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"The Man"

Frank had taken everything from her and reaped none of the consequences.  The stack of rejection letters on the counter was staring at her out of the corner of her eye, sprawled on top of a trashy tabloid featuring headlines about some supermodel with Leo in Saint-Tropez.  She could feel the letters taunting her. She could feel him taunting her.  How was it possible that every residency program in New York had rejected her? She knew Frank was a powerful man, but damn. Frank Randall was not a man you wanted to cross.

Graduation was three days away.  Claire should have been celebrating; all her final exams were finished, papers turned in,  and there was nothing left to do but reflect on what a waste it all was.  She needed a distraction.  She considered texting Jamie, but he was probably helping on his family farm--it was almost impossible to get a hold of him on weekdays. She decided to text Jo instead: “coffee?”

“Always. I can meet you in about a half hour”

“See you there”

Jo Abernathy was Claire’s best friend and former roommate.  Luckily, they had both ended up living on Long Island.  Jo had gotten a job teaching Social Studies there before they even finished their master’s degree and lived in a funky little apartment above a bar in Northport Village. Claire was still “living the suburban dream” in the house her and Frank had bought together--the only thing he hadn’t taken from her.  It was a bland, spacious, new build with perfect everything--it was a perfect nightmare is what it was.  The walls were still unpainted, stark white, and cold.  Most of the rooms weren’t furnished yet and the ones that were were lacking in decor.  She wasn’t planning on moving out until she decided on a residency program, but that wasn’t an option anymore and she didn’t know what to do.  What did he have to gain keeping her trapped in this prison when he wanted nothing to do with her? What was his end game? Did he really get such a thrill out of torturing her? Fucking sadist. Of course Frank was suffering exactly none of the fallout from the demise of their relationship.  If anything, it garnered him sympathy and gave everyone an excuse to see him as human and love him all the more for it.  When everyone believes you, what’s that like? She shook her head, questioning how much of this she deserved for what she did.  Claire grabbed her keys and headed out to meet Jo.


Jo was already seated with two lattes in front of them when Claire arrived at their favorite coffee shop, The Cozy Teacup.  An expert at reading Claire’s glass face, they immediately asked “Ok, who do I need to stab?” upon her arrival. 

Claire couldn’t help but smirk at her dearest friend’s overprotective attitude. “I think you already know. I got my last rejection letter today”, her throat catching on the second sentence. She couldn’t continue any further.  Luckily, Jo had a tendency to like the sound of their own voice and all but interrupted her.

“Oh Lady Jane, I’m so sorry.  You don’t deserve that at all.  Urgh, that asshole! That prick! That… man. ” Claire was glad the coffee shop was crowded at this lunch hour and no one seemed to notice her friend’s enthusiastic rant.  "Why are men?  You know, I think this is part of the reason why I’m nonbinary.  I mean I don’t fully identify as a woman, but I definitely can’t identify as a man.  Men are trash.   The goddamn patriarchy. I swear.  You know.  Frank or not, not one of those school’s would’ve rejected you if you were a man.”

This was exactly what Claire needed from her friend, a pep-talk-slash-rant against the patriarchy. She loved it when Jo got fired up; it was honestly inspiring how they could always live their truth regardless of what everyone else thought.  So unlike herself, whose life was constantly dictated by what everyone else thought of her.  Jo made a compelling point too-- if I were a man they’d say I played the field before I found someone to commit to, and that would be ok--every conquest I had made would make me more of a boss.  Jo’s inspiring speech was turning Claire’s sense of dejection into righteous anger directed not only at Frank, but the patriarchy as a whole.

“Yeah! I’m so sick of running as fast as I can wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man!” she declared. Gosh Jo was a good hype-man, hype-person , she mentally corrected herself. She had learned a lot about preferred pronouns in the years of knowing Jo, but she still got tripped up on certain colloquialisms--luckily Jo was always gracious even when she made these mistakes out loud. 

“Claire, if you were a man you’d be the man, and as it stands you are the woman, woah, man!”

Claire couldn’t help but giggle at her friend’s manner of speaking. They were always a little much, and usually it was just what Claire needed when she was down. Their knack for pointing to the larger societal issues at play helped her to keep grounded and to realize that she was not at fault.  This particular case wasn’t dismissed so easily though; the shame she felt still gnawed at something deep within her. Even if it was the patriarchy’s fault, it was her fault too.

“This is really bothering you, huh LJ?” Claire nodded sheepishly. Damn my glass face.   “I’m so sick of him coming at me again.”

“It’s ok to be mad,” Jo affirmed, reaching over to stroke Claire’s forearm in an attempt to bring some comfort.  “So, what are we going to do about it? Let’s brainstorm the next move.  What is it you really want, Claire?”

Over the next hour and a half, Jo helped Claire untangle what she really wanted: to prove everyone wrong. For everyone to say she’d hustled and put in the work.  This was decided amid quips from Jo about how easy it was for men to get these things: “They’re painting you out to be bad--for men it’s all good if you're bad”, “If you were out flashing your dollars you’d be a bitch not a baller.”  They determined that Claire would spend the next year padding her resume, not only working her job as a school nurse, but volunteering in hospitals and clinics as well as any other community service projects that came her way.  When the time came, she would apply to all the best residency programs in the country.  Without Frank tying her down in New York, she could go anywhere. She tried to push out the little voice in her head that kept whispering, ‘What about Jamie?’ as she dreamed about being a strong, independent woman at the top of her game.  Not one half of a power couple--just Claire: complex, cool, fearless Claire full of good ideas and power moves. They would toast to her successes, not the rock on her finger.  She knew she could do it.  Frank may have placed success just out of her reach, but she knew where to get a step ladder.

Chapter Text

 YNTCD

Claire awoke in Jamie’s bed early on Saturday morning.  It was graduation day, but she was definitely not walking the stage.  Still laying on her side, she picked up her phone off the nightstand and began mindlessly scrolling Facebook, stopping at a collection of photos from an end of semester happy hour the night before.  Frank was there as well as several of their mutual friends.  Were they still friends? Probably not anymore, who knows if they ever were.  Claire tapped from the photos posted by Gillian to the tag that took her to Frank’s profile.  She scrolled down his feed to see if there were any new updates. Other than the pictures, it was the same barely cryptic statuses that were clearly throwing shade her way to anyone that knew.  In a tweet? That’s a cop-out. Taking shots at me like it's Patrón, she mused to herself, recalling the pictures from the night before. Claire began swiping through Frank’s photos going back further and further.  Her and Frank in front of the house with the “sold” sign in the yard.  A candid picture she took of Frank in a coffee shop one day.  Brilliant, smiling faces of them and their friends all dressed up at their New Year’s Eve party--many of the people pictured in the photos from last night. Frank proudly standing with his arm around her, Claire beaming and angling her hand just so a few days after they got engaged.  Claire was so engrossed in these images she didn’t realize Jamie had awoken behind her.  He leaned over to plant a kiss on that spot just behind her ear, pausing when he saw what she was looking at, “Damn Sassenach, it’s seven AM for Chrissakes” he hissed.

Claire’s face flushed immediately. She had been caught.  She didn’t even know why she was doing what she was doing, but she felt ashamed, defensive, embarrassed, and justified all at once.  She swiped out of her Facebook app instantly but it was too late.  He had seen and the damage had been done. She couldn’t speak, she didn’t have any good excuses, and she definitely couldn’t turn to look at Jamie. She set the phone back down on the nightstand and burrowed her curly head under the pillow trying to avoid his gaze.  She couldn’t see his face, but she knew Jamie was watching her intently waiting for an explanation.

“Hey, are you ok? I dinna mean to snap at ye Claire, It’s just early and I dinna expect to see ye looking at pictures of your ex after what I thought was such a satisfying night. Am I not good enough for ye Claire?”  His tone started gentle and caring, but his veins were pulsing with jealous rage and his voice got more angry and frantic as he continued.  “Look at me, Claire!”

