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A Tiny Shoot of Hope

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   Storming into his cottage, Jamie reached for the precious bottle of fine whisky he kept hidden in the very back of his small pantry. Grabbing for the nearest vessel he could find (…damn, his everyday antler cup would do!), he poured himself a solid dram. He knocked it back in one, replacing it immediately by pouring another, taking little care over how accurate his aim was. The bottle collided with the rough wooden table a little harder than he meant, as his thoughts came crashing down on him like an torrent.

   Finally stopping for the first moment since he had left her by the woods, he stared into the fire, slowly closed his eyes and let out a long shaky breath, realising that stopping the pain would be an impossible task. This time. Once again, he was alone. She would be lost to him for sure – how could she not be after what he had told to her? He had lost others before.

Many.

Everyone.

 

Despite the years of solitude; despite having guarded himself against opening his heart on those few occasions that he had thought to, something about Mistress Beauchamp, Claire,  had been different. With Claire, he had found the tiniest of shoots growing in his heart over the months that she had arrived. This time...

 

Hope.      

 

   But now… well, he knew how this played out now. She would turn away from him. She would be appalled. She would leave. How could she have him like this? Why would she have him like this?

  It had been many years since Jamie had allowed himself to truly feel the depth of his despair and humility; he usually managed to keep it at a distance. The sorry, lonely shoot began to wither before it had had a chance. For the first time in many years, tears swamped his eyes, at real danger of spilling over and down his cheeks.

   Jamie couldn’t take the ever-growing ache that radiated from his heart, almost numbing his limbs, anymore. He certainly couldn’t sit still a moment longer; he had to move. Standing up suddenly, he opened his eyes, discarded the cup on the table and made to round off to the door. Only to be stopped in his tracks, his breath catching in his throat, by the sight of 2 amber eyes staring back at him from the door. It was her. She was here. She had followed him home? In his painful, self-hating haze, he had failed to hear her enter his small cottage.            

 

   They both stood as still as the standing stones that command the landscape around the Highlands, time becoming unimportant. Jamie couldn’t say how long they stood staring at one another.  His brain began to catch up with the situation though, and uncertainty as to why she was actually there festered like a dank millpond.

Claire seemed to sense Jamie’s trepidation and very slowly moved towards him, never breaking eye contact. God, even in this moment the sway of her hips and skirt was not lost on Jamie. But why was she here? Surely she hadn’t followed him to berate him after his revelation?

Had Jamie of been able to take a moment to digest the scene, he would have remembered that Claire would never have been capable of treating anyone that way; he knew that really. Unfortunately, experience had created a muscle-memory like response and he feared that he would only see disgust and disappointment in her eyes….and yet…

He simply could not look away from her. Having refused to meet her eye previously, he was caught in her drowning gaze.

Was this a form of purgatory for him? Unable to look away from the tempting Medusa?

 

…and yet? Search as he might, locked in position; still unable to move, let alone breath, he could not see disgust or hatred in her beautiful eyes. He saw …compassion? Truly?

 

   Claire came to rest in front of Jamie and slowly reached out her right hand to settle on his chest, just where the opening of his jacket was. She had never purposefully touched him before. In fact, it had been many years since anyone had touched Jamie without violence or disregard. There had been moments when both he and Claire had reached for the same thing; functional actions that had led them to briefly touch but, in this moment, she reached out and somehow her touch both calmed and excited him simultaneously. Jamie’s heart was beating so hard he was sure she could feel it through her fingertips. And yet still he could not draw himself to look away from those whisky eyes.

Gradually, Claire moved her hand up to his clavicle, on its journey to his neck and finally to tenderly cup his cheek. The look in Jamie’s eyes at that moment seemed suspicious as if to say, “Don’t hurt me. Don’t be unkind.” They narrowed further in disbelief as she moved her hand to the back of his neck; gifting him the most honest and heartfelt smile across her face and gently pulled.

Looking from eye to eye, a brief moment of resistance and then Jamie slowly bowed his head onto her shoulder…. and the dam burst; his shoulders silently heaving up and down as the tears and sorrow; the desolation escaped. He still couldn’t move his limbs and so only his head sought succour.

 

   She had heard his story and she had stayed. Perhaps he was no longer being punished for his sins? Just maybe, his time in self-imposed purgatory had been served to the Almighty’s pleasure.

   Jamie could feel Claire begin to caress the back of his head and his auburn curls as he broke down. Unbeknownst to Jamie, Claire was unable to help herself; she began to gently kiss the cheek closest to her.  Her lips speaking the words of comfort that she could not find to say. They continued just below that smooth skin under his earlobe, and down the beginning of his neck, eventually returning its journey back up to his cheek.

   Bolstered by her caring affections, Jamie turned his head suddenly and sought her soft lips. They were everything he had dreamed they would be. She never hesitated to return the affection. Eyes tightly shut, Jamie kissed her swift and gentle, to begin with. However, sensing no disagreement, he poured his heart and soul into a solid kiss, taking no prisoners. Claire could sense already that there was great passion hidden below Jamie’s gruff exterior but he was a man who held this in check, and Claire knew he would never over-reach without consent. This was unlike anything either of them had experienced before; it was as if they were both home; lost in one another’s soul.

   Jamie felt Claire slowly part her lips and lick his bottom lip with the tip of her tongue, in invitation. Was this truly happening? He was mesmerised by the experience. Their kisses continued, now accompanied by their arms around one another until finally, Jamie drew away; he took a moment to share the air with Claire as their mouths lay close, simply breathing, yet not touching.

“Thank you for trusting me, Jamie,” she whispered, hoarse from the kiss.

Rising to his full height, Jamie steeled himself, opened his sea blue eyes and met Claire’s piercing amber gaze.       

Hope.

He saw it there in her beautiful whiskey eyes. They held the promise of a safe future together. He was alone no more. Claire made him a man again. He would not let her down and he would not leave.

Chapter Text

**************

Feeling like her heart was in her throat, Claire followed the hidden path down to the water’s edge. She was sure that this is where Mr Fraser, …Jamie, would have come. She had felt an almost ethereal quality to the place, when she had stumbled across it before, wandering one day in the woods. If he was to be found anywhere, it would be here.

Trudging through the trees and ferns, she soon caught sight of him sitting on a rock, arms clasped across his stomach, holding himself, as if to move would see his innards spill out. His chin rested on his chest, almost as if he were asleep. Claire suspected that had she experienced the trauma that Jamie just had, that she too would try to shut out the world, however ineffective it might have been.  

She paused and simply watched over him for a short while. With his shirt ripped and no jacket to cover him, his scarred back was on unguarded display. She hadn’t known about the scars. Thinking back, she had recalled several occasions where he had bristled when another’s hands had drawn too near. It made sense now.

*****

God, his face when he realised what had happened. It sucked the very life out of her when she thought of it. Claire could not recall who had grabbed Jamie first; it had escalated so fast, but the pure and utter horror on his face, at his shirt being ripped from his body, overpowered by the crowd,  would visit Claire’s mind in her own dark moments for ever more.

At first, she had been just as shocked as those surrounding him. The silence his exposed back caused had arrived abruptly, following the loud brawl. Clearly, despite having lived amongst them for many years, no one had ever seen nor heard about Jamie’s wounds. All attention had been solely set on judging him. The wrath that had been laid down on his strong back though was there for all to see now. Claire could not comprehend what would compel any human being to treat another in such a horrific manner, as it was all too clear that another’s hand had caused those vicious marks.

Another moment had passed and Claire’s shock had turned to anger. Anger that he had been so cruelly exposed in this way. The embarrassment and resentment he clearly felt had radiated with fury in his eyes and before Claire had a chance to speak up for him, he had pushed through the speechless crowd and marched off. She still had hold of his coat. In his rush to escape, he had completely forgotten it.

*****

And so here he was. Drawn here, as she had been, to the water’s comfort. Claire could almost taste the crushing devastation that spread out from the rock he sat on; it seemed to hang in the air. She could no longer deny to herself the overwhelming feelings that he had brought out in her, long before today. So often, when she had found herself alone, inevitably her mind had wandered to thoughts of Jamie and the intensity of her affection threatened to spill over her edges. To see him in his current state tore at her very being. She wanted to take him in her arms and fend off all the demons with his dirk. She wanted to wrap him secure, whispering never-ending words of comfort and reassurance into his auburn curls. 

