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American Pie

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April 1995

Jenny had told her she should sit, but she insisted on standing despite her swollen ankles and aching back. John’s arm was firmly around her shoulder, and she leaned on him for support. Over the last six months he’d been her anchor, keeping her from drifting away in the storm that had tried to swallow them. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and tried to focus on what the priest was saying. 

 

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;

As the coffin was slowly lowered into the grave in front of them, Jenny let out a sob. Claire reached out and gripped her hand, keeping her steady. Her head throbbed and her vision went blurry. She took deep breaths and tried to steady herself; she had to be strong. 

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

At the end of the ceremony, the Frasers and Murrays all lined up to place a stone next to the headstone, building a small cairn, one by one. When Claire saw young Jamie hold his little sister’s hand as they both placed tiny stones in the pile, a sound escaped from her throat before she could swallow it back down. 

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

When it was her own turn, John helped her lower herself down and place her own rock. He pulled her up and she took a moment to steady herself. She kissed her hand, and placed it on the headstone, whispering quietly, “Goodbye.”

***

July 1993

There were a few moments in Jamie’s life that he would remember forever; moments that he could close his eyes and conjure the image of immediately. Most were those he wished he could forget - the panic of waking up to his house in Scotland engulfed in flames, the farming accident that took Ian’s leg – but the moment he saw Claire standing inside the doorway of the church, the sunlight from the open door forming a halo behind her, that image dimmed all the others. 

He swallowed hard as Ian put a hand on his shoulder to steady him. Her hair, which she had taken to straightening over the last year, was piled on top of her head in a mass of curls; she knew he preferred her hair wild. Her white dress showed off the tan she had been working on diligently over the last few weeks, and the veil surrounding her tresses floated down over her back. The dress was off-the-shoulder , as Claire had described it to him, and ridiculously puffy. “ When am I ever going to have a chance to look like a princess again? ” she’d said, shrugging her shoulders when he had laughed at the description of the lengths of tulle and the pattern of fallen leaves embedded in the lace overlay. 

He wasn’t laughing now.

As she walked toward him on her Uncle Lamb’s arm, he smiled at her, his entire body trembling. She smiled back and winked at him, the small gesture sending a shockwave through his entire body. How could she be so calm, even playful while he was barely holding it together. It seemed to take forever for her to reach him, but finally Lamb was handing her off to him, and she was taking his hands, squeezing to steady them. 

“Hi,” she whispered, as they faced each other. 

“Ye look so bonny, Claire,” he whispered back, his voice catching in his throat as he saw his mother's pearls fastened around her beautiful neck. He was fighting with everything he had not to start crying; once he started, he would not be able to stop. He tried to focus on the priest who had already started speaking.

“Who blesses the matrimony of this man and woman today?” Claire had insisted on this change to the traditional giving away part of the ceremony. “It’s absolutely barbaric!” she’d said. “Nobody owns me now, so why would they have to give me away?” But Jamie had wanted a traditional ceremony, so they’d compromised and come up with their own version. 

“I do,” Uncle Lamb said before taking his seat.

“And I do,” Brian Fraser added. 

They stood facing each other throughout the ceremony. He tried to listen to the readings, carefully selected by Jenny and John, but his mind could not focus; he’d ask them for copies later. A feeling of dread came over him as the time for the vows approached. Will I even be able to speak?

Rather than write their own, they had opted to use both the traditional and Scottish vows in their ceremony. As he spoke the first part, the dam finally broke, and he was sure his voice was barely recognizable. Looking in Claire’s eyes though, he could tell that she knew he meant every word of them. 

I, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, take you, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do we part. This is my solemn vow.

If you looked at it from a cynical point of view, the words were merely a formality. He’d cherished her from the moment he met her, and taken her to the emergency room on their first night together. When she’d gotten the flu last winter, he’d called Jenny in a panic, asking for her chicken soup recipe. None of this was new for them, but the making of a vow, a solemn oath in front of all their family and friends, that was the difference; that was what made it real.

Claire was crying too, as she echoed his words back, and he reached out and gently brushed a tear away from her cheek with his thumb. She would be so mad if her makeup got messed up. 

Then, they spoke the traditional Celtic vows, whose words encompassed their entire relationship in a way that neither of them could have expressed so eloquently on their own:

You cannot possess me, for I belong to myself

But while we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give.

You cannot command me, for I am a free person, 

But I shall serve you in those ways you require.

And the honeycomb will taste sweeter coming from my hand. 

I pledge to you that yours will be the name I cry aloud at night. 

And the eyes into which I smile in the morning.

I pledge to you the first bite from my meat, 

And the first drink from my cup.

I pledge to you my living and dying, equally in your care,

And will tell no strangers our grievances.

This is my wedding vow to you.

This is a marriage of equals.

By the time they were done, neither of them could control or hide their tears. With shaking hands, they lit the unity candle, with Brian at Jamie’s side, Lamb at Claire’s, and pictures of Ellen, Julia, and Henry placed carefully on the table along with the candles.

They returned to the altar and exchanged rings. Hers was a wide, white gold band in the Highland interlace style, a small and delicate Jacobean thistle bloom carved in the center of each link. On the inside, he’d had the words Di mi basia mille engraved; he would have to show her later. Claire’s hand reached out to him, fingers trembling. He slipped the cool metal over her knuckles until it rested snug at the base of her finger. Before he let go, he lifted her hand to his mouth, as he had so many times before, and kissed her knuckles. 

She slipped the ring she had chosen for him on his finger next. His was also white gold and interlace style. Instead of the thistle bloom, though, she had chosen strawberry vines, with a small strawberry at each link. He’d told her once that strawberries were part of the Fraser crest and she’d remembered. He wondered if she’d had anything engraved on the inside.

Finally, the long ceremony was over. “I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.” He smiled at her and met her lips with his, chastely at first. He started to pull away, but she pulled him closer, taking his lips in hers in a way that would make Jesus blush. “Christ,” he whispered as she pulled away, biting the bottom of his lip.