Claire didn’t like being told what to do, especially not with the newfound feminist energy Jo had ignited in her.  She hoisted herself out from her cocoon, and sprang up to face him. “I don’t have to do what you tell me to. You need, to calm down, you’re being too loud!”

  He made a distinctly Scottish noise--“Hmpph. That’s not what ye said last night Sassenach” he growled.  He couldn’t help flirting with her even in his anger. She looked so bonny, bare-breasted with her curls splayed every which way, the fire of her anger alight in her whiskey eyes--frightening and sexy at the same time.

Claire wasn’t amused by his quip, or by the tone of voice in which he said it, “you need to just stop, like can you just not? I don’t like it one bit!”

“Not what, Claire? Not want ye only for myself? Not feel jealous seeing pictures of that rat bastard with his smug grin and his arm around ye to be the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning? You do belong to me, whether ye like it or not. Why are you mad? I’m the only one allowed to be mad, Claire! Yer mine, damn ye Claire! Mine, and I wilna share ye, with a man or a memory or anything whatsoever”

Her glass face broke before his eyes as he raised his voice louder.  Her anger had turned to something fragile, something Jamie was afraid he would break.  Even still, she spoke softly, but confidently, “I don’t belong to you or anyone, I’m my own person. You need to just take several seats” She glanced away from him, trying to keep her composure.  

Controlling his urge to scream, he replied “I know that, that’s not what I meant.  I ain’t trying to mess with who you are or your self expression, I mean that I am yours just as much as you are mine”

Damn, he’s good , thought Claire as she met his gaze again.  His passion, even when directed towards anger, was still sexy. 

“Claire, I see you over there on the internet all the time, this isn’t the first time you’ve done this is it?”

She nodded in agreement, embarrassed, but somehow she felt safe admitting it to Jamie.  She was beginning to realize just how much he truly cared about her.  As strange as it seemed, through this small fight, their relationship was moving from simply mutual, passionate attraction to something deeper.  It might have been there all along beyond the urges of the flesh, but she was just now truly seeing it.  It was exciting and terrifying all at the same time. 

“Listen, I’ve learned a lesson that stressing and obsessing about somebody else is no fun.” Jamie disclosed, trying to restore the peace. “He’s not worth your time if he let a girl like you go on the drop of a hat like that.” This made Claire wince internally, hoping he didn’t see, there was more to it than that.  He didn’t seem to notice and continued, “What we have is like sunshine, but you act like you would rather be in the dark.”  He reached for her arm, caressing it gently. 

“You’ve figured me out.  You’re right, I don’t know why I keep checking on him. I guess I’m hoping I’ll find out something horrible has happened to him; but I promise, only you have me.”

“I mean to have you Claire, I am your master and you are mine. It seems I cannot possess your soul without losing my own.”  Both of Jamie’s hands were on Claire’s arms now, gripping her more firmly now. They were drawing closer to each other, the passion of their anger still surging in their veins. “I want you Claire, I want you so much I can scarcely breathe. Will you have me?” 

“Yes.”

Their lips met with a fervour unlike any they had experienced before, hands caressing everywhere. Claire moaned into Jamie’s mouth as his hand cupped her breast, stroking her nipple vigorously with his palm.  His lips moved to her neck, that spot behind her ear that made her giggle and squeak.  He was ravenous, consuming her flesh with his lips, making his way down to her other breast, sucking her nipple as he ran his tongue around it, willing all sorts of noises to emit from her mouth.  She was straddling him, grinding against him, feeling his wanting against her in just the right spot. She thrust her hands into his boxer briefs, tugging at his hips to bring them even closer.  He responded in kind, slipping his hands into the lace waistband her cotton panties and grabbing that arse he loved so much.  He moved one hand around to her front and started stroking her most sensitive area and slipped a finger inside her.  “Oh, Jamie” she moaned as she began to ease his waistband down.  She allowed herself to let him go for a moment, releasing him to remove his underwear, as she did the same.  As soon as they were fully exposed to one another, she was on top of him again.  She moved herself up and down his length, feeling him rub against her, igniting a euphoric sensation in her core. When neither of them could take it anymore he slipped inside her, and she took him in to the hilt, riding him almost violently.  All the anger and shame she had felt moments ago had transformed into a primal lust unleashed on him. He responded in kind, kissing her vigorously across breasts, neck and shoulders until she shoved him back on the bed to gain a better angle.  Pushing her hand to his chest for leverage, she rode him harder than she’d ever ridden anyone before--not even the vibrator she used to experiment with in college. She could see he was close, his face contorting as he resisted the urge to finish before her. 

“Sassenach, you’ll be the death of me” he groaned.

“Just a little more, Jamie” she panted, just before crying out, “Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh”. Seeing her satisfied, he allowed himself to finish as well.  Claire gently detached from him and collapsed beside him, breathless, resting on his chest, hair sprawled across him.

“Oh Sassenach, ye keep that up and I’m liable to pick fights with you more often” he sighed.

“You better watch out before you start something you can’t finish” she quipped in response.  

Jamie simply made a Scottish noise in reply, staring at the ceiling stroking her hair, wondering if he had, in fact, done just that.

Chapter Text

CruelSummer

The end of May passed into the heat of June and July and eventually into August while Claire and Jamie continued to live blissfully in their breakable heaven.  The end of June brought the end of school, which meant Claire’s summer furlough from being a school nurse and plenty of free time to spend with Jamie.  Unfortunately, Jamie spent much of the long summer days working on his family’s farms, but the nights were theirs.  Claire spent most of her days sleeping and most of her nights sneaking out to see Jamie. She often left late to avoid the ever watchful eye of her next-door neighbor Laoghaire.  Laoghaire was recently divorced and had been on a couple of dates with Jamie earlier that year.  Claire was thankful for that, because she may have never met Jamie otherwise, but Laoghaire was the neighborhood busybody and would be more than interested to know about their blooming relationship. 

            Jamie had agreed to keep their relationship a secret until Claire was ready.  He understood why she would want to keep things under wraps.  Frank had so recently broken off their engagement, it wouldn’t have been tactful to rush into something new so quickly.  People were bound to talk, especially in their sorts of circles.  No, it was better kept in the quiet of the night. However, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, inside and out and it was killing him slowly not to shout it from the rooftops. I don’t want to keep secrets just to keep you. In spite of the fact that they always texted prior to their late night rendezvous, he found himself staring out the window of his apartment above his sister’s detached garage.  Even on nights they didn’t have plans, he’d find himself at the window always waiting for her to be waiting below. They’d never even been able to have a proper date.  He decided he needed to remedy that. He pulled out his phone to Google the perfect place. After some time, he located an establishment, but he found he was nervous to ask her.  He felt like a school boy asking his date to prom.  Devil’s roll the dice, angels roll their eyes, he mused, texting Claire: “Sassenach, I ken we’re trying to keep this thing we have under wraps, but I wanna take ya on a proper date. I found a wee pub on the other side of the island where I think we’ll be safe. I thought we could get a room for the night since it’s so far out. What d’ya think?”

            “Really? I’d love to”

            “Pick you up at 10?”

            “Cut the headlights when you turn onto my street, and don’t park in the driveway, I’ll sneak out through the garden gate and meet you at the curb.”

            “Curbside service coming to ya at 10 o’clock sharp madame.”

            “:) can’t wait”

----------

            “The World’s End” in Montauk was a bit of a dive bar, but clean, and had an old-world charm akin to the pubs of the British Isles.  Claire could see why Jamie chose this place.  As a bonus, it definitely was not the kind of place Frank and the NYU crowd would frequent, which made Claire feel at ease. There were more than several groups of locals there, but it was by no means packed as Jamie and Claire made their way to the bar.   In the glow of an old fashioned cigarette vending machine, Jamie hung his head towards Claire “I’m sorry it’s not a nicer place Sassenach, if I could I’d take you to a nice restaurant, but there’s only so many places that are open at this hour, ya ken?”