She wanted to share his heavy load.

If this was ever to be the case though, she needed to know what his burden was. In the time that they had known one another, she had seen glimpses of …something wonderful. But, no sooner would it catch her eye than it would be gone and the smile; the sparkle in his eyes, were once again lost and the mask returned. She knew that to ever have a hope of finding that wonder again, she would have to persuade him to let her walk into the darkness with him.

Claire drew herself up, took one deep breath and began to walk towards him again. In a gentle voice she called,

“Mr Fraser.”

He shot up off of the rock. The rushing water of the stream not only mirrored his emotions but had also masked her arrival. He kept his piercing stare on the water, unable to turn and meet her eye. He fought the urge to cower under her gaze and instead held his ground. She moved a little nearer, yet still a good distance away, seeing him in profile now.  Gentler still, she spoke.

“Jamie,…..tell me..…please.”

She could see a thunderous look on his face and was unsure as to whether he would indeed tell her. He was clearly not happy that she had asked. However, she stood firm and remained there for 2, …3, …4 minutes, knowing that one way or another they would stay there until he damn well told her.

Instinct led Claire to hold out his jacket for him and still without meeting her eye, he reached out his arm, internally grateful for the consideration she was showing him. She placed it in his hand and he took it from her. Jamie looked down at the rag that had been his smart shirt and slowly pulled its remnants away out of his trousers. He discarded it on the ground. He then slowly replaced his jacket with as much dignity as he could muster. To Claire though, he still looked every bit as noble and strong as any time she had found herself sneaking a glance at him before today. Jamie then lowered himself back down onto the rock leaning forwards, until his elbows rested on his knees.

Finally, with the never ending rush and noise of the stream highlighting the lack of sound from Jamie, he looked to the sky, squeezed his eyes shut and let out a deep, shaky breath. Evidently, he was looking for some divine courage to help him find the words. Slowly swallowing, he began in a distant voice,

“I…”

 

He faltered.

 

“I….had a wife. Her… her name wis Annalise. We met durin’ my time studyin’ at the Sorbonne in Paris. I fought  a duel for her honour.” He let out a brief snort, clearly thinking of things still unsaid.

 “I won. She returned tae Scotland with me. We were happy, fer a time. ….We were even blessed wie a child…”

 Jamie’s face showed a searing pain and he turned his head away from Claire, controlling his mask by acting as if in deep concentration at something far down the stream. After a moment, he seemed to gather himself and turned his head back around to its original position, still not looking at her; still in profile. He spoke one word; almost a whisper,

 

“Willie.”

 

Claire would recall after, the exact moment that she heard the quiet sound of her heart breaking, joining his, shattered on the floor. She knew that there was no sign at all of Jamie having a wife and son in his life now. Indeed, it was clear and simple that he was alone. Claire had a growing feeling that something truly awful had befallen Annalise and Willie.

After another shaky sigh, Jamie continued,

“I have always been a stubborn man, Claire. Or so ma sister, Jenny, would aie tell me!”

 

 His sister?

 

He snorted, “Well, takes one tae know one! All Frasers are the same. I was Laird Broch Turach of Lallybrock…. an’ I was a proud man. Too proud.”

Shaking his head as if appalled when thinking on his past behaviour and the man he had been, he admitted,

“It brought me down more than once! ”

 

He swallowed, then continued, “…One day, Annalise an’ I had spoken ill words over….I dinna ken what, but it was as I was readying tae leave fir a trip. Somethin’ aboot the root cellar or the stable…I canna mind. I climbed upon my horse an’ wieoot a single look back, I just…rode off. I never thought….”

Jamie closed his mouth and breathed firmly out through his nose. He stared and stared at the water with wide eyes, seeing scenes that were no longer there.

 “I still hear her callin’ after me…  It catches me sometimes… an’ I turn, heart in ma throat; thinkin’ she’s right there behind me.”

 

He sneered at the cruelty of it. Fury bubbling under the surface.

Claire slowly took a seat on a nearby rock, keen to avoid disturbing him in case he should cease to talk.

“After a time, my tenants; my friends; my family, well, it wis as if I had just upped an’ left her and the bairn. It wis like I’d abandoned them an’ Lord Broch Turach became a shameful man overnight!”

 

Claire was confused. What did this have to do with his scarred back? Why had he left them? Why did he not return? What had happened to make him feel so…bereft?

 

As Jamie thought about his next words, his jaw visibly tensed again.

 

“I, er… eventually managed to make it back home….but it had been months an' ...... in the end, it was all too late.”

 

“They were both dead.”

 

He said those final four words with a deep rumble and they hung heavy in the air; pressing into Claire’s lungs making it hard to breath. Her worst fear for him confirmed. Jamie sighed, shaking his head slowly from side to side simply trying to breath. He continued his story, unable to halt now that he had started.

“I wis told that a month after I left, 2 redcoat deserters had set upon them at Lallybrock. No-one could tell me who they were. Old Mrs Crock had been away tending to her ailing sister in Inverness and so it wis just the two o’ them there. Unprotected. ”

He croaked out the last word and Claire could see that his throat had all but constricted with emotion. When his next words were eventually spoken, they stole her breath away.  

 

“Slit her throat.”

 

“My boy’s too.”

 

“They weren’t found fir a week.”

    

 Jamie spoke each sentence swift and firm, clearly the only way that those words could ever be uttered from his mouth. His chin slowly dropped to his chest again.

Claire couldn’t stop herself – she quietly asked the questions hanging around them in the air like tempting fruit, ripe for the picking. 

“Where were you, Jamie? Why had you not return?”

She could sense that they were getting to the crux of things now and she thought that he seemed to be having trouble swallowing again. After a moment though, he declared with a unforgiving growl,

“Because I am a coward……….and God saw fit to punish me for my crimes!”

Chapter Text

 

Jamie stood up abruptly and with his Viking stride, headed off at pace back through the woods. Claire was still so caught up in his last words that he had already slipped from view by the time she had realised that he had upped and left. He clearly had no intention of letting her keep up with him.

Every fibre of Claire’s body told her that it was not as simple as him staying away from his home because he was a coward.

Lonely? Yes.

Grouchy? God, yes!

Proud? For sure!

But a coward? No. Definitely not.

Claire had learnt through life that there are some people who simply carry an air of grace about themselves, no matter their current circumstance. That was Jamie; through and through – it permeated his being and he could no more hide it than he could his red curls. Jamie was an honourable man and no amount of persuasion would ever change Claire’s view. He had a natural presence and despite him acting the life of a loner, the truth was that he was a born leader of men. Lord Broch Turach, indeed! He could reject the birthright but not the heritage. There was more to this than Jamie was saying, and she was determined to get to the bottom of it.

Without wasting another moment, she gathered up her skirts and headed for the trees, running to catch him up. Not so fast, Fraser!

 

****

 

Jamie strode with purpose, his traitorous back rubbing in his jacket. He had said too much already. He couldn’t bear telling the rest. The shame and desolation nearly forced him to cry out to the Heavens as he stalked, feeling his demons hurtling back towards him. This ever-lasting pain was his penance, he knew that. And most days he took his punishment with resignation but the anguish caused by the events of today; seeing the shock on their faces as his shirt ripped; Christ, the look on her face…well, it was like a salted wound, rendered raw and exposed by her eyes alone. And so he had left. Again.

Coward, his mind taunted him. He growled aloud as he walked, warning his mind not to piss about with him today.

Within a few more minutes, he reached the edge of the woods intent on making it back to his cottage. He had an appointment with a bottle. Claire caught up with him just as he turned at the wooded edge. Out of breath, she called out as best she could.

“Jamie!”  It came out as a gasp.

“Jamie!” That was better! 

He paid her no heed and carried on walking. Louder, she called,

“Jamie!” God damn this man!

She stood still and at the top of her voice, she bellowed,

“James Fraser, you stop right there or so help me God I’ll….!”

He had walked along the path as it hugged the tree line; at her outburst he had stopped. The tone she used was one that he hadn’t heard since he was a lad and his mother had caught him and his best friend, Ian Murray, sneaking out of the kitchen with the last few combs of the household’s honey in one set of hands; the last of the morning’s bannocks in the other. Every atom of his being knew to stop lest he be on the receiving end of a determined woman’s ire!