When they got to the back of the church, they had just a few moments to themselves, hidden away in her dressing room. As soon as the door was closed, he put his hands on her waist and pushed her toward the wall, pressing against her. The excitement, the nerves, and that kiss had given him an epic hard on. He knew there was no time, nor any way to find his wife’s warm center under all that fabric, but he wanted to feel her against him all the same.

Mo nighean donn, ” he whispered in her ear. “Mo bhean. God, I love ye so much.”

She smiled at him, thrusting her hips against him. “Are you happy, Mr. Fraser?” she asked, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him.

“Aye, I am, Mrs . Fraser.”

Claire cleared her throat and reminded him, “It’s Mrs. Beauchamp Fraser, and don’t you forget it.”

“How could I?” he responded. “Ye are perfect just the way ye are, and I’m honored that ye’d let me add my name to yours, because ye dinna need tae.”

“You are a part of me, James Fraser. Since the day I met you, I’ve never been the same.” She kissed him again and he was starting to consider that maybe they could find a way to consummate their marriage sooner rather than later, when Gillian burst through the door.

“Come on, you two! There’ll be plenty of time for doing that later. You have to do the receiving line and then we have pictures. Let’s go!” She was taking her job as maid of honor very seriously, despite having threatened to quit when Claire had shown her the red color that the bridesmaids would be wearing.

“All right, Mr. Fraser,” Claire said to him. “We’re under strict orders right now.”

“Aye,” he said, kissing her one more time, “but tonight ye’ll be mine and I plan tae take my time servin’ ye well.”

She blushed and smiled at him before they walked out to celebrate the rest of the day.

***

Claire’s hands were shaking as she stood at the back of the church, her arm looped in Uncle Lamb’s. The rest of the procession had already walked down the aisle. Little Maggie, carrying a basket of flowers in her red dress, completely forgot to do anything with the flowers as she made her debut down the aisle. Young Jamie carried the ring, so adorable in his little kilt and suit coat, so careful not to drop it. Then her bridesmaids and Jamie’s groomsmen, in pairs - Gillian and Ian, Jenny and John, Isobel and Rupert, Mary and Angus. The men all wore kilts in the Fraser colors while the bridesmaid’s dresses were red to match the kilts. 

They made a stunning picture standing in a line at the altar, but nothing could compare to the centerpiece of the tableau. Jamie stood tall in his formal tartan, his red curls tied back – Oh my god, had he shaved? He had!   - His face was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. And his smile. The smile that told her how much happiness she brought him. She couldn’t see anything but him. 

As they started their walk down the aisle, and Jamie’s face came more in focus, she wondered how he could look so calm and steady – she felt like she would lose it any moment and ruin her makeup. When she reached him, his hands were strong around hers. She locked eyes with him, and she used them as a focal point to keep her anchored.

Somehow, she managed to make it through the ceremony without fainting, though her legs were trembling terribly the entire time. After, they’d managed to get about thirty seconds of alone time before being whisked away to the reception line and the pictures. She’d stupidly thought that the pictures would be quick; now she’d been standing out in the hot July sun for forty-five minutes, starving and thirsty; all those appetizers she had painstakingly picked out for the cocktail hour were probably gone. 

Finally, the photographer sent the wedding party back to the reception and it was just her and Jamie left. They’d already had a ton of shots of just the two of them taken, so Claire couldn’t see why the photographer would need them any longer. “Are ye alright?” Jamie asked, kissing her gently, careful not to mess up her makeup or hair.

“Yes, I’m just hot and tired, and I want to be inside enjoying this wedding I spent so much time planning.” She put her arms around his waist and her head against his chest. He bent and kissed the top of her head and held her closely. 

“Perfect!” the photographer said. “I think I have everything I need now.” Those candid pictures, capturing that perfect moment between the two of them, would be the photos she displayed proudly on her mantle. 

She didn’t know it then, but later, she would box them carefully for every move, wrapping them carefully and padding them well before placing them in a moving box. She would keep them from the grubby fingers of children until they were old enough to be careful with them. She would scan them onto her computer and email them to her family on their anniversary. 

They were treasured mementos of their life before , of the absolutely perfect love that existed between them before everything changed. 

Chapter Text

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December 1993

"Sassenach," Jamie called from the front entrance of their house. "Are ye home?"

"In the kitchen," Claire called back. She was busily chopping up peppers and onions to cook along with the sweet sausages she'd bought for dinner.

"Yer no' burnin' the place down, are ye?"

"Ha, ha," she replied. "Get in here and help me if you're so worried."

He appeared in the doorway of their tiny kitchen then, his tie loosened, shirt untucked. "Ye look beautiful," he told her.

Claire looked down at her old sweatshirt and leggings and rolled her eyes at him. "I could be wearing actual garbage and you would tell me I look beautiful."

He crossed the room to her and wrapped his arms around her from behind. "If a man canna appreciate his wife's beauty no matter what she's wearing, then he doesna deserve her." He kissed her cheek and rocked her body back and forth.

"Mmmmm," Claire replied. "Where's John?"

"Ye sure ken how tae get a man in the mood, Sassenach."

She put the knife down, laughing and turning around to put her arms around Jamie's neck. "I was just wondering if we were alone, but if I've killed the mood, I can just finish up dinner."

She started to turn around again, but he held her firmly in place. "John is workin' late and then he's going out fer drinks with some of the lads. He willna be home until verra late."

"Sounds like I know what our plans are tonight," she replied, kissing him softly, a promise for later.

“Aye,” he answered, “How long until dinner’s ready? Do I have time tae shower?”

“If you make it a quick one,” Claire told him, slapping his bottom as he scooted away.

“What are we havin’ tonight anyway, Sassenach?” Jamie called over his shoulder as he walked toward the stairs.

“Sausage and peppers,” she called back.

He circled back and peeked his head in the kitchen, giving her a wicked smile. “I meant what are we havin’ for dinner, no’ what are ye havin’ later.”

Claire laughed and threw a dish towel at him as he scooted back toward the stairs.

