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The Hearts of War

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Chapter One

THE MYSTERIOUS SCOTSMAN

 

Tired, warm and most definitely overworked, Claire mopped the sweat from her brow with a cloth before resuming the extremely tricky work of applying stitches to a rather nasty wound acquired by one of the troops taken in this morning. World War II was still very much in full swing and the hospital beds were filling up with sick men, all of them needing immediate care.

At first, Claire didn't hear her name being called, she was much too caught up in her work. Stitches were always her least favourite, while it was reasonably easy, the general administration was extremely tedious. Although, her nimble fingers allowed her to work fast and delicately, not that the groans and whines from the patient quietened any.

"Nurse Randall!" Came the irritable, shrill tone of Nancy, a small stout blonde haired girl who prodded a chubby finger into Claire's arm making her flinch and jump up to address her.

"Nancy!" Claire snapped, "Can't you see I'm busy?" Frowning, Claire glared at her with an icy irritation from being disturbed.

"Aye, I can. But Matron Constance told me to come fetch ye. As soon as you're done, you're to report to her immediately. She said it's verra important!" Nancy seemed all too delighted to deliver this news, even if her strong Glaswegian accent sometimes made her words unintelligible. She was young and relatively inexperienced and often spent most of her time getting under everyone's feet but they needed all the help they could get right now, every hospital in Britain was in chaos and in desperate need of more hands.

"All right... Tell her I'll be there soon." Claire replied quickly, hoping the girl would disappear  so she could finish in peace. Thankfully, Nancy was running off in no time to report back to Matron, probably feeling very important.

 

******

The hallways were packed with nurses pushing beds or wheelchair's with sick and dying men. The wards were filled to the brim, using every space they could find and the only sounds to be heard were the desperate groans and pleas of soldiers in pain. When Claire had first taken the job, it became rather depressing seeing men die, watching them wither away in pain with not a thing to be done. Not to mention being exposed to the bloodiest wounds known to man, images that would likely never leave her mind. But as the years passed she learned to grow a thick skin and developed a knack for ordering people around and getting the work done. Probably why Matron Constance was so fond of her, that and because like her nursing chief officer, Claire was one of the few nurses not of Scottish descent.

Matron's office was on the top level of the hospital, it was a small pokey room with just a desk and a few filing cabinets. The Matron herself was rarely inside it, instead taking to the wards to order the much younger nurses around, finding work for them and making sure everyone was being of use. Today however, Matron Constance was confined to her quarters.

Claire gave two gentle knocks on the glass before the bold, booming voice of Matron sounded to call her in. Claire peeked her head around the door to see Matron on the telephone, which she happened to slam down sharply and stand up just as Claire had sat down on the worn green armchair across from her desk.

"Don't sit down!" Matron scolded in an accusing manner before storming straight past Claire and leaving the office. "Follow me!" She directed, and Claire was quick to follow the Matron's eager fast steps down the hall.

"What's the matter?" Claire asked, walking alongside Constance, forced to take huge strides to avoid falling behind.

"You'll see." Matron confided, before walking down two flights of stairs and into a cosy side room which was quite dark. It featured just one bed which was the width of the room itself and beside it, a table with a wash basin and a brown rickety chair.

It wasn't the circumstances that were unusual, or the room or even the bizarre manner in which the Matron was acting. It was the huge red headed man occupying the bed.

"He was brought in, in the early hours. Found wandering the fields and blathering nonsense, poor thing. He's acquired quite a nasty wound to his shoulder, if you want to take a look at it." Matron informed Claire quickly, shutting the door for privacy's sake.

"Yes, that's perfectly all right Matron..." Claire noted, taking a moment to look at the injury.  "But why couldn't one of the other nurses do it?"

It did seem rather strange that Matron would feel the need to send to the other end of the hospital and disrupt Claire's work when any other nurse could've cleaned a shoulder wound. And just why wasn't this man in the wards with everyone else? There were plenty of other men in worse conditions.

"Well... That's what I wanted to talk to you about." Matron began in a tone that told Claire she was going to get herself wrapped up in something much bigger than she first realized.

"We couldn't find a name on him, not unusual of course but... He wasn't in a Uniform, British or otherwise. His accent from what I heard before I sedated him, is Scottish but his attire gives that away entirely. A kilt!" Matron seemed rather dumbfounded at this "I have no idea what's happened him, but he's not a soldier!"

"Do you think he's a deserter?" Claire asked, her face contorted in both fear and concern for this man, whoever he was. Her eyes fell to his sleeping form. He was covered in dirt, his face thick with it and wild, fiery hair clung to his forehead. Awake, he might seem the intimidating sort, huge and fierce, even his feet were sticking out the bottom of the bed he was so large.

"I doubt it. A Scot wandering around Scotland, delirious with fever. I don't know who he is, but I don't like it. We've to report all suspicious activity and persons and none of the nearby British troops reported a missing soldier, of this description anyway."

Usually, it was rather easy to decipher a deserter. They normally wandered aimlessly and if no identification could be found, they were to be reported and within a few hours their fate was determined and what a sorry fate it was. Besides the fact, deserters mostly fled for home and reached it unharmed, so the fact that a Scottish man had showed up with no one reporting him missing and on his own ground, well the circumstances were strange. Not to mention this man had a rather striking appearance that one wouldn't forget.

"Fair enough Matron." Claire nodded, having no reasonable explanation to add to the story herself. Sighing, she took a seat on the wooden chair. It was best to hurry and get this wound cleaned so she could resume helping out on the wards again. "This won't take long." Still, Claire was still confused as to the reasoning behind her being here, but she wasn't about to argue.

"But that's not just it!" Matron interrupted, making Claire's head fly round to stare at her.

"He was found with weapons on him. Not the usual sort, no guns or anything like that. Great big swords and what I believe to be a dirk. Why in heavens name is a man fumbling around the Scottish Wilderness with such attire, I ask you Nurse Randall?"

Matron seemed rather frantic now, as though the Scot was going to leap from the bed and run her through with a sword. While she boasted a fierce temperament, Claire knew Matron could be extremely dramatic at times.

"I have no idea, Matron." Claire replied with a level head and look that told her senior head to pull herself together. She after all was in charge of every nurse in this hospital.

"I'm sure he'll be more than happy to tell you himself once he's come around, he's burning up." Claire pressed a head to his forehead and felt the heat burn through her skin. "I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation, right now there's nothing to be worried about. We work with strange unusual men everyday, this is nothing new." Claire informed Matron, pressing her hands to the woman's shoulder and guiding her out of the room.

"I'll stay with him until he wakes up, and find out anything I can. Right now, he clearly needs rest."

"Yes, yes... Quite right. Thank you, Claire. I'll ask you not to make a fuss about this down in the wards, he is a rather monstrous fellow after all, I can't imagine what he's like with all those swords and quite frankly, I don't want to. But I don't like this, I don't like this one bit!" The Matron added, pressing a kerchief to her nose and leaving the room promptly, still worrying on about the situation.

Claire gave a small chuckle, before shutting the door and turning to deal with the mysterious Scotsman.

 

******

 

Hours were lost in the dim room, the sun had faded long ago and Claire was too caught up in her work as usual to bother worrying about the time. A dislocated shoulder, bullet wound in the neck and general bruising where all that ailed the Scotsman and she'd taken care of it quickly enough. The loss of blood was likely the cause of his fever, the wound was a relatively new one but infection was setting in already. However, it was nothing to worry about. Claire had seen the same things time and time again and treated them with precision. The only thing she had never seen before were the horrific scars. Deep, hard scars that covered his back, they looked as though they had been the result of a hard lashing, a lashing laid down with such a fury, an anger that made her shiver to imagine.

It was the scars alone that made Claire all the more wary about the mysterious man. What had he done to receive such a brutal punishment? Her mind drifted into deep thought about it, trying to come up with some conclusions in her mind and before she knew it, her head was pressed against the stranger's sleeping form and she was fast asleep.

The man thrashed and wriggled beneath her hours later, causing her to jump up from her position, startled and alarmed. Blinking frantically, realisation hit her once more and she looked to see the man wriggling and yelling quite loudly.

"Shush!" Claire scolded, moving to stop him kicking his legs, the sleepiness having left her entirely at such a rude awakening. "Will you be quiet, do you want to wake the entire hospital?" Claire hissed, holding him still for a moment until the movements of his body stopped and he simply stared at her, and she couldn't help but notice the innocence in his eyes, which she noted were a deep blue.

"Where am I?" Came the rich accent of the Scotsman at last.

"Edinburgh Hospital." Claire informed him, her arms still across his middle but fairly relaxed as she sat down again, preparing to explain. "You were found this morning and taken here. You were hurt, I've tended to all your wounds but you'll have to stay here until you get better. You're all right now." Confiding to patients that they were safe was a force of habit, it always seemed to soothe them, letting them know they were out of harms way. Men might act fierce warriors on the battlefield, but only in the hospital beds when they were weak and sore did they reveal a childlike innocence, needing to be held and comforted and as much afraid of the raging war as anyone.

However. The same could not be said for this man who did not at all seemed comforted by Claire's well rehearsed words.

"Edinburgh?!" Came his startled reply, his eyes huge like an owls as he stared at her again and she could see the fear set in.

"You're all right... You're safe here." Claire hushed, her tone gentle with a maternal touch.

"I dinna need no hospital lass... I need outta here!" He informed her urgently before making to move again, to which she moved to barricade him in. He was a huge, strong warrior-like Scotsman and she a tall, thin weakling in comparison. That did not deter her however.

"You're not going anywhere." Claire told him, to which his eyes held something of irritation with a mixture of impatience. "Lass, I dinna mean to harm you but I need to get out of here!" It wasn't anger that filled his face, perhaps the smallest hint of irritation now but Claire mostly saw the worry, the panic.

"Calm down!" Claire released her hold on him, looking the mysterious figure in the eyes she pulled her chair closer to his bed, so close that it meant he'd have to throw her off it to get out.

"No one will harm you, I promise you." She began, slowly. "But I can't let you leave until you're better. You're ill and it really wouldn't be wise for you to go now, not to mention it's..." Lifting up her wrist she glanced at her watch. "Jesus! It's twenty-past two! Nevermind you leaving, I should've left long ago." Claire commented, rather to herself than to the Scot.

"No!" The man called out at the mention of her leaving, making a grab for her hand as if to hold her here. "You canna leave me here, locked up in this prison!" His eyes looked startled again, but Claire could only give a small chuckle. The room was tiny and not unlike a jail cell, she supposed, with only a small window that had bars on.

"It's not a prison. And don't worry... I'll stay with you, until you're better at least." It wasn't as if she could go anyway, the moment she did this brute of a Scotsman would be up trying to find the easiest escape, and a huge Scottish warrior on the prowl with a vast array of weapons was all anyone needed.

There was a silence that fell between them at last. His hand felt huge in both of hers. She found herself stroking her thumb across the hard, worn fingers to gently soothe him. If she could convince him she was not the enemy, then he might just calm down and cooperate.

"Do you want to tell me your name?" She asked, smiling encouragingly at him, feeling as if she was talking to a toddler who'd just come from an operation. But, as fierce as this huge man looked, she could see he was truly soft underneath, however she would not like to try his anger.

"Jamie." The man replied warily, as if he'd just unburdened a dark secret. "Mc... MacTavish. Jamie MacTavish." He seemed quite confident on the last one.

"I'm Claire, it's nice to meet you." She said gently, still stroking his fingers in her hand, staring at him with a tender smile in hopes to ease his fear.

He smiled back at her then, sighing a little and allowing himself to relax. Her method was working. She really did hate sedating delirious patients, but sometimes it was the only option.

"Do you remember how you got those injuries?" Claire tried, a little bit braver this time. "You had a bullet wound in your shoulder and you dislocated it."

"Ah, so those bastards did shoot me." He seemed irritated now, moving his head to try and see the bandaged wound, before trying to wriggle his left arm which was held firm in a sling. "It was paining me a lot, though now I have to admit it doesna hurt as much."

"You'll have to keep it like that for a while." Claire told him. "Only until the bruising comes down and then I can take it off. As for the bullet wound, as long as it's kept clean you should avoid infection and it should heal properly."

"Ah..." Jamie looked at her then with a deep fascination. "So you're a healer then?"

"Yes." Claire nodded with a smile, glad that she had for the moment taken his mind off the worry and fear that plagued him earlier and he was calming down considerably.

"And my clothes?" He asked, noting the fact that he was indeed shirtless and stripped of all weaponry.

"I had to remove your shirt to bandage you up. Although, I'd be happy to replace it. Yours is destroyed in blood." Jamie nodded at this, as though it seemed a sensible solution.

"I thank ye lass." He replied.

"Your kilt and weapons and all of that are just over there." She pointed to the corner of the room where his possessions lay. Although the Matron had taken some of his large swords to examine herself, Claire thought it best to leave that detail out. "We'll wash everything and return it to you, don't worry."

"You're a verra kind lass." Jamie replied, smiling at her, she couldn't help but notice how humbled he seemed by what was just general procedure in any hospital. "Although I willna be taking up much of your time, I hope to be on the road again shortly. The men will have wondered where I've got to."

Finally, Claire thought, she was getting somewhere. Slowly but surely this Jamie was gladly revealing parts about himself without her having to ask.

"I'm sure they'll understand. Where is it you're from?"

"A good way from Edinburgh, that's for sure." His eyes widened as though astonished that he'd somehow landed here. "I'm going to a place called Castle Leoch."

"Castle Leoch?" Claire replied. "I've not heard of it."

"Yer no native to Scotland though... I'm presuming, it's just your accent..."

"No..." Claire nodded, a question she seemed to get a lot. "I'm from Oxfordshire. I've just been posted to work here for the war."

"The war?" His face screwed up in confusion. "What war would that be? How long have I been out for?"

"The second world war?" Claire replied slowly, her own facing matching his confusion but for entirely different reasons. "Jamie... er, Mr MacTavish... Have you hit you head or sustained any head injuries before you came here?" Now Claire's face was masked in concern, she pulled her hand from his grasp and touched his forehead, which admittedly was still warm but nowhere near as hot as it was. Amnesia was a common ailment for soldiers during the war, she had men wake up and not know their name let alone the country's plight. Usually, it was just temporary.

"Hit my head? No... Not that I can remember." His face screwed up once more, trying to recall such an injury.

"Well that's just it, you wouldn't, would you." Claire commented more to herself than to the patient.

"Does your head hurt or...?" She tried, before pushing her fingers into his temples, moving towards the crown of his head. "Does any of this hurt?" There were no lumps or bumps to be found.

"No... No! Aye, what are ye doin?" He scrambled to push her away and struggling, confused to what it was she was doing. Claire merely sighed and sat down again.

"I think you may be suffering from temporary amnesia." She informed him, slowly and calmly so he could digest the words.

"Amnesia? What in the Lord's name is that?"

"It's where you lose some of your memory for a short time... It should come back." She hoped, but she didn't want to scare him. However, Jamie merely scoffed and laughed at her diagnosis.

"Lost my memory? My sister says I've a skull made of iron lass, the only thing I've lost is my way!"

Very well, Claire thought. If he wanted to be in denial about it, so be it. But it would mean they'd have to keep him longer, until they were absolutely sure he was safe to leave. However she thought it best not to reveal this to him now.

"This war lass, who's it against? The English?" Jamie asked, suddenly intrigued now to the events he had no clue of a moment ago.

"We're fighting against Germany, mostly." Claire told him, with a saddened sigh at the realisation of just what a tangle the world was in. This Jamie seemed to have some problem with the English, perhaps why he had gotten so worked up at first given her accent. 

"Germany? Are ye sure you havena' been hit on the head?"

"All right." Claire demanded at once, realising she was going to get absolutely nowhere with this man if they carried on. "Enough talk about wars for now." She concluded with a little impatience. "Now about these injuries, can you remember how you got them? You said someone shot at you, is that correct?"

"Och aye!" Jamie replied, with a wave of his hand. "It must've been either Dougal or Rupert who shot me, accidentally of course." He informed her. "And I hurt my shoulder by falling off my horse if I can remember, silly bugger." Despite the fact he was currently laid out on a hospital bed, Claire couldn't help but notice how he brushed off the recount of his injuries with jest and good humour, how very odd indeed.

"And how is it you were roaming around the countryside? Aren't you a soldier, for the British Army?"

Claire was rather sorry she asked this.

"Soldier, for the British Army?" He seemed absolutely shocked and dumbfounded by this, his eyes huge again as though Claire had just sprouted two new heads.

"Aye and in my spare time I like to drink Scotch Whiskey with the King himself!" He thought this comment hilarious and went on to laugh rather loudly which only infuriated Claire.

"Look, I'm trying to help you." Claire spat out rather forcefully with a frown gracing her brow. "You're more ill than you realise." Otherwise, why would he be saying such things?

"Sassenach, I'm fine! I've no but a sore arm!" He told her, in an all knowing fashion.

"Sassenach?" Claire completely forgot what he had been laughing at for the moment, curious as to figure out his strange speech.

"Sassenach... Means outlander or Englishman... I didna mean anything by it." He was quick to defend, but Claire just remained silent. 

Matron had told her to figure out the history behind this man. His name was Jamie MacTavish, he wasn't a soldier and by the sounds of things, not overly fond of the English. He had acquired his wounds by being shot at accidentally by one of two men he claimed to know and by falling off a horse. As well as this, Claire highly suspected now more than ever that he most definitely was suffering from amnesia.

"I woke up in a ditch..." He said out of the blue, the laughter from his voice completely gone now, his wide eyes searching for hers in the dark in a desperate attempt to make him understand his situation. Her own eyes softened, glad at last that he decided to be sensible.

"I suppose none of the men could find me so they went on... I got up with an awful ache in my shoulder and I walked for miles, in fact I walked from daylight to dark, searching for a path to find my way again, ye ken. I found these stones, huge they were... On top of a hill and I stood there for a time trying to collect my bearings, seeing which way was north and that... I remember putting my hands on the largest grey stone and a strong buzzing in my ears and before I knew it, I must've passed out again and I woke up to find this large woman pawing all over me with an accent not unlike yours..." That must've been Matron when he'd first been brought in, Claire could imagine her making quite a fuss about him.

 "I tried explaining to her, but she just pulled out a bloody great point and stuck it in me and everything went dark again. When I woke up next, I was in this dark room with you asleep on my leg..." He looked up to Claire again, finished with his tale. "I dinnae ken how I ended up here... Must've walked it, but I have to get back... You understand me, sassenach? It's no safe here for a man like me... Will ye help me?"

Why was it not safe here for a man like him? Who was he? There was a war going on and no one could be trusted, for all she knew he could be a German spy, but given his story and the outdated weaponry found on him, she highly doubted it. There were still so many questions spinning in her mind, so many she had to ask and understand, yet still reminding herself he was just a patient, more bizarre men came through their doors everyday spinning stranger stories. Yet despite all this, she found herself nodding, squeezing his hand in gentle reassurance.

"I'll help you." She said finally, not understanding why she said it but knowing that there was something genuine in this man, something vulnerable that she couldn't walk away from, something that made him stand out from the rest.

He seemed to calm at her promise, and in her heart she truly felt sorry for him. Here he was, alone in a strange place and she was the first person to agree to help him, whatever that entailed.

"You have to be completely honest with me if I'm to help you, Jamie." She said, addressing him by his name for the first time. He looked at her for a small moment before tugging his eyes away and nodding slowly, as though fighting some internal battle with himself.

"I've told you the truth, some of it anyway..." He admitted. "But..." Whatever he was trying to say, it wasn't coming out.

"But what?"

"I've told you enough about me for now." And that was that, she could continue to prod and poke him with questions but something in his voice told Claire it wasn't going to do any good, he had clearly decided that whatever there was to tell, was not to be told tonight and would hold until he knew her a little better, understandable she supposed.

"I promise to see you home safe." Claire said, looking him in the eye again to try and show him the truth within her words. "But for now, you must stay here and get better. Is that understood?" Her eyebrows raised with concern, she hoped he wouldn't make this difficult. If he could abide by her rules then she could keep her word and help him as best she could.

"Aye... Aye I'll stay for now. Mainly because I wouldna have a bloody clue where to begin getting out of here." A smirk touched his lips and Claire found herself laughing, despite herself.

"I'll be back in the morning... You should get some rest." She sighed, standing up and lifting the basin full of water to take with her, to empty. "Is everything all right, are you warm enough? I can give you something if you're in pain."

"No, I'm fine, sassenach." He gave her a reassuring smile, and Claire couldn't help but notice that he seemed a little contented now that they'd have a little talk.

"Oh and... " He began.

"Yes?" Claire stopped in the corner of the room to look at him through the dark, lifting his heavy, long kilt to take to the wash on her way out.

"That woman... The large one with the point, she isna going to come back, is she?" He seemed disconcerted at this.

"No." Claire chuckled, knowing Matron would be much to afraid to come in and address this man alone. "Only Matron and I know you're here... And she won't come bothering you, I'm quite sure of that."

"Very well then... Goodnight." He watched her go under the dim light of the candle before laying to fall asleep, which came easy.

Claire, at an impressive hour of the night, finally went home to get some rest herself, feeling that as she left the hospital that night, there was a change in the air. Something was coming but she didn't know what.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

TO CONDEMN US BOTH

 

The apartment Claire had rented while living in Edinburgh was nothing special. It could be a nice place if someone took the time to make it so, but Claire had no desire to. Her coming here was only supposed to be a temporary thing. She was to be posted to a hospital in London but they'd sent her here instead since there was a huge lack of nursing staff at the time. That had been almost a year ago now, and Claire had accepted she would probably be here until the war ended, whenever that would be. Which is why she took no time to pretty up the home she'd acquired here, fearing she might get too comfortable. She was unable to do anything without Frank and that was the only thing pushing her through the long, lonely hours. That one day this war would end and she could return to her life with Frank and build a home with him.

Her walk to the hospital was dampened by oncoming mist, weather she had since realised was native to the country of Scotland. While Edinburgh was a beautiful city with a wonderful mix of medieval architecture and held the beauty of untouched countryside further north, Claire could not wait until she could finally go home. Her current circumstance left her unable to appreciate the goodness around her. Still, she was lucky. Living in London at the time of World War II was unthinkable, where the looming threat of German bombings was almost constant.

Not many knew of Jamie MacTavish quite yet, the huge warrior Scotsman was still hidden away in one of the tiny rooms of the hospital which made Claire feel like she was guarding a very dark secret. On her way in she had managed to catch Matron on one of the wards, back to normality again and shouting at every nurse in sight. Claire was able to relay the message that the mysterious Scotsman, while still mysterious, was not as much a threat as they had first believed him to be. Of course, Claire could not be completely certain of this, but if she wanted to understand him any better it was wiser to do it without the fear of Matron suspiciously sniffing around under her feet.

"Good morning, Mr MacTavish." Claire said as soon as she opened the door to the stuffy side room and found Jamie sitting up and awake, waiting probably for someone to come and tell him what on earth was going on.

"What in God's name are ye wearing, lass?" Where the first words that fell out of his mouth and he looked at her with his nose turned up in distaste.

"What?" Claire was quite astonished at this outburst and a nervous, breathy laugh ensued.
"I can see half yer legs woman!" Somehow, he seemed significantly angry.

"What's wrong with it?" Claire demanded, turning to try and find a large stain or something on the sort on her sky blue dress with a white apron across the front and a large red cross on her right breast. "It's my uniform."

"Aye, do you English have uniforms for pissing too?" Came his sly remark, and then he caught himself and his face turned rather serious and apologetic. "I'm sorry, lass. I dinna mean to speak so boldly in front of a lady such as yourself."

"That's quite all right." Claire laughed, moving to try and get some light into the small room, though it was fruitless. The little barred window let in virtually no light seeing as this room wasn't supposed to be used as a bedroom but rather for storage, but the hospital was much too crowded. Not to mention the dismal sky outside meant rarely any light was to be let in anyway.

"How are you feeling? A little worse for wear, I imagine." Claire asked, turning to address him finally.

"Aye, I'm a wee bit sore, but I dinna feel as sickly." He explained. Apart from the fact he had a bullet wound in his shoulder and had suffered a dislocation, all under a burning fever yesterday, he did look rather well.

"That'll be the anti-biotics working their magic then." Claire nodded with a smile, before lifting the dark brown bottle from her pocket and popping the lid off with sufficient ease.

"Anti-bi-what now, sassenach?" Came his reply, and Claire looked up to find him wearing that muddled face again, to which she laughed.

"Anti-biotics. They help fight infection..." This was going nowhere. "They help you get better!" His face lightened at last, finally understanding. This man only proved to get stranger as the days went on.

"You're going to need to take two of these now, and then I can give you some breakfast." The medication was to be prescribed before meals, otherwise he could've eaten before now.

Claire proceeded to hand him two of the little pills and he looked at them quizzically.

"I'm to eat these wee beads, then?" He examined them carefully, as though she'd asked him to swallow two silver bullets.

"Yes." Claire replied, pouring him a glass of water from the side table and handing it to him promptly. "Take them with water, they'll be easier to swallow." Never did she had to explain the taking of tablets before, but she supposed there was a first to everything.

"Now, for your breakfast. What would you like?" She asked, as he accepted the water with caution and looked at her, before taking a small sip.

"I wouldn't recommend anything too heavy... We have toast, porridge, corn flakes..."

"Corn flakes?" His face screwed up again in disgust and he glared at her now, two pills in one hand a glass of water in the other. "What are they?"

"It's a cereal. Surely you've heard of corn flakes?" This was definitely a first. Had this man just crawled out from under a rock? There was a war on, but this was ridiculous.

"Flakes of corn? And you eat it for breakfast?" Jamie couldn't seem to understand this, she could tell the notion of eating what he had just described was making his stomach turn.

"Well no, they're toasted flakes of corn... You eat them with milk." She explained.

Jamie however was not the slightest bit convinced and eyed her now with a terrible look of disgust, before he shook his head with a definite refusal, having made his mind up. "I think I'll just have the porridge, if ye don't mind." He said with apprehension.

"All right then." Claire said, turning and frowning to herself at how bizarre this man proved to be. "And eat those pills!" She demanded as she stopped at the door, before leaving the room to go and find this Jamie MacTavish some porridge.

*****

Jamie ate as though he hadn't had a proper meal in weeks, and given the gaunt outlines of the cheekbones on his face, Claire reckoned he could do with some building up. After his breakfast he talked a while, asking questions about his injuries and complaining about the bandage when Claire took a moment to check them, all thankfully healing nicely. Afterwards, he grew quite drowsy and was asleep in no time, snoring in peaceful oblivion to which Claire couldn't help but smile at. Whoever this man was, he had clearly been through some ordeal.

Claire spent her morning helping out on the wards as usual, luckily there was nothing of great importance that needed her immediate attention aside from the usual wound dressing and medication administration. After a great load of troops had been taken down the previous week, she supposed things might settle, until the next bombing of course and then another load of sick and dying officers would be sent into their care. But for now, they would have a slight reprieve.

The west side of the hospital was a bit chipper. It was filled with soldiers on the mend and who hoped soon to be leaving them. The wards were usually full of laughter as men talked among themselves and played card games and the sort. Men in striped pyjamas in wheelchairs with plaster casts around their limbs glided through the halls as some of the nurses gave them a turn about in the garden for some fresh air. It seemed the west wing was a complete world away from the place which Claire had just come, from dire emergencies and blood to laughter and a general feeling of optimism.

Claire felt a calmness as she walked through the wards with her clipboard checking on the many soldiers, to make sure all of them where taking the proper medication. She was a familiar sight around here and the chaos of chattering men, mostly with cockney accents was a refreshing change from all the Scottish.

Before long it was mid afternoon and Claire thought it best to go and check on Mr MacTavish who was likely bored out of his mind. Perhaps it would be best to bring something along to help coax some information out of him, and she knew just the thing, even if Matron might think it unwise, she didn't have to know.

*****

"It truly is magnificent." Claire commented as her fingers swept up the breadth of the longsword that she'd taken from Matron's office. It was an impressive blade, no doubt about it, but she couldn't help but wonder why on earth anyone would need to use one now and it was easy to see at first glance that this was a weapon that had seen many years of use, while being centuries old. The blade itself was dim and the edge perhaps a little blunt, not to mention the dirt that had found it's way into the swirls of Celtic engravings and the leather hilt was worn with use and a bit flaky.

"Isna mine. Dougal gave me it when he came to take me to Leoch, always best to be armed ye ken, especially a man like-" He cut himself off from going further. "Nevermind." He frowned, pulling his eyes away from Claire's as though he was about to tell her too much.

"And who is this Dougal?" Claire asked, trying to take his mind off it. Whatever deep secret this Jamie MacTavish was guarding, it could wait.

"My uncle on my mother's side. War Chieftain of the Clan McKenzie, and Colm is Laird." Jamie seemed rather proud to convey this knowledge.

"War Chieftain? Laird?" Claire tightened her lip and lifted a brow, her expression puzzled and urging him to continue. "Is there even such a thing nowadays?"

"Och!" Jamie half laughed at this, but it seemed he thought Claire rather dull for even having asked. "You English haven't wiped us out yet! Is that what yer telling people? That Scotland doesna have the Clans or Lairds and we've submitted completely? Pish!" He laughed again, waving a hand in exasperation. Claire however was none the more enlightened.

"You definitely harbour a deep hatred against the English, or so I've noticed." Claire pointed out, hoping it might push the conversation further and he'd be forced to explain whatever it was he was talking about.

"I've no a problem with them... It's they that have the issue with me!" He informed her, his brow creasing into a frown and she could tell he was rather passionate about the subject.

"Why would the English have a problem with you?" Claire asked, her tone reasonably gentle. Before she remembered something and she hesitated a moment before continuing. "Jamie has this... Has this got something to do with the scars on your back?" She could tell it was dangerous territory, the way his eyes widened and she could see the wheels turning in his head, calculating just how she knew.

"How did ye see my scars?" He asked, but she could tell he already knew the answer.

"When I dressed your shoulder. I've never seen anything like it before... I just wondered how on earth you might have got them." Claire confessed. She couldn't forget scars like that, huge welts in his skin.

"Flogging." He told her. "They flogged me twice in the space of one week. Would have done it twice in the same day if they weren't afraid of killing me."

"But, why?" Claire asked, curious to understand the circumstances which would lead to such a brutality.

"The first time was for escaping Fort William and the second was theft." He elaborated, however Claire could not understand how flogging someone would be corporal form of punishment in the twentieth century.

"Why were you escaping?" She asked.

"Obstruction." He replied with surety.

"What, obstruction? What's that? It doesn't sound like a serious crime." Claire went on, confused still as to where this tale was going.

"I suppose it's whatever the English say it is." He told her, yet she couldn't help but notice the hint of humour in his tone despite nothing being funny about the subject. Perhaps it was his way to keep things from getting too dark and heavy, she could see him recall the memory in his mind and understood that it was a painful one and not one he talked about often.

"Aye, it were some year ago now." He said, inviting her into the tale, opening up for the first time and about to reveal one of the mysteries that shrouded him.

Jamie went on to describe the events of how he had been home one day working the fields and the next down fighting English Soldiers off his sister, which they abused before tying him up and lashing him before her eyes. It was his sister who went off with one of the soldiers in fear they might kill her brother if she did not, and shamed herself because of him, or so Jamie had said.

"Next thing I knew, I was in the back of a wagon with a load of chickens for company. I didna know then that it would be the last time I'd see my sister. Havena seen her since." There was no pity in his voice for himself, but rather over the fact that he felt responsible for the torment his sister faced.

Claire felt an ache in her heart, the pity she felt for this man was unlike any other. She'd heard terrible war stories in her time, sat by the beds of dying men and wrote out their final goodbyes to their families for them. But there was something of Jamie's tale that held a great injustice, that made her angry too.

"So, the English did this to you, English soldiers?" Claire asked after a long silence, finally getting some closure on the subject.

"Aye." Jamie nodded finally.

"Jamie... What these men did to you, it's illegal. You don't have to live like this. These soldiers who tormented you for no reason, abusing your sister and then you... You can go to the police about this and they'll be-"

"Police?" Jamie squinted again.

"You know, the law - people in charge-"

"The English are in charge lass! You think that with the country being torn apart anyone would waste a second listening to me, and condemn their own for it? Don't be daft!"