Still heaving her lungs as she walked, Claire stomped around him to look him dead on, although he still wouldn’t meet her eye. “James Fraser, don’t you dare walk away from me!” Her hand whacked him on the upper arm. It hadn’t hurt as such but he stumbled ever so slightly as the contact was so unexpected. His eyes momentarily widened in shock. Pointing her finger at him, she firmly told him,

“There is more to this story than you are telling me, James Fraser!”

She tried to calm herself – no point scaring him off!

“Now….I cannot begin to imagine how hard this is for you but you are going to finish telling me what happened! There is nothing you can tell me that will change how I fee…”

With that Jamie’s temper finally exploded. He bellowed,

“God dammit, woman! What do ye want from me?” 

Claire halted, taken aback by his retort. He had interrupted her, and she had no answer for him. This was on account of her being unable to stop staring at his vivid sea-blue eyes which for the first time since the incident with the crowd, were looking straight at her. She felt a tug in her wame; she couldn’t drag her eyes away from his. Seeing that she was lost for words, he carried on,

“What is it, eh? You want me tae tell you how not 2 hours into my journey, I fell of ma horse, as he threw a shoe (a simple shoe!) an’ landed on some godforsaken tree root which ripped ma thigh open and broke my hand?”

He pointed his arm behind him as if it had happened close by. In disgust, he continued,

“How I lay unnoticed fir 2 days in a ditch, falling into fever before I was rescued (Ha!), rescued by a Sassenach redcoat by the name of Captain Jonathan Randall? That he held me against my will, tortured me and …..Is that enough fer ye?”

His face turned an ugly shade of red as he spat the next words out at her.

“Nothing I say will make ye change the way ye feel, eh? Well, Mistress Beauchamp, the truth o’ the matter is that as my wife and child lay with their life’s blood pouring out of their bodies; wondering where the hell I was; why I had betrayed them; why I had failed tae protect them, I was ignorant tae their disappointment, as I was busy being fucked by another man!”

He had ended up shouting those last words with no care for being overheard for once.  But, Jamie was utterly startled with the  jolting shock of having told her. In fact, his face looked every bit as shocked at the revelation as Claire’s did. He had never told a soul his story. Never uttered the truth of just why he hadn’t made it home to protect his family; why he had been away for so much longer than he had meant to be; what he had endured all those lost months. Oh Dear God, what had he done?

He hadn't been able to stop himself; Claire seemed to break down every last one of his defenses with great ease and he'd never been more terrified in his life. This was a mistake.  No good could come from having uttered those words to her. A flock of birds took flight from the trees as if they too couldn’t stay around after such a heinous revelation. The terror of her leaving him forever and never seeing her again overwhelmed him. It seemed completely and utterly inevitable.  

She stayed; he left.  His inner voice whispering “Coward!”    

Chapter Text

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Music:      The Pretenders -   I’ll Stand by You

 

 

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   Jamie raised his hand and brushed some of those wonderful curls behind her ear. Realising in that moment that he had wanted to do so since the very first time he had seen her. It felt so natural and effortless.

 “Christ, to touch you, Sassenach….!”  

   She shivered as her breath left her body. God, it was thrilling to hear him talk that way. Meanwhile, Jamie could not help but marvel at how his large hand made this strong woman’s face look so delicate and fragile as she looked up at him with hooded eyes. Sorcha. Light.

   Never leaving her warm gaze, his hands took hold of both cheekbones, his thumbs grazing her temples, and tilted her face slowly up towards him, as he lowered his lips to meet hers. The touch of which turned Claire once again to liquid, and she moved her hands from his chest, to caress his chin; his stubble; his jaw. He moaned deeply and she felt her stomach clench as if she had jumped from a great height. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! Did he know what he did to her with those noises?

   They remained joined this way, exploring one another’s mouths; both enchanted by the feel of the other’s soft and wanting lips. His arms wrapped around her, pulling her close, as they deepened the kiss, both wanting to lose themselves in the other; both coming to realise that what it was between them was…different. Their mouths eventually broke apart to catch their breath; overwhelmed by the feeling of being in one another’s arms. Keen to not lose their connection though, they rested their foreheads together. 

   If, when it was all said and done, this was the only moment in time she could have with him, she would take it. She knew she was jeopardizing everything by making her next request but, she had to know and Jamie, whether he realised it or not; whether he believed it or not, needed her to know too. Risking it all, she steeled herself to speak the ten words she knew she had to.

   “Jamie, you need to finish telling me about Randall now.”  She felt him bristle, as she knew he would. His eyes closed and a long sigh left his body.

“He is a poison we have to purge, Jamie! He has already had far too long inside, dragging your soul down; you have to do this!”

Gently, she continued,

“Tell me what happened after Randall found you in the ditch.  I need to hear it; all of it. I’ll…I’ll grieve with you; I’ll rage with you; I’ll be with you. And when it is has all been said, I will still be here, right beside you.” 

Jamie sighed and then, opening his eyes, he turned away, facing the fire again. She could see those oak-solid shoulders clenched and his head bobbing up and down; side to side as he searched for a way to voice his fear.  

“…I’m afraid, Claire… If I’m honest……I’m utterly petrified.” His voice became hoarse as the shame he felt escaped him. Claire sought to reassure him but as he turned back to her, a sad smile appeared on his face and he explained,

“I’ve lost everyone, Claire. In…in the end I…. I always let them doon. Always. The thought o’ findin’ you…only to lose you… I just dinnae think my heart could take it, Claire. No more.”

“Then trust me, Jamie, as you did before! Trust me! We must do this. Please…let me help you heal!”

And in that moment, he did; he trusted her. The truth was that he was so weary from the weight of it all. Nothing could be worse than these last 10 years, alone, surely? It was time to stop being the coward he felt he had let himself become these many years past. A stoic man by nature; it had never been an easy skin for him to fill but the guilt and desolation left by that decision to not turn back, …well, it held him fast.

But now, he walked hesitantly over to his chair and sat down; it creaked under the sudden weight, accompanied by a loud crack from the fire. He found himself resigned to the fact that she was right; he had to tell her all the last sorry details of the story. He could only hope that in the telling he would find salvation.

   Everything around him, from Claire to the very cottage itself, seemed to be holding its breath waiting for him to begin.

****************

Flashback

Jamie had thought that once their child had been born that Annalise would feel more settled here in Scotland. Unfortunately, if anything, she appeared to feel even more caged than she had before. The few years that they had been together, here at Lallybrock, had gradually eroded away much of the affection with which they had held one another, exposing their relationship to be the youthful infatuation it had only ever been. Being Lady Broch Turach was not proving to be the pleasure, nor bring the status, that Annalise had thought it might. This was not how Jamie had seen his married life playing out. However, Annalise doted on their boy, at least, as did Jamie and so they had remained together, both resigned to their commitment to one another, taking joy in seeing their bonnie wee lad growing up at least. Only occasionally did this agreement break down.

   Annalise had got up that morning quite clearly sullen. They had not shared a bed for many a month now and from the moment she saw Jamie, everything he said or did over breakfast was pulled apart, like a vulture on carrion. She picked at him for everything – he had found that she always got like this before he left Lallybrock on business, clearly resenting the freedom his gender gave him. The knowing did not make it any easier to endure though.

   He tried to engage Willie in some talk about the coming day, but Annalise kept interrupting. Jamie’s impatience was evident through his clenched jaw, which Annalise would have seen had she been inclined to look at him today, but he sought to calm himself by entertaining Willie. He was 4 years old with chestnut brown hair and the same beautiful Fraser eyes graced his face, as did his father’s. It made Jamie recall his own mother’s face and he saw her radiating out through Willie’s eyes.  Jamie was always struck by just how vivid a blue those eyes were, with that strong black line surrounding the iris. They were like beautiful deep lakes and he would find himself lost in them regularly when they had time together. He was enchanted by his son. Jamie saw, with pride, that Willie had also inherited a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Just like his Da. Ma boy. Jamie’s heart was fit to bursting whenever he caught the lad unawares; he would turn to Jamie, look at him and smile like sunlight.

   Deciding that he had had enough of the high-pitched whining coming from his wife, he nabbed another bannock and with a wink to Willie, he mumbled something about readying his horse, Donas.    Donas was a fine beast but he would not allow anyone to get near him except Jamie. He was a vengeful horse, Donas, but Jamie kept him in tow, most of the time. Of course, it turned out that today would not be one of those days.