***

Jamie sat back in his chair and patted his stomach. “I have tae say, Sassenach, married life suits ye. I didna even worry I was being poisoned once that whole meal.”

“Ha bloody ha. You should feel lucky that I even cooked. It was a long week."

"I ken. Let me take care of the cleaning up while ye relax, mo nighean donn." Jamie stood and started clearing the table. He planted a kiss on the top of Claire's head on his way to the kitchen.

"I think I'll go take a shower." Claire stood and walked to the stairs, eager to shed her clothes and wash away the week.

She'd worried, perhaps as all new spouses did, that settling in as a married couple would smother the heat in their relationship. But her stomach still got butterflies when she saw him at the end of a long day, and her body still yearned for his touch when he wasn't there. Just the thought of them having the night to be together, just the two of them, sent a shock of need and pleasure through her body.

She stepped into the hot shower and scrubbed her body with a scratchy loofah, enjoying the tingling sensation on her skin. She'd almost finished washing when the bathroom door opened. Peeking out from the curtain, she saw Jamie standing in the bathroom, stripping down.

"I thought you already showered," she teased.

"Aye, but I thought ye might need some help." His lips curled in one corner and his blue eyes were full of mischief. "May I join ye?"

She opened the curtain wider in invitation and he stepped in. "Oh, Christ ye're so beautiful, Sassenach," he said hoarsely. "I dinna think I'll ever tire of the sight of ye." He pulled her in at the small of her back so that every inch of their bodies touched.

"I need help washing my hair," she whispered, knowing how much he enjoyed running his fingers through her wet curls and massaging her scalp.

"Turn around then, Sassenach," he said as he positioned her body facing away from the flowing water. Seconds later his hands were in her hair rubbing and kneading as his erection brushed against her.

A chill ran down Claire's spine and she moaned as his fingers worked their way through her curls. He leaned forward and pressed himself against her, whispering Gaelic in her ear. The only way she could respond to the poetry he created was to whisper back, "I love you."

She stepped into the water to rinse her hair and then pulled Jamie's head forward and kissed him hard, their lips pressing into their teeth until they finally gave way for their tongues to meet. Jamie reached around and grabbed a handful of Claire's bottom, growling into her mouth, "Ye''ve got the roundest arse I've ever seen."

Jamie spun Claire around and she put her hands against the wall. He gripped her around the waist and slowly slid inside her. Claire shuddered as he entered her, the angle hitting just right. "Yes, Jamie," she moaned as he thrust into her over and over again, holding onto her firmly so she wouldn't slip.

Between the hot water and the constant barrage against the most sensitive spot inside of her, Claire felt like she was floating. She knew she could trust Jamie to keep her standing even as her legs began to tremble. He slipped one hand down and rubbed between her legs. She pressed her forehead against the wall as she reached her climax; everything went black for several seconds.

When she opened her eyes her back was pressed against Jamie's chest as he spilled his seed inside her. The throbbing of his cock caused her body to quake with aftershocks as her own orgasm faded. Jamie's arms were across her chest and he stroked her breasts tenderly.

Yup, we still got it, Claire thought as Jamie dried her off and carried her to bed. He tossed her one of his t-shirts to put on. They were super comfy for sleeping in and also turned Jamie on when he saw her wearing it.

Once she was settled in, Jamie took a wide toothed comb and gently worked his way through her tangled curls. A feeling of pure bliss flushed through her body. It was these intimate moments that reminded Claire how lucky she was to have found her soulmate, and she thanked the universe for whatever force had thrown them together at that concert two years before.

Two years could be a lifetime, she realized. Two years ago, their relationship was new. She was living in a small apartment in New York City while Jamie was still in a cramped dorm room on Long Island, trekking his way to her place every weekend.

Now, everything was different. They owned their own home in a quaint gated-community, thanks to a generous gift from her father in law, Brian. Jamie had a job that used his talents and continued to challenge him. Claire was in her second year of med school, at the top of her class.

So much had changed around them, and yet they were still the same. Sure, Jamie wore his hair a little shorter and had traded his concert t-shirts and flannel for a shirt and tie. Claire had learned to cook and spent less time lounging around and more time studying. But they were still the same, and their love continued to grow stronger as they found new ways to express their feelings within their new life.

Jamie finished with her hair and put the comb down. "Do ye want to go downstairs?" he asked. "It's still early."

"No. Let's just stay up here and watch TV together," she answered. He picked up the remote and turned on the TV that sat on their dresser, tuning to TGIF. The block of sitcoms had become another part of their routine, especially at the end of a tiring week. Jamie opened his arms and Claire sunk into him. His chest rumbled under her head as he laughed at the ridiculous antics of Steve Urkel.

When the shows were over, Jamie rolled on top of Claire and they made love again, slowly and gently. There was no rush or urgency; they had all the time in the world to pour their hearts into each other. When they were finished they fell asleep curled around one another, always seeking the physical closeness that confirmed their connected souls.

***

The next morning, Claire woke to the smell of bacon frying. She smiled to herself; It had become a Saturday tradition for Jamie to get up and cook breakfast while Claire slept in. Her stomach growling, she headed downstairs. She walked into the kitchen and smiled warmly at Jamie. “Smells good, as always. Is the coffee ready?”

Jamie put down the spatula he’d been wielding and quickly poured her a mug of coffee. Claire gave him a quick kiss before sitting down at the island. She looked around, admiring their cozy kitchen. They’d spent weeks painstakingly refinishing the cabinets, regrouting the tile floor, and selecting the perfect seating for the light and airy room. She was so proud of the little home they'd put together.

Jamie placed a plate in front of Claire and sat down next to her. They ate together in comfortable silence. When they were finished, Claire cleared the plates away and started straightening up the kitchen.

She was leaning over the sink when Jamie took his opportunity and sneaked up behind her, pressing himself against her and grabbing at the hem of her shirt. "When ye wear my t-shirts and prance around the kitchen in them, ye make me want tae do the most unspeakable things to ye." His fingers were pushing her panties aside when they heard the lock click in the front door.

