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Chapter One:

The warm breeze billows against her cheeks, cooling her heated skin; the sun's scorching rays are trying their hardest to burn Claire Fraser's pearly, white skin. Her daughters sit next to her in a cobblestoned courtyard in Spain, enjoying refreshments and an afternoon snack. Though the heat is nothing new to them, they're still thousands of miles away from their Georgia home, enjoying the last few days of their vacation.

This week has been just the trip they needed. The girls are on spring break, and Claire had been more than happy to take some time off from the hospital.

She's been working almost non-stop for years, and her best friend and fellow surgeon, Joe Abernathy, had convinced her to take the trip to Spain she and Jamie had always talked about.

It's been six years since his death, and when Joe mentioned Spain, she knew this was a great way to honor him. They'd wanted to come to Madrid for years, always planning it but never getting the chance.

She kicks herself once more, like she's done so many times before. They'd honeymooned in Jamaica but had both agreed that Spain would've been better. By the time they were financially able to plan another long vacation, she'd discovered she was pregnant with Faith.

"Mama, are you listening?" her eight year old daughter asks.

Chuckling at Faith's bluntness, knowing full well she gets it from her, Claire ruffles the girl's curly hair, assuring her that she is. "Yes, darling." She smiles, taking a sip of her cappuccino. "You were saying you loved the Royal Palace."

"Yeah!" Faith squeals, bouncing in her seat as her eyes grow wide. She goes on, explaining, for the hundredth time, how beautiful the palace was and how she wanted to live in a big house like that one day.

"Me too!" Brianna pipes up, giggling along with her sister as they talk about the garden at the palace and how they danced in one of the ballrooms, making them feel like the princesses they wished they were.

Claire smiles, observing her daughters. After months of working without very many days off, it's a relief and much needed break to enjoy this time with them. They look so relaxed, free from the stress of school. She hadn't truly realized until this week how taxing first and third grade could actually be, especially when accompanied by the fact that their mother was a single, working mother—a surgeon, at that, with an ever changing schedule, forcing the girls to spend an abundance of time with her best friend, Geillis, and her husband, Dougal. She hasn't had a day off in a few months, and it's nice to just sit back and enjoy all this time with her girls.

It would be so much easier if Jamie was here. He's been gone for six years, though it doesn't feel like it's been that long. She still feels him every day, his presence always surrounding her. Claire sees him in her dreams at night, hears his laugh, the little Scottish noise that would vibrate in the back of his throat, and she swears she can still feel his hands on hers, holding hers in his larger one. She finds herself often daydreaming of the rich timbre of his voice, sees his blue eyes, but most of all, she sees him in their children.

Faith and Brianna both have red hair just like him; Faith's turned out curly, while Brianna's is straight as a pin somehow, seeing as she and Jamie both have curls. Their ears stick out just a little, the same way their father's did, and her heart aches, wishing Jamie had been able to see them both. Faith had only been two when he was killed, and Brianna was still in her belly, just a month away from being born.

It was the hardest time in Claire's life, becoming a widow and single mother at the age of thirty-two, and she's still haunted by the memory of a police officer showing up on her doorstep instead of her husband.

Shaking her head, Claire comes back to reality, listening to her daughters once again. They're pretending to be princesses, ordering each other around to fetch items from ballrooms and the guest quarters. She snorts, unsure of where they've picked up this lingo, but she embraces it nonetheless.

"Mama, look!" Bree exclaims, pointing to the cobblestone courtyard. There are a few children around their age kicking a ball back and forth, and the girls ask if they can go play.

She's unsure, hesitant to let them, but she looks around. The courtyard is surrounded by several cafés, including their own. There's no way for them to escape. If the ball were to be kicked too far, it would simply roll into one of the restaurants, so she relents, telling them they can but to stay where she can see them.

They cheer and hop out of their chairs, running over to the other kids. She smiles, watching as they're instantly allowed to join the fun, and Claire marvels at how easily children accept others, no matter the language barrier.

Picking up her phone, she sighs, texting Geillis back that they're having a great time, but she misses her terribly. Geillis shoots back to open up her dating app and see what men are available there, and she accompanies the text with a winky face emoji. Claire shakes her head, chuckling under her breath at the younger woman.

She knows realistically she can't. She's got Frank Randall back at home. They've been dating for seven months and it's starting to grow more serious, but, well, she's bored, and it couldn't hurt just to see these guys' ridiculous dating profiles. They always write the dumbest things, and she and Geillis have turned it into a fun drinking game on their girls nights—taking a shot every time a guy has a mirror or gym selfie, says he's not here for drama, or has a picture holding a baby that doesn't belong to him.

Smirking, she opens up the app, then looks out to the courtyard, smiling as Faith kicks the ball to a little boy, while another girl high fives her.

Bree glances over to Claire, giving her a thumbs up. Claire beams in her direction, giving her her own enthusiastic thumbs up right back.

Looking at her phone, she swipes through the profiles. There's Saint Germain, very odd first name, and he's got crazy eyes. He would probably murder the first woman to swipe left on him. She grins, swiping to the next. He's a handsome guy, this Jack Wolvertine, and has a strong jawline, but reading his profile, he sounds like the biggest douche she'd ever meet. The next is a blonde guy, pretty blue eyes, named Stephen, but based on his pictures all at bars and with his arms around other girls, he seems to be a player.

Rolling her eyes, she closes out of the app, deciding to delete it all together. She has no need for it anymore anyway with Frank; she's not even sure why she kept it this long.

Frank. She smiles softly at the thought of him.

He's a sweet guy. He came so unexpectedly into their lives two years ago, but she's so glad he did. He's always been a wonderful friend, helping her live life once more after Jamie and supporting her in whatever way he could. It wasn't until recently that she discovered he had feelings for her, and she'd hesitantly agreed to go on a date after Geillis promised her it wasn't wrong in any way to start dating again. It was strange, and confusing, especially because they were such close friends by then, but he had turned out to be a decent boyfriend as well. Frank cares deeply for her and the girls, and he was honestly a godsend when Geillis introduced them.

She'd been at a dinner party at Geillis and Dougal's house, and Frank had come in. Her friend introduced them, saying she'd met Frank a few weeks before at her yoga studio and the two had gotten to know each other. Claire was all smiles, shaking his hand, and his eyes set on her in a way that drew her to him. He was handsome and a great conversationalist, and it was the first time since Jamie died that she felt some sort of connection to anyone.

He is well-educated, kind, and loves her. It'd taken her a few months to warm up to him enough to say I love you back, but she had after learning how to love again in a new way. It was never the type of love she'd felt for Jamie, but she doubted she'd ever feel like that again for anyone. Frank was a gentleman, though, and someone she could see being content with for the long haul.

She listens to her girls laughing and having a good time, and as she finishes her warm beverage, she looks out at them again.

The sun catches on their red hair, and she smiles once more at how much they resemble their father. Their ears and noses are all him as well, while they both inherited Claire's fair complexion and bone structure. She suspects Brianna will turn out to be tall like Jamie, seeing as she's already almost as tall as Faith.

Faith looks the most like Jamie, her eyes the same color of ocean blue, while Brianna's shine a beautiful golden whisky just like Claire's. She's always loved that she can see herself in those eyes. It's just about the only attribute she can take credit for, so she accepts it gratefully.

Jamie had always joked about Faith looking as if he spit her out on his own, and though it was a running joke, she's thankful now that the gods above decided to give both girls Jamie's genetics so that she can still see him every day.

Brianna squeals in delight as the ball is kicked to her by one of the boys, and she quickly attempts to kick it over to her sister. She's not as coordinated as the older kids, but she holds her ground, and Claire quietly cheers them on, not wanting to disturb the other patrons in the outside café.

Their laughter, like so many other things, always reminds her of Jamie. He had this deep belly laugh that could make her smile even when she was angry with him. She would always get frustrated, claiming if she was mad, she wanted to stay mad, but he would just do something ridiculous to make her laugh even harder, and their fight would be forgotten. God, she missed that. Missed him.

Her heart breaks a little bit more thinking of her husband. Years may have passed, and she's learned to not think of him every second of every day, but sometimes, like today, thoughts of her red-headed Scot consume her.

She dwells upon that fateful night, when she was eight months pregnant and craving cookie dough ice cream.

She'd begged Jamie to go out and get her some, claiming she wouldn't be able to sleep until their baby had some dessert.

"Aye, alright, alright," he'd sighed, playfully rolling his eyes as he slid out of bed. His broad chest glistened from their love making, and she bit her lip, suddenly contemplating if she wanted the ice cream or him more.

Jamie laughed when he turned back around, slipping his shirt over his head. "I ken that look, Sassenach," he teased, "Ye can have yer wicked way wi' me when I return."

She laughed into the kiss he pressed to her lips, groaning, "Mm, sounds good."

Smirking, she tugged him back down for one more kiss. He trailed his head down, pressing a kiss to her large stomach. "Ye take good care of yer mam, aye? And then I'll be back wi' yer ice cream, lass."

Snorting, Claire slapped at his shoulder, telling him to leave so he could come back sooner.

"I'll be back, and then we'll spend the rest of the night drawing out those wee squeakin' noises I love so much."

"I do not make squeaking noises!" she protested for the millionth time in their marriage, grinning as Jamie smirked, chuckling at her as he closed the door softly behind him.

Two hours later, after a few silly texts to Jamie to hurry up before the ice cream melted or she fell asleep, she was stirred from a light slumber by the ringing of the doorbell. There was a police officer at her door, ending her world right then and there.

Jamie had been shot. Killed. Never coming home again.

Claire felt as if the world around her was spinning while her body was completely frozen to the ground where she stood. She couldn't comprehend the officer's words, her hand rubbing her rounded belly and shaking her head, not believing what the man was telling her.

Clearing her throat, Claire wipes a lone tear from the corner of her eye.

Since she's apparently a glutton for pain today, she scrolls through the list of texts in her phone, reaching the bottom. Jamie's text messages.

She bites her lip, reading over his last text to her that she ever received, her eyes misting over at how simple, how mundane it was.

Angus got into some whisky at work. He's hammered lol highly amusing but Murtagh is annoyed and Dougal is not pleased, of course. Be home later to explain more. Love ye

After that, it's just a string of texts from her while she waited impatiently for her ice cream, not knowing that at the time, he was being taken from her for good.

Hurry up! Lol and then another, hope my ice cream isn't melted, baby will be sad… and twenty minutes later, a more worried, where are you?

She remembered falling asleep soon after that, only to be awoken by the doorbell.

She regrets those texts, has spent years beating herself up over them. Why'd she ever ask for ice cream? He could've stayed home and stayed alive. She's punished herself time and time again by reading over those messages, but never bringing herself to erase any trace of him from her phone. The photographs and videos that filled her camera roll would be worn out by now, too, if it were possible. Thank god for technology, for being able to have those reminders of him right there at her fingertips.

Claire focuses back on Faith and Bree, willing her mind to quiet down. This vacation was supposed to help her relax, not bombard her mind with thoughts of her husband and the night he was taken from them so suddenly.

Her eyes roam from the girls to the other cafés around the courtyard. She has this odd sense that someone is watching her and it makes her uneasy; she can feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end.

There's a young couple by the fountain taking selfies, a brunette man across the way reading a book, and an older couple sharing a laugh at the café next to hers. Nothing out of the ordinary.

She can't shake the feeling, however, so she trains her eyes back on the girls. Her phone vibrates with a text, and she glances down to see Joe has sent her a picture of her empty office, claiming he misses having her there to yell across the hall to when he was bored. She snickers, snapping a picture of their table and her empty cappuccino cup, saying she wishes he was here.

That's just rude. He responds, causing her to grin.

Before she can reply, she hears Faith's little voice call out in glee, "Daddy!?" and Claire's head whips up, looking toward her children in confusion.

Her eyes focus on the girls, then over their heads in the direction they are looking. Faith and Bree run back to her, Bree appearing more befuddled than anything while Faith is teeming with excitement.

Claire pulls Brianna into her lap, wrapping one arm around Faith's shoulders to hold them close.

"Faith, what did you just say?" she asks, and Faith looks at her as if she had two heads.

Her little hand points in the direction they just came, declaring, "It's Daddy!"

Shaking her head, Claire wonders if they just simply saw a red headed man. The girls have spent their whole lives looking at pictures of Jamie, and Faith has just a few memories of him, really just flashes of his large body or red hair holding her, but sometimes when they would see large redheaded men, they'd associate him with Jamie.

"Sweetheart…" Claire's starts, shaking her head sympathetically as her eyes glance back across the courtyard.

She catches the gaze of that brown-haired man from earlier, his blue eyes piercing her own, and her breath catches in her throat.

She'd know those eyes anywhere. But...

Standing, Claire takes the girls' hands, her breath shaking as she makes her way over to the other café. Her body is moving as if drawn like a magnet, his body the opposite pole pulling her toward him.

The girls have let go of her hand at some point, trailing behind her. Claire can feel her breath coming out in heavy pants, and she feels as if everything is moving in slow motion around her while her heart beats so ferociously against her sternum that she thinks it may stop beating all together.

When she reaches the other side, she's dumbstruck. Unbelieving. Confused. Her eyes are wide, brimming with tears as her head tilts to the side. Her mouth falls slightly agape when he looks from the girls behind her up to her eyes again, a small, uneasy smile gracing his lips as his eyes fill with tears.

She squints her eyes, then blinks, trying to make sure she's seeing what is truly before her.

Licking her lips, she breathes out shakily, "Jamie?"

{*************************}

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Chapter Text

Chapter Two:

"Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ..."

Jamie is here. Right in front of her… and she can't believe it, can't fathom what is possibly happening. She blinks, trying to clear her vision. Maybe it's just a stranger that looks like him. If that's the case, she's well aware that she looks like an idiot right about now.

But no, no… this is him. She'd know him anywhere. Her husband. Her Jamie.

"Mama," Bree gasps, tugging on her hand, "that's not Jesus!"

Her little girl's soft exclamation of indignation breaks her trance, pulling her eyes down to her daughter.

She laughs, and she hears Jamie laugh, a sound she never thought she'd hear again, and it brings tears to her eyes. Her head whips back up to stare into his eyes once more, brows scrunching as a myriad of questions come to her mind.

"How…" she chokes on the word, and before she can finish her sentence, his strong arms are around her, pulling her close.

His tears are trickling down to the nape of her neck, and she's well aware that hers are staining his shirt as well.

They stand there, arms twined around each other's bodies, holding the other impossibly closer as they weep together. They must look like fools, but she doesn't care. Can't care. Her husband is in her arms for the first time in years, a feeling she thought she'd buried right along with his body.

"Mo chridhe," he breathes into her neck, a soft whisper against her skin. "Hush now, I'm here. 'Tis alright."

The tears come even harder then, sobs shaking her body against his when she hears his voice. A voice she's only heard in her dreams and on that voicemail she'd never gotten around to deleting. It was stupid, his message, him simply calling her after work one day.

Sassenach, it's me. Dougal let me go early for once, Christ only kens why. But I'm headed home. I'll pick Faith up from daycare on my way home and start a wee bit of dinner for us, okay? I love ye, mo chridhe.

It was just a message to let her know he loved her, something she sometimes took for granted thinking she'd hear it for the rest of her life. He'd left the message three months before he died, and after his funeral she'd discovered it was still there. She'd been too busy back then to delete messages, and for once, she was thankful for the fact. She spent so many nights listening to that voicemail on repeat, willing him to come back to her and vowing to never delete it.

She found herself, more often than not, curling up into bed after tucking Faith in for the night, listening to his voice, his little chuckle as he said he'd cook dinner that night, and clinging to the way he said he loved her.

Now, though, his voice is here, in her ear, and it sends a shiver down her spine, makes her knees buckle as if she's going to faint.

"I never thought I'd hold ye in my arms again, Claire," he murmurs, crying. "I saw ye so many times, ye came to me so often. When I dreamed sometimes…" he trails off, clearing his throat, "I was so lonely but I'd see ye smiling… but ye never touched me."

His forehead is pressed against hers. When their bodies connected, she isn't sure, but his hand reaches up to cup her jaw, and out of reflex, her hand covers his. "Oh god," she chokes out, "you're real."

"Aye," he says with a watery smirk, "and so are you, mo nighean donn." He tucks an errant curl behind her ear, adding, "I can touch ye now."

"I don't understand," she cries, pulling away reluctantly. "I thought you were dead." She shakes her head again, trying to clear her mind that's clouded. It's like trying to see him through a thick mist on the moor they used to sneak off to while in university.

Coming to her senses, she realizes the girls are still standing there, observing this whole interaction. She wipes at her damp cheeks once more, giving Jamie a nervous, confused smile, before her eyes trail down to Faith and Brianna.

Sniffling, she runs her hand over the girls' heads, trying to be brave for them. She glances back up to him, asking, "How?" and then, "Why? Wh… what?" The questions flood her mind, spewing from her mouth faster than he can probably process them.

Shock is one of the largest emotions in her mind right now, not knowing exactly what to ask, but needing answers immediately.

She's overjoyed and beyond relieved at seeing him, but… there's an odd sense of anger, too. Has he been in Spain this whole time? He's been alive this whole time! Why didn't he reach out to her… let her know where he was, or that he wasn't actually dead? Why is he even here and not home with them?

Jamie tries to smile, though it's more of a grimace, and he glances over her shoulder. His eyes focus back on her as he wipes his eyes, mouth opening as if to answer one of her unfinished questions, but Bree bounces by her side, obviously tired of being left out, and tugs on her hand. She's hiding partly behind Claire's leg, shy but giggling when Jamie's blue eyes catch her whisky ones. He looks over to Faith then, who is standing, mouth slightly agape, looking at him with wide, blue eyes.

He smiles at her, softly, almost questioningly, and reaches his arms out as if to beckon their child to him. He looks hesitant, and it breaks her heart, but she understands. He's been gone for most of her life, all of Bree's life. God, this is so damn disorienting. Faith leaps into his embrace, though, giggling as Jamie whispers a leannan into her red hair like he used to do so often.

Faith begins to softly cry then, hugging around his neck tightly, her little hands wrapping in her father's now brown curls. His hair is no longer red, shorter than he used to always keep it, and it strikes her as odd.

"Daddy," Faith murmurs wetly into his neck, "I thought you were in heaven?"

If Claire's heart could physically shatter, it would've done so right here in this moment. Her eyes gloss over yet again, sniffling as she watches Jamie hug Faith even closer, kissing her ear.

"Oh, Claire…" he mumbles, looking to her for guidance.

Shaking her head, she blows out a breath, trying to discern how to explain this to her children. "Faith, baby, we'll explain everything later, okay?" is what she settles on, knowing in the middle of a café with people all around is not the place to do this.

Faith's lips purse, old enough to try and figure this conundrum out, but eventually she just shrugs, hugging around Jamie's neck once more.

Claire smiles softly, rubbing Brianna's back.

Jamie's eyes brim with tears again as he kisses Faith on her temple before setting her back down beside Claire. "And this must be our other bairn?" he gestures toward Bree, who is still holding on tightly to her pant leg.

His voice jolts her out of the way she'd zoned out, watching Faith and Jamie embrace. It hits her that he's barely spoken, but of course, this would be the first question to leave his mouth.

Nodding, she wonders if the tears will ever dissipate as she stammers out, "Y-yes… this is Brianna."

"Bree-ana," he practices the syllables on his Scottish tongue, face scrunching. It brings a smile to her face, watching him say the name again. He leans closer to Claire at that, conspiratorially, and whispers, "Christ, what a terrible name for a wee lass." He tries to wink at her—something he could never truly do, it was always more of an exaggerated blink—adding, "Ye always loved that one, though, despite me wanting to name her Julia."

Images of the two of them sitting in bed, or around the kitchen table, cuddled on the couch, always debating baby names, flash through her mind. He'd been determined to name their newest baby Julia after Claire's mother, a sweet tribute no doubt, but Claire was always partial to Brianna. Brian, Jamie's father, had been the only parent the two of them had known as adults.

She had met Jamie when they were both in university, her a third year and he a first. They were both at the campus coffee shop, and in her haste to get to class, she'd spun too quickly on her heel, bumping into the large Scot that was standing far too close to her.

"Bloody hell," she exclaimed, bending to pick up the fallen coffee cup.

He leaned down at the same time, their heads bumping together.

"Och!" he hissed, grabbing at his head as she grabbed for hers.

Their eyes met, and they began to laugh. He'd apologized, saying he'd been trying to read the menu and didn't realize how close he was standing.

His accent was adorable. Despite being at the University of Edinburgh and being surrounded by Scottish accents, his drew her in, almost wrapping her in an odd sense of warmth, like she'd known him forever.

After that day, they'd begun meeting at the coffee shop before class several times a week, and before she knew it, she was introducing him to her roommate, Geillis.

There was an instant connection between her and Jamie, something she couldn't explain, but it was a feeling she knew she never wanted to let go of.

After just a handful of months dating, Jamie had invited her to Christmas at Lallybroch, his family's estate in the Scottish highlands. She had no family left—her parents had died unexpectedly in a car crash when she was five, leaving her to be raised by her Uncle Lamb. He'd sadly passed during Claire's first year of university, leaving her truly alone for the first time in her life.

The first year after Lamb died, she'd spent Christmas with Geillis' family. It was nice, but it made her sad seeing a big, happy family, knowing that she'd never have that again.

The next one, the Christmas Jamie invited her home with him, she was simply planning on sleeping through as much of the break as possible to catch up on all the sleep she'd lost that semester, but when he'd smiled at her in that boyish way, she knew she couldn't refuse.

While there, she'd also met his sister, Jenny, and her boyfriend, Ian, as well as a family friend, Mrs. Crook, that had helped take care of their family home since Jamie's mother passed away years before.

Brian was amazing. He'd welcomed her with open arms, as if she was a natural part of the family, and over the years, he became the only father figure she'd had since her Uncle Lamb. He was kind, and funny, and he loved to rib Jamie about proposing to Claire whenever he could.

Three years after her graduation, and a year after Jamie's, they'd finally gotten married. They'd wanted to wait until Jamie was done with school so he could find a job while she attended medical school. Claire was twenty-six, and Jamie twenty-four, and Brian had luckily been able to make it. He'd been diagnosed with lung cancer the year before and passed away eight months after their wedding.

She thinks of Brian, and her own parents that orphaned her so young, and poor Uncle Lamb, feeling consumed with all the loss she's had to deal with over the years. Jamie's death was just another one piled onto an already overflowing stack of grief, but his death hit the hardest, crushed her in a way she never thought anything could. Losing a parent is one type of pain, but losing your other half, your better half, knowing that you could have had an entire lifetime together was a type of pain and heartache she wishes on no one.

Seeing him now fuels that anger back up inside of her like gasoline to a flame. He knew how much she'd lost in her life, how could he have left her to think he was dead?

Despite her agitation toward him she snorts at Jamie's distaste for the name, the moment catching her by surprise. "It's a beautiful name. I wanted to name her after your father," she tells him, giving him a pointed look, trying her best to tamp down the smirk tugging at her lips. "And her middle name is Ellen."

His eyes soften at that. His mother, Ellen, had always been a sore spot for him, never quite healing from her sudden death when he was a teenager.

Claire watches as his eyes mist over, and he chokes out, "Aye, 'tis a beautiful name."

She's glad he approves, knowing Faith had been a big argument before she was born. Claire didn't like the name, but Jamie insisted it was adorable. He'd always been more rooted in tradition than she was, and having a religious name made him happy.

She'd rolled her eyes on more than one occasion, never fully agreeing to the name. They'd settled on Elizabeth as her middle name, seeing as it was also Claire's, but they argued up until she went into preterm labor over her first name. When the day of her birth came, however, it was inevitable.

Faith's birth had been a hard one, Claire losing too much blood and almost dying in the process, part of her placenta not being removed correctly caused a slew of complications that the hospital later profusely apologized for, much to Claire and Jamie's chagrin. Due to the complications and being born weeks ahead of schedule, Faith had been sick, not getting enough oxygen.

Claire had never prayed so much in her life, but from the moment she woke up from her own surgery, she and Jamie begged God to let their child live.

In the end, their little miracle had pulled through, and when asked what name to put on the birth certificate, Claire had looked to Jamie with watery eyes and announced, "Faith."

Her breath catches in her throat at the memory, and she bites down on her bottom lip.

She makes a sound, somewhere between a choked scoff and a forceful exhale, shaking her head in disbelief. "You, uh, you look amazing."