While Claire wanted to argue, feeling angry and shaken herself she couldn't deny what he was saying. Any man who fought for the British Army was graced with a heroic mask, free to do as they liked. While Jamie had the scars on his back to prove his injustice, she doubted very much anyone would listen, not while the war was still going on and brutalities like this happened everyday.

"And besides... That's no the point." Jamie went on, suddenly looking as though he was brooding in anger, still unable to meet her gaze until now. He was hesitiating, wondering if not to go on, if talking might muddle up his situation all the more, but at last he came out with it.

"I'm a wanted man." There it was. All Claire had been waiting on. Some dark confession, something that would be enough to carry back to Matron and seal this man's fate. But Claire wasn't triumphant at the knowledge, because this wasn't a game where someone scored points. This was a human life, a human life that Claire figured had suffered enough.

"Wanted for killing a British Soldier... Although, it wasna me done the killing but there's nothing to prove otherwise. Tell you the truth, I was too much in pain from the lashing to see straight let alone raise a sword." His blue eyes were hazed over in the memory, remembering the dark days that made him a fugitive.

"So now you understand... In part anyway. A man wanted for killing a British soldier is unlikely to win any favour with the English, no matter the wrongs they did me."

Claire could say nothing. She simply stared, still clutching the sword in her lap and her face twisted in both shock and sadness for the fate of this poor man and the injustice he faced.

Jamie's eyes moved to meet hers and he could see the sadness in them, yet he didn't see tears or hear words filled with pity alike the many reactions he received in the past. Instead he saw a resilience and a strength to see past it.

"Will you turn me in, lass? Will you go and find that big brawny woman and see me meet my fate?" And there it was, the honesty and raw feeling laid bare. Claire could take his honesty and turn him to ash in her palm, turn her heart away and watch as he was marched straight to a prison to live his life behind bars. If it had been any other soldier, perhaps she might have been able to, with a bit of anguish of course, but otherwise numb to her duty. With Jamie however, she felt something different. Despite everything in the Universe telling her otherwise, she saw a trust in his eyes and for the life of her she could not break it, she could not throw it back in his face.

"No." She said at last, knowing as soon as the words left her lips she was condemning herself. But despite herself, she lifted her hand to find his and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

"I promised to help you, and that's what I'll do." A smile found it's way onto her lips, it was soft and small and a little apprehensive. She was breaking every rule in the book, but at this moment in time she didn't seem to care.

Jamie's mouth turned up at the edges in response and he stared at her, into her golden whiskey coloured eyes, eyes of which he'd never seen the like of before. Huge and deep, the colour of honey and they glowered at him in the darkness.

At that moment, they suddenly weren't strangers anymore. Instead they were something more yet neither could decipher what and so they sat in silence, for hours. Unable to break whatever atmosphere had entrapped them in the room.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3,

THE TRUTH LAID BARE

 

Over the coming days Claire had found herself growing rather fond of the mysterious Scotsman. He talked in length about his father, sister and family and his home, a place called Lallybroch. He was an excellent conversationalist and storyteller; Claire could picture every detail. A huge castle like building against miles of green grass, a place of freedom and peace. Claire understood his keen desire to return to it, it sounded magnificent and Claire herself thought she would never want to leave such a place herself, but it seemed he needed to go to a place called Castle Leoch, the residence of his two uncles, where he could live under the guise of what she now perceived to be a false name.

"I take it MacTavish isn't your real name, then." Claire said at last, her arms folded and leaning close to hear every word he spoke, drawn in to his long expansive tales.

"No... I couldna use my real name with a price on my head, now could I?" Jamie explained, despite his situation, he seemed in good spirits today.

He would be getting out soon. The bruising had reduced on his arm and he suffered nothing but a mild ache which would ease in the passing of time. The bullet wound had also scabbed over and would vanish completely in the coming weeks. Yes, he was free to go as soon as Claire gave the word, he had just finished his run of antibiotics and would soon be on his way, another stranger passing through that had left a small imprint on her life, no doubt.

"I'll have to go up to the wards now." Claire said, sighing and standing up. Their little conversation had ended for today, she had her duties to attend to.

"Aye..." Jamie nodded and Claire felt rather sorry for him. He was cooped up in this tiny room since he refused to leave it, fearing his face might be too noticeable and one of the many British soldiers laid up in sick beds might notice him.

"But here, I brought you a newspaper... Might help pass the time. There's a crossword on the back somewhere." Claire reached for the large folded paper on the bedside table and flapped it out to full size.

Jamie squinted at the large bold text that read 'Edinburgh Gazette' in swirly font at the top before accepting it. "Aye, I suppose I may as well get caught up on what I've missed." He said with a hefty sigh.

Claire turned to leave but she froze at the door when she heard a loud gasp come from his lips.

"What's the matter?" Claire asked, turning around to face him with a curious expression on her face. She hadn't had a chance to glance at today’s headlines, though the papers were usually filled with the aftermath of the latest bombings, which is what might have startled him.

"1945?" Jamie said after a long moment, still looking down at the paper in his arms. "This date says the year is 1945?" He seemed completely dumbfounded and lifted his head to look at her, his mouth ajar and eyes wide.

"Yes." Claire smiled with confusion down at him, not understanding what the problem was.

"As in nineteen-forty-five in the year of our Lord? That cannae be right lass!" Jamie was panic stricken now, Claire could see the beads of sweat pop up on his brow and the fast rise and fall of his chest.

"Jamie..." Claire said as though she were talking to a child. "Jamie, calm down. What is it?" She tried, but it was as if he was looking through her now. She noticed all these symptoms from the many men that came in, even the nurses sometimes given the dire situations they were sometimes faced with. He was going into shock and if she didn't do something quick, he might very well pass out.

"Jamie... Jamie! Look at me!" She grabbed his wrist and hunkered down by his bedside and tried to force him to meet her gaze so she could talk him out of it.

In her small efforts she did not hear the knock at the door and in moments, a small lithe nurse by the name of Edie Littlewood was standing behind her, to which Claire turned abruptly.

"Yes, I'll be with you now..." Claire said impatiently, bringing her attention back to Jamie for the moment, hoping the little honey haired nurse would leave.

"Nurse Randall, Matron said you're wanted on ward 7 immediately..." Came Edie's tone, apprehensive as to whether she should speak of leave.

However, Claire was not concerned with her for the moment, as Jamie seemed to go stiff as a board as soon as she spoke, finally meeting her eyes with a look mingled with both terror and fury.

"Randall? Randall!" Came his startling reply, shoving Claire off him with a severe push making her stumble backwards onto her bottom and she heard nothing but the sound of papers hit the floor and sprawl everywhere in the process.

"Jamie!" Claire called blindly, picking herself up and managing to grasp him before he got out of the bed. "Jamie, calm down!" She demanded, but he seemed too horror stricken to listen to her.

"How could I no' have known Randall had some part in this?" He spat out with disgust. "Ye nurse me back to health only to throw me over to that heathen, and I trusted ye!" Jamie was furious with Claire for some reason, she could see it in his eyes. The desperate fury that could tear all four walls down in this tiny room. Yet Claire did not feel a pang of fear in approaching the significantly large Scotsman just now, and she heard Edie squeak behind her as she tried again to grab him again.

But Jamie flinched at Claire’s touch like she was on fire and he glared at her with a stony reserve. Claire could not understand what all of this was about or where it had come from. One moment they were having a lovely conversation and the next he was trying to fight her off like she intended to kill him.

“Aye, is there a band of redcoats outside? Ready to burst in and carry me to the gallows?” He hissed with hatred, Claire thought smoke was going to come billowing from his ears at any moment.

Claire stepped away with a frown on her face and pouted lips, trying to work out what it was he’d just said. Redcoats? In the twentieth century?

Jamie wasted no time in attempting to get up again, but Claire thought fast and plunged a hand into her apron pocket and came out with a needle. Needed only in dire situations when a patient was either delirious and talking drivel or being physical with Hospital staff, it was always in the best interest to sedate them, if it was the only option to calm them down of course.

“Right!” Claire yelled, pricking the needle and jabbing it into his upper arm before he could move. He did however prove to make this difficult, wriggling and trying to fight her off and Claire reckoned they might look a right pair to the frightened Edie who was still pressed against the door.

Managing just about to get the fluid inside him, she felt him go limp under her grasp. His shouting had stopped and he was instantly becoming weaker, before finally he flopped back down on the bed and passed out.

Claire’s chest was heaving for air as she mopped her wild bushy curls out of her eyes which had broken free from their ties. Red faced and in good need of a stiff drink, Claire only felt like groaning when she turned to face the quiet little nurse at the door.

“Nurse Randall…” She began, startled and shocked to have witnessed her taking on such a large man. “Are you all right?” Her eyes were wide, looking at her as though she’d just defeated a wild beast with her bare hands.

“Perfectly fine.” Claire sighed, brushing herself down and moving to plant a hand to Edie’s back to shuffle her from the room. “I think it’s his medication… Nasty things are side effects.” She laughed shakily before locking the door, promising herself to go back later and try to figure out just what this Jamie ‘MacTavish’ was all about.

 

***** 

 

For the remainder of the day, Claire couldn’t shake the events of what had happened from her mind. What had Jamie meant when he had said all of those things? Why was he suddenly so angry to learn of her second name? He’d talked of things like redcoats, another name for the British Army from the seventeenth to nineteenth century, called so because of their red uniforms. The redcoats now where nothing but a historical term. Then she could not shake his confusion about the year, seeming baffled about it being nineteen-forty-five. Why? Claire swallowed as she sat marking the boxes off on her medical chart, though not really paying attention. Did this man think he was from another time?

Hours passed and Claire did everything in her power to delay returning to that small room and confronting Jamie about the strange events. She checked almost every ward, fluffed the pillows of soldiers and even played a card game with one, until she realised she couldn’t leave Jamie locked up in that room forever, that was if he hadn’t torn the door down and made for a great escape.

Hesitating as she turned the key in the lock, Claire braced herself and entered the room. To her surprise Jamie had not been secretly waiting behind the door to break free or was in a desperate hurry to begin shouting nonsense at her again, instead he was still in the bed, only sitting on the side of it this time.

It was dark now, and the only light was that of a flickering candle. It cast monstrous shadows up his back and the amber flames licked the deep curves of his scars that twisted and narrowed in great lines.

Claire didn’t speak, instead she lingered by the door. There was an atmosphere now, they were no longer friends, she had gathered that much. Ever since he had learned of her name, he harboured a hatred for her that she couldn’t understand and she didn’t want to push his temper by forcing him.

“Come to tell me of my death sentence, lass?” Jamie said after a long moment. He didn’t look at her, instead he looked up at the wall and she heard him sigh with defeat.

“No.” Claire said at once, though her voice was soft.

“I don’t understand…” She tried, edging closer to the bed slowly.

Jamie dismissed her words entirely, cutting her off and she heard him spit his next words through gritted teeth. “I should have known Randall would have some part in this…” He began, shaking his head as though his actions were foolish, that he’d somehow been enlightened into some great plot against his life. “Well, ye can tell him whatever game he’s playing, I want no part in it.” He turned to her then, looking at her over his shoulder. “Ye can tell him I want nought but a quick, swift death if he’d be kind enough to grant it.”

“Jamie, no one is going to kill you.” Claire began as though he was being extremely dramatic, her face full of confusion. Jamie met her gaze for a moment before turning away again, remaining silent.

“Who is Randall?” Claire asked.

“It’s you that should be telling me that.” He seemed to laugh at her, as though her question was preposterous. Claire merely frowned all the more, no more enlightened as to what on earth was going on.

“My second name is Randall, but only by marriage…” Claire tried, this obviously had something to do with her and the deep problem he had with her name.

“Ah…” He laughed again, but it was a laugh filled with a bitterness towards her. “So you’re married to him then?”

“Married to who?” Claire demanded a little louder, getting tired of these games. Who on earth was he talking about?

“Jonathan Randall, o’ course!” He spat, the anger taking over him at once as his head spun to glare at her with a fierce rage. “Damn ye – making me say his name!” His words were so cold and spat with an icy venom. “I’d have never have spilled my life’s worth to ye if I’d known who you were!”

Jonathan Randall?” Claire repeated in utter confusion. “I’m not married to Jonathan Randall; I don’t even know who he is!” Her voice was shrill, infuriated herself. All this time she’d been worried that she’d done something so horribly wrong for him to treat her so coldly, only to learn that he was angry at someone else, someone she didn’t even know.

“My husband is named Frank… You’ve got me confused with someone else!” She concluded, staring at him for some kind of explanation.

Jamie remained silent however, looking away from her again she knew he was calculating this mess and trying to decipher some truth from it.

“So you don’t know Jonathan Randall?” He said, his voice suddenly to quiet and weak.

“No…” She sighed, her tone softer and delicate as she moved to sit beside him, feeling a lot safer now.

“I don’t know who he is or what he’s done to you… But this is nothing but a coincidence.” She confessed, her eyes burning into the side of his face, urging him to look at her. She suddenly felt a pang of pity for him now. A shiver ran down her spine at the thought of this Jonathan Randall and what he might have done that was so brutal, it made her blood run cold to think she shared a name with a man so horrid.

“Randall was the one did this to my back.” Jamie said at last, not meeting her gaze just now. His voice was filled with a soreness that was almost tangible.

Claire understood everything perfectly clear now. Of course he was going to be angry and upset to think she had anything to do with this man, after she’d promised to help him. She’d seen those horrid scars that covered his back and shivered to imagine what sort of creature could lay them down. No one deserved that kind of treatment and in Jamie’s case it was all for nothing. There may have been those who didn’t believe him of course, there were two sides to every story but when he finally did turn and met her gaze, she understood perfectly well that he was telling the truth. Yet she didn’t know why or how she knew, there was just a content sureness in the pit of her stomach and she trusted it, just as much as she trusted Jamie.

“I’m sorry, Jamie.” She found herself saying. Sorry for all he went through, it was plain as day that he had suffered terrible abuse with the scars to prove it, and now he was running around as a fugitive, with nowhere to turn and unable to see his family. Claire could not imagine such a fate.

“It’s me that’s sorry, Sassenach.” He tried, “I shouldna have spoken to ye the way I did, or been as violent.” He seemed ashamed for the way he had acted, embarrassment creeping up his face since his actions were misguided.

“It’s all right.” Claire acknowledged with a small smile. “You had your reasons.”

“Aye but even so, you’re a woman-“

“Who’s perfectly capable of handling herself.” Claire raised a brow at him, asserting her own worth. While she may have been a woman, she wasn’t born to sit idly by and play the demure housewife.

“Aye.” He nodded with a small smile of his own, adding a chuckle at the end. “You’ve proved that.”

They shared a laugh then, before falling to silence. The silence only made Claire remember what he had said before, about the year and the redcoats. She desperately wanted to know, to understand him and his many mysteries. Yet something told her now was not the right time. The silence that had graced them somehow could not be broken, wasn’t awkward or foreboding, it was felt comfortable and natural.

Claire hadn’t realised, but she’d been staring up at him for some time and he was looking as intently back, his eyes exploring her own. His face was roguish and handsome, like that of a bold hero from a fairy-tale. His jawline was sharp and stood out, while his eyes were a deep blue and slanted only slightly. He was unshaven and red bristles grew out of his chin and glistened in the candlelight, seeming even redder. While his hair, which hung to his shoulders in impressive tangled curls was like fire framing his face. The smile on her lips had not vanished as they looked at one another, exploring each other, trying to understand the person underneath.

Hours could have passed, she wasn’t counting, when her hand raised up to touch a slither of hair that had fallen in front of his eyes. As soon as her fingers touched his skin realisation seemed to hit her, and she flinched away as though the flame red hair had burned her.

Claire broke her gaze away from his almost immediately and she stiffened, looking at the wall. “I’m sorry…” She fumbled out, feeling exposed, as though every emotion running through her was suddenly plain on her face, that not even the darkness could hide it. Jamie sensed the change and bore an expression of confusion on his face, yet not speaking a word, watching her and wondering what on earth she’d do next.

Claire stood up promptly and looked at her watch, blinking a few times before moving around the bed. Her eyes were looking everywhere but at him, a sudden awkwardness hitting her. She felt suffocated in this tiny room all of a sudden.

“It’s late… I have to go.” She said formally, her tone holding no softness but a direct command, like she was on the wards again directing the younger nurses around.

“Aye…” Jamie nodded, turning to watch her like she was some tropic beast, the likes of which he’d never seen before.

Claire felt suddenly angry and guilty all of a sudden. There was something there, something she couldn’t deny and she had almost lost herself to whatever it was. It would have been easy to forget Frank then and she doubted he’d blame her. She had not seen her husband in many years with the war having torn them apart but they would again, Claire knew it in her heart. She was a nurse and relations like these with her patients was not acceptable. It all seemed to hit her like bus – what had she been thinking? Wasting hours with this man, a perfect stranger when others in direr circumstances needed her help.

“You can leave tomorrow.” She said freezing by the door. This news hit Jamie like a slap in the face, perhaps it was her tone and the way she said it, or perhaps it was the idea he was going to be free of this place at last.

“I-I can let you out… You’re perfectly healthy and there’s no reason for you to stay here anymore.” Claire said, lifting her eyes to look at him. Her face was free of all expression, it was hard and cold and her words cool.

Jamie merely nodded at her, accepting that something had changed within her and he knew exactly why. He knew because she had not been the only one to sense there was something going on, Claire had merely been wiser than to act upon it and Jamie wondered then if he might have been tempted. She was a married woman of course, which silently made him seethe the tiniest bit with jealousy for the man that had got there before him. She might have been enough reason to stay, but fate had not made it so and so he would respect it. Not to mention a man with a price on his head was no use to any woman. It was better this way, he supposed.

Claire left without so much as a goodbye. A part of her would be desperately sorry to see him go but she had broken every rule in the book, she was consorting with one of her patients in a manner deemed unacceptable, some might even go as far to say she was taking advantage. No, it was better to end this now, whatever this was and send him on his way, where the guilt of temptation could not destroy her anymore.

 

*****

 

It was around two o’clock the next day when Claire had gone to fetch Jamie from the tiny room. He was dressed in the clothes she had given him, a pair of dark trousers and a white linen shirt, brought together with a brown tweed jacket. The hospital had quite a lot in the way of men’s clothes, either donated by widowed women for soldiers needing clothed or from the soldiers themselves, who had died here, leaving no one to claim their belongings.

Jamie looked like a picture. Tall and bold, his head almost hit the low ceiling. His hair was brushed back and it hung in a delicate wave by his shoulders and he was clean shaven, making him look younger and Claire wondered just what age he might be. He looked incredibly handsome suited up and ready to face the world again, a world away from the muddy warrior he looked like when they brought him in. His kilt was in a brown package along with his other belongings such as his dirk and his sword which Claire had wrapped up for him, despite a war going on, to see a Scotsman over six foot walking down the hall with a large longsword was bound to frighten anyone.

“All right… Mr MacTavish.” Claire said, finished looking at him at last and despite herself, a small smile had found its way onto the corner of her mouth.

“Come with me.” She said, turning to leave the room and have him follow her to the front desk where she could sign him out.

Jamie looked incredibly awkward and scratched and pulled at his collar like a toddler who didn’t like the idea of wearing fine clothes.

“What have ye got me in lass, I feel like a doll sewed into these trousers!” He complained as they walked. “Oh aye, and just what is that wee mental thing on my trousers? I had to fasten it to keep them on, ye never heard of laces?” His face was screwed up in confusion as he wriggled in the jacket that was probably nipping him under the arms with his shoulders being so broad.

Claire’s eyes merely widened as he talked about the fly on his trousers, thankful that he couldn’t see her face. Men rarely spoke of anything of the sort with a woman, it would almost be like her discussing the mechanics of her brassiere with him. “Laces?” She decided to pick up on. “This isn’t the sixteenth century, Jamie.”

“Aye, that’s my point.” He replied, fiddling with the buttons of his shirt, the top two left open, exposing a bit of his bare chest and the bristling red chest hair that poked through. He seemed in awe at the simplest of things and looked at Claire as though she were some kind of magician.

Before long they were at the front desk and Claire noticed how on the way Jamie seemed to look with widened eyes and mouth hung ajar at the many nurses passing by and made general comments of distaste about their uniforms as though they were women of the night. He also seemed extremely fascinated by a wheelchair and wondered where on earth she’d managed to find such a thing, as though she had singlehandedly invented it. Overall though, he seemed incredibly fascinated by the brightness of the stark white corridors and black and white tiled floor and took general amusement at the sound of his clicking heels against it. It was almost as if he was from an alien planet.

“All right…” Claire said finally, looking at him. This would be their parting now, she supposed. So many people passed through this hospital and she’d helped many, many men. However, none of them had been like Jamie. None of them boasted quite a backstory to begin with. Although she was startled last night to realise her attention towards him was not at all professional, she’d be lying to herself if she thought she wouldn’t miss him.

“This is it, then.” Jamie said finally, like a child leaving the nest for the first time and about to enter the world. He looked at Claire and saw a pain in her eyes, which made his smile vanish when he realised this would be the last time he’d even see the enchanting nurse with wild bushy curls and whiskey coloured eyes.

“You just need to sign here…” Claire tore her gaze away, moving to the clipboard on the desk to distract herself she lifted the blue ballpoint pen and crossed an X at the bottom of the paper.

Jamie glanced down at the sheet with fascination, lifting the pen as though he’d never seen anything like it before. He jabbed it in the paper a few times before scribbling slightly. “And no ink pot? It just does that itself?” He asked, looking at her with a wide grin on his face.

“Yes… Stop that…” She tried stopping him from drawing squiggly lines all over the document. “Sign your name at the X” She directed and he did so, setting the pen down and turning to her once more and they bid each other farewell.

“Goodbye to ye then, Sassenach.” He nodded, serious to the situation. His lips turned up at the corners but oddly, he did not feel happy to be leaving. However, he could not stay here forever.

“Goodbye Mr MacTavish… And good luck.” She replied, knowing the journey ahead of him.

They watched each other for a few more minutes, neither not knowing what to do or say. While their meeting had been brief, Claire knew she might never be able to shake this bizarre man from her mind, she’d think of him often and wonder just what became of him, that was a certainty. She wanted to ask him if they could stay in touch writing letters but thought better of it. That would not be appropriate.

After what seemed like an eternity he moved to hug her and she didn’t pull away or refuse. She fell into his arms and wrapped her own around his neck. He felt huge under her and smelt of vanilla from the soap he’d used. The embrace was tight and comforting, but brief. Claire broke away, forcing herself to, fearing that she might never muster the courage to wave him goodbye if she did not.

“Your car will be here…” She said finally, turning to walk through the large red door that led outside and sure enough, a black car was waiting to take him wherever he chose.

“You’re sure you’ll be all right? You don’t want to phone your uncles or anything?” Jamie shook his head, she had talked about the telephone before and he had no idea what it was and knew for certain his Uncles wouldn’t have one, whatever they were. Not to mention writing letters would be unwise given his predicament.

“No, I’ll be fine lass…” He said, following her. “I know the roads like the back of my hand.” He left the hospital and felt a rush of cold, damp air hit his face, preparing himself to mount this horse called ‘Car’ or so she’d said, an odd name.

But there were no horses. In fact, there were no stables, carriages or carts. What met him was a long black stretch of road and on it, a black thing that he couldn’t even begin to explain.

“Jamie?” Claire asked, turning to him to see what the holdup was. He had turned pale and had that stricken look on his face again. Frozen to the spot, his eyes were glued to the car which was sitting patiently waiting for him.

“What is that?” He asked slowly, raising a finger to point at it.

Claire blinked and looked back and forth between him and the car.

“That’s your taxi…” Claire wore a face of confusion now.

At first she had thought this to be some sort of joke, but Jamie was frozen on the spot, looking around him as though seeing everything for the first time, searching for something else he didn’t know the name of. Claire could see where this was going and quickly retreated up the steps and pulled him back into the hospital, managing to sit him down on one of the benches that lined the corridor.

“Jamie.” She had hunkered down to face him, and grabbed his hand in her own, checking his pulse that was beating erratically. “Jamie, what’s the matter? Tell me what’s wrong?”

Jamie looked at her with a face of horror. It didn’t’ hold anger this time, but instead a fear.

“Ye weren’t lying about the year then, lass?” He asked, and immediately she recalled their conversation, or rather outburst with the newspaper.

“No.” She shook her head, frowning and unable to understand.

Jamie ran a hand through his hair, beads of sweat gracing his brow again. He hid his face in his hands before brushing her away and standing up, sighing loudly.

“I thought they were just stories… folk tales…” He began, talking gibberish to himself. “I didna think the fairy hill was real!” He shouted at in exasperation, so much so that people in the waiting room where beginning to stare.

Claire glanced up and quickly guided him into a small examination room, sitting him down on the bed and shutting the door, not wanting anyone to overhear this situation. Instead, everyone merely assumed he had received terrible news, and maybe he had.

“What’s all this about a fairy hill? What’re you talking about?” She demanded in a whisper, fearing someone might hear and he’d be questioned further and then sent off to some mental institution. Though for the moment, Claire couldn’t disagree it would be the worst place for him.

“I can’t tell you lass… You’ll think I’ve gone mad!” His tone was desperate, as his eyes zapped around the room yet not looking at anything, his mind was racing, trying to come up with a way out of this.

“I already think you’ve gone mad; now will you tell me!” She demanded at once, truly sick of his strange ways and the confusion and mystery that seemed to shroud him, she’d had enough now.

“I think I’ve… I think I’ve fallen through time.” He spat out at last and Claire merely stared at him.

Silence fell upon them now, they could have been the only two people in the hospital or the whole world, Claire wouldn’t have noticed. She was too wrapped up in Jamie and the words he’d just spoken. Her first thought of course was to pull that needle from her pouch again and call Matron, sealing his fate at a mental institute. But she couldn’t, because as odd as it might seem, she didn’t entirely think he was lying. Perhaps he was just an eccentric person; did she really know him after all?

“I-I was running ye ken, and the next thing I know I’m at these standing stones and I touched one of them and I-I thought… I thought I’d just passed out, I thought it was the bullet wound but I knew, I knew it was different. There was a buzzing and I felt sick wi’ it and it was horrible, I thought it was just cos I’d been shot but-“ He rambled and he did so with a deep fear in voice. It was difficult to determine what exactly he was saying since most of it had turned into a deep Scottish lull, his accent now a lot thicker and he spat out the words in a frantic pace, desperately trying to make sense of it all. Claire didn’t stop him, instead she allowed him to get it out his system before she grasped him by the wrists and shook him to look at her.

“Calm down.” She ushered, but he didn’t deter from his story. Instead he looked at her with wide eyes again.

Calm down? I just tell you I’m from the year seventeen-forty-three and ye tell me to calm doon?” He spat out in astonishment, his face puzzled.

“So all that talk about the redcoats and being flogged and thinking you were going to be hanged… It’s because you’re from the eighteenth century?” Claire blinked a few times, putting together the pieces over the last few days. She had to admit, speaking the words out loud really did sound bizarre but she felt a lot better having said them, understanding now why Jamie felt the need to explain every detail to her.

“Aye lass… Get your wee jabber out and prick me wi’ it… I know you’re going to.” He said, sighing and sitting back. It was almost as if he’d gave up, as though he was cornered in this room with no way out and no one could save him, that he had no choice now and would have to meet his fate.

“I’m not.” Claire said at last, standing up to full height. She brushed herself down, as she often did to try and get some composure before she looked at him, square in the eye.

“Because I believe you.”

Maybe she should have pricked herself in the arm with her needle or committed herself into the care of the hospital. Maybe she’d gone mad herself. Why was she believing a man she’d just met, a man she knew nothing about that spun bizarre tales and had an even stranger history? He was just a patient and she was just a nurse. He was free to go, she could easily toss him out and never look at him again, he wasn’t her problem anymore.

But Claire found herself believing his strange story because when she looked him in the eye, she saw the raw honesty in them and she felt the trust between them tighten even stronger than before. They were bound now, whatever mess he was in, she was now in it with him, whether she liked it or not.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

FEELINGS DEEPEN

 

As bizarrely as it seemed, a tall, redheaded Scotsman was sitting on her sofa. Claire had managed to free herself from her work for a while to take Jamie here, to her small house. He sat there, almost in a daze and his face a ghostly pale. He had said very little beyond their conversation in the side room at the Hospital. Claire couldn’t imagine what inner turmoil he must be going through, having just found out the year and having to adapt to his surroundings fairly quickly. Despite her having complete faith in him for a peculiar reason, she couldn’t help but question whether this all was actually happening, whether he wasn’t just truly mad and she was just being terribly naïve.

Stirring the tea for what felt like an eternity, Claire finally snapped out of her own inner turmoil to bring the tray forward to the small living area. It was a reasonably tiny two story house, but sweet in its own way. It would be an ideal first home to a newly married couple, just planted in the middle of the Scottish countryside on a small street, just around the corner from the bustling town centre. The rooms were small but held a cosy feel, with small square windows and low ceiling rooms with dark beams across them. It was all held neatly in the confinements of a small garden, that currently lay overgrown with flowers and weeds sprouting everywhere. Claire had managed to make the place look presentable, but nothing of this house said home. Apart from her little collection of books that filled the hollows of the bookshelves perhaps and the framed photograph of her and Frank beside the telephone and on her nightstand, simply to remind her that she didn’t have to make a home here, this was not her home. It was only a temporary place to live until the end of the war.

Claire had found Jamie where she left him. He still sat bolt upright in the green sofa, looking much too tall and huge in contrast to the small room. Claire set down the tray of tea and biscuits and sat beside him, unable to know what to say or do. After all, she had never been in a situation like this before.

“Tea?” Claire asked, turning to look at his dazed expression. It took him a few moments to register her presence, he blinked a few times like a large owl before forcing a smile and nodding. Within moments, Claire pushed a delicate teacup into his huge paw.

“Thank ye.” He muttered after a long moment. She could tell how awkward he felt, she felt it too, yet she imagined he felt it more. Here he was, a stranger, in a strange place with absolutely no one to turn to. Claire suddenly felt her heart sink with pity for him, unable to offer him anything besides gentle hospitality.

“It’ll be all right, you know.” Was all she could say. In a flicker, his slanted blue eyes caught hers. “Will it?” He asked, and he was right. How did Claire know everything would be fine? She didn’t and her eyes fell away from his, staring into her lap, wishing she had something better to say.

“I’m sorry.” He said suddenly, making her glance up again. “I kent you’re only trying to be kind. You’ve been more than kind, truly. I can’t offer ye my thanks enough.” The sincerity dripped from his words and she could tell how much he meant them. Claire offered a smile and he returned it easily. Yet nothing hid the reality of the situation. That here they were, two strangers with no idea how to begin digging themselves out of the mess they were in.

“Do you know how to get back?” Claire asked hesitantly. They had not mentioned the fact that he was from the eighteenth century since he’d told her. It felt odd asking, yet she had to, if they were to get anywhere. She couldn’t help but think that saying it out loud was almost like cementing the madness.

“Back to Inverness or my own time?” Jamie asked, his voice sounded tired, as though the answer had been obvious. He shook off his own sarcasm by sipping delicately at the tea for a moment. “I’ve no idea. I dinna even know how I managed it in the first place.”

Claire was sure there were no books to offer light on the subject and there was no one they could go to, to seek advice on the matter that wouldn’t throw them out at the first mention of time travel. Whatever the answer to all this was, they had to figure it out on their own. In the middle of a war.

“I canna tell you how scairt I am lass.” Jamie’s voice broke the long silence, his words an outburst as though he had been holding it in for so long, desperate to break free. Claire turned to look at him once more. His eyes held nothing but pure terror and his voice trembled with a fear she didn’t want to contemplate.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Claire found herself whispering, placing a hand on top of his in an attempt to soothe him. How big and fierce he looked, how frightened Matron had been when she had first discovered him. Yet he seemed so gentle and warm, there was no doubting he could defend himself, he was a warrior to the backbone, but now Claire realised how human he was. Even if he was from the eighteenth century. Even if he wasn’t. There was something in those eyes that drew her, like the snapping together of two magnets. Claire knew she had to do whatever it took to help him, but even she did not want to question what that would cost her, for the cold slithering feeling right in the pit of her stomach, could not be for nothing.

“I’m going to help you.” She whispered again as Jamie’s eyes bore into her own. She felt him relax under her touch, the magic of a few softly spoken words of reassurance.