            “It’s cool. I like it. We can just be us here.” she assured him.  He looked up, grinning like the devil at her response.

            Jamie ordered them whiskeys, citing his expertise as a Scotsman to get the best kind.

“Well aren’t you fancy?” quipped Claire.

“You know that I bought it” he replied in sarcastic arrogance. 

They found a cozy booth and sat on the same side, like any new couple so infatuated with each other they had to always be touching.  The shape of their body’s fitting together just right.  Jamie was in a fever dream high just from being in such close proximity to her in public.  He was finally free to flirt with her in public, there were no rules here about keeping distance or pretending not to notice each other across the room. They were simply Jamie and Claire, Claire and Jamie.  He put his arm around her pulling her close and kissing her curls.  “I’m so happy to be with you like this, Sassenach.”

            “Me too.” she replied, looking up at him with those whisky eyes, “I know it’s a cruel summer for you, but--”

            “I understand, I’m not dying.” he interjected, “besides, what doesn’t kill me makes me want you more”

            “Oh is that so? Take me out in public and you already can’t wait to get me in private” she quipped, barely stifling a flirtatious giggle.

            “Who says we have to be in private” he insinuated, raising an eyebrow before kissing her behind the ear.

            “Jamie! You bad bad boy!” she shrieked, giggling uncontrollably. They were both several whiskeys in and Claire, who was not used to hard liquor was a bit more than tipsy.

            Jamie pulled out his phone, making it obvious to Claire that he was opening the Uber app, “Perhaps, it’s time we get out of here, if ye want”

            “Oh yeah, you’re right I want it” she purred in his ear.

----------

            Claire had caught it--feelings, fever, perhaps love? Whatever you wanted to call it, she had it bad for Jamie.  Even in her whiskey-induced fog, she knew she was getting in too deep. Damn this feeling I’ve got she thought to herself. This wasn’t just a summer fling anymore.  Suddenly, summer felt like a knife waiting to cut her to the bone.  How could she live without him after he went back home?  It wasn’t supposed to be like this, they weren’t supposed to discuss things like feelings and distance, certainly not the “L” word.  It seemed she had sealed her fate by spending so much time sneaking around with him. Between the whisky and her feelings Claire’s head was swirling in the back of the Uber. Her glass face revealed something was awry to Jamie, concerned he asked “Claire, is something amiss?”  Determined not to screw it up in these trying times, Claire decided not to tell him how she felt. If I bleed you’ll be the last to know.  

She said “I’m fine” but it wasn’t true and tears filled her eyes.  The next thing she knew she was crying like a baby into Jamie’s chest, his arms wrapped protectively around her.

“Dinna fash mo chride, much, mo naoidheachan, much” he soothed. Claire didn’t understand a word he was saying, but it helped assuage her tears. He hoped now that she was settled down he could learn the truth of what was bothering her.  “Claire, mo chride, what is it? You can tell me, it’s ok”

She felt so safe there in his arms, so able to be vulnerable that she suddenly couldn’t help but pour her heart out to him.  In a voice louder than it needed to be in the back of the Uber, Claire exclaimed, “For whatever it’s worth, I love you. Ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?”

Chapter Text

TheArcher

            His heart was fit to burst hearing those words escape her beautiful lips. “Oh God. Oh Claire. Quite the opposite, mo chirde.” Jamie was holding her so tightly to his chest as if she were the most precious thing in the world--and to him, she was. He kissed her head softly.  “Claire, that’s wonderful to hear mo nighean donn. I’ve loved you nearly as long as I’ve known you, mo chirde.” 

            Their Uber arrived at their hotel moments later. Jamie allowed himself to let go of his love in order to awkwardly disembark from the Uber.  He had a moment of pity for the Uber driver and made a mental note to over tip him--but that was vastly overshadowed by the warm feeling in his heart that spread through his whole body.  He slipped his arm back around her and drew her close as they entered the hotel and checked in. 

            A small part of Claire felt she should disclose to Jamie that their relationship was doomed, but the whiskey flowing through her was making her feel warm and blissful wrapped in his arms--wrapped in their mutual love, she couldn’t bring herself to do it that night. Help me hold onto you, she prayed, casting out any thoughts of the past or the future.  Here and now there was only her and Jamie, and they were in love.

            They fell into bed together in a blur of passion and whiskey.  The room was on fire. Jamie poured his newly confessed love into her--mind, body, and soul--and she responded in kind. Gentle kisses and caresses, brushes of lips on flesh, hands clasped in the heat of the moment--they savored each other as if time didn’t exist and they could live wrapped in the soft hotel duvet for eternity.  Once their passion was spent, Claire quickly succumbed to the final effect of the whiskey, falling asleep nestled in Jamie’s arms, cheek resting on his strong torso.  Jamie lied awake, softly stroking her hair, too thrilled to sleep. 

            Jamie had never felt this way before about anyone.  He’d dated other women, made love to them, even thought he’d loved them, but he’d always ended up breaking it off.  He humbly knew he was attractive to most women--especially in The States where his accent gave him an added exotic charm, but he always felt like they just wanted him as a status symbol--someone who looked good in their Instagram pictures, someone that they could gush over with their friends. Easy they come, easy they go--but not her. Claire had a knack for letting him know he was attractive without making him feel objectified. Claire saw him for him, it was like she could see right through him, down to the core of his being.  Everything with her felt natural, like he had been born to love and serve her. He’d been worried it was too good to be true.  A woman had certainly never wanted to hide him away to herself before and he didn’t know what to think of that.  He’d understood her reasons from a rational standpoint, but there was a gnawing, doubting fear in the back of his mind that it was because she didn’t really care for him enough to let her friends know.  Who could ever leave me, darling? But who could stay.  Jamie had always been the archer in the relationship, the one who brought the fatal blow to end things before they went too far, but with Claire he knew he was the prey. He was completely vulnerable to her and whatever she wanted to do to him.  In those foggy moments between consciousness before sleep finally took him with her he thought to himself, if you ever left all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put me together again.

----------

            Claire woke in the night--she had always had trouble sleeping late in an unfamiliar bed and the knot in her stomach wasn’t helping.  She had a plan for her future, and it didn’t involve falling in love with a Scotsman who lived clear across the ocean for most of the year. She wasn’t used to facing relational problems head-on, she much preferred to ride off alone and avoid conflict.  That was what had gotten her into this mess in the first place, wasn’t it? If she had been closer to home she would have left him a note and left without a trace.  She had to end it though--they were in deeper than she wanted to be and she didn’t need any distractions at this critical time in her life.  If she wanted to rebuild her life, her career, herself as an independent woman out of the rubble Frank had left her in she needed to be clear-headed and focus, not some lovesick teenage girl. I say I don’t want that--but what if I do?

            She paced like a ghost in predawn hours, going over a hundred thrown-out speeches in her head. The room felt like it was filled with invisible smoke. Why did she have to tell him she loved him last night? Damn the whiskey, fucking Scottish truth serum. She realized she would have to tell him in the car, otherwise it would be a very awkward drive home--if he was even willing to drive her home at that point. She tried to imagine how he would react, convincing herself he would turn nasty and irrational like Frank would. She searched for his dark side, lying to herself that he wouldn’t take it well and she would be justified.  Cruelty wins in the movies, maybe it would create just the right amount of drama she would need to unleash his inner darkness and allow her to let him go. 