Claire fights the urge to roll her eyes at herself, knowing that was the most awkward thing she could have said in this moment, but it just came to her mind and something about seeing Jamie before her has made her go a little dumb.

He's got stubble now, just a bit of scruff. She always loved when he let it grow out, his tiny hairs delicately scratching at her velvet skin when he'd kiss her.

His hair is shorter now, he always wore it a tad longer, but it's clean this way, she thinks, and it looks good. He's also sporting reading glasses, which he promptly removes at her compliment.

She may not know what's going on, but one thing is for sure, he's still the same attractive man she'd vowed twelve years ago to love and cherish for all of her days.

He smirks, a sheepish tilt of his head as his chin ticks against his chest. "Ye don't think I look like an auld man?"

Huffing out a soft chuckle, she shakes her head, promising him that he doesn't. "You look as dashing as ever with those." She notions toward the glasses in his hand, smiling.

She runs a hand through her hair, suddenly self conscious. "I suppose we've both seen a few years. I've got wrinkles I never had before."

Jamie shakes his head, giving her the most gentle of smiles. "Ye're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."

The feeling of a weight crushing her would feel better than the way her stomach twists at his words, but she's pulled from the moment like a crack of lightning when Bree giggles again, saying her friend at school just got glasses, too, and they're really cool!

They both snicker, but Claire asks, "Bree, do you know who this is?" pointing toward Jamie.

The youngest red head nods shyly, looking up at Claire wordlessly with wide, doe like eyes. She motions for her mother to come closer, so Claire bends down. Bree cups her hands around her mouth, whispering far too loudly, "That's my daddy."

She smiles, telling her she's correct, hugging her closely to her body.

This is all so strange, standing here, seeing him, talking as if nothing has happened between them. She doesn't know how to feel or even how to act. She can't cry and scream in the middle of this courtyard, but she doesn't want to turn a cold shoulder toward him either. She wants to do a million things to him—kiss the very breath from him, slap him, hold him...—but most of all, she wants answers, and she knows Jamie well enough to know she'll get them in due time.

They all stand there a moment longer, Jamie's eyes darting between the three of them, clearly unsure of who to look at first. There's an awkward silence growing between them, but he takes Faith in his arms again, then reaches out for Brianna.

She's more hesitant than Faith had been, gripping at Claire's pant leg, but Claire encourages her softly. She's only ever seen pictures of her father, so she can only imagine what is going through her little mind. Bree steps over to him, wrapping her tiny arms around Jamie, and as soon as both girls are in his embrace, he chokes out a tiny sob, tears falling onto his cheeks.

He kisses both of their heads reverently, whispering sweet Gaelic words into the space between them, and Claire stands there, unsure of what to do.

She's elated to see him, but confused, hurt, excited… she loves this man, but she's also angry at him. Her head starts to pound from all the conflicting emotions swirling about, and it's frustrating. She just wants answers.

Silent tears descend down her cheeks, knowing deep down, no matter how confused or angry she feels, there has to be a good explanation for his disappearance. There just has to be.

"Jamie…" she states, knowing she can no longer hold back. She's getting more upset by the second, not having answers to what the hell is going on.

This isn't some family reunion with a relative they haven't seen in years. This is her husband back from the dead. Fuck.

She reaches up, tangling a frustrated hand in her brown curls. She looks at him pleadingly, expecting him to still be able to read her mind after all these years apart.

Apparently he can, because he straightens and releases his hold on the girls, nodding. He looks around, and she can't help but notice that he looks nervous, before his eyes land back on the girls. He smiles at them sweetly, then trains his eyes back on her, a serious look on his face. He takes a minuscule step toward her, saying lowly, "We should get out of here. Go somewhere where we can talk." She nods, just as he amends, "Yer wee glass face is giving too much away to all these strangers."

She knows her emotions have always been just under the surface of her face, always showing in an instant, so she nods silently, a pit of dread forming in her stomach like a rock hitting the murky depths in a pond. Something is wrong, she can feel it.

Taking the girls' hands, she leads them back across the courtyard to their table to collect their items.

When she turns around, tucking her cell phone into her back pocket, she jumps. Jamie is standing right there, close behind her, and images of that eighteen year old boy in a coffee shop whizz through her mind momentarily. He was always stealthy like a cat, and it hits her that he's really here, really the same man he always was.

"Where are ye staying, mo nighean donn?"

She tries not to smile at the nickname, but she can feel her lips twitch. Pointing in the right direction, she tells him the name of their hotel, and he nods.

"Let's go there, then, aye?" he questions, "it'll be easier tae talk."

Taking the girls' hands once again, she leads the way. Faith slips out of her grasp, taking Jamie's hand, and Claire thinks that his smile in that moment could rival the sun with its luminosity. As they make their way down the path, across a few streets, and up the small hill their hotel sits upon, Faith and Brianna excitedly tell Jamie about their hotel room the entire time.

She grins, listening to them talk. They'd been so excited when they landed days before, seeing their hotel for the first time. Knowing they would be here for a week, Claire had booked a suite, and it was the best decision she could have made. It had two bedrooms and a living room with a small kitchen space. It was perfect.

The girls had their own room, which five days in was now scattered with toys, and the kitchen was nice to have so they could cook breakfast some mornings.

When they arrive, Claire gets the girls settled in the living room, turning on a movie and letting them play with their Barbies. She kisses each of their heads, running her fingers through their hair, assuring them that, "We'll be just over there in the bedroom if you need us."

Faith nods, mumbling a distracted, "Mmhmm," while Brianna is already tuned into the movie and blocking out the rest of the world.

Jamie stands behind her quietly, observing her actions and every move. She can tell he's uncomfortable, unsure of what to do, which is understandable since he's missed six fucking years of their lives.

She knows she needs to tell the girls more, but what to say, she doesn't know. They'd handled it surprisingly well so far, but they are children, so she's positive they don't really understand the implications of their father being back from the dead. She knows if her parents had shown back up when she was their age, she would have just been excited, not thinking to question everything else.

This is confusing as hell, though, and she needs answers before she can tell them anything more. She doesn't want to say the wrong thing, worries it will upset them. Will they need therapy after this? Will she? Probably…

Clearing her throat, she pushes those thoughts away, and points toward the bedroom. She pushes on his shoulder slightly, urging him to move.

Once inside, she gingerly closes the door, not wanting to disturb the girls, then moves toward the two chairs in front of the window.

They each take a seat, and she can feel her heart trying it's best to leap from her chest. It's beating so loudly that it's pounding in her eardrums, the sound of the air conditioner and Jamie's heavy, nervous breathing all drowned out. She pleads with her own heart to calm down so that she can hear everything he could possibly have to say, so she takes a few deep, calming breaths, licking her lips as she looks back up at him.

Her palms are sweaty, her breathing shaky, but she wills herself to get through this, to listen and be open to whatever he has as a way of an explanation.

In the last half an hour since they've left the café and made their way to the hotel, her mind has been overrun with thoughts, playing out different scenarios in her head of how this happened—maybe he secretly works for the CIA, or he'd simply left her for another woman and didn't have the heart to be honest… perhaps he's just an asshole who was having a midlife crisis at thirty-six years old and decided living out his days as a bachelor in Spain was a better option—whatever his reasoning was, he better tell her soon.

The longer she has to play out all the different plots in her mind, the more infuriated and annoyed she becomes. She can feel the heat creeping up her chest, her skin flushing as she tries to contain her emotions.

He hasn't said anything, looks almost unsure, so before she can lash out, she takes another deep breath, blowing it out shakily as she glances over at him one more time. With watery eyes, she says, "So… start from the beginning."

{*************************}

Thoughts?

Chapter Text

Chapter Three:

Jamie is nervous, she can tell.

He may have been gone for six years, but including those six, they've been together for going on nineteen now, and she'd know his tells anywhere.

He clenches his jaw, his fingers tap rhythmically against his thigh, and he breathes heavily… All of which he is doing right now.

She longs to reach over, to place her hand over his that's thumping on his leg, wants to soothe him and tell him everything will be okay. But she can't… not until she has some clarification.

She knows it's unfair, and she feels bad for being angry. She's happy as well, relieved, ecstatic, a whole range of emotions, but she's also barely stopped crying since she found him. It's a perplexing situation, one she was never equipped to deal with in medical school. There was never a "What to do if a patient comes back to life" course, let alone your spouse.

He takes a deep breath, then reaches over to her cautiously, like a caged animal afraid to be set free.

Her eyes sink closed, just briefly, before opening them again and opening her hand up to his. Her arm is propped against the armrest of the chair, and he beams when he realizes she's giving silent permission to him to hold it, to ground himself to her in this way.

His eyes are brimming with tears as they trail down to their hands, his eyes fixated on her wedding ring. His thumb rubs over it reverently, almost as if he's not convinced it's truly there.

"I never took it off."

His lips purse, and she knows he's trying to hold back another sob, but he nods instead, the corner of his mouth turning up in a small smile.

"Claire," he begins, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. "I dinna ken how much I'm allowed to tell ye, alright? But I'll do my best."

Confused, her head tilts, but she nods. What is happening?

"We promised no lies, remember?" she asks, thinking back to almost two decades ago, when they were just young adults falling in love and figuring out what that truly meant. They'd promised each other that they could each have secrets, but no lies, and in the twelve years they were together before his death, they'd each held up their end of the deal, so she has to trust that whatever he's about to tell her will be the truth… no matter how much it may hurt her.

He nods at her question, looking back down to her wedding ring. She notices his is still firmly in place on his left hand as well, and she can't fight the smile that brings to her face.

Clutching her hand gently, his fingers pulse around hers before his gaze finds her again.

With a deep, heavy breath, Jamie tells her about going out to get the ice cream she was craving, and once again she's hit with a wave of remorse. All of this is her own fault. If she hadn't begged him for that stupid frozen treat, none of this would have ever happened.

It's a fact that she's berated herself with for so long, one that she's worked hard to stop convincing herself of. But the truth of the matter is, no matter what anyone else says, it was her fault. He never would've been at that convenience store otherwise.

"There was a scuffle outside the store," he explains, shaking his head. He recounts that fateful night, saying that he was just trying to leave and get home to her and Faith.

His tears cannot be contained anymore at the mention of their eldest daughter, and he reaches up to wipe the tears away. Her heart aches watching him suffer like this, and she longs to reach out and touch him.

Speaking around the lump she can hear in his throat, he goes on, telling her how he was just, "in the wrong place at the wrong time, ye ken?"

There were two groups of men, gangs he now knows they were, and they had guns drawn on one another in the middle of the street. "I heard them talking about a shipment of weapons that was coming in, saw a man shoot another across the way, and then everyone started fighting."

Jamie clears his throat, his eyes scrunching shut. It's obvious he hasn't gone over these details in a while, that night haunting his vision, and she squeezes his hand, realizing where this story is going.

It wasn't his fault.

He tried to turn the corner, to slink away without being detected, but luck was not on his side. "One of the men saw me," he says, rubbing his thumb along the back of her hand, "an' he pulled his gun on me. Shot me in the shoulder."

She gasps at that, pulling her chair closer to his. He says he remembers falling to the ground, screaming out in pain as he clutched his wound, and then there was another shot to his leg. "That one hurt even worse, I think," he admits, looking at her sheepishly as if he's ashamed of not being able to bear the pain of a gunshot wound. She would never think less of him for that, ever, and she hopes he knows that. She does all she can do in this moment, letting him garner comfort from their joined hands, squeezing his palm to let him know she's there for him. "I didna ken which bullet wound was worse, so I switched to holding my leg as I tried to crawl away." His tears fall, and he sniffles, adding, "I just wanted to get home."

His voice breaks at the admission, and she can no longer hold back her emotions. She lets out a shuddering breath, crying along with him for the accident.

"I wasna fast enough, I'spose," he drawls, his voice coming out in a whimper, clearly trying to reign in his tears.

He continues his account of that night, telling her how one of the men caught up to him before he could make it into the shadows of the alley way. "They dragged me through the streets," he says, his free hand reaching to rub at his neck self consciously.

Jamie is a large man, so she can only imagine the strength of these men. She knows that even with two gunshot wounds, he would've fought for his life. Would've fought to get back to his family.

"It was that road we always joked would blow our tires out, remember?"

She does. That road was always so bumpy and torn up from years of neglect from the city. She used to make Jamie drive over it at the end of her pregnancies, willing labor to start.

Nodding, she whispers that she does, and he tells her he was there. That was the road they dragged him down. She knows that, had been told by the police where her husband lost his life. She's driven down that road countless times, crying silently as the girls chattered on in the backseat, none the wiser to what that spot held for their family, but hearing it from him for some reason feels like a punch to her gut all over again. "Felt like miles," he declares, "though I'm not sure how far they actually took me. I passed out, ye ken?"

He's not sure of all the details after that, just recalls waking up three days later in a small hospital hours away from their home.

Turns out, it was two rivaling gangs, arguing over an arms deal. One of the men dragging him down the pavement ended up being an undercover cop, and he rescued him, taking him to safety and making sure he lived.

"I had to have surgery, they say, to stop all the bleeding, but my back is covered in scars now from the road."

She curses everything, all of this, knowing that if she'd been allowed to know of what happened, then she could have been at that hospital, cataloguing all of his injuries and helping him heal. She would have taken him in her arms, letting him cry through the pain, helping him to feel human once more.

Jamie smiles small, looking back up to her. He's been staring at the ground at her feet, almost ashamed, and she wishes more than anything she could take that shame away from him. He is not to blame here, and it breaks her heart that he somehow feels embarrassed over this whole thing. "I'm lucky, I guess, that Officer Grey was undercover." He squeezes her hand once more, disclosing, "He's the only reason I'm alive."

When he woke up in the hospital, Officer John Grey asked him what he remembered and took his statement.

Jamie says that John informed him he was now under the protection of the US Marshals. Turns out John wasn't just a police officer, but an agent for the federal government. They'd been trying to capture the mob boss, Master Raymond, for years. He'd been buying, selling and trading illegal weapons internationally, and was slippery enough to weasel his way out anytime the feds got close to catching him. Jamie was unfortunately caught up in it now and would need to testify once it was safe.

"So they put me in witness protection, ye see, moved me to North Carolina to a safe house."

"What about my wife? My child?" he demanded, angrily. "My wife is just weeks away from giving birth, damn it!"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Fraser," Officer Grey said, genuinely sounding apologetic, "there is no other choice."

John Grey told him of Master Raymond's weapons dealing, and how they'd been trying to catch him for some time. "I've been undercover for almost two years trying to set up a bust."

He apologized again, saying he had a husband and child, too, so he understood how hard this was.

"So Claire just… thinks I'm… dead?" He shook his head, enraged. "That's all ye could tell her!?"

John nodded again sadly, spewing another meaningless apology.

"I know it's not an ideal situation," John declared, clasping Jamie on the shoulder, "but this was the only way to keep you from being killed by Master Raymond."

Jamie sighed, taking it all in.

Officer Grey told him that he'd be put in protective custody for a few months here in Wilmington, North Carolina, while he and his team worked on the details of the case and tried to get a trial date set.

"So that's where I am, aye? North Carolina?"

That's hours away from his family in Georgia. He longed to see Claire, to tell her he was okay and not to worry. He wanted nothing more than to hold his girls in his arms.

Claire would be all alone. Sure, they had friends, and a handful of family members, but… it just didn't feel the same knowing she'd be without him. He and Claire had landed in Georgia a month after their wedding six years ago. A month before their wedding, Claire was offered a prestigious residency at Emory University Hospital, and it was too good to pass up. So, after their honeymoon, and with a heavy heart, they'd said goodbye to their family in Scotland and headed for America where he'd work for his Uncle Dougal at his distillery. He wasn't particularly close with his uncle, but it was a job, and that was what he needed.

Claire would have Geillis, he knew that. The woman had ended up marrying his Uncle, oddly enough, and Claire had been beyond thrilled when her friend joined them a while back.

She had Joe, and he knew Murtagh would never leave her side, especially not now. His godfather had moved to the states when Claire was pregnant with Faith, claiming he wanted to witness Jamie becoming a da and vowed to be there for them no matter what, just as he had been for Jamie his whole life. Knowing Murtagh would be there was somewhat of a comfort, but… Fuck, this was awful. His poor Sassenach.

His eyes teared up thinking of his wife, and Faith, and the pain they must be feeling. His heart broke at the knowledge that Claire was not allowed to know he was actually alive. She would have to live with the heartache of being a widow when really he was right here, just two states away, longing for her.

Claire's mind is swarming with thoughts and questions, trying to process all of this information. She wants to be present, wants to take all of it in and support him, but holy hell, this is like something from a movie.

She feels her chin tremble, and she realizes she's weeping far harder than she thought. She sniffles, blinking the tears away to see Jamie is crying just as much. Claire takes his other hand in hers, gripping it tightly as she fully realizes that he didn't choose to leave them.

Deep down, she thinks she's known that all day, but seeing your husband after grieving the loss of him for years, makes you conjure up a whole slew of situations to contemplate.

"By time I woke up in the hospital, they'd already told you I was… dead." He chokes on the last word, bringing one of her hands up to his lips, kissing her knuckles and breathing in her scent. "I'm so sorry, mo ghraidh."

Sniffling back the tears, she nods. "I'm just glad you're alive," she whispers, trying to contain her tears. "We have to tell Jenny!"

"No, Sassenach," he says sternly, shaking his head. "We canna do that. No one can know I'm alive. It's already dangerous enough with you knowing."

Closing her eyes, she breathes out slowly, cheeks ballooning out. She knows Jenny will want to hear all about their vacation when it's over, she's already been texting her and asking for pictures of the girls, but hearing her voice will kill Claire. She'll have to avoid calling her sister-in-law, simply in fear that she'll break down in tears and spill the biggest secret of her life.

Her heart is aching, and she feels so conflicted over Jamie's story. She's worked so damn hard over the last few years to grieve, heal, and learn to live life again. She has Frank back home, a man that loves her, and...

Shit. Frank. She feels bad, guilt gnawing at her stomach like hunger pains. She hadn't even thought of him until just now, but she knows she needs to tell Jamie the truth.

"Jamie…" she starts, trailing off again. The look in his eye pains her, those crystal blue eyes staring into the depths of her soul. "I need to tell you something." He studies her face, and bloody Christ, why is this all so hard? She takes a deep breath, preparing herself for what she needs to confess. "I… I have a… a boyfriend." She grimaces at the word, worried how he will react. There was probably a better way to deliver this news, but, oh well, it's out now and there's no taking it back.

She watches as his face falls, crumbles into anger. He drops her hands, standing up abruptly. His hands fly into his hair, tugging at it in obvious anger. She can see the veins protruding in his neck, and she knows from experience that he's about to explode.

Claire wants to feel lousy, but damn it all, he was dead. She had every right to move on, and it's not fair that he gets to be angry but she doesn't.

"A boyfriend," he scoffs, whirling back around to glare at her.

She stands, refusing to be the meek and obedient type who sits by and gets berated. "Yes," she declares heatedly through clenched teeth, trying not to let her voice get too loud with the girls in the next room. "You were dead, Jamie. You left me, what other choice did I have?"

"Left you?" he seethes, stepping closer to her.

And isn't that just so typical of him, trying to intimidate her with his large frame? They'd had their heated moments in the past, this is nothing new to her, though she can't shake the feeling of wanting to smile at how familiar this all feels.

"I didna leave you, Claire," he growls, his eyes growing wide, "I was taken and put into witness protection."

"Yes, I heard you the first time you told me," she spits back. She reminds him that in her world, he was dead, gone and buried. "Was I supposed to stay home and be depressed for the rest of my life? No! I needed to live life again, Jamie."

"Aye, and ye did," he says, his teeth clenched. "Ye healed with yer legs spread for another man!"

The slap to his face was unexpected, but he was just so close, and his words provoked her, enraging her with the accusation. She doesn't care if he's back from the dead, he has no right to speak to her like this.

Thoughts of Frank flash through her mind. They may have been together for seven months, but she hasn't slept with him. It was too much the times they tried to be more intimate—more than just hands roaming beneath belt lines and heated kisses—but she'd always clam up, thoughts of Jamie clouding her mind and making her feel guilty.

Frank had understood, had been so comforting in those moments saying that it was okay, and that they could take all the time in the world. He was there for her, no matter how long it would take her to be ready for sex. He was always so patient and understanding, and she appreciated it more than she could put into words.

She won't tell Jamie that, though, not right now anyway. His words have pissed her off even more; he doesn't deserve the satisfaction of knowing she hasn't slept with anyone since him.

"I would have waited centuries for ye, Claire!" he states, his voice growing louder. "Ye could ha' done the same!"

She scoffs, shaking her head. "Waited!? What was I waiting for Jamie? You were dead."

Her hand lifts again with that, but Jamie grabs her wrist before she can slap him once more, growling for her not to touch him.

"Oh, well, I'm used to that!" she cries, the tears springing to her eyes. "I haven't been able to touch you in six goddamn years because I thought you were buried six feet under the ground!"

He drops her wrist then, tears spilling from his eyes. He takes a few shaky steps away from her, his face a mix of confusion and regret as he sinks to his knees in the middle of the room, covering his face with both hands. "Hearing ye moved on breaks my heart," he croaks, crying, "It's tearing my guts out, Claire, but… I ken ye had a life wi' out me." He looks up to her then, "It would be unfair of me to stay angry over that."

Her shoulders slump, furrowed brow and clenched jaw all relaxing as she kneels beside him, her hand resting on his back. She can feel the scars beneath the thin fabric of his t-shirt, and that knowledge, the feel of his fight to stay alive, jars her.

She sobs into his shoulder, burying her face in the crook of her neck.

They stay like that, arms winding around one another as they cry together. Weeping for all the years lost, for the fact that he missed so much of his children's life, crying over their harsh words spoken in the heat of the moment when they should really be celebrating that by some sheer miracle they've found one another again.

The emotions overwhelm her, and she fears her wracking sobs will draw the girls' attention to them, but she can't help it. She may have been overjoyed but also angry earlier, but now there's nothing but relief.

Jamie is here. Alive. And the sensation washes over her like a shower pouring over her skin after a long, grimmy surgery.

The tears continue to flow as they pull apart, just far enough to see one another, to take the other in once more after all this time. She and Jamie reach up simultaneously, wiping away each other's tears.

"I'm sorry, Jamie," she cries. And she is, for slapping him, for being angry when she should've been listening to him, for moving on when he was actually alive… "Forgive me," she begs on a shaky exhale.

He takes her face in his palm once more, thumb brushing against her skin gingerly. "Forgiven," he breathes, pressing his forehead against hers. "I'm sorry, too. I dinna mean the things I said, I was sore and said more than I meant." He tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear, cupping her jaw as he inquires, "Ye forgive me, too?"

She bites her lip to stop it from trembling and nods. Their foreheads are still pressed together, her eyes almost crossing when she opens her eyes to look at him. Her hand is resting on his cheek, but she moves it enough that her thumb can rub against his chin as she declares, "Forgiven," as if it were the most obvious thing in the universe. She says it without thought, without hesitation, knowing there was nothing in this world he could do that she would not forgive him for.

Jamie's thoughts must mirror her own, because he tells her that she needn't ask for forgiveness. "There's nothing ye've ever done or could do that I wouldna forgive ye for, mo chridhe. I love ye too much for that."

He takes her hands in his, gently this time, tugging her up to stand with him. He kisses her wrist where his hand had been holding it moments ago. He hadn't held them tightly, nowhere near being painful, but she can see the guilt in his eyes.

She wraps her arms around his shoulders, and Jamie concedes, "I ken ye thought I was dead, mo ghraidh, and I canna fault ye for trying to move on." He pulls her closer, rocking their bodies back and forth. "It's been six years, 'tis good of you to try an' be happy again."

His words flood her with relief, never truly realizing how much weight she'd been carrying on her shoulders as a widow trying to move on.

They pull apart, both wiping at their eyes. Jamie motions back to the chairs they'd vacated, and she nods.

He stands, reaching his hand down to her. She takes it, and he pulls her up, smiling over at her. She smiles back, a bit nervous, and as he makes his way over to the chairs, she cracks the door open, peeking in on the girls to make sure they were okay. She's afraid their argument, no matter how brief it was, may have gotten louder than she thought.

Much to her relief, both girls are on the couch, Faith's little arms wrapped around Bree's as they watch The Little Mermaid, their favorite thanks to Ariel's red hair.