“And if ye cannot?” He asked, his brows only arching slightly with a touch of curiosity.

“I made you a promise. I don’t intend on breaking it.” Claire found herself saying, with the addition of a smile at the end. Jamie seemed somewhat content now that he was not absolutely alone.

“We need to devise a plan.” Claire said, after a moment, pulling her hand away from his and curling it around her own teacup, feeling the burn of the hot tea inside warm her palms.

“A plan?” Jamie asked, intrigued to understand where she was going with this.

“Yes… We need to see if you actually can go back and the only way we can do that is by going to Inverness.” Claire explained, somehow suddenly sounding very hopeful. Jamie’s own spirits perked up at this and he was eager to hear more.

“Now, by car…” She thought, estimating the journey time before Jamie interrupted.

“That odd box thing with wheels, ye mean?” He asked, recalling the bizarre black thing he had seen waiting outside the hospital for him.

Claire nodded, and Jamie frowned.

“I canna get in one of those things.” He informed her.

“Why not?” She asked.

“I’ve already travelled through stones, I don’t intend to go travelling in cars, next.” The way he pronounced cars sounded very strange indeed, as though the word contained too many vowels. ‘caaars’, complete with a Scottish purr made it sound like it was some exotic animal.

Claire couldn’t help but laugh at this, almost knocking her tea over her skirt. Jamie did not share her humour, however.

“Jamie, you’re not going to travel through time by riding in a car!” She told him, but he wasn’t convinced. “It’s like… Riding in a carriage! Only much faster.” Was the only comparison she could give him, but his frown didn’t disappear, nor did the apprehension from his eyes.

“Aye, well I dinna see two horses pulling it!” He demanded. “No… It made an odd roaring sound, like it was coming alive… That canna be God willing.” He shook his head with a definite refusal.

Claire laughed again. There was nothing funny about the situation, but he had such an odd way of putting things. Never did she ever expect herself having to explain modern machinery, but here she was.

“Glad I amuse ye, lass.” Jamie said, a smile spreading on his own lips at her candid laughter. They shared a laugh a moment, and Claire suddenly felt a lot lighter having got it out of her system. Jamie did too. As though whatever ice was between them, the awkward tension that had followed them from the hospital, had melted away.

“How about a train then? Or a bus?” Claire tried, realising as soon as she said the words, that it was no use.

“Do ye no just use ordinary horses?” Jamie asked at last, his face the expression of mere confusion at whatever it was she was trying to make him understand.

Claire sighed with defeat, a smile still lingering there on the edge of her lips.

“I’m not sure where I’m supposed to find two horses, but all right… Horseback it is. Hopefully we get there before next century at least!” Claire looked at him again and they both burst out laughing, though this time, they were unable to stop.

They laughed long and hard together, like two old friends. Claire had not known this man a week ago, she didn’t even know what he intended to do once they got to Inverness. But at present, it didn’t seem to matter. Everything between them seemed to form together, into a warmness that settled in the hollow of her stomach.

Over the coming hours, all talk of Inverness and their plans to get there were lost. They talked for hours about many things, mostly Jamie was intrigued to learn about the new inventions that the twentieth century brought, and he was enthralled by all of them, if a little wary.

“And electricity helps run everything, such as the lighting for example.” Claire explained, watching Jamie take all of this in with great curiosity.

“Lighting?” He asked.

“Yes… In the eighteenth century, you would have used candles and fire as your main source of light. Whereas, now we use electricity.” Jamie seemed to understand, although he was still confused as to how lighting actually worked, forcing Claire out of her seat to go and switch a light on. It had just dawned on her that the sky outside was growing dark anyway, but being so deep in conversation, she doubted she’d have noticed.

“Look…” She moved to the side table by the fireplace and tugged on the beaded cord, to which the lamp buzzed to light, illuminating the dark room at once.

Jamie jumped backward a bit on the chair, eyes transfixed on the lampshade. Claire thought this rather amusing.

“One wee tug and you’ve light?” He asked, looking from the lamp to Claire, as though she were a mysterious sorceress with magic emitting from her fingertips. “It’s that simple?”

“Yes, basically.” Claire said, as Jamie edged closer to the lamp before moving to touch it, looking down the lampshade at the glowing bulb underneath.  Claire took this opportunity to go to the wall by the door and switch the ceiling light on. Jamie almost dropped the lamp in amazement.

He glanced up at the ceiling with awe, staring at the light before blinking and pulling his wide eyes away, staring at Claire with a grin of astonishment.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.” He commented, naturally. He set the lamp down while Claire switched the ceiling light off and moved to the record player by the bookshelf.

Flicking through the numerous records in her small collection, she decided on a classic and set it to play, feeling Jamie’s curious eyes burn into her, probably wondering what on earth she was toying with.

The first booming cords of Glenn Miller’s ‘Moonlight Serenade’ filled the room and Jamie perked up at the sound of it. Claire turned to watch him with a satisfied grin. If he was astonished by the miracles of electricity, then his mind would be blown at the idea of a record player.

“What’s that?” He asked, getting up from his seat to cross the room to her, his hands outstretched to touch the foreign item.

“A record player.” Claire said, “It plays music. Songs are recorded onto these things…” She pointed at her filed collection of cardboard envelopes. “Records. Then you put them on this – a record player.” She poked the spinning disk. “And you can listen to the song over and over again, as many times as you like.” This of course seemed all too much for Jamie to take in right now, he was currently watching the spinning record with amazement as it zapped around.

It didn’t last however, the song was cut short by a large zipping sound as Jamie pawed at the machine, knocking the needle off and then jumping back clumsily, as though he’d just destroyed a rare artefact. Claire merely laughed and went to setting the needle back again, to which the familiar cords of one of her favourites continued.

“The music…” Jamie said after a moment. “What kind is it? I’ve never heard anything like it before.”

“It’s jazz.” Claire replied, but Jamie was no more enlightened. “It’s called Moonlight Serenade, by a man named Glenn Miller.” She told him with a little chuckle at his innocence at it all.

“Moonlight Serenade…” He repeated, looking down at the record. “I like it.” A smile spread out on his lips, and Claire watched as he listened to the new sound, the like of which he’d never heard before. It was sweet, his reaction, at least Claire thought so. He was like a child who’d just seen a gleaming aeroplane for the first time, blown away by something he never thought possible before. However, Claire thought the discussions of aeroplanes could be put off for now, while he wrapped his head around basic modern machinery.

“It’s a popular one at dance halls… Very famous.” Claire went on, reading the back of the large envelope in which the record had been encased, a small description of Glenn Miller on the back, but otherwise useless in terms of information.

“Dance halls?” Jamie repeated with curiousity.

“Yes… Halls where people go to dance for an evening.” Claire replied. “My husband and I liked dancing to this one.” It recalled fond memories, of a time before this awful war tore them apart.

“I’ve never been fond of dancing myself.” Jamie told her, shaking his head as if to emphasise his distaste of it. Claire gave him a coy look. “Oh really?” She said, with a smirk teetering on the edge of her lips. “Well I’m sure your idea of dancing is quite different than mine, there is a two-hundred-year difference after all.” Jamie merely nodded in acknowledgement.

What she did next caught him off guard completely. Claire grabbed his hands, entwining them with her own, looking up at him with a wide smile of amusement on her face.

“I’m positive you’ve never waltzed before.” Claire said, watching him.

“Waltzed? What in the name of God is that?” He asked, frowning down at her with a look of puzzlement on his face and altogether rather stiff.

“All right… Well you place this hand on my waist.” She moved to push his arm down and his hand gripped at her waist, while pushing his other arm up and out. “Now… Move your feet back onetwo… And forward… onetwo…” She explained, pushing him backwards and forwards. “Careful not to stand on my feet.” She noted, with a gentle chuckle as his stumbled awkwardly. “Try not to look at your feet either, just… Move.”

They continued for a while, with Claire laughing at how stiff he was and how he seemed unable to follow simple instruction. Jamie merely shared her laughter, though going the tiniest bit red in the face. “I told ye I dinna like dancing!” He protested down at her with a shrug. “Odd dance that it is.”

“Yes well, many people enjoy it. Clearly you just need more practice.” She told him with a surety.

“Do you like it?” He asked, wondering how anyone could.

“Well… Yes, I suppose it’s all right. If you’ve got time for that sort of thing.” She replied, wondering for the moment if she did like dancing. It made her think of Frank, how they’d moulded together and danced easily and enjoyed it, or rather enjoyed the intimacy of it.

“And you don’t have time?” Jamie asked, curious as to why she would not.

Immediately Clare felt very cold, as though she were an outsider, looking in at the scene they had created. In entirety it was just casual innocence, her teaching Jamie how to dance. But right now, being so close, it felt wrong. The last time she’d been held in someone’s embrace like this, was long before the war, when the man holding her was not a tall Scottish stranger but her husband.

Claire pulled away from him immediately, breaking free of his hold before moving to abruptly put an end to the music that filled the room. A deafening silence surrounded them now, and Claire gripped at the record, as though it might snap beneath her fingers, but she didn’t care. All she could feel was Jamie’s eyes staring into her back, waiting for an explanation. But Claire could not give him one. What was she doing? So many times that question seemed to fill her head and every time she’d brushed it away with the surety that somehow this would all make sense. Who was this man? Did she truly know him? And here he was, in her house, with her spilling every detail of her life out to him.

“Have a done something wrong, lass?” Jamie broke the silence after what seemed like an eternity. His voice was shrouded in confusion, as though he didn’t know whether to stay or go, but he had nowhere to go.

“No.” Claire replied after a moment, easing her grip on the record before turning around to look at him. Guilt swam through her veins, and alarm bells rang in her head at how incredibly stupid she was being. She had never been irresponsible, she was always the smart one, wise beyond her years and doing everything she thought she ought to. Frank would think her so very foolish, she could almost hear his shrill tones in her head, shouting at how silly she was behaving, not using her head and putting her life on the line because of it, taking unnecessary risks.

“I don’t know what I’m doing.” Suddenly everything was so confusing and rational thought seemed impossible. She frowned, sighing out at last the last bit of emotion left in her. What exactly was going on here? Who was this bizarre gentleman standing in front of her, claiming to be from the eighteenth century? Surely, it all couldn’t be real.

“I’m married!” She said at last, swallowing down the angry tears that threatened to spill, looking up to meet his gaze, a flash of fury rushing through her.

“Aye lass… You’ve said.” Jamie replied, there was no malice or cruel feeling to his words, but it made Claire’s eyes flash up to meet his and instantly she felt the hot flush of embarrassment sting her face. She had told him, several times. Did she think he’d forget a large detail such as that?

Claire brushed herself down, before moving to quickly collect the crockery from the coffee table to take it to kitchen. Just something, anything to distract herself from what was happening.

Jamie stood motionless beside the record player, feeling like a sore thumb. He didn’t know what to do or say and embarrassment stung his own face. There was simply no use trying to correct the situation, he knew as well as she did what was happening, he could only thank the heavens that she had the common sense to stop it because he wasn’t sure he’d have been able to. Yet now, she was the one feeling embarrassed, he didn’t know her that well, but he could easily tell she was trying her best to busy herself with any idle task rather than confront him about it.

“Maybe it would be best if I left, Sassenach.” He said after a moment. Stepping forward a bit, his voice raised only slightly so she could hear him. For a moment, he glanced to the window which was streaked with rain. A storm was brewing while they had lost themselves to conversation. Not the most ideal travelling weather, but he’d done worse. Staying no longer seemed an option, he had clearly overstayed his welcome and felt he was already trying Claire’s kindness toward him.

Claire had blocked everything out of her mind and concentrated on scrubbing the delicate dishes in the sink, which was now overflowing with bubbles. She heard him say something, but she had decided to ignore it, to collect herself before she could possibly go and face him and pull together some explanation. God, what had she been thinking? He knew she was married, whatever signs she had been picking up, had obviously been wrong. These feelings that swarmed within her could easily be put down to loneliness, the yearning part of her soul that called for Frank. But what had she been thinking to contemplate acting on them? And what did Jamie now think of her for making her intentions plain as day, for accusing him of trying to force her to act on those feelings? She was being ridiculous. And now she had to try and repair this.

Dumping the saucer into the sink of dishwater with a satisfying ‘plop’ as it sank, Claire quickly dried her hands before moving to the living area again to try and come up with an apology of some sort.

“Jamie?” Claire called, when she was greeted by an empty room and no trace of the tall Scotsman in it.  “Jamie?” She tried again, walking through to the hall and up the staircase to the pokey bathroom. The house lay in darkness, with no sign of Jamie in it. Where had he gone? Suddenly, Claire found her heart in her mouth as she thought instantly of his brown packages full of the things she’d wrapped up for him at the Hospital. They were gone, which clearly meant he had left.

Claire’s mind was racing. He didn’t know the area; he didn’t even know motorcars existed until a few hours ago. She couldn’t let him roam about in the dark and risk the thought of him getting knocked down or greeted by an even worse fate. Without thinking, Claire grabbed the first thing that her hand fell upon at the door and raced out onto the street, only to be greeted by the downpour of heavy rain and a cold blast of wind sending her hair askew. Unfortunately, her coat of choice to shield her from the disastrous weather, was not a coat at all, but a thin maroon cardigan which she wrapped herself in before going to find Jamie, before something terrible happened to him.

“Jamie!” She called out into the night, walking up the dark street. She had only been out of the house for a few moments but she was already soaking. Her blue nurse’s uniform was soaked through to the skin, making her wrap the cardigan around her even tighter, it did little in the way of warmth however. Her usually bushy brown hair was plastered to her face, making her squint as her golden eyes searched the darkness for a glimpse of the red headed Scot.

Oh God, where are you?” She muttered to herself as she reached the end of the street. Her calls would be lost to the sound of the rain and wind, and it was too dark to know where she was going. He could be anywhere. Why did she have to be so blunt, so accusing in her manner that she had forced him to leave? Today she had signed him out of the hospital and now she feared he might be committed again, with worse wounds than before and because of her.

“Jamie!” She called, but with a sigh of defeat she had all but given up when she caught sight of a tall man ahead of her, across the street at the crossroads, glaring intently at a road sign. Her heart leapt; it was Jamie.

“Jamie!” She said, this time with a sigh of relief as she crossed the road, her shoes full of water from the puddles that had sprung up everywhere, like a minefield. “There you are!” She said as she reached him, but Jamie didn’t stir. Instead his eyes were transfixed on the signpost, which read ‘Inverness 155 miles’.

“About 3 days walk…” Jamie said aloud to Claire, tapping the sign and sighing. “Aye, it can be done.” He said to himself, before his eyes turned to fall upon Claire. Instantly his eyes widened in horror.

“Christ, woman! Ye planning to catch yer death?” Within moments he had tugged off his tweed jacket and wrapped it about her. It was still warm, hot even, and Claire wanted to purr like a cat at the delight of it. She had not realised how cold she was, too concerned about Jamie, but now when he brought her mind to it, she felt her body sting with icy numbness and instantly, she began to shake.

“I’m fine!” She protested, a bit too late, her teeth nattering. “You’re one to talk about catching death! What were you thinking, running out like that?” Claire scolded, frowning at once. His red hair looked much darker wet, and it was plastered to his face, like her own. His white shirt was now practically see through, already soaking from the rain.

“Well lass, I think we’ll both catch our deaths if we stand out here much longer. We’ll go back then, aye?” He said, with his usual way of putting things, casting brightness and humour onto an otherwise sombre subject. However, his last words were a question and not a statement.

“Yes… I… I can’t leave you out here. I’m sorry.” She said at last, her face full of the shame she felt before.

“You’ve nothing to be sorry for, Sassenach.” Jamie said, and he wrapped an arm about her and rubbed gingerly to try and gather some heat, before they both returned to the house.

They had returned to the scene they left before, only this time Claire was less agitated and Jamie more content. Claire had fetched him a towel and he dried, while she went to peel her soaking nurses uniform from her, putting on a white cotton nightdress and tying a silky rose pink dressing gown over her, for modesty more than warmth.

“Do you want a cup of tea?” Claire asked as she stepped into the room again, to find Jamie where she left him this time, on the sofa. His hair was scraggy like a dogs and damp still.

“No thank ye, Sassenach… Though I would be partial to a wee dram, to warm me if anything else.” Jamie said, watching her. Claire’s hair was wildly bushy about her face, but it framed it sweetly and if anything, was endearing.

“Are you cold?” Claire asked, suddenly. “I would’ve lit the fire, only it was so late… But I can now, if you’d like?” She immediately felt like a terrible host, having a freezing house guest and little to do about it.

“Dinna trouble yerself lass, a dram will be fine.” He waved a hand and Claire smiled sheepishly, before vanishing to fetch two glasses.

“I’ve never been partial to drinking whiskey myself.” Claire told him, as she sat down and screwed open a large bottle of fine Scotch Whiskey. “But I thought, being in Scotland and all, it was rather a necessity.”

“Aye well, you would be right there, lass. And ye canna beat a wee dram, especially on a night such as this.” Jamie replied as Claire poured, before collecting the small glass in his hand and downing the liquid, which burned at his throat, a warm familiar feeling that filled his stomach with a glow.

Claire did the same, however she didn’t down the whole glass, instead screwing her face up at the strong taste before it too slid down and settled within her, creating a nice warmth.

As easy as breathing, Claire’s eyes fell upon Jamie’s. The deep blue hues pulling her golden gaze to him. They sat in silence, watching one another. Jamie’s lips curved the slightest bit and Claire simply let a delicate huff of air out through her nose in reply before her own lips twisted into a smile. It was one of those looks that if too long, threatened the invisible boundaries of friendship. It did last too long and Claire realised it too late, tugging her eyes away and toying with her glass idly, before a thought struck her.

“Now, let’s have a look at that shoulder.” She said at once, her eyes meeting his once again, only this time with eager anticipation.

At once, Jamie’s face screwed up confusion. “My shoulder’s fine!” He protested, but Claire was already across the room in search for her first aid box, which was rather well equipped.

“That rain can’t have done it much good.” Claire replied as she dug in her side cabinet. “I just want to check it’s healing… The moisture might have upset the process.” She moved over the back of the sofa then, watching him with a glare.

Jamie knew exactly what that glare meant and sighed, before unbuttoning his shirt and taking it off, revealing his injured shoulder, covered in a damp bandage.

Claire touched his skin, it was surprisingly hot and tiny droplets of sweat covered his body, as though he’d just had a steam bath. Claire instantly touched his forehead, as he mopped his hair from his eyes. His forehead was not that warm, meaning he didn’t have a temperature.

“Are you always this hot?” She asked.

“Aye… Well, I feel fine if that’s what ye mean.” He replied, rather confused.

Claire merely went on with her work, peeling off the bandage to find the scab had not broken. The skin around it was no longer angry looking, or pink for that matter. Everything was as it should be.

“It looks fine… Let me just bandage it up again.” She said, digging in her first aid kit, as Jamie rubbed his neck gingerly.

“It itches something terrible.” He noted with irritation.

“That’s good, means it’s healing.” She replied quickly, before she bandaged him up again and informed him that a few more days was all she estimated he keep it on for.

It was late, Claire did not care to look at the clock however. The storm still raged outside but now, it merely gave an even cosier feel to her small home. She tidied the whiskey away, as well as her first aid kit before watching Jamie, who was still shirtless and sitting on her couch.

“You can stay here.” She said at last, having realised she’d never discussed this with him beforehand. “I don’t exactly know you all that well… But I trust you.” She was leaning over the sofa and met his eyes with a respectful gaze that he returned. “I promised to help you and I will.”

“I thank ye lass… But…” He broke his gaze from hers and scratched the back of his neck, awkwardly.

“What is it?” Claire stood up a little straighter and watched him.

“Well… I mean, you being married and all…” He said, and Claire couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy at where he was going with this. “I canna go about souring your reputation.” He burst out at last.

Claire couldn’t help but feel a twinge of confusion, mixed with a humourous huff that made her lips curl. “My reputation?” She repeated, quizzically.

“Aye… You’re a marrit woman. Ye canna have me staying here. I mean, what would everyone think? What would your husband think?” Jamie was rather determined now, she’d even go as far to say he was angry but thought better of it, she decided it was passion instead, a passion to defend his honour as well as hers.

Claire laughed, which merely made Jamie’s face screw up in confusion again.

“I don’t live here, Jamie… Well, I mean I do. I’m not from here. I don’t know anyone, so I don’t care what they think.” She told him. She knew of some people, as one does when they live in a place for a long time, getting used to familiar faces. She rarely had time for friendship and a social life at that, everyone was too wrapped up in the war effort. There was Peggy two doors down who she spoke to often, she supposed. Peggy was a plump fair haired woman in her late twenties, Claire had first met her when she came knocking on the door one evening with her infant baby, Gracie, alarmed at a harmless rash on her cheek. Since then, she said hello when the need came and they talked sometimes when they were in the back yard together, over the fence. Her husband was off at war, like Claire’s. Which gave them something in common, if anything else.

Then there was Gladys McKinnon who lived right next door to Claire. An old, bitter woman who tied her thick grey hair back in a knot on the back of her head and walked with a cane. She gossiped about everyone and spread misery in her wake. Claire steered clear of her, but that did not mean Gladys would steer clear of her business.

“And yer husband?” Jamie asked, calling her from her thoughts.

“He’s off at war.” Claire replied, a seriousness in her voice this time. “I haven’t seen him in…” Claire closed her eyes trying to recall the date, but opened them just as quick. She didn’t want to remember the last time she saw Frank, all that mattered was the next time she’d see him. “And besides, it’s not like we’re doing anything to be ashamed of!” She blurted out quickly, making Jamie flush a rather bright shade of pink, which made her regret saying those last few words.

“Well… If you’re sure, lass.” Jamie replied after a moment.

“You can have my bed, upstairs. I can sleep on the floor.” Claire told him, to which Jamie stood up and held out his hands in protest. “Nonsense, lass! What kind of man would I be to enter yer house and steal ye of yer bed? I’ll be taking the floor.” He said with finality.

“Jamie, you’re injured. Your shoulder’s already hurting you, a night on the floor won’t do it any good!” Claire demanded just as quick. “It’s my house, and you’ll be sleeping in my bed and there’s nothing more to say on the subject!” It was her tone that rang with finality this time, as she vanished from the room and upstairs.

“Sassenach, I dinna care if my arm is falling off! I willna be sleeping in yer bed!” Came Jamie’s voice as he went after her.

“Sleeping on the floor doesn’t bother me, I’m a nurse – I’ve slept in worse places!” She fought back, turning to him as she reached the top of the staircase. Some nights, she got no sleep at all.

“And I’ve slept on forest floors under the stars plenty a night, lass, It’s nothing to me!” He shot back.

They were arguing, she’d realised. Over sleeping arrangements. It merely made her huff with irritation as she marched into the bedroom and flung open the wardrobe. Her silence however, did not mean he had won the argument, which he so blatantly thought.

On the top shelf where a small collection of Frank’s clothes, from the short time he’d got off to spend with her all those years ago. Having some part of him here with her didn’t make her feel so alone and brought her comfort. Claire brought out a striped pair of blue pyjamas and thrust them into Jamie’s hands as he entered the room, taking him quite off guard.

“My husband’s a bit smaller than you.” That was an understatement. Frank was nowhere near over six foot. “So, they might not fit that well… But, they’ll keep you warm.” Was all she could manage.

“I canna… I canna ask ye to…” He looked down at the folded pile in his arms and back up at her, feeling strangely out of place.

“He’s not dead, you know.” Claire shot back, regretting those words as soon as she’d said them. She couldn’t even contemplate where Frank might be right now, if he was hurt, injured or… dead.

Jamie plainly saw that he’d forced her too much this time and merely nodded, clutching the clothes to his chest and wishing he had something to say for comfort. “Thank ye, lass.” Was all he could muster.

“The bathrooms through there…” She pointed and Jamie went without another word.

Claire looked at the broad double bed in the small room, it was dark and chilly in here and the only sound was the constant thump of rain as it battered off the windows. It made Claire shiver, but she said nothing, not wanting to let Jamie see just how cold she was. She pulled off her robe and went to collect a pillow off the bed before she moved to go and lie on the itchy carpeted floor, wrapping her robe about herself. She had not brought a spare blanket with her to Edinburgh, she had the sole understanding she’d be living alone without guests, and besides the fact, any spares of anything, really, had to be donated to the war effort.

Jamie returned in moments. His eyebrows shot up as he searched for Claire in the darkness, to no avail.

“Sassenach?” He called out, and Claire found herself answering.

“Here!” She replied, poking her head up off the floor to see him. The pyjama bottoms where tight around the waist line and halfway up his calf, whilst the white vest was clearly a size too small, his broad chest bursting beneath it and the night shirt could not even be buttoned. Claire stifled a laugh.

“Claire!” He demanded at once, his tone taking her off guard. “You’ll be getting in that bed now before I lift you into it! It’s too bloody cold for a woman to be out sleeping on the floor, in her own house too!” His tone was final, if a little irritated.

“What kind of host would I be if I let you sleep on the floor?” She asked, leaning on her arm to support her as she glared up at him through the darkness. She was finding his irritation at her a little humourous.

“Never you mind about what kind of host ye are, you’ve been kind enough to me without ye needing to be put out of your own bed!” He seemed angry at her, perhaps he thought her incredibly foolish to volunteer herself a night on the floor for his sake.

“Besides… You’ve this fur all over the floor, I’ll be warm enough.” He said, stamping his feet like a toddler on the carpet, when it just occurred to her that he had never axtually seen carpet before.

Claire laughed. “It’s not fur!” She told him, but waved off his puzzled brow. It was much too late to get into that one.

“Well, we can both agree on one thing.” She said at last, sitting up fully, feeling the ache in her arm from leaning her full weight on it.

“What’s that?” Jamie asked.

“That it’s bloody freezing!” They shared a staggered laugh. “We could always… Share the bed.” Claire said, feeling quite sheepish to even suggest the idea, and with good reason, because Jamie was waving his arms in front of him with definite protest.

“And you a marrit woman, I canna be doing that!” He said at once, as though scandalised by the idea.

“Oh will you shut up with the modest gentleman behaviour?” Claire stood to her feet and huffed. “It was endearing before, but this is just ridiculous!” Jamie was rather caught off guard by her demanding defiance.

“We’re both cold, and it’s not like we’re consummating a marriage!” She said at last, realising now more than ever that he really was from a different time, he simply had to be. “It’s only you and me in here anyway. It’s not like I plan to inform the entire hospital tomorrow that you shared my bed.” Gladys McKinnon however, might just faint at the prospect, had she known.

Claire had succeeded in finally hushing him up. Jamie watched her, considering the prospect before nodding. Perhaps the fact that he was now in the twentieth century instead of the eighteenth was finally setting in. “Aye… All right then.” He said at last, if a little hesitantly.

Claire was reluctant at first, but slowly she clambered into the bed, while Jamie tugged back the covers on his side and did the same.

They lay side by side for a long time, listening the delicate patter of rain against the windows and every so often, a ghostly howl of the wind. Claire wondered what Jamie was thinking, but anything could be swarming about in his mind, anything from what type of whiskey she’d offered him earlier to what kind of woman he thought she was. Did he think less of her for allowing him to share her bed? Had she crossed the boundaries of kindness and generosity in his eyes? He was from a different time altogether, there was no way to be sure what he truly thought.

The chaos of weather outside might be enough to lull her to sleep, Claire thought, had she not been so cold. Her feet felt numb and she was afraid to move. In her mind, came Frank. She wondered what he might think of her, if he could see her now. Would he think she was being generous for offering this stranger a bed? Or unfaithful? The last time she had shared a bed with a man, in fact the only bed she’d shared with any man, had been with Frank.

A thousand thoughts swarmed her mind, as often they did in the late hours, keeping her awake, haunting her. When was the last time Frank wrote to her? It had been months. She didn’t want to think of where he was, likely cold in some army bunker and clutching a photo of her through numb fingers, while here she lay, with a stranger in his place. She was only merely taking for granted that he was safe too, what if he wasn’t, what if he was dead and she was hopelessly waiting for him to come back?

Claire had not realised it, but warm tears streamed from her eyes and down the sides of her face. It was the sharp intake of breath that had betrayed her to Jamie, who was instantly aware that she was crying now. She felt him shift, turning to her and she turned away in the opposite direction, embarrassed. A hand raised to wipe her tear stained cheeks and to disguise the fact all she wanted to do now was sob.

“Are ye all right lass?” Came Jamie’s voice, soft through the darkness, almost a whisper. “Do you want me to go?”

Why was she crying? Because she missed Frank, because she was, in a way, being unfaithful to him by sharing a bed with another man, but most of all because these feelings that fought within her could not be ignored anymore. She did feel something for this man next to her, and that was what made it all worse. But did she want him to leave? Say the word and Jamie would vanish as quickly as he had came, from her life.

“No.” She replied, her voice thick with emotion. She turned to look at him through the darkness, her head still on the pillow while he was slightly raised, looking down at her with a face full of delicate concern.

Claire could hide it no longer. She let out a loud sob and the tears engulfed her to the emotions she had tried so long to bury and hide, pretending they weren’t there. But they had been there the moment she’d laid eyes on the stranger lying next to her. But to refer to him as a stranger was no longer fair either, had he been that then he certainly would not be here, sharing her bed, as innocent as it seemed.

Just as quickly as the sobs left her mouth, Jamie’s arms came about her, tugging her to his chest and wrapping himself around her. His fingers entangled themselves in her catastrophic hair, as he whispered soft Gaelic words of comfort in her ear. He smelt of whiskey and rain and sweat and despite herself, Claire found her arm winding around his chest and hugging tighter to him, her sobs muffled against him. But soon, they softened and died out completely.

They lay like that for hours, both awake yet saying nothing. Claire was tangled up in him, as he lay stroking her head, his nose resting on her hair that smelled sweet, like honey. There was a peace that surrounded them now. Despite everything, wicked thoughts of guilt did not enter Claire’s mind, she felt comfort and solace instead, as though this was where she ought to be, comforted and put at ease by his touch. And so they fell asleep in the wee hours before dawn, the patter of rain lulling them to rest, that and the delicate reassuring thump of Jamie’s heart beneath her cheek.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

WAR SINKS IN

 

Opening her eyes, the next morning, Claire found herself on her back and outstretched over the double bed with the quilt wrapped between her legs. Her eyes ached with tiredness still, but she fought against the urge to go back to sleep and sat up in the bed, scratching her chaotic hair and yawning. That was when the memories of last night came flooding back and all tiredness left her body at once, replaced with an electric bolt like feeling shooting up inside her. There was a small intake of breath as she clambered awkwardly out of the bed to find Jamie, who was seemingly nowhere in sight.

Rushing downstairs to find him in the kitchen, she sighed a small bit with relief to find he had not managed to injure himself with modern appliances. Jamie turned to look at her, having shed the nightshirt and was standing in the bottoms that reached his calf still, and the stretched white vest.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to wake ye, lass.” He said, looking at her. In one hand he held a piece of buttered bread and the other, an apple. Upon the worktop was what looked to be a whole bowl full of the fruit, chopped into slices.

Claire eyed him with confusion, holding onto the doorframe. Although he was holding fairly simple items in the way of preparation, the worktops of her kitchen looked like a warzone. Jamie caught her glancing around and was quick to defend himself.

“Oh aye, I didn’t know… Well, I didn’t know where anything was…” He gave a shrug and an apologetic look.

“What is it you’re trying to do?” She asked with an eyebrow raised.

“Make ye breakfast.” He replied quickly, and she caught the smallest tinge of pink hit his cheeks before he continued, stumbling over his next words. “Well… Ye looked so peaceful, I mean I didn’t want to wake ye and I thought… After all ye did fer me… I thought I could try and… well…” He set down the bread and apples, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly, not knowing what else to say that wasn’t obvious already. Claire’s face broke out in a large grin, before she laughed gently.

“You’re very sweet.” She told him, though her words were genuine. “But don’t feel you have to repay me-”

“But I want to!” He snapped back defensively, before he caught himself and stepped backward, looking a tad sheepish. Claire felt a warm fuzzy feeling inside suddenly, at his generosity towards her.

“All right… What was it you were planning to make me, then?” She inquired, doing her best to not make him feel embarrassed for his kind gesture. Although she wouldn’t say it, she was deeply touched by his kindness.

