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The Scottish Manny

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Some women spend their whole lives dreaming of motherhood; Claire Beauchamp was not one of those women.  There was a time when she’d imagined herself settling down and having children, but her life had gone another way and she couldn’t bring herself to regret the decisions she’d make to get there.

 

Aged thirty-seven, she was one of the youngest plastic surgeons practising on London’s exclusive Harley Street.  True, performing rhinoplasties and breast augmentations mightn’t have had the gravitas of heart surgery, but Claire enjoyed the challenge of helping people chase perfection.  Not to mention it allowed her to live a very comfortable life in a terraced house that overlooked a park.

 

With a routine that ran like clockwork, a typical day started with a jog, cold pressed juice and scrolling through online medical journals. Arriving at her gleaming offices, Claire’s working hours consisted of consultations, surgeries, paperwork and plenty of black coffee in between.  In the evening she favoured long baths with a bottle of Beaujolais.  From sun up to sun down everything was ordered and efficient -  just how Claire liked it.

 

A phone call in January changed everything.  Mid-morning and Dr Beauchamp was consulting with a woman requesting several litres of fat removed from her thighs in time for her upcoming fiftieth birthday party.  Claire had just pulled out her black marker to start mapping out the liposuction zones when her receptionist buzzed; there was a call on line two which he insisted most strongly that she take. With an awkward smile Claire excused herself from her patient and stepped into an adjoining office.  The next few minutes passed in a blur: her dear friend Louise involved in a car accident... paramedics tried everything they could... pronounced dead before she’d reached the hospital...

 

Sinking into the leather desk chair with the handset still clutched in her hand, Claire struggled to process the news. She’d known Louise since their university days and although in-person visits were infrequent —with Louise living in Paris and Claire in London — they kept in contact via phonecalls and emails.  Now she was gone. Claire’s heart broke anew when she thought of Louise’s son Fergus: six years old and all alone, his father having left before the child was even born.  Amidst the pain of fresh grief, she abstractly thought she must remember to send some money; perhaps the boy could put it towards school books or similar?

 

Several days later Claire travelled to France to farewell her friend.  The service was sad in a way funerals for the young always are; a slideshow of pictures of Louise happy and smiling had everyone in attendance dabbing at their eyes.  Afterwards the wake was held at Louise’s apartment.  Chatting to some old acquaintances, Claire was approached by a man with a pencil moustache who introduced himself as Louise’s lawyer.

 

“Might we have a word in private?  It’s concerning Mme de La Tour’s will”

 

Claire was intrigued but not altogether surprised. Having known Louise almost twenty years, it wasn’t impossible to think she might have left her a little something; a picture of the two of them together perhaps?

 

“Dr Beauchamp, I’ll get right down to it. With no close family, Louise felt the need to name a guardian for her son Fergus so that should the worst happen he’d be properly taken care of”

 

“Yes, very sensible. And does this person live far away? Did Louise ask me to assist with Fergus’ travel?”

 

“No.  Louise has named you guardian”

 

The idea that Claire’s friend would have named her - a woman whose most recent experience with children was when she was one herself - as guardian to Fergus was unfathomable. Confused, Claire asked if perhaps there’d been some sort of error? Beauchamp was a French sounding name, perhaps the proposed guardian’s name had been incorrectly transcribed?  Failing that, if this seriously had been Louise’s plan, why not mention something first? It just made—

 

“Dr Beauchamp?”

 

Claire realised she’d been staring at the floor, muttering.  Shifting awkwardly in her seat, she leaned forward and asked the question she felt she must.

 

“Is ah...is there any further provision in the will if I don’t accept custody of Fergus? I mean surely there’d be someone better suited?”

 

“In so far as the will, no.  As I’ve said, Louise had no close family. If you are unable to assume responsibility for the child, he will become a ward of the state”

 

“I see”

 

An uncomfortable weight settled in Claire’s stomach. The idea of sending a grieving child off to live with god-knows-whom was awful, but the notion that he’d be coming back to London with her was impossible.  What about her business? Springtime was their busiest period; it wasn’t like she had the time (or the inclination) to be at caring for a child!

 

Taking her silence as acceptance, the lawyer handed over an envelope containing Fergus’ personal papers.

 

“You’re a good person Dr Beauchamp, I’m sure Fergus will be very happy in his new home” 

 

And just like that, Claire became a mother.

___

Three days later and Fergus and Claire were on the Eurostar back to England.  The boy was fairly quiet - understandable considering he’d just lost his mother and been told he was to live with someone he’d only ever seen over FaceTime.  The problem was further compounded by the fact that he only spoke a smattering of English.  As Claire’s high school level French consisted of asking for directions to the train station or ordering a baguette, communication was stilted at best.

 

As the snow-covered fields of rural France whizzed past the window and Fergus dozed, Claire watched him in amazement. Soft brown curls, not too dissimilar from her own; he looked the picture of innocence. How could she be responsible for an entire person? It had taken her the better part of thirty years to work out her own life - how was she going to navigate that for him?  Opening her laptop she began making plans for the week ahead: increase to the weekly grocery delivery, enrolment application for the local primary school, a quick reshuffle of her own schedule to allow for school drop off and pick ups.  By the time they’d emerged from the other side of the Chunnel Claire felt confident that she’d put in place the steps needed to take care of everything.  If she’d known anything about children the notion would have been laughable, alas she didn’t.

 

On Monday Fergus didn’t want to get out of bed and when he did he flat out refused the kale and wheatgrass smoothie Claire had prepared for him. Against her better judgement they’d gone to Fergus’ school via McDonalds and by the time they arrived (late) he had egg McMuffin all down the front his shirt.  Things went from bad to worse when what had Claire assumed would be a quick interview with the principal to confirm everything turned into a three-hour meet-and-greet and tour of the campus.  By the time she made it into the office it was already midday and half her appointments had needed to be rebooked. Tuesday wasn’t much better; trying to learn from yesterday’s debacle, Claire had shifted all her face-to-face appointments to the afternoon.  Unfortunately they’d run over and at 7pm she received an irate call from the after school-care programme advising that they had closed an hour ago and that needed to collect Fergus immediately.  Dinner that night was eaten in sullen silence; the only time Fergus even raised his eyes was when Claire offered him her iPad to play with.  He retreated to his room, slamming the door behind him and Claire poured herself a large glass of wine.  It was clear then that parenting wasn’t going to go as smoothly as she’d anticipated.

 

After almost a week of Claire coming into work looking like she wanted to stab the next person that got her coffee order wrong, her surgical nurse (and best friend) Joe felt he had to step in.

 

“You do know there’s no medal for trying to do this all on your own, yeah?”

 

“If you’re suggesting boarding school I already checked. Most of the major schools won’t take students until they’re at least seven years old...”

 

Joe began to laugh but pressed his lips together when his boss shot him a murderous look.

 

“You don’t need to ship the kid off just yet; what about hiring a nanny?”

 

“Joe, I know to an American Mary Poppins may seem like real-life, but we’re a long way from a Disney movie here”

 

“Ya don’t say? Look, I’m not talking about some Edwardian woman showing up on a flying umbrella; this would be a modern-day professional that knows what makes kids tick.  She could pick Fergus up from school, cook him dinner, help with homework...”

 

“Really? There’s people that do that?”

 

Seeing Claire look something other than highly stressed for the first time in days, Joe opened his desk drawer and took out a stack of papers.

 

“Yes there are. In fact...your amazing friend Joe has already gone to the trouble of contacting London’s most reputable nannying agency and requesting resumés”

 

Eyes lighting up, Claire eagerly reached for the documents.

 

“You’re a lifesaver!”

___

Giving up on the battle to have something healthy for dinner, Claire ordered pizza and while Fergus sat munching, began to go through the resumés Joe had obtained.  With amazement she read about the vast range of qualifications the twenty-first century nanny had. In addition to the usual cooking and childcare skills there was singing, fencing, calligraphy, swimming...one even claimed she could teach unicycle riding!

 

After carefully reviewing each of the dozen applications, Claire had settled on one, but considering her less-than-stellar start to parenting she decided to call Joe for his opinion first.

 

“Ok Beauchamp, I’ve got the list they emailed in front of me, which one did you decide on?”

 

“Janie Fraser’s her name”

 

Janie?”

 

“Short for Janine I assume; anyway - can you read her resumé and let me know what you think?”

 

“Ok, lets have a look:  Scottish, degree in child psychology, fluent in French - a definite plus -  proficient in knitting...oh that’s interesting. ‘I prefer kids to learn to make things with their hands rather than being cooped up in front of video games all day.’  Old school, I like it. She sounds perfect”

 

“Excellent; glad you think so too.  Doesn’t say how old she is though, hopefully young enough to be able to take Fergus to the park when the weather’s fine”

 

“Well even Mrs Doubtfire could take the kids to the park and she was like 80 years old”

 

“Very reassuring Joe; I’ll be sure to mention that when she arrives”

 

The next morning - after an argument with Fergus about why ice cream wasn’t a breakfast food (mostly one-sided as she didn’t even know the French word for ice-cream), Claire called the agency to engage the services of Janie.  After she’d explained her rather unusual parenting situation, the manager assured her that all kinds of families utilised their services and that the nanny would be fully briefed ahead of their arrival.  The agency’s policy was to arrange an obligation-free trial so the family and the nanny could see if they were a good fit; with much relief, Claire set it up for the following day.

___

Dr Beauchamp was a big believer in making a good first impression so with renewed positivity she arose early to make sure everything was running smoothly ahead of Janie’s arrival. Of course she hadn’t accounted for Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will.

 

The baked beans she attempted to make Fergus for breakfast had burnt, their charred remains filling the kitchen with smoke. This in turn set off the fire alarm which made Claire choke and Fergus scream thinking the house was about to burn down.  Big brown eyes staring at her, she bit back the wave of panic rising in her stomach. With a grunt of effort, Claire forced the kitchen window open, knocking the jam jar onto the floor in the process. It shattered - covering them both in big globs of sticky raspberry and as the boy was barefoot she had no choice but to stand him on the worktop while searching for a broom.  It was at this point the doorbell rang.

 

“Bugger! Ok, Fergus stay there... s’il te plait!

 

This was not the way Claire had intended to meet the new nanny, fearing at this rate she’d more likely report them to child services than agree to take on the job. Hopefully Janie was a kindly old lady who understood the trials of parenthood....or at the very least how to make some damn baked beans. With a deep breath Claire opened the front door, but instead of a Mrs Doubtfire-type stood quite possibly the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. Well over 6 feet tall, russet waves and piercing blue eyes; were she not covered in burnt beans and jam she might have appreciated his good looks, but now was definitely not the time. 

 

“Good morning, I’m—“

 

“Look I’m terribly sorry, but whatever you’re selling I’m not interested”

 

“No, I’m here to—“

 

“That’s great, but we’re actually expecting someone, so if you wouldn’t mind?”

 

Frazzled and annoyed, Claire began closing the door; a large hand reached out to stop her.

 

“I’m Jamie Fraser. The nanny”

Chapter Text

Mouth agape, Claire eyed up the man on her doorstep. 

 

“What did you say your name was?”

 

“James Fraser; ye’re Dr Beauchamp, I presume?”

 

“You’re a man!”

 

Lips quirking in a smirk, he did a mock glance over his body.

 

“Aye, last time I checked”

 

Face flushed, Claire ushered him inside.

 

“The agency said they were sending a Janie Fraser. It seems there’s been a mix-up”

 

“Hmm, dinna think so. I’m the only Fraser working there; ye must have misread the name”

 

“I most certainly did not!”

 

Claire attempted to stare him down, but Jamie just shrugged.

 

“Well I’m here now, so...”

 

He motioned for them to move beyond the front hall but Claire stood rooted to the spot. She’d been expecting an older woman with a wicker basket, instead there was a man who looked like he spent his days climbing mountains and chopping wood. Realising she’d been staring at his arms, she tilted her head up, eyes narrowing.

 

“How old are you?”

 

“Not that I see how that’s relevant, but I’m twenty-nine. How old are you?”

 

“That’s not...I’m not...” 

 

Flustered, Claire blew a curl out of her face.

 

“The agency told me ye’d seen my CV and had requested my services, has something changed between then and now?”

 

“No, it’s just that I was expecting someone different, that’s all. Perhaps a little more mature...”

 

“Right, well how about I meet yer lad and we’ll see how that goes? If ye dinna think I’m what you’re after I’ll let the agency know and they can send ye someone more appropriate

 

The way he emphasised the last word made it clear to Dr Beauchamp that he thought little of her assumptions about the correct appearance of nannies. Conceding for now, she led Jamie through to the kitchen where Fergus still stood on the worktop; marooned on an island surrounded by breakfast carnage.  To Jamie’s credit, he didn’t laugh, although Claire could see he was somewhat amused with the situation.  Feigning confidence, she proceeded with the introduction.