Claire hastily pushed the t-shirt back down and Jamie busied himself transporting the frying pan to the sink. John walked through the door, looking a little worse for the wear, and slumped down at the island. Claire quickly poured him a mug of coffee and slid it across the surface to him. "Did you have a good night?" she teased.

John groaned and nodded. He took eager gulps of the coffee before answering. "I had a blast, actually. Too bad I'm paying for it now."

Claire slid onto one of the stools and waited for John to tell her all about his adventures. Though she and Jamie had settled into old married couple life easily, she still liked to live vicariously through John's very active social life. "Where did you stay?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at him. Jamie was finishing clean up duty but she noticed he was being a little quieter with the dishes so he could overhear.

John tried to hide his smile but it was plain on his face. "I met someone last night."

Claire rolled her eyes. "Well that's not really a surprise, John. You've met a lot of ‘someones’ in the last year or so." Once John had settled into their new life, he'd come out of his shell and really started to live a little. It certainly wasn't the first time he hadn't come home from a night out until the next day.

"I think this is different," John said.

Claire gave him a curious look. "Well does this someone have a name?" Jamie asked; he had finished cleaning up and leaned on the counter next to her.

"Hector," John replied, smiling as he said the name out loud. "I've seen him out a few times but last night we just connected. I can't explain it."

Claire and Jamie gave each other a knowing look and Jamie looped his arm around Claire's shoulder. John rolled his eyes at them. "Not every love story can measure up to the Frasers, but I think there might be something there."

"I'm really happy for you, John," Claire told him. "When are you seeing him again?"

"Tonight!" John said, standing up "So it's time for me to get some sleep." He walked toward the stairs and then turned around. "I almost forgot to ask, what do you think of Jamie’s good news?"

"Good news?" Claire asked. She glanced at Jamie, whose entire face was turning beet red. "What good news?"

John's smile quickly turned into a grimace. "Oh shit, he didn't tell you yet...I...um...OK bye." He ran up the stairs leaving Claire facing Jamie with a confused look on her face.

"What's he talking about? What happened?" Claire asked.

Jamie rubbed his hand over his face and sighed. "It isna a big deal, Sassenach."

"What isn't a big deal?"

"They offered to send me to a special training program, to be a Language Officer."

"Jamie, that's amazing news! Why didn't you tell me?" She wrapped her arms around him but he didn't return her embrace.

"I'm no' going tae do it, Sassenach."

She pushed away from him and searched his face for a hint at what was going on but he had gone stoic. "Why not? I don't understand."

“I dinna want tae,” he answered, raising his voice. “Just drop it.” He turned away from her and walked away, grumbling, “I have tae go take care of some stuff in the garage.”

***

Jamie didn’t have anything to do in the garage, but he needed to get out of the house and think. He unfolded a vinyl lawn chair that was much too small for him and sat down, closing his eyes. The fingers of his left hand tapped nervously on his thigh. Dammit John, why did ye have tae say anything?

It wasn’t fair to John to be mad at him, though. Jamie hadn’t had a chance to talk to him before he’d left on Friday, so there was no way he would have known that Jamie was going to turn down the offer. Now Claire was going to demand to know why he was going to turn it down, and the whole situation was likely to turn into an argument, He hated arguing with Claire. She always cried when she was angry, and it broke his heart in pieces to see tears on his wife’s face.

He stood and paced along the concrete floor, trying to figure out a way to extricate himself from the situation. He could tell Claire that he just wasn’t interested in the training program, but that would be a lie, and he had sworn to Claire when they first met that he would never lie to her. He would be in enough hot water for what he had already said to her; it wouldn’t do to dig himself any deeper. But how could he explain it to her?

He did want to do the training program. It would be challenging and exciting. It was an honor to be picked for the training program at such a young age, and so early in his career. Most of the others that were chosen this round had been with the CIA for at least five years. The career opportunities that would be available to him if he succeeded in the training program would be incredible. If successful, he would go on to become a Language Officer, helping with important missions, perhaps even traveling to foreign countries to assist with covert operations. Was that type of work not secretly every man's dream? Who hadn't grown up playing spies?

He had never truly been excited about work until now. Apart from farming, which was more of a lifestyle than a career, he'd always viewed work as a necessary evil, something to get through every day in order to provide for your family. Since he'd started at the CIA, though, he realized that work could be fulfilling. He was challenged every day, and it tapped directly into the parts of his brain that he loved to exercise. And to be able to train as an officer, that was just taking everything to the next level.

But he had Claire to think about; she was his first priority, always. And the training program would mean being away from her for six months. How could he do that? He hadn't been away from Claire more than five days in a row since he'd first laid eyes on her. And since they'd graduated, they had fallen asleep tangled up with each other every single night. Not only did he feel an obligation, one he was happy to have, to be there for her every day, but he also wondered if his own body could survive that long without her touch.

And he knew she would tell him to go. Claire didn't have a selfish bone in her body. There would be no way to hide from her that he wanted to do this, she knew him all too well. And then she would be excited for him and tell him he had to do it.

A knock on the side door jolted Jamie out of his reverie. He peered out the window on the door and saw his neighbor, Tom Christie. Sighing, he motioned for the man to enter.

Tom was a widower who lived next door with his teenage children, Malva and Allan. When the Frasers had moved in, the whole Christie family had been like the neighborhood welcome wagon. Malva had brought them platters of baked goods and ready-to-cook casseroles that fed them for a week while they unburied themselves from the endless piles of boxes and the never ending task of putting furniture together. Tom had held a barbecue for them, inviting everyone on the block, and Allan had kept their lawn mowed until the cold weather set in, deeming the task unnecessary.

After the initial friendliness had worn off, though, both Claire and Jamie had started to see Tom's true personality. He was constantly sticking his nose where it didn't belong, asking intrusive questions or offering unsolicited advice on anything from keeping their hedges properly trimmed to how Claire could improve upon her lasagna. He also seemed to hang around much too closely to Claire and tended to "drop by" whenever Jamie happened to be out running errands or working late.