“Oh well…” Jamie turned to look at the mess he had created with a fierce optimism. “I was planning on making ye some bread with cheese or ham, but then I couldn’t find yer cheese… or yer ham… so I assumed you didn’t have any.” He shrugged, looking at her for guidance and just as she was about to interrupt, he continued. “I wanted to give ye some warm milk as well, but I couldn’t find yer milk either and I didn’t know how to go about heating it up, I mean…” He seemed bashful suddenly, implying something.

“What is it?” She asked, curious to know where this story had headed.

“Well… It’s just that... Ye don’t have a stove. Or any meat I could find.” He seemed to look quite embarrassed to be pointing this out, like it wasn’t his place to say, as though she were in deep poverty and he was imposing on her by being here. “But that’s nought to worry about!” He brushed off, trying to reassure her. “So…” He turned his sombre looking face around to that of optimism again. “I found the bread sitting out here, and there was a bowl filled with a few apples over there…” He pointed by the sink. “And… Well, that’s what I planned on giving ye.” He finished, looking at her now.

Claire met his gaze with a raised brow and then laughed, making Jamie’s face screw up in confusion.

“I think you’ll find my cheese…” She walked into the kitchen and over to the refrigerator. “Is in here, and the milk.” She opened the door, to which a light popped on and lit up the small shelves containing all he needed. “And, I do have a stove… It’s here.” She tapped one of the rings on the cooker beside her, Jamie looked aghast. “I think things have changed a lot in two hundred years though, so thank you for not burning my house down.” She laughed again, and Jamie, while still looking confused, laughed with her.

“See, I thought that thing might have been a stove, but I couldn’t find anywhere or anything to burn logs with.” He informed her after a moment.

Claire lifted the box of matches by the shelf, holding them up for him to see.

“That’s because it’s a gas cooker, you just light the hob with one of these.” Lifting a match from the box, she scratched it along the side of the box, emitting a red flame. Jamie was transfixed, moving to inspect the match before it burned out.

“Fire as quick as that?” He asked, though it was rhetorical.

Claire laughed, setting the matches down to inspect the scene in front of them.

“Apples and bread?” She asked, to which Jamie turned and looked, and then laughed.

“Aye… All I could find.” He shrugged. “Although I thought it was handy you already had the bread sliced.” He told her, making her glance up and laugh once more. “What is it?” He asked, but she didn’t reply this time.

“Go… I’ll make you something.” Claire said, shooing him from the kitchen, deciding a bacon sandwich would suffice.

“No, no…” Jamie seemed a bit annoyed at this. “I wanted to give you it in yer bed.” He admitted, though the cat was well and truly out of the bag.

Claire ignored him and went about lighting the cooker.

“I’ve never had breakfast in bed.” She observed, walking to the fridge.

“Has yer husband never gave you breakfast in bed?” Jamie asked rather bluntly, his voice holding his confusion as though it were some marital tradition she had not partook in, before he remembered himself and his heart dropped.

The humour and light-heartedness in the room seemed to simmer out in seconds, and Claire found her face falling flat of the smile she previously wore, looking up to meet Jamie’s eye.

“No.” She told him after a long moment, before she moved to begin cooking, her back to him.

Jamie felt like an idiot. He had long since realised that any mention of Claire’s husband, whoever the man was, was not the basis for conversation, clearly she disliked him being brought up. Jamie put this down to her missing him, she had said she had not seen him in some time after all, because he was away fighting at this war. Her behaviour last night, all the crying, surely had to mean that, didn’t it?

Looking around the messy kitchen, he felt like a spare part, helpless to do anything.

“Let me clean up…” He began, moving to try and clear up the chopped apple.

“It’s fine.” Claire assured him, glancing at him for only a moment before she returned to the pan.

“It’s the least I can do, look at the state of the-“

“I said it’s fine.” There was a sharpness to her tone, a finality that ended the conversation. She didn’t mean for it to come out so coldly, but it just did. Without saying anything more, Jamie turned to wait in the living room, feeling more useless now, than ever.

Claire’s mood changed in an instant. One moment she was smiling and laughing, forgetting about the painful realities of life, only for it to turn in a second. Jamie had reminded her of Frank, and with it came the sore memories of last night. How she’d shared a bed with another man and sobbed her heart out to him. Embarrassment flushed her cheeks. The guilt seemed to simmer in the pit of her stomach, chasing away her appetite, making the bacon that sizzled in the pan less appealing now.

She couldn’t deny that there was something between her and Jamie, at least for her there was something beyond the average boundaries of friendship. Claire realised she was very close to crossing a line, one that could destroy her marriage. She had been married to Frank for three years before the war had separated them, during their time apart she had only seen him once. Her behaviour last night could be put down to loneliness from missing her husband, it was normal after all. Jamie had been the first man she’d been in close contact with since Frank, maybe that was why she had broken down, yet something within her was not satisfied with that answer, as though the problem lay deeper, but she quickly shook it away, not wanting to admit to anything just now.

Making the sandwiches and tea, Claire left the mess Jamie had made for the moment and brought through his breakfast. He eyed the sandwich with curiosity, but after lifting the slice of bread to check what was underneath, he seemed satisfied and smiled, realising what she was feeding him.

“I’m sorry, it’s not much.” She began, sitting across from him. “I’m not due more rations until next week.”

“No, it’s fine.” He replied. “I like bacon.” He said, taking a generous bite before his brows shot up in confusion. He was about to ask, but thought better of it and chewed and swallowed first.

“Rations? They ration food in the twentieth century?” He asked, seeming shocked by this.

“Oh…” Claire said, sipping her tea. “Only while the war is on. There’s a food shortage, you see, so everyone has to have their food rationed.” She explained.

“How big is this war, Sassenach?” He asked, he seemed to say this more quietly, leaning over to her.

“It’s a world war, the second one.” She informed him as though it were nothing, holding up two fingers.

“Two world wars?” Jamie seemed aghast at this.

“Yes. The first one ended a month after I was born. It went on four years. 1914 until 1918.” She explained, feeling she was giving him more detail than necessary, but he seemed interested. Though, she didn’t want to scare him.

“And this one?” He asked.

“Began in 1939.”

“And what year is it now, again?”

“1945.”

“Lord save us, there’s a terrible long time for a war.” Jamie shook his head, before he ploughed into his sandwich again. Clearly his shock at this news did not have lasting effects.

“Yes.” Claire said quietly to herself with another nod, sipping her tea again.

“What’s it over?” Jamie asked, when he’d finished wolfing the rest of his sandwich down.

“Hmm?” Claire perked up, lost in thought.

“The war, what’s it over?”

“Oh…” She contemplated this. A rather messy ordeal, she thought, and a largely political mess. There were many reasons this war was fought, but she thought it best to avoid great detail, especially since Jamie was unlikely to understand it all anyway.

“Power, I suppose.” She said after a while. “Aren’t all wars? I mean, you’ll understand that much. Wasn’t the Jacobite Rising in 1745?” She inquired, hoping he would understand better if she used examples of his own time. Although the wars of the eighteenth century had nothing on this one, still, they were all bloody.

“1745?” Jamie repeated, seeming confused at this. “I’m from 1743.” Suddenly, he went rather pale. Claire realised she had just informed him about a piece of history that had not passed, and if he could return to his own time, it would mean he would have to live through it, being just two years ahead on his future.

Claire didn’t know what to say now, it wasn’t your usual basis for conversation. But plainly she could not ignore it and pretend it never happened.

“So it’s true then…” Jamie said, shaking his head. “I’d heard whispers of a rising, my Uncle never stopped going on about it, but… I never thought anything would come of it.” He went on.

“Yes, well it’s already happened.” Claire replied. “Bonnie Prince Charlie led an army against the British Dragoons and the Scots were defeated.” It seemed a rather grim topic now, now that she seen the effects of it on Jamie’s face.

“I’m sorry… I should’ve realised, you were wearing a kilt.” Claire frowned at her own insensitivity.

“My kilt?” Jamie perked up. “What’s that got to do wi’ it?”

“Well…” How could she put this? “When the British won, everything about the Scottish culture was wiped out. Tartans were banned, and so was every Scottish tradition, really.” Claire felt rather sorry, informing him this, if all went well, he would have to live through it. Then a thought struck her, that he might very well die in the battle, should he get swept up in it, he had said his Uncle talked of it after all.

“I already hated the English…” He seethed, looking down at his hands, she felt his anger rising. “But I hate the bastards even more, now.”

“Not all of them, I hope.” Claire reminded him, to which he glanced up and realised; she was English.

“Aye… Well, some I’ll make an exception for.” The corner of his lips perked in the smallest of smiles, but Claire caught that he was brooding underneath and she couldn’t blame him.

“Look…” Claire said after a moment. “Why don’t we get dressed and go the library, I’m sure you’ll be able to find out more about Culloden there.”

“Ye think I want to read about the hell I’m to be put through lass, should I go back?” Jamie replied coldly.

“Of course not.” She said quickly, feeling truly terrible now. “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have said anything.” Claire hung her head, not sure where they could go from this. She had just informed him that everything he knew, would be wiped out in the space of three years.

“Why? Lass, ye send me back prepared, if anything.” Jamie replied, she glanced up and he offered a smile, to perk her own spirits up and not have her feel so bad on his account.

“I just thought… Maybe you could find names, of men you knew. You could save their lives by keeping them out of it.” Claire went on with her original suggestion, hoping it would make sense to him.

Thankfully, it did. Jamie perked up and looked at her, with a gleam of hope in his eyes.

“Aye…” He nodded, “Aye, that’s a bonnie idea!” Claire smiled at last, rather happy to have at least spun his spirits around.

“Maybe this is why you came back.” She added, to which he looked at her curiously. “Maybe the reason you fell through time was to save your friends.” She tried again. Jamie smiled and she almost saw him sigh with relief that there seemed to be sense to this at last.

“Can you rewrite history, lass?” He asked, sounding serious, his tone lower, before moving to meet her gaze.

“I don’t see why you can’t try.” Claire said with a gentle smile. He touched her hand, which was laid on the table, though he didn’t break his gaze from hers, he merely offered her a smile more genuine than before and there seemed to be a glimmer in his blue eyes.

“I thank ye, Claire.” He said after a moment. Claire touched his hand in answer, and they sat like that until daylight filtered through the room.

Getting up to go and get dressed after a long while, Claire went to lift the dishes first, but Jamie stopped her.

“Are ye gonna finish that, lass?” He inquired about her bacon sandwich, with just one bite taken out.

Claire shook her head, and Jamie snapped it up.

“Ye canna have good meat go to waste, Sassenach.” He informed, rather jollily all of a sudden. “What with their being a war on and all.” He scoffed the sandwich and Claire laughed and he followed suit, with a mouth full of bread and bacon.

***

It was some hour or more later when Claire managed to get Jamie out of the house. He came wearing a pair of trousers that were too small and hung just above his ankles. It was only the woollen jumper that seemed to fit just right, but the shirt underneath was obviously irritating him, the way he scratched at his collar. Claire thought this rather amusing, however. He did look rather funny.

“I’d love to meet yer husband, lass, to see his size for myself!” Jamie complained, as she locked her door.

Claire laughed again. “I’ll get you some clothes that fit, don’t worry!” She replied.

“Ock, and who is it we have here, then?” Came the shrill tone of Gladys McKinnon over the fence. Claire groaned, having been caught by the town gossip, who unfortunately happened to be her next door neighbour.

 “Ah… Mrs McKinnon…” Claire turned to look at the old woman, who glared at her over round spectacles.

“Well Claire, are ye no’ goin’ to introduce me to yer wee friend?” Came her patronizing reply, as though Claire were eleven years old. Gladys never had the manners to address a stranger – which Claire was – by her second name, something that irked her.

“This is Jamie…” Claire said, turning to look up at the redheaded Scotsman beside her, half smiling awkwardly and wanting nothing more than to just disappear through the garden gate.

“Jamie.” Gladys repeated. “A strapping young lad. And what’re you doin here?” The old woman asked bluntly, staring up at Jamie with anticipation, Claire could almost see her foaming at the mouth for some new gossip to spread around the town.

“Ah, well… I-“ Jamie began, scratching his neck, not knowing where to begin.

“He’s my friend, he’s come to visit.” Claire spat out before Jamie could say anything.

“Yer friend… I didna know you had Scottish connections, you being an English girl yerself.” Gladys replied, trying to nosey her way into some new information.

“Well, I’m allowed to make friends while I’m here, aren’t I?” Claire forced a smile onto her face, one Gladys returned, but it was equally as strained. The two women clearly loathed one another.

“Of course ye are.” Gladys said after a moment, with a bit too much enthusiasm. “Though women don’t tend to take strange men into their homes on a whim…” She added slyly, Claire ignored her. “I suppose ye canna wait till yer husband gets home, to meet him like…” Gladys added, rather coldly. Clearly implying something that Claire didn’t like, which was why the forced smile fell off her face immediately.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll have informed him already by the time he returns.” Claire shot back sweetly, before moving down the path, pushing Jamie as she went. “I’d love to stay and chat, but… Things to do.” She said before the old woman could pester her further and before long, her and Jamie had left the street.

“Who was she?” Jamie asked, looking down at her while he walked, rather confused.

“Just an old busy-body.” Claire informed him, not wishing to linger too much on what Gladys McKinnon had to say about anything.

Jamie frowned, but said nothing more on the subject.

“The library isn’t far.” Claire added after a moment, feeling the wind whip up as she turned the corner.

Jamie said nothing, instead his mind was transfixed on the street they walked down, as motorcars passed by every now and then. Women walked with short dresses, some with bright red lips. There were large poles every few feet, poles that stretched into the sky holding lines, linking them together. The road was paved and outside some of the shops where great signs showcasing their wares. The twentieth century was an odd time indeed.

Claire glanced up at him, seeing his wide eyes of wonder, like a child in a new world. She merely smiled and chuckled to herself, deciding not to explain anything to him unless he asked, and he would ask, eventually.

They got to the end of the street, where the houses no longer blocked the view of Edinburgh city. There was a Cathedral with spires reaching up to the sky and a clock tower, as cars zoomed around the roundabout in the centre of the road, no one glancing twice at the tall Scotsman, enthralled by all of it.

“Is that… Is that Edinburgh Castle?” Jamie asked, pointing his finger into the air. Sure enough, a great castle sat high on the mountain, looking down upon the streets of Edinburgh. There was a wall around about it, it looked magnificent and huge, but no one else seemed to bat an eye.

“Yes!” Claire laughed, pulling his arm down, people were beginning to stare.

“It’s funny.” He began, still staring as they walked. “I’ve heard about it, but who’d have thought the first time I was to lay eyes on it, would be in the twentieth century?” Jamie chuckled to himself with amazement, whilst Claire only smiled to herself at how candid he was.

“Right, here we are.” Claire said, abruptly turning to walk up the stone steps of Edinburgh’s central library. “Just in time, really…” Claire glanced up at the sky, pulling her coat tighter around her. “It looks like it’s going to pour again.”

Walking into the library, Jamie observed the walls were a yellow colour, whilst the pillars and arches where white. It was a grand place, book shelves wherever he looked, stretching up to the ceiling. There looked to be two floors in total, but the second were balconies which showcased even more books. There were large tables scattered around the floor, which was covered in a deep red carpet. People sat lost in their books, everywhere. Some sat in groups, while others sat alone. Old men sat with pipes in their mouths on the red armchairs with a newspaper outstretched in their hands and some younger people congregated around the tables, with pens scribbling away as they worked.

“This is some place, Sassenach.” Jamie said, his voice seeming even louder in the silent room.

Within moments, everyone, including the rather shrill looking woman who sat high behind a desk, turned to glare at the man who had disturbed the peace. Claire felt her cheeks turn red with embarrassment and within an instant, she turned on him.

“Whisper!” She hissed, “It’s a library!”

Jamie seemed to catch on too late, and slowly everyone resumed their reading while Claire stifled a laugh, tugging Jamie into one corner, providing sufficient seclusion with plenty of bookshelves. There was a table in the centre of the small space with four chairs scattered around it and an open newspaper that someone had abandoned laid out.

“How old is this library?” Jamie asked, as he sat down on one of the hard wooden chairs.

“Oh… About 50 years old or more.” She informed him, tugging off her coat and draping it over one of the chairs, suddenly feeling very warm in here. Though, she was glad of the heating, since the rain had plainly started outside again, she heard the pitter-patters of it slapping the window up ahead.

“Right well… We’re going to need books on the ’45.” Claire considered to herself, scratching her bushy hair which sat around her shoulders in curls. Thankfully, she had the sense to have a clip at least to hold strands falling in front of her eyes.

“The ’45?” Jamie raised a brow.

“The Jacobite Rebellion. It’s known as the ’45.” Claire informed him. “I’ll go ask the librarian. You…” For a moment she considered bringing him along. “You stay here.” But thought better of it. “I don’t think she likes you.” Jamie caught a smirk as she disappeared behind the bookshelf.

Claire returned after some time with a tall stack of books in her hands, that she practically threw onto the table to avoid dropping them. Jamie jumped up from his newspaper, that he had decided to take a look at to pass the time.

“Surely a woman can’t go about showing her legs like that!” Jamie said, horror stricken, glaring down at the drawing of a woman wearing a swimming suit, looking over her shoulder, holding a bottle of Coca-Cola.

“Nevermind that!” Claire snapped back, pulling the paper from him and shutting it with a light chuckle.

“The lady was very helpful, she got me three books on Culloden and then there was another one here about Clans and which were wiped out at the rebellion.” Claire spread the books out on the table, opening each as she did so. “Though it doesn’t give specific names…”

“Unfortunately, she had nothing on the survivors but she did suggest going to the Uni-“

Claire was cut off from saying anything more as she dropped the book in her hand to the floor. A large alarm sounded through the entire library, one Claire knew to be the air raid siren.

“Come on!” Claire tugged at Jamie’s arm, who seemed rather laid back about the whole thing.

“What is it?” He asked, standing up and following her through the library. Suddenly everyone who had previously been reading, abandoned their work and crowded around the door, shuffling into the street slowly, like water leaking out of a very small hole.

“Quickly!” Claire replied with a snap, as they entered the crowd of people who clogged the doors, waiting to exit the library.

“I don’t understand…” Jamie said, looking to Claire for some sort of answer but her eyes were fixed straight ahead.

“It’s the Germans.” She told him, turning to glance at him quickly, her face full of fear. “They’re coming.”

Quickly, Claire latched onto Jamie’s arm as they left the library, hard thumps of rain hitting their hands and drowning the street as they went. The streets were full of crowds, people leaving everything they were doing. Cars stopped in the street as people got out to flee, shopkeepers abandoned their work to find safety and every passer-by on the street searched with worried eyes for refuge.

Jamie hadn’t the faintest idea what was going on. All he could hear was the same ominous sound of the air raid as it’s siren screeched through the air, warning everyone that something bad was coming.

Claire’s face had turned stark white, and there was a dread that shook through her body. Scotland was so far north, if German planes had come up so far, she supposed they intended to do damage, there would be no need for them to pass through.

 Wardens popped up all over the street wearing green and helmets, shouting across the crowds which were dithering away, trying their best to ensure everyone remained calm. Soon, the streets were not as packed. The wardens indicated to the underground shelter, and suddenly Jamie began noticing the signs, large white signs stuck on every railing or wall, with a large black arrow stating ‘Air Raid Shelters This Way!’.

Claire had her arm locked tight about Jamie’s, understanding that he probably didn’t have a clue what was going on, but there would be time to explain that. Before long, they entered the underground, marching down stone steps behind women and children mostly. Then finally, they reached a large room. It was dimly lit with only two windows, which were only small slits to look at the street up ahead, barred on the outside, though it didn’t matter, they had been painted black, concealing any natural light from getting through.

The room was cold, with its stone floor and white stone walls. The corners were dark and shadowy but some bunk beds were against the far wall, one taken up by two little boys who seemed oblivious to the chaos, playing with little led soldiers. A woman had a group of children sitting on the floor around her, telling them stories, they had blankets and pillows and looked rather comfortable, though one little girl was hugged close to the woman’s knee, shaking with fright as she sucked at her thumb. A group of old men sat in one of the brighter corners on wooden chairs, puffing pipes and complaining about the damage of warfare while others played cards.

Claire looked up at Jamie, her face still full of fear but she had relaxed slightly, and so had her hold on his arm. Slowly, she detached herself, smiling shyly. “Sorry…” She muttered.

“It’s all right.” Jamie assured her, a sweet smile on his lips as he looked down at her.

Suddenly, he realised she was shaking, her teeth nattering together. She was soaked through, the rain having drenched her once bushy hair to stick to her face, whilst her dress proved not a dress for this sort of weather. The loose blue linen garment clung to her as she shivered.

“Christ Sassenach!” He burst out, realising he had little to nothing to offer her. He only had one of Frank’s woolly jumper’s on, though it too was soaked through. Instead, he took the soaking jumper off and embraced her, without thinking twice about it, and rubbed her arms to generate some heat.

Claire did not complain. His white shirt was only a little damp, but his body heat burned through to her own soaking skin and eventually, her shivering stopped.

“Do ye make a habit of no dressing for proper weather conditions, Sassenach?” He enquired with good humouring, referring back to last night, when she had darted out in the pouring rain to get him, with little more than a cardigan on.

“I forgot my coat at the library.” She assured him, her voice tickling the hollow of his neck. He smelled nice. Of fresh rain and exertion.

“Is she all right?” Startled, Jamie turned to find the voice that addressed him. It from the blonde woman who was previously sat with the group of children.

“It can be a frightful ol’ thing, can it not?” The woman said, trying to look at Claire, but she was huddled into his chest. He relaxed his hold on her, as Claire peeled herself off him, to meet the woman’s gaze.

“You’ve nought to be afraid of lassie.” The woman assured her, with Claire suddenly realising that the woman thought her upset at the air raid alarms, which had since stopped. Everyone was now locked in here, until they were permitted to leave.

Nodding, Claire was too embarrassed to correct her, suddenly feeling very exposed. She merely smiled, in an effort to show her gratitude for the woman’s kindness.

“It’s that horrible sound!” The woman went on. “I sometimes think it’d be better if they played some Vera Lynn instead!” Chuckling to herself, she waved a hand in front, as if to dismiss her humour. “But that wouldn’t do at all…” She trailed off.

“I’m Marie.” She said finally. She had her arms wrapped about herself, holding a tan coloured shawl around her, while underneath she had a pink dress on with white polka-dots. Her hair was a light blonde colour, pulled up at the front in victory rolls, while the rest hung in loose curls about her shoulder. She had a sweet face, and looked around the same age as Claire, though her presence was a lot older, and motherly too.

Jamie glanced back at the group of children, the little girl who had previously been shaking with fright was now sitting on a Warden’s knee, laughing merrily. Marie caught Jamie’s gaze and glanced back too.

“Ock no, you mustn’t think they’re all mine!” She laughed, waving a hand again. “Only the one.”

“I’m a teacher from the school, just around the corner.” She informed them.

Claire smiled, though being parted from Jamie’s embrace, she felt the chill in the room, still damp and cold. She began to shiver again.

“You poor thing, you’re froze!” Marie said at once, holding out her arm to bring it about Claire’s, guiding her to the circle of children, Jamie followed along helplessly.

Marie moved to pick a woolly tartan blanket off the floor, in the colours of a deep blue and yellow, bringing it about Claire’s shoulders. Claire clung to it and tried her best to generate some heat.

“There ye go.” Marie smiled, sitting her down on one of the wooden boxes, and ushering Jamie to do the same.

“Aye, it’s a terrible thing this war, I canna wait till it’s over, myself.” Marie said to them both, Jamie could say little in the way of a reply, having no idea what the war was over and the details of it, though he was learning quickly. It seemed more dangerous than any war he had known. He wondered why sound signals went off and why everyone scurried to these tiny rooms, to be locked in. What was going on outside?

“You and me both.” Claire replied to Marie with a smile, her speech having returned as soon as heat returned to her body again.

“Aye, I always come prepared though.” Marie replied, and that she did. There was a large wicker basket by her side, which might have been used for picnics, Claire thought. Though, that was exactly what Marie had prepared. Inside were sandwiches, books, even some wool with knitting needles. She produced a black flask within moments, popped the lid off and poured what looked like Scotch broth into the little cup.

“There we are.” She said, passing the cup to Claire. “Will ye be having any yerself?” She inquired to Jamie.

Jamie looked over, eyeing the stew within the cup. His stomach growled with hunger, though he thought better of it. Claire had said food was scarce, he didn’t need to go eating needlessly when so many little children sat about him.

“Aye, ye will then.” Marie said before he could reply, taking his reluctance as a definite yes and before long, he too was holding a little tin cup of delicious Scotch broth.

“Oh, there’s no meat in it, I’m afraid.” Marie said apologetically to them both.

“No, no.” Claire said quickly, swallowing a mouthful. “You’re too kind, really.” Claire looked at the woman with a smile of thanks, Marie returned it before tucking her flask away.

“We haven’t introduced ourselves.” Claire said after a moment, almost jumping with realisation. “I’m so sorry.” How rude they must have seemed, barging in and taking food and warmth from this woman, without even so much as their names in return. “I’m Claire.” She said, before gesturing to Jamie. “And this is Jamie.”

“Verra nice to meet ye, both.” Marie said, a warm smile on her lips. Clearly, she was glad of some conversation with an adult, rather than that of a six-year-old.

“I’m from Glasgow, myself. I came up here because I thought it’d be safer I suppose, for the bairn and that. It has been, though I suppose we canna escape the war completely.” She went on, looking rather solemn and upset at the fact they were all locked in an air raid shelter. “My man is on the front line, fighting for King and country…” Her eyes looked down, clearly talking of her husband was an upsetting topic, as it was for any woman who had someone off in battle.

Claire placed a hand on Marie’s, feeling a pang of sympathy for her. “I’m sure he’ll be home safe in no time. Churchchill said on the broadcast a few weeks back that things were looking up. I can’t imagine the war will go on for much longer.” She tried soothing. The woman looked up and met her gaze, with her own smile of thanks this time.

“Ock, but you’re fierce lucky to have yer man here with ye!” Marie seemed suddenly enthusiastic again. Claire glanced to Jamie, and he looked up from the tin cup.

“Jamie? N-“ Claire tried explaining, though Marie proved she liked to talk. “What was he sent home fer? A good strapping laddie like yerself, why you could win the war in a day!” Marie chuckled to herself, swinging back on the wooden box as she burst into giggles.

Claire and Jamie laughed too, she seemed an incredibly sweet, kind-hearted woman.

“He’s just been back a few days.” Claire went on, trying her best to spin a story off the top of her head. “Bullet wound in the neck and a dislocated shoulder.” That part was the truth. “Given home leave, to recover.” That was a lie.

“Oh, I’m sure you’re delighted. I canna wait to have my Harry home.” Marie clutched at the shawl about her shoulders. “Though I shouldna be saying that, it’s an honour is it no?” But she didn’t give Claire a chance to reply. “I haven’t heard from him in months. No word is still good though.” She tried her best to stay optimistic, the smile she tried to push onto her rosy lips was proof enough of that.

The two women sat in silence for a moment, watching the children play. Three little boys passed a small leather ball to each other, while one little girl brushed another’s hair. They seemed contented, and ignorant to the chaos outside.

“Ye know… If I could know…” Marie said, though her eyes didn’t glance up from the playing children, but Claire turned to look at her.

“I don’t think I would want to. I’d rather not know my fate.” She continued.

“Really?” It was Jamie who replied this time, making Marie glance up at the deep voice that had intruded their conversation, though she looked back down again calmly, as if she had approved of his observation.

“No…” She replied, slowly.

“Why is that?” Jamie asked, curious as to why one would not want to know their fate.

Well, if I knew my Harry would die in the war, could I stop him from going?” She gave her argument, looking up at Jamie. Claire suddenly felt excluded from the conversation now, but watched all the same. “Of course not.”

“And then… If I knew he’d die, do you think I could live all my years with the knowledge that I knew a thing before it happened, helpless to stop it? No…” She made her point. “I’d much rather stay in the dark, that way, you canna blame yerself when something goes wrong.”

“Aye, but if you knew he’d die, you could stop him maybe, no? Save his life…” Jamie argued, with the keen interest of a seasoned debater.

“But it’s God’s will.” She explained, looking up at Jamie as though that part had been obvious. “Only he can decide who shall live and who shall die, that’s just the way of things.” She explained, and this seemed to give Jamie something to think about. “Aye… God has a plan for us all laddie, and we’ve no business interfering wi’ it.” Marie turned her head to glance at the children again, playing happily, too innocent for the cruelty of the world just yet.

Jamie wore a frown on his face, deep with concentration. Claire looked and easily saw the words Marie had spoken etched into his brain, and there he sat, mulling them over.

It was a little girl who interrupted them next. She had sandy coloured hair, pulled into two pig tails with ribbons. She could not have been more than three at the most, and her wide hazel eyes glanced up at Claire with a shy wariness.

“Mama…” She tugged at Marie’s skirts, though her eyes never left Claire’s face, the stranger.

“Mama!” She tried again, with more determination.

“What is it?” Marie replied, looking down at her daughter with a gentle look in her eyes.

The little girl mumbled, too shy to reveal anything in front of both her and Jamie, and within moments, hid behind her mother’s skirts. Marie got up, lifted her and turned to them.

“This one needs the lavatory.” Marie explained, though the only bathroom facilities was a chamber pot hidden for modesty’s sake behind a curtain. “It was nice meeting you both. Help yerself to anything I’ve got.” Marie said, clutching her daughter who buried her face into her mother’s shoulder.

“Thank you so much.” Claire said finally. “You’ve been so kind.”

“Think nothing of it lass, we’ve got to help each other out. There’s enough fighting going on outside.” Marie chuckled again, waving a hand. “You keep that man close by you… You do make a bonnie couple.” Where her last words, and she said them with a gentle, though genuine smile on her lips before she wandered away, her daughter in tow.

Claire set down her empty tin cup, and lifted Jamie’s from his lap and set it down also, before she turned to address him. He wore a face full of deep thought, though cleansed of all emotion. She had no clue what he was thinking.

“Are you all right?” Claire asked, touching Jamie’s arm. He flinched out of thought immediately.

“Aye… Aye.” Jamie assured her, though his face didn’t assure her any. Though she decided for now, it was best to leave whatever was plaguing his mind, until later.

“Eh, lass?” Jamie said, a brow raised.

“Yes?” She replied.

“Do ye mind telling me what’s going on here? Why are we all crammed into this wee bunker and who are the Germans, what are they coming fer?” Claire couldn’t help but smile, despite it all. Jamie had a rather funny way of putting the most serious of situations, she couldn’t help but chuckle as she wondered what he must have thought, having been dragged from the library to here, with not a word as to why.

“It’s an air raid shelter.” She explained. “They have them everywhere. That sound you heard earlier, the siren…” Jamie nodded, recalling it. He knew he’d never forget such a foreboding sound. “Yes well, they sound that when the Germans are flying over, to give people warning, to take cover.” Claire continued, hoping Jamie was catching all of this.

“Flying?” He asked, looking confused. “Are Germans great big birds?”

Claire laughed loudly, making everyone, including the children glance up for a moment, before resuming their play.

“No!” She let out a small giggle. “They’re people, in planes.” Then it occurred to her that he would have no idea what planes were. “Planes are a modern invention, like cars. Only they can fly up in the air, taking people from one place to the other in a shorter space of time.”

Jamie nodded, understanding. Though he didn’t much like the idea of flying himself.

“All right…” He nodded again, taking all of this in. “And why do people run from them?”

“They’re the enemy. They’re the ones we’re at war with.” Claire told him. “Everyone runs from them, because they drop bombs from their planes, to try and blow us up.” The laughter that lingered on the edge of her mouth dropped entirely now, the situation was quite serious, and only when she spoke the words did she realise just how much

“Bastards!” Jamie hissed under his breath, Claire was glad of that, how was she to explain such language in front of all these children?

“Is there nought to be done about it?” He asked, Claire sighed. As if it where that simple.

“There is, that’s why you’re the only man in the room that’s not a warden.” Claire said, finding herself whispering now too.

Jamie took this in and looked around the room. There were old men, men deemed too old to fight, and wardens. But true enough, there were no men his own age, or even near it. The realisation seemed to hit him like a brick.