   Later, that morning, with his horse loaded up, Jamie made to set off. He had already said his goodbyes to Willie and Mrs Crock, the latter having tucked a few extra bread chunks and some more cheese into his bag. He was hardly wasting away; but try telling that to Mrs Crock who had known him since he was young lanky lad!

     “I shall be gone fir a week, Annalise. I’ll sort the root cellar shelvin’ when I return.” Jamie busied himself in a bid to avoid friction between them. Annalise had no such qualms.

   “And I suppose I am to remain here and keep your house for you! Waiting patiently for your return? Non?!” Her French accent growing stronger as she became more agitated.

   “There are many jobs that I need you to do here at home, Jamie. Why do you need to go on your foolish trip now? C’est ridicule! It’s ridiculous! The stable roof eez leaking and you simply ride off wizout a care for me left behind! Dieu, comme j’aurais aimé que tu perde ce putain de duel! God, how I wish you had lost that damn duel!” Her French distain evident in those last few words. 

 There was no talking to her when she was like this and hearing her words echoing his own dark thoughts sat ill with him. Jamie climbed upon Donas, clicked his tongue, and never took a second glance back at what would have been the last time he would see his wife alive.

 

 

 

Not 2 hours into his journey, it was clear to Jamie that much like his wife, Donas had woken up in a particularly difficult mood. He pulled at the reins regularly and Jamie was expelling much energy and focus on keeping him in line. It was just a shame that he could not leave Donas behind, as he had done Annalise! Jamie emitted a derisory snort at the thought.

   As the proverb goes, pride cometh before a fall. Jamie had never thought he would have practical experience of this particular adage but distracted for that moment, in admiration of his own wit, Jamie never noticed Donas’ disobedience coming that one last time. Suddenly, it was too late, and they were both thrown by the shoe that became dislodged by an ill-placed rock, jutting surreptitiously from the ground. Jamie felt instant pain all over; he felt his hand break; his upper left leg felt like fire had spread through it; and as his damaged head caused him to fall into unconsciousness, his last thought was, “Tha mi a ’dol a mharbhadh an each diabhal sin! I am going to kill that devil horse!

 Cold, hungry, numb. These would be Jamie’s vague recollections of the 2 days he spent alone lying in that ditch, falling in and out of consciousness. By far, the worst of the injuries was to his thigh, which he could no longer feel. He would realise later that he had a gaping slash across it where his fall had caused an exposed root to gouge a new path that lead from a few inches about his knee, to near enough his groin. What had saved him was the fact that he had fallen on to his front and the angle that he lay at, with his bag trapped under him had stopped the wound from losing too much blood. It had not been enough to stave off an inflammation though, and he surely would not have made it through another night had he not been spotted by a particular Captain of Dragoons, Jonathan Randall, riding past.  

Captain Randall had a fearsome reputation in this part of Scotland and Jamie had heard of ‘Black Jack’ Randall and his sinister behaviour; people disappearing, never to be heard of again; unduly heavy consequences for rules broken,  but had been fortunate enough not to cross paths with him. Until now. Much to Jamie’s continuing horror, they would share far more than a crossing of paths in the coming months. 

   Randall was on his way to his monthly triste at the Duke of Sandringham’s Scottish residence. They were unlikely bedfellows, but Sandringham served as sufficient cover for Randall and his…particular tastes. His horse, Potens, had carried him swiftly from his garrison however, their pace had slowed as they neared their destination and it was this that caused Randall’s eye to spot those red curls and the Nordic god attached to them in the undergrowth.

   Jamie was quite delirious with fever when Randall found him. His memories of those many hours were vague and fleeting but he recalled being held in a strong pair of arms; his hair being gently brushed from his face; a comforting voice, even, reassuring him that all was well and he would be looked after. He later recalled being carried to a big comfortable bed and for a time, his comfort allowed his brain to rest, no longer required for now.    

  This was swiftly overturned late one evening. Jamie had been having what seemed like some rather strange dreams during his more comatosed moments in this place. It had been a number of days he thought (maybe a week?) that he had been here. He recalled in his more lucid moments, a young girl, who had tended to him. He would later learn that she was Mary Hawkins, goddaughter of Sandringham. A timid little beast, she had seemed scared and ill at ease in Jamie’s presence, no matter how harmless he tried to sell himself. A smell like incense was ever present now though and Jamie had been left feeling uneasy and…handled.

   During his dreams, he had felt many hands over his body. It had been sometime since he had laid with his wife and the touch of a soft hand was pleasing. He felt the cover being pulled back and the hand this time caressed his pecs and rubbed at his nipples. Jamie shivered with pleasure as the hand moved to his muscular stomach, and then down. His lucidity had changed this time though and he came to the very abrupt realisation that this was no dream. Jamie’s right hand grabbed the offending limb and he shot open his eyes. To his horror, he came face to face with the glassy-eyed stare of the Duke of Sandringham, leaning over him, whose look had turned from shock to terror when Jamie’s left hand had then grabbed at his throat.

   Sandringham gave out a strangled shriek. His height over Jamie, who had been lying horizontal, gave him the leverage he needed to get Jamie off him. He stumbled away as Jamie lunged for him again. His weakness by this point saved Sandringham as he had not the strength to get up and follow the Duke.

  The Duke would not visit Jamie again in the months that he was kept here. Nor would Jamie be left at ease. When he awoke from the next hazy dream, he had been moved to the basement and was shackled in chains.     

      

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Flashback on

   Not seeing the outside world was the hardest part…at the start, at least. Being unable to follow the passing of the sun and moon made the hours; the days; the weeks; and in the end, the months impossible to follow. Unsurprisingly, that made the living hell all the more real and inescapable.

   Jamie had been down in the basement for about a week. Mary would bring food and drink for him each day but always stayed as far away from him as possible and left as soon as she could. Not for the first time, he thought it rather rich that she was scared of him seeing as he was the one in here; tied to the wall like an animal. She never spoke to him and in those moments he would trade the silence for Annalise’s griping, in a heartbeat. How the hell had he ended up like this? The waiting was the worst. He wished that they would hurry up and get on with it whatever this was – it wouldn’t be long until that rash thought was struck permanently from his mind though. He could never have imagined…

   Usually a furnace of body heat, the days and days in the dank cellar had finally cut through to Jamie’s bones and he was cold. It was almost as if the ominous all-encompassing stench of the horrific unknown was actively spreading through his body. Jamie hadn’t seen his clothes since he’d fallen off his horse. He lay on a hard wooden cot now with only a thin quilt providing any covering for his body, let alone his dignity. The room was bare and the stone walls cold. The cot; a table; a chair and a bucket in the corner; nothing else except for the whispers of horrors past, like a vacuum. 

   Randall finally made his appearance and with him came a flagon of wine and a cat o’nine tails whip curled in his hand. This cruel weapon was made of a material like tarred string and had knots along each of the nine tails’ lengths. Being thin strands, such as they were, each one tended to cut open the skin when wielded; a particularly nasty implement.

   Jamie had never seen a flogging but an old man had passed through once, when Jamie was a lad and he had spied the quiet man bathing in the river, the man’s back was full of divots and caverns spreading from left to right; and at awkward angles.  It had given Jamie a great shock when he had first seen it and had left him with nightmares for weeks after the man left, imagining the raging monsters that must have caused the damage.

   Randall strode into the room as if it was his working office and he came in here every day. Not yet looking at Jamie, who was huddled in the cot, under the small quilt; the iron chains making his ankles ache; impossible to get comfortable in; watching Randall’s every move through his red curls. Randall set the flagon of wine on the table in the corner of the room, and carefully placed the bound whip next to it, treating it as if it were a prized possession worthy of veneration.

   Dressed in his Army reds, Randall looked every bit the gentleman he purported to be. From the impeccable shine on his boots; the heavy weight of his jacket; the smooth shape of his restrained dark hair;  and the gleaming white of his shirt and stock.  Only a steely cold glint in his eyes, coupled with a gaze of fascination at his ‘guest’ contradicted the complete look.   

