d seen each other.
“My boyfriend and I broke up,” she confessed, “He said if I took this internship, it was over. And here I am.”
“Fuck him,” Jenny replied simply. She signaled the bartender for another shot. The night was fuzzy after that.
Claire often wondered how in the fuck she was back here again. Almost the exact same position three years later.
This time was worse. Frank hadn’t broken up with her. Instead, he’d begged her to make a different choice. He told her he loved her, the engagement ring on her finger proved that, and that he knew she was pushing him away because she was scared. That was fair enough, but the job in Edinburgh was too good to not even go to the interview.
“I will be back in 2 weeks,” Claire promised as she kissed him gently. “There’s no point in fighting over a job I don’t even have yet.”
“Dammit, Claire, that isn’t the point,” he retorted. And he was right. But this was different. She wasn’t doing this to get away. She was a different woman than she’d been three years ago. She had no one now save for Frank. Her uncle was dead, dead like her parents. Her only family was gone, and Claire wouldn’t stay in London for just one man, even one she was in love with. Getting this job could mean her entire career. She loved her job as a trauma surgeon in London, but her career would never advance there. Any hospital worth its reputation ran on tradition and nepotism. All Claire had was being a damn good doctor.
She was running on three years of being a damn good doctor and her career going nowhere despite it. Then Geillis Duncan called her. There were 2 administrative openings at the hospital she’d interned at (albeit briefly. She shuddered at the memory of what cut her internship short), and would Claire interview?
It worked out almost too perfectly from there. She’d be interviewing as assistant head of the trauma department. Her partner and best friend, Joe Abernathy, was independently applying there for the assistant chief of surgery. If one of them got their jobs, it could open opportunity for the other. If both of them got the jobs… Edinburgh wasn’t ready for them.
So here she was with Joe on the train for Edinburgh and her fiancé hadn’t called her once. The interview was in 2 days and if all went well, the second and third would be next week and she’d be offered the job. Claire had been optimistic, she’d booked her hotel stay for the full two weeks.
And if she got offered the job… Claire didn’t know where she’d stand with Frank. But she was damn sure she wouldn’t let him stand in her way.
“I am starving, Lady Jane,” Joe complained as they got their luggage and left the train, “Please tell me we have nothing to do for the rest of the day.”
“I suppose we could prep for our interviews over some food and a pint,” she allowed. In truth, she was starving too, though she feared her nerves wouldn’t allow her to eat. It was a problem she faced before big decisions, like where she would go to med school or should she accept Frank’s proposal. Don’t fucking think about Frank Randall, she snapped at herself. They walked into the first pub they found that was on the way to their hotel: Broch Turach Tavern. The name sounded vaguely familiar but she couldn’t place it. The scent of shepherd’s pie and chips was overwhelmingly good as they seated themselves. She was deciding whether she wanted a simple pint or a cocktail after her journey when she heard an identical voice from 3 years ago.
“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, is that you?” Once again, Claire turned around to gape at Jenny Fraser. Or she should say Murray now. She’d gotten the wedding invitation from Geillis but it had been too soon after… everything and Claire had been too much of a mess to reply. She’d been hit with guilt every so often about it. As well she should, it seemed. Jenny Murray looked pissed. Claire would have taken that any day to the expression on the man behind her. He seemed confused and angry too, and hurt more than anything.
Standing behind Jenny was her brother, Jamie Fraser. Even after three years of steadfastly refusing to think about him, he was still the most beautiful man she had ever seen.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”
3 years ago
Jenny’s texts were nearly incoherent, which was Jamie’s first clue that he needed to get back to Lallybroch.
The next clue was that Jenny had sent him and Ian a picture of her with the most beautiful woman that Jamie had ever seen.
Claire! Was all the message said. That must have meant something to Ian though, who replied No damn way, where are you? Ian called him ten minutes later telling him to get the hell home because they were having a party. Claire Beauchamp was in Lallybroch and that was apparently cause for a celebration.
So Jamie politely ended his dinner with Laohaire. Not a date, his brain supplied even though she absolutely thought it was. They’d had a brief fling before Jamie had gone off to school and she acted like they were on the brink of getting back together any time he was home. But she’d been his friend and so few people had stayed near Inverness after they’d graduated high school that he saw her whenever he was home. But it was nearly now 11:00 pm and they’d been having stilted conversation for three hours. And there was apparently something noteworthy going on in Lallybroch. So he politely asked for the check and drove Laoghaire home despite her obvious pout. He promised with halfhearted enthusiasm that he’d call her to make sure he got home safe and to arrange maybe a drink the next weekend. Then he was free.
A party, indeed, Jamie thought when he entered the main house of his family farm. It smelled like a damn brewery and there was music and yelling coming from the kitchen.
“But I didn’t know!” the all too familiar voice of Geillis Duncan rang out over two others. One was Jenny, the other must have been Claire, “It doesn’t count if I didn’t know.”
“There is no out for trying to have sex with my uncle, Geille,” Jenny yelled but she was laughing and Geillis’ indignant squawk sent Jamie laughing too despite the subject of the argument. Jamie had heard it before. It was what Jenny and Geillis resorted to whenever they got on the sloppy side of tipsy. The scene in the kitchen looked a lot like it sounded. Jenny and Geillis were yelling at each other while Ian looked on in amusement and a woman was leaning against the counter next to him wryly judging the scene in front of her and sipping her drink, a something and soda from the looks of it. That must be Claire. She was every bit more beautiful in life than she’d been on his phone screen. He was so screwed.
“I didn’t know,” Geillis insisted.
“Geillis,” the woman said evenly and she took a small sip of her drink, “You didn’t stop once you did know.”
“Geillis, what?” Jenny cried at the same time Geillis shouted really, Claire?! And then Jenny was at her throat again. Ian gave her a wide smile as she took a smug sip of her drink. Jamie decided he needed to meet this woman immediately.
As if on cue, all eyes shifted to him as he helped himself to beer, “Jamie!” Ian cried. God, he was hammered. That never happened. He was normally trying to corral his sister. Jamie laughed into the clumsy hug Ian pulled him into, “Claire’s here!”
“Yeah, man, ye called me,” Jamie reminded him, “Who the hell is Claire?”
“That would be me,” she said as she held out her hand, “And you must be James Fraser. I’ve heard so much about you.” Jamie grimaced at the implications of that as he shook her hand. He expected them to be smooth, but they were pleasingly rough. He tried to mentally guess what she did for a living.
“Me, Claire, and Geillis studied together in Glasgow,” Jenny supplied, “And then she disappeared for 4 years and we just so happened to both be at the same pub tonight.”
“Claire from Glasgow?” Jamie asked, then some of the pieces fit together. He’d heard a lot about Claire when they’d all come back to Lallybroch for the summer. But when Jenny had been 21 and studying he’d still been stuck at the farm with no end in sight. He didn’t particularly care about all the adventures his sister and Ian had gotten up to so he barely listened. If he’d known Claire was the most attractive woman in the world he wouldn’t have spurned Jenny’s offer to show him her pictures from school.
“Claire from London, actually,” she laughed, “I’m glad for once that my reputation doesn’t proceed me.” Christ, she had the most beautiful accent. Jamie wondered what she’d sound like when she moaned. He quickly buried his head in his beer bottle. No point having thoughts like that when she’d inevitably be going back to London.
“And what is Claire from London doing in the Scottish highlands?” Jamie asked.
“She’s doing an internship in Edinburgh,” Geillis supplied, “Before taking her fancy job at the Royal London Hospital.”
“A nurse?” Jamie guessed. That would explain the work worn hands.
“Doctor, actually,” Claire replied with a touch of annoyance.
“My apologies, Sassenach,” Jamie amended and if anything, that made her looked more annoyed.
“He didn’t mean it in a bad way,” Ian was quick to jump in, “It just means an Englishwoman. An outlander, at worst.”
“There were some guys in Glasgow that didn’t like our English Rose,” Jenny teased as she swung an arm around Claire’s shoulders, “Sassenach was one of the nicer things they called her.”
“Sassenach Whore was also a memorable one,” Claire replied, but she was smiling now, “I’ve certainly been called worse.”
“Well, I definitely wasn’t calling you a...” Jamie trailed off.
“Christ, he’s blushing,” Claire laughed, and he found he didn’t mind her laughing at him. It seemed like he was in on the joke.
“Wee Jamie is the real flower of this party,” Jenny teased.
“Watch it, Janet,” Jamie warned. One of Jenny’s favorite party tricks was revealing that at 21 years old, Jamie was still a virgin. He’d been taught from an early age that you shouldn’t be having sex if you weren’t prepared to suffer any consequences- both emotional and physical. And well, not everyone was as lucky as Jenny to grow up next to the love of their life. So though Jamie had dated a few girls, he’d never really been in love so he’d never slept with them. It wasn’t something he was ashamed of, but he also didn’t need Jenny broadcasting it. Especially to Claire.
“What, James?” she shot back, “You don’t want me telling our English rose that you’re-”
Jamie clamped a hand over her mouth, “Who wants another round of shots?”
Jamie was exhausted.
He was working almost full time for Jenny plus his second job at the library plus he was in the middle of finals for his last semester at the University of Edinburgh. There was really only one academic thing he was worried about. His final capstone project for his Bachelor’s in linguistics. His 40 page paper was almost done, then he’d be able to quit his second job and just work for Jenny during the summer. That would bring its own set of challenges, like applying for grad school and trying to find the money for it (he refused to take any more from his father and undergrad had used up most of what he’d gotten from his share of Lallybroch), but at the very least he wouldn’t be up to his neck in 18th century colloquial Gaelic. Until he got his masters for that very thing. Jamie sighed even though his grand dreams of language preservation through academia had been his own fault.
“If ye have time to look all martyred ye have time to finish stocking the bar,” Jenny chided.
“Ye ken, I’m legally entitled to my breaks,” Jamie shot back.
“Ay, I’m also not legally obligated to keep ye on if yer not going to do the bare minimum of the job.”
“Then fire me, Jenny,” Jamie deadpanned. They both knew damn well she couldn’t afford to take on anyone else, “If I’m such a bad employee.”
“And risk the wrath of Da for firing my kin? I dinna think so.”