“All the men are off fighting.” Claire finished, and Jamie looked back, suddenly for the first time, realising how serious this war this really was.

“And what if some men choose to stay behind, with their families and that?” He inquired. Knowing in his own time, such an offer was made to all men. Only those who wanted to fight, did. Though rarely any man stayed behind.

“They aren’t given a choice.” Claire said, starkly. “Every man capable of fighting is called to the front. Besides… Those who don’t fight are considered cowards.” Claire looked down into her lap, realising what a terrible condition the world was in. Not every man was built to fight, yet they were conditioned to feel it was their duty.

“Aye…” Jamie said, for once finding a similarity in his own time. “Men are deemed cowards where I’m from too, if they dinna fight when the time calls.” His face was lost to memories now; memories Claire could never even begin to understand. “And I must say lass… Dying a hero in battle, is a much better death than dying in yer bed a coward.” He turned to look at Claire, his face sobered of all humour. Claire did not reply this time. Instead, she rested her head against his shoulder, and tangled her arm around his. They were all each other had for the moment.

Chapter Text

Chapter six

FRIENDS TO LOVERS

 

Claire opened her eyes to find she was lying on her side, her head resting on something soft, with a blanket draped around her. She felt groggy, lifting herself off the floor and into a sitting position, with her back against the wall, feeling aches and pains throughout her body. Stretching her arms, she blinked a few times, reality coming back to her. They were still in the air raid shelter, though the light from the oil lamps was steadily growing weaker. Her eyes moved to see her head had been resting on a rolled up coat, used as a makeshift pillow. But how had she gotten here?

The loud mumbles of several different conversations went on throughout the room, though no one batted an eyelid at Claire, who had been out for some hours or more, nevertheless she felt extremely exposed.  Pulling herself off the hard ground, she decided to go and look for Jamie, her eyes still tired and her body fighting the urge to lay back down.

Within moments, she found him. He was sitting in the middle of blankets and pillows, with several children around him and on him. One little girl, who Claire recognised to be the daughter of the woman from earlier, Marie, lay sleeping in his lap, while three little boys sat in front of him. One was kneeling, the other two keeping their heads propped up by their elbows, legs swinging in the air behind them carelessly while a tall blonde girl stood behind him, brushing his long red hair.

Claire smiled without realising, watching the scene. They all seemed very enthralled by whatever he was saying, listening intently and she could see from his eyes that he too was ensnared in his own story. The fierce Scottish warrior, that should have intimidated children by his very height alone, had them all in the palm of his hand, and they circled around him with eager eyes of wonder.

Jamie’s eyes lit up at once at the sight of her, though said little in the way of greeting, besides a gentle smile which she returned. The scene however was not to last, within moments a loud siren could be heard echoing through the room, though it blared continuously this time, signalling that it was safe to leave. The sound caught everyone’s attention, the children scattering like birds to find their parents, while the little girl on Jamie’s lap, wriggled and looked up at him before bursting into tears.

Jamie tried to calm her, holding her close in a vain attempt to quieten her cries. Within moments however, Marie walked through and lifted her daughter from his arms. “Thank ye.” She muttered, before looking at Claire, nodding in appreciation before she vanished into the growing crowd of people who stood around the door waiting for it to open so they could resume normal life again.

Claire walked over to Jamie, who was picking himself off the floor.

“Are ye all right?” He thought to ask as he dusted himself off.

“Yes… Are you?” She asked in return, to which he nodded. “Had I been asleep long?” She added, scratching her head and trying to figure out just how long they had been locked down here.

“A couple of hours.” He informed her with a gentle shrug of his shoulders. “I was sitting talking to ye, and next think I ken, ye were out like a light on my shoulder.” He chuckled softly, making her feel a tad bashful for it.

“I’m sorry.” She found herself saying, but Jamie shook his head.

“It was probably better; I was daft bored sitting in here. I though they werena intending on letting us out at all.” He complained.

“Oh yes, they can be even longer sometimes, and others particularly short. It just depends.” Claire informed him, realising that he had never experienced an air raid before.

They joined the queue of impatient people, the room a loud buzz of the different conversations happening at once. The Wardens at the door did their best to gradually filter everyone out and before long, Jamie and Claire felt the soothing breeze of fresh air hit their faces as they stepped out into the street. Just as quickly as the crowd had closed in, it had quickly departed again, with everyone scurrying off in different directions into the cold, dark night, returning home.

The streets were in complete darkness, an eerie pitch black with only bright white stripes on the lamp posts enough to guide everyone safely home. Claire clutched onto Jamie’s arm, afraid to be parted, blind in the darkness of night.

“Why’s it so dark, Sassenach?” He thought to say after a moment.

“It’s always like this.” She replied, taking careful steps. “They can’t put the lights on, because the Germans flying over might see something.” A necessary precaution. It simply meant the streets where even more dangerous come nightfall, with all manners of dark and deceiving persons committing unlawful acts under the guise of nightfall.

“I canna wait till I’m back in my own time…” He muttered rather hopelessly. “I don’t think I like the future, no offense intended.” He was quick to add.

“None taken.” She replied. “Of all the years you could have appeared, I’m sorry it had to be one in a time of war.” Claire found herself sighing.

“Aye, well… I suppose no time is great during war, Sassenach, no matter what year.” He observed wisely.

Though they could see nothing, Jamie relied heavily on Claire to know the way and wondered how on earth they didn’t get lost in such pitch blackness. Thankfully, Claire had enough guidance from the white stripes on the streetlamps and before long, the surroundings, however dark, became somewhat familiar. They had finally reached her little street and entered through the garden gate of her humble home, and Claire dug in her pocket for her key to let them both inside to get some heat.

They had wasted an entire day inside an air raid shelter. The library, as well as everywhere else in town would be shut until morning. Everyone was likely too spooked to keep their businesses open, not to mention it was probably much too late now to continue their research on Culloden anyway.

“Do you want something to eat?” Claire asked as clambered into the house.

“No…” Jamie replied with a shake of his head. “I havena really got much of an appetite.” The day seemed to have gotten the better of him.

“Me neither.” She confessed, slumping down on the green couch, Jamie taking a place beside her. While they didn’t really do much, Claire felt exhausted. The fear of hearing an air raid siren go off and the dread of thinking something terrible might happen, usually left her feeling worn out and tired, this time was no different. War was really not something she thought herself ever getting used to, which is why she hoped this one would not go on for much longer.

“I was thinking…” Jamie began after what felt like a very long time. “About Culloden.” It felt strange to be talking about an event that had not passed in his own timeline yet.

“Oh?” Claire turned her head to look at him, wondering what he had been thinking about.

“I don’t think I want to know what will happen to the men fighting.” He said, his voice sounding unsure still and wary about the whole subject.

“Really?” Claire replied, wondering what had changed his mind.

“I was thinking… About what the woman said in the shelter.” It all came back to Claire instantly about Marie and their conversation earlier. “She said ye canna change God’s will.”

“But you don’t know that, and neither does she.” Claire was quick to point out.

“Aye but… But what if she’s right?” Jamie said, clear by his tone that he wanted guidance on the matter. “What if I know who should die and then I canna save them. Am I to live the rest of my life blaming myself for it?” Though it was dark, Claire could easily see his face and his eyes, deep with worry. She wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch his cheek, to comfort him somehow. But she stopped herself.

“It works both ways.” Claire said slowly, her voice heavy with sympathy for him. She could never imagine being in his shoes, but if she was to help him she had to try.

“If you know who dies, you can try to save them, despite whether you succeed. If you choose not to know, then you could just the same live out the rest of your life with regret, thinking that you might’ve saved them, had you taken the chance to know.” Claire explained, finding that all rather confusing now she said it aloud. “Whether you succeed or not, you’ll never know. No one will.”

“Aye but… Is it not already set in stone?” Jamie replied. “I’m in the future, the battle of Culloden has already passed and the name of every man who lived and died has been recorded somewhere in a book. Can I truly change something that has already happened, Sassenach? For If that be so, how should it affect the things already written down?”

He had a point. Culloden had already happened, with almost every detail of it recorded somewhere. Should he go back and change the course of history, even save the life of one man who should have died on the battlefield, would it not have a rippling effect through her own time? Like the knocking over of one domino, the act in itself simple but the overall magnitude of it, much bigger.

 Jamie could easily see his words making sense in her mind. What he was saying wasn’t completely daft. There was no way of knowing if he could change history, if saving the life of one man was even possible, but they did know that Culloden had happened. Time Travel was a mysterious thing, impossible to contemplate and extremely dangerous. It was certainly not something to be meddled with.

“Whatever happened on that battlefield, Sassenach, it was meant to happen, written in stone and I feel, should I even want to change it, well… The consequences are beyond thinking about.” He was right. Men died on Culloden moor, but what would happen if they survived and lived and had children? Generations of families supposed to be wiped out centuries before. What would that mean in the larger scale of things? Would it upset the balance of the world? They could never know for sure.

“There’s another reason.” Jamie said after a long silence, his tone low, almost a whisper now.

Claire turned to look at him again, trying to shake the thoughts from her mind.

Jamie waited a moment before answering, deciding how best to word his next sentence or if he should word it at all.

“What if… what if my name is among the dead?” His eyes held a deep fear, and Claire could not judge him for it. Would she want to know her fate? Of course not. When her time was up, her time was up, knowing the hour of her death would only make her unable to live in the now. “What if I’m to die there, and there’s nought I can do about it?”

Claire couldn’t reply. There was nothing she could say. The knowing of something that should otherwise be kept unrevealed, what good would it do? The knowing alone could drive a person mad.

“Do ye think I’m selfish, Sassenach?” His voice was a whisper now, and it held an uncertainty. She could tell he felt like a coward for putting himself first in the entire time she’d known him, which had not been long, but she knew him well enough to know he was not a selfish person by any means.

“Of course not.” She replied, her own voice a whisper too. Her eyes bore into his, and without resisting this time, she did lift a hand to touch his cheek. Claire could never place herself in his shoes or understand what it felt like to be going through this. All she could do was be there for him, and support his decisions as best she could. This was his choice, and now he had laid his reasons before her, she could not say she’d have done differently.

“Whatever happens... Just promise me you’ll try to be safe.” What if he did die in Culloden and that was where his fate lay? It chilled her to think that he might be gone from the world completely in the space of three years, though it chilled her even more to think he could be gone from her life in a number of days.

“I’ll miss you something fierce, when I go.” He spoke out at last, as though it had been something he had kept locked inside and was a sudden relief to finally let go.

Claire couldn’t say anything. She wanted to tell him how much she’d miss him, how much she’d enjoyed their short time together, but nothing she could say would ever be enough. Did he have to go? Of course he did. He had family and a life waiting for him in his own time, where he belonged. Besides, even if he did remain here, how could a world with both of them work?

“Why did it have to be like this.” She found herself saying at last, searching his face for an answer she would not find.

Jamie didn’t need to ask her what she meant, he knew. His heart ached with the knowing of it. Never had a woman made him feel the way she did, but circumstance made it impossible for her to ever know how much he felt for her. Did she feel the same? Unlikely. Jamie would leave her life and Claire’s husband would return, and they would be nothing but a mere memory to each other, one that felt like a dream.

“You’ll be fine without me, Sassenach.” He told her with a light chuckle and she returned it, yet nothing was funny about the situation at all. Would she be fine without him? Could he have changed her so completely in the space of two days? It was the knowing that she would never see him again that affected her the most, it made her throat feel tight for the choking down of sobs that were sure to come, had she not tried to shake them from her mind entirely.

Claire was married, she knew that feeling this way about another person was wrong. If she had not been physically unfaithful to Frank, she knew she was being unfaithful technically in her mind. But yet, she couldn’t help it. How could she help that her heart longed for something more? She was human, after all. Why did it have to be like this? If Jamie had come years before she’d met Frank, could she let him go as easily? Without feeling indebted to stay here for the sake of her husband, even if that meant a lifetime of unhappiness because she had envisioned a future with another man instead? They would never know.

“Why couldn’t you have come before…” She spoke aloud, still looking at him. Even now, Jamie understood her completely without needing her to elaborate. Whatever they could have been had he came sooner, they could not be now and that was perhaps the part that hurt the most. He had not meant to fall through time, he had not meant to meet her or feel for her the way he did, but life had been cruel, giving him the taste of something that could never be and he would have to live the rest of his life without the hope of ever feeling this way again, because he would have to live without her.

Jamie was so close now, she could breathe him in. His eyes still glistened blue in the darkness and she could easily see the weight they carried, the surety of their situation and the pain that came with it. He was not just an ordinary stranger, he was a piece of her now. While her mind raced with prospect she could not shake the thought of Frank in the background, looming in like a ghost to chase away thoughts of another. Did she love Frank? Of course she did. Perhaps she was simply desperate to have him back that the closeness of any man would make her feel like this, but then why did the mention of Frank only fill her with guilt? It didn’t fill her with yearning. It only made her feel bad for the feelings stirred within her for Jamie.

Could she live with herself if Frank never came back? If something awful happened and she was constantly reminded that while he had given his life to get back to her, she had filled her heart with Jamie? And if he returned, could she live a life with him, knowing that her heart was desperate for the thing she could never have? Would it be fair? None of it was fair. Whatever decision she made, whatever feelings stirred within her heart, guilt would always follow her, for Jamie and Frank.

Jamie watched her face, so contort in confusion and feeling. He could tell how she was fighting with herself. But fighting would do no good, not now. They couldn’t change anything. He had to go back and she had to go on. Jamie lifted a hand to tuck a stray strand of her hair behind her ear, savouring the touch of her soft skin beneath his fingertips. She was so beautiful, and he would have to leave her behind. Her face a constant vision only in memory, one that he would stir up often, he was sure.

Claire couldn’t pull her eyes away from him, she felt her heart beat faster with desire, fearing that temptation might be too much and whatever thoughts of Frank came to mind, she would cast them away, too overwhelmed with longing to care.

Their faces were so close, Jamie could feel her sweet breath on his lips and Claire felt shivers run down her spine at their close proximity. Whatever rational thought came into her head now, she knew as well as he did, that it would be far too late.

Pushing closer, she ignored all sensible reason and touched her lips to his, knowing as soon as she moved to do so she’d forever regret it. It was the regret she’d have felt if she hadn’t of done it that forced her to do so. Claire was sure that regret would be far greater.

Inhaling him, Claire’s mind was truly lost in desire to care what the repercussions might be for now. She knew, despite everything, that she had to kiss him, if she had any hope of resuming her life again. Jamie clearly felt the same, for he reciprocated her actions, pushing his lips deeper against hers, tasting her, consuming her. He should know better; she was married – but what did it matter? Soon, they would never see each other again and this would just be a memory, forever etched into his mind.

He had wanted her from the first moment he had saw her, but now, this would only make the parting harder.

Pulling her lips from his, Claire fought with the urge to continue though thought better of it. Rational thought had come, but it had come too late, as she had expected it would. Even now, the longing to kiss him again filled her so completely, but she fought with it and turned away.

“I’m sorry.” She muttered, sitting up in the chair. The regret seemed to hit her with a dreadful force, in fact the regret was sure to consume her just as much as wanting Jamie had. Claire’s cheeks flushed red and she instantly felt embarrassed for her actions, she should have known better. But would it have stopped her? She had debated it all in her mind and yet, she’d kissed him anyway, to hell with what the consequences might be.

“I shouldn’t have done that.” She had just confused things by allowing her feelings to get the better of her. Jamie easily saw the embarrassment in her face, he felt it just as much, if not more. She was married, he was the one who should have refused, but could he had rejected her? The idea seemed absurd.

“No.” He said at once. “No, it was me.” He frowned, feeling guilty. He was not married, had no moral duty to anyone but yet, he had allowed these feelings to muster into actions, and Claire would be the one to feel the greater guilt for it.

I kissed you.” Claire turned on him, thinking without speaking.

“Aye but I wanted ye to!” He replied just as quick, and no sooner had the words left his lips did he regret voicing them.

He had taken advantage of her kindness, allowed himself to develop feelings for a woman he could never have. Made a woman be unfaithful to her own husband. He had to go, as soon as possible, before things got worse.

Claire said nothing. It was the pang of reality that seemed to slap her in the face and so she got up, refusing to be overwhelmed by the situation even more so.

“I’m going to bed.” She said at once, no longer giving herself to the situation. So easily, that kiss could have been something more and it was that thought alone that forced her from the room, afraid that all rationality might leave her if she spent another minute in his presence.

Jamie tried to think of something to make her stay, anything, but by that time she was already gone.

Was she angry? At herself, most likely. He was angry at himself, too. If that kiss between them had decided anything, it had cemented the fact that he needed to leave for Inverness as soon as possible. He no longer trusted himself around her, for that kiss had only made him want her more.

 

***

 

The next morning, Claire found Jamie asleep on her sofa and just as soon as she laid her eyes on him, did a pang of guilt hit her once more. She had been too wrapped up in her own feelings to worry about where he should sleep, though given what had happened, she thought he might agree that them sharing a bed again would be a terrible idea. Still, with no blanket or anything to keep him warm, he had slept here, unable to do a thing about it.

It was just after eight in the morning, her shift at the hospital would begin soon and she’d have to leave him again, though escaping the house without him waking seemed impossible because just as soon as she had seen him on the couch, did he wake to see her standing there. Claire had to face him sometime, better now than mulling it over all day.

“Morning.” She said at once. It was clear by Jamie’s face that he had not been sleeping long, his night had been restless, as her own had been, too deep in thought to be able to sleep.

“Morning.” He replied, sitting up straighter in the chair, watching her now for some indication of what he should do, when it dawned on her that he was still a guest in her house.

“I’m sorry… I should’ve given you a blanket or somewhere better to sleep. Are you all right?” She felt responsible for his terrible night’s sleep, and not just because she hadn’t given him a blanket. Her actions were likely ones that would haunt her long after he had gone.

“It’s fine, really.” Jamie replied, giving her a lopsided smile. She was glad of that, if anything it might make her heart feel a little lighter, since it was already burdened with so much. At least he was not angry at her.

An awkwardness had snaked its way into the room again, like it had when she’d first brought him here, unable to know what to say or do with him, but that had melted away. Claire doubted it would melt away as easily again, at least if neither of them intended to address the elephant in the room.

“I have to work today… I should be back in the late afternoon, hopefully.” She told him. Jamie had forgotten she was a nurse and instantly felt silly, had that not been the reason they met in the first place? He had kept her from her duties far too long.

“You can help yourself to anything you like… I can make your something later, when I get back.” Would he still be here? Her heart began racing at the idea of finding her home empty, and Jamie gone from her life, to never see him again.

“I was thinking…” Jamie stood up, unable to meet her gaze, he scratched at the back of his neck awkwardly. “I think it might be best if I go. I’ve overstayed my welcome.” He looked up to her then, and the dread of what she thought was coming had finally come, and settled in the air between them.

“You don’t have to leave on my account.” Claire said, for some reason her voice was laced with emotion, emotion she hoped would not seep through but it was clear from his eyes that he caught it. “About last night, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have-“

“Claire.” Jamie said at once, and Claire stopped speaking to look up at him.

“It’s not you.” But it was. How could he stay here and torment her? She was married, and he wanted her so badly but yet he could never have her, not like that. “I promise, it’s nothing you’ve done.” He explained, hoping she would blame herself for his parting.

“I have to go sometime. Staying will only make things worse.” He went on, looking at her and she understood. Of course she understood. She wanted him to stay so badly and yet she knew that him staying would only complicate things further. Frank had to come home some time, didn’t he? And what then? Three people didn’t make up a marriage.

“Will you wait? Just until I come back.” Claire asked, knowing she could not force herself out of the door to go to work only to worry all day, to have them part like this. “So I can say goodbye properly.” She explained, why was this so difficult? A week ago she had not known him at all, how was he having this effect on her?  “Please.”

It was the desperate plea in her final word that made him nod, despite himself. He wanted to go, to leave right now and hate himself for it later, but seeing her face and knowing it might be the last time he’d ever see it again in his life, he selfishly found himself agreeing to her wish, knowing it would hurt all the more later because of it.

Claire let out her breath, not even realising she’d been holding it. With a gentle nod, she grabbed her cardigan from the door and made to leave, giving him a small smile in parting and he returned it.

Claire left her house that morning to find Gladys McKinnon out in her garden, talking to one of her neighbours over the fence. The street for some reason seemed abuzz with people, women particularly out in their dressing gowns, with rollers still in their hair and puffing cigarettes, gossiping about something.

Gladys walked towards Claire and stopped her at the gate, eager to fill her in on the news, and Claire for once was happy to hear it, finding it all rather mysterious.

“Bombings!” Gladys burst out and Claire couldn’t help but feel she seemed delighted to declare such horrific news. “Bombings last night in Glasgow!” She went on. “Two factories went up, hundreds killed…”

Claire nodded, though felt deeply disgusted in her neighbour’s behaviour, however she knew Gladys was merely only joyous to be the first to convey news to her.

“That’s what the air raid was about last night.” Though Claire had put that together herself.

“I don’t know why they’d be bothered to come all the way to Scotland to bomb us, hasn’t London got loads of factories?” The woman over Gladys’ gate joined in, puffing at her cigarette like a steam train.

“Probably just to put the wind up us! So we don’t think we’re safe up here!” Gladys was quick to reply.

That was when Claire saw a tall gentleman in Army regatta walk down the street towards them. Over his body was a brown bag, and in his hand was a carefully sealed letter.

Everyone watched him, and Claire felt her stomach drop. It was clear who the man was and he was not a man anyone wanted to see, not anyone with a loved one fighting in the war. An Officer of the Army, come to bear terrible news.

It immediately felt like a game of roulette; a person expecting the letter was for them, sighing with relief when they were passed. Claire felt her heart clench and in a matter of moments, when the Officer walked by her, she hoped to sigh with relief again. But relief never came.

“Mrs Frank Randall?” Claire felt her heart rate quicken, hammering in her chest as she looked up at the man who addressed her. With some delayed reaction, she felt herself nod just as the nausea rose in her throat.

“I’m very sorry, mam.” He said, pushing the letter into her palm and for some strange reason, she found herself pushing it back, imagining that if she never received the letter, she shouldn’t receive the bad news and be able to go on with her life oblivious to it.

The man was firm though and pushed the letter back, touching her shoulder in condolence before he went about his duty.

It seemed as though every eye was upon her now, especially the burning gaze of Gladys, and for the first time, the old woman had nothing to say.

Claire turned on the path, wanting nothing more than to vanish inside again. Her heart was hammering in her chest and her breath felt tight, as though someone was clasping her heart and squeezing the life from her. Looking down at the letter in her palm she wasted little time in tearing the seal, pulling out the paper to know the fate of her husband.

The first sentence was enough. Curly writing in black ink that started ‘We deeply regret to inform you,’ Claire gasped, looking up for a moment’s reprieve until she felt the shock take hold of her again with the quickness of breath and the fast beating of her heart before she forced her eyes down at the paper again. ‘That your husband, Private Frank Randall has been declared missing in action.’

That was enough. She needed no more confirmation, her worst fears had been realised. Her hands were trembling and her head felt light, probably due to the short shallow breaths she was taking. It was obvious to her now that she was going into shock, having felt the colour drain from her face the moment the letter had been pushed into her hand. Claire wanted to try and stop it, to calm down but then, how could she? Her husband was more than likely dead and there was not a thing she could do about it.

She felt a cold sweat cover her body before tingling sensations followed. She moved a hand to her brow, still gasping for air as though someone was choking her and that was when her vision began blurring around the edges and her head began to throb in unison with her heart. She felt herself going down and didn’t resist, instead she gave herself to the darkness.

 

***

 

When Claire opened her eyes next, she found she was not outside anymore, but in her living room, laying down on the couch. Blinking a few times, confusion flooded her body the same time reality did, and everything came back to her at once.

Jamie was looking down at her, a worried expression on his face as he pressed a damp cloth to her brow. She frowned and tugged it off immediately, trying to stand up but Jamie forced her back into a seated position.

Easy, Sassenach.” He said, but Claire did not wipe the frown from her face. It became clear to her now that she must’ve fainted, and somehow Jamie had managed to take her inside.

“How long have I been here?” She asked, her tone sharp.

“Only about ten minutes or so.” He explained.

Claire felt her heartbeat quicken again and a sickening feeling rise in her throat. This time she was sure she wasn’t going to faint again, even if she did feel slightly lightheaded still and extremely worn out from the despair that plagued her.

Her eyes flashed up at the letter, which was currently still out of the envelope and sitting on the coffee table. It was clear Jamie had seen it.

Jamie caught her eyes glancing at the paper, and held his tongue, unable to know what to say to her. How was he to ever comfort her for losing her husband, a man he had not met, after everything between them?

For some reason, Claire felt angry. It bubbled inside her. She had never lost anyone like this before, but she’d witnessed death enough to know the numbing hollow feeling that gnawed from the inside out. She had been five years old when her parents were killed, much too young to understand or know what the loss truly was. When her Uncle Lamb had died, that had been different too. He was old, it was his time to go, she had been well prepared for that parting. But now, having lost Frank, it was far too soon. He was still young and they still had a life to resume together. Now those plans were lost.

Getting up, Claire crossed the room. Jamie was uneasy at her even standing for a moment but when he realised she had no intention of leaving the room, he settled and stared at her, she felt his eyes burn into her back but yet, she couldn’t look at him. The anger was still so fresh in the pit of her stomach. But why was she angry? Frank was dead, of that she was certain. How many times had she worried of that fate coming to pass? Yet it had not stopped her feeling for Jamie the way she did and now, she was sure she was ashamed and that was why the anger seethed within.

“I’m sorry, lass.” She heard him say. His voice was slow and uncertain, as though he was debating whether he should say anything at all. His words stung, like the poking of a wound still sore.

Claire said nothing. Her mind was racing with thoughts of a different matter. Such as, what would have happened if Jamie had never come and she was still here, alone. Completely committed to Frank and waiting his return? Would that have meant her husband would still be alive? Of course not. Jamie was not the fault of his passing, but it was his presence alone that made Frank’s death harder to bare. She had kissed Jamie the night before, unknowing then that her actions would haunt her longer now than they ever could have before. She would forever be plagued with the guilt that while her husband had died, she had been with another with no second thought of him.

“The letter says he’s missing, though…” Jamie tried again, lifting the paper and examining the words.

“He’s dead, Jamie.” She replied. Her voice was low and final, but that didn’t deter him.

“If he was dead though, would they not say it? No, they said he’s missing-“

“He’s dead!” Claire shot back impatiently, just wishing he would stop talking. She turned to glare at him, her breath quickening now because of the anger that boiled inside. She felt so out of control, having no clue why these emotions were commanding her so strongly.

“But lass.” Jamie went on bravely. “Look at me, I’m lost – I’m no dead, am I?”

“Oh, so you think he’s fallen through time too, do you?” She replied quickly, her tone laced in sarcasm. She closed her eyes a second and balled her fists, trying to remain calm.

“No…” Jamie sounded defeated, as though his efforts in raising her spirits were wasted, as he knew they would be. “I mean… My folk probably think I’m dead, and I’m not – I’m just missing, same as your Frank.” He tried again.

Claire let a huff leave her lips of impatience. “You don’t understand, if he’s missing he’s as good as dead!”

“Aye but… Ye don’t know that for sure.”

“Oh, and you do?” The anger that raged within was coming out now. Why couldn’t he just be quiet and leave her be? It would do more damage than good, and she was too far gone in her temper to notice the good intentions behind his words. “You don’t know anything!” Her voice was raised and she glared at him, like a wolf; intent on ripping him apart if he dared provoke her anymore.

“Claire.” He spoke softly but firmly. “Yer upset-“

“Upset? Of course I’m upset!” She shot back, her voice shrill and irritable. “My husband’s dead!”

“You don’t know that!”

Yes I do!

They were shouting at each other now. Jamie’s voice was raised in an effort to be heard over her, to make her understand, though he didn’t know what. He could only offer her comfort, though it was quite obvious by now that she didn’t want it, and that she was angry. Anger was a common reaction to grief, so it would be fruitless to try and stop her.

“Claire.” He tried again, his eyes searching hers for something other than aggression, though he didn’t find anything. “Calm down-“

“I will not calm down!” She snapped again. In her heart she knew he wasn’t trying to patronize her, to be cruel or unkind. He was only trying to help her, to comfort her somehow, but how could she let him? She didn’t want his comforting arm, simply because the guilt that was consuming her would devour her faster if he came close.

“Why don’t you just leave, already!” Came her next retort, and the malice in it even surprised her. But she wasn’t talking with her head anymore, she had allowed the anger within to control her thoughts and spit regretful words, as she usually did in her tempers.

Jamie said nothing more, deciding that it was no use trying to calm her down or comfort her, not if she wouldn’t allow it. She had just lost her husband, and instead of giving herself to grief, she fought against it, and instead of tears, came vicious blows of anger.

Claire stared at him for a moment, her heart thumping in her chest as the adrenaline shot through her veins. She didn’t want him to leave, that was the last thing she wanted, but then the bitter memory of Frank kept entering her mind and making her squirm with unease. Her husband had died, and here she was with another man in her house, wanting him to be there. For a moment she considered saying something more, but fought against the fury that wanted to blame Jamie for everything, even if none of it was his fault, or hers for that matter. Before she could make matters worse, Claire stormed across the living room and past him, bolting through the door and leaving him, as she went to her room, the banging of the door was enough signal for Jamie not to disturb her until enough time had passed.

Jamie sighed, hating himself. There was nothing he could do or say to make anything better. She wouldn’t even allow his comfort, and he could understand why. It was plain to them both that this, between them, whatever it was, was not a platonic friendship anymore. With her husband vanishing and presumably dead, it only filled the both of them with a deeper guilt. No doubt Claire was tearing herself up about it, Jamie was too. What if he had never appeared? What if everything had been different and he’d left her be, before anything could develop between them? There was no use thinking of anything like that now though, it was much too late, the damage had been done.

In the hours that passed, he contemplated leaving. Did she really mean it? Did she want him gone? Before she had left she had pleaded he stay long enough for her to bid him goodbye, but that was before she received the crushing news. Perhaps it would be better if he left, but then he knew he couldn’t make for Inverness and wonder if she would be all right. Her husband had just died, was that not bad enough? Did he have to leave her too?

Fighting with himself, Jamie remained in her living room until day turned into night, though he was too lost in thought to notice. There were times such an anger filled him that he wanted to break something or smash a fist through a wall, whilst others he simply wanted to sit and hang his head in his hands, hoping that an answer to all this confusion would present itself. That was when he decided that no answer would come while he was down here alone, he had to go to Claire and find the answer for himself.

Lifting himself off the couch, he made his way to the bedroom. Opening the door, he wondered if she might be asleep. She had been up here hours, and there had been no noise or stir from her at all, which worried him. Surely, she wouldn’t do anything silly?

Jamie found her though, sitting on the floor beside the bed. She looked incredibly tired and worn, sitting like a frightened child in a hopeless situation. However bad Jamie’s day had been, Claire’s had been evidently worse and that could easily be seen by simply looking at her face. How could he selfishly be worrying about his own problems, when she probably felt the loneliest she’d ever felt.

Claire glanced up at him, she looked surprised to see him. Jamie sat down next to her on the floor, seeing her face more clearly now. Her cheeks were tear stained and her eyes puffed and swelled. The anger had evidently left her hours ago, and the grief had finally come and it broke his heart to see it.

He reached a hand out to cradle her cheek as her eyes met his. Her golden hues that glistened in the darkness bore into his with a look of defeat.

“I’m sorry.” She whispered with a small sigh, to disguise the fact that her voice was on the verge of breaking.

“You’ve nothing to be sorry for.” He told her, just before she crumbled again and he pulled her close into his embrace and held her tight, while she gave herself to the despair that tore at her from the inside.

Jamie soothed her, touching her hair and muttering Gaelic words of comfort in her ear, feeling his own heart ache to see her like this and knowing deep within that there was nothing he could do to take it away, aside from being here.

“I didn’t mean it… I don’t want you to go.” She mumbled into his chest sometime later, as they sat on the floor together, with Claire locked in his embrace, her head against his chest while he stroked her hair and rested his own head against hers.

“I’m no going anywhere, Sassenach.” Jamie told her in a soft whisper, knowing that even if he wanted to, he could not leave her now, not when he realised how much he wanted her. Could he ever have bid her goodbye and left her? Maybe before, when her husband still lived. But not now, not when she lay so broken and fragile in his arms.