   Randall pulled out the chair, sat himself down in it, being sure to flick his coat tails up behind and elegantly crossing his legs, he studied the large lump laying still in the bed; only a faint rise and fall of the chest showing movement. Confident that Jamie was indeed awake, he spoke to him as if they were two gentleman of equal standing, engaged in a genial conversation. Of course, in every way they were both of equal standing; but for the fact that at this precise moment, one was chained and naked; and the other was not.  

  “You really are the most exquisite creature, you know.” Randall began.

 “When I saw you lying there, in the ditch, I couldn’t believe my luck. Do you remember it?”

Randall asked much like a lover might shyly ask his partner something intimate. He didn’t wait for an answer.

“I thought you were dead to begin with. Now that would have been a great shame. We are going to have a memorable time here together, my boy. I can promise you that.”

Randall shifted in his chair, and Jamie’s heart forgot to beat in that moment. He hadn’t blinked the entire time that Randall had been talking and now he had a feeling of dread beginning to crawl all over him; he was beginning to see where this was heading. Randall stood up and slowly picked up the whip, unfurling it as he moved to the opposite side of the room. He gave a slow, throaty chuckle as he carried on talking.

   “This is one of my favourite parts, you know? The beginning.”

Letting his eye travel over that of Jamie’s body that he could see, Randall stalked the room like a hunter. His voice sounding distant as he whispered,

 “So full of anticipation. Can you feel it? I know you can. You’re terrified….and just a little bit curious.”

That chuckle again and then more whispers.

“We are going to create a masterpiece together, Jamie; a work of art; it’s going to be pure theatre….and it will stay with us both until the end of our days. If you are….compliant, you may just make it out of here….if you survive.”

This fiend damn near scared Jamie’s hair white, where he lay. He would be damned if he was going to give this maniac the satisfaction of seeing it though. Whatever was thrown at him, Jamie would take it all.

 Randall leaned himself again the wall still out of reach of Jamie. He softly requested,

“Now then, my boy, stand up and lean your hands against that wall.”

He pointed with the handle of the whip, to where he wanted Jamie to go.

Jamie, still not having moved for a single moment of Randall’s time in the room, remained motionless. Try an’ make me ye red-backed Sassenach!

   Randall stood completely still, knowing how this would play out; they always resisted him in the beginning. The breaking them was such joy. He stood up straight, away from the wall, clasping one hand with the other behind his back, never losing his grip on the whip; its rough feel in his hands already rousing him when he thought about the glorious colours he was going to see appear on that wonderful smooth back, in the coming weeks. He took a few steps and then stopped.

   “James Fraser, Lord Broch Turach. Tell me, how was your lovely French wife when you left?”

Jamie immediately felt the bile rise from his stomach. Whatever he’d expected Randall to say, it hadn’t been that. How had he known who Jamie was? Had he given up the information during those early days? Jamie had come to realise in his week here in the basement that the odd smell of incense in his room, upstairs, was most likely opium and those confusing and overwhelming dreams he had had where as a result of it. He could have given anything up in those days and would never have known it. Randall could see Jamie’s brain turning the information over. He continued to provoke,

 “I should imagine that she’ll be wondering where you are by now? Perhaps I should pay her a visit. Show her a real welcome to our pleasant isle. Of course, there’s your boy too. Willie.”

Randall looked wistful and smiled into the distance as if imagining….God knows what dreadful notion. Jamie’s finally moved at this and as Randall had known he would, Jamie had slowly stood to his full height, holding the quilt around his lower half, keeping what little dignity he had left for as long as he could. In a low rumble, he stated,

“You stay away from my boy, an’ his mother…

Randall waited for the bargain he knew Jamie would offer.

….and you can have me. Take me instead.”

Family men; they were always so easy to play, Randall thought with revulsion. This would only be the opening move though. They always thought they could endure him for the love of their families. He laughed derisorily inside; it never lasted. Did they see that it weakened them; left them vulnerable? But he sensed something ironlike in Fraser. Perhaps a worthy opponent this time? He nodded to show his agreement.

“You have my word as a gentleman. Make free of your body to me and I will leave your family unharmed.”

With a slow nod, Jamie clenched his jaw and turned to the wall, away from Randall. As he reached his hands up to brace himself, the cover fell, and with it, his last shred of dignity was lost too. Randall smiled to himself and slowly walked towards him, shaking the whip out as he moved.

 

***

   The first few times were the same nightmare played over and over. Randall would take his whip to Jamie’s back; he would deliver 15-20 lashes; Jamie would make no sound; but Randall would clearly take pleasure in the red devastation he opened up with each swipe. In fact, judging by the sounds coming from behind Jamie when the lashes would finish, taking his pleasure was exactly what Randall was doing. Randall would leave and Jamie would be left alone, shaking  with agony. Randall would not return for what Jamie guessed was about 4-5 days, but Mary would come to dress his raw wounds and feed him – she clearly had experience of doing so, convincing Jamie that he was far from the first poor soul to inhabit this prison-like cell. The ill-fated girl was clearly just as traumatised as he was becoming. 

   About 3 weeks into this spectacle, Randall turned the ratchet further. Now that he had Jamie in a more compliant position, he felt that it was time to take a little more. Constantly prompting Jamie with his veiled threats towards his family, he began to toy with Jamie’s own body. Much to his shame, Jamie’s body would betray him at Randall’s touch, not seeming to care that it was a vile monster indulging. This monster would rouse him time and again but never allow him release. It was ultimately more pain to add to his ruined back. A pain that was gradually breaking him down.

   As Randall knew would happen, Jamie’s resolve finally broke. He had lasted longer than most. He knew his back was a forever ruined mess and that he would carry Randall’s work for the rest of his days. Jamie found himself both so astonishingly tired and yet extremely aroused at the exactly the same time. The truth was that he had been slowly drowning in an ocean of pain and distress. Eventually, he couldn’t help himself grabbing onto that tiny raft of pleasure and clinging to it for dear life.

   This time, Randall hadn’t hurt him first; the whip hadn’t appeared. He seemed to have a different notion this time. He very quickly rid himself of his own clothes, careful to lay them meticulously over the chair and sat next to Jamie who was laid on his side, turned away from Randall, lost in his own misery. Randall drew out a small vial of oil; it smelt of lavender; it was a smell that Jamie had never cared for anyway and now it would forever draw him back to this very moment, whenever it would occur.

   Randall rubbed the oil sensually over his hands and then used them to delicately sweep back the hair from Jamie’s face. He’d enacted this move many times with others; never had it given him so much rigid pleasure though. It had taken much longer to break this strong Viking specimen but it had been worth it. Despite the weeks of ill treatment casting away some of Jamie’s bulk, he still cut a striking image, especially when contrasted with his current helpless situation.  Randall slowly brought himself down behind Jamie on the bed, careful not to touch his back, still so raw, lest it break the spell. He swept the hair from where Jamie’s shoulder and neck met and kissed him gently. Jamie lay staring into some unknown place trying to be anywhere but here; if not in body; then at least in mind.

   Randall had other ideas though and he gently drew his hand down and across Jamie’s shoulder; feathering his arm with his fingers and around the flat expanse of his lower torso. Try as he might Jamie couldn’t help but let out a small, slow moan, his head lifting and falling backwards onto Randall’s shoulder, as a hand cupped him and began to stroke. Randall brought his mouth close to Jamie’s ear and whispered,

   “I want you to enjoy yourself, now… by your own hand.”

  Unable to resist; broken down through weeks of so much pain and a small part of him still believing that this was his desperate attempt to keep his family safe, Jamie reached his hand down to where Randall’s was and joined him. Randall confirmed in a melodious tone, as he lifted his own hand away for other duties,       

   “You’re mine now, my boy; mine! I’m going to take you to places you’ve never been!”

   In that moment, Jamie didn’t care what Randall said or did, as long as the pleasurable escape didn’t stop. He’d say anything, or do anything for Randall in this moment. Readying Jamie behind with his fingers, Randall gently guided himself inside and it was the most exquisite feeling he had ever had. To know that no one had ever been in this place within Jamie before; to tame this wild, striking highlander and to reduce him to little more than wet clay in his hands made Randall hard as oak and slowly he began to move inside Jamie. To hear a small gasp escaping Jamie only served to heighten Randall’s arousal.

   Much to his twisted joy, Jamie responded as they all did at this point; with increasing abandon. Randall felt Jamie begin to move his own hips, opening himself to each thrust. Lost in the moment, they forged an unforgettable synchronicity and to their horror and surprise, the pleasure they shared brought them both to the edge of the abyss; they jumped off together, and came. Both men cried out at the intensity of the feelings and in that moment, there was no denying that they were as one.