 

“FERGUS THIS IS YOUR NANNY, JAMIE. SAY BONJOUR

 

Volume and pitch high, Claire carefully enunciated each word.  Alarmed, the Scot quickly pulled her aside.

 

“Is the lad deaf?”

 

“No, why would you think that?”

 

“Well why are ye shouting at him?”

 

Blushing for the second time since his arrival, Claire pinched the bridge of her nose, both embarrassed at her mistake and annoyed at being called out on it by a man she’d just met.

 

“I thought it’d help him understand me...I don’t speak a lot of French.”

 

Placing a comforting hand on her shoulder, Jamie smiled sympathetically.

 

“I’m assuming that as your boy’s on the worktop and you’re both covered in jam that this morning hasn’t gone exactly to plan?”

 

Claire shook her head.

 

“Well how about we get this mess cleaned up and go from there, aye?”

 

“All right”

 

With a nod, he turned to Fergus and introduced himself in impeccable French. The child’s face lit up at being spoken to by someone he could fully understand and happily jumped into Jamie’s arms as he reached to help him off the worktop.  While she took a broom to the broken glass, the Scot wiped everything down with a cloth before taking Fergus to wash up. Ducking up to her own bedroom to change, Claire returned to find the two sitting at the kitchen table chatting; Jamie saying something which had Fergus giggling and replying animatedly. She couldn’t completely follow their conversation, but understood enough to know that the boy had taken an immediate shine to his prospective nanny.  

 

Still feeling frazzled, the doctor offered to make everyone a cup of tea and was most surprised when Jamie jumped up and offered to do it.  With a seemingly innate ability to locate everything without direction, within minutes they were all sipping from steaming mugs of Earl Grey. The morning appearing to be back on track, Claire put on her glasses and took out her ipad; ready take notes.

 

“So how does your trial usually work? Is there a scorecard we need to complete? KPIs? Is there an agenda you’ll be following that I can review?”

 

To someone as career-focussed as Claire, they seemed like reasonable questions so her brow furrowed in confusion when Jamie bit back a laugh.

 

“Is there a problem?”

 

“No Dr Beauchamp. But ah... how shall I put this? Childcare isna as linear as the corporate world. The main thing is that Fergus is happy; so I propose the lad and I spend today getting to know one another; we’ll catch up again tonight to discuss whether I’ll be a good fit”

 

Reddening - Christ was there no end to her blushing in front of this man? - Claire put away her iPad.

 

“Yes, yes of course.  Shall I show you through the house?”

 

With Fergus sent to dress himself for school, Claire began the tour. Listening attentively, Jamie seemed to have a way of visually sweeping a room that made her feel like her life was under review.  It made her uneasy; although she certainly wasn’t willing to admit that it has anything to do with the way her heart beat faster when his deep blue gaze landed on her.

 

They’d agreed that Jamie would drop Fergus at school and collect him afterwards, then prepare dinner before Claire came home around seven. Ever efficient, the doctor had had a house key cut for the prospective nanny which she’d attached to an oddly-shaped silver key ring.  Bemused, Jamie held it up for a closer look.

 

“It’s a deviated septum. I’m a plastic surgeon, a friend got it for me as a joke”

 

“Oh, that’s clever. What’ve ye got holding your keys then, a silver pair of breasts?”

 

Caught completely off guard, Claire stood shocked into silence while Jamie smiled disarmingly.

 

“My apologies Dr Beauchamp, ye were saying?”

 

“Here’s my business card with the phone number and address for my surgery; I’ve written my mobile number on the back. Did you have any questions before I head off?”

 

“Just a couple - what does Fergus usually do after school? Reading? Playing wi’ his toys? As it’s my first day it’ll be best to keep to a routine he’s familiar with”

 

“Um...we haven’t quite got that sorted out yet...”

 

“That’s ok, I’ve brought a football with me, we can always kick that about. And what’s the lad’s favourite meal? I’ll be happy to cook it for dinner if ye’d like?”

 

“I uh...I don’t know”

 

“Not a problem, I’ll ask him; see if we can find out if there’s any vegetables he’ll eat too, aye? Oh and what does he—“

 

Embarrassment quota for the morning exhausted, Claire cut him off.

 

“Whatever you’re about to ask, let’s just save us both some time and assume I don’t know the answer ok?”

 

“Dr Beauchamp, ye—“

 

“I get it, you probably think I’m the worst parent in the world and you’ve only known me an hour. Now if you’ll excuse me I really must be getting to work”

 

Giving Fergus a perfunctory goodbye, Claire grabbed her bag and left, wondering how it was possible to feel like such a failure all before 8am. Arriving at the office, the doctor had barely sat down before Joe popped in to ask how it had gone with the prospective nanny.

 

“Well it turns out Janie is actually Jamie and instead of an old lady with grey hair, he’s is a chisel-jawed twenty-something man”

 

“A manny!”

 

“A what?”

 

“A male nanny; a manny.”

 

“Did you just make that up?”

 

“No! I read it online when I was googling nannying agencies for you. Anyway, how did the meet-and-greet go?”

 

“Let’s see: I was covered in jam when he arrived, assumed he was a salesman and tried to close the door in his face, embarrassed myself with my shockingly bad French and when he asked me questions about Fergus I didn’t know the answer to any of them. All in all, a fabulous beginning”

 

“Oh dear...”

 

“On the upside, he makes a decent cup of tea and Fergus seemed to warm to him, so that’s a relief”

 

“Sounds promising. And is he good looking?”

 

“I hardly see what that’s got to do with it?”

 

“Beauchamp, you appraise people’s appearance for a living.  Are you honestly telling me it never even crossed your mind?”

 

“Fine — let’s just say that anatomically there isn’t any work for me to do.”

 

“That’s interesting...”

 

“No it isn’t; I’m hiring a nanny for Fergus so he can be taken care of while I focus on my work. Whether the candidate is attractive or not is not going to affect me in the slightest”

 

Her best friend raised his eyebrows but said nothing further.

 

Back on familiar turf, Claire’s day was spent performing a rhinoplasty and two tummy tucks.  Assisted by Joe, the two worked in perfect synchronicity and the procedures, like all of Dr Beauchamp’s work, were completed flawlessly. She felt a different person when she was in the operating theatre, no doubts and hesitations, her mind was quick and her instructs strong. Pulling her rubber gloves off after she’d sutured her last patient, she wondered if being a parent to Fergus would ever feel as comfortable as surgery did?  

 

From the minute she’d brought the boy to live with her it’d been one disaster after another. Oh God - What must Louise think of her? Not for the first time Claire wondered why her friend had chosen her of all people to take care of the person most precious to her.  In the space of two weeks the poor boy had been ripped from the loving arms of his mother and moved across the Channel to live with a woman who couldn’t even work a stove without incident. Could she ever make the little boy happy? She wished she could just have five minutes with Louise to ask for some guidance.

 

As Claire drove home she cheered herself a little thinking that Fergus seemed to like Jamie at least. She mulled over her opinion on the man; he certainly wasn’t the benevolent matron she’d been expecting, but he did come with good qualifications and excellent references. She got the distinct feeling he’d be the type to keep her on her toes, all while disarming her with a smile. Could he look past her neurotic, awkward and gaffe-filled start to consider taking the job?

Chapter Text

Jamie knew within five minutes of arriving at Dr Beauchamp’s house that were he offered the nannying position he’d accept it. The day before when he’d heard about Fergus’ sad circumstances his heart had gone out to the boy.  Having met him, he could tell he’d be a joy to work with and he looked forward to the chance to bring some happiness back into the little lad’s life. 

 

Claire on the other hand...she was much more of a conundrum. As soon as the front door opened, thoughts of how gorgeous she was popped into his head unbidden. Long chocolate curls were swept up into a bun but a few had come free, swishing around her face, much to the doctor’s annoyance.  Cheeks and nose slightly pinking from the cool morning air, Jamie thought she looked breathtaking.  Noting the jam splattered all over her shirt, he surmised that it, the escaped curls and air of irritability were the result of an attempt at breakfast gone awry. A prospective parent looking slightly bedraggled when he arrived was nothing new, but one refusing to admit anything was amiss all the while trying to grill him on his credentials certainly was.  She was an intoxicating mix of both sweet and sour and Jamie was entranced; who was this feisty sassenach?

 

Sassenach. He smiled to himself; he was the one living outside his homeland so if anything he was the outsider down here. But Dr Beauchamp...there was just something about her that seemed otherly; the word — and all that it encompassed to him — fitted perfectly.

 

When she’d taken out her iPad as though about to interview a potential CEO it took all he had not to embrace the wee thing and tell her she needn’t worry so much.  With the language barrier and Claire’s lack of prior experience with kids, it was a tough situation for both her and Fergus.  The lass was clearly trying her hardest and he found he wanted to help them though this challenging period however he could. 

 

After Claire’s abrupt exit, Jamie made Fergus some toast for breakfast before they departed for school.  He decided to continue to converse with the lad in French, knowing it’d be the best way to encourage him to open up to a relative stranger.  In the Manny’s experience, there was a delicate art to getting to know a new child and whilst they were off to a reasonably good start, he didn’t want to strain their tentative bond with a barrage heavy questions. Enquiries about how he was finding living with Claire or coping with the loss of his mother could come later, for now it was enough to discuss Fergus’ favourite football team, which they did ‘til bidding adieu at the school gates.

 

As a male working in a female dominated industry James Fraser often found himself a bit of an oddity. Certain parents flat out refused to believe that a man could do the job: “Surprised if he even knows how to use a stove” or “He’ll probably have my girls doing pushups in the snow before he plays dress-ups with them” were some of the comments he’d received.  Others - definitely some of the older mothers - saw him as more of a status symbol, and tried to parade him around like a prize stallion.  There were families, thankfully, that could appreciate him for who he was and as his experience grew he could be more selective with the jobs he chose, having no problem turning down a well paid position if the fit with the family wasn’t right.  Above all else, he loved kids and the thing that was most important to him was the opportunity to watch a child grow and progress while under his care.

 

Having set himself up at a local café, Jamie drummed his fingers on the table as he mulled things over. The tour of Claire’s house had revealed three things; firstly the woman had impeccable taste. Modern artwork adorning the walls, pops of colour from carefully chosen throw cushions, indoor plants providing balance and flow; the place was amazing.  Secondly, there was exactly nothing in the perfectly decorated home that was child friendly. And thirdly, if Fergus was ever going to warm to Claire she needed to have more food in the house than merely ingredients to make a macrobiotic juice.

 

Jamie knew on instinct that Dr Beauchamp could come around to the idea of having a non-traditional nanny; but she also clearly wasn’t one to suffer fools, so if he wanted the job he’d have to present himself as a good value proposition.  He smiled as he recalled the way she’d asked about key performance indicators. Definite Type-A personality, he thought with a chuckle. Tapping away on his laptop, he made a list of all the things he would need to help grease the wheels on Claire’s journey into parenthood and help both her and Fergus build a happy home.  

 

Task complete he packed up and headed for the supermarket. Pushing the trolley along the aisles, his mind once again drifted to the Sassenach.  He found he wanted to know more about her; what she liked and what made her tick.  Different to any of the other parents he’d met before, there was an energy about her that he couldn’t help but feel drawn to. Being incandescently beautiful probably didn’t hurt either. He did have the sense to check himself slightly; developing feelings for a prospective employer was obviously a big no-no. Hoisting a bag of potatoes into the trolley he reasoned that were the sassy doctor to engage his services, he’d only be seeing her briefly at the start and end of each day, so surely admiring her from afar could do no harm.

 

By school pick-up time, Jamie had stocked Claire’s fridge and pantry with all the things that would both nourish a six-year-old as well as help draw him out of his shell; in his experience a little chocolate went a long way.  Greeting Fergus with a wave, he suggested they head to the park opposite the house for a game of kick-to-kick. 

 

“Tu vas jouer avec moi?”

 

You’ll play with me?” The boy had asked, as if surprised that Jamie would even consider it. Not begrudging Claire, but the question told the Scot that she probably hadn’t considered what a bit of one-on-one playtime would mean to a lad still grieving the loss of his mother.  Crouching next to Fergus, Jamie adopted a serious tone, telling him in French:

 

“I should warn ye that I’m very good, so ye probably won’t be able to score a goal on me...”

 

With a giggle and a nod, Fergus took the football and they made their way to the park.  Kicking the ball back and forth on the damp grass, in this relaxed setting Jamie was able to glean more information about how the boy was settling into his new home.  In the nonchalant, no-holds-barred way that only small children can, Fergus told him about moving in with Claire (“Her house is a big as a hotel!”), her less-than-successful attempts at cooking (“I don’t like slimy food”) and how, when he’d asked to watch cartoons, she’d she’d instead put him in front of the French news programme Le Journal. Jamie bit back a smile at this, knowing that in the Sassenach’s mind, watching something in the lad’s native language would have been perfect; however if there was a six-year-old interested in current affairs and politics, he was yet to meet them. That Claire was trying to accomodate her new son was evident, but there was clearly a lot of work to do. 