            She laid back down in bed beside him so as not to prematurely cause alarm, she had to set her glass face and pretend everything was normal. She couldn’t help thinking what if I’m alright, right, right, right here?  She faced away from him as light began to creep into the room, waiting for him to awake, trying not to think of how painful her life was about to become.  It was bad enough that all of her enemies started out friends, her potential career was in shambles, and now she was about to let go of one of the only things that made sense.  She knew she couldn’t keep him though.  She knew what she wanted and she’d be cutting off her nose just to spite her face--then, she’d hate her reflection for years and years.  No, she had to do this now, like tearing off a band-aid.  It would hurt like hell, but in the end she had to focus on what was best for her, she couldn’t give up on her dreams, she couldn’t let Frank win. As she heard Jamie start to stir behind her she steeled herself for a morning of pretending everything was fine, draping herself in an emotional armor that would have to sustain her for the next few hours. Combat, I’m ready for combat.

Chapter Text

FalseGod

            Claire managed to somewhat keep it together all morning as they picked up their discarded clothes scattered about the room, grabbed a quick breakfast and got on the road.  Jamie, of course, noticed the look on her face shortly after waking.  When he inquired, she blamed a hangover (which wasn’t entirely a lie) and assured him she would be fine. She would not be fine, and neither would he, she suspected.  He seemed so chipper, so alive, like he was ready to conquer the world.  She knew she was a terrible person to do this to him, but if she didn’t do it now it would be so much worse for the both of them later.  She decided to tell him when they were about a half hour from her house. That way, if he left her on the side of the road--which she wouldn’t blame him for--she’d be close enough to call Jo to come pick her up. She had made sure her phone was charged the night before if that was to be the case.

 For the first stretch of her trip, she remained quiet, still blaming the hangover and staring out the window as Jamie talked about Scotland and England and all the places he’d love to take her and people he wanted to introduce her to there.  She tuned out most of what he was saying.  She couldn’t bear dreaming with him, and needing to mentally rehearse what she would say when the time came.  She watched the road ahead of her, trying to focus on the movement of the car instead of the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.  Eventually, the time came--she couldn’t put it off any longer.

“Jamie, we were crazy to think that this could work” she blurted out, more abruptly than she had intended.

“I know Claire, but we might just get away with this, it’s going great so far--”

“No Jamie, I mean, this isn’t going to work.  We can’t keep seeing each other like this, and what’s going to happen when you leave?”

“Have you not been listening to me for the past hour? Remember how I said I’d fly ta ya? What are you doing Claire?”

“We were stupid to jump in with an ocean separating us.  We can’t just fly back and forth whenever we feel like it.  It’s not realistic.  We’re living in a fantasy world, Jamie. We’re living in a dream and it’s time to wake up to reality.”

“Claire, I--”

“No, let me finish.  I know I’ve had a setback in my career, but I still want to be a doctor.  I’m not going to be able to spend any time with you when I do eventually start my residency, whether you fly here or not.  It’s not fair to you or me.  It’s not fair to you that I keep you away from your family.  It’s not fair to you that you have to sneak around and lose sleep on my account.  I’m doing this for you, believe it or not.”

Jamie’s hands gripped the steering wheel, turning his knuckles white, his jaw tightened and his face felt hot as something within him broke. “Claire, how could ye possibly be doing this for me when it isna what I want at all?” He reached for her, knowing it would be easier to talk to her if they touched.

Claire stared out the passenger window, arms crossed across her chest, shrinking herself as far away as she could. “Don’t touch me.” she hissed.  She knew she couldn’t do this if they touched, she’d be lost in him again, it was taking all her resolve to say her piece.

Jamie, ever the gentlemen, knew even something as small as a touch on the shoulder was something that needed consent, and reluctantly put his hand back on the steering wheel. “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this, staring out the window like I’m not your favorite.  God dammit Claire, it’s hell when I fight with you.”  He felt so frustrated, he couldn’t understand how less than twenty-four hours ago she confessed her love to him and now she was doing this. “This canna possibly be what you really want.  We belong together, we were meant to meet Claire, we were meant to be together. Ya really wanna leave?  Go ahead, try and leave me, try and tell me honestly that’s what you really want.”  He thought if he could scare her maybe she’d come to her senses and change her mind.

The tears were flowing freely from Claire's eyes now.  “Yes.” she said quietly.  “Jamie, I’m New York City, you’re the English countryside, we don’t belong together, we don’t fit together.  If this was meant to be we’d be on the same path, and we’re just not.”

You’re not New York City, you’re my Sassenach, you don’t belong to any place, that’s what I love about you, you just belong with me. Jamie thought to himself. “Claire, I can’t let you go that easy.  I love you so much, I’d die for you Claire.  If you want me to fly to you every week, I will, I swear to it, tell me what to do Claire.”

Claire’s resolve was weakening, he wasn’t supposed to keep loving her, to keep worshipping her as if she were worthy of his love. She only had one thing left to say, the confession she hoped she wouldn’t have to share. The last thing she wanted to ever tell him, but the thing that might finally make him leave.  “I’m not what you think I am Jamie.  I lied to you!”

“What are you talking about?”

“That first night we were together, I told you Frank broke up with me… he didn’t. I didn’t even talk to him. I used you.  I wanted you, I wanted to piss Frank off--I was bored and lonely and horny and I lied to you to get my way.  That’s the type of person I am, I’m not this wonderful person you’ve made me out to be.”

All he could do in reply was grunt a Scottish noise of disapproval. Her confession ignited a livid fire in him, he didn’t know what to feel or how to respond.  He would never have consented to sleeping with her that night knowing she still belonged to Frank. God, she was engaged to him for heaven’s sake. How could she let him do that, knowing how he felt about the situation. He had been under her spell, completely captivated by her, and he didn’t know if he fully regretted it. The final minutes of their car ride continued in heated silence. The air in the car was thick with something that felt like it would ignite and burn up fast if either of them uttered a word. 

Jamie dropped Claire off at the end of her street as she had requested earlier, she grabbed her weekender bag from the backseat and softly said “Goodbye, Jamie” before shutting the door, not daring herself to look at him as she did. She walked to her house as quickly as she could and collapsed to the ground sobbing as soon as she was inside her door. She knew it was for the best, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.

----------

            Jamie drove away from her, glancing one last time at her figure in the rearview mirror in spite of himself.  He felt betrayed, upset, confused and aimless. Above all, he felt heartbroken. They had warned him about times like these--his father, his Godfather, even his brother-in-law.  “When you fall in love”, they said, “the road gets hard and you get lost in it” and Jamie was just now figuring out what they meant.  He had been following her with blind faith, doing anything she asked without a thought, sneaking around--even allowing her to cheat with him, albeit unknowingly. He was still too eager, too willing. How could he forgive himself for that?  How could he allow a woman to consume him so deeply, body, mind and soul? Worst of all, who was he without her, now that she had walked away?

He found himself pulling into the parking lot of a Catholic church.  He didn’t attend weekly anymore, nor did his family.  “The Lord kens how difficult it is ta get seven bairns dressed and ready for church and the Lord kens how much we love him.” his sister Jenny would say.  He knew he didn’t need the church building to love and worship God. He also recognized that the Roman Catholic Church was as flawed and marred by sin as the worst sinner, but he still found something comforting and spiritual about visiting. Something about the waxy smell of candles and the glow the stained glass cast on the cold marble interior, made him feel like he was connected to something ancient and holy, something bigger than himself--and in this moment he needed something bigger than himself to help him make sense of this situation. He dipped his hand in the font and crossed himself as he entered, strode to the pews, and genuflected before taking a seat in the middle of the empty church.  He rested his forehead on his clasped hands, elbows resting on the back of the pew in front of him, ready to speak to the only one who could listen.  The one who knew him best and could help him sort through all the raw emotions that weighed so heavily on him in this moment.