   No sooner had they come down from this indescribable high though, and Jamie’s senses gradually returned to him; the incomprehensible shock at what he had just done left him stunned and utterly motionless. His insides felt like they were being constricted and he stared ahead, into a dark corner of the room, trying to understanding what had just happened and how the hell it had come to this!

****

   Randall stayed away for a longer time now. This had given Jamie’s back a little longer to start healing; the repair to his soul though, well, that would take a much longer time to heal.  When Randall eventually returned, he had a glint of malice in his eye unlike anything Jamie had seen before. He could hardly contain himself it seemed. Unable to suppress his excitement, fleeting smiles would slip from his mouth on regularly occasion, as he sought to find the words to adequately express his news. Kneeling on the bed behind Jamie, he teased,

   “Well, my boy, I heard some very sad news as I was travelling here these last few days.”

  He clearly had one last turn of the knife of torture to deliver to Jamie. He leaned in close to Jamie’s ear; beyond control, the fear and disgust that Jamie felt caused him to tightly close his eyes, and in a mean whisper Randall said,

  “Oh yes, very sad news. It seems that Lady Broch Turach and her son were set upon by two murderous beasts, whilst her husband was away from home. No one knows where he is – it would seem that he had abandoned them and now….well, now it’s too late. They’re gone.”

   In that moment, Jamie felt his entire world shrink to black with the only pin point left being Randall’s piercing words.

   “Just think, my boy. As your wife and son lay dying in the dirt, their throats cut;  wondering why you had failed them, I was deep inside you, filling you with my seed, until I spilled over…and you …couldn’t…get…enough of it.”

   Randall seemed elated at the thought.

   “As they lay there dying, your thoughts were not of them, but the pleasure that my body was delivering you. You failed them, my boy,  and you abandoned them…for your own…hungry…pleasure.”      

  The truth of Randall’s words hit Jamie like a sledgehammer and with it a cloak of shame fell, so dark and tremendous that it would block out the sunlight for many, many years to come. As Randall, left the room, smirking to himself, he halted just outside the door. Then, he heard it; a slow wail emitting from Jamie. It grew ever louder until it broke into sobs filled with complete and utter anguish. As he walked away the conqueror, he thought about how this was his second favourite part; the moment when they finally broke, having realised that they had abandoned their loved ones for simple carnal gratification.  

  It would be many months until the horror of Randall’s abuse would eventually become a past event. What should have been relief saw anything but. The damage had been done and to have survived it; to have not ultimately succumbed to death, seemed like a fitting atonement for Jamie’s self-proclaimed crimes.

 

Flashback ends         

***************

 

Fire has the most magical qualities. You can waste hours staring into each unique moment of flame. Such beauty and endless fascination; coupled with danger and destruction. Jamie had spent most of his horror story leaning against the hearth, having been unable to remain still in the chair for long; his strong arms spread across the mantel; staring into the past through the flames of the fire.

   As his tale ended, he stood motionless. For that brief moment, he was no longer concerned with Claire’s reaction. It was simply an extraordinary feeling having voiced his trauma. He wasn’t quite sure the best way to describe how he felt exactly, but it wasn’t the calamity that he had always feared it might be. He almost felt…weightless. Like he had been Atlas, carrying the burden of the world around on his back, only to now have gravity cease to affect him. Perhaps it was just the novelty of such an experience that made him so aware of it. One thing he suspected though was that this feeling of relief wouldn’t last.

Finally, Claire spoke; the disbelief of what he had been through making her throat dry up somewhat,

   “Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, Jamie! I…I don’t know what...That must have been so awful for you.”

    To have her put voice to her own shock at what he had told her pulled Jamie up short and when he saw the look of despair etched on her face and in her eyes, the brief respite he’d had burst. To see such pain in her eyes and to know that once again, he had caused such heartache in a loved one, yes a loved one, for he did love her, honestly and completely, threatened to undo him again.

   He walked around the room like a caged animal and found himself standing by the wall;  his forehead leaning against it seeking solace. Turning around to lean his weight on the solid structure, he brought his fist up to the centre of his chest, and tried to explain how Randall had truly broken him. He hit his chest as he spoke haltingly,

  “It wisnae sae much whit Randall did tae me that caused sae much damage, Claire. It wis,….”

His resolve stumbled.

   “Go on….” Claire whispered.

   “It wis...”  The horror was before him again but this time he soldiered on. Swallowing he carried on,

   “It wis whit Randall showed me about ma self that did the damage. Claire….it wis like he shone a torch intae the dark corners o’ ma soul….showed me things a never knew; things a wid never hae believed aboot ma self. An’ then, tae find oot that Willie and Annalise were…..that a’d failed tae protect them, whilst…”  

 At this, his knees slowly gave way like a crumbling dam and he fell to the floor utterly crushed. Immediately, Claire rushed to his side, her own heart painfully throbbing at the sad figure her Viking cast.

“Oh, my love! My love! I’m here! I’m here! Please don’t hide away from me, Jamie. I swear to you; I swear that I will never leave you. I won’t!”

Claire pleaded with him to believe her. She fell to her knees in front of him and clutched his legs, looking up with urgency in her eyes.

    After a time, Jamie lifted his head and Claire could see him begin to falter again as the tender moments that they had shared were in danger of passing and being lost to them both; she watched the doubt and fear cross his face once more. It was like the dark cloud was descending again; the mask was about to be forced back in place and with all her aching heart, she couldn’t bear it. Neither could he it seemed, as he slowly lifted his head, climbed back up off of the floor and facing away from her, he looked out of the window.

 Claire raised herself up and moved to face him again. Grabbing hold of his upper arms tightly, she looked pleadingly at him; shook him ever so slightly where he stood and searched his face for reassurance. He dropped his chin to his chest, this movement of shame she had seen repeatedly in him, and then, he spoke,

   “Claire, I….”

   “Jamie.” She interrupted him in panicked desperation. Her heart felt like it was in her mouth.

   Calming herself she repeated, “Jamie…… I want you to listen to me very carefully. Can you do that for me? Please?”

   Struggling to meet her eye again, she cupped his cheek and chin and lifted them until he looked at her. He met her eye and gave a curt nod. Tenderly, she reassured him,

   “I know your heart, Jamie; I know your heart and I am telling you here and now that nothing you could ever tell me; not this, not anything,  will ever make me love you any less!” Jamie was stunned to hear this incredible woman, who had made him feel like he was basking in sunlight again, from the moment he had met her, say that she loved him too.

   “I will walk into the depths of hell with you, Jamie; I will stay with you in whatever darkness you exist in; I …I hope you won’t think me too bold but, ….I want to spend the rest of my life right here, ….with you. I will walk beside you through your living hell if necessary, every day for the rest of our lives, if you’ll let me.  It will be you and me against the world, my dear love. Neither one of us will be alone again.”

She felt the slightest hesitation in him still and with tears in her eyes she continued to plead with him,

   “Don’t shut me out Jamie, please! I don’t think I could bear it! I don’t think I could carry on if you won’t have me, Jamie!” If he wouldn’t have her? It tore at his very soul to see her so wretched and fearful. Bravely she continued,

   “I……I’ve seen darkness too. I’ve….I’ve done things I too am ashamed to admit, but I’ll share it all with you, Jamie; you can have it all, if it helps you heal; if it helps you see that you are mine; …you are mine and we are meant to be together!”

She could see how torn he was; one second his eyes glistened at her words; the next she saw fear and doubt and so it continued over and over. He slowly drew himself out of her arms and turned to look at the fire again, burning in the hearth, clutching his stomach as she had seen him do by the water’s edge earlier. Again, he slowly lowered his head into his chest.

When Jamie had listened to Claire’s words, he had felt a million different things at once but the beacon of them all was hearing her saying that she loved him; that she wanted him; that she couldn’t bear to carry on without him. It called to his very soul. There was still just one worrying thought that he could not shift though and resigned to voicing it, he spoke it aloud,

“How can you have me like this?” 

     In the telling of his story, whilst he had had a brief moment of relief, the reality was that he had never felt so small and weak. He felt so…damaged. And the shame threatened to engulf him again.