 

After an hour in the park, Fergus was ruddy faced from running around in the chilly winter air, but with a final burst of energy sprinted past the Manny and scored a goal. He threw his arms in the air in triumph and Jamie made a big show of being upset at being bested, much to the boy’s amusement. How gratifying it was to see him smile.  

 

Arriving home, they baked a batch of biscuits together, Fergus pleased to be appointed offical stirrer and taste-tester. Moving to the living room to enjoy their afternoon tea, Jamie admired the fireplace.  Large and well appointed; a stack of neat logs sat in a basket alongside but the whole thing appeared largely unused. Odd.

 

“As-tu dejà fait du feu, Fergus?”

 

“Non; notre appartement c’etait trop petit”

 

“Veux-tu que je vous montre?” 

 

The boy nodded eagerly at Jamie’s offer to show him how to set the fire, enthusiastically stuffing old newspapers and kindling between larger pieces of wood while the Manny explained each of the steps involved.  They were soon rewarded with a roaring blaze which filled the house with a delicious warmth.  

 

Jamie had one last surprise for Fergus; telling him that for being such so well behaved that day, he’d bought him a couple of Matchbox cars.  The Scot wasn’t in the habit of giving kids in his care presents regularly, but seeing Fergus’ lack of toys, he thought a little treat on his first day was justified.  The lad’s eyes lit up at the sight of the toys; much gratified Jamie ruffed his hair affectionately before leaving to make a start on dinner.

 

Chopping carrots, peeling onions and boiling potatoes, in half an hour he had a fragrant stew bubbling gently on the stove.  He was cutting some fresh bread when Claire arrived home.

 

“Hello!” she called out from the front door. “Gosh the heater isn’t even on you must be freezing—“

 

The doctor stopped short when she entered the kitchen, evidently noting it was anything but freezing.

 

“You lit a fire?”

 

“Aye, hope ye don’t mind?”

 

“No of course not, I just didn’t think that...actually never mind”

 

“Ye didn’t think a nanny would ken how to light a fire is that it?”

 

Jamie watched with amusement as Claire’s cheeks pinked. Rather than answer him, she squared her shoulders and changed the subject.

 

“What’ve you got going on the stove there?”

 

“Mutton and vegetable stew. Old family recipe”

 

“But where did you...?”

 

Claire opened the pantry door.

 

“You bought all this food?”

 

“Not all of it; the biscuits on the middle shelf Fergus and I made this afternoon.”

 

Jamie answered her next question before she could ask it.

 

“Yes, I bought the ingredients for those too. And some measuring cups and bowls; ye didn’t seem to have any”

 

Claire smoothed a non-existent crease on her trousers.  It was at that moment that a smiling Fergus came into the kitchen brandishing his new toys.  

 

Bonsoir Claire! Jamie, le dîner est prêt?

 

Responding in French, Jamie replied in the affirmative; requesting the boy leave the cars and go wash his hands first.  When he’d left the room Claire picked up one of them, eyeing it closely before putting in back on the worktop, lips pursed.

 

“I’m terrible at this, aren’t I?”

 

“Dr Beauchamp, it’s just a wee £2 car”

 

“Is it? Burnt breakfast, none of the right food, didn’t think to buy any toys...”

 

“Ye’ve been doing this all of two weeks; ye’re being a bit hard on yourself aren’t ye?”

 

“Perhaps, but that’s hardly helpful to Fergus is it? Taken away from everything thing he knows to live with the woman who can’t even speak the same damn language! I wouldn’t blame you for deciding this is too weird of a situation to be involved with; I mean how many parents don’t even know the first thing about their own child?”

 

Claire sighed, folding her arms across her chest defensively. 

 

“If you can please tell me how much you’ve outlaid for everything today I’ll make sure you’re reimbursed as soon as possible. Thank you for coming for a trial in any case”

 

Jamie was genuinely surprised. Most parents would take advantage of the fact he was willing to take on many of the household duties, perhaps even trying to add a few extra ones like collecting their dry cleaning or paying some bills.  Yet here was Claire, assuming it’d all be too much and that he couldn’t wait to leave.  He needed a way to cut through; simply reassurances weren’t going to be enough for a woman that set such high standards for herself.  He considered; she didn’t seem like the type to shy away from a someone who challenged her — thankfully neither was he.

 

“Do you always make other people’s decisions for them, or am I a special case?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

Jamie smirked, eyebrows raised in provocation.

 

“Seems that ye’ve decided the outcome for today, not only before it’s over, but without even thinking to consult any other parties involved”

 

“I did no such thing!”

 

“Didn’t ye? You didn’t even ask me how the lad and I got on today. Instead ye smell the stew I’m making and conclude it’s a slight on your parenting skills. And ye haven’t even tasted it yet! Could be rubbish for all you know”

 

Is it rubbish?”

 

“Lord no, it’s bloody delicious.”

 

That got her. Letting out a snort of laughter, Claire’s shoulders finally relaxed, her mouth curving upwards.

 

“Are you always this self-assured when starting with a new family?”

 

“Starting? Ye’d like me to work for ye, would ye?”

 

Breaking out into a proper smile, the doctor rolled her eyes.

 

“I’ll need to try the stew first, obviously”

 

Nodding, Jamie filled a spoon and presented it to her.  Before accepting the taste, Claire’s tongue darted out to check the temperature and Jamie unconsciously licked his lips just watching her. Was it appropriate for him to feed the spoonful to her? Probably not, but he didn’t care. This woman made his blood sing and he found he rather liked it.

 

“All right fine, it is bloody delicious; happy?’

 

“Very”

 

The air much friendlier between them, Jamie at last felt confident that Claire was listening properly without her defences up.

 

“Ye know all those things - the toys, the biscuits, cooking dinner - they’re just the tools of my trade, aye? No different to you and your surgical instruments. Just because ye didna have measuring cups doesn’t mean you’re setting the lad up for a life of misery.”

 

Claire bit her bottom lip, golden eyes softening at his words.

 

“I know it can feel like climbing a mountain with all the things to learn, but ye dinna need to attempt it all on your own. If ye’d like me to help ye it’d be my pleasure”

 

“Thank you Jamie, I’d like that. And I think Fergus would too”

 

Smiling, she held out her hand for them to shake on it. Jamie willingly complied, noting her firm grip and cool skin that felt like silk. 

 

Claire insisted Jamie join them for dinner to celebrate his appointment.  He readily agreed, much pleased to see both parent and child looking so happy after a very trying day.  After the meal he helped put Fergus to bed, smiling as he watched Claire put on her glasses and tap little notes into her phone so she would be able to replicate the process herself in future.  The lad asleep, Claire walked him to the door.

 

“I just wanted to say thanks again for today. And I’m sorry for trying to close the front door in your face this morning”

 

She blushed adorably and Jamie couldn’t help but smile.

 

“I must confess that taking care of a child isn’t coming as naturally to me as I’d assumed it would”

 

“Becoming a parent is something most people have months if not years to prepare for, you had two days; perhaps cut yerself a break and learn to walk before ye try to run?”

 

“You may have a point there” she smiled, twisting a lock of hair around her finger.

 

“Fergus is a great kid; yes, he’s had a rough go of it to begin with, but with a stable routine and lots of love I ken he’ll be thriving in no time”

 

“Thank you; I really appreciate your willingness to give this a go”

 

 “Ye’re welcome. I’ll see ye tomorrow at seven, Dr Beauchamp”

 

“Goodnight”

 

He was half way down the front steps when she called out.

 

“Jamie!”

 

“Aye?”

 

“It’s Claire; only my patients call me Dr Beauchamp”

 

“‘Well then, goodnight Claire

 

Jamie watched as she smiled and closed the door. Walking towards the tube station he reflected on his day. In ten years of childcare he didn’t think he’d ever felt so gratified to be offered a position and damnit if that spirited Sassenach hadn’t already started to creep her way under his skin.

Chapter Text

The ceramic bowl sat in the middle of the refrigerator. Covered with aluminium foil there was a small note affixed to the side. 

 

 - 1 cup in the microwave for 2 minutes

 - Stir gently

 - Sprinkle brown sugar on top

 

Filled with curiosity Claire peeled back the foil to reveal a large quantity of porridge; easily enough to last the rest of the week.  Smiling at Jamie’s foresight and thoughtfulness she carefully followed the instructions and presented the results to Fergus.  Prodding it cautiously with his spoon, he regarded it suspiciously; understandable given Claire’s previous culinary offerings.  Thinking of the food tasters in Ancient Rome who would sample the Caesar’s meal to confirm there was no poison, she dipped her spoon into the bowl, eating a mouthful in front of the boy in a show of good faith.  To her relief it worked and Fergus finally tucked in enthusiastically. Considering the farce at breakfast day the before, the doctor was elated.

 

Jamie arrived soon after, looking far too bright eyed and bushy-tailed for an early winter’s morning. As he now had his own key, he greeted them in the kitchen.  

 

Bonjour! Good morning!”

 

Both parent and child were much pleased to see him again. A subtle energy shift had occurred after only a day and like the third leg on a stool there was a stability in the house that had been absent previously.  Claire thanked him for the porridge, pointing to Fergus’ empty bowl as testament to its success. The tips of his ears pinking slightly, the Manny shrugged modestly.

 

“I hope ye both slept well?” 

 

Without thinking, Claire checked her hair in the reflection from the toaster, cursing herself immediately. What did it matter how she looked in front of Jamie?  Still using the reflection, she switched her gaze to covertly watch him while he chatted with Fergus.  Wearing a fitted navy jumper, it accentuated his muscular form to full advantage. Sleeves pushed up to his elbows, the sinews of his forearms radiated strength. She told herself that it was the plastic surgeon in her that was automatically evaluating from a physical point of view, but that didn’t account for the way her eyes lingered on his jaw, or followed the bob of his Adam’s apple as he spoke. Was his Scottish accent this smooth yesterday?

 

The toast popping up broke her trance and Claire became very focussed on buttering it to distract herself from inappropriate thoughts about the man hired to take care of her new son.  Silently chewing her toast, she watched Jamie take coloured paper and black markers from his bag.

 

“Planning a craft project?”

 

“Kind of - with yer permission, I thought we could make some signs to put up around the house: names of things in both English and French to help you and the lad with your language skills”

 

Such a simple idea, but perfect. Claire nodded enthusiastically.

 

“Excellent, we’ll get started today”

 

Turning to an intrigued Fergus, he relayed the idea, speaking first in French and then slowly repeating it in English. The boy looked reasonably interested, but not super excited. That was until Jamie reached into his bag and pulled out a box of crayons, glitter and a jar of colourful buttons. Eyes wide, Fergus shook the jar with glee.  

 

“Pouvons-nous commencer maintenant?”

 

“No, we canna start now - someone has to get ready for school!”

___

It wasn’t until mid afternoon, after a hectic run of back-to-back consultations that Joe caught up with Claire to ask how it’d gone with the Manny.  Detailing the successful afternoon Jamie and Fergus had had together as well as the delicious stew, she was pleased to report the Scot had accepted the position. 

 

“Well that explains your cat-that-got-the-cream smile today! Can I see a picture of this guy?”

 

“Why would I even have one?”

 

Just as Claire spoke, her phone vibrated with an incoming message from Jamie.  Attached was a picture of him and Fergus sitting at the kitchen table. Green crayon in hand, the boy was smiling as he coloured, surrounded by an array of paper and glue.  Joe peered over her shoulder to take a look at the happy image.

 

“Oh la la; you might have mentioned you’d hired an Adonis!”

 

“Joe, for the last time, he’s there to take care of Fergus. Nothing more”

___

As soon as Claire got home from work Fergus grabbed her hand, insisting on a tour of the house to show her all the new signs. Each had the English and French words neatly printed by Jamie and were decorated by the young lad, who was adorably pleased with his artwork.

 

Salle de bains, la baignoire, les brosses à dents ...bathroom, bathtub, toothbrushes!” He proudly announced. “Pouvez-vous le dire aussi?”

 

Slowly and rather awkwardly, Claire sounded out the words.  Her attempt earned a giggle from Fergus, but he seemed genuinely chuffed that she’d tried and that was the most important thing. It wasn’t until later that night that she realised the other purpose for Jamie’s project. By putting something that was uniquely Fergus’ up on the walls, he’d started to help the boy feel like the house wasn’t just somewhere he was now living, but his home.  Claire was impressed with his strategy, feeing slightly guilty that up until yesterday she’d assumed nannying was just glorified babysitting.  Damn, you are good Fraser she thought as she prepared for bed.

Over the next month the trio built a routine. During the week, Jamie would arrive at breakfast time, helping Fergus get ready and then walking with him to school.  In the afternoons the two would hang out before the Scot prepared dinner, having it ready to serve when Claire arrived home from work.