He allowed the tears he’d been holding back to flow freely as he prayed: Lord, please have mercy on my soul for I am a sinner. I thought that you had made her for me, I selfishly thought that we were meant to be together. I tried to be good, I tried to respect and honor her. With her I knew heaven was a thing, I went there when I touched her. Lord, I confess I coveted my neighbor’s wife--well, fiancée if we’re being technical about it--but you of course know these things. I beg you for forgiveness for that, and I’m afraid I am guilty of a bit more than just coveting. Please forgive me for the sins I did not know I was committing.  Lord, if you did not make her for me, please, please, take my desire for her from me, I beg of you.  I fear even if she is a false god that I am still sorely tempted to worship this love.  However, Lord, if you did in fact make her for me, and me for her, as I believe you are good enough to do, please Lord, bring her back to me.  Heal her wounds and bring her back to me, I swear to you I’ll care for her, honor her and never let her leave me again.  I’ll do whatever it takes Lord, please, just free me from this pain I feel.  It’s too much to bear without her.

Chapter Text

MAatHP

The late September air kissed Claire’s cheeks bringing a lively flush to her face as she wrapped her blue and yellow fleece blanket tighter around her shoulders. It was Friday night and the homecoming game was in full swing. She had chosen a spot in the upper corner of the bleachers where the crowd was thinner.  Being the school nurse, Claire was a member of the school faculty, and expected to be present for at least one of the weekend’s festivities.  It was much better to be a little cold at the game then chaperoning the dance the following evening.  No thank you, she did not need to see her beloved students grinding against each other like animals. 

Claire would never forget the first time she chaperoned a school dance and saw Mary Hawkins attached at the mouth to some gangly, acne-ridden boy on the dance floor. Sweet, innocent Mary Hawkins, a stammering girl who visited her office at least twice a week for her inhaler when an anxiety attack caused her asthma to flare up.  Who knew she could hold her breath for that long? Claire had just stood there on the sidelines, revolted but unable to look away.  Eventually, Jo noticed and stepped in “No PDA at School functions!! Don’t make me call your parents, Alex” The mortified couple simultaneously turned a shade of red Claire wasn’t sure she’d ever seen before and separated as if they were spring-loaded. “Boys will be boys then, but where are the wise men?” was Jo’s aside as they returned to Claire’s side. 

Claire wished Jo was here now, but unfortunately they had a weekly D&D commitment on Friday nights that simply could not be missed.  She didn’t really wish Jo was there, she wished somebody was there.  Someone that could warm not only her chilled body, but her chilled heart. She tried to conjure up Frank in her mind, his arm around her, explaining the nuances of the game, but she had to admit to herself that Frank wasn’t the one who could warm her to the core. That's what got her into this mess in the first place though. You play stupid games you win stupid prizes, she thought to herself. She tried to shake the thoughts from her head and focus on the game, hoping the cold would numb her heart the way it numbed her nose. It would be easier if she understood American football, her very-English-indeed father had never enjoyed the sport the way her friends’ fathers did growing up, and Uncle Lamb had certainly never taken an interest in it. All she really knew is that the Wildcats were losing and the crowd around her was starting to look dejected. As she scanned their faces her eyes caught on russet curls in the bleachers below her, several rows down in the center was Jamie. Even from the back he was unmistakably recognizable, his large frame filling out the sherpa lined jacket he was wearing, effortlessly unbuttoned despite the chill in the air. He seemed to be with a woman and a group of children and young teens, at least two of the smaller ones were running up and down the bleachers. Probably his sister, she assured herself—she hadn’t met Jenny but she knew she had several children.

She counted days, she counted miles but now to see him there brought everything she had been trying to forget back in a rush. Her face felt even more flushed than before and something deep in her heart stirred awake.  She stared at him voyeuristically--simultaneously willing him to turn around to catch her eye and hoping he wouldn’t see her. Surrounded by canoodling teenagers she thought to herself, you know I adore you; I’m crazier for you than I was at sixteen for anybody.  It was like she was lost in a film scene, waving homecoming queens, the marching band playing and those Friday night lights.  Halftime had started and she hadn’t even noticed until Jamie arose from his seat and started heading up the bleacher steps.  She tried to watch him from the corner of her eye.  He looked exactly the same, yet different somehow, like the spark was missing from him. We’re so sad we paint the town blue she mused to herself.  She knew she had hurt him, but it was better to do so in the short run than string him along.  As a nurse, she knew the benefits of ripping a bandage off quickly.  She averted her eyes down as he passed; the stairs were far enough from where she was sitting that she hoped he wouldn’t notice, and he didn’t seem to as he continued up to the concession stand.  She released a breath she didn’t realize she was holding and was left with her head hung as she tried to come up with an escape plan. 

----------

“Claire?” that rolling Scottish way he said her name interrupted—no—obliterated her thoughts.  She looked up at those blue eyes, filled with the same concern and heartbreak as they had been a month ago. 

“Hi, Jamie! Fancy seeing you here!” She tried to sound casual.  Do I sound casual? Fancy seeing you here? Who says that?  Her heart was beating so loud it was difficult to tell.  His arms were full of nachos, hot dogs and drinks and though he looked confident in his balancing act, it seemed like he might lose an item at any minute.

 “Erm... do you need a hand with that?” She spoke without thinking. What are you doing Beauchamp? This is exactly the opposite of keeping your distance.

“Aye, that’d be… helpful” She grabbed a flimsy cardboard tray of hotdogs loaded with various toppings from him before he dropped it. “Thanks, Claire”.  The way he said her name made her feel like the hormonal teenage girls they were surrounded by, all fluttery and silly.  There was nothing she could do but to follow him down the bleacher steps with the tray of hot dogs and a cup of what smelled like hot cocoa she had also grabbed from him a moment before. 

“Here we are” He distributed the food to the various children, saying each one’s name and order as he did.  Claire couldn’t really remember any of the names he said and just stood there, mouth gaping slightly as he reached for the objects in her hands.  Once her hands were empty, she stood there awkwardly.  “Ye’re welcome to join us, Claire” he said, patting the cold metal bench beside him.  She gave an awkward smile and proceeded to sit, unable to say no to him when she said her name in that way that made her knees feel like they were made of jelly.  “Everyone this is my friend, Claire—Claire, this is everyone.” There were slight waves and smiles but ‘everyone’ was mostly concerned with their snacks and didn’t pay much notice to the stranger with the dark curls sitting beside their uncle.

Only Jenny, at the far end of a row of children, was polite enough to call down “Pleased to meet you, Claire, I’m Jenny, Jamie’s big sister” Claire smiled sheepishly and waved down to her end.

After a few moments of awkward silence Claire asked, “so what brings you to our fine academic institution’s homecoming game?”

“My nephew Ian, number 13” he said, gesturing towards the field. “We tried to get him to play footie--soccer as they say here, but Ian’s always marched to the beat of his own drum.  He seems to be verra good at assimilating to the American way.”

“I see” affirmed Claire, admiring the way Jamie spoke of his family. God, he was so perfect. Too perfect for me—no one like him deserves an adulterous hussy with a trail of broken men behind her. No, he’s better off without me—but he’s so close.  She could feel the heat radiating off his body towards her.  Whatever that spark she felt between them when they first met was still very much there.  He was just as tense as she was, she could tell, his arm opposite her was drumming a steady beat on his thigh.  She wished so desperately that she could read his mind.

The two boys beside Jamie had finished their hot dogs and had started climbing underneath the bleachers.  They seemed to be testing the boundaries of what was safe, but weren’t going higher than they should.  Jenny kept a watchful eye on them and Jamie was alert to them as well. 

“Sassenach, you ken what I’ve heard about American teenagers” he spoke softly, close to her ear so only she could hear him.  It made the fine hairs on her neck stand and gave her the sensation of something stirring deep within her.

“What American stories have you been hearing?” she giggled, trying to imagine the insight she was about to gain.

“I heard... that they go underneath these bleachers and make out.” he rasped, his voice feigning concern.

“Shocking. What is this world coming to?” She gestured as if she were clutching an imaginary string of pearls.  Flirting with him came so effortlessly, as it had since the very beginning and she couldn’t bring herself to stop.