Smiling, she turns back around, heading for Jamie.

"They okay?" he asks softly, and she grins.

Nodding, she assures him they are safely absorbed in the world of Atlantica and none the wiser to what is happening in here.

"So," he starts, clearing his throat. "Tell me… about this boyfriend."

Biting her lip, she keeps it brief. "His name is Frank… Frank Randall." She tells him they met at Geillis' yoga studio, and Jamie chuckles at the knowledge their friend finally opened her own studio.

Claire tells him that Frank is a professor. He's kind and is great with the girls, but when she sees the uneasy look on Jamie's face, quickly ends with, "We've been dating for about seven, almost eight months, but I've known him for years."

He nods, obviously trying his best not to get upset. He changes the subject soon after, asking about the girls instead.

This is a much safer topic, and she sighs a breath of relief.

Claire beams, pulling out her phone and opening her camera roll. She taps the top of the screen, sending it to the very top. The first few are pictures from when he was alive. She'd gotten a new phone just days before they found out she was pregnant with Brianna, so her entire pregnancy is documented.

"These you remember," she giggles, showing him pictures of him laying his head on her belly and trying to take a selfie.

He laughs, scrolling down the page some more.

She stops the scrolling, showing him pictures that Joe had taken of her, Faith and newborn Bree in the hospital. "Joe was there for the birth," she explains, "and Murtagh, of course," and Jamie beams, saying he's glad.

"No' another pair of men in the world I'd rather be there with you than those two."

She smiles right back, showing him some more photos of the girls. There's one she loves, it's of Faith holding Brianna for the first time, and her little pudgy face beaming into the camera.

Then there's Joe and Geillis smiling over the newest addition. She shows him a handful of pictures with Murtagh, Jamie laughing as he says his godfather has aged.

"I'll be sure to tell him that," she laughs, then stops, realizing she won't be able to. No one can know he's alive. Her face falls, but she clears her throat, flipping to the next photo. "Murtagh loves the girls, of course," she smiles, saying he's been their rock all these years.

Jamie nods proudly, saying he expected nothing less. "And Jocasta?"

She chuckles, knowing they always poked fun at Murtagh for moving to Georgia "for them" but really she and Jamie knew it was because he wanted to be closer to Jamie's long lost aunt, Jocasta, that they'd only discovered lived in Georgia months after moving there when Dougal let it slip oh so casually that his sister lived nearby, shocking them all.

"They're married," she tells him, scrolling to a picture of their wedding. "Finally made it official three years ago."

He smiles widely, bringing the phone closer to his face to inspect the picture. "Good for him!"

They spend a few minutes discussing his godfather, but before long, the conversation goes back to their girls when Claire shows him another picture of Brianna, this one of her and Faith in the kiddie pool in their backyard.

Their swollen bellies are poking out of their polka dot bikinis, and Jamie snorts, shaking his head.

"Adorable," he chuckles wetly, his eyes brimming with tears. "Tell me about her. What was her first word?"

"Dog," Claire laughs. "She loves dogs… and horses. And really anything to do with the outdoors." She smirks over to Jamie, knowing he was always the animal lover out of the two of them. "She started Girl Scouts this year."

"Yeah?"

She nods, opening up her Instagram to show him a picture of Bree in her little brownie uniform from a few months ago.

He smiles at it, then switches back to her camera roll, wanting to see more of her as a baby. She knows it's because he wants to see every little thing that he missed, and she loves him for it.

"What about after dog? What did she say?"

"No."

He snickers, stating, "Aye, they always seem to learn that one fast."

She chuckles, too, remembering Faith's first word was Da and then very quickly after that was No.

"Stubborn wee things, the both of 'em."

They laugh and agree that their genes were bound to create hard headed, independent little girls.

They spend the next twenty minutes or so going through pictures, laughing and crying as Claire shares as much history of the girls' lives as she possibly can.

One picture is of Faith in the background clapping as Bree takes her first steps. "Oh, I have a video of this!" Claire exclaims, swiping through to find it.

Pressing play, she hands Jamie the phone, observing him as he watches their youngest take her first steps, gurgling wildly as she walks toward Claire.

"I remember when Faith learned to walk," he says, wiping away his lone tear.

"Claire! Claire, look!" he shouted, gesturing madly toward little Faith. "I think she's going tae walk!"

Claire rushed in from the living room, joining her husband and daughter in the kitchen. He'd been fixing the broken table leg, Faith playing dutifully with a pile of toys next to him.

They watched as Faith stood on wobbly legs, bouncing where she was and grinning up at her parents.

"Ye can do it, a leannan," he encouraged, taking out his phone. He opened the camera, pressing record as he took a few steps back. "Come to Da, come on, sweet girl!"

Faith's chubby hands reached out for him, her head turning to look at Claire.

Claire smiled, biting down on her lip as she gestured her head toward Jamie. "Go to Da, baby, you can do it!"

She stood behind her, ready to catch her if she fell, and Faith took a tentative step toward Jamie. Once her little leg made contact with the floor in its new location, she started making babbling noises, lifting her other leg and moving it forward. "Da!" she gurgled, arms reaching for him.

He kept motioning with one hand for her to come to him, stretching his hand out for her to grab, while his other held tightly to the camera.

She finally made it the four steps it took to get to him, Jamie scooping her up and peppering her chunky cheeks with kisses as she squealed in delight. "That's my girl!"

Claire joined them on the other side of the kitchen, pressing a kiss to Faith's little foot before connecting with Jamie's.

The rest of the afternoon was spent placing Faith down, encouraging her to walk a few steps, and every time being just as excited as the last.

"I canna tell ye how many times I've watched that video, Claire." He tells her that even though John had the police give his phone to Claire, he'd had his photos and videos transferred to another so Jamie had at least a small part of his life to look back at. "It's probably against the rules," he snickers, "but John is no' one to stick to 'em."

Smiling, she wipes furiously at her cheeks, thinking of Jamie being tucked away, alone, in North Carolina, watching videos of their life together.

She knows that's how he must've spent most of his time, because it's exactly how she spent hers. She realizes that just because he didn't die, doesn't mean he didn't have a life to grieve as well.

With that thought, she plasters on a smile, showing him more pictures and videos of the girls over the last six years and recounting all the joyous occasions in their daughters' lives.

"I canna believe I've missed so much," he mumbles, jaw clenching as he swipes through more pictures of them. His finger traces along the lines of Brianna's face in one picture, saying how much she looks like Claire.

"I've always thought she looked like you," she chuckles, "especially now that your hair is cut short; the curls are gone." She pouts a bit at that, always loving his curls, but knows he had to change his appearance to stay safe.

He snorts, saying she's a good mix, whereas Faith is mostly him with those blue eyes and strong jaw.

"They've both got the Fraser cat eyes," she giggles, showing him another picture of the girls from last Christmas. They're sitting in Santa's lap, grinning madly, none the wiser that the grumpy Santa is really their Uncle Murtagh in disguise.

Jamie's laughter erupts from him, his stomach shaking with the force of it as he looks at his godfather scowling behind the excited little girls' heads. "Please tell me ye have this one framed."

She laughs, swatting at his arm.

He goes to speak again, but before he can say anything, the door bursts open, Brianna bounding inside. She hops onto Claire's lap, head almost knocking Claire in the chin as she declares, "We're getting hungry. Can we eat now?"

Laughing softly, Claire kisses the top of her head and wraps her arms around her belly. "Alright then," she says, "let's order something."

Bree hops off her lap, running into the living room with a yayyyy as she tells her sister their plans.

Claire smiles over to Jamie, and they both stand, making their way into the other room.

{************************}

An hour later, their food has been delivered from the hotel's kitchen. They'd decided that ordering in would be better so they could talk freely. Claire isn't sure how safe it is for him to be out in public, hadn't thought to ask, but she'd rather be safe than sorry.

"Why are you in Spain?" she whispers, taking a bite of her pasta.

The girls are sitting around the coffee table, happily dazed out as they eat and watch another movie, so Claire feels okay asking him.

He smirks, saying that he wanted to get away. "John's husband, Hector, is from here. Well, his family is anyway," he tells her, taking a sip of his water. "When they told me they were coming to visit his relatives and let their daughter, Sophia, meet them, I kind of… weel, invited myself along."

She laughs and blushes a bit, but she takes his hand, saying she's glad he ended up coming.

"Aye," he chuckles, saying once he heard they were going, he just had to tag along, seeing as Spain was always their dream destination.

"I guess Spain was calling us to it," she quips, sipping on her water.

Once the movie ends, Claire asks the girls to listen up. They each turn their attention to their parents, Bree nestling into Claire's lap while Faith sits in the chair next to Jamie's.

She and Jamie try to explain as best they can what has happened, how and why daddy is back from the dead.

Jamie tells them that a bad guy hurt him, and since he's not in jail yet, Daddy has to hide.

"Is that why your hair is brown now?" Faith asks, her little button nose scrunching up with a giggle.

He snickers, tapping her on the nose. "Aye, 'tis. D'ye like it this color?"

Faith pretends to think, a dramatic mmmm coming from her.

"I like it!" Bree says, telling him it's the same color as Mama's.

"You've never seen his real hair, though!" Faith laughs, and Bree crosses her arms, declaring with a pout that she's seen pictures.

"I've seen the same pictures as you," she tells her older sister, sticking her tongue out.

Shaking her head, Claire lightly admonishes, "Girls, no need to argue," but she can't help the warm feeling inside her chest as her girls argue over who has seen their daddy the most.

They explain to the girls that since Daddy is still in hiding, no one can know he's alive, not even Uncle Joe, Aunt Geillis and Uncle Dougal, or Uncle Murtagh and Jocasta.

"Woah," Faith breathes, but eventually nods. She equates it to some kid-spy movie that Claire isn't sure she's even seen, but their eldest seems to understand the situation to some degree, while Claire thinks Bree is just nodding when Faith does, not quite grasping the situation.

Claire can barely wrap her mind around what is happening, so she knows this is confusing for their children.

Once they've explained all they can, as best they can, Claire declares they can watch one more movie. The girls bound over to the couch with whoops of excitement. They watch one more all together, Bree cuddles in Jamie's lap, waving her messy-haired Barbie in his face, causing him to laugh as she rambles on, telling him all about the doll and why she's her favorite.

Faith sits between them, her head in Claire's lap, her feet pressed against the side of Jamie's thigh. She throws her two cents in about the movie every now and then, but as Claire twists Faith's curls with her fingers, she can feel her breath evening out and knows she's growing tired.

When the movie ends, both girls are asleep, Bree snoring softly in the crook of Jamie's neck, while Faith tosses and turns, trying to get comfortable in between her parents.

Claire turns the television off, thankful they'd left the light above the sink in the kitchen on so they could see.

She stands, picking up Faith with a practised ease. She whispers, asking Jamie if he has Bree or if she needs to come back for her, and he shakes his head, promising he can do it.

He stands, his big arms holding onto her protectively, and the sight warms her heart.

They pad gently into the girls' room, the moonlight from the window providing enough illumination to help them see. Both girls had changed into pajamas hours before, thankfully, making this process much easier.

Claire lays Faith down in the twin bed closest to the window, pulling the blanket up over her. When she finishes, she watches as Jamie does the same with Bree, bending down to press a feather light kiss to her temple.

Just when she thought she'd cried all the tears possible in her body, her body revolts, bringing a fresh set of tears to her eyes.

Blinking them back away, she kisses Faith's head, stepping over to Bree's to do the same as Jamie places one to Faith's temple, too.

Once they leave the room, Jamie closing the door softly behind him, they make their way over to the couch again.

Claire removes the Barbies stuck in the cushions, Jamie breathing out a laugh through his nose. "Barbies galore, I see."

"You have no idea," she giggles, tossing the last one onto the coffee table before plopping down onto the couch.

She can see that her you have no idea cut deep, the look on his face one of a wounded animal, and she apologizes quickly.

He waves her off, though, promising her it's alright.

"So," she says, slapping her leg, trying her best to change the subject. "I know you're on vacation now, but... are you safe here? I noticed earlier you kept looking around when we were in the courtyard."

Nodding, he explains that it's just a force of habit these days. He's spent the last few years looking over his shoulder anytime he went outside, and even though there's absolutely no way Master Raymond or any of his gang members could find him here, he never wants to let his guard down.

She can understand that and tells him so. "What about North Carolina, though? Are you safe there?"

Smiling, he informs her that he's been well protected there, John and his team still putting the case all together but working around the clock to make sure he's safe. "They don't want to miss a single detail so that all this work isn't in vain."

She asks him about John, noting he'd mentioned him several times, and Jamie says that he and Hector have become his best friends. "He truly saved me, Sassenach."

Her heart lurches at the nickname, eyes misting over at the sound of it rolling off his tongue. It's a name he'd brandished her with just days into meeting, claiming she was the only outlander he'd met at school, and therefore was his sassenach. He hadn't said it yet today, and she has to speak around the lump in her throat when she answers with, "I'm glad you have him."

"Aye," he smiles, recounting what it was like moving to Wilmington. John gave him a new identity, setting him up with a fake ID and all the proper paperwork he'd ever need to prove that he was, in fact, Alexander Malcolm.

She smiles at the name, knowing he got it from two of his middle names.

James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser.

She'd made fun of him back in college when she'd learned his full name, saying it was a mouthful, but when he explained all the family meaning behind it, she conceded that it was a beautiful name.

"It's a good name."

He smirks, "Aye, 'tis."

Jamie goes on, telling her that John and Hector came to Spain before the trial begins in a few months, knowing they wouldn't have time to visit Hector's aunt and uncle for a while if they didn't go now. "I dinna want tae tell you in front of the bairns, ye ken, but John's team has finally gotten a date set for trial in June and they're working 'round the clock to get all their ducks in a row so they can put Master Raymond away for good."

Until the trial begins, he'll continue his life in North Carolina. "Hector owns a farm near my house," he says, smiling brightly as he tells her he works there, grooming the horses.

"You love working with horses."

He smiles again, saying, "Ye askin' or purely making an observation?"

"An observation," she grins, biting her lips. "And the distillery?" She knows he took the job with his Uncle Dougal simply because he needed a job in Atlanta once she took her position at Emory. It was easy, seeing as Dougal owned the company, and he was able to get Murtagh a job, too, but she always feared he was never truly happy with his work.

"Och," he grunts, "Canna say I loved it. I was good at it, but," he sighs, "working wi' the wee beasties on the farm just gives me more of a sense of purpose, ye ken?"

She nods, but before she can say anything, he adds that it's peaceful, and he loves it, "but sometimes it gives me too much time to think."

He admits to spending his days imagining her and the bairns. "I've wondered for sae long what Brianna looked like, or even what her name was." He runs a hand through his hair, taking a sip from his glass of water he'd left on the coffee table earlier. "I ken we'd been going back and forth between Brianna and Julia, but I thank ye for honoring my da like that, Claire."

She tears up at his words, knowing in her mind, there was never a question to it. Brian had been such an important part of their lives, and naming a child after him just made sense.

"Oh, and I have a roommate," he chuckles.

Her eyebrows scrunch, trying to imagine a thirty-six year old man with a roommate. "Oh, really?"

Jamie smirks, saying their house is big enough that it wasn't hard to get used to. "His name's Fergus," he explains, "though I ken that's not really his name. Poor lad got stuck with that as an alias."

She snickers, shaking her head at him. He seems happy talking about his new life, and though there's a twinge of something in her stomach that makes her think maybe he prefers his new life, she's glad that he hasn't been miserable all these years.

Jamie goes on, explaining that Fergus was brought to the house a year ago, which took Jamie some getting used to. "Our work hours are pretty different, though, so we rarely see one another, but he's a great guy. Almost feel like he's a long lost son of mine or something."

Fergus is twenty-four, and Claire can't imagine being that young and being put in witness protection.

"Does he have a family?"

Jamie shakes his head, informing her that they're not allowed to discuss their real lives. "It's part of the protection, ken?" he asks. "But I can tell he probably has a wife and a bairn or two based on the way his face changes when little kids are brought up in conversation or we see something on television."

Claire nods, not able to imagine how hard that must be on them. "I'm sorry, Jamie," she murmurs, a lump forming in her throat, and she curses herself for the tears forming in her eyes again.

He shakes his head, taking her hand in his, and promising her that she has nothing to be sorry for.

"It's all my fault, though," she cries, once again telling him that if he hadn't gone to get her that damn ice cream, none of this would have ever happened. "It should've been me, I—"

"—No, Sassenach," he says with so much passion, she would've fallen to her knees if they weren't sitting. "'Tis better this way. I can bear pain myself, and loneliness, but I couldna bear thinking ye had perished." He shakes his head at the though, gathering himself before he says, "That would take more strength than I have, and our girls needed ye."

She rubs her lips together, wondering if she'll ever stop crying. Wiping away the tears, she nods, knowing she'll never win this disagreement, they're both far too selfless when it comes to the other, so she lets it go.

"Christ, I've missed ye so much," he says, sniffling back more tears.

She nods, knowing she's missed him just as much but unable to form the words to describe truly how much. She can't decide who had it worse—Jamie, knowing they were all alive but couldn't contact them, or her, thinking her soulmate had passed away.

"We both got royally screwed over in this situation," she says dryly.

He agrees with a snort, saying he regrets going out that night, has beaten himself up over it for years because he'd been at the grocery store the day before. "If I'd just grabbed that damn ice cream then… I kent ye'd be wanting it at some point soon, I should ha' just grabbed it then." He blinks back more tears, telling her that he's played that day over and over again in his mind. "If only I hadn't been a wee daftie, we would never have been in this situation. I could've been wi' ye through Brianna's birth, could've helped raise our girls." He chokes on his words then, emotion taking over. "I'm so, so sorry, Claire."

She wraps him in her arms, crying and saying again how sorry she is, too.

"I'd like to sit here and play the blame game," he says, "but truly, after all these years, I ken it was Master Raymond's fault and no one elses."

She dabs at her eyes, agreeing that there's no sense in blaming themselves any longer. It's happened now, and all they can do is move forward.

"Jamie," she says, reaching over to take his hand. Their fingers intertwine, resting on the cushion between them, "what do we do now when we go back to America?"

He sighs, saying he'll have to talk to John. He'd text him earlier, saying he would be back at their hotel later, which resulted in a string of texts from John asking for details, and several missed calls that Jamie had ignored. He tells her that he'd text John to say he'd found her and the girls, and John was giving them tonight to talk before he intervened, followed by several texts to be on the lookout, be safe, and to check in every hour even if it was just with a thumbs up emoji.

"So that's what you've been doing," she giggles.

He laughs, saying John is quite protective, for good reason. "But as far as America goes," he says, pausing to think. "Mebbe now that ye ken I'm alive, ye and the girls can move to North Carolina…" he looks timid, shrugging as he admits, "I hate to ask ye to uproot yer lives like that, but…"

"N-no," she says, stumbling over her words as the thought hits her for the first time. "No, that makes sense, I suppose. You're still under the government's protection, so…"

Thoughts of Frank fill her mind, of how she'll tell him. She's conflicted… Frank has been so good to her, she can't just disappear on him, but can't think of what she'd say. He's helped her through her grief and supported her. She can't just leave him… can she?

She thinks of her job, the hospital she loves so much. She thinks of Joe, Geillis, and Murtagh, how they'll be devastated for her to move states away with no explanation… she can just imagine Murtagh now grunting his dissatisfaction at her and asking never ending questions as to what brought the decision on. He'd probably blame Frank somehow, Murtagh has never liked him.

Her life is rooted in Atlanta, though, so are the girls'. They have their school, their friends, their home. Faith has her ballet class and piano lessons, Brianna has Girl Scouts and horseback riding... It would be a lot, but this is Jamie. Her husband.

She bites her lip, unsure of what to do or say.

"What will I tell everyone?"

Jamie bites down on his lip in much the same manner, clearly just as unsure as she is.

He says he can ask John tonight, and she nods.

After an awkward beat of silence, he stands, clearing his throat. "I should be heading back to our hotel," he states, "John will worry if I don't make it back before ten."

Nodding, she stands, smoothing down her shirt. She tucks her hands in her back pockets, rocking on her heels.

The thought of letting him go right now, of sending him away, pains her, but she also wants to be alone to scream and cry in the shower where no one can hear her.

"I don't want you to leave," she whispers, images of the last night she ever saw him coming to the forefront of her mind. Her fear grips her, terrified that if she lets him go right now, she'll never see him again. She could wake up tomorrow and realize this was all just a terribly wonderful dream. He smiles at her, though, leaning in. Her breath catches in her throat as she thinks he's going to kiss her, images of Frank coming to the forefront of her mind.

His lips instead land chastely on her cheek, and when he pulls back, he smiles sadly down at her. "I dinna want tae either, Sassenach, but I ken ye need some time to think about all of this."

Smiling, she goes to apologize, but he holds up a hand, saying, "Dinna fash," before he grabs his phone from the table.

Tucking it in his back pocket, he takes her hand, leading them to the door. He says John has already ordered a car to come pick him up and it's waiting downstairs, so she sighs, wrapping her arms around his neck.

He breathes into her skin, causing goosebumps to flare as she holds back tears.

"I'll see you tomorrow?" she asks, knowing she sounds like a child, but praying he says yes.

"Aye, of course," he whispers, kissing her cheek once more, his lips lingering there longer than moments before. "I love ye, Claire."

A lump forms in her throat as she feels as if her whole body begins to shake with emotion. "I love you too, Jamie," she states, and she does, no matter how much time has passed or how much of a boyfriend she may have, she does love Jamie. What that means for her, and him, and even Frank, she's not sure, but she'll figure that out.

As she closes the door behind him, her phone vibrates in her back pocket. Too mentally exhausted at the moment, she simply presses her head to the cool wood, wondering what in the hell just happened and what she was going to do.

She pulls out her phone as she steps away from the door, stopping dead in her tracks when she reads the message.

Miss you. Haven't heard from you all day, but I hope you and the girls had a wonderful time exploring. Can't wait until you three are back here with me.

Frank. Fuck.

She needs to tell him, and all her friends, something, but she knows it can't be the truth. As she checks on the girls, seeing that they're still soundly asleep—Bree sprawled out like a starfish, and Faith sleeping straight as a board, save for her one hand resting above her head—only one thought rages through her mind: This is going to be far more complicated than she thought.

{************************)

There we have it! The truth is out… now we have to heal from it and move through this messy situation! lol What did y'all think? :)

(And just a side note for anyone who knows about witness protection: I know that usually with WP, they take the person's family into protection too, but, ya know what? This is a fictional story, and I wanted to write *this* story LOL so… don't come for me hahah)

Chapter Text

Chapter Four:

The next morning, Claire wakes up to a handful of text messages.

Two from Joe, reminding her to take it easy and enjoy her vacation. She snorts at those, knowing things just got so much more complicated on this trip and relaxing was no longer an option.

One from Murtagh, just checking in to make sure she and the girls were having a good time. She smiles, thinking of the old coot back home, and sending him a picture she'd taken of the girls at the royal palace yesterday before her world turned upside down.

And then there's Frank. Claire has four more messages from him since last night, and she sighs, feeling uneasy. She'd responded last night that they were having a great time and she would call him tomorrow, which she wasn't sure if she'd be able to do. She also told him she was excited to see him in a few days, to which he responded with much the same sentiment, telling her he'd found a new restaurant for them to try.

Sighing, Claire locks her phone again, standing from the bed and stretching. Her joints pop and she rolls her neck, trying to wake up and get out of this fog she's in.

She pads over to the bathroom, splashing her face with cool water and washing it with her cleanser. She needs to check on the girls before she plans to shower or anything, so after brushing her teeth, she walks out into the living room and across to their room.

Opening the door, she grins, seeing they're still both in similar positions to last night. She chuckles to herself, knowing that they even sleep like their personalities—Faith a bit more put together, calmer, and Bree more on the wild and crazy side. She loves the differences in their girls, it makes them both so unique and special.

Claire closes the door softly and makes her way to the kitchen, turning on a pot of coffee.

As the aroma fills the space, she closes her eyes, inhaling deeply while the magical dose of caffeine brews.

Before the coffee finishes, there's a light knock on the front door.

Brows furrowed, she walks over, looking through the peephole.

Jamie.

She smiles, biting her lip to contain it. The sight of him stuns her, still wrapping her mind around the fact that he's alive.

She'd spent a good portion of her night after he left sobbing into her pillow, trying to grieve all the years they'd lost knowing they could've been together this whole time.