“Am I a terrible person?” Claire said after a moment, pulling her head from him to look up into his face.

“How?” Jamie asked, wondering why she would ever think a thing like that.

Claire had sat for the entirety of the day mourning for Frank and hating herself because her heart longed for another, and the mere thought of Jamie leaving her now made her winch. But what kind of person was she at all, to not yearn for the embrace of her husband who had died in an effort to return to her, but to want instead the comfort of the man in which her feelings belonged?

“For wanting you.” She said, her face contorted with the confliction she felt. She had learned to live without Frank, but the idea of Jamie leaving her seemed unbearable. Claire knew she could live without Frank; she just didn’t know if she could live without Jamie.

Her statement had been bold and yet, she felt no embarrassment in saying it. Before she had tried so very hard to ignore the feelings that burned for Jamie, for a mere stranger that had managed to take control of her heart. She had vainly thought they would go away as soon as he left and naively believed she was just helping this man on his way, when it had all been so different. She had spent long enough in her own company today to understand what she wanted, and that was Jamie.

Jamie stared down at her, a hand moving to sweep a strand of brown hair from her face and he smiled at her beauty. “If you’re a terrible person for wanting me, Sassenach, then that makes me the devil himself.” Jamie said, his eyes scanning her face. “Because I want you even more.”

Claire allowed herself to smile at him in return, her own eyes searching his face and finally settling on his wide blue eyes. She lifted a hand to his cheek and felt the soft stumble of red against her fingers, before she pressed her lips to his, giving into the desire in her that sang for Jamie and allowing herself to forget the guilt that stirred for Frank, if just for a moment, and allowed herself to be selfish enough to have him.

Jamie’s lips melted against hers, feeling the desire that had yearned for her touch for so long, burn brighter than ever before. He knotted his fingers in her hair and kissed her back with a fierce longing, which she seemed to return gladly. The idea of leaving her now seemed impossible. Whatever happened now, they were together.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7,

Goodbye.

 

It had been a week since the news arrived about Frank, that he was reported missing and assumed dead. Claire had forced herself back to work, insisting that it was the best thing for her right now, burying her head at the hospital would help keep her mind off everything, and there was already so much to think about. What about their home in Oxfordshire? Claire would be forced back to retrieve their memories, having to go through his things and move on, remembering only the times they had before this war forced them to separate. She’d deal with all of that later, she supposed. The war was still going on, and Scotland seemed the safest place to be right now.

The guilt still hung heavy on her mind though, that in her heart the feelings she felt for Frank where disappearing, replaced all the stronger now for Jamie. What kind of person was she at all? Her husband dead and already her heart yearned for another man. While he felt the same, or at least she thought he did, didn’t help her any. They had admitted their feelings for one another that night, one week ago and cemented it with a kiss, one she was sure she’d never forget – even if he never done it again, Frank had never kissed her like that before. But nothing else had come of it. Claire returned to work the next day and had been working ever since, while Jamie spent his days at her home, reading her small collection of books and trying his very best to learn even more about the century he was trapped in. Just what they’d do about that, they hadn’t decided yet. That too had been avoided and Claire realised everything was piling up around her, and something had to be done about it.

There was an almighty crash next that shook her from her thoughts. Reality returned and she realised where she was and what she’d been doing. One glance down at her feet revealed just what the crash had been and who had caused it. She’d just dropped a large porcelain wash bowl filled with water.

“Claire!” Came the voice of one of the nurses who abandoned her medicine trolley to come rushing down to assist her.

Immediately, the fellow nurse named Jennifer, was on the floor with a cloth, picking up the scattered porcelain and trying to quickly mop up the mess. “You need to go home, Claire.” She muttered quickly, with the slightest hint of pity.

“No, I’m fine…” Claire mopped her brow, feeling very disorientated all of a sudden. What had gotten into her? She realised that her friend was on the floor cleaning up her mess and she was doing absolutely nothing to help.

“I’m sorry.” She quickly bent down to assist cleaning up the broken porcelain when a booming voice from behind made her jump out of her skin.

“Mrs Randall!” Came the familiar voice of Matron, striding up the hall to discover just what the crash had been. “Nurse Beckett is right – you’re to go home immediately.” She concluded without so much as glancing at the mess.

“Matron,” Claire glanced up, suddenly feeling very bashful. “It’s just a broken wash bowl-“

“But it’s not just that, is it?” Matron eyed her, until she stood up and brushed herself down, finding it very difficult to meet her superior’s eye.

“Look, Claire.” Matron began in a softer tone. “We all know you’ve had it quite hard recently, but you’ll work yourself into a grave if you don’t rest.” Claire looked up to retaliate but thought better of it. “You’re to take some time off and that’s an order, Claire. Keep up the way you’re going and you’re sure to kill someone!” Matron concluded, striding off again and leaving Claire speechless.

Her work at the hospital was her only escape. Though, admittedly, she was taking advantage a little too much. Burying her head here was not to put off the mourning for Frank, but feelings and decisions she didn’t care to make right now. Perhaps some time off would be for the best though, if anything it would force her to try and figure out what exactly was going on with her and the Scotsman currently living in her house.

***

It was a long walk home, but Spring was in the air and the rain had kept off for a while, though Claire imagined it wouldn’t be for long, having become well accustomed to Scottish weather by now. She found Jamie in the living room, who currently had his head buried in ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald. He seemed rather startled when he saw Claire appear at the doorway and almost dropped the book.

“I’m sorry… it’s just, it’s fascinating, is it no? Is this what the nineteen-twenties were like?” Jamie spat the word like a toddler learning to talk while all the same utterly baffled at the idea of high rise buildings and motorcars.

“Yes.” Claire confirmed, shrugging off her coat. “I lived through them, only a child at the time, but that book is based in America. England is nothing in comparison, I imagine.” She informed him, recalling that most of her childhood was not even spent in England, instead by the side of her archaeologist uncle Lamb, though that detail didn’t seem to matter right now.

“Besides that, reading about Jay Gatsby is unlikely to be of any use – it’s fiction.” She pointed out.

“Aye, I knew that…” He asked, as he closed the book and set it back on the shelf with the rest of her small collection. “So, all of it’s not true then?”

“Well the characters are made up, but the setting isn’t.” She stated before sitting across from him on the armchair, and sighing as her tired limbs ached.

“Oh so, all that stuff about big buildings and flapper girls is real?” He asked, looking alarmed.

“Yes,” Claire said, slightly frustrated. “But it doesn’t even matter. None of my books are based in the eighteenth century, so none of them will help you.” Jamie had decided he didn’t want to find out the names of the men that died – or would die – in the battle of Culloden moor. He had however wanted to read about what would happen afterwards, so if he survived the battle, he would at least be prepared.

“Aye, I see.” Jamie replied. No longer wishing to push her.

Claire had not meant to snap, she was merely tired and annoyed at herself for things she could not change. Lifting a hand to rub her temple, she instantly regretted the tone she’d used with Jamie, and saw his reluctance in carrying out further questions. Still, she said nothing for a while and allowed the silence to surround them, glad of the peace from a hectic day at the hospital.

“Frank would’ve loved you.” Claire said suddenly out of the blue, her irksome mood having suddenly vanished. It was a stark comment but nostalgia had somehow got the better of her.

“He was a historian, so he dedicated his life to digging through history. He had ancestors from the eighteenth century. If anyone could’ve helped you, he could.” Though, Claire imagined Frank wouldn’t have believed Jamie’s tale of falling through time as easily as she had. He always had a way of stripping any scenario down to look at the logical side first, which spoilt simple revelations at times.

Jamie said nothing, unable to think of a reply that would suffice. She had not mentioned Frank since that night and what was between them hung in the balance ever since. Claire had distanced herself and Jamie hardly seen anything of her. When he awoke in the morning, she was gone and only in the late hour did she return. In fact, this had been the first day that she had come home early; he wondered why.

Reality came back to her quickly then, and she sat up. Even if Jamie had a reply, she didn’t wish to hear it. Talking of Frank like he was dead felt sore, like poking an unhealed wound. In her mind, he was still at war, fighting. Yet, he was gone and she’d never see him again. That was another reality she’d have to face. At least, if there was a bright side, she didn’t have to worry anymore. But that thought felt intrusive and almost cruel. Her worst fear had come true had it not? How many nights had she lay awake with worry that Frank would not return? Only to have that fear solidified now.

“Do you want something to eat?” Claire asked, standing up then and already making her way to the kitchen to distract herself “I picked up my food rations yesterday evening before I came home. There’s some beef, I think.” She went on, going to dig in her refrigerator. Jamie got up and followed.

“Why are you home?” He asked as casually as he could, waiting by the door as Claire pulled the meat parcel from one of the shelves.

“I just am.” She replied, setting to work on dinner, but Jamie was not satisfied by that answer.

“You’ve been gone near a week; I’ve hardly seen ye…” He said, softer now. “Are ye to work again tonight?”

His question, in turn, seemed somewhat hopeful. Claire all of a sudden felt nervous and she didn’t know why, it had something to do with the direction of the conversation she knew, but why should that scare her?

“No.” She replied, as she moved to pull some potatoes out from under the sink.

Jamie said nothing, though Claire knew he was waiting on some sort of explanation. A part of her was angry, wanting to demand why she should have to explain herself to him, but she wanted him here, if anything she was so glad of the company. Coming home to an empty house and realising it was all the future she had, she couldn’t bear thinking about what it would be like when he left.

“They’ve given me some time off.” She said, glancing up at him finally. In her eyes she pleaded that he didn’t push further. How embarrassing would it be for her to explain she was forced to go home, to give up her work for a while and face her problems, it was already embarrassing enough that everyone at the hospital was doubting her stability and probably thought her on the verge of some mental breakdown because she’d lost her husband a week previously. Little did they know the turmoil she felt inside was not for Frank, which made her feel slightly disgusted in herself. Still, she took sufficient pride in her work and now she felt a bit useless that she wasn’t needed there for the moment.

Jamie suppressed a smile. His own thoughts were up the air and everything seemed chaotic. His plans of returning to his own time were put on hold after what had happened, both with Claire’s husband and what he felt for her. But she’d been gone so long, he wondered if she’d ever want to talk to him again without running off when he entered a room.

“Then some supper seems grand, Sassenach.” He said finally before leaving her to it, returning to his tale about Jay Gatsby and the wonders of the nineteenth century.

***

The sun was setting in the sky by the time dinner was served, but it was still bright enough, even with the late Springtime rain that battered down. Though, it was not a harsh storm, almost a refreshing downpour that soaked the Scottish hills to life once more.

They ate for a while in silence. Claire could not help but feel the smallest bit awkward, which surprised even her. She was not an awkward person by any means, but she felt as though the last rational conversation she had with Jamie about anything besides the eighteenth century or the twentieth for that matter, was quite a while ago and given what had happened, how could they strike up again where they left off?

“This is verra nice, Sassenach. Thank ye.” Jamie said between a mouthful of food.

Claire looked up and smiled, gladdened by his starting of conversation. If left to her, she feared she’d never think of anything in time.

“It’s fine. I’m sorry there’s not more, they think there’s only one living in this house.” She said, knowing the rations of food were small already, never mind dividing them between two. By the looks of Jamie, a meal like this would never come close to filling him up.

“No, no!” Jamie defended. “I’m verra thankful you’d share your food wi’ me.”

“Well, I’m not going to let you starve.” She chuckled, taking a sip of water. “Every man has to sign up you see; I don’t want the authorities knowing you’re here because then they might investigate why an able man like you isn’t on the front.” She informed him, always fearful that someone might discover Jamie was well and working fit, and if the authorities did decide to do some digging, they would find nothing, because technically Jamie didn’t exist in the 20th century.

“I understand.” He nodded, glad by the fact that he had safe lodgings here, what would’ve happened if not for Claire? Likely, he would’ve been taken into one of the institutions Claire talked about (apparently witchcraft or magic was not a thing in this century) or he would have been forced to go off and fight for a cause he had no knowledge of.

“So…” Claire said, staring down at her plate and stabbing a pea with her fork. “When do you plan on going back?” Reluctantly, her eyes glanced upward to meet his. This had been the question the two of them had been avoiding.

“I hadna really thought that one through yet.” He said after a moment, huffing out a sigh of hopelessness. “As soon as I can arrange passage to Inverness, I suppose.” He decided, not wishing to put the inevitable off any longer, though he hoped Claire might have something to say about it.

“Well…” Claire looked down at her plate again and distracted herself by cutting a slice of meat, happy for the casual flow of conversation again. “If you’ve gotten over your fear of cars, that can be arranged soon enough because Inver-.”

“Are ye wanting rid of me that much?” Jamie burst out, making Claire’s eyes shoot up to look at him, surprised by his starling response. Jamie had sincerely hoped she might have felt something for him, given that she’d admitted as much before. Though her feelings seemed plain now. He was angry of course, but not at her, at himself for even allowing his feelings to develop this far for him to have this kind of reaction.

“No, that’s not what I meant.” Claire said, with a look of hurt on her face to imagine she’d offended him in some way.

“Aye well, I’ll be out of yer hair as soon as can be.” He seemed to growl with annoyance, setting his knife and fork down and moving to get up, but not before a loud siren sounded through the small house. Jamie recognised the sound, he’d heard it before.

Claire dropped her own knife and fork with a clatter, and got up. The air raid siren was being sounded and it sent a shiver down her spine as it always did. It was such an eerie sound, a foreboding of terrible things to come.

“We’ll have to go to the shelter, quick!” Claire said, moving to collect a blanket from the back of the couch in the living room.

Jamie stood still and made no movement, his face hung heavy with the thoughts that he bared.

“Jamie, please!” Claire turned to him, pleading with him to put whatever ill feeling he had for her behind him for now.

“Where is the shelter?” He inquired, lifting a torch from the side board as they moved to the back of the house. Claire took quick precautions to turn all of the lights off before they ventured out into the back garden, where her little Anderson shelter sat. It looked like a huge mould of grass, but easily seen from the side was a little tin door.

“No, shine it at the ground!” Claire hissed frantically as Jamie turned on the torch and shone it carelessly around the garden, enthralled by it. It was still dusk, and the rain was coming down heavy, which made Claire want to groan. She hated the Anderson shelter, it was so cold and damp at the best of times, let alone in mid-April.

Within moments, they were safely packed into the little shelter. It was extremely tiny, with just enough room for two or three people. Jamie and Claire sat together on the cold concrete bench, listening to nothing but the thump of rain hitting off the tin and the dulled sound of the siren still ringing outside. It was also terribly dark, they had only the torch for light which Jamie took care to flick on and off to save the batteries, under Claire’s instruction.

They were silent for what felt like a very long time. It was horrible and cold in here, and Claire hated using it. Thankfully this time though, she had the company of Jamie.

“Are you cold?” She gasped as quickly as the thought struck her, realising she was still holding the folded blanket in her lap.

“No, I’m fine, Sassenach.” He tried rejecting the blanket she already had halfway across his shoulders. “Put it round yerself.”

“We’ll share it.” She decided, knowing how cold it got in here. She draped the blanket around his shoulders and around her own, so they were carefully side by side and snuggled together under the red tartan, wearing it almost like a shawl. She heard Jamie stifling a chuckle at her insistence.

“Do ye usually come in here on your own?” Jamie asked, turning to look at her face through the dim light of the torch. The little shed illuminated from its light and cast shadows on the tin roof.

“Yes.” Claire nodded. “Though, usually I’m in the hospital, so we were normally all together in the basements.” Where work usually resumed in the hours spent on an air raid. She felt like groaning at the thought of spending the night in here, however.

“Do ye no get afraid?” Jamie asked, referring back to the times she was forced to come in here on her own.

“Of course.” She confessed, remembering the dread she experienced on many nights when she was awoken by the awful siren and forced to make her way to this little fortress in her garden, where she was alone in the darkness waiting for it to end. “You try not to think about getting bombed.” She admitted. “Though, there’s really nothing else to think about when you’re by yourself in here.” It was very easy to work yourself into a panic about it all, and there were many times Claire was on the verge of an attack of herself, but drifting away in thought usually sent those notions away immediately. After all, panicking wasn’t going to help the situation.

“Well nothing will harm ye now.” Jamie reassured her, placing his hand on top of hers, sensing the fear she felt even now.

Claire smiled at his heroic response, as charming as it was – there was little Jamie could do if a bomb did hit. “And you’re certain of that, are you?” She replied with a gentle smirk tugging on the corners of her lips.

“Positive.” He replied, returning her smirk and showing his teeth, that glinted in the dull torch light.

“So what will you do now?” Jamie resumed the conversation after a moment. “Will ye leave Scotland?”

“No, not until the wars over.” If it ever ends, she noted in her head. “It’s the safest place for me now.” Though, it didn’t really matter, she supposed. Despite the fact that Germans were currently flying over their heads and as daunting as that seemed, it scared her even more to think when the war eventually did end, she’d have to start anew.

“If I were you,” She said quickly, before he had a chance to reply. “I’d get yourself to Inverness as soon as possible and get out of here.” What use was there in staying here, in this godforsaken place? At least in the eighteenth century he would safe from bombs flying through the air.

“And why is that?” He frowned slightly, not understanding why all of a sudden there needed to be an immediate rush in his departure.

“It’s not safe here.” Claire replied, as though the answer was obvious.

“Well, if what you say is true Sassenach, my time will be no safer either.” Culloden was approaching.

“Jamie,” Claire said finally, a pang of desperation in her voice. “You need to go home.” For the first time, she truly was uncertain about his safety. How long would this war go on for? And how long could he keep on living here? Something was developing between them but it would be unfair to try and see it through, wouldn’t it? He didn’t belong here.

“And what shall become of you, Claire?” The name Claire felt strange leaving his lips. He rarely called her by her Christian name, it felt right however, to say it aloud.

“What do you mean?” She replied, and there was a crease of confusion to her brow that was lost in the darkness but he caught it in her tone.

“If I leave… What will become of you?” He said slowly, making her understand his meaning.

“I’ll go on…” Claire replied quickly. “As before.” Before Jamie had entered her life.

“On your own?” Jamie highlighted a fair point that now, Frank no longer existed. “Will ye go back to your parents?” He tried.

“My parents are dead.” She stated plainly, her words lacking any sort of painful emotion that came with the loss of two prominent people. The death of her parents was a plain fact that she’d lived with all her life, they were people she never really knew and therefore she never understood what it felt like to have them. There was a void, she supposed, but she’d filled it in her healing. Feeling sorry for oneself seemed unimportant and almost selfish to Claire, especially with so much dying going on in the world right now.

“Oh…” Jamie said after a long moment. He felt as though he had intruded on a sore and bitter memory that was better left untouched, and with it all the tender emotions of death. But she seemed somewhat unaffected by it.

“And ye’ve no one?” He asked, feeling very sorry for her all of a sudden, if she were alone – how could he leave her?

Claire took a moment to answer. Her Uncle Lamb had died in the Blitz some years back, while Frank had perished no more than a week ago. Besides the confusing relationship she had built with the Scotsman beside her, she truly didn’t have anyone.

“No…” She muttered when she’d done thinking. “I don’t.” Suddenly, an odd sensation ran through her before she realised it was fear. Once Jamie left, she would be alone again, forced to try and rebuild life again and start anew. The prospect was rather a sickening one.

“Well… That’s verra sad indeed.” Jamie replied, and she heard the sympathy in his voice.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter about me.” Claire went on quickly, not wishing to ponder on the subject of herself any further. “The point is; you don’t belong in this time.”

Jamie said nothing. He merely looked up at her under the glow of the torchlight, his eyes heavy with thought and hopelessness. Claire could try to understand him but in truth, she likely would never be in a situation like his, so it would be patronizing to even try and begin to dictate to him. But she could be supportive. What she would not be supportive of however, was that look on his face, one she thought she knew well.

“You can’t honestly be thinking about staying!” She huffed out, as though the idea was incomprehensible.

“I can’t leave ye here on yer own!” He snapped back, and she realised the look on his face was not that of surety, but of guilt.

“Jamie…” She sighed, her voice softer now. She felt for his hand through the darkness and found it. “I can’t ask you to stay on my account…” What kind of woman would be if she asked him to sacrifice the life he had before, for this one, filled with unsafety and confusion?

“I know, Sassenach.” He replied, setting down the torch so it rolled on the bench beside him and settled, casting light up the wall. “You’re not asking me to do anything.”

Jamie took her hands, both of them, in his own and their eyes met in the dimness of the shelter. It was hard to imagine a war going on outside when in here. It felt safe for once and Claire felt at ease. Asking him to stay would be a terrible thing, but living without him would be even worse. Still, it was not in her nature to be selfish and that burden would be far too heavy to carry.

Please go back.” She had to force the words from her lips. It was the right thing to do after all.

“Do ye no want me to stay?” He replied softly.

“Of course I do.” She whispered, feeling relief in saying it finally. There was a gentle pop as the torch’s bulb burst and broke, leaving them in darkness, though neither of them seemed to notice.

“Then how can you beg me to leave?” He asked, not understanding how she could want him and push him away at the same time.

“How can I ask you to stay? You had a life before – a family. People who would miss you.” She reasoned. He had told her all about his sister at that place called Lallybroch. At least he had people that would miss him if he didn’t return, if that were even possible.

“A life where I’m hunted by the English? To go back to a time that will be filled with war and famine if everything is as you say?” He replied, trying to state his own reasons.

“Why are you fighting this?” She seemed to snap, but her tone was not harsh, it was still soft, though laced heavily with confusion.

“Because…” He said boldly, “I’ve tried to imagine a life without you now and I can’t.” His words were burdened with the thoughts that had filled him for the entirety of the week, he felt lighter somehow having said them.

“You have to!” She replied quickly, squeezing his hand the gentlest bit, feeling a twinge of emotion nip her voice. “You know absolutely nothing of the twentieth century, not to mention this war – God knows when it will end!”

“And I’d be gallant for walking away and leaving you in the middle of it, would I?” He raised a brow.

“It’s not about being gallant or playing the hero!” She retorted. “It’s about what’s right! I’ve lived on my own before you came here and I’ll carry on doing so when you leave!”

 Her words made him flinch and she instantly regretted her tone the second she’d finished. How could she tell him how much she felt for him without being selfish? But how could she push him away and act so cold? There was no winning in this situation, for either of them. But being cruel to be kind wasn’t a motive she was willing to take. Admitting she had no feelings for him and making him go would be the easiest option, but it would be the hardest to live with and it was the selfish part of her that refused to see it through.

“Jamie…” She whispered again her voice soft like before. Swallowing, she met his gaze through the darkness, preparing herself for the words she was about to spill.

“Please understand, that… I want you to stay more than anything.” And she did. “I don’t want to imagine what my life will be like when you leave it any more than you do, but we have to.” Her eyes pleaded that he put aside their feelings for now, and look at the picture on a bigger scale, even if it broke her heart to do it. “But can’t you understand how selfish I feel to even tell you this? Imagine if I had landed back in your time and you asked it of me, you couldn’t.” His eyes softened and she could see he was beginning to understand that her rejection was not of hate, but of love.

“You have a war to fight when you return, you’re needed there more. It’s your duty to return.” It felt strange that, despite how much she wanted him to stay, she was convincing him otherwise. Perhaps when he left the selfish part of her would regret this conversation, but she knew deep within her heart that if he stayed with her, it would be impossible to live with the burden that somehow, she had left him no choice and kept him from the fate he was bound for.

“And what of you?” He said replied tenderly, the ache so obvious in his voice at the thought of them parting.

“I’ll be fine.” Claire smiled, it was not a happy one however, instead it was wrought with sadness that she tried to conceal. “I promise you, I’ll be fine.” She reached up and touched his face and felt the prickle of his unshaven stubble stab her fingers.

“Will ye come with me, when I go?” He asked, feeling as though somehow he was asking too much, but she nodded.

“Of course I will.” These words seemed easier, as though she were agreeing to his dying wish no matter what it was. In a way, she supposed it was like that, because she’d never see him again. That thought made her throat feel tight and without having to do anything, he pulled her close in an embrace, and she buried her head in his chest, feeling the soft mohair’s of his coat tickle her face.

“I havena known you very long, Sassenach.” Jamie said into the darkness, stroking the softness of her chaotic curls. “But I know I’ll never meet anyone quite like you again.”

It was the same for her. Claire could not describe the immediate connection she had with Jamie, nor the deep feeling she had ever since she’d first met his gaze, a feeling she had denied herself ever since. Was it a strong enough connection to be called love? Time would tell, when he would leave her eventually and then her heart would assure her what she already knew. It would be hell to try and live without him.

Lifting her head, she looked at him with teary eyes. There was a smile on her face, but her chin wobbled with emotion ready to betray her. “I’ll miss you.” She said finally, before hugging him tighter. It was bizarre how she was reacting like this to a man she hardly knew, but at least this confirmed one thing. That those thoughts and feelings and that kiss they had shared, was not all in her head, nor where they impulsive acts of a lonesome widow – because Jamie felt it too. Yet, that only made it harder now.

They sat together in silence a while, with Jamie cradling Claire to his chest and rocking the slightest bit, like she was an upset child and he were trying to soothe her. But that’s exactly how she felt, hopeless and meek, unable to muster courage to move in case she shattered.

“You never did tell me though…” She mumbled against him after a while.

“What?” Jamie replied, stroking her hair still.

“What is your last name?” Her words were muffled against him but he caught them out just fine and smirked, huffing air out through his nose at the irrelevance of it in the scale of things.

“Fraser.” He said finally against her hair, before the comforting sound of rain thumping off the roof lulled them both into a gentle doze in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

PARTING WAYS

 

It was a fairly mild but dull day in Edinburgh. As good a day as one could expect, Claire thought as she peeped out the window and onto the street below. There, parked nicely outside her gate was a large maroon van with ‘Beckett’s Bakery’ written up the side in swirly yellow font. It was kind of her fellow nurse Jennifer to let her borrow her father’s van. Thankfully he had not needed it this weekend. Claire had told her that she was returning to her home in Oxfordshire to collect some things. But that was not the case at all.

Claire brushed herself down and turned her head back to the mirror in front and met her appearance with a sigh. Her chaotic hair was clipped away from her face but otherwise hung loose by her shoulders, while her fingers traced past the softness of the lamb’s wool jumper and down over the creamy coloured pinafore underneath. It would do, she decided, not particularly caring what she looked like, but to say she hadn’t made an effort would be a lie.

Today was the day. April 30th and the feast of Beltane. Jamie had worked out that if he had any chance of returning to his own time, better a feast day, when magic was ripe upon the earth, as he had learned from the many songs and stories told to him from his own time. Claire would have otherwise scoffed at the idea of magic, but now her perspective had changed somewhat and the mysteries of the world seemed evermore daunting.

There was a mixture of dread and fear mangled up inside Claire and she felt extremely saddened at what lay ahead. She would be forced to bid goodbye to Jamie and live with the knowledge that she’d never see him again. There would always be the curious part of her that would want to know if he lived or died on the battle of Culloden moor, or if he even fought in the Rising at all. She didn’t want to say goodbye, looking back over their weeks together brought a smile to her lips. They had had fun. At least she would remember him fondly, without the spoiling what they had now with feelings that would only hurt all the more when they eventually parted and the parting was already hard enough.

Sighing once more, Claire turned and forced herself from the bedroom, and down the stairs to meet Jamie in the living room.

Claire felt her breath catch in her throat when she laid eyes on him. He stood by the fireplace, looking taller than before and as fierce as he ever had. He wore his plaid like a true Scotsman with all the effects, besides that of his shirt which Claire had tried her very best to replace, though finding an authentic eighteenth century garment in the twentieth century was no easy task. His hair was neatly combed and while still wild, he looked incredibly smart and more handsome than ever. He had shaved too. The glisten of red stubble was gone from his chin, leaving his cheek bones prominent, as though he had been sculpted from bronze.

Jamie’s slanted blue eyes moved up to see Claire was in the room and he looked a bit startled, wondering how long she’d been standing there. She smiled at him, though he could easily read that it was touched with the slightest hint of sadness; the smile he returned was exactly the same.

“Are you ready then?” She asked, watching as he checked to see if everything was as it should be. His dirk was by his side and the leather sporran in place with all his effects inside. Finally, he lifted his eyes and nodded, before he sighed, looking around the living room. He seemed huge in comparison to the smallness of it, and it was quite easy to see he didn’t belong here, he belonged in another time.

“Are we to leave now then, Sassenach?” He said, and she suspected some hope in his voice, that maybe she might say no. But try as they might to avoid this, it was coming. Like the ripping off of a plaster, quick and painless and inevitable. The painless part though, would remain to be seen.

“Yes…” Claire lifted her arm to glance at her wristwatch. “It’ll take us half a day or more to get there.”

“Aye well, it would take at least two days or more in my time.” He said with jest, trying to hide the serious ache of the situation.

“I’ve packed us some lunch… and tea!” She remembered with a small smile, lifting the flask from the coffee table. “Oh and…” She vanished to the kitchen for a moment, leaving Jamie in bated breath. “I got you this.” Claire returned holding a small metal hip flask.

“I found it in one of the shops. It’s got no distinguishing features; no one will suspect it’s not from the eighteenth century.” She went on, moving to hand him the small flask. “I filled it full of whisky for you.” She looked rather bashful at this statement, though having no idea why. It wasn’t like a gift; it was more like a necessity. “I just supposed every true Scotsman had to have whisky on them at all times.” She added with a gentle smile, trying her very best to remain upbeat too.

“Thank ye, Sassenach.” He replied, altogether rather touched by the gesture. He examined the flask for a moment, before tucking it away in his sporran for safekeeping. Though no doubt, he would have the contents emptied before they reached their destination, if not for thirst, for cold.

“All right then.” Claire huffed, standing up straighter and tucking her hands in her coat pockets. “We better make a start, then.” Before she made a move to leave, finally.

“I just want to say…” Jamie burst out, making her turn to see him look altogether rather strained. “I just want to say thank ye, Claire.” He tried again, softly this time. “I appreciate everything ye’ve done for me, for letting me live in yer house and sharing yer food and making sure I was nursed back to full health.” Though he knew words would never do him justice. There was no possible way he could make her understand just how thankful he was for her help. Not many people would’ve treated him with such kindness, especially under the circumstances.

“You’re welcome.” She replied, though part of her wished he wouldn’t do this now. Leaving this house and knowing he’d never return to again was difficult enough, she didn’t want to know what it would feel like later, when they would have to say goodbye for good. “I’m sure you would’ve done the same for me.” And she did believe that, now that she knew him better and saw the kindness underneath.

“But not just that…” He went on. “For believing me, too.” There was a raw honesty to his words and a genuine appreciation for her, that she caught quite easily. Claire felt a twinge in her heart learning just what it meant to him, to have someone believe him outright without doubt. What he had told her had not been an easy thing to understand, but she had tried. Believing him had been easy, because when she looked into his eyes she didn’t see lies, only a trust that she returned equally and no words could explain it. Even she could not understand why she had believed him so freely, she just had.

“Believing you was the easiest thing of all.” She replied with a poignant smile on her lips. She wished she could linger there in that moment and just look at him one last time and admire him, but she reluctantly pulled herself from that train of thought and left the room, knowing that it was pointless. By tomorrow, Jamie Fraser would be nothing more than a memory. His fate indebted to the words of history, written long ago.

Jamie turned a moment and stood by the door of the living room by himself as Claire waited outside. He took a glance around the small room, realising that this would be the last time he’d stand in this little house that had been his home for a time. It was also the last time he’d ever see any twentieth century objects. He would never see a lamp light up on its own again without the use for a flame. He’d never understand the mechanics behind the record player. He’d never taste food cooked on a stove that didn’t require fire to operate it. All in all, Jamie felt a deep sadness run through him. It was funny how much he’d been desperate to return to his own time the moment he’d stepped outside the hospital that day. Now he felt sad leaving the future behind. Though, if he were entirely honest with himself he knew he would never really miss the central heating or the hot water at the turn of a tap or even the wonderful stories he’d read on the bookshelf. He’d miss Claire most of all. And with that thought in mind, Jamie turned and left the little cottage one last time.