 

Fergus was a charming little boy and under Jamie’s care he slowly but surely began to come out of his shell.  The Manny had a huge number of activities in his repertoire and their afternoons were spent doing anything from walks in the park, to baking, reading, and creative art projects. The lad’s sadness over losing his mother still lingered, but there were smiles and laughter each day, too.

 

As Fergus’ comfort with his new London home began to improve, so too did his relationship with Claire.  Gone were the silent evenings spent sullenly staring at iPads and phones, replaced instead with watching a movie (of the boy’s choosing) or playing a board game. There was still a lot for the doctor to learn about parenting, but Jamie was a good teacher, offering her tips and advice in a way that never left her feeling inadequate.  Like the day he patiently knelt by the bath, offering guidance to Claire as she practised shampooing Fergus’ hair; his smile of encouragement warming her insides.

 

With spring fast approaching there was an increase in patients at Claire’s clinic, requiring her to put in extra long hours.  Jamie was able to help there, too: washing Fergus’ clothes, assisting with any homework and - most importantly - checking the boy’s school bag to make sure no pieces of fruit had been forgotten and left to rot in the bottom. 

 

It was inevitable with all the time he spent at the house, that Claire got to know Jamie better.  As the weeks went by they often found themselves sharing a cup of tea after Fergus had gone to bed, chatting about their respective days and sharing information about themselves.  From this Claire learned Jamie had grown up in a small village outside Inverness before attending university in Glasgow.  Five years ago he’d come to the capital in search of better job opportunities. Intrigued by a career path that was so different from her own, she was keen to understand what motivated a man like him:

 

“You don’t feel out of place in a profession that’s mainly dominated by the opposite sex?”

 

“Why don’t you tell me; many fellow female plastic surgeons practising on Harley street are there?”

 

Eyes narrowing, Claire was unable to stop her lips from curving upward.

 

“You’re making fun of me again, aren’t you?”

 

“Sorry, I can’t help it - ye’re just so earnest Sassenach!”

 

Sassenach?”

 

Flustered, Jamie gaped liked a fish as he scrambled for the right words, much to her amusement. With a smirk, she pressed her advantage.

 

“Any other insulting names you’ve got for me that I should know about?”

 

The Manny rubbed the back of his neck, cheeks colouring slightly.  Collecting himself he leaned forwards, his hand resting a hair’s breath from Claire’s.

 

“It can be an insult, but I see it more as a person who’s a bit different from the norm, in an engrossing and fascinating kinda way.  You’re like a Rubik’s Cube; damn near impossible to navigate unless someone’s got the way of ye.” 

 

His cheeky smile faded to one of shyness before he added:

 

“If it bothers ye though, I wilna use it again”

 

It didn’t bother Claire; in fact she got a little thrill out of the idea that he had spent time appraising her character.

 

“I quite like it actually”

 

Jamie’s eyes sparkled as he grinned; clearly this was something he was happy to hear.

 

At first the doctor told herself the extra time she sought out with Jamie was merely to be updated on Fergus’ day.  Whilst this was partly true, it wasn’t hearing what the boy had had for afternoon tea that made her heart skip when she looked at the Scot.  Trying to to brush it off as merely admiring his looks, a dazzling smile was no match for a kind heart and gentle teasing that always made her laugh.  Their conversation flowed so naturally - or so it seemed to Claire - and after spending all day in ‘serious doctor mode’ it was liberating to come home to someone she could let her guard down around.

 

Amidst stories about his travels or growing up in Scotland, she noticed that Jamie never mentioned a girlfriend or partner and she couldn’t quite bring herself to ask if there was someone special in his life.  The question itself wouldn’t have been too difficult, but as time went on Claire found her reluctance to enquire was more to do with being afraid of an answer in the affirmative. 

 

Aside from trying to pass off any increased interest in Jamie as friendship-only, Claire set herself the task of learning French. Fergus’ English was coming along in leaps and bounds but she wanted to be able converse with him in his native tongue so he’d know that she appreciated how important his Gallic origins were.  Downloading the language app French For Beginners, she spent her commute each day conjugating verbs and reciting useful phrases.  After a few weeks she decided to try out her newly acquired skills with Fergus:

 

“Veux-tu regarder un film ce soir? Nous pourrions aussi avoir due pop-corn?”

 

The boy was delighted — and not just at the prospect of watching a film and eating a salty treat.

 

“Oui s’il vous plaît; j’adorerais!”

 

It warmed Claire’s heart immeasurably to be able to have a conversation with Fergus like this; he needn’t know she’d been practising the simple exchange all week to make sure she didn’t mix up her verb forms and word order.   Side-by-side in the kitchen, they made the popcorn together, Fergus giggling as the popping grew in crescendo until it sounded like hailstones on a tin roof.  Their snack buttered and salted, they made their way into the living room to watch the LEGO movie. Navigating the onscreen menu, Claire set it up to play in French with English subtitles; rewarded with adorable ‘oh’ in surprise from Fergus. It was the doctor’s turn to be surprised next; on all previous occasions, they’d sat at opposite ends of the couch or on seperate armchairs, but that night Fergus came and snuggled right into Claire’s side. Wrapping a tentative arm around his shoulders, she spent most of the film smiling at him, her heart blooming at the fact that such a simple action could mean so much.

 

Emboldened by her success, Claire decided to try her beginner’s Français on Jamie. One evening after Fergus had gone to bed, she mustered her best French accent and offered the Scot a cup of tea (as had been their usual practise on several occasions previously). Not having rehearsed the conversation as well as she had with the lad, she couldn’t remember the words for peppermint tea so went with the word for drink instead, hoping the meaning wouldn’t be lost.

 

“Veux-tu venir prendre un verre chez moi ce soir?”

 

Her eager smile quickly faded when Jamie’s eyes went wide as saucers. Confused at his response, Claire opened the language app on her phone, scrolling through to try and find where she’d gone wrong, but found noting that would suggest an error.  It all seemed fine? Looking back up at Jamie she saw his lips were pursed as he tried to hold back a laugh.

 

“What’s the matter? Should I have used the formal object pronoun instead?” 

 

Bewilderment turned to embarrassment as the Scot let out a snort of laughter.

 

“What’s so funny? I was trying to ask if you’d like a cup of tea; I don’t see where—“

 

“Sassenach, the words ye used were fine, it’s just...have ye heard of the expression Netflix and Chill?”

 

“Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything?”

 

“Well what ye just asked me; would I like to come to your place for a drink - is pretty much the French equivalent...”

 

The doctor’s shocked expression broke the dam on Jamie’s attempt to contain his mirth and he doubled over the kitchen table laughing. Claire felt her face go as red as a tomato. Oh the humiliation of inadvertently propositioning the Manny! Running hands through her hair she started at the floor, willing it to open up and swallow her.  No such luck, Jamie’s sniggering echoed throughout the room. Countenance eventually retuning to normal, he wiped a couple of tears from the corner of his eyes.

 

“Och, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass ye.  Your French is really coming along well”

 

“You call that coming along well?” Claire huffed incredulously. 

 

“It was a simple mistake, anyone could’ve made it”

 

“Would they?”

 

Still feeling mortified, she turned way from the Scot, pretending to rummage through the pantry by way of escape. Jamie came up behind her, placing his palms tentatively on her shoulders.

 

“Sassenach, learning a new language is never easy, ye canna be expected to know every expression right at the start”

 

“Can we please just pretend this whole thing never happened?”

 

“I’m sorry for laughing.  Please dinna be uncomfortable because of me, I think what ye’re doing for the lad is amazing”

 

Claire turned around to see an expression of real contrition on Jamie’s face. He squeezed her shoulders lightly before dropping his hands to his sides.

 

“Well if it was you I’d probably have laughed too”

 

“If the offer of a cuppa’s still there, I’d love one”

 

With a watery smile she put the kettle on.

 

Lying in bed that night, Claire stared at the ceiling, the events from earlier still bothering her.  She and the Scot had chatted congenially after her gaffe grande but an uncomfortable feeling had settled in the pit of her stomach. What was it that was bothering her so much? It was an honest mistake that could’ve happened to anyone, Jamie had apologised and they’d moved on.  Flipping onto her front then rolling onto her side, Claire struggled to find a comfortable position, the nagging feeling of uneasiness refusing to leave.

 

Like a flash of lighting it suddenly came to her — she had a crush. A heartbeat-raising, blushing-in-his-presence, can’t-stop-smiling-when-I-think-about-you, crush.  The truth of her feelings admitted, she recalled the way butterflies would build up in her stomach on the way home from work, nervous anticipation giving way to a giddy warmth when she saw him. Or the way the smooth lilt of his voice drew her in whatever the topic of conversation.  And his hands - how long had she spent watching them and wondering what they’d feel like caressing her skin?

 

A further thought then struck - she’d made an amorous suggestion to Jamie (albeit unintentionally) and his immediate response had been to laugh in her face.  Clapping a hand over her eyes as though it would shield her, Claire cringed.  Jamie’s eight years younger and employed to take care of Fergus for god’s sake! She knew it was stupid to think that he’d have ever taken her seriously, but his reaction confirmed that her feelings were decidedly one-sided.  Perhaps it was foolish, but knowing it’d never be reciprocated made her sadder than she thought it would.

 

“Right that’s it” she said into the darkness. Jamie was there because it was his job to be.  Entertaining anything further was a fool’s errand and it was time to burst the bubble of denial before her feelings went past the point of no return.

 

Decision made, she closed her eyes full of resolution, but as she drifted towards slumber her subconscious had other ideas.  Pressing her shoulder against the pillow she recalled the feel of Jamie’s warm hands as he stood behind her in the kitchen.  It was the closest they’d ever been, the gentle puff of his breath ticking the fine hairs on the back of her neck and making her shiver with desire.  When she’d turned around to look at him his deep blue eyes had bored into her with an intensity that made her body tingle from scalp to toes. Replaying the scene she imagined it ending differently, this time with Jamie leaning down and kissing her, his arms wrapping around and pulling her close.  Enjoying these fantasies far more than she wanted to Claire gave up trying to regulate her thoughts, promising:  

 

“I’ll stop my crush first thing tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

There are many dos and don’ts when it comes to being a successful nanny, but one golden rule which stands above all the rest: maintain professional boundaries.  Due to the nature of the job, it’s quite common for a nanny to come to be thought of as part of the family; however, it’s vital that despite this, an emotional buffer is preserved.  Blurring the lines between what is real and what is the job only leads to heartache for all involved.

 

In his decade-long career Jamie had always abided by this golden rule; bonding with the children and parents he worked for but never allowing himself to get too attached.  It was a complete surprise to him, therefore, that only a month into his new job any pretence at a professional boundary had evaporated like ice on a hot summer’s day.

 

In began with a cup of coffee. Due to a Tube strike in his second week, the Manny had been running late and had no time to stop for his usual latte on the way to work.  Noting his missing cup when he arrived, Claire offered to make him one from her machine. He accepted, as he did the following day when the offer was repeated.  By the end of the week she’d started putting out two mugs from habit, pleasing Jamie immeasurably.

 

With an easy familiarity that was unusual for so short an acquaintance, the pair would chat as they enjoyed their morning brew. Initially just about Fergus, it soon evolved into stories about their lives, places they’d travelled and the objects and subjects they were passionate about. The time spent talking was so agreeable that the Scot started coming in a little earlier each day to prolong it and within a fortnight was arriving a full half-hour earlier than his agreed upon start time. Conversing with an employer was nothing out of the ordinary, but when Jamie started to feel a dull ache in his chest on weekends when he was separated from Claire, he admitted he’d stepped over the line of what was an acceptable nanny/parent relationship. 

 

The Manny briefly considered resigning, but believing himself fully capable of keeping his emotions in check, ruled it out as unnecessary.  The only problem was that the more he was around Claire, the more enamoured he became.  Eyes that sparkled when she laughed, silken skin he longed to caress, rose-hued lips that constantly tempted him to kiss her. By the time he realised how deep he’d gotten in it was too late; inviolable affection for Claire had wrapped around his heart like bandages on an Egyptian mummy.

 

Whist certain of his feelings, Jamie felt conflicted; would it be right to act on them? He knew he wasn’t an unattractive man and sometimes he saw Claire looking at him in such a way that gave rise to hope that she might feel a little of what he did for her.  On the other hand, would she even consider something of a romantic nature with the man hired to take care of her son?  Would a sophisticated and successful plastic surgeon be interested in a nanny?  He’d been pondering just how to handle the situation when the Sassenach had inadvertently offered him the one thing he’d been dreaming about.

 

Friday night and the end of a long week; Fergus was in bed and Jamie was packing up his things to head home. The Scot thought of contriving a reason to stay and hang out with Claire, but couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound like a pickup line.  It was quite surprising, therefore, when she used one on him! Leaning against the kitchen worktop, she asked in French if he wanted to come to her place for a drink.  Being new to the language perhaps she didn’t know how alluring her accent was, but her deep and husky tone aroused him instantly.  For a second he just stood there dumbstruck. Was the beautiful Sassenach really propositioning him? He pictured her saying the same words in a bar; the hour late and the lights low, draining a tumbler of whisky before suggestively enquiring if he’d like to come back for a nightcap.  In those circumstances his hands would be encircling her waist immediately; lips dropping to her throat to taste her.  The Manny’s heartbeat took off at a gallop as he considered how to respond.  If she was serious he wanted to answer in the affirmative immediately, his hands tingling with the need to squeeze that gorgeous round arse of hers...