Malva was a nice enough girl, but they both found it odd that a teenager would spend so much time cooking and cleaning instead of just being a kid. On the weekends she seemed to prefer the company of Claire over going to the movies or school dances. And Allan, quite frankly, creeped both of them out. They'd lived in the neighborhood for four months and Jamie had barely heard the kid utter five words. He dressed in all black with his dark hair hanging in his eyes, and he sat off to the side during social events, staring at everybody without ever joining in on the conversation.

Tom entered the garage and went immediately to the small fridge. Come on in, Tom. Make yourself at home. "Oh, is it noon already?" Jamie asked as Tom cracked open a beer.

"It's noon somewhere, Jamie!" he proclaimed.

"What can I do fer ye, Tom?" Jamie asked impatiently. He needed to get back inside and talk to Claire.

"Oh, nothing," Tom replied, "I saw you head out to the garage so I figured I'd join you for a brewski."

"Well that's real nice of ye tae...uh...keep an eye out fer me, Tom, but I actually have tae get back in and speak with Claire." He started to walk toward the door, holding Tom's arm leading him in the same direction. "Why don't ye take yer beer tae go, aye?"

"How is Claire?" Tom asked. "I feel like I haven't seen her in ages."

Jamie nudged Tom through the doorway. "Ye dropped in on her just a few days ago." He headed for the house with his back to Tom. "Goodbye, Tom," he called as he walked into the back door.

He found Claire sitting on the couch working on a crossword puzzle. Carefully, he sat down on the couch and slipped his head under her arm. When she didn't look up at him, he nuzzled her neck with his nose.

"Are you a puppy or my husband," Claire murmured, never taking her eyes off the paper in front of her.

"Claire," Jamie said quietly, "Do ye want tae talk about it?"

Claire put the paper down and looked at him. "I'm fairly certain it wasn't me that didn't want to talk about it."

Jamie slipped his arms around her waist and leaned his on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, mo nighean donn. I'm ready now." He felt her body relax underneath him.

"Alright then. Talk."

He told her about the training program, what an amazing opportunity it was, and the career paths it would open for him. Then he told her about the six months of training, the possible foreign missions in the future. "I dinna ken how I can do it, Claire. I canna be away from ye for that long. I need ye, mo ghraidh."

Claire put her hands on Jamie’s cheeks and lifted his head up. "You really want this, don't you?"

"Aye," he replied, "Except the part about being separated from ye."

"Jamie, our love is strong enough to survive six months apart. It's going to suck, but it will be worth it. I want you to be fulfilled with your work."

"But who will take care of ye, Claire?"

She threw her head back and laughed. "I managed to survive twenty two years without you. I think I can manage six months. Besides, I can cook now, and I have John." She stifled a giggle, "And I'm sure Tom Christie will be happy to keep an eye on me."

Jamie growled and pounced on Claire, pinning her to the couch. "Ye'll pay for that, ye wee besom." He attacked her neck and chest, kissing, sucking, and biting.

"What are you doing?" Claire laughed.

Jamie looked up and gave her a wicked grin. "I'm marking ye so people ken yer mine while I'm gone."

She laughed harder and pulled his head up by the curls. "Would you like me to get your name tattooed on my ass?"

"Aye perhaps." He flipped her over and tugged at the waist of her pants. "Property of James Fraser, right here." He gave her a swift swat and she squealed with delight.

She wiggled her way back around so she was on her back under him again and pulled his head down, kissing him softly. "I love you, Jamie. I'll always love you. And six months is nothing compared to an entire lifetime."

"Ye truly are the greatest wife a man could ever ask fer." He flipped them around one more time, so that she was laying on top of him.

She cuddled into him and kissed him on the cheek, settling her head on his chest. He stroked her hair and felt her steady breathing, and thanked God for the mosh pit that brought them together.

Chapter Text

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Day Seven

Claire rolled over in her bed, shivering, her hand instinctively reaching out for Jamie, her personal heater. Finding the spot empty, she sighed, putting her hand over her face, and tried not to cry. She knew the separation from Jamie would be hard, but she hadn’t been able to imagine how hard it would be. She felt like a car trying to keep chugging along the road missing two wheels and an engine. Everything was hard, even the simple task of getting out of bed.

Even worse, layered amidst the sadness and longing, was an intense feeling of guilt. She silently berated herself for being so melodramatic. Yes, Jamie was gone, but it was temporary. It was only six months. But if she was barely hanging on after only seven days, how would she manage six months?

She rolled over and closed her eyes, conjuring his image. She had fallen asleep in his sweatshirt and she wrapped her arms around herself, pulling the covers over her head. As long as she kept her eyes closed, he was there.

Day Fourteen

John woke up early and slipped downstairs quietly, though there was really no need to. His whole objective was to lure Claire out of her bed. She'd spent the entirety of the previous weekend shut in her bedroom, and he didn't intend to let her wallow again.

He put the coffee on and shuffled around the kitchen, pulling out pans, cracking eggs, putting toast in the toaster. His cooking skills were far beyond the simple breakfast he was preparing, but he wanted to make it just like Jamie did for her every Saturday morning. Claire had been walking around like a ghost for the past two weeks and he was going to put a stop to it. Even if all they did was watch movies on the couch all day, it would be a vast improvement.

When everything was just about done, he ran up the stairs and opened her door without bothering to knock. He nudged her gently until she peeked her head out from under the covers. "Come on Claire," he said gently, "I made breakfast."

"No thank you," she mumbled, attempting to roll over and pull the covers back over her head.

John grabbed her shoulder. "Please, Claire. You have to at least eat. For me?"

She sighed deeply and turned her head back to look at him. "What did you make?"

"Bacon and eggs, just how you like it."

She huffed and groaned but sat up in the bed. Her hair was wildly sticking up in all directions, and she quickly threw her blanket over the top of her head and wrapped the rest around her like a monk's robe. "Fine," she said, and she followed him down the stairs.