Claire was waiting by the van. She held the door open and motioned with her hand for Jamie to come over. Reluctant, Jamie slowly ventured toward the metal box with a raised brow. He had never been fond of the idea of this type of transport. Though, Claire claimed no one really used horses anymore for their main mode of transport and cars were a faster and more efficient way of travelling.

“All right, get in…” Claire said, watching as Jamie eased himself onto the leather seat, looking extremely nervous. This made her chuckle the smallest bit, though her laugh was concealed as she slammed the door, making the rather fierce looking Scotsman almost jump of out of his skin.

Moving around to her own side and getting in, Claire noticed how stiff Jamie looked, as though he were afraid to move in case something might eject him from the seat.

“It’s all right…” She soothed, suppressing a gentle giggle as she touched his arm in a way of calmness before she went to turn the keys to start the ignition. “Just think of it as being in a horse and carriage.”

“I’m fairly sure carriages dinna make those kinds of sounds!” Jamie protested, looking shaken by the immediate roar of the engine. Claire laughed outright this time, to Jamie’s annoyance.

“Jamie, relax! Nothing is going to happen.” She replied, knowing now that if she ever did have any doubts about him being from the eighteenth century, this reaction all but confirmed it.

Within moments they had sent off up the street at a steady pace. Jamie was still holding himself stiff and looked wearily out the window, to see the passing of other cars and people. Though within moments he settled and relaxed, realising that motorcars were not as bad as he thought they’d be.

Claire glanced at him quickly, to see he had perked up some. He was like a child, glaring out the window and smiling to himself whenever he saw something he considered strange. Like a man in a long coat walking a dog or a woman pushing a pram with a baby cosily tucked inside.

“Aye, the twentieth century sure is an odd time, Sassenach.” He said, turning in his seat after they’d left the bustling town and were driving up into the countryside, leading to the Highlands.

“Here,” She said after a moment, all too conscious of the silence. She lifted her finger to press a button and within moments, the car filled with sound, an upbeat tune by The Andrew Sisters blared loudly from the small speakers and Jamie looked aghast.

“Ye’ve them in here too?” Jamie said, his eyes bulging at the radio.

Claire laughed again and nodded. She doubted she’d ever get tired of seeing his reaction to modern things. He appreciated them much more, even if the music was not to his liking.

“It’s odd music, is it no…” He commented to himself. Claire imagined the music from his own time was more traditional, with bagpipes and drums. Nothing akin to the sound of a trumpet or a saxophone likely passed through his ears.

“Are you allowed to be controlling this thing?” He asked Claire out of the blue, as though the idea of it just struck him that she was changing the gears and steering the wheel.

“Yes, of course.” Claire frowned, looking slightly confused. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“It’s just… In my time, ye never see a woman driving a carriage.” Jamie replied thoughtfully.

Claire laughed again, it occurred to her that Jamie might not think cars a common thing, but they were. This old van was probably the height of luxury in his eyes, with leather seats and a working radio. “Yes, well… Things change a lot in two hundred years.” Claire replied. “Women are allowed to do a lot of things you wouldn’t agree with.” She explained, knowing Jamie probably viewed women as was expected from his time. To be meek and obedient and sit prettily by the arms of their husbands; to be of little more use than pushing out babies.

“Like what?” He replied with a quizzical look on his brow.

“Well, they’re a lot more independent. Women can go out and get jobs and support themselves. They don’t have to get married and have children if they don’t want to.” Somehow, she felt glad that she was not from the eighteenth century. The idea of a man telling her want to do made her feel frustrated, being obedient was not in her nature.

“So they’re allowed more of a choice in the way they run their lives, is what you’re saying.” Jamie nodded, understanding. Claire half expected him to disagree with the idea of it, but he didn’t even so much as bat an eye, as though he accepted her word for what it was and without question.

“Is that why you dinna have any bairns then?” He asked rather starkly and without thought, too indulged in conversation to really take heed of what he was saying. “Do ye choose to be independent instead?”

“No…” Claire said, feeling very exposed. “I just – didn’t have children.” She replied, feeling very flustered all of a sudden and wishing the conversation would change.

Jamie caught himself at her reaction, though it was much too late. He felt embarrassed to have spoken so insensitively about a topic that was clearly very personal to her. If she had been hoping to have children with Frank, that hope would be dashed now.

“How long will it take us to get there?” Jamie spat out the first thing that came to mind.

“Oh, it’ll be some hours yet.” Claire replied. Normally the idea of an increasingly long drive would be gruelling. Though this time she had good company.

“Really?” Jamie replied, not knowing if he could contain himself in this van for that long. At least on a horse you were out in the open air and in control.

“Looking rid of me that quickly, are you?” Claire glanced at him quickly with a smirk on her face. Jamie moved to protest that his words were not meant in that way, but he saw her smile and laughed and Claire joined him.

“What will you tell your Uncle, when you go back?” Claire asked after a long moment of silence.

“Oh…” Jamie scratched his head, as he always done in thought, looking very much like a character out of a storybook. “I hadna thought about that one.”

“Well, I can’t imagine telling them the truth is an option.” She replied, turning the car down into a small country lane. The dirt road could hardly be made out from the shrubbery that was slowly swallowing it from the side lines of the path. “Will they believe you?”

“Don’t be daft.” Jamie waved a hand in the air, brushing off her comment. “They’ll clout me over the head and demand I start talking sense, and if I don’t… They might see reason to have me burned!” His words were made in jest, but Claire couldn’t really see the funny side. Witchcraft, even suspected, was a very real crime in the eighteenth century and enough for the death penalty.

“Do you think they’d do that?” She asked, her face going white at the idea of it. Only now did she remember how dangerous the past was, another reason to be glad she wasn’t born there.

“No…” Jamie shook his head, the smallest smile still lingering on his lips with confidence. “Because I’m not daft enough to tell them the truth.”

“So what will you tell them?” Claire asked again. “You’ve been gone some weeks; won’t they be worried?”

“Aye, they’ll assume the English have me.” He confided, the idea of that alone chilling. If the English ever did get him, he’d be hanged. “I’ll think of something… I could tell them I was at Lallybroch or something. Dinna fash.” Jamie replied, trying to shake off her upset for him. He would deal with his uncles when the time came. He had a long enough time to think about what he’d tell them anyway.

“Just be careful.” Claire said warily. “The last thing you need is more trouble.”

“Trouble is my middle name, Sassenach.” He smiled more prominently then before chuckling to himself, melting away the serious atmosphere that had arisen between them.

“What of you, what will you do?” Jamie asked, knowing he’d asked this before. But he was as worried about her future as she seemed to be about his, even if his was more dangerous.

“Perhaps I’ll be that independent woman after all.” Claire turned quickly to flash him a confident smile and they laughed again, though not long enough to change the subject.

“I hope you dinna mind me asking…” Jamie said, his voice soft all of a sudden, she could tell he was moving into personal territory and feared she might snap if he pushed her too far. Though, Claire knew she could never do that. “Ye said yer parents are dead… When did they die?”

“When I was five.” Claire replied, feeling a tiny bit of relief when she realised what he wanted to ask her about. Jamie seemed to relax more too at her openness to speak about it, and now he understood why. Losing her parents at five meant she never really knew them quite enough to notice the great loss, though it was likely a loss she felt all her life all the same.

“How did they die?” He asked again more freely, though the wariness still tainted his words.

“A car accident.” She said, taking her eyes off the road a moment to look at him, only to notice he’d gone a bit paler.

“In one of these things, ye mean?” Jamie felt himself stiffen again, when he realised he might very well be sitting in a death trap.

“Yes,” Claire sighed and shook her head, a small smile on the edge of her lips. “But it was different… You’ll be fine Jamie, I assure you.”

“Right…” Jamie still looked the smallest bit apprehensive about this now and his perspective on motorcars likely changed, but he decided to go on, to take his mind of it if anything else. “Who raised ye then? Have ye no siblings?”

“No.” Claire shook her head, though she didn’t feel the slightest bit lonely because of that fact. “My Uncle Lamb raised me.” She explained, and Jamie smiled at that. Probably because he too was now entrusted into his uncle’s care and they shared a similarity, however small. “He was an archaeologist though, so it meant I got to travel to many different countries with him.”

“A what?” Jamie said boldly, not even going to attempt to say that word.

Claire chuckled. “An archaeologist. Someone who…” There was a pregnant pause as she tried to think of a way to explain it so he’d understand. “Researches history.”

“Ye surround yerself with plenty of people interested in history, Sassenach.” Jamie observed, which made her smirk.

“Yes, and I have a real life eighteenth century antique sitting beside me!” She laughed, but Jamie merely looked confused.

“What do ye mean?” He asked.

“Nevermind.” She shook her head and laughed again, realising this journey would feel like a lifetime.

***

Hours passed and they filled it with general conversation, learning things about each other as the delicate sound of the radio whispered in the background, with Jamie making the occasional comment about some of the songs that where played. Claire had told him about her time in India, riding elephants and helping her Uncle find artefacts belonging to the Egyptians when they visited the pyramids. He seemed utterly amazed about all she had to say, and Claire realised that Jamie probably looked at her the same way she looked at him. In awe and fascination, and so knowledgeable from the time from which they came from.

Jamie had fallen asleep after a while and Claire envied him. Not that she was tired, but she was tired of driving. Fairly a simple task, it became increasingly monotonous after a while. Especially when all you had to look at was large stretches of empty road, surrounded by miles and miles of greenery. Scotland was a beautiful place; she didn’t really get to appreciate that before. But now, driving further into the Highlands and her thoughts not filled with her work, as it usually was, did she truly get to look and see the beauty of it for the first time.

After a while, Claire decided to pull over to the side of the road. There was a little path leading off into the forest and Claire reckoned it might be some sort of scenic walkway for tourists. There was no one around today however, besides the occasional car that droned past in a much faster speed than the little van they sat in could contemplate.

The stop of motion made Jamie wake up almost immediately. He seemed to jump out of his doze and took a few moments to remember his surroundings, before his sleepy eyes fell on Claire.

“Are we here?” He looked alarmed.

“No,” Claire replied. “I wanted to stop a while, do you mind? We’ve been driving for hours.” Claire pointed out and Jamie nodded.

“Of course.” He said whilst unfolding his arms. “How long was I asleep for?”

“Not very long… Not even half an hour, I don’t think.” Claire sighed. Leaving him she knew would be a horrible feat and she dreaded this journey back later on her own.

“Where are we?” Jamie asked, craning his neck to look out the rear view window of the van.

“I don’t know…” Claire replied, before digging in the glove compartment and taking out what looked to be a folded piece of paper that read. ‘A Map of the Scottish Highlands’. She proceeded to unfold it, and the huge chunk of paper almost took up half of Jamie’s lap as well as hers.

“I think we’re… Here!” Claire jabbed a forefinger into the centre of the paper after taking a considerable amount of time to observe it.

Jamie looked down at the page and nothing besides lines that craned and swirled up the paper in different colours and writing almost everywhere highlighting all the road names.

“Yer asking the wrong person.” He told her, pushing the paper back to her and she looked up and smirked, before folding up the map and tucking it away again.

“I’ve been to Inverness before but I didn’t drive. So hopefully we manage to get there before nightfall.” She explained, which didn’t seem to make Jamie look any happier.

“Do you want to go for a stroll?” She asked, shaking the previous conversation away. She’d deal with the treacherous road markings of Scotland later. “I need to stretch my legs – don’t you?”

“Aye!” Jamie had the door open before she could say much more, reminding her of a dog desperate to be let outside. She chuckled at the thought before remembering the sandwiches and tea, perhaps he was hungry too.

Jamie held the little gate open for her as they passed through, and it swung shut aggressively through force of springs. The path was gravelled a little way along before the pathways turned to dirt and soil. It was a pretty, scenic walkway canopied by tall trees that hid the sky from view. The air smelled fresh and clean and it was warm, if dull, at least.

“Where are we, Sassenach?” Jamie asked, walking along beside her. His eyes less drawn in by the beautiful nature surrounding him. Though Claire imagined it was because this was the life he knew. Nature in its untouched form, not tarmacked roads and motorcars and buildings.

“No idea.” Claire admitted, looking down from glancing up at the trees to look at Jamie. He looked around warily, probably second guessing that Claire knew where she was going at all and if they’d ever get to Inverness. He was no doubt anxious about it all.

“Don’t worry!” Claire smiled, resting a hand on his arm. “We’ll get there, I promise.” Besides, this was to be a break from the rest of the journey that awaited them.

“There, look – that looks like a nice spot!” Claire quickly changed the subject, hoping to brighten his mood. She pointed across the path, where a little pond sat with ducks gathered around it on the bank. At the sight of Jamie and Claire coming to disturb them, they all quacked loudly and waddled off the bank and into the water, likely to get away from the intruders. Their hasty departure had made free a little stretch of grass that was perfect for a rest.

Laying down the blanket, Claire and Jamie both sat down while Claire began pouring the tea from the flask into the two little metal cups. When asked if he wanted sugar, Jamie merely gave her a glistening smile and pulled the flask she had gave him out of his sporran and tipped some of the contents into both of their drinks, making Claire chuckle.

“You Scots really do take whisky with everything, don’t you?” Claire said, taking a sip. It tasted rather bitter, and while it would take some getting used to, she took another hearty gulp regardless. Though, she still would’ve preferred a sugar cube.

“Och aye!” Jamie replied, tucking his flask away again before he lifted his tea to drink. “Whisky’s good for everything!”

“I can’t imagine you ever get anything done.” Claire commented, realising Jamie may have poured a little too much of the strong spirit into her tea, she thought it would be best to abandon it if she wanted to keep a clear head for driving.

“Aye well, there’s nothing better than a wee dram to take your mind off things.” Jamie replied, eagerly gulping his own tea.

For a while, Claire had been distracted at what lay ahead, until he had said that. Then she remembered the harsh reality both of them were avoiding, one that loomed nearer as the hours passed. Soon, they would reach the Standing Stones and Jamie would hopefully return to his own time, and the time the two of them had spent together would be little more than a fond memory to look back on, but never to dwindle too long over.

Claire couldn’t help but recall a time from her childhood, when she’d found a helpless kitten in the woods, the poor thing was probably riddled with disease and feral but she’d grown attached to it nonetheless. Her Uncle Lamb had forbidden her to keep it, keeping pets was an impracticality for people who were constantly on the move after all and so Claire had been forced to return it. It was for the best, but she couldn’t help but feel downhearted and sad all the same.

Though, Jamie was much more than a kitten and not the slightest bit helpless to say the least. Letting him return to his own time would be the best thing for them both, but like the little kitten, Claire felt an ache in her heart to have to let him go.

Lost in thought now and oblivious to what was going on around her, she glanced up to find Jamie staring at her. Immediately she felt exposed, as though he could see right through her and read the thoughts inside her head as easily as if she’d just spoken them aloud.

“I won’t like the parting either.” Jamie confirmed her doubts, and her face flashed a shade of pink a moment. Denying it would be no use now, and skimming over the topic again wasn’t going to help either.

“It is for the best, isn’t it?” Claire asked, looking up to meet his gaze. In truth, she didn’t know what kind of answer she was expecting. There was absolutely no way Jamie could remain here with her, it just wouldn’t work, he wouldn’t survive in this time, at least that was what she told herself.

Jamie stared a moment, taking in her words but not knowing how to respond. Was it for the best? He knew the moment he left her side, he’d spend the rest of his days thinking of her, wondering about her and trying to shake the what ifs from his head. He feared he might be drove mad by her mere memory, the thought of having to return to a place where she didn’t exist made him feel anxious and unnerved but he didn’t dare tell her this.

“Aye.” Jamie nodded, despite himself. “Aye, Sassenach it is.” He placed a hand on hers, though his eyes were still transfixed on her own whisky coloured gaze. When he thought about it, he realised he was mad to even contemplate remaining here. Claire had a life to build of her own, she didn’t need a confused Scotsman fumbling about in it. As well as that, Jamie had a life to return to. Though, it wasn’t much of one. He’d likely spend the rest of his days living under false names and hiding from the English. Though, Claire didn’t need to know that part.

Claire tried to muster a smile, but it wouldn’t come. He’d all but confirmed his desire to leave and go, and she immediately felt selfish to even consider the fact that they could remain together. The more time they spent with each other, the harder this would prove to be. Just a few more hours, she told herself, and this would all be over. Though a part of her feared what would happen afterwards, when the loneliness set in.

“We better get a move on or we’ll never get there.” Claire said, snatching her had away from his grip and standing up. In moments the conversation which was so light and sweet turned to their sombre reality, making Claire lose her appetite altogether.

“We’ve not even touched the sandwiches.” Jamie pointed out the brown paper wrappings containing two neatly cut raspberry jam sandwiches, trying to delay the looming trip just a bit longer.

He gathered from her sudden change of mood that the reality they were putting off could not be avoided forever. The feast day would soon be over and maybe his chances of returning to his own time with it. So, he said no more and helped her collect the blanket before the both of them returned in silence to the car. Jamie had lost his appetite too.

They rode in silence for the next few hours, with just the gentle buzz of the radio in the background. Day slowly turned to dusk and a cool breeze came with it. Claire had decided a long way back that talking was pointless now. She didn’t want to get to know Jamie better, to ask him more about his family or what the eighteenth century was really like. It was almost like naming a lamb before taking it to slaughter. It made things difficult and she’d already developed a connection with the Scotsman sitting beside her, with feelings she couldn’t think about right now. Things had gone far enough for both of them, and it was time for them to part ways.

Claire might very well lay in bed at night regretting that she hadn’t asked him things, learned a bit more about him before he had to go. But now she couldn’t bring herself to even muster a smile let alone gentle conversation. It seemed the closer they came to their destination, the heavier the ache in her heart and the dread that the parting would soon be upon them both.

It was dark in no time, though the sky still held a light glow of a Summer’s night. Jamie had fallen asleep again, and Claire was glad. He looked so peaceful while he slept, and all the worries and fears that surely plagued him in the waking world disappeared, leaving his face looking innocent and soft. While he slept, she didn’t feel forced to talk for the sake of it, especially when talking seemed so difficult right now.

Having her map on the dashboard, she tried her best to follow the curling roads in the darkness with just the dim headlights for help. The roads were bumpy, and she had to turn back quite a few times, dreading the thought of trekking through all of this later on her own again. But she didn’t think of that now. Now her main priority was finding Craigh na Dun. Thankfully, a little after eleven o’clock she found the sign post off the country lane and drove up the hill toward their final destination. The car finally chugged to a stop at the side of the road, and Claire folded up the map, sighed and spent a moment looking at Jamie, wondering how she might bring herself to wake him.

In the end, she thought she might let him sleep a bit longer, it might be some time until he found the comfy confines of a bed again, after all. Her journey was all but over but his had just begun.

Getting out of the car, Claire gently shut the door as to not wake him. The wind whipped up and made her shiver in the night air, clutching her arms about herself to try and confine some warmth. Her legs felt weak and sore from sitting for so long, she was glad to stretch them a little.

Claire turned and glanced up the grassy bank. There were trees everywhere, which made the setting even more intimidating in the dark. Their brand new spring leaves that likely were a brilliant shade of green in daylight, where nothing but blackness now and they shook and quivered in the night air and just beyond them, Claire saw the protruding silhouette of the stones sticking out from the ground, unmoving and solid in the wind. There were many of them too, but they were all together in a circle. They too were large, looming and black in the night and as Claire climbed the hill to get a closer look, she felt the strongest urge to turn around and go back, but she fought against it.

There was definitely something eerie about this place. As though the ground was buzzing with an energy, a magic cemented deep within the earth that no one could try to understand. It scared her to think that maybe beyond one of those stones lay a time before, a time where Jamie belonged. Did time travel exist? To ask her that question before she’d met the redheaded Scotsman, she might have laughed, but now, standing before the circle that had brought him to her, she felt nothing but fear.

Just as a buzz seemed to shake the earth on which she walked, in the air too there was a gentle humming, as though the Stones themselves were vibrating through the night, calling her to touch the calloused rock and go on a journey of her own. Again the feeling of wanting to dart away came over her, as though voices were screaming for her to turn away and go back before it was too late but it seemed impossible to walk away from the coaxing of the magic that called her through the air.

Curious and confused, Claire had somehow lost herself for a split second and it was the harsh fingers that she felt on her arm tug her back and force her around that made her snap back to reality. Jamie was standing before her, with his hands on both her arms, looking into her face which right now, was quite bewildered.

“Are ye daft?” Jamie said, shaking her. He seemed angry, his words laced with a Scottish growl. But he hugged her close in an instant and held her to him, patting the chaos of her hair which had blown free in the wind. Claire heard the desperation in his voice and it scared her to think what might have happened if he wasn’t there.

“This is a dangerous place, mo nighean donn!” Jamie said, pulling away from her to look into her face a moment, as though he were explaining something difficult to a small child. “Ye canna go wandering about!” He pulled her into an embrace again, and Claire wrapped her arms about him. The seriousness of the situation gripped her and she instantly felt sick trying to imagine going through with it and touching those Stones, as Jamie had to do.

“I’m sorry.” She muttered without needing to, wanting to get out of this eerie place, but the thought of returning to the car alone didn’t much appease her. “I want to get out of here.” She confessed to Jamie, knowing this would hardly help him but realising that time travel might actually be possible and magic may very well exist was quite a lot to take in and it overwhelmed her.

Jamie guided her down the bank again, where the wind was not as a severe as it was at the top of the hill. Claire was only too glad to escape the mysterious magic of the stones, but she didn’t feel relief because she knew in a matter of moments, Jamie would have to leave her.

“Why did ye go up there?” Jamie asked, wondering what on earth would force her up the fairy hill, when she knew how easily it had whisked him away from his own time. Jamie could not allow the same thing to happen to her.

“I wanted to see it for myself.” Claire confessed, looking up at him. His face was shadowed and dark but his eyes shone bright, in pools of deep blue. “Because when you leave... I’ll know you were real.” Right now she was glad of the darkness, to shield of her face from his, but she knew Jamie would easily hear the sadness in her voice, the desperation that oozed from her every breath. That she had so much she wanted to say to him, but none of it would ever be enough.

“Of course I’m real.” Jamie told her, lifting a hand to tuck a stray curl behind her ear. He smiled down at her now, appreciating her beauty that was still so visible in the darkness. Her pale skin shone out, just as her golden eyes did, plagued with upset and melancholy that he wished so much to take away. But there was nothing he could do.

“Be safe.” Claire said after a moment, as the wind whipped up again around them. She felt her eyes well with tears, and Jamie seemed to be overcome with anguish too, because he pulled her close and his fingers tangled in the disarray of her curls, touching his forehead with hers as she placed her hands on his shoulder.

“Argh…” He muttered under his breath, closing his eyes from a brief moment. “You know I would stay with ye if I could.” He admitted, wishing there was a way he could stay with her. But she had a life, and he’d already disrupted it quite enough already.

Claire felt tears well in her eyes, so she closed them in a vain effort to stop the heartache overcoming her.  If this was fate, then she hated it. She hated life for being so cruel, giving her this man only to rip him away. To intertwine their lives for a brief time, before he would be taken from her. She was angry at how unfair it had to be. Right at this moment she’d have done anything to beg him to stay but that would be selfish of her. Jamie Fraser had a life of his own in a time where she didn’t belong. The longer she held him here, the longer she kept him from it.

“I’ll never forget you.” She muttered out as best she could, opening her eyes to look at him, though her gaze was glazed with the warm tears that she felt running down her cheeks and she had the most desperate desire to give into the aguish that was raging within her, to cry for him and yet, she felt so ridiculous to be reacting this way.

“Like I could ever forget you, Sassenach?” Jamie said at last, holding onto her as his lips curled in a desperate attempt to cheer her up as well as himself, but it was no use. He heard her voice crack and give way to emotion and immediately he pulled her close again and buried her head in his chest, stroking her hair and whispering words in Gaelic she wouldn’t understand. Because that was the only way he could make the words he wanted so desperately to say come out. Though she’d never know what he truly felt for her and he hated himself to leave with so many regrets. Though, confessing how he truly felt for her now would be painful to them both, because no matter his feelings or hers, it was plainly not meant to be.

After a moment, Claire pulled away, wiping at her eyes. There was no doubt when she looked back on this parting, she’d wished she’d have spent less time crying and more time talking, saying things to him she’d never have a chance to again. Though right now, she could almost feel her heart break to have to see him go, even if she knew all along this day would come.

“Goodbye.” Claire said after a moment, staring at his face and waiting for the moment one of them would leave to go, though neither of them did.

Jamie wanted to say more. He’d kept himself awake all night going over things he wanted to tell her, though right now none of those words were coming to mind. There simply wasn’t enough words to express how he felt for her, when it struck him that words where not needed.

He wanted to kiss her one last time before he had to go. Though he was afraid. He was afraid of making things worse for her, even if it meant him cursing himself for not taking the opportunity when it was presented to him. He had to think of Claire, however. When he left, she would be alone. The last thing she needed was thoughts of him invading her mind and playing with her feelings when they couldn’t be together. Better to part like this, as friends, without destroying the little they already had.

“Goodbye.” Jamie replied after a long moment. He seemed to huff the words out, forcing them through his lips as he took her in once last time. She was so perfect, especially now as her hair sat chaotically about her shoulders making her resemble a hedgehog. Her eyes, while still swollen and red from her crying, still blazed a magnificent shade of gold, the likes of which he’d never seen before. This was the image of her he’d carry with him for the rest of his life, locked away deep in his heart.

Claire slumped her shoulders as she looked up at him, feeling hopeless and sad that it had to be like this. Her eyes burned, wanting to cry the more she thought on it, that when Jamie Fraser turned his back and walked up that hill again, she’d never see his face again.

Jamie seemed to read her mind however, because just at that, he lifted his hands and began tugging a ring off his finger. At first, Claire had no clue what he was doing until he gripped her hands and thrust the ring into it.

Claire looked confused a moment, looking up at him before she opened her palm to see a large gold ring with a brilliant red ruby shining out.

“It was my father’s… I canna see me wanting to give it anyone else.” He revealed, nodding to her as she looked up at him. “I want you to have it.”

Claire immediately protested. It wasn’t right for him to give her such a sentimental piece of jewellery, especially one that belonged to his father. She pushed the ring back to him and started to demand she couldn’t take it, but Jamie remained firm and closed her hand around the ring once more.

“Ye’ll take it, to remember me by.” He told her. If she had to see the stones to know he was real and not some figment of her imagination, then let her take this. A solid piece of him that she could keep to remind her that all that had passed was real.

Claire tried to protest again but thought better of it, knowing how stubborn he was, he wasn’t likely to take it back. She looked away from him and down into her palm again to examine the beautiful ring. She smiled, touched by the gesture and clutched the ring tightly in her hand, glad to keep it in his memory.

“All I gave you was a flask.” She admitted, looking up at him with a sheepish smile. It seemed ridiculous that he had given her such a sentimental part of himself and she had only gifted him with an old hip flask she’d found in a shop.

Jamie smiled back at her though, taking her in one last time.

“Oh no, Sassenach.” He replied. “Ye’ve given me much more than that.” And the great mysterious Scot turned for the final time and marched up the hill and out of her life, leaving Claire there in the darkness to watch his shadowed figure go and return to the time he belonged, without her.

She loved him, there was no denying that fact now. As much as she wanted to call to him as he walked away, she resisted until he was out of sight. That was when she let the almighty lump in her throat break free, as well as the tears. Claire brought a hand to her mouth and looked about her, realising now she really was alone and the reality of it sat in. For a moment she was almost sure she’d gone mad entirely, second guessing her reason for being her at all and if a great warrior Scotsman had just left her life or if he was just a figment of her imagination, but the heavy gold ring in her palm reminded her that Jamie Fraser was real and she took some solace in that fact.

Her surroundings seemed all the more eerie now, and the prospect of what lay beyond the hill scared her even more than it had before. The wind whipped up once more and the only sound was the shuffling of the trees as they loomed about her, watching her. Clasping the red ruby ring in her palm for comfort, she descended down the hill, hoping that Jamie Fraser would be safe in the journey was about to partake.

Claire had sat in the van for what felt like hours, though it was only a half past midnight when she glanced at her watch. She had not left Craigh na Dun yet. It seemed impossible for her to start the engine and leave, because leaving solidified the fact that he wasn’t coming back.

She had wept for him and prayed he would be safe, but now it was time to put him behind her and move on. To let him go and depart and get on with the rest of her life. He was likely back in his own time now, two hundred years before. Her mind raced, wondering if he’d managed to get through the stones all right and if he was on his way home yet, but most of all, if he was safe. Though none of it was any good, because she’d never really know. Jamie Fraser was now lost to history, with his story already paved. He no longer existed in this time, and remained only as a ghost to haunt her mind.

Looking down she retrieved the ruby ring from her lap and placed it on her third finger on her right hand. It was incredibly loose and big, but she couldn’t bring herself to remove it. Laying her head back she listened to the gentle hum of the radio and tried to clear her mind and focus on that instead. Currently, it was playing a song she recognised by Frank Sinatra and the lyrics somehow seemed so prominent, as though the universe understood exactly how she was feeling and refused to let her attempt to forget all that had passed. Silently, tears tacked down her cheeks and she didn’t attempt to stop them. She was alone now; it was perfectly fine to break.

I’ll never smile again, until I smile at you. I’ll never laugh again, what good would it do?’ Came the delicate murmur of Sinatra’s dulcet tones whispering to her through the radio. Claire smiled, despite the great wave of grief she felt washing over her, and touched the ring on her finger and closed her eyes.

She thought she’d closed her eyes for only a moment, but she realised perhaps she’d fallen asleep longer than she anticipated. Because before she pulled her lids open to see, she already heard the pattering’s of heavy rain on her windshield. She was incredibly tired though, and sleep seemed to lure her back but she was so incredibly cold. Turning in the uncomfortable leather seat, she brought her arms about herself in a hug like fashion in an attempt to create warmth before she settled again.

Though in a matter of moments, she felt something drape over her. Feeling fear jolt through her body and replace all traces of drowsiness, she opened her eyes at last to see a scruffy, wet red headed Scotsman looking back at her.

It took Claire a few moments to realise her surrounding and understand this was not a dream. Jamie Fraser was sitting in the passenger seat beside her, and she was sitting with half of his kilt draped over her.

Claire gaped at him, unable to know what to say or where to begin. A hundred questions seemed to flare through her mind at once but none of them would leave her mouth. Jamie however, did not have the same such affliction.

“I knew I was right not to leave these sandwiches.” He said at last, taking the last bite of one of the raspberry jam sandwiches, with the empty brown paper wrappings on his lip.

For a second, Claire felt disheartened when she realised Jamie had just returned because he’d forgotten his lunch and he instantly saw the energy leave her as her shoulders slumped. He grinned back at her.

“Though, I couldn’t seem to leave you either.” He said at last and Claire beamed, lunging at him and throwing her arms about his neck.

“You came back.” She whispered, touching him and burying her face into his shoulder, breathing him in and feeling the dampness of the cool night rain on his coat and the soaking tangles of his dark red curls.

“If you’ll have me back, that is.” He said, wrapping his arms about her, he knew that was a stupid question.

“Of course I’ll have you back.” She replied, moving back so she could look at his face and see it once more, the face she thought lost to memory.

“Why didn’t you go? Where you unable to?” Claire asked, practically sitting on his lap but she didn’t care, and he didn’t seem to mind either. Though her mind raced, wondering what had brought him back here and if she wasn’t just jumping the gun.

“I thought about it, long and hard on that hill.” Jamie confessed as his brow creased in thought. Delicately he stroked the softness of her hair as he spoke, realising they were now both tangled in his kilt.

“But I couldn’t do it. I couldna will my feet to move. I can’t leave you, Claire. I don’t want to leave you.” There was a seriousness in his voice now, and he meet her whisky coloured gaze and searched them for an answer, for an indication that he was doing the right thing.

Claire met his eyes and felt her mouth move up in a smile.

“I didn’t want you to go.” She admitted, though she gathered he knew thought as much. “But…”

Jamie looked concerned a moment, his brow creased once more as he saw her eyes fall away from his and her smile disappear, replaced by a look of uncertainty.

“What is it?” He asked.

“What about your life, your family? Won’t you miss it?” She asked. Remaining here and putting his old life behind him could not have been an easy decision to make. What if this decision was made in haste and he’d sooner come to regret it?

