Jamie races towards the noise, a scuffle and yelps coming from an alley nearby. He comes upon a stocky man dressed in dark clothes who is pawing at Claire, simultaneously trying to yank her purse away from her and put his hands on her breasts. Claire is valiantly kicking out at the man who is a head shorter than her, while attempting to scratch the man’s eyes out.
Jamie sees red. His Viking berserker heritage kicks in and he charges into the fray, arms swinging. He is not so far gone that he does not protect Claire from the blows he administers. His Sassenach stumbles further down the alley, cowering. Jamie delivers strong uppercut punches to the man’s stomach, until he is laid flat on the dirty pavement gasping for air. He slams his fist one more time into the attacker’s face, knocking him unconscious.
He thinks quickly if he should phone the police, but when he glimpses Claire trembling against the rough brick wall, all thoughts except her are erased. Jamie approaches slowly, hands extended, making sure she understands he means her no harm.
Claire sees Jamie, backlit and tiptoeing towards her, and know she is safe now. She pushes away from the dingy wall and hurls herself into his arms, finally letting the adrenaline surge through her and leave relief and tears in its wake. Jamie holds her carefully, unsure if she is hurt, but making soft shushing noises and stroking her neck.
“Mo nighean donn, ye’re alright. Dinna fear, dinna fash. I’m here.” His breath makes white clouds in the air; she sobs unabashedly into his shirt, clutching him wildly. He leads her away from the alley, making sure her attacker is out for the count. He surreptitiously dials Willie Coulter and gives brief instructions on where to find the piece of shit. Willie can make it go away—it’s what he does, and he’s good at his job.
“Your hands.” Claire speaks for the first time in the whole ordeal, and it’s to notice that he is slightly injured. She doesn’t question what he was doing on that street in the first place.
Jamie glances down at his knuckles; they’re only a bit cut and bloodied. “I think that’s mostly not my blood. Dinna mind that now, Sassenach. I’ll call a company car. Would ye have me take ye home, or anywhere else? Do ye want me to walk ye back to the hospital? Where is Geillis?”
“No, no, I—she was going to her parents’ for dinner. I’m fine, really, he didn’t… I mean, he couldn’t—” Her voice broke and her hands were clenched into fists.
Jamie pulls off his own coat and drapes it over her shivering shoulders. “Sassenach, are ye alright? I do think the hospital might—”
“No, please, I just don’t want to be alone right now.”
“My flat’s nearby. Is that alright?”
His coat on her is huge and all-encompassing, with its scratchy wool surface but warm inner lining; it smells of Jamie and she burrows deeper into it, while its owner has his arm around her and then she starts shaking uncontrollably.
“Sassenach, what’s wrong? What can I do?” Jamie’s voice is anxious.
“I-I-I—I’m going into shock.” Her voice is strangely detached and she observes her hands tremble uncontrollably. She has the most unholy urge to laugh, to whoop and cackle until the lead weight in her stomach dissolves and she can feel like herself again.
“We’re here, mo nighean donn. Let me help you out.”
The walk up to his flat was a lopsided, heavy-footed affair, with Jamie propping her up as she continued to shiver and small giggles burst from her mouth. Jamie eyes her oddly, but chooses (wisely) not to comment.
Inside, Jamie practically carries her to the plushest couch, a grey suede behemoth that is cold beneath her scrub-clad legs. He pours her a generous helping of whisky, neat, and presses the cut glass tumbler into her hands. “Here, drink this. It should help.” He hisses suddenly and pulls away, the scraped skin of his knuckles stinging.
“Do you have a first-aid kit?” Claire tries to stand, but Jamie places a hand on her shoulder gently. “Let me see that.”
“’Tis nothing. I’ll wash my hands at the sink. They willna spoil for the keeping. I’ll put the kettle on for tea. Do ye need anything else?” When she shakes her head, he smiles briefly and goes to the kitchen, flipping lights on as he goes.
Claire takes in the ambience of his flat—dark colors, from wood to drapes to upholstery, seemingly sterile and almost unlived in. Like a flat for realtor showings, nothing seems quite real or ideal. There are striking geometric prints on the walls, but nothing that speaks of a home.
When he returns, Jamie senses her trepidation and shrugs apologetically. “I’m no’ really here much. I spend most of my time at the office.”
“So what were you doing… there? At the hospital?” Claire asks, unwilling to remember just yet what transpired in that alley but realizing Jamie had to have been there for her, wanting to hear the words from his lips.
He rucks up the back of his hair abashedly, suddenly finding his wingtips very interesting. “I think ye can guess. I was hoping to see ye, mo nighean donn.”
“That’s lovely,” she says, remembering his note.
“Lovely? That I’m obviously stalking ye outside yer workplace?” Jamie frowns playfully.
“No,” Claire responds softly, “the other bit. The one about me being your brown-haired girl. In Gaelic.”
“Och, aye.” Now Jamie’s face flares bright red to match his hair. “My parents made sure Jenny and I were fluent. It was important to them that we… I meant every word.” The silence that befalls this declaration is interrupted by the kettle’s shrill whistle. “Tea. I’ll go. Stay, please.”
Claire nods and watches him step into the kitchen. Standing, the coat now forgotten on the couch, she wanders around the flat, hoping he won’t mind; it’s not like she’s intruding in his very bedroom. She is thinking of his hands—his very strong, capable, injured hands, that saved her earlier. Maybe he has a first-aid kit somewhere; she will ask and insist he let her tend to him.
There is a tinkling of crockery coming from the kitchen, noise of cupboards opening and closing, Jamie humming off-key. She is glad she doesn’t have to be alone. Claire peruses the mahogany bookshelf, still clutching the whisky. She takes note of the books displayed there, wishing she had more time to devote to reading. She traces a finger over the spines and stops when the glint of glass catches her eye. There’s something tucked behind the books.
Before she can think of what she’s doing, she reaches behind the stack of hardcovers and paperbacks and pulls out a picture frame. At first, her brain doesn’t quite register what she’s seeing; it’s all just a blur of white and black, but then she can clearly define red hair and a shorter head of blonde locks. Claire starts shaking violently again; her heart slams in her throat and she’s afraid she might vomit.
It’s Jamie’s wedding picture.