“See those bleachers o’er there, Sassenach?” she nodded as he gestured to the opposing team’s bleachers across the field.  “If I were an American teen, I would bring a lassie underneath those bleachers—much quieter you ken, than with these wee monkeys crawling about.”

“I see” she smirked and raised an eyebrow, daring herself to get lost in those blue eyes.

“You know, as a member of the faculty of this school, isna it your responsibility to check to see the teens aren’t doing anything… unsavory?”

“I suppose it might be part of my job description.” she was wondering where this flirty banter was headed.  She felt alive again for the first time in the month since she had seen him last.

“I must admit, I have to use the facilities, perhaps you should see to that while I’m gone.” He was sure to catch her eye as she said it, blinking like an owl in a pathetic attempt to wink at her. His meaning was clear though.

He arose and announced to his family he had to use the toilet and he might leave from there and meet them at home.  The team was losing disastrously, the other team was full of brutes and the Wildcats were left battered and bruising.  The cheerleaders were a collection of depressed damsels, and the crowd was already starting to thin, so this came as no surprise to anyone as Jamie took his leave.

So there Claire was—left alone with a decision to make.  She was feeling so many things at once, a little scared, a bit apprehensive, but mostly excited.  She couldn’t go back to him though, it wouldn’t work.  She knew he was leaving soon and she was determined to achieve her goals and prove to everyone who she really could be without any distractions.  If she was ever going to restore her reputation, she had to stay far away from him.  She had to tell him to stay away.  And now the storm is coming she thought to herself as she set herself to march over there and tell him off again.

----------

It was quiet under the bleachers.  Claire didn’t see Jamie at first, shadowed under the bleachers.  “I was beginning to think ya wouldn’t come, Sassanach”. The familiar nickname captured her heart again, making her feel weak, losing her resolve.  Jamie closed the distance between them in three strides.  “I took the liberty of checking for teenagers for ye, the coast is clear.  Now as for the making out part…” He lifted her chin and their eyes met. Claire’s knees felt like they were made of sand and would dissolve at any moment. Her pulse quickened and her breath became shaky. There he was, burning before her, asking permission with those goddamn gorgeous blue eyes and she was feeling helpless. 

“Jamie. I...” She couldn’t look at him. She turned, the scoreboard momentarily lighting her face and ran for her life.

He caught her arm gently but firmly moments later. “No, you dinna get to run away again without hearing me out. It’s you and me. There’s nothing like this.” he was practically growling at her.  Claire sensed something deep and primal in his voice and her lip started to quiver.

Eyes fixed on the ground she spoke as boldly as she could through her quivering vocal cords, “I’m a bad, bad girl. I’m no good for you.  I’ve done so many horrible things. You are the only one that seems to care about me, but you should know that it’s not worth it.” the tears were starting to flow freely now as she sobbed, “Just let me go.”

“No, I don’t want you to go.  I dinna really wanna fight either because nobody’s gonna win, but I’ll fight you if I must, Claire, I’ll fight for you, for us ‘cause I know this is a fight that someday we’re gonna win, and I’ll never let you go.” Jamie was huffing with exasperation and passion. “I just thought you should know. It’s you and me. That’s my whole world”

Claire’s knees couldn’t hold her up anymore, she collapsed on the ground, a sobbing mess.  How could he still love her after all she did? I don’t deserve this. I came here to break it off and now I’m likely to run away with you. He was on his knees too now, facing her, rubbing her back gently, waiting patiently for her to compose herself. She was finally able to glance up at him through puffy, tear-stained eyes.  “Darling, I’m scared.”

Chapter Text

afterglow

            Jamie’s heart was still aching a month after Claire left him. However, his pride kept him from reaching out to her. The truth is, he’d forgiven everything she’d done and everything she could do long before that day. For him, that was no choice. That was falling in love. He threw himself into his work on the farm and his family. Helping Jenny with meals, driving the children to various practices and scout meetings, helping Ian with the unending harvest September brought.

            On this particular Friday evening, Jamie found himself at his nephew Ian’s homecoming game. He tried to pay attention to the game, but he really couldn’t wrap his head around the complexities of American football. It was so stop-and-go--what exactly was a ‘down’? It reminded him of battle maps of the Rising he’d seen in a history textbook when he was in high school in Scotland. Naturally, his thoughts drifted to Claire. As the cold September air wrapped around him, he felt it was fitting. His heart had been cold, frozen without Claire’s light and love for the past month. He could have buttoned his jacket, but what was the point of feeling warm?

            He didn’t even realize it was half time, until he heard the marching band start playing.  Everything around him was bright and alive, he felt like an island, detached from his surroundings, drifting in the waves. In truth he’d been living like an island all month. He decided to get some snacks to distract himself. He hadn’t sat like this without a distraction all month. At least with Kitty’s soccer games he could focus on the game. Here, where the game was an enigma to him, he needed a task to deter his restless mind. 

            “I’m going to go get something to eat, anyone want anything?” he asked his family.  A barrage of orders came at him from his nieces and nephews, and he recited them back--intentionally messing up their orders (much to their amusement) before correcting himself and making his way up the bleachers.

            It was on his way back down that he spotted an unmistakable mop of curly brown hair and almost dropped the snacks he just shelled out twelve American dollars for. Sassenach. His heartbeat immediately picked up to match the beat of the marching band. God, she was beautiful, but she looked so fragile there, cold and alone, head down, wearing a muted blue grey jacket that seemed to match the air around her. He suddenly realized how stupid he’d been all month to ignore her. He’d punished her with silence. How many times had he typed a text to her only to erase it without pressing send? How many times had he pulled up her contact but couldn’t press the call button? Now seeing her like this, she looked so utterly broken. It was excruciating to see her so low. Had his own pride allowed him to do this to her? I blew things out of proportion now you’re blue. He wanted to wrap her up until he saw that beautiful spark light up her face again. He just wanted to lift her up and not let her go. Before he knew it he was beside her, “Claire?”

            “Hi Jamie, fancy seeing you here!” He had no idea how to reply, it was as if he had gone mute. He just stared into those whiskey eyes that looked so full of sorrow. He almost started to reach out to her, forgetting the concessions he was holding. Luckily, she offered to help him carry them and before he knew it they were headed down the bleachers together.

            When she agreed to sit with him his heart was soaring. If simply sitting next to her was all he could have for the rest of his life, it would be enough. I don’t wanna lose this with you. They were actually able to talk and even flirt a bit as she tried to watch the game, but his eyes couldn’t leave her. He felt so comfortable with her, they just seemed to fit together effortlessly. She was so close he could smell her shampoo, something herbal that he couldn’t quite pin down. It wasn’t fruity or overpoweringly floral like some women he had met in his life--it suited her. Having her there, inches from her made him feel bold. He formulated a plan in his head to get her alone, he needed to be closer to her, but not with his entire family right there.

            ----------

            He had ended his bold, flirtatious exchange by winking to make it abundantly clear what he was asking her. She had seemed responsive. Her face lit up like it had so many times over the summer they shared. He was starting to sweat despite the chill in the air pacing underneath the away team’s bleachers as he waited for her. How long should he wait? What if she wasn’t coming? What if she saw this opportunity to leave again? It’s all me, Claire, just don’t go, please, come to me mo nighean donn.

            After what seemed like an eternity, she came to him. He heard her feet soft on the gravel, approaching him in the dark. He saw his opportunity, and met her, taking her in his arms as soon as he could, ready to take her mouth as he had imagined so many times in the past month.  How many times had he imagined kissing her again? How many times had he tried to recreate their last night together—conjuring the thought of pinning her hands behind her back and making love to her in the soft light of their hotel bed.  He wished he had committed every moment to memory, not knowing it could have been their last. None of that mattered now, his Sassenach had returned to his arms--but just like that, she was gone again running away--but he wouldn’t let her go this time. Don’t walk away. He pulled her back and set her straight. Poor, beautiful, broken, Claire collapsed before him. He sat with her, trying to calm and comfort her, when she could speak, she confessed she was afraid. 