 

Her golden eyes regarded him so hopefully as she waited for an answer that it finally brought Jamie to his senses enough to realise what had actually happened: the wee thing had no idea of the colloquial meaning of what she’d said.  As he began to explain she pushed her glasses up her nose, scrolling through the language app with a little huffing noise of irritation. She looked so completely adorable that Jamie couldn’t keep the smile from his face. When Claire realised she’d just used the French equivalent of Netflix and Chill her comically shocked expression broke him, guffaws tumbling out like water from a fire hydrant.  Full of anxiety, his laughter was high pitched, bordering on a cackle. God - how close he’d come to making a complete fool of himself!  The Sassenach’s discomfort finally quieted him; but when she turned away in embarrassment he felt like such a jerk.

 

Despite parting with Claire on friendly terms, shame pulsed through Jamie’s veins as he made his way towards the train station.  Slumping into a hard plastic chair as he waited on the platform, his chin dropped to his chest. Amidst many thoughts berating himself over how he’d handled the situation, one thing was clear: if he was ever going to show the beautiful doctor that he was worth taking a chance on he’d have to do better than laughing in her face.

 

Monday morning and Jamie was walking through Battersea Park, the early morning air biting at his skin. Hair still damp from the shower, tendrils licked the back of his neck like icy tentacles and with a shiver he doubled his pace towards Claire’s house, eagerly anticipating the toasty warmth awaiting within.  

 

He’d spent the majority of the weekend trying to think of how to make things right with the Sassenach, ultimately deciding that profuse apologies would only draw attention to the situation and potentially embarrass her again. She’d said she’d wanted to just move past it, so he’d respect her wishes and do just that.  His affection as strong as ever, the Manny had no clear plan on how to proceed other than to hope a path would present itself when the time was right.

 

Letting himself inside the house, he stopped in the front hall, smiling as he overheard Fergus and Claire chatting together, her lyrical French accent floating down the corridor.

 

“Il fait froid aujourd’hui”

 

‘It is cold today’ she’d said. The French word for cold - froid - was pronounced ‘f’wa’ but Claire’s pronunciation had sounded more like the name of the renowned psychiatrist Sigmund Freud.  Jamie continued to eavesdrop as Fergus corrected her, the lad clearly loving the chance to be the teacher rather than the pupil for once.  He suspected Claire knew this too, which made him admire her all the more.

 

“Bonjour mes amis!”

 

Fergus sat at the breakfast bar, swinging his legs as he ate. Seeing the Manny he dropped his spoon to wave hello.  Ruffling his hair, Jamie gave him a look that the boy knew meant ‘Make sure you finish your food!’. Reluctantly, Fergus returned to his porridge. 

 

Jamie then turned his focus to Claire who stood at the coffee machine, pulling levers and turning dials. Dressed for work, her dark hair was pulled into a high bun which, combined with her crisp white blouse and black-rimmed glasses, gave her a sexy school-teacher vibe; one that he found most appealing. She turned and greeted him with a smile, cheeks colouring slightly as her eyes lingered on him.  It made Jamie’s insides feel like melted caramel.

 

With a clang, Fergus dropped his spoon into his empty bowl, loudly announcing he’d finished breakfast and was going to dress himself for school.

 

“On my own - I’m a big kid”

 

“All right laddie, if yer sure. Call out if ye need any help with yer tie”

 

As soon as he’d left the room, Claire stepped close to Jamie with an excited gleam in her eyes that had his heart thumping hard against his rib cage in response.

 

“I’m glad we’ve got a couple of minutes to ourselves, I wanted to tell you about my discovery!”

 

“Aye?”

 

“Last night I was reading Fergus his bedtime story and I found out he loves dinosaurs!”

 

She looked so pleased with herself Jamie didn’t have the heart to tell her he’d never met a six year old that didn’t love dinosaurs.

 

“So I looked up the Natural History Museum and I found out they do children’s tours in French! I booked one for this Saturday; I thought I’d surprise Fergus, take him out for lunch afterwards. You think he’ll like it?”

 

Two months ago Claire didn’t know the first thing about parenting and now she was planning a day trip with her boy. The Manny stared at her, pride blooming in his chest to such an extent it was threatening to overcome him.  He reached out and gently squeezed her hand.

 

“That’s a braw idea, Sassenach. He’ll love it”

 

The doctor grinned, whole face lighting up at the endorsement of her plan. Moistening her lips, she moved slightly nearer; then, searching his eyes, took a deep breath.  Jamie felt a flutter in his gut; did she want him to come with them? Was this the opportunity he’d been waiting for - for Claire to see him as something more than just Fergus’ nanny?  The Scot could picture it all: holding the lad’s hand as they walked through the exhibits, putting his arm around Claire’s waist and kissing her when no one was looking... Ok the last part was a bit fanciful, but a man could dream.  Waiting for her to speak, he tried to keep his expression blank, lest his excitement at going on a quasi-date be too obvious.

 

Rather than issue an invitation, however, Dr Beauchamp’s shoulders stiffened and she stepped away to rinse Fergus’ porridge bowl, gaze downcast.  What just happened? The sudden shift in demeanour felt like a cool wind blowing through the kitchen.  After an awkward silence while Claire turned on the dishwasher, she eventually spoke:

 

“So what are you up to this weekend? Plans with anyone special?”

 

There was a forced cheerfulness in her tone and Jamie didn’t know how to reply; all he could think was how much he wanted to go to the museum. Idiot! Claire clearly wanted to maintain professional boundaries, even if he didn’t. Floundering as he struggled to think of a response that would cover the sting at not being asked to accompany them, he said the first thing that popped into his head.

 

“I’m heading out with a few of the lasses from the nannying agency. We’re going to a nightclub in Soho. Really looking forward to it”

 

Claire gave him a funny look then schooled her features and smiled, although it didn’t quite reach her eyes.

 

“Oh right. Do you go out with them often?”

 

“Yep, all the time. Love to get out and amongst it, meet new people...”

 

Jamie couldn’t believe the rubbish coming out of his mouth; why was he trying to pass himself off as some man about town? The other nannies had asked him to go out with them many times, but he always turned them down; it just wasn’t his scene.

 

“Well I hope you have a fantastic time!  Alas my nightclubbing days are well behind me; I’m sure it makes me sound ancient, but I’ll likely be curled up on the couch with a glass of merlot”

 

The ache in Jamie’s chest was acute; what he’d give to be nestled next to Claire, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her neck.  Instead he was pretending to be excited about a night out with casual acquaintances to some grotty club.  For a conversation that had had started off so well, it had rapidly careened off a cliff and with Claire still bustling about the kitchen it took all the Scot’s focus not to sag against the table with his head in his hands.  The maudlin thoughts were interrupted by a chirpy voice shouting from the next room:

 

“Jaaaaamiiiie! Pouvez-vous m’aider avec mes lacets?...S’il vous-plaît?”

 

Fergus’ endearing tone eliciting a small smile, he got up to go help the lad tie his shoes.

___

“Clubbing? Why in God’s name did ye tell her that? Ye hate clubbing!”

 

“Aye, thank ye, I know! It’s just that I thought she was gonna ask me to go to the museum with her and the lad and then when she didn’t I panicked”

 

It was later that morning and Jamie was on the phone to his best friend Ian. Married to Jamie’s older sister Jenny, he’d been a constant in the Manny’s life since he was a lad and the two remained close despite living hundreds of miles apart.  After a couple of weeks on the job, Jamie had confided to Ian his growing feelings for Dr Beauchamp and had just updated him on the most recent turn of events.

 

“If ye wanted to go with them so badly why didna ye just ask?”

 

“And have her say yes out of pity? No thanks”

 

“Well spending the weekend mooning about yer flat thinkin’ about Claire is hardly gonna help anything, maybe ye should go to the club?”

 

“Ian, if I wanted to drink shite-tasting whisky and have someone throw up on me I’d sooner come round to your place for a dram and hold one of the bairns for half an hour”

 

“Hilarious; dinna be giving up your day job!  Seriously though, I ken ye like the doctor, but is it ever going to come to anything?  Can ye really be going after a parent of one of the kids ye’re looking after?”

 

“Look it’s not an ideal situation, but there’s no specific rule against it”

 

“Ye’re sure she’s keen then? Maybe her not askin’ ye to the museum is a sign ye need to back off?”

 

Jamie acknowledged the truth in Ian’s words, but it didn’t stop him from wanting Claire.  It was a delicate situation and he wracked his brains to think of a way he could show her how much she meant to him without it looking like he was trying to hit on her while she ate her breakfast.  Finally an idea came to him; if he couldn’t ask her out, then they could stay in.  He’d make her a special dinner, something that the lad would enjoy too; but perhaps afterwards he and the Sassenach could share a bottle of wine in front of the fire? No pressure to do anything more than chat, if his feelings for Claire were all one-sided then he’d leave straight after the meal and she’d be none the wiser.

 

With a renewed sense of optimism he started planning what he’d need to woo Claire with his culinary skills. A smile on his face as he compiled the shopping list, he recalled the way her hair had smelled when he stood close to her in the kitchen last week; conjuring images of a field of heather on a sunny day. He was sure Ian would have given him a clip over the ear if he’d heard him say something so cheesy, but he didn’t care.  

 

When to cook this feast? A Friday night would be ideal, the perfect way to help Claire relax after a stressful week. And not this week, with the lad’s trip to the museum on Saturday he didn’t want to detract from that.  The Friday after it was then; he’d ask the doctor about it tonight.  

 

Half way through reviewing a recipe for duck à l’orange Jamie’s mobile buzzed in his pocket.  He took it out and saw Claire’s face flashing up on the screen; a photo taken of her in front of the coffee machine pretending to be a barista.  Smiling, he took a deep breath before answering to not appear over-eager.

 

“Hiya Sassenach!”

 

Voice cracking half way through her nickname, his plans to sound calm and casual had failed, two words in.

 

“Hi Jamie, sorry to bother you; have I called at a bad time?”

 

“No, not at all. Actually there’s something I wanted to ask ye”

 

“—hoping to ask a favour?”

 

“Sorry, I spoke right over the top of ye; you go first”

 

“Thanks. I was just wondering if you’d be free to work a few extra hours on Friday night next week?”

 

It was the same night the Manny had planned to cook Claire her special dinner; but no matter, it could easily be moved. 

 

“Sure, that shouldn’t be a problem; do ye have to work late?”

 

“Um...no.  Actually, I’ve got a date”

Chapter Text

As Claire’s words - I have a date - hung in the air, it was as if Jamie had been shoved into a freezing cold lake. Shock akin to being unexpectedly plunged below the surface, he felt pressure on every inch of skin as he struggled to get air into his lungs. Somersaulting in the dark and murky depths, confusion set in making it impossible to tell which way was up. Words tumbled out of his mouth before he had the sense to stop them:

 

“Someone asked you out?”

 

The Manny bit his fist at how rude the question sounded.

 

“Yes; is that so hard to believe?”

 

“I didna realise ye were seeing anyone...”

 

Claire stayed quiet on the other end of the line; long enough that Jamie wondered if she’d hung up on him for being impertinent.

 

“If you must know, it’s a first date.  He’s an anaesthetist who does work for my practice from time to time.”

 

“Do you know him well?”

 

“Not particularly, but that’s the whole point of a date isn’t it?”

 

“Perhaps, but is it wise to be going out with a man ye don’t ken much about? I don’t think it’s good for for Fergus to be around someone who—”

 

“Who said anything about introducing him to Fergus?”   

 

“Well, ye—”

 

Claire cut the Scot off.

 

“Jamie, I’m not really comfortable discussing this with you. And to be honest, I don’t see how it’s any of your business?”

 

Jaw clenched, the Manny remained silent.

 

“Don’t worry about the extra time, you already work such long hours; I shouldn’t deprive you of what little social life you still get. I’ll find someone else”

 

Her disenchanted tone broke through Jamie’s wall of jealousy.  Kicking the chair, he ran a rough hand through his hair. 

 

“No Sassenach, wait - I’m...I’m sorry. I had no right to speak to ye like that. I can do the extra hours”

 

“You’re sure?”

 

“Aye, it’s fine”

 

“Thank you. I appreciate it.”

 

Tone clipped, she took a deep breath as if to calm herself.

 

“Did you say you had something you wanted to ask me?”