Jamie laughed at that and even got back to stacking the clean glasses under the bar. It was early on a Wednesday and things were slow before the dinner rush. Jamie did mostly administrative tasks for Jenny. He was too clumsy to be a waiter and couldn’t cook for shit. On a good day, he could tend bar. But in his present exhausted state, he was only deemed capable of stocking duty, Jamie thought it was even a little too optimistic to put him one glassware. Then Jamie heard Jenny’s sharp intake of breath from the other side of the bar.
“No fucking way,” she said, “Jamie.”
“What?” he asked as he stood up. Jenny was pointing at a woman across the dining area. It was her. Claire. Claire Beauchamp was sitting twenty feet away from him after dropping in and out of his life at breakneck speeds 3 years before. She was in Jenny’s tavern and didn’t seem to have any idea. Not for much longer if Jenny had any say about it, it seemed. She was wiping her hands on the towel she kept perpetually tucked into her apron and was storming over there. What else was Jamie supposed to do but follow?
“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, is that ye?” she demanded. Claire’s eyes flickered up in confusion and then understanding and guilt. She was sitting with a man who was watching the scene with poorly veiled amusement. Claire’s eyes flickered over to Jamie and then moved away just as fast. She murmured something under her breath that Jamie didn’t catch because Jenny was already raging ahead, “Or should I say Randall now?”
Randall? Jamie thought. What did that mean? He didn’t have long to linger on it before Claire was trying to defend herself. They were drawing some attention now and Claire looked very much like she’d rather be anywhere else. Jamie didn’t want to upset her, but well… she had dropped off the face of the earth for three years. Jamie was hurt enough even though they only had that one night together. It had broken Jenny’s heart.
“Don’t you Jenny me!” she snapped, “You don’t respond to my calls, or my wedding invitation and then I find out you’re engaged from Geillis?”
It was then that Jamie noticed two things at about the same time. The first was that Claire looked older. Not in a bad way, she was as beautiful as ever, but she looked more mature. He realized suddenly that the last three years hadn’t been easy on her. He wanted to snap at Jenny to lighten up but he was fairly certain he’d lose a limb if he got in the middle of this.
He registered the second thing as he processed Jenny’s words. Engaged. Claire was engaged. The proof was in the big fat diamond on her finger.
“Lady Jane,” her (much braver than Jamie) companion said. Her fiancé, maybe? The thought made Jamie queasy, “Would you care to make some introductions?”
I can't believe the response this story has gotten! Thank you for the comments! I can't promise updates will always come this fast, but I am really inspired by all the enthusiasm. Any guesses on what happened three years ago? Let me know what you think!
Three years ago
The moment Claire saw Jamie it was like Frank didn’t even exist. Well, he didn’t exist for some parts of her body. Her normally organized thoughts were replaced with the dizzying chaos of the however many shots she and Jenny had taken. But her heart and… other parts were only concerned with the very handsome Scot that was now looking only at her. Jenny and Geillis didn’t notice it but Ian gave her a knowing smile.
Jenny and Geillis were arguing for the thousandth time about the one time Geillis had almost picked up Jenny’s Uncle Dougal in a bar. In Geillis’ defense, Claire had been there and he was a very young looking 45 and bore very little resemblance to the niece who’d only met him a handful of times. What couldn’t be defended was that she had continued flirting with Dougal even after Jenny had left in disgust. Claire said as much and she watched all hell break loose with a glee. That was when she clocked Jamie at the same time Ian did.
He dripped with the appeal of a very attractive man who had no idea how attractive he was. Though he was certainly younger than Jenny, he held himself like a man even though he had the face of a boy. Claire decided immediately that she needed to see him naked. He didn’t have the body of a boy and Claire new he was only a few years younger than her. She was so sure of this need that she was surprised she didn’t say it out loud. She held out her hand for him to shake and was only self-conscious for a moment at how rough they were. Frank didn’t like how her callouses rubbed against his smooth, bare skin. Jamie didn’t seem to mind, though. His own hands seemed to be more callous than actual skin. That was what years of farm labor did, it seemed. She forgave him easily for the assumption that she was a nurse rather than a doctor. It was a mistake many people made, and Jamie seemed genuinely apologetic.
And his voice… the way her name sounded on his lips was intoxicating. She even liked when he called her Sassenach. And that was one word that had been thrown at her when she studied in Glasgow. She’d never really known what it meant, just that it was never said to her as a compliment. It was hard enough that she was a young, competent and confident woman in her med program. It was made worse in Scotland by the fact that she was English. She never asked what the rough sounding Gaelic her classmates threw at her meant, but she recognized an insult when she heard one. Jenny called her an English rose simply to tease (they both knew she was about as far from an English lady as they came), but what those men said about her… she didn’t really want to know. Even if she didn’t know what Sassenach meant, she knew whore well enough.
But Jamie used the term like a caress, and some mixture of alcohol and the heartbreak coursing through her veins decided things for her. She wanted him. Tonight.
It was only the five of them in Lallybroch, but there was the energy of an entire club in that kitchen. Ian and Jenny were dancing haphazardly while Geillis was trying and failing to teach Claire a drinking game. It didn’t help that her concentration was very much split. Jamie was doing a passable job pretending that he wasn’t staring at Claire, but she kept catching him out of the corner of her eye. Good.
“You are making up rules as you go along!” Claire cried as Geillis decided she’d earned another shot.
“Am not!” Geillis replied, “I just keep remembering them out of order.”
“Sure,” Claire replied skeptically but she took the shot of whisky anyways. Claire never did well with whisky, but she was in a proper Scottish house now and Geillis and Ian would have it no other way. She looked skeptically at the glass Jamie seemed to be drinking neat, but he apparently could hold his liquor a lot better than she could. He was only looking at her with laughter in his eyes as she lost yet another made up rule, “Something funny?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person this bad at quarters,” Jamie smiled into his glass.
“That’s because this isn’t quarters. I already know how to play quarters,” she huffed, “This is Geillis cheating at quarters. God fucking dammit,” she shouted as she lost yet again. Jenny threw her a withering look, but it had hit the point of the night where she was only concerned with getting her boyfriend into bed. Ian didn’t look opposed to the idea.
“Perhaps it’s time someone subbed in for our English rose? James?” Geillis said enticingly and Jamie handed his whisky to Claire. She locked eyes with him as she unwisely took a sip. He laughed when she grimaced so she took another pull just for spite. She was already feeling significantly more unsteady on her feet. How in the hell did Scots drink this stuff?
“Who am I to deny you, Geille,” Jamie said. With a wolfish grin, he went to flip his quarter into the cup. And promptly missed. Maybe he wasn’t as sober as he seemed.
“Oh no, my wee fox cub,” Geillis chided as he reached for a whisky shot. Instead, she poured him a healthy shot of tequila, “It’s not a punishment if it’s what you drink for fun.” It was Jamie’s turn to grimace, but he took the shot like a man.
The next three he lost to Geillis didn’t go down as smoothly, “I think Mr. Fraser needs to go to bed,” Geillis said soothingly, “Claire?” Geillis gave her a knowing look. Her own head was too fuzzy to be helping anyone with anything, but Geillis’ smirk said enough. Claire was lucky Jenny hadn’t yet noticed the lingering looks she was giving her brother. That would be a problem for tomorrow Claire, she decided.
“I dinna need help, lass,” Jamie slurred, his accent becoming even more pronounced with intoxication.
“Of course you don’t,” she soothed as she swung an arm around his waist and let him lead her towards his room. Claire hoped she wasn’t imagining how his arm tightened around her waist more than was strictly necessary.
After Claire had gotten a glass of water in him and he had successfully brushed his teeth he was no longer swaying on his feet. Instead, he was looking at her like she was a puzzle he wanted to solve, “I suppose I can show you to the guest room now?” Jamie asked, “Unless you wanted to rejoin the party?”
I was nearing three in the morning. If things with Jenny and Geillis went how they normally did, Jenny and Ian would be close to falling into bed together and Geillis would pass out on whatever horizontal surface was closest. Claire was considerably less of a partier now than she was in undergrad and she was falling into… something. Not sleep. Despite the whisky in her system and the late hour, she was far from tired.
“Or we could do something else?” Jamie said. It wasn’t suggestive and Claire loved him a little bit for it. The longer the night went on, the more she felt the acute ache of her breakup. What had filled her righteous fury earlier was now settling as simple sadness. She still felt the reckless energy of being a free woman for the first time in a year, but in many ways Frank was her first love. She’d never stopped moving long enough to keep a relationship. She had tried so hard with him and it fell apart anyways. She felt like she was waking up in an unfamiliar place as an entirely new woman. It was just as scary as it was thrilling, “Sassenach?”
The nickname snapped her out of it, “Do you have a deck of cards?” she asked. There was a game Claire used to play with her Uncle Lamb when she was little and he knew she had something on her mind. Claire quickly explained the game: each suit corresponded with a category (answering truthfully, with a lie, have you ever, or a dare). When she played with Lamb, he would warm her up a little bit with nonsense questions before asking what he really wanted to. By the end of the deck, Claire always felt lighter. Maybe it wasn’t fair to use Jamie to sort out her own feelings but well… he was there. After a few rounds, Jamie had fully gotten the hang of it and the game was having its desired effect.
“Have you ever done hard drugs?” Claire asked Jamie after she flipped a diamond. He was leaning against his headboard with his legs splayed, his deck of cards between them. Claire was sitting perhaps a little too close with her legs crossed. Definitely too close for someone she met that night but not nearly as close as she wanted.
“No,” he said, then flipped a spade. She could lie, “Why did ye take up medicine?”
“That’s a loaded question,” she said, “But there really isn’t anything else I could have done. My uncle and I traveled a lot when I was little and there weren’t always doctors where we went. We both got pretty good at field medicine and I had a talent for it… and when the time came to apply to college, there was nothing else that felt right.”
“Ye lived with yer uncle?”
“Not your turn,” Claire chided as she flipped another diamond, “Have you ever gone skinny dipping?”
“Yes,” he replied with a small blush that Claire found adorable. He flipped a heart. Truth, “Why did ye live with your uncle?”
“My parents died,” Claire replied casually. It was casual. She barely remembered having parents at all, she was so young when they died. How Lamb had gotten away with taking her out of school to travel the world she’d never know, but it took her a long while to figure out her life was very far from ordinary. She didn’t realize what she was missing in not having a mom until she saw how close her freshman roommate was with her own mother. But she had been nearly grown by that point, what use was grieving an old loss?