Day Twenty-eight

John laughed hysterically at Claire as she wiped her eyes. She'd started out only crying but thanks to John's teasing, she was now laughing as well, adding even more tears to the mix.

"I can't believe you were crying that much over a movie about dogs," he said again, shaking his head as he got into the car.

Claire got into the passenger side and buckled her seat belt. "I saw a couple tears in your eyes too, John Grey. Don't deny it."

"A few tears maybe, but you were sobbing like a lunatic. People were staring." He pulled the car out of the parking space and maneuvered through the busy parking lot.

She started laughing again, fanning her face, flushed red with embarrassment. "They all had so much courage," she said, which set John into another fit of laughter.

John shook his head again and turned up the radio. Claire groaned. "Please, not Mariah Carey again. I can't take it anymore."

"Fine. You pick."

Claire hit the preset buttons until she found the alternative station. The latest song by Red Hot Chili Peppers filled the car and Claire rested her head against the window, her thoughts instantly turning to Jamie.

It's bitter baby,

And it's very sweet.

I'm on a rollercoaster,

but I'm on my feet.

Take me to the river,

Let me on your shore.

I'll be coming back baby,

I'll be coming back for more.

"Nope!" John said, breaking her out of her reverie. "We will be going right back to Mariah if you start wallowing again."

Claire lifted her head back up and smiled at John, reaching out to squeeze his arm. "Thank you."

Day Fifty-six

"Are you sure you don't mind if I invite Hector over for our movie night?" John asked as he and Claire perused the new releases at Blockbuster.

"Can you please stop asking me? I’ve told you a hundred times that I'd love to meet him. Besides, you've been spending so much time with me, I feel like you haven't been able to spend much time with him." She held up one of the movies and showed John. "How about this one?"

"The Sandlot?" he said doubtfully, reading the back of the box. "Sounds like a ripoff of Stand By Me. No thanks." He plucked the box out of her hands and replaced it on the shelf.

"Here," he said, picking up another movie and handing it to her.

"Jason Goes to Hell? No. Have I ever told you that you have terrible taste in movies." Claire shook her head and continued her search.

They finally settled on Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and headed for home. As soon as they got inside the phone was ringing. Claire dropped her bags and ran to pick it up. "Hello?" she answered breathlessly.

John watched as Claire’s face relaxed and erupted in a smile. Jamie. As much as John tried to keep Claire’s spirits up, there was nothing he could do that would make her face light up like a simple phone call from Jamie. He braced himself, hoping she wasn't going to fall apart after she hung up.

The doorbell rang and John hurried to answer it. He embraced Hector as soon as he opened the door and pulled him in for a lingering kiss. When they broke apart, Hector looked nervously over John's shoulder. "Don't worry," John said, shaking his head. "Claire knows. I told you that."

Hector's caramel skin flushed pink. "Sorry, I just didn't want to make her uncomfortable."

John laughed and led Hector into the house. "Trust me. Once you see her with her husband, you'll see she doesn't have a leg to stand if she complained about that."

Claire hung up the phone just as Hector and John joined her in the kitchen. John could see the tears welling in her eyes but before he could even say anything, Hector jumped in. "Oh no, I always seem to have this effect on women."

Claire burst out laughing and the tension in the room eased. "You must be Hector," she said. "And I can see why John likes you so much."

She reached her hand out to Hector, but he pulled her into an embrace instead. John gave Hector a thankful smile.

"Honey, your hair is to die for," Hector said as he pulled away from Claire.

"Oh, I like him!" Claire laughed.

John let out a sigh of relief, smiling at Hector as he fawned over Claire. 56 days down, only 125 to go.

Day Seventy-two

“She’s absolutely gorgeous,” Claire cooed as she held her new niece, Katherine, in her arms.

She had driven up to Lallybroch on her spring break to meet the newest Murray baby, and the visit with her family was a balm on her soul. The moment she'd stepped into the farmhouse in Upstate New York she was surrounded by love and laughter.

“Ye look good with a bairn in yer arms,” Jenny told her. She sat on the couch next to Claire, watching the two of them.

Claire rolled her eyes. “You sound like your father now. The first thing he asked me when I walked in the door was whether or not I had a ‘wee bun’ in my oven yet.”

“I  ken ye’re not ready yet,” Jenny told her. “I just canna wait fer when ye are. It’ll be nice to finally get to be an Auntie. I need a bairn that I can spoil.”

Claire stared at baby Katherine’s face and kissed the top of her head. “To be honest, Jenny, I can’t wait to be a mother myself. I just know the timing isn’t right.”

“Ye need tae finish school, Claire,” Jenny said, suddenly taking on a serious tone. “Everything is so much harder with bairns.” The year that Jamie and Claire had moved to Maryland, Jenny had started going back to school to become a teacher. She took a few classes at a time at the local community college, leaving Brian, Ian, or her father-in-law in charge of Jamie and Maggie. Claire would have paid good money to see that in action.

“I know, Jenny. And I’m so incredibly proud of you.” Claire told her. “I know I have to finish school first, and besides, can you imagine me going through almost an entire pregnancy without Jamie here?”

“It would damn near kill my brother, I’m sure. He’ll want tae wait on ye hand and foot.”

Claire smiled and tried to hold back her tears. She just missed him so damn much. Everybody in her life was being wonderful and helpful and trying to keep her spirits up, but there just wasn’t anybody who could fill the emptiness she felt without him near. She tried to swipe the tears away before Jenny could see them, but absolutely nothing got past her sister-in-law. “I ken ye miss him.”

Jenny’s words opened the floodgates. Everyone had been tiptoeing around the elephant in the room, trying not to mention Jamie’s absence or her feelings about it. It was a relief to have those feelings acknowledged and the tears flowed freely. Jenny took Katherine from Claire’s arms, holding the baby in one arm and putting her other around Claire. “It’s okay to miss him, ye ken? I ken ye’re a strong woman, but ye dinna have tae be ashamed that ye need him.”