"Good morning," she greets, opening the door.

He holds up two cups of coffee, kissing her on the cheek.

The action makes her blush, but she takes the cup anyway, opening the door wider to let him in.

"Morning, Sassenach," he says, stepping into the living room. "Seems I beat ye to the coffee," he grins, pointing toward the coffee pot that just finished.

She giggles, taking a sip of the beverage he brought, moaning at the taste. "This is delicious," she says, taking another sip.

He tells her it's from a small café he'd discovered the other day and had since been visiting each morning.

Smiling, she motions for him to join her at the kitchen table, admitting she just woke up. "The girls are still asleep, but I was about to start some breakfast. I'm sure they'll be up soon, begging for food."

Jamie smirks, but stands, saying he'll do it.

She watches as he makes his way around the tiny kitchen nook, rummaging through the fridge and pulling out the only container of eggs. There's a loaf of bread on the counter, so she gets up, buttering the bread while he whisks the eggs together.

The simplicity of the action doesn't go unnoticed by her, nor him either, if the look in his eye is anything to go by. This all feels so domestically normal that it makes her eyes tear up.

Just as the eggs finish, the girls' door cracks open and Faith wanders out sleepily, rubbing at her eye with the back of her hand.

She yawns, looking up toward Claire, then Jamie. "Mornin' Mama, Daddy."

The sound of it coming from her mouth shakes Claire to her core, and she's once again amazed at how quickly children can adapt. She envies it, honestly.

Faith pulls out a chair, yawning again as Jamie sets her plate of eggs and toast down in front of her, kissing the top of her head.

He joins her at the table, speaking softly to her and asking if she slept well. She says she did, then launches into a discombobulated tale of a dream she had.

"And then there was this giant hamburger," she laughs, covering her mouth so as not to wake Brianna. "It was chasing a big container of french fries!"

Jamie laughs, "Och, sounds like an odd thing to dream."

"That's not the weirdest part."

He gives her a questioning look, so she continues with, "The french fries were chasing a polar bear!" She shrugs, giving him a crazy look, as if her dream was the weirdest thing she'd ever seen, which, by the sound of it, it was.

Jamie laughs again, shaking his head, then tells her of a dream he had of him and his sister, Jenny, running through the field at Lallybroch.

"I've been there!" Faith exclaims, "We went last year for Christmas break."

Jamie's face goes soft, looking over to Claire, then back to Faith as he nods, saying he misses it terribly.

Faith smiles, in her most understanding way, and pats his shoulder, "You'll go back one of these days, Daddy."

He smiles brightly, leaning over to kiss her cheek, thanking her before launching into a story about one of the horses at the farm in North Carolina and how it got out of the stables one day.

Claire leans against the kitchen counter, watching the two of them converse. It's adorable, and her heart aches at the knowledge that they've lost six years together.

Faith bounces from one subject to the next in rapid succession, obviously excited to have someone new to talk to. She tells Jamie about her dancing classes that she takes, saying ballet is her favorite.

"A wee dancer, aye?"

Faith nods, and Claire chuckles, joining them at the table. "Well, she tried singing lessons, but that quickly ended."

The little girl giggles, covering her mouth as she finishes a bite of food, then agreeing with her mother that singing was not her skill. "Och, Uncle Murtagh says I'm tone deaf like you," she tells him, her little Scottish mannerisms that she's picked up from her godfather popping out, "I'm much better at dancing!"

Jamie laughs, shaking his head, saying he's sure she would've been just fine at singing, but Faith gives him a strange look, saying even she could admit it was bad.

They all laugh softly, trying not to wake a still sleeping Brianna, but before long, the little hurricane is bounding out of the room.

Her hair is a mess, one side tangled up where she'd clearly slept on it too hard. Her blanket is trailing behind her while she has her baby doll tucked protectively under her arm.

She runs over to Jamie, climbing into his lap.

He scoots his chair back, laughing and looking over to Claire as he makes room for her.

Claire stands, making another plate of food for Bree, then fixing one for herself and for Jamie. He thanks her, and the four of them have a perfectly normal morning together, sitting around and talking about their dreams, Brianna telling Jamie all about her horseback riding lessons and Girl Scout troop, and Faith popping in between bites to tell him about her piano lessons that she loves.

"I just had a concert last month," she informs him, munching on her food.

"How'd that go?"

Faith grins, looking to Claire sheepishly, "Weel…" she trails off, Brianna's laughter interrupting the story.

"She forgot her song!" Bree exclaims, Faith shooting her eyes over to her.

Faith huffs, crossing her arms. "It's called a piece, not a song, and yes, I forgot it," she grumbles, clearly still upset with herself, "but I eventually remembered."

Jamie looks to Claire, and she pats his shoulder, explaining that Faith had practiced so much that she had the piece memorized, so she was insistent on not taking her sheet music with her, but when the time came, her nerves got the better of her and she froze on stage.

"I didn't freeze," she defends, shrugging, "I just got nervous, but I recovered!"

Claire smiles, pushing Faith's curls out of her face, "Yes, and you did wonderfully, sweetheart."

Jamie smiles, reassuring Faith that he's positive she did a great job. "Did ye happen to record it, Sassenach?"

She nods, reaching for her phone and showing him the video.

He watched, enraptured with the sight of his daughter playing the piano, and when the video ends, he smiles, chuckling wetly, "Aye, ye're a braw piano player, m'annsachd."

Faith beams at the compliment, thanking Jamie before taking another bite of her breakfast.

"And what of this one?" Jamie asks, pointing to Brianna, "Any videos of horseback riding or, er, Girl Scouts?"

Brianna chuckles, bouncing in her seat. "Yeah! Mama, show him the picture of me riding Mickey!"

Claire scrolls through her phone, pulling up a picture of Brianna sitting atop of black and white spotted horse. "That's Mickey," Brianna jumps in, taking over the explanation. "He's my favorite horse!"

She tells Jamie all about "her" horse, how he loves to eat sugar cubes and carrots. "His lips are gummy and tickle my hand when he takes the sugar," she laughs, holding out her hand as if Mickey's lips are right in front of her.

Jamie chuckles, nodding, "he's a braw horse, that one. D'ye ride him often?"

Bree nods, saying she goes to lessons every other week. "I was in a show a few months ago. I got to ride Mickey and show him off to people! It was so much fun!"

Before either Jamie or Brianna can ask, Claire pulls up the video, showing Jamie a snippet of Brianna riding the horse around an enclosure, letting everyone see.

"She also demonstrated how to brush his coat to a class of younger students."

"Sure did!" she says proudly, "It's 'cause I'm so good at taking care of him. I brush him and feed him, and Miss Kelly even lets me help with the younger kids' horses when I'm there."

"I bet ye are, a leannan," Jamie preens, ruffling her auburn tresses.

Once everyone has had their fill of breakfast, Claire excuses herself, claiming it time to shower and get ready for the day. She kisses her daughters' heads, smiling softly to Jamie and asking if he's okay to spend a few moments alone with them.

He waves her off with a good natured, "Take all the time ye need," so she slips into her bedroom, trying to hurry. She trusts Jamie, of course, more than she would anyone else with her children, but it's been years, and the girls barely know him, so she's afraid something might go wrong in the twenty minutes she needs to collect herself.

All her fears were for nothing, however, because after a shower, throwing on a small amount of makeup and fixing her hair to at least be somewhat presentable to the public in case they go anywhere, she opens her door.

The sight before her melts her heart, and she can do nothing but lean her shoulder against the doorjamb, watching the three of them.

The girls have apparently dragged out a handful of Barbies they'd brought with them, piling them in the living room.

Jamie is sitting with his back against the couch, the coffee table having been pushed up against the television console so they had plenty of room. Faith and Bree sit on opposite sides of the dolls, each picking out outfits for their dolls while Jamie does much the same.

"Does this look alright?" he asks, showing his Barbie to his daughters.

Bree nods enthusiastically at the orange pants and red top with polka dots, saying it looks amazing, while Faith's nose scrunches, saying as nicely as possible, "I think you could do better, Daddy."

He chuckles heartily at that, agreeing. "Och, okay then," he picks up a different shirt, this one solid white, and switches it out, "This better?"

Faith nods her approval, handing him a little jean jacket to put on his doll as well.

Claire watches with a smile on her face, amused that her children seemed to have packed more Barbie dolls and miniature clothing items than she even packed for them.

She's so happy for Faith and Brianna, elated that they get to spend this time with their father, knowing that when they leave in a few days, they'll have to say goodbye to him, and she's not sure she can handle that right now.

This is all so messy, so complicated.

Her heart and her mind are at war with one another. Part of her wants to throw all caution to the wind, wrap her arms around Jamie, and promise everything will be alright, wants to tell him that she and the girls will move to North Carolina with him and support him through the trial. The other, more rational part of her, thinks of her job, and Frank, and her friends. Her life is rooted in Georgia. She'd just bought a house three years ago, finally moving from the home she and Jamie had chosen when they were engaged. Living there had been too painful of a reminder of him and everything she'd lost. She'd finally started to feel at peace, at home, in her new house and now she was just as confused as ever.

Worse yet, she couldn't talk to Geillis or Joe about it, or even Murtagh. She couldn't give Frank a true explanation if she did move to North Carolina because no one could know that Jamie was still alive.

Fuck.

This really, truly sucks.

She's pulled from her thoughts by Faith's giggles as the curly haired beauty makes her Barbie dance, telling Jamie that it's one of the dance moves she's learning in class.

Just then, Bree spots Claire in the doorway, squealing and inviting her over to join them.

She does, of course, sitting criss-cross across from Jamie, smiling softly at him as he hands her another Barbie. "They've got plenty, take this one," he jokes.

Grinning, she takes the brown-haired doll, picking out a cute outfit for her. They spend the next twenty minutes giving their Barbies voices, Jamie's high-pitched impersonation making all three girls giggle, and having their dolls plan to go to the mall to buy more clothes.

The girls eventually grow bored, climbing onto the couch behind Jamie to turn on Moana, while she and Jamie work together to at least organize the dolls into a neat pile. "You girls need to go put all of this away before we do anything else," she commands, giving them her best mom stare when she can tell they're about to protest.

Faith pauses the movie, a little eye roll accompanied with her climb down from the couch. Ever the sweet tempered one out of the two, though, she dutifully collects her dolls, telling Bree to do the same thing.

They work together to pick them all up, and Claire and Jamie collect the clothes to take to the girls' room with them.

Once done, Jamie and the girls pile onto the couch, Faith and Bree excitedly explaining the movie to him since he's never seen it.

Claire busies herself cleaning the kitchen, wanting to give them as much time together as possible before they have to leave.

Jamie joins her after a while, saying, "Did you know the ocean calls her to it?"

She giggles, nodding, saying she's seen Moana enough times to recite it almost verbatim.

Sitting down at the table, Jamie takes her hand, his thumb rubbing soft circles against her skin.

"Yer skin was always sae soft, like velvet," he murmurs, his blue eyes piercing her whiskies.

She can feel a heat creeping up on her pale skin, knowing her blush will show before long if she doesn't change the subject. She feels like a little school girl around him today, and she's not sure why.

"How did John take everything last night?"

Jamie sighs, sitting back a touch in his chair. He tells her that things are exponentially more complicated now that they've found each other. "John is verra concerned about people finding out now," he says, an err of caution to his tone. "Especially with the girls." He looks over to the living room, their little mops of red hair sticking up just barely above the couch.

She can understand the worry, the girls are young, and kids say things sometimes without thinking, so no matter how annoyed she wants to be with this John Grey, deep down, she knows he's right.

"He just said we'll have to be verra careful, especially once we get back to America."

Claire nods, not sure how to tell him that she can't go to North Carolina, not yet anyway. She has work, and the girls have school, and… "Jamie, about that…"

He gives her a nervous look, and she sighs, explaining to him all the reasons they can't just up and move to North Carolina. She's rambling, she can feel it, spewing words about her surgeries she has scheduled already, and how taking a leave of absence from work will take more than just a phone call. "I'll have to put in the paper work, and get it approved, and… and the girls have school still. Then there's… there's Frank," she says, glancing up to Jamie, "and Joe, Geillis… Murtagh. You think he's going to let me just up and move the girls to Wilmington without so much as an explanation?"

He laughs then, interrupting her rant. "I ken, Sassenach, I ken. I dinna mean for ye to fly straight to North Carolina with no warnin' to anyone."

Her shoulders slump at that, letting out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. "Oh," she chuckles breathlessly, breathing a sigh of relief. "So what's the plan?"

Grinning, Jamie, in such a typical Jamie fashion that it makes her smile, simply shrugs, saying they'll figure it out. "John and Hector are meeting us today, so we can make a game plan then."

Nodding, she checks her phone, seeing she has a message from Murtagh asking her to send him more pictures today, and one from Frank saying he'll call her tonight.

This weird sense of guilt washes over her reading Frank's text with Jamie right there, so she quickly closes it out, looking at the time. The morning has flown by and it's already after noon, so she stands, asking if everyone is hungry.

The girls jump up, twin yes, yes' filling the room. Claire smiles, hustling them off to get ready and telling Bree she would be in soon to help comb out her knotted hair.

She excuses herself, going to her room to throw on a pair of jeans and a floral shirt before darting across the hotel suite to help rangle the girls.

Faith is already dressed, smoothing her fingers through her curls. Brianna is half dressed, her jeans on but no shirt, so Claire goes to her suitcase, grabbing a green top with ruffled sleeves and tugging it over her head.

Grabbing a hairbrush, she runs it under the sink, wetting it to brush out Brianna's tangles.

"Thank god for detangling spray," she mumbled, spritzing the liquid onto her daughter's head.

Bree squirms and wriggles, making this process much harder, but finally the tangles are out and the shirt is on, making her presentable for lunch.

When they walk out into the living room, Faith is sitting beside Jamie, explaining that Brianna sleeps like a crazy person, so her hair is almost always tangled like that.

"I do not sleep like a crazy person!" Bree exclaims, looking up to Claire. "Mama, Faith called me crazy!"

"I did not!" Faith squeals, standing up indignantly, her little hands on her hips.

Sighing, Claire rubs at her forehead, knowing they're both past the point of hungry, and they need food immediately. "Alright, alright," she soothes, taking Brianna's hand. "Your sister didn't mean you are crazy. No one is crazy, just your hair," she grins, making Brianna giggle. "Now let's go get some food before you two turn into little monsters."

When she looks over to Jamie, he's got this look on his face that she can't quite decipher. It's a longing look, and she wonders if he's just sad for all the time he's missed with them.

Before she can ask, he stands, taking Faith's hand and leading them all out the door.

{**********************}

"You okay?" Claire asks quietly as they stop to stand outside the restaurant, waiting for John and his family.

Jamie nods, saying, "It's just nice to see ye with the bairns, ye ken? They're bonny wee lasses, but it just makes me sad knowing how much I missed."

She rubs his back in comfort, saying he's here now, and he has all the time in the world to make up for the last six years.

Deep down, however, she has a worry, a fear, that all of this will blow up in their faces. How will this logically work once they're back home? What happens after the trial? What about Frank? Her head pounds with all the questions swarming about, so she pushes them back down, trying to enjoy the time they do have together.

"I dinna ken how to be around them. When they were arguing earlier, I wasna sure I could put an end to it. Thought mebbe I'd be overstepping my boundary."

"Jamie," she says sympathetically. "You are their father. If they're arguing, put your foot down." She grins, saying it'll be nice to not have to be the only bad guy. "Lord knows Murtagh never reprimands them."

Jamie chuckles at that, the tips of his ears turning pink. "I just want them to like me, but I dinna want ye to think ye're the only one who has to parent them."

She smiles softly again, chastely kissing his cheek, knowing deep down his fears are valid, but also knowing, based on how he was the first two years of Faith's life that he was always the soft one. He could never get into Faith as a toddler. "I don't think that," she says quietly. "But we both know you'd never get on to either one of those little gremlins, you big softie."

He laughs, shaking his head as that blush creeps from his ears down to his neck.

"Come on," she grins, "let's get a table."

They sit at a small table, Jamie just ordering waters for them as they wait for John. While they wait, Claire looks around, observing the other patrons while the girls color in a notepad she'd brought for them.

There are tiny bread sticks on the table, so Bree and Faith both munch happily on that to hold them over until the food comes. Thankfully it was enough to squash the hungry monsters trying to emerge, otherwise they would've had a meltdown on their hands.

Claire smiles, running her hand through Brianna's hair while she watches a young couple across the room. They're sitting close together, bodies practically in each other's laps, giggling with their foreheads pressed together. Their hands are roaming, finally connecting and intertwining atop the table.

"Do you remember when we were like that?" she asks with a smirk, bowing her head in their direction. "So obvious in public." She rolls her eyes good naturedly, grinning as Jamie glances over his shoulder to spy the couple.

"Aye," he huffs, "couldna keep yer hands off me."

She chuckles, swatting at his forearm that rests on the table, but she knows he's right. They were just like that when they first began dating at university, so young and in love, and if she's being honest, they were like that right up until he left that night.

Their eyes connect, Jamie capturing her hand with his own before she can pull it away. Their physical connection has always been so strong, that spark she feels every time they touch igniting beneath her skin. It was there when they were young, and it's still there now.

Her breath catches in her throat as the world around them seems to disappear, melting into a blur of nothingness as her whisky eyes settle on his blue. It's as if they can read each other's minds and souls without having to say a word. Their connection is so strong that it physically takes her breath away.

She inhales shakily, letting out a breathless chuckle, feeling awkward at the feelings he's stirring inside of her just by looking into her eyes, especially in a public place with their children sitting right there, thankfully completely absorbed in whatever they're drawing.

Before she can say anything, two men and a toddler walk up, one of them clapping Jamie on the back.

The movement breaks their moment, both of them blinking for the first time.

Jamie jumps, and Claire is suddenly on edge, worried this might be trouble.

"John," he says, smiling when he catches sight of the family standing behind him. "Hector." Jamie stands, hugging both men and greeting them with boyish slaps to their shoulder. "And hello to little Miss Sophia," he croons, taking the toddler from Hector's arms.

Claire stands as well, smiling at the men.

"John, Hector, this is my wife, Claire."

They both smile at her, Hector pulling her into a warm embrace.

John smiles brightly at her when Hector lets go, bowing his head as if he were meeting royalty, then looks up at her. His eyes are shining when he says, "My god, it is nice to finally meet you, Claire. Jamie has told us so much about you." He pulls Claire in for a hug, too, and she smiles. "Come, let's talk in private," John says, gesturing toward the back of the restaurant. Claire gathers the girls from the small table they've been waiting at, all of them walking toward a booth in the very back of the restaurant. It's extremely secluded, and Claire wonders how John managed to arrange this.

Claire settles into the booth, then helps Bree slide into the middle spot as Faith hops up on the end, watching as Jamie places Sophia into a highchair. Her heart aches, wishing she'd had years of this, of watching him with their children. He's always been so good with kids, even before they had Faith, and she just knows that after Brianna, they would've had more. Jamie always joked about having twelve, which she resolutely put an end to, but she knows deep down, she would've had as many children as possible with him.

"She's adorable," she says as Jamie sits in a chair at the end of the booth, unable to fit with everyone else.

John and Hector are on the other side of the booth, along with Claire's purse and Faith's jacket she'd insisted on wearing, despite the warm weather today.

"Thank you," Hector says, smiling proudly as he runs a hand over the little girl's head.

"How old is she?"

"I'm thee!" Sophia exclaims, holding up three pudgy little fingers.

Claire grins, congratulating her on holding up the right amount of fingers.

They spend the next few minutes ordering beverages and food, letting the girls talk and tell the table about the sights they've seen so far on their vacation.

Their food comes—a table full of paella, tortillas, and gazpacho—and everyone digs in, trying a bit of each dish.

After they've had their share, and everyone is sufficiently full, the conversation turns serious.

Thankfully the girls are completely besotted with Sophia, playing in her hair and talking to her in high pitched baby voices. Bree is telling her about their Barbie dolls, while Faith asks her questions to get to know the toddler. Sophia seems to be soaking up all the attention, and it's really quite adorable. Claire smiles over at them, then up to Jamie before her eyes settle on John.

"So, how did you come to work for," her voice lowers, head leaning closer to his side of the table, "the witness protection program."

John scoffs lightly, a smile upon his face. "I'm afraid I've come to be in my position by way of malediction, I believe."

Claire watches as Hector rubs John's back in comfort, telling him that's not true.

She smiles watching them; they're a sweet couple, and obviously love and support each other. Their actions remind her of her and Jamie, and it makes her happy.

"North Carolina is just a number of locations for me in a string of so called promotions," he says, looking to Jamie quickly with eyes wide, "Not that I don't love it."

They all laugh, John adding with a chuckle, "I would just rather us be settled in one place, DC preferably, so I could work my way up to the FBI in the National Security branch. That's the dream."

She nods, understanding what it's like to bounce from location to location for work. She'd been at a slew of hospitals before getting her position at Emory.

"So what brings you and the girls to Spain?"

She smiles, still not believing what kind of universe brought her and Jamie back together so many thousands of miles away from home. "I hadn't had a day off in months," she explains with a sigh, sitting back against the booth. Her hand reaches out, rubbing Faith's back absentmindedly. "I missed the girls, and it was their spring break, so I wanted to get away, just the three of us."

"That worked out well," Hector replies sarcastically, causing everyone to laugh.

"Right?" she grins, shaking her head. "Jamie and I had always planned to travel here one day, so when I finally took the time off, I knew this is where the girls and I should come."

"Amazing," John breathes, shaking his head in wonder. "It's like the universe was calling you two back together."

Hector rolls his eyes, saying, "You'll have to excuse my husband," he chuckles, nudging John's shoulder with his own. "He's a bit of a romantic."

John simply shrugs, looking between her and Jamie.

Grinning, Claire watches as all the men converse, paying special attention to John Grey. He's got such a sweet demeanor, always smiling and he's got a light in his eye that instantly makes her like him… which infuriates her because she wanted so desperately to hate the man that put Jamie in witness protection. She wants someone to blame for this whole situation that has completely fucked up her life, but it can't be John. He was just doing his job. Damn it.

Her face must be giving her away, like always, because Jamie laughs, reaching across Faith and Bree to tap her hand. "What's on yer mind, mo chridhe? Ye look as if ye want to chop John's head right off."

Blushing, she bites her lip, admitting to the group that she wanted to dislike him for all of this, but, "I just find that you're impossible not to like."

John grins, his chin tucking against his chest before he looks back up at her, a hand over his heart. "Well I have to say, that does bring me great joy."

"Perhaps it's because ye're both sassenaches," Hector says, trying his best to put on a Scottish accent.

"Och," Jamie grunts, pointing to Claire, "that right there is my only Sassenach, thank ye verra much."

They all laugh, Claire dissolving into conversation with John about where he's from in England and how he ended up in America as well.

He tells her how he came here for college, met Hector, and became a citizen once they were married. He had always wanted to work in intelligence and security, and worked his way up from a police officer to the Department of Justice.

She listens carefully, enraptured in his story. He's an interesting man, and she can see why Jamie likes him so much.

As far as federal agents go, Jamie seems to have lucked out in that department.

They spend another hour game planning how things will work once they're back in America. John tells Claire that they have a trial date set for the summer, and goes through the details of what is expected of Jamie during it all.

She nods, listening carefully, and hoping she remembers all of it. She feels the pressure already, and she can't imagine how Jamie has felt for six whole years living like this. It's like a double life, and she doesn't know if she would've been strong enough had she been in his position.

After another hour, Hector, John and Sophia make their exit, the little girl yawning wildly as she cuddles into John's chest.

Once gone, Jamie and Claire take the girls around town, letting them play in a park nearby the restaurant and then taking them to the Zoo Aquarium Madrid.

The girls love it, and for the rest of the day, Bree pretends to be the different animals they saw, while Faith decides she wants to study Zoology (after learning the term from Jamie).

It's a lovely day, normal in every sense of the word, but there's still that niggling feeling in the back of her mind that something is going to go wrong.

They make it back to the hotel, Jamie checking in with John and letting him know he'll be back to their hotel after dinner tonight.

As they settle into the living room, the girls exhausted from a day of sightseeing, Claire's phone rings.

She slips out from under Bree, settling her against the cushions. "I have to take this," she murmurs, Jamie nodding as she steps away.