“I’m sorry, Sassenach,” he said, “My own Ma died when I was 10. It wasna easy.”
“I was five,” Claire shrugged, disregarding her own rules, “I don’t even remember them.”
“That doesna make it any easier,” he insisted then put his cards down, “Claire? If there’s something on yer mind we dinna have to play a game to talk about it.”
“You think I made up a game to unload my problems on you?” she asked. Which yeah, that was kind of what she did, but she didn’t like being so transparent.
“Didna say ye did,” Jamie said, “I’m just saying, the whole house must be asleep by now and here ye are, playing cards with a lad ye met two hours ago.”
“Oh Christ, it is late,” she realized. It was nearly five in the morning, “You must be exhausted. I should go.”
“No, Sassenach, that’s not what I meant either,” he said, “I just meant… I don’t know what I meant.” He looked so flustered he was adorable. Her body was moving without her permission. Claire sat up and kneeled in front of him and leaned forward until her lips were inches from Jamie’s. They’d been playing for more than an hour and she felt considerably more sober than when she’d been with Geillis. But what about him? His speech was no longer slurring and his eyes looked clear. Still, she gave him several long seconds to pull away. Instead, he drew in a shaky breath and tangled one of his hands in her unruly curls. It was all the encouragement Claire needed.
Claire narrowly resisted moaning at the first touch of his lips. It was hesitant and tender. Jamie was scared, she realized. But of what? Claire didn’t dwell on it. She’d been living entirely in her own mind for the last 36 hours and right now, everything was blissfully quiet. Nothing existed past the points of contact between them. First, just their lips, moving slowly and experimentally. Then Claire opened her mouth and Jamie moaned into it and pulled her forward until she was basically in his lap. His hands tangled further in her hair as she straddled him. Still, it was relatively chaste.
This wasn’t the clothes ripping, fast paced encounter she’d been picturing. It was sweet. Claire normally didn’t do sweet. But for this beauty of a man beneath her, she could try anything. They kissed for several more long minutes before Claire was forced to come up for air. They didn’t move far apart.
“Christ, Sassenach,” Jamie panted. She took no small amount of satisfaction at the feel of his hardness beneath her. Despite the physical evidence, Jamie made no move to deepen this encounter. But when he leaned in to kiss her again, Claire found that she didn’t mind.
Finally, Jamie rolled forward and pinned Claire beneath him as he moved his lips down her jaw and onto her throat. There was the most delicious friction of Jamie settling between her legs and Claire started a slow roll of her hips. Not frantic, but just enough to provide some relief.
“How long did ye say yer staying in Scotland?” Jamie asked into her collarbone. Claire’s hands had moved under his shirt and she was appreciating his hard muscles under her hands.
“Four months,” she managed through the fog of pure sensation that now inhabited her brain.
“Good,” he said with a final kiss to her neck before sitting far enough up to look in her eyes, “I want ye-”
“I want you, too,” she interrupted.
“But,” Jamie said and her heart plummeted, “I dinna thing it’s a good idea right now.”
It was like she’d been doused in cold water. Oh fuck. She’d completely misread things. Jamie was her friend’s brother. They were both not sober. Despite his words, he was just letting her down easy. Oh fuck, “Right. Of course.” Claire deadpanned as she rolled out from under him.
“I’m not… I haven’t…” he stammered. Claire allowed him a deep breath to collect his thoughts when she really just wanted to hide, “I dinna want ye just for a night, Sassenach.”
Of all the taverns in all the towns in all the world, I have to walk into Jenny Murray’s, Claire thought wryly even as she was sure Jenny was moments away from doing some sort of violence to her. And why not? She didn’t know why Claire had left. She didn’t know how she’d left Jamie’s bed and Lallybroch in humiliation after his girlfriend (a girlfriend) had shown up the morning after. Jamie wasn’t looking at her right now like you’d look at the woman you’d cheated with. Then again, James Fraser had taught her that looks could be deceiving.
There was also the chance that the girl (Laoghaire, her brain unhelpfully supplied) hadn’t told Jamie she’d met Claire. And why would she? Claire had made sure Laoghaire thought she was nothing to Jamie. She was nothing to Jamie, she reminded herself. So no, Jenny didn’t know anything that happened between Claire and Jamie.
And more importantly, Jenny didn’t know anything that had come after.
“Lady Jane, would you care to make some introductions?” Joe asked. She wasn’t looking at him, but she could hear his smile. Bastard. Introductions, indeed! But where would she even begin?
Three years ago
Jamie’s line had basically turned Claire to mush. If it had been a line, it would have surely worked, but what was really sending her swooning was that it didn’t sound like a line at all. Jamie Fraser was dripping in sincerity and it was an entirely foreign thing to Claire. She just nodded mutely at him until he cracked a small smile at her.
“Perhaps we should just go to bed then?” Claire said.
“To bed?” Jamie asked with a quirked eyebrow, “Or to sleep?”
“But you just said-”
“I ken what I said,” Jamie replied, “But there’s a whole world between abstinence and sex. I just didna want to lead ye on.”
“Well,” Claire replied dumbly, “Lead the way then.” Jamie gave her another smirk before his lips were on hers again.
Claire woke just after dawn feeling… well, satisfied. She didn’t know when she’d ever felt so content in the absence of an orgasm. Jamie had turned away from her in the night and was still deeply asleep. Once Claire was awake, she never fell back asleep. Instead of trying, she grabbed her phone and slipped out of bed. Maybe she’d try to make coffee? She hoped no one would be up to question why she’d come from Jamie’s room.
And just like that, her thoughts drifted back to him. It was so much more than what she’d expected from Jamie while being so much less physically. She’d managed to get Jamie’s shirt off and his hands on her breasts, but it had been firmly PG-13. She’d felt like a teenager, and it was wonderful.
Jamie had repeated the sentiment of not wanting her just for a night as they finally curled up together to fall asleep. Claire had fallen asleep and woken up smiling.
Jamie Fraser was like a balm to her broken heart. It was still sore, like a bad bruise. But she wasn’t broken. There were still men that wanted her. Jamie wanted her.
For more than just a night.
She was so giddy she opened the front door when the bell rang without even thinking about it. She’d fallen asleep in the same clothes she’d left London in so there were no questions of her modesty. The way the young woman on the other side of the threshold was looking at her made Claire want to cover up anyways.
“Who are ye?” she asked in a thick highland accent. It was ruder than Claire was expecting, but she brushed it off. She couldn’t have been more than 20, not worth Claire’s anger.
“Claire,” she replied evenly, “And you are?”
“Jamie’s girlfriend,” she replied hotly. It was like a bucket of ice water had been poured over her. It was a miracle she didn’t flinch. A girlfriend. Sincere, sweet, Jamie Fraser had a girlfriend. And she’d very nearly had sex with him last night.
“I’m a friend of Jenny’s,” Claire finally managed through her shock. Not a lie. But so far from the whole truth that Claire could barely keep a straight face. This girl seemed the type to cause a scene and there was no reason to wake the entire house at the crack of dawn. Not when Claire could easily slip out of the house once the girl was gone and leave Jamie to clean up his own messes.
“Oh, I see,” The girl replied a little more politely, “I didna ken Jenny was back from Edinburgh.”
“Just long enough to deal with the estate,” Claire replied.
“I’m sorry,” the girl said, “I just… Well, we’re on a bit of a pause at the moment, but we’re getting back together. And he promised to call me after he dropped me off last night, and I worried when he didn’t. And now to see another- verra beautiful woman- at his house at the crack of dawn.”
“I’m sure,” Claire replied. The girl had been talking about a mile a minute and Claire hadn’t caught all of it. But pause or no, a girlfriend was a girlfriend. And Jamie had been together last night.
“I’m Laoghaire,” she said with an extended hand. Claire forced herself to shake it, “Is Jamie…”
“I believe everyone is still asleep,” Claire replied. Should she offer to let Laoghaire in? Even if she’d known the girl was welcome in Lallybroch, it wasn’t her place to welcome guests, “I’ll let them know you stopped by.”
Laoghaire looked a little put out that but didn’t argue. Claire collapsed against the door as soon as she shut it. A bloody girlfriend.
But a cheater seemed so opposite to the man who told her that he didn’t want her for just a night. Maybe he thought he’d be able to pull off an affair with a woman in Edinburgh when his girlfriend lived in the highlands? But Claire was friends with his sister. Even if they kept it a secret from her (as Claire probably would have done for a time if this relationship moved any further), it wasn’t sustainable.
Maybe he and Laoghaire weren’t exclusive? Even if that were the case, Jamie still should have told her he had a girlfriend at all. Claire had nothing against open relationships, but she didn’t want to be in one.
What seemed more likely, Claire decided, was that Jamie was 21 years old and he hadn’t yet learned to be careful with people’s hearts.
Well, Claire wouldn’t be having any of that.
God, what was she doing? She was a fucking doctor. She had a medical degree and had just gotten out of a relationship with a serious boyfriend. She was better than letting her heart get broken by a child.
Fuck Jamie Fraser and his swoon worthy words that made her feel reckless. She’d known enough men with pretty words that masked selfish actions. Fuck his soft eyes and tender touch. She didn’t need him. She had an internship in Edinburgh and a job waiting for her at one of the best hospitals in her country. She didn’t need a boyfriend or even a rebound. That’s all Jamie would ever have been to her anyways.
Claire gathered her purse and coat as quickly as possible before storming out of Lallybroch. She’d give Jenny some sort of explanation that didn’t involve nearly having sex with her brother. She’d go to her job in Edinburgh and forget James Fraser even existed.
It had been two weeks into her internship and she still hadn’t given Jenny a call. It was mostly that Claire couldn’t figure out exactly what to say. There wasn’t really a sanitized equivalent to I hooked up with your brother and then his girlfriend showed up and it threw me into a spiral of heartbreak and righteous fury so yeah… I just left, please don’t tell Jamie where to find me.
The other part of it was that Claire barely had time to breathe, let alone make a difficult phone call. The internship was demanding, and it was exactly what Claire needed. She’d been pretty confident that she wanted to work in trauma surgery, but this confirmed it. She loved the fast paced and high stakes life of the ER. It broke her heart as often as it exhilarated her, but there was nothing she’d rather be doing.