 

“No, it doesn’t matter now”

 

They said their goodbyes and ended the call. Shoulders hunched, Jamie pressed the heels of his palms into his eye sockets until he saw stars. Whole body heavy with the weight of disappointment, he closed his laptop.  As if a woman of Claire’s sophistication would be impressed by his clumsy attempt at French cuisine! Hell, if the guy she was dating was an anaesthetist he could probably afford to fly her to Paris for the real thing. Comparatively speaking, Jamie concluded he didn’t stand a chance.

 

Self-pity soon gave way to guilt; the Manny wincing as he recalled the rude way he’d questioned Claire about her date. His immature response ate away at him all afternoon and when the doctor arrived home from work he was near jumping out of his skin with the need to speak to her and make amends. Fergus finally asleep, he was quick to address the elephant in the room.

 

“Claire, can I have a word with ye?”

 

She nodded but seemed reluctant to meet his eye; not a great start.

 

“I wanted to apologise again for this afternoon. It’s not my place to question who ye spend your time with.  I stepped over the line and I’m really sorry.”

 

He’d expected indignation and anger, instead she just looked disappointed and sad.

 

“You think it’s too soon after Fergus coming to live here for me to be having a night out, don’t you? That I’m being selfish for not putting him first”

 

“Christ no, not at all! I know ye wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise the lad’s happiness. You’re doing an amazing job and absolutely deserve a night out”

 

I just wish it was me that you wanted to go out with, he mentally added. Claire narrowed he eyes at him.

 

“I think I know what this is really about”

 

“Ye do?”

 

Jamie had been working hard to conceal his attraction, but had the mask slipped; had his jealous outburst betrayed his deeper feelings?

 

“We’re spending too much time together, aren’t we? I’ve been relying on you too much and now you’re annoyed that I’m going out when you have to spend so many of your nights working”

 

Biting her bottom lip, Claire shook her head.

 

“You said it yourself, you love to meet new people; bit hard to do that when you’re stuck here having a cup of tea with your boss on a Friday night!”

 

“That’s not what I was thinking at all — I ken the job has odd hours, but it’s never a bother. I love helping ye with Fergus”

 

Cheeks colouring she waved her hand dismissively.

 

“That’s settled; I promise I’ll be home earlier from now on.”

 

Her tight smile made it clear that the subject was closed and considering his rudeness earlier in the day, Jamie didn’t think it was the right time to force the issue.  But oh how he wanted to tell his Sassenach that seeing her each day made him so much happier than any extra time to himself ever could. 

 

For the rest of the week, Dr Beauchamp was true to her word, arriving home soon after Jamie had collected Fergus from school and assuring the Manny that they were no longer in need of his assistance for the evening.  The reduction in time with Claire was even more heart-rending for Jamie as, to make up for her early finishes, she left for work as soon as he arrived, thereby eliminating the time they’d previously spent chatting over morning coffee.

 

Time and again he thought of bringing up the changed state of affairs, but feeling hamstrung by his position he held his tongue. If this is the way she wanted things to be, who was he to challenge it? The wind well and truely knocked out of his sails, the Manny limped through to the weekend, doing his best to care for Fergus but crestfallen at how quickly things had soured between him and the doctor.

 

Arriving home on Friday night he turned on a game of rugby but mind elsewhere, only watched half-heartedly.   Opening a beer in an attempt to relax, one drink easily turned into another. Soon drunk enough that the players on the TV screen had started to blur, Jamie picked up his phone.  The plan was simple: call Claire, beg for forgiveness and tell her she was making a big mistake dating someone else.  Castigating himself for even contemplating such a stupid and disrespectful move, he instead opened his laptop and booked the earliest flight to Scotland for the next day.

 

By mid-morning, overnight bag slung over his shoulder, Jamie walked in the front door of Lallybroch, his family home. He loved London, but the Highlands were in his blood and their crisp air and greenery were perfect for clearing his mind of the bitterness that had overtaken his mind.

 

A morning spent helping his mam in the garden and an afternoon out riding with his father had Jamie in slightly better spirits come dinner time.  Jamie’s mother Ellen had invited his sister Jenny and Ian as well as their three children over for the meal and to stay the night so as everyone could spend as much time with Jamie as possible during the impromptu visit.  As the family gathered in the living room in for a pre-dinner drink, Ian pulled his brother-in-law aside.

 

“What’s going on? Please tell me ye didna make a pass at the doctor and get fired?”

 

“No, but thanks for the vote of confidence!”

 

“What happened to going out with the lasses from work tonight?”

 

“I didna feel like it”

 

“So travelling six hundred miles for a family dinner was the only other option, was it?”

 

Jamie admitted the visit was impulsive but also necessary; he needed a bit of space to think clearly and not do anything rash.  With an sympathetic pat on the back, Ian assured him that he would of course help wherever he could and that the real reason for the visit would remain between the two of them.

 

Dinners in the Fraser family were always a raucous affair, even more so in recent years since the arrival of Jenny and Ian’s children; seven year old twins Caitlin and Kitty and five year old Henry. The table groaning with a roast dinner than could have easily served eighteen instead of the assembled eight, Jamie was updated on all the day-to-day events that’d happened since his last visit at Christmas.  His nephew’s riding lessons with grandda (He lets me hold the reins!), the twins starting to learn recorder at school (matching groans from Jenny and Ian), and his Da, Brian’s foray in amateur whisky-making (There’s naught wrong with it Ellen! I read it’s common for the first batch to taste a bit soapy).  In turn Jamie told them about working with Fergus and Claire; especially proud to detail the progress of both parent and child in such a short amount of time. After dessert Ian went to put the bairns to bed while the others stayed at the table for an after-dinner dram. Despite no one being able to fit another bite, Ellen insisted on resetting the table with cheese, crackers and fruit.

 

Conversation soon turned to Easter and the upcoming family trip to their holiday house in Coldingham Bay, a beachside town in the Scottish Borders.  A yearly tradition since Jamie’s parents had been gifted the land as a wedding present, it had continued despite the their son’s move to London. After a discussion about quantities of chocolate required for their Easter egg hunt on the Sunday morning, Ellen turned to her son in earnest:

 

“So will ye bringing anyone?”

 

“No, why would I be?”

 

“Ye always used to bring a friend when ye were younger”

 

“It was Ian! And in case ye hadn’t noticed, he’ll still be coming so I dinna see why yer even asking?”

 

“It’s just that if ye did have a special friend ye wanted to invite, I wanted ye to know they’d be welcome”

 

Jamie rolled his eyes at his mother’s use of the term special friend, wondering why it was that parents world-over seemed to have such an issue with saying boyfriend or girlfriend.

 

“Well I’m not seeing anyone, so it’ll just be me”

 

Ellen clearly wasn’t ready to let the subject drop.

 

“I saw Glenna Mackenzie in the post office last week and she happened to mention that her granddaughter is still single...”

 

“I’m twenty-nine years old, I dinna need help finding someone!”

 

“She’s a lovely girl Jamie, quite keen to get married Glenna said”

 

“Ye’d have me propose to a lass I dinna even know because Mrs Mackenzie says her granddaughter wants to settle down? Honestly Mam!”

 

“Well ye wouldna need to talk marriage straight away; ye could get to know her a bit over Easter. Shall I set it up?”

 

“Not in a million years! And in case ye’ve forgotten, the house only has four bedrooms - where’s this lass supposed to sleep? Or am I asking her to share my bed before we’ve even gone on a date?”

 

“Well she could have the sofa...”

 

Jamie pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration.  There might be a snowball’s chance in hell of Claire ever wanting to be with him, but he wasn’t even remotely interested in looking at another woman.

 

“Mam, I appreciate the offer, but I willna be settling down any time soon, so can we talk of something else please?”

 

He downed the rest of his drink in one gulp, hoping the burn from the whisky would dull the ache in his chest.  At that moment Ian returned and - much to Jamie’s relief -  the discussion moved to the new horses Brian had recently purchased.

 

A couple of hours later, the Manny sat alone in front of the fire.  For as long as he could remember, his path in life was clear - content in both his professional and personal life, every step forward felt like it was building towards a greater goal.  Since meeting Claire, however, he’d never been more confused.  A door to future joy had been opened and he could see everything he wanted on the other side, only he couldn’t work out how to walk thorough. Every time he though he was getting closer to puzzling it out, something would happen to make it seem further away than ever.

 

The floorboards creaked as Ian entered and Jamie greeted him with a small smile. Pouring them both a whisky, his brother-in-law settled in the chair opposite. Never one to mince words, tonight was no exception.

 

“So what’ve ye done?”

 

With a wry smile at his friend’s correct assumption that he’d cocked up in some way, Jamie explained his ill-fated plan to cook a special dinner for Claire.  How his hopes had been dashed when she announced her date with a fellow doctor and that instead of being the one to woo her next Friday night, he’d be the babysitter. Ian’s sympathetic nod turned to an eye roll and a smirk when the Manny then confessed to the shameful way he’d reacted to the news; needling Claire about introducing the man to Fergus when she hadn’t even indicated that she would. Possessive, inappropriate, jealous; in ten years of being a nanny he’d never taken a tone like that with a parent; much less a woman he had such strong feelings for.

 

“I think I’m losing it!”

 

“I assume ye apologised?”

 

“Of course, but somehow she got it in her head that my rudeness was because I was unhappy about the hours I’ve been working.”

 

“I take it ye didn’t correct her?”

 

Jamie shook his head and Ian raised his eyebrows in question.

 

“I know I should have - but how could I without telling her how I feel about her?”

 

“Would it have been the worst thing if ye had?”

 

“She’d just accepted a date with someone else, I don’t wanna be that guy

 

“Fair enough, so what happened after that? I can’t see ye coming all the way up here just because she agreed to a meal out”

 

Quiet and subdued, Jamie detailed the way Claire had reorganised her whole work schedule, reducing their interaction to ships passing in the night.

 

“I know I’m there to work, but the time we spent together...it all just felt so right. Now I’m going out of my mind missing her. What am I gonna do? I know it sounds foolish, but it really felt like maybe, there was something there for her, too?”

 

Sighing he got up to refill his drink, holding up the bottle in invitation to Ian who held his glass out in acceptance.

 

“Ye don’t think...”

 

Trailing off, Ian drummed his fingers against the arm of the chair.

 

“When did Claire accept this date?”

 

“Monday; just after I spoke to you”

 

“Hmm. Here’s a thought, maybe she only agreed to go out with the other bloke was because she thinks ye’re not interested?”

 

“Not interested? I’d do anything to spend time with her”

 

“Ye didn’t tell her that though, did ye? When she asked ye what ye were doing this weekend ye spouted some nonsense about nightclubs and implied ye love bedding random lasses!”

 

Jamie thought back to the way Claire had shut down when he’d made the off the cuff remark about going out with the other nannies. Her forced smile when he’d said he loved to meet new people. He was just babbling to cover disappointment about the museum trip but she wasn’t to know that.  

 

Oh Christ, what kind of man did she take him for?

 

He sunk back into his chair, wondering how it was possible to feel even worse than he had before.  The amount of whisky he’d drunk was making his brain fuzzy and rational thoughts harder to form.

 

“So she’s made up her mind that I’m some Lothario and decided she now wants to avoid me at all costs?”

 

“Has she though? She hired ye because she couldn’t take care of the lad with the hours she works, yet here she is bending over backwards to give you time off cos she thinks that’s what ye want.  If anything, she’s trying to make ye happy but you’ve been too busy feeling sorry for yourself to notice”

 

“Or she could be trying to create some distance because she’s not interested?”

 

“Jesus man, would ye have a listen to yourself? Ye’re as miserable as sin because someone asked Claire out when you wouldna? Ok, ye fucked up and said some things ye shouldn’t have, so what? Get your head back in the game because the Eeyore routine gets old really fast and if ye keep it up it willna be just the one date she goes on”

 

“Thanks for the tea and sympathy!”

 

“Someone needs to give it to ye straight; I hate seeing ye like this.”

 

Eyes full of concern, Ian watched as his brother-in-law, both physically and emotionally spent, dragged his palms across his face.

 

“What’s happened Jamie? It isna like you to get so thrown off kilter by something like this”

 

“I’ve spent all week trying to work it out myself and I keep coming back to the same thing”

 

“Which is?”

 

“I love her”

Chapter Text

Dawn light still weak in the sky, street sweepers whooshed along Harley Street, cleaning the gutters ahead of another bustling day in the city. Bleary-eyed, Claire unlocked the front door of her surgery and headed for her office to make a start on her paperwork.  Propping her head on her hand for just a moment, the next thing she knew someone was squeezing her shoulder.

 

“Claire, honey; are you all right?”

 

Disoriented, she looked up to see Joe hovering over her.

 

“Oh...I must’ve nodded off for a minute there”

 

Full morning light streaming through the windows, it had evidently been considerably more than a minute.

 

“It’s not like you to fall asleep at your desk, is everything ok?”

 

Knowing her friend’s ability to wheedle the truth from her even when she’d rather not give it, the doctor sighed and motioned for Joe to sit down. Beginning with the events of Monday morning, she explained how she’d been on the cusp of inviting Jamie to the museum with her and Fergus, only to chicken out at the last minute when he’d looked so utterly unimpressed by her plans. The apathy soon made sense with the Manny announcing his preferred choice of weekend activity was clubbing and meeting new people.