   Without hesitation, she went to him and cupping his strong solid face in her hands; her eyes full of tears, as one solitary drop overflowed down her right cheek, she lifted his head to hers and passionately told him,

“I will have you anyway I can…always!”  

  In that moment, she cast away the very last of the fear; and the loneliness; and the rage; and the shame. Like the scars on his back, the sorrow of having lost so much would never fully leave him. However, her love for Jamie utterly dazzled him. He lifted back his shoulders, climbed to his full height for a moment and seeing the truth in her eyes, he smiled until his beautiful blue eyes sparkled and reached out for his future, wrapping his strong arms around her. He pulled her close, with firm resolve, the hesitation gone and nuzzled his face into those wonderful curls around her neck.

   Claire’s relief crashed around her like breaking waves and she finally broke down as he held her close. It was his turn to support her. They sank to the floor in front of the hearth, never breaking contact and there they remained for the rest of the evening; a tangle of limbs entwined with one another; Claire grabbing tighter any moment she felt him move. Both of them thinking that they’d never be ready to let go of the other; independently swearing an oath  to God that they would never allow circumstance to require them to do so, whilst there was breath in their body.

Chapter Text

 Jamie couldn’t say how long they had sat there together in front of the warming fire, holding on to one another, but he suddenly realised that the light had now faded outside and in fact, the fireplace was in danger of doing so soon too. He knew that people would talk if it was discovered that they had spent time like this, but the pleasure of having such a soft and beautiful creature in his arms after so long with them being empty was making it extremely hard for him to care right at this moment. Even before the horror of Randall and all that he and Sandringham had put Jamie through, the truth was that Annalise and he had lost their desire to touch one another a long time before he was taken and it was near impossible to remember the last time he had been blessed with such a wonderful experience.

   All through those 10 years that he had been back, there had never been a single moment of gentle, soothing contact. For as long as he could remember, there was only violence. When he had returned, his tenants no longer thought of him as their laird; it was an honour that Jamie felt he had destroyed; respect ruined and thus he never pursued the matter; in fact, he’d barely even returned to Lallybrock at all, preferring instead to take up in this old cottar’s cottage. The contempt and revulsion they felt was never hidden and in the early months after his return, there had only been brawls and loathing; both Jamie and his tenants seething with anger at the grim consequences of his betrayal of his family. To his tenants though, he had simply been a coward and a disappointment to both his name and them. Only Jamie felt he had the true understanding of all that had happened and how truly deserving he had been of their wrath.   

   But now, to hold this incredible woman in his arms; it humbled and moved him beyond words and he could feel his soul awaken and his body stir for the first time since…forever; and never had it done so in this deep and profound way. She was warm; soft; smooth. She smelt….fresh, like the forest; there was a hint of chamomile in her hair; and the sweat he must have caused her to form, when he stormed away from her by the water, was lingering. Christ! She’d looked glorious when she had stomped around him at the wood’s edge having bellowed his name. He had noticed even in spite of the enduring trauma that had been exposed. Jamie smiled and chuckled when he recalled how flushed and cross, she had been when she finally caught up with him.

   Feeling him shake, Claire stirred in his arms; she had fallen asleep a short while before and when he looked down at her to make sure that she hadn’t woken up, he was convinced that she was some kind of perfect angel, unexpectedly here in his arms. The arc of those stunning dark lashes that usually framed her unique eyes swept themselves in a way that captivated Jamie and he spent more happy moments just reveling in them. 

   As if she could feel his adoration radiate onto her, Claire awoke and opened her eyes, finding a vast sea of blue looking down at her. Meanwhile, the catch of the fire in her eyes lit them up golden, like the afternoon sun on a crisp Autumn day. One stray curl caressed her face and Jamie raised one of his hands to gently guide it away, all the while smiling as he lost himself in her loving stare.

   “Good evenin’, mo ghaol. My love.” He said, his voice sounding so different to her.

   She soon realised that she had never heard him speak with a joyful tone before; tender and husky. He had always been so brusque and dismissive.  It was like a wave washed over her, when she heard it; a wave so full of love, it took her breath momentarily away. If this moment lasted forever; she’d be quite content.

   “Good evening.” She happily replied back to him, all the while her face beaming.

   “I’m sorry, it is late. I…er…I think it best if we remain here fir the night, given the events o’ this mornin’ in the town. People are no thinkin’ too favourably o’ me just at the moment. Ye can take the bed an’ I’ll sleep by the hearth.” 

   He rushed on, ensuring that he offered her a safer option, should she prefer it.

   “O’ course, I can walk ye home now, if ye wid rather. The choice is yours……Claire.” He said her name with such revelry, as if he was testing it out; it still being so new on his tongue. 

   Claire took herself out of Jamie’s arms and stood up. He followed her lead, giving her space to compose her answer by slowly climbing up, convinced she’d want to return home. Claire watched him rise like one of the tall sunflowers she found in her garden during the summer months; unfurling before her eyes and when he looked at her she felt that tug in her stomach, and lower down too.  In a gentle but confident voice she reassured him,

   “Jamie, I meant it; I am not leaving you and I…”

She took a step towards him and raised her hand to his chest again, still clad in only his jacket. After caressing it slightly through the fabric, she looked up at him, swallowed and carried on, 

   “…I want to be with you. Always.”

   The effect of her standing so close to Jamie was unbelievably powerful; he felt a stirring in his trousers. Feeling her poised so close to him had Jamie fighting every impulse of his body to grab hold of her and satisfy the deep longing for her that he had. He should not do that though; she was not yet his to have. Yes, they had declared their mutual feelings for one another, but he was trying his hardest to honour her and do things right, this time. She wasn’t going to make it easy for him though.

   “Christ, Claire!  I want ye too…. Christ, how I want ye…. I can scarcely believe how today has changed everythin’ fir us. I never thought I wid ever be able tae leave the hell that I found mysel’ in these 10 years past. Never thought I would be granted the right tae hold another wie such affection an’ adoration in my arms. But here ye are…”

He lit up the room with his smile and as his eyes sparkled, he slid his arms down Claire’s and took hold of each of her elegant hands in his own. Looking down at them, he carried on,

   “Ye told me earlier that I am yours, an’ that we are meant tae be together. Did ye truly mean that?”

   As he spoke this crucial question, his eyes left her hands and he looked so intensely at her that she felt him and all he was reach deep into her heart and soul as if he was liquid. Without hesitation, she whispered,

   “You know I did.”

   Jamie smiled and lifting her hands in front of them both, he continued,

   “Well in that case…Mistress Beauchamp, I wonder if ye wid do me the honour of becoming my wife?”

He could see that he had taken her by beautiful surprise; she was not expecting him to ask such a thing in this moment and yet his resolve was absolute; this was where their future lay. Together. His eyes never left hers as he lifted her hands and gently kissed her ring finger. Her heart shot to her throat as she felt his tongue very gently touch her skin, through his slightly parted lips; her knees felt suddenly weak. To see him command such confidence in himself was uplifting and, she couldn’t deny it; it did all manner of things to her stirring wame. Looking from one eye to the other across his face; her joy finally too strong to contain; her eyes glistened; and she beamed at him giving him her the answer,

   “Yes…Mister Fraser, I will marry you. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.”

   Jamie’s eyes filled up too as a brief, delighted laugh burst out of him.

   “I dinnae ken what I did to deserve ye, Claire. I’d truly given up all hope o’ every findin’ maself again in such a humble position but here ye are givin’ me another chance at happiness. Even in the finest moments wie…Annalise…it wisnae like this…I swear tae ye Claire, here an’ now, that I will spend my life honouring the love an’ trust ye’ve given me. I lay ma heart and soul at yer feet. It is yours firever, mo ghaol! Treat it as ye will; ma heart is yours…forever.”

   And with this, he once more enveloped her in his solid embrace, holding one hand of hers by his heart and wrapping his other around her to keep her near, resting his cheek on her head. They would have stayed in this moment for a good while longer had a loud clap of thunder not caught them both unawares. Jamie jumped and reluctantly loosened his hold on Claire. He drew his eyes from her and walked suddenly over to the window, seeing that rain had begun to fall.