Geillis Duncan had moved to Edinburgh, it turned out. Claire saw her at the intern orientation, but their paths rarely crossed since Claire was in the ER and Geillis was in the pediatrics wing most of the time. The few times they were face to face, Claire managed to evade. Claire knew Geillis had her own secrets, so one leave it alone, Geille stopped her prying.
The third was that none of them had her phone number now. Jenny and Claire had moved so quickly from the pub to Lallybroch that they forgot to exchange any kind of information. Claire supposed that Geillis could probably find it out if she went through hospital records, but she hadn’t yet. With no one demanding an explanation, Claire was able to hide in her mortification.
Then everything fell apart.
Claire had just passed the one month mark in Edinburgh and she finally felt like a doctor instead of a nuisance in the ER. She had gotten off of a 12 hour shift followed by surgical observation and she wanted nothing more than to curl up in her flat with a glass of wine.
But when she turned her phone back on, she had 15 missed calls. 8 of them were from Frank, 3 from Joe, the others from an unknown number.
She also had several texts, all from Frank.
Please call back.
Claire, I know we haven’t been talking but PLEASE call me.
It’s an emergency.
They hadn’t spoken in the month she’d been gone. Claire didn’t think he would ever fake an emergency just to talk to her when he’d been the one to break up with her. She called him back. He picked up after the first ring.
“Oh, Claire,” Frank said. She didn’t need to hear the rest. It was one of those icy calm moments where she understood with perfect clarity that something terrible had happened. She didn’t need to know the details to understand that her life as she knew it was over.
But the details were this: Claire’s archeologist professor uncle had collapsed during a lecture that morning. He was rushed to the hospital with a suspected heart attack. He had gone into surgery and not come back out. Uncle Lamb, her only family, her whole life at this point, was dead. When the hospital hadn’t been able to reach Claire, Joe (who was working when Lamb came in) had called Frank. Frank had called her and now here she was.
To say Claire reacted badly would be an understatement. She managed to thank Frank for calling her and deflected all of his follow up questions with a promise to call him when she came back to London. But as soon as she hung up the phone…
Claire was fairly stoic in the face of death. She was a doctor, for god’s sake. But this wasn’t a patient she had that met day who died on her table. This was the man that raised her. The only family she had left. Really, the only family she’d ever known. Claire liked to tell herself as a child that she didn’t miss her parents- that she didn’t need them. It was a boldfaced lie that she’d repeated when anyone showed her pity. She didn’t miss her parents because she didn’t have anything to miss. But she felt the absence all the damn time, and Uncle Lamb was there to make her feel whole and loved every time it got to be too much for her.
Claire was alone.
For the first time in years, she really and truly fell apart.
So no, there was no concise way to explain that. Especially in the middle of Jenny’s tavern with her brother looking on. It was getting harder for Claire to ignore the attention Jenny’s yelling had drawn. Claire ignored Joe and Jamie and spoke only to Jenny, “Can we talk about this in private?”
“Anything ye have to say to me ye can say in front of Jamie,” Jenny insisted with her arms crossed. And there was not a chance in hell that was happening. She owed Jenny an explanation, she even wanted to give it, but she’d sooner die than beg Jamie Fraser’s forgiveness. He was a liar and cheater and she wanted nothing to do with him. Despite her heart that was thundering in her chest at the sight of how his body had grown into full adulthood. 24 now, wasn’t he? The last traces of his boyhood were leaving him, and he was turning into a very attractive man. His hair was longer than it had been when she met him. She wanted to run her hands through it. Focus, Beauchamp.
“Here,” Claire said as she scrawled something on a napkin with a pen from her purse, she handed it to Jenny before throwing down enough money to cover her and Joe’s meals, “That is where I’m staying if you want to talk. I am sorry, Jenny, but I promise there is an explanation.” She could feel Jamie’s eyes on her as she walked out, leaving Joe to follow, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of looking back.
Edinburgh was a big city, and there was a chance she’d never see them again. But if she was going to live here long term, she’d rather have Jenny Murray as a friend than an enemy.
Is everyone still with me? I know it was a long one, but I didn't want to drag it into 2 chapters. I really enjoyed everyone's theories about what happened between Claire and Jamie, I hope this was equally satisfying.
I also think canon kinda glosses over how Claire lost her entire family so young, so here we are. Let me know what you think!
Three years ago
Jamie woke up alone but not particularly upset about it. Claire had to be somewhere, he doubted she would just leave. And even if she did, Jamie felt secure in the knowledge that he would see her again. If for no other reason than she was friends with his sister.
And they’d all been living in Edinburgh for a time together. Jamie grinned at the ceiling like an idiot. He glanced over at the clock, it was almost 11:00. It was far later than he normally slept, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave the contentment of his bed. As soon as he got up, he was sure he’d be bowled over by the massive hangover that was surely brewing. It was only being kept at bay by the dark of his room and lying completely still. That, and the memories of Claire.
He’d kissed her last night. He’d done a hell of a lot more than kissed her. He’d very nearly just said fuck it, and slept with her. He’d certainly wanted to, he’d told her as much.
It felt so much more significant than simple wanting. When he’d kissed her, something had slipped into place for him. It wasn’t like he felt complete, he didn’t believe that people were incomplete by themselves, but it was like a new part of his heart had been unlocked that he hadn’t been aware of before.
Jamie had been… intimate with other girls before. He hadn’t gotten much past making out with Laoghaire when they were together. He’d gotten her shirt off at Christmas a few months back, but that ended up being the last time they were together. There’s been one other girl at university, Annalise, but she didn’t want anything more than their handful of hookups at parties. Now that he’d tasted Claire, Jamie didn’t think he’d want Annalise pressed the wall of a crowded room ever again.
He’d been attracted enough to Annalise and Laoghaire, but there was always something missing. He’d thought Laoghaire was bonny when he didn’t know anything else, but even if he’d wanted her, he didn’t want to stay in Lallybroch forever and she’d never leave, so what was the point? The way Annalise would grip him through his jeans in the middle of a party was thrilling and he’d become lust drunk the moment he touched her, but she didn’t want a real relationship and he didn’t want to lose his virginity to a one night stand, and that was enough to keep him in control of himself.
That was not to mention the physicality of it all. He didn’t even know what he was doing! In the heat of the moment, he got too far into his own head. Would he be any good? What if it wasn’t any good for him? Not to mention the… consequences of sex. He knew how to be careful, but what if he wasn’t careful enough? Of course Jamie wouldn’t just abandon anyone, but he didn’t want to be forced into a relationship with a woman he didn’t love. Not to mention he didn’t want a bairn before he was ready.
By the time all of those thoughts spiraled through his mind, he was normally very firmly not in the mood even if he wanted to continue.
Jamie’s mind had been blissfully quiet the entire time he was with her. It might have just been the tequila, but Jamie didn’t think so. He’d been drunk enough times with Annalise to know that “liquid courage” didn’t always work. Jamie knew very little of love, but he was very sure this thing he had with Claire was more than a passing infatuation.
He wanted to experience her.
Every time Jamie tried to turn those thoughts into articulate words in the hours she’d spent in his arms, they all fell apart. Not to mention he’d have surely scared her off with talk like that.
He was going to ask her out on a date, Jamie decided. And if he was lucky, he would make love to her when the time was right. They’d surely have a chance at some point in the 4 months she’d be in Edinburgh.
He wasn’t going to be able to do either of those things if he stayed in bed for the rest of his life, however. Eventually, the possibility of Claire downstairs won out over his need for sleep.
Tragically, Claire wasn’t downstairs and the hangover hit as hard as he thought it would once he was in the daylight. Geillis had apparently gone home as well, but Jenny and Ian were up and cooking breakfast. His thoughts soured with his stomach when he realized he wasn’t going to see Claire this morning, and he was sure he wouldn’t be able to keep breakfast down. Jenny wordlessly handed him a cup of coffee which he accepted gratefully.
“How much later did ye stay up last night?” Jamie asked Ian.
“Och, not long,” Ian replied, “Maybe half an hour? Geillis was passed out on the couch when we went upstairs.”
“Just like old times,” Jenny said wryly.
“Aye,” Ian agreed, “And just like old times, Claire slipped away in the night.”
“Is that what happened? I canna image she’d wanna slip anywhere after how much Geillis made her drink,” Jamie replied.
“She’s deceptively good at holding her liquor,” Jenny replied, “She would carry me and Geille home more often than no when we were in school.”
Jamie snorted. He’d very much like to see that. He’d never seen anyone drink Jenny under the table.
“She’s an early riser, ye ken,” Jenny continued, “She probably slipped out for some coffee. She’ll be back.”
Claire didn’t come back. By the time dinner rolled around, Jenny was getting increasingly nervous that no one had heard from her. A call to Geillis revealed that she hadn’t seen Claire either. But with no way to contact her and nowhere to look, there was little to be done.
As the day wore on, Jamie had the sinking feeling that this had something to do with him. Had he gone too far last night? Or not far enough. Had Claire been offended that he didn’t want to sleep with her? Had she woken up sober and realized she wanted nothing to do with her friend’s brother?
All possibilities, but none that explained why she’d just leave without a word.
Eventually, Jenny decided to ring the police. They told her basically what they’d already been thinking, Claire was a grown woman and there no signs of anything amiss other than her being well… gone.
Jenny was nearly out of her mind for the next few weeks with worry, “I just dinna think she’d would just leave,” Jamie overheard her crying to Ian one night, “She seemed like she’d missed me so much. And she kent I missed her, so where did she go?”
The answer came a week later with a call from Geillis. Claire was working at the same hospital as Geillis in Edinburgh. She kept her distance at orientation, but she was alive and appeared to have all her limbs attached. Any relief of Claire being okay was swallowed by fury that she’d disappeared in the first place.
Jamie didn’t have any right to be as angry as he was. He barely knew her. Of course, there was the sentimental part of him that felt like his heart had known Claire’s for a long time even if his body didn’t, but sentimentality meant very little when the object of his affections wanted nothing to do with him.
More importantly, she had broken his sister’s heart, and that wasn’t ever going to be forgiven.
So Jamie moved on.
He refused to think of the wee noises she’d made as he’d laid her down, or her foul mouth that had made him blush, or the way she’d talked about her work with so much passion. He refused to let less than 24 hours imprint on his heart.
But when Jamie went back to Edinburgh with Jenny and Ian after they had settled the estate, he couldn’t quite kill the hope that he’d run into her.