            “Claire, there now, what are you scared of?”

            “I don’t wanna--I don’t wanna do this to you” she sobbed, choking out the words.

            “Claire, what are you talking about?” he could see the pain on her face and he needed to explain, needed to say his piece. “I’m to blame Claire, I see your pain, I should’ve come after you, I shouldn’t have let you leave.”

            “He, it’s all me, in my head. I’m the one who burned us down. I just tried to leave you again, but it’s not what I meant. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know if we can put this back together. I don’t know what’s going to happen to us.”

            “Is this it? Chemistry ‘til it blows up, ‘til there’s no us? Is that what you want?” He placed his thumb under her chin, lifting her head so their eyes could meet. She didn’t look away. “Claire, please just tell me what you want.” Tell me that I’m all you want.

            “I--I don’t know what I want. I thought I did, but now--” she paused. Jamie could tell she was thinking, and let her mind work as he stared into her beautiful amber eyes. Claire could see her pain reflected in his own eyes. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him a month ago in the car, she knew now if she had she would have seen it then too.  He was just as broken as she was. Why’d I have to break what I love so much? Her tears started flowing freely again. “Oh Jamie, I put you in jail for something you didn’t do. I’m sorry that I hurt you. How can you ever forgive me? After all I’ve done--how can we be just fine, how can we be together?”

            “I forgive you, I’ve forgiven you. I swear to it, I wanted to text you, to call you. I let my pride get in the way. I just need to know, Claire, I need to know where your heart’s at now. Tell me that you’re still mine. I need to hear you say it.” 

            Claire realized in that moment that she was fighting with true love. It was like boxing with no gloves--futile, hopeless and most of all painful. She couldn’t keep herself from him no matter how hard she tried.  I thought I had reason to attack, but no. What did she want? She wanted him. She wanted him to be the one by her side, the one she told when she finally got into a residency program. The one to celebrate life’s victories big and small. The one to be there as she put her life together. She knew she couldn’t put it back together without him. He had bared himself to her, and she knew he wasn’t going to let her get away with silence. It was her turn to share her feelings. “Jamie, I want to be with you. More than I’ve ever wanted anything. It terrifies me, but I can’t help it. I’m drawn to you; I can’t explain it”

            Jamie’s hand was still on her face, thumb stroking her cheek, as she spoke, he took her hand in his other hand, entwining their fingers together. Something about this moment told him this love was worth the fight. “Aye, Sassenach, I feel it too. I don’t ken what it is, but I think we’re meant to honor it.” Claire nodded in agreement. They had been drawing in closer to one another as apologies and declarations were made in the dark. Each moment they shared under the bleachers, their faces inched closer together. “Claire, I would very much like to kiss you” he whispered, “May I?”

            “Yes” came her breathless reply.

            Instantly, their mouths were joined. Slowly, tentatively they reacquainted their lips before opening to each other fully. Tongues finding their way back between open lips, teeth finding their way to lower lips. All the pent-up passion of the last month culminated into one enduring kiss. 

            Claire finally managed to pull away, realizing where they were. For a moment, they basked in the afterglow of their reunion, meeting again after a painful month of separation, each living a half life. “Jamie,” she panted, slightly out of breath, “take me home.”

            “As ye wish, Sassenach.” he replied, rising to help her to her feet and slipping his arm firmly around her and kissing the side of her head as he led her to the car.

Chapter Text

Me!

In spite of the chill in the air, Jamie felt warm for the first time in months.  He had been living in winter and Claire was his summer--returned to him after their time apart. Somewhere in the distance, a teenager reluctantly shouted “strike the band up...1,2,3”; from the sound of it, the game had ended and the marching band was playing the crowd out. They had already made their way to the parking lot and arrived there before the throng, Jamie’s arm firmly planted around Claire the whole time. Jamie didn’t ever want to let her go again. He opened his car door for her in the parking lot and winced to let her go for the few moments it took to walk around the car to the driver’s seat. Once inside the car, he planted his right hand firmly on her left.  He never let go for the entire ride back to his apartment, caressing her hand gently with his thumb and stealing glances at her at every stop light. He could still hardly believe she had come back to him. He never wanted to see her walk away again. The last time they had been in a car together she wouldn’t let him touch her--would they have even been apart if she had? Having that physical connection made open and honest conversation easier between them. “Claire, are you really here? Are you really mine?”

“Jamie, when you ran after me and called my name, that was it for me. I couldn’t run away again; I couldn’t leave well enough alone even if I wanted to. I don’t know what it is between us. It’s not usual. It’s different.”

“Aye, I ken what you mean, Sassenach.” he briefly pulled the hand he’d been holding to his lips, kissing just under the knuckles.

Claire laughed gently, “one of these things is not like the others” she chanted, smirking.

“Well, there’s a lot of lame guys out there” he chucked back to her. “Babydoll, when it comes to a lover I promise that you’ll never find another like me.” Jamie was beaming, his world felt like a rainbow with all of the colors now that his Claire, his sorcha, his light was back in his life.

“Mmm… I don’t doubt it.” She closed her eyes, picturing just the kind of lover he was, grinning and blushing as she imagined where they would end up this evening. “I don’t doubt it one bit.”

----------

            When they arrived in the driveway below his apartment Jamie was again remiss to let go of Claire’s hand to exit the car. Immediately, their arms were around each other again as they made their way up the narrow staircase to Jamie’s above-garage apartment. As soon as they closed the door behind them, Jamie grabbed Claire’s curly mane and brought her lips to his own, kicking off his shoes as he did so and guiding her into the studio apartment towards his bed.  Their lips only separated to pull clothing over heads in a whirlwind of passion--a coat on the floor in the entryway, a shirt draped over the kitchen chair, a pair of jeans strewn across the coffee table, Claire’s bra discarded on an end table. Panting, they arrived at the bed where Claire sat and peeled off her skinny jeans and underwear before assisting Jamie in stripping off his boxer briefs. He stood before her beside the bed and she lay back. For a moment, they stared at each other, taking in the sight of each other's naked bodies, comparing them with their memories of a month ago. Jamie was the first to break the silence. “Sassenach, I’m bewitched by you--completely under your spell.”

            Claire reached up for his forearm, pulling him down on top of her, “Mmm… Spelling is fun” she cooed, pulling him in for another impassioned kiss. She wrapped her legs around his waist and they began rubbing against each other’s most sensitive areas. Claire had been so deprived of pleasure in the past month, she felt that just this simple action could be enough to take her over the edge. She wouldn’t have been surprised if Jamie felt the same, feeling just how much he wanted her against her.

            “Christ Sassenach”, he whispered in her ear, moving to kiss her earlobe, and down her neck. He adjusted his position to keep himself from finishing too soon, allowing her to rub on his strong thigh instead as his lips made their way to her breasts. He kissed and sucked each nipple generously, settling to work on the right one while his left hand caressed the other.  He devoured her skin ravenously; this was a meal he hadn’t had in a month and it was more delectable than he remembered. After satisfying both her breasts, her nipples engorged and erect, he continued kissing down to her stomach, her hips, her thighs, her inner thighs. He knew he was teasing her, but every inch of her skin was missed and delicious to him, he wanted to savor every bit of her. Feeling Jamie explore these untouched places caused Claire to involuntarily giggle, the scruff of his chin and delicate caress of his tongue tickling those sensitive spots. “I will never tire of your wee noises, Sassenach”

            “I do not make wee-e-e, oo- oo- oo--” Claire’s protestations were interrupted by Jamie’s mouth finally making its way to that bundle of nerves she had been anticipating for what simultaneously felt like moments and eons. Claire panted and hummed as he sucked and licked, knowing just when to change pressure to keep her pleasured yet wanting more. Finally, he brought her to that place where she saw stars behind her eyelids, and cried out his name in pure ecstasy.