Claire let herself relax into Jenny’s arms, thankful to have the force of this wonderful family, her family, behind her.

Day One hundred and twelve

“Honey, I am sick of seeing your gorgeous ass leaving an imprint on this couch.” Hector pulled at Claire’s arm to lift her out of her seat. “You are going out with us tonight.”

Claire groaned and tried to resist, but he was surprisingly strong for being such a slight man. She stood up and put her hands on her hips. “Hector, please. I’ll just be a drag on you guys. Nobody wants a sad, straight girl sitting at the bar drowning in martinis while they’re trying to have a good time.”

“That’s not going to happen, because we are going to dress you up, fix up that gorgeous hair, and get some drinks into you before we even leave this house. By the time we get to the bar, you’ll be ready to dance your ass off with us.”

Claire looked to John for help but he just shrugged his shoulders and walked away. “Fine,” Claire grumbled, “I can see that I’m outnumbered.

Hector dragged Claire up to her room and rummaged through her closet. Claire sat on the bed and listened to him comment on her wardrobe, throwing things on the bed that he deemed suitable. “My friend Gillian used to do this for me,” Claire commented with a smile. “I miss her. You would really like her.”

“I’ll have to meet her sometime and see if her taste in clothes measures up,” he teased.

“Well, she’s working on her MFA in fashion design, so I think you would approve.”

“Oooh, I definitely need to meet her then,” Hector said. He held up a tight purple dress, eyeing it closely and then tossed it to Claire. “That’s the one.”

“Oh Lord! I haven’t worn this in ages! I don’t even know if it fits anymore!” Claire looked at the dress skeptically and cringed at the thought of it. It was an old dress from her single days, and she actually couldn’t believe she’d ever worn it.

Hector walked toward the door. “Try it on now,” he commanded before shutting the door behind him.

Claire sighed and started to undress. She’d barely put a thought into anything she had worn in the last three and a half months, sticking to comfortable jeans or leggings and bulky sweaters or long t-shirts. She slid the dress over her head and wiggled her way into it. It was a little snug, but, looking at herself in her full-length mirror, she saw that it accentuated her curves, making her look far more voluptuous than she ever felt. She quickly pushed away the thought of wishing Jamie was there to see her in it, and called out through the door, “Alright, you can come in now.”

Hector walked in and let out a loud, “Woo!” He looked her up and down. “Girl, you look A-mazing. John, get up here and see this!”

Claire blushed as she waited for John to run up the stairs. “Wow, Claire,” he said when he walked in the room. “You really do look great. I forgot you had a body under all those layers,” he teased.

“Enough!” she said in mock exasperation.

“Alright, alright,” Hector said, waving his hands at John. “You go on, now; I’ve got more work to do on our girl.”

An hour later, Claire was covered in a layer of make-up and so much glitter she was afraid she would blind someone if the sun reflected off of it.  Her hair was piled on her head in a curly mass, with a few tendrils purposely pulled out to frame her face. It was a teeny bit overdone, but she was genuinely having fun with Hector and decided to just go with it.

Hector drove them into DC and they dropped their overnight bags off at Hector’s apartment before walking the several blocks to the bar. “Nellie’s Sports Bar?” Claire asked skeptically. “Are you sure we’re in the right place?”

“You’ll see,” John told her as he nudged her toward the door. She laughed once she stepped inside and saw that the walls were adorned with pictures of shirtless athletes. Hector dragged John away from the TVs playing basketball games.

“Let’s go up to the patio,” he said, pointing toward the ceiling.

They elbowed their way through the crowd and walked up the stairs to the second floor. Pushing through even more people, they finally found their way to the patio. It was packed, but the air was at least a little easier to breath. A DJ booth off to one side was blasting C & C Music Factory, and there were as many people dancing as there were standing around and socializing. Hector took off to get drinks, and Claire smiled at John. “I know I’ve told you this a hundred times, but I really like him.”

“Me too,” John replied, giving her hand a squeeze.

Hector returned with drinks for everyone, plus a tray of shots in little plastic test tubes. He set them on the high-top table they were standing next to and then handed one to each of them. “Better get started!” Hector said, raising his test tube in the air. “To Claire’s first night at the gay bar!”  They clinked them together and downed the drinks quickly. “There’s plenty more where that came from,” he said, gesturing toward the nine shots that were still left in the tray.

As Claire finished her martini, chatting and laughing with John and Hector, she started to relax and enjoy herself. Her entire body tingled with the alcohol, the music, the buzz of people around her. It was so hard to not wish that Jamie was with her for every mundane moment in her life, but she found it much easier with a bit of alcohol in her.

After another round of shots, Claire grabbed John’s hand. “Let’s dance!” she shouted in his ear.

He laughed and shook his head. “I’m not drunk enough to dance. You and Hector go.”

Hector needed no convincing and they weaved their way to where the other dancers were. She let the music wash over her shaking her hips and throwing her hands in the air. “You’re a pretty good dancer for a white girl,” Hector teased as he grabbed her by the waist and moved with her.

A bit later, John joined them, carrying the tray of shots. There were two left each and they quickly drank them back. John had apparently imbibed enough at that point to dance. and they all lost themselves in the music. Claire hadn’t felt so free in a long time. She let herself go, dancing wildly. A  shirtless man carrying another tray of shots weaved his way through the dance floor and they each bought two more. Hector and John sandwiched Claire between them, all three of their hips grinding and butts bumping.

Hours later, they stumbled home, stopping to buy a pizza on the way. Back at Hector’s apartment, Claire sat on the floor with the pizza in front of her, sauce smeared across her face trying to manage the cheese that was threatening to fall out of her mouth. Hector and John teased her for being such a mess and eventually put her to bed on the couch before going off on their own to Hector’s room.

Day One hundred and thirteen

Claire woke up with a screaming hangover. She stumbled into the kitchen and saw that John had left out a glass of water and two ibuprofen on the counter for her. Smiling, she gratefully took the pills and chugged the rest of the water. She found the coffee and put it on to brew before peeking in Hector’s fridge. She found eggs and sausages, so she located his frying pans and started to cook up breakfast for everyone.