They found out a month later that Claire wasn’t even in Edinburgh to run into at all. Geillis had heard through the grapevine that Claire had simply quit and disappeared overnight. Geillis had tried her best to find out what had actually happened, but her supervisor’s lips were sealed.
“You ken Claire isn’t flighty,” Ian tried to argue with Jenny. She was doing an admirable job of pretending like Claire was dead to her, but she wasn’t nearly as good a liar as she thought she was.
“Oh aye?” Jenny replied, “Because this would be the third time she’s just disappeared. Let it go, Ian, she’s gone.”
That was the end of them talking about Claire as a family, but it didn’t stop Jamie from thinking of her. He’d been right in his prediction that he wouldn’t want anyone else now that he’d experienced her. Annalise tried a handful of times at pubs and parties, but Jamie didn’t want the meaningless kissing now that he knew there was someone out there who felt like she was made for him.
He didn’t live like a monk for the next three years, of course. There was Laoghaire whenever he went home, but her girlish charm had become more grating than endearing.
He’d kissed Mary MacNab at her graduation party a year after Claire, and he’d very nearly slept with Geneva Dunsany his junior year. Both lasses were bonny, and Geneva had an attitude on her that Jamie would have very much liked to devour.
But there was one simple fact that they weren’t Claire.
Jamie was a romantic, he couldn’t help it. His parents had been soul mates and his best friend had fallen in love with the literal girl next door who happened to be his sister.
He knew love at first sight couldn’t be real for everyone, but his closest examples of love had been just that.
Any comfort that came from the surety that Jamie had fallen in love with Claire at first sight was quenched by an equal surety that he’d never see her again.
“I’m no going to go,” Jenny said for about the millionth time since Claire had left the tavern. Once the show was over, people slowly started trickling out and they were getting a head start on their closing procedures. Well, Jamie was getting started on his closing procedures. Jenny was still raging about Claire.
“I’ve half a mind to throw the damn address out,” Jenny declared, “If she wants to talk so badly, she can come back here.”
Jamie, for his part, stayed silent. Nothing good ever came from interrupting an enraged Janet Fraser-Murray. The only person who could occasionally get away with it was Ian. Jamie was liable to get his balls ripped off. He didn’t say how he could understand why Claire didn’t want to get into it in the middle of the tavern. He didn’t say how he appreciated making the choice to speak to her theirs. Instead, he made noncommittal Scottish noises as Jenny continued.
He also was obsessing over her engagement ring.
From the way her companion had been laughing at the situation, Jamie didn’t think he was her fiancé. Claire had left without even looking back to see if he’d followed. Jamie didn’t pick up any romantic tension between them, and Jamie had been paying very close attention.
Had he imagined the way she’d hidden her left hand when Jenny brought up the engagement?
Something Jamie had loved when he met her was how every emotion she felt flitted across her face. It made him feel like he could read her mind.
He still thought about the night they met three years later more than he cared to admit. He remembered the nerves racking her body that were much overshadowed by the desire. Desire for him. Jamie had never been desired before, not for all that he was. It had only been one night, but he had seen someone who could truly know him in Claire. He’d been chasing that feeling ever since, and failing miserably.
Jamie hadn’t realized he was holding out hope that they could fall in love properly until it was extinguished.
Claire was engaged. Engaged isn’t married, an unhelpful voice in his head said. Engaged isn’t married, he allowed, but he’d never dream of breaking up an engagement even if he thought there was a chance that he could.
What had been one of the best nights of Jamie’s life had apparently not been significant for her. It stung, but it was also years ago. He shouldn’t care. He shouldn’t, but he did. He didn’t think he’d be able to see Claire to demand her explanations until it stung a bit less. Considering it had been three years and the wound was still tender, he’d be playing the long game with this one.
Which meant that he was very invested in Jenny talking to her instead and telling him what she said.
“As if I’d let her back into my life just for her to walk right out again,” Jenny continued as if Jamie had responded, “As if I didn’t spent weeks thinking something awful had happened just to find out she’d gone back to Edinburgh. And to find out she was still talking to Geillis…”
“Ye are going to go talk to Claire,” Ian said as he walked into the apartment he shared with Jamie and Jenny a few days later.
“Is that where ye’ve been?” Jenny asked incredulously. She’d railed at Ian the same way she had at Jamie when they got fact to the apartment they all shared. Ian had said very little, but it had ended with Jenny throwing the napkin with Claire’s address at Ian’s face. She’d finally burned her anger out 2 full days after they’d seen Claire and the house had returned to a kind of calm. It seemed that Ian was set on disturbing that hard fought peace.
“Aye,” he confirmed, “And ye are going to go see her.”
“Like hell I am,” Jenny laughed humorlessly. Jamie smartly kept his mouth shut, “Why would I do that?”
“Because no matter how much ye pretend ye don’t, ye wanna know why,” Ian said, “And I am no gonna tell ye.”
“I dinna care why Claire Beauchamp decided we weren’t friends.”
“Perhaps, Janet,” Ian said evenly, “It didna have anything to do with you.”
Oh shit. Jamie wished very much that he was anywhere but here. What the hell had Claire told Ian?
“I willna be baited by ye, Ian Murray,” Jenny snapped, “I have played that night back over and over. We were all having a great time, and she was playing with Geillis and…”
She trailed off them turned towards Jamie. Oh shit. He half considered just bolting, but he knew that would make it worse. Besides, he hadn’t done anything wrong. Or he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. Jamie would bet money that he had replayed that night in his mind more often than Jenny, “What did ye do, Jamie?” she demanded anyways.
“Nothing!” Jamie replied, but Jenny would not be deterred.
“James Fraser,” she continued, “What did ye do?”
“Calm down, Jenny,” Ian said calmly, “The lad doesna ken either. So I suppose ye’ll just have to go talk to Claire.”
Thank god, Jamie thought. Maybe this wasn’t Jamie’s fault after all, or Claire was keeping it to herself. Either way, Jamie was grateful that he wasn’t the target of Jenny’s ire.
Jenny didn’t answer, but she did huff and go back into her bedroom. Jamie figured she’d try to sneak out early tomorrow.
Now that they were alone, Ian turned back to Jamie. This time, he looked entirely less friendly. Maybe he wasn’t off the hook yet, “What?” Jamie asked.
“I canna believe ye let yer sister worry for 2 weeks that Claire had vanished for no reason,” Ian replied.
“Claire did vanish!”
“Aye,” Ian allowed, “After ye kissed her.”
“What did Claire tell ye?”
“Why don’t ye tell me what happened?” Ian countered, and well, that was fair enough, so Jamie did. Ian made a noncommittal hmm noise when he was done.
“Well?” Jamie said, “What did Claire say.”
“Verra little,” Ian admitted, “Ye had kissed then fallen asleep together and she left Lallybroch.”
“Well why didna she tell you and Jenny?” Jamie pushed, “I’d understand if she regretted me, but you…”
“I suppose ye’ll have to do the same as Jenny,” Ian replied with a smug smile, “And talk to her yerself.
Jamie didn’t even entertain the idea of seeing Claire. For one thing, he didn’t know where she was staying. Jenny had the napkin with Claire’s address. For another, he very much didn’t want to be humiliated again. He was lucky Ian hadn’t told Jenny what had happened. Of course, Ian was betting that Jamie would tell her himself (which he would, just when he was sure Jenny wouldn’t kill him for it). He didn’t need to open himself up just to be hurt again.
As it happened, Jamie didn’t get much of a choice in the matter. As predicted, Jenny went to see Claire the next day and she came back looking very much like she’d had the piss taken out of her.
“Claire is coming to the tavern Saturday,” Jenny said as she settled next to Ian on the couch.
“And why is that, Janet?” Ian asked with faux sweetness.
“Ye dinna need to rub it in,” Jenny replied, “And it isna funny, besides.”
“Yer right,” Ian allowed, and then he let it rest as if Jamie wasn’t still totally in the dark.
He’d see Claire again on Friday. He wondered how he would get out of it.
Jamie couldn’t get out of it. In truth, he didn’t really try. When it became clear that Jenny wasn’t going to tell him what was going on either, Jamie resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to suffer some discomfort in exchange for the answers he was craving.
So that was how Jamie found himself as Broch Turach on Saturday night (his day off, which he never spent at the tavern he worked in, as a rule) nursing a neat whisky and making uncomfortable small talk with some boys in his linguistics major. Boys, not men, because Jamie refused to equate them with himself. In truth, though he liked university, there were few people he liked at the University of Edinburgh. For reasons unknown, his department was filled with the most insufferable pricks he’d ever met. With the exception of Angus and Rupert, Jamie distanced himself as much as possible. Unfortunately, that was almost impossible with how much time he’d spent in the building working on his capstone this year, and his peers had taken that necessity for friendship. So here he was, listening a few fellow seniors (Simon and Germain? Jamie thought their names were) talk about their latest conquests.
They all faded away the moment Claire entered the pub.
His memory really hadn’t done her justice. He’d remembered her hair to be brown. But with the way it was catching the lights of the tavern… it was streaked with auburn, like the dark edges of a loch at dusk. Was he imagining how much clearer her golden eyes were? Or the way she seemed to be carrying herself much lighter than the last time he’d seen her? Was it because she’d reconciled with Jenny? If Jamie had thought she was beautiful last week, she was downright ethereal now.
And from the way she glanced at him before pointedly looking away, she wanted nothing to do with him.
Jamie was so fucked.
Germain caught Jamie’s eye lingering on Claire and whistled softly, “Who is that?”
“Someone who is engaged, so don’t even try it,” Jamie warned even as he continued to stare himself. She was with the same man she’d been with at the pub and Jamie was still itching to know who it was.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t look,” he laughed with a blatant look at her chest, “Or take a small sample. It looks like she has enough to spare.”
Jamie whipped around so fast Germain nearly dropped his glass. He didn’t go as far as to lift a fist, but the threat was clear. Germain muttered something Jamie didn’t catch, but it didn’t matter because Claire was already lost in the crowd. He couldn’t decide if he was relieved or not. Jamie didn’t turn back to his classmates, he didn’t want to have to answer the questions Rupert and Angus surely had.
Instead, he decided another drink was in order. Unfortunately, when he lumbered up to the bar he was faced with Claire showing off her engagement ring to an awestruck Geillis.