 

“Oh Beauchamp, I’m so sorry; you really liked him, huh?”

 

“But I never said— ”

 

“You didn’t have to; you light up like a Christmas tree whenever you get a message from him.”

 

With a sad smile she told Joe about the early morning chats she and Jamie would have over coffee, his ready smile, the shared jokes, the way his eyes would linger. How embarrassing it had then been to realise that while she was looking for someone to fall in love with, he was just looking for someone to fall into bed with.

 

“Looking back on it, I suppose I was confusing routine for romance. He was just doing his job and I was flattered enough to think the attention was something more than professional.”

 

Joe raised his eyebrows; a practical person, Dr Beauchamp was the last person to imagine affection where there was none.

 

“Anyway, I thought rather than sit and home and wallow, I should probably get out and make an effort with a real person not just a fantasy”

 

Anticipating her friend’s reaction to what she was about to say, she looked away; inspecting the leaves of the rubber plant on her desk.

 

“...And that’s why I accepted a date with Nigel”

 

“Nigel Blakeney?! Please tell me you’re kidding?”

 

“I don’t see what the problem is? We’re both medical professionals, both based in south-west London...”

 

“Are you describing a prospective partner or reading his LinkedIn profile?”

 

“He mightn’t be the most exciting man, but all that sweep you off your feet stuff is for teenagers and women who watch daytime soaps, of which I am neither.”

 

Joe rolled his eyes, thinking her justification sounded a little too rehearsed.

 

“It still doesn’t explain why you fell asleep at your desk?”

 

Claire sighed, of all the things to happen, this was the part she regretted the outcome of the most.

 

“Jamie didn’t react too well to the news of my date; I didn’t think it through and asked him to babysit Fergus.”

 

“He’s your manny, I don’t see how it’s that unreasonable?”

 

The doctor then related how aggrieved Jamie was at being asked to do extra hours on a Friday night, after regularly sacrificing his own social life and staying back well beyond the hours he was originally hired to work.

 

“He seemed so upset about the whole thing I was worried he was going to resign. Fergus would be absolutely devastated to lose him so I’ve been coming in early so I can finish early and give Jamie the evenings off”

 

“You’re going to wear yourself out burning the candle at both ends like that.”

 

“All that matters is that Fergus is happy. If that means I need to shoulder more of the load, so be it.”

 

Knowing her proclivity to work herself to the bone, Joe was far from convinced at the merits of such a plan.

 

“The whole point of hiring someone was so that they could help you; why are you the one doing all of the heavy lifting?  What’s really going on here?”

 

Claire ran her fingers though her hair, exasperated.

 

“It’s Jamie.”

 

Night after night the doctor had come home from work exhausted, trying her best to muster cheerfulness when telling the Manny he could leave early.  Only instead of thanks, she was met with sullenness. Arms hanging limply at his side and sparkle from his eyes gone; the resentment over his working conditions clearly ran a lot deeper than she’d imagined. After such a promising start, it was a bitter disappointment.

 

Not even a morose manny however, was able to dampen Claire’s eager anticipation for taking Fergus to the Natural History museum on Saturday. Deciding to conceal the real purpose of their outing until they arrived, she told told him they were headed out to buy groceries.  Butterflies beat their wings in her stomach as they alighted the Tube at South Kensington station. Would Fergus enjoy the surprise?

 

A short walk later, the large terracotta tiled building loomed before them. Watching Fergus take it all in a moment, the doctor then crouched down beside him, revealing with a smile that they were off to see the dinosaurs.  Squealing with delight he wrapped his little arms around Claire, almost toppling her over in his excitement. A warmth spreading through her body, she hugged him back.

 

Hand-in-hand they explored with museum with their tour group.  As it was conducted in French, Claire couldn’t understand most of it; but it didn’t matter. Fergus’ wide-eyed enthusiasm more than made up for any language barrier; his oohs and aahs echoing through the exhibition halls as they saw everything from the menacing teeth of the T-rex to the towering skeleton of the Brontosaurus. 

 

Afterwards they enjoyed lunch at a nearby cafe. In a mix of French and English, Fergus reeled off facts about all the creatures they’d seen, pausing only for a slurp of chocolate milkshake. Nodding along, Claire watched him with wonderment. Was this really the same boy who’d come to live with her only a few months ago? Gone was the slumped posture and down-turned mouth, replaced with bright smiles and bubbly enthusiasm. Pausing his story, Fergus leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

 

“What was that for?” the doctor asked, undeniably pleased.

 

“Thank you for taking me to meet the dinosaurs Maman Claire

 

All choked up, she pulled him close before he could see the tears welling in her eyes.

 

“You’re welcome, my darling”

___

Feeling invigorated from her successful weekend, Claire hoped the same would be true of Jamie.  Despite the bruise to her heart it occasioned, she crossed her fingers — for Fergus’ sake at least — that the Scot’s night out with the girls from the agency had proved the tonic he needed for his dour moods.

 

Punctual as ever, at 6.30am she heard his key in the lock.  Already wearing her coat, Claire slung her bag over her shoulder and prepared to leave; fully expecting any interaction with Jamie to be brief and monosyllabic.  

 

“Good morning!”

 

A radiant glow about him, the Manny couldn’t have looked more different from the ill-tempered man who’d left on Friday night. Brandishing a cardboard tray with two coffees, he proffered the doctor one with a smile.

 

“I know you’re about to head off, so I got ye this to take with you”

 

Unsure how to interpret this abrupt change in demeanour, Claire thanked Jamie and accepted the coffee.  He was looking at her in a most peculiar way and she was about to ask if she had lipstick on her teeth when he jumped in with a question of his own.

 

“How was your trip to the museum with Fergus? Did ye have a good time?”

 

If the coffee was unexpected, this was even more so.  As she described their day out, he listened with rapt attention, a soft expression on his face.

 

“Sound like it went flawlessly; such a wonderful thing ye did for the lad”

 

He paused, swallowing slowly.

 

“I want ye to know how proud of you I am, Sassenach”

 

Only then did she notice how close they were standing. Head dipping so it was almost level with her own, Jamie briefly wet his lips with his tongue as his eyes swept across her face.  Self-conscious both from the praise and at being in his personal space, Claire stepped back.

 

“I’d better get going, I have an early consultation”

 

The Manny smiled and nodded, watching her intently as she left the room.

 

If the events of the morning were hard to puzzle out, those of the evening were even more so.  The doctor arrived home just after 5pm to a mouth-watering aroma of spices wafting through the house. In the kitchen Jamie and Fergus were set up by the stove, the latter - wearing laboratory-style goggles - giggling madly as the Manny dropped small thumb-sized wafers into a pan.  Spotting her, the lad motioned excitedly for her to join them.

 

“We’re making prawn crackers; look, look!”

 

The oil sizzling and bubbling, Jamie dropped in another one and in only a few seconds the semi-transparent wafer transformed into a white puffy cracker. Amidst a cheer from Fergus, the Scot carefully lifted it out of the pan and onto a sheet of paper towel, where a dozen or so already rested.

 

“These will keep for a couple of hours, so you’ll be able to have them alongside your dinner”

 

Jamie then lifted the lid on other pans, revealing sweet and sour pork, various sautéed vegetables and a mountain of fluffy rice. 

 

“I hope ye like it; I made enough to take for lunch tomorrow if you wanted? I’ll just finish this up and then I can get out of your hair.”

 

Turning towards her, the Manny cleared his throat.

 

“Or I can stay to help with Fergus’ bath, if you’d like?”

 

At his gentle words, a weight lifted from the doctor’s shoulders and she smiled with relief.

 

“Thank you, that would be wonderful”

 

For the remainder of the week the Manny continued to be helpful and attentive, quickly resuming his previous working hours.  Claire was definitely pleased, especially for Fergus, but couldn’t help pondering what had changed. Given his transformation had occurred after the weekend a little voice in the back of her head wondered - Is the return to his good mood because he met someone? The thought alone produced a burning sensation in the pit of her stomach, so she pushed it to the back of her mind; focusing instead on her upcoming date.

 

Despite telling Nigel him she’d be happy with a pub meal and good conversation, he insisted on making reservations at a fancy restaurant in Mayfair; occasioning Claire to get much more dressed up than she’d originally envisaged.  Friday night and fussing over her wardrobe, she eventually settled on a figure-hugging sleeveless black dress; making her feel like Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Hair usually confined to a tight bun for work, she opted to wear it out; chocolate curls cascading around her shoulders. Deciding to go all out, she completed the look with a pair of sapphire blue satin Manolo Blahniks.

 

A firm believer in the dictum feelings follow behaviour, Claire had hoped that in accepting a date with someone else it would lessen her desire for Jamie. Had his put-upon and resentful demeanour from the previous week continued, it just might have, but the Manny was back to his charming, funny and kindhearted self; making him more attractive than ever.  Applying her makeup, Claire’s mind drifted to what it would be like to instead be readying herself for a date with Jamie.  He’d have some fun but unexpected activity planned, like kayaking down the Thames followed by a picnic on the riverbank.  Closing her eyes she pictured them drinking cider and feeding each other strawberries in the sunshine. She let out a sigh, there really was no use in pining for something that would never be. Taking a calming breath to clear her mind, she spritzed on some perfume and resolved to not think of Jamie as anything more than Fergus’ Manny.

 

With Nigel due to pick her up in fifteen minutes, the doctor nervously paced the living room. Fresh from his bath, Fergus entered the room clutching a bag of Maltesers.

 

“We’re watching movies!” He declared happily, holding up the chocolates. Then, with some seriousness he tugged on her hand, adding: “Vous êtes trés belle ce soir”

 

“Who looks very beautiful tonight?”  asked the Manny, overhearing the lad’s comment as he entered with two cups of hot cocoa. Stopping abruptly, his posture stiffened, causing the warm milk to slop all over the front of his shirt.  Cursing under his breath he asked Fergus to dash to the kitchen for some paper towels.  Rather than being embarrassed at his clumsiness however, Jamie barely seemed to notice, eyes openly roving up and down Claire’s body.

 

“Sassenach...ye look breathtaking.”

 

Skin tingling under his intense gaze, the doctor blushed.

 

“You think so? Hopefully I don’t look too much like mutton dressed as lamb”

 

“Ye— what? Why would ye ever think that?”

 

He put down the half-empty mugs and stepped closer, tracing the air around her head.

 

“Ye look so different with your hair all undone” he glanced down at her heels  “And so much taller; I’ve still got you covered though”

 

His soft smile made Claire’s heart swell.  Biting her bottom lip, she looked up into his deep blue eyes, quite unsure how to reply.  Before she could say anything, Fergus returned with the paper towels, tutting like a mother hen as he helped Jamie clean his shirt. Both adults smirked watching him, all three floating in a bubble of familial domesticity. It only lasted a few seconds, the loud buzz of the doorbell breaking the spell. Nigel had arrived.

Chapter Text

On paper, Dr Nigel Blakeney should have been a good match for Claire.  Mid-forties and educated at Cambridge, he started his career as an emergency room surgeon before specialising and becoming an anaesthetist. With light brown hair and glacial blue eyes, he was meticulous about his appearance and outside of his surgical scrubs was always impeccably dressed; usually in bespoke suits from Saville Row.

 

Over the years they’d worked together, he’d asked Claire out several times, but suspecting the attraction was more about what she represented than who she was as a person, she always declined. Nevertheless, unrequited feelings are a powerful motivator and believing that the adoration she felt for Jamie would never be returned, the doctor had at last accepted Nigel’s invitation for dinner.

 

With much less excitement that she ought to feel, Claire made her way to the front door to greet her date. Smoothing her dress, she took a fortifying breath and opened the door. 

 

“Hi Nigel”

 

Grinning like a game show host, he presented her with a large bouquet of red roses.

 

“Beautiful roses for a beautiful English rose”

 

Cringing at the cheesy line, Claire smiled and accepted the flowers, ushering Nigel inside.  She hadn’t been planning on introducing him to Fergus but when he insisted on picking her up rather than meeting at the restaurant, against her better judgement she agreed to a brief hello.

 

In the living room, Jamie and Fergus were settled on the couch, laughing and chatting in rapid-fire French as they watched a film.  Upon the doctors entering, the conversation stopped abruptly; two pairs of eyes immediately glued to the stranger.  Trying her best to ignore the knot of nerves that had taken up residence in her stomach, Claire presented Dr Blakeney to her son.  

Clearly even more unaccustomed to children than she had been when Fergus first arrived, Nigel gave the lad a pat on the head as though he were a well-behaved dog.  Wincing at the faux-pas, Claire saw Jamie roll his eyes, but eager to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible, she pressed on:

 

“And this is Jamie; our nanny”

 

Where Fergus had remained seated on the couch, the Manny stood, drawing up to his full 6’4” height before holding out a hand to Claire’s markedly shorter date. With a smile that bordered on a sneer, Nigel shook it, glancing contemptuously at Jamie’s cocoa covered t-shirt.  His triumph was short lived; soon grimacing as the Scot crushed his hand in an iron-like grip.  Air thick with testosterone, Claire watched uncomfortably as the two stared each other down.