“Of course I’ll miss it.” He admitted, touching her chin to lift it up so he could look at her once more. He had stood on that hill and tried so hard to push himself through the stones, even as they called to him, but his mind was filled with Claire and he knew the moment he fell through those stones, he would be unable to live without her and that would have been an even greater loss. “But I’d miss you more.” This made her smile again, and Jamie smiled with her.

Jamie reached up and pulled her to him and kissed her finally, wanting to do it hours ago. Now he couldn’t seem to stop himself nor did he care what the repercussions might be. He had chosen her over his old life, and despite how hard it had been to make such a choice, he knew he’d never have to ponder the idea of losing Claire again. They belonged together, and that was what made the choice easy. Knowing he was forced through those stones in the first place to meet her, that it was fate that brought them together. His purpose for being here was her.

“One more thing…” Claire pulled away a moment, though her face still lingered close that he could feel the gentle warmth of her breath touch his skin. He said nothing and waited for her to state whatever was bothering her, before he could have her once more.

“You called me mo nighean donn or something before.” Claire frowned a little in concentration, trying to remember the words he’d called her on that hill in the midst of everything.

Jamie smiled and huffed gently through his nose, never expecting her in the slightest bit to have remembered that small detail. She was more observant than he thought.

“Mo nighean donn.” He repeated in a perfect Scottish purr. “It means my brown haired lass.” Jamie smiled up at her, though his smile was different than before. It was one he hadn’t intended to put there. It was so hard not to revel in her beauty and know that she was truly his now, as he belonged to her.

Claire smiled in return, touched by the sentimental value of his words and she wondered what just might go on inside that head of his, under all those deep red waves. With all words for the night spoken between them, Claire bent down and pressed her lips to his once more.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

END OF THE WAR

 

The past few days felt like a dream. Claire had now invited a full, six-foot tall Scotsman to live with her and she didn't give a damn what anyone had to say about it. She was never before so impulsive, but she wondered if in fact it was the war making her behave so, that no one could perceive just how long they had left and it was better to grab life with both hands and enjoy every second of it than spend her time worrying with regret.

Frank was gone, lost to the battlements of war and while that had been a rather difficult pill to swallow, the fact that Jamie remained by her side was not. At first she had felt so terribly guilty, every time she caught a glimpse of the shimmering gold band on her finger. What if Frank had returned? Could she have allowed Jamie to leave her life so easily? Or perhaps she would have never allowed her feelings to deepen so quickly. But every time she had the same horrid thought that made the pit of her stomach feel heavy with guilt, she remembered the night she had taken Jamie to the Craig Na Dunn and what she had felt in the car, the thought of losing him forever to the past and the feeling in her stomach settled. She had never felt that way for Frank, even as he boarded the train for war.

Claire was moved from thought the moment Jamie entered the living room and found her at her writing desk. Her face immediately softened and she grinned at the sight of him, and the warmness that filled her belly knowing he had no intention of leaving her now.

"There ye are sassenach..." Jamie said carefully, trying to juggle two cups of tea. The fine bone china looked so awkward and delicate in his enormous hands.

He set the tea down on the desk, some of the contents swishing from the cup, leaving splatters on the dark mahogany. 

"I think I got it right... two sugars?" He raised a brow, and Claire nodded with a toothy grin that turned into a laugh, her eyes warm and besotted with him.

Jamie sat on the edge of the armchair, bringing the cup to his mouth and swallowing half the contents in one sure gulp.

"I dinna ken how ye can drink this stuff, sassenach..." He glanced down at the cup with furrowed brows. "The English always did confuse me..."
Claire let an airy laugh leave her before she brought her own cup to her mouth and almost spat the contents out at the bitter taste that stung her tongue. She made a face akin to a vomiting baby.

"No wonder... What on earth have you put in this?" Claire said with disgust, setting the tea down to go and investigate in the kitchen.

"Well I boiled the water, and let it stew with the tea bag in the pot like ye said..." Jamie was quick to defend, getting up to follow her, his eyes sheepish like a scolded dog.

"Then why does it taste so vile, it's definitely not supposed to taste like that..." Claire said, looking around at the rather messy worktops. Jamie always did have the impression of a bull in a china shop. This kitchen was much too small for him, and even though she didn't mind doing the domesticated things, Jamie insisted that he make the tea today, and she soon realised it was something he had never done before.

"Then I just added the sugar... See?" Jamie said, and Claire realised he was holding a small salt shaker in his hand, to which she began to laugh, much to his dismay.

"That's not sugar!" She made to take the shaker off him. "It's salt!"

"Oh..." Jamie scratched his head, his cheeks flushing a bright pink. "I thought the S stood for sugar."

"No, the sugar's over here..." Claire proceeded to pull a little blue tin from her cupboard, and sure enough, inside where the dazzling sparkles of sugar grains.

"Go and sit down, I'll make us a proper cup of tea." Claire shooed him from the tiny kitchen as Jamie sat down in the chair by the desk and pawed through one of the books that sat there.

"Ah well... I suppose I'll stick to what I know in future." Jamie said, with a defeated sigh, but there was humour in his tone.

"I appreciate the offer!" Claire said, laughing to herself as the kettle boiled. She moved to lean on the door frame, arms folded, looking at Jamie lovingly, as though he were a small child who'd tried their best.

"I don't think tea--"

There was an almighty crash that broke Claire's sentence. The sound of loud cheering and banging outside. Jamie's head turned to look toward the window to see a crowd forming, moving steadily down the hill outside.

"What are earth is going on..." Claire exclaimed, running to open the front door, Jamie right behind her.

On the street there was a great buzz of people chattering and laughing, Claire felt a little relief to understand nothing terrible had obviously happened but she was still curious.

Front doors lay wide up, people where crying, shouting and cheering. Strangers grabbing each other in tight embraces, throwing their heads back in euphoric laughter. Claire and Jamie merely stood at the doorway watching, more confused than ever before.

"It's over!" Shouted a red haired woman, leaning over Claire's gate. Her hair was in rollers, kept in place by a hairnet. She looked as if she might jump over the gate altogether with glee. "The war! It's finally over! The Germans surrendered!" She cried, before she moved along to join the crowd of happy people.

Claire couldn't quite understand what she was hearing. It didn't seem to hit her as violently as she thought it would. All those years, cooped up alone in the wards of the hospital, she imagined a day where all of the fighting might stop and how she might feel.

She gasped loudly, her face breaking out into a smile. It was finally over. She looked up at Jamie, who still seemed confused but smiled back at her nonetheless, catching her infectious happiness.

"Oh Jamie..." She whispered, the words seemed to flutter out of her in an airy laugh. Over five years this war had slogged on, and many began doubting if it would ever end at all. But it had. It was now. It was over.

Claire threw her arms about Jamie's neck, feeling lighter than she had in years. It was like a wash of relief ran through her body, assuring her that now everything would be all right. The dark gloomy clouds that refused to let her look to the future where vanishing and the world seemed lovely again, and for the first time in a long time, she was happy merely to be alive, but most of all to have Jamie here to share it with.

Jamie patted her back, leaning in to smell the sweetness of her hair. Although he had not been here long to see the full affects of war, he had been here long enough to see how awful it was, unlike any war he had ever known. And like any war, the relief and happiness felt when it had ended were the same, no matter the century.

"Aye Claire..." He muttered back into her hair. "The fighting is done." Was all he could manage to say. Jamie understood what this meant to her. He had watched her exhausted form drag out of bed every morning and sludge back home every night. Now, it was done, there was light at the end of the tunnel at last.

Claire pulled herself from him, laughter leaving her lips as she turned to walk up the garden path but not before she made to grab Jamie's hand, taking her with him. They left the little yard and ventured out into the joyous crowds. Immediately someone thrust a bottle of champagne into her hand and she made to gulp it, long and hard before thrusting it into Jamie's chest.

He too took a generous swallow, but not before making a face of bitterness as the fizz stung his nose. "Aye it's no whisky, sassenach..." He remarked, but Claire was too enthralled about what was going on around her to take notice.

People where hanging out of open windows, children skipped around their feet with little Union Jack flags in their hands, waving them and laughing ceremoniously. Someone was blasting the delightful tunes of Glenn Miller's 'In the Mood' on a radio to the crowd. Strangers hugged strangers and people had erected tables with food and drink that seemed to appear from nowhere. And Jamie and Claire where in the middle of it all, a celebration not to be forgotten. The war was finally at an end.


Some hours had passed, day had turned to night and the party didn't seem to end. People were growing merrier on the copious amounts of alcohol being supplied. Merchants left their shops to join the celebrations and all in all, the good atmosphere was infectious. Winston Churchill had announced the end of the war in Europe, and for once Claire could feel weightless and happy again, even if deep down her heart did sink for Frank, who had never lived to see this day come to pass.

"Aye... War doesn't seem to change in the passing of the centuries." Jamie seemed to conclude after a long moment of thought, he had spent a great deal of time just watching people. "At least the celebrating a victory is verra much the same." He commented to Claire who had now lost count of the drinks she had consumed.

"I was beginning to think this war would never end." Claire replied, taking a swig of whisky, no longer did she wince at the sour taste and the burn it left in her throat that made her want to gag, she had grown used to it's flavour now.

"I think ye've had enough lass..." Jamie tried to say, moving to attempt to try and pry the glass from her hand, but Claire tugged it away before he could get it.

They had found themselves sitting on bar stools in one of the numerous crowded bars in Edinburgh. The sound of people laughing and singing merry songs was music to Claire's ears, it had been so long since people were so happy and carefree and Claire wanted to revel in it while it lasted.

"Don't start." Claire said, rolling her eyes. Although she couldn't deny the slur in her words and the fact that the room seemed to be spinning. She attempted closing one eye to see Jamie clearly. His red head was fuzzy in her vision but there was no denying it was him.

"Aye I've seen that look before, sassenach and it usually means it's bedtime." Jamie said with a smirk, moving to pull the glass from her grasp this time and downing it's contents himself. The Scottish had a reputation for being able to handle their drink remarkably well, and Jamie was no exception.

"How dare you!" Claire scowled in an exaggerated rage, irked that Jamie thought to do such a thing. "Don't you dare tell me what to do!" She slurred. "If I want to sit here and drink until daylight then I fucking will!"

"Aye, sassenach." Jamie said carelessly, ignoring her words. Every time he made to try and direct Claire from the pub to take her home, she would dart away. That was until Jamie managed to grab her, and he lifted her tall, slender form with ease and slung her over his shoulder.

"Put me down!" Claire started shouting, kicking her legs and wriggling. "Put me down you god damn bloody bastard!"

Jamie merely laughed, as did the many other people he passed along the way as he brought a very drunk Claire home to her bed.


"Here we are..." Jamie said finally, slumping Claire down outside her garden gate. He had came to know the area well enough to be able to get to Claire's house and back. "In ye go." He directed her, the front door still wide open from before.

"No!" Claire replied like a defiant child, head spinning from the alcohol but she refused to take orders from Jamie.

"Aye ye will, or I'll lift ye again." Jamie replied calmly, folding his arms and looking at her with a smile at how she was behaving. He had never seen her mad with drink before, her hair seemed to stick out in a fuzz that made her resemble an irked hedgehog.

Claire made to walk away, but staggered and fell. It was then an almighty laugh left her lips. The anger at last had seemed to leave her, and now the infectious giggling set in.
"Come on... Ye bloody fool." Jamie laughed, grabbing her and lifting her up. This time she gave in and held her arms around his neck, like a tired child being carried to bed. Giving in to the defeat, too lethargic to want to argue or fight back. Suddenly, a warm cosy bed seemed to sound heavenly.

Jamie set her down the on the bed and she lay back, hair askew and laughed some more, it was breathy and easy and he knew the tired groans of sleep where not far off.

"I take it ye had a good day then sassenach..." Jamie whispered, a toothy grin on his lips as the answer seemed obvious.

"Wonderful!" Claire replied with a loud sigh, stretching her arms out on the bed. It had been a very long time since she was able to let her hair down and enjoy herself without any fear at the back of her mind or stress from her constant shifts at work. Work hadn't even entered her mind today, but she would deal with the repercussions tomorrow, the thought of now made her head spin again.

"I'll bid ye goodnight then Claire." Jamie said, making Claire sit up in sudden alarm to see him leaving the room.

"Don't be silly..." She groaned, outstretching an arm. "Sleep here." She patted the quilt beside her.

"I'm fine with the sofa, still." Jamie replied, but seen Claire was defiant again. She had rose from the bed to move to grab him in the dark, suddenly being without him seemed truly unthinkable.

Her hands moved to grab his stubbled chin, forcing his lips against hers. For a moment, Jamie gave in and moved his lips against her own, but he soon knew this was a different kind of kiss, and one she had not given before. Without realising, Jamie was being pulled back to the bed. Claire's nimble fingers moved down his shirt, never before did buttons seem to irksome as her hands struggled awkwardly trying to remove his clothes.

A gentle grasp from Jamie made her drunken recklessness stop for a moment, but only to protest. Jamie seemed to know where this was leading, but Claire had a desperate longing for him, as he had all along, but the alcohol had only seemed to heighten it. She had to have him now. The flame within her would not be silence by his honeyed words.

"No sassenach..." Jamie whispered, moving to push her eager hands away. 

"But I want you..." She muttered back against his lips with impatience, her forehead touching his.

Jamie smelt the strong stench of whisky on her breath, and although he fought with himself for rejecting her like this, he knew her head would perhaps ache with regret all the more tomorrow if he allowed her to explore her passions. He could not have her like this, until he knew that is what she wanted, with a sober mind.

"Yer drunk out yer mind Claire..." Jamie replied almost sorrowfully. He didn't want her to think he didn't want her, it was quite the opposite.

"I'm not!" She said with a defiance, though there was a rueful whine in her voice that knew it to be true.

"I want ye Claire..." Jamie whispered, wanting her to know how true it was. "But I canna have ye like this..."

Claire seemed to understand then. For a moment the drunkenness seemed to vanish, and she felt open and ashamed. She moved back on the bed, clutching the top of her dress with a shy embarrassment, her face looking as though she might burst into tears at any moment.

Instead of saying anything more, she lay down on the bed, curled up like a kitten and Jamie felt his heart ache for her.

"Sassenach..." Was all he could muster, opening his mouth to say more but nothing would come out.

"Goodnight Jamie." She whispered with a tired sigh, and Jamie took his leave to the cold sofa downstairs.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

 

DINNER DATE

 

 

Claire's eyes flashed open and within seconds she felt embarrassment flush through her. Last night had been a heavy one, in fact she couldn't remember half of it apart from blurs and distorted memories.

"Oh no..." She whined, curling up in the bed with shame as she thought of Jamie. She could vaguely remember him carrying her, and her giving him a mouthful over it. It had been so long since she had a proper drink that last night she seemed to take the celebrations too far.

Sitting up in the bed she realised she was still tangled in yesterday's dress, which made it all the worse. She stood up quickly to feel the thump of her head aching as nausea floated to the back of her throat. This, she realised, was a hangover.

Claire moved to grab her silk pink dressing gown from the dressing table stool, catching a glimpse of her bushy curls that seemed to be even more messy than usual. The sight only made her want to drop beneath the bed covers more and never resurface. But sitting wallowing up here wasn't going to repair anything. Instead, she made her way downstairs to find Jamie, that was if he was still there and she hadn't chased him off.

Jamie was sitting on the sofa flicking through another of her books, this time it was an old favourite of hers, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. At the sound of Claire, Jamie slammed the book shut immediately, though Claire couldn't deny she was delighted to see she hadn't scared him away.

Jamie glanced up at her. Her face wore the dumbfound expression of a tired toddler, mouth ajar and eyes heavy from drinking the night before. Her hair stood on end, her curls fuzzed out around her face, resembling a lion's mane. She clutched at her pink robe, trying to hide last night's clothes underneath. In truth, she looked a sight, but Jamie still thought her the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.

"I'm so sorry." Was all Claire could muster, feeling the shame and guilt rush through her, she didn't know whether tears would begin streaming from her eyes or if she'd begin wailing. Thankfully, she did neither.

"For what sassenach?" Jamie replied with a smirk, but Claire strode past him, her silk robe sweeping him as she walked to the kitchen.

"Was I horrible?" She said, though not looking at Jamie. Instead her hands were searching for the kettle, as she filled it with water. Jamie seen this as a distraction, to stop herself facing the embarrassment that was so obviously eating her up.

"Oh I was... wasn't I?" She seemed to groan with shame as she set the kettle on the stove to heat, after she'd lit the stove with a match.

"What're ye talking about, ye didna murder anybody sassenach!" Jamie said with a laugh, waving his hand as he dismissed her sudden embarrassment. Clearly her memory had returned and she was feeling all the worse for it.

"You're being too nice! If I was a horrible, nasty, wicked old nuisance, I wish you'd just say!"

Jamie placed a hand on her lips as she turned to him to quieten her. 

"Enough Claire." He said gently, knowing she was giving herself too hard a time over being drunk.

"If I or my clan gave ourselves this scolding every time we roused from the spirits, we'd never get anything done!" He remarked. He and many others he knew, had done far worse when drunk, there was no need for her to be torturing herself like this.

"You know anything I said- I didn't mean it. I was stupid with drink, and I'm not used to whisky-"

"Enough." Jamie said finally, though there was no sternness in his tone. "We'll say no more about it, and I think no less of ye for it." He concluded, allowing her to go and continue making them both coffee, if anything she definitely needed it right now.

"Good... I'd like that." Claire breathed, brushing herself over as she fiddled in the drawer for a spoon. If he was willing to let it go, she was more than happy to.

"Unless of course you'd rather talk about how you danced on top of a table... And sang your heart out with some old gentleman." Jamie remarked, with a smirk dancing on his lips, intent to play with her a little.

Claire's eyes held both shame and regret that he would even think to discuss this. Inside she was punching herself for making such a fool of herself.

"Or the fact ye intended on hand wrestling the barman if he didna serve ye another drink, not to mention what you'd intended to do to me if I wouldna let you drink it-"

"Shut. Up." Claire concluded, making to stand on Jamie's foot long and hard, so he winced before she let go and he laughed, but Claire didn't share it.

"All right, all right sassenach, I've had my fun!" Jamie laughed again, returning to the living room. Claire followed, setting down his coffee before sitting in the sofa, cradling her own in her hands before taking a generous sip.

"Jesus H. Rossevelt Christ that's good." She muttered to herself. Jamie stood by the fireplace, resting a hand on the mantle as he stared at her, making her uncomfortable.

"I was thinking..." Jamie said with thoughtfulness. "I was thinking I should treat ye to something nice. But I'm no gonna tell you what it is." He looked at her then, with a mysterious twinkle in his eye and a daring smirk on his lips.

"What? The only thing I need treating is this headache." Claire said, reminding herself to place a wet cloth on her head to ease her pain as soon as she'd finished her coffee.

"Just you make sure you wear something nice... I'll be back later." Jamie said at once before he strode from the living room and left through the front door.

Claire was dreary eyed and sleepy still, she glanced up to stop him but he was already gone.

"Wait- where are you going?" She stood up to see him leave out her front gate through the window. "You're coffee..." Her eyes found the cup on the side table where she'd left it. Not so much as a sip stolen from it's contents.

Claire sat back down again, with no energy to annoy herself over what Jamie was up to, she was too busy suffering from the night before.

 


 

Claire's eyes flashed open and she felt her jaw ache from the position she was laying in. Peeling herself off the cushion her head was balancing on, stretching her arms in the air with a moan.

Evidently, she had fallen asleep. Her eyes flashed to the clock on the mantle to discover it was past five and Jamie was still nowhere in sight. Claire only hoped he hadn't ventured too far and got lost. Nevertheless, she decided to shake it from her mind for now, her mind was now set on taking a bath.

Claire filled the kettles and some pots, allowing for them to boil as she went to fetch the tin bath from the small walled yard out in the rear of the house.

Struggling with taking it inside, she eventually got it placed in the living room, in front of the fire which was usually lit. But for early May this was unnecessary. The coolness of Spring was vanishing, replaced by the sweltering heat of early Summer.

Drawing the curtains, Claire filled her bath with hot steaming water and added some of her soap flakes to make the water turn a cloudy white. It would be great not to have to be rationed on her soap and shampoo and everything else for that matter, now that the war was over.

Stepping in, the heat flushed her skin a bright red but she welcomed it. Laying back she felt the hot water melt away all her aches and pains. Her body gave into the delightful comfort of the bath, and within moments the heat made her lethargic and sleepy, but it was a warm feeling of contentment, one she hadn't felt in so long.

Claire washed away the mangled dread of last night, shampooing her mane of curls so now she resembled a wet shepherd dog who'd escaped out into the rain. She felt clean and warm and happy, the sleep had helped her head and the sickness that threatened to escape through her mouth. She finally felt all right again.

Laying her head back and closing her eyes, Claire didn't hear the front door opening, nor the living room door for that matter. She was abruptly brought back to reality by the deep notes of a panicked Scotsman.

Her eyes flashed open and she jumped to find Jamie staring at her, hand on the door knob. His face flushed a deep red as his eyes darted everywhere, but thoroughly unable to ignore the obvious.

Claire's face too went a deep scarlet and she flailed about in the water, trying to find something - anything- to shield her modesty.
"Get out!" She shouted with loud, staggered embarrassment, and Jamie thankfully caught himself and vanished through a slamming door.

Claire jumped from the bath, soaking and wrapped a waiting towel about her body. Shock fading from her fast. Her wet form sat down on the sofa and she brought a hand to her mouth to muffle the contagious laughing that escaped, unable to believe what had just happened.

Drying herself, very quickly and without care, she slipped on her silk night gown, before she sheepishly opened the living room door to find Jamie stood there. The two said little as they awkwardly passed each other, Claire glad to escape upstairs and settle on her bed, to laugh some more. But this time she didn't bother muffling it, she laughed loud and merrily.

An embarrassed Jamie heard her from downstairs, and her laughing made him feel less uneasy about seeing her that way, and he smiled, shaking his head at the foolishness of it all.

 


 

Claire's curls seemed to dry fast in the warm May heat. Her hair stuck out with a little frizz, but otherwise loose, easy curls. She fixed the front of it away from her face with clips. Jamie had said to wear something nice, but during the war almost all of her lovely outfits where distributed to the war effort. There was one, fitted pencil dress she had kept back though, for some rare occasion. Mostly when Frank had returned and they would resume their life together and indulge in life's luxuries as they once had. She felt a cold pang in her heart when she thought of him, a man she had all these hopes and dreams with, and how easily she had cast them all aside for a stranger.

Roused from thought, Claire stored those guilt ridden concerns to the back of her mind and put on the deep red dress. It fit her form perfectly and ended just below her knee. Her neck was bare, but around it she wore a delicate gold chain, while her face had a light dusting of make up and a deep red lipstick to match her outfit.

Leaving the bedroom, Claire almost felt nervous. It had been a very long time since she had been out of blood stained work clothes, and when she did get the opportunity, she was hidden away in bulky jumpers and frumpy skirts. But tonight she was herself again, and in truth she felt embarrassed and bare. Deep down she recognised these feelings as being in love again, those first pangs in your heart that made you feel nauseous and on edge, but it was a welcomed feeling of daring excitement for what was to come.

She had found Jamie where she had left him. He was standing in the living room, waiting for her. Her wore a pair of cream trousers, dressed with a white shirt that had two buttons undone at the top so just the flickers of his red chest hair could be seen. He also wore a deep blue jacket that seemed to make his eyes shimmer and seem even more blue than they had before. His red curls were slicked back only slightly, so that one broke free and waved on his forehead. The sun shone through the window and danced on his jaw where the inklings of a red stubble was returning. He was a vision and Claire could feel her breath stop when she could appreciate just how beautiful he really was.

But Jamie seemed to feel the same way about her. His eyes traveled from her black heels, up her bare legs and over the curves of her hips and bosom, up her long delicate neck to rest on her sweet, soft face, where two golden eyes stared at him with a shy exuberance.

"You look... beautiful." Jamie said with a staggered pause, the words that had filled his head a moment ago, vanishing, leaving him speechless.

"You don't look too back yourself." Claire replied with a delicate smile dancing on the corners of her lips. She entered the living room, eager to know their destination.

"Where are you taking me?" Claire asked.

"You'll see." And Jamie took her by the hand and led her from the house, and the two walked in the warming dusk of a Summer's evening.

***

Claire recognised the place he was going immediately. They had entered the Royal Mile, a place famous in Edinburgh for it's rich history and old winding streets with gruesome tales. It was flocked with tourists usually, but things had been progressively slow since the war.

Jamie took her inside a little restaurant called The Royal Mile Inn. The minute they entered Claire was hit with an old musty smell of beer and age. It was a charming little place with booths, backed with green leather seats. The walls where covered in mirrors and old advertisements for whiskies and ales. Claire could see why Jamie found charm in the place. It wasn't unlike something found in the eighteenth century, apart from the modern amenities.

"I canna understand this." Jamie said as he glared down at the menu, after they had been seated.

"What?" Claire asked, eyes glancing up to see his confusion.

"Where I'm from, an Inn would just serve ye broth or a stew. How on earth do they have all these things to choose from?" Jamie was like a dumbfounded child.

Claire laughed, understanding that while they did have establishments such as these in the eighteenth century, an inn was seen as more of a board house, where one stayed over night and the menu was very slim in comparison to this.

"Just order something." She said, deciding that some things where better left unsaid. She didn't have the energy to begin explaining menus to him right now.

Jamie had a large slab of steak served with chips, while Claire had opted for some grilled chicken and potatoes.

"I don't believe it, sassenach- and fried ye say?" Jamie was twisting a chip around on the end of his fork, unable to believe that it was just a cut and fried potato.

"Yes, you can do quite a lot with a potato." Claire replied, humoured that something so simple could get him so excited.

"It's crunchy... I quite like it..." He said as he shoved three more into his mouth, eyes alight with how delicious they tasted. Claire laughed again, wondering what other customers would think of Jamie, bemused by the twentieth century.

Dinner had come and gone. Jamie had demanded a large slice of chocolate cake for dessert while Claire settled on some apple pie. When they had finished, the bill had come to be paid for. Claire asked graciously for it to be brought down, before digging in her purse to retrieve some money.

"What're ye doing, sassenach?" Jamie asked with alarm.

"Paying." Claire said, seeing Jamie's concern. "Look, I know you don't..." She felt the need to lean in and whisper. "I know you don't have any... legitimate money. I don't mind."

"But I took you out, to treat you." Jamie said, digging his hand into the inside breast pocket of his jacket to pull out a large wad of money, to Claire's amazement.

"Where did you get that?" Claire seemed to hiss, her stomach churning fearful of what he'd had to do to get such a large sum

"I ken what a pawn shop is Sassenach..." Jamie said, counting through the dozens of notes. "I went in and sold my dirk."

"You did what?" Claire said with astonishment.

"Aye, the man said it was a verra rare artifact..." Jamie's eyes flickered up to Claire with a smirk on his face and she smiled back, but it was more sincere.

"Thank you." Claire said, placing a hand on his, moved by his kind gesture.

 


 

"I've always wanted to see Edinburgh." Jamie said as he walked hand in hand up the Royal Mile with Claire. "Who'd have thought I wouldna have seen it in the eighteenth century, but the twentieth." His eyes gleamed at her.

"Well I doubt much as changed." Claire commented. "Edinburgh is one of the oldest cities in Britain. I think if you had of seen the Royal Mile in the eighteenth century, you'd find it near enough the same." The cobbles underneath their feet only certified that fact.

"I suppose it's like... stepping back in time." Jamie said, with a toothy grin at Claire before he glanced up the length of the mile. It was filled with shops that sold scarves and tartans as well as a variety of places dedicated to selling authentic Irish whisky. There where people gathered in small groups, walking along with maps in their hands and pointing as they were being escorted on the many different tours. Jamie found many people where dressed in grey wigs and beautifully tailored eighteenth century suits, but Claire had to explain to him what a reenactment was and how they were merely tour guides, dressed up for authenticity. And through it all came the thrilling, bright notes of a bagpipe being played in the center of the mile by a man in full Scottish regalia.

"Sassenach!" Claire heard Jamie call as she was glancing at some tartan skirts on a window display. She turned to find Jamie already scrambling into a souvenir shop, eyes wide with wonder as his tall, large form knocked and rattled the stands in the small, cramped shop. Claire followed him, unable to understand what had got him so excited, and then he lifted it.

In his hand was a postcard, with a beautiful image of one of the many Scottish castles.

"That's it." Jamie said with certainty. "Lallybroch."

Claire heard the amazement in his tone as he recognised the home he had spoke so fondly of. Claire knew the castle, she had never visited herself, but there were countless tours to it and pictures over Scottish brochures. Now though, it went by the name of Midhope Castle.

"It's called Midhope Castle now." Claire said, posting to the small name etched on the bottom of the card.

"That's odd..." Jamie said, but it didn't dampen his smile any, or the wonder on his face.

"I wonder if it's still owned by Frasers, surely Jenny would've taken it on...But then she would've married..." Jamie said to himself, his mind already lost in thought.

"We can visit it, if  you'd like?" Claire asked, and Jamie almost dropped the card.

"What?" He said, his eyes suddenly filling with shock.

"Yes, I don't think it's far outside Edinburgh, an hour's drive maybe." Claire said, trying to think of the many road signs directing her to Midhope Castle in the time she'd been in Edinburgh.

"Ye mean it, sassench?" Jamie asked, like a child afraid of getting their hopes let down.

"Of course." Claire said, turning to him now with full attention, a gentle smile on her lips. She was more than happy to take him to see his home, even if it was only for a short visit, it was the least she could do.

 


 

The two had returned home just as the sun had finally sunk in the sky and the sky was a deep shade of blue. The summer's heat hung in the air, making it muggy and warm.

"I had an amazing time tonight..." Claire said finally, walking into her living room and standing by the mantle. Her face bore a wondrous happy smile that she doubted would fade any time soon.

"As did I, sassenach." Jamie replied, walking up to her and placing his hands about her waist and drawing her close.

For a moment he pressed his lips against hers, breathing in her sweet smell. She smelt of honey and vanilla, fresh and clean from the soap she'd used to wash earlier.

Claire drew back to look at him. His eyes were such a deep shade of blue, like the ocean and like the ocean, they were mysterious. Claire wondered what was lurking beneath the beautiful blue depths.

"There was something more... I wanted to ask ye, Claire." Jamie said, and suddenly he seemed bashful, unable to meet her gaze as he struggled with words.

"What is it?" Claire asked, her face now full of worry.

"I meant to ask ye earlier... Well, I've wanted to ask ye the moment I laid eyes on ye..." Jamie said, fighting with himself now, as though the words were teetering on the edge of his lips but he couldn't bring himself to say them.

"I dinna ken what'd ye would say... If ye would think me a fool... But I can't fight it anymore."

Claire was growing more concerned now, panic was apparent on her face as she wondered what on earth could be troubling him so. She felt her heart beat faster, urging him to say the words he longed to say.

"What?" Claire urged.

"Will ye be my wife Claire?" Jamie said, the words bursting from his lips as he glanced up to meet her gaze.

Claire felt her heart thud in her chest for an entirely different reason now. She hadn't known Jamie long, he was practically a stranger to her. At least, on normal terms. But nothing about this had been normal. From the moment she had laid eyes on his rugged form in that hospital bed, there had been a draw to them both, like two magnets ready to snap together, unable to be parted. Her husband was lost to war, and the time in between she had filled with Jamie. Was it right? Did she truly love this man before her? There was no question.

"Yes." Claire found herself saying, and it had left her lips easier than she thought it might. True, she may annoy herself and hate herself for being so eager, for letting Frank go, for moving on before she had even mourned him. But to let Jamie go was a fate she couldn't bare.

Jamie embraced her, lifting her up in his strong arms to kiss her, consume her. His lips danced against hers with a fierce want that he had fought for so long before. She was to be his, and that had made him happier than he had ever hoped to be in this lifetime.
Claire found herself unable to pull herself away from his embrace, not long enough so their lips should be parted for a single second, she wanted to breathe him in, taste him, consume him.

No more words were spoken that night, except the stolen whispers of desire, uttered into the night as they explored each other and finally gave in to the wanton passions that had swarmed them from the moment they had met. To hell with what everyone else thought. Claire gave herself to Jamie freely and he had taken her, and she was the first woman he had ever been with and he knew for the certain, she would be the last.