“The photos really don’t do it justice,” Geillis gushed. Was Jamie imagining the discomfort in Claire’s eyes?
“It’s a bonny ring,” Jenny agreed as she poured a pint of cider for Claire’s friend. Jamie took note that Claire didn’t seem to be drinking.
“We have to fight LJ to put it on at work sometimes,” Claire’s friend laughed and she promptly shoved him lightly.
“Because what I really need it to drop my engagement ring in some person’s open wound in the ER, Joe,” Claire chided. Joe. At least the mystery companion had a name. Why he’d called her LJ, Jamie didn’t know. He mostly called her Sassenach in his head, so those in glass houses…
No one else but Jamie and Claire were close enough to hear Joe mutter something like, “maybe then Frank will get you a ring you actually like” under his breath. Claire gave him a sharp look, then her eyes landed on Jamie. She did a remarkable job of pretending not too see him, but her look had drawn Jenny’s attention and then he was properly in the circle.
“Claire, tell Jamie about the job!” Geillis cried.
“It’s not a big deal-”
“Other than being the whole reason yer in Edinbugh, ye mean?” Jenny said dryly.
“I’m interviewing to be the head of trauma surgery at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh,” she said with a shrug. On anyone else, it would have seemed condescending, but on Claire it just seemed casual.
“Wait, Claire,” Ian said, “You said your interview was on Wednesday.”
“Well,” she said with a slight blush, “I did get a second interview.”
“So we’re celebrating, is what I’m hearing?” Geillis laughed as she pulled Claire into a tight hug.
“There’s still a third round of interviews,” Claire chided, but she was laughing and something tightened in Jamie’s chest. If she was interviewing for a job, that meant she was going to be moving to Edinburgh. And with things rekindled with Jenny and Ian…that would mean Claire could become a more permanent fixture here. Claire and her fiancé, Jamie reminded himself.
“We’re celebrating Joe, too, he also got a second interview,” Claire replied as she handed Joe the shot Jenny had served her.
“LJ, we both know you can drink me under the table,” he complained, but took the shot dutifully.
“LJ?” Jenny asked.
“Lady Jane,” Claire explained, “Joe thinks I sound like a proper Victorian lady, so he refuses to call me by my actual name. Which is ridiculous considering he lives in London and knows literally hundreds of women with the same accent.”
“But none with your class and dignity,” he explained and Jamie would have agreed if he was trying very hard not to annoy Claire and risk being expelled from her presence.
“So the second interview is Monday, and the third Friday if we get there far,” Claire continued, “Then I’ll go back to London to… get things settled before Joe and I moved here permanently.”
“Ye seem rather confident,” Ian remarked.
“I’m confident Joe will get the job, then we can use good, old fashioned nepotism.”
“Och, Claire is going to get the job,” Geillis replied, “I’m the one who recommended her.”
“So we’re using nepotism already?” Jamie ventured. It was the first time he’d spoken in the conversation and the laugh that rippled through the group was overshadowed by the dual glares Claire and Ian shot him. Alright then. Silent observer it was then.
“I did buy you a wedding gift,” Claire said. It effectively changed the subject and her dismissal of him was clear in the way she practically turned her back on him, “I don’t suppose you have any need for a really well assembled first aid kit?”
Jamie was going out of his mind. If he thought Claire’s attention was overwhelming, her apathy was setting a fire in him that he didn’t know how to quench. He felt like when he was in grade school and he’d do any number of dumb things to get a girl to notice him. She was just out of his reach playing pool with Geillis. The way she bent over the table almost flippantly was stirring something unknown within him.
He was weighing the pros and cons of pulling her hair just to get her attention when Germain and Simon caught his eye again. Once again, talking about Claire. This time, they were throwing vulgar phrases in Gaelic that she was sure not to understand. Jamie could though, and now he was burning for an entirely different reason. He edged closer to her simply to cut off Germain’s line of sight.
“Will you please leave me alone?” Claire asked without bothering to turn away from the pool table.
“If it isn’t clear, just because I’m friends with Jenny and Ian doesn’t mean I want to talk to you.”
“Claire-” This time he was cut off by another laugh after a comment from Germain about how the kitten has claws and maybe she’d scratch him if he asked nicely.
“That, or maybe I could tie her up and put her in a collar,” Simon replied in Gaelic.
“One more word, and I swear I’ll break your neck,” Jamie spit behind him before turning back to Claire.
“Go back to your friends, Jamie, I certainly don’t want you.”
“Do not call me that,” she replied as she finally gave him her full attention. She gave him a cold smile before continuing, “Still with Laoghaire?”
“Laoghaire? What are you talking about?”
“Seems like Fraser’s her owner already,”
“Fraser can’t handle a woman like that,” Germain laughed, “He’s too scared to sleep with Annalise, let alone a piece of ass like that.”
“Give me just one second, Sassenach,” Jamie replied. He didn’t wait for an answer before he turned around and punched Germain in the nose. The crunch of bone under his fist was satisfying, but he didn’t know what to do next. Like his sister, Jamie was quick to anger but also quick to cool down. His anger didn’t often come to blows. When it did, Jamie was normally burned out after one good hit. This time was no different. Having proved his threat, Jamie didn’t particularly want to be in this fight. Unfortunately, Germain was getting ready to swing at him.
Jamie was vaguely aware of Jenny yelling at him as he dodged a hook. Germain was pissed, that was for sure, but not a particularly gifted fighter, it seemed. It was easy enough to dodge and push until Germain started tiring himself out. Then, he got a lucky hit and Jamie went down. Hard. On a table. That promptly collapsed under his weight.
“Fuck” Jamie swore as Jenny began shoving Germain and Simon out.
“Christ, man, your shoulder,” Ian yelped as he approached Jamie. And yeah, his shoulder was definitely dislocated. Not a difficult injury when it had already happened to him several times in his life, but painful nonetheless. More painful for the fact that he was now facing a long wait in the ER. This night could not have gone to shit faster.
“Alright,” Claire said as she hauled him into a chair, “Let me see.”
“It’s dislocated,” Jamie said unnecessarily. But pain and Claire’s hands on him were making him dumb.
“No shit,” Claire replied, “I’m seeing how badly you’ve torn the muscle.”
Jamie didn’t reply as she poked and prodded at him. He thought she was maybe being not as gentle as she could be, but who was he to question her?
“Alright,” she said after a second, “Good news or bad news first?”
“Bad,” Jamie and Jenny said at the same time.
“I can’t give you the good drugs,” Claire said, “But I can pop this back in myself. No ER for you tonight.”
“Claire, are ye sure?” Ian asked.
“She’s a bloody doctor,” Jenny replied, but she looked considerably worried too. Less worried than angry, Jamie noted with a shudder.
“I can ask Joe for a second opinion, but I don’t think he’ll be much use right now,” Claire said with a wry smile. Joe was so far drunk at this point that he was basically asleep on his barstool. No wonder, since he’d been drinking Claire’s drinks too.
“Well, get on with it, Sassenach,” Jamie replied. He’d done this before, waiting only made it worse. The soreness later was a small price to pay for the immediate relief of setting it back in. Claire pursed her lips at the use of the nickname but didn’t say anything else. Instead, she lifted his arm slowly and forcefully. The realigning was always worse than the popping and Jamie could feel the sweat pouring down his face.
“If I’d have known all it took to get you to touch me again was breaking my arm,” Jamie said almost deliriously, “I woulda done it earlier.”
“It’s dislocated, not broken,” Claire replied tersely, but Jamie caught the small smile playing on her lips. It hadn’t been a lie, maybe it was worth it, “Ready?”
“Count of three?” Jamie replied. She nodded, then popped his shoulder back into place at one. Jamie swore something vulgar in Gaelic but then the relief of having his arm back where it needed to be was instantaneous. So too was the exhaustion that came with the sudden lack of pain, “Christ.”
“Sounds about right,” Claire replied as she fashioned a sling from her jacket. He noted how her hands were gentler now that he was clearly moments away from passing out on the floor. With his shoulder successfully back in place, the crowd that had watched the fight was dispersing. Soon, it was only his immediate circle plus Joe.
“We should probably go,” Ian said after a tense moment, “Or we’ll miss the last train.”
“You can’t take him on the train like this!” Claire replied, “Take a cab, at least.”
“And pay 100 pounds for an hour in traffic?” Jamie managed, “At least the train will be quick.”
Claire seemed to consider the situation for a moment and then sighed as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders, “My hotel is a block away.”
Jenny and Ian were quicker on the uptake than he was and they started protesting about putting her out. She rolled her eyes at their worries, but she very much looked like she was offering herself up for execution as she spoke, “Too much movement will land him right in the hospital, he can stay with me and Joe tonight.”
“Well, if yer sure,” Jenny replied. Jamie apparently had no say in the matter, not that he would protest. The fight had knocked his thoughts around, but he was inclined to finish their conversation. Well, her conversation, Jamie had barely been able to get a word in. Maybe being forced into a hotel room with her would finally answer some of his questions. Laoghaire for one thing. How had she even known that name?
“Come on, soldier,” Claire said sarcastically after a moment, “I can’t carry you home and you look ready to pass out.”
He couldn’t argue with her, so just like three years ago, Jamie just let Claire lead him.
I guess we're doing long chapters now. Sorry for the delay, life got in the way. Let me know what you think!
Two years and six months ago
Claire had lost her job today.
More specifically, she had quit. Or, the hospital had called her bluff and she’d lost. Claire hated an ultimatum, just ask Frank. And look how well that turned out, she thought bitterly over her glass of wine. What she really wanted was a healthy pour of whisky, but Claire couldn’t stomach it these days. It still made her think of Jamie.
She supposed she’d have to add her faith in her intuition to the long list of things she had lost in the past six months. It didn’t hurt as much as losing her uncle, or her relationship, but it hurt just the same. And now that she had no job, what she did she really have left?
The moment her uncle was in the ground, Claire dove back into her work. One of the things that made her such a good doctor was that she could compartmentalize. Sure, she got attached perhaps a bit too much to her patients, but she wasn’t haunted by the people she couldn’t save. She refused to plagued with regrets about running around Scotland while her only family died all alone.
Pretending you’re okay isn’t the same as processing, Uncle Lamb had told her more often than once. We’ll see about that, Claire thought.