The sounds of Coco play on in the background as Claire catches Jamie's eye. He's trying not to be nosy, she can tell, and she tries to get far enough out of ear shot when she answers.

She knows she didn't quite accomplish her goal, though, as she goes to close her bedroom door, swiping the phone open before she misses the call entirely, and Jamie's jaw clenches when she quietly says, "Hi, Frank…"

{***********************}

Thanks so much for reading...You guys are amazing! Now we officially know John and his family! I really enjoyed throwing in the Jamaica eye sex from canon into here like I did their fight by the river last chapter haha… If you're on twitter, feel free to share the tweet and help spread the word about this fic to others! And as always, please review and let me know what you thought of this one...Thanks! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Five:

A few days have gone by, and their vacation is coming to an end… but Claire's not entirely sure if she wants that or not. This definitely wasn't the vacation she'd dreamed of when she decided to take the girls to Europe for Spring Break, but she wouldn't trade anything in the world for the knowledge that Jamie is still alive.

Their flight is today, just hours away.

Jamie, John and his family are going to accompany her and the girls to the airport since their flight is just a few hours after theirs.

John, bless him, had gotten it approved for him and Jamie to change their flight plans to Georgia, sending Hector and Sophia back home to North Carolina on their own. They have a safe house just outside Atlanta where he and Jamie can stay, giving Jamie a few more days to work things out with her.

Claire is nervous, anxious to see how it will go having him back in their state again. He'll be staying about an hour away from her, but she knows Jamie, knows he'll spend every waking moment with her and the girls while he can, which is where her fears settle in. Will anyone see him? Will he stay inside the whole time? The questions build in her mind as she finishes packing the girls' suitcases.

"Ye alright?"

She nods, taking a shaky breath. She admits her fears as she sits on the edge of the bed, and Jamie joins her, taking her hand in his. Her palms are sweaty. They've barely touched over the last few days besides a few awkward hugs, bumps of their shoulders, and the occasional hand holding, but now that it's coming to an end, she's kicking herself for not holding him more, not embracing the sensation while she could.

He gives her hand a gentle squeeze, promising her things will work out.

Biting her lip, she nods in hesitant agreement, thoughts of home swirling in her mind. Murtagh will be the hardest to avoid; he'll be wanting to come over right away to see the girls. Then, of course, there's Frank. Joe and Geillis might be easier to dodge, she can just claim they're tired from the trip and recovering from jet lag.

"What will ye tell Frank?" he asks, pulling her from her thoughts.

Blowing out a breath, she stands again, folding one of Faith's dresses and placing it into the luggage. "I'm not sure," she admits, shrugging helplessly. "I feel awful, and…"

"Do ye still want to be with him?"

His question interrupts her train of thought, stopping her dead in her tracks. She's got one of Brianna's shirts halfway to her chest, mid-fold, and she halts, looking at Jamie. Sighing, she finishes folding it, dropping it into the other tiny suitcase on the bed. "I… no, I don't know, Jamie," she stutters, ashamed of admitting how she truly feels to him. She does know what she wants, but it's difficult for her to imagine how to get there without hurting someone in the process. She's hardly had a moment to herself to really sit and think about what all has happened or how to deal with it.

She turns her ear toward the door, listening for the girls in the next room. She'd directed them to collect all their toys from the living room and put them in one pile to make it easier to pack. "You have to understand this is hard for me," she says, plopping onto the other twin bed next to him. "I've grieved your death, I've visited your grave," her eyes water, and Jamie places an arm around her shoulders. Her head falls to her chest, taking a moment to collect herself.

Sitting up, she clears her throat, adding, "I've spent the last six years trying to get my life back to some semblance of normal for me and the girls, and Frank helped me do that." She rubs at her temple, another headache brewing just below the surface. "I have a life that involves him. He helped me see that life could still go on after such a gigantic loss… he's a wonderful man, and I'm sorry, I know this bothers you, but the girls love him. He's around all the time and even helps out with the girls when I'm working," she sighs. "He's rooted in our lives, and I just… I don't know what to do."

She knows her hesitation is more rooted in the having to lie to Frank aspect. Of course she wants to be with Jamie, knows how wonderful life was with him before, but she's changed over the last several years. She imagines Jamie has, too. What if they've both changed too much? Fear gnaws at her gut, plaguing her thoughts. How will this even work with Jamie still in hiding in North Carolina and her life so established in Georgia?

Her head pounds from the stress building inside of her, and she huffs, closing her eyes.

Jamie nods, silently trying to support her, but she can see the tears brimming in his blue eyes. She knows talking about how integrated Frank has become in their lives pains him—it hurts her to hurt him—but he has to know the truth. He's the only one she can talk to about all of this right now.

After a moment, he finally speaks, his arm coming from around her shoulder to hold her hand again. "I ken this is hard for ye, Claire." He brings her hand up, kissing the palm. "And if Frank is better for ye now, I willna stand in yer way of happiness. I just want ye to be happy, ken?" He wipes a lone tear from his cheek, saying, "That's all I've ever wanted."

Fuck, fuck, fuck. Why does this have to be so complicated? Why couldn't she have found Jamie three years ago before she knew who Frank Randall was?

She worries her lips together, trying to hold back tears. She focuses on the sounds in the living room, listening to the girls giggle with one another. She's well aware they're probably playing more than cleaning, but right now, she doesn't care.

Claire buries her head in his chest, crying softly. His strong arms wrap around her like a father comforting a hurt child, whispering soft Gaelic reassurances into her hair.

"We'll take the next few days to figure things out, aye? See how ye feel once ye're back in yer home and in yer routine."

She nods, loving this man no matter what has happened. He's always been so understanding, so selfless. She can tell his words hurt him to say, hell, they break her heart, too, but she knows he only wants the best for her. She wants the best for him, too, but she needs more than just the four days it's been since she found Jamie to figure everything out.

The last few days have been nothing but a whirlwind of equal parts elation and confusion. She feels constantly discombobulated, like her mind is racing in a cloud of confusion. Her head feels as if it is spinning in a dream that she can't—and doesn't want to—wake up from.

{***********************}

Hours later, once everything has been packed away, they make their way to the airport, a pit of dread forming in Claire's stomach.

The reality of life is starting to hit her, and she realizes this little bubble they've created in Spain over the last few days is about to pop.

Jamie hugs the girls goodbye as she hugs John, Hector, and Sophia.

She watches with tear-filled eyes as Jamie cries over letting the girls go, even knowing he'll see them tomorrow in Georgia.

"I'll miss ye both sae much," she hears him murmur, Faith and Bree both giving him sad little nods.

Brianna's arms circle around his neck, burying her face there as she mumbles something into his skin that Claire can't quite make out.

He stands with Bree still in his arms, and Faith wraps herself around his waist. Her head rests on his side as she looks up at Jamie, eyes shining as if she's looking at the moon.

They both love him so much, and Claire smiles despite herself as she watches the scene before her.

Turning back to Hector, Claire bounces Sophia in her arms and says, "You two be safe, okay?"

They've spent their last two days eating meals and spending time with John's family, and she's come to love this little girl. Faith and Brianna love her, too, treating the toddler like their own personal life-sized Barbie doll.

They would play with her thick, curly hair, putting bows in it and giggling as Sohpia chased them around. They'd all come back to Claire's hotel suite last night, letting the three girls watch movies and play dolls together.

It was adorable, really, and she's going to miss them terribly.

She kisses Sophia on the cheek, placing her down on the ground. The little girl bounds over to Faith and Bree, both girls encircling her in a group hug.

Hector chuckles, saying, "We'll have to try and get together if you guys ever make it to North Carolina."

She smiles, agreeing that they will.

John and Jamie join them then, Claire saying goodbye to John before Jamie takes her off to the side, leaving the girls with the other couple.

He wraps her in a big hug, his strong arms enveloping her in his heat. His body always ran warmer than hers, something she quite enjoyed on cold winter nights, but now it gave her a sense of melancholy, knowing she wouldn't have this feeling again for a while. Not like this, anyway, not just the two of them with no boyfriends or secrets hanging over them, looming like a dark shadow.

His lips press softly to the top of her head as he whispers, "Have a good flight. Text me when ye land."

Nodding against his chest, she wipes a tear from her eye, laughing derisively when he makes a comment about her tears never ending.

She picks up her carry on, calling for the girls to come join her.

She knows they're just as confused as she is. She and Jamie had tried explaining the situation to the girls as best as possible the other night, Faith understanding a little bit more than Brianna.

"A bad guy hurt Daddy," he told them as they all sat around the kitchen table. "And since he's not in jail yet, I have to hide."

Faith asked if that's why his hair is brown, and Bree said she liked it that color. The girls broke into a spat about who has seen more pictures of Jamie, and Claire had to put an end to it despite how happy it secretly made her that they had something to argue about when it came to their father.

They told the girls that no one can know, not even their aunts and uncles, which astounded both little girls, and Faith equated it to a kid-spy movie she had seen at a friend's house.

She knew Brianna didn't understand as much, usually just nodding along when Faith did, but they still had plenty of questions.

"Do you know who the bad guy is?" Bree asked, to which Jamie told her he does, but he's in Georgia, which is why Jamie was tucked away in North Carolina.

Claire could see that the knowledge of Master Raymond living in their state scared the girls, so she grabbed Jamie's hand and added, "But he doesn't live where we do, girls."

Her eyes caught Jamie's and he nodded, seeming to realize the effect his words had had on their children. "Aye, and he canna hurt ye girls, alright? Ye're safe where ye live now."

That seemed to placate them, based on their synchronous nods, but they still had plenty of questions, the curious little things that they are.

"What happens if Master Raymond finds you?" was Faith's question. Jamie pulled her into his lap, kissing her head and promising her that his friend, John, was working very hard to keep him safe. They'd meet him tomorrow, and Claire hoped that seeing the man protecting Jamie would help ease the girls' minds.

"He's like your fairy godmother!" Brianna giggled, perking up at the image clearly forming in her mind of this mysterious John dressed in a sparkly dress with a wand.

Jamie chuckled, looking toward Claire. "I'm sure he would love to ken ye called him that, m'annsachd, but nae, he's no' a fairy godmother." He smiled, letting Faith go so he could reach over and ruffle Brianna's hair. "He's just a police officer doing a verra fine job at his duties."

And the questions continued long after that, from "How long do you have to hide?", to "Can we hide with you?", which broke Claire's heart, to random questions about his new house—how many bedrooms it had, was there a playroom, how big was the backyard—and soon the girls had moved on from Master Raymond and his mob to just asking Jamie random questions about his life in general—what North Carolina was like, if he liked his job with the horses, and what he thought of his new roommate, Fergus.

She and Jamie tried answering their unending questions as best as possible, trying to be as sensitive as they could be when it came to Master Raymond, the trial, and witness protection in general.

Jamie had explained the term 'witness protection' but didn't want to give too many details other than that. The girls may have seemed to grasp the concept of why Jamie was in hiding, but giving them much more would just confuse, and possibly scar them deeper than Claire thought necessary.

It was a difficult conversation, but in the end, the girls handled it as well as possible.

Pulling herself from her thoughts, Claire smiles down at their daughters.

They say one more goodbye to Jamie, the girls a little teary-eyed as well, and make their way to their gate.

{*******************}

Once they've loaded the plane and gotten settled—headphones on and iPads playing movies until they have to turn them off for take-off—Claire flops into her seat, thankful that John got them upgraded to business class.

She is mentally and physically exhausted from what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation before the girls go back to school. Peering out the window, thinking over everything that's happened the last few days, Claire finds herself still heavily conflicted on what to do and how to feel.

The girls turn their iPads off for the ascension of the aeroplane, swiftly turning them back on, giggling together as they press play at the exact same time so their movies can play in tandem.

Smiling, she reaches over, running a hand through Faith's hair, then leaning over to press a kiss to Brianna's head since she's closest to her in the middle seat.

She closes her eyes briefly, then watches the clouds go by, the world below them growing smaller. She thinks of Frank, of what to say to him, how to explain what is happening without saying Jamie is actually alive.

Then she thinks of Jamie, and his smile, his understanding nature, and how much, despite what she's been trying to convince herself of, she still loves him with her whole heart. He's still the same man he was, a bit bruised and broken from this experience, but so is she.

She knows deep down, despite her fears of them each having changed too drastically, there isn't a thing in the world that could keep their bond from breaking.

After a while, she looks over, noticing that both girls have already passed out, and she chuckles. She observes the way they both smile in their sleep like Jamie, and how much they resemble her husband. They've always been her little pieces of him, but now she has him back, and that thought makes her feel like a jigsaw puzzle that was once broken, put back together with a few dings in it and now tossed around, skewing the pieces all over again.

She takes their iPads, pausing each of their movies and tucking them into the mesh pocket in the seat in front of them. She knows as soon as they wake up, they'll want to watch another, having not much else to do on the flight, but at least for now the devices won't slip and fall while they sleep.

After an hour or so of reading and attempting to watch an episode of Friends, Claire starts to drift off as well, images of her husband and her boyfriend vying for dominance in her mind. She bites at her lip, restlessly squirming as she fights her own mind, willing it to be quiet long enough to let her sleep. She'll need all the rest she can get now, because she has a feeling that later tonight, when Jamie lands in Georgia, she'll be facing both her men with no solution of what to do.

This is a terrible situation and she just wishes she knew how to handle it. If she ever saw a movie like this, she'd be yelling at the leading lady to jump into her long lost husband's arms, she'd think that was the logical thing to do, but now, being in this situation, she realizes how messy it truly is.

Frank is a good man, and doesn't deserve to just be left out in the cold. She needs to talk to him, needs to explain, but how… she doesn't know. She doesn't want to hurt him, couldn't live with herself knowing she'd left him with no explanation after he's been there for so long for her.

He's been one of her best friends for almost three years and has helped her see that moving on and starting to date again wasn't a bad thing. He'd let her take things slow, hasn't pressured her to do something she's not comfortable with, and she appreciates him more than words can say.

He plays an important part in all of their lives. He's always been such a big help with the girls, even when they were just friends—picking them up from school on days she had to work later and making them dinner, helping with homework, and he often accompanies them to practices when he's not at work or just lazing around the house on the weekends. He's truly involved with all three of them, and she knows the girls love him as well, which just makes this even more convoluted.

Huffing so hard that her cheeks puff out, she lets her eyes trail over to the girls. They're both curled up in their seats, the little blankets she'd brought from home tucked around them. The arm rest between them is lifted, Bree's head on top of Faith's hip, and she smiles.

No matter what may be happening around her, these two little rays of sunshine will always ground her, making her feel settled.

She tucks a corner of Brianna's blanket tighter around her foot, then closes her eyes, finally descending into a fitful sleep for the remainder of the flight.

Whatever will happen, will happen, and she just hopes she has the strength to get through it all in one piece.

{*********************}

Just a quick little update…. They're all headed back to America! What will happen now? Please remember Claire is just a wee bit emotional right now over everything. It's only been four days for her, and she's dealing with a lot so let's have a little patience with her (and me haha) as she figures life out! Lol

Thanks again for all the support of this fic; it truly means the world to me! Please let me know what you thought of this one, too! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Six:

After eight and a half hours, the flight finally lands. Claire slept, but she doesn't know if she'd really classify it as sleep.

When she did manage to drift off, she was plagued with images of Jamie and Frank's faces, both pleading with her to love them.

She now is not only mentally exhausted, but she's physically exhausted, too, her eyes burning with the need for more than an hour or two of slumber.

Frank had already agreed to pick them up from Hartsfield-Jackson before they left, so as they're waiting to deboard the plane, she quietly reminds the girls not to say anything to him about Jamie, and she wonders if the girls can actually do it. She hopes so.

God, this is so hard. Not only does she feel guilty about being with Frank when she now knows Jamie is alive, she's consumed with this overwhelming sense of guilt over asking the girls to lie.

She knows it's not a lie, per se, more just having a secret, but it makes her feel uncomfortable, a sick feeling in her stomach. Her gut is twisted, a sensation as if it's tying itself into a knot that will never be undone.

The girls both adore Frank, and asking them to do this is really unfair, but she has no choice. Frank cannot know Jamie is alive, not for any selfish reason, but for the safety of her husband's life. She trusts Frank implicitly, but this is just too big, too much. If Frank were to find out, it could get Jamie killed for real this time, and she'd never forgive herself for that.

As they ascend up the escalator, both girls gripping her hands, they spot Frank. He's standing just outside baggage claim with all the other people, a sign in his hand that reads Welcome home, girls! with a big heart drawn on the poster.

She smiles despite herself. He really is sweet, and the girls rush over to him, both squealing and hugging him in excitement.

"Hello, darlings!" he croons, laughing and hugging them both to his legs. He peppers kisses to the tops of their heads, smiling up at Claire as she approaches.

He has these smile lines around his mouth that she always found attractive, and they deepen when he looks her way. Oddly enough, a sense of calm washes over her at seeing him. Like everything in life is back to normal now that they're on their home turf.

He's comfort. She knows this routine; this is their new normal, and she has to admit that it's nice to see him.

When she finally gets to him, he wraps her in a warm hug, the mixture of his laundry detergent and cologne washing over her, and she almost wants to cry. She's missed him, and the emotions of the last few days are catching up to her. She wants to cry to someone, have someone who isn't Jamie or John or Hector listen to what she's going through… but she can't, and the reality of it all crashes back into her mind like a freight train crashing into a brick wall.

Frank kisses her, his lips warm and wet against hers. It's odd, really, kissing him with the knowledge of Jamie being alive in her mind, but she kisses him back, whispering that she missed him.

"You'll have to tell me all about Spain in the car, yes?" he asks, looking between all three girls. "I want to hear every detail!"

The girls are teeming with excitement, both bouncing on their heels as they nod and start rambling about different things they did, while Claire sends up a silent prayer to whoever might be listening that they both remember not to say anything about Jamie.

Wrapping one arm around her shoulder as he takes Bree's hand, and Faith holding Claire's, they walk to baggage claim and locate their items, the girls still chattering on.

"And we got to see the inside of a palace!" Faith exclaims, taking her suitcase once Claire grabs it from the carousel.

"You did?!" Frank asks, full of excitement, even though Claire had already told him of their trip to the palace on the phone the other night.

She grins listening to him animatedly converse with the girls, Brianna jumping up and down beside Frank and tugging on his sleeve. "I ran through the halls and pretended I was a princess!"

Frank beams, tapping the end of her nose, "Well that's because you are a princess, darling."

Brianna's eyes grow wide, looking around Frank and up to Claire. Her eyes then land on Faith who is smiling just as wide, saying if Brianna is a princess, then she is too, and the girls dissolve into a fit of laughter as they once again pretend to be royalty.

Once they pick up the rest of their bags, Frank helps them carry everything to the car and load up before setting off for home. They live about twenty-five minutes outside of Atlanta, and with it being a Friday afternoon, she knows it'll take longer to get there, which worries her. She's missed Frank, but she honestly wants to get home and send him away so she doesn't have to be on edge at every moment, afraid one of the girls will mention Daddy by accident.

While in the car, the girls continue telling Frank about the royal palace, the zoo, all the parks they saw, and the foods they ate.

"The pal… paletta?" Bree's face scrunches up. "Is that how I say it, Mama?"

"Paella."

Brianna nods, "Yeah, that! It was so good!"

Claire smiles to herself, listening as Faith pipes in, adding that she loved the churros best.

"Oh, yeah!" Brianna says, snapping her fingers as if just remembering the dessert they couldn't get enough of. "We gotta learn to make those! Frank, do you know how?"

Frank chuckles, looking at the girls from his rearview mirror. "I don't, but I'm sure I can learn. We can make them one day after school, how about that?"

Faith and Brianna's eyes grow wide, cheering in the backseat at the news, and Claire smiles, reaching to run her fingers along Frank's arm as he continues to drive, silently thanking him for being so wonderful with her children.

The girls tell him more about the zoo, and Claire's hand freezes on Frank's arm, knowing it was their first activity with Jamie. She goes still, her breath barely coming out as she worries her lip, especially when Faith claims once more that she wants to study zoology—a term Jamie taught her—because the animals were so fascinating. Claire doesn't think she'll actually stick with that, knowing Faith was so into it because of Jamie and his love for animals, but she'll let her figure that out as time goes on.

Claire's breathing returns to normal when Faith finishes her story with no mention of her father, and her hand continues it's path along Frank's arm.

He looks over at her, obviously noticing her momentary pause. He glances down as her hand, then over to her, before looking back at the girls again briefly.

"Sounds like you three had a great time!"

Frank smiles over at Claire once more, taking her hand. She intertwines their fingers, albeit hesitantly, smiling softly at him as the radio plays quietly. They get stuck in a bit of traffic on the interstate, and when the car goes silent, Frank looks in his rearview mirror, chuckling under his breath.

"They've both fallen asleep," he says, jutting his chin toward the back of his SUV.

Claire looks over her shoulder, eyes sinking closed in relief that she can relax a little. "We're all exhausted," she admits. "I didn't sleep well on the flight."

"Really?"

She shakes her head, thumb rubbing the back of his hand, and she's struck with how normal this feels.

"Well maybe you'll sleep better tonight, love," he says softly, telling her that he'd already prepared dinner, just needs to pop it in the oven to warm it back up.

Smiling, she thanks him, thankful she gave him a key years ago to make it easier, and before she can fight it any longer, her eyes close, drifting off to sleep for the next half hour.

{*********************}

Once they arrive home, Claire sighs out in relief.

It's good to be home.

She and Frank unload the girls, Brianna curling into Frank's neck, unwilling to wake up long enough to walk inside.

Faith wakes up, helping roll her suitcase inside while Frank gets Brianna's.

It's only five o'clock, but they're all starving, their bodies still on Madrid time.

They leave their suitcases at the foot of the stairs, all piling into the kitchen when Frank tells the girls that he's cooked dinner. He gently shakes Bree awake so that she can go sit at the table, her little head falling against her folded arms as soon as she sits down.

Grinning, he makes his way in, preheating the oven. After a few minutes, he pops the chicken and vegetables in, the aroma soon filling the kitchen.

Claire and the girls, Brianna now more awake, sit around the table, munching on some grapes and pineapple until the food is ready. The girls are still going on about the royal palace, and Claire bemusedly wonders if they'll ever stop talking about it.

They enjoy a nice family dinner, Frank filling them in on what he did while they were away. "Dreadfully boring stuff, I'm afraid," he says with a grin, "graded papers, went to a friend's house and watched some telly."

"Did anyone fail?" Faith asks, grinning.

Frank laughs, shaking his head and informing her that he didn't have any interesting stories this time of failing students begging for extensions or extra credit. Faith always loves to laugh at those. "Sadly, my dear, everyone did their work this time, and did it quite well, actually."

"Well that's not as fun!" Brianna laughs, stabbing her last bite of chicken.

Frank ruffles her hair, picking up his fork and smiling across the table at Claire.

She smiles back, enjoying the food before her and glad the subject has transferred from their trip to Frank's work. There's less fear of Jamie being brought up that way, and she sighs to herself, listening as he tells her daughters about how he went to the grocery store and bought cinnamon raisin bread.

"You did?" Brianna asks around a bite of green beans, "But you never buy yummy stuff like that!"

Frank laughs, then takes a sip of water. "Mm," he says, wiping his mouth with a napkin, "But I know how much you girls love it, and when I saw it, I thought of you." He smiles, adding with a wink, "I've had it everyday for breakfast since you've been gone."

Faith and Brianna giggle, while Claire smiles at the three of them, soaking up this moment before she sends Frank away.

{************************}

After dinner, the girls take their luggage upstairs to their bedrooms, leaving Claire and Frank alone downstairs.

She stands awkwardly at the foot of the stairs, tucking her hands into her back pocket. "Well," she starts, clearing her throat. The evening has been fine, peaceful even, but she's tired and wants to be alone to try and figure things out. She grimaces, knowing Frank probably wants to spend some time alone with her, but she looks at him instead and says, "I'm actually really tired, Frank. I think it might be best if you head home."

"O-oh," he stammers, looking hurt. His brows scrunch just briefly, recovering quickly, but Claire can see his confusion. He nods, smiling reassuringly. "Alright."

God, she feels like a monster, but she just needs to be alone right now. She feels like her mind is going to explode if she has to continue this fake-niceness she's been putting on all throughout dinner.

She has feelings for Frank, loves him, even, despite the revelation of those feelings being relatively new, and not being able to tell him about Jamie makes her head hurt more than any hangover she's ever had.