John and Hector stumbled down the hall when they smelled the coffee. They moved their chairs close together at the small kitchen table and Hector laid his head on John’s shoulder as Claire put mugs of coffee and plates down in front of them. She seated herself across from them and they all quietly dug into their food, nobody speaking until they had all finished their coffee.

Finally Hector said, “I told you it would be fun, dancing queen.”

Claire groaned and put her head in her hands. “Ughhh. It was fun, but I’m paying for it today. Thank you though, seriously. I didn’t realize how much I needed that.”

John smiled at her. “Only sixty-eight more days to go.”

Day One hundred and forty six

With school over for the year, and John away with Hector for Memorial Day, Claire faced a lonely three-day weekend. They had invited her to go along with them to Rehoboth Beach, but she had declined both that and Gillian’s invitation to take her to Fire Island. Jenny had even tried to get her to make the drive to Lallybroch, but Claire just couldn’t get up the energy to do it. Exams had been exhausting and she just wanted to rest and wallow a little.

She sat at the kitchen island, sipping coffee and contemplating how much she wanted to try to accomplish that day. The lawn needed to be mowed, but she could just pay Allan Christie to take care of that. The house needed a good cleaning, though, so she threw on some shorts and a tank top, put a Queen album in the CD player, and got to work dusting furniture, mopping the floors, and scrubbing the toilet.

There was a knock on the front door which Claire ignored until she heard someone calling, “Hello?” She rolled her eyes and groaned. Tom Christie.

“I’ll be out in a minute, Tom.” She gave the bathroom sink one last wipe and rinsed the sponge, leaving it to dry. Annoyed, she walked to the front of her house to find Tom sitting in a chair in the living room. “Make yourself at home, Tom,” she said, not trying very hard to hide her sarcasm.

“Claire,” he said, standing up to greet her, “I just came over to check on you.”

Tom had been “stopping by” to check on Claire periodically since Jamie had left for training, and it would have been a sweet, neighborly gesture if the man didn’t leer at her like a hungry man staring at a steak. It had been bad enough before Jamie left, but without him there, the friendly neighbor act was getting to be a bit much. “I’m fine Tom, thank you,” she said curtly.

“Do you need Allan to mow the lawn for you?” he asked her.

“Please, if you don’t mind. I told him I would pay him when he was finished.”

“And I told you that it wasn’t necessary to pay him.” He took a few steps closer to Claire and she instinctively took a few steps back.

“Well, since it’s Allan doing the work, I think it’s up for him to decide whether or not he wants to be paid,” she told him, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Anyway,” he went on, “We are going to have a small picnic in the backyard tomorrow. Just the family. I was hoping you would like to join us.”

She resisted the urge to groan audibly. “No, thank you, Tom.”

“Oh, do you have plans?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, I just don’t want to intrude on your family time. Now, I’m quite busy, if you wouldn’t mind-”

“But I think of you as family!” Tom interrupted. “Both you and Jamie.”

Enough was enough. Claire walked past Tom and opened the front door, gesturing for him to leave. “Thank you Tom, but I’m quite busy today. You’ll have to go now.”

Flustered, he walked out the door. Before closing it, she told him, “You know, Tom, you can just call. And please stop letting yourself in.” She didn’t let him answer, shutting the door behind him.

She cursed herself for not taking anybody up on their invitations to join them that weekend as she curled up on the couch and cried.

Day One hundred and seventy nine

June 30. Jamie would be home in just one day. Claire’s nervous energy buzzed through the entire house as she cooked and cleaned and prepared for Jamie’s homecoming the following day. She prepped a lasagna for the next evening, knowing she wouldn’t want to get out of bed to cook anything, once Jamie got home. She chose her outfit carefully, laying out a sundress to slip on in the morning before Jamie arrived.

John planned to stay in with her that night to watch movies together, hoping to keep her distracted. He would head to Hector’s the next morning, before Jamie was set to arrive.  Dazed and Confused, The Fugitive, and Mrs Doubtfire were all stacked neatly next to the VCR. She figured she wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway, so they may as well stay up and binge as many movies as possible.

The bed was made with fresh sheets, and she’d aired out the bedroom, opening the windows to try to remove the stench of misery from the last six months. By the time John arrived home from work to start their movie marathon, everything was perfect. They ordered large quantities of Chinese food and cracked open one bottle of wine and then another as they made their way through the movies.

By eleven PM, twelve hours before Jamie was slated to walk through the door, she and John had both gotten a little too drunk and were both on the floor practically rolling with laughter at Mrs. Doubtfire. The volume on the television was so loud that they didn’t even hear the front door open.

It wasn’t until Claire heard, “Well ye two are a fine mess. Is this what happens when I’m no’ around to take care of ye?”

Claire scrambled to her feet at the sound of Jamie’s voice and stumbled to greet him, fat drunk-tears already pouring from her eyes. She threw herself at him and he dropped his bag, lifting her up as she wrapped her legs around his waist.

“Oh my God...you’re home...I missed you so much.” Claire went on incoherently as she sloppily placed kisses over every inch of Jamie’s face.

“And ye are drunk,” he laughed, kissing her back. They completely forgot about John as Jamie carried Claire toward the stairs, growling in her ear, “Aye, yes, I’m here, mo chridhe, and I’m going tae take ye tae bed and make ye forget I was ever gone.”

Day one

Claire rolled over in bed. The room was chilly from the air conditioner, but she was warm snuggled up next to Jamie. When he felt her move, he rolled over to face her and wrapped his arm around her. She tucked her head under his chin and buried her face in his chest. His body had changed while he was away, his muscles had become more defined and his frame slightly leaner. He smelled like a different soap, but the underlying scent of Jamie was undeniable.

She felt whole again, as if her soul had been placed on pause for six months and finally started to play again. She was ready for them to move forward together again, with whatever plans life had laid out for them.