And for about a month, it worked. She took so many double shifts that she was the most popular doctor on call. She worked herself so hard that she fell into dreamless unconsciousness the moment she got home just to do it all again the next day. Joe told her he had half a mind to report all her over time to the hospital board, but he knew Claire would never forgive him for it.
As it happened, she didn’t even need Joe to report her. She got into trouble all on her own.
The patient’s name was Graham. He had been fighting an aggressive cancer most of his life and it was becoming clear he wasn’t going to survive his latest relapse. He asked Claire to help him die on his own terms and she responded with a triple dose of morphine. It would have been untraceable if a bloody nurse hadn’t walked in while Claire was still holding the syringe. It was Claire’s word against the nurses once she threw the syringe away, but the damage had been done.
Claire was promoted. Or more accurately, she was given an administrative job far, far away from any patients. She could see the promotion for what it was. Her actions could be defended by being criminally overworked while she was technically within her bereavement leave if she wanted it. If someone sued, it would be her supervisors who were in deep shit, not Claire despite the fact that she’d signed up for the shifts. Better to take care of Claire quietly than risk someone talking.
But Claire was a doctor, and a damn good one. Take that away and what did she even have? Her supervisor didn’t care, apparently. Claire threatened to quit if she wasn’t allowed to keep her job, and they let her. Apparently the Royal London Hospital didn’t look too kindly on their doctors killing patients. Even terminally ill patients in unfathomable pain.
Claire couldn’t say if she would have made the same choice if her circumstances had been different. Even though she thought she’d stand by her choice, she was lucky to have just been fired instead of having her license revoked or being reported to the police. But in her haze of suppressed grief, exhaustion from 100 hour weeks and sudden unemployment, she couldn’t see anything other than the hole she was about to fall into.
And fall she did.
Hard and fast. She barely left her flat, she never turned on the lights, she hadn’t done laundry in at least a month. If it wasn’t for delivery and Joe calling her daily, she probably would have starved to death. Not that she would have minded one bit, all things considered. Claire could probably get a job at a different hospital if she had the energy to actually interview anywhere. Instead, she started to drown in her isolation.
Claire had never really been forced to confront the realities of being an orphan. Her uncle had done a good job of making her feel like she was never alone, and while she never really had friends her own age growing up, she did have acquaintances around the globe. Apparently, none of that mattered now that she was alone in London and her only friend was easy to dodge with his own busy residency.
Then one day, about 3 months after Uncle Lamb’s death, Frank let himself into her flat. She didn’t have it in her to be outraged that he still had a key, it was her own fault for not changing the locks. Instead, she watched as he loaded groceries into her fridge and offered her a latte from the place by his flat that she’d been sorely missing. He didn’t say a word as he straightened up some of the obvious mess and Claire didn’t know how to break the silence.
“I’m going to make you dinner on Friday,” Frank said as he was leaving, “Please try to eat something that isn’t processed before then.”
Claire was too dumbfounded to tell him to go straight to hell.
She did call Joe, who guiltily told her that he was the one to ask Frank to check up on her, “I didn’t tell him to just let himself in, I swear LJ,” he insisted.
Claire didn’t chew him out for that. She hadn’t had anyone in her flat since Frank had broken up with her 6 months before. She was looking at herself from another’s perspective for the first time in months, and Claire didn’t like what she saw.
She didn’t call him to cancel, or change the locks. Instead, Claire washed her hair and cleaned her flat. She opened the windows and put on something other than sweatpants.
She hated that it was because of Frank that she felt a little human again, but that hatred was the first thing she’d felt in a very long time.
True to his word, he made Claire dinner on Friday. And the Friday after that. The week after that, dinner turned into dinner and drinks, then dinner and drinks at a restaurant before dropping her back off at her flat. Claire could see the trap she was about to fall into, but she couldn’t stop it.
She was so alone.
And Frank loved her. God, Claire knew that Frank loved her even if it was clear he didn’t really understand her. It wasn’t his fault that she was so fundamentally different from him. She hadn’t been raised to be the girlfriend he wanted, but she was learning how to lean on other people. And Frank was there to catch her the next time she fell. He was so patient with her, and it was so comfortable.
Maybe there was something to be said for being comfortable. Claire wasn’t inexperienced by any means, but the only people she’d been deeply romantically attracted to were Frank and Jamie. And Jamie… Jamie made her feel things that scared her. It had been one bloody night and they hadn’t even had sex and he’d broken her heart. If maybe Claire didn’t feel that all-consuming heat for Frank… she could see the appeal of being safe.
She knew their problems weren’t solved, but she didn’t have the energy to solve them and Frank didn’t make any move to. Instead, they just sort of fell right back into it.
When Frank gave her a key to his flat and asked her to move in 5 months after that first dinner, she said yes. She was hesitant, but she said yes. Apparently “Don’t bother coming back” meant something very different to Frank than it had to her. He shouldn’t have said that, he freely admitted it, but he had been very hurt. Claire knew she had been wrong to hide the internship from him, and she had hopped into bed with the first man who showed her any interest the same day she had broken up with Frank. She didn’t want to be that kind of woman. So she and Frank got back together, and things were looking up for a while.
With Frank and Joe’s encouragement, Claire practically begged for her old job back, and by some miracle she got it. Maybe her supervisor figured six months had made her considerably more stable. Maybe he was just short staffed. Either way, Claire was back in the emergency room. Even if she was being watched like a hawk, for about a year that was enough.
Then Frank proposed and Claire couldn’t think of any reason to say no, so she said yes. She figured he just wanted the commitment from her and wasn’t in any real rush to get married.
She was wrong. Frank didn’t want to waste any time and Claire was apathetic to wedding planning at best. Her excuse was she wanted to be better established in her career before getting married and starting a family, but that excuse wore thin after a few months.
Claire was getting better, but she was still far from the devoted little girlfriend Frank seemed to want. Maybe he thought she’d make a better devoted little wife and mother. He started working longer hours and Claire got more frustrated with her own career. She had set her sights on the head of surgery when she’d first landed her job. It was clear now that was never going to happen in London. She was never the favorite even before her leave of absence. She was too outspoken and independent to be put in charge of anything, she knew plenty of other doctors who went their whole careers on the sidelines for the same reason.
The Edinburgh job practically fell into her lap at the perfect time.
Claire wasn’t friends with Geillis Duncan by any means, but they had a professional relationship. Geillis was a leading obstetrician in Scotland and Claire called her semi regularly for her professional opinion, and Geillis came to her in turn with any difficult cases. The closest they’d gotten to a real friendship was when Geillis sent Jenny’s wedding invitation. Claire meant to send a response, she really had, but what was there to say more than two years later? Sorry I ghosted you, but I was catatonically depressed? Instead, Claire let her own engagement slip and then told Geillis not to pass any information about her to Jenny or Ian. She was sure Geillis would do it anyways, but at least Claire tried.
There was very little keeping her in London when Geillis asked Claire to interview for the job. There was really only Frank, and even if Claire wanted a life with him, she refused to give up her career for him. Her career was dead in London, that was clear with every opportunity that seemed just out of reach, and she told Frank she was leaving with a kiss and promise to talk later.
She supposed he’d follow her to Edinburgh if she got the job. God knew he was successful enough in his own field to find a job somewhere in Scotland (he reminded her of it often enough). And if he didn’t… Claire would deal with that bridge when she got to it. There was still no guarantee that she would even get it, so why tear everything apart for no reason?
But as she and Joe threw practice interview questions back and forth, she couldn’t shake the feeling that this trip was going to change her life
Leave it to a bloody Scot to find a fight everywhere he went.
Claire was fuming the whole way home and she couldn’t even seethe properly because she was practically carrying two people. She was the one who had made Joe drink for her, but she couldn’t believe how badly he was holding his liquor. Jamie was making a valiant effort to stand on his own two feet, but he was leaning on Claire heavily. It was unreasonable for Claire to blame him for that, not when she knew how much pain he must be in. He hadn’t exactly dislocated his own shoulder, but she blamed him anyways. He had thrown the first punch, and now her night was ruined.
It was already ruined, she thought reasonably. It was ruined the moment Jamie had walked through the door. She had somehow managed to patch things up with Ian, and even Jenny was warming back up to her, but that didn’t mean she wanted anything to do with him.
She was shocked as anything when Ian showed up at her hotel. Claire hadn’t really expected anyone to show up at all, if she was being honest. Jenny was fiercely loyal and she was slow to forgive when she’d been betrayed. Claire hadn’t really considered how much she’d hurt Jenny by disappearing. Sure, she felt guilty, and she missed her friend, but it had been one night after four years.
She didn’t think Jenny would be sick with worry, or that she wanted Claire to be in her wedding, not just in attendance. Ian had informed her of both of those things.
“Claire, I canna even imagine what losing yer uncle was like,” Ian said as tears sprang to Claire’s eyes, “But ye were like a sister to us in Glasgow, and it seemed like fate that we met again. And for ye to just leave, I dinna understand it...”
“There is a little bit more,” Claire admitted. She hadn’t intended to tell anyone she had hooked up with Jamie. It didn’t seem like Jenny’s business, and what if he was still with Laoghaire? Claire thought it was unlikely that Jamie would want to be with someone so young and possessive, but then again, she didn’t really know him at all. She didn’t want to stir the pot unnecessarily, but she couldn’t leave Ian with the unsatisfying lie. She stayed as vague as possible, saying that she and Jamie kissed and she regretted it the next day (true, even if it wasn’t the whole truth). She had always intended to tell Jenny something, but then she left Edinburgh and well… she hadn’t been able to do much of anything, let alone apologize to someone she loved.
Ian had forgiven her, but he wasn’t really the one Claire was worried about. By some miracle, he had convinced Jenny to hear her out.
“I am only here out of curiosity and Ian wouldna tell me himself,” Jenny said without saying hello, “So talk, Beauchamp.” And talk she did, giving a lot more detail than she gave Ian but managing to leave out Jamie altogether. Of course, she noticed.
“I sense truth in what yer saying,” she said when Claire was done, “But not the whole truth. What aren’t ye telling me, Claire?”
“Please, Jenny,” Claire begged. She had started crying almost the moment she started speaking and she felt pathetic compared to Jenny’s cold demeanor, “It is embarrassing and it’s not an important part of the story.”