   “Christ, the animals, I clean forgot! Claire can ye perhaps see tae getting some light sorted fir us. The candles are o’er there, in the corner.”  He pointed absentmindedly as he gathered his thoughts towards the tasks that still needed doing, the reality of life finally breaking into their intimate moment. He reached for a lamp to take with him as he ventured out to close up the stable for the night, as quickly as possible now that a storm was upon them. Thank Christ she’d already decided to remain here with him.

   “There’s bread, cheese…well, ye’ll find things in the pantry fir us, if ye dinnae mind, Claire. I’ll away and see tae the goats…and my crabbit old sow!”  Chuckling to himself, he admitted,

   “I’ll be fir it tonight with that old besom! She willnae be happy that I’ve left her sae long wieoot grub! If I’m no back in 15 minutes, ye’ll ken she decided she couldnae wait any longer and has eaten me instead!”        

And with that, he was gone.

   Claire looked around, wondering where to start; the sudden exit of her man, yes; her man, leaving her happy but a little overwhelmed. What had he said to her? …. Candles! Right, let’s get some light into the room. With purpose, and an unexpected ease about the place, she soon had a number of additional light sources in the room. She took a moment to look around to see that whilst it was a very basic cottage, there were hints of the gentleman she knew Jamie to be, dotted around. A small shelf of books; one by his bed, left open at the page most recently read; the grand chest sat against the wall, too splendid for a cottar’s cottage; the fine candlesticks on the mantel.

   Claire’s stomach grumbled as if to remind her of the second task Jamie had asked of her. In the pantry she found a small feast and laid it out beautifully on the table, feeling that the occasion warranted the extravagance. She found bread, cheese, grapes, pickle, beef….and the whisky! She was just searching for some glasses when she heard a loud cry of surprise come from outside and still finding herself a little on edge after both the sudden brawl in the town and the salacious horror story Jamie had told her, instinct had her instantly running out the door to protect what was hers! 

   Struggling to keep her balance on the sodden ground, as the rain pounded down on her, she slipped and stumbled over to the stable and pen where she could see Jamie’s lamp on the ground and a shape thrashing about next to it. The lump would rise up from the ground only to return to it again with Gaelic profanities accompanying each fall.

“Bu chòir dhomh a bhith air feòil isbean a dhèanamh dhut o chionn bhliadhnaichean, an seann mhuc! I should have made sausage meat of you years ago, ye old hog!”

   Ever one for steaming into turmoil without hesitation, Claire stumbled her way into the pen. Everything then happened so fast. The rain was lashing down on her; three thoughts crossed her mind simultaneously (Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! It’s cold; Where the hell is Jamie?; and Where the hell is the devilled old sow?); The thunder cracked again and the next step she took felt like stepping onto sheet ice and her legs were suddenly propelled forward and she flew to the floor like a marionette puppet; she fell down flat on her back; the wind knocked out of her.

   Claire heard Jamie call out to her. He was only a few metres away, but he might as well have been at the other end of the field, for all she could hear him!  She could just make out in the dark rain, Jamie slowly making his way towards her but every time they each tried to get up, one of them slipped again, taking the other back down with them.

   “Jamie!”

   “Claire!...just…och!…”

   “Shit! Careful Jam…. aargh!”

   “Ifrinn! Hell!”     

   “Jesus H….ow!“

   This comedy of errors carried on for several sodden minutes. Jamie finally deciding that the easiest way to escape was to crawl on their hands and knees. He was just about to suggest this to Claire when he heard a snort from behind him coming from the depths of the stable. Jamie swiftly discovered that having 600 pounds of ferocious hog hurtling towards you works wonders at sharpening the mind and lightening the toes! Hurling himself and Claire up and through the gate, his arm wrapped tightly around her waist; he quickly turned to secure it and then they slipped and stumbled back into the house looking like a pair of deer escaping an icy lake.

   Jamie’s cursing still had not abated until he finally stopped and looked up at Claire. She stood covered from to head to foot in thick, brown mud, pig shit, hay and God knows what else; her hair was wet and very stuck to her face, which in turn was fully caked with mud as well. Only her 2 beautiful leopard eyes could break him from his irritation, and he paused to take her all in. Her temper was somewhat frayed too; this was not quite how she had envisioned spending their sudden happy engagement. Jamie thought she looked wonderful though, despite all the pig shit and suddenly the absurd humour of the situation hit him and he double over in laughter at this glorious muddy siren before him.

   For the shortest of moments Claire was indignant at his laughter; she looked down at herself, then up at him and suddenly her white teeth appeared as she too descended into laughter.  Jamie struggled to contain himself, shaking his head still, but eventually, he ventured,

   “Oh Christ, Claire, look at ye! Yer filthy! Me too! We cannae stay in these muddy clothes – we’ll dry rigid!”

Claire looked back at him, unable to resist the urge to flirt with him a little,

“Well, Mr Fraser, what would you suggest we do about that?!”

Her unexpected brazen remark stopped him in his tracks Lord have mercy!, and whilst the laughter left him, the smile remained. He would play along and call her bluff,

   “Well, Mistress Beauchamp, I think we’ll need to escape these wet and dirty clothes…”

He slowly made his way towards her, like a cat staking its prey. Her heart froze in shock at his tone and yet lower down it was only wet heat that she felt. Swallowing as she watched a drop of water bead its way down his neck and into the depths of his jacket, subconsciously wishing that she could dive in after it, she countered,

“ I…er…” The situation was now getting to her. She tried again, speaking low, and licking her lips.

   “I... don’t know how to stop being so filthy.” She halted, and then blushed wide-eyed, as she realised quite what she had just said. Jamie continued to tease,

   “Claire, I’m no sayin’ I ever want ye to stop that…. Come! It’ll be cold but the quickest way!”

   He grabbed her hand and much to her shock, he dragged her back outside. He was right, it was cold, but the onslaught of torrential rain quickly washed away most of the mud, leaving them both drookit but minus the worst of it now, at least.

   They both rushed back into the warm cottage and Jamie closed and locked the door; they were now secure and fully secluded in this secret space. Jamie couldn’t work out if that was a good thing or a bad!

   “Get yersel’ by the fire, lass. I’ll find us somethin’ dry tae change intae.”

   Off he went to the large chest that Claire had noticed earlier and began rummaging around, with purpose. Claire’s mind was still whirling at how wildly the day had altered her future…forever. Her feelings for Jamie had been creeping up on her for weeks now, but the events of today had caused both to confront their feelings in such an unexpected and honest way. And now here she was, newly engaged, and deliriously happy about it. Not least because throughout the day, and the last few weeks, she had been fighting an uncontrollable desire for him and seeing him half naked this afternoon and then clad so wet in only his jacket and trousers, was making it exceptionally hard for her to breathe again.      

    Rather oblivious to Claire’s respiratory problems, Jamie came back with one of his dry shirts and a large swathe of tartan, thinking she could use it as an arisaid, if she wished. Dropping a clean pair of trousers and another shirt on his cot for himself, he looked around trying to work out the best way for them to remain dignified and respectful as they only had the one room to change in.

   “Erm, Claire, why don’t ye get changed there by the fire as it’ll be warmer there and, er, I’ll change o’er here by the cot. I can go and wait ootside if ye wid rather hae yer privacy. I’m sorry lass, there’s no much more I can do…”

   Claire swung round and looked him dead in the eye,

   “Wait outside?! Jamie, it is torrential rain; you’ll catch your death of cold out there, and then where would I be?! A widow before I was married!” 

She continued in a soft and reassuring tone with just a hint of flirtation,

   “Don’t worry, we’ll managed.”

He smiled bashfully and nodded, looking about to ready himself for who would go first. In the end, Claire decided it was her, due in no small part to the fact that she quickly realised that she’d struggle to get her garments off without some help…

   “Um,… Jamie?”

   “Hmm?”

   Embarrassed she admitted,

   “I need your help, I think.” Feeling both aroused and mortified at the same time was proving to be quite uncomfortable for Claire. Her feelings were not helped by Jamie moving closer towards her to assist as required.

   “Oh aye, sure!” he looked over at her seeming to assess where he might start.

   “If you could just find the ties for this skirt please…” her voice tailed off as Jamie approached her and started looking at her back. Claire tried to suppress a sigh at having him move so near and when he began to pull on her ties she caught her breath. He noticed and swallowed, watching her neck as he pulled and wafted the skirt down.

   “What now?!” Husky and his resolve weakening, it was Jamie’s turn to sigh.