Part One: Perfect Distractions | Chapter 1
Claire was marveling at the way her pen twirled absently through her fingers. With only a little momentum, a slight dip from her hand, the thin plastic body spun in oddly mesmerizing circles that had served as the perfect distraction from her textbook for the last 20 minutes.
Jesus H. Christ. It had been a whole 20 minutes. She dropped her pen onto the open book and pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes with an enduring sigh.
Studying at home instead of the library was supposed to be a nice a change of pace but now, here she was with 20 minutes wasted. 20 pages left to read, summarize, understand… absorb…
Her eyes blinked open a moment later. She shot up from her desk so fast it jostled the pen stuck to her cheek and sent it clattering to the floor.
Another sigh shuddered through her as she sunk from her chair to retrieve the pen. More annoyed with herself than the pen, she was secretly glad for the legitimate distraction, however small.
She wanted to be a surgeon, she did. There were very few things in her life she was so adamantly sure about. But, in the sea of medical terms she found herself sailing through tonight, all of that seemed so far into the future. It was a lighthouse she wished the tide would simply deliver her to, if only so she could close her eyes with the calming promise of security and— Where did that fucking pen go?
There was another clattering sound behind her and she froze, turning slowly from underneath her desk.
There were rocks. On her floor.
Pebbles really, like that somehow made the very notion less absurd. She was on the third floor of the dormitories and was seriously considering the likelihood of sleep-deprivation-induced hallucinations.
And then there were more. Pebbles, she means. They flew in from the open window to her right, one striking the metal of her reading lamp with a loud clang. She winced at the sound and caught a soft “Fuck!” from outside.
She huffed. That accent was painfully familiar.
She made for the window in a flurry of movement that almost cracked her head against the desk. When she peered out, arms resting unimpressed on the windowsill, her anger looped down and back up in her stomach at the sight of him.
“My window is open, you idiot,” she seethed in a stage whisper.
“Aye,” he said with a grimace. “Uh, I noticed.”
“And yet you threw more rocks.”
“I noticed the second time, alright?” he said, indignant. He ran a hand through his red curls, muttering something in Gaelic to himself, and Claire had to stop herself from smiling.
Angry. She was supposed to be angry. He was disrupting her very productive and enlightening study time, after all.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
He looked back up at her, glinting eyes sending something entirely different looping through her stomach.
“Well,” he said, stretching out the word as he absently kicked the ground. “That’s a verra good question, Sassenach.”
“Aye.” He nodded. “So good in fact, ye’ll have to come down here if ye want it answered.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, focusing on his mop of auburn in the otherwise dark, midnight yard.
“And why would I want to do that?”
“Another fine question.” He smiled, gesturing vaguely to the space around him.
She bit her lip, sending a backwards glance to her bruised reading lamp and the pile of culprits sitting dumb on the floor.
“Who even throws stones at people’s windows anymore?” Anger aside, fake or otherwise, she was legitimately asking.
He tilted his head at her. “Do… do people no’ do this?”
Christ, he was serious. It was almost endearing and certainly infuriating.
“I assure you, it’s never happened to me.”
A low whistle. “Ah well, then I apologize—”
“—for the terribly boring life ye’ve lived till now, Sassenach.”
“Ooh, I could smack you for that.”
“Aye, ye could.” He laughed. “But ye’d still have to come down here to do it, no?”
Her face remained skeptical but from below the window, her foot had been tapping the whole time, insistent and anxious. She needed the distraction. Desperately. But she wasn’t about to admit that to him, nor the fact that her mind had been floundering in an ocean of thought but had somehow immediately stilled when their eyes met.
She gaped at herself for half a second, considering the attractive prospect of drowning and taking him with her— God, she needed a break.
With her best attempt at a resigned huff, she glowered down at him.
“Wait there, you bloody Scot.”
Jamie saw her pull away from the window and broke into a wide grin, stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets as he kicked his heel into the dirt. He had only the mere minutes of her descent to quell the celebratory thumping in his chest, rid his mind of the amused disdain that drew contradictory lines all over her beautiful pale face. He turned his back from the window and let the night air fill his chest. What was taking her so long? Had she changed her mind? Was he going to end up sleeping here under her window all night, waiting? She—
“What the hell do you look so pleased about?”
“Claire!” He spun around fast enough to blame his lack of breath on that, and not on the sight of her.
She was in track pants and a zipped-up hoodie, with hair like a brown cloud had nestled around her head in a personal halo. Saint Clare, he thought, the patron of embroidery and gilding like the way the back light of the dormitories painted little wisps of ethereal gold into her hair. The shadows under her eyes only reminded him of every other sleep-deprived, caffeine-addled person in her program, or on campus for that matter. But on her, they looked like determination. There were stray blue pen marks arcing all over her right cheek, which he hadn’t noticed in the window and, by the looks of things, she hadn’t noticed at all. He smirked.
The corner of her mouth twitched up too, then down as if she’d reconsidered.
“What, no Sassenach this time?”
He chuckled to hide the quiver in his voice. “Sorry, ye just scairt me, is all.”
“Well that makes two of us,” she said, suddenly holding out her closed fist to him.
He stared at it, then her, eyebrows drawn close together. His hand moved a tentative inch and he reigned it back, thinking against it.
She rolled her eyes at him, using her free hand to grab his and place it under her fist. Then, without warning, dropped a fistful of stones into his open palm.
“These belong to you, I presume?”
The weight of the pebbles hit him like his dawning understanding. He laughed, for real this time.
“Technically, they’re from yer yard,” he said, emptying his palm onto the ground between them. “But thanks for making the trip anyway.”
“Mhmm.” She nodded. “So, why are you here?”
He looked blankly at her, and she glared at him from under her lashes.
“You promised me an answer, James Fraser.”
“Ye know, ye can call me Jamie. All my friends do.”
“You?” She blinked at him. “Friends?”
“Och, ye smacked me after all.”
She folded her arms across her chest, but he could see the faint traces of a smile, the cracks in her otherwise flawless fury.
“Oh alright,” he conceded. “Ye weren’t at the library today, ken?”
Silence hung about them, until Claire shook her head.
“Wait, that’s it?!”