"I'm sorry," she whispers, saying again how exhausted she is. "I just want to unpack, soak in the tub and then crawl into bed. I'll text you later, though."

Frank smiles softly, understanding like always, though she can see the hurt in his eyes. He steps closer, pulling her into her arms. He presses a kiss to her lips, one that she lets herself sink into for just a moment before pulling away and smiling awkwardly up at him.

"Have a good soak," he grins, winking as he steps away. "Maybe drink a glass of red while you're in there and really relax. Remember you have that face mask you bought the other week still, I guarantee you've been too busy to use it."

Chuckling softly, she nods, because he's right. He knows her so well.

Before he can open the front door, she hastens her steps, joining him in the threshold. "Thank you for today," she says, "and for everything."

He gives her an odd look, and she knows she must sound like a lunatic, so before he can ask, she kisses him once more, this one more soundly.

Breaking the embrace, Frank smiles that warm smile at her, saying he'll call her in the morning and leaves.

With a heavy sigh, she trudges up the stairs.

She pads down the hall, peeking into Faith's room. She's there, dancing around her room as music softly plays from her iPad. The eldest redhead is slowly pulling items from her luggage, tossing the dirty clothes into the hamper in her closet, and dutifully hanging up the clean stuff.

Claire smiles, glad to see Faith is making some progress. It's always been her belief that as soon as you arrive from a trip, go ahead and unpack, otherwise it'll take you weeks to do so.

"Need any help?" she asks, laughing when Faith jumps in surprise.

The little girl holds a hand over her obviously racing heat, but giggles, saying she's almost done.

"Okay," she smiles, "bath time soon and then we can all crawl into bed early."

"Sounds good, Mama!"

With that, Claire steps across the hall, peering into Brianna's room.

Shaking her head, she can't help but laugh. Brianna has dumped her suitcase all out in the middle of the floor, dirty and clean clothes mixed together. Bree is sprawled out on her bed, playing with the little flamenco dancer doll they'd picked up one day on their trip.

"What are you doing, darling?"

"Just playin'!"

"I see that," she chuckles. "What about all the clothes?" Claire gestures toward the pile on the floor, and Brianna at least has the decency to look sheepish about it, her ears growing pink like Jamie's do when he's in trouble.

Bree lets out a dramatic sigh when she realizes Claire isn't going to leave, and rolls off of the bed, hopping over to the pile of clothes. She starts rummaging through them, separating the clean from the dirty, but Claire stops her, saying it's all dirty now. "Just put it all in your hamper and we'll do laundry tomorrow."

"Okay! That's easy!"

Laughing, she tells Bree the same thing she told Faith—unpack, bath, early bedtime—and her little ball of energy agrees, but begs for a story, too, claiming she's not very tired since she slept on the plane and in the car.

"We'll see," she declares, stepping into the hallway to speak loud enough for both girls to hear. "I'm going to be in my room unpacking, then we'll get ready for bed."

"And a story!" Bree shouts.

"And a story…" she finally agrees, causing twin cheers to come from both rooms.

She walks into her bedroom, beyond tempted to just flop onto her bed and sleep for the next forty-eight hours, but she knows the girls would never let her live it down if she didn't unpack right away like they had to.

Making her way through her clothes and toiletries, Claire thinks over the trip. Aside from finding out her dead husband was actually alive and living in witness protection, it was actually a great vacation.

Spain was beautiful, and she'd taken plenty of pictures to look through later and post on social media.

She sends Geillis and Joe a quick text, letting them know she and the girls have made it home safely.

We're currently unpacking then sleeping for the next two days, I'm sure.

Joe responds first, saying he's glad and that he'll see her on Monday. I want to hear all about it and see all the pictures at work, LJ.

Then comes Geillis' response, asking, Did ye find a hot Spanish man to spend some time with?

Rolling her eyes, she reminds her friend that she has Frank, to which Geillis just sends back an eye rolling emoji, causing Claire to laugh.

She texts Murtagh, accompanying it with a picture she took of the girls on the aeroplane. Back home. We're exhausted but will call you tomorrow.

It's really all she can think to say, claiming jet lag will at least buy her a few days from her friends, and she's hoping from Murtagh, too.

Glad to hear it, lass. Will come by one day soon to see ye and my girls.

Smiling softly, she closes her phone, quickly finishing her unpacking.

Before long, she notices how quiet the house has grown, and after tucking her now empty suitcase into her closet, she goes to check on the girls.

She finds them cuddled together in Brianna's bed with Faith softly reading The Witches of Benevento series. They're up to book five, and she listens from the doorway as Faith reads about the annual boar hunt the eighteenth century children are going on, one little girl, Rosa, hoping to be the first girl ever to win the golden tusks.

Little stinkers, she should've known they wouldn't wait on her to start the book.

Grinning, she tiptoes in, kissing them both and putting away Bree's suitcase that is still laying in the middle of the floor—at least she put her clothes away, Claire thinks with a huffed laugh.

Seeing that the girls are settled for a while, Brianna's hand gently stroking through Faith's hair, Claire decides to be productive.

She goes into Brianna's closet, picking up the now full laundry basket. "I'm going to go start the laundry," she whispers, not wanting to interrupt the fascinating tale, and the girls both give her zoned out waves of acknowledgement.

With a smirk, she goes to Faith's room, dumping her hamper into Bree's, then making her way down the hall toward the laundry room.

Once faced with the washing machine, however, Claire decides that she's far too exhausted to start laundry, knowing that will also entail drying—and since Claire insists on hang drying their jeans, it's just too much work for right now.

She leaves the hamper in front of the washer, telling herself she will do it tomorrow even if it kills her, and heads back to Brianna's bedroom.

Her bathtub really is calling her name, her muscles aching from the long trip, but she also just wants to cuddle her babies and relax with them.

Cuddles win out, and Claire climbs into the bed, scooching the girls over so she can fit as well.

Faith and Brianna are in pajamas already, though she knows neither one bathed yet. They're bound to fall asleep before the story ends, so she gives up on the hopes of baths tonight, and she pushes thoughts away of germs crawling over their skin from the airports from her mind.

"Do you girls want to take showers tonight?" she asks with a touch of hope in her voice when Faith finishes a chapter, even though she knows what the answer will be.

Her arm drapes over both their bellies as they shake their heads.

"I'm too tired, Mama," Brianna replies, Faith turning in Claire's embrace to face her.

"Me, too," she whispers, her breath huffing out onto the tip of Claire's nose. "We brushed our teeth, though."

"Well that's a start," Claire muses, smiling at them, and actually quite glad they'd had the foresight to at least do that. She'll make them bathe first thing in the morning.

She drags herself out of bed and next door to the bathroom, grabbing a washcloth and running it under the warm tap water. She wrings it out, taking it back to Brianna's room and washing the dirt off their feet quickly while Faith continues to read, trying not to giggle when Claire scrubs at the bottom of her foot.

Knowing Brianna will sleepily protest before long, she turns the washcloth over, running it rapidly over their arms before running to toss the cloth in the laundry room with everything else.

When she gets back, she crawls into the bed again and kisses Faith's cheek, settling more into the mattress to listen to the story. Faith hands her the book, however, begging her to read the next chapter for them.

Claire takes the book, turning the page and diving into Rosa's quest for the boar.

While she reads, her fingers trace soft patterns against Brianna's stomach. Faith is in the middle, her little hand tracing the same type of patterns to Claire's forearm that rests on her stomach.

Not even half-way through the chapter, both girls have fallen asleep so Claire slips a bookmark in and places the book on the bedside table, then stands. She picks up Faith, and with one skilled, motherly hand, pulls the blanket up over Bree's little body.

She tiptoes across the hall to Faith's room and places her in bed as well, pressing a kiss to her temple as she tucks the covers around her. "Goodnight, sweetheart," she whispers, turning out the light.

Once both girls are nestled into bed, Claire finally fills her large garden tub up with warm, bubbly water and sinks in.

Thoughts of that wine Frank mentioned come to mind, but that requires going all the way back downstairs, and that just isn't happening.

She does, however, put on the face mask that she's been wanting to use, and settles in for a relaxing bath.

Forgot the wine, but the mask is nice. Remind me to get another one next time I'm at the store!

Her gut twists at the text, guilt over how familiar things are with Frank tearing at her insides.

Will do, love. Glad you're able to get some alone time.

Ten minutes later, her muscles finally relaxed, Claire feels herself dozing off.

Before she can fall asleep in the tub, she drains the water and rinses the mask off of her face.

She wraps a fuzzy towel around her body, padding over to her vanity to apply moisturizer to her skin. While she's lotioning up her legs, she hears her phone go off with a text.

Glancing over, she sees it's from an unknown number, which she instantly knows is Jamie.

She washes her hands quickly, taking her phone and walking over to the king sized bed.

Just landed, it reads.

She types back a Good. How was the flight?, and he tells her it was fine.

Her stomach just about falls out when he asks, Can I come over?

Nerves swell in her belly. Chewing on her bottom lip, she thinks of Frank and how she'd sent him away tonight. Thinks of that hurt look in his eyes. Then she thinks of Jamie, and his beautiful blue eyeshow excited he looked every day in Spain to see them again. He's missed so much time with his family, doesn't she owe it to him to let him spend as much time as possible with them?

Even though the girls are asleep, he can at least peek in on them… She's well aware that she's just making excuses, just a reason for her to see him again, but, well, it's been years, and she thought he was dead, she deserves to spend as much time as possible with him before he goes back to North Carolina.

With a determined look in her eye, and before she can over think it even more, she types Sure and sends him the address.

{**********************}

Thanks so much for the support on the last chapter! I was worried people were going to be upset over Claire's struggle between Jamie and Frank, but everyone was super understanding! For anyone that might be losing faith, please be patient about the whole situation. Remember this is a JamiexClaire fic, and we know everything will work out in the end, but Claire needs a minute to figure things out. It's only been a few days for her, and it's a lot to process lol

I hope you enjoyed this one… please review! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven:

Two hours later, Claire is in a pair of black yoga pants and an oversized t-shirt from their university that once belonged to Jamie. When he died, she kept a few of his shirts to sleep in, convinced that even after a million washes, they still smelled like him.

She'd made her way down to the kitchen, putting on a pot of coffee. Once he asked to come over, she knew sleep was the last thing on her mind, but she needed something to keep her awake.

When the doorbell goes off, she walks toward the door, swinging it open and hoping the bell didn't wake the girls. She assumes it didn't, because they are both still conked out; even on a normal night they could sleep through a tornado.

Seeing him standing there, her breath is lost to her all over again.

Something about seeing him, here, in Georgia, in her house, really solidifies that this is real. He's truly back.

Claire tears up unexpectedly, wrapping him in a hug and pulling him inside the house. He kicks the door shut softly with his foot, finally disentangling themselves long enough for him to remove his jacket.

"Nice shirt," he smirks, pointing toward the faded University of Edinburgh logo.

Rolling her eyes, she waves him off with a grin, leading the way back into the kitchen. "Did you sleep any on the plane?"

"Barely," he says, settling onto one of the barstools. "Got a few hours near the end."

Nodding, she tells him she got about the same, not wanting to admit she could barely sleep due to her mind raging a war against itself.

They sip their coffee in silence for a moment, Claire watching him as he looks around the kitchen. "This place is sae bonny, Claire," he comments, his eyes connecting back with hers. He gives her a smile, asking if he can have a tour.

This is so strange, she thinks, this feeling of comfort when he's around, yet he's a stranger to this new life she's built.

"Sure." She sets her coffee cup down, knowing they'll end up back in here for a refill if she's going to survive whatever tonight has in store.

He stands, gesturing for her to lead the way.

She points toward the large window in the back of the kitchen, telling him the backyard is out there, then gestures around the kitchen. She'd just had it remodeled a few months ago and tells him so, pointing out the gray wooden floors, the cream walls and the new gray cabinets.

"And yer marble countertops ye always wanted."

Grinning, she nods, saying those were her favorite part.

Taking his hand—and noting that hers still fits perfectly into his larger one—she leads him into the living room, showing him the picture frames on the walls littered with photographs of her and the girls. There's a few with Murtagh and Jocasta, and of course Joe and Geillis, too. On one wall, she has both girls' picture day photographs and Jamie tears up looking at them.

"And look," she says, patting his back. She takes Faith's picture off the wall, removing the backing. "I just stack the new one on top each year so I have them all together."

She pulls out the portraits, kindergarten on the bottom, then first, second, and her most recent one from third grade which is the one showcased in the frame currently.

Jamie shakes his head, looking at them in wonder. "She's braw, as is wee Brianna."

Smiling, Claire takes Bree's picture off the wall, showing him her kindergarten picture from the year before that sits behind her current first grade one.

"They're adorable," she says, "and look just like you."

He grunts, much the same way Murtagh does when something pleases him, and she grins.

She takes him upstairs, both stepping lightly on the wooden stairs. "The girls are asleep," she says lowly, gesturing in the direction of their rooms.

It's one long hallway, so they walk carefully, Jamie peeking into Faith's room, then Brianna's, both times emerging with a look of paternal pride on his face. "'Tis only nine-thirty, Sassenach. They're already that sound asleep?"

Giggling, she nods, showing him the laundry room at the end of the hall, then on their way back down, just after Brianna's room, she motions to hers.

An air of awkwardness looms at the prospect of him seeing her bedroom, for some reason, so she focuses back on his question, saying, "They were exhausted from the flight." She tells him how they fell asleep together in Brianna's bed before the chapter was even finished, and she watches as a strange look comes over his face.

"What is it?" she asks, leading him down the stairs.

"Nah," he breathes, "it's just… ye're so comfortable wi' the lasses, ye all have a routine and a way of doing things that I have no idea about."

Remorse lances through her heart again, and she grimaces. "I'm sorry," she murmurs. This is all so hard, wanting to share their lives with Jamie, but not wanting him to feel bad for missing it all.

"It's alright, mo chridhe," he vows, saying again, "There's nothin' tae be sorry for." With that, he wraps her in his arms, swaying them at the bottom of the steps. "These gray wooden floors look nice, mo nighean donn," he mumbles into her hair, pulling back with a smile.

She's thankful he's trying to change the subject, so she attempts to do the same, saying once they did the kitchen, she couldn't stand the light brown planks in the rest of the house, so she bit the bullet and redid all the floors, save for the plush carpet in their bedrooms and the playroom.

"Playroom?"

"It's downstairs," she states, pointing toward the kitchen. "There's a door in there that leads to the basement. We just decided to throw everything down there. It's the one space I'll let Hurricane Brianna be a mess." She won't mention that the basement had been unfinished, and Frank spent a month redoing it for her on his days off just so the girls could have a place all on their own, and a guest suite down there complete with a small kitchen and full bath.

He chuckles, that beautiful sound that always makes her smile, as he walks back into the kitchen with her following on his heels.

Refilling their coffee cups, she asks Jamie to grab the grapes from the fridge, then joins him at the table.

She goes and grabs some cheese slices leftover from dinner, and some crackers from the pantry, making a makeshift snack for them as they talk.

They spend the next twenty minutes, laughing and talking, reminiscing on years before, memories of university floating to the surface.

"Ye remember when Murtagh found us kissing in the stables?" he asks, laughing as he plops a grape into his mouth.

Biting her lip, she stifles a laugh, never able to forget the way the old man's face paled seeing his godson and fiancé practically rutting like the animals they were surrounded by.

"Oh, god," she snorts, sipping her coffee, "I don't know who was more embarrassed, us or him."

Jamie chortles, saying it had to have been Murtagh.

"I don't know," she remarks with a grin, pointing at him, "your ears were mighty red that day."

"Aye, as were yer wee cheeks," he jests, his eyes shining with mirth as he looks at her across the table.

With another giggle, they remind each other of their funniest moments, eyes meeting, a heat growing between them as they remember a life once lived only for each other.

Along with the memories, they begin carefully filling each other in on their time spent apart, Claire mindful not to mention Frank too much for fear of ruining the happy bubble they've surrounded themselves in thus far.

Jamie tells her of the stables he works at with Hector, regaling her with one tale after another, like the natural storyteller he is. She always loved listening to his stories, can remember countless nights of lying in his arms, listening to him talk of Lallybroch and his mother, his brother, and all the antics they got up to with Jenny as children.

They eat slowly, savoring each other as much as the snacks before them. They were filling each other in, discovering who they each were as people now, both trying to decide if they could, in fact, exist in the same world with the knowledge of everything that's happened between them.

As Jamie talks, telling her about his favorite horse, they both reach for a piece of cheese, hands brushing against one another.

It's nothing new, they've touched plenty since finding each other again, but something about this, here, tonight, feels different. Their eyes meet, almost shocked, and she wonders if he can still feel that spark between them like she always could.

He'd asked her once, years ago, what it was between them, what that connection was he felt every time he touched her, and she had no idea, but she felt it, too. Jamie, ever the romantic, called it their soulmate connection, which she always aptly rolled her eyes at, but, now, she isn't so sure he was wrong.

She has to admit, there's always been something there, and even now, after all this time, she can still feel it. The sensation is overwhelming, and she gives him a small, unsure smile, her lip turning up on one corner as she huffs out a nervous laugh.

Pulling back her hand, she takes the cheese in her mouth, chewing slowly around a coy little smile.

His eyes are on hers, and the way those blue depths are drawing her in, make her feel as if she's drowning in them.

Her golden eyes mist over, too caught up in his stare to even blink, but she draws herself back to reality when he asks what she and the girls did tonight.

He seems just as flustered as she is, and she wonders if he's nervous, too.

This isn't new, isn't sure why it feels so different, but something about not being in Spain, not in the comfort of the hotel room, makes this all just feel so… real.

With a bout of apprehension, she tentatively says, "Uh, well, Frank… drove us home, made us dinner."

Jamie nods, grunting again—this time not in pleasure—and she can't help but chuckle.

Murtagh, too, makes the same sound every single time she brings Frank up, his displeasure at her new beau clearly evident, and the fact that Jamie has the same reaction just reminds her how similar he is to his godfather. Having Murtagh around all these years has truly been a blessing.

"I know you don't want to hear about him," she says, shoulders dropping, "but I feel like I'm going crazy, Jamie." She sighs, rubbing a hand over her forehead, that headache growing again. "I'm really struggling," she admits and watches as his face softens.

Jamie reaches across the table, offering his hand to her. She gladly accepts it, his fingers curling around hers as she says, "I want to talk to someone about all of this, want to tell someone, anyone what is happening, but I can't! No one can be involved, and I feel like I can't talk to you openly about it because I don't want to hurt your feelings."

Silence fills the space between them, the feel of his thumb rubbing softly against her skin the only thing keeping her grounded in this moment.

She watches as he breathes slowly, deeply, and she knows from years of experience, that he's processing her words, wanting to form his thoughts clearly before speaking. It was always an attribute of his that she admired.

"I understand, mo nighean donn," he murmurs gently, smiling her way. "I'll talk to John and see if there's anyone ye can talk to, someone who isn't directly involved in this."

She nods, thinking of Geillis and Joe, and wishing more than anything that she could have them over for lunch, cry and scream and ask them what to do about all of this.

Geillis is the loose canon out of her two best friends, knows Claire's dead husband coming back to life would most likely be the first thing Geillis told Dougal when she got home. It would definitely be the talk of the yoga studio and probably the coffee shop right next door within the hour, but Joe, sweet Joe, was her most trusted friend.

He's the most trustworthy man Claire knows, besides Jamie, and tells him so. "Maybe I could at least tell him?" She knows she sounds like a child, but she feels so lost, and doesn't know what else to do.

Jamie smiles sympathetically, saying he'll ask John, but he doubts Joe will be allowed to be informed.

She knew that would be his answer, but her shoulders still fall as she gives him a small smile.

{***************************}

Once they have finished off the grapes and coffee, Claire stands, collecting the cheese and crackers to put them away.

They make their way to the living room, sitting on the couch. There's an awkward feeling between them, and she's not sure what it is.

She looks to Jamie, rubbing her jean-clad thighs nervously, then reaches for the remote, flipping on the television, and letting House Hunters play softly in the background like an accompaniment to their awkwardness.

"Is this as weird for ye as it is for me, Sassenach?"

Oh, thank god.

"Yes," she sighs, turning to face him. "And I'm not sure why. I feel like I can't be myself around you," she confesses without thinking.

Jamie's face pinches momentarily, looking hurt, and she instantly regrets her words.

"Not because of you!" she amends, her hand landing on his shoulder. "Just because everything that's happened. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that you're alive." She sighs, sinking into the cushions. One leg bends to rest on the cushion, her knee lightly resting against his thigh. "And with Frank, everything is so much more complicated than it would be if I were single."

As if her boyfriend could hear inside her house, her phone beeps with a text from him. She reaches for it off the coffee table, reading the text quickly.

Miss you. Hope you and the girls are getting plenty of rest now that you've had your bath.

Guilt consumes her, knowing she sent one of her men away so she could spend time with the other. Is she cheating on Jamie with Frank or cheating on Frank with Jamie? Or neither? Her mind is a jumbled mess as she responds back with a simple Thank you and I did. She tells him again that she'll call him tomorrow, then sets her phone down on the arm of the couch.

Looking up, she sees Jamie watching her, and she knows her face is flushed, her emotions clearly dancing on the surface. She smiles nervously, shrugging her shoulders.

"Ye dinna have to be nervous around me, Sassenach," he says, a hint of red creeping up his neck and leading to his ears.

She nods, her face softening. "I know I don't, Jamie."

They stare, moments passing as they both seemingly collect their thoughts and emotions.

"Do you want a drink?" she asks, pointing toward the mini-bar tucked away in the back of the living room.

He grins, saying he'll take some of the whisky he figures she still keeps in the house. "Ye still keep it around, don't ye?"

He knows her so well, she muses.

She snorts, saying, "Always," as she tuts and stands from the sofa. She feels a bit of lightness as their easy banter around one another slowly edges its way back in, and she smiles to herself as she walks to the bar.

She pours them each a dram of their favorite Scottish whisky, Dougal's best selling brand from the distillery, and decides to just bring the whole bottle with her, knowing this night will call for a refill, or three.

They sit and talk for a while, sipping on their libations. The conversation starts to flow again, Jamie refilling their glasses when they get low.

She's feeling loose, not as nervous around him as she was earlier. She inquires more about his life in North Carolina, and he smiles, telling her about the baseball team he and Fergus are on.

"We just had a tournament last month," he says, excitedly telling her how his team won. "Crushed the other team to smithereens," he laughs, his Scottish accent thickening with every word, his R's rolling off his tongue in that way they so often do when he's passionate about a topic.

Smiling, she listens, glad to know he hasn't been miserable this whole time.

"I got Fergus a job at the farm, too," he says, "though he doesn't quite love the horses like Hector and I do." He talks about his favorite horse again, a black stallion named Donas that he claims hates everyone but him. "He's thrown his last four riders, but the wee beastie must like me, ken, because he's as gentle as a lamb when I'm around."

"You were always so good with animals, so I'm not surprised," she says, her body feeling warmer as the whisky settles in her stomach.

He's never sounded this excited over a job before. He'd worked for his Uncle Dougal's whisky distillery when they were married, which was fine enough. He was happy to have a relative in Georgia when Claire got her position at Emory. It had worked out perfectly, but he's never truly loved it the way he did animals, and Claire always felt a sense of guilt that he'd settled for a job he wasn't as passionate about so she could have her dream career.

That was so typically Jamie, though. God, she loves him.

"You seem really happy," she comments, her hand finding its way to his bicep. Her finger trails against the fabric covering his arm, adding softly, "I'm glad."

"Aye, I am," he confesses, his eyes moving to watch her finger rub against his arm, "but happier now that ye ken I'm alive." He looks deeply into her eyes, that feeling of drowning once more taking over, but she finds she doesn't want to be saved. "I dinna care how happy I am there, mo ghraidh, there's no type of happiness like what I have when I'm with ye and the bairns, I hope you ken that."

She doesn't know what to say, too overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions. Her whisky colored eyed hold his blue, and she feels as if her lungs are a balloon that's been popped, slowly deflating with each ragged breath between them.

When she licks her lips, Jamie's eyes dart down, watching the movement, before flickering back up to look at her again.

Without thought, as if drawn to him like a sailor to a beautiful siren, she leans in, inching closer to her long lost husband.

"I want…" he begins, breath shaking out of him in ragged pants as he takes her hands in his, "I would verra much like to kiss you." Her mouth twitches up into the briefest of smiles at his words, nerves twisting her insides. "May I?"