            “Ya do make wee noises, Sassenach, and baby, that’s the fun of you.” he stated smugly, clearly proud of himself for eliciting such a reaction from her.  

            “I know I tend to make it about me, but allow me to return the favor, my darling” she elicited, sitting up and moving to her knees on the floor, beside the bed.

            “Who would I be to deny the lady’s request?” he mused, taking her position on the bed. 

            “God Jamie! It’s bigger than I remember!” she exclaimed, taking his cock in her and gently stroking it.

            “I know, I’m a handful, baby uh--” he groaned as she took him between her lips, “and a mouthful, apparently.” He attempted to wink at her for the second time that evening, his owl-like expression and smug smile meeting her whiskey eyes staring up at him. Using her hand to grasp and stroke his base in time with her mouth on his shaft, she ran her tongue and lips along him until he was the one letting out unrecognizable noises and sharp inhalations. He tangled his fingers in her curls as if he were holding on for dear life. “Oh God Claire!” he cried out, spilling into her mouth.  She swallowed, wiping her lips after releasing him. They were both breathless. He drew her up onto the bed with him and then down to collapse on the bed in his arms. 

“Come here, mo nighean donn, let me keep you company.” He brought his lips to hers for the umpteenth time that evening, worming his tongue between her lips.  They shared another passionate kiss, this time slow and lingering, savoring the taste of themselves on each other’s lips--something that was new for Claire. 

“No one’s ever done that before,” she rasped when they released.

“Done what?” he questioned, his blue eyes peering deep into her whiskey-colored ones.

“Kissed me after… well, after what I just did to you.” Claire, blushed, averting her eyes to his piercing gaze.

“There’s a lot of lame guys out there, Sassenach. I’d kiss ya even if you just ate a tuna sandwich with onions dipped in garlic and topped with stinky cheese, this is nothing.”

Claire exploded with laughter at his comment. “Mmmm… how appetizing,” she sputtered sarcastically between her chuckles. She’d missed how fun he was to be around.  He certainly would never bore her. She’d forgotten how wonderful it was to laugh in his arms, in his bed. When was the last time she laughed? Had it really been since that night in Montauk? The night she didn’t think before she jumped in and told him she loved him? The same night she also thought too much and decided to ruin everything? How had he allowed her back into his arms so easily after what she’d done to him. She was lying beside him now--her curls and one of her delicate hands spilling over his firm chest, and he was gently stroking her hair. “Why’d you let me come back to you Jamie? You could have anyone else, you’re the kind of guy the ladies want.  Why me? After all I put you through.”

He pulled her chin up so their eyes could meet. “In truth, I don’t always ken myself.  I’ll admit I was angry after I found out what ya did to me, but I meant what I said earlier. I forgive you. I can understand why you did it, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want it too--even if the circumstances weren’t exactly my idea of honorable. I’m glad you told me though--I felt I hated you for it at first, but it’s better to be honest with each other.”

“I’m so sorry Jamie, I should have never toyed with your honor like that. All I could think of that first night was how much I wanted you, but it shouldn’t have been like that. I should have left Frank right then and there. I’m afraid I was a coward.” she admitted. “I’m afraid you never get just what you see with me, but I want to change that. I don’t want to lie to you anymore. I feel like my heart and my head have been battling since we met and I’ve only been able to show you one or the other. Like I’ve been two completely different people. I want to be able to show you all of me, the only one of me.”

“I’d like that very much, Sassenach” there was a truth in her eyes that he saw and understood. For the first time in their torrid relationship, she was completely vulnerable and exposed to him. Free from the weight of any hidden baggage, the air around them felt light, like they could float together, right off the bed and into the stratosphere. Everything was out in the open and they were free to just be. Claire felt it too, the weight that had been bearing down on her their whole relationship was gone from this meeting. She had aired her dark secrets and he still accepted her in spite of her shortcomings.

Jamie pulled her into a kiss--slow, lingering, passionate. Their tongues danced lazily, in no rush to do anything but enjoy each other’s company. Carefully, Jamie rolled Claire onto her back, positioning himself on top of her. He began to kiss, suckle and roll his tongue across her earlobe, causing her to moan and squeak with pleasure and anticipation.  He brought his hand to the space in between her legs, gently stroking the place he knew she wanted him too, caressing the moist folds of her skin, teasing around her entrance with his fingertips. “Jamie” she whispered in his ear, “I want you inside me--please.”

He guided himself inside her in one smooth stroke. Their bodies quickly found a gentle rhythm, synchronizing completely as if they were created to fit together, two halves of the same whole joining. They had started their evening at homecoming, but now they were coming home. Their desire for each other swelled and grew together and the pace of their movements followed. “Don’t stop, Jamie!” Claire cried out, on the edge of her passion.

“I won’t stop, baby.” he panted back to her, nearing his own precipice. Moments later, Claire let out a piercing cry of his name, fingers clawing into his shoulders, her whole body squirming with pleasure. That was more than Jamie needed to bring him toppling over the edge with her, his own pleasure bursting behind his eyes.

He dismounted from her, handing her a box of tissues from the nightstand so they could clean themselves up, and laying on his side next to her, his curly red mop propped up on his large hand, taking in the naked beauty lying beside him. “I’m so glad you’ve come back to me, mo nighean donn.” He gently stroked the skin of her breast.

“I didn’t think you’d miss me after a time, you’re a very attractive man, and there’s a lot of cool chick’s out there. Surely, you could have found someone else.”

“There is only one of you, Sassenach.” he smirked, kissing her curly mane “no one else could compare.”

They continued to lie together in silence. Jamie continued softly caressing Claire’s milky skin, taking in everything inch of her, memorizing her every curve. Eventually Claire broke the silence.

“Jamie?” there was a hint of anxiety in her tone.

“What is it, mo chirde?”

“When are you leaving?” she whimpered.

“Not for another few weeks yet, I’ll help Jenny and Ian with the pumpkin harvest but I have to be back before the end of the month to get my wee tree farm up and running before my own busy season. It seems to be starting earlier each year.” he mused. Jamie ran a Christmas Tree farm on the outskirts of London, something Claire had learned the night they met.

“What happens then? With us?” There was a pleading in her golden eyes as she looked into his.

“Och! A wee ocean isn’t going to stop the way I feel about you.” he insisted, kissing her forehead. “It’ll be different, yes, but I’ll call you every night, and we can visit each other when you have breaks from school, right?”

“That sounds like it could work. I’ll miss this though.” She ran her hand up and down his body, making it clear exactly what she met.

“And I’ll miss this.” He reached around her body, taking a generous handful of her arse. “I swear we’ll make this work, Claire; I never want to be parted from you again.” In truth, he was imagining her joining him in England. Making space for her in his home. Perhaps she would grow a small herb garden behind the kitchen, and they’d laugh together as he washed dishes and she dried in the evenings. Eventually, they’d have a bairn or two running around the place, keeping them on their toes. It was all so beautiful and real in his head, but he knew it was too soon to ask. He knew it would be a huge decision for her and she’d been through so much in the past few months, he didn’t need to throw her a curveball like that. She had only just returned to him, only just been able to open up to him. For now, all he could do was silently vow that someday, he would make that fantasy a reality.

----------

            Jamie and Claire continued kissing, caressing, and humming sweet words into each other’s ears well into the small hours of the night. They enjoyed each other’s company more than they ever had before now that the walls between them had crumbled. Eventually, the week caught up with Claire and she fell asleep before Jamie did, using his shoulder as a pillow.  Jamie stayed awake, taking her in, stroking her soft curls, and imagining their future together.  When he was sure she was asleep, he kissed her cheek softly and whispered in her ear, “I promise that nobody’s gonna love you like me.”