“Is it about Jamie?” she asked, and Claire froze. Had Ian told her? Had Jamie? “Dinna bother answering, I can see it in yer eyes. I’ll leave whatever it is with my brother between ye and him, but Claire, ye have to ken how worried I was.”
“I honestly thought ye were dead, I couldna thing of any other explanation,” Jenny continued, her mask slipping for the first time. Claire wrapped her arms around the other woman without thinking about it. After a stiff moment, Jenny hugged her back, and Claire felt okay for the first time in a long time.
And now here she was, carrying the one person she hadn’t wanted to talk to tonight. Mercifully, the hotel was just around the corner and soon they were outside her room. She and Joe had opted for two rooms connected by a door instead of just sharing. Getting Joe’s room key from him wasn’t going to work in his current state, so Claire just let everyone into her room, thinking she could put Jamie and Joe to bed in the room through the adjoining door and she’d be left in peace.
Of course, Joe Abernathy, apparently the worst drinker on the planet, managed to get in his own room while Claire was distracted checking Jamie’s arm and lock the door behind him.
“Fucking hell,” Claire cursed as she knocked. But it was no use, Joe was either already asleep or too far gone to hear her. She whipped back around to Jamie as if it was his fault and continued examining his arm perhaps less gently than she could have.
“Claire?” Jamie said after a particularly hard prod. Jamie was sitting on the chair next to Claire’s bed and she was standing between his legs taking great care not to touch him anywhere other than his injured shoulder, “Is it really the worst thing in the world to speak to me?”
“Yes,” she said absentmindedly before silently cursing herself. She had issues holding her tongue normally and especially when she was working, “Stay still.”
“Claire?” Jamie tried again. She was doing a valiant job of ignoring the way his pain stricken, puppy dog eyes were staring up at her. She had fallen for those eyes once, she wasn’t going to do it again.
“Stay still,” Claire scolded. She knew she was being unreasonable, but Jamie had hurt her. In the wake of everything that happened in Edinburgh, it shouldn’t hurt her still. But it did. It wasn’t like Claire to fall for someone the moment she met them, it wasn’t like Claire to fall for someone at all, but she had and then she’d found out she’d entirely misjudged him. It was a big reason she had just fallen back into her safe and predictable relationship with Frank. It was the reason she’d done a lot of things.
Interviewing for this job was the first real risk she’d taken in years. Because what if her intuition was wrong and she found herself free falling again? Of course, Jamie didn’t need to hear all that. Instead, she could just keep her head down and get out of this night unharmed. That was proving difficult when he wouldn’t just bloody leave her alone. And every time her eyes drifted up and met his, the same bolt of electricity and desire shot through her as three years ago.
“Can I ask ye just one thing?”
“If you must,” she sighed.
“What ye said about Laoghaire…” he began and Claire froze.
“Of course that’s the thing you picked up on. Not that I wanted you to leave me alone, but that I knew about your bloody girlfriend.” She punctuated her sentence by tightening the sling and she got some morbid satisfaction at Jamie’s wince.
“Laoghaire isna my girlfriend,” he said simply after the pain faded.
“Maybe not now-”
“Not since I was 19, Sassenach, long before I met ye,” Jamie replied. He was looking at her almost expectantly, like he was about to get the answer to a riddle he’d been trying to solve for years. Maybe he was. Maybe James Fraser had been thinking about Claire just as much as she’d thought about him. Claire couldn’t have looked away from him even if she wanted to, his eyes were holding her steady in front of him.
“Sassenach…” Jamie said slowly, as if afraid that she would bolt. Maybe she would. There were still so many things going through her mind. She tried not to think of Laoghaire, but she couldn’t puzzle out why she’d tell Claire she was Jamie’s girlfriend if she wasn’t. But now that Jamie had denied it, she knew deep down that he was telling the truth, “I dinna ken what happened with Laoghaire, but I havena liked another woman in a verra long time. Not since I kissed ye, if I’m being honest.”
“Oh,” Claire let out the word like a breath. His words took a weight off of her shoulders that she’d been carrying for years. There was a euphoria that came with the sudden absence of pain, and Claire was dizzy with it. Jamie wasn’t a cheater. And he wasn’t a liar. Which meant that she hadn’t imagined the electricity between them three years ago and she wasn’t imagining it now.
The energy of him was stronger than when she’d last been alone with him. He had been 21 and just starting university while she had already been a doctor. But now… Jamie Fraser was a boy no longer. He was every inch a man. And now that Claire wasn’t angry at him, she was very aware of how they were nearly pressed together. At some point, Jamie’s good arm had drifted up and he was now gripping her hip as she drifted closer between his legs.
“Do ye think about that night?” Jamie asked with a slight hesitancy. He was looking at her so tenderly, but he was nervous, she realized. He didn’t wait for an answer before he continued, “I wonder what would have happened if ye had stayed all the time. I wanted ye so much, Claire.”
“Wanted,” Claire repeated, the past tense sobering her up a bit.
“Want. I want ye still,” he amended. He gave her hip a squeeze for emphasis. His arms were so long and toned be was holding her almost fully with just the uninjured one. In response, Claire’s hands drifted to Jamie’s shoulders. She was unbelievably gentle now. Even sitting, he was nearly as tall as her. If would have been so easy for her to lean down and connect their lips together. She was tempted, so very tempted, but there was still so much to sort out.
Not least of which was the ring on her finger, she realized with a start as it caught the light and sparkled as she moved. Claire pulled her hands away as if Jamie’s skin had burned her. Perhaps it had, she thought absentmindedly. If she thought her mind was a mess before, it was a chaos of Jamie and Frank and arousal and confusion now. She ran a hand through her unruly curls as she turned away from Jamie.
“Claire?” Jamie asked, the hurt and confusion not even masked.
What Claire would have even said, she didn’t know, but she was interrupted by her phone ringing. Grateful for the excuse to get some air from Jamie, Claire practically lunged for her purse and grabbed her phone. She didn’t even look to see who it was before she answered.
“Hello, darling. How was the interview?” Frank drawled from what might as well have been a million miles away. Guilt sank down heavy in her stomach so suddenly that it made her nauseous
She and Frank hadn’t talked in the three days between when she left London and her first interview. Instead of her panicking over the lack of contact, she had walked into her interview with nothing weighing on her other than wanting the job. He had called her after, though. He’d been quiet, but had still congratulated her when she said it went well. She thought maybe they were turning a corner, but then he did the same thing again. Claire hadn’t heard from him since that night and she hadn’t even thought of him before going into her second interview yesterday.
“I don’t know yet,” she said once her mind started working again. One hand was still in her hair nervously trying to untangle a curl in vain, “They haven’t called me for the third, but I thought it went well enough.”
“‘Well enough’ is Claire speak for bloody brilliant,” Frank replied, and something in her heart untightened a little at the teasing lilt in his voice, “You are the most humble person with a doctorate I know.”
“That’s because doctors of medicine are decidedly less condescending than PhDs,” she teased right back and was met with a few minutes of tense silence. Claire didn’t think much of Frank’s co-workers, and it was always hit or miss if her jokes about them would land. This one was a miss, it seemed.
“I expected you to call hours ago,” Frank said finally. Claire bit back a comment on how he could’ve called her at any point in the last two days, but there was no point in having that fight right now.
“I was…” Claire struggled to find the right words as she gave a backwards glance at Jamie. He was eyeing her with a look she couldn’t even begin to decipher even if she wanted to. She settled on, “Indisposed.”
“I connected with some friends from when I studied in Glasgow.”
“Christ, that’s what? 6 years ago?”
“7,” Claire corrected, “Jenny owns a tavern now. That’s where we were.”
“Well,” Frank said with thinly veiled annoyance, “I’m glad you’re having fun with your friends. I’ll let you get some sleep since it’s late. Goodnight, Claire.”
“I love you, too,” Claire said haughtily as Frank hung up on her. It wasn’t until she turned back around that she realized Jamie was still in the room.
Shit. What was she doing? It’s clear she and Frank were in a rough patch, but she certainly wasn’t a cheater and she wasn’t about to lead Jamie on. From this distance, Claire could see what rough shape Jamie was in. His arm was angry and swollen and he was swaying even though he was sitting. He winced with every small movement and he looked like he was going to either fall asleep or pass out at any moment. Maybe she should have taken him to the hospital just so she could have gotten him some pain killers?
The spell they had been under was broken now. Jamie didn’t have the same “glass face” that Claire did, so he was harder to read, but he seemed to be thinking very much the same thing as she was.
It was clear that whatever could have happened between them was over with the way Jamie’s eyes were trained on Claire toying with her engagement ring. She crossed her arms self-consciously so it was no longer in view.
“It’s late,” Claire said finally, “And you’re clearly in pain. We should go to bed.”
To bed, or to sleep? Was his response the last time she’d said something like that. She fought back the smile playing on her lips at the memory.
“Don’t,” she said as she turned away again. It was too overwhelming to look directly at him, “It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it matters!”
“No, it doesn’t,” Claire said with more certainty than she felt. The fire that had just been in her had turned ice cold, “I am engaged. To a man I love. To a man I actually know.”
Jamie looked for a moment like he was going to argue, but whatever was written on Claire’s face shut him up more than her words did. Good.
Maybe it wasn’t fair of her to be acting this way, but her life and relationship were complicated enough without adding James Fraser to the mix. Questions of what if had haunted Claire for three years, and enough was enough. She’d gotten enough of an answer tonight. She and Jamie were still undeniably attracted to each other, but Claire was too old to be a slave to her lust.
“You take the bed. I’m going to take a shower,” Claire began as she got a change of clothes, “Don’t get any noble ideas about taking the couch. I will wake you up and move you.” Without another word, Claire turned back to the bathroom. Hopefully Jamie would be asleep when she got out and she could be left to sort through her thoughts alone. Well, as alone as she could be with a massive Scot 10 feet away from her.
“Claire,” Jamie called just before she shut the door. Against her better judgement, Claire turned back to him. There were a million unspoken things in his eyes but he said none of them, “Goodnight, Sassenach.”
“Goodnight, Jamie,” her voice softened at the nickname before she could help it. Claire tore her eyes away from him and closed the door on him, and the possibility of anything happening between them. At least for tonight.
Thanks for your patience, 5K chapters take time. Were the answers satisfying? Sorry if you were expecting bedsharing, but I love a good slow burn. Let me know what you think!