Claire's breath is just as unsteady as his. She smiles, nods, doesn't know what to do with herself as she whispers, "Yes."

His body shifts, edging closer to her as well, their bodies moving in sync. She isn't sure if there are miles between them or if everything is just moving in slow motion, but she feels as if it takes forever for their faces to rest centimeters apart, so close she can feel his warm breath on her, that hint of whisky making her feel dizzy with need.

"I havena done this in a verra long time," he admits, licking his lips.

Breathing out shakily, her heart pounding so loudly she just knows he can hear it, too, she scoots even closer as his lips slowly descend onto hers.

When his lips finally, finally, make contact with hers, all sense of reality leaves her. She forgets about the pain of learning he'd died, forgets the way that police officer held her as she cried in his arms, forgets Jamie's funeral and visiting his grave with the girls, forgets the hardships of being a new mom while also raising a toddler and trying to grieve the loss of her husband… forgets it all. Everything. All the pain, all the tears, all the heartache. Forgets about Frank…

Fuck.

Claire pulls back abruptly, just as Jamie went to deepen the kiss, her breath coming out in heavy, tear-filled pants. She reaches up to touch her lips, her hand shaking. "I'm… I'm sorry," she blubbers out just above a whisper. "I…"

His face falls, just briefly, before he recovers, his eyes shining as he looks at her. He looks down, collecting himself, she thinks, then glances back up, asking on a broken whisper, "Has too much happened?" His head shakes, as if clearing his mind, "Am I no' enough, Claire?" He grimaces at his own words, hands twisting in her grasp. "Do ye no' want me anymore?"

She stares at him, blankly at first, as the feelings all come flooding through her mind like a swarm of bees. She feels awful, tears springing to her eyes, but the images of Frank in her mind killed the moment. Is this cheating? She doesn't know, so she tells Jamie around a lump in her throat, "I can't tell if this is cheating or not…"

His hand pulses in hers, comforting her. "It's okay, mo chridhe," he assures with a twitch of his signature smirk, ever so gentle and loving with her.

"I just don't know if this is wrong or not," she says again, weeping, her shoulders shaking. She takes a calming breath, drawing strength from Jamie's large hand that rests on her knee, letting her work through the storm in her head. "I want you. God, Jamie, I want to be with you, but there's Frank, too," she huffs, frustrated with herself over this whole situation, "and he's a good man. I can't just leave him with no explanation, that wouldn't be right… o-or fair to him. I'm so conflicted."

Jamie, ever the understanding one, pulls her into her chest, letting her cry some more. "We can wait, mo ghraidh," he vows, though she can tell the words pain him to say, can tell from the way his face is pinched tight, like he's holding every emotion in the world back from her. "I ken this is difficult for ye." He kisses the top of her head, swaying them gently, his hand rubbing up and down her back. "Take a few days to sort out yer feeling, okay?"

She nods, her whole body shaking from nerves.

"And if ye decide that ye want tae be with Frank and no' me, then," he smiles softly, "tell him I'm grateful. Grateful that ye were able to find a man good enough to help ye move on. Ye tell him that I trust him… and that I hate him down to the very marrow of his bones." He smirks at that, and she can't help that she does, too.

Her heart is screaming to be with her husband, but her mind knows she needs to break up with Frank first, no matter how bad she feels about doing that. She'll break his heart, and hers a little bit as well, with no good explanation as to why. It will blindside him, and Frank deserves better than that. She needs to take tonight, get some rest, and figure out what exactly to say to him.

Sniffling, she finally calms enough to pull back, looking at him with watery eyes. He smiles so gingerly at her that she thinks her heart might crack in two, so she cuddles back into his chest, embracing the comfort while she can.

His heat envelopes her as he flips through the channel, finally settling back on House Hunters and grumbling that there's never anything good on, just like he always did. Jamie props his feet up on the coffee table, and she smiles to herself. This is just how it used to be, and she loves it. The familiarity of it all makes her want to cry all over again, so instead she snuggles closer, pressing a light kiss just above his heart.

In that moment, cuddling on the couch with her husband, the war inside her heart and mind finally settles, and she knows exactly what she needs to do.

{*****************}

The decision has finally been made, and Claire can move forward. Phew! Thanks to everyone who has supported this story and stuck with it through Claire's internal struggle. Please let me know your thoughts about this chapter! :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight:

The next morning, Claire wakes up, feeling more rested than she thought was possible. She's also in her bed, which she finds odd, seeing as the last thing she remembers was dozing off on Jamie's shoulder.

He must have carried her up here.

He's gone, she knows that much, but she smiles to herself nonetheless, sinking further into the bed. She brings the neck of her t-shirt up to her nose, inhaling his scent that once again is absorbed into the fabric.

She begins to cry as the weight of the last few days hit her like a tidal wave. She blames the jetlag for making her extra emotional, so she stays in bed a little bit longer, crying for the husband she thought she lost and the boyfriend she loves but needs to break up with. Crying for her daughters who have their father back, but also crying because she knows the girls love Frank. She thought she'd cried most of this out in Madrid, but apparently not. All of it is too much and her only response is body-wracking sobs.

She buries her face in her pillow, trying to muffle the sound so she doesn't wake the girls. The last thing she needs is for them to find her like this. She wonders how the girls are really handling it all, knows Faith is intuitive enough that she'd hide any sadness from Claire so that she didn't feel bad; she is so like Jamie in that way.

After another few moments, she collects herself enough to pull her face out of the pillow, her tear stains leaving large, dark circles on the pillowcase.

She looks at her cellphone, noting the time. It's eight in the morning, and she knows the girls will likely be up soon, so she drags herself from the bed. She hops in the shower, letting the warm spray awaken her senses as she washes her face, hoping it brings some color back to her skin.

Once out, she throws on another set of comfy clothes—gray yoga pants and a t-shirt—enjoying her last few days of freedom before she has to start getting dressed again for the hospital.

She doesn't bother with much makeup—just some concealer to hide the dark circles under her eyes—throws her hair in a messy bun, and gets her contacts inserted before heading to check on the girls.

Both are still dead asleep, so she takes a moment to watch them before heading downstairs. She'll start breakfast at least, knowing the smell will rouse one of them from sleep, and they'll wake the other.

Before the pancakes are even done cooking, she hears little pitter-patters of feet descending the stairs.

"Morning, babies," she croons, kissing each of their heads as they come to stand beside her, peering into the frying pan.

Brianna leans up on her tip-toes to peer over the top of the counter, checking to see what Claire is making. With a shrug, and clearly no desire to help, she scurries off to the table and picks up a coloring book she'd tossed there moments ago.

Faith saddles up beside Claire, however, and she hands the little girl a spatula. She giggles as she stands in front of Claire on a small step stool, asking, "Is it time to flip yet?"

Claire nods and helps guide Faith's hand to flip it, both of them cheering when it turns over correctly.

Bree must hear their excitement, because before Claire can blink, the little whirlwind is by her side again, bouncing on her heels and asking to help do something.

Laughing, Claire checks that Faith is alright with the pancakes while she briefly steps to the refrigerator to grab the carton of eggs.

"Grab a bowl," she instructs Brianna, pointing toward the cabinet.

Brianna takes one out, holding it up for Claire's approval. She nods, smiling as Bree sets it on the counter.

"Should I take this pancake off now, Mama?" Faith asks over her shoulder, and Claire hurries to check it.

She tells her she can, and Faith gingerly scoops the pancake from the frying pan and places it on the plate Claire had already set out.

Pouring another glob of batter into the pan, Claire hands Faith the spatula again. "Watch it for a few minutes. When it has bubbles all over, you can flip."

Faith nods studiously, and Claire focuses back on Brianna. She's standing there, impatient hands on her hips, and Claire chuckles. "Here you go, darling," she says, handing Brianna an egg. "Crack that against the side of the bowl."

Bree tries, little tongue peeking out in concentration, but her egg shell busts and pieces fall into the bowl. She huffs, claiming she can't do it, but Claire instructs her to pick out the shells. "You just have to keep trying."

She kisses Bree on the cheek, turning her head to look to her right and check on Faith. The pancake is still slowly cooking, so she knows she has another minute or so to help Brianna.

She takes Bree's hands, cracking the egg with her against the bowl, showing her how to do it quickly so the shell doesn't crack into quite so many little pieces.

Brianna laughs when the yolk falls into the bowl with no shell, bouncing on her step stool. "Look, Faithie! I did it!"

"Good job!" Faith praises, her own tongue poking out of the side of her mouth as she tries to flip the pancake with no assistance.

Claire watches over them both carefully, reaching over to help Faith so she doesn't burn her arm.

Once all the eggs have been cracked, she hands Brianna a whisk, knowing this part will be much simpler. "Now mix them all together," she instructs, and Bree gets to work.

Claire helps Faith pour and flip three more pancakes before she declares it enough. Faith steps down, going to the fridge to collect the apple juice and take it over to the table.

Smiling at how mature her oldest seems preparing breakfast, Claire glances over to Brianna, helping her pour the eggs onto the frying pan. "You go help Faith set everything up while I scramble these right quick."

Bree nods, happily hopping down and skipping over to the table. She slides into her seat, opening her coloring book back up and Faith huffs. "She said to help me, not color."

Brianna just shrugs, going back to her picture and Claire watches as Faith rolls her eyes on the way back to the refrigerator. "Useless," she mumbles, and Claire has to bite her lip to stifle her laughter.

"Faith, be nice."

The little girl huffs again, smiling sweetly as she grabs the container of pineapple and takes it to the table.

Claire salts and peppers the eggs, finishing them up and dumping them into a large bowl.

"Brianna, put the coloring book away," she says, "Come grab the eggs and take them to the table."

Bree hops up, taking the bowl from Claire and setting it on the table for everyone.

Faith grabs the syrup and butter while Claire takes the plate of pancakes to the table as well.

They all sit, piling their plates full of eggs, pancakes, and the canned biscuits she'd made earlier, and she makes a mental note to try and squeeze in a gym session after work one day this week.

{***********************}

After breakfast, and once the girls have had time to sufficiently wake up, they make their way down to the playroom while Claire finishes cleaning the kitchen.

She joins them soon enough, laughing and playing Sorry! down in the basement.

Things feel normal like this, and it settles Claire somewhat, at least for a little bit.

"Is Daddy coming over today?" Brianna asks, "or Frank?"

Well, shit. That cut right to the core of all her current insecurities.

Taking a deep breath, she runs her hands through Bree's hair, pulling her in between her legs so that she can braid her long, auburn locks.

"I'm sure Daddy will come over today," she says, finishing the braid and tying it back with the extra rubber band around her own wrist. She rubs Brianna's back and sighs. "Frank probably won't be around as much now, girls," she explains hesitantly, not wanting to get into all the complicated details of her two relationships.

"Oh," Bree sighs, her shoulder slumping. "Is he still going to come to buy Girl Scout cookies from me?"

Claire chuckles, saying she's sure he will. She knows they're thrilled to have Jamie back, but they also care for Frank, so it'll be hard for them to understand that they can't have both men in their lives. It'll be a hard transition, she's sure, but it's far too complicated to try and explain right now.

"Frank said he'd come to my next recital," Faith says, a hint of disappointment in her voice, "But I guess him and Daddy can't both be there."

Claire goes to placate her crestfallen little girls, but Bree pipes in with a, "Why not!?"

Rolling her eyes, Faith huffs, "Because, silly, no one can know Daddy is alive. Remember?"

Bree slumps back further into Claire's lap with a mumbled oh yeah and fiddles with her doll that's in her own lap.

Claire pats Brianna's leg, motioning for her to get up so Faith can get her hair done. The girls switch spots, and she ties Faith curls into a cute little top knot.

She sends them upstairs to bathe and change out of their pajamas, Brianna asking in dread, "Do I have to put on a dress?"

Laughing, she tells her no, then points to her own attire. "Just something comfy so you're out of pajamas." Bree nods, and as the girls bound up the stairs, Claire adds as she trails behind them, "And toss your pajamas in the laundry room! I need to wash all of our clothes."

With the thought of laundry looming over her, she makes her way up the other flight of stairs, chasing Bree up each one as she drags her feet, making the little girl squeal.

While the girls shower and get ready, Claire starts laundry, sorting the clothes into darks and lights before tossing in the first load.

Her phone goes off, and she reaches for it, thankful these yoga pants have pockets.

I just woke up lol it reads, causing her to smile. She'd finally saved Jamie's new number, under Alexander Malcolm, of course, but seeing his name on her screen gives her a sense of calmness. Jet lag hit me hard. Can I come by for lunch?

Grinning, she decides to just call him instead, hitting the phone icon on the screen. After a few rings, he picks up, his groggy voice giving her such a strong sense of nostalgia that it almost knocks her over.

Leaning her shoulder against the wall in the laundry room, she greets him, thanking him for putting her to bed last night. "I was exhausted," she huffs. She feels bad he had to carry her up the stairs and into bed, but deep down, she knows he didn't mind. "But to answer your question: of course you can come over."

She can hear Jamie's smile through the phone as he tells her he'll be there for lunch and they hang up, Claire putting some clothes into the dryer.

Before she can grab her phone off the washing machine to put away, it goes off again. Smiling, she looks down, but this time, it's from Frank.

Can I come over today? I can bring lunch for us all.

Fuck. She really hates this. It'd be much easier if Jamie had 'died' in a plane crash and came back years later like in Castaway or something, at least then Frank would understand why she was being distant, would allow her time to spend with Jamie and let him bond with his children. But this… the not being able to tell him, really makes it all seem so sketchy, like she was going behind his back with everything.

She writes back, giving him an excuse about everyone being too tired and needing to unpack and do laundry before she goes back to work on Monday. He says he understands, but she knows he's disappointed. She would be, too.

{*************************}

An hour later, Jamie is there, ringing the doorbell.

The girls both squeal with excitement, racing toward the door.

Claire watches as they attach themselves to his legs, laughing when Jamie tries to stomp toward the kitchen with the weight added to him.

She helps him out, taking the bags of food from his hands so he can at least steady their squirming bodies against him as he trudges into the kitchen.

Peeking into the bag, she sees that he brought food from her favorite Mexican restaurant, and she worries he went inside to pick it up.

"I ordered it online, had it delivered tae me," he says as a way of explanation, smirking.

Damn her glass face giving every single thought away. Just another reason she needs to avoid Frank.

"It's a bit cold, so why don't you go play with the girls while I heat it all back up?"

"Are ye sure?" he says, brows furrowing, "I can help, I dinna mind."

Claire waves him off, putting on her best Scottish accent as she says, "Dinna fash," wanting him to have as much time as possible with his children.

Jamie grins wildly at her attempt to sound like him, scoffing and telling her, "Yer accent has no' gotten much better, Sassenach." And he laughs as Faith and Brianna giggle and take his hands.

The girls drag him to the backyard, and as Claire dishes out the food from the aluminum containers into bowls and plates, popping everything in the microwave, she watches with a smile on her face as Jamie chases the girls around the yard and down the slide of their swingset.

Their peels of laughter echo into the house, and a warm feeling encompasses her. She loves this, but suddenly a thought hits her: Should he be outside like that? They're not in Madrid, free to roam around with less worry hanging over their heads. They're in Georgia, just twenty-five minutes from where he was shot.

With that, she makes her way over to the back door, calling them all inside.

As the girls rush off to wash their hands, Jamie asks if she's alright.

"I just got worried," she confesses with a shrug, "What if someone sees you out there?"

"In the backyard?" he asks, his head tilting.

She rolls her eyes, knowing deep down she's being ridiculous, but she worries and doesn't know how to handle all of this.

Jamie wraps his arms around her, pulling her close. He kisses the top of her head, assuring her it will all be okay. "I ken ye're worried, Sassenach. If it makes ye feel better, we'll no' go outside anymore."

"Thank you," she says, stepping out of his embrace. "Now go wash your hands."

"Yes, ma'am."

Grinning, she plates all of their food while they wash up, and once they're all done, they sit around the table like the little family they were always meant to be.

{**************************}

After lunch, while munching on the leftover chips and queso on the table, Bree looks to Jamie, asking, "Daddy, will you have a tea party with us?"

Faith giggles beside her sister, nodding in agreed excitement over the question.

"O'course, I will!"

Their daughters hop up excitedly, both taking one of his hands and dragging him down the steps to the playroom, Bree's explanation of what other members would be at the tea party—a life sized Barbie, Faith's favorite teddy bear from years ago, and Bree's plastic horses—floating back up the stairs to Claire.

With a content sigh, Claire stands, throwing away the remaining items and rinsing off the food that is stuck to their plates before setting them in the dishwasher.

She gives the girls and Jamie time to settle into their tea party, honestly enjoying the little bit of silence she can get before going back to work on Monday.

She spritzes the countertops with her favorite Mr. Clean spray, wiping it down and feeling accomplished when the kitchen looks and smells nice and clean.

The desire to relax on the couch and read a good book takes over, but the need to watch Jamie with their children far outweighs it.

Taking her time, she grabs her cellphone, tucking it into her pocket. She turns the kitchen light out, heading down the basement stairs.

The sight that greets her is one she's not likely to ever forget, and before she gets noticed, she snaps a picture, wanting to capture this to look back on later. She'd made a hidden folder this morning just for instances like this. She knew she couldn't have pictures of Jamie on her camera roll, but hidden away for just her to see would be okay.

Jamie is sitting in a plastic, child-sized chair, knees bent and resting far above the top of the table. He's got a little bejeweled tiara on his head, purple feather boa around his shoulders, and giant clip-on earrings attached to his earlobes.

The girls are in much the same get up—a big, floppy pink hat on Faith's head, a pair of leopard print cat ears on Bree's. Both are decked out in all their dress up jewelry—beaded necklaces, plastic bangles clanging together when they move their arms, earrings and big, sparkly diamond rings—as Faith serves the pretend tea to the table and Brianna talks in her best British accent impersonation.

She started doing that last year, much to Claire's amusement, as her daughter tried to sound like her.

Jamie tries to use a posh accent as well, thanking "Milady" for the tea and sipping on the invisible beverage.

"Ye're quite welcome," Bree says, bowing her head, her little Scottish voice popping out.

Jamie's eyes light up, and Claire wishes so desperately that Murtagh and Jocasta could be here to see this. Their uncle always got a good laugh when one of the girls would let an Och or a ye slip over their tongues, claiming no matter what, the Scot was in them both.

"Cake for you, sir," Bree says, offering him the plastic strawberry cake.

He accepts it kindly, making dramatic munching sounds as he pretends to nibble the dessert.

"Daddy!" Bree admonishes, "You're supposed to wait until everyone has been served!"

Her little hands are on her hips, and Jamie looks rightfully chastised. He sets the cake down, sheepishly apologizing to his daughter, and Claire has to bite back a laugh.

"It's alright," she comforts, patting his shoulder sweetly. "It's just polite to wait, okay?"

"Aye," he chuckles, his smirk growing, "ye're right, lass."

Brianna nods proudly, as if she'd just taught him the most important lesson, then reaches over to Faith who is serving the other party guests, taking a cup from her.

Claire cannot help it any longer, the sight of Jamie watching to make sure everyone has been served too much to handle, and she bursts into laughter.

"Mama!" Faith squeals, her blue eyes lighting up as she waves her over. "Come join us!"

"Why, thank you," she says, taking the small chair next to Jamie.

She's still giggling as she looks at him while the girls work together to rearrange the cups and plates, making room for one more guest.

Their eyes meet, a flirty glint to each of them. She loves this. They feel like a real family; this is the type of lazy Saturday afternoon she always dreamed of them having together. Frank never played with the girls like this, always claiming he felt too silly, but he'd watch on as she played with them. She never really minded, but now seeing a man interact this way with her girls, a warm sensation begins to grow inside her heart.

As they wait for Faith to dish out the cake and Bree to pour the tea for their toy horse, Cory, Claire lets her pinky subtly rub along the side of Jamie's hand, silently asking permission to hold it.

Jamie smiles, taking her hand in his and giving it a light squeeze. His knee gently knocks into hers, both smirking at one another as Brianna gives the rules for the tea party—waiting til everyone has been served, which she cuts her eyes to Jamie on that one, cleaning up your crumbs, and making sure each guest feels welcome.

Claire smirks as their youngest finishes, and Faith announces they may all dig in.

And for the next hour, the four of them sit at that tiny plastic table, Jamie's knees looming over it and her back aching from sitting in the small chair for so long. They sip their tea and eat the pretend cake and crumpets, all the while Faith and Bree take turns telling Jamie about their school, their teacher and all their friends they have there.

"Mrs. Austin is the best!" Faith exclaims, telling Jamie all about her teacher and how they're working on a project in reading. "We're making dioramas about the book we've been reading." She grins, obviously excited about the project. "We started before Spring Break, but when we go back on Monday, we're going to finish our boxes and present them!"

"That's verra cool. Are ye ready?"

"Yep!" she squeals, "I basically finished before break, I'll probably just help Lori with hers. She's my best friend, but she doesn't really like the project, so she's not done yet."

Jamie smiles, saying he would love to see it when she brings it home, and Claire beams at the thought.

"I'm making numbers with base ten blocks!" Brianna announces, clearly wanting to be a part of the conversation. "I really like Math."

"That's wonderful, a leannan. Numbers can be verra challenging for some people."

He looks over to Claire, pride shining in his eyes as Brianna continues rambling on about how they're learning tens and ones in first grade, but, "My teacher, her name is Miss Green, works with me and another boy on the hundreds place because we understand tens and ones already!"

Jamie chuckles, praising her. "That's braw, lass!"

Bree admits that one girl in her class makes fun of her at recess for being smart, but she just ignores her now. "Mama told me not to ever let anyone make me feel bad for having a brain."

Claire chokes, giggling as Jamie laughs, too, saying, "She's right. Dinna fash over people who're jealous of ye."

Bree nods, and Claire isn't sure if the message was received by the six year old, but maybe one day it'll set in.

Faith stands after a few more sips of tea, showing off her ballet skills to the party guests, Brianna making the life-sized Barbie's hands clap for her sister.

Brianna tells Jamie about her horseback riding lessons, and Jamie tells her all about Donas, her little golden eyes lighting up as she asks to meet him one day.

After the tea party is all cleaned up, they head upstairs, the girls running off to the living room while Jamie helps Claire put away the dishes.

He's quiet, and she worries that something may have happened this afternoon that she didn't pick up on.

She takes a cup from his hand, smiling apprehensively as she moves to put it away. Before the silence can kill her, she asks, "Everything okay?"

Sighing, Jamie rests his hands on the counter, looking over his shoulder at her. He makes a grunting sound in the back of his throat, and spins, pressing his back into the counter, his strong arms crossing over his body as he faces her. "It's nothing serious, Sassenach."

At his words, she can feel her shoulder visibly relax, and he smirks, reaching out a hand to summon her closer. She slings the dish towel over her shoulder, coming to stand next to him.

Their shoulders are pressed together, both of their bodies facing the refrigerator. She watches him from the corner of his eyes, his own gaze fixated on the photographs on the large appliance before them.

"Brianna," he says quietly, looking down at Claire. "I told ye I dreamed of her, no?"

She nods silently, and he continues, "I always imagined her, the same little face popping up in my dreams. I wasna sure of her name, o'course, but I saw her, Brianna. Just as she truly looks in all the old pictures ye've shown me."

Claire bites her lip, not wanting to break this moment, wanting to let him speak.

"Today when we were playing, her hair fell over to one shoulder, ye ken?" He shrugs, looking back at the photos. "I saw a wee birthmark behind her ear."

Nodding, Claire murmurs about the dark spot their daughter has always had.

"I saw it, the birthmark, in my dreams, ken. Always saw myself kissing that wee blemish when she was just a bairn." He sighs out a shuddering breath, and Claire can tell he's trying not to cry. "I dinda ken it was real, until today, that my dreams were somehow truly connected to her."

Her eyes mist over, hating Master Raymond and anyone else involved that took this wonderful man away from them for so long, that made him miss out on all the little moments of learning who his children really are.

"Och," he breathes, trying to chuckle and lighten the mood. "Just threw me for a second when I saw it, 'tis all. Just nice tae know I was always here, somehow, even if it was just in my dreams."

Nodding, she scoots closer, lifting one of his arms from his chest and loops it around her shoulder as she snuggles closer to him.