 

“Perhaps we’d better get going, Nigel?”

 

Nodding, her date put his arm around her waist; boney fingers settling on her hip. At this Jamie made a slight choking sound, then picked up Claire’s coat.

 

“You’ll want to wear this Sassenach, it’s pretty chilly tonight”

 

He moved to put it over her shoulders, forcing Dr Blakeney to remove his hand. Eyes narrowing, Nigel yanked the garment away from Jamie. 

 

“Allow me, Claire”

 

Tone smug, he smirked at the Manny, who grunted with annoyance.

 

Not at all interested in whatever ridiculous display of machismo was going on between the Jamie and her date, Claire grabbed the coat.

 

“I’m perfectly capable of dressing myself, thank you!”

 

Looking anywhere but at each other, both men stood silent at the doctor’s admonishment.

 

“I’ll just put these flowers in water and then we’ll be off”

 

“I’m sure Jamie can do that for you” Nigel simpered. “Be a good chap and go fetch a vase for Dr Beauchamp, hmm?”

 

Taking the roses from Claire, he thrust them towards the Manny.  Teeth clenched, Jamie reluctantly accepted the bouquet and headed towards the kitchen in search of a vase. Judging from his glowering expression, Claire suspected that what he really wanted to do, however, was feed them down the waste-disposal unit.  Embarrassed at her date’s condescending behaviour and wanting to throttle Jamie for being so unnecessarily territorial, the doctor ushered Nigel out of the house.

 

Lit with chandeliers and lavishly decorated, The Hanoverian was the kind of venue more suited to a marriage proposal than a first date. The dozen or so tables were adorned with crisp white linen and gleaming silvery cutlery, paired with high-backed velvet chairs.  Seeing to diners’ every need a cadre of waiters glided about, moving so smoothly one could almost believe they were floating. 

 

Claire hoped that now it was just the two of them Nigel would relax a little and they could enjoy getting to know one another. Ordering an expensive bottle of champagne he proposed a toast to their first date and as they chatted about people they both knew by professional acquaintance, the evening began to look up.  Tucking into their entrees the doctor attempted to steer the conversation towards more interesting topics but it appeared Nigel had other ideas; talking at length about articles he’d recently read in industry journals.  On and on he droned about the cover story from the latest Lancet, so seldom pausing that it seemed more like he was giving a lecture at a medical conference rather than conversing with his date at what was supposed to be a romantic dinner.

 

The minutes crawled by and Claire became convinced her last trip to the dentist — when she’d had a root canal — had been more enjoyable. Granted a brief reprieve when Nigel excused himself to use the bathroom, she whipped out her phone to check her messages; hoping to find one advising of a not-too-serious emergency that required her to immediately come home.  No such luck, the only SMS was from Joe who having predicted the outcome of her date, had sent the snoozing emoji. 

 

Resting her chin on her hand, she reflected on what a mistake it had been to accept a date with Nigel in the first place. He wasn’t exactly the most animated person at work, but she’d assumed that was just him being a dedicated professional, not because he was in the running to be crowned dullest man in England.  Her plan to get over Jamie by going out with someone else had blown up in her face spectacularly and after an evening of struggling to stay awake it just made her more aware than ever that if she couldn’t be with the Manny, then she didn’t want to be with anyone.   

 

Half an hour later Claire was in a cab home.  Saying their goodbyes Nigel had leaned in to kiss her goodnight but she’d shimmied sideways to avoid his mouth meeting hers; his cold, thin lips landing on her cheek instead. Even that small contact alone had made her squirm and she was exceedingly grateful that a taxi had pulled up immediately afterwards, saving her from any awkward we should do this again-type conversation. 

 

The front door clicking shut behind her, Claire braced herself against it and kicked off her heels, sighing with relief.  The comfort of home, knowing Jamie and Fergus dwelt within, brought a calmness that had been absent from the moment she’d left for dinner. In the living room the Manny leaned against the mantlepiece, mind seemingly far away as he stared into the fire with a thousand-yard stare.  As the room’s only light source, the flames cast a red glow across everything, illuminating Jamie’s russet locks and making them appear as though they burned like the logs in the hearth.  Standing in the darkened doorframe, the doctor was able to watch him a few moments unobserved. Wistfully admiring his strong, muscular form, she wanted nothing more than to rest her head against his chest and breathe him in. 

 

“Sassenach!”

 

Given her relatively early return home, his surprise was understandable.  As she walked into the room he looked cautiously over her shoulder and Claire couldn’t help but smirk.

 

“I’m alone if that’s what you were wondering?”

 

Jamie looked like he wanted to deny it, but realising he’d been caught out, the sides of his mouth turned up slightly as he rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously.  

 

“How was the movie night?”

 

“Good; we missed you though. In fact Fergus has already informed me we’re doing it again next week so clear your schedule”

 

Emotion swelled as she pictured a night of playing happy families with Jamie and her boy; the three of them cuddling together on the couch.  So eager for this idea, however fanciful, she almost pulled the Scot into an embrace for even suggesting it, but controlling herself she folded her arms instead.

 

“Claire?”

 

Adopting a serious expression, the Manny gently cupped her shoulders; his warm fingers a sharp contrast to Dr Blakeney’s corpse-like digits.

 

“I wanted to apologise about earlier, I probably could have been a bit nicer...and definitely less of an arse. I’m sorry”

 

“I can’t say Nigel was exactly putting his best foot forward either. But it’s all right, I know you were only looking out for Fergus. It’s nice to know he’s got someone like you in his corner.”

 

Brow furrowed, Jamie drummed his nails against the mantle piece as he collected his thoughts.

 

“It wasn’t just about protecting the lad. I wanted to protect you, too.”  

 

He paused, biting his bottom lip. 

 

“I know he can afford to take you to fancy restaurants and buy you expensive flowers, but you deserve so much more than a by-the-numbers attempt at romance.  He’s all wrong for you.”

 

The doctor smiled; touched that Jamie’s kind heart would extend to looking out for a parent of a child in his care.

 

“Well none of us need worry about that, there’s not going to be a second date”

 

The Manny looked absurdly pleased at the news, then realising this meant Claire hadn’t had a good evening, tempered his response.

 

“I’m sorry to hear that; the man’s even more of a fool than I thought if that’s the case.  Did you...did you want to talk about it?”

 

“Actually what I really need is a glass of wine.  Don’t suppose you’d fancy one?”

 

Jamie’s surprise had Claire’s confidence wavering and she was on the brink of retracting the offer when he broke into a broad grin.  Smiling back, she headed to the kitchen to fetch a bottle and corkscrew.

 

Something about the gentle crackling and popping of the fire encouraged intimacy, so despite the living room providing several seating configurations, it felt right for them both to settle on the same couch.  Claire poured the wine when they were both seated, necessitating leaning close to prevent any spills.  Knees softly touching, she felt no inclination to move away and was pleased to see Jamie seemed content to stay where he was, too.  Swirling the burgundy liquid in his glass before taking a generous sip; the Scot’s eyes widened as the rich flavour filled his mouth.

 

“Jesus that’s good! What’s this one?”

 

“Pinot Noir, it’s dry and acidic; like me” Claire deadpanned with a twinkle in her eye.  The Manny smirked, running his tongue over his bottom lip as he held her gaze in such a way that made her blush.

 

“And what sort of wine would I be?”

 

“Hmmm...a moscato I think; sparkling and sweet

 

“That’s not very manly. Are there no wines that are braw and heroic?”

 

“That’s how you see yourself is it?”

 

“Isn’t that how you see me?” he said with a cheeky smile that had Claire giggling.

 

One bottle easily turned into a second and then a third, the conversation flowing just as freely.  Everything from Fergus-related anecdotes to favourite movies and music, to most embarrassing moments of their youth. In short, perfect first date conversation but without any of the pressure and expectations that accompany it.  With each refill the discussion became more animated, points emphasised with touch a well as words. A playful shove, squeezing a foot, fingers gently trailing down an arm; unconsciously moving closer with no attempt at retreat.  The sound of Jamie’s laugher filled Claire’s chest with happiness and tipsy from both the wine as well as the close proximity to him, she felt flirtatious and free. Eyes frequently drawn to his mouth, an overwhelming urge to kiss him radiated though every bone in her body.  

 

Why did I even consider dating Nigel when what I want is right in front of me?

 

The answer stopped her short.  Dr Blakeney for all his faults had actually asked her out. He’d shown an interest; whereas Jamie had made it clear that he was looking elsewhere - both in the type of women and the kind of relationship.  The sweet wine suddenly tasted bitter as all the previous feelings of embarrassment - amplified this time by the alcohol - crashed over her like a heavy wave in a rough sea.  Claire took stock of how they were seated: Jamie’s arm around her shoulders, her hand resting on his upper thigh and their faces only inches apart.  What am I doing? Cringing as she decided she must be coming across as some kind of desperate Mrs Robinson she pulled back; depositing her wine glass on the coffee table with a loud clunk.

 

“Sassenach? Are ye all right?”

 

On wobbly legs she stood, head spinning.

 

“I ah...I think I’ve had too much to drink. I need to get some water”

 

“Here let me go, ye—“

 

“It’s fine” she said a little too forcefully.

 

In the kitchen Claire splashed water on her face, catching sight of her reflection in the window and narrowing her eyes to try and examine crows feet that weren’t even there.  Struggling to think clearly, thoughts she did form were disjointed and increasingly maudlin.  Jamie entered the room, hovering cautiously by the door.

 

“Is everything all right? Have I done something to upset ye?”

 

The doctor shook her head to try and clear it, using her thumbs to wipe underneath her eyes where her mascara had begun to smudge.

 

“I’m just tired. It’s probably best we call it a night”

 

Jamie looked crestfallen but nodded and collected his things.  Standing at the front door together, Claire turned towards him.

 

“I’ll make sure you’re paid overtime, I’m sorry to have kept you here so long.”

 

“What are ye—  I’m here because I want to be and up until five minutes ago we were having a great time.  Well I thought we were?”

 

Slowly as though not to startle her, Jamie’s fingers encircled her wrist, gently running his thumb backwards and forwards across the inside.

 

“What is it Sassenach? Why would ye ever think I wouldn’t want to be here?”

 

“I know this isn’t your ideal night out. You don’t need to humour me just because you’re Fergus’ nanny”

 

The Scot stepped back, running his hands roughly through his hair.

 

“This is about what I said the other week isn’t it? About going to a nightclub?”

 

Unable to meet his eye, Claire fiddled with her bracelet.  The Manny let out an exasperated grunt.

 

“I made it up”

 

“Pardon?”

 

Gripping the doctor’s shoulders, he looked her square in the face.

 

“I hate nightclubs and havena set foot in one in years. I told ye I was going because I’m a fucking idiot and don’t think before I speak.  But please believe me when I tell ye that if I had the choice of doing anything  - on any night of the week -  it’d be to spend time with you”

 

If she was sober, Claire would have asked Jamie what he’d meant; but the hour was late and the alcohol had shut down the analytical part of her brain. All that remained was instinct.  Heartbeat drumming loudly in her ears, her eyes fluttered closed and she pushed up on her toes; pressing her lips to his. Initial surprise gave way to desire as the Scot swayed forwards, opening his mouth to hers on a sigh. Anxiety melting away, Claire slowly wound her arms around Jamie’s neck, inhaling his heady scent and tasting the wine on his tongue.  

 

When they pulled back Jamie was watching her intently, cat-like eyes almost black in the dim light of the hallway. Was he about to suggest staying the night? His strong body above her as he pressed deep inside was something she craved on a visceral level and she let out a little sigh at the mere thought of it.  Drunk enough not to be thinking about the consequences she put her hand on his chest, splaying her fingers in invitation. For a moment neither of them moved, the only sound a far off siren from the busy city beyond. 

 

“Sassenach, I...”

 

Trailing off, Jamie cradled her face in his palms and placed a soft lingering kiss on her lips.  Then, with a small smile and a nod he opened the front door and departed into the cold London night, leaving Claire stunned and confused. 

 

Stumbling upstairs she changed for bed, making a perfunctory attempt at wiping off her makeup and drinking a glass of water before crawling under the duvet. Dizziness made her head feel like it was spinning even when motionless on the pillow; fragments of thoughts and sensations blurring together in the darkness. On the cusp of unconsciousness her phone beeped with an incoming message and she squinted to see who it was from. Jamie.

 

Sleep well beautiful lass xx

 

Fairly certain she’d just been rejected, her tired eyes filled with tears. Too exhausted to wipe them away she stayed staring at her phone until her vision blurred, eventually slipping into a dreamless sleep.