He kisses the top of her head, and they stand there for a few weighted moments, both scanning over the pictures on the refrigerator once more.

There's one of Jenny, Ian, and their three kids—Jamie, Maggie and Kitty—standing with Claire and the girls in front of a waterfall. It was from one of their visits to Scotland, and Claire takes her phone, sending Jenny a text, remembering she hadn't spoken to her since landing back in America.

We're home and unpacked, just trying to sleep as much as possible before going back to work and school.

She closes her phone, glancing up at Jamie. His eyes flick from her phone to her face, smiling sadly. "How is she?"

"She's good," Claire nods, "and Ian and the kids. That's their youngest, Kitty." She points to the baby in the photograph. "She's two now, and she and the rest of them are always so excited to FaceTime the girls."

He smiles at that, sighing, "I canna believe how big wee Jamie and Maggie have gotten." He eyes mist over as she stares at the picture. "Maggie was just a babe when I left, couldna even crawl."

She smiles sympathetically, rubbing his back. He glanced over at Claire, then back to the fridge, saying he's glad they still keep in touch, and Claire scoffs a laugh, shoulders shaking. "You think Jenny would have let me disappear after your death?"

Jamie snickers, pulling her even closer still, his nose nuzzling into her brown curls. "Definitely not."

After a few moments, the girls' laughter brings them back to reality, and they make their way into the living room, Claire's fingers linked with Jamie's.

With that, they spend the rest of the day together—playing, talking, and enjoying one of the last days of Spring Break as a family—and as Claire settles into bed that night, she realizes that not once during the day did she spare a thought for Frank Randall.

{**********************}

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine:

A few days later, Spring Break has officially ended for all the Fraser girls. Faith and Brianna have returned to school, and Claire's gone back to the hospital.

She'd met up with Frank for lunch on Monday, him bringing her their favorite Thai food and eating outside the hospital. It was the only time she'd been able to see him since he picked them up from the airport between spending time with Jamie and avoiding everyone like the plague. She'd barely been able to get through her meal, remorse gnawing at her insides.

"Are you alright, love?" he asked, draping his arm over her shoulder.

They sat under her favorite magnolia tree, providing just enough shade to keep them cool in the warm spring heat.

Frank leaned in, his nose nudging against her cheek and pulling her from her thoughts.

She smiled, tentatively pressing her lips to his. She doesn't want him to know something is wrong before she has a chance to gather her thoughts and break up with him, but the feel of his lips on her now make her feel uncomfortable. She pulled back almost as quickly, smiling tightly at him.

Claire hated this. Hated the feeling of betrayal to Jamie, but also feeling as if she were betraying Frank with her husband. She had feelings for Frank, real feelings, and she knew it was unfair to just assume they'd up and disappear simply because Jamie came back to life.

Her hand cupped his cheek, allowing her mind to quiet as he leaned in again, his lips melting against hers momentarily.

She whimpered into the embrace, the emotions of the last week spilling out. "Frank," she breathed, pulling away.

He smiled, obviously thinking her whimper was a good sound. His hand landed on her knee, whispering how he could come over tonight. "I know it's too late to get a babysitter," he amended, "but we could have a nice glass of wine after the girls go to sleep, make out a little on the couch."

He grinned, and she couldn't help the awkward half-giggle it drew from her. God, this was so hard.

But she knew Jamie would be coming over tonight, so she bit her lip, trying to keep the emotions from her own face and praying her glass face didn't give her away.

"I have to be up early for work," she lied with a shrug, "but I can come over tomorrow, just the two of us." She chastely pecked his lips to punctuate her sentence, and he smiled, his hand rubbing gently on her thigh.

His hand moved higher, and she pushed his hand gently away, admonishing, "Frank, we're in public."

Her eyes darted to the pair of nurses on the next bench, chatting amicably about their days, then over to the old man by the trash can smoking his cigarette.

He leaned in, kissing her neck. "So?" he breathed, "No one is looking."

She scoffed out a laugh, but as his hand rose higher, more insistent, she put her foot down, swatting his hand away and pulling back from his embrace. "Frank."

"Fine," he sighed, smiling sweetly, though she could tell he was irritated. She knew seven months was a long time to wait to have sex, especially when he's had feelings for her for so much longer, but now that Jamie's back, she's more than glad she never slept with him. "You coming over tomorrow sounds great." He smiled again, pecking her cheek this time. "Can't wait, love."

Smiling, she spent the rest of her lunch date with thoughts of her boyfriend and her husband swirling in her mind. She barely heard whatever Frank was saying, all the while planning what to say to him at dinner when she inevitably broke his heart.

She's been keeping in contact with Jamie, not seeing him during the daytime over the past two days has been hard, but he's come over both nights for dinner, respectfully leaving once the girls have been tucked into bed—mainly due to the fact that he had a curfew and the safe house was an hour away from Claire's, more if there was traffic, which, being Atlanta, there always was.

After bedtime, she and Jamie had spent time in the kitchen or living room talking and hanging out as if they were dating again, getting to know each other once more after all this time. She's loved every moment of it, no matter how badly she wants Jamie, it's been fun and flirty spending time with him like this. It makes her feel like they are young college kids all over again, and the butterflies in her stomach just won't seem to leave—not that she wants them to.

They held hands and flirted, but nothing more. Nothing since their one and only kiss that effectively freaked her out when she was rushed with reminders of Frank. She knows she needs to end things with him before she and Jamie can do more, it just wouldn't be right, and Jamie understands that.

She would have done it sooner, but between her shift at the hospital and wanting Jamie to come over both evenings, she hadn't had a night to go over to Frank's and end things. It's only been a few days since Jamie landed in Georgia, and she has to remind herself of that constantly when she feels as if it's been weeks since he got here and she's been dragging this break up out unnecessarily.

Frank has been asking to come over, and she's aware he knows something is wrong. They haven't seen each other in the five days she and the girls have been back, save for the day he picked them up from the airport and their one lunch date she'd agreed to. She hadn't wanted to break up with him over lunch since they were in public, which is why she agreed to the dinner, knowing doing it in the privacy of one of their homes would be better, more respectful to Frank and the pain she would cause him.

She spends the rest of her workday avoiding as many coworkers as possible, knowing they'll want to hear about her vacation and she's not sure if she can lie to that many people. It had been hard enough yesterday and Tuesday on her shifts, but Wednesdays were her favorite days, her favorite nurses were on call, and she hadn't had a chance to catch up with them yet.

Joe can obviously tell something is wrong and asks her what's up on their lunch break. "You still jet-lagged? You've been quiet this week."

Nodding, she swallows a sip of her coffee. "Yeah, I didn't realize how much the whole thing would wear me out."

"Hm," he grunts, eyeing her up suspiciously. "You sure that's it, Lady Jane? You seem awfully distracted by that phone today."

He's grinning at her, and she fights the urge to smile right back, saying she's waiting to hear from Frank. "I texted him earlier to see if he wanted to have dinner. I've only seen him twice since we got back."

Joe grunts again, rolling his eyes slightly at the mention of her boyfriend. "Here I thought you'd run off and gotten yourself a Spanish fling, making you realize Frank was a tool."

"Joe," she scoffs, unable to help the little chuckle that leaves her lips. Her best friend was never Frank's biggest fan. "If you must know, the trip did help me put some things into perspective."

He sits up straighter at that, leaning into the table as his elbows slide against the wooden surface. "Oh yeah?"

She worries her lips, taking another sip of coffee and a bite of her sandwich, deliberately chewing slowly to rile him up. She smirks around her bite as she watches him fidget, rolling his eyes at her when he realizes what she's doing.

Clearing her throat once she's swallowed, she sits back, her finger trailing along the rim of her mug. "I think I just realized that Frank isn't the man I'm supposed to be with."

She watches as Joe attempts oh so desperately not to shout with glee, the smile blossoming on his face unable to be quelled. "You're impossible," she laughs, rolling her eyes again.

"I'm sorry, LJ," he snickers, "I just think it's been six months too long, and I'm glad you're ending things. Do you need me to watch the girls tonight while you do it?"

Her breath catches in her throat, knowing Jamie had already more than eagerly agreed to do just that. She tells him she already has a babysitter, and he nods, the subject dropping after he declares, "Well you must tell me all about it tomorrow."

{***************************}

That night, Claire finds herself in Frank's kitchen, the silence between them almost deafening.

Their silverware clangs and scrapes along the porcelain plates, and she can hear his heavy breathing.

"Have you gotten enough sleep since Spain?" he finally asks, taking a sip of his wine. "I know you've been saying how tired you are."

Nodding, she says that she has and that it was nice to spend the last days of the girls' break with them.

He smiles at that, and she feels bad, knows the awkwardness tonight is all because of her, and Frank really does care about her children.

Once she's swallowed the last bite of her chicken, she sets the fork down, taking a deep breath. "Frank…"

His brown eyes find hers, the confusion already swimming in them at her tone.

"How about," he says, cutting her off as he slides his chair closer to hers. His hand lands on her thigh, squeezing gently, "we pick up where we left off the other day on our lunch date."

He leans in, pressing his lips to hers. She allows it briefly, letting him deepen it as his hand slides up her thigh, inching closer and closer to where she'd normally be wanting him. His hand flexes on her thigh, but she thinks of Jamie at home with the girls, which slams her back to reality faster than anything. "Frank," she says, panting as she pulls back. "We can't do this in the middle of the kitchen."

He grins, a coy little thing, saying he thinks they can. He reaches for the button on her jeans, and says, "Or we could always take this to my room," kissing her harshly between each of his words.

She scoffs unsurely at his insistence. The touching is nothing new, they've done it before, fingers slipping beneath hem lines, mouths bringing each other to orgasm, but she could never let them go all the way. Images of Jamie would always flash through her mind, especially in more intimate moments with Frank, effectively killing the mood.

His fingers toy with her denim, but she pushes on his shoulder, silently begging him to back off, wondering in the back of her mind why he's so much more insistent tonight. "Frank, I need to talk to you."

"Should I be worried?" he asks, pulling away and letting her sit up straighter in her chair. God, she feels so guilty, hates to do this with no good explanation. She doesn't want to hurt him but… she has to do this. He scoots his chair back to its place, his hand still resting on her knee. He smooths his hair down, and she smiles as his face softens. He was always so patient, never pushing her for more, until tonight for some reason, even though they both clearly wanted to go further.

Sighing, she gulps down the last of her wine, saying, "Spain was really good for me. It made me realize some things about my life."

"Like what?" he asks sincerely, reaching across the table to take her hand in his.

"Like the fact that I'm… not really…" She looks down at their hands, then back up to his face, grimacing, "happy... in this relationship."

He frowns, head tilting to the side. He looks confused and she understands. Things had been going really well for them before Spain, so this seems completely out of the blue, and God, she wishes she could just tell him the truth; he deserves that. He doesn't deserve… whatever this is.

"I just don't think I was really ready to date after all, Frank," she admits, reciting the words she'd practiced all throughout the day and on the ride over like a script. "You've been wonderful, and the girls adore you, but I… I just need some more time."

He pushes his chair back, standing abruptly as he begins to pace in front of the table. The sudden movement startles Claire, and she sits back in her chair, watching him. He looks angry, a fiery look she's never seen in his eyes before.

"Is there someone else?" he finally demands, his pacing stopping as he turns to look down sharply at her, hovering over where she sits.

"What?" She shakes her head vehemently, brows furrowing. "No. Why would you say that?"

Frank takes three calming breaths, a silent fury burning beneath the surface. It's awkward, she doesn't quite know what to do but to let him stew in his emotions, let him figure things out in his own mind. He sits back down with a shaky exhale, taking her hand in his. It's not as gentle as his touch normally is, and she wonders if that's on her part or his.

It's his, she decides, as she feels his thumbs pressing roughly into her skin. "You've seemed so distant lately. The one day I've seen you, you were checking your phone constantly. I'm not an idiot, Claire."

And no, no, he's not. His statement makes her feel even worse, because she knows she's been acting differently since Spain, how could she not be? But she can't truly explain it to him, so she sits, watching the anger flash across his face.

The way he spits her name doesn't sit right with her, an uncomfortable feeling growing in her gut, but she shakes her head again, saying, "It's not like that. I just don't think I'm ready for something so serious." She sighs, eyes closing before peeking open again. "It's been a great seven months, Frank, but I… I can't do this."

He stands unexpectedly again, this time his chair practically falling over. She watches as it teeters on its hind legs before wobbling back into its rightful place on the ground.

Her eyes flick to Frank, studying him as he paces. "I don't believe this," he mutters, almost so softly that she misses it, then he adds a, "don't believe you," that irrationally bothers her. His brows are pinched together, muttering something to himself under his breath, his hands balled into fists, and she wonders if he has a secret angry side she's never witnessed before. She thinks she hears a bitch uttered, too, but she can't know for sure. Why is he spiraling so much over this? She knows he loves her, sure, but this anger seems a bit much for the situation, and it puts Claire on edge. She knew he wouldn't take it well, but being angry enough to look as if he's going to hit her, or maybe a wall or something, seems a bit extreme and it worries her.

When she doesn't say anything else, he briskly steps closer to her, his jaw clenched as tightly as his fists while he hovers above her with a scowl on his face. She feels cornered, her fight or flight reflexes gearing up inside of her. Would he hit her? She doesn't think so, but the way his body is reacting to this breakup makes her think she can't be too sure. Her back is against the wall, and she curses herself for sitting in this particular chair.

He's snarling, one fist shaking, and he looks like he's contemplating his next move.

Her eyebrow cocks up, almost daring him to do something. How dare he fucking act like he wants to hit her. She's never seen him like this before and it angers her just as much. Before he can get any closer, she manages to press on his chest, muttering a, "Get out of my way," as she wriggles out from between his body and the wall, grabbing her purse off the kitchen counter.

"Goodbye, Frank," she spits, slinging her purse over her body as she turns on her heel to make her exit, her heart pounding in her ears the whole time.

Her eyes are swimming with tears, angry tears, not sad, and she's shaking, furious and beyond confused that he would react that violently to a breakup.

She stops briefly in the doorway of his kitchen, her hand lingering on the door jamb. "I'm truly sorry," she whispers, though now she's not sure why after that visceral reaction, and she leaves, slamming the door behind her and hoping it covers up the sound of her beating heart.

{*************************}

Her drive home is spent with the radio off, the silence of the car surrounding her as thoughts of what just happened fill her mind, spinning around and around like a bad ferris wheel that she can't get off of.

She knew Frank would be upset, but holy shit, what the fuck was that big of a reaction for? She's never seen him like that, and in the moment, it hadn't truly hit her just how dangerous he had seemed. Sure, he was mad and it confused her, but what if she'd said more? Talked back? She's honestly not sure now if she believes he wouldn't have gotten violent.

Shaking her head, and thankful she got out of there when she did, Claire opens the garage door, glad to be home.

When she pulls into her garage, she sits there a moment, collecting herself and taking deep, calming breaths. She refuses to go inside and see her daughters when she's still wound up like this.

The drive back from Frank's didn't help any, her heart pounding the whole time. She kept picturing his face, an anger she's never seen before, as if he were a whole new person. Those fists balled up simultaneously scared her but also pissed her off. If he had actually hit her, she's not sure what her natural response would be, though the urge to slap him right now tells her she would have fought back.

His Is there someone else? kept ringing the whole way home, her ears feeling as if cotton has been stuffed inside of them. Her face was hot, she didn't need a mirror to know it was flushed with anger.

Breathing out one more deep breath, she gathers her purse, kills the ignition and closes the garage door.

She pats her cool hands to her cheeks, hoping to abate some of the hot redness she feels there before she sees her family.

When she steps inside, the kitchen is empty, lights off except for the one above the stove, and it fills her with a familiar warmth. Jamie used to always leave the oven light on for her when she worked late, and the thought makes her happy. It's a comfortable familiarity between them, and she's missed that feeling. Never had it so deeply with Frank no matter how hard she tried to convince herself she did.

She slides her purse onto one of the hooks by the back door, meandering into the living room.

Jamie is on the couch with the girls, Faith's head in his lap, legs stretched across the couch asleep. Bree is curled into his chest, also asleep, her bum resting on Faith's back. His head is leaned back, mouth agape as he snores softly, and she snickers to herself at the sight, shaking her head as she pads gently into the room.

None of them can possibly be comfortable like this, but the sight is too sweet to pass up. She takes her phone out, snapping a picture before the moment is lost and saving it to her hidden camera roll along with all the other's she's taken lately. She'll have to send him that one later, too.

She steps over to Jamie, shaking his shoulder slightly, waving silently when his eyes blink open blearily. He smiles and she's transported right back to years ago when Faith was a baby. She'd fall asleep on his chest, curled into a tiny ball, and he'd ever so gently stand, placing her in the crib. He was always so gentle with her, just like he still is with both girls.

"Hi," he whispers, voice scratchy with sleep. "How was it?"

Her lips immediately seal into a thin line, eyes misting over, but she shakes her head, saying, "It was fine. I'll tell you later."

She knows he can read her face, never one to have the ability to hide her emotions, but he nods. Looking down, he motions with his chin to Bree, "Ye take this one, and I'll get Faith."

Smiling, she scoops Brianna into her arms. The little girl squirms and moans but falls right back to sleep once she's settled into Claire's embrace.

They carry them up to bed, thankful Jamie had gotten them bathed and changed into pajamas earlier apparently so she doesn't have to try and change them out of their regular clothes to sleep.

Once they are back downstairs, they each take what's become 'their' spots on the couch, Claire's leg curling underneath her body as she turns to face Jamie. His arm is resting along the back of the couch, and she longs to be wrapped inside of that strong embrace.

"So how did it really go?" he asks, giving her a pointed look as he turns the television off with the remote, setting it softly on the coffee table.

She tells him about dinner, and how awkward it had been. She recounts how she broke up with him, her eyes tearing up again, this time with frustrated tears, as she recalls how angry Frank had gotten. "He stood up and started pacing. His hands were clenched into fists," she says, clasping her own into fists to demonstrate, "and his eyes, Jamie, I've never seen his eyes look so mad." Her brows cinch together as she recalls the look in Frank's eyes.

Claire lets her curled leg fall a bit, her knee resting against his thigh. His hand is resting there, thumb stroking lightly as she tells him everything that happened—Frank hovering over her, how she slid between his body and the chair and left, all of it.

"Do ye think he would have hurt you?"

"No," she says instantly, shaking her head, though she's not entirely sure anymore. "No, I-I don't think so, anyway. I was scared in the moment, he did almost look like he was going to hit me, but…"

Jamie's jaw tenses, and she can see the wheels turning in his mind. He asks if she's okay, and she nods, assuring him that she is.

"Ye're a brave wee thing, ye ken that?"

She smiles, shaking her head. "I'm just glad I never slept with him," she mutters, more to herself, but Jamie snorts, eyebrows raising at the confession.

"That makes two fo us, ye ken?"

She chuckles despite herself, her heartbeat calming down even more as she looks into Jamie's face. "I think he was just confused. It came out of the blue, obviously, and I'm sure he could tell I was lying about my reasoning for the break up."

"Aye, wi' yer wee glass face an' all."

Snorting, she smacks his chest, but agrees, knowing that she wears her heart on her sleeve and anyone who knows her well enough would be able to see right through her lies.

"I could always tell when ye had a surprise for me," he grins, taking her hand in his. His thumb traces over the wedding band, and she laughs, remembering how she used to get so mad at him for figuring out her secret plans. "Like that time at uni when ye wanted to surprise me with a weekend getaway."

"Oh, god," she groans, bringing a hand to cover her face. "I was so mad at you that day."

She'd attempted to surprise him with a long weekend away to Lallybroch. His father and Jenny would be gone, and she'd thought it would be perfect. They could spend the whole weekend cuddled up in front of the fireplace, taking long walks through the gardens and just enjoy getting away from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh.

He'd figured it out, of course, because she can't hide anything, and he'd ruined her surprise by telling her he knew what she was planning.

She'd cried and gotten angry, but in the end, they'd had an amazing weekend away… and Jamie learned from there on out to never tell her when he'd discovered her surprises lest they get into another argument.

They laugh at the memory now, their bodies somehow moving even closer as his arm snakes around her shoulders. They spend the next few moments reminiscing over their favorite times at university, before the conversation shifts to all the antics they had with Murtagh that just about gave Jamie's father, Brian, a heart attack.

This feels nice, she decides; this is comfortable, there are no awkward pauses, only comfortable silences when the conversation lags, both just content to sit in each other's arms. She loves this feeling and hopes it never goes away again.

Her hand is on his leg, her fingers swirling a mindless pattern against his denim while his hand rubs at her shoulders.

Their touches feel more free now that Frank is out of the picture, and her breath deepens as she realizes for the first time tonight that she's truly able to be with Jamie, fully, completely.

Her hand moves to his chest, resting over his heart, and she inches closer, lips hovering above his. She bites down on her bottom lip, hoping he's picking up on the signal she's giving him. She smiles coyly, scooting even closer, her breath labored as his head tilts.

She goes to speak, but before she can, his phone's alarm goes off, and their moment is broken. They both sigh out, their breath panting as Claire tries to reel herself back in. It's his alarm to let him know it's time to leave, so he shuts it off, saying, "I should be getting back to the safe house…"

"Y-yeah," she breathes, nodding as she pulls herself out of the haze they'd created, sitting back against the cushion. There's an ache between her legs that she knows she'll have to take care of on her own tonight before she glee insane with need, but though she's disappointed, she smiles over at Jamie, patting his cheek.

"John stays up every night tae make sure I get home safely," he explains, looking at his watch. "I have tae be back before midnight, remember? Like Cinderella." He grins, but it turns into a grimace as he says, "I ken he worries, especially being back in Georgia."

Reality hits her hard at those words, and she remembers how unsafe it truly is for him to be back here. This isn't just her spending time with her newly found husband; this is dangerous. He's taking a risk by even being back here, and her heart quickens at the thought.

He only has a few more days in town, and she won't chance anything going wrong, so she stands slowly, reaching out a hand to hoist him up from the couch with her.

"Well, I'd hate for your carriage to turn back into a pumpkin."

He chuckles, kissing her cheek as she links their hands together, walking him to the door. He takes his jacket, slipping it on slowly as she watches him.

"Weel… goodnight, then, mo chridhe."

There's silence between them, her thoughts swirling fiercely. A moment passes, a weighted tension between them as she watches Jamie lick his lips, his blue eyes flickering down to her lips before meeting her eyes.

Chewing on her bottom lip, she toys with it briefly, the realization hitting her all over again that this is allowed now—she's single. With that, she breathes a, "Come here, you," and wraps her arms around his neck, pulling him in for a kiss. A real kiss. One they haven't been able to share since that first night.

It's as if little explosions of fireworks go off in both of their minds, Jamie's hands gripping her waist and pulling her impossibly closer. Her body is pressed against the hard lines of his torso, she can feel his abs beneath his shirt, and God, does she want him.

His lips move across hers, and she presses her tongue to his lips, begging for entrance that he gladly grants. She tilts her head, deepening their kiss and savoring the feel of his lips and tongue pressed to hers.

This is the kiss she's longed for ever since he went out for the damn ice cream. It's the kiss she'd dreamt of for so long, the kiss she'd imagine at night after experiencing Frank's thin lips on hers.

This. This is everything. His kiss says so much, holds so much promise. I love you, I'm here, I'm never leaving you again

She can feel her eyes filling with tears, and she curses herself. She's tired of crying. She just wants to enjoy the feel of her husband, damn it.

Her hands grip his biceps, loving the feel of his muscles beneath hers as his hands grip her hips, hands pulsing on her strip of flesh that's exposed between her jeans and her top.

When the need for air consumes her, she pulls away, biting her lip to hide how large her smile is.

"Weel then," he drawls, his smirk taking up residence on his face, "I should get going."

She sighs, not wanting him to go just yet, but nods, and he leans in once more, pressing another one, two, three more chaste kisses to her lips, causing her to giggle.

As she locks the door behind him and makes her way upstairs for the night, she can't contain the smile on her face. Her hands trace over the lips, embracing the feel of him against her once more. It's a feeling she never thought she'd ever have again, and she's going to revel in it for as long as she can.

She loves this man, and figuring out their new life won't be easy, but now that she's ended things with Frank, she feels like a weight has been lifted. She can truly be back with Jamie and they can figure this whole thing out, together.

{**************************}

There we have it! Her relationship with Frank is over—woohoo! Lol Hope you enjoyed this one